Tough Love for Actors

Paulby Paul Russell

 How Actors Can Conquer Self-doubt & Fear

Too often there comes a point when I realize that the actor before me is too much in their head. To paraphrase Arthur Miller: their craniums are living thoughts of quiet desperation with destructive speculations ricocheting off one another:

Is there something wrong I’m doing that is causing my career not to flourish?
Why am I not getting to the goals I want?
Failure must be my fault.
I suck.

We all, at various detours sidetracking our journeys, pull ourselves into these destructive weigh-stations of negative reflection. Souring reinforcements derived from past situations in which affirmations from peers and/or family bears only a barren fruit stand. Lacking refreshment our thoughts meander to dry soil beds sprouting weeds of negativity. Deprived of outside encouragement we turn inwards blaming or demeaning ourselves as to being the fault for not eliciting the praise or advancements desired. ‘What’s wrong with me?’ doubting slithers into the mind. When that nagging inner-voice routes its phantom calling to our cranium tendency is to wallow in the false comfort of empty self-pity. There is no substance to offering the soul healthy nourishment within the wretched thoughts.read more

Tough Love for Actors

Paulby Paul Russell

‘Paid Auditions’: Who’s to Blame?

An acting studio advertises: “Get seen by Agents and Casting!” In reaction do you picket as a dissenter? Or participate as a presenter? Are you an artist above self-advocacy? Or an actor trudging the self-promotion trenches? Whatever your action or inaction the bedrock has been set.

The sediment first formed as showcases at acting studios. Actors learned under the advisement of iconic teachers. At the end of the class semester, be it six months or a week, an agent, casting director, or director was invited to view the progress of the actors.

Then the earth quaked.read more

Tough Love for Actors

Paulby Paul Russell

Why Actors Shouldn’t Trust Email

Actors have lost auditions and jobs due to email.

On recent Paul Russell Casting projects I deliberately engaged in a digital experiment. My office, when reaching out to unrepresented actors, sought electronic submissions only. The result? Devastating for the techno-addicted thespians.

What happened? Some startling surprises:

1. Actor email submissions dumped into the PRC spam folderread more

Tough Love for Actors

Paulby Paul Russell

5 Ways Actors Obliterate Post-Project Blues

A joyous job lands in your lap. There’s excitement. Heightened anticipation. Self-imposed anxiety as you desire to deliver more than your best to an upcoming project. Then come the rehearsals. Bonding with new friends. Veering from the drama queen(s). Discoveries bloom both on and off stage or screen. You explore: viewpoints, Snickers vodka, hang-ups and hangovers. “High-ho the glamorous life.” But then…the fun is done. The project concludes. Once more your feast has withered to famine. WTF to do?

You’re lost. No longer are there the opportunities for enjoying late-night parties with cast mates followed by the 4 AM Taco Bell runs. Departed is rowdiness (and occasional raunchiness) embraced with new peers whose names and faces will be lost to your recall six months hence. Gone are the red-eyed rehearsals following late-night excesses. There’ll be no more sharing with your bros and gal pals the snack of ‘grandma’s special brownies’ spiked with green herbs picked from a local corner ‘retailer.’ No more “I dreaded this one aspect of a scene but then I conquered my fear. I now can kick ass on any challenge.” No more pondering of a co-worker while you snuggle in their bed, “How did you get in my arms and how was I so lucky to discover you? Does this mean we move in together later? My independence forfeited to my bad habit of co-dependency? I should rethink this showmance…”

There’s no more floating within the cozy, production bubble protecting you from living reality beyond the short-lived bubble’s membrane. Protection has popped. You fall back to a hard landing on the unyielding cement that is a civilian’s path. Depression seeps up from the cracks lining life’s sidewalk. Grief anchors your legs. Sadness mires your spirit. Welcome to what nearly all performing artists suffer at least once in their career: Post-Project Blues.

The best remedies against Post-Project Blues for when you’re suddenly unemployed are:

1. Seek future work prior while working. Set aside time from temporary play associated with your current project so that you may invest in your long-term career. Do your digital and hardcopy marketing to highlight to future employers and gatekeepers your current work. A working actor is far more attractive to an employer than a desperate, unemployed artist pleading for attention. Work begets work.

2. When your current project ends delve deep into tasks that will further propel your career forward. Engage strongly in expanding your marketing, networking, auditions, and classes. To continue growing a successful career the previously highlighted activities must never be abandoned during an actor’s journey. Investments in yourself spark your synapses and opportunity.

