ACCEPTED! ONE MFA ACTOR’S SUCCESS STRATEGY by Brian O’Neil

brianoneil

My job as a career coach is to teach actors how to think differently about this business and how they approach it. The events and conversation below took place over a period of more than a year.  It began early last spring when an actor contacted me to help him with his auditions for this year’s graduate school MFA programs. He was wise to start early. Here’s what happened.

HIM: I’d like you to coach me on my auditions for grad school.  I know that you teach or have taught at most of the good ones.
ME:  Okay, bring in a few monologues and let’s see what you have.

 

(Two weeks later after he auditioned for me)

ME:  You’ve probably been told that you’re very good.  Because you are. But a lot of actors are, and that’s not enough. The acceptance rate is 2%.
HIM:  What should I do?
ME:  Get on the websites of all the schools you are auditioning for.  Find out when their New York showcase is.
HIM:  And?
ME:  Normally, I wouldn’t suggest this, but for you I will.
HIM: Suggest what?
ME:  Show up. Tell them that you’ll be auditioning for them next year and that you’d love to see the students at work. If there’s a seat, they’ll give it to you.
HIM: And then?
ME:  Assuming you liked the work, ask someone if the director of the program is present.  He or she will be milling in the crowd. Introduce yourself.
HIM: And?
ME:  Tell him/her how much you enjoyed the students’ work and that you’ll be auditioning next year.  Again, assuming that you liked the work.
HIM: Then what?
ME:  When you write your statement of purpose, mention what you observed having personally experienced the work of the students.
HIM: Then what?
ME:  We’ll work on these pieces and others.

(Months later)

HIM: I auditioned.  Two of the teachers remembered me from going to the showcase.  And another one said I “looked familiar.”  I told him why.
ME:  Good.
HIM: At a call-back, the program director actually had me answer some questions posed by other actors because I’d “seen the students at work.”
ME:  Upshot?
HIM: I got called-back for two, accepted at one and wait listed for the other.  The wait listed one is my first choice.
ME:  What are you going to do?
HIM: Wait and see.
ME:  No, you’re not.
HIM: No?
ME:  We haven’t come this far for you to drop the ball.
HIM: So?
ME:  Write back to the person who wait listed you. Thank him/her. Say you’ve been called back and offered elsewhere, but they remain your first choice.
HIM: Why?
ME:  Because they don’t know that. And it looks good for you to have call-backs and another offer. Shows consistency with your auditioning skills.

(One week later)

HIM: I heard back.  My note got me moved me to the # 1 spot on the wait list!  They said there will probably be an opening, and if there is, it’s MINE.
ME:  Good move.  Stay in touch.

(One week later)

HIM:  I got in!
ME:  The talent was always there. But as I said, it’s there for many. You acted well, but you also acted smart. Congratulations, kid.  Ya done good.

Brian O’Neil is an acting career coach, consultant, and audition coach. A former agent and personal manager, O’Neil is also the best-selling author of “Acting As a Business: Strategies for Success,” which is now in its twenty-ninth printing. In the recent past, his students and clients have won Emmys and a Golden Globe (“The Big Bang Theory”), a Tony Award (“Matilda”), been Emmy-nominated (“Girls”), been cast as series regulars (“Orange is the New Black,” “The Walking Dead,” “Bones”) and have appeared in starring roles in feature films (The Coen Brothers’ “Inside Llewyn Davis”). Although he lives in New York City, Brian teaches at virtually every advanced actor training program in the country, including The Juilliard School. For more information about Brian, please visit http://www.actingasabusiness.com.

Choosing the Right Acting Program for Your Child

img_3365There are plenty of kids’ acting programs out there, but how can you tell which program would be a good fit for your child? Whether your son or daughter is looking for major roles or just having fun learning to act, there are several key elements that can reveal whether or not a particular acting school or program is a good choice.

Actors Connection strongly focuses on these 3 ideas and encourages you to put them to the test. Our studio offers both free on-camera opportunities to try as well as Casting Director & Agent intensives and a stellar summer camp!

  1. A Variety of Programs Under One Roof: Does the school you are considering offer a full spectrum of class options for your child to participate in? More options means an opportunity to explore many different aspects of acting within the familiarity of a single school and team of staffers. Familiarity and comfort are important when it comes to helping children learn to act. Find a school that feels good to you and your child, and which offers an ongoing selection of classes for them to experience.
  2. The Acting Business—For Kids: All too many parents make the mistake of thinking that the business aspects of professional acting don’t apply to children. Quite simply, they do. Casting directors expect child actors to be prepared and professional. This includes not goofing off in the waiting room when your child is awaiting his or her turn to try for a part. A reputable kids’ acting school will include training and preparation for children who wish to step into the world of professional acting.
  3. Support, not Pressure: We’ve all seen those reality TV shows where seemingly obsessed parents push and pull and drag their children from show to competition and back again. An acting program you can trust will provide programs and seminars that help not just children but their caretakers, too, to understand the nuances of professional acting. Children need respect and support to achieve their personal best—and to have fun while doing so! Make sure your child’s acting program provides compassionate guidance.

