Tips for Young Actors

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Dumb Starbucks, Smart YAC

Hey gang.

You may have heard about @DumbStarbucks, the parody store in Los Feliz, LA. The store was an accurate Starbucks from the flavors down to the CDs, with one difference:

Everything said “Dumb” on it.

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Of course, Dumb Starbucks did one thing right. They launched going into a weekend (to avoid real Starbucks’s angry lawyers). They gave away coffee for free (to avoid any lawsuits).

And they were a parody created by Comedian Nathan Fielder.

Yup, Abso Lutely productions (who also does Tim and Eric) staged the whole thing for Comedy Central.

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It’s a shame – the street could’ve really used a Starbucks, even a dumb one.

But what can we learn from this event? One, that a silly idea can get really, really big. The Dumb Starbucks idea combined things everyone cares about: free speech, coffee, comedy (is ‘dumb’ funny?), art, and big corporations.

Second, that people will stay in line for an hour if the event  is timely. Everyone YAC spoke to doubted Dumb Starbucks would last the week. (Although we overestimated it; the prevailing opinion on Sunday was that it’d be be shut down by Friday. It was closed within 20 hours).  Think about breaking the mold. Make your audition a spectator event.  Stage 20 short plays instead of one long one. Do what nobody else is doing.

The only exception? Signing up for Young Actor’s Camp. Everyone’s doing that. :)

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How to Stand Out at a Commercial Audition as a Young Actor

The majority of actors would agree that to be able to master the art of commercial auditions is an invaluable skill, considering their wide berth of exposure and on-camera experience. While commercials may seem to be easy work, and even silly at times, it is essential to learn the essence of staying natural and being yourself in a genuine way, all of which are skills learned at YAC!

Here are a few essential tips to take into account when auditioning for a commercial as a young actor:

1. Dressing appropriately.

When casting directors are casting for kids and teens, they want kids and teens that look like kids and teens! That means you need to dress age appropriate. If you’re not sure what that means, try looking at other kids and teens in commercials currently, or check with a parent. As a general rule though, girls, you should not show up caked in make-up, walking in heels or wearing inappropriately provocative clothing. More coverage is best! Boys, you don’t need to be squeezed into your best, most formal clothing with itchy collars and hair slicked down unnaturally, nor should you show up in clothing that is unclean or marked with inappropriate slogans. In fact, boys and girls, try not to wear obvious brands and slogans at all. Think of this: how would you normally look on a school day? If the answer is ‘unclean’, or wearing inappropriate clothing, well, please adjust. But you get the idea, no? And certainly take the role into consideration – tomboy or girly-girl, bully or nerd? Please don’t show up in a full-fledged costume, but there’s nothing wrong with wearing normal clothing that hints at the role. When in doubt though, school attire is usually fine.

2. Taking in adjustments.

When casting a commercial, a casting director will want to make sure a you, a young actor can change your delivery in the room; this reassures them that you can take direction, which is important when being on set and actually taking directions from a director when he/she wants to try something different. If you’re cast, but can’t take directions, this not only looks bad for you, but for the casting director. So it’s not only your job on the line, but theirs too. Unfortunately though, young actors often make the mistake of repeating, memorizing lines so many times in the exact same way while rehearsing, that they’re incapable of changing when requested. Plus, added nerves can make taking in directions almost impossible.

So, when you’re preparing a role, experiment with different ways of saying the lines, different intentions, movements (only if necessary), pacing and timing, and do not settle into any one delivery. Get creative, and play around as much as possible during your rehearsal; this will not only reassure you that you’ll be able to take directions, but it will also help eliminate any nerves. You’ll be prepared and ready to rock the audition!

3. Know the ‘what’ and ‘why’ behind your lines.

When memorizing a commercial audition, it’s very easy to do just that: play around a bit (as suggested above), but still just memorize. Instead of doing simply this, you should reflect on what your characters wants, what’s happening in this scene, what you’re really trying to convey, what obstacles are in your way should you need to overcome something, and so on. Essentially, understand what it is that you’re saying exactly, and why you are saying it. There is meaning behind everything, and you’ve got to find it! Try utilizing the common acting technique of assigning an objective to each line or paragraph using active verbs. An example would be: “I’m trying to convince my mom to give me the money to buy the new t-shirts.”

