Friday, May 13, 2011

Auditioning Trials, Errors, Joys, and Pains.

Third time’s not a charm.
Today I went to the “La Cage Aux Folles” ECC (Equity Chorus Call) for dancers today. Last September and this past March I made it through all three rounds at this call and got to sing my 16 bars at the end. Here’s a show I feel I’m great for, and that premonition was being acknowledged in my two prior times having been put all the way through to sing. 
I was super excited to be able to go back in again today. The tour goes out in September, and I would do anything to get on that band-wagon. But today just didn’t pan out; I was cut after the first ballet combo this time, the simple few eight counts that I had done twice before.
But that’s how it goes. They self-professed to be looking for something VERY specific when it comes to the Cagelles in this version of the show. So as much as I think of myself as Hannah, that doesn’t mean that they see the same thing. That’s just how the cookie crumbles when it comes to this career, this business, this art. 
These auditions with Duncan Stewart and Benton Whitley (Southgate Productions) have been amazing. They have an ability to make such a warm and positive environment unlike many others that is so nice to audition within. Even in these large open calls, mixed with Equity and Non-Equity actors, they are truly paying attention to each and everyone of us, giving us our chance, our opportunity to shine. I hope they have more auditions in the future that I will be able to attend. More than anything, they are great guys who have been so nice to me in this brand new chapter I’ve just stepped into. 
This past Monday, I had a great opportunity to go in for Lt. Cable for the Non-Equity tour of “South Pacific”. I was fortunate enough to get this appointment through a Middlebury alum who contacted my professor Cheryl, asking if she had any recent graduates who would be interested in auditioning for them. I immediately responded as Lt. Cable has been a dream role for such a long time. I sing his song, “Younger than Springtime” for a lot of my auditions as it sits very well in my voice.
My audition on Monday went really well. I sang 16 bars from “Younger than Springtime” and read some sides from one of his first scenes. I got a lot of great direction from the director about needing to ground myself, feeling the weight through my heels to in turn relax and lower my speaking voice. Aka, be more butch. I did my best, trying to not have my sides shake uncontrollably in my hands as I read. At the end though, they asked me to come back the next day for a callback! The director asked me to really work on the whole grounding sense, which I totally agreed with. I was so excited!
The callback was pretty good. I read the scene into the song, which is difficult in an audition because a lot of how it works is through the direction of the physicality and who moves when to trigger what verbal response. But when I got to sing, I felt great. I almost forgot the trick ending, but quickly got back on the bandwagon and used it the adrenaline rush that came with the realization that i had to keep singing. I really focused on having the weight in my heels throughout the audition and relaxing more than anything. 
It went over pretty well I feel, but I have no idea. At this point it’s in their hands. I have a feeling I didn’t get it, but I was proud to get the callback. I was up against three other guys the monitor said, and two out of those three got the same note as I did about “being more butch”, so at least I wasn’t the only one.
This whole notion of “being butch” definitely put me into a funk right after my callback. I had gotten there early to prepare and the whole creative team was in the room, chatting about the people to come. I could hear almost everything as they didn’t close the door. 
They come to me...
“He has such a beautiful voice!”
“I wish someone would just shake him and tell him what to do!”
“BUT, he can actually hit the notes...”
So great, I have a pretty voice but I’m too gay to play a macho straight guy. I know I can play those characters, but when it comes to the audition room I’m having difficulty finding and using the tools in which to change my pulled-up dancer body into a lower-weighted butch guy. 
“Well, next time when you have to come in for a role like this, maybe you shouldn’t look so put together... When you look all groomed and pristine as well as having nice posture and a fun attitude, generalizations are made. I mean, it’s just how it happens. Judgments and ideas of who you are happen immediately as you walk in the room.” Notes from the 24-year-old monitor...
I was wearing nice khakis that were slightly fitted, a blue button-down, brown belt, my boots, and show specific period-looking hair. It’s not like I came in with a razor tank-top, short-shorts and eye-liner on. But maybe because my pants were tighter I was seen as “gay”, leaving the creative team unable to look past my sexuality while I performed. 
Yes, I know I would need to work on my “butch-ness” for the show, and that would come with rehearsal, it always does. But because I may have not been butch enough in the auditions, or because my clothes were too put together, I could have missed out on an amazing opportunity. Gay men can play those parts. I can play those parts. But being who I am can work against me in the audition room. That’s probably why I love performing my cabaret. I can be me in a performance and just let loose however I want to. Personally, I find it sad that when you work with a director in the audition room, and he or she sees that you, the actor, is competent and can take direction (during my first time in, I was doing the scene a second time after receiving some notes, and on the second line in the director goes, “YES! That’s it right there! Start with that!), but the director is still focusing on this fact that you may be too gay to play the role convincingly. 
Frankly, it hurts on a different level than the usual one of rejection that we as actors deal with in this business on a regular basis. When it comes down to an aspect of my sexuality possibly interfering with me simply playing the scene, a feeling that I couldn’t perform well enough because of my being gay, I just can’t help but take the rejection a little more personally. 
Now, don’t get me wrong, my audition experience with Clemmons and Dewing casting was great! They, like Southgate Productions, made such a wonderful audition space and were so nice and supportive throughout my times in the room with them. They all took the time to make me feel so welcome, wanting me to do well. I was so grateful to even be considered for a call-back and to be in the top four for such a great role. 
It’s really time to get an audition workshop under my belt; both Southgate and Clemmons/Dewing do audition workshops, so I’m totally looking into them. Now that I feel I have a positive relationship with each and admire the work they do in the casting world, I would love to continue working with them to get some tips on how to be a better auditioning machine. It’s a skill we didn’t touched on up at Middlebury, so I feel behind when it comes down to it all. Hopefully some of this work will provide me the tools to be more confident in the audition room and not fall into my dancer, super gleeful personality that can pull across the “gay curtain” in front of me. 
Unfortunately, that’s where we are now in our world when it comes to gay men in theatre looking to play straight characters. There is a perception that we can’t change. But why don’t straight men go through all of this questioning when asked to play a gay character? I don’t know if this will ever change, but that’s how it will be for now. So if I want to get a job, I have to conform.
I am an actor. I happen to also be a gay man. When it comes to my art, I come and play the scene: find the basic workings of the scene as well as of the character, and play. Yes, I use some of my experiences as a gay man to ground my artistic choices. However, that doesn’t mean that my art all of a sudden becomes gay, that the scene becomes gay. All I do is use the over-arcing lessons learned from my own trials, errors, joys and pains in life to help create the scene, whatever it may be about and whomever it involves. Just play the scene. That’s all I should do.
On a completely different note, the CD my former a cappella group recently finished is now available on iTunes! Be sure to check it out; it’s an awesome CD. I also have a couple solos on there (“I’ll Make Love to You” and “Showdown”). 
Follow this link to order it on iTunes! It’s totally worth the $10!
I miss the Bobolinks so much, but I am looking forward to a summer with many of them here in New York City: Hannah, Raina, Gregg, Catherine, Meghan, and Todd! I can’t wait!

