Tag Archives: audition

Wait - those aren't cell towers?

Cruise Ship Entertainment Pt 2: A Few More Tips

Avast! (Somebody stop me…) We’re back for more Life Upon the Wicked Sea…Stage. In the previous installment, we looked at the kinds of shows and entertainers you would find on a cruise ship; now we’re going to examine what life is like onboard.

This is where you really must decide if you are cut out for this kind of work. My castmates sign contracts that basically say for seven months, they will live on the ocean, on this boat. In a tiny room. And I mean tiny. It may be private, with its own private bath, or you may share a bathroom, or you may even have a roommate in your tiny little space. Frankly even if you have a single cabin, you still live on top of everyone else. And you eat ship food. Some cruise lines allow entertainers to eat (and drink) with the guests, they even encourage it, to provide a more fun guest experience. Others do not allow this, and you are for the most part resigned to eat in what’s known as the Crew Mess (it’s a military term for crew cafeteria). The food you eat may be fine, or it may not, but your biggest complaint may be that it’s THE SAME. Same stuff, different day.

The lifestyle and rules, of course, vary from company to company. Along with dining privileges, you may have what is commonly referred to as “guest status,” meaning that basically you can behave like a guest if you are dressed appropriately, behaving reasonably, and not interfering with a paying guest’s experience. So you can go out and sunbathe, enjoy the pools, hot tubs, buffets, sometimes an adult beverage, if that’s your thing…but if you don’t have guest status, you may find these experiences are few and far between. Something to consider in the contract negotiation phase.

dog mai tai

In most theatrical productions, your cast becomes your temporary (sometimes permanent) family. On a ship, it’s not only the cast, but the crew who run the everyday ship operation, who are also part of that family. And they are from other countries, other cultures, in fact the American percentage of crew members is usually small. On my ship we have representatives from 6 of the 7 continents (I don’t think there are any Antarcticans…). And I’m sure all cruise companies are the same.

A quick note on the non-performing crew—these people work very hard, very long hours. The average crew member here works 80 hours a week, without complete days off. Yes, there are laws that protect them from employer abuse, but in general they work…a lot. And the clear majority of them are very, very good at their jobs. They should be applauded, appreciated, and respected for their work ethic, dedication, and attitude.

I mentioned laws. Each company has their own rules of conduct, their own employee guidelines, but that’s not all you have to contend with, you must deal with Maritime Law. Maritime Law is the law that covers the oceans, the rules and codes that are common to almost all sailors of any nationality. These laws are born in the military, and though we as performers did not join any armed service when we agreed to perform in “Those Fabulous 50’s” aboard the “SS PartyAllNight”, most of the ship leadership (called the Steerage Committee) has some military background. And we all will want that, and appreciate that.

There’s a lot of rules: places you can’t go, foods you can’t bring on board, number of people in a particular area…yeah, it can seem extreme. But I always feel the answer to your inevitable question of “Why?” is simply this:

5000 PEOPLE ON A TIN CAN IN THE MIDDLE OF THE OCEAN.

iceberg

That’s a lot of people (and the approximate total of the ship I work on, including crew). What if something goes wrong? Power failure? Missing person? Terrorist attack? Yeah, we want some people with real skill and real training to take the lead. Incidentally, all crew members have responsibilities when it comes to safety duties. Typically, the performers have jobs like organizing and keeping the guests as calm and comfortable as possible, while people with more expertise man the lifeboats and ready the evacuation, if necessary.

Do you know what the most common and potentially crippling safety event on board a cruise ship is? It’s called gastroenteritis. Which means a really bad stomach bug, which could affect hundreds of people if not managed properly. It’s not the Titanic, but it’s bad news none the less.

So that’s why there are so many rules; it’s just too large a population in too small a space to not have a very solid structure in place. Sometimes the rules may not make sense to you, but trust me, they are in place for a reason.

