Wednesday, January 3, 2007


I n our society, actors are special people. Those who have reached the top of the profession are constantly in the limelight. You can’t turn on the television or look at a magazine without see- ing their faces and learning (perhaps more than you want) about their lives. Gracing Stage and Screen Regardless of their level of success, actors share a common task: playing roles or parts in comedic, musical, or dramatic produc- tions. This includes performances on the stage, on television, in motion pictures, and on radio. In an attempt to both communi- cate and entertain, actors utilize speech, gestures, movement, and body language. In this way they operate as the principals who tell us a story. The work of actors begins long before they perform in front of an audience or camera. Before the actual production, they analyze the theme of the play or story, study the script, scrutinize the char- acter they are to play, memorize the lines, gain a concrete under- standing of the director’s viewpoint, become familiar with the cues that bring them on and off the stage, and often spend long, tedious hours in rehearsals. In some ways, the mediums in which actors work (whether on the stage, in movies, or on television) determines to what extent they must prepare for their parts. For example, performers assigned roles in musical comedies played onstage may not only have to memorize speaking lines, but also to sing, dance, and carry out other functions in connection with their parts, which may mean taking vocal or dancing instructions in order to fulfill the requirements of the role. Their roles may require them to speak with appropriate accents or speech patterns associated with the characters or the locale of the production, or to learn distinctive physical movements and gestures that are specific to the charac- ters they are playing. In some cases, they may be required to apply appropriate makeup, although in most cases, makeup artists are employed to accomplish this. Usually, actors who perform in stage shows rehearse for longer periods of time than do radio or television performers. Lines, actions, and cues must be perfect before the public sees the show. Musicals and stage plays may run for weeks or even years, although the people assuming the various roles may change. Rehearsals for a drama production may run about four weeks, while musicals may take one or two additional weeks. Radio performers are not required to practice as extensively as stage or film performers must since they can read their lines with- out having to memorize them. However, some rehearsal is usually required because they must be sure to put a lot of emotion into their voices so that listeners may gain an understanding and appreciation for the characters without ever seeing them. Weekly television shows and commercials are frequently filmed or taped in short periods of time. Many of the television programs currently scheduled are weekly series with all rehearsals and film- ing accomplished in six days or less. Special shows or films made exclusively for television take much more preparation than weekly shows. Since most television productions are prerecorded on film or videotape, the rehearsal and filming techniques are similar to those used in the movie industry. Generally, movie actors don’t rehearse a movie from the begin- ning to the end. They work on small segments, one at a time, and the cameras roll to film these short scenes. Later, the film editors put the scenes in proper order. Relatively few actors achieve star status in any of the mediums of stage, motion pictures, or television. A somewhat larger num- ber are well-known, experienced performers who are frequently cast in supporting roles.Many successful actors continue to accept these small roles, including commercials and product endorse- ments. Actors who accept nonspeaking parts are usually called day players or extras. Sometimes hundreds of extras are hired for movies—especially for scenes in which there are many people assembled for a large-scale event (such as a battle or a crowd scene). To become a movie extra,one must usually be listed with a cast- ing agency, such as Central Casting, a no-fee agency that supplies extras to all the major movie studios in Hollywood.Applicants are accepted only when the number of persons of a particular type on the list—for example, athletic young women, old men, or small children—is below the foreseeable need. Between engagements, actors refine and develop their talents by taking vocal, dancing, and acting lessons. They also may make personal appearances, accept offers to perform benefit shows, or teach drama courses to aspiring actors. Demand for Actors Performers are hired for stage shows, appearances in film, com- mercials, and parts on radio and television. New York and Holly- wood are the most likely places to land acting jobs. Next most likely would be cities such as Boston, Chicago, Seattle, Dallas, Miami, Vancouver, Minneapolis, and San Francisco. However, most large cities have several theatre groups. Even smaller towns usually have acting groups that offer a chance to gain some experience and employment. These include little the- atres, children’s theatres, and regional and community theatres. Summer-stock tours take actors