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Makeup

The Skinny on Skin Care for Actors

Photographer: Alexandra Studio ca. 1955
Photographer: Alexandra Studio ca. 1955

 

Skin is our largest organ, and for actors it’s their largest canvas. Unfortunately the canvas can take a real beating after six-week runs of eight-show weeks, months on tour, audition stress, and countless makeup applications.  So here’s the skinny on how to keep your canvas in tip-top shape.

Science of Skin

First, here’s a little scientific talk to help you understand the inner workings of your body’s coolest organ. Skin is composed of three layers, but the epidermis, the outermost layer, is the only one you pay much attention to. The dermis and subcutaneous tissue give your skin the bounce, texture, elasticity and resilience skin is so well know for. The epidermis, however, is responsible for skin’s water resistance.

Water resistance is a key to healthy skin. The combination of humectants (water molecules) and emollients (oil molecules) create the super-strong barrier that keeps bad stuff out and good stuff in. An imbalance of these two molecules is often the beginning of skin problems.

Too Dry

For many actors, cleansing their skin to remove makeup after each performance, or traveling to varying climates, dry skin becomes a real nuisance. The problem escalates if you’re in a production of Shrek or The Lion King, removing large amounts of grease paint or prosthetics.  Here are some of the first things to consider with your skin care regimen.

Photo Credit: Amy Bobeda
Photo Credit: Amy Bobeda

Proper makeup remover: Every variety of makeup has a remover designed for its chemical makeup. Soap will never remove alcohol-based makeup, because surfactants don’t disturb alcohol. Alcohol won’t remove silicone wig adhesive alone, it has to be combined with a bunch of polycarbon chains. Leave the science of these solutions to the pros, at places like Kryolan  for prosthetic and alcohol-based makeup and Lancome for street makeup. Sure, they can be expensive, but so much cheaper than dealing with cracked skin, dermatitis, or really any irritation. Why risk weakening your body’s largest organ?

Rebalancing moisture:  Moisturizer may not be enough. Many moisturizers are heavier in humectants than emollients, meaning they are putting more water and less oil back in your skin. If you’re using makeup that needs alcohol for removal, you’ll want to focus on replenishing oil just as much as water. Try a classic cold cream like the Ponds your grandma uses , or heavy-duty overnight moisturizer.  If your makeup is removed with an oil-based remover—many of the best street and stage makeup removers contain oils to glom onto the oil in the makeup pulling it away from your face—this is less important, just make sure you’ve picked a moisturizer that is hypoallergenic, and your skin will like whether you’re covering your face in makeup or not.

Too Oily

Oily skin can become a problem for anyone whether they have naturally oily skin or not. The key is don’t remove too much oilSebum, the natural oil of our skin, is good. It protects us from all the foreign elements that want to invade our bodies. Sure, it’s shiny and greasy, but it’s important to work with it, not against it.

Choosing the right makeup: If you have oily skin—sheen around the nose, cheeks, and forehead—don’t use a liquid makeup. Cream, mousse, and liquid makeups are heavier in emollients, allowing the pigment to slide along the face with ease. On oily skin these cosmetic oils ball up with your natural oils, causing makeup to run. Stick to powdered or water-based makeups that dry like Kryolan’s Aquacolor.

Photo Credit: Amy Bobeda
Photo Credit: Amy Bobeda

Keep the oil:  Removing excess oil sounds like the right thing to do, but by removing oil, your skin will only produce more. That’s its job! Instead of stripping the oil with tons of toner, remover, blotting papers, etc., try this: In the morning if you have oil deposits in the center of your face—nose, cheeks, forehead, try massaging the oil out to the rest of your face. You don’t want to lose the oil, you just want to redistribute it.

Irritation

Allergic reaction, over drying, and too much exfoliation are all culprits when it come to irritated skin. Here are some quick tips to keep skin calm onstage and off.

Create a barrier: If your natural barrier isn’t enough, try a barrier cream  under your makeup. This invisible glove will keep your skin’s chemistry balanced, and keep makeup on your face. It’s well worth the extra cost and step.

Identify the cause: When irritation arrises, consider all the causes. Everything your skin is exposed to is a chemical compound, which reacts to other chemical compounds, so usually the problem isn’t just between the makeup and your face. Did you switch laundry detergents? How about daily face wash? Are you over exfoliating? Have you neglected SPF on your day off and have a mild burn? Any and all of these factors can lead to irritation.

