Eligible No More, Learning Lines, Dancing?

Eligible No More, Learning Lines, Dancing? Once again, hello and thank you to all creative advice-seekers. This week's column addresses the new Equity Eligibility elimination ruling , provides information on how to learn lines and stay in character onstage, and consoles musical actors who are not confident in their dancing skills.

Once again, hello and thank you to all creative advice-seekers. This week's column addresses the new Equity Eligibility elimination ruling , provides information on how to learn lines and stay in character onstage, and consoles musical actors who are not confident in their dancing skills.

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!

Question
I like your answers: no nonsense and to the point. So, as a 60 year old actor with almost 100 productions (professional, Equity and amateur) behind me, how with the new rules (post NLRB) do I get to audition for an Equity show (in NYC)? I know I can get cast - good age, good looks; but now I can't get in the door. I have been very lax and not kept track of my Equity points. I know, dumb! Can you help or tell me who can? Thanks in advance.

Dear Robert,
Thanks for your kind words and great question. For those of you who don't know, for a long time, Actor's Equity was in negotiations with the National Labor Relations Board regarding the topic of Eligible Performer Auditions, or "Equity Eligibility." Eligibility was a status that allowed non-union actors who had earned a certain amount of money working in show business, to audition for Equity shows, without actually being a member of the union or paying dues.

On May 2, 1997, it was decided that Equity Eligibility would be phased out. No new Eligible performers would be accepted. Only union members are now able to audition at Equity-only auditions. Current Eligible performers can still audition at Equity-only auditions for 6 months to a year, or they may forgo their Eligible status and get their processing fee returned. The news isn't so bad for non-Equity actors. The new policy states that for each production, if producers want to hold Equity-only auditions, then they must hire non-union performers as well; union members must not be the exclusive source of labor. It is much easier for producers to hold non-Equity auditions now. According to the Equity News, "Equity auditions will not necessarily come first. The scheduling of auditions will be solely at the discretion of the producer."

I hope you won't let this new provision discourage you too much. If you're truly an actor, you'll find a way to continue to get work--against all odds, as actors always do. If you call AEA, its very possible they have kept track of your Equity points for you. Call the office at (212) 869-8530.

Question
Dear Blair,
I just got offered the position of Artistic Director for a troupe of teen performers that tours into schools. The presentation covers a wide range of health-related issues written by the troupe themselves. I wonder if you have any advice on two areas:
The first is an area most every actor can relate to--learning lines. What are some techniques for teens, especially those with minimal stage experience, you might suggest to get them to learn their lines effectively. Secondly, this troupe had a problem with breaking character last year. This is such a cardinal sin in professional theatre, I haven't had to deal with this issue for some time. Any suggestions on working with teens in this area? Thanks again for your column--I'm sure I'll be writing to you again.
Best----John

John--
Thanks so much for your questions. Sounds like a great job you've got!

So, to solve the problem of learning lines: The trick is to find ways to make what is considered a boring task of drudgery into something fun. So here are some suggestions that at least might spark an idea of your own:

Contests are great, and working with others helps. Set actors up with a partner -- three times a week or so outside of rehearsals, and/or during rehearsals when they are not onstage. The partners must meet for some time and help each other. The person not working on their lines is the one who holds the script, and cues the other person by reading the lines before the other person's lines. For extra bait-- the first couple who obviously knows their lines gets some sort of prize.

Then--speed-throughs are great. Once actors are supposed to be off-book, before each rehearsal, have everyone sit in a circle and do a speed through of the scene or the play or a section of the play. Make a game out of it : Fast is the goal. People who stall gain points, and the goal is to have as few points as possible. I.e.--stalling for 3 seconds = 1 point, 6 seconds = 2 pts, asking for a line = 10 points, etc.

If your troops are mature enough and can work alone, suggest that they spend time repeating their lines over and over to themselves, without inflection, like a meditation. You can teach them to use their line learning to become better actors, by making each word specific to them. For example-if a line is "I hate the hospital--it's cold and lonely and grey...." Have them contemplate the word hate....what in their lives do they hate? Teach them to sit with that feeling for a moment. Have they been in hospitals? Where have they been that is cold, lonely and grey? ...Not just to imagine it--but to experience each word of the lines as they are learning them.

