Welcome to "Ask Blair," a weekly online column of practical advice for actors, written by Blair Glaser.
Once again, hello and thank you to all you creative advice seekers. This week's column includes more training information about how to get where you want to go. I also invite you to write me with any problems you may be encountering at auditions, in class, or anything you think might stand between you and your talent.
I am a high school freshman who would like to pursue a career in professional theater. I realize that the big move is at least eight years away (my parents insist that I finish college; in my saner moments, I agree with them) but I still would like to start learning the ropes now. Could you recommend an agent? A neighborhood to live in? A day job? I also realize that the odds are against me, and I SHOULD just go work for the state, but this strikes me as the ultimate in boring. Should I go for it? Or should I stay away?
New Haven, CT/Troy, NY
Thanks so much for your sweet e-mail. You sound very dedicated and driven, a great thing for an actor your age. I don't feel it's time to answer your questions about agents or neighborhoods. It's time to, as you put it, start learning the ropes. The first layer of ropes. Begin by getting involved in high school drama. Also, if you live in New Haven, you are in luck. The local theatre scene is booming, with small non-professional and semi-professional companies abounding, alongside Long Wharf, Yale Rep, the Shubert, etc. Check with one of the community groups (contact through ArtSpace) to see if one is accepting apprentices or needs help in the box office. (Refer to "Ask Blair", 10/17, Scott's question). If you live in Troy, please contact the New York Theatre Institute.
You can thank your parents for "making" you finish college, which is really not such a bad thing. Approach it as a major opportunity to boost your theatrical career. At college you can get great training and production experience without the pressure of professional career demands. There are some great theatre schools out there! Work diligently so that you can get into an excellent theatre college, where you can have a lot of fun, learn your craft, make a lot of connections, and get a better day job (should you need one) after graduation.
It can be tricky to want to be a theatre actor in a time when people have stereotyped the lifestyle of an artist as poor, struggling, wild, unstable, and have other negative associations with theatre. That stereotype can be true, but there are other ways to survive as an artist in this world. I know many actors who are making a healthy living while they pursue careers in theatre.
I say, "odds, shmodds." The odds have been against everyone who has enjoyed and currently is enjoying a healthy career in theatre. I think you really wrote to me to ask me to tell you to follow your heart. I encourage you to follow your heart completely.
There, I said it. Now the rest is up to you.
I am 24 years old, and didn't complete my undergraduate study as a vocal performance major. I left due to an ulcer on my vocal chords. I am healthy now and ready to go.
I refuse to return to the university that I studied at because they told me I should not perform professionally . . . instead perform for them. Does that sound right? I didn't believe in sacrificing prof. credits for college credit -- they disagreed! What would you suggest in terms of refining my acting? I plan on studying voice and attending vocal workshops at the Denver Center for the Performing Arts. Where can one turn to for professional training without going the university route?
Thanks so much for your question. I am sorry to hear about your vocal injury, and am glad to hear you're finding your way back to the work.
I want to address your feelings about college restrictions on professional working. I see your point and agree to an extent. However, I also believe there is a good reason some schools employ this policy, and the policy can be very beneficial. It is designed to prevent actors from forming bad habits that can sometimes result from working before one has developed one's instrument to really deliver the goods. It's like serving a great dish before it's thoroughly cooked. You can't totally appreciate its quality because truly, not enough time went into it.
That policy can also help shift an actor's focus from being SO goal-oriented, ("I've got to get work, and be working NOW!") to allowing for the experience of the artistic process.
I don't have much info on acting schools in Denver, but I suggest you do some research. Look in the local trade paper or talk to the people at the Denver Center about a good coach or school for acting training. Maybe they offer an acting class there as well.
The next step is to audit classes and/or meet with coaches. This is important. An acting class or private coach should provide a place where you feel safe enough to grow as a person and an actor, where the teacher is someone you respect and trust, where the work is honest and challenging, where you will eventually feel connected and, if in a class, part of a community. By auditing different classes, you get a flavor of what works for you, and you sample which environments inspire you to learn and which ones don't.
I hope this helps, Ken..
Hi! I am confused. What is an eligible singer, legit musical theatre piece, and chorus procedure? I am so new to this. What group (union?) do I have to join to be able to audition as a female vocalist? Thanks, I appreciate your help!
Chris M. Arace
Thanks for your question about actor lingo. For information on Actors' Equity, the theatrical actors' union, which will enable you to audition as a female vocalist, please refer to the September 26 and the following week's issue of "Ask, Blair," located in the features section of Playbill On-Line. At the bottom of this column on the website is a button that will take you to all previous issues.
A "legit musical theatre song" usually refers to a style of show tunes that are not contemporary, but more in the vein of light opera, or by composers such as Rodgers and Hammerstein, Rodgers and Hart, Jerome Kern, etc. The term usually refers to songs that require more classically trained voices.
"Chorus procedure" is a type of Equity audition in which aspiring performers are required to sign up for the audition a week before it's time, and arrive at the audition one half-hour prior to it.
I hope this helps, Chris.
I am 17 years old and want to know if there is any room in Broadway musicals for men with low range? It seems every open chorus call wants tenors or high baritones. I have a wonderful trained voice...but I simply don't have high range. Is my musical theater career finished?
Being a female, I've never dealt much personally with the issues around male vocal ranges. But Bruce Stapleton, a musical director and performer, and current employee of Playbill, assures me that you have nothing to be deeply concerned about.
Bruce suggests instead that you have an advantage, because while there are more roles for tenors and high baritones, there are much fewer bass/baritones out there. So the competition is less intense.
Bruce says, "even in a show with no bass/baritone principals, there will usually be chorus work for a bass with strong, pure low notes. . . Bass roles tend to be character roles, so work at stretching and enlarging your acting range. Many of these roles are written for more mature men, so be patient and let yourself grow into them."
Here are some bass/baritone roles you can begin to prepare for: "Sweeney Todd," "Tom Collins" (Rent), "Gaston" (Beauty and the Beast), "Milos Gloriosus" (Funny Thing...Forum), "Jud Fry" (Oklahoma!), "Emil de Becque" (South Pacific), and "Captain Von Trapp" in The Sound of Music.
Bruce also advocates that you continue to train and study hard, because you can extend your vocal range. You also might want to consider a career in opera.
Good luck, Stephen!
Sincyberly to all,
-- Blair Glaser
Blair Glaser coaches actors privately in NYC. For Blair's bio or information about classes, click here.