It can be tough getting the ball rolling when you’re just starting to audition in the city. You’re waiting for your shot to show everyone what you can do, but you’re not quite sure how to get in the door. I can tell you it’s a universal experience—but that doesn’t make it any less frustrating!
I’ve got a great career now, but that wasn’t a given at the start of my acting journey. Opportunities weren’t just handed to me—I had to hustle for them. And I’m here to share my hard-earned insights. With the right attitude and strategies for breaking into the business, you’ll find your pathway to where you’re meant to be.
So here are my top three strategies for new actors looking to jumpstart their careers and get that first big breakthrough in NYC.
I booked my first two big jobs in New York City from EPAs (Eligible Performer Auditions). While they have their fair share of naysayers, I’m a huge advocate of the EPA.
For my first serious gig in NYC, I auditioned for Central Avenue Breakdown. I had learned about it from my friends, and they all had booked appointments. So I thought, I guess I need to be auditioning for this too. I went to the EPA after preparing my tail off and I ended up booking the lead. Opportunity and preparation aligned. When you’re ready you’ve always got to take that chance.
Similarly, when I heard they were doing Othello the Remix, I knew I would be a great fit. I have a background in musical theatre, I had done The Lion King, and yet, at the time, I couldn’t get an appointment. So I crashed the EPA and I got a callback. I knew I was right for this and I was able to show the team that. I booked the role the day after the callback.
You make great connections at EPAs. They start to remember you. I impressed at the Othello the Remix callback and then that same person who saw me do that audition ended up getting me into The Prince of Egypt. People do remember you and being known makes a difference, especially when you’re just starting out. You might not book one opportunity but if you do well, someone in casting may think of you for something else down the line.
2. Do Your Research
All opportunities are not created equal. Don’t waste your time banging down every single door, chasing every single opportunity, and auditioning for every single person alive. Who do you want to audition for? What sorts of roles are going to show off what you can really do? Who is actually going to be able to help you on your journey?
Once you reflect and know what you want, do the research and do the work to find out what and who can help you get there. Once you’ve made a list of people you feel can get your career going, get in front of them—any way you can.
Pay-for-Play: Casting Directors & Agents
I’m a big advocate of pay for play. It’s absolutely worth it to pay for getting seen, but only once you know you’re going to see someone who can really help you. Find the people who show up, who can really get you opportunities. Don’t pay to see someone’s desk assistant who can’t get you in for anything. If you do well, I promise they will call you.
Three pay for play opportunities I highly recommend are:
Most pay-for-play situations are workshops for casting directors, but you can also pay for the chance to audition for agents. Definitely do that as well because once you have an agent you’ll get more opportunities and be taken more seriously. When you audition for good casting directors, if they like you, they may also have recommendations for agents you should reach out to.
Another great thing about pay-for-play opportunities is that you’ll get feedback. Even if you have a rough day or just aren’t ready to move forward yet in your career, you’ll get advice on what to fix and improve on. Trust that feedback. Trust your results. Trust if you’re getting callbacks or not. It’s okay if you’re not ready—the good news is that there are plenty of audition classes in NYC to help get you to the next level.
3. Invest in Yourself
A really important part of this business is knowing yourself and being honest with yourself. Are you truly ready for EPAs and pay-for-play opportunities? Are you getting callbacks? Have you been getting encouraging feedback?
It’s okay if the answer is no. Everyone starts somewhere, and a rocky start doesn’t mean you can’t hack it. The key to jumpstarting your career if you’re not feeling ready for your big shots yet, is to invest in yourself. Take the money you would have spent on pay-to-play workshops and spend it on a class. Spend your money on a coach. Everyone in New York can sing, but acting is going to set you apart. So take an acting class! Really invest in your ability to learn and grow.
You can also turn to your community. What classes or coaches do your actor friends recommend? If you’re short on money, get together with your friends and read some plays. Critique each other. Practice and improve. You don’t want to put yourself out there until you’re ready. You want to get ready so that when the great opportunities come, you’re able to confidently show up and give it your best shot.
Embrace the opportunities that come your way.
It’s not easy getting your career off the ground at the start of your artistic journey. So if you’re looking for a flexible and sustainable income source while you’re going to EPAs and working on improving your skills, reach out to Worthwhile Event Services today.
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).