Tuesday, June 4, 2013

A Case of Nerves?

As  a prologue to this entry -- I'm just going to say I know it's been well over a year since I last wrote. I don't have an excuse (or I have several and none of them are really all that good). I've given up making promises and resolutions about continuing to write. If it happens it happens. There are people to see, shows to be called and adventures to have and sometimes I get so wrapped up in all of that stuff that I forget to write.

Now that that is out of the way...here is the real inspiration for writing today.

I'm standing in a booth today, in the middle of a tech run and all of sudden two feelings wash over me. One -- How did I get to this point? and Two -- Do I really know what I'm doing? And then to add insult to injury all sorts of jittery, butterfly in your stomach nerves set in. It's been a while since that's happened. I lost count of shows when I passed the 50 mark at some point last year. I've worked countless tech rehearsals, ran manual and programmable light boards, run sound off of a mac, an Iphone, an iPad, a CD and if we're going really old school a mini disk, so the fact that my stomach tied itself in knots and decided today was a good day to question everything I've learned and done over the past 7 years perplexed me a bit. I shouldn't be nervous, I've done this thousands of times. Not for this particular show, but the motions, I've done these motions thousands of times. Why is this one different?

I still don't know the answer to that question. I have another tech for yet another show tomorrow and I'm curious to see what happens. Maybe it's the fact that I currently have 3 shows all in tech for the Hollywood Fringe Festival. Maybe it's my brain telling me I've got too many things. 3 shows -- I wasn't supposed to have even one. That was the promise I made to myself last year after having just 2. And yet somehow here I am 3 days from the start of previews for the Festival and I have not one, not two, but three wonderful, amazing, unique shows to run. Before you start commenting that I need to learn to say no to things -- I am very much aware of that -- it's my downfall, I like to be helpful. Also as a side note -- be proud of me -- I did say no to 2 other shows just yesterday. Baby steps -- I'm working on it.

I was asked by the managing director of Theatre Unleashed Greg Crafts, (who happens to be one of my best friends) to give him lists from two of the shows for info graphics. Things like how many actors, odd props, fun interesting facts. I laughed driving home thinking about an info graphic for my Fringe this year. My list looks something like this:

1 Stage Manager
3 shows
27 Scripts (confusing -- I know but one of the shows has 25 scripts in it)
1 notebook
4 tech rehearsals
19 actors
3 directors
1 keyboard
1 table
6 chairs
1 roll of spike tape
2 computers
1 cd
2 sound programs
2 light programs
2 pairs of sparkly sneakers ( I can't Stage Manager without my sparkly shoes)
23 performances
26 days
5 day with more than one show
1 month
1 feeling that I wouldn't trade what I do for anything on the planet!

So that's my list -- my info graphic for the Hollywood Fringe 2013. That doesn't include the 31 other shows that I have in my calendar that I'm planning on actually sitting in the seats and watching.

I'm excited for this to start. The nerves will hopefully be gone when I climb back into a booth tomorrow night for tech 3 of 4. Please don't let the directors know a case of nerves set in! -- I'm supposed to be unshakeable, calm, cool, collected.

Nerves or not -- There is nothing I would rather be doing this week or this month than running these shows and experiencing Hollywood Fringe 2013. Absolutely nothing!

Sunday, January 22, 2012

PSA -- Tales of Auditioners

Thoughts from spending time on LA Casting and running auditions this week:

I posted a few of these on Facebook about a week ago and was asked to turn it into a top ten list. I think it ended up being about 12 items. I should preface your reading of this list by saying that I am quite fortunate that the majority of my actor friends are not guilty of the crimes listed below. Sadly I have come to believe that my friends are the minority in this town. This list is not meant to offend anyone it is simply the observations of one production manager in a sea of many in Los Angeles. I’m sure each of us has our preferences for what we like and what we don’t like, the following just happens to my list.

#1 If you are going to waste my time by submitting yourself for a musical and then in the notes section say "I can't sing, but I submitted myself 'cause I'm just that good." I can guarantee a few things, first I won't call you back for this or any other project because you just annoyed the hell out of me, two I don't believe you really are "that good" and three, if by some miracle you are actually "that good" I don't think I ever want to work with you because you'll most likely be a pretentious ass. Lesson = watch what you write in the notes section - it does actually get read.

#2. If you are submitting for live theater please post your resume. I don't really care that you are size 2 and have a chest size of 34B and that you have a few photos of you posing in underwear or swimwear. I'd like to know that you can actually walk, talk and even act all at the same time. If you aren't going to take the time to fill in your acting and/or training credits I'm not going to waste my time and call you in.

