It’s not the talent you’re born with that counts, but the way you develop it that makes all the difference in whether you become an expert or not.
Nature or Nurture
I know for some actors, myself included, that previous statement is tantamount to heresy, but hear me out. Recent studies by researchers in the fields of sociology, economics and psychology have demonstrated an interesting and counterintuitive connection between practice and perfection. The general consensus is that though raw talent can be a factor in whether a person decides to pursue a certain career…a life in the Biz, for instance…it is not the most important factor when it comes to being an exceptional performer.
Dr. K. Anders Ericsson, Conradi Eminent Scholar and Professor of Psychology at Florida State University, states in his recent paper, The Making of an Expert:
“To people who have never reached a national or international level of competition, it may appear that excellence is simply the result of practicing daily for years or even decades. However, living in a cave does not make you a geologist. Not all practice makes perfect. You need a particular kind of practice—deliberate practice—to develop expertise. When most people practice, they focus on the things they already know how to do. Deliberate practice is different. It entails considerable, specific, and sustained efforts to do something you can’t do well—or even at all. Research across domains shows that it is only by working at what you can’t do that you turn into the expert you want to become.”
5, 6, 7, 8 ….AGAIN!
Now I come from the school of thought that says you’re either born an actor or you’re not, and no amount of acting class will change that. So when I read his study, as well as others concerning this very topic, I was skeptical to say the least. But upon further reflection, I realized that they and I were both right. We’re in agreement that if you have a raw talent for something, such as basketball, mathematics, music, etc., and enjoy doing it, that that can influence whether or not you take it up as a vocation. After all, you don’t willing choose something you hate to do for a living.
But when I thought about all those times I had to focus on learning something new, difficult and challenging as an actor, something I had to succeed in if I wanted to move forward in my career…I began to see his point. The days spent in rehearsing a dance number for musical, the hundreds of hours on the microphone it took learn how to become an audiobook narrator, the endless takes in front of the camera when shooting a video or film; all of these were things I had never done before and initially was terrible at doing. But those grueling hours spent pushing myself physically and mentally had two big payoffs.
Same as it Ever Was…but Better!
I’ll quote Dr. Ericsson again, “Deliberate practice involves two kinds of learning: improving the skills you already have and extending the reach and the range of your skills. The enormous concentration required to undertake these twin tasks limits the amount of time you can spend doing them. It is interesting to note that across a wide range of experts, including athletes, novelists, and musicians, very few appear to be able to engage in more than four or five hours of high concentration and deliberate practice at a time.”
So it seems that practice does not make you perfect, it just makes you passable, but deliberate practice, focusing on those aspects of your vocation that you can’t do well, makes you exceptional. So don’t just get busy…get focused!
“If we analyze the development of the well-known artists, we see that in almost every case the success of their entire career was dependent on the quality of their practicing.” – Ivan Galamian
Sean Pratt, (AEA / SAG / AFTRA), has been a working actor for over 20 years. Sean was a member of the resident acting company at The Pearl Theatre, an Off-Broadway classical repertory theatre and has also performed at numerous regional theatres around the country. Major films include – Gods and Generals, Tuck Everlasting and Iron Jawed Angels. Television work includes – The host of HGTV’s, Old Homes Restored, and supporting roles on Homicide, The District and America’s Most Wanted. Audiobooks – He’s narrated for 15 years and has recorded nearly 550 books in just about every genre. He also teaches classes on and writes articles about the business of the Biz.