For years, if you wanted to become an actor, you set your sights on Los Angeles or New York City. However, thanks to a generous tax incentive, willing laborers, and a receptive market, the Atlanta area is fast becoming the Hollywood of the South. With film and television productions setting up camp in your own back yard, you know it’s time to fulfill your passion as an actor. But where do you start and what’s the next step in your acting career?
First, take the time to learn your craft. While it may look easy to get in front of the camera and be authentic, it is a skill that requires work and dedication. “One thing that’s always great is to start with training,” notes casting director Alpha Tyler. With a wealth of casting experience that includes work for Warner Brothers, Comedy Central, BET and Tyler Perry Studios, Alpha knows what it takes to be successful. She recommends classes at brick and mortar theatres – places with solid reputations and people who are up-to-date with industry trends.
“You can’t learn to act in two weeks. It’s a process,” notes actor Miles Mussenden. His success, stemming from his breakthrough role on “Army Wives” and an abundance of recent projects including “Stranger Things,” has given him keen insight. “It’s fun, but it’s work. You have to train. You have to take notes. You have to improve.”
The Atlanta area offers a variety of acting classes where you can learn the basics of acting, as well as hone your skills.Another benefit of taking classes is making connections. “You will develop a community of people who are doing what you do,” mentions Alpha. Those connections can lead you to something very valuable: work. As an industry newcomer, seeking out independent productions, working with college student projects, or being an extra can be great avenues to cut your teeth. Miles says he started acting by working with church plays, then did a lot of unpaid work. Once he began receiving more requests to do more projects, he knew it was time to transition into more serious – and paid – opportunities.
In such a situation, your next step may be to get an acting coach. A coach can prepare you for specific auditions, but this can also be a part of your acting training. “Your coach and acting classes can be all in one,” states Miles. He found this arrangement the most beneficial, while others may prefer a class of peers and a separate one-on-one time with a coach. Having a coach is like fine tuning, and can be extremely beneficial when you don’t know exactly how to play a part or approach an audition. Before you get the audition, however, does an agent need to get you in the door?
Not necessarily, according to Alpha. There are some online services, such as Actor’s Access, that allow you to submit for parts directly without an agent. She emphasizes, however, that an actor shouldn’t take the benefits of having an agent for granted. “The great thing about an agent is they are there to guide you and to let you know what projects are out there,” she explains. Agents may have access to people and listings that you won’t. And agents are sometimes required for you to move into the bigger and more lucrative roles. The key, however, is knowing when you are ready to get an agent.
“Everybody thinks they’re ready before they’re actually ready,” Miles says. And when are you ready? First, you’ve trained for it. You know the terminology. You understand what’s required of you. Then, you have something to show for your efforts. You’ve gotten roles. An agent needs confidence in what you can do, and in reality, that you can derive income. Develop those skills that will garner larger roles and make an agent hungry to find work for you.
Then there’s your calling card – a headshot. Everybody has them. You know you need them. But at what point? From whom? And what should they look like? When you start going to auditions, you need to have a headshot. “You want to look for a professional studio to take headshots,” Alpha advises. She recommends looking at the work of photographers you are considering to ensure they can provide the look you want.
To figure out that look, peruse the website of agencies you want to join. Look at the headshots they feature. See how their talent look. That will give you an idea of what types of pictures you want, and what catches their eye. Other actors serve as great resources for legitimate photographers. At the end of the day, Miles emphasizes, “A headshot is not a glamour shot for you to look beautiful. It’s to get you seen by the casting director.”
Alpha also points out that it’s not wise to spend all of your money on a picture if you haven’t got much “substance.” “Develop your resume,” she says. “Develop more of your skills. Can you sing? Do you have any special skills that someone might one day need? Do you speak a foreign language?”
At the end of the day, she offers sound advice. “Do seek training. Do be patient. Be prepared when the opportunity presents itself.”
Is your child a star?
When Nicholas Newton was 6 years old, his mom noticed his excitement for being on stage. “We were looking for a way to harness Nick’s natural love for people, outgoing personality and ability to remember things well,” says his mom, Maria Newton. Acting was a natural fit for her now 14-year-old son. You may also believe acting is a natural fit for your child, and want to get him started in the business. There are some key points you should keep in mind.
DO invest in education for your child. Acting classes, an acting coach, camps and workshops helped Nick develop.
DO your homework. “Become very informed about the industry and how it works,” Maria cautions.
DO encourage your child. Make sure she understands that you love her regardless of the outcome of an audition or performance.
DON’T be a stage parent. When you as a parent are demanding, difficult, and unreasonable, it impacts your child’s ability to work.
DON’T leave your child unsupervised. Never allow him to get into a questionable or compromising situation.
DON’T pay a ton of money based on a perceived promise. Maria states, “There are no guarantees in this industry. Period.”