In today’s entertainment media climate, you need to have a range of disciplines to offer prospective projects. Over-specializing is actually a pitfall because it means you can only do one type of work. If nobody’s hiring for the one thing that you do, you’ll be sitting by the phone waiting for it to ring. Don’t be that actor! Instead, load up your toolkit with a range of specialties that make you an enticing candidate for whomever might be casting at the time.
And I’m not just talking about different genres—every actor needs to be able to do comedy, drama, fantasy and horror. But a successful working actor needs to be confident working in entertainment media, commercial spots, voice-only roles, and heck, maybe you can even find a way to do some socially-distanced stage productions while you’re at it. Here’s why it’s important to master multiple disciplines.
Be a Jack of Several Trades and a Master of a Few
Working with multiple disciplines doesn’t mean being jack of all trades and a master of none. You can, in fact, master multiple disciplines, especially when they’re in related fields.
We’re not talking about being a plumber, and airline pilot, and a marble sculptor, after all. A voice actor, screen actor and model, for example, are all within a stone’s throw of each other. Skills from one translate to the other.
If you’re comfortable on stage, and you’re on-point in front of the camera, and you’re competent in a soundstage or against a green screen, you’ve essentially tripled the number of producers interested in hiring you. The old way of acting said to find your niche. Instead, find the niche that’s needed by whomever is hiring. Fill that niche.
Consider it an Artistic Flex
Broadening your actor’s toolkit is more than just a financial consideration, of course. Working in multiple disciplines gives you more room to flex your artistic chops. Acting isn’t just about stretching into a range of characters. It’s about working under a range of different conditions. The flexibility is part of the creative payoff and pushes you to be more and do better.
Sitting in a sound stage, imagining that a tennis ball on a broomstick is a dragon you’re battling and barking your reactions into a puff-guarded microphone may not sound like the ideal workday for some actors (some of us love it, of course). For this type of video game acting, you’re running almost entirely on imagination. But when you walk away from the project, you take a more powerful creative ability with you. The creative payoff is major. The camaraderie with the sound crews and animators is rewarding. Don’t be surprised if you even notice a difference during your next on-location movie shoot. You’ll walk away with stronger creative skills.
Start Small, Be Humble, and Work Hard
In Bruce Campbell’s classic memoir If Chins Could Kill: Confessions of a B Movie Actor, the legendary blue-collar star gives an adroit observation. “Once you look past the hype, actors are nothing more than fugitives from reality who specialize in contradiction: we are both children and hardened adults—wide-eyed pupils and jaded working stiffs.”
The actor-as-a-working-stiff is essentially the theme of his memoir, and it’s a good reminder that beyond the glitz, glamor, and wide-eyed dreams, acting is work. That’s not a bad thing! Roll up your sleeves and start with small jobs that’ll get your oil primed. Work up little by little. Don’t turn up your nose at a job just because it’s not a red carpet ordeal. Remember, there are creative rewards even for the most challenging and least pleasant jobs. Be humble, work hard, and keep at it. Most successful actors have a groundwork of un-glamorous credits in their earliest years.
Leave Room to Surprise Yourself
You never know what you might turn out to be good at. While some people may dream of it, I didn’t set out to be a video game voice actor. That kind of work found me when I saw a casting call for Prince of Persia: Sands of Time. I almost didn’t go to auditions. But in the end, I decided to give it a shot, and I’m so glad I did. That audition ended up being a turning point in my career.
It was my first video game job, and to my surprise, I ended up being good at it, having fun, and fitting right into the workflow at Ubisoft. I had a chance to grow with the company and have ended up with some credits I’m very proud of.
Don’t fixate on the type of actor you want to be, or the type of media you want to appear in. You might have a hidden talent you haven’t discovered yet, and the only way to find it is to work in a range of different disciplines.
Even if you’re not working, or not working much, you can get a head start now by mastering a range of different disciplines. Take some master courses. Make connections outside your typical network. Work intentionally to diversify your creative toolkit. Be a jack of several trades, and master of a few. The rewards will be creative challenges, a broadening reel and credit list, and of course, jobs.
Tod Fennell is a screen and voice actor and screenwriter whose credits include film (The Spiderwick Chronicles), TV (The Art of More), video games (Far Cry New Dawn & Assassins Creed 3) and commercial work in a variety of mediums. He has appeared in a number of popular Ubisoft games, and was a child actor in beloved shows like Goosebumps, Lassie and Are You Afraid of the Dark? His current projects include writing and producing a comedy feature film, and producing the upcoming psychological thriller short film, “My Soul to Take.”
Tod is currently writing and producing a comedy feature film and producing the upcoming psychological thriller short film “My Soul To Take” directed by Laura Vandervoort, starring Jenny Raven and Rainbow Sun Francks. (Not sure if this is necessary or relevant but better to give you more info than less.)