DISCLAIMER: I'm still fairly new here! My info is limited to my own experience. There are plenty of other actors out there who will have different advice and different insights. I am not any kind of resident expert--just sharing what I know. So ask around--lots of other folks ARE resident experts.
First of all, why move to Salt Lake City, Utah to pursue a career in ACTING? A few reasons:
1. It's pretty here. (Hiking! Mountains! Trees! Nature!)
2. The cost of living is pretty darn affordable. Rent for a 1-bedroom apartment runs in the $400-$800 range, depending on your neighborhood.
3. Lots of films and television shows get made here, because filmmakers get a BIG tax break from the state.
4. It's a great "training ground" if you'd like to move to Chicago, LA, or NYC someday. If you do choose to move to those places, you'll be competing with people who have IMDB credits and regional theaters on their resumes. If you DON'T have those things, SLC is a great place to gain them.
5. Most projects are non-union, so if you're not Equity or SAG, you can still find lots of work.
Do I have you convinced? Okay, here's what I've learned!
Okay, here are a few things that people have told me, or that I've learned on my own, to help you build a career in acting. I'm gonna focus specifically on theatre and screen in separate posts, so here are just some thoughts about acting in general.
1. Make an investment in your career.
Be wise, and don't pay for things you can't afford. BUT, you should definitely expect to pay some money for good audition outfits, good makeup (for the ladies), and good headshots. Optional expenses include things like a pro membership on IMDB, a personal acting website, business cards and postcards, and lots more. Keep track of your expenses, though! Because if you make any money acting, you can write them off on your taxes.
2. Seriously. Get good headshots.
This is so so so important. Like, this is what will get you in the door, and help people remember you. Here's what a headshot should be: It should focus on your face, and specifically on your eyes. Choose colors that flatter your skin and hair color, and stay away from black, white, and busy patterns. You should have two main headshots: one "commercial" (smiling, friendly) and one "theatrical" (serious "acting" headshot).
3. Remember that there are LOTS of factors that go into casting.
Talent is a part of it, but it's only one small part. Other factors include look, type, voice, availability, compatibility, how much they'd have to pay you, pure instinct, what phase of the moon it is, the will of reptilian overlords, etc. It's impossible to know why casting decisions are made. And remember that success is a numbers game, as much as anything else. For every "yes," there will be at least ten "no's." So just keep auditioning. Sometimes it's pure statistics...the more you audition, the more likely it is that you'll be cast. Keep getting yourself out there, even if it feels like nothing is happening. (And when nothing is, remember the parable of "F you, Matt Damon.") So just give it the best you've got, and don't get too discouraged when you don't get something.
4. Actually, expect to be discouraged.
Sometimes. Not all the time. But discouragement is almost inevitable. So is poverty. Especially when you start out. I think a lot of people start out by thinking that they won't experience discouragement and poverty like every other actor, but you probably will. That's okay. Join the ranks.
5. Keep an audition diary.
It can be as detailed or as simple as you'd like it to be. This serves a couple of purposes. One, it will help you keep track of who you've auditioned for before, and if you've done any followup. Two, it will give you a chance to record thoughts and/or things you've learned. Finally, it actually offers a bit of encouragement to see what you've gotten, compared to what you haven't gotten. (Example linked here.)
6. Take a class.
Acting is a muscle, and if you're not working for a little while, taking a class is a great way to help you improve your work. It can also give you networking** opportunities, and help you build your audition repertoire. Sometimes another pair of eyes can see something about your work that you're not seeing, and can give you additional advice.
7. ASK for help, guidance, and advice.
When Jacob and I first made a plan to move to Utah, I sent messages out to everyone I knew who worked in acting in this area. I asked them every question I could think of, and their advice and guidance made my own career here possible. Sometimes we're afraid to ask for help, because we think it will make us look weak, or we're afraid to bother someone. But the reality is that people often respect those who ask for help, and they're often happy to provide their thoughts. It has always been 100% worth it to reach out to others in the field.
8. Learn to look your best.
*sigh* As much as I believe that our appearances aren't a measure of our talent or worth, they ARE a factor in casting and working. So ladies, learn to put on makeup that makes you look your best. Learn to put on fake eyelashes and take good care of your hair. Gentleman, learn how to style your hair and shave well. Everyone, learn what colors and lines flatter your shape, and wear clothes that make you look good. We all have insecurities, and that's okay--just don't dwell on them. Learn to play to your strengths.
9. Remember that your body is your most important tool.
Treat it well. Learn to eat well, sleep well, exercise well. Don't fill your body with things that will harm it, like drugs or alcohol, or excessive sugar.
