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Thursday, January 6, 2011

Getting Started in the Biz of Show

Oftentimes, aspiring actor-folk email me with nuts-and-boltsy questions about Showbiz. The main trend I see is that young performers are curious about the process of getting started. How, they ask, do you go from complete newcomer to employed NYC actor?

Thusly, I present to you, Felicia's Quick Rundown of How This Shiz Works, with accompanying photo of Felicia doing jazz hands.

1. "I want to be an actor!"

Cool! Here is what you can do. You can A) Go to college for it, B) Go to college for something other than theater (like me), C) Skip college and go straight to the city!
A) Going to college for theater. Upsides: Four years of training. If your college program knows what's up, at the end of these four years you will have the opportunity to perform in a showcase. A showcase is what it sounds like: the chance for you, along with your classmates, to showcase your best stuff (singing/acting/dancing). Again, if your college program is reputable, your showcase will attract most of the Top Dogs in NYC casting and artist representation (i.e. casting directors and agents). Downsides: You might have other academic interests and would prefer a more diversified, liberal artsy university experience (versus an actor/singer/dancer training program, like those taught at a conservatory or colleges with theater/musical theater programs). 
B) Going to college, but majoring in something besides theater, like economics, or the Native American Diaspora. Upsides: Four years of academic exploration! You can do theater on the side, extracurricularly, and in addition to your major. This is what I did. I was an English major because academically I was most interested in literature and writing. I did, however, take acting classes at my college and did a ton of student-run productions (probably close to thirty or forty in four years!). Downsides: Piecemeal theater training (if any), no senior showcase to get your foot in the door with NYC's Top Dogs.

C) Skip college and go straight to the city! Upsides: Skipping the appetizer, going straight for the entree! Some say that the earlier you start, the better a chance you have of making an impression on the casting powers-that-be, and the more jobs you can book by the time you're in your actorly prime, which for most is in their 20s and 30s. Also, you can concoct your own training regimen right here in the city, with a combination of dance/voice/acting lessons and educational reading. Downsides: You're so young! Are you sure this is what you want to do? Isn't it best to dabble in some other interests? The risk for feeling overwhelmed is high.
2."I want to be seen at auditions!"

Cool! Find auditions online, then show up, and/or submit your headshot and résumé to the casting peeps over the internetz! You need to try your darndest to go to auditions. Before doing so, you need: a (great) headshot and résumé, some audition material (perhaps a filing cabinet would help?), which will comprise your audition "book" (binder of songs you can sing with ease, at any moment), which you bring with you to every audition. The sites that have the most fruitful audition listings are Playbill.com, ActorsAccess.com, Backstage.com. It would also be good if you made a personal actor site with your headshot/resume/bio/pics/media/otherfunstuff. It's good for self-marketing. Also: business cards. Fun.

Unfortunately, at this juncture you might get discouraged; it seems like a lot of the awesome auditions (Broadway, National Tours, reputable regional theaters) are for Equity performers only (the Actor's union), and you would indeed be correct. You have two options: 1) You can go to the open Equity calls as a non-Equity performer and wait all day to maybe be seen (this requires you getting there über-early and being segregated to the Actors Equity Association building's hallway, forbidden to use the bathroom (not kidding!)), an experience I would DEFINITELY NOT recommend. Some non-Equity people seem to have luck with going to Equity open calls, but of all the ones I went to as a non-Equity performer, here is the total number of times I was seen: 0. (Conversely, there are open calls specifically for non-Equity productions, in which case, by all means, get in line and be seen; the day will be long, but at least it won't be fruitless.) 2) You can just be like, "Screw you, huge awesome Equity auditions! I'm gonna stick to non-Equity productions I will actually be given the chance to audition for, and then I will gain valuable acting experience -- all the while networking, gaining exposure in the city -- and then perhaps I will one day catch the eye of an agent! (More on this soon.)

3. "I want to perform a lot!"

Great! You totes should (as explained above). Keep in touch with friends, go to see their shows, sing in their concerts, audition all you can. In other words, keep yourself occupied while you're in non-Equity limbo trying to find an agent and/or get your Equity card. This will help you gain exposure and network! Networking, by the way, is a fancy word for "living your life," all the while being a good citizen and acting nice to others. This is the way to "network":  be nice to people, say "yes" to doing projects you like with peers you respect, and be an asset to have around.

