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Life on the Road: A Few Thoughts on Touring

If you’re an actor who’s been reading Rob’s wonderful series on National Tours, you’re probably well-primed for getting out there and booking one. Once you have, congratulations! But whether you have five days or five months before you leave, there is a lot to think about.

Having just gotten off the road with my fourth big tour, I have some advice:

Photo Credit: anaa yoo
Photo Credit: anaa yoo

You will not need all those clothes.

Most actors on tour find themselves “trunk-shopping” or “suitcase-shopping,” when they stumble upon a shirt or a dress that’s spent the last four months wadded up hidden in the back, forgotten. On tour, you spend a lot of time in rehearsal or at the gym or traveling, and those clothes do get used a ton. But you do not need sixteen dresses or twelve pairs of pants. NO ONE WILL NOTICE you’re wearing the same thing you did last week. SERIOUSLY. You’ll be sending home a box of extra stuff before you know it, but then you’ll make room for something more essential, to wit:

A Nutribullet can be your best friend.

If you have room in your suitcase or trunk, (which you will, because you won’t overstuff it with clothes) bring something like this. You may not have a fridge and a microwave in every hotel room, but you can pick up ingredients to make protein smoothies without a lot of fuss, and it will save you time, money, and calories to whip up a shake for breakfast or before rehearsal. I also know people who traveled a George Forman grill, or a hot plate and a few pots and pans, but those are a lot easier to blow off. This one gets USED.

Your relationship will survive. Or it won’t.

Being on tour is a very difficult thing for people in relationships with someone at home. Your schedules may be opposite, you may be three time zones apart, you may only be able to schedule one visit in six months, and so on. You both will have to WORK on the relationship, much harder than usual. But it will survive, if it’s meant to. If not – it wasn’t TOUR that broke you up. It was an underlying issue: the demands of your career, fears of infidelity, wanting different things.

So have a frank discussion with your partner before you leave, and understand that both of you need to be extra communicative and considerate of this bizarre situation. And remember, you won’t be on tour forever.

Be wary of showmances.

For those who arrive on tour single and ready to mingle (or those whose relationships really weren’t meant to survive), there are often many opportunities to get a little lovin’ with someone at work. Full disclosure: I know a NUMBER of couples who have gotten married following their showmances!

But you must be very careful. If it does work out, you’re developing a relationship under scrutiny of a hundred pairs of eyes. And if things don’t work out, you have to see this person EVERY SINGLE DAY. A bad break up is not only your problem, it’s the entire company’s problem. If you do embark on an irresistible hookup, do so thoughtfully and with clear boundaries. Understand that tour life is lived under a microscope and is much more intense than “regular” life.

Explore!

Your schedule on tour can be grueling. I can’t tell you how many times we basically had 10-show weeks, with a full understudy run-through and a put-in rehearsal scheduled on top of our regular 8 shows. If you stay up late winding down after the show, and sleep in to get your rest, that doesn’t leave a lot of time for exploring. BUT DO IT ANYWAY. You’ve been given a gift of a paid trip around the country or the world. Make time to find a cool museum or brewery tour or farmer’s market or whale watch trip or baseball game or Buddhist Temple. Those excursions will be the biggest memories you’ll recollect down the line.

At the Sinso-ji Temple in Tokyo. Photo Credit: Annie Edgerton.
At the Sinso-ji Temple in Tokyo. Photo Credit: Annie Edgerton.

The importance of TEAM.

Make no bones about it, touring is HARD. You’re in a different city every week (or more, frequently)! You have to deal with allergies, and horrific travel days, and theatres with six flights of stairs to the dressing room, and the person IN the dressing room who is bugging you, and being away from family and friends, and the list goes on. The ONE thing that makes this all bearable is that you’re on a team of people all going through the same thing. So honor that.

Learn the names of your crew members. (I can’t believe I have to say that, but, sadly, I do.) Respect other people’s boundaries. Be kind. Be thoughtful. Make “dates” for a meal or excursion with someone you don’t know very well. Don’t give in to “bitch sessions.” (While venting is necessary, do it with someone you trust, outside of work, and to get over an issue, not to drag other people into your muck.) Try and stay positive when things go wrong. Your tour family is a family – you’re not going to love everybody, but treat them with respect.

If you lift up those around you, they’ll respond in kind. So help create an environment of TEAM.

Finally…

Get those points!

On many contracts, you are able to receive airline and hotel points, even if the company has paid for the ticket or the room. (Not all, so you’ll have to ask around.) Sign up for ALL those reward programs! When you check in for your flight, ask them to link your number. When you check in to your hotel, ditto. And it’s worth it getting a rewards credit card. There are numerous websites that compare rewards cards, so it’s easy to find one that fits your touring lifestyle.

