As creative professionals, it’s one of the great joys in any actor’s life to get thrown into an unexpectedly extra-creative situation while on stage or on set. Who doesn’t love it when a director or AD says something like, “Hey, why don’t you just try something and see what happens?”
If you’re a newbie director and you want to see an actor’s eyes light up like Christmas got here early, simply say something like, “Just go for it, play around a bit.”
And then get the hell out of the way.
But when it comes to a lot of real-life situations that come up for actors on the business side of things rather than the creative, far too many of us are underprepared for certain eventualities. And the messed-up thing is that these are situations you’re going to encounter in the life of the professional actor, all the time, not occasionally but very often.
Nonetheless, we hear tale after tale from agents and CDs about flustered actors who show up late for vital meetings and auditions – or worse, blow them off altogether – simply because they weren’t prepared. And we’re not talking learning lines or being off-book – we’re talking about some very simple nuts and bolts kinds of things that should be automatic. So without further ado, here is a list of very simple fixes to make sure you’re ready to show off your acting chops next time you get that call instead of worrying about stupid, petty concerns.
1. Be Prepared to Audition
Look, this one should be super obvious but amazingly it isn’t always so. We get it, sometimes things come up at the last minute, and that is inconvenient as hell. But if you want to work in this business, you’ve simply got to be ready to drop everything and come running when you get the call. Here are some simple steps you can take to be set up for success next time a last-minute audition comes along.
- Don’t worry about the sides – That is to say, yes, work on the material and find an approach as best you can. But you need to already have the mental groundwork laid so you won’t freak out about not really knowing the lines, much less being off-book. These people just sent you the sides at 10 pm the night before; they know what you’re dealing with. It’s not a memorization contest. Get a sense of the scene and the character and where it’s coming from and where it’s going, and just relax into it. Don’t waste your mental energy thinking about it or apologizing – again, they know. Just prepare as best you can and have fun.
- Wardrobe – You should always have one or two neutral, simple audition outfits that you’re comfortable wearing racked up and ready to go so you don’t have to spend a lot of time worrying about what you’re going to wear. Also, men you should have a suit ready to go just in case. If you’re like me and not a “suit guy,” just get one suit that fits you well, get it dry cleaned and leave it in the bag in the back of the closet and forget about it until you need it.
- Go-Bag – If you’re going to need to leave work, change clothes, or skip lunch to make the audition or meeting, have everything you need prepared and ready to go the night before, along with a clean copy of your sides. Also you should perpetually keep copies of your resume and headshot in your bag, just in case!
- Directions – There’s no worse feeling than rushing out the door for a big audition and just as you get on the train you realize you don’t remember the address or how to get there. And “Oh sh*t, I don’t have wifi or data right now…” Take a screenshot of the directions the night before so you don’t have to think about it in the morning and you can concentrate on your sides instead. And make sure you allow enough time to be EARLY, not just on time, so you can have a moment to breathe, relax and get into the right headspace once you’re there.
2. Be Prepared to Perform
Next up on the late night phone call list: “Hey, buddy, we’ve moved around the shooting schedule a bit and you’re up tomorrow. You gonna be ready?”
No, of course you’ll be ready. But there are some ways to make it easier on yourself. One is to never leave learning your sides until the last minute. This drives me crazy when doing stage performances: the scene partner who says, “Oh, no I’m not off-book yet, but we have until x date…” Yes, that’s true, but don’t you think the sooner the script’s out of your hand, the sooner you can really delve into the character and we can rock these scenes with more depth and nuance?? So get ready as quickly as you can. You should also have some version of the go-bag mentioned above if you’re going to be shooting unexpectedly, as well as having laid the groundwork for moving around other parts of your life’s schedule – friends to dog-sit, co-workers to cover your day job, etc. so that your last-minute call isn’t coming out of the blue.
3. Be Make-Up Ready
Sometimes you’ll be asked to arrive make-up ready on set. First and foremost is to arrive on time of course. Second is knowing what kind of work you’re doing that day. Now, ladies you may have guessed that I am no make-up expert, as oftentimes on set all they’ll do to me on set is a light shellacking to cover the crow’s feet and a bit of powder to make sure my scalp doesn’t cause a lens flare. But this seemed like a pretty good guide for y’all.
4. Be Prepared for Self-Taped Auditions
So much of modern auditioning comes out of self-taped auditions. They can make or break your chances, and the timeliness with which you send in your self tapes can do the same. So it’s absolutely vital that every actor be adept enough with the set-up and minimal editing required to put together a decent self-tape on short notice. This is actually something you can and should practice in fact, so you already know what you’re using as a backdrop, and how the software works on your camera and computer for editing. And have a short list of actor friends you can rely on to come be your reader on short notice. Make these preparations in advance so you can concentrate on giving the best read possible without getting stressed or frustrated with the technicalities. (Great practice can be had right here at NYCastings when you submit your self-taped auditions along with your resume! Update your self-tapes as you improve, too!)
5. Parents, be Prepared with Legal and Banking Info
Much in the same vein as everything above, when you do get that call saying “We want YOU to come in” (Cue chorus of angels singing!), parents you don’t want to be scrambling to figure out work permits, banking information and so forth for your young actors. These are the kinds of technicalities you need to have already locked and loaded. So if you don’t already know what you have to do to have your kid ready to work when that big break comes along, get with someone who does now, not at the last minute. Search Google for ‘Child Performer Work Permits’ for your state.
We as actors spend far too much time preparing our craft and getting ready to pour our guts out on the stage or on set to have our progress derailed by stupid pedestrian distractions like these. Take the time to make a few simple preparations in advance, and next time you get a last-minute call, you’ll be cool as a cucumber and ready to stroll in and kill it!