I’ve mostly used this blog as a professional venture, giving information to any aspiring or seasoned performer on how to do better, but the question that I’ve rarely, if ever answered is Why? The how is still important, but everything has to start with why we do what we do.
This weekend, I am performing with an extremely talented group of singer-actors, and it has brought to mind the question of what makes a true artist.
You don’t have to be a professional to be a serious artist and go the extra mile that connects good to great. Most of what makes a great artist requires no talent at all, though talent certainly ties it all together.
Here are a few things that you can do immediately to become a better artist. These rules can apply to any performing art, in comedy and in tragedy. There is no particular order here, and I believe these guidelines are of equal importance. I just know that everyone likes these Buzzfeed-style numbered lists.
Have you ever gone to a professional classical music concert, opera, or musical, to hear a cell phone go off, or a tiny distracting noise in the middle of a tender moment?
Here are some rules that you can observe and pass along which help make the evening as enjoyable as possible.
A good colleague, in the theatrical world, is broadly defined as an employee who does nothing to disrupt the smooth flow of the process of putting on a show.
As a performer, I understand how frustrating certain behaviors can be from other actors and directors. These guidelines are based on my limited experience, but through these tried and true rules, you, too, can be an absolute pleasure with whom to collaborate. Some of these rules I learned by breaking them myself and paying the penalty for it, so if I speak plainly here, it is only for your own good.
These rules stem from personal experience as well as some anecdotes I have heard about unprofessional behavior. It may seem ridiculous, but every rule on this list is broken frequently.
1) Show up on time. Out of every rule I’m going to list here, this might be the most important. Don’t show up late, ever. And definitely don’t show up late with food or coffee in your hand, because then everyone will know why you are late.
Think about it this way: if you’re in a show with 20 other actors and you show up 5 minutes late, you have collectively wasted 100 minutes–over an hour and a half–of the time of other people who did show up on time. Be ready to begin at the call time, which means you should arrive long enough before the call time to get your materials in place. It’s amazing that this has to be explained even to adults, but you’d be surprised at how frequently people show up late to things.
If you do arrive late, do not disrupt the rehearsal while it is in progress. Set your stuff down, and get to your spot. No “Sorry, sorry…”, no “I’m late because X.” Don’t be any more of a distraction than you already are by being late in the first place. Just get to your spot and apologize later.
2) Don’t double book. Honor the commitment you make first, or back out of that first commitment as soon as possible if you get a better offer. Just like a good Camembert, you are at your best when you aren’t spread too thin (thanks to Frasier for that one). Definitely do not leave people hanging at the last minute wondering if you will come through.
The most important word in the English language for any performer is “No.” You don’t need to take part in absolutely every opportunity under the sun. Theater is not just something to do to kill time in your evenings. It’s an artistic experience that people pay money to see.
3) Meet deadlines. If you have a set deadline for memorization, be memorized by that deadline. Otherwise, you slow down the progression of the show.
If you have a deadline from your producer to send a bio, a headshot, or anything else, meet that deadline. It goes a long way to building a reputation of dependability. Don’t forget, in the professional world, it’s the producer who hires you.
4) Treat your colleagues with respect. Your colleagues are anyone who is a part of putting on the show you’re doing, from the producer, to the director, to your cast mates, to the stage manager, to the janitor cleaning the theater every night.
You never know who will one day run a theater company for which you are auditioning, or who might be able to give an opinion about you to an administrator. Karma has a way of straightening things out in the long run, so make sure you treat people well. Remember, these people are collaborating with you to create art.
And for the love of God, don’t cause drama! That is the quickest route to being blacklisted. If you’re toxic, or even seen as toxic, no one will want to work with you, no matter how talented you are. Petty interpersonal disputes have no place in theater.
5) Shut up in rehearsals. Unless you have a question for the director that is relevant to the work you are currently doing, unless you are speaking lines or singing, shut your mouth.
Some people like to speak up to give advice to less experienced actors, but don’t do this in the middle of rehearsal, and definitely don’t pontificate to one person in front of the whole cast. Doing so makes you come off as conceited and rude. Yes, even you.
I understand that when you’re young, your attention span is about as long as did you see what she posted on Facebook??? Your professionalism in this regard not only makes the rest of the people in the room happy, but it creates a better working environment…
…which brings me to my final point on this topic. Theater is not a social hour. There is serious work involved in putting on a show that is even halfway decent. If you’re in this for something to do with your friends, you’re in it for the wrong reason.
6) Respect the rehearsal/performance space. Clean up after yourself, and throw out your trash. Custodians are there for maintenance, not to clean up every single bit of food and trash that you bring in. Sometimes there isn’t a custodian, and the stage manager ends up cleaning up after you.
Also, do not wear wet shoes onto the floor where you are rehearsing. This not only damages the floor, but can create slip hazards for others on the floor. Non-marking soles, please.
7) Respect the stage manager. Really, this should be rule number 1, but my number 1 would be the number 1 on every stage manager’s list of rules for actors.
