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Careers Clinic: Do I need an English showreel?

John Byrne. Photo: Catherine Usher John Byrne. Photo: Catherine Usher
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I’m a European actor with a reasonable body of work in my native country, including stage roles with our national theatre company and two recurring roles in popular soaps on the main television channel.

I’ve always wanted to work in English-speaking markets, and for the past few years have been working on both my language and accent skills. I would not say I am at ‘RADA’ standard on either yet, but my British friends tell me I am getting there.

I moved over here two years ago, and have started to apply for castings. Although I played leads at home, I am not expecting any special treatment here, and I will take any roles I can get. I have been told that sending out a showreel will help, but all of my existing clips are in my own language. Should I use them – maybe adding subtitles – or do I need to start again from scratch?

JOHN BYRNE’S ADVICE In terms of a showreel, the fundamental guiding principle for an actor from overseas is exactly the same as the one often missed by local actors.

Ultimately, a showreel is not a piece of entertainment or even a showcase of your ‘best bits’. It is a casting tool, designed to show how you look and sound on screen in your most likely casting types in as efficient a way possible.

When watching a foreign-language TV or film drama or an opera as audience members, we are normally already invested in playing the mental ‘tennis game’ needed to switch attention between the subtitles and the onscreen performance and back. If the production is high-quality, we can quickly reach the point where we forget the language barrier altogether.

With the best will in the world, and even with subtitles, a casting director having to watch a lot of clips at speed with the view to making quick casting decisions may not have the same luxury of time as somebody watching for pleasure. For that reason, while a great scene is a great scene in any language, existing clips that show your physicality may be more useful for your showreel than ‘talking heads’-type scenes, no matter how witty or telling they were in the original tongue.

Fortunately, the growth in self-taping over the last few years and the facility to purchase bespoke showreel material has made things a little easier for the overseas actor to add the extras that may be needed to secure work in a new market. Before you leap into spending money on new material, give some serious thought to your most likely casting types as they will be perceived in the country you are looking for work in and make sure they are represented on your reel.

When it comes to accents, the more versatile an actor can be, the more potential castings are out there. However, much as a strong accent might preclude you from some roles, it might be a plus as far as others go. Increasingly, casting directors are looking for authenticity with every accent they cast.

More important than accent, what needs to be really clear when you open your mouth is that you understand the nuances and subtleties of the material you are working with. This can be an issue for any performer moving from one language to another. It doesn’t matter how good your pronunciation is – if inflection, expression and gesture give away that you don’t fully ‘get’ what your character is saying, the audience won’t buy into it either.

While you continue to work on your English and your accents, don’t underestimate the power of creating your own work, on stage or streamed online, as many UK-based actors from overseas are currently doing – in some cases leading directly to recognition not only here, but internationally, too.

Contact careers adviser John Byrne at dearjohn@thestage.co.uk or @dearjohnbyrne

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