This Business We Call Show

Knowing how to act—either through creative instinct or extensive training—is really just the first step in the process of being a working actor. The next step is to know how to make a living doing it. That is very often the difference between someone who acts as a hobby and someone who has an acting career (and who actually makes money from it). Here are several bookshelf additions that will serve you well in making the leap from starving artist to motivated professional.

Brad Lemack's The Business of Acting is a good primer for anyone thinking about going into show business. The emphasis here is less on the word "show" and more on the word "business," which the pursuit of an acting profession definitely is.

Lemack is a talent manager and entertainment publicist who founded his Beverly Hills-based company in 1982. His book, which bears the subtitle, "Learn the Skills You Need to Build the Career You Want," has a foreword by actress Isabel Sanford, who relates that the book illustrates how focused an actor must be to in order to succeed.

Focus is exactly what Lemack does as he pinpoints in detail the practical considerations of being a performer. Headshots, resumes, bios, publicity—all areas of an artistic career are highlighted and illustrated, often with examples. Forms for writing down both goals and tasks are excellent tools that can aid performers in the preparation and execution of a steady ascent in the industry. He stresses the difference between emotional, physical, and fiscal fitness, reminding that a "happy, healthy actor is a much better person to work with" and more apt to be successful.

The actor's process is also explored from the point of view of both the representative and the casting team, supplying tips on what to expect when you enter the office of the agent, manager, or casting director. Two other features wrap up the book: an actor's "code of ethics" that sets high standards for any performer, including "I will not sell out" and "I will never lose my true sense of self"; and a directory of helpful websites, online services, and other resources, including unions, bookshops, and entertainment publications recommended by the author.

JoBe Cerny offers a much more personalized account of the ins and outs of being an actor in his book, I Could Have Been a Cabdriver… But I Became an Actor Instead. Subtitled "A Practical Guide to the Business of Professional Acting," it takes a lighthearted approach to the subject, touching on all facets of an actor's journey, including self-promotion, savings, and managing success.

Cerny is an experienced veteran of theatre, film, and television. His most recognizable gigs have been as the voice of the Pillsbury Doughboy and portraying the silently spiffy Cheer Man in countless TV commercials. The fact that he works both on camera and in voice-overs gives him a well-rounded perspective on the various opportunities offered to actors.

The title of Cerny's tome is an indication of its structure (and tells you what profession the head of his theatre department in college recommended). Short, easy-to-read chapters all start with "I Could Have Been a…" and comically cover a wide variety of issues facing anyone associated with the biz, from athlete (sports and exercise) and golf pro (career planning) to Teamster (dealing with unions) and masochist (changing careers). Each segment provides insightful advice on how to manage the more mundane aspects of a life in the arts without disrupting the creative juices.

The author states that the book is for everyone, not just budding performers. Whether one is a student of the craft, or a layperson interested in the art of advertising, Cerny's behind-the-scenes account is accessible, educational, and entertaining.

Those performers who have made the move to the Big Apple (or are planning to) will benefit from An Actor's Guide—Making It in New York by Glenn Alterman. This handbook gives a good overview of an actor's life on the East Coast from someone who has been in the business over 30 years. Alterman shares his secrets with both newcomers to NYC and natives who've been pounding the pavement on their way to the Great White Way. He also gets first-hand advice from many industry professionals who are interviewed throughout the book, including Joseph Chaikin, Henry Winkler, and André De Shields.

After acknowledging in his introduction that the events of Sept. 11 affected the theatrical world in New York and around the world, Alterman proudly reaffirms that New Yorkers met the challenge head on and have proved that the show must go on. With that said, he begins by asking aspiring Manhattanites if New York is really right for them. If the answer is yes, then their next step is to dive into this guide offering everything they will need to know about surviving and thriving in the big city.

You will find specific and pertinent advice on the entire spectrum of actor necessities, from hotels actors can stay in while scouting apartments to neighborhoods where they will want to settle down (if they can afford the rent); from choosing an acting school and getting the proper headshots and resumes to picking an appropriate monologue and editing a dynamic video reel. Job opportunities are covered in detail: Off-Broadway, daytime serials, voice-overs, extra work, print modeling etc. Separate sections on talent agents, personal managers, and casting agents offer unique perspectives about the relationship the actor has with each of them. It will definitely pay off for New York-based actors (and anyone in the profession) to reference this book when making career moves.

Few actors can even be considered for top stage and screen roles without representation. But acquiring an agent or manager is no guarantee of immediate bookings and an easy road to fame and fortune. Your job has just begun, according to Nancy Rainford's How to Agent Your Agent. As shown in her title, Rainford frequently uses the "A" word as a verb, which is a strong hint that actors need to be vigilant and active in the development of their careers. No one can expect to sit back and let his or her "people" do all the work—it rarely happens that way.

This guide is very good at helping readers understand the business of being an agent so they can, in effect, "agent" themselves. Actors will definitely benefit from these time-tested tips, but Rainford wisely gears her advice to every type of person looking to market his or her talents, be they writers, directors, models, musicians, crew members, technicians—even quarterbacks! She uses animal imagery to delineate many of the chapters. These include topics such as the sharks in the showbiz waters (providing insights into agencies both large and small), dancing bears (auditioning info), early birds (work-related issues), and cats and dogs (the differences between agents and managers).

Rainford states that a good agent lives by "the three S's"—signing (attracting and acquiring new clients), selling (packaging of an actor and his skills), and service (maintaining the relationship). There are other humorous and helpful lists, such as "Seven Lies Your Agent Has Already Told You" and "Five Signs You Need a New Agent." Other sidebars include quotes, notes, and anecdotes. All are clever and truthful at the same time. A directory of agents, industry contact info, and website offerings complete this manual for taking your career out of "automatic" and keeping both hands on the steering wheel as you head for success.