THE READINESS IS ALL
In auditions we don’t fear that we aren’t good enough. We fear that we won’t do our best work. It’s not that we think we’re not good. It’s that we think we won’t be good. I actually think there’s a simple trick to ensuring we can audition fee from that fear: Prepare.
A great audition is two-thirds preparation and one-third bravery.
An actor who walks into the room familiar with the material and confident and courageous in execution will get noticed. In a situation where the end result is dictated mainly by factors out of our control, we have to zero in on the elements we can control. My practice of preparing for auditions has become, like so much of my artistic routine, about sifting through my process and finding the actions that the most impact. If given a side, becoming familiar enough with the words that I can execute an impulse without a piece of paper in front of my eyes is the most important step. That’s the groundwork for a successful audition. Without that foundation my audition will be shallow. Giving the task of ‘reading the side’ over to the character is not compelling acting. Give the character freedom to, with the words, accomplish a more daring task. Anyone can walk into a room and read. We’re special because we can walk into a room and Act.
So, it’s the Boy Scout motto for us: Always Be Prepared.
IT WORKS LIKE A BOOMERANG
Put yourself out there and it’ll come back to you. Pool your resources. Call in your favors. Pull all your strings and use all the ammunition you have.
Strangely enough, though I work in a truly collaborative field where getting a job is all about who you know and everyone seems to know everyone, I often feel like I’m doing this by myself. I’m not. We’re not.
I read a breakdown for a season EPA the other day and planned to go to the audition. Before that, I emailed my college professor because I was pretty sure she knew one of the playwrights/directors for a show in the season. She did, and she sent him an email saying he should keep an eye out for me and mention me to the artistic director. So, I went to the EPA and felt really good about it. (See my previous post.) I got a callback for the play written by my professor’s friend and I was thinking all the dots had been connected and that my professor had helped me get noticed. Turns out, the playwright forgot to mention me to the artistic director. (I met him today at the callback and we talked all about it.) I got the callback all on my own, just because the artistic director, who had never met me, liked my work at the EPA. Y’all - I have never had a callback from an EPA! I’ve been called in by casting directors I know and been called in based on my submissions, but I’ve never been called back cold from an EPA.
I don’t actually think this is a coincidence. I know my connection didn’t actually give me the callback, but I did feel great about this project and my chances and I think that effected things, in both tangible and intangible ways. I put myself out there. I pulled my strings and “the universe” responded.
Another example: Took a workshop tonight with a great NY casting director. There were 15 actors in that class who all randomly signed up with no previous connection. The casting director knew someone from each and every actors’ resume. Every one! We are not alone, everybody. This is a small little universe filled with like, millions of people who all know each other. We’ve gotta use that. We’ve gotta know we’ve got friends in this industry. We’ve got people on our side. Use them. Put yourself out there and, one way or another, it’ll come back you.
THE HABITUAL ACTOR
I’ve recently learned that successful marketing is a habit and not an event. Today I learned that acting is no different.
This audition season has been a little slow for me. I haven’t spent as much time in the room as I’d like. I haven’t created for myself enough opportunities to practice acting. Spurred of late by some inspirational people, and maybe by a looming, workless summer, I’ve had a good couple of outings recently. The room felt comfortable. The monologues felt fresh. I was back in the habit of acting, as if I had never left.
Here’s the thing, y’all - I am a good actor. I mean that in a very fundamental sense.
It think it’s a mistake for us to think of acting as a subjective art; allowing other people to have control over our craft and our individual perceptions. We are constantly judged for our performances and there is no way around that, but that judgment need not be a comment on our ability.
I know how to act just as a carpenter knows how to build a chair. I can walk into an audition room and present you with a chair: four legs or a pedestal; supports a person’s body weight; probably looks something like the accepted idea of a how a chair should look. I’m not saying it’s always a perfect chair. I’m sure that even the best of carpenters has neglected to measure twice and made that third leg too short. I’ve seen lots of wobbly chairs that are still sat upon. Of course, the chair I present in the room might not be to everyone’s liking. Maybe I come in there with a wicker patio seat and they are looking for a bar stool. It’s still a chair. Or maybe, I come in with a great bar stool but they just hate it. Happens. Still a stool.
