Late last week we said goodbye to our latest cohort of Advanced Diploma of Performance students. After we discussed highlights from the course, shared reflections on good times, and reminded ourselves of things learned, we got the students to do special task.
We asked the students to imagine they were writing a letter to someone who was just starting out on the journey they had just completed.
What advice would they give?
What did a new student need to know?
What did you wish you'd known, when you were starting out?
Here are some extracts from the wisdom gleaned from two years studying acting full-time.
"The beginning of anything is scary and uncertain. It'll be terrifying and exciting, a paradox of emotions. These feelings will never go away, but it helps that the people around you are feeling the same. Everyone has strengths and weaknesses. There'll be struggles and memories made. The advice I can share is this: Don't let fear stop you. Be in the moment of NOW and be kind to yourself, you're doing the best you can, and if today didn't go to plan, tomorrow is a new day to try again. Everything works out for the best, just trust the process.
p.s. Success is not straight line. It is messy. But it will slowly go up. And everyone's different."
"You're not going to like everything. And that's OK. You don't have to. I still think 'Waiting For Godot' really isn't that great. Do a voice warm-up every morning. Do it in the car on the way here. Exercise outside of school. Read outside of school - plays, theory books, criticism of shows. Work out what works and what doesn't... Look after your mental health. This is a stressful career choice, make it easy for yourself... You will get to be Kings, Queens, Heroes, Villains. You don't get that in an office. There is no better feeling than killing a show."
"You may think you know a lot about acting - and who knows, you might. But it's not just the acting things (techniques, etc.) that you have so much more to learn about. It's the ensemble, the support, the love and the comfort that you'll find that'll make this whole crazy world of acting seem so much less daunting and terrifying. You'll be given opportunities you couldn't dream of and the best thing is that you get to share it with some of the best people you've ever met - teachers included! Please do this for yourself... I know how absolutely amazing it is... SO DO IT!"
"Some advice I would like to give you would be to run at full speed. Take this new chapter by the horns and take control. Yes, there will be times where you will have doubts or concerns (this is totally normal) but don't let that affect your experience and your time here... Take every opportunity to learn as much as you can, because time goes so fast, especially when you're having fun. Don't ever hold back. You may have times where you have to do something that feels stupid and uncomfortable, but just trust, and do it! ... Work hard, don't give up."
It seems the course was challenging personally for many, with valuable life lessons learned!
With a huge talent pool across all ages, CADA is the go-to contact for casting local commercials and other screen projects.
Congratulations to Luka and Siena, CADA students who were recently cast in a series of commercials for Sportsman's Warehouse Christmas campaign:
Directors work in both theatre and screen.
Some may specialise in one or the other, while others may cross over into both.
A director’s prime responsibility is to create a unified, artistic vision for the piece.
That is to say, a director conceives an overall concept for the look, feel and interpretation of a script and works out how to implement those ideas in the media they’re working in.
To help him/her implement their ideas, a director usually works with a range of collaborators (actors, producers, lighting and sound technicians, designers and so on).
The director is in charge and directs these collaborators to achieve his/her goals for the work.
While there are significant differences between theatre and screen directing, some principles are common to both. Importantly, the director is usually the key decision maker in the project’s execution.
So a director may make choices around:
In the midst of these practical challenges, a director is also a creative. Many of a director’s decisions are about the creative product or creative outcome of the piece and for a director, much thought goes into the creative aspects of the work before they’ve even made contact with actors or technical collaborators.
A director is a multi-skilled artist, able to unite organisational and leadership skills with creative output.
Does this sound like you? Perhaps you’d be interested in our directing course - sign up now and start in 2018!
In the old Disney film, Pinocchio, there's a famous song, Hi Diddle-Dee-Dee, The Actor's Life for Me.
Pinocchio is being lured into the theatre to become a part of the show. He's enticed by the fox, who sings,
An actor's life for me
A high silk hat and a silver cane
A watch of gold with a diamond chain
An actor's life for me
It's great to be a celebrity
An actor's life for me... "
..And so it goes on. Remember that one? (For Henson fans, there's a great reprise by the Muppets here.)
Sometimes aspiring actors think this is what life is going to be like - celebrity, fast cars, gorgeous clothes and red carpets.
It's true that some actors do get this. But for every successful Hugh Jackman or Cate Blanchett, there are hundreds of actors who are not making very much money from their craft at all.
So it's good to do a reality check on this one - before you commit to a career as an actor.
Actors are part of today's 'gig economy' - along with all kinds of freelance workers: designers, writers, dog-walkers, consultants, mobile hairdressers, and more. In other words, you do one job (gig), then do another, then another - depending on who books you.
It's a project-to-project life.
For an actor, it might look something like this: a TV commercial, then a voiceover, then a film, then a guest spot on a drama, then a stage play. This might occur over - say - a period of months.
