Saturday, March 23, 2013

Some hard truths about casting that all actors should know

Subtitle: I’m wading through resumes and have said WTH more times than I like to admit

Hey guys.  I know, normally I do shows, but today, I want to talk about casting. Because I think it’s important.  And I think it’s important that some of you learn things before you submit to anything, ever again. 

I am not trying to be mean, but here’s the truth.  I have spent the better part of today, like 8 hours at last count, wading through headshots and resumes for 50 audition slots – by the time I’m done, I will have gone through 200 resumes.  For those playing the home game, that's about two and half minutes per resume.  Knowing this tome constraint, there are things that will get you put in the no file immediately, even if you are “perfect” for the role/spot.    (These are all compiled from me and other director friends/casting agents I know). You want to make it easy for us to find what we need and put you in the yes pile.  Trust me, by resume 150, I don’t give a crap anymore.  I’m not going to play hide and seek with the info. 

The number one rule in Casting Notices: READ THEM!  Read all of them.  Make sure you actually fit the role that you are submitting for.  For instance, if you are a man, do NOT submit to an all female Shakespeare play.  If you are 60, do not submit for a part that is looking for 20-30. Let me make this clear – there are companies and casting directors who will permanently black ball you for that shit.  As in, they will no longer take submissions from you at all. 

Number two rule: Once you have read, carefully, the posting, and you are actually right for the part, now you need to read the posting again.  And submit exactly the way they tell you too.  This includes:
·      Send it to the email address listed in the ad (do not get cutesy and send it to someone “higher” in the company, like the artistic director or producer – that’s not cute or brave, it’s stupid.  It also gets you put in the no file)
·      Look at what they ask for, if they tell you to “attach” headshot and resume, that means ATTACH.  That does not mean you send a link to your website where it is posted.
·      If they ask you to embed, embed.  Don’t know how?  Google it.  That’s what the internet is for.
·      Again, let me say this: If you do not do what we ask you to, you will go in the no pile, often without even seeing you.  We don’t want to work with someone who can’t follow instructions. 

While we’re talking about attachments, helpful life hint, casting or no.  Write your resumes in whatever you want.  Save it as a PDF.  Send the PDF to potential employers.  If I can’t open your resume on this end, I won’t bother to tell you, you just won’t get the slot.  PDF files are universal – they open on all operating systems.  Also, PDF’s make the format fixed so that they look EXACTLY the same on my screen as on yours, regardless of operating system. There is no excuse.  Word creates PDF’s for you now by going to “Save As” and selecting it as an option.  No, you cannot alter a PDF (unless you have Acrobat), so keep the word doc, create a new PDF every time you change something.  If you don’t have a computer with word, googledocs (a free online program) does it too.  Or, go to a library.  They have it.   Need help figuring it out?  Ask someone!  Ask google!  Ask your smart computer friend!  Post about it on facebook.  This isn’t computer science and it isn’t coding.  It’s BASIC software knowledge.  Lots of people have it.  You should too.

Do not, under any circumstance, ever, take a cell phone picture of your hard copy resume and send it as a JPG.  That is not a resume.  Also, it is so low on the professional scale. You will not get the audition.  We will, however, joke about it at cocktail parties.

Do not lie on your resume.  You may not get caught every time, but the times your do, you won’t get the part.  And if it’s for me, I won’t work with you period.  And you will be caught in the most unexpected ways.  For instance, I email the people on your resume if I know them to check in with them about you.  It’s a common practice. 

Do list who you’ve really worked with, however.  Three of my audition spots are going to people who worked with people I have worked with and respect.  Yes, all three of them were emailed to confirm first.

Industry standard is one page of resume, from most recent on top, to furthest away on bottom.  I will not sift through a three page resume to find the info I need.  Also, see above about how PDF keeps formatting consistent across all platforms.  If I open it and the columns are off, I will not take the time to figure out what goes where.  These are industry standards for a reason.  Keep your resume like everyone else so we can find the information we need, if we cannot find it quickly, we won’t keep looking.  We have too many others to look at.  Also, don’t be cute and center your resume.  Use column, just like everyone else – see above.  Also also, make sure your resume is an industry standard resume and not a CV or professional.  Again, if I have to hunt for the information, I won't, you just won't be seen.  Links below to what those should look like.

