Be Confident. Be Yourself. Gee, thanks.


Family and non-theatre friends (“Civilians” as my friend Jay calls them) are essential supporters in our lives. We’re in a high sacrifice, low payout career. Having normal human beings around can be the key to maintaining sanity and perspective. Still, we occasionally have to translate our odd experiences to those, the fully functional, who have not chosen to be systematically rejected as a way of life. Bless them.

Off we trot to audition after audition. They shout, “Just be confident! Be yourself!” We try not say, “That’s not helpful! It doesn’t mean anything. But thank you for your support!”

Except, actually…

It isn’t meaningless.

In fact, it’s flawless. It’s perfect. They are so right on. It is ever so more helpful than my usual, “Tits up!” (Although at the very least, it can’t hurt, right?)

Let me translate.

“BE YOURSELF”

You’re on the phone with your Mom. You say, “Welp, guess I better go get ready for this audition.” And she says, “Well, you know what you do? You just get in there and be yourself. Break a leg!” (My Mom has stopped saying this due to the audible sighing on my end of the line. I don’t blame her. BUT she USED to. My Dad still does. Turns out they are geniuses. Read on.)

You think, How can I possibly be myself when I’m either terrified or have surrended to hopelessness or am feeling so competitive I don’t even recognize the person inhabiting my body (depending on the audition) and am speaking/singing someone else’s words under someone’s else’s circumstances. I am nothing if not NOT myself. Myself shows up belching in the car afterward, changing into flip flops and cracking something with caffeine I had denied myself until the audition was over, texting Will saying “I’m done. You want Chipotle?” THAT is me. Eager Beave in the audition room is somebody else. They say, “Can you do an Armenian accent?” And this person, whoever she is, says, “YES! Of course! I also clean bathrooms for free.”

You feel me. I know you do.

I once had an audition, I swear to God, that went like this.

DIRECTOR: Are you funny? You seem funny.
ME: (Completely not funny.) Yes. I’m funny.
DIRECTOR: Are you nervous?
ME: Yes.
DIRECTOR: Why?
ME: I’m always nervous.
DIRECTOR: That’s funny.
ME: …
DIRECTOR: Don’t be nervous.

Don’t think of purple dinosaurs, lady.

Actually, that ended up being a fairly successful audition. But my true self was sitting at the back of the house eating popcorn and saying, “OH just wait until I tell the other personalities about THIS one.”

So how do we access the humorous, joyous, intelligent and charming individuals we all are when we are also under positive stress. Here’s how:

1. Your material. This is a running theme with me. What you pick, what you are attracted to, the language of the pieces you use are all ways of showing who you are. What are those roles that just scream YOU to you? Do a piece from those shows!

Sidebar: Why not just write something for myself then? Well. I mean this with love. You probably aren’t a very good playwright. Most people aren’t. It’s cool. I’m not. This is very thin ice to tread. BUT if you think you are a good writer, and you think you can write a piece that will blow folks out of the water, then do it. Take a good risk. Make sure it’s active and not a story. I would also suggest saying the piece was written by “Anonymous” because if you say you wrote it, you will have just made a steep hill an even steeper one to climb. BUT, I’m all about authenticity and if you have genitals made of steel, more power to you. Preach!

2. Quit trying to imagine what the director or casting director is looking for. You will never know. Pick material you think is appropriate for the piece. Prepare it well. Audition. Go home and get Chipotle.

In a callback situation, read the play (READ THE PLAY), make strong choices. Let them direct you. Accept that they won’t always direct you. The important thing is how these words come out of YOUR mouth. What YOUR presence is in the role. Yes, YOU. Certainly we would all like to try our hand at playing an age 40 years different from ours cross-gendered with an Italian accent because we are ACTORS! We can play any role! But you know…that’s really more of an academic exercise OR sketch comedy. Being “right” for a role doesn’t mean it’s easy.

But don’t attempt to read minds. Trying to suss out what the director is looking for weakens your choices. They may not even know what they are looking for. OR you might change their mind.

3. Dress nicely but dress in your style. Wear shoes that feel good and make you feel like you look good. Don’t worry to much about “dressing for the part.” Just the other day I heard a director say, “Ugh I HATE that,” followed by a music director saying, “Mmmph I LOVE that.” See? You can’t win. Wear something awesome that feels good. Imagine if there was a movie about you, how would the costume designer costume the actor playing you? In something that made your body rock, that was a more cleaned and ironed version of your normal clothes. It’s like you popped up a notch so the back of the house can see. But then, I’ve been confused for a drag queen. So grain of salt. Grain of salt.

4. Your material. I’m saying it again. Find pieces you LOVE. YOU. LOVE. They are fun. They seem to be tailor made for your skillz. And they exist. For everybody. Find them. Love them. Prepare them well.

“BE CONFIDENT”

What does that even mean!? I actually thought that. For years. I’m not crying in the corner! That’s the best I can do, people. I showed up, didn’t I? Be confident. Hmph. Be electric. Be incandescent. Be stripey.

It reminds me of a song by Steve Martin:

“Be courteous, kind and forgiving
Be gentle and peaceful each day.
Be warm and human and grateful
and have a good thing to say.

Be thoughtful and trustful and childlike
Be witty and happy and wise
Be honest and love all your neighbors
Be obsequious, purple and clairvoyant.

Be pompous, obese and eat cactus
Be dull and boring and omnipresent
Criticize things you don’t know about
Be oblong and have your knees removed.

Be tasteless rude and offensive
Live in a swamp and be three dimensional
Put a live chicken in your underwear
Get all excited and go to a yawning festival.”

Even the most stoic among us is going to get nervous for certain auditions that hold a degree of importance to us. You don’t get nervous? Pin a rose on your nose, dude. Good for you. A director of mine just told me that she heard Uta Hagen say, “If you don’t nervous. Get out of the business because you don’t care.”

I kind of agree. But that’s neither here nor there because nervousness is not the opposite of confidence. Insecurity is. Confidence is knowing your path. Confidence is not comparing yourself to others. Confidence is standing in your own shoes and presenting who you are without judgement. That’s why confidence is attractive. If you don’t know if you are right for it, (say like RuPaul) how the hell they gonna know you are right for it? Confidence is knowing that whether they call you or not, you are going to go on L-I-V-I-N’ and enjoying the trail you are blazing. And that’s key. You have to blaze your own trail. You know why a lot of directors don’t want you to dress for the part? Because they don’t want a room full of the same person.

