Some thoughts on writing to Directors, Casting Directors, Agents etc.

Know who you are writing to. 

Wherever possible avoid sending out letters that are headed up Dear Sir or Madam. It shows little thought on your part if you don’t invest a small amount of time to find out exactly who it is you should be writing to. In this day and age many theatre companies have websites (some even display casting information), use the information on the site to try and find the name of the Casting Director or Director of the project you are showing interest in.  Although, first name terms are widely accepted in the industry, you might want to consider how appropriate that might be before sending in your letter.

What level of Formality should you use?

Writing a covering letter for a job application or to an Agent or Casting Director is professional correspondence and therefore requires a certain level of formality.  Unfortunately, the widespread use of text messaging seems to have corrupted the English language immeasurably and this appears to have crept into emails as well.  Yesterday I received an email that was not addressed to anybody, had little or no punctuation, and appeared to be from somebody called ‘L’ which, after a little digging and following of links, I was able to ascertain was from a young actress called Laura.

These very informal communications betray a level of unprofessionalism on your part. Writing to an agent or other industry professional is NOT the same as text messaging your friend. Even if you do opt to use email (which many regard as preferable), you should still construct your message as though you were writing a letter. I have received emails that read:

 “hi i I waz jus wondring if you have any jobs going???”  Not for you my friend!

The above is a perfect (all be it extreme) example of how very poor spelling and punctuation can leave you looking bad. Good spelling and grammar demonstrate a basic level of intelligence.

Content

Although most people won’t have time to read a three page essay detailing why you are the ‘right person for the job’, try not to be overly brief. Your letter (combined with your photograph) should indicate why we should consider you for a part and what you can offer the production. Personally speaking, if I get a sense of personality from the letter (and it is well written) I will almost always offer that individual an audition.

My Top Ten things NOT to do in an audition.

 

Most of the things on this list are common sense and some of the examples are actually quite funny.  However, since I have encountered each of the following in an audition room I thought I would include them on this blog anyway.

1)      If the casting breakdown reads ‘Prepare something suitable for a children’s audience’ DON’T then come along with a graphic speech about Lesbian Sex (surprisingly this has happened quite a lot!)

2)      When asked the name of the play that your speech comes from, DON’T show a book of monologues to the panel and explain that you are unable to pronounce the title of the play.

3)      DON’T hand a photocopy of your speech to the panel in case you might need “a prompt”.  An audition is NOT a LAMDA examination!

4)      DON’T put accents on your CV that you are woefully incapable of doing.  I find that working in Scotland almost every actor puts RP on their CV.  However, when asked to read something it is apparent that they unable to even approximate it.  I don’t ask people to read things in an accent to catch them out or to expose them in some way.  I do it because it might be a casting requirement.  If you can’t do it then don’t say you can!

5)      Don’t lie about your previous training or experience.  I once auditioned somebody that I had supposedly spent three years with at drama school.  Amazing then that I had never seen them before in my life!  When I questioned the candidate about this she backtracked and explained that she had done a one year part time evening course that had been hosted in the same building and was not affiliated to the college in any way.  Sell yourself but don’t lie!

6)      DON’T be derogatory about previous employers.  Whatever your experience might have been with previous companies try to resist the temptation of running them down.  I don’t think it is very classy and you run the risk of appearing like a diva!

7)      DON’T apologies before you start your speech.  Whether it’s “sorry I only learnt this yesterday”, or “I had a bit of a large one last night” or “sorry, but I have a really bad cold at the moment’ (and I’ve heard them all), apologising beforehand just sets up an expectation that it’s not going to be very good!  Whilst I understand that sometimes people genuinely are bunged up with a cold, the reality is that occasionally you are going to have to perform when not feeling your best.

8)      DON’T fail to read the play!  I expect all of us have looked at monologue book for inspiration before.  This is fine, but if you choose a speech from a published collection like this, please do take the time to research the character and the play.  It could be quite embarrassing if the panel ask you what you think about the end of the play if you haven’t read it.  Admittedly this is unlikely but if they are a lover of the play they might.

9)      DON’T turn up without having researched the company.  You should use every opportunity to find out everything you can about the company you are auditioning for.  I am normally impressed by candidates who are able to demonstrate at least some knowledge of our back catalogue or the history of the company.  It shows an enthusiasm for the job.

10)   DON’T assume that the panel are going to be hostile.  I would ask all candidates to remember that casting is a time consuming and often costly business.  We hope that everybody who walks through the door is going to be perfect for the part so we want you to feel comfortable and give the best audition possible.

I hope this list is useful for some of you.  As always opinions and comments are very welcome!

Working in Theatre in Education

 

Working in Theatre in Education.

