Soul to Squeeze


Look, I’m a snob.  I know.  I’ve tried to fight it, but what’s the use?  Luckily, because the universe has a sense of humor, I am also a gigantic spaz and clutz so it all works out.

Anyhoo, I’m sitting on a crowded train yesterday and can’t help but eavesdrop on an awkward conversation between two coworkers, guys probably in their late 20’s, early 30’s.  In short, similar in age to me.  One of them is sort of a quiet mysterious type who looks like he could have been a military recruit at some point, the other is gregarious and just about exactly like every upper middle class white college boy down to the J Crew button down, North face vest, khakis and Jack spade bag.  (See my snobbery appear).

So Gregarious guy says, “You into Matchbox 20?”

And Mysterious guy looks at him like, “You can’t possibly be talking to me, even though it is clear you are talking to me.”  But instead he says, “…uhhhhhhh….not really man.”

I’m stifling giggles.

Gregarious guy says, “Well they just came out with a new album today, it’s pretty good.”

Mysterious guy doesn’t say anything.

Gregarious guy continues, “Yeah, I’m into music.  I like Jason Mraz, Dave Matthews.  Pretty eclectic actually.  I like those bands from 97-99.”

Eclectic…I think.  I do not think it means what you think it means…

Mysterious guy says, “Ehhhhhh I like bands from a little earlier in the 90’s. ”

“As well you should,” I think.

Gregarious guy says, “The only band I really got into from then was Pearl Jam.”

“Shit,” I think.  “Don’t bring me into this.  Don’t make me talk right now.”
You know because it’s always about me.

Mysterious guy says, “I don’t know man.  I’m getting more into electronic stuff.  Less guitar.”

Gregarious guy says, “Like…..house music?”

Mysterious guy says, “…No.”

Long pause.

Gregarious guy, “You know what really bugs me about so and so and that issue at work…”  And they quickly morph the convo into something about work that they both feel strongly about.

Long pause.

Gregarious Guy: I really love the Red Hot Chili Peppers.

Mysterious Guy: They were my first concert, man!

“Saw them at Riverbend in 2001,” I’m thinking.  “STP opened for them.  What a great night.” Visions of my Anthony Keidis poster flash into my head.

And for this moment, the three of us (even though they didn’t know I was listening) had a moment of shared Chili Peppers.  My snobbery faded because 1. How can you possibly be a snob when you are professing love for the Red Hot Chili Peppers? 2.  Sometimes all you need is music to connect.

Or dance:

Or books:

Or theatre:

Helene Weigel-Brecht in her Silent Scream as Mother Courage

Or movies:

Or art:

Art, in any form, from the highest of high in conceptual painting to the lowest of the low fart joke, has the ability to connect us with these little invisible threads of art we love.  Words we love.  Songs that touched us.  Movie cracks that make us laugh.

“We cannot live only for ourselves. A thousand fibers connect us with our fellow men; and among those fibers, as sympathetic threads, our actions run as causes, and they come back to us as effects.”
Herman Melville

“Invisible threads are the strongest ties.”
Friedrich Nietzsche

I am consistently awed at art’s ability to connect us, and I am humbled and priveleged that I get to be an artist and work with other artists.

But most importantly, I had that little moment of enlightenment partially because of this guy:

Flea from the Red Hot Chili Peppers

But he agrees with me:

“What’s the difference between me and that guy with the grey suit on down there? NOTHING! What’s a difference between a mouse and Jupiter? …NOTHING!!!” – Flea

Maybe I’m not the snob I thought I was.

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Gone for a Soldier – My Spring 2012 Reading List


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I am an avid reader.  And now that I have a Kindle?  Oh my god.  I’m a reading machine WITH a reading machine. I sometimes get so overwhelmed by titles I have to read or watch that I come up with complicated spreadsheets to keep track.  True story.  And I’m fine with it.  I know who I am.  Lots of things inform what I read and when I read them.  I try to create seasonal To Read lists just to keep my thoughts together.  Two major elements that inform my “To Read” lists are the current season, and if I’m in a show.

In Spring, my reading usually takes on an outdoorsy feel.  (One of my favorite Spring reads is A Walk in the Woods by Bill Bryson.)  I also read up on different religions in the spirit of Easter and Passover.  Since Chicago weather has been more early July in nature, than late March, I’ve also been tempted to read things with Summer on the brain.  I usually read some big blockbuster type book like a Michael Crichton that just begs to be read on a beach.

This Spring, I am also rehearsing a production called Opus 1861 which involves music from the Civil War era in a modern day wartime Afghanistan setting.  Since I have no personal experience with either conflict (although I have visited many a Civil war battlefield and museum, and am now in retrospect very grateful for the experience), I have been stocking my list with lots of research. (I also have a big list of documentaries I’ve been trying to plow through.)

