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Equity: why you should join now

8 May

So you’ve heard of Equity but aren’t really sure what being a member means? No problem, we chatted to Kristin Mie Hamada from Equity’s membership relations department about the benefits of signing up. 

Why should actors join Equity?

It is vital that young actors join Equity because they are safeguarding the future of the performing arts.  As a trade union not only do we negotiate many of the contracts that actors work on, we also set rates of pay as a part of that negotiation process. By being a young member you are ensuring that now and in the future actors will have good conditions to work in, but also that they will receive adequate pay for the work they do!

Are there particular benefits for young members?

Equity provides a good safety net for young performers who might be less familiar with the industry.  For example if you work on a show and do not receive payment for the work you’ve done, you can give us a call and we can help you to sort that out.  Sometimes younger performers (and older ones as well) are unsure how long they should wait for their payment, and what their rights are, and if the payment doesn’t come they are not quite sure how to go about receiving it.  In addition if it comes down to a legal issue, then Equity provides legal representation as a standard benefit of membership, so if we have to go to court to get you a payment then your membership covers the legal costs.  We can provide that support and information to our young members to try to prevent something like this from happening again.

Do you encourage actors to get involved in campaigns?

We give young members the opportunity to be an activist for the arts.  Activism is a great thing, and performers feel very strongly about their industry.  As an Equity member, young actors can get involved and try to create positive change for themselves and other artists.  Our Young Members’ Committee actually got the ball rolling with all the low and no pay work, and really helped to move this campaign forward.  Now our Low/No Pay campaign is central to the work that we are doing as an organisation, and that was made possible by our young, active, members.

Are there any other benefits?

There are loads of benefits. Others would include creating a network with other artists who are members, saving your Equity name, access to tax and welfare advice, access to all our agreements and rates so you know what you should be earning, public liability insurance, accident and backstage insurance, the use of our website so you can create a profile for yourself so you are able to promote yourself, there are many discounts which you can take advantage of which are only available to members.

What do you have to do to join?

You have to fill in an application form and provide evidence of your paid work experience as a performer, theatre creative, or a stage manager in theatre.  Applying online is the quickest way to join.  Our requirements for how much evidence to provide varies.

What does having an Equity card mean?

An Equity card means professionalism.  It states, ‘I am a professional!’ because it demonstrates that the cardholder understands the range of support that Equity can provide to an individual and to the industry.

What kind of events and meetings take place?

You can find a list of specific events on our calendar which gives details about upcoming events.

Are there any specific opportunities for networking/meeting other people in the performing arts that come with joining Equity?

Members are encouraged to participate in their local branch meetings, which is a good place to meet other performers. Branch meetings are a time/place for discussing union-specific issues, activist opportunities and organising activism, and also expanding creative opportunities.

If anyone has additional questions they can email Kristin directly at khamada@equity.org.uk

Image used with permission from Equity.

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Acting in LA: An insider’s guide

7 May

“Everybody comes to Hollywood” – or at least it seems like every actor does. For years wannabe performers have flocked to LA, the home of movie stars, studios and thousands of young hopefuls. Each year British actors make the move across the pond in search of fame and fortune but is it really worth it? 

Steve West is a British actor who studied drama and musical theatre at Andrew Lloyd Webber’s school before starting his career in shows such as Mamma Mia and Oklahoma!. He has since worked in TV and film and has done over fifty TV commercials. He moved to LA three years ago. 

You studied in the UK – what made you move to the US?

For me it was a two fold decision. As I had lived most of my life in London I wanted a change of lifestyle – sunshine, more space and the ability to be outdoorsy, and I wanted to expand my work in the direction of film and TV.

How does the LA industry differ to the UK’s?

LA is all about media – TV, film and nowadays the web. This is still the place where the majority of that work happens. There is a theatre scene but it is small scale and very low paid. The UK  didn’t have a fraction of the TV and film work as they do in LA, although the theatre scene in the UK is way more vibrant.

Have you found that the opportunities are better over there?

I’ve found that doors open in different and unexpected directions. I started recording audiobooks a couple of years ago and that came from someone hearing my voice on a demo – I’ve since done over 20 books. Commercials also pay residuals, so if you land a national one you can earn a very nice sum of money. And of course there are a lot of TV shows which cast supporting and guest spots, however, as is always the case with this business, getting seen by these people isn’t always as easy – you really have to have a good agent. But I do think there’s a lot more opportunity here to get your foot in the door as long as you can find the right people to help you get there and when you do make it onto something big, the rewards are high.

