I love helping young actors find their way and figure things out. Without my mentors and role models, I never would have made it as far as I have. So it feels like an incredible full-circle moment when new actors come up to me and ask for advice.
Not surprisingly, I get a lot of the same questions. When you’re starting out, the acting experience can be similarly confusing and opaque for most folks just trying to break into the industry. But when things get rolling, your experiences and your acting journey will be solely your own.
Here are the top six questions new actors ask me, and my best advice for getting started when you’re just entering the field.
1. How do I get feedback on my work?
It’s so important to be honest with yourself. Be honest always — about your resume, about your experience, about the skills you have and the skills you’re lacking. If you want feedback or you’re not sure where you’re at, go sign up for a class, an agent audition, or a workshop.
These places allow you to get feedback from professionals who are there to help you, but also tell you the truth. Growing Studios is one organization in particular that offers valuable opportunities to perform your best work (sometimes in front of agents!) and get specific feedback on what you’re doing.
You can also get great feedback from people you already know. Do you have a mentor or a friend who is working at a level you want to be at? Go get a practice room for an hour, do a few songs and a monologue for them, and get some critique. Getting feedback may feel hard, but being open to it and listening is going to get you to the place you want to be. Learning is never a negative.
2. How do I know when I’m ready for an agent?
I think that the easiest way to tell you’re ready for an agent is getting callbacks. If you’re not getting callbacks for anything then there’s work that needs to be done.
If you’re not ready, take the money you would have spent getting in front of agents to audition and put it on a coach, an acting class, or a voice/acting teacher. I recommend an acting teacher in particular. Everyone in New York can sing, but great acting is always going to set you apart.
When you are getting called back, even if you’re not booking, you’re ready for an agent. If a casting director calls you back a few times, or if you start to build a relationship with them, then ask them for an agent recommendation. They often have great ideas. A casting director gave me a huge manager recommendation and that manager offered to sign me within a month. It was a great opportunity.
3. How can I avoid getting typed out of roles I know I can nail?
Don’t try to force yourself into a particular type for a role. Never try to fit into what someone else decided you should be. I turn down things often that are things that don’t feel like they’re for me. Sometimes that’s just the right call.
It’s really important to show your best you, always. Nine times out of ten in an initial audition, if you perform material that you really know suits you and shows you off, that role is going to come to you. At callbacks you definitely want to learn the material and embody the character as much as possible, but never try to learn something on the fly thinking it will make you look impressive. What’s really impressive is bringing your authentic self into a casting room.
4. What should I wear to auditions?
There’s no longer any kind of strict dress code on what to wear to an audition. You just want to wear something that looks good and, more importantly, something that makes you feel good about yourself. That said, you don’t want to overdress.
If you’re auditioning for a period piece where you’d be in a suit onstage, you don’t need to wear a whole suit to the audition, but you also don’t want to wear just a t-shirt. Put some thought into what you’re wearing —try for an outfit that hints at what you’re going in for. The most important thing is that you dress in a way that makes you feel like your best self. A full costume won’t replace full preparation.
5. What’s the best way to manage my downtime?
There are a billion things that you should be and need to be doing in your downtime. The cool thing about our career is that you can always get better — so you should always be taking classes if you can. If you don’t have money to take classes, put together a group of actor friends to get together and read scripts. You should always be practicing and getting better.
Another piece of good advice is to just go ahead and create your own thing. You always need to have some sort of creative outlet to channel your art. When you create something yourself, you don’t have to wait passively—you can direct that passion and keep the ball rolling. Then when the next thing comes, you’re pleasantly surprised and ready to take that opportunity.
6. How can I support myself while getting my acting career started?
Unless you’re very lucky, you’re going to need to work while you get that acting career off the ground. Searching for a flexible and sustainable income source while you audition and hone your skills can be tough. That’s why I always recommend catering for new actors. Check out Worthwhile Event Services for well-paid work that fits perfectly within your artistic schedule.
Roderick Lawrence is an actor, filmmaker, and Blacktivist whose long resume includes Simba in The Lion King, Ramses in The Prince of Egypt, Guy in ONCE, and an appearance on Comedy Central’s Broad City. He also created, produced, and starred in the multi-award-winning short film Silent Partner, which premiered in August at the Oscar-qualifying RSF Martha’s Vineyard African-American Film Festival (www.silentpartner-film.com).