the day to day of a professional actor in the San Francisco Bay Area

mostly the day to day of a professional actor in the San Francisco Bay Area, but also the home of the Counting Actors Project

Thursday, June 30, 2011

Introducing Counting Actors

I'm going to be doing this monthly.  Publishing the post between the first and the fifth of the month.

I'm counting actors (directors and writers too).  How many are men, how many are women.  How many are members of Actor's Equity, how many are not.  Who is local, who isn't.

I'm looking at productions with the following criteria:
1) the performance takes place in the 9 county San Francisco Bay Area (that's Marin, Sonoma, Napa, Alameda, Contra Costa, San Francisco, San Mateo, Santa Clara and Solano counties).  Also, the contract for the actors originates locally - so that means no Best of Broadway series, but yes to productions that take place at a local theater company, but the entire production team may come from out of town.
2) the production is not done by a school, or by a theater that calls itself a community theater or an amateur company.
3) the production is a full production, not a staged reading or a developmental showing or some other form of a work in progress.

Here are the questions I'm asking:
1) gender of the director
2) gender of the writer
3) total number of actors
4) total number of male actors
5) total number of female actors
6) total number of union actors
7) total number of non-union actors
8) total number of union male actors
9) total number of union female actors
10) total number of local actors
11) total number of non-local actors

I realize that there are a lot more questions that could be asked (collecting info about designers and crew, ethnicity info, etc.)  But I'm only one person.  I think this is all that I can handle.

But, to that end, if you want to help me count, here's what to do:

1) see shows that fit the criteria above
2) go to the Counting Actors page (link at top right of this page) and copy the questions there into the body of an email.  
3) send the answers to countingactors (at)

Tune in tomorrow for the June results.

Wednesday, June 29, 2011

Audition Routines

I originally titled this post 'Audition Commandments' but then I thought that was too egotistical, like I'm the Goddess of Auditions.  I'm not.  So, these are some of the things I try to do when I audition:

1. Go early, but not first.  If you're first, you're the guinea pig - everyone's in the room together for the first time, figuring out how to work together, who will say what, the reader is either overacting or underacting, and you're just not set up to do well.  Early is is good though, because then you get them when they're fresh.
2. Definitely bring water, maybe an apple. Nerves give me cottonmouth.  Water takes it away.  An apple is just enough food so that I'm not hungry, not so much food that I need a nap.  And it also works on that cottonmouth thing.
3. Dressing the character, but from my closet. Don't know about you, but I don't keep army fatigues, a waitress uniform, or even a lab coat in my closet.  I do have business suits, dressy dresses, a 'mom' sweater or two, and some skirts that are pretty long.  I do my best to approximate the silhouette of the character's clothing with what I have already.
4. Show up with one more photo and resume than I think I need.  If they say don't bring any, I bring one anyway, just in case, there's always the possibility of mixed communication, minds changing, etc.  If they want one, I've got two, etc.  They're not heavy to carry, I can use the extra one next time, and if it turns out they actually want one more, I seem like an organized professional person.  I also usually have a copy of my teaching resume at theater auditions, and a headshot and resume with me when I interview for teaching gigs (it's that 'slash' thing at work). And in the same folder, I've got hardcopies of a few audition monologues, and a typed up list of references (I have been asked for references at two different theater auditions - weird, but true).
5. Keep chatter to a minimum in the waiting area.
I often run into folks I know at an audition.  I try to say a brief hello and get back to putting my head in the game (and let them do the same thing).  If someone won't stop talking and I need to focus, I'll let them know that we can talk after the audition, and see if they have time to hang out after the audition is over. It's your prep time. A very precious commodity.
6. Say thank you.
To everyone in the audition room and at the front desk.
7. Keep in touch.
If it seems appropriate to do so, I'll ask the person I'm auditioning for 'how should I keep in touch with you?'  I've heard things like 'email me when you're in a show' or 'mail me postcards'.  I try to keep notes about who prefers email and who prefers regular mail.  I also want to make sure that I know who was in the room with me.  I'll ask the person who was checking folks in who it was that watched me, and if I wasn't able to ask in the room, I'll email that person later and thank them one more time and ask how to keep in touch.

As I was writing this, I came across this post at 'Daily Actor' titled 'How to Stage Your General Theater Audition'. Seemed like it was a good compliment to what I'm writing about, since I'm not really touching on what I do in the room. Daily Actor is a great add to your feed reader.

Are any of these things on your list? What am I missing?

Sunday, June 26, 2011

The Ills by Mayer Hawthorne

It strikes me that this song is the musical equivalent of what I talked about in this post.

There's no official video for the song, so here's a fan video:

And here's a live version (it's about 1 minute in before he starts singing, and there's a few f-bombs along the way, but the song itself is clean):

It's about getting back up, isn't it?

Saturday, June 25, 2011


Dear Bay Area Actors (and those further afield as well, if you're also reading):

How do you follow up after you've done a first round audition - a general audition, or the first round of reading for a specific role on a specific project?

Having a discussion with a non-actor about the etiquette of following up after job interviews vs. the etiquette of following up after auditions, and I promised I'd do some investigating.  Starting here.

Comment away, won't you please?


Tuesday, June 21, 2011

Actor Slash ?

Here's something I've been thinking about this week: how so many folks I know (myself included) are actor/something else. 

I'm an actor/theater educator.  I know actor/directors, actor/writers, actor/theater administrators, actor/musicians even actor/massage therapists and one actor/flight instructor.  Actor/ is different than being an actor with a day job (like an actor who makes their money by walking dogs, or working chain retail). 

Actor/ means that you do multiple things for work, enjoy doing multiple things for work, and if people ask you what you do you might be tempted to say "I'm an actor and also a (fill in the blank)"  However, sometimes, depending on the parts of the slash, it may not make sense to promote all the parts at the same time, or in the same way.  If you were a preschool teacher/dominatrix, it's pretty obvious that you wouldn't want to bring up both in the same breath, but what about a police officer/cake decorator, or a voiceover artist/B&B owner?

If you pursue multiple careers simultaneously, you may want to check out the book One Person Multiple Careers by Marci Alboher.  (I got it from the library several years ago).   It's full of practical advice about how one part of your slash can compliment the other, and includes things like how you might negotiate if you are a /parent.  I thought it was a helpful read, and hopefully you will too!

Monday, June 20, 2011

Casting Hits on Broadway

The NYTimes has a terrific interview with 5 top casting directors.

Here was the gem for me:
Q: What's the secret to a great audition?

Answer from Jim Carnahan: One of the biggest traps that actors fall into is trying to be what we want them to be, and that’s not what we’re looking for. It’s like a blind date. You’re better off just being yourself.

The whole thing is here.


Friday, June 17, 2011

Just awesome

Over the weekend, in a theater lobby, I ran into an actor colleague who said "remember when we saw each other last?  It was at xyz show at blah blah blah theater?  I was sitting alone,  you were sitting alone near me, and so was the artistic director of the company?  You introduced me to him, and we all chatted at intermission.  A week or so later, that director called me.  My headshot was in a stack on his desk, he was looking for actors for a reading, and remembered meeting me at the show.  I had a great experience doing the staged reading, and I feel like it all came about because you introduced us.  Thanks!"

Thursday, June 16, 2011

Negotiation: timing!

The most difficult part, and I think the last of the chunks on this topic: when do you do the asking?

Let me be clear: I don't think there are absolutes here.  When you ask for the things you want is going to depend on the nature of your non-negotiables, what you want to ask for, and a lot of other things.

I think non-negotiables, if they seem applicable to the project in question, should be raised during the process of making the audition appointment.  It might lead to you not even making the audition appointment.  If you're a woman who has no nudity ever ever ever as a non-negotiable, and you see an audition notice which says that the character will be topless, you wouldn't go to that audition.  A different woman might have a non negotiable of no nudity that is exploitative or gratuitous, and would inquire about the audition appointment, but ask to see a script or have a phone conversation with the director about what happens in the topless scene in order to make a decision about the nature of the nudity in the project.  Super bad form: doing the audition, getting cast, and then saying "oh, by the way, I never take my clothes off for acting work"  If it was a non-negotiable, this person has just wasted everyone's time.  The production made it clear that going topless was a requirement for the role.

Now, if you're talking about the perks, the things that it would be nice to have, but that aren't requirements for you, these are things to ask about when the part is offered.  And, outside of the tight casting timeline that often takes place in film/tv/commercials, it is perfectly fine when offered a role to say "thank you so much! I'd like to call you back in 4, 8 or even 24 hours to talk more about the project."  Acknowledging that you've received their offer, you're excited by it, but then waiting to talk business until the initial adrenaline of getting the offer has worked it's way through your system.  And then put on your business hat, and ask "is there any wiggle room in your stipend?" or "one of my goals this year is to increase my name recognition in this region - I'm hoping you'll have me be in the press photos for this project"  They may say no, but they just might say yes.  And, if they don't say yes (or aren't able to say yes) this time, you've built a framework for discussion on future projects.

Hoping this series of thoughts has been helpful.  Let me know about how your negotiations go!

Saturday, June 11, 2011

Negotiation: extra thoughts and questions

I know I still need to write about when and how, but here are some of the smaller thoughts that didn't seem to each need their own full post.

What are you bringing?  Think about what you might offer in addition to what you want.  You may have a mailing list, or a connection to a caterer, or a car that is appropriate for the 1970's time period of the indie film.  Something that you have that they need might help you get what you want.

