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Acting School Monthly Newsletter -- Getting That First Theater Job
August 21, 2012

Getting That First Theater Job

Here's the news from Acting School Stop, your one stop on the road to an acting career.

In this issue... It's all about theater! Discover our new page on what you need to get stage roles and read our exclusive article and how to produce your own play and give yourself that first theater job.

1) Article of the Month - How to Appear in Your Own Play

Launching an acting career is a little bit of a catch 22. You need experience on your resume to get auditions but you need auditions to book acting jobs to get that experience. How do you break this vicious circle? We get a lot of questions on the website from beginning actors who are getting discouraged at how hard it is at first to get a casting or an agent. So what about giving yourself that first job in a play you produce? It doesn't have to be complicated or costly. Below are the basics of producing theater for actors.

1) Pick the Play

The goal is to showcase your talent, so pick a play with a role and genre that will show off what you do best as an actor. Of course, you also want to make sure you are the right age and type for the character.

Stay away from popular plays people have seen a hundred times. If you're producing Cat on Top of a Hot Tin Roof because you've always dreamed of playing Brick or Maggie, that's one thing. But if your goal is to fill the theater with both an audience and industry people, go for a lesser-known play, or better still, a new play. You can find new plays by asking for submissions from writers in a trade paper like Backstage - The Actor's Resource or by checking out new play festivals.

If you can, try to find material with not too many characters and required set changes. This will allow you to remain focused on the important thing - your acting. If you feel up to the challenge, you can even consider a one-man show, although if this is your first time, it may be nice to have the support and comraderie of other actors (not to mention other actors will help bring in an audience).

Once you picked the play, the next step is to acquire the rights. If the play is published, who to contact for performance rights will usually be listed inside the book, as part of the copyright information. If you bought the play from Samuel French or Dramatists Play Service, you may be able to inquire directly from the store about amateur acting rights, which can make things easier, if your performance qualifies as "amateur".

If you're producing a new play, talk to the writer and/or his agent to agree on royalties, if any. Brand new writers may be happy to get the exposure for their play and not require any royalties. Whatever you agree on, put it down in writing signed by both parties. Do the same with the director, actors, theater owner, and any other person who will be involved in your production, even if there is no pay involved.

2) Find a Theater

If you live in a major entertainment center like New York or Los Angeles, you'll find lots of theaters for rent. Look in publications like Backstage or simply contact theaters you like where you've seen Off and Off-Off-Broadway performances. Also look at acting schools. Many have semi-professional theaters they rent for a good price when not in use. A school theater may give you exposure to the student body as potential audience members.

When you pick a theater, the two most important factors are location (will people be able to get to the performance easily, is there a lot of foot traffic that will see your play announced at the door, etc.) and number of seats. Be realistic with the amount of people you think you can get to come see the show. It's better to have a small full theater than a large empty one.

Also keep in mind that a longer run will allow reviews and word of mouth to work for you if the show is good, so performing for 3 weeks in a 40-seat black box theater can be a better option than performing for only one at a 150 seat theater.

Another important factor is how well-equipped the theater is. Many black-box theaters for rent come with a package that includes lights, sound and box office. You may also be given access to set pieces and props. Make sure the package comes with insurance for the equipment, actors and crew. This is not legal advice, but keep in mind that producing a play can come with liabilities, so getting proper insurance is worth considering. Also, if you want to have a theater company, you will need to fill out a DBA ("Doing Business As") form.

Finally, see if the theater has a mailing list they send a program to and if your performance will be included in that program. Getting people to come see you perform is one of the biggest challenges you'll have, so a large mailing list can be a huge advantage.

Don't lock any venue or dates until you have your director. A director may have connections at a different theater or the stage/dates may not work for them.

3) Get the Director

Ideally, you already know someone you worked with in school or whose work you've seen. Contact these directors first. If you don't know anyone, ask for recommendations from actor friends or put an ad in the trade newspaper. To appeal to serious directors, mention you've secured the rights to the play and have a choice of theater and tentative dates for the performances. If you have the budget for it, offer pay based on experience. An experienced stage director will not only make the play better, it will be invaluable in terms of picking the theater and getting an audience in the door.

Interview at least 3-5 directors. Take your time. Picking the right director to work with is one of the most important decisions you'll make producing a play. They will have a big say in the casting, the set, and how your performance comes out in the end. Make sure you work the same way and have the same "lingo" and that his/her vision of the play and your character is in line with yours. Pick someone who is open to suggestions and you'll enjoy spending time with. If you can, work on a mock rehearsal of one of your scenes for 5-10 minutes to see how you work together.

