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  • Writer's pictureAndi Matheny

Necessity is the mother of reinvention

I know you've heard that common proverb - "Necessity is the mother of invention." That's why we have Peanut M&M's - some genius realized that some of us women gots to have our chocolate and our peanuts in a candy-coated shell or else we'll go crazy. Oh, and that's why we have electricity and all sorts of other stuff too. If there is a need, a smart human being will figure it out.

But for all of us in the entertainment industry, it's not so much about invention as it is reinvention. Our career can feel like a series of dead ends and brick walls. You go down one path, hit a brick wall, butt your head against it so hard it knocks you down and you see stars for a while, after which you pick yourself back up and go down another road. And another. But sometimes it's not just going down a different road, it's about making a radical change, picking up a new skill, maybe even creating a new persona.

Take my husband for example. He's a screenwriter, successful for a while, then suddenly Hollywood stopped buying his screenplays, which were all zany comedies. He kept writing them, and Hollywood continued to not buy them. This went on for almost ten years. He was burnt out, discouraged. Then he said he had the idea for a family drama, about a smart little girl adopted by her uncle after her mother commits suicide. Then the grandmother shows up out of nowhere demanding custody and all hell breaks loose. That was the movie Gifted, which was a hit for Fox Searchlight. Now he's in demand as a dramatic writer because he reinvented himself.

I did a sitcom years ago with a talented actress with this long luxurious mane of brunette hair. Her name was Mariska Hargitay. She was really funny - had great timing, did expert physical comedy, had this quirky zany quality and in my opinion was the best thing on the show. After the sitcom was cancelled she still worked (I checked her IMDB page) but she didn't really break out until she chopped off her hair and assumed the tough gal role of Olivia Benson - who made her first appearance on Law & Order in 1999, popped up in several other series until finally landing on SVU. When I first saw her I said , "Wow - is that really the same girl?" I happen to know that funny people make the best dramatic actors but Hollywood doesn't always. Good for her for making the switch, and good for them for giving her a shot. She's fabulous on SVU and I'm guessing still really funny. (And by the way, I'm not suggesting the haircut was the only reason for her episodic success. But it may have helped...)

In class my main focus is not only teaching students how to be great actors but also - how can my actors get to the next level? We strive for excellence and 100% commitment in our scene work. The mantra is, first of all, be a terrific professional actor. And then, what can we do to break out, to be exceptional, to stand out in a sea of thousands of faces? How can we have a little control over the frustration of traveling down that road and hitting that wall, again and again? Is it producing a play? Performing stand-up comedy? Learning a new skill? Producing your own web series? Or getting a radical hair cut and changing up our look? How can we reinvent ourselves, in a truthful way, so that our gifts can be appreciated, or more to the point, to get a job?

This is the ongoing question and what makes this business challenging, and in my opinion, invigorating. You must grow. You must change. You must challenge yourself. Maybe you'll find that thing that makes you stand out and makes everything click. If other people hire you because of it, that's even better. Or if your journey leads you to create your own project, and if you're doing the hiring, that's the best of all.

So if you're hitting those brick walls, it might be time to reinvent. Take baby steps or make a big change. You have nothing to lose. And if you're in my studio, you have the support of dozens of other fellow actors who want you to succeed. Especially if you're hiring...

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