Ask Blair: Dealing With 'The Odds'

Ask Blair: Dealing With 'The Odds' Dear Readers,
With the theatre season recently coming to a close, I am sad to announce that this week's column, which discusses "the odds," overacting, contacts and where to look when you sing in an audition, will be the last column I post for the time being. However, I will be answering questions privately over the summer, so feel free to keep them coming.

Dear Readers,
With the theatre season recently coming to a close, I am sad to announce that this week's column, which discusses "the odds," overacting, contacts and where to look when you sing in an audition, will be the last column I post for the time being. However, I will be answering questions privately over the summer, so feel free to keep them coming.

Editor's Note: All the previous Ask Blair columns will remain live in the Ask Blair section of Playbill On-Line. We wish Ms. Glaser the best as she pursues a degree in Drama Therapy.

Question
Blair,
I may only be 16, but I'm already being torn between a future in theatre and a future in a more "secure" career. What advice do you have for young actors who are going to inevitably face the dreaded crossroads where the stability of a more "conventional" career choice is pitted against the alluring and personal satisfaction of a life devoted to Theatre? I mean, the harrowing "2 percent" success figure is very frightening. I believe I have a gift . . . A love and respect for human nature which has drawn me to the stage. But there is sooo much talent in my school's Theatre Guild, in my district, in my region, in my state. . .when I even try to ponder the amount of "talent" in the U.S., I get a lump in my throat. What can one do? What SHOULD one do? I may even write a play about this one day. . .it'd make for an interesting character conflict (hmm...note to self: if acting career falls through, write play titled Two Percent).
Thanks,
Brian Smith

Dear Brian,
Of course this is a very natural question. Although this business is highly competitive and financially risky, I always encourage people to follow their dreams against all odds.

Be aware that there are tons of options, and you may have different definitions of "success" than the survey that came up with the figure 2 percent. For example, a person can have a family, a full time job, and be a popular actor in his or her town's community or even regional theatre. I'd call that success if that's the level of performing with which the person is satisfied with. Likewise, an actor can be making $85,000 a year on a soap opera, be working LONG hours memorizing, rehearsing and then going into make-up, taping, and then going home at night to work out and memorize some more, and feel very frustrated artistically. I would not call that success except maybe in a financial sense. The question you can begin asking yourself is: How important is it to you to sacrifice your passion for the safety of statistics? Of course, it's not a crime to want to feel financially secure. You may need to try doing something "more conventional" for a few years before you know the answer. You may then discover that you are miserable, and will only be happy if you are intensely pursuing your dreams. Then you will know it is the best path for you from experience, and you will have the courage to do it. Or, you may discover that your "respect for human nature," which naturally drew you to acting, can take you into other careers and paths that you love. That's what happened to me. I am no longer drawn to living the life of a performer, though I was and did for some time. But if you asked me if I wanted to be anything else but an actress at 16, I would have said NO WAY. Things change.

You don't have to starve to be an actor. You can get a conventional job AND pursue acting. Many actors secure full time jobs (and even get them with a degree in theatre) and if you're lucky these jobs can be pretty lenient about accommodating acting schedules.

You may also find that you can get your theatre fix by making theatre a hobby. So you see there are many ways to go. Whatever you do, make sure to have fun.

Dear Blair,
I recently played a deaf, dumb and blind character, and now that I am getting back into speaking and "seeing" roles, I am having the problem of overacting a lot. Any suggestions?
-- Michelle

Hey Michelle,
Sometimes when actors take on a very physically challenging role as you have just finished doing, "normal acting" tends to make them feel like they are not doing enough.

It takes courage to remember that YOU are enough, and the way to begin is with you: by getting specific. Alone with the script, take every line that your character says, and focus on deeply understanding where the character is coming from by exploring her situations and making parallels to similar one's in your life. What situations have you experienced that are similar to hers? Do you have people in your life with whom you interact in a way similar to the way she interacts with the ones in the play? Don't try to act your idea of what's going on. Really get in there and relate as much as you can to the experience of the character, by again, tapping in to how you would feel if it were your own experience. Don't say a line just because it is the next one on the page. Don't say it the way you hear it in your head. Only say it when you have a reason and an experience to speak it from. This will help make your performance more real.

