Training & AEA

Training & AEA Once again, hello and thank you to all you creative advice seekers. This week, I received mostly questions relating to training and Actors' Equity, the actors' labor union (AEA). So for the first time I've divided the questions up into categories. If you are not familiar with AEA, please refer to the 9/20-26 issue of "Ask Blair," which you can reach easily by clicking on the button at the bottom of the column if you are reading this on the website .

Once again, hello and thank you to all you creative advice seekers. This week, I received mostly questions relating to training and Actors' Equity, the actors' labor union (AEA). So for the first time I've divided the questions up into categories. If you are not familiar with AEA, please refer to the 9/20-26 issue of "Ask Blair," which you can reach easily by clicking on the button at the bottom of the column if you are reading this on the website .

TRAINING

Question
I'm 14 years old and not all that experienced in the theatre so far, besides taking a fabulous acting class for a month last summer and being in the little drama club at my school. I am wondering if you have any suggestions on what I should do or continue doing to get more experienced in the ways of the theatre. I don't necessarily want to run off and join the business right away. I do want to go to college and everything but what can I do in the meantime? I live in Madison, Wisconsin! if that helps.
--Scott

Hi, Scott!

Your question is great because a lot of aspiring actors in small towns all over are facing similar challenges. Now, all that I really know about Madison is the university and the theatre, Madison Rep. Here's what I suggest: research at the university and in the town to see if there are any acting classes or schools offered to people your age. Also, sometimes, young people are admitted into professional classes-- see if this is an option.

Next, I highly recommend you volunteer to work at the local professional theatre nearest you, which would be Madison Rep. Get involved there somehow. Talk to the Rep's artistic director, (D. Scott Glasser) . Offer your services in the box office, tech shop, as an usher or as an assistant of any kind in return for being able to be around rehearsals and productions. Ask if they have apprentice programs which, in many cases, can earn you points for Actors' Equity.

Share your enthusiasm and your love for theatre. When they need to cast a young person, they just might think of you!

Good luck, Scott. Let me know what happens.

Question
Dear Blair,
What are some of the best colleges in the U.S. to major or minor in theater? I am looking for something in musical theater and/or non-musical theater. I would also like something that focuses mainly on performance. I've heard NYU, CMU, and Northwestern are good. How do they rank? Thank you very much!

Sincerely,
Andrew

Hey, Andrew.

I agree with what you've heard . . . New York University, Carnegie-Mellon University, and Northwestern all have wonderful reputations. There are many more: big schools, small schools, conservatories. Playbill On-Line has a college database of more than 70 theatre schools around the country. The best way to answer your question is to refer you to that resource, so you can discover which programs excite you. Have a great time in school!

Question
Hi Blair!
My name is Adrian. I'm currently studying musical theatre at a school with a fantastic program, yet for other personal reasons, I'm considering transferring. The problem is, I value my training in acting very highly, yet I cannot give up my desire to study "musical" theatre. Most of the programs I've learned about either have very solid musical theatre training programs (with little emphasis on a solid acting process) or the reverse. What do you suggest? Get a degree in acting and study voice and dance on the side? Do you know of any schools with reputable musical theatre training programs that don't sacrifice a good acting oriented base? I'd appreciate any and all advice you may have.

Thanks!
Adrian

Adrian,

Although I believe it is possible to get a full training out of an undergrad program, I wouldn't stress too much importance on the program being PERFECT. From hearing many people's experiences, I've learned that some part of undergrad education is invariably sacrificed, whether it's a weak spot in the program, or just the fact that people need to let themselves be college students and live a little.

However, if you love the program and put your all into it, I believe it's possible to get everything you need. It sounds like you love your current program, which is great. So if it is essential that you transfer, I recommend talking to the professors of Drama, Dance, and Voice at the schools you are thinking of transferring to. See how the acting program balances out with the rest of the curriculum, and see if their theories, opinions, and curriculums match yours.