If the show doesn’t have a stage manager (which every show should, by the way…more on that in my rules for directors), then apply this rule to whomever performs the stage manager’s duties, which is most often the director in a smaller setting. Listen to literally everything they say and do what they ask, and do it with a smile on your face. Period.
8) Put your phone away. Your phone has no place in rehearsal or performance, unless it is a prop. Even in that case, a phone is probably provided for your use.
Phones are much more of a distraction than anyone younger than 35 thinks. People miss entrances, they don’t hear pertinent information, etc. Just do yourself a favor and turn your phone off before you start, and don’t turn it on until you have a break or the rehearsal ends.
9) Act like you want to be there. Even with the most unprofessional cast mates I’ve ever had, if they showed up with enthusiasm for what they were doing, their breaking of other rules bothered me a little less.
Bottom line: if you don’t make it a chore to show up to rehearsals and do the work, I won’t feel like it’s a chore to work with you. Real enthusiasm is a true shot in the arm for everyone else.
10) Leave your day at the door. If you have personal issues, they have no place in rehearsals or performances. Your bad day should not be everyone else’s problem.
11) Don’t try to impress everyone in rehearsals. Yes, we get it. You’re a very talented singer/actor/dancer and you want everyone to know it. Well, stop it.
Most people in any level of theater can recognize talent without being beaten over the head by it, so it’s not that you want us to know you’re talented…you obviously want us to tell you how talented you are.
I understand the need for validation, but you need to understand your place in the creation of art. Your need for attention does not take priority over the success of the show. You are not the driver of the dogsled, but one of the dogs pulling it. So MUSH!
12) Respect the music and text. This means that you must perform the music and text as written, or only with traditional additions or changes. Those changes and additions are typically determined by the composer/writer, not by whoever did the role first on Broadway.
Only in solo music is there any room whatsoever for interpretation, and it must always start with exactly what is on the page, for the sake of the conductor and orchestra.
13) Respect the show’s vision, or leave. If you can’t respect what the director wants, make suggestions for alternatives (privately, of course).
If you don’t get to a mutually agreeable outcome, then leave the show. Don’t sabotage, don’t protest, just leave. That way it will show that you are leaving because of artistic differences rather than to satisfy your ego.
14) Show up prepared. Have all of your materials with you for every rehearsal. Have your script/score, appropriate footwear, and whatever else you need to have with you. This makes the transition to tech week much easier.
Also, when you are working out of a script or score, please make sure it is a hard copy. Don’t be that person who has to use a cell phone or tablet.
15) Treat anything that is not yours with extreme care. Always know where your props are, don’t eat in costume, don’t smoke in costume (or at all, for that matter), and remember the Golden Rule. Would you like it if someone borrowed something from you and tossed it carelessly on the floor after rehearsals?
Good rehearsal etiquette is more important than talent in putting together a good show. Art is nothing without dedication, focus, and deep respect for art and your fellow artists. Any artist who is “great to work with” follows these rules pretty much constantly, and it makes a real difference in the environment around you.
Many singers, particularly aging singers, find the task of protecting their voices to be both confusing and frustrating, due to many factors: conflicting advice from expert and non-expert sources, a lack of understanding that vocal protection is a long-term strategy, a lack of knowledge of one’s own voice and its individual characteristics, sudden vocal maturity, and many other factors. I hope to demystify this process with some general advice and small tips to help you on your way. My assessment is by no means complete, but I hope to give you a good place to begin. Continue reading
Musical theater is arguably the most popular of the performing arts in the modern West, with Broadway shows becoming synonymous with the New York City experience, and with myriad films dedicated to the form, such as The Sound of Music, Chicago, The Music Man, Les Miserables, and many others.
However, vocal classification in musical theater is nebulous in comparison to classification for classical music and opera, due to the often unconventional vocal practices employed by composers. Most simply stated, the categorization for opera often does not match up with categorization for musical theater.
So You CAN Sing It, But Should You?
Those who know me best know that I come from a musical theater background. I started that journey as a singing waiter in my high school’s production of Hello, Dolly! back in 2002. Since then, I’ve portrayed a myriad of diverse characters, from Sparky in Forever Plaid to Anthony and Pirelli in Sweeney Todd to Javert in Les Miserables, the last being a real mistake, as I was a tenor singing baritone. Most of these performances were with amateur groups, and I gained a great deal of performing experience through these roles. I may focus mostly on opera and other forms of classical singing now, but musical theater was my first love, and will hold a special place in my heart.
Anyone who performs on stage has a certain feeling of dread at the word “audition”. Whether it’s the intimidation of the panel or the other auditionees (most of my community theater auditions were in front of everyone else in the audition pool that evening…yikes!), the pressure of having the part you want come down to that moment, or grappling with past auditions or performances, the psychology of an audition is never easy. A bad audition can result in loss of self-esteem, and a good audition that does not lead to a positive result can leave one in doubt of his/her abilities, a sentiment I’ve felt on many occasions. Continue reading