Steve West

Would you encourage young actors to move to LA?

I would if they really want to work in TV and film. It is not a place for the faint hearted though. You may come here with great training and a great look but you are coming to the place where everyone comes to act, so you need some real fortitude and a strong sense of self –  Hollywood will tell you a million and one things – it is you who has to keep your head on straight in this crazy town.

What would be your advice for an actor considering moving to the US for their career?

You have to be able to network here, as the saying goes, ‘it’s not what you know but who you know’. I also think the British aren’t necessarily used to standing up and proclaiming that we are good at something but in LA being too humble or modest doesn’t get you very far. You have to be able to sell yourself and own your achievements, you have to be positive and confident and ready to impress people. You are up against a huge amount of competition – but that doesn’t mean it is impossible.

What are the practicalities involved?

You will need to sort out a work visa or green card which is not easy. If you are lucky enough to be coming over here with a big agency who will send you to auditions for main roles and regular parts on TV, then they will get you a visa but for the working actor that is not an option – you’ll need that in place beforehand.

Any final tips?

My last piece of advice is to take things with a pinch of salt. LA is a town where lots of things get said but don’t necessarily happen and that can be strange and difficult to deal with. Projects are on and off, people seem very keen to see you for something and then you never hear from them again, you do a great audition and the job is practically yours but then the writer knows someone who has been on a big TV show and so the part goes to them. There is a lot to contend with but if you’ve got the determination and strength of spirit this is where the really big opportunities are.

Are you planning a move to LA? Let us know below.

Hollywood image by Tony Hoffarth from Flickr via a CC Licence.

Actor? Student? Get involved in your university drama society

7 May

ADC Theatre – home of the Cambridge Footlights

Ah, your student days – a time to party hard, make great friends and eat too many baked beans. But also an ideal place to pursue an interest in acting and to experiment without the pressure of failing. Remember, you don’t have to be a drama student to join a drama society or appear in a play.

Harry Michell, an English student at Cambridge University, and president of Cambridge Footlights – a comedy and theatre society run by students – chats to us about why university is the perfect time to get involved. 

How did you get involved with drama and the drama societies at university?

I wanted to get involved in drama/comedy before I arrived at uni and have known for a while that it’s something I’d like to pursue in the future. There are so many ways to get involved here. I started by auditioning for lots of plays and directing the Freshers Show; my previous experience at school and at the Edinburgh Fringe meant I had a slight advantage to some freshers who were just trying out drama for the first time. However, there are so many opportunities here that the advantage was minimal.

Do you mainly act or direct?

I like to make sure I act, direct and write at least once at term, as well as writing and performing comedy every couple of weeks. I think there is no point closing potential doors when I enjoy doing all three, and each role informs how I approach the others.

Is getting involved in theatre at university a good way to break into the industry?

It can be a fantastic way. Obviously it’s a very difficult field to get into, and luck plays such a huge factor, but you learn an incredible amount in such a short space of time. You also come to understand exactly how a theatre works which is something you don’t necessarily get the chance to if you go straight to drama school. Having said that, I think it also depends on which element of theatre you’re planning on going into; most actors generally leave here and go to drama school, whereas comedians generally get signed up immediately.

What would you say to people who say they are too busy to join a society but still want to pursue an acting career?

Well, you do hear stories every now and then about people who didn’t do much when they were younger but then discover acting in their twenties/thirties, but acting/directing/writing is a craft, and generally without practise and development and enthusiasm from a younger age, how can you expect a career to come of it? Also, university is a time when you can experiment and make mistakes, if you do this in the ‘real world’ it could potentially jeopardise your career, so why not take advantage of the artistic freedom uni can give you?

Are there other benefits in getting involved?

Yes definitely; it keeps you going, gives you stuff to do other than work. You join a community with people who are like minded and share similar interests – it stops you from merely staying within your college/halls.

How would you recommend someone go about getting involved? 

Just be proactive. Audition for everything, apply for anything, write things. Every time you get turned down turn it into a positive. If you don’t get cast in anything, put on your own show. If you can’t get a theatre space, put on a show somewhere strange. Be creative, you’ll constantly be knocked back, and the successful ones are those who get back up immediately and try another route.

