Just in case – the struggle of understudies

Somebody else is going to be listed in the program for a role you have been working on for many weeks. Somebody else is going to sing the songs and say the words you have memorized. Somebody else is going to put on that costume that fits you just a little bit better. Somebody else is going to take that bow.

Welcome to the daily struggle that is being an understudy.

Read Artistic Director Krystof Kage’s June 19, 2015 blog entry at the Tallahassee Democrat Online Community blog here: Just in Case – The Struggle of Understudies

We are family… Uh oh …

Theatre people are family. We have spent many late nights together, working on a show or socializing after seeing one. We have shared personal theatre stories and know the names of everyone’s kids.

And for people who come into auditions for the first time, it can be quite daunting. Everyone seems to know each other, and that doesn’t bode well for an audition, right? Isn’t the fact that the director just hugged that actress proof that a new girl doesn’t stand a chance?

Welcome to a common misconception about theatre groups in general. Some people think that the same people always get cast because they are chummy with the production crew, or that a small group of people have formed a clique that always takes the leads, or that only the most supremely talented new folks will get a shot – and it will be in the chorus. In some cities, this is actually true – but Tallahassee isn’t one of them.

So, what is really going on in my head during auditions?

Few directors walk into an audition completely blind. I have a general idea in my head about who might show up and what role they might fit – and what roles might be tough to cast because I don’t know a good fit. But I know that auditions can really change my mind fast.

Friends who audition for me have a very tough battle ahead of them. Usually they have made it known that they really want a certain role, but if I just cannot imagine them in that role, they have to prove me wrong with an amazing audition. If they pump themselves up by saying that they love the show and are working hard and have been listening to the CD for years, well, then they had better be incredible or else those high expectations they have set up will tumble quickly. Even if they haven’t telegraphed their motives, they still have to show me something I haven’t seen yet. They have to prove that they have grown some since the last time they were on stage – whether it was my show or not.

Having said that, I sometimes give a friend the benefit of the doubt in auditions – but not for the reasons you might think. They could have proven, through experience, that they don’t audition well, but they are amazing once rehearsal starts. They might have a great work ethic that has shown that they listen to direction well and push themselves beyond my expectations. They might have had a cold, but I know by either seeing them or by reputation that they just had an off night.

However, if they come in unprepared with a song they learned the night before, or take my friendship for granted by just going through the motions and thinking “well, I just had beers with Krystof last week, so I don’t have to prove anything”… well… they probably won’t be cast even if they are more talented. After all, if an actor doesn’t prove they really want the role, 3 other people just auditioned who could play it, and they worked harder to get it.

But what about the people I don’t know? This is where I look harder at the resume and see what kind of roles they have played in the past. Maybe they have worked for a director I know – and I can always give that director a call and ask their opinion. If they are really good, I put them with some of the best actors in cold readings or duets and see if they hold their part of the bargain.

After all, I would be taking a risk with casting someone genuinely new in a lead role for a musical. I have no idea about their dedication or passion or talent or life goals – something I tend to find out during a rehearsal process. They may have had a great two nights of auditions, but what if they showed me the best they had and they aren’t as good after I cast them?

In other words, despite all my knowledge of local actors, talent usually wins no matter what at an audition. A new actor is viewed in a different light than a known commodity – both judged a different way. So don’t be too nervous if you walk into an audition and see me yucking it up with someone who might be competition. We may be a family – but we are always looking for more people to join that family and show us their talent. And underwear.

Read Artistic Director Krystof Kage’s June 10, 2015 blog entry at the Tallahassee Democrat Online Community blog here: We Are Family…Uh Oh…

Volunteers Get the Most Applause

The next time you step into a community theatre, take a moment to look around and count the number of people not getting paid. And once you are done, multiply that number times ten, and you might come close to knowing how many people spent countless hours bringing you a great show without seeing a dime from your ticket.

Volunteers are the true stars of every community theatre show, and most people have no idea how many it takes to turn the experience into a beautiful symphony of art.

Long before we started rehearsals for New Stage Theatreworks’ The Last Five Years, a group of people volunteered to be on a Board to help with the business of the theatre group, while another group helped to form a committee to select the show. After many meetings about budgets and marketing, a few volunteers created logos and a website and social media presence, while the Artistic Director started the recruiting process for the main production team. Even more meetings happened, along with negotiations for performance space and dates, before we could even think about holding auditions.

