Killer Competition

Special Features   Killer Competition
Once again, hello and thank you to all creative advice-seekers. This week's column addresses the issues of killer competition and auditioning for a role you've already played, and offers some helpful tips to actors in the process of getting headshots. 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!

Once again, hello and thank you to all creative advice-seekers. This week's column addresses the issues of killer competition and auditioning for a role you've already played, and offers some helpful tips to actors in the process of getting headshots. 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!

Dear Blair,
I've been doing professional theatre now for five years. I'm a 16-year-old female. I can act (some have told me very well, too) and I can sing (I'm a belter) and I can even move well (not saying I'm classically trained) but I'm always overlooked for the good roles because of this one girl. She's your typical ingenue (beautiful singer, great dancer-can't act! ) and everyone is convinced that she is the greatest thing in the world. I know she only uses theatre as a way to get compliments and be popular, but I truly love it, and this whole mess just disgusts me. We both get great reviews, but there's still competition, and it feels like I'm always losing... She's the ingenue and I'm the character. She just really gets under my skin. Should I continue to hate her, or should I accept the fact that one day my role will come...???? Please help...She's too perfect.
About to burst

Dear About-to-Burst,
Thanks for the e-mail.

Welcome to the experience of dog-eat-dog competition in the theatre world. I hope I you get this response before any violence occurs!

The best way I know how to handle situations like these is to use the competition. Right now, the competition is using you. There is something easy and familiar about hating another for having what you think you want. But it is essential to develop a new relationship to those murderous feelings and thoughts, because they will actually cloud your creativity and prevent you from getting the roles you want.

It will be more energizing for you if you a) stop focusing on her so much and channel that energy into developing your own talent and honing your skills and b) you simply acknowledge this "rival" as being different from you, and not as being better, worse, or even your enemy. She has different looks, different singing and acting styles, different values and personality. Some things about her may be more polished, some you may like, others not. The trick is, if you allow yourself, to learn from your differences. This is how you put the competition to use.

Isolate what is it about her that you want to have for yourself? Study her. Watch her. See if there are things in her technique you want to cultivate. She is a great dancer--what do her moves have that yours don't? Can you absorb some of these? If you befriend her (only if it's genuine)...maybe she'll even teach you!

If you can't learn from her, don't use the fact that she is getting the ingenue roles to put her or yourself down. Instead, revel in the fact that you very likely have certain qualities she doesn't and probably can't cultivate. Maybe she can't be funny in the way you can, which is why you get the character roles.

Being the star doesn't always mean being the most talented on stage. If you are more talented than she is and her looks get her the roles, then this may be your first experience of the injustice of this business--and you're the one with the short end of the stick. If this is the case, get used to it. This is the first of many injustices this business will present to you.

To really turn the whole situation around takes strength, but it will be much easier for you in the long run if you do. If you can find a genuine way to cheer her on, as a fellow performer who is working hard and getting great roles, and has something to offer you, you will be the winner. After all, she is getting the parts you want so she must have something that is worth your offering support and admiration for.

Best of luck to you.

Dear Blair,
I have just recently finished performing in a play in college where I played a character in his late 40s and now the same play is being performed in a local community theater. Although I intend to audition for the same part along with others, I'm concerned that my age (I'm 19) will disqualify me for the role. All other aspects of the audition being equal, will someone older get the part I want? Also, will auditioning for a character I've already played have any affect on me getting the part? I know already playing the part is a good advantage, but will it end up becoming a disadvantage???
-- Jason (mrfixit5)

Dear Jason,
Mr. Fix It, I like that e-mail address.

One thing you can't fix is your age. But the truth is, you never know what kind of chances you have, really. It's worth a shot.

I wouldn't take whatever happens as a reflection on your acting. If I was directing this show, I would seek to cast a man closer to the age of the character--simply because it takes more work for the audience to believe in someone younger stretching to be someone older. I believe that as different as human beings are, there are certain experiences and maturity that come only with age. The weight of those experiences are truly difficult to capture without having had them.

Of course, sometimes when a character is in old age, and there's a lot of physical stuff to be done, and it's done well, it's okay if a younger person is cast. But it's always good for your acting to play someone a close to your age. Playing someone closer to your age easily offers the opportunity of working from the "inside out," getting real and doing less "acting."

Having played a character before has advantages and disadvantages. The advantages are that since you know the lines and have done character homework, you can really sink in deep and discover new things. The disadvantages are that you may be stuck in how you have done it, feel righteous about your choices, and the new director may have a totally different idea of the character than the last director. If you audition for or get cast in a role you've already played, you must remember to be open to the new cast and let them affect you in new ways, because they are different from the other actors you were working with, and to respond to them as though they aren't will leave your performance rehearsed and flat.

Good luck on your audition, Jason!