Even if you're cast in a big feature film, with a shooting schedule of many months, you might only be required for a few weeks - or even a few days - to shoot your particular part.
So if this is the case, there's a lot of other time every year when the average actor's not working as an actor.
The truth is, most actors have another job in addition to acting.
So you need to have a plan around how you're going to approach this gig-to-gig life, and maximise your chances of employment. Here are a few tips on how to get started.
In order to maximise your chances to get work as an actor, there's no question that you need training.
Acting might look simple - sure, when we see our favourite actors on screen they make it all look so natural - but in actual fact, acting is a craft. There are specific skills and processes to learn to achieve good outcomes. And it takes practice.
To get a role in a professional production, you need to be good at what you do.
To be good at acting, you need to do some training. So find the right course, or series of courses, that will teach you the practical skills of the actor.
Know your type
You may have heard of 'typecasting' - that's where an actor seems to play the same type of role over and over again, no matter which movie they appear in.
Typecasting can be creatively limiting for an actor.
But type itself can be very important to you winning a role.
Now you might think, “I’m a trained actor, I can play any role” – and yes, that is true – particularly in theatre. Type is far less important in theatre where there is distance between you and the audience.
But the actor's type is a great storytelling shortcut for screen.
For instance, you might look like a cop. Or an oily villain. Or a geek. Or a romantic lead. Or a willowy damsel in distress. Or a female warrior. Or a soccer mum.
Type is based on impressions, and it's a combination of your internal personality qualities (your energy) as well as the external physical impression that you tend to make when you walk into a room.
On screen, it would be perfectly clear what type of character you're playing, as soon as you enter.
So work out what your type is. If you audition for roles that relate to your type, you have a greater chance of winning them. You're less likely to be cast in a role against your type. (Although it can happen!)
Have a second skill
As an actor, it will pay to develop a second skill. Find something to support your acting career. Perhaps you're a whiz at administration. Perhaps you can take up massage therapy. Perhaps you are great with IT.
This is great! You're not betraying yourself as an actor if you have something else you're good at, as well as acting.
A lot of parents will tell kids who want to be actors to "have a backup plan", or "do your backup plan first, then train as an actor".
But if you're young, it pays to do your actor training first, then begin work on your backup plan - but only if and when you need it! You are much better placed to start making inroads into your career as an actor while you are younger, and unencumbered by children, mortgages and the obligations of later life.
Needless to say, you're probably still going to have to earn some money once your graduate from acting school.
So our advice is: nurture a second skill alongside your acting. It doesn't mean you have to jump into a full-time four-year degree in accounting, for instance (unless you want to!) - just find skills that have value in the marketplace.
These would include things like computer literacy skills, business skills, hospitality skills, allied health or people-helping skills, childcare, carpentry or another trade, and so on.
You can probably find vocational courses that are six to twelve months' duration that will give you a qualification to get a job to keep you going while you look for acting work.
Know where the work is
If you want to be an actor, you have to know how to find the work.
There are various avenues for this:
Make your own work
If there's nothing cooking through your other avenues - make your own work! Put together a night of entertainment. Write a script for a short film and shoot it with friends. Put together something for a festival. Keep an eye out for calls for applications for play seasons. There are lots of ways to make work for yourself and your colleagues. And if you get asked the question, "What are you working on?" - you'll always have an answer!
If you are wanting to get started as an actor, our next audition at Canberra Academy of Dramatic Art is on Sunday, September 3 - more info here.
So there’s a role you’re keen to get, in a musical you love. The audition’s coming up and you’ve registered. You don’t want to botch it - so how can you put your best foot forward?
Song choice is crucial to success at the audition. Here are a few tips to help you make the right choice at your next audition.
Have more than one song ready
When preparing for an audition, you should have about five songs that you can pull out of your hat at any time. These songs should be ones you know you can nail. They should be well rehearsed and memorised - lyrics and melody.
Reason being, at the audition, the panel may listen to your first song, maybe even your second one, then ask, “Do you have anything else?”
They may want to see more of what you’ve got to offer. You may not know exactly what they are looking for, but they might still be keen to see if you have it!
If you have some other options, you're ready for that question.
So keep your five best songs, in sheet music form, in the folder you take to auditions. (Nicely presented in a folder makes it easy for the piano accompanist as well.) Most professional auditions require you to have two songs prepared, in any case. But be prepared to whip out something else at a moment’s notice.
Prepare contrasting songs
It’s always good to front up to a musical theatre audition with one song that’s pre-1960, and one that’s contemporary. That’s your first contrast. Two contrasting musical theatre traditions.
The second contrast is character. Your songs should display two different characters. One might be Annie Ado with “I Cain’t Say No" from Oklahoma, and the other may be a reprise from Little Red Riding Hood from Into the Woods, for instance. Your songs should show the types of roles you’re capable of playing. So in your suite of songs, find characters that show a variety of virtues and vices.
