You Get What You Pay For

When you sign up for an extracurricular activity, you are most likely hoping it will help your child develop or hone a certain skill.  They play on the soccer team and become a better soccer player.  They take cello lessons and become a better cellist.  They participate in a theatrical production and become a better performer.  That should be the goal.  And for the most part, I think parents and students understand this.  But sometimes I interact with parents and students who believe that because they are paying for this activity, they have some say about how the activity is managed.  

No. You do not.

Let me break this down.  To argue that because you're "paying good money" to participate in a youth theatre program, therefore your child "deserves a leading role" in our production is perhaps one of the most insulting and disheartening arguments that I experience.  On one level, it belittles what I do, likening a leading role to a consumable product, that can be bartered or traded for, rather than something that is cast with great consideration for the nuances of character and chemistry as well as the story as a whole.  When someone tells me that they want their child to have a specific role because they are paying for this production, I know that this parent has no real experience in the theatre world and doesn't understand the great deal of time and energy that go into writing a story, casting a production, or becoming a character.  They can't understand what it means to be an actor and also believe that roles should be cast based on who can pay the most money.  In addition to a gross misunderstanding about casting in general and the craft of acting specifically, this sentiment opens a doorway to a nightmare system in which the wealthiest families would be able to pay their way into leading roles, a concept that is completely absurd. After all, this is the theatre, not Washington D.C.

They say that you get what you pay for but when you pay for your child to participate in a youth theatre program, you are not paying for them to speak a specific amount of lines, sing a solo, or be a featured dancer.  We don’t charge the families a certain price based on how much stage time their child can expect or how much downtime they may have in rehearsals.  That’s just insane.  But because I understand that some of these programs can carry a heavy price tag and we all want to know just where our money is going, here's what you ARE paying for:

1. You're paying for your child to be part of a production. Your child will get up on stage and perform.  They will help to tell the story with the rest of their cast members.  That's really all it means to be an actor.  You help tell the story.  You might tell the story by singing a song, or moving your body.  You may help tell the story by dressing up like a tree and swaying to and fro when it starts to get windy in the woods.  Everyone in the cast is important and when you sign your child up for a show, you are signing them up to participate.
2. You're paying for your child to be challenged. Every performer in the theatre world is asked to step outside their comfort zone in one way or another.  They might have to wear a costume that makes them feel silly or kiss a boy on stage (ack! so scary!) and every time a child is challenged to try something new and they accept that challenge, they are building confidence.  Confidence is so important, especially in adolescents, and when you enroll your child in a production, you are paying for your child to have opportunities where they develop the confidence to try new things.
3. You're paying for your child to be responsible. Every child in a production is responsible for themselves.  They are the ones who step out on that stage and perform.  They are the ones who must memorize their lines, their songs, and their choreography.  During their production, they will be responsible for any number of things; as important as lifting someone safely above their heads during a dance number or as simple, yet seemingly impossible to remember, as bringing their scripts and dance shoes to rehearsal every day.  Performers must be self-disciplined and the best of us have an incredible work ethic.  Exposing your child to the theatre arts will allow them the opportunity to foster a responsibility for themselves that many children and adolescents do not possess. 
4. You're paying for your child to create! I think one of the most important elements of any child's theatre experience is the creativity that goes into becoming a character.  They will be asked to use their imaginations to transport themselves to another time or city.  They will be encouraged to come up with backstories for their characters, to imagine what kind of lives they lead, to put themselves into their character's shoes, which helps foster an empathy for others that will help them become compassionate adults.

For me, it is impossible to put a price tag on my youth theatre experience.  So much of who I am as a person was learned from what I experienced in rehearsals.  My humor, my silliness, my work ethic, my open mind, my vulnerability, my courage - all of these were developed while in the theatre and to me, they are invaluable.  

In addition to these incredible offerings, there are the basic show expenses that we pay for using the tuition from our students.  These expenses include several thousand dollars for the rights to the musical, the rental of rehearsal space, the rental of performance space, the set design and construction, the costume design and construction, the lighting and sound equipment and design, the props, the wigs, advertising, paying the creative team, designers, musicians, and staff...let's just say it's not cheap.  And when a parent complains about the price of the program because their child is "only in the chorus", well it cheapens all of the hard work that goes into a youth theatre production.  So please, when you write that check to have your child participate in a youth theatre program, adjust your understanding about what you're actually paying for and I know you and your child will be happy as a result.  

As always, DREAM BIG.
Stephanie

Trust: Part One

Working in the theatre requires a level of trust.  
As actors, we are asked to be completely vulnerable to a room full of strangers and to do this means we need to completely trust our fellow cast members, our directing staff, our writers, and ourselves.  
As directors, we need to trust our intuitions to believe that we are making the best choices, we need to trust our producers that they are doing everything to ensure a successful production, and we need to trust our actors that they are going to take our direction and be the vessels that we need to communicate the story. We trust our costumers to help us create a vision of our characters.  We trust our builders to keep us safe, we trust our designers to create the atmosphere, and we trust the audience to suspend their disbelief for a few hours to hear our tale.
If at any time this trust is compromised, our work will suffer.
As a director I have one rule: I never ask an actor to do something that I myself am not willing to do.  Now, I fully admit to asking my actors to do things that I CANNOT do.   I ask my actors to sing notes I cannot sing.  To dance steps my body cannot dance.  To tell stories I cannot tell.  But I never ask them to do something that I am not willing to TRY to do.  I have climbed on every set piece, contemplated every costume, debated every fight sequence to determine if I would feel comfortable using these elements as an actor.  I find that my actors are much more likely to trust me if they know I that I'm only asking them to give exactly as much as I am willing to give.  And I have high expectations.  I am willing to give a lot to my productions.  And my actors always rise to the challenge.
So what happens if an actor doesn't trust their director?  The answer - nothing good.  
If you work in the theatre long enough, you will encounter a director who you do not trust.  You don't like their vision for the production, you don't agree with the characterization they've created, you hate the concept for the set or the costumes.  Something about this director rubs you the wrong way.  And that's okay!  You don't have to like every production you do.  But you do need to give as much of your energy and talent to the bummer productions as you do to the ones you love.  If you want to be a professional actor, you need to behave professionally in every production, regardless if you are getting paid or if you are paying to play.  This can be counter-intuitive.  Many actors and their families feel that they are entitled to a certain experience if they are paying for it (especially in a university setting).  Let me assure you that this entitlement is toxic to a creative environment and must be avoided at all cost.
If a director asks you do something that you don't agree with, stop and ask yourself why you disagree.  
1. The direction is threatening to my vanity.  Meaning, you are being asked to look silly or unattractive and your actor self is worried about how the audience will see you.  If this is the case, you need to remember that acting is not about being pretty.  Try to get out of your head, stop thinking about how you look, and be present in the character and tell the story.
2. I question whether this direction is in keeping with the integrity of the script.  Meaning, are you worried that the direction you are given is in opposition to the story or how the character is written.  If so, speak up.  But do so in private, not in the middle of rehearsal.  And always do what the director asks first just to give it a try and see how it feels.  If after rehearsal you still fee unsure about that choice, approach the director to discuss.  But go into that conversation with the intention of doing what the director has asked but needing some clarification.  Don't approach the director with the intention of changing her mind about the choice.  You need to trust that if the direction isn't the right one, your director will see that in rehearsals and make a change.  And you need to trust that the director and creative team are able to see the show as a whole and are privy to the story in a way that you are incapable of understanding since you are on stage and unable to see the show from the audience's point of view.
3. I question my safety.  If so, discuss with the stage manager and director.  Performance demands a certain level of spectacle and at times that means actors are asked to climb to great heights or simulate intense fight sequences in the efforts to shock and awe the audience.  In professional settings, there are unions and agents to help ensure all safety precautions are being taken but often in community or youth theatre, the actors need to trust the efforts of the designers and crew to keep them safe.  A conversation about safety concerns can often go a long way to ease an actor's mind.
If you follow these steps, you will most likely find yourself respecting the direction you are given and enjoying your experience in the production.  I would like to add one more thought on trust:
Our actor egos are fragile.  We are vulnerable when we are working and we need to remember that when we speak, our opinions carry great weight.  If we grumble about our costumes in the dressing room, or roll our eyes to our cast behind the stage manager's back, we are posing a threat to our production.  We are compromising the circle of trust that exists within the cast and the creative team.  We owe it to our fellow actors to build each other up and avoid any negativity in the rehearsal space.  A positive attitude and a willingness to trust one another will ensure a great experience had by all.
Take risks.  Be willing to look ridiculous.  Stay humble.  Dream big.
Stephanie

 

Post Show Blues

They are real!  You might just think your diva is being a little over-dramatic when she closes a show and won't get out of bed for 48 hours but actually she's feeling depressed and needs your support.
I can practically hear you all rolling your eyes.  Look, I know it sounds ridiculous.  Your child only met these fellow performers two months ago!  She will most likely see them again in the next production.  What is the big deal?!  Let me try to explain.
Think about the best times of your life.  The summers spent at camp with friends you never saw the rest of the year.  A really great job where you received accolades for your hard work and felt incredibly proud of what you contributed.  Your wedding, surrounded by all of your friends and family, looking stunning and feeling on top of the world.  These emotional highs are the best I can come up with to explain the incredible feelings these young performers experience while in a production and it helps to explain why they are often sad when their show closes and they come down from this high.
Actors are asked to do impossible things.  We ask them to become other people, be completely authentic and honest in make believe circumstances, and they have to place their trust in relative strangers to do so.  For young actors in particular, this takes a great deal of effort.  They are being stretched beyond their emotional capabilities and that can take its toll!
Plus, there are often late nights, insufficient sleep, brutally challenging dance numbers, the rush of nightly adrenaline and the crash that follows.  Their little bodies have been pushed and pushed for weeks and when that final show closes, they will feel sorrow that can seem too intense for the circumstances.
The Post Show Blues can manifest itself as tears, so many tears, often hysterical and terrifying tears that lead many a Diva Mom and Dad to question whether their child can handle this theatre business if they are going to break down this way at the end of every production.  Don't worry - they WILL break down but they CAN handle it.  The tears happen because they're grieving.  Theatre by its nature is fleeting.  The production is mounted and performed and then destroyed.  Watching their beloved set demolished at strike can be heart wrenching for some.  They grieve the loss of their character.  This character that they have known and loved and might never play again is gone and our young actors feel this as a loss.  They poured their blood, sweat, and tears into a show and when it's gone, they have very little tangible evidence to show for it.  This can be unnerving and lead to the strong desire to throw themselves into the next production.  Which is, of course, a way to deal with the loss of this one.
If you see that your child is sad or lethargic after the closing of a show, don't fret!  There are things you can do to cheer them up!  
1. Acknowledge their feelings.  Let them know you understand why they are sad.  Resist the urge to dismiss their feelings.  Try not to remind them that children are starving in Africa so they should appreciate what they have.  Let them cry and be sad for a bit.
2. Show them photos and videos of their performance if you were able to get some.  Remind them that all of their hard work paid off and let them see the evidence. 
3. Let them sleep.  Avoid the impulse to distract them with a movie or a shopping trip.  Give them awhile to mourn their loss and catch up on sleep. Distraction will come in the weeks following the closing of a show but the first 48 hours after the show closes, they need to sleep.
4. Encourage them to keep in touch with their new friends.  Plan a playdate or sleepover with some of the kids from the cast for the following weekend so they know these friendships can exist outside the theatre.
5. Listen to their favorite Broadway Cast Recordings or expose them to some of your favorites.  With the free time you have now that rehearsals are over, go see a live performance in your area or look for a new class that your child can take in their downtime.
Above all, be kind to your kids after their show closes.  Give them hugs and snuggles.  And ice cream.  And a puppy.  Okay, truthfully your kids told to me say that last one.  I don't actually think they need a puppy.  But they are really feeling sad and could use a little tenderness from their family.  
And remember, you get to do this all over again after the next show.
DREAM BIG,
Stephanie

Diva's New Year's Resolutions

I hope that you all have enjoyed a lovely holiday season and that you are getting some much-needed R & R.  I trust that our budding Divas have spent their time off rehearsing their scenes and songs for whatever production in which they might be involved.  No time is being wasted binge-watching Netflix shows, I'm sure.  ;)

But you've had three months of rehearsal to prepare...