Even when dealing with a short commercial script, perhaps with less than five words, it’s possible to conduct basic script analysis. Think about who you are, where you are, what your relationship is to the other characters, what you want, what’s in your way, what are you’re going to do to get what you want, and so on. This may seem silly for just one or two lines, but by being specific, you’re already setting yourself apart from the other actors. Plus, if the casting directors don’t like your interpretation, all you have to do is take in their directions and deliver them. Don’t be afraid to take a risk and be different, but commit to that choice before you go in. Take that choice, and run through all of the above questions so that you know your character inside and out, and even be prepared to improvise the scene, if asked.

4. Create a moment before.

Scenes aren’t just “scenes”; they’re meant to be a ‘slice of real life’, and in real life, we are always living in moments that end, and another begins immediately. With that being said, a scene doesn’t ‘just start’—it has a moment before. Usually, something was happening before the scene started, or at least it can be helpful to imagine that something does. When rehearsing, try improvising the scene that may have occurred just prior to the one you’re auditioning for, just for fun. While you won’t be doing this in the audition room for longer than a second, it will not only help you get into the character and scene, but will also show the casting director that you understand the ‘slice of life’ concept, and that you take the audition seriously.

5. Memorize the first and last lines.

When you get a commercial audition, it’s most likely going to be cast the next day, which means that should you be sent sides, you won’t have very much time to memorize. The casting directors know that you’ve had little time to prepare, but when you have the lines with you in the room, ideally, they want to be able to see your face, not the top of your head as you look down to read (especially because the casting directors are taping the audition). Again, they understand there’s not always time to get off-book, but a professional young actor should try to get as close as possible! They will be very appreciative of the fact that you tried to be memorized. Hopefully though, in the process of exploring your character and playing around, you’ll begin to learn your lines naturally. But at the very least, you should learn the first and last lines by heart, so you can start and end with your face off the page. That will make a lasting and much better impression with casting, as opposed to a young actor who reads with their head down, eyes glued to the page.

6. Have fun with it!

One thing that casting director’s all love, is when young actors come in looking like they’re super excited to be there and ready to have fun! Show them that you want to be there! Not only will they be excited to work with you, but you’re showing them that not only do you have a great attitude, but you’ll be pleasant to work with on set. Try looking at commercial auditions as an opportunity to give a mini-performance to an audience that really wants to watch—they want you to be amazing and to enjoy yourself, so have fun with it. If you’re not having fun, then revise your acting choices so that you are J

7. Let the pressure go…

At any audition, it’s very easy to only focus on how much you want or need this job, but your true focus should be on feeling good about your auditions, and the work you produce. Try not to put too much pressure on yourself, and celebrate when you give an awesome audition, regardless of whether or not you book the role. And when you give a not-so great audition, reflect on what you could have done differently and make note of that for your next audition. Either way, after an audition you should do something fun and forget about it! Celebrate the fact that you’re a young actor, that you got to perform today, and that you’ll get to do it again soon.

 

Happy Acting!

How to Combat Audition Nerves

Nerves.

Everybody feels them at one time or another in their life.

But, as actors, you feel them far more often then anyone else! You’re constantly putting yourself out there, auditioning, performing, at the risk of being rejected. Unfortunately, ‘putting yourself out there’ is a necessary part of being an actor, which means that nerves will be a big part of your career… Unless you can learn to shoo those butterflies away!

While there is no guarantee method to kick those buggers to the curb, the following simple tips and tricks can help put you at ease, which will help you perform at your best and present yourself as professionally as possible, all while showing them how you can totally embody the character you’re reading for:

1. Prep Your Mind: Knowing the sides inside and out before you walk into the door is perhaps one of best thing you can do to help eliminate nerves; a good portion of your anxiety is probably a fear of forgetting your lines. But, if you’re confident you have studied, understood, and interpreted the material 100% before you even get in the door, then it will lessen the fear right off the bat. Also try and be familiar with the script and the genre if it’s available to you (it’s perfectly fine to ask your agent, should you have one, if there’s a script available); this general knowledge will also add to your confidence, via preparedness. And don’t be afraid to be aware of who might be in the room with you. For most beginning auditions, you’ll be with just the casting director and their associates, and for other auditions and callbacks you’ll be right in the room with the producers or director of the show or film. Often, if you’re with an agency, they’ll let you know about whom you’ll be seeing when you get the audition information. If not, you can always ask.

