Introduction: So, You Wanna Be an Actor?
It takes a surprising amount of stamina, determination and skill to be an actor. Especially while in college.
And also especially in live theatre, where the audience is demanding with each night you perform. In film, you can reuse old takes of a scene. In live theatre, you have to be present, performing at your A-game always. Being in a show is a tedious process, and these instructions will bring you through the stages of being in a show, based on my personal experience as a college Theatre Major.
Step 1: Audition/Callback
The most daunting part of being an actor is the audition. A lot of actors chicken out before auditioning, and then regret it.
So the most important part of this step is the pre-step: DON'T PSYCH YOURSELF OUT BEFORE AUDITIONING!
Auditions are easy if you approach them confidently. You have to be sure of your talent. Also, a lot of the time directors aren't immediately looking for or judging your talent in the audition. Instead they're looking for three others things: how well you take their direction, if you take memorable risks in your monologue/song, and just if you fit their mental image of their cast or of that character.
That being said, another good thing to mention is never go to an audition in costume. Wearing all black, or wearing nice clothing of a neutral style, is acceptable-- the attention should be on your face, body and voice, not on your bedazzled converse or your lowest-cut zebra top. Long hair should be tied back; a lot of emotion and subtext gets expressed in our faces, and that's what the directors are there to see. It's hard to do that when you're being blocked by a curtain of hair.
Also, do yourself a favor and take time to learn your materials ahead of time. You'll be freaking out less on the day of auditions, and the director will be able to sense a well-prepared actor compared to a non-prepared one.
Now, what do you actually do in an audition? Well, it depends on the director.
You should always enter confidently and smiling. The first thing you should do is move the furniture to your liking, and then slate. Slating is stating your name and the title of your audition piece for whoever is in the room. Speak clearly. Then go into your song or monologue-- and afterwards, don't forget to let a few seconds go by ("let it land", as seasoned actors would say) after saying/singing the last word. Saying "thank you" indicates the end of your piece politely and professionally.
Some directors might ask you to stay and do part of the monologue again, or to improvise something, or to sing some scales.
Some directors do not.
Don't overthink it.
Stage Managers are known to say that just because you didn't get a callback doesn't mean you're not in the show. They're not lying, that does happen. Also, just because a director made someone do something extra in their audition doesn't mean they'll get a real callback-- nor does it mean that you won't get a real callback if the director didn't make you do something extra during the audition. Basically, you'll never know what the director wants. So don't overthink it, and just have fun! Show off your assets as an actor, and be proud of them!
Step 2: First Rehearsal
Congratulations! You got cast in the show! Now you look forward to the first rehearsal.
At the first rehearsal, you receive the scripts and (hopefully) the calendar of rehearsal dates.
You meet your cast, your director, your Stage Managers. A read-through of the play occurs, possibly more than once, along with the stereotypical Director's speech of his/her vision for the play. If you're lucky, the technical designers have been hard at work already, and they might have a blueprint of the set for you to observe and use to start immersing yourself within the world of the play.
Step 3: Rehearse, Rehearse, Rehearse!
Most shows have a rehearsal period of four weeks. Contrary to popular belief, that is not a very long time. You have to juggle your real-life responsibilities with the show's lines and blocking to be memorized.
Rehearsals tend to be long and tedious, although they can be very fun! You are surrounded by your friends, and it's always fun to watch the show start to shape up into something real and magical. But you're busy from 6-10pm every night, and sometimes even during the day. You will basically live in the theatre, no exaggeration.
The goal is to have nightmares about the lines, about the blocking, about the songs. You have to become so familiar and in tune with them, that you almost begin to perform them in your sleep. And trust me, you will.
Step 4: Keep Yourself Sane
Since your life will start to completely revolve around the theatre, you have to take measures to stay sane. Because if you have homework, forget about it. It's not happening until the show has closed. And if you have friends outside of the cast, say goodbye to them-- because you won't see them or have time to hang out with them until the show has closed. You will eat, sleep, and breathe the show.
