Welcome to the one-year anniversary column of Ask Blair. There are 41 columns archived that address issues from audition anxiety to scene partner problems, from warming up to cold readings to hunting for an agent. This week's column looks at the "stuck" periods of an actor's career, copying others' performances and dealing with discoloration.
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!
After college, I started doing community theater, attended numerous cattle calls, and began landing parts in various industrial films and local commercials. Now I'm in my mid-thirties and have been doing this for about seven years. I've been fortunate in the sense that I've lived in major cities on both coasts (now on the West Coast) and have always been able to get an agent. I'm an established actor, although I certainly can't support myself on the acting income alone.
My problem is that my career seems to be at a standstill. I get good feedback from auditors, who sometimes hire me and sometimes don't. But it's been several years now, and the "big break" seems to elude me. I haven't even been able to get union eligibility status; it's all non-union work. I'm wondering if my lack of a professional drama degree (or certificate) is holding me back. How much emphasis do casting agents and directors place on a formal, drama education? Will a list of professional credits in commercials and industrials make up for it?
Thanks for your great question. Oh, the standstill. It's a challenging place to be. Most actors I know of experience at least one if not several prolonged periods in their career in which they feel as though nothing is happening.
The first thing I suggest you do is avoid worrying about your lack of a theatre degree. In one of my very first columns, an actor asked me just how important a degree in theatre really was. Ron LaRosa, of Johnson-Liff Casting (Big, Les Miz, Phantom, etc.) replied, "I always look for where [actors] studied, but in my opinion, talent outshines everything. It's important for people to study and to continue to study, but not necessarily for a college degree. Talent is what hires people in the end."
So cultivate your talent. You may discover you want to study more. Whatever you decide, do something for yourself to stimulate your own creativity. Instead of waiting for the industry to give you a break--you take care of your own artistic needs. This may look like studying privately with a new coach or in a class, or writing a one-man show (you can do a one man show about actors and stuck periods). There's nothing like taking things into your own hands to get the ball rolling.
The other thing I suggest is to make a strategy for your career . Goal setting and visualization are great tools for actors. Be specific with your goals. Write them down, e.g.: "I want to be an Equity actor by February of 1998."
You said you have an agent? Go out to lunch with him or her and spend some time together outlining a vision for your career. Let them know about your intentions and use their insight, advice and support to help you get to where you want to be.
Best of luck getting unstuck!
I don't know if you want to print this in your column or not but I figured I'd tell you anyway.
Your advice (Ask Blair: Aug. 25-Sept 5, third question) really helped me. [My friend] is now playing Hysterium because the director has bumped the original one out because he can't express the dual personalities sung in "I'm Calm". So, in the end it all worked out all right. I did also learn a valuable lesson which is what you said first and foremost [Not to predict casting with friends before auditions].
As for the show, I've had three rehearsals and have never had so much fun in a community theater show. Which brings to the advice that I need to ask of you again on the show. I saw Forum twice. Once with Nathan Lane and once with Whoopi Goldberg. I wanted to know if I should try to act like Nathan Lane (which the audience would like better) or take a chance and try to invent my own jokes. Let me know what you think. Once again thanks for the first piece of advice and I hope you can answer my second question.
I am so glad the first part of the advice worked for you.
It can be wonderful to copy and "steal" from actors we love. But the risk is that, like tracing paper, you will end up imitating or outlining their performance, looking a lot like them and leaving your act colorless and empty.
Therefore, I suggest something a little riskier that will allow you to grow as an actor. At first, try and forget all the Pseudolus' you've ever seen. Get your director's support and explore the character in an entirely new way that is real for Nick. Who is Pseudolus? What makes Psuedolus so funny? Does Psuedolus know he's funny? What does he want more than anything? After you have spent some time, and discovered Nick's Pseudolus, you can start to blend a little Nathan in there if it works for you. By that time, you may be so genuine and funny, you may not need it!
I'm glad you took the part. Keep having fun.
Hey there. Love the answers!! Just a quick question, I am a freshman at the University of Northern Colorado. I am a major in Theater and it is a pretty competitive university, and being that I am "Low-man-on-the totem-pole" I have set a goal for myself that I hope to be in some type of public performance (mainstage, one act, public reading etc.) and I have got cast in a set of short scenes of "Banned Books" which they do scenes from books that have been banned . But I feel I could do so much better because, you see, I worked as a "Techie" in a professional theater when I was 16, then when I was 17 I was cast in a Equity Theater show which was the greatest thing ever to happen to me. My question is: am I aiming too low when I am at school, should I be expecting more roles, or not worry about it... also I might be in a show in the spring which is professional. Would you recommend taking off school next semester to do the show. Which is better: a professional experience or an education?
Sounds like your goals are fine. You can audition for and strive to get the really big roles, but this way if you don't, you won't be too disappointed. Some times "Low-men-on-the-Totem-Pole" get a speedy transfer to the top, but it's also nice to start off small--this way you have somewhere to go, something to build up to, in the next four years.
There's no right answer to the question about staying in school or going for the "pro" part. If you get a part in that show, pay attention as to whether or not it feels right for you to take it. If and when it happens, it should be easier to decide when it's closer to that time.
Have a great year and congrats on getting cast.
I was reading some back issues of your column when I came across a question from a young man who is losing his hair and who asked you if this would be a detriment to his career. Well, my problem is also cosmetic: my legs. Actually it's just one of my legs. I have a huge discoloration on one of my legs. I'm in my late 20's and I just started acting about two years ago in community theatre but now I've started booking roles in local semi-professional theatres, dinner theatres and industrials. Thus far, I've been avoiding any roles that would require me to show my legs uncovered. If I have to wear a dress I use makeup on my leg to conceal the discoloration and wear hose. It looks ALMOST natural but it's hard to blend just the right shade of makeup. Do you know of any makeup artists in NYC that do body makeup? I know that actors on film and in print use body makeup but where can I find it? I am desperate to find a way to deal with this problem. I've been to dermatologist after dermatologist and they have no real solution other than to live with it.
Desperately seeking nice legs.
Thanks for your question. It would be nice if people's physical eccentricities were celebrated rather than hidden, but it's not the general rule of thumb in this business. I encourage you, in artistic environments that allow it, to allow your leg (no one else has to know) to be a part of the characters you play. Just bringing that piece of your experience to the character can bring a tangible humanity to your work.
You may want to ask friends or people you trust in the shows that you work with if the discoloration is really visible from the audience. Sometimes "abnormalities" we have are much more visible to us than to others.
Fortunately, it is something that is relatively easy to cover. There is a company called MAC (Make-up Art Cosmetics) that makes excellent (and expensive) make-up products that were originally created for use in the industry only, but now they are also sold to the public.
If you go to a MAC counter or store, there are make-up professionals who work behind the counter and will help you find what you need. A company spokesperson suggested taking a look at their full-coverage line. If you prove to them you are an actress (bring a headshot, resume, and copy of your latest program) they will give you a discount. (Playbill has no affiliation with MAC).
I don't know if they sell MAC products near you (I'm sure there is another make-up counter that could help as well), but there are a few counters that sell MAC, as well as MAC stores, in NYC, and in Toronto. There may be more locations. The company has an 800 number.
I hope your seeking comes to an end!