Counting Chickens

What is the goal in an audition?  You want to book the gig, right?  Who doesn’t walk in the room hoping to book the audition?  That said, there are a multitude of reasons for why people audition, within that hope of getting a job.

When we look to the end result we sometimes miss the steps along the way.  If we rush art we get shitty artwork.  In an audition setting, if we count the chickens before they hatch, we might not get any chickens; if we think about the gig before we book it, it’s hard to book it.

Some actors audition with all their hopes and dreams attached to that one audition.  It’s an unrealistic goal to expect to get hired from one or even a thousand auditions, if each audition is the audition.  Other people simply take the audition when it comes, because that is a real part of the job as an actor.

What is the purpose of an audition?  It can be a grueling, nerve-wracking experience that is a contained bubble.  It’s often hard to stay in the moment, focusing only on the audition.  But when the goal becomes not to get the job, but to have a successful audition, the pressure is lifted.  Having a successful audition is representing yourself well; that doesn’t always mean you’ll get hired.  But it does mean that you’ve met your goal and did your best.

Deconstructive Criticism

There’s constructive criticism, and there’s criticism. There’s a time and a place to offer the criticism; there’s a time and a place for the kind of criticism offered.

Let’s consider the source. There are certain individuals, like teachers and mentors, in life who have offered a critique, a correction, an observation; and at the time it’s offered we might not fully hear the message, or take the message to heart. Likewise there are people who are not a part of our development, onlookers who say whatever pops into their heads.

The source of the constructive criticism is as important as the critique itself. The time the comments are given makes it hard for us to listen. We might be too young, too naive or too sensitive to understand the comments. And realizing that our words have power, there’s a time and a place to offer our own criticism.

Audience Appeal

When performing artists plan a concert, it’s helpful to take into account the audience. Where we perform can inform the choice of repertoire; if there is no consideration of the audience, to possible to alienate them.

Recently I had the opportunity to plan a performance. When I was a student, I performed whatever repertoire I was studying at the time, usually fulfilling a list of requirements.

Now, as a freelancing musician, I can perform whatever I want. But knowing the audience helps me find music that is hopefully appealing to both them and me. Performing in an academic setting when I was a student, and performing to a public audience can be very different.

Like a standup comic, performers of all kinds read the room. They take in the crowd and know what repertoire is working; granted, the repertoire in a concert is usually set, rehearsed and immovable. The planning goes in the pre-performance.

Business Card Carrying 

Connecting with each other is the most valuable part of business.  We meet, we exchange numbers, or connect on Facebook; being easily accessible is key to your success, especially when your business is freelancing.  If we can’t reach you, we can’t hire you.

Having a website is something I’ve assumed everyone has, but not everyone does.  Likewise, business cards, media, or a reel of your performances are essential.

Recently I talked with a colleague about headshots; as simple as something like getting a headshot is, there are numerous performers walking into an audition with a headshot that is older than the people casting the show.  The investment in staying current with our online appearance and media material is an investment which shows how serious we take our work.  It shows professionalism.

Don’t Sweat The Small Stuff

There are so many opportunities in life to allow ourselves to be excited.  We work day after day, and sometimes our work supersedes our joy for our occupation.  In other words, we work ourselves to the bone, but don’t enjoy the work.

Recently a friend was taken ill.  And this was an opportunity to reflect on what really matters in life.  We all want to work hard; this seems to be a given.  I hope we all want to work hard.  But when life throws the unexpected curveball, it brings to the forefront the question: why do we do what we do?

When we deal with life-and-death situations, they force us to focus on what is truly important.  We are struck with the paradox of the devil in the details, but not sweating the small stuff.  How do reconcile what does not truly matter?

I’ve often found myself stressing about the small details of a gig, or a performance, only to find it didn’t really matter.  And when we’re able to take a step back to look at our behavior at a situation, we find that the anxieties we carry don’t apply to the work; we can let go of the worries and fears.  Especially when a loved one is struggling with a life or death illness, it brings to mind the things that really matter, and the amount of energy we waste on the things that don’t.

Easy Street

More times than I can count, I’ve walked into situations with people I’ve never worked with or never met.  There was a cancellation and a new actor was hired; this performer got another gig and they are out of town.  And so on.