10. Decide whether you want to pursue paid or non-paid work.
This is the big, ongoing debate in the world of the arts in general. Here's what I figure. You've worked hard to become a good actor, and you deserve to be paid for your work. But not everyone has the funds to pay you, nor the time/resources to find that funding. So you can decide for yourself on a case-by-case basis, or make a big decision and stick to it. For me, I focus on pursuing paid work. BUT, as I'm trying to build my resume and demo reel and IMDB credits, I'll sometimes take unpaid work if it will provide me with those things, or if it will give me a unique networking opportunity.
11. Don't ever forget your CRAFT.
This is the most important thing. This is my deepest belief about acting as a career. In the midst of all of these businesslike tasks--"networking," getting headshots, taking classes, updating your resume, tracking your expenses--don't ever lose sight of your work AS AN ACTOR. Don't get into this for the fame. Get into this for the art. Take every opportunity to continue to improve and learn and grow. Challenge yourself. Connect with and listen to your fellow actors, on and offstage/screen. Your work as an actor must be about the human experience. If you don't know why you're doing this, that's okay. But try to find out. Think about and create your own philosophy of acting. Learn about techniques and systems, and find tools that work for you. Continually build your tool-box as an actor. Don't forget why you're doing this.
Here's the big con: There may be tons of theaters out here, but everyone who works at them knows each other. It's one big incestuous theatre family. BYU has a huge musical theatre program and a huge acting program, and UVU's theatre department is INCREDIBLE. And the teachers from those programs also direct at several of the theaters. And most of the directors direct at multiple theatres. So it can be kinda tough to "break in" as a new face. (I seriously just got lucky with "Damn Yankees.") Then there's another almost separate world of non-Mormon theatre, and it's the same story. Persistence will be necessary.
And here's something that's either a pro or a con, depending on you: There's a BIG emphasis on musicals. There definitely is interesting, push-the-envelope, amazing theatre going on, but it's generally a little smaller, and doesn't always pay quite as well. So get comfy with musical theatre. (And you may be able to sing, and you may be able to dance, but the people at auditions with you have been doing both, with professional teachers, for 15-30 hours per week, for YEARS. So either get hella good, or get hella good at selling whatever you've got.)
So here's what I'd recommend:
1. Build your audition repertoire. Buy a binder and fill it with sheet music of songs you know, and make 16-32 bar cuttings of them. Bring it to auditions. Have a handful of monologues memorized or handy (30 seconds - 1 minute, both comedic and dramatic.) Practice often. Build variety. Know your strengths and play to them.
2. Get audition coaching. Starting with my "Oklahoma" audition, I've been going to Audition Advantage in Bountiful, and IT'S SO AWESOME. Erin, Jean (spelling? Sorry!), and Anne are all amazing. They can help you find a song, give you inside info about the production team and what they'll be looking for, coach you on the acting and singing, help you cut your music, help you pick an outfit, RECORD A REHEARSAL TRACK. I love it. No matter how good you are, it's always helpful to have fresh eyes. When I went there with my audition song for "Oklahoma," I was thinking I don't know what else these ladies can do for me. But Erin helped me break down the song and fill in the gaps, and I don't think I would have been called back without her guidance. It runs about $60/hour, but they'll also pro-rate that if you take less time. More info here.
Three frequently asked questions:
1. How do you format your resume?
For a long time, I approached that question like a graphic designer, and made GORGEOUS resumes. But in the acting world, straight-forward is actually best. Times New Roman, Helvetica, or similarly familiar font, no big graphics or flashy colors. You can see my current resume here. Print out a dozen copies, 8x10, ready to go so you don't have to worry about it on your next audition.
2. Should you join Equity?
That's up to you. There are pros and cons, and it takes some research, but for most people, the answer is "no." Not unless you are living in New York and acting full-time. Because there just aren't enough Equity theatres in Salt Lake, and if you're Equity, you can't always work at non-Equity theatres. Joining a union always includes this dichotomy: You'll get less work, but it will probably be better paid work.
3. How do you find out about auditions?
Most theaters will post their audition info online. You can also follow a handful of Facebook Pages to see audition notices (Audition Advantage is a big one, along with Theatre People of Utah Valley.)
Finally, here's a little info on some of the big theaters around here. (There are SO MANY theatres, you guys. I'm just listing the ones I've heard the most about or worked with personally.) Each of them hold regular auditions...the best thing is to keep checking back on their websites (some also have an email list that will notify you of upcoming auditions). If you're OCD like me, you can even make an organized list of these auditions.
