How to Successfully Accept Criticism & Praise

Paul RussellEveryone has got a f-ing position.

…And I’m not talking about fav fetish or predilection of sexual gymnastics. But everyone does have a position—an opinion—on something. Too often the subjective observations are fished from Snide Swamp.

Celebs and pols (short-hand for politicians), and spotlight seekers handle the white glare of unwanted heat with asbestos skin: at least publicly. We non-spotlight mortals may not fare as well.

Human nature is wired to focus on the negative over the positive. We’re drawn to it like injury claim lawyers are to car crashes on the Jersey Turnpike. Before you shake your head in denial that you yourself are not-guilty of this non-pleasurable foible let’s rumble down your memory’s lane.

How many times have you received praise for a performance or deed but then in the midst of that praise there was one critical response? A less than enthusiastic kneel before your feet, or a rejection against drinking the Kool-Aid that is your brilliance? Remember that nasty remark made by an antagonist who pleasures in pointing out fault over favor? Now with your memory jogged how much did the one critical comment obscure the plethora of praise? Come on, be honest. It had to irk you a bit. If so, you stepped onto the land mine that is the negative booby-trap.

F**k the negative.

And recall that criticism is a synonym for opinion. Got it? It’s not a judgment chiseled in granite. There is no Supreme Court (other than your parents) handing out verdicts of shame upon you. Only you (and yes maybe the parental units) do that. Stop distressing. Flee the negative.

And damn the positive.

Praise positive and critics negative cannot be the barometer for how you measure your success or failure.  If you focus on either you’ll become lost in a forest of distorted mirrors: forever seeing reflections that are projections provided by others. Smash the mirrors. Govern your own way out of the thicket of thorns and protective pines.

Reflect on comments given after the sting of negativity or the euphoria of praise has passed. Once emotionally removed from the point of impact your objectivity will know whether to
alter what is not effective (criticism), or build on a well-structured foundation (praise). Or, once time has passed and your objectivity returns, you may find yourself dismissing comments negative and/or positive. Either way; push forward.

Pre-P.S. Please, no opinion notes to me that this was an opinion about opinions. Infinity mirrors belong in one of two places: day-rate motels, and South Philly row homes.

And yes, that was an opinion about having an opinion within an opinion piece.  At least that’s my opinion.

My best,
Paul

AMIYB_AmazonRead advice from legendary talent agents,
plus Hollywood & Broadway actors in Paul Russell’s Best-Selling Book ACTING: Make It Your Business!

 

 

 

 

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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 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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Paranoia, Phonies & “Phrauds”

This week: Actor Apprehension, Apocryphal Agents & Con “Casting”

I despise thieves of thespians and the shadow these delinquents cast upon honest professionals.

Despite having been an actor prior to jumping the audition table to directing and casting, it wasn’t until the release of my book, as well as teaching and writing for various publications—when my visibility went from ‘that guy behind the audition table’ to ‘that Paul Russell behind the audition table’—that I fully realized just how cautious actors are about relatively unknown-to-them casting, representation and/or educational opportunities.

My anonymity, which I greatly enjoy, and career stature had lulled me into a false sense of security that actors were trusting of entertainment professionals. Wrong. Oops. My bad naïveté.

Colleagues of mine—reputable agents, veteran casting directors, established teachers and other long-career-termed entertainment professionals—and I are suspect to a segment of the acting community. Why? Several reasons. First and foremost is because younger and/or newbie actors pay little attention to industry history. (Except possibly that Rent was some sort of songy-thing that came to Broadway after the movie—or was that High School Musical?—both answers incorrect, by-the-by.)

Second reason for reticence is the shysters and cons that sadly exist in our trade. While on this side of the audition table, I was peripherally aware of dubious entities on the Internet and the brick-and-mortar shams: The strip-mall ‘talent and modeling agencies’ or online ‘casting call-boards’ that lure starry-eyed hopefuls with a promise of career advancement for a hefty registration fee… and, “Oh, that’ll be an additional $1,500 for pictures with our photographer” bullshit.

Often these backers of the promissory plastic notes of notoriety were less-than-promising professionals. They were sub-cellars far below my foundation. I believed that most actors were above falling for the piranha ploys, able to decipher the genuine from the faux-pros.

I was woefully idealistic.

During one of my classes, students and I were talking about those who exploit the hopes of actors—in particular, one organization that calls itself a ‘casting agency.’ The alleged NYC ‘castings office’ (emphasis on ‘NYC’ and the second ‘s’ in ‘castings’ and you may know who I’m talking about) contacts actors by phone with a sales pitch that, for a fee, they will register you within their files—which they then make available to talent reps. Actors buy this drivel.

