The Importance of Treating Each Other as Family

A few weeks ago, I watched a documentary about the war in Vietnam. One of the veterans interviewed, now 40 years later, says something to the effect of: When you’re over there, away from your family, at 18, 19 years of age, the other guys in your company are more family to you than your own family back home for the time being. You live and die together. You either have each other’s backs or you’re easy pickings for the enemy.

With the utmost respect for those men and the horrors they faced, which I can in no way equate to our plight as actors, still, it made me think that we are, in our own way, fighting an overseas war of a kind in our lives.

If you’re in Los Angeles or New York, chances are you moved there from across America or even the world, to pursue your passion for the art of acting at the highest level. You left most, if not all, of your dearest relationships behind you. You moved, perhaps, hundreds or thousands of miles to engage in the battle for the fulfillment of your dreams.

Of course, we all know we’re not alone. Duh. We get it. Pretty much everyone we know is out here away from loved ones just like we are.

But do you really get it? Put another way, we’re burning through the only currency of life that really matters: time. The time that makes up our short lives, the time we take for granted, the time that somehow flies by until we get shocking news from home, or from the doctor, or from ourselves.— that we are, or someone we love is, out of time.

We are not being felled by bullets. Absolutely we’re not. We’re being felled by time. And if we don’t have each other’s backs, we’re easy pickings for the enemy. That enemy could be self-doubt, or ego. It could be laziness. It could be self-sabotage, or procrastination, or taking this opportunity for granted. The enemy could be any one of the myriad challenges that stand between you and a career as a working actor.

In previous writings, you’ve read me write that we are each other’s greatest resource. Barreling into this new year, which is crazily almost one-twelfth over already, I’ve made the importance of what I’m calling “support infrastructure” as important as the study and refinement of our craft, and having an amazing team of reps and a manager.

The biggest pillar of that support infrastructure is community. Some of us are lucky to have found fellow actor friends through our survival jobs, acting work, class, school, common interests, through other friends, or out about town. This is the year I challenge you to grow deep with friendships, not just wide.

In a sense, we are already family, you and I. We are brothers and sisters of the craft. We’ve shipped ourselves overseas to foreign lands to invade the industry. Some of us arrived with a whole platoon and rations and state-of-the-art weaponry. Some of us arrived in a rowboat with only the clothes on our back and pocketknife. Regardless, we’re all in it together. Ours is a collaborative art form. We need each other. This is the year I invite you to act like it.

The more you study acting and the more experience you get, you eventually realize that we are not competing with each other. We are really just competing with ourselves. For most actors I meet, their biggest enemy isn’t other actors, but themselves. We get in our own way. We let ourselves down. That’s why we need a surrogate family that can help us get back on our feet and send us back into the fray with an encouraging slap on the ass. “Go get ’em!” “You can do this.”

Starting this month, my students and I are hosting a monthly event we’re calling “Family Dinner Night.” Work and other important commitments aside, the expectation is that you be there if you can. It’s not a time for us to work on our acting or rehearse. It’s just a time to grow deeper with each other and forge friendships that will form the bedrock of our support infrastructure.

The better we know each other, the more comfortable we will be in asking each other for help, like rehearsing for an audition, or help with putting ourselves on tape, or with moving, or breakups. The more we love each other, the more ownership we will take over each other’s careers. This is the year we succeed together, not separately.

So many actors are struggling alone. It’s no wonder so many of us are neurotic messes. We just want to be loved and appreciated for our art. We really want to be good at it. We really want to be successful at it. We really want all of this sacrifice to have meant something.

It does. You do matter. What we do does matter. Our art form comprises the single greatest way human beings choose to entertain themselves; to escape the drudgery of life for a little while and be enthralled by a story. It wouldn’t exist without the thousands upon thousands of actors like you and me throwing ourselves into the machine.

We were family hundreds of years ago when being an actor was considered among the lowest of professions. We stand together as family today when being an actor is one of the most celebrated professions.

Family Dinner Night. All I’m saying is to just think about it.