As an actor who has mainly worked in theatre and live shows, I have only been asked for the occasional self-tape over the years. Unfortunately, none of them translated into work. I wasn’t too worried at the time, especially as I did get some screen jobs through more traditional ‘in person’ auditions, which at least proved I could work well on camera when I needed to.
I knew self-tapes were becoming a ‘thing’ and that I should work on my skill, but I never quite got round to it as the stage work coming in was keeping me busy. I had built up a good reputation with a small number of producers, which meant that whenever a tour with one of those companies came to an end, I usually had something else lined up.
How I miss those days! I’m regretting that I didn’t put more time into getting my self-tape skills up to speed – the few opportunities out there are all focused on digital and it’s likely to remain this way. Can you help me turn this around, and quickly?
Over the years, I have heard various ‘rules of thumb’ and complicated calculations of how many auditions per week or month a successful actor should be getting.
The only thing I have ever found to be truly predictable is that for most actors, the gap between audition opportunities has always been a lot longer than we would like it to be. You have obviously worked hard, so it would be wrong to call your previous steady job rate ‘lucky’, but it has probably made you a little less used to coping with downtime than other performers are.
Those who are used to it will know that making use of that time to develop new skills and polish existing ones is key. Even experienced self-tapers want to avoid getting that all-important opportunity to submit only to find that they are not as warmed up as they should be.
Don’t wait for the next time you are asked to self-tape to start learning. Start making them now, as often and as creatively as you can. Creating your own characters and performing scenes to your smartphone or webcam is the most DIY method. Have fun doing that, but be wary of the natural tendency to stick to comfort zones. One skill every actor needs, online and offline, is to be able to respond to outside briefs. It is important that you can rise to occasions when you are asked to play a character you wouldn’t necessarily have chosen.
There are various online challenges that provide opportunities to do this, but you can also get in the habit of making self-tapes for roles you want to go for, before you are asked to. If you do get the call, you’ll be ahead of the curve, and if you don’t, it will still be good practice.
At a time when castings are thin on the ground, it is worth revisiting previous castings and submissions, whether or not you got to the casting stage, and using them as challenges for your personal self-tape marathon. There is a lot of generosity in the air at the moment, so if you do choose to upload your practice tapes to a public platform, it is likely you will get useful and valuable feedback from a variety of sources.
If there are specific aspects you want guidance on, make sure to ask questions when you upload. ‘Great tape!’ is nice for the ego, but a useful technical or audition tip might make all the difference next time a real opportunity comes around.
John Byrne is also a writer, cartoonist, performer and broadcaster. Read his advice columns every Wednesday at thestage.co.uk/author/john-byrne