Ashton Kutcher Shares Insiders’ Secrets

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Ashton Kutcher has always gotten a kick out of revealing the unseen human nature of celebrities in his hidden camera, practical joke series, Punk’d. But when he won the Teen Choice Awards’ Ultimate Choice Award, he surprised the teenage fans by exposing something about himself: that he felt like a fraud, and admitting his first name is actually Chris–that he only switched to using his middle name, Ashton, when he started pursuing acting at the age of 19. Although Kutcher is not necessarily known for his powerful cinematic performances, what followed at the awards event was a heartfelt and insightful motivational speech. And even though it was given in 2013, his words of encouragement to aspiring hearts bear repeating. He lists three basic keys to help a person create a quality life. Ashton himself has managed to navigate a career in the entertainment industry starting as a successful model in the late 1990’s, moving to acting with That 70’s Show, and then branching out to several popular roles in both TV and film as well as working as a producer.

“In Hollywood, in the industry there’s stuff we do. There’s a lot of like insiders’ secrets to keeping your career going, and a lot of insiders’ secrets to making things tick,” Ashton asserts. Then he goes on to share some of the “really amazing things” he learned when he was Chris. “And I wanted to share those things with you guys because I think it’s helped me be here today.” He then lists three approaches to life that he credits for his success, starting with making the most of opportunities. “I believe opportunity looks a lot like hard work…And I’ve never had a job in my life than I was better than. I was always just lucky to have a job. And every job I had was a stepping stone to my next job.” He also has some ideas about what makes someone sexy (being really smart, thoughtful, and generous). And he shares some basic ideas about how you can build the life you want. Take a listen, and see if his words speak to you.

Kutcher never seems to stop working; he’s currently filming the upcoming indie The Long Home directed by and starring James Franco to be released in 2017.

Which Do You Prefer: Film or Theater Acting?

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The craft of theater acting and acting in front of the camera have been described as essentially the same thing for an actor: performing a character amidst a storyline to be appreciated by audiences. While some actors enjoy both mediums and make a point to participate in both stage and film, others gravitate more to one than the other. After all, both mediums have their own distinctions. Here are just a few notable differences.

Variations of subtlety or boldness

The camera notices and records every subtle facial reaction or gesture, and can pick up even the most quiet-but-powerful utterance. This close-up study of an actor can bring a strong sense of intimacy for audiences. On the other hand, large physical actions are often distracting when picked up by the camera. The need to subdue movements can be hard for a theater-oriented actor who is trained to express more overtly. Because a stage actor is performing for both the person in the front row as well as the one in the way back, some productions use microphones, whereas others require an actor to project words more loudly and express emotions more boldly. Meryl Streep has worked on her lung capacity and her ability to “expand the sound” by swimming a mile a day for the months before a performance requiring her to project as needed in a performance.

Performing with different time flows

If you like to get immersed in your performances and not be interrupted, then theater will likely be a better fit for you. Theater actors work in a storyline’s chronological sequence which allows the character’s arc to naturally build and resolve through the course of the show, and without a director shouting, “Cut!” or requesting variations of the same line. But this also means that with each line, a theater actor is given only one precious shot to “get it right.” No two nights in theater are identical, thus the medium will keep you on your toes each performance with the awareness that the audience is present, watching, and responding. In contrast, actors who gravitate towards film appreciate the opportunity to do several takes to explore the material, perhaps take more risks knowing any serious fumbles can simply be edited out, and find creative ways to authentically portray their characters’ emotional journey even though film work is so often shot out of order.

Industry professionals hold a wide array of point of views about whether theater or film skill sets are more or less the same, or if they are ultimately more distinct abilities than is often acknowledged. For instance, in the video clip above, Casting Director and Teacher Carolyn Barry shares her belief that it’s easier for actors in television to adapt to theater acting than the reverse. “Television is about connecting emotionally, and it’s more intimate. And I think it’s easier for those kind of actors to maybe then up the energy as opposed to people who are working just energetically and not as emotionally, truthfully. I mean, you can pretend an emotion in the theater; you can not do it in film and television.”

