The Actor’s Paradox

knock on the door

You’re reading a book when there is a knock on the door. You get up and walk to see who it is. You turn the deadbolt and put your hand on the doorknob. You open the door. On the other side, standing across the threshold, is your long lost brother. You have not seen him in years. You both stand there for a moment, looking at each other. He opens his arms to give you a hug. You hesitate before opening your arms to hug him back. You embrace. It has been ten years since you’ve seen each other and seeing his face is such a surprise.

Except, no it isn’t. Not really. It is just a scene in a play and you are only acting. You saw each other last night. And the night before and the night before that. Last weekend it happened, too. You rehearsed this moment every day in the three or four weeks before you opened the show. The last thing this moment is is a surprise. And yet it must be. It must be as if you have never gone through it before. This is the actor’s paradox.

Actors have a uniquely difficult challenge among artists. For our work to be good, we must possess the ability to both know and not know simultaneously. We have to live in this paradox, this human quantum state. There really isn’t another art form with such a requirement. It is unique to what we do.

Most of us just fake it. We pretend. We look at our friend, that actor playing our brother and we just put on the physical trappings of surprise. We open our mouth in pretend shock. We let out an audible gasp, just enough for the audience to hear it, because we want to show the audience how surprised we are. We need them to get it. For the story to be told, we telegraph the cliche of shock to the audience. We try to trick them away from seeing it isn’t really happening.

The trouble is, if you’re anything like me, fakery and trickery makes me immediately self-conscious. When I give in to pretending, it’s as if a giant blinking sign instantly manifests in front of my eyes, a sign that says in penetrating neon letters, “YOU LIAR!” My face gets hot and I fall into myself, ashamed and alone in my glaring dishonesty. I have let the audience down. I know that I have failed. And my work suffers. For the rest of the scene, I’m in my head thinking, “Did the audience just see me lying to them? Do they know?”

And the truth is, yes! The audience knows when we lie to them. Maybe not consciously, but, on some level, they always know! When actors fake it, even when they fake it well, the audience goes to sleep metaphorically and often literally. Sadder still, most audiences have grown accustomed to dishonesty and trickery. They’ll still clap and maybe even give a standing ovation at the end of untruthful performances. Out of politeness, they will settle for our lies. But they will leave with an aching suspicion that there could have been more in what they just watched, that there was something missing. And they are right.

We all know when we see truly great acting because it becomes invisible. Instead of a performance, we only see true life engendered before us. There is no pretending, there is only life itself. There is a knock on the door, it opens and the great actor actually is surprised.

But how? Why can some actors both know what is about to happen and not know simultaneously? Because some have learned, deep in their bones, that no moment will ever occur twice. No knock will ever really be the same as any other knock, no matter how many times it gets rehearsed. No matter how long you live, you will never repeat a single second of your life, onstage or off. Not really. The great actor accepts this truth and trains their attention on the specific miracle of each fleeting moment with such dexterity that they can not only see it unfold, but be fully in response to what is unfolding. They give up the futile, intellectual attempt to control and give over to the miracle of the temporary and all its potential.

This takes training and a process, but it is possible. Not only is it possible, it is necessary. Because in the presence of truly great acting, we can remember that nothing is pre-ordained, that we can each change the world, that we are alive. Great acting reminds us that this moment is the only one we will ever truly have.

Is an MFA Acting Program Right For You?

Auditioning

If you’ve been taking acting classes for a while and have started to get cast in plays, you may start to wonder what’s next. If you are serious about wanting to become a professional actor, what is the best way of honing your craft?

One path that many professional actors take is to earn their MFA in acting. Typically, MFA acting programs last one to three years and feature a daily regimen of acting, voice, and movement classes, as well as the chance to be in multiple productions a year.

Many say that MFA acting programs are great because they are intense boot camps where you have the ability to focus entirely on your art without having to work a day job while auditioning at night. Plus, being in a program with others who are serious about acting and directing can be a great networking opportunity later on.

Others say MFA acting programs cost a lot of money without guaranteeing that you’ll end up making it.

Sommer Austin, co-founder of Green Shirt Studio, received her MFA in acting at the University of Wisconsin-Madison, and she says the experience was invaluable.