2. Compose Your Body: When we get nervous, often times there are physical symptoms: dry mouth, sweaty hands and armpits, shaking, and so on. This can put a real damper on your preparation and also add to your nervousness—not only do you feel nervous, but you look it to! But don’t fret! Make sure you get to your appointment a little early (15 minutes or so is enough) to prepare yourself before you go into the room. Go to the bathroom, fix your hair, make-up, clothes, and maybe reapply deodorant. Bring a bottle of water for the waiting room to stay hydrated, and breathe calmly and deeply. Once you’ve done this, it’s time to distract yourself and maybe review your sides.

3. Keep Busy: If you have time to kill and you’re sure you’re comfortable with the material, don’t feel that you have to keep reviewing. Sometimes frantically trying to re-read and prepare more right before your audition can cause more anxiety. But with that being said, it’s also important to review at least once right before you go in. With that being said, don’t be afraid to go over the pages when you’re on deck. Prior to that though, bring a book, headphones, or a pad of paper perhaps to distract yourself, or get into your zone (but make sure the music is kept low as not to distract fellow actors and to ensure you can hear when your name is called). You can read quietly, listening to calming music (and to prevent other people from talking to you), or doodle on the pad of paper. Also, if talking to a certain friend or loved one helps, try texting them (again, silenced, though) or go outside of the waiting room where you’re not a nuisance and chat for a few minutes to calm yourself down.

4. Breathe!  You’d be surprised how much you forget to do that when you’re all clammed up and worried about what’s going to happen. While a few deep breaths (in through the nose, out through the mouth) can really do wonders, another great method is to take a big breath, hold it for as long as you can, and release slowly, feeling how wonderful it is to have fresh Oxygen flowing into your body. You may feel a bit ridiculous doing this, so feel free to take a step outside the casting office and do it in a private place (but make sure to be back in time to hear your name called).

5. Positivity is Key. This may sound utterly cliché, but it’s so true! When you have confidence that you can nail this role, that you are exactly what they’re looking for, that this role was made for you, it really makes all the difference. You are this character, and no one else but you can embody her/him as you will. If you believe in yourself, stay confident and be positive, you can make it happen. It’s inevitable. You’ve got this.

6. FINALLY: If you have to, try imagining the auditors in their underwear, or in a funny costume, or as your friends and family. By doing this, you’re casting them in a more vulnerable light, humanizing them, and this should give you a sense of rightful power: this is your audition. So run with this! Allow yourself to take back the power and confidence for yourself. And honestly, you’ll be surprised at how much this makes the auditioning process significantly easier and less stressful.

 

Happy Acting!

How to Find Your ‘It’ Factor

There are many actors all over the world, young and old: it’s a fact. That’s why truly knowing what sets you apart from the crowds and loving what makes you, you, is vital to your career. In fact, too many actors can’t name their own ‘it’ factor, which can not only decrease their confidence, but also make it harder to be cast by casting directors, as too much ambiguity—especially when an actor is just starting out—can be confusing and even irritating when decided who to call in for roles.

So, how do you find your ‘it’ factor?

That’s easy!

Take a moment, and grab a piece of paper and something to write with, or perhaps a phone, electronic tablet, open Word document? Just be ready to write a list!

For those of you who have already worked on this at YAC, try doing another one! Has anything on your list changed? Been added? Give it a go!

1. My Appearance? This is the first thing people notice about you as soon as you walk into an audition room, go on tape, perform, etc. So go on, check yourself out! You need to evaluate your appearance and view yourself from an outsider’s perspective. Essentially, be honest! If a stranger bumped into you on the street and walked away, what would be the one feature they’d remember you by? Would it be your style, your eyes, face shape, unique nose, cool hair color, or your beautiful smile? The goal is to stand out, but not to an extreme, i.e. you don’t feel comfortable or like you’re truly being yourself.