Give things a break: On your day off, simplify your routine. Use a gentle cleanser, preferably a cleansing milk (they have fewer drying surfactants). Moisturize with SPF. Don’t poke and prod your face. Don’t tone it, or exfoliate. Just let it try to rebalance its natural homeostasis.

When in doubt, consult a pro. Whether it’s a dermatologist, your go-to theatrical makeup company, or your theater’s makeup supervisor, there’s a good chance someone will have a clue when it comes to keeping your integumentary system in tip-top shape, and you looking your best. Just don’t forget, it’s the only skin you’ll ever be in, so be gentle, it will thank you in the short and the long run.

Casting Director Alison Franck

The National Tour: More Conversations on Casting

Last time around we had an opportunity to hear from Casting Director Bob Kale on the specific challenges of casting a National Tour.  That conversation bled into the much broader topic of auditioning for just about anything, with many more stones to be turned. I reached out to Alison Franck CSA, head of her own casting office (Franck Casting), for another perspective and further conversation on the casting process.

Alison has been casting everything from Broadway, Off-Broadway, Regional Theatre, National Tours, Television, and Film for more than 20 years. She began as an assistant for the legendary casting office Johnson & Liff, where she worked on such modest successes as The Phantom of the Opera, Les Miserables, Cats, and Miss Saigon (insert wry emoticon here). She took her formidable skills to the prestigious Paper Mill Playhouse, where over a span of a decade she cast more than 50 shows, including the Broadway transfer of I’m Not Rappaport starring Judd Hirsch, Anything Goes with Chita Rivera, The Full Monty with Elaine Stritch, and The Importance of Being Earnest with Lynn Redgrave. Her work has been seen on TV in the critical hit Freaks and Geeks, in commercials (as a partner at Liz Lewis Casting), and the children’s TV series Peter Rabbit.

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This series is focused on the National Tour, so we start there. I ask, “What should an actor consider before even auditioning for a tour?”

The main thing is, are they ready to live out of a box, a suitcase. And in my honest opinion, I think women have it tougher than men in this aspect.”

“Do you think it’s harder for women in general to be on a tour?”

It seems to me that guys adapt to tour life easier than girls do, but that’s certainly dependent on the individual. And it’s just my opinion, though I did tour for 2 years when I was still acting.”

“Any advice for people on tour for the first time?”

Go out and explore the area. When I would first get to a town, I would go walking by myself, see what was there, how safe I felt. I would see the country. Then I’d come back and work out, and prepare for the show. I was better about this process on my second tour than I was on my first. I just felt that I should use the tour as a real opportunity to see places I’d never been.”

“Some actors go out on tour, make potentially a substantial amount of money, but come home broke. Were you able to come back from your tours with some savings?”

“I was. I wouldn’t say that I was great with money back then, but I learned quickly. And sometimes you have to be willing to pay for your comfort. Do I need a single room this week? Yes. Yes I do. Sometimes you spend more money than you should, but you need that comfort. I would also say that you need to be aware of what is coming, like an unpaid layoff, which can happen frequently. Don’t let those things catch you by surprise.”

“How often does someone turn down a tour offer?”

“We do a lot of casting in advance, and by nature that results in losing people to other work. So we have to go to our backup files 2, 3, 4 times. Sometimes we need to have more auditions, and occasionally that’s the best thing we can do, get some fresh blood in the room.”

“How do you feel about the current practice of self-taped auditions?”

This is my soapbox moment. You need to know what to do and how to do it. Yes, you can use your iPhone. You shouldn’t do it yourself, however, get a friend to help. Don’t procrastinate, do it when you don’t have a job so you can learn. Take a lot of selfies. Take a class if you need to learn the technology. Find a big, blank space to shoot, don’t do it in front of your messy kitchen. Practice by taking selfies, then videotaping yourself with your phone, to know your best angles and where the best lighting is, then start working with friends, having them shoot you, etc. Our smartphones really are a tool to improve how well we do on tape.”

“For theatre, we want to see a full body shot. For TV and Film, a ¾ shot is normal. And make sure that even your self-taped audition is authentic, that it’s not the fifteenth take and you’re a little too polished.”