But you've had three months of rehearsal to prepare...


Before this year draws to a close, I wanted to give you all a short list of some New Year's Resolutions to work on for 2017.  If you're like me and the thought of resolutions makes you cringe, then look at this as a list of ideas that, if adopted, might make your path to success all the more pleasant and fulfilling!
 

For The Divas:
- Say thank you when receiving notes from your director.  Resist the urge to explain why you making the choice you were making or excusing your less than stellar performance with tales of the stomach flu.  When a director gives you a note, you have two options.  1. Ask for clarification or 2. Just say thank you.  
- Support your local theatre community.  Go see the rival high school's production of Bye Bye Birdie and do NOT judge their production harshly lest yours be judged too!
- Push yourself out of your comfort zone!  Take a challenging dance class, learn an Aria or a new Shakespearean monologue.
DIVA BONUS POINTS:  Give yourself a REALLY challenging goal for 2017 like memorizing one sonnet a week for the whole year or learning all of the lyrics to every song in Hamilton and being able to rap them flawlessly on demand.  Challenges are essential for growth so go big this year!

For The Parents:
- Read the whole script for every show your child performs in this year.  In addition to being informed about any and all "questionable" content, you can help answer fun questions like "What's a stenographer?" or "What does Rizzo mean by 'I'm late'?".
- Let your child prepare for an audition totally solo!
- Look into finding some film work for your child this summer.  A role in a student film production could be a really fun way to spend a few days/weeks and will be an excellent learning experience for you and your Diva.
PARENTS BONUS POINTS:  Surprise your child by learning all of the lyrics to one song in Hamilton (I recommend "Guns and Ships") or spend an afternoon teaching your son how to apply stage make up!

For The Directors:
- Choose a classic.  Force some Rogers and Hammerstein on these kids or really anything written before 1960.  Lord knows we could use some Singin' in the Rain right about now...
- Audition for something!  Make time to focus on YOUR craft.  If you've spent the past six years stuck in Whoville or under the sea, then get yourself into an acting class.  Speak some Mamet.  It'll be REALLY refreshing.
- Try simplicity.  Cut the huge set or the brand new costumes.  Focus on the acting, the storytelling, and forgo the "wow factor" for one show.  The actors will have to rely on their acting, on the script, and it will make for a really nice change of pace.
DIRECTOR BONUS POINTS:  Choose a show/play that involves social issues, that pushes the envelope, and while that might make people feel uncomfortable, it will perhaps start some important conversations.  If possible, give a voice to your students and let them write.  Now is the time for a new generation of artists to speak up.
 

As always, I'm wishing you all the best this new year.  Keep following your dreams and remember to DREAM BIG!
Stephanie

 

Diva Christmas List

Tis the Season, Parents, and if you're struggling to find your favorite Diva a gift he'll LOVE, check the list below for ideas.

1. LESSONS.  It's the gift that keeps on giving!  Gifting voice, dance, or acting lessons is a great way to show your support for your budding performer all year long.  If you're worried about cost, consider lessons every other week instead of weekly.  

2. SHOES.  Kids grow out of their shoes quickly so it's probably time for some new tap shoes.  Be sure to get your child sized before purchasing new shoes and if your child is enrolled at a studio,  mention that at checkout - many dance clothing companies give a discount for local studio members.

3. TICKETS.  Surprise your Diva with tickets to a show!  The national tours that come through most major cities are very often the same caliber of performance that you would experience on Broadway without the need for travel.  Even if you weren't able to score those Hamilton tickets, your child will be thrilled to see a show with you.  And a brand new "theatre outfit" is a great accompanying gift. 

4. SCRIBD. The website is a great resource for scripts and sheet music.  For about $10 a month, your performer will have access to tons of sheet music, books, and scripts that are available to download or read on their computer (or any other device). Check out www.scribd.com for details.

5. BOOKS. For our older students, I recommend engaging their interest in the industry with books on acting or actor autobiographies.  Some of my favorite books for actors include Declan Donnellan's The Actor and the Target, True and False by David Mamet, and of course, the sacred text, An Actor Prepares by Constantin Stanislavsky (all of which are available on Scribd, by the way).  And some incredible actors have written great autobiographies that provide insight into their bumpy journey towards success.  My personal favorites are Lessons in Becoming Myself by Ellen Burstyn, Bossypants by Tina Fey and Yes, Please by Amy Poehler (I highly recommend listening to Amy read hers as an audiobook - it's amazing.  And something the whole family can enjoy on the ride home from Grandma's house).

6. Miscellaneous. Here are some specific and awesome gifts for the performer in your life.
For the SINGER:  Encourage them to become a well-rounded musician and give them their own keyboard.  For the beginners, include a book to help them teach themselves or a book of sheet music from their favorite musical for the more advanced pianists. Keyboard
For the DANCER:  Protect your hardwood floors by purchasing your tapper their own private dance studio. It easily fits under their bed and you might have some hope of getting your security deposit back when you move! Tap Dance Floor
For the ACTOR:  Every actor worth their salt will be asked to perform Shakespeare at some point in their careers and the First Folio is really the best version of The Bard's complete works. It's a little challenging to read at first (they will get extra awesome points if they can distinguish the 'f's from the 's's) but it's incredible to read the words as they were originally written, without interpretation from an editor. Shakespeare's First Folio

I wish I still had my Casio...

I wish I still had my Casio...

Nice floor!  But maybe don't tap in those wedges...

Nice floor!  But maybe don't tap in those wedges...

A prolific, if not handsome, man.

A prolific, if not handsome, man.

Even if you don't have a ton to spend this year, there are many ways to let your Diva know that they have your support.  I recommend curling up on the couch and enjoying "Waiting for Guffman" a hilarious mockumentary about this business we call show.  It's a must see for any musical theatre nerd (AKA budding Diva) and a reminder not to take this world too seriously.  If you're looking for a stocking stuffer, this is my pick.  Also good for the stocking are iTunes gift cards so they can download their favorite OBCRs.  That's Original Broadway Cast Recording, of course. 

Wishing you Happy Holidays and reminding you to DREAM BIG,
Stephanie

The Monologue Post: Part 1

Where do I find a monologue??

First of all, for those of you who are newbies, a monologue is a long piece of text from a script where one person speaks.  For many auditions, an actor will need to prepare a one to two-minute monologue that showcases their talent. 

After spending a few years as a casting director, I can tell you that I’ve seen my share of amazing audition monologue performances.  The best monologues have several things in common.

1.     They are from a published play.
This should go without saying but a monologue is usually found in a play with characters and context that helps it make sense.   There are MANY monologue books out there and they can be a great place to start BUT only if the monologues found in these books are from actual plays.  Many monologue books are filled with monologues just written for that publication and they are not found in published plays.  I always tell my students that if they want to peruse a monologue book for inspiration, that’s totally fine BUT if they find a monologue they would like to use for audition purposes, they must purchase the play and READ IT!  How can you possibly understand the wants and needs of your character without understanding their full story, which is conveniently located in the PLAY! 
Something to be aware of when finding a monologue from a monologue book: you’re not alone.  There are not too many monologue books out there and ALL of the actors have looked through them so the chances that you’re monologue will be performed by someone else at an audition are high.
Ideally, the best place to find a monologue that works for you is by broadening your personal database by going out and seeing plays as well as reading them at home.  If you see a play with a character that you connect with, purchase the play and try to find a monologue from that source.  Or find the reading lists for the acting classes at top universities and read those plays.  Ask friends for recommendations.  Or better yet, be the best read friend that everyone ELSE asks for recommendations!

2.     They are short.
I do not need to see a full minute of your monologue to know that you’re talented.  In fact, most often, my opinion of you is formed in the first few seconds of your monologue.  Make sure your monologue has a clear beginning middle and end and that you cut yourself off when you’ve reached a climax or natural stopping point.  I shouldn’t have to stop you at the one minute cut off because you have practiced your monologue using a timer and you’ve planned it to end before the cut off and you’ve allowed yourself to hit a “button” at the end so it feels finished.

3.     They involve your whole body.
Don’t be a talking head.  This does not mean you must MOVE for the sake of MOVING, however!  While on stage, an actor should only move when they are moving towards something or away from something.  Idle movement is distracting.  When I say to involve your whole body, I mean that you must connect with your toes, breathe into your belly, and engage your core to support your performance. 
My favorite monologues to watch DO involve the whole body.  So many actors come out and stand still and speak beautifully without taking a single step and that’s lovely to watch when they’re connected to their material.  BUT it’s always refreshing to see the actor who plops down on the stage and speaks from the floor as they fish a rock out of their shoe and complain about a horrendous first date they’ve just been on.  When someone makes a big, bold physical choice and it WORKS, the whole room feels energized.  Directors sit forward in their seats, their pencils and paper forgotten as they stare, enraptured by the performance onstage. 
Again, don’t move for the sake of moving but if you are able to connect to your piece or your character in a physical way, you’re bound to get noticed.

4.     They are age appropriate.
But, Stephanie, my daughter is eight years old!  There just aren’t many plays with monologues for young kids!
You’re right, Make-Believe Parent That I Just Created.  There are not very many monologues for young kids.  One can only perform Anne from Anne of Green Gables, Alice from Alice in Wonderland, Nora from Brighton Beach Memoirs, Anne from The Diary of Anne Frank or Sally from You’re a Good Man Charlie Brown so many times.  It takes an effort to find appropriate monologues for young actors.  Google “monologues for young actors” and you’ll find the same ten monologues on dozens of sites.  These are great monologues, actually, but you run the risk of everyone at the audition doing the same thing.  Frankly, I don’t dismiss young actors using monologues from those monologue books I just advised against not five paragraphs ago when I see them for the first time.  It’s not ideal, sure, but I’m not going to pass over a young actor just because they picked a piece that isn’t from a play.  Actually, in that same vein, I don’t hate the idea of using monologues from movies.  The movie Holes has some great monologues and it’s totally age appropriate for young kids.  That being said, once I’ve been working with a student for awhile, I do expect that they’ve done their homework and have found age appropriate monologues from published sources.  It’s not easy, I know.  But it definitely sends a message to the artistic staff that you’re serious about your acting and we don’t take that lightly.

So, you’ve got an audition coming up and you’ve been reading a bunch of plays so you’ve got some interesting choices for new monologues.  Let’s say you’re auditioning for a production of Heathers and they’ve asked for 32 bars of a pop song and a monologue.  Because you’re a pro, you decide to choose one of your monologues that’s full of dark sardonic humor in keeping with the mood of the musical.  Good for you!  Now, as you begin to memorize and practice for your audition, keep in mind some of the things we look for in a monologue audition.

