unrealistic thespianic fantasies
March 6, 2009 10:22 AM   Subscribe

How can I do some semi-serious acting quite soon in a big city?

I'd like to do some acting. I did it in college but not for 10 years or so. I would like to find something kind of serious, by which I mean a production actually trying to tackle something cool--I'd be open to comedy but not necessarily improv. I just am inexplicably filled with the desire to be part of a community, learning lines and blocking and performing. This isn't a career choice, I got other stuff to do, so I want to do this, like, now.

I've considered community theater, paying for acting classes with an emphasis on performance, putting on some kind of one-man show at comedy clubs, trying out for talent agencies that cast for commercials and TV spots, or just showing up at a real audition or two with a homemade headshot. They all have pros and cons...ideally I'd like to magically wake up rehearsing for a production of the Mercy Seat on a tiny black box stage tomorrow or a DV web series or something...am I missing an easy route to this modest dream?

I'm in DC, which has a great theater scene, but I don't know any people in it. For the purposes of this question please assume I'd be pretty good at this. I act interested in what people say at my job all the time and they totally buy it. Tonys here I come!
posted by Potomac Avenue to Media & Arts (9 answers total) 8 users marked this as a favorite
Best answer: Perhaps meetup.com could provide some contacts? I entered a DC zip code and searched for "actors" and came up with a few promising groups. Most of them seem oriented toward film, not stage, but if you get out there you're bound to find some crossovers. Ask around, be sociable, get to know some friends of friends and contacts of contacts... you can find a lot of opportunities.
posted by Vic Morrow's Personal Vietnam at 10:36 AM on March 6, 2009

I know someone in the opera community theater space in DC/MD who might be able to hook you into her network (of more-than-just-opera). If you'd like to connect, MeMail me the email addy you'd like to use.
posted by ersatzkat at 10:52 AM on March 6, 2009

Best answer: Yay!
From your description it sounds like you wanna ACT. Note that auditioning for commercials and TV spots will not necessarily feel like, well, acting. Often you walk into a tiny room containing a few bored people, say a line like "Gravity really helps the spaceship reach intergalactic speeds", and walk out again.

Don't go showing up at talent agencies without a decent resume, and a real, professionally done, expensive headshot. Even with a good resume of professional theater credits, most of them will want to see a demo reel or at least some decently shot scenes on tape.

Do consider taking some classes--ask local studios if you can audit a class before signing up. Classes will help you learn the craft as well as the lingo and the community. I'm not into improv myself, but it is a great way to get comfortable thinking quickly on stage--and there will no doubt be some classes in town--look for "improv", "theatre sports", etc.

Community theatre is a GREAT idea. I don't know about BC, but in Vancouver the community theatres do GREAT, professional looking shows, so don't worry about it being "behind you" (not that you do think that, but some people do). You'll get experience, credits on the resume, and contacts that will serve you well.

As for auditions: look in the classified for auditions, pick some you're interested, read the plays, sign up for a slot, and go. Who cares if they're pro or community--at this point, you just need experience walking into a room and showing your stuff. Be warned, some may not see you without a decent resume. At this point don't worry too much about the headshot, but do have a friend take a nice photo of you, well lit, and print it off 8x11. Googles "actors headshot" to see some examples.
Some auditions will ask for you to come in with a monologue. Go out, buy some "Monologues for Young Men (or whatever your type is)" books, flip through them, pick a few you like, read the plays they come from, work them up, ask an artsy friend to watch you do it a few time and give you some honest criticism. If you're really serious, look into hiring a private coach for an hour of monologue coaching.

Other things: There may be e-mailing lists for auditions--Vancouver's got a couple. Go to the theatre department of your local universities and community colleges and SNOOP. In the studios, they'll often have bulletin boards covered in audition notices, ads for other schools and studios, etc. They might have an administrator who could tell you what the decent community theatres in town are called.

Last but not least, Don't. Get. Scammed. There are "agencies" out there that promise if you take their two week, $1000 course, you'll GET ROLES. Anybody who PROMISES you work is a scammer.

memail me if you have questions, I theoretically do this for a living--well, not so much a LIVING....but it is my passion!
posted by stray at 10:54 AM on March 6, 2009

Some college friends of mine have started up a theater company in Boston. They advertise for shows on craigslist, flyering, and different online networking sites (facebook, livejournal). They don't earn enough to pay the actors yet (they've been in existence less than a year) but they're serious about acting and putting on a good show, they sell out their shows, and they have fun. I would suggest trying to find some auditions that way. If you find the right group of people, you could be pretty happy.
posted by shaun uh at 11:09 AM on March 6, 2009

Oh, yeah, craigslist sometimes has auditions, under the TALENT heading in the Gigs sections. Often (here anyways) they're film students casting projects. It's a fun way to get in front of a camera, tho the projects are sometimes of dubious quality.

