September 13, 2005 10:58 PM   Subscribe

I'm 20 years old and I want to get into acting.

I am 20 years old and lately I have come to the realitization that I don't want to be confined to an office for my life. I currently live in St. Paul, Minnesota, so I am looking for acting schools around the country. I realize what a feat it is, but despite never acting before I have always had a burning desire to be in a play, and I am quite good looking. . I hope 20 isn't too old to get into acting! Thank you for your help!
posted by AMWKE to Education (15 answers total) 2 users marked this as a favorite
20 isn't too old. If you're not absolutely, positively compelled to do it, don't. It's hard work and it doesn't pay. Having said that, you're young, and there's a lot to be said for chasing dreams at your age, regardless of whether those dreams are realistic long-term. So if you're committed, make sure you have fun.
posted by cribcage at 11:39 PM on September 13, 2005

I'm told that Minneapolis St. Paul has a very vibrant theatre scene--might want to look close to home to start? Try a bit of community theatre to meet the people and get a feel for it?

Anyway, I havn't really got anything to offer, just wanted to say that 20 is not even remotely too old. I'm 19, and I just started a three year acting program. The oldest individual in my class is 28.

Good luck!
posted by stray at 11:58 PM on September 13, 2005

I'll try to say this gently: just because you want to be in a play doesn't necessarily mean that you should.

That said:

There's no age too old to get into acting, in a theoretical sense. And your physical appearance has absolutely nothing to do with it unless your goal is teen movies, soap operas, or summer blockbusters.

Your best bet is to look for community theatre productions. Try out, and see what happens. I don't know of any acting schools anywhere that will take someone with zero theatre experience. They tend (in my experience; I could be wrong) to require at least a modicum of previous work. University-level acting schools are not, by and large, designed to train an actor from the ground up. They expect you to already speak at least the basics of the language of the theatre.

So... start cracking books, and start teaching yourself that language. I speak Theatre pretty fluently, despite having been out of it for a few years, but it can be quite confusing to begin with. In is out, up is down, right is left, and left is right. I'm not joking.

It would serve you in good stead, as well, to read a basic textbook on backstage practices, basic understanding of lights and sound and set-building and so forth. Tread carefully with techies, though; there's nothing a techie hates more than an actor who goes "Oh I know how to hang a light, I read a book!"-- it just makes their jobs harder. The number of hours I lost on various productions because an actor decided to 'help' would astonish you. Example: the kid at my high school who thought (while I was on dinner break with my crew during hell week) that all the sound cables laying around the theatre (which had been laid out very carefully, having all been tested and carefully arranged in preparation for being plugged in and gaffed down, which took us hours) looked really messy, and helped by tidying up for us.

They still haven't found his body.

That said, there is actually one thing a techie hates more: a clueless actor who has no idea how much hard work goes into making you appear on stage properly lit, properly miked, and on a nice set.

If you're in a smaller production, and want to help the techs, do so by saying "hey guys, if you ever need an extra pair of hands, please feel free to grab me." And then wait for them to do it, if ever. Bear in mind, also, that if you're working in an IATSE house, you are quite simply not allowed to touch any tech. Union regs.

And always, always remember: The Stage Manager Is God. Why yes, I was a stage manager, why do you ask?. Once rehearsals are over, and curtain's gone up on opening night, the SM rules your life. When she says jump, don't even stop to ask how high. Why? Because you should already know.

To a lesser extent, the other techies are God too. When they ask you to move, do it. Ask questions later; there may be a large set flying in above your head.

Always remember also: there are no small parts, only small actors. Every role, from the lead to Townsperson Number Seven, is vitally important to the production. Nobody likes a prima donna (or primo don, in your case).

I'm not familiar with US acting schools, unfortunately. But again, I doubt that any of them will look at you twice without any experience on your CV. Unless, that is, you're deeply talented and make them an audition tape that bowls them over. The chances of them even looking at it, however, are low.

Be prepared, if this is what you really want to do with your life, for a long, hard, penniless slog. The ratio of actors to parts is approximately seventy billion to one, or so it seems, and competition is incredibly fierce. It can be an endless round of audition, no callback, audition, no callback, ad infinitum for years.

