Tag Archives: Theatre

kennedy

Hey, Broadway, Time for a Camelot Revival!

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.

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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.)

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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.”

President Kennedy delivering the his famous “Moonshot Speech.”
President Kennedy delivering the his famous “Moonshot Speech.”

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.”

Sound familiar?

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?

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Top Tips on the Edinburgh Festival Fringe

The Edinburgh Festival Fringe is the world’s largest arts festival, with over 50,000 performances of 3,279 shows in nearly 300 venues across the city in 2016. It is held in August every year and, although that may seem like a long while away, it is really never too early to start planning for the Fringe!

Taking a show to the Fringe can be a daunting prospect and there are many options to consider:

What type of venue is best for your show? Large or intimate? City center or out of the main action? How do you promote it? How do you compete with the thousands of other shows appearing at the Fringe? Where do you stay?

Going to the Fringe is also one of the most exciting, exhilarating, and inspiring professional moments, and well worth the energy and effort. Who knows the impact your production may have? After all, the ground-breaking and innovative Rosencrantz and Guildenstern Are Dead and Jerry Springer: The Opera, both made their debut at the Edinburgh Fringe to critical acclaim.

fringestreetSo, with that in mind, here are a few tips to consider when taking a show to the Fringe.

Options on Where to Stay

Hotels during this time are expensive and, for most working actors/directors, not necessarily a financially viable option. You may also wish to consider that if you have a lot of show materials, props, costumes etc., a hotel room might become a little crowded. However, fortunately, the residents of Edinburgh are well used to making the most out of their apartments during the Fringe. Renting an apartment has many pros. You are flexible and ‘at home’ during your time in Edinburgh, you can squeeze as many people into a room as needed, and you achieve a more authentic festival experience.

Picking a Venue

Bear in mind that it is not just recognized theatres and halls that become show venues during the Fringe. Dance halls, church halls, meeting rooms, and pub rooms all become Fringe venues. For many smaller companies, these more intimate venues are often a much more financially viable option. Choosing a larger venue puts you riding alongside the bigger names and companies, but it will also cost you the same amount of big bucks. It really does depend on your background and aims for your show. However, a smaller venue has two important plus points: the actor/performer is able to engage with the audience on a much more intimate level, and potential empty seats do not seem as depressing as they might in a larger, emptier auditorium. This may sound a little cynical but predicting ticket sales is highly uncertain at the best of times. Remember, you are competing with over 3,000 shows! You may have 50 people in one night, and 2 the next. For most performers, the thrill of the Fringe cannot come from any potential income, but rather the experience and vibrancy of the performance itself. Don’t go too big unless you are sure!

Afternoons are also a slightly less frenetic time to put on your show and may provide bigger audiences. People tend to be freer and more likely to experiment. Any experienced Fringe-goer will have already planned their evenings out.

Another option is to advertise your show for free (yes, I said free) and then ask for donations upon leaving. This can end up bringing in more people and a bit more dosh!

fringestreetpeoplePromote, Promote, Promote!

Be prepared to put in the legwork at the festival. Thank goodness Edinburgh is not a huge city! The hub of the Fringe is also focused in the center of the city. However you must have as much promotional material as possible and disseminate it as widely and as frequently as you can. Being featured in the Fringe Guide is just not enough. The city is littered with flyers and posters and your promotional material has to make a dent. Every person you pass on the Royal Mile will almost certainly have at least 10 flyers clutched in their hands.

With that in mind……

You’ve Gotta Have a Gimmick

It may sound cheesy but a gimmick, a costume, or some sort of eye catching prop goes a long way towards making your show stand out and stick in the memory of a potential audience member. Before you start your show promotion, take a wander down the Royal Mile, through Princes Street Gardens, and on to the University grounds. It is a fascinating experience as with every step you will encounter a dynamic display designed to grab your attention and sell tickets! Embrace it and enjoy it! A day’s improvisation and/or public interaction on the street is an uplifting, entertaining, and frequently hilarious experience.

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However, the top tip really is to ENJOY the Edinburgh  Festival Fringe! It is a fantastic place to be during August and, if you can, see as many shows as possible while you are there. The diversity, quality, and eccentricity on display is amazing. There really is nothing like it!

Editor’s Note: For more information about The Edinburgh Festival Fringe, deadlines for participating, and more, check out their website: https://www.edfringe.com/participants.

Photo Credit: Kim Fisk

The National Tour: A Beginning Guide

Hello faithful readers! We here at StageAgent are humbly embarking on a multi-part series breaking down that Golden Fleece of an actor’s desire—the National Tour. Over the course of the next several months we will be examining the attraction, benefits, potential downsides, and financial realities of living out of your suitcases for a few months or even a few years. We hope to cover topics that will apply to both Equity and Non-Equity tours, from a 4-person children’s show to a cast of dozens (the Hal Prince Show Boat had a cast somewhere near 70). And as always, if you have specific questions or topics you’d like discussed further, just leave us a comment and we’ll do our very best to address them all.

