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Careers in Acting: On Stage and Behind the Scenes

Ways To Earn A Living As An Actor And BeyondDirectors, flymen, producers, actors, and even box office staff – there are so many options available to those who have a passion for the performing arts industry. All careers in acting for stage are linked by one thing: a shared love and appreciation for creating live theater.

Because of the associated pressures, and long and surprisingly unsociable hours related to the industry, many people who maintain careers in acting do so because they love what they do. Sequins don’t sew themselves on during the early hours of the morning; only dedicated theater lovers can do the job! If you find yourself with this bubbling desire to work in the industry, but are not quite sure where you’d fit in, continue reading through this quick reference guide. Here we’ll take a closer look at the various careers in acting linked to live theaters.

Producer

As one of the key players of making the show not only go on, but happen in the first place, the producer is responsible for sourcing the funds to finance the show and managing financial risks before and during production. Directly related to the budget is of course the cast and crew, so the producer also sources the various different roles.

Art Director

The art director is the creative individual responsible for the vision and artistic direction. He or she creates and directs ‘the book,’ which contains all the prompts for performers, lighting, sound, set, and so on. Should the show be traveling, the art director may choose to hand over this book to a stage manager, who will guide the production from there on out.

Stage Management Team

The team of stage managers and assistant stage managers play an integral role of directing the crew and cast. You’ll often find the head stage manager seated stage left in the corner. The rest of the team plays the vital role of giving the actors and performers their calls, and manning the wings backstage during scene changes.

Actor

This is probably the leading job most of us think of when someone mentions a career in acting. Sure, it’s the glitzy one that everybody gets to see, but most working actors know just how much of a team effort a successful production actually is. As an actor, most of your time is spent interpreting the work of a writer, with the help of a director. Tons of character research, preparation, and hours of rehearsals go into every convincing performance. Most professional actors work with acting coaches to help them really hone their craft.

Stage Crew

From the most seen job, to the least seen one – the stage crew are often called the ‘hands’ of a production. This team of muscle moves props and any free-standing scenery on the stage. Usually employed casually per show, the stage crew works closely with the technical team to ensure that all moving stage machinery (trapdoors, bridges, lifts, etc.) are operating safely.

Technical Team

If you’re a gadget whiz with a flair for creating something dazzling, then there may be room on the technical team for you! This team ensures that all the technical aspects of the show — like lighting, sound, and special effects — run as smoothly as possible.

Flyman

These burly guys manually operate different parts of the scenery from high walkways that can be found above the stage. These walkways are called ‘fly doors,” hence the name.

Marketing/Promotions

As in any marketing-related job, this role includes promotions and overseeing ticket sales. The marketing or promotions team will oversee every aspect of the theater’s advertising and promotional material, ranging from old-school fliers to social media.

There are plenty of other types of careers in acting, each requiring their own set of skills.  Whether you see yourself on stage or behind the scenes, if you put in some serious dedication to mastering your craft, you’ll be one step closer to finding your dream career!

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Becoming an Actor with No Experience: Is it Possible?

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Dreaming of making it big on screen or on stage, but worried you don’t have the right amount of experience? Read on as teacher Matthew H. shares his advice… 

 

While becoming an actor may seem extremely difficult in and of itself, without any experience it may even feel nearly impossible. However, what we often fail to realize is that the process alone of becoming an actor is filled with lessons that add to our overall experience and skill set. In fact, there’s actually no such thing as no experience when becoming an actor. Regardless if you choose to act as a hobby or have dreams to make it big as a working actor, here are some tips to refine your skills and get noticed.

First, let’s go over some basic definitions:

What is acting? This may seem obvious, but you have to have a clear understanding of what the art/craft/profession of acting is before embarking on any sort of career in the field. Many definitions exist, but some of the most prevalent ideas state that acting is “reacting to given stimuli” and “living truthfully under imaginary circumstances.” These viewpoints have been adopted by many conservatories and theater schools that teach diverse techniques by famous actors and directors such as Meisner and Stanislovski. With this understanding of acting, we can say that acting essentially is an extension of living.

Who are actors? Based on the above definition of acting, we all are actors. Everyone you encounter on the street is an actor. All people, regardless of race, ethnicity, gender, social status, and so on necessarily are performing on a daily basis. We all react to stimuli in different ways, having to negotiate all sorts of situations in which we find ourselves. In fact, as individuals we are placed in multiple roles that we have to fulfill (son/daughter, coworker, friend, student), sometimes simultaneously. So rather than worrying about becoming an actor, we should focus more on tapping into the actor that is already inside of each of us.

Now that we’ve gotten that out of the way, let’s address the real question: how do you become successful as an actor? Well, the short answer is to just act. If you want to make it on Broadway or in Hollywood, then you’ll have to join the appropriate union (SAG, AE, etc.). Gaining membership is tricky, as these organizations have unique systems that require having performed in certain types of shows. The best way to overcome this is to find as many different opportunities as you can and audition. Do the community theater musicals, help your friends out with a role in their film class’ final project, make your own YouTube series, do whatever comes your way. This will give you the experience you need to hone in your acting skills, as well as create some visibility for yourself within the greater acting community. Someone may see you in a small, unpaid role and think that you’d be perfect in a larger production. In this regard, flexibility is an actor’s greatest asset.

