Maintaining good mental health can be challenging for anyone, but actors face certain difficulties relating to their profession. Periods of unemployment can result in financial stress. Audition failure can feel like personal rejection. And even if you are having some success and winning roles, sometimes the jobs aren’t creatively challenging enough to keep you happy.
Every actor must take measures to protect their mental health.
1. Eat well. As an actor, your voice and body are your instrument. So: feed it well. Be aware of your eating habits, without obsessing. Actors performing at night can be tempted by fast food on the way to the theatre, or may skip dinner before a show. If this is you, have a good breakfast and lunch packed with nutrients. Go for fresh fruit and vegetables, lean meats and carbs, water over soft drink and juices, and find snacks that are low in sugar and high in protein to give you energy through to the next meal.
2. Sleep well. This, too, can be a challenge for actors performing at night. The adrenalin rush of performance can stay with you when it’s really time for bed. So, have a sleep hygiene routine to help you wind down – get off screens, have a warm drink, read a book quietly, listen to soothing music, shower - whatever works. If, on the other hand, you have to get up for an early morning shoot, plan ahead. Be disciplined about getting to bed on time the night before. Send visitors home, set yourself a “time for bed” alarm, grab an early night – your brain will love you for it.
3. Exercise. This is the best natural mood booster that there is, because of the release of dopamine that results. Whether you just walk regularly, or have a more structured exercise program, exercise ensures your mind is clearer, you’ll sleep better, and your mood will improve.
4. Have a coach or counsellor. If you know you’re struggling with mental health, it’s time to check in with a professional. There are many options to choose from: online chat counselling, telephone counselling, face-to-face counselling, as well as classes and workshops. Alternatively, a life coach may be able to help you set some goals. Taking the step to get help can be daunting – but treat it as an investment in your career as an actor. Be aware, too, that you may need to “shop around” for the right helper – find someone you want to work with. A practitioner will not take it personally if you say that they’re not right counsellor for you. They know that client rapport is important for healing.
5. Have some other (non-acting) work. Some actors falsely believe you have to give up everything (including a regular income) to pursue an acting career. An actor’s life is project- to-project: you might get a voiceover one week, then a commercial the next, then a guest spot on TV – then nothing for three or four months. What do you do the rest of the time? You have another job. An income gives you self-confidence and stability until you get your big (or bigger) break. (Also, we have a tendency to define ourselves by our occupation, but that’s not always psychologically helpful. Don’t wrap up your whole identity in acting – for the sake of your mental health, acknowledge that your influence in the world extends beyond acting - into other fields and personal relationships.) Save up your annual leave from your day job so you can take time off to audition or participate in a project. But make sure you pace yourself – if you don’t get a decent holiday break one year, factor in other forms of downtime to rest and regroup.
6. Educate yourself financially. In this industry, think of yourself as a business person as well as an actor. Alleviate financial stress by learning about money and how it works. You must understand income and expenses, agent’s commissions, invoicing, and other business terms. Books, websites and courses can teach you the basics. Second to this, become a saver. Several actors have told me they wished they hadn’t spent all their money when they first became successful. (Remember, success in one movie or TV show doesn’t guarantee you’ll be hired again immediately afterwards.) At a time when they could have bought a house or established some longer-term security, they didn’t! So if you do hit the big time, plan to alleviate the possibility of future financial stress by putting some of those earnings aside.
7. Have a creative project. Some acting jobs are over in less than a day: the TV commercial, the voiceover, the MC gig. While they may pay well, they may not stretch you creatively. So have something creative on the go. Write a one-person show for yourself. Join a choir. Start a play reading group with other actors. Find something stimulating that will allow you to express your creativity, even when the work you’re doing, doesn’t. Creative activity is good for you and will lift your spirits if you’re feeling low.
8. Keep up your old friends. To protect your mental health, a social support network is vital. When you are focused on building a career, it’s easy to leave behind the friends who know you best. It’s great to have actor friends – because they will understand your highs and lows – but it’s also great to have people who knew you before all this started. One of the most powerful, scientifically proven methods for alleviating depression and other mental illness is human connection. So, if you’re feeling down – reach out. This is a big call when you’re low, but it reminds you that the world isn’t only happening inside your head. Make contact with a friend, catch up for a coffee or a beer, get out the board games – whatever floats your boat! Don’t forget to reach out to family too; connect with anyone who reminds you what it means to be alive and loved.
Combine these eight methods and you’ll be in a better place mentally and emotionally for your next role. Don’t wait till you feel yourself sliding downhill before you take action. Instead, work these things into your life today.
Written by Elizabeth Avery Scott, CEO and co-founder of Perform Australia. She is also a playwright and an actor’s guidance counsellor.