all around the United States and Canada. An Actor’s Life Although ordinary people tend to focus on the glamour involved, the life of an actor is usually an uncertain one. Professional actors always face the anxiety of unsteady employment and the disap- pointment of rejections. And because there are often long periods of unemployment between jobs, acting demands patience and total commitment. Performers must be available for constant rehearsals that may be stressful and physically and mentally exhausting—a situation that can be exacerbated by script or cast changes. Performers often spend several weeks rehearsing their parts, and some rehearsals may be scheduled on weekends, holidays, and evenings. Those having small roles may wait for hours before being called to rehearse their parts. Rehearsals may take place amid the clutter of electricians, cam- era operators, painters, carpenters, and stagehands. Heavy cos- tumes and hot lights may add to the stress. Deadlines loom in this business, too, and performers may be called upon to accomplish quite a bit in a very short period of time. In fact, a performer may rehearse one production in the morning and afternoon and per- form another every evening. The type of role being played often determines the amount of physical exertion required. For some roles, performers move about a great deal when walking or running, riding horses, danc- ing, or performing hazardous stunts, although a professionally trained stunt person usually undertakes the more dangerous stunts. Considerable traveling is often required of performers employed by theatrical road companies. These individuals per- form the same play in a series of locations. They frequently give an evening performance in one city and spend the following day traveling to the theatre where the next performance is to be given. They must adjust to the varying facilities and equipment available in each theatre. Movie personnel are also required to travel to sites that have been chosen as film locations. The physical surroundings of actors performing in stage pro- ductions can range from modern, air-conditioned, comfortable, and well-equipped theatres to those that are old and have inade- quate facilities. Backstage areas of many theatres are crowded, dusty, drafty, and poorly ventilated. Actors may be provided pri- vate dressing rooms or apply their makeup and change costumes in areas shared by several other performers. The Path to an Acting Career What path leads to an acting career? Aspiring actors should take part in high school and college plays and work with community theatres, summer stock, regional theatre, dinner theatre, children’s theatre, and other acting groups for experience. In fact, any stage work is useful. Formal dramatic training or acting experience is generally necessary and is definitely advantageous, although some people do enter the field without it. Most people take college courses in theatre, arts, drama, and dramatic literature. Many experienced actors get additional formal training to learn new skills and improve old ones. Training can be obtained at dramatic arts schools in New York and Los Angeles, among other locations, and at colleges and universities. Academic programs in drama and theatre are offered at both undergraduate and graduate levels through several approaches. College drama curricula usually include courses in the liberal arts, stage speech and movement, directing, playwriting, play produc- tion, design, and history of drama, as well as practical courses in acting. Other important areas include literature, dramatic arts, music, dance, communications, and English. At the University of Kentucky,students interested in acting have degree options that include a bachelor of arts degree (B.A.), a bachelor of fine arts degree (B.F.A.) with a concentration in acting, a bachelor of fine arts degree with a concentration in design and technology, and a master of arts degree (M.A.). The B.F.A. program is open only to students who have demon- strated special abilities in acting, and auditions are required for admission. This program offers a traditional liberal arts approach to the study of acting. In addition to general degree requirements, students complete courses such as the following: • History of the Theatre I and II • Acting I: Fundamentals of Acting • Fundamentals of Design and Production • Vocal Production for the Stage I and II • Script Analysis • Acting II: Scene Study (Realism) • Acting III: Scene Study (Styles) • Audition Techniques • Theatre Movement I and II • Topics in Movement • Acting IV: Classical Styles • Acting V: European Realism • Dialects • Production Practicum Students also complete a senior project as well as participating in one or more summer productions in professional theatre. For more information about this program, contact: University of Kentucky Department of Theatre 114 Fine Arts Building Lexington, KY 40506 Canada’s York University offers several degree programs related to drama, including a bachelor of fine arts honours program where students concentrate on studio work in performance or production. To earn a B.F.A. honours degree, students complete 120 credits, including 36 theatre credits at any level; 24 theatre credits at the upper-division level, with at least half in studio; 12 