Wednesday, June 7, 2017

Audition Preparation Tip: Know Your Type

Photo: Emily in Our Town. Bickford Theater, Morristown, NJ. 1999

As an actor, it is important to know your "type". This is not necessarily how you see yourself, but how the casting team sees you. It is important to tap into what you are being called back for and being cast as. Sure, I would love to see myself as a powerhouse like Patti Lupone, but realistically I do not have her vocal type nor am I her casting type. We have to understand our limitations and our strengths. Embrace what, and where we are, and recognize that as we age casting options change.

When I was young I was the ingenue. The sweet, girl next door, the innocent. Now in my 40's I am the mother, the vulnerable woman and sometimes directors see me in character roles: the neurotic, the dim-witted, or the crazy hag. It actually has been fun getting older and taking on more character roles. Even in my 20's there were directors that saw me differently and took a chance. That is always exciting, but most of the time we will have to stick to the same thing over and over. And that can be a fun challenge as well, "How will I make this mom different than the last mom?"

So there is character type: the hero, the villain, the heart clown, the leading lady or man, the hooker with the heart of gold, the femme fatale, the quirky best friend, etc. And then there is vocal type for those that sing: Belt, mix, legit, hip hop, rock, country, pop, etc. Be clear on what you are able to sing well. It may be just one style or a few. Knowing your vocal type will not only direct you to the roles you try out for but, what songs you will sing for an audition. Most of us have that audition book with all of our songs (usually around 6 or 7) that are different styles/genres that we know inside and out. They sit well in our voice and show off our strengths. It is always wise to have the help of a vocal coach to guide you in this selection process. They are an outside source that have the expertise in knowing the repertoire that fits your instrument.

It can be frustrating to be, as they say, "type cast" but that is the reality of this business. Of course, we have that initial mentality that we are actors! We can play any part! And it is wonderful to have that confidence, but one has to realize what makes them unique and what they will most likely be cast as.

As a side note, I never discourage anyone from trying to break out of a mold or learning a new skill. Keep working. Always work. That may pay off in the future if you desire to play certain types of roles that you wouldn't have gotten early in your career. Enjoy the journey of finding your facets and take risks. One never fails when they step out of their box to take a chance. It takes courage but, may mean a successful turn in your career.

Wednesday, May 31, 2017

Audition Preparation Tip: Put in the Work

Photo: My director, Whit Hertford, and me in a rehearsal for a Riot Act's "Poor Bastard". 

Yesterday, Coach Ahmed told Max at his tennis lesson that the old saying goes, "Practice Makes Perfect", but he sees it as "Practice Makes Consistent". I think I like that perspective better. As an actor, I know I will never be perfect, there is always something to refine, but with practice I can reach a level of consistency that will put me in a more professional bracket. The key to any improvement whether it be singing, dancing or acting is the work. We have to put in the hours it takes to become better. That will not only be in the rehearsal room, but all the countless hours leading up to the rehearsal room.

The portion of the creative team that does the casting, (director, artistic director, musical director, casting director, choreographer) notice individuals who have put in the work as they audition. The funny thing is, we still may not get cast if we are prepared for an audition and knock it out of the park. There are many factors involved. I believe that is why some actors feel powerless. They feel like the creative team holds all the cards. I don't buy into this. I propose that we take our power with us the moment we step through the doors to greet the Stage Management team, on through the audition room, and as we say our 'thank you' and 'goodbye'. We need to see those casting as our equals, not as though they are towering above us. We need to see our audition as an opportunity to show what we would bring to the table if we were cast. They can take it or leave it, but if we are prepared, professional, and treat others with respect, they cannot help but remember you.

And this leads to the truth that just because you were not cast in the show you auditioned for doesn't mean this creative team won't cast you in future shows. In fact, they may personally invite you to come in for another show. They may talk to another creative team about you and they will call you in. I have been hired for jobs just on recommendations alone. Word of mouth is a force that cannot be stopped. Are you ready?

