by Pamela Sparrow Childs
Welcome to THE YELLOW BRICK ROAD, an advice column for actors which once appeared regularly in SHOW BUSINESS, a weekly New York City publication.  I would be delighted to hear from you should you have any questions or concerns relating to you and the world of acting. Call or e-mail me. 

“The journey of a thousand miles begins with one step.” Lao-Tse 

QUESTION: How do I know if I have what it takes to be an actor? Signed: WORRIED


The first thing I would say to you is don’t be, WORRIED. Negative energy will only serve to interfere with your commitment to your craft. Potential actors always ask me the same question, which is really your question. DO I HAVE THE TALENT? I do not believe that anyone has the right to make that value judgement. And furthermore, it has been my experience that those who really want to be actors will find their way.

However, it is important for anyone considering the acting profession to understand that learning to act is a process that involves dedication. One has to be willing to invest the time, emotional energy, and money, to seek this goal; knowing, of course, that this business offers no quarantees. This takes fortitude, determination, courage, and a desire that knows no boundaries. This is why few make it to the top. I always tell my students that there are not thousands of actors out of work, as is always reported. All those many bodies claiming to be actors are really not focussed on their careers each and every day. They may get a headshot, take a class here and there, go to a few auditions, but they do not eat, sleep, and 
breathe the road to acting success. ONLY A VERY SMALL PERCENTAGE MAKE THE MANY SACRIFICES NECESSARY TO GIVE FULL TIME TO THEIR CAREERS. Believe me, it’s true when you hear it’s as much PERSPIRATION as INSPIRATION. 

Certainly each person’s goal is different. You may think victory is booking commercials and getting the good roles in community theatre productions, whereas someone else may have their sights set on going to NYC or L.A. and really “making it” as they say.

Maybe you don’t know as yet where you fit on the scale of commitment, but don’t be afraid to reach for your dream. Remember, it is always those things that we don’t do that we regret. TRY TO CONCENTRATE ON THE PROCESS AND NOT BE CONCERNED WITH THE FINAL RESULT. In doing so, your ability and ambition will become self-evident. If you think of your heart’s wish as a special journey, and trust that you will learn much from your search, you will reap the full benefit from your acting experience. And know this. Where and how far that inner voice will take you is really up to YOU!

QUESTION: I’m just starting out. Could you talk about PROFESSIONAL PICTURES and everything that’s involved with getting a good HEADSHOT? Signed: PICTURE ME.


The first thing new actors do is run out and have pictures taken. They do this because they are told they need one in order to audition, and because having said ‘picture’ makes them feel that they are really ‘doing it!’ That is, really getting into the business. Unfortunately, investing in a photo session is NOT the first thing the novice actor should be doing. Why? Because you do not want to spend money on pictures before you have any idea what you are selling. In essence, an actor is like a perfume or cologne. Just as each scent is different and must be marketed according to its specialness, so each actor is unique and must be photographed with individual effectiveness.

The most efficient way to discover your marketable quality is to begin acting classes. If you are training well, you will be learning about yourself; whether you are the Nice Gal or Guy Type, The Popular, Self-Confident Type, The Sexy Type, The Tough-Edged Type, The Comic Type, and many others. This information trickles into your psyche through your introduction to commercial copy, monologues, improvisation, and scene work. This process takes time.

Once you are able to label your predominant quality, really understand your commercial salability, and feel comfortable with it, you may then begin the process of deciding how best to show yourself. This involves your choice of clothes, hair style, attitude, and angle. You may use a full length mirror to assist you in your decision making. Personally, when I work with a student actor in this area, I put the person on the video camera where these choices of wardrobe, hair style, ANGLE and EXPRESSION (extremely crucial) are determined.

It is imperative you understand that going to a photo shoot is an important acting experience, one for which you MUST PREPARE. You DO NOT want to leave the above mentioned choices up to the photographer alone. Why? Because no matter how efficient the person behind the camera may be, he or she does not know you, your talent, or your potential. It is the ACTOR’S RESPONSIBILITY to arrive at the shoot well-rehearsed and ready to deliver a PERFORMANCE. Even if you are fortunate enough to have an agent and/or manager offering input, and involved with your choice of photographer, it is still vital for you, as the artist, to be aware of who you are and what you are selling. After all, this is a business. And in any business those who are successful understand their product.

Of course, choosing a photographer is also an important aspect of this process. Interview different photographers. Check out their work. Look for good lighting, complimentary backgrounds, and, most importantly, the emotional energy of the people in the photos. And certainly make sure you feel comfortable with this person. Barry Burns, a New York headshot photographer, with whom I have collaborated many times, wrote in the 

“The photographic conductor of your talent must not only be secure technically, but must also have a great energy to which you can respond easily…A good photographic shoot is not any different from a great performance. In a photo shoot moment to moment you should be free to discover something new about yourself and your art.”

You may ask. Why is my HEADSHOT so important? Because your professional photo is your calling card. Most often it is your only representation before you arrive. If that photo does not look like you, capture your quality, speak out loud with the vitality of your talent, you are seriously diminishing your opportunities. When you walk in for your audition and/or interview, you want the casting director, the agent, the director, etc. to see the individual they have already seen in your picture, or see corroboration in you of the photo you hand them. You do not want to hear, ‘This picture isn’t really you.” And furthermore, bad pictures may generate no calls at all. Often in this business you get one chance to meet someone who could make the difference for you. DO NOT MISS THAT OPPORTUNITY DUE TO A MEDIOCRE OR BAD PHOTOGRAPH… And remember… WHATEVER YOUR EXPRESSION IN FRONT OF THE CAMERA, MAKE SURE IT HAS INTENSITY AND COMES FROM THE HEART.