Salt Lake City
Professional LORT venue. They hold auditions in New York and Salt Lake. They rehearse during the day for 2-3 weeks and shows run for about 4 weeks. Paid (equity rates). Audition info here.
Hale Centre Theatre
West Valley (close to Salt Lake)
Hub of musical theatre and comedies! (Think family-style theatre.) Very professional--take good care of their cast and crew. Shows are almost always double-cast. Rehearse for 6-8 weeks in the evenings, shows run 4-8 weeks. Paid ($15 per rehearsal, $25-$65 per show). Audition info here.
Hale Center Theatre Orem
Orem (close to Provo)
The smaller, more intimate cousin of the Hale in West Valley. Same details as above, but pay is a little lower ($15-35 per show). Audition info here (click on the side link that says "Auditions).
Park City (about 40 minutes east of Salt Lake)
Serves as both a venue for concerts, stand up, recitals, and films, and occasionally produces shows. Rehearsals and run times vary. Occasionally paid. Audition info here.
Grassroots Shakespeare Company
Orem (close to Provo)
Founded and run by a few college-aged enthusiasts, they take an awesome sort of "punk" approach to Shakespeare. Or an "Elizabethean" approach, depending on how you look at it. Just like in Shakespearean times, actors rehearse very little, bring their own costumes and props, and perform in an outdoor space. A few of their past productions include a production of "Titus Andronicus" with a "splatter zone" audience area, and a production of "The Little Mermaid," told through verses of Shakespeare's plays and sonnets. Minimal rehearsal, shows run 3-6 weeks, with occasional exceptions. Also produces 3 plays as part of its touring company. Unpaid. Audition info here.
Salt Lake Acting Company (SLAC)
Salt Lake City
Home of some of Utah's "edgier" theatre. They do everything from musicals to comedies to dramas, as well as develop new plays. They also do a yearly show called "Saturday's Voyeur" (har har), which is an irreverent satire of current events, focusing on local culture. Rehearsals vary. Shows run 4-6 weeks. Often paid, but rates vary, and sometimes unpaid. Audition info here.
Utah Repertory Theatre
Salt Lake City
A tamer cousin of SLAC. They also produce musicals and straight plays. They provide detailed content advisories for their shows, but will still do theatre that wouldn't work at places like the Hales. Rehearsal schedules vary, but generally evenings for about 6 weeks. Shows run 2-3 weeks. Occasionally paid (rates vary, usually not more than a few hundred dollars). Audition info here.
Centerpoint Legacy Theatre
Centerville (about 30 minutes north of Salt Lake City)
Big fancy theatre that does lots of professional shows. Their season usually features similar fare to the Hales (family-oriented musicals and comedies). Rehearses in the evenings for 6-8 weeks, shows run 4-6 weeks. Unpaid. Audition info here.
Orem (close to Provo)
This venue is both a movie theatre and a live theatre. They have both an indoor space and an outdoor space. They have a big focus on education, so they do a lot of theatre for young audiences. Generally rehearses in the evenings. Shows run 2-6 weeks. Unpaid. Audition info here.
Utah Shakespeare Festival
Cedar City (about 3 1/2 hours south of Salt Lake City)
Summer-stock theatre, repertory style. Auditions are held in late summer/early fall for the next year's season. Full-time summer work. Paid. Audition info here.
The Grand Theatre
Salt Lake City
Focuses on musicals. Rehearsals run evenings, about 6 weeks. Shows run 3-4 weeks. Paid. Audition info here.
Desert Star Playhouse
Murray (10 minutes south of Salt Lake City)
Dinner theatre that does locally-focused parodies of well-known works (stuff with titles like "Star Wards" and "Murder on the Frontrunner Express"). Open auditions are held seasonally. Shows are usually double-cast and run for about 3 months. Paid. Audition info here.
PYGmalion Theatre Company
Salt Lake City
Theatre focused on women and women's stories! They put a big focus on original works, but also do well-known plays as well. Shows are usually cast for the entire season during one audition process. Paid (around $1000). Audition info here.
The Echo Theatre
Small community theatre--actors usually assist with costuming, set construction, etc. A great place to work and create collaboratively. Rehearsals run in the evenings, usually about 6 weeks, and shows run 3-6 nights a week for about 2-4 weeks. Also runs short play festivals. Unpaid. Audition info here.
1. Get with a good agency.
This is the best way to get great auditions. Most major films and television shows DON'T have open auditions--they just don't have time to weed through everyone. So they'll contact the local agencies and run auditions through them. I'm with McCarty, and I love them. They're one of the two big agencies in the area--the other is TMG (Talent Management Group). They're about even as far as how good they are, but TMG is a little harder to get into. If you know someone with them, or have a ton of IMDB credits, that will help you. But I'd suggest keeping an eye on McCarty's website for open auditions (that's what I did), or stop by with a copy of your headshot and resume. Both McCarty and TMG represent both actors and models.
