WHY HATE ART?

NEWS FLASH: GO PROTEST THE REPEAL OF ACA, THEN COME BACK AND READ THIS.

Why Hate Art?

Admit it – you hate Art. You’re an American, right? Then, you must hate Art. Even if you, yourself, are an artist like me, there’s something about it that bugs you, isn’t there? The evidence is clear: American people don’t like Art.

Just look at the “Populous President, number 45 – as soon as he gets into office, what is one of the first things he tries to do? Right: eliminate the NEA. (National Endowment for the Arts) Was that because it’s a big expensive program and a major drain on the budget that he is trying to balance? Well, no, it’s actually the opposite.

The NEA’s budget is a fraction of a percent to the country’s total, and could easily be covered by a few less trips to Mar-A-Lago, or the First Lady living in the White House for a week. So, it couldn’t be that.

So, why cut the NEA? We are left to conclude that #45, the People’s President, just doesn’t like it. And he knows the American people don’t like it either. (Though he did buy a painting at a charity auction once, but of course he did not pay for it himself. He used the funds he’d collected from others, to go to charity. And the painting was a portrait of himself, so it was a good marketing investment.)

Before we look further at why, let’s look at this specific case of the NEA. This agency give annual grants to major arts organizations, like the Kennedy Center. Perhaps your only interest is in your local community theater, an after-school drawing program, or your kid’s marching band. You’ve never even been to the Kennedy Center.

Your interests are small potatoes and not on the NEA radar. But wait, the NEA does fund other organizations, like the Southern Arts Federation and state arts councils around the country. They do disperse small grants to small programs in local areas. But why else should you care about the NEA?
Well, those big Arts organizations, like Kennedy Center, rely on those grants. When deprived of the NEA grants, try to make up their budgets by going after the other foundations, corporate sponsorships, and donors that were the small programs relied on. Suddenly, the marching band get “Sorry, nothing left this year.’ from a foundation that supported them for 20 years. The kids are forced to turn in their tubas.

So, again, why do we hate Art? I’ve boiled it down to 3 major topics:

  1. It looks like fun. (People shouldn’t be paid to have fun.)
  2. Anybody can do it, can’t they? (I did lot’s of drawings in kindergarten.)
  3. It’s a luxury, not a necessity. (You can’t eat a symphony.)

Okay, discuss.

(Yeah, I really am going to leave it like that for now. A lot more can be said about these three points, both for and against, and I hope to say some of it in future posts, but for now, I want to hear what you have to say. AND YES I AM THANKFUL THAT THIS BILL WAS EVENTUALLY VOTED DOWN, BUT THE FACT THAT IT WAS EVEN UP FOR DISCUSSION IS A SYMPTOM OF A BIGGER PROBLEM.)

Mary McGinley is a theatre artist. She creates and directs plays. She also teaches acting and coaches actors in acting, Shakespeare and auditioning. (Which is how she got the nickname of Audition Physician.) She spent a large portion of her career on trying to sell Shakespeare to people who just don’t like Shakespeare. We think that left her bitter. She is currently organizing an Agit-Prop Theatre group to perform at protests in the NJ/NYC area. If you are interested in joining, contact her.

Learn more about the NEA here:
https://www.arts.gov/
Check out the next Blog March blog, by Celia Tan, here:
http://www.whyilikebaseball.com.

 

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Career Control, Part I

How is everyone doing on your auditions? Please let me know. Let me know if you have any questions. I’m just wondering how your plans are going?

“Plans?” you say, “What do you mean by plans? Shouldn’t I just keep on going to all the auditions I can and wait for someone to say ‘Yes’?”

Well, yes, of course you could do that. And quite frankly, it may seem that all actors do that. But wouldn’t you rather have a career that is meaningful to you? One that you feel you have some control of? An actor has so little control over so many things, you need to grab it when you can.

Wise ones will tell you, the only thing you can really control is yourself. So, start there. Make an appointment with yourself to have a serious discussion about your career. You want to work out a clear over-all mission and a specific business plan for yourself.

Block out a time when you can be free of stress and distractions. Start with a little meditation or a glass of wine, whichever you prefer. Then ask yourself some questions and write down the answers. (There is something about writing things out, in long hand, that make them visceral and real, from your gut rather than your head.)

What do I do well?
What kind of work have I gotten the most positive feedback on from people who’s opinion I respect?

What do I want to do?
What work have I most enjoyed doing, regardless of the feedback?

These are the primary questions. If the answer to all of them is the same thing, then you have you first clue to the direction you should be going in.
If the answers to the two bold questions are something different, this is also good. You have a start to you plan: to seek out the best way to develop the second skill in yourself, while at the same time using the first skill to get work and make connections.

