A SHAKE-UP IN THE LINE-UP

Here it is, short and sweet.

Unfortunately Donna Grossman is not able to attend the Free industry workshop on the 28th of Jan.

However, we are very pleased to announce that the immensely talented director Matthew Penn will be stepping in for her.

thFor those of you who may have been living under a rock, Matt is one of the busiest directors around. He is the co-artistic director of the Berkshire Playwrights Lab and a member of the renown Ensemble Studio Theatre. But Matt is best known as the Emmy nominated director of Law & Order. In addition to directing multiple episodes of the show he also served as Executive Producer of Law & Order for 4 seasons. Other TV directing credits include: Damages, The Closer, Pan Am, Private Practice, Royal Pains, House, In Plain Sight, Detroit 187, Blue Bloods, NYPD Blue, The Sopranos, Third Watch, Gossip Girl, Rizzoli and Isles, Cashmere Mafia and The Education of Max Bickford.

We’re excited to have Matt join us and are looking forward to another dynamite workshop.images

These workshops are free to the followers this blog and/or the actors who study with John Howard Swain.

The invitations to the workshop will go out as scheduled at 12 noon on the 22nd of Jan. Space is limited. Hope to see you there.

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NEW YORK – GET READY. DONNA GROSSMAN IS COMING!!

Free-Workshop-logoOkay, Donna is already in New York. What’s different though is that she’s helping us kick-off our Free Industry Workshops Series for 2015. And in a few days you could have the chance to showcase your work for her.

If you’ve been living under a rock you might not know but Donna is one of the busiest commercial casting directors in New York. She casts hundreds of projects every year. But starting in 2015 she is expanding the scope of her office and will be casting for film/TV and theatre as well.

This is an incredible opportunity to meet her and show her your work.

What do I need to do? If you’re following my blog or if you’ve ever studied with me then you’re automatically eligible for the workshop. However, the invitations for the workshops go out through Constant Contact. So, if you aren’t getting the emails I send out via Constant Contact then you need to make sure I have your right email address. I’ll be sending out a brief notice on Constant Contact later today. If you don’t get it, let me know.

What else? When you get the invitation you need to respond to it RIGHT AWAY. These workshops fill up very quickly.

When is the workshop? January 28th from 6:30 to 9:30 PM.

When to the invitations go out? At 12 noon on the 22nd of January. Make sure you imagesnear your computer. Did I mention—these workshops fill up quickly.

What does it cost? Nothing. That’s what free means.

Why aren’t you charging for this? It’s our way of giving something back to an industry that’s been very good to us.

How does it work? The first thirty people to respond to the invitation get a spot. On the night of the workshop names are drawn out of a hat and each actor gets to present a two-minute contemporary monologue. Donna and I will give you feedback and if any adjustments need to be made you’ll get a chance to do your piece a second time.

Donna (center) and her crew

Donna (center) and her crew

Where will the workshop be held? If you are one of the first thirty people you’ll receive an information sheet with all the details. You will however need to be on time, be ready to work and commit to staying until the workshop is over.

Nothing else? Oh, yeah. Make sure you bring two headshots and resumes.

Okay, hope to see you on the 28th.

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TAKING ADVANTAGE OF YOUR OPPORTUNITIES

les-miserables-musical-posterWhen I was writing last month’s post I was reminded of a story about my lovely bride, Marsha Mercant, and her audition for the sit-down company of Les Miserables in Los Angeles a number of years ago.

A little history first. Five years before the Les Mis audition Marsha auditioned for Cats—also in Los Angeles. She didn’t know any of the players – Cameron Mackintosh (producer), or Trevor Nunn (director), or Vinnie Liff or Andy Zerman (the casting directors). She sang and danced for them and they liked her. She then had not one, not two, not three but six callbacks before being cast in the role of Jenny anydots. During those auditions Marsha did something very clever — at each callback she wore something cat like: a T-shirt with a picture of a cat on it, leopard tights, something with a cat theme each time she went in.

Marsha and Jenny anydots

Marsha and Jenny anydots

The show, also a sit-down company, ran for two years at the Shubert Theatre in Century City. But that’s a different story.

Flash forward two and a half years. Cats has closed but Les Mis is getting ready to come to LA. This time, because Marsha had done Cats, she knew all the players and they all knew her. She also knew she wasn’t going to get called in for the initial auditions but only for the final, final callback. Which meant she was only going to get one shot in the room to show her stuff, one shot at getting the role she wanted — Mme. Thenardier.