You can be nervous and confident at the same time.

“Be new, George. They tell you ’til they’re blue, George. You’re new or else you’re through, George. And even if it’s true, George. You do what you can do….” Sunday in the Park with George

Guess what. You’re new! You might not be young, but you’re new BECAUSE you’re you. Don’t blend in, for the love of god. This is Chicago. We don’t have to play by the rules.

Your material is new because you’ve prepared it with YOUR take on it. This is why I’m begging you to look at your material and ask yourself, “Do I like this piece?” If the answer is “no” or “meh”. Get rid of it. Find something you love. Picking a piece you are itching to share with people is a way to invigorate your auditions. Stand tall. Feel your nerves. Feel the weight of the audition. But know that you are showing them something they’ve never seen before because it’s you performing it from your perspective. THAT is confidence. That’s how you leave them wanting more. Don’t just try to get through. Live in it for that two minutes. That two minutes is a show and you are the lead.

So in conclusion, my Mom and Dad, and your Mom and Dad and your friends are GENIUSES. Be confident! Be yourself! with the addition of Be prepared, you’ve got a battle plan and a no-fail one at that. You’re not going to get every show. You just. Aren’t. You will get the shows that are right for you, the experiences that belong on your path, if you stand tall in who you really are. Being able to show up, do your thang, and walk away towards the next opportunity AS yourself IS confidence.

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Brush Up Your Shakespeare


I have this philosophy that being open about the closed-door process of auditioning demystifies potentially intimidating situations and help us all learn from each other’s experiences.  I know, I know…grab some s’more supplies and we’ll all gather around the campfire and sing “Kumbaya”.

But on the real, something I am intensely interested in is audition repertoire. I’m really fascinated by pieces actors choose.  I also love really digging into my own book.  For most performers, it’s kind of an after thought.  After auditions, rehearsals, day jobs, performances, who has the time, right?  You see a posting, you fling something together or use that tired old monologue that’s been your trusted workhorse for years.  Trust me.  I do this too.  Still, we make our lives more difficult by being flip with our repertoire.  I believe it’s essential to really sit with your audition pieces.  Ask questions of them.  I say this over and over, but it’s true; as a performer, you are your own empire.  Your audition pieces are your employees.  They work for you.  Are they doing their jobs fully?  Also, are you utilizing all they have to offer?  Have you been actively recruiting exciting new pieces?  If you like your material, nay LOVE your material, if you find joy in performing it…auditioning becomes that much more easy and fun.

It can be overwhelming to look at your repertoire in it’s entirety and ask these questions.   You might be thinking, where do I even start?

Over several posts I’m going to be digging into different areas of audition repertoire and talking about how you can find really exciting and fun pieces that show off who you are as a performer.

Since I like to talk about things in real time, currently I’m switching out my old Shakespeare piece and bringing in a new one, so let’s talk about the Bard.

Conventional practice says YOU NEED A SHAKESPEARE MONOLOGUE.  I agree.  BUT, if you really hate Shakespeare….if classical theatre curls your toes, screw it.  Don’t do classical theatre.  Don’t have a Shakespeare monologue.

Heresy, right?!  Not really.  Do what you like.  That said, a theatre company may hold a general audition in which they want to see two contrasting pieces, one classical.  Typically you could eek your way around this by not expressing interest in the classical show, but tread carefully.  Not doing the pieces that were requested can very quickly make you look “difficult.”  Still, it’s your life.  Don’t waste it on stuff you don’t care about.

That said, in my opinion Shakespeare rocks, and you are missing out on a fairly large and vibrant subsection of productions if you don’t spread your wings in that direction.

So what to pick?  Ideally, you should have TWO Shakespearean pieces, one comedic, one dramatic.  Which will you use most?  I can’t tell ya.  It depends on who you are as an actor, what kind of productions are currently being produced, and what roles you are interested in.  What would rather play?  What would you rather play?  Dogberry or Claudio?  That would be an indicator.

There is often concern about what pieces are “overdone.”  Well, I’ll tell you something.   What’s overdone is not investing in your classical pieces or being intimidated by them.  They are just text, my friends.  Albeit really really great text, generally speaking.  So, if you want to do “To be or not to be…”  If that is the piece above all others that you connect to…Do it.  Just make it awesome.

That said, while the philosophical question behind “To be or not to be” is food for thought, I would offer that from the perspective of an actor auditioning for something, you could find a monologue that is more active and vibrant and shows off who you are as a person and a performer.

So.  (And I will ask this over and over ad nauseum) Who are you?  What floats your boat? Personally, I like my Shakespeare monologues with a dose of evil.  It’s just so damn fun.  Lady MacBeth isn’t a bitch!  She’s ambitious, people.  Talk about motivation.  What is fun for you to perform?  Do you like to wax romantic?  Do you like to make ‘em laugh?

Still, even if you know exactly what you are looking for in a Shakespeare monologue, the cannon itself is a little overwhelming.  I often suggest heading towards the Histories.  They are often pushed aside in favor of the Comedies or Tragedies.  In fact, the new monologue I’m working is Queen Margaret from Henry VI, Part II.  I know, you just fell out of your chair from excitement.  But listen, this woman is NOT HAVING ANY MORE BULLSHIT.  “I am no loathsome leper, look on me!” It reminds me of this moment from Best in Show: (go to :55 in the video)

The key is to find the right character and then find them at a moment of crisis.  By crisis, I don’t necessarily mean Drama or Tragedy.  I mean crux.  See these characters are human, because they are.  For now, in your search, push aside ideas of “heightened” language, scansion, or anything else that makes you a little wary. Just find a human you connect to and want to play.

Secondly, find this moment of crisis as it is happening.  Don’t find the moment when they are telling someone about it after it happened.  Don’t pick a story monologue.  It isn’t active.  These moments work in the context of the the play or scene, but in an audition,  you haven’t built enough relationship with your audience to make a story monologue viable.