See how simple that was? Of course, there is a lot more to this. You still need to fine-tune your mission and start to structure a business plan. These will be discussed in the next installment of Career Control. Stay tuned.

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Cross-Gender Casting

Since this is Women’s Month, there are a lot of events going on. As would happen, I planned a round-table discussion on the topic of “How To Create More Opportunities for Women Working In Shakespeare.” No sooner did I, and some colleagues, set that up, then some other colleagues announced they were doing a presentation on part of the topic, namely Cross-Gender Casting. That happens next week, on the 19th, at the Equity Offices. It’s sold out.

This is interesting to me and I’ve done a lot of thinking about it, in my work as a director. One of the reasons I got into directing was that I saw how uneven the field was, and I wanted to do something about it. I saw how many parts there were for men, and how few for women.

The result of this is that the women have to be so much better, to beat out their competition, that they end up being much better than most of the men in a production. I experienced, first hand, acting with men in leading parts who had no business being on stage. I once asked a director why she cast a particularly bad actor in a leading part and she replied: “He was the only man who auditioned.” That made me very sad. He had gotten the part based on what was between his legs, not talent, ability or training.

I decided something must be done. I started my own company. But it wasn’t that easy to remedy. Plays, both contemporary and classic, are very uneven in their gender ratio, for the most part. I saw two possibilities to consider: 1.) change the gender of some characters to female. 2.) have women play men. Contemporary plays, by living playwrights, are difficult to adapt because of restrictions on the rights. Classical plays are the best place to start while waiting for contemporary writers to get with the program.

As I started my own company back in the 1990, I looked at the experiments other women were doing to tackle this problem. They tried both of the possible answers that I came up with. The idea of women playing men seemed to only work if it was an “all-female cast.” This was experimented with. I went to see it. My impression was that it sort-of worked at times, but was lacking because:
1.) some actresses were so busy PLAYING MEN that they forgot to PLAY THE CHARACTER.
2.) Realistic romance or sexual scenes had a way of either not being realistic or making the audience squirm.
3.) The productions were seen as a self-indulgent experiment with weak storytelling, more for the benefit of the performers than the audience. Audiences were left confused.
4.) The productions were not well attended, they lost money.

So, for my own work for the next decade, I chose the route of changing the gender of the characters whenever it did not change the story. Yet, I still ended up in trouble as my supporters out in average America (as opposed to the city) had a hard time dealing with a female Rozencrantz or when Prince John became Princess Joan. I was amazed at the resistance I confronted. This discouraged me.

Therefore, I was very interested in the discussions going on this March – Women’s Month. I learned of a program called “On Her Shoulders” which is celebrating women playwrights by presenting readings of plays written by women. The first reading was presented last Sunday. The play was Aphra Behn’s “Sir Patient Fancy.”

In case you have not heard of Aphra Behn, she was an English playwright who wrote comedies during the Restoration. The play was typical Restoration fare, light, funny, bawdy and farcical. It was read by members of the Queen’s Company, an all-female troupe. And, it was great!

It showed me that cross-gender casting can work if the actresses are good and the play is light and unrealistic, without making too strong a demand on the audience’s willing suspension of disbelief. As far as deeper, more realistic plays go, I’ll have to wait and see. I’ve known actresses to have played Hamlet successfully, but I have not personally seen it, so I cannot say if it was successful on all fronts – like did they sell tickets. (We have to be practical!) I saw an enjoyable reading of Julius Caesar where the genders were completely crossed – men played the female parts, women the male – and it was pretty good. But it was a reading, not a full production. It still had the air of an experiment for the players’ benefit, not the audience’s.

My question is still whether the public is ready for this yet and how do we get them to be ready? Shakespeare is a tough sell as it is!

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A Funny Auditioning Tweet

Hello All! Mary McGinley here, director also known as The Audition Physician.

I recently noted a funny tweet from an actress that went something like this:

“Instead of auditioning, I’m just going to grab random strangers on the street and have them tell me what is wrong with me.”

It made me laugh, but it also made me sad – because I think that she didn’t really mean it as a joke.  It made me wonder what was going on with her.  The first impression is that when she goes to auditions, the viewers criticize her a lot.  Do you identify with the tweet?

I find that hard to believe.  For one thing, most auditors have so much going on, themselves, being so focused on getting their casting done, that they really don’t have the energy to spend on critiquing those who audition for them.

The exception, of course, is that if you were good and really close to what they want, and they want to see if just a little tweaking would get you there. So, that’s a good thing, isn’t it?  So, if that is not the case, then it could only be one of two things.

