There is a tendency to romanticize acting — to celebrate the art and creativity of it, and to marvel at the way a great performance, whether delivered or observed, can make us feel. All of those things should be celebrated, but make no mistake about it: Acting may be an art, but being an actor is a career. And, like any career it takes practice, resilience, passion and more practice.
As you head out to the first of hundreds, if not thousands, of auditions, there are a few things every new actor should know — truths I’ve learned over 18 years as a casting director and that I repeat to students almost daily. These are tips for making sure your passion can be a successful career.
The Future is on the Small Screen
Think about the most compelling, thought-provoking stories that you’ve watched recently — “Orange is the New Black,” “Transparent,” “House of Cards” — they’re all on the small and on an emerging alternative screen. And, that means that there’s more opportunity than ever to step into a richly drawn character that can live in a story for sometimes up to seven years!
So, what does this mean for you?
It means you need to understand how to act — and audition — for the camera. I’ve seen time and time again amazing actors who have been trained at top-ranking programs, but auditioning or acting for the camera wasn’t a focus. That’s one reason I opened the casting office at SCAD: It’s the only professionally-run casting office at the university level. What that means is that we are dedicated to teaching students how to audition and feel comfortable in front of the camera.
Acting for the camera isn’t just being small. Yes, the camera is all up in your face catching every twitch. But, be careful not to create an inner life for your character. The eyes don’t lie. We need to see every thought your character is having. When you are auditioning on camera with a reader, actors make the mistake of acting on the lines. Don’t! Make choices, and be memorable (but be flexible enough to take direction). Acting is reacting, so make sure you are thinking and responding — not waiting for a cue.
And, study the show. There are languages on TV now. Aaron Sorkin, Shonda Rhimes and Jill Soloway all speak different languages, with different cadences. The already established universe and that show’s unique language should inform how you approach material and make character choices. You wouldn’t audition for “Game of Thrones” in the same way you would “How to Get Away With Murder.”
Embrace the Audition… and the Casting Director
The thought of a lifetime of auditions may seem daunting. Each one is a test of nerves, if not a full-blown crisis of confidence. It’s true for everyone, but the best never let it show. Remember, casting directors aren’t judging you; we’re rooting for you. We want you to be the one — the actor who’s perfect for the role that we’re casting. Make us believe you are great — we’ll believe you. Because the reverse works too: If you have the attitude that you shouldn’t be at that audition or that you’re not right for the part, we’ll believe you!
Also, understand casting directors aren’t just watching you perform — we’re watching how you own the room, and how you take direction. Can you adjust when the director’s choices aren’t your choices? And, we’re watching you audition for roles that you don’t even know about yet. We’re not just thinking about this role, we’re thinking five or 10 roles down the road. And trust me, if you’re working to land your first professional acting job, we certainly want to be the one who helped you start your career in this amazing business.
Never forget — for those five minutes of the audition, you’re acting. You are doing exactly what you want to do — what you’ve trained to do. Embrace it, and own those five minutes.
I always like to tell my students to treat every situation like an audition. How you treat the security guard asking for ID is who you really are. It’s how you treat the interns in the office or your fellow actors in the waiting room. You never know who is next to you in the elevator or the bathroom stall. Be nice! All of that is indicative of who you will be on a set. It matters.
It’s a Marathon, Not a Sprint
We hear this question frequently, and it stings every time: “Should I give it a year? Two years? When is it time to give up?”
Never ask those questions. Trust me — no one is going to tell you to get out of this business. This business is a marathon, not a sprint. You, as an actor, are a collection of experiences, and each and every experience has the potential to make you a better actor. If you fall in love, it will make you a better actor. If you have your heart broken, it will make you a better actor. If you see a beautiful painting or a great TV show or anything that moves you, it will make you better. So don’t give up.
That goes for your auditions as well. Learn from every one, but leave your performances in the room. Walk out the door, go to the next one and never, ever let one audition impact the next one. Trust me — even if you can’t see it, you’re growing as an actor, learning and getting better.
Know the Business and Your Audience
I always tell my students — if you want to be in this business, you need to know this business. That means vigorously immersing yourself in the industry. Read the trade publications, go to the movies, watch TV, Netflix and Hulu. And, take advantage of opportunities to learn more like attending film festivals and panel discussions. At SCAD, we host two industry festivals a year — Savannah Film Festival and aTVfest — specifically to create opportunities for our students to network with industry professionals and to learn more about working in the entertainment industry. Find and take advantage of the opportunities that are available to you.
And know your audience: What casting office are you entering? What are they casting? What have they cast in the past? There’s nothing worse than an actor not remembering that you’ve met us, several times. I tell my students to keep an actor’s journal for life. Every time you meet someone, jot down details to remember: Doesn’t like chit chat… likes chit chat… fast reader… has twins… runs an hour late… serious… likes memorized… doesn’t like memorized… makes me nervous… never shakes hands…
Be aware and open when you walk in. You should be an empath, reading the energy in the room. If the casting director is warm and wants to talk, then talk. Don’t show up in character, focused only on the scene. Flip side: Don’t explode into the room talking endlessly about yourself or anything else. Read the room. That’s where your actor’s journal can come in handy.
And Finally, Never Shake Hands
It’s a universal secret that all casting directors are germaphobes. It’s logical; at CBS I would see 75 actors a day. By number 67 I would have contracted the plague from shaking hands. It’s like being a kindergarten teacher.
That said, if someone offers their hand because they are a superhuman casting director who never falls ill, TAKE IT!
Andra Reeve-Rabb is Chair of Performing Arts at SCAD and Founder and Director of SCAD’s Casting Office. Previously, she was the Director of Prime Time Casting at CBS New York. Reeve Rabb now teaches and trains students for the professional of acting as well as other top film and TV careers. She holds professional casting sessions with SCAD actors for films shooting in the Southeast and orchestrates a showcase each year where SCAD’s top performing arts students have the opportunity to meet with casting directors in New York, LA and Atlanta. Many students are hired on the spot as a result of the showcase.
The only on-site casting office in higher education, the SCAD Casting Office has connected SCAD actors to film and television productions including “Dirty Grandpa,” Amazon’s “Z,” “Gifted,” “Rings,” “Magic Mike: XXL” “CBGB,” “The Conspirator,” and Footloose” (2011), and in a variety of television series, such as CBS’ “Reckless,” Cinemax’s “Banshee,” BET’s “The Game,” and USA Network’s “Royal Pains.”