I don't want to discourage you. Working in theatre is something I miss deeply, and is responsible for some of my fondest and most cherished memories. There is nothing quite so magical (for me) as sitting in the booth opening night, and saying "Standby cue one. Ready cue one. Cue one... go." And there are few moments as bittersweet as watching the curtain go down at the end of a successful run. Those two moments, for me, make every single second of the blood sweat and tears that go into a production absolutely worth it.
posted by dirtynumbangelboy at 12:04 AM on September 14, 2005 [2 favorites]

My sister made it into a field that was hard to break into. The contacts she made in school were invaluable. If for no other reason than that, go to the best school you can.
posted by 517 at 12:10 AM on September 14, 2005

What is the question here? I'm assuming the question is "how?" but I think it could use some elaboration. Looking into acting schools sounds like a good step. What else are you asking?
posted by scarabic at 12:13 AM on September 14, 2005

Response by poster: Yes I want names of school, preferrably on the coasts. Am I too assume that I should attend every audition possible? Should I put together a portfolio of myself?
posted by AMWKE at 12:14 AM on September 14, 2005

You should prolly go to Hollywood or New York. My friend gets quite a bit of extra work in Hollywood. It's a way to get a toe in the door. You may not need a portfolio yet, but you at least need a good headshot.
posted by wsg at 1:42 AM on September 14, 2005

You should get experience first. Trust me. No music school (at this level) will take a student who has never picked up an instrument.

In acting, your body is your instrument. You have never played it. Get out there and see whether you have any talent or real desire for this. After you have some experience, that's the time to start applying.
posted by dirtynumbangelboy at 1:43 AM on September 14, 2005

Forget books- they'll teach you the basic language, but you can't put books on your resume. You need some experience first. No acting school worth going to is going to admit you without any experience (like dirtynumbangelboy said). Look for community theatre groups or theatre classes in your area. Audition, audition, audition, and do whatever part they give you (even if you're the butler). After awhile of that, you'll know whether you want to quit your job to be an actor full time. Acting is a tough profession to break into- a lot of my friends have been working at it for years, and haven't really made any significant headway, but they love it so I guess it's worth it to them.
posted by ThePinkSuperhero at 4:23 AM on September 14, 2005 [1 favorite]

Very few people who get 4-year degrees in acting actually go on to become professional actors. If a career (rather than a degree) is your goal, you should just move to LA or New York and begin taking acting workshops there. Once you're on the ground and surrounded by other actors, it shouldn't be hard to locate a good one.
posted by junkbox at 5:40 AM on September 14, 2005

My friend from St. Paul who went on to do her own plays in NYC and had parts on The Sopranos and other shows/films, went to NYU's Tisch School of the Arts.
posted by GaelFC at 9:14 AM on September 14, 2005

Best answer: [credentials: I run a small theatre company in NYC, have worked a little on Broadway and at the BBC. My wife is an actress. Both of us have MFAs in theatre (she in acting; I in directing).]

I disagree with many here about community theatre. While it is great to get any experience on stage, and while community theatre experience may help you to become a better actor, community theatres are scoffed at in the professional world. (I am not saying this is right. It's just the reality. Also, note that there's a difference between community theatres and professional, regional theatres.)

[PLEASE note that I am not belittling people who enjoy or get-involved-with community theatre. I'm just reporting the reality of the way it's perceived in the (often snobbish) professional world. I often hear actors and directors snearing about somebody seeming "so community theatre!"]

For decades, trained actors have been taught some variant of Stanislavsky's techniques. Briefly, Slanislavsky pushes you to figure out what your character wants and to express this as a simply verb-phrase, i.e to seduce, to steal, to crush. You then spend your time on stage trying to achieve that goal and dealing with any obstacles that come your way. This is all to keep you from trying to EMOTE. Stanislavsky believed that while our emotions aren't under our control, we can perform ACTIONS on stage that are intended to lead us to concrete goals.

I agree that experience beats books, but I do suggest that you learn a bit about Stanslavsky's teaching. You can go directly to his books. But I recommend starting with "A Practical Handbook for the Actor," which is Stanislavsky's system boiled down into a simple, short book. In my opinion, this is the best book on acting ever written.

Pros feel that this system isn't used in community theatres (no doubt they are wrong about SOME community theatres). In my experience, community theatre are about trying to emote while talking in silly voices (i.e. a young guy playing an old man by talking in an "old man voice.")

To get into most good acting schools, you have to do a good audition. So find an audition monologue and a good coach. Work on it, and when you feel ready, apply to some schools.

Most professional actors (in the US) live in NYC or LA. Unfortunately, it's hard to live anywhere else, because almost all professional theatre companies -- even ones based in Chicago or Denver -- come to these cities to cast their shows. Obviously, NYC is geared more towards theatre while LA is geared more towards film. TV is produced on both coasts.

