Understudy Success; Dealing With "The Biz"; Belting

Understudy Success; Dealing With "The Biz"; Belting Once again, hello and thank you to all creative advice-seekers. This week's column offers an understudy success story, gives advice to a young opera singer wanting to do Broadway, and deals with various other issues that people have with the "biz." 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 offers an understudy success story, gives advice to a young opera singer wanting to do Broadway, and deals with various other issues that people have with the "biz." 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!

Hi Blair!
I read your response to the understudy question [last week's column; see link to story in response below], and you asked for responses. Well, here's mine....

I just recently was in Guys & Dolls for a local theatre company in Buffalo, NY. I was cast as the understudy for Adelaide, because I had just done the role in high school during my senior year. Fresh out of high school, and in my first show, I was also a Hot-Box girl.

Rehearsals came and went, without me rehearsing Adelaide---the woman who had the lead was so good and dependable!!! We all thought there was no need to rehearse the understudy.

Our opening weekend approached and went off without a hitch. Then I got a call later that week... Adelaide was ill!!! Oh my Lord, I thought, this can't be happening. I hadn't even picked up my script throughout the ten weeks of rehearsal. But my director called and simply said, "Can you do it?"

I knew deep down inside I could, after all, I had done it before!!! But, that was also five months ago... Three hours before showtime on that same day, I found myself in an intensive rehearsal, yet I was ready!

I was Adelaide for eight out of 14 shows, and performed for five sell-outs. From that experience, I was approached by various directors to do another musical and two other plays.

The show closed last weekend just as it had started, with me in the chorus. It just goes to show that Peggy Sawer isn't the only one it's happened to.

God Bless all understudies!!!!
Sincerely,
Valerie Pawlowski

Thanks, Valerie.
For anyone struggling with being an understudy, please refer to last week's column Ask Blair: Oct. 18-29 for some words of commiseration and perspective.

Question
Hello there Blair! I was wondering if I could ask you for a comment on something I read. In this week's Back Stage (Oct. 30, 1997) there is a very disturbing comment in the letters to the editor section. In this particular letter, a reader speaks of a comment given by [a certain actress], quoted as saying:
"I'm not sure that there are many talented people out there who are unemployed. And if they are talented they don't have the expertise or the commitment...maybe it's karma...I would wager if you look at each one, you'll find a reason -- it's not a mystery -- for their unemployment!"
Well, that just about made me fall of my chair. [I wondered if] from the moment this actress realized her passion for theatre, did she never have a period of unemployment? I am presently unemployed...but I would hardly say I was lacking commitment or expertise. I am at every call you can imagine... have a university degree...and am doing everything possible to be in a show. Could it simply be that casting directors don't always cast based strictly on talent...they'd rather have a NAME for security? Part of me wants to sing her a song to see who she is directing that comment at. Why do you think she said this? How can she support the arts w/o supporting the future talent?
Offended

Dear Offended,
I completely understand your reaction to Ms. X's comment. I believe there are many talented people who strive for a long time before they get a break -- it's just a part of the process for some who have less luck than others.

I think there was a great deal of oversight in that comment. Nevertheless, although I cannot speak for Ms. X, I would like to defend her in assuming that she was not intending to be unsupportive to young talent--though her comment did seem arrogant and unsupportive. Rather, let me suggest that you could also take it this way:

She may be prompting those who are talented but not employed and want to be employed, to take a good look at themselves, thoroughly checking to see what fears, self-deprecation, and/or laziness, (which is usually fear related) are lurking about, blocking their talent or desires from manifesting. She may have been trying to dissolve the victimization around the actor, which ultimately I think is useful.

Are there belief systems operating in you that keep you from attaining the kind of career goals you want to be attaining right now? You cannot change these, but becoming aware of them can make a big difference in your life.

Response
Thank you for your response Blair. I was really shocked by the article . . . I was curious what you thought--thanks.

Anyhow, I do have an extremely strong confidence for what I do, but it sure is a little disheartening to read such a statement. Though I suppose you have to be as tough as nails to be able to handle the rejection in this field...but I have to say I don't really see "rejection"...more often I see it as not being the right thing at the right time just yet. Perhaps I didn't completely understand exactly what Ms. X meant. To me I saw it as an insult...ahh well.

Thank you for your response.

Offended,
I think the next question and answer (below) will be useful for you.

Question
Blair: How do you retain such a positive attitude towards the business of theatre? I mean: where do you find your strength in such a demanding and--often heartbreaking--profession?
Just Curious.
(Marcus Olson)

Dear Marcus,
It's a good question. I wasn't sure as to whether you are asking how do "I" retain such a P.O., or how does "you" the general you, find your strength-- so I'll answer the question on both a personal and general level.

Let me start by saying that in many ways I do not feel positive about this business. I always say in my columns that the biz is at times treacherous, sneaky, volatile and heartbreaking. After seeing the way people treat other people and in my opinion the lousy values of many industry executives and professionals, including some actors, I have made peace with the business by remaining on the outskirts of it, and I am happy to employ my talents in many other ways -- including theatre when the opportunities swing around.

What I can remain strong and positive about is creative expression, and the people who are willing to take the journey of the actor. It is a journey that requires tremendous strength and requires that one build inner resources. In this way I can maintain a positive attitude about the business, because I see it as a tough obstacle course that rewards inner and frequently outer riches to its winners.

It's important to see and accept the business for what it is. If you can find a way to remain empowered in the face of the deception and the sliminess, know who you are and learn to make firm boundaries about what you will and will not do, and to use all of the gross things that happen to you to aid you in this process of knowing who you are and what you value, you will gain no matter what.

If you are an actor and are frequently down about the biz, I recommend you seek out a way to make peace with the fact that, in order to pursue your dreams and do what you love, you are exposing yourself to heartbreak. You are choosing to live with discomfort and uncertainty. There is so much courage and strength in that. When and if the heartbreak comes, strength can be derived from the knowledge that you were brave enough to follow your heart and risk feeling this much pain.

I feel it is important to find the balance between allowing yourself to feel utterly disappointed and enraged by those yucky "showbiz" things that may happen to you, and also to find a way to not feel victimized by it and to not complain. Whereas feelings are extremely creative and it is helpful to use them artistically and also to vent, complaining is a big drain on your creativity. Venting is alive and moves negativity out of you--complaining pulls you and everyone listening to you down, keeps you helpless and hopeless.

When one is severely burned by the biz, I always recommend they connect with like minded people and try to find a way to heal and create on their own. Form a theatre company, an actor support group, a great acting class, write a show about it, etc. Being with other people who are trying to become true actors within the context of the business machine can be extremely helpful and powerful.

I hope this answers your questions, Marcus.

Question
I want to audition for our school's spring musical, South Pacific. The problem is, I am used to singing opera and I have a terrible belting voice. Is there any way that I could learn to belt without it being too painful?
Sheila

Hi, Shiela,
Yes, you can learn to belt, and it should not be painful at all. You need to seek out a voice teacher who knows about a technique called "blending" and who wants to help you learn to belt. Sometimes voice teachers have ideas against belting and think it's bad. You need to find one who likes Broadway voices, knows how to belt properly and how to teach it.

Best of luck on your audition. Don't strain your voice!