Showcases; Tape Technique; Nerves; Equity

Showcases; Tape Technique; Nerves; Equity Once again, hello and thank you to all creative advice-seekers. This week's column covers the topic of showcases, a new tape technique, and offers some helpful tips to actors dealing with fear. 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 covers the topic of showcases, a new tape technique, and offers some helpful tips to actors dealing with fear. 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
Dear Blair,
I know that one way to be seen by agents and casting directors in New York is to do showcases, but how exactly do I go about getting in one? Also, how can I tell which showcases are reputable and well attended by industry people?
Sincerely,
CM1

Dear CM1,
First of all, I want to define "showcase." When I originally heard the word used in the theatre world, it referred to a show with a conglomeration of selected scenes and monologues, featuring actors who were not getting paid to perform, but rather showcasing their talents. More recently, I have heard actors use the term to describe any productions for which they accept non-paying roles with the intention of inviting agents and managers to witness their talent.

The best way I know of to get into a showcase in the traditional sense of the word is by joining an acting class that promises to produce a decent showcase at the end of a term. There are many reputable classes in New York City that do this. You can usually audit these classes, and when you do ask the people in the classes if they have been in a showcase and if they perceive the showcases to be good opportunities to perform and be seen. The best way to tell if a showcase is reputable and has a good chance of being populated with industry people is by its reputation.

Then there are showcases that you have to pay to be in. I don't really agree with this idea, but nevertheless, they can be useful for performers in need of exposure. For these showcases, I strongly suggest you check out the people who are producing so that you run less risk of losing your money. Gather information about their track record for putting on these productions. See if you can contact some people who have performed in their showcases before. If you get a good feeling about it -- go for it. Question
Dear Blair,
I found the Whelan Tape technique on the Net and was wondering if you heard about it, done it?
I also bought his book. This is a short description. Using a small tape recorder and one small earphone. Put a monologue or scene you are doing on tape, using a fresh tape version each time you do it; the tape feeds you the lines, thus, freeing up the actor to give immediate access to the character's emotional responses. He suggests that it be used in the early stages of rehearsal.
I experimented with this technique. While rehearsing Blithe Spirit, the other actors in the scene were speaking behind the tape, therefore, I did not find it comfortable even though it eliminates referring to the script constantly. The director never heard of this technique but she was very curious about it. I did like and use this technique when rehearsing alone. I also used it for a monologue I was doing for an audition. With the tape in my ear feeding me the lines, I have to say it eliminates the nervousness. The people I auditioned for were not familiar with this, they will probably not forget me. In cold readings, if you have time, you can tape the scene on this little recorder, thus freeing you up.
My acting coach simply didn't like it at all. He was afraid I wouldn't be listening to the other actors in the scene. Also, he thought I could come to rely on the tape in my ear.
Have you had experience with this technique, if so what is your opinion?
Thanks for listening.
Jeanne Fiore

Dear Jeanne,
I'm glad you wrote me because I hadn't heard of this technique and I like to keep up to date on these things. What matters most is if you've tried it and feel it works for you. Taking what you learn and seeing how and if it works for you is what the process is all about.

Personally, I hate the sound of it. I agree with your acting coach, and I feel the focus is in the wrong place -- not on finding your connection to the character -- but in being able to have an emotional response. Part of the process of early rehearsal is struggling with the lines! Through that struggle you get to learn them and much more.

Learning lines can be drudgery. But if you apply to that process getting to know who your character is through what she says, you are learning much more than the lines. In my opinion, if you've got a tape feeding you lines in your ear, then you are listening to the tape -- concentrating on the tape -- and not on the moment and your inner signals, nor the life of the scene or your partner. This technique doesn't allow you to have or explore a response that might take longer than the next line as it comes through the earphone. And what happens if the battery dies?

As an early rehearsal technique, I can see how it might have some benefits, but using it in performance seems like cheating.

Question
I have been to several theatrical performances and have always dreamed of actually being in one. My problem is that I finally got the chance to audition for a play called Shadow Lands. Auditions start in one month and I'm very nervous. Do you have any advice that might help me to calm down?
Thank you,
Bryan Whittington

Dear Bryan,
Sometimes it's useful to realize that there is not that much to be scared of. What's the WORST that can happen? Imagine this happening. My guess is you would have the strength to deal with whatever happened.

Nevertheless, feeling scared is usually uncomfortable, and can get in your way in performance. It takes some time, but you can begin to practice using your fear to enhance your performance. Begin by standing firm on your feet, legs spread slightly, and breathing deeply. The feelings may cause a lot of anxiety and it may be uncomfortable -- but keep breathing through it. Long breaths, in and out for a few minutes. Then imagine the fear sinking down, through your legs, out your body into the ground. This is a grounding exercise, and you should feel more focused after you do it. Do this directly before your audition.

In the audition, allow the energy of your nervousness to flow through your body, down into the ground -- creating an anchor. It can have the effect of making your performance electric. I hope this helps.

Question
Dear Blair,
I have two little questions for you.
One-can you explain to me what Equity is? I've heard people talk about it, but I really am clueless as to what it does, symbolizes, and so on. Two-Do you think that without an agent you're doomed to a jobless acting life? Thanks for your help.
Ryan

Hi Ryan!
For questions about Equity, the actors' union, please refer to the second column of (Ask Blair: Sept 20-26, 1996. That column explains Actors' Equity Association pretty thoroughly. Then, if you have any more questions, feel free to write.

It is very difficult to make a living off of your acting. It is even harder to make a living if you don't have an agent. Nevertheless, you can get work, usually low to non-paying, and you can get a lot of it, without an agent. So I would not say your career is doomed without an agent.