More Understudy; First Meeting With an Agent; Tension and Voice

More Understudy; First Meeting With an Agent; Tension and Voice Once again, hello and thank you to all creative advice-seekers. This week's column continues the understudy theme, and offers advice to a tense young singer and a young actress preparing for her first meeting at an agency. 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!

Once again, hello and thank you to all creative advice-seekers. This week's column continues the understudy theme, and offers advice to a tense young singer and a young actress preparing for her first meeting at an agency. 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
Hello!
I was reading your letters about understudying! [See last week's column and week before] Ugh. I've been an understudy since last February and have not been on. It's almost humiliating. I know that's not really logical but, I'm starting to feel like I need to prove myself. I'm certainly not the first person, nor the last to feel this way, I'm sure.
Anyway, what is the likelihood of being moved up into the role? It's not a huge "name" role so, why not? How do I deal with the "you're too valuable as an understudy" line? I know that's producer talk. Is there a way to better my chances or should I just forget it?
I realize I don't have much leverage having never been on.
Secondly, what is the likelihood of being asked to do the national tour?
Looking For a Ray of Sunshine,
Bored Broadway Understudy

Dear Bored Broadway Understudy,
I credit you for sticking with your job for this long, and I would be bored to tears at this point as well. Sounds like it's time to "better your chances" and open your eyes to the sun streaming through the window.

You can either take action, or continue wait--wait around for the what if's, wondering the answers to questions that there are no firm answers to. Although it is possible that at any moment you could be onstage on Broadway, it's also possible that the show will close without your having been a live part of it.

Here is an opportunity to take a different kind of stand for yourself in your career. You don't want to be an understudy forever, right? Well if producers know that you're so reliable and willing to hang around and around, you just might be cast as the understudy again and again. I would talk with your agent, (I'm assuming you have one--or go to the producer) and let him or her know that it's time for you to leave this job or add some stakes to it. The more you allow producers and other industry professionals to label you, feeding you lines like "You're too valuable here...or you're too funny to play this role" or whatever, you authorize them to cast you in this certain mold and it's easy to get stuck there, fulfilling someone else's vision of you. You must fight that.

If they are very interested in keeping you as the understudy, you can use this to your advantage. You could cut a deal guaranteeing that you will be the replacement in this role if the lead leaves. Similarly, if the same company is producing the tour, you could contractually agree to be offered the role in the tour.

See if you can get creative and make the situation work for you. Otherwise it may be advantageous to just leave. Discuss with your agent. Think of it as honoring your creativity by getting out of the stagnant situation you're in. You may be risking an opportunity you've been waiting for...but you're also opening yourself up to another. I don't think you have anything to lose.

Best of luck!

Question
Dear Blair,
I have recently switched voice teachers and was told that I have waaaaayyy too much tension, not enough release of the body or mind to sing well. I have since spoken to my voice coach and she has recommended learning Alexander Technique. I was wondering if you had the number of the American Alexander Association, or perhaps knew a good teacher in the Connecticut area.
Also, are there other things that I might try to relieve the tension and stress this is putting on my voice? Thanks!
Christina

Christina,
I believe there are Alexander Technique teachers that advertise in Back Stage Magazine. I'm not sure about Connecticut specifically.

I think Alexander is a wonderful technique to reduce habitual holding and tension in the body. In my few experiences of it, the teacher would first, through light touch, very gently guide my body into an aligned posture. I remember feeling way more relaxed and energized and comfortable than I normally do. Then the teacher gave me exercises to mentally bring myself into alignment, by bringing awareness to my body and posture, and by using mental imagery to soften places in my body that have become hard from habitual tension.

Other ways of reducing tension?

The first step is to simply intend to reduce the tension in your life, and commit to that process. Keep in mind that working too hard at reducing tension creates tension.

Just your firm commitment to yourself is enough. It may take time, but you will become more and more relaxed. Here are some ways I know to relax that have helped me. These are a list of different things--you don't have to do all of these! Committing to one that works for you is plenty.

Regular Cardio-vascular exercise
Hatha Yoga
Pilates (a form of non-strenuous aligning exercise)
Dancing
Meditation
Journal writing
Eating Nutritionally (many people are unaware they are allergic to certain foods, which creates discomfort)
Breathing
Baths
Massages
Chiropractic Care
Listening to soothing music

I'm sure there are many more. Good luck. Let me know how it goes!

Question
Dear Blair,
First I just want to thank you for your very informative and very helpful response to my crying on cue question a few months ago. The column is great!

I just got my first interview with an agency scheduled for next week. Now that they've agreed to meet me, I would like to know what to expect at the interview, what I should wear, what I should bring, how this whole signing kind of process goes, who I'll talk to, etc. I got in touch with them over the phone - I have several friends who are signed with them - and they don't have my resume/headshot yet, but I've mentioned to them some of the work I've done and some of the experience I've had. Please give me some hints on how I can make a good impression and have a good interview experience. This is my first time and I'm a little nervous, but eager to get my career moving and meet with these people. Thanks!
-Val

Dear Val,
Congrats! Good news on the meeting. You know, whenever I asked someone this very question, they more often than not replied "Just Be Yourself."

I'd say "Oh. Yeah. Okay."

And then I'd walk away and think. . ."But how do I do that?"

I was always too ashamed to go back and ask that one. "Be yourself" is one of those directions that sounds clear and specific but is nebulous and really hard to follow, like relax. I always got images of showing up in a bathrobe with a cup of coffee and no make-up.

Well--practical things first. Obviously talk to your friends and see how their first meetings went. Read the previous Ask Blair articles on Getting An Agent. Show up with a bunch of 8 x10 headshots with resumes on the back. You may only need one, but it's good to come with at least 15 in case they are ready to start sending pictures out. Be prepared to talk with and possibly act for many people.

There is a section in the above-referenced column in which I talk about being the CEO of your company. So sit down and have a "production meeting" with yourself. (Make sure the inner critic is OUT to lunch). This is your show, and focusing on the creative aspects of the meeting can transform the anxiety about it. Ask yourself: How do you want the meeting to go? What's your vision? How do you want to present yourself? What part or parts of your personality do you want to come through? Be specific, e.g. your intelligence, lightheartedness, humor, etc. How do you want to present yourself physically? Flipping through magazines may help you as "costume designer" identify the look(s) you want to embody: soft, cool, hip, down-to -earth, striking, elegant, neat, messy, etc.

Consider yourself impressive. Not because of your accomplishments or your positive traits. Just because of who you are, your essence. In this vain, anything you do to try to impress is overkill. Avoid worrying about what the agent thinks. Focusing on the agent will drain your energy and keep the anxiety running the show. You will keep second guessing yourself by trying to figure out what he wants, and this will detract from your inherent appeal.

Instead, focus again on what you want to get out of the meeting. Write down a simple set of goals for how you want it to go. For example: Tomorrow I want to meet this agent and find out who he/she is and how their agency works. While I do this I want look professional and approachable, make known my recent triumphs as well as my career vision, reveal my humor and my intelligence.

Then you have a goal. And by setting it and going in there and listening and responding, you can achieve it for yourself.

Have a great time.