Unforgiven actor Saul Rubinek feels the reverse to some degree, arguing that every actor who does stage can do film, but that not every actor who does film can do stage. “Doing eight shows a week is another muscle altogether because any actor knows who does theater is that the best show in your first week doesn’t even come close in quality to your worst show in your last week….Your audience teaches you how to perform…and that’s not what happens on film. Everything you do in film is to give the director and the editor choices in that editing room. That’s everything; that’s all you’re doing is creating those choices for the people who are going to put it together.”

Actor John Malkovich feels that stage acting and film/television acting have considerable differences, and doesn’t believe an actor who excels in one will necessarily do well in the other. He argues, “Theater is an ephemeral, living organism; film is not. Theater, as we say about life, ‘You had to be there.’… Film, to me, is different. You only need a few good seconds….Film acting has no momentum.” He compares performing in a play to riding a wave or holding onto a runaway train, “Your job is to hang on while this material whips you around.”

There are many actors who have managed to benefit from careers in both stage and film with apparent ease. Among them is Tumbleweeds actress Janet McTeer who also narrated Maleficent. She tries to continually work in both mediums. McTeer feels that both film and theater have “a huge sense of community.” In theater you have “an immediate contact with your audience, and in film you don’t, but in film it’s much more intimate…so in another way it’s even more truthful.” But she admits working in front of a camera can make an actor feel very self-conscious with all the crew buzzing around from lighting experts to make-up artists. To break away from this overwhelming sense of self, she feels that concentrating on the face and words of the other actor is the through line to overcoming all the distractions and self-consciousness inherent in the film-making process.

An Education actress Carey Mulligan likewise has found a way to thrive in both mediums. She insists that “You get better as an actor doing theater.” Mulligan makes woking in both forms look easy with a starring role in the film Madding Crowd about to hit theaters, working alongside Meryl Streep in Suffragette to be released later this year, and currently starring in Skylight on Broadway. She admits her affinity for the stage stating, “Once you’ve done a play, you build muscles, you feel better when you keep it fresh every time, it has to have the feeling it’s never been done before….On a film you can get nervous at the proximity of the camera, which immortalizes one moment, and you can’t do anything about it. You lose control. The theater is a fresh experience.”

Do you prefer one form of acting over another? Please share!




Jessica Chastain on Following the Signs Along the Way

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“For every reason that I did poorly in school was the reason why I was going to be a good actor.” –Jessica Chastain

After seeing a production of Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat with her grandma, seven-year-old Jessica Chastain realized that acting was a bonafide profession, and was determined from that point on to become an actress who could make a living from her work. But with years of struggling with schoolwork and academic testing, Jessica didn’t qualify for graduation in her senior year. And she had no connections into the business. Still, Jessica steadfastly took any opportunity she could to advance toward her acting goal. Cut to years later, she’s an A-list actress who’s displayed a variety of characters and celebrated performances in films such as The HelpZero Dark Thirty, Interstellar, and A Most Violent Year.

So how did she transform from being a poor student to begging for years and years to get an audition to becoming a multi-award-winning actress? “I didn’t know what my path was going to be, I just knew what I was going to do….I believe in signs that come to you. And if you leave yourself open to things that are in your life, you can find an incredible path.”

For Chastain, that meant attaining an adult diploma, attending college, and joining a professional theater company in San Francisco. While playing Juliet, her acting partner was accepted into the prestigious Julliard School in New York to study drama. “And that’s what made me go…I thought, ‘Wait a minute. If he got in, maybe I should audition because maybe I could get in since we’re playing Romeo and Juliet together.’ Before that I never even imagined that I could get into that school. So I just kind of followed these paths that showed themselves to me.”

Yes, she was accepted into Julliard. But Jessica was the first person in her family to attend college, and her family didn’t have the money for such an expensive school; indeed, she has five siblings. Amazingly, a scholarship by Robin Williams provided Jessica with the funds to attend. In the years to follow, she continued to remain open to any signs that revealed themselves, continually climbing the ladder of playing small, eccentric TV roles, and eventually landing her film debut in Jolene.

Jessica Chastain excelled in one of the most competitive industries in the world because she left no stone unturned. She was patient, and seized every opportunity afforded to her. She refused to believe she was only as worthy as her test scores, or accept that she’d forever be shut out from the kinds of auditions she hoped to get. And when she ran into good luck she seized it too. Here’s to you finding many signs along your actor’s journey as well!

