What are the key ingredients to success in the arts and entertainment industry? Desire? Passion? Dedication? Luck? That was the question posed to a group of about 20 young dancers ranging in age from 10 to 15 years old along with their parents during a free lecture at Encore Dance Studio on Wednesday night by renowned talent scout and Broadway producer Peter Sklar.
Sklar has discovered and coached thousands of young performers, including Sarah Jessica Parker, Mischa Barton and Academy Award winner Reese Witherspoon.
“Someday you may decide to move to New York or LA and decide that this is real, not just a fantasy,” he told the students.
“And you can.”
Yet the question that he posed to the dancers over and over again throughout his nearly 90-minute talk was how they can separate themselves from the rest of the dancers, actors and musicians trying to make it in Hollywood, New York City or around the world.
Initially he painted a pretty bleak picture of the industry by describing how in America there are two
unions that govern all performers, Actors Equity and the Screen Actors Guild.
“You can’t get into these unions unless you are on Broadway or have a paid role in a movie or TV role.
You have to actually be hired,” he said.
What’s more, every year those two groups publish a list of how many of its members are employed in the industry and how many are working at temp agencies or waiting tables – numbers that shocked everyone.
“In the past four decades it’s always been the same exact percentage; 97 per cent unemployed, and three per cent employed,” he said. “So what chance do you have? Probably less than three per cent.
“You’ll probably fail. Everybody fails.”
So how do young hopefuls stand out from the crowd and make casting directors take notice? As he told the crowd, talent and training in the industry is like air, “absolutely essential, but everyone’s got it.”
Sklar offered four insightful tips on how to truly succeed, and they are all centered on self-image and health.
“If you want to get into that three per cent and perform for a living, the good news is you can. You can do certain things to succeed.”
He was upfront with them, however, and admitted that those things would be incredibly difficult.
The first step to making it in show business, Sklar argues, is to become fully aware of who you are and to develop an acceptance for that person. Too often actors fall into the trap of what he called the “sparkle, bubble and shine syndrome” in which those coming in for an interview put on a fake act and try to be who they think the casting director wants them to be.
The truth is, any casting director can tell who you really are the moment you step into the room, Sklar said, and will instantly see through the façade. Only by truly accepting who you are can you approach a casting director with the hope of being named for a callback.
“They hire people who are genuine, real, open, and where what you see is what you get. They’re that three per cent.”
The second factor was to maintain good personal health. He said that anyone who comes into an audition or interview that is sick will revert back to the sparkle, bubble and shine syndrome to try and cover up their illness. Moreover, directors are less likely to hire you out of concern that you’ll infect the rest of the crew.
By eating a proper diet with plenty of green vegetables, and limiting their intake of sugar and caffeine to virtually zero, Sklar said they would have health and energy to make it in the entertainment industry.
Third, he suggested anyone looking to make it big should refrain from being in a serious relationship until the age of 25 or until they’ve tasted some success. The reason for this is because someone in a committed, serious relationship will have a safety net and be less prone to taking risks necessary to make it big, he argued.
Finally, Sklar told the students to ignore anyone who tells them they should find a more practical career to fall back on just in case they don’t make it in the entertainment industry. He compared it to when two people are preparing to jump from one rooftop to another; you can either be the person running and building up momentum, or you can be the one looking over the edge and trying to find a way down that will lessen the pain of the fall.
“They’re trying to protect you from failure,” he said. “Do not let someone talk you out of your dreams.”
The overarching theme of the talk was this: if you don’t feel good mentally and physically, you won’t open up and show the directors who you really are, and when that happens it won’t matter how good you are, how pretty you are or who you know – they’ve already lost interest.
Despite the sometimes-stark tone, those in attendance responded well to the talk, which had been in the works since July when the director of the dance club first contacted Sklar to see if he would come to Elmira.
“I thought it would be a great opportunity for the kids to get insight into the arts industry, and what’s involved,” said Chrystal Mazzotta.
“At the beginning he is realistic, and he doesn’t sugar-coat and I appreciate that. I think it’s important for people to know what to expect, and he finished on such a positive note.”
Mazzotta also said she wished someone had given a similar talk to her when she was her students’ age.
“I went to many workshops across Canada and the USA, to countless competitions, and I’ve never been exposed to a speaker on this level who was this positive and this inspiring,” she said.
“If everyone took one thing positive away from it, then it was beyond worth it for me.”