Up until a few years ago, I could hold my head high at family gatherings. My acting career was reasonably successful, with parts coming in regularly, even if I wasn’t getting paid as much as my siblings and in-laws who are all in various IT and tech jobs.
Things have slowed down markedly in the past 18 months. Some of that might be down to the normal highs and lows of acting life, but I think there is another underlying reason: the fact that self-tapes, social media and technology generally plays a much bigger part in this business than it used to when I started out.
As the ‘arty’ one in the family, I’m afraid the technology gene has skipped me completely. I don’t have money to go back to college and before you even suggest it, I would be way too embarrassed to ask any of the tech-heads in the family for help. What can I do?
Technology does have a big part to play in today’s acting careers, but let’s not forget that it has been a key feature of theatre since the ancient Greeks developed mechanisms to rotate scenery or allow gods to descend from machines. It is something actors have always had to work with.
For me, every actor needs to be up to speed on four essential technical tasks to operate effectively in the current industry. Others, such as using social media, are helpful, but it is important to invest time in getting to grips with the essentials.
The first task is being able to use email effectively. That might seem an unnecessary essential tip to many – surely email is far from being a new thing? However, too many actors still write long, letter-style missives to busy people or attach files, rather than links, so their pitches end up in the spam folder.
A good example of understanding what technology can do, but still not using it correctly, would be the mass emails that get sent to agents and casting directors. Actors often fail to edit, personalise or make them relevant to the recipient, which is a guaranteed route to the recycle bin.
The second technical priority is being able to manage your online casting profiles properly, including updating and uploading credits, photos and showreels when necessary. Even if your agent or manager monitors this for you, online casting profiles are your shop windows and, ultimately, the person responsible for making sure they represent you effectively is you.
Self-tapes are definitely not going away, which is why being able to record and send one efficiently is number three on my priority list. If you still struggle with them, my final essential suggestion is the one I would implement first: there is now a vast range of online videos on YouTube, which break down any technical task into step by step instructions.
For any given task, tech or otherwise, if you don’t know how to do it, you should at least know how to search for an effective ‘how to’ video that will show you. Once you have found a helpful video, feel no shame over how many times you need to slow down or freeze a clip until you are able to successfully execute the task.
In giving these technical tips, it is easy to assume that every actor has access to smartphones, laptops and fast broadband, but inequalities in background and income mean this is not always the case.
If you are in this position, your local library (assuming it hasn’t been defunded) can be an excellent resource. If not, try reconnecting with the skills you do have – you might be able to barter with more tech-savvy actors in return for the loan of equipment or expertise.
Contact careers adviser John Byrne at email@example.com or @dearjohnbyrne
John Byrne is also a writer, cartoonist, performer and broadcaster. Read his advice columns every Wednesday at thestage.co.uk/author/john-byrne