While there is no one right way to become an actor, you cannot wait to “get discovered.” In fact, you have to go out of your way to make people notice you (for the right reasons), and then you will be one step closer to realizing your dream of becoming an actor.

MatthewHMatthew H. teaches a variety of subjects both online and in New Milford, NJ. He recently received his MA from NYU with a background in Sociolinguistics and related research. Learn more about Matthew here! 

 

 

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Acting 101: What Can I Expect at My First Acting Lesson?

6644062535_e2e0422733_b Gearing up for your first acting lesson? Here, teacher Matthew H. explains what to expect at your first lesson, including some of the acting exercises you’ll likely do, and more…

So this is it. You’ve always wanted to act and made the first step in the right direction: taking acting lessons. While some celebrities have had incredible luck with “being discovered,” the vast majority of talented actors and actresses have extensive training, whether attending one of the top acting schools or conservatories, or having taken private lessons.

What can you expect at the first lesson? You may have had a small role in the ensemble of a high school musical or community theater production. You may have zero experience whatsoever and feel like you’re taking a bit of a risk with this investment for your future. Either way, you probably will be nervous and feeling somewhat vulnerable on the first day. That is a good thing! Regardless of the specific technique, acting is all about accessing different human emotions and relating to others based on shared experience. An actor is constantly putting himself or herself in vulnerable situations for an entire audience to see. Tap into that raw sensation and embrace it!

You might take a private lesson or feel more comfortable taking a group class. Regardless, you will be exposed to a bunch of different acting exercises and “games” that will seem awkward at first, but will gradually grow on you until you are not only comfortable with them, but looking forward to participating in them! An actor’s major tool is the body, and anyone interested in getting into acting will need to have complete control over everything their voice and body does. To do that, most lessons typically begin with physical exercises of some sort. You may spend some time working on breathing, such as how to properly take in a large quantity of air and use it to its fullest potential. This will aid in reducing anxiety and improving the quality of your speaking voice, which is vital in both stage and screen acting.

Next, you most likely will continue with a few minutes of stretching to loosen up your muscles. Since almost all plays, musicals, movies, and TV shows (unless you are playing a character in a coma on a soap opera) require movement, you have to be very aware of how your body works. Leg stretches, shoulder rolls, and maybe even some jumping jacks to get the blood flowing will make an appearance. The goal is to eliminate any tension your body is holding onto as much as possible. Doing so will allow you to easily engage when on stage.

Now, we enter into the more “awkward” aspects of a lesson: preparation exercises and improvisation. Acting exercises and theater games such as “zip zap zop” keep actors (in a group setting) on their toes as they have to maintain their focus and attention. While the activity may seem ridiculous at first (shouting nonsense words while making unusual gestures), this leads you develop basic acting skills such as the famous “living in the moment.” Additionally, improv games (anything from “Whose Line Is It Anyway”) will keep you on your toes as you further fine-tune important skills like paying attention, maintaining eye contact, and working together while you start to develop and craft characters, however profound they may or may not be.

Eventually, the more lessons you attend and the more advanced you become, you will tackle monologues, scenes, and perhaps even put on a full-length performance to help gain experience on your quest to getting into acting. Depending on your level and particular needs, you may venture into audition preparation and go over ways to carry yourself and present a headshot, in addition to nailing cold readings. The best teacher is real-world experience, and acting lessons will provide you with what you need to make the most out of those experiences!

MatthewHMatthew H. teaches a variety of subjects both online and in New Milford, NJ. He recently received his MA from NYU with a background in Sociolinguistics and related research. Learn more about Matthew here! 

 

 

 

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How to Audition for a TV Show | 5 Steps for Success

8696114399_7b222a9e35_hDreaming of making your debut on TV? Here, acting teacher Liz T. shares her tips for how to audition for a TV show… 

Want to be on TV? You’ll first need to get some acting training under your belt, and establish a strong knowledge of current dramas and comedies on TV. Then what? Here are your next steps…

Film Yourself

Because it’s TV, casting directors will want to see how you look and act on a screen as opposed to a stage in a live theater. At home, try filming yourself on an iPhone, Macbook computer, or other film recording device to see how you look! Sometimes how we think we look on film is very different than how we actually look! When you do this, think about these questions: Do you look comfortable on film? Or are you making a lot of weird facial expressions, such as blinking a lot, touching your nose, biting your lips, or raising your eyebrows? See if you have any habits that you can break before you step into the audition room!

Also, it is not recommended to wear white or black clothing in front of the camera, as this can wash your skin tone out. Wear something flattering and a neutral color; casting directors don’t usually like busy patterns or stripes.

Critique Yourself

If you are doing an acting scene either alone or with a partner in front of the camera, you want to make sure your speaking volume is accurate. You don’t need to speak too loud, as on a Broadway stage when you are trying to project your voice to the back of the audience; the camera and microphone should be able to pick you up at your normal speaking voice. But it shouldn’t be so soft, either, that they can’t hear a word you are saying.