My seasonal lists usually consist of around 20 books.  I try to make them a diverse mix of non fiction and fiction.  I try to learn about a subject I know little about.  I try to throw in a couple pulp fiction fun reads, and I also try to read some items that might help me in my personal goals.

Okay, so that said, here are the titles on my Spring 2012 booklist:

Part One:  Research

  • The March by EL Doctorow (I am exceedingly jealous of my husband who will be at the upcoming opening of Steppenwolf’s production of The March.)
  • War by Sebastien Junger
  • The Civil War by Shelby Foote
  • 1861: The Civil War Awakens by Adam Goodheart
  • Band of Sisters: American Women at War in Iraq by Kirsten Holmstedt
  • What It Is Like to Go to War by Karl Marlantes
  • The Untold War: Inside the Hearts, Minds, and Souls of our Soldiers by Nancy Sherman
  • Battle Cry of Freedom: The Civil War Era by James McPherson
  • The Wrong War: Grit, Strategy and the Way Out of Afghanistan by Bing West
  • The Girls Come Marching Home: Stories of Women Warriors Returning from War in Iraq by Kirsten Holmstedt

Part Two: Personal Picks

  • Lolita by Vladimir Nabakov – I try to attempt a classic on each list.  I figured a saucy one makes sense.  Lusty Month of May.  All that.  Whatever.
  • Game of Thrones Book 1 by George RR Martin.  After all this grit about the Civil War and Afghanistan, I think I will require something very escapist and fantastical.  I’m sure there are battles but there is no denying it’s pure fiction, right?  RIGHT????  *Twitch twitch*
  • Dune by Frank Herbert.  I promised Will I would read it.
  • Outbreak by Robin Cook.  THIS is my kind of science fiction.
  • The Pillars of the Earth by Ken Follett.  I love a good new agey fable every once in awhile.
  • Dance of Death – Book 6 The Pendergast Series by Douglas Preston and Lincoln Child.  This is my favorite pulp fiction series.  It’s got elements of mystery, science fiction, occult stuff, and one of my favorite recurring characters: FBI Special Agent Aloysius Pendergast.  If these books ever get made into movies, Paul Bettany just HAS to play this guy.  HE HAS TO.  I will accept NO ONE ELSE.
  • The Last Templar by Raymond Khoury.  More escapist conspiracy crap that I frankly love to read.
  • Women’s Bodies, Women’s Wisdom by Christiane Northrup.  A book I’ve been meaning to read for a long time.  Other than exercising my vote, the best way to maintain autonomy over our own bodies is to learn as much about them as possible.  And then maybe reread The Handmaid’s Tale again.  Cripes.
  • Start Where You Are: A Guide to Compassionate Living by Pema Chodron.  Sometimes I need to be reminded.
  • The Firestarter Sessions by Danielle LaPorte.  I preordered this one before I had the Kindle.  I bought this program when it was a pdf file.  I can’t wait to see the rehauled print version.  This woman is a genius.  An unmitigated fully feminine no compromises genius.  I think I will be glad I have the print version just so I can write “GENIUS!” in sharpie in the margins.

I won’t end up reading all of them.  That’s why there are so many titles.  Likely some of the books I’ve chosen as research won’t end up resonating for me.  Some of the ones I’ve chosen for personal reading will end up sucking.  That’s why I have the rule of 50.  If it ain’t working for me after 50 pages, I put it down.  I’m also sure I won’t make it through all 4 volumes of Shelby Foote’s comprehensive The Civil War before tech.  Or before I’m 40.

I also won’t read them in any particular order (although the research books will be heavily weighted towards the beginning since we open in mid-April.)

Hopefully, I can carve some time out in this gorgeous weather to sit back and dig into my list!

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.

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.

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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.

Auditions: Musicals – Part 1: Preparation


Career Post

This is the first post (sort of) in a series about how I prepare for auditions.  I actually enjoy auditioning now, but for years it caused me much stress.  Was I doing it “right”?  Why was I so nervous?  How do other people do it?

I’ve been lucky enough to experience both sides of the table, as it were, and I’ve really relaxed into the process.  While that isn’t to say I don’t ever get nervous (I absolutely do), I am confident that I am now doing my best.  There is always room to grow.  I want to push myself to take big risks in both my selection and  interpretation of material.

So, in the interest of transparency in a particularly elusive and hidden world (shut doors!  OOooooo) I’m going to share my experiences in an effort to learn and hopefully calm down anyone like me.   Please chime in with advice or if you think I’m *gasp* wrong about something, or if you have had any experiences in the past that taught you something about auditioning, or if you have any sage philosophies.  I truly believe we aren’t all cut throat competing against each other, even though it might feel like it.  There are so many mitigating circumstances around casting that we may as well share what we know.

