Q:I am a young, reasonably attractive, medium height, medium build, white actress. Apparently there are way too many of us. How do I differentiate myself from the vast sea of 20-something-year-old white girls?
A: I recently was talking with someone who called the situation you describe "white girl syndrome." She was struggling with WGS herself. I can't speak from personal experience with WGS, but as you can imagine, I have some syndromes of my own to deal with, as most actors do. Much of what I'll say about WGS is applicable to actors in general—it's just more urgent for you because, as you correctly observe, a very large percentage of the talent pool does consist of your demographic. Therefore, I would agree that you need to be extra "on it" to stand out.
So here's a to-do list:
1. Be really good. (Don't roll your eyes. This is a must.)
2. Be dependable. Even if you're really good, if people can't depend on you they'll look elsewhere.
3. Be nice. I'm not talking about kissing the buttocks of certain people. I'm talking about living the golden rule toward everyone. Good manners, kindness and consideration will take you far.
4. Be a contribution. Look for ways that you can be of use and add value. Walk into situations thinking, "How can I help?"
5. Save the drama for the stage.
6. Be yourself. Sometimes it's hard to know who you are yet when you are young. But do your best to be aware of what you love, what fascinates you and what your unique strengths and skill sets are. These are the things that will differentiate you from the crowd. Therefore, when you walk into an audition waiting room with 20 other young white women, you might think, "Wow, this is a lot of competition." But each one of you is different. The challenge is that in our culture a woman in her 20s—of any race—is often still trying to blend in and be like everyone else. She is under a fair amount of societal pressure to please, even to be deferential. (Yes, in this day and age!) She will typically have a tape running in her head that's yammering, "Is this right? Is this okay? Is this what they want? How do I be what they want?"—trying to please others rather than being herself. I can hear you asking, "Well, I want to be chosen. What am I supposed to do?"
Practically speaking, this means that when you walk into an audition, the question is not "What do they want?" The question is, "What do I bring to the table? What is my take on this scene or character?" Show them what it would be like to have you play the part, not just some random young white woman. You. Of course, when a director asks you to make adjustments, do your best to make the adjustments. But when you start strongly from your take on a character or scene, you are giving the director something to work with. They know more about you as an artist and you're therefore more memorable.
Understand I'm not advocating being weird for weird's sake with the idea that it will help you stand out. Weird for weird's sake is not the same as being yourself. It's just a sad cry for attention. What I'm referring to is being willing to show your goofy side or your quirks or your edge or your vulnerability or whatever is true about you. Bring it into your work. In other words, the things that you've most likely been trying to cover for years are probably the things that are most unique about you. Be fully yourself and you will stand out.
7. Do your marketing. Focus on developing relationships with the people whose work you most admire. (I've gone into detail about marketing in previous columns.)
8. Make friends with writers.
9. If you can write, write stuff for yourself and other WGs. Kristen Wiig of the movie "Bridesmaids" is a famous recent example. You can be a part of creating work and also showing the variety that exists within a given type. You could be the Tyler Perry of WGs!
10. Don't give up. Acting is a war of attrition. Many of your agemates will have left the field by the time you are in your 30s and definitely by 40. This may sound like a long way off. Trust me, the time goes by in the blink of an eye. Then we'll be talking about OWWS—"Older White Woman Syndrome"!
Right now, there are a lot of young white actresses out there.
Fortunately, there is only one you.
Since taking on producing the shows she wanted to see while in college, this month’s Featured Member and two-time Lemonade Fund benefit producer, Megan Briggs, exemplifies how a theatre artist can blow past the constraints placed on early actors to create her own play and develop works that support the field. Read all about her here.