Thursday, April 9, 2015

Advice for an actor moving to Boston

Hi Terry,

I wanted to reach out and say hi. I am a big fan of your blog. I found it a few days ago and loved reading through it. I was bummed you stopped blogging, but I totally get that life gets super busy! Anyway, I am reaching out because I am an actor and moving out to Boston after my summer contract ends in August!!!! Woo hoo! I am super stoked, but also pretty nervous.
I was wondering if you could throw any tips or tricks my way. Things that you wish you had known going into the Boston market, or any advice on navigating the audition scene and finding auditions. That is what I am having a tough time with on the interwebs.

Anywho, hope all is well. Thanks in advance for your help! 
Mary Bridget McCarthy

Thank YOU, Mary, for giving me a very easy and effective way to update 10 Headshots!

Here are some tips for getting ready to act in Boston. Starting with the most important.

1. Be friendly!

This is not just acting advice. This is living advice. Smile everywhere you go, and don't stop being polite and patient for even a single moment! If some idiot wouldn't remove their bag from the seat on the subway to make room for you, DON'T shove them onto the tracks on the way out, because they may be going to the same audition as you. They may even be running it! Boston is a small city that was founded by vengeful and petty Puritans, and no one forgets a slight - even if they pretend they have.

But being friendly doesn't just avoid the accumulation of enemies. It also encourages the accumulation of friends! Friends will be your most important single resource in Boston. Not just for typical friend-things, either, like splitting dinner bills and getting high and things of this nature. Your friends - if you chose them wisely - will be a source of constant, necessary, and up-to-date PERSPECTIVE. "You should try THIS monologue." "Have you heard of this company? You'd love their stuff!" "Someone dropped out of my show - are you busy?"

Being friendly is especially useful if you're not a very talented actor. "Well, they're obviously wrong for every single role," someone might say, "but the stage manager said they were the only person in the room who wasn't a stupid asshole, so let's keep 'em on our list."

2. Get a day job!

NO! Don't skip this!

When you do start getting into productions, you may notice certain people, especially technical experts or designers, who seem to be in the performance space long before you showed up and who stay there for some time after you go.

a) How can they afford to spend so much time working on something that pays so little?
They have a day job that's better than yours!

b) How can they put so much creative energy into this after working all day?
They hate their stupid nightmare job, but they actually LIKE theatre!

Obviously I don't suggest actively seeking a job that crushes your soul, but realize this:

When you act in Boston, you are in essence straddling two careers - acting, and the thing you do the other 70~90% percent of the time until people realize what a brilliant actor you are. And you need to get started on career number two before you send out a single headshot.

Now, if you have a degree in something useful, this shouldn't a big deal. A desk job would be a great way to free up time to read scripts, find monologues, and keep in touch with people.

"But Terry," you might be asking, "I have a degree in theatre and can do literally nothing else. What should I do?" You should go back and reread step one, because you are going to need to be friendly for your potentially multiple part-time jobs in the service industry!

Just go ahead and put the part-time section of Craigslist as the very first item in your bookmark toolbar right now, because you'll be looking at it every morning.

PROTIP: Coffee shop shifts are early and likely won't conflict with your eventual rehearsals.

Your friends are, once again, a valuable resource. If they are indeed good friends, they should be able to honestly answer the question, "What the hell do you do to make money?"

Some may even encourage you to apply for a job where they work. Some may even help you find a GOOD job, one that might even involve performance to some extent! At the very least, you'll get a good idea of how to narrow down your Ask Jeeves searches based on their input.

Friends' advice can be especially helpful they are NOT actors, as sometimes young actors are very coy about their income...

Boston is currently the second-most expensive city in the United States. If you are moving here, it is likely because a) you didn't know that, b) you seem to think it'll work out somehow, or c) your parents are at least partially footing the bill. 
In the case of the last option, I encourage you to adhere to the previous steps regardless. You'll actually learn something, and you'll be ready for when your dumbass folks eventually make a fatal mistake and lose all of their vast fortunes - or, they may make a literally fatal mistake, and actually die. 
And IF your parents are investing in the beginnings of your career in this city, be sure and actually make it worthwhile. Take advantage of this precious time when you don't have to worry about rent, because who knows when it'll end! Take a look at those job listings on Craigslist, see what skill sets they're looking for, and find a class at an adult education center for it. Go for something with computers - get that desk job I was talking about.

3. Get in the loop!

Now let's get down to business!

