ACTOR THERAPY BUSINESS CLASS
1 FEBRUARY 2017
By Chelsea Moss
With one month of 2017 officially behind us, we here at Actor Therapy thought it was the perfect time to give our students a loving little kick in the butt Business Class. Led by our very own Ryan Scott Oliver, we talked about why goal setting and to do lists are important, how to stay on track with goals, how to minimize anxiety and maximize productivity, as well as how to stay true to oneself as an artist in this crazy industry we call Showbiz.
“When are your golden hours?” was the first question RSO asked our students. Golden hours can best be defined as the time of day when your brain is on and at its best; when you’re ready to do your creative work as an artist. For RSO, they’re from around 10 AM to 3 PM. Other students chimed in as well, with examples like 8 AM to 1 PM, 12 PM to 5 PM, and so on. They’re usually around five hour time periods. It’s important to know when those lovely golden hours strike for you, in order for you to best utilize your creative juices. Once you know those hours, it’s important to try to plan your day around them. “Artists are business people, first and foremost,” RSO explained to our students. “We are freelancers, and we have to show up to work every single day. Your art is your business.”
“Okay, Ryan,” you may be thinking, “that’s all good and well, but I have a job!” Girl, we hear you loud and clear. Ryan’s number one piece of advice? Wake up early. If you wake up early, and organize your day, you will be able to maximize the hours you have and hit the ground running. “If you’re like most people, and you have some kind of survival job that takes you out of the day for eight hours, that leaves you eight hours left in the day. Think about what you do with those eight hours.” Perhaps you hit the gym, maybe take a shower, ride the subway, etc. That leaves you about six hours. How much time do you spend with friends? Watching Netflix? On an average day, how many hours of downtime (anything that doesn’t help you in a financial, healthy or artistic way) do you allow yourself? Our group concurred that for a typical day, around two-ish hours of downtime is perfectly acceptable. Most of us agreed that an hour in the morning, an hour at night, and perhaps an hour in the middle of the day was a really great way to incorporate downtime into a schedule.
Now that we had established some semblance of a routine, it was time to talk strategy. RSO’s number one tool? TO DO LISTS! “You cannot maximize your productivity without a to do list. Your brain simply cannot hold the amount of information that you need to accomplish.” He then asked our class, “How do you to do?” One student mentioned using a bullet journal (http://bulletjournal.com). Another mentioned having separate planners for work, personal and artistic tasks. A third said that she used the to do list app on her phone. The bottom line, we decided, was that the system must work for YOU. However, RSO cautioned, it is important that your to do list has these three components: the ability to cross off tasks on your to do list, the ability to move tasks that haven’t been accomplished to the next day, and the ability to incorporate long term planning. The purpose of an organized to do list is to provide you with the motivation you need to get shit done.
RSO gave us a little insight into his own to do list during this section of the class, and said that he divides his list into three separate categories. The first, which he called “Fast First,” was anything he could get done quickly. This could include answering emails, sending that text you’ve been putting off, reading a chapter in a book, etc. Each task takes about two minutes, so you can get a lot done in a small amount of time and feel super accomplished. The second category RSO mentioned was “Creative Work.” “Honor yourself as an artist and ensure that you are being creative every single day,” he stressed to our students. Anything that stirs you artistically can be classified as creative work. Finally, RSO’s third category was his “Business” category. This could include errands, meetings, phone calls, tasks for your survival job, etc. This should go in AFTER your creative work, and should be done in your tired hours.
While we were on the subject of productivity, RSO reminded us of the dangers of CAFFEINE! The amazing cup(s) of coffee that we drink each day can actually sometimes do more harm than good. He broke it down for us in MG. About 200 MG of caffeine each day is healthy. One K-cup of coffee has less than 60 MG. One hot Starbucks coffee is 260 MG for a tall, 330 MG for a grande, and 415 MG for a venti! Your maximum caffeine intake should not be more than 400 MG. When you have a caffeine overload, it creates anxiety, stress, and may also lead to a “crash” of sorts. This can also create the need for alcohol, which can be a whole other problem. When you partake in an evening of drinking, your following day dies. RSO encouraged each of us to check in with our intake of caffeine and alcohol. “A comfortable and healthy relationship is the ultimate goal.”
