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This month I will host a unique acting workshop in the small city where I began a professional career in broadcasting twenty years ago. Somewhere in the neighborhood of 11,000 people live in Ogdensburg, New York and I’m sure very few of them think about acting as a career right now. But, back in 1995, I dreamed about becoming an actor one day and instead turned to an option that seemed as close to show business as I would find in the area: radio.

That decision paid off in numerous ways as I trained in sales and eventually worked on the air as a live sports announcer and request show host for an Oldies radio station. I was getting my “feet wet”, as they say, while acting remained actively on my mind.  It would take years to actually land my first on camera acting opportunity after stints as a radio DJ and TV news producer and weathercaster.

As part of my mission to make meaningful contributions to the industry, I created the The Small Town Screen Actor Workshop to offer insight and guidance to anyone outside of major markets who’s drawn to on camera roles and feels they are out of reach. I want each person to understand how the business works and what’s expected of them so they can make informed decisions along the way. One session won’t magically transform into working actors, but they will have a clear sense of how the casting process works, what it takes to market yourself as an on camera actor, and the steps necessary to audition for a role in films, TV, or commercials.

One challenge of living in a small town is the limited number of on camera opportunities available in a given month. It’s good to recognize that reality up front. That makes it more critical to think strategically about each decision you make. You have no time to waste so let’s look at quick steps you can take right now.

5 Startup Steps for the Small Town Screen Actor
1. Forget Hollywood, Think Local
Your first opportunities to learn and grow won’t come from watching Marvel movies. (No offense, Ant Man.) Instead, make a list of what on camera work you see in your local area. It may come from commercials for car dealers or lawyers, for example. Take note of who appears in the commercial and what they are actually doing in it beyond just talking. Physical business is a big part of being an actor and not every role is a speaking role.

2. Assess and Build Skills
Even before your first audition, you may already possess special skills that could help make you competitive. Can you do a standing backflip? Are you excellent at speaking with a Yorkshire accent? Do you have training and certification is using firearms? Think beyond your ability to speak in public and memorize lines to consider what assets you have as a person that could lead to work.

3. Start Saving
Acting isn’t a lucrative venture so going into it for the money is a mistake. You will need to invest in yourself continuously to create a career. Professional headshots, classes, and traveling to auditions costs money. Creating a path to financial security for yourself now by saving a portion of your paycheck gives you more power and more independence later.

4. Get Yourself on Camera Often
In the age of selfies, putting yourself on camera has become habitual for many people. Instead of taking a photo and sharing it instantly, record video and play it back to watch yourself carefully. Take note of specific things, such as how you move. This sense of self-awareness can introduce you to positive aspects that will catch the attention of casting directors later or less appealing habits, including squinting or darting eyes, that will hurt your chances of getting roles.

5. Read Everything
Books are source material for so many films and television shows. If you’re not reading now, start a ritual of reading at least one novel a week. This is especially good for developing an awareness of character types in fiction and getting ideas about which ones you could be playing in the future. Select a character in the book you imagine playing and get a clear sense of what you want from every other character in the book.

These are just a handful of ideas to get you started and you’ll discover many more on your own soon. Remember, every move you make towards a goal you established is a success of its own. Document your steps and celebrate your achievements along the way, no matter how inconsequential they may appear to others, because they are essential in building the career you desire most.

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