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Escape to New York

How to avoid the five mistakes that most people make.
By Jack Newman
 
Jack Newman photoJack Newman is the Director of Part-Time Studies at The School for Film & Television in New York City. He has appeared in on-camera commercials and industrial films since 1984, most recently for MasterCard International, Ferragamo, and The New York Stock Exchange. As a member of The School for Film & Television faculty, he teaches on-camera commercial performance and the business of commercials.
 

Two actors do a scene from Pulp Fiction for the final reel project in the second year of SFT's two-year program.

If you are like most people planning to move to New York, you're thinking Broadway theater or dance, but New York has more to offer the talented performer. As a center for film and television production, New York produces a substantial percentage of the nation's on-camera commercials and voice-overs, in addition to the numerous soap operas, films, and television series that use New York as their home base.
 
With all this opportunity, you may think it's pretty easy to land a job and be discovered. You would be wrong. Tens of thousands of actors, dancers, models, and singers call New York home. The competition is tough and the stakes are high. Your competitors may have years of training and experience. How can you turn the odds in your favor? How can you avoid the most common mistakes newcomers to New York make every day? By being knowledgeable. Read on to learn how you can make the move at the time that is right for you.
 
Taking part in community theater and school productions in your locale can help build a foundation in acting and performance.
Timing is important. Too many people move to New York too soon. Their skills have not been developed to a competitive level. Energy, excitement, bravado, and an eagerness to fly by the seat of your pants can lead to disappointment. A positive attitude can help, but a positive attitude is no substitute for knowing what you are doing.
 
Taking part in community theater and school productions in your locale can help build a foundation in acting and performance. It is a start. By the very nature of the audition process at the local level, you learn about competition and gain insights into technique. Confidence will come from familiarity with this process.
 
Study, then study some more. Another way to get the skill, confidence, and training you need is to study in New York City. Several colleges and conservatory schools in the New York metropolitan area are renowned for their specialized programs in theater, film, and television. Training in New York City has distinct advantages that allow you to get the lay of the land and gain knowledge of the city, the industry, and the competition while you are studying. In essence, you leave such programs and join the work force in familiar territory, ahead of the pack coming in from out of state.
 
A good program should have acting technique at its core. It should build upon technique, layering in performance skills in a variety of settings. There should be an emphasis on three main areas: your physical life, addressed in movement for actors (not dance); your vocal life, addressed in voice classes; and your emotional life, addressed in acting technique and improvisation. The objective of any good program is to enhance the performer's ability to behave believably under imaginary circumstances.
 
5 Big Apple Boo-boos To Avoid
1. Moving too soon
2. Having unrealistic expectations
3. Making poor financial plans
4. Getting sidetracked
5. Being naìve
The waiting game. What can you reasonably expect once you've finished your training? Assuming you are like most young performers, you will need three years to get established in New York — by established, I mean that agents, managers, and casting directors know who you are and what you can do. Getting into their offices requires tools like pictures, resumes, and cover letters (subjects for a separate article). In the meantime, you will spend your spare time honing your craft in Master Classes and advanced training while you work at a survival job in order to live in or close to the city.
 
Paying your dues. Which leads us to the next mistake people make: poor financial planning. You will need to be making money. Otherwise, the savings you planned to live on will run out. Your job needs to have flexibility to allow for auditions. But be careful. If you are going to serve as a waiter or bartender in one of the thousands of restaurants or bars in the city, make sure you can work the shifts that will allow you time to sleep and to take care of yourself. There are hundreds of stories of actors who have gotten sidetracked by the glitz and glamour of New York City nightlife.
 
Several temporary agencies can help you find work in word processing, tech support, and secretarial positions. Many of these temp jobs will let you work the weekend and evening shifts that will allow time for you to study and audition. You need a job that will support you; the rent for a Manhattan apartment can be very high. How much money you will need depends on the lifestyle you wish to keep. Deals can be found, and there are roommate services that can be of help, but financial stability often means living beneath your means.
 
Nobody said it would be easy. Remember that it is show business. There is work that you will need to do — honing your craft, building your finances to a point that you can devote your time and energy to creative efforts, pounding the pavement in pursuit of jobs. It will be difficult. There will be people who make promises that they would like to keep, but cannot. There will be people who will seek to take advantage of you. Not everyone has your best interests at heart. But there will also be people available to counsel and guide you — those who support you and your dream.
 
Be careful and be wise. Once you make the big step to move to New York, it can be challenging, frustrating, and annoying. Patience may run out. But, hopefully, your trust in yourself and in your training will see you through to the rewarding side of the equation.
 
Actual classes from the SFT Summer In The City Six-week program

Photos of actual classes demonstrate the individual attention and group performance experience that students gain from the Film & TV Basics class in the SFT Summer in the City, Six-Week Program.

 

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