How to write a professional actor's CV
An actor's CV plays an important part in a highly competitive business. Along with your headshot it is often a potential employer's first impression of you and might direct fate one way or the other as to whether they want to meet you for an audition or not... so it is always a good idea to give careful thought to piecing one together.
When an actor is signed to an agent, things like CVs are generally taken care of by the agency, as part of the service. They work from a 'house style' in terms of layout and presentation, linking you to their company brand and bringing their experience to play in designing a CV that is smart, stylish, clear and professional. Agents leaf through an awful lot of actors CVs, so they are generally a good judge on how they should look to impress. Actors without representation have, in many ways, the best representation - as you are general manager, artistic director, design department, secretary and product all rolled into one aesthetic and taste. You are free to consider exactly how you choose to market yourself and how your business correspondence and documentation will tie-in with your own artistic style. An actor's CV is a reflection of their work, professionalism and attitude, so it's important to take a fresh look at your CV every now and again to consider: What does this document say about me?
I can only offer my own thoughts on how to write a professional CV - other people may advise you differently, so it's good to ask around on any question about the business! I've tried to make the advice as general as I can - for seasoned professionals wanting to refresh their business identity to youngsters just starting out and writing their first CV. So, for what it's worth, I think if you stick to this basic format you will have a good, professional actor's CV.
It's a good idea to think in terms of one sheet of A4 paper. It's not a full autobiography and if the document seems too long it can be off-putting to the reader. Also, if the page looks too cluttered, incoherent or is too clever in design it risks giving the wrong impression, or worse, upstaging you! It doesn't have to list each and every last detail... it just has to inspire enough interest to secure that invitation to a face-to-face meeting or an audition. Of course, actors are artists and you may feel that a quirky CV reflects what you do as a performer. However, for the safest bet if you're unsure, I would advise sticking to a document that is informative but clean, neat and tidy.
Using a neutral, easy to read font like Calibri, Times New Roman, Arial, Georgia, etc. - list your information in this order of three sections, each section separated by a few blank lines. (Don't type the underlined, numbered sections in - they're just for our reference!):
*SECTION 1 - NAME AND CONTACT DETAILS*
NAME: Top line of the document and 'top billing' of the information. This should be made slightly larger than any other item on the page to stand out as it's the title of the business you are promoting. Use /BOLD/ and a larger font size as this looks neatest - try to avoid using /UNDERLINE/ or /ITALIC/ as... well, for some reason it just doesn't look as good. This is the one line of the CV where you can experiment with different font types... but be very careful. That beautiful Tudor-Scribble-Style one or the Gothic-Vampiric one might look exciting... but the thing that needs to stand out is your name, not the font. Clear, solid, easy to read... with both forename and surname on one line. Unless you're Cher or Meatloaf, of course... but I doubt they type their own CVs anyway!
ADDRESS: If you're sending your CV to a reputable casting director, agent, theatre company, etc. then it's perfectly safe and advisable to list your full address. Without wanting to scare anyone unnecessarily, however, be careful if you're sending it to a PO Box number for a potentially dubious looking advert in a newsagents window. If your mobile number or email address is listed they can get hold of you that way. Just use the same discretion as you would for sending out any other correspondence. And whilst I'm doing my big brother bit, completely off topic, if you're unsure about an audition or a photo shoot you've been invited to - take a friend with you or give your mum the address of where you're going!
TELEPHONE NUMBER: A mobile number alone is fine.
EMAIL ADDRESS: Make sure it's a professional-sounding one that's easy to type - try to avoid one that is [email protected]!
So, for example, your first lines of your CV might look like this:
10 Actor Lane, Actorville, SE10 1SE
t: 07800 000 000
You may choose to align all of the information from this section as /CENTRE/ or /RIGHT/ to make it stand out... rather like a headed notepaper might be. Be creative - but just make sure it looks business-like and legible. Then leave a few blank lines before moving to the next section.
*SECTION 2 - SKILLS AND APPEARANCE*
AGE or PLAYING AGE: Give your real age or give a five to ten year age bracket (e.g. 25-30) that reflects your standard, television casting. If unsure, ask people how old they think you look.
EYES: Eye colour
APPEARANCE: If you feel your ethnic appearance is made clear from your photograph you may chose to delete this entry... but you might decide to clarify, e.g. 'Mediterranean' or 'South American' or 'South East Asian' etc.
HEIGHT: In imperial feet and inches seems standard ('5' 6') ... or perhaps I'm just being old fashioned!
WEIGHT or BUILD: List your weight (e. g. '11st. 2lb') or give your build ('Slim' or 'Large' or 'Average'). Height and build are very important as a headshot can often be deceptive as to your physical stature and appearance.
