It’s that time again for the Broadway Super Bowl — otherwise know as the Tony Awards! I have friends getting ready all over the country for viewing parties, and I know a few folks involved with the actual show. I’m going a little more low key this year, but will try to do some live tweeting for StageAgent, so maybe I’ll see some of you on the Twitterverse!
I think I can safely predict two names we will hear A LOT tonight (at least in the musicals categories) — Evan and Dolly. We’ll be treated to performances from current and recent nominated musicals including Bandstand, Come From Away, Dear Evan Hansen, Falsettos, Groundhog Day The Musical, Hello, Dolly!, Miss Saigon, Natasha, Pierre & The Great Comet of 1812, andÂ War Paint.Â And who knows what host Kevin Spacey has up his sleeve?
So here’s your official ballot. The live show starts at 8:00PM Eastern on CBS (also streaming, or 7:00 PM Central and tape delay for the West Coast). We’ll check in later in the week for a recap. Who are your favorites?
Every spring, the Berkeley Rep School of Theatre invites local teens to participate in a new works festival written, directed, designed, and performed by their peers. Unlike most opportunities for teens, recent college grads guide them through the production process, but the teens carry the bulk of the work. The process is exhilarating, exhausting, and inspiring to watch both onstage and off.
The process for the Teen One-Acts Festival begins in mid fall, when the school’s Teen Council—a diverse group of 9th-12th graders committed to cultivating the next generation of theatre makers and audiences—calls for submissions for one-act plays. The school holds a workshop, and playwrights have about a month to conceive their works. Plays range from period mysteries to futuristic multi-planetary adventure tales. Submissions are reviewed by a committee of select Council members, School of Theatre staff, and Berkeley Rep Fellows. The close-working relationship between the fellowship program and Teen Council makes this program unique—every year the theatre houses fifteen young theatre artists in a range of departments—artistic, production, development, and marketing—giving recent college grads a jump start on their career with real-world LORT theatre experience. Together the Directing Fellow and Literary Fellow help guide the committee in choose two one-hour plays the festival fully produces.
After two plays are chosen, the playwrights are mentored through editing and revisions to tighten scenes, rework characters, and make the production feasible on the small stage of Downtown Berkeley’s Osher Studio. The next few months focus on outreach, getting teens from public schools, private schools, and home schools involved. Some are already Teen Council members, spending all four years working on the One-Acts Festival, others get their first glimpse at theatre outside of school.
The design fellows throw workshops, teaching the principles of costume, scenic, lighting, properties, and sound design. From these workshops teens sign up for technical disciplines, while others try their hand at stage management or producing. The Development and Marketing Fellows guide a small group of teens in publicity, graphic design, ticket sales, and promotion, a side of theatre rarely experienced before college.
Of course, acting and directing are the most coveted roles in the festival, but for those who participate multiple years, they usually get the opportunity to work both on and off stage. There challenges are similar to any high school actor’s: playing your peers parents or grandparents, swearing onstage in front of your parents, impressing your crush. The biggest difference is taking direction from a fellow teen. While any high school experience is met with the challenge of personalities, egos, and insecurities, the mentorship of the Fellow program keeps the experience focused on the process of creating professional theatre.
After casting and technical assignments, students begin rehearsal. Stage managers are trained to run rehearsals and note sessions the same way an Equity stage manager would. For many high schools across the country, the notion of a student learning anything about stage management is out of the question. Weekly production meetings are held with designers and their mentors, just like professional theatre. The teens are given the chance to teach themselves how to communicate effectively, skills that many designers and directors don’t attempt until half way through college. Berkeley Rep’s generous production department lends costumes and props, while the production fellows do the bulk of the physical labor, building student’s designs, hanging the lights, and training an eager pupil how to use a sound board. The work isn’t easy. Teens are balancing their festival duties with their school work, and the festival usually falls during AP test prep. The fellow class is always in the middle of a large production, the annual gala, and prepping for their professional lives after the fellowship ends. While both parties are tired, stressed, and overworked, students have the opportunity to learn from young professionals who were just like them a few years ago, while Fellows have their first shot at mentoring. The lines are blurry when it comes to where Fellows step in to tell teens how to create their festival elements—for the most part Fellows want to offer guidance, and teens are hungry for direction.
