Domenique Fragale trained at Arts Educational Schools and recently moved to the United States to work in Los Angeles. Here, she discusses how actors can keep mentally and physically healthy outside of work.
It’s easy to let your mind work in over drive and become swamped in anxiousness as to when that next audition or acting job will come (believe me I’ve been there) so I wanted to write my latest article on how to keep working (and sane!) whilst staying in the industry.
Keep that mind and body active
It’s essential you remember to do things that will help better yourself as an actor but also release stress. Pick up fitness activities that you enjoy; swimming, dance, yoga – all great healthy hobbies that will not only tone your physique but can also beat ‘The Gym’ haters out there. Any physical activity will make you feel good about yourself and replenish your mind to give you the energy to motivate your optimism to begin the next acting battle. Read and go see plays whenever you can – yes it can be expensive, but do your research into where you can get great discounts. The National Theatre for example run their Entry Pass discounts, so if you’re aged between 16 and 25 you can get tickets for shows for £5, bring a friend for £7.50 and choose whichever seats you wish. Seeing new shows is also a great way to research potential acting material for yourself.
Are you working right?
There are so many times I hear my fellow actors telling me how many auditions they have this week and that they’re keeping ‘so busy’, but I do question at times if they’re directing all that effort into ‘working hard’ but not ‘working right.’ You have the basic requirements down – a great headshot, a short but punchy showreel, and showing to be active on social media – now what to do? It’s important to remember to not go and work on jobs because you ‘have nothing better to do’ – there is always something you can be doing to expand your craft. If the job looks unprofessional and something you do not really believe in, then use that time instead to take a class; read a new play; write and expand your network connections. One of the best ways I found was to get involved with students. In London and LA student films are happening ALL THE TIME. I know some people may be a little doubtful but they’re one of the industry’s best-kept secrets. They’re constantly casting, as well as being very open in the audition and typically allowing you a great deal of time to show off what you can do. Some pay or usually cover travel expenses, as well as providing food on set. There’s a lot of patience required at times with crew and director; but they’re developing – you were once starting out and are always learning! So go on the journey together. Most typically you will be able to get some great material for your showreel and if not, just remember that that filmmaker is just as hungry for success in the same line of work as you; they may well remember you for the next time they are casting. You never know where anyone will end up or how much he or she would be willing to pay next time.
Surround yourself with the right people
I know you may not automatically think of this as being important, but surrounding yourself with people who have the same mind set as you; driven, hard working and with a healthy outlook on life, can have a great impact on your work ethic. It also helps to make as many connections as you can. I went to a friend’s wedding recently, not expecting to meet many other people in our industry, yet I came away meeting a director of photography and a film distributor, who was able to give me some great advice about starting to get a project off the ground and running. Mingling and making small talk with someone you usually wouldn’t, can pleasantly surprise you, so push yourself out of your comfort zone if you’re one to usually stay quiet.
Work in a flexible job
Being an actor costs money and we have essentials to pay for, so keeping busy and making money outside of acting is invaluable. The best work examples I have found that offer flexibility so you can pursue your acting career are bar jobs, weekend receptionist work, promo work, temping and waiting staff. One of the ultimately overall rewarding jobs is to create your own work as an actor – of course this takes a lot of patience, but as actors that is a key trait to possess. Become a script reader, write your own material and find bases where you can perform them, get involved with new writing and scratch night events, become a member of an improv troupe, produce your own films for which you can write.
Working on set for ‘Knights Of The Damned’, I got speaking to actor, producer and writer Ben Loyd-Holmes on his acting experience and successes on creating work for himself in the industry:
“I realised acting was an amazing form of story telling – a way to convey something magical. I also realised it was trickier than I initially thought. There are no rules in this game. Anyone that tells you otherwise is selling something. Talent is not enough; it’s a cocktail of talent, personality, attitude, dedication and of course marketability. You have to be marketable and to really know what kind of a product you are. The industry is shifting quickly and as actors we need to understand and embrace that. Attitude is so important. I see so many people moaning about the people, money (or lack of) in this business and there’s no room for that if you want to do well. We all know it’s hard but you have to embrace it or get out of it.”
