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The Working Actor

The Three-Foot Toss

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The Three-Foot Toss
Dear Michael:

I'm a young teen living in NYC and I really love acting. I've read a few books on the industry and on how to perfect my craft, but I'm having trouble as to where to begin. I mean, I've taken a few classes, and everybody who knows me knows that I have talent, but I'm still in a slump. I know the whole speech with the "You're not going to make it on your first try." I know that, and I'm ready for the rejection and competition. I'm not in it for the fame at all. I just want to perform, preferably on camera. But I don't know what to do.

My parents are more than willing to help me, but I have to find the auditions, the agent, the job, etc. It's too much to sort through for one person. My acting teachers are extremely impressed with my skills and they all think I have a shot. I know it sounds like I'm being the typical teen who wants to make it, but I want this more than anything. I'm even looking at colleges with highly reputable performing programs. I just need to know where to start and what to do. Please help me. I love your column, by the way. I read it every time my dad brings Back Stage home. I can't wait to hear back from you!

—16 and Extremely Overwhelmed, New York City

Dear 16 and Extremely Overwhelmed:

Thanks for writing, and thanks for letting me know you enjoy the column. I remember very well what it was like to be in your shoes, just starting out, not knowing much about how anything works. And I think I may be able to give a little shape to the big abstract blob of where to begin.

The first answer is right under your nose—literally. You're reading it. Here in Back Stage, you'll find listings for auditions at every level. And what's great is that our staff does its best to vet each casting submission for legitimacy, so there's a filter in place. As with anything, you still have to be cautious. People aren't always who they claim to be and, particularly in show business, some so-called opportunities could be big wastes of your time.

At your beginning level and with your interest in on-camera work, I suggest that you take a look at doing some student films for colleges and universities. You'll get on-camera experience without the intensity and scrutiny of anything high-profile. And you guessed it, they're listed in Back Stage.

There's also our online Working Actor message board, where you can post questions and hear back from other actors. Once again, you have to filter. Some board posters are more experienced and informed than others, and some like to share opinions, informed or otherwise. Still, it's a great resource. I co-moderate with fellow Working Actor columnist Jackie Apodaca.

Then there's Back Stage's Call Sheet, which lists agents and casting directors (www.backstage.com/bso/production-listings/index.jsp). When agent hunting, look for agencies that have youth departments, which will narrow your search.

If this sounds like a commercial for my own publication, it's not. More accurately, it's a testimonial. When I was a kid, dreaming of being a professional performer, I didn't even know the difference between a casting office and a talent agency. But I knew one thing: Back Stage was the information source for the professional New York actor. Every Thursday, I rushed to the newsstand to buy a copy and scoured it for information about what was going on. Just by reading it, I felt like part of the scene.

The second answer is right outside your door—literally. You live in New York City, an artist's mecca. Right there, where you live, are all manner of theater companies, workshops, independent films, Web series, street theater, performance art, etc., etc. going on all the time. Though you're not yet a member of Actors' Equity Association, you can sometimes even audition for Equity shows, most of which are cast in New York. (Here's an explanation of how that works, from Equity's website.) But also take advantage of your tremendous opportunity for research and self-education by attending plays, concerts, opera, and dance, visiting museums and libraries, and just studying the vast smorgasbord of human behavior all around you. Think how lucky you are! Many young aspiring performers are stuck in towns where there are barely any such opportunities. You're living where those people hope to move.

In your letter, you said, "I'm even looking at colleges with highly reputable performing programs," as if that were a crazy, desperate last resort. Hang on. That's a pretty sensible option, one that's been the foundation for many a successful career. Consider it seriously.

I'm glad to hear your parents are supportive. Listen to me on this one: You need their collaboration, for two reasons. First, as I said, there are some shifty characters posing as legitimate. Second, as a minor, you'll need parental approval for most things. No agent will work with you and no casting person will cast you without it.

Nothing's easy in this business, especially at the beginning. A reliable rule of thumb is the old adage "If it seems too good to be true, it is." If someone promises to make it easy, that person is lying to you. Though it may be tempting, resist those who make such promises. Those rackets are as old as the hills—and the quickest ways to waste your parents' money.

A friend of mine was a psychology student. Every year at her school, they'd do the same experiment: They'd play ringtoss. You know how it works: Toss the ring three feet, you get three points; five feet, five points; 10 feet, 10 points. And every year they had the same results. Without fail, the people who went for the three-foot toss again and again—the easiest one—walked away with the most points. It became a shorthand at my friend's school. When someone faced a problem, fellow students would ask, "What's the three-foot toss?"

You can only be where you are. You're a kid, and you're just starting out. But we were all there once. This advice will serve you well in all areas of life: Don't focus on the mountain. Just take the small, easy step you see before you—the three-foot toss—and before you know it, you'll be looking for the next mountain. Maybe, like me, you'll even end up helping others make the climb.

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