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Kid Stuff

Dear Tombudsman:

I have been hesitating for some time about writing you, but in this new year of no more procrastinating, here it is. I am a late-20s actress living in Los Angeles. I have been acting professionally since I was about 9 years old, and I've had a moderate level of success. (I've attached a picture and resume for your reference.) I was a lead on Broadway, did some pilots, a short-lived TV series in the late '80s, television, and lots of Off-Broadway theatre. I have been very lucky and have had the opportunity to work with some amazing people.

When I graduated from high school, I chose to go to college and major in English rather than move to L.A. to pursue my career further. After college I moved to New York City, where I founded a nonprofit theatre company (still running, thanks to amazing partners there) and after several years there, decided to move to Los Angeles. Cut to now.

I have contacts here in casting and production. In the three years I've been here, they do not return my calls, cards, anything. I have done a little bit of theatre here. I have met with agents, and one asked, "So you had a series when you were 16. Do you still have any talent?" before turning me down. Finally I have been able to get a manager who believes in me and is willing to stick his neck out for me, but we can't seem to get me any auditions for television or film.

This is all I've ever wanted to do, and I know if I could just audition, I could book. I send out postcards every time I do a short film (I did about 20 last year, just to build up a more recent reel), I make calls, I do drop-offs, but I'm stuck. And I've vowed to make this my year, but I don't know what else to do. I don't want to believe that "kid actors" can't make the transition successfully.


Los Angeles, via the Internet

Dear B.R.:

I think we've witnessed enough child stars becoming successful adult actors that we can finally put the notion to rest that child stars cannot make it again after they're old enough to vote. It's a tired stereotype that needs to go away. Drew Barrymore, Jodie Foster, Leonardo DiCaprio, and quite a few others would say the same thing. And for every kid star like them who has reached the highest rungs of being an adult actor, there are plenty of non-star working adult actors who used to be non-star working child actors.

Resume-wise, you're kind of in the middle. Although you had some very nice credits in your teen years, you weren't a household name who must now prove yourself to a public that adored you in your youth. That should help take some of the pressure off. And I think that should be your starter plan for now: Take some pressure off getting that first network or feature audition by focusing on other aspects of your career.

It's almost irrelevant that you were a kid actor. So many of my letters are from performers who are facing the same issues you are. To one degree or another they're usually coming face to face with the Big Two--no auditions and no work--yet very few have been child performers. For everyone, it's about patience and a good work ethic and being ready when your calls come. For you it's that and letting go of any expectations you might have based on your former acting self. In a sense this is a whole new you professionally, so don't compare it to what you experienced before. Aside from one or two people who might see you only as that former child actor, most pros will take you for what you present to them now, and that is an adult face that is fairly new to the Los Angeles acting market.

Make sure your resume reflects this. While you're justifiably proud of the roles you played as a youngster, they shouldn't be at the top of your resume today. As someone objective looking at your resume I'd be much more impressed that you started a theatre company that is still thriving in New York and that you've managed to book several short films in one year--neither one a small feat. On those short films, don't push too hard by highlighting all of them on your reel. People get the point after a few minutes. With your manager, pick the best current clips for your reel. There's no need to show scenes from 20 films and no reason to have more than a few of them listed on your resume.

No auditions in three years of trying is perplexing. Since you've done so much short film work and a bit of theatre I'm assuming you are referring to television, feature film, and commercial work. You're an actor who exhibits plenty of drive and marketing ability, a good resume, and a great look, and yet there are no calls. Well, Hollywood is Actor Central, and you happen to be in an age category and type with enormous competition.

It's understandable that you're kind of freaking because you've expected some doors to open based on things you've done before and professional relationships you've had, but you have to remember: Hollywood is very much about "What have you done for me lately?," as in very lately. Some actors who were on a series two years ago can't get their calls returned. You were off the L.A. radar for quite a while, so don't expect any favors. You can be pleasantly surprised if one or two are bestowed upon you later down the line.

You have contacts in casting and production? Wonderful. Stay in touch with all of them, but spend even more time cultivating new relationships, as well.

Keep up your marketing always, but one caveat here: Too much can be harmful. Mailings, drop-bys, invites--all are important but must be done in reasonable moderation. Now that you have a compassionate and hopefully connected manager, doors should eventually open. The manager should be getting you into quality agencies--the type that don't make stupid comments about one's career--while trying to solicit auditions for you right now. If you don't start getting the results you desire in the next six months to a year--and in the short term that would seem to mean at least a few appointments or auditions--then consider getting someone else on your team.

The entrepreneurial attitude you had back in New York that helped stir you to form your theatre company should be explored here, as well. I'm not necessarily suggesting you start a theatre company again, but at the very least consider showcasing yourself with other actors in a nice space in a polished production. You can self-produce it or hook up with one of the better showcase producers. Pilot season is a very popular time to do this. If showcasing isn't your cup of tea, continue auditioning for theatre but define your search by focusing on one of the companies with a higher profile around Los Angeles.

Your theatre resume alone should garner you auditions at some well-respected companies. All actors have their own barometer for how much performance they need to stay satisfied. Some get enough just being in class once a week, others are fine with a television audition once a month and a booking every three, while some performers absolutely must be onstage month in and month out. Only you know how much you need to stay motivated.

I understand your primary plan may be to be seen up there on the big screen and its little brother with the X-Box attached, but mentally pulling back from focusing too much on that single goal will help keep your spirits up. If your manager calls tomorrow with an audition slot for a lead in a new series, fantastic. But if you're already in rehearsal for a show or showcase, it'll just be good news on top of an already solid plan that you've created for yourself. Oh, and you're already a working actor, and that credential frees you in degrees that cannot be measured.

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