Advice and How-To's Especially for ACTORS!

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Tuesday, September 14, 2010

Musical Theater Actors Breaking into On-Camera Work

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I recently received an email from Meredith, a musical theater actor who wanted to know how to break into film & television. Here in New York City, this is a very common question, especially as the economy starts to rebound and production tax credits get handed out, which lure more and more production to NYC.

She says:

Hi Erin, I love your blog, very helpful. I know you must get thousands of these questions but I was wondering what your advice is about starting a career in TV and Film. I have a degree in Musical Theater but I want to crossover into TV and film. I have been thinking about registering with Central Casting. Are there auditions I can get other than background acting? I know to get an agent you need to have at least a few credits to your name. I just wanted to get your input. Thanks very much! Sincerely, Meredith

Hi, Meredith! I’m very glad to answer this- thank you for writing. First off, having an on-camera career is not as different as one might think from musical theater (I’m sorry, what?) It’s true. I was working on a singer’s showcase, and the director and I were talking about my deep love for both musicals and film/TV (which I pursue equally and passionately.) Let’s face it, they seem to have opposing viewpoints- musicals are larger than life, and film/TV focuses on the inner life of the character. Further, one of the biggest differences between on-camera and theater is where the audience’s attention is focused. On film/tv, by editing the footage a very specific way the director tells the audience where they need to look. In theater, it is up to the audience member to create their experience using their own lens, looking at whatever part of the stage (and whatever actor) they choose. However, in musical theater, this focus is sharpened when an actor begins to sing a solo. When the music plays, and the spotlight lands on the principal singer, you get a similar effect as a director slowly zooming in on its lead actor - everyone’s attention is on that singer, and the singer has a rare moment to let their inner life show. It’s very similar to having a camera on you on set/

When I coach actors on transitioning from theater to film, I often hear actors’ concern about being “too big for the camera.” Being too big is a huge problem in any acting arena, regardless of whether you’re acting on stage or on set. One way to combat over-acting is to understand where your audience is. In a theater, this is easy - you can see your audience. And a theater actor naturally knows how to modify their performance to reach the back of a 300 seat house versus a 3000 seat house. But when working on set (or in an audition) with a camera, it is hard to tell where your audience is. To make sure that you aren’t overdoing it, ask the casting director (or director, if you’re on a shoot) what the framing of the shot is. Is it a close up? If so, you imagine that your audience is right in front of your face, and you modify your performance accordingly. Is it a two-shot, featuring both you and your scene partner sitting at a table? Most likely, your audience will be as close as a nearby table, so your performance will be a little bigger than the close-up but still smaller than a wide angle or a “master shot” which takes in the entire scene. To reiterate, theater actors already know how to do this, you simply need to apply what you know to this new medium. If you remember that your audience is the person sitting at home or in the theater, and you ask the director what the framing is, you’ll have a good idea how to adjust your performance.

On to your second question about finding auditions - I am assuming, since you mentioned Central Casting, that you live in NYC (or perhaps LA?) Regardless, one of the best ways to get started in on-camera work is to submit for student films. There are nearly a dozen film programs in NYC, all of whom need actors to contribute to their projects. The most highly regarded programs are from the 4 years schools (like NYU, Columbia, Hofstra) but you can also look into the other programs (School of Visual Arts/SVA, NY Film Academy/NYFA, School of Film & Television/SFT, etc.)

You can find audition notices for these kinds of projects in the traditional casting arenas. You can check out one of my other posts on Reputable Casting Sites for Auditions to find out the best places to find film/TV auditions.

I hope this is useful - please let me know if you have any other questions! You can shoot me an email or leave a comment on this blog.

Erin Cronican's career as a professional actor and career coach has spanned the last 25 years in New York City, Los Angeles and San Diego. She has appeared in major feature films and on television, and has done national tours of plays and musicals. She has worked in the advertising & marketing departments of major corporations, film production companies, theater magazines, and non-profit acting organizations. To learn more, check out http://www.theactorsenterprise.org.

Friday, September 10, 2010

Forgetting Your Lines: Deal-breaker?

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Picture this: You finally get cast in the role of your dreams, and you’ll be working with a fantastic group of people to bring the play to the masses. You rehearse for weeks (some, even months) and can't wait to get the show on its feet. You know your lines, you have your motivations, and your present to your scene partners, making it possible to create the "illusion of the first time" every time you do the show. And then, it happens... you "dry" on stage (more commonly known as "going blank" or "forgetting your lines.") What is an actor to do?

