Welcome to Chicago!
So, you’ve decided to be an actor . . .
I saw a “How to be an actor” video once from the early ‘90s and it started that way. I about died.
This post is devoted entirely to new Chicago actors. I’ve compiled a list of my favorite resources. While I know not every tool is listed, I’ve decided to only talk about what I know through my own personal experiences. If you find it helpful or know of someone who might, I invite you to bookmark it or share it!
I moved to Chicago just about two years ago. Prior to acting, I was a full-time Theatre & Spanish Teacher and High School Theatre Director, and so while I knew how to act, I did not know how to be a businessman. The business side of acting is an important one, and it’s different in every city. I’m thankful I had friends here to start, as they helped me gather the following resources for my own use.
Use, abuse and enjoy, my new acting-biz friends!
Buy this book before you move here! Chris is a Chicago-based working actor himself, and his book breaks down everything you need to know about the business of acting in Chicago. I really can’t say enough good things about it. He covers topics about headshots, resumes, casting directors, agents, and pretty much anything else you could think of. I found his book especially helpful when looking for an agent. In this chapter, Chris provides a list of all Chicago agents along with a description of each agency, an address, and what each agency looks for in a cover letter. How amazingly helpful is that?!
After you buy Chris’s book, sign up for a class. You learn so much in classes, but you also meet people. Networking is always important, and there is always something you can learn in the classroom.
The day you stop learning is the day you die. The day you think you know everything is the day you commit suicide.
Seriously, folks, don’t make excuses. Yes, classes are expensive. Yes, you are busy. But invest in your continued education. Your future self will thank you for it!
I highly recommend starting with Marisa Paonessa‘s workshop, Getting Started in the Biz. Marisa owns her own boutique agency in the city, and she really knows her stuff. Like Chris’s book but in a sort of a stand-up comedy format (this will make sense when you meet her. She’s absolutely hysterical.), Marisa walks you through all the basics of what 99% of acting schools fail to touch: the BUSINESS of acting.
My favorite class I’ve taken at ASC is one in which I’m currently enrolled, Advanced Camera Skills for the Professional Actor with Janelle Snow. Janelle’s class was spoken very highly of by a talented actor friend of mine, Mindy Fay Parks, casting director Lauren Phillips, and my agent, Jaime Henderson. I haven’t heard this many good reviews about a class or a teacher, so for me, taking this one was a no-brainer. We are only entering week 3 out of 8, but so far it’s completely worth my time and money. In other On-Cam classes, I learned about stillness, which to some is very important on camera. I also learned how to quickly memorize and get rid of the nerves in front of the camera. These are all valuable skills. But I soon realized that while learning these skills, I was forgetting how to make the sides my own. I was stripping things so far down that it was – dare I say – boring. Janelle is showing me that the more I work and prepare, the better the audition will be. She continually asks, “how has your prep served you?” This left-brain analysis helps to see better results in front of the camera.
I also very much enjoyed Monologue with Kurt Naebig. First of all, Kurt is just great. Very down to earth and personable. He’s also a Chicago actor, so he teaches based on experience. Second, the subject matter is extremely useful. In this class, you meet with Kurt one-on-one to discuss you. From there, he gives you two monologues from different plays that match your personality and your brand. Throughout the course, you perfect the two monologues with the help of Kurt and other students. I’ve used both monologues at so many auditions!
The Green Room offers great On-Camera courses taught by a few working actors and two casting directors from O’Connor Casting. I’ve learned how to relax in front of the camera. I’ve also learned how to make each audition my own with the help of these instructors. If you want to be an on-camera actor, I strongly recommend taking classes here. I’ve never been a fan of marrying yourself to one school, so make sure you try a little something everywhere!
Chicago is known for its skyline, food, and improv. I’ve taken classes at both iO and Second City, and I’ve decided while both can be great, everyone has their own opinion on what works for them. iO is known for its long-form improv, whereas Second City focuses more on short form improv. You will meet great people at either and learn the basic rules of improv. I suggest taking the first level at both schools before you commit yourself to either fully. And always do your research before committing time and money to any school!
One word of warning: I finally understand why you will never hear a casting director tell you to “improv” something. Instead, they usually say, “make it your own.” If you aren’t careful, you will take improv classes and feel you can just “be funny” on cue in front of the camera. This “throw spaghetti on the wall and see what sticks” mentality is dangerous. “Funny” is difficult and must be calculated. YES, iO and Second City have helped me with my creativity and comedic timing. Absolutely. But it’s the other classes that have helped me hone in on my funny bone even more. Just another example of the importance of taking classes at multiple schools!
If you are brand new to Chicago, I assume you don’t have an agent yet. Don’t let that stop you from contacting the major casting directors of Chicago! These companies cast the majority of Film / TV / Commercial that comes to our beautiful city. Send one person from each of these companies a headshot, resume and cover letter. Don’t stress too much about which director to address your letters. These offices aren’t large, and everyone will end up seeing your information. Keep the cover letter brief but personal. And please. PLEASE. Do not address your letters with “To Whom It May Concern.” Really take the time to check out the websites of each to get to know their personalities and address them to specific individuals. A little personal touch in your letter will stand out above the rest, and letting them know you’re new to Chicago is a great reason to contact them!
If you are interested in auditioning for the stage, these websites will be your best friend. Think of them as the Jobs section on Craigslist for Actors, only less creepy. Posting is free and responding to posts is free. It’s a win-win.
These are the websites for you if you’re looking for some On-Camera work. While you won’t get any major work here (you’ll find the best way for that is through one of the casting directors listed above), you can get student films and short and/or low budget films. Some of them pay. Some of them don’t. Either way, it’s a great way to network and get practice. I use Actor’s Access all the time. It’s been a great resource for me. While you pay a small fee per year for both sites, this fee gives you unlimited submissions. Totally worth it.
This resource is like none other. For a small fee, Matt records you performing a short monologue and a couple of commercial auditions. He compiles your best takes into a short video and puts them on his website. Agents and some Casting Directors check out his website on a regular basis. It’s a great way to get practice and be seen!
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So there you go! You will quickly learn how easy it is to break into the business, but having your ducks in a row is always a good thing. Enjoy your new business, my friends!
(Note: I could devote an entire blog to this topic. This post is merely skimming the surface. If there is anything you feel I am missing, or if you have any questions at all about what I briefly covered, please leave a comment, tweet me @TheEricFeltes or leave a comment on my Facebook Fanpage!)