Tuesday, February 12, 2013

The Basic Steps to Start Your Acting Career

I'm sure by now you've read blogs and articles and then more blogs about how acting is not the glamorous profession that you think it is. I'm sure you've read how you have to put in years of working without getting paid and that if you are in this business to be famous, then you are in the wrong business because only a tiny, tiny percentage of actors are well known. Well, all that is true. Pursuing a career in acting is a full time job all in itself. So along with the day job you will have to work in order to pay the bills, you will feel sometimes as if you are working two full time jobs. And if acting is the only work that really fulfills you, it will be very hard for you to enjoy working your survival job. (I have a great job doing makeup for a cosmetics line that I love, but the more acting I do, the less makeup artistry and selling satisfy me.)

Basically, the point is that all the articles you have read about acting are true. But there is hope. If everything you have heard about acting doesn't make you reconsider your choice to pursue it and you feel determined AND you are not afraid to invest a lot of money into it, then maybe you should go for it. Remember nothing is impossible. Meaning, some actors do make it big. Or at least are able to make their living from it even though they aren't famous. So why not you? (And why not me, for that matter?) So here is my version of the quintessential "getting started in acting" article. I think it is overwhelming to try to get started in this business. Heck, it feels overwhelming to write this post because there are so many things that need to be done and tips to share. But I feel there are a few basics that can get you started in the right direction. As always, I am bringing my personal perspective and experience to each step. I do not pretend to be a star (yet!) and yes, I do work still work a day job, but I have had some small successes in this business and I am not gonna give up!

Also, I want to quickly mention that you can begin no matter where you live. That way when it is time to move to a bigger city, which will probably eventually need to happen, you will be more prepared.

Step #1-Funding: I think the first thing you need to have is to have a day job that you enjoy. A job where you will be able to attend auditions (and look for auditions) and make enough money to pay for headshots, classes, casting sites, etc. A job where if you have to step away and check an email, return a call, or quickly check the latest casting notices, it won't be that big of deal. Acting is your business and requires your complete attention to make it work. Believe me, I try not to do anything to draw negative attention to myself at my survival job but if I need to check my email I will tell my co-workers and step away. I always remind myself that acting comes first. And by the way, having a good attitude goes a long way with your bosses. If you are always positive and have a good work ethic they are usually a little more flexible with you. So, at least pretend like you care. The bottom line is that you need to make enough money to take care of yourself (and family if need be) as well as enough to start your acting business.

The rest of the steps don't necessarily need to be done in any particular order, but they do need to be done in order for you to get a good start. Focusing on one or the other first will depend on your personal timing, comfort level, and budget. In general, I think the following steps can/should all be done around the same time if you are completely ready and absolutely itching to jump right into this career.

Step #2-Headshots: I was going to list finding a good class as number two but I'm going to put getting great headshots ahead of that and here's why: you can audition for many films without training and experience. Just look on Craigslist or Mandy.com. There are many filmmakers just getting started and will actually state in the ad that its okay if you don't have experience. In fact, some will state that they actually prefer no experience as they are learning as well. Some will even just require a regular picture not a pro headshot. These include student filmmakers and those who are experimenting with their first work. They just ask that you be professional and passionate. This way you can at least start auditioning, getting the hang of submitting to castings, making connections, start gaining experience on set, and building your resume. I also want to add that I don't think you have to spend a lot of money on your first set of headshots unless you really have the extra money. You can find deals on Craigslist. Just be sure to look at the photographer's website and google them to find any possible reviews. If you do find a class before you get your photos done your school can probably refer you to someone professional.

Along the same lines, I think getting business cards with your current headshot and contact info is a great idea. Use Vistaprint . It's easy, quick, and inexpensive. Order the glossy finish; to me it makes your cards look more professional and of a higher quality. Of course, keep it simple. Here's my current business card:

I don't think postcards are necessary quite yet. (And when you get them, I would get them at your print shop. I found Vistaprint a little confusing for these. Maybe you will understand how their design program works though, so you may want to try.) I think postcards are good once you have something specific (meaning a reel, a play, a new role, an update, etc) to show casting directors. Postcards are for building relationships with industry professionals AFTER you have met them at a workshop or audition.

Step #2b-Resume: Put together your resume. Nice. Neat. Don't lie. If you think you don't have anything worthy to list, I bet that's not true. Put any theater programs you took in school or any plays you did,even if they were part of a class. If you were stage manager or production assistant or even in the chorus, list it. Those things show that you have experience in the field at least. Put any plays you may have done in church. If you sung in the choir at church or school, list it. If you ever took dance, list it. Here is the link to my resume at NYCastings: Tiffany Browne-Tavarez Resume  (Focus on the format/content of the text, not the photos/video for the purpose of learning how to write your resume.)

If you really, really, really, have never done anything that's okay. Just make it look professional and make sure your contact info and physical stats are accurate. A decent headshot and a good cover letter will go a long way when submitting to castings. Once you have started taking classes, be sure to list them under training.

Step #3-Training/Classes: You definitely want to get into some classes or workshops with teachers that have good reputations. You can find something no matter what your price range is. I would even recommend taking a seminar that is geared towards helping actors get started in the biz. If you are in NYC, I know that often these types of seminars are free or low cost.

