Notes from workshop “How to Revive your Acting Career, 31 Mar, Brighton, UK

The following are notes from a workshop I ran for actors and performers who wanted to reflect on their career progress. The notes contain a lot of tips and ideas for kickstarting a faltering acting career! Feel free to use them! The workshop took place in Brighton UK in 2008 and was attending by about 12 people. There were two sessions, one for newbies and one for veterans.


Signs of A Dying Theatre Career

You haven’t worked professionally (exclude profitshare) for over a year

You’re lost in the world of drop-in workshops, evening classes and amateur theatre productions

You keep working on short films for “expenses only”

You’ve been working on a self-written play or one-person show for years and it has never made it to London

You don’t have an up-to-date showreel

You have let your Paper CV slide

Your online presence is zero or also static and out of date

You don’t have a personal web site

You don’t have an agent

You have stopped checking regularly on casting call sites online that you are subscribed to

You’ve lost the energy for regularly chasing auditions

You work too many hours in a charity call centre and have now been promoted to “supervisor”!

You’ve got involved in lots of side-activities to satisfy your hunger – political and ideological campaigns, teaching for little or no money on evening class drama courses

You haven’t upskilled properly for a long time e.g. physical theatre, working with someone innovative “training with…”, Meisner etc

You’re lost in “corporates” and “theatre in education” that doesn’t satisfy you, even if it pays well

You’re out of touch and rusty with audition technique

You don’t have some live, inspiring and self-exciting audition pieces, ready to perform at the drop of a hat

You feel you have lost your acting “mojo”

You’ve becoming overfocused on dreams of working in film and TV to the exclusion of really going for theatre jobs

You do not regularly trawl the web for jobs and haven’t signed up for newsletters and casting calls

You’re involved in profitshare, profitshare and… profitshare

Your shows are stuck at “Three stars” and below

Your theatre company is a collusion of niceness – you’re not truly open to criticism and feedback – you get touchy and even vengeful

You have a list of more than 5 people within 100 miles of where you are now, who could create opportunities for you, who you “Won’t work with” (for various reasons of course)

You cannot pay your bills from acting and theatre work-related revenue

You can’t really afford to travel to auditions or update your public profile, CVs etc

You have no voice or show reel at all

The Vital Basic Acting Career Ingredients

A well designed, easily printable, up-to-date CV that has recent entries, recent training or upskilling, and one or two things that mark you out as a flexible individual – more than one version of your CV

A set of photographs (Spotlight-ready) that demonstrate your openness, and suggest a good range of skills and acting flexibility in both film and theatre

A voice and/or show reel with the first one minute focused only on your physical skills and your facial and vocal theatre skills

A presence online:

– spotlight and other relevant directories

– best use of social networking – do not mix your personal and professional profiles too much (e.g. use Become a Fan, or groups on facebook)

– youtube, myspace, linkedin (especially for corporate work) and google-videos presence

– your own personal webspace/site ideally called Myname.com with a range of accessible contact details

– pictures of you at work – ideally accessible (no more than 50k) online

– evidence of your consistency, professional attitude, flexibility and passion to work

– association with established and highly regarded companies e.g. Paines Plough “Recently trained with…”

– a wordpress blog/use of a high quality photo site such as flickr

A repertoire of recent work. In the absence of paid ensemble/theatre company work, your own production, performed at an established venue with plenty of pictorial evidence. Ideally with strong press reviews.

Part-time jobs RELATED to theatre or film showing your hunger to work

The Acting Mojo

– the sense of inner confidence that creates motivation and energy

– a sense of ongoing self-belief

– a restlessness that is more positive than negative that creates a
”get up and go”

– a willingness and ability to take rejection on the chin and keep trying

– an excitement for the craft and the vocation you have chosen

– the twinkle in your eye

– an ability to “switch on” your “best” at any opportunity

– a lack of “baggage” (personal or professional) holding you back

– a sense of idealism about what you are capable of; a self-optimism

– a welcoming of opportunities to challenge yourself and make serious effort

– a “zing”, literally a feeling like virility – a strength to make things happen

– a feeling that life is responding positively to your efforts

– a swirl of friends and connections that nourish you and you feel you are also making a net contribution to your community WITHIN YOUR FIELD OF WORK

– you have become a member of a collusion of mediocrity

– you have become wretchedly content

– you have become a member of an “indifference group” or a “negativity” group

– you have become flakey (unreliable to self and others) and/or are associated with flakey others and tarred with the same brush

– you are involved in distraction tasks (facebook addiction) and jobs (money is necessary but the job steals too much energy)

