“If something isn’t special, then it’s ordinary.” –Nora Roberts
“It’s not usual to be unusual.” –Syed Sharukh
If you’re an actor, you are special, and you already know it. Don’t let anyone ever tell you different. Actors and other types of performers share a unique weirdness that compels us to behave in ways that are the opposite of what most people are comfortable with.
Whereas most people would prefer to blend in to the background and not stand out, say on the subway or waiting in a line, the actor will blithely talk with a stranger at top volume and a million miles an hour about a doctor’s visit to see about a rash in an embarrassing place. We’re weird, and often wonderful, even if we go all TMI sometimes.
So, yes, you are special. But remember this: there are a whole lot of other special actors out there too – and they’re all trying to book the same jobs as you.
So what’s the key? How to stand out from the crowd?
I met actor John Carroll Lynch (“Fargo,” “American Horror Story”) in Denver a few years ago, and he said that, for him one of the weirdest things about his years in L.A. trying to catch a break was sitting in an audition waiting room surrounded by a couple dozen other balding, heavyset guys who could all be his doppleganger.
One great place to start distinguishing yourself from all the other actors who fit your description is to update and focus on filling out your special skills section on your resume.
And in this day and age of electronic cross-referencing made easy thanks to computers and the internet, your specials skills can be the make-or-break factor in getting you into that room.
Right here on NYCastings, for instance, a recent update to the search system makes it a breeze for casting agents, directors and producers to find actors with specific skills they need for their projects. So here are few ways to make sure you get noticed for being the special, unique creature you are!
We talk a lot about specificity in our work as actors, but that’s also a concept you can apply to your resume, and especially the special skills section. If you just put something like “Singer – baritone,” that doesn’t really give them much to go on. However, if you list certain standout roles you’ve performed, say if you performed as Cassie in “A Chorus Line,” the character of Roger from “Rent,” the titular role in “Sweeney Todd” – or ANYTHING by Sondheim for that matter – you should not only give yourself a pat on the back, you should make sure that it stands out. Of course you will already have that role listed in the section of plays you’ve performed in, but often casting directors eyes glaze over as they scan through hundreds of those lists. In cases like the above roles, you want to make sure they notice, so list it separately in your special skills.
Another area where specificity can pay off is dance. If your special skills section just has a generic list like “Singer, dancer, stage combat” you sound like literally every other actor in the world. What kinds of dance can you do – and not just the kind that takes place in musicals. Do you do swing dancing on weekends? Did you take a tango class on your summer abroad in Argentina? How about ethnic folk dancing native to yours or your family’s country of origin? Again, a million people have been in the chorus of “Oklahoma.” Science tells us that sometime soon we will reach a tipping point where literally everyone in the world will have been in the chorus of “Oklahoma.” But not everyone knows how to baila la salsa like an Argentine.
Same goes for stage combat. Short sword, dagger, broadsword – these are all very different beasts. If you have special training in any one of them – or all of them – list it specifically. And list separate classes you’ve taken on them. Did you play a specific role or perform in a specific production that calls for a lot stage combat? If you were in say, the Scottish play or one of Shakespeare’s histories, you should mention specifically what kind of combat you did. Also list specifically the various types of hand-to-hand combat you’re familiar with: do you know any kind of martial arts? Do you take Tai Chi or have you taken a Krav Maga class? These are interesting, unusual, and make you stand out. Even if the production doesn’t specifically call for an expert in Israeli martial arts, the important thing is it is a unique skill that very few people have, and it may get someone’s attention.
Be honest, though. While padding a resume in the 9 to 5 working world is common, to do so when it comes to acting is a big no-no. There’s nothing more cringe-worthy than watching an actor try to do something they really have no idea how to do. If the commercial you’re auditioning for calls for someone who is “expert in horsemanship,” guess what, they need someone who is ACTUALLY an expert, not the guy who once went for a trail ride on Snuffles the obese pony while on his family vacation in 2003. The thing about special skills is they really are actual skills, not things that are vaguely interesting to you, something you read about, or something you tried one time. You do not want to get a reputation for being the guy or girl who shows up and has no idea what they’re doing, because you will not get called in again by that casting director.
Also, while you should absolutely list anything and everything you are good at, make sure the skills you’re listing are actually somewhat relevant. There are some acting advice columnists who recommend putting down things like “cooks a mean casserole,” or “good with kids.” And yes, while the goal here is to stand out and at least get your foot in the door by any means necessary – even if that means just having a conversation starter – you really aren’t likely to be called on to whip up your famous beef stroganoff on set, unless you’re applying to work with craft services. Also, vague yet comforting phrases like “works well with others,” or “imaginative” are pretty useless to casting directors. If your imagination has led you to taking improv classes and honing those skills, list them, again, with specificity. How many classes, do you regularly perform with an improv group, etc. Another contentious item to list or not list is things like “Licensed driver,” or “US Passport holder.” These may or may not be important to getting a very few, very particular roles, its true. But when you think about it, having a passport isn’t really a skill, now is it? Also, when a role is going to require an actor to actually drive, they always, always are going to list that specifically on the audition notice anyway, so listing it in your special skills section is a bit silly. And anyway, the goal here is to draw attention to your SPECIAL skills, right? Being a licensed driver is hardly uncommon.
So make sure you get on the NYCastings resume upload page and update your skills so casting directors can find you – and to highlight the special magic that makes you you!