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Pillow

STAYING HEALTHY AND FIT, NO MATTER WHERE YOU ARE

Performers of any kind rely on their bodies. Whether they are dancing, singing, or acting the most dramatic roles, a performer needs access to their abilities and their emotional life. And if I’m being wholly honest, there is an aesthetic need as well. Actors come in all shapes and sizes, but if you want to play Superman, you must look the part. But no matter your physical type, there is one need that should be addressed before all others: your health.

As performing artists, we’ve chosen a difficult path, one often laden with long hours, little rest, constant practice and training, for what at times can be little reward. To survive in this environment, and hopefully thrive, you must have your health, and today we’re going to talk about maintaining your health when you’re away from home. Like the song says, if you can make it there, you’ll make it anywhere.

Casino gigs = buffets!
Casino gigs = buffets!

BEFORE YOU GO

Let’s start with the notion that you’ve booked a job—congratulations! You are about to be paid for that thing your parents always said would never pay. Some things to think about, regarding your health:

WHERE ARE YOU GOING? Perhaps obvious, but what’s the climate like: cold, hot, humid, rife with allergens, rainy? You’ll need to be prepared not only with the right clothing but perhaps the right medications. When it comes to health, I think breathing is pretty important.

WHAT’S YOUR HOUSING LIKE? A lot of the same stuff, is it air conditioned/heated well, newer/older (old houses hold allergens and mold like it was their job), do you have your own room? That could matter when it comes to rest and sleep.

WHAT HEALTH AND FITNESS OPTIONS ARE IN THE AREA? Is there a gym nearby (and is membership complimentary to company members)? Or maybe there’s a school with access to a track, or a park. If you have space, you can exercise, even if there’s not a gym for miles.

ONCE YOU’RE THERE

You’ve arrived at the job and been shown to your housing. Could be a hotel, a shared apartment, a private room in a house, or a cabin on board a cruise ship. Leaving the last option for later, we’ll start with shared spaces.

1. IF YOU ARE SHARING A KITCHEN:

This is the most likely scenario. You’ll have limited space for your own groceries, perhaps even marked out clearly in your cabinets and refrigerators. Shop wisely, perhaps share certain staples (oils, condiments, kitchen supplies, etc.). And while we’re in the kitchen, let’s spend a moment on food shopping in general: The healthiest food options are located on the outside aisles of supermarkets, produce, dairy, meats (including fish and chicken), and usually whole grain breads. I won’t veer off into “this diet vs. that diet,” but most likely, no matter what dietary philosophy you choose, the food you want is located here. You might want to adopt an “80/20” rule, meaning you do 80% of your shopping on the outer aisles and 20% from the aisles within. It’s a good way to eat healthy yet not feel wholly deprived when you can’t enjoy the occasional bag of Oreos.

I don’t…I’m not sure…what this means…
I don’t…I’m not sure…what this means…

2. IF YOUR MEALS ARE PROVIDED FOR YOU:

This likely means you are working on a cruise ship, or perhaps a dinner theatre (where certain meals could be provided). On a ship, the food may be repetitive but at least there will be nutritious options (remember it’s in your employer’s best interest to have you healthy), as well as the standard high-caloric fare. Crew members on ships often work incredibly long hours, so the provided meals can be high in calories, and a calorie is just a unit of energy, so the workers can make it through their shifts. See my recent posts on Cruise Ship Life for more information. Dinner theatres can often provide one meal per performance day, and that meal is usually…uh, dinner.

