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How to Begin an Acting Career

Oct 31, 2007
First impressions are lasting impressions.

In show business, the first impression can sometimes be the last impression. Producers, directors and casting directors are busy people. The deciding factor in giving an unknown (or even an experienced actor whose opportunities have been limited) a chance to read for a part is often based on first impressions.

Always have professional pictures of yourself, and be ready to show them without apologies or explanations. Your graduation picture won't do, nor will glamour-gimmicked photos of the type displayed in night-club lobbies. The pictures should show you: some, headshots showing a fair range of moods; others, in various types of wardrobe.

Have extra prints of each picture. Your interviewer may want to keep one. Make certain that your name, address, phone number and vital statistics are written legibly on the back of each photograph. Don't be misled into thinking that the pictures he rejects are "no good."

Have a neatly typed, short outline of your background, qualifications and (if you've ever appeared anywhere, in anything) your credits.

Be honest. Don't invent non-existent credits. You'll only identify yourself as an impostor, a charlatan, or to use show-business terminology, "a phony." "Any casting director can spot a phony every time" is a show-business axiom. If your only credit is a single appearance in the chorus line of a high-school operetta, say so. Everybody has to start out somewhere.

Perhaps your teacher will give you a card stating your credentials. Some teachers and coaches periodically give the not-so-fully-established actor a card stating how long he has studied and what, in their opinion, he is capable of doing at that time. These cards help the actor in getting interviews and protect the teacher, or coach, from false claims by overeager job seekers, who claim to be a client of theirs after one lesson.

Some of the first questions you'll be asked are:

"Tell me about yourself."

"What have you done?"

Tell the truth. If you have no film, say so. If you have no professional stage credits, say so.

However, there is a way out. Almost every casting director will help you. Ask for a chance to read for him, or to audition a scene you have already prepared. He's looking for talent, and he'll usually give you a scene, if you don't have one. You can take it home, study it, then come back and do it for him. If he likes the way you do it, he'll indicate the next move for you.

He may not need you today, but he will remember you tomorrow. He'll remember how you read, how you handled yourself, and whether you were able to live up to your claims. He casts something every day and he knows better than anyone that there is a definite place for the well-trained beginner.

At the present time, all professionals must belong to at least one of the organizations in the "four A's." The four A's are the Associated Actors and Artists of America. There are more than four now, but they are still called the four A's.

Among them are AFTRA (American Federation of Television and Radio Artists), SAG (Screen Actors Guild), Equity (Actors' Equity Association), AGMA (American Guild of Musical Artists), AGVA (American Guild of Variety Artists) and SEG (Screen Extras Guild), which is devoted primarily to the interests of people appearing as general atmosphere in motion pictures and in filmed television.

Under the Taft-Hartley law, a newcomer is allowed thirty days after his first professional performance before he is obliged to join one of the professional guilds or unions. The one he joins first becomes his parent union. There is a reciprocal arrangement among the four A's that acts in favor of the performer who works in the various mediums under their jurisdiction.

When an interview is over, leave. Don't drag it out, wasting the interviewer's time - and yours. If you've left pictures, or a list of credits, with the interviewer, tell his secretary on your way out of the office. Give her an extra word of thanks when you say goodbye.

Most of all keep trying and never give up.
About the Author
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