What’s Your Idea of Success as an Actor?

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When Oscar- and Golden Globe-nominated and BAFTA-winning actor Chiwetel Ejiofor was lauded for his portrayal of Solomon Northup in 12 Years a Slave, he was overwhelmed with support before the awards ceremonies. In stark contrast, he likened the subsequent days after the awards season to the Olympic Games and the World Cup saying, “You win and it’s great. But then it’s time for the next one, and nobody cares if you won before.” So what is Chiwetel’s idea of success in regards to his acting? He was once quoted as saying, “I like to disappear into a role. I equate the success of it with a feeling of being chemically changed.” Perhaps he is continuing to feel chemically changed in his more recent projects including playing an FBI agent in the film The Secret in Their Eyes, and starring in a London theater production called Everyman.

Kevin Spacey has had his share of accolades as well. With Best Actor Academy Awards for his portrayals as Roger “Verbal” Kint in The Usual Suspects, and the mid-life challenged Lester Burnham in American Beauty, and more recently taking home a Golden Globe for his character Frank Underwood in the political drama series House of Cards. But Spacey similarly equates success with an inner feeling. “I very often watch a lot of young people sort of meander around without any idea about why they’re doing what they’re doing. I mean to want and to be ambitious and to want to be successful is not enough. That’s just desire. To know what you want, to understand why you’re doing it, to dedicate every breath in your body to achieve; if you feel you have something to give, if you feel that your particular talent is worth developing, is worth caring for, then there’s nothing that you can’t achieve.” 

Dustin Hoffman has had his generous share of awards showered upon him for roles in movies like Kramer vs. Kramer and Rain Man. But he insists that even if he hadn’t received “by freak accident” a breakthrough role–as Benjamin Braddock in The Graduate–which lead to his prolific and celebrated career that he’d still be acting any chance he could find. “There’s no question in my mind whether I’d be teaching at some college or whether I’d go to some repertoire theater in Seattle, wherever, I’d be doing it.” His idea of success is actually doing what he loves to do, likening his sense of purpose as an actor to Picasso and his relentless drive to paint.

What are your ideas about success in your career? Do you share the sentiments of these three noteworthy actors, or do you have other ideas of success and milestones to mark along your actor journey?

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Robin Wright: “Go Wrong and You Find Right”

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Robin Wright has battled her share of fears and insecurities over the years. She devoted much of her youth to studying modern jazz which later lead to her dancing in a Doritos commercial. From there, her talent agent encouraged her to audition for many popular movies like Sixteen Candles and Less Than Zero even though Robin didn’t have any acting training. And it seemed like things were going well when she was invited to callbacks several times. But however close she was to landing roles, over and over again the parts went to other actresses. In retrospect, Wright says her fears prevented her from fully investing in the characters; she didn’t take enough risks, opting instead to play it too safe.

As a result of the ongoing rejections, Robin decided to quit the business altogether and instead work on kitchen duty on a tour boat. But right before the boat was set to sail, she received news she’d been cast in the supporting role of Kelly Capwell in the soap opera Santa Barbara. Subsequently, Wright’s been embraced as Princess Buttercup in The Princess Bride, and Forest Gump’s love-of-his-life Jenny Curran. Presently Wright is garnering great respect for her acting abilities, and being called a major star, thanks to her portrayal of the calculating, formidable politician’s wife Claire Underwood in the web series House of Cards.

In this clip, Robin admits she wishes she’d done more training as an actress, but shares some helpful tips she learned from the one time she used an acting coach that has greatly informed her acting for twenty years: In any given sentence of dialogue or monologue, choosing to emphasize the word you love as well as the word you hate (as well as the reason why you love or hate those words) allows you to play around with your character’s feelings and expression until you land on the direction you want to take the material. “How many variations you could do with one sentence,” Wright marvels. Playing with the words so deliberately frees her up to sift through all the failed interpretations in the process of finding what ultimately works. In other words, “Go wrong, and you find right,” she asserts.


Michael Caine’s Screen Acting Tips and Demonstrations

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It’d be hard to miss Michael Caine; he has appeared in over 115 films, and is one of only three actors who has been nominated for an Oscar at least once in five consecutive decades (the others being Jack Nicholson and Laurence Olivier). And as of 2014, he has appeared in four films–Alfie, Hannah and Her Sisters, The Cider House Rules, and Inception–that were nominated for the Best Picture Oscar. And heck, in 2000 he was even knighted by Queen Elizabeth ll in honor of his contributions to cinema. Caine has weathered both his share of flops and great critical successes, and he’s learned a lot along the way.

