Article by Stephanie Alcock
Firstly, I would like to start on a positive note, because as actors (especially aspiring actors) there may often be moments of foggy self-doubt and negativity, this can leave you jumping from one extreme to another faster than a, than a… well just really fast! So here goes… Let me start by saying that you are more than enough. The fact that you are wanting to be an actor and have chosen this path as a profession proves that you either enjoy it or are good at it (hopefully both), ergo you are enough. Whatever you have to contribute as an actor is unique as there is only one of you! Hundreds will undoubtedly have the same casting as you but how amazing that there’s only ONE of you! That’s mind-blowing, man. Embrace it.
Now it’s hard not to see the glamorous side of acting, as like anything; you want to see the positive, and the best thing about acting is that when it’s good, it’s really good- I mean, if they could bottle and sell ‘ye olde adrenaline’ and sell it, they’d make a killing. But that’s my point- it isn’t like any other job. So let me share (as sharing is caring) some pointers for you to consider from my couple of years in the biz:
1. Surround yourself with people who don’t work in the industry, as well as those who do
I think one of the most important things to consider in this business is the support of friends and family. In fact, it is fundamental, as they pick you up when you’re down (your mum will become your on-call advisor and your rock) and give you perspective on things outside of our artsy bubble, e.g. after an unsuccessful audition once, being able to vent to my teacher friend and hear all about her struggles of teaching 14 year old terrors quadratic equations was just the bit of escapism I needed. One thing I’m sure we all share as actors is our sensitivity, and as sensitive as other actor friends may be, you can’t help but compare yourself in terms of career and success. Having these friends who share the same passions and interests is the key of course, as well as beneficial in terms of networking. So I’m not saying don’t be friends with actors, just find the right balance and socialise with friends in all professions so you don’t find yourself talking about work all the time- you’d be surprised how cathartic it is.
2. There is more to being an actor than just acting
One thing I naively fell into the trap of upon graduating university, after performing in the safety net of university productions and then being fortunate enough to go on to perform in fringe shows and a touring production, was that there is more to being an actor than acting. For instance, once my contract for the show I was in finished, I enjoyed my few days of rest and then it suddenly dawned on me… I’m unemployed. Now obviously I foresaw this but admittedly underestimated how difficult it would be to find other acting work, having no representation and no formal training. So the first thing I did was get a job, the first job I could get hold of, not being fussy if it was in the creative field or not. So I ended up in a hospital- not because it made me ill looking for a job, but because there was a temp admin job going there, rest easy folks! My point is that the majority of the time whilst ‘being an actor’ you won’t always be acting, you’ll be working any job going to fund your acting profession. So don’t become an actor if you just want to act, as getting to this stage you first need to pay for the expense of travelling to auditions, headshots, casting profile memberships, the in-between jobs and everything else that comes with it.
3. Set yourself short term goals
I don’t know about you, but the question “Where do you see yourself in 5 years?” makes my toes curl. I don’t even know where I see myself next Christmas, never mind in 5 years. As we all know this profession is very uncertain and so it’s hard to set goals as sometimes they don’t work out at the time you wanted it to, or at all. I.e. my goal last year was to get accepted to study an MA at Drama School, yet it didn’t work out at that time and so halted all of the short term goals I had postponed whilst setting my sights on this big ultimate goal of mine. What I find works for me personally is setting small short term goals and keeping busy, as a small goal such as ‘work on showreel’ is actually a pretty big goal if you think about it as it is integral to your portfolio and influences your work. So don’t get over faced, breakdown your goals so things don’t seem as daunting and then seeing where you will be in 5 years will look less hazy and more mazy (see what I did there?.. mazes have more than one pathway yet ultimately one destination- you’re welcome).
4. You could be the best in the audition room but if you don’t have that je ne sais quoi…
I’ve been in my fair share of auditions, and I’ve auditioned along with other hopefuls (and not necessarily talented folk), some just look right or know someone who got them into the room or else have accidentally stumbled into the room as they thought ‘this looks fun’, and not have nearly an ounce of the passion that I have. Guiltily I have left audition rooms thinking by God that was the best audition in the history of auditions and I’m sure to get this part because I just Meryl Streep’d all over them and they laughed at my jokes, they awed at my wit and they definitely liked me and I fit the character description so much and I’m perfect for the part and I’ll definitely hear from them as their final words were “We’ll be in touch.” TRY not to over analyse your performance. The truth is that part of their decision is already made before you’ve even spoken. Now, after listening to casting director’s perspectives, I understand it is equally as difficult for them as it is for the actor as they have an abundance of choice and ultimately have the hardest job, so don’t be disheartened if they don’t get in touch, as most of the time they won’t- unless they want you.
