I came to this city and this business about 25 years ago when I stumbled into the Metropolitan Opera Chorus from my newly acquired Master's Degree and I thought I was hot stuff...but in reality I was just LUCKY. I've learned since then how difficult a struggle it is to even be seen in this town. And that's only the beginning!
I recently returned from a concert in Texas and on the way home struck up a conversation with a woman whose daughter just earned the right to attend V. C. U. to study voice. She's never done a show. Not a musical...not a play...nuttin'. But her mother, convinced of her talent, asked about moving to New York. This is for her and those like her...
1.) It's a big city and not always pleasant. Come prepared. It would be great to arrive in possession of your Equity Card (Actor's Equity Asso.) but not necessary. Fewer than 10% of dues paying members of AEA are working in any given week. But AEA is as much about protection as it is about making a living. And you need protection. Horror stories abound. The current Production Contract minimum is around $1300 weekly. Each Broadway show employs roughly 20-25 actors. There is an average of about 20 shows running at any given time. That's about 500-600 jobs. Sound like a lot? There's about a couple hundred people auditioning for that job. Almost all of them are submitted by their agent or manager. How about you? It's possible to do a series of auditions for any given job...sometimes 4 or 5 auditions. Or you may get a job like I did for the 20th Anniversary tour of Evita. "Hey Ray. Wanna play Peron on tour?" I sure did.
2.) Have a professional resume...please! Not a job resume - a performing resume. That doesn't mean something with amazing professional credits. Just what you've done...honestly. I have to tell you a story... a young man came to an audition for a production we were casting. One of his credits was for a production of South Pacific in a small theatre in San Bernadino, CA. His resume said he played Lt. Cable in the show. I asked some general questions about it and he gave me some vague and generally negative comments about it. I asked more specific questions like..."Who was the director"..."Who played Emile and Nellie"...and he couldn't quite recall. But I could. I directed that show. I played Emile and my wife played Nellie. I didn't hire HIM! And I didn't hire him again this time. Oops!
3.) Please have a headshot that looks like YOU! Your school photo doesn't qualify. Glamour shots don't qualify. The Polaroid your mother/brother/friend/lover/wife/husband took does not qualify. Get a professional job done.
4.) Most important of all...get some experience and training. As much as you can lay your hands on. If it's possible to get a degree - get one. Preferably in Business. Because Showbiz is a lot of Biz and not so much Show. There are tons of acting schools...and keep training. You'll never learn it all. Learn new monologues, new songs, see shows, keep at it! Acting, singing, dancing! Never forget that this is a business. The more skills you have, the more chances for work! Just like the real world!
New York is expensive. Rent, transportation, training, headshots, coaching...the list is endless. Be prepared to work outside the industry. Most of us do. If you can't suck your parents account dry - get a job!
Most of all...come prepared to meet the most amazingly talented people you've ever met. Anything you do well - somebody here does it better. But they'll feel exactly the same way that you do...insecure as hell and proud to be a part of the most challenging, frustrating and satisfying group of people on Earth. But! Nothing comes without work. And perseverance will outlast talent. And enough of this Venus crap...that's HER job.
Having been raised in New York and cast in my first professional show at the age of ten, it hadn't occurred to me that most of the aspiring performers in this world had never seen a live show, never mind one on Broadway. It wasn't until I began teaching, at the request of Stella Adler, at her Conservatory, that I had the opportunity to interview thousands of students from diverse backgrounds who shared this same performance dream, without the necessary information leading them to the next step.
I remember going into a department store, while on the pre-Broadway tour of "Jekyll and Hyde", in Louisville, Kentucky, where my husband was playing Simon Stride. I was approached by the Lancome representative, who had followed my "J & H" tee-shirt with a starstruck gaze and breathlessly asked what advice I could give her to get her to New York to begin her acting career. She was working at the Lancome counter because someone advised her this would be a great first step to having a career in acting. I suggested she'd be better off taking acting classes and working, even if it's selling tickets for the Actors Theatre of Louisville, an award-winning repertory company in her own backyard . I also suggested that she begin to read...every play she can get her hands on, and every collection published by the Actors Theatre of Louisville, so she could begin her own collection - of plays and monologues with which she has an affinity. She then asked, "What's a monologue?" That next morning I booked our first teaching tour, across the nation, to coincide with the "J & H" tour schedule. We offered workshops to every college and university that would have us. I was determined to dispel the myth that a career in acting was ever going to be attained by working from the outside in. Many have tried, and if they haven't failed in their career, they have failed themselves. We've all seen the results of their broken lives in the headlines. Stella Adler taught that the actor's soul knows the difference between the truth and that which is fake; she vowed it would not let you rest until you made this connection conscious and chose what is true. She received five honorary doctorates for her work, and awakened all whose lives she touched.
In this series of columns, we will attempt to answer all of your questions about performance, from beginning to master levels. The first question asks about preparing for the journey to New York: "If you can make it there, you'll make it anywhere; it's up to you...New York, New York!" should be taken literally.
Ray already warned you of the expense of living in New York. There are too many survival issues with which to contend without having to combine the additional stress of staying employed as an actor. New York is not a first step in your acting journey. New York is the ultimate step. It is where your dream of performing on a Broadway stage is realized! Since very few shows originate here, but rather migrate here after receiving great critical acclaim, the most recommended path is that which takes you here as a member of the cast. You can then spend your days auditioning for your next job. <
Raymond McLeod has performed internationally and taught vocal technique from Los Angeles to New York City, from Broadway and opera, to film and television, for the past 27 years. He currently teaches voice and musical theatre performance with his wife, Deborah Kym, in their own New York studio, D.R.M. Studios, Inc. He is currently reunited with Rob Evan and George Merritt in his latest performance project: a symphonic show entitled "Oh Those Voices!", New York's leading baritones. You can check it out on: OhThoseVoices.com or McLeodonstage.com.|