Tag Archives: arts industry

kennedy

Hey, Broadway, Time for a Camelot Revival!

All who appreciate good theatre have been given a once-in-a-lifetime gift in the past 18 months, and that gift is Hamilton. In case you live under a rock, yet somehow are reading the StageAgent blog, Hamilton is the story of Alexander Hamilton, a man who was never President of the United States but was just as influential as any in the birth of our nation. Hamilton created our financial systems, the Coast Guard, The New York Post, and was named the first Secretary of Treasury in the United States. Oh yeah, and about 240 years later, some guy named Lin-Manuel Miranda wrote a hip-hop musical about him. And it won all the awards. We’ve made up awards to keep giving to this show, just to show how grateful we are. In the time it took me to write the last sentence, it picked up two more.

hamiltonmeme

I kid, but seriously, the hype is real. A true but mostly-untold story, Mr. Miranda (along with choreographer Andy Blankenbuehler; director Thomas Kail; musical director Alex Lacamoire; and author of the book, Alexander Hamilton, Ron Chernow), wrapped a semi-biography in the language of this generation—in rap and hip-hop. And Miranda had the vision to tell the story with actors who traditionally would never cross lines of race or gender, so that it can speak to a contemporary teenager who may feel completely disconnected from the founding fathers. And it works beautifully. The bar for excellence has been raised sky-high in the way that great artists have always done.

Hamilton shows its protagonists not as we idealize them to be, but as what they are: people. Fallible people, honest people, hard-working people, desperate people, hungry people. A group of men and women trying to do something nearly impossible—birth a new nation in a new land, with new rules of governance, without a motherland to support them. The country was founded in blood, sweat, slavery. For better or worse, the freedoms we enjoy today are built on this foundation. We shouldn’t look at the Founders as superheroes in powdered wigs, but as humans, sometimes deeply flawed, sometimes incredibly inspiring. Hamilton gives us this opportunity.

Uh…I thought this was supposed to be about Camelot…

I’m getting there. Camelot arrived on Broadway (the first time) in 1960, starring Richard Burton as King Arthur, Julie Andrews as Guenevere, and Robert Goulet as Lancelot. Written by Alan Jay Lerner, Frederick Loewe and Moss Hart, Camelot is the story of Arthur, and his journey from foolish teenager to King. (I don’t really have to give you the plot of Camelot, do I? Moving on.)

camelot

Camelot is a story of inspiration, of reaching for the stars. It is widely known that President John F. Kennedy was a huge fan of the show, and would often listen to the cast album before he went to bed at night in the White House. He was particularly fond of the closing lyrics:

Don’t let it be forgot, that once there was a spot

For one brief shining moment that was known as Camelot.

The Kennedy Administration was often referred to as the “Camelot Era.” Idealistic, hopeful, ever-striving for the next goal. When America truly entered the “Space Race,” it was Kennedy who said:

“We choose to go to the moon. We choose to go to the moon in this decade and do the other things, not because they are easy, but because they are hard, because that goal will serve to organize and measure the best of our energies and skills, because that challenge is one we are willing to accept, one we are unwilling to postpone, and one which we intend to win, and the others too.”

President Kennedy delivering the his famous “Moonshot Speech.”
President Kennedy delivering the his famous “Moonshot Speech.”

King Arthur was idealistic too. Perhaps a bit naïve, but hopeful. In his powerful speech closing Act One, Arthur says:

“This is the time of King Arthur, and we reach for the stars! This is the time of King Arthur, and violence is not strength, and compassion is not weakness. We are civilized.”

Sound familiar?

Camelot, of course, is about some other things that aren’t so inspiring. And it doesn’t exactly have a happy ending. Arthur fails his mission to keep the peace in the kingdom, war has come to his doorstep—war caused by an adulterous affair between his Queen and Lancelot, spurred on by Arthur’s bastard son (he was no saint, I suppose). But even as the battle is upon him, Arthur turns to a young boy who has come to join the fight, and instead sends him to hide, to live, and to tell the story that for one moment, however brief, there was a glorious kingdom known as Camelot.