Parenting is a challenge at the best of times - but what do we do when our kid misses out on the role they really, really wanted? How do we deal with the tears? What can you say that will help them through this challenge? Don't panic! Perform Australia's principal, Elizabeth Avery Scott, offers a few tips in this video for parents facing this challenge.
A self-tape is an audition an actor films on their own time to submit to a casting director, either by uploading to a particular website or by sending the footage through an email or file transfer system. Self-tapes are now required to access roles in films, TV, streaming services, theatre and even musical theatre productions.
While live, face-to-face auditions are how auditions have been conducted for decades, modern technology now allows casting directors to filter applicants more quickly without having to see the actors in person in the first instance. A good self-tape may lead to a face-to-face audition, once the casting director has caught a glimpse of what they are looking for.
As such, self-taping is an important skill for the contemporary actor to master. Just as it saves a casting director time and money, it also saves you time and money – you don’t have to travel long distances to do an important audition, plus you have some control over the product you submit.
There are two aspects to work on in self-taping. One is what you put forward in the self-tape audition – presenting your acting skills and your suitability for the role at hand – and the other is the technical know-how required to put a tape together successfully. Here are a few important suggestions around both:
Read the instructions carefully
Make sure, before you begin creating your self-tape, that you understand what is required by the casting director. The casting notice will usually outline the character description and any other important details for the audition. This may include the format they want the tape in, as well as instructions about what they want you to shoot. It may be that they have provided specific lines for you to speak, or a monologue to learn, or they may want you to present your own piece. Be clear on what is required and don’t deviate from it. Similarly, if it's a musical theatre audition, you'll need to make sure that your song is age and gender appropriate and meets all the other requirements.
Make sure you introduce yourself at the beginning of your self-tape, stating your name and the character you’re going for in the production. This is called the slate. The slate should demonstrate that you are confident, and that your personality comes through. Once you’ve made your introduction, pause for a moment, and then go on to present your audition piece.
Where a casting director has provided lines for you to learn plus the lines of another actor in a scene (sides), rope in a friend to read the other character’s lines off-screen. The camera’s focus should be on you, as you’re the one auditioning. It’s enough just to hear the other lines.
If the casting director has not provided specific lines for you to learn, you may have some choice as to what you do in your self-tape. In this instance, the content of your self-tape audition can be either a monologue from an existing film or theatre piece, or it can be an improvised character. As an actor, you will usually have a selection of monologues you’re familiar with for audition purposes. For your self-tape, choose one which closely resembles the character role you’re going for.
But if you don’t have one, you can write or improvise yourself a piece. There are set characters in most genres: in a hospital drama, there’ll be doctors, patients, nurses, family members of loved ones. In a police drama, there’ll be constables, detectives, criminals, drug addicts, gang members, victims, and suspects. In a coming-of-age drama there’ll be teenagers, bullies, teachers, parents, love interests and quirky best friends. Genre is really familiar to all of us – so even if you have only a little information about the character you’re applying for, you can probably take an educated guess as to what they’re going to be like and their role in the story. For your self-tape audition, you may be able to improvise a one- to two-minute monologue for a character that’s matches the character you’re auditioning for, and submit that as your audition piece. Again, this is going to take some preparation, thought, and rehearsal before you shoot.
If you’re auditioning for a role in particular market, e.g. the US market, you will need to deliver your audition using a US accent. If it’s for an Aussie production, just use your natural accent.
Props and costumes
The clothing you wear in your self-tape should be appropriate to the character. Suggesting the character through clothing should be enough – you don’t need to go to a costume shop to hire something - but if, for instance, you are going for a role as a businessman, and you don't own a business shirt and tie - get down to your local Vinnies and find something that suits. It's a few dollars' investment to achieve an important outcome. The casting director needs to visualise you in the role. Likewise, if you're playing a woman who's a little older than your actual age, choosing clothes that make you look older may be just what you need to feel in character and convey your ability to do the part - source a blouse or jacket from your mum's closet! But remember, it's got to be just enough, and not too much, for a self-tape. In the same vein, props should be kept to an absolute minimum in a self-tape. If you don’t need a prop to tell your story, you don’t need one. General rule of thumb: avoid props.
Casting directors do not expect to see a high-quality production in your self-tape; they know you are likely filming on your phone or on a home-based video recorder. What they do need to see, however, is a well-lit shot. The director needs to see what you look like, clearly, and that you can act. Don’t stand in a room with the light coming in from a window behind you; choose a bright and airy space to shoot, especially if you don’t own any of your own lighting equipment. Poor lighting can make you look washed-out. Alternatively, if you have the cash, and it’s a really important audition for a big role, book into a local facility which has what you need – a film studio, or drama school like Perform Australia may have what’s needed. The quality must be watchable and the sound decent.
