Tag Archives: How-to

Wait - those aren't cell towers?

Cruise Ship Entertainment Pt 2: A Few More Tips

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

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

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

dog mai tai

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

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

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

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

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

iceberg

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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ENT - featured image

Say No to Nodes! Vocal Health on a Hectic Schedule

If you have any experience as a singer, actor, or a performer of nearly any type, you know how difficult it can be to get through rehearsals and shows while maintaining your vocal health.

So what do you do when you’re even busier than normal, or balancing multiple performance opportunities? Whether it’s an eight-show-a-week schedule in a Broadway-caliber play, a tour of a major musical, or overlapping short-term gigs, your vocal health needs to be an even-higher priority when you’re using your voice more often.

Here are 10 tips and tricks to ensure you stay in tip-top vocal shape on the go!

1. Your Voice Is a Body Part—Treat It Like One!
Your voice is more than sounds that comes out of you—it’s a product of careful collaboration between a plethora of body parts. So treat your voice like a body part, and treat your body like it is the physical mechanism of your voice (surprise, it is!). Develop and maintain healthy habits that you can take on-the-go: plan ahead for healthy snack and meal choices. Dress in clothes that are conducive to your practice and travel regimen to avoid overheating/chills (layers and a scarf are a safe bet). Don’t shout! And avoid loud environments that will instinctually make you talk louder.

Photo Credit: Tulane Public Relations via Creative Commons License.
Photo Credit: Tulane Public Relations via Creative Commons License.

2. Learn Proper Technique (for everything).
Ever hear the phrase “fall back on your training?” When you’re tired or sick (which will inevitably happen at some point in your career), a solid foundation of training will prove invaluable for both your vocal quality and confidence. By training healthfully in a variety of styles, you can confidently navigate any type of sound needed in any show without worrying about how being tired or under the weather might impact your sound.

3. Don’t stress!
Some stress can be good for us–but when stress starts to impact your body, mind, and voice, it can be a real problem. Stress on the vocal mechanisms themselves can lead to injury. Listen to your body, and rest or “mark” if you need to (a great skill worth working on). The stress of our minds (“I’ve never hit this note perfectly” or “How am I going to integrate all the director’s notes?”) can manifest in physical tension, including vocal tension. Even in a hectic schedule, make time to acknowledge these worries and allot time for practice and positive thinking.

4. Don’t Sing Sick!
No one expects an athlete to perform while sick or injured! If you are very sick or have a vocal injury (or an injury that impacts your singing, particularly anything in the chest or abdomen), don’t push to “sing through it.” If you can’t avoid it, work with a doctor or otolaryngologist (ear-nose-throat doctor) to make sure you can do so while maintaining vocal and physical health. Remember–your voice will last you your entire career if you take care of it. Don’t risk a lifetime of singing (and speaking healthfully!) for one opportunity.

Photo Credit: COM SALUD
Photo Credit: COM SALUD via Creative Commons License.

5. Avoid Making Long-Term -Bad-Habits Out of Short-Term Bad Circumstances.
As singers, we often work with teachers or directors who will make strong-handed or impossible demands of us and our voices. Recognize the difference between opportunities to grow and learn (which can make us uncomfortable, but can still be healthy) and being asked to create sound or perform in an unhealthy manner. As singers, we will often bend to produce what is asked of us; don’t make a habit of pushing too hard or straining beyond what is healthy just because someone applauded you for it.

6. Find Warm-Ups in Your Projects.
When facing a hectic schedule, you may not have time for your full warm-up or vocal exercise regimen. Look through the music you’re working on at any given time and find parts of the work that might make good warm-ups. Start with something comfortable, in your range, that you enjoy singing. Then find opportunities to stretch the voice like an athlete warms up their muscles. Look for passages that cross different “parts” of the voice (chest, head, mix, falsetto, etc.) and that utilize a variety of different vowels or consonants. Try singing passages only on vowels (or on one vowel) or warming up the articulators by over-enunciating lyrics.

7. SLEEP.
This is one of the most useful tips for vocal health anytime, but especially when you’re on the go. Avoid the temptation to let “down time” interfere with sleep. If you find yourself booked every hour, book “relaxation time” and “sleeping time” as a part of your schedule. You may have heard that it takes four hours of sleep for the voice to “reset.” Everyone’s body is different in how much sleep they need, but aim for a good night’s rest to let your voice (and the rest of you) off the hook for a while.

Photo Credit: Petr Kratochvil, via Creative Commons License.
Photo Credit: Petr Kratochvil, via Creative Commons License.