In late spring, the year’s work comes to fruition with a two-weekend run of the festival. Everyone wears their company t-shirt (usually designed by the Graphic Arts Fellow). They sell concessions before the show. They give programs to their family and friends, and at the end of the two long weekends, they strike the show.
Many professionals from the Bay Area start their career, long before they know it, with the Teen One-Acts Festival. In fifteen seasons, the program has given over four hundred students the opportunity to take a show from idea to reality. Lauren Yee, playwright of King of the Yees, and actress Madeline Waters, Diary of a Teenage Girl, are just two of the amazing One-Acts alumni. Perhaps the greatest part about this after school program is that it’s completely free.
For more information about the Berkeley Rep School of Theatre Teen Council and One-Acts Festival, please visit their website.
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?
When last we met, I was extolling the virtues of summer stock theatre, that magical place where you build your skills as a performer, meet fascinating (and not-so fascinating) people, and try very hard not to embarrass yourself at the closing night party. But what if you’re not doing stock, what if you’re in the City (or elsewhere) for the summer, not necessarily performing?
Time is gift given lightly and rarely appreciated. We (humans) are one of the few creatures on the planet with a system for measuring time, both spent wisely and wasted. We always think there’s more time, that the sun will rise tomorrow no matter what we do today, so why worry about how much we get done in a day? Procrastination is the enemy my friend, and while I don’t live my life by the clock, I’ve learned to recognize when time has been gifted to me, and how valuable it can be.
So you’re not doing stock. Maybe you were too afraid to audition, maybe it doesn’t pay enough to support your basic needs in life, maybe every summer theatre was doing The King and I and A Chorus Line, and you’re basically a Gordon MacRae clone (look him up, kids) and there is no job for you to have. Or maybe you chose to stay where you are and pursue other avenues. Stock is great, but there’s more to being an actor than chasing a job. There is more, right? Guys? Anybody?
Maybe I’m optimistic, but this time is a gift. This post is certainly NYC-centric, but I encourage you to apply it to wherever you are.
The first and most obvious answer to “What do I do with all this time?” is STUDY. There are acting classes, dance classes, voice, yoga, personal training—all tied directly to the care and well-being of the actor’s instrument. So care for it! Years ago I was in a seminar with a now-retired agent who gave this plain, simple advice:
“If there’s something you don’t like about yourself, change it. Need to lose ten pounds? Need to gain it? Always wanted to be a blonde? Do you wish you were a better dancer?
Is it time for an acting class? Whatever it is that you feel is holding you back, you probably can change it. The only thing you’re really stuck with is your height.”
I’ll admit, the Frankenstein in me sunk a little at that last part.
We currently live in a “love yourself” society, a society of “I am enough just as I am.” And believe me I am all for that, but you have to carry a bit of realism with you on that journey. Yes, you are enough sir, but if you want to play Superman in the next big summer blockbuster, you probably want to put down that donut. One of my favorite things to say to clients (in the personal training world) is this: June will eventually be September. Should we spend that time pursuing our goals, or spinning our wheels?
So study. Exercise. CARE for yourself; we forget that so easily. If you can’t afford certain classes or feel that what is offered currently isn’t for you, then read plays, movie scripts, great novels, whatever. Sing in your shower, dance in your living room. See movies—not just the blockbusters in the theatre, but the greats. Citizen Kane is typically hailed as one of the greatest films of all time. Ever wonder why? Maybe you should see it. And Casablanca, All About Eve, East of Eden, The Dirty Dozen. The word study has a wide, wide interpretation.
CHALLENGE YOUR FRIENDS!
Form a group of peers…some kind of…peer group (I really hate myself sometimes). Meet once a month, bring your monologue or song you’ve always wanted to try, enlist the help of some better dancers to fix the hitch in your time step. (Is it obvious I can’t dance? I think so) Get everyone together and read a play aloud. Find ten friends and have a “great movie” party, then order pizza and talk about it!
