In defense of the single-hyphenate
How do you hyphenate?
There’s been a lot of pressure in the last few years for actors to become “multi-hyphenates”. For non-industry folks, a multi-hyphenate is a term in the entertainment industry for artists who are professionals in multiple disciplines: the actor-writer-producer for example.
I am in awe of the many amazing actor-writer-producers out there creating short films, web series, and viral videos. It’s awesome. Truly. But if the thought of “creating your own content” makes you want to vomit, I’m here to reassure you: there’s still room for the single-hyphenate.
Here are 4 reasons why I’m a proud single-hyphenate (As much as a mama actor can be a single-hyphenate. Let’s not forget that moms are the original multi-hyphenates of the world).
I don’t have time for stuff I don’t really, really love
Perhaps this is a struggle unique to parents, but during these years when my children are young, the choices that I make inherently affect them. My time is my own, but it’s a little bit not my own too. My feeling is this: if I’m choosing to be away from my kids at this age, I want it to be in service of something that I truly love. Few other things light me up the way acting does, and I am #blessed that I get to an actor. (That was an ironic use of the #blessed thing inserted as a commentary on how much #blessed drives me crazy. I digress.)
The power of focus
When I listen to stories of actors who are doing the work that I want to be doing, the thing that all of these stories have in common is focus. They started booking big things when they cut away everything that didn’t further their acting goals.
Could you argue that producing your own work can further your acting goals? Yes. But it also has the potential to waste your time and divert your focus from building relationships, growing your resume and honing your craft as an actor.
Professionalism vs dilettantism
I admit I can be a little bit of a snob. If I’m going to call myself something (like a job title, not an epithet), it’s because I do it professionally, and I do it well. I enjoy writing poetry when I feel moved, but I don’t call myself a poet.
Being a single-hyphenate is about honoring the professionalism that comes with calling yourself something, a title. I’m an actor because I dedicate my life to developing my gifts as an actor and working professionally as such.
That doesn’t mean I can’t write a play, direct a film, publish a novel. I can do anything I want to, dammit, and so can you! But while I’m in the phase of developing those different skills, I’m still only going to call myself an actor.
Is this just rhetorical nonsense? Maybe. Personal preference? Definitely. But I’m arguing here that a title should convey some degree of excellence and mastery, so if you aren’t quite excellent yet, wait to multi-hyphenate until you are, whatever that milestone or benchmark of excellence is for you.
I don’t want to
This is hands down the best reason to say no to anything. Intellectually, I think it sounds cool to be a writer, a filmmaker, a director. But in practice, the work of doing those things does not light my soul on fire.
I’ve tried branching out. I produced a webseries a couple of years ago and a play at my theatre company after that. While I had a pretty good time, it wasn’t my thing the way acting is my thing. That’s the best way I can describe it. Acting lights me up, so that’s what I do. As much as I possibly can. In my studio, with my friends, at my theatre company, in auditions, on my iphone, in my backyard.
The bottom line is, if you want to write, do it. If you have a burning curiosity about producing, try it out. But don’t hyphenate yourself because you think you should, or because you need a “vehicle”, or because someone told you at a networking event that “everyone’s a multi-hyphenate these days”.
If you’re multi-hyphenating for any reason other than passion, curiosity, and creativity, I’d encourage you to pause. Get in touch with what you really love and follow that. Maybe you will discover a new passion and skill set that will take you to the land of the multi-hyphenate. Or maybe you’ll stay “a single” and rediscover all the wonderful things that originally brought you to your art in the first place.
Disagree with me? What drives you to be a single- or multi-hyphenate? Argue with me passionately (yet kindly) in the comments.