Madalyn St. John is an actor appearing for the second time at Hedgerow. She has performed in The Servant of Two Masters and A Midsummer Night’s Dream. She is also a fitness instructor in the Greater Philadelphia area. Below, check out her Top 7 things fitness has taught her about acting and life.
1. How to handle long hours
I am not a morning person. Yet, I’ve been waking up at 3:45am, Monday through Friday, for the last three and a half years to teach early morning bootcamp classes. While this has certainly increased my appreciation for a good nap, it has also trained my body to get up and get moving even when it doesn’t want to.
Days on a film set can be long and exhausting. Teaching early morning classes I have learned to handle the occasional 19-hour day. Gone are the days when I would wake up long after the sun; now I try not to laugh when my actor friends complain about an “early” 7 a.m. call time.
2. Mix it up
If I do the same class or program too long, I get bored and end up falling off the fitness wagon. I mix up my routine throughout the week with running, HIIT or circuit training, weight training and kickboxing to challenge my body and keep boredom at bay.
I apply the same principal to my acting life. I’m working on Shakespeare now, but I also take a Meisner class twice a week and most of my past work has been musical theatre. Exploring different areas and styles of acting is not only really fun, but it is also a great way to challenge yourself and grow as an actor.
3. Goal setting
I am really big on goal-setting. There’s no point working out everyday if you don’t know what you’re working towards. I try to set specific goals with meal plans and workout schedules that are manageable but will help me get the results I want. Setting specific goals is vital to acting. You could float around taking whatever job comes your way for years without making any real progress. Goals might be business-oriented (like creating a website, putting together a reel or sending submissions) or more creative (like learning a new special skill or writing a screenplay). Just like with fitness, you have to think about what you want and then map out the steps to take to get there.
4. Don’t limit yourself
“I can’t do push-ups.” I hear this time and time again from new clients; but “can’t” is the dirty four-letter word of my classes. My advice is the always the same: try, practice, try again. In acting, you absolutely CANNOT be afraid to GO FOR IT. If you hold back, you’ll be dead in the water before you even begin. I’ve surprised myself many times by trying something I didn’t think I could do, only to find that I could do it—and what a great feeling that is, in the gym or on the stage!
5. No pain no gain
How cliché, right? The thing is, clichés exist for a reason: they are usually true. If I’m not sore a day or two after my workout, I take that as a sign that I didn’t push myself enough. Soreness after a workout is literally thousands of tiny microtears in your muscles. The muscle the grows back in its place is thicker and stronger, thus you literally need to go through the pain to gain muscle.
Unfortunately, there’s a lot of “pain” to be had as an actor. There’s a lot of crumby jobs and tiny roles you have to go through to get to the good ones. There’s long hours, and low pay, and unprofessional “professionals” and there’s a lot of rejection, putting yourself out there time and time again only to hear, “no thank you,” 19 times out of 20; but it’s worth it for that 1 time.
6. Make a choice, then commit to it
My biggest problem when trying to get in shape or eat healthy is—like many people—sticking to it. As a result, I usually go for plans that are pretty strict, with no grey area. If I know the rules of a meal plan or workout, I’m much more likely to adhere to them. Once I’ve decided to do it, I follow through to the end.
As an actor you have to make choices. Sometimes HUGE choices. Most of the time, there’s not one RIGHT way to do a scene or play a character, but whichever way you choose you have to choose HARD. Nothing is more uninteresting to watch than an actor who can’t commit to their choices.
7. Try, try again
I can’t tell you how many times I’ve set a fitness goal for myself and failed. Yes, FAILED! Does that mean I rolled up my yoga mat and stormed out, never to return again? Of course not! If I fail to get the results I want, I reassess, taking stock of what worked and what to do differently next time. And then I get to work again.
If you want to be an actor, and I mean REALLY want it, there is no quitting. There is no time off. There is no failure. You say to yourself, “Ok, that sucked. What can I learn from it? What can I do right now to put me on a better path this time around?” My favorite thing to do after a crappy audition is look at the next audition I have coming up and start preparing for it HARD. Whether it’s sit-ups or Shakespeare, you have to keep pushing.