Friday, April 29, 2011

Guild Card Secrets

You know those little ads on the side of the screen when you're on facebook? You know how they're usually to meet Jewish singles or to turn yourself into a baby? Well, this one popped up and I had to take a gander. I can't tell if this is a totally sketchy scam or if it is a legitimate way into SAG:

Basically, this guy claims to have found a loophole in getting into the Screen Actors Guild through a contract by becoming a SAG New Media Signatory Producer for a small project of your own. I was a little wary of the "have my DVD for just the cost of shipping" idea, but my Spideysense tells me he's an honest guy trying to help actors into the union.

Say this loophole really is a way into SAG. Do we use it? It's a total pain to get into the union, but I almost feel like I would be cheating if I got in as a "signatory producer" (whatever that means) and used my membership as an actor. Then there is always the question of when is the right time to get into a union, which involves evaluating whether or not you no longer can or want to work on non-union projects, if you can pay the membership dues, etc. If an actor has come up against a wall where they aren't getting work outside of a union and can't seem to get into a union, I say this might be worth a shot. And it gives you a reason to produce some of your own work.

I'm more of a theatre kid and I'm not sure how the film kids roll when it comes to getting into the union, but what do you think? Sketchy? Worth a try? Both? Check it out for yourselves and tell me what you think!

Monday, April 25, 2011

Dropping Like Flies?

As a young theatre artist, my blood pressure rises every time I read about the financial crises that are causing theatres on both coasts to send out SOS calls. After reading in American Theatre that Actor's Express in Atlanta would need "$200,000 by the end of July to stay afloat," I had to consider it against the travel expenses to audition for their internship program. In the end, travel expenses won. (Read their distress call here.) Just now, I read in the NYT that the Intiman Theater in Seattle (whose troubles were also highlighted in AT) has canceled the rest of their season as well as the jobs of the staff. I even got an email a few months ago from the Shakespeare Theatre of New Jersey, where I was an apprentice last summer, that they had not met their fund raising goal and were looking for donations.

While New York theatres seem to be holding on okay, (with Spider-man: Turn Off the Dark bringing in well over a million every week without having even opened yet) I think that regional theatre work is essential to our community, especially to those of us who are just joining. Not only does it give us newbies a place to start without trying to jump into the deep end that is the Big Apple, it also provides an outlet for regional voices that may one day make it to the big city.

I don't think that the floundering of two theatres means the death of the regional circuit. However, with government funding for the arts dwindling and possible donors and patrons feeling pinched for money due to the still-recovering economy, thinking about it makes me a little queasy. It makes me feel like it's not quite as strange as I once thought when my friends discuss survival plans for the zombie apocalypse.

Okay, the zombie apocalypse is silly, but how do we approach this possible conundrum in a way that will benefit us as artists, both individually and collectively? I'm all about donating time and work to the betterment of a theatre (I was notorious for devoting myself to a zillion projects at once in college), but at this point we all know:

Can we promote our favorite companies in a way that will convince audiences, donors, and sponsors that theatre is a worthwhile place for the money that they are clutching to during this economic struggle? Maybe there is more to be mined from the ever-expanding world of social networking and the iPad, since technology is something people are unafraid of spending time and money on. Or perhaps it's time to stop waiting for patrons to come to us and take theatre to them, by which I mean focusing on even smaller communities than regional theatres. Each community has a story that could potentially be told on stage. AT even had an article on a puppet theatre that did shows in people's backyard. Is it possible that traditional ways of doing theatre have become old hat to the point that it's difficult to fund anymore? Is there any one change in theatre that will bring audiences back and define the newest generation of artists? Just some food for thought.

On the other hand, I could be freaking out too much and every generation of artists coming into this crazy world have been faced with one problem or another. Either way, from what I've seen of my colleagues, I think we'll come up with something.