1.) The director/producer/etc. is having a really bad day and taking it out on the actors. In which case, would you want to work with someone who does that? It’s better you find out now.

2.) She is imagining the auditors are judging her harshly because she is not getting booked, when the reason could have nothing to do with her. She really should read my book and get into a more Zen place of mind.

Of course, there is a third option: She could actually be a bad actress and showing up at auditions for which she is not right, wasting everybody’s time.  If that is the case, let’s hope some friend will find a gentle way to tell her the truth and let her down easy.  And they should let her know that just because she is not good now, it does not mean there is no hope. With the right classes, if she is open to change and willing to work, she could find her niche. It all depends on how badly she wants it.

I’ve seen it happen.

(And if you happen to be that actress, I want to help you. Sign up for my ebook. It’s free!  Look to the left on this blog’s home page.)

– Dr. M., the Audition Physician

#acting #drama #theater #auditioning

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Cross-Gender Casting

Posted March 15, 2014:

Mary McGinley here – your Audition Physician.  Here’s my latest musings on theater.

Since this is Women’s Month, there are a lot of events going on.  As would happen, I planned a round-table discussion on the topic of  “How To Create More Opportunities for Women Working In Shakespeare.”  No sooner did I, and some colleagues, set that up, then some other colleagues announced they were doing a presentation on part of the topic, namely Cross-Gender Casting.  That happens next week, on the 19th, at the Equity Offices.  It’s sold out.

This is interesting to me and I’ve done a lot of thinking about it, in my work as a director.  One of the reasons I got into directing was that I saw how uneven the field was, and I wanted to do something about it.  I saw how many parts there were for men, and how few for women.

The result of this is that the women have to be so much better, to beat out their competition, that they end up being much better than most of the men in a production.  I experienced, first hand, acting with men in leading parts who had no business being on stage.  I once asked a director why she cast a particularly bad actor in a leading part and she replied: “He was the only man who auditioned.”  That made me very sad.  He had gotten the part based on what was between his legs, not talent, ability or training.

I decided something must be done.  I started my own company.  But it wasn’t that easy to remedy.  Plays, both contemporary and classic, are very uneven in their gender ratio, for the most part.  I saw two possibilities to consider: 1.) change the gender of some characters to female. 2.) have women play men.  Contemporary plays, by living playwrights, are difficult to adapt because of restrictions on the rights.  Classical plays are the best place to start while waiting for contemporary writers to get with the program.

As I started my own company back in the 1990, I looked at the experiments other women were doing to tackle this problem.  They tried both of the possible answers that I came up with.  The idea of women playing men seemed to only work if it was an “all-female cast.”  This was experimented with.  I went to see it.  My impression was that it sort-of worked at times, but was lacking because:

1.)   some actresses were so busy PLAYING MEN that they forgot to PLAY THE CHARACTER.

2.)    Realistic romance or sexual scenes had a way of either not being realistic or making the audience squirm.

3.)   The productions were seen as a self-indulgent experiment with weak storytelling, more for the benefit of the performers than the audience.  Audiences were left confused.

4.)   The productions were not well attended, they lost money.

So, for my own work for the next decade, I chose the route of changing the gender of the characters whenever it did not change the story.  Yet, I still ended up in trouble as my supporters out in average America (as opposed to the city) had a hard time dealing with a female Rozencrantz or when Prince John became Princess Joan.  I was amazed at the resistance I confronted.  This discouraged me.

Therefore, I was very interested in the discussions going on this March – Women’s Month.  I learned of a program called “On Her Shoulders” which is celebrating women playwrights by presenting readings of plays written by women.  The first reading was presented last Sunday.  The play was Aphra Behn’s “Sir Patient Fancy.”

In case you have not heard of Aphra Behn, she was an English playwright who wrote comedies during the Restoration.  The play was typical Restoration fare, light, funny, bawdy and farcical. It was read by members of the Queen’s Company, an all-female troupe.  And, it was great!

It showed me that cross-gender casting can work if the actresses are good and the play is light and unrealistic, without making too strong a demand on the audience’s willing suspension of disbelief.  As far as deeper, more realistic plays go, I’ll have to wait and see.  I’ve known actresses to have played Hamlet successfully, but I have not personally seen it, so I cannot say if it was successful on all fronts – like did they sell tickets. (We have to be practical!)  I saw an enjoyable reading of Julius Caesar where the genders were completely crossed – men played the female parts, women the male – and it was pretty good.  But it was a reading, not a full production.  It still had the air of an experiment for the players’ benefit, not the audience’s.

My question is still whether the public is ready for this yet and how do we get them to be ready?  Shakespeare is a tough sell as it is!