Back here in our universe, it’s been an interesting month or so, to say the least. And many of us find ourselves in an uncertain world. It’s a good time to be reminded that it’s always the right time to do the right thing. Arthur didn’t want to sit at the head of a table, he wanted it round, so that all were equal even though he was King. He wanted a world governed by reason, about what was right, not who was mighty. He had a partner in Guenevere, not a subordinate, but an equal.

Throughout history, art has reflected the time in which it was created, whether it serves as a mirror for the present, a reminder of days long gone, or a glimpse into the future. Those who appreciate art often look to it for guidance, or inspiration. Hamilton gives a gritty edge to what has often been a whitewashed history lesson. Camelot presents a magical, idealistic take on the rules of governance. If ever there was a time to have both shows running on Broadway, I think now is that time.

Besides, who doesn’t want to hear Audra McDonald sing Guenevere?

fringequeen

Top Tips on the Edinburgh Festival Fringe

The Edinburgh Festival Fringe is the world’s largest arts festival, with over 50,000 performances of 3,279 shows in nearly 300 venues across the city in 2016. It is held in August every year and, although that may seem like a long while away, it is really never too early to start planning for the Fringe!

Taking a show to the Fringe can be a daunting prospect and there are many options to consider:

What type of venue is best for your show? Large or intimate? City center or out of the main action? How do you promote it? How do you compete with the thousands of other shows appearing at the Fringe? Where do you stay?

Going to the Fringe is also one of the most exciting, exhilarating, and inspiring professional moments, and well worth the energy and effort. Who knows the impact your production may have? After all, the ground-breaking and innovative Rosencrantz and Guildenstern Are Dead and Jerry Springer: The Opera, both made their debut at the Edinburgh Fringe to critical acclaim.

fringestreetSo, with that in mind, here are a few tips to consider when taking a show to the Fringe.

Options on Where to Stay

Hotels during this time are expensive and, for most working actors/directors, not necessarily a financially viable option. You may also wish to consider that if you have a lot of show materials, props, costumes etc., a hotel room might become a little crowded. However, fortunately, the residents of Edinburgh are well used to making the most out of their apartments during the Fringe. Renting an apartment has many pros. You are flexible and ‘at home’ during your time in Edinburgh, you can squeeze as many people into a room as needed, and you achieve a more authentic festival experience.

Picking a Venue

Bear in mind that it is not just recognized theatres and halls that become show venues during the Fringe. Dance halls, church halls, meeting rooms, and pub rooms all become Fringe venues. For many smaller companies, these more intimate venues are often a much more financially viable option. Choosing a larger venue puts you riding alongside the bigger names and companies, but it will also cost you the same amount of big bucks. It really does depend on your background and aims for your show. However, a smaller venue has two important plus points: the actor/performer is able to engage with the audience on a much more intimate level, and potential empty seats do not seem as depressing as they might in a larger, emptier auditorium. This may sound a little cynical but predicting ticket sales is highly uncertain at the best of times. Remember, you are competing with over 3,000 shows! You may have 50 people in one night, and 2 the next. For most performers, the thrill of the Fringe cannot come from any potential income, but rather the experience and vibrancy of the performance itself. Don’t go too big unless you are sure!

Afternoons are also a slightly less frenetic time to put on your show and may provide bigger audiences. People tend to be freer and more likely to experiment. Any experienced Fringe-goer will have already planned their evenings out.

Another option is to advertise your show for free (yes, I said free) and then ask for donations upon leaving. This can end up bringing in more people and a bit more dosh!

fringestreetpeoplePromote, Promote, Promote!

Be prepared to put in the legwork at the festival. Thank goodness Edinburgh is not a huge city! The hub of the Fringe is also focused in the center of the city. However you must have as much promotional material as possible and disseminate it as widely and as frequently as you can. Being featured in the Fringe Guide is just not enough. The city is littered with flyers and posters and your promotional material has to make a dent. Every person you pass on the Royal Mile will almost certainly have at least 10 flyers clutched in their hands.

