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Handy Tips for Attending the Theater on a Budget

Theatre ticket booth on the northern side of Covent Garden market. © Copyright Colin Smith
Theatre ticket booth on the northern side of Covent Garden market. © Copyright Colin Smith

As anyone who goes to the theater on a regular basis knows, it is not always the cheapest pastime to have. You might want to see the latest smash hit, or maybe a fringe production that has received rave reviews. But, unless, you are rolling in money, what are the best ways to visit the theater on a budget?

In 2015, Broadway had 13.32 million* visitors to its theaters, while London’s West End saw 14.7 million† theater-goers coming through its doors. But with ticket prices continually on the increase, audience members are paying more and more. The average ticket price in the West End last year was £42.99, while the average price for a Broadway show was $103.11. However there are several ways to get to the theater regularly on the most modest of budgets and I have compiled some top tips, designed to protect your purse but continue to increase your love of theater!

Don’t Be Put Off by the Cheaper Seats

Of course the cheaper tickets offer good value and the opportunity to see a show we might not otherwise be able to afford. However, they are still expensive, and let’s face it, we’ve all experienced this–a production of Wicked in London almost ten years ago cost me a pretty big sum of money for two tickets, which allowed me to gaze at the top of tiny people’s heads for two hours. Sure, the music is amazing and the experience was brilliant, but I was frustrated by the limited view on the very back row of the Upper Circle (aka, the Balcony) in a particularly large theater.

View from an Upper Circle (aka Balcony). Photo Credit: Mikehume at English Wikipedia
View from an Upper Circle (aka balcony).
Photo Credit: Mikehume at English Wikipedia

However, I have since realized that, if you are savvy, the cheaper tickets can work to your advantage and here is how.

  • Check out the size of the theater:

It’s not much to do the math: the cheapest ticket in a large theater will probably result in you being sat in the gods, BUT if you consider the smaller theaters, a cheaper ticket may actually result in a good view and the satisfaction of knowing that you haven’t spent the earth. Having figured this out, a birthday trip to see One Man, Two Guvnors in London’s West End two years ago resulted in brilliant front row circle seats (in a small theater) with an excellent view and over half the price of the stalls.

  • Consider what ‘restricted view’ really means

Many seats are cheaper because they are listed as restricted view. However, most of the time, this does not mean that you lose a large proportion of the view. Instead you may lose the very top of an elevated head (case in point: the floating singers in Priscilla Queen of the Desert) or lose characters behind a flat two seconds earlier than those in the stalls.

Pay What You Can

In addition to looking at the cheapest tickets available, also keep an eye out for any Pay What You Can (PWYC) schemes. Some theaters run these, normally on a matinee or Sunday, and they offer a limited number of seats for an affordable donation. However, you have to be quick, as these tickets are first come, first sold!

Check Out Local Theater Schools or Drama Schools

If you are fortunate to live near a good drama college or university with a theater course, take a look at their graduate shows. These up and coming performers produce outstanding, professional shows as the culmination of a lot of hard work and training. If they are open to the public, these shows are a great way of seeing a production of quality at a reduced price. One of the best colleges in the UK to offer public graduate shows is the Liverpool Institute of Performing Arts (LIPA). Their graduate productions of Spring Awakening (my first time seeing it) and Cabaret (definitely not my first time) were not only great shows, but also served as a reminder of what talent there is in the next generation of actors.

Discover the Festivals

Now, of course, going to a performing arts festival is not necessarily a cheap option. Some of the biggest and most well-known festivals, such as the Edinburgh Fringe Festival, offer a wide variety of different plays, musicals, comedy etc in differing price brackets. Yes, many productions still cost a large amount but, equally, you can stumble across well-known classics performed affordably as a fringe show. However, if you choose to go to a larger festival, don’t be afraid to put in the research and go in with an open mind. For a couple of dollars, or possibly even for free, you may well discover a piece of performance that astounds the senses and makes you think differently about the theatrical experience. The Rhubarb Festival in the heart of Toronto is a perfect example of the opportunity to experience new writing that aims to explore contemporary theatrical discourse, and produce innovative and exciting pieces of work.

Advertising at the Palace Theatre, Cambridge Circus in London's Theatreland. © Copyright Colin Smith and licensed for reuse under Creative Commons Licence.
Advertising at the Palace Theatre, Cambridge Circus in London’s Theatreland.
© Copyright Colin Smith and licensed for reuse under Creative Commons Licence.

If You Can, Be Flexible in Your Dates/Times

For the most part, prime seats in the stalls are going to be just as expensive on a Saturday night as on a Wednesday matinee, BUT there are potentially more opportunities to upgrade your ticket when the house is only half full. Now, this will not always happen, particularly if you’re going to a show during peak tourist season, but I have had several experiences where my back row ticket has been exchanged for a much better seat in the middle of the week. Often, if only a couple of tickets have been sold in the upper circle/circle, theaters will close this area off and upgrade you to the next level down. Several years ago, my circle ticket for Oliver! at the Theater Royal Drury Lane, London, was exchanged for a seat in the centre of the stalls, row G. Thank you very much! This also happened during Singin’ in the Rain and La Cage aux Folles, so it definitely was not a fluke, although it is by no means a fool proof method!