Touring can be a magical and wonderful experience, whether you’re a replacement in the road company of Wicked, or launching a new tour like Bright Star. Be excited about it! And do what you can to make the most out of your road journey. Break legs!

Look Ma! I'm a meme!

How to Keep a Long-Running Performance Fresh

I’m sure we all remember it, heck, we might even be living it right now. Those halcyon days of educational theatre, where we spend months rehearsing a show, only to perform it two or three times over the course of a weekend in May. All that preparation, all that work, only to get a couple of cracks at glory.

That’s a reference to a typical high school schedule, where you must work around numerous conflicts and extra-curricular activities. By the time we’re in college, rehearsal schedules tend to clock in at 5 to 6 weeks, and performances tally anywhere from the high single digits to maybe 20 to 24. Hardly enough time to get bored, or the performances to become stale or uninspired. But what happens when we grab that brass ring at last, the long-running contract? It could be a tour, or a Broadway show, even some regional theatres that operate continuous schedules, producing the same show(s) for years on end? We’ve finally been rewarded for all our efforts, and that reward is…to do the same thing 6 nights a week for the next 6 months, even a year, maybe even longer?

A quick glance at my IBDB page might reveal I’m not an expert on this subject (I have a strict rule about the shows I do in New York City—they must be unpopular, even if they are very good).

Look Ma! I'm a meme!
Look Ma! I’m a meme!

But seriously folks, I do know a little bit about this. I’ve logged over 200 performances as Ravenal in Show Boat, heaven knows how many performances of the title roles in Jekyll & Hyde, and I just passed 100 as El Gallo in The Fantasticks. And I’m still going. And these minor feats aren’t even a blip on the radar to someone like Broadway star Howard McGillin, who totaled more than 10,000 performances as that creepy guy in the basement in The Phantom of the Opera.

Now, if that last paragraph of not-so humblebrag didn’t completely turn you off, stick around and let’s talk about how to keep your performances honest and true to the work, while the mileage keeps climbing.

As actors, we have certain responsibilities. We must stay true to the author’s and the director’s vision. We must keep our bodies and spirits in as good a condition as possible, so that we can access our own abilities. We are responsible to our fellow actors, to give them what they need to be successful as well. But how do we do this, when we’ve been doing the same thing, night after night, week after week, month after month? Ah, we have now arrived at one of my favorite theatrical bits of wisdom, one I couldn’t believe more strongly in if it were my own.

Okay it is my own. Don’t judge me.

sincere

As actors in a play, we are all kids in a sandbox on a playground. We can create whatever we want, build what we need, tear it down and start again. If I don’t like what’s happening in the center of the sandbox, I can go check out a corner for a while, and build something there. Maybe a friend will join me. Maybe everyone will come to this corner and we’ll all play together. Or maybe someone will drift to a different part of the sandbox and the whole process will start again. But there’s something none of us are ever allowed to do.

We can’t go play on the slide. Or the swings, or the merry-go-round. We all play in the same sandbox.

Do you follow me? We’re allowed to use different colors, as long as we’re all painting the same picture together. Some actors are comfortable giving the exact, same performance night after night. And that’s fine. Some actors are more comfortable listening and responding, and letting the performance flow more organically. Neither is wrong, both are viable, we just all should be striving for the same goal. Telling the same story, staying true to the direction and the text.

But what about the boredom? Doesn’t it get incredibly monotonous after a while? If the answer is yes, then maybe it’s time to move on to something else. I would argue that the show is never exactly the same from one night to the next. We are all humans, affected by the events of the day, and those events can (and probably should) have some impact on your performance. Sometimes you make the most amazing discoveries from the oddest of circumstance.

Not long ago in The Fantasticks, my fellow actors and I completely fell apart with laughter during one of the scenes (thankfully the scene is supposed to be funny). I can’t even remember what happened, I just know that we started to laugh and couldn’t get it back under control. The audience had a good time with us, and eventually we all got it together and proceeded with the show. The following scene is a simple, lovely monologue that I get to deliver, and I suppose it’s been fine enough. But this one day, after splitting our sides with laughter and tears rolling down our cheeks, I entered the speech practically exhausted. I was unable to do what I normally did, so I just said the words.

And the speech was never better than that one night, when I just got out of the way, and let the words do the work. The show has a handful of fans who see it quite often, and on this day our most loyal fan was there. We spoke after, and had to acknowledge the um…foolishness that happened on stage. But he offered up, the moments found after that were new, vibrant and alive, and I probably wouldn’t have found them otherwise.

So really, it’s not that hard to maintain a performance for a long period of time. Do your best to stay healthy, get along with all your fellow artists, listen and respond. Even if your performance is “by rote,” as long as you don’t shoehorn your work into the path of someone else’s, it can appear as fresh as opening night.

Now if you’ll excuse me, it’s almost half hour.