When you catch yourself going to overact, pause take a breath, and get in touch with what is going on. Let's say you find you are feeling numb; you are feeling "nothing." As unnatural as it may seem, drop the move to pretense, and say the next line right from there -- from the feeling of numbness which is your experience in that moment. You may be feeling "nothing," but trust that by accepting that something truthful about the character will be communicated. If you can stay with your own experience and trust that it corresponds to the character's experience, your performance will be honest.

Question
Hey Blair!
I am a young actress in the Dallas-Fort Worth area. My question is, if you know actors and actresses who are in the biz, can you get farther? I happen to know a few, and they have given me numbers to call. Could this be a huge opportunity, or just a shot at a possible job or two? Should I try a business called S.T.A.G.E.? It is an organization that posts more than 100 auditions monthly, for a yearly fee. I'm very serious about acting because it is the one thing I am very sure I can excel in and enjoy at the same time.
Sincerely,
Laurie Sawyer

Dear Laurie,
Contacts are always useful. They have the ability in some cases to make or break an actor's career. Other actors who are further along in the process, who do not feel threatened by you and are willing to help, can be a tremendous asset. They can recommend you to directors, agents, etc., thereby getting you work and helping you get to the next level of your career.

While you by all means use the phone numbers in hand, keep in mind that however important contacts may be, you can never predict their outcome. Even if you have met the most high-powered agent, who tells you personally to call her on Monday, there is no guarantee of the outcome. Of course she could end up being the best thing that ever happened to your career, but she might also get really busy and never return your calls, or actually meet with you once and then drop the ball. You could become great friends with a network television producer, and the only time you see the set of a show is with the free tickets he sends your way when audiences are low.

It's tricky: Contacts can be great, but my advice is, don't depend on them. If you have them, actively milk them for all they are worth. Always invite people to come see you work. And remember to send thank-you cards to people who have given you time, and send updates about what is happening in your career. But if you can, when dealing with contacts, keep your expectations low.

I am not too familiar with S.T.A.G.E. If you do subscribe, please let me know how it is. Best of luck in your pursuits.

Question
Hi Blair,
I go to many auditions where the casting directors are very picky. I was wondering where I should look (whether with a crowd or not) when I am singing an up-tempo and a ballad. I also was wondering should I shift my view, sing to one person, or do the figure 8? (The figure 8 is where you make a sideways 8 at the audience, which includes a lot of people.)

Thanx,
Richard

Hi Rich.
It depends on the content of the song you are singing, not the style. In the way you phrased the question, it is evident that you are trying to do it "right" for the casting directors. You can never second guess them -- so you might as well follow your own feelings on it. What's important is making a firm choice and committing to it.

You need to find out what you are singing about, and if it makes sense to look at the people in the room or not. Frankly, I think it almost never makes sense to look at auditors. This is because they are not there to be entertained by you, they are there to hire someone for the job, and it can make them very uncomfortable to be enlisted as part of your performance.

Furthermore, if they are not receptive and grimace, glance around or begin writing about you, you may be irrevocably distracted. Also, you want to get it so that you are really not thinking much at all about where you are looking when you're in the room singing. You want to be feeling the song -- and have your gaze be an expression of that. So forget the "figure 8" thing. I've never heard of it, but I'm sure it's used more in concert-style singing than in theatre.

I like looking slightly above the heads of the audience. You can move your head as you do when you are talking to someone. You don't have to stay stiff or in only one position. In a story song, you may be talking to an audience. Sometimes it's best to place the "audience," again, above the heads of the viewers, so you are not distracted by the casting audiences writing, negligence or whatever. And sometimes, you may feel it's best to make eye contact for the song's effect, but keep in mind this is risky in an audition. In a song like "Children Will Listen" (Into the Woods) -- I think it would be ridiculous not to look at the people you are singing to, because you are relaying information to them.

Good luck on your next audition. Let me know how it goes.

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