Advice for Young Actors: Charlie Sandlan

byCharlie Sandlan

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I turned 45 this year, and just returned from a cross-country trip from NYC to Seattle. Time away from teaching and running a professional actor training program, combined with a mid-life sensibility has given me time to reflect on art, my own craft, and the expectations of a naive 22 year old moving to NYC to pursue an acting dream in 1993.

When I left Purdue in 1992 with a BA in Theater, my first serious mentor Rich Rand sat me down and told me that I had talent, but that I was lazy and uncommitted to myself as an artist. It was a hard thing to hear, especially from someone whose opinion mattered greatly. But he was right. I was a young man who had gotten by trading on my personality, my looks, and my talent, which I had done absolutely nothing to deserve. But when you’re young, sometimes things go in one ear, rattle around for a second, and head out of the other. I thought I knew more than I actually did.

When I arrived in NYC, I felt like time was flying by and that before I knew it I would be 25 with no career! I laugh now when I interview young students in their mid- twenties who think they don’t have time to commit to training because they’re almost 26! I toiled around the city doing free, horrible theater in church basements, bars, and black boxes all over the city. Each gig, a collection of actors similar to myself; young, untrained, and lazy, who thought that moving to NYC and auditioning for crap in Backstage gave us the right to call ourselves actors. Most of the friends I had started to make were like me: undisciplined, and completely unaware of how much hard work it takes to be a serious artist. After 5 years and a trip to London for a summer, I realized that I liked to call myself an artist but in truth, I wasn’t one. It was a bitter pill to swallow, to admit my laziness, and acknowledge that the vision of the actor I wanted to be would never be realized if I didn’t get serious. I then made one of the best decisions of my life. I committed myself to the craft of acting.

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I ultimately graduated from Rutgers with an MFA in acting in 2001, 31 years old and finally clear about the work-ethic, discipline, and dedication it takes to be a respected professional actor. I was lucky to have found Maggie Flanigan and her unwavering commitment to truth and artistry. Her passion for the craft of acting was like a lightning bolt to my artistic soul. I finally understood that acting is an art form that requires craft and technique. That in order to be taken seriously by others, I must take myself seriously first. That to be seen as a serious artist, I must commit seriously to the art form.

Now I commit my life to the art of teaching. For the last decade I have devoted myself to teaching craft and technique to aspiring actors. I tell them all: If you want to be acting in your 40’s, 50’s, and 60’s, then make the art form of acting your life’s obsession. And to my younger self I would have loved to been told this: don’t hang out with untalented people, don’t be a victim, surround yourself with artists who inspire you, don’t gossip, take yourself seriously and master your instrument. Otherwise you’re well on the road to being a hack. And acting has way too many of those.

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