Career Advice That Bears Repeating…

It’s been great watching Courtney Rioux navigate her acting career from early on.  I first met her when she took one of our on camera commercial classes years ago. She’s was a great actor even back then, and she really took up the technical aspects required of effective storytelling. Like any young actor, she had frustrations with the ups and downs of the business, and I remember one conversation we had when I offered a simple piece of advice that she actually implemented….

I told her if she wanted to create a stable living out of this crazy freelance business, to dive into and learn the world of Voice Over RIGHT NOW

No time to waste. Actors of any age can break into the business, but if an actor is good AND in their early twenties, I think few career moves can pay off more. Voice Over is a small “club” (it feels like it anyhow) and seems impossible to break into. But once you are in that club, your audition opportunities tend to increase almost tenfold, and access to major national campaigns soars. Actors beyond their 20’s certainly have potential of vast increase in opportunity too- and we’ll look at that a bit further down.

 So how do you break into that exclusive club?  First – you gotta be GOOD. Really, that’s all that matters in the end. So get GOOD. Learn. Take classes. Train. PRACTICE.  And then there’s that solid strategy of starting in your early twenties!  Since it’s a small club, people grow up inside of it.  Much of the time, the twenty year olds wind up being the thirty year olds of the next decade, and the forty year olds of the decade after, the fifties after that, and on until they retire. But there is always a need to fill in the club roster at the early years sine those actors keep growing up and leaving a void!  

So I told Courtney to get in that club as soon as possible. As a teacher and former casting director- I can honestly say most actors DON’T actually implement any of the advice they are given.  They hear it, they believe it, they feel great about learning it, but they DON’T act on it. Courtney took that advice to heart IMMEDIATELY and dove into the world of VO headfirst.  I think she was in her first class within the month (at a different studio – we didn’t offer VO classes back then!) Later that year she started taking office jobs at studios and businesses in the VO and recording industry to expose herself to it as much as possible. Jobs trickled in here and there at first. She went through a period where she moved away from on camera work and only wanted to focus on voice over.  And eventually things fell into place. Now she not only has a successful voice over career, but gained momentum in her on camera work too, now even playing a recurring character on Chicago Med!       

Just this past fall I had a talk with her as she voiced her frustration that on one of  the three or so national commercial campaigns she was the voice over on…. the Creative Director had just been moved to a different account.  (Often, but not always, when a creative team is replaced on an account, the voice over risks being replaced as well)  It would be tough for her to watch such a great gig go away.  And here was an actor having gone from frustration at how to tackle the impossible of just making a career in acting, to the enviable frustration of an actor with a regular gig on a TV show losing just one of three national voice over campaigns she had going at the time.  (And I’m sure she’ll pick up another few in the coming year)!   

 Now this was the story of someone who started out fresh out of college and broke in when she was young. Is it tougher to break in when you’re 40? 50?  Yes.  Have I seen it done more than once? Absolutely. If you’re in your 30’s it’s pretty similar chances and tactics still. Frankly, everything in this business is a relative breeze when you’re in your 30’s!  Beyond that it can be more challenging, but still doable. You might need to branch out beyond just commercial VO into other genres at first. You might need to throw a wider geographic net when shopping for that first agent. (With remote auditioning and bookings this is entirely possible these days). You might need to set a more compressed timeline to move from your first non-union agent to that goal of landing representation for the big national union gigs. Perhaps the difference is: when you’re young you gotta be REALLY good.  If you’re not in your 20s or 30’s….you gotta be REALLY REALLY good.  If those 20 & 30 year olds wanna succeed as they move into their older decades they have to step it up as well anyhow. Some of that talent pool matures and develops some fierce acting skills that starts booking heavily, and YOU have to be in THAT group.  And anyone that REALLY wants it- has to REALLY REALLY train.

The advice? Diversify. Expand your skillset. Provide your self with more opportunity. Train. Practice. A LOT. Take classes. Be passionately involved in your art UP ON YOUR FEET. And start NOW – or chances are, you never will.

-by Sean Bradley

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