I mentioned Claudio before, so let’s dig in a little.  Claudio, as you may recall, is the suitor to Hero in Much Ado About Nothing (one of my very favorites.)  Based on false information, he thinks Hero has been banging  somebody else so when he shows up for their wedding grieving, angry and distraught, he has this to say:

CLAUDIO Sweet prince, you learn me noble thankfulness.
There, Leonato, take her back again:
Give not this rotten orange to your friend;
She’s but the sign and semblance of her honour.
Behold how like a maid she blushes here!
O, what authority and show of truth
Can cunning sin cover itself withal!
Comes not that blood as modest evidence
To witness simple virtue? Would you not swear,
All you that see her, that she were a maid,
By these exterior shows? But she is none:
She knows the heat of a luxurious bed;
Her blush is guiltiness, not modesty.

This “rotten orange”?  “She shows the heat of a luxurious bed”?!  Dude is throwing SHADE.  He is pissed!  He is also devastated.  Admittedly, this is a short piece but imagine the power you could rack up in this.  Short pieces can be very effective.

Staying with Much Ado About Nothing, let’s take a look at some comedy.  I offer you Benedick, the charming blowhard who starts the show with everything figured right out, and always affirming his Bachelor status.  In this monologue he is expounding on just how much he hates Beatrice…the woman he (spoiler alert) shortly marries:

BENEDICK O, she misused me past the endurance of a block!
an oak but with one green leaf on it would have
answered her; my very visor began to assume life and
scold with her. She told me, not thinking I had been
myself, that I was the prince’s jester, that I was
duller than a great thaw; huddling jest upon jest
with such impossible conveyance upon me that I stood
like a man at a mark, with a whole army shooting at
me. She speaks poniards, and every word stabs:
if her breath were as terrible as her terminations,
there were no living near her; she would infect to
the north star. I would not marry her, though she
were endowed with all that Adam bad left him before
he transgressed: she would have made Hercules have
turned spit, yea, and have cleft his club to make
the fire too. Come, talk not of her: you shall find
her the infernal Ate in good apparel. I would to God
some scholar would conjure her; for certainly, while
she is here, a man may live as quiet in hell as in a
sanctuary; and people sin upon purpose, because they
would go thither; so, indeed, all disquiet, horror
and perturbation follows her.

DON PEDRO

Look, here she comes.
Enter CLAUDIO, BEATRICE, HERO, and LEONATO

BENEDICK Will your grace command me any service to the
world’s end? I will go on the slightest errand now
to the Antipodes that you can devise to send me on;
I will fetch you a tooth-picker now from the
furthest inch of Asia, bring you the length of
Prester John’s foot, fetch you a hair off the great
Cham’s beard, do you any embassage to the Pigmies,
rather than hold three words’ conference with this
harpy. You have no employment for me?

DON PEDRO

None, but to desire your good company.

BENEDICK

O God, sir, here’s a dish I love not: I cannot
endure my Lady Tongue.
Exit

Purists may balk, but I say either cut or integrate Don Pedro’s lines and you’ve got yourself a monologue.  He goes from listing Beatrice’s horrible attributes (and inadvertedly showing us how witty and hilarious Beatrice is in her own right), to desperately begging Don Pedro to send him anywhere ANYWHERE Beatrice is not.

Remember, in the context of auditioning, don’t think of Shakespeare as separate or different from any other piece. 

While you search, remember: there are comedic monologues in tragedies, there are tragic monologues in comedies, and there are both in the histories.  It’s all the delivery and timing.

I’ll post later about preparing these monologues, but for now read and gather.  Sit with them for awhile.  Read them out loud.  Find phrases that speak to you.  Ideas that seem clear and pointed.  Just like any monologue, it’s easiest when the character is talking TO someone. Once we dig into preparation, you’ll find most of the time Shakespeare tells you exactly what to do.  In many ways, Shakespeare provides a road map to preparation right there in the text.

But for now, have fun!  Find pieces that excite you and spark your creativity.

Hamlet:
Suit the action to the word, the word to the action, with this
special observance, that you o’erstep not the modesty of nature:
for any thing so o’erdone is from the purpose of playing, whose
end, both at the first and now, was and is, to hold as ’twere the
mirror up to nature: to show virtue her feature, scorn her own
image, and the very age and body of the time his form and
pressure.

In an audition, the true nature you should be concerned with is your own.

11 Things I Have to Tell Myself About Theatre…and Nachos


A castmate and I were musing about our respective moves to Chicago and how our 21 year old selves would view our current lives.  While I sort of wrote this blog post to my 21 year old self, I also know that I couldn’t have learned these things by reading a list.  I really had to learn these lessons authentically.  Still they are things I have to reiterate to myself and it’s nice to see them all lined up and spell- checked and in numerical order with a movie clip at the end. (Also note to 21 year old self, you are currently working on a project you LOVE.)

Sidebar: I hope my 41-year-old self writes something to my current self like, “Use that windfall of 14 million dollars to buy a villa NOT a yacht.  THAT was a hard-learned lesson, giggle giggle. Care for a bellini?  Let me just summon my faithful houseman Agador Spartacus.”

11 Things about Doing Theatre in Chicago

1.  Confidence means more when you aren’t onstage.  Talent, training, technique and rehearsal are the keys to a good performance or audition.  Confidence is deeper.  You have to know…you have to KNOW that the path you are on is your path and the one that is right for you.  Comparison to other actors is death.  It kills your spirit.  It kills your creativity.  And it kills your spark.  Judy is right, you have to “be yourself.  Everyone else is taken.”

2.  Have priorities.  Change them if you need to. And make sure they are actually yours, not someone else’s.  You can be a professional actor and not necessarily want to star in a tv series.  It’s your career.  If you want to do Cher covers while rollerskating, then the world will be a better place for it.  I am so serious.  The world needs HAPPY rollerskating Cher coverers not UNHAPPY commercial actors who wish they were rollerskating and covering “Gypsies, Tramps and Thieves.”  In the same vein, if that sounds like it sucks?  Dude.  Don’t do it then.  Only an performer thinks, “Ugh that project sounds horrible.  I’ll do it.”  Why?  WHY?