1.     FOCUS
Make sure you take a moment before your start speaking to really “see” the imaginary person that your character is talking to in their monologue.  They should be out in the audience, just over the heads of the people in the audition room.  Do not make eye contact with your auditioners because this will force them into a different role, your scene partner, and they really need to be watching your performance, not involved in it somehow. 
You don’t have to STARE INTENTLY at this imaginary person as you speak.  If you’re speaking naturally, you will find yourself looking away now and then as your formulate your thoughts, but always use the same point of focus when you come back to them.  Having a strong focus tells the directors that you have a rich inner life and are “seeing” what the character would see.  This helps us to see that world as well.  We see it through your eyes.

2.     CONNECTION TO BODY
Using your body to tell the story is important.  Even if the character isn’t very different from yourself, you’ll need to express the character through your body in ways that are different from the way YOU use your body to express YOURSELF.  Watching an actor slate (introduce themselves) with an open relaxed body then shift into a tense aggressive posture for their monologue tells me that they have a great understanding of their instrument and that they are able to use it to communicate character.  Very big deal!

3.     CONNECTION TO VOICE
We need to hear you!  In the back!  This is the theatre, dearies, and I need to understand every word.  If your character is a smooth talking gangster who speaks like they’re a reporter in a 40s film, we still need to understand every word.  Or if your character is having a big time epiphany (very common in these monologues) and they are talking to themselves, well we still need to hear their words.  Mumbling through an epiphany is the worst kind of theatre sin.  The character climax is what we all paid to see – don’t keep it to yourself!  Revel in every word, every syllable, every letter you speak.  The playwright chose those words carefully – do them justice.

4.     CONNECTION TO BREATH
Seems easy, right?  Just remember to breathe and you’re all good.  Well, not exactly.  When I say connect to your breath, I want to see you breathe as your character.  If you’re angry, let that affect your breath pattern.  If you’re relaxed and joyful, I want to see that breath travel all the way to your belly.  And if I see you release your breath before you speak a line, I know we’ve never worked together because I would have broken you of that little habit.  Don’t release your breath in a sigh before your line!  Save that breath to express your frustrations ON the line.  Breath is life and being connected to the breath of your character is incredibly important. 

Well this was a lot of information and yet it really only scratches the surface of a very complex part of the acting process.  Performing a monologue does become second nature after many years of auditioning.  I hope these tips have made it seem less intimidating and shed some light onto the audition process.

Until next time, DREAM BIG!
Stephanie
 

 

Why you should (and should NOT) get your kid into theatre

I have had countless encounters with parents over the years and discovered that many of them are misinformed about the purpose of youth theatre programs.  To help clear things up, here are the best and the worst reasons for signing your child up for an extracurricular theatre program.  I'll even make it into a game!  Read the title of each section and then YOU can guess whether this is one of the BEST reasons or one of the WORST.  The prize for getting 100% on this pop quiz is the knowledge that you are one smart Diva-Mom (or Diva-Dad).

I NEED SOMETHING FOR MY KID TO DO AFTER SCHOOL BECAUSE I WORK
Sigh.  I totally understand this impulse.  I was raised by a working mother who wasn't able to take me to piano lessons or soccer and if there had been an after school theatre program at my elementary school, I guarantee I would have been signed up in a heartbeat (of course, in my case that wouldn't have been a problem since I was DYING to be on stage at all times).  The thing is, if your child has not expressed an interest in doing theatre, then putting them in an after school theatre program is a recipe for disaster.  One of the most disheartening things for a youth theatre director is seeing a child in rehearsals who has zero interest in performing.  They are miserable and don't want to put forth the effort to learn their lines or choreography which is incredibly frustrating for the rest of the cast and the staff.  It's not their fault, of course.  If I was forced to stay after school and be a Mathelete, I would be a useless member of that team and unable to contribute anything of value.  In my experience, if a child isn't eager to be a part of a production, then they shouldn't be forced to participate.  Best case scenario, they are a silent participant who manages to go unnoticed both on stage and off.  Worst case scenario, they lie to their directors and say they are dropping out of the show then spend every afternoon walking around campus searching for Pokemon while their mother thinks they're safe at rehearsal.  And of course the latter example is the reason we ask for official parental notice when a child decides to drop out of a production.
WORST.

MY KID IS SHY AND NEEDS TO GET OUT OF HER SHELL
If your child is willing to give acting a try, it can be a wonderful way to get over some of her fears.  Performing in a chorus can feel empowering if you're surrounded by your peers all working together to tell a story.  She will be encouraged to use her voice and her body in creative ways and be placed in an environment where play is encouraged and failure is not a bad thing.  If you and your child decide that performing in a play sounds like a fun activity to try, make sure you start with a very low-key production.  A school play is always a great option since many times every child who signs up is cast in the show.  If their school show does not accept everyone who auditions, then I recommend looking for a youth program at a local theatre.  They generally charge to participate in the show but they often accept everyone who auditions and many of them focus on the process versus the product, meaning they will be having fun in rehearsals and there won't be too much pressure for perfection come performance time.
BEST!

MY CHILD IS A STAR AND I WANT HIM TO BECOME FAMOUS
There isn't an actor among us who hasn't practiced their acceptance speech or dreamed of a big Hollywood mansion or final Broadway bow.  But getting into performance with the goal of fame and fortune is never a good idea.  First of all, acting is NOT a highly lucrative business for 99% of us.  Most actors spend a great deal of time waiting tables, teaching voice lessons, or driving for Uber to help pay the bills while we attend audition after audition, hoping for a paying gig.  Additionally, attaching such a lofty goal as 'fame' or 'fortune' to your child's theatrical experience can place a HUGE amount of pressure on them.  If you sign them up for a class or production and tell them that this is the first step towards getting their own Disney sitcom, well, you're most likely setting them up for big fat failure.  And finally, fame and fortune is something that happens to some individuals on the road to a successful acting career - it should never be the end game.  
Plus, if you think about all of the 'famous' child stars and how much 'happiness' they've cumulatively enjoyed, perhaps it's not in the best interest of your child to blindly pursue fame and glory in the hopes of finding 'success' in the acting world.  
WORST.

MY CHILD IS A STAR AND I WANT HER TO GET MORE TRAINING
Did you catch the minor distinction between this reason and the previous one?  If you've got aspirations for big professional success, by all means sign up for a local youth theatre production as it will be a fun way for your child to hone their performance skills.  Maybe you ARE raising the next Millie Bobby Brown (Stranger Things) and she will go on to enjoy great success!  But remember, it takes a village to help a young actor find commercial success in Hollywood or on Broadway.  If you're actually serious about going down this road, moving to L.A. or N.Y.C. is a must.  And forget having your own life/job.  Taking your child on auditions is a full time gig.  And watching your child get rejected dozens and dozens of times is heartbreaking.  So yes, I fully encourage parents who are contemplating pursuing a professional acting career for their child to first find success on a local level.  Enroll your diva in classes, audition for a professional theatre company, perhaps even find an agent.  Make sure you BOTH have the stamina to chase this dream.
BEST!

I WANT SOMETHING THAT WILL LOOK GOOD ON HER COLLEGE RESUME
Colleges definitely like a well rounded individual and if your child has been consumed with basketball or the cello for their whole life, then it might be extremely appealing to sign them up to audition for the school play their junior year of high school so they're able to tick that box on their applications the following year.  And we always love having new recruits (especially if your child is a tenor who can move!) but I encourage you to sit down and have a long chat with your child about what they hope to get from this experience.  A lot of effort goes into a theatrical production and if your child is open to being a part of the team, then there are LOTS of ways for them to help out, both on and off stage.  Please don't sign up your child with the expectation that they will get the lead and be able to add that little nugget to their list of conquests.  But if they are truly open to a new experience that will force them out of their shell, then by all means, join the (drama) club!
NOT THE WORST BUT PROCEED WITH CAUTION.

I WANT MY CHILD TO LEARN RESPONSIBILITY AND SELF DISCIPLINE
Well, welcome to the theatre, friend!  A place where we value hard work and personal growth!  In an acting class or theatrical production, your child will be responsible for learning lines (and maybe songs and choreography), they will be required to show up on time, work on their own time, sacrifice events on their social calendar to attend rehearsals and performances, and become a member of a team that supports one another and works together to do their very best work.  I cannot stress this enough - if you want your kid to be ready for college or the 'real world', then sign them up for a show!
BEST!

I DID THEATRE IN HIGH SCHOOL/COLLEGE/PROFESSIONALLY
Good for you!  You should do more theatre - it sounds like you really loved it.  Here's a list of the community theatre productions in your area...
Seriously though, most of the children of actors that I've worked with are doing theatre for one of two reasons: to please their parent (but they'd really rather be playing video games) or because they really want to (and they're miserable because there parent keeps giving them notes and placing WAY too much pressure on them).  As an actor and a mom, if my daughter tells me that she wants to perform, then I'll do whatever I can to make that happen.  And the best way I can think of to support her is to hand over her training to someone else and buy tickets for every opening night.  I have seen so much tension between parents and their children because of the hopes and dreams that the parent has transferred to their child.  I totally get it!  Seeing your child find success in a field that you love must be incredibly exciting!  But for the sake of their dreams (and your relationship) let this dream be their dream and leave yours out of it.  
WORST.

I DON'T KNOW MUCH ABOUT THEATRE, BUT MY KID WON'T STOP SINGING AND DANCING...
This is one my favorite reasons that a parent will sign up their child for a class or production.  They have seen true passion for performing in their child and want to find a channel for their diva to express this passion.  It's awesome!  Parents who take the lead from their kids and seek out places for them to foster these dreams are amazing.  They might not share in their child's passion but I guarantee you, the first time they see their child mopping up the floor in "It's a Hard Knock Life", we've converted them to a theatre lover for life.
BEST.

I WANT MY KID TO PLAY THE LEAD
Join the club.  If I had a dollar for every parent who was hoping for a leading role for their child...well, I still couldn't afford to purchase a house in this market but I could probably go out for a really nice steak dinner!
If you have any hidden (or not so hidden) desires for your child to be the leading role in any production, please stop and examine the reasons why.  If you are picking up on the not so subtle hints that your child is dropping (I just have to get Annie or I'll die!) then of course you want your child to realize their dreams.  But if you're starting to place importance on the size of the role your child gets because it's YOUR dream, well, you might want to take a step back and reassess.  Remember, it's not about the role, it's about the experience.  And you as the parent need to be the one to reenforce that idea to your child.  It's important to go into every production with the goal of having fun and growing as a performer.  I understand that if your child begins to be cast in leading roles , it's easy to start to anticipate that this will be the case for all productions.  Again, resist this thought!  It's ALWAYS about the opportunity to grow and have fun.  Because if your child is truly interested in pursuing acting as a career, there are going to be a LOT of ensemble parts in their future.  You need to let them know that their value to you does not depend on the size of the part that they play.  They ALWAYS have the leading role in your life.
WORST.

The basic rule of thumb is to always follow your child's lead when it comes to the world of acting.  If they are telling you that they want to pursue it on any level, then by all means, get involved to whatever level you both feel comfortable.  But always take your cues from you own little Diva.