Join Stagesource. Especially for your first year here, it'll be your one-stop shop to not only learn about shows that are opening and offering discounted seats once in a while, but auditions! Auditions to which someone just like you can submit a headshot and resume and just show right up!

Stagesource also provides an annual opportunity to attend Stagesource Auditions, to which any theatre producer worth a damn comes to look for people like you to cast! Well, maybe not just like you. You'll probably completely blow it the first time.

Now, you may be surprised to discover that I am not currently a Stagesource member. That is because, having attended so many auditions already, I am on enough mailing lists that I can found out when a company has any auditions coming up pretty easily. Realize that Stagesource is an intermediary. When the time comes to renew that membership, consider whether or not your relationship has been fruitful enough already.

Join New England Actor... or don't. If you want to do film and video and build up material for a reel, go for it - it's cheap enough to be worth it. Realize that you may get an email every 6 weeks from someone 10 or 40 miles outside of the city who wants you to be in his derivative sexist slasher film and is willing to pay in Dunkin Donuts coffee, and never from anyone you actually want to work with.

Whenever you get such an email, ask for the script and ask for the shooting schedule. If you like it, and the timing is right, and it will make you look good in a demo reel, go for it. Otherwise, just tell them you realized that something came up and you'll be too busy.

PROTIP: Unless someone you know can personally vouch for them, resist doing a film with an Emerson College student. They will likely not know the difference between an actor and a Fresnel. This may never come up, because an Emerson film student has never passed the script-reading phase of the process.

ALTERNATIVELY, you could NOT join New England Actor, and just directly contact the "industry professionals" who use the site to find talent.

For commercial work, I heavily suggest sending a headshot, resume, and cover letter to Christine Wyse. They will remember you, and you will get a decent amount of auditions from them, likely more regularly than any similar casting company in Boston.

4. Know thyself!

Some actors can do either screen or stage acting very easily without much adjustment. Some cannot.

If you're like me, you love table reads. You want to find out the meaning behind word choice, and what it says about your character's worldview. And you want to know about the OTHER characters' motivations so you can better understand your characters position in the piece, so you can make better informed decisions about your actions and their context in the presentation of the entire production.

When you're doing an audition for D'Angelo's, they don't care about any of that shit.

You might be extremely good at slipping right into a stock character, an archetype, something that may lack in depth, but is immediately recognizable, allowing anyone looking at you to supply all the information themselves. This is the skill that people want when they are casting a commercial.

I actually don't believe there is a vast difference between theatre and film acting. But there IS a difference between text-driven acting and marketing-driven acting. They are both valuable crafts, and you just might be better at one than the other.

You COULD be good at both, with time. Just know what your weakness is, and work on it in the meanwhile.

5. Don't be a chump!

Bruce Lee, my acting role model, once said, "If you love life, don't waste time, for time is what life is made up of."

Wasting time doesn't necessarily mean "doing nothing." Sometimes "nothing" is the most important thing you do during the day. To waste time yourself is not so terrible as to have your time wasted by someone or something else.

They say that if you want to know what's going on in theatre, you should see plays all of the time, whenever you can.

But let's be reasonable.

a) Do you really want to?

b) Can you really afford that?

c) Can you really think of anything more miserable than a boring play?

There's plenty of dumb crap that gets put up around town. And some of this stuff isn't exactly funded by audience demand. (Refer to "In the Case of Parental Assistance")

So as you take a look at the audition notices that come your way, check out the web sites of the companies hosting them. Look at their past seasons. Do you honestly like the look of the sort of shows they produce? Do their missions statement sound like something you agree with? Does it seem like they've made good on their promise?

Don't go to see plays to fill an imaginary quota. Go to plays because you are honestly intrigued, and want to see if they can deliver on those promises.

And never, if you can avoid it, go to a play by yourself. Get a play buddy, and for every play you invite them to because you're interesting in seeing it, go to a play that they're interested in.

And talk about it afterward! Get that sweet, valuable perspective. Find out which companies have earned your esteem, email them, and ask them to let you know about future auditions.

Remember, this is for the sake of your craft, and really, only you can best understand how you learn. A night watching Netflix can be just as illuminating as a night at the theatre, if you pay close enough attention.

Sometimes, the only way to avoid being a chump, sadly, is to have already been a chump. Some companies' idiosyncrasies are only apparent once you're in the rehearsal room. How can you know, for example, that a director will just straight up lie to you about a rehearsal ending at 10pm, until, after being reminded of the time at least twice, he finally decides to wrap up at 11:30pm?

