10 steps to launching your acting career from scratch
Whether it’s through blogging, coaching or performing I meet all sorts of actors new to the profession who want to know what to do to get things moving; how to get on to Spotlight, how to get an agent, how to get that first job. If you’re in the same boat - starting from scratch, switching to acting from another profession or even if you’ve just graduated and are a little bit lost - this blog is for you.
Step 1 to launching your career: Go to class
If you don’t have the time, money or patience for full-blown drama school training, part-time classes are the way to go. Acting classes will build your skills and confidence plus you’ll meet lots of other performers who’ll support you and help you make useful early connections. Pick somewhere that doesn’t require you to have a bunch of credits or previous training; in London, for example, The Unseen or City Academy.
Step 2: Understand your casting
Narrowing down your casting will provide you with two big benefits early on. Firstly, you’ll be able to present a clear picture to casting teams of what you offer. Secondly, as you wade through lists of auditions on casting sites (see step 7), you’ll be able to zero in on the ones that are right for you, saving you loads of time and upping your chances of success.
Although you probably feel you have the ability to play lots of different types of roles, at early stages it’s unlikely casting teams will have seen much of your work, so focus on breaking down your look, skills and connections to countries and regions. Use the selling points worksheet on this site to find what to highlight; whether it’s that you’re a musical talent, have family from all over the world, are 6ft 7, or a dab-hand on the sports field.
A quick note here. Some actors fear this approach will lead to type-casting or that they will be limiting themselves in some way. Don’t worry about this at early stages; you’re simply looking to get a foot on the ladder in a competitive industry. Later down the line, as more casting teams see your work, you’ll get a chance to display your range. As one actor interviewed for The Actor’s Career Bible describes, your best bet early on is to pick out “at least one easily identifiable category so people have a basis to cast you from”.
Step 3: Get a photo
The next step is to capture your main casting type/s in a photo. If you’re dipping your toe in to the acting industry and have absolutely no budget then you can get away with a well-lit, simple head-and shoulders photo taken on a good camera. However, if you’re serious about acting then a headshot taken by a specialist is the way to go. Whether you're on a tighter budget or have some cash to spend, use the advice in The Actor’s Career Bible and the worksheet here to find the right photographer for you.
Step 4: Create a CV
One casting director I interviewed described using actors’ CVs like “a map”. Even if you don’t have much to put on there yet, a CV is another opportunity to highlight your casting types, your skills, as well as any training and credits you do have. A simple personalised CV can be attached to your email applications and will help you when you join casting sites (see step 7).
Step 5: Create your pitch
Your “pitch” is a list of your strengths that you can highlight when you apply for jobs. Casting teams don’t have time to read long cover letters but they do want to know that you are an expert in the accent they’re looking for or exactly the right height for the role they’re casting. Make a list of all the aspects of your casting based on the selling points worksheet here, and you’ll have a pitch ready to go when you start applying for roles.
Step 6: Smarten up your email
“Always look professional!” is the simple advice of one casting director interviewed for The Actor’s Career Bible, and smartening up your email is a quick and easy way to make a good impression. Choose a professional address, include photos and signatures and learn how to use links; see chapter three of the book to help you.
Step 7: Create a simple showreel
You don’t need a fully edited reel stuffed with professional footage when you first start out. “Any sort of showreel is useful for us to reference,” one casting director I interviewed explains, while a fringe-theatre director adds, “I just want to see what you look like and how you come across”. Shooting a monologue on your phone is a good option for actors new to the profession. The advice from casting teams is choose a simple piece that shows off your main casting type/s, use your own accent and filmed in portrait framing.
Step 8: Join your first casting site
Actors I’ve interviewed attribute lots of their important firsts to casting sites: “My first audition”; “My first paid gig”; “My first agent”. The sites can also be really useful for building up your showreel and making industry connections.
If you don’t yet have many professional credits or training, one actor and regular casting-site user advises testing restricted sites by being a little creative: “Put down any shows or showcases you’ve done for courses and short films as well.” But don’t worry if you don’t immediately get accepted on bigger sites like Spotlight. They explain you can use other sites “where you don’t need any experience or you need to have a single credit to join, applying for jobs that will earn you access to other more restricted sites.” A good starting point is a site like the Stage Castings.
Step 9: Network
“Networking” was often a confusing and groan-inducing topic for performers interviewed for The Actor’s Career Bible. However, as one busy actor-interviewee explains, “you don’t have to sell, sell, sell,” and with the right advice, networking can be a lot simpler and less stressful than you might imagine. Networking for actors is a broad term, covering anything you do to strengthen your current industry relationships, and anything you do to create new ones. This includes going to class, following casting teams on social media, taking up opportunities offered by industry organisations, seeing shows, attending talks and workshops, collaborating on your friends’ and your own projects, and even hanging out more with your actor-mates.
Step 10: Focus … and practise patience
Actors new to the profession will often want to know “How do I get into films?” or “How do I get an agent?” This of course is completely understandable; everyone wants to be successful as quickly as possible. But this kind of mindset can actually be detrimental to your chances. It’s easy to get distracted by others’ success or an idea of where you want to be. But you’ll be much better served if you focus on the nine steps listed above, and much less likely to miss more realistic opportunities that you can later build on. Like most actors starting out, you’ll only have so much time and budget available. So if you feel stretched, focus on a little-and-often approach. Be consistent with going to class, using casting sites and networking. Work on your existing skills, brush up anything rusty, and learn new ones when you get the chance. Update your photo, showreel and CV when they go out of date and you have the budget. Make sure you’ve got a second job that keeps you afloat financially and you have a life outside of acting to keep you balanced and upbeat. And whatever happens as you start your path in to the acting profession, hold on to the advice of this career coach interviewed for the book: “Things won’t happen as quickly as you think they will, and actors can be heavily demoralised by this. But you are doing the right things! It just takes longer than you realise.”
For more advice from industry-insiders, see The Actor's Career Bible book, available now.