Lying is Wrong, but Fudging on Resumes...

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Gray Matter

Dear Michael:

I am a 27-year-old actress from Central Pennsylvania, currently starring in my first full-time professional production. I'm so excited to be living my dream, and I'm trying to book more shows with this company and others. However, I'm afraid to submit to things outside Pennsylvania because of my résumé. Most of my credits are from community theater, and my education section is extremely lacking. I have a few community college-level classes that I took years ago, voice lessons, and some workshops. I know that I have a long and hard journey ahead of me, and I've started to travel to take as many classes as possible. What can I do to make my résumé pop?

Little Fish in a Big Pond, Lancaster, Pa.

Dear Little Fish:
First, congratulations on your first professional job!

Next, stop trying to be a casting director. Submit, submit, submit, and let the people receiving those submissions decide whether to call you in. It's not our job to evaluate whether our credits merit an audition. That's what casting people do.

As for making your résumé "pop," you're at the perfect point in your career to learn a few tricky tricks of the trade -- things many beginning actors do to maximize their credits but few talk about publicly. So let's be bold, and lay it all out there.

Don't lie, but do "fudge." Welcome to the gray area. No one needs to know that community theaters are community theaters. If the name of the place is the Whatchamacallit Community Theatre, omit the word "community." Next, eliminate credits for roles you couldn't realistically play in the professional world. If you played Medea when you were 16, leave that off. Blur school theater credits by using the name of the school's theater rather than the name of the school.

In your Training section, treat community college courses as independent classes, listing only the subjects and the instructors (e.g., Diction: Mike Clearspeaker; Dance: Grace Tour-Jeté). Include seminars, lectures, and workshops you've attended; those provide training as well.
Of course, the savvy résumé reader knows how to spot gussied-up amateur or small-time credits. But removing the repeated stamps of "community" or "college" helps reduce the impression that you're a complete beginner.

Next, remove tell-tale amateur giveaways: Only kids need to list their height, weight, and birthdate. No need to list hair and eye color. Never include your address or Social Security number. (Yes, believe it or not, people do.) If you don't have an agent or manager, it's appropriate to list your website, email, or even phone number.

This endeavor calls for nuance and creativity. Don't lie -- that can easily backfire. If you do, be very careful; make sure you know all about the production with which you're claiming to be associated, in case you're asked. Better still: Don't lie.

There's no crime in being a beginner. Everyone was at one point. So don't be ashamed. Present whatever experience you have in its best light, and put yourself out there.