You do you. It’s ok to create your own opportunities and a job title that suits you best. While I loved being an actress, I felt like something was missing. After years in a career that was supposed to be my childhood dream come true, I felt unfulfilled. Only when I returned to my childhood years in school theater, I realized I enjoyed the whole process from the inception of a story idea to the finished show. I found that same happy place as a digital creator, where you get your hands dirty in every step of the creative process and that was what I needed to feel complete.
As a part of our series about Inspirational Women In Hollywood, I had the distinct pleasure of interviewing Lenka Silhanova, a former actress turned digital creator and social media coach for actors and creative professionals.
She discovered the power of social media as an online stage with her award nominated blog Acting Abroad. Blogging gave her the freedom to tell stories she longed to tell and share information to help others. Thanks to Bonnie Gillespie who inspired her to pursue this career path, Lenka now teaches actors and creatives how to leverage social media to get their voices heard.
Thank you so much for doing this with us! Our readers would love to get to know you a bit better. Can you tell us the story of how you grew up?
Thank you for having me, it’s my pleasure!
I grew up in post-Velvet revolution Czechia (then Czechoslovakia), in a sleepy small town in the northern part of the country. Theater was my way to escape. I discovered theater in elementary school and started writing plays, acting, and doing everything behind the scenes.
Like a typical 90s kid, I was obsessed with American TV shows and movies. This is when the ambitious idea of becoming an actress abroad was born. I had plans to pack my bags to move across the globe, right after I finished high school.
Can you share a story with us about what brought you to this specific career path?
My family couldn’t afford to send me to a college in Prague, which is where I could study acting or filmmaking. I was considering both. So, I decided to go abroad as an au-pair, learn English, save up money, and then be able to stay to study acting.
I imagined it would be way easier than it was in reality. While I did learn to speak English fluently, saving up enough to cover an F1 visa and the cost of studying in the USA proved to be impossible. I decided to make the most out of my stay in the USA and took acting classes in San Francisco and Los Angeles, and then headed back to Europe when my au-pair visa was up.
On my flight home, I started reading the book Self-Management for Actors by Bonnie Gillespie, and all inspired, I decided to go to London to continue my studies. I sold old books, toys, clothes, and bought a one-way ticket to London where I appeared with a suitcase and £40 to my name.
I found a school called The Actors Centre in London, where I requested an interview via email. Since I had no money saved up for tuition, I asked to work there in exchange for classes. To my surprise, they said yes and that’s how I covered 2 years of studies.
To manage my living expenses in one of the most expensive cities in the world, I worked part-time as a live-in nanny, occasionally I cleaned houses and delivered theater leaflets, dreaming about being in plays like that one day.
This story was what I told in my (now retired) blog Acting Abroad, to inspire kids from ordinary families to pursue their dreams even if it seems impossible. My readers nominated me for a Streamy Award and Huffington Post featured me as one of the top female bloggers in the UK in 2011. That marked the start of what I do now.
Can you tell us the most interesting story that happened to you since you began your career?
I never thought you could land a job in an advertising agency by posting your self-tapes on YouTube. I did Bonnie Gillespie’s 30-day Self-Tape Challenge for several rounds. I uploaded them to YouTube and shared them on Twitter. I got a message there, inviting me to an interview, which led to a presenting gig and an offer to work for an advertising agency. They were impressed by how much I knew about social media and content creation. It completely derailed my career and I realized the potential of social media for an actor’s career. As a result, I took a break from acting to become a digital creator instead. I’ve never planned such a thing to happen for my career, but I learned that life can lead you in an unexpected direction.
Can you share a story about the funniest mistake you made when you were first starting? Can you tell us what lesson you learned from that?
