I'm a 26-year-old male actor who moved to L.A. from Chicago about two years ago. I haven't gone on any auditions here in L.A., but I'm going to start auditioning and submitting myself to agents pretty soon.
In Chicago, I did a lot of nonunion theatre, and I used my birth name as my stage name. But I've changed my stage name in L.A. for personal reasons. I've decided to keep my first name the same but change my family name. I'm not changing my name legally; it's only for acting. If I Google the name I used in Chicago, however, most of my theatre credits show up. Should I tell agents this when I meet with them or mention it in my submission letter? Or not say anything to anyone at all?
—A.K.A. via the Internet
Use your new stage name. Use your existing credits. Most people will have neither the time nor the inclination to check up on you. If they do, and if they ask why your name doesn't come up, you can explain that it's a new stage name. Otherwise, I wouldn't say anything. I have found that introducing any complications into early conversations with agents tends to make them shut down. You can see their faces go dead the minute you get into anything longer than a sound bite. The same is true of casting people. That's why I always tell students in my audition class, "Give simple, pleasant answers, not necessarily accurate ones." When you sign with an agent, that's the time to explain your history, so your agent is better equipped to represent you and pitch you for auditions.
In time, you'll be able to replace your existing credits with those you've amassed under your new name—no more confusion. In the meantime, don't bother folks with the details.
I've been in New York for seven years, but lately it seems auditions are harder than ever to get. I'm not a musical theatre person, so I can't go to the open calls, which are very common. I email submissions to every student film, play, commercial, etc., and the only response I get is, "Due to overwhelming response, we cannot see you for an audition." I have a decent résumé and headshots from the best photographer in New York. How am I ever going to get a job if I can't even get anyone to see me?
—Bummed in Brooklyn, Brooklyn, N.Y.
Sooner or later, most of us actors come up against periods like this, when our relationship with our profession isn't working all that well and the acting business isn't our friend. My best advice at times like this may surprise you: Stop trying. Instead, shake things up by planning a radical change. I'm talking radical.
For example, think about moving to a new city. Now, hear me out. I said think about it. But think about it seriously. You may even end up doing it. After all, there are other markets out there, other places where actors thrive. That's how I ended up in L.A., which turned out to be a great move. But the point isn't to actually move. Just try the thought on for size.
Or think about quitting the business. Now hear me out! I said think about it. This is just a mental exercise. I used to make a habit of mentally quitting the business twice a year, and it always helped me get unstuck. Seriously consider what else you might do for a living, and look into it. But really look into it: Do research, sign up for a class, look for work. Here's what this does: First, it reminds you that you're a whole person apart from being an actor, with interests and abilities that aren't dependent on whether you get an audition this week. Second, it shakes you free from the desperate state of mind that can creep in when you haven't worked in a while. Burst through that and you're really in business. Often you'll book something as soon as you seriously decide to quit. Release your death grip on the idea of making it as an actor and see what happens.
Times like these can be like quicksand. And you know what they say about quicksand: Struggling makes you sink faster. The more desperate you get to end the dry streak, the longer it lasts. Taking determined steps in a completely different direction means you're not repeating the same actions that have failed to bring success. You're trying something new, opening yourself up, breathing again. You gain a new focus, a broader perspective, and a great reminder that there's a big world out there that has nothing to do with your status as an actor.
I always hear actors say you must live in L.A. to get ahead in the business. Is this true? Do I have to move to L.A.? Or can a New York actor get auditions for TV shows and films based in L.A. or other cities? If I do have to move, how do I go about it?
--Do I Stay or Do I Go? via the Internet
Those are three very different questions. Your first statement is a new one on me. Actors in smaller towns often write to ask whether they need to move to New York or L.A., but I've never heard anyone suggest that you can't have an acting career in New York. It's an international center of show business activity. Theatre, TV, and film are all happening there. So no, you don't have to move out of New York to act. Now, your next question is another story. For a New York actor to get invited to audition in L.A., he or she usually has to have top-notch representation and a serious résumé. Generally, L.A. casting people want you to be local. Lastly, how do you move to L.A. if that's what you decide to do? Well, you get a reasonable apartment, a car, a day job, and a Thomas Guide right away. Then you take classes, audition for everything, get to know people, and hope to catch on.