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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

Makeup

The Skinny on Skin Care for Actors

Photographer: Alexandra Studio ca. 1955
Photographer: Alexandra Studio ca. 1955

 

Skin is our largest organ, and for actors it’s their largest canvas. Unfortunately the canvas can take a real beating after six-week runs of eight-show weeks, months on tour, audition stress, and countless makeup applications.  So here’s the skinny on how to keep your canvas in tip-top shape.

Science of Skin

First, here’s a little scientific talk to help you understand the inner workings of your body’s coolest organ. Skin is composed of three layers, but the epidermis, the outermost layer, is the only one you pay much attention to. The dermis and subcutaneous tissue give your skin the bounce, texture, elasticity and resilience skin is so well know for. The epidermis, however, is responsible for skin’s water resistance.

Water resistance is a key to healthy skin. The combination of humectants (water molecules) and emollients (oil molecules) create the super-strong barrier that keeps bad stuff out and good stuff in. An imbalance of these two molecules is often the beginning of skin problems.

Too Dry

For many actors, cleansing their skin to remove makeup after each performance, or traveling to varying climates, dry skin becomes a real nuisance. The problem escalates if you’re in a production of Shrek or The Lion King, removing large amounts of grease paint or prosthetics.  Here are some of the first things to consider with your skin care regimen.

Photo Credit: Amy Bobeda
Photo Credit: Amy Bobeda

Proper makeup remover: Every variety of makeup has a remover designed for its chemical makeup. Soap will never remove alcohol-based makeup, because surfactants don’t disturb alcohol. Alcohol won’t remove silicone wig adhesive alone, it has to be combined with a bunch of polycarbon chains. Leave the science of these solutions to the pros, at places like Kryolan  for prosthetic and alcohol-based makeup and Lancome for street makeup. Sure, they can be expensive, but so much cheaper than dealing with cracked skin, dermatitis, or really any irritation. Why risk weakening your body’s largest organ?

Rebalancing moisture:  Moisturizer may not be enough. Many moisturizers are heavier in humectants than emollients, meaning they are putting more water and less oil back in your skin. If you’re using makeup that needs alcohol for removal, you’ll want to focus on replenishing oil just as much as water. Try a classic cold cream like the Ponds your grandma uses , or heavy-duty overnight moisturizer.  If your makeup is removed with an oil-based remover—many of the best street and stage makeup removers contain oils to glom onto the oil in the makeup pulling it away from your face—this is less important, just make sure you’ve picked a moisturizer that is hypoallergenic, and your skin will like whether you’re covering your face in makeup or not.

Too Oily

Oily skin can become a problem for anyone whether they have naturally oily skin or not. The key is don’t remove too much oilSebum, the natural oil of our skin, is good. It protects us from all the foreign elements that want to invade our bodies. Sure, it’s shiny and greasy, but it’s important to work with it, not against it.

Choosing the right makeup: If you have oily skin—sheen around the nose, cheeks, and forehead—don’t use a liquid makeup. Cream, mousse, and liquid makeups are heavier in emollients, allowing the pigment to slide along the face with ease. On oily skin these cosmetic oils ball up with your natural oils, causing makeup to run. Stick to powdered or water-based makeups that dry like Kryolan’s Aquacolor.

Photo Credit: Amy Bobeda
Photo Credit: Amy Bobeda

Keep the oil:  Removing excess oil sounds like the right thing to do, but by removing oil, your skin will only produce more. That’s its job! Instead of stripping the oil with tons of toner, remover, blotting papers, etc., try this: In the morning if you have oil deposits in the center of your face—nose, cheeks, forehead, try massaging the oil out to the rest of your face. You don’t want to lose the oil, you just want to redistribute it.

Irritation

Allergic reaction, over drying, and too much exfoliation are all culprits when it come to irritated skin. Here are some quick tips to keep skin calm onstage and off.

Create a barrier: If your natural barrier isn’t enough, try a barrier cream  under your makeup. This invisible glove will keep your skin’s chemistry balanced, and keep makeup on your face. It’s well worth the extra cost and step.

Identify the cause: When irritation arrises, consider all the causes. Everything your skin is exposed to is a chemical compound, which reacts to other chemical compounds, so usually the problem isn’t just between the makeup and your face. Did you switch laundry detergents? How about daily face wash? Are you over exfoliating? Have you neglected SPF on your day off and have a mild burn? Any and all of these factors can lead to irritation.

Give things a break: On your day off, simplify your routine. Use a gentle cleanser, preferably a cleansing milk (they have fewer drying surfactants). Moisturize with SPF. Don’t poke and prod your face. Don’t tone it, or exfoliate. Just let it try to rebalance its natural homeostasis.

