So, you’ve made the leap… you have decided to embrace the artistic life of an actor. It is not an easy life and it’s one of the hardest careers you could choose. And if you are like most actors, you want it now! Am I right? Unfortunately, it rarely happens NOW or anywhere close to your timetable. It’s a journey and a long one at that. Truly a marathon and not a sprint. I have said this a million times and I’ll say it again: if you are pursuing this career to be famous, you’re better off doing reality TV. Acting is hard. It’s one of the most competitive careers out there and if you’re not ready, it will chew you up and spit you out.
I do not say all of this to discourage anyone but to prepare you. As an actor, preparation and training are THE most important factors. It’s nice to have natural talent but even that will only take you so far. One of the most frequent questions I get from new actors is “How do I know when I’m ready to audition?” And my answer is always the same… are you training? You would not decide to play the violin and just pick it up and start playing something that, in all likelihood, sounds like your cat clawing through the door to get out. You would take lessons every day or several times a week. Acting is no different. It’s an art and to fine tune that art, you need to train! A successful actor is capable of making a lot of money- as much, or more than a doctor or lawyer. These professionals require at least eight years of schooling. Any actor who thinks they should require less schooling is a fool.
Years ago, and I mean YEARS, I was a young actor with no patience. I wanted it NOW. I had no training, no road map and no one to guide me. I just jumped. I went to my very first audition ever and boy was I terrified. I sat in the parking lot for what seemed like an hour trying to get my legs to move and get out of the car. I almost left. But I WANTED IT. It was my dream. So, after what was in reality only 20 minutes, I pushed myself out of the car and walked on wobbly legs into the building. This was it! This was my chance to shine! I walked in, signed in, and had a seat. After they told me to do that, of course, I had no idea what the hell I was doing!
Then the time came, they called my name, and I walked into the room to find four people sitting at a table staring at me. I almost vomited! But, I was rehearsed and ready! Or so I thought. Here’s where it gets mortifying. The director introduced himself and said, “whenever you’re ready.” Now, in my head the words were, “Sure, thank you.” But what came out of my mouth was “I’m so nervous I’m going to pee.” As if anyone in that room couldn’t tell from the constant shaking of my hands. The script I was holding sounded like someone opening a Christmas present- and then this happened. The director looked at me and said, “Ok, do you need to go now?”
What came out of my mouth next was stuff they put in sitcoms. I VERY seriously looked at him and said “No, I mean, I’m not going to pee now, in my pants but I could. But I’m ok. Um, I just meant I could because that’s how nervous I am, but I won’t.” Yep, because I’m sure he needed that clarification. He then, very politely, looked at me and said, “Well, please don’t pee your pants and continue if you can hold it.” I was MORTIFIED! I left that day and buried my head in my hands and didn’t audition again for a while.
Why do I tell you this story? It’s a perfect example of NOT BEING READY. I look back at that and kick myself because I’m smarter than that. I know better. But the reality is, all actors are impatient, and we all want to work. When the acting bug bites us, we just go! And usually, we don’t know where to go. So here is a checklist to assure you that you’re ready to start auditioning:
Are you enrolled in acting classes on a consistent basis? This is so important! You need to train. It’s become vital even more so today because the digital world has made this career even more competitive. Casting Directors are now seeing increased auditions because they are all virtual. I have seen as many as 5,000+ submissions for one role! That’s a ton. Put yourself on by harnessing your skills. Acting is NOT just saying lines on a page (yes, I have heard people say this), it is so much more. It is accessing emotions, using props, knowing cues, making those lines come to life all while making it believable and organic. That’s not easy folks. Find a studio and dig in!
If you are a beginner and your skillset still isn’t where it needs to be in order to compete, your coach and classmates will absolutely assure you as to when you are ready!
2. Casting Director Workshops
These are invaluable. There is no better way to get the right information about auditioning than straight from the person you audition for. Over the years I have been to so many of these and each time I learn something. If you want to know the do’s and don’ts of auditioning, this is where you learn it. They are so insightful. This is a safe place to ask questions (that you do not ask in the audition room. During an audition is not the time). It’s also helpful to hear from the casting director’s perspective what works and what does not. It really opens your eyes to how hard their job is and how the process works. You will also learn the MANY reasons why people are or are not cast. I highly recommend you attend a few before you start your auditioning journey.
3. Actor Materials
Do you have a current headshot? Do you have accounts on Actors Access, Casting Networks, Cast it Talent, etc.? If you are taking this career seriously, then you need the materials to market yourself. Primarily, PROFESSIONAL headshots- this is the ticket in the door. And I stress professional because the shot your cousin took of you on a boat at the family reunion just isn’t going to cut it. No casting director is going to call you in without seeing you. Even if you are new, get headshots. It shows you are serious and ready to do what it takes for your acting career.
In addition, the actor also needs to align with the director’s ideas and requirements from the character. As in life, the ability to adapt and adjust is priceless. Good practice for this is found at an acting studio - join in a few Dallas acting classes to hone your craft.
4. Do You Have the Right Setup?
As I mentioned previously, most all auditions now are virtual, meaning you record yourself and send to casting. I cannot stress this enough- you need a good setup! This means a solid background, good lighting, good sound, a good camera (cell phones work great now with the excellent cameras they have) and a reader. It sounds like a lot, but it’s not. Ask other actors what they use and where they got it. Get your setup ready and make it as professional as possible. Having a great setup will increase your chances of the casting director watching your tape. Yes, they more than likely will skip past yours if you are taping outside by a dumpster and can’t hear you. Don’t laugh, I’ve seen it. Be professional!
5. Can You Follow Directions?
Most of you just read that and had yourself a little chuckle because you think it’s ridiculous. Because everyone can follow directions, right? NOPE! You’d be surprised. I have helped with some castings over the past few years, and I am always dumbfounded by the number of actors who just don’t do what the email asked. It’s awful. How do you expect anyone to take you seriously if you cannot read an email and do exactly what it says? Again, this will cause them to skip over your video. I’ve seen casting directors and assistants go through the submissions and immediately discard the ones that didn’t follow instructions. Do not be that person! Read the directions, then read them again. If still in doubt of what to do, ask someone. This is a simple thing and so many actors cannot even do this. Take the time and do it right!
In summary, once you know what you’re doing and you’re prepared, auditioning is quite fun! It’s a chance to act, to play. Every audition you get is an opportunity to show someone what you’ve got. You will grow to love each one. The nerves will be there, for a long time or forever. I still get nervous; it is human nature. But you will get to the point where you can use those nerves in an effective way to help fuel you. Remember, auditioning is an actor’s job! The booking is just the icing on the cake!