There's a phenomenon occurring right now that is hitting summer theatres nationwide: there is a dearth of production people available for hiring this spring. Which leads the clever actor to ponder: How can I use this to my advantage?
Do you have another skill that you can market to summer theatres, in addition to your acting, which will make you stand out in the sea of actors looking for summer work? The greatest needs are in carpentry, scene painting, props, and costumes. Also needed to a lesser extent are sound/electrics, stage managers, and box office workers. Can you find work in these fields? How do you market yourself? How would it affect your acting opportunities?
How Good Are You?
If you're looking to supplement acting work with another skill, you need to have training and experience in that area. That Stagecraft class you had to take freshman year is not enough. But, if you spent a few semesters as a "work study" student in the scene or costume shop, or in the box office, then you probably have the necessary skills. As a carpenter, you should be able to read working drawings, construct flats and platforms, use power tools with confidence, and be capable enough that someone could hand you a drawing, say "build that," and leave you on your own. To sell yourself as a scenic painter, you should be able to do all the basic techniques: wood grain, dry brushing, spraying, spattering, marbleizing, scumbling, stenciling. And you should be able to sketch out a drop from a design, by squaring off the original and transferring it to squares chalked onto the drop. Props? You need some building skills, and again should work well with power tools—have you ever built any furniture? Soft sculpture, working with Styrofoam and papier-mâché, painting, and lots of ingenuity are called for, plus the ability to track a myriad of details. Also helpful for a prop person is your own car, and the ability to sweet-talk furniture and antique dealers into loaning things.
If you are a strong sewer, you may be in luck even if most of your experience has been in making your own clothes, rather than working in a costume shop (although the latter is preferred). Can you use a machine with ease, and have you ever used a surger? Can you follow a pattern? Set in a sleeve, and a zipper? Can you do hand sewing quickly and efficiently—hems, buttons, trim? And have you had any experience at tailoring and alterations? Many more costume shops in the summer are pulling from their own stock or borrowing from someone else's, rather than building everything.
Stage management is an animal unto itself, and you would want to have considerable experience in it before putting yourself in that marketplace. But some companies may be looking for someone who can act in some shows and assistant stage manage others. Box office work is customer service, so any experience you have had in that area will help. Most box offices now use computer systems, which are not that difficult to learn, but, of course, computer experience of any kind is helpful. This is the one area where, if you have a strong background in retail sales, and the right personality, you may be a good candidate for the job, even if you have not worked specifically in a box office. You would want to look your best at the interview, and be able to explain your people skills and desire to be helpful to customers.
How Do You Get the Job?
Begin by putting together a separate resume for your non-acting work. It's important that you do a separate one, because, a) you don't want to crowd your acting resume, and, b) you want to be taken seriously as an actor and as a production or management worker. These resumes should be laid out more or less like a "real world" resume, an example of which you probably have on your computer somewhere. You would start out with an objective statement—
such as "to work in the costume shop of a summer theatre as a stitcher"—and then list your related experience, starting with the most recent job. Remember to include other work experience, even if it's not particularly related. If you taught something—anything at all—it means you have the capability of explaining things to people. If you worked in a restaurant or retail store, it means you have customer service skills. If you did office temp work, it means you're organized and computer literate. And don't worry if your resume fills only one page and looks thinner than your acting resume, since you're still selling yourself as an actor with additional skills, not strictly as a techie or management person.
Next, consider the combined auditions you're planning to attend. Look carefully at each of the listings here to see which of them have time set aside for staff interviews, and be sure to request a staff/tech application as well as an acting application. Applying as both will get your tech resume distributed to the producers attending; you might want to write on the resume "also auditioning on (day) at (time).' There are various ways of communicating to applicants, on the day of interviews, which theatres are looking for which positions, so that you can make appointments. Bring with you a stack of resumes and any example of your work you can come up with—for instance, photographs of shows on which you've done painting, building, or worked on costumes. If you're a stage manager, bring a production book with your cues neatly labeled. It's a little harder for management people, but try to bring a writing sample, like a press release, or a program or flyer that you've laid out. Even if you are going to be working in the box office, any way you can show that you are comfortable in the arts management milieu is a positive step.
You'll note that, this year, StrawHats is not offering a staff/tech interview time, but if you apply in tech, you will have your resume posted on their website, which is accessible (and well used) by all the theatre companies that will be attending. If you go this route, tell anyone who might contact you as a result of your online resume that you will be at the auditions, and you can meet with them there.
The Internet is another place to look for jobs at theatres anywhere, which may or may not be attending any of these auditions. Playbill On-line is a freebie; you just have to become a member. ArtSEARCH is a bi-monthly listing (in hard copy and/or e-mail) put out by TCG (Theatre Communications Group, 355 Lexington Ave., NYC 10017, 212-697-5230), though there is a subscription fee of $54 for a year. And if you check in on various online tech chat rooms, lists, and news groups, like alt.stagecraft, you will see postings of jobs available. Also, many theatre companies have their own websites, and would either post openings or have an e-mail address where you could send a request for information.
What Kind of Deal Can You Strike?
You should do some serious thinking about what you want for the summer before you go to any auditions or interviews. There is a broad range of possibilities, and you should contemplate which situations are desirable and which would not work for you. If your skills are highly marketable, you might be offered a good paying tech job, but without the possibility of any acting work—which may be just fine for this summer, if you really enjoy the work. On the other hand, if you are planning to use your additional skills merely as leverage, to make yourself more interesting to a company where you want to be a performer, then your bottom line may be working in that area only when you're not cast in the upcoming show. Project some possible scenarios, and draw your own line in the sand. That being said, however, come to auditions with an open mind, and listen to what people have to offer. All your discussions with theatre representatives should be positive ones; then go away with all the possibilities written down in your notebook, and think about which ones are really feasible for you.
Will working in another field on occasion, perhaps even for an entire summer, harm your status as an actor? There are two ways it will affect you: one is on your resume, and one is in your network. The resume is easy to control. You do not need to show any non-acting work on your acting resume, unless you want to list it under "special skills." So, if you work out a deal this summer where you do two shows on stage and two in the costume shop, you simply add the two acting credits to your resume. No problem. In terms of networking, your extra skills will probably help you in the long run. Folks who know you from the summer as being able to whip up a costume may call you to get involved in a showcase in the city, and how bad is that? If you get to the point that you feel people are looking upon you as someone who can stage manage a show or make a costume, but don't see you as an actor, then that is the point to begin telling them, "Sorry, I'm really focusing on my acting these days, so I've decided not to take any more non-acting work." At the worst, you've made a lot of contacts—actors and directors who know you as a person, so are more likely to call you in to an audition.
The wise actor this year may be the one who takes the current lay of the land into account and decides to "make hay while the sun shines."