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Not So Miserables

BruceMillerGuest Blogger: Bruce Miller is the author of The Actor as Storyteller and the Roadmap to Success acting series from Limelight Editions. Visit his blog on EdTA for more acting insight.

The college audition season is almost upon us, and after seeing the movie version of Les Misérables, I can’t think of a better time to talk about acting and musical theatre. Whether you liked the film version of Les Miz or not, there can be little argument about where the filmmakers stood in terms of acting versus singing. There were countless articles and interviews (HBO, 60 Minutes, the New York Times, and All Things Considered) in which Hugh Jackman, Anne Hathaway, or Russell Crowe talked about how they sang to piano accompaniment in an ear monitor so they could focus on their acting.  The results are obvious. Yes, far better tenors than Eddie Redmayne have tackled the role of Marius. And Russell Crowe’s singing as Javert leaves much to be desired. But both offered up more than a fair share of memorable acting moments. Anne Hathaway reportedly earns spontaneous applause in cineplexes all over the country after her extended close-up solo of “I Dreamed a Dream.”(I was clapping!) Then there’s Hugh Jackman. Though nowhere near the singer that the incomparable Colm Wilkinson was and is, he still managed to be profoundly moving even as he carried the entire film on his shoulders. In case you’ve been riding on the idea that singing is all you need for musical theatre, let the movie version of my favorite musical be your wake-up call.

Keep reading this article on Bruce’s blog on EdTA’s website!

The Actor as Storyteller is intended for serious beginning actors. It opens with an overview, explaining the differences between theater and its hybrid mediums, the part an actor plays in each of those mediums. It moves on to the acting craft itself, with a special emphasis on analysis and choice-making, introducing the concept of the actor as storyteller, then presents the specific tools an actor works with. Next, it details the process an actor can use to prepare for scene work and rehearsals, complete with a working plan for using the tools discussed. The book concludes with a discussion of mental preparation, suggestions for auditioning, a process for rehearsing a play, and an overview of the realities of show business.

Bruce Miller: Broadway and Theater

BruceMillerBruce Miller is the author of The Actor as Storyteller, The Scene Study Book, Acting Solo, and Actor’s Alchemy. StageNotes.net asks Bruce, “What made you first get interested in Broadway and theater?”

I’m a certified secondary English teacher and I taught for three years and during that time I did a community theater production. I was always a lead or director in the camp show as a kid. That was a safe venue to do theater and I always loved it. In my first teaching job, which was middle school, I got called on to direct the middle school production of Arsenic and Old Lace and I had no clue what I was doing. Apparently, I did it better than most. That was my first toe in the water.

I taught high school English for four years and I went back to graduate school for Journalism. I wanted to be a television journalist and in order for me to take the graduate class I needed, which was Journalistic camerawork, I needed a prerequisite. The undergraduate journalistic prerequisite was full so they told me to take an acting class. Because I was a little older, the guy who taught the most advanced BA undergraduate scene study class said “Come on in, you’re smart. Work with these guys.”  Without any previous training or classes, I went into the highest level scene study class and I was no worse than anybody else. Then I applied to grad school at the same school which was Temple University, they had a very good graduate program. I had no idea what I was doing and I didn’t get in.

I was so interested at this point that I went to find out what I would need to do in order to be good enough. I bumped into a woman who I had a graduate course with and she turned out to be the wife of the director of the acting conservatory and she spoke to her husband. Another long picaresque series of events-it seems like destiny in hindsight-I got into this program I didn’t deserve to be in. Within the three years of graduate school, I caught up, I guess, and I learned how to do some stuff.

When I left, the one big issue that everyone was talking about was my “technique” and my “toolkit.” Most of us didn’t really have a technique. Ironically, it was a really good acting program by reputation but none of us left with a solid background. It wasn’t until I was acting in NY and found some other teachers that I really learned to put together that thing called technique. Except for one really good teacher who had a tremendous influence on me, on all of us.

