How to Become a Professional Actress

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I know you are very excited about breaking into the world of acting but before you get ahead of yourself there are some basic things you need to know. First among these is that although many people are born with a natural talent for acting everyone should at least have some training. In fact in the theatre world it is almost looked down upon if you have no training. With film it is less important but I am sure when directors are scanning your resume they want to see that you have had some training if not experience. There are many ways to get training in acting. The path I would most highly recommend is going through a university theatre or drama program, that is what I did. Not only will you get plenty of acting classes from highly trained professors with professional experience you will also be getting an education behind you which in my opinion is very important. Most universities have theatre programs which offer many classes in not only acting but stagecraft, theory and history. You may be wondering how these classes could benefit you but believe me knowing about everything that is going on around you on stage is very beneficial and can also provide you with skills to work in the industry in other areas until you can make it onstage. If theatre isn’t your thing or you want to branch out into film check out universities that have film programs. They may have an acting branch of these programs or if not and you are a theatre student you can audition for the student films being made on campus which will also provide you training and experience in front of the camera. If college isn’t your thing there are many private arts academies or performing arts centers that provide acting classes. Just check your local arts board or arts centers and see what is being offered and sign up. There are also private coaches that can be hired to coach you one on one and help you develop your talent and skills. Because acting is also a skill as well as a talent that needs to be honed and perfected. Once you have finished your acting courses don’t think you are done there. Like I said acting is something that has to be perfected and you are constantly being expected to grow and learn and get better at what you do so you must continually take courses just to keep your self in “shape” so to speak. I would recommend taking at least two courses a year or regularly working with a coach.

One of the most vital resources you must have as an actress is a headshot. A headshot is a close up shot of your face, generally from your shoulders on up. Generally this is a simple but beautiful shot that shows how you look naturally but cleaned up a bit. The headshot should also have your name across the bottom. A headshot is used as a way of getting your foot in the door. It gives casting directors an idea if you would fit the part physically so they won’t waste your time or theirs by calling you to audition for a part you may not even fit. Generally headshots are 8×10, glossy, black and white but in this ever changing world headshots are also changing. Black and white headshots are generally used for theatre and film tends to be moving toward color headshots although they can be interchangeable. Some people are even going for what are called 3/4 shots which show 3/4 of your body. Historically these are mostly used by models but as I said things are changing and a lot of agencies would like you to have these types of shots as well. You can go about getting a headshot by first calling around to photographers and asking them if they do headshots. Some photographers do not specialize in this and would charge you an arm and a leg per printed headshot. It is best to find a photographer who specializes in this and in some areas this can be hard to do. To facilitate this you can search on local acting and auditioning boards online to find a list of photographers in your area. Costs for headshots are generally broken down like this: the session fee and printing fees for each copy. It’s a good idea to get about 500 copies at a time. Each photographer’ s fees vary for the session and prints. The photographer can either print them up for you or give you a disc with the photos on it and you can shop around for the best printing price. However, in this day and age we can almost always do this for ourselves, especially if you have your own photo printer. You can also take the disc to a Kinkos or any store that has one of those independent photo printing machines and have them printed there. Once you have a good headshot then you are on your way to getting started in the business. Remember that you should never come to an audition empty handed. Be prepared with your headshot and resume even if you know the auditions have a copy already. They may have misplaced it and if you don’t have one with you how will they know who you were?

The second and equally important resource you must have is your resume. Your resume shows what training and experience as well as any additional skills you may have. A resume should have your name at the top followed by any contact info and/or agency info. Then underneath that in two columns you put your height, weight, eye color and hair color. Underneath this you would put your acting experience. It is usually broken down into FILM and THEATRE. List the play or film’ s title along with your character name and the production company or theatre you worked with on that particular production. Beneath experience you will list your training. Here you can put any and all training you have had. You may even want to list the names of your teachers next to the courses in case anyone you are auditioning for may have heard of or knows them. It may seem cliche but sometimes it really is all about who you know. Then finally many actors like to put a “special skills” or “other skills” section at the bottom of their resume. This usually contains skills such as being able to play a musical instrument or being able to do gymnastics, the ability to ride a horse or the ability to do magic tricks. Anything interesting or outside of your acting talent that may help you get a part will do. You never know, one day you could be auditioning for the role of a rodeo rider and if you already know how to ride a horse that puts you even closer into the running for the role. Resumes are generally attached to the back of your headshot. Some people print them on the back of the photo, some glue it and some staple it. I think the printing or stapling is preferred because if it is glued it could come unstuck and then your information would be lost. Again you must always have a resume with you at an audition along with your headshot.