For example, source songs for a character that is dominant, a character that is evil, another character that is vulnerable, another character that is neurotic, and another character that overcomes the odds. And bring your character to your song. Aim for at least two different energies in the two songs you bring on audition day.
Choose songs that are age appropriate
If you are twenty, don’t choose to sing an audition song where the character is sixty (like Norma Desmond, from Sunset Boulevard, for instance). Choose audition songs where you would be likely to be cast in the role.
Your performance should “make sense” to the audition panel. You don’t want to raise questions, like “Why is she singing that?” Don’t ask the audition panel to work too hard! You need to be believable from the word go.
Choose songs that are gender appropriate
You may love a woman’s song from your favourite musical, and sing it well, but if you’re a fella, choose a man’s song for your audition. And vice versa if you’re a woman.
Admittedly we live in an age where gender fluidity is up for discussion - but if you are auditioning for a male role in a show, you need to show the panel that you can sing and play a male role. Again, don’t make it hard for them. They want to see what you can do, for their show ( - not what you would do for your own personal cabaret performance). They are hoping that the next person who walks into the audition room is ‘the one’.
So if you are going for a male role, sing a male part. If you are going for a female role, sing a female part. As they watch you, they are imagining you as the character they are casting. So you want them to imagine you as the character they have in mind. The character’s gender is part of that.
By all means, if you are auditioning for a cross-dressing role, a specifically gay or a transgender character, you can choose audition repertoire that reflects this; there certainly are songs out there of this description, so it might work in your favour to have one of these up your sleeve if that's the kind of role you're going for. But the general rule of thumb is: sing to gender.
Choose songs you know you can achieve every time
Sometimes singers have songs they’re working on but haven’t quite mastered. There’s that high note, or that low note, or that difficult melody, that you can’t do consistently well.
At auditions, you want to show what you can do well. Choose songs you know you can nail every time you sing them. It may be tempting to sing something you’ve not quite mastered, in the hope that you’ll impress on the day - but the audition is your job interview. You want to put your best foot forward. So know your musical range, and know your vocal type. Then audition within that range and type. The audition is not the time to try something new. Your regular singing lesson is the place for that.
Learn how to cut your music
You won't always sing an entire song in an audition. Usually, you’ve got to be prepared to cut your music.
Depending on the audition requirements (and make sure you familiarise yourself with these), you may only be required to sing a couple of verses and a chorus.
So when you sit down to look at your song, make sure you choose the section that will show you off. It may be where there’s a crescendo. It may be where the character is most emotional. It may be the verse that is most similar in sentiment to the character role you’re auditioning for. Select your section, and work out in advance how you are going to explain the section you want sing to the accompanist on the day. Make it clear by crossing out unwanted sections on the sheet music you will provide to the accompanist.
Prepare your character
Character is so crucial to selling a song in an audition. It’s not enough to sing sweetly and on pitch. You need to understand where your character is coming from and what they are trying to communicate at the moment they sing their song. So make sure you know your character’s journey to this point.
That will mean being familiar with the musical as a whole, and your character’s place in it. So do your research - your reading and listening. Then break down your song lyrics. Ask, “What does my character want here? What is his/her goal? What do they feel?” and “How can I bring these things to life in my face, my hands, my posture, my physicality?”
In other words, how will you tell your character’s story? How will you become the character as you sing?
This kind of preparation is as important as mastering the musical content of your song.
Despite the song and dance requirements of the audition process, ultimately the musical theatre audition is all about the acting - it's all about the storytelling. You, as the auditionee, are the storyteller. So next time you sing, make sure you are telling a story. It's key to audition success.
These parameters are the important to bear in mind for professional musical theatre auditions, as well as auditions for musical theatre training courses. (To find our more about CADA's training course, click here.)
How do I get a job as a musical theatre performer today?
This is a question we get asked regularly by prospective students who are tempted to enrol in a musical theatre training course at CADA or another institution.
If you love singing, or dance, or acting - or all three - and your dream is to be performing in shows like Matilda and Wicked and The Book of Mormon, this question needs a real answer before you commit time and money to preparing for a career in the field.
There is something wonderful about the heightened experience of musical theatre, with its rousing choruses, upbeat plotlines and colour and movement.
But what do you need to get into this industry, and how can you find the work that will give you a secure job doing what you love?
Identify your skill set. The first thing you need, to work in the industry, is a good strong skill set. So to get started: analyse your skill set. Some musical theatre performers see themselves as 'dancers who can sing' or 'singers who can dance' or 'actors who can sing and dance'. Take a good hard look at your skill set - and know which you are. Your personal limitations may determine the types of musical theatre roles you're likely to win. Identify your strong suit - and you'll have a better idea about the types of musical roles you should be aiming for.