Finally, we talked long term. Specifically, RSO discussed the importance of creating a five-year plan. “It guides you,” he stressed, “you are forced to make a statement about what you want for yourself and where you expect to be.” There are four sections that should be included in a five-year plan. These sections are: Professional Goals, Life Goals, Personal Goals, and Adventure Goals. Professional Goals are often the easiest to classify. A Broadway credit, a dream role, an original show- anything of this nature could fit into your professional goal category. Life Goals could include getting married, adopting a pet, getting that dream apartment, etc. Personal Goals are, shockingly, personal to you. Goal weight, looks, or working on personal issues are all a part of that category. Lastly, Adventure Goals are essentially things that you want to do- a bucket list of sorts. Perhaps you want to move to a different country for a year, or go skydiving, see the Eiffel Tower, etc. Anything that is not associated with your professional aims. Write these goals as statements- “I will see the Eiffel Tower,” etc. You should have five to ten for each category, and check in on them every three months or so. “Remember, it is up to you to decide to actively pursue these goals. To say ‘This is important to me, and I want to focus on it,’ is half the battle!”
Next, Ryan brought up the artistry aspect of our industry. “You’re an ARTIST, damnit!” he exclaimed to the class. “There’s a place for each of us.” But finding that place requires a lot of self-exploration and thought. Each of us has an aura, or an essence, that we bring to a role. Understanding what that is, and how to utilize it, is key. Knowing what your unique strengths and weird idiosyncrasies are gives you the ability to separate yourself from everyone else. The more specific you can get, the better.
Some students pointed out, however, that how they see themselves in the industry is not exactly how the people behind the table see them. “Other people see you in a way that you don’t see yourself,” RSO admitted. “But, that’s a part of you that still exists. If that’s what they want from you, be that! Know where you fit in that show and be excited about it. Don’t ignore the part of yourself that you love, but also realize it might not be your INITIAL moneymaker.” We all agreed we have favorite parts of ourselves that we love to explore in a project, but came to the realization that sometimes we have to master what people want from us before we can do the artsy stuff that feeds our soul. “It’s something that’s a delicate balance for all of us.” After all, it’s still a business.
After we talked about who we were as artists, Ryan asked us a question. “If you were given a choice, would you rather get cast in a golden age musical theatre show, a contemporary musical theatre show with someone like Tom Kitt and Brian Yorkey, or an original work with a new composer?” A lot of students picked the original work. That is, until Ryan revealed that the original work is unpaid. He also revealed that the contemporary MT show is a $200.oo stipend. The golden age, however? $2,000.00/week. That had most of our students changing their tune! The point of the poll was this: What is your limit? What are you willing to sacrifice in order to work? What stories do you want to be a part of? Knowing this about yourself will help guide you throughout your career.
The class was then given another question, albeit a little more introspective this time… “If someone could write an original musical starring YOU, what would the story be?” Some of us knew, some didn’t. “This can be a guiding factor in what you choose to do. See yourself as a type of your very own.” Ryan encouraged us to think about reinventing the type. Each of us has something unique to give, something different than the next. Thinking about that when deciding who you are as an artist will propel you in a direction all your own. How can you explore your niche and create opportunities for yourself to employ that niche? What kind of art will you create?
Finally, we were given the bottom line: Work hard. Just do it. “Fill your days with works that propel you forward and inspire you in this industry. If hardballs come your way, take a minute to process them, but then move on. Tomorrow is another day.” And with that last little spark of inspiration, we were released back into the crazy world that is Musical Theatre- but this time, with a fire under each ass and a flicker of hope in every heart.