4 Steps to Becoming a Principal Actor on Stage

Q: What can I do to break out of the ensemble? Where should I focus my training energy? — Mariah R., New York City

Having been in several ensembles, I understand the desire to do more within a production. But I want to acknowledge that being in the ensemble has some incredible benefits besides the opportunity to be a working actor, like job security and the fact that the ensemble is often the busiest bunch in the show, making your experience much more rewarding at the end of the night.

But I get it: Playing a principal role means you get one of those coveted final bows and a private dressing room. If you’re lucky enough to be in the ensemble, there’s no magic formula to breaking out. However, here are four tips I can offer for making it into the principal spotlight.

1) Build relationships.

You need to constantly be building relationships with the people who are looking for principal actors, whether they know it or not. Meet writers, composers, directors, and producers in addition to casting directors. If you don’t know where to start, explore being a volunteer for writing workshops where they need someone like you to help develop work. This path gives you the time to develop a solid connection while also getting involved at the ground level.

2) Focus on your acting.

You can’t rely solely on your singing and dancing skills—you have to strengthen your acting skills. Become a regular in an acting class to stretch your mental muscles and get comfortable being vulnerable with all eyes on you. This deep inner work is essential to becoming a principal player.

3) Get repped.

If you’re ready to be a principal player and you’re confident your chops are at that level, it’s time to seek representation. You’ll find that having a team to get you in front of the decision-makers is essential to becoming a next-level player.

4) Learn to say no.

It’s not easy to turn down work or an audition. However, if your career is at a point where it’s realistic to go after principal roles, saying no to smaller gigs can be a powerful tool. You have to make space for what you want. Just be sure to know what you’re refusing, because you’re not going to win a Tony Award if you can’t afford to pay rent and eat.


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This article was originally published on Backstage.com on July 17, 2017.