4. "I want an agent!"

Geeze, hypothetical actor person, you're so needy. JK. You will find an agent someday, do not worry. Maybe, just maybe, during your performance adventures, you will meet somebody who has an agent, and then he/she will offer to refer you to them! Maybe, just maybe, that agent will come see their client in your show, and then he/she will think you're a baller as well! And, if all else fails, you can try this site: www.actorsconnection.com, which provides classes and networking opportunities with casting directors and agents. Basically, you have to pay to be seen by the Top Dogs. But the good news in this scenario is that you are actually seen by the Top Dogs. (Tip: Before you pay to do a networking event, ask your actor friends for audition coach recommendations so you can be coached into tip-top shape.) Last resort for landing an agent is sending out headshots/résumés to their offices, and/or emailing them. This is rarely fruitful-- HOWEVER, I landed my first agent my emailing her. The main way I got her hooked is I included a link to a YouTube video of me performing a ton of roles in college.
Pretty cray-cray, I know.

5. "I want to book a show!"

Awesome! Keep auditioning, performing, singing in concerts/workshops, getting your name out there, and you will (eventually) get an agent. Then you and your agent will together find audition opportunities for you, and then, one day, if you work hard and are pretty good at what you do, you will book a show! Yay!

What a happy ending!

So, that's the basic rundown. I hope it's helpful to some of you! And to those of you who didn't enjoy it, well, I don't care!

Sincerely,
FR

11 comments:

  1. 1. do you have any advice regarding training? (i.e. how to find good teachers, prioritizing your skills, how much is not enough, how much is too much, etc.)

    2. in terms of auditions do you have any advice regarding monologues rather than songs. You talk about songbooks for singers, but what if you want to audition more with monologues? do you have any tips about monologue auditioning specifically?

    (btdubs, everything you said has been totally helpful. I'm just asking more questions out of curiosity)

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  2. THANK YOU.

    Sincerely,
    A Biology Major.

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  3. Hey there, Anonymous!

    1. Finding teachers works best (I've found) on a referral basis, i.e. your super talented friend raves to you about her acting coach / voice teacher, and you give it a shot and see if it's a good fit for you. There are also reputable acting schools that offer acting courses independent of a Bachelor's or graduate degree. I suggest asking a mentor or college professor for acting school recommendations, and then asking around for peer feedback.

    2. As for monologues, ask for recommendations from teachers/mentors, read and go see lots of plays, and if anything strikes you, learn it! There are also a bunch of monologue books available at mainstream and drama bookstores (drama bookstores have a wider selection). As for working on monologues, it's best to work with someone, i.e. an acting coach, or a peer of yours who is a director. It's hard to work on these on your own.

    Hope this helps!
    --FR

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  4. I'm not an aspiring actor in the slightest way, but I love to read this blog! Chalk-full of hilarity and such.

    You should write more on your harrowing adventures in NYC...are there any? Well if there are, they are defos worth hearing (even if they're slightly exaggerated).

    Ta!
    K

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  5. Awesome advice! =D Would you say (or do you know) if the process of breaking into Opera Biz is the same thing? I'm a vocal performance major with pipe dreams of the Met. I know it's likely I'll end up giving voice lessons, but hey, gotta give it a go before I give up. :)

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  6. I want to meet these Top Dogs.

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  7. Thank you sooooo much for the info! :) I'm 13 now but have been dreaming of performing on stage since I was little. P.S. I saw you in Wicked last year and you were awesome!

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  8. (anonymous who asked you original questions)

    Thank you so much! that does help!

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  9. Still loving your blog, Felicia. What's your advice for some one who's not confident in their vocal abilities? (for a friend of mine)

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  10. Nice job again, Felicia! Good to see your other college work is helpful too!

    Happy and Prosperous New Year to youse!

    xo

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  11. Hey Corbyjane-- Not so sure about the opera biz. I imagine it's similar, but just involves a different (and maybe smaller?) pool of people.

    Cortney-- If you're not confident in your singing, do your best to work with what you have with vocal lessons, etc. If in the end singing is not your thing but you still want to perform, there's lots of dramatic, non-singing work for actors (plays, TV, film, comedy). Best of luck to your friend!

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