Isn't that a great post title? I wish I had come up with it, but Charlene used that as her subject in her email to me:
First, I am a huge fan of your guidance! Your articles have given me the shoots of confidence that keep me going.
My name is Charlene; I am a Musical Theatre major at Howard University. I recently transferred into the Fine Arts school, so although technically a sophomore, I am a freshman.
I find myself not impatient, but ambitious and excited for the future. I am not lazy; I feel I can prove myself to show I love this business. My concern is, as a student, what can I do as a student to get ahead of the game? (Most of my training is based in Musical Theatre, I'll explore Film soon)
I understand these are the years to hone the craft and to learn about the art, but I want more projects- I want more auditions. I'm not performing for the big break, but it is definitely a goal as well. The sooner the better.
I'm saving up for a professional grade headshot; right now I have a decent headshot and a resume. I'll attach it, if that's okay with you. I'm also saving to create a demo reel with the company you suggested that writes and creates scenes for reels. I'm working on recording Youtube videos and setting up a site.
Tonight I sent my resume and headshot to nearly 50 agents via e-mail. I'm not too sure what to write to introduce myself, so I wrote something along the lines of
"Hope all is well. I am looking for representation, etc. Attached is H/R… etc.," Hopefully I'll hear from someone soon.
I spent this summer auditioning for nearly everything that fit me, even some auditions that haven't.
I've gotten callbacks and second callbacks, but never a bite. I've done this for a month and a half, so I understand things don't come quickly. But it's a bit disheartening. I'm starting to think it's based on monetary investments. I don't want to just sit tight and watch casting directors pass me by because I can't yet afford thousand dollar master classes with directors. But what else could I do?
Thank you so much in advance!
Charlene, a hopeful but broke college student.
How do I ensure casting directors won't see my skin color and instantly try to marginalize me?
My biggest motive in theatre is to change it. I feel African Americans in the media have been poorly represented, and I want to be the face of the Educated, Non-Stereotypical Black Leading Lady. Not Sassy "random black girl singin' the soul."
However, there are not many roles for this.
Am I hypersensitive? Do you have any idea what my casting type, if you had to choose, would be?
First of all, Charlene, I want to applaud you for how hard you're working and how you're getting all your materials together so that when you graduate, you have everything you need to get good representation. Some people write to me asking what they should be doing because they 'want to act!' and they 'know they can do it'. ....They just don't want to do their research. YOU already have. So Brava! Awesome!
So let me try to help you here because you've already been helping yourself.
What can I do as a student to get ahead of the game? Be the best friggin student you can be. Read and see as many plays as possible. Watch movies. Research!
TAKE SCREENWRITING AND PLAY WRITING. Learn how to write for yourself because that's what students need to do. You want to play the role of a leading lady? Write what you know you can play. Film it. Boom. Stuff for your reel. And I don't mean you have to write an entire one act thing. Just write a scene with an emotional climax, get your friends to join you, film it, edit it, boom. (For instance. I'm sure Howard University has some rooms that could pass for an office. Write a scene where you confide to your professor that you were attacked, and you can't tell anyone because then you're a victim and your attacker will never see justice anyway because he's the dean's son. Get to the point of tears and FIGHT THEM BACK. Get your eyes as watery as you can but don't cry. Be strong. Do. Not. Cry. Are you excited about this scene? I am! Go write it!)
As a student, write stuff. Write more stuff. Sing your head off. Record yourself singing your head off. Build a YouTube channel showing off your singing. Give tips on how to hit high notes, how to find a great song, how to do whatever. Help others.
Don't want to do a YouTube channel as yourself? How bout as a character? Have you seen Azie Dungey's web series about her job and the questions people would ask her? Hilarious!
You want more auditions. Now is not the time for that. You're graduating in 2017. So write and build your own stuff. Be in your school's plays and musicals. Study. Auditions are going to take you out of school, out of class, and your grades will suffer. So don't fret about auditions right now.
I attached your headshot above so others can see what I mean when I say this is NOT a decent headshot of you. This is a terrible headshot of you. I can tell you're pretty, but this photo doesn't tell us that. Your breast has a hotspot of light on it, and you've been cropped right under your breasts so you end up looking heavier than you are because there's no waist. You're wearing a shirt that you'd wear to a club and the photo is just too greenish in general.
Because you're in DC, I googled what DC Headshot Photographers are looked up the images. Then I looked up NY and LA too and picked my favorites:
I know, I know. Bummer. Save up money. It's worth it. In the meantime, because you're a student, go to the Photography department chair and ask her if you could be a model for their portrait assignment, and that you could bring more people from the theatre department should she need them. Boom! Instant headshots! Wear some funky costumes. Do funky makeup. Boom! Instant portfolio!