When I returned to Czechia after my studies in London, UK, I assumed show business worked the same way. I waltzed into the first casting agency I could find, with all my marketing materials (headshots, résumé, clips on a CD — oh, the good ol’ days). They looked at me completely puzzled and asked “What are we supposed to do with this?” They handed the materials back to me, asked me to pose for pictures holding a number (I felt like a prisoner), and to fill out their casting sheet (where I had to handwrite all that I had on my résumé). I felt like I had just landed on Mars. This first casting office never called me in for anything. It’s a funny rookie mistake that I still laugh about when I remember their faces. I learned to not try so hard to appear professional. I realized that the industry is not the same everywhere.
None of us are able to achieve success without some help along the way. Is there a particular person who you are grateful towards who helped get you to where you are? Can you share a story about that?
I wouldn’t be where I am or who I am without Bonnie Gillespie. She’s my mentor, my pace car, my lighthouse. She taught me most of what I know about show business. She inspires me with her positive impact on the actor and creator community. I aspire to have a similar positive impact on the community. Her values and leadership helped me navigate my journey to discover my own values and how I want to show up as a leader in life and this industry.
You have been blessed with great success in a career path that can be challenging. Do you have any words of advice for others who may want to embark on this career path, but seem daunted by the prospect of failure?
There is no such thing as failure. The only way you’ll fail is if you give up easily.
I also feared failure when I was just starting out because I cared so much about pursuing this career. It was everything to me and that was a mistake. I attached my value as a person to how well I did in a career where the odds were not in my favor.
After a decade in the industry, I learned to place my value outside of my career and that’s when I finally relaxed into it. Things started to fall into place, the right opportunities showed up and the right people as well.
“Have fun, know your worth, and treat everything as a learning experience” is my motto.
What drives you to get up everyday and work in TV and Film? What change do you want to see in the industry going forward?
I’d love to see the worlds of traditional media and new media merge. There’s much that these two beasts can learn from each other. Creators in new media can learn the craft and how it evolved. Traditional filmmakers can learn from new creators how audiences like to consume stories these days and how to build relationships with them. It all starts with mutual respect and an open mind to change.
You have such impressive work. What are some of the most interesting or exciting projects you are working on now? Where do you see yourself heading from here?
Thank you! I’m currently exploring video production and I want to resurrect my old YouTube channel. With this project, my career is coming full circle.
I started out blogging about my acting journey and occasionally I filmed some self-tapes and scenes for my YouTube channel. Quite frankly, I’m ashamed of the quality now, but back then, it was the best I could do and it seemed like it was enough to get discovered. I decided to take a break from acting, and learn new skills such as social media, content creation, and online marketing. Later I got a job at a well-known Czech advertising agency where I quietly observed many talented people and learned as much as I could. Both experiences opened my world to making a living as a digital creator and social media specialist. During this time, Bonnie Gillespie inspired me to teach actors and creators about social media and I found great joy in doing so.
Now, after years of working for clients and creating their content, I’m returning to my roots and using all the experience to tell my own stories, while I still help actors and creators to tell theirs. It’s been quite a ride let me tell you!
We are very interested in looking at diversity in the entertainment industry. Can you share three reasons with our readers about why you think it’s important to have diversity represented in film and television? How can that potentially affect our culture and our youth growing up today?
It’s incredibly important and very much needed! Every person should be able to watch TV and movies and be able to find themselves in the stories and characters there. That can’t happen when we don’t have equal representation of all races, cultures, nations, and sexes. When the stories are based on harmful stereotypes and fake character archetypes, we all lose out.
I believe that a part of what’s so refreshing about online creators and digital storytelling is how relatable they are. When you watch a Hollywood celebrity in a blockbuster movie, you can’t relate to the character nor the story. You see it as a fantasy. Whereas when you watch content from an online creator, they seem like your friend and someone you can imagine hanging out with. Their stories are based on real experiences and you don’t feel lonely in the world.
This is why I’d like for traditional and online media to merge. The necessary change in traditional media is happening very slowly and with many missteps. While online media isn’t perfect, it’s more progressive and faster in adapting to changes.