fine arts elec- tives that are not in theatre; 6 non–fine arts elective credits; 18 general education credits or approved substitutes; and 24 credits in elective courses. Here are some sample course descriptions for this program: • Acting (introductory course). An introduction to what a student may experience as a performer, it concentrates on verbal and nonverbal communication both in an ensemble situation and as a soloist. Reading and written work are an essential part of the course. • Acting (second course). A continuing exploration of the techniques and exercises commenced in the introductory course. Particular emphasis on script analysis and scene study, with a concentration on monologues and two- handed scenes, as well as a continued emphasis on journal writing. (optional) • Production (introductory course). Through exposure to a variety of technical areas, students will develop production- crew work habits and build a basic vocabulary in produc- tion and design. Participation on crews is a requirement of this course. • Production (second course). A continuation of the expo- sure begun in the introductory course but in considerably more depth and detail. Required for those interested in production and an option for all theatre majors. • Theatre Survey. A foundational encounter with diverse forms of theatre from different epochs, integrating analyt- ical reading with studio explorations of performance possibilities through scene study and rehearsed stagings and consideration of aspects of production and design. For information about overall program requirements, contact: York University 4700 Keele Street Toronto ON M3J 1P3 Canada Another college drama and acting program is New Jersey’s Cen- tenary College, which offers a B.A. in theatre arts. Students who enroll in this program have the opportunity to develop skills in a working professional theatre while pursuing a broad-based liber- al arts education. In addition to basic liberal arts courses, theatre students take classes in acting, dance, voice, and stagecraft. Of special note is the opportunity to participate in the Cen- tenary Stage Company, where students work in professional productions as actors, crew, stage management, and front-house personnel. Working alongside veterans of stage and screen, stu- dents gain exposure to the practical side of professional theatre. Those who are interested in joining the actors’ union may also earn credit toward obtaining union cards. Second- and third-year students may elect to study acting in several affiliate studios in New York City, and the college’s proximity to New York allows for a staff of instructors, artists, and designers drawn from the ranks of working professionals. For more information, contact: Centenary College 400 Jefferson Street Hackettstown, NJ 07840 For those with a bachelor’s degree, a challenging possibility is provided by the Actors Studio Drama School. This three-year intensive program is dedicated to training professional artists in the fields of playwriting, directing, and acting. Students who suc- cessfully complete the program are awarded a master of fine arts degree in theatre. The program is rooted in "The Method," an approach devel- oped by Constantin Stanislavski in Russia and later adapted in the United States through the Group Theatre and the Actors Studio.A major goal of the program is to produce "theatre artists who have access to emotional truth and moment-to-moment reality while maintaining a sense of stagecraft and professionalism."The Actors Studio Drama School is a joint program of New School University and the Actors Studio. More details are available at: Actors Studio Drama School 151 Bank Street New York, NY 10014 Getting Started Once you have your degree and some basic experience, the best way to get started is to make use of opportunities close to you, then build upon them. For example, regional theatre experience may help in obtaining work in a large city such as New York or Los Angeles. Modeling experience may also be helpful. In addition to a sincere interest in and love of acting, actors must have talent, training, poise, stage presence, the ability to move an audience, the ability to follow directions, an appealing physical appearance, and experience in order to succeed. Other important elements for success include hard work, dedication, self-confidence, versatility, ambition, good health, patience, com- mitment, stamina, the ability to memorize, the ability to with- stand adverse conditions, perseverance, drive, determination, desire, discipline, and the ability to handle emotional tension and disappointment. Those who are self-conscious or withdrawn will not make it. The length of a performer’s working life depends largely on training, skills, versatility, and perseverance. Some actors continue working throughout their lives. Many, however, leave the occupa- tion after a short time because they cannot find enough work to make a living. Compensation for Actors While superstars make tremendous amounts of money, the incomes of most actors are modest. Median annual earnings of salaried actors were $23,470 in 2002, according to the U.S. Depart- ment of Labor. The middle 50 percent earned between $15,320 and $53,320. The lowest 10 percent earned less than $13,330, and the highest 10 