It's difficult to balance schoolwork, a social life, and theatre. You can't slack on the theatre aspect-- otherwise, why are you in the show? The show won't be successful without your 100% commitment. But, do yourself a favor, and let yourself slack on the homework. If you try to stretch yourself out too thin by attempting both works, you'll literally go insane. However, DO make time for your friends. Dear God, I can't reiterate that enough. If you want a happy rehearsal process, don't become a hermit, and DO drop all other responsibilities in order to hang out with your friends. Seriously, you'll thank me later.
Have a cast dinner after exhaustedly getting out of rehearsal at 10pm. Go home with your best friend in the cast and have yourself a sleepover-- don't talk about the show. Watch Disney movies, drink tea to protect your voices, and don't go to sleep until 3am. Skip a morning class so you're awake for rehearsal that night. Have FUN. The rehearsal process will get frustrating-- you're going over the same things over and over; your director might not be the nicest person to work with; you'll probably get sick from overworking yourself; you'll want to just give up. Don't give up on the show, but DO continue to live. Being distracted by your friends will make the rehearsal process go by easier. Enjoying yourself while working is always a good thing. A good camaraderie between the cast makes the show work well, and is what you aim for. So live a little!
Step 5: Hell Week (Aka Tech Week)
The main reason you'll want to live and socialize during the rehearsal process, is because this week isn't called "Hell Week" for nothing.
Tech week is when everything kicks into high gear. The sets are being erected, costumes are being fitted, lights are being cued, and the actors just become another tool. You are expected to know your stuff, and you have to be extremely attentive and patient while they work through the technical aspects of the show. Sometimes they call "Hold!" and you have to stand in place for a half hour while they figure out a problem.
In the last show I was in, we had a power outage right before Cue-to-Cue rehearsal. Cue-to-Cue rehearsal is the longest rehearsal you'll ever have, because they go through the show cue-by-cue and won't leave a cue until they have it right (which means you'll go through the scene/song multiple times). We hadn't started rehearsal yet, and then suddenly we couldn't. But we couldn't just leave, as this was the only day we had to do Cue-to-Cue. So we waited. For three hours. And then we finally were able to start rehearsal.
This is also why making good friends with your cast is a good idea-- because you're gonna be stuck with them until the show is over.
As much as Tech Week really is Hell Week, it is a truly amazing experience to see all of the pieces of the puzzle come together. Most of the time you don't have any idea how wonderful the show looks from an audience perspective; it is common during Tech to be able to watch parts of the show from the Pit, as the run goes by so slowly, and you really see how much your hard work has paid off. Living through Tech Weeks also gives you a newfound respect for techies. But honestly, this step is the hardest of all of them. Hell Week is literal hell. There's so much work, and so little time.
Step 6: Fall Apart
This is a definite, concrete step of the acting process. During Hell Week, you WILL fall apart. One word: sickness.
Sickness, sickness, sickness. No matter what you do, you will get sick during tech week-- or, if you have terrible luck, during show week. But the show must go on! And you do your best to hold on, like the professional you are. Normally it is after closing night that you let yourself get fully sick.
You'll be glad I made you hang out with your friends during rehearsals, and you'll probably want to continue that throughout this last week before the show. And you should! Because you will fall apart, it is inevitable-- and it's better to fall as a group, than as one. From experience, it's always a bit more bearable when everyone is complaining about the same thing. You all are going to drag through this last week, but you know the show will be rewarding.
There is an old theatre superstition that is definitely true-- bad rehearsals make for a good show! By falling apart now, you know you'll rock it on opening night. Theatre fact, people. Just hang in there.
Step 7: Opening Night
There comes a time where you just need an audience, and YOU'RE FINALLY GETTING ONE TONIGHT!