Until next time, DREAM BIG!
Stephanie

 

It's not about the talent

Well everyone, tis the season…the season of college applications. Many of my students are applying to various musical theater programs across the country and I'm in the position of writing each of them a warm and honest recommendation.

It occurred to me last night, as I was finishing my sixth  letter of recommendation this year, that my students might be surprised to know what I write about them in these letters. I'm sure they all assume I am regaling these admissions officers with tales of there unmatched talents as singers, dancers, and actors but in reality the talent of a student is kind of the least important thing I can talk about when recommending them for college programs. I find myself discussing work ethic and attitude and determination much more than I would ever discuss their level of talent. Because at the end of the day, talent doesn't matter so much. In fact there are a myriad of things that a performer can do that take zero talent that will get them noticed, get them accepted and ultimately get them hired.

I'm sure we've all seen this floating around the FaceBook or the Instagram and I'm only sharing it now because while it might be cliche, it's totally right.

I'm sure we've all seen this floating around the FaceBook or the Instagram and I'm only sharing it now because while it might be cliche, it's totally right.

 In my experience training young performers to have success in the professional world, it's really more about how much they're willing to work to improve rather than how talented they are to start. I would rather have somebody 100% dedicated to growing as a performer but who maybe struggles with vocal ability or has never taken an actual dance class over an incredibly talented but lazy performer.

We've all worked with them before.  The performer who was blessed with a natural talent for singing or who has impeccable comedic timing and can cold read the most complex scripts without breaking a sweat but who doesn't practice their songs outside of the rehearsal room.  Or doesn't actually read the play, just memorizes their part.  And they do well enough, don't get me wrong, but they will never find much success without improving their work ethic.

My favorite students have always been the students who were willing to put in the extra time and effort to challenge themselves and grow as performers. They were the ones who showed up early to rehearsal to go over the choreography or who stayed late to help stack the chairs.  They were the ones who sat with a piece of paper and a pencil at the end of the dress rehearsal, ready to take notes. They were prepared for rehearsals. They were supportive of their cast members. They always hung up their costumes!  And ultimately my favorite students have been kind, compassionate, and basically good people.

 These qualities  are sometimes hard to find in the theater world. We have egos as actors, as directors, and as designers.  Sometimes we get caught up in the work and the desire to create something amazing and we forget our humility. Our ego can show more than it should. But the hard-working performers, the ones who know the names of their crew members and who still send thank you notes, well, they're the ones I want in my cast. I want the ones willing to put as much effort into the production as I am. And my family can tell you I put a lot of my time and energy into these productions.

So the next time you have an audition or you head to rehearsal or dance class, remember that talent is not a performer's most important quality. A performer needs to be respectful. They need to be patient. The need to be hard-working.  And anybody can be those things. 

Dream Big,

Stephanie

The importance of youth theatre

Why theatre?

Yes, the theatre is a place for coming out of your shell.  For learning how to manage your time.  For learning new skills as an actor, dancer, singer.  Yes, we come to the theatre to escape.  To play.  To have fun in a safe environment.  We come to the theatre to challenge ourselves.  To experience things that we have never experienced in real life.  Performing teaches us the value of hard work, how to face our fears, how to fail and grow from those failures. 

But there is also something else very important that happens in youth theatre.

Acceptance.

One of the biggest reasons that I find myself still directing youth theatre after all of these years is because I remember how important my theatre family was to me as I navigated the tumultuous landscape of my high school years.  When I felt alone, anxious, rejected, scared or bored, my theatre friends were there to lift my spirits.  We were from different peer groups; some of us were cheerleaders, some of us were academically inclined, some of us were outcasts, and some of us were jocks but when we came to rehearsal, we were in a special tribe of individuals who loved each other fiercely.  

The theatre community has always been a place where we are all accepted and loved.  It's always been a safe place where we can express our rage, our sorrow, our fears without worrying about being judged.  I remember being so inspired by my theatre friends as they felt empowered to come out to their families or when they challenged the administration to tackle plays with a strong feminist agenda.  We were so supportive of each other that we felt safe to be our authentic selves.

And the kids I work with today are the same.  They are unique individuals with incredible stories.  They support each other.  They raise each other up.  They love one another fiercely.  And they are my daily inspiration to get out of bed, put on my big girl pants, and get things done.  Because they are the future and they are incredible.

So, parents, when you're weighing the pro and cons of enrolling your child in a show or a theatre class, remember this is so much more than a way for them to gain confidence or learn how to manage their time.  Being a theatre kid means you're a part of a super cool society of bad ass kids who've got each others' backs for life. It means you're confident, kind, compassionate, empathetic, and incredibly powerful.

When I find myself despondent in the face of uncertainty or anxious about the future, I go to rehearsal.  And I always, always, leave with hope in my heart. 

Scary Stage Mom Stories: Part 2

I took a deep breath and hit send.  There. The cast list was posted.  I let out my breath and tried to ignore the anxious butterflies in my tummy.  Posting the cast list is always so nerve-wracking.  Especially this one since I was at a new school, working with these kids for the first time.  They didn't know me, or trust me yet, so I was worried that I would hear from some parents with questions or concerns.  I knew that in the past, the director of these school shows gave the lead roles to older students, the 8th graders, but I did explain to the parents in our meeting that we would be doing things differently this time around.  Our belief is that the best person for the part gets cast, regardless of age or even gender.  If two children are equally capable of performing the role, I generally resort to seniority but only if it's a dead tie for the role.  I was worried that these parents might be disappointed with the casting since, after much deliberation and discussion with my creative team, we decided to give the lead role to an incredibly talented 5th grader.  
Putting my concerns out of my mind, I closed up my computer and head out the door to grab Starbucks before rehearsal.  Just as I was taking my first glorious sip of my Chai Latte, my phone rang.  It was a number I didn't recognize.  I braced myself and answered.
PARENT:  Hi! I just saw the cast list and I think there must be some mistake...
DIRECTOR: Oh?
PARENT:  Well, the girl playing Dorothy is a 5th grader and the girl playing the Scarecrow, well, my daughter says she didn't even want a speaking role, and I think you must have made a mistake.
DIRECTOR: Let me just pull up the list here on my phone...no, it's correct.
PARENT 1:  Really??  Because if that's the case, you're going to have a lot of these 8th grade girls who are going to drop out.  This is ridiculous.  They have been doing this show for the past four years and have worked so hard.  I mean, my daughter has been dancing competitively for years and now she's just in the ensemble?  She would have to drop out of  a dance class in order to come to rehearsals and it's just not worth it.  And these girls are heartbroken.  I mean, seriously.  We are all just shocked.  And if the kids are so shocked, don't you think that you have made some sort of mistake?  You only auditioned them for a few hours; how could you possibly have seen everything you needed to in that amount of time?  I don't think there is any way that we will be able to participate in this production.

I listen.  I assure her that there is plenty for the actors to do in the ensemble. I explain that our very best dancers were cast in the ensemble since they are the ones who will be featured in the musical numbers.  I remain calm.  I do not interrupt.  I let her voice all of her concerns without comment until she says "I mean that tiny little girl you cast as the lead, with her squeaky little voice" to which I responded:
DIRECTOR:  "Mam, I will listen to your concerns about your child, I will listen to the concerns voiced to you from the other parents, I will even listen to you questioning my methods and abilities as a director, but I must ask that you absolutely refrain from speaking about any of the other children cast in my production.  I am going to hang up now."
I was livid and heartbroken.  I pictured the little girl, hearing she was cast as Dorothy, lighting up with joy and pride.  Then I pictured her fellow castmates, these 8th graders she was so looking forward to working with and desperately trying to impress, dropping out of the production because they couldn't support my decision to cast her in the lead role.  
I sat in front of that Starbuck for forty minutes, answering irate phone calls and emails.  One mother sent me an email and reprimanded me for letting her daughter think she would get the lead role.  Indeed her daughter was a top contender for the role of Dorothy, that is why we called her back to sing and read for the part several times.  I very much wanted to cast her, she was a little older and I could tell she really wanted the role.  But in the end, the girl we cast, our 5th grader, sang it beautifully and she was just the best for the part.  So when this mother emailed me and told me: 
PARENT 2: "I am so disappointed in your casting process.  It is simply unkind to repeatedly call [my daughter] for Dorothy call backs, far more than any other student, watch her work her but off in singing, dancing and acting, then give her a chorus role. The lovely young lady who was cast as Dorothy was a surprise to everyone. Not only did she not want the role, publicly at least, but there is common agreement among your young cast that she is neither senior nor wildly talented.  If my daughter is not talented she never should have been called up repeated for Dorothy or any other major role before an audience of her peers. If she doesn't have the talent of stars actors, she and the others never should have been given the impression that she does.  I repeat this is simply unkind. It is no consolation to be called a triple threat when you and everyone else knows someone with lesser talent was given a role you worked hard for. I hope you review your casting process for future performances."  
I broke down.  I read this email through tears.  I know I talk a big game about getting a thick skin but when casting is involved, I can be an emotional mess.  I know how much it hurts to work your butt off for a role and not get it.  I hate the thought that I gave this poor actress any false hope.  But I also can't stand the idea that these poor kids who have been cast in their dream roles were being bullied and disrespected by adults and children alike because of the cast list.  
I called the boss and talked about my concerns, about the emails, about the severe backlash.  I asked if he thought I should drop this project - I was genuinely concerned that my presence would be a negative influence on this production, on this community.  I felt confident about my casting decisions but had been so beaten up with the outpouring of furious responses that I didn't know if I was up for this particular challenge.  My boss told me that I was the only one who could take this on and that only by seeing this project through, would I be able to get over this.
He was right.
About 8 students dropped out of this production.  In addition to the immediate negative feedback I received, I also began to hear some extremely positive feedback from a large portion of parents and people from the community, grateful that their kids were given an opportunity to perform.  As rehearsals continued, the cast and parents learned to trust me and I started to have fun again.  The production was a huge success.  I even had Parent 2 approach me after closing and compliment my casting decisions.  And when our Dorothy belted out the last notes of "Home" every night, she was met with a standing ovation.  I have never been prouder of any performer than I am of that sweet girl.  She had students come up to her in the halls and demand that she drop out of the show, she was told to her face that she wasn't good enough for the role, she was bullied and mocked for months but she stuck with it and turned out a stunning performance.  
Looking back on this, I would have done some things differently.  I was over confident and a little naive.  I had been working with the same schools, the same students, for years and I had forgotten what it was like to work with new parents.  I should have shown my work a bit more.  I should have better prepared them for the casting process.  I should have worked with the school to make sure these young performers were shielded from the aftermath.  
This production was by far the most extreme negative reactions from parents that I have ever received.  But in the end, it was incredibly rewarding.  Seeing the community come together and give support to this production was great.  And I think everyone learned something in the process.
Dream Big.
Steph

Dear Those Going Off to Theatre School...

As a theatre director, I have seen many of my students go on to incredible colleges and universities to continue their acting studies.  I'm incredibly proud of all of my former students and love hearing about how wonderful or terrifying their experiences can be in the world of academic theatre.  I myself received my BA in acting from Marymount Manhattan College and then received my Masters in classical acting from Central School of Speech and Drama so I'm a BIG fan of honing one's craft in an academic setting.  Before my students head off on this incredible journey, I can't help but give them a few pieces of advice that I wish someone had told me before I headed off to NYC for my freshman year and I thought I would share it with you now.