One of the most vital resources to have especially if you are wanting to work in film is an agent. An agent is a person who submits you for projects and gets you auditions. However, just because you have an agent does not guarantee you will get the job, they just get your foot in the door. The rest is up to you. It is very difficult to get an agent because there are thousands of actors out there and much fewer agents and all those actors are trying to get one of those agents and those agents are trying to take care of the actors they already have as their clients. It is important to remember that they work for you. You DO NOT have to pay an agent anything up front. If they ask for any money, run! An agent only gets paid if you get work. The best way to go about getting an agent is to submit to them a headshot and resume along with a short letter introducing yourself. Also if you have any footage of any film or television work you may have done you should send that along as well. These are generally known as reels. They are a video or DVD of clips of your film work. If you have no film experience or footage to send it is a good idea to invite them to an acting class or play you may be performing in, that way if they like your headshot and resume they will be able to get a taste of what you can do and know if you are marketable. If you don’t get a response the first time keep trying. It is generally a good idea to wait about every six months or so before resubmitting to an agency. That gives you time to get more experience and they won’t get overloaded on your headshot coming in every couple of weeks. Be persistent but don’t overdo it.

5I’m sure you are wondering how to go about getting experience if you don’t already have an agent. This is where your training will come into play, especially if you got your training in a college program. Any plays you did in college can count as experience. Also, try and get involved in community or amateur theatre groups. These are simple ways of getting to act and hone your craft and gaining experience for a resume. If you mainly want to focus on film, audition for as many independent or student films as you can. These films usually do not pay and are a lot of work but the experience in front of the camera and on a film set is very beneficial and these films can also be used in a reel to show to an agent. You may also be wondering how you go about finding these community and amateur theatre groups or independent and student films. There are many ways. Your local arts center will have audition boards and flyers for local groups and theatres. Go see some plays at some of your local theatres and find out when their season auditions are being held. There are also many online audition and job lists and groups you can join that will have audition information for film and theatre. Just browse online and run searches for your area to find one. Sometimes you can just show up for auditions that are open call for anyone. In this case show up at the appointed time with your headshot and resume dressed to audition. Generally this means wearing something nice and decent and making yourself look presentable or as nice as you do in your headshot. However, sometimes they may want you to come dressed to move around. Other times auditioners are looking for something or someone specific and would like to see your headshot and resume first before they call you for an audition. In this case you would either mail, fax or email your headshot and resume to the casting director and they would provide you with an appointment if they feel you would be appropriate for the part. It may seem tedious at first and disheartening but keep trying. Eventually you will get the experience you need to build up your resume and develop your skills and talent and perhaps get an agent. Another great way to get experience in front of the camera and on a film set is to do extra work. Generally you can find out about when a film is shooting in your area by going to the Governor’s website and finding the film commission website from there. You can find out how to submit there.

Finally, if you want to become a professional actress you just have to get out there and do it. Train, practice and network, network, network. Market yourself and keep pushing until you break down the doors. Some places have networking get togethers for local actors and industry people. At these events you get together and meet the people in your area who do what you do and make connections. Because like I said before sometimes it really is all about who you know. So get out there and attend one. This is another way acting classes can come in handy. You will meet all sorts of other actors in your classes and one day one of those fellow actors may suggest you for a role in a film or play that they are in. Never burn any bridges. Keep all lines of communication open with as many people in the business as you can. Submit to agents whenever you can according to the guidelines I laid out above and just keep trying. When you do get work, show up on time ready to work. Take it seriously. It isn’t all about the glamour and fame and money. Acting is an art and a job and you have to work hard at it and prove yourself. You may be talented but if you don’t show up and do what is expected of you, then you may have burnt a bridge to your future. I wish you all the luck in the world. Break a leg!


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