I dedicated my teaching career to making it [acting techniques] simple and clear. And so nothing I teach is original, other than maybe my definition of good acting, but everything else is just basic late Stanislavsky but articulated to the lowest common denominator and through repetition, it seems to work.

Keep reading this interview with Bruce Miller on StageNotes.net.

Acting can – and should – be more than guesswork and instinct. Actor’s Alchemy: Finding the Gold in the Script examines the relationship between the script and what an actor ultimately does on the stage or on screen. Here is a straightforward guide filled with useful information to help actors learn to use their scripts in a specific and analytical way to solve the problems of the scene and bring their elusive characters to life. In learning how to decipher the script, actors will be equipped to make the choices that lead to delivering a gold performance.

Q&A with Andrew Gerle

Andrew GerleAndrew Gerle is the author of The Enraged Accompanist’s Guide to the Perfect Audition. Below is a Q&A that was done with stagenotes.net.

What first sparked your interest in Broadway and Theatre?

I’ve been in love with theater since I was a small child, doing plays and musicals in school growing up, then joining a children’s theater company in Tallahassee. I love music (grew up as a classical pianist) and I love stories, so it’s a perfect combination.

What was your favorite subject in High School and why?

I was a typical music/math geek, so I really liked math classes. It was like doing puzzles. Organic chemistry was also fun, similar puzzle-type activity.

When did you decide to write The Enraged Accompanist’s Guide to the Perfect Audition and why?

I had been toying with the idea for several years before I sat down to write it a few summers ago. I had played so many auditions and had begun to see patterns in the actors that were auditioning, simple pointers that clearly they just weren’t being taught. I love actors, and it frustrated me to see good ones giving bad auditions when I knew they could be doing better and feeling better about the process.

Other than auditioning, what lessons can be taken away from the book for subjects like Public Speaking, Music, Psychology, Social Studies, etc.?

I’ve had a lot of people read the book and see parallels in other disciplines. What I stress is not only the nuts-and-bolts specifics of audition technique for musical theater, but even more importantly, the mindset that leads to a successful audition, and a successful career. When you put too much pressure on a single audition (or speech, or performance, or athletic event), it can really get in your way. The most successful auditions are ones where the actor is simply showing themselves off to their best ability, doing what they do best, not trying to be something they’re not, not trying to please people they’ve never met. Confidence is seductive and leads to a better performance, no matter what the field.

Keep reading this interview on stagenotes.net.

The Enraged Accompanist’s Guide to the Perfect Audition

“I am your accompanist. You do not know me. I am the guy who sits behind the upright in the unflattering fluorescent light of the dance studio, a bottle of water on the floor, a half-eaten Power Bar on the bench, and your audition in my hands.”

Award-winning New York theatre composer and pianist Andrew Gerle pulls no punches in this irreverent, fly-on-the-wall guide to everything you’ve never been taught about auditioning for musical theatre. From the unique perspective of the pianist’s bench, he demystifies the audition process, from how to put together your book and speak to an accompanist to the healthiest and savviest ways to approach the audition marketplace and your career. By better understanding the dynamics of professional auditions, you will learn to present yourself in the strongest, most castable way while remaining true to your own special voice – the one that, in the end, will get you the job.

7 Theatre Tweeters to Follow

This is a new on-going column on this blog. Each week this summer, we’ll highlight people on Twitter in different categories that we like to follow. Some are authors. Some are organizations. Some just have great stuff to say. If you have suggestions on who people should follow on any given topic, please leave your ideas in the comments! We’ll give the best suggestions a shout out on Twitter.

Jason Robert Brown, librettist of 13 and The Last 5 Years @MrJasonRBrown
Follow if: you like musical theatre and someone who will actually respond to people
Recent tweet: Belgium, I’m told. RT @molllsss@MrJasonRBrown where can I get really good French fries?