Right. So - you sent your headshot and resume to 50 agents with a basic cover letter. I've already made it pretty clear that you don't have a headshot of quality to impress anyone, and your cover letter doesn't either. You were AIDA! You won Best Actress for your role!! THAT'S WHAT YOU MENTION IN YOUR COVER LETTER!
You need to think like an agent - "What does this girl have that I already don't have in my roster?" She probably doesn't have anyone who played Aida and won Best Actress for it. You make yourself sound as marketable as possible. "My turn as Aida at the Pennsylvania Playhouse earned me a Best Actress award from ABE [spell that acronym out so people understand what it is] in 2013." Mention your YouTube vidoes, send a direct link to a video of you singing. Etc. Etc. Etc. That is what is gonna make an agent forgive a bad headshot and go to your resume and your links.
-- But don't even worry about agents now, because you're a student. Agents know you're in school, and therefore probably poor. You can't afford to get new headshots from a photog on their list, and the big audition they got for you, the one they called up the cd to pitch you for, is smack dab in the middle of your mid term or a final. You can't miss one of those tests, and now that agent looks like an idiot because she has to cancel the appointment she fought so hard to get for you.
HOWEVER (and sometimes this happens - you didn't actually tell me what city you sent out your headshots to) if you manage to get a regional agent - one in Atlanta or New Orleans, they might keep you on their roster and submit you for stuff that's happening there. And you MIGHT be able to send in a video of your audition because regional actors do that. In LA and NYC, actors go to the CD's office. In the South, most auditions are on tape and emailed to your agent and then to casting. You MIGHT find an agent who would be interested in you for that, but honestly, you're in school. Most agents and managers will wait until you're done with your program.
I've gotten callbacks and second callbacks, but never a bite. I've done this for a month and a half, so I understand things don't come quickly. But it's a bit disheartening. I know it is. But a month and a half is nothing. Chin up.
I'm starting to think it's based on monetary investments. I don't want to just sit tight and watch casting directors pass me by because I can't yet afford thousand dollar master classes with directors. But what else could I do? Master classes with casting directors could be good. But more often than not, cd's aren't seriously looking for actors outside of LA and NY. They're doing classes in your region to make money. If you were a serious actor for them to remember, you'd be in LA or NY. Save your money. I also personally don't believe in casting director workshops as a whole.
So what else could you do? Keep doing what you're doing! You're on the right track! You're doing everything you can, you're putting forth the effort, and even though the time for representation probably isn't now, you're DOING YOUR RESEARCH and building your toolbox so that when you graduate, you have a ton more things to help sell yourself and your talents.
How do I ensure casting directors won't see my skin color and instantly try to marginalize me? Simple: Be so effing fantastic, they don't. How do we stop seeing color? By being as educated as possible. So you be as educated as possible in your field. -- Be the best singer, the best dancer, the best actor.
My biggest motive in theatre is to change it. I feel African Americans in the media have been poorly represented, and I want to be the face of the Educated, Non-Stereotypical Black Leading Lady. Not Sassy "random black girl singin' the soul." Preach!
However, there are not many roles for this. Right. Kerry Washington kinda has a hold on that right now as far as carrying a show's lead. But the good news is that more shows with minority leads will be written.
Am I hypersensitive? Yes and No. Are you going to go out for "Random Black Girl"? Yes. Are those going to be your bread and butter roles inbetween your Leading Lady roles? Yes. You know Samira Wiley - Poussey on Orange is the New Black - went to Julliard? I'll bet you she felt the same way you do. Have you seen her work? Is it amazing? Do we look at her and think she's a RBG? No, because the show is fantastic and she's a full blown character. Wiley is AWESOME in it. But I'm sure her audition for Poussey was pretty much her character mouthing off street slang.
Are you going to audition for roles like that? Yes.
My friend Carolina is Latina. She goes out for Maid all. the. time. The last time she booked a Maid role? It was for a pilot where her character is Recurring. She will play that maid role all the way to the bank if it goes to series. But she does go out for other roles, and she ALSO has her own Intellectual Property that she's working on. So be like her.
Do you have any idea what my casting type, if you had to choose, would be? Green Generic Young Black Female. That's what your headshot is telling me. (Also, because hair is a big deal - if you watch a lot of commercials and minor character roles on any show, you'll see that the trend in LA and NY is for natural hair. It's a trend that started about 5 years ago and hasn't slowed down. Going natural might increase your chances of getting rep when you graduate. Or not. It's your hair and style. Do what you want. )
SO! To recap -
Charlene, you're doing EXACTLY what you should be and you should be so incredibly proud of yourself. You're on the right track, keep going, get better and better materials, and keep on keeping on. Good luck and thanks for reading! :)