With that in mind……

You’ve Gotta Have a Gimmick

It may sound cheesy but a gimmick, a costume, or some sort of eye catching prop goes a long way towards making your show stand out and stick in the memory of a potential audience member. Before you start your show promotion, take a wander down the Royal Mile, through Princes Street Gardens, and on to the University grounds. It is a fascinating experience as with every step you will encounter a dynamic display designed to grab your attention and sell tickets! Embrace it and enjoy it! A day’s improvisation and/or public interaction on the street is an uplifting, entertaining, and frequently hilarious experience.

fringequeen

However, the top tip really is to ENJOY the Edinburgh  Festival Fringe! It is a fantastic place to be during August and, if you can, see as many shows as possible while you are there. The diversity, quality, and eccentricity on display is amazing. There really is nothing like it!

Editor’s Note: For more information about The Edinburgh Festival Fringe, deadlines for participating, and more, check out their website: https://www.edfringe.com/participants.

masks tya

Theatre for Young Audiences: An Enchanting Genre

CC0 License https://pixabay.com/en/festival-mass-kid-994132/Children’s Theatre gets a bad rap. It isn’t just productions of Annie, cast with future child stars, or Shrek, performed by a company of 12 year olds. People say, “It’s for children; adults just have to sit through it.” Or, even worse, some think it’s a fluff genre, with no substance. It’s as if a play for children doesn’t merit the same artistic credibility as a play for adults. Glitter, polka dots, and silly songs, can’t compare to Brecht, Stoppard, and Mamet.

These misconceptions couldn’t be further from the truth. Theatre for Young Audiences (TYA) is making waves, breaking molds, and giving artists endless creative opportunities fostering the future of theatre.

For Performers:

How often do you get the opportunity to personify a crayon? How about playing a ladybug? My guess is, not very often. But in the wonderful world of TYA, wacky, strange, and thoughtful roles exist in every production. There are no boring bit parts. The work is hard, but it’s worth it. Every role matters, and the audience will make sure you know that.

Kids are the toughest critics. They see the joy and truth in the world the rest of us have forgotten. There is no dumbing down of scripts for TYA—audiences are young, but sophisticated. They don’t laugh when adults laugh. They sense actors emotions, and they know when performers aren’t giving 100% to their character. Acting for an audience of K-12 gives actors a thicker skin, while landing a special level of celebrity status. YOU are the infamous Fancy Nancy, or Pippi Longstocking, or Frog and Toad those children have spent so much time reading about, dressing up as, or dreaming to meet someday. You’ve brought their fantasies to life in front of them, no TV set required. That, my friends, is magical.

Photo Credit: Hanay
Photo Credit: Hanay

For Lovers of New Work:

Children’s publishing never has a dry spell. More picture books, chapter books, and epic rhyming poems take the page every year, ready for theater adaptation. Age-appropriate adaptations based on the classics is over—all the cool books become plays now. Nothing boring, nothing you wouldn’t want to watch yourself. Plays for children are no longer, strictly, plays for children. They are as smart and insightful as the books they are based on. Fly Guy, the story of a boy and his fly best friend; Fancy Nancy, the girl that loves to dress fancy; and the crazy adventures of Ivy and Bean are nothing like the stories that used to take the stage.

Authors are optioning their book rights to individual theatres or group of theatres, with plans to develop, write, and coproduce world premieres. We’re talking cutting-edge theatre about flies, spies, buddies, and bullies. This not only gives playwrights and directors the opportunity to develop new work, but it also gives designers the opportunity to be the first to create these characters and their environments. The rate at which TYA new works are being made today is staggering in comparison to the number of plays and musicals written for adults that hardly see a workshop let alone an actual stage. TYA new works are getting produced, period.

For Artists Looking to Make a Difference:

For many children, their first TYA experience is their first theatrical experience. Some parents might not be theatregoers themselves, but want to seek out enriching family experiences. The chances of those children and those adults seeing more theatre after their TYA introduction is huge. Future theatre audiences are cultivated during each performance. Early exposure to the arts sparks creativity in future innovators of the world. The children are our future, and TYA gives them an early introduction to the arts.

