Tag Archives: acting

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.

Meet, greet and tweet: reporting from the UK Actors Tweetup (VIDEO)

6 May

by Elli Donajgrodzki and Edward Randell

On Wednesday we made our way to the UK Actors Tweetup to hear – and livetweet – a panel discussion on the Cannes Film Festival. Producer Christine Hartland, director Paul Hills and Variety’s Alberto Lopez tackled burning issues including whether Cannes is the Bournemouth of France, what shoes to wear and the most effective schmoozing techniques. The general consensus among the panel was that Cannes was less useful for actors than for producers and directors, but that it could still throw up unexpected opportunities: or as Hills put it, “The beauty of Cannes is the chance meeting”.

We spoke to Hills, as well as UK Actors Tweetup founder Angela Peters and actress Moyo Akandé, about sharing tips with other thespian tweeps, and the benefits of mixing work with pleasure.

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.

Acting – the stats you need to know

30 Apr

By Elli Donajgrodzki and Erica Buist

Equity has published a report by Creative & Cultural Skills on the state of the performing arts industry. They reported that there are 5,480 businesses and 101,593 people working in the performing arts sector. Of these, a minimum of 34% are employed in onstage occupations like acting or dancing – such as yourselves, dear readers.

If you are one of these, you should read this report to find out the state of the industry and where you stand within it.

The Figures

Did you know that the UK has the largest cultural economy in the world, employing more than 678,000 people and contributing almost £25 billion to the UK economy each year?

Did you know that in the performing arts industry, gender is almost exactly equal (49% women) but only 6% of the industry is non-white?

Some of the findings even show a steady improvement in the situation of actors, despite the recession. It’s still the hardest profession in the world – but at least employment is on the up! Employment in the performing arts grew by 20% between 2006-7 and 2008-9.

Of course, the report confirms you need to watch those pennies – 73% of people in the performing arts industry earn less than £20,000 a year.

In the Wings has collated some of the most interesting findings for you below. Feel free to contact us if you have questions, or read the full report here.

Who is the typical performing artist? How do you fit in?
As you can see, 58% of performing artists are self-employed compared to only 13% of the rest of the population.
47% are under 40 years of age, showing that acting is still a fairly young profession. Which of you will replace Judi Dench and Bill Nighy?

Employers in performing arts are concerned that formal education doesn’t adequately prepare applicants for what is actually required of them in the perfoming arts industry. Applicants who enter the industry are unprepared in the following ways:

Looking at the graph below, it seems clear the closer you are to London, the more work you are likely to find. Of course, if you feel like setting up a performing arts business in the North East, you may bring the statistics up!

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.

Les Miserables – Musings of a resting actress

18 Nov

Our first guestpost comes from the brilliant Resting Actress on the problems that out of work actors face.

When I pluck up the courage to tell people what I do, it is normally met with gushing excitement. Trying not to seem like an ungrateful manic-depressive I smile, nod and try to get onto another subject as quickly as possible.

Unfortunately acting is a much more interesting career to say you do, rather than actually do, because for many struggling and desperate actors the reality is glum.

I have recently found a new agent and have been eagerly attending classes and singing lessons, reading plays and visiting the theatre, all to prepare for the fateful day when I get an audition.

When this rare occasion arises I am filled with hope, excitement and enthusiasm, but underlying this is a feeling of dread, self-doubt and a constant preparation for rejection. This whirlwind of emotions combined with the constant busyness (and expense) of preparing and rehearsing can be exhausting, and all with very little to show for it except an empty wallet and a few tears.

This brings me onto my main gripe about the life of a ‘Resting Actress’.

Everything that I have briefly outlined already is but ONE of our careers. Alongside all of this we are also reliant on the “Real Job”. The “Real Job” provides the income; it’s the 9 to 5 or the evening job. Working in a restaurant until 1am, slaving away in a pub for minimum wage or sitting in a discount ticket booth selling tickets to shows you should be IN, not trying to sell. This is our second career.

I myself keep busy with a mixture of work including waitressing and promotional jobs (handing out free samples of Babycham outside the local AA) in an attempt to avoid the boredom and relentlessness of just one job – one job that with every shift is a constant reminder of what I am NOT doing with my life!

I of course understand that this is the life we chose, enough people warned me how difficult it is and how poor I will always be (thanks Mum). I am not naïve, I did not think it was going to be a bowl of cherries and that I’d be bouncing from one job to the next like an ex Big Brother contestant, but what I and the other ‘Resters’ find difficult is the lack of understanding we encounter from the acting industry when it comes to auditioning.

Let me set the scene.

I receive an audition from my agent. Not only does this quash my theory that he is dead, but also reinstates my faith that he does know how to work Spotlight. It is tomorrow at 12pm, I need to prepare two scenes in Dutch and choose a song from the Swing era in C Minor, you know the type.

Great, but I now have to get out of my shift at work tomorrow. So, either I risk losing my job by pulling a sickie, or I find the nice manager at work and hope that flirting with him (he’s nice but has a face like the underside of the Phantom’s mask!) will get the shift covered. Either way, I lose a day’s wage for one audition. An audition I probably won’t get.

This aside, we do it, it’s our job and we are passionate/stupid enough to sacrifice making a living for that 90 seconds in front of a panel who already know who they are going to cast.
I am constantly reminded that, as an actress, it is my job to attend auditions. But, as I constantly remind the casting directors (silently of course), attending auditions does not pay a wage!

This said, we all know that we will carry on slogging our guts out learning seven songs, three scenes and attend nine recalls if we are lucky enough to be asked for. In return Pippa Ailion will not remember your name, David Grindrod will not give you feedback and Trevor Jackson will continue to play Space Invaders on his laptop.

So remember my fellow Thespians, when someone asks, “So, what do you?” do yourself a favour, tell them you’re a vet.

What do you think? Do you agree with Resting Actress?

Picture from sludgegulper, on Flickr, via a CC Licence.

Why actors should start looking locally

13 Nov

Actor Phoebe Gann tells us why she thinks working with local communities can really benefit young actors.

Phoebe Gann performing with Roughshod

Phoebe started out as many actors do, studying English and drama at University. After graduating she went straight into working with Riding Lights Theatre Company, based in York.

In 2011 she was offered a place with the community arm of Riding Lights, Roughshod. With four other young actors she devised a sketch show, which they then toured across the country for sixth months, performing in prisons, schools, churches, and for youth groups.

She feels that learning how to perform for different communities and audiences can really benefit actors.

“Because you’re performing in front of so many different types of audience, ranging from a group of old people in a little village church, to a group of teenagers in an inner-city school, you have to adapt the way that you perform. It teaches you to be quite versatile with the material that you’ve got.

I suppose if you’re on a big stage and the audience leaves, then you don’t get to connect with them in the same way, you don’t get to talk to them afterwards and find out what they thought.”

As part of Roughshod’s work, Phoebe also carried out acting workshops with different groups. A skill that she feels can really help actors to become more employable.

“I think that getting experience in leading workshops and working with community groups is really invaluable. As an actor you kind of need to be able to have more than one skill.

Because acting jobs are hard to find and you’re not necessarily always going to be in acting work, if you’ve got a whole bunch of practical skills that you can offer to people then that can be really appealing.

Being able to offer to run a confidence-building workshop or a drama-skills workshop can be really beneficial. It’s just more tools in your toolkit really, to give you that little bit of extra money or experience.”

Phoebe was recently offered a part in Riding Lights’ Christmas show, her third job for the company. Evidence that working hard and impressing a theatre company can really pay off.

What do you think? Is joining a local theatre company a good way of getting into the industry?

Photograph by Martin Duke