Today I want to talk about musical auditions.  I’m curious about other people’s audition strategy.  I’m always trying to improve my game, and streamline the process.  There are entire thick volumes written about the subject of auditions, so for  a mere blog post, I won’t go into too much detail.  In the future, I will get into the nitty gritty of things, but this post is more general and about preparation.

As a little bit of background, I am an actor.  However, I have been a musical director several times.  I’ve also directed and I play the piano.  The following is garnered from my experiences in those offices.

So, this is a bird’s eye view of how I prepare for musical auditions here in Chicago. (I chose musicals to cover first because I’m preparing for a musical audition at present.  I will cover that specific audition in detail once it’s over.)

  • First, I sign up/submit for the audition.  Then I note exactly what the posting asks for.  While I may take a risk with the material I use or my interpretation, I always follow the time limit or requested bars to a t.  I like to show the director and musical director that I’m responsible, professional, and I pay attention.  That’s the first thing I can do to demonstrate that.  At it’s heart, an audition is a job interview.  I treat it as such.  No, I don’t wear a suit and bring references.  But I show up on time, if not early and follow directions.

I’ll do another post about general auditions in the future,  but let’s assume this audition is for a specific musical.

  • The next thing I do is get familiar with the show.  I download the original broadway (or off-broadway, what have you) cast recording if it’s available.  I almost always go with the original recording.  The reason for that is that likely the composer was involved in the process and the material is presented as originally intended.  I like to know how things originate.  I can put my own spin on them later.  Sometimes I will rent a movie version.  This isn’t my favorite way to learn about a show, however.  Movies do massive amounts of editing to make stage productions film-friendly and they sometimes lose essential elements in the process.  While I love the movie Chicago, you’d never know Mary Sunshine is traditionally drag by only watching the movie.  (Jokes aside).  If the musical in question is an original piece (and that is really exciting if it is!) I get as much info as I can.  What is the style?  Does the composer have anything out in the ether I can read or hear?  Do I know anyone that has worked with them?  Is the score available to puruse?  Typically the posting will have some indicators.  I prepare my best contemporary piece, and I make sure I have a couple more ready to go.  Once I get to the audition, I might learn more that may inform my choice.  Having a few pieces under your belt can be really freeing in those situations.
  • Once I get a feel for the show, I select my audition song.  (I wrote a couple posts last year about my sources for material.  In an upcoming post, I will show what my “book” looks like and how I use it.)  I initially pick 3-5 songs that feel right.  They may be by the same composer as the show, they might take place in the same time period, or the subtext might be similar to a role I want. One piece usually sticks out to me initially and I try to remember what my first instinct was.  Then I sing through each of these songs.  Usually, in that process, 1 or 2 will be eliminated right away.  This could be for myriad reasons including the range, the subtext, or just a feeling.  Then I will try and make the appropriate cut in each of the songs.  Sometimes you just can’t find a good 32 bars, or 16 or even 8.  If I can’t get the song to match the length or time requirement, it goes.  That usually leaves me with 2 choices.    I mull these over for a couple days, sing through them, and then decide on the piece.  (If the audition calls for 2 songs, the process is basically the same, just expanded.  I look for one piece initially, and then use that piece to find a nice contrast.)

Sometimes  a musical audition asks for a monologue, sometimes a cold read, sometimes nothing at all.  I always default to my favorite comedic monologue unless they ask for something specific.

  • Then I rehearse.  Quite a bit.  I dig into the text of the song and pack with objectives and action.  It’s a monologue, at it’s heart.
  • If I really care about the audition and the project, I will shell out the cash to hire an accompanist to run the piece with me a few times.

As I get closer to the day, I do a few things.

1.  I up my hydration.  Theatres can be dry, dry places.  Good for a hairdo, but yicky for the chords.  I will never stop drinking coffee in the morning, but I try to lay off the afternoon diet cokes for a couple days (key word: try) and I drink more tea, along with good ol’ H2O.

2.  I start to think about what I’m going to wear.

3.  I try to get a little more sleep than normal (sometimes this is possible, sometimes it isn’t).

4.  I really nail down where I want the accompaniment to begin, and what I will say to the accompanist.  I make sure the music is marked clearly.  (Recently, a musical director friend of mine returned from New York and taught me never to begin with a bell tone and always to have an introduction, even if it’s just a bar. )

The day before the audition, I run the whole thing (all songs and monologues as requested) as much as I can in the shoes I’m planning on wearing.  I keep up the hydration and try to get some sleep.  (Again try is the key word.)