“As an MFA actor, I was required to play big parts in plays as a fulfillment of my training, and that was so great for my acting, because in my undergrad years I hadn’t been cast regularly in mainstage plays in large roles. I also got to see people (my teachers) who were making a living in the arts,” she says. “MFA training opened up a whole new world for me in what was possible as an academic and as an artist, and I am very grateful because that experience is a large part of what has led me here.”

Austin says the biggest benefit of earning your MFA is that it gives you the ability to become an acting teacher, which can help pay the bills while you continue to work as an actor.

“If you have a terminal degree (MFA or PhD), you are qualified to teach at a college or university, which can be a great way for an artist to earn a living while they are trying to do their art which may not yield much financial gain,” she says.

So how do you know if applying to an MFA acting program is right for you? Here are some answers to frequently asked questions:

  1. Does getting an MFA help you get roles?
    While getting a graduate degree in acting doesn’t guarantee you’ll get a Tony or an Oscar, it can give you a solid foundation that will give you a leg up against the competition when you are auditioning.

    Austin says when she is auditioning people, she can always tell those who have an MFA in acting vs. those who don’t. “When I am directing a show and sitting in the audition room watching auditions, I can tell when a person who has training walks into the room,” she says. “The kind of long-term commitment and work that an MFA program demands really changes an actor.”

  1. What do you have to do to apply to an MFA program?
    Although each school has its own process, most usually require an application, then an audition and an interview and perhaps a chance to see you in a classroom setting. Austin says there is a unified audition process for the University of Resident Theatre Association, known as the URTAs. “They hold a massive audition which all of the URTA schools send reps to, and those take place once a year in San Francisco, Chicago, and New York. So it’s possible to hit up a bunch of school auditions in one place that way,” Austin says. “The schools that are not URTA schools are often at the same location, but you will have to schedule a separate audition (and also a separate application fee) to be seen by them.”
  1. How much does an MFA program cost?
    You should estimate that you’ll spend about $38,000 a year, according to the Hollywood Reporter, or about $114,000 for most three-year programs. And that’s just on tuition. Don’t forget the money you’ll have to spend on housing, food, books, etc. However, just like with an undergraduate degree, you can apply for financial aid and also take out federal loans to go to school, as well. Plus, many schools offer a wide range of scholarships, and often you can work as a graduate teaching assistant or project assistant to offset your tuition. For example, the University of Wisconsin-Madison offers a tuition waiver in exchange for a graduate teaching assistantship, plus a scholarship, to MFA students, making it essentially free to attend. Check with each school that you are interested in to find out what scholarship opportunities they have available.
  2. How hard are programs to get into?
    Most of the top MFA programs in the country only accept a handful of students each year. For example, DePaul University’s Theater School only accepts 14 students a year, USC School of Dramatic Arts accepts about eight, and the University of Wisconsin-Madison only takes 12 students every three years. So competition is fierce.
  3. Can you do it if you did not major in acting in undergrad?
    Yes! “The great thing about most MFA programs is that it doesn’t matter what you majored in in undergrad, because they base their criteria on your audition, an interview process, and your acting credentials,” Austin says. “So if you’ve been an actor but have a degree in biology, it doesn’t matter.”
  4. What are the best schools to apply to?
    This is a very difficult question to answer and one that is personal to each person. Before deciding, ask yourself some questions: Do you want a program that emphasizes acting for the screen, or are you more interested in acting for the stage? Do you want to move to L.A. or New York, or are you more comfortable in a smaller city? Are you all about classical plays and Shakespeare or more excited about experimental theater? Think about what’s most important to you and then find a program that fits the bill.

To get you started, here are two lists of some of the best MFA acting programs in the United States and the U.K. from the Hollywood Reporter and Backstage.

5 Famous Quotes To Inspire Actors

Sometimes a good quote is just the thing you need to change your thinking, to crystalize a new point of view or articulate something you yourself don’t have adequate words to express. A good quote can plant a seed of understanding that can blossom into meaning over time. Those who have studied acting at our studio know that in addition to actors and acting teachers, we love to share words from writers, philosophers, politicians, athletes and others. Here are five of our favorite famous quotes and some thoughts on how they apply to the work of actors.