8. Get Support Staff.
Nothing is worse than trying to build a relationship with a voice doctor or teacher when you already have an injury. Take the time to find a team of experts when you’re healthy. Your team will better be able to work with you having seen and heard you healthy, and often times, being an “existing patient” will help give you more immediate access to medical professionals. These people can be a trusted doctor, voice teacher, musical mentor, or performance coach.

9. Don’t smoke. Anything.
We all know that smoking cigarettes and use of tobacco increases risk of disease. Recent studies have shown that “vaping,” as well as the direct inhalation of any smoke from any source, can have an impact on the body as well. Avoid the temptation to smoke to relax, or hanging out in environments that allow smoking. If you do smoke, talk to your doctor about exploring the many ways you can quit!

10. Find Liquids You Like (and keep drinking them).
While some singers swear by a water-only hydration plan, you may find that switching up liquid tastes or temperatures suits you and your voice. While caffeinated beverages (that act as diuretics) will dehydrate you over time, some singers need that pep (especially on a hectic schedule). Some singers love juices (aim for 100% juice, not sugary cocktail) as the sugars promote salivation and can help with dry-mouth. Some like carbonated beverages, some add lemon (to cut through phlegm) or honey (to lubricate), and some will just drink from the water fountain. Proper hydration is important to keep not only your body performing in tip-top shape, but the swallowing reflex also helps relax throat muscles. Invest in a few favorite water bottles––I like the insulated ones that keep hot things hot and cold things cold for extended periods of time!

As a singer or performer, your voice is not only your business, but your business partner—it gets you jobs, it keeps you in communication with the world, and of course, lets you perform. It’s important to keep your instrument healthy to support not only your performance goals, but also your everyday life.

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New Features

Introducing Quizzes, Scenes, and Job Postings

We are excited to announce new features for StageAgent members! First, on many of our show guides you can now take fun quizzes and earn points and badges. Further, to help you with class and preparation work, we have added a new section with two and three-person scenes from plays. And lastly, Pro members can now post unlimited job and audition opportunities to the StageAgent jobs board.

Theatre Quizzesquiz

Our expert-written show guides help you study about the context, plot, and characters from plays, musicals, operas, and operettas. With our new theatre quizzes, you can test yourself on how much you have learned after reading selected guides. Question types include multiple choice (both single and multiple answer) and true/false and are typically worth 5-10 points each. If you pass enough quizzes, you’ll start to earn fun badges based on the following point scale:

  1. Fan: 30 pts
  2. Theatre student: 100 pts
  3. Ensemble: 300 pts
  4. Supporting: 500 pts
  5. Lead: 800 pts
  6. Rising star: 1500 pts
  7. Broadway bound: 2500 pts
  8. Award winner: 4000 pts
  9. Director: 5000 pts
  10. Theatre expert: 7000 pts

You can view your current badges and points on your achievements page.

Scenes From Playsscene

Drama students are commonly assigned to work with partners to perform scenes from plays. However, finding and choosing the right scenes can be overwhelming. We now make this scene research process easier with our new play scenes tool. In the StageAgent scenes library you can search play scenes by length, number of male or female characters, style (comedic or dramatic) and period (contemporary or classical). For each scene we provide you with some scene context, the starting/ending lines from the scene, citation information to help you locate the script, and links to the character descriptions.

Featured Job/Audition Opportunitiesjobs

We have expanded our auditions section to include not only performer auditions but also theatre jobs of other types including artistic staff, backstage and administrative jobs. If you are a StageAgent Pro member you can post unlimited jobs and auditions to the StageAgent theatre jobs board. So if you are a producer, you can use StageAgent to recruit performers, musicians, backstage personnel, and executive staff. Keep in mind that not only will your job or audition posting be listed on our website, but it will also get e-mailed out to our email list with 50,000+ subscribers!

We hope you enjoy these new features. Stay tuned for many more enhancements to come! If you have any suggestions for how we can improve StageAgent, please let us know.

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cruise-108974_1280

Cruise Ship Entertainment Pt 1: A Practical Guide

bear cruiseAhoy mateys! (and I sort of hate myself for that). Today we’re going to talk about being a cruise ship entertainer, what the work is like, and how you live on the ocean for months at a time. Of course, every company is different, and I only have experience personally with one certain popular family-themed enterprise, but there are performers here who do have history with multiple cruise line companies, and this is what I’ve learned.

