January—Define Your Goals
It's a new year. What do you want to accomplish in the next six months? Year? Five years? Put pen to paper and create specific action steps. Be sure to include short-term and long-term goals and leave room for a lofty dream or two. Create a vision board that captures your ideal career and place it in a prominent place. Set aside "office hours" every week, and stick to them until you begin to cross off those goals.
February—Submit for Work
Proactively seek work. Upload your headshot(s), résumé, and reel(s) to the major casting sites, and scour the Internet and the trades for auditions. It's not enough to push a button and consider your work done. Get creative! Mail headshots to theater companies whose work you admire. Attend open calls. Post your business card on a bulletin board at a local film school. Ask your agent or manager to pick up the phone if a casting director who knows and likes your work is casting a role that fits your type. Get comfortable with pursuing work on a daily basis, and never wait for somebody else to secure work for you.
March—Score an Internship
The best way to learn about the casting process is to observe the business from the other side of the lens. Casting offices all around town are in need of assistance. Lend a hand and learn the dos and don'ts of auditioning. Be professional, and don't expect to get paid. Be a sponge. See what constitutes a successful audition, find out which agents are the movers and shakers, and participate in the casting process from the ground up. If you commit to the task at hand and do it well, you may very well have a new friend in the casting community.
April—Take a Class or Create Your Own
An acting class is a safe place to learn through trial and error. Find a teacher who encourages you to grow, and challenge yourself to study a variety of disciplines. If you're short on cash, gather a group of actor friends and do play readings, monologues, or on-camera scenes in your apartment. Download sides and work on them regardless of whether you have an audition for the project. Never stop studying. If you consistently flex your actor muscles, you will be confident and ready when opportunity knocks.
May—Join a Theater Company or Do a Play
Whether performing with a summer stock company, an improv team, or a classical playhouse, there is no better way to hone your technique than to practice in front of a live audience. Find a theatrical home and get involved. Tackling a play is a great way to earn a résumé credit, be seen by industry players, and move toward union membership. Don't forget, there are numerous ways to get involved behind the scenes if you're still working your way up to stage time. Be sure to send out a mailing or circulate fliers before your show opens. You never know who might stop by to see your work.
Your marketing materials should be current, professional, and sprinkled with your unique personality. Update your headshots, design a personal website, print post cards and business cards with your picture and contact information, and finesse your résumé, IMDb.com page, and reel on a continual basis. Social media is a booming marketing outlet. Weigh the pros and cons of creating a fan base through Facebook, Twitter, YouTube, and other new-media sites. Consider writing a business-oriented blog (such as those at BackStage.blogs.com/unscripted) or creating an electronic newsletter. Increase your credibility with industry players by sharing good news, such as bookings, agency signings, and stage gigs, via email or mailings. Build your brand and watch your opportunities skyrocket.
Actors must expand their social circles in order to unlock more opportunities. Make an effort to meet new people on a weekly basis. The more people you know, the more you'll be aware of upcoming projects. Strive to create relationships based on genuine interest and mutual respect. Keep a detailed log of your contacts, including where you met and what you talked about. Be sure to connect regularly to keep the relationship thriving.
August—Self-Produce a Pet Project
Reach out to like-minded individuals and produce your own work. The democratization of media has made it possible for anybody to shoot a passion project without spending a fortune. Once it's finished, there is no shortage of opportunities for you to find an audience, on sites like YouTube or FunnyorDie.com, on personal websites, and through film festivals. Don't wait for the perfect role or project to find its way to you. Create it!
Purchase a current list of agents from your local drama bookstore—such as the Drama Book Shop (www.dramabookshop.com) or Samuel French (www.samuelfrench.com)—and research agencies in your area. Create an agency wish list, and ask a friend for an introduction to his or her agent, send a targeted mailing, or see if an industry professional who knows and likes your work is willing to make a phone call on your behalf. Consider seeking a manager. Often a good manager is able to groom actors and help place them with appropriate agencies. Be realistic. You may not land your ideal agent right away, but you should seek the kind of representation you want and deserve until you find the right fit.
October—Find a Mentor and Build a Cheering Section
It's important to have an unwavering support system that can offer unbiased feedback on your work and a steady stream of encouragement. Seek advice from established professionals whose careers and lives you admire. Consult your mentors often for guidance and listen carefully—there's a reason they are successful! Don't have a mentor? Don't stress! Allow time-honored actors to mentor you through their work via DVD or the Internet without ever leaving the comfort of your couch.
November—Put Yourself on Tape
Consumer-model camcorders are fairly inexpensive to purchase, and the rewards of regularly putting yourself on tape will more than pay for the cost. Assess your on-camera presence and note what works and what doesn't. On-camera proficiency requires time, patience, and practice, and the transition to working onscreen can be particularly jarring for the theater actor. Don't wait for your first on-camera audition to begin experimenting. Do it now and you'll be ahead of the pack.
December—Support the Arts
Get out and support the work of your friends and colleagues. See plays, go to the movies, attend late-night improv shows, frequent comedy clubs, and visit cultural institutions. Strive to be an active participant in the artistic community. Find inspiration in the work of others, and know that you are not alone in your journey. Eventually, it will be your chance to shine.
The quality of time you spend on your career, the specificity of your goals, and the endurance of your commitment are more important than the quantity of time spent spinning your wheels on an unfocused marketing plan. When you're tired, your task feels overwhelming, and your efforts seem futile—and they will from time to time—step back and regroup without guilt. In the words of a wise actor friend, "You've just got to keep pushing that boulder up the hill. Steadily and slowly, you keep moving inch by inch. When you're tired, rest. When you're rested, start pushing again. You'll get there. Just keep pushing." At the end of the year, don't forget to take a moment to pat yourself on the back and appreciate how far you've advanced.