Saturday, November 11, 2017

Using a Teleprompter...Is it as Easy as It Seems?

This is me on a recent commercial shoot. You can't really see it, but I am reading a teleprompter for this project. I will never forget the first time I was called out to audition using a teleprompter. I wanted to book the commercial so I said that I was comfortable using a teleprompter, when in fact, I had never used one before. But, I don't consider it a flat out lie, they asked if I was "comfortable" not had I used one before. I am a smart individual and even with some trepidation I knew I could figure it out quickly. And the audition went just fine. I didn't book the gig, but the great part? I could now say that I had teleprompter experience...haha!

We all have to start somewhere right? Whether it be in a classroom setting or on the job training. With my family life my top priority right now, I often don't have the time or the means to take classes so most of my film training has been on the job. It helps that I have had theater training with voice, concentration, and storytelling being a big part of that. With a teleprompter you need to sound spontaneous and in the moment but, obviously you have not internalized the material so it is still a skill that takes practice. I think basic things like reading text out loud can be great a exercise. 

A teleprompter will also have an adjustable speed and it is normal for the director to pick a speed and then have to adjust it according to the pace of the project. It has its benefits too. On the day of this shoot I had four pages of dialogue we were filming. When the client came in they liked what I was doing and asked if I could do a couple more pages on the spot. It would have taken me an hour or more to memorize the material. With a teleprompter, that isn't even an issue. It saves time, money, and relieves the stress of getting it word perfect from memory.

There were still retakes that needed to be done if I stuttered over a word, and sometimes I needed to give my brain and mouth a break for a few minutes, but all in all it is a great way to shoot a lot of information in a short period of time. Another interesting thing along these lines is that there were some typos in the text and for the life of me, it was hard to correct them on the spot. I tried and then I had to say something. With technology today (most teleprompters are on tablets now) they can just go in and correct the typo within minutes. 

Along with the whole looking spontaneous thing, I remember as a kid watching commercials where I could tell someone was reading a cue card because there eyes would move slightly from side to side. With teleprompter technology today, you don't get that as much. The screens that we read from are much smaller and the eye doesn't have far to travel from side to side. It is pretty cool. 

So, the takeaway? Using a teleprompter is efficient, but I wouldn't say it is "easy". It still takes a tremendous amount of concentration, vocal technique, and spontaneous story telling ability. Some people have a real knack for it and others don't. I know I have much to improve upon in this area, but I still go in with confidence and make the most of my time, learning, and growing in this area. So, don't be afraid when they want you to read from a teleprompter for an audition. Just plunge in and do your best. It could be the beginning of a prosperous career. One never knows...

Tuesday, September 26, 2017

The Concept of Adaptability

We closed Ion on a high note. It was an amazing experience to work with the Classical Greek Theatre Festival that has been doing this for over 40 years. Being with this group of people at this particular time was everything.

From the cast, crew, design was a dream and easily one of my favorite roles I have ever done. Creusa was all that a woman should be. Flaws and all. And these photos! Yummy, right? Taken by the talented Gavan Nelson. 

This cast and crew led by Andra Harbold (director), Harrison Corthell (Stage Manager), Melanie Nelson (Producer) and Jim Svendsen (dramaturg and one of the founders of the Classical Greek Theatre Festival), was hard working, creative, brave, and in short, very likable people.

 The latter was important when it came to the hours spent together onstage and off. You see, after our initial run at Westminster college we took it on tour to a few different venues around the valley. 

We traveled in a van with our set in a trailer to the different locations. We put the set up and at the end of the night we took the set down. 

Andra creates a safe environment as we rehearse and she instills in us a sense of "ensemble" through different exercises and rehearsal techniques. The end result is having this heightened awareness of  each others movement, reactions and even breath. 

This was a wonderful foundation as we moved to other spaces to perform the show. Some theaters were large, some more intimate and some weren't even theaters, but more of the lecture hall variety. 

