On Hiatus

Yes, really me this time. I’m taking a small break as I prepare for an interstate move. But I will be up and posting again in a few weeks. I’ll leave you with these thoughts:

1. If it’s not working, try something else.

2. If you are repeating yourself in a script, there’s a reason for it. Find the reason for the repetition.

3. If it’s after 11:00 at night, and it seems like a good idea, it’s probably not.

4. Unless that idea is to sleep. That’s a good idea.

5. Celebrate your mistakes. They are making you grow and change.

 

Catch you on the flip side.

 

 

I QUIT!

No, not me, silly. I won’t quit as long as you are reading my stuff. However, let’s talk about you.

Just to be clear, everyone in this business wants to quit at some point. At many points, in fact. Sometimes several times within one production. Within one rehearsal. It is rarely worth it and even more rarely pleasant. Let’s talk about all that.

When you are feeling like chucking the whole thing and becoming a debate champion, synchronized swimming captain or math whiz, you need to seriously consider that decision and make sure that if it really is your decision, that you do it in a professional and courteous manner. The first thing to consider of course, are your reasons for wanting to quit.

There are good reasons to quit. There are many, many more bad reasons to quit. First, let’s examine the bad reasons to quit a show.

BAD REASONS TO QUIT

  1. I HATE THE DIRECTOR.

This is a bad reason for quitting. You are going to work with some real pieces of work in this business, so you’d better start learning how to deal with them now. More extensive advice on that in another post. Your director is the one yelling at you daily, telling at your friends daily, being a raving jerk and putting up a crappy show. Maybe. But you are the one who will be either onstage, joining together with others to make a brilliant piece of art, or backstage, helping to create all the magic pieces that will make up that piece of art. You have accepted a responsibility and a privilege, very little of which has to do with the director in the most important moments. The director is temporary. Your mark on that production and the lives it touches is permanent.

  1. MY PART IS TOO SMALL/TOO HARD/BORING/NOT WHAT I WANTED.

I’m just going to take a moment to suppress my gag reflex. OK, I’m back. The Golden Rule is that if you would be happy to rock this part on Broadway, be happy to rock it anywhere. Because one, it makes the whole show better when you do your part to the best of your ability, and two, those are the parts you are most likely going to need to rock when you first get to the big leagues, so don’t start now thinking you are too good for them. No one, I don’t care who they are, no one is too good for any role. The most talented people are often put into the smallest roles. More on that in another post. If your role is daunting you, there are dozens of people around you who would love to help. But you have to ask.

  1. SOMETHING ELSE CAME UP.

Choir trips, desire for a job, friends going on a 2-week road trip, captain position on a sports team- lots of stuff is possible. But. You have committed to this production, and you need to fulfil that commitment. I know that’s hard when the Something is something you have wanted for a long time, is a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity, or is just really, really appealing as an alternative to the grueling/boring/frustrating work on a show. But besides the commitment you’ve made to all involved, you also need to build personal integrity by standing by your word, following through with what you have promised to do.

  1. BALANCING SCHOOL AND SHOW AND LIFE IS TOO HARD.

It is hard, for sure. And it is exhausting. And frustrating. But not impossible, and you are not alone. But there are some compromises you may be able to make; if you are a 4.0 student and that is super important to you, talk with your teachers. Sometimes one or two of them may be persuaded to wait for a certain paper or project, scheduled to be due during tech, until after you have opened. Some might even let you report on your experience in the show in lieu of another type of research or creative project. Others will be totally inflexible. But you don’t know until you ask. Try to make dates with your significant other (if they are not also involved in the show) that are short and frequent, or every other week for an intense bit. Or get them involved (don’t get distracted). Life… goes on. When you are in a show, it can feel like you are in a little bubble of another world and time/friends/experiences are passing you by as you watch through the stage door window. In reality, the show is very temporary (as you will feel on closing night), and you can and will rejoin those things soon. You may feel like you are not able to put in the time to do a good job on the show; again, there are people who want to help you. They want to help you run lines, fix dialect, drill dance steps, even tutor you in the classes where you are falling behind. But you HAVE TO ASK.

  1. IT’S NOT WHAT I THOUGHT IT WOULD BE.

Yeah, life seldom is. When you joined costume crew, maybe you thought you’d be sewing more. Or on lights, maybe you hoped to actually make artistic choices. Or as an actor, maybe it sounded easier or more fun than it turned out. The first step to getting rid of that feeling of disappointment and disillusionment is to forget about what you had hoped for and look at the good parts of what you are expected to do. Make a list of 10 things that you like about your job on the show, and then concentrate on really enjoying those 10 things. Again, temporary. And personal integrity.

GOOD REASONS TO QUIT

There are a few, and here they are:

  1. FAMILY EMERGENCY

When you have a major unexpected (or even expected, but hoping that it wouldn’t happen so soon) event in your family, sometimes you need to leave a show. If someone dies, especially a parent or sibling, you need time with your family to grieve and process. Sometimes you can want to hold onto your theatre family too, and you need the daily routine of being someone else somewhere else to forget about the pain, but I would caution you there. Go home. And if the event is that your family is suddenly going to need to move for some reason, that can be great and exciting, but makes it impossible to continue with the show. These kinds of things are out of your control, and there is nothing anyone can do to change the circumstances.

  1. I’M NOT SAFE.

If you are feeling unsafe within the rehearsal process, you absolutely need to remove yourself from it. Unsafe can mean several things; if you feel threatened, either physically, emotionally or sexually, by any member of the cast, crew, or production team, immediately report it to the director. If it is the director that you feel threatened by, go directly to your principal if it’s a school show or to the artistic director if it is a community or professional show. That is not your fault, and you will not be the last person that that individual threatens, so quitting only removes you from your immediate danger. The report can help protect other artists from what you are going through. If the danger comes from unsafe conditions in the building or set, or if you are being asked to do something unsafe onstage, such as a fight without choreography and supervision or a sexual assault scene without a safe word, a report is also in order there. If the danger is coming from yourself, and that is absolutely a real thing, pay attention. If you are feeling stressed to the point of self harm, like cutting, extreme dieting, suicidal thoughts, or other frightening thoughts, again, it’s important to get yourself to a safe place with safe people. Go to an adult you trust and tell them what is going on. You are not alone, and there are people waiting to help you to feel better and more in control.

  1. I’M ILL.

If you are physically or mentally ill, or become injured, and you are unable to continue with the show due to treatment; or if the circumstances of the show are too difficult for your illness/injury to bear- this is a good reason to quit. But listen carefully to your body. Tell the director, choreographer, stage manager, and anyone else that you care to share the information with about your condition at the beginning, if you know it. Tell them what hurts, what helps, and what and where your medications are in case of emergency. That can cut down on the possibility that you have to use this reason.

  1. MY PARENTS INSIST.

Again, this is out of your control. If your parents are forcing you to quit for academic reasons, to help at home, or as a consequence of other behavior or circumstance, there is not much you can do about it. If your parents have laid out quitting the show as a possible consequence for something, though, do whatever you can to avoid it.

CONSEQUENCES

Everything in the world has consequence. You need to carefully consider the consequences of quitting to yourself and others. Consider these before making the decision. If it’s a school production:

  • How does your program work? Does quitting make you ineligible to do another show in the future?
  • Are you likely to lose a friend or two over it?
  • Could your quitting make it necessary for friends and others to choose sides?
  • Might other people follow you in quitting?
  • Is there someone that you can think of who might replace you?

If you are considering leaving a community production,

  • How badly will it damage your reputation, and your chances for a future with them?

If you are in a professional production,

  • Read your contract carefully.
  • What will it mean in terms of your contract? Are you even allowed to pull out of the show for the reasons that you have?
  • Could you be sued for breach of contract?

And in any quitting situation, remember the universal truth that Everyone Talks, and your quitting will have an effect on your reputation, no matter your reasons.

So.

Having laid out the good reasons and bad reasons to quit, and the possible consequences involved, let’s just say that you have analyzed the situation and decided that you want out. At least do this right. Here’s how.

