Networking. What does it mean? How do you do it? Is it even worth it? I’ll tell you right now: It is DEFINITELY worth it. You’ve probably heard it before: “It’s not WHAT you know, it’s WHO you know.” But really, more importantly, it’s who knows YOU. In any career, and especially in acting, it’s important to build a network of people who know your talent, work ethic, and personality, and can vouch for you to other people in the industry.
When I first got to New York, I knew very few people in my industry. I had a few acquaintances from college, and a family friend, but that was it. But I was able to reach out to the people I did know, reconnect with them, and build on those relationships. You see, the key to networking is to build a real relationship with the person. Don’t ask, “What can this person do for me?” Ask “How is this person doing? When was the last time I had a real conversation with them?” I had the fortune to reconnect with a college friend of mine who is also an actress doing awesome things here in the city, and our first conversation consisted mostly of “What have you been up to? How are you doing? Do you like it here?” These were topics of conversation that had very little to do with acting, and very much to do with our lives, and our respective feelings about life. And because we place value on each other as PEOPLE first, we’re able to celebrate each other’s accomplishments, and support each other. And the bonus to this relationship is that I was able to connect with professional actors and playwrights through a workshop that my friend connected me to!
My participation in the workshop led to my being featured in a few Staged Readings, reading Stage Directions, and THEN to a Staged Reading with an actual character, and NOW to the opportunity to portray that role in a full production as part of a play festival next month! My first appearance on stage in New York was ALSO a result of my friendship with this fabulous actress/writer/comedienne. And because I took full advantage of each opportunity that was presented to me, I now have quite a few more people who know me, know my talent, and know my work. Which is the second part of networking: Professionalism.
Once you have relationships started, you must behave with professionalism at all times. Arrive early, be prepared, do your work, and allow others to do theirs. That’s how you ensure that you will maintain your own good reputation, as well as enhancing the reputation of the person who got you the opportunity in the first place! Make yourself look good, and you make EVERYONE you work with look good. Of course, the flip side of that is also true: make your partner look BAD, you make YOURSELF and EVERYONE who recommends you look bad. So always strive to be gracious, professional, and the best version of yourself, and you’ll be golden.
Quick story: I had the BEST BIRTHDAY EVER, because my husband is the greatest, and we celebrated by, among other things, going to see Present Laughter on Broadway. Now, several weeks ago, that family friend of mine had connected me with an actress friend of hers who happened to be IN Present Laughter! I had emailed back and forth with her a few times, so we had enough of a connection that I wanted to let her know that I was coming to see her show! Well, wouldn’t you know it? She read my email and added “Emily Rahm +1” to the guest list, so Kendall and I were able to go backstage after the show! I was so excited, I could hardly contain myself. Kendall gently reminded me to calm down, and I thought to myself, “Right. You’re a professional. You can handle this.” And when Sandra came out to meet us, I was able to (calmly) formally introduce myself and my husband, and she showed us around the stage, and the backstage areas. (Seriously? Best. Birthday. Ever.) And even though Present Laughter is now closed, I feel confident that I would be able to reach out to Sandra in the future, and invite her to coffee or lunch, and maintain that relationship. Because she really is a lovely woman, and I hope that I get the opportunity to see her again, and to work with her in the future.
Relationships are the key to everything. None of us wants to be seen as anything less than what we are: human. Human beings with goals, dreams, heartaches, successes, failures, and our own unique stories to tell. When you are willing to allow someone to show you their innate human-ness, then follow through on that with the utmost professionalism, you will unlock so many opportunities for yourself, both professionally and personally. So go out there, and make some new friends! You never know what might happen as a result.