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Top Ten Lists of 2016

Happy New Year from StageAgent!

As wittop-95717_1280h 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!

 Top Ten Musicals

  1. Into the Woods
  2. Hamilton
  3. Guys and Dolls
  4. The Addams Family
  5. Beauty and the Beast
  6. Little Shop of Horrors
  7. West Side Story
  8. Anything Goes
  9. Hairspray
  10. Legally Blonde

 Top Ten Plays

  1. Almost, Maine
  2. Rumors
  3. Steel Magnolias
  4. The Diary of Anne Frank
  5. To Kill a Mockingbird
  6. The Laramie Project
  7. Buried Child
  8. Proof
  9. Clybourne Park
  10. The Foreigner

 Top Ten Characters

  1. Miss Adelaide from Guys and Dolls
  2. Anybodys from West Side Story
  3. Sarah Brown from Guys and Dolls
  4. Wednesday Addams from The Addams Family
  5. Alice Beineke from The Addams Family
  6. Reno Sweeney from Anything Goes
  7. Audrey from Little Shop of Horrors
  8. Hope Harcourt from Anything Goes
  9. Olive Ostrovsky from The 25th Annual Putnam County Spelling Bee
  10. Vivienne Kensington from Legally Blonde

Top Ten Blogs

  1. The Do’s and Don’ts of Audition Style
  2. Five Great Musicals with Small Casts
  3. Great Musicals with Large Casts
  4. How to Prepare for an Audition
  5. How to Warm Up and Prepare Before Singing
  6. How to Find the Perfect Monologue
  7. New Monologue & Song Recommendation Tool
  8. Hamilton Hype: Why We Are Obsessed
  9. Top 10 Musical Theater Composers
  10. Understudy, Standby, Swing
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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

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Auditions: How to Behave in “The Room”

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?

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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.

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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.

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.

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Of Tonys, Snacks, and Hamilton

IMG_4389So, that’s the 70th Annual Tony Awards in the books, and it was a great night! I spent the evening with about a dozen friends–several teens included–and we had a viewing party at my arts conservatory with the show projected on the big screen in our theatre. It was awesome! It was like we were in the Beacon Theatre, well, except that we had snacks and weren’t quite as dressed up as the Tony-goers were. And our ballots weren’t quite official.

We gathered around 7:00 PM with the red carpet arrivals playing on a monitor in our lobby, while a 60 Minutes episode featuring Hamilton coverage was streaming on the big screen. For only a dozen people, we had food enough to feed a small army. It’s so fun to see what people bring to a potluck! From roasted garlic chickpea snacks and chocolate-covered Oreo cookie balls to chili cheese dip and this crazy good grape salad (yes, you heard me, grape salad–with cream cheese, brown sugar, and pecans) and other healthy and not-so-healthy munchies. And to top it off, we had margaritas, Prosecco, and a chocolate fondue fountain — classy, eh?

So on to a quick recap (see complete list below). Hamilton didn’t break The Producers 2001 record, but it still won eleven of the sixteen awards including (as should have been pretty obvious) Best Musical. The Humans won four awards including Best Play. The four primary acting categories were all won by actors of color (three for Hamilton, one for The Color Purple)–a historic first for the Tonys, and James Corden was a terrific, charming, slightly silly host.  

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After a somber opening speech dedicating the evening’s show to those killed in the Orlando shootings late Saturday night, Corden in his delightful opening number spoke to something I mentioned in my previous Tony blog: that for many kids watching the Tonys every year, this was a chance to see Broadway in action and maybe even dream about being a Broadway star. Our little viewing gang of performers, parents, and kids in performing arts school agreed and cheered loudly when the number was over.

All of the performances were top notch–although due to a little glitch in streaming, we didn’t see all of the Waitress number–gonna need to find that on YouTube later. We were all thrilled to see a young student and friend rocking the house as part of the children’s cast of School of Rock, both in the main telecast number and the fun little bumpers they were doing out in front of the theatre throughout the night. Our kids (and a couple of adults) were all right down front on the floor for the Hamilton numbers and singing/rapping during commercial breaks. The grown-ups in the room gave a pleasant shout of surprise when Frank Langella won for The Father, and applauded loudly for Jessica Lange and her award for Long Day’s Journey into Night. And we all laughed when our youngest viewer, upon Broadway legend Angela Lansbury’s entrance, said, “Oh! That’s the lady from Mrs. Santa Claus!” It was a good reminder that Broadway always has its classy past to lean on, but the future, as demonstrated last night,  is wide open with possibilities.

Complete List of 2016 Tony Award Winners

Best Play: The Humans

Best Musical: Hamilton

Best Revival of a Play: Arthur Miller’s A View from the Bridge

Best Revival of a Musical: The Color Purple

Best Book of a Musical Hamilton: Lin-Manuel Miranda

Best Original Score (Music and/or Lyrics) Written for the Theatre: Hamilton

Best Performance by an Actor in a Leading Role in a Play: Frank Langella, The Father

Best Performance by an Actress in a Leading Role in a Play: Jessica Lange, Long Day’s Journey Into Night

Best Performance by an Actor in a Leading Role in a Musical: Leslie Odom, Jr., Hamilton

Best Performance by an Actress in a Leading Role in a Musical: Cynthia Erivo, The Color Purple

Best Performance by an Actor in a Featured Role in a Play: Reed Birney, The Humans

Best Performance by an Actress in a Featured Role in a Play: Jayne Houdyshell, The Humans

Best Performance by an Actor in a Featured Role in a Musical: Daveed Diggs, Hamilton

Best Performance by an Actress in a Featured Role in a Musical: Renee Elise Goldsberry, Hamilton

Best Scenic Design of a Play: David Zinn, The Humans

Best Scenic Design of a Musical: David Rockwell, She Loves Me

Best Costume Design of a Play: Clint Ramos, Eclipsed

Best Costume Design of a Musical: Paul Tazewell, Hamilton

Best Lighting Design of a Play: Natasha Katz, Long Day’s Journey Into Night

Best Lighting Design of a Musical: Howell Binkley, Hamilton

Best Direction of a Play: Ivo Van Hove, Arthur Miller’s A View from the Bridge

Best Direction of a Musical: Thomas Kail, Hamilton

Best Choreography: Andy Blankenbuehler, Hamilton

Best Orchestrations: Alex Lacamoire, Hamilton

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Countdown to the Tonys: It’s Gettin’ Ready Time!