A carpenter is good at building a chair because he has learned how and practiced. I am good at acting because I have learned some ways how and I have practiced. I have made it a habit. The small hiatuses which have inevitably risen have not robbed me of my learned and practiced craft. Practice is the difference between that which is habitual and what is eventful. That’s why, after weeks of being out of the room I was able to go back in and find success.
All that said, habitual acts must, of course, be habitual. I can’t make the successes of the past few days an event, or I might actually forget how to make a chair.
STEPS ONE THROUGH LIKE… NINE
I know that any frequent readers of my blog are tired of me pulling out my computer every three months and writing about how I’m going to do something. Then, you don’t hear from me for another three months. Hey, at least you can jump to the next blog. This is my life, people! It’s really no good to blog about what I want to do or am planning to do. This is only useful if I write about what I have done or am doing. So, I’m gonna stick to those things. Here’s what I have done/am doing.
I have broken down my career management tasks into two parts:
- Look good on paper.
- Look good online.
When you think about marketing a business you think about reaching out to all possible clients. Get your brand to the right people and make it look good. For my acting business I have decided the first key steps are to strengthen my presence on paper and online.
Here’s what I have done on paper.
- Taken and printed new head shots.
- Ordered postcards for quick and easy audition follow-ups and updates.
- I’m pretty savvy with cover letters and other antiquated mailing techniques, so I should be covered there. Thanks college.
Here’s what I am dong on paper.
- Creating and using a one-sheet for cold mailings and updates.
- Learn to create and use a self-made press release in lieu of postcards for news and updates.
One-sheets and press releases are two things I have never thought to use at this stage in my career. I believed them to be most useful for LA actors, or actors who were more focused on TV/Film or modeling. That goes to show that we should always ask ourselves,“Why not?” Why should I not use these awesome marketing tools? Because most of my actor friends aren’t? Why have I been so afraid to stand out? I think a broad goal for me now is to try and stand out. Not by being anything other than who I am, but by letting people meet me in more creative, bold and intelligent ways. Which leads me to my next set of tasks which will help me look good online. Paper is great, but actors who don’t have a strong online presences are shooting themselves in the foot.
Here’s what I have done online.
- Started Facebook, Twitter, Linkedin and Google+ accounts.
- Built a website. I didn’t do it myself, but used a friend of mine who is starting a web design company. Spend the money - make it look good.
- Shot a demo reel.
- Uploaded that demo all over the place. Facebook, Twitter, Vimeo, my website and even here.
Here’s what I am doing online.
- Linking it all together.
And I think that last point is the most important. It was actually just today that I started effectively linking my online presences and building a nice, neat circle. It’s important that people can go to one site and from there are directed to all my other online outlets. Obviously, my website should be a one-stop-shop. I also want my Twitter followers to be updated on my blog, which is why I have Tumblr automatically Tweet my musings for me. This blog is also updated in real time on my website. I actually have a Wordpress account as well and I try and make a point of putting this blog in both places, though I wish there were a way to do it automatically. My demo is available on YouTube and Vimeo, and you can access both of those through my website, as well as on Facebook. You can also access my Website, Blog, Facebook and Twitter pages through Vimeo and Youtube.
On that note, check out my Vimeo page: https://vimeo.com/nathanwhitmer
A mentor of mine introduced me to Vimeo as a good alternative to Youtube. it’s professional and has great features, especially if you upgrade to Plus or Pro, which I haven’t because it’s expensive. I don’t have a lot of traffic on my page yet, but if you are an actor who has a lot of media this site is a must.
