Tuesday, September 6, 2011

Here We Go Again

It's finally that time again. Time for another audition. Familiar theatre, familiar director, familiar song. Not the one I had such a breakthrough with. That was a ballad. This time they want an upbeat song. I've auditioned with this song before.

My goal this time? Probably not what you're expecting. My goal isn't getting a certain part or even just getting into the show.

Wait. What??? My goal isn't to get into the show????

No. For one simple reason: That's not under my control. While there are things I can do to guarantee I WON'T get into the show, there is absolutely nothing I can do that will guarantee that I WILL get in. That's the nature of the beast. The reality of theatre.

I like to explain it to theatre newbies like this: Imagine that you want to create a fruit salad. You go to the produce section and start picking out fruit. Are you going to pick every fruit that's there? Of course not. Is there anything wrong with the fruit you don't choose? No. No matter how good a certain fruit looks and tastes, if it doesn't go with the other fruits you've chosen, you're not going to chose it. The wrong combination will ruin your salad.

It's the same for a director picking actors for a production. The actors have to fit together. It does no good to choose a phenomenal 30 year old female lead if your best male lead is 17. If you're putting together a family, a dark haired swarthy father with an equally dark mother are not likely to have produced an ultra-fair skinned blue-eyed blond offspring. The cast needs to fit together the same way the fruits in that fruit salad need to blend.

There's no guarantee that I'm the right "fruit" for this cast. So making getting a certain role my goal isn't realistic. Or fair to myself. I have no control over the casting decisions. What I DO have control of is my performance. My experience. My thoughts.

So my goal is to once again focus on performance, instead of survival. To bring to the stage the attitude "here I am. Place me where you want me. If you believe I can do it, so do I."

It's a lofty goal for me. But I'm pretty sure I can reach it. :-)

Friday, July 8, 2011

(Seemingly) Little Known Truths About Community Theatre

Well, didn't get into Footloose. And, no, we'll never really know why. That's the way the game is played. Did one other audition with a group we hadn't auditioned for before since then. Our experience there got me to thinking about how some things just don't seem to be common knowledge in the community theatre world. Even though they seem like they should. Such as:

1) Nobody's THAT good - In the world of professional theatre, there are a few people who can actually get away with a diva attitude because either they have already made a huge name for themselves or they are so stinking talented (or both) that the rest of the cast and crew will put up with them for the money their name and/or talent will bring in for the show. But if you're in community theatre, nobody's that good.

Your crew - the director, music director, choreographer, costumer, etc., may be being paid, but they're not making a living at it. The cast and most of the stage crew are all volunteer, just like you are. No matter how good you (or anyone else) think you are, you're NOT good enough to be worth putting up with a diva attitude. Politeness and common courtesy will get you amazingly far in the community theatre world. A diva attitude will not.

2) Directors (and other crew members) talk - to other directors, actors, etc. If you blow a director off, don't expect a greater than luke warm acceptance from other directors in the area. I know this first hand. No, I haven't been a jerk or blown off a director, but I have listened as directors and other crew mingle at cast parties and other functions. I've even had directors point out various people at these functions and explain why they never seem to get cast in anything... On the flip side, if you actually pay attention in rehearsals, learn your lines and blocking, help out as much as you're able on set and on strike, directors talk about that, too. Although maybe not quite as much. Especially if they have a show coming up they want to make sure you're available to audition for. :-)

3) The theatre world is incestuous (at least in the Twin Cities) - I don't know if it's the same with other activities, like sports or whatever, but it seems like once you get involved in theatre, you're not able to attend any theatre event without knowing at least some of the people involved. It's rare for me now to go to an audition or a performance and not see at least a few people I know on one side of the curtain or the other. For someone who's always been a bit of an outsider, that's a really weird experience. Nice, but weird. :-)

4) If you're a guy and you want to meet girls, do theatre. Seriously, if you can speak loud enough to be heard and clearly enough to be understood, and can walk a relatively straight line without falling down, you will be seriously looked at. If, heaven forbid, you can actually carry a tune and move in time with music, you can all but guarantee a spot on the cast list and be considered for a lead. IF you're male. Of course, if the only reason you're doing it is to meet girls, that will become very obvious very quickly, and, while you're likely to continue getting cast, the girls will likely already know all about you....