On keeping busy and sane
“Staying busy is just a part of it, it’s about staying successful. It’s really easy to get a part time job when you leave drama school, blink and ten years have gone by and you’re still doing that part time job. In my opinion, success in acting is just as much about success outside of it – creating your own success or work in something that can provide you with money, security and a sense of calm that will make you a better actor. I split my time between acting, producing, and I own a couple of businesses including LHN, Creature Events and launching Huscara. Producing movies is a tough thing to do, especially since you have to understand the business of it more than anything else. If you’re thinking about producing and creating, think about what it is as a product first and then if you can get yourself a role in it.”
On creating your own work
“It’s easy to create something but it’s hard to create something sellable, and there’s a huge difference between the two. Making films is always a tough thing, but when you know what the film really is and what people really want it’s a much clearer thing to do. The films I make are highly commercial – I know what is going to sell volume units and appeal to an audience. I approach it from what is profitable because the problem with ‘filmmakers’ is they often think about making a film and not making a product, when everyone else in the chain above them is only interested in product.”
On advice for actors entering into the industry or finding it difficult
“Firstly, don’t worry, we all find it hard. Don’t get distracted by what other people are doing or how they are getting on. Stay focused on you. My advice is getting out and working your craft at every opportunity. Don’t be the moping actor – go out and do short films, plays or make your own work with a group of you. Just do whatever it takes to build experience. My best tip though is to not rely on acting alone for success; you need to be thinking ten years down the line, and what your motivator is. Get a trade, start a business, whatever. Just think long term about both your acting and about your non-acting success. Don’t worry about what anyone else thinks and just get on what it. You can do whatever you want if you are prepared to work for it.”
I also spoke to actor and presenter Tim Vincent to get his thoughts on working in the industry:
“Creating your own work is always daunting because actors and presenters usually like to work in a creative bubble, especially with the added pressure of time zones! When you have people around you though, like a manager and/or a great family and friends network, it eases the pressure off and allows you to concentrate on the important creative side of your work. To me, performing is a way of story telling, and when I first started out in this industry with no prior experience to acting or presenting, it was scary and massive learning curve all at the same time. When you start hosting live shows to more than five million viewers, you have to constantly be on your A game – that’s when it becomes vital that you surround yourself with a wealth of people who have been through or are going through the same journey as you. It’s so important to get to know the cast, crew and production team you will be working on a project with. You all want to be able to make the viewing experience the best it can possibly be. When it comes to having great influencers on my work I like to say I admire people who are busy, driven and want to make things happen; people who are hungry and keen for work is a great example of how I want to be and makes you work even harder. To me, I try to take in and listen to every nugget that is directed, but the secret is to disseminate the good bits of advice from the bad. Be punctual, support others and know your lines because if you don’t, I guarantee there will be ten more actors behind you that do.”
I wanted to conclude this article a little differently this time with a more personal touch because I know that we actors go on a rollercoaster of highs and lows. No-one has ever had that plain sailing course, mine has never been easy, and to explain to someone who is not in the industry what we do or what goes through our mind every day can be difficult. Every day I send emails, look up castings, network when I can and try to better myself. However, a friend of mine decided he wanted to become an actor a couple years ago. He barely knew who anyone was within the industry, never went to the theatre and ‘didn’t feel like going to drama school because of the strict routine’. One day he put himself forward for an open call on an established British show. He got the role. He got the role simply because he had ‘The Look’ that the casting directors thought they’d never seen before. He was the new shiny thing that they wanted to discover and since then he has had offers thrown at him left, right and centre. To this day we’re good friends and he didn’t mind me writing about him, don’t worry! But this little story sums up how fickle the industry can be. I guarantee you will have heard this before, but you never know what people are looking for when you go to auditions. All you can do is try, stay positive and never give up. If this is the one profession in the world where you can’t imagine yourself doing anything else, then you’re on the correct path, just at times for others it’s a much rockier journey.