Image

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Major Resume Mistake

As I’m about to advertise for photo/resume submissions I suddenly thought of the major mistake that many beginning actors make on their resumes.  (Aside from lying.)  So, I thought I would explain it here, especially since I really have not seen it explained to actors anywhere else.

When listing your experience, put the items in these four columns: play, character, director and production company.  That last one seems to confuse a lot of actors.  They list the theater where the play was produced, not the name of the company.  What many beginning actors don’t understand is that companies don’t necessarily own the building they produce in.

The point here is that the listing on your resume is there to let someone considering hiring you know who you have worked for before.  Your resume should let them know who to contact to get a further reference.  If I am about to hire someone and had any question about their work, I want the option of calling a previous employer, not the owner of the building who doesn’t know the actor.

As I’ve said in the past, the casting of a play is so critical to its success, that a good director does his best to get it right.  This includes checking references.  So, you as an actor must give the name of the company where these references can be checked.

And keep in mind that if you did play a part where you caused trouble, leave it off your resume.  If could come back to haunt you.  Next week I’ll continue to let you in on some more Do’s and Don’t’s.

Cheers!

Dr. M.

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Your First Audition (Part II)

This blog is a continuation of the topic brought up by a new actor’s question: “What should I expect at an audition?  How should I prepare?

We all have to start somewhere, right?  And many of us started our acting experience by working on plays in school or community theater.  I did theater is college and community theater before grad school and moving out into the professional world.  So, I know what it is like.  In the first part of this article I talked about musical auditions.  Now I will talk about straight plays.

Please note that in my blogs I refer to actors who audition as “auditionees” and directors, casting directors or producers who hold auditions as “auditioners.”

If it is a non-musical play, they may have asked for a prepared monologue.  The auditioners should state this in their announcement.  If you are preparing a monologue to audition with, don’t leave it till the night before to work on.  In your nerves, you will forget it.  Bring a copy of it with you, in case you need to refer to it.  Have it handy, but do not have it in you hand as you perform.  That will make the director think that you can’t learn lines.  As far as what monologue to pick, I will discuss that in another blog entry.

If the notice does audition note does not state that they want a monologue, chances are they will have people read from the script for the audition.  This is called a “cold reading.” If possible, try to read the play beforehand so you have an idea of the story and characters.  If it is a published play, it might be in your local library or you might get information about it online.  The auditioners will give you a page or two from the script.  This is called a “side.”  Try to get there early so you can get familiar with “the side.”  Don’t worry, you will not be expected to memorize it.  You will be expected to understand it to a certain extent.  If you don’t, it’s okay to ask questions.

Now, on to what to expect. When you first arrive, look for a desk where people are being signed up on a list.  The assistant signing people up may be able to answer questions about the play, if he’s not too busy.  Ask him where you should wait until it’s your turn, then find a quiet corner to study the script.  Make sure you can still hear when your name is called. Expect to be there a long time.  Try not to have other appointments scheduled causing you to make time demands to the assistant.  You will come off as a diva.

Now, we come to a big difference between professional and community/college theater.  In professional theater you wait in one room and audition in another.  You audition one at a time, or possibly in pairs.  You don’t see what the other auditionees did.

However, in many college and community theaters they have one auditorium and they make everybody sit in it.  I suppose they do this for convenience sake, but it is a terrible idea.  Everyone auditioning is nervous.  To sit and watch other people doing the same thing as you are about to do only serves to make each person twice as nervous.  Plus, then the actors start copying each other, which only serves stifle their own instincts.

Let me take a moment now to plead to directors of college and community theaters to stop this practice.  It hinders the casting process instead of helping.  Actors, if you find yourself in this situation I suggest the following.  Nicely explain to the stage-manager or assistant that you have a cold and don’t want to be rude by coughing in someone else’s audition, so you will wait on the other side of the door.  Make sure he has your name so he will know to come and get you when it is you turn.

Once it is your turn, be ready and willing to do whatever is asked of you.  If they ask you to do it again, but differently, don’t be discouraged.  This does not mean that you were wrong the first time.  I could just mean that the director wants to see a different side of you or if you can take direction.  And if she asks you to do something wacky like kick off your shoes or crawl on the floor, do it.  She may be testing your willingness to be part of the team

After you are done and been told you can leave, (they may just say “Thank you, next”) you can hang in the back of the auditorium to watch others audition.  That can be a very informative experience.  If, however, other auditionees are not waiting in the auditorium, then you must leave.  Whatever you do, do not wait around, hoping to get some feedback from the director.  It will mark you as an insecure beginner.  It might just lose you the part.

I’ll have more on these topics in future blog entries and my upcoming ebook “The Zen of Auditioning.”  Watch for them.

Break a leg!

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