Career Choices; A Lousy Leading Actor

Career Choices; A Lousy Leading Actor Happy Valentine's Day! Here's some good advice to take in, whether you're cuddling up to your loved ones, your own headshots, your latest script or whatever your heart may fancy. This week's column addresses what to do when the lead performer is a dud, how to think about a small but career-important role, and hanging in when you know there are bigger places to be. 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!

Happy Valentine's Day! Here's some good advice to take in, whether you're cuddling up to your loved ones, your own headshots, your latest script or whatever your heart may fancy. This week's column addresses what to do when the lead performer is a dud, how to think about a small but career-important role, and hanging in when you know there are bigger places to be. 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!
Welcome back from vacation!
I just booked a (paid) part in a play with a semi-professional theatre company here in Seattle. The pro's: it's a difficult company to get into as they tend to hire actors with whom they've worked before; I'm working with the artistic director of the company -- he's directing this production and he really liked my audition; I'm working with actors with whom I've worked before, both in community and semi-pro theatres in this area; the cast seems fun. The cons: my part is so small, I'm hardly onstage; when I am onstage, I'm the "straight woman" to a comic relief duo -- the other actress has many more lines, and a much funnier character; this is a step back for me in some ways, as my last role was huge and comedic. I took the part because the pros obviously outweighed the cons for me and I know all that stuff about every character being important. How do I justify this choice to other actor friends, and more importantly, to directors who say, "I've never heard of this character - I know the play but can't remember who that character is?" Do I waste the time of pro theatre casting directors by inviting them to see my six minutes on stage, or wait for a better role? I know this is a stepping stone, but I'm Frustrated in Seattle!!!
Sincerely,
Nancy

Hey Frustrated Nancy,
Thanks so much for your "welcome back" and your question.

This part is one you took to get paid, to work with some great people and to enhance your theatre credits. Good choice. The only thing I can recommend now is that you learn your (few) lines, show up on time ready to work, and take the back seat as you have been doing. You are correct in calling this work experience a stepping stone. I would not invite industry people to see you, because it doesn't sound like a part that really shows off your skills as an actress. I'm sure some industry people will be there anyway, so you will get exposure, which is good.

Now, let me be the first to dispel the myth of all parts are equal. I don't know who made the rule up, but they certainly are not, as you yourself are currently experiencing. I would be cautious if another role like it comes up right after this one. Know your value as an actress. Trust that you know what types of parts you like to play and will grow from. Steer clear of doing too much of this kind of small work if you can. It will only leave your actor-self cringing, hungry for more. Why do you have to justify your career choices to anyone? Some people will agree and support your choices, and others, for whatever reasons, will not. Please do not make excuses for yourself or feel badly because your choices don't meet others' expectations of you. If someone isn't understanding or supportive of what you are doing, you may choose not to speak with them on the topic.

Have a great run!

Question
Dear Ms Blair,
I am a 19-year-old male living in South Africa. I am currently in my second year of study for my degree in dramatic arts (specializing in acting) from the university of the Witwatersrand. So far I have won several acting scholarships, and am anxious to begin a career, either in the States or the U.K. My question to you is -- do you think it would be wiser for me to complete my degree here in South Africa, or to start auditioning now for drama schools of a more internationally recognized standard? I am completely at a loss as to what to do, but I don't want to waste any more time than I need to. I mean, does a degree in acting actually help you at all once it comes down to the nitty-gritty of auditioning and being cast, or even getting an agent? Please help!!
Yours in anticipation,
Sam

Dear Sam,
Thank you for your question. I really understand the dilemma of feeling that you are missing out on something by staying where you are, which is not where you ultimately want to end up.

I think there may be some value in your studying abroad, but I don't think you have to worry about it or do it all now--THERE IS NO TIME CONSTRAINT. Remember that.

Truly what matters the most is that you are talented, confident, persistent, and in the right place at the right time. In my columns I have quoted casting agents who agree that where you study is secondary to how you "wow" people in an audition. If you studied at the most prestigious places in the world and you have little talent and can't "show up" in an audition, it's not worth much.

It is possible that if you stay where you are and give your all to the program, and then work in theatres locally, that you could get to NY or London purely by luck and connections without having to study in those cities at all.

Question: Are you learning a lot at your school? Is the program will meeting your needs and expectations?

If the answers are yes, then play it cool for a while. If the answers are NO in a big way, maybe you want to start doing some research.

Take care and relax . . . I know it doesn't seem like it but I assure you there is plenty of time.

Question
I just competed in the thespian individual events. Although my friend, teachers and people who watched me rehearse in the hall all said my performances were amazing, the judges did not even award me with an excellent so I am not able to compete in state competition along with my friends. What can I do to make better with the judges next year?

Dear Thespian,
Thanks for your question.

Since I didn't see you perform, I cannot give you a complete answer. The first thing I would suggest is to trust that you did do a wonderful job, and for whatever reasons the judges didn't honor that, assume it has little to do with you.

Next I suggest that you begin to study acting outside of school, either in a class that meets once a week, or with a private coach. You need an outside eye that is trained enough to see where you need work and will be professional enough to tell you and help you improve. Make sure you feel comfortable with the teacher.

Outside study will give you extra leverage for the next competition, and it will give you an extra head start on your career.

Question
Blair,
My high school production of The Wizard of Oz has two months left of rehearsals. I am in a secondary-lead role, and having a blast. My question is: how do I deal with a Dorothy that cannot act or sing? No one really knows how she got the part. She's cute, but that's about all she has going for her. It is very painful at times to listen to her, especially since she thinks she is good. Everyone else in the cast, and most of the community, can see the truth. I know that I should just do my best and forget about her, but her performance will affect the entire show, or at least 26 1/2 of the 27 scenes. Do you have any advice that will help me refrain from cringing onstage while I listen to her sing?

Waiting Painfully
Dear Waiting Painfully,
Although my being on vacation may have made your wait longer, I hope it wasn't more painful. ;>

What to do with a lead who can't act or sing? Quite a challenge.

The first thing I suggest if you haven't already, is express your feelings privately to the director. Do not blame or barrage Dorothy, just express that it is difficult to work with her because X, Y, Z and share your concern. If nothing changes it will at least make you feel better by getting it off your chest. You may want to ask the director if there is anything you can do, acting-wise or other, to improve the situation.

After that, there is not much you can do, but listen beyond the notes she is singing to the words. When you are onstage with her, react to the WORDS she is singing--and try to let the harsh sounds fly past you.

Keep in mind that when you feel like squelching her, use the energy of that experience in your work. Obviously do not react like you want to kill her, but let the sensations energize your next line so that you stay focused, alive, and present. It's a tough situation, but keep being creative about finding solutions.

You have a few months left. It's possible she could get better.

Hope she does and I hope this helps.