With these tips in mind, you will be able to screen for the best acting program for kids in New York City. Take a look at the variety of programs for children and teens that we offer, and be sure to explore our seminars as well to learn more about the business of acting. Your child will benefit from your due diligence, and you’ll help him or her start their acting career off on a healthy, happy and positive note.

5 Ways to Not Get Accepted by a Top MFA Program by Brian O’Neil

brianoneilIt’s January and most of the graduate acting (MFA) programs will be holding auditions for a few thousand hopefuls who wish to enter. Having been a guest teacher at virtually every top program, and having sometimes been present during the decision-making, here are a few things I have found that are best avoided.

1. Write a trite “statement of purpose.” The deadline for most applications has passed, but for those who have been given an extended stay, here is what not to say: “I didn’t choose acting. It chose me.” Not only have they read it a thousand times, they won’t believe it. On the other hand, saying “I want to be rich and famous” is equally unwise (although everyone would certainly believe it). Give them a sincere piece of “yourself” knowing  that many of these essays merely get glanced at and sometimes only at the time of call-backs.

2. Wear sneakers. Sneakers are not a wise choice for either sex, especially when it comes time to perform your classical piece. Bouncing around the floor in spongy multi-colored footwear tends to put a dent in the gravitas warranted by such roles as Hamlet, Henry IV, Queen Margaret etc. Not only are solid, comfortable shoes more grounding, you’ll look better.

3. Do Rosalind from “As You Like It”. I’m only half-serious here. If you’ve done killer auditions with Rosalind, fine. Not only is there a finite amount of Shakespeare available, it’s you who’s being auditioned, not the piece. Yet I can’t help remembering a lunch break with a program head a few years ago and hearing him moan, “Oh, if I hear another Rosalind!!” There is a vast wealth of classical pieces that don’t get looked at often and should. Consider looking at such brilliant writers as: William Congreve, George Lillo, Aaron Hill, and John Webster.

4. Do a classical piece written in prose instead of verse. For most auditors, the main point in asking for a classical piece is to see how the actor handles heightened language which is potentially better expressed in verse rather than prose. Verse intimidates many young actors who have little experience in this area until they realize how many times a day we speak in verse without ever realizing it. It has been composed to give a natural rhythm and emphasis to certain words, and Shakespeare’s iambic pentameter was modeled after the pulse of the human heartbeat. Some politicians deliver in verse-style, JFK perhaps being the most notable. Listen to his famous “Let them come to Berlin” speech and you will hear a man speaking in verse. How to tell verse from prose? Open a collection of Shakespeare and take a look. If each line begins with a capital letter, it’s verse. If it’s wrapped around narrative-style, it’s prose. Choose verse to show your skill with language.

5. Be the mayor. See all those big squeeze bottles of antiseptic gel on the auditors’ tables? Those are hints that late January is the height of flu season and most people don’t really want to shake a thousand hands in a forty-eight hour period. Shake hands only if offered by the other side.

The good news is that you can break all of the above (except perhaps for #5) and if they want you, they want you. However, the acceptance rate at top programs is one to two percent, so just do your very best, and let it be.

Brian O’Neil is an acting career coach, consultant, and audition coach. A former agent and personal manager, O’Neil is also the best-selling author of “Acting As a Business: Strategies for Success,” which is now in its twenty-ninth printing. In the recent past, his students and clients have won Emmys and a Golden Globe (“The Big Bang Theory”), a Tony Award (“Matilda”), been Emmy-nominated (“Girls”), been cast as series regulars (“Orange is the New Black,” “The Walking Dead,” “Bones”) and have appeared in starring roles in feature films (The Coen Brothers’ “Inside Llewyn Davis”). Although he lives in New York City, Brian teaches at virtually every advanced actor training program in the country, including The Juilliard School. For more information about Brian, please visit http://www.actingasabusiness.com.