percent earned more than $106,360. Minimum salaries, hours of work, and other conditions of employment are covered in collective bargaining agreements between the produc- ers and the unions representing workers. The Actors’ Equity Asso- ciation (Equity) represents stage actors; the Screen Actors Guild (SAG) covers actors in motion pictures, including television, com- mercials, and films; and the American Federation of Television and Radio Artists (AFTRA) represents performers who work in television and radio studios. While these unions generally deter- mine minimum salaries, any actor or director may negotiate for a salary higher than the minimum. Under terms of a joint SAG and AFTRA contract covering all unionized workers, motion picture and television actors with speaking parts earned a minimum daily rate of $678 or $2,352 for a five-day week as of July 2003. Actors also receive contributions to health and pension plans and additional compensation for reruns and foreign telecasts of productions in which they appear. According to Equity, the minimum weekly salary for actors in Broadway productions as of June 2003 was $1,354. Actors in off-Broadway theatres received minimums ranging from $479 to $557 a week as of October 2003, depending on the seating capac- ity of the theatre. Regional theatres that operate under an Equity agreement pay actors $531 to $800 per week. For touring produc- tions, actors receive an additional $111 per day for living expenses ($117 per day in larger, higher-cost cities). Some well-known actors earn well above the minimum. Their salaries may be many times the figures cited, creating the false impression that all actors are highly paid. For example, of the nearly one hundred thousand SAG members, only about fifty might be considered stars. The average income that SAG members earn from acting—less than $5,000 a year—is low because employment is erratic. Therefore, most actors must supplement their incomes by holding jobs in other occupations. Many actors who work more than a set number of weeks per year are covered by a union health, welfare, and pension fund, which provides hospitalization insurance. Employers who hire Equity actors contribute to this fund. Under some employment conditions, Equity and AFTRA members receive paid vacations and sick leave. How About the Future? Employment of actors, producers, and directors is expected to grow about as fast as the average for all occupations through 2012. As in the past, large numbers of people will aspire to enter these professions.At the same time, many will leave the field early. Their experience will show them that the work—when it is available— is hard, the hours are long, and the pay is low. Competition for jobs will be stiff, in part because the large number of highly trained and talented actors auditioning for roles generally exceeds the number of parts that become available. Only performers with the most stamina and talent will find regular employment. On the positive side, expanding cable and satellite television operations, increasing production and distribution of major stu- dio and independent films, and continued growth and develop- ment of interactive media, such as direct-for-Web movies and videos, should increase demand for actors and related workers. However, greater emphasis on national, rather than local, enter- tainment productions may restrict employment opportunities in the broadcasting industry. Venues for live entertainment—such as Broadway and off- Broadway theatres, touring productions, repertory theatres in many major metropolitan areas, theme parks, and resorts—are expected to offer many job opportunities. Prospects in these venues are more variable, though, because they tend to fluctuate with economic conditions. Finding Acting Jobs How do you land acting jobs? Armed with your college degree, basic knowledge of the acting business, and some experience, you’ll need to prepare a portfolio that highlights your qualifi- cations, acting history, and special skills. This will take the form of a resume and "head shots," or photographic portraits. You will need to have photos taken by a professional photographer, one who shows you to your best advantage. These are the essential tools of your trade.Attach your resume to the back of your picture with one staple at the upper left- and right-hand corners. Once you have your portfolio ready, you can start making the rounds at casting offices, ad agencies, and producers’ and agents’ offices. Several trade newspapers contain casting information, ads for part-time jobs, information about shows, and other pertinent data about what’s going on in the industry. Publications of inter- est include: Daily Variety Magazine ( ) The Hollywood Reporter ( ) TDR/The Drama Review () Journal of American Drama and Theatre () Theater ( ) Once you drop off your resumes and head shots, don’t just sit at home waiting for that phone call or e-mail message. It’s wise to stay in contact—stop by and say hello. Check in by phone every week to see if any opportunities are available for you. If you are currently in a show, send prospective employers a flyer. It shows them that you are a working actor. When you get past this initial stage and actually win an audi- tion, there are some things you should remember. Audition