Monday, January 30, 2006

Latest Audition

Earlier tonight I auditioned for Anything Goes at the Old Opera House. I was comfortable for the most part, given that I have worked with both the director, and the musical director previously. (Though I am still somewhat anxious about musical auditions. More on that in a moment.)

The audition was tripartite in nature. (That is the first time I have found a use for that word since high school, so bear with me.) The audition consisted of reading, then singing, and finally, learning a dance out on the stage. Allow me to elaborate on each of these.

I did not get a chance to read the script before I auditioned today. There were not enough copies. I prefer to read a whole script before I audition for a show I have never seen. However, thanks to some friends of mine, I learned a decent amount about the characters and plot of the show in the last week. With that knowledge in mind, I went in tonight, and read.

Honestly, I feel it was one of my better cold readings. I admit, I do not know if it really counts as a cold read if one knows the gist of the piece. However, as per Ty's definition of cold, cold it was. Usually I do not like cold readings. Yet I digress.

I mentioned, based on friend's advice, that my preferred part would be Moonface Martin. I did get to read some of his lines tonight. From what little I pieced together, he sounds like he would be fun to play. I also read a bit for one Evelyn, a British bore. I did my best Prince Charles impression, to give the appearance of stodginess. That was fun to do, whether or not I get cast.

A little bit later, the singing part of the audition. I chose "Master of the House" after all, despite getting the materials together to learn Razzle-Dazzle a few weeks ago. In the end, I found that the music I had was for the movie version, and the CD I had was the Original Broadway cast. Seeing as how I cannot read music, I was not sure what I might hear with the accompaniment. So I opted for the tried and true. Even then, I was a bit off. I do not know what it was. My voice was fine, but I think I screwed up the tempo in this one section. Once again I was not 100% sure what the music would be sounding like. This was true despite the fact I have used this same sheet music before. Yet all and all, I think I did well.

The whole thing underscored something my friend
Gaby told me last week. That I need to hurry up and learn sheet music, as it will make my life so much easier. No argument here. Yet I am in musicals so infrequently, I never think of it until a week or two before auditions. But I am resolved, (and Gaby if you are reading, take heed) to learn to more quickly read sheet music. If only to get an idea for what I would hear from a piano when auditioning.

Then, came the dance part. The only thing I can really say is this; for my own sake I am glad the choreographer stated up front that she was not looking for perfection, but rather "teachability". I would prefer to leave it at that.

So there you have it. I will know in a week or two if I am in the show. Here's hoping.

Saturday, January 28, 2006

Silence Really Should Be Golden

Projection is crucial in live theatre.

To most people, projection refers to vocal projection, which is of course vital in its own right. But let us not forget the other type of projection; visual projection.

The definition of vocal projection I would hope would be obvious. By visual projection, I mean those non-verbal things which also must be projected into the "cheap seats" in order for a performance to be whole. A stance, a gesticulation, a type of walk across the stage, etc. All of these things, and more, constitute visual projection, and every actor on stage must make adequate use of such techniques in order to broadcast the emotions and thoughts of their characters to the entire house.

A person can be as loud and clear when speaking as the rooster at sunrise, but it will not be genuine if accompanied by physical stiffness and facial subtleties that cannot be detected by anyone sitting behind the first 3 rows. Honing in on better ways to visually project a performance is time well spent for the actor.To that end I sometimes watch and study the old silent films.

I would advise any actor to rent some of these seemingly ancient classics. Study the way the silent performers, (particularly Chaplin, Barrymore, and Pickford) conveyed, by necessity, impressive ranges of thought without the aid of speaking. With just the turn of a head and placement of the hands, watch people fall in love, become angry, be drunk, or prepare for attack. It is all there in the silent films, and nearly all of it is quite theatrical. (Not surprising given that most film stars of the day were live theatre transplants.)

As with anything, a balance must be struck. Silent movie stars, including the ones mentioned above, turned in many performances that by today's live theatre standards would be over the top and melodramatic. As often as not, the earliest films bordered on a sort of pantomime. Therefore, to stand and move on stage precisely as if one were starring in a silent film would be folly, not to mention totally false. Still, the world of silent movies is a gold mine filled with many example of flawless visual projection technique. A stage actor could do much worse than to emulate early 20th century cinema stars.

I encourage every actor to give at least one silent movie a try. They are still quite widely available in video stores. Plus, they are usually cheap to rent. You may be surprised at what you learn by watching the pre-talkie masterpieces of the motion picture world.

