Developing and maintaining positive professional relationships is crucial to becoming a good actor. Of course we've all heard the stories about big-name actors who've had a right royal dummy spit on set, or crazy dressing room requests for peculiar items. But when you're starting out you should not expect that you can make any demands on those around you, or that any wild behaviour during a shoot or performance is somehow acceptable. These things are the exception, not the rule, and certainly you are likely to be fired if you behave inappropriately. Let's face it - there's always another actor who can take your place and play your role.
When you begin your profession as an actor, you want people to be passing the word around that you're "good to work with". What does this mean? It means:
Apart from the actor-specific points above, most of these criteria apply to any workplace. Yes - acting is a real job!
I don't know how many actors I've heard say, "I will never work with that actor/director/technical person again". See - word gets around about who is "horrible to work with". In a competitive marketplace, you want to be putting your best foot forward. If you can establish yourself as a desirable employee, you're more likely to get work. When a role needs to be cast, your name is more likely to come up. It's all about the attitude.
When you have opportunity to work in an ensemble that gels, you can have the best time of your life. If you're in an ensemble full of conflict or tension, it can be an awful working experience. Since an actor's life is project-to-project - you can be glad a bad project will be over soon. But chances are, after you've been out there for awhile, you're going to bump into someone you've worked with before, and be expected to work with them again. So you want to make sure the relationships you have are well-maintained. Make sure your projects begin well and end well relationally.
Identify where you haven't got it together yet. If you find conflict resolution really difficult, then work on that. Do a course, read a book. If you find it hard to regulate your emotions under pressure, get some counselling, or learn some anxiety-reduction techniques. And if you find you can never get anywhere on time, set your alarm twenty minutes earlier, use your phone to put in reminders, invest some time planning your route or tasks or schedule to better estimate how much time things actually will take. There are simple, practical things you can do to maximise your working relationships with others.
As an actor, you will work with many different people. Certainly, some will be easier to get along with than others. If you like your colleagues - fantastic. But in the end, there is nothing in your contract that says you have to like your workmates. You don't have to like them - you just have to be professional with them. (What a relief!)
Drama school is a great place to learn about industry expectations and to start putting those expectations into practice. At CADA we feel this stuff is so important we teach a whole unit on it in the 10197NAT Certificate IV in Acting for Stage and Screen. That way there is no confusion amongst our actors as to what is expected in the industry.
So next tie you're cast in a role with a new bunch of people you've not worked with before, you may be naturally anxious about what the future holds. (Will they like me?) At the same time, though - if you understand and practice the principles of "being good to work with", you're already well on the way to being liked!
So last post we talked about the idea of - 'Actor Plus' - that most actors start out or continue with a part-time job while pursuing acting opportunities.
But there must be more, right? There must be a way to maximise your chances to get the roles you want.
There is! - and it takes time to create - but not a lot of money.
It's done by building a personal brand online.
For the actor new to industry, it's a competitive marketplace. So what you need to do is have a presence in that marketplace. You can apply for as many auditions as you want - but nowadays, casting directors will ask, what else will you bring to the role besides your skills and training? In other words, will you bring an audience?
The reality is we live in a social media world. Social media, in all its forms, is how we find out what's going on and when and where. Actors can tap into this by building an online presence with followers who will come with you to each role you place. This is seen as credible currency in the industry. These days, if it comes down to a choice between two actors, the actor with more twitter or facebook or Youtube followers is more likely to be selected for the role.
Ultimately, someone has invested in making that film or production and they want to see a return on their investment. So when it comes to selecting an actor to play a role, it's now legitimate to look at that actor's following as part of the overall cash cow. When the actor posts photos from days on set, or memes, or videos of funny moments or interviews and attracts more 'likes', the actor is effectively preparing his or her audience to receive their next project. Producers spend big money on marketing and if an audience is ready-made it takes some of the pressure off. So when a new film, TV show or production is released, the actor's audience is already pumped to dish out the dollars and go see it.
But, I hear you exclaim, I want to be valued for my skills as an actor! I don't want to be caught up in some kind of selling machine! I am an artist!
