Saturday, May 21, 2011

Quieting "The Voice"

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I think one of the hardest things that we, as actors, have to deal with is the lack of structure and accountability in our lives.

From the age of 5 we’re thrust into a system that tells us that we go to school between 8am-3pm each day, then play outside until it gets dark, then do homework, then go to bed... only to have the same process repeated for the next 13 years. (Or, 17 years, if one goes to college.) We then get thrust into the real world, and for most of us we take on jobs that tell us where to go, when to be there, and what to do while we’re there. As an actor, structure is murky and given that much of our time is spent building our careers alone, accountability is limited to the voices in our heads (which are rarely kind or encouraging.)

Right now, my biggest struggle is making sure that my acting career is at the forefront, when many other things are pulling my attention. It seems like my attention almost wants to be pulled, because the things that pull offer some structure that I’m missing out on. It’s easy for me to say no to things that have nothing to do with my career -- designing websites for yoga studios and advertising reps; being a career coach for clients who are transitioning out of corporate America... these are jobs that I’ve turned down because they didn’t fall within my overall mission, which happens to be:

Mission: To be a working, professional, and well-paid actor doing projects that make a difference in the lives of my colleagues, our audiences, and myself.

What makes my current struggle tricky is that the projects pulling my attention could, in some way, match my mission, but it will take a heck of a lot of work to get there. It seems daunting, and scary, but for some reason the opportunities are too great to let them pass by.

Like: blogging. I love writing. I love gathering my thoughts -- be they groundbreaking or preying on the lowest common denominator (fart jokes?) -- and publishing them for the world to see. (In addition to this blog and my coaching blog, I write for The Green Room and was just brought on to be the NY arm of Playbills vs Paying Bills.) Intellectually, I know that getting my name out there, along with a well fashioned persona, can go a long way in creating a fan base and developing a sense of “self” in the industry. But there’s a little voice inside me that sometimes says, “Imagine if you took all of the energy you spent on writing and put that towards your acting career -- where would you be?” But then I remember all of the wonderful people I’ve met through my social media adventures, and how many of these networking opportunities have turned into jobs (quite a few.)

Like: producing theater. I have a head for business, so when the artistic director of my theater company (of which I am a founding member) asked me to take on the role of Managing Director, I leapt at the chance. Even though I’ve never really wanted to be a producer and I know how much work the job will involve, something about it just felt right. So I said yes. That little voice in the back of my head started saying, “There are so many actors out there who get to audition, show up to rehearsal, and just be actors. Imagine all that you could do if you put all of that energy into doing just one thing?” But then I remember all of the success I’ve had producing other projects, and the joy of creating something from the ground up. In fulfilling this role, I could expand the possibilities for myself and other actors like me, and increase my legitimacy as an artist.

I always tell my students that you can have passion for many things - passion is infinite. What’s not infinite are resources: Time. Money. Energy. I can have all of the passion in the world, but without resources brilliant ideas can die. This is where structure and accountability become vital.

The solution I have come up with is one that non-profits are charged with when they create programming -- they must ask themselves, “How does this relate to my mission?” and then, over time, prove that it does. So, to create STRUCTURE for my pursuits, here’s my commitment with regard to these new projects I’m undertaking:

Mission: To be a working, professional, and well-paid actor doing projects that make a difference in the lives of my colleagues, our audiences, and myself.

Program - Blogging: In order to satisfy my mission, I must use my blogging to build relationships with those who are creating work for actors, or are conduits between actors and the industry. I must seek to build a robust fan base, which will be useful to producers when it comes to finding audiences and investors.

Program - Producing: In order to satisfy my mission, I must create work for myself that promotes the best of what I have to offer as an artist, and provides our audiences and colleagues with unparalleled professionalism and innovation. As a leader, I must contribute to creating an identity for the company, and then hold it to the highest standards of excellence, so that our company name brings prestige to everyone involved.

Above all: I must be willing to work hard, and ask for what I want. This means that if I meet someone who can help me achieve my mission, I should work tirelessly to make an impact with them, offer assistance, and ask for what I need in return.

Earlier, I mentioned ACCOUNTABILITY. For this, I need your help. As I take on these new ventures, I’m going to count on you, my readers, to keep me accountable. Ask me questions about my career. Check in with me about my goals, and challenge me justify my actions. I’ll keep you updated with some of the exciting news that will, undoubtedly, come up. And if you need some support to keep YOU accountable, just let me know. I’m always happy to help.

Have a comment or question? Leave it by clicking "comments" below!

Erin Cronican's career as a professional actor and career coach has spanned the last 25 years in New York City, Los Angeles and San Diego. She has appeared in major feature films and on television, and has toured nationally with plays and musicals. She has worked in the advertising & marketing departments of major corporations, film production companies, theater magazines, and non-profit acting organizations. For more information, please visit


  1. Hi Erin!
    I smiled all through this column because I wear my career plan like horse blinders. There are so many tempting but distracting opportunities out there, for writers, too. It's hard to stay on the path with all those sparklies strewn about. As for accountability...I'll be watching you! :)

  2. Thanks, Kelly! Just knowing you're watching will make keeping on track that much easier. If there's anything I can support YOU with, please let me know! :)

  3. Way to be, Erin.

    Writing out the specifics will be great for reference and as a reminder.

    Thanks for the great idea and best of luck with all your mission!

  4. Thanks, Gary! It's something I've been wrestling with for the last few weeks, so I'm glad that I can provide at least some sort of inspiration for you all. Keep me posted on anything I can hold YOU accountable for! :)

  5. Knowing how passionate you are about your work and how hard you work and how generous you are as a coach, I KNOW you will make it! :)

    Someday, you are going to rule the world, and if you ever need someone to spread the word about you, you can count on me! KEEP UP THE GREAT WORK -- YOU ROCK! :D

    PS: I'm going to start by spreading the word about this blog post!

  6. Thanks, Cristina! You really make me smile. :)

  7. I'm glad Tony suggested I read this. Even though my mission at present is building my law practice, as opposed to a career in the performing arts, all of your lessons/suggestions still apply, and come at a very apropos time. Thanks!

  8. Great article! Will be using your recommendations to keep myself focused on my own goals. Thanks for sharing!

  9. Mike- I'm glad Tony suggested it too! :) It's wonderful to know that my experiences resonate beyond the scope of what actors deal with. Keep me posted on how I can help support your journey as well, as you grow your law practice!

    Carol- thanks so much for your kind words. I'm excited to learn how these ideas help with your goals. Do you blog? If not, please keep in touch via Facebook & Twitter! :)

  10. I just found this blog today because I was looking for something inspiring to keep me going. I'm a college student studying theatre and I constantly feel like I know nothing of the world and what to do when I get there. Reading your blog is really inspiring and helps me feel a little less anxious to see that you are pursuing your dream and it seems like even achieving it.

    Just wanted to say a general thank you for writing this, and I'm excited to see what else you write about in future.

  11. Thank you so much! I am so thrilled you stopped by. Please let me know if there is anything you want to to discuss - I have both this blog and my coaching blog, Bite-Size Business for Actors ( Stop by again soon!


Thanks for commenting- YOU ROCK!

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