Excuse me?!?!?!

Okay, first of all: A legitimate casting office will never, ever ask for money to keep your picture and resume on file. Never.

Secondly, casting directors do not submit talent to agents. Agents submit talent to casting offices. A casting office’s clients are producing entities. Actors are not clients of a casting office. Actors (you) are our resource for solving puzzles. We don’t ask you for money in relation to casting. We don’t get a commission if you book a job. We don’t get kickbacks. For our work in organizing and finding talent, our clients (the producers) pay us a fee. Casting is, as I’ve often said, nothing more than glorified human resources. We’re talent headhunters.

Back to my student and the paranoia-and-piranha problem.

As I listened to the voicemail from the NYC ‘castings office,’ with the telemarketer drolly promising thespians triumph in the trade, I got angry. No… that’s too polite. I was livid. Pissed.

It’s these practitioners of phishing performers for pence and pennies that by merely existing bleed-and-breed distrust among performers towards the true professionals. That actors’ mistrust that blankets us all with ire on both sides of the legitimate audition table.

Sometimes that mistrust is warranted when purportedly professional people cross the line into unprofessional behavior. The most recent example I encountered being when one student of mine began speaking of his agent in Philadelphia.

The Philadelphia agent provides her clients with copies of breakdowns from Breakdown Services (which is an act of illegal copyright infringement). She also allegedly provides her clients with agency letterhead and labels. She then suggests to the people she is supposed to be servicing that they take it upon themselves to submit for projects they believe to be appropriate.

I was hoping that maybe my student was wrong, but when he forwarded me an email a few days later that was sent to him by the ‘agent,’ it did contain a breakdown from Breakdown Services along with instructions for the actor on how to submit themselves to Bernard Telsey.

I was enraged. I took a breath. Relaxed. And then I alerted Breakdown Services. That ‘agent’s’ behavior is not, repeat, not professional, legal or typical of what a legitimate talent agent’s responsibilities are.

A legitimate talent agent, franchised by the unions to represent actors within a union’s membership, is the only person authorized to submit an actor via a breakdown released on Breakdown Services on behalf of an agency.

(Self-submission via Actor’s Access is different, if you’re wondering. But if you’ve read my prior posts on breakdowns, you know that Actor’s Access doesn’t include access to the really good breakdowns. Sorry.)

I was annoyed. And yes, angered by practices of questionable or illegal motives of persons and entities that take advantage of artists (or anyone). An actor’s life is difficult enough in trying to survive financially. Exploitation beyond and within our ranks has me wanting any of the practitioner’s balls on a spit. And if the felonious don’t have testicles, I’ll take teeth as substitutes.

So what is an actor to do to differentiate the legit from the illegitimate?

Do your homework. Investigate. And by investigate, I don’t mean rely on Internet message boards where anyone with keyboard courage and a need for anti-depressants can flame-out a rant without accountability.

Ask working professionals who are actively engaged in your field about opportunities that are presented to you. And don’t assume because you or someone you ask hasn’t heard of a particular industry professional or entity that either is not above board. I’m often inquired of by actors who ask me about producing entities or industry people of which I’ve no knowledge. My reply is always, “I don’t know them, but that doesn’t mean anything other than that I’m ignorant to who that is.” No one is omnipresent (except maybe Oprah).

Caution is fine when used with reason and knowledge. Don’t be quick to cast-off an opportunity because you haven’t heard of them. There are many respected people working diligently behind the scenes that not everyone has heard of. Do you know: Kevin Huvane, Pat McCorkle, Richard Rose, Kim Miscia, John Clinton Eisner, David Kalodner, Sarah Fargo, Larry Hirschorn, Francine Maisler….?  Hopefully you do. If not, Google my friend, Google.

Now back to those frauds… Where’s my barbecue spit?

My Best,
Paul

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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Actors Effectively Using Social Media

This week: Modern Actor Marketing via a Modem

I found a wonderful status on Facebook recently:

“Christopher Stadulis TODAY – Auditioning for a role on Law & Order: SVU & auditioning with CD Jamie Schulman (Jen Euston Casting) & CD Jessica Kelly (Chrystie Street Casting) THURSDAY – auditioning with Agent Holly Vegter (Hartig-Hilepo Agency)”

One day later it was followed by an updated status:

“Christopher Stadulis got a callback for L&O:SVU! Just finished auditioning with CD Jonathan Strauss who loved my work. He wants me to go back today @ 4:15 to audition with the Director of this episode of L&O:SVU. Then I will be meeting & auditioning with CD’s Jessica Kelly (Chrystie Street Casting) & Jamie Schulman (Jen Euston Casting).”

