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From Kate in Illinois:
I simply wanted to say I am a huge fan of your work and enjoy it throughly. You have inspired me to keep working towards my dreams and for that I thank you.

I know you are very busy, but if you do have time. What would your advice be to an aspiring singer/actress? I am going to be a college junior next month and I have been either in crew or ensemble with every show I have been involved with (musicals). I have had bit parts in plays as well.

Thank you so much for all that you do! I look forward to listening to your next project!

Wednesday, 4 October 2006

Dear Kate,

First of all, since you say you've also done crew work and bit parts in plays, you should decide which is your chief aspiration- to be an actress, a musical theatre actress (or both) or to work in a backstage capacity. I surmise that you want to tackle both plays and musicals, which of course makes the journey a bit more difficult.

For musicals, you need training, and possibly a lot of training, depending upon what you've already studied. Most of the musical actors and actresses I know have a voice coach and have spent many years honing their singing voices, being taught how to breathe correctly, etc. For musicals, you also should be able to dance and, again- this means hard work in preparation. Most actor/dancers have at least some ballet background and have taken classes/studied in other forms of dance as well, such as tap or jazz. Naturally, there are musicals that require less dancing and some have none at all, but the majority require some dancing or at least staged movement, and you will be competing against a vast number of other performers who have some dance under their belts. So, as you can see, aspiring to musicals is a lot more complicated. The actors with the best chances in the musical theatre world are triple-threats: they can act, sing and dance equally well. (I am assuming, by the way, that if you opt to just act in plays, you will also have had some acting classes or training above and beyond appearing in college productions.)

After the training comes a) getting an agent and b) auditions. I wish I had good advice for you about how to get an agent. It can be rough. It helps if you know someone in the NYC theatre world who could introduce you to an agent for whom you could audition. Otherwise you will just have to respond to open calls- large auditions for actors without agents or without Equity cards. In these auditions, you have only a very short amount of time to make an impression- even as short as 30 seconds. They will be looking for something very specific first, such as the singing- you get about 30 seconds to knock their socks off. If you do, you'll get called back for another audition to read from a script or show if you can dance, and so forth. You would also need to be constantly checking the trade papers for all open calls. You'll have to be emotionally prepared for a lot of rejections. That can be hard, but I know, as a writer, that with each rejection, your hide gets a little tougher, and ultimately you can live with them because you're determined that someday you're going to be accepted.

If you do get an agent, then your full concentration will be on "The Audition," which is obviously longer than an open call audition. There are a bunch of books out there written about "how to audition"- what to avoid doing, how to best grab the director's attention, what to wear, etc. My own advice to auditioning actors would be 1) Look good. You don't want to overdress, but dressing to show off your best aspects- great legs, for instance- does help. Another reason to avoid blue jeans is that some directors I have worked with feel almost insulted if an actor shows up looking sloppy or as if they've made no effort. 2) Come fully prepared. If they've asked you to learn a certain song, know it backwards and forwards. If you're supposed to sing a song of your choice, come prepared with at least three or four you could do. Do your best song first- which should not be too long. Then, if they have questions, they may say, "What else do you have?" because they want to see another aspect of your singing voice or your personality. So learn and take a variety of different kinds of songs. Similarly, if you've been given part of a script to learn (called a "side"), really memorize it, and don't be thrown if they also hand you something new on the spot to read, which can happen. It's totally irrelevant if you don't get handed something new to read or you don't get asked to sing another song. These things are only done if the team needs more info about the actor. Sometimes they'll adore you right off and they don't need to know another thing. 3) Lastly, be yourself and have fun with it. If you're enjoying it, they probably will, too. Don't try to hide your personality under a formal demeanor- they're looking for personality, often for someone different who stands out from the crowd . Don't be too sucking-up to them, but do make sure that you're friendly and pleasant. You'll immediately be crossed off if you seem temperamental or just plain "trouble." The point is to make the whole process quick and pleasant and easy for the creative team who's judging you. They want you to do well. They're looking for just the right person and hoping, when you walk through the door, that it might be you. So just walk in, smile, do your thing and make sure you smile on the way out, too, even if you blew it- a lot of people mess up, so don't be embarrassed if that happens. And do remember that if you get rejected, you're one of a big crowd also getting rejected, and it may be rejection for a very arbitrary reason such as you're too short or too tall or just not the right body type.

Well, I didn't mean to go on so long, but I figured as long as I was going to give advice, I might as well go the whole route. Hope this helps, Kate, and thank you very much for your kind words about my work. Good luck! Nan

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