BEWARE ANY AGENCY THAT ASKS FOR MONEY UP FRONT. Reputable agencies in this area will take a fee from your paycheck anytime they get you work, but they won't require certain classes or headshot sessions or initiation fees. They may recommend or ask that your headshots are of a certain quality, but (For example, do NOT join Urban Talent Management. They have scammed a handful of people I know, and you'll take five steps backwards in your career.)
Most of your auditions through an agency will be with Jeff Johnson. He runs a casting studio in downtown Salt Lake, along with Robert Andrus, who usually does most of the readings. They are both awesome guys.
2. Become eligible for SAG-AFTRA (Screen Actors Guild), but don't join.
This may be different for every situation, but if you're living and working in Utah, this is the way to go. You become SAG eligible by playing a lead role in a SAG film. Then you can put "SAG Eligible" on your resume, which makes you sound a little more legit. But Utah is a "right to work state," which means that non-SAG actors can still work on SAG projects and get paid SAG rates. But if you do decide to join SAG, it may disqualify you for other work, because you HAVE to be paid SAG rates.
3. Build your IMDB credits.
This is becoming more and more of an important "resume." It's easily accessible to everyone in the industry (they don't have to know your personal website URL to get info about you). You can put your demo reel and your agency contact info on your page. And you can't fake any credits on IMDB. In order to gain control of your IMDB page, you've got to create an IMDB Pro account, which runs $150 per year, or $20 per month. Your IMDB page will be created automatically if you get cast in something that the film creator puts on IMDB, or you can create your own page and add your own credits. You have to submit your acting credits, and they have to be approved. You can check out my page here.
4. Create a demo reel
This can be tough if you haven't done much film. BUT, you can use what you have to your advantage. Don't have anything? Then create your own stuff! Find a few scenes or monologues, and film them. There are a handful of folks in the SLC/Provo area who will help you create a demo reel for a small fee, or you can do it yourself on iMovie or a similar program. Just make it look as professional as possible--this is a casting director's big chance to see your work! Check out my short reel here.
5. Keep your resume simple
Include relevant information, but make it easy to read. Film folks are trying to do a lot of work in a short amount of time, and keeping your resume to-the-point is the best way to show that you're a professional. You can check out my screen resume here.
6. Do background work!
Seriously. Being an extra is one of the best ways to get into the business. First, I do have to clarify, that it is EXTREMELY RARE for anyone to be "discovered" by doing extra work. I can almost 100% guarantee that it will not happen. BUT, there are a few other important reasons to do background work.
- It's a source of income! Standard background pay is $101.50. Not bad, eh?
- It connects you to other industry professionals, whether that be directors, makeup people, production assistants, or other actors. It's helpful to make friends in this business.
- It builds your resume! Even if you don't have a speaking part, you can still credit yourself on IMDB and include it on your resume. You can give yourself a "name"--not a specific one, but one that just explains what your role was (bar room patron, nurse, airport patron, party attendee, etc) (NOTE: I'VE HEARD A LOT OF DEBATE IN THE INDUSTRY ABOUT WHETHER YOU SHOULD INCLUDE BACKGROUND WORK ON YOUR RESUME. Some say yes, others say no. The answer for you may depend on what kind of work you're looking for. Some have also suggested that you can put it on your resume if you don't have ANYTHING else, but to take it off as soon as you build some other credits. Ask around and see what others have to say.)
- Most importantly, it's the best way to learn how film works in a low-pressure environment. In film, time is money, and there's a specific way of doing things, and there's all this jargon, and if you've never done film before, it can be a little overwhelming. And if your first time on set is doing a speaking role, it's...intense. So do background work, so you can learn all the little details about how a film or television show is made.
7. Use the internet!
There are a couple of sources outside of my agency that I check in order to find work (especially background work).
- Utah Actors NING (background, speaking roles, non-speaking roles, paid, unpaid, etc)
- G&G Casting (they do a TON of background stuff)
- Yun Casting (lots of background stuff as well)
- Facebook Group: Utah Filmmakers and Actors (great place to start for all kinds of projects...Gumby of G&G Casting often posts for projects here)...this is a closed group, but just request to join, and it's pretty easy to get in
- Facebook Group: Utah Film Gigs (same)
- There's also Backstage Utah, which I never use, but it's another resource to look into