3. Return to your routine of life’s daily rituals (exercise, strolls, and meet-ups with friends) that you enjoyed prior to your most recent creative project that had scheduled your every available moment.

4. Hold fond the memory of the recent experience but don’t dwell on what no longer exists. Focus on the future. Going forward requires momentum. Backing up restrains speed.

5. Keep close the new friends you made and create with them new memories. Even when distance of geography may separate you, technology assists remaining close.

Upon my return from working with John Guare with my having directed the regional premiere of John’s A Free Man of Color I suffered severe Post-Project Blues. I crashed harder than I had ever before professionally after a project’s end. I was nearly immobile mentally, and physically. The mental paralysis could have been fatal to my career and daily living. In order to survive, grow and prosper both professionally and personally I had to abandon my mourning for the project’s end. I had to push forward and abandon my loss. I retained fond memories while shunning depression. To conquer Post-Project Blues I, like every artist whose heart is broken after a joyous project terminates, knew that in order to harvest future joys I had to return to seeding the field that is my career.

Plow forward so that you may seed and harvest new goals; especially if you’re currently enjoying a feast of a goal met.

My best,
Paul

 


Paul Russell’s career as a casting director, director, acting teacher, and former actor has spanned thirty years. He’s worked on projects for major film studios, television networks, and Broadway. Paul’s taught the business of acting and audition technique at NYU, and speaks at universities including Elon, Yale, Temple and the University of the Arts. He is the author of ACTING: Make It Your Business – How to Avoid Mistakes and Achieve Success as a Working Actor. For more information, please visit www.PaulRussell.net.

Tough Love for Actors

Paulby Paul Russell

Should Actors Send Thank You Cards To Agents, Casting Directors & Directors After Every Audition?

A $10 to $15 gift-card as a “Thank You for Seeing Me” must be sent by every actor to each director, casting director and talent representative after that actor has been granted each audition opportunity by the entertainment industry gate-keepers. Your forehead just creased like corduroy after your having read that absurdity. There’s a foolish New York acting teacher who has been advising this costly and hollow advisory to his students.

Recently I received a distressing e-mail regarding thank you cards and accompanying ‘gifts’ from the mother of an actress who was terribly led astray by a questionable professional:

Mr. Russell,

I just finished reading your book ACTING: Make it Your Business. You seemed to welcome questions from readers, so I thought I’d try to e-mail you.

My daughter has been taking one-on-one acting lessons with a teacher in NY. You had suggested in your book that thank yous should always be sent after auditions. He suggested that when we go to auditions, or to those paid sessions where we are seen by agents/casting directors, we send thank you comp cards with a short note from her, as well as a Starbucks gift card ($10-15).

  1. Do you think this is appropriate? I am not sure how this ‘gift’ might be interpreted.
  2. How far out can we wait to send them? Is 3-4 weeks reasonable?read more

Tough Love for Actors

Paulby Paul Russell

Is There Overused Audition Material?

“You can’t do that scene, everyone does it.”

“Never sing that song in an audition, it’s done to death.”

“Everyone and their mother murders that monologue.”

How many times have you heard the above or similar about audition material? Spoken by actors who say ‘they’re in the know’; or blathered by academics who haven’t attended a professional audition since being tenured when Cats was a West End curiosity; or whined from cranky casting zombies bitter for having to beg actors audition for no-to-low paying gigs?

There is no such thing as ‘overdone.’ A repeated monologue, scene, or song is either done well by an actor or mangled with injustice by a presenter.

Actress Laura Gurry contacted me and two of my casting director colleagues, Scott Bradley and Michael Cassara, in seeking advice on the too-oft-asked-question-by-worrisome-actors, “Is it overdone?”

Gurry, Bradley, and Cassara generously permitted me to share with you our Facebook exchange:

Screen Shot 2014-10-22 at 1.28.13 PM

There was a reason I’d rarely heard “Unbridled Passion” if at all…

Screen Shot 2014-10-22 at 1.28.24 PM

Oooh… auditors at the combines, say no more:

Screen Shot 2014-10-22 at 1.39.11 PM

Cassara’s succinct answer shows how simple the answer is to this overwrought question.

The above, and the following excerpt from ACTING: Make It Your Business applies to any audition material be it monologue, scene or interpretive sock puppet soliloquy. Understood? Good.

