Taken at the New Place Theatre in Los Angeles when I was doing a play reading there. Pretty cool! It’s great to have stuff like this up on the wall in a theatre so you can feel connected to the great wealth of theatre history that’s come before us.
After getting cast in a benefit concert called “Broadway Beginnings” to raise money for Camp Musart and arts education (a cause very near and dear t my heart!), I got right to work rehearsing my appointed song– ”The Worst Pies in London,” from Sweeney Todd.
My instructions have been to interpret the song as close to the original broadway recording as possible. Now, I love Angela Landsbury (she is in my Baller Hall of Fame), but this direction is notable to me because it illustrates the difference between being an imitator and being an artist. Musical theatre often toes this line which has lead to me having more of a love/hate relationship with it rather than just the love relationship I had before.
Musical theatre was IT as far as the school theatre back in junior high/high school. The annual musicals were more important– they cost more money, they made more money, and when it came to casting the fact that I could sing well made up for the fact that I didn’t look like a model. They brought in more attendance and brought us more small town glory. For many people who later pursue acting, popular musical theatre is an important starting place, and is often very close to the heart.
For me, it was always a passion, but when I graduated from college and thrust myself into the real world, I realized that I would never be happy doing national tours or regional shows of well known musicals for the rest of my life. Certainly, living the musical live on stage, singing a song when you’re really feeling it… there’s nothing like that. BUT, there’s a certain expectation in musical theatre that you’re going to do it just like it’s been done before. If you’re going to play Sandy in Grease, if you’re going to play Adelaide in Guys and Dolls, if you’re going to play Eliza in My Fair Lady– the audience is going to expect to see that person act a certain way, to hear the songs sung a certain way, etc. People buy tickets and come to the show because they want to see something familiar and something that they know they already like. To make changes to the essence of that character would disturb the vibe of the show that brought them there in the first place.
For nostalgia’s sake, I get it. It can be great to let music take you back in time and to hear songs you know so well– classics are classics for a reason, and that’s certainly why most theatre companies do them with some regularity and why it’s not difficult to get people to see them.
However, as an artist and a creative person, I don’t feel that’s enough for me. As is written about in Seth Godin’s book, Linchpin, people who replicate art are not artists. The originator of the art is the artist. Harsh, maybe, but it goes back to the whole Plato’s The Republic and the chair thing (what is the TRUE chair, the drawing of a chair is merely an imitation of an actual chair, etc, etc). The further away you get from the real source of creation, the less one can consider it art.
Now don’t get me wrong– I love classic musicals, many of them are extremely special to me and make me super emotional, and I’d love to keep doing them from time to time. I LOVE to support arts education, and am happy to be a part of a show that focuses on that.
I also hope that I can spend most of my acting career being a creator, sharing new stories with people, and collaborating on brand new projects where one can play outside the confines of the past.
I was invited to an audition last month for a what I thought was a new theatre company. I figured I would give it a shot and at least see what they were up too.
When I got to the audition site, it ended up being a completely different company, one with a very negative reputation in the LA theatre community. I was shocked. What a bold-faced lie to tell the actors auditioning! Did they expect us not to notice when we got to the audition and it was someone else entirely?
The person leading the auditions went on to tell us that instead of just believing what we may have read about the company online, supposedly written by “bitter actors who can’t get any acting work,” we should just see for ourselves (of course, after we are cast in a show with him). The fact that he even felt the need to say that to us was very telling.
There are SOOOO many people out here whose business goals are to prey on the unknowing, hopeful, naive, I’ll-do-anything-for-my-career actors who come out to LA. There is a lot of money to be made off of actors in this town, partly because there are so many of us, and partly because we can be so desperate to get exposure, credits, meet people, etc.
I left the audition post-”why we aren’t so bad” speech and pre-”instead of a monologue or reading from sides, your audition is to walk around the stage in the dark and act like vampires.” I knew from lots of friends and from resources at The Actors Network that these people were super sketchy and so I took off. However, it was a tough decision in the moment when I was already there at the theatre and had spent money on gas and had given them a headshot and resume. Plus, I know I generally shouldn’t say no to opportunities since they are so hard to come by.
Where should the line be between saying yes or no to an acting opportunity?
“Whatever hidden, personal motives led you to the theatre now that you have entered that profession you must find there a sense which goes beyond your proper person and fixes you socially in the sight of others… If the fact of being an actor means all that to you, then a new theatre will be born.”
