These women will tell you what the job is really all about... and how you can get started, too!
By Cathrine Goldstein
How do you see yourself? In a vintage Valentino, gracefully rushing to the stage, cheeks flushed from excitement, and graciously accepting the Oscar, thanking God, your agent, and your mother? Or do you see yourself smack in the middle of a Broadway theater, belting out a song that brings the audience to their feet, the stage shaking from thunderous applause?
Ahhh... to be an actress. An actress! Or actor if you prefer... or player... or thespian... or as Hamlet says to Polonius, “...the abstracts and brief chroniclers of the time....” The title is irrelevant. What matters is the chance to act — to transform yourself and your reality (if only for a brief period of time) into someone else... to say someone else’s words... to think someone else’s thoughts... to live someone else’s life... and to be adored for doing it so well. Right?
If you have ever though about being an actress, (and who hasn’t?), read on. Here are the true stories of four real-life actresses. Two of these women are still ingénues, struggling to be known, to work — and two of these women are at the top of their game. Together, they’ll tell you what it really takes to be an actress, and the scoop on what being an actress is all about.
DEGREE: B.S., International Business concentration in Finance and Marketing
YEARS IN BUSINESS: Four.
WHERE DO YOU LIVE?: Manhattan — Moving to LA for 2005 pilot season.
TYPICAL DAY: I get up at 6 a.m. and usually fall into bed by midnight! It is a long and very full day. First I hit the gym, and then check the Breakdowns Actor Access section, where I submit myself for anything appropriate. Then I prepare for auditions: I go over the copy or polish up my monologue. If I have no auditions that day, I work on getting some! On top of the maintenance of the self, you spend a lot of money on your career before you begin to make any money. I read Backstage, Hollywood Reporter and Variety. I go to museums, theater, movies, and watch as much TV as I can. In the evenings, I usually rehearse or meet with people that I may work with in the future.
BIGGEST BREAK SO FAR: Quite a few callbacks for the lead in two different Broadway shows, and I was up for a television pilot. I am still waiting for the big break.
CRAZIEST THING EVER DONE IN ACTING: Some of the auditions. People have asked me to do a headstand, sing the national anthem, act like my favorite animal, or impersonate my favorite singer. I thought, “And how is this relevant for a Chekhov play?”
ULTIMATE DREAM: I would love my own sitcom. I am also interested in doing films that take risks. People want to be told intelligent stories — how many times can you see cars being blown up!
ADVICE TO PEOPLE BREAKING IN: This is a business. You need to have training, experience, and all the tools an actor must have (talent, headshots, reels, etc.), but you need to remember that it is show business. Market yourself! What is unique about you that will make you stand out from the thousands of other actresses who want the part? You need to take charge of your career and you need to work everyday in order to make things happen.
AGE RANGE: 22-30.
TRAINING: The School for Film and Television.
YEARS IN BUSINESS: Five.
WHERE DO YOU LIVE?: New York City.
TYPICAL DAY: My days truly vary. I freelance, so I may get a call for either an audition or a model go-see. It’s feast or famine. Everyday is different, which I like because it keeps me on my toes.
BIGGEST BREAK SO FAR: I was up for two lead contract roles for two different soaps. After my second call back, the casting director gave me two thumbs up! Now that was exciting! But they ended up going with an established name, so I’m still waiting.
CRAZIEST THING EVER DONE IN ACTING: I can’t think of anything crazy I’ve done to get a part but one thing comes to mind when I had a part. I did a dream sequence in a short film where I had to murder my boyfriend. I prepared so well that when it was time to stab him I broke the prop knife!
ULTIMATE DREAM: To act in films and create films that make people think.
ADVICE TO PEOPLE BREAKING IN: Take classes, be determined, be diligent, and be open-minded. Network. Respect everyone. Don’t judge people. Be curious. The world is your classroom! You can learn so much by just sitting in a coffee shop watching people walk by. And don’t listen to negative people. When they are walking toward you — cross the street! Only surround yourself with positive people that love and support you. Believe in yourself! Lastly, make a quiet time for yourself.
Two Leading Ladies
AGE RANGE: 30-40 — I’m not sure I can tell - on stage I can go as young as 25 but for film I look more my age!
