The Actor’s Lament: Why Am I Not Booking Anything?

One of the most frustrating things about being an actor is the dry spells—long stretches of time when you just don’t book anything. Dry spells are always stressful for actors: not only are you worrying about where your next paycheck is coming from, you also end up questioning your acting abilities and wonder if there’s something you’re doing wrong which is causing this lack of bookings. To make matters worse, dry spells, especially long ones, are often the leading cause as to why actors are dropped by their representation (see Why Actors Get Dropped). Not booking any jobs for a long time can typically be attributed to two main factors, with the first one being the time of year. Like many other industries, entertainment definitely has its ebbs and flows of activity. Pilot season is naturally hectic, while the ensuing summer, when many shows go on hiatus, is incredibly slow—which means less projects and more competition for the roles that are out there.

However, booking dry spells aren’t always due to the time of year, and, more often than not, it is because of the second factor: it’s something you’re doing (or not doing) as an actor. Thankfully, unlike the seasons, your acting and how you approach auditions is something you can control and change.  If you find yourself going out steadily on auditions but never actually booking anything (not even coming close either), then you’re probably long overdue for a self-assessment. Take a look below and see if any of the following applies to you:

1. Are you prepared? You better be. Yes, sometimes auditions are horrendously last minute and you’re basically cramming in your car on the way to reading for the producers, but often, you usually have at least a day’s turnaround before you have to go in. Your agent sends you material so you can look at it ahead of time, and not for the first time when you’re in the waiting room. By the time you’ve written your name down on the waiting list you should know exactly how you’re going to approach the material and how you can properly embody the character. No one necessarily expects you to be off-book (and certainly don’t pretend you are off-book when you’re not) but you should be familiar with the text, the cadence in which you’re going to speak, and how you’re going to physically approach a character. Not being prepared is tremendously detrimental to you as an actor. It not only shows the producers and casting director that you couldn’t be bothered to take their audition and meeting seriously—it also conveys to them that perhaps you won’t take the job seriously either. On top of that, not being prepared makes your reps look bad, which in turns makes them unhappy, which then results in them being less inclined to pitch you for future projects. Granted, some auditions might require you to improv, but even with that in mind, you should go into the audition knowing everything there is to know about the project, story, character, etc. so that you can better create a well-rounded audition—even if it’s all improvised.

2. Is there an issue with your headshots? Usually when you get new headshots it’s a group effort—your agent helps you find a photographer and once the proofs are presented, you and your team go through the shots to pick the photos that best present you as an artist and actor. Sometimes, though, the photographer just isn’t great or you don’t have the opportunity to go through new photos with your agent or manager and you’re stuck choosing on your own. You’re still getting in the room because of your credits, but now you’re not booking anything. Having a great headshot is CRUCIAL, and it’s important to understand the point of them. Yes, they should be flattering photos of you, but they must absolutely match who you are as an actor, your personality, and an accurate representation of what you currently look like. There’s literally no universe in which your headshot should not match who you are. If you’re an artsy type with long-ish hair who wears glasses all the time, then let your photos convey that. Yes, as an actor you can fit several different archetypes, but you don’t want anyone to be surprised when you come in—or have them not recognize you. If something has significantly changed with you since your last set of headshots, you should also consider getting new ones. Nothing puts off a casting director more than not getting what they expect. You were chosen to read because of your credits and your physical description, and if they’re looking for a super tall, blond guy with a frail stature because the role calls for it, then a tall, dark haired guy that’s got giant muscles will not get you the job (see Headshots for more tips).

3. Is someone steering you in the wrong direction? Just like any working relationship you develop while building your career in entertainment, it is possible to outgrow acting teachers/coaches or be misdirected when asked for a recommendation. Just like every other teacher you’ve ever come across in your years of education (acting or otherwise), some you just jive with and some don’t understand you and your approach to material. Some teach methods of acting you don’t like or understand, and they simply don’t seem to be helping, and in fact, might be hindering your progress. Just like any other job and profession, each set you step onto and each room you go into to read is a learning experience, and when you’re being pulled one way and pushed another by a casting coach or teacher, it can halt your progress because what you’re learning is actually the opposite of what presents you properly as a professional actor.

Alternatively, when you’ve been with an acting teacher for a long time, it’s wholly possible (and an almost eventuality) to become complacent. Over time, you naturally learn what to do in order to garner praise from your teacher, and in turn, your teacher becomes accustomed to your acting and what to expect from you. Acting is like a muscle—In order to strengthen it, you need to constantly challenge yourself and keep your body guessing by trying new and different exercises and routines. If you’ve been with the same acting coach for years (and getting little to no results in the room), try shaking things up! Step outside your comfort zone and try out a new coach or acting class. You would be amazed at how quickly actors see results when trying a completely new class or teacher.

4. Are you looking out for yourself? Yes, it’s a fact that your average actor will go out on dozens and dozens of auditions, and only actually book one or two of them. As sobering as that ratio is, assuming that you’re doing all the right things as an actor (nailing your auditions, getting good feedback, building relationships with casting offices, etc.) you will eventually book work. If months, even years go by without booking a job and rarely even getting brought in for callbacks, it’s definitely time to take a long hard look at yourself and your career. Look at yourself objectively. Maybe there’s a personal reason you’re off your game, or nerves have been getting the better of you. Maybe your passion for acting has been waning. Maybe everything else in your life is getting too hectic and it’s super hard to find time to prepare material. Whatever it is, it’s important to look out for yourself and your career. Evaluate what’s going on and make the appropriate steps for YOU to figure out how to improve. Maybe you need to take a break from acting, maybe you need to find a renewed vigor for the profession, or try to conquer time management to make sure you have enough time to prepare. Regardless of the reason, you need to understand that at the end of the day only YOU can book a job. Yes, your reps help get you in the room, but it’s up to you and your abilities to ultimately seal the deal.

During booking dry spells, it’s far too easy to blame external forces for why you’re not working. Don’t just chalk up your dry spell to being unlucky or worse, blaming your representation. Look at yourself objectively, seek out advice and guidance from your peers, and don’t be afraid to shake things up and try something different! Whenever you don’t book a job, there’s almost always a reason behind it (your audition, type, credits, name value, etc). The true test of an actor’s talent is whether or not you can identify why you didn’t book the job, and use that knowledge to improve upon yourself.

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tara McGrath started her career in entertainment mainly because she couldn't see a life where she wasn't surrounded and inspired by actors in some way or another. After graduating from SUNY Purchase's Conservatory of Theatre Arts and Film with a degree in Screenwriting, she worked for a year at Roundabout Theatre Company in New York. Interning under their casting department with casting directors Carrie Gardner and Jim Carnahan, she assisted in casting such productions as Spring Awakening, American Idiot and Fox's hit show, Glee. From there she moved 3,000 miles to Los Angeles and for the last year has been working for a well-known boutique talent agency in West Hollywood. She has also worked as a reader and marketing assistant for the Blue Cat Screenwriting Competition and has worked on independent features as both producer's assistant and P.A.