Being Prepared; Pro's and Con's of AEA for New Actors

Being Prepared; Pro's and Con's of AEA for New Actors HAPPY NEW YEAR!!! Hello and thank you to all creative advice seekers. As actors everywhere set their New Year's goals, aspirations and resolutions, this week's column offers alternate ways to deal with pre-show anxiety, addresses the topics of age, college vs. no college, and offers advice to a budding actor about becoming a member of Actors' Equity.

HAPPY NEW YEAR!!! Hello and thank you to all creative advice seekers. As actors everywhere set their New Year's goals, aspirations and resolutions, this week's column offers alternate ways to deal with pre-show anxiety, addresses the topics of age, college vs. no college, and offers advice to a budding actor about becoming a member of Actors' Equity.

I invite actors of all ages to continue write me with any problems encountered at auditions, in class, or anything you feel could be standing between you and your talent. Make sure to check the previous columns to see if your question, or one like it, has been answered already!

Question
Hi Blair,
Whenever I have a performance, whether big or small, I work on it for quite a long time, so that I feel prepared when show time comes. I never feel fully prepared unless I work and work. No matter how calm I am before curtain rises, I begin to make myself very nervous about forgetting my lines right as the show is about to begin. I start to run them over and over again frantically in my head to make sure I REALLY know them. Of course all this leads to is psyching myself out and making a mistake. I then go on to beating myself up after the show, no matter how small and insignificant the mistake was. I know that I cannot continue to go on like this especially when I am involved in long runs. So my question is this: How do know when to trust yourself that you REALLY KNOW your lines? At what point can you say to yourself "Don't worry, you know this part cold"? I'm sure that current broadway performers must know how to handle this or else they would be making themselves sick night after night.(Which I hope they don't!) I hope you can help me with this, and again, I thank you for all your help.)
Danielle

Dear Danielle,
When you have done your homework, and know the who, what, why, where, when of your character, and you have addressed the differences and similarities between you and your character, and learned your lines, and rehearsed them thoroughly with the other actors, and found your connection with them, and you are in sync with your character's action in each scene, and have integrated all of these things to the best of your ability-- you are prepared. You've put in the hours and you can say, "I know what I am doing (as both an actor and as the character) in this play."

Trusting that you are prepared is what you need to learn. Trusting and surrendering to the creative process. With acting, it's true, you need to work, and then you need to step back and let your creative instincts take over. Which doesn't look or feel like WORK. Sometimes, a three day break from rehearsal can make all the positive difference in the world. Simply because the work that was done had the time to sink in. Worrying about being perfect and chastising yourself for not being perfect will keep you out of your creativity and prevent you from delivering the kind of performance you want to. You want to be focused on the life of the scene and the moment, not on grading your performance. SO WHAT if you forget a line or two or three? If you are prepared and trust yourself, just by staying true to your (character's) goals and connecting with the other actors on stage, even if you don't say the lines EXACTLY right, the audience will believe you. I bet if you give yourself permission to royally mess up and forget all your lines, you will feel free to focus on what inspires you as an actress.

If you want, go over your lines a an hour or two before curtain, but no closer to curtain. Directly before you go onstage, instead of worrying about the lines, and after you've warmed up physically, sit quietly and review your character's circumstances for the upcoming scene. Start by exploring the colors and traits of the character. Feel physically what it's like to live in her world, don't just think about it. Instead of trying to make yourself into your idea of her, just trust that whatever is going on for you, even the anxiety or inability to concentrate, is related to her in some way.

You can also contemplate where you (the character) have just come from when you enter your first scene of the play. What has just happened? Again, try not only to imagine it, but also to feel the sensations of what you have just come from reverberating in your body. Don't force it.

Contemplate the environment of the first scene you are in. What does the place feel like, look like, smell like, and what is the temperature? (In a seminar, Gene Hackman once said he becomes very present in a scene by feeling how hot or cold it is. Temperature really feeds his performance). Next, focus on your objective. When you ask yourself, "what do I want here?", feel what it is like in your life to need something in the way the character does. Again, trust that when you touch these experiences inside you, you are connected with the character. Then just go out there and interact with the other actors on stage. In addition, performing a simple action, like folding laundry or playing with the rim of your glass on stage, can bring you right into the world of the play.

Next time you catch yourself trying to sabotage your performance by worrying about messing up, use the anxiety to focus instead on the above exercises. And lastly, you need to give yourself credit and feel worthy for getting a part in a play and the hard work you have done. See if you can stop the persistence of the inner critic by making a firm choice to find something positive you did and congratulate yourself for it instead.

