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The Actor’s Arsenal: A 2014 Upgrade

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Taryn O'NeillHello lovelies, I hope the beginning of your 2014 journey around this solar system has started off with energy and excitement.

I am in the midst of reflecting on all the posts I have written for Ms in the Biz so that I can best serve the growing audience of this website, and in doing this, I see that my posts specifically relating to acting yielded the most interaction. So before I delve back into a larger existential post that I will entice you to read, I wanted to give you some additional arsenal to add to your ACTOR BAG as you travel your 2014 orbit.

But first, what should you already have in your bag?

(Hopefully these are obvious but if not, scour this site because it will point you in the right direction)

1. Have a good headshot that looks like you — with a few different ‘looks’ depending on what your strongest character types are.

2. Have an up to date resume — both on paper and on ALL the casting sites. (Now is a good time to make sure everything is updated, including your special skills… ie. can you Parkour now? Great! Add it on).

3. Have a demo reel online — at Breakdown Services and on your own website. Have it easy to find. Have it on your iPhone/ iPad.

4. Have a social media presence. (Facebook, twitter, imdb, tumblr, website, etc etc.) If this seems alien to you, again scour this site for awesome info.

5. A business card that can point anyone you meet towards the above 4 and contact your representatives and you directly.

Those are the 5 basics as I see them. The essentials. Enough to survive…

But not to thrive! For we are warriors! We are on a mythic journey of storytelling as embodied by our own being — there are gods and monsters to face, there are agents and casting directors to impress, there are producers to charm, other creatives to connect with…. there are last minute auditions and the 405 to slay.  So we need more than a pic and res and a reel on our iPhone.  As an actor we are the work, the training, the result. Your training and commitment should not just be embodied by the work you can do when you are handed a script and lit but by your very presence and words.

But no matter how friggin’ inspired and brilliant you are, in the moment, when you meet that fabulous director / producer / casting director, and she asks you what your favorite movie is, and you suddenly draw a blank… and then umm and ah… and then say CLUELESS (yes this is me — and yes it’s a fab movie that totally holds up — but still, Clueless?!), you need to have a little more arsenal in your bag to be a good representation of your talents.

Why not do some work right now so you can have the following at your disposal?

1. YOUR ORIGIN STORY. Have you ever been asked, “So tell me about yourself…” Of course you have. Any agent or general meeting starts that way. And I personally loathe it! But recently, I had the epiphany to treat it like a comic book origin story. How could I make it visceral and exciting, highlighting the obstacles I had to overcome to arrive at the place where I am at today? What opening line could I create that would hook the audience? The story may be the same but the way I would endeavor to tell it would be different.

2.  KNOW A WITTY / FUNNY ANECDOTE. People like stories… especially in an industry about storytelling! So have one to tell. Why not have a relatable amusing anecdote that can engender a connection with the other person and reveal something interesting about you. The story will leave you memorable and colorful in their mind.

3. HAVE A MEANINGFUL MOMENT TO RECOUNT. You are an actor, therefore you probably have a deep emotional seat. Have a story that reveals that. No, please don’t tell the story of when your family dog died, my eyes will well up and I’ll have to walk away due to fear of mascara streaking, but if you can recount something that reveals your exquisite passion for life, for your work, for humanity, SOMETHING that shows how deep your soul reaches, have it accessible. Be able to weave your magic without a script.

4. HAVE A QUOTE THAT IS YOU IN A NUTSHELL. Why not have the witty words of Oscar Wilde, the galactic thoughts of Carl Sagan at your disposal to reveal your own character. Jason Silva (who you’ll know I’m a fan of if you have read my other posts) peppers his discourse with countless quotes from big thinkers to illuminate and clarify his beliefs. His knowledge is wikipediac (yes I just coined that word) but I think you really just need one.

5. HAVE A MONOLOGUE. Even though we are in the era of webseries and video blogs, knowing a strong monologue, one that (again) means something to you, could never hurt. I will always have HAMLET’S: “I have of late, but wherefore I know not, lost all my mirth… what a piece of work is man” speech forever stitched into my tongue.

6. SET YOUR GO-TO AUDITION AND EVENT LOOKS. Spend a few hours this weekend and try on a bunch of your favorite audition outfits, both commercial and theatrical. Then do your hair and makeup and have someone take pictures or video of you. Figure out what looks best for your main ‘looks’ on camera and then know that in a crunch, you can grab that outfit and know you will look like a million bucks. NOW, do the same for ‘Going Out’ outfits. There will always be some event that you are going to where there is a red carpet photo op and you have all of 15 minutes to get ready for it and you end up a sweaty naked mess with a pile of clothes on your floor because you hate EVERYTHING (yes, again this was me.) Know what three outfits are camera friendly, especially on the top half of you as that’s where the camera will find you. (I also find Pinterest is really helpful when it comes to putting together ensembles that you know will look good on camera.)

7. HAVE 3 ACTORS THAT YOU CAN TURN TO FOR HELP. No man is an island. And no actor should go into a big audition without having rehearsed the scene with another live person. Maybe you have a coach that you work with, and that is great, but have at least a few fellow actors who are willing to run lines with you, even coach you. It is often last minute, but if are willing to do it for them, they will reciprocate.

8.  KNOW WHAT YOUR FAVORITE FRIGGIN’ MOVIE IS. We come full circle. You are in the land of entertainment so have a favorite movie and TV series. Be able to say why, not because it won the Academy Award but why personally. Know what actors who are working you most admire. Your answers and the way you deliver them reveal another layer of your character and craft.

Do you notice a common thread? “Know thy self”. You are the original. There may be thousands upon thousands of actors, but there is only one authentic fascinating YOU. Doing this work will help you to own and ultimately reveal it.

Wow, your actor bag just got a little heavier now, didn’t it? But it’s one of those 4 wheeled carbonite ones so I think you can handle it. If you have any ideas to add please write them in the comment. So excited to join you all for this epic journey through 2014!

Taryn O'Neill

About Taryn O'Neill

TARYN is an actress, writer and new media producer originally from Vancouver, Canada. A competitive figure skater for 12 years, she graduated from Duke University. She has appeared on the TV shows ‘Vegas’, ‘Navy N.C.I.S.’, ‘The Inside’ ‘Lie to Me’ and plays a recurring role on the BYUTV family drama ‘Granite Flats’. She has acted in over 20 webseries (winning Best Supporting Actress at the Indie Soap awards for her work on ‘Compulsions’) as well as producing two series (including the Streamy nominated scifi series ‘After Judgment’.) She added writing to her repertoire after starting a blog in 2009, and in 2010, her first comedy script, “The Very True Adventures of the Madoff Girls,” was a Finalist in the NYTVFest FOX Comedy Pilot Contest. She has since written a full length series for ‘Stan Lee’s World of Heroes’ and has numerous web and tv projects in development, scifi being her genre of choice. In her spare time she studies all things science and trains in martial arts. Her quest to be an onscreen badass was first chronicled at her tumblr Operation BABE (Badass Alien-Fighting Body Endeavor), and has evolved into being a blog about being an inspired badass in all areas of life.