Moving to either of these cities is HARD. It's especially hard the first six months or so that you move there. I know MANY people who have had nervous breakdowns during their first few months in NYC. People here are nice, but they do everything really fast -- including spending money at lightening speed -- and they expect you to keep up with them. It's SO easy to find yourself in a horrible job (or unable to get a job) and feeling like no one will help you out if you wind up on the streets. So DON'T move here unprepared. Read up on living in the city and make sure you've saved some money before coming here.

My rent, which is considered cheap, is $1500 a month. When I moved into my apartment, I had to pay first and last months rent, plus a deposit, plus a brokers fee. Which set me back about $5000. I moved here with about $6000 and no job. So things got really scary for a while there. After a while, things calmed down. I learned my way around. I got a good job. Salaries are higher here than in the rest of the country, so I was able to afford my rent. But for the first few months I walked around with a knot in my stomach all the time.

Make SURE that while you're in training, you learn a second, marketable skill. I CAN'T STRESS THIS STRONGLY ENOUGH!!!! Unless you're incredibly lucky, it will take you years to make your living as an actor. Meanwhile, you will have to support yourself. So many of my friends quit acting because they got burnt out waiting tables or working in a boring office. So GET another skill. Get a certificate in massage therapy or learn computer programming. Whatever. Learn SOMETHING besides acting so that you can keep on acting when times get tough.

People in acting school won't help you with this. In fact, they may try to persuade you not to do it. There's a romantic idea that being a starving artists is a good thing. Trust me, it's not good when you're actually starving. There's a stupid idea that learning a second skill is copping out. That you're not really an actor unless you're willing to starve for it. Bullshit. Most of the actors I know who took this route dropped out of acting eventually. The ones who stuck with it learned secondary skills.

There are acting schools all over the country. BE CAREFUL. Many acting teachers are disgruntled ex-actors who like to take out their anger at their failed careers on their students. It's hard to find a good teacher. Make sure you ask the opinions of students currently at the school. When you do choose a school, try to pick one with ties to the industry. Some schools are actually run from within professional theatres and you wind up on the pro stage (generally in small parts) while you're attending the school. When you emerge, you have a degree AND a union card.

I could (obviously) go on and on. But I have work to do now. My email is in my profile if you need any other help.

Best of luck!!!

PS. Sorry about typos. I had to write this in a hurry.
posted by grumblebee at 10:11 AM on September 14, 2005 [4 favorites]

A few weeks ago, I was at a dinner party and round the table was one of the UK's leading film casting agents. We were talking about actors and - as you might imagine - this guy had quite a sniffy and snobbish attitude towards them.

But he did say something which stuck with me, and that was that if anyone is serious about acting, they'll go to acting school. He seemed very dismissive of other routes into becoming an actor, strongly implying that most of the actors he encounters have been through the educational process.
posted by skylar at 1:02 PM on September 14, 2005

Here's a bit of good news: you're male. In my limited practical experience as a theatre producer, and in my anecdotal discussions with theatre and film directors, there are roughly 5 times as many actresses as there are actors.
posted by dbarefoot at 8:48 PM on September 14, 2005

I received a very good bit of advice about acting once: if there is any activity on the planet other than acting -- anything at all -- that would make you happy, do that instead. My suspicion is that if you've made it to 20 without ever even trying it, you don't actually want to be an actor, at least not enough to put up with the privation and intense competition required to survive at it.

I went to USC film school. There's a particular newspaper in LA -- don't remember its name, sorry -- where we'd put our casting notices. It was sort of a standard arrangement: actors would work for weeks or months on these student films for no pay; all they'd get is a copy of the film afterwards and a small chance of working with a student director who might someday grow up and be worth knowing.

On my first film I received over two thousand headshots in the space of a week -- remember, these are all people desperate enough to become actors that they're willing to work for college kids, for free. Nearly all had gone to acting schools, most of these had (or at least claimed) extensive credits (mostly stage work outside LA, but quite a few had film experience; a substantial number even had their SAG cards.) I had a sort of morbid fascination with discovering how many years some of these people had been plugging away at it, and still were in the situation of needing to work for kids, for free. I saved bagsful of those headshots, and flipped through them years later to see if any of those names had become famous since then. The answer was no.

You have to truly love acting for that to be worth it. If your real motivation is to "not be confined to an office," there are plenty of easier and more realistic ways to do that.

On the plus side, 90% of the ones who made the audition cut still couldn't act their way out of a paper bag. So if it turns out you've got some actual talent, the odds may be better than they seem. But there's no way to find that out without trying it. Do some community theater, get the bug out of your system, and find out if you're any good. Then worry about the career stuff, later.
posted by ook at 9:45 AM on September 15, 2005

« Older how does the Harmony 680 remote connect to a PC?   |   numbers Newer »
This thread is closed to new comments.