3.  As in the beginning…so in the middle…so in the end.  If that company sucked to audition for….if they were running an hour behind….if they were rude or dismissive…I assure you the rehearsal process will be the same way.  On the other hand, if the audition process was smooth, the people friendly, and the paperwork informative, that’s a huge high sign that they have it together.

4.  Make sure you love every single audition piece you use.  If you are bored by something, the people behind the table will be too.

5.  If you are offered a project and you have an inexplicable sinking feeling or  panic….that’s your intuition telling you to say no. (Not to be confused with feelings of healthy fear that indicate you are challenging yourself.)

6.  It’s okay to say no.  If you say no upfront to a project in a polite way, you won’t burn a bridge ( If you bail halfway through with a shady excuse, that’s a different story).  The project that feels “not right” for you might be a dream job for someone else who will love it.  If you know you can’t throw yourself into the project wholly, what’s the point?

7.  It’s totally okay to take a break for as long as you want to.

8.  When you take a break, it can take a long time to get back into the swing of things.

7.  If a role scares you, it’s probably the right role and you will benefit from playing it.

8.  If you have to force something from the get go, it’s not worth it. (Not to be confused with healthy competition)

9.  You have to love doing this for your own sanity.  I call it the Nachos Philosophy.  Sure every once in a while, I get tired of nachos.  Or am occasionally disappointed with a plate of nachos (what is with the cheese and pickled jalapenos only bullshit?).  Might you occasionally resent this inexplicable need for nachos and that it occasionally causes you to sacrifice other amazing foods in your quest for more nachos? Of course.  But can I imagine my life without nachos?  No I cannot, Madame.   You’ve got to love it like nachos.

10.  You can stop loving it and start loving it again.

11.  This: 

Kiss Me Kate (The Musical Project)


 

I was just recently in a production of Kiss Me Kate, so my proximity to this material will be much closer than most of the musicals I cover in The Musical Project.

That's me looking like my head is growing out Christine's arm.

Kiss Me Kate is so very fun to sing.  I’ll get to the score and the actual meat of the musical itself momentarily, but first…y’all I got to bitch about the movie.

If the only experience you have with Kiss Me Kate is the 1950-whatever movie version, then brother, you don’t know Kiss Me Kate.  The movie is sanitized and just a jumble of pieces that at one time comprised the actual work that is the stage musical Kiss Me Kate.

I really enjoy Howard Keil in Seven Brides for Seven Brothers.  His vocals soar and he is perfect the role.  Academically he’s also perfect for Petruchio/Fred but he bombs.  Bigtime.  I get the feeling the director was of the Frank Sinatra “that take was good enough” school of directing because everything feels thrown together.  I get that musicals written for the stage don’t transition well to film, but you know who’s problem that is?  Not mine.  Unfortunately, as a viewer I still have to deal with it if the producers didn’t.  Oy.

Meanwhile, the Code.  Oh, the Code.  The old Production Code basically took all the fun out of Kiss Me Kate.You see, Cole Porter is dirty, downright raunchy if you play it right.  So when Ann Miller sings “According to the latest report…” you have to know that the actual lyric is according to the KINSEY report and that Ann Miller, bless her, isn’t even supposed to be singing it in the first place, and not in that getup. (I found myself saying “What is she doing with her body??” several times.)  A man needs to sing “Too Darn Hot” because why else would it matter if the singer “ain’t up” to their baby tonight?  Huh?  Hmmm????  So already we have a reference to the most comprehensive survey ever performed in reference to human sexuality AND a dick joke.  And that’s just one song.

What I also find fascinating about the sanitizing of Kiss Me Kate is that it doesn’t extend to Shakespeare.  Baptista says, “…thoroughly woo her, wed her and bed her” and that is no problem.  My guess?  It didn’t even occur to the censors to look at the Shakespearean language.  Certainly not our loss, I just like to point out the inconsistencies and the patent ridiculousness that is censorship.

Everything in Kiss Me Kate is punctuated by a metaphorical wink. In fact, in order for the show to pass muster for me, Lilli HAS to actually physically wink after “I am ashamed…”  SHe HAS to.  Or she loses all credibility.  And I think we’re dealing with an actual domestic violence situation.

I’m not a fan of Taming of the Shrew.  I think it’s a chestnut.  I suppose it has academic merits.  I’ve seen a production that employed nearly gymnastic commedia del arte between Katherine and Petruchio.  But it’s not my cup of Shakespearean tea.  I do enjoy the Taylor/Burton/Zefferelli version but that is a big ol’ Art Imitating Marriage situation.

Hilarious.

Unique.  Lovely.  Done.

So why do a musical that does a Taming of the Shrew light with the added pre-women’s lib eye twitches of 1940’s sexual politics?

Cole Porter.  That’s why.

I think this is the face he made when he saw the movie.

This score soars.  It is brilliant and very influential.  There’s no opening whistle in West Side Story without the opening to “Too Darn Hot.”  Tevye can’t ask Golda “Do You Love Me?” if Lois doesn’t ask Bill why he can’t “…Behave.”  In fact, I often found myself backstage singing, “…with our daughter getting married and this trouble in the town, you’re upset…you’re worn out…go inside… go lie down!” while “Why Can’t You Behave” is trickling through the monitor.

Kiss Me Kate is the ultimate transition piece.  You can hear the future of musical theatre (as seen from the 40’s) and yet, there, right at the end of show placed ever so conveniently for costume change purposes, is a perfect vaudevillian number preserved for posterity in “Brush Up Your Shakespeare.”

And that’s the thing.  It’s a show of numbers.  Big, classic musical theatre numbers that any theatre aficionado should know.  I happen to think that “Always True to You in My Fashion” is one of the most clever belt numbers ever to grace the stage.  Full of winks and puns.  Check out Blossom Dearie’s rendition if you want to hear my favorite.  I use it as an audition piece.

However, even though it’s a show of numbers, it’s not exactly a revue.  The plot is certainly more developed than some musicals.  It’s a play within a play structure.  Yet, there are moments I feel this structure fails.  This musical comes from an era where the pop music of the day came from Broadway stages.  Audiences didn’t demand as much depth from plots.  They wanted to hear the latest hit.

For me, Kiss Me Kate is about what Cole Porter could do, and he could do a lot.  Many of the songs in Kiss Me Kate are major high water marks in musical theatre as well as being textbook influential entries.