Finally! An actor, among the thousands who have friended me as a “networking receptacle” using their Facebook status for something other than telling me:

  • My cat is in heat and so am I.
  • I hate life and people. You should too!
  • I just took this quiz to find out that my personality for religious sects is: Amish.

People (i.e. bitter career-barren-actors) have written nasty notes to me that I utilize Facebook as a marketing tool for my book ACTING: Make It Your Business and for my classes. My reply? “Why, yes. Yes, I do. I’m also marketing my career as both a director and casting director and dispensing casting and career information at no cost to actors. Got a problem with that?”

And here’s something I don’t openly share (until now); I’m not thrilled with having to be a self-described “marketing whore” but when it comes to survival we all have to have a bit of the selling slut in each of us. Online social networks have become a modern medium for everyone to sell their wares with the least amount of cost for the most return.

As I replied to a mean-spirited missive from one actor (I’ve never met) who friended me to market himself:

“Facebook is a marketing tool for all. Know that our office daily receives inquiries and requests from actors to attend their shows (often at a cost to us), seek representation (of which we do not do since we are not an agency), provide employment (of which we’re happy to offer access if the actor is avail., willing and correct for a project).”

What I really wanted to reply was, “You friended me. Stop bitching and market yourself.”

In my classes I often instruct my students to watch what I do on Facebook, Twitter and MySpace and excel past me. Some do. Others remain timid. It’s timidity that keeps one from advancing.

Joining a Facebook or MySpace group that is administered by a casting office, producer, director, theater or an actor collective is not actively marketing oneself. It’s passive and lazy. Friending same and expecting the person you networked to suddenly look upon you as brilliant for your talent just because you’re on their friend list will garner the similar response; electronic crickets.

Like Christopher Stadulis, put in your status something of use. Provide career advancing information to the person(s) you’re networking. Let the people from whom you want notice know that others are noticing you for your talents and/or achievements.

I recently had a student who exploited Facebook well with the release of his film The Graduates. For weeks he would put in his status, links to trailers for the film plus announce screenings and praise for his performance. A few of his friends may have tired of the promotion but what kind of friends were they if they didn’t support and encourage his achievement?

If you’ve joined an online social network you should be seeking out directors, writers, producers, agents and casting directors. And not just the household/industry name names… go for the up-and-comers. They’re the ones who need you as much you need them. Find industry people who have friends in common with you. Strangers are more apt to electronically accept a virtual friend if they see there are a number of mutual friends between themselves and the person inviting the online friendship. They’ll ignore the ignore button for fear that they may offend someone whom they may have met but can’t recall. It’s that fear, doubt and potential for embarrassment that is the Achilles heel to a stranger’s friend list.

If you’re not comfortable with networking online. That’s O.K. You’re leaving open vacancies to be filled. Thousands of other people are taking your place and their fearlessness to network is putting them ahead of you in this journey that is life.

I’ll be the first to admit that I hate promoting myself. Always have and probably forever will. But I’ve learned to deal with my squeamishness of selling out of necessity (medical bills, rent, food, etc). If I didn’t get a reality check I wouldn’t have worked on Broadway, wouldn’t have done films for 20th Century Fox, gone would be my directing credits, and never would my book have been published by Random House. I also would not have been able to share my insights here with you. My fear would have left my life empty. And it did for awhile at the beginning of my career to which I have great regret. What I missed can never be recovered. For I’ll never know what opportunities I let pass me by for my being passive.

The choice is yours. Use effectively the social network tools provided. Or ignore them and they’ll ignore you.

My best,
Paul

AMIYB_AmazonRead advice from legendary talent agents,
plus Hollywood & Broadway actors in Paul Russell’s Best-Selling Book ACTING: Make It Your Business!

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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A Pass on Passing

This week: “The road you didn’t take hardly comes to mind… does it?”

My recent auditions-by-appointment for the Barter Theatre were a cause for celebration and sad reflection. The reason for this double-edged casting sword? George W. Bush.

For the first time, ever since I began casting nearly two decades ago, not one actor passed on an audition-by-appointment for lack of interest. None. Nada. Zip. I’ve been involved with casting for Broadway, major film studios, television projects and regional theater and always the actor pass rate averages 1 to 2 percent per project. Actors pass on the opportunity to audition for reasons ranging from; they didn’t want to work, didn’t like the project or they were just being flakes. The latter a far too common ailment within this business (on either side of the table).

So here I was. Finally having all appointments called out and given a one hundred percent confirm rate by agents. I wish I could celebrate. But how can one celebrate desperation brought upon by what I refer to our present economy as the Bush Legacy.