Whatever your goals are, make sure that you are working on them daily. If you sing, practice every day for AT LEAST 15 minutes. Keep in shape vocally by taking lessons and have coaching sessions to gear up for future auditions. If you dance, continue to take classes. If you act, attend classes, have your monologues ready, and keep those fresh with coaching sessions. Even if it is in front of friends to give feedback. You are preparing for the auditions you know about and the auditions or opportunities that seemingly come out of nowhere. My dance teacher used to tell me, "For every hour you spend practicing, there is someone out there practicing an hour more." I know that sounds harsh, but it is true! If we want to improve we have to put the hours in.

But, with these hours we need to remember to take care of ourselves. Our physical & mental health, our spiritual health. It isn't easy to be in this business, I imagine outsiders looking in thinking we just get up there and do our thing."How fun!", I often hear people say. Well, yes, it is fun, but it is HARD. Often, it is emotionally and physically draining. The struggle is real. But, the struggle is where we find our best selves. The struggle is where we grow and overcome obstacles. The struggle is where we reach our potential, our goals, and that consistency that we desire so much. As a result of that struggle we get noticed, we get cast, and we reach the highlight of any actors life, performing on stage in front of an audience. There is nothing like it. And all that work was worth it.

Tuesday, May 23, 2017

Audition Preparation Tip: Your Moral Compass

I recently taught a workshop at the High School Musical Theater Awards here in Utah and thought it might be nice to do a blog series of what I discussed with the students on that day. It is also a good reminder for myself and hopefully some of you too. (Photo: Me and my friend, Stephanie at the awards show.)

Right out of the gate, if we are going to embark on an acting career, whether it be in film or on stage, we have to know who we are as a person and where we stand. I like to call it my "moral compass". I got that term from a film acting teacher and loved the notion that we have to make choices before we start our career and get into the thick of things. With our standards in mind, what are we willing to do? What won't we do? How will we treat those around us? You get the idea...

I am of the strong opinion that wherever your moral compass takes you, you will find your people. There are groups out there that fit any actors comfort zone. It may be harder in a smaller town, but once you venture out you can find work. Your moral compass may shift a bit with experience and your attitudes may change with maturity and what not. But, please remember, if you are uncomfortable you do not need to settle. It may mean opportunities are missed, but other doors will open if you stick with it. Even if you want to take on the Great White Way or Hollywood there are an array of shows that will fit the bill.

Within that moral compass is understanding who you are. When I asked the question, "How will you treat those around you?", this is an important question when working in a collaborative art form. It comes down to recognizing the difference between confidence and conceit. Confidence is essential from making career decisions to getting up in front of people to perform. Yes, we may still have our insecurities, but we can maintain a competent level of confidence amidst those because we know that as we improve, and as we gain more experience those insecurities will lessen. It is having clarity in what you do well and what needs work. Always striving for higher quality in your abilities. Having confidence also means that we remain collaborators, remain teachable/malleable, remain respectful and kind. Conceit is thinking you are better than everyone. I feel that someone who is conceited has their insecurities but instead of addressing them they tend to overcompensate their abilities because of their self-doubt. They close down. There is no more to be taught. There is no one who can tell you what the scene needs. You know. Others need to rise to your greatness. While one with confidence rises but will bend when needed to help those around them rise too. Confidence inspires creativity, conceit crushes it.

So often actors just starting out will get tossed, chewed and spit out if they do not have confidence in their abilities and where they stand. It is essential to have some sort of foundation going into this. If you haven't configured your moral compass yet, start today! Decide what you will allow, where you will draw the line and where you are okay with making compromises. The journey will be different for everyone, so respect that. Let others find their way and you find yours. Be supportive, Be Kind and *Get to Work!

*hint for my next post. :-)

Saturday, March 18, 2017

For the Love of Autotune, STOP!