Wednesday, May 11, 2011

Manhattan here I am!

Yet another long span in between posts. I feel like I have an excuse, but an excuse is just an excuse. So here’s to another big catch-up entry...
I am an official Manhattanite! A little over a week ago I moved in with my good friends Jayson and Ed to 150th street and Adam Clayton Powell. It’s a lovely little apartment with the perfect size room (probably a third of the size I had in Jersey), nice size kitchen, comfy living room, and chic black and white NYC bathroom. Sure, it’s small compared to Jersey, but this is all that I need and I couldn’t be happier. 
Each day I keep seeing how much more of a Manhattan guy I am than a Jersey one. Now, I have nothing against Jersey. I was very happy to have been there during my “transition phase” into the city and I know Jersey works for a lot of actors and people who are looking to save. But Jersey didn’t work for me; the transportation aspect - having an hour and a half in between the one and only bus I could take in and out of the city - was just not my thing. The ability to just jump on a train at any time and be home in 20 minutes here in the city is just so amazing for me now. You live and learn, right? 
Living in Manhattan is wonderful, especially the area that I am in. I’m across the street from an express train-line that brings me right into “Audition World” as well as transferring me anywhere else. I have groceries within a two minute walk of me, Target within a 15 minute walk across the bridge, and a Domino’s down the street - the perfect destination when this energy-filled city drains me of any desire to cook. AND I’m living with two amazing guys. What more can I ask for! 
My workshop has only two more classes left and I’m wondering how it went all so fast??? It has been so helpful in demystifying many business aspects of non-profit work and how to acquire the financial basis upon which I can create and produce my cabaret. During the time of my move, I definitely fell behind a bit in my assignments for this class due to the actual move, catering, and now another new job, lifeguarding! Yup, I’m lifeguarding outside on a roof-top pool on the Upper East Side just like my Aunt Maggie did when she was in New York at Juilliard. It’s really a perfect weekend job as there are usually no auditions then and rarely conflicts with my normal night-time catering gigs. 
However, now that my schedule is starting to solidify a bit more, I am able to take my cabaret work more seriously and make sure I am making the time to get this produced. There’s a lot of work to get done, and it is up to me as the producer to get all of that under control. Luckily, the tools and resources have been provided through this workshop and I feel equipped to move forward confidently. 
As far as the script and song selection goes, I have decided to start from scratch and not try to “re-vamp” or “update” my script from my previous cabaret, “Another Staged Experience”. So much has changed since those performances, and the stories I told feel dated in accordance with my current experiences. Sure, I’m almost positive I will still be referencing parts of my college experiences, but my goal with this new script is to allow more opportunities to bring in my “post-graduation year’s” teachings and trials in response to what I actually learned at Middlebury. I have a feeling the tone is going to 
be different than before, and I am really excited about that. There is definitely still going to be that conversational aspect to it all, but in a more succinct way. Now it’s just time to get cracking on it all. I’ve done a free write to get me going, and already so many ideas have come up!
In the midst of the move from Jersey, I went home for a few days in between to perform for the Stratford Public Library Benefit Event, “Broadway Comes to Stratford”. I was referred to them by the James Blackstone Memorial Library (where I had done “Another Staged Experience” for the first time) after the Stratford’s talent had backed out. I was so honored to have been asked. And even better, I was going to be paid! I was going to be paid to do my art! Life couldn’t get better.
