I get a lot of questions--really good ones--about the specifics of promoting yourself as an actor: everything from which projects to choose to how one should tell the world about them. This month, I devote the column to your questions, so you can take the answers and run with them.
What projects should I work on?
"I live in Los Angeles and I am somewhat of a multi-tasker: I audition for plays and films, I'm part of a sketch comedy group, I go to classes, mail Casting Directors every week, and go to any seminars or guest speaker functions as I can. My question is if I am an LA actor, should I still be auditioning for plays? Should I just do small local stuff? And if I am with a sketch group and I don't really feel like I can spread my wings there, should I stay? What If I want to start my own web series but I can't find dedicated, talented people to do that with? It just seems like a lot of actors that I run across are all talk. They have big plans but don't want to put in the work to reach those goals. I really love this business and I love to perform. How can I tackle these issues?"
First of all, congratulations: it sounds like you're working really hard and really smart. I especially love that you're looking at these as solvable problems that are within your power to address.
My short answer is yes, you should be doing some kind of live performance to keep your chops up. You're an actor, and actors act (like writers write and painters paint, etc.)
However, which type of live performance depends on your goals. The kinds of audience and attention you generate from doing sketch or improv are different from those you'll gather to doing quality 99-seat theater, which is different from doing spoken word, stand-up comedy, etc. As with any project, the first step is a clearly defined goal, out of which comes a cleanly outlined plan, with room in between for plenty of brainstorming and blue-sky thinking. (You may want to try mind mapping to do some of that, since you're a creative type. Tony Buzan, the father of the mind mapping technique, is a good starting point. MindMeister is a free online mindmapping program many people like. Or hey, rock it old school--paper and colored markers!)
One key determinant: if you're working for free and not growing from it or otherwise getting something concrete from it, move on. You may or may not want to line something else up before you move on, but it's nonsensical to invest time for no money with no other ROI ("return on investment"--see? I can teach you how the business people think, too.)
The web series conundrum is tougher. You'll have to do one of two things: either find like-minded people (they're out there!) or scale back your goal so that you can accomplish it on your own. I'd recommend a combination of the two: start a running list of ideas for shows, and include things on all points of the complexity spectrum. What kinds of ideas can you execute well with just you and a locked-down camera, like a Flip Mino on a mini-tripod, or your webcam? (Be careful with the webcam--it can get cheesy fast.)
At the next level, what can you do by cutting in some stills - title cards generated in an editing program or images you find elsewhere? Or some B-roll? On the production-heavy end, what could you do if money and help were in infinite supply?
This all comes out of my own experience with getting ideas into real form: ideas are cheap, so why not have a lot of them? Then you have the luxury of stepping back and reviewing which work for you right now, given your objectives, plus you have great starting points for discussion when you do meet those perfect collaborators.
For now, make your list and scour the web for examples of people doing it right. There are plenty of them, if you look.
How do I stay in touch with Casting Directors?
"When sending my post card, should I confine the mailing ONLY to the CD or also to the Associates and Assistants. If to all, how should it be addressed? One card to all? One card to each?"
Good question. I don't think there's one right way, but my way would be to do one of two things:
Send ONE card if you're not going to personalize it, and send that to the CD. The Associate/Assistant will likely see it, too (and may be the only one who does, truthfully, unless your card is genius).
Send a card to EACH if you hand-write something. This would be the preferred route, but obviously, if time is an issue, it might not work.
Because, as I'm sure you know, you're not sending them this card to get them to see your movie, but to remind them that you are a busy, productive, awesome working actor. Well, you're kind of telling them about your movie, especially if it's something they'll be seeing anyway, because then they might remember to look for you, or remember afterward having looked at you, etc.
It's all about impressions, and it takes many, many of these to get and stay on the radar. Sent at respectful intervals and politely, of course!
Want more? Check out the acting resources page. It's got links out to all kinds of good actor resources, plus information on how to sign up to get on the list for upcoming workshops.
Colleen Wainwright is writer-speaker-consultant who started calling herself "the communicatrix" when she hit three hyphens. She spent a decade writing commercials and another decade acting in them for cash money. Now she uses her powers for good and not evil by helping actors and other good, hard-working people with a dream to uncover their unique fabulosity and get it out there in the world.