Also, make sure you don’t look directly into the camera all the time, or directly at your scene partner. When you do your “pretend” filming experiment at home, notice where your eyes are most of the time. Are they rolling around, looking cross-eyed, or are they glued on one thing? They should look natural, with some movement, but nothing too still or sporadic. When you look at your reading, make notes of where in the scene or lines you should look at the camera and at your scene partner. Perhaps it is a romantic scene, and you are saying “I love you.” You may want to try two different approaches, one directly into the camera, and one at your scene partner. Think about these techniques. Study your favorite actors and see how they do it and what makes an impact on you!

Join SAG-AFTRA

Similar to movies, you will need to be part of the SAG-AFTRA Union (Screen Actors Guild & American Federation of Television and Recording Arts) in order to audition. If not, you can start by attending non-union auditions.

To join the union, you will need to start working in TV as an extra or stand-in. If a director hires you as a non-union actor in a role that is meant or contracted for a union actor, you’ll receive a waiver each day you work – and once you receive three waivers, you can then apply to join the union. If accepted, you will need to pay a union initiation fee of approximately $3,000, along with monthly dues. It is a very big investment, so make sure it is something you really want to go for! Being part of the union, however, will ensure that you are being paid and treated fairly on set, and you are also eligible for health and retirement benefits.

Finding Auditions

Of course, if you want to learn how to audition for a TV show… you’ll need to know where to find the actual auditions! Try websites and resources such as:

These sites mostly post auditions for big cities such as New York, LA, Orlando, Boston, and Chicago. Some of these websites will require a fee to join (it is worth it!). And some you can submit your headshot and resume online to the casting director, without having to audition in person.

Prepare Yourself

If you do receive an audition time slot, or are attending an open call, don’t panic! You will need to bring your headshot and resume to the audition, and also be prepared that it could take as little as under two minutes, or you could be in the audition room for an hour. Be prepared for both scenarios.

In the audition room, there may be one or several casting directors. Sometimes you will be given the script or “sides” a few days or weeks beforehand, or sometimes you’ll get it on the spot! If you are reading on the spot, it’s good to practice these types of “cold reads” before your audition. Find a friend, and test yourself reading lines or monologues. See what your natural reading tendencies and acting choices are.

When you walk into the room, be very polite and be yourself. Sometimes the casting directors will want to chat and have a conversation with you, but other times they just want to focus on the audition. Try not to distract them. In a TV audition, it will most likely be filmed. Sometimes they will send it to another casting office in LA or New York, so you must be as comfortable as possible auditioning with a big camera or several cameras right in front of your face!

If you would like to practice reading lines, work on your monologues, or learn more about how to audition for a TV show, I would love to start working with you today! Contact me through TakeLessons!

LizTLiz T. teaches online singing, acting, and music lessons. She is a graduate of the Berklee College of Music with a B.M in Vocal performance and currently performs/teaches all styles of music including Musical Theater, Classical, Jazz, Rock, Pop, R&B, and Country. Learn more about Liz here!

 

 

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Acting for the Camera vs. Onstage – Is There a Difference?

Stage Acting Verses Camera ActingMany professional actors have flawlessly transitioned between acting onstage and acting for the camera over the years. While the two mediums are distinct and require a specific skill set, there is much debate about how different they really are. In this article we’d like to take you through a few of the common differences between stage and screen performances, as well as offer some advice on technique and approach should you aspire to hone a well-rounded acting skill set.

People are often quick to point out that the biggest difference between acting for the camera versus the stage is the size and sound of the performances. There is some truth to that, but it’s not entirely true that the stage is always ‘bigger’ than the screen. In fact, most award-winning film performances don’t consist of still, soft-spoken acting. ‘Big’ can also be expressed on screen, provided that it comes through with an authentic heart.

Audience Location

One of the major differences between acting for the camera versus acting onstage is the location of the audience. As a stage actor, you would be performing to members of the audience who could easily be seated more than 100 feet away from the stage. In order for the audience to fully experience the sights and sounds of your performance, you have to act with the back row in mind. Even though your cast members may only be a couple of feet away, you need to create a larger than life expression of your character to allow for optimal audience satisfaction. (Although this is broadly speaking – many beautifully subtle stage performances have rendered audiences breathless, though they are usually linked to iconic plays that an audience would be familiar with. We’ll get to this later.)

When it comes to acting for the camera, however, you only need to be audible and seen by your cast and of course, the camera. With the camera and microphone always on you, as a film actor you can confidently speak to members of your cast as you would in real life. Just remember, it needs to look and feel real. Say, for example, you’re on set running lines with a co-actor. If someone were to overhear you two, it should look and sound as if you’re having a conversation – not at all like you’re rehearsing. If they can tell that you’re rehearsing, then you’re simply doing it wrong.  As a screen actor, it is your responsibility to speak and move as you would naturally.

Also remember that when a camera and microphone is involved, reality as you know it becomes slightly distorted – at times it would serve you well to project even less than you would in real life. To help you develop in this area, try rehearsing a few subtle face ticks in front of a mirror, such as lip quivers, eyebrow lifts, and so on. Successful acting for the camera relies heavily on these minor facial expressions.