For children whose might not be able to afford shows, many TYA companies hold student matinees. Teachers have the opportunity to expand curriculum—focusing lessons around a play’s original book and themes, before and after seeing the show. Kids experience theatre etiquette and art appreciation, making connections between their lives, their books, and an art form they otherwise might never experience.masks tya: CC0 https://pixabay.com/en/festival-mass-kid-994132/

For Fun-Seeking Artists:

At the end of the day, we play pretend for a living. But, sometimes it’s nice to know the playing doesn’t have to be so serious. Developing, producing, and performing works for children challenges in the adult brain. Will this musical number hold the attention of a five year old? If not, how can we make it? Does this costume read as cat, but also give the audience a human to identify with? Is this lighting too scary? Can we get a grant to fund more scholarship field trips? These are questions asked every day in the world of TYA. The work is still hard, but after every performance, the entryway fills with dozens of excited little voices, ready to meet their favorite characters, read more stories, and eventually see more plays.

Casting Director Bob Kale

THE NATIONAL TOUR: CASTING

Welcome back to our ongoing series on that exotic bird known as the National Tour. Today we jump to the other side of the table and get our info straight from an expert’s perspective.

“What brought me here is that I didn’t want to be anywhere else.”

Bob Kale has been casting theatre, television and film for more than 20 years. Originally from Toledo, Ohio, he came to New York City to attend Julliard at the age of eighteen, with the intention of becoming an actor. Julliard brought an education that many could only dream of, and from there he went on to study with Sanford Meisner (wow), and eventually became Sandy’s assistant. Mr. Kale went on to do musical scene study with Lehman Engel of the world-renowned BMI Workshop. He trained in voice with Felix Knight, a well-known Metropolitan Opera tenor, and he became an actor for the next 19 years. A happenstance meeting with Barry Moss (who was already casting at the time) at the local dog run led Bob to a partnership of two decades and a career on the other side of the table, where he could use all of his considerable education to help aspiring actors and directors forge relationships. Hughes/Moss, later Moss/Kale and Moss/Kale/Anastasi, would cast big Broadway musicals such as Titanic, The Who’s Tommy, and Jekyll & Hyde, plus the films Jack and Jill, I Now Pronounce you Chuck and Larry, and television including Cosby Mysteries, FX, Ed, Elmo’s World, and As the World Turns.

Casting Director Bob Kale
Casting Director Bob Kale

I always saw myself as inferior.” He wasn’t, of course, he was a very well-trained actor. But it’s a sentiment most actors can relate to quite easily. How strange it was to hear those words from a man so accomplished. It’s a reminder I guess, that no matter where we are on this path, just starting out or with many miles already logged, we all feel the same things. “I still feel in awe when someone like Maury Yeston or the late August Wilson walk into the room—I think to myself ‘what on Earth am I doing here?’”

In the interest of full disclosure, Bob was my first teacher in New York City. I enrolled in his musical theatre audition class right after I earned my Equity card, and have known, admired, and trusted him ever since. We had a chance to sit down over coffee and he shared his thoughts about the differences and difficulties of casting a National Tour, and the current state of casting in general.

My first question is the most obvious one: “What, if anything, is different about casting a National Tour versus casting a regional production of the same show?”

The numbers. A Broadway show may have a cast of 28, but a tour, where you have to house and transport not just the actors but the crew, the musicians, and so on, may only be able to accommodate a cast of 22. So you have to consolidate. This is where you can have the occasional actor that also covers three roles, but he isn’t genuinely right for one or possibly two of them and wouldn’t have been used in an Original Broadway production. It just has to be that way. And on a first National Tour, these decisions are made by the entire team, the Director, the Choreographer, Composer, Lyricist, everyone. That’s also why ‘tracks’ are created and usually adhered to. Once an actor has learned all of these parts, and costumes exist for each role, a replacement actor will often be very similar to the original both in physicality and interpretation. A hem can be raised, but not always lowered. It sounds inconceivable, but it’s true. And an actor that interprets the tracks in a completely different way throws off the actors who’ve already played 100 or 200 performances and are adjusted to the consistency of the show’s flow. In repertory, it’s essentially a new production and the theatre has purchased the rights to the show or play. It’s theirs to interpret.”

