Hi Bonnie,

I’m sure you’ve heard this a hundred times, from a hundred different actors, but, I need help. I’m a 28 year-old actress living in the Chicago area. I’ve been doing theatre for years. I love it, and I love the people that I perform with, but, I would really like to break into the TV/film industry.

I know that an agency is basically the way to really get your foot in the door. I was an extra in two movies in 2010. That counts as some film experience, right?

I recently discovered a Chicago agency that asks for a cover letter with a submission. I’ve never heard of a cover letter for the entertainment industry before. I already have headshots. I have taken some acting classes, and I even attended and graduated from Barbizon School of Modeling and Talent (I was kind of forced into that).

All in all, I just feel… lost. I don’t know how to get my foot in the door. I simply don’t know where to start. I sometimes feel overwhelmed with all the “advice” that everyone seems to have for all of us actors.

Can you help me? Point me in the right direction? Thank you so much. I’ll thank you in my Oscar speech one day. 🙂

Catherine Hundt

Awesome. Thank you, Catherine, for that future Oscar speech shout-out. I look forward to that day! 🙂

First off, lemme soothe you a little bit, just by letting you know that everything you’re feeling is totally normal. Everyone who starts out in this business (which is everyone who gets somewhere — or who doesn’t get anywhere — in this business) starts where you are. There are a lot of questions and there’s a lot of advice. It can be overwhelming.

That’s part of my life’s work: To clear the clutter of all the *things* you hear and to try and help you see what is right for YOU. Because, the truth is, there’s no one-size-fits-all version of HOW to make it in this business. Anyone who says theirs is THE WAY is someone to avoid at all costs. Just like Google Maps, I’ll show you a *few* different ways to your goal. The path you take is totally up to you.

I think it’s awesome that you’re doing — and loving — theatre in Chicago. Chicago is very much a theatre town and being involved — especially at the big theatres, where agents and casting directors actually show up to see your work, regularly — is a great thing.

Extra work, however, is not a stepping-stone to on-camera principal work, generally. Certainly, there are markets in which doing atmosphere work *can* show the buyers that you have on-set experience and therefore should be considered for small co-star roles, but in larger markets, the worlds of background and principal acting are segregated to the point that it doesn’t help you a great deal to showcase your extra work on your resumé or reel.

I have some resources for you — some free and some not — and I hope you’ll poke around to get a better handle on where you are and what’s ahead for you. First, these columns, right here! 🙂 They’re free. They’re archived. There are over nine years of ’em. Dive in and keep going. There are links within each column to help you dive deeper. Do it. Pick a topic and GO. 🙂

That’s not me saying that my advice is all there is. Never have I said that; never would I say that! I’m always the first one to offer up resources that have inspired me, that have challenged me, that have taught me over the years. You’ll see ’em linked within my columns. So start in. Ask me follow-up questions if you have them.

If you’re curious about cover letters, I’ve written a lot about them over the years (start here to get going) and I have done an intensive on Bios and Cover Letters That Don’t Suck as well.

But I’d recommend, first, that you pay specific attention to things I’ve written about the types of work you can get without an agent. About self-producing. If you want to drill down on any of these issues, more intensely, check out goodies at the Self-Management for Actors Store.

Now, if you’re hell-bent on going after an agent right away, start with the Representation Targeting module. But please know, I don’t think rushing to get an agent is the first order of business, for an actor (read a column about that, here, and hear a podcast episode about that [ep. 0301], here). Sure, at the right time, an agent is a magnificent team member to add to your strategy as a self-managing actor, in any market, but until it’s the right time to HAVE a team, there’s plenty you can do on your own.

I’ve just returned from Chicago, and I know your market is growing, thriving, and filled with really wonderful people. Get involved with the Chicago Acting in Film Meetup group as well as the SAG-AFTRA local (assuming you’re union — or putting a pin in this as a to-do when you are a union member). Work at the various acting studios and networking groups and stay plugged in with positive people who can help you get past this speedbump. You’re doing great! And I hope you’ll continue to keep me posted on how it’s going for you.


Bonnie Gillespie is living her dreams by helping others figure out how to live theirs. Wanna work with Bon? Start here. Thanks!

Originally published by Actors Access at http://more.showfax.com/columns/avoice/archives/001653.html. Please support the many wonderful resources provided by the Breakdown Services family. This posting is the author’s personal archive.

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