“How often do you actually look at websites or reels?”

“A lot. I look at it if I’m not sure who a person is, or what they can do. If you are a singer, have a website with some song clips. If you’re a gymnast, a dancer, same thing. Have a reel with shows you’ve been in, so you can show your work. Reels are important for TV and Film, but I will say you can’t throw commercials on a reel (for rights-related issues). Maybe if it’s a non-union commercial, but you have to be very careful about using them.”

“If you are a writer, and you are interested in creating and producing your own work, then I say go for it. It may not go anywhere, but at least you’ll have some material to show people.”

Casting Director Alison Franck
Casting Director Alison Franck

“What kinds of auditions do you remember most?”

“Auditions that make me laugh or excite me. Also, when people truly make me cry I remember them But I don’t think people should use sad material for everything and it shouldn’t be the starting point, but as a contrast to something that shows humor or joy. Someone just made me cry last week and I was blown away. But she had already wowed me with something legit and fun.”

For more information about Alison, please visit www.franckcasting.com.

homework

Auditioning: The Actual Job of an Actor

Greets, dear reader!

I am of the school of thought that when it comes to being an actor, auditioning is the real work. While I continue to hone this skill, I now recognize that performing is the reward for those seemingly endless hours of work. Rather than approaching them as job interviews, I think of auditions as a unique, albeit brief opportunity to perform for a crowd of few. After all, what more does entertainment require than the actor and audience? Dare to treat them with a touch of levity and you might just find that auditioning can be rewarding and, dare I say, fun.

Preparation

What frays the nerves more than being ill-equipped for an audition? You go up on your lyrics, get that deer-in-the-headlights look, and next thing you know, you’re hearing, “Thank you, that’s all we need to see today.” Nothing is more irksome than blowing a genuinely awesome audition. Preparation is the first step in putting your best foot forward.

homework

I look for songs that are type-appropriate and written for relatable characters. My go-to piece is “Free” from A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Forum. As I identify with the larger-than-life style, the role of Pseudolus is right in my wheelhouse. “Free” is an up-tempo “I am/I want” song that showcases both a wide vocal and comedic range, which is an ideal choice for my type. Alas, being a one-trick pony doesn’t do me any favors, so I’ve got several different songs from various genres to meet my audition needs.

The night before an audition is my time to review. I look over my music, making sure I’ve marked it legibly. I double-check the casting notice to ensure I’ve prepared everything. If there’s the possibility of a dance call, I pack accordingly. And, I always make sure I’ve stapled my headshot and resume. One of my biggest pet peeves is when someone pesters me for a stapler. They are $6 on Amazon, and that includes staples and a remover. If you can afford headshots in New York, you can afford to prepare.

The Holding Room

For the majority of us at the audition, it’s business time. We’re there to work. There’s always one lone goober, though, who gloms on to whoever will placate them, prattling on about what they’ve done, where they’ve been, or who they know. I’m not sure if this is just how some people’s nerves manifest themselves, but this has got to be one of the most annoying things imaginable. It’s all I can do review my materials, calm my own nerves, and focus on the task ahead without dodging a Chatty Cathy.

I won’t argue that a good warm-up is essential to belting your face off, yet here we find another major holding room no-no. In NY, most studios will rent smaller spaces on the cheap, a service I’ve taken advantage of when those extra fifteen minutes of scales make all the difference. It’s ideal because you’re able to warm up in the privacy of your own studio, and everyone else gets to maintain their focus. I believe it was Aretha who said, “R-E-S-P-E-C-T.” And, as I know all too well the trials of the regional/community circuit, you have no better studio in which to belt those last-minute riffs than your car. My go-to method of warming up is a BeltBox, a device that is gaining in popularity amongst performers. As it cuts my volume about thirty decibels, I’m able to warm up full voice in the hall or bathroom without disturbing anyone. Ultimately, it all comes down to taking care of our voices while still respecting the holding room space.

In the Room

Just before I walk in the room, I tell myself, confidence is key. I drop all the mental baggage of the day and am completely open to whatever may occur. After a warm greeting and quick chat with the accompanist, the room is entirely mine for the next minute and a half. The spotlight will never be more yours than it is at this moment.