  1. QUIT WITH A CLEAR HEAD. Don’t storm out of a rehearsal in anger and never return. Don’t call a director in the middle of the night crying and tell her you can’t do it anymore. Wait till you are calm and clear, in the light of day.
  2. BE TRUTHFUL. Don’t lie and say your parents are making you quit when you are just plain bored. Your director will find out. Don’t ask how. They always do.
  3. SOONER RATHER THAN LATER. Do this if you are considering quitting for one of the Bad Reasons especially. The earlier you pull out, the less other people have to work to replace you. As an actor, your quitting means extra work for everyone involved- costumes have been pulled and/or fabric has been purchased for your costume, lights and sound levels are tailored to you and your balance in the cast, relationships onstage have been built, you may be involved in scene shifts. Not only does your spot need to be filled, but every single person need to put in extra time and energy to change the entire dynamic of the show. As crew, you are depended on by the entire cast, no matter how insignificant you perceive your bit to be. Your absence is felt. Everyone is replaceable, yes, but it costs time, money, energy, and emotional investment, all of which are in short supply on any production.
  4. DO IT IN PERSON. Do NOT send a text or email. Certainly do NOT send someone else to tell the director that you are not continuing. And under no circumstances should you simply disappear. Speak to the director privately (with another person to witness is totally fine), and not right at the beginning of a rehearsal when there are a thousand other things that need the director’s attention. A time outside of rehearsal, even at the end of rehearsal is better than the beginning.
  5. GIVE SOME LEAD TIME. If you are able to, give some notice. That way you can take on some of that time and energy burden getting your replacement up to speed.
  6. APOLOGIZE. No matter how good your reason, you are creating a rift in an artistic process. Even if you don’t feel it, say it. It’s professional, and you owe them at least that, if nothing else.

Having said all of that, now I’ll say this. No matter the reason, I know many, many people (including myself) who have regretted quitting a show, and I can’t think of a one (including myself) who was glad that they did. Consider that too.

Why Tech?

I’m going to recommend to all of you, if you have not already done so, to spend at least one production on the tech crew in some form. Why? Great question! You always ask such good ones. Let me answer it. Starting with a story, because I’m a storyteller, just like you.

I was a dresser on a show called Greater Tuna, in which two actors play the entire population of the town of Tuna, Texas. There were two dressers- one for each actor- and between us we made sure that these two actors made over 70 costume changes, none of them with more than 10 seconds, most 5 or less. Not an easy job, right? And absolutely NEVER made a mistake the whole run (in rehearsal though- lots of them. That’s where you make them so you can get to the perfection point). Anyhow, before the show one night, there was a backstage tour for some donors who had given a bunch of money to the theatre. The other dresser and I stayed backstage to guard our preset costumes, because one person messing with one thing could derail the show. So there we were. As the donors came through with their glasses of wine, one of them looked at me and asked, “So, do you do this because you’re an actress who can’t get cast?” I was momentarily dumbfounded (though that seldom lasts long with me), since the local paper had actually done a two-page spread story on myself and the other dresser on the show, revealing to the world how difficult a job it is. I recovered quickly, and, setting aside all the myriad stinging comebacks that leapt to mind, just said very calmly, “No, I do it because I’m really, really good at it.”  I did give him what’s known as a withering look, and he had the decency to blush.

Tech has a bad rep.

Tech crew has often been seen as the trough into which those people fall who fail at being onstage. Nothing could be further from the truth. It is also, in some youth programs, even used as a punishment- you are required to do crew duties if you are late or don’t hang up your costume. This is also a huge mistake. Spend one show on the tech crew and you will understand what I mean. Tech is filled with the amazing, creative, strong, focused, consistent people that no show can run without. If a cast is not solidly supported by their tech, it can literally fall apart. If you have ever been in a show with not enough tech people or techies who are not experienced or who don’t care, you know what I’m talking about.

The tech crew is responsible for EVERYTHING that the actors don’t do, and what they do do is to show up, learn their lines, and not bump into the furniture. What furniture? Right; the furniture that the designers have researched and procured, or the crew has built; that the crew is maintaining every time it gets torn or dinged; that the crew has reinforced so it’s safe to stand on; rigged for effects; that the crew is setting, moving to the correct spots, and resetting every single time it’s needed. That on the set that the crew and designers have dreamed up, shopped for, built, sanded, safety-tested, and painted. The lines are spoken through the microphones that the crew has mixed, assigned, continues to tweak throughout each performance, makes sure there are working batteries in and straps to the actors’ bodies. The story can’t be told in the dark, so the lighting designer and crew is making sure that everyone can be seen and that the lights are heightening and helping the story, follow spot operators keeping singers and dancers in tight dramatic worlds, and a stage manager timing everything perfectly. The actors walk out there dressed in clothes that the designers and crew have researched, chosen, bought, rented, built from scratch, altered, repaired, rigged for quick changes and effects, and that the crew will maintain and keep clean throughout the run. Makeup and hair has also been designed, and often assisted by the crew. At higher levels, hair and makeup will be done for the actors, especially when it’s high specialty.

It is not unusual for a show to have more tech people than cast members. and it’s necessary.

OK, at this point, you get it, right? The tech crew has mad skills, and as an actor, you need to respect them. But not just that; you really need to get in there. For two big reasons. First, to truly understand and appreciate what it is that goes into producing a show from the tech end of things. And second, to see if you have any of those mad skills. Because here is a truth you need to know: Tech skills are marketable. AKA, you can actually make money as a techie.

Actors have a very, very hard time making a living just acting. Usually you need to be able to do something else. You need to teach, or get certified as a freelance electrician or photographer or medical transcriptionist or something, OR, you can work in technical theatre. There is a HUGE demand for good stage management- if you find you are good at it and you like it, you will never have to look for work again. Ditto as a carpenter, rigger, fly system operator, or followspot operator. If you find yourself with talent as a sound operator or designer, able to maintain and style wigs, or a stitcher on costumes, you can also be in a really good position to fill your non-acting time with work that actually pays you something approximating what you are worth.

Start by examining your options. At your school, you may have a program that’s not very well funded or there is just little tech knowledge available, and you may have options only to try working on costumes or lights. You may have a program that’s more technically advanced, and you can take a technical theatre class, and choose what to do on a production. Talk to the director, I’m sure they will jump at the chance to have you on crew. If you want to go outside your school, check the websites of local theatre companies. There is usually a tab somewhere around “About Us” or “Work With Us” or “Volunteer” that will put you in touch with the person there who can set you up on a tech project. Depending on the needs of the theatre, you could be allowed to volunteer to help paint, or you might suddenly be in front of a light board that you know nothing about. Relax, you can learn just about anything. Most of us learn on the job, and the more jobs we do, the more we learn. Try several different things- if you can get a technical internship somewhere, you are GOLDEN, because not only will you get to learn a ton about several different areas, you get school credit for it too! Bonus…

If you like tech, and you want to be able to make it part of your master plan to make a living in the arts, you will probably want to join the tech union. It’s called IATSE, which stands for International Alliance of Theatrical Stage Employees. Check out the website. There are chapters all over the United States, its Territories and Canada. On that website, find your Local chapter, and check out their website. That will tell you what you have to do to join the local. There is often what is called Overflow Work, which means that there is too much work for their local members to handle, and they need people with basic skills to take on the extra basic stuff so that their members can get freed up to do the more highly skilled work. You usually have to be 18 to apply, but once you are on the list, you can get called to do all kinds of things- loading in and out for concerts and touring shows, moving big stuff around, and even helping to run big shows from backstage. It’s a good way to earn money, experience, and contacts. Once you have developed some amazing skills, you can take whatever tests are necessary to get into the union, pay your yearly dues, and then you have solid work. Some is hard, some is super easy. When you are first starting out, you should say yes to every job they offer you, and when you get further up the list you can start turning down work you aren’t interested in once in a while. But the union then keeps you working, protects your break times, overtime, and minimum pay, covers your health insurance etc. and is behind you in a dispute. It’s big grownup stuff.

Bottom line: Do some tech. It is rewarding, important, creative, difficult, necessary, and marketable. Also thankless, unseen, and often stepped on. Especially if you are building stairs. See what I did there? 🙂

 

 

The Fraud Police

You are discovering the interesting and somewhat terrifying truth that personality is fluid, can change and be manipulated to appear different in different situations. Such as, for example, onstage. That’s obvious. But you are also developing several selves for your day to day life; you are a different person at school than at home, different maybe at camp or with close friends. You may even be experimenting with putting on a character when you are out and about (I once had several co-workers at a new job convinced I was from Texas for a month before I dropped the accent and told them I was just working on a character). So that means… basically, you could be anyone, so who the heck are you? And when is Someone going to Find Out that you are taking basically your entire life? You may feel like someone, soon, is going to expose you for the fraud you are. Someone will figure out that you are just getting whatever awards or roles or public praise that you are getting based on luck and the fact that you are a sham. Here is the big life secret, OK? Are you ready?