Photo Credit: Kim Fisk
Photo Credit: Kim Fisk

I feel we must start with some sort of definition as to what qualifies as a National Tour. You’d be surprised (or maybe not) at the hours that are spent trying to decide on a resume what is a tour and what isn’t. At the most basic level, a National Tour is a show that is presented across various locations in multiple states. It can be union or non-union. You can run for a few weeks, perhaps during the holiday season, or nearly 20 years (here’s looking at you, The Lion King). When a show goes directly from Broadway to the road, it can be called the First National Tour, then as casts change you can be the Second, or Third, though at this point I’m not sure there’s really a difference. Actors like to label things, especially if it helps the resume.

The tour can often be that first carrot to a young actor fresh out of college. They are attractive for many reasons: there’s a certain prestige, hopefully a good salary, and the chance to hone your skills and craft over potentially hundreds of performances, just to name a few. Tours can also appeal to seasoned veterans of the theatre, as they offer a chance to “get out of town” and regroup; perhaps they can save some money while subletting an apartment, or play a great role they’ve always wanted to play. So with these notions before you, we ask the question, “Why wouldn’t I want to do a tour?”

There’s a lot to recommend, but the tour is not without complications. First of all, if you are a young actor, your goal is to get established in whatever city you call home base. (Tours cast all over the country by the way, everywhere from New York City, Chicago, Los Angeles, Atlanta, Orlando; I’ve even seen Salt Lake City.) So the very nature of doing a National Tour is contrary to that goal, as you simply won’t be around for anyone to get to know you. But these cities carry a high cost of living, so getting out of Dodge to save some money might not be the worst idea.

One of the sheer joys I currently have in my life is my ability to go to my show and then…go home. I don’t have to leave my family for months at a time; they are right there where I left them when I got on the train to NYC. But of course on tour, it’s unlikely (not impossible) that you will have your loved ones with you. On top of that, you’re basically committed to spending a huge amount of your time with the people in your show. That can be great, some of my best friends in life came from the tours I was lucky enough to do. But what if you don’t really connect with anyone on the road, or worse, actually dislike being with them? There’s not much escape. In a union tour you have the option of your own room (because you usually pay for it from your per diem—that’s a later post), but on a non-union tour you probably have a roommate, unless you’re a star. Personal example: I played Ravenal (the male lead) in a Non-Equity tour of Show Boat, and I shared a room with not one but two cast mates, both very good friends, to save money. We would get a room with two beds, and every third week, one of us would sleep either on a cot or on the floor. Hi ho, the glamorous life.

 Photo Attribution: Chris 73 / Wikimedia Commons
It hasn’t gotten this bad…yet…  (Photo Attribution: Chris 73 / Wikimedia Commons)

And while there is certainly a lot to be said for doing the same show literally hundreds of times, maybe it’s not for you. Maybe you’re the kind of actor who prefers a summer stock or rep company approach, where you do something different every so often (perhaps every night). For clarity’s sake, in the largest tours (and of course on Broadway) if you are lucky enough to be employed for a solid year and never miss a performance, you’ll do 400 performances of the same show (8 performances a week x 50 weeks, assuming you use your vacation weeks). That might not sound appealing to everyone.

Also you have to consider what it is you would be asked to do. We can assume that you auditioned for the job, but maybe you got a role that doesn’t interest you, or a chorus position when you were dying to play the lead. Perhaps you auditioned for a touring children’s theatre company, but upon being hired you realized that not only were you the star of the piece, but also the assistant stage manager and van driver, and that you would be loading and unloading set pieces at the crack of dawn into school “gymnatoriums.” I’ve seen people quit Broadway shows while in rehearsal when they realized they weren’t happy with what they were charged to do. Shocking, but it does happen.

You need to be armed with all the information possible. From my perspective, everyone should tour at least once. You should know the feeling of being a tight-knit community, bound together in strange cities both small and large. You need to know what it takes to perform night after night, sometimes with variations in your environment (less wing space, no crossover, dressing room on the fifth floor). I haven’t seen very much of the world, but I’ve seen 48 of the 50 states (Hawaii and Montana, if you’re wondering), and that’s all because of the handful of tours I’ve been on.

So welcome to the touring series, we’ll be exploring such topics as financial practices, how to pack, how to stay healthy, housing options, when it’s time to go home, the major players in the touring market, and many other topics. Let us know your questions! Till next time…

jefferson

YOUR MISSION

No Summer Gig…No Big Deal

When last we met, I was extolling the virtues of summer stock theatre, that magical place where you build your skills as a performer, meet fascinating (and not-so fascinating) people, and try very hard not to embarrass yourself at the closing night party. But what if you’re not doing stock, what if you’re in the City (or elsewhere) for the summer, not necessarily performing?