Choose a background that’s plain. You don’t want anything that will distract from your face.
Make sure your camera is on a tripod or mounted securely so it won’t move during filming – or get someone to hold it for you. Place the camera at your eyeline. You want to be in the centre of the shot. Generally speaking, you want to frame yourself somewhere between a close-up and a mid-shot. There is not usually any reason for a full-body (long) shot in a self-tape. You can stand or sit in your self-tape, depending on what is comfortable for you.
File size and naming
Chances are, after you’ve filmed your piece, it’s a huge file. You may need to compress it in order to send it away to the casting director. Find a video compressor online – there are some free versions – or perhaps your device has software in which you can save it to a smaller file size. And if the casting director has specified a format for naming your file, make sure you name it that way. You want that file to end up in its ultimate destination, and if it does not follow the prescribed naming convention, when it’s downloaded to a computer it may be hard for a casting director to find, if it’s not automatically lining up underneath all the others. Don’t make them search for your file.
How many takes?
You only need to send one – so whatever you do, don’t send an edited mash-up of all your takes. Send the best take you’ve got as your final self-tape. When you’re filming, don’t do so many that you don’t know which one to choose. Put 80% of your time into your preparation for the role (learning lines or song lyrics, researching your character, developing ideas for your self-tape), and 20% on your filming. Try not to overthink it. Perhaps invite a trusted friend to help choose your best take if you’re having trouble. How you see yourself and how someone else sees you can be quite a different story!
Good luck with your next self-tape audition.
Many people nurse a secret dream to be in the movies.
It’s not surprising, really – we are surrounded by a visual culture, from Youtube, to TV, to cinema, to on-demand services feeding us exciting stories that absorb and entertain us.
And we want to be a part of of it! This is the amazing power that stories have: they move us and change us. They give us an adrenalin rush. They can make us feel sad or excessively happy. And visual storytelling is all the more powerful because it makes the world of the story seem so real, even if it’s a fantasy. We imagine ourselves up there on the big screen, living the exciting life of another person – a fictional character, a historical figure, or even an alien or other-worldly being.
So how can you be in a movie?
Well, it’s not so far-fetched an aspiration. But it might take you some time, some training, and some work to get there.
Hoping to see you in the movies sometime soon!
Have you ever considered what an actor has to offer the corporate world?
An actor’s craft involves body, voice, mind and emotions. It involves creating characters. It involves taking command of a stage or feeling confident in front of a camera. It involves creative thinking and ideas generation, team (or as actors call it, ensemble) skills, and imagination, not to mention storytelling and the communication of ideas through the spoken word and physical expression.
There is a long history of theatre that stretches way back to ancient times, and a history of film over the past couple of centuries. Within that history are a tremendous range of practitioners, innovators and theorists who developed the craft of acting, and theatre and film as art forms. Many of their ideas have application not only to acting but also to daily life and the world of work.
At Perform Australia, our corporate training draws on acting technique and its traditions to:
While many come to our corporate training never having set foot on a stage, or participated in a drama program, fears are soon allayed through a group agreement as to how we will proceed.
After that, we use a range of drama games and activities, along with theory and discussion, to lead participants through a journey of gentle self-discovery. Believe it or not, a big part of what we do is play. The playwright George Bernard Shaw reputedly said, “We don’t stop playing because we grow old; we grow old because we stop playing.” Often participants in our workshops find themselves playful again, after a very long hiatus!
Sometimes we use scripts, as actors do, and sometimes we use improvisation (spontaneous performance) or role play. Sometimes we select a handful of acting techniques and invite participants to apply them to particular circumstances or workplace issues.
There is usually fun, laughter and learning as people step outside their usual context of cubicles and boardrooms and find themselves permitted to explore ideas through the performing arts. Participants wear casual clothing to allow them free movement, and come prepared to try new things, in what is a safe and socially interactive learning environment.
Perform Australia’s corporate training programs have been commissioned by government departments, non-profit organisations, companies and educational institutions alike to upskill their workers.
Some of our programs run for just a couple of hours, while others can be full-day programs. We have some classic corporate training programs that are tried and true, which can be selected from our website, or we can work with you to identify a problem you need to solve in your team, and then create a bespoke program to address it.
We can also call on our bank of professional singers, dancers, writers, producers and directors to bring their expertise to bear in a training program, where voice, movement, music, and literature can assist with learning. We can send our trainers to your site anywhere in Australia or Asia-Pacific, or your participants can come to us at our headquarters in Canberra.
To find out more and book your corporate training program, please click here.
Writers from Perform Australia contribute to these posts