I was asked to put together a 30-minute set of show-tunes, similar to my cabaret, that I would perform twice for two different audiences, with an encore to tie up the entire evening. I used the general format of my cabaret in a shortened and condensed version with some of the same songs as well as some brand new ones. It was this very factor that I believe tripped me up a bit here and there when it came to the stories in between. I was having a hard time finding that correct balance of not telling too much but also telling enough when it came to my stories. In turn, I felt I fumbled at times and didn’t achieve the highest standard of cohesion in tying the whole story of my set together. As far as the music goes, I felt really great with all of the songs. I’m finally finding that ability to really allow the emotion to shine through, and to not be focusing solely on staying in rhythm and on pitch. More and more I see that when I let the emotion reign, the actual musicality pings perfectly in that sweet spot of the air. Truly magical. 
It really was a great evening all around. Everyone at the library was so lovely, helpful, and professional when it came to making me feel at home for my performances. Thank you to everyone who helped me with this: Tom Holehan from the library, Mom and Dad for bringing food back to me in my dressing room, and the amazingly talented John DeNicola for joining me again on the piano.
A few weeks ago, I was asked to sing in a benefit concert for a friend’s play that is going  for the Edinburgh Festival coming up. Christy (the playwright and actress in the show) and her husband Matt (who stars opposite of her) are both so talented. I met them catering and since then they have been so helpful and willing to introduce me to other wonderful and gifted people of the business. Most recently I was invited to a reading of a new musical TRAILS (which won many awards at the New York Music Theatre Festival last year, check out their website: starring Matt in the leading role as well as the book written by Christy. It was fabulous. I haven’t been to a musical in a long time where I would get chills from the words, lyrics, and music every other second. 
Back to the benefit concert for their own show, YOURS ISABEL, a story based on actual letters between husband and wife during World War II. (Check out their website too: Seeing that their show is based in the 1940’s, they had asked their friends to come in a sing some songs from the era/in that style. I chose to sing “Old Devil Moon” from FINIAN’S RAINBOW. I was super excited to be singing this wonderful song that I use a bunch for auditions, and thus only get to sing 16-32 bars of. This was also my Duplex debut! The Duplex is a well know cabaret theatre here in the city where many wonderful cabaret artists and concerts have taken place. I was sharing a stage from where many had launched from into successful artistic careers. Exhilarating. 
Be sure to check out the video!

At the concert, I was introduced to Jay Alan Zimmerman, who has been titled “Musical Theatre’s Beethoven”. Around 10 years ago, Jay began going deaf, but that has not stopped him from writing absolutely beautiful and moving songs. A few of his songs were performed at the Duplex and I was absolutely blown away. After the show, Jay and I got to talking about how he has a new show that he’s written and how there might be a couple of roles that I would fit well.
I was ecstatic! Obviously this doesn’t mean that I was cast, and I knew that. But this amazing composer saw something in my performance; he saw something in me. Since then we have gotten together once and sung through some of his music, as well as some songs from my audition book, into a special microphone so that he could hear and watch my sound waves on a special computer system to understand how my voice works. He was saying how warm my lower register is, and that I may actually be more of a baritone than a tenor. At first (in my head) I was like, “NO WAY! I can belt A’s easily!” But since then I have been feeling and seeing what he means. So maybe I’m a closet baritone with a solid A? It’s something I’m excited about working on...
Jay is so great. We had a long chat about the business and what I actually want to be doing. He’s seen from my resume and blog that I have a varied taste, and wondered where exactly do I want to be going.
“I really have no idea...”
As of right now, I do still love performing, and I don’t think I’ll ever stop loving being in front of an audience. But where do I want to be performing, in what venue? Is it in a revival? A new show? Cabaret? And what about choreography and directing? It’s all still up in the air, and I'm not about to go grabbing any one down yet, however balance them up there just a bit longer.
Well, that’s enough for now. There is more to come, but I have to get ready for catering now. Be sure to check back soon for more of an update! Happy Spring!