It’s that time again for the Broadway Super Bowl — otherwise know as the Tony Awards! I have friends getting ready all over the country for viewing parties, and I know a few folks involved with the actual show. I’m going a little more low key this year, but will try to do some live tweeting for StageAgent, so maybe I’ll see some of you on the Twitterverse!
I think I can safely predict two names we will hear A LOT tonight (at least in the musicals categories) — Evan and Dolly. We’ll be treated to performances from current and recent nominated musicals including Bandstand, Come From Away, Dear Evan Hansen, Falsettos, Groundhog Day The Musical, Hello, Dolly!, Miss Saigon, Natasha, Pierre & The Great Comet of 1812, andÂ War Paint.Â And who knows what host Kevin Spacey has up his sleeve?
So here’s your official ballot. The live show starts at 8:00PM Eastern on CBS (also streaming, or 7:00 PM Central and tape delay for the West Coast). We’ll check in later in the week for a recap. Who are your favorites?
I hit the Broadway ticket jackpot recently — well, two of my friends did and I was lucky enough to reap the benefits. In one week’s time, I got to see two of the hottest shows on Broadway in 2017: Hamilton, still one of the most in-demand tickets as it approaches two years on Broadway, and the revival of Hello, Dolly! starring Bette Midler, which broke all first-day Broadway ticket sales records last September. Hamilton and Hello, Dolly!–complete opposites of the musical theatre spectrum, one would think. A month or two back, I wouldn’t have thought that I would find correlations in such different shows and relevance in our current political climate, nor would I see how much we need both of them today in the growth and influence of musical theatre itself.
A friend texted me a few weeks back to see if I was busy one evening, telling me he won a ticket lottery for Hamilton. I thought he was kidding. I bailed out on a board meeting that night (though my co-members were all for it — come on, Hamilton!) so I could go. Our seats were in the front row, all the way down to the right. I could hear the actors singing both live and through the monitors; I was almost hit with flying beads of sweat several times, I was that close. Now I am not a Hamilton obsessive. I’ve listened a few times to the Original Cast Recording, watched some YouTube clips, and I have looked through quite a bit of the big HamilTome (look it up). But I haven’t actively memorized any of it. But it didn’t change the fact that that night, I was excited — the spontaneity of getting to go; the proximity to the virtually bare stage; the ground-breaking elements of this musical presenting American history; and finally being in the room, yes, the room where it happened.
And the show didn’t disappoint. Even though there were at least three understudies on for major roles, and I don’t know how many were even left from the original cast, it didn’t matter. The cast was uniformly excellent, powerhouse performers communicating in fast rap, jazz riffs, and hip hop-infused choreography. The audience members were on the edges of their seats, resisting the urge to snap their fingers along with the opening number, but roused to thunderous applause time and time again as the biting lyrics coincidentally hit points reflected in today’s news, delivered with precision by the cast. The clean simple lines of the off-white knickers and corsets/vests that the ensemble members wore, the bare brick walls and wooden staircases and platform, and the way in which the central turntable kept the scenes transitioning seamlessly let the sung-through music and lyrics tell the story with minimal distraction. The show was an ensemble piece for the most part telling the story of Hamilton AND Burr, often with all actors on stage, many in multiple roles, weaving this story of the founders of our nation. It was a period piece in a most modern fashion.
For Hello, Dolly! a week later, the story was a little different. A friend went (at 4:00 AM) to queue up for standing room tickets for the Wednesday matinee. And she managed to get a pair for us. This time we were in the far back left of the orchestra–most theaters actually have numbered tags along the back wall where you can lean–almost the exact opposite of where I had been seated for Hamilton. A grand red drape with the simple show logo hung across the proscenium arch. Now I’ve listened to both the Broadway and film recordings of the show and have seen Dolly several times since childhood. It’s one of my favorites, and I know pretty much every word. As the more than 50-year-old overture started to play, I could see heads swaying in front of me as familiar strains washed over the excited crowd. Finally the grand drape opened on colorful, vaudevillian backdrops with sets dressed in the cheerful clutter of a hay and feed store or the purples and pinks of a ladies hat shop. Singers and dancers whirled across the stage in bright suits and dresses, or literally galloped around a staircase as actors farcically popped in and out from behind curtained restaurant booths. Subtle and modern, it was not. But it was glorious, and in the center of it all was a mega-watt force of Bette Midler, a leading lady of the highest caliber in a show designed for a star. Standing in the back, I was hard-pressed not to sway and dance myself bouncing on my heels during my favorite number, the brightly hued “Put on Your Sunday Clothes,” and regretting a little that I was already standing as the audience leapt to their feet in a mid-show standing ovation after the title number. It was magical.