QUESTION: How important is SLATING? I just learned about it in an introductory acting workshop. I felt uncomfortable doing it. Help!


First, let’s define SLATING. It is looking into the camera, giving your name, your agent, and any other information requested at an audition. This is your file identification, so to speak.

Now, what should you do. Practice SLATING. Why? Because it is the first impression you establish on camera and you want to make sure that your effort is effective and memorable. Use a mirror or your own camera set-up at home, looking straight into your own eyes or the camera lens. Be watchful that you keep your head directly facing the camera. Actors often have a tendency to move their chins away from the camera. DON’T. And don’t slouch. Arch your spine and lean into, not away from, the camera. Experiment with different attitudes. Try smiling with enthusiasm, confidence, seduction, aggression, etc.  It is also extremely important to articulate. Every word you speak should be supported from the diaphragm. Also, do not rush. Do not slur your name into your agent’s name. REMEMBER TO MAINTAIN INTENSITY AND TAKE YOUR TIME TO MAKE YOUR IMPRESSION. The more comfortable you become with saying your own name and giving this initial information, the more effective will be your result.

Furthermore, you have two choices when slating. You can slate in your own personality, or you can slate from the point-of-view of the character for which you are auditioning. Now, of course, if it is simply a ‘go-see’ for a non-verbal commercial, then you slate in your own personality. But if, for example, you are the nice guy or gal type, but the part calls for a cheerleader type gal or a heart-throb type guy, you may be better off SLATING IN CHARACTER. Remember, there are many people auditioning, and you want to leave them with one strong impression; and, that should begin with your introduction, and follow with a similar personality as you enter the fiction and act.

You may wish to take note of James Dean’s attitude. As a struggling actor he did not wish to audition for anything but leads, or as he put it, “only roles that were important to him.” You may not have that luxury in today’s world, but you may apply the underlying philosophy. Feel important as an actor, feel as if you have something very special to offer, feel unique, and translate that feeling into the eye of the camera as you say your name. THE CAMERA WILL BE YOUR FRIEND IF YOU BEFRIEND THE CAMERA. Many say make love to it, caress it, beguile it. Just don’t be afraid of it. LOOK DIRECTLY INTO THE CAMERA, CHALLENGING IT TO CAPTURE YOUR MAGIC. And if you do just that, I assure you, the camera will embrace you. AND THEN, THE POWERS THAT BE WILL REMEMBER YOU.

QUESTION: HOW DO I GO ABOUT GETTING AN AGENT? I’m a middle-aged person who has done some community theatre and would like to see if I could start getting some professional work. Maybe some commercials, industrials, even a small part in a movie, who knows. I’ve always wanted to be an actor but life sort of got in the way. My friends call me a ‘pie-in-the-sky’ guy. Help!


There is a line in the movie, FLASHDANCE, which comes to my mind for you. “Don’t you understand? When you give up your dream, you die.” In other words, ignore the world and follow your heart. After all, the worst that can happen is that you don’t succeed as an actor. And certainly there are far worse fates than that.

Now, the most efficient way for you to proceed is to make sure you involve yourself in a professional acting class. Solid training, while you are stepping out into the audition arena, is extremely important. It keeps you focused on acting technique, and can be a supportive experience as well. Your teacher and fellow actors become a surrogate family, and class, the safe haven for experimentation and practice.

Next you want to have a good HEADSHOT. (See my column on Professional Pictures).  Then you want to create your RESUME.  There are any number of sites on the web with resume information.
Now armed with a super HEADSHOT and RESUME, a cheering section of fellow student actors, some, I might add, who are in your age group and have similar aspirations; you are now ready to enter the world of AGENT HUNTING.  (Secure a list of AGENTS from
Internet Sites … Refer to my SELLING THE ACTOR SECTION where I offer LINKS).  First mail your photo and resume along with an INTRODUCTORY LETTER.  And don’t forget to make this note intriguing, exciting, and entertaining.  Follow this with a PHONE CALL.  If calls are not accepted, or even if you manage to have a positive phone conversation but no interview, begin a series of follow-up PICTURE POSTCARDS once a week, with charming notes about yourself, expressing how much you would like to be represented by a particular agent.   DO NOT RELY ON E-MAIL BECAUSE IT ALL TOO OFTEN ENDS UP IN SPAM.  

Remember, persistance is the key.  DO NOT GIVE UP!  It becomes your JOB, your OBJECTIVE, if you will, to convince an agent that you are a valuable entity, someone whose picture they need on their wall, SOMEONE WHOSE TALENT WILL BRING THEM REVENUE.  It may take you six weeks, six months, or two years, but if you do not give up, eventually you will find yourself an agent.  And during this time, try to secure work on your own, such as an independent film, which would be good experience.

Now, here’s the really important part. ONCE YOU HAVE REPRESENTATION DO NOT LET UP. Make sure your AGENT is doing everything he or she can to get you auditions. Be aware of what is happinging in the industry, of who is casting what, etc. Be a healthy pest. Remember, YOU ARE THE TALENT. YOU BRING IN THE MONEY. So do not be timid, or lazy. Keep your face and your voice in the consciousness of your agent consistently. Remember, they only oil the wheels that SQUEAK. And your SQUEAK could take you far beyond your wildest dreams.