Last week I gave an overview of bio writing and invited y’all to send me your bios (edited or not) for some feedback. Holy cow. Over a hundred of you pinged me with some goodies. Thank you. 🙂 I’ve sifted through and found some good examples of the most common issues actors’ bios seem to face. There will be more next week, so check back for that. These five samples below are from what I’ll call the first string. Thank you fine folks for opening up your biographies to the readers, here. I think everyone will learn a lot from this!

First email with bio:

Hi Bonnie,

I haven’t talked to you in a while but I have been following your inspiring/exciting news over the web. So after reading your new column on bios, I was inspired to rewrite my bio and wanted to share it with you in the hopes I’d get some feedback. So here it is:

After a successful career as an indie rock singer and a theatre actor in Egypt and Chicago, Ayman Samman is now a SAG actor working in TV and film here in Hollywood. He graduated in Helwan University as an Egyptologist and guided tourists throughout Egypt, Jordan and Israel. His natural story telling skills and his ability to easily connect with people is his recipe for success. Since moving to Los Angeles, he appeared in the Backstage Critic’s pick Haram Iran as well as few independent productions, co-produced and starred in the web series Switch, and founded The ADD Channel (an online sketch comedy video site).

Ayman is determined to serve as a bridge between American and Middle Eastern cultures. Dubbed as “An Egyptian Benjamin Bratt meets Esai Morales”, he is charismatic with a hint of alluring gravitas.

Thanks again for all your help and hope you have a fantastic week!

Ayman Samman

Okey doke. First off, I’m liking your rewrite, overall. I’d take out the “here” in “here in Hollywood,” because — assuming this is going on your website or IMDb — you have no idea where the reader sits. I’d change “in” to “from” before “Helwan University,” and add a comma after “Jordan.” (I’m a big fan of the serial comma, which you’ll see me mention quite a bit, this series.) I’d merge “story” and “telling” into the word “storytelling” and change “is his recipe” to “are ingredients to his recipe,” just for the sake of clarity in subject-verb agreement. I believe BackStage is CURRENTLY the correct capitalization of the publication, and if the C in “Critic’s” is capitalized, so must be the P in “Pick.” (But don’t get ridiculous about capitalizing words that don’t need it — you’ll see me harp on this, below.)

I’d italicize or offset titles in quotation marks (anything to make them stand out, but not too much, of course — no need to underline, bold, ital, and all-caps everything) and finally, if you’ve been “dubbed as…” anything, you need to either cite the source of that dubbing or change the wording, if you created the tagline for yourself. No worries if it’s the latter, but to say it’s been declared and then not offer who declared it is to be a little disingenuous. So, tread lightly, there.

Otherwise, good! Short, to the point. We get a sense of what you’ve done and what you have coming up! It’s formal enough but still gives us a sense of your personality. Well done!

Second email with bio:

Hey Bonnie!

This is terrifying sending this! Wow! Hilarious! But this is what I have so far on for the bio page on my (still under construction) website. And since I don’t want it to suck, I’m sending it along. Man… bios… THE PRESSURE!

I am an actor, performance artist, dancer, mask worker, clown and goofball. I’m a performer. Not limited to one medium. I like telling stories. Any medium that makes someone question what they thought they understood or laugh or forget the real world for a while. Even if it takes them to a darker world I hope that they come out with a different perspective. I strive to expand my understanding of people and why we do what we do. I don’t want to just provoke a reaction. I strive for truth. I strive for the fantastic.

I discovered acting when I was 11 years old and realized that it was the only thing in life I couldn’t live without. It combined my love of reading and stories with my love of communication and puzzles with a heap of fantasy. I majored in Theatrical Performance at the University of Central Florida which culminated in a 9 month internship at the Orlando Shakespeare Festival. I also took Meisner & Film Acting classes outside of school in Orlando at Arts Sake Film Acting Studio. From there I moved to New York and then moved onto LA where I took an incredible 2 year Meisner intensive class. In 2006 I joined Theatre of NOTE after a couple years of hanging around and helping out. At NOTE I’ve been privileged to appear in many shows there which have gotten ‘GO!’/’Pick of the Week’/’Critics Pick’ nods (Food For Fish, Famine Plays, FILM, Skeleton Stories) as well as produced and directed. I’ve also found a second home in the Sacred Fools Theater regularly getting to work out my comedy muscles in the fast paced ‘Serial Killers’ weekly episodic show (Vatos in Space, MEME, Grave Expectations) and their Play in a Day offering: Fast N’ Loose. I’ve appeared on television in She Spies and The Wayne Brady Show, on film in Vampire Clan and Scream of the Bikini, and on the web in Duck N Cover and Speed Dating with Werner Herzog.