Andrew Gerle, author of The Enraged Accompanist’s Guide to the Perfect Audition @andrewgerle
Follow if: you want behind-the-scenes anecdotes in the theatre business
Recent tweet: 6AM train tomorrow to DC to conduct Shirley Jones at the Kennedy Center, and my bow ties have gone missing. Anyone seen them?‪ #tuxfail

Jess Winfield, co-author of The Complete Works of William Shakespeare [abridged] @jesswinfield
Follow if: you like the Reduced Shakespeare Company
Recent tweet: Congrats @reduced on “slam dunk!” Complete World of Sports (abridged), Nottingham Playhouse

American Theatre Wing, organization behind the Tony Awards @TheWing
Follow if: you want theatre industry tidbits and interviews
Recent tweet: ARCHIVE FIND: Check out this Tonys memorabilia signed by Richard Rodgers (HAPPY BDAY!!!!) and other legends

Ben Hodges, editor of Theatre World @BAHodges
Follow if: you like the Theatre World or Screen World series
Recent tweet: Congratulations Barry and the 62nd annual volume of “Screen World”!

Stage Notes, of stagenotes.net @stagenotes_NYC (under construction)
Follow if: you are a musical theatre teacher or student
Recent tweet: Spots are filling up quick to take the No Snap Judgments Pledge! Visit stagenotes.net to learn more and to register your group!

Howard Sherman @HESherman
Follow if: you want to stay up-to-date on your theatre news
Recent tweet: “15 American Plays It’d Be Great to See Revived.” Feingold in @villagevoicehttp://ow.ly/c2tEm  (sadly, only 1 female author)

Closer to CLOSER: Getting the big picture

Guest Blogger: Andrew Gerle is the author of The Enraged Accompanist’s Guide to the Perfect Audition. A post from Andrew Gerle’s blog on Theatre Music Directors.

So now you have a great cast that is perfectly suited to all the musical challenges the show presents. Congratulations! Time to think big.

When I am music directing a show and am in the middle of rehearsals, I find it is very easy to lose the forest for the trees. I get caught up in the nuts and bolts of preparing actors’ performances on a vowel-to-vowel, cutoff-to-cutoff level and neglect the show as a whole. Most audience members won’t notice if a few diphthongs don’t match; most everyone will notice if whole sections of the show are sluggish, if every song has the same feel, or if the musical energy or style of the evening is lifeless, anachronistic, or simply workmanlike. Starting the rehearsal process with a clear vision for the overall musical through-line of the show will guide every musical choice you make on smaller issues, and will keep actors from ingraining feels, tempi, and stylistic choices that then have to be adjusted near the end of rehearsals when you start doing runs and realize the flow of the show isn’t working.

Musical tone and dramatic tone are intimately related. The entire creative team, from MD to director to all the designers, must be working on the same show. Is it a naturalistic show with characters who are consistently in the moment in their reality? Musical choices for that show would come solely from the dramatic moment – the music is there to express their inner emotional life and must be motivated from the text and the dramatic beat. Is the show a breezy farce, firmly rooted in musical comedy tradition? In that case, musical numbers will very likely be referencing well-known styles, composers, dance crazes, even specific songs and actors. Is it a show that mixes somewhat naturalistic scenes and songs with moments of heightened reality, perhaps including dance sequences? The music must act as the glue or foundation to hold all the disparate parts together and create a unified whole.

I compare the score to Closer Than Ever to a series of ballroom dance routines. Besides having a lot of Latin and other dance influences, this score perhaps more than any other I can think of is a masterpiece of grooves. In a professional ballroom routine, every finger, every angle of the head and turn of the foot must be meticulously rehearsed and set, but in the end feel effortless, unstudied and organic. If I can identify the rhythmic heartbeat of each number, I can be aware of how it plays against its neighbors and control the pace of the evening, moving ahead when the audience is ready, relaxing the feel when they need a break.

Keep reading at Theatre Music Directors.