“So in Love” is both a perfect ballad AND torch number.  It’s also an actress’ dream.  In the right hands, “So in Love” makes Lilli Vanessi/Kate a fully 3-D woman.  It’s a mistake to label the character of Lilli Vanessi and/or Kate just a bitch.  And the right actress won’t.

But analysis aside, let’s look at this show from a performer’s standpoint.  It has everything.  You like to dance?  Here ya go.  You want to belt?  How about “Always True to You in My Fashion?”  You want legit?  Here’s “So In Love.”  How about a waltz?  Here’s “Wunderbar.”  How about Jazz?  Here’s “Too Darn Hot.”  Operetta?  “Cantiamo”.  Comedy?  You got it.

Sure there’s a bit of a light hand if you look at it from a domestic violence point of view.  This is not a particularly enlightened show.

Interestingly, the 11 o’clock number is “From This Moment On.”  It’s a duet.  And it’s a lie.  Lilli is lying to herself rather than finding some sort of resolve.  Is that a flaw?  I don’t know.  I don’t know if adherence to structure dictates perfection.  It would be a little scary if it does.  I mean, Kiss Me Kate isn’t perfect.  “Brush Up Your Shakespeare” basically shouts by virtue of existing that there is a massive costume change going on backstage.  Still….everybody wants to see those gosh-darn Gangsters again.  I also think Cole Porter was probably of the “who gives a shit?” school of thought.

It’s an old show, so there are many places to experience at least a recording of the score, if not a production.  The recent London revival has some great renditions.  This musical hails from a time when pop music came from musical theatre.  So while in our minds watching Bono and The Edge write Spiderman or Duncan Sheik pen Spring Awakening feels kinda dirty and gross, well, there’s history there.  Sure I think Cole Porter is a better musician, but it would be wrong to pretend precedent hadn’t been set years ago.  Although, and correct me if I’m wrong, I don’t think anyone was brutally maimed and disfigured during the original run of Kiss Me Kate.

Kiss Me Kate, for a musical theatre performer, is like learning your family tree.  It’s your roots.  It’s where this whole thing came from.  I like knowing who was influenced by what.  Sondheim, for example,  thinks the best of the best is Porgy and Bess.  I like knowing that type of thing.  Hearing the influences of today’s writers is humanizing.  We often thrust composers into demigod status.  There is this web meme going around called Steal Like an Artist.  It’s nice to know that even the big guys do too.

To Review:  the movie is a stonker (although potentially worth watching solely for Fosse and his uncredited choreography.  You also get to see the dude dance.)  But the stage version is a classic.

Movie Hero of the Week – Ray Liotta*


My friend Jay sent me THIS GQ article on the making of my favorite movie, Goodfellas.  (My second favorite movie is What a Way To Go which, I feel, in combination with Goodfellas reveals nothing about my personality whatsoever.  Except maybe a love for a dance number, the color pink, with an undercurrent of gritty violence.  And Italian men.)  Anyway, Jay and I have been roundly obsessing over this article and our love for Goodfellas over the past few days.

Meanwhile, for just absolutely no reason at all in the world whatsoever, I have become recently interested in actors who hit their stride post-30.

Meet Ray Liotta.

Ray Liotta

He lobbied hard and got the role of Henry Hill in 1990’s Goodfellas at the age of 30.  There is nobody else like him in the pictures.  Imagine playing a role like Henry Hill, for all accounts a not good guy.  Not the WORST guy, of course.  That’s Tommy.  But a bad guy nonetheless, and you root for the dude.  Of course, this isn’t unprecendented.  Movies can make you do that. But with the wrong actor in that role, it would be pretty difficult.

There is a 95% chance that any interview or article you read with Ray Liotta as the subject is going to use the word “intense.”  Not inaccurate, but I think over-simplified.  He’s not just punching walls and looking sulky. He is intense without angst. I think that might be passion, but you really don’t see truly passionate work very often and think we find it disconcerting, particularly as an American movie goer. What is presented to us as passion is often just masturbatory emoting.  Not this guy. This guy is focused.  He listens. He’s confident without being cocky.

I’ll tell you something else I like about the guy.  Honesty.  He says he did Operation Dumbo Drop for the money.  Damn right he did, and you would too. It takes a hell of lot to stay afloat in show biz.  I would be lying my face right off if I said I wouldn’t do something like Operation Dumbo Drop.  The only thing I won’t do is kid shows and working at amusement parks.  God bless the people who do, but I prefer my desk job to that.  I wish I didn’t.  I wish I was a purer soul.  I also wish I had a hundred million dollars and a bucket of rubies and garnets.  And a chauffeur.  I’ve always wanted a chauffer.

I digress.

In the following scene, you see something that I think defines Ray Liotta.  Focus.  I mentioned how he listens.  Check out how…ugh…I hate to say it, but I can’t think of another phrase- how “in the moment” he is.  Look at his focus and his eye contact and his power in the scene with Morrie.  He is so specific.  (This clip also shows one of my fave De Niro/Scorcese moments of all time, but that’s just a bonus.)  Also, the video is called “My Favourite Scene From Goodfellas,” noting the British spelling,  obviously, I didn’t title the video.  And it’s not my favorite scene (although it’s a good one.)  It’s just very illustrative of my point.

Just for the record, THIS is my favorite scene from Goodfellas.  Of course, the best scene is THE shot.  You know…the steady cam…the Copa.  You know, I always admired that shot purely for the timing, not just by Scorcese by the umpteen gazillion actors and extras that breeze their way through it.  Recently, however, I just made the connection (because I’m a fool) that it’s about Karen. We feel like we are on Henry’s arm in Henry’s world.  It does something incredibly important.  It answers the question “Why would you stay with this man?” before you even think to ask it.

God, I love movies.

Anyway.

Have you seen Narc?  Interesting flick.  Liotta produced it alongside his then wife, if I remember correctly.  He stars alongside Jason Patric (an upcoming MHOTW).  It’s brutal.  It’s violent.  It’s harsh.  It’s good.  Really good.  Whereas you might root for Henry Hill, you don’t for Henry Oak.