2. My Personality? You may need some help with this one; it’s very difficult to objectively write down what your personality traits are! But, your genuine personality is a big factor of what sets you apart from the masses, especially if you can generally pinpoint it. Start off with this: what roles have you already seen in movies, TV shows or plays that most closely resemble you? Are you quirky? Are you witty? Are you shy and sensitive? Are you outgoing and friendly? Are you a clown? Are you a girly-girl? Are you a punk rocker? Are you none of these things? Are you all of these things? It’s up to you to decide, but be honest!

3. My Experience? Did you work on a school theatre set that required you to perform your own stunts? Has most of your on-screen work been in comedies you’ve shot with a friend on YouTube? Been in a period piece at your local or professional theatre? Have you created your own traveling improv troupe? Every time you perform, you acquire a piece of experience that can be put toward your dream role or project. Every role you take on enhances you not only as an actor, but also as a person. And professionally, even the smallest of experiences can be spun in your favor. Your acting experience may show variety and range, which is great, but remember, when trying to impress a casting director, it’s best to emphasize your past work on your resume that is most relevant to the role you’re auditioning for.

4. My Talents? No, no, not acting talent! The other kinds of extra skills, tidbits that are unique to your skill set. Do you have any unusual talents? Burping the alphabet, or singing while your mouth is close may be impressive, but that’s not quite what we’re talking about. Good examples include opera singing, playing an instrument, cool skateboarding tricks, sports you play well, etc. These extra talents are meant to not only show your individuality, but are for when casting directors are casting a role that requires  ‘and extra something’. Having these talents separates you from the pool instantly and increases your chances of an audition! And even if you don’t book the role, your chances of being remembered by the casting team also increases heavily.

5. My Background? And finally, what got you to where you are now? How did you get into acting? Are you from a small town in Kentucky? Are you part of a military family? Are you a former child gymnast who decided to pursue acting on whim? Although you won’t likely be asked to tell your life story in a casting room, never underestimate your story and how you’ve gotten to where you are today. Just because you don’t tell it to a casting director today, doesn’t mean that you won’t ever be asked be an agent at a workshop! And who knows! You may even have something in common with the industry people you meet. Just remember, your background, whatever it is, makes you unique!

At the end of the day, your “it factor” is comprised of a variety of things, and whatever factor gives you the extra edge, roll with it!

 

Happy Acting!

How to Avoid ‘Traps’ When Self-Submitting an Audition Tape

As young actors of today’s generation, you have the ability to audition for casting directors in Los Angeles and NYC, without even leaving your home! Yes! You have the opportunity to put your learned YAC on-camera skills to work! But, when self-submitting, there are many technical and artistic traps to fall into, with these five being the most prevalent:

1. Auditioning on video is different than auditioning in person in more ways than just the technical considerations. You don’t get to have that brief interaction with the casting people in the room, and they don’t get to gauge your demeanor, your personality as you walk in. (Both of these things could work in your favor!) More importantly, you are expected to submit a stumble-free video audition, since you have the opportunity to record several takes. In person, if you blow a line or lose your place, you’re not faulted nearly as hard. So, make sure your videos are as good as they can be!

2. Video auditions should be shot in close-up. Most casting directors will tell you that they’re looking to see the life in your eyes when you read for a part. On a video that will be played back in a small rectangle on a computer screen this is best demonstrated by shooting from the clavicle up. Why does that matter to you, the actor? Because you must be unnaturally still! Any head movement in a tight frame will look like you’ve just mainlined caffeine, or worse. Not pretty. Even wildly emotional, action scenes must be kept in that small frame, with very little physicality.

3. When filming, do not look away from your reader, even if the sides call for it, even if you’re supposed to be speaking to more than one person. The moment you look away is a moment the casting director cannot see your eyes, and it’s the moment they loose interest in your audition. While it may feel unnatural, it’s important to remember that taped auditions are special in their own right, which calls for special circumstances and practices.