But here’s what I realized in the audience that day. We need both the Hamiltons and the Dollys in this world. We need the gems like Hello, Dolly! that stand up through the wear and tear of decades and shine that much brighter when brought into the light and are given glittering new productions, and we need the spare and edgy, forward-thinking modern musicals like Hamilton, because without one, the other cannot exist. Listen to Hamilton and you hear allusions not just to rap artists, but to Oscar Hammerstein’s lyrics from South Pacific. And it’s not just a matter of building upon what came before, it’s letting the air come back into the older shows and hearing the script and lyrics in the context of today, while celebrating the traditional structure and staging of a Golden Age show. Besides the title tune and Bette Midler’s initial entrance, the most vocal audience response at Hello, Dolly! was to the line, “Money… pardon the expression… is like manure. It’s not worth a thing unless it’s spread around encouraging young things to grow!” Cheers, applause, and woots! The reaction was as visceral as if it had been one of the pointed cabinet rap battles in Hamilton, with its witty revolutionary barbs that reflect in today’s politics.
Do I have a type of show I prefer? Sure, I’m a classic Broadway girl all the way, but there is a direct line from classics like Hello, Dolly! or Fiddler on the Roof to the mega musicals of the 80s like Miss Saigon or Les Miz to Hamilton or the current Broadway darling, Dear Evan Hansen. I think the big question is where will that line next loop around and where will it lead next? And how will today’s theatre students and future actors, composers/lyricists, and directors look to the past worlds of Jerry Herman, Rodgers & Hammerstein, or Cole Porter to become the next Pasek & Paul or Lin-Manuel Miranda? There’s room, and the need, for all of them. We don’t have to choose–and we shouldn’t.
Ahoy 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, Hairspray, Chicago 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?”
I, 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.
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!
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.)
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.
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.”
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!
Hello, true believers (any of you that get that reference are awesome. And probably my age). As actors, we are taught to be humble and grateful for the work opportunities we are given. Though we will all likely encounter situations where humility and gratitude aren’t the first emotions that come to mind, for the most part, it’s a good idea to stay that way.
There’s no linear path to your career as an actor. You may be a college theatre student, perform in summer stock (Equity or non-Equity), graduate, work in regional theatre, go on tour, book a Broadway show, then lather/rinse/repeat the last three if you’re lucky. Or you may leave college before graduation for a Broadway show. Or you may work on Wall Street with your finance degree and decide at age 40, “Hey, I always liked acting, I think I’ll give that a try.” One person’s experience will not necessarily be someone else’s, a point I try to remember each time I sit down to write.
When actors are given a contract for most theatre jobs, they usually have finite terms, an “end date.” I would imagine that most contracts are honored by the actor, as work is hard enough to come by. But occasionally, we are lucky enough to have another company offer an opportunity before we have completed the terms of the current employer. Assuming we want to accept the offer, what do we do?
The first step is look at your current contract. What is the “out clause”? An out clause refers to the terms of terminating your employment. Sometimes these are as simple as providing ample notice of your intention to leave, it can be as little as two or four weeks. Be careful though, as there will occasionally be clauses in contracts that prohibit leaving during certain periods of the contract, such as during previews. Many regional theatre contracts are structured in such a way as to severely limit the opportunity for an actor to break their commitment. This may seem a bit unfair, but from a producer’s perspective, you are their choice for the job, and you agreed to the terms of the contract, so replacing you is certainly inconvenient and could possibly diminish the show, i.e., their product.
There are also contracts known as “run of show” agreements, whereupon the actor agrees to perform in the “run of the show” with no specific end date. These may sound restrictive, but can also be quite a benefit to an actor. My recent position as the standby for El Gallo/the Fathers in The Fantasticks was a run of show agreement, I could stay as long as I wanted, provided I was capable of doing the job I was hired to do and a good member of the company (meaning basically, not doing anything stupid to get myself fired).
Let’s say you’ve identified the out clause, and you are within your legal rights to terminate your contract. Now what? This can get sticky, but you have a few options. The first is the direct and professional route. You contact the producer (and you can do this verbally but I would always suggest a written follow-up, so there is a record of what was said) and let them know your intentions. The timing can be flexible, of course it must be per the rules within your contract, but let’s look at this scenario. Let’s say you are doing a show that runs for two more months, but you have an offer that will require you to be gone before the last two weeks. The out clause is four weeks notice. Do you tell the producer as soon as you can, or do you wait for the last legal minute?
The answer sadly is, “it depends.” If you have a good relationship with the company and want to give them as much time to prepare as possible, then this is your path. If you have an adversarial relationship with them, and fear potential retaliation (such as, they replace you sooner than you wish, leaving you with a gap in employment), then perhaps you wait until you reach your legal obligation. I’m not advocating or advising this option, but the truth is, the business can be really tough at times, and you may find yourself in this position, so there’s the information.
Now, let’s come back from the dark side of the force…
Any time you choose to leave a job, be it in theatre or “civilian life,” it’s optimal to leave on the best of terms. Your decision to move on has created more work for your employers and your coworkers, as they will likely have to participate in more rehearsal for your replacement. So try and make this easy on them. If you are being housed, make sure you leave that housing in AT LEAST the condition you found it in, and maybe even a little better. Your replacement may arrive before you leave, welcome them into the company and offer what you can—you may be refused for any number of reasons, but still make the offer.
Finally, remember that although this may be a tough decision and process, these are the kinds of problems you want to have, so don’t be too hard on yourself. At the same time, I wouldn’t make a habit of breaking contracts, whether you are legally capable or not, it’s not the reputation you want. Leaving a show, long-running or otherwise, is one thing, breaking a finite contract is another.