Here is an hour long class lead by Michael discussing a number of worthwhile tricks of the trade in regards to film acting.

At one point he shares with his students, “Once you’re in front of that camera, nobody exists, nobody, except the other person in the scene. And what we do, we actors who are in the movie, we hang on to each others’ eyes. That ‘s the most important thing in film: Eyes.” Being that eyes are so critical in film acting, he both informs and demonstrates how to most powerfully use your eyes to communicate authority or weakness, and how to draw in audiences more closely.

Caine talks about how small shifts in facial expressions and slowing down your words can make a world of difference on camera. “The camera is like somebody who loves you deeply… because it will love you forever in spite of the fact that for the rest of your career…you ignore it,” as long as you maintain eye contact with your scene partner and listen closely to what he or she is saying.  A theater producer once gave Michael advice that he never forgot. When his character was merely listening to another character’s lines, the producer enlightened him with the enormous potential that the act of listening can hold: “Of course you’ve got things to say. You’ve got wonderful things to say. But you sit there and listen, think of these extraordinary things to say, and then decide not to say them. That’s what you’re doing.”

Ultimately, Caine asserts, “Movie acting is relaxation. It’s easy. If you are knocking yourself out, you’re doing it wrong.”

Michael can be seen currently in the action thriller Kingsman: The Secret Service alongside Sofia Boutella, Samuel L. Jackson, and Colin Firth. And if you’ve got an hour, Michael’s positively reviewed lecture is well worth the time.

Brilliant or Ridiculous Auditioning Advice?

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If you recognize this actor, but can’t think of his name, it’s probably because he’s often cast in small roles in high-profile films and TV shows. Glenn Morshower is best known for playing Secret Service Agent Aaron Pierce in the award-winning Fox serial drama 24. But he often portrays law enforcement characters, military personnel, and government agents; thus, you might recognize him as Colonel Hendry from X-Men: First Class, or Transformers: Dark of the Moon‘s General Morshower, or CSI: Crime Scene Investigation‘s Sheriff Brian Mobley.

With decades of steady work under his belt, what golden nuggets of wisdom does Glenn share in this clip? Read on!

He says, “I ask actors, ‘How many of you have ever had the experience of the finest version of the audition be the one that takes place in the car on the way home–after the audition?’ And they always raise their hands.” In an effort to help actors relax in the audition room, Morshower shares “a harmless secret” that he insists he’s been doing for years to help him effectively stay loose and calm while in tense auditioning circumstances or important meetings: He puts items like bologna or breakfast cereal in his underwear. Giving a thumbs up, Glenn says he discovered, “Food in my undershorts was the secret to success. Now here’s the point: I’m not joking.” Morshower says it’s hard to let your nerves mess up a meeting when you’ve got food items in your undergarments because when you’re in that high-pressure situation, “you don’t care.”

Morshower is used to giving life advice. He wrote and performs in a series of performances called The Extra Mile which are a combination of motivational speaking and dramatic and comedic storytelling. He seeks to help audiences “discover clarity, a passion, and an indefatigable commitment to the deepest yearnings of the soul.”

So what do you think? Is this brilliant or ridiculous relaxation technique for auditions and high-powered meetings?

5 Ways to Kill Your Dreams

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How do you take your most treasured aspirations and goals, and then actively destroy any possibility of them coming to fruition? And how can you take what you’ve accomplished and watch it crumble? Well, according to Brazilian entrepreneur, Bel Pesce, all it takes is five simple steps.

Bel Pesce has successfully worked on several projects at big technology companies like Google and Microsoft, she’s authored three books, and has started her own thriving schoollocated in Brazil as well as online, which seeks to inspire others to pursue their dreams.

Pesce’s advice to kill your dreams is based entirely on your personal belief system. She contends that if the following five core beliefs are enough to take down anyone’s goals:

1. Believe in overnight success. Bel says to question what appears to be easily earned, saying, “Your overnight success story is always the result of everything you’ve done in your life through that moment.” With that in mind, striving toward your goal for a period of years is what will serve as a solid foundation for you to achieve your dreams.