Time is gift given lightly and rarely appreciated. We (humans) are one of the few creatures on the planet with a system for measuring time, both spent wisely and wasted. We always think there’s more time, that the sun will rise tomorrow no matter what we do today, so why worry about how much we get done in a day? Procrastination is the enemy my friend, and while I don’t live my life by the clock, I’ve learned to recognize when time has been gifted to me, and how valuable it can be.

So you’re not doing stock. Maybe you were too afraid to audition, maybe it doesn’t pay enough to support your basic needs in life, maybe every summer theatre was doing The King and I and A Chorus Line, and you’re basically a Gordon MacRae clone (look him up, kids) and there is no job for you to have. Or maybe you chose to stay where you are and pursue other avenues. Stock is great, but there’s more to being an actor than chasing a job. There is more, right? Guys? Anybody?

Maybe I’m optimistic, but this time is a gift. This post is certainly NYC-centric, but I encourage you to apply it to wherever you are.

The first and most obvious answer to “What do I do with all this time?” is STUDY. There are acting classes, dance classes, voice, yoga, personal training—all tied directly to the care and well-being of the actor’s instrument. So care for it! Years ago I was in a seminar with a now-retired agent who gave this plain, simple advice:

If there’s something you don’t like about yourself, change it. Need to lose ten pounds?  Need to gain it? Always wanted to be a blonde? Do you wish you were a better dancer?

Is it time for an acting class? Whatever it is that you feel is holding you back, you probably can change it. The only thing you’re really stuck with is your height.”

I’ll admit, the Frankenstein in me sunk a little at that last part.

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We currently live in a “love yourself” society, a society of “I am enough just as I am.” And believe me I am all for that, but you have to carry a bit of realism with you on that journey. Yes, you are enough sir, but if you want to play Superman in the next big summer blockbuster, you probably want to put down that donut. One of my favorite things to say to clients (in the personal training world) is this: June will eventually be September. Should we spend that time pursuing our goals, or spinning our wheels?

So study. Exercise. CARE for yourself; we forget that so easily. If you can’t afford certain classes or feel that what is offered currently isn’t for you, then read plays, movie scripts, great novels, whatever. Sing in your shower, dance in your living room. See movies—not just the blockbusters in the theatre, but the greats. Citizen Kane is typically hailed as one of the greatest films of all time. Ever wonder why? Maybe you should see it. And Casablanca, All About Eve, East of Eden, The Dirty Dozen. The word study has a wide, wide interpretation.

YOUR MISSION

CHALLENGE YOUR FRIENDS!

Form a group of peers…some kind of…peer group (I really hate myself sometimes). Meet once a month, bring your monologue or song you’ve always wanted to try, enlist the help of some better dancers to fix the hitch in your time step. (Is it obvious I can’t dance? I think so) Get everyone together and read a play aloud. Find ten friends and have a “great movie” party, then order pizza and talk about it!

In my early years in New York City I organized such a group, cleverly called…The Audition Group. We met once a month. I lived in a building in Manhattan that contained a studio with a baby grand piano, and I could reserve this room basically at my leisure. I would grab an accompanist friend (several, over the course of the year), and nine of my actor friends and I would each pay them $15 dollars to play for us for three hours. Our piano-playing pal would make $150 bucks for the night, and we would do our audition pieces for the group, and take suggestions, criticisms and occasionally even praise. It’s a great way to get your material up to snuff before you sign up for that casting director’s workshop.

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GO SEE STUFF!!

Do you have any idea how much free theatre there is in this city? Go to your magic Google machine and type in “Free theatre in NYC.” Seventeen million results come up. There are numerous free Shakespeare companies in the city, not just the really popular one in the park. Summer is the home season of the New York Musical Festival, The Fringe Festival, The Midtown International Festival for Crocodiles (okay I made that one up), but you get the idea. Not all of it is free but a vast majority is either free or super-cheap. And of course, some of it is…let’s say, variable in quality. But there’s always something to be learned.

And if you’re not already doing this, start playing the Broadway Lotteries. Hey, someone’s gotta win.

WORK. This one may not sound like much fun, but you might as well make some money. Summertime is big for the restaurant business, and if you’re a waiter it can be big for you too. Pick up the extra shifts, stash that money away so that you can breathe a little easier when you have to give your own shifts away just to make it through the Fall auditions.

PLAY. All this focus can wear anyone out. Sign up for a bowling or a softball league, go on dates, visit your family, go lie in Central Park and stare at the sky (not while it’s raining).

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New York is amazing in the summertime, people are out and about, sometimes they’re even happy. You see families having picnics, children playing in playgrounds, tourists staring at a billboard while we loyal residents silently curse their very existence…it really is a magical place.

Most of all, BREATHE. It doesn’t always feel like it, but we are lucky, lucky humans. Recharge your batteries, your spirit. You’re going to need them.

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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

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