– you no longer feel romantic about your vocation

– you have vampires in your life

– you no longer enjoy the pleasure of rehearsal (play readings, reading for joy

– you no longer experiment (scratching work)


Three Audition Pieces that

– showcase your physicality (especially face, voice and ability to
move and also be very still)

– demonstrate a love of different types of theatre/writing

– allow you to show accent and voice skills

– allow you to show genres – but at least seriousness, naturalism,
expressionism and comedy

– create a strong first impression in the first paragraphs

– create an imagination space for the potential employers (allowing
them to also imagine you working with them) – monologues that are
evocative

– are not stale, old, hackneyed, clichéd or politically incorrect

– awaken in you an excitement to perform them

– meet the requirement of: physical, vocal, movement, mood, meaning,
imagination space, skills demo

– don’t look like you have done them a thousand times before; there’s nothing worse than a brilliant robot

– show your ability to be fresh with older material (material should be challenging and you should find new aspects in it)

– bring out aspects of your acting that you enjoy and “ignite your mojo”

Your Personal Web Space

A showcase for you and your work

Key ingredients

– a frontpage image (or a banner)

– a gallery

– a show-reel (with you in the first minute prominently demonstrating
your essence as an actor)

– a place for interaction (what others have said about you)

– links to your work portfolio (productions, associations, galleries and press
– your CV and links to online profiles

– a blog that gives colour and flavour to your personality

– easy contact info

– a web site that reflects your own self, professionalism and
commitment (beyond myspace)

– keep the front page simple and accessible

– rolling slide show of images of you and you in action

– embedded video clips that play immediately

– a confident, not arrogant celebration of you

– colour that reflects you and your enthusiasm

– a web site that YOU can change daily

– online cv access and downloadable


5 Low risk tips on a stand-out Actors’ CV.

THE MAIN TIP – One CV will never fit all

1. Have a flexible CV, not just one – see each new casting opportunity as a chance to think through how you really want to present yourself. Play around with the order of sections, image and wording.

2. Clean out the am-dram listings; research who you are writing to and highlight and feature the most relevant shows you have done; remember, your CV will be skim read

3. Do not pick the “hungry for acting”- looking photo; choose one that suggests adaptability and confidence, but not arrogance

4. Get two first-class references who you know will take proper time and effort to provide a detailed reference for you, if requested. Prune half-hearted referees.

5. Where possible, show you have recently worked in a Fringe Festival – casting agents and employers like the sense of “recent work” that goes with premieres and new work

5 High Risk Tips

1. Create a banner/tableau of more than one (ideally 5) images of you in action across the top of your CV or down the side – two head shots and three action shots

2. Have a short section of 5 key words called “Five words that capture who I am” E.g. “Physical, flexible, French-speaking, acrobatic, intuitive”

3. Only show your last three shows – be proud of what you are doing now – not a parade of your ancient history

4. Under each show you have been involved in, write a short answer to the following question: From this production I….(then write new skills, ideas, abilities you developed)

e.g. From this production I learned aerial theatre skills

5. Under Interests, include: “Plays I am currently reading”.
Other quirky headings include:
Favourite play
Favourite quote
Who I’d most like to work/train with

Why high risk? because you are daring to be different in a samey world.

Signs of a tired CV

The photograph(S) on the CV are history rather than a real reflection of what you look like today

You haven’t added anything to it for a year at least

The last bit of learning or training you did was years ago, possible even your drama school/course

Any training you have done is with an “institution”, not a recognised name

Your repertoire of plays is too dependent on unknown groups, profitshares, and even amateur productions

Your repertoire of performances is too dependent on one company, and for not a good reason

Your CV looks too much like everyone else’s – nothing marking you out as special or individual

You haven’t nurtured your skill base – physical theatre, learning new languages, accent repertoire, working with overseas groups

Your CV doesn’t demonstrate your love of your craft (lack of associated activities, memberships etc).