Monday, April 11, 2011

Post-Graduation Productivity: A "Brief" Summer/Life Reading List

After the 2010 Savannah Film Festival, my professor and mentor Sharon Ott spoke to us about the incredible people we had been given the chance to meet, to listen to, to discuss our craft with such as James Cromwell, Sir Ian McKellen, and Liam Neeson. There was a lot to talk about. But one of the points that came up was that these people who we watch, love, and follow on Twitter, are not only extremely intelligent, they are also well-read. Very well-read. I mean seriously well-read. And even though I was almost done with my BFA, I hadn't had a lick of time to read anything other than what was assigned. It made me feel like I had fallen behind in the race somehow. But that's what that weird in-betweeny time when you're living in your parents' house is for. Here's what I've collected so far as must-reads for actors.

  • American Theatre: This is a magazine by the Theatre Communications Group and you should have a subscription by the time you leave college or shortly after (as was the case with me). If 90 or so pages on theatre isn't enough incentive, how about $20 for 10 issues with a student ID? That's what I thought. You just fax/scan/snail mail a copy of your ID to them for your discount, so hold on to that handy little card, even after you graduate.
  • The New York Times: The go-to for current information on theatre and what tragedy has struck Spider-man: Turn Off the Dark this week. And we should also keep up with what's going on in the world outside of our dark black-boxes and prosceniums, which is a made little easier by their "Week In Review." And the online articles are free! Wait a second. NYT is trying to start charging for an online subscription once the reader has viewed more than 20 articles. Apparently the rules are very complicated, and have been sorted out a little bit by the folks over at LearnVest here. The word on the street is that the Times isn't doing a very good job of keeping track of who reads what and it doesn't take much to get around it. Say, deleting some cookies maybe? I'll keep working on it if you will.
  • Anything and Everything: This is a given. I have been collecting a ton of plays for a long time, since my dad volunteers at the county library by sorting through donated books to sell, and can take home anything he sees worth keeping. Next up for me is Our Town (I've never read it--shame on me.). I'm also occasionally ordering plays that are recommended to me (such as the last one I read and loved: Almost, Maine by John Cariani) or that are by playwrights that I like (Passion Play by Sarah Ruhl is sitting on my wish list). Looking to order? Try:
    • The TCG Bookstore
    • Dramatists Play Service
    • The Drama Book Shop in New York City. This place is fantastic to go to if you live in the city. If not, they do orders too!
    • Amazon, where you can receive it in the same box as incense, clothes, and EasyMac.
    • You should also try to read criticism and reviews of plays. You may be able to get these through scholastic search engines such as LexisNexis or JSTOR (I can still get to my school's library account for these). Or you can try GoogleScholar.
    • If you don't have a copy of the Complete Works of William Shakespeare, you should start saving now. I have always been steered toward the Riverside as the "actor's edition", but the Shakespeare Theatre of New Jersey likes the Arden.
    • If you're looking for a collection of pretty standard plays, I have kept my copy of The Compact Bedford Introduction to Drama. There is also a not-so-compact edition. It's a textbook, and expensive, but it includes great background information and articles on each of the plays.
Books On Theatre And Acting:
Also a given. Here are the ones that I return to over and over:
  • Speaking Shakespeare by Patsy Rodenburg
  • Actions: The Actors' Thesaurus by Marina Caldarone and Maggie Lloyd-Williams
  • How To Be A Working Actor by Mari Lyn Henry and Lynne Rogers
  • Actors on Acting edited by Toby Cole and Helen Krich Chinoy
  • How To Take Care of Your Voice by Joanna Cazden 
  • The Stanislavski System by Sonia Moore
  • A Practical Handbook For The Actor by Bruder, Cohn, Olnek, Pollack, Previto, Zigler
  • Audition by Michael Shurtleff
  • Respect For Acting by Uta Hagen
  • And a couple that are more about being an artist in general:
    • The Courage to Create by Rollo May
    • The Inner Voice by Renee Flemming
Some titles that are in line for me to read:
  • Will In The World by Stephen Greenblatt
  • Emotion On Demand: An Actor's Workbook by Michael Woolson
  • My Life In Art by Konstantin Stanislavski
Books In General:
Mark Twain once said "A classic is something that everybody wants to have read, but nobody wants to read." True, but too bad. We try to portray life. Kind of hard if all we know is acting, since most people aren't crazy enough to devote their lives to it. Reading everything possible gives us a broader knowledge of "life" and can be handy in use of references in rehearsal--"Think soandso from suchandsuch a book." Contemporary novels can be great sources of audition material, too. I've pulled from Chocolat by Joanne Harris and Angus, Thongs, and Full-Frontal Snogging by Louise Rennison.

