Here I provide five powerful and (let’s be honest) pretty-much-common-sense tips for potential future actors who are just about to begin their performing arts career journey…
Just starting out (or in some cases: stepping out) is a trial all performers must go through. The problem is that we all want to hit the ‘big-time’ before we even understand what the ‘big-time’ actually in involves. We certainly think we want it so badly before we realise the expectations placed on us as performers.
It’s an odd thing, this acting business. Everybody believes they can act, and most think they have to do very little to get there. This is a bizarre way to consider a future profession. You know – the kind of profession that will earn you an income (hopefully) and where exceptional skill will reap exceptional reward.
You wouldn’t expect to receive brain surgery from someone who just thought about becoming a brain surgeon a couple of weeks ago…
You wouldn’t want to be represented in court by someone who just enjoys dressing up in a wig and feels they are good at arguing a point…
So why do people believe they can jump over years of training and honing skills as an actor?
Acting is a craft, it is a vocation and it is VERY demanding of your time, your physical and vocal health, and your stamina. It is amazing. It is hard work.
If you are in school and have big dreams of becoming an actor, the main thing to realise is that you are at the beginning of the journey. A couple of high school productions are a good start to an acting career (even if these are experiences you will drop from your portfolio at the earliest opportunity). But from there you need to begin building a CV (resume for my American readers).
Just follow my simple, yet powerful advice for taking those first steps towards a life career as an actor:
1. Go to College
You need to keep extending your experience as an actor. It’s already a highly competitive work environment and you need to come to the performing arts industry armed and prepared with all the necessary tools to begin landing those great roles in theatre or film.
An excellent way to begin developing your skills and building experience is by attending a college with a drama programme and getting into as many productions as possible. It does not matter if these are small fringe style productions or full-scale musical productions. The important thing is you are involved, you are active, you are entirely committed and you are gaining some credits (when you are just launching your career these will appear as “Credits in Training” on your CV/resume).
2. Amateur Dramatics (AmDram)/Community Theatre
If you’ve already been through education, or can’t afford it right now (let’s face it – those drama school fees are not exactly cheap) get involved with a local theatre group.
While it is highly unlikely for you to land yourself a job in a larger regional producing theatre, you will undoubtedly find a number of local amateur dramatics societies or groups and/or community theatre groups. Regrettably, there is some high brow opinion among the profession regarding amateur work, but it is important to note that this is a minority voice and most performers did some amateur dramatic or community theatre work in their earlier years.
Not only can these experiences be incredibly fun and frustrating acting opportunities, they also provide some essential skills in collaboration, team-work, a “show-must-go-on” mentality and chances to perform in roles you may never be considered for in the performing arts industry.
There are a few words of caution though: this is excellent training in yourself, but this should not be considered as a “be all, end all”. You will not master a comprehensive understanding of being a company member in a professional environment and so you will need to prepared to change your model of working once you enter industry properly. Also, just because you might admire your cast colleagues in any community group – they may inadvertently teach you bad acting habits. This is where the next point comes in…
3. Acting Classes
These are an essential and worthwhile investment. Regardless as to whether you’re just starting out or whether you’re a seasoned professional actor, it is vital to keep learning.
You should continue taking classes throughout your acting career to continue perfecting your skills. No matter how good an actor you feel you are, you are not and never will be the “perfect actor”. But you need to keep striving for a fine mastership of your craft. There are additional hidden benefits to taking part in additional class: not only will you learn valuable skills, but you’ll make great contacts (perhaps even hearing about upcoming auditions and castings that are not publicly available), and have something new to add to your CV/resume.
4. Reading about Acting/Actors
If you say you don’t like reading, or that you can’t read, maybe this isn’t the career for you…
Reading as an actor supports your ability to digest the written word, to make cognitive judgements about what you have read and begin to awaken your imagination. You will build a knowledge base, vocabulary and find research for characters and plays much easier if you already know how to.
Make it a habit to constantly read books on acting, theatre, and film. Read plays. Read biographies by and about actors. Read about the great practitioners and get to grips with their style. Seriously, books and literature (whether physical or electronic) are probably THE most affordable way to gain an education in the theatre and performing arts. This will help prevent embarrassing yourself by ignorance when speaking with theatre professionals, and also provide you with a taste of what you might enjoy to do in your performing career.
5. Audition… Audition… Audition
Even if your acting CV looks like a blank page of paper, auditioning is a skill you need to master as early as possible.
Even without a comprehensive CV/resume there is no reason you shouldn’t go out and audition for as many shows as possible. Even if you don’t get cast, you’ll get invaluable experience in how to do audition as well as learn to deal with rejection. (Just please be aware: only put yourself up for acting roles you would stand a chance of being cast in – you don’t want to start your acting career with a reputation as a time waster for casting directors and producers).
If you can’t afford a class, but need a monologue or to improve your auditioning skills, go to the library or search the internet.
It’s About Understanding Your Craft is a Business
I constantly go on about learning and studying for a performing career. This isn’t because I believe you should become an academic, but rather that you need to understand the business. You can’t get this knowledge by just watching television, film, or theatre.
If you take the approach of just watching and feeling “I can do that”, you’ll end up as one of the 95% of actors who never realise their dreams. Instead, you’ll need to study at college, take classes, learn how to choose a monologue that fits your personality, and read about the business.
But, let’s face it… You knew all this already…