The Adventures of a Young(ish) Actor Making his Way Back to the Stage
Episode 2: “Resume, Resu-you.”
I was at lunch a few days ago with a dear friend of mine, who was preparing for an audition the next day. Thinking I was coming along, she asked me when my time slot was. I told her I had not made one, due to the fact that I was already helping my wife out with another show, I had lot on my plate for the next couple of months as is, and I didn’t want to overextend myself.
“Oh, the hell with that. Put in an email and sign up. It’ll be fun!”, she insisted.
In that moment, I remembered the first rule of any would-be actor: Audition for everything. You can always say no later, if the role doesn’t suit you…say, for instance, if you are cast as Dead Body #2 on “Law and Order” when you were really aiming for Dead Body #1
So, on a whim, I decided “Why the hell not?” and put in the email. When I got the reply back with the time slot, I also received instructions to bring a head shot and a copy of my resume. Granted, while it’s a standard audition request, it also threw me for a loop of anxiety. It had been so long since I had auditioned for anything. Where had I even put my resume? And how long had it been since I had a head shot? I spent the rest of the evening tearing up my office, trying to find the thing to no avail. Finally, I gave up and decided it was more fitting to start from scratch. If I was beginning this journey anew, why not do it with a brand new resume? Unfortunately, along with the location of my resume I had forgotten everything which may have been on it. Back into the mess of memories I dove, trying to piece together my own theatre history, appropriately enough like an archaeologist trying to rediscover a lost civilization.
After a few more hours of searching, I had finally pieced together the remnants of my past. Now all that remained was filling out the rest. Recalling my theatre training was an easy enough task. I did have a sobering moment when it came to my personal information, however. As the aging process is wont to do to a man, I had apparently shrunk a little, my hair was a little less up top and a little more gray overall than I recalled and, when I went to determine my current weight, the screen on the bathroom scale read “LOL” and promptly shut off. My wife insists it actually said “lo” for “low battery”, but dammit, I know what I saw. Finally, I came to the portion marked “Special Skills.” It is here that one can find oneself in a bit of a quandary. What exactly constitutes a “special skill”? Obviously, anything which can aid you in a performance should be considered useful, but depending on the play, that could be almost anything. Knowing dialects is important, so I put down the four I knew I could deliver flawlessly on command if need be. But it still didn’t seem like enough. As Sondheim lyricized in Gypsy, “You gotta have a gimmick, if you want to get ahead.” So, what was mine? After much deliberation, I remembered I could do Muppet impressions like nobody’s business. Would that be particularly useful when auditioning for Boy Gets Girl? Probably not, but at least I would stand out. I turned to my wife and asked her if my Muppet impressions were “resume worthy.”
“Of course. They were a big reason why I fell in love with you,” she said.
I considered this. “What about my Sean Connery impression?”
A pained expression crossed her face. “Only if you need to pad.”
Once I had put the final finishing touches on the resume itself, all that remained was to find an up-to-date head shot of myself. But even then, it was a bit of a slog. After all, the head shot is often what can make or break you at an audition. Some photos can reveal too much about a person, or too little. Sometimes, the lighting might be too dark and you end up shaded in shadow, or so bright that you look washed out. Much like any other job interview, even the clothing you wear in your head shot can determine whether or not you get a role, or even what kind of role you get. Dress too young, and people might assume you can only play young. Dress too old, and suddenly you’re getting “grandparent” roles before you’re even forty. I had talked to an Equity actor recently who said that, for an increasing number of professional gigs nowadays, a stock photo is no longer good enough and that they will take one of you on the spot, even if the show is being cast within the next twenty-four hours. It’s that kind of detail which can take an actor’s application from “Resume” to “Resu-Meh.”
Eager to make a good first impression, I hunted down what I though was the absolutely best head shot I had ever taken. Granted it was a couple of years old, but I hadn’t changed that much and, due to budget and time constraints, I wasn’t going to be able to get a more up-to-date looking one. I pasted it into the corner of my resume, and then sat back and viewed my handiwork. “Not bad, not bad at all,” I thought. The next day, my wife and I stopped off at her workplace to print off some copies of it before I left for the audition. What neither of us realized was that the toner in the printer had been set to a much darker setting than is usual, with the result of a dark and shadowy picture spitting out of the printer. I was horrified, but with the audition only a half hour away, I knew I would to hope for the best.
Despite the setback, the audition went well. I received two different sides to read for, and the director even asked me to stick around for a bit to read with other actors. So all in all, not bad. What’s more, I learned a couple of valuable lessons from the experience. First off, never leave your resume off until the last second. Much like a job application, a theatre resume is something you should be able to point to with pride and self-assurance. If your can’t be confident in your resume, then you’ll never be confident in yourself. So, take your time and treat it with care. Furthermore, you should always be proud of what’s on your resume. Sure, that production of Macbeth you starred in might have taken place in some hole in the wall community theatre in some out of the way town…but, if that performance was one of the proudest moments of your career, write it down because you’ll have an enthusiastic story to tell the director if they ask you. So yes, you can do Muppet voices. Yes, you did play singing and dancing cockroach in your church’s production of “Kafka’s Metamorphosis, Jr.” and, by god, you played it with aplomb. (Note: I have no idea if that’s actually a thing, but feel like it easily could be.) If you did it, own it! Second, there are some things worth splurging for. a good head shot is one of them. If you are serious about taking your career to the next level, then you-pardon the pun-should look the part. So yes, it might be a little expensive, but the potential reward of being able to capture important roles off a single picture can more than make up for that expense. Finally, never be afraid of auditioning, even if it’s at the last second of you think they aren’t looking for someone like you. Even auditioning for the pure sake of auditioning can be a fulfilling and worthwhile experience. You meet new people, network with directors, and even gain bit of experience and confidence the more you do it. So, put yourself out there, even if it comes to nothing. You may not get the role this time, but it only mean you’ll knock ’em dead later.
Robert Stevenson is a St. Louis playwright and has served as an Assistant Editor for Women Arts Quarterly Journal since 2015. His radio adaptation of James Tiptree Jr.’s “The Screwfly Solution” was featured at the 2015 St. Louis ARCHON, and recently enjoyed a revival on the campus of St. Louis Community College – Florissant Valley as part of Women’s History Month.
**DISCLAIMER: The opinions expressed in this post are those of the writer and do not necessarily reflect the opinions of THE SCENE SHOP.