Steven Sabel’s Twist on the Trade: Tailor Your Career

Steven Sabel


Either your mother lied to you, or she was just flat out wrong. Though her intentions may have been the best, and her motives without suspect, nonetheless the damage has been done and you will only compound the problem unless you listen to this advice. Your “book” will be judged by its cover.

In a previous column, I covered the importance of having proper headshots. In last month’s column, I covered how important it is to be consistently working and generating content. These are both crucial aspects to how you will be judged by casting directors, agents, and others who may have a hand in the future of your career in this industry. Yes, the person at the desk when you arrive to an audition WILL say something to the casting directors inside the audition room if you give them reason. Those words can be the difference between you getting the role or getting the shaft. I can’t tell you the amount of times I have had an audition monitor come into the room to tell me things such as: “That person is weird, don’t cast them,” or “That person wouldn’t shut up in the lobby,” or even “Whatever you do, don’t cast that person, they were a real A-hole!”

In this instance, your mother was correct. You do not get a second chance to make a first impression, and there are several moments when first impressions are made in the audition process. It begins with your cover letter or email upon submission. Do not submit to auditions from your cell phone unless you have no other choice. Yes, it is important to submit to projects fast and early, but not at the expense of your first impression. You MUST tailor your first impression, and it begins with the first communication. If your cover letter is informal, full of typos, or otherwise slovenly, then that is exactly how it will be viewed. Take the time to sit at your computer and write a professional, well written cover letter or email to accompany your submission. Proof read it before sending. Brief and concise is good, but clean and proper is more important. Use proper forms of address, and please use proper punctuation. If you can’t pay attention to those simple details, you are demonstrating that you cannot pay attention to details in the script, in the rehearsal schedule, in the direction you receive, etc.

Tailor your resume to the project. That doesn’t mean you should pad your resume with lies. It means you should organize the elements of your resume so that you are properly highlighting your qualifications for the role you are submitting for. If it is a theatre project, move your relevant theatre credits to the top of your resume. If it is a musical, make sure you list your musical theatre credits first. If you are submitting to a classical production, be sure to prominently place your classical theatre training and experience where it can be valued. It is also a good idea to include a line or two about those aspects of your resume in your cover letter or email. Make sure you have properly spelled the titles of shows, characters, names, etc. You would be so surprised at how many resumes I have seen where the actors have listed “McBeth” as one of their theatre credits. Yeah? Yeah, and NO. No one can possibly take you serious if you don’t know how to spell the titles of shows you claim to have spent several weeks, or even months working on or in.

You may be the type of person who lives life overlooking little typos and grammatical errors as “common mistakes,” or “no big deal.” That’s all good and fine for you as a human, except for the simple fact that the goal in this industry is to be un-common-ly good in order to become a very big deal. If your cover letter or your resume contains careless typos and errors, you aren’t going to make it. Perhaps your mother’s basement back in Oklahoma would be a great place to return to in order to consider another career choice. Tailor your attitude to success.

Tailor your clothes! We have all heard it before, but it always bears repeating: An audition is a job interview. Dress for success. That doesn’t mean you have to arrive in a suit and tie or fancy dress in order to get the role, but you also can’t expect to be considered a professional in your trade, if you show up wearing flip-flops and a RVCA t-shirt, complete with a mustard stain courtesy of today’s 7-Eleven hot dog lunch. If you don’t have the time to properly prepare and dress for your audition, then you don’t have the time to commit to the project. That is exactly what you are telling the casting directors the moment you walk into the room. It’s that simple.

Dress appropriately. Be sure to dress nice, but not fancy; professional, but not uptight. Be sure to wear clothes and shoes that will allow you to move well and make strong physical choices. For guys, a suit and tie doesn’t allow for strong physical choices, unless the role is established that way. For girls, skirts and high heels are a terrible idea. You can’t make bold character choices if you are worried about your balance, or your skirt flying up. If you have to be pulling on your clothes to keep them up, or keep them down – don’t wear those clothes. The character isn’t going to be constantly checking to make sure their skirt is down, or their top stays up. Character shoes are fine, but those sexy boots with the three-inch heels are best saved for the club scene, not the audition scene. Both genders should definitely accentuate their physical attributes, but don’t flaunt them. No muscle shirts. Don’t be that tool. No excess cleavage. You’re selling your talent, not your body. You want them to assess your abilities, not stare at your bust line.

Tailor your monologue. Don’t show up with the same tired monologue you have been doing since you learned it in high school. Don’t just drag out that monologue you still know from when you played the leading role in that one college production. Learn something new and specific to help you land the job. In a future column I will elaborate on the number and types of monologues you should always be “carrying in your back pocket,” as I like to say, but for now, suffice it to say: if that old tired monologue hasn’t been landing you work…. Duh…. Throw it out and learn something new. Tailor it to the project if you can in some way, and in case there is any confusion about my “back pocket” analogy: don’t show up with script in hand. Ever.

Take control of your career path. Take control of your image and appearance as a professional artist. Being hip or cool, isn’t going to get you the gig. Showing a concentrated and professional work ethic right from the start – with a clean and proper cover letter, a well-tailored resume, and clothing that bespeaks professionalism and hygiene – says to the casting director, the agent, the manager, the contracting producer, and everyone else on the job, that you are a committed and dedicated artist worthy of hiring and working with.

Steven Sabel has more than 30 years experience in theatre production, including more than 20 years in production management. He is an award-winning producer and director with more than 130 successful productions to his credit. He also served for 12 years as a community journalist and newspaper editor, and he has 17 years experience as a theatre arts instructor for adult actors and younger students: His independent production company, STS Productions, has produced successful theatrical ventures in a wide variety of venues for more than 20 years. In 2010, Steven founded the Archway Theatre, where he serves as producing artistic director.
As the founding artistic director of the Redlands Shakespeare Festival, Steven managed the creation and foundation of the organization from the ground up, and served as both artistic director and executive director of the thriving organization for nine successful seasons.