Material Familiarity

We all grew up watching our favorite plays and musicals, and can’t help but return to theaters to watch them being performed even as we get older. We know all the songs, can anticipate the lines, and even know when things have been changed. By nature, theater is extremely repetitive. Popular shows will no doubt be put on by various companies around the world. And while all this helps to build the brand and sell tickets well in advance, it also makes the audience familiar with the show’s material  – and this is not always ideal. For stage actors this means that every line must be right – most audiences want to hear a play the way it has been written and get pretty disgruntled when there are dialogue errors.

Screen actors have a little more room to breathe in this area because the audience likely has never seen their scripts. Depending on the writers and direction, words can be changed even up until a few minutes before ‘action’.  So for aspiring film actors, you can take comfort in the fact that it’s OK to mince your lines slightly during an audition – the most important thing is that you deliver a unique and convincing performance.

Character Familiarity

Similar to the familiarity audiences and critics will have with your material as a stage actor; they’ll also be inclined to compare your performance to the distinguished ones before yours. Once again because of the repetitive nature of theatre, audiences and critics alike will only give you freedom to a certain extent. On stage, the familiar is the thing that sells your performance – people come to see what they expect to see.

Acting for the camera, on the other hand, leaves an audience and critics with little or no reference point at all. This is a handy tip to remember when you start auditioning for film: the director is looking for a version of you that suits the story they have already created. The key to not overacting is to get into your character’s mind, and remember that the director is looking for you and your reactions to this imaginary situation.

If you’re an actor trying to transition between these mediums or simply looking to increase your audition skills, working one-on-one with an acting coach can definitely help. Typically an acting coach with experience in one or both of these mediums will help you find your own style and technique in preparing for auditions, acting for camera (filmed and critiqued), dialects, non-verbal acting, and even resume writing. With the right support and training, you’ll be primed for the spotlight, no matter where you land!

 

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3 Ways to Overcome Shakespearean Intimidation on Stage

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Most people are familiar with the storylines of famous Shakespeare plays like Romeo and Juliet and Hamlet – but when you’re actually looking at the scripts, sometimes it can feel like you’re reading another language! To combat this, here are some tips from Baltimore acting teacher Larry P...

 

Finally got that audition or that part? The one in the Shakespeare play? Suddenly overrun by the worry that the language will be too much? Confidence that has never left you before suddenly nowhere to be found? There are ways to deal with intimidating language before they divert all that energy from you and your craft.

Understand What You Are Saying

(“You Keep Using that Word. I Do Not Think it Means What You Think it Means” – Inigo Montoya, “The Princess Bride”)

This may seem like a no-brainer, but far too many actors worry much more about memorizing the words than what they are saying. Especially in places where those words and phrases might not be as clear as they should be. An example I frequently use in classes comes from the famous Shakespeare play Romeo and Juliet. When Juliet stands on the balcony and asks “Romeo, Romeo, wherefore art thou Romeo?” she is not actually looking for Romeo in a physical sense. The word “wherefore” actually means “why” – in this case Juliet asking rhetorically, “Of all the people in the world I had to fall in love with, why did you have to be Romeo, a Montague?” This one realization lets you give a completely different inflection and action than one that has you looking to find Romeo.

There are many places and resources to understand the words your character is speaking, obviously dependent on how much prep time you have before you have to perform (or even rehearse). A number of publishers of famous Shakespeare plays have editions with either extensive glossaries on each page, or (my particular favorite type) a complete “modern English translation” on the facing page, as done by publishers like “No-Fear Shakespeare”. In fact, whenever I direct any Shakespeare play, I have every one of my actors do their own lines in paraphrased English, writing every Shakespearean line in modern English – either as a handout to the audience, or solely for their own character work. It helps me gauge how the actor is interpreting his own character, and allows me to make sure his interpretation meshes with the vision that I (and the designers) have for that show.

Conjure Up a Vision

(Context, Context, My Kingdom for Some Context)

Once you have a clear concept of what the language is saying, you need to find a context in which to put it. One of the best things about Shakespearean performance is that it lends itself to interpretation. Your interpretation as an actor, your Director’s interpretation, and the Designers’ interpretations. It is often especially critical for a Shakespearean monologue audition to be creative. You as an actor might not appreciate the sheer tonnage of the same monologues done over and over that directors and casting staff will hear in the course of a season, or even in for a specific show audition. Many years ago I did an audition for a small professional theatre, for only the second Shakespearean play I had ever performed. The play was Hamlet, and I chose to do the most familiar and overdone monologue from that play (and perhaps in all of English literature); the “To be or not to be…” piece (Act III, sc. 1).

After worrying about being pedestrian, I decided not to avoid the piece (as my acting teacher advised), but rather to change the context. I borrowed a friend, sat him down in front of me, mimed putting a weapon to his throat, and made the speech not about suicidal contemplation as it was written, but about deciding whether or not to murder. Same words, same meter, slightly altered delivery.

Practice, Practice, Practice

(“What is ‘How do you Get to Carnegie Hall, Alex?’”)

