The infamous actor’s bio. Often the bane of many of our careers, this tiny little excerpt of text should be something simple, and yet it proves to be so elusive and hard to tackle for many of us. Today, we’re going to crush that challenge and show this pesky paragraph of information about ourselves who’s boss. Let’s figure out once and for all: HOW THE F#@$ DO WE WRITE A BIO?!
What Is a Bio?
Firstly, what is a bio? If you’re yet to be asked to provide one to a producer of a project you’re working on, fear not. Your time is coming. Firstly, a bio is a short (literally like, a few paragraphs, maybe 200 words, if that, you’d write a longer review for your favourite or least favourite cafe) summary of who you are and what your work is to date as an actor. It serves an important function. It allows audiences to look you up in the program of your show and find out “Who that actor is who I just loved!” It has definitely got it’s place and usefulness.
But, for whatever reason, these few sentences seem to cause a lot of pain and strife for a lot of actors. Maybe we’re too humble, and the thought of writing about ourselves rather than a character we’re playing is foreign to us or feels over indulgent. Maybe there’s an element of fear that we don’t have enough credits to fill out a bio. Who knows.
In this article I’ll outline a few thoughts, tips and tricks for making the process of writing a bio easier so you can get it over and done with and have one less thing to think about. I’ll even go so far as to propose a structure for an actor’s bio which you can use for yourself. Pretty great, huh? Wouldn’t it be great to hand your bio in as soon as you’re asked for it, rather than wait til you’re in tech rehearsals for a show and you’re still avoiding it? We’ve all been that person, right…? Or is that just me. Well, it’s definitely me, that’s for sure. Let’s get on with it.
Tips & Tricks
#1 Get to the Point
This is not an autobiography of your life, folks. Don’t do a Stephen Fry on me here. Your bio is a few paragraphs detailing the most important elements of your career and a little bit about who you are for the reader to get a little insight into you. Write your bio like it’s an old fashioned telegram. Each word costs you a dollar.
#2 Don’t Be Afraid Of Humour, but Be Cautious Of Trying to Be Funny
Lightness is great, but you don’t need to make a stand up routine out of your bio. Potential employers may be reading it. Find a healthy balance of professionalism and personality. This point is going to require some judgement on your behalf, as only you will know what is an accurate representation of you or how you want to be seen in the industry. Just, don’t feel the need to be anyone other than the person you are.
#3 Get Someone to Proofread It
Our ego gets so tied up in this exercise, so outsource. Find someone objective who can do a little bit of trimming around the edges or catching out any odd phrasing or superfluous language. A bio is something we can agonise over for an age; simplify the process. Swap yours with a cast mate to do the leg work for each other. I guarantee you it will make things easier.
#4 Gloating vs. Self-Deprecating.
Again, find the balance. Be aware of the reality of where you’re at in your career. Definitely don’t lie or exaggerate your credits, but also be careful of going too far in the opposite direction. Be aware of self deprecating language (I’m talking to you, Australian actors). Aussie actors, in particular, have a hugely self deprecating nature. It’s endearing and part of our charm, but a bio is not really the place for it. And, allow me to generalise here. I know that self deprecation has been an incredibly useful and valuable tool for some people in establishing themselves in the industry, (I just rewatched Fleabag, if you know, you know.) All I’m saying is that diminishing your career on a bio can actually harm people’s perception of you and your reputation. Be proud and strong of what you’ve achieved and represent that accurately on the page in a way which reflects your personality.
#5 Steer Clear of URLs
A bio is most likely going to be printed, and a link on the page just feels odd. If someone wants to find you online, your name is more than enough for them to do so.
#6 Be Specific About Your Target Audience.
In all honesty, my bio doesn’t change much job to job. Writing this article is a good reminder for me to actually practise what I preach. If you’ve reused the same bio year after year since you first wrote it for your debut performance at uni, I’d strongly suggest revamping it. Make the bio specific to the performance you’re currently giving. Include your connection with the company you’re working for or the story you’re telling. Give a background to the experience you’ve had with this type of work.
Another note on this point: be aware of the subject matter of your show and how your bio will be read in conjunction with that. If your bio really goes against the tone of the show or your character, it can have an oddly jarring effect. If, for example, you’re in a show with a really serious and dramatic subject matter, having a bubbly and funny bio might not be as effective
#7 Prioritise Credits
This goes hand in hand with keeping it short. You don’t need to include all the work you’ve done right down to the play you wrote as a 4 year old, (Though maybe that would be a cute addition? See, WHO KNOWS!) Keep your main credits right at the top, then move on to the other areas of your career you’d like to include. Avoid listing credit after credit, as that is only going to get your bio skipped over by the reader.
#8 Write in Third Person
There’s a big difference in the tone of a bio based on how it is written. Compare the pair:
“Hey! I’m Jack, I’m from Sydney and my favourite play I did was Hamlet in 2019…”
“Sydney based actor Jack Crumlin recently starred in… ” blah blah… you get the point.
Third person is a more professional and formal way of framing your work to date. If you decide not to write in third person, then just make sure you commit one way or the other. Don’t swap halfway through.
#9 Don’t Just Write a List
Listing your credits is a missed opportunity to share your individuality with the reader. Though it may be more of a challenge to write your bio out in sentence form, give it a crack. It’s worth it.
#10 Write for the Easily Distracted
What are we, humanity, down to now in terms of attention span? 6 seconds? 4? Who knows. It’ll only keep going down the more and more attached we get to our technology, but that’s a conversation for another day. Include your most important information right at the top, and prioritise your information afterwards in a pyramid-like shape. Don’t include some crucial piece of information about you in the last sentence as it will be the one least likely to be read.
So, with that in mind, here’s a potential structure for your bio. Use or don’t use, it’s up to you, but this structure may help to shake you out of writer’s block and simplify things a bit for you. Going paragraph by paragraph:
- Start strong. Give us the main pieces of information we need – this might be all we read. Your name, where you are based and/or from, and your main credits. Three primary credits is a good amount to get us going.
- Training background. Again, keep it concise and relevant. That cooking class you did six years ago? Maybe not needed in this bio, (I’m sure it was lovely). Include your training as an actor and anything else relevant to the production (Singing, dance, movement ect)
- Add some other credits. This is where you can fill out some of your career experience and include some formative productions you’ve been involved with. If you’re just starting out, this is a great place to include the productions you worked on at high school or uni.
- Finish with you. Round things up with a little bit of an insight into your personality. You might like to include any skill sets you have which make you unique, or if not just give us a few words which highlight your quirks and interests. Keep it light.
Ultimately, the bio is a quick insight into you. It doesn’t need to be written in iambic pentameter or be perfect scripture of a perfect actor, it just has to highlight you. The main people who will be reading it will be the general public attending your show. Write for them, and you’re more likely to appeal to the people with power in the audience, too.
Go forth and conquer those darn bios, and let us know how you go! It isn’t easy, but do your best to keep it simple, and don’t be afraid to ask for help or a set of outside eyes. Good luck!