Wednesday, March 17, 2004

All the World's a Stage...

But sometimes, for some people, that epigram just isn't enough. Let's face it, the world doesn't look for your name in a playbill, pay money to see you work your way through a difficult (or humorous) conflict, and then applaud you for your efforts.

But an audience does.

Perhaps you have harbored a small dream to perform in front of a crowd, or to help others in their efforts to do so. Maybe you just like the idea of working with a group of people to tell a story. I mean really tell a story with lighting, music, and atmosphere. Well, I am here to tell you that your goal is very easy to attain. I know because over the past four years, I have performed in 11 different stage productions, recorded a radio commercial, been an extra in a TV show, acted in two independent films, directed three stage shows, and participated in the backstage shenanigans for more than 15 productions.

So, You Want to Act

I remember when I was itching to get on stage, but didn't know how to go about it. Finally, my wife showed me a newspaper clipping about a theater that was casting for a show. That little clipping had three magical little words that got me going: "No experience necessary."
Most community theaters have people who know the ropes of acting in and putting on a show. But sometimes they need new faces, and they are willing to train. So allow me to present a few tips on getting involved in the one thing that helped me get started: community theater.
  1. Don't evaluate your talent.
  2. Do find out which theaters are looking for actors.
  3. Audition, Audition, Audition.
  4. Don't get discouraged.
  5. Do improve your skills.
Evaluating Talent

Don't ever try to evaluate your own talent. And don't allow anyone else to judge it either. Talent is way too subjective. Someone can only tell you whether he or she likes your work. And some people can point out things that may improve your work or your ability to audition successfully. But they cannot tell you whether you have talent. The distinguished stage actress, Uta Hagen, writes about this in her book, Respect For Acting.

"I used to accept opinions such as: 'You're just born to be an actor' ... 'Actors don't really know what they're doing on stage' ... 'Acting is just instinct--it can't be taught.'"

She later came to realize that acting is a craft that can be learned and improved upon because the actor has the persistence and the drive to improve, not because of some innate talent.

Finding a Theater Home

If you live in or near Philadelphia, check out the Theatre Alliance of Greater Philadelphia. The local papers are also a good source for learning where theaters are in your area and, more importantly, when they are holding casting calls (which is theater-speak for "come on out and audition.").

Audition, Audition, Audition

An audition is sort of like a job interview. You are trying to land a "job" based on how you look, sound, and present yourself. Does that make it sound like a beauty pageant? I hope not, because that is really not the case.

There are two types of auditions: open and scheduled. An open audition is one that is open to anyone. It will take as long as it takes to audition everyone who shows up. Scheduled auditions are rare in community theater, but are pretty much what they sound like. You schedule a time in which only you meet the folks in charge of the show. In both cases, you are there to strut your stuff.

And just how do you do that? Well, it depends on how they conduct the audition.

Most auditions in community theater consist of cold readings from a script, usually the one productionthey intend to cast. A cold reading just means that no one expects you to be completely familiar with the material and everyone has the same handicap. If the director does not provide background information on characters and settings, do not hesitate to ask questions,andlisten carefullyto the answers. The director will want to see how well you can handle "direction."

Don't Get Discouraged

The first few auditions may not go your way. Don't give up. My first audition actually went great. I got the lead role. But I did not land another part for a whole year.

My point? I kept at it. Each time I did not get a part, I asked for an evaluation of my performance. Of particular use was learning what each director did to cast a show.

Tom Quinn, Artistic Director for the Montgomery Theater in Souderton, PA, views casting as though he is painting a picture. Yes, he needs people whom he feels can do the job, but their voices must work together. They must look right and bebelievable on stage. According to Quinn, who himself worked as an actor in LA for eleven years before returning to his native soil with a mission of bringing theater to the suburbs, actors are rarely dismissed for poor acting, but rather for not fitting in with either his vision or the palette of actors he has already chosen.

Improve Your Skills

Here are a few sure-fire methods to help improve your acting and auditioning skills:

  1. Work with a director you admire at the theater.
  2. Subscribe to the Actor Tips e-newsletters.
  3. Check out the acting tips and quotes at Alice in Theaterland.
  4. When you're ready for more advanced material, read Respect For Acting (Amazon link).

I hope that these tips and info are enough to get you started on your own stage experience. And if you ever find a sure-fire way to get into feature films, let me know. Until I hear from you, I leave you with this bit of humor: You know you've worked in Community Theater if ...

[Date more or less reflects when this was originally posted at the Local Theater blog of]

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