Poster_for_the_70th_Tony_AwardsSo, there’s this little show happening on Sunday night. Most of America could care less (sorry about the ratings in advance CBS), but for those of us who LOVE Broadway – it’s our Super Bowl! It’s almost Tony time!!! Who’s going to/hosting a viewing party? ME, ME!!! Sorry, I guess I’m just a little giddy.

Now the odds are pretty good that a musical skit called Hamilton will pick up a few medallions, but the bigger question is, will it beat the record number of Tonys won by The Producers in 2001? Honestly, I really don’t care who wins or loses; it’s the performances, the specially edited montages and numbers created for the telecast that I want  to see.

As a kid growing up in California, I looked forward to this every year. (I know you’re nodding your head right now if you grew up anywhere other than New York thinking, “Me, too!”) It was my only chance to see the people who were on the records (yes, RECORDS) of the Original Broadway Cast recordings that I listened to and memorized religiously. Don’t get me wrong, I was lucky enough to see many touring companies in my childhood, but very few were “the real people” from the records. Now that I live in New York, I have the pleasure of seeing “the real people” frequently. I don’t get to see every show, but it’s exciting to watch the Tonys knowing that I was actually in the audience for some of them.

Now, this may be a simple statement, but I would think voting for the Tony Awards must be hard. I mean, with the Emmys or the Oscars, voting members of the various unions and guilds involved in the making of the productions for the previous year’s body of work are sent screeners –DVDs of the nominated TV shows or films–shortly before the given voting period, about two months from nomination to awards presentation. Voters see a final product that never changes, that they can watch and replay looking for nuances in design or acting often in the comfort of their own homes. And according to the Oscar and Emmy websites, votes are mostly cast in peer categories (ie, editors vote for editors, actors vote for actors) except for the best picture or best TV series categories where all voters can offer up a ballot (and maybe some special awards, but this really isn’t about the Emmys or Oscars, so back to the Tonys).

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The Antoinette Perry “Tony” Award

Tony nominations are decided on each year by a core group of up to 50 people and, once the nominations are made, there are approximately 850 voters. Tony voters come from guilds and unions supporting actors, directors, and scenic artists; casting and talent societies; critics’ organizations; and members of The Broadway League and American Theater Wing.

The Broadway Season runs roughly May through April. The nominations for 2016 were announced on May 2 and are being presented this weekend on June 12. That’s 6 weeks from nomination to awards. Many of these Tony voters have to watch a year’s worth of LIVE theater, not having any idea what might or might not eventually get nominated AND everyone votes for everything; there is no peer separation (although they are asked not to vote in a particular category if they didn’t see all the nominees). Tony voters are typically invited to attend a show once the reviews are out, and the local, NY-based voters do their best to get to a show quickly. Broadway shows can come and go in the blink of an eye; many can close long before actual nominations are determined. How can you keep it all straight? What if a particular style of music just isn’t your thing? What if you don’t feel well and are in a bad mood when you see the show? It’s not like you can just stop the DVD and watch it later. Maybe, you’ll be able to attend the show one more time after it is nominated, but there is no guarantee that will work out.

I chatted with a few of my friends who have been Tony voters for several years asking for a few thoughts, and their responses were all quite consistent.

  • Keeping track of it all: Few of them really take any extensive notes on the shows. They might check off a master list, so they know what they’ve seen, or jot down a brief thought or two if they see something early in the season, but most of them just go with their gut feelings. Whether it is a virtuoso performance or sets and costumes that evoke the overall emotional feeling of a piece, what is right there on that stage will stick with them so when they finally see the lists of nominees, they are transported back into the theatres to make their final decisions.
  • Avoiding the hype: They all do their best to avoid reading reviews of shows or getting caught up in any hype, actively avoiding listening to recordings or watching the many clips online, so they can be swept into the storytelling of the piece that first time they see it and let the show wash over them. For voters outside of New York, this can make things easier because they are not inundated with as much local advertising, but it’s also harder because they’ll usually wait until the nominations come out to travel to see shows, so that’s a lot of time to ignore friend’s post on social media.
  • Judging the performance and not the show and vice versa: Sometimes there are standout performances in less than amazing shows, and beautifully written music in a show that closes very quickly. The voters I spoke try to remain as open as possible and to focus on the group of nominees in front of them, not basing their decisions on whether a show is still open and trying to spread the love around a bit, acknowledging the gems hidden in many shows. Even if a style of music or design concept may not be something they care for personally, they are able to acknowledge the storytelling and impact of a piece and the elements that support it and vote accordingly.

So, maybe you’ve seen some of the shows. Maybe you’ve only been connected to them through the multitudes of clips, blogs, and talk show appearances. Maybe you will wait until you see all the segments presented on the live Tony broadcast before making a choice. So go with your gut, or vote with your hearts and your heads. Here’s your ballot. Enjoy the show!

 

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