Tuesday, May 26, 2009

Who am I anyway?

Am I my resume? That is a picture of a person I don't know.

So as most of you know, those are lyrics from the opening of A CHORUS LINE. I often think of them on audition days (appropriate I guess), but today, I was especially mindful of them as I came back with a marathon day of auditions. I got appointments for all three EPA's that I wanted to go to (one for a new musical, one for the Broadway revival of FINIAN'S RAINBOW and one for the season at Gateway Playhouse). The first two...not so hot. I couldn't help but think that some of the criticism that I have received from industry folks lately had infiltrated my subconscious and caused me to choose material and present myself in a way that I normally wouldn't. Now that would be fine if I felt good about it, but I didn't. To be honest, I felt like I was having an out-of-body experience. I was watching myself as I sang my songs - and I saw myself with a strange focus, not moving at all - sort of like an animated corpse. Me? A corpse?

So, I was kinda disappointed with myself and thinking about the lyrics above and then, by some fate, I ran into a friend of mine, who asked me to listen to her audition as she was trying out a new song. When she came out, she asked me what I thought. "I love it!" I said. "And I've never heard it but it has great range and is really quirky!" She got a big smile on her face and said, "You know...I've decided that it's time I embrace my quirk!"

"Embrace my quirk!" "Embrace my quirk!"

I told her immediately that I LOVE IT and that I was stealing it as my new mantra! I realized in that moment that I DO know who that person is in my picture! I DO represent those rolls that I have played and what ties them together is ME and my "quirk!"

So I changed my song choice for the last audition, had a BLAST and sang my face off! It was character, it was vaudeville, it was fun, it was me embracing my quirk. I loved it, and they seemed to love it too!

Clearly, I'm gonna do all I can, as I move forward in this nutty profession to do what I feel most comfortable doing. If they love it...great! If they don't...oh well. I can't keep trying to please all of the people all of the time, or I will lose myself and end up pleasing NO ONE!

"Embrace your quirk!"

Wednesday, May 20, 2009

Gearing up to audition!

I do think that actors need to "gear up" before auditions - at least I know I do. I suppose the actual routine of gearing up has changed over the years for me, and certainly there are basics like making sure you know what type of call you're going to, what you're gonna be using for the audition in terms of song(s) or monologue(s) or sides and what the heck your gonna wear. But for me, it is more about a preparation and mindset - things that prepare me but then ultimately calm me before I walk into a room. And when I am not auditioning on a regular basis (as I have not been over the last three months) it takes me days to "gear up." I usually need to rid myself of the same ole fears of old - not good enough, not right for the part, not a good enough resume, haven't auditioned for them enough, not young enough or now...not OLD enough looking. All of those things creep around and the longer I don't go to an audition, the stronger those little demons become. I think I touched upon some of this in coulda, shoulda, woulda!

So now I basically go to the AEA website and take a look at the upcoming EPA's and Chorus Calls and try to find a day where there are multiple auditions that I am at least remotely right for. I target a day like that as my "first day back in the game." I print out the audition notices, figure out what I am going to sing or present at each audition and picture myself doing really well when I walk in the room.

I used to tell my students that if you could get to a point in your career where you could feel like your auditions were mini performances; presenting the best you could in that moment each time, and enjoying yourself regardless of who is in the room or what takes place in the room that is out of your control, then you would have so much more joy - and ultimately more success in your auditions. It took me a VERY long time to get to that point and really, it's only been the last few years that I have been able to sustain it over periods of auditions. However, after a break...I always find that it usually takes me a few to get back to that place. I find myself nervous, worried, psyched out, almost desperate when I walk in the door. "I really need this job, please God I need this job..."

Ultimately now, I am usually much more relaxed at auditions although I do end up feeling differently at different types of calls. Appointment calls are of course, the best way to go if you can get them (on your own, through an agent or a friend on the project). Having your own time and knowing they are already interested in, at the very least, your type, often makes you feel like you're already "in the running." When I go to EPA's and Chorus Calls, I try to understand that it is about showing the people on the other side of the table my professionalism, my courtesy, my talent and my type - and even those things aren't always of interest to an associate who knows the show is cast, three times over, and this required call is just that...REQUIRED. But I've gotten work from EPA's and Chorus Calls so I try not to take them for granted and as much as I often bitch about them and the low percentage of offers and blah, blah, blah...I do understand that it's important to go; to get out there; to be seen and heard and send it out into the universe.

At the end of the day, my friends in the biz and I always say this to each other when we are going through angst over auditions - if you don't go, you can't get work...plain and simple. Or as the lotto folks would say, "Ya gotta be in it, to win it!"

So next week, I have one of those audition days that I spoke of all set - with three possible calls on the same day - welcome back!

Tuesday, May 19, 2009

I never waited tables...