LISTEN MORE THAN YOU SPEAK
You are paying a great deal of money for this experience and when you speak, you are not learning anything new, you are regurgitating what you already know.  And dropping a buttload of money to only hear yourself spew what you have already learned really doesn't make much sense.  Listen to your professors, of course, but also listen to your dormmates, your classmates, the people you share the subway with.  Listen to everyone.  Listen with the intent to understand not to reply.  Theatre majors tend to be some of the most vibrant people on campus.  Chances are you spent much of your high school life singing show tunes at the top of your lungs at inappropriate times and places.  Odds are, as a theatre kid, you've lived your life loudly, which is a wonderful way to live, however, I encourage you to ignore the urge to show off to your new friends, at least for the first few weeks.  Watch and listen and determine which of your fellow classmates you feel a true connection with and seek out their company.  Then you guys can tap dance through the halls to your heart's content.

BREAK OUT OF YOUR COMFORT ZONE
As you head to your first class, remember that only by taking risks are we able to grow.  You will want to impress your teachers with your amazing talent, and you WILL, but don't forget to show them how willing you are to challenge yourself to try new things in their class.  If you've struggled with dance, sign up for extra classes.  If you've always feared the Bard, pick a Shakespearean monologue to work on.  You are not doing yourself any favors spending the next four years polishing the skills you already have.  Drain every ounce of knowledge from that institution so when you walk out of there you never wish that you had done more with your time there.

AUDITION FOR EVERYTHING
So what if there's not a role for you in that show.  Auditioning is basically what professional actors do for a living.  If your school regulates what you can audition for then you're pretty much stuck BUT if you have the freedom to audition for student productions or professional theatre in the area, DO IT!  The less you audition, the scarier auditioning can seem.  But the more you audition, the better you become at auditioning.  You'll learn what songs are your favorite to sing, how to dress for comfort and for style, and you'll get a reputation for being a pro (assuming you've read my post about how to audition and you follow those guidelines).  Don't let any opportunities pass you by!

GET TO KNOW YOUR PROFESSORS
Really know them.  Email them questions.  Ask for their feedback.  Support them by seeing the shows they've directed or read the books they've written.  Make connections that will last a lifetime.  Don't be shy if they're famous.  They won't think you're fangirling if you reach out to them from time to time.  You don't have to attack them after class every week to make an impression.  Come to class prepared and ready to participate and you will make yourself known.  You want to have the kind of relationship with your professors that if you see them in an audition room years down the line, they remember you fondly.

TREAT YOUR BODY WELL
Seriously.  I know that college is a time for exerting our independence and often times that can take it's toll on your body.  As performers, your body and your voice are the only instruments you've got.  If you smoke or drink heavily, you will destroy them.  For every day that you spend in bed hung over instead of heading to dance class or practicing your sonnet, that's a day that you've taken away from practicing your craft.  Don't let those days stack up... 

DITCH YOUR EGO
You're extremely hard working and talented - which is how you managed to get to this school, to make it into this program.   Stay humble.  When you find yourself the only sophomore with a small role in the mainstage production of Pirates of Penzance, stay grateful for the opportunity and avoid gloating to your classmates.  When you encounter a professor or director that uses a different style than you're used to, avoid complaining about them with your classmates after rehearsals.  Find something, anything, that you can learn from this person.  When a classmate is working crew on your show, introduce yourself and learn their name.  When you're asked to work crew for a production, throw yourself into this role.  Be the best damn spot operator they've ever seen!  Learn how to use a drill and a crescent wrench.  Take pride in working behind the scenes.

REMEMBER TO BE PRESENT
There will be times, many times, when you will get caught up in the chaos of classes, rehearsals, homesickness, drama, and the excitement of this new life.  Don't forget to stop every now and then and enjoy this incredible experience.  In your acting classes, listen to your scene partners.  Avoid trying to anticipate every tiny moment on stage and off.  Go with the flow instead of trying to control it.  And it should go without saying but a big part of being present means being PRESENT.  Go to your classes.  Strive for 100% attendance.  I cannot reiterate this enough.  You will not grow if you do not go. 

KEEP A JOURNAL
This is incredibly important.  I go back and read my journals all the time for inspiration, to remember acting exercises that I did in class, or to re-discover old monologues.  Take copious notes and observe everyone around you.  Catalogue all of your experiences and in four years, you will have a THEATRE BIBLE with everything you've learned in one place (or 10 places if you're like me and go through a LOT of journals).  It's also a great way to stay connected to YOU.  Jot down your personal thoughts about school, life, etc, and it will help keep you more grounded.
You will not regret this one, I promise!

That's all for now.  I'm so proud of you all for chasing those dreams.  Now go to class!
DREAM BIG
Stephanie
 

 

 

What are people going to think?

When I was four years old I told my mom that I wanted to be a cartoon when I grew up.  Not really knowing what to make of that, she put me in modeling and acting classes and I've spent the rest of my life in the entertainment industry, in one form or another.  My career goals really took shape when I performed a monologue from Shakespeare's "The Winter's Tale" for my sophomore acting class final.  My father was in the audience and afterwards, he came up to me with tears in his eyes and said, "You have to do this.  You need to go to school for this. You're an actor."
My father, who was working as an executive in the high-tech industry at that time, fully supported my desire to become an actor.  It was a defining moment in my life.  I was given permission to follow my dreams and that permission has shaped me as an actor and as a mother.  Knowing that my parents are behind me 100% gives me the confidence to take risks in my career but whether it was their intention or not, they have also instilled in me a strong work ethic that has allowed me to find success in my chosen profession.  Now, let's be clear, success as an actor does NOT necessarily equate to financial stability.  

- every actor at some point in their career...

- every actor at some point in their career...

It's virtually impossible to support oneself by acting gigs alone.  Frankly, if I wasn't married to a generous and successful partner who contributed significantly to support our lifestyle, I would most likely not be able to live where I live and do what I do.  As artists, we need to be honest with ourselves about what success looks like for us.  For some, it could be supporting oneself working as an actor/educator.  For another, it could be to find financial stability from a different career but still pursue their love of costume design or stage management during the evenings and weekends.  
For me, my dream has always been to work in the theatre and I'm blessed to be able to do that.  Over the years it has meant learning new skills and putting acting on the back burner while I developed my skills as a director or educator.   I'm lucky that my dream has continued to evolve in ways that I never imagined.  After graduate school, I came back to the Bay Area to get married to the love of my life and the plan was to then move down to LA and start auditioning for television.  I could see myself writing and acting in a sitcom and I was eager to start making connections.  But at that time I had just started working with a youth theatre group called the Dream Team through the Starting Arts organization in the South Bay and as my husband and I looked at rental places down in southern California, I felt myself getting sad and then depressed at the idea of leaving my students.  Suddenly, I realized that my dream had shifted.  I was loving working with such wonderful talented kids and the idea of leaving them was no longer appealing.  So I spent the next seven years working to grow that program and develop the talent of those young performers.  Did I ever regret that decision or feel like I had abandoned my dream?  Never.  Instead of hanging on to the dreams of my youth, I was able to step back and reevaluate what I wanted from my life now.  And that meant a departure from acting.  At least for awhile.  
When my students tell me they want to become a professional actor, I ask them if there is ANYTHING else they would consider doing.  I ask them this because frankly becoming a "professional actor" is extremely difficult and if my student feels that they would be equally happy as a veterinarian or a lawyer, then I tell them to pursue those industries and just enjoy theatre as a hobby.  But to the handful of students that take off to study acting in college every Fall, I tell them to never stop working.  The work ethic that it takes to "make it" as an actor is outstanding.  You will need to keep auditioning through rejection, through despondency, through heartbreak, all while waiting tables or working retail so you're able to have a schedule that allows you to switch shifts and go on last minute cattle calls.  If you're able to use your talent to supplement your income that is a HUGE boon!  Keep practicing piano and then you'll be able to teach someday!  Or get a minor in education and work as a teaching artist after graduation.  Because getting your big break will take some time.  And the reality is, even if you get a Broadway contract, that contract won't last forever.  Acting is transient work, guys.  There is not much job security in this profession.
Okay, so back to those parents who's child just told them they want to major in theatre and become a professional actor.  I know you're torn between wanting to support their dreams and wanting your grandchildren to be raised with a silver spoon.  I'm here to tell you that while pursuing the dream might not be the most lucrative life, it absolutely makes for a happy soul.
I say this now, but if my daughter ever comes to me with a head full of Broadway Dreams, I know inside I'll be screaming "But what about my dreams of raising an engineer and retiring in the Bahamas?!" But I hope I'm able to encourage her to follow her dreams the way my parents have always encouraged me.  
Incidentally, my father has come up with a quick and easy reply when his colleagues are incredulous about my chosen career.  He tells them "Well, my daughter can get up in front of thousands of people and speak without breaking a sweat.  Can you say the same thing about your kids?"  That usually does the trick.  And there are thousands of other amazing ways that working in the theatre trains you for other careers!  I promise to post all about those in an upcoming blog.  For now, if you're wrestling with concerns about choosing an actor life for yourself or your children, know that the biggest difference between an actor that has success and an actor that does not, is that one of them gave up.
More soon.
DREAM BIG
Stephanie

How to appropriately advocate for your child: Part One

I became a mother two years ago to a fun and fearless energetic ball of joy named Penelope and even though she's still very young, I can already feel the Momma Bear inside of me that roars to life whenever I feel like she's in danger or needs protection.  So I understand the primal desire that stage moms feel when their child bursts into tears after the cast list gets posted and they are heartbroken with the results.  It's torture to watch your kid work their butt off to prepare for a role and then find themselves once again a member of the chorus.  And though your first instinct may be to write a scathing letter to the director about their poor casting skills, I have some other really helpful suggestions for channeling those feelings into a constructive way of supporting your child. 

The one who has the potential to turn me into my worst nightmare - a stage mom.

The one who has the potential to turn me into my worst nightmare - a stage mom.

1. Let your child do the talking.
Encourage your child to speak to their director themselves.  This is huge.  Allowing your child to take ownership of their feelings is incredibly important.  Often times it can be hard to ignore our own emotions and focus solely on how our children are feeling.  Even if you swear that you're "not really that kind of stage mom", you undoubtedly feel some sort of empathy for your kid when they get disappointed and sometimes that empathy can grow into anger or frustration that goes way beyond what your child is actually feeling (I have seen parents "advocate" on behalf of their child who was actually perfectly content to be cast as the third spear holder on the right).  We are Momma Bears, after all, and we are bound to have our own emotions to contend with when our children are upset.  So, to ensure that we don't accidentally attack the director with misplaced frustration when our son or daughter appears to be heartbroken over losing out on a part, encourage your kids to approach the director for feedback.  Email is a completely acceptable form of communication for this but I recommend doing it in person if possible.  Here's an example of a completely hypothetical conversation that I have had dozens of times.
ACTOR:  Excuse me, can I talk to you about my audition?
DIRECTOR:  Of course!
ACTOR:  I was wondering if you could give me some feedback about my audition and let me know what I should be working on if I'd like to be considered for leading roles.  I'm hoping to pursue acting as a career and I'd really like to know what I can do to move out of the chorus and into featured parts.