The Enraged Accompanist’s Guide to the Perfect Audition

Award-winning New York theatre composer and pianist Andrew Gerle pulls no punches in this irreverent, fly-on-the-wall guide to everything you’ve never been taught about auditioning for musical theatre. From the unique perspective of the pianist’s bench, he demystifies the audition process, from how to put together your book and speak to an accompanist to the healthiest and savviest ways to approach the audition marketplace and your career. By better understanding the dynamics of professional auditions, you will learn to present yourself in the strongest, most castable way while remaining true to your own special voice – the one that, in the end, will get you the job.

Test Your Broadway Musical Knowledge

These questions are inspired by The Broadway Musical Quiz Book by Laura Frankos (Applause Books). Write down your answers and then click the link below to see how you did on JK’s Theatre Scene. Leave your score in comments!

1. Name five currently running shows that have had more than one Playbill cover that reflect changes in the show’s logo (not color vs black and white) during its original run.

2. What was the original title of next to normal?

3. Name the actor and actress who were originally signed to play The Green Goblin and Mary Jane Watson in Spider-Man: Turn Off the Dark.

4. What show was the last to play the Majestic Theatre before The Phantom of the Opera opened there? (Bonus if you can name the theatre it moved to!)

5. What theatre did Kurt and Rachel sneak into and sing on the stage of during the New York Nationals episode of Glee? (Bonus what two Glee guest stars sang the same song on the same stage, and what was the song?)

Click here for the answers!

The Broadway Musical Quiz Book by Laura Frankos

The Broadway Musical Quiz Book includes nearly 80 quizzes on every aspect of the Broadway musical, including sections devoted to the careers of major Broadway stars, songwriters, directors, and producers, ranging from Ethel Merman to Stephen Sondheim. It also features thematic quizzes – such as musicals set in France, adaptations from literature, food and drink, British shows, references to sports, biographical shows, and jukebox musicals – and quizzes covering each decade from 1900 to the present. With over 700 shows mentioned, and over 1200 questions, The Broadway Musical Quiz Book is detailed and thorough: the answer section doesn’t merely list the answers, it provides further information on the quizzes’ subjects (and often on wrong answers, too!). The Broadway Musical Quiz Book is more than just a compendium of trivia; it’s a anecdotal history of musical theatre, with something for everyone who loves The Great White Way!
Available from Amazon, B&N, independent book stores, and Applause Books.

Musical Theatre Audition Tips

Andrew Gerle
Audition Tips from the “enraged accompanist” Andrew Gerle
Andrew Gerle is the author of The Enraged Accompanist’s Guide to the Perfect Audition (Applause Theatre and Cinema Books)

1) Make sure you know what you want the accompanist to play before you start singing. That means if there’s a piano intro, know what it is, when you come in, and how to get your note. If you want something other than the intro that’s in the music (like a bell tone), make sure it’s clearly written in the music.

2) Know how to give the accompanist a clear tempo. This is something you’ll want to practice with a pianist, because giving tempos can be difficult – sometimes, the vocal part has a lot of rests in it and you’ll want to sing the piano accompaniment instead.

3) Put some fresh time in with the text of your song(s). Are you really honoring every word and making each phrase mean something unique and important to you? Why is your character singing this song right now, and not yesterday, not two hours from now? What does your character hope to accomplish, express or figure out by the end of the song? Remember, the auditioners (or “tablepeople”, as I call them) aren’t looking to hire your voice, they’re hiring you, so make sure your personality is shining through on every line!

How to start a song:
Andrew Gerle giving advice at the Drama Book Shop in New York City:

Sheri Sanders
Audition tips from Sheri Sanders
Sheri Sanders is the author of Rock the Audition: How to Prepare for and Get Cast in Rock Musicals (Hal Leonard Books)
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The Hook:
Sheri Sanders giving advice at Samuel French Bookshop on Jan. 21, 2012:

Andrew Gerle and Sheri Sanders give their tips on TV:

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The Books

Enraged Accompanist
Andrew Gerle
is a composer, accompanist, and playwright. He is the composer of six acclaimed musicals, and his opera “The Beach” was excerpted by the New York City Opera in May 2011. A sought-after vocal coach, he has worked at NYU’s Tisch Graduate School of Acