As with so many other blogs and websites these first weeks of 2017, we thought we’d take just a few minutes to share our Top Tens of 2016. We’ve seen a lot of changes to the StageAgent site, increased the number of new and updated guides featured on the site, and had some record-breaking traffic this year. And we are looking forward to many new and exciting things in the New Year! So without further ado, here are some 2016 Top Ten Lists, based on the highest number of unique pageviews in each category for the year. Some of the results may surprise you. Read on!
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.
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.
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!
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?
You’re here at last. You got up at 5:00 AM, showered, dressed, warmed up, annoyed your neighbors and tortured your roommates, stood in line for two hours in the freezing rain to get an early audition time, and it all went according to plan. You find yourself waiting to go into the famed audition room, where you will…what, exactly?
You can act, you can sing, maybe you can even dance, play an instrument, and eat fire, but can you AUDITION? Can you go into the room and present yourself in a professional manner, and not open the door to any unnecessary judgment or questions? I’ve heard many people say that this is a separate skill, and while I don’t know if I completely buy into that theory, I do know that there is one thing an actor will do if given the chance: shoot themselves in the foot. Here’s how not to do that.
Before we go too far, what is “the room?” Exactly what happens in there?
Let’s take a moment to assume some of you have yet to attend a professional audition. These auditions are most commonly held in empty studios with little more than a table and some chairs. Often there is a wall-length mirror in the space, which may or may not be covered. Be wary of this mirror, it’s so easy to disconnect with your audience and sing/act to yourself. It’s comfortable, but you aren’t likely to be doing the hiring, so…
Size matters, in the room that is. The auditor (and we’ll get to them in a minute or two) is most likely seated behind a table with stacks of paper and perhaps a computer nearby. Unless otherwise directed, position yourself directly in front of your auditors and a safe distance away from the closest edge of the table. This is a judgment call, and you should know what feels right, but aim for two to three times your height away. This lets the auditor see at least three-quarters of your body while you perform, and also puts some personal space between you both.
Entering the Room
Most of the time, it’s as simple as walking through the doorway. You enter the room, smile, and say hello. In a musical audition, you’ll proceed immediately to the accompanist, present your cleanly and clearly marked music and quickly point out any specific instructions (i.e., don’t double the melody here, please observe the railroad tracks, etc.—this is another article coming later), and finally, give your tempo. Tempo comes last so your accompanist can have it fresh in his or her head, if you give it at the beginning there is a greater chance for fluctuation, especially if you do something popular but in a non-traditional manner. Your entire conversation with the accompanist should take 10-15 seconds, if you can’t explain it in that time, your song might be too complicated. Thank the accompanist and take your place in the room.
Often in college, students are taught some variation of this introduction: “Hi, my name is Rob Richardson, and I’ll be singing ‘Hey There‘ from The Pajama Game written by Adler and Ross.” This introduction has value and is often specifically requested at certain combined auditions like SETC, Strawhats, National Dinner Theatre Association (Does that still exist? This is also another article). But it’s NOT necessary in a professional audition. For starters, they have your resume directly in front of them, they should know your name. You CAN quickly tell the auditors what you are singing (or what monologue you are performing, don’t mean to ignore the straight theatre actors) if you desire, and often they will ask you and write it on your resume to help them remember more about you. But a simple, “Hi, this is ‘Hey There’ from the Pajama Game” is enough. Then smile at your accompanist (musical kids) to indicate you are ready to begin. Same goes for monologue auditions, a simple, “Hi this is Tom from The Glass Menagerie“will do.
There are times, maybe not many, when you may want to enter the room in character. It can be very effective, particularly if you are playing a darker, mysterious character, an over-the-top buffoon, or a villain. IT CAN ALSO BE WRONG, WRONG, WRONG. It is risky, for lots of reasons. One, if the casting team doesn’t realize what you are doing, they may be completely confused. Or they could roll their eyes with an “Oh, he’s one of THOSE actors” vibe. Or it may be simply off-putting. BUT! If the situation calls for something bold and dramatic, it might be worth the gamble. Casting directors are always encouraging actors to be brave and take risks, I believe that these are CALCULATED risks. Choose wisely.
Where Do I Look?
Most casting teams, though not all, don’t want direct eye contact while you are performing. They need to feel free to take notes, get a sense of your type and watch your performance without being obligated to be a scene partner. Unless otherwise directed, try to look at space slightly above or beside your audience, just enough to avoid eye contact. There are some directors who prefer you to deliver your work directly to them, I have found they will tell you this beforehand. (Martin Charnin, anyone?) If there is a reader in the room, and you have a scene to read, act with them, that’s what they are there for. For heaven’s sake, don’t give your monologue to an empty chair.
In a Film/TV/Commercial audition, if they don’t tell you where to look, it is ALWAYS fair to ask, “Would you like me to deliver to camera or to you or another spot?” (Note: it’s almost never DIRECTLY into the camera.) Don’t be afraid to ask a five-second question that could save an unnecessary extra take (and 60 seconds).
I’m Done, Now What?
When you are finished, hold for a beat. Not Act III of Troilus and Cressida, just a beat. Then “drop” whatever character you have created, smile, and say thank you. Then wait for instruction. If the mysterious table people say, “Thanks, Rob, that was great,” then collect your things if you have any, and say goodbye. It’s not the kiss of death, they are just moving on and it should be NO indication of your performance, you may be first on their callback list or you may be headed to the circular file, who knows? But you’ve done your job, time to move on to the rest of your day.
If they ask you to perform something else, be prepared to offer NO MORE than two choices. For singers, if they ask for something specific like a rock-belt, try to give it to them. If they ask, “What else do you have?” then your response should be, “Well, I could either do THIS or I could do THAT, which do you prefer?” It gives the auditor a choice without overwhelming them and without you standing at the piano thumbing through your book saying, “Umm…how about…umm… .” You want to make the casting director’s life easier, not more complicated.
If you are asked for a second monologue, first of all, have one. Second, unless otherwise requested, aim for a contrasting piece. Now that doesn’t necessarily mean “do the opposite of the first one.” You don’t have to do a tear-jerking cry fest after your Neil Simon comedy classic, just find something different in tone and shape, and generally shorter than your first piece. Being asked for a second piece is a big victory, even if a callback isn’t forthcoming.
When to Do the Opposite
This theatre game is funny—there seems to be a lot of rules we are expected to follow, and yet at the same time, rules are meant to be broken. This goes back to the earlier point of taking a risk. It seems to be the most ambiguous and frightening request of all. For most of my auditioning life, I have tried to present myself in the room as an intelligent, kind, capable actor who can deliver what is required for the job. And while that seems to make a lot of sense, and I guess it’s never hurt me, I can’t help but wonder how different my auditions would be if I were just a bit braver, more unpredictable. Don’t interpret that as license to throw tomatoes at the people behind the table, but every once in a while, mix it up. Don’t show what you’ve always shown, give them something they weren’t expecting. Something useful, of course, but surprising. A little risk could carry you a long, long way.