What would you say to people who are nervous/shy about approaching a society or club?

Just go for it. In all likelihood everybody else is as nervous as you are, and you’re probably just as talented. If you don’t try you’ll spend the rest of your days (slightly hyperbolic but still…) wishing that you did.

Have any of you had similar experiences to Harry? Are any of you hoping to get involved with a drama society? Get in touch below.

Image by James Bowe from Flickr via a CC Licence.

Actors – It’s time to learn the art of persistence (VIDEO)

4 May

By Edward Randell and Elli Donajgrodzki

As you will know from our last post and live tweets, we went along to the UK Actors Tweetup on Wednesday evening (more to come from that soon!).

Whilst there we got chatting to Ajay Nayyar, an actor, producer and talent agent and owner of Khando Entertainment.

Ajay learnt to act in Hollywood after moving there in 2008, and has appeared in TV shows 24 and NCIS.  He came back to London in 2011 for medical treatment after suffering from a martial arts injury.

Having worked in Hollywood and London, he was happy to share his thoughts on how the the two industries differ, and had some interesting thoughts on how actors should approach casting agents – according to him, persistence is key.

Watch our interview with him here:

(This video contains strong language)

Do you agree with Ajay? Is it important to be persistent? Let us know below.

Britain’s best drama schools

23 Apr

The National Council for Drama Training has accredited a number of drama schools and courses around the UK and we’ve put them on a handy map for you.

Click on the links for more information.

Actors and Envy

2 Feb

Last time we spoke to Nina Bright, she told us about the term “triple threat” – actors who also excel at singing and dancing, like those darling Glee kids (minus poor Finn).

Acting is tough enough, but the term “triple threat” being bandied about means the competitive element is baked right into the industry terminology. Not only is rejection an actor’s staple but a friend’s success will at some point coincide with your failure. We asked Nina how not to be taken over by the green-eyed monster…

Do you see other actors as a threat to you?

Th term triple threat is really representative of how the acting world thinks. The whole industry is like that. Everybody is a threat.

So how do you deal with it?

You have to be able to separate feeling jealous from feeling happy for someone’s success. Also you have to remember you’re different to other people, and if someone else gets a part it’s because they were looking for that person, and not you.  You have to accept its going to be like that. Not everyone is a Juliet, and if you’re not, don’t waste your time trying to be. If you get the part of the Nurse, then be fantastic as the Nurse.

Do you suffer from envy a lot?

Everyone gets jealous, you just have to let it get to you for a little while, then remember you and other people are different. Maybe you’re not suited to the RSC! But it’s ok to mourn for a bit.

What if you and your best friend auditioned for Juliet at the RSC and she got it?

That would be bad! I’d need a day in bed for that. But then I’d get over it and say “Bloody well done you. Now please invite me to all the cast parties!” The thing is, a lot of the people I know are talented, deserving people so when they do well I am genuinely delighted. If you know someone who isn’t so talented and not very nice and they do well, then everybody gets p***ed off!

Is it difficult when you find success and someone is jealous of you?

Yes. The actors who suffer the most with envy are easy to spot because they are the ones who are on Facebook all the time, constantly trying to find out what everybody else is up to. It’s annoying.

Is there more jealously than camaraderie or vice versa?

It’s fifty fifty to be honest. If you can’t handle it, acting is not for you.

Photo: freeflyer09 via a Creative Commons licence

The Audition from Hell

30 Jan

P-p-p-p-p-poker face

Auditions are, by their very nature, competitive and high-stress, high-pressure pockets of your acting career. None of you will become actors without auditions that make you want to crawl into bed and start a new career as a mattress sheet.

Nina Bright, graduate of the Academy of Live Recorded Arts, kindly shared with In the Wings her experience of an audition that required her to dance like an androgynous minion of Lady Gaga…

So what happened?

Actors should be aware of the term “Triple threat”, which is moving into the realms of musical theatre. It’s not that I don’t enjoy musical theatre, I just can’t sing quite well enough to do it – I couldn’t be Fantine. So triple threats are people who can dance incredibly well, sing incredibly well, and act. Sometimes I feel that the dancing and singing are more important than the acting.