Develop your skill set. So now you know you're a singer who can act, for instance. But you feel dance is not your forte? Then get dance lessons. And keep them going. Most professional musical theatre performers continue with singing and dance lessons even while they're busy in a performance season. Why? You need to keep up your physical and vocal fitness, your stamina, and there's always room to grow and improve.
Likewise, if you are a dancer and you've never had acting lessons, and you're keen to secure speaking or singing roles, then that's your next step. You need to consciously identify the training you need to operate at a professional level. This is important to understand. You may have had some experience in amateur theatre or in a high school musical, but it’s a big leap from amateur to professional. But if you develop your skill set, you’re on your way.
See professional musical theatre - as much as you can. You need to know what you're aiming for. You need to listen to the quality of the voices, see the level of dance skill required, and observe how the musical theatre form is used in different ways. And don't just go see your old faves. Check out lesser-known shows, or more intimate musical theatre experiences, or cabarets. Go to the opera. Get a sense of all the different expressions of 'music drama' that are on offer. You may be surprised by what you see.
Develop your audition skills. Getting professional work is all about the audition. You need to know how to audition well to put your best foot forward. You need to know how to physically enter the audition room with confidence. You need to know how to speak to the accompanist about the piece you’re about to sing. You need to know how you should and shouldn't engage with the audition panel. You need to know how to close your audition in a positive way. And that’s just a singing audition.
If it’s a dance audition, you need to understand the etiquette of the process. You need to know what to wear. You need to be able to follow and replicate choreography. You need to know how to embrace the space. These are skills you can pick up in a good training course in musical theatre. If you do well in an audition, and are offered a callback (an invitation to a further audition) or a role, you’ve effectively passed the initial 'job interview'.
It’s all about the storytelling. Musical theatre is all about the storytelling. You need to be able to ‘act’ your song. You need to be an expressive dancer who can communicate with more than arms and legs - be someone who uses their face as well! This is why actor training is so important for the musical theatre performer. If you have strong acting skills, they cover a multitude of sins. If your voice cracks during an audition, because of nerves, you may save yourself by playing the character convincingly. If your dance technique slips for a moment during audition choreography, but you’re a compelling dancer to watch because you physically embody the character they’re looking for, your error will matter far less.
Tell the story every time. Just tell the story. This is what the audition panel wants - and it’s also what your audience wants. That’s why people go to musical theatre - to be moved by the stories, and how they're told through song and dance.
Find out about the auditions. Right, so you’ve mastered a range of skills and you’re ready to audition. How do you find out about the professional work that’s available? The first thing to do is to set yourself up on social media and email to receive audition notices. Find out who produces and tours professional musical theatre productions near you. In Australia, The Gordon Frost Organisation (GFO) in Australia is an important one. They’ll advertise their auditions on their facebook page, their website, and other social media. So follow them. The Michael Cassel Group (producer of Kinky Boots) is another. Do some research. There are also numerous smaller independent companies and theatre venues who produce musical theatre from time to time. If you want to keep abreast of what’s going on in the industry and who’s producing what, the Touring Selector website is a good site to explore. Track down companies you like, and follow them.
But don’t just think of theatres. There are musical theatre jobs on cruise ships all around the world. If you’re willing to live on a boat for six months of the year, then check out the opportunities on cruises. Princess Cruises, Royal Caribbean Cruises and Norwegian Cruise liners all seek performers. Often these companies will conduct auditions in Sydney and Melbourne - if you're willing to travel.
Register for auditions. Some musical theatre auditions may require you have an agent to register, while for others you can simply put yourself forward. You’ll normally need to invest in a good headshot and write a CV of your past performances for your application. Once you’re accepted for an audition, you’ve got your foot in the door - and then it’s up to you to strut your stuff. And if you get a role - great; the best thing about musical theatre contracts is that they often run for months or even years, so it's steady work for a period of time.
But there are also alternatives to finding work. Principally - making your own work. Many musical theatre performers make their own work - for example, they may create their own cabaret material - a series of songs and banter about the performer’s life - and tour their show to a range of venues. Others create a character or persona, like Queenie Van De Zandt’s alter ego, Jan Van De Stool, who even makes special appearances and hosts special events.
But if you can put together a series of songs, alone or with other performers, find yourself a pianist (or play for yourself), you can create your own night of entertainment. If you can develop a secondary skill set as a producer - well, then, you’ll be booking and finding funding for your own tours. So as a musical theatre performer, business skills will never go astray.
Ultimately, the secret to getting work as a musical theatre performer is this:
Know your skill set.
Develop your skill set.
Improve your audition technique.
Apply for auditions.
Know how to audition well.
And when you've got nothing lined up - make your own work.
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