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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: 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.

Photo credit: Devon Labelle

Barrels, Blankets, and Beyond: Life in Props

Photo credit: Devon Labelle
Photo credit: Devon Labelle

There are so many avenues theatre artists can take behind the scenes. While many educational programs focus on directing, playwriting, and design, few focus on the technical side. Most programs include a sampling of electrician, costume construction, and scenic construction classes, but one profession in technical theater is rarely thought of: props design and technology.

Props are essential to any play. From Desdemona’s hankie derailing the entire plot of Othello, to the gun that shot Alexander Hamilton in Hamilton, props tell almost as much of the story as the actors do. Many prop designers start in other aspects of design, or as wood workers, welder, upholstery artists, and all around crafty people. Every prop artist has a different journey to find their place in the props world, here’s an interview with Bay Area prop artist, Devon Labelle.

When and how did you get into props artistry?

In the fall of 2009 had just finished an internship at Berkeley Repertory Theatre in the School of Theatre. I had become friends with the staff and one of them asked me to do props for a show she was directing. After that I slowly picked up work. By the end of next year, I will have been a props master/ designer for over one hundred shows in the Bay Area.

What is the favorite prop you’ve ever built?

That’s a tough one. Each prop I make has its own character and specific memory attached to it, a new skill I had to master, a neat effect that people haven’t seen before, a good team of artists to work with. If I had to pick, I’d say something I’m building right now actually. I’m creating a set of puppets for Ray of Light Theatre’s production of Little Shop of Horrors. I have done puppets in the past (some of them with help from you), but the scale of this project is huge. And every puppet has to do something different, but still read as something that is growing from one stage to the next. It is an interesting challenge, and I look forward to working on it every chance I get.

Photo credit: Devon Labelle
Photo credit: Devon Labelle

What does the daily life of a props artisan look like?

From the outside it looks completely random. Some days are spent driving all around dropping things off. Some days are build or shopping days. Occasionally I have research days where I’m not actually building anything for a particular show, but where I’m honing an old skill or learning a new one. Now, especially, these things are all mixed together, I might have a production meeting early in the morning in the East Bay, need to pick up something in another city and then drive across the Bay for tech. A lot of my time is spent in my car moving stuff around. One day definitely doesn’t look like the next.

The perfect props artists are those driven to figure out how things work, and don’t love the mundane routine of a 9 to 5 job. Anyone with a knack for creating, desire to try new mediums, and little fear of fire, stage blood, and cooking are ideal artisan candidates. Problem solving, love of painting, sewing skills, and a good eye for design are all useful prop skills. Above all else, props artisans have to be great communicators, working under scenic designers as well as shopping, building, and collecting props that actors can easily use. The job is three parts craft skills and one part social aptitude.

What are your most coveted prop skills; which do you wish to grow in the future?

I really enjoy being able to look at something, a material, an object, a piece of gadgetry and figuring out how to use it for something other than its intended purpose.

I love mold-making, there are so many materials and options available for every skill level and budget.

I need to learn how to weld, luckily this doesn’t come up much for me, but if I could, the possibilities would be endless.

How would you recommend people get into props?

All you have to do is ask. There are not that many of us around. Are you crafty? Do you like stretching your brain? Can you handle driving around all day? Then send out a resume. There are certainly more jobs than available Props Masters.

What kind of career paths exist in props?

Career paths in props are incredibly diverse. As I mentioned before one can start out as a props artisan and move to become a set designer. Also there are often jobs that open up in regional theatres, to work in their shops. Becoming a Union Stage Hand or Props Master is also an option. Film also has needs for property people and special effects artisans. I wouldn’t even rule out working as a visual effects technician. The opportunities are endless.

Photo credit: Devon Labelle
Photo credit: Devon Labelle

As Devon said, the opportunities in the world of props are never ending, so if you find yourself loving many crafts, working with your hands, hunting for the perfect object and contributing to the overall design of a project, prop design could be just the career path for you.

Check out some of Devon’s work on her website https://giveherprops.wordpress.com

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