I’ve been in LA since October 2001 collecting lots of stories and experiences in this fascinating town that I now call home.

Word on the street:

“These girls (Mandi Moss and Cat Davis) are hilarious and poignant” — Vince Duvall (LATheatreReview.com) on Boneheads in Skeleton Stories

“Mandi Moss handily plays the comedian in his younger days” — Steven Leigh Morris (LA Weekly) on my portrayal of Buster Keaton in FILM (voted Pick of the Week plus several LA Weekly Award nominations, also voted Steven Leigh Morris’ ‘Pick of the Year’ on NPR)

“Moss has some of the play’s very few moments of genuine and poetic emotion” — Iris Mann (Back Stage West) on me in Local Story

“Mandi Moss: Where par for the course meets WTF on any given day!” — my friend Tom

Awards:

2007 Best One Act Ensemble — LA Weekly — The Bomba Trilogy: Darkness

2010 ‘Most Actress’ — Thursty Award — Sacred Fools Theater

Mandi Moss

Phew! Okay, it’s a long one, and that one big paragraph could so easily be split up for easier reading (especially online), but overall, it’s a good bio, Mandi. No need to be *askeert* sending it along. 😉

Now, I don’t mind the sentence fragments in the first paragraph. It’s your style (and I write like that, here, so I get it, and it works). I do prefer serial commas, just as a rule, but that’s me. I also think “strive” is overused and not in the cool way that makes it a fun setup for a joke. (I think, if the first sentence using “strive” were shorter, we could make that joke happen. But as-is, it’s not working for me.)

In the second, big-ass paragraph, I’d change out “with” after puzzles for “plus,” since you’ve just used “with” a few words earlier. Also, you’ve capitalized a bunch of words that don’t need capitalizing (like “Theatrical Performance” [unless you’re naming the specific degree, i.e. “a PhD in Theatrical Performance” you do not capitalize your major] and “Film Acting” classes) and that ampersand (like “Meisner & film acting classes”) really should be an “and” in this case.

The “moved onto LA” is weird, because I’m not sure why you even mentioned living in New York without any specific accomplishments cited, and “onto” is totally not the right word, here. Maybe you meant “on to” but even so, without context of what set you up to do that, it’s odd. All of your “9 month” and “2 year” notations should be “nine-month” and “two-year” (hyphens and numbers written out, when under TEN), but that’s super nitpicky… as am I! 😉

Not sure what you mean about “hanging around” at Theatre of NOTE before your membership. It’s weird. I mean, I get you, but I’m not sure others will. Run that by some folks, to be sure it’s not coming across as stranger than you mean it.

The sentence that leads into “I’ve been privileged to appear…” goes off onto a weird track, by ending with “as well as produced and directed.” Watch your grammar on that. We seem to start the sentence in one direction and then head into another. Get your subject-verb agreement in shape and that’s a pretty badass bit of info about your awesomeosity! 🙂

Not sure why you use single quotation marks for titles of shows or mentions in the trades. Unless you’re in the middle of a sentence that has quotation marks, you don’t need to use single quotation marks; you should use the “real” ones. 😉 Also, when you say “nods” you should end that thought as follows: “nods from LA publications” so we — if not local — know the deal.

Finally out of that huge-ass paragraph, not sure why we need to know you’ve been here since October 2001. Once you’ve been here more than a year, you’re pretty much a local and drawing attention to how long you’ve been here — especially if someone who’s reading your bio hasn’t met you yet — just reminds folks you’ve not yet popped on their radar. Not saying try to stay “new” longer, just saying it may not be worth isolating, as a fun fact.

