My name is Acushla-Tara and at present I am employed, more-often-than-not, as an actress in Wellington, NZ. I have been working professionally on and off since 2012 and since finishing my tertiary studies last year have been regularly employed on stage, on screen, and behind the scenes.
When I was first asked to write an article about how I got a foot in the door of the professional acting scene in Wellington there was no easy step-by-step plan that I had taken that I could recite. This got me thinking about the amazing opportunities I have been gifted, the hard choices I have made and the crazy string of events that somehow led me to where I am now.
Knowing the risks involved in pursuing a career as an actor (the varied pay, working job-to-job, the lack of any basic career path to follow/achieve etc), I decided to study business at Victoria University. While studying I found I couldn’t completely give up on my first passion and continued performing within the amateur acting scene. Truth be told, from this point I kind of fell into the professional industry after a casting director saw me in an amateur piece and offered me an audition. Everything snowballed from there and I attribute a lot of my success to straight up luck. HOWEVER looking back I can pick out some key choices I made during that time that helped me move more rapidly/successfully into the professional scene.
1. Make the most of every opportunity
This is hands down the most important step to finding success in any realm, including acting. I had an agent; I had headshots; I was doing everything by the book. But the first ‘real’ audition I had, the one that got my foot in the door and my face in front of the right people, all came from the work I was doing in the amateur scene. I was studying full time, but I still worked on most short films and theatre shows that came my way. I developed my skills and met a lot of people, which led to the next show or script reading. If I had said no to any of these opportunities, if I didn’t push myself, there is no way I’d be where I am now. Each one is a chance to meet that one person who might cast you in your first paid role, or give you your first lead part, or even just a chance to develop your skills. It’s the great saying: ‘there are no small parts …’.
A lot of people I have met don’t like to openly talk about this. It’s like talking politics or money, but it is so important. Get to know your cast members, crewmembers and audiences. You never know who is watching and what exciting project they, or your fellow collaborators, are working on unless you talk to them. I’m very much a people person so I find networking to be something that comes naturally to me. Even if it’s not your thing, don’t be afraid to step outside your comfort zone for a moment or two. The key to networking is to be genuine: Be honest in your interactions and develop a desire for curiosity.
3. Develop your skills
This is definitely something I need to work on and will continue to do so for the entirety of my career. Like any other job it is imperative to develop and add to your skill base if you want to move forward. Wouldn’t it suck to be offered a paid job, with a script and team you loved, only to have to turn it down because you can’t sing or rollerblade or ride a horse? Every skill you have as a person is something more you can offer as a performer. Always continue to learn and grow - your work in this area is never finished.
4. Put yourself out there
I was very fortunate that my first few professional jobs were offered to me. I was a little naïve/lazy when it came to actually seeking out this work myself. I think it was something to do with not knowing how everything worked; what the unwritten rules were when it came to asking for a part or the chance to audition. So I simply took what was offered. Recently I was given this advice from a director I had worked with a few times: “Put yourself out there, seek out parts you want and make them yours”. So nerves aside that is exactly what I did. Luckily the first attempt was successful and I scored myself a 10-week theatre gig. Your career is in your hands and every job you push for is an investment in the future of that career.
Finally, even if you have worked on everything I’ve already mentioned, you will be hard pressed to succeed if you don’t truly want it. A passion for acting needs to be supported by a desire to succeed. Without that drive it is highly unlikely (although not impossible) that one will fall into a professional career. I have a few friends that ‘want to be actors’ and do truly love it and I’ve seen these same people turn down opportunities to work at a new theatre or with a new group of people because they can’t get time off work… from the job they originally got to support their passion for acting. I personally believe one of the key reasons I’m now working professionally, doing what I love, is because I always put it first. I make sacrifices and I push myself (admittedly a bit too hard at times). I want it enough.
All this being said, there are a lot of things that are completely out of your control. You may have focused on every aspect outlined above, scored yourself an audition and nailed it - but your skin tone isn’t quite right, or you’re a bit too tall, or you don’t fit well with someone they have already cast and it’s all over. The best you can do is work your butt off and hope when that little bit of luck is thrown your way you’re in the right place to take it and own it! ▼