5) Auditions go both ways.  Yes, when you audition for a show, you are asking the director to considering putting you in their show. But you're not the only one auditioning. And I don't mean the other 40 or so people in the line outside the audition room door. The director and theatre are auditioning, too. They may have the say in who gets offered parts, but you CAN choose whether or not to accept it.

Now, I'm a firm believer that, if you know full well there's no way in heck you could do the show, you shouldn't audition. It's a waste of every one's time. But if you go to the audition and something about it makes your skin crawl, you are well within your rights to turn down any role offered. It's not an easy thing to do, I'll admit. After all, you're being offered a part, the thing you work toward with every audition. But if accepting that part is going to make you miserable, is it really worth it? I've attended one audition where the people running it were so obnoxious I probably would not have even accepted a callback had I gotten one, much less a part. And another audition where "the regulars" were so tight-knit and snarky that I couldn't imagine trying to deal with them on a nightly basis for two months in rehearsals. Again, it's hard to turn down a part, but there are very few parts out there that are worth being miserable for.

That said, if you turn down part after part, you will get a reputation for it. Remember #2.

6) "Director's favorites" get labelled that and cast for a reason. Here's an example of what I mean in the form of a dialog I've heard...

"Oh, he'll never cast me. He only casts his favorites."
"He casts people he doesn't know. The first time he cast me he didn't know me."
"Well, of course he cast you. You're good."

Yes, there ARE a few directors out there that only cast their favorites. Or will only cast people in lead roles that they've worked with before. But that's not overly common, especially in community theatre. But I'll tell you a secret. If you're good, you have a better than average chance of being cast by any director out there.

Now, before you say, "well, duh!", let's define "good", shall we? Believe it or not, it doesn't mean having Oscar-level acting skills or Broadway-caliber singing. It means being on time, not missing entrances, not missing rehearsal (without a really good reason), learning and KNOWING your lines (yes, there's a difference), helping out as needed on set building and painting, lending a hand when you can, attending and actually WORKING on strike night... the list goes on. Basically, it means having a good work ethic.Theatre isn't a "show up and have everyone marvel at your ability" activity. It's WORK. It's fun work, but work all the same. Just as actors can get reputations for being divas and pains in the ... you know, they can also get reputations for working that same you know off. Those are the ones often labelled as director's favorites. But they're not getting cast simply because the director likes them. They're getting cast because their work ethic and the consistent product of that ethic have earned the respect of that director.

7) Theatre is a great place to meet and make friends. If you love theatre, becoming involved in a show guarantees that you will meet other people who love theatre. Right off the bat, you have something in common. Most of my favorite people I have met either through church or through the theatre. Each place, we have the chance to start off on the same footing, through a shared love and interest. The ice is broken immediately and painlessly, and we can move on to learning more about each other right away.

Does this mean you're guaranteed to like every person in your cast? Well, how big is your cast? If it's a one person show, chances are pretty good you'll at least get along with the cast. But I've been in casts ranging from 12 to over 60 people and I can honestly say that in almost every cast there was someone I really enjoyed getting to know, and someone I'd wish never to be cast alongside again. I've been in some very special casts, and some that weren't so special. But there was always someone I enjoyed spending time with backstage and getting to know. And some that have become very dear friends. And I never would have met them without theatre.

I'm not sure exactly when my next audition will be. I know there will be one coming up after Labor Day, but whether there will be any before that, I'm not sure. So if you have any questions about community theatre, getting involved, what it's like, or what I've experienced, feel free to ask. I'll do my best to give you an honest answer.