I just received a question on this topic from a reader named Christopher:

"I have just finished a successful run in a play in which I played the lead male part in 'Arsenic and Old Lace.' The only blot in the show (at least as far as I was aware) was me dropping a line and corpsing for a few moments on the last night. I was mystified and am extremely angry with myself as I knew the lines very well having worked my socks off in preparing for and performing the role. I know anything unpredicted (almost) can happen in live theatre. Is there any advice, however, or comment you can give to encourage actors who will face similar situations?"

Hi, Christopher- thanks for your question! I am sure there are tons of actors in the same predicament, and I am so thrilled to be able to address this on the blog. The best encouragement I can offer is two-fold:

1) Give yourself a break. It happens to everyone, even the best of actors, and it's part of what makes live theater exciting.
2) Audiences rarely notice that an actor misses a line. They may notice something shifted in the performance, but they rarely know what causes it. And in those rare moments where they do notice it, it reminds the audience that they are seeing live theater, which is exciting!

Losing your lines can happen for many reasons, most notably: a) being too tense and not being present in the scene; or b) being too relaxed and not focused on the action of the scene. Make sure that you are really listening to your scene partner and working off them- this should help in those moments when you think you might go blank.

Since it is inevitable that, at some, point, every actor goes blank on stage, the best way to handle it in the moment is to try to move forward with a sense of humor. Try going onto YouTube and looking for clips of live performances where actors forget their lines- often times they say something funny, the audience starts to laugh, and once everyone relaxes they are able to move into the next moment. Even in a drama, where laughing is less desirable, keeping your humor about you will help you to get through the moment with more ease -- which is better for everyone involved.

Lastly, shake it off when the show is over. Like I said, the audience will rarely notice what the problem is. And luckily, you'll have another day to try again, another thing of beauty in live theater.

I hope this helps- please let me know if you need anything else!

Erin Cronican's career as a professional actor and career coach has spanned the last 25 years in New York City, Los Angeles and San Diego. She has appeared in major feature films and on television, and has done national tours of plays and musicals. She has worked in the advertising & marketing departments of major corporations, film production companies, theater magazines, and non-profit acting organizations. To learn more, check out http://www.theactorsenterprise.org.

Tuesday, September 7, 2010

Twitter Questions: Monologues & Auditions

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From time to time, my followers on Twitter will ask me questions, and I respond to them using the traditional 140 character responses. I thought I would take some of those and compile them here for your viewing enjoyment! (To get in on the action, join me over on Twitter by clicking here.)

@willis_trips asks: Need a good 1 minute #monologue recommendation that fits my type. MUST BE from #film or #tv. Any suggestions?

(1) You want to choose something unrecognizable, so that folks don't try to compare you to the original actor
(2) I'd do some research on up-and-coming actors who are your type, find out what movies they've done, and find those scripts
(3) Try to find indies or straight to video projects that no one has seen. For TV, research shows that hire actors of your type.


@blankethouse asks: So I have an audition tomorrow. They asked me to do a 2-3 min monologue, so I wrote one. What tips do u have for me? :)

Bring as much of yourself to the room as possible, do your best to start your piece already emotionally full, and let your joy of performing shine through!


Anonymous asks: I am going on for one of the these “Twitter Generals” with an agent in LA. What questions should I ask?

(1) Good questions would be about your marketing package- does your headshot/resume match the person that walks in the room.
(2) If you do an audition piece, does the piece you selected match the person who walked in the room as well as the marketing materials
(3) Also, you can ask his opinion about your marketing plan to see if he has suggestions for attracting better work, and...
(4) Ask questions about how he helps actors at your level of career.


Anonymous asks (via Formspring.me): Hi There, I have a blinking problem! Whenever I recently took an acting course and saw my dvd after and couldn't believe how much I blinked, according to my friends, I don't do it often in real life except when I'm nervous, or tired. Have you ever heard of this?

Yes- I have heard of this problem, and it usually comes from a lack of focus... in real life and on stage. When, as an actor, you are focused on the action of the scene, nervous ticks like blinking and trembling usually disappear. This is normally handled by staying in an ongoing acting class where you can practice these skills, but also by getting up in front of people as much as possible to become more comfortable.


