Okay so let’s start off with a familiar situation: A show. You’ve been cast, you’ve had the table reading, you’ve done the rehearsal, etc. It doesn’t really matter what level you put this hypothetical production in, the point is that you’re surrounded by a bunch of people who are equally interested in doing what you do as well. People, ergo, who are ‘in the industry’. Now – what do you do?
If you answered “I do my best and perform” then you’re only half right. I’m a stickler when it comes to performance and getting it as perfect as can be – after all, you only get one chance to show that audience that night that you are fabulous. But, seriously, the performance is only half the battle. Obviously you can include the rehearsal and everything else you like in it, but when it really comes down to brass tacks? That’s all just part of the job. What so many people in our industry forget is the golden objective; Networking. I can’t tell you how many actors I know who just refuse to get into the thick of a conversation with other actors, or directors, or producers.
Part of this is definitely nerves. Trust me, I get it. When you talk with an ‘authority’ figure many people naturally clam up a bit because heaven forbid something goes wrong. But I pose this question. What’s worse than having the chance to make an impression and just letting it pass by? Nothing. Because if they don’t know who you are, then why on earth should they even remotely be interested in getting involved with your projects or hiring you?
Networking is probably the single biggest overlooked thing in college classes and when you’re starting off the in the real world. You naturally make friends when you get into a show, because Theatre folk can be naturally chummy and add new friends to a lifelong ‘theatre family’. But I’m not talking specifically about the wonderful people you get to work with. Get their emails, their numbers, their Facebook, get in touch and keep in touch. But not just them! Get the Directors’ as well, if you meet anyone in the production team get theirs too!
What so many people forget about our work is that it really is collaborative on a level we rarely understand. It’s not just meshing in the room, it’s putting the puzzle together piece-by-piece outside of the theater as well. Sure you won’t find everyone in the entertainment world to be terribly friendly, and you can’t be friends with everyone no matter how hard you try (people are people, and their flaws are a thing – just don’t beat yourself up about it.) And Theatre folk have egos, so on occasion you’ll just meet that one person you refuse to get involved with because they think they own the world.
That being said, you’d be a fool not to try. Because you never know when an opportunity on their end will open up and they’ll casually be going through their contacts and think “Oh! Oh wait! She’s perfect! I’ll cast her if she isn’t busy, she was so nice and talented.” People will always, always prefer to cast a friend they know will do the work over the one who they never knew. It’s a matter of trust, and Theatre is nothing but trust. Trust to get their job done, trust to do it well, trust that they won’t try something stupid and harm the production (I’m looking at you young actors who keep pulling pranks backstage on closing night or attempting to get your castmates to break character… Knock it off, seriously, you’re only hurting yourself.)
In fact, while we’re on that topic… Seriously. If you try to get your castmates to break, that’s the best way to make it onto a blacklist with casting professionals. Because why should they cast someone who tried to make their fellow actors laugh in front of a live audience? Theatre is not cheap. You waste time during worktime and you’re wasting a lot of money. And that itself ties into networking. You are never off the stage when it comes to this. You are never not being examined by someone if they have the potential to cast you.
In essence, what I want you to do – from one professional to another – is get out there and make yourself look good. Take time to talk with folks that you can, hand out cards, smile as often as possible even when your worst day has come. Don’t ever stop, because you will be networking until you make it big and there’s no reason you are not awesome enough to get out there.
Photo: Jessica Love, Kevin Berntson, Carly Street and Brian D. Coats at a rehearsal for Theresa Rebeck's play "The Nest." (Photo by John Moore)