Question
Dear Blair,
I am a 27 year old female who just went back to school as an acting major. All of the girls in my class are pretty, with great bodies and tight . . . well, you know. I have been an actress for 19 years and went back to school because I felt that there was so much I could learn. These girls seem to think that they are going to get by on their "look." I'm not talking one or two of them, but the majority. And they are getting acting jobs! That can't be all there is to it. Doesn't talent account for anything anymore, or should I just be glad I don't look my age?
Sincerely,
Hopefully not too old

Dear Hopefully not too old,
You most definitely are NOT too old. So many people write me with this concern and it really upsets me. You are still in 20s, for God's sake. Look at Susan Sarandon, Bernadette Peters, Uta Hagen, Joanne Woodward, Frances Sternhagen. These women are over 40, some way over 40, and are still acting.

And they exemplify that of course, talent counts for something. And so do looks. But talent can last and grow richer and deeper. Looks eventually must fade.

You must trust yourself and your talent, and fight the cultural values that promote physical beauty as the ultimate goal. Perhaps the acting school you are going to does not adhere to the type of values you are looking to embody. It sounds like you are interested in becoming a truthful actor, which takes very deep and hard work. Keep following that.

If the school is working for you, and you are getting what you need, then let others get the jobs that are right for them, while you strive to get the parts that are right for you. Don't waste your precious energy focusing on what they are doing.

Keep going.

Question
I am in the preparatory stages of pursuing a new career in acting (i.e. getting my headshots done, resume, NYC [tele-] service). I browse the audition listings on Playbill.com & Backstage.com often and can't wait to actually start auditioning. I have always been told that when you are just starting out you are better off getting your Eligibility card rather than your Equity card because it will open me up to more auditions. A friend just told me that they have done away with " Eligibility" and now you are either Equity or you're not.
First of all, is that true? Second of all, can you explain the process of joining Equity and the pros & cons of a "new" actor joining right away.
Thank you,
Janine Foti

Dear Janine,
I want to preface your answer by sending all readers who are not familiar with the actors' union, Actors' Equity Association (AEA), to previous "Ask Blair's" [button at the bottom of this column] so they can read about it in columns with AEA in the title.

It's true, Equity "Eligibility," a status which enabled actors to audition for Equity productions without actually being a paying member of the union, has been done away with. In spring of 1997 it was determined by the National Labor Relations Board that "Eligibility" status was unfair to union members.

In exchange, producers are now allowed to hold open (non-union and union) auditions for Broadway shows, and hold them before Equity-only auditions if they desire. However, Broadway shows generally hold Equity-only auditions first and most don't hold non-union auditions at all.

In my opinion, unless you have a really good agent, joining Equity is not always useful for the "new" actor. Being a member of Equity generally prevents actors from auditioning for any non-Equity shows. Budding, non-union actors enjoy abundant opportunities for juicy roles (or any roles) in non-Equity shows, and some opportunity for Equity-oriented productions such as Broadway, Regional and tours. The Equity actor without much prior experience ends up paying dues, only to wait on lines for hours to attend Equity-only auditions, in which they are passed over because producers want to hire people with names and experience. Of course this is not always the case.

As a non-member, you can get into an Equity-only audition through a friend, agent, director, etc.. Much of the non-union work is non-to-low paying, but there are more opportunities to grow artistically. And many opportunities to keep day jobs while getting professional experience.

The downside, of course, is that if you are not a member of Equity, you lack the many rights and protections available to union members. If an unscrupulous producer tries to exploit you, make you work long hours, do other jobs in addition to acting, and pays little or nothing -- you're on your own.

If you have a really good agent who can get you into a lot of the big Equity auditions, then being a member certainly can't hurt. Best of luck on your new life!

Question
I have a son who is looking to go into theatre professionally, and I need to know what type of advice to give him. Its not that I'm worried that he won't do well, but I am concerned about him going to college. He is planning on skipping college and heading for NY, where he says he'll get an acting and singing coach. He always says that going to college for a theatre degree isn't that useful. I don't know about that, so I wondered if you could share your opinion. I feel that if he at least got a degree, he would do much better in life after he decided to stop doing theatre. He says he could always go back to school. I assumed you must have encountered these situations, and could share some experiences and feelings about this problem. Thank you.

Molly Newton

Dear Molly,
This is an issue for many people. In the Oct. 6, 1997 column I answered a somewhat similar question in which I said:

"I always root for the college experience because going to college gave me so many things: a chance to work with and learn from great professors who were doing big things in the world, great contacts, working with some wonderful (and some not so wonderful) young actors and meeting classmates who became dear friends, a chance to grow up without the pressures of being completely on my own, a chance to have exposure to the professional world while still having my school curriculum to fall back on when the show ended, a rounded education, a feeling of accomplishment and more."

Ultimately I do think it's a question of what is important to your son and what he feels passionately about. If he is not at all interested in a college experience then I believe he should seek out the life of an artist and study in NY. Otherwise he'll be resentful and miserable. As a compromise, he could try to get into NYU which has a reputable undergrad theatre program located in the heart of it all.

It is true, he can always decide to go back to school later on if it becomes important to him. I hope this helps.