Have a question? Join me on Twitter or Formspring, or shoot me an email. I am always happy to help!

Erin Cronican's career as a professional actor and career coach has spanned the last 25 years in New York City, Los Angeles and San Diego. She has appeared in major feature films and on television, and has done national tours of plays and musicals. She has worked in the advertising & marketing departments of major corporations, film production companies, theater magazines, and non-profit acting organizations. To learn more, check out http://www.theactorsenterprise.org.

Saturday, September 4, 2010

Gifts for Casting Directors- Yay or Nay?

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From time to time I received emails from actors who follow me on Twitter or Facebook, or through the various websites where I am a guest blogger. This week I received a message from Justin, who had a specific question about the protocol for thanking casting directors after an audition. In an age where it is becoming increasingly difficult to make yourself stand ou from the pack, what is appropriate?

Here’s what he wrote:
Hi Erin!

I follow you on twitter and I wanted to ask you a quick question. I love all your tweets and advice and totally plan on setting up a meeting with you once I get in a better place financially. I recently crashed an audition for the 1st national tour of a well known musical, for a role I’m totally right for. The casting director had no problem seeing me for it but I didn't end up booking it. I wanted to send him a thank you card and I have heard of people putting gift cards (usually Starbucks) in them. Do you think that’s a good idea or does it seem creepy/desperate actor type? Hope to hear from you soon.

Thanks!
Justin

Hi, Justin! Thank you so much for your email- you posed a really good question, one that I think a lot of actors would like the answer to.

There are only one occasion where I would suggest sending a gift, and that would be AFTER you booked a role. Actually being cast is a good reason to send a little token of appreciation, because their faith in you has resulted in a good credit (along with a pay check!) But I would avoid sending gifts to casting directors for any other reason. Some will interpret that as a bribe, and it won't always work out in your favor.

The same goes for agents - you may consider sending a gift to them AFTER they have negotiated a deal for you, or at the end of the year as a holiday gift -- but only if you are signed/freelancing with them. Try to avoid giving gifts if you do not already have a strong working relationship.

That all being said, thank-you cards are always appreciated, so I highly encourage you do send one. Be sure to include your photo somehow - I usually insert my photo business card into the thank-you card, that way they can connect a face with a name.

I hope this helps- I would love to work with you, so let me know if you need any other support!

Erin Cronican's career as a professional actor and career coach has spanned the last 25 years in New York City, Los Angeles and San Diego. She has appeared in major feature films and on television, and has done national tours of plays and musicals. She has worked in the advertising & marketing departments of major corporations, film production companies, theater magazines, and non-profit acting organizations. To learn more, check out http://www.theactorsenterprise.org.

Friday, September 3, 2010

Testimonial for Design Services - Yay!

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As many of you know, I have been doing graphic/web design for actors for many years now, but recently I have been collecting feedback from my clients about how their materials have been incorporated into their overall marketing plan. I have been humbled and warmed by the responses I have received, including this incredible testimonial from one of my clients, and I wanted to share it with you all:

Erin offers a unique mix of business sense and real-world acting experience that makes her unbeatable when it comes to career advice. She is extremely professional and fun to work with, and really knows how to craft a “brand” out of a working actor’s career.  She created a stunning set of business cards and a polished, professional website for me, helping me to better promote myself with coordinated marketing materials that always earn compliments from my colleagues. Living in another city, I was amazed at Erin’s ability to gauge my personality and preferences from afar. She made recommendations that were spot-on, helping me to better hone my “type” and then translating that image into a focused set of products.  Most importantly, she empowers actors to take charge of their own careers – no matter where they’re starting from, or where they’re headed. Working with Erin is a sound investment for any actor at any stage of their career.

Mark Linehan- Boston, Mass
(click here to see Mark's website)


So, what are you waiting for? Check out my design services, or shoot me an email to find out how coordinating your marketing materials can make a big difference for your career. (And the best news is... it’s less expensive than you think!)

Erin Cronican's career as a professional actor and career coach has spanned the last 25 years in New York City, Los Angeles and San Diego. She has appeared in major feature films and on television, and has done national tours of plays and musicals. She has worked in the advertising & marketing departments of major corporations, film production companies, theater magazines, and non-profit acting organizations. To learn more, check out http://www.theactorsenterprise.org.

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