Once again, refer to Playbill On-Line's college database for your choices. Universities that come to my mind when I think of well-rounded musical theatre undergrad programs: New York University, Carnegie-Mellon, Northwestern, North Carolina School of the Arts, Southern Methodist, Boston, and Syracuse.

My personal opinion would be to complete your musical theatre training at undergrad, getting solid dance and vocal training while studying the offered acting training (which might be top-notch). Then, if you feel your actor-self has been cheated, take a highly professional contemporary acting class, postgrad, that challenges you to discover yourself and your craft as an actor.

Remember, there is no "right" way to go, so follow your deepest conviction on the matter. Good luck, Adrian.

Question
Dear Blair,
I am a junior currently majoring in economics at the University of Rochester. In the last two months, however, I have decided that a career in economics is definitely NOT in my future. Instead, I am EXTREMELY interested in transferring to a musical theater program. In addition to my economics courses, I have also studied music theory for two semesters, voice for three years (at both the Eastman School of Music and Carnegie Mellon), and acting. I just recently began to study tap dance, too. Because of the fact that I am transferring from an economics program, do you think I should be treated as an incoming freshman at an audition? In addition, could you recommend any programs that are "notorious" for seeking potential and talent and NOT "who you know" and "for how many years have you been studying?" Thanks a lot!

Sincerely,
Derek

Dear Derek,

Congratulations! It's so exciting that you are going to take the leap and commit yourself to a life in the theatre. In my opinion, it is infinitely more exciting than a life in numbers, although your business background will come in handy in many areas of your life, so it's great that you have it.

As you are currently a junior, entering a class at the freshman level depends on your feelings and the school. Once you examine the program, you may realize that you want to start from the beginning so you don't miss anything--or you may feel that you have adequately studied the freshman theatre requirements and you may want to begin at a more advanced level.

When I was at Northwestern, the theatre program required everyone to start training at the freshman level. However, since you can apply your economics credits towards fulfilling your liberal arts requirements, you may be able to complete freshman and sophomore theatre training simultaneously in one year.

I believe there are many schools that accept theatre students based on talent. Please refer to the college database on Playbill On-line for detailed information about undergrad theatre programs.

Good luck, Derek.

EQUITY
Question
Dear Blair,
What's the NY scoop on Equity's negotiations to reopen an Equity-only audition provision, thus contradicting the equality of opportunity to Eligible Performers negotiated more than ten years ago? Will the National Labor Relations Board approve this? Perhaps you've heard more in NYC than we have out here in California on this . . . Congratulations on your column.
Robert Cohen

Dear Robert,

Thanks for your question about Actors' Equity (AEA) auditions. It is quite an honor to receive a question from the author of ACTING PROFESSIONALLY, a book which has been providing the "raw facts" of the business to actors for 25 years.

Yes, it's true. AEA has been negotiating to alter the current audition policies, which allow performers who are eligible for union status (EP's) to audition along with AEA members.

According to a newsletter published by AEA, two weeks ago Broadway producers agreed that auditions should be held separately, with AEA actors auditioning for parts first, and EP's second.

The National Labor Relations Board has not yet approved the proposed policy. It is currently being negotiated.(Since this column was written, the board has done away with EP's altogether.)

Question
Hey Blair!
What is "scale"? If you don't get paid scale, what do you get paid, and is that negotiable at all? Any other info related to this issue would be great. smile
Kathleen

Hey, Kathleen!
Great question. "Scale" is an Equity contract term that simply means the minimum base pay actors' can receive to meet AEA standards.

Scale pay varies from contract to contract. There are many different AEA contracts which correspond to all different types of theatres. Equity scale pay ranges in price from $125/week at a small production theatre, to $1000/week, which is the current Broadway contract scale pay.

If you are not in an Equity production, "scale" is irrelevant, and chances are you will get paid very little, if at all. AEA contract salaries are sometimes negotiable, depending upon the production and the producer. If you have an agent, it is easier for them to negotiate your contract with the producers for a greater amount than the scale pay.