So, she hired the Emmy Award winning composer John Kavanaugh to arrange a specialty number she would sing and she got Barbara Epstein (an internationally renowned musical theatre director) to help her create the “characters” for the songs she would sing. The three of them worked many hours, rehearsing to make sure each moment, each note, each nuance was perfect.

Marsha as Mme. T.

Marsha as Mme. T.

Marsha also had the foresight to find out who was going to be in the room. This time JohnCaird and Trevor Nunn were co-directing. Richard Jay- Alexander was putting the company together and the casting directors Vinnie Liff and Andy Zerman were back to cast the show. Once she knew who the players were she made it a point to find out something interesting about each person, either something personal or professional, so she could banter with them in case the opportunity came up.

She nailed the audition and even though Kay Cole ended up getting the role of Mme. Thenardier, Marsha was her understudy and got to play the role scores of times during the year long run.

What’s important to remember in all of this is that Marsha knew she was only going to have one shot and she did everything she could to make sure that shot paid off.

My question to you is: how are you prepping for your auditions? As actors, so much of what happens in show business is out of your control. But how you audition, how you prepare, is something that is in your control. You may not be in a position to hire award winning coaches but make sure you’ve done everything in your power so when the opportunities do come your way you can take advantage of them.

PS Here’s what Marsha looks like most of the time!!MarshaMercant5834_LowRes_Final

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What Are You Doing To “Wow!” An Agent?

_44522490_crowd416The number one question I get from actors is, “How can I get an agent?” And my reply is, “What are you doing to separate yourself from the five hundred other people who approached that agent that day?”

The answer I usually get is, “Huh?” as if suddenly I was speaking Swahili.

 

First of all, do you need an agent? If you want to be taken seriously in this business the answer is…YES. Why? Because having an agent is a signal to the hiring world (casting directors, directors, producers) that you are a professional. It also elevates your status separating you from the hordes of actors that don’t have representation and are self-submitting. There is nothing wrong with self-submitting it’s just that the odds are stacked against you.

Do you have to have an agent to be a working actor? No. But if you want to do something with your talent other than preform in community theatre the answer again is…yes.

So what can you do to “Wow!” an agent? The first thing is to have not a good but rather an outstanding headshot. One that is current, one that looks like you, one that will open doors for you and one that will represent you when you can’t be there in person. Do you have one of those?

Next, what sort of shape is your resume in? How current is it? Are you still using credits from high school? How is the resume laid out? Is it easy to read? Hard to read? And the information that’s on there, is it true? Please don’t lie. If you’re new to the business don’t try to hide that fact with a bunch of false credits. The agent’s wife/brotherimages-1/sister/father/mother/girlfriend/boyfriend may have directed “that” production of “that” show on your resume. And if the agent liked you before but then finds out you’re lying…there goes that relationship.

Next, let’s say you had a meeting with an agent. He/she likes you and wants you to come in to audition for the rest of the agency. Are you ready? If you aren’t in a show, what are you doing to keep your craft in shape? In our business, if you’re not using your skills you’re losing them. So, what are you doing to keep them honed?

131158-849x565r1-workout-tipsI always felt being an actor was akin to being a professional athlete. And I always felt part of my job, a huge part of my job, was to make sure I was in shape. Not just physically but also to make sure my acting chops were in top form too. So, whenever I wasn’t working I was in class.

If an agent is considering taking you on, he’ll want to know what you’re doing to keep yourself, your skill set, in top form so you can book the auditions he’s busting his ass to get for you. If you’re not in a show, what are you doing to keep your skills in shape?

What about other supporting material? Is your IMBD page up to date? Do you have a reel? A VO demo? Are they current?

In a way getting an agent is like dating. First impressions are important. You need to do everything in your power to create a package that is as attractive and prepared as it can be. Make sure you have a great headshot, your resume and reel are up to date, and that you’re at the top of your game when it comes to your craft. Wow-20110531Do everything you can so when that agent opens the metaphorical door they take one look at you and say, “Wow!”

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Have You Been Glazered?

What’s Glazered you’re probably asking yourself.

MV5BMjIzMDAxNjk4MV5BMl5BanBnXkFtZTcwMTIzMzMxNA@@._V1_SY317_CR47,0,214,317_AL_It’s Tony Glazer, the award-winning writer and director. He is going to be the next guest in our FREE INDUSTRY WORKSHOP SERIES.

His workshop will be from 6:30 to 9:30 PM on Wednesday Nov. 12th.