I notice in your “word on the street” section — which I love — that you have no closing periods in any of the reviews. The last one has an exclamation point, but the first three have no periods. What’s up with that? I’m certain those reviewers included punctuation. No? If not, their editors should be fired. 😉

Overall, good, good. 😉 I know you were stressed to share, and these tips are super nitpicky. I like the first-person bio. It’s not often done, so that’s a huge plus! And I so get you, reading these words. Almost there, darlin’! Trust me. You’re on the way (and almost there).

Third email with bio:

Hey Bonnie,

Loved your column on actors’ bios! And I thought I’d take you up on your offer to critique some of them. So, here’s my bio, as it appears on my website. I had tried the standard boiler-plate boring bio previously, but recently decided to just write it as I tell my own story in real life: with some self-effacing humor. This is the longer “website version.” Would love to know what you think. It’s still a work in progress!

Of all the actors working today… Martin Thompson is certainly one of them!

Martin began life with the double whammy of being both a Preacher’s Kid and a Navy Brat. His dad was a Presbyterian Minister and a Navy Chaplain, and his mom was a Peabody trained lyric soprano. So, performing for unwilling audiences was in his blood from an early age.

His first major role was in Kindergarten, playing Tom Thumb in “A Tom Thumb Wedding” – which, of course, made it difficult for him to accept anything less than the title role afterwards. Sadly, in second grade, he was miscast in a minor role as the lowly Sailor Doll, which taught him that Show Business is not always fair, and stardom is often fleeting.

Martin retired from acting after the debacle in second grade, and decided to pursue his dream of becoming a concert pianist. But, soon realized that his younger brother Tim Thompson had received all the musical talent, and that practicing the piano was hard. So, he reluctantly returned to his acting career, working as a child actor on television in L.A., while his family lived in Southern California.

The family’s return to the East Coast in high school returned Martin to the stage, where he played the title role – of course – in “Dracula,” and appeared in many dinner theatre productions including “Fiddler on the Roof” – in which he, once again, was not cast in the title role.

He received his BFA in Acting from East Carolina University, and headed immediately to New York City to pursue fame and fortune on the Great White Way, studying at HB Studios, and eventually becoming one of the most sought after waiters in the city. And, when he was unable to find more lucrative work in restaurants, he would often appear in recurring roles on the Soaps, not to mention a string Off and Off Off Broadway productions which are best left to the imagination.

After 12 years in New York, Martin returned to civilization in the Southeast, to raise his two children Steven and Kathleen, and to continue his meteoric rise to obscurity. He continues to work in Regional Theatres when they hire him, and to appear in Motion Pictures as an unknown Day Player with many Big Hollywood Stars who, for some reason, will not return his phone calls.

Wishing to pass on the great storehouse of knowledge about the Business that is his, Martin also teaches professional Acting Classes, and offers private coaching for actors, so that they can become just as talented and successful as he is.

You can see it in all its glory here.

Thanks for your input, and for the great words of wisdom each week! 🙂

Martin Thompson

So, this is a long one. You know that. You lead off with a groan-inducing line (seriously, “yuk yuk” from the Laugh-In days, if that good) and while that sets the tone for the funny stuff you have coming later in your bio (and you do; there are some truly laugh-out-loud moments, here), it’s just a bit too much for my taste. Just the lead-off bothered me as hacky. The funny moments about only accepting leads, being a sought-after waiter, and a meteoric rise to obscurity were all funny and fun to read.

You have used a couple of clichés (such as “double whammy” and “in his blood”) but my biggest issue with your bio comes from the totally random capitalization of words that are not proper nouns, cities or states, or formal titles before names. “Preacher’s Kid” and “Minister” and “Brat” and “Show Business” and “Soaps” and “Motion Pictures” and “Day Player” and “Big” and “Stars” and “Acting Classes” all need to be demoted. It’s ridiculous how addicted to capitalizing you are! 🙂

I’d flip the line about your younger brother being more musically talented, so that “practicing the piano was hard” comes before revealing that your brother had the talent. Also, there’s a grammar glitch in “family’s return to the East Coast in high school” because the family was not in high school, you were! So, this should say, “family’s return to the East Coast while Martin was in high school returned him to the stage,” to keep your grammar school teacher (and me) happy.

