The Business of Show Biz: PA Wants to Act
Thursday, May 7, 2015
By Velina Brown
Q: I want to act. I love theatre. I have a three-page resume of all the things I do in the theatre. But honestly, I have more production internship positions on the resume than acting. At my last audition, after I finished my monologue and song, instead of talking to me about being in the show, the director mentioned that he could use a production assistant! This is so irritating. I want to act! I’ve always heard that an actor should be willing to do anything: sweep floors, stuff envelopes, whatever it takes to get your foot in the door. But how do you make sure, while you’re doing all that other stuff, that you’re still considered an actor?
A: Hmm…several things to address here. First of all, don’t hand someone a three-page resume at an audition. Even the most experienced actors are expected to keep their resumes edited down to one page. Next, when you walk into an audition, the director is hoping you will be the solution to their casting problem. When you hand them an extensive list of your production experience, you are presenting yourself as a solution to a different problem. You may believe that you are showing them your commitment to theatre, but while you are doing your monologue, your resume may lead them to think, “Hey, we need someone like this in the office!” So do not feature your production experience on your acting resume. You could briefly mention it under special skills (the way that one might mention bartending experience, the ability to drive a stick shift, and fluency in French) but don’t hand a director three pages of behind-the-scenes production experience and then get upset when they start to see you as someone most useful behind the scenes. Don’t put on your acting resume that you helped “Theatre A” clean out its costume shop if you don’t want theatres “B,” “C” and “D” to visualize you cleaning out their costume shops, rather than visualizing you in future seasons. Include on your acting resume only what you want casting people to have on their mind about you.
As actors, we audition for many more projects than we could possibly take. We have to get out there be seen; sometimes it feels like the best way to be seen is to let the theatre get to know you personally, but this isn’t always the case. In some situations, however, it can work out. Interning for a casting director, for instance, can lead to roles on stage, television and film. You still have to be a good actor, but what you learn from watching others audition can help you tremendously. And if you are in the room and happen to be the right type for the role, who knows? I’ve known quite a few interns/assistant casting directors/readers who end up with stage, film and national commercial work just by being in the room.
A friend of mine, a respected Broadway actor, spent years volunteering for various theatres in New York. He stuffed envelopes, licked stamps, swept shop floors—you name it, he did it. But he always, always made sure that they knew he was an actor, making sure he blew their socks off every time he auditioned. He made sure they knew he was a writer, and workshopped his scripts with the best of his fellow actors, so that when he presented staged readings they were undoubtedly the work of an experienced professional. And when it came time to cast their shows or pick their seasons, they remembered.
Volunteering, interning, etc., at various theatres where you hope to be cast can help the folks in those theatres get to know you, and it is useful to have a broad understanding of what’s involved in running a company and what it takes to put on a show. Too many actors have no idea, and I applaud the valuable behind-the-scenes experience you’ve been accruing. But it’s a delicate balance. If you are an actor, director, designer etc., you want to make sure that these theatres always see you as an actor, director, designer, etc. who is temporarily helping them out or taking time to learn more about them. You do not want them to categorize you as a production intern, or worse, as a generalized “friend of the theatre.” Audition, do readings and take workshops and classes in addition to whatever volunteer/intern work you do for them. And if it ever feels that they have cast you in the role of “not for the stage,” make your desires clear. If they cannot see you in the role you want, thank them for the experience, and move on.
Velina Brown is an actor and career consultant. Send her your questions at firstname.lastname@example.org.