#3 Your head shot photo should not make me do any of the following: shudder in horror, enlarge it because I'm thinking you accidentally posted your mugshot instead of your head shot or make me believe you may be a danger to those around you. (If I was specifically looking for serial killers I would be okay with any of the above things, but I'm not.)

#4 Pay attention to the photo you select as the photo I see...there are so many times someone has picked the absolute wrong photo and then when I look at the resume I see the thumbnails of their photos and go -- oh that's why you think you can play this role. Don't show me your "I'm the slutty school girl photo" when the breakdown says maternal instincts. And guys...I don't ever want to see your speedo modeling photos...not ever.

#5 Use a last name! I know it worked for Cher and Madonna and I suppose some could even argue Brittany, but it just makes me laugh and quite honestly it makes others laugh as well. It makes it very hard for us to take you seriously when all we see is your first name. And if you have decided that one name is the way you are going to go, at least make it a good name, something we can pronounce and something that is an actual name. Also, if you feel the need to invent a more creative name because you feel the name your parents gave you will not suffice, please choose names that are good, normal names. Don't pick something because you think it will make you stand out and be remembered. It will be remembered but most likely as I'm sitting at the bar telling my friends of the most recent LA Casting Actor Exploits. I almost hated to write this one as it does provide a great deal of amusement for me while I go through submissions.

#6 Please, please, please use spell check. Remember you are trying to make a good impression. Sometimes I have literally hundreds of submissions to choose from, given two equal resumes (roughly the same credits) I will 100% choose the actor who has spelled things correctly and has obviously proofread and/or looked at how it appears online.

For future reference, here is the correct spelling of the following words:

Ensemble -- contrary to the beliefs of many it does not contain the letter "a"

Finale -- meaning the end of something, does not under any circumstances have a "y" (and if you were trying to spell finally, that has two "l's" and no "e"

Lead -- as in you were the star of the production, does indeed have an "a" in it. Led, is past tense as in "I led the parade." I sincerely doubt you were the "led" in the show.

#7 Be nice to the person who greets you at auditions. Don't act like it was a pain in the ass for you to come audition. You had a choice to audition, so act civil. Remember you never know the influence that individual has on casting. In our company I am usually in the lobby and at the end of the session I always get asked "how were they in the lobby?" My thoughts and impressions of you have definitely swayed casting, I can guarantee if you are rude, mean, condescending or generally creepy I will let them know. It's very simple, smile and be nice to me and I will return the favor both in the lobby and later when I talk with the director.

#8 Don't throw me under the bus if you didn't bring a head shot or resume to the session. Yes, I understand that you emailed it to me 15 minutes before your audition, but guess what, I don't have a printer and the people in the casting room don't have time check their email before you walk in. Bring it with you or just admit you don't have one with you, but don't blame me for your inability to plan ahead and get a copy made of it.

#9 And while we are on the topic of head shots -- if you are going to reprint them at home please make sure your name is on it. Don't just paperclip it to your resume and hope that it stays together through the entire process, actually put your name in a text box and super impose it on your photo. It will take you less than 2 minutes to do, make you look a bit more professional and make me like you just a little bit more.

#10 Show up! This seems easy enough to me. If you confirm an audition I expect you to show up. After all I took the time to be there, the directors took the time to be there, you should too. In the 6 years I've been doing this I've come to understand why employers don't like to hire actors and why actors have a reputation for being unreliable. This is the only industry I know of where it is perfectly acceptable to set up an interview time (I call them interviews because that's what they are, just like a desk job interview we want to see your skill set, meet you and decide if you will be a good match -- it's honestly no different than interviewing to be a teacher, a secretary or any other job) so this is the only industry where you can set up an interview time, confirm that time, sometimes even have an email exchange with me and then not show up at all and not really think anything of it. It's quite aggravating really. I actually schedule people 3-5 per 15 minute time slot because I know that statistically maybe 1 will show up. Speaking of stats, from our last round of auditions: On a Tuesday Night, between 7:30 and 10pm I had 60 people ask for an audition of those 60, 27 confirmed they would be coming (the other 33 didn't respond at all, is it really that hard to hit the decline button on the website?) of the 27 that confirmed 14 showed up. Of the 14 that didn't show up I heard from 4 of them over email. If you don’t want to audition simply hit decline or send a quick email. It will take you around 2 minutes and make you look responsible.

