Post-College, Belting, Taking it Slow

Post-College, Belting, Taking it Slow Once again, hello and thank you to all creative advice-seekers. Now that the Tony Awards are over, everyone can get back to concentrating on the artistic processes behind winning them!
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Once again, hello and thank you to all creative advice-seekers. Now that the Tony Awards are over, everyone can get back to concentrating on the artistic processes behind winning them!

This week's column addresses the issues of post-college careers, belting, and advice for adolescent actors who are ...a little overwhelmed by it all. 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 am a theatre major at Viterbo College in LaCrosse, Wisconsin. I will be graduating next December and then I will be doing my "one-man show" in January. What do I do once I graduate? I know I need to audition, but I have no clue where to begin. I have done summer stock, and things like that, but now it is getting down to the time for me to really get work and I do not know how to do it.
I hope to work in the Minneapolis area or the Chicago area at first and then move on to some place else after I get more confident. I am a strong dancer/actor/singer and I have had a lot of experience both professional and non-professional, but school has helped me get these parts. I do not know where to begin to even find audition information in the area.
Please help me. Thanks a lot.
Dell Robinson

Dear Dell,
I think you've got a case of the post-college blues, but cheer up, Dell -- you're not as clueless as you think. If you have professional experience already, even if school helped you get it, then you know many of the rules of the game--at least the auditioning, rehearsal and performance parts.

I'm assuming you have headshots and the materials of the trade. If you don't have those 8 x 10 photos of yourself that serve as your single promotional materials in the business, or you don't like the ones you have, make sure you go to decent photographer to get headshots you feel confident about. To anyone reading the column that is not familiar with headshots or resumes, I suggest you flip through previous Ask Blair columns, and purchase the book "How to be a Working Actor" or "Acting Professionally." Both are great resources for aspiring actors.

Many actors use two photos to represent themeselves: a commercial shot (more smiley) for TV and comic parts, and a dramatic shot (less smiley, more serious) for theatre and film. Resumes should be neatly attached to the backs.

In Chicago, the trade paper which lists auditions is PerformInk (773) 296-4600. Many Chicago talent agencies have open hours called "walk in's" where you can go to the agency in person and leave your headshots, and sometimes meet an agent.

The League of Chicago Theatres often has information about general auditons held in the Chicago-area theatres. The number is (312) 977-1730.

I am not familiar with acting business in Minneapolis but I recommend you go to a newsstand and ask for the trade paper, or contact the casting agent at the Guthrie Theatre and ask where you might get for some help or advice.

Get a decent place to live and a steady, flexible job to support yourself and start auditioning! You may need to take some time off before jumping right into auditioning to get your life together. It's not that different then what you did at school--just a little bigger and scarier. When you get cast in productions that make you feel good about your work in them, make sure to invite talent agents to see you. Make follow up calls if they don't respond, and if they do come see you, be sure to thank them.

It is plain old scary to leave the cozy college environment and enter the "real world" of the acting business. There is no formula to being an actor post-college. Best of luck to you, Dell -- just go for it.

Question
Dear Blair,
I've been in theatre for around seven years, musical and non, with five years of classical voice training. My question is about "belting." I've known several belters who sound good, but ALWAYS go off key from forcing their voices so hard. What is a proper way to "belt" without damaging your vocal chords and staying in tune?
Thank you (in advance),
Jenni

Hey Jenni,
Great question--although I think it takes many voice lessons and a lot of hard work for one to truly understand the answer.

To understand the answer, you must experience it. It's best to have a teacher you trust guide you through the process of feeling the difference between forcing and naturally finding the blend between your head and chest voices. Some things I've learned about safe and proper belting:

* The tendency is to force, which is incorrect and usually sounds that way. Forcing constricts the vocal chords, the neck, the shoulders. Rather it is ideal to support--not push-- even a light tone, with your breath, from your diaphragm (belly).
* The notes' should resonate in the mask of the face, not in the back of the throat. Through breath support, the singer moves the sound forward into the mask--the area surrounding the nose--and lets it vibrate there.
* The back of the throat and vocal chords should be open and relaxed, almost like when one is about to yawn.
* It helps to think of and feel an energetic sensation of sinking down, or going low, when singing a high note, and reversely, to feel you are going "up" into a low note.
* It helps to follow the vowels when singing, instead of closing the mouth and throat by getting stuck trying to sing the consonants.

Hope this helps some, Jenni.

Question
Dear Blair,
I'm a 16 year old female and currently enrolled in vocal classes. I've been doing this for quite some time. And my teacher says I'm a fast learner. I don't want to go into the business or anything like that for a while, not until I feel ready...which I won't be for some time. But do you think it's a good idea to audition for some singing roles, to see how it is? Or is it too early to tell? My teacher said it sounds like a good idea maybe in the years to come. Any advice would be great. Thanks a bunch!
Kim

Dear Kim,
I think that if you are drawn to experiencing the audition process -- then go ahead. Now's a good time as any if you are curious. Go in with open eyes. Treat it as a learning experience. By going to auditions, you give yourself an opportunity to learn preparation, and to taste the audition environment, facing all the challenges that come with it.

If you actually get called back, and you can't be in the show -- you can kindly explain that you won't be able to make it to the callbacks, but thank them very much for considering you.

Don't afraid to be wonderful, or afraid to fall flat on your face!

Question
Dear Blair,
I'm 15 years old and deeply discouraged. I love to act, sing, and dance. Each is like air to me, I can't live without! Acting is definitely the profession for me. The problem is that I definitely need some more instruction [which I am getting this summer], being that the only experience I've had was one year of jazz which I dropped out of because I was embarrassed of the fact that I was the only student in the class over the age of 4. . .I don't think anyone [in my family] knows how terrible I feel or how strongly I believe that I can do it if I try hard enough. Furthermore, I'm really afraid that I waited too long to get started and that I'll never become what I know I was born to be. Do you have any advice, good and bad, please, I need to know what I'm up against. Thank you so much.
Sincerely,
Kimberly Murphy

Dear Kimberly,
Rest assured that at this point, there is no need for deep discouragement. From my perspective you have plenty of time to prepare for being a performer. And even time to change your mind if you ultimately decide you don't want to be a performer.

Musical theatre actress Donna Murphy was well into her '30s when she made it on Broadway and won the Tony in Passion. It's important to work hard towards your dream, but sometimes people get involved in the business at a young age and it is extremely hard on their personal lives. It takes a lot of strength and tools to handle the decisions, schedules, and emotional stresses of working in the theatre, especially with public success. So I always recommend that actors take time cultivate their talents, to grow up and be strong within themsleves before letting it all loose onstage.

My advice to you is -- relax about the career thing. Slow down, take the courses you're planning to, and just experience your high school years. Read plays. See plenty of theatre, films and watch plain old people interacting with each other. Hold on to your intentions for artistic greatness, and keep a bright eye toward the future.