Friday, May 20, 2011

A breakthrough

So last night was yet another sung audition. But oh, what a difference!

First, a little background.

Due to "a series of unfortunate events" that would take way too long to go through, I somehow managed to develop a singing phobia. As in, the only time I could sing was if my voice was safely buried in a choir or other large group, or when driving alone in the car. But even when I was driving alone, if another car pulled up beside me, I would get sick to my stomack, sweat, and have to stop singing. I even had trouble singing lulabies to my then infant daughter.

But I can remember what it was like to love singing. To love bringing the song to life with sound and emotion. And I wanted to see if I could find that again.  So enter Michelle.

Michelle is a wonderful woman, actress, singer and vocal coach. She's a rather well known actress here in the Twin Cities. We totally lucked into lessons with her through a camp Mim attended and absolutely loved.

Now, if you know me at all, you know I'm not much of a believer in luck. I detect more than just a smidgen of God's hand at work in all this. :-)

I'm not even sure Michelle could hear me in that first lesson. It took every ounce of strength and faith I had to make any noise at all even remotely resembling singing. I could tell, as lessons progressed, that the poor woman didn't really realize what she had gotten herself into. She couldn't really understand my "reluctance" to sing out.

But it wasn't really reluctance. It was fear. Pure, primal, twist the gut fear. It took almost a year for me to start to feel anything even remotely comfortable when I opened my mouth, even with her saying almost every week, in every way she could figure out, that I did have a voice and was somewhat competent in using it.

My first sung audition was....painful. There was a desperation in it, a "holding on by the skin of my teeth" feel. But I got through it. It must not have been quite as bad as I thought, since I was asked to stay and read AND dance (we're not even going to talk about dancing at this point... oy!) Anyway, long story short, I didn't get cast. But neither did about 75% of the people who auditioned. More importantly to me, I survived the experience, my one goal for the audition.

Fast forward almost 3 years. I've been in over 10 shows since then, some plays but mainly musicals. I've even had a couple of one-line sung solos. So I've come a Looooooonnnggg way. But, every time I sing for an audition, I feel like I'm saying "Yeah, I can carry a tune. I'll do fine in your chorus. Sorry I'm not lead material." I never really believed I could sing well enough to do anything else.

Enter yesterday. I love the show I auditioned for. I love the role I auditioned for. That role's a lead. That creates a conflict within myself. I'm not lead material. I can go for it, but I know it won't happen. But I love that role... so the endless loop goes.

Before our audition, we were blessed to go to Michelle's for a lesson/warm up. During that time, she said something that meant the world to me. We've been having REALLY good lessons, especially with this song. During yesterday's lesson, I mentioned basically that I knew there was very little chance of me getting the lead. Michelle said, very quietly, "I don't think it's a long shot at all." And she meant it.

So I went to the audition for the first time believing that maybe, just maybe, this might be true. I entered the audition room, nervous, but finding that I trusted Michelle and the work we've done. I sang out, not quite as well as at Michelle's, but well enough. No cracks, no squeaks, no gasps for breath. The desparation of that first audition was forgotten, and I - almost - lost myself in the song.

And then it was over. That's the thing with auditions. You shake, you worry, you work, you audition, and then... nothing. At least for a few days. If you don't get in, you never know why you didn't. If you do, you rarely really know why you did.

I ended up staying after I sang to cheer on and support friends who were also auditioning. I heard 3 other women sing the same song I did (provided by the theater for women of a certain age :-). Now, normally when I do that, I simply manage to confirm to myself my poor view of my singing and my chances. But, this time, it was different. I was able to start my listening at a neutral place, instead of deep within my own belief in my shortcomings and failings. One woman seemed to have great difficulties with pitch and rhythm. One had a beautiful operatic voice. This sort of thing used to immediately convince me that I was hopeless. But as I listened, I realized that just having an incredible operatic voice wasn't enough. While the woman sang beautifully, there didn't seem to be any connection to the song. It became a bit of an operatic aria, instead of the ballad it really was. Beautifully sung, but not performed. The third woman also had a very nice voice, but, again, no performance. There was no varying of tone or volume, no "telling of the story" the song presented.