It is difficult to ignore the fact that in the past a stigma has been attached to Theatre in Education or TiE,  and, undoubtedly many of the clichés do exist (actors in black roll neck sweaters walking about the stage with a CD player etc).  Some of these clichés are ruthlessly  exposed in the BBC comedy ‘The League of Gentlemen’ where we meet the players of the ‘Legs a Kimbo’  Theatre Company.  Well worth a watch!  However, in recent years, theatre in education has enjoyed a renaissance, with many companies (ourselves included) producing very high calibre work indeed.  Of course the quality has always been there but unfortunately it can be very difficult for educational establishments to sort the wheat from the chaff, sometimes preferring to stay clear all together.  Anyway, what does all this mean for the actor?

The fact is that the TiE sector is a great source of work for actors (although the industry tends to favour young actors for a variety for reasons that I will highlight later).

It is true to say that working in TIE rarely pays as well as a regular (for want of a better word) theatre job, but (in my experience at least) it still pays a lot better than bar work.  Whilst I accept the argument that a long TIE tour might prohibit the actor from attending auditions that could lead to more lucrative work, it should be balanced with the fact the actor has an excellent opportunity to further develop their skills and network etc.  Did we really go into the profession to spend so much time simply ‘getting by’ whilst waiting for the phone to ring?  (Look out for my article on Positive Self Marketing).

Whilst I believe actors of all ages can learn an awful lot from working in the TiE sector, I do find it incredibly frustrating when actors write to me with phrases such as the following.

“I would love to work with your company as I feel it would prove an excellent training ground for entering the profession”.

I object to this as I think it implies that the work we carry out is in some way sub-standard.  The acting jobs that we advertise are professionally paid engagements and should not be regarded as a ‘paid training ground’.   Of course we hope everybody will learn from the experience, but only in the same way that you would expect of any acting job.

What can I expect?

For fiscal reasons, the vast majority of TiE tours are rarely more than four-handers and often actors will double up on roles.  This is great as it provides a real showcase for your versatility.  It is perhaps disappointing therefore that there is rarely an opportunity to invite agents or casting directors to see your work, since most of the performances are within schools.  The rehearsal process is generally very short and intense (there is rarely the luxury of anything longer than one rehearsal week).  Members of the company are normally expected to carry out many additional duties as well as acting.  These generally include (although are by no means limited to) get ins and get outs, sound and lighting, van driving, workshops with the audience, and sometimes marketing.  It is hard work, there is no denying it, and if you are the type of actor that likes to walk on, say your lines then retire to your dressing room then I’m afraid it isn’t for you.  However, the work is rewarding, friendships are forged very quickly, and generally speaking evenings are often your own -with actors sometimes known to reach the pub by 4:00pm!

Sometimes people will approach me and ask if they are too old to be involved in TiE.  As I intimated previously most actors working in a theatre in education company will be under twenty five and almost always under 35 (although there are of course exceptions to this).  However, it is normally less to do with age and more to with personal circumstances and commitments.  Many actors older than this age bracket often feel that they are unable to spend so much time on the road away from their families etc.  From an employer’s point of view, as long as the candidate has the correct ‘playing age’ and the stamina, then I would be happy to consider them.

I feel incredibly proud to have worked in this sector over a number of years now and would encourage others to explore an area of our profession that they may have previously written off.  I welcome the views of others!

Writing Your CV

CVs

Along with  your photograph your CV is the most important tool in your armoury for getting  work as an actor.

There are  various schools of thought on actor’s CVs and how they should be  presented.  The following is only an  opinion and not a definitive guide.  It  should be seen as a suggestion on how to construct a professional looking CV  for the acting profession.

Keep your  CV to one side of A4 – This is generally considered to be a MUST within the  industry.  There really is no reason why  a CV should run to three pages long.   Normally everything that needs to be there can fit comfortably onto one  page – if during an interview or audition somebody wants to hear more that’s  great.

I think it  is easier to put together an impressive looking CV if you think of it terms of  various headings.  These might include:

Personal  Information   Important  details like playing age (playing age vs. age), physical attributes (hair  colour, eye colour, physical type etc).   This section might also include your spotlight ID (if you have one).

Credits   This  section should form the bulk of your CV.   It is your opportunity to show the work that you have undertaken as an  actor and the diversity of your performances.   As with any CV it is conventional to list your credits in reverse chronological  order (starting you’re your most recent acting job and working backwards).  However, if you have credits on your CV that  you are particularly proud of and think would make a good talking point in your  audition, there is no harm in placing these further up the list.    Should you list amateur performances, youth theatre roles, etc?  This is a  tricky one.  If your CV looks sparse  without these credits it’s probably best to include one or two you are most  happy talking about.  I would always  include a professional credit over an amateur one.  Even if you played the lead in the local  musical society’s production of Oklahoma  I would still be tempted to leave this out in favour of a smaller professional  role.   Do not be  tempted to lie.  There is nothing wrong  with presenting the facts in the best possible light, but, if you say you have  just completed a BBC drama when in fact you haven’t you will almost certainly  be found out.

