We get questions every day from people of all ages who are interested in becoming a Broadway actor or actress, are just getting started and have no idea where to start.
Like those at the top of their game in any profession, it’s easy to be inspired by those on The Great White Way, but like other professions, you don’t start out as the CEO of a company or an olympic athlete. You start at the bottom and with a lot of hard work, determination and luck, might get a shot if you take every opportunity that comes your way.
There are basics that every single person who has made it has taken. Though their paths have all been different, here are the things you can do to begin your path to Broadway:
Train, Train, Train
There is nothing natural about standing in front of large groups of strangers, speaking someone else’s words or singing someone else’s songs, while turning partially away from the person to whom you’re talking.
Whether your training takes place in a high school classroom, in a well-established theatre conservatory, under the tutelage of a great teacher in a weekly class, or in each and every show you can get into, you can learn both from the critique you receive directly, and from watching others and listening to the critique they get.
Take acting classes, dance classes, voice classes (whether you’re looking to do musicals or not), get a voice teacher – and do things that seemingly have nothing to do with theatre…
Those who played an instrument had an upper hand in casting for the recent revival of Sweeney Todd; those who were cheerleaders got a leg up in Lysistrata Jones; ballroom dancers have gotten huge legs up in numerous shows. If you’re passionate about anything – continue to train there as well, you’ll never know if it might help you – and if nothing more, you’ll have something else that gives you joy, make you a healthier, more rounded person and expose you to more of the world and more of the incredible people you might one day play.
Connections are a huge portion of this industry. The biggest legs up happen when someone you’ve worked with before recommends you. As much as the diva personality circulates as the norm in this industry, it’s unlikely to ever help you – divas get cast despite their eccentric nature. If you work hard, are fun to work with and are you – directors, writers, stage managers and producers will want to work with you again and might bring you in for consideration in their next project, or suggest you to a friend who’s looking for X for their next project.
Always Say Yes
If you’re asked to do a reading, to meet with someone for a quick lunch, to sing in a cabaret, to do an interview with Seth Rudetsky, anything – say yes. You’ll never know who will be in the audience, whether that writer may go on to become the next David Mamet, or be meeting with him later that afternoon.
See as Much Theatre as You Can
See as many shows as you can – both directly in your chosen area and outside of it. You can learn by watching others, noting what works and what doesn’t and trying to dig in to discover just what it was that made a performance work so wonderfully. And don’t just see Broadway shows, get Off-Broadway, Off-Off-Off-Off Broadway, see West End productions, dance productions, experimental art pieces, the show your cousin is doing at some summerstock theatre upstate. Then sit back and think about what worked and what didn’t and why.
Take Care of Yourself So You Look and Feel Good
And get to the gym – yes, everyone has as much trouble as you do getting there – but if you’re going to become an actor, your looks are part of your package, so tone it and get into the best shape you can.
Also take care of your skin and learn how to apply makeup, invest in clothing and shoes that look good on you, is comfortable and allows you to move.
As much as everyone would like to believe that looks are only a part of the equation — they are a big part and form your first impression. If you look good, hold yourself well and walk into a room feeling good about yourself, you have a leg up over at least half of your competition.
Show Up and Move On
You will be rejected over and over again. You will spend months preparing for an audition and not get a callback. You will not even be considered for a role you know you are perfect for because they decided they want a veteran actress playing it, or producers think Adele will bring in more ticket sales. You might be an inch taller than the man they want to cast as the male lead and so miss out. Or it may be some reason even more inane – the director just ended a relationship with someone who looks like you or he really wants someone with freckles Most of the time you’ll never know and you’ll never hear back. You’ll have poured out your heart and soul and will be told “we’ll be in touch” and left in the dark.
But your job if you really want to work in this industry is to grow a thick skin, shake it off, and show up for the next audition. To again pour out your heart and soul – to invest every ounce of your being in the next one, most likely to be rejected once again.
Everyone has different techniques for dealing with this – one actress figured out that she would get a callback for every 18 auditions she did, so she would keep track. For every rejection she got, she would put a big “X” and think – I’m one rejection closer to a callback!
It’s an incredibly hard thing to do but it’s part of the job – no matter how famous, how talented, how successful, every actor faces rejection every time they step into a room or submit themselves for a part. But you’ll never get anywhere if you don’t show up first.
After you’ve celebrated when you do get a callback and the incredible day you get cast, hit the ground running – start your research, learn your lines and throw yourself head-first into the role.
During rehearsals, listen to your director, be nice to your stage manager, learn from and work with your fellow actors and soak it all up. Try to stay away from gossip, stay humble and be kind – hopefully you’ll work with some of these same people again in the future. Don’t make the reason you don’t get cast the next time that you snapped at the stage manager during the run of this show.
It’s a hard life and everyone says that if you can imagine yourself doing anything else you should do that instead. Just keep training, networking, saying yes, seeing theatre, taking care of yourself, showing up and working hard — because you know, like everyone in this industry, it’s worth all the heartache and effort, because there’s nothing like the moment the curtain rises and you open your mouth to say or sing your first word.
Advice Directly from the Pros:
Betty Buckley: Study, study, study. Practice, practice, practice. : )
Constantine Maroulis: Do everything u can…community theater to school plays, work hard respect the craft and be good to all – never know who they become.
Nick Adams: Find a great acting teacher. Take as many classes as you can in all disciplines. Train. See everything!
Natalie Hill: Study & train & take classes from casting directors then go to open calls & nail it!
Diana DeGarmo: Be a sponge & take everything in-educate yourself! Music, shows, directors, choreographers, dance, etc – all of it! & have FUN!
Erin Wilson: Get ready to work like you never have before. Research, be prepared, know your type, be kind, find an outside hobby – sanity!
Howard Sherman: You don’t become a “Broadway actor.” You become an actor and then, perhaps, you get cast in a Broadway show.
Nicole Tori: Lots of hard work, persistence, training, networking and LUCK!
Lexi Lawson: Pray! JK – my advice is to make sure you are fully prepared (though I always have a tendency of always messing up my dialogue) but I go in prepared. And go in loving what it is. The creative team will see if the passion in you pour out if it’s a project you absolutely love and want to be a part of. Good luck to my musical munchkins.
What’s Your Advice?
Do you have advice to share or questions for others who work in the industry? This is such a big question with so many answers — we’d love to hear your thoughts! How do you cope with rejection? What advice would you give someone just starting out? Use the comment form below and help make this post even better!