This one might also seem fundamental, but so many actors worry about the memorization of the words (see the first section above), that how those words come out can often be neglected. The meanings of the words, and the context of the words that we spoke of before, need to be worked on, tweaked, adjusted, and experimented with. Think of it as rehearsals before the rehearsals. The director will give you much of the context, but the more detailed you make each line, the more comfortable you will feel “inside” your character, and that audition piece, or that performance, will cease to be paralyzing and intimidating.

LarryPLarry P. teaches and tutors in a variety of subjects in Baltimore, MD, as well as through online lessons. His tutoring business is geared toward middle, high school, and college students, with specialties in the Humanities, writing research papers, and drama. Learn more about Larry here!

 
 
 

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11 Ways Artists, Actors, & Students Can Earn Extra Money

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Working toward a career in the arts? You’re likely taking private classes or refining your skills in school – and with that comes tuition bills and loans, on top of cost of living. How can you survive and still get the training you need? Read on to learn 11 ways to earn extra money with these ideas from New York City teacher Jasmine B

 

Recently, I found a definition of a “survival job” as a low-wage, low-skill job that does not utilize one’s professional skills, but is necessary for economic survival. News flash: It does not have to be low-wage!

Here are some tried and true ways to earn extra money if you’re a starving artist or a famished student:

Temporary Staffing
Got MS Word, Excel, PowerPoint, or other computer skills? Do you have a knack for answering phones, faxing, copying, and the like? Temp agencies can send you out for daily or weekly staffing while you are out for the summer, and even on weekends during school. This handy dandy website has a lot of them listed in by city, and you’ll have to send in a resume and make a contact, but in the long run, this gig is fantastic.

Voice-Over Work
ACX and Audible are two of my favorite companies for voice-over work. If you have great voice and speech training, love to read books, and want to get paid for it, check them out. At the start, you may be paid anywhere $50 to $100 per finished hour (which technically means every two hours, since most people make a number of mistakes that must be finished in the editing room).

Fitness Instructor or Personal Trainer
Certified to teach yoga? Love the gym? Are you a dancer? This may be the path for you. Many of my friends have taught yoga to a small group of clientele, and one of my friends is a featured trainer at Equinox. He’s got his photo on a billboard and everything, and that’s just his day job!

Tutoring
If you’re good at math, science, history, language arts, foreign languages, or anything anyone wants to learn, you can be a tutor! With TakeLessons.com, for example, qualified tutors and teachers get help with finding students in their area, and you can even teach online lessons.

Be a Teaching Artist
A teaching artist is someone who is a current and practicing artist of the subject they teach. I am a teaching artist, and I’ve taught in Utah, Florida, New York, New Jersey, Georgia, Pennsylvania, and am soon to teach in Africa! If you’re well-versed in your craft, you may be qualified to teach others. You need a strong resume, some recommendations, and it doesn’t hurt to have a Bachelor or Master’s degree, or a current degree of the like in progress. (Learn how to teach through TakeLessons here!)

Camp Counselor
Become the person you looked up to in fifth grade, and apply to be a camp counselor during the summer. Various camps offer competitive salary. The only downside: you most likely have to sleep on campus and eat camp food. Bonus points if you have a driver’s license; camps often need drivers to transport goods to and from camp.

Cat Sitter / Dog Walker
A quick check on Google and you’ll be directed to an array of companies dedicated to ensuring the safety, happiness, and health of our feline and canine friends. If you have experience with animals, this could be a lucrative gig. You could also make money hosting animals for a few nights a week while their owners away. Some companies offer $40-60 a night for this kind of service!

Nanny / Babysitter
If Mindy Kaling can do it, so can you! (But she can do everything.) You’ll need a background check, but there are websites like SmartSitting.com and Care.com that can put you in touch with families who need you. Artists make the best babysitters – they know how to engage with the artist in children, something parents love.

Blogging
One of the best online, part-time jobs for students is blogging or freelance writing. Blogging for your own personal site won’t bring in money immediately, but blogging for a company or organization will! If you’re a fan of writing and love to help others, this won’t bring in the big bucks immediately, but is an easy and fun way to earn extra money as a side venture while you’re doing anything else on this list.

SEE ALSO: Online Jobs for Students – 17 Ways to Earn While you Learn

Work In a Box Office
Many theatres hire box office assistants for the summer, and with perks like seeing some of the year’s hottest shows –why not?

Barista-City
I worked at Starbucks and got health insurance and tips to boot. Coffee is a much-loved and much-needed product, so why not be behind that? Also, companies like Starbucks give great benefits, like helping with college tuition, free coffee, and that snazzy green or black hat. You’ll also have knowledge about coffee that will stick with you for years. (Trust me.)

Jasmine B.Jasmine B. teaches speaking voice, stage performance, and acting in New York City. She’s studied acting from a young age, graduating from the Cobb County Center for Excellence in the Performing Arts, and Wright State University’s Professional Actor Training Program. She currently serves as an educational outreach fellow for the Juilliard School.  Learn more about Jasmine here!

 

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10 Things They Don’t Tell You in Acting School

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You’ve studied Stanislavski, Meisner, Adler, and Suzuki. You’ve learned the Circle of Fifths and mastered your second turns. But are you ready for the real world? Here are a few golden tidbits to help any recent grad transition from the acting school environment into the working world, written by actor and teacher Jasmine B.:

1. Competition is Real

(But it doesn’t have to bring you down.)

