During the barrage of auditions over the last few weeks for the New Vision Film Club, I’ve seen a lot of resumes, business cards, and personal information from actors, directors, and other entertainment types. I keep resumes that I’ve received in a secure place, and never give out anyone’s information without their permission. I’ve dealt with a lot of actors and their personal information when from my time as a talent agent, and I know how sensitive people can be about their private information getting into the wrong hands. And for good reasons, of course. In today’s day and age where media and entertainment stars can reach an almost cult-like acclaim, it seems like there are even more freaks and stalkers out there waiting to haunt those actors and stars day and night. And the use of social networking sites such as Twitter and Facebook make actors even more accessible (aka vulnerable) to the lurking overzealous fan. Fans and stalkers alike often track their favorite star’s every move. If you think about it that way it’s actually a pretty scary thought! Even outside of Hollywood it’s easy for a local actor to be stalked. Does this mean you should be hiring personal security, or even getting out of the business altogether? Of course not. However, there are a few things you can do that should make you a little bit safer.
1. Use a stage name
Stage names aren’t reserved for the uber-famous. There are many, many professional and amateur actors and performers that use a stage name for a variety of reasons. This may be one of the simplest and best ways to protect your personal information. Your stage name can be a different combination of your real name (for instance your first and middle name-in my case I’d go by Brian Jefferys), or something completely made up. The key is to use it consistently, and only for your acting work. If you ALWAYS go by your stage name when you perform and your personal name during the rest of your life, it should make it harder for potential stalkers to get any more information about you.
HINT: If you have aspirations of joining Equity, SAG, AFTRA, or any other union, it’s highly recommended that you make sure your stage name is available. Unions prohibit two active members from sharing the same stage name. It would be bad news to use a stage name for years only to find out that name is already taken by another member of the union.
2. Ditch the cell phone
OK don’t actually throw away your cell. But invest in a forwarding number such as Skype or Google Voice. Both of these services are low cost or free, and they allow you to create a separate phone number with its own voicemail and forwarding features. As an actor, you could set up a Google Voice line that will forward to your cell phone-if you answer the number you’re connected with the party, and if you don’t it goes to your separate Google Voice voicemail. This allows directors, agents, and producers to be able to get ahold of you without you actually giving out your personal cell phone.
3. Get a separate email address
This one is easy. Set up an email account that is completely separate from your personal email address. There are tons of free ones out there, such as Gmail, Yahoo, and dozens of others. Set it up in your stage name, of course. Many of them even have features to forward to your personal email if someone does write you, that way you’re not checking multiple email accounts every day. For example at my company Braedy Photography, the emails firstname.lastname@example.org and email@example.com all forward to my main Gmail account. When I reply back to an email, it gives me the option to reply back from Gmail or from the original email, so you can still choose to keep your personal email private.
4. Make information “need to know”
I’ve gotten business cards and resumes that have everything but a social security number and credit card number on them. Remember these are tools to introduce yourself and make yourself accessible to clients if they need to contact you; there’s no need to put your life history down on paper. If you’re a regional actor, just list the closest major city (i.e. if you’re an actor in Westlake, OH you list Cleveland), your stage name, your new forwarding voicemail number, and your acting email address. This is plenty of information if someone needs to contact you about a role, and it doesn’t compromise your personal info.
5. Start a fan page
Social networks make it easy for people to stay in touch with their friends, family, and idols. It also makes it easy for stalker to track your every movement. So make sure you create separate accounts for acting and personal. On Facebook, keep your personal account in your name but make it private. Then start a Fan Page in your stage name so you can post acting updates. Then legitimate fans can keep tabs on your work, and not where you’re going for Christmas Eve this year. Do the same with Twitter, and get a free program such as Seesmic Desktop or Tweetdeck to manage the multiple Twitter accounts.
With all of the above said, the key to all of this is to be smart. Don’t give out any information to people who make you uncomfortable, and if you have someone hanging around the stage or set, CONTACT THE PROPER AUTHORITIES! It’s frightening how easy it can be to get people’s personal information in this wonderful Digital Age, so always play it safe!