Being easy to work with goes a long way.  Perhaps it’s obvious to mention, but when the situation is with new people, it can be tense or stressful.  Recently I was preparing a performance and this exact event occurred: a new performer was brought to perform, with new music.  Whenever we are working with new people, we hope to make a good first impression.

As I prepared, the communication came to me that this person was totally easy.  Just hearing that made me relax and not stress about the situation.  And in the end, the performance benefited from this.  There rarely is an event worth stressing about, or behaving difficultly over.  Keep it easy both mentally and physically.

Little Voice

We often wonder if what are doing is what we are meant to be doing.  Is this job, or this city where I want to be?  Am I wasting my time and energy in a situation I’d rather not be in?  Do I feel I need to stay at this job for the paycheck, and only the paycheck?

It’s healthy to ask those questions.  Recently the question was asked: “How does [blank] make you feel?”  What we are meant to do, or feel called to do is not always clear.  Sometimes the inkling of an idea is what starts in motion a new career path.  I’ve sometimes had the dreams that are stress-filled, or are telling me something I’ve not fully considered.  Sometimes the stress in the dream is a good thing; sometimes it’s hinting at what I might be avoiding.

Our innermost desires and aspirations often don’t come at us loudly, but softly like a whisper.  And when we get a glimpse of what we really want to be doing, it’s important to listen to that little voice that might guide us in the right direction, a better direction.

Too Soon?

I often wonder when it’s appropriate to share ideas in a collaboration.  When we’re talking about new works, developing theatrical works with new characters and plots, how soon do we invite an audience into the process?

This conversation came up once again, and once again I was reminded of how vulnerable the writing process is.  I’ve experienced writers who, by virtue of their personalities, insecurities, and uncertainty, place the opinions of their directors and collaborators on a high pedestal.  The opinions of other people can carry a disproportionate amount of weight to a writer who is seeking feedback and validation.

We all feel insecure about our ideas, especially when it’s different.  The hardest part of the writing process is knowing when to share the work; we have to feel that the material has the strength to stand on it’s own.  Particularly in theatre, it’s not usual to go from a first draft to a fully staged production.  There are several drafts in between; with each new draft, more viewers are included.  With each new draft there is the opportunity to realize whether or not it’s too soon to share the work.

Thems The Money Pits

As a child I was given the advice to do what I loved.  I suppose making music for a living is just that: doing what I love.  But there are times when I’m counting the hours, and calculating the fee, before the gig even begins; I’m thinking about the paycheck rather than the music.  In any profession, we do need to be paid for our time and talents.  But also should enjoy the work.

Lately, I’ve made the effort to not think about the money.  It’s difficult when we all need to make money to eat, pay rent, etc.  I spoke with a colleague recently about this; the interesting outcome of this thought process, was I began to enjoy the music more.  I have fought and haggled over the hourly rate for a gig, or negotiated the fee for a concert when I can.  I’ve gotten better at it over the years.

Freelancers cannot afford to work for less than we are worth; and we need to get paid, contrary to what so many people think.  Artists are people, too.  That said, when it comes down to the difference of a few bucks, or a pay-rate I wouldn’t normally work at, the reminder of enjoying the music has value.  Remembering why we do what we do is important.  And when we are solely concerned with the paycheck, it’s probably a good idea to question the reasons for that career.

Music To Hear

Music has a story to tell.  In a musical, the music informs us of the characters, the setting and the emotional journey.  The same is true for TV and film; if you’re ever watching a scary movie, and it becomes too intense, turn off the sound.  The music is what drives the emotional intensity in many suspenseful scenes.

The best and most useful music in theatre is the music that tells us something the lyrics and the dialogue cannot or will not.  The subtext and the underscore gives dimension to the music.  An example of this is “The Road You Didn’t Take,” from Follies.  The character, Ben sings of all the paths in life he didn’t take; the lyrics tell us he is convinced.  The music rings with dissonance and rhythmic ambiguity.  It suggests he is not so certain of his life choices.

The opposite of this musical subtext is music that doesn’t say anything, or is indistinguishable.  Without citing my own biases, we can all probably think (or not remember) a show or performance, where the music did absolutely nothing.  The hardest task in musical theatre is delivering the time, place, and emotional character with the music, but also not allowing it to be blasé.  The music must be a character along with the actors on stage, otherwise it’s simply window dressing to the story.