If you have time and want to spend money on a conservatory program and believe that that type of training is best for you then go for it. You will be able to learn technique, character development, and scene breakdown. If you have never tried acting on any level, maybe this is the way to go. I personally did not take this route so I cannot say anything for or against it. But to me, I think when you are just getting started you should take more affordable classes until you have a clear idea of what you want. And I don't really believe that for film or commercials (especially commercials) you need conservatory training. For theater, yes, because that is the first thing that casting looks at. But for camera work you can find shorter classes that get straight to the point and allow you to just act and learn without over complicating things. You can find classes that are only one-three weeks in length or classes that are 8-12 weeks in length. You can take classes at studios where there are many teachers, or you can take different classes all taught by the same coach. Again it depends on your needs and what is gonna make YOU a better more fulfilled actor.

The best thing you can do is audit classes that you are interested in. Many coaches offer free seminars and classes to promote their teaching. When I took a few classes at Terry Schreiber Studios in NYC--which is a studio I would highly recommend--there was a free meet and greet with the teachers before you chose which classes you wanted to sign up for. Also try to look for instructors who have actual acting experience. If they are currently still acting, even better.

My Training History: I have relatively little training considering how long I have lived in the NYC area and how long I have been acting. I was in the Theatre program in high school and I did plays for class. Then I started doing community theater. All that went on my resume. When I moved to New York, I started with background work. And yes, I listed it on my resume until I got speaking roles. My first speaking role on camera was one line in a trailer that I never saw and have no idea what happened to it. My second on camera part was in a silent student film, and once again I never heard anything about it after filming. I have built up my resume, experience, and connections little by little. I have taken a few classes since moving to New York, but mostly my talent has been honed on set or at home studying my characters. Honestly--and I'm not necessarily proud of this--I am not usually enrolled in a class. Maybe my way is unconventional and maybe it takes more time than intensive studying. Or maybe I'm on to something here. I really don't know. But it works for me. I do believe in continued classes and coaching, in fact there is a class starting in March that I am hoping to take. But I think being on set is more important. Actually, several times I have decided to take certain classes only to be cast in a part that would keep me from attending. I mean, what's a girl to do? Decide for yourself what is right!! And remember, I did at least have a substantial background in theatre when I moved here.

Step #4-Get Experience: Start submitting and auditioning!! Audition for everything including student films. It's free to search Craigslist and Mandy.com. In fact, Mandy.com is not only free to search, but you can upload your headshot and resume and submit directly to the projects listed on the site for free as well. Another free casting site--at least for basic membership--is Talent Pages. Build your experience by using these sites. When you are ready, then you can pay the fees to join Actors Access, NYCastings, and/or Casting Networks.

Along the same lines, try to get on set somehow even if that means starting out with background work. You shouldn't list background work on your resume unless you have no other on camera experience whatsoever. Until you get speaking roles at least this will show you have been on set. But be honest and make it clear on your resume that you were an extra and don't try to exaggerate it. Once you start getting even one line roles in even student films take off the background work. And when working as background, pay attention to EVERYTHING!! If you are able to, watch the principle actors. Learn the lingo and the roles of each crew member. Learn about marks and lighting and sound. Take it all in. The set itself and how the shot is carefully created is one of the most exciting things about this business.

Step #5-Get Good: Work on your craft at home. Find monologues, screenplays, plays, commercial copy and practice them. Practice them different ways. Practice them in front of the mirror. Record yourself on your phone or webcam performing something and then watch it back. Learn what you do well and what habits show up too much on camera and may need to change. If you are brave enough yet, post your videos online and get feedback.

So, to me those are the main actions you need to take in order to get started in acting. But before I end this post I want to give a few tips to ponder that will help carry you through each phase of your career.

BIG Tip #1: If you are just beginning, don't worry about trying to get an agent or joining the union. Just get experience and build your connections.

BIG Tip#2: Use everything you learn to your advantage but at the same time find your own path.

BIG Tip #3: Don't compare yourself to any other actor. And don't compare your career to any other actor's either. I know this is easier said than done and we all struggle with it from time to time (yes, I'm guilty okay!), but when it happens check it quickly so you don't lose focus.

BIG Tip #4 : Just be your charming self when meeting with industry professionals.

BIG Tip #5: DON'T GIVE UP!! Of course, if this is what you really want no one should have to tell you that. Because if this is what you really want then you will never care what any one else thinks. You will chase this dream no matter what; whether you eventually catch it or chase it your whole life. If this is what you really want, you will not put any limits on pursuing it. Meaning you will not say "if I don't get an audition in a few months, I will go back to what I really went to school for," or "if I don't make it by the time I'm 36 years old, I will give up." Don't get me wrong, I understand that dreams may change as we age, and I also think that some dreams we have may never be fulfilled. You may even have to sacrifice one dream to obtain another. So always listen to God, follow your heart, and choose wisely.

Well, that's it. Those are the basic steps (according to me anyways) to take in order to get started in an acting career. Once you start to gain experience, if you remain consistent, you will naturally add in steps like branding yourself, attending industry showcases, utilizing social media, getting postcards, and forming a reel just to name a few. But at the very beginning you don't need to get caught up in or worry about not having those things.

After reading this post, I hope you are feeling encouraged and not overwhelmed. I hope that if acting is your one true passion you will be able to put some of these steps into action and I wish you the best. If you think I left any thing out, or you want to share something from your journey, please leave a comment. Thanks so much for reading!!!:)


  1. Wonderful information and so inspiration. Thank you!

    1. You are welcome!! I'm so glad you found it informative. Thanks for leaving your comment:)