If my blog followers and my twitter followers can become one group and they can all mosey over to my website and see my demo, which they can watch on either Vimeo or Youtube giving me more hits on both, and also visit my Facebook Fan Page (coming soon), I end up with a tight-knit little online community that is very hooked in with the What, When and How of my professional life.
I know this isn’t rocked science and since many of you reading this are bloggers yourself, your online community is probably rocking. It’s just so important that all these little cogs are in place. If I make the right moves with my on-paper marketing people will be directed to my online presence. If I’m in good shape on the web, a few years and a couple of TV Movies later, I’ve got a pretty decent IMDBPro star ranking and Mom and Dad are real proud. The Grandparents won’t know what IMDB is, but they can have copies of the movies on DVD so, this works out for everyone.
BECOMING AN ACTOR
I am once again returning from a rather long hiatus from blogging. This absence from the world of online exposition parallels an equally disappointing break from being an actor altogether. It’s been a bummer.
My friends, and especially my fiancé, Emelie, keep telling me, “Nathan, you’re getting married soon. You have a lot going on. You have to work and save money. It’s okay.” Bla, Bla, Bla… I have been spending a lot of time not acting and not blogging about how I’m not acting and this morning the wake-the-hell-up alarm finally sounded loud enough to penetrate my feeble, stubborn skull.
I took an amazing free seminar with Dallas Travers, a woman feel every professional actor should meet.
It was eye opening and if nothing more, reminded me that I have power and control over my career. I may not have an agent and I may not have a bunch of Broadway credits or, like…any TV/Film experience, but damn it!, I’ve got a hell of a lot of training and some good stories to tell. It’s time to become an actor again!
I’ve got some work to do, and not necessarily the best circumstances in which to work. They’re also also not the worst circumstances, so who’s complaining? Over the next few months I’m gonna be blogging a lot about what happens when I stop making excuses. I’m gonna be writing about what happens when a totally capable actor gets creative and focused about his career.
I think we should all expect good things.
Recently I read a good book by a guy who read another good book that made him change his life. The advice he read in his good book went something like this:
Don’t ask what the world needs. Ask yourself what makes you come alive, and go do that, because what the world needs is people who have come alive.
This advice made that man quit his job and go back to school, and now he has a whole new life that he likes way more than the one he had. Way to go! I’m sure that could happen for me and you and a million other people too. However, doing what makes you come alive is gonna change your everyday life even more than you entire-life life. Recently, I have done a much better job of doing what makes me come alive each day. I figure, the alternative is to do what makes me feel dead. At the very least, that doesn’t sound exciting when I run through my day over dinner.
If reading a book makes you feel more alive than not reading a book, then read the book. Since the new year, making an on-camera demo, getting together with an accompanist and booking some new head shots has made me feel more alive then not doing those things. It made my fiancée feel alive to go pick out a wedding dress. Hitherto, the wedding planning was sort of driving us crazy. I think we have learned that actually making decisions about our wedding - decisions like where it’s gonna happen, who’s gonna take the pictures and where some of our guests are gonna stay - makes us feel like we are actually having a wedding. That makes us feel alive. After a while staring at wedding photos and budgets online made us feel dead.
Take responsibility for making yourself come alive. Look around you and find the thickest, highest wall you see. The wall that is standing between you and that life you want at that moment. Then knock that wall down. Even if it won’t fall. The act of bashing your fist against it will make you feel more alive than staring at it. You don’t need a whole new life to be happier than you are right now. You simply need to live more of the life you already have. There are things you can do right now that will make you come alive. You, and the world, need you alive. You are no good to anyone dead.
By the way, I don’t remember the book the guy read that made him come alive but the book that that guy wrote is called Wild at Heart. (It is amazing. If you are a man or know someone who is, read it.)
HOW TO ACT WITHOUT A JOB
As I put more and more audition notches in my belt, which by-the-by I had to black in with a sharpie yesterday morning as the pleather was beginning to crack, I am better at balancing the futility with the benefit.
