Written by Shannon Sturges
I have long wished to sit down one-on-one with an acting coach and publish their advice for actors. I finally got that chance in speaking to Shannon Sturges, accomplished actress and acting coach at Speiser/Sturges Studio. Shannon Sturges exemplifies the kind of acting coach you hope for, in that her approach is filled with enthusiasm, compassion for her students, and the wisdom of how the industry works, as an actress with more than 25 years of success. Get ready for not one, but two opportunities to immerse yourself in Shannon’s world! The amazing thing is, not only did she contribute this article with The Modern Actor community, but we also recorded a podcast episode where she goes into more depth on everything acting. I am so inspired by acting coaches like Shannon who truly live and breathe acting and make it their life’s mission to guide the next generation of artists.
So much love to you Shannon! I am so happy to call you a friend and mentor and I wish you nothing but happiness and success.—E.R.
I get asked two questions more than any other, “How can I book my audition?” and “Do I have talent?”
How in the world can I answer either of those? Let me add some perspective as someone with over 30 years in the business—first as an actor and student and now as the owner of one of the most respected acting studios (Speiser/Sturges) and an in demand on-set acting coach.
“Shannon, do I have talent? Do I have what it takes to make it?”
I have seen amazingly talented actors not have monetarily successful careers. I’ve seen actors get lucky and their careers have taken off without the skill that I thought it would take. Making it is really a subjective goal. I have students who just love coming to class, stretching themselves artistically and enjoying an art form that you never outgrow—that you just get better with age.
But I know what people really mean. “Will I be a household name? Will I make enough money to buy a house? Will people I went to high school with be impressed?"
Talent can even be harder to define. My definition of acting is the ability to be believable within the imaginary circumstances of the script. Everyone processes the ability to be believable, we do it every moment of our “real life.” I encounter many people who, when presented with a script and a character, become paralyzed with fear and stop behaving naturally or believable as the character in the script. Those that we think of as “talented” are the ones that have the ability to get out of their own way. They divorce themselves from needing to be perfect or aren’t concerned with embarrassing themselves.
Trained actors are able to make the choices that serve the character best, they can be fluid with it, practice and then “let it go.” If you have not practiced, meaning put in the work to break down the character and scene then there is nothing to “let go” of. It is a great lesson in trust, trusting yourself and your craft.
If you are a talented musician, athlete or artist, you must still practice— you must be willing to fail. Playing it safe isn’t honoring your art or playing to win. Letting go is easier said than done, but really the actors that we love are not playing it safe. And let’s not forget, if it all goes to hell in a handbasket there is always take two.
Okay, so now you’ll accept that you “Have what it takes”— what’s next? How do you book the job?
I’ve seen some acting classes say they guarantee bookings- NO! No one can make those promises. When it comes to casting there is more out of your control than in your control. I have no way of guaranteeing that you’ll work. I can coach you and we can create a “perfect” audition and then we’ll discover that they offered it to someone else, or pinned you and then released you. I can tell you that trying to get the part will NOT serve you, because that is out of your control and you must release what you can control as well as what you cannot control.
You must do your job, character and scene breakdown. Do not do the stage direction. If the script says “She sits,” would you have sat if it didn’t say that?! Do what you want, what makes sense and is supported by your work with the text. If they think you’re right for the part and they need you to sit and you didn’t, they will say “Great, let’s do it again and please sit when it says “He sits.”
It’s that easy. This is perhaps your one chance to embody the role, to do your art. Don’t try to give them what you think they want, they want you to be the expert. If you go in expecting a gold star and a job by getting it all right, it won’t happen. Life is messy and believable behavior (your job, remember?) is too. Of course there are always exceptions to the rule, you’re playing a robot; sure do it perfect and robotic. You still might not get it though. Think of auditions as free opportunities to display your art, it’s your showing. Prepare, and let go, there will be another one.
“But Shannon, this casting director casts a lot of stuff, I want them to like me.”
The casting director wants to cast a specific role. If you’re amazing they might think of you for something else if you’re not right for this role, but if you’re just trying to get them to like you, you’re not doing your job. Trust that the casting director is also an expert at their job.
I cannot give you anything to book the job, but hopefully your audition can be the best it can be and you can be satisfied knowing that you did your job and the rest is out of your control.
These are perhaps the two best pieces of advice I wish that I could’ve understood back when I was a new, young actor. Prepare, and really and truly let go of the result.
Let us know what you think of Shannon’s article by leaving a comment below!
Shannon Sturges has taken her 25+ years of professional acting experience and utilized her talent to become one of the entertainment industry’s most sought after and respected teachers in the business. Discovered in a college acting class by coach Aaron Speiser, now 30 years later they are partners in Los Angeles’ top acting studios – Speiser / Sturges. Sturges has brought her training and on-set experience to the Speiser/Sturges helping not only beginning actors but experienced actors as well. Respected filmmakers such as F. Gary Gray, Gerald Butler & Christian Gudegast and Will Smith’s Westbook Entertainment have also hired her for their productions.