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Careers Clinic: Can I put stage work on my showreel?

John Byrne. Photo: Catherine Usher John Byrne. Photo: Catherine Usher
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Since leaving drama school, I have mostly worked on stage. In the past year or so, I have finally graduated from just doing profit-shares to getting fairly regular and even decently paid roles in both classical and new-writing pieces around the fringe and regional theatre circuits.

My partner is quite good at photography – both video and still – and has captured quite a few of my shows on camera. I did my first indie film part a while ago. The director was very enthusiastic about my work and says I should apply for more screen roles. I’d like to, but with the movie only half-funded, I doubt I’ll see showreel footage for a long time.

It occurred to me that what I do have available right now are several very good clips from my stage work. I also have some very good photos from my various roles including several in period dress. In the short term, would it be good to add these to my profile so I can start putting myself out there for work on screen while continuing my main career on stage?

In more than two decades working with actors, I can count on the fingers of one hand the number of times I thought it appropriate for an actor to put a clip from a stage play on their showreel.

In some cases this was simply due to the quality of the technology. The classic ‘shot from the back of the stalls in bad light and with worse sound’ clip will have anyone who has to view it reaching for the off button in seconds.

Putting those obvious non-starters aside, and with respect to your partner, I’m just as reluctant to include clips and photos taken directly from stage productions in casting profiles even if they are much higher quality. This is no reflection on the actor’s talent or look and often includes shows where I was in the audience on the night and was very moved by the intensity and power of the performance.

The reason is a very simple one: the live performance experience and the screen experience are two different things. I say this while fully aware that there have been huge strides forward in capturing excellent shows from some of the top live venues in the world and broadcasting them to audiences in regional cinemas and that some people even prefer to experience shows in this HD ‘almost like being on stage’ way.

Showreels are primarily casting tools, not entertainment media. Even the most professionally captured stage work won’t necessarily give casting directors the information they need to judge how an actor would handle a scene actually written for the screen. Similarly, casting directors who specialise in stage will want to see live performance, either in a show or in the audition room. Clips of previous stage performances won’t necessarily spark their interest in seeing you as much as well selected headshots, a strong stage CV and good reviews.

For that reason, screenshots of yourself in performance or in costume probably won’t cut it either. I’d be particularly wary of having too many ‘in costume’ shots on your profile – period or otherwise. The danger is that people will just see the costume, not the actor. That makes it harder to imagine what you might do in the roles they currently have available.

This is one occasion when saving money isn’t the best option if the result works against you. It will almost certainly serve you better to keep doing good stage work, while working on getting one or two good screen-acting clips on your reel and practising your self-taping. Perhaps your stage earnings could fund some of that investment.

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

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