So a while back I floated the idea on Instagram of doing a Q&A post. I wasn’t sure if I would get any response at all, but one of my intentions with this blog was to provide an insight into what it’s actually like to be an actress at the start of a career and to do that I needed an idea of what people actually wanted to know!
Bless their little cotton softs, there were so many lovely people who were happy to provide questions. So many that I’ve decided to split this topic into a few posts! Keep your eyes peeled for Part Two next week, and I would love it if you added any questions of your own below!
- A disclaimer before we begin- like any non-linear career, every actor’s story is their own. Even without taking into account the huuuuuge differences between acting in the US, UK and Australia, my opinions and experiences could be a world away from those of the girl seated next to me in an audition waiting room. I will try to be absolutely honest with every question, but please bear in mind that end of the day I’m only one gal trying to make it in the cruel actors world, and my answers will reflect that!
How do you get an agent?
For me, not easily!
Usually agents will sign someone in one of three ways:
- After seeing their work in person
- After having someone recommended to them by an actor they already represent
- After being approached by an actor looking to join their ranks (this route can be very tricky!)
Most graduates in Australia get to have a graduation showing for agents in their final year but I was immigrating from New Zealand a few months out of drama school, too late to get seen in the wave of new graduates! With no Australian credits to my name it was a hard slog to be seen among the crowds of talented bright young things
According to a frustrating & oft-quoted maxim, you have to be working to get an agent, and you need an agent to get work!
Fortunately, after booking a small independent production of Hair, I did end up managing to land representation with my first agent. With her I was able to build a small body of work, which made it easier for me to move on when the time came.
When should you get an agent?
In my opinion, as soon as you can! If you’re wanting to make any money from acting, you’re going to need an agent to act as your go-between. It’s rare to find a Casting Director who’s happy to send out briefs to individual actors, so an agent is your gateway to the bigger auditions.
(NB. A reputable agent is never going to charge you for doing their job- their pay is through a cut of your total earnings whenever you actually book a gig. While they might encourage you to get new head shots or a show-reel, it’s a big red flag if they’re requiring you to have these done by a particular photographer – any agent insisting on this could be making a nice kick-back on referring actors they never expect to actually work.)
At the start of your career you’ll probably find that an agency happy to represent you is going to be sending you in for bit parts and perhaps extras roles. Don’t stress, once you’ve added a few lines to your CV and started to build a relationship with the people doing the casting, you’ll slowly work your way up the ladder!
Contrary to how it seems in the media, there are very few overnight successes – people spending millions of dollars on a few minutes of film like to work with people that they know have proven themselves time and time again. This is a journey that actors go on with their agent, so it’s important to find someone that you’re comfortable taking advice from, and that you can go to with your questions.
The audition process!
Ahh auditions, the bread & butter of the actor’s world.
There’s a long running joke that an actor really gets paid for all the waiting around on set, the acting is something we would happily do for free. I feel like we really get paid for all of the auditioning we do, only you don’t see a penny of that pay until you actually book a job!
Every audition starts with a Casting Director sending out a brief to all the agents they’re in contact with. If I suit the role my agent will submit me, and if the CD agrees with my agent, I’ll get an audition time! For screen work, this could be as soon as first thing the next morning, or even later that day. For theatre it might be a little longer, and with musicals you normally have a few weeks to prepare because the rumours start flying long before the production is officially announced!
Once I have my audition booked, it’s time to prep. For a musical, I’m looking for two 32-bar (about 30 seconds of music) of contrasting pieces that are similar to what the show would require of me. I have a folder with options ready to go, so it’s normally just a matter of brushing up. For theatre I might need to bring in a monologue, or I might be sent a scene to work through. With TV or film, there is usually always a scene, (although if the audition is for an ad, there might not be any lines in that script to learn!)
For all the stress and preparation that goes into an audition, they can feel a little anti-climactic. You’ll do your prepared work once, and maybe get a few alterations before trying it again. And that’s it! It’s rare to be in that room for more than ten minutes in a first call.
If it’s a smaller screen or commercial role audition, this could be the whole process! I’ll get notified if I’m On Hold, and then I’ll either be released or booked (at which stage I do a happy dance and finally let people know I actually auditioned for something).