I took the kids to see Beauty and the Beast yesterday. This is my favorite animated Disney film, I love the stage musical and have performed Belle myself in a production of that years ago. You might think my expectations were going to be high. That I was going to be judgmental or snooty about how this movie would measure up. But, I went in with my mind clear. Ready for a whole new, re-imagined experience. 
I love that movie musicals are back in vogue and I will not compare. I have learned that a movie version is only another vision, much like live theater, you are going to see something different every time. New actors, new costumes, in this case there was some new songs and (thankfully) new plot lines that cleared up some of my questions from the past. I thoroughly enjoyed myself. I started crying from the time the music to the opening sequence started. This movie was magical. 
My only beef, and yes this is a vocal blog so I am going to have a beef...and maybe not the beef you think I am going to have, BUT...WHAT WAS WITH THE HEAVY AUTOTUNE! I mean, seriously Disney. I know that this company strives for perfection in everything that they do. They are the masters of detail. But, I lost so much of the nuance of sweet Emma Watson when she sang because you...dare I say it...you went overboard on the autotune. I realize that probably most of the actors who sang in this film had some autotune and tweaking done in the studio, but it is so overtly apparent with Emma and I question the reasoning behind it. 
With movie musicals casting Hollywood actors who sing or actors who can carry a tune, or actors who worked their patooty off in voice lessons months before shooting starts on the film,...um...just leave them alone. Let them do their thing. They are Hollywood actors who are not technically trained in musical theater. Let them...ACT! Let them give us the song from their hearts. I saw it in her face, her body, I just couldn't hear it some of the time because she was so vocally masked. 
I understand getting busy in the sound booth when it came to Dan Stevens. His voice was modified to fit the fact that he was a BEAST! But, back off on Belle. I wanted that same raw performance we saw from the actors in Les Miserables (sans Russell Crowe). In that film they sang live and it worked. Vocal imperfections and all. It worked! 
Now some people might argue that she just couldn't sing on tune and so that is why they laid the autotune on thick. Poppycosh! There were times when they pulled back on the autotune and she sounded just fine. And with the exceptions of Audra McDonald, Kevin Kline and Josh Gad, she was in a movie with other film actors who sang. Emma Thompson (Mrs. Potts) was brilliant in her songs. WHY? Because they let her just sing them. Interpret them. Nuance them. Feel them. Convey them. Her performance of the title song made me cry the whole. time. she. sang. And Emma Thompson isn't a Broadway musical star. Emma Thompson isn't a top 40 artist. She is an actress who can sing. And you know what? So is Emma Watson. Let her do her thing and stop trying to "fix" what isn't broken.
Now let me take a moment for my boyfriend, Ewan McGregor, who played Lumiere. Delightful! What a fun scene "Be Our Guest" was. It is a change when you don't have the big eyed connection that the cartoon version has or the person to person connection that the stage version offers. The household staff had to primarily use their voices to connect to the audience hand in hand with the CGI animators. I connected most with Lumiere and Mrs. Potts. Probably because they had actual faces. It was a bold choice to go so realistic with these characters, but with the voice talent they had in these actors I felt it worked, not perfectly, but rather well. 
In closing, can I just say how much I loved Luke Evans as Gaston? Just knowing him from the Hobbit film I was impressed by his bold, yet truthful, character work and his singing voice. Luke Evans pretty much stole every scene he was in. I knew Josh Gad would nail it, and he did. I loved LeFou's transformation in this, going from worshiping Gaston to realizing what a first class jerk he is. I liked the depth that Josh brought to it. But, go Luke Evans for holding your own with the likes of Kevin Kline and Josh Gad. Well done, you! 

This was a stunning film and I will be seeing it again, and probably again. The relationship between Kevin Kline and Emma Watson was so sweet. I was fond of the new songs they gave Kevin. I adore seeing him on screen. The chemistry between Dan and Emma was tangible and believable. Everything worked in this film, I loved it...except that stupid overly apparent autotune. I would parallel it to actors who are standing up against being photoshopped/airbrushed. It is basically the same thing. They should stand against this. It takes away from the integrity of their performance. 

Friday, December 30, 2016

My "Best Of" List 2016

I wanted to highlight some very special vocal performances that were brought to my attention in 2016. I hope you can take the time to enjoy these clips for the first time or for a second or third view (they are that good). Here we go:

LAURA BENANTI


A few months ago they live streamed 'She Loves Me' and I got to see, once again, one of my favorite Broadway leading ladies, Laura Benanti. This was such a magical production. That set! Holy cow! And other charming performances from her cast mates, Zachary Levi, Jane Krakowski, and Gavin Creel. I have a special place in my heart for Miss Benanti. When we lived in New Jersey I got to see her in a workshop of a show I can't remember now, but I remember her, and then to see her Broadway career take off. She is such a joy on stage with her charisma, comic timing, and that voice! I just adore her.

