Five First Steps to Becoming an Actor in New York City
Where to start?
Whether you’ve just graduated from acting school, or are jumping straight into a professional career, congratulations! It takes guts to pursue an acting career, and it will ultimately prove to be one of the most rewarding life choices you will ever make, regardless of your eventual level of success.
When a casting director meets you they immediately are typing you in their heads. It is your job to show them a scene that matches what they are thinking and to execute like a pro.
Jennifer Rudolph – Casting Director and Coach
You should feel confident in the fact that few pursuits reward the Zen Meditation concept of “Beginners Mind” as readily as that of a career in acting, but don’t stop there. Jennifer Rudolph, casting director, coach, and owner of The Actor’s Green Room, suggests, “ Educating themselves about how the business works and what casting directors are truly looking for is what every actor needs to be doing.” The first year as a professional actor can be at once exciting and paralyzing. The industry is riddled with red tape and catch-22s, but if you are pragmatic and strategic about the things within your control, you will begin to see these roadblocks as stepping stones. Focusing on these five steps will help you stay focused on making positive progress and creating new opportunities.
Have a place that you really like to come home to at the end of the day. Acting life can be full of ups and downs, and it is very important to have a space that is comforting and free of stress. This is the key to a marathon career rather than a sprint. Those actors who invest in their quality of life outside of the industry keep a much healthier perspective on their goals and therefore are able to persist longer. Harrison Ford famously remarked that he saw a lot of actors leave LA during the ten grueling years he was living there before he got a break. Having a home base helps you endure.
If you are planning a move to New York, I suggest finding a short-term rental on AirBnB or HomeAway, then checking out no-broker-fee rental sites such as No Fee Rentals, Naked Apartments or Urban Sherpa NY for a longer term lease.
Take a Class
- Whether you’re interested in a full-time conservatory program, or part-time training.
- Top Acting Classes NYC is a great resource for finding reputable acting classes and comparing them side by side to help you find the right fit for you.
- If you only take one class at a time, first, take a scene study class, followed by an on camera or musical theater audition class, depending on your focus, then, an improv class that gives you plenty of practice in the ring.
- Use acting class as an opportunity to not only improve and practice your skills, but to get to know other actors and begin to form a community.
Networking is easy for some, hard for others, but there’s no way around it if you want to be a working actor. These days it’s all about what you know, AND who you know. Luckily, thanks to social media, networking is easier than ever. Many directors and casting people will post projects on Facebook or Twitter. You may also want to sign up for an industry networking studio such as One on One or Actors Connection where you can gain exposure to many top industry professionals in a short amount of time via seminars and classes.
Jennifer Rudolph puts this in perspective:
Relationships along with having talent are the key to breaking into the business in NYC. Casting Directors receive roughly 1400 submissions for each Co-Star role that they are casting. Often times, they don’t even release the Under 5 roles to the public as they will be barraged. Who do they call in? Actors who they know and trust (who they have met , often times at a networking studio such as The Actor’s Green Room) or actors who are submitted by agents and managers’ who they know and trust. Either way, only about 20-25 people make it into the audition room out of 1400. Relationships are the way that it all happens.
Backstage and Actors Access are the two most widely used self-submission tools. Most submissions these days are done online. Before you submit, you will need a headshot and resume. Much could be said about what makes a great headshot, but I won’t go into that here.
If you’re looking for more film experience, you may want to check out Mandy.com, or the film schools at NYU and Columbia, though many student films are cast using Actors Access. Actors Equity posts Equity auditions on their Casting Call webpage. If you are not Equity, it is up to the casting personnel whether they will see you or not. If so, sign-up begins early in the morning. If you decide to go to an Equity call as a non-Equity actor, be prepared to wait, sometimes for a very long time, and make sure to read about audition procedures on the Equity website.
You may notice that actors don’t always have direct access to self submit to some of the biggest film and theater auditions. This is because these auditions are only posted via Breakdown Services to agents and managers. Representation then submits their actors for these projects. Some actors have been known to hack the process by finding someone who will give them access to the breakdowns, but this practice is generally frowned upon. All actors want and need an agent. Don’t focus too much on finding one at this early stage of your career. Agents need great actors. Focus on becoming a great actor, and representation will follow.
Create your own work
Auditioning for other people’s projects is the most common and competitive road taken, but it’s not the only way. In fact, if you look at the career trajectory of many of todays most famous actors, you’ll see that their first success was in an independent/cult film or small theater ensemble. Creating your own work gives you a feeling of ownership and control over your destiny. It also creates a community and helps to build your resume. If you create your own work, be it an independent film, or theatrical production, agents and casting directors are more likely to come to you, rather than the other way around. A young actor who had just moved to New York once asked me how she could get film auditions, since she had no film experience. She was frustrated by the catch-22 of needing experience to get experience. I recommended that she get together with a group of people and shoot a few scenes so she would have experience as well as the beginnings of a reel. She took my advice and was soon auditioning for film projects left and right.
It’s up to you
These are five areas on which you can focus right now to advance your career as an actor. Ultimately, it is up to you to put them into practice. You must give yourself the opportunity to succeed. To close with the words of Ms. Rudolph, “When a casting director meets you they immediately are typing you in their heads. It is your job to show them a scene that matches what they are thinking and to execute like a pro. Once that happens, they have no choice but to love you as you will have intuited and brought to life what they were already thinking about you and it will be magical.”
has always had a passion for helping actors succeed. She spent the first 10 years of her career as a casting director under the tutelage of Jeff Mitchell and eventually became a partner at Mitchell/Rudolph Casting. Jen has cast over 40 films and television shows and has helped start the careers of such actors as Michelle Monaghan, Kate Bosworth and Ian Somerhalder, While a casting director, Jennifer began teaching audition technique classes and from there created The Actor’s Green Room. She believes that every actor has an organic spark that if nurtured properly can become something amazing. To quote FIELD OF DREAMS, “if you build it, they will come.