5. Don’t take things too personally
Leading on from my previous point, the reason you may not have got a part could be due to a tiny factor such as being an inch taller than the lead/having the wrong skin tone/wrong coloured hair, therefore absolutely no reflection on your talents as an actor. Of course, not taking something personally that is so unmistakably personal is easier said than done, but stripping away the vanity that comes with acting is the first step. A quick tip- think of yourself as a product, removed from you as a ‘person’ and that way it becomes easier to accept if someone doesn’t want ‘that’. That way you won’t be questioning your performance back on that day, what you wore, how you did your hair, whether you shouldn’t have worn that black top because it was too camouflage and you may have blended into the crowd, it’s a waste of time.
6. Know your casting
Equally a waste of time is auditioning for roles that are obviously not for you. You may have read the play/know and love the character you are auditioning for and feel you have a personal connection and so can offer a perspective that no one else could, but if you look nothing like the character or aren’t in the age range then it really is a rejection waiting to happen, plus a waste of time and money. Play to your strengths, auditioning is all about spoon feeding the panel, as often they will never have seen you perform plus they want you to do well. Equally know where your weaknesses lie, for example I once auditioned for Mrs Lovett in ‘Sweeney Todd’, being a lover of Sondheim and knowing the songs inside out (yet knowing fully well that I am tone deaf) I practiced Poor Thing for weeks on end and waltzed into the audition room channelling my inner Bonham-Carter and Lansbury only to be stopped halfway through with a swift wave of the hand. Suffice to say watching the show and listening to the songs has never been the same since. My point here is; don’t set yourself up for failure (just sing the songs in the shower).
7. Grow to be resilient
For too long I dwelled on unsuccessful auditions, missed opportunities and when things generally didn’t work in my favour. But don’t be negative as negativity breeds negativity and once you go down the road of questioning your own ability it takes twice as long to get back the confidence that once was there. Always remember that it isn’t you, it is the industry you are willingly working in and ultimately one of the only industries in the world that can afford to be sexist, racist, ageist, sizeist, homophobic and which is heavily influenced by who you know, not what you know. And so I will bequeath a little piece of advice dear ones, one I have only recently learnt after years and years. Are you ready? In the words of that blonde Disney character who freezes stuff… just ‘Let it go’. I don’t mean ‘let it go’ after weeks of waiting on the outcome of an audition. I mean let it go as soon as you get home from the audition, in fact as soon as you leave the audition room. It saves a lot of time and self-deprecating plus all you can do is your best because it is out of your hands once it is done. You could be the best of the best, yet one small factor could change that, so just let it go. Now, how do you feel? Do you feel older? Wiser? The sorcerer of all knowledge? It’s a shiny pearl of wisdom, isn’t it?! I recommend you treasure it and shine it at least twice a week.
8. Get involved
If you haven’t had a paid acting job in a while, don’t let that dishearten you, keep going and stay active. I don’t like to say this as it’s basically the equivalent of asking a plumber to come and fix your pipes for free, but sometimes you may have to act unpaid in order to build your credits. This is often the way for anyone working in the arts, especially at the beginning and not only for actors, everyone has to start somewhere and it’s the nature of the business. Yes, there will be gaps of nothingness at some point in your acting career but as the old Bard wrote, “nothing will come of nothing!” The resources around you are everywhere so utilise them, or else make them… watch theatre/go to the cinema, read more, attend workshops/seminars, go to acting classes, get involved in theatres, assist at a local youth theatre, work in a theatre, practice your audition speeches, get direction on your speeches, keep your speeches fresh, seek advice from fellow actors, email any directors/lecturers/casting agents you’ve met, work at a fringe festival, spend a day reading from all of the thousands of books in French’s Theatre Bookshop if you’re ever in London and above all…
9. Don’t lose momentum!
If you’re ever feeling low pick yourself up and dust yourself off, learn from every unsuccessful audition, or even every successful audition. Don’t be frustrated when you don’t get that part or you haven’t had a paid acting job in a while and you feel like you aren’t an actor anymore but an admin assistant/waitress. Just remind yourself why you’re doing that… to sustain your acting career and keep the dream alive, of course! And if you’re still not sure if you do or don’t want to be an actor then ask yourself this: is the thought of changing career paths equally as daunting as the idea of carrying on? If so then you may as well pursue the acting route, that way you can act out the careers of a lawyer, a princess or a stripper in a play (whilst wearing a wig)- it’s more fun that way, I’m sure of it!