In my early years in New York City I organized such a group, cleverly called…The Audition Group. We met once a month. I lived in a building in Manhattan that contained a studio with a baby grand piano, and I could reserve this room basically at my leisure. I would grab an accompanist friend (several, over the course of the year), and nine of my actor friends and I would each pay them $15 dollars to play for us for three hours. Our piano-playing pal would make $150 bucks for the night, and we would do our audition pieces for the group, and take suggestions, criticisms and occasionally even praise. It’s a great way to get your material up to snuff before you sign up for that casting director’s workshop.
GO SEE STUFF!!
Do you have any idea how much free theatre there is in this city? Go to your magic Google machine and type in “Free theatre in NYC.” Seventeen million results come up. There are numerous free Shakespeare companies in the city, not just the really popular one in the park. Summer is the home season of the New York Musical Festival, The Fringe Festival, The Midtown International Festival for Crocodiles (okay I made that one up), but you get the idea. Not all of it is free but a vast majority is either free or super-cheap. And of course, some of it is…let’s say, variable in quality. But there’s always something to be learned.
And if you’re not already doing this, start playing the Broadway Lotteries. Hey, someone’s gotta win.
WORK. This one may not sound like much fun, but you might as well make some money. Summertime is big for the restaurant business, and if you’re a waiter it can be big for you too. Pick up the extra shifts, stash that money away so that you can breathe a little easier when you have to give your own shifts away just to make it through the Fall auditions.
PLAY. All this focus can wear anyone out. Sign up for a bowling or a softball league, go on dates, visit your family, go lie in Central Park and stare at the sky (not while it’s raining).
New York is amazing in the summertime, people are out and about, sometimes they’re even happy. You see families having picnics, children playing in playgrounds, tourists staring at a billboard while we loyal residents silently curse their very existence…it really is a magical place.
Most of all, BREATHE. It doesn’t always feel like it, but we are lucky, lucky humans. Recharge your batteries, your spirit. You’re going to need them.
What a feeling! You get that call on your cell phone (back in my day, we had answering services and we liked them…cough, cough, shakes fist at sky…), and you’ve got a job for the summer doing theatre. Someone is ACTUALLY PAYING you to do theatre! What a rush! What a high!
What the hell do you do now?
This isn’t a nuts and bolts article about subletting your apartment and forwarding your mail, this is more of a “What to expect when you’re expecting to do summer stock” piece. First of all, for the uninitiated, what is summer stock? Stock theatre companies perform several shows over the course of…the summer (I hate myself sometimes). You learn a show, tech it, open it, and the day after you open, you rehearse the next one, while performing the previous one at night. So you are constantly working, either rehearsing, performing, sometimes helping with the stagecraft of it all, maybe even ushering or selling raffle tickets—you can literally do almost anything while you are employed as an “actor” in a summer stock company.
I mean no disrespect by using quotation marks around our beloved profession, it’s just that we often aren’t asked to do anything other than act. Certainly if you are a union member, you perform, and that’s all that can be required of you. But if you are young and new to the business, there’s nothing wrong with learning as much as you can about what it takes to really run a theatre company. You should know how to hang a light, paint a flat, manage a box office, empty the garbage, press some laundry—these are good life skills! Don’t bemoan them too much if they fall your way; learn from them and take these skills with you wherever you go. And of course you develop such an appreciation for the design team, the tech crew, the management staff, all the people who share the same goal as you—producing the highest-quality theatre you can.
So—what to expect. Let’s start with your arrival at the company. Generally speaking, housing is provided for you, but if you are a non-union actor (and we all were at some point) your living conditions may be…less than ideal. You could (uh, will) have a roommate; you may have two, or even three. You will be sharing a bathroom with a lot of people, which will cause you to wake at ungodly hours of the morning to ensure you have hot water for your shower, or you will make the choice to share your smell with your new friends. If it’s a non-union company, you probably won’t have air conditioning (and maybe not in a union company either). So it’s probably going to be a little less than comfortable.
