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 tackles the question of how to work with actors you feel aren't working with you. I invite actors of all ages to continue write me with any problems encountered at auditions, in class, or anything 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!
I am rehearsing for my high school play and rehearsals are going terribly. No one seems interested in really committing and the acting is bad! When I'm onstage with people I feel like either no one else is there or everyone's faking it. I know I've had more training than a lot of the other kids, but I feel like the cast (except for one other girl) isn't really interested. I told the director but she isn't doing anything about it. I don't want to tell the other actors because don't want to seem bossy and mean. I really like the play and my part. What can I do?
Eva, New York City
Thanks for your truly great question. I love it because actors go through this all the time, at all levels and stages of the game. Some of my professional teachers have told me stories of this happening to them on Broadway! From my own experience with this type of problem, much learned from making a lot of mistakes, here's what I suggest:
First, start with communication. If your intention for communicating to an actor or director is to improve your performances and the play overall, and not to be "bossy or mean," then I recommend you speak up. I think its great challenge to be able to face your fear and speak up for yourself in the name of your truth, despite how you think other people will react. In reality their negative reactions or false perceptions have very little to do with you. This bold quality will actually help your acting.
As you did, it's always smart to talk with the director before sharing any show-related problems with actors. Unfortunately, some directors may not agree with you, are less trustworthy than others, can be inefficient communicators, or are preoccupied with other things.
If that fails, as in your current situation, you may choose to communicate with other actors. When speaking with other actors about acting with them, you must be very careful with your phrasing, tone and approach. Almost NEVER tell another actor you feel they are not working up to par. Most actors are very sensitive to being judged, and an arrogant or abrasive approach can really ruin the partnership you are seeking in order to build a strong relationship onstage.
Instead, isolate what your problem is and suggest a solution, for example: "You know, when we do the picnic scene, I feel like we're not connecting and I'm just going through the motions. Do you? I'd love to feel more connected to you onstage... It really helps me to go over a specific history of the relationship...this is what I did in the last show and it really worked..maybe we could work together a bit on getting more specific?" OR "When you say your line about shma- shma, I'm supposed to get angry, but as your saying it right now, it doesn't piss me off...can we try it another way? " Refer to the Sept. 13 column for tips on rehearsing with partners.
Also, ask for and try to make eye contact with the others on stage. Eye contact with a fellow actor(s) onstage can be very helpful and grounding.
Now, if none of this works, work on yourself. If someone is acting totally fake, the worst thing you can do is enhance that fakeness by faking your responses. Just react from how what they said made you feel. It sounds risky, but I swear it works, and it's better to have some truth onstage than none at all.
I once was in a play where I was fighting with my husband. I felt the actor who was playing my husband was very self-absorbed, rigid, and forced. In fact, his denial of my presence onstage infuriated me. I behaved out of that infuriation, and through my lines asked him to pay attention to me. The scene rocked! Another time, I watched a girl in a scene who was overacting and doing this funny thing with her mouth. The actress who was working with her was supposed to cry at a certain point, but she felt a powerful urge to laugh at her partner. She decided to let the laughter out, and the partner reacted to it in character, forcing her acting to get real. In a flash, the one laughing was able to find her way through the laughter to the tears and it was very profound to see that emotional journey. No one in the audience felt her character wasn't supposed to be laughing. So if you trust yourself, it can work.
Good luck and break a leg, Eva!
I have a question on how a person who is non-Equity and non-Eligible can get information about the theatre industry. I am interested in starting a career in musical theatre in particular Broadway musicals. Thanks.
Thanks for your question. There are many ways to get information about and get involved in the industry if you are non-union. Please peruse previous "Ask, Blairs" for some of these types of information.
If you live on or nearer to the East Coast, I recommend subscribing to Backstage Magazine, which lists auditions and opportunities weekly for many, many non-Equity productions on stage, tours and film. If you live on the West Coast, check out Drama-Logue or Backstage West. The East Coast number for Backstage is (212) 764-7300. (Playbill has no affiliation with any of these magazines.)
Good luck with your career, Marlowe.
I am a junior currently majoring in theatre, hoping to pursue a professional career, preferably in the musical theatre. I have had two years of voice training with an opera singer, and although I am not currently taking lessons (due to monetary and time demands), I do know that I am a tenor, with a range slightly wider than two octaves. First of all, are there good roles available for a man with this voice type, and, with more training, about how much further could I expect to extend my range?
I turned your question over to Playbill's resident musical theatre director and tenor, Bruce Stapleton, who says "There is no way to predict how much a person can extend their range. It is completely dependent on the instrument, training and dedication of the individual."
Bruce also says, "as a tenor in musical theatre, you will rarely be asked to sing above a b-flat in principal roles. With a solid b-flat, you will be able to perform most tenor roles. Occasionally, a tenor with a high c may be needed for a novelty role or the chorus.
"There are countless roles available to tenors, so you need not concern yourself with an availability of roles. However, you need to be aware of a difference in styles. "Legit" tenor roles, such as "Lt. Cable" in South Pacific require a classically trained tenor voice. The emphasis here is on the beauty of a light, bright tenor voice with a well modulated vibrato. Then there are character roles, like "Sancho" in Man of La Mancha, where the emphasis is not so much on singing beautifully as it is on using the voice for comic effect and to express character. Lastly, there is the pop/rock style, where the power and excitement of a high "belt" is required, such as Jesus in Superstar, and you don't want to sound classically trained (although training is essential in order to produce this sound eight times a week without damaging your vocal chords.) Few people can do all three styles equally well.
"If you are a "legit" tenor and want to sing pop/rock, you will need to develop your chest voice and learn to blend it with your head voice to produce a "belt" sound. Also, work the bottom of your range as diligently as you do the top, and you may be able to perform high baritone roles as well."
I asked Bruce to include in your answer some examples of roles. He lists the following as options:
"Marryin' Sam," Lil' Abner
"Nicely Nicely Johnson," Guys and Dolls
"The Russian," Chess
Thanks for your question, SD. Good luck stretchin' those chords.
Dear Ms. Glaser,
My name is Michael Hart. I am 15 and I live in Fort Worth, Texas. I am writing this letter because I wanted to know if it is possible for someone of my age to get cast in Broadway musical. I believe I have the talent but unfortunally not the correct address. If you could help me I would greatly appreciate it. Thank you.
Michael Wayne Hart:)
Thanks for your sweet question.
Of course it is possible for someone your age to get cast in a Broadway musical! And, unfortunately, at the moment you do have the wrong address.
Broadway has been a theatrical institution for many, many years now. It will still be here when you are old enough to live and audition in New York. Please don't feel like you have to rush.
It is possible that New York auditioners would come to Texas on a national casting search. While you wait for those rare ocassions, try to get cast in local productions.
Please look over previous"Ask, Blair" columns for questions much like yours, such as Margaret's question from Nov. 7, and Scott's from Oct. 17 which relates to what I would prescribe for you. I think what you need most now is training, which is especially important if you have great talent. Take it slowly.
Getting an agent will also help you to find out about auditions in New York that you might be eligble for. Sometimes they'll tape you on video for a particular role, but that's mostly for film and TV and not theatre.
I believe if you train well and start performing locally first, you will find your way to Broadway when it's right for you.
Thanks for asking me, Michael. Good luck!
Sincyberly to all,
-- Blair Glaser
Blair Glaser coaches actors privately in NYC. For Blair's bio or information about classes, click here.