  1. “I am not afraid of storms for I am learning how to sail my ship.” – Louisa May Alcott 

    Even on the surface, Alcott’s words have an obvious relevance to actors. As an actor trains, storms are guaranteed. It can be a tumultuous, sometimes terrifying process. To learn how to act is to learn how to let go of the comfort of control and give over to the vulnerability of connecting with other human beings as you attempt to do deeply difficult things. We must learn to find love and joy in the most fearful of tempests. But there is another layer of Alcott’s words that, to me, speaks even more profoundly to an actor’s process and life: without the storm, there is no wind and the ship goes nowhere. The same is true of acting. Our instincts, our secret selves, the parts of us that are messy and unformed, sloppy and dangerous, are the very parts of us that give our work meaning. Learning to tap into these most vulnerable parts of ourselves is what gives our acting power.

  2. “We shape clay into a pot, but it is the emptiness inside that holds whatever we want.” – Lao Tzu 

    One of the most frustrating parts of being an actor is that there is a vast amount of the creative act that is simply out of your control. This is true in acting, painting, writing and any creative work. Moments of true inspiration and genius come on a schedule all their own. The paradox though is that, despite being out of your control, you must do work to create the conditions and space for such moments to occur. For acting, our clay is our process: personalization, script analysis, partner attention, emotional preparation etc. This is the stuff we can get our hands on and obsessively work into some shape. But all that work we do, in the end, must be forgotten about in the moment. Actors have to learn to let go and trust that the work they’ve done is, in performance, in fact, working back on them, engendering authentic, meaningful life.

  3. “How can you think and hit at the same time?” – Yogi BerraThere is nothing worse to watch on film or on stage than an actor intellectualizing their way through a performance. It is also ubiquitous. So many actors refuse to give up control and let their instincts take over. I am not saying that intellect or intelligence are bad traits for an actor to have, just that you have to be able to step out of those processes to take the swing. Intellectualizing almost always leads to self-consciousness, which destroys your work. Thinking is for your preparatory work. It’s for rehearsal. But by the time you set foot on stage or in front of the camera, you better be ready to get out of your head, put your attention on the ball and hit.
  4. “To be nobody but yourself — in a world which is doing its best, night and day, to make you everybody else — means to fight the hardest battle which any human being can fight; and never stop fighting.” – e.e. cummings 

    One of the things that is most satisfying as a teacher of acting is watching students break through their socialization, their politeness, their manicured self and discover the courage to express themselves fully. It is an electrifying experience to witness. We are all given various boxes throughout our lives, parameters within which we are supposed to operate. We ask politely, we swallow our feelings, we brush off hurts all in the name of maintaining and protecting the social contract, the status quo. But plays and movies are not about people politely riding the bus. Plays and movies are about those few among us who have the courage step out of their boxes and try to change their lives. An actor cannot play those parts truthfully with integrity unless they, too, understand how to break out of their own constraints and limiting habits into the rich, complicated depths of their own humanity.

  5. “Ring the bells that still can ring, forget your perfect offering. There is a crack, a crack in everything. That’s how the light gets in.” – Leonard Cohen 

    This is such a vital human lesson and therefore a lesson for actors and artists. Pain, grief, heartache will come into our lives. Some of it will come from the art, some of it will come from the career, some of it will just come from your life. It is as sure as breathing. So many of us try to fortify against pain and discomfort. When the career takes a downturn, we quit and find something less fulfilling but more stable. When we are offered a role that scares us, that we aren’t sure we can do, we turn it down for a more sure thing. When pain knocks on our door, we compartmentalize or numb out instead of just letting ourselves experience it. But this is a denial of the nature of life and certainly of a creative life. Brokenness is inevitable. We must not let imperfection stand in the way of our attempts to make beautiful things. We must ring the bells, cracked though they may be. Our brokenness is how we’re beautiful.

 

The Benefits of the Accelerated Meisner Program

Green Shirt Studio is excited to announce the launch of its new Accelerated Meisner Program, an intensive, three-day-a-week course that will take actors through the entire Meisner acting program in just 10 weeks.

Designed for actors who wish to deepen their craft in an immersive and comprehensive training experience, this class will teach you how to hone your attention, unlock your imagination, get out of your head and into the moment, tap into your innate courage and more. In addition to working through the Meisner exercises, the class will also include scene studies and monologue work and will culminate in a final scene showing to showcase your work for invited guests.

Curious about how this new program will work and how it might benefit you? We sat down with Green Shirt co-founder Andrew Gallant to ask him more about how the Accelerated Meisner Program works and what you can expect to get out of it.