Have you ever seen Corrina, Corrina?  It’s good.  And Liotta is really good in it.  I’m not sure how he does that wounded soldier thing without doing what all the other guys do.  He’s tortured by not tormented.  He’s hurt but he’ll survive.  He loves but he doesn’t gush.  This clip is long, but worth it.

Have you seen The Rat Pack?  Do.  If I’m nerdily blabbing about the difference between imitation and portrayal of real-life characters, I often bring up Liotta as Frank Sinatra.  He doesn’t look like the dude (minus those baby blues) and he doesn’t sound all that much like him, yet he nails it.  Ditto for all the performances in that movie (minus the woman who plays Marilyn).  I get why it wasn’t a big-screen movie, but I wish more people have seen it.  If I were to teach an acting class, I might use it.  It establishes fine lines and never dances over them, and Liotta is the leader of the group.  Not just because he plays Frank.  He establishes a presence that guides the movie.  Now.   That said.  When you do watch it, expect the Kennedy campaign song to the tune of “High Hopes” to run through your head for weeks….”K-E-DOUBLE N-E-D-Y…he’s our favorite kind of a guy…Everyone wants to BACK. JACK. JACK is on the right track…cuz he’s got HIGH HOPES…he’s got HIGH HOPES…”  See.  There I go.  Anyway, here is a clip:

I’m not a big Blow fan.  heh.  But they cast Liotta as Depp’s dad.  The dude is all of like, ten years older than my boy Johnny.  I guess it works because of the flashbacks.  But Liotta is really great.  Sweet, even.  I’ve never read if Depp and Liotta got along particularly well on set or not but there is a genuine fatherly affection there.   While playing age happens all the time on stage, it’s actually fairly rare in movies, at least to this extent.  I often wonder why casting worked out this way.  Still, a weird production decision works in Ray Liotta’s favor because he gets to show a really awesome side of his talent, he probably wouldn’t have otherwise.  Graceful age.  Not rickety wheezing and overuse of the word “whippersnapper.”  On a dorky movie nerd note, allegedly Johnny Depp’s character in BLOW was responsible for 85% of the coke trafficked in the US between the 70’s and 80’s.  Therefore, there is an 85% chance that that character provided Henry Hill, Ray Liotta’s character in Goodfellas, with his coke.  Small world, man. I guess that’s more of a dorky stoner note, now that I think about it.

Hey look!  Ray Liotta on Martha Stewart:

That’s funny to me.  It amuses me.  I also love a man in an apron.

I’m not a huge Field of Dreams fan, either.  I’ve been told that’s because I’m a girl.  I think it’s because the movie is cheesy and Amy Madigan (love her in Uncle Buck) is irritating and an odd pairing for Costner.  (Also, I would never tell someone they don’t get a movie because they are a man.  Sure, that seems like something I would say, but I wouldn’t.  Because movies are universal experiences.  I played catch with my Dad, too.   We have tickets for Wrigley in May.  They are in my desk right now.)  But that’s not the point.  An article I read recently in so many words says Liotta is more intense, and better than he has to be as Shoeless Joe Jackson.  The phrase “better than it has to be” is very depressing, but often apt.  The world of the American movie is world that embraces, if not encourages mediocrity.  In fact, that’s sort of what my Movie Heroes are about.  They COULD have just phoned it in.  They didn’t.  And I look to them for inspiration and encouragement through their work which is conveniently available via DVD.

In all his films, something simmers beneath Liotta’s exterior.  In Henry Hill, it finds its way out.  In many other characters he plays, like Shoeless Joe, it never does.  It’s a deep sense of humanity.  Even loss.  It’s profound.  And it’s beautiful.  I’m also a Pisces and am incredibly susceptible to this state of being.  I married an intense simmerer.  I’ve said it before, and I’ll say it again.  Aloofness is my kryptonite.  I want to hand it my phone number written on my panties.  I can’t help it.   Complicated emotion bubbling underneath a brooding exterior is the bucket of water to my Wicked Witch of the West.

What a worlllld.....what a worlllld...

Have you seen Observe and Report?  It’s, hmmm, I’ll say it’s disjointed.  But I love when dudes in movies wear those over the shoulder cop holster things.

I’ve always sort of thought of Cop Land as a nod toward the wish that you could see Goodfellas again for the first time.  You can’t.  Still, it’s decent cop movie.  Gritty.  Liotta and De Niro.  You could easily do worse on a Tuesday night.  Alright look, I’ll be honest.  I really don’t remember much about it.  I saw Copland when I was 16 and it was on the new release shelf and I was going through my De Niro phase.   Other than the fact that I am a straight woman, my movie-related coming of age was decidedly male adolescent.  If I had found a Scarface poster, it would have been on my wall.  Unfortunately (fortunately?) I lived on a farm in Northwestern Ohio and those posters weren’t easy to find.  I did manage to snag a Brad Pitt one from Legends of the Fall at the Kmart in Defiance, Ohio.  That and the Dirty Words one I got at the George Carlin concert I saw.  And the Wayne’s World one I got in my “Wayne’s World Extreme Closeup” book (I still own it.)  Jesus, I was weird.  This doesn’t include the glut of Eddie Vedder (see “intense simmering”)  pics I had collected, all pre-Internet mind you.  That took dedication.

Again, I digress.

Looking at his filmography, one thing is clear:  Liotta is a working actor and his work is refreshingly absent of ego.  Certainly I’ve never met the guy, but you get the distinct impression people like him.  They like to work with him.  Repeatedly.  That is something that benefits an acting career.  He also seems to have followed his nose and done what was right for him.  That is really really hard to do as an actor.  You often find yourself following other people’s paths, other people’s ambition.  There is so little guidance for artists (which is both a good and a bad thing) that you feel completely blind sometimes making the decision whether to do a project or not.  Which city should I move to?  Film or theatre?  Agent or no?  Union or no?  I’m too old.  I’m not old enough.  There is something confident, decisive and steady about Liotta’s resume and I admire that.  And what do you  know, he got to be in one of the greatest movies ever made along the way.  Plus, he’s really fun to watch.

*What is a movie hero? An un or under-sung member of the film making community who deserves more of the spotlight. And yet lack of such a spotlight often adds to their charm.