Do not mention a show in your cover letter that isn’t on your resume.  I want to know when you did it and with who.  Even if that means changing your resume for one submission.  If it’s important enough to mention in a cover letter, it’s important enough to be on your resume for that submission.

Do not lie about what you can do in your special skills.  If I cast you believing you have sword fight experience, and you do not…  Suffice to say that the friend that had this happen fired the actor and rehired.  Also, “Shakespeare” is not a special skill – I don’t know what that means – do you do Shakespeare impersonations in your spare time? Wear pumpkin pants all year round?  Do you mean “the ability to speak in verse”?  If so, write that.  In fact, be clear about what your special skills are, do not write nouns and expect us to know.  When in doubt, ask 10 people what the word means, if they all say the same thing, it’s fine. If it’s 10 different answers, try again.

Spoken Word is not a dialect.  It can be a special skill if you like, but no, it’s not a dialect.  (I have actually seen this more than once).

Let’s talk a little about headshots.  A headshot should be the best, believable, version of you.  It is important that they are clear, professional looking, and look like you.  A headshot IS NOT A GLAMOUR SHOT.  Seriously, it’s really not.  I need a clean and clear representation of the person likely to walk into my casting room.   Also, if I cannot see ALL of your face, it’s not a headshot.  Also, industry standard is a color picture.  Sepia is not ok.  Also also, do not use a picture you took of yourself on a computer - not only are most of them not very flattering, the lack of professionalism makes me unlikely to call you into an audition.

Let’s talk about how to do that.  Find a photographer – no, it doesn’t have to be expensive (though we all know it can be), but you need someone who can frame shots and use light levels etc. Do not let a makeup artist do your make in a way that doesn’t look like you or that you cannot replicate.  Look through your proofs.  Ask the photographer which 2 she/he think are the best picture.  Mark them.  Ask your friends and family which proofs look most like you.  Mark them.  Decide which one you like best.  Mark them.  Once you are down to like 10 or less, ask a director you’ve worked with, or your casting director friend, or a trusted teacher (or more than one, more than one is good) which of the small number is best.  Then ask why.  And LISTEN to the reasons they say they like what they do.  You do not have to agree.  It’s your life and your photo, but they will often tell you things you didn’t think of. 

Here’s why this is so important.  My number one pet peeve in casting is headshots that don’t look like the actor.  I will not cast you on principle.  Even if you are perfect for the role.  Hell, sometimes, I won’t even let you in my room to audition because the person I asked to audition is in the picture, and NOT in the room.  (Just so you’re clear, this is not just my number one.  I asked 10 of my casting type people friends for their top 5, this came up as #1 on all 10 lists)

If your look changes dramatically and you haven’t had the time or money to get new shots – send me your professional shot AND a good snap (which can be taken by a friend) of the new look with a note: “Hey, I just got my hair cut (dyed whatever goes here) and haven’t had new pictures taken yet.  So I’m sending you my headshot and a picture of the new look.  Thanks!”  Trust me when I say that will actually get you in the door to audition.  A shot of you with brown hair when you are now blonde gets you turned away at the door.  (This is the time snap shots are appropriate, not as the only headshot you send me) Also, get new headshots every 2 to 3 years even you don’t change your hair.  You really do look differently for casting purposes.  And finally, if you physically change or have changed something on your face – your headshot MUST represent this!  I once had a girl who had a perfect headshot walk into my room with a scar across her cheek.  Suffice to say, she did not get the role.

When writing the cover letter or email, if you request a part you would be perfect for, be aware, you not only may not get the role, but you may not be cast or even auditioned period.  Case in point, the show I am currently casting, the lead is already cast, which means there are at least 10 women not getting an audition because they only wanted that part.  Also, in this show, there are no single parts, everyone is more than one character.  Which means that I am less likely to use someone who wants a role rather tells me they want work.  Again, that is your choice based on where you are in your career – I understand why people do it, and I respect it – I am just telling you what happens on the other side. And yes, there is a difference in “I would love to play XXX, but would love to read for anything else too.” And  “I would love to play XXX.”   Also, again, read the casting notice.  If the casting notice asks for the info say it. 

