Getting started in the world of acting can be intimidating. There are a lot of skills, terms, practices, and tools you need to know to put your best foot forward. In this “Acting Basics” series, I’ll introduce you to some easy tips, explanations, and checklists to help navigate the overload of information out there.
If you choose to study acting in a college or conservatory setting, you will of course learn a lot of the basic things you need to know right away. That’s a major benefit of choosing to pay for school, as well as starting out with a network of fellow artists before you get moving on your professional path. However, you don’t need a degree to be an actor, and this can be an expensive way to obtain these things.
So here, free to you, is my blog. I plan to load this baby up with great resources for actors. I’ve been a professional actor for many years now, and have worked across theatre, film, television, etc, at all different levels, in many different locations. Through this blog, I’d like to pay forward some of what I’ve learned, as so many have for me over the past decade and a half!
Let’s start with the very, very basics. A few things you will need to go to an audition without looking like you have no idea what you’re doing.
- The Headshot
The headshot is a must. To start out, you just need one GOOD shot that LOOKS LIKE YOU. I can’t stress that enough. This is not a time for glamour shots. You want the casting director to look at your photo, choose you, and that person walks into the room. They are looking for a type, and you can’t photoshop your face in real life. (Although wouldn’t that be great?)
If your headshot makes you look 25, and you’re 45, you aren’t going to fool them when you show up. On top of which, now you’ve most likely wasted their time.
That’s not to say you don’t want to look like a good version of yourself. Unlike plain, unadorned modeling shots, makeup is fine. I recommend paying for a good makeup artist with headshot experience, or, if you can’t afford it, calling in a favor to a very skilled friend, unless you feel very confident in these skills yourself. Headshots are a place to spend a little money if you have it. A great headshot can get you in the door. A poor one makes you look like an amateur, and can easily be dismissed when choosing from hundreds or thousands of submissions.
I have seen examples of headshots that turned out really well, that were taken by a friend with a great camera in fantastic natural lighting. It isn’t impossible. If you are truly broke, it’s better than nothing, obviously. However, a skilled and experienced headshot photographer can really direct you to find the right angles. They know how to highlight your eyes, how to get you to give them that certain something that casting directors are looking for. This isn’t a school photo or a family portrait. You don’t just want to look “nice.” A great headshot photographer can help YOU pop.
Later in the series I will dedicate an entire blog to headshots- tips, recommendations, price ranges, where to look, how to start, and what to do the day before and day of your shoot. Eventually, you will want many looks, so you can be easily submitted for different types. That will come. Again, these are the very basics.
2. The Resume
On the back of your awesome headshot will be your fabulous resume.
When you’re just starting out, you won’t have a ton to put on there. Remember, these are only acting related credits and training. This isn’t a place to list the three years you worked at Ann Taylor. I know, you were promoted to manager, and I’m very proud of you. I am. But the casting director doesn’t care.
Your resume starts with your name in the top center, big and pretty. Underneath that, your contact info and some basic physical attributes. This is a great place to list your website if you have one. Then, credits (most recent first), organized by category: theatre, film, television, etc. Whichever category you are auditioning for should go on top. I have a television resume, film resume, and theatre resume, each highlighting relevant experience. Don’t list your commercial experience- just one line is needed: “Conflicts available upon request,” or “List available upon request.”
Under your credits should be your training, followed by any special skills. Again, I will dedicate an entire blog to resumes. There are tricks to make a short resume look more impressive, just like with a regular work resume, and formatting tips to make it look more professional. In the meantime, a quick internet search for “acting resume examples” will give you an idea. There is not one right way, although there are guidelines; the point is to get your experience in front of the casting director so they can see you have some idea of what you’re doing.
Here is mine, for reference:
3. The Preparation
Most actors can show up to an audition with a headshot and resume- although for less professional roles, you’ll already be amazed at those who won’t even bother with that. Seriously, just being prepared with some basics will put you ahead of the curve like you wouldn’t believe. So many actors are flaky or unorganized, and no matter how talented they are, any logical person would rather hire someone professional, prepared, and together.
Here are some tips to be sure YOU are that person. Hear me again- the majority of actors won’t do all of these things. Be that actor. I can’t stress that enough. It’s huge.
- Staple your printed resume to the back of your printed 8X10 headshot. Trim the edges of the resume so they are the same size. Bring a couple of copies, even if you are only asked to bring one. As we move forward in the digital age, these aren’t always requested. Still, at this point in time, you should bring them, just in case.
- Print your sides and bring them. Your sides are the scenes you are asked to prepare and perform. Sometimes it will be a cold read and you won’t be given anything, but if you are given sides, have them with you, ready to go. Yes, they may have additional copies there, but what if they don’t? Plus, with your own copy, you can highlight, mark, etc as needed to give your best performance.
- Be on time. Leave early. Know the address and directions in advance. Read all the information you are given twice, or three times. Are there directions on where to park? Instructions on which entrance to use? Taking the guesswork out before arrival will make you feel much more confident and less anxious.
- Show up. Yes, this is obvious, but even big roles- professional, union roles- have a drop off percentage. If you are going in for a non-paid role to build your resume and experience, it’s likely that 50% or more of the actors called in won’t even show up! Imagine your odds of booking with attrition rates like that! Just. Show. Up.
- Prepare your piece. Whether you are performing a monologue or sides, go over it. Read your lines out loud. Get into the mind of your character. Make strong choices. You don’t need to (and shouldn’t) plan out every single physical movement or reaction- you never know what you’ll be given in the room- but you should feel confident going in that you are as ready as possible. You don’t (always) need to be memorized (there are some exceptions- monologues typically should be), but the less you have to look down at the paper to get your lines, the more you can stay in the moment. Again, not enough actors come in prepared with strong choices. This will set you apart.
- Warm up. Do some vocal exercises at home or in the car. Move around. Be in your body. Eat something. Be physically ready to do your best. Bring water. Come early enough to use the restroom. The less distracted or restricted you feel, the better your performance will be.
All of these categories have room for more exploration, but if you have these three things down before your audition, you will feel more confident and stand out in a good way, which is what we love as actors.
When it comes to auditions, practice, practice, practice. Remember to go in, do your best, then let it go. Make a few notes right after if needed, but don’t obsess over it. Onto the next challenge. Even A-list actors don’t book every single role. Use every audition as an opportunity to get better at auditioning, to meet new casting directors, and to make a good impression. Have fun- you’re performing! That’s what it’s all about!
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