On this lovely Sunday morning in Berkeley, with the smell of fresh granola and patchouli wafting on the early winter breeze, I would like to take a moment to raise my piping hot chai and salute the casting directors, directors, choreographers, and musical directors who take time out of their busy schedules to grace EPAS, ECCs, open calls, and other off the beaten path talent scouting opportunities with their presence; those who are actively seeking new and exciting talent. I mean that sincerely. Not as the backhanded compliment it sounds like. Sometimes I struggle with sincerity.
All too often actors find themselves in the audition room with an intern or an assistant to an assistant. Gatekeepers. The audition process involves passing through a series of antechambers before you reach the sanctum sanctorum. The theatrical holy of holies. The creative team. I can understand that the people at the top of the food chain are busy but then I think to myself…so are the people at the bottom. Everyone is busy. It’s New York City. Even the homeless are busy. It’s about priorities.
If I could have one Thanksgiving wish it would be for the BIG FISH (rest in peace) to make it a priority to find the best of the little fish. To foster new talent. To be aware of the talent right in front of them. Wouldn’t everyone benefit from this? Is anyone out there guiding talent for the greater good? Is graduation from a BFA program where mentorship ends? Is everyone simply too busy?
You know that thing where everyone knows that a role is being cast (especially for replacements) and the process draws on and on while rumors circulate of how they just can’t find the right person? In almost every single one of these cases I believe that I could have cast the role in an afternoon simply by messaging someone on Facebook. Do you know why I feel that way? Because I’m in the room. Because I see every single, special actor. And most of all because there is no shortage of talent in New York City. There’s simply a shortage of vision.
On that note I’m stepping off my soapbox and resuming my Sunday morning activities. Perhaps I’ll play some show tunes on the Spotify and take the dog for a walk. But before I head out the door I want to say a very real and very sincere thank you to all of the people who are investing their time, energy, and resources in new talent.
I’m looking at you Tara Rubin. Thank you for this. Sometimes a newcomer can be every bit as exciting as a star.
“…democracy in theatre is ridiculous. I don’t believe in it. Imagine you’re in a military situation, the enemy is firing at you, and every time you want to do something you have to say, “Let’s have a meeting.” It may sound more democratic, but I’m telling you, it’s destructive. Someone has to be in a position to make a decision.”
Sometimes you accidentally hit a nerve with something you say. By accidentally I don’t mean that it isn’t intentional, I hope to hit a nerve with everything I write, but rather accidentally because you can never predict how something will resonate in someone else’s ears.
An acquaintance wrote to me regarding my post that addressed the On The Town revival’s questionable choice to ask actors to costume their auditions. We had a discussion pertaining to why or why not things may have happened as they did and arrived very firmly at a stalemate. We just didn’t see eye to eye. Our ideologies were simply opposite. The following statement was what flipped off the switch on my powers of objective discourse…
“We can choose to be pissed off about the situation and negative about it, or see the bright side. These producers aren’t going to change and we can’t make them, so might as well endure their fun and games and laugh about it later.”
I just can’t get on board with this line of thought. I completely understand that by the nature of the business actors are at a disadvantage. He who controls the money, controls the world. I am not so naïve as to deny the benefits of playing the game by someone else’s rules but I cannot do it. I believe too completely in the value of actors. Lately it seems that there is a philosophy that actors should be grateful for the opportunity to perform. I absolutely believe in gratitude for the fact that there are new shows creating new jobs. I do NOT believe that this gratitude involves jumping through hoops to acquire said jobs. I believe that what you bring into the room is enough. Your talent, preparation, years of training, willing attitude, and collaborative spirit are enough. You are enough.
I am well aware that I am being an idealist in a profession of opportunists, but I sincerely believe in the greater good. Maybe it’s the fresh California air in this New Yorker’s lungs but now more than ever I am seeing the power of the collective. Of rallying behind a common cause. Of looking toward the future and not just surviving through the day. Are actors losing ground and losing rights? Has it always been like this? Are we really going to continue playing entirely by someone else’s rules?
What do YOU believe in?
*The Anderson Tab now has it’s own little corner of the internet. Click here to keep tabs on what’s being talked about.*
I generally try to be as objective as possible in how I look at the world. Look at all sides of the issue, you know? That whole “Never met a man I didn’t like” Will Rogers outlook on humanity. But every now and again I am confronted with something so disturbing that I can’t be bothered entertaining how someone arrived at such a questionable decision.
Today it was brought to my attention that actors were asked to audition IN COSTUME for the upcoming Broadway production of On The Town.
Are. You. Kidding. Me?
If you are a part of a creative team and you cannot imagine what an actor will look like in costume, I don’t believe that you deserve to be called a CREATIVE at all. Actors are artists. They bring skills, talents, and personalities into the room with them. Now you are going to ask that they spend time and money, both of which are in perpetual short supply for actors, to aid YOU in doing YOUR job? As far as I am concerned this is like telling a customer at a bar to go make his or her own drink. NO. YOU GO MAKE IT. It’s your job.
I understand and support asking actors to come in looking smart, well groomed, and appropriate for the style of the show. I am all too familiar with dancers rolling into auditions looking as if they just came from the gym (which most of them have because of the outrageous physical standards dancers are now required to meet in addition to being at the top of their craft but that is an entirely different blog entry). But this sort of exploitation of an actors’ willingness to book a job is disgusting and disrespectful.