Well, yes, you are an artist. But you are also part of an industry, and it's helpful to understand how that industry works and some of the drivers. Hence the need for social media.
So here's a few tips on beginning to build your presence and personal brand.
Your website. There are two types of actor websites - fan sites, and sites initiated by the actor (or the actor's agent). It's the second kind you want to build when you're starting out. You can do this for very little money as there are numerous free website-building setups out there (weebly.com, wix.com, etc) and you can just register your domain name as your own name. If your name is a common one, and it's already taken, come up with a URL that's similar to your name but easy to remember. Or use your stage name.
Your social media accounts. You can set up social media accounts on Facebook, Instagram, Twitter and so on. These are not 'personal' but professional accounts. You may bill them as "Sarah Smith - Actor" or "Actor/Director" or "Entertainer". In Facebook, for instance, you can select an option that puts you as a "Public Figure", for instance. Even though you will be controlling the accounts, you may want to make a distinction between your personal and professional social media.
Then it's about posting content.
The personal brand you communicate through these channels should be genuine - not something fake. That's not to say you have to reveal personal details about your life, or who you're dating or where you live. No. Instead - what's your story? What are you working on right now? How did you come to acting? What are your personal values? What causes do you support? All these things can be incorporated into your your social media feeds, alongside news of any films or theatre productions you are working on. They create a big picture around who you already are.
But what to include? Snapshots from a shoot. A video tour of the set of your current theatre production. A candid chat with someone you're collaborating with. A review of your latest play. A sneak peek of your next costume on a hanger. A selfie with someone you met at a networking event or opening night. And always ask permission to post these if someone else is involved.
The trick with social media is to keep it coming. It's time intensive but won't cost money you don't have when you're starting out. There are also ways to link your accounts and upload to all platforms at once - it's worth looking into those to save time. And ask for likes and clicks. Ask them to come to your shows. Tell people what you want them to do, and those who support you will do it. At first it's going to be family and friends following you, but as you begin appearing in projects, your audience will increase, and your social media is a key asset in maximising your chance to get the roles you want. How many followers do you need to hit the big time? Thousands. There is no magic equation for that viral post that builds a mass audience overnight. But just remember, every actor who got there in the end started with a single click.
Next time: Maximising Your Chances To Become The Actor Of Your Dreams, Part 2: Building Relationships
What many prospective students want to know - and indeed, their parents - is: if I commit to studying a drama course, with all the time and expense involved, will I be able to get a job as an actor?
This is an excellent question to be asking from the outset. It's important to understand what you're getting yourself into if you sign up to a course at CADA or even at another drama school. Drama schools vary greatly in the costs of tuition. I recently spoke with someone who went to a drama school in Sydney and paid $40,000 for a one-year course which did not even result in an accredited diploma, while at CADA you can complete a two-year nationally recognised qualification for close to half that price.
If you think of education as an investment in your future - that is, you pay for training, and hope to begin to recoup that money in the workforce after you graduate - you need to understand how that is likely to work as an actor.
An actor rarely gets one "job". Yes, indeed, there are "jobs" for actors that are ongoing over many years - for instance, in a long-running TV series, you may win a role as part of the ensemble of characters appearing every episode. Consider soaps like Home and Away or Neighbours, where cast members remain part of the story for many years. Moreover, it's not just free-to-air TV anymore; many series go straight to Netflix or Stan or other content providers around the world. So as a new actor you may audition for, and win, a role where you get to play the same character again and again - until that character is killed off, leaves town, or the series is axed by studio executives.
But this is not the only way to build a career as an actor. Most professional actors are "jobbing actors". For them it's not about getting a full-time job with holiday pay, the company car, and all the perks. It's about building a life that is artistically satisfying - a life that moves from project to project. A regular employee may get a job and stick with it for a few years. A working actor applies for jobs again and again: they generally complete one project then move onto to the next, through a series of auditions or invitations to be involved. So an actor's month may consist of a "guestie" (a guest role in a major series, where a character appears for a couple of episodes and then is gone), a voiceover for an advertising campaign, a couple of auditions for TV commercials, engagement on a play development project at a local theatre, a short film role, and so on. Some of this work may be sourced by the actor themselves, while other opportunities may be sourced for the actor by a talent agent or manager. Many actors, while building a career, will have another job to provide some income while they also go after their acting work.