3. IF YOU HAVE NO KITCHEN, BUT ARE GIVEN A PER DIEM:

Well, this gets tricky. If you don’t know, per diem (“per day”) is money given to you to cover costs of meals and/or housing (if you are on a National Tour). This can seem like a large sum of money, but you’ll find quickly that single housing in A-list markets (think Chicago, San Diego, Los Angeles) can often be more than your per diem for the week, leaving nothing for meals. That’s a conversation for another post, however. Some tours pick up the housing and give you a smaller per diem for food, let’s say that number is $350.00 per week, $50.00 a day. You can certainly do it, but you’ve got to be smart about it. Yes, fast food is more affordable. Yes, you can choose healthy (healthier) options from the menu. But trust my experience on this, it gets old FAST. Per Diem is often built around a formula of (using a $50 per day format) of a “10-dollar breakfast, 15-dollar lunch, and 25-dollar dinner.” My suggestion to you, for lifestyle and weight management, reverse these numbers, or at least the caloric values. There’s an old gym adage that goes, “eat breakfast like a king, lunch like a prince, and dinner like a pauper.” This way you are consuming more calories earlier in the day and gradually tapering off as the day ends. This is good for keeping you energized but not over full before a show, and gives you more opportunities to burn calories as the day goes on. Plus, dinner menus are always more expensive than breakfast or lunch options, so your money will go farther. Oh yeah, and don’t eat garbage after a show. It’s so tempting! But if you must eat, make it reasonable—a protein shake or bar, a small sandwich—stay away from burgers and fries at 11pm, they are not your friends. Consuming 1,000 empty calories within an hour of going to sleep is a surefire way to gain unwanted weight.

“Rob, isn’t this post about staying healthy while working a theatre job? Why all that space on food?” Ah, you’ve seen right through me. While there are two more elements to cover, let me say this very simply: IT’S ALL ABOUT THE FOOD. Get that right, everything becomes easier. Keep doing it wrong, and you might be wasting all your hard work in the gym.

SLEEP!!

Of equal importance to nutrition is sleep, or rest. The body’s natural processes operate at maximum efficiency during periods of rest, not exertion. You don’t build muscle while you exercise, exercise creates the condition that asks the body to build the muscle, which happens while you are asleep. Ever notice that the prescription for any illness or injury almost always involves rest? The body wants to “right” itself, sometimes the best thing we can do to help, is simply get out of the way.

PillowSleep recommendations are very simple: aim for 8 hours a day, and try to have those hours be the same hours every day. I know many of us are night owls, we finish a performance sometimes exhausted, but sometimes energized and needing time to wind down, or even go out and celebrate. That’s all fine, just allow for recovery. I’m not as young as I once was (I was 23, uh…23 years ago), so I can’t stay out all hours eating and drinking and expect to be a normal functioning adult the next day. Maybe you can, but I promise you, that bill will eventually come due. SLEEP. Protect yourself. Your body and your voice will thank you.

There are 168 hours in a week. You might spend five of them exercising.  But the other 163 hours are actually much more important. Eat right, and sleep right.

Next time I’ll finish up this article with suggestions for exercise in whatever environment you’re in, because I’m helpful like that. And MODEST!

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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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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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actor complain

A Little Perspective

This week we’re taking a slight diversion away from our normal “how to” vibe, and treading out into deeper waters.  

If you’ve read the byline below, you know that I’m currently a standby in the NYC Off-Broadway mainstay, The Fantasticks. And since you’ve been following the StageAgent blog religiously, you know that as a standby, I’m often in a Starbucks during most performances (it’s a tough life). Well, circumstances have resulted in me being on for the last couple of weeks as Hucklebee, one of the Fathers in the show.  

Fantaticks logo

My initial response was, “Damn, there goes all my free time.” I mean seriously, I have two guaranteed hours (four on two-show days!) to write, to plan, to concentrate on what’s next, to make a grocery list…you get the idea. As a parent of two small children, time is at a premium. But you may think I’ve completely missed the boat, that I should be elated at having a performing opportunity—and you’d be right, it just took me a couple of days to get here. Well, a couple of days and a close friend who reminded me that performing is always better than not performing, and a wife who said simply to do the job I was hired to do.  

So I’ve been doing the show, and after a few performances, it began to feel comfortable and, dare I say it, enjoyable. I’m truly blessed with a giving, loving, talented cast, who were there for me when I said some…questionable lines…let’s say. Soon I’ll be back to my coffee and protein bistro box (pretentious twit), but for now it’s a blast.