Sunday, January 22, 2006

One Down and (Maybe) One to Go

I received an email confirmation that I have been accepted to perform at the Talent Show at the Apollo Civic Theatre. The show will be in the third week of February, with two rehearsals prior to that. That should be fun. My slight remaining chest cold should be totally wiped out by then.

I now have about one week to make my next theatre based decision. I have to decide if I am going to try out for the musical Anything Goes at the Old Opera House.

There are no strong arguments against trying out I suppose. It is just a matter of deciding if I would like the show enough to do all the work a musical requires. I have never seen or read this show, and I am not sure I will be able to obtain a copy of the script before auditions would take place. (I like to read a whole script before trying out for a show.)

I admit that I hesitate to get back into a musical now. I cannot read sheet music, I have to do everything by ear when I learn songs. This can slow the process down. Still, it has been about one year since I appeared in a musical. Though musicals are not my main focus in the theatre, I made an agreement with myself that I would try to do at least one musical per year, just to keep my skills in the area sharp. I have heard of this musical before hand, which is a plus. It is sure to have pretty decent crowds, since it is very well known. Not to mention the fact that other than the one night talent show, I have nothing else going on at this time of the year. I would say I am 70% certain that I will go ahead and try out for it.

I am not at all sure, however, what my audition song will be. Since usually I am only in one musical per year, I have used the same audition song for all of them since college. ("Master of the House" from Les Miserables). I like the song, and can do 16 bars of it just fine. Yet I have worked with both this director and this musical director before. I thought it would be nice for them to see me doing something else. Buying sheet music can be expensive, however.

Enter a friend of mine, who already owns the sheet music to the musical Chicago. She told me there are a few songs in there I would be quite good at. (At least for 16 bars.) So for the sake of some variety, I am checking into those.

Truth be told, I have never been a fan of that show. I do not like most of the songs, and I thought the movie was terrible. My friend thought that the songs in question are closer to the type of music in Anything Goes than my usual audition song is. So I will start listening to the CD sometime today. I think I can stomach at least 16 bars of Chicago.

That is, if I choose to try out. I will keep everyone posted.

Saturday, January 21, 2006

Accentuate the Positive

When I was in the musical Scrooge, a friend of a cast mate came to see the show. I did not get a chance to meet said person, but the cast mate informed me that her friend believed wholeheartedly that I was in fact, British. (Cockney, to be more precise. I know that true Cockneys would want to make sure I pointed that out.)

To be perfectly fair, this person was not British herself, and may have had very little exposure to actual Cockneys. That notwithstanding, my accent was something I worked very hard on for that show. The outcome was pleasing to me. Being mistaken for a British person by an audience member was still high praise to me.

My method to bring the proper Cockney accent to life started early on in the production. My approach started out quite scientifically. It involved going to websites and reading linguistics analysis articles. Such delightful readings included pronunciation key spellings of common words. Charming expressions such as "asphyxiated glottal grunt" were used to learn this dumb Yankee how to speak all British-like.

About two weeks into that adventure, I packed it in, and adopted a different method. I watched a few hours of British sit-comes on public television in the evenings before rehearsal.

Scoff if you will. Be it known, however, that several of the characters in said programs had just the perfect accent I wanted for my character. So I set out to listen, very intently not only to what they said, but how they said it. I would set out, at first to imitate an repeat the actors on the show. When I was satisfied with that, I tweaked the voice I was using to my own satisfaction, and made it unique unto myself. Throw in the lines written in the Scrooge script, and presto. English guy. A reasonably convincing English guy at that.

I am sure the anthropological and geographical studies undertaken by the linguistics papers that I read are of extreme value. Yet for me, an accent and a language is more than where one places the tongue. The nuances of a Cockney accent (or any accent) transcend the shape of one's lips when one speaks. Language is a story in and of its self. To listen to the characters on those programs presented the accent in its natural habitat. Emotions, spirit, and humanity were all behind the accents there on the television shows, and hence presented a far more useful, not to mention natural exposure to the way one is to speak with an accent.

Accents and languages have poetry, and rhythm and humanity. Three things, I have to say, were totally lacking in my explorations into the "asphyxiated glottal grunt."

Being scholarly about it has it's place. For my money though, nothing beats listening. Just, listening.

Monday, January 16, 2006

The Golden Globes

I watched a little bit of the Golden Globe Awards tonight. I had it off and on throughout the evening. I am usually not much into awards shows like that. Yet I am glad that Joaquin Phoenix, Reese Witherspoon and Walk the Line all won awards in their respective categories.