DIRECTOR: What an incredibly well thought out question.  I admire your dedication to your craft!
This is when the director will give gentle constructive criticism about the actor's audition.  Perhaps the leading roles in this show all have to be excellent tappers and the actor, who sang and acted the part beautifully, wasn't as experienced a tapper as another potential cast member.  Or perhaps their vocal type wasn't right for the part (they are an alto and the role requires a soprano).  Often times our younger performers don't understand that just because they can act the part, doesn't mean they are the right type for the part.  Certain roles require certain voices or dance techniques.  And it's also not true that the most talented performer gets the lead and the next talented performer gets the next biggest part and so on and so forth...that's just not the case.
[SIDEBAR:  What does that even mean "the most talented performer"??  There's no such thing.  We are all individuals.  We all have our own personal strengths and weaknesses.  To imagine that we would all be considered for the same roles is just not possible.  And this is why it's essential to understand our "type", which is of course a conversation for another blog post!]
So, that's one way the conversation can go, however, you need to prepare yourself and your child for a response from the director that is something along the lines of, "You gave a wonderful audition but the person we cast had a better audition and that is why we cast them in the part."  And that is a completely valid and acceptable response.  Because the world is full of talented individuals.  And even when we try our very best, sometimes it's not good enough to get the role.  And that's okay.  In fact, that's the norm.  And quite frankly, learning to deal with disappointment early on will help our actors develop that thick skin that is necessary to have in this industry.
2. Be the parent, not the coach.  
Your child is going to be disappointed from time to time if they choose to pursue acting.  And if you're like me, you are going to want to help them in any way you can.  You might even have a background in acting or dancing so you're able to help them with their lines or prepare for their audition.  That's great!  What's not great is when you hear that your daughter wasn't called back for the lead role and you ask "Well, how did you do?  Did you sing your song well?  Did you smile while you sang it?  And did you point to the moon on that one line like we practiced?"  This is not helpful.  Your child will rely on you for comfort following a disappointing audition.  He will be given enough criticism or guidance from his directors, choreographers, and vocal directors.  What he needs from his parents is love and support.
PARENT: I know you're disappointed, sweetie, but I'm so proud of you!  You practiced so hard and I can't wait to see how much you'll learn in this production!
ACTOR: Thanks, mom.  I know I did my best so I'm happy with my audition.  

Admittedly, it will most likely take a box of Kleenex and several hours of listening to the Hamilton soundtrack to really cheer your child up but they will bounce back much quicker if you help them accept their role and model a positive outlook.  You can cry into your glass of Chardonnay after they go to sleep.  
 3. If you really feel that you need to contact the director with concerns, wait.  
I can't tell you how many emails I have received the night the cast list has been posted from furious parents who are reacting with their protective Momma Bear instincts and I bet many of them would not have pushed send on that email the following morning after their initial anger had dissolved.  By all means, write that scathing email in which you call into question my credentials, in which you insinuate that I am playing favorites (towards children I have never met before) or in which you all but directly (or actually directly in some cases) call me a hack.  But I encourage you to refrain from pushing send until the following morning.  And if you do actually still feel the need to send me an email, please be respectful.  Be polite.  Voice your concerns.  NEVER remark on the other performers in the production!  Ask questions about the audition process, about the part that your child will be playing, or if there is anything that they can be working on or improve for their next audition.  This kind of contact with the parents is totally acceptable.  But I truly recommend that you only reach out to a director if you actually feel that some injustice has occurred.  Even the best directors can make mistakes in auditions, myself included, and when that happens a polite enquiry from a parent can have important consequences.
But I need every parent to consider one thing before they reach out to a member of the creative team with concerns.  Please remember that this is our job.  So if you come to us with complaints about casting decisions it's the same as someone coming into your work and complaining about the way you designed that website or criticizing the lesson plans you spent all summer creating.  Please remember that for us this isn't some hobby or after school activity designed to look good on college applications.  This is our career.  And we take it very seriously.  So before you reach out to us with your questions, picture what it would feel like to have someone question the way you do your job.  I don't mean to suggest that we shouldn't be open to constructive criticism in our lives or our work - I encourage the parents I work with to approach me with any and all concerns - but I do stress the importance of being respectful with all parent/director communication.  Remember, the kids are always watching.  So if they see Mommy make a huge scene because they didn't get the part then they are learning that to get what they want they should bully and intimidate.  However, if they are encouraged to stand up for themselves, voice their own concerns, and approach the director with questions on how to improve as an actor, then they learn that the road to success is paved with hard work, respect, and dedication.
I feel that I need to let you all know that though it must seem like my world is filled with Scary Stage Moms, in reality I have been blessed with some of the most incredibly caring, supportive, funny, and wonderful parents a director could ask for.  I share the scary mom stories as cautionary tales but most of what I've learned about how to be a great stage mom was from the behavior I've witnessed from the stage moms in my life.  They have showed me how you can be an advocate for your child while respecting the creative process and their unconditional love and support for their kids have helped shape who I am as a mother with my daughter.  I assure you that in addition to the Scary Stage Mom posts to come, I will also be sharing stories of the Savvy Stage Moms I've had the pleasure of knowing over the years.  I'm eternally grateful for the trust they have placed in me to train their talented young performers - it is a privilege I do not take for granted.
DREAM BIG,
Stephanie


 

 

You need to be willing to fail.

Dear Type-A Actor,
It's the first day of rehearsal.  You've got your script in a binder or maybe you even stopped by Kinkos and got it spiral bound (you're such a pro!), you've got your lines highlighted, you've got three pencils, a notebook, your dance shoes, a healthy snack, and your water bottle.  You're so ready.  You are the most prepared actor ever.  You've been practicing for weeks.  You've written a detailed character history.  You've watched every available bootleg of the Broadway production (strictly as research because you would never dream of copying a performance!) and you've read your script at least ten times.  You're so prepared it's intimidating.  And that might be part of the point.  You stroll into rehearsal with a confidence that demands to be noticed.  You sit up tall in the front row of the theatre and make eye contact with the directing team as we enter.  I see you. 
We all do.  You want to nail this performance.  And that makes me worry.
I worry about you, Type-A Actor, because you might give me some trouble in the next couple of weeks.  I've worked with you before.  Hell, I've BEEN you many times.  You have a tendency to want to get it RIGHT.  And that means you might not be willing to fail.
I worry that the performance I see in the read through on our first day will be the performance that I see during every rehearsal and ultimately this will be the performance that our audiences experience as well.  And it's not that this performance is bad.  It's good, actually!  This is the performance that we saw at the auditions and it's the reason you got the part.  But this performance is safe.  And acting should never be safe.
The rehearsal is a place for failure.  I know that sounds weird.  Most of us spend a lot of time and effort trying to avoid failure.  But I tell you that if you don't fail at least once or twice during rehearsal, you're not doing it right.  Because taking risks is how we push ourselves past our comfort zones into that vulnerable and raw emotional place where great things happen.  It's how we determine if a line is funny or not.  It's how we discover the subtext or the beauty of an awkward silence.  And when we take risks, we are bound to fail from time to time.  
My dearest Type-A Actor, I know that you want to be the best you can be at all times.  You want to get it "right" from the beginning and make everyone proud.  You might actually be self-conscious behind your confident exterior.  It is probably incredibly difficult for you to be vulnerable in real life (which is ironic since you play it so well on stage).  I totally get it.  We all deal with the pains of this business - the constant rejection, the judgements made about our physical appearance, the stress of needing to find a way to support ourselves while in between jobs - and you've developed this professional plastic coating that preserves your talent in its mint condition for all to see.  It's impressive, don't get me wrong, but it does you a disservice.  Being so prepared for your first rehearsal, means you've eliminated the opportunity to make discoveries about your character during the rehearsal process.  If you've answered all your questions before walking into the rehearsal room then you've neglected the relationships that exist between you and your fellow cast members and how those will influence your character.  You've ignored the important moments of clarity that come from working a scene on its feet with direction and context.  You've made all of your character decisions before the work even starts.  And while I admire your work ethic, I worry that you won't be able to break out of your "professional actor candy coating" to take risks and fail every once and awhile.
So, Type-A Actor, I encourage you to risk being underprepared for a role.  Come into your first rehearsal with the following checklist:
- Script
- Pencil
- Dance shoes
- Snack/water
- Questions
As a director, I don't expect my actors to have all of the answers on their first day or even our last day.  Theatre is great because it's LIVE which means that the characters are living breathing creatures who are affected by things like the mood of the audience, the health of the actor playing them, the current political climate; anything and everything can affect our performance on any given night.  So, I encourage all my actors to stop working for a "perfect performance".  Instead, work towards an honest one.  Come to your first rehearsal willing to make some wrong choices and I bet you'll notice a difference.  It might mean that you're slightly less intimidating on your first day and I think that's okay too.  We see you.  We know you're talented.  We know you're prepared.  We just hope that you're also willing to fail.
Happy rehearsing.
Dream Big,
Stephanie

The Audition, what to do and what not to do...

The audition is hands down the most stressful part of an actor's life.  Well, after paying the bills.  I've compiled a list of important things for actors to remember before entering the audition room.  This list comes from years spent as a casting director as well as feedback from accompanists, choreographers, and music directors that I've had the pleasure of working with over the years.  Even if you're a veteran who's been auditioning for decades, it never hurts to get a quick refresher so take a peek and see if you're unintentionally breaking any of the rules.

For the newbies: A typical musical theatre audition will ask you to prepare 16-32 bars of music (about a minute, sometimes 45 seconds, sometimes 30 seconds) and occasionally they'll want to see a short monologue as well.  You'll most likely also be asked to a dance call.  To prepare for a standard musical theatre audition, here are some audition dos and don'ts. 

DO Dress appropriately.  
For a musical theatre audition, you want to wear something that you feel confident wearing and that allows the casting team to picture you as the role you want.  This does not mean wearing a costume!  If you're auditioning for Grease and you really want the role of Sandy, a dress and flats would be a great audition outfit.  If you'd love to play Rizzo, black pants and a red lip would be a perfect choice.  If there is a dance component to your musical theatre audition, you'll need to bring dance clothes and shoes.  Throw all of your dance shoes in your audition bag - you never know if they'll ask you to tap or you may feel more comfortable doing the combination in your character heels.  It's better to be safe than sorry.
PRO TIP: If you change clothes for the dance audition, make sure you are in the same color that you wore for the vocal audition.  We want to be able to recognize you from one audition space to the other.  The people who stand out for me are the ones who are able to maintain the same look throughout the whole day.  If you're wearing a yellow dress for the vocal auditions, try a yellow top with your leggings for the dance call.  Those small details can make a huge difference.

DON'T get lazy.
I don't want to put anyone on blast, but I know some veteran actors who can get a bit lazy when it comes to auditioning.  They figure, "Hey, this director knows me and they've worked with me before.  It's cool to wear jeans to the dance audition or forget my jazz shoes at home." It's not okay.  And we see this as a lack of respect for our audition.  We love you but don't be that guy.

DO remember your headshot and resume.
Your headshot should be a recent photo that is printed in color on 8x10 photo paper.  You can easily print them out individually at any Walgreens or Costco. Your resume should be on one sheet of paper, single sided.  If you've been in so many productions that you need two pages, it's time to make some edits.  Maybe we don't need to know that you were the Third Donkey in your Sunday School's Christmas Pageant in 1987.  Also, only list applicable special skills and be prepared to demonstrate.  It is commonplace for directors to ask to see random skills listed on a resume in the audition room and if they are done well, it's definitely a check in the pro column.
PRO TIP: Trim your resume down to 8x10 as well.  That way it's the same size as your headshot and it's easier to file with all of our paperwork.  I've seen casting directors toss resumes just because they weren't trimmed.  