2. Believe someone else has the answers for you. Yes, you have plenty to learn from others, but Bel insists, “No one else has the perfect answers for your life.” You may make mistakes along the way, but that’s your journey.

3. Decide to settle when growth is guaranteed. So you’ve accomplished a specific goal and you feel you’ve “made it.” Pesce says it’s time to set a new goal to strive for, to expect more of yourself–not less.

4. Believe the fault is some else’s. Bel acknowledges you need other people along the way to accomplish your goals, and she agrees there are many obstacles to stop you along your path. But that being said, she persuades, “If you have dreams, it’s your responsibility to make them happen…But if you didn’t make them happen, it’s your fault and no one else’s. Be responsible to your dreams!” 

5. Believe that the only things that matter are the dreams and goals themselves. Rather than striving for years and reserving your celebration for the brief moment that the goal is achieved, Bel says to keep treasuring all you learn along the way, and to celebrate even the small triumphs. “If every step becomes something to learn or something to celebrate, you will for sure enjoy your journey.”

Bel’s convictions are based on her own strong sense of responsibility and her willingness to hard work–two qualities that have made a huge impact on her life. Do you agree that a personal belief system has the power to make or break you as an actor?

Add Up Your Actor Deductions This Tax Season

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Are you one of the many of actors who earn income from your acting? If so, congratulations! You’ve had the opportunity to enjoy the artistic side of an actors’ career throughout the year. But at tax time, it’s time to get down to the nitty gritty of numbers. Actors typically file their taxes as self-employed as long as they derive most of their money from their acting jobs in that tax year. So get ready to fill out a regular 1040 income tax form as a Schedule C, and identify yourself as your own business. Attach all 1099-MISC forms you receive to report your self-employment income. Being that your acting is considered a business, you are allowed to write off expenses that are directly related to acting, as long as they fall under the category of ordinary and necessary–and are not considered extravagant. And if you have W-2 employee income, your expenses will go on a Schedule A, but the kinds of write offs you’re allowed are the same.

During the year, actors can save their receipts, underline the purchases that pertain to their acting, and maybe even jot down notes on the back of the receipts to keep track of all they spend in pursuit of acting gigs. Doing so will help you take advantage of the many deductions available to reduce your taxable income. Here are examples of expenses actors can deduct to reduce the amount of taxes they owe.

Travel for Acting Purposes: If you need to travel any distance whether short or long in order to work as an actor, save all your transportation receipts. For long distances, this includes reasonable expenses for airline tickets, taxis, and hotel costs. Don’t forget to save your meal receipts when you travel because they can translate into a 50% deduction. As far as traveling locally, include your transportation costs for getting to acting classes, auditions, rehearsals, as well as shopping for acting supplies. If you drive a car, keep records of all your car expenses for gas, oil, car washes, repairs, and keep track of your mileage. If you use public transportation, keep track of all you spend. For those of you who choose not to keep detailed records, you can use the standard rate which requires you to only keep track of the amount of miles you drive in pursuit of acting; then you don’t need to list what you spent on your car. The standard mileage deduction to write off is 51 cents per mile.

Office Expenses and Supplies: Do you have a designated office in your home that you use strictly for acting purposes? The space might be used exclusively for rehearsing, desk work, or storage. If so, you may deduct the costs of maintaining this home office by using Form 8829. This can translate into worthwhile savings especially for renters. After all, being able to deduct a portion of your monthly rent can add up to a good chunk of change. Also, add any business supplies that you purchase which will be used within that year like printer ink, stamps, envelopes, and staples.

Depreciation: Any acting business items you purchase that last over one year can be deducted in small portions over a period of years. For example, actors who buy digital cameras, computers, sound equipment, cell phones, and even educational texts can list them as depreciating items–essentially spreading the deductions over several years. But small businesses also have a choice of deducting the whole cost of such items in one year as described in the Internal Revenue’s Code Section 179. You might want a tax professional to assist you with which of these two options best suits your needs.

Union Dues and Subscriptions: Include all union dues or organizations that pertain to acting. Likewise, any acting magazines or trade newspapers that inform your acting can be deducted.