HAIR: Colour and also possibly length/style if you feel it's appropriate to give details that might be unclear from a B/W image (e.g. 'Brown, long' or 'Salt and Pepper blonde').
ACCENTS: List your native accent first (e.g. 'Lancashire (native)') and then all following accents separated by a comma. Only list the accents you can do fluently and generally no more than ten. You can add 'a good ear for accents/dialect' as the final item on the list if you are a quick study and have a few extra accents that would pass for just a line or two of dialogue.
SINGING: Baritone/Soprano, etc. Don't give a lengthy appraisal of what a superb vocalist you are - they will want to judge that for themselves anyway. It's fine to list your voice type even if you are really only comfortable with a bit of group singing and are unconfident singing solo. If singing is really not for you under any circumstances, just remove this entry!
ADDITIONAL SKILLS: Clarinet (list grade, if appropriate), Circus Skills, Horse Riding, Basic Ballet, Roller-Blading, Fluent Spanish Speaker... delete as applicable! If you have a stage combat certificate, list it here. Also don't forget 'Full, clean driver's licence' if you have one.
TRAINING: List where you went to drama school, with the years you studied there (e. g. 'Guildford School of Acting (2001-2004)'). If you have completed a short course or Summer school training instead, list those - just remember to give clear details and year dates if you can.
So, for example, John Doe's might read:
PLAYING AGE: 40-45
APPEARANCE: Black, West Indian
HEIGHT: 5' 11'
HAIR: Black, short
ACCENTS: RP (native), Essex, Cockney, General American, Liverpool, West Country, Lancashire.
ADDITIONAL SKILLS: Basic Guitar, Experienced Stand-Up Comedian, CRB Checked, Clean HGV Licence.
TRAINING: City Lit. Diploma (2001-2002)
*SECTION 3 - EXPERIENCE*
This is where you can list your credits. Some actors have a list as long as their arm to choose from, so you might chose to be selective to tailor the CV for the specific job you are applying for, such as focusing more on your Shakespeare theatre credits if you are sending the CV to The Globe, or more focused on the corporate role-play work if you are up for a medical training film. Don't worry if you only have one or two credits so far - just list them and be proud of them. Casting directors know that everyone has to start somewhere, so don't worry. It's perfectly acceptable to list drama school credits although I would be selective about amateur theatre experience. It's an unfortunate fact that a lot of the profession is dismissive of amateur experience as irrelevant, so be very selective if you decide to include them. Remember, it's a professional CV and you want to appear as such. Some actors prefer to just list their fifteen most recent credits... other actors prefer to list their fifteen most impressive. Some actors have separate sections for THEATRE/FILM/CORPORATE/RADIO - it's all a matter of personal taste and what will best serve your personal pattern of experience. Also, don't be tempted to fib! You can be selective in how you present information to appear as impressive or interesting as possible, but be honest about your experience or you risk being found out!
List the credits on one line each, with separate columns for ROLE/PRODUCTION/DIRECTOR/YEAR/COMPANY. If you wish you can exclude the YEAR entry (glosses over that two year gap when you worked in Morrisons!) and you can list VENUE instead of COMPANY, if you feel that gives more useful or impressive information about you. List the most recent credit at the top of the list and work chronologically backwards. Listing credits onto an A4 sheet of paper can be rather difficult, so take your time to give each column the right amount of space so it's easy to read. Long play titles listed under PRODUCTION such as 'A Midsummer Night's Dream' or 'How to Succeed in Business Without Really Trying' can play havoc with getting everything onto one line... but take your time to get it neat and tidy... adjusting the 'tabs' or 'columns' settings as you go. If there's no other way around it, dedicate two lines to a credit.
ROLE PRODUCTION YEAR DIRECTOR COMPANY
Claudius HAMLET (Theatre) 2002 Jane Doe City Lit, final year performance
Man (lead) TITLE! (Short film) 2001 Paul Nemo Nemo Films
This is pretty much all the information you need for a standard CV. Once you have it all typed in, have a look through it and check your font size, line spacing, writing style and grammar are coherent and regular. For example, if you have listed a full stop after hair colour, make sure you have listed a full stop after all the other information in that section. Likewise, if one part of your credits is in capitals, make sure that style goes through every credit to make it easy to read. Double check your spelling, particularly of director's names or famous play titles... otherwise it can appear slap-dash and that you don't really care about how your CV looks, which of course you do.
And, most importantly, if the columns are all going wrong or the thought of operating a word processing programme on a computer fills you with dread, then bribe a skilled friend with a cup of tea and a bourbon for some help!