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DEAR JACKIE:

I'm an actress, and I work as a receptionist at a prestigious advertising agency in Boston. I'm nonunion and trying to get an agent. I'd like to ask the talent manager here to give me a referral to a commercial agent, but I'm afraid that it would be too forward of me. She's very nice—we are "work friends"—but I haven't told her I'm an actor. I often clip out articles from Back Stage that she might be interested in and give them to her. If I asked her to refer me to an agent, I think she would say yes, but I don't want to put a weird vibe on our work relationship.

—Elizabeth

Boston, Mass.

DEAR ELIZABETH:

There are two ways to go about this: You can be direct, or you can cozy up to the situation and hope for the best. As long as you are polite and avoid being pushy, neither should create an uncomfortable workplace. The choice is yours.

The first option is to just ask her. Time your request wisely—not when she's running out the door or overwhelmed with work. Wait for a slow afternoon when she's sought you out to chat. Tell her that you are an actor and admire the work she does for the company. Explain that you are looking for representation, and ask if she would feel comfortable giving you a referral to one of her contacts. If she hesitates, add, "I know you haven't had a chance to see my work yet, so if you'd prefer, I can let you know the next time I am in something." If she seems put off, politely ask her to think about it, but add something like, "I don't want to put you in an awkward position, so if this is not something you feel comfortable doing, I will understand."

The second option is to approach her as a possible mentor. Tell her you are an actor and, as such, are intrigued by her work at the company. Explain that you would love to learn more about the casting process, and offer to help her out—gratis—for a few weeks. Spend your lunch hour opening envelopes for her. Stay after work and help run casting sessions. She'll likely relish the help, and you'll be getting a fabulous free education. After several weeks of this, if it hasn't already come up, ask if she has any tips for you on how to land a commercial agent. Show her your picture and résumé, and listen to her opinions. Ask her to "type you," and ask how she suggests you market yourself. Ask if there are any agencies she thinks would be a good match for you. If she wants to give you a referral, she will probably offer. If she doesn't, thank her for her advice. Then, when the timing is right, go back to the first option.

DEAR JACKIE:

The letter from Melissa in the June 1 issue really sparked something in me. I, too, once had an image problem. When I first started out, I kept hearing that annoying word "type" and just didn't know what to do with it. I started asking around and realized I was in big trouble. I can look drastically different with just a change of clothes and a quick hairstyle adjustment. I wasn't getting called in, and later I found out that a lot of casting directors didn't know what to do with me.

In my everyday life I wear my hair up one day, down the next, under a baseball cap, in a bun, straight, curly, with a bandana, etc.—so trying to figure out my "type" was like looking for a needle in a haystack. I mentioned this to an acting teacher, and she told me that dressing simply at an audition would force the room to notice my acting and not my outfit. I started going to auditions dressed in neutral clothes or what some might consider unimaginative: tailored black pants or a black skirt, solid colors. I still received comments about type. Even though I knew who I was, it turns out that I wasn't letting other people know.

Learning how to have a style was a painful process. I started to look at pictures of clothes in the girl magazines, the ones I'd previously ignored. Glamour magazine is good for this because it shows how to dress for each body type. Living in N.Y. helped, too, because I observed other women walking down the street or on the subway. I reviewed old pictures of myself and saw that some of my outfits were unflattering. Browsing websites where you can create a virtual model of yourself using your own measurements also helped. Go to www.glamour.com or www.myvirtualmodel.com and start trying on clothes.

It was so hard to be honest about what I looked like and what my body type was. I felt like a tall supermodel, but I'm not—and this was the first time I'd allowed myself to face reality. I had to admit that I was petite and curvy, and it temporarily crushed my spirit. I had to mourn the old image I had of myself. But then I got busy and enlisted the help of my stylish friends—the ones who would shop for a living if they could. In the past they'd begged to dress me because, according to them, I was "fashion-impaired." Now, it seemed, I had no choice. I admitted I needed help, which was surprisingly easy. They were gentle. I agreed to try on whatever they gave me, even if I originally turned my nose up at it. It turns out that they chose things I like but would never have picked out for myself. I have a new appreciation for clothing, because the right outfit can really make a difference in how you feel. But it took a lot of effort to learn how to look at myself objectively and admit that I'm not built like Cameron Diaz.

The weird thing is that now I know what looks great on me, and even though I'm honest about myself, I feel even more like a supermodel because I'm not worrying about my outfit or my hair. Instead I'm focused on the work and nailing the audition. I'm finally wearing the clothes instead of the clothes wearing me. Going to auditions with that new confidence made all the difference. I wasn't as nervous, and I finally felt like I belonged in the room. I booked a theatre role my first time out with the "new me." And Mom would be proud: I match!

—Kelli

New York, N.Y.

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