If you do not get the audition, do no re-submit.  The same people are likely to be looking at your stuff, and you are still unlikely to get the audition.  Also, now we're annoyed because we had to tell you no twice.

For the record, there are always stories about how so and so did it different, broke out of the mold and got a part etc.  Here's a hint, those stories (some of which *are* true, most of which are probably exaggerated), at least the true ones, are about SUPREMELY talented people, or people with connections in the first place.  Those people aren't normal.  Chances are pretty good that those people aren't you.  Sorry to burst that bubble.

Look.  I know, that was long, and harsh, and no sugar coating.  But all this information is out already there.  If acting is what you want to pursue professionally, then find out how.  Don't make assumptions, ask: ask a friend who is in the industry, ask google, ask a professor - it is your (the actor's) responsibility to make sure you are doing things correctly, it is not my (the director or casting director - especially when I have come across your things because you have sent it to me for an audition) responsibility to tell you you have done it wrong and need to change it.  Because man, I so don't have time for that crap.  As a result, if you want the part, you shouldn't either. I know it sucks for you, I know it's hard. Please bear in mind that you, likely, do not send out as many submissions as we read.  Do what we ask, you are more likely to be seen and cast that way.  

And anyone has any others, please let me know in the comments below.  

Please note. I make no money from this blog whatsoever.  I have compiled this advice from myself, who casts 3-4 shows a year, and several friends who work at varying levels of casting.  I have put this information out there because of the sheer volume of head shots and resumes that I know I, and my friends, receive that do not follow basic protocol.  I want the pool of actors that we all receive to be better, so we can see more and better people, instead of being turned off from basic mistakes. Please take it for what it is.  And if you don't believe me, there are links right below me to professionals casting directors saying the same thing.  

Also, it's not just me.  This is a blog post from a CD in the DC area.  Same advice. 

And some more advice from about resumes.

Let's talk about resumes.  Another talk about resumes.  Resumes, resumes, resumes. 


Monday, March 11, 2013

Talley's Folly (NYC)

I’m finding it harder than I thought it would be to write about this show.  For those who don’t know, or haven’t been reading long enough to know, Lanford was a personal friend of mine.  Because of this, I was lucky enough to get to see Talley’s Folly on opening night – even better, I got to see it in a row of people who knew and loved him longer than I did.  (Also, the food at the opening party was really good! :p )

I seem to forget, when I am reading or talking about it, how lovely Lanford’s language really is.  And how much the sound of it matters, the way it feels on the actors tongue and in the audiences ears.  I mean, intellectually, I get that it is lyric realism, and I know what that means, but I forget until I see it – no, hear it – live and done well.  Suffice to say that in Roundabout’s production both Danny Burstein and Sarah Paulson make the language sing.  Burstein’s opening monologue reminded me on how beautiful the language of the play is.  The songs of images that roll off his tongue in waves, hitting the audience in waltz time, the sounds and meaning coming off clearly. 

(As a side note, opening night, and amazing thing happened –as it is live theatre.  If you are unaware of this show, the opening monologue is given by Matt, directly to the audience, and in fact starts with the line: “They tell me we have 97 minutes here tonight – without intermission.  So if that means anything to anybody; if you need to get a drink of water or anything…” On opening night, Burstein had a heckler in the front row.  He started the show, and a voice from the audience said – you should go to the bathroom.  A little later on in the monologue, Matt asks the tech booth for a dog bark in the monologue.  Again, our friend in the second row helps out… by barking.  As a theatre practioner, I have a love hate relationship with things and people like this.  I actually love that it clearly reminds us that theatre is live, in front of real people, who can see and interact with us anytime they want to, people who are as much a part of the show as the actors are, after all, theatre without an audience isn’t theatre – it’s a rehearsal – I love that because I think that is theatre’s true power and strength.  Also, it reminds us that the danger, if you will, of theatre is that anything can happen at any moment, expecting it or not.  But also, you work hard on a show and when you haven’t planned for audience interaction…  then you are left scrambling… Burstein did an excellent job of shutting his heckler down, while staying Matt, and not leaving the heckler upset of angry.  Indeed, he made the heckler as much a part of Matt’s experience of the night as the music from the bandstand across the water. )