Dear Blair:
I just read your column for the first time -- thank God people like you exist and are willing to share what you know. This is a pretty open-ended question but-I am going to be a freshman in college and I'm majoring in theatre. I was wondering if you had any advice (i.e. do's and don't's at the first audition, convincing my parents that going into theatre is rational, and all the essentials for a theatre major). I'm kind of new to the whole idea of theatre--I've only been doing it for two years. But I've absolutely fallen in love. I have the passion-now I just need to know what to do with it!
Kellie from Colorado

Dear Kellie,
Thanks so much for your kind words. I love to hear it when people benefit from the column.
I hate to admit it, but I have no answers for you. There's no book on how to become a "ripe" actor. Well, come to think of it, there might be a few, but it's really an experiential process. You have to learn from experience and be willing to make mistakes. I think that's the best way to learn. If I gave you a Do's and Don'ts list at auditions, you might spend the whole audition focusing on being right, making sure you avoid all the don'ts, cursing yourself if you fall into one. . . it wouldn't give you the freedom to create and have your own success, or to mess up and to learn your own Do's and Don'ts. Trust yourself.

What I can recommend, is that you keep your eyes open. Awareness is an invaluable tool for an actor to have. Be aware of your actions and your internal feelings at auditions and in acting class. Just notice them--they offer a lot of information about you and your acting process. For example, at an audition, you can take note if you feel nervous, calm, insecure, how these states affect your auditions. Watch what other actors do that you want to learn how to do, and watch for where you feel they go astray.

You can also go to the list of Ask Blair's, and flip through them (if your computer is up to speed...otherwise it could take a while). You may find some answers you're looking for.

If you have any more questions, feel free to write. Good luck at school, Kellie!

Dear Blair:
I am interested in getting a new set of headshots taken. I am a 33-year- old part-time actress; a teacher by trade but a performer in mind, body and heart! I have lost a considerable amount of weight since my last headshot and would like to know the current standard for headshots. I have noticed many of my colleagues have full body shots, split frame shots, etc. Could you explain the many options and also discuss the size and style of print that should be used on the photo for printing the actor's name? Should the name be on the top or bottom of the photo, how large a font, etc.?
Thank you for taking the time to consider this question and keep up the great affirmation you give to all of us!

Dear Suzanne,
Getting new headshots is so exciting, and yes, there are SO many decisions that are involved in the process....What photographer should I use, how much to spend, what type of looks, body shots vs., headshots, fonts, glossy vs. matte, etc.

But, as in my answer to Kellie, I cannot give you the answers you are looking for. There is no one right-correct-surefire-way to get headshots. From my experience, it is important to find how you want to represent yourself, and BE SPECIFIC.

The first time I got adult headshots, after college, I felt I wasted a LOT of money. I didn't know what I was doing. I went to the guy everyone was going to. I thought he would know the answers you were looking for and depended on him to make me look stunning. He didn't, and my headshots ended up being SO BORING! They really reflected my own indecisiveness.

Here's what I suggest. Interview photographers. Find out what they're like and talk to them about how they act when in a photo session. Make sure the photographer you choose not only has a book of great headshots, but is also someone you feel you can work and communicate with, who'll give you advice if that's what you need, and who will direct you so that you get the photo you want.

Go over the books and notice which headshots you like. What is it about them that you like? Looking at headshots can help you clarify how you want your headshot to look, what you want to say about yourself. You get to see which ones stand out and why.

Decide how many shots do you want. Some people get one headshot for everything. Others get three headshots, with one three-quarters shot (shows 3/4 of your body), one dramatic, and one commercial (more smiley). What do you want to show? What do you want people to see? It's best to be specific, for example, "In this shot I want people to see I am sexy, open, charming and playful."

When you go to the place that reproduces your photos, they will have a book of fonts and sizes and examples. You will choose between a border and a borderless photo, between a glossy and matte finish, and you will need to choose where you want to put your name and if the letters should be in upper and lowercase or all caps. Pick what you think looks good.

On the other hand, while being specific and making choices, try not to get too uptight about getting the perfect shot. This generally leads to tension in the photo shoot, which lowers your chances of getting a good shot, and lots of disappointment.

If you try to capture the trend in headshots, you will get stuck in a whirlwind of opinion:" Glossy is out." "Borders are in." "Names usually go on the bottom--either right or left corner, inside the border." A casting agent I know hates split photos and thinks they should be reserved for postcards and models.

Mindy Johnson of Wendy Kurtzman casting in Los Angeles, CA, says, "I don't care about whether your photo is glossy or matte, whether your border is straight or crooked, I just want to see your essence. And I want to see your eyes. Most of all, I want the person in the picture to be the person who walks in the room--otherwise you are misrepresenting yourself."

Hope this helps and I hope you get great shots, Suzanne.

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