When in doubt, consult a pro. Whether it’s a dermatologist, your go-to theatrical makeup company, or your theater’s makeup supervisor, there’s a good chance someone will have a clue when it comes to keeping your integumentary system in tip-top shape, and you looking your best. Just don’t forget, it’s the only skin you’ll ever be in, so be gentle, it will thank you in the short and the long run.

Casting Director Alison Franck

The National Tour: More Conversations on Casting

Last time around we had an opportunity to hear from Casting Director Bob Kale on the specific challenges of casting a National Tour.  That conversation bled into the much broader topic of auditioning for just about anything, with many more stones to be turned. I reached out to Alison Franck CSA, head of her own casting office (Franck Casting), for another perspective and further conversation on the casting process.

Alison has been casting everything from Broadway, Off-Broadway, Regional Theatre, National Tours, Television, and Film for more than 20 years. She began as an assistant for the legendary casting office Johnson & Liff, where she worked on such modest successes as The Phantom of the Opera, Les Miserables, Cats, and Miss Saigon (insert wry emoticon here). She took her formidable skills to the prestigious Paper Mill Playhouse, where over a span of a decade she cast more than 50 shows, including the Broadway transfer of I’m Not Rappaport starring Judd Hirsch, Anything Goes with Chita Rivera, The Full Monty with Elaine Stritch, and The Importance of Being Earnest with Lynn Redgrave. Her work has been seen on TV in the critical hit Freaks and Geeks, in commercials (as a partner at Liz Lewis Casting), and the children’s TV series Peter Rabbit.

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This series is focused on the National Tour, so we start there. I ask, “What should an actor consider before even auditioning for a tour?”

The main thing is, are they ready to live out of a box, a suitcase. And in my honest opinion, I think women have it tougher than men in this aspect.”

“Do you think it’s harder for women in general to be on a tour?”

It seems to me that guys adapt to tour life easier than girls do, but that’s certainly dependent on the individual. And it’s just my opinion, though I did tour for 2 years when I was still acting.”

“Any advice for people on tour for the first time?”

Go out and explore the area. When I would first get to a town, I would go walking by myself, see what was there, how safe I felt. I would see the country. Then I’d come back and work out, and prepare for the show. I was better about this process on my second tour than I was on my first. I just felt that I should use the tour as a real opportunity to see places I’d never been.”

“Some actors go out on tour, make potentially a substantial amount of money, but come home broke. Were you able to come back from your tours with some savings?”

“I was. I wouldn’t say that I was great with money back then, but I learned quickly. And sometimes you have to be willing to pay for your comfort. Do I need a single room this week? Yes. Yes I do. Sometimes you spend more money than you should, but you need that comfort. I would also say that you need to be aware of what is coming, like an unpaid layoff, which can happen frequently. Don’t let those things catch you by surprise.”

“How often does someone turn down a tour offer?”

“We do a lot of casting in advance, and by nature that results in losing people to other work. So we have to go to our backup files 2, 3, 4 times. Sometimes we need to have more auditions, and occasionally that’s the best thing we can do, get some fresh blood in the room.”

“How do you feel about the current practice of self-taped auditions?”

This is my soapbox moment. You need to know what to do and how to do it. Yes, you can use your iPhone. You shouldn’t do it yourself, however, get a friend to help. Don’t procrastinate, do it when you don’t have a job so you can learn. Take a lot of selfies. Take a class if you need to learn the technology. Find a big, blank space to shoot, don’t do it in front of your messy kitchen. Practice by taking selfies, then videotaping yourself with your phone, to know your best angles and where the best lighting is, then start working with friends, having them shoot you, etc. Our smartphones really are a tool to improve how well we do on tape.”

“For theatre, we want to see a full body shot. For TV and Film, a ¾ shot is normal. And make sure that even your self-taped audition is authentic, that it’s not the fifteenth take and you’re a little too polished.”

“How often do you actually look at websites or reels?”

“A lot. I look at it if I’m not sure who a person is, or what they can do. If you are a singer, have a website with some song clips. If you’re a gymnast, a dancer, same thing. Have a reel with shows you’ve been in, so you can show your work. Reels are important for TV and Film, but I will say you can’t throw commercials on a reel (for rights-related issues). Maybe if it’s a non-union commercial, but you have to be very careful about using them.”

“If you are a writer, and you are interested in creating and producing your own work, then I say go for it. It may not go anywhere, but at least you’ll have some material to show people.”

Casting Director Alison Franck
Casting Director Alison Franck

“What kinds of auditions do you remember most?”

“Auditions that make me laugh or excite me. Also, when people truly make me cry I remember them But I don’t think people should use sad material for everything and it shouldn’t be the starting point, but as a contrast to something that shows humor or joy. Someone just made me cry last week and I was blown away. But she had already wowed me with something legit and fun.”

For more information about Alison, please visit www.franckcasting.com.

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