The 41st Toronto International Film Festival is underway, and some of Hollywood’s biggest stars have been spotted throughout the city (Danny Glover was even snapped lounging on a street planter). Whether you’re excited by the buzz and the new films on deck, or exhausted by celeb culture in general, there are a number of things that job seekers can learn from actors (and the often grueling audition processes that started their careers).
To find out more, we spoke to Susan J. Burych, Head of Admissions at the Toronto Academy of Acting. Here’s what she had to say.
Workopolis: How did you get involved with theatrical training?
Burych: I was an actor myself, but as the years went on I started to prefer the business side of things. I started managing talent and have them go out for auditions, and I eventually made the crossover into the educational field. I wanted to help people understand what was needed to make it in this industry.
What are some of the common misconceptions young actors have about the industry?
I’d say a lot of our students are unaware of how demanding the process can be. Let’s say, for example, that you get an agent. You’re the new kid on the block and this agent will start pitching you. This can go on for a month, two, three…and nothing happens.
Then when you least expect it, a casting agent calls and says, ok let’s bring in Johnny. Tomorrow. Here are the sides (a part of the scene from the script). Now after a long period of nothing, that actor may have started to doubt himself. He’s most likely taken on different work to make a living, and maybe he’s even given up. Now he looks at the sides and flips; they are 25 pages to memorize and he has to have it ready for the next day. There are no excuses. Casting directors are giving you a chance; they don’t care if you’re tired.
Basically, actors have to remember: a lot of people want it, but only a small percentage make it. And the ones that do all have a very specific trait. These people eat, breathe, and sleep it. They will travel from god knows where for a chance to be seen, and they will keep pushing themselves.
So if time is often an issue, what can actors do to prepare themselves in advance for auditions?
A lot of it comes down to handling nerves and making sure you present yourself as well as possible. And for that, we find it helpful for people to watch themselves perform. It helps get rid of nervous gestures that you might not have noticed, like: talking too quickly, blinking more than usually, using more hand gestures than normal. The camera picks up everything, and it doesn’t lie. So it’s a great way to understand what happens when you’re nervous.
Improv skills are also hugely beneficial. Something like toastmasters, for example, is a fabulous way to overcome a fear of public speaking. You learn about articulation and voice, and how to ad lib, and think on your feet, all of which are essential for a good audition.
I’d say that this kind of rehearsal is a great idea for most people, whether you’re trying to break into the business world or looking to land a part.
Confidence in auditions (and interviews) is essential. How do you go about building up an actor’s self-belief?
We spend time working on the mental side of things, because every actor will shoot themselves in the foot at some point. They walk into an audition and they look around at the other actors, and they start thinking: Oh, this one is better looking than me. This one knows the casting director. They’ve already sabotaged themselves, and they won’t be able to deliver something believable for that character.
When people audition, and when they go for interviews, they need to have an exterior, and I hate to say this, but they need to have an exterior like Donald Trump. Do you see how confident that man is? It’s abnormal, sure, but people kind of go, wow, this guy believes in himself. That’s the kind of thing that can really make you stand out.
To get there, though, you need to do your research. It’s the only way to really understand a character and the way they’ll behave. What is the scene about? When and where is it set? The idea is to be so well prepared that you can present yourself as if you’ve already been cast.
This also works for job interviews. What’s the industry? What products do they have? Who’s the president of the company? If you’ve done the research, you’ll be able to go in much more confidently and really sell yourself.
Any lessons you’ve learned over the years that you’d like to share with Canadian job seekers?
A few things, actually.
Make a habit of studying yourself, your mannerisms and habits, and always rehearse. Practice in a mirror. If you’re getting nervous, you’ll see it in the mirror.
When you speak, articulate. Don’t mumble. Develop a “voice for the camera,” as we say, which is just a way of saying a voice to be heard.
And be confident. You never know what you’re going to be asked at an interview, so all you can do is be prepared. Do your research, rehearse, and dress the part – even if you have to channel your inner Donald Trump.
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