See if the director knows a good light and sound design person they can bring in to work on the show. If you're on a tight budget, you can get a technician for only one day to set things up during Tech Rehearsal. Once the lights and sounds are set up and adjusted, a volunteer can be trained to follow the cues in the script during the actual performances.

4) Cast your Show

Once you got your director, rent the theater and lock the dates for your performances before starting the casting process. You may already know the actors you want to cast or you may need to put out a casting call, which can be a great learning experience for you.

If you hold auditions, use online casting sites and expect a lot of submissions, so pick a mailbox that can handle the volume. If you can, rent the theater you will be performing in by the hour for auditions so you can schedule actors in the actual space. One of the most efficient ways to hold auditions for theater is to have the actors perform an appropriate monologue and have callbacks with scenes from the play. In order to fully concentrate on the actor's performance, get a reader for the callbacks.

Don't be afraid to cast actors who have more experience than you do. Actors with a few recognizable credits on their resume will draw in an audience, as well as make it easier to get agents and casting directors in the room. Even if you decide to offer no pay, a more accomplished actor may be interested in working on a play because they love the role, know the director or writer, or want to expand their range.

When holding auditions, have actors fill simple questionnaires with things like availability for rehearsals and performances, best contact information, reason for wanting to be in the play and their willingness to be an understudy or work backstage if they don't get the role. Having an understudy is a luxury for ultra-low budget theater, but can make all the different should an actor get very sick or back out at the last minute.

5) Rehearse and Prepare

Now you have your cast and crew, the fun part of producing theater starts - the rehearsal process. Create a consistent rehearsal schedule and try to stick to it. Keep track of progress to make sure you'll be ready on time. One of the most common problems with rehearsals is falling behind schedule, and it's your responsibility as a producer to make sure you'll be ready for the big opening.

Discuss things like set, props and costumes early so you and the actors have time to gather what you need. If you don't have money for a props manager, make sure every actor is in charge of their props and costumes.

6) Market the Play

Spreading the word by marketing the play should start as soon as you have your performance dates, as it takes time to create momentum. If your main goal is to showcase your talent, you'll have to work on two fronts:

- Finding an audience to fill the seats. - Getting industry people (agents, casting directors, producers, directors) to come see you perform.

One thing that's very helpful for both is a positive review, so make a list of reviewers who may be interested in the play and send a press release to their publication or websites. Talk to your director and actors to see if anyone has reviewed their work in the past.

Also ask if the cast/director/writer have any industry connections you can send complimentary tickets to. If you plan to do an agent mailing and your fellow actors are also looking for representation, you can pool your resources by mailing a flyer about the show that includes the picture and name of every actor and a number to call for comp tickets (BTW, make sure you always offer 2 comp tickets to industry so they have the option of bringing someone along). Agents are more likely to attend if they can see several new actors at once. Once the show opens, you should have industry packets ready at the box office with the headshot and resume of each actor to hand to agents and casting directors.

To fill the seats with a live audience, here are some things you can do:

- Ask other members of the cast to invite friends and family. - Use mailing lists. - Make special offers in local papers (when I produced my first play, I offered a 2 for 1 deal which was a big success and allowed us to break even). - If you can afford it, get a publicist. Make sure you get someone with a proven track record and you agree exactly on what is expected of them. A good publicist will not only create buzz for your play, but also help bring in agents and other industry people.

Once you put on a producer's hat, it's easy to lose track of the reason you embarked on this whole adventure, so remember...

When opening night comes, you should be able to focus solely on your acting. Find a few reliable volunteers to operate the lights and sound, call curtain, work the box office and usher people in.

Break a leg!

2) What's new on

Theater Acting

Check out this new page dedicated to stage actors and what it takes to get theater acting jobs.

3) Best from the Blog

Is It The Right Time to Get An Agent
About getting experience, looking for an agent, and deciding if acting is for you.

Nationality vs. Type
Can I act in American movies when I'm a different nationality?

4) A word of Inspiration

"Do theater. Because you'll develop a craft that you'll always have. It'll give you a chance to really learn how to act and you won't go into the world with a few measly tricks that will only carry you so far." - Mark Ruffalo, actor

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Good luck with your acting career!

Alex Swenson

Acting School

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