Clichés in the arts get started for all kinds of reasons. Some start out as good suggestions that get taken too far and some develop as awful gatekeeping strategies. Either way, believing in these clichés is not the way to support your artistic career.
That’s not to say it’s easy to tune clichés out. There are lots of lines artists hear over and over again until they become gospel. However, nine times out of ten, believing in the clichés just holds you back or trips you up. Here are my top six cringy actor clichés that you should leave in the past so you can start booking more work.
- “You have to get a BFA.”
There’s no such thing as a correct path to success in the arts. Every actor brings their own unique life experiences to their work that shape their craft. Whether you went to a conservatory or started acting after college, you are equally valid as an artist and worthy of the jobs you want.
Getting a BFA might open a few doors connection-wise, but it’s no placeholder for hard work and skill. Let the work shine and the resume-booster won’t matter as much.
- “You have to suffer to succeed.”
No one gets a gold star for crying over ramen when their rent is overdue. This industry is already hard enough – don’t make it harder by believing you have to suffer before you get your big break.
If you’re ready to do the work, you’re worthy of doing the work. Besides, you didn’t put all those hours of training in just to torture yourself. Believe in yourself and do your job.
- “You don’t book jobs from open calls.”
Open calls get a bad rap, but any time you’re seen by casting, you’re one step closer to the job. I’ve booked major work from open calls. They’re different now with COVID, but just because you don’t have an appointment doesn’t mean you’re not what casting is looking for.
The worst-case scenario in an open call is that you don’t book the job. You know how else you don’t book the job? By staying home and not going to the audition. Take the risk.
- “You have to fit the character type.”
Don’t count yourself out of a character because you think you don’t fit the type. Typing out happens, but it doesn’t mean you don’t deserve to play the part (or that you don’t have the skills).
You will always do better in the audition room when you’re authentic and bring your full self. If you’re not the traditional race, size, or height for a character, who cares? If you have the chops they need, you deserve to put yourself in the running.
- “You have to have the perfect actor body.”
The only thing you have to be as an actor is healthy. Your body has to be strong enough to carry you through eight shows a week or get you through long days on set. If you can do that, then there’s no set rule about what healthy needs to look like.
If you’re taking care of yourself and you can do your job, your body is doing what it needs to be doing. If you happen to build muscle or lose weight along that journey, it’s a side effect, not the purpose. Focus on your stamina and you’ll win the game.
- “You have to be dressed to impress.”
“Look your best,” and “Look like you’re ready for the Met Gala,” are not the same thing. The truth is, unless you’re going to an opening night, you don’t need to decked out. Bring yourself to your work through your clothing and wear things that make you feel confident and comfortable.
When you dress like you, you’ll be more authentic and you won’t look uncomfortable in clothes you’re not used to wearing. If you naturally live in a three-piece suit, then rock that, but don’t cave to pressure to be something you’re not.
Don’t let clichés control your life.
Clichés are looked down on for a reason. Don’t sabotage your career because one person spits an old piece of advice your way. The most important thing to remember is that all clichés are generalizations and artists can’t be generalized. Just be you, work hard, and let the rest fall into place.
I will say, one cliché that no artist can avoid is the need for a supportive, flexible day job. For a part-time job that will give you audition freedom, check out the community of working artists at Worthwhile Events.
Roderick Lawrence is an actor, filmmaker, and Blacktivist whose long resume includes Simba in The Lion King, Ramses in The Prince of Egypt, Guy in ONCE, and an appearance on Comedy Central’s Broad City. He also created, produced, and starred in the multi-award-winning short film Silent Partner, which premiered in August at the Oscar-qualifying RSF Martha’s Vineyard African-American Film Festival (www.silentpartner-film.com).