Q: Why did you decide to offer the Accelerated Meisner Program?
A: We put the Accelerated Meisner Program together in order to give students another way to dive into the work of bettering themselves as actors and people. Not everyone learns the same way. Having a class once a week is all some people can do and that is absolutely great. But we’ve been hearing for a while now from other students who love what we do but want to have a more immersive experience. The Accelerated Program is exactly that.

Q: How will the class work and who will be teaching them?
A: The Accelerated Meisner program will be held on Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays from 10 a.m. to 1:30 p.m. from Oct. 2 through Dec. 15. I am teaching all of the classes, though we will have some special guests dropping in periodically to lend their expertise. Everyone at the studio is excited as hell for this program, so we will definitely have some of our other instructors coming to check things out and join in the fun.

Q: What are some of the benefits of taking the Accelerated Meisner program as compared to taking one level at a time?
A: With three days a week of class, smaller class sizes and longer class periods, we have created a curriculum and class structure that will foster dynamic growth quickly. There is more time to incorporate physical and vocal work into our sessions and get students out of their own limiting habits. And because I’m seeing you three times a week, I will have a stronger sense of the arc of your growth and a keener awareness of just when and how to push through to new territory in your work. But the most important aspect to all of this has to do with the mindset of students enrolling in the program. There is a level of devotion required to enroll in a program like this. If you are willing to put in this kind of time, to make this kind of investment, you are committed to your artistic development. And I am going to hold you to that commitment.

Q: Meisner can be pretty intense work. Do you think it will be difficult to have that emotional intensity three days a week?
A: Yes, Meisner work is intense. It is also transcendent. And it is joyful. One of the things I love most about this training is that it is deeply, utterly human. Actors get to experience the highest highs and lowest lows of human experience, often within the same two hour play. I say “get to” because I think it’s a privilege and a joy. Actors are Olympians of the human experience, and we need to train like Olympians! Sure, there will be frustration and pain, but there will also be triumph. I am interested in training actors to celebrate as they do the difficult things that need doing. This program is the perfect place to learn how.

Q: What do you love about teaching Meisner and why are you excited to teach this class?
A: I love the Meisner technique because it is a superb tool for training actors to step out of their fear and the ways they’ve been socialized, and to step into the fullness of their experience and the truth of the moments they share with others. It is a transformative experience. The best acting I have ever watched has happened in the classroom. There is nothing I love more than watching students let go and find the kind of expression and freedom they didn’t know themselves capable of. This work is full of those moments and I am ecstatic to have the privilege to be there sharing in it.

Sign up for the Accelerated Meisner Program today!

What Playing the Lottery Taught Me About Acting

winning the lottery

Like many millions of other people, I bought a lottery ticket on Monday. With a jackpot north of $700 million, I couldn’t resist. But as I handed over that cash, I felt shame. I felt judged. In my head, I heard the voices of dozens of friends and family yelling at me, “You just threw that money away!” They told me how ridiculous I was being, how insanely long the odds of winning are and to not get my hopes up. They are a familiar chorus. They pop up regularly in my life, these internalized voices, in moments when I find myself beginning to fantasize and daydream. They are the voices of reason. Of the rational. Of control. And they are trying to ruin my acting.

I have spent most of my life wrestling with my mind’s own penchant for spinning itself out of control. It is extremely easy for me to think catastrophically, to turn the smallest discomfort into an inevitable doom. In my head, a failed quiz easily turns into a life of crime and destitution. An unexpected knock on the door quickly escalates into a Jason Bourne-style apartment fight against an imaginary intruder. My mind likes to take what it is given and run away with it. I’m constantly fighting against it because, most of the time, it runs off in some terrible direction so I have to do everything in my power to bring myself back to reality just to calm myself down. There is no one coming to get me. The quiz is just a quiz.

Less often, I will find myself fantasizing about an opportunity that comes my way. When a big audition comes along, a life-changing kind of project, I will find myself drifting away into a fantastical future. I imagine hearing how proud people are of me. I imagine traveling to incredible places to film my scenes. I imagine putting money away in my nephew’s college account. I imagine taking the first vacation in years with Sommer. As it does with terrible scenarios, my mind can spin even a slim chance into a sure thing. And in both instances, when I get caught up, I hear those voices telling me to get ahold of myself, to calm down, to come back to my safe and routine life. The voices, the voices of therapists and friends and family, voices of those who have my best interest in mind, try to restore control.