I was talking to a bartender recently about how my mother (who's parents owned a restaurant) made me promise, that as an aspiring actor, I would NEVER wait tables.  She told me it was one of the hardest gigs in the world and that I should do anything but that.  I made the promise, and have kept all of these years.  But of course the conversation made me think, again, of all the things we as actors do to make money when we aren't fortunate enough to be in a show that's "paying the bills."

Here are just a few of the things I have done to make money - some of them more artistic than others:

Office temp work at places like Columbia University, Bankers Trust and Chrysalis Records (where I was offered my first full-time job in the city after just two weeks of temping - I turned it down)

Arts Administration at a variety of non-profit arts organizations in the area (something I still do)

Director of little ones (K-5) in musicals

Ebay...believe it or not, I have been able to supplement my income a couple times in my life by selling stuff on Ebay

Landscaping for just a couple folks but I do love playing with my hands in the dirt

Massage...I even have a table!

Gambling...I know, I know, inSANE...but I won $5000 on a quarter slot once and was able to pay my bills AND my rent for a couple months.  

I know there are some other wild gigs that people have done while struggling in this business - is it all worth it?  I think most of us would say, without hesitation...YES! (most of the time)

Wednesday, May 13, 2009

My big peeve!

If we have had any lengthy conversations about the theatre lately (and especially musical comedy), then you have already heard my rant - if not, well, I thought I would put it all down in an effort to "let it all go."

Over the past several years, agents, some casting directors, and yes, even some directors I have worked with, have begun a frightening mantra that seems to be a trend these days.  It is simply this:  "You're too big; that's too much.  It needs to be smaller, more intimate...more REAL!"  

Excuse me, did you just use the word REAL in a sentence that refers to me on the stage in a musical about fish?  So why this shift in today's theatre from what was always something more than...outside of...and yes, "LARGER than life," to small, motionless, deadpan and real?

I will tell you my thoughts...of course.  It is film and tv acting and the technology of film and television trickling down like Reagan's economics into the world of the theatre.  And let me make this clear.  We are not talking about a 20 seat theatre with two actors in an intimate moment - but even if we were, I would still argue that theatre is by nature, presentational and isn't it the audience who has paid to see the performances and characters that we have created? If, as actors, we are just doing the work for ourselves and our directors, being as REAL as possible, I believe that is a disservice to paying audiences everywhere - they may not always understand, but if they don't see it because we are speaking upstage all the time and don't hear it because we are whispering, then they CAN'T understand it.  Ultimately however, I am talking about musical comedy, big characters, and to use my example above, sometimes we are talking about FISH in big theatres! And yet the response is the same, over and over again from a great number of industry in today's market.  Now, I get the agent thing.  They are looking for actors that can BE small and more refined with voice and gesture because their commission is in television, commercial and film NOT the theatre. If you can't bring it down for camera work where the close-up is right on your face and the boom mic 5 inches from your head, it ain't gonna fly.  I get that.  But musical comedy?  Really? Come on folks.  What is up with that?  This idea that only small and intimate is truthful is just nuts - ever watch the sitcom Alice?  Those are some big characters but I believe every minute of it because it is rooted in truth.

Now if this was just about me, you might say, "well, you are Mr. Vaudeville...maybe your time has passed." But in discussing this with a multitude of trained, experienced and frustrated actors lately, it appears that it has become the new text for a lot of industry folks and I have seen and heard examples of it outside of myself.

The days of the fourth wall, exaggerated expression, vocal projection, (what is now called "indicating"),  three-quarters front...those days, of you know...acting, seem to be over for a great many who hold the creative authority on many projects.  Or, at the very least, they are using this mantra as a lazy and unspecific way of communicating to actors -  "we don't want to work with, use, or hire you, and we don't have the time to be more specific."  I wish the latter were true, but I fear, having spoken to younger actors, and directors, that the training is moving in that direction and most say, it is a direct reflection of film and tv and techniques developed for that style of acting.  More intimate, more real, less concerned with the audience and what they will see (after all they should be able to hear it since everyone is wearing mics!).

This, I will tell you, is not only extremely annoying, it is disheartening.  I have three stories and then I will draw this diatribe to a conclusion.  

The first took place a couple weeks ago when I had the good fortune to see MARY STUART on Broadway.  At intermission the group I was with (which included two actresses - one of whom has been in the biz as a professional longer than I) asked if I was enjoying it.  "I am so frustrated right now," I said.  There were looks of dismay and confusion.  To which I said, "It is so brilliant, so amazing, and this is exactly what acting and theatre should be, and yet today, so many with the power-at-hand would think this "too big...too much...over the top acting."  And it immediately began a conversation about the mantra and the bullshit that is now being preached in classes and auditions and rehearsals.  All of you industry folks...go see it and take note:  THOSE are some larger than life, indicating, big-ass performances that are rooted in character work and certainly not intimate or small and most are heralding the work as brilliant! Now industry folks would NEVER say anything negative against two amazing and heralded actresses from London, but deep down, they know, that if an actor came into a class or an audition, and did a monologue from that show, like it was done in the production, they would say, "STOP!  That is way too big, it's not real...why did you indicate with your hand over your head the clouds rolling by?"  I could go on and on but I won't!