Musical Auditions: Part 2: The Audition Day


Career Post

Part 2 of a series about Musical Auditions.  (Click here to view Part 1: Preparation)

We all have our own little rituals when it comes to stressful situations.  Some people do a little yoga, some meditate, others pray.  Some people seem to be immune to audition nerves and bully for them.  For me, I like to know absolutely as much as possible about what to expect.  So, this post is sort of written to myself in the past in the hopes that a newbie musical theatre professional can get some sort of benefit from it.  If you are a seasoned old salt, please add any helpful hints.  Rather than focus too heavily on the nitty gritty details, I try to answer the question What is a musical audition like?

If it seems like the following is a lot of effort for all of 60 seconds of your life, well, it is.  But it’s worth it, in the end.  Preparation lessens the stress of a situation that is traditionally thought of as nerve-wracking.  But, it can, and should be fun, for the most part.  Why not?  Auditioning is absolutely as much a part of the actor’s job as anything else.  No need to look at it as a “necessary evil”.  It’s like a 60 second cabaret starring you.  This is a notion to keep in mind while selecting material, something I’ve blogged about here and here in reference to building your book.  I will also discuss it in an upcoming post about selecting audition material for a particular audition and how the book itself should function.

There are basically two situations:  Appointment or No Appointment.

Appointment

Auditions by appointment are posted ahead of time.  Sometimes you have to submit your headshot and resume in ordered to be offered an appointment.  On the day of the audition you show up a little early, fill out the requisite paperwork, and do your thang.  If there are no appointments available, ask if can be on the waitlist.  They still may be able to squeeze you in.

No Appointment

These include Equity crashes, waitlists, open calls and cattle calls. (I loathe and detest open calls.  But that really doesn’t matter.  Cattle calls, however, are not as horrid as the name implies.) I recommend crashing Equity auditions every once in awhile.   Particularly in Chicago.  While the talent pool is big, it’s hardly overwhelming and to date I’ve never not been seen.  Scare yourself every once in awhile.  That’s my motto.  (I know, I have like fifteen mottos.)

The purpose of this post isn’t to detail all the ins and outs of the different types of musical auditions because in the end, you are still busting out 16 bars or so and maybe a monologue.

*************

So Audition day dawns.  What to do?  Well, whether the audition is at 10 in the morning, or 10 at night, find some time to warm up and rehearse and hydrate.  Avoid caffeine and dairy if you can (makes you sound a little gurgly).  Don’t let the audition be the first time that day you’ve sung.

Of course there is the age old question of what to wear.  I am going to do a post about audition wear coming up, but whatever you choose should be pressed and professional.  I like to wear a dress to musical auditions.  It’s the most “me” thing.  Lots of women wear dress pants.  It doesn’t really matter.  The important thing is to look a little dressy.  Musicals, in particular, have a bit of a dressy feel to them. The makeup is a little more intense.  You are often wigged.  Even miked.  The costumes are a little more ridiculous (if not patently a lot more ridiculous).  Dressing up hints in that direction, and it’s a sign of respect.  Remember, as I’ve said before, at it’s heart it’s a job interview.  A creative one.  Where you sing.

Keys:

LOVE your material.  Love it.  Don’t get so caught up in finding obscure and interesting pieces that you forget to sing something you enjoy.  I tell you this from experience.  I have been guilty of this time and time again.  You should really love your whole book.  I sort of look at my book as a dream cabaret – with a few caveats.

I like to have a little checklist for myself  that I keep in my audition binder to remind what to bring along:

1.  Music – marked (I’ll talk about how to do this in the Audition Book post.)

2.  Sides (if provided)

3.  Monologue (for review, and if requested)

4.  5 headshots and resumes

5.  Shoes (if I plan on changing shoes when I get there)

6.  Water

7.  Audition/Rehearsal Kit (I will go over what is in this in a later post.  But it’s basically a makeup bag full of safety pins, lozenges, mints, kleenexes and other stuff I usually wish I have.  More important for long audition days.)

8.  Pashmina or something in case the audition area isn’t heated…this happens.  A lot.

9.  Calendar

10.  Phone/Keys/Wallet

11. Dance clothes and dance shoes.  (I don’t think you need to carry around your dance shoe collection, but having your characters on hand is not a bad idea.  Don’t do your initial audition in them, however.  Frankly…it looks dorky.)  You may be asked to come back and dance that day.  This is fairly rare in Chicago, but it does happen.  I am of the “Be Prepared” school of thought, so might well throw those trusty t-straps in your bag.

12.  The details of the audition including location, directions, and hopefully a phone number in case you get lost or are running late.

13.  Pens and a little notebook.  You might be called back immediately and given information that you will want to write down.  You might meet someone who’s name you need to remember.  You never know.

The Audition Itself

When you arrive, you will usually be met by a table where an audition monitor will usually be seated.  This person is your guide.  They have the sheet with your appointment.  They have the forms you need to fill out.  They know if things are running as scheduled.  They know who is in the room.  Be nice to them.  Follow their instructions, and ask them any questions you have.

Then sit back and relax, go over your stuff, observe.  Sometimes I even knit.  Pay attention to any announcements from the monitor.  Don’t make them repeat things over and over.

When you are called into the audition room, you could see any number of people: The director, the music director, the accompanist, the choreographer, the producer, the artistic director, the assistant director, the stage manager, the managing director, casting director,  interns….  Normally, there are usually 3-4 people in the room, and not the entire slew of production staff.   I often ask whoever is monitoring the auditionwho is in the room just to have a general feel for what will greet me.  I also like to know who is accompanying on the off chance I know them.  If we’ve worked on a certain piece together, it might be a good choice for the audition.

So what do you do once you are in there?  You are introduced by the monitor, typically, and then given a moment to speak with the accompanist.  Don’t lollygag with the accompanist, but do take your time.  They need the info to play to your specifications.  Bring music in your key.  Do not expect that the person at the piano can transpose on demand.  Even if they can, they may not because it’s a pain in the ass.  Also, make sure you bring actual sheet music.  Not chord charts, and certainly not fake book entries.  With the internet, libraries, and music stores are at your disposal, you’ve got absolutely no excuses other than laziness in this regard.  The accompanist is your partner and there really, more than anyone else, for you.  The director doesn’t need backup music, you do.  However, the accompanist may also be the music director.

