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DEAR JACKIE:

I'm 30. I'm looking for advice for the not-so-young yet not-so-old actors who've been out of the loop for a while. I moved to NYC 11 years ago to attend college, majoring in musical theatre. After graduating with honors, I quickly landed my first national tour. I spent much of the next five years on the road with nonunion shows and a few regional theatres.

After a very long stint on the road with the last show, I felt burnt out and exhausted from being away from NYC for most of the year. I decided to take a year off and have a regular life as an out-of-work actor–waiter. It was great.

Well, that year turned into six. And I'm still waiting tables. My old headshots look like a different person, my audition music is so outdated I would be embarrassed to put it in front of an accompanist, and I'm not sure I would know how to turn out a decent dance combo. I haven't sung a note since I started my self-proclaimed hiatus, and I'm sure the vocal apparatus is pretty out of shape.

The itch is there to get back out and start auditioning again. However, I have no clue as to what "type" I am anymore. At 21 years old, I was the tall, funny supporting character. Now, at 30, I've got a lot less hair and a few more lines on the face. I feel as if everyone out there is so much younger than I am. I don't even know where to start; it's all so overwhelming that I can't make a move. Where do I begin?

—Lost in Transition

New York, N.Y.

DEAR LOST:

Everyone out there is not "so much younger" than you! You're only 30, man. Stage is traditionally less age-phobic than screen, especially for men, so stop worrying about the years you took off. Because you played funny supporting characters—and not young, debonair leading men—your type is probably unchanged. The hiatus may even have helped you age into the type you are meant to play. Whatever the case, don't worry about your transition another minute. You're back in the game now. Focus on that.

You have training and experience, so you'll find the process of beginning this journey a lot easier. Yes, I said "beginning." Your break has, as you are aware, put you back at the starting line—although you are wiser than many of your peers. Don't worry about where you "should" be; embrace this new beginning and jump into what any beginner should do. Get into acting, singing, and dancing classes. Get new headshots. Research updated singing selections. And begin auditioning. Your experience will help you conquer hurdles much faster this time around.

Set clear goals for yourself based on where you are right now. Don't set goals you can't control, such as booking three tours next year or making it to Broadway before you're 32. Try things like getting into classes you love and auditioning for at least five shows before St. Patrick's Day 2007. Also check out Darren Cohen's 2005 book, The Complete Professional Audition: A Commonsense Guide to Auditioning for Musicals and Plays, published by Back Stage Books, which includes a list of suggested music selections.

As you gear up for round two, take time to think through the reasons for your extended break. Why were your years off so "great"? What was so overwhelming about touring? What did you dislike about your life as a working actor, and what could you do differently this time around to avoid burning out and needing another half-dozen years away? Although you are yearning to get back into the grind, you may need to impose limits on how much or what kind of work you will accept.

Six years is a long time. It seems probable that you took that time off for a good reason. Until you figure out what that was, and how you can mediate such things in the future, you'll have trouble creating an enduring career.

DEAR JACKIE:

I'm an actor interning at a casting office. I'm not new to the business, but I am in the beginning stages of my career. I want to get the most out of this experience. What should I be doing?

—The Lost Intern

via the Internet

DEAR INTERN:

I used to work part-time at a low-budget production company. There was this girl there, not an intern but a freelancer who was helping out, who did this thing that I thought was absolutely bizarre: She'd just show up. She took it upon herself to come in and see if there was anything she could do.

I found it rather obnoxious. In the morning when I'd arrive, there she'd be in my boss's office, asking for things to do before I'd even had a chance to get my assignments. A few times she even ended up with the more glamorous work, while I got stuck with drudgery, just because she was there before me, asking.

I'm not saying you need to become a nut who shows up after your assignment is through. But there are lessons to be learned from this girl. One: She got to work early—earlier than some full-fledged employees. When a supervisor has a job to assign, he or she is often more than happy to give it to the first competent person offering help—especially when that person is friendly and reliable.

Two: She was open to doing whatever work came her way. She wasn't resistant to tasks outside her general area of focus. She seemed equally content to clean out old files, set up travel arrangements, or create budgets.

Three: She always assumed she could make a positive impact on the situation at hand. Instead of standing by, sheepishly waiting for someone to tell her what to do—or call her into the office, for that matter—she confidently asked what our boss had for her to work on.

A casting office is a hectic, often frenzied environment. Your willingness to jump into whatever situation presents itself will be valued, and you'll be remembered fondly for it. Don't be afraid to ask questions and take on unfamiliar tasks; the more you do, the more you'll be asked to do, and the more you'll learn.

Any interaction with actors—sorting through headshots or running the camera at audition sessions—is your best chance to learn how auditors will see you, so make time for those tasks, even if they occur after your official work hours have ended.

Finally, don't ask your boss to audition you. You can let it be known that you are an actor, but people who employ actor interns generally appreciate separation. If they want to read you, they'll ask.

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