JESSIE MUELLER

Unfortunately, I have not seen Miss Mueller on stage, only through clips on YouTube. I love her ability to connect to the material. She is emotionally driven. I love this rehearsal performance more than any other clip I have seen. She is completely in the moment and it is breathtaking.

CYNTHIA ERIVO

Cynthia is one of two Brits that made my list. Watch out America, the British are starting to catch on to how musical theater is done! This clip is not from her Tony winning performance in A Color Purple, but from the Miscast Gala this year at MCC Theater. This is one of my favorite songs and she takes it, runs with it and makes it into a brilliant piece of art.

IMELDA STAUNTON

I saw a clip of Imelda Staunton singing Rose's Turn at the beginning of this year, but it has since been removed from YouTube. This video shows clips of her singing three of the songs from the show, so you get the idea of how perfect she is. This production, performed in 2015 in the West End, was streamed on PBS just a couple months ago. Look for it, if it airs again...watch it! It is supposed to make its' way to Broadway in 2018 last I heard. Let's keep our fingers crossed for that. I love this powerhouse of a woman and just when I think she can't any more magnificent she proves me wrong.

That is my list for 2016! I hope you enjoyed watching these clips. Let me know if you see any performances that catch your attention and pass them along. My husband is great at that and turned me on to Morgan James a few years back who sings regularly on Postmodern Jukebox. I just love her and present her 2016 performance of Dream On for your bonus clip. Enjoy!!

MORGAN JAMES

Tuesday, April 19, 2016

Songs I Love to Sing: I'd Rather Be Blue

I'd Rather Be Blue was written by composers Fred Fisher & Irving Berlin with lyrics by Billy Rose. It came out of Tin Pan Alley being published 1928. It is just one of those great songs with personality, a catchy tune, and clever lyrics. I love this era of music. This particular song was recorded by Fanny Bryce. I first heard it in the movie, Funny Girl, where Barbra Streisand played Miss Bryce. (It is the famous roller skating scene.) My family have always been huge fans of Barbra Streisand and her version was a regular staple in our home. Barbra has a way of putting her stamp on every song she sings, so when one sings a song she has recorded it can be a challenge to the listeners to accept another artist covering the song and for the artist to put their own stamp on it. This recording was for my dad on his birthday this year because he is one of the most devoted Barbra Streisand fans I know! I felt I could put my own spin on it, but still have some "Barbra-isms" to make him laugh. This song is probably okay to do in an audition or for a concert, though usually I would stay away from songs that Barbra has done. I definitely would stay away from her signature song, also from Funny Girl, People. I am always impressed when an artist can take a song that is so well known by an another artist, and make it all their own. Wouldn't that be a fun challenge to choose songs based in that idea and just completely do your own arrangements? hmmmm....I am always up for a challenge. But, for now enjoy this bright, and fun little ditty that hopefully will bring a smile to your face and spring to your step.


Tuesday, April 5, 2016

Songs I Love to Sing: I Won't Mind

Sometimes there are songs that one comes across that not only resonates, but seem to fit like a glove. "I Won't Mind" is one of those songs for me. As you may recall in the very first post on this blog I shared how I lost my ability to sing for a time due to a traumatic event involving the death of my brother. During my vocal and emotional recovery I still continued to do musical theater and I had to rely heavily on my acting talents to get through this time. As I slowly regained my vocal abilities, and technique, the connection I was able to make with songs and the capability to interpret them in the same vein as a monologue stayed with me. I still constantly strive to perfect my vocal proficiency and how I convey a song to an audience. But, with material like "I Won't Mind", which is structured as a monologue set to music, it is ideal for a performer like me.

The song was written by Jeff Blumenkrantz for an unfinished musical, The Other Franklin. It was to be about the relationship of Benjamin Franklin with his son, William, around the time of the American Revolution. This song is sung by William's wife, Elizabeth, who was never able to have children of her own. She sings it to her godson in his nursery while everyone else is the next room celebrating the christening. The Other Franklin is an abandoned project that will never be produced, but this song (fortunately for us) was recorded by Audra McDonald on her album, How Glory Goes. She also sings it regularly in her concerts. Through her album I was introduced to the song and it will now be one I sing for auditions and in performance as long as I am able. I love it...enjoy!