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A long time ago, I had a student in my class whose work was not very good. He didn’t have any idea about of what kind of characters he could play but his biggest problem was that he didn’t work very hard. He would try things but if they became the least bit difficult he would give up. He was much more interested in finding the fastest & easiest ways to do things. Depth and quality were of no interest to him, his attitude was why read a script if he could watch a movie version. He wouldn’t do his speech warm-up work and consequently his diction was terrible. He would never do what was required to learn an accent, so he could never do one. And he would only do the bare minimum of work on his characters or on understanding the world of the play. The actor was not untalented — he was just lazy. He could have been better if he would only do his homework and preparation. Strangely, when he wasn’t at the theatre he was at the gym or riding his bicycle. So he wasn’t generally lazy. He was just lazy when it came to his acting, which, for some reason, he decided to pursue as a career. He was charming and somehow made reasonable or lucky acting choices and he got cast regularly in university productions, which only encouraged him not to work any harder, why bother? Given that he was expending little effort he was still meeting with some success so there was no reason to work hard. Which is a great reminder that success can be more detrimental to your work than failure. Failure can lead to discouragement and growth while success can lead to complacency. So it is up to you to push yourself to keep doing better work. Allow directors and your acting partners to take you to new places that you couldn’t reach on your own. That is the true joy of acting — working with others and raising the level of your game. Your career is your business. Don’ let laziness, success or failure, or your charm or good looks undermine you. Work hard and enjoy the work.
I ran into this actor recently. He is older and life has been hard on him. Even though he is older, slower and frailer, He works much harder than he did when he was young. He no longer looks for shortcuts and his youthful charm has been replaced with a much less charming maturity. He now wants his work to be honest, connected, and in the moment. ”I don’t know how many more shows I will be able to do,” he said, “but each one is important to me and I want to give my all to each and every audience.” He is much more interesting on stage now and he really connects to his fellow actors. He is many things but not lazy.
Now , you don’t have to wait until you are older and reaching the end of your career to learn to care about your work. You can decide today to focus on the work without looking for shortcuts. Making it easy on yourself is not the way to do your best work. Any performance you give could be your last one. So make each one count.