If you want a reply to a letter (and/or return of your photograph), you should enclose a sae. One second-class stamp doesn’t cost much, but several hundred will add considerably to your budget, let alone the stationary and time costs. Even if you have enclosed a sae, the recipient may well have been frantically busy ever since you wrote and only just found a little bit of time to go through the accumulating letters from actors. You can easily wait several months, and some people don’t reply at all despite your sae. Unfair, but it happens – even when an advertisement has requested one.
In fact, I don’t think the traditional sae is really worth it. All this really does is elicit confirmation that your letter/email actually arrived. If someone is interested in you, they will get back to you anyway – via phone or email.
Many organisations have standard responses from those who send one: these are almost always quite pleasant but finally noncommittal. Some actors take sentences like, ‘We will consider you when we are next casting’ too much at face value. In general that means ‘No, not for at least the next six months’, but I have known people use it to blitz me with letters (and emails) saying that I had promised to see them when all I have said is that I would ‘consider them’. The problem is that, at heart, most people are too soft in this area and cannot write an outright ‘no’ to an actor.
If you want your photograph back, you must enclose an envelope that’s big enough. A surprising number of people don’t.
There is no point in replying immediately to a ‘standard’ response. All it means is that your details have been filed and that file might be looked at and even referred to at some time in the future. You have done all you can for now. Write again, with a fresh CV and photograph, in about six months. The exception to this rule is when your research turns up an opportunity for you to suggest yourself for specific casting.
If you’ve had some kind of positive response you think worth following up, never hassle but do gently remind. Always write to follow up; never phone (or email) unless specifically requested to do so. And don’t keep on writing every month as some people do – you are only adding to the recipient’s guilt complex, and you are even less likely to be seen. A gentle hint in about six months is probably the best approach, unless you feel that you can genuinely suggest yourself for a specific piece of casting.
It can be a good idea to send out reminder cards – especially to people you know. A simple postcard with basic details (of your current production, for instance) is perfectly sufficient and is quick and simple to read. You can get these made up with your photograph and contact details incorporated.
It is important to keep records of what you’ve said to whom and any responses (written or verbal) for at least two years so you don’t get caught repeating yourself.
The success or failure of your letter-writing can also depend on when you write. Of course you’ll write when you discover there’s a particular part you’d be right for, but it can also be worth writing in general terms. For instance, directors of theatres seem to be at their most receptive when they first take over, that is, in that honeymoon period when they are optimistic that the inherent financial problems can be solved. The same tends to be true after a well-earned holiday.
There are also times when you can reduce your chances, like just before Christmas and at other specifically busy times of year in that particular company’s calendar. You should try to keep in touch with each organisation’s pattern of work via Actors’ Yearbook, The Stage, websites, etc. to work out optimum times for contact – if any.
Always write with something positive to say and with a strong sense of purpose.
From An Actor's Guide to Getting Work, Fifth Edition, Methuen Drama (Bloomsbury)