I know there will come a day when the goods I deliver in the room are enough, even if my resume and picture are lacking. Then I will get the job and make some money to get a better picture, add to my resume and even the people who can’t look past my experience will start to consider me. (Nothing against those artistic and casting directors who say, “Thanks, that was really great!” and mean it, but still don’t call me back. They have their productions to consider and there are a lot us who are good. Other factors inevitably must come in to play.)
So, what are these auditions to me then? Why do I go to Broadway open calls I don’t have a snowball’s chance in hell of even getting a callback for?
For one thing, at least at the moment, they are the work.
The audition room is my studio for now. I can’t afford to take a voice lessons every week. So, I work my ass off on my own, stick to what I know, and give it all I’ve got at that ECC. I learn on my feet. I learn what songs work and what songs don’t. I learn how to walk into a room relaxed enough to set my voice free and focused enough to put the character behind it.
I know I’ve said it a ten times in ten different ways, but finding the art in auditioning is the key. A successful audition comes from treating it the same way you treat a performance. Over the past couple of years I became very good at using performances as a laboratory for exploring truth. Doing the same thing in auditions is not only fulfilling, but I’m sure someone in a position to use me will notice soon. Then “Chin up”, I say. I have a chance to act every day.
Except when I have to work a double, or when there are only ECC dancer calls. So, most days.
PATIENCE IS A DAMN VIRTUE
I once got up at 4:00 in the morning while in Wilmington, SC in order to witness the reenactment of the first shots of the Civil War on Ft. Sumter. I was there for the start of the sesquicentennial, which we are a currently still commemorating. That morning came very early and I was more than a little ‘on the bend’ the night before. Once we arrived at the battleground, the wait to fire the first shot was tedious. While the anticipation was not without merit, I began to wonder if standing around in a field with a bunch of “rebels” at 5AM was worth it - just to hear some cannons fire. It was cold. I was hungover, and for a while it didn’t seem as if anyone was excited to be there. Of course, as the saying goes, patience was indeed a virtue that morning. When the first shot fired - echoing across the field exactly 100 years after the real first cannonball began its barrage on the Ft. - I got chills. The cheers and hollers from the crowd were all at once inspiring and unnerving, themselves echoing the screams and hollers of their great grandfathers who would die shortly after. It is a moment I will never forget.
The patience it can take to brew a good cup of coffee pays off when you begin your day in a better mood. The patience it can take to listen to a loved one in a fight pays off when the resolution comes so much swifter and stronger. Patience yields even a better blog! I promise the original first paragraphs of this thing sucked, but they got me to the whole Ft. Sumter thing, which I think is a decent beginning.
I am reminded too of birdwatching, for example. Most of us have HDTV now and I hear the Apple Retina Display is pretty amazing. The Nature Channel is a part of most cable packages now, not to mention YouTube. Yet, we insist on removing ourselves from more immediate modes of entertainment in hopes of catching a live glimpse of some of nature’s hard-to-spot winged animals. The wait can be damn near unbearable. But, I guess the pay off must be sweet enough for some. And why not? I gotta admit, birds are neat. We wait in line for new electronics, why not for nature?
What we wait in line for simply must be worth the wait. Be it electronics, birds or history, we weigh our time and our boredom against the pay off. We dole out sacrifices and they temper our experiences. If the experience isn’t worth what the sacrifice bought, you just wasted your time. But when they worth the wait, patience is truly our greatest virtue. I don’t pray often, but when I do I pray for patience. And sometimes I pray for something worth waiting for, though I’ve never seemed to lack in that department. I wonder if one day I’ll cheer to be rid of patience, having finally found all that is worth waiting for. And I wonder if that will make me happy.
The point is that while I pray for patience I cringe case I know it’s so damn hard.
You just never know when that casting director is gonna call you. I mean, you really! never know.
Keep seeding those submissions. Meet everyone you can and be yourself when you do. There will come a time when you are what they’re looking for
Oh, and don’t let you phone die. Answering services are a thing of the past so we gotta take care of that one on our own.
