Showing up: JMU professor Julio Agustin’s advice for the working actor

Showing up: JMU professor Julio Agustin’s advice for the working actor

For Julio Agustin, an interest in the performing arts began with the piano classes he took in junior high school. “I was always musically inclined,” says the associate professor of musical theatre at James Madison University. He laughs when he remembers that he wanted to study either musical education or math education. When he failed math, the choice was easy. But he faced an immediate setback—he didn’t get into the musical education program his first year at Florida State University. “But when someone tells me I can’t do something, I want to do it more,” Agustin says.

This response has proved crucial to his professional career. “Tenacity is essential,” he says. Because “so many things go into casting a role,” he learned that when a casting director says “no” to an actor, it really just means “not right now.”

While there are many books devoted to the craft of performance, Julio Agustin recognized the need for a how-to book on making a living as a working actor.

“Just keep showing up,” Agustin says. Rewarding yourself with something positive after an audition, he says, will “reinforce that your job is to show up. You don’t have control over the result.”

While there are many books devoted to the craft of performance, Agustin recognized the need for a how-to book on making a living as a working actor. After years of acting, coaching and teaching, he compiled his industry wisdom and, with contributor Kathleen Potts, published The Professional Actor’s Handbook: From Casting Call to Curtain Call this spring. The guidance within ranges from tips on getting through auditions to writing a résumé, to networking and branding, to suggestions for alternative jobs that provide supplemental income. When it comes to the latter, there are two options: a survival job or a parallel job. The survival job is out of necessity, whereas the parallel job—a term Agustin credits to career counselor Patch Schwadron—may be just as enjoyable as acting. Ideally, the non-acting job will have a flexible schedule and will pay enough to allow an actor to be selective about which roles she accepts.

For Agustin, teaching was never a fallback, it was his first choice. But in order to teach performance, he first needed to learn how to do it.  He appeared on Broadway in Women on the Verge of a Nervous Breakdown, Never Gonna Dance, Bells Are Ringing, Fosse, Steel Pier, and played opposite Bebe Neuwirth in Chicago. He enjoyed performing in Chicago, he says, at a time when it was rare for him to enjoy performance. “Part of my makeup is I’m never satisfied. I’m always looking forward to the next thing,” Agustin says.

In The Professional Actor’s Handbook, James Madison University’s Julio Augustin (above) offers advice gleaned from years of theatrical experience on and off Broadway.

And this is why he felt compelled to write the book. Throughout his years as a teacher and performance coach, he honed his advice to students and clients in the form of a newsletter. “But I felt I wasn’t able to give them enough,” he says. “I thought I could teach better or reach more people if I had everything in one place.”

He began writing the book in 2009 with the goal that it would function both as an industry book and as a book that university professors could use in their courses. But in 2013, Agustin lost his husband of just a few months in a car accident. He put the book on hold, eventually moving from Connecticut to Virginia to work at JMU. “It was the perfect place to come and heal,” he says. Once he was ready, he again picked up the book, which is dedicated to his husband, and reached out to his publisher.

“A friend said to me, ‘This is a life book.’ The strategies relate to real life,” Agustin says. From developing a mentor relationship, to building a support team, Agustin—who hopes to conduct workshops and master classes in Charlottesville—offers thoughtful advice that can be applied to life on the stage and beyond.

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