What I love best about Talley’s Folly is its simplicity.  The arc of the show is clear and lovely.  (I mention this because if you know Lanford’s work, that is not always the case… Balm in Gilead and Hot L immediately come to mind.  Both AMAZING works of art and inspiring shows with very real characters, but simple is also not a word I would use to describe either of them) It is a light and magical night, with two people who love each other desperately, and against all odds – in fact, against even their own hearts really (or at least what they told their hearts they wanted or deserved).  The beauty of this show is watching the love story unfold between these two characters, watching them pull back onion layers of self to show the other, watching two people try to put down their self-defense weapons and love not hurt each other.  Matt talks about people being eggs and therefore fragile. 

One of Lanford’s talents as a playwright, in fact, as a person, was the ability to see, truly see people.  And then tell us what he saw.  Lanford saw the dignity and truth in everyone. It’s what makes his works, like Balm, so powerful.  There is no judgment in his characters, just truth.  And a truth that humans are amazing in all their flaws and choices – in just living.  In Talley’s Folly, he gives these two adult characters their chance to tell their stories.  To let the walls down, not just to each other, but to us.  It is a true adult love story.  The story of two people who are not young (young being the purview of most love stories), trying to get through the years of baggage they have built for themselves, trying to let it go enough to not lose what might be their last chance, trying to learn to listen to their hearts.  

Roundabout’s production of it highlights this simplicity.  (Well, if I am honest, except for the set, which was a fiasco, I thought.  Far to heavy and bulky and showy for Lanford’s magical script.) Matt and Sally obviously care about each other in this show. Paulson’s Sally is a woman made strong through choices made for her and choices she has made, not sure she knows how to put those things down and try something else.  Paulson does a wonderful job showing how much the choices in her life have cost her.  And again, how much it costs her to let that go and trust.  And Sally is not the easiest character to play.  She walks a line between pushing him away and wanting him to stay – too caught up in her own past to see her present and future.  Paulson’s Sally was lovely though.  Sweet, concerned, beautiful and not as fragile as I’ve seen Sally in the past.  And honestly, I liked that.  I always thought Sally was a tough nut.  Sure, fragile underneath, but the only people in the show that seem to realize that is Matt and her aunt.  And Paulson’s Sally hit that note for me.  She made it easier to see why she was attracted to Matt, because Matt knew her, and understood her, when she wasn’t always capable of saying it.

And Burstein’s Matt has all the faith that Matt must have.  Faith that, although his life has not been easy, he is right in this one thing in his life and he pushes through on that belief.  He needs an answer this night.  It’s why this night is so important.  He needs to know if his faith is well placed or no.   

I know this is post has been a little more review-y and less what I learned that most of my posts.  But like I said earlier, what this show reminds me of is what I lost in my own life.  And I am still trying to sort through that.  I, like Sally, have a hard time letting go of things in my past.   It’s a problem.  But, I, like Paulson’s Sally, am stronger than it might seem.  Maybe what I learned from this production is just how important the faith and the fight is, not just in love, but in life.  The faith that you are right, and the willingness to fight for what you want.  And maybe, that you are never too old to go after what you truly want.

Friday, March 8, 2013

Hamlet (Bedlam) (New York)

The first thing I want to say about Bedlam’s production of Hamlet was that it was not my favorite production ever… Mostly because that spot goes to Bedlam’s St Joan that I saw last year.  I will say, however, that of all the Hamlet’s I’ve seen (and I’ve see a number more than one hand but less than all my digits) this one was my favorite.  It succeeds in ways that many contemporary productions fail because of the very nature of who Bedlam is.

