When I first started acting, it was a side hobby that was just for fun. While people in my Intro to Improv classes were talking about how they would be on the Second City Mainstage in less than a year, I made a pact with myself to continue acting as long as it was fun. It made me relatively cavalier about how I interacted with my peers because I didn't really care about what I said or what I did; the consequences of my actions were irrelevant because I wasn't planning on doing it long-term. However, things changed after year one. I decided that I really liked this and wanted to continue doing it. I then decided I needed to go onto the next level of classes to get more training. This is where I found I was now a player in "the game".
The theatre scene requires two major skills - on-stage & off-stage. The on-stage skills are the ones most people think about and work to hone. We take a million classes, workshops, and seminars to be the best actors we can be. We try to incorporate everything we read, hear, and say into our work. We work hard on keeping our bodies, voices, faces, and minds in shape so that they're available to us at a moment's notice. These are all important and are the skills other people see 80% of the time. But you also need the off-stage skills. These include skills in business management, communication (written and verbal), psychology (understanding people, situations, and how to react to them), and general professionalism (being on time, learning your lines, responding to emails, contributing to the production's promotion, etc.) These are the ones no one teaches nor emphasize as being just as important to your overall career as the "real acting" skills.
Another (in)famous saying in theatre (or entertainment in general) is, "It's not what you know. It's who you know." This cliche sums up the game quite succinctly. Off-stage skills can be used to further your career. Since you never know who may be casting what project, you have to assume that everybody you interact with will potentially be on the other side of the long audition table at some point. This includes all of your directors, teachers, actors, stage crew (set builders, tech people, lighting people), box office concierges, producers, caterers, and even patrons you encounter along the way. Everyone of these people can influence your next move! Do your best to interact with EVERYBODY and make a good impression with each of them. You can't make everybody like you but you can at least try to have everyone know you, and once they know you, hopefully you made a good impression on them to keep you in mind for future opportunities.
I recently treated a workshop with a famous director as an audition for future work. I paid $50 to spend three hours with this person which I wouldn't normally get access to. I dressed up for the audition and brought all of my skills to the front for those three hours. I made a great impression and now have a regular correspondence with her. I've even helped make it possible to have a private session with this director to get even deeper into the line of work I've been dreaming of in June. Guess what I'm going to do for that. Treat THAT time like an audition as well :) Yes, I may not get the job I'm looking for directly this way; however, I am keeping hope that I'll be remembered when someone is needed for one of their productions in the future.
Playing The Game
Here are some things you can do yourself to distinguish yourself from others when working your off-stage skills:
- Take advantage of your Facebook/Twitter friends. If you have a chat feature, chat with the people on the list. It can be a simple "hello". There is a reason why you're connected with these folks so use the technology to keep your presence in their minds.
- Attend other people's shows and make sure they know you were there. Even if you leave early, at some point, let them know you got to see their show and what you thought of it. Be honest (but cautious) about your feedback. If you need help telling someone you didn't enjoy their show, hit me up on twitter (@nvgdesign) and I'll give you tips as to how to say something honest while staying positive.
- Make it a point to connect to everyone in your classes in some manner (even if you don't necessarily like them). Keep your ears open for things you can relate with your fellow classmates on (sports, fashion, TV, etc.) I wish I had followed this in my early days of improv because many of those people have gone onto bigger and better things for which I sometimes wish I were a part of.
- Promote shows/classes/workshops you believe in that you're not a part of. Show that you can support others off-stage as well as on-stage.
- Jump on opportunities to be involved in productions you want to be a part of. I recently jumped into teaching some workshops by butting my way into a conversation some of my castmates were having with a producer a few weeks ago. I made no apologies for it because I KNEW it was the right opportunity for my group.
I've run into a lot of people who know me merely for my schmoozing techniques. They also say, "Oh, I didn't even know you're an actor!" Yes, I'm a professional brown-noser; not in the traditional sense, which is usually the case. To the contrary - brown-nosing is insincerity used to make personal gain. I only give out compliments to the opportunity gatekeepers that I believe in to parlay into building a relationship that can go two ways. The person I am engaging gets a qualified person for the job they need to fill and I get to enjoy the opportunities presented to me. There's no shame in doing so. Everybody wins.
Go out into the world, my friends, and make your opportunities grow by leaps and bounds! Let me know what techniques you have found useful in furthering your career off-stage in the comments below.