The world trains us to minimize the possibility in our lives. We get messages to calm down and not get worked up all the time. We learn to keep our heads down and follow the logical, rational path. And there is value in this. It would be a tough world if everyone was constantly in contact with the extreme things that could happen in every moment. It would become impossible to get out of bed if we let the anxiety run rampant. It would be equally impossible to go to work if we followed every pipe dream. So instead we embed the rational, calming voices into our subconscious so they can remind us that things probably won’t change in the ways we fear or long for. We numb ourselves to life’s potential. We tame our imagination.

But we actors cannot. We actors must learn to tap into the depth of our imaginations in order to fulfill the depth of the roles we play. We have to remember that every moment in our life is pure potential, that we can irrevocably alter our lives by following the impulses others would try to forget. We must own the reality that some days we lose ones we love and other days are full of new love. Films and plays are not about the days where you wake up and make breakfast, they are stories about the days where everything changes. Actors must bear witness to the full potential of human experience so that, for a couple of hours at least, we can be together in the magic of the unwritten moment. Together maybe we can remember that incredible things happen to people. Some days, someone somewhere wins the lottery. And some day, it could be us.

6 Ways to Relax Before an Audition

meditation

No matter how many years you’ve been acting, going into an audition is always stressful. You’re worried that you’re going to forget your lines, or screw up in some way, or that they just won’t like you.

But if you want to have a good audition, you can’t let those fears and anxieties get to you. The more relaxed and focused you can be heading into an audition, the more likely you’ll be able to really shine.

Here are a few simple tricks for relaxing before an audition:

  1. Show Up Early
    Rule number one for having a relaxing audition: Arrive early. Getting stuck in traffic is only going to make all of your frayed nerves even more tense. Give yourself plenty of time to figure out where you’re going and find a parking space so you can walk in cool and collected.
  2. Listen to Music
    While you’re in the car or on the L, listen to some relaxing music to get you into that Zen place. Classical music or meditative yoga music are both great for bringing your heart rate down, but if you have other songs that are especially meaningful to you and you like to sing along to, that can work as well. You can even create a special pre-audition playlist of your favorite chill songs that you can listen to every time you have an audition. Another tip is to listen to music that you think will help get you into the head space that your “character” is in, which can also be fun and turn the audition into an adventure into someone else’s headspace instead of something that you’re dreading.
  3. Meditate
    The best thing about meditation is it’s free, easy and you can do it anywhere. And it’s a surefire way to center yourself and calm your nerves before you walk into the audition room. If possible, find a quiet spot to sit by yourself before the audition (sitting in your car in the parking lot is always a great option). Set the timer on your phone for 3, 5, or even 10 minutes and close your eyes and try to focus on your breath, letting all of your thoughts go. If you can’t find a quiet spot, you can even put your headphones in and listen to a guided meditation while you sit in the waiting room. Another type of meditation that can be particularly helpful for auditions is to close your eyes and visualize the audition going extremely well. Visualize all parts of the audition, from you walking into the room with confidence, the faces of the auditors brightening upon your entrance, visualize yourself going through your entire monologue (or audition piece) and see the auditors with you every step of the way. Finally, visualize them being completely moved by you and you walking out of the room with confidence. When you take the time to do this before an audition, it can give you the confidence and relaxation to do your best.
  4. Go for a Walk Outside
    Connecting with nature, even for just a few minutes, is always a great way of clearing your head and relaxing your nerves. Show up to the theater a little early so you can walk around the block and breathe in the air. Put away your phone and try to clear your head as you walk by focusing on the moment. Listen to the birds chirping, look up at the leaves. Do not go over your lines in your head. Just take the time to be.
  5. Take Deep Breaths
    Taking a few deep, cleansing breaths is a great way to relax your mind and body in a snap. Start by taking a long, slow breath through your nose and counting to three. Exhale slowly as you relax the muscles in your head, face, jaw, and shoulders. Repeat this several times until your entire body feels relaxed. Another method is to place your hand on your stomach, with the bottom of your hand on your belly button, and breathe in and out through your nose with the inhales and exhales being the same length. If you are familiar with Nadi Shodhan pranayama (aka Alternate Nostril Breathing), this can be a great way to calm the nervous system and to relieve anxiety. If you aren’t familiar with it, check it out on YouTube here. Anyone can do this exercise whether they are yogis or not!
  6. Stretch
    In auditions, you want your body to be as loose as possible, so it’s important to let go of the tension in your muscles so they don’t interfere with your performance. Loosen up by doing a few quick stretches before you head into the room. You can interlace your fingers and stretch your arms overhead, palms facing upward. Hold the stretch for five full breaths and then drop your arms to the side and roll your head and neck around. Or stand with your feet about hip-width apart and ever-so-slowly fold your torso over your legs, letting your head hang down for five full breaths. You can even shake your head back and forth while you’re folded over to let the tension melt away. This is a spinal roll-down, and to get the full benefits, do this several times in a row, feeling the space created between your vertebrae as you go. If you are familiar with a yoga sequence called the “Sun Salulation” (also known as Surya Namaskara A or B), this can be a great warmup tool for actors because it revitalizes the body and gets the breath flowing. You don’t have to do a lot of Sun Salutations to notice a difference— just a few of them will get you feeling immediately better and ready to rock your audition!