Unions - if you're in one, they've already done a significant portion of the negotiating for you -  minimum salaries, size of dressing room, you name it.  If you're not in one, you should still go to the union websites and find the info about pay rates and contracts.  Start here for Actor's Equity.  Then look at the 'codes' and 'agreements'  Screen Actor's Guild (SAG) won't let you look at the full contracts, but you can see summaries and rate sheets here. AFTRA rates are here

With non-union on-camera projects and industrials, knowing union rates can help a lot with your negotiation.  The person making the industrial may not know a lot about what the rates are - starting from 50% of union rate as an offer on your end is often a good way to go.

Usage - with camera, voiceover and print, the question to ask is what are they using this for - where will it be shown and for how long.  Are they asking you to give them usage rights for a limited or an unlimited time?  For a limited or an unlimited geographic region?  web only? cable only? The fewer limits to usage, the more careful you need to be about taking on the project.

Thursday, June 9, 2011

Negotiation: what do you want to ask for?

The second in a series of bite-sized chunks. 

I think that many who are new to negotiating think that it's about money, and asking for more money.  There's a lot more to negotiating than that - when you're asking for a weekend off rehearsal to go to a friend's wedding, you're negotiating.  You can negotiate schedule, level of inclusion in a project's publicity, where your name goes in the program/credits, getting the production company to pay for your dry cleaning, and more.

What you ask for might relate to your non-negotiables,  It might relate to your goals as an actor - if you are interested in this project for the level of exposure, you might negotiate to have your name above the title in the postcard, or in a larger font, or that you're in the publicity photo used in the press kit.  It might relate to practical issues brought up by the production - they want you to use your own clothes for the costumes (common on indie films), but it's a horror film and you'll be getting spattered in fake blood - can they pay your cleaning bill?  You might negotiate the degree of nudity, or the hiring of a coach to help you w/a particular skill you'll need for the project.

In a non-musical where I played a character who sang, the company didn't have any musical director to help me with the songs.  I was taking voice lessons at the time, and got the show to pay for two hours of my voice coach's time.

Often though, the negotiation is about money.  Think creatively here - are you negotiating relating to transit costs?  Could the company buy you a transit pass for the month? A prepaid gas card?  I had a company write a check specifically to FasTrak (the bridge toll pass provider in the SF Bay Area) for the total amount of times I'd cross the Golden Gate bridge to do their show.  Is food as good as money to you?  Maybe the company has a connection to a restaurant you like or a grocery store you frequent - maybe they can give you a Trader Joe's or Starbuck's gift card instead of increasing the stipend.

Really important here is research and careful thought - know what they're offering, what they've offered in the past, and what other companies that are of similar size offer.  Figure out what is realistic, given the limitations of the company's time and resources.

When you've figured out what you want to ask for, know what's essential, and what's not - I think the pro-negotiators call this the 'walk-away' or something like that, as in "if I don't get at least $3million for this deal, I'll walk away"  So when all is said and done here, you'll have a list of the things you'd like to get from the project, and the things that you must get from the project in order to do it.

Then it's a matter of when to ask, and how, which are, you guessed it, other bite sized chunks...

But in the meantime, are there things I'm not thinking of?  What else do you want to ask for?

Tuesday, June 7, 2011

Negotiation: the non-negotiables

So, I've wanted to write about negotiation and acting for a while now.  I'm realizing that it's a giant topic with many facets and I've got a ton of opinions about it.  My ultimate solution: bite sized chunks.

Here's one of them:  independent of any project, be it indie film or outdoor Shakespeare or whatever, figure out what is non-negotiable for you as an artist.

It may be that you won't work for free.  Or that you won't play characters who are ethnic stereotypes.  Or that you won't take your clothes off.  The things that you know in your heart of hearts you will never ever do, even if it meant you were guaranteed to be on the short list for an Oscar, or you got to work with a director you've idolized since you were 12, or you'd get to be onstage at the most respected LORT Theater in your region. 

Identifying what is non-negotiable to you will help you look for work, and starts to establish your walk-away point.  It means you know what information to look for when you start the audition process to know if you even want to audition for the project in the first place.

A quick example:  let's say that one non-negotiable for Actor A is that she will not work on shows where she will be out of pocket on transportation costs in order to do the show.  The audition notice says $100 stipend.  It gives a 5 week rehearsal schedule, 5 nights a week, plus 3 performances/week for 6 weeks.  It's a two character script, so she'd be called to all rehearsals.  25 rehearsals plus 18 performances means 43 round trips on public transit. At a cost of $3.50 per trip, this means a total of $150.50 for transit. 

So, there's roughly $50 that Actor A will want to negotiate for.  And that is a bite -sized chunk for another day.