A sampling of Bob's work.
A sampling of Bob’s work.

I went on. “Does it ever come up, that one actor seems to be able to handle the life on the road, whereas another actor may not? Assuming the talent level is the same?”

“It’s like, say you have a final callback. And there are five actors, and they’re all wonderful, and they all bring something different to it. Frankly, they all could be cast. The team narrows it down to three. Who’s going to get the job? The one who seems more pleasant to work with. Can they handle this life on the road? If they are sitting in the waiting area crying because they think they’ve messed up their audition, then they probably can’t. Or if they slam the door on the way out, for any number of reasons, they’re probably not going to be pleasant to work with. There’s a lot of talk in the studio. ‘Do you know so-and-so? Can you call someone and find out what they’re like to work with?’ Happens all the time.”

Me again. “What’s the biggest challenge in casting a Tour, or really, casting anything?”

“The biggest challenge honestly is the audition schedule.”

I look at Bob like I want something more gut-wrenching, more personal, but this is the honest truth.

“When you are down to the final rounds, everybody has to be there: Director, Musical Director, Choreographer, sometimes Stage Management, Producers, Assistants…the list goes on and on. Everyone is signing off on every cast member. So when you’re an actor down to the wire for a show, clear your schedule as best you can according to the CD’s requests. Most of the people in the room are working on three, maybe four projects at once. So if I can get them all in the same room at the same time, I thank my lucky stars.”

“What do you wish actors, especially younger ones, could know to help demystify the casting process?”

“I say to everybody, when I’m doing a seminar or something like that, the only thing you can control is your audition. Everything else is out of your hands. The only thing you can do is be the artist. The business will take care of itself, you show up and do the best work you can do. One audition is probably not the beginning or the end of anything. And if it is, you’re probably not going to know that for a while so why worry? Actors make such a fuss and it’s usually things they are creating in their own mind that get in the way of giving a great audition.”

I have to admit, that part sounds a little too familiar.

Bob then shared this story, from Tony- and Emmy-winner Tyne Daly.
Tyne Daly was dying to be in this production of The Three Sisters, and there was a production being done at the Ahmanson Theatre in Los Angeles, which was run by Gordon Davidson. She got an audition and she was drilling Mr. Davidson for any information. ‘Gordon, what can I do? I’ve wanted to do this play my whole life, please tell me what can I do?’ Gordon finally looked at her and said, ‘Tyne, it’s a chance to act Friday at two o’clock.’”

“Actors need a perspective, a point of view,” Bob continued, “that each audition is part of a never-ending learning process. You go to an acting class and do a great exercise and that’s wonderful, but the next one won’t be. Or the next one will be average, then another good one, they’re all connected. Do you know the acronym for FEAR? False Evidence Appearing Real. That’s what I would give an actor if I could. That they could let go of the fear and really perceive it as an ongoing education because that’s what it is. Regardless of the impression you get of how the people watching you seem to be responding, you don’t genuinely know, and you mustn’t judge yourself—it’s artistic suicide. Do the best work you can, leave the audition at the studio, and get on with your life! Don’t ruminate on how evil the director is or, even worse, how terrible you are. These things are cerebral BS that just gets in the way of talent and craft. Of course, it’s easier said than done.

BReakFreeI thanked Bob, like I was his student again. Of course that’s exactly what I was in that moment. More than a dozen years ago, when I was actually in his class, most of this information would have travelled right through me with little impact—my mistake, not his. Now I get it. And I’m sure I’ll struggle to remember this solid advice when the chips are down, but if I just take a moment to breathe, the next audition will be exactly what it should be: a chance to act Friday at two o’clock.

Bob Kale is an “Advanced Musical Theater Audition Technique” teacher at the Musical Theatre Conservatory at New York Film Academy, https://www.nyfa.edu/musical-theatre. You can also find Bob’s classes at www.wbworkshops.net, or at his own website, www.bobkaleonline.com.