Photo Credit: Chris & Karen Highland, Creative Commons License
Photo Credit: Chris & Karen Highland, Creative Commons License

Prior to walking in the room, the three questions I ask are: Who am I talking to (relationship)? What do I want? What are the stakes? The more detailed your answers are, the more clarity your performance will have. I try to stick to the “16 bars” rule, but if you’ve an up tempo song like “Free,” you’re allowed to cheat it up a bit. I take a deep breath and ground myself, which is crucial because it establishes the firm foundation on which the rest of the audition is built. Most callbacks will require you to prepare sides, which are great because they add some spontaneity to the process. If given ahead of time, I’ll usually be 90% off book after reviewing them into the ground. The pro: you have the luxury of time to experiment and play with different choices. The con: the more set your choices are, the harder it is to be flexible in the room. With a cold read, you’re lucky if you’ve time enough to read the sides twice beforehand. That said, I prefer these! The pro: cold reads allow for a genuine sense of discovery in which the team and I experience the text together. Trust your gut instincts as they are often the most natural choice. The con: heightened nerves from not having worked the text often lead to rushing and fumbling.

From beginning to end and everything in between, an actor’s greatest asset is confidence. Rather than a cocky bravado, it’s a cool conviction that illuminates your work and holds attention. It’s the confidence that comes from choosing the appropriate material, making informed acting choices, and having fun! Be your best you and the rest is in their hands.

Photo Credit: NETworks

National Tours: The Major Players

Back for more, eh? We begin our inside look at the National Touring market with a brief review of the major producers and presenters, and a look at some of the major topics surrounding the tour industry.

Before we go too far (or really anywhere), I feel we have to acknowledge the current tour climate. There are Equity (union) tours and Non-Equity (non-union) tours in the market, and there is much debate over the validity, marketing, and financial reality of each. We are not going to pick a side in this argument, nor am I going to spend time on what the separate sides desire. When I was non-equity, I did non-equity tours. And I’ve done Equity tours as well. The differences in many cases are obvious; there’s usually more money in an Equity tour so the production values can be higher, but aren’t necessarily. But I loved all of the shows, most of my co-workers (only human folks), and the experiences.

ThatsAll

Seriously, this topic takes us down a rabbit hole. Suffice it to say I am pro-union, but I believe there is a place for both types of tours, as long as there is transparency from all parties.

I can hear my editors now, “Move on, move on, for the love of all that’s holy, move on!”

Without further ado, here are the major players. This list is neither complete nor comprehensive, nor are they listed in any particular order.

NETWORKS

NETworks has been around for more than 20 years. Their home offices are located in Columbia, Maryland, and they are absolutely one of the leaders in the industry. Currently they are producing the National Tours of Cameron Mackintosh’s The Phantom of the Opera, Dirty Dancing, Elf the Musical, Finding Neverland, Into the Woods, Once the Musical, The Sound of Music, and The King and I. NETworks produces both Equity and Non-Equity tours. Full disclosure: I was on the 2001-2002 NETworks tour of Show Boat. Shown here:

Photo Credit: NETworks
Photo Credit: NETworks

Yeah that’s me. I was young(er) then. Also, “Hi Jodi!” For more information, please visit www.networksontour.com.

 

TROIKA

Any conversation about NETworks has to lead directly into a conversation about Troika, as one is born from the other. Also located in Maryland, Troika produces both Equity and Non-Equity shows, and their upcoming/current season includes Annie, 42nd Street, An American in Paris, Cheers Live on Stage, Love Never Dies, and The Bodyguard. www.troika.com

 

BIG LEAGUE THEATRICALS

Big League (more disclosure) is the producer of the first National Tour I was ever on, 1776. BLT (sorry, couldn’t resist) is actually headquartered in New York City—take that Maryland! Their current season includes A Chorus Line, How the Grinch Stole Christmas, A Christmas Story, and The Producers. It appears the current season is all Non-Equity, but past Equity productions have included Guys and Dolls, Chitty Chitty Bang Bang, and Ain’t Misbehavin’.  www.bigleague.org.

