Once again, hello and thank you to all creative advice-seekers. This week's column addresses the issues of remembering the business part of the Biz, working with characters quite unlike yourself, and “appropriate” resume material. 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. Browse through the previous columns to see if your question, or one like it, has been answered already!
Lost Question with Answer
Last week, a woman wrote me looking for information about about how to protect her young relation who just made it big on Broadway. I was in the middle of replying when my computer crashed and I lost the e-mail and her address with it, and I couldn’t reply to her.
The woman was fearful that the young performer would be taken advantage of financially by an agent who had gotten her the job. There was a meeting set up between the performer and the agent that may have already happened. I was recommending that her relation seek advice from an entertainment lawyer before going into the meeting.
Since I couldn’t write her back to get more information, it gave me an opportunity to write a bit about being prepared. I have discussed it in previous columns and I will type it again-- as magical and as exciting show business is, it is a business. Before you put your talent on the line, know that if you are not old enough to understand how to take care of yourself from a business perspective, make sure there are adults around you who do. Otherwise, you risk becoming one of the many actors’ whose careers and finances have gone down the tubes because they allowed themselves to be taken advantage of by agents or producers who wanted to make a lot of money off of them. This is not to put agents or producers down--this is to encourage actors to protect and take responsibility for themselves, by learning and understanding this part of it in advance.
As a performer, you are selling your talent. An agent helps you sell it and you pay that person 10-15% of your salary to do so. If you really make it big, in addition to agents, you will pay entertainment lawyers, publicity agents, assistants, and all sorts of people to help you keep your career afloat. The better you are at negotiating, asking for what you want, making deals, sticking up for yourself and not allowing yourself to be ripped off, the more secure you will feel. I always recommend people invest in the books Acting Professionally or Acting as Business . The first question in the Ask Blair column dated Dec. 26-Jan. 3 discusses these strategies further. I hope the woman who’s e-mail I lost read this column, and those who read it benefitted somehow!
In acting class we have been assigned scenes that involve characters that are a stretch for us-- that are in some way opposite of you, or different from the characters you usually play. I am finding this very difficult. I am playing Laura in The Glass Menagerie. The feedback I got back on the first time we did our scene was all about how I was (poorly) imitating her and not being her. My scene partner and I weren’t connecting, and he is also kind of nerdy and not so comfortable with playing the “jock-gentleman caller” type.
Do you have any advice for us?
Thanks for your great question. It’s interesting, because I know many actors who find that playing characters different than themselves is a lot easier. It gives all the parts of us we keep in the closet a chance to breathe.
So, you’re doing the Gentleman Caller scene? I’ll begin by suggesting you spend a nice chunk of alone time, each day, becoming Laura and creating her from you. Avoid trying to squish yourself into who you think Laura is. Be willing to enter her world. To really become her you must be willing to feel as uncomfortable as she does.
First--write down all the things you notice and think about her--the things you like and the things you absolutely detest. Let it rip. It’s very hard to embody someone who you judge and have all these concepts about. Then throw the sheet out and let it go.
If you haven’t already, write a bio, in first person, diary- style, for Laura.. As Laura, let yourself discover where you grew up, experiences that happened to you, how you feel about your animals and your leg and your mother and brother and father, the sounds and smells and colors of your everyday environment.
Being specific is very important and requires a certain kind of tapping into your own experience, to match it with your perception of the character’s experience. For example, Laura habitually reverts to playing with her glass animals at heated times in the play. You may not be able to relate to playing with glass animals--but you must find the thing in your world that you use to escape and feel comfortable and safe. Finding the energy that pulls you to do that thing you do and find solace in, will enable you to better understand Laura.
For Laura, it’s the insecure part of yourself that you want to bring out. We all have our own insecurities--our version of Laura’s one leg shorter than the other . What’s yours? Have you ever felt everyone can see it? Imagine if it was exposed to the world and everyone could see your darkest secret and sit with that sensation.
I would also suggest, for Laura, that you repeatedly limp around the room while you are learnign your lines, while you are on the phone, etc. It takes time to find a limp that is rhythmic, natural and not forced.
Continue to work this way. Then, in rehearsals, with your partner, allow yourself to discover the truths that only working off a partner can illumine. If it’s hard for you to feel naturally attracted to your partner--you must either genuinely find what is so incredible and attractive to you about his “nerdiness,” focus on seeing the high school stud within him, or make believe he is someone else.
Make sure each of you are clear about what you want from the other person in the scene. Through the lines, keep finding ways to get it. Try to focus on that rather than conveying all the "emotions" of the scene, and you may find the emotions reveal themselves naturally.
Best of luck to you and your partner, Barb. Lemme know how it goes the next time!
On audition resumes is it appropriate to mention acting workshop classes, diction classes and other such courses available at colleges? Also on acting resumes should technical, makeup, and costume experience be listed? Also , what acting experience is inappropriate to list?
On your resume, create a section, below your list of EXPERIENCE, where you put your education, under the header TRAINING. If you were in a theatre training program at school, it is not necssary to list each course you took at college. Frankly, no one has the time to read it. It is better to say you graduated from the theatre program, i.e.--B.F.A Boston University, 1995, Theatre major. If you didn’t major in theatre, you can name a small list of either classes or teachers you studied with after the school name.
Technical, make-up and costume courses and experience need not be listed, unless you feel they are an important part of your skills and you want people to know about them. You can put these in “Special Skills” section at the bottom of your resume.
Which acting experience is appropriate or not is a highly debateable subject. I have heard that if you are an extra in a film, it is generally not a good idea to put that down on your resume. But other than working in porn films or something obscene, I can’t think of anything that would be “inappropriate.”
Geoffrey Johnson, Casting director of Johnson-Liff, one of New York’s top casting companies, says, “...a young actor can’t have a lot of experience and I think they should list whatever they’ve done.” This includes summer stock, small theatres, etc. Johnson also says, “Honesty is the best policy -padded resumes get actors into trouble. Don’t lie.”
So put it all, however minimal, down--and let your talent speak for itself. Good luck, Jason.