How To Improve Your Acting... For Free!

Ulises Acosta, ATC Alum & Professional Actor, writes about the six things an actor can do when money is tight.

penny pinching
Penny pinching doesn't mean you have to compromise on your craft!

Every actor has felt the dread of opening a skinny wallet and seeing the all too cartoonish whimper of dust that puffs out. Times get rough, and money doesn’t grow on trees (especially not during the holidays, am I right?). But that doesn’t mean your craft has to suffer just because your financial situation is less than ideal.

Here are a few things you can do while pinching pennies:

1) Read (also take time to read out-loud)

Acting is all about bringing the written word into real-life. Taking a step back, and spending time with books is never a bad idea. Pick up some poetry or your favorite novel, and read it out-loud to yourself. Find the rhythm, enjoy the power of language, and get lost in the world that is created from the pages. Doing this is like stretching out the “imagination muscle” in your brain. The better you get at stretching it, the better it’ll help you visualize the world of your character when you land that next role.

2) Meditate

Let me be clear: When I say meditate, I don’t mean sit cross-legged on the floor, burn incense, and hum until you feel serene (although if that works for you, by all means, do that!). What I mean is to allow yourself to focus on only one thing, for a certain amount of time. Meditation is really just the practice of focusing your attention on one thing.

I find it useful to focus that energy on breathing in rhythm (in-two-three-four, out-two-three-four-five-six, and repeat). If I feel my mind drifting into other thoughts, I calmly allow myself to bring my concentration right back to my breathing. With more practice this too will become like stretching a muscle. Once you’ve gotten to a comfortable place with it (because there’s never any “perfecting” meditation), it will help you create a space for you to be able to jump in and out of character when the time demands. It will make you a more focused performer, who concentrates on the process and not the result.

3) Study Pilates (or anything else that will help you control your core)

This can be as simple as: Do at least two 1-minute planks every day; or

As complex as: Join hot yoga at your local free fitness center (if you look hard enough, I promise you’ll find one).

The point is, finding your core and learning to control it is the first step in creating a good physical-mental awareness. An actors awareness is best when it’s located in the abdominal core, that way your body is prepared and ready to react (‘cause after all, “acting is reacting”). The better you are at controlling your core, the better you’ll interact with your scene partners. Before you know it, keeping your core engaged will become second nature.

4) Journal

Lupita Nyong’o once said: “It’s so funny, you go to acting school thinking you’re going to learn how to be other people, but really it taught me how to be myself. Because it’s in understanding yourself deeply that you can lend yourself to another person’s circumstances and another person’s experience.”

Journaling helps us reflect on life, the things we do, and the things we want to be. The more comfortable you grow with reflecting about anything and everything, the more you learn about yourself (and the more you’ll learn about your characters). When the time comes to analyze your character, you’ll be able to reflect on every decision they make with no judgement. As actors, it’s not our job to judge the character (you can do that off-stage and off-set). Instead, we’re charged with fully understanding their motivations for doing what they believe is the right thing. Journaling can help with this kind of introspection.

5) Improv (or just good ole’ laughter)

This one is extremely important when the penny pinching is making you anxious…. DON’T FORGET TO LAUGH!!!

It’s easy to get caught up in the mix of feeling like every day is another grind. One long work day that never ends. When it feels likes that’s happening to you, by God, stop what you’re doing and find a funny dog video on YouTube! Call your three best friends and tell them to give you their funniest memory of you! Ask your grandma to tell you the funniest most embarrassing thing you did as a kid! L-A-U-G-H! Life is too short to spend it sad and anxious. Laugh more, whenever you can.

6) Make a game out of rejection (basically face your fears and embrace rejection)

If you haven’t already gotten the theme of these by now, they all relate in some form to mental awareness. This one being the hardest, mainly because it’s the scariest. It requires us to actively face our fears and step out of our comfort zones.

This guy here gives you a GREAT example of how to do this, and make a game out of it. If you’re serious about your craft (and training it even when you’re not financially stable enough for a traditional class), then give this NPR article a read to see how this guy did it.

At the end of the day, know that there is always something you can do. Your training doesn’t have to stop just because money is tight. And moreover, you’re not alone! There are plenty of other actors out there who are in your same position. Don’t sweat it, family, you got this.

Peace and love!

Written by Professional Actor & ATC Alum, Ulises Acosta

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