Getting Off-Book Is Not A Race
Several years ago, I was working with a sharply-tongued firecracker of a director that I simply adored. Her frankness frequently floored me.
A couple of weeks into the rehearsal process, we were beginning stumble-through’s. One of my castmates boldly decided to work without his script; however, he was still in need of it, desperately. While fumbling through a scene, he would often go up and have to call “line.” After a couple of painful rehearsals, the director finally yelled, “Hey, stop using my time to try to get off-book.” Embarrassed, the actor sauntered over and grabbed his script to continue working the scene.
My director’s blunt comment really made me think: getting off-book is not a race.
No one is ever really that impressed if an actor is the first to ditch their script. It isn’t a contest; it’s rehearsal. Even worse, if an actor rushes the memorization process, they may begin paraphrasing the dialogue, which is detrimental to the play. An actor’s goal is to faithfully uphold the playwright’s language, and they can only do so by diligently taking their time with the text.
If each actor works cohesively -- both in the rehearsal room and memorizing on their own time -- they will organically find an off-book point, whether that date is implied or softly instilled by the director.
Use rehearsal to build and explore; don’t use it to try to get off-book.
If I could give one single piece of advice to each and every theater student currently in college, it’s this: INTERN. A professional internship is invaluable, and they bring a wealth of knowledge and opportunity.
During my junior year of college, I applied for an acting internship at Florida Studio Theatre. After a successful interview, I learned that the theater did not offer a summer acting program. Instead, I was offered a stage management internship. Although I had absolutely no previous experience in stage managing, I confidently informed the intern coordinator that I had a vast appreciation of the occupation, and I leapt at the offer.
I moved to the Florida Gulf Coast that summer and started my stage management internship... without a single article of black clothing.
After a whirlwind tutorial by my new supervisor and a couple of trips to the thrift shop for proper clothes, I was ready to assistant stage manage. The next couple of months provided me with my very first insight into professional theater, and I learned more during that internship than I did in my first three years of college.
I met amazing actors, designers, and directors, many of whom I still keep in touch with more than ten years later. I was also invited back after graduation, and I remained employed at Florida Studio Theatre for four wonderful years, working in their education department as a Resident Actor and Teaching Artist.
My first few professional years after college were defined by that terrific internship, and I cannot fathom where I would be without it.
So intern. Find an awesome theatre company and contact them. There are plenty of internships that offer housing and a stipend; some don’t offer anything at all. Regardless, don’t pay for a program out of pocket. Simply start searching online and find a program that feels right. Go for it.
The rehearsal space is a sanctuary. In it, artists are free to share and explore without judgement. With that reverence in mind, it is imperative to remain cool and collected during the rehearsal process. Although frustration may emerge, maintain an easy demeanor. Any signs of opposition will hinder the process and create a barrier between the artists. Remember that art is collaboration, so welcome any idea with an open mind, freely exploring each beat. Through exploration and exercise, choices will be made and decisions finalized. Characters will develop and scenes contextualized. Remain free and relaxed, knowing that each decision made is a collaborative effort with an ensemble concept. Keep cool. It’s a fun process; enjoy the ride.
Character work is an exciting endeavor for any actor. One of the greatest joys during a rehearsal process is experiencing your character taking shape and coming to life.
The key to creating a truthful character is allowing that individual to grow from within. Working from the core, wear your character as a thin veil.
Think of an always-changing chameleon, they never mutate their body; instead, they work carefully to manipulate it using the subtlety of their surroundings. In shaping your character, work from the core and allow the environment – your circumstances – to temper your character. Give your character the freedom to exist from within. Shroud the character over yourself as a veil. Don’t attempt to project anything loud or untruthful. Instead, allow yourself to shine through your character, playing them honestly and truthfully. Like a good chameleon, your character will evolve organically so that it reflects both yourself and your environment.
You are the vessel. Shine through the veil.
Every actor knows that agent representation is crucial in establishing a professional presence in the city. Representation is the key to commercial, film, and television work around town, and I’ve already had some wonderful opportunities through my agent at Lily’s Talent. Below are some tips on submitting as well as contact information for all of the prominent agencies in Chicago.
First, the tips:
1. Unless an agency requests emails, always provide a hard copy submission.
2. Include a cover letter, professional headshot/resume, and SASE (self-addressed stamped envelope).
3. If available, provide an acting reel on DVD; the agent is able to pop that disk into their laptop, which is an automatic audition upon receipt.
4. Keep every submission neat, concise, and professional.
5. After submitting, remain relaxed and optimistic.
Next, the agencies:
actors talent group inc.
Fine Arts Building
410 South Michigan Avenue, Suite 733
Chicago, IL 60605
Ambassador Talent Agents, Inc.
333 N. Michigan Ave. Suite 910
Chicago, IL 60601
Attn: New Talent
Big Mouth Talent, Inc.
900 N. Franklin Street
Chicago, IL 60610
456 North May Street
Chicago, IL 60642
Gill Hayes Talent Agency
2558 W 16th Street, 2nd Floor
Chicago, IL 60608
Gray Talent Group, Inc.
727 S. Dearborn St., Suite 312
Chicago, IL. 60605
Grossman & Jack Talent
33 W Grand Avenue
Chicago, IL 60654
Lily’s Talent Agency
1017 W. Washington Blvd., Ste. 4F
Chicago, IL 60607
Paonessa Talent Agency, LLC
3354 N. Paulina Suite 202
Chicago, IL 60657
Shirley Hamilton Talent
333 East Ontario Street Suite 302
Chicago, IL 60611
58 W Huron Street
Chicago, IL 60654
Agencies receive stacks of submissions every week, so it may take some time to hear a response. And success might not arrive upon the first round of submissions, so stay enthusiastic and resubmit every year until an agency is interested. Continue building the acting resume and gain as many connections as possible. Opportunities will arise with persistence and positivity.
Some thoughts on art, life, and theatre. Stay positive.