Tag Archives: television

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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!

 

Budget Bills

Acting by the Number$: Can Theatre Pay the Bills?

Art is awesome. I love making art. All I’ve ever wanted to do was tell stories, the kind that help us examine the human experience. That’s what I believe acting to be, particularly in the theatre. A stage play is alive, happening right in front of you, existing only for a moment until another moment replaces the previous one, building to a climax. It’s a chance for us as an audience to put ourselves in another situation—it may be farcical or it may be life and death—and then ponder how we would behave. That’s what I love about theatre. Sure, you can take the same emotional journey with a film or a television show, and that art can be equally valid, but the added element of the story unfolding live in front of you, where any number of factors could influence the tale being told, I find to be irreplaceable.

Now from a working actor’s perspective, reality has to come into play. You want to do stage work, it’s your passion, but do you remember all the times someone in your past told you that “there’s no money in theatre”? I hate to break it to you, but that person was right. Yes, it is possible to earn a sizable income in theatre. It is also EXTRAORDINARILY unlikely.

Budget BillsImagine you are a chorus member in a hit show on Broadway like The Book of Mormon or Something Rotten, and you will be part of this show for a year. We can roughly estimate you will make $100,000. (Current union production contract minimum is slightly more than $1,900 per week, so let’s say you have some understudy bumps, media bonuses, perhaps hazard pay, and we’ll call it $2,000 a week for fifty weeks—we’re estimating, remember?)

Sounds like a reasonable amount of money. Who wouldn’t be happy with that salary to sing, dance, and act for a living? But hold on second…you don’t get all of that money. There’s union dues to pay, commission to your agent and/or your manager, taxes, contributions to your retirement (and I know most of you are young and don’t think about that, but believe me, PLAN NOW)—your $100,000 just became about $63,000.

Still sound like a lot? Maybe, it sounds like a lot to me. I grew up poor in the South. My very first performing job paid me more money weekly than my Mother had ever made in a week, and she worked full time for the same company for 26 years. Growing up with little (but enough I admit) colored my perception of what “a lot of money” truly is.

 

Back to our “net income” of $63,000. You live in the New York City area, currently the second most expensive housing market in the USA, behind only San Francisco. The average rent in Manhattan is $3,100 per month—now I know “average” is skewed by some really expensive apartments, but stay with me. It’s unlikely you live alone, that’s just too much money. Assuming you have one roommate, you spend $18,600 on rent, not including utilities. Then you spend money on things like entertainment and, you know, food. Being responsible, your grocery bill is probably around $400 per month (so $4,800 a year), and let’s estimate $2,000 for entertainment. Simple math gets us to $37,600 left over, and we haven’t covered any medical expenses, health club memberships, trips home for the holidays with your family, clothing, audition expenses, or anything else you can imagine.

In short, you can live, but that’s about it. Maybe you’ll save a little. Maybe you’ll have nice things. But odds are, that show will end, and so will your salary. One final ray of sunshine, four out of five Broadway shows fail to recoup their investment. Some shows do manage to run for more than a year without recouping, but it’s rare.

AND ALL OF THIS ASSUMES YOU’RE ON BROADWAY FOR A SOLID YEAR, which I’m sorry to say, most of us aren’t. Most of us are working in regional theatre, stock, showcases, tours, all places where the money is significantly less.

We don’t do it for money. We do it for love. (Cue Marvin Hamlisch…)

Look Ma

Now, before I go cry into my bucket of Ben & Jerry’s, yes, of course, there’s a way to survive. You can act for a living. But to me, the only way to do it, is by using ALL of the mediums that are out there beyond the stage: Television, Film, and Commercial work.

Why do those mediums pay so much better (on average) than theatre? I don’t have the definitive answer, but the best explanation I’ve ever heard is that in these mediums an image and a performance is captured forever. You (the actor) are paid so that someone else can use your work and likeness to promote their product or tell their story. And once it’s done, it’s done, never changing, no matter how rich and alive your work may be. You give over your SELF forever, and usually the compensation is respectable.

These jobs are often very quick—I’m speaking of commercials and “non-star” work right now; I’m not talking about series regulars or leading roles in film, I have no experience with that. Commercials are very short in length, and can be shot in a day, a weekend, or maybe a week at most if it’s very technical or involves a tough location. Small roles in TV and film are often shot in a day or two, as time is money.

So in essence, you can make a reasonable sum of money in a short amount of time. For example, last year I shot a commercial for a Health & Beauty product (don’t laugh), in which I DID NOT SPEAK; I merely snored on camera. My job requirement was to lie in a bed with my pretend wife, and snore loudly. I arrived on set at 7:00 AM, and was released at 10:30 AM. Two of those hours I spent chatting with the other actors and enjoying the free coffee and breakfast.

And for my troubles, I have been paid roughly $2,500.

“Wait, I get paid for this?”
“Wait, I get paid for this?”

Look, I know all of that was a massive humblebrag. And talking specifically about money can be distasteful, but I need you to see what I am talking about. YOU CAN’T IGNORE THESE MEDIUMS. They could save your butt someday.

The most awesome aspect of that commercial experience happened in March of this year. I shot the ad in February 2015. My initial payment came a few weeks after the shoot (that’s standard), then a little more arrived later (also standard), but that was the end of the contract. In January 2016 I returned home from a theatre gig, with no survival job, no unemployment, no income at all. But in March, as I was auditioning for whatever would come next, a check arrived in the mail. My commercial had been “picked up” for another year, so there was this lovely check in my hands, the first money I had made in 2016.

You cannot assume that just because you can act on a stage that you can act in any other medium. There are separate, definable skills that you must hone; there is a language you must learn. So get into a class, pronto.

Yes, art is awesome. You know what else is awesome? CHECKS. Checks are awesome. We often need checks to make art. Very rarely we get lucky, and we can have both.

Advancing art is easy, yes—financing it is not.” Stephen Sondheim, Sunday in the Park with George.

 

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