Quite often, the parents of would-be actors ask me a number of questions about acting and the acting profession. I’ve reproduced the questions that they ask here, and formulated considered replies.
Should my son or daughter become an actor?
No. There are too many actors already.
Are you serious?
So you think people shouldn’t become actors?
No, I want to discourage as many as possible, and if they still want it – good for them.
How do I know if my child is good enough?
This isn’t your call. Support them in going to auditions, help them get some audition preparation training, and if they get in, you’ve got your answer. If they still want to try again, support them, but tell them they still have to support themselves financially during that period. It’s important to instil financial self-sufficiency.
Isn’t it impossible to get a job?
Yes, it’s very difficult but plenty of people do it for a living. If they’re good enough to get into an accredited acting school, they’re good enough to earn a living at it.
Is it sensible then to send my child to university, so they can get a proper degree first?
A proper university degree never helped a single actor to act. University degrees in drama are a way of hedging your bets, and so they are practically useless. If you want to be a plumber, go to plumbing school. These days most acting schools offer degrees. They’re worth as much as toilet paper because no one cares if an actor has a degree, they just want to know if they can act. But then again, personally, I feel the same way about a degree in English Literature.
Well, what about if they go to a very good drama course and do a combined degree?
Bit of an accountant, bit of a carpenter. Would you employ them? I wouldn’t even let them wax my car. Bit of a writer, bit of a bricklayer? No thank you. Bit of an actor, bit of an economist/psychologist/chemist? Even worse. Combined courses aren’t what you think. They are not combining the subjects, it means studying less of two things.
Isn’t it best to have something to fall back on?
No, it’s sensible to have a fall back, but it isn’t best. Why? Because necessity is the Mother of Invention. If the necessity is there, they will have to make acting work, if there’s another option, it will be easier to fall back on. You should get a fall back such as teaching, only if you can’t commit to actually becoming an actor.
What is the one thing that an actor needs to succeed?
Well, one of these two things. Either tenacity – the indomitable desire to get what they want without giving up OR resilience - the ability to have sand constantly kicked in their faces, and still get up and get on with it. I’d go with resilience personally. That’s what I like to see in actors. On the other hand, I don’t kick sand in their faces in my acting classes; it’s a personal quality they must learn for themselves.
Mark Westbrook is a professional acting coach in Scotland.