And go to the public library and ask if they carry information on community theatres.
posted by stray at 11:12 AM on March 6, 2009

Community theatre's a good place to start. I found a couple in DC by poking around Google here and here. Also, you can check out this list--if you don't have much experience, it's sometimes a good idea to just do tons of auditions. Sooner or later you'll get something.

Things you might want to have if you're going auditioning:

A headshot. You don't need to get one done professionally for your purposes. If you know someone with a decent digital camera, do one at home. A lot of community theatres don't care if you spent five hundred bucks on a professional photographer. They just want to remember what you look like.

A resume. It's okay that you haven't done anything since college; put down that experience anyway. It means you're not clueless about the commitment a show takes. Also put down any special skills you might have. Can you juggle? Play the guitar? Do headstands and cartwheels? Speak another language? Handle a fencing foil? Any of that stuff might land you a part over a more experienced actor who doesn't have the right skill.

A couple of monologues. Not all auditions will require one, but it's a good idea to have a few memorized just in case. Rule of thumb here is one classical piece (Shakespeare or something similar) and one modern. One should be funny, one dramatic. Try not to pick anything too weird or heavy--you're showing them that you can memorize dialogue and perform it coherently, not going for an Oscar.

Patience with rejection. You might get cast the very first time. More likely, you'll get turned down over and over until you finally get a part. That's totally normal, it happens to far more seasoned actors, and it doesn't mean they didn't like you or that you sucked. It just means there was someone else who was a better fit for what they wanted. Patience!
posted by EarBucket at 11:27 AM on March 6, 2009

Best answer: First, make a 1-page resume, using this as a basic template (you can see more online, like here):

contact info (web, email, phone)
height, weight, hair & eye colours, vocal range if you sing
affiliations (SAG, etc... or put Non-Union- this can be a good thing, don't feel shy about it)

Project name______ Size of role (Principal, Actor, SOC, etc) ________Company / Director.
30-Rock__________ Actor ____________________________________ NBC / Chad Biffington

Project name__________ Name of character____________Company / Director
The Tempest__________Stephano ____________________ Tiny Bard Theater / Andy Lee

Scene Study - Act Your Face Off Workshop Intensive, Simon Cheesenuts, etc
Voice - Names of any teachers or classes
(whatever else- dance, Shakespeare, Improv, etc)

Valid driver's license, French (conversational), Juggling, Downhill skiing, Piano (grade 2)

Second, get a headshot. For indie theatre this can be cheap, don't knock yourself out on it. Make sure it's a straight-on, in-focus colour shot. Usually head & shoulders is fine, you can show more body if you want, but usually that's usually done only if you have a very unique body type (ie, special athletic skill, or a dancer). Otherwise, a nice bust shot is good. Here are some good headshots I just pulled on Google- simple and clear, nice colours, the actor looks natural and pleasant. Here are some bad headshots, where the actor looks unnatural or pretentious. Avoid overly dramatic lighting, weird close-ups or cropping, touching your face, or modelling poses. Depth of field (an out-of-focus background) is great if your photog can achieve it. Most importantly, make sure it shows you looking like you actually look, not substantially more glamourous. Style yourself with a suggestion of the "type" you'd like to play or think you're likely to be cast as: if you're buff, tattooed, & athletic, you can dress tough or jockish; if you're vampy and curvy you can dress sexy... but don't go overboard on the character type- a suggestion is better than a costume. And don't underestimate the power of presenting yourself as an everyman or girl-next door. Remember, most characters are "normal".

Now start looking for shows, and submitting your resume & photo with a short, friendly cover letter. Some leads:

Capital Fringe Festival (probably has a message board you can post yourself as an available actor)
Craigslist TV/Film/Video
Craigslist Gigs Talent
Casting Workbook

When you contact directors / producers who you want to work with, don't dwell on things like "I don't have much experience" or "I'm out of practice". Just be excited about their work, ask lots of questions, and communicate "I like this project and I would love to work with you". For non-union work, enthusiasm and a nice attitude tend to go very far.
Good luck!
posted by pseudostrabismus at 2:32 PM on March 6, 2009 [1 favorite]

One of our friends in the neighborhood works at a local theater. Come to one of our Drink of the Month Club meetings and network - with booze!
posted by exogenous at 8:01 PM on March 6, 2009

Response by poster: exo: I will do that!

All: thanks for the advice. It sounds like what everyone is saying is that there is no easy way to jump onto a stage and start reciting stuff quickly. I think I'll take an acting class before I start auditioning though, just to remind myself what its all about.

posted by Potomac Avenue at 1:59 PM on March 7, 2009

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