Let me explain, Bedlam theatre is 4 (yes, that’s right, I said 4) actors: Andrus Nichols, Tom O’Keefe, Ted Lewis, and Eric Tucker.   These four actors (and an occasional cameo from either an audience member or their SM) make up ALL the parts in Hamlet.  (St Joan is the same way).  Additionally, Bedlam loves to blur the lines of what theatre is and what audience is.  They are not satisfied with the idea of a proscenium theatre (or any “classic” theatre really).  What they are interested in is how to make the audience part of the show, how to keep the audience engaged with the work through 3 hours of play time. 

I want to pause here for a sec, those who read my blog often here me whine about long shows.  Bedlam is one of the few theatre’s I’ve been to that the length of the show hasn’t bothered me.  Mostly because, as an ensemble, they have a really great sense of internal timing and pacing, and actively work to keep that up – by keeping up the internal pacing, the 3 hour show doesn’t feel like 3 hours.  In fact, after both shows I was surprised at how long it had been.  (Also, there are 2 intermissions, which REALLY helps this small bladder girl –another reason I hate long shows)

But, back the Hamlet.  What I love the most about these 4 actors is their sense of play.  I mean, it is called a play for a reason, right?   Bedlam demonstrates this in many ways, the two most striking to me are the way they play with what it means to be an audience, and the dirt. 

Audience:  I love what Bedlam does with the audience.  Every time you walk into the theatre, you are told where you can sit, and every time you leave, you and all your things, are sent to the lobby to come back into a completely different playing space.  Sometimes you sit in the audience proper, sometimes on the stage…  Regardless of where you sit, the cast is continually interacting with you in very real ways.  None of the cast is afraid to catch your eye and talk to you, personally, as if you were part of the scene.  As if, in the case of Ophelia, you could somehow help bring her mind back.  Or somehow help Hamlet decide his life path, or if the ghost was telling the truth, or…  Bedlam works hard at using theatre’s true strength: the fact that the audience is in the same room as the players.  It isn’t shot and then seen, it is live, very alive.  And the audience is as much a part of that as the actors are.

Dirt:  the interesting thing to me about this version of Hamlet is that I didn’t actually like all of the choices that were made.  But, I didn’t have to.  Because the other thing Bedlam does so well is to maintain a true sense of belief in theatricality within their cast the whole playing time.  The actors of Bedlam are the kind and caliber I want to work with.  They work hard, but also know it’s their job and don’t hold the work precious.  What I mean by that is, for instance, when I walked into the lobby before the show, Andrus and Tom were sitting in the lobby, chilling, talking with everyone as they walked in.  The part of acting that, as a director, I feel is most often forgotten by actors is that it is a thing you do, you are “Hamlet” for three hours, yes, but you are also Sam (or Bob, or Sarah or whatever).  Some actors like to make the work so precious that they forget that they are actually this real other person.  Instead of this attitude, Bedlam embraces who they are, and then puts 120% of who they are on stage.  There is not a moment that they are on stage that they do not believe everything that is happening to them in that moment.  The theatricality of this means the audience is along for the true emotional journey, regardless of what that is.  Because the cast truly believes what they are doing is real, the audience does too.  As a practioner that sounds like such an easy thing, the true belief, but it’s not, not really. I would be willing to bet we have all been in, or seen, something in which someone doesn’t believe what is happening in the moment, and then the carefully woven spell is broken for the audience and everyone is just sitting in the house again.

(But Reesa, you are saying, you still haven’t actually talked about dirt.  You’re right, I haven’t.  But if you have seen the play, then you know exactly why that paragraph was titled dirt.  And if you have not, then you should go see it now.  )

What I learn when I watch Bedlam perform is how important belief, theatricality, and play are to good performances.  Remember when I said I didn’t like all the choices?  The three things listed above are done so well that it doesn’t matter.  I realized while watching this show that some of the choices I didn’t like have more to do with myself and the way I would direct the show than any bearing on the actual text.  And just like that, I was able to let those go for three hours and just enjoy what they had done.  Bedlam succeeds in learning the theatrical rules in order to break them successfully.  Much like Andy Warhol or Peter Brook, they stretch the boundaries of what they know and continue to grow as a company.  That’s the kind of work I want to do – high caliber work that continues to explore what theatre is and what it can be. 