I'm not about to be that guy that gives you a list of the greatest literature ever. Google "100 Greatest Books" and see what happens. In the meantime, I just finished The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo by Stieg Larsson, which I highly recommend. Looking at Foucault’s Pendulum by Umberto Eco next.

What are you guys reading? What books and plays do you love? Did I miss anything? Comment!

Monday, April 4, 2011

Audition Journal #7: Ensemble Stage Company

Date: April 2, 2011, 2:00 pm
Auditioned For: Gary Lee Smith
Pieces: Eurydice from Eurydice by Sarah Ruhl
Bess from Hunting and Gathering by Brooke Berman
Attire: Dark khaki trousers
Dark purple long-sleeved shirt
Gray sweater
White scarf
Gray oxford heels

I made the wise decision a couple days before the audition to double-check what the requirements were. And surprise! Two one-minute monologues. Not just two monologues. There was a flurry of scripts as I tore through my bookshelf to finally decide on Eurydice and a different piece from the one I had been using out of Hunting and Gathering to meet the time limit. In the long run, I think the new Bess is also a better piece for auditioning. Then began some serious memorizing. I was not really sure how things would go down since my preparation time was shortened. Character work was minimal or else based on what I had already done for Bess. But I went ahead, remembering what I once said concerning my Chautauqua Theatre audition: I don't like to say "unprepared." I like to say "fresh."

I was actually really looking forward to this audition. I had gone to a play reading with some of the folks from Ensemble Stage, and really enjoyed the company of theatre people (having been out of school since November), and theirs in particular. The drive to Blowing Rock was met with snow flurries (in April, mind you) and I was greeted at the theatre by the lovely people I met several weeks ago at the reading. I was scheduled for 2:00 and had arrived early, giving myself time to revisit my warm-up and my monologues and giving them time to take a break. Then I slipped in the theatre, greeted Gary, and hopped up on stage for my pieces.

The monologues were, well, a little "fresh" and I just about lost Bess right at the beginning of hers, but finished up for the most part unscathed. One thing I was pleased with was that I felt like I was speaking to the back of the house, even though it was a small theatre. Gary sent me out to look over a side from a play they are considering for their summer season called Going to See the Elephant while another guy auditioned. He gave me some insight to the character, Etta, and described her in polite terms as being slightly "touched" due to her kidnapping by Cheyenne. Playing cray-cray in the audition room. A little intimidating, but I gave it a good shot, as well as the Cheyenne words in the side. ("Tze?" Really?)

Before I got to give the side my first go, Gary marched up on stage with me and promptly mussed my hair as much as possible. Clearly, the crazier the better. And all the more reason to hang out with these people. Once he went back to his seat, I gave it a go. He gave me the note to be even more detached from the event I was talking about, and I think I took the direction well. I actually had a few moments where the character took me by surprise. But then it was over and thank-yous were said and the side was returned and it was back through the snow to snuggle with my kitty and find another project. So that I can stop thinking about the billion auditions I haven't heard back from. (okay, six. Chautauqua sent me a very nice rejection email. Wompwomp.)

As we march into spring, I'm keeping my fingers crossed to be contacted by at least one company with good news. Until then, I'm staying busy baby-sitting a fabulous two year old, doing some yoga, and reading the Girl With The Dragon Tattoo. Do you guys know what you're doing this summer? Post it in a comment!