The Best Way to prepare for your portrait or headshot session by Daisy Rey, Top NY Photographer

Daisy ReyModels and actors need to have professional headshots to help them find work. The headshot is often their resume. Many people also enjoy having professional portraits of individuals or families that can be hung proudly in the home. There are many things that go into the best headshots and portraits. An experienced photographer that has the right equipment is important of course. The location and the lighting of the shot is also very important. If these things are not in place, a picture can end up looking very bad or amateur. It is important to take the time to find the best New York photographer to take your headshots and portraits.

The subjects involved in the portrait photography will also play an important role in the success or failure of the work. There are several things that can be done for a person to prepare themselves to give them the best portrait or headshot that is possible.

Hair and Makeup – Take the time to make yourself look the best. Get your hair done and bring a brush to make sure it is perfect when needed. Pluck your eyebrows and remove any unwanted hair before the shot. Have makeup done by a professional. It is also a good idea to take care of the entire body to put yourself in the best frame of mind. A manicure and pedicure will help you feel more glamorous and that feeling will show up in the headshot and portrait.

Clothing – Clothing is important even in a headshot. Do not wear clothes with logos or branding on them. Choose solid color outfits so as they won’t distract from the person in the shot. Soft colors, pastels, white, black, blue or grey are great choices. Don’t bring only one outfit to the shoot. Bring several outfits to find the one that works best for the camera. Layered clothing is another way to change the look of what is being worn. It is important to make sure all the clothes are cleaned and ironed. A lint brush is a very valuable tool to fix any problems on the spot.

Practice – Photoshop is able to remove any skin blemishes and other imperfections that an individual has. Lighting can hide many problems as can the position of the person. What cannot be fixed is the attitude of the person. If a person is nervous or uncomfortable, it will show up in the pictures. Before the shoot, practice posing and take some time to make yourself comfortable in front of the camera. Listen to some relaxing music before the shoot to calm the nerves.

All of this will help get the best possible headshot or portrait.

Daisy Rey is a French photographer based in New York City.  You can find out more about her via her website at:http://daisyrey.com/

HOW TO KEEP A “STORY” MONOLOGUE FROM SEEMING LIKE A “FLASHBACK” by Brian O’Neil

brianoneilActors are told, wisely so for the most part, to avoid monologues that tell a story.  You most likely know the kind.  They usually start with “When I was seventeen” or “It happened after I left home” or “I still remember the time” etc.  They are usually delivered with a kind of sameness that sucks the life right out of the room in which its being performed.  For the most part, that is. They can sometimes work, if the actors knows how to infuse the necessary drive to carry them through the piece. The reason pieces of the “story” nature don’t usually work is because the reason the character is telling the story is not contained within the writing itself. Another missing component is that we often have no idea to whom the character is speaking. Mother?  Sister? Boyfriend?  Girlfriend?  Most of the time it’s not there, whereas monologues that have immediate and active conflict usually have this component within them and therefore are usually more compelling monologue choices.  The character is telling the other character how he or she wants the other character to change. A clear “fight” is usually present.

However, when a actor performs a story piece that works well, it’s usually because the actor has endowed the need to tell the story with a sense of urgency.  That is, if a character is telling another character a “story”: in a play, and that play is well-written, there is a reason why that character is telling the other character that story at that moment with the express purpose of affecting the relationship.  So when an actor knows what is driving him through the story, the emotional intention becomes as important, if not more important than the story itself.  We, the audience may have no idea why the character is telling the story, but if the actor knows why, he can hit a home run with a story monologue.  Yet, it requires an extra step to create this kind of immediacy.

The “flashback” reference in this article’s title refers to this “extra step”.  I can liken it to the following. Let’s say you ran into a friend whom you hadn’t seen in ten years.  She tells you that she got married ten years ago.  Then she tells you that her husband is now terminally ill.  You would react with strong and immediate sympathy, right?  Now let’s look at a different scenario.  You run into the same friend whom you have not seen in ten years.  She tells you that shortly after she last saw you she got married, but sadly her husband became terminally ill in the first year of the marriage and has been gone for nine years.  Your reaction would not be the same as if her were dying now.  Years have passed. Time has most likely had some healing effect upon her.  Her telling you the story of nine years ago wouldn’t have the same tone either, that is unless she wanted the story to affect her relationship with you right…now!   It’s this emotional immediacy that an actor must create to make anyone who’s listening to a story really, really care about the character, and by extension, the actor who is telling it.

Brian O’Neil  is the best-selling author of Acting As a Business:  Strategies for Success:  Fifth Edition.  A former agent and personal manager he is currently faculty at The Juilliard School and NYU/Tisch School of the Arts.  He is a career coach/consultant and you can learn more about Brian at http://www.actingasabusiness.com