A Curmudgeon’s Guide to a Career in the Theatre

A curmudgeons guide to a career in the theatre_550
Photo Credit: Luca Volpi via cc
By DC Anderson – Actor, Singer, Photographer, Blogger
Let me start by saying, ‘I am old school.’ I believe in hard work. In training. In technique.
I don’t understand the actor who tells me that he or she can’t pay attention to sharing the scene with the audience because it gets in the way of their being ‘raw’ or ‘organic’.
Here’s an old phrase, but it’s apropos – ‘The technique sets you free!’
You fed that note ‘hot dogs’!
Just as a writer comes to understand that the idea is only the beginning – the rest is the ‘talent of the room’ – being willing to sit for hours alone – the actor needs to know that her/his impulse is the idea – the ‘talent of the writer’s room’ for an actor is the hours spent at the ballet barre, in a voice studio and practice room, studying phonetics (a MUST for anyone who intends to learn dialects), scene study, reading plays.
Technique is what you feed your impulse. My voice teacher used to demand I feed them steak. ‘You fed that note/phrase ‘hot dogs!’ she’d cry when I didn’t use my breath or was tense of tongue or forming vowels in the mouth sloppily…
Say, ‘YES!’, risk ‘NO!’ It’s where ‘yes’ comes from.
Say ‘Yes!’ to directors, choreographers, scene partners, to yourself.
‘Yes, I will take that direction.’
Be open. To new ideas. To change. Recognize that any resistance you may be feeling to a direction or a change is based on a fear that you are incapable of doing what you are being asked to do.
If you believe you can do anything (and why not?), you will enjoy the work more and others will enjoy working with you. Recognise the value of breath and don’t confuse tension with energy. Energy is simply being fully present in a body that is breathing.
‘Yes, I will work until I can successfully execute the choreography!’
Study dance. Always. Take classes. Stretch and do a barre at home. Keep your body limber and strong. Then do whatever you have to do to do what is being asked of you. Enjoy the movement. Breathe. Ask questions. Grab a fellow cast member and go over the choreography. Learning choreography, like anything else, is habit. Be in the habit.
‘Yes, I am listening. Yes, I believe and trust you.’ to your scene partners
When you set foot on the stage you are a storyteller in a company of storytellers
Let go of ‘control’. Listen to your fellow actors. Respond honestly. Do not put any pressure on yourself to be ‘creative’. If you are listening and breathing and you have followed your interest/heart onto a stage, trust that you are a unique and a creative person who will embody the character like no one else. Your skills will always be your skills. Your preparation will be your preparation. When you set foot on the stage you are a storyteller in a company of storytellers given a story to tell. Live in the moment to moment and let go of any desire to be re-creative (you can’t ‘capture’ any part of your performance for the purpose of repeating it tomorrow night – it’s impossible – don’t ask it of yourself).
‘Yes!’ to yourself
‘Yes, I can do this.’ Allow yourself access to 100 per cent of your talent and training. Believe in yourself and your fellow storytellers.
For too long, I mistook leaving my confidence outside as giving the appearance of ‘humility’. ‘Humility’ is accepting the assignment, doing your homework and trusting everyone in the room to be working to the best of their abilities. On the front page of every script I write ICDA. I look at it whenever I doubt myself or find myself feeling ‘defensive’ when given a direction. It stands for ‘I Can Do Anything.’ Sounds corny, but it works.
Learn your lines as early as possible.
Don’t worry about being ‘stale’ or ‘dishonest’ with a line. Ever. Do you know the first few lines of Hamlet’s ‘To be or not to be’?
Say them out loud.
Now imagine yourself in a room with a baby and tell him.
Now you’re with a lover… you see what I mean?
Also, learn the lines as written. They are not ‘guidelines’ or any sort of ‘spring board’ for your own playwriting while in someone else’s play. They have been carefully selected by the playwright. Honor the playwright and trust the words. Realise that the playwright gives you everything you need.
Singers – remember that the purpose of singing is to tell a story.
High notes are for dogs to hear!
Here comes the curmudgeon in me – Richard Rodgers once told an auditioner – ‘High notes are for dogs to hear!’ He was right.