Want to Improve Faster? Have Better Self Talk

better self talk

When you talk to yourself, what voice do you use?

This is something that comes up in lessons frequently. One of the central ideas of the Alexander Technique is that of Direction — how the way we think about our body activates habits that shape the way we move. Making this thinking more conscious can substitute positive movement for movement that works against us.

Alexander Technique teachers specifically craft the phrasing of these directions — from the traditional (‘allow the neck to be free’) to negative direction (allow the neck to unclench) to Freedom Directions (my neck is free to be relaxed). The words we use do affect us, but there is more to it than that.

Lately I’ve been more focused on the tone students take with themselves with their inner-voice. I often go through a phase with a student where they are forceful with themselves — like they are trying to order their neck into freedom. This invariably results in more tension. Slowly, a student learns how to make their thinking lighter and gentler, and as such they stop trying to manipulate their body as if it is a tool that is separate from themselves but to speak to themselves kindly as if affirming a state of being, rather than judging or trying to change. This is a profound shift that subtly unwinds habits and gives us the space to grow.

The applications of this to life are boundless. Though I am not an advocate of being sunny with yourself all the time (you have to be honest, and the pressure to be constantly positive can block the release of feelings that are important to let go of), it seems clear that when you speak against yourself inside your head it only stimulates you to do more of what you have been already doing. 

Forceful self-criticism tends to make us less likely to take risks, which makes change impossible. This has been particularly apparent in my work with artists — many of us get so focused on our craft we stifle our inner artist under a mountain of self-monitoring and “shoulds.” I find that when giving universal positive regard while simultaneously being honest with who I am coaching — giving accurate feedback, but nurturing a positive tone for the artist to take in their growth — the effect is that they stop associating self-knowledge with criticism and start to associate it with opportunity, and their inner-artist feels safe to come out and to do the work for them.

Think of how you approach a goal in your life: posture, weight loss, a promotion, an athletic goal. How do you talk to yourself about it? Are you whipping yourself towards it like you are your own enemy, separating yourself out, or are you speaking to yourself positively and nurturingly? As much as Americans tend to have an aggressive stance to self improvement, you might find that better self talk will allow you to change faster and for the better.

Interested in learning more about how your ways of movement affect your performance? Sign up for the Alexander Technique with Jeremy Cohn, starting either July 25 or July 30!

Mastering the Business of Acting

Being a successful actor is about more than just knowing how to memorize your lines and connect with your scene partner. Talent and skill is important, but if you want to start booking parts, you have to also understand how the business of acting works.

That’s why Michael McKeogh, a well-known, Jeff Award-nominated actor in Chicago, is offering his new “Business of Acting” class at Green Shirt Studio. With tips on everything from how to market yourself with headshots and social media, to who to know in the Chicago theater community and how to network to get ahead, this class will give you the tools to take your acting career to the next level.

So what are some of the biggest secrets to having a more successful acting career? We sat down with McKeogh to get his top 5 tips.

Q: If you’re just starting out as an actor in Chicago, what’s the most important thing you need to do to start getting cast in shows?

A: Seems kind of obvious, but audition, audition, audition! You can’t get cast if you don’t put yourself out there to be seen. I can’t stress it enough.

Q: What’s one of the biggest mistakes people make with their headshot?

A:
 One of the biggest mistakes that people make with headshots is choosing photos that don’t really look like them. But in addition to that, when picking a headshot, try to find one that also hints at your energetic essences. The pictures not only represent what you look like, but also what you are like as a person.

Q: What is the most important thing people need to do to get an agent?

A:
As my dad would say, make sure you have all your ducks lined up in a row. Before meeting with an agent you must have a professional headshot and be prepared to perform material that showcases your most “available” self.

Q: How important is networking to getting ahead?

A: Here is my two cents on networking. Think of network as a noun not a verb. If you are in an acting class, you have a network. If you go to school, you have a network. Networking isn’t about schmoozing and self-promotion. It’s about community building. So ingratiate yourself in your community. Organize a group outing with actor friends and go see as much theater as you can from as many different companies as you can. Get to know the type of work that specific companies like to do and their artistic missions, so when you do meet people who work there, you have something to discuss that isn’t rooted in self-promotion.

Q: What are some other ways that you can put yourself out there?

A: Don’t be afraid to ask for what you want. Write letters to casting directors when they announce their season and tell them how excited you are for their season and that you’d like to be seen, specifically for certain roles.

Want to learn more? Sign up for Michael McKeogh’s Business of Acting Class, starting July 22!

6 Networking Tips for Actors Who Are Introverts

networking for actors

Though you wouldn’t know it by the cacophony of sounds in the average audition waiting room or chattering theater lobby, there are many actors who are introverts in the world. I know because I’m one of them. A true introvert, I need alone time to recharge and get my bearings, and I far prefer genuine, meaningful connection with a few rather than getting to know a little about a lot of people.

In a business where networking matters, being introverted can sometimes feel like a burden. I’ve often felt jealous of the way my extroverted colleagues can open doors for themselves with their ability to effortlessly socialize.

But being an introvert doesn’t have to get in the way of your acting. Here are a few networking tips on for actors who are introverts:

  1. Get good at asking questions
    After a particularly brutal night of feeling awkward at a theater event, a friend of mine with is an expert networker gave me this solid piece of advice: Conversations are two-way streets, even though my introversion-turned-social-anxiety can make me feel as if I’m the one responsible for keeping things rolling by doling out information about myself, my work etc. To me, that feels exhausting and awkward as hell. So, I’ve learned to prepare a few solid questions and be curious enough to keep people talking about themselves. And when someone asks you a question, give them an answer but then reciprocate by asking that same question back to them. “I’m from ________, how about you?” I am genuinely curious about human beings, so gaining the courage to ask people follow-up questions and try to learn about what makes a person tick hasn’t been that hard and has gone a long way to set me at ease in social situations.
  2. Prepare some answers
    I’m not saying you should prepare a bit or rehearse what you will say in social situations, but you can make your introverted life easier by articulating to yourself some answers to questions you know might be a topic of a conversation. If you’re going to an opening night gala, be ready to talk about the play, the writer, your friends who worked on it, etc. And of course, there are questions that often come up in any first conversation between people. If someone asks, “Where are you from?,” it’s good to know you have more than a one word answer.
  3. Bring a friend
    This is simple and probably obvious. But going places with a friend, someone with whom you share a connection and feel at ease with, can really make things easier. If you can get audition slots next to each other, great. If you can both go to that party, wonderful. You’ll have someone around whom you enjoy and who can open up doors to other meaningful connections.
  4. Be aware of the vibe you’re giving off
    I’m super good at shutting down even the possibility of conversation with my body language and expression. I am so good at it, that I’m often not even aware of the fact that I’m scowling or looking morose in the corner. I’m also great at getting into a shame spiral where I wonder why no one is talking to me, which makes me look even meaner. I swear, sometimes I don’t know the vibe I’m giving off, but I’ve learned over time to check in and try to open up physically so as to not keep people at a distance. People don’t want to approach the miserable person. So, even if you’re internally feeling awkward or anxious, try to physically express a pleasant vibe, even if that means faking it until you make it.
  5. Know when to keep it simple and light
    This is a big one for me. I’ve learned that, as an introvert, I am prone to rushing to deeper connections than people are interested in. Surface-level conversations feel taxing to me, so I sometimes unconsciously steer things toward places that some people find too intense and alienating. Not everyone wants to know the whole truth about your feelings on politics, your family’s particular brand of dysfunction or that sad thing that just happened to you. As much as I am not constitutionally inclined to talk about the metaphorical weather, sometimes that is what’s called for.
  6. Be open to meaning
    Surprise! There are other actors who are introverts in the room. It’s not just you. And there are other people wherever you are, introverted or not, who are willing to connect in a way that feels genuine and not exhausting. If you stay open and ask questions, you’ll find them. Remember that while networking can feel like a business requirement, networking is really just about human beings connecting with one another. Acting is a human business, too.