 

WORKLIGHT PRODUCTIONS

Worklight is located in Summit, New Jersey (an easy commute into NYC for auditions), and their current season includes the 20th anniversary tour of Rent, Cinderella, Mamma Mia, Crazy for You, and Irving Berlin’s White Christmas. Worklight also produces both union and non-union tours. www.worklightproductions.com

 

PHOENIX PRODUCTIONS

Another Maryland company (what is in the water down there?), Phoenix has been around for 17 years and is also part of the NETworks-Troika family tree. Phoenix has produced Non-Equity tours, and though a current calendar does not appear available on line, past productions include Ragtime, The Pajama Game, Camelot, and Peter and the Starcatcher. www.phoenix-ent.com.

 

BUT ROB, WHAT ABOUT THE “BIG” TOURS?

Glad you asked.

The “big” tours, and I’m talking about current shows like The Book of Mormon, Jersey Boys, Wicked, The Lion King, Hamilton, etc., are a slightly different animal. These shows don’t operate under a separate umbrella company, but rather are produced by the same company that produces them on Broadway (for example, Dodger Theatricals produces Jersey Boys both in New York and on the road). This includes major players like the Jujamcyn Organization, the Nederlanders, Disney Theatricals, the Shubert Organization, and others. Usually this is the case for the major Broadway hits and behemoths that seem like they will never close. My lips to the universe, right?

IS THAT IT?

Hardly. All of these above companies produce primarily big musicals, with the occasional straight play tossed in now and then. But there are several other touring theatre companies out in the world such as:

Theatreworks USA: Perhaps the leading producer of children’s theatre in the country, Theatreworks has been in existence 1961 and has presented theatre to nearly 100 million people across the United States and Canada. Producing both plays and musicals, Theatreworks shows can be lighter fare like Seussical or more serious work like The Diary of Anne Frank. Their alumni include such theatre luminaries as Judy Kuhn, F. Murray Abraham, Jesse Tyler Ferguson, and Henry Winkler, while directors Jerry Zaks and Gabriel Barre also plied their craft. Theatreworks is an entirely Equity company.

The National Players: Founded in 1949, The National Players are America’s oldest professional touring company. They have primarily performed adaptations of great works of literature (such as Animal Farm and A Tale of Two Cities), and reimagined works of William Shakespeare. The company is an outreach of the Olney Theatre Center in Olney, Maryland (seriously, who knew there was all this theatre in Maryland?). From their website: “National Players has performed in 41 states; in the White House; and for American military in Europe, Asia, and the Arctic Circle. Committed to artistic excellence and community engagement, National Players has brought literature to life for nearly three million people.”

Nebraska Theatre Caravan: The Nebraska Theatre Caravan was founded in 1975 as a joint project between the Omaha Playhouse and the Nebraska Arts Council “to bring together a small group of professional performer-teachers for workshops in Omaha and out-state.” Since its inception the Nebraska Theatre Caravan has produced over 100 fully mounted productions, many of which were new works, and has played to 160 Nebraska communities and hundreds of others across the nation. The national tour of A Christmas Carol has performed in over 600 cities in 49 states and 4 Canadian provinces, and has been seen by over 3 million audience members.

Photo Credit: © Copyright Stephen McKay
Photo Credit: © Copyright Stephen McKay

That pretty much concludes the broadest brush I possibly could have used in this article. Obviously there are many, many more companies, but I’ve tried to give you a glance at the ones with the highest visibility. When this series returns we’re going to delve into auditioning, casting processes, and more. If you have updates, corrections, other companies we have overlooked, please feel free to mention them in the comments section, we here at StageAgent can verify and include them. After all, we’re all in this together.

Photo Credit: Evan Teich

Keep Calm and Embrace Your Type

When I began to lose my hair senior year of college, I knew my days as a leading man were numbered. But not because of my receding follicles! The diverse course schedule and departmental productions challenged me to discover who I was as a performer. I was more inclined towards bigger, comical choices, but found they weren’t always leading man appropriate. I did not know it then, but my type was at odds with the characters I was playing. College left me wanting those star roles but, glorious locks or not, my natural inclinations would lead me towards much more rewarding experiences.

Photo via Good Free Photos.
Photo via Good Free Photos.

