Sunday, March 30, 2014

To All The Suckers- On Classes, Cults and Con-Artists

Where are our young talents? From my own personal experience and from that of my peers – they’re in debt from having spent a fortune on going to acting school and now twittering about their #BlessedActorLife for doing another student film and paying a fortune more to get discovered ‘the modern way’ ----- ‘by paying to get seen.’ Maybe Lana Turner never was discovered in a soda shop, maybe no one worked their way up to a big break – the past is often revised, but that option isn’t even a contender these days.  If you’re getting somewhere, you’re going to PAY cash for it.
Get a college degree! Who isn’t told that from kindergarten on? So if you are a theatre artist, why not go to a ‘name brand’ school like NYU and get your training there? Sure, you’ll end up $200,000 in debt, like most other students, but that’s the price any 18 year old is willing to pay. Until at 22, when they should be making their great strides, they find themselves needing to work 60 hrs a week in order to pay for food, rent and to make the bare minimum payment on their student loans. Where’s the time to audition, to create, to experiment? Our youngest, most trained groundbreakers have cut themselves off from prospering by falling prey to this trap. In their most potent, creative years, they are beholden to pursue other work to pay their debt. By the time the debt is paid off, they are dead, in a routine or too bitter to create.
Bring back the casting couch! (Did it ever leave?) It may have cost your dignity, but didn’t leave you in debt. Now, to meet a pseudo-director, casting director, D level agent, you need to PAY CASH! Yes, pay us and you can get in the room with a professional for $30 for 3 minutes of time. (Yes, like a pimp, they will knock on the door at 3 minutes, and open it to dismiss you at 4 min.) BUT THEY ARE ‘CLASSES’! Say what you want about the Actors Studio, Carnegie Mellon, etc.; they have their faults, but those are trivial compared to charging multiple actors $600 an hr. HOW IS THIS EVEN LEGAL? It’s the shady fine line of hookers calling themselves escorts to skirt the law!  But trust us; the potential talent is getting FUCKED. The Unions and the Attorney General need to investigate Actors Connection, One on One, The Network, etc,  etc, etc. Some of the ‘professionals’ teach these classes at the different studios on a fulltime basis…. When do they find the time to do their professional job?  As one website’s main page proudly extols their track record of success with, “Carolyn is FREELANCING with legit agent Michael of 9MUSE after meeting at a seminar at Actors Connection!”  Notice the words ‘FREELANCING’ and ‘9MUSE’.  Impressed?
And then there are teachers- 2,000+ actors on average submit for one of our shows so we see lots of resumes. As most of their credits are unheard of or untraceable, I find the best place to look is the ‘training’ section. The majority are 3 min “Classes” from the places listed previously (thought they don’t mentioned they are 3 minute ‘classes’).  The rest are often aa composite of teachers made up of Sandy Meisner’s main protégé, Stella Adler’s 2nd in command, Uta Hagen’s successor, etc… It’s amazing how many people these master teachers anointed to carry on their work!   Then there are those who teach ‘the NEW Meisner’ or ‘Strasberg-esqe Method.’ It would be laughable if it weren’t! Actors are blindly duped into paying these charlatans a fortune to train – and it does more damage than good. Many of the worst actors/directors we’ve ever worked with are teachers at leading conservatories. The stories of the famous, old-school teachers hurling ashtrays at students and bringing them to tears are legendary- but they cared about the theatre as an entity larger than any of us.  Put yourself in their shoes? Who doesn’t love babies? If you were trying to teach childcare and the student kept dropping the baby on its head, you should hurl something at the student and tell them to try a different profession. You’re protecting  the child. Sure, there are other ways to do it, but when an untalented person’s  DREAM is to be in the theatre, this harshness serves a purpose.  Objects were thrown out of love and care of the theatre.  Too many people allow the theatre to constantly be dropped on its head if there is a buck to be made.
This may all sound obvious.  The advice offered is more vital than the weekly “How not to give up on your career,” “You can still make it after 25!” columns in Backstage every week or the quarterly “Pat Yourself on the Back for Paying Dues” Equity newsletter article. They’re not here to promote art; they are here to make money off of suckers and nothing more.
SO what to do besides whine?
1. Young actors – your time is NOW! Training is very important – but getting out there and working is the best training. AND it’s priceless and free. Intern – understudy- AND READ! Working and learning go hand in hand – study is not a means to an end – it goes on.
    2. If you are taking private classes, and most of the class has been studying with the same teacher for years, and the teacher bandies about words like ‘loyalty’ – RUN! If the teacher says reading the whole play isn’t important – RUN! If the teacher says she knows better than the playwright – RUN! If the teacher tells you there is only ONE way – LAUGH and then RUN! If you 'aren't ready to approach the text' after a year - HIRE A LAWYER! (Yes, these all come from experience.)
    3. Experienced Actors, of all ages – help spread the word! With sites like YELP and a recently launched site to review teachers (the name escapes me! Anyone?) , help a fellow actor out! As the unions seem powerless or unwilling to do anything about the pay-to-play Acting Schools, contact the Attorney General with your own horror stories.  These little things will give us back part of the theatre we so badly need!
          4.  Question everything! The great teachers often rave over their best students – those who challenged them at every turn. You’re likely to be shown the door if you respectfully challenge your teacher – which may be the best lesson they can offer you. 