#10B -- This is a tangent of #10 -- Thank you to the few of you that do send notes canceling your audition. But please be honest, or simply say you can't make it. Of the 4 people that cancelled on the Tuesday night above 3 of them used the good old "I have a family emergency" excuse. It's funny how on audition nights there seem to be a disproportionate amount of family emergencies among actors in LA. Tragic really, perhaps for the good of all these actor families we really shouldn't have auditions. It's simple, be honest, tell me you changed your mind, tell me a better offer came along, tell me that traffic sucks and you want to stay home but please leave your family out of it.

#11 Read the casting announcement before you submit. Now read it again – all of it this time. Know what you are getting into, look at the details…including audition dates. Don’t email me and ask for a different day, if we were seeing people other days I would list them in the notice. If it says Monday and Tuesday, guess what - that’s it. Pay attention to the times, if it says 7:30-10:30pm, don’t ask if you can come in at 2pm. I understand you really want to audition, but I can’t change the schedule to accommodate you, I’m sorry. Do some research on the play, please don’t ask me to explain the plot of Midsummer to you. I don’t want tell you all about Viola, that’s not why I’m sitting there. I don’t expect you to read every single play you audition for, but at least Google it, read Wikipedia, look at cliff notes, make just a bit of effort. I will gladly tell you whether they are looking for an angry Orsino or a cocky Orsino, but you have to show me you know who Orsino is first.

#12 If you are going to submit a video reel please for the love of all that is good make it something worth seeing...I didn't want to see a self recording from a computer placed at your feet of you doing the Marc Antony "Friends, Romans, Countrymen" monologue. If you feel you must do this, I ask first please reconsider this idea -- it's a bad one, second, don't act with your hands, third please make sure you can actually do Shakespeare. There are few things worse than badly filmed, badly hand acted, and badly spoken Julius Caesar.

So there you have it. My top twelve things I wish auditioning actors wouldn't do. And here's the thing, I wish they wouldn't do them not for my sake, quite frankly the twelve things listed above keep me entertained, I wish they do them to make themselves better representatives of their own careers and the acting community as a whole.

Saturday, December 10, 2011

The Actor Pack

I will freely admit that I am fascinated with actors.  I love them and I am 100% fascinated with them.  Sometimes I feel like I'm watching a group of people that are in some ways a completely different species, specifically as they are preparing to perform.

Most of the time I don't get a chance to spend too much time with them in the few minutes right before they go on stage.  Usually by that time I have called places and retreated to the safety of my booth for the duration of the first act.  This time around, I directed and am now stage managing a show that by my design does not require me to be in the booth at all -- that's right a show with no lighting changes and live sound effects!  It also happens that I have the majority of my 18 person cast entering from the lobby of the theater, so in those precious few minutes between the call for places and the start of their staggered entrances, I get a rare glimpse into the behavior of actors in the moments before they enter the stage.

As I sit on the lobby couch and watch I begin to understand what the National Geographic documentary makers must feel like while observing animals in their native habitats.  You don't want to move for fear you might disturb them.  You don't really want to make eye contact because you don't want to break their concentration.  So you sit very still and quiet and observe.

Here is the commentary the runs through my head (I will admit to altering it slightly so it conforms to National Geographic documentary style!)

From our spot on the couch we can see the pack of actors arrive together.  As they approach the entrance to the building they grow quieter.  The pack is a chivalrous bunch, the males opening the door and allowing the three female members to enter first.  Once inside the space the group communicates mainly through short whispered sentences, big hand gestures and eye communication.  For a few moments each one seems to be alone, in their own little world, not really noticing the others except to move around them.  Many of them seem restless, probably a side effect of the pent up energy waiting to come out once they enter the stage.  The pack begins to do an unchoreographed pacing dance.  It starts with one of them taking a few steps forward, stopping, turning around, then a few steps backwards.  Then another one joins the pacing, they pass each other in the middle without really acknowledging each other.  Then a few more join in, this time taking a few steps to the left, then a few steps to the right.  The pacing lasts a minute or so and then stops, somewhat simultaneously, but without communication from anyone, as if on some level their brains are already working in sync with each other.  At the back of the pack, one of the taller members begins to jump up and down, another one toward the front rolls his shoulders and neck muscles, yet another one wildly shakes his hands.  In an interesting twist the females branch off from the pack, one sitting down, the others approaching the mirror for a final hair and make up check.  Then as the moment of their entrances approaches the pack collectively stirs, everyone is up, the jumping male in the back jumps a bit more, they move into a line by the entrance.  The few who walk in with someone else take a moment to exchange excited looks.  The door opens and the first pair enter, the line advances towards the door, each waiting for their turn.  As some leave the pack to enter the theater others from the stage come out and join the pack.  From our spot on the couch we can see that those who have already been on stage are slightly more relaxed, once out of site from the audience they sit down on the chairs, play with the rock display on the coffee table and wait to re-enter.  Soon they are all back inside the theater and the pack is off and running for the night!

