3 Things You Must Do Your First Year as an Actor

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The day after I moved to NYC, I went to three auditions and fell flat on my face in the middle of my very first dance call. Yep, in a room full of strange, beautiful chicks who (I was certain) were so happy to see me fail. I remember the humiliating ride in the elevator with other girls from the audition. I just wanted to hide and go home. That was the day, in the unforgiving dead of Winter 1999, nursing a bruised knee and ego, I began my career as a professional performer.

Did it get better? Of course. But the first year “out here on my own” was hard! I put so much pressure on myself to do it all right away, and in hindsight, I wish would have given me permission to chill the hell out. So if this is your first year pounding the pavement, here are three first-year must-do’s and three nice-to-do’s so you can prioritize your life and start your career with a bang.

Your First-Year Must-Do’s:
1. You must lay the foundation for your day-to-day survival. A place to lay your head, and a job to pay the bills. Not the most glamorous item on the list, but without proper rest and a little financial security, you will feel scattered and desperate.

2. You must audition. Get thee to as many auditions during your first year as you can. Do it all: chorus calls, EPAs, Broadway, regional. reality shows, TV—if it’s an open call and you fit what they’re looking for, go. Every audition is a free opportunity to learn! You will develop relationships with casting directors, gain confidence, learn great choreography, test your material, and meet tons of people. (Those people could very well become agents, casting directors, and choreographers someday, so be nice to everyone.)

3. You must find your tribe. You cannot function by sleeping, eating, and auditioning alone. You need to be social, share stories, compare disastrous side jobs, blow off steam, and find balance. Build your support system, because you will need it. Your tribe will cheer you on if you book your dream gig, but they’ll also let you cry on their couch when your nemesis books it instead. These are the people who will talk you out of moving home to work at your dad’s accounting firm. Keep them close.

Now, once you’ve set yourself up with your must-dos, just put these next three items on your radar (and maybe tackle them in your second year). Of course, it sure wouldn’t hurt to achieve these in your first year, but if you don’t get to it, your career is not over. Behold,

Your First-Year Nice-to-Do’s:
1. It would be nice to sign with an agent. For sure! It makes things a lot easier in audition life! But your first year is a great opportunity to learn who you are in this business outside the confines of your university or hometown. An agent can’t sell you if you don’t know who you are in the context of your surroundings. For example, I was typed as a dancer in college, but upon moving to NYC, I was surprised to find that I booked most of my gigs from singer calls because I could sing well enough to get to the movement callback and then throw down on the dance floor. This is great information for an agent to have.

2. It would be nice to get to class regularly. Yes, training is super important and class is so valuable, but without lining up your must-do’s first and getting your finances in order, you’ll just stress yourself out. Also, auditioning trumps class. Learn as you go. Pay your bills first, then go to class. Try online resources such as Don’t Dodge the Dance Call, that are very economical, user-friendly, and effective.

3. It would be nice to join the union. There’s a reason you can’t just register online to be in the unions. You have to earn it. You have to really work for it. And if you move to NYC, L.A., or Chicago with your union cards all lined up, go on with your bad self. But when you’re young and full of energy, there is so much to experience in the way of nonunion work, and there’s so much nonunion work nowadays. Take it all in and build that résumé. The unions aren’t going anywhere.

I’m sure you’ve heard the term, “It’s a marathon, not a sprint,” right? Same applies here. If you want your career to sustain time and several iterations of headshots, take the time to set yourself up right. All good things come to those who work their butts off. Good luck and welcome to this amazing world! We’re so happy you’re here!

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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.

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Erika Shannon
Erika Shannon is a choreographer, teacher, and movement coach, working with dancers of all levels, singers, models, and fitness enthusiasts to help them move their bodies with confidence and connect to movement so it makes sense. Her signature online dance program, Don’t Dodge the Dance Call, has been featured in several theatrical publications, including Backstage!
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