Having been on both sides of the artistic desk (actor and crew), I can tell you that program bios seem to be the bane of every theatre person’s existence. The poor crew member in charge of collecting bios (usually the producer or stage manager) begs, pleads, cajoles and threatens, and yet trying to collect those seemingly simple sentences seems like a monumental task.
What is a bio, and why writing one so stressful? A program biography, or bio for short, is a short summary of a theatre person’s previous work, that is included in a booklet distributed to audience members just before a show starts. Bios are included in the program to share a bit about the people whose time and talents went into creating the show the audience is about to sit down and enjoy. It’s a peek into the life of you — a vital member of the show team! They’re generally written in the third person, unless otherwise specified.
So to help you get your bio in top shape, follow these three tips!
Keep it focused.
If you are the director of the show, focus on directing credits. Ditto acting, musical directing, choreographing, fight directing, designing, and so on. There’s no need to list every single show you’ve ever worked on, in every capacity, unless it’s relevant. If you’re a lighting designer, include all your previous lighting credits. Both lighting design and operating would be fine. But don’t bother including your high school performance as Mustardseed in A Midsummer Night’s Dream — in this show you’re not an actor, and honestly, nobody cares!
Think of your bio as a mini cover letter. You never know — someone might read your bio and think, “I want to work with this person in the future!”
Keep it truthful.
If you’re inexperienced, don’t be afraid to say it. It’s your theatrical debut — own it!
Include your credits appropriately. For example, if you were the understudy of a certain role, don’t say that you played that role officially — it’s dishonest. You can certainly list yourself as “Fiddler on the Roof, Ensemble, u/s Tevye” if that’s what you did, but you weren’t actually cast as THE Tevye. If you’ve been in the ensemble for a number of shows, just list the show title.
Don’t forget to include company names in your credits. Designing sound for The Wizard of Oz for Mirvish is a lot different than designing sound for your local public school’s production of The Wizard of Oz.
For younger actors, be sure to include correct versions of the shows you’ve worked on. This could be a Junior or KIDS version (MTI), Young Performers’ Edition or YPE (Tams-Witmark), or Getting To Know or G2K (R&H). This goes for adults too, if you’ve been on the artistic team of one of these shows — Annie Jr. and Annie are two very different shows!
Click here to see some example bios!
Keep it brief.
If you’re performing on Broadway or the West End, go ahead and list everything you’ve done to get yourself to where you are. But in the community theatre and school theatre world, 75-100 words is pretty standard. Most programs are fairly short (to keep copying costs low) and honestly, super-long bios just look pretentious. Your last three credits should suffice.
If you have previous credits with the company you’re currently working with, be sure to include those ones, even if they’re in a different capacity than the project you’re currently working on.
If you’re trying to shave words off your bio count, cut out anything that resembles “(Your name) is thrilled to be working on (insert title of show here).” The audience should assume that you’re thrilled to be working on this show… otherwise, why would you be in the show in the first place?
Certain familiar show titles can also be shortened if needed. Most people will understand shortened show titles like Phantom (The Phantom of the Opera) and Joseph (Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat).
Keep any special thanks succinct and to the point. You really can say a lot with only a few words!
Bonus Tip – Get your bio in on time!
When you are given a due date to submit your bio, do yourself and the artistic staff a huge favour — get it done and hand it in, preferably before the due date! Don’t make them chase you for it! Be sure to proofread for spelling errors too!
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