Brianna Hurley—Advice from a Young Actress

Brianna Hurley was a legend in Watkins Glen. Starring in Hop! as Bunny Sue, a rabbit who wouldn’t (hop,) the second grader sang, danced and acted. “I really really got the bug.” Decidedly not a stage mother despite being a professional costume designer, her mom facilitated lessons because of her daughter’s enthusiasm. Brianna credits her Grandmother Hurley, an avid Turner Classic Movie fan, with her knowledge and love of golden-era musicals. Her then long- haired father was in a rock band at the time. At age nine, Brianna’s taste advanced from Bunny Sue to Evita. “I wore out the duel cassette tapes.”

The Watkins Glen Show Choir, formed by an inspiring teacher, was the next regular opportunity to perform. “I have to give her credit, we did gigs—parades, old folks homes, Elks Clubs. I kid you not, we sang at the opening of the Walmart in my home town.” Asked why she didn’t attend a performing arts high school, the self-possessed young woman responds that she decided to have a childhood—advice apparently gleaned from an interview with Kate Hudson she’d read.

Coming across the bridge on a 10th grade trip to see the Broadway production of Chicago, Brianna clearly remembers thinking: I’m going to live here. She still has a large piece of silver glitter from the show. At 16, she entered a series of beauty pageants in hopes of winning money for school. She was awarded the title Miss Teen New York World of Beauty. The pageants gave her poise and performance experience. Her mother made all her dresses and accompanied her. Other contestants had entourages.

New York beckoned. Brianna graduated high school and for two years attended The American Musical and Dramatics Academy on West 61st Street. She enrolled in an integrated program of acting for musicals: acting, voice, speech, dialects, musical composition and four types of dance.

Graduating in 2005, she secured a year’s contract on a Disney cruise ship “after a million call-backs.” (source of audition information: Backstage) The cast trained two months (expenses paid) in Toronto where every prospective employee took a course called Tradition. About 20 performers had little contact with the outside world during their time at sea. “It was kind of lonely, but a lot of fun.” Brianna kept a journal, saved money, and honed her self reliance. She recommends the experience.

Back in New York, she went looking for rent-paying employment. She was a salesgirl at Urban Outfitters, then found a home at Off Broadway Boutique, which generously lets her out for auditions.

Brianna has become an ad hoc member of Brenda Bell’s Literally Alive, a New York based children’s theater company producing original musical versions of classic children’s literature. Beginning with Beauty and the Beast, she’s performed in eight productions thus far. Both Natalie Portman and Kristen Bell made their Off Broadway debuts with this company. Additionally she’s worked with The Brooklyn Theater Arts Project, The Bleecker St. Opera Company, The National Comedy Theater, and Be Bold! Productions. Between productions and her day job, she work’s for Ilene’s Catering and has managed to book some modeling work on her own.

She speaks from experience for all of you out there who aspire.

If it’s free, it’s advice; if you pay for it, it’s counseling.

When Do You Get Headshots?

“We got them the fourth semester at AMDA because we were performing in showcases to which agents and managers came. A first cost should be about $250, for which you are entitled to a lot of pictures.” Brianna now has one black and white shot and one color; one smiley/bubbly, the other more serious. “No character shots! Be who you are—show something behind your eyes.” She prints 50 at a time.

Where Are the Jobs?!

Like any newcomer, Brianna stood on line at cattle calls, checked in at 6 a.m. and waited. She suggests going to the Equity Building (165 West 46th) and signing up for whatever’s auditioning that day. Equity members have priority however, and you’re only seen if there’s time at the end of the schedule. This is apparently the most effective way to get an Equity show and your card. The best resources? Backstage (newspaper) and on which you can list yourself for a small fee, posting a headshot and resume. The service breaks down their members by type and sends out alerts. It’s been successful for Brianna, both in securing her auditions and in bringing her to the attention of a modeling agency—Style Elite.

Summer Stock auditions take place in December.

What About an Agent/Manager?

Brianna feels strongly that one shouldn’t go looking for representation without having worked, showing ambition. After five years, she’s looking for an agent. Interviews are sometimes arranged by professional level classes. The young actress is currently taking The Donelli Acting Class (cold readings/auditions) at Abingdon Theater. They’re arranging interviews. Additionally, postcards with a “nice note” should be sent out whenever one is in a showcase. Note: “Watch out for people who insist you have a lot of photos taken by their photographer.”