Pretty much everyone feels like this, at some level, all the time.

Your parents, teachers, peers, bus driver, the President of the United States, all have that feeling that they are flying blind, flailing around and only figuring things out by dumb luck or other nefarious circumstances, and one day it will all catch up to them. The people who don’t feel like this tend to be psychopaths and sociopaths, people who have no empathy or awareness of the fact that there are other people in the world with them whose opinions of them are important. The fact that you feel this way means you are normal and healthy. That’s good news!

The bad news is that it doesn’t really ever go away. You will always have this nagging peripheral feeling that the Fraud Police are following you, and could at any time decide to pull your disguise away and show you for who you are. But here’s the really great news: who you really are is enough. You are truly and honestly valuable and necessary in the world, completely defrocked and exposed. That’s something you need to keep in your mind, whenever you feel like the Fraud Police are getting close, and that today might be the day that all the facades crumble: if and when that happens, you are still enough, in your purest form.

When I first started my professional stage management apprenticeship, I had a dream that I was at the stage management table with the stage manager and the Production Assistant, who was sort of my most immediate peer in the job. In the dream, the SM asked me to get something from across the room, and when I got up, I realized that I was naked from the waist down. I ran back to behind the table, trying to cover myself with my sweatshirt, and noticed that the PA was sitting there completely naked. It didn’t seem to bother her. I asked her, “Um, I’m naked, so are you, shouldn’t we do something?” And she looked up and said dismissively, “Oh, if they haven’t figured out yet that I’m naked, they’ll never notice that you are.” And I figured that was probably true, so I went about my business.

The message of the dream is, we’re all feeling naked and exposed, so most of the time, the other people that you are working with are going to be way more focused on keeping their own face on and their own act going on to notice if your face slips or your inexperience is showing. You are in good company.

The Fraud Police serve an important purpose. If they didn’t, they wouldn’t be a part of just about everyone’s daily lives. Their purpose is to remind us that we still have work to do. We are not There yet. That there are people counting on us for stuff that we need to do our best to live up to, whether or not we believe ourselves to be qualified/talented/experienced enough. That we are not the best thing in the entire world, we don’t know everything, we are not the Gift of the Artistic Universe. They keep us humble and working and improving, which is a good thing. It’s when they get in our way and stop us from moving forward that they need to be told who is the boss of you, which is not them. Thank them if you can catch them (PS, they are afraid of you, too).

There is a great song from a show called (title of show) -yes, that is the name of the show, (title of show), look it up- called “Die, Vampire, Die.” It does a super job of illustrating what it feels like when something truly amazing is within your ability and an opportunity presents itself. The trick is, once you have accepted the Fraud Police as your constant companions, how to keep them from interfering with your work and your progress.

Let’s say that there’s a show with a role that’s perfect for you, and you prepared for the audition, and you get a callback. How to keep those self-doubts away for long enough to do a fantastic job? How to freeze, for just a little while, the belief that Someone Else is probably better for this than you? That is a tough one, and it’s something that should definitely be a part of your preparation for auditions, callbacks, scene study finals, and any other times when you have something at stake. I have a few things you can try, and definitely get creative, see what works for you.

1. Give Them A Face. Part of what gives them power over you is that you can’t confront them. But you can. See if you can create the monster, give this entity a form that you can actually have a conversation with (you are not crazy, this is OK). My Fraud Police are in classic form, two humans in trenchcoats and fedoras, dark glasses, the works. Yours might be a wolf, or a space alien. A friend of mine has hers as a spotlight, ready to turn on at any moment and show everyone who she really is when the light hits her. Give yours a shape, and a name if you can. The more you can take control of them, the less they control you.

2. Coexist. They are not going anywhere. They will not leave you permanently, ever.  So you need to be able to know that they are there, and consciously allow them into your space. Like seeing the spider on the wall and leaving it there rather than breaking your dad’s basketball trophy throwing it at the spider. But you are in charge. Which brings me to my third point:

3. Give Them A Break. You can’t tell them to take a permanent hike, but you can tell them to go to Starbucks while you are in an audition, or have them go count the cars in the parking lot while you are performing, or that you just need them to take a shower while you are working on a scene with a new partner. Actually telling them, out loud or in your head, that for the next XYZ minutes they are to leave you alone, can break them away for a little bit, and you are free to be whatever it is you are. Which, by the way, is exactly what you need to be.

Fraud Police are like everything else in this business; a little bit good, a little bit of a pain in the neck, and a lot necessary. Good luck with them; make peace with them, they are going to be with you for a long, long time.

 

 

 

Terminology

I once worked at a youth theater program, where at the end of each rehearsal, we asked all the kids to put their props and costumes on the apron of the stage so we could pick them up later. They always did. The apron of the stage is the front part that sticks out from the rest of it, but we never explained that. So when I had a private rehearsal with one young actress and I told her at the end to place her mask on the apron before she went home, she just stood there, panicked. I reassured her that it was ok, I’d put it away, she just needed to put it down on the apron. She burst into tears, wailing, “I don’t know what that is!” For weeks, she had just been following everyone else, thinking there must be an actual apron around that everyone else was seeing that she wasn’t, and afraid that we were going to find out that she was stupid. I felt really bad, so I’m going to share with you some of the terms that we might use without explaining. This is not a glossary or an exhaustive list- there is one of those HERE, but there are some things that are even missing from that. This is just a smattering of what I’m thinking you will probably come up against regularly as an actor.

Ad Lib– Short for “At Liberty.” It means to make up lines that are not in the written script. Ensemble and crowd scenes will sometimes call for ad libs, some directors are against using them at all ever and prefer that crowds say “peas and carrots” or just wordless vocal reactions. It comes in handy when things go wrong.

Amateur– This term has several meanings, and you can take and use it as any. It can be to describe an artist who is not paid in money for their work, as the counterpart of a professional. It can also mean someone who doesn’t do a very good job, or doesn’t understand the business well. It comes from the same Latin root as Amour, or Ami, the root meaning “to love.” It came about as someone who does what they do for the love of it rather than for the profit. Which I think describes most of us, whether we are paid or not.

Apron– The front part of the stage that sticks out in front of the arch, toward the orchestra pit. Not all stages have one.

At Rise– The way the stage will look “at the rise of the curtain.” In the absence of a curtain, of course, when the lights first come up. It’s where everyone and everything should be placed at the very beginning of the story.

Avant Garde- Something daring or unusual, it can be a whole play, or a concept, or a set or costume choice. Something new and exciting and edgy.

Backdrop– A large painted fabric scenery piece, hung at the back wall of the stage. Something you will see less and less of as projections become more popular, but many theaters, especially in schools, still use them.

Ballad– A slow, dramatic song. A pretty song. Slow tempo, elongated notes, lots of emotion.

Ballyhoo– Moving a followspot in a figure-8 pattern, like a searchlight or a concert light.

Barn Doors– Little flaps that attach to the frame of a lighting instrument to direct and contain the light. They are hinged, so you can open and close them to various points, like barn doors. Hence, the name.

Black or Blacks- Two meanings- 1- The black curtains used to mask parts of the stage. 2- The black clothing worn by crew during performances.

Black Box– A small theatre, usually a large room (painted black, hence, the name) with four walls. Often there is no specified seating or playing or backstage areas. Those areas are built differently with each production. In some black boxes the seating can be configured in many different ways, with actors on the floor, or on a platform; the audience can also be seated on the floor or on platforms. Some high schools only have a black box, some only an auditorium stage, some lucky places have both.

Blackout– No onstage light. Usually at the end of a scene, act or production. Backstage lights stay on, and sometimes there is a little bit of blue light for a scene change to happen. A Dead Blackout is when the only lights on are the exit or emergency lights.

Blank– A blank is a cartridge fired from a stage gun. It contains basically all the components of a bullet except the bullet tip itself- there is gunpowder and a compressed wad of cotton, which is sometimes expelled with a shot. Blanks should always be handled and treated as if they are true bullets. More on that later.

