What Kind of Career Do You Want?

I try to take advantage of as many networking opportunities as possible: going to plays and screenings, meeting fellow actors and industry folks at parties, taking classes/seminars/master classes with folks whose work I respect, and so on. Not only do I do this for my coaching business, but also for my career as a professional actor. Networking is vital for the survival of both.

One of the questions I am asked most often by industry is, “What kind of career do you want to have?” This kind of question can be networking suicide for actors, because actors have long been trained to want to do everything. When someone asks an actor to be specific about what they want, he/she either freezes up entirely or proceeds to outline a long, tedious list of projects and genres across all performing arts mediums. Actors have a golden opportunity to make a real connection when someone asks this question, which can start the wheels of his/her career in motion. But neither of the above responses really get to the heart of who you are and what you have to offer as a performer.

To take advantage of this type of question, you need to think out your answer in advance. I have developed a short questionnaire that can help you determine what kind of career you want to have. The best kind of answer is simple and specific, and will give the listener a strong vision of exactly what you’re looking for. (After all, isn’t networking all about getting to know the needs of others and communicating your needs in return?)

Here are some questions to ask yourself:

1. Which breakdowns are perfect for you? Go through your audition resources and Backstage’s casting notices and start to note which breakdowns fit you perfectly. What are the adjectives that stand out (perky, sarcastic, lonely, desperate, dangerous)? What type of work do these characters do (nurse, father, attorney, PR executive)? What is your perfect social class (poor, blue collar, white collar, rich) and what ethnic, racial, and national backgrounds resonate with you? Note that there are other factors to consider as well. This is just the starting point. Narrow the list down to one or two perfect breakdowns (blend characteristics from a few of them together, if you have to).

2. Which genre is perfect for you? Are you best suited for wacky physical comedy or do you salivate over brooding period dramas? Do you love Shakespeare or documentary reenactments? You can certainly include other genres in your search for projects, but choosing your preferred genre will help you to focus your energy and attention to that which inspires you the most.

3. If you had your dream career, which medium would you spend the most time in? I think that most of us would say that we would do anything respectable that would allow us to make a good living, but what medium really gets you energized? Do you prefer the intimacy of on-camera work or do you thrive on the energy of a live audience? Or would you prefer to combine the two in a studio audience setting? Getting specific about what you would prefer doesn’t pigeon-hole you into one medium, it simply creates a context for your career that is focused and manageable.

4. Which successful actor has your career path? This is a very important question and one that you will be asked most often. This doesn’t mean, “Whose work do you love the most?” This means, when you look at their body of work, which actor looks, sounds, and acts the way you would if you had the same roles. Which actor has the kind of career you could imagine leading? For example, if you are femme fatale type of actor who is exotic looking and has a bit of vulnerable danger to you, you might consider the type of career that Angelina Jolie has. If you are all of those things but are more refined than dangerous, Catherine Zeta Jones may be your best choice. Once you have chosen the actor(s) you feel represent the career path that is most like you, do some research. Find out how they got where they are, and get to know their body of work. Passionately seek out projects that look for that type of actor. And when asked, “What actor are you most like?” you’ll be armed with a specific response that is educated and palpable!

Hopefully these tips will get you started down a path that will help you to confidently express your interests in the industry to those who are in a position to help!

Like this advice? Check out more from our Backstage Experts!

The views expressed in this article are solely that of the individual(s) providing them,
and do not necessarily reflect the opinions of Backstage or its staff.

Erin Cronican
Erin Cronican is a professional actor (SAG-AFTRA/AEA) with over 20 years of experience performing in film, plays and musicals (NYC, L.A., regionally), and on television. She also produces and directs with the Seeing Place Theater, a critically acclaimed non-profit indie company in NYC.
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