**side note that doesn’t really fit in with the blog.  Tina Packer once said to me that Shakespeare’s tragedy are shows that lose the female’s voice while his comedy’s embrace it.  This version of Hamlet made that quite clear to me, that the female voice is not being heard at all, I mean.  And I love that it is running in rep with St Joan for that (among many other) reasons.

Saturday, March 2, 2013

To Doc Sydney Berger

I have lost another mentor this week.  This time, the man who taught me to love Shakespeare.  I wold not be who I am, or where I am today without his support.  So, to him.  I post this.  And for him, I pledge to start doing this again regularly.  Some where, in theatre heaven, he, Lanford, and Jose are all having a laugh together and watching us create the art that they inspire us to make.  

What shall Cordelia do?
Love, and be silent.
And yet not so; since, I am sure, my love's
More ponderous - Speak. 
Nothing, my lord.
Nothing will come of nothing: speak again.
Unhappy that I am, I cannot heave
My heart into my mouth: I love your majesty
Good my lord,
You have begot me, bred me, loved me: I
Return those duties back as are right fit,
Obey you, love you, and most honour you.
The evil that men do lives after them; The good is oft interred with their bones. 
Alas, You must now be here confined by us.

I would hazard a guess, by looking at us all here and the lives we have made, rippling out towards forever and across the globe that the good that Doc has done will live on forever.
The good of listening to a scared little undergrad, barefoot and wide eyed, babble to him about what I wanted to be when I grew up.  And he listened.  He listened and said: Huh. And how you gonna do that?  Or Are you sure that’s what you want? Genuinely questioning, genuinely wanting his students to fly, but also, genuinely wanting us to know.  And always with a half cocked grin.

Teach me how
To name the bigger light, and how the less,
That burn by day and night; and then I lov’d thee

Doc’s most amazing thing is that he taught me how to love.  He taught me to love verse and rhetoric.  To coin words and phrases.  Look for anti-thesis. Build lists. Stop dropping the end of the line.  Don’t be afraid. Count meter. Short line? Fem ending? Alexandrain? Why?  Speak the speech. Use the verse, it’s not prose for god’s sake. No really, stop dropping the end of the line. Don’t question if he’s sleeping or paying attention, which eye is which again? Also, if you drop the end of the line one more time…

Doc taught me, a self proclaimed Shakespeare hater, to love the bard so much that I pursued a graduate degree in Shakespeare and Renaissance Litature in Performance…  (More of a mouthful than a full line of text, I know) He taught me that I don’t hate Shakespeare, I hate bad Shakespeare. He taught me that the beauty of Shakespeare is in the universality of the human moment and the human heart.  He taught me to love in terms of kings, and in queens, in peasants and in fools, in boys dressed as girls dressed as boys… in shipwrecks and in fairies and in pirates and in heartbeats and…  He taught me to love by telling me stories.

Who will believe my verse in time to come,
If it were fill'd with your most high deserts?
Though yet, heaven knows, it is but as a tomb
Which hides your life and shows not half your parts.
If I could write the beauty of your eyes
And in fresh numbers number all your graces,
The age to come would say 'This poet lies:
Such heavenly touches ne'er touch'd earthly faces.'
So should my papers yellow'd with their age
Be scorn'd like old men of less truth than tongue,
And your true rights be term'd a poet's rage
And stretched metre of an antique song:    
But were some child of yours alive that time,   
You should live twice; in it and in my rhyme.

As a director he taught me that the most important thing you can do for a cast, or a play, or a story is to set the stage for miracles.  But he neglected to tell me that he was a miracle.  His guidance, support, and hope for my life shaped me into the artist and woman I have become and will guide and shape me as I grow.  His courage and belief in me allows me to be the best me that I can be.

In closing, as I often do for closing, I would like to quote a wiser speaker of truth than I:
To Doc Berger.  My teacher, my mentor, my friend:

"Which can say more than this rich praise; that you alone are you?"

He was a man, taken for all in all I shall not look upon his like again.