We had the good fortune of connecting with Shaan Sharma and we’ve shared our conversation below.
Hi Shaan, is there a quote or affirmation that’s meaningful to you?
“If a man’s life had any meaning at all it was to fight evil.” – Taylor Caldwell’s novel “Bright Flows the River,” 1980. What do almost all of us want, deep down, more than anything? It’s to have the best quality of life we possibly can during the short time we’re alive on this speck of dust in an infinite universe. Apart from the natural causes of suffering, like death, genetics, and natural disasters, how much do we inflict upon each other, either intentionally or unintentionally? So, so much. And it’s the suffering we can actually control. I consider “evil” the intention to destroy others or cause their suffering. And, recognizing my own failures, hypocrisy, and thoughts I’m horrified to admit invade my thoughts at times, it’s also been in my nature since childhood to want to stop such intentional destruction; be it violence, bullying, teasing, or verbal, physical, and emotional abuse. And as you get older, you really start to see how much fear virtually everyone is living under, and how much it costs them throughout their lives, myself included. How many times have I failed to act because of fear? Too many to count. What has it cost me? Who knows? Maybe everything I ever wanted and do not yet have. And that’s what makes evil so hard to tolerate, and why I’ve been focused on using my life’s energy to combat it, to the extent my life can make a difference. Life is already so hard to contend with, almost one million of our brothers and sisters take their own lives every year; not to mention deaths of the soul, when dreams are given up, hope is lost, and life’s purpose fades away. There will always be those among us who are broken or break, who engage in evil acts. Just like a sheepdog keeping a whole herd of sheep in line, it doesn’t take many evil ones to cow the good. That’s always been fascinating to me; how easy it is to control large masses of people through fear. We all saw it on children’s playgrounds when someone was being bullied and no one came to their defense, fearing becoming victims themselves, not recognizing that their intervention in that moment would prevent future victimization. And so, throughout my life, I’ve either forgotten I deliberately decided, or it’s in my nature, to feel responsible for the world’s suffering, and sought to touch ever increasingly larger groups of people’s lives in a positive way; being one fire in the cold winter of life for others to gather around, feel warmth and safety, creating a safe space to work together and build shelter against the forces of destruction, no matter what they are.
Alright, so let’s move onto what keeps you busy professionally?
My first love was singing, starting in eighth grade, followed by the piano. That evolved into musical theater in high school and being in a rock band. I booked myself and other singer/songwriters in and around the Twin Cities in Minnesota, working survival job after survival job, and acting in local commercial and industrial projects on the side. When I moved to LA in 2007 and shifted my focus to acting in film and television, I though I knew what I was doing. I was good, but I wasn’t great. And unless you get struck by lightning in this business, in order to book, work, and have a career, you have to be consistently great. Even better if you’re brilliant. I got started later than others in LA. I thought I was doing everything right when I got here. But after three years of not booking anything, I knew I needed to debug and focus on my training and development. I finally learned what kind of specific training I lacked and spent two years as teacher’s pet learning. On the other side, it took a year to find a new team to represent me, and another year after that to become fans and pound the pavement for me. I finally cracked the seal in 2013, when I booked three network TV shows in a week. Since then, I’ve shot 40ish shows and 30ish commercial campaigns, and finally a series regular on a TV series that I’m convinced is going to make a huge impact on the world and quite possibly become the most-watched TV series of all time, called The Chosen, a brilliantly cast, written, produced, and directed show about the life of Jesus Christ and his disciples. If you think you know what faith-based content is like, The Chosen will exceed all your expectations. There’s a reason it has a 9.7/10 rating on IMDb with over 11k reviews. And that only after season one. All of that is to say that I earned my place in this business. I left everything I knew and all the people and places I loved behind to start my life over at 27 in the City of Angels and Demons, off all places. I got a job in casting. I was constantly in acting classes and workshops. I had a full team of agents and managers. I was always available for my auditions. I drove all over this city, day after day, year after year, just trying to figure it out. If I didn’t succeed out here, it wasn’t going to be because I didn’t work hard enough. And looking back now, I’m entirely dissatisfied with the educational and communal landscape of my profession. For most performers, too much is left to chance, and there is too much of the blind leading the blind. My high school drama teachers didn’t know how to properly train me and prepare me for a professional acting career. Most college programs focus on stagecraft, not on-camera acting. Most college drama professors don’t know what it’s like to audition for and work in network television or studio features, or how to self-tape professionally, or get an agent, or how the business works. It is way too random how actors find their way into this business, and it does not have to be that way. That’s the next era of my education, volunteerism, and union leadership: to help actors reduce the role that luck plays in their efforts to achieve success – defining success as making a decent living only as an artist. As BOLD as it sounds, I had a breakthrough in the past couple years that finally clicked everything into place, and I call it The Actor’s Blueprint for Success. When it comes to getting in shape, for almost all of us, it’s not an information problem. We know to eat healthy and exercise. It’s an execution problem. We know what to do. We just don’t do it. In acting, aspiring actors don’t know what to do AND they don’t do it. I believe I’ve solved the information problem; that after being exposed to my education, all that’s left is execution. No longer should there be any confusion about how to achieve success. I ask actors to consider that there are four essential components to a professional career. Ignoring any of them is a recipe for random, for luck. Ignoring any of them removes variables that should be under your control and leaves them to chance, or in the hands of others. You’re gambling now, and your odds of winning just went down significantly. That doesn’t work for me, and it shouldn’t for others. You can, and people still do, win, but you’re not optimized. Those four components are: CRAFT, BUSINESS, MARKETPLACE, & SELF-CARE. CRAFT: Most aspiring actors recognize that acting is a skill, not a talent that you’re born with or without. You can learn how to act and tell stories professionally. And you really should develop your craft to a professional level before asking people to trust you with their stories and pay you for your involvement. I teach, and advise actors to have, a process for preparing work, a PreGame Ritual for warming up their instruments before performance so they can perform as desired on the first take, and a Rehearsal Network of support to make sure they can rehearse on-camera, with someone else, for every opportunity. BUSINESS: If you want to monetize your art, you have to engage with the acting industry. That’s when actors can choose one or more of what I call “Four Paths to Success.” You can go the Traditional Route of submitting yourself, or engaging a team of agents and managers to submit you, for employment on other people’s stories. You can create your own content, building upon production after production until you’ve refined your skills enough to make content that people will buy. You can develop industry relationships with content creators: writers, directors, producers, casting directors, and network and studio executives. If people love you and your work, they put you in things or create projects for you. And finally, you can use social media and crowdfunding platforms to give the world an opportunity to support what you do. You can monetize a large or relevant niche following, or you can get strangers to commit to funding you on a one-time or recurring basis. Just 1,000 humans in the world willing to give you $5 a month for your content is $60k a year. MARKETPLACE: If you’re skilled and pursuing the paths with dedication, and still can’t make a living, it might be because the marketplace undervalues our art. Enter unions. You can either negotiate for higher wages and better working conditions alone, or as part of a collective. And when that’s 162,000 of the top performers in the world, that there’s some clout…assuming that union is functioning properly. If not, time to get involved and stay involved. Our unions control our profession in ways I, and I’m guessing you, never fully comprehended. At our peril. Last but not least: SELF-CARE: The mark of a professional is high-quality work. The mark of a professional CAREER is consistently high-quality work. You have to be reliable, which very few of us are. You have to care for your mental, emotional, spiritual, and physical health. Below a certain threshold, you’re useless. Above a certain threshold, people HAVE to work with you because your presence makes everything better. Most of us are somewhere in between; inconsistent, but with so much unrealized potential. Take care of yourself. Get consistent. Become reliable. And join the ranks of the top professionals. So, yeah. What sets me and my art apart from others is that I’m making a living as an artist and working in stories that have and will touch so many lives by outworking others and removing luck as much as possible as a variable in my success.
Let’s say your best friend was visiting the area and you wanted to show them the best time ever. Where would you take them? Give us a little itinerary – say it was a week long trip, where would you eat, drink, visit, hang out, etc.
Temescal Canyon is my favorite hike in the city. It’s the perfect length to the summit: an hour up and an hour down. Go up the steep way for a solid workout. Down the long shaded way for a nice cooldown. And at the summit, you can see from Malibu to the Beach Cities to Downtown, and everything in between. Even the ghost of Catalina in the distance. Six Flags Magic Mountain. Flash Pass. Start with X2 and the rest is easy. Don’t do The Riddler twice in a row or risk getting a concussion like me. Pro Tip: Dramamine. I would have said Wabi Sabi Venice before it burned down. Now my favorite sushi spot is Uzumaki in Culver City. Order one of everything. Steak? One answer: Cut by Wolfgang Puck at the Beverly Wilshire Hotel. Japanese Wagyu. Worth going broke for. Why did Umami Burger change their menu during COVID? Fine. Now I’m all for The Win-Dow in Venice. Simple. Like In-N-Out, only good. (Kidding. Don’t kill me.) ((Not really kidding.)) Classic: a walk on the “Monday-to-Friday” beach. It’s so worth it, despite the riff-raff along the boardwalk. From the Marina to Santa Monica. Finish the walk off with a delicious meal on the Promenade…in your dreams because COVID. Go home and order DoorDash. Again, if it wasn’t COVID I’d say the Arclight Theaters are a must for movie lovers, but since that’s ruined now, I guess sit really, really close to your iPhone screen. A drive through the hills on Mulholland is a must. Hey look! It’s the Valley! Ooh! It’s Century City! Who has the time to live in the hills and drive up and down every day? And, yes, Medieval Times is cheeseball and the food is terrible, and so is the Pirates Dinner Adventure, but the kid inside you always wanted to go there but just didn’t live in Cali, so go for him/her/them. And to finish off this list, which I’ve given about as much thought to as it took me to write all this, go to 71 Above. It’s at the top of the US Bank building downtown and you can see 360 degree views of LA. It’s unlike anything you’ve ever seen before. Ever wondered what the tops of skyscrapers look like? Now you can find out while eating an amazing meal with great cocktails and service. Just bring a parachute…just…in…case.
The Shoutout series is all about recognizing that our success and where we are in life is at least somewhat thanks to the efforts, support, mentorship, love and encouragement of others. So is there someone that you want to dedicate your shoutout to?
So many, but I’ll take this opportunity to shoutout two: my labor union, SAG-AFTRA and my friend, mentor, and ride-or-die Kevin McCorkle, a fellow union board member, working actor, and educator. Kevin and I knew of each other over the years in audition rooms when I was frequently working as a commercial casting session director. In 2015, we attended a meeting at SAG-AFTRA HQ at the invitation of our National Executive Director, David White, to discuss union efforts to organize more commercial work under union contracts. After that meeting, Kevin, who was a member of the SAG-AFTRA LA Local Conservatory Committee and the head of its Commercial Department, invited me to volunteer and teach a commercial acting and auditioning class there once a month. That changed my life in ways I will never be able to fully repay. 5 years later, and Kevin and I continue to serve our union, both as educators and as union leaders, serving in the LA Local Boardroom and in national board meetings as replacements for absent national board members. Working with an amazing team of staff, committee members, and volunteers, we’ve built a world-class training arm of the LA Local, and family-like culture and community for our members. All of them have enriched my life immeasurably, and Kevin would say the same. Kevin is a living example that the investments we make in others makes us richer, not poorer. All it takes is one invitation to change someone’s life forever, and perhaps our union.