I’m going to share this incredibly useful breathing image with everyone. Got it the other day in a voice lesson and I’m finding it works like gang busters.
The longer the lever the more power it has, right? We learned that in 1st grade. Well, our breath works the same way. The deeper we breath the greater length our breath travels from the base of the sound to our vocal cords. Thus, we have more vocal power.
Of course, that’s not actually how it works. The true mechanics are that when you deeply breath, from way down towards your groin, you are activating the intercostal and transverse muscles with greater intensity and they can support the release of air for a longer period of time. But, that’s too much to think about. This is where the lever comes into play.
Try it! Simply envision the long, wide channel of air beginning below your belly button and traveling all the way to your mouth. It’s like a shotgun barrel. The longer the barrel the more force behind the bullet. The great thing about this barrel is that its musculature allows for an incredible level of control. The bullet can exit elegantly like a perfectly poured wine or quickly and with great power.
That’s what $75 an hour can buy. Thus far it’s money well spent.
IT’S COME TO THIS: A POST HIGHLIGHT REEL
As the summer draws to a close I find myself lacking inspiration. The sun has drained it from me and despite numerous occasions from which to draw artistic and spiritual motivation, I thirst for the fluidity at which I once spouted epiphanies and observations. Toward that end, I did a little digging in to the back-of blogs I wrote while in residence at Barter Theatre. I fond this one particularly timely and thought, what the hell? Let’s have it again.
I did a talkback last night after a performance of Cabaret. And, of course, my fellow actors and I were hit with the question, “What advice would you have for young actor about where to begin his career?”
It’s a big question and a common question. Last night six of us passed along six great nuggets of wisdom about adjusted expectations of success, self fulfillment, determination, internships, vision and patience. There are as many answers as there are career paths.
Here’s one way to think of it:
Starting a career is like peeling an orange.
There are many ways to do it. Some people think they have a magic secret or trick, which indeed works sometimes, but will not work on all oranges. Sometimes you dig in and make a lot of progress right from the start. Other times you chip away at it slowly, broken piece by piece. There is no right place to start and you never know when or where a breakthrough might come. It can be tempting to give up on a tough orange. It can be tempting to see a bit of the juicy flesh and dig in before all the skin is off: you must resist that temptation. The reward will be greater if you persevere and expose the entire orange before indulging. The trick is, no matter what, to just keep peeling. Oh, and don’t be afraid to ask for help from some experienced orange grower or Florida resident.
“BE YOURSELF, EVERYONE EISE IS TAKEN”
As I prepare once more to audition in front of a group of agents I will keep this Oscar Wilde wisdom in mind above all else. It’s especially important to be oneself when meeting someone for the first time. It’s especially important to be oneself when you are being judged or evaluated, particularly on things you can’t necessarily predict or control.
Being oneself may be the most fundamental building block of a successful art, and successful acting. To be me it so be true, honest and dare I say it, real. At any given time, I may be the only thing real about my art. When everything else is imaginary; imposed, created and magically “if’d” into reality then it is imperative that the only real thing in the room - the actor - actually be real.
If they don’t like me or they can’t use me I will know that it was in fact me they didn’t use or like. Better to know that than to that they rejected someone else when in fact all they were looking for was me. Or, worse still, to know they accepted me falsely. As actors we usually have to pretend we are someone else. But, especially when auditioning, we can’t pretend to be someone we are not.
A LONG TUMBLE TO A SHORT POST
It is better to act than to not act.
It is better to have money than to not have money.
Is it better to act and not have money than to not act and have money?
It’s just been a tough summer for me, my friends. The answer to this paradox is easy, of course. Art and financial stability need not be forever mutually exclusive. There are times, however, when we all feel the pinch. The pinch for me, at the moment, comes on the tale end of a long dry spell. Paying rent is certainly great, but I am poor in spirit as I tumble further and further away from the last time I felt like I was succeeding in this city.