Friday, February 22, 2013

Acting is not about being someone different

‎"Acting is not about being someone different. It's finding the similarity in what is apparently different, then finding myself in there."  -Meryl Streep

I would have pegged Meryl Streep for a true acting chameleon, but even she admits to taking a part of herself into each character.  By the way, I caught her recently in a scene from Uncommon Women and Others, with Ellen Parker.  Even then, and this play was filmed decades ago when Streep was in her twenties, there was something riveting about her. Look at her when Parker is talking and Streep is just reacting.   She had "it," even then.

Monday, February 18, 2013

Make your audition memorable, tell them a story

Casting director Duncan Stewart, who cast the upcoming Broadway revival of Pippin, said in Backstage recently that actors who consistently book jobs do so because they are good at conveying “the story” in their audition.  That means connecting your character to the other characters on the page, being specific about whom you are talking to and what you are saying. Every story has an arc – a beginning, middle, and an end – whether it’s a two-minute monologue, 16 bars of music, or an Under-5 read.

When looking at your audition copy, Stewart says to ask these questions:

1. Who am I talking to? When you personalize the receiver, your tone and demeanor change to fit the circumstance.

2. What do I hope will happen by telling them this story?  When you make your character's goal concrete, your read becomes more than words on a page.

3. Where are the beginning, middle, and end? Every story has an introduction, a point to be made, and a closing beat.  Find them to make sure you are getting the story across.

Asking these questions is a quick and easy way to get your audition off the page and make it memorable, and memorable is ultimately what books the job.  Makes sense, yes?

Another Short Film Premier

Just a heads up: The world premier of Meghan Reynolds short film, The Monopoly Club, in which I play “The Senator,” is this Saturday night, February 23rd, at the Public Bar (yes, that’s the name) at 4611 41st St NW, in Washington, DC.  The event begins at 9 p.m. with an hour of mingling and networking (we’re already expecting more than 150 people), then the screening of the film at 10 p.m. followed by dancing at 10:30 with a DJ from the W Hotel.  The cover charge is just $5 and it’s open to everyone, so if you can come expect a fun evening. 

Friday, February 15, 2013

American Backstage Company opens in DC

I never do this, but I feel compelled to give a small plug for my friend Rip Claassen, who has just opened a new theatrical superstore to serve the Baltimore-Washington, DC area, which by the way is the second-largest theater market in the United States.

The American Backstage Company will open to the public this Saturday, February 16th, with a formal Grand Opening slated for April 6th, when the store is completely stocked. Located at 5380 Eisenhower Avenue in Alexandria, just inside the Beltway and a very short walk from the Van Dorn Metro on the Blue Line, the place has loads of retail space, with separate areas for scripts, dancewear, makeup, and costumes, including wigs and masks.  There are also two classrooms available to rent for auditions, rehearsals, and classes.  Plenty of free parking.

The American Backstage Company can be found online at at and reached by telephone at 703-212-8982.  Hours of operation are Monday-Saturday 9:30 AM to 7:00 PM, and Sundays noon to 5:00 PM.  I would add that it's also a great place to find drop-dead outfits for costume parties.  Best of luck Rip!

Thursday, February 14, 2013

Why an actor doesn't get the part

Amy Jo Berman, former VP of casting for HBO had an article in a recent issue of Backstage listing "26 Reasons Why You Didn't Get the Part."  Her point: a lot of what goes into the decision to cast an actor in a certain role is simply out of your control.  So don't agonize over it.

In looking back over some of my own auditions recently I've come to the conclusion that there are a couple of other factors to consider that are in my control, and correcting them might get me moving a little faster along my career path.  Here's what I've been doing wrong:

1. I try to second-guess the casting director.  What I hear again and again is that casting directors are not casting for range, they're casting for type. But instead of going in with my A game - i.e. a clear understanding of my type and how to best present it - I go in and try to figure out what the casting director wants, which puts my auditions all over the place.  Only a handful of actors are true chameleons when they perform.  Everyone else is basically the same person in role after role, based on their height, weight, hair, voice, accent, etc. - the total package.  The casting agent already has a general idea of my type based on my headshot.  I just need to walk in and give him or her the rest of the package.

2. I over think my lines in the audition.  Every time I see a 6 year old turn in a moving performance on screen I ask myself what the heck I'm doing in drama class?  Drama instructors ask you to create backstories for your character, to make lists describing where you are, what your intent is, etc.  Some of that information is necessary sure: Who are you talking to? What is going on in the scene? Where is it taking place? When is it happening? Why are you saying the words?  But too much set up and you fill your head with a lot of information that is not on the page or in the moment.  You can also make yourself a little nuts.

The best acting advice I ever read came from the late actor Eli Wallach, who said that "the big secret in acting is listening to people."  (Which children do very well by the way.)  Acting coach Harold Guskin also tells actors not to over think their roles, to go with their gut and react to the lines on the page.  If the casting director asks you to take it in a different direction, then you can rethink it.  But let the characterization evolve out of your type.

I had an audition today at the Kennedy Center for a play that's going up there in late May. I reacted to my lines in the cold read and I listened and reacted to the reader.  I may not be what they want for "Mama" - they may want someone shorter, grayer, louder, sillier, who knows? - but I will tell you that I came away feeling much, much happier with how I did.

Monday, February 4, 2013


Another year and suddenly so much is happening that the holidays seem a million years away.  But time for reflection.  After Christmas my beloved and I dashed out to Phoenix for a few days for a family celebration.  I was born in that city and lived there until I was 15.  But you can never go home again, as the saying goes.  The neighborhood that was once an Erma Bombeck suburb of pastel houses and tidy green lawns has given way to a dreary place where grass is not seen for blocks and the houses are all in varying shades the same color as the earth. My old elementary school has been knocked down and replaced with windowless, prison-block architecture and the grassy playground paved over with asphalt.   There should be a law against doing that to children.

Then it was off to San Juan and the Virgin Islands for a few days of warmth and sunshine and resting up.  I love this photo of my husband looking out onto the sea.  He spent a lot of time sitting and reading and watching the ocean (you can see his Kindle in the photo).  It's good to relax.

Now another plunge onto the stage.  Don't Dress for Dinner is a frothy sex farce that requires lots of energy and perfect timing.  I love the role of the wife, Jacqueline.  She's rather arch and funnily vengeful, even though she's in the dark about much of the goings on until the very end.  Hot costumes!  Especially my white negligee that looks very close to the one worn by Patricia Kalember in the Broadway production last year.  Still waiting to hear about a call back for a wonderful play that has a short New York run in July.  That one is very intense and dramatic, so it will require a complete gear-change from DDFD - if I get the part. 

Sending out new headshots and calculating expenses for the tax man.  Blew the transmission on my Ford Focus two weeks ago, so in the process of being sensible and trading it in on a Toyota Camry.  Oh bother. So much distraction. Brings to mind an old cartoon caption: "Just once I'd like to have an entourage."

Resolutions this year:  Develop a concise career plan.  Fewer classes, but more targeted ones.  More film auditions.  More networking with other actresses (trying to organize a regular lunch).  More work outside of the DC-Baltimore area.  This is the third largest market for film and the second largest for theater, but there are great things going on in Philadelphia, Richmond, North Carolina, New Orleans (if I could get there), so it's time to branch out.