Getting Stage Work Before Other Artists (Part 1)

March 20, 2011 at 7:00 am | Posted in acting, actors, auditions, employment, entertainment, Producers | Leave a comment
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Actors, Directors, Designers & Stage Technicians – Journeys to Getting More Stage Work

There’s lots of work for theater artists. But are you correctly, with passion, going after the oodles of paychecks being offered? And how can you can excel at being the first among your competition to getting offers? And where to go? Answer: Out of town– and there’s a way to get that work before announced auditions and/or interviews are held.

Most theater artists miss the obvious route to finding the open expressway for paying jobs out in the regions. They wait in the tedium that is the unemployed congestion of New York, Chicago, London or LA, idling among hundreds upon hundreds upon hundreds of similarly stalled peers awaiting for the theaters, auditions and interviews to high-speed towards them. Wrong! That’s bullshit. And it’s a lazy, passive aggressive choice of finding (more like wishing for) work in regional theater and summer stock that will place the artist among thousands of others in line for the precious few jobs available at each theater. For the theater artist to jump ahead of all others they have to go to where the expressway ends. At the theaters.

Often when I career coach my private students I ask them, “Do you have a car or access to one?” They then look at me with a cocked-head, like a dog hearing a new sound, wondering what the hell does my asking about their having a Civic or Rent-a-Wreck access have to do with being an actor (other than the too many actors who relentlessly list “owns/drives car” as a special skill… Don’t even get me started on that Legit resume blunder). Whatever the answer “Yes”, “No”, or “Only when my wife-partner-trick of the week isn’t looking” I tell them to get out of the city and into the regions. That’s where the work exists. That’s where the employers of regional art are at their most relaxed, open and willing to consider new possibilities, i.e. YOU.

I know many actors, directors, designers, choreographers, stage managers and technicians who have gotten more work, by adhering to the advice that follows than by sitting in a large city waiting for the regional theaters to come to them.

Going to the theaters directly is a billboard to the hirer that announces about you, “I’m available and extremely interested in your company. I’m willing to invest time and money to make myself accessible to you on your home turf.” In short, your stock rises with them because you took the time, incentive and expense to recognize them instead of them recognizing you. Plus you’re not one among hundreds of artists seeking employ among your bank-account-starved peers.  By going directly to where the work is (i.e. the theaters) you’ll get extended, quality face-to-face time with the theater’s artistic staff. Also it’s cheaper for a producer’s bottom-line budget if quality talent comes to them than for the producer to pay the expense of going to New York, Toronto or London for casting calls and interviews. Regional producers love, love, love when a good find lands on their door step. Wouldn’t you? Getting theatrical work in the regions can be this simple.

Now I’m not saying that you should hop into a car now and traverse the back roads of the country with your resume, cell phone, GPS and a smile. Hell no. Planning is needed first. And it doesn’t take much to begin the endeavor entitled: Project Target Regions.

Project Target Regions: Step 1

Pick a region. Any region depending upon your legal ability to work. Be it New England, Mid-Atlantic, the Northwest of America, the mountains of Manitoba or the Mid-lands of England. There’s work to be had everywhere. Then do one or both of two things. The first would be to get yourself a book which lists contacts for regional theaters (one great resource would be the Regional & Off-Broadway Theatre Guide published by ACL Books). Or go online to your favorite search engine and Google, Yahoo, Ask or Bing for regional and summer stock theaters in your region of choice.

An even better and swifter online resource of American regional theater would be LORT.org (the official web site for the League of Resident Theaters). On the member theater page are links to theater web sites. On each individual  theater’s web site sleuth who is the in-house staff member for casting (not the NYC, LA or other large city casting representative). The e-mail addresses for the artistic directors and/or casting person in charge are often found directly on theater web sites.

(Important: Get the most recent contact information for who hires for your field of proficiency. Turn-over in regional theater is sometimes higher than at your local Burger King (except the smiles are often more sincere). )

Project Target Regions: Step 2

Collect clusters of theaters within 100 – 200 miles/kilometers of each other. Get up-to date contacts including e-mail and brick-and-mortar addresses for each gatekeeper of employment at your desired theater(s).

Project Target Regions: Step 3

Sit yourself down with a keyboard and begin typing your way to finding jobs. Worried that you’re not a wise wordsmith? Don’t. Just be direct. No coy or creative collection of consonants and vowels that challenge the verbosity, ancient publishing practice of paid-by-the-word, excruciating length of Victor Hugo’s Les Miserables. (As an example of ‘don’t’; don’t be like that prior rambling sentence.) No inane stories of how “Dedicated I am… Excited by your season…, blah-blah-blah bullshit.” Do you know how many of those meandering missives arts-hiring personnel receive daily? I and my colleagues could wallpaper several McMansions multiple times over in a month. One to two paragraphs. Three to four short sentences per paragraph. Direct. To the point. Business format. Clean lines (reminiscent of an Apple Store). All as seen in the following example; simplicity is the rule.

Proper Format for a Hard Copy Cover Letter

It’s that simple. But! You don’t just send off a missive and hope for a return. Expect the response to be similar to the cold rebuff given Rosie O’Donnell’s “Rosie”. (Don’t recall that one-night song-n-dance debacle? Point made. Game over.)

You have to follow-up. With a phone-call. Scary as that might be in the age of keyboard courage where we text and type without direct contact, it’s that one-on-one that pushes you past the delete button or trash bin.

O.K. now I can imagine a few reticent readers out there thinking, ‘But I’ve been told never to contact someone by phone.’ Oh puh-lease. Screw what those blathering boobs babble. Especially if they are unemployed which gives them plenty of time to give others bone-headed advice! Look at what being passive has done for their near-empty bank account and career. The other argument I can forecast from frightened readers of this font is, “They’ll hate me for calling them.” Really? You think that a single phone call will cause a stranger to despise you for seeking work? If so, then you had better get yourself into another career where marketing yourself daily one-on-one with the living is not an option. (When’s the last time you met an embalmer pushing their trade with a business card at a party, hmmm?).

[End Part 1 of This Post. Click Here For Part 2]

My Best,
Paul

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Paul Russell’s career as a casting director, director, acting teacher and former actor has spanned nearly thirty years. He has worked on projects for major film studios, television networks, and Broadway. Paul has taught the business of acting and audition technique at NYU and has spoken at universities including Yale, Temple and the University of the Arts. He writes a column for Back Stage and is the author of ACTING: Make It Your Business – How to Avoid Mistakes and Achieve Success as a Working Actor. For more information, please visit www.PaulRussell.net.

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