Blocking– Where actors move during a scene. You will be blocked to move, and sometimes you will be blocked to block someone from moving. Go figure.

ClearCom- The brand name for the most popular headsets that stage management and crew use to communicate. Even if it’s not the kind they are using, they will often refer to any headset as Clearcom or just com.

Comp– Short for “complimentary,” a comp is a free ticket. You will usually (outside of school) get a certain number of comps for family or friends. You can sometimes ask for “professional comps,” specifically for your agent, someone you want to be your agent, a voice teacher or coach who is coming to see you. Those can be negotiated as in addition to your regular comps.

Cyc– (Pronounced “Sike”) Short for cyclorama. This is the big blank curtain-like drop at the back of the set in some theatres. It’s there to mask crossovers in the absence of a backdrop or other scenery, and to put special lights and/or projections on. Very expensive. Don’t tear or touch.

Denoument– Means “pulling it all together.” It’s the end of the story, when the climax of the story has happened and all the loose ends get tied up.

Deus Ex Machina– Greek for “God of the Machine.” Used to describe an unlikely or unusual solution to the main conflict of a play. It means basically a god stepped in and fixed things.

Downstage– Toward the audience. Stages used to be tilted (raked) toward the audience so that everyone could see the whole stage. Today’s audiences are raked and the stage stays flat; but downstage is still downstage.

Dramaturg– A person whose job it is to research the play historically and socially, and provide interesting and helpful material about the time the play is set, or the writing of it, or the social and political norms of the time, etc, to the actors and the entire production team. Read your dramaturgy packet, if you are lucky enough to get one.

Dry Tech– When the tech crew and stage manager will work through the show technically without the actors.

Dumb Show– Not the worst play you ever did. This is a pantomimed or danced mini-story. It is used most often in Shakespeare, but often used when a character is telling a dream or a story of importance to the play.

Equity– Actors Equity Association, the labor union for actors and stage managers. check out www.actorsequity.org for more information.

False Proscenium– Sometimes shortened to “False Pros.” The proscenium is the opening at the front of the stage; if there is something built onto that that changes the shape and size of the arch, that’s the false proscenium.

Feed Lines– To “feed lines” means to give an actor a line that has been forgotten. In rehearsal, the only person feeding lines should be the person on book. It can also mean to speak a cue line to lead into the next action.

Fly– And flyspace, fly bar, anything connected with flying. Usually not people- that’s referred to as “Foy” or “Flying by Foy.”Flying is usually meaning scenery, props, backdrops, etc. attached to bars (sometimes pulleys or other apparatus) that go up into the air.

Fourth Wall– You’ll hear a lot about this. It refers to the “wall” between the actors and the audience. Originally coined because of the three walls that encase the actors, the fourth wall being the invisible one downstage. Consider it more like a bubble that encloses the story, if you are in a different space. There are times when you are asked to “break the fourth wall” which means to go ahead and acknowledge the audience, speak to them or interact with them. Do not do so unless specifically directed.

French Scene– A portion of a scene marked by the entrance of exit of a character or group of characters. Directors will sometimes break up long scenes or acts without scenes for rehearsal this way. A French scene plot or breakdown will tell you exactly which pages your character is actively onstage, and is often used to determine when you are called for rehearsals. If your stage manager gives you one, hold onto it and use it.

Front of House– Everything that happens with the audience. Box office, seating, ushering, programs, signage for the audience, all that.

Gaff or Gaff Tape– Special heavy-duty tape about 2-3″ wide. Usually black or white. Can be used to fix or hang or cover just about anything. Expensive and not to be played with. NOT to be confused with duct tape.

Ghost Light– The one light left on at night, usually in the middle of the stage. Superstition is to keep friendly ghosts company and to keep unfriendly ones away. For practical reasons, it keeps people from injuring themselves in a dark theater while trying to figure out how to turn on the lights.

Green Room– The area where actors can hang out before and during a show. Originally painted green because green is a calming color. Seldom green these days. Go figure.

Ham– An overactor, someone who plays more for the laughs than to serve the story. Don’t be one.

House– The auditorium and the seats within it.

Improvisation– Making it up as you go along. A valuable skill, also an entire art form in its own right.

Instrument– A stage light.

Legitimate– An odd way to refer to a non-musical play, produced on a stage. As opposed to theater in the park, variety shows, movies, etc.

Linethru (or Line Through)– A rehearsal just for lines, usually no blocking or other movement.

Mark– Two definitions: 1. As in “hit your mark”- to get to the correct spot on the stage to do your thing, usually where the light is. 1. As in “mark it this time”- just going through the basic motions of a dance, fight, or stunt, rather than actually doing it fully. If there has been no fight call, or someone is missing or injured, you might mark. You can also mark vocally, if one is vocally tired or ill, or if you are going to be doing a song several times in a row for tech.

Method Acting- Refers to the Stanislavski Method of Acting; loosely used it describes an actor who taps into their personal experiences to endow a character, or who creates an experience for themselves to mimic that of their character’s in order to understand the perspective of the character. More on the Method later.

Paper the House– Give away a bunch of free tickets to bolster audience numbers. Done for a variety of reasons- low ticket sales, hope for a large word of mouth campaign, as a courtesy to the company, and others.

Pickup Rehearsal– A rehearsal after the opening of the play, usually the day before the next scheduled performance. Usually done with young casts, musicals and highly physical plays.

Pratfall– A silly, comedic, exaggerated fall. Requires choreography and fight calls.

Proscenium– The opening from the stage to the audience. Also known as the proscenium arch.

Quickchange– A costume change that needs to happen very quickly. Usually the rule of thumb is anything under one minute for theater, but it’s anything that might need assistance in order to make it back onstage in time, or needs to be changed backstage as opposed to the dressing room. For opera, it’s anything under 20 minutes. Not sure why.

Rake– Slope or tilt. A whole stage can be raked, or just parts of it. There are regulations as to how steep a rake can be for safety reasons.

Rig– A prop, set piece, or costume can be rigged, that is built to do something that it normally wouldn’t do. A costume can be rigged for a quick change, or to be “torn” onstage; a knife might be rigged to bleed; a wall can be rigged to be torn down or broken through.

Run Plot or Run List- The plan for how the show will run from backstage in terms of scenery moving, props being moved around, costume changes that have to happen outside of the dressing room. It’s a stage management responsibility, but any actors assisting  in scene or costume changes or anything else backstage should have and refer to a run plot. If stage management doesn’t give you one, ask for it till you get it.

Scene Shift (or just Shift)- Moving from one scene to the next, all actors, scenery, props.

Scrim– A translucent fabric used for special effects. The fabric appears solid when lit from the front, but effectively disappears when lit from behind. It’s really cool and can be creepy and/or magical.

Slate– When the actor states their name and the information about their audition material prior to auditioning. In silent film screen tests, an actor used to hold a slate with all of that written on it for the camera. Hence, the name.

Spike– Not in the least sharp or dangerous, unless it is missing. A spike is a mark made in colored tape on the stage floor to show where to place set pieces, large props, and sometimes actors.

Stage Right/Left- The direction on the stage from the point of view of the actor facing the audience.

Step on- You can step on lines, laughs, or applause; it means to cut the next thing short. Sometimes OK, but only if directed. Usually we like applause, laughs and lines to go on as long as they are supposed to.

Strike– Two definitions: 1. Taking anything off the stage. 2. Tearing down the set, putting away costumes and props, basically putting the show to bed. Always volunteer to help with strike, and do everything you can to help.

Swing– An ensemble member who understudies multiple lead roles. They usually don’t have a named character in the ensemble.

Tabs– Also known as “legs”- the vertical curtains that hang in the wings.

Teaser– The little curtain that hangs along the stage ceiling or in line with the top of the proscenium arch, usually to mask lighting instruments or hanging set pieces.

Tracking- This means many things, but in general it usually means to keep track of props, costume pieces, set pieces, etc. But it also means when a prop or other piece  comes off the stage in one place and it needs to come back on from a different place. Then it needs to be “tracked” from the one place to the other.

Tracking Sheet– Made by each actor to make a “map” of their movements, costume changes, prop needs, and any scene shifts they are assisting with. More on those later.