Interested in learning more about how to make it as an actor? Sign up for The Business of Acting in Chicago, starting July 22!

Meet Our New Voiceover Instructor: Kathleen Puls Andrade

Kathleen Puls Andrade

As actors in Chicago, there are lots of ways that we can make money by doing our art: plays, commercials, TV and movies, and of course, voiceover.

That’s why we’re excited to announce new voiceover classes at Green Shirt Studio, taught by Kathleen Puls Andrade, a professional actor, improviser, writer and voiceover artist who also teaches voiceover classes at Second City and has recorded spots for everything from Nascar to Fisher Nuts, Quaker Oats, Morton Salt, Oberweiss and more.

We caught up with Andrade to talk to her more about how she first got into voiceover, how acting for voiceover is different from acting for the stage, how long it takes to start making money at it and more.

Q: How were you first exposed to doing voiceover work?

A: My father has a fabulous voice and he decided to get some coaching to do voiceover work back in the day. I went along with him to one of his sessions and I started directing him! We both agree that I was pretty obnoxious, but I’m pretty sure that’s where I got the bug.

Q: What is something you learned when you first starting doing voiceover?

A: I always tell people who are interested in doing voiceover to take a class. My first demo was awful because I thought I knew what I was doing. But I didn’t. After I took a class, I made another demo with the woman who ended up being one of my agents.

Q: What is a skill people need to learn to do voiceover well?

A: When I first started, I learned that you really have to use your hands and body to help propel the words out of your mouth in a certain way. Also, another biggie is to listen more and talk less. Listen to direction, the engineer, the director, writer, etc. Pay attention to what’s happening around you so you can give them your best performance.

Q: What was one of your favorite voiceover sessions you’ve ever done?

A: I did a Quaker spot where they videotaped us in the session. I found out later that they were going to animate according to what we were doing in the recording booth. Anything with characters is always fun. I always have a good time when I’m in a session, especially when I get to do comedy dialogue with other funny actors!

Q: What is the difference between acting for the stage and acting for voiceover?

A: There’s not a ton of difference, but there is a difference. You have to be mindful of technique and what words to tap on and how to get the product name across. You have to ask yourself, “Who am I talking to?” when you’re reading a script. You can do whatever you want behind the mic physically, as long as your face is in front of the mic.

Q: Tell me a little about your class. What kinds of things will people learn in the class?

A: It’s a really fun class. They’ll learn about mic technique, how to analyze copy, auditioning, the business, announcers, video games, dialogues, character creation, and they’ll spend a whole lot of time on the mic! I also encourage students to physicalize as much as possible behind the mic, and I teach them techniques to help them with instant character creation as well.

Q: How would you describe your teaching style?

A: I describe my teaching style as encouragingly and entertainingly constructive. I love to encourage students to step outside of their boxes. I’m direct but in a constructive way. I’ll never tell you that you can’t do something because you never know what’ll happen. I’ll be honest and tell you what I think you need, and if you have certain challenges to surmount but I won’t tell you that you can’t do it. And we laugh a lot!

Q: Many people assume getting voiceover work is easy. How long does it take most people to start making money at it?

A: That’s the million dollar question. It’s different for everyone. I remember going to Los Angeles to have a meeting with a voiceover agent who used to be in Chicago. I asked him that same question. He kind of looked at me like, “How would I know?” Basically, it depends on your skill, opportunities, persistence, a good demo, auditioning times ten, and a lot of luck. It’s pretty competitive now. But that doesn’t mean you shouldn’t learn!

Q: What’s fun for you about teaching voiceover?

A: I love watching students blossom and start to understand what it’s all about. I love watching them make discoveries and love to watch them have fun behind the mic. Even if someone doesn’t pursue voiceover, at least they have another tool in their tool belt. It does help make someone a better communicator as well.

Interested in learning more about voiceover work? Sign up for Voiceover Primer for Actors, running Mondays from 11 a.m. to 2 p.m. from July 10 through Aug. 28!