Opening night is an exciting time. Partly you're terrified, as the sets and costumes and lights are probably still being finished. But mostly you're ecstatic to finally be showing off your work to new people! And in one week, this wonderful show week, this whole process will finally be a thing of the past. You'll be free, and you can catch up on life.
So, dress up in your fanciest clothes and strut your stuff like the proud actor you are. Because you are awesome, and you open tonight!
Step 8: Elation (Aka Show Week)
This whole week you'll feel like you own the school. You'll feel like everyone you meet will recognize you as being in the show.
It's a good feeling, and you should definitely bask in it! Even though it is mostly not true, just tricking yourself into believing it is will make all of your hard work seem worth it.
Also, audiences are wonderful things. The glory of live theatre is that every audience is different, and they react in real time to what you are doing. You can honestly feel the electricity of an audience, especially when they're a very responsive and good one. There is nothing else like the sound of laughter, laughter that you've caused-- or applause. I know that sounds vain, but it is true. Applause gives you goosebumps. It fills your soul; to be recognized for work you've done. And by gosh, you have put a LOT of work into this show, and you know it. You deserve all the praise and attention you get.
However, I think it's important to say that you must keep in mind that the praise and attention is not the only reason you should do a show. Do it for the passion of doing it; do it for the personal growth you get from it. If acting is your true love, show week is definitely elation.
Step 9: Cast Party
Of course, the step you were all waiting for. Yes, crazy cast parties are a thing. And yes, theatre kids can actually party. Sure, our parties mostly include blasting showtunes while we drink, but nonetheless!...
Normally the cast party happens the day before the closing performance. I don't know why, actually. Probably to really boost our energy before the last show-- since, otherwise, mostly you're pretty sad that this experience is coming to an end. But it's always a terrible idea to party before closing night-- but, oh, what a wonderful bad decision it is.
A tradition we used to have at my college is we'd pass a prop around the room during the cast party, and whoever was holding it would share a happy memory about the show's rehearsal process. Cast parties are very fun, and actually a serious part of being an actor. This is partly where you realize that all you've done, all of the work, and all the friends that you've made, it all has been worthwhile.
Step 10: Strike
The second worst part of this process, the process of doing a show and being an actor, is strike. This is where you take down the entire set. That's right, the entire set. All of the lights, too. And all of the costumes get put away.
It's painful, really. To see your baby get broken down, and packed away, like it didn't exist in the first place. And it just takes so damn long to do! The average strike will take you four hours. And that's with mostly all of the cast assisting, along with the techies. A lot of people, for a seemingly easy job, that happens to actually take forever.
You'll be assigned a job, a section to work in. Once done with that job, though, you won't be set free (if only you could be!). You'll have to wait around for the next job. Theatre is made successful through teamwork, and that is made very prevalent during strike!
Step 11: PSD (Post-Show Depression)
Post-Show Depression is a real struggle for actors. You won't be able to listen to the soundtrack, if you're doing a musical-- and you'll still be annoyingly quoting lines in everyday conversations-- but you'll miss it like hell. Regretting your complaining about the show during tech week happens during this step. It'll almost feel like time flew by too fast, and you'll wish you could just go back to opening night. While during tech week you were thinking: "How do professional actors handle this?"-- but with post-show depression, you're thinking: "Oh God, I can totally see myself doing this show six days a week for an indefinite period of time like professional actors!"
You'll feel very strange going home at 6pm, and not understand why until someone brings up the fact that it's weird to not be in rehearsal right now. Your professors will look at you like you've got six heads when you finally come to class and/or turn in your homework for the first time in weeks. Your roommates will be glad to hear you're not dead. But mostly, despite the PSD, you'll be so happy that you have free time once more.
Step 12: Repeat!
Oh, wait, what's this?.... Another show is happening next semester, with auditions for it coming up in a week?...
Count me in!
Seriously, it's addicting. Join the madness that is called Theatre. We're pretty awesome.
We have a be nice policy.
Please be positive and constructive.