How to Get Started In Acting

So, you want to be in show biz? The best way to get your feet wet is to jump in. But you may want to start with a fairly shallow pond.

Michael LaVolpe, starring in a nationally touring production of "Peter Pan," says his approach was to go "to as many auditions as I could." He figured "I was bound to get something."

Michael's mom, Kathy LaVolpe, recommends trying out for a local community theater, the way Michael did. That way, she says, you can "see the hours involved and the commitment involved on a smaller level," and see if it's something you really like.

Linda Newton agrees. She teaches acting to teens at Boston's Actors Workshop. You can also take an acting class or try out for a play at school.

Acting can be a big commitment. Ms. Newton's students spend four hours on Saturdays taking acting lessons. "Some of the teens are kind of naive about all the hard work that goes into [acting]," she says. "You can't just jump up on stage or jump in front of a camera. It's a craft that takes years to hone."

In her classes, she emphasizes improvisation and acting games, as well as such plays as "Alice in Wonderland" and fairy tales.

What are the qualities she looks for in a student? Blond hair, a perfect body ... just kidding! In fact, "movie-star looks" are nowhere on her list. She says successful students share these qualities: a willingness to learn, a respect for themselves and the theater, and an open mind.

"Acting is a lot about giving," she says. "So the more kind-hearted you are, the more open you are," and the better you'll do.

If your budget doesn't stretch to cover acting lessons, community theater is a good way to go, Newton says. "Go into a play, and learn by doing."

As far as Michael LaVolpe is concerned, there's no substitute for experience. "The best training you can have is doing a show," he says. "There's only so much you can learn from going to acting lessons."

Part of "really doing it" is auditioning, which can be tough - especially if you don't get the part.

"We made it clear to Michael that there would be times when he didn't get the part," his mom says, "and shouldn't take it personally. But he's always able to get past [the disappointment]. If it tore him up ... we would probably put our foot down" and make him stop. "But, if anything, we've had to slow him down."

When it comes to parents of young actors, both Newton and Mrs. LaVolpe agree it's important not to push. "If a kid says he's had enough, walk away from it, no matter how far you've gotten involved," LaVolpe says.

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