It happened to me, and I didn't say anything because I didn't know the dude. I was in the room with several people who DID know the dude. And they said nothing. Y'know why? Because they were chumps.

Cliques are unavoidable in a city like Boston, but they're not always dangerous. Cliques of chumps must be constantly vetted and avoided.

Even if you're not Union, you know you're working with a semi-competent company if their stage manager keep a consistently Union-esque track of time between rehearsal breaks. This is a given in a school setting, but is surprisingly rare in some professional spheres.

If they do not have a stage manager - I mean a real stage manager, not just one of the actors who has some kind of vague captainship - get out. Actually break your leg, if you have to, because the process will be a nightmare, and no one will be held accountable.

As always, go back to step one. Enough people you may know have done enough stupid, time-wasting shit that you should be able to avoid much of it if you pay attention.

Now, chumps aren't just a good way to get slave labor, but a good way to make cash, too! Headshot photographers, video demo editors, voice teachers, acting teachers at casting companies - they all want money from YOU.

For the quality of the service they provide, some of them may deserve it! Many of them may not. Some of them, if you take their acting class, may offer you student discounts, hoping you'll ignore the fact that the original price was probably marked up to make the discount price seem sane in comparison.

If you want to start acting professionally, but you're not very good at it yet, classes like these are a great opportunity.

If you have a goddamn degree in acting, unless it's a particular skill you haven't yet acquired, the most you'll come away with from these services is an inspiring anecdote or two. If you're fresh out of school, you may have even better, more applicable wisdom to impart than they can provide.

But headshots and demo reels - you do kind of need that stuff to get noticed, don't you? And classes keep you polished, sharp, and ready for action, don't they?

You do, and they can. But that's not the whole story. Let's combine step one with step six...

6. Make stuff!

The best way to keep polished and ready is to just act. If no one has a role for you, make it for yourself.

I'm amazed sometimes at how unimaginative some actors are, how many just sit and wait for roles. We do this because we have story we want to tell, in some form or another.

You don't have to establish a company. You don't even have to avoid starting a clique. Start somewhere! Go bigger or go smaller. It won't be fantastic the first time, or even the second time, but it will be there. One stupid thing that you actually saw to completion outweighs a hundred lofty ideas you aren't doing anything with. Put it online, and you might get more views and feedback then some fringe plays get in their whole run. And your friends might appreciate the opportunity.

At the end of the day, it will cost the same or less than a workshop, and you'll have learned much more. You also might just like doing it, and make it into a regular gig!

Speaking of friends, some of them might even be good photographers or good video editors. So if you want acting materials, go to them first. You'll help them expand their portfolio, they'll be better invested in the end product, and you'll save money.

PROTIP: Unless you have something palpable to barter with, pay your friend. $100 is a great amount to start with.

PROTIP: Make sure your friend understands the difference between "a headshot" and "a picture of you."

If you do end up sending what turns out to be a crappy reel to a casting company, the worst that can happen is they will forget you. Then you can just send them a good one when you can afford it. Casting companies rarely remember the worst thing you've done - just the most recent.

7. You never know! (but, sometimes, you know)

My first Theatre on Fire production was as an assistant stage manager. Then as a stage manager who was also played a silent character. Then as an actor with multiple roles. Then as a visual designer.

I never imagined I'd have so many different roles in a short span of time with one company. But I DID know, because I had some previous productions, that Theatre on Fire was a company worth my time and respect.

Go back to step one. You never know who you'll run into, or what you can do for or with each other as time goes on.

Then again, go back to step five. You shouldn't encourage a professional relationship because it will pay off somewhere down the line.

If you had a lousy experience with someone, but you've heard that they've changed their process since then, and they're better now, take the amount of time since you've last worked with them, double it, and then wait that length of time again. If you still want to work with them, do it. But, usually, you won't.

8. Quit!

I had some of my best times as an actor when, after a lot of grueling work, I just stopped auditioning for a while and focused on side projects. When I finally was called in for auditions after some months had passed, I was more fluid and responsive because I didn't actually care whether I got the part or not. I haven't sought out an audition in almost a year.

Take care of yourself when you need to. When acting isn't turning out like you want it to, just stopping and doing other stuff with your life will give you sweet, sweet perspective. When enough time has passed, you'll know.

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