Earlier I mentioned that I would talk about taking care of yourself on board a ship. First, you need to know your ship’s itinerary, that is, where you’re going. I’m on a Caribbean cruise– Eastern one week and Western the next, and the home port is Florida, so I’m typically in a warm to hot climate. That means when I am in my cabin or other indoor areas, I’m breathing recycled air, and living in air conditioning. Some people are very sensitive to air conditioning and find it may affect their singing voice. To counteract this (and the feeling of cabin fever), try to spend as much time out in the fresh air as you can. You face a similar problem on an Alaskan cruise, but in reverse, you’ll walk into heated rooms that may dry you out. Know where you’re going and prepare as best you can, by bringing all your secret remedies for vocal issues.

Photo Credit: Tim Moreillon via Creative Commons License.
Photo Credit: Tim Moreillon via Creative Commons License.

Remember when I called the ship a tin can? Well, it’s steel if I’m being fair. It’s steel underneath the carpet, underneath the laminate floor, and underneath most of the stages. For dancers, that means the floors aren’t forgiving (or “sprung” if that means anything to you), so you must take care of your body and allow lots of recovery time for demanding shows. Foam rollers, massage tools, all become necessities.

You should also keep in mind that there is no union jurisdiction on board a ship. It’s not against my union’s rules to be here, but I don’t enjoy any of the benefits of working in a union house, such as accrued health insurance weeks, pension contributions, and representation in my workplace. I’m essentially on my own out here, and though I trust my employer, I joined Actors’ Equity for a reason.

And of course, we should acknowledge the incredible impracticality of the gig. You’re often in the middle of the ocean, so you know, there’s no Taco Bell run at midnight. Out of toothpaste? Good news, there’s a crew store; it doesn’t have your brand, oh well. Really missing your girlfriend at home? Sure, you can call her, but phone calls from the ocean are expensive, if they’re even possible. And there’s no streaming Netflix out here, the internet isn’t very powerful and it costs a lot of money. So your creature comforts are very limited. Hardly the end of the world, but don’t underestimate the value of simply walking through a grocery store, eating at the Olive Garden, or seeing a current movie.

Wait - those aren't cell towers?
Wait – those aren’t cell towers?

With all that said, there’s a ton of advantages to jobs like these. You might be pushed to your limits as a performer, and as you meet those limits, they expand. You’ll travel to places you might not otherwise. You’ll meet amazing people from different cultures. And yeah, these jobs usually pay quite well, better than most standard theatre jobs at least. Your housing and food is provided, you can save the vast majority of your salary, and you should. It’s a perfect opportunity to build that cushion we all need to pursue less-paying opportunities that may be more artistically satisfying.

If I were pressed, I’d say that the cruise ship is a young person’s game. I’m married with a family, and they’re not here, and that’s tough. Sure, I get great benefits to share with them, but the cost is my absence from their lives for a brief while. My job requires someone of “a certain age,” but in general I think the younger crowd can enjoy this experience the most, as typically there’s not as many attachments to home for them.

The work here is often fun, sometimes a grind, but overall it’s a very well-paid vacation. If you want to save some money for your move to a bigger market, it may be ideal for you. But if you are someone who struggles with too much structure or a perceived lack of freedom, it may not be in your future. In either case, safe travels, and may the wind be always in your sails.

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NO!!!

How NOT to Audition: Five Key Mistakes to Avoid

There is a lot of advice out there on auditioning. A great how-to is even right HERE on this website!

But there are a few things that a ton of performers do which impede their auditioning. Here are five of them, and how to flip them into something positive:

1. THE BLITZKRIEG

Perhaps it’s mid-January to April, which means “audition season.” There are literally hundreds of shows being cast by theatres around the country, all at the same time. So on any given day, there may be five or six major auditions. And you try to hit them ALL.

I understand the “throw all the darts at the dartboard at once and hope ONE of them sticks” mentality; believe me, I’ve been there. But it just doesn’t work. You need to find the roles and shows for which you are truly competitive, and focus on those. Otherwise you will spread yourself too thin, and not give the more book-able auditions their due. In addition, you run the risk of showing yourself to casting directors as someone who doesn’t know his or her niche – which will make them dismiss you, rather than think of you for a different project.