Every actor in a community theatre show is spending hundreds of hours trying to get things right and seeking no monetary reward for their efforts. The designers, crew, ushers, bartenders, ticket takers, painters, builders, tailors…nearly every one of these important individuals are working for free in their time off from their regular jobs. Almost the entire Board of New Stage is made up of government employees who work all day and “theatre” all night.

Most the the local theatre community simply do all this out of sheer love for the performing arts. Sure, we would love to get paid for all the time we put into a show, but we know that the applause is often payment enough. While a few of us see a small stipend (usually the directors and orchestra get a little money), 95% of the people involved in a show are simply there trying to help create a lasting memory.

And we are not complete experts by any means – we are just people with a passion to help make great entertainment. Some of us are computer nerds who use our skills to develop projections, or people adept at power tools, or just folks that have some extra time to devote to a project. You don’t have to have a lot of talent to get involved – there is a job available for just about anyone with any kind of skill.

New Stage Theatreworks is always looking for more volunteers (get on our volunteer list by contacting us from our website at http://www.nstw.org), and there are many more opportunities at other venues like Theatre Tallahassee or Quincy Music Theatre. Whether you have a lot of time or just a little, there is always a way to help out the community, learn a new skill and gain all kinds of fantastic new friends along the way. We always need a variety of volunteers, from actors to attorneys to muscle to mind…we can find a great spot for you!

Who knows – maybe the next time you step into a community theatre, you might even see your name in the program, and all that applause will be for you.

Read Artistic Director Krystof Kage’s May 29, 2015 blog entry at the Tallahassee Democrat Online Community blog here: Volunteers Get the Most Applause.

The play’s the thing …

Names of musicals are being thrown around our little table at All Saints Cafe like an egg at a team-building event. We are about to embark on a grand journey – and this step is going to be a very important one. If we go the wrong direction, the company might not last long enough to satisfy the cravings of Tallahassee’s talent or audiences.

And then someone says, “What about Debbie Does Dallas: The Musical?”

As the table collectively titters like sixth-graders in sex-ed class, I quickly realize that I am exactly where I want to be. Our group didn’t even have a name yet, but here we are on a mild January afternoon debating the artistic merit of an off-Broadway musical based on an adult film. If it was good enough for Sherie Rene Scott in the titular role, there must be something good about it…

I am the group’s Artistic Director, so I am in charge of this process known as Play Selection. With each show name our little committee throws into the discussion, we have to evaluate a lot of factors. Are the rights available? Do we have the talent to pull it off? Will it actually sell tickets? Do we need a big set or orchestra or stage? Has the show been done in town too recently? Is it artistically challenging enough for the actors? Is the show overdone, or is it so underdone that nobody has heard of it? Does the show have a message that resonates to a modern audience?

And those questions are just the tip of the iceberg in some groups, as other Artistic Directors have to weigh whether a show would play well to older patrons and children or if it is “happy” enough or if certain wealthy donors would enjoy it. And the craziest part of it all: you have no idea whether you were right until the show closes.

Last Five Years logo for New Stage TheatreworksNew Stage Theatreworks has a unique mission in mind compared to other groups in that we strive to put on high quality theatre with shows that typically slip through the cracks locally. We aren’t going to put on shows like Guys and Dolls or West Side Story or Music Man – all virtually guaranteed to sell a lot of tickets and please just about any audience member. If a show is challenging from a technical, artistic or content viewpoint, we are going to consider it when other groups might avoid it.

But our job this time wasn’t to pick a season – it was just to pick our first show. What did we want our first impression to be?

The Last Five Years is an artistically-challenging, technically savvy small musical that resonates well and hasn’t been done locally in years and we are pretty sure we will get the talent and the rights are available. And, of course, the movie was coming out soon and we could bank on some of that popularity. This is our first pick.

So Debbie Does Dallas will have to wait. Maybe next year?


Artistic Director Krystof Kage blogs for the Tallahassee Democrat.

Kicking off a series on New Stage Theatreworks, this blog was originally published to Tallahassee Democrat Online Community Blogs as The Play’s the Thing – Selecting One is Tough Work.