5 practical tips for an aspiring actor

 19 April 2016

Don’t gamble with your career. The acting profession is hugely competitive, but there are ways to give yourself a better chance of success – and it’s not only down to your acting ability.

"Attending one of the best courses you can get on should be a priority if you’re serious about your career."

1. Get the best training you can

The best training will give you a great head start. While there certainly are examples of great actors who haven’t had training or been to drama school, they are rare.

You need to see yourself as the product and go out and market that product.

Look in any theatre programme or dig into the background of any successful actor and you’ll see that most of them have trained on a full-time practical course. And many of them will have attended a school accredited by Drama UK.

Attending one of the best courses you can get on should be a priority if you’re serious about your career. While there, you’ll learn about the many different techniques of theatre acting, screen acting, radio and voice production, as well as stage fighting, singing, dancing, clowning and a whole range of other subjects. It’s also really good fun!

2. Get as much acting experience as possible 

Whether you’ve trained or not, getting some solid acting experience is crucial. Hopefully you’ll have done a few school or amateur productions, and there’s nothing wrong with continuing to gain experience in amateur theatre until you get a paid job.

There are opportunities to get screen experience in student films and short films made by independent companies. Find film courses in your area where students might need actors. Small independent theatre companies often put on plays in pubs and alternative spaces. Go and see some of their work and try to get yourself involved.

Run your business in the same way that a self-employed plumber or plasterer does.

Another alternative is to create your own film or theatre production. I’m not saying it’s easy – but it’s an option. Visit your local theatre and speak to other people who are involved in the business. As well as looking for work as an actor, don’t shy away from other sorts of associated work.

Small companies often need people to help out with administration, marketing, leaflet distribution, stage management and other behind-the-scenes jobs. It’s all useful experience and puts you in the right place to get industry contacts.

The dominant casting database in the UK is Spotlight but you’ll need training or professional credits to be able to join.

Industry newspaper The Stage has a jobs section and there are several internet-based casting sites such as Casting Call Pro, Star Now, Cast Net and several others.

3. Think of yourself as a business 

Start getting proactive: YOU are a business. As an actor you need to run your business in the same way that a self-employed plumber or plasterer does. You need to see yourself as the product and go out and market that product.

Knock on doors, write to people, see shows, go on courses, build your own website, apply for jobs, get experience, join industry organisations like Equity (the actors union) and be innovative.

As well as talent and tenacity you’ll also need:

  • A CV: This details your relevant experience and skills, but it should be facts and figures only. The best way to see what information you need is to look at actors CVs of reputable agencies online.
  • Photos: Some people have a range of photos, but the most important one is a simple headshot. Again, look at agencies' websites. You need to look as natural as possible, and remember that these are acting photos not modelling shots.
  • Showreels and voice tapes: Increasingly actors have showreels (examples of them acting on video) and voice tapes (an audio version of the showreel). These give you an opportunity to show someone who is looking for actors what you can do, and hopefully encourages them to invite you in for a face-to-face meeting.

4. Get yourself a decent agent 

Getting yourself a decent agent is a sensible goal to set yourself. Directors are the people you really want to meet, as they decide who gets the acting jobs on a particular project. Casting directors are often the gateways to those directors as they suggest actors that they think might be suitable. 

Agents are your connection to the casting directors, as it is the agents who submit actors for jobs. It’s therefore a good idea to get yourself an agent if you can. A good agent will want to see you perform in a theatre show (maybe several), will want to see your showreel, or at the very least will expect you to perform some audition pieces for them.

You’re unlikely to land a brilliant agent until you have a track record, or have been seen at a showcase of an accredited drama school, so to start with any agent is probably better than no agent.

It’s illegal for an agency to charge you a joining fee though, so any money that an agency makes must be from commission on work that you undertake when you’re with the agency. If you don’t get paid – they don’t get paid. Simple.

5. Make the most of any opportunities

Always make sure you're fully prepared for your auditions. You’re only likely to get a few days’ notice for theatre auditions, and for television auditions you’ll often be called in the next day.

At the start of your career, you’ll need a variety of prepared two to three-minute audition pieces that can be performed at the drop of a hat:

  • A serious piece
  • A comedy piece
  • A couple of Shakespeare or restoration monologues 
  • Speeches suitable for classical theatre or children’s theatre

Agents are your connection to the casting directors as it is the agents who submit actors for jobs.

The choice and quality of these ‘mini performances’ is crucial. 

You also need to be brilliant at sight-reading. So able to read a short script through once or twice and a few minutes later act out the scene in character as though it were a performance – with the script in your hand, of course. Sight-reading is the most common tool used for auditioning purposes.

In theatre auditions you’ll be asked to read from the script, as well as performing your prepared pieces. For television, film and commercials, you’re unlikely to need prepared audition pieces, so you’re relying solely on your sight-reading ability to get you the job.

Finally, being able to improvise effectively can be very useful. Improvising can help an actor to feel what it’s like to be the character without the encumbrance of holding and reading a script.

It’s a technique often used in rehearsal situations for developing characters and relationships – and of course jobbing actors improvise all the time when carrying out role play work in the corporate sector.

Martin Harris lives in Manchester where he runs Rocket Theatre and also works as an Audition Coach.

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