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DEAR MICHAEL:

I'm a working writer, but I've chosen to try to pursue acting and become one of those notorious Hollywood hyphenates. Recently I met a commercial agent socially. She expressed interest in meeting with me once I had a headshot and résumé. I now have headshots, and I'm very happy with them.

But creating my résumé is a real challenge, as I don't have much acting experience. I've been reading books and studying monologues, but I have no technical training, and I've never spoken a word on a real set. Rather than outright lie or embellish my background, I'd like to present myself as serious in spite of my little experience. That probably sounds absurd, but the agent told me she wanted my look, and I feel like I have an opportunity.

—Short on Ink

Hollywood, Calif.

DEAR SHORT:

First, let's deal with the immediate opportunity. An agent wants to meet you. She's a commercial agent, so your credits, while important, are less important than if you were meeting a TV/film agent. If your headshots are ready, I say call her, remind her who you are, and make an appointment right away. You can discuss your résumé together, and she'll have good advice on that.

Now, looking at the question more generally: Everyone starts somewhere, and inflating your credits can be a dicey proposition. If you're going to lie—which I don't advocate—you have to do it brilliantly, which most newcomers aren't equipped to do. So your idea to present yourself as "serious in spite of little experience" is exactly right.

I'd create a résumé that features your writing credits, to show where you've come from and what you've been doing; otherwise, people might think you've been pursuing acting for years without success. That will present you as legitimate, if not seasoned. Next, list whatever acting experience you have, however amateur, to show you're not a complete novice. And if you're studying, or have studied—and if not, why not?—then feature that prominently.

This next idea is a little out there. I've never seen it done, and it might completely suck, but it addresses your situation. You could include a brief statement, maybe in a box, preceding your credits, saying something like, "Acting is my second career. After years as a writer, I've decided to..." and so forth. Make it positive and nonapologetic—no self-effacing humor—and just long enough to let the reader know your story. One thing I can promise: It'll stand out.

DEAR MICHAEL:

I've been doing a lot of background work to support myself while I wait for my big break. It's also somewhat educational as far as how TV and film actors work. Sometimes I see my fellow extras getting upgraded to featured or even getting a line or two of dialogue. And I always wonder, "Why him? Why her?"

Is there a secret to getting noticed? I try to project a professional image when I'm on the set and stay near the camera as much as possible, but so far, nothing. Any tips?

—Back to One

Van Nuys, Calif.

DEAR BACK:

How to get upgraded? One word: unexpectedly. For all its randomness, our business has protocols, and some things just aren't appropriate. The job of an extra is to unobtrusively serve the needs of the production. Aggressive background actors who campaign for upgrades by trying to get noticed are the bane of the second assistant director's existence. Indeed, far from being your ticket to stardom, muscling your way into the lens is a sure path to not being asked back.

The same goes for schmoozing the stars, director, or crew. A movie set is a busy place, and as much as you may want to parlay the opportunity into something bigger, this just isn't the time. It sounds as if you're already doing the right thing: being professional. So just sit tight and focus on cultivating your off-set opportunities.

As far as that goes, acting classes and 99-Seat theatre seem to be the way in for a lot of people. That's because, unlike extra work, in which you're paid to stay silent and not be noticed, these venues give you opportunities to shine, show what you do, and make contacts organically.

DEAR MICHAEL:

I guess the holidays are tough for a lot of people. But our business seems to shut down almost entirely from Thanksgiving through New Year's, and this year I'm really struggling. I'm way too embarrassed to ask anyone for help, but the truth is, my bills are falling seriously behind.

I've been looking for support jobs, but so far, nothing. It's getting kind of frightening at this point. I swear I'm not a flake. I've always been responsible. But I have to ask: Are there any resources for loans or anything I should know about?

—SOS

via the Internet

DEAR SOS:

First, I want to encourage you to take heart. Though struggle has always been part of the artist's life, somehow we get through it. Lord knows I spent many of the early years of my career on a financial tightrope, living hand-to-mouth on a diet of Top Ramen and tuna, worrying every month about the rent. For years I didn't see a movie, eat in a restaurant, or buy new clothes. Things worked out. Just hang in there.

Second, I strongly suggest that you contact the Actors' Fund of America, at www.actorsfund.org or (800) 221-7303, right away. Since 1882, this organization has been providing assistance to professional performers.

If you're like most people, you'll feel awkward asking the Fund for help. Don't. This is what it is for. Put your pride aside, make the contact, and set up an appointment. The Fund will assess your situation and see what, if anything, can be done. It may be able to temporarily pay your bills, help you find a job, or provide other solutions.

Still hesitant? Then do what a friend of mine did. She made a deal with herself. She promised herself that when she got back on her feet, she'd become a donor. She now gives regularly and has repaid the Actors' Fund many times over for its help.

Finally, whether you call it karma or just plain therapeutic, when you're feeling low or needy, finding a way to help someone else is always a great boost.

Michael Kostroff is a working professional actor and the author of the book Letters from Backstage: The Adventures of a Touring Stage Actor, available at bookstores.

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