New York City may be the epicenter of theater, but “working actor” is not synonymous with NYC. Cities like Philly, DC, and Minneapolis have bustling regional theatre communities where opportunities abound—often alongside jobbed-in Broadway actors and creative teams. These theatres love local hires and offer the opportunity to work toward an AEA card.
Not ready for the Big Apple? Grow up or attend college in a theatre town? A smaller city can be a strategic stepping stone on the road to making a living as a performer, and many times, they are worthy destinations themselves. Throw in the surge of virtual auditions, and it’s clear being outside of NYC won’t limit your performance prospects.
If being away from the Big Apple isn’t an option for you, then here’s how you do it right. First off, don’t give your cousin who takes “great pics” a hundred bucks to do your headshots. I say it with love: Just don’t.
Think about it. When you arrive in NYC with a blank resume and your only representation is your likeness, your headshot has to be kick-ass. And to achieve kick-ass status, it should be taken by an experienced NYC photographer that understands your needs. Photos will cost a little, but it’s the favor you want to call in, the credit card you haven’t used, the relative you haven’t hit up—yet.
But what does a kickass headshot even look like? Looking hot isn’t the goal. Looking like yourself with no distractions (wrinkled clothing, crazy hair, jewelry) is the ticket. Ask everyone if you can see their headshots and ignore the ones in Playbill—they suck. Scour the internet, don’t shop by price, and don’t be fooled: photographers love to include a recognizable actor on their site, but that doesn’t mean they’re a good choice. Places like The Growing Studio and Actors Connection are solid resources to include in your search.
Ask any seasoned actor about the acting or musical-theatre class that changed their life, and you’ll immediately sense the importance it had on their career. You’re just starting out, so embrace that you don’t know everything and you don’t have to learn it all by yourself. Find a class, and get to know your peers. Figuring things out together is one of the best parts of the journey.
As for agent showcases, “celebrity teachers,” and classes taught by casting directors—for the time being, hold off. Industry insiders and name-brand creatives can distract you from exploring your essence as a nascent actor. The same goes for agents and managers. They can’t help if you just got off the bus. Of course there are exceptions, but the most important thing to do is familiarizing yourself with casting directors.
NYC is the land of part-time opportunity. You can find a job that suits you. And if it doesn’t, you can change jobs. Actors are capable, likeable, and hireable. If you’re good at what you do, your employer will offer you more hours and sometimes even a raise. Remember, your primary purpose is performing—don’t get lost in your survival job.
You don’t really need your Equity Card right now, so you might be getting way ahead of yourself. You can read my full thoughts on the subject here: “To Be Or Not To Be Equity.”
Watch my interview with director Matt Lenz as he discusses an actor’s confidence in the room: Thorough preparation of their audition material, an ability to see themself in the role, and staying open to adjustments from the creative team. That combination says to the director: I’m comfy and confident.
Do you feel comfortable in your skin? Do you live as balanced and healthy a lifestyle as you can? Are you preoccupied with how you’re perceived? These are worries I hear all the time, and they can undermine confidence. Take the time to consider if those concerns—whether they be weight, hairstyle, or musculature—are alterable and appropriate for your natural build. Many times you’ll find you’re right where you’re supposed to be, and that’s important to accept. Not everyone was designed for washboard abs and size-zero dresses.