Q: It's been quite a while since I have acted but I would like to return to the field. My credits, which were good at one time (Juliet in Romeo and Juliet, Sarah Brown in Guys and Dolls, etc.), are all really old now. They don't represent my current phase of life. Twenty-five years, four grown kids and 30 pounds later I'm not the delicate young ingenue I once was. But my love for the stage and theatre people has not gone away. Could you advise me on how to get going again?
A: Hey, welcome back! I do have advice for orchestrating your comeback, and I also have asked my friend Anne Hallinan (Cutting Ball, Shotgun, El Teatro Campesino, former member of Woman's Will, SAG-AFTRA eligible film actor)—who, like you, went back to the theatre after decades of being away—to weigh in. I first met Anne at the San Francisco Mime Troupe's 40th anniversary reunion. She was invited to come back and reprise her role in the commedia Olive Pits, and the acting bug bit her all over again. After a similarly big gap of time away, she has successfully jumped back into the fray. So together we would break devising your return to the theatre into seven steps.
1. Join a theatre service organization. As Hallinan suggests, "You've gotten a good start if you've joined Theatre Bay Area. One of the things that impressed me most, coming back to acting, is how much easier it was than when I'd last looked for acting work, decades ago. TBA's listings of auditions and networking events, classes and resources (the Talent Bank) are a wonderful way of finding work and reconnecting to the theatre community." There's no need to waste time reinventing the wheel when so much of the information and resources you need to get the current lay of the land are already right there for you.
2. Get into class. In 25 years you have no doubt gotten rusty. Getting yourself into a situation where you are flexing your acting muscles every week, working on scenes and working up audition songs and monologues that are more appropriate for your "current phase of life" is a necessity. For Hallinan, "Classes and workshops provide both continued growth as an actor and a community of mutual support and networking opportunities."
3. Update your résumé. Once you are in class you'll have current information to put on your résumé. But don't shy away from your old credits. I suggest listing your best ones and then putting a line that says something like, "Took 25 years off to raise my four beautiful children (some of my best work!) and now returning to my love of the theatre. Please see my current training and experience below." This clears up immediately any questions one might have about the difference between your age and the age range of the credits you are listing. But at the same time it shows that you are an experienced actor and that you are serious about getting your chops back into shape and discovering where your strengths lie now.
4. Do readings. Readings are a great opportunity to exercise your acting muscles, meet other theatre artists and learn how people are seeing you and casting you now.
5. Get a new headshot. I waited until step five for the pictures because you want to give yourself time to discover what your type is and how to most clearly communicate that type in your picture. If you immediately run out and get a picture before you've done any of the above mentioned work, you'll most likely have to do the picture again or end up living with a picture that just doesn't work until you can quickly gather the funds to invest in a picture again. As you can see, there is a fair amount of upfront investment in restarting your acting business. Invest you must, but you don't want to waste money on materials that won't serve you.
6. Audition, audition, audition. Get as many auditions under your belt as you can. If the auditions are really few and far between they loom too large and it's easy to get overly stressed about them. Prepare, show them what you've got and let it go. Hallinan shares, "A definite advantage, I've found, to being older, with more life experience and (presumably) less need to have theatrical work pay all the bills, is that it's easier to roll with the punches than it was when I was in my early twenties and every audition that didn't lead to a role wounded."
7. Have fun. Enjoy all that you now bring to the table. Remember, every experience for an artist is grist for the mill. You've got a lot. Bring it!