Upstage– Three definitions: 1. The area/direction away from the audience, toward the back wall. 2. To draw focus away from the action or another character. Flapping around in a corner can upstage a love scene down center. A wine glass at the edge of a table can upstage an entire musical number. A cute dog onstage can upstage the entire cast. 3. You can also upstage yourself by turning away from the audience to speak to another character or in other ways minimize the audience’s ability to see, hear or understand you.

Vom– Short for vomitorium. An entrance/exit point that is through the audience at the floor level, usually going out to the lobby or down to the dressing room area. The name comes from the idea that the audience area is sort of vomiting actors onto the stage. Weird, but it stuck.

Wagon– A rolling platform with scenery and sometimes actors that can go out as a ready-set scene.

 

That’s what I have for you. In general, like I said, if you don’t understand a term, ASK. Some things seem to be straightforward, but often not so much. So ask. That’s one of the ways we learn.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Auditioning Part V- At School

Happy New Year!

OK, auditioning at school is a bit different and a bit the same as auditioning outside. The same because you should always prepare, dress, and treat every audition as if it were Broadway. Different because due to lack of time and other resources, things are run differently in every program.

There is likely no posting of audition requirements. There might be, if you are lucky, but in general it’s best to go straight to whomever is directing the play that year and ask what you will need to do. Some want a full-on prepared monologue and song, some may want to have you sing a capella, tell a joke, or cold read from the script. If you are told “sides will be at the audition” it doesn’t mean mashed potatoes or a side of beef. It means copied portions of the script. That’s a “side,” and you’ll hear that a lot. I have NO idea why it’s called that, but we will get into terminology at some point later.

I digress.

Whatever you can prepare, do. If the play has been announced, READ IT. Get a feel for which characters you like or think you might have a good chance for. Especially if you have difficulty reading aloud without preparation, READ THE PLAY. Read it a few times.

If the audition is going to be cold readings, and you do have difficulty reading aloud- whether it is dyslexia, a stutter, sheer terror, or you are just not a great reader- ask the teacher if there is a chance that you could get the sides ahead of time. Promise not to share them or to tell others that you’ve got them, that these are just for your personal use to be ready because you have a difficulty that could really get in the way at the audition. This is a good thing to ask, not only because it will genuinely help you, but because it is showing that you have an awareness of your own needs as an actor and you are willing to do what’s necessary to give your best work, even if it is a tad embarrassing or whatever.

Resist the urge to have a friend audition “with” you.  Most of your drama friends will be there anyway, and depending on how your drama program is run, some have “a part for everyone”policy, and some do “survival of the fittest.” It’s tempting to do the “safety in numbers” thing to try to assuage nerves (look it up), but it can backfire if your friend is more nervous or more talented, or you get in and your friend doesn’t, vice versa, or a myriad other pitfalls. Go on your own.  Socialize if you like, but be there just for you.

Show up. On time. With your resume, even if no one else has one. Fill out forms. Listen carefully during the process to the director, to the stage manager, and anyone else in apparent authority.  Things can change quickly, and folks in charge hate few things more than having to repeat themselves six times about a change just to have the next 10 people have not heard a word.  Be the good one.

When the time comes for you to shine, shine.  This may be your only chance to play this role, so in your few minutes up there with whomever it is, play it like you want to play it.  Don’t worry about what the director wants.  The director will direct you if they want to, but first, play it to the hilt.  Read Michael Shurtleff’s book for more on this part.

THE CAST LIST

When the cast list goes up, it’s a sociology experiment in public humiliation. When on the wall at school there is a list posted of who got what and your name is not on that list, life is really difficult. It is almost impossible to mask your first reaction to what you see, whether it is joy, confusion, panic, disbelief, disappointment, anger, or devastation. It’s also multiplied by the Artist Factor. So. How to deal with the cast list. I have a few suggestions:

  • Ask the teacher if they would consider emailing the cast list to those who were called back the night before it’s posted so you all have a chance to digest the news and decide what face to put on it. I have made this a practice myself, and it works very well for me. It may be something they have never considered, or they may have some kind of policy against it. But it’s worth asking.
  • As with everything else in this business, preparation is key. Rehearse. Play the scene. Your name is not on that list. Your name is exactly where you hope against hope it will be. Your name is where you are really hoping it will not be. Your name is somewhere you never expected it to be. Your name is where you expected your friend’s to be. Try every scenario that you can think of, and physically walk through how you believe you will feel, and let yourself go ahead and feel that. Go through that disappointment, cry and whatever else you need to do. Feel that elation and surprise. Feel that total weirdness. Then decide how best to show, not show, or to escape those feelings when the list goes up. Practice that too.
  • You all want to be first to see the list. And everyone wants to see it alone. Both will not be possible. Understand that if you want to see the list with no one else around, you will likely have to wait till the crowd dies down, at which point you will probably have heard just about everything you need to know anyway. But if you need to avoid people and not hear the spoilers, know that and do what you can to avoid it. Or, do what you need to to be among the first crush.
  • You can have a friend look at the list for you while you wait in the bathroom. No shame. Then you can process your reaction in there with or without your friend for support, and if you are going to wet your pants or throw up, you are in the right place.

The one reaction I am going to caution you greatly about is anger. It is perfectly OK to feel like you were not treated fairly. It’s natural. Did I mention that NOTHING about this business is fair? And it is absolutely fine to believe absolutely that the director has made the wrong choice.

However.

You CANNOT telegraph that reaction in ANY way to ANYONE. Go into the restroom, kick the walls a few times, write “I HATE MY LIFE” or “MS. B IS AN IDIOT” a hundred times in your journal, go into your own backyard and scream about it, even call your grandma and vent, but NOT at school, NOT to the rest of the cast or ANY other students, NOT to the director. Your best friend is OK as long as you trust them beyond all probability that they will indeed keep their mouth shut.

Directors do make mistakes. It happens. But it is rare, and it doesn’t usually become apparent until well into the rehearsal process. You have to trust them. Not because they are right, but because they could be, and it is up to you to prove that they did make the right choice by entrusting you with the part you were given. Sometimes it is tempting to not accept a role. Whatever your reasons- you feel like it’s a waste of your time, you think you deserve a lead, you don’t think you can handle that large a part, you can’t stand the person playing your love interest- DON’T TURN IT DOWN. You will regret it, I can almost guarantee you. Take it, do your very best with it, and learn everything you can while you serve the story. More on that later.

You are not too good for whatever part you were cast in. Guaranteed. No way. If you would be thrilled to take this part on Broadway, in a major motion picture, in the West End, then you need to be thrilled to take it here. I have NEVER in my life (and I have seen a lot) seen a show where there was a person in there too good for their role. I’ve seen the opposite, though… and so often that’s because they thought they were too good, and didn’t serve the story. That attitude doesn’t help anyone or anything, only limits you severely and tells the director that they did make a mistake by casting you at all.

Circumstances under which you CAN turn down a part include:

  • A major scheduling conflict that you weren’t aware of prior to auditions- with your family, another sport or activity, whatever.
  • A moral or religious objection to what the character would be asked to do. A character who must appear in their slip, or someone who commits several murders, or who wears real fur as a costume. Though you should be clear about this kind of thing before the auditions if possible (that’s where reading the play ahead of time can help a lot…).
  • Your grades are low, and you really need to not do the show in order to get them up.
  • Your parents demand it. For whatever reason.

Notice, for the majority of these, I’m saying you are turning down the show, not just the part. When you audition, you are agreeing to do whatever part you are given.

Take the part. Do it like you are working in the best house in town. Walk away proud and happy. Otherwise, why are you here?

 

 

 

School Politics

Hope you had a great holiday.

OK, I’m going to just interject a bit about something before addressing auditioning specifically at school. It’s a bit of a different animal.

I would be greatly remiss in this blog if I did not address the issue of political situations in school drama.  I don’t mean who is class president or the senator for your state, I’m talking about the non-merit-related ways that a drama program is sometimes run.  You know what I’m talking about.  Teachers may have favorites, their policy is to never cast freshman as leads, it’s the same ten people in the leads every time, etc., etc.  I will attempt to explain (but not excuse) some of these practices.