We found out quickly that we needed to be adaptable to each venue. Before each performance we worked out logistics of certain blocking that had to change because of the different space. Our vocal technique had to adapt to the space. I was going from speech to song in many of the scenes and it took a lot of focus to make sure I was filling the space and connecting with the audience.

At first it stressed me out. All the changes. But, soon I learned to appreciate each venue as a time to be in the moment and rely on my technique and the work I had put in initially to just fine tune things for that particular space.  

Then it became exciting. To be in the moment and go with whatever that moment brought. I felt rehearsed enough that I could just be in that world and trust it no matter what. 

I also knew I could trust my fellow actors. If something threw us we were right there for each other to cover or bring someone back into the scene.

After this experience and my experience with Riot Act's "Poor Bastard" I have gained a new sense of confidence to be "in the moment". Being present as an actor, and allowing things to be set, but much more free. To react with honesty and if something is thrown at me or something changes I have learned to be less rigid...more adaptable. It has been so freeing. I can't wait to apply it and continue to hone it in future projects. 

Thursday, August 10, 2017

Ivy Vocal Recital

This summer Ivy took vocal lessons from our dear friend, Diana Glissmeyer. It was nice for Ivy to take from someone who has a more classical background. It think it is cool to sometimes change it up with vocal teachers and glean all you can as a singer. Ivy gained confidence and expanded her range. It was a great experience. Here are the two songs that she performed at the recital (in future I will make sure these videos are filmed in landscape mode...ugh, technology):

Sunday, July 23, 2017

Versatility is Based in Technique

I was invited back to The Lyric Repertory Company in Logan, UT to perform in their 50 Year Anniversary Celebration. I have done seven seasons with Lyric Rep and consider it one of my first classrooms in my pursuit of acting. They do their shows in "rolling rep". That means that once all four shows are open they do them back to back. So, one night I am playing an old rich lady in a musical comedy, the next night I am playing a middle aged mom dealing with the death of her daughter in a drama, and the next a nerdy secretary in a get the picture. 

 In short, the Lyric is where I honed my skills as a character actress. Even though at that time in my early 20's I was considered an ingenue. The training I received gave my ingenue characters more depth and dimension. So, when I got older and started playing leading ladies, moms, old ladies and crazy ladies, I didn't miss a beat. I had a wide range of experience to draw upon and the training that I received at the USU Theater Dept, and The Lyric Rep was a huge part of that.

 They gave us a broad education. Even though I was steeped in movement classes, acting and voice classes, we received amazing instruction in storytelling, script writing, theater history, design classes and of course, hands on experience in class and productions on campus. I was blessed later on to find a vocal technique for singing that gave me a strong foundation. I learned the rules (and am still fine tuning those rules) and then I learned how to break those rules rules in a healthy way.

 As you can see from the photos there was a variety of songs performed on this night. I jumped from Sondheim to Country, from Belt/Mix to Legit, from Character driven pieces to the more Melodious and Haunting. In order to be cast in a theater company like the Lyric, a performer needs to be versatile. It takes learning the technique, and then one needs to practice, practice, practice. And that repetition can be in the classroom, in rehearsals or in the privacy of your own home.

 Even with great teachers and mentors like these two gentlemen, Sid Perkes and Vosco Call, one still must put in the work every day to learn about their body, their vocal instrument, and their ability to connect with the text no matter what genre.

It always amazes me when people find out that I do theater they often say, "Oh, that sounds like fun!" in a belittling tone. Like it is a lesser profession than an engineer, doctor, or salesman. Those who do this professionally know it takes everything we have (and sometimes more) to bring the audience what we do each night. The focus, consistency, the psychological journey, the grind of staying healthy, and the stress to rely heavily on our technique and take shortcuts when needed (without the audience noticing) when we aren't in good health. It is the daily commitment to put in the work and the payoff of course is being cast, feeling free to create in a rehearsal room, and then performing in front of a live audience. There is nothing like it. 

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 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, 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.