Although these tips cannot guarantee a cheaper ticket, every little helps in making a trip to the theater more affordable on a limited budget. Because, after all, we all need more theater in our lives!

*Broadway ticket statistics are taken from www.broadwayleague.com

†West End ticket statistics are taken from www.thestage.com

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.

fringequeen

Top Tips on the Edinburgh Festival Fringe

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

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

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

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

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

Options on Where to Stay

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

Picking a Venue

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

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

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

fringestreetpeoplePromote, Promote, Promote!

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

With that in mind……

You’ve Gotta Have a Gimmick

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

fringequeen

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

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

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: William P. Gottlieb 1917-2006

How to Prepare Your Music and Talk to an Accompanist

Whether you’re auditioning for a regional production of South Pacific or the pre-Broadway workshop of the next Hamilton (Hamilton II: Peggy’s Revenge), you need to prepare your music and be able to confidently speak to an accompanist.

Let’s start with your sheet music. Sheet music is a wonderful tool as it allows you to communicate with the person playing the piano clearly and efficiently. Sheet music is also a coy and dangerous mistress because there is potential for disaster!

Step 1: Find the sheet music for the song you are going to sing. Just because the accompanist knows “Younger Than Springtime” by heart, doesn’t mean that s/he will be able to play it from memory (in your key) after four hours of playing auditions. Set yourself up for success by having the things you need.

younger than springtime
Tabitha is literally younger than springtime.

Step 2: Make sure your music is incredibly clean and legible. It’s best to keep separate copies of each song for a 16-bar, 32-bar, and full song audition. If you have more than one cut marked in the same piece of music, there’s potential for the pianist to misread the cut and start or stop in the incorrect place, leaving you looking unprepared. If you start your cut in the middle of a song, make sure to write the title of the song at the top of the page. If I know what song it is, usually I can be ready to start right away. If I can’t tell, my instinct is to flip pages back until I see the title, which eats up time. When copying music from an oversized book, make sure to reduce it. The magic ratio here is usually 93%. Telling the copy machine to reduce the image by this ratio ensures that all the notes on the page will copy.

Step 3: Put the song in the key for you. If you don’t sing the song in the key that it’s written, please transpose it or hire someone to transpose it. Once again, just because the accompanist can transpose on sight, doesn’t mean that they’ll want to be your best friend when you ask them to play “Astonishing” in C-flat major.

Photo Credit: William P. Gottlieb 1917-2006
“Did you say C-flat major?” Photo Credit: William P. Gottlieb 1917-2006

Step 4: Make sure that your binder is clean and organized. Most of the auditions I play are those that I’m also musically directing or casting. If you are someone I don’t know, I’m unlikely to consider you for a role if your binder has ripped pages and candy wrappers popping out of every nook and cranny. What I love to see are dividers between songs, a clearly marked table of contents and extra resumes and headshots in the front pocket of the binder so I can learn more about you while you’re doing your monologue or talking to the people behind the table.

Once your sheet music and binder are at their best, and you’ve gotten up early and dreamed your musical theatre dreams, it’s time to get to the audition and talk to the accompanist.

First off, the pianist wants you to be good. The pianist is your friend. The pianist wants you to be the person they are looking for. The pianist wants you to be a fantastic singer that is a joy to collaborate with. The pianist wants to dance with you on the opening night party of your big hit show. Okay, some pianists don’t care either way, but there will always be one jaded person lurking in the corner with their thumb in a pie. Your job is to be kind to them anyway because this business is small and theatre people talk!

The goal of your conversation with the pianist is to convey the necessary information in a pleasant, succinct, and efficient way. Say hello, introduce yourself, put your binder on the piano and open your binder to the page you’re singing from.

Now it’s time to give a tempo. Here are terrible ways to give the tempo and annoy your new musical collaborator: clap, snap, hit the piano, hit the wall, or hit anything within reach. Even if you are a conductor, don’t conduct at the pianist. First off, you’re too close in proximity and it’s uncomfortable and not the most efficient way to win here. Simply sing a line or two of your song. If the pianist has questions, they will ask. Remember, unless it’s brand new or a secret the accompanist probably knows the song. Even then, we might know it because most of us are nerds who can’t help ourselves.

brick wall
This is my tempo!

If there’s anything unusual in your cut, i.e., huge stops in the music, rubato sections, etc., make sure to explain that to your pianist before you sing. Then take the room, slate, and nod to your pianist when you’re ready for him or her to start playing. Sing your song, be brilliant, say “thank you” to the room, and thank the pianist and leave. Seriously. Even if your pianist had pie plate hands and played your song like a drunken baby, you need to politely say thank you before leaving.

Finally, here’s the number one mistake I see in the room: You forget your binder! Please remember to get your binder from the piano. It looks bad when you get halfway out the door and then say, “Oh crap, I forgot my binder…why do I ruin everything OMG!?” Especially after you’ve had a lovely audition and everyone in the room is considering where they can put you in their season.

 

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