Once you’ve established your music with the accompanist, you walk to your spot, re-greet the people at the table, introduce yourself and your piece(s) and do your thang.  Finish up.  Say thank you, and wait for them to dismiss you.  They might want to ask you questions.  They might not.  Don’t go running out of the room.  They might even ask you to sing, gasp!, something else.  (You should have several selections available in your book.  I’ll talk about that in the Audition Book post.)

Then you’re done, you’ve thanked the monitor, and before you know it, you’re back at home and it’s all in the past.  Except for that waiting part.  For reference, I like to make a note of who I met at the audition, who was in the room, what I wore, what my hair was like, the material I did, my thoughts on the audition, and any comments or reaction.  It’s just good info to have and info you’ll be glad you have the next time you audition for them.  I used to keep this information in a notebook.  But now I use an Excel spreadsheet.  Oh yes.  My dorkiness knows no bounds.

Coming soon I’ll talk callbacks, audition wear, your Book, the pieces themselves and how to approach their actual performance,  rehearsals and all sorts of other fun stuff!

Every Little Step


Movie Post

Every Little Step sat in my watch instantly queue for quite some time.  Meanwhile, I was recently promoted to admin from receptionist so I’ve been getting to know the executives I’m assisting.  Living in a big city like Chicago means you really don’t have the luxury of making a lot of assumptions about people.  I used to labor under the delusion that I was the enlightened one amidst a community of cube-dwellers because I had the balls to take a job less than me so that I could follow my dreams.  Well, needless to say I’ve learned how egotistical and basically wrong that is.  I’m not saying I’m constantly surrounded by sensitive aesthetes at my day job.  I’m just saying I’ve quit being so surprised when one of the execs I assist (Whom I will refer to as Merv) turns out to be European and a fantastically talented amateur photographer and connoisseur of the theatre and also hilarious and incredibly easy to work for.  So let it be known artist-friends, that even in the depths of corporate America are very delightful non-drones who make excellent documentary suggestions.

A couple months ago, upon finding out I’m an actor,  Merv asked if I had seen Every Little Step.  I said no but that it had been languishing in my queue for some time.  He convinced me to watch it and so yesterday, in a fog of my annual winter plague (a delightful combination of cold/sinus infection) I plopped down and pressed play.

This documentary tells the story of both the creation of the original production of A Chorus Line and the 2008 Broadway Revival casting process.

This morning, when Merv asked how my weekend was, I said I watched Every Little Step.

MERV:  What did you think?

ME:  I loved it!

MERV:  Who was that guy?  That guy.

ME: ?

MERV: The judge!  On, um,  the So You Think…  agh….the yutz!

ME:  Tyce Diorio?  Yes!  What an ego!

MERV:  I know!

ME:  Didn’t get the role, did he?

MERV:  No, he didn’t.

I love So You Think You Can Dance.  I think it’s a grand program that pushes it’s viewers to think about art and dance and theatre and performance.  It busts with creativity and the choreographers often bring me to either tears or absolute joy.  Tyce Diorio is one of those choreographers.  His Damn Yankees number from last season was perfection.   Absolute perfection.  I don’t even like Damn Yankees.

So with all due respect to his current artistic incarnation, Merv’s right.  In Every Little Step, Tyce is a yutz.  But I’ll get to that in a bit.

I always say if you get a chance to be on the other side of the audition table, do it.  No class can teach you more.   Every Little Step does just that.  It’s very much about dance.  But the vulnerability of auditioning as a performing artist is a universal experience.

When I watch showbiz movies or documentaries I try to learn something from them that can help me.  With Every Little Step I learned two big things.

1.  Humbleness and Confidence are not mutually exclusive.

2.  I’m paraphrasing but one of the producers says “The way to get a role on Broadway is to audition and callback as if it’s opening night.”  That’s how polished your performance has to be.  I’m not exactly auditioning for Broadway, but it’s good advice that applies across the board.

In reference to Lesson #1, let’s get back to Tyce.  I mentioned his choreography skills before.  Let’s talk about his dancing ability:  unbelievable.  Out of this world talent.  Of the three finalists for that particular role (the one that sings “I Can Do That”), by far the best dancer.  But his ego was OUT. OF. CONTROL.  And he ultimately lost the role.

Every Little Step demonstrates that fine line between confidence and egotism.  You can be humble and confident at the same time.  It also shows how being “the best” isn’t always the clincher.  But then again, sometimes it definitively is.  My favorite moment is when an auditionee makes four hardened Broadway salts cry with his performance of a monologue they have heard a million times.  He ultimately secures the role.  After he leaves the room, the director says while wiping tears away, “that hasn’t happened to me in 30 years.  In an audition!”

To be able to be THAT vulnerable…in an audition.  Oy. I should be so lucky.

In this world of shows that seem to cash in on the audition scenario (American Idol and the like) it’s easy to forget what real auditions are like…and no, I don’t consider American Idol a real audition.  Being able to sing a cappella by yourself is worth a cup of jack squat.  In Every Little Step, each one of those auditionees is a consummate professional.  The only tearful breakdowns occur either as an acting choice during a read or after they have been offered a role.

Finally, Every Little Step confirmed a suspicion I’ve had for some time.  To quote Julie Andrews in the PBS documentary, Broadway: The American Musical, “while the theatres rarely change, the musicals have always reflected our changing times.”  Right now, belt is big.  Belt is the thing.  The influence of singers like Idina Menzel, Kristin Chenoweth and the like have made most auditions a long series of forced money notes.  In Every Little Step, we watch as person after person belts out the “At the ballet” progression to the point that finally the director says, “Honey, you don’t have to shout it.” Volume is often confused with quality.

I believe that we have reached the current peak of the belt and that, due to the work of composers like Adam Guettel, the increased emphasis on Sondheim’s more classical works, and the general forward movement of art, it’s going to get more legit from here on out.   That’s not to say that belt will every go away.  It won’t.  And I don’t want it to. I’m just saying I want a nice balance back.

But I digress.

In summary, Every Little Step taught me to stand tall, be confident, be polished and professional at all times, and in the words of Merv, don’t be a yutz.