Gratitude. Manners. Generosity. These words matter, though it’s a challenge for each of us, in all aspects of the arts, to try and put them into practice. Daily life is an ongoing “audition” and is usually rushed and fraught with “shoulds.” A steady barrage of commitments, emails and phone calls can leave us feeling overwhelmed and constantly behind schedule. Here are three key suggestions on how to refresh one’s own spirit while reaching out to others in our business in a respectful and generous manner.
1. Thank your mentors and professional colleagues at every opportunity. I believe it is necessary to express gratitude to those who have nurtured us, extended professional courtesies and opportunities to us, and inspired us. A verbal or an e-mailed “thank-you” is always appreciated, but a hand-written note is especially lovely. Younger actors who grew up on computers may view a handwritten note as somewhat antiquated, but for those of us of a certain age (smile), it implies more care and thought. Invest in inexpensive notecards, and if you are so inclined, write a brief thank-you to people you’ve met on a general audition or for whom you have recently auditioned. You don’t need to say “Keep me in mind for future projects”—just thank the person for time spent and wish them well. Always check your spelling. I often get emails or letters with my name misspelled from actors requesting an audition. And don’t address the person with “Hey.” I get many “Hey Ilene” emails from young actors, and it is a bit of a turn-off. As my mother used to say, “Hay is for horses.” When you contact anyone in a professional capacity, I would suggest using the salutations “Dear” or “Hello,” followed by the person’s first name. If the person is significantly older than you or is a total stranger, err on the side of politeness by addressing them as “Mr.” or “Ms.” followed by a surname.
2. Take the time to reach out to an artist you may not know. If someone has greatly moved you with their work, extend yourself by writing them a note or letter. Again, keep it respectful and brief. Be specific as to which aspects of their work and which projects have touched you. I often write to people I don’t know personally to express appreciation for a specific performance, film, or a body of work. It’s not about receiving a reply—rather, it’s about telling the artist that their work has meant a great deal to you. And of course, should the opportunity arise, telling someone you know in person, without invading their privacy, that you admire their work will usually be appreciated as well. Sometimes, when I go to the theater, I feel shy about going backstage after a show if I have only a passing acquaintance with actors I want to thank. But everyone enjoys hearing heartfelt praise! I’m not suggesting that you storm backstage areas or invade other actors’ privacy in any setting if you don’t know them personally, but even if it’s with a colleague in your acting class, be generous.
3. Return every personal call and e-mail you receive. I learned an invaluable lesson from Jeffrey Katzenberg, my boss when I was VP of Casting at Walt Disney/Touchstone Pictures. As busy and sought after as Jeffrey was, he returned all calls and correspondence, numbering in the hundreds of messages each day. He urged us at the company to follow his example, and I recently wrote him to thank him and tell him that his words still resonate twenty years later. (He responded immediately.) The most “powerful,” successful people in our business (Scott Rudin is another example) respond quickly to messages, especially from their colleagues, or have someone in their office respond, no matter how inundated they are. If they can do it, so can you. Again, keep your response brief, but don’t ignore messages.
Good manners, gratitude, and kindness will always benefit you and those you encounter as you forge a career and a life path.
Ilene Starger has been a casting director in New York and Los Angeles for nearly thirty years. She was VP of Casting for Walt Disney/Touchstone Pictures. Broadway credits include “Waiting for Godot” and “No Man’s Land” (for 2013/14), “Breakfast at Tiffany’s” (also London), “Marlene,” “The Elephant Man,” “Dance of Death,” “The Diary of Anne Frank,” “Dirty Blonde,” “Closer” (Artios Award.) Film credits include “The Untitled Marc Lawrence Project,” “Did You Hear About The Morgans?,” “Pink Panther” 1 and 2, “Music and Lyrics,” “Two Weeks’ Notice,” “Night at the Museum” (Artios Award), “The School of Rock” (Artios Award), “Sleepy Hollow,” “A Simple Plan,” “The Parent Trap,” “First Wives’ Club,” “Marvin’s Room, “Robin Hood: Prince of Thieves,” “No Way Out.” Television credits include “Witness to the Mob,” “The Great Gatsby,” “Earthly Possessions,” “Amy and Isabelle.” Ilene is a member of the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences. She is also a published poet; a suite of her poems were set to music by composer Eric Shimelonis and sung by F. Murray Abraham at Carnegie Hall. She teaches workshops on acting/auditioning, coaches actors privately, and has been a guest speaker/teacher at NYU, Hunter College, and Montclair University.
For information on workshops/coaching, visit www.facebook.com/IleneStargerCasting.