Being an actor is incredibly rewarding. You have the opportunity to embody a character and live another person’s story. It’s an extension of playing make-believe when we are kids. It’s fun, and that should not be underestimated. When we get that opportunity, we soak it in and enjoy it while it lasts.
The key words there are when we get that opportunity. Acting is also BRUTAL. Auditioning can feel like running on a hamster wheel, never getting any further in the journey. Sure, eventually you may get used to the rejection, but it’s difficult to overcome the gnawing feeling that you are powerless. And, with auditions primarily happening over self-tape, actors are juggling a lot to send in an audition that, in all likelihood, they probably won’t get called back for (if they even get the audition in the first place).
There have been many acting gurus who have found success in their careers that have touted that the key to persisting in this ferocious industry is to see the audition as the work, to see the audition as your opportunity to perform, and to forget about the “booking the job.” This is mostly helpful. Changing your mindset does give you a better perspective on this whole acting thing. It lowers the stakes a lot more, even if you are playing mind games of sorts. But, that said, it still doesn’t put you in the driver’s seat. It is still leaving the decisions up to the auditors on the other side of the table.
Creating your own work as an actor, however, doesn’t do that. When you create your own work, you are the one steering the ship. You are the one making the decisions. You are the one giving yourself the opportunity to shine in the spotlight and to showcase yourself in the best possible way.
There are a lot of projects you can concoct. And if you are beginning to think that creating your own work is “impossible” or “too expensive” or outside your realm, I encourage you to think again. Here are five different projects that you can create for yourself:
1. Create your own short film
“Wait! But I need a director, a DP, a writer, a sound engineer, a grip, an editor, a blah, blah, blah, blah, blah.” These people would be great to have, yes, but when you are venturing to make your own short film, this is an easy excuse. Nothing will kill your drive to create your own work more than excuses.
Nowadays, everyone has one of those.
While it’s advantageous to have a team in place to create your own short film, sometimes having less people allows you to flex your creativity and critical thinking skills. Because of the lack of resources, it forces you to get creative in your storytelling. At the end of the day, that’s what’s most important. Will your first short film lead to an Oscar nomination? Likely not, but you are guaranteed to learn something that will help you in your next project, which will help you in your next project, and so on and so forth. Use the opportunity to create your own short film to tell a story you’ve been wanting to tell, while learning about the filmmaking process at the same time.
2. Write a play or musical
If you don’t want to deal with all the technical elements of creating a film, consider writing a play. If you have the musical capability, or know of someone you can work with, write a musical.
This is an excellent way to collaborate with other theater makers and tell original stories. There are several festivals throughout the country and the world that you can submit your new play to. Many of these festivals have small fees to participate. There are all types of industry professionals who go to these festivals to scope out new projects and talent, especially in London and New York City. If you are not only in the show, but are also the writer, it puts your name at top billing. You also never know where your play may lead. If the thought of writing a full-length play or musical sounds daunting, you may want to consider the next point on our list.
3. Write a one-person show
I couldn’t recommend this enough when it comes to creating your own work. Not only are you the writer, but you are also the sole performer in the production. This gives you a lot of flexibility as you can rehearse your show on your own time. It’s also easy to take with you to multiple venues because it’s only you. If your show is a hit, it’s not uncommon for producers to take an interest because a cast of one is much cheaper to produce than a cast of twenty. There are many solo performance festivals out there, like the United Solo Theatre Festival, the largest solo theatre festival in the world. It’s also an incredibly rewarding process and because it’s your show, you can quite literally take it with you wherever you go.
4. Start a podcast
I know, I know, I know. Literally everyone has a podcast these days. Do we really need more? I would say yes. Absolutely. Podcasting is a wonderful medium because it’s an opportunity to go deep in a conversation and get to the root of an issue, a story, or any other topic you fancy. Podcasts come in all shapes and sizes. You can create a fiction podcast where you record stories that you’ve written. You can also narrate a nonfiction show, highlighting mysteries of the past (there’s a reason True Crime is so popular). One of my favorite types of podcasts for actors is simply having a show where you interview professionals in the space. I did this with my podcast, Actorcast.
Because I started my own podcast, I’ve had the opportunity to interview Oscar, Emmy, Olivier, and Tony award winners. It’s put me in touch with big names in the business, and it’s doubtful that I would’ve gotten to be in conversation with these people without having a podcast.
Podcasting is a win for everyone involved. It’s a win for the listeners because they are getting the opportunity to hear the insights of some of the top people in entertainment. It’s a win for the guest because it’s an opportunity for them to showcase their work or any upcoming projects they are working on. It’s also a chance for them to give back to a community that has given them a lot. And it’s a win for the host, YOU, because not only are you learning from the best, but you are networking and developing a relationship with this professional. Who you know is one of the most important elements in entertainment, more so than any other industry. This isn’t saying that if you interview an Oscar-winning director that you will magically end up in their next film. This is highly unlikely. But it will form a connection between you two and, in this world, you never know where those connections may lead.
5. Social media content
I wouldn’t say I’m the biggest fan of social media, which is why I was hesitant to put this on the list. But I cannot deny the fact that when you create content on social media, it does establish new connections with people who you wouldn’t have met otherwise. Social media content, be that in the form of sketch videos, behind-the-scenes photos, or simply commentary about your experience as an actor, are not as substantial as the other recommendations we put on this list, but it’s something. I liken social media content to an appetizer. It certainly won’t leave viewers satisfied, but it will whet the appetite. It will make people curious.
Often times, curiosity is all that’s needed for a casting director, director, producer, or whoever to reach out to you about a project they are working on, or to introduce you to someone that they know. While I wouldn’t put all my creative efforts into social media, it is an incredibly effective (and free) marketing tool for yourself. It’s also a low-risk zone to create. You can create a funny little story in a matter of seconds and post it for your followers to enjoy. It allows you to get creative in a short, bite-sized amount of time. It may not lead to you getting cast in a hot new TV drama, but it may just put you on someone’s radar.
I encourage you to explore these creative outlets for creating and developing your own work. It’s so important that we have agency as actors. It’s all too easy to hand the keys over to the traditional decision makers and to put our fate into someone else’s hands. Instead, we should shoot that film, write that play, record that podcast, or post that video and take our power back. At the end of the day, we are creators. We love to portray other people and tell interesting stories. That’s a gift. Never let anyone take that away from you.
Patrick McAndrew is an actor, writer, and responsible technologist based in New York City. He has worked as an actor in both theatre and film, most recently holding lead roles in the award-winning short films, “The Eyes of the World” and “The Case of the Missing Heiress.” As a writer, his brand-new musical, The Startup, with music co-written by Kevin Mucchetti, explores the influence that Big Tech has on our world today. The Startup held its first staged reading in November 2021 at the Chain Theatre in Manhattan and is currently in development. Patrick is also the host and producer of Actorcast, the podcast that broadcasts the work, advice, and insight of actors, writers, directors, producers, and other industry experts in show business. Patrick has studied acting at the Neighborhood Playhouse, New York Drama Center, HB Studio, RK Acting, SITI Company, Upright Citizens Brigade, and Village Playback Theatre. He has worked with a variety of organizations within the industry including The Entertainment Community Fund, United Solo Theatre Festival, Roundabout Theatre Company, Hudson Shakespeare Company, The McKittrick Hotel, The Lee Strasberg Theatre & Film Institute, and The Marjorie S. Deane Little Theater. When he isn’t acting or writing, Patrick works for the Responsible AI Institute, providing tools to organizations to create trusted artificial intelligence.
To learn more information about Patrick, please visit https://www.patrick-mcandrew.com