I’ve been thinking a lot about promotion and persuasion recently and I’m convinced that the reason the arts are losing audiences is that we don’t understand the difference.
The culture of arts marketing is one of promotion, of course. Always has been. And this was just fine back when demand was high, but the fact that audiences are in steady decline suggest that we need to be more persuasive, and we don’t seem to know what that means.
I went to a typing class at The Actors Network yesterday (no, not like computer typing we had in elementary school where you’re not supposed to look at the keyboard and you do anyway– typing as in casting for actors/what type of characters can I pull off). As a group, we circled words from lists of adjectives, personality types, occupations, etc that fit each actor based on their look and how they introduced themselves. I would love to share some of the data I received as I think it speaks to how widely varied people’s perceptions can be.
This is out of a group of 18 people, and is just based on me sitting in a chair:
Despite the fact that 10 people said I looked wholesome, and 4 people thought I could play a virgin, 2 people thought I could play a slut and another 2, a prostitute. I don’t know if that’s better or worse than stripper, which no one marked me down for.
2 people said I could play a mom (I almost threw up when I read that), yet 13 people prefer me as a babysitter.
11 people said I looked sweet, and 10 said kind, but 5 people said I looked like a bitch (I get that a lot, actually…).
No one thought I looked like a biker or criminal, but 2 people did say I looked like a homewrecker.
4 people thought I looked like I could play an intellectual while another 4 people thought I should play an airhead.
Unfortunately no one thought I looked like I could pull off someone from the FBI or CIA, but 4 people thought I could play a princess, and that is all I need in life.
For several months I have been involved in the “Puttytribe,” an online resource and community for “scanners,” or people who have multiple life interests they want to pursue and can’t settle on just one path. What may sound like a nerdy online group has been a godsend for me, being a scanner/multipod myself, it’s so great to have resources, advice, and support from like-minded people.
Last Sunday I met up with Karean, a fellow Socal constituent of the Puttytribe. We had a great lunch at Simplethings on 3rd street (AMAZING pulled chicken sandwiches and a wonderful assortment of pies– one of my favorite lunch places in this area) and talked about how difficult it is when you like to do so many things. I mean, I’ve got four different day jobs, an acting career, a play-reading group, a relationship, this blog I’m starting, and interests in food, ballet, singing, and international education that I want to be spending more time on. I don’t have enough time in the day to jam all these things together! Someday (soon!) I’m going to figure out how to take my four day jobs out of the equation so I can focus on all the other things.
Karean told me about her wonderfully long list of past jobs and how she finally ended up in real estate after working in the restaurant industry for a long time. (Contact her if you’re thinking about purchasing a home!) It made me feel better about having had so many different, random jobs in the past. She wants to get more into writing and I hope I can help hold her accountable for that! Karean, if you ever write a play we’ll do it at Theatre Jams!
I find it interesting that a common factor in multipotentialite/scanner personalities is the desire to help others through their work and being in some way artistically inclined. From what I’ve observed so far, everyone in the group has those qualities and want to incorporate those aspects into their life’s work. I wonder what that means about us as personality types. I would love to hear others’ thoughts on that.
Seeing that she and I were the only ones out of a group of about ten people who showed interest in this lunch, we also discussed the difficulty of getting people to show up to things, especially in Southern California. I’ve always had such trouble getting people to commit to attending performances, events, birthday parties, anything. It’s exhausting, and it gets very hard not to take anything personally, not to mention the difficulty of creating momentum for my audience-reliant artistic endeavors. There are so many excuses… It’ll be too hard to find parking, Traffic will be really bad, I won’t know anyone there, It might be stupid, I’d rather stay and finish this episode of SVU, etc. I have to admit that I do fall victim to those negative voices, myself, and I wish I could find a magical marketing trick to activate people. I’m always asking people what would get them to go see a play, or what would get them to come to Theatre Jams (as delicious as it is, my free food is apparently not enough!).
Karean says that you need to decide for yourself to get those negative voices to go away, because sometimes when you say yes to an opportunity, you end up getting something amazing out of it. No matter how many negative voices there are, I know if I can make myself say “yes” to things more often, I’ll have the chance of getting to meet great people like Karean and working my way towards finding that ideal scanner lifestyle.
What makes you want to get off your couch?