From the Teaching Trenches: Carrying the Show in their Hearts

When I was in high school I was in a play called Necessary Targets for OAP. I played Azra. I loved that show, and I have lifelong friends because of it. So a couple of years ago I needed to choose a show for a large amount of girls, and I went back to that play. It was going to be the first time my school competed in OAP, and I wanted to choose something that would challenge my actresses, even though they were in middle school.

So Necessary Targets is set in a Bosnian refugee camp. And it just so happened that one of my colleagues was a refugee from Bosnia. I had her come talk to my girls about her experiences. And this was my proud director moment: they didn’t just listen. They absorbed what she told them. They took it with them on stage. And when the time finally came for them to perform this show at OAP contest, they were giving real life to their characters. After the performance, my colleague cried and told me we had nailed it. She knew those women on stage, and we had told their story beautifully. A lot of people think middle school kids can’t handle heavy drama and more adult themes. But they can.

At the end of the contest three of my actresses got individual acting awards. We didn’t place, but I like to think they’ll carry this show in their hearts the way I did because they were truly amazing.

—RaMina M., Theatre Arts teacher

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Alyssa Mooney, our social media editor, shares a bit of advice from the indelible Bryan Cranston.

Bryan Cranston, of Breaking Bad and Malcolm in the Middle fame, is on tour to promote his new book, A Life in Parts, and I attended the lecture, secretly hoping to get a little inside knowledge on Walter White and whether he’ll ever be on Better Call Saul.  (No confirmation there, darn it.) However, what I ended up with is one of the best pieces of auditioning advice I’ve encountered.

A grad student asked for advice on what is the most important step in beginning your artistic journey after graduating and Cranston jokingly replied, “The first one.” He went on to explain a mindset he started to take early on in his auditioning process: stop thinking of auditions as if they are job interviews.  

From his book, A Life in Parts:

“…[it was suggested that] I focus on process rather than outcome. I wasn’t going to the audition to get anything: a job or money or validation. I wasn’t going to compete with the other guys.

I was going to give something.

I wasn’t there to get a job. I was there to do a job. Simple as that. I was there to give a performance. If I attached to the outcome, I was setting myself up to expect, and thus to fail. My job was to focus on character. My job was to be interesting. My job was to be compelling. Take some chances. Serve the text. Enjoy the process.”

Cranston went on to talk about how freeing this was, how it gave him confidence, and how it allowed him to be truly happy for other people who got roles from good auditions.  

Sitting there in the small auditorium, it struck me how simple this advice was but also how it helped eliminate a big roadblock to many young (and seasoned) actors in the audition process. Actors are constantly told to relax in auditions, to have confidence, but it can be a grueling and scary experience that wears on your self-esteem. Chorus Line even has a song about it, with dancers joining as one agitated voice in the key of A minor, “God, I hope I get it. I hope I get it. How many people does he need?” Cranston’s idea allows the actor to let go of that anxiety and to stop worrying about getting it and care about doing it and doing it well.

Like most good advice, this is blindingly simple but also difficult to master; especially if you’re already an established actor who need the audition to go well so you can pay rent. However, educators can help their students to start to incorporate this into their mindset early on, so they’ll find it easier to do when the stakes are higher than OAP or the spring musical. If actors learn to treat their auditions as not a prize to be won but a gift to be given (without arrogance) then who knows…maybe one day they’ll be the next Walter White or Dr. Tim Whatley, Dentist to the Stars.

 

6 Ways Theatre Kids WIN Halloween

Anyone can do Halloween, but some are, shall we say, more committed to the craft of Halloween than others.  This is the holiday the Theatre community was meant to use to blow all of the general public out of the water!

Here are some reasons why this is our season! (Spoiler alert- nothing to do with pumpkin spice)

1. One of a Kind Costumes

Yes, we know the party store has a huge stock of sexy everything costumes, but we will not, nay, CAN NOT run the risk of a duplicate costume.  The $40 bag that includes a wig might seem like a good deal and certainly takes far less time than the one we’ve been working on since the end of June, but that does not matter.  Halloween is a competition of skill and we shall prevail.

2. The MacGyver Factor

Theatre people are wildly resourceful.  Small budgets, time constraints within a show, and a penchant for impossibly grandiose ideas has forced us to be!  Nothing gets thrown away.  Nothing is waste.  Everything is costume material.

 

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Got some pipecleaners, four cotton balls, some thread, and a drinking straw?  That’s all we need.

3. The Importance of a Prop

The devil is in the details and we know that a perfectly carried prop can send that costume to the next level.  Perhaps our Amazon order history causes a raised eyebrow or two, but we will not hold a plastic “toy” in our hands when we could painstakingly choose a realistic prop that adds to our character’s richness and completes our masterpiece!  Which brings up the next point…

4. Always in Character

We are not simply ourselves in costumes.  That is the work of amateurs.  We have physically, emotionally, and often vocally prepared to transport our audience at every turn.  Did you want to talk about that fun concert you went to last weekend?  I’m sorry, I’m from Victorian England and I don’t know the artist of which you speak.

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But what’s his motivation?  What is his backstory?  Have you even answered Uta Hagen’s Nine Questions?

5. Mad Makeup Skills

Look, Theatre people are not playing when it comes to makeup.  Those waxy crayon things with the gold wrappers are child’s play.  There will be contouring.  There will be special effects.  There will be strangers stopping us to ask for pictures.  We are not to be trifled with in this area.  We put on theatrical makeup just for fun.  You can guarantee there were at least two practice runs before Halloween ever got here.  Makeup skills are no joke and we gots them!slide1

Want this poster?  Click here to get it!

6. Halloween is Really a Year-Round Event

To be honest, for most Theatre kids, Halloween is more of a lifestyle than a holiday.  Many of us have entire sections of our closets dedicated to things we find and pick up and hoard that have costume potential.  Thrift stores, garage sales, hand-me-downs.  They all contribute to an elaborate collection of once and future costume glory.

Most parties we throw are themed or costume parties.  Sometimes we wear a tiara to go to the store and grab some milk.  We study people and constantly hone our skills to represent the world through our own eyes and the opportunities to express that are endless if you aren’t too worried about people thinking you are weird.  And we’re not.

We have the unique skill of seeing the world through many different characters and perspectives and the thrill; the mind-opening, gut-wrenching, soul-filling satisfaction of that, becomes addictive.  We get to create magic for people on and off the stage and there’s no reason we should limit that to one day a year.

So keep up the good work.  Be scary, be funny, be sexy, be historically accurate, and be creative!  This is our time to shine!