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Making the change from student to working professional



So, you’ve graduated from a tertiary acting institution, or you decided to skip the training and jump straight into the professional ranks. Now what? Well, the biggest challenge will be in applying what you learnt in a classroom setting, to the real business of acting. Bridging that chasm is key to surviving as a freelance performer. In this author’s opinion, the most important factor is holding on to the passion you have as a student, and never letting it go. Trust me, you will be tested on a daily basis, but if you safeguard your belief in yourself, your journey will be that much easier.


The major difference is that you’re no longer participating as a performer in order to get an “A”. Now, you’re competing for work, and the competition is stiff. Healthy competition makes us better performers. Remember, you always remain a student in the acting profession, and truthfully, the real learning starts now! If you’re not actively engaged in a professional contract, you should still be attending classes, play readings, maintaining your physical shape, and doing the odd jobs that help you pay your rent so that you remain solvent in the tough times. It’s in this regard that your objectives become twofold: to constantly nurture your talent, and become a better businessperson.


One of the biggest obstacles you may encounter as you embark on your professional career, is fear. Lets face it, the nature of human nature, is to fear that which we do not know.  The best way to overcome this “fear,” is preparation, preparation, preparation.Never take any audition lightly, trust me, your colleagues don’t! And immerse yourself in the life of a freelance performer, and never ever be afraid to ask for help or advice.


Make sure that in your down times, you are always finding things to help better your craft.  Whether it be writing, or a movement class, or whatever you may find creatively stimulating.


It’s possible you graduated at the top of your class and played the lead in most of the university productions. And that’s a great starting point. But this isn’t university. You’ve yet to pay your dues. As you will see in later chapters, your attitude in the industry, plays as big, if not a bigger role than your talent, in booking that ever elusive gig.


Remember that in the professional world, there are actors who are suited to playing the middle aged father, because they are just that - middle aged.  In varsity productions, there may not have been anyone else to fill that role.  And this is very important for you as a young performer to remember and begin to work on. What is your playing age? What is unique to you as a performer that sets you apart from the rest of the industry?  We all need some sort of hook that distinguishes us from the rest.  If you don’t know what that is you can’t expect casting directors to see it for you! This self-evaluation is an ongoing process and evolves as you grow within the business.


Your journey to meeting new and interesting people has just begun, and for the most part everyone is really friendly and helpful. But sometimes things can be really hard. Sometimes you don’t get the job. Sometimes you don’t get a lot of the jobs. It’s important that you don’t take this personally, and always try and take something positive from every encounter.  If you have a great attitude, and always carry yourself professionally, then you have nothing to worry about.  For the most part, casting directors and directors are incredibly nice to audition for and will always be willing to point out where they feel you can improve.  All you have to do is ask.


Remember that when you go to any casting, there are so many factors at play, that determine who gets the role and who doesn’t.  Fat, thin, pale, dark, short, tall.  The list is endless! Sometimes talent just isn’t enough, and that’s okay.  It has to be. There is nothing you can do about the extraneous factors mentioned.  It must be said here that you have to have a support group of solid friends and family, who you can lean on during the “you didn’t get it” times. 


Look after yourself within the business and you’ll see the rest will take care of itself.  If you work hard, learn constantly, keep your wits about you and have a good attitude, the “business” will reward you in ways you never thought possible.


This article has been supplied by the South African Guild of Actors