The funny thing is after this audition I swore I’d never tell a soul. And now I’m telling a blog!

Come on Nina, stop stalling. Tell us what happened!

An agency contacted my drama school and said they were looking for triple threat candidates. My drama school asked if they were interested in straight actors. They said yes, and could straight actors please bring along two speeches and two songs, so I took my guitar. They said it was going to be a “movement” class.

Now, in my drama school head, movement is not dance. You could apply the word “movement” to anything, but dance is dance. So when we arrived and they said “We’re going to start with the dancing” and Lady Gaga kicked in, I was somewhat horrified. The woman leading could have just stepped out of Fame. She showed us this intensely difficult pop choreography – more difficult than any dance I have ever done. I couldn’t follow it at all and everyone else was doing it really easily and I thought “Oh my god, I look stupid!”

I tried to pick it up but failed miserably, and I started grinning at the other people saying “Yes, I’m the idiot who can’t do it.” Finally it was over, and I was so relieved, and the Fame woman announced “So now, part two…” I was just in hell, and it was followed by part three, and part four, and part five…

I thought about leaving, but I kept thinking “Maybe this is just the part where they see who the dancers are”, I held on to hope. When you’re starting out and no agents are interested in you, you get desperate. I should have left, I should have listened to my instincts.

The funniest thing was that the rejection email said “It was your singing that let you down” – I just burst out laughing and thought – not the dancing?!

So how should actors avoid such an experience?

Well, this was mainly the fault of the agency. They should have been more clear about what they were looking for – musical theatre performers who they could pump into the west end scene.

If you are a straight actor be aware of the phrase ‘triple threat’. Actors should be proactive about finding out about the project what they are looking for before turning up. It could save you a lot of time and dignity!

Exclusive: more on those NYT auditions…

27 Jan

Following on from yesterday’s post, we talked to the National Youth Theatre‘s public affairs director Joe Duggan for a sneak peek into their 2012 auditions, which are now underway.

In The Wings: How many people are auditioning this year?

Joe Duggan: It’s likely to be around 4,500, which will be the most ever. It continues to grow and grow. But you know, we’re the National Youth Theatre, not the London Youth Theatre or anything like that, and the audition programme is one of the ways that we really have a national presence. We’ve got people flying up to Glasgow, and heading down to Plymouth – I’m off to Cardiff.

ITW: How many of those 4,500 will get in?

JD: Last year we accepted 500 people, and I think it’s likely to be something similar this year. I think it’s really about the level of talent that’s out there and whether we can find it. We pride ourselves on excellence. The National Youth Theatre’s been around for 56 years now, and it’s got all these illustrious alumni: Daniel Craig, Helen Mirren and so on. And I think we feel a real duty to maintain that high standard. It wouldn’t mean the same if we just let anyone in.

We think young people do enjoy competition, as well. You see the people that are successful, and how much it means to them – that they have competed in this big field and they’ve been selected because there’s something unique, interesting and individual about them.

ITW: What form do the auditions take?

JD: It’s a workshop in the morning and an individual audition in the afternoon. Our feedback is that it’s a really good experience, whether you’re successful or not, if you want a bit of a taster of what the industry feels like. The more auditions you go to, the more prepared you’ll be, the more normal it’ll feel to do it, and hopefully you’ll be able to feel relaxed and showcase yourself in the best possible light.

ITW: What would be your main pointers to people who have auditions coming up?

JD: I think should use their auditions to honestly show who they are, as a performer and as a person. We look for people who are unique, people who are curious and ask questions, and enter into a dialogue with us. Not necessarily the person who’s been cast as the lead in all the school plays, or a typically drama-ey type – but someone who will really add something to our community of members. So for a young person I’d always advise them to find a speech that they really enjoy performing, that shows off who they are.

The National Youth Theatre of Great Britain has been supporting young acting talent since 1956. Their 2012 audition programme is currently underway, and successful applicants will take up a place on one of their acting courses – which this summer will be evenly split for the first time between London’s Rose Bruford College and MediaCity, Salford.

Photo by garryknight, via Flickr, on a Creative Commons licence.