The invitations for the workshop will go out at noon – 12 PM on Nov. 10th. (give or take a few minutes depending on the volume of the traffic Constant Contact has at that time.)

 

The first thirty people to sign up will have the opportunity to showcase their work for this outstanding director (a two-minute contemporary monologue).

Tony Glazer is an award-winning writer, director and producer. His plays have been produced in New York, Los Angeles, Chicago, Philadelphia, Canada and England. His MV5BMTQyOTgyMDE0OF5BMl5BanBnXkFtZTgwODkzMDYyMTE@._V1_SY317_CR5,0,214,317_AL_first feature film, Junction, (www.junctionthemovie.com) which he wrote and directed won seventeen awards for excellence on the festival circuit including best director, best picture, and best screenplay. It was also nominated for the prestigious PRISM Awards. Glazer’s stage plays include Stain, and Safe, The Substance of Bliss (2009 Weissberger Award Winner), In The Daylight, Reading Under the Influence, What Friends Are For and American Stare (which is being developed as a feature film.) His most recent directing credits include the television show Redrum, These Things We Hold and the indie film Trust Me, I’m a Lifeguard.

We would love to see you at this workshop BUT don’t stray too far from your computer on the day the invitations go out.                                      The last workshop filled in less than seven minutes.

The invitations go out via Constant Contact. If you didnt receive a notice about Tony’s workshop via Constant Contact then please email us so we can make sure your information is in the proper data base.

Cheers,

John

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The Show Must Go On…

imagesThat refrain is a testament of our dedication as performers. We’ve all known someone (or been someone) who got up out of a sick bed with a temperature of 104 and gave a show stopping performance. Or did West Side Story on a broken ankle.

But what about the flip side of the coin? What if you’ve accepted a role in a show and then discovered you had made a colossal mistake. Would you stick with it and die a thousand tiny deaths at each performance or would you screw up your courage and get out?

That’s a choice I was faced with several years ago.

Here’s what happened: I’m living in LA. I’m in the middle of a nasty divorce. I’m sleeping on a friend’s couch and trying to pull my life back together. I’m also in the midst of changing agents – another divorce of sorts – and I am feeling extremely vulnerable. I think, “If I can just get into a show, any show, and have something to wrap my mind around I’ll feel better.”

I audition for a few things and get cast in a showcase. I’m not going to mention the name of the piece or where it played because it was fairly notorious production and I like to protect the names, and the reputations, of the innocents.

Let’s just say I audition and get cast in play XYZ. The auditions are strange; the only material we have to read are a few short monologues and after we read those the director has us do some improvs. But I know a couple other people who have been cast and I think, “They’re good actors, so what the heck? I wanted to do a show and here’s a show.” It doesn’t pay anything but the writer, who is also the producer, has booked us into a reputable theatre, one that casting directors and agents will attend.

There are ten roles and the director has double cast each role. There is Cast A and Cast B. play-rehearsalCast A (my cast) will perform all the shows except for two nights and Cast B will perform those. And if anybody in either cast gets more remunerative employment on a day they’re supposed to perform the appropriate member from the other cast will take over. Sounds like a good plan to me. I just need to let the agents/casting directors know what nights I’m on.

At the first rehearsal we discover there’s no script. All we have are the monologues we read at the audition. Each cast member reads his or her monologue several times and then the director has us improv different scenarios. This goes on for a couple of weeks with the writer cobbling together scenes based on the improv sessions.

There is a lot of grumbling both at rehearsals and in the bars afterward. But with the true cocked-eyed optimistic spirit that only performers seem to have, we soldier on. “This will all come together, I know it will,” is said more than once. (God, I love actors if for no other reason than this. There is no other group of people anywhere more hopeful than we are.)

Rehearsals continue and yes, there are several neon signs flashing, telling me, “This is not 6a00d83451b71f69e20168e9bcd904970c-400wiright,” but my judgment is impaired. I’m spending my days dealing with lawyers; it seems as if every day I’m losing something: my house, my dog, most of my money. I don’t want to look at how badly things are going. I just want to go somewhere at night where I can forget all the bullshit in my life. Go somewhere and do the one thing I know I’m good at because during the day I’m getting the crap beat out of me.

Rehearsals slog on, both casts grumbling about the arrogance of the director, the ineptitude of the writer but we hang in. “The show must go on…”

We move into the theatre and things get worse. Instead of the writer and the director incorporating our suggestions, mostly about ways to improve the story, to firm up the characters (and admittedly I’m suggesting more than the others) they issue an ultimatum, “Our way or the highway.” All the actors, including me, blink. We all, for our own reasons, need the play. (If I could change one thing about our culture this would be it: far too many of us are so desperate to work we’re afraid to stand up for ourselves.)