Tuesday, March 25, 2014

On Not Being Beholden to the Great Whites

Hello? Is there anybody there that cares about the Theatre more than themselves?

Why not start with an incendiary topic for our 1st post?

In an interview shortly before his death, Elia Kazan, one of our greatest theatre artists wrote, "What is keeping anyone here (the theatre)? I ask this because I want to know, and because I want there to be a theatre again."

I write:
Save the whales! I remember hearing this and seeing the shirts as a kid. From the mocking tone of the adults around me, it seemed to be a new call to arms. The call for a true theatre has been around for ages, but it seems to be a SAVE THE WHALES cry, meaning, Save Broadway! The Great Whites are the most visible examples of both scenarios, so that's where the focus goes. (Also of note, whales are the key growing ground for barnacles )
Only recently have I heard the cry, Save the Plankton, Preserve the Reef... the ‘lower’ ranks of the oceanic ecosystem feed everything up to the whales. If these beings start to die off, eventually so will the whales. It will take a long time, and the whales will eat any ‘crap’ they can to survive, but they will be sickly and pathetic. (Sound familiar?) They will survive the only way they can. What does this have to do with the theatre? By limiting ‘the theatre’ that is spoken of to the commercial Great White Way, we are focusing on only the top of the food chain, not the rest of the theatre ecosystem which should keep the top of the food chain strong.
Like rats, there are more theatre companies in the city than there are people. Yet as Kazan states, there are few faucets from which to drink. The rest are non-entities, and they will stay that way. (Granted, many of them should.) But we've lost focus on the ecosystem. Why? There are a few key reasons.
While nepotism was and always will be at play, it’s trivial. Mainly, getting into the theatre is now a system of paid study until you are lucky enough to be deemed profitable and willing to hit the ground sprinting. There's little chance for apprenticeship, junior members, growing by failure, etc. Facts are-  the new blood is trained they must spend a fortune on classes and workshops and even more to facilities that allow them just to be in the same room with a casting director. (Yes, the system is built on paying for 4 minute 'classes'; they’re not paid auditions, as they call themselves 4 minute ‘classes.’ The unions and the theatre artists themselves have allowed this to happen. It is criminal.) It's hard for the cream to rise when it becomes all about money. The average young actor pays thousands of dollars a year just to audition…. Errr… I mean, pay to take a 'class' in which they perform a monologue in front of a casting director or agent. How can a union allow these pay to play like scams to exist? Pay us $3000 and we'll get you in front of people who could employ you? Imagine if it were the steelworkers? Teachers? Taxi Drivers?

As the little companies, even the best ones, have to swim in a separate ’amateur’ pool; there's no chance of even breaking even. No wonder those that have money to invest put it in the high profile, safe crap - which is why we have so much of it. Those who can afford to better the theatre aren't allowed to unless they are willing to part with their money permanently. Where does the fault lie? Again, many places, but one that will make me very unpopular is with the unions that are to protect us. (‘Us’ referring to capitalists, not ‘us’ as artists who care about the bigger theatre or changing the world.) The limitations put on the little companies make it impossible to even feed the plankton. Yes, you can name off three or so exceptions in the past 30 years, but that is not the norm. The big fish have the power and are keeping it. (How appropriately named was the anemic Big Fish that wallowed for a brief time on Broadway this season.)
Equity has a ‘Showcase’ code in which young companies, actors, directors and such can SHOWCASE their work and their talent through shows without paying to be seen by casting people. The code has barely been updated in over 30 years. Things change. The code hasn’t. The code now allows Showcase codes to charge at the maximum as much as some movies. Instead of doing actual work, actors are forced to ‘showcase’ themselves by doing singular audition work by paying casting directors. Not only do they not get a real theatrical experience, these actors don’t get any credits for their resumes. (Well, actually, most young actors’ resumes are made up of their paid auditions for casting directors.) Showcases or off-off contracts pay little, but it is real work and doesn’t cost the actor anything to get their work seen. And it is the a key part of an evolving theatre ecosystem.

Unless we can find a way to birth full grown whales of quality and beauty, we need to focus on the little fish; the new blood. Allow the theatre to evolve. Down with the unions? Hell no. The unions, the bastions of theatre need to worry some more about the theatre as a whole and not the individual as the end all. Without a vital theatre which young, talented people can aspire, there's no use for any of us. We've made ourselves obsolete. If the union allows the ocean to dry up, the plankton and the whales will die.  So we either need new codes, new unions or anarchy. Any of the above is more conducive to the arts than what we have now. 

Humans don’t need whales to live. But what a shame it will be if we allow them to die because we are too busy revering them and spending money on t-shirts to save them instead of looking at the big picture.

SO instead of asking who am I, which would take all of 30 seconds on google, I ask who are YOU and what are you willing to do to improve the "Fabulous Invalid?"

Step 1. Email Equity and ask them to give the creative 'plankton' a break. Revise the Showcase Code from head to toe.  Showcase Code Head:

Step 2: The off-off/off-Bway Theatres you love can only charge $18. Throw in an extra $5 as a donation. It makes a world of difference.  

Step 3. Money is tight, but many people, even if they can't afford to make a donation, know someone who can. Ask them to make a tax-deductible theatre of your choice. 

Step 4. Audience, Actors, Producers, Deisgners, Playwrights... It's time to take back the theatre. DEMAND better.  And when you find it - SPREAD THE WORD.