Honestly, this even goes for when times are slower – choose projects to audition for that a) you’re really, truly right for, and b) you really, truly want to do. This will make you happier, and likely result in a higher audition-to-booking ratio.

2. THE UNIFORM

This is mostly one for the musical theatre ladies: DO NOT WEAR A JEWEL-TONE/FLORAL DRESS AND NUDE PUMPS. Or your LaDucas. (Unless you’re actually at a dance call.)

NO!!!

You know the look I mean – you think it makes you appear like a blank slate the director can project the image of the role on to. In reality, it’s the opposite. It’s a fairly universal truism that a casting director has decided whether or not to call you back THREE SECONDS after you walk into the room. That’s even before you hand your book to the accompanist.

(This applies to non-musical auditions as well; I see a lot of flowy dresses for Shakespeare seasons. But casting directors for plays make the same decisions the moment you open the door.)

Sure, what you do with your next two minutes and fifty-seven seconds can change their minds (both ways!), but they’ve already made a judgement call about whether or not you’re right for the role after three seconds. So a “blank slate” look will not help your chances one bit. They’re seeing a bazillion people –help them out! I’m not saying come in costume, far from it.

ALSO NO. Photo Credit: Eva Rinaldi via Creative Commons License
ALSO NO.
Photo Credit: Eva Rinaldi via Creative Commons License

Echo the role, and don’t be afraid to show your personality and your individualism so they can get a sense of you from that first moment. And that goes for the fellas as well.

3. THE LENGTH

When theatres ask for 16-32 bars or “a short selection” for a musical, or a brief 1-2 minute monologue, they mean what they say. As referenced above, your auditioners don’t need to watch an entire character arc in song to decide if they want to see more from you. Initial auditions are like speed dating, seriously. Pique their interest. Then when you get the callback, you can luxuriate. At a packed chorus call when they cut it down to eight bars, you should hear the cacophony of groans. But it doesn’t matter! They really will see what they need to see to decide in that short chunk.

You should make it a priority to find short cuts of any song you put in your book. And time your monologues, with pauses, and get them to a minute. These long days of auditioning are pretty brutal on auditioners. (I’ve also spent some time on the other side of the table, so I can attest to it!) You will curry a lot of favor with short, intelligent choices. Less really is more.

4. THE NITPICKING

The accompanist was bad. The room was hot. You lost your place in the monologue. You gacked on the big note. The director asked you a question and you fumbled the answer. You were rushing from another audition and didn’t have time to catch your breath. You heard they already cast the role. You saw the person who snatches jobs away from you ahead of you in line.

I have seen people walk out of audition rooms and burst into tears. My heart goes out to them, because, again, we’ve all been there. But the BEST piece of advice I can give is to quote Elsa and say, “Let it go.”

Frozen GIF - Find & Share on GIPHY

If you obsess over all the tiny things you think went wrong, you’ll never get out of your head, and that’s a death knell. Here’s the deal – NONE OF THAT MATTERS. If the accompanist was bad for you, he was bad for everyone. Auditioners know that everyone gacks on a note now and then. And so on.

There are fifty things you don’t have control over, but you have control over how you handle them. Shift your mindset – it’s not, “Please, oh please, give me this job,” it’s, “Hey, I’m an awesome person and a great performer and don’t you want to hang out with me for six weeks?” Going back to the speed-dating analogy; if you’re totally into someone, and he spills a drink on you, you will still probably go out with him. So don’t freak out over the little stuff.

5. THE COMPARTMENTALIZING

One job will not make a career.

There are a lot of folks out there who think they’ll come to New York and book a Broadway show, and it will be gravy from then on. For a rare few – a very rare few – that might happen. But for most of us, after each gig, we’re kind of back at square one.

Yes, you’ll have another credit, you will have networked with more people, you may have grown as a person and performer – but that may not translate into a string of bookings. So you can’t live and die over one particular job.