Again, because of my impaired judgment, I can’t tell if what we’re doing is brilliant or if it’s shit. Yes, others are grumbling but that’s what casts do – no matter how good a play is something could always be better. The show plods on, with both casts rehearsing until finally we arrive at our first invited dress. I ask three friends – an actor, a producer and a writer – to come and give me their opinion. I tell them my big moment is a monologue (surprise, surprise) at the end of Act I.

We do the show and when it’s over I go out front. Several members of the audience are milling around lobby waiting to say hello to their friends in the show but my friends aren’t there. And the lobby is very subdued. No, “Oh, my god you were great.” No, “That was terrific.” Not even the “I hated the play but let me say something that sounds polite,” like, “Wow, that was something.” Or, “Oh, oh, you were up there all right.” Nothing.

After a few minutes the lobby clears out and still  no sign of my friends – this is before texting, before everyone has a cell phone – so I wait. The stage manager leaves. The house manager tells me I have to go, she has to lock up. Still no friends. All three assured me they are coming so it’s hard to believe all three would have to cancel at the last minute. I leave the theatre, the door clicks shut behind me and I’m standing outside alone. I wait a few minutes and as I turn to walk to my car I hear voices in the distance. As they get louder I realize it’s my friends. And they’re drunk – staggering into each other drunk.

When they’re about twenty feet away they see me and they shout, in unison, “Get out! Get out now.” They drag me back to the bar where they had been drinking and they say, “That is the worst show ever. It was so bad we left after the first act. We’re not drunk because we want to be, we’re drunk because we have to be.”

Later, trying to sleep on my friend Tommy’s couch, I toss and turn all night. I’m not a quitter. I’ve never left a show before. In the morning I call two of the other actors that went on last night. Their friends feel pretty much the same as mine.

I stew some more. Who will suffer if I leave? How will it affect the show? I finally come to the conclusion that tormenting like this isn’t worth it. I call the director and tell him I’m leaving. He blows up. “I knew I shouldn’t have hired you in the first place. I knew you’d pull some shit like this.” He goes on for several minutes and the whole time I’m thinking, “Geez, if you felt that way you could’ve saved us both a lot of  trouble.”

When he finally settles down I remind him the show doesn’t open for four more days, there are two casts and the guy covering me can take over. The director starts yelling again and he actually says to me, “You will never work in this town again!” I mean, this guy doesn’t know his ass from his elbow and the only reason he’s directing the play is because he’s screwing the writer/producer. And the only reason she’s able to produce the play is because of the trust fund her granddaddy set up for her. The director is still ranting when I hang up.

That night, after the second dress, my friends in the show call and tell me what the director told the rest of the cast about my decision. It’s all unflattering, mostly about how unprofessional I am, how I left them in a lurch. He told them one more thing. “Don’t images-6worry, he said, and according to my friends he said this with unabashed glee. “I made sure the son-of-a-bitch’s name got taken out of the program.”

The whole time they’re telling me this they’re complaining, saying they want to get out too. They don’t. They stick it out. The show opens three days later to the worst reviews a showcase has ever received in LA. No, not kidding, the worst. Three of the reviewers are smart enough to know where the blame belongs and don’t rake the actors over the coals but they do rip the director and the writer a new one.

The show completed its run. I was still sleeping on my friend’s couch and my career was still stalled but at least I wasn’t getting beat up while doing something I loved.

Could I have hung in there and done the show? Sure but sticking up for myself, at least in this case, proved to be the better choice. As difficult as it was to leave, taking charge of my life boosted my confidence and even though it took me a while to get my life (and my career) back on track it was the step I needed to take.

SIDEBAR – a few months later I signed with top LA agent. During the interview process he mentioned he had seen play XYZ. He joked about how horrible it was and asked if I had ever seen it. “No,” I said. “Never did.” I didn’t tell him I was almost in it.

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THE HIGHER UP YOU GO…

images-4Often a student will say, usually after a not so good audition, “What is wrong with these people?” “That director, what a jerk!” Or, “I can’t believe she was so rude.” I’m always quick to say, “Hey, there are a lot of wonderful people in this business.” And it’s true. In fact, in my forty plus years as an actor I’ve discovered that the old axiom, “The higher up you go in this business, the nicer the people are,” is true.