National Geographic commentary aside, I truly am fascinated and honored to be able to watch what happens in those final moments before these talented actor enter the stage.

Sunday, December 4, 2011

Falling off the Blog Wagon...

So it's been a while...I apologize!  I had really good intentions of writing all through the summer and the fall and then life happened and the desire to blog wasn't really there.  So to sum up what has happened since May:
Super Sidekick went to Hollywood Fringe, Theatre Unleashed open and closed Caesar, Fiction and The Woodsman.  I started a new job and two weeks ago walked 60 miles for the Susan G. Komen Foundation. 

It's now December, It's A Wonderful Life: A Radio Play has opened.  I directed again this year and had a fantastic time putting it together.  Last night was the perfect night, the cast was having a great time on stage and the audience was having a great time in the seats...it was everything that live theater should be. 

Wonderful Life managed to jumpstart me a bit.  I was still in a bit of a creative fog.  Perhaps going through the motions of productions but not really loving them.  Don't get me wrong, I am exceptionally proud of the season we are about to end.  It was our strongest and highest quality season of production yet.  But my heart wasn't completely in it.  Working with this script, adapted by my good friend Jim, and working with this group of 19 actors (yes, 19 actors!) has been an incredible adventure. One that I am going to miss, but also one that has finally pushed me out this fog and into a place of anticipation and excitement for next season.

We will announce our fifth season in about month.  Five years - I'm not sure any of us thought we'd last this long.  It has been an interesting adventure.  All of us have learned a lot about each other, about producing theater and about creating art.  I wouldn't trade one single moment of the past four seasons and I can't wait to share Season 5 with you! 

I'm recommitting to blogging and promise not to wait another 6 months before posting again!

Thursday, May 19, 2011

Falling Down and Getting Up

It took three and a half years and over 30 productions for me to reach the burn out stage. Everyone said it would happen eventually. I didn't believe them. I love stage managing, I love being a production manager. When you love something it's impossible to get burnt out right? Wrong! When it happened it came very quickly. I felt like I had been pushed to the ground. After Birthday Boys closed I had intended to jump right into rehearsals for our current production of Julius Caesar. I dragged myself to the first two rehearsals, I suppose that should have been a warning sign, but I ignored it. Then I went on vacation for a week, I figured I just needs a bit of time to transition from one show to the next and a week would be sufficient. I came back even less motivated to go to rehearsals than I was before I left. I absolutely did not want to sit through 6 more weeks of rehearsals. Burnout status was officially confirmed as was the fact that I possibly needed a bit more time off. At that exact moment I was having a hard time remembing what I liked about stage managing.

I'm luck to have such an amazing and supportive leadership team at Theatre Unleashed. I quickly sent an email out to my fellow executive team members asking for help covering rehearsals. Without the help of each of them, particularly Greg Crafts, our Managing Director, I would not have been able to back away and take the time I needed.

Two weeks ago I rejoined the production of Julius Caesar. I admit, the transition back was a rough one. I still had a hard time figuring out why I ever thought this was fun. Tech week went fine, but I was still dragging myself to the theater. And then at some point during the final dress rehearsal everything changed again. Do you remember that moment in The Grinch Who Stole Christmas, where he is standing on the mountain after stealing all the presents and he hears the singing from the village and his heart grows ten sizes? Standing in the booth, looking down on the stage watching this magical world come together, seeing this incredible cast and being completely spellbound by the costumes, lights and sound, it all came back to me. Why I love what I do, why I choose to do this...and as quickly as it arrived, the burnout was gone and I was excited and happy to be up in the booth again.

It's a good feeling being back where you belong and an even better feeling wanting to be back where you belong. This week I've found myself missing the booth and am completely excited that tomorrow is Friday and I get to return to the booth for a few hours.

Theatre and Life Colliding for a Cause

A copy of a blog entry I recently wrote for Theatre Unleashed:

This journey began when I answered a phone call from my mom in October of 2003. Eight years later the conversation is a blur but I do remember the words, "Breast Cancer," It's malignant" and "have to have surgery" being mentioned. I cried, she cried, I told her I loved her and as I hung up the phone I knew things were different. My mom was supposed to be invincible. She is my mom, she holds the answers to all questions, she is my biggest cheerleader and she is supposed to be here forever.