TRAINING: BFA cum laude, University of Texas at Austin; Actors Theatre of Louisville Apprenticeship; MFA, UNC-Chapel Hill.
YEARS IN BUSINESS: Nearly 25 years.
WHERE DO YOU LIVE: Manhattan.
TYPICAL DAY: Voiceover auditions then to The Source, where I donate 40 to 80 hours a week to maintain The Source, run Estrogenius, oversee the bookshop, wrangle volunteers. When I’m in a show, I’d average four hours of rehearsal a day for a full-length play around my voiceover schedule.
BIGGEST BREAK SO FAR: Landing my commercial agents at Cunningham.
CRAZIEST THING EVER DONE IN ACTING: I built a theater.
ULTIMATE DREAM: For Manhattan Theatre Source to grow to the point where we could run a small Equity house. That way I can keep only doing work about which I’m passionate and still get paid for it.
ADVICE TO PEOPLE BREAKING IN: If you don’t love the work of acting (rehearsal, script analysis, learning lines, clue hunting to discover a character), DO SOMETHING ELSE! The business is fickle, unfair, and undemocratic... and there is no guaranteed payback except the love of the work itself. But, if you love the work of acting (and not just the idea of being a star with an entourage), then by all means, fight for it! Create your own opportunities and don’t wait for a miracle to come to you.
Rosalyn Coleman Williams
AGE RANGE: 30-43.
TRAINING: Yale Drama School; lifetime member Actor’s Studio; Howard University; Margie Haber, “coach to the stars.”
YEARS IN BUSINESS: 13.
WHERE DO YOU LIVE: New York City.
TYPICAL DAY: Oatmeal for breakfast, cooked by my husband. I try to get in some kind of morning workout. Since I’m currently beginning a new show, it’s rehearsal, rehearsal, rehearsal. I coach other actors for their auditions, so I may have a client or two. Auditions. If we are getting ready to shoot another short film project, I’m planning shot lists, going over details for the shoot. Talking with actors about their part. If the project is finished, I may spend the day editing. I take an acting class once a week.
BIGGEST BREAKS SO FAR: Getting into Yale, right out of college, on my first attempt. At Yale, meeting August Wilson and Lloyd Richards while they were working on Piano Lesson, getting it ready for Broadway. During that workshop period I got to work with then-unknowns Samuel L. Jackson, Alfre Woodard, Charles Dutton, and Lisa Gay Hamilton. My first Broadway experience was taking over for Lisa Gay Hamilton in the Piano Lesson, and then I got to do the movie (also my first). I toured in Piano Lesson for about a year, and I saw author August Wilson while we were in Seattle and I told him that, even though I was grateful for the work, the tour was coming to an end and I’d have nothing to do. Well — and this is something I’ve only recently been able to say out loud — he wrote the lead part of Ruby in Seven Guitars for me. I guess we can also add working opposite Meryl Streep in Music of the Heart.
CRAZIEST THING EVER DONE IN ACTING: I was doing a summer acting program in San Francisco and I hitchhiked to another town in California to be an “extra” in Peggy Sue Got Married.
ULTIMATE DREAM: My own full functioning production studio. I want our studio to be located in a couple of brownstones in Harlem. I want to live on the top floor with my hubby and kids.
ADVICE TO PEOPLE BREAKING IN: Get an education. Know your craft. I think people see what’s on TV today, and figure that they can be on a reality show and then they’ll have a career as an actor. They can... but to really succeed I believe it still requires hard work and knowledge. Never stop learning. Not just about acting, but about everything. Conduct yourself with integrity at all times. Try not to take yourself too seriously. Have a life, love, and passion.
Cathrine Goldstein is a published author and award-winning playwright. With over 15 years of experience, she works as a professional theater director and acting teacher in Manhattan. As a modeling and personal development coach, she has worked with executives and pageant contestants alike. She is a graduate of the prestigious American Academy of Dramatic Arts, has a BA in British Literature, and is currently completing her master’s degree in theater. She is a former pageant titleholder, and has extensive experience as an actor and model. She is currently a director of Manhattan Theatre Source, and the co-founder/director of Paddywack Players. She lives outside of Manhattan with her husband, Jay, who owns the Barbizon School of Modeling of Manhattan.
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