Despite it still being a bit overblown and silly, there is one thing about the Golden Globes that I am impressed if not amazed by. In three hours, (very nearly to the minute) they manage to do what the Oscars generally cannot get done in more than 4 and a half hours most years. And, the Globes do it for both television AND movies!

I realize that the televised Academy Awards ceremony includes many categories that the Globes omit. Yet I still feel safe in declaring that usually the Globes are a more upbeat and efficiently presented affair than the Oscars are. If Oscar would move about half of its awards into the untelevised Science and Technical Awards night, where they belong, and lost a lot of the uber-hokey song and dance tribute type stuff, it would be just as watchable as the Globes are.

But who am I, right?

Saturday, January 14, 2006

"All Shook Up", Yet Not

No advice article this evening, my lovelies. It will return, as always next week.

Instead, allow me to tell you that a few hours ago I auditioned for the
Apollo Civic Theatre's annual talent show extravaganza. My performance piece was an old, but nonetheless fun rock and roll standby; "All Shook Up". ( simply performed it. I was not impersonating Elvis himself.)

The audition went quite well. There was only the slightest hint of my cold present. I could not hold one particular note as long as I wanted. Other than that, no signs of it.

I was told I had a good stage presence, and the two folks in charge seemed to enjoy my performance. It was all a very relaxed, easy going audition. No stuck-up types were anywhere to be seen. Add this to the fact that I did a song I have been very familiar with for a long time. The result, a fun audition where I was not the least bit nerve wracked.

There were not many other people there auditioning when I was there. I did come near the beginning of the session though. There is also another night of auditions. This coming Monday. They will then have call backs on Tuesday or Wednesday. They are not yet certain.

All and all, not bad for a guy who could not hold a note without hacking himself to death 5 days ago.

Friday, January 13, 2006

Health Status

Well, I got one suggestion for a remedy. Thank you, Playmaker.

I did not see the stuff Playmaker was referring to though. However, I did try a few other things. I also made an effort to rest a bit more. As a result, it would seem my singing voice is back to about 90% of normal range. That should be more than adequate for this particular audition for this particular venue.

My lung capacity is diminished at the moment. Like I said, however, it should be fine for this audition tomorrow. I will not be attempting opera or anything of that nature.

I have been going over the background music CD today, and practicing some with it.

People have said I should take professional voice lessons. Not because I sound bad. On the contrary, because I sound quite good, according to most. They feel that the lessons would only improve my voice. Another advantage some have mentioned, would be knowing how to care for my voice, when I got sick, and at all times.

Those points are valid, but I wonder if the time and expense of lessons would be worth it to me. I am so infrequently in musicals. Just another thing to ponder as I wait for the next show to come along.

One thing at a time, though. Tomorrow night, audition for the talent show at the Apollo Civic Theatre. I will blog about it after the fact.

Tuesday, January 10, 2006

Calling All Cures!

I mentioned in a previous post that I was pondering the notion of auditioning for a local talent show at the Apollo Civic Theatre, in Martinsburg, West Virginia. Since then, I had in fact decided to try out for it, with a simple singing number. Nothing fancy, just something to have a little fun with.

Problem is, for the last week or so I have been blessed with a cold. The try-outs are four days away. My attempts earlier to sing my number resulted not only in a seriously decreased range, but a bout of coughing. Not to mention the inconvenience of a slightly running nose.

I am not in misery. I just have mild to moderate chest congestion, (leading to cough when singing is attempted for too long.) I also have head congestion which of course alters my voice somewhat.

So, dear readers, fellow actors and singers, or anyone else, the race is on. My request from any of you; cures that you have had success with, in a rather short time frame, for similar symptoms you may have had.

Currently I have Airborne, Vick's Vapo-Rub (which I detest), and some cheap over the counter drug store day time cold remedy.

I am open to suggestions for over the counter medicines, as well as home remedies. Nothing will sound too weird too me. That does not mean I will do it, but I am willing to entertain suggestions at this time.

The performance would be a whole month or so after the try-outs, so I may just need a stop-gap measure for Saturday.

If nothing works, this is not a huge blow to my career or anything. I was just looking forward to it. It was to be something different.

Thanks everyone.

Saturday, January 07, 2006

We're Sorry...Your Performance Has Been Disconnected

The very first assignment I was given in my very first acting class was to create a phone conversation. We were to write a script for both sides of the conversation. We would memorize our own script, and, using a prop phone, perform it for the rest of the class. All that week I watched people on the phone in real life. I made specific efforts to include those nuances I had observed into my peformance. The result? I got good marks.

More than one of my fellow students missed said nuances, however. Perhaps this is why our acting professor chose this as our very first assignment.