This brings us up to the day of the actual audition, and I will save that for another post.

In the meantime, what is your process?  What are your rituals?

Recommended Reading

The books I like the best for musical theatre auditioning are Auditioning for the Musical Theatre by Fred Silver and Charles Strouse and On Singing Onstage by David Craig and A Performer Prepares by David Craig.  (Audition by Michael Shurtleff is also grand but I will talk about that for non-musical auditions.)  Some of the information is dated, and of course, New York centric.  But preparation is preparation and these books are chock full of great advice.  Musical Theatre Audition.com is also a friendly and informative site to check out.  Great for initial show research.

The other thing I recommend is finding a way to observe auditions from the other side of the table.  It is the best learning experience aside from actually auditioning.

It’s a Doris Kind of Day!*


Doris Day - Bless her heart

Movie Post

In a revolutionary move…for me…I have decided to test out a combination of Fashion Inspiration and Movie Hero of the Week.

So, first and foremost, let me bring your attention to Doris Day. She’s very famous, don’t get me wrong. Yet, I find her reputation is over-simplified. She’s sort of known for being the virginal, freshly scrubbed 60’s icon with a penchant for birthday cake-like hats. While not unfounded, I’d like to introduce you to a spikier side of Miss Day.

“I look upon Brad Allen as any other disease. I’ve had him. I’m over him.” Pillow Talk

While she was married briefly several times, she has been known to say that if she ever had one true love, it was with Rock Hudson. That, my friends, had to have been a complex relationship, no?  She did profess never to have known he was gay.  I reserve a hearty “Oh come on,” for that.  Still, she did say she knows Rock is in heaven because he was such a kind person.

He was also incredibly good looking.  Have you seen him in the tub in Pillow Talk?

Here:

You are welcome.  Reow.

In this first clip I’d like to share (of Doris), we see a surprisingly dare I say feminist Doris Day?  She’s a succesful advertising executive who is desperately trying to land a choice account over the notorious Mr. Webster, a competing advertising executive played by Rock Hudson.  (Her hat in this one is more Jiffy Pop than birthday cake.)  The clip ends with one of my favorite all time Doris lines.

In a similar role in Pillow Talk, she declares in perhaps her most famous line, “Mr. Allen, it may interest you to know that there are some men who don’t end every sentence in a proposition.”

In a bit of a departure for both Doris Day and Alfred Hitchcock, she stars in The Man Who Knew Too Much (1956 version – costumes, it should be noted, by Edith Head.)  Here she sings her signature song…loaded with signature Hitchcock tension:

She nows lives fabulously as a hermity cat lady.  That’s true.  And pretty awesome.  She’s an animal rights advocate and she is done with Hollywood.  In fact, it was during filming for The Man Who Knew Too Much that she began her animal rights work.  She was upset by the treatment of the livestock “extras” used in the film.  I love this woman.  Did I mention she’s from Ohio?

She is a staunch Republican, but she’s a blonde from Cincinnati, so that’s to be expected.  Le sigh.  Speaking of blondes from Cincinnati, she went to the same ballroom dance studio as Vera Ellen and their parents used to carpool.  Rosemary Clooney didn’t live all that far away.   I wonder if she was there too.  In my fantasy, she is.  It’s not like Vera’s taking up that much room in the back seat.

It’s easy to forget how sexy some of Doris Day’s movies are, but they are, in their way.  Sure, she had a swear jar on the set (that’s also true), but she was a grown up lady living in a crazy world.  It’s no bad thing to throw around a little Midwestern no-nonsense sometimes.

Fashion Post

“I like joy; I want to be joyous; I want to have fun on the set; I want to wear beautiful clothes and look pretty. I want to smile and I want to make people laugh. And that’s all I want. I like it. I like being happy. I want to make others happy.”  Doris Day

If you changed “set” to “stage”, you pretty much have my career mantra.  Not a higher calling, but a calling nonetheless.

Doris Day was a fashion icon of her time.  She represented color, good girls, and excellent tailoring.  She even had a paper doll set created in her image!

So, to add a little sunshine to your wintery day, I’d like to share one of my favorite Polyvore creations inspired by none other than Doris Day – Ohio girl, chanteuse, and a personal fashion icon of mine.  She also reminds me of my Aunt Becky, whom I love.

While my tiny neurotic brain has a hard time allowing for “whatever will be,” I certainly aspire to see life that way.  I also aspire to wear this outfit:

Kate Spade Cammie
$240 – piperlime.gap.com
Mary jane pump »

NANA’ – FEATHER HAT
265 EUR – luisaviaroma.com
Feather hats »

Doris Day
leofuchs.com
*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.