Promotional Expenses: You know how all those expenses you incur in order to promote yourself add up? Well, make sure to save your receipts for tax purposes. Updating your headshots, making an actor reel, any Internet acting service costs including your Internet connection costs, and business cards/postcards fall into this category.

Agent Fees: For those of you who have an agent, make sure to deduct any costs you incur that are associated with your agent. So don’t forget to include commissions withheld by agents.

Make-Up, Hair, & Wardrobe: The rule of thumb is if it pertains to your acting only, then you can deduct it. That means, if you are required to get your hair styled by a professional for a specific role, or to wear make-up that you would otherwise never wear, then count them as deductions. But don’t list the blue jeans you frequently wear on your personal time just because you wear them to an audition here and there. If it’s considered suitable for street wear, then don’t count is as a write off. But do list the dry-cleaning costs for the outfit you wear at your headshot photo shoot as well as that cat costume you purchased for a role.

Education: This would include acting coaches, classes, or maybe a choreographer you need for a role.

Meals and Entertainment: You can deduct 50% of any business meal or entertainment costs in which you had a serious discussion pertaining to your acting business before, during, or soon after the event.

Home Telephone Expenses: While you can’t deduct a single phone in your home, you can deduct any phone-service costs pertaining to your acting business like specific long-distance phone calls, or a message service that you use for your career. However, go ahead and deduct the entire expenses of a second land line or a cell phone that you use for business purposes.

Research Materials or Services: It’s part of an actor’s job to know what’s happening in the industry whether it be watching your colleague in a theater project, visiting a local movie theater to catch the latest box-office hit, or subscribing to services like Netflix. These are considered deductible as long as the expenses are reasonable.

Professional and Legal Services: Attorneys, accountants, or other professionals that you hire for your acting-business count as deductible costs.

Insurance: Because actors are considered self-employed workers, they can deduct all of their health insurance premiums for tax purposes. Actors with home offices and who have homeowner’s insurance can also deduct a percentage of their insurance fees.

Let’s face it, as an actor, you’re in it for the long run. So be sure to manage your finances in such a way that it will empower you to exceed and succeed in your chosen field. And don’t sweat taxes all too much–because they ain’t goin’ anywhere!

Get in the Game!

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The month of March used to be a time to consider working out more intensely, and breaking out your summer gear in anticipation of beach weather. It was a time to welcome spring and honor the blooming flowers; a time to stroll through venerable museums; amble around parks, and perhaps, to fall in love.

But that’s all changed. March is now a time to consider your brackets, analyze the office pool, park your behind in front of the boob tube for two weeks, and sweat like the devil over your brackets! In short, March is now a time of madness–college basketball madness, that is! The NCAA basketball tournament has become so popular and such a point of contention that the U. S. Congress takes political aim at the President of the United States of America for submitting his bracket picks every year. By the way, President Obama has the unbeaten powerhouse Kentucky winning it all this year with Arizona, Villinova, and Duke rounding out the Final Four. For someone who’s considered to be at least fairly liberal, those are pretty conservative picks.

And what does all this madness have to do with you, humble Thespian? What does it have to do with the intellectual, the artist, the aesthete who may have little or no interest in March Madness? Opportunity! Even if you have no interest whatsoever in college roundball, or even if you are violently opposed to so much attention being focused on athletic competitions, just look how many commercials they’re airing during these broadcasts! And look how many eyeballs the networks have on these silly games! If nothing else, that’s a lot of auditioning opportunities for an ambitious and opportunistic actor!

You need to get in the game because madness is not only occurring in March. Oh, no. You have the granddaddy of them all, the Super Bowl, which hit an all-time high in terms of viewership and other metrics this year. There’s the U.S. Open Tennis Tournament, the Masters Golf Tournament, The Kentucky Derby, the NBA All-Star Game, the Daytona 500, and the list goes on! Heck, NFL Draft Day is a hugely popular pro-sporting event–and no one’s even playing!

You, as an actor, need to understand the depth of opportunity out there, and get moving! Get in class, update your online profile, audition for everything you’re right for, post your reel on Casting Frontier, and renew your headshots. Get serious about your dreams, goals, and ambitions! There’s plenty of opportunity out there; just take a glance at March Madness over the next week. You’ll see. And there’s plenty more where that came from!

Good luck and keep going!