Further  information   This is  where you should detail things like singing ability, accents you are capable of  etc. It is also the place to highlight any special skills you might possess  like juggling, acrobatics, horse riding etc.   Once again do not be tempted to be dishonest.  I know an actor who said he had an HGV  licence and was offered a days work on a Scottish Soap Opera.  In the episode he was required to drive a  truck up the road before getting out the cab to perform a scene.  Of course he didn’t have an HGV licence and  didn’t confess this until the day of the shoot.   This cost the BBC a morning’s shoot and probably did considerable harm  to his reputation.

Decoration  and Pictures   This one is  a personal gripe – although I know many directors agree with me here.  Adorning your CV with masks of Comedy and Tragedy, or theatrical curtains etc is (in my humble opinion) tacky! It can only look amateurish.  It is a bit like a  doctor decorating his CV with a stethoscopes and medical crosses.  Keep you CV elegant and professional.  Look at it this way, you more likely to  offend somebody like myself who hates it, than disappoint somebody who likes  this type of thing by its absence.

Drama School Auditions

 

Attending Drama School Auditions

Drama School Auditions All drama schools are different in their  approach to training.  Before deciding  which drama schools you would like to apply to, be sure to read the prospectus  carefully so that you can make an informed decision.  Some drama schools also have open days that  allow future candidates the opportunity to get a feel for the place before  making an application.  Apply to the  schools that give you a “good feeling”, not just because your friend went there  or you’ve heard they have a good reputation.   Every actor works differently and drama training is a very personal  thing – try to choose the schools that excite you as an actor.  For a full list of members of the UK conference of Drama schools click here.

What are Drama Schools looking for?   This is almost impossible to answer.  The criteria vary from school to school, year  to year, and individual to individual.   However, there are certain things you can do to improve your chances. When attending a drama school audition, make  sure you are as prepared as you possibly can be.  Spend time choosing your speeches.  Sometimes it is better to choose characters  that are close to your own age and personal experience – not only can you play  them more convincingly but it also gives the panel a little insight into who  you are.  If you are looking in monologue  or audition speech books for inspiration remember that lots of others will be  doing the same.  If you find a speech you  like from one of these books, sometimes it’s a good idea to read the play and  see if you can find another speech by the same character that might not be so  widely known.  Whatever you decide, don’t  make the mistake of choosing the speech and not bothering to read the  play.  It is very likely the panel will  ask you about your feelings on the character or their journey through the play;  these are difficult questions to answer when you are only familiar with one  speech.   Some drama schools give you a free hand to  choose your own audition material whereas others have a list of pieces (usually  classical) that the panel would like to hear you have a go at.  Either way, make your selections carefully  and once you have decided make sure you spend considerable time preparing them  for your audition.

On the day of the audition.   As with all auditions, give yourself plenty  of travelling time.  There is nothing  worse than being out of breath from having run all the way from the bus stop  and having to go straight into the audition room and deliver your speech.  Aim to arrive with plenty of time to spare –  if you do this, you might also get the opportunity to have a look around.    Remember this is your audition.  Often there is a lot of talk among  auditionees in the waiting room about where they have applied, and what success  they have or haven’t had.  Be wary of  entering into these conversations as they can prove a distraction; that doesn’t  mean be rude and not talk to anybody, just don’t forget the reason why you are  there.   Just as drama schools have a different  approach to training, each drama school has a different audition process.   At  some schools you will just be expected to stay long enough to deliver your  speeches.  At other schools the audition  process can mean staying for the whole day.   Make sure that you eat and drink enough to keep your energy up for the  duration, and try not to lose your focus as the day wears on.

After your audition.   Once your audition is over it is out of  your hands, there is nothing you can do to affect the outcome.  Forget about it and start to focus on  whatever you have coming up next – whether it is another audition or a part in  a play.  If you focus on this you will  likely forget about the audition, that way if the letter arrives and it is a  no, you are already focused on your next activity.  If, on the other hand it is a yes, it will  come as a pleasant surprise.   Don’t give up.   I know actors who have tried for three  years in a row to get into the drama school of their choice and failed   – only to get in on their fourth attempt.  Be persistent and if members of the panel  give you advice take it and come back next time as a stronger candidate.

Action!

 

Welcome to www.auditionspeech.com.  This website is a totally free resource for Actors, Writers, Directors and anybody connected with our industry, namely, theatre.

This site has been developed as a free learning tool and resource for aspiring actors everywhere.  It will feature articles aimed at students, newcomers to the profession, and seasoned performers looking for further professional development.

I worked as a professional actor for several years before becoming the Artistic Director of a small professional touring theatre company in 2007.  During this time I feel I have acquired a little wisdom along the way which I will attempt to share.  However, this site is not about me, nor do I wish it to reflect my views alone!  Instead, it is a forum for anybody working in or interested in the world of theatre.  It will, in time feature articles by a number of individuals working in our trade, but I am hoping that the best content will come from you, the subscriber.  We hope that articles featured here will inspire discussion and debate within this community helping others to reach their own conclusions.

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