Right around showcase time, students at acting colleges and conservatory programs start noticing a change in their classmates and maybe in themselves. The hunger for recognition that’s been staved off by four years of intense study has only ripened and sharpened over time, and intensifies the closer you get to whatever city in which your designated senior showcase takes place. Maybe this hunger doesn’t affect you; maybe it’s been there since the beginning. This hunger is the desire to “make it.”

This too often turns people against each other and makes us forget those who helped us along the way. They don’t tell you this in school, but I’m telling you now: KEEP YOUR HUNGER IN CHECK. Agents, casting directors, and other actors want to work with people who not only get the job done well, but who are joys to work with. A conniving, backstabbing, “hungry” actor is not a joy to work with. Use your hunger to be the best you that you can be. There is no need to drag others down to bring you up. It doesn’t work that way.

2. Everyone Knows Everyone, and You Never Know Who’s In Charge

(So be nice to that woman who signs you in, please.)

Here’s a story for you: I was auditioning for a musical at Ripley Grier, and a young man kept eyeing my headshot. I am a pretty private person, and living in New York gives you an edge that you wouldn’t believe. I didn’t want him in my business, but I had two options: to be nice or to be rude. Thank goodness I chose to be nice –turns out he was a director that worked frequently at that theater, and not only vouched for me in that audition, but called me in later that month to read for the leading role in his production of Shakespeare’s Twelfth Night.

3. You Need Business Skills

(And I don’t mean it the way Beyonce means it.)

You’ll likely need business skills for your day job. Word Processing, Excel, Outlook, PowerPoint, answering phones, making appointments, et cetera. I currently serve as an administrative assistant in a facilities office and my business skills are constantly called on. I not only use them for my day job, but for marketing myself as well. I learned how to make my own website and business cards, and can save so much money by making that kind of thing a DIY project! Acting is a craft, but it’s also a business. Have a nice camera? Take headshots for other actors! Know a lot about taxes? Do your own taxes, and help out a few others. Yoga training? Get a few clients and you’ve got a paying gig. Use those skills!

4. You are Your Own Responsibility

(A teacher’s greatest achievement is to become unnecessary.)

Guess what? Your teachers are busy teaching students who are still in school. Now is the time for you to teach you. I would suggest finding a mentor, or keeping a close relationship with someone of authority that can help you with this transition. Reaching out to alumni is an excellent idea. Speak to someone who knows what you’re going through, and who can help you deal with the difference between life in acting school and life after school. This mentor is not responsible for making your schedule, ensuring that you get to work on time, paying your bills, or any of those grown-up things that you didn’t have to worry about in college. You are your own responsibility. If you have work/an audition/a callback/rehearsal/etc. on Monday morning, chances are that you don’t want to go out drinking Sunday night.

Find a warm up and ways to keep studying your craft beyond your degree. Take the initiative to enroll in master classes or even visit the school when you need to. Most importantly, take care of yourself. You only have one body and one life; it has to last you as long as you live. If someone or something is hazardous to your health, stand up for yourself. If you don’t look after yourself, no one else will.

5. It’s Not “Cool” to Warm Up

(But it’s better than being a bad actor!)

I spent a good seven months on tour without the courage to do my warm up, and I suffered. It may have not been cool or hip, but it really wasn’t cool that I couldn’t do my job to the best of my ability. So do what you need to do to be ready for a show. Period. Surround yourself with people that understand that acting is a process and each person has a different one. Find people with acting warm ups you like and use those if you need to.

6. Auditioning is Your Full-Time Job

(Booking the gig is a vacation.)

An alum of the Juilliard Drama Division likes to say, “Auditioning is my full time job. When I book the gig, that’s my vacation.” She means that auditioning is something she’s dedicated to doing most days of the year, and that she’s a professional at it. She knows how to work a room. She also means that when she books a show, that’s maybe 1 out of 100 or more auditions she’s been on. It’s a vacation because she can then do what she wants to do: work on the character, the show, and be with the actors of an ensemble. I think she has a valid point.

7. It’s OK to be Concerned With Paying Your Bills!

(Actors gotta eat!)

I know that when I am running low on funds, I am a cranky, Scrooge-like, miserable person. I also know that I carry a general air of desperation and sorrow around like a blanket, and I can only hide it under specific circumstances. These are the traits that casting directors and agents do not want to deal with. So if you are like me, make sure you have a way of paying your bills! Most acting colleges are expensive. It’s OK to have a day job. It does not take away from your credibility as an actor or your dedication to the craft. Let me repeat: HAVING A DAY JOB DOES NOT TAKE AWAY FROM YOUR CREDIBILITY AS AN ACTOR OR YOUR DEDICATION TO THE CRAFT. Pay those bills, eat healthily, and have “me time.” You’re a human being. We need that.

8. The People Who Have Made It Have Been in the Game Longer Than You Think

(Bryan Cranston. Case dismissed.)