The second, is something that happened to me in an audition recently, and while I did my best to follow the requests of the casting director and follow him over any cliff, at the end, I was left hurt, frustrated and completely convinced that there will be less and less work for character actors as the days go by if people continue this ridiculous movement of REAL.  But I digress. The story is this:  I went in to audition for FINDING NEMO, THE MUSICAL.  I won't name names...if you want to know, it isn't that hard to find.  In any case, I walked in, and the accompanist, who seemed to be involved as musical advisor or director, wanted to make sure I knew the music I had prepared from the show.  He played it once, quietly and I was ready to go to my mark in the center of the room.  He stopped me and said, "Wait!  Don't you want to sing it thru with me to make sure you have it?"  I was like, "Sure, that would be great!  I didn't realize we had the time."  We proceeded and he got a glow on his face.  When I finished he said, "Man you have this and it sounds GREAT!  Let's do it!"  I was feeling really confident because I had seen tape on the show and I felt really perfect for Marlin and I knew the music well and had prepared the sides.  I sang the shit out of the music and the casting director said, "Well, it's clear that you can sing it, but you need to be able to act it."  Now I thought I WAS acting it, but clearly he was not happy.  He gave me adjustments which I followed and I sang it again.  He was still not happy.  We began to go over the sides and he stopped me, saying things like, "That's too big...you are indicating...what do you think Marlin is really feeling?...you need to make it real."  REALLY?  REAL?  I would be playing a clown-fish, and actually I would be holding a rod, that has a puppet fish on the end and moving around the stage primarily presenting my character using my voice and my hands to control the puppet's face and body!!!! REAL? REALLY?  But, I didn't say a word, I just tried to give him what he wanted.  Then he decided he needed to "get in the space with me."  He was Nemo now and I was to keep his attention.  I chased his ass all around the room, had to hold the door to keep him from leaving - it was ridiculous.  The musical director got up and went to the window with discomfort as clearly he knew that the casting director was trying to make a fool of me, and when I left the room, there was a roar of laughter.  Now, in the end, upon reflection, I believe this had NOTHING to do with me being too big.  The casting director was pissed that I had gotten the audition in a "roundabout" way and was gonna make me pay for that.  But my point is, he used that same damn mantra as if telling  me the truth would be too much work, and worse, he didn't consider me when I would have been f'n AMAZING for Marlin.

Finally, (I am sure you are all grateful to see that word if you are even still reading) is an experience that has now happened to me the last three times I have performed in a large venue. I have had a multitude of audience come up to me after performances and say, "You were the only actor I could understand."  Now, in each of those situations we were all on mics, but being on a mic, doesn't mean you can be understood.  You still have to enunciate and project.  You still have to hit the back wall.  You still need to act and be something MORE than real. 

At the end of the day, I am not sure I can be what the industry needs me to be since i am already larger than life in my real life!  Maybe I have passed my time...maybe I was born too late.  The one saving grace, is that thankfully, there still are some casting directors AND a good number of directors who seem to understand and believe as I do, that theatre, especially musical comedy, is, to quote a good friend and director, "faster, louder, funnier!"


Monday, May 11, 2009

Getting to work on new material

Having had the great opportunity to be involved in reading two characters in a "re-worked" script tonight, I'm feeling particularly grateful.  First off, I love the piece and was fortunate to be involved in a staged reading of an earlier version last year.  Second of all, I am working with people I admire and respect.

I believe that every actor, if they get the chance, should work on brand new material.  Whether a reading, workshop, showcase or premiere.  Being involved in the creative process from the very beginning is an amazing experience even if the material isn't brilliant, or marketable, or producible.  And every once in a while, if you have the chance, you get to work on something pretty darn good.

I have been very fortunate in my career to be involved with a great many new projects: readings, workshops and premiers.  Although I must admit that I have never worked on a project from reading, thru workshop to premiere and would love that opportunity some day.  

Now don't get me wrong, there are realities you need to face when working on certain stages of new material.  Probably the two most important are:  don't presume, even if you think the material is amazing, that it will ever progress past the stage it is in; and two, don't assume if it does, that you will go with it!  And the second one can be hard to swallow for any performer particularly if you've created the character at the start.  But realize there are so many factors that may cause you NOT to be asked back.  Let's hope it isn't because you didn't have the goods or were a "problem" for the creative team.  But if you feel the work was great and you were a true pro, there are things, just like in auditions, beyond your control.