To know your type as an actor is to understand your strengths and how others perceive them. To embrace your type is using this knowledge to power your career choices. Understanding your type is allowing yourself to be the best piece to fit in the overall puzzle. This sense of clarity and self-awareness is essential. There are several factors in identifying your type:

  1. Age: What is the range you can believably play? If you look 17, you’re more likely to play Natalie in Next to Normal than Diana. If you’ve an older look, you’re more apt to play Max Bialystock in The Producers than Leo Bloom.
  2. Gender: This is less definable as cross-gender and gender-blind casting is commonplace. If you’re a fella with the height and gravitas to play Miss Trunchbull in Matilda, then more power to you!
  3. Look: The creative team’s first impression carries huge influence. When you walk in the room—before you even open your mouth—you’re contending with the established character in their mind. Maybe you are too tall/short for the actor you’d be playing opposite. You might not fit into the current actor’s costume. They might be looking for actors with rounder features, yet yours are sharp. We find ourselves asking, what did I do wrong? These factors are completely out of our control. We can’t get hung up on trying to be what we think they want. Be your best YOU! Often, you’ll find the desired “look” stated in the audition notices’ character breakdowns (always triple check). Keep these in mind when auditioning for that dream role:
    • Height
    • Weight
    • Hair length/color
    • Eye color
    • Ethnic appearance

  1. Voice: Your voice goes hand in hand with your look. A tenor won’t sing the bass solo in South Pacific’s “Nothing Like a Dame.” This also applies to the speaking voice. If you’ve a higher, mousy type voice, you might reconsider auditioning for the sultry Chaperone in The Drowsy Chaperone. Are you skilled at dialects? This is a killer feather to have in your cap as so many great, zany character roles require fun dialects.
  2. Personality: The most important factor that identifies your type is…YOU! What kinds of characters do you feel completely at ease playing? Do you possess a natural smarminess or a brash sexiness? This kind of security and confidence could turn an entire audition on its head, despite missing some other qualifiers. The rest of the list means nothing if you’ve no connection to the character.

When it comes to our types, strive to strike a balance between outside and personal perceptions. Like a favorite pair of jeans, you know what kinds of characters fit you best. As our own worst critics, though, we often lack the proper perspective to judge ourselves fairly. We actors are a sensitive bunch and there’s always something we wish was better, thinner, tighter, etc. But, we must also be honest with ourselves. A couple years back I was slated to return to a theatre where I had done summer stock the previous summer. They were doing Kiss Me, Kate and I had my heart set on Fred/Petruchio. He’s in my vocal wheelhouse, and I knew I had the presence to pull it off. Alas, I was to play Gangster #2. Despite a bruised ego, I quickly realized that it didn’t matter how I saw myself, but how the director (generously) thought my type would best serve the production. In retrospect, I had a blast and sharing one of Cole Porter’s best eleven o’clock numbers is nothing to sneeze at either.

Being able to capitalize on our strengths is truly what mastering type is about. This is where outside opinion can be beneficial. Find people whose opinion you trust and get their read on you. You fancy yourself the ingénue, but is it time to consider the quirky best friend? Sometimes it takes that external dose of truth to set us on the right path and while we may not always agree, embracing your type is part of understanding who you are as an actor. The last thing you want to do is waste the casting director’s time (or your own) when you know you’re not right for something. What’s worse, you don’t want to be remembered that way.

Photo Credit: Evan Teich
Photo Credit: Evan Teich

Once you know your type, master it! Become the best ingénue, leading man, or character actor you can be. I’ll find a working actor of my type, see what roles he’s played and then learn bits from those shows. This is a great way to get new material for your songbook. Read plays! This is the source for new monologues of all types. Be a reader at auditions. This topic is worthy of its own article, but is a great way to get ideas from other actors. As they say, “genius steals!” Auditioning with pieces that truly compliment your type shows a level of professional ethic that is often overlooked in theatrical academia. Ultimately, showcasing yourself as a competent performer will put you that much more ahead of the curve.

This clear sense of self-awareness is one of the more important of the myriad tools an actor has in their arsenal. It will help you to narrow down your options and give clarity to your choices. Otherwise, it’d be like throwing spaghetti at the wall and seeing what sticks. However, we are not limited to one type over the course of our careers. There’s plenty of room for growth and discovery. After all, that’s what we strive for, right? To continue to grow and learn as artists.

News, thoughts, opinions and advice for the performing arts community.