As with so many other blogs and websites these first weeks of 2017, we thought we’d take just a few minutes to share our Top Tens of 2016. We’ve seen a lot of changes to the StageAgent site, increased the number of new and updated guides featured on the site, and had some record-breaking traffic this year. And we are looking forward to many new and exciting things in the New Year! So without further ado, here are some 2016 Top Ten Lists, based on the highest number of unique pageviews in each category for the year. Some of the results may surprise you. Read on!
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.
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 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.”
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.”
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?
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.
So, 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!
Promote, 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.
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!
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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:
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.
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!
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:
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.
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.
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.