Tips Here are some words of advice for aspiring actors. • Be prepared. • Be familiar with the piece—read it beforehand and choose the parts you’d like to try out for. • Go for it—don’t hold back. • Speak loudly and clearly—project your voice to reach the back of the room. • Take chances. • Try not to be the one going first—if you can observe others, you can see what they do, correct their mistakes, and get a feel for the script. • Be enthusiastic and confident. • Keep auditioning—even if you don’t get any parts, you are getting invaluable experience that is bound to pay off. So,when do you get an agent? Not right away,anyway.You don’t need an agent to find audition opportunities. There are many parts you can audition for that do not require an agent—theatre, nonunion films, union films. However, most commercials are cast through agencies, so you would most likely need an agent to land one of those. While waiting to be chosen for a part, acting hope- fuls often take jobs that afford a flexible schedule and money to live on, such as waiting tables, bartending, or driving taxis. Words from the Pros Introducing Jennifer Aquino Jennifer Aquino grew up in Cerritos, California. She got her first taste of acting at St. Linus elementary school in Norwalk, where she played the leading role of the princess in Beyond the Horizon. Continuing with success in this area, she received the Performing Arts Award while attending Whitney High School. Subsequently, she graduated from the University of California–Los Angeles, where she studied theatre and dance and received a bachelor of arts degree in economics. (After all, the entertainment industry is a business!) As a member of the dance team, she was a UCLA cheerleader for three years. In addition to cheering for UCLA’s football and basketball teams, she also entered national dance- team competitions. Following her college graduation, she got her first break playing Eolani, the wife of Dr. Jacoby in David Lynch’s television series "Twin Peaks," a result of her very first audition. Then she got an agent and joined the Screen Actors Guild. She has performed in various theatrical productions since then and was a founding member of Theatre Geo. She is also active with the East West Play- ers network of actors. "I remember performing at family gatherings ever since I was a little kid,"says Jennifer."I always enjoyed being in the spotlight. To me, acting is like a child’s game of pretend, something I always enjoyed. I see it as a career where I can earn a lot of money while having a lot of fun. At the same time I am entertaining people, impacting them, making them think, making them feel certain emotions, educating them, and helping them escape from their current lives." Like most actors, she needed a day job to keep income coming in. For her it was a career in the health-care industry working for Kaiser Foundation Health Plan. She then became a health-care consultant for a major accounting firm, Deloitte & Touche. She was a good employee, and her managers were cooperative in let- ting her go out on auditions.After a few years,she realized that she was working too many hours, and she made the tough decision to quit her day job to focus entirely on acting. Acting itself also requires long hours, but she is willing to make that commitment. The workload sometimes involves working seven days a week, including mornings, afternoons, evenings, and weekends. Along with the time spent on the creative side of acting is the need to focus on business concerns—talking to agents or managers, networking, attending seminars, meeting people, and sending photos to casting directors, producers, directors, or writ- ers. She also tries to keep her stress level down and take care of herself by getting enough sleep, exercising, eating healthily, and having some relaxation time. "What I like most about my work is that I am making a living doing what I absolutely love to do and that I am pursuing my pas- sion in life," Jennifer says."Not too many people in this world can say that." She adds that the least appealing aspect of her work is what might be called the political side. She feels that it’s not always the best actor who gets the job, but sometimes it’s more a matter of personal connections or other such factors. Aquino advises anyone who is considering acting as a career to pursue their dreams and be persistent. "But do that only if it’s something you absolutely love to do, and there’s nothing else in the world you would rather do," she says. "Pursue the creative as well as the business side of acting. Don’t let anyone stop you from doing what you want to do.And always keep up your craft by con- tinuing your training." Introducing Gonzo Schexnayder Before getting into show business, Gonzo Schexnayder earned a bachelor’s degree in journalism and advertising at Louisiana State University. He attended various acting classes at LSU and Mon- terey Peninsula College in Monterey, California. He also attended Chicago’s Second City Training Center for over a year and the Actors’ Center following that. He is a member of both SAG and AFTRA. "I had always wanted to do stand-up comedy but didn’t pursue it until graduating from college, when I began working with an improvisational comedy group," he says. "Four months later, the