I find it sad that fear has caused actors to do their job. Accept auditions for which they are available. The offer of potential work being passed upon by actors has always pissed me off. I never understood the mentality. Especially among the represented thespian set who pass on an opportunity that may bring new career connections, an additional credit on the resume, exposure and oh… yes, a paycheck.

When actors in the past would pass on a paying project of mine I took it personally (I’ve been accused of being too sensitive and if you tell anyone, I’ll slap you silly).  But yes, I’ve been dejected for being rejected. I soon got over myself. I wasn’t being rejected. The passing, available actors were refusing an opportunity by being short-sighted, lazy or both. They were hurting their careers, not mine. And while I no longer take passes personal I won’t deny that I do get a bit of “I-told-you-so” satisfaction when I run into an unemployed actor who passed on one of my projects that is either in rehearsal or production when our run-in happens.

Karma and a gay man can both be bitches.

To those not represented who read this blog, all this may seem unbelievable that actors pass on opportunities of paid employment within their chosen profession (and by paid, I mean a living wage). I thought so too when I was an actor. But it happens. Often. And more so as actors believe themselves to be a bigger name than they really are within the industry. Now those same big-headed actors are begging to take regional theater or day player jobs. Just goes to show that survival will make one do the most sensible of choices.

I’m delighted that no one passed on the recent appointments. I’m not at all thrilled that George W. Bush and Wall Street brought reason to what should be normal; actors willing to accept opportunities for employment. Maybe my father, a devout Republican actually is right in being Right. Oh good God no. Next!

Post Script: I cursed myself. Damn it. After years at this game of entertainment I know better than to announce or write about anything  until final curtain or paycheck; whichever comes first.

I wrote the above blog weeks ago, the weekend prior to going into auditions. On my voice mail the night before the auditions were messages that three actors canceled their confirmed appointments. Each, through their individual representation, gave the same reason for backing out at the last minute; they wanted to stay in town (i.e. NY) for potential projects that may come up. Really?! In the dead of summer? The most activity in July and August in a NY casting office is an intern taking an hour to open five actor submissions (interns seem to loose all cogitative skills when challenged with opening actor mail).

O.K. let’s look past my being peeved at being left with three holes in my schedule. Those three coveted slots (competition and time was tight) could have gone to three actors I had on my hold list.  But the passes came too late. At this moment there could be an unemployed actor out there who could have been seen in one of those slots and who aced the audition and would now have gainful employment for the next few months (plus health insurance weeks). To that unknown, thank your passing, procrastinating  peers for an opportunity lost.

So, the record remains unbroken. Hundreds upon hundreds of projects I’ve cast from film to TV to Broadway to regional theater and not one of those projects went without at least one person passing. Grrrrrrrr.

Actors desperate for work? Ha! I sometimes muse if that’s a myth.

[The LAST July One-on-One Career & Audition Technique Coaching begins this week. Get it before someone else does @ Classes.]

My Best,

Paul
Paul Russell Casting
SDC Director | Author, ACTING: Make It Your Business
http://www.PaulRussell.net

 

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Actor Do’s & Don’t’s

This week: Image & marketing tips for actors via video.

prclogolrgPaul is away on vacation fending off bears in the woods. Below is a nine minute clip from a half-hour television interview that aired earlier. Paul talks about how do’s and don’t’s for actor auditioning and marketing.

Paul’s blunt log returns next week with new content.

 

 

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The Cardinal Sin of Auditioning

This week:  Deceitful Actors Who Falsely Audition

Recently as I was sitting in my partner’s office (the talent agency owner) I overheard one side of a heated phone conversation between one of the agents and a client.

“If you go in for Tara Rubin for this audition, just to be seen, without any intent on accepting an offer for the national tour of Young Frankenstein should it come your way…” was how the conversation began as the agent’s temporal veins began to pulse. I knew where this was going. And it wouldn’t be pretty.

Here was an actor, with solid representation, at a better agency, who’d been given an offer for a job in New York which would conflict with the Young Frankenstein national tour. Because he had an offer on hand which was not finalized on paper, auditioning for other projects is the norm in the industry. What is not the appropriate norm was what he wanted to do. He was telling his agent, someone in the business long before said actor was in diapers, that if he got an offer from the Young Frankenstein audition, he would pass. I.e. flip off the offer and creative team. His sole desire to go in for one of the hottest casting offices in New York was that he wanted to use the audition to remind Tara Rubin that he existed.

W.T.F! Excuse me????!!!!!

