I spend, on average, 20+ hours a week answering phones, sending emails, delivering packages, and re-stocking fridges in office buildings all around the great City of New York. I have worked for Barnes & Noble Headquarters, NASCAR, Grey advertising, Patek Philippe, and tons of fairly prestigious financial investment firms. And while I haven’t had say, an actual professional acting gig yet, I consider many of my temp jobs as an opportunity to hone my acting skills and use them on a day-to-day basis.
You might say then that I do, in fact, act 20+ hours a week as well.
So how exactly has being a temp helped my acting (other than padding my bank account and keeping a roof over my head)? Let’s take a look.
The receptionist is the first point of contact for all guests, which means it’s vitally important to make a good first impression so every guest feels welcome throughout the duration of their visit to the office (and also doesn’t think ill of the company). That means offering a smile, a seat, something to drink, and taking their coat. Above all, the receptionist offers respect. Most days, I am perfectly friendly and have no trouble greeting people, but like any normal person, I occasionally have days when I would prefer to be anywhere but the office and not have to interact with anyone. As an actor, it’s important to be respectful of everyone around you from your fellow actors to the crew to the director to the audience, much like being a receptionist. And even if you aren’t feeling up to the part (at least emotionally; sickness is a different issue), you still have to perform at one-hundred percent no matter what else is going on in your life. You owe that to everyone around you, especially when they’ve brought their A-game.
Answering and transferring phone calls is a big portion of any reception job. Again, it’s important to be friendly, but it’s even more important to speak clearly and to listen well. So much weight in acting training is put upon all the complexities of various methods from Stanislavsky to Meisner, etc, that many actors forget the simplest, most significant part of acting: listening and responding with clarity. What’s the point of living in the woods with nothing but prospecting tools from the 1880s and the clothes on your back as “Method research” for your character if you don’t bother to really listen to those around you and speak clearly and accurately? When I answer the phone, I really attempt to listen hard to what the person on the other end is saying and then do my best to speak as clearly as I can so they know what’s going on or get the answer they’re looking for. In turn, I’ve learned to be an even better listener (and have proper diction when speaking!), which is not only good for my acting, but just in life in general.
Being a temp is basically being a substitute teacher for offices. I’m very lucky to often be asked back to offices in which I’ve previously worked, but I frequently am going to new places, which means I have to jump right into things quickly and often learn on the job. Having to leap without looking can be scary, but it forces you to be confident with your choices and think on your feet. It goes without saying that acting sometimes requires improvisation and always requires confidence and a commitment to making bold choices. Because of temp-ing I have learned how to adapt myself quickly to new work environments and protocols and be more confident with my choices. If I make a mistake, I don’t beat myself up, I just learn how to fix it and move on with my day, without anguishing over the fact I didn’t do everything perfect. The goal is always to make as few mistakes as possible and make everyone else’s day go as smoothly as if the real receptionist were there. Being confident also means not being afraid of asking questions. If you don’t know the answer to something, just ask. I’m a big proponent of asking questions, because I feel it’s part of my job to try to understand as much as I can about what’s going on around me (also highly important in acting). I’m always surprised by how many people are too proud to admit they don’t know everything, so they never ask questions, fearing it will make them look unconfident or stupid or assuming people don’t want to help them. This is totally wrong. I’ve yet to meet a single person in one of my workplaces who doesn’t want to help my day go smoother by answering a few questions. Ask and ye shall receive, kids.
So to re-cap, these things apply to both Temp Work AND Acting:
- Show respect to those around you by being friendly and giving 100% at all times.
- Really listen to people and respond clearly.
- Be confident and make strong choices.
- Don’t agonize over making mistakes; fix them and move on.
- Be adaptable.
- Ask questions!
- Learn as much as you can about your role and what’s going on around you.
Apply these to your life (and acting if applicable), and I promise you’ll see instant, positive results!