Casting Director Annelie Powell, and actresses Hattie Ladbury and Beth Cordingly, share their insights about returning to the industry after a break. Here’s some of the highlights from their Q&A at Spotlight’s Open House week below.
Casting directors have famously long memories
‘When making contact say ‘why’ you are returning; parenthood, caregiving, life got in the way… ‘Fess up! Your experiences are important and make you who you are. You are bringing a whole set of different life skills to bear on both your performance and your approach to acting. Remind people who you are and let them know you’re now ready to return. Keep it light, and leave a short interval before you finally seal that envelope or send that email.
Make sure your CV is as complete as possible. Include dates, directors and producer names, companies – everything you can remember. Casting directors and agents have famously good recall and even if they don’t necessarily remember you first-off, then the name of someone you have worked with can help jog their memory.’
‘Be disciplined. Reassess your castability and be realistic in your expectations. Keep working at it. Refresh past contacts and actively pursue new ones. Do your homework. Rebrand. Acknowledge and embrace it. It’s important to play to your strengths – know who you are now. Don’t limit or disguise yourself. There’s no need to change your name (unless you have to or really want to for family reasons). Credit the casting director, they know you are the same actor.’
Be disciplined. Reassess your castability and be realistic in your expectations. Keep working at it. Refresh past contacts and actively pursue new ones. Do your homework. Rebrand.
Returning is a huge commitment
‘Remember why you are returning. You have done this before. It’s the same but different. The good old days of last minute castings, recalls, rejections, working away from home at short notice are back. But also, the thrill of that phone call to say you’ve got the job; working with fellow actors as a company, being constantly challenged and doing something you love. You need to be in the right frame of mind to keep going and maintain your enthusiasm.’
‘Anyone returning to work after a break can be daunted by the new, the unexpected and how much has changed. Turn that to your advantage. These are things an actor has to deal with every day and the ability to adapt quickly is part of your craft. Things will have changed, your old agent or casting directors you knew may have moved on or retired. Learning lines will certainly be more challenging!
There is no set career path for an actor. You might be a lead in a television series one day, followed by a low-key commercial, a few weeks in a fringe play, then a voice over. One job is not better than another and won’t always lead to the same or better. There are things you can do to help yourself. Keep fit. Take up yoga or running. You can always add them to your CV as skills! Get a new haircut. Book a photo session. Enjoy it. It’s the process. If you feel you are doing something it boosts your confidence. If you are confident then that shows when you walk in a room.’
‘Your smartphone, YouTube and Google are your friends. Know how to use them. Get a new email address with your professional business name, not what you were doing before. Some things will make you nervous. Do you need to be on Twitter, know how to edit and upload a showreel yourself or do a self-tape? Keep learning. It’s part of your job. Don’t resist and then limit your opportunities.’
‘Set time aside each day for research. Engage with the industry, don’t worry about it. Send emails and letters. Brush up on your soft skills. The worst thing that can happen is that you don’t get a reply. Check how people want to be contacted. Use all available information and submit in the way requested. Casting directors and agents may not have time to respond but that doesn’t mean they haven’t read what you’ve sent. It’s part of their job to make sure they are on top of all possibilities for that upcoming job or space in the agency. They are a business and to do their jobs properly they need to stay ahead.’
Be in control, get seen
‘If you can – write or direct. Make your own work. It helps you stay in control, you’re less reliant on others, and it puts credits on your CV. It will be original, not seen beforehand and therefore fresh. If you are putting on a show, maximise your chances of being seen and think of where and when people can go. Evenings are precious to casting directors so consider a pub venue at lunchtime. Be disciplined about watching others work. Go to the theatre regularly, watch and note everything. Not only is it useful to observe others and how they work, but vitally it gives you something interesting, up-to-date and fresh to talk about when you get that all important interview. Previews and press nights are good for meeting fellow professionals and helps build your network.’
Don’t be afraid to ask
‘Ask for more information if it’s not been provided. Check you’ve thoroughly read anything you have been sent. If it’s not clear or not stated, for example the length and format of a self-tape, or a week has gone by and you’ve still heard nothing from that casting last Tuesday, then it is okay to ask.’
‘Don’t force yourself, take a deep breath and try not to compare. Don’t be against anything – be open. Do something when it’s right for you and enjoy your comeback!’