You have little or no recent history of Fringe Festival activity

Your CV doesn’t show any effort at a one-person show

Your repertoire of performance demonstrates too narrow a range of work

You have no online version of your CV

Your online CV sits, largely not updated on various web sites

Your spotlight photos are jaded, out of date, not suggestive of your ability to act on stage and on camera (versatile facial theatre along a range from stillness and calm to animation and facial flexibility, charisma and also depth in eyes)

The ink has faded and you haven’t printed off fresh copies, the paper is cheap, you’ve printed off on economy ink

Spotlight and CV Photo Checklist

A range of photos showing your “repertoire” in terms of facial theatre

A sense of you at your best

A sense of openness to direction

A sense of self-directedness in the photo (clear gaze)

A non-blurred look – eyes look sharp and able to really penetrate the camera lens

Hair doesn’t look over-arranged. Hair enhances you, isn’t a distraction from your face and eyes

The light and shadow in the photo brings out the best in your face; there are no shadows that make you look strange, inaccessible, that you are “hiding”

The pictures are crystal clear and don’t have a sense of being “snaps”

Try the test of 5 – you could look at at least five of the pictures and imagine the actor playing five very different characters naturally, with ease; but also you could easily pick out ONE that says: here is this person’s unique strength and propensity

Across all the pictures there is a sense of openness, and genuine enthusiasm (this can be done very subtly)

An impression of an ability to be flexible (specifically good for TV Drama and theatre work)

A “deep” charisma (a poise in mouth control and also eyes – the famous “twinkle”
A sense you aren’t “Posing meekly” for the camera

The smile is genuine, the seriousness not fake

Ensuring that a smile is not slimy or suggesting insincerity

Ensuring a serious look doesn’t look oppressive, but instead suggests deep commitment to the work

The picture doesn’t suggest physical unfitness – if you have a disability, this is simply shown naturally as part of who you are and your identity as you define it for yourself – a calmness, a sense of self-acceptance

There is no sense of neediness, a sense that your eyebalsl are trying to break the glass of the lens

Nothing that suggests an unstable personality (shifty eyes), a large inconsistency across the range of photos

On Getting a Real Agent

– ensure it is a real agent (collect three stories)

– focus on the agent’s specialisation

– be able to be London-based if needed

– bring new contacts e.g. good T.I.E and corporate contacts

– wide spread of skills or specialisation – not a compromise between “the no-man’s-land”)

– be defined by what you will do, not what you won’t do (you can always say no later)

– regular contact and updating of target agent – the “newsletter” and a regularly updated web site/blog

– Panto and rural touring can be a gateway to an agent (maximum exposure)

– attend London networking events e.g FringeReport monthly drinks

– embed showreel in your web space/site and share with agent emails/linkedin connections

– approach the agent as an already “Busy” person – one-person show/Camden Fringe

– letter of introduction/informal intro via a friend/colleague

– be prepared to leave a no-hope/no-work agent and risk the “wildnerness”

– try to get agents to engage in your targeted social networking/can be via a network of your own or imitative e.g FringeReview

– targeted invites; invite specific agents to see you work based on their pre-researched, identified interests

– the law of three – contact an agent in three different ways/using three different media – face to face, email, telephone, social networking, physical networking, via a live performance


Homeopathic Gateways to Work

– content rich web site

– involvement (no matter how small) in large promenade theatre piece) e.g. Dreamthinkspeak

– organisational theatre work – e.g. Forum Theatre, Boal work, e.g. DaCapo theatre, Denmark

– one-person show in the Camden Fringe (most London agents do not go to the Edinburgh Fringe)

– voluntary involvement in local radio e.g. Reverb in order to get voice reel material together

– targeted involvement in upskilling (NOT drop-in at the Actors’ centre but YES to events at Soho or Royal Court

– involvement in high profile charity fundraisers which use theatre

– volunteering at Fringe festivals; join a theatre reviews publication – on or offline

– Forest Fringe and free festivals (now getting a higher profile)

– train with high profile overseas theatre company (2-3 year horizon)

– focus on blitzing rural touring companies/productions

– short-film work where there is a clear London Showcase and the film has a strong script, and opportunity for you to get genuine showreel material together

Getting Your Mojo Back

– clearing space in your life (get rid of vampiric people and processes)
– play readings and reading plays

– taking a piece of drama to scratch performance

– rehearsed readings

– small pots of Arts Council money for individuals and also local government support
– stage a Fringe Festival show

– travel and see inspiring theatre overseas

– start a theatre blog

– wireless theatre

– see excellent theatre/volunteer at venues/events where you can get closer access to performance and companies

– upskill and new experiences e.g. Meisner or Boal

– outdoor and promenade theatre; has an unique energy

New and Emerging Opportunities

Film-theatre collaborations (Not film IN theatre, film AND theatre)

Wireless Theatre (Funded and ad-funded)

Organisational Theatre (not “corporates”)

Well chosen film-derivatives (e.g. Twelve Angry Men)

Working for Theatre Enterpreneur-producers (e.g. Guy Masterson Productions)

Higher-end Theatre-in-education (e.g. Creative Partnerships)

Viral Ads, online Television

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