DON'T be a diva.
I worked as a casting director for a small theatre company in San Francisco many years ago.  We were such a small company that sometimes I was running auditions alone, which meant I would check people in at the front desk in our lobby then walk them back to the black box and ask them to perform their monologue for me.  It wasn't ideal but I managed.  I can't tell you how many times people assumed I was just "some assistant" or volunteer.  One man stands out in my mind as a prime example of what not to do.  He came in to the lobby in a huff and was very rude when he checked in with me, acting annoyed when I told him to fill out the paperwork then snapping at me when I told him we didn't have a water fountain.  I suggested he could fill up a water bottle in the bathroom and he rolled his eyes at me.  He muttered rude remarks about the neighborhood under his breath, changed shoes, sniffed his armpits, basically acted as if I wasn't even in the room.  When it was his audition time, I told him to follow me into the theatre.  We entered the empty room and I crossed to the audition table and sat down.  His eyes widened and his mouth actually dropped open.  
"Are you the casting director?" he asked.
"Why yes!  I am, " I replied with a smile, "Now, what are you going to perform today?" 
He didn't get a callback.  
Remember that EVERYONE is important.  The assistants and volunteers deserve your utmost respect.  Many of them are donating their time to make sure you have an opportunity to audition.  It speaks volumes about a performer when they don't make the time to treat everyone they encounter in the audition with respect and there are too many talented people out there to waste our time on the divas.  
PRO TIP: Send thank you notes.  Real ones.  On paper.  Address them to the theatre and send one to everyone you encountered at your audition.  If you're like me and you completely blank on the names of everyone in the audition room the moment your audition is over, then ask the assistant in the lobby for their names as you exit.  The assistant will be more than willing to help.  Also, get their name and send one to them.  It makes a difference.

DO organize your audition binder.
This is a big one folks.  If you're planning on auditioning for multiple shows a year, you need an audition book.
Audition Book - this link is a good resource for what exactly should be in your audition book.  
If you're brand new to the audition process, you might not need a full audition book.  You will, however, need to bring sheet music to the audition.  
Finding Sheet Music - here's an article that addresses JUST the sheet music part of the audition.
You'll need to put your sheet music in a three-ring binder.  Mark your music so it's clear to the accompanist where you'll begin and where you'll end.  If you're doing any fancy cuts, go through those ahead of time with your accompanist.  Make sure your sheet music is copied in a way that makes for the least amount of page turns for your accompanist.  If you're not able to print your sheet music double sided, taping your pages together so they are easier to turn is a great idea.  You can also use sheet protectors, though many accompanists are annoyed by the glare so make sure they are the anti-glare sheet protectors.
Make sure it's the actual sheet music and not copied from the libretto.  The accompanist will not be able to play that sheet music.  
Your audition book should contain sheet music for your full song, in addition to the cut piece you'll use for auditions.  Many times the casting team will ask to hear more of your song.  Additionally, if you only have part of your song in your binder, you might be missing important information that the accompanist needs, like the time signature, so having the full song will solve that problem.  The casting team may even ask for another song so having three or four of your go-to songs in your binder is a great idea.  They need to all have the same 16-32 bar cuts and you need to have them well rehearsed and ready to go.  I'll cover how to pick the right song for your audition in another post.
PRO TIP: Fold the bottom corner of your pages to allow for easier page turns.  And if your song is three pages long, you can tape the final two pages together to create a fold out third page and save your accompanist a page turn.  They will love you!

Here's a secret peek inside Northwestern Theatre major Jon Toussaint's rep book. "It's thicker and more comprehensive than the one that I would usually bring to auditions. For each song I have the full song followed by various cuts (all marked up so the accompanist can easily follow the flow of the song and any stylistic markings - and with as few page flips as possible).  Ideally, I would also have side tabs to organize my songs by type (ballad, uptempo, pre-1965, etc.)" This is the 32 bar cut of "Larger Than Life", as you can all clearly see.

Here's a secret peek inside Northwestern Theatre major Jon Toussaint's rep book.
"It's thicker and more comprehensive than the one that I would usually bring to auditions. For each song I have the full song followed by various cuts (all marked up so the accompanist can easily follow the flow of the song and any stylistic markings - and with as few page flips as possible).  Ideally, I would also have side tabs to organize my songs by type (ballad, uptempo, pre-1965, etc.)"
This is the 32 bar cut of "Larger Than Life", as you can all clearly see.

And this is the end cut marked.

And this is the end cut marked.

And this is a 16 bar cut where Jon cut and pasted an extra line of music onto the page to eliminate an unnecessary page flip.  I know.  He's a total overachiever and would be completely annoying if he wasn't such an awesome guy.

And this is a 16 bar cut where Jon cut and pasted an extra line of music onto the page to eliminate an unnecessary page flip.  I know.  He's a total overachiever and would be completely annoying if he wasn't such an awesome guy.

DON'T neglect your accompanist.
The accompanist.  That's the incredibly talented person playing your music, often times saving your ass by plunking out the melody a bit harder than necessary to get you back on track.  Introduce yourself.  Calmly go over the cut you'll be using and sing through the tempo.  Some accompanists really dislike clapping through your tempo, others don't mind it so much.  
Professional musician and all around badass Lauren Bevilacqua says:
"Some alternatives might be tapping gently on the piano or tapping your chest as you sing the first part of the song. Take a breath before doing that too. Sometimes nerves impact the tempo you give! Yes. Introduce yourself. Even ask how the accompanist is doing. Be friendly and be yourself. We know you are nervous and focused and deep down we want to support your performance. I, personally, always marvel at how un-normal auditions are. It's not real life. Being positive and professional, prepared and knowledgeable about your piece (including cuts, ritards or accelerandos) will help you communicate with your accompanist in that short time."
I find that as long as you connect with your accompanist, are respectful, spend time making sure they understand your selection, then you'll make a good impression.  As a director, I often turn to the accompanist after an audition and ask for feedback.  Their opinion is incredibly important so do not neglect them.  And if for any reason, you lose the melody or the tempo isn't what you wanted, do not, I repeat do NOT look over at your accompanist with an annoyed look on your face.  Even if the mistake was the fault of your accompanist, do not let it register on your face that a mistake was made.  It draws unneeded attention to the one flaw in your otherwise lovely performance!  If your accompanist actually makes a mistake (which happens occasionally since, unlike you, they haven't been practicing this song for months ahead of time), the room will know and they will award you extra bonus points for staying in character and being a true professional.  
PRO TIP: Learn your accompanist's name.  You will most likely meet them again in an audition room and it's always nice to see a friendly face there!

DO time your monologue.
Most of us will time your monologue performance.  If we say a one minute monologue, you will be cut off at one minute.  Practice with a stopwatch ahead of time.

DON'T give us the hurt puppy dog look when we cut you off.
Say "thank you".  
PRO TIP: Make cuts in your monologue so all the juicy stuff is included and it still comes in under the one minute limit.  You don't just have to cut the beginning or end.  Often, making cuts from the middle of the monologue can let you keep the important information and include the climax.

DO have fun!
This is especially true for the dance call.  We can tell immediately who has had years of training and who is more of an "actor that moves well".  There is usually room for a variety of dance ability in the show, so what we need to see is if our dancers can have fun and sell it.  
PRO TIP:  We will not look at the mistakes your feet are making if your face is selling your performance. And that's the TRUTH!  It's also the only reason I've been asked to dance in musicals myself.

DON'T mark.
Ever. In a dance audition, in rehearsal, ever, unless granted permission by your choreographer.  You may think that you're hiding your lack of dance ability behind an aloof facade of "I don't really need to put much effort in, I can do this combo in my sleep", but really it looks like "I have no interest in being here and zero respect for this choreographer." So if you're not sweating during a dance call, you're doing it wrong.

DO know your conflicts.
Be prepared to give any and all conflicts for the rehearsal period at the audition.  It literally can mean the difference between getting a role or being passed over.  I auditioned for a production of "A Streetcar Named Desire" and I was cast but I had one conflict a week - I was going to be absent on Monday nights - and they had to recast due to the other actors' schedules.  Lesson learned.  Always arrive with conflicts for the director!

DON'T take it personally.
I realize this is easier said than done.  Getting rejected is hard but if you follow all of this advice AND perform your best and still don't get cast, then trust that there are other opportunities coming your way soon.  It helps to have a thick skin (which I'll cover in another post) as well as a solid understanding of your type (also a topic for another post); but I can honestly tell you that not being cast in a show does not reflect on your talent!  I can't tell you how many amazing people I would see for every audition that just didn't fit the needs of our season.  I kept all of their headshots and resumes and refer to them when I need to find talent for a new show. (Yes, I still have a bunch of old headshots and resumes in my garage - don't judge.)

I realize there is a lot of information lacking from this post - we haven't even begun to cover the material you should use in auditions!  But this is a basic overview of the dos and don'ts every performer can use when preparing for an audition.  
If you have any questions or want some audition advice, shoot me an email at stephanie.renee.maysonave@gmail.com and I'll answer you in a post!
Happy auditioning!

DREAM BIG
Stephanie

 

Scary Stage Mom Stories: Episode One

Several years ago, I was directing a middle school production of an obscure but wonderful Shakespeare comedy.  I had directed at this school the year before and assisted with the play the year prior to that.  I knew the kids very well and was excited to be back there.  
One of my students, a very talented 14 year old who had been one of the leads the previous year, spent the auditions laughing and chatting with her friends, creating quite a distraction.  She did not seem invested at all in her audition and so when it came time to cast the show, I cast her as a featured ensemble member with the rest of her friends.  The lead roles went to some fabulously talented and dedicated students, one of whom was a tiny little sixth grader who blew us all away with her ability to grasp the text.  I felt very happy with my casting decisions and slept soundly after emailing the cast list to the parents the night before our first rehearsal.
 

I awoke to an email from the parent of the 14 year old girl who I had cast in the ensemble and it was epic.  Printed out, the letter is 19 pages, though to be fair the last 7 pages are Shakespeare Mad Libs.  No, I'm not joking.  The mother spends 12 pages eviscerating me then suggests that I might want to use these Mad Libs in rehearsals!
In this letter, the mother criticizes my abilities as a director, she refers to her daughter as a "star" more than once, and demands that I take the lead role away from that "12 year old with no talent or experience" and give the role to her daughter.  That's a direct quote.
I read through the letter several times.  I began writing a response several times but was unable to fully articulate the complex combination of dismay and exasperation I was feeling.  Eventually, I passed the letter on to my boss who told me not to address it at all. 
So I didn't.
And the mother pulled her daughter out of the show and I never saw them again.  
But I still have the letter.  I keep it as a reminder that working in youth theatre means that I am working with young talented children as well as their determined parents.  We cannot forget about these mostly awesome and at times terrifying individuals that have chosen to support their children's wildest dreams.  They are often wonderful and the best ones can make my job so much easier.  There are also the parents that write 19 page letters.  But I don't hate these parents.  They are usually the ones who didn't realize their own wildest dreams and are hell bent on helping their children do better, whether they want that dream or not.
So, parents, we understand that when your child is heartbroken over casting decisions you want to advocate for them but please, wait 24 hours before hitting send on that email.  Otherwise you might find yourself the subject of a scary stage mom blog post!
DREAM BIG,
Stephanie

Audition for the show, not the role

"Audition for the show, not the role" - Stephanie Maysonave, to thousands of parents and students over the past decade.