That isn’t to say that it all comes without challenges. There was the stress of being ready, as this was my first time going on in any of the roles I cover. June was a crazy busy month, with school ending for my children, their activities coming to a close (dance class, gymnastics), new activities starting (summer swim team, more gymnastics, theatre camp is coming)—frankly I’m exhausted. And with school ending, I’m the primary caregiver as well, as that lady that makes our lives possible (my wife) works 50-60 hours a week. Caring for the kids is an all-day job, and when I’m relieved of duty at 6:15 pm, then it’s time to go to work!  

I know, I know, poor me—I’m getting somewhere I promise.

A weekend or so back (Pride weekend, I believe), I was walking from the show to my car (I drive on Sundays when the parking is free) when I locked eyes with a woman, probably around my age. I nodded in that weird New Yorker “I’m acknowledging you, but I promise I’m not crazy” way, and kept going, but about ten feet later, I feel her tap my shoulder. She said to me (and all of this is paraphrased to the best I can remember), “Excuse me, but didn’t I see you in The Fantasticks last Saturday? The show was so great!”

I thanked her, and we struck up a short conversation. Her name was Ellen, and she too was an actor. Her family had just come in from Texas, and her mother wanted to see two shows, Les Miserables and The Fantasticks. I remembered the performance she was at, and it was a good show, with a lively, responsive audience.  

We were slightly above Hell’s Kitchen, she lived in the neighborhood. I told her I used to live close by, but moved to New Jersey when my wife and I had our first child. She seemed lovely, genuinely interested in praising the show and chatting with a stranger.  But as we began to say goodbye, she said this, and it practically floored me:

“Well, you’re married, have two kids, a great show to be in, you really are living the dream!”

I swear the blood ran out of my face. I thought, “Wow…if you only knew.”

Look, I preach a lot of positivity and self-love and self-reliance, but let’s be real for a moment. This life is hard. I’ve talked before about the sacrifices and the lack of money and the disappointment and having to pick yourself up over and over and over again…it’s exhausting. And sometimes, maybe even lots of times, we as actors choose to complain. We have to let out these feelings of discouragement. It’s only human, and we aren’t to be punished for it, but it can take over and become our default position.

actor complain

I’ve been super lucky in this career:  two Broadway shows, four National Tours, lots of amazing Regional Theatre—yet somehow I tend to retreat to how little money I’ve made in my lifetime, or how quickly those two shows (which I loved) closed in New York, or how I’m not certain where my path is leading as I get older. Currently, though I’m absolutely proud to be part of the New York theatre tapestry if you will, even my current job can seem like a glass half full. I think it’s a terrific show, with great people and a timeless message, but let’s face it, we’re not Wicked or The Lion King. It can be hard to be a simple, sweet, and sentimental show when you are surrounded by flying monkeys and herds of animals.  

I thanked Ellen, wished her luck and continued to my car, half smiling with gratitude yet shaking my head. “If she only knew… .”

But she does know. It was me who didn’t. Everything she said was absolutely true, and as I repeated this story a few times, I began to realize it myself.  

I’m sure there will come a time…or many times…when I fall back into the old habits of diminishing what I have accomplished. A director friend I love told me once, “You know how New Yorkers survive? They complain. They look at each other across the subway car and say, ‘man, it’s @#$%ing hot outside.’ They take solace in a short of shared misery.” Maybe we as actors do exactly that, we share our misery so it eases the sting, until we can celebrate a new win.  

So for me, a little perspective and a lesson learned. Ellen, if you’re out there, if this message somehow reaches you (go viral troopers, serve your dark Web overlords!), good luck to you again, and thank you for stopping me.  

And also, thank you for stopping me.

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red barn

An Ode to Summer Stock

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?

red barn

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.

heyroomie

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!!!!

Stage._Children's_Theatre_BAnQ_P48S1P12545

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.

embrace the moment

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.  

I hope the same experience for you.

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