After a time working in the industry, many actors find a niche or specialty. For one actor, 90% of their work may come from screen projects, for another, 90% may come from voiceovers. For another, 90% may come from stage, and so on. These outcomes will largely be dictated by your personal attributes (were you born with a beautiful voice? do you look fantastic on camera? or are you a very physical person when given a stage?), the training that you've had (was it biased towards a certain discipline? or perhaps it provided you with access to certain tutors or opportunities?), and finally, the luck of being in the right place at the right time. This 'right place, right time' aspect is about winning that fantastic role that allows you to show off your skills as an actor and be noticed. Which in turn opens up channels for more work. It may be a relatively small role, say, as part of a big-budget movie, which ever-after associates you with that franchise, or it may be a comic role in a TV commercial, that makes you an Aussie icon (think 'Ronda' in the AAMI series of advertisements.) It could be something else entirely. The thing is, though, a lot of the time, content producers don't really know which projects are going to be successful and which are going to disappear into oblivion. So there is some luck involved. Even a very small-budget film may develop a cult following and careen an actor into a bigger league of work opportunities.
So there are many paths for an actor in the industry. It may take some time to recoup your investment in your training. You must expect that you will be working in another job at the same time as building your career as an actor. It may be that in that job you can use your acting skills (tour guide, children's entertainer, professional speaker, teacher, etc), or it may be something quite different, which uses a different skill set (office work, building and laboring, retail, hospitality, massage therapy, etc.). So you may want to develop multiple skill sets alongside your acting.
Some actors have crossover skills - writing, producing, directing, or singing and/dancing, for instance. These actors may be able to make their own work - produce their own projects, acquire funding, and continue their passion when work is not coming in from other sources.
The main thing is: be realistic. When you graduate from drama school, you are on the bottom rung. It is unlikely that you will bounce to fame and fortune in the blink of an eye. But you can hone your skills, prove your mettle, and get some great opportunities along the way. Consider Geoffrey Rush's career - he's known for so many wonderful roles now, from Captain Hector Barbossa in the Pirates of the Caribbean franchise, to Lionel Logue in The King's Speech. His "big break" came at the age of 45 with the release of the Australian movie Shine in 1996; he won an academy award for Best Actor. By 1998 he had done three international films and scored a second academy award nomination. He had been working mostly on the Australian stage prior to that time, and his skill as an actor had already been recognised in a number of Australian award nominations. Was his financial success instant? No. But he did work as an actor for many years, and became good at it.
You need to make good choices as you build an acting career. You need to eat as well as pursue your artistic dreams. So you need to construct a life that allows you to do both - and think carefully about that: are you prepared to live with uncertainty, and are you prepared to pursue a range of acting opportunities? Or are you a person who needs a high level of security in life, to function? - then it may be that acting is not for you.
But the flipside of it is that training as an actor provides you with many skills for other fields of endeavour. By default, it builds self-confidence. It empowers you to express yourself and become more articulate. It exposes you to many wonderful works of art across theatre, film and television which are enriching to your life. It teaches you emotional IQ, how to empathise with people who are quite different from yourself, how to work in a team, how to support your colleagues, how to collaborate effectively. It upgrades your communication skills and critical thinking skills. In a sense, actor training indirectly delivers personal growth and creative work skills that many graduates take to other areas of life and work. And the value of this is beyond a monetary investment.
So can you make a living as an actor? In the early stages of your career, think of it as "Actor Plus": acting plus something else to earn you income. You may be lucky and get your big break early - but don't count on it.
Training is the place to start. Our Certificate IV in Acting for Stage and Screen is a great way to test your suitability for the work of an actor, to learn the craft and see how well you can apply it. Or if you can't make that commitment, just try an evening course - Acting 101. Either way, you'll connect with the professional actors on staff and be able to learn under their tutelage and experience - and talk to them about how they make a living from acting.
Canberra Academy of Dramatic Art