Monday, November 2, 2015

What I've Learned About Acting in Salt Lake City, Part 1: Getting Serious

Welcome! This is Part 1 of a 3-part series! Part 1: Getting Serious, Part 2: The Theatre Scene, and Part 3: The Television & Film Scene

DISCLAIMER: I'm still fairly new here! My info is limited to my own experience. There are plenty of other actors out there who will have different advice and different insights. I am not any kind of resident expert--just sharing what I know.* So ask around--lots of other folks ARE resident experts. 

Jacob and I have been here in the Salt Lake City area for a little over a year now, and I've been thinking lately about how much I've learned as an actor. Not just when it comes to the actual craft of acting, but how to make it your career. So I thought I'd share with you a few of the things I've learned!

First of all, why move to Salt Lake City, Utah to pursue a career in ACTING? A few reasons:

1. It's pretty here. (Hiking! Mountains! Trees! Nature!)
2. The cost of living is pretty darn affordable. Rent for a 1-bedroom apartment runs in the $400-$800 range, depending on your neighborhood.
3. Lots of films and television shows get made here, because filmmakers get a BIG tax break from the state.
4. It's a great "training ground" if you'd like to move to Chicago, LA, or NYC someday. If you do choose to move to those places, you'll be competing with people who have IMDB credits and regional theaters on their resumes. If you DON'T have those things, SLC is a great place to gain them.
5. Most projects are non-union, so if you're not Equity or SAG, you can still find lots of work.

Do I have you convinced? Okay, here's what I've learned!

Okay, here are a few things that people have told me, or that I've learned on my own, to help you build a career in acting. I'm gonna focus specifically on theatre and screen in separate posts, so here are just some thoughts about acting in general.

1. Make an investment in your career. 
Be wise, and don't pay for things you can't afford. BUT, you should definitely expect to pay some money for good audition outfits, good makeup (for the ladies), and good headshots. Optional expenses include things like a pro membership on IMDB, a personal acting website, business cards and postcards, and lots more. Keep track of your expenses, though! Because if you make any money acting, you can write them off on your taxes.

2. Seriously. Get good headshots. 
This is so so so important. Like, this is what will get you in the door, and help people remember you. Here's what a headshot should be: It should focus on your face, and specifically on your eyes. Choose colors that flatter your skin and hair color, and stay away from black, white, and busy patterns. You should have two main headshots: one "commercial" (smiling, friendly) and one "theatrical" (serious "acting" headshot).

3. Remember that there are LOTS of factors that go into casting. 
Talent is a part of it, but it's only one small part. Other factors include look, type, voice, availability, compatibility, how much they'd have to pay you, pure instinct, what phase of the moon it is, the will of reptilian overlords, etc. It's impossible to know why casting decisions are made. And remember that success is a numbers game, as much as anything else. For every "yes," there will be at least ten "no's." So just keep auditioning. Sometimes it's pure statistics...the more you audition, the more likely it is that you'll be cast. Keep getting yourself out there, even if it feels like nothing is happening. (And when nothing is, remember the parable of "F you, Matt Damon.") So just give it the best you've got, and don't get too discouraged when you don't get something.

4. Actually, expect to be discouraged. 
Sometimes. Not all the time. But discouragement is almost inevitable. So is poverty. Especially when you start out. I think a lot of people start out by thinking that they won't experience discouragement and poverty like every other actor, but you probably will. That's okay. Join the ranks.

5. Keep an audition diary. 
It can be as detailed or as simple as you'd like it to be. This serves a couple of purposes. One, it will help you keep track of who you've auditioned for before, and if you've done any followup. Two, it will give you a chance to record thoughts and/or things you've learned. Finally, it actually offers a bit of encouragement to see what you've gotten, compared to what you haven't gotten. (Example linked here.)

6. Take a class.
Acting is a muscle, and if you're not working for a little while, taking a class is a great way to help you improve your work. It can also give you networking** opportunities, and help you build your audition repertoire. Sometimes another pair of eyes can see something about your work that you're not seeing, and can give you additional advice.

7. ASK for help, guidance, and advice.
When Jacob and I first made a plan to move to Utah, I sent messages out to everyone I knew who worked in acting in this area. I asked them every question I could think of, and their advice and guidance made my own career here possible. Sometimes we're afraid to ask for help, because we think it will make us look weak, or we're afraid to bother someone. But the reality is that people often respect those who ask for help, and they're often happy to provide their thoughts. It has always been 100% worth it to reach out to others in the field.

8. Learn to look your best.
*sigh* As much as I believe that our appearances aren't a measure of our talent or worth, they ARE a factor in casting and working. So ladies, learn to put on makeup that makes you look your best. Learn to put on fake eyelashes and take good care of your hair. Gentleman, learn how to style your hair and shave well. Everyone, learn what colors and lines flatter your shape, and wear clothes that make you look good. We all have insecurities, and that's okay--just don't dwell on them. Learn to play to your strengths.

9. Remember that your body is your most important tool. 
Treat it well. Learn to eat well, sleep well, exercise well. Don't fill your body with things that will harm it, like drugs or alcohol, or excessive sugar.

10. Decide whether you want to pursue paid or non-paid work. 
This is the big, ongoing debate in the world of the arts in general. Here's what I figure. You've worked hard to become a good actor, and you deserve to be paid for your work. But not everyone has the funds to pay you, nor the time/resources to find that funding. So you can decide for yourself on a case-by-case basis, or make a big decision and stick to it. For me, I focus on pursuing paid work. BUT, as I'm trying to build my resume and demo reel and IMDB credits, I'll sometimes take unpaid work if it will provide me with those things, or if it will give me a unique networking opportunity.

11. Don't ever forget your CRAFT. 
This is the most important thing. This is my deepest belief about acting as a career. In the midst of all of these businesslike tasks--"networking," getting headshots, taking classes, updating your resume, tracking your expenses--don't ever lose sight of your work AS AN ACTOR. Don't get into this for the fame. Get into this for the art. Take every opportunity to continue to improve and learn and grow. Challenge yourself. Connect with and listen to your fellow actors, on and offstage/screen. Your work as an actor must be about the human experience. If you don't know why you're doing this, that's okay. But try to find out. Think about and create your own philosophy of acting. Learn about techniques and systems, and find tools that work for you. Continually build your tool-box as an actor. Don't forget why you're doing this.


Have anything else you'd like to add? Give us your tips and insider info in the comments!

* Like, seriously. Part of me feels like I don't have any right to be giving others advice. But others helped me on my journey, so I want to pay that forward. 

** I kind of hate that word "networking." It feels so cold and selfish and business-like. But I don't have a better word for it. Sometimes it's just that you want to take an opportunity to work with an artist you respect and admire. 

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