Now, I will admit that I have no idea what the director is looking for. Sometimes a part is cast more on look (and availability) than necessarily on talent or ability. But I can say one thing without doubt. I sang with heart.  I didn't just sing a song. I told a story - with words, movement and emotion. I varied volume. I varied intensity.  For the first time, the story of the song became my focus, instead of the story of my singing. I can't say that I heard that from any of the other women. Who knows if that will make a difference in whether or not I get a role. But it made a huge difference to me. I learned that, sometimes, I really can sing.

Thank you, Michelle.

Tuesday, May 17, 2011

And so it begins...

Hi all!

I'm Diannah, and I've finally decided to join the blog-a-sphere.

Why, you ask?  I love to write. My job and hobbies raise tons of questions any time they come up. And I'm getting ready to take what could be an amazing vacation. But mostly, because I find that I learn best from my life experiences when I look at them from outside of myself. From a third person viewpoint.

And that's what blogging - public journaling, basically - forces me to do. If I'm just journaling, that's strictly personal. And I find myself avoiding looking at certain emotions and experiences from that very valuable third person viewpoint. If I'm writing knowing that others will be reading it, I tend to be more honest with what I say, and therefore more honest with myself.

I make no promises that this blog will even be interesting, much less a valuable read. But I can promise that it will be honest.

A little about myself:

I'm 48, married with a 16 (soon to be 17) year old daughter. I'm originally from Shreveport, Louisiana, but have lived in some part of the Twin Cities in Minnesota since 1985. I currently work as a Dog Training Instructor (DTI) and Mentor for a large chain pet supply store. DTI means I spend a good chunk of my time at work teaching pet parents how to help their canine family members learn manners and appropriate behaviors. Mentor means I train other trainers to do the same thing. I love that part of my job. I've been with this company almost 15 years at this point. There have been things I love, and things I hate. Just as with any job, I suppose. Even now, there are things I love and things I'd just as soon not to have to deal with.

The title of this blog has many layers of meaning. The simplest of which refers to my current obsession - uh, I mean hobby.  I'm a community theatre actress. In the past 3 years I've performed in 11 different shows with 7 different community theatres and 6 different directors. I just completed a show this past weekend (Grease) and will be auditioning for another (Footloose) this Thursday. It's my thought that this blog will likely spend a lot of time on my theatre experiences. If you know nothing about community theatre, or are interested in getting started, hopefully you'll find this interesting and helpful.

What does this have to do with the title of this blog? Well, as a rule, a theatre production occurs on a stage, and the area on either side of the stage, where actors wait to enter, change scene and sometimes even change clothes, is called the Wings of the stage. Thus, the production primarily takes place between those wings.

Get it now?

There are other reasons for the name, that may or may not be explained later on. We shall see.... Angels figure into the picture.

So what prompted me to start this blog now? 

In 6 days, the three of us leave for our first true family vacation in over 7 years. We will be cruising Alaska's Inside Passage on the Disney Wonder. I'm hoping to blog as we go.

So welcome to my Life Between the Wings. I hope you enjoy this peek behind the curtain. Please let me know what you think, and if there's anything I can do to make this a better blog. I can't promise regular updates, but hopefully I'll keep as up-to-date as possible.

Tomorrow I'll (hopefully) be finishing off most of the pre-cruise details and getting an idea of what my finished packing will be like. Thursday I work, then have a voice lesson/warm up with one of the best actresses/voice coach/people I know, then off to auditions with my daughter. I'm hoping to blog a little about my prep and my experiences. This will be a special audition for me. More details to come.     :-)