Let’s start with what types of entertainment you will find on a ship. Typically, there are performers who are hired to do “in-house” productions, but you’ll also find stand-up comedians, magicians, jugglers, hypnotists, ventriloquists, musical acts, aerialists, acrobats…sometimes all on one ship! Often you may see an audition notice in Backstage (or any number of audition resources) that will list openings for these kinds of acts, but also many cruise lines use booking agents to find that sort of specific talent. For certain, you will find these companies looking for singers, dancers, and, yes, occasionally actors.

I say occasionally because these companies often produce different themed musical revues, and have little need for legit actors who may or may not sing and dance. In recent years, however, certain companies (I’ll use Norwegian as an example) have begun to produce traditional book shows such as Rock of Ages, HairsprayChicago and Mamma Mia! It may be rare that a non-singing actor would be needed, but I suppose it’s not impossible.

In general, the cruise ship performer is a singer/dancer. Disney Cruise Lines and other companies who produce Broadway-style shows, pride themselves on hiring true “triple threats” (actor/singer/dancers), as well as advanced dancers and tumblers for specific jobs.

“Wait, Rob,” you ask, “if they hire triple threats, then how did you get that job?”

winking jesusI, er, um…moving on!

Auditions for cruise lines are basically like any other audition: nerve-wracking, nightmare-inducing, self-defeating…you get the point. I kid, I kid! (Mostly.) It all depends on the shows being produced. If the company needs powerhouse singers (and many of them do), be prepared to show them your pipes. Though there are companies who do Broadway-style revues, even opera, you’re far more likely to encounter a heavy dose of pop music. Often these shows are dedicated to certain performers or eras in music (say, a Motown revue, the music of Michael Jackson, etc.). The clientele of a cruise ship—well I hate to state the obvious—but they’re on vacation. For the most part, they want to have a week-long party. Fun, energetic music during the day and into the big party nights, with maybe a quieter touch like jazz or standards being sung in a piano bar as the evening winds down. You’re not likely to find a country music review or hip/hop (not impossible, just not likely). So, if you’re auditioning for these jobs, choose your music accordingly, the audition listing will have the instructions.

Now, I’m the last person qualified to give a dancer advice, but here’s my best shot. These dance jobs are heavy jazz, some musical theatre, funk, maybe some hip hop, and contemporary. Not a ton of ballet, definitely no pointe. Also, if you’ve got gymnastic skills or tumbling, show it. The more tricks you can do, the better your chances. Later, when we move to what it’s like on the ship, I have some thoughts on health and maintenance for all performers, but particularly dancers.

Keep in mind that cruise contracts are typically long commitments, averaging 6-9 months in length. There are of course some shorter contracts (like mine currently), but overall, that’s the range.

Let’s now look beyond the audition and get to the actual job. Rehearsals are most often on land at first (it’s just easier, right?), and you move to the ship when it’s time to put it all together. So, you’ve done all you can do on land, now it’s time to do it…at sea!

When I walk to the theatre I perform in on the ship, it looks like a Broadway house. Truly, it’s beautiful, extremely well-maintained, and holds about 1300 people. You’d think it would be located right in the heart of the theatre district, but no, it’s somewhere else…IN THE MIDDLE OF THE OCEAN.

Photo Credit: Steven & Katherine via Creative Commons License
Photo Credit: Steven & Katherine via Creative Commons License

That’s an obvious statement but think about what it means. We are sailing, the boat is rocking, and there’s often no land in sight (my cruise itinerary alternates between Eastern and Western Caribbean, 7 days each). So when I am on stage, and I take a step toward another actor, the stage is moving underneath me. The floor might not actually be where I anticipate it to be. Think of those old episodes of Star Trek, where the Enterprise is under attack, and the crew is falling all over the place. Okay it’s not normally that bad, but it gives you the idea. And all I do is walk and talk and sing! Imagine if you are a dancer, or a gymnast, and the floor ISN’T WHERE IT’S SUPPOSED TO BE. It’s a weird feeling, no doubt. But, you get used to it, and unless you are in the middle of a storm (when a show may be canceled anyway), it really is no big deal. All shows have contingencies for rough seas, if something is too dangerous to perform, it will likely not be performed.

Other than the venue, it’s no different from doing a show on land. But what about life on the ship? For answers to that and more, check out Part Two of this entry next time!

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NO!!!

How NOT to Audition: Five Key Mistakes to Avoid

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

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

1. THE BLITZKRIEG

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

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

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

2. THE UNIFORM

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

NO!!!

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

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

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

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

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

3. THE LENGTH

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

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

4. THE NITPICKING

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

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

Frozen GIF - Find & Share on GIPHY

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

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

5. THE COMPARTMENTALIZING

One job will not make a career.

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

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

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

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

#          #          #

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

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