What are your “5 things I wish someone told me when I first started” and why. Please share a story or example for each.
1. You do you. It’s ok to create your own opportunities and a job title that suits you best. While I loved being an actress, I felt like something was missing. After years in a career that was supposed to be my childhood dream come true, I felt unfulfilled. Only when I returned to my childhood years in school theater, I realized I enjoyed the whole process from the inception of a story idea to the finished show. I found that same happy place as a digital creator, where you get your hands dirty in every step of the creative process and that was what I needed to feel complete.
2. There is no such thing as an overnight success. In interviews, it can often seem that successful people just got lucky and found their success overnight. The opposite is true. Most people work for decades to catch a break. While it might seem that they’ve appeared out of thin air, they’ve been around for a long time showing up consistently. That is a success, not the five minutes in the limelight. There is no shame in taking your time to collect the fruits of your labor. You are not doing anything wrong just because you didn’t get to have your big break yet.
3. Take care of yourself. Taking breaks is not a sign of weakness. It’s necessary for staying happy and healthy. Yes, you might miss some opportunities, but there’s more where that came from. Just take that break and catch the next one.
4. It’s never too late to change the direction of your career. You don’t have to have it all by 30, or 40, or 50. Age is just a number and if you feel like switching things up, do it, no matter your age. Your experience doesn’t go away, it will help you transition faster.
5. You can’t do it alone. Learn to ask for help and advice. Surround yourself with like-minded people and help each other rise. You don’t have competition — the person that does the same thing is your colleague. Collaborate and both of you win.
Can you share with our readers any self care routines, practices or treatments that you do to help your body, mind or heart to thrive? Please share a story for each one if you can.
Building healthy habits when it comes to social media and technology is very important to me. As a digital creator, I spend an unhealthy amount of time staring at screens. Social media is addictive and wreaks havoc with a person’s brain chemistry. While I’m leveraging this wonderful tool for my career, I also see its dark side. I set limits to how much time per day I spend on social media for work and for pleasure and schedule regular offline time to heal and rest. I’d recommend this to everyone as we are all absorbed by technology — it’s a great servant, but a terrible master.
Can you please give us your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Can you share how that was relevant to you in your life?
“Everything in life doesn’t happen TO you, everything in life happens FOR you.” Whenever something bad happens in my life, I remind myself of this and it helps me see things from a more positive perspective. It helps me have a growth-oriented and abundant mindset instead of having a victim and scarcity mentality. You face a lot of rejection in a creative career and learning to deal with it is one of the most important skills to develop.
You are a person of huge influence. If you could inspire a movement that would bring the most amount of good to the most amount of people, what would that be?
I would like to see more women from all walks of life in decision-making positions in the entertainment industry. I think it would have a positive impact on the industry itself. It would bring in voices that should be heard, and the power that comes with such positions would be distributed more fairly.
Is there a person in the world whom you would love to have lunch with, and why? Maybe we can tag them and see what happens!
Oh gosh, it would be my honor to have lunch with Amanda Tapping! As a little girl, I was very impacted by her role in Stargate SG-1 and later I found a lot of inspiration in her career — directing and producing sci-fi shows. I also truly appreciate her as a beautiful human being because she treats everyone with an incredible amount of respect — when you watch her interviews, her Q&A’s in conventions, etc. you can’t help but have so much respect for her and see her as a role model. And I haven’t even touched on her charity work! A lunch with such a wonderful human as Amanda Tapping would be incredible and if you can manage that, I’ll owe you a debt of gratitude! 🙂
Are you on social media? How can our readers follow you online?
Yes, of course! All actors and creatives who want to learn about social media can follow me on Facebook, Instagram, or Twitter as @smforactors. I also have a Facebook community called Creative Actors where we create a positive, supportive, and thought-provoking space for any creator who wants to learn about content creation.
This was so informative, thank you so much! We wish you continued success!