Top Tips from To Be Seen

6 Jan

Martha Shephard

Martha Shephard from online casting agency  To Be Seen shares her advice for those starting out in the business

Online Profile:

Create a profile at www.tobeseen.co.uk. It is free to create a basic profile and you can use it as your unique webpage to show your details, acting credits, photos & showreel. Casting professionals can then simply click on your link to access the information they require in order to consider you for an audition.
You can forward your To Be Seen profile link to relevant people & companies in the industry, print it on your business cards, use it in your email signature & display it in your social networking profiles.

Headshot Photos:

Having good quality photos is essential on your profile because it is the first thing that industry professionals see and it represents you.
Your photos can be black & white or colour. You should be facing the camera and have a non-distracting background. Avoid wearing patterns or prints, keep your clothing simple in solid colours. Dont go crazy with the make up, casting professionals want to see you. Adopt a relaxed friendly pose.

Martha recommends: www.davidtettphotography.com

Showreel:

Having a good showreel is the difference between getting that audition or not. A professionally made showreel is absolutely essential.
Your showreel should be approximately 3-4 minutes in length. Show your versatility by having a mixture of your acting clips. If you don’t yet have acting clips to add to it then consider a monologue piece.
Update your showreel regularly. Ensure your contact details are on it.

Martha recommends: www.silvertipfilms.co.uk

Social Networking:

Get involved in the digital stuff. Sometimes companies post auditions via their social networking pages so ensure you have a profile with Twitter, Facebook, LinkedIn and Google+ and follow relevant companies.

For help with social media, Martha recommends: www.reallybrightmedia.com

Networking:

Attend relevant networking & workshop/seminar events in the acting industry, there are loads of them about. You will meet people & companies that will give you advice and also you can swap tips with other people in the industry.

Martha recommends: The UK Actors Tweetup

The Audition:

Double-check the location of audition the day before and arrive 10 minutes early. Print out your CV and attach your headshot photo securely to it.
Find out all you can about the company and director. Research the role and the character. Lines should be learned. Be the character you are playing. Dress to fit that character.
Don’t pester the company for feedback after your audition – check your mobile & emails regularly and wait for them to contact you. Continue applying for further auditions – perseverance is key – it is a competitive industry so be prepared to work hard to land that role you want.

To find out more visit To Be Seen or follow on Twitter.

How to promote yourself

20 Nov

Advice from John Byrne, courtesy of The Stage, on how to create a Promotional Package.

Your promotional pack will be most people’s first contact with you, so aim for something simple, inexpensive (you’ll need lots of them) but not cheap looking. Put some time into compiling a good basic pack and you can mix and match it depending on who you are sending it to.

The Basic elements will probably include:

A good introductory letter: Okay, you’re in showbiz not applying for a bank loan-but your basic letter should be professional, punchy and to the point. Check out our How To section on CV writing for further tips.

Photo: Whatever else you have in your pack, have one good professionally taken shot portraying the image you want to put across. Please, no ‘wedding album/passport’ shots – they instantly mark you out as an also-ran.

Bio: Take a look at the websites or potted bios of some of your favourite performers and try to come up with some promo copy in a similar style. At the beginning of your career you may not have much experience to talk about, but point up your strengths and what makes you special. It’s showbiz, so by all means build yourself up… but avoid direct lying. You have to deliver on your promises and lies will always come back to haunt you.

Demo Discs and Video: Less essential for actors, important for singers and musicians and vital for presenters – but less is more when you are including audio or video in your pack.
A brief two to three minute reel of highlights, or a small number of your top tracks has far more chance of being looked at or listened to then a half hour of padding. Again, better one quality minute then any amount of muddy recording or visuals.

Reviews: Include any good reviews you have had in the press or on the air. Yes of course you’ll only quote the best bits of the dodgier ones – everyone does, but if you get a really good review including the original text looks a lot more credible. (You should be on the look-out for opportunities to make contacts with the press – especially your local press, to make sure you get those reviews. Don’t expect the venue to do your publicity for you).

If you can get any famous person to say something nice about you, include that in your press pack too. It makes a difference – they don’t even have to be in the same line of performance.
Increasingly promo packs are being sent by electronic means as well as by ‘snail mail’ – remember to ensure anything you email is virus free and let the recipient know it is upfront. Many professionals won’t accept attachments without prior notice, so the old fashioned skills of letter writing still come into their own.

For more from John on marketing your act visit The Stage.

Picture by highersights, from Flickr, via a CC licence.