Once again, hello and thank you to all creative advice-seekers. This week's column addresses the debate between terms “actor”or “actress,” healthy ways to move to NYC, going to auditions when you can’t be in the show, and a tidbit about actors’ self-esteem. I invite actors of all ages to continue write me with any problems encountered at auditions, in class, or anything you feel could be standing between you and your talent. Make sure to check the previous columns to see if your question, or one like it, has been answered already!
My drama friends and I are in a very heated debate that I hope you can help resolve. In professional theatre today, is a women performer called an actor or actress? Some of my friends say actress is better and some (including me) say actor is better. Which is correct? Which do you prefer? Which is preferred by the top female performers? Which is more widely accepted in the business? I know this may seem like a silly question but I really want to know. Thank You!
A Confused Actor (Actress?)
Dear Confused Actor/Actress,
I do not believe that one term is more correct than the other. The answers to the actor vs. actress debate really lives in the individual preferences of each performer. Some women performers feel the term actress diminishes them somehow, and others feel it separates them from male actors in a positive way. The term can simply be useful for clarification when female artists have androgynous names like Pat or Sean -- or Blair.
Personally, I enjoy both terms, however, the word "actress" for me, can carry a subtle regal, dramatic and sometimes sexy flair that the term "actor" does not inspire. "Actor" feels to me more serious, and that can be nice, too -- although I don't buy that it is more professional.
I am not aware of what the top dogs have to say on the matter-- and as far as the business goes, I believe the terms are both still widely used and accepted. For example, the Academy Awards still have category's like "Best Actress in a Feature" as opposed to "Best Female Actor..." etc. Hope this helps, Actor.
Earlier this year I wrote to you for advice after my Yale School of Drama audition; remember? I was accepted into AMDA American Musical and Dramatics Academy, and now that I'm done with undergraduate (5/24/97), I'm excited to move to the big city and, yeah, I'm hesitant. What are some tips to help me adjust to the city life being from a private school in South Dakota? Should I purchase all headshots, dance equipment, etc. here where it's much cheaper?
Also, I'm a minority (African-American) and luckily our directors base their casting on talent and the certain voice for the role (some directors of mine have actually closed their eyes and listened to each audition) . How does it work on Broadway with minorities breaking the "color" barrier when it comes to casting roles that are traditionally for non-minorities?
How does it work in musicals? I really look forward to hearing your awesome words of wisdom.
I bid you peace
It's great that you got into AMDA. Going to school in NYC gives you an advantage over those in graduate schools in other areas...you get to be in the theatrical heart of it all.
So--I'm not the one to thoroughly answer your question about cheaper goods. Wherever you feel you will get the most for your money, please buy. New York IS expensive, but when you know where to go, you can get good deals here, too. You'll quickly learn all of that from teachers and classmates when you live here.
Regarding making the move easier....do you have any friends in NYC? If so, contact them and have long discussions, ask a lot of questions. Take a trip to NY and visit them for a few days if you can and they don't mind. It would be great for you to be chaperoned about the city for a few days.
If you don't have friends here, and you can afford it, take about a weeklong trip with a friend, preferably. Stay in a youth hostile--there's one in SoHo, and there's a YMCA on the Upper West Side that is very reasonable. Stand on TKTS (a discount ticket sales venue in the Broadway district), see a show, meet with someone like a teacher or administrator from AMDA, buy a Backstage magazine from a newsstand, (go on an audition even!), pick up subway maps and bus maps and learn how to get around, explore neighborhoods and rents and real estate agents. Really get to know the city. This will help you immensely once you're here.
I suggest you do this all BEFORE you start school. It really helps to be familiar with the city and how to get around it.
As far as color-blind casting, it's a great time for that. I have seen many shows recently on Broadway, including musicals, and at reputable Off-Broadway theatres, where race is simply not an issue. I find it very refreshing. It may not be as equal-opportunity as it could or eventually will be. On the other hand, there are also more plays and parts written for African-Americans now than ever before. I remember looking through Backstage one week, and wishing I could go to audition after audition but discovering I could not because they were for African-American women only. How's that for a change!
I hope this helps, Greg. I wish you the best.
Dear Blair Glaser,
Last year I went to a chorus solo audition. I never tried out for anything before. When I started to sing I don't know what happened but I had a really good voice. It was a loud, belting voice. Since then I have been taking singing lessons only now I am singing opera. I have a very high soprano voice. I still can sing in my belting voice. It's as if I have two completely different voices. Which voice will I be more successful in? Everyone I asked told me that it depends on the part, but what is your advice? Which voice should I use and when should I use it?
Another question I have is referring to the e-mail I sent you before asking if I should go to an audition even though I am not going to be here for the performances. If I get a role (which is not going to happen), and tell the people I can't be in the play, will they be mad and not let me audition for any of their plays again? Please help:)
To begin with your second question of the auditioners being mad at you. Usually when you audition for something, if they like you, you are called back to audition again. So if you get called back, that's the time to thank them for the opportunity to audition, and admit you realized you cannot be in the play so you won't attend the callback to audition for a second time. It's usually fine because it means there is one less decision to be made, and they shouldn't hold it against you (if they even remember you next time) and -- you're young. If you keep doing this with the same directors, then it could become a problem.
As for your voice--why do you need to commit to one voice? Keep working on both and audition for roles you are interested in singing. Ingenue roles are leads that are usually soprano. Character roles are usually belt. You can also ask yourself, which voice do you enjoy singing in more? Which voice makes you feel powerful and alive?
You may want to find a voice teacher who will help you with the break in your voice, so that your voice, in its glorious range, sounds like one voice instead of two.
Thank you Blair!
I really appreciate your support [from you're answer in the last column]! I won the competition...though I don't think I did as well as I could have...I was pretty disappointed in myself.
Even though you didn't ask a question, I wanted to use your e-mail to illustrate an actor issue.
Why, if you won the competition, would you choose to spend time being disappointed in yourself? A lot of actors indulge in this actor habit of consistently beating themselves up after they've worked. You won! I bet you deserved to win, too.
It's good to be aware of your process as an artist. It helps to know what marks you hit and where you think you could have given more. But all the being hard on yourself and thinking you suck for not being perfect really just gets in the way. It halts creativity. Believe me, I know from experience.
To me, it's much more attractive to hear someone say "I thought I did a really good job out there tonight". Owning one's talent in an honest way is a big part of growing up.
Keep winning 'em, Nora.