Sunday, December 8, 2013

Triple Threat


We’ve all heard this phrase bandied about the entertainment world. It means a performer who is not only a talented actor, but a singer and dancer. Now from my definition I list (1) Actor (2) Singer (3) Dancer in that order because that is how I came to the theatre. I studied Performance at University & acting at Stella Adler. Now that I’m a professional Audition-er, however, I am seeing that there are several overlapping disciplines comprising our commercial industry...and Singing and Dancing are huge. These disciplines are not incidental to theatrical productions either. On any given sweep of Actors Access,, or the AEA website, 80% of auditions require a performer to prepare a song.

Now, what does this mean to the average actor? What it boils down to is the commercialization of “the production.” People spend more money and are more likely to make time in their schedule to see a show that is a spectacle. In short, performances with song & dance (and therefore performers who sing & dance) put asses in seats. America’s impact on the history of theatre is indeed the musical. I believe that this “invention” - along with the quite real invention of film & television - have made stories much more accessible to wider audiences. This displaces the role of the live theatre artist into…you guessed it…musical theatre. Included in that 80% statistic are productions that are perhaps interactive or involve a multi-disciplinary showing with performers singing or moving. Nevertheless, I am taking this observation and putting it back into my unfolding training. I’m going back to the classroom.

Now that phrase “going back to the classroom” can sound dull or even a step (hah, dance pun) in the wrong direction. Can’t you learn to sing and/or dance within auditions? Can’t you informally work on these skills enough so that you book work which will incrementally bring you to a level of talent (acting/singing/dancing) where you need to be? You can be naturally gifted and you can work informally on various skills you must display at the now routine Equity Chorus Call, but you will spin your wheels. If you happen to get cast in a show where your basic abilities as a singer and/or dancer secured you employment, you will not grow significantly as - apart from observing other performers and working on your specific tasks within said production - no one will have the time to spend on or with you. Nor is this truly the appropriate place. Rather than shoehorn this learning into the rehearsal room, take time & money out of your already busy life and attend the right classes and buy the right equipment. I’m actively seeking out Jazz classes as I’ve identified this form of dance as what will supplement my basic training in Ballet. As for singing, I will soon be seeking out private lessons as I do understand the business side of singing (from book learning, experience, and classes taken during the Stella Adler Conservatory) but need to work on belting and some of the more technical aspects of singing which will help make my sound more desirable.

The bottom line is that you are – a performer is – a product. The market and audience have shifted over the years and your ideas about the industry do not necessarily align with the current marketplace. If you are an actor and are not interested in singing or dancing, the theatre is a much smaller place. I feel that those actors tend to be seeking out film & TV work because of this painful truth. I’m quite aware that there have never been enough jobs for the amount of actors out there. But now those “pure acting jobs” are being eaten away by musical theatre. You can still go the route of working in live theatre at a theatre company in large urban areas or small regional houses…but where do you go from there? At some point you have to take the stage at the Guthrie in Into the Woods.

I began this blog by observing disciplines in the commercial theatre. Should one explore Performance Art or Community Theatre (no connotation implied, thank you)...then you have discovered a singular world of community & adventure. Personally I view Theatre East as approaching all fronts which is itself admirable and why many different artists are drawn to this company. I hope to marry my talents & ambitions within this company and there are few companies that would allow an artist such a possibility. Plus (and this is a big plus), the mission of such companies as Theatre East is ideological. If you're in it for more than the money and aren't looking for somewhere to go (you want to perform right here!) then you are all set. Broadway has its place, Hollywood its place. Local Theatre has its place. Maybe you don't want to sing & dance. We all want to make a difference, an impact, a change and if the great tide of commercial theatre is rushing towards open waters...perhaps it is better to dwell on the shore you are you sure you want to make your home.

Saturday, November 16, 2013

Never Say Die


"Talent is the ability to accomplish what you started." ~ Pyotr Fomenko

I came into this quote by chance, and liked it immediately. It may seem lackluster compared to many of the other definitions of talent out there, at least at first sight. But the words would stay with me, for two reasons: for one, I'm a perfectionist, meaning I sometimes ask too much of myself. So I was grateful to be relieved of the pressure to do something great, and instead just have to finish what I set out to do.

Which, as we all know, can be no small feat. And this is, perhaps, the main reason the words stood out for me. This year, though very satisfying artistically, did prove a big challenge to me in terms of things outside acting that I absolutely had to deal with. These things (getting an artist visa first, finding a new home later) were, of course, stressful and very time consuming. There were moments when I felt like they were taking over my life. And while quitting didn't occur to me as a possibility, I could see how easily I could allow those things to divert me from what I wanted to be doing. How I could simply stop just by not having the time, or worse, the frame of mind.

In due time, my difficulties took care of themselves, as they always do. But what allowed me to stay on track had more to do with finding inspiration than with eliminating obstacles. It had more to do with accepting my friends' encouragement, with sitting through a lot of screenings and talks with great artists at the New York Film Festival, and with then following through by coming up with a plan, running it by my mentor, getting back into class and finding new artistic projects and collaborators. Which is where I am now.

Being done with the bureaucratic and logistical stuff is allowing me to enjoy all the aspects of acting much more. But I also better appreciate the value of perseverance. It takes a lot to finish anything, including the talent the quote refers to.