Directors of school plays are usually teachers. Some private schools or schools with an unusually large budget for theater can hire a director from outside the school, but for the most part, they are teachers.  Drama teachers, some of them.  If you’re lucky.  English teachers with some acting background, music teachers who can block a scene in a musical, the choir director because it’s his first year and no one else wants to direct the play and he’s the low man on the totem pole.  Some teachers love it, some hate it.  You could get super lucky and get a professional or former professional theatre artist. Whatever their motivation for being there, they are also responsible a huge load of work, for which they are shamefully underpaid.  Seldom will a teacher get extra pay for directing the play on top of their regular classload. And they have to beg for help, where in theatre there is a team in place. The teacher in charge is responsible for the directing, costumes, sets, props, makeup, budget, EVERYTHING. Even if they are able to get an assistant or two, or parent volunteers, or student helpers, that teacher is still ultimately responsible for the success of the production. If anyone drops the ball (and it is likely that they will), that teacher has to pick it up.

It is that teacher’s name on the work. Their reputation as a teacher and as an artist depends on the quality of the people they choose to work with.

I give you the teacher sob story only so you can see how these unfair practices work for them, and, ultimately, for the school and the program.

A teacher with limited time, limited resources, and very limited energy, needs to have, at the end of the day, something he can count on. Something he only has to put a certain amount of physical and/or creative energy into to get a great product.  If he as a talent pool of ten or fifteen people who always show up, always learn their lines, never let him down, and always do their part in turning out a great or even a decent show, then he can cast them in the leads every time and leave them alone to do what they do well.  This gives him more energy and time to work with the less experienced or less professional kids in the smaller roles.  His risk factor, you see, is much lower if he casts kids he doesn’t necessarily know in smaller parts, because if they screw up a small part, it’s not as big a deal as if they were to screw up a big and more important part.

The way this works for the school and the program is that if the director has a solid talent pool such as this, the shows tend to be of consistent quality, that is, they’re always good.  More audience members come to good shows than bad ones.  The school gets a reputation for doing great shows, and lots of people buy tickets.  Money comes in, budget can go up, and the shows get even better as new actors are groomed for the talent pool when the older folks graduate.  It’s not a fair system, but it’s a system.

How to break in then? Be the person with the qualities that a director can take a chance on. Show up to that audition on time, with a smile on your face, dressed well, prepared as much as you can be, with a resume in hand.  All of that tells that teacher that you are serious about what you are doing and are willing and able to do what it takes to be professional. Then if you are cast as Villager #1 or faceless rabble, be the best rabble you can possibly be.  Don’t blow it off.  Volunteer to help larger parts run lines when you’re standing around while the third scene is being blocked.  Keep your eyes and ears open, and try to get the extra bits, too.  Walk-throughs, extra lines, understudy opportunities are all open doors into that upper level of the political scene.  If that’s how your department is run, make it work for you.

DISCLAIMER: By “make it work for you” I do NOT mean to get into backbiting and sabotage.  I mean to analyze what the director does and why, and decide if you can work within that system while keeping your professional and personal morals and ethics intact.

Know this, wherever you go: You are in the most unfair profession ever conceived.  Don’t ever expect it to be fair.  Also knows this: at some point, it will be unfair in your favor.

More next week.

Auditioning Part IV- The Day Of

The day has arrived at last! You are SO prepared, SO ready for this audition! But before you set foot in the audition space, a few more pitfalls await, so prepare just a little more.

WHAT SHOULD I WEAR?

Don’t wear black. It makes you disappear on most stages, and certainly doesn’t give the director anything memorable to look at. You don’t want your clothes to upstage you either, so don’t go outrageous. In general, you want to dress as if you are going out to a nice dinner, or to a job interview (which it is). Do a “dress rehearsal” of your audition WITH the clothes on, including shoes, that you plan to wear. You do not want to be onstage and suddenly realize that you will not be able to straddle that chair in that skirt, or be able to run without falling in those shoes.

  • Wear a bright color that looks good on you near your face, to bring attention there.
  • Wear something that is comfortable and makes you feel good about how you look.
  • Wear something that fits. Skirts that are so short that you are showing cheek is not appropriate. Pants that are slung mid-butt in the back are not appropriate.
  • Wear something that is clean and does not have holes in it.
  • If you have the kind of personality that says you wear bow ties, go ahead. Interesting knee socks- sure. Hair bows and other adornments- fine. As long as they do not overpower you and what you are doing. You don’t want to be known as Socks or Bow Tie. You want to be “The guys with the bow tie who nailed the Shakespeare.”
  • Wear sensible shoes. Shoes affect how you walk and move, as do other types of clothing.
  • Wear your hair back from your face. It may look great curling around your cheeks, or mysteriously over one eye in the mirror, but all it does is hide your great expressions and muffle your words on stage. Wear it half up if you really prefer it down, or with a hairband or barrette to keep your bangs from falling in your eyes. If your bangs are in that awful in-between stage, curl them up and spray the heck out of them so they don’t obscure your eyes.

Read the audition notice- sometimes it will tell you to be “dressed to move.” This will usually be for musicals, where the choreographer will test you out on a few steps, or even do a full-on dance audition that day. It’s possible that a straight play will ask for this as well, they might want to see you do some physical comedy or improv, depending on their concept of the play or their directing style. “Dressed to move” means:

  • Wear pants (as opposed to skirts or dresses), or wear spankies or shorts under your skirt. The pants should be a little bit loose or stretchy. Nice yoga pants are fine, capris are fine, dress slacks. Not jeans. Make sure you can bend all the way over, squat and kick without worrying about anything.
  • Wear closed-toe flat shoes that stay on your feet when you run, jump or kick. You can bring extra shoes if heels are important to your audition piece.
  • Wear a top in which you can stretch up tall with arms, bend all the way over in and twist right and left without worrying about anything.
  • Extra deodorant.
  • Hair DEFINITELY out of the way. Ponytails, briads, barrettes, combs, whatever you can use. Hairbands can often fall out or whip out during dance auditions, so I reccommend bandannas or stretchy bands that go all the way around the head instead.

GETTING THERE

Remember how I told you that the auditions are often not at the theater itself?  Make absolutely positively sure that you know where you are going.  Get directions.  Call that office and check that website and any confirmation email they sent you six times,  whatever it takes to know where you’re going.  If you’re taking the bus or subway, ride the route at least once before the day of your audition so you know how long it will take you to walk from the bus stop to the audition site.  Keep in mind that many lines have different schedules on the weekends, so be sure you’re going to be able to be early. If you are going to be driving, plug the location into a GPS or  a maps app, super great if you have one that checks the traffic patterns for you.

Shoot to be at the site about 15 minutes early.  If you are going to an appointment audition (that is, you have made an appointment, you go in by yourself and you have 3 minutes to do your stuff), plan to be there 15 minutes early, but keep in mind that they are more than likely running late. You may not get seen until quite a bit past your appointment time. Don’t mention it. Also, if you are early, and folks who have appointments before you are late, you can take their slot, get seen early, and look good into the bargain.  It’s a gamble that you win any way you look at it.

Bring a pencil, your picture, and your resume. Don’t fold them. Including the pencil. Make sure you have with you the phone number of the company in case something disastrous happens and you are running late.

LATE!

Don’t be late.

If you know (or even suspect) you are going to be late because your dad’s car broke down, you were struck by lightning, and your grandmother died all in the same instant (which, by the way, is the only reason you should be late- writing down the wrong time, forgetting it was this Wednesday, and bad traffic are not good reasons), CALL.  Call the theater office.  Call the box office. Call at least two numbers connected with that company. You will more than likely not get a live person, but do leave this message:

“Hello, this is Chris Brown, I apologize, I have a 7:10 audition which I am on my way to but I think I may be a little bit late. It is now 7:03. When I get there, I will wait for any slot which may come available.  Thank you.  If anyone needs to get in touch with me, my mom’s cell number is (555) 555-5555.”

It is more than possible that no one will get that message until the next day; so, when you do show up, you say, “I’m sorry.  I’m Chris Brown, I had a 7:10 slot.  I left a message a little earlier.  We got unavoidably delayed.  May I wait for an open moment to audition?”  The next day, when messages are checked, yours will be there.  Even if they kick you out or glare at you, they will know that you did them the professional courtesy of calling.  This counts.

There is a decent chance that they will be running behind as well, but DON’T COUNT ON IT. 50/50 chance that you get lucky and they won’t have gotten to your slot yet.