As the conversation to my left continued, the agent’s pulsating temples were joined in rhythm by her click-clack tapping of manicured finger nails upon the frosted glass of her desk top. I looked to her boss, my partner. He informed me that the actor on the phone was the same young man who came into an audition for me over a year ago, got an offer from my office and client and then passed. He passed because he never wanted the job. He auditioned only because he had yet to be seen by me. He did THIS to a casting director who also was the life-partner to the agent that represented him! (Can anyone say Gaul? Stupidity? Walking selfish-arrogant-anal opening?!)

My partner and I were both supremely peeved. Despite the actor’s foible of giving what basically was a fictitious audition (because he held no truth to professionalism) this “actor” wasn’t dropped. His punishment to date? I refuse to call him in for anything again. Ever.

Never. Repeat. Never. Ever do you as an actor, a professional, go to an audition knowing that you will not accept an offer should you be so lucky as to receive one. As I wrote extensively on this subject in ACTING: Make It Your Business far too many times do actors and academics of the profession live by or impart unto others the mis-informed, moronic mantra, “You should audition for anything and everything even if you’re not right for a role, not available for, or dis-interested in the project being cast.” If you’re not; interested, right for a role or project available, DO NOT AUDITION! Got it?!

You’re wasting the time of your fellow actors who DO want the job and are appropriate for the role(s) being cast. By being false with your audition intent you’re wasting the valuable time and money of the creative personnel who are seeking performers who want immediate employment. Plus, you’re pissing off your peers and the people who hire. Actors and acting academics who believe in the “audition for anything and everything” fable can argue with me and my casting colleagues, talent reps., producers and directors against our professional opinion until they and their tenured professors enroll for the grave. Fine. But you and they should know this: Participate in the foolish, selfish, unprofessional behavior and an early grave is where your career journey prematurely comes to an end with those you practice upon this folly.

You may be thinking…, “How would the casting people, directors or producers know I was auditioning for a project that I had no intent on taking the job if offered?” Hmmmm. Deceit can not hide forever.

In ACTING: Make It Your Business I wrote of an incident in which one rude, selfish, arrogant, asinine actress who auditioned for one of my projects knew going into the audition studio that she would not take the job if offered. What happened? How I knew? What became of her? And what happened when I ran into her afterward…? Well for those who have read that story… you know. And hopefully you’ve learned from her error.

My best,
Paul

AMIYB_AmazonRead advice from legendary talent agents,
plus Hollywood & Broadway actors in Paul Russell’s Best-Selling Book ACTING: Make It Your Business!

 

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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Acting Nuts

This week; Actors Who Leverage Layering

When I work with my students either at NYU, privately, or in my Access to Agents seminars I always work on audition technique and scene study. Often when I venture upon this acting avenue with thespians – viewing what acting skills they have to present – the first foray is just that; presentation. Either the actor plays a singular emotion (“Johnny-one-noting” as I call it) through the entire piece. Or the actor gives me a one dimensional take on the role. When either happens I begin to immediately lose interest. I light-grid. “Light griding” referring to when I zone out at a theater, looking to the light grid, when the action presented on stage has less excitement than watching dead grass grow.

Whenever presentation happens I’m asking, “Where’s the depth? Where are the layers?” The more evolved the choices, the objectives, the twists and turns the more exciting for the viewer watching the actor.

I have two “layer/flavor analogies” that I often provide to an actor when we’re working together once they have fallen into the one dimensional-acting trap.

“Like a potato casserole”, I’ll begin, “with slices of potato both thick and thin layered on top of each other and then covered by a crumbly crust, give me layers within this scene/character.”

When that falls on deaf ears (because God knows potato casserole, a less than palatable  plating, is rarely popular beyond Iowa and parts of Pennsylvania) I go for a better known “food” staple to exhibit my layer/flavor analogy.

“Think of what you’re doing as a Snickers’ bar. You’ve got the nougat, the caramel and the nuts. Those are the layers and flavors. The chocolate that wraps up those flavors is the entire scene itself. What’s inside makes for the content of the scene and character. Play the interior flavors and layers. Give me more choices. More flavor.” Often students give me just the nougat.

The more choices, appropriate to scene, character, motives, objectives and story that an actor provides (without seeming schizophrenic or an actor gone emotionally rouge) the better casting, talent reps. and audience will respond. At worst they’ll think of you as intelligent. At best they’ll think you to be brilliant.

So if you find yourself having trouble with a scene or monologue ask yourself. “Am I playing all the flavors and layers that can be found within this? Or am I just playing the nuts?”

OPPORTUNITY GOING: A side note; this is the last week to sign-up for the few remaining private classes in July under the installment plan of $43.75 per week.

My Best,

Paul

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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