After five years in New York with eight off-Broadway plays under my belt I was eager to get some TV and film experience. New York wasn’t like it is today. Now there are twenty plus television shows in production and a countless number of movies being filmed here. Back then it was a handful of soap operas and maybe a half a dozen films a year, many of them pre-cast out of LA.

So I packed my bags and headed for Hollywood. Shortly after arriving I had the good fortunate to sign with an agent but he told me, “This isn’t going to be easy, selling you. You don’t have any LA credits.”

But we agreed to give it a shot. A couple weeks later he called and said, “Look, I’ve got this thing. I don’t know if you’re interested or not but they want to see you. Howard Koch is producing and Walter Matthau is starring. It’s for the American Heart Association. It doesn’t pay anything so I don’t know if you want to do it.”

I’m not sure I even heard the last two sentences. What I heard was “Howard Koch isimages producing and Walter Matthau is starring.” Those two guys were titans in the industry. Mr. Koch had produced a slew of movies including The Manchurian Candidate (original version), The Odd Couple, On A Clear Day, Plaza Suite and two iconic TV shows Maverick and The Untouchables. Walter Matthau had starred in The Taking of Pelham One, Two, Three; The Bad News Bears, The Odd Couple, Charade, The Front Page, etc., etc. AND THEY WANTED TO SEE ME!

I hustled over to my agent’s office and picked up the sides. It wasn’t a great script. It was one of those “Take care of your heart and your heart will take care of you” short films that would only play at medical conventions but I didn’t care. My scenes were with Mr. Matthau. The audition was in two days. I prepared like I had never prepared before. The next day my agent called with another audition. “It’s a decent role,” he said, “but it’s a new show. No one knows if it’ll even air. It’s called St. Elsewhere. You want to go?”

Paramount+Studios+033“Yeahhhh,” I said. I was thrilled to have any audition. I did my homework on both pieces, went to the St. Elsewhere audition the next morning and then over to Mr. Koch’s office at Paramount Studios for the Heart Association audition later that  afternoon. I read for Mr. Koch and the director. My phone was ringing when I got home. I had booked the Heart Association job. Rehearsals started the next day.

I reported to the set in the morning and met Mr. Matthau. I told him I had played Oscar Madison in a college production of The Odd Couple. He was polite but didn’t seem terribly interested. After our wardrobe fittings the AD went over the shooting schedule – I was going to shoot my scenes the next afternoon. We rehearsed for a couple of hours and were taking a break when my agent called.

“Hey,” he said. “The St. Elsewhere people, they want to see you again. Callback’s tomorrow morning at 10:30.”

“Damn” I said.

“What’s the matter?”

“I’m shooting the Heart Association film in the morning.”

“When’s your call?”

“Eight.”

His other phone rang and he said, “Let me get this. I’ll get back to you.”

Mr. Koch was standing behind me when I hung up. “What’s up, kid?”

I told him about having a callback the next morning.

“What do you want?” He asked.

I turned away mumbling something even I didn’t understand.

He put a hand on my arm and stopped me. “In this business you’ve got to let people know what you want. What do you want?”

“Best case scenario, Mr. Koch? I’d like to do both.”

“If you could only do one, which would you do?”

“I’d do this one.”

“Our little film’s not going to give you much exposure.”

“I know.”

“There’s no money here.”

“I know that too, but I made a commitment.”

He smiled and said, “Let me give you a piece of advice. You’ve got to follow the money. Actors don’t always want to hear that but as a guy who’s been around the block a few times let me tell you, that’s the only way to make this crazy business work.”

Before I could say anything Mr. Koch yelled across the set. “Hey, Walter. The kid’s got a callback tomorrow morning. Can we shoot your scenes with him in the afternoon?”

Mr. Matthau looked at me and winked. “For you Oscar, anything.”

Mr. Koch talked to the director, she changed her shot list and after rehearsal as I was leaving I thanked Mr. Koch (for like the fifth time). He said, “Thank me by getting the job.”

I went to the callback the next morning and when I finished I reported to the Heart Association set. I shot my first scene with Mr. Matthau and while they were setting up our next scene my agent called to tell me I had booked St. Elsewhere. Mr. Koch didn’t get to the set until about four that afternoon. The first thing he said to me was, “How’d it go?” When I told him I booked it he gave me a thumbs up.

images-7

Now whenever I hear an actor complain about how somebody screwed them over, I’m quick to remind them that our business is filled with wonderful people. And sometimes I tell them the story about the day two giants went out of their way in order to give a new kid a shot.

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