AND if I were to take this a step further I would say that part of the art of costuming is in making each individual actor beautiful and appropriate for the production. Addressing each person’s body and face, and designing a look for them that lands them squarely in the world of the show. Perhaps if you focused on finding the right TALENT to bring your production to life and hired an exceptional costume designer to address the actors’ and show’s needs…never mind…that would probably involve more work for the “creatives.”
As my rage haze begins to clear and I return to my objective point of view, I feel calm enough to say simply…
I am disappointed.
As I began writing this I thought to myself, “Fosse as an example of a great choreographer? How cliché.” But then it occurred to me that FOSSE IS AN EXAMPLE OF A GREAT CHOREOGRAPHER. Period. What has happened to musical theatre choreography in the past 30 years?
When did theatre dance veer so far from its old ideals? Standards of talent, performance, rawness, realness, excitement, risk, originality. When did “less is more” become more is more? What happened to subtlety? When did people forget that an isolated shoulder or a moment of absolute stillness could say more than a 180 degree penchee? When did choreographers forget that WHY and HOW you dance are just as important as how high you are kicking? How have they forgotten that dance creates the world in which the musical lives. It’s strictly visual storytelling. Dance suspends disbelief. THEY’RE DANCING! The possibilities are endless. So why is it so uninspired today?
I don’t want to see another Fosse
bastardization recreation. I don’t want to see the work of Jerome Robbins on Broadway again. It seems to me that in rehashing old work, Broadway is saying that its greatest days are behind us. I don’t want to see another musical trying to sell 90s hip-hop as movement for the new millennium. It’s not. It’s time for theatre dance to recreate itself, innovate, and move to the front of the curve. If that means fostering new talent from within the industry, so be it. If that means outsourcing choreographic work to creatives outside of the immediate industry, all the better. I see tremendous possibility in collaboration between pop, concert, and theatre choreographers working to create unique movement within the framework of Broadway STORYTELLING. Because at the end of the day if your movement isn’t telling the story, moving the plot along, and heightening the emotional treble of the piece, you should probably get off the stage.
I’m not suggesting that we should give the keys to the kingdom to choreographers outside of musical theatre. Musicals are specific. They are not concert pieces. They are not music videos. There is a formula. There is a common understanding of what it is. I am asking for interdisciplinary collaboration. An exchange of ideas. A new set of eyes to help solve a problem.
I am suggesting that choreographers from within musical theatre entertain the following:
FINESSE: Am I the only thinking that HOW you do something is important?
SUBTLETY: We are animals. We understand body language innately. It’s not a language you have to learn. It’s instinct. What is dance but mime to music? Return to the idea of gesture and communication. Cause and effect.
STORY: Is this movement creating the world the musical inhabits? Is it solving a problem? Is there a relationship between characters that is being built? Why are people dancing?
This all sounds so basic and yet I see multi-million dollar show after multi-million dollar show missing the mark. Perhaps the key is in looking back through time not to recreate great works or to plagiarize their style, but to ask what it was about THAT movement that made it so perfect.
I believe in asking questions to find solutions. But I suppose that only works if you realize that there is a problem in the first place.
*It should be noted that I believe in the value of preserving and documenting past work. Round of applause for American Dance Machine.
The MTA did away with tokens (and we all know the MTA is slow to do much of anything). So why won’t Broadway do the same? Ok, so I’m not talking about coins…I’m talking about the spare sprinkling of ethnicity most Broadway musicals try to pass off as ethnic diversity.
I’ve often referred to myself as a “token” or a” featured blac-tor” because for the majority of my career on stage I’ve BEEN that sprinkling of ethnicity in an otherwise overwhelmingly whitewashed ensemble. As a token, by the time you are down to a final round of callbacks, you know very well that it is between you and the other ethnic person in the room. Fact.
When did this become an acceptable casting model? Who decided that one or two is enough? In this year’s National Geographic photography issue there is a story called “The Changing Face of America” that discusses the ethnic evolution of the American people. As an ever increasing number of Americans are of mixed race, it seems out of touch to perpetuate a casting matrix that does not reflect the people and the world in which we live. Musical theatre is my preferred art form. My choice for self-expression. It is the world in which I feel most at home and yet I am left feeling grossly under-represented.
In the midst of an online discussion on the topic of the curious absence of Middle Eastern actors in Aladdin, a friend presented this as a solution for ethnic diversity on Broadway. “Well write some more ethnic shows and get them produced.” While this comment was probably well intentioned I nearly threw my sassy Macbook Air (which I just finally finished paying off) across the room.
I’m not asking for separate but equal Broadway productions. I’m asking for change. I’m asking you to see that a story doesn’t have to be about an ethnic group to warrant an ethnic performer. I am asking that casting and creatives stop taking the easy way out. To look for talent and greatness in every color, size, and shape. To create opportunities to showcase talent that deserves to be seen. To take risks. This goes beyond the issue of race. It reaches across humanity and to the heart of the matter that we all deserve to see ourselves reflected on stage.
And if I’m going to shoot for the moon, YES, I hope that more minority (not just ethnic minority) voices will be represented with productions on Broadway. For now I’m happy to start one actor at a time.