If you think Breaking Bad was Bryan Cranston’s be-all end-all, take a look at his IMDb resume. That thing is extensive. He’s been in everything from Seinfeld to Power Rangers to voice-overs for cartoons. The man has paid his dues, and it has made him the actor he is today. Even young actors like Samira Wiley and Danielle Brooks, two Juilliard alum who currently star in the Netflix smash hit series Orange is the New Black paid their dues. Very few people “make it” straight out of the gate, and those who do should thank whomever or whatever they need to thank.

9. Almost Everyone Can Drive a Car

(So take it off your resume.)

No, they won’t hire you to drive one of the random cars toward the back in the next The Fast and The Furious. They will probably hire a stuntman, whose profession is to drive fast cars at dangerous speeds.

While you’re taking that off, also please remove anything similarly basic. That includes cartwheels, some ballet, beginning French, making coffee, or just for kicks, high kicks. They know, or they will know when they ask you to do it in the call back. And if they ask you to make coffee in the callback, either you’re doing the opening scene from A Raisin in the Sun or you just got hired to be the intern. Either way, enjoy!

10. It’s OK if You Don’t Stick With What You Wanted to Do When You Graduated

(And it’s OK if you do.)

You are your own person. You are your own artist. You are unique, and you are enough.

If you vowed to never do television in the hopes of reviving The Great White Way in the name of straight theater, but your path has led you to the likes of ABC, CBS, NBC, HBO, or anything related to the silver or small screen – great! You’re an actor. Do your thing.

If you vowed to be the next Anne Bogart, but somehow found yourself in the trenches of the Wall Street scene – wonderful! Life is a crazy, beautiful path that takes us where we didn’t expect to be. Embrace the change, and make that Wall Street money!

Don’t let anyone judge your choices – you are the master and commander of your ship. Sail on!

Jasmine B.Jasmine B. teaches speaking voice, stage performance, and acting in New York City. She’s studied acting from a young age, graduating from the Cobb County Center for Excellence in the Performing Arts, and Wright State University’s Professional Actor Training Program. She currently serves as an educational outreach fellow for the Juilliard School.  Learn more about Jasmine here!

 

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How to Learn Acting by Studying Your Favorite Actors

ActorWe all have our favorite actors – from the captivating smile of Julia Roberts to Leonardo DiCaprio’s boyish charm – but looks aside, there’s plenty that goes into sustaining a successful career as an actor amid a sea of driven competitors. If you’re a budding actor, dreaming about moving to LA for your big silver screen break, spending Friday night in watching reruns of your favorite movies may not be as couch-potato-ish as it sounds. In fact, studying the performances of your favorite actor is a great springboard for how to hone your own acting chops. In this article we’ll discuss how to learn acting by paying attention to the on- and off-screen actions of those talented stars we love.

A great way to start is by checking out the IMDb profiles of two or three of your all-time favorite actors. IMDb is a comprehensive resource that lists almost the entire professional history of all accredited actors. Because you’ll want to take this study to a micro level, it’s best to keep your favorite actors list short for the purpose of this exercise. Here we go:

Step 1
Start by viewing the filmography of your actor – it will probably contain many films you’re already familiar with, but take some time to watch the trailers of those you may not have heard of. You’re also going to want to open up a website that will allow you to search and stream video at the same time. Try something like DirecTV’s Genie to help you search via actor and stream clips as well.

Step 2
Create a list of about five to eight movies to watch. Try to pick movies in which your actor plays roles he/she is not usually cast as.

Step 3
Keep a pen and some paper handy to take notes while watching these movies. You may want to note the scenes during which you felt most engaged or captivated by your actor’s character.

Step 4
When the movie is over, go back to those scenes and deconstruct why you think you felt most engaged by them.  Was it a convincing slow cry, a nose-flaring display of rage, or perhaps an inhalation of courage? Pay attention to the following:

  • Distinctive character traits
  • Body language and movement
  • Emotive eyes – energy and direction
  • Voice and enunciation

Step 5
Repeat Step 4 but now with the sound off. Really pay attention to the small gestures – remember that when your face is zoomed-in to look like the size of a house, the control of micro facial muscles becomes imperative – all of this comes together to make up the actor’s technique.

Step 6
With the information gathered in Steps 4 and 5, select a few of your favorite scenes and begin to imitate your actor in front of a mirror. Feel their movements, facial expressions, breathing, gestures, accent, and so on. This is a great exercise in how to learn acting from someone who is very experienced in front of the camera. Of course, the end goal is for you to create your own style and method of expression, but there’s still so much you can gain by learning from example.

Behind the Character

After you’ve examined a few characters successfully played by your favorite actor, try delving deeper into the real life habits and professional techniques adopted by him or her.

Perhaps spend some time online researching the methods they may have used while preparing for specific roles – particularly the ones that may not have come naturally to them. While this might come as a surprise, many top international actors work regularly with acting coaches. As with any artistic craft, there’s always room to grow and express something deeper. If you’re an aspiring actor this would be a good discipline to introduce right away.

While working with a professional acting coach, you’ll dive into how to learn acting just like your idol does. One-on-one lessons with an experienced teacher will not only enhance your skills development and confidence but also give you the opportunity to receive tailored advice around everything from character investigation, auditioning, and even finding an agent.