Recommendation for an Audition

“The best advice I ever got was to look like myself on a good day.” Brianna used to arrive at auditions glamorous in her perfectly coordinated vintage clothes (often with a hat) and bright red lips—until she received this admonition. She was told to look like her early twenties because she is IN her early twenties. It isn’t her personal style, but she took it to heart and is “working on cute.”

The only place success comes before work is in the dictionary—Vince Lombardi

Take classes. Besides the audition class, Brianna still studies ballet and jazz and is looking for a course that will put her in front of a camera. Work— for food, for experience, for credit, for free. “Do staged readings just to keep your chops, meet people, put on your resume.” Broadcast Music Inc. and ASCAP Musical Theater Workshops both use singers. NYU Film students are always looking for actresses. Brianna’s played a wide range of roles in five films, including the angel of death. “Anthony Hopkins said, Say yes to everything.” Recently, the young actress said “no”…to a magic show in which she would’ve had to appear nude. “I considered it for a moment because it made sense to the character, but do I want that now?”

Economy does not lie in sparing money, but in spending it wisely—Thomas Huxley

“If you accept New York costs money, you’ll feel much better. Too many young actors are miserable all the time.” A Metro Card is a necessity. Eat or buy at street vendors. Fruit and vegetables especially are cheaper and often better from the carts than grocery stores.

“I ate a lot of ramen noodles.” Pick up The Village Voice for free things to do and networking. and offer discounts to events and entertainment. Volunteer time to The Cabaret Convention and get into the shows. “We used to see three movies going from one to another in a multiplex, changing sweaters in the ladies room.” There are good, inexpensive clothes at vintage and consignment shops. “The best store in Manhattan is Off Broadway on West 72nd Street. In Brooklyn, it’s Urban Jungle, off the Morgan stop on the L train.” Hair stylists need models for training use-free haircuts. Use student Id for discounts. And remember the library.

The two enemies of human happiness are pain and boredom—Arthur Shopenhauer

Brianna considers the best advice she can give: don’t get bored. Take a class. Set a goal of how many auditions a week you get to. Create a web site. Make business cards. Go to a museum, a film, a concert, theater—get inspired. Read plays. Learn a new song—find the perfect 16 bar cut for auditions. “This is a career that never reaches a finished point, you’re always learning. Be hungry and keep that hunger.”

Today and Tomorrow

“My biggest goal when I left school was to be working in the theater and I am. I feel very, very blessed. Stardom’s fleeting. I’m very optimistic about the world, but it’s not always easy. I work very hard.”

Perhaps we’ll see Brianna accept a Tony Award one day. Until then, though she’s one of thousands of hopefuls in the epicenter of theater, this is a young woman with a good head start: a common sense approach to practical challenges, a strong work ethic, independence of spirit, a growing range of skills and body of experience, a singing voice that can belt (if requested), a knack for comedy and the looks of a diminutive forties pin-up. Briana is patient. I’m giving Broadway a “heads up.”

Brianna Hurley will be performing with Literally Alive in a completely original version of
A Christmas Carol as The Ghost of Christmas Past and Aggy, the cleaning lady.
The Player’s Theater November 27- December 30

In January, she expects to go back into that company’s original “avant garde” production of
The Phantom of the Opera, which opened in April 2010 and is on hiatus.

Photos, from top:
Brianna Hurley headshot (Hayden Lees)
Beauty Queen
Grease (Charlie Haeffner)
Cinderella and Phantom of the Opera (Chad Howard)

About Alix Cohen (847 Articles)
Alix Cohen is the recipient of eight New York Press Club Awards for work published on this venue. Her writing history began with poetry, segued into lyrics and took a commercial detour while holding executive positions in product development, merchandising, and design. A cultural sponge, she now turns her diverse personal and professional background to authoring pieces about culture/the arts with particular interest in artists/performers and entrepreneurs. Theater, music, art/design are lifelong areas of study and passion. She is a voting member of Drama Desk and Drama League. Alix’s professional experience in women’s fashion fuels writing in that area. Besides Woman Around Town, the journalist writes for Cabaret Scenes, Broadway World, and Theater Pizzazz. Additional pieces have been published by The New York Post, The National Observer’s Playground Magazine, Pasadena Magazine, Times Square Chronicles, and ifashionnetwork. She lives in Manhattan. Of course.