4. Make a choice to focus on what you want your reader/scene partner feel in the scene! If you do that, you’ll be setting the viewer up to feel those same emotions, thus creating a connection, creating authenticity. This is what makes casting want to see more of you, which is what gets you a callback. In some sides, this may feel unnatural, and when this is the case, make a choice that allows for a refocus on the person that isn’t your character. Then, if you’re brought into the actual casting room, with the casting director, producers, director and so on, then you can shift the focus so the scene is more natural.

3. Shoot the audition from a seated position. It doesn’t matter what the character is doing. You will perform better (i.e., be more still) if you have both feet solidly on the floor and your butt on a chair. No one watching the video will know whether you were seated or not.

4. Do not fall into the trap of recording your audio on the built-in mic on the camera. There are many inexpensive solutions to this problem, and you are not to be forgiven for not taking advantage of them. Recording your voice to the on-board mic, even from just a few feet away, is the equivalent of submitting a faded black and white headshot – with jelly smudges on it. Not good.

5. Make sure your contact information is part of the video itself. You should always have your name and contact info on the video itself to make sure you’ll never be the answer to the producer’s question: “Who is this actor that we almost called in for our last project, but who would be great for our next one? I’ve got her audition right here, but the file name is Rejecteed_BR_Untitled9087.mov.” You don’t want to loose out on a part just because of a silly thing like this!

 

Happy Acting!

How to Get Through—and Totally Nail—Your Audition

There are many things that can be disputed in the entertainment industry, but one thing that cannot be challenged is this: actors who can’t audition are not likely to have a future.

But don’t panic! We’re here to help! But remember, while these steps will help you stand out, it’s important to continue your training, honing your craft as an actor, which you can do by taking auditioning classes, or attending a camp like YAC, where classes specifically pertaining to auditioning are offered!

Pretty nifty, huh?

Prior the Audition:

Firstly, let’s talk about the basics: get a proper amount of sleep the night before, have your lines memorized, dress appropriately, and have your headshot and resume ready to go. Now, attitude; you have to walk into that room prepared, without a care in the world. Auditioning is an opportunity to act, and that’s the one thing you love most, right? So don’t worry about booking the job or getting a callback. Just focus on giving a good performance. If you can do that, you’re already halfway home.

It’s very common for actors to freak out when arriving at the casting director’s office, to find 10 other actors who look just like them. Or on the flip side, actors are often stunned when everyone else is a different ethnicity, or age range. But the question here is, who cares? None of those people are your concern. The audition is about you, not them. So keep your focus and don’t allow made-up anxiety to get in your way.

Here’s something else you need to know. Agents don’t expect clients to book when they send them out on auditions. Now of course, bookings are a good thing, and your agent wants you to succeed, always, but auditions aren’t always about getting hired. They truly just want you to do well so the casting director will become a fan and start bringing you in on a regular basis. The more that happens, the more likely you are to become a working actor.

Remember, casting directors want you to do a good job. They want to be impressed. If an actor nails an audition, they’re that much closer to being done with the part.

Here’s a great quote from acting coach Ian Tucker: “They are dying for you to blow them away. They’re on your side. What do you think—they want to go through hundreds of people and settle? No. Just do what you do. Either you’re right for the part or you’re not—let them decide.”

After the Audition
:

When you’re done, it’s perfectly acceptable to ask if the casting director has any notes. If the answer is yes, listen carefully and make the adjustment. If the answer is no, say “Thank you” and leave the room respectfully. The audition is over.

On the way home, it’s a good idea to go over the performance in your head. Congratulate yourself on what you did right, and make a note of what you can do better if there’s a callback. But don’t obsess, and please don’t beat yourself up for tiny mistakes no one noticed! You’ll do much more harm than good. Again, the audition is over.

And there ya go! If you follow all of these steps, you’re already a head above the rest! Look at you go!

Now, the sad truth about the business of acting is that you will spend more time looking for work than actually working. That’s why it’s so important for you actors to enjoy their auditions. And that process begins when you first hear about the audition, not the moment you say your first line.

Happy Acting!