Finally, don’t forget the importance of networking. It usually comes without exception that the road to success as an actor is paved with talent, hard work, and deliberately cultivated relationships with other industry professionals. So after spending all Friday night on your couch, be sure to get out on Saturday and make something happen!

 

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Should I Get an MFA? | Pros & Cons for Attending the Best MFA Programs

5667593412_670d0e4e00_bThe decision to go back to school, especially for actors, is a tough one. Read on as graduate student Jasmine B. gives you the inside scoop in a candid detailing of the pros and cons…

 

After undergrad, I hit an unexpected wall. After nearly a year of working a low-wage, part time job, I secured a seven month touring gig and thought I was finally going to get to use all of those hard earned skills of my undergraduate training, I was going straight to the top!

Nope.

During the tour, I struggled. I couldn’t get myself into a warm-up routine that adequately prepared me for each show, and I felt absent from most of the performances. I needed a better foundation and to learn how to harness my few moments of clarity, precision, and inner life into more than just moments.

The decision to pursue acting in one of the best MFA programs stems differently for everyone, but just in case you’re thinking about it – here are some of the pros and cons of going back to school as an actor, from my point of view. I needed to be a better actor. I needed to go back to school.

The Clock is Ticking…

For the next 2-4 years, you’re out of commission save summer and winter breaks. You’ll likely sign a contract with your school that prohibits you from booking outside work, and that means exposure to the opportunities that may or may not come with that work.

…Or So You Think.

Two to four years is really not a lot of time. When I graduate my school’s name and my skill set will open doors that I could never open myself, or at best, would probably take me four years to try to open. My resume isn’t worse off because of time taken to go back to school – it’s better.

You Already Have a Life…

When I entered my first year of graduate school, I had a whole set of obligations that didn’t involve school. I in no way wanted to give any of that up.

But It Could Be So Much Richer.

However, I had to in order to improve. Improve what? Improve my overall quality of life, including the way I valued my work, my life, and those around me. I’m glad I made some small sacrifices for the improved life I have now, and the life I will have in the future.

No One Wants to Relearn Something They Already Paid For…

My first semester at Juilliard, I went through a myriad of responses to the training. At first, my inflated, I-already-have-a-four-year-degree-in-this ego led me to these thoughts:

“I know that already!”
“Why are we repeating this thing I learned in high school?”
“I’m gonna punch myself in the face, this is obvious.”

Soon humility kicked in:
“Oh, I never knew that.”
“I forgot about that.”
“This is why they call it a craft.”

An actor never stops learning. Anyone who wants to master their craft must return to the basics every once in a while. Just as a dancer returns to the barre, or soldiers to their basic training and PT, we must return to the training.

Speaking of Paid For… I Don’t Need Any More Debt!

Okay. This one’s for real. I refuse to lie to you: this battle is one you have to make sure you’re ready to take on. It’s completely okay if you cannot or choose not to. Debt is not a thing to consider lightly.

Most likely, if you’re an independent sans support, you will be hit with some serious debt. If you’ve saved, have a wealthy benefactor, generous family members, or a loving spouse, thank your stars. Most graduates of the best MFA programs can count on up to a decade of repayment, of up to and beyond $100,000. No, I’m not kidding.

But Scholarships and Grants are More Plentiful than You Think

I’ve heard that Yale is heaven-sent in this regard, and Juilliard’s financial aid department gives everything they’ve got in order to make sure you can attend. I was an independent student with not a penny to my name and they’re making it happen. Grants are great allies in the fight for financial aid, as well as private scholarships, contests, and work-study programs.

Here are Some More PROS for the MFA Journey…

  • The Environment

You have the opportunity to do what every artist dreams of: work on your craft. That’s it. You won’t have to wait tables, or work a dead-end job that keeps you from your true calling. You get to wake up and get to work on your craft. Not only do you get to do that, but you get to work on it with like-minded individuals; people with similar dedication, spirit, and work ethic who know how to help, motivate, and inspire you to do your best work. Talk about an artist’s dream!

  • Connections, Connections, Connections!

What I wouldn’t give five years ago to know some of the people I know now on a first-name basis! In addition to people of current influence, my classmates, drama family, and drama alumni network is a group of people to be reckoned with.

  • Educational Outreach

Want to be a teacher of the arts? This is a must-have.

  • Showcase

Agents. Managers. Casting higher-ups. Directors.
All of the best MFA programs put on a Showcase – and if a reputable graduate school builds it, they will come.

With All of This Said…

Know that an MFA program is not for everyone. There are studio programs that allow for more time to yourself and less money out of your pocket. There are ways to make working a 9-5 and studying acting work! There are plenty of ways to work as an actor, and not one way is better than the other. Choose what feels right and makes the most sense for you. Good luck, and happy acting!

Jasmine B.Jasmine B. teaches speaking voice, stage performance, and acting in New York City. She’s studied acting from a young age, graduating from the Cobb County Center for Excellence in the Performing Arts, and Wright State University’s Professional Actor Training Program. She currently serves as an educational outreach fellow for the Juilliard School.  Learn more about Jasmine here!

 

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