This post is mostly for my students.  Professional actors can be a bit more choosy when it comes to their projects but in the world of youth theatre, it's best not to hang your hopes on the lead role.  And here's why.
There's only one Annie. Or Elle Woods.  And there are often times 50-100 kids auditioning for that role.  So heading into that audition determined to get the lead will most likely have disastrous results.  There are tears.  There are friendships ruined.  There are uncomfortable conversations with parents who demand that the director recast the show...
DIRECTOR:  Let me get this straight.  You're telling me that I should call the 3rd grader that has been cast as Alice and tell her she is no longer cast as Alice because I've given that role to your daughter?  That's what you're asking me to do right now? 
PARENT:  Yes.
DIRECTOR:  ...um, no.

But most importantly, getting your hopes up for one role is a sure fire way to suck the joy out of the situation.  Auditioning for lead roles is exhausting!  No matter how talented you are, there is no way that you're the right actor to play every lead.  The same actor should not be playing Tevye, Usnavi, Danny, and Tommy (Fiddler, In the Heights, Grease, and Tommy for the newbies).  So heading into an audition dead-set on getting the lead role can lead to total disappointment.  And that's no way to start rehearsals.  So here's what I recommend.
Parents, do what you can to promote the idea of the "show" over the "role".  "This show is so amazing with such great ensemble parts!",  "Any part will be so much fun" or "If you get a part in the chorus, you'll be dancing in almost every scene!" are all good ways to pump up your kid for auditions.  This is a really big deal.  For people outside of the theatre, the idea of a chorus part seems like it's less important than a lead role.  "My kid is playing a villager in Beauty and the Beast so what does that mean?".  That means your child is responsible for creating a character on their own - they often don't even have names.  These kids need to come up with a story.  So they are the baker in the village where Belle lives.  Awesome! How do they feel about baking? Do they like Belle? Do they secretly wish they could give up a life of baking to become an artist?  Encourage your child to think about their parts this way.  In the chorus your child will be responsible for learning complex harmonies.  For filling scenes with life without using their words.  Your child will be silent in most scenes but still have to push the action forward.  They will sing and dance and grow as actors.  But more that that, as chorus members, they are essential to the story.  So if your child sees their name on a cast list next to a chorus role, you tell them they are in for a lot of work! And they should be so proud of what they get to contribute to the story.
"I only want to play the lead" - thousands of extremely talented kids I've encountered over the years.  
And I ask them, "Why????".  Most of the kids I get to work with are incredibly talented.  They all play the leads in their school plays and they all intend to go on to win Tony and Academy Awards in the not too distant future.  But to get a Tony Award on Broadway, you're probably going to have to act in the chorus on Broadway for awhile.  Very few people get swept up from high school to star in a movie or a show and go on to fame and fortune without paying some dues.  So these kids that only perform as leads in their youth miss out on learning the very important skills one needs to be in the chorus.  They often don't have to dance as much or come up with character choices on their own.  They lack the ability to give focus on stage because they're so used to taking focus.  Being in the ensemble, or chorus, of a show also helps these young talented performers learn about humility.  They understand what it's like to share a dressing room with a dozen kids, what it's like to bow first in the curtain call, what it's like to support your fellow cast members as they receive the standing ovation.  These are very important experiences and they are best had at a young age before their performer ego grows to an unhealthy size.  I honestly cannot stress the value of humility enough and will probably dedicate an entire blog post to it soon.
And lastly, if a young performer auditions for a show and doesn't get the lead role, then they were not the best person for the role.  Thems the breaks.  Either they didn't sing or act the part as well as someone else, they were too tall to play Annie, or sometimes, they were such a great dancer that we needed them to play another role!  But by dropping out of the show, they are missing an opportunity to GROW!  I worked with a young actor who auditioned for several productions that I directed and every time she didn't get the lead, she dropped out of the show.  Her mother told me that she didn't want to waste time/money if she wasn't a lead in the show.  I finally told the mother that this young girl, while talented, did not have the acting chops she needed to play a lead role.  And by dropping out of the shows, she was missing a great opportunity to grow as a performer!  That's how you learn to act/dance/sing!  By being in the chorus.  So it always seems so silly to me to drop out of a production because you didn't get the lead.  Do you think next year you will have improved on your own and will magically get the lead role??  Probably not.  Better to learn on this production and show that you're a hard worker and a team player and try again next year - after wowing your director with your excellent work ethic (another topic that will be discussed at length at another time). 
And that idea of working hard to get better is kind of true for life, not just theatre.  If you're not where you want to be in sports, academics, work, etc, then you work harder and try again.  Letting our children audition for shows and drop out when they don't get the part that they want sends a really bad message.  It says that the lead role is the only one worth having - which is ridiculous - and that if you don't get your way, you can quit.  Many of the parents who let their children drop out of shows would never think about letting their child quit soccer or baseball if they weren't playing the position they wanted.  Because they understand that there is a commitment to the team in the world of sports.  
Well, there's a commitment to the team in theatre.  A huge commitment.  These kids are being asked to take risks and be incredibly vulnerable on stage in front of an audience.  That is so brave!  So we need to support them. And help them understand that every role is important.  And by auditioning for a show, they are entering a commitment to their fellow cast members.
I, myself, am a chorus performer.  I spend most of my time directing, but when I do occasionally appear in a musical, I am a member of the chorus.  Mostly because I'm terrified to sing by myself!  So as a chorus performer, I can tell you that it is one of the most rewarding and challenging roles out there.  The chorus is the heart of the production and anyone should be proud to call themselves a member of that ensemble.
I hope that I've helped inspire some young performers to look at auditions differently and some parents to encourage their performers to consider the "show", not the "role".
Dream Big,
Stephanie

Acting isn't about being pretty

 

As actors, we are required to use our bodies as our instruments and this can lead to some major insecurities and an unhealthy obsession with our looks.  It's a hard thing to be able to separate yourself as a person from the actor in the audition room.  If you are too tall to play Annie, this doesn't mean that you're too tall in real life.  In a world where we are scrutinized and judged by our physical appearance, it can take its toll on our self esteem.  In my work with young actors, I am very aware of the messages we send our performers about their value.  I can't tell you how many times one of my young performers will come to me in a state because their costume isn't cute or they don't want to wear that wig because it will mess up their hair.  Young performers are so worried about looking good that they often times sacrifice their performance because they're concerned about their appearance on stage.  
Actors usually posses a certain amount of healthy ego and vanity.  The fact that we have to get up in front of a room full of strangers night after night means that we have a natural concern for our appearance.  But the best actors understand that not all characters are pretty.  Acting isn't always about being pretty.  Sometimes we're downright ugly.  And that's okay.  Because we are not defined as people by the characters we play on stage.  And once we realize that truth, we are free to explore a whole variety of quirky characters without worrying about how ridiculous we look.  
When I approach a character, I try to ignore that annoying little voice inside my head that points out all of my physical flaws.  It never goes away completely because, hello, still human.  But when that voice tries to deter me from making a character choice, I ignore it.  And I know that sometimes (much of the time) I look ridiculous on stage.  But that's okay.  Because most of the time, these characters are ridiculous.  Delightfully so.  And to portray them as anything less than that would be an injustice.  

An example of me looking ridiculous on stage.

An example of me looking ridiculous on stage.


So to all of my young performers I just want to tell you that I get it.  I remember being in middle school and high school and being completely concerned with how I looked at all times.  It's really hard to get on stage feeling anything less than beautiful.  But I encourage you all to take risks and embrace your flaws.  Because it's our flaws that make for dynamic and beautiful characters.  And frankly, the more that we ignore that voice in our heads on stage, then the easier it gets to ignore that voice in real life.  And maybe eventually, that voice will shut up for good!  
Dream Big,
Stephanie

My kid wants to be an actor...now what?

Parents often ask me what they can do to help their child get work.  It's actually pretty simple and I've outlined some specific things you can do right now to begin getting professional performance opportunities for your child.  
When your child expresses interest in acting, dance, singing, or performance of any kind, get them in classes.  Training is INCREDIBLY important.  Many times kids will want to audition for show after show and never take any classes which can be fun, sure, but they are not really growing as performers.  Too often we equate experience with education and while experience is great, it does not teach our performers the skills they need to hone their craft.  I had learned tap for several productions but it was only when I started taking a tap class that I realized what it meant to tap dance.  Show choreography is different from a combination in a dance class. Often our choreographers will choreograph for the level of talent they have in their cast so in reality, the dancers aren't learning many new skills.  It's in the classes that they truly grow.                    
Okay, your child is taking classes and growing as a performer - yay! What's the next step?  Find a youth theatre production in your area or at your child's school and have them audition.  Get them involved on a local and fun level.  Most young performers will really shine with a combination of classes and youth theatre productions.  If your child is happy and enjoying herself, then relax. You don't need to take another step.  However, if your child is dying to do more, and wants to branch out and do some professional theatre or even film and commercial work, then you can look at some websites that will help you move beyond the realm of children's musical theatre.
Locally, here in the Bay Area, there are some amazing resources for you as parents and for us as performers.  First of all, sign up for Theatre Bay Area.
http://www.theatrebayarea.org
This is a great resource for new actors and seasoned professionals alike.  If it's on stage in the Bay Area, it's in Theatre Bay Area.  Here you will find audition listings as well as recommendations for theatre to see.  

And you can get yourself a shiny new bumper sticker!

And you can get yourself a shiny new bumper sticker!


Also, for local Bay Area parents, check out SF Casting.  
www.SFcasting.com
This is a great resource for actors looking to get some film or commercial work.  There are tons of auditions posted, including student films, which is a wonderful way to get some experience.
Theatre Bay Area and SF Casting require a cost to participate, but it's completely worth it if your child is serious about pursuing performance as a career.  There are performance opportunities listed on Craigslist and I have gotten work from them in the past, but searching through the classifieds are not something I would recommend for parents new to this professional performance game.
Another thing your child will need is theatrical headshots.  These usually run about $300+ so they are an investment.  Your child needs to look their age in the shots and look like their true selves, so no prom hair or Sunday school clothes.  For this reason, you need to hire a photographer that specializes in theatre headshots and not use your family's portrait photographer (unless they have experience in this sort of photography as well). 
For most auditions, your child will also need a resume.  You'll need to list their hair and eye color, height and weight as well as any previous acting experience or training.  List their most recent roles at the top of the list and go in reverse chronological order.  This can seem like a small detail but it's one that makes a huge difference.    
You may be thinking about seeking representation for your child.  That's a step we take only when we've had some success on the local level and finding an agent is something that I'll cover in another post.  For now, just know that getting representation can be a long process and not a necessary step for your child to take to get professional acting work.
This one might go without saying but make it a habit to take your child to live performances!  Go out to Orinda to see some Shakespeare or to San Francisco to see the Ballet.  Don't just see the big National Tours when they come to town but find your local community theatre and become a patron there.  That leads me to my final point:
Make connections to local theatre.  Get to know the artists that perform and see their shows. Friend them on Facebook and join their theatre community.  Don't just do this with the intention of getting your child in with the company, but begin to cultivate real relationships within the theatre community!  Connections are truly your best resource for getting your child some professional performance opportunities. 
Hope that helps and happy auditioning!
DREAM BIG
Stephanie