Ways to Work on Your Craft Daily: Part I

As actors, the inescapable truth is that we’re likely to spend only a small percentage of our time actually performing a role onstage or in front of a camera. The rest of the time? We’re auditioning, preparing to audition, analyzing the most recent audition, trying to stop analyzing the most recent audition, editing our resumes, shooting headshots, delivering headshots/resumes, editing our reels, courting representation, scheduling meetings, networking with other creatives, and on and on. Unfortunately, this is liable to occasionally leave you a little rusty in the very thing you most want to keep fresh, strong and agile: your acting. So let’s look at some useful techniques and activities you can incorporate into your daily schedule to make sure you flex your acting muscle every single day.

Practice cold reads.

Often the most challenging part of an audition, cold reading is something you simply can not plan ahead for, right? Wrong! While sure, you may not be able to go into every audition having studied and practiced the cold read material beforehand (um, hence the term cold reading!), you can definitely work on building your cold reading muscle . . . yes, even if you are going through an audition dry spell. It can be as simple as:

1. Access sides.

It isn’t very difficult to find free sides on the internet. They are available through several popular audition websites, and an internet search can also bring up countless pages of script material. Or, borrow books of plays from the library. Even monologue books will do! Blindly flip to a page. Look for large chunks of dialogue, or smaller passages that can be combined together. Tada! Instant sides.

2. Allot yourself a preparation timeframe.

You may choose 5 minutes, 10 minutes . . . or you may choose to challenge yourself even further, by occasionally practicing reading with no preparation at all. Any one of those scenarios can easily come up in a real-life audition, so it never hurts to be prepared! Set the timer for your chosen duration, and study your sides. If you have access to a printer and want to print the pages out each time, you might also practice making quick notes that will aid you in preparation and/or the actual reading.

3. Turn on the webcam.

Isn’t it cool that we live in a time when it is so simple to record video? Stand in front of your webcam/phone/camera. Slate. Perform your audition.

4. Watch and learn!

Here’s where the most amazing benefit of this exercise comes in. In the vast majority of audition situations, you will never have the chance to see the video recording that the casting directors end up using to make their decision whether or not to cast you. You’ll have some idea of how you felt you did in your audition . . . but you can’t really know for sure how it all looked to an audience of auditors. By recording yourself doing these “cold reads” on your own time, you can really study yourself . . . How do you appear when you read on camera? Do you subconsciously fidget? Do you spend enough time looking up from the page? Do you rush without realizing it? These are all things you can discover–and, more importantly, correct–by watching these videoed “practice auditions”. If you do this on a consistent basis, just imagine the edge you’ll have over the actor who has no idea how he presents himself on camera, or who only “auditions” when an actual role is at stake!

Learn–and perfect–new accents and dialects.

Any accent that you have the ability to do, and do well, is an excellent skill to have at your disposal. Some people are natural-born mimics and seem to be able to pick up a new accent in no time flat, while others find they must work very hard to accurately imitate the new sounds. Whichever group you’re in, you will undoubtedly benefit from having at least one accent that–if not currently in your toolbox–you are at least diligently working on toward mastery. Studying a new accent or dialect can be approached in a variety of ways: You can find formal book/tape combinations for instruction of many accents. You can (if you’re lucky enough to have access to one) enlist the help of a friend or colleague who naturally speaks with the accent you’re aiming to learn. You can look online for instructional sites. You can even create “lessons” for yourself by finding a solid recording of a person speaking your target accent (YouTube is such a brilliant resource for this!), spending time carefully analyzing the nuances of their speech (yes, by writing words out phonetically and noticing important rules and patterns in pronunciation and inflection), and finally by reciting those same lines of theirs, and imitating, reviewing, tweaking your delivery until you get your mind wrapped around the sound and can apply it to your speech without thinking. The most important step, in developing a new accent/dialect, is practice. Once you have a particular accent down solid, you have effectively opened up a whole new door of casting options for which you’re now a candidate!

Study biographies of actors.

One of the nice things about life and the human experience is that, no matter what you’ve faced in the past or are facing currently or will face in the future, someone, somewhere has been through the exact same thing. More likely than not, tens of thousands of someones. And some of these are actors just like yourself, who happen to be more than willing to share details about their lives and careers in books, articles, interviews, and the like. When you have the opportunity to learn from someone else’s successes and even failures (especially without having to personally go though the latter on your own), take it! Read everything you can get your hands on. Highlight, take notes, read something more than once, absorb what you are reading. Most likely, you’ll notice recurring themes or lessons. See what you can take of these to apply to your own life and career. Remember: life’s too short to have to make every single mistake yourself. Give yourself a leg up on the competition by supplementing your own life experiences and knowledge with those of people who have achieved the kind of success to which you also aspire.

In Part II, we will look at even more ways to hone your craft on a day-to-day basis. Stay tuned!

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Elizabeth Elizabeth Sekora is an actress and classically trained soprano living in Los Angeles. She has 24 years of experience in theatre, film, opera, television, and voiceover work, and holds a Bachelor of Music degree from University of Nevada, Las Vegas. www.elizabethsekora.com.