Try to instill in your actors the value of learning lines--because knowing your lines by heart facilitates acting from the heart--and one actor who can fly can positively affect the performances of the rest of the actors on stage. Similarly, one actor who doesn't know his lines can bring others' performances down. Stress the importance of ensemble, team work--you know--that old, somewhat overused saying, "There no "I" in Team"? Trite, but so true.

Breaking character--well this can be tough to control, but not impossible. Train your actors to feel they are at one with their characters, so if they have a reaction to something onstage that they cannot contain, like a falling prop or someone else messing up, to include their reaction as a part of their character. Teach them to trust themselves and each other enough to do this. Instead of focusing on the nervousness and self consciousness of "messing up"--separating from the script and what is rehearsed--teach them to allow what is happening emotionally in the moment to be part of the creation. This adds, not error, but spontaneity and aliveness to performances. Forgetting one's lines onstage can be transformed into a dramatic pause.

An example--one of the actors can't remember his lines and is lost. Instead of only getting all nervous and giggly and looking offstage or whatever, teach him to look at his partner(s) onstage in the eyes and say "I'm lost" -- embracing that moment as the character being lost. This happens all the time in life--something happens and you lose the train of a conversation. Then have the other actor(s) respond to that, by repeating the last line or improvising a little. Whenever I've done this onstage, (not very often, thank you) no one in the audience has ever noticed--in fact, it has often registered as a powerful, true moment.

Have your teens knowing their characters enough to allow themselves the freedom to put a different-than-rehearsed response into their next line. Stress again, that "breaking" character isn't so obvious when, instead of being a problem, it turns into a character choice.

I certainly hope this helps. Best of luck to you and have a wonderful first season as Artistic Director.

Question
Thank you for answering my note of May 15. I love your helpful articles in Playbill-On-Line and I keep most of them in a booklet for future reference. You did say if I have other questions to feel free to ask.
Question #1 - Regarding meditation [when you studied with ] Betty Buckley. I understand meditating before performance, I do this and it helps, but would you mind being more specific about meditating during performance?
Question #2 - In your Bio, you mentioned that your feelings were different shades of something called your energy. I feel energy flowing through my body at the start of meditation, but are you feeling this energy during performance?

Dear Jeanne,
Thanks for your questions.

Regarding meditation....precisely what Betty Buckley teaches is meditation during performance. In class with her we meditated before working, so that we could continue to work from that relaxed and heightened state of awareness.

That's why I think Betty is such a powerful performer. She is extremely committed and focused, and her meditative energy emanates from her and the audience catches it. She goes deep inside herself and brings out this electric state and the audience follows her lead. She also really does her homework to embody and understand her characters, so they can flow from her naturally.

About my energy...yes! I aim to be feeling it all the time during performance. The energy flowing through my body is a sensation of aliveness...my feelings give that aliveness different flavors, colors, and communicate different things about what I, as the character, am feeling. When I am performing, it is important for my energy to be flowing through my body-- like during a good meditation. Then what I am feeling translates to the audience, and they feel it too.

I hope this clarifies things for you. Again, always feel free to write.

Question
I'm currently majoring in journalism. But my heart really is on stage. I've been acting in community theatre since age 7. I've done dinner theatre for about 8 years, sometimes getting paid when doing leading roles. Musical theatre is what I really love doing...my singing and acting skills are quite good but I've had limited dance training...some ballet classes while in college, some funk training, and a little tap. Do I have a real chance of making it big (Broadway, of course) with my limited dance skills? Any suggestions on what I can do to both increase and expand my dance ability? Thanks!
Missy

Dear Missy,
It sounds like your dance skills are pretty good! Good dance skills are a great plus--giving you a wider variety of opportunity. But they are not always necessary. In many shows, particularly in Sondheim musicals, the lead parts do not have to do too much, if any, dancing. There are great roles in Tony Award-winning musicals like Fiddler on the Roof,Titanic, My Fair Lady, A Funny Thing...Forum, Passion, Sunset Boulevard, The Sound of Music and Sweeney Todd, that require little to no dancing. Glenn Close is an example of a Broadway diva who is not a highly skilled dancer.

Keep taking dance classes. I'm sure your dancing will improve with each show, too. Focus hard. You will improve, no doubt.

Best of luck, Missy!