If you are late to this type of audition, be prepared for the possibility that you may not get to audition that night, or even at all.  There are “vultures” who find out about auditions too late to make an appointment, but who come to the auditions and wait until someone doesn’t show up for a scheduled slot.  They slip right in.  You, too, can be a vulture if you need to.  If you’ve missed your slot (bad), or found out about auditions late (not as bad), and you have the time, go ahead and hover.  It’s perfectly fair and ethical, as far as that goes.

If you are late to a general call audition (where everyone goes in at once, or in groups of ten or so), and no one notices, don’t mention it.  Fill out your forms quickly and quietly, and quietly find out from the assistant or another auditioner what’s going on and to whom and when you should give your paperwork.

SPIES

I don’t want to alarm you, but there are spies everywhere at an audition.  The person handing out audition forms is a spy.  The person answering phones is a spy.  The stage manager is a big spy.  These spies are looking at and listening to the auditioners for their attitudes, their “offstage faces”, and their comments when they think no one is listening.  The director may come to them after the auditions and say, “That young man with the glasses who read for Henry was very impressive.  What was he like out here?”  What you have done or said or not done or said in the lobby can make or break you at this point.  Be careful, and remember that you are auditioning from minute one.

YOUR NAME IS CALLED!

Breathe. Try not to jump up like you’ve won the lottery. Try not to wet your pants, throw up or cry. You may want to do all these things at once, but breathe deeply a couple of times, wiggle your toes, you’ll be OK.

Follow whoever it is who called you, and listen carefully to their instructions. It’s hard to hear with the blood doing crazy dances in your ears, so ask them to repeat anything you didn’t catch.

When you go in, hit your mark (go to the place on the floor that you’ve been told to go to- there may be an X or a line on the floor, that’s where you should be) and WAIT. The team needs a moment to look at your paperwork. If you are singing, you take this time to take your music to the pianist and explain where you are starting and stopping (which should be clearly marked, but this is a courtesy to them), and give them a solid idea of what your tempo (speed and feel) is. Sing a few bars so they get the idea.

The team at the table may ask you a question or two, they may not. Regardless, wait patiently and relax into the space, until they are all looking at you. Then you slate, as I explained in the preparation post.

If they don’t tell you “song first, ” do the monologue first. It gives the pianist extra time to look through your music and shadow play it a few times, which is good for both of you.

Do what you’ve been preparing for so long.

THEN WAIT.

The magic words are “Thank you.” You parents probably told you it was “Please,” but in this room it’s “Thank you.” Until you hear those words, DON’T LEAVE. They may have questions about your schedule, your resume, whether or not you dance, or if you have another piece to show them (which, of course, you do). When they have said “Thank you,” Then you say it back, GET YOUR MUSIC FROM THE PIANIST if you sang, and calmly walk from the room. On your way out of the building, thank all the people that you interacted with- those who are at the table where you came in, who walked you in, who are opening the door- and if you want to ask them when and how you will be notified of today’s outcome, that’s perfectly fine. They may know, they may not, but they can also give you an idea of who else to ask.

Then, you may leave the building. Congratulations! You’re done! With that part…

More to come.

 

Auditioning- Part III: Resume Writing

I hear a lot of excuses as to why a young actor doesn’t have a printed resume to hand me at an audition. A sampling:

“My printer/computer is broken.”

“We don’t have a printer/computer.”

“I don’t have anything to put on a resume.”

“I forgot.”

“I didn’t know I was supposed to bring one.”

None of these is acceptable. Here’s why:

  • You should have a stack of printed resumes ready to go, so that if your computer/printer breaks, it’s a non-issue.
  • There are free computers for your use at school or at the public library, copy shops, community centers, friends’ or relatives’ houses. You may have to pay to print, but it’s worth it, a small investment in your future.
  • I forgot is never ever ever a good excuse. Just sayin.
  • Always assume you should bring your resume. Even if you are trying out for a camp show, a school show, a church thing, a choir, whatever, get in the habit of bringing it. If nothing else, it’s really impressive.
  • You have something to put on it. You thought I skipped that one, didn’t you? Nope. Just left it for last so I can go more into it.

Start at the very beginning. It’s a very good place to start. Start with your name. it goes at the top of the page, centered, bold, in all capital letters, a fairly large font:

CHRIS ACTOR

Just below that, you will have your contact info. If you are younger than 16, don’t put down your personal cell number. Put your email address and one of your parents’ cell numbers.

CHRIS ACTOR

chrisactor@gmail.com

Mom’s cell 202-555-5555

Good start.

Next, list any education you have in the arts. It could be any class or workshop or camp that you have participated in, including school drama class and after-school programs. Nothing is insignificant.

CHRIS ACTOR

chrisactor@gmail.com

Mom’s cell 202-555-5555

EDUCATION

Youtheatre Drama Camp Summer 2014

Drama classes Springfield Middle School 2012-present

Piano lessons 2009-present

Ballet- 2 years at Ballet Guild

 

Whatever you’ve got. Now we get into experience. There are lots of opinions about how to organize your experience, most of them are right. It’s good to take someone’s resume that you like and copy that format. The date that you did a certain production is not necessarily important, but the role you played is, and the place that you did it. Do keep your stuff in chronological order, with the most recent thing you did at the top. Below is just an example:

CHRIS ACTOR

chrisactor@gmail.com

Mom’s cell 202-555-5555

EDUCATION

Youtheatre Drama Camp Summer 2014

Drama classes Springfield Middle School 2012-present

Piano lessons 2009-present

Ballet- 2 years at Ballet Guild

PERFORMING EXPERIENCE

The Wizard of Oz                      Munchkin, Flying Monkey             Springfield Middle School

Jack and the Beanstalk          Giant Child                                          Missoula Children’s Theater

Choir Concert                        Alto soloist                                        Springfield Middle School

Christmas Pageant               Shepherd #1                                     Springfield Methodist Church

 

At your age, pretty much anything goes. Any pageants, concerts, talent shows, parent’s night MC gig, camp skits can even do in a pinch. Put everything you can think of on there at first. As you gather more experience, you can start to drop things off your resume and pick and choose what you want to best represent you.

This is not the time to be modest! If you played four different characters in a play, put them all down! If you were in the ensemble of your school musical but had some extra lines or a special dance moment, use the phrase Featured Ensemble. Put down any time you did an understudy role, even if you never went on; you put down the character name as if you had played it, with (US) after it. The skills involved in all of those- multiple characters, specialty ensemble, understudying- are all really valuable, and give  the director a ton of information that they wouldn’t get if you decided to say “well, I was really just chorus in all those shows, so that’s what I’ll put.” This is where you have to exploit every moment you have spent on that side of the footlights.

Now we come to that most amorphous and sometimes the most entertaining part of your resume: Special Skills. The great thing about this category is that there are no rules! It’s a perfect place to put down stuff that you couldn’t put anywhere else. Here are the things you should definitely let them know that you can do:

  • Music reading/instruments you play
  • Gymnastics or tumbling
  • Sports you play
  • Dialects or accents you can do
  • Juggling
  • Magic
  • Foreign languages you are fluent in, especially ASL

Then, the sky’s the limit! Especially if you are auditioning for film and commericals, thinks like horseback riding, swimming, ice skating, able to stand on your head and sing The Star-Spangled Banner, whatever! I will often look at this section on a person’s resume first, because it tells me a lot about their personality.

CHRIS ACTOR

chrisactor@gmail.com

Mom’s cell 202-555-5555

EDUCATION

Youtheatre Drama Camp Summer 2014

Drama classes Springfield Middle School 2012-present

Piano lessons 2009-present

Ballet- 2 years at Ballet Guild

PERFORMING EXPERIENCE

The Wizard of Oz                      Munchkin, Flying Monkey            Springfield Middle School

Jack and the Beanstalk          Giant Child                                         Missoula Children’s Theater

Choir Concert                        Alto soloist                                        Springfield Middle School

Christmas Pageant               Shepherd #1                                     Springfield Methodist Church

SPECIAL SKILLS

Play jazz clarinet (2 yrs) and piano (5 yrs); basic tumbling (somersaults/cartwheels/splits); fluent in Spanish; yo-yo tricks; origami; can solve Rubik’s Cube in less than one minute.

