I’ve been a professional actor since 1996 after completing a post grad at ArtsEd. I also direct, produce, write and devise. I love to do new stuff and a couple of years ago with my fellow collaborators Trevor Scales (actor) and Ben Crawford (sound editor) made a podcast The Memory Gnome Saga which was featured on Spreaker’s blog and went viral for a brief moment.
In my best earning year as an actor – I earnt enough to support myself for six months from acting alone. That year I wasn’t in Spotlight, didn’t have an agent and didn’t pass an audition. It was a combination of working for people I’d worked for before and making money out of a one man show that I produced, created and toured to primary schools.
Audition workshops and advice
Yes it’s good to have the basic skills but the people running workshops and giving advice often oversell and promise more than they can deliver. I’ve seen a workshop on getting your CV looking right, photo and monologue run by someone who directs, writes and acts but has never had a paid gig for any of these! When I see people bandying about advice on how to succeed at auditions I google their own acting careers and often they hardly work.
If I knew how to “Ace” auditions – well I would be busy and have no time to run workshops for others. Also if I found some great secret to doing this I’d keep it to myself because if everyone knew I’d lose my advantage.
Also the assumption is that the only people who need to improve audition skills are the actors – I’ve been auditioned in some pretty tardy, disorganised and inept ways by some. I’ve run auditions and if an audition process doesn’t make any sense to me then it probably doesn’t make any sense.
Real examples of success
First a couple of my modest successes. At one time I was attending a lot of day long workshops to audition for small scale paid tours. It was expensive, time consuming and they were all a long train or coach journey away. I applied for a rural (village halls) and small scale tour of Dennis Potter’s Blue Remembered Hills. I was offered a whole Sunday workshop audition in Stroud. No way could I get there on time so I replied and said as that was case did they still want me to attend. They said yes – I checked the actual times and realised I would be there two hours after it started. So I emailed again saying as I would miss such a large chunk did they still want me to go. They said yes. On the day I got to the station I discovered the train times on the web were wrong and I would get there much later. I had a contact number and rang – you guessed it they still wanted me to come. I arrived in time for the lunch they laid on and attended the last half of the audition. We were split into groups and given a scene to work on – another actor said you should read Donald. I was still tired from a long train journey so said yes – that actor’s decision got me the part – seven weeks paid work from an audition I tried to get out of three times and only attended half of!
Another time I was working in the staff canteen at St Dunstan’s (paper hat and short yellow apron) when a production company were filming a documentary. The crew ate in the canteen and I got to know them. One day I handed the producer/director my CV and suggested that my RP accent would be a great choice to narrate. He said he already had someone but would keep my CV. Many weeks later they contacted me as they were producing a six part documentary for ITV (local region) on the Brighton music scene and were looking for a narrator. I arranged an appointment for what I thought would be an audition. I met the producer of the documentary at their Brighton office. It wasn’t an audition he just asked me about my availability and if the fee was ok? My theory was the guy I gave my CV to was the CEO and the producer assumed he knew my work and thus I was employed due to a misunderstanding. A few years later I bumped into the CEO and he said how much he liked what I did – so a good result for all.
Another friend of mine, Steve, went to ArtsEd on the three year course and got a hard time particularly from the head of the course. He was so fed up at the end he decided not to pursue acting but became a despatch rider. A theatre company was looking for a particular actor – mixed race early 20s, East Midland accent. They rang around Drama Schools for recent graduates that fitted this description. So the head of the course had to call Steve who met this description. Steve got the part and then couldn’t stop working. He got a bit bored with acting he did it so much – moved into presenting, got bored with that bought a business – that has expanded and he now splits his time between Toulouse and Brighton.
Tom Morris was working as a jobbing actor in London – he was finding it depressing so moved home to Cornwall. A local theatre company called Footsbarn tore up their grant cheque live on the local news, left Cornwall and moved to France. So Tom together with Emma Rice setup Kneehigh. This toured Cornwall but gained such a reputation that they co-produced with the National. Tom is now Artistic Director of The Bristol Old Vic – Emma will be taking over at The Globe next year.
There are other ways of having a career than the standard – Spotlight, agent and wait. I have been in and out of Spotlight – I’m back in now as I have an agent who’s actually getting me auditions from it – to date I’ve paid more in then I’ve got out – so I will review this when my Spotlight expires. To work well from Spotlight it needs to be paired up with a good agent. Marketing costs should be judged on ROI (return on investment) – that is each £1 of marketing should generate more than £1 of revenue.
If I didn’t make my own work and write I would have stopped a long time ago.
Look after yourself especially financially. I have known two actors who became bankrupt and another who turned up on my doorstep unannounced as he’d been rendered homeless. As a friend of mine said “ It doesn’t matter how much you love it – it won’t love you back” So love it when you’re doing it and when you’re not – love the other things in your life.
A well rounded interesting human being is a delight to audition. Someone who’s confidently themselves is great. As an example myself and Trevor Scales attended the Paines Plough duologue audition. We took the brief seriously and cut our duologue until it fitted the time slot. I told Trevor if asked a question to answer honestly and not guess what he thinks they want to hear. So when he was asked what he liked he answered “Shakespeare and Bill Hicks” It turned out James Grieve one of the Artistic Directors is also a huge Bill Hicks fan.
If I had the time and money to attend a workshop it wouldn’t be with a casting director – it would be a performance one to increase my skills (recently attended a gender swap Shakespeare workshop). I believe an actor who’s interested in their art is more interesting than one that wants to suck up to casting directors.
Taking time out
Taking time out or giving up isn’t a bad thing especially if you’re becoming consumed with bitterness about how unfair it all is. I know an actor who took two years out to earn regular money so he could get a mortgage and a better house for his family. He’s back now and booking TV work. Another actor announced he was giving up on an actors’ Facebook group. The reason was he had a new baby and realised the life he wanted to give his family couldn’t be provided by acting and I think that’s a noble thing to do. Someone said it was the saddest thing he’d ever read! Sense of proportion people – it’s just someone deciding to pursue a different career not the death of a loved one or say terminal illness.
Be up for anything
When I was coming to the end of my training we had mock auditions from people from outside the drama school. One of the things they emphasised was you should decide “What sort of actor you are?” So at the end of the mock audition I asked the guy running it “What sort of things should I apply for?” his answer “quite frankly at this stage anything you can get” Best advice I ever got.
Don’t forget your life
Always have a reason for doing the part now. We can tend to always be doing stuff for the future – to get another line on our CV, for a scene on our reel etc. I’m not saying you shouldn’t do those things but they may not work out so if you make sure there’s something in the project you’d love to do there and then – you won’t end up bitter and twisted about the future part not working out.
Don’t put the rest of your life on hold to pursue acting- fall in love, get married, have children, learn a new hobby, eat out, have holidays. Life is to be enjoyed in every way – don’t let acting suck the other joys out of your life.
Treat auditions as a chance to perform – enjoy the fact that for a brief moment you’re pursuing your passion – don’t try and get the job. If you’re Brighton based and audition in London – do something else while you’re there. I often meet friends for coffee or a drink or shop for something I can’t get in Brighton. There are free museums and galleries and you’ve got an all zones travelcard.Then regardless of the result it won’t be a wasted day.
It’s easier to make money out of actors than to make money from acting. There may be things you need to spend money on but you can get together with friends to read plays or practice at each others homes for free.
I’m still available for Panto.
Finally, click here for a spoof interview about the art of acting from my podcast – a little bit of madness that helped keep me sane.