For everything else, my agent will be notified if I have a callback and she will pass it on to me. There will normally be more material to prepare, and probably a slightly longer audition with more important people in the room. I’ve never had more than two audition rounds, but I know people who have had to go through five or more rounds, including being flown interstate for even more important people! Needless to say, it definitely gets to a stage where actors are throwing their hands up in the air and pleading ‘just make up your mind already!’
There must be lots of people auditioning for a part. How do you cope with rejection when they pick someone else?
I touched on this question in On auditioning & my love life…, but it’s always an interesting one to revisit. Basically, just like dating, there are going to be times when not getting that phone call is enough to make you call a mental health day and crawl back into bed with Netflix and a tub of icecream. However, I promise that the more times you go through it, the easier it gets!
I’ve now trained the people around me to never go ‘Did you hear back about X??’, and if I can get away with it, I won’t even mention when I’ve been auditioning. I’ve learned that for me, the easiest way to cope with the very surreal audition cycle is to go into the room, have fun, and then forget all about it. I find if I get too worked up over booking a job or imagining what it could do for my career, I just twist myself up into knots and it’s impossible to take good care of my mental health if every ‘failed’ audition is taken as a personal reflection of my abilities.
The thing that I’ve learned over time with auditioning, is that my abilities may not factor into the decision at all! As long as I can prove I’m good enough to be considered, then a whoooole other score of factors come into play. Am I the look they’re after? Do they want someone more ethnically diverse? Do I look too similar to someone that’s already cast? Is my ‘vibe’ not quite what they were after? So many things that I have absolutely no control over, it would drive a person nuts trying to worry about them!
As an example, I was once placed on hold for a TV Commercial (which means that the producers were trying to decide between myself & normally one other person, and both of us have to keep the shoot date available until they can make up their minds). I didn’t book the gig, and didn’t think much more about it until I saw the commercial on TV a few months later and finally met my ‘competition’…
She was over 60 years old!
During that time we were both on hold, the producers weren’t tossing up between two similar actors trying to decide which one was ‘better’, they were looking at two completely different finished products and trying to decide which one conveyed the message they were after!
So it helps me to remember my TV Commercial ‘competition’ whenever I’m getting twisted up over a role. Once I’ve walked out of that audition room, my job is done.
How difficult are open calls?
Open calls aren’t as big a thing in Australia as they apparently are overseas, as they’re not required by the unions. It’s mostly the US companies that come over here to audition (cruise ships, Universal & Disney) that have the big ‘cattle calls’ so they’re still a novelty for us Aussies. Having said that, I have attended a few of them!
The biggest difficulty attending an open call is that the day is long. Like, super long. You can be at that same studio for a full 9-hour work day, and only spend a maximum of 30minutes actually auditioning – around 2 minutes doing the vocal call, and the remainder of that time in a dance or vocal callback (if they like what they see in your first audition and want to test you a little more). And for the rest of that time? You wait. And you wait. And you wait.
And that can be the fun part of open calls! There’s bound to be a friend or two that you haven’t seen in months, and it’s always good to make new connections as well. Cram a hundred highly-strung performers into a room and there will always be something interesting going on.
What do you look for in a role?
Ooo, a tricky question!
If it’s an audition that has come through my agent, then it’s something that I would only consider turning down if there was something in the material that I find seriously objectionable. Otherwise, I trust that my agent and the casting director have both looked at the work and found it worth their (and my) time.
If I find that I haven’t been working a lot and want to get back in front of a camera (or on stage), then I might start casting the net for independent or student work. These are the sorts of projects that I am much pickier with. I look for a well-written script that captures me, and a role that will hopefully challenge me but is also something that I would be believable in. Equally as importantly, I’m hunting for a professional team of people that are all working with the same goal in mind (creating great work in a tight time-frame). There’s nothing more frustrating than turning up for an unpaid day on set and then being put on ice for five hours because the crew are still ‘deciding on their setup’. I learned that mistake the hard way!
What do you think? Are my answers what you expected? I would love to know! There are still a bunch of fantastic questions waiting to be answered, including my theatre rituals, what it’s like to finish a show, and where I like to go on holiday!
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