“…The unwritten law prohibiting use of “overused songs” in auditions is bull. The b.s. comes from auditors and academics who are lazy listeners. I have no problem hearing countless renditions of “Corner of the Sky” from Pippin and “Anthem” from Chess. If an “overused song” is presented well, I’m a happy casting director. Reach for that money note beyond your range in “Anthem” with a screech and you’re history.

…A person’s ability to sing a song well, with great skill, should be the barometer for talent, rather than the number of times the song has been heard.

If you sing and interpret a song well, do it. But don’t become hooked on a couple of songs at which you know you kick ass. Having a songbook that covers all genres of music is key to versatility. Variety is welcomed and necessary.”

And finally: don’t let newbie-while-jaded casting personnel or ‘in-the-know’ actors stop you from doing what you do well. Go ahead and belt “Defying Gravity” from Wicked; as long as you don’t land it with an earth shuddering thud.

My best,
Paul

 


Paul Russell’s career as a casting director, director, acting teacher, and former actor has spanned thirty years. He’s worked on projects for major film studios, television networks, and Broadway. Paul’s taught the business of acting and audition technique at NYU, and speaks at universities including Elon, Yale, Temple and the University of the Arts. He is the author of ACTING: Make It Your Business – How to Avoid Mistakes and Achieve Success as a Working Actor. For more information, please visit www.PaulRussell.net.

Tough Love for Actors

Paulby Paul Russell

How Typecasting Robs Actors & Reality

Too many agents, casting directors, directors, and, yes, even an open-call line crammed with agitated actors can be short-sighted in envisioning truthful optics of what characters actors can portray. Although, some actors tend to be creative (re: delusional) when they envision whom they can inhabit; such as a 4’11” gamine actor who fumes about being ‘short-shortsightedly snubbed’ for a spotlight to personify Abe Lincoln.

Talent agents and casting decision makers don’t sport the rose-colored specs as does the “I can play any role” Norma Desmond actor. Talent agents believe themselves ‘realists’ determining who can be what type or inhere a profession. But are their instincts always being honest to reality?read more

Tough Love for Actors

Tough Love for Actors

Paulby Paul Russell

Why Actors Are Losing Audition Opportunities

A troubling trend…

Talent agents Lynne Jebens (Senior Legit Agent, The Krasny Office), Ken Melamed (Agency Owner / Partner, Bret Adams, Ltd), Diane Riley (Senior Legit Agent, Harden-Curtis & Associates) and colleague Casting Director, Michael Cassara (Michael Cassara Casting, CSA) have confirmed a harmful, new career trend by actors I first suspected circa 2009. Actors may unknowingly be leading themselves into obscurity.

What have actors done (or not done) to do themselves in? Many actors have abandoned a vital marketing technique and what’s worse; they haven’t adequately replaced the promotion ploy with an equally effective tool for achieving notice, audition appointments, and/or talent representation.

What’s missing from modern actor marketing?

Mail. Land mail precisely. If you believe actor emails to talent agents and casting personnel have filled the gap, you’re woefully mistaken. As our industry insiders will soon attest, actor emails are either going unread via a single dump-click, or aren’t being received.read more

Tough Love for Actors

Paulby Paul Russell

Changing Coasts for an Acting Career? – 7 Must-ask Decider Questions before Moving

An actor recently posted on a social media network:

“Sometimes I wonder if I have accomplished everything that I can on this coast at this time… and I wonder if there is more for me on the West Coast than there is here.”

Oh, the grass is always greener… elsewhere.

A better agent awaits…

A more active career beckons beyond…

A tastier pizza bubbles down the street…

A hotter passionate lover sizzles somewhere…

Oh yes, the grass is always greener for all of us… elsewhere.read more

Tough Love for Actors

Paulby Paul Russell

Major Mistake Actors Make on Their Résumé

You can’t act…

…possibly according to your resume, and to many of your actor acquaintances. You’ll never be a good enough actor to play a lawyer, nurse, doctor, cop, politician, any profession beyond that of an actor.

An epidemic of your peers foolishly believe that if an actor doesn’t possess a degree for a particular, non-acting profession or own a police uniform, nurse’s scrubs, or lab coat, they won’t be considered by casting for an audition and/or job to play a principal role reflecting the occupation of study and/or dress.

You may scoff. Trade casting chairs with me. Discover in the following exchange (based on a true conversation) where this poison festers—delusional, novice actors I and my casting colleagues encounter:

“Why do you have on your acting résumé your graphic design degree?”read more