Maybe you were asked to be involved because the creative team wanted to include you but the role really wasn't a perfect fit (this happened to me with GO, GO BEACH but I knew going in, if it went further it wouldn't be with me and I was ok with that - hey, I got to work with the amazing Stafford Arima and current Tony Nominee, Gavin Creel!); or maybe your part gets completely written out or the age changes dramatically or even the sex changes; and maybe...and this happens a lot with shows that move on to a more "productive" stage...they get a bigger name to play your role.  But try not to lose heart.  If you are proud of your work, it will be remembered - who knows when the director or writers will call you up for something else or even a later stage of that new show if something opens up that "fits."  And if the show does become successful, once it hits the regions, you'll already be familiar with the material and can go in having already worked on it, which can sometimes be a great advantage with short rehearsal times.

So I guess what I am saying in all of that is work on new material WHENEVER you have the chance and whatever else will be, will be.

Sunday, May 10, 2009

Being sick and auditioning...

Since I've been sick for the past few days, I thought I would write my thoughts about being sick and auditioning.  Please note these are NOT my thoughts about being sick and performing - that I will save for another time.  

I supposed I can sum it up best with an actual experience that happened to me.  This was YEARS ago and I had gone in to audition for a new musical at The Public Theatre.  Don't recall what it was, but it was being cast by Jordon Thayler, a casting director I admire to this day.  At the first call, I was feeling great, ready to go and at 100%.  I gave a great audition and Jordon was impressed with my work.  He called me back the next week to audition for the director and writer.  I was sick as a dog.  Keep in mind, I was much younger and greener and wasn't sure what to do.  I decided to go in and do the audition, not making any excuses, but would attempt to do my best.  This was the WRONG choice.  Jordon came to me after the call back and basically said, "Don't ever do that to me again.  I was expecting what I saw at the audition and that wasn't it.  If you are sick and can't do it, then you should have just contacted us and tried to reschedule or choose to cancel it over making a bad impression."

It was a lesson I learned the hard way, but in truth, no matter how much actors think they can "act" around it, in an audition situation, you should be going in at as close to 100% as possible. If you already know you are sick, can't hit the notes, and sound like a frog...unless you are auditioning for a frog, you shouldn't do it.  And certainly, if you do make a choice to go in and audition sick, don't whine and complain to the table that you ARE sick.  Sometimes life sucks, but it is better to leave NO impression, than a bad one.

This is just my opinion of course, but it has been reinforced by many casting directors and producers in my career and I often told my students at NYU TISCH the above story and warned them about the perils of auditioning sick and ESPECIALLY going to call-backs sick.

Here's to healthy auditions and call-backs!

Friday, May 8, 2009

The coulda, shoulda, woulda...

I have these types of days as an actor more often than I would like.  
Those days where there are EPAs (Equity Principal Auditions) or Chorus Calls and I find a reason NOT to go.  Those reasons? 
Well, it could be that it's raining and I am depressed.  It could be that I am not feeling well or my voice doesn't seem to be at 100%. Maybe it's that the show is "probably already cast" so why should I go?  Could be that I don't have the perfect material to audition for that project. 

Whatever the excuse, the coulda, shoulda, woulda days effect a lot of actors.

Bottom line is this:  if you don't go, they can't hire you.  Several of my actor friends and I always have this chat about motivating ourselves to keep going, keep auditioning, staying in the mix.  

In this past week I had 4, yes count them, 4 coulda, shoulda, woulda's!  

I need to make these days fewer and far between and turn them into, DID IT days.  Because those days, eventually, can turn into, GOT IT days!!!

Thursday, May 7, 2009

Pick up where you left off...

So i have decided to begin a second blog...apart from my Poetry, Observations and Other Musings, and devote this space completely to my life as an actor.  I know...just what we need...another blog by some wanna-be performer documenting the struggle and dream of success. 

But in this case, I've been at it so long that I would rather think of this blog as a continuation rather than something brand new.  I am not a Broadway veteran, I am not a household name and I am not new to the biz; green and just starting out on this path.  I've been a performer, of some kind or other, since I was 9 years old and a professional actor (whatever that means) for over 20 years.  I have thoughts and opinions on A LOT of things, but most of the other stuff I will save for my other blog or letters to my Congressmen.  

Here...I just wanna share the day to day journey from someone who's been there, done that, but didn't quite get to do THAT!  And who knows?  If it helps someone else, or it makes someone else in my shoes (and there are a good many of us "rank and file pros" out there) feel less alone then it's all good.  And if it turns out it's just another pile of ramblings signifying nothing...I'm ok with that too!  ;-)

Hopefully we'll all get at least a laugh or two!  OH...and just for visual fun, this will also highlight the many faces of Patrick!

BTW...that is the lovely and talented Natasha Romeo yankin' my ear!