Why Freelancers Should Take Acting Lessons
After two decades of solo freelancing, I’ve developed a craving for an audience.
Take, for example, the recent Forbes magazine article, “Entrepreneurs Who Master Storytelling Win More.” This article references a book and a couple of well-known role models, but the masters of storytelling have much more training.
I ask a storytelling mentor how I can improve, and he offers a surprising answer: “Improv!”
Class in Session
I’m bicycling while battling stage fright. My destination: Comedy Improvisation I at Tucson’s Studio for Actors.
The studio owner, Anna Risley, starts the class by asking for self-introductions.
I tell the other eight students that I was referred by Odyssey Storytelling. “So,” Anna says, “they sent you over here to Ole Blue Eyes!”
Don’t let your focus on business blind you to help that comes from elsewhere.
I don’t smile or laugh. Too nervous for that.
I’m paired with the best student. After class, I compliment him on his skills. He says that before coming to this studio, he had NO improv experience. Another guy says he’s been here for two years of intensive study.
Two years? I haven’t studied anything intensively since college. And everyone knows that you can’t make a living as an actor, so why bother?
Risley, whose formidable resume includes the “Saturday Night Live” cast, leading roles in 35 stage plays, and countless voice jobs, calls me the next day. How did I feel about improv?
How about a private meeting before the next class?
During our meeting, she outlines a course of study that will begin after Improv I ends. Starting with diction. She’s a real stickler for that.
I mention that I’m thinking of ordering a storytelling home study course. Her one-word response: “No.”
She says that she can teach storytelling and adds that she has trained Toastmasters.
The group for speaking improvement? If I didn’t have such an aversion to meetings, I’d be toasting too. Now I don’t have to.
Looks like I’ve just found a solid business reason for working with an acting coach.
Lesson: Don’t let your focus on business blind you to help that comes from elsewhere.
Two and a half months have passed since that first night at improv class. It’s a sunny Saturday morning, and I’m part of a tree trimming workshop sponsored by a local environmental organization. Our goal is to clear the 10th Avenue walking path. We’re clad in our grubby gardening best.
When opportunity rolls up and you’re in the wrong costume, just pitch.
As I’m chopping up branches, a group of bicyclists rolls by. I recognize all of the Tucson riders – they’re at the heart of every local bicycle advocacy effort. The out-of-town guy with them… wait a minute! He’s the national cycling magazine editor who’s in town for that big ride tomorrow!
He’s in full racing regalia. Me? Falling apart hiking shoes, paint-spattered cycling pants, ripped and torn sweatshirt over turtleneck jersey.
I call out to the editor. He stops.
I deliver my story pitch: “I’ve bicycled in all 50 of the United States, and I’m 55 years old and have never owned a car.”
“You’ve. Never. Owned. A. Car?”
The editor gives me his e-mail address, and then he rides off with the group.
Four days later, I think I’ve finally crafted the perfect e-mail to him. I hit “Send.”
A week goes by. No reply.
While talking with a colleague, I wonder if a letter might work better. Colleague thinks that’s a great idea. So, off goes a letter with writing, photography, and design samples.
Lesson: When opportunity rolls up and you’re in the wrong costume, just pitch. After a few weeks of going onstage to do this warmup exercise, rehearse that part, or tell a 10-minute story without notes, you will be bold enough to do this.
A week after I mail that letter, I’m back onstage with Odyssey Storytelling. My performance gets a lot of laughs. Guess I learned something in Improv I after all.
Away from the stage, that new-found boldness is showing up in all areas of my freelancing life. I’m doing a lot more pitching and presenting – and the rejection isn’t at crushing as it once was.
Lesson: Pitching? Rejection? That’s the actor’s life. They learn to deal with the hurt, and then they move on. So can you.