So you want you want to get started as an actor. First of all, congratulations! You are about to embark on joining a proud, mad, very exclusive club.
The good news is it’s easy to get started in acting – but there are some tips and tricks to smooth the way for you and make the path more stress-free and enjoyable. Here are a few ways to take your first steps into the weird, wonderful world of acting with confidence, grace, and the joy that is the heart of all good acting!
1. Baby Steps
Again, let’s start with congratulations! You’ve already taken an important first step by seeking out and reading NYCastings! There are tons of great tips and techniques on here, plus it’s a fantastic platform for getting your resume and headshot in front of the top agents and casting directors across the nation. But before doing anything it’s important to really understand what you’re getting into. Check out the theater and acting section of your local library or bookstore (I strongly recommend “The Practical Handbook For The Actor,” a slim but dense and to-the-point set of the concrete steps needed to analyze a scene and create an action for your character, developed by students of David Mamet and William Macy). Next, get yourself into an acting class – and plan on being in some kind of acting class at all times for the rest of your career. All the top actors will tell you that the learning process is never over when you’re committed to acting, so get that process started! Also, an acting class is a low-stress, low-commitment way to dip your toes in the water without getting in over your head right away. Get yourself some confidence with the nuts and bolts you will need as an actor: memorizing lines, working with a camera, auditioning, getting up on stage in front of people, giving yourself permission to be ridiculous without self-judgment or self-censoring – you’re going to need to get comfortable with all of these things to the point where they are second nature, so make sure you’ve at least got the inclination. It’s easy to be THEORETICALLY interested in acting; it sometimes turns out that it isn’t for everyone once they try it in practice. But finding out that it’s not really for you in a classroom is much better and cheaper than learning that in the middle of a show in front of an audience after you’ve spent hundreds of dollars on headshots!
But no, you’re going to love it. There’s a true joy and connection actors find in the work, not only connecting with each other but with our audiences too. Once you’ve gotten a couple of classes under your belt and you have a basic understanding of what goes into memorizing lines, creating a character, and crafting a scene, it’s time to stretch your wings a bit and see what’s out there. You’ve already begun creating your network by joining a class, so it’s already possible you’ve gotten wind of some community theater productions in your area. If not, get looking on Facebook – searches on FB wherever you are turn up all kinds of groups that can benefit the budding actor: theater companies, productions, auditions, acting groups, etc. If there is a university nearby, check out their theater or film department for potential auditions for roles in stage productions and student films. You won’t get paid much, but the experience you gain doing shows and working on student films is invaluable. There are of course exceptions, but for the most part, everyone in the acting game got started doing community theater. No matter where you plan on taking your acting career – or even if it’s just a hobby for you – all roads lead through community theater. In fact, you can think of each community theater show you work on as a separate class. Each time you work with a new director, working on a new project, working with a different group of people, you are learning new things, or you should be.
3. The Tools of the Trade
Around this time, you’ve probably been asked for a copy of your headshot. And now that you’ve been bitten by the acting bug like the rest of us, and you weren’t turned off by the actual work that goes into it, you can start thinking more about investing in the tools it takes to succeed in the business, and the headshot is the first and probably most important one you’re going to need. Now, good headshots are not cheap. But as with most things, you get what you pay for. So if you give your semi-literate cousin Billy Joe Bob ten bucks to snap some cell phone headshots of you when you’re out drinking one night, well, that’s not an investment that’s likely to pay off in huge dividends. The fact is, if you don’t have professional headshots, most casting directors and producers aren’t going to call you in to audition, simply because it looks amateurish. But if you’ve already gotten your feet wet and taken some classes and worked on a few small projects and you’ve found you want to pursue acting further, you’re going to have to pony up to package yourself as a professional, even if your resume is still a little thin at this point. The first thing to look into when it comes to headshots is a professional photographer, and not only that, a professional HEADSHOT photog. That’s because headshots are a very different beast from almost any other kind of photography. When you’re shopping around for a photog, check their portfolio – most professionals will have their work on their website.
4. Get Out Of That Nest, Little Bird, And Fly
So by now you may have done a few auditions for community theater shows and student films, but it’s time to get yourself out there in a more professional setting. You’ve got your headshots, you’ve been working on the craft of acting in your classes, so you’ve got a handle on at least the basics. Now is the time to start auditioning and learning how to go about auditioning. You’ve already self-submitted to the top site on the web for casting directors and directors looking for talent, which is a great start. You can also find tons of auditions you can attend on your own, starting right here. Also, Facebook, for all the negative press it has gotten, is still the go-to spot for finding like-minded people, and there are always tons of auditions notices there. As your network expands and you meet more and more actors and other people in the business with varying degrees of experience, you’ve probably begun to hear people talking about their agents. At this point in your career, to pursue getting an agent is probably not the best use of your time. Keep in mind too, that agents who promise newbie actors the world and claim they will get you jobs even when you have little to no experience are not to be trusted. Professional agents trade on their reputation, so they won’t send someone out to read for a role unless they think the the actor has the chops to book the role. If an agent has a habit of sending out inexperienced actors who just aren’t ready, casting directors are going to stop taking his or her calls. So rather than chasing after an agent just now, what you should be doing is gaining that valuable experience and the skills you need in order to get an agent somewhere down the road. That means work, work, work. Take classes, do improv, and get yourself involved in your local community’s shows in whatever capacity it takes. Even working as crew or in the role of “Spear Carrier Number 2” will get you on that stage, immersed in the glorious world of acting. And if you’re open to it, it will teach you lessons about what it takes to be a professional actor. Once you’ve booked a lot of your own work and you have a resume that doesn’t look like an ad for a President’s Day White Sale, then it’s more likely you’ll get an agent to invite you in for an interview and perhaps an audition.
One of the most important – and difficult – things to remember for new actors is patience. No matter how much better you are now than you were last year at this time, you still have room to improve. We all do. Take in the work that other actors in your community are doing, go see everything, watch all the movies, read all the books, and take all the classes, and slowly, gradually, you will see the avenues of acting opportunities available for you broaden and expand. And always remember: no matter what level you’re working at as an actor, you are part of a magical, exclusive and amazing club of people that covers the globe and dates back to 1500 BCE. You are helping to take that magic into the future – be proud and be joyful and be grateful you are a part of it, because not everyone can be!