Networking is essential to creating a name for yourself as an actor, and that is why for this week’s CIT Flashback Friday blog post we are revisiting the article ‘How to Improve your Networking.’ “But I just want to act,” your inner artist voice laments. “I’m not good at networking. It feels fake. I’m socially awkward. I break out in hives when I have to have a spontaneous conversation with another human, that’s why I chose a job where the conversations were all written out for me.”
TOO BAD, JUNIOR. You’re in the thunder dome of showbiz now, and EVERYONE must network to stay alive. Luckily, we are all in this together, so here are some things to think about when networking starts feeling intimidating.
Why it’s Important
In all seriousness, networking is just one of those bitter pills you have to swallow if you are serious about making a career as an actor. Directors and casting directors are people. They like to hire people they know, people they feel comfortable around, and people with a good reputation. It is part of our job as actors to be the people with whom the director wants to work.
Trust me, I get it. As an all-star player in the Midwest’s favorite sports, (over-apologizing and self-deprecation), I would rather gnaw my own foot off than promote myself in any way. The transition from “is this a boots-appropriate event?” to “why did I choose boots, no one will ever hire me or love me again” is a natural and logical one for me. And yet, like all of us, I know I have to beat back the social anxiety, flash those pearly whites, and shake some hands once in a while, because no one will hire you if they don’t remember that you exist. You can’t really fault them for that.
Know Your City’s M.O.
The short explanation for this is don’t network in Chicago like you’re living in LA. Each city’s artistic community has its own personality and traditions, and that is something of which you must be aware when networking. For example, Atlanta’s theatre community is comparatively tight-knit and supportive. People know each other. We go to each other’s shows, events and fundraisers, hang out with each others’ family and friends. It’s not uncommon to have directors come out from behind the table and hug you before auditions. If I took this kind of attitude elsewhere, I might come off as overly-familiar and unprofessional. But if I tried to treat an Atlanta interaction like I was in Boston, I could seem aggressive or aloof. Just know the vibe of your city and situation and relax into it.
Stay Active in the Community
This is probably the most straight-forward. Get yourself out there. Go to opening nights and stay for receptions to introduce yourself. If you’re new to a city, find the festivals and cattle calls that major theatres send representatives to and be there. Get day jobs in theatres you want to work for and start figuring out how things are run there. When it gets pricy, find actor friends you can swap comps with or go to preview nights. Hit up all the fundraisers and events you can (and volunteer to help out). If it’s a choice between sleep and getting to know the artists in your city, sacrifice sleep. Take advantage of the opportunities your city offers to young artists. And then let yourself grow. This year, after much debate and advice from actor friends, I chose not to do Atlanta Unifieds (a big cattle call attended by most local theatres near the time they all hold generals). I had done Unifieds for several years and been active enough in the community that I knew most theatres went there looking for new talent. It will better serve me to contact theatres individually if I don’t get called in for things. Live and learn.
Live in the Digital Age!
Just a quick reminder, Twitter, Facebook, and email are your friends. Know what theatres and agencies prefer email submissions vs. hard copies of resumes and headshots. Be CAREFUL what you post on a public forum. Directors, producers, artistic directors, actors and stage managers are all on Facebook too, and as we all know, the entertainment crowd talks. Keep it professional.
But Don’t be Annoying
There is such a thing as being too eager. At a certain point, those endless earnest emails sent to your favorite theatre stop showing initiative and start sounding desperate. Just use common sense. It’s good to be your own advocate, but if you become a nuisance, that is what people will remember about you.
Don’t be Fake
Here’s the good news: networking isn’t as hard as it sounds. You don’t have to sell your soul to make connections. In the end, most directors and artistic directors of integrity can see when someone is putting on an act just as easily as you can, and appreciate it about as much. Real talk, some artists build a career on sucking up. It happens. But if that’s not the kind of success you want, don’t despair. Be the best version of yourself for sure, but being genuine is something to which people respond. As long as you’re proactive, you’ll be fine.
Utilize Your Friends With Skills
Obviously don’t go looking to make friends based on the value of their skill set; that would make you a sociopath. But it helps to team up with your actor friends and start figuring out how pooling your talents and resources can benefit all. For example, a friend and I recently figured out we often are in need of help sending in taped auditions. He has a great camera, I have a great lamp, and we both have fun helping each other. Now that we are each other’s go-to taped audition buddies, we’re reaching out to other friends to widen the circle of glorious preparedness. Bartering materials and time with other members of your acting community is a great way to bond and make sure everyone is able to do their best work.
And Finally . . . Get Someone to Do it for You!
Don’t ever stop working for yourself. But if you have the means, there are agents and managers whose job it is to make these things easier. So do your research, be careful, and good luck. We’re all learning as we go.
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