It’s startling how many actors don’t think of their work in terms of a career. If you do, I promise everything will be more fulfilling. Rejections won’t matter as much (because you’ll have been brilliant and so they’ll want to work with you eventually). You won’t get jealous over friends’ successes (because that’s THEIR career, not yours, and we each have a path). Your day job will be less of a struggle (because it’s just a temporary means to an end).

If you think in terms of a career, in-between bookings you’ll create your own material–because you’re an artist, and that’s what artists do. You’ll get those creative juices flowing, and maybe also come up with something that fills your soul as well as your bank account.

#          #          #

Avoiding these five mistakes might not guarantee bookings, but you’ll be a much happier and polished performer. Break legs and be brilliant!

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Photo Credit: Grant Mitchell, Creative Commons License

Choosing the Audition Song That Lets YOU Shine

So you’re going to audition for a musical. You’ve got an appointment (or the strength and spirit to wait in line), and you are going to do your best to make your musical theatre dreams come true. You have your headshot and resume all ready to go and now all you need to do is to choose a song. Here are a couple of questions you can ask yourself to help along the way:

What show am I auditioning for?

It’s important to tailor your material to the specific audition at hand. You wouldn’t sing the same song to audition for Carousel as you would for American Idiot, would you? Think about the style of the score and make sure that you are showcasing your voice in a way that shows those casting that your talent would be an asset to this production. Pick out three to four songs in the right style so you have a couple to choose from.

Photo Credit: Grant Mitchell, Creative Commons License.
“You’re a queer one, Julie Jordan.” Maybe more than we’ll ever know. Photo Credit: Grant Mitchell, Creative Commons License.

What question can help you narrow down your three or four songs to one? What character am I auditioning for? Think about the qualities of the character you want to play and figure out which song best brings out those qualities in you. Is this character sexy? Meek? Loud? Quiet? Stylish? Clumsy? For example, if you’re auditioning for an nerdy, meek character, you might sing “Grow for Me” from Little Shop of Horrors. If you’re auditioning for a seductive character, you might sing “Whatever Lola Wants” from Damn Yankees.  Choosing a song that highlights your qualities that liken you to the character will make it easier for the folks behind the table to see you as that character. You can find hundred of audition songs to choose from on the StageAgent Audition Song Database!

Next is a crucial question that many overlook: Do I like this song? If you don’t like the song you won’t want to practice the song and you probably won’t do your best job performing the song. It’s that simple. If you don’t like a song, don’t sing it. Nobody wants to see you feeling bored or uninspired while you’re performing. We want to see you singing your heart out and living your dreams. That’s what inspires someone to hire you and want to collaborate with you to create theatrical magic.

Veronica wants to create theatrical magic with you, but only if you choose your song carefully! She has sequined flowers in her hair which means she is all-knowing.
Veronica wants to create theatrical magic with you, but only if you choose your song carefully! She has sequined flowers in her hair which means she is all-knowing.

So you have a song that you love in the right style that feels like the character for which you’re gunning. Now we come to a more difficult question and that is: Does this song showcase me? If you are a classical soprano and you’ve chosen a to sing a Beyoncé song, you simply aren’t setting yourself up for success. I’m not saying that you shouldn’t work on material that stretches you. It’s great to set goals and to work on broadening one’s skills, but those songs should be in a separate binder from your audition material. Maybe one day you can “Run The World” your way into the audition room, but today is not that day, boo (I can still see your Halo, though).

Just because Ron doesn’t have a halo, doesn’t mean he can’t see yours.
Just because Ron doesn’t have a halo, doesn’t mean he can’t see yours.

Remember that people want to get to know you during an audition. If a song doesn’t quite fit the style or make sense on paper, but you have a gut feeling that it’s the right song and you love it with all your heart, take a chance on that love. Originality and creativity go a long way and have the chance to help you stand out and make a lasting impression.

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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.

the-full-monty-migeh1l3.m1p

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.

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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.

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