Photo Credit: Amy Bobeda

Who Made That? A Look Behind the Scenes

Every play is the culmination of a million little pieces made by many hands the audience will never meet. Just like films have crucial, but mysterious roles like best boy, key grip, or B location scout, theatre has its own lesser known heroes crucial to the performance’s success. Whether you just want to know more about your friends behind the scenes, or are looking for the right career in theatre arts, here are some key players to get you started.

Costume Shop: First Hand

The costume shop first hand, has two hands, but is the right-hand man or woman to the tailor or draper. The tailor (specializing in menswear) and draper (specializing in women’s wear) draft costume patterns while the first hand cuts them out in mock-up or fashion fabric, sets up sewing projects for stitchers, and is usually a master at hand-finishing, zippers, and welt pockets. The first hand is a mid-level construction position: sewers begin as stitchers, move into first hand, and then many go on to become drapers or tailors. These are the people you rarely meet, but know they put hours into the precise construction of the costumes you see onstage.

Photo Credit: Amy Bobeda
Photo Credit: Amy Bobeda

Backstage: Stage Supervisor

The stage supervisor is the MacGyver of any production. While the stage manager oversees actors, blocking, the script, and their ASM, a stage supervisor manages the backstage crew, scene shifts, consumables, and much more. If you’re doing a production of Les Miserables, and a turntable breaks, the stage supervisor is the first in line to fix it. This superhero works closely with stage management, wardrobe, props, and the scene shop to help maintain the continuity of a show, maintain any minimal wear and tear on props or scenery, and keep the show running as smoothly as possible. If you love herding cats, having your hand in many aspects of the art, and thrive off of the adrenaline of fast-paced problem solving, this is the job for you. You also have to be pretty good with an impact driver and hot glue gun.

Sound: A2

Sound is an integral design element to any show (despite what the Tonys have to say about it), but sound is even more important in a musical. For most musicals, their audio engineer has a booth in the house where they can listen to show and mix each actor’s microphone levels live. What you don’t see is their backstage partner, the A2. This second audio position is like the ASM of the sound department. They’re responsible for placing the mic on each actor, changing out batteries or elements when things get sweaty, and often spend the show following actors who have many changes. They are quick on their feet, work well with wardrobe, and are ninjas with a battery.

Scene Shop: Shop Foreman

It takes a village to operate a scene shop effectively. Technical directors translate drawings into CAD, manage the budget, and purchase supplies, but don’t always spend time on the shop floor. This job is left to the shop foreman. The foreman runs the shop floor crew, assigning tasks, dictating their cut lists, and making sure everything runs smoothly. They’re an expert at reading ground plans, safely using all machinery, and managing time. Most shop foreman start as carpenters, and can grow into technical directors, or even production managers when they get tired of working on the floor. Next time you see an amazing set, thank the shop foreman for guiding the carpenters, trouble-shooting scenic difficulties, and making scenic magic happen.

Photo Credit: Amy Bobeda
Photo Credit: Amy Bobeda

Scene Shop: Scenic Charge Artist

Even the simplest sets need paint, and more than a can of Behr from Home Depot. The scenic charge artist is in charge of all scenic treatments. This ranges from painting back panel steel black to prevent rust, to intricate trompe-l’oeil of bricks, woodland scenes, or intricate wallpaper. They are given a scale rendering by the scenic designer, and enlarge it to life size using a giant grid, often painting by numbers on a giant scale. The scenic charge is an expert in paint varieties, can color mix like no other, and knows more painting techniques than Martha Stewart could ever dream of. This is a job for hard-working, skilled artists who can visualize large scale work, have great patience, and can withstand long hours on their feet—or their hands and knees. They are chemists, artists, and craftsman. Next time you’re watching a production of Sweeney Todd, consider the extensive paint treatment on those old London buildings—before the blood hits, that is.

These are just a handful of craftsmen who contribute to the technical side of the art you see onstage. It’s good to remember just how many artists it takes to put on a play—especially those you cannot see.

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