Don’t bring everything you own. Keep it as travel-friendly as possible, avoiding any arguments over spatial issues with your new friends. You will be crowded; that’s just how it goes. You’ll need one nice outfit for parties, but beyond that you just need casual and rehearsal clothes. Think like a minimalist; it makes life easier in a communal living environment.
You’ve shown up, unpacked, and you’re ready to begin rehearsal. In many cases you already know what roles you are playing throughout the summer, but sometimes you don’t. Sometimes producers need to see more of what you can do before they offer you Peggy Sawyer in 42nd Street. You may have gotten the job though the Strawhat or Southeastern Theatre Conference (SETC) combined auditions, and they may only have spent twenty minutes or so with you prior to offering you a job. Occasionally there will be large roles yet to be cast in a big summer stock season, and you have a period of time available to show your best work. Do that.
In a non-union company, rehearsals can be long, but generally speaking most companies adhere to a standard 8- or 9-hour day, at least until tech begins. Many companies, even if non-union, adhere to the union guidelines for breaks and meals (5-minute break every 55 minutes or 10 minutes every 80; 1 hour for lunch, 90 minutes or more for dinner). And they often adopt the union rules leading into a performance, which can vary a little but generally mandate a specific period of time before the half hour evening call, to allow for meals, rest, and preparation.
You learn the first show, go through that baptism of fire known as tech, have an opening night party and you are rewarded with…another show to learn.
In the beginning of the stock season, this will be so exciting. You CANNOT WAIT to get to the next show, do something different, show your wide range as a performer. But you never know how it’s all going to turn out—maybe the new director doesn’t notice how wonderful you are. Or maybe you’re allergic to the mold in the house and you’ve now got the bubonic plague that will last 3 months. Or maybe you don’t do very much in the new show. Maybe you hate the choreography. Maybe you’ve been overlooked for a good role…again…but you trudge honorably to the next show, and the next.
And then comes summer stock’s dirty little secret—CHILDREN’S THEATRE!!!!
With all due respect to children’s theatre, it’s not why anyone came to work for any stock company. It is however, an absolute necessity to the health and vitality of the theatre, and for the cultivation of future audiences and performers. This kind of theatre is very inexpensive, entirely profitable, and the lifeblood of many stock companies. Unfortunately, it’s also the annoying uncle who won’t go home. You rehearse it around the mainstage schedule (meaning on your limited off time, usually after a mainstage performance). As if you weren’t exhausted enough, you have this to contend with. But contend you must. These may be your largest roles all summer, you’d better try to enjoy them. And at the end of the day, you’re going to be making lots of children laugh and scream, and as a parent, I’ll tell you there’s nothing better.
So you endure, because that’s the job. There’s good stuff coming down the pike, you can feel it. West Side Story is only two shows away, and you know they’re going to cast you as Anita. You just know it! All you have to do is finish the run of the show you don’t really like, then get through the next show that you truly can’t stand and won’t be doing very much in, and take out the garbage and paint the scenery and settle the disputes in your cast house (because you have been elected House Mom), and your reward awaits!
Hopefully. The truth is, who really knows? You just keep grinding away. You fall in love with someone, or maybe even a couple of someones, you get your heart broken, you break one in return. You don’t really learn to be an actor, but you can learn to be a professional. You serve the theatre, your friends, your employers, the Gods above. And then one day, likely in August, it ends, and you each go your separate ways. Some of the people you’ve met, you’ll never see again, and that will be okay. Some you will remember fondly. A few will become your lifelong friends.
Stock is hard. Some actors do it once and never pursue it again. But it can also be so, so rewarding. My closest friends in life, I met through stock. I went through major life changes, including the loss of a parent, while working in summer stock. Those people were there for me, and I love them all to this day. I met my wife there. We’ve been married for nearly sixteen years and have two amazing children. There’s a perfect tree in this town where we worked, the kind of tree you’d see drawn in a children’s book. I think about it all the time. I don’t really know why, but I imagine my ashes scattered there when I’m gone, a tribute to the place and the people that helped me grow up, helped me find my way.