 

Ta-daaaah! A resume! Print it, stick a fork in it, it’s done! Make sure to keep a backup. The very best way to do that is to email it to yourself, then it’s stored in a place that is safe and is not going to get lost even if your computer self-destructs or is stolen. Play with the fonts and the spacing till your resume fills one page (it should never be more than one page). Make it look the way you want, but keep those sections in that order.

Print at least twice as many as you think you will need, and keep an electronic copy on your hard drive and in your email. It’s good if you save it as both a Word document and a PDF, and if you have to submit your stuff online use the PDF.

Have at it.

 

Auditioning- Part II

Now that you probably have some auditions coming up to prepare for, let’s begin.

Prepare, prepare, prepare.  Overprepare. Preparation will save you. Even if you don’t have any information yet, get started.

MONOLOGUES. 

Most places will want at the minimum one monologue, at the most two monologues and a song. You should have, at the ready, four monologues and three songs.There is always a possibility that once you have wowed them with one piece, they will ask if you have anything else you could show them. If you do , it should contrast- that is, if they want one comic monologue, have a comic and a dramatic ready.

The four are:

  • 1 contemporary (modern) comic monologue
  • 1 contemporary dramatic
  • 1 classical (Shakespeare or other verse-type old fashioned) comic
  • 1 classical dramatic.

If you need help finding monologues (it can be very overwhelming), ask your drama teacher or any of your teachers from camp. If you have an audition coach (which I highly recommend, I’ll get into that in a bit) that can certainly be part of their job description. There will be some resources at the bottom of this post. I want to caution you against using monologue books or sites that are giving you monologues that are not from a full play. Those are usually not workshopped or developed well, and though there are some gems in there (I’m not discounting them entirely), it’s generally going to be a waste of your time. Look at plays, monologue sites that only get you monologues from plays, monologues in acting books or “Scenes and Monologues for Student Actor” type books that have pulled them from plays.

Memorize your monologues. NEVER show up with the printed monologue in your hand. Ever.

I will tell you that you will do a better job if you read the entire play, but you probably won’t actually do it, so I’m just going to allude to that in a slightly passive-aggressive way.

I cannot recommend coaching enough. A good coach will help you to make strong choices, help you understand your monologue (especially important on the classical ones), give you some solid blocking, help get you to work out your habits and tics, keep you from wandering, work on projection and timing, and so much more. Ask drama teachers, directors, camp instructors, call youth theatre programs and ask them if they have anyone on staff who does coaching. It won’t be free, but it is worth every penny, and most teachers will work on a sliding scale or barter with you. Right now I am coaching a young man whose uncle is a photographer, and he’s going to do my new headshots in exchange for three sessions with my student. A win-win-win. You can do it too.

As you get memorized and coached, start performing these pieces in front of PEOPLE. Not in the shower. Not in the car. Not in your head. Not even in the mirror. People. Who may or may not like it. Who may or may not care. Who may or may not offer you advice or feedback (if you are working with a coach, stick with what the coach has said). But people. Your siblings and parents, your friends, neighbors, people on the bus, your babysitter, the people at the dog park. You have to get used to owning it. The first time you do your stuff in front of people cannot be at the audition itself. Don’t worry about it “getting stale” or not “being super fresh” when you get there. It will be seasoned, relaxed, and above all, prepared. Proper preparation is all too rare, but when it’s there it is so, so wonderful.

SONGS. 

There’s another fabulous book you should read called Auditioning for the Musical Theater by Fred Silver and Charles Strouse (the guy who wrote Annie).  But here is what I will tell you. Prepare your song. What does that mean? Great question. You guys really do ask the best questions. Preparation means:

  • Memorize your song.
  • Have sheet music for your song in the correct key for your voice.
  • The sheet music should be clearly marked with your starting and ending points, and hole punched in a 3-ring binder. You can use plastic sheet protectors if you want, but if you do, get the matte finish ones so that the pianist doesn’t deal with glare.
  • Practice it before the audition WITH ACCOMPANIMENT.  Your music teacher or choir director or piano teacher or uncle or friend or mom’s friend would be flattered and happy to go through your song a few times with you so you are comfortable with the accompaniment.  No matter how well you sing it in the shower, in the car, with the CD, while doing laundry, whatever, the accompaniment will throw you every time unless you have honestly prepared it with someone playing.

Playing for yourself doesn’t count.  You need to work with a coach on a song too. It’s a monologue set to music. Remember that your acting should begin on the music, not the words, and end the same way. Tell the story.

Sometimes you only are allowed 16 bars or 32 bars of music. Find the best 16 bars in your song, that show off your voice the most, and let you act as well. It’s OK if it doesn’t necessarily make total sense that you are picking up in the most dramatic point in the song. That’s something the auditors know is likely to happen. They do that on purpose, in fact; it saves them time. It is very likely that they will know the song you are singing as soon as you start, but what they want to know is if you can do the hardest part of that song. You’re just saving them the time of sitting through the rest of the song to get to that high or loud or difficult bit.

DO NOT show up for a musical audition asking to be able to stand with the pianist to read words, asking to carry the music with you, or asking to sing a capella.  Likewise, DO NOT finish a particularly disastrous song with the comment, “well, that’s not how it sounds on the recording.”  For shame.

PIC AND RES.

Get your picture and your resume together.  A lot of companies will say to you, “bring a picture and resume if you have it.”  Some folks take this to mean that a picture and resume is optional. It does not. It simply means that if you show up without one, they will still let you audition.  Many companies won’t, and more are adopting this policy every day.  If a role came down, talent-wise, to two individuals, one came with a picture and resume and one didn’t, chances are it’s going to the one who did their homework and came professionally prepared.  Your picture need not and should not be an 8×10 glossy that cost your parents $200 to have done.  Your school picture will do very nicely, and you should get about 30 laser copies put on card stock at your local copy shop.  This will cost between $15-$35, and worth every penny.  Color or black and white are accepted now- I’d opt for color if you can. While you’re there, you can get your resume put on the back of that card, or just get it copied onto really nice paper.

I will address resume writing in a separate post.

If you don’t have a school picture, go to Sears or JCPenney or some other fairly inexpensive portrait studio and get good pictures taken.  Or have someone in your family take some good quality shots of you. The pictures need to show at a minimum your whole face, a smile (you don’t need to show teeth if you’d rather not- braces will come off eventually), and they need to look like you. The pictures that we usually like the best are the ones that minimize our flaws- and there’s nothing wrong with covering bad skin or using a closed-mouth smile to cover bad teeth. But when you use a picture because it was the thinnest you ever looked, or you can’t even tell how big your nose is, or because you look just like someone else that you admire- that works against you. The purpose is to remind the director later who you were, what you looked like, and how you would look next to other people in his dream cast.

Keep an electronic copy of your headshot on your computer and a copy on a flash drive. Some places have you submit your headshot and resume via email ahead of time, and also will need the picture emailed for the program later.

If you already have headshots, and you look significantly different now, get new ones. If you just cut your hair short  and it’s long in the photo, use a different photo. If you got the shots done without your glasses on, either get shots done with the glasses or audition without them.

DO-NOT-GO-TO-GLAMOUR-SHOTS or any other place that does your makeup and hair and shoots you with a filter and a cloud of feathers and other props.  Just you.  If the director, going through the headshots when putting together his callback list, looks at a picture of a streetwalker in a haze, he’ll go right past it saying, “where’s that one cute young girl with the red hair and big smile?” and your opportunity is lost.  Keep it simple.

OK? Get started on that. Now. Go.

RESOURCES:

Stage Agent.com can help you track down a good monologue. You should pay for a membership, but you can get just the text of the monologues for free.

The Monologuer  is a similar site.That one you have to join to get the text, but you can get the titles of plays that will contain monologues appropriate for you.

The Daily Actor.com Has a very good database of monologues from both plays and films. You can get the text for free.

The Monologue Archive is a super resource for classic monologues, especially if you want alternatives to Shakespeare. These are free, they are all public domain.

The College Audition Blog Has a great listing of songs for teens-20’s, including the books they can be  found in.

MusicNotes.com   Has a decent listing, plus you can download the sheet music (for a small fee) in the correct key for you. It’s definitely cheaper than buying a whole book to get the one song you want, and then having to get it transposed for you.

Stage Agent.com Also has songs. You will have to pay for the music, but again, worth it. It also gives you a YouTube of the song in performance, which helps tons with context and interpretation.