Indeed, telephone conversations wherein the other party is not heard on stage seem to be a problem not only for students, but also to more experienced actors.

The most frequent transgression seems to be cutting off the "other party" entirely too quickly. A caller on the other end is able to magically present their name, pleasantries, and the purpose of their call within 3 seconds. (Judging by many performances.) Often, a whole phone conversation on stage flies by at lightning speed. I think the reason this happens is very clear; people fear silence on stage.

It is a very natural tendency, particularly with newer actors, to want to fill every moment with some sort of noise. It is an understandable, but deadly temptation. Give your imaginary caller time to get through what he has to say. If it helps, write out a script for what they are most likely saying on the other end, and give them time to say it. Silence with a purpose is still acting. Listening on the phone is one such appropriate time for silence.

That is not to say that during said silence, you should do nothing. Your performance continues. Despite this, almost as frequent as the "cutting off" problem is "Phone Phreeze".

What is "Phone Phreeze"? It is my cutsey term for a very real obstacle faced by many actors. Frequently when using a phone on stage the actor will stand or sit, perfectly still. The eyes are transfixed either on some unchanging point on the set, or even worse, the back of the house. While some scripts may require such a reaction, in general this is not how people behave on the telephone.

Pay attention to yourself or someone else the next time you take a phone call. Do you stand at attention and lock up? Or do you look around, laugh, nod, occasionally interrupt the other person by mistake, fiddle with something on a nearby table, and the like? My guess is the latter. Therefore unless there is a plot driven reason to do none of those things, remember to incorporate at least some of them into your stage phone conversation.

With a little attention and extra effort, there is no need to phone it in with phones.

Thursday, January 05, 2006

Change of Careers??

Well, according to this test that determines what sort of theatre person you are, I belong in a choir. That's right, a choir.

I am not in a choir, nor have I been in a real choir. I do I have any plans on ever joining one.

To make things even more interesting, "actor" came in fifth place out of ten in regards to what theatre capacity most suited me. Fifth.

Take the test yourself. See if you end up where you belong.

I came to know of this test from reading MusicalTheatreAudition's blog.

Sunday, January 01, 2006

Minimalist vs. Minimal

Happy New Year to everyone who reads this blog! I know you may be wondering why I am blogging less than two hours into a new year as opposed to being at some wild party. The short answer is; there were no parties in this area to go to. Another reason is, I am an actor. Theatre stuff is what I spend a lot of time thinking about. When I have a good idea for an entry, I post one. Normally I would have waited until a day or so passed, but this one was sort of time sensitive.

I love it when a comment someone makes on the blog inspires a whole new subject for me to blog about which I might not otherwise have thought to address! This is what happened not long ago, when I read a fresh comment left by my friend, Erin, under the Two From Galilee post I made.

In that post, I mentioned that the set was "minimalist". By that I meant the design was simple and unpretentious. Yet it was not until Erin posted her comment that I realized I had been quite unclear in what I meant. (Her parents did much of the building of the set for the production.)

Indeed, I reread my own post and realized how vague I had been. I gave the impression that I was unimpressed by the set, and hence saw "minimal" value to it. That is sort of how it sounds, honestly, particularly given the fact that right afterwards, I mentioned the meticulous care taken with the costumes. Nothing could be further from the truth. It was quite simply, bad writing on my part, which I regret.

The fact is I have always enjoyed both seeing and appearing in plays with minimalist sets. They represent that perfect blend of functionality, and unobtrusiveness. It is by no means easy to create a minimalist set that strikes such a balance. If you are not careful you can end up with one of two things; a play with virtually no set, or some goofy avant-garde silliness that distracts from the show. When designed and built well, however, minimalist sets give a Shakespearean quality to a production. For my tastes, less very often is more, but the "less" by no means refers to the amount of work or creativity involved.

I have had the fortune of performing on many minimalist sets designed and/or built by various talented people, including Erin's parents. I hope to do so again. Two From Galilee was just one example of that type of set working well with the action of the play.

So this post was two fold. I wanted to clarify my stance on the Two From Galilee set. I also wanted to mention my overall enjoyment of the minimalist set as a style. If anyone reading this shares a love for such sets, or has a particular set of that type they were fond of, feel free to post some comments about it. I'd be curious to read them.

Of course, the big, complex and detail-oriented sets can also be wonderful works of art. As an actor as well as an audience member, I sometimes enjoy just being near such elaborate sets. But that is another post.

Sets. Just another example of how many endless possibilities there are in pursuit of the goals of a production. Another reason to love theatre.