Lately we have been giving audiences the impression that they’re at a bullfight. Clap for the high notes! Clap and ‘whoop!’ for the singer who can ‘riff’ the highest and the longest.
We have been cheating them of an opportunity to be present for the story. We have made ourselves and our audiences self conscious about the purpose of a singer and the purpose of a song. STOP IT. Sing the notes given you by the composer.
TAKE THE ‘CATCH’ OUT OF YOUR VOICE. It doesn’t convince anyone that you are feeling anything. Again, we have trained today’s audiences to look for it. We think it says, ‘I am feeling something now.’ Again, we’ve done them a disservice. You are telling the story to them. If you cry, they probably won’t. What do you do when you are telling a friend something that effected you emotionally the other day? You do everything in your power to make sure they get the complete story? Get the words and ideas OUT to THE AUDIENCE. As efficiently and simply as you can.
Do your homework
Videos of you singing ‘Let it Go!’ in your living room are best sent as attachments to friends only
Memorize something – EVERY DAY.
Don’t get sloppy and cheat your warm ups.
When you are not in a show. Pick a role and learn the music and lines.
Go to the theater.
Read plays in your living room with friends. Invite actors you admire to read with you.
‘It’s not who you know, it’s who knows you.’ Don’t be shy. Introduce yourself to people. You have a desire to work with a composer or musical director? Contact them. Hire them to coach you on a song from a show that you are learning. Hire them to teach you one of their songs.
Send postcards with your photo and a quick ‘Hello!, I’m available’. Email is easily deleted. Casting directors are saying that their mailboxes aren’t near as full as they once were.
Use YouTube wisely. Videos of you singing ‘Let it Go!’ in your living room are best sent as attachments to friends only. Someone, someday, will look at YouTube with an eye toward casting you and you want your best work there.
Your photo and resume. Have a professional do them. As for your photo – curmudgeon alert! – tell your photographer to practice their photoshop tricks ELSEWHERE. Sure, remove excess hair and blemishes…but SKIN SHOULD LOOK LIKE SKIN – not like animation and not like the skin of an alien. Your eyes should be the color of your eyes. Look at the bulk of today’s headshots. ALIENS. NO ONE has skin like that and no one’s eyes are that white or that green!
Hold on to your passion – never be ashamed of it!
It has become ‘cool’ to be cynical and sarcastic. Risk being uncool.
Don’t talk yourself out of a career in the theater. If you want it. Go get it. If you change your mind at some point, go get something else.
It has become ‘cool’ to be cynical and sarcastic. Risk being uncool. NEVER let yourself give in to the ‘Two to do then toodleoo!’ crowd on the last performance day of the week. You cheat yourself and your audience.
Onstage – be in the world of the play. Always. Did you dream of a life in the theater as a storyteller or not? Believe me when I tell you that there are a good number of actors who will attempt to distract you onstage – it’s how they get their jollies. They will tell you, ‘No one will see it!’. I don’t buy that. The audience senses a ‘disconnect’. If you disconnect, so will they. They also won’t see what SHOULD be in the place of onstage shenanigans.
Get your kicks from telling the story and singing the songs with integrity, passion and discipline.
One of the hardest, but most fruitful, states in which we are required to be as actors, is the state of ‘not knowing’. Trust yourself in it! Revel in it!
About the Author – D.C. Anderson is an actor – Broadway, Steppenwolf, Northlight, Guthrie, Transport Group, Goodspeed, Ogunquit, Wellfleet Harbor Actor’s Theater, Great Lakes Shakespeare Festival – singer/songwriter – 9 CD’s commercially available featuring originals and ‘covers’ – iTunes, Amazon etc – and photographer/blogger – www.lookslikeyouphotography.com
He created/produced the first Broadway Cares/Equity Fights AIDS holiday benefit recording series – CABARET NOEL in 1993 as well as created/produced 2010’s IN MY ROOM a 20 artist CD to benefit the National Multiple Sclerosis Society.
He is also featured on the original cast recording of Michael John LaChiusa’s Queen of the Mist
visit www.dcanderson.net to listen to D.C.’s original songs.