Fun, funny, and just about double the length it needs to be, but you’ve got a good start here and could create something really wonderful from this, if you took a more critical eye toward what’s essential to include, for your potential buyers. I do like that it’s very conversational — like you probably are in real life — and that was your goal. Now just cut to the chase (cliché intended) and you’ll have a much better bio.

Fourth email with bio:

Hi,

I love the column “Your Bio,” especially the part about having an English major proof it. I’m an English major and I let Ross — the nitpicky, rule-remembering engineer — proof my stuff! More eyes never hurt.

This bio for Roma was used in a playbill. I found it oddly difficult to write, perhaps due to the 75 word restriction. Comments/critiques much appreciated.

Roma Watkins is thrilled to be making her NVA debut! Previous roles: Seussical (Jojo), Annie (Molly), Peter Pan (Tinkerbelle), Big River (Young Fool), and A Christmas Carol (Sally Cratchit) with MET2 and How the Grinch Stole Christmas (Scallop) at the Old Globe. Roma has also been seen in commercials for Time Warner, Key Bank, and National Grid. She would like to thank her family and Ali, Kathie, Courtney, April, and the ladies at BTG.

We haven’t tackled a general bio yet, but it’s on my list.

Marie Watkins

Actually pretty fantastic, Marie (and Ross). I know that the bio writing that parents do for the kiddos is some of the hardest bio-writing going! (Check back next week for a few actors who clearly were kid actors who took their parents’ versions of their own bios into adulthood, and still talk about the plays they did in kindergarten, even though they’re 30 now.)

I know the program-length bio is a challenge, but it looks like you did a very good job. Considering how young Roma is, I’d remove a credit or two and add a personal item (a hobby, a fun fact, a “real life” something) just to make it look like she’s not being handled by “stage parents” (which is the risk with kid actor bios that are too heavy-handed on credits), and I’d eliminate passive voice by removing the word “seen” from the line about her commercials.

Otherwise, really good! And well on the way to even better.

Fifth email with bio:

About Danielle Cloutier:

Danielle is a Los Angeles based actress/writer, originally from Chicago. She found her way to acting through being a metallurgy major in the College of Fine Arts at the University of Illinois, Champaign-Urbana. What’s metallurgy? Something Danielle wasn’t particularly good at, which is how she came to leave school and make her way west. During her time in LA, she has performed in independent films and shorts, regional and national commercials, and the occasional stint on stage, in productions like Neil LaBute’s Bash and the Goldstar New Vaudeville Variety Hour at Second City. She can currently be found having a blast in her amazing acting class, as well as in numerous casting director workshops. As a writer, Danielle has created scenes for use in classes, workshops, short films, and sketches for the stage. Recently, Danielle co-created and wrote a sitcom pilot with two friends, as an acting vehicle for themselves and some of the brilliant yet-to-be-discovered actors they know. You can find her blogging away at GratitudeAndAttitude.blogspot.com and find more info about her at www.daniellecloutier.com. In her spare time, she eats far too much sugar, hikes when she can, and spends a lot of time working with animals, including volunteering and networking for homeless pets.

Kinda love it, Danielle. I’m finishing up this week with your bio because it’s all sorts of awesome. I get a sense of who you are not only as an actor, but also as a writer, a producer, and a person. At least one of the bios I’ll be sharing next week got too heavily into the self-producing angle and made us forget we were looking at an actor. A hyphenate bio is a tough balance, and you’ve made it work in a few words, here. I get you, I get your work, I get your accomplishments, and I get your personality. All good. And clean! The only change I would make is to say “actor” instead of “actress,” but that’s just my old-school appreciation for the word “actor” being like “doctor” and not needing to see it gender-specified, ever. (Totally your call. Not at all a “fix,” just a personal preference, here, just like “theatre” as “stage” and “theater” as the building in which films are projected.)

Okay, so what did we learn this week? Lay off the clichés, check your grammar, go easy on capitalization, have a SMART friend proofread, cut it for length if it’s longer than a tweet, and give us a sense of who you are without being too dang cute. (A little bit goes a long way on that stuff.)

Feeling more “ready” after this week’s column? Cool. We’re gonna do more next week (and maybe the next)! Like I said, you may not often be asked for a bio, but when you are, wouldn’t you like to know — confidently — that you’re handing off the most badass bio you could possibly have created?


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/001255.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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