military sent me to Monterey, California, for language training. While there, I did my first staged reading and my first show. I’d never felt such elation as when I performed. Nothing in my life had given me the sheer thrill and rush that I experienced by creat- ing a character and maintaining that throughout a given period of time. Nothing else mattered but that moment on stage, my other actors, and the scene we were performing." After completing the language training program, he returned to Louisiana. There he began the long process of introspection about his career choices and what he wanted to do. He began to audition locally and started reading and studying acting. He still had not made the jump to being an actor but was merely investigating the possibility. One night, while watching an interview with actor John Good- man, Gonzo realized how important acting had become to him. He knew that it possibly meant a life of macaroni and cheese and Ramen noodles, but he realized that until that moment, nothing else had made him as happy or as motivated. While he believed he had the skills and the drive to make it in advertising or some other career, he decided that acting was his only logical choice. "Whether it’s rehearsing a show, performing improvisation in front of an audience, or even auditioning for a commercial, it’s fun,"he says."If you can separate the sense of rejection most actors feel from not getting a part, auditioning for anything becomes your job. Rehearsing becomes your life. Just as a carpenter’s job is building a house, as an actor, I look at my job as building my per- formance. The final product is there for me to look at and admire (if executed well), but the path to that product is the thrill." Gonzo says he loves the process of acting and sometimes just the fast-paced, eclectic nature of the business. There is always something new to learn and something new to try. He especially enjoys the excitement of performing live and the personal satis- faction of getting an audience to laugh or cry simply by saying the right words in the right way. "I dislike pretentious actors and people who take advantage of an actor’s desire to perform," he says. "As one of the few profes- sions where there is an abundance of people willing to work for nothing, producers, casting directors, agents, and managers who only care about the money will take advantage of and abuse actors for personal gain. Being an astute actor helps prevent much of this, but one must always be on the lookout." Here’s another birth-name challenge: Sean Combs. For More Information Books Bekken, Bonnie Bjorguine. Opportunities in Performing Arts Careers. McGraw-Hill, 2000. Bild, Kathryn Marie. The Actor’s Quotation Book: Acting in a Nutshell from Those Who Really Know. Smith and Kraus, 2003. Cohen, Robert. Acting Professionally: Raw Facts About Careers in Acting. McGraw-Hill, 2003. Field, Shelly. Career Opportunities in Theater and the Performing Arts. Facts on File, 1999. Ferguson Publishing Staff. Ferguson’s Careers in Focus: Performing Arts. Ferguson Publishing Company, 2002. Mauro, Lucia. Careers for the Stagestruck & Other Dramatic Types. McGraw-Hill, 2004. Mitchell, Stephen, and Kathi Carey. How to Start a Hollywood Career Without Having to Go There: An Instruction Manual for Actors. Cinebank Productions, 2001. Pasternak, Ceel, and Linda Thornburg. Cool Careers for Girls in Performing Arts. Sagebrush Bound, 2000. Shepard, John W. Auditioning and Acting for the Camera: Proven Techniques for Auditioning and Performing in Film, Episodic TV, Sitcoms, Soap Operas, Commercials, and Industrials. Smith & Kraus, 2004. Periodicals Back Stage East 770 Broadway, Fourth Floor New York, NY 10003 Back Stage West 5055 Wilshire Boulevard Los Angeles, CA 90036 Daily Variety Magazine 5700 Wilshire Boulevard, Suite 120 Los Angeles, CA 90036 or 360 Park Avenue South New York, NY 10010 Organizations for Actors Actors’ Equity Association 165 West Forty-Sixth Street New York, NY 10036 Alliance of Canadian Cinema Television and Radio Artists 625 Church Street Toronto, ON M4Y 2G1 Canada
Alliance of Resident Theatres (A.R.T./New York) 131 Varick Street New York, NY 10013 American Alliance for Theatre and Education 7475 Wisconsin Avenue, Suite 300A Bethesda, MD 20814 American Association of Community Theatre 8402 Briarwood Circle Lago Vista, TX 78645 American Federation of Television and Radio Artists (AFTRA) New York National Office 260 Madison Avenue New York, NY 10016 American Federation of Television and Radio Artists (AFTRA) Los Angeles National Office 5757 Wilshire Boulevard, Ninth Floor Los Angeles, CA 90036 American Film Institute 2021 North Western Avenue Los Angeles, CA 90027 American Guild of Variety Artists (AGVA) 184 Fifth Avenue, Sixth Floor New York, NY 10010 American Theatre Works, Inc. PO Box 510 Dorset, VT 05251 Canadian Actors’ Equity Association 44 Victoria Street, Twelfth Floor Toronto, ON M5C 3C4 Canada National Association of Schools of Theatre (NAST) 11250 Roger Bacon Drive, Suite 21 Reston, VA 20190 Screen Actors Guild (SAG) 360 Madison Avenue New York, NY 10017 or 5757 Wilshire Boulevard Los Angeles, CA 90036 Theater Communications Group, Inc. 520 Eighth Avenue, Twenty-fourth Floor New York, NY 10018

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