There were many more phone calls after that one. Surgery was scheduled, airplane tickets purchased, trips to Kansas City planned. She was, according to her oncologist, one of the "lucky ones," her cancer was treatable and as we found out after the surgery it hadn't spread to hey lymph nodes. I was there for the surgery and the recovery. I was there on Christmas Eve when her hair began to fall out from the chemotherapy. I was there to hold her and tell it would come back, I went with her to purchase bandannas and hats the day after Christmas.

I remember Christmas shopping that year. As I wandered through the mall looking for her present, the only thing I could think was that it had to be the perfect gift just in case this was the last present I ever got to give her. I quickly discovered that shopping for the perfect present is a very hard task to accomplish. It took me three tries to buy a Mother's Day card, the first two tries I had to leave the store because I couldn't stop the tears. How do you pick out a card when it might be the last card you get to buy.

Her surgeon was right, she was one of the "lucky ones." (Although I'm still not sure you can really call anyone living with cancer lucky.) My mom did survive. She has been in remission for just over seven years. I couldn't be prouder of my invincible mom, braving surgery and chemotherapy, taking drugs that kill the cancer but also make you feel horrible, she is a survivor.

This past December she sent me a pair of galoshes. These particular galoshes are covered in pink ribbons. One day in January I was sitting in my room and the pink ribbons caught my eye. I soon found myself googling the Susan G. Komen 3 Day Walk. The more I read, the more I wanted to sign up. I called my mom and told her I wanted to walk with her, 60 miles in three days. I wanted to walk to honor her. I wanted to walk in honor of the daughters who have already picked out their last Christmas present and I wanted to walk so no other child will ever have to stand in the card aisle searching for that perfect last card. She agreed to walk with me and so the planning began, we chose the San Diego walk happening this coming November.

Within a few hours of announcing to the world that I had registered, my college roommate, best friend for 12 years and Theatre Unleashed member, Jenn asked if she could join us. Our little team of three had formed and I couldn't be happier. Sadly due to health reasons (complications from taking the medicine that is supposed to keep her cancer free), my mom has decided to be a supporter rather than a walker. With that decision, my choice to walk becomes even more important to me. I now walk for both of us.

When Greg Crafts, Theatre Unleashed's Managing Director approached me with the idea of donating one dollar from each ticket sole to the Susan G. Komen Foundation I was thrilled. Statistically one in eight women will be diagnosed with breast cancer during her lifetime. That means that between the cast and crew of Julius Caesar, at least two of us may be affected. Through Jenn and me and the ticket sales of our patrons, Theatre Unleashed can make a contribution that will help continue the research for better medicines, stronger treatment programs and possibly a cure for a disease that is one of the leading causes of death in women. For a production comprised of mostly women, this seemed like the perfect charity for this production.

As a founding member of Theatre Unleashed and the daughter of a breast cancer survivor I look forward to seeing you at Julius Caesar and thank you for your donation.

Sunday, March 27, 2011

Incapable of Making a Mess

You may remember that nearly four months ago my roommate gave me a book titled Wreck My Journal, you also may remember that way back in January I was having a hard time completing one of the assignments, "Make a mess and then clean it up." I haven't moved forward in the book because I couldn't figure out what kind of mess to make, how to make it, when to make it and then when I did get an idea it would seem overly messy and I wouldn't do it.

So yesterday while preparing to celebrate Theatre Unleashed's third birthday I made 72 cupcakes, that seemed like the perfect opportunity to make a mess. I have no decided I am incapable of making a mess. I tried, I really did try to make a mess. This was as much of a mess as I could let myself make...pathetic I know.
It's not even really that big of a mess, but I'm going to have say that my task is complete. I have made my mess, or at least as much of one as I can actually make. So having crossed that off the list, I will now nervously open to another page.

My next instruction is to climb up high and drop the book. That seems easy enough. I have an odd desire to climb exceptionally high and drop it, but then I worry I might hit someone or never find it again. There are other factors to consider, I don't want to hurt it and I don't want to drop it in dirt or mud. I don't like dirt or mud and I don't think the book will wash well. After all when it took its' shower it was double wrapped in plastic. So now the question becomes where do I drop it from? I could take it with me to the theater, climb a ladder and drop it from the top of the ladder to the stage, I could drop it off a balcony of an apartment, I could go to Griffith Park and drop it off a cliff (odds of recovering it are low on this one), I'm afraid I won't find a place that is both high enough for a good drop but safe enough to not hurt the book.

This book is tricky. It's instructions seem simple but when you go to do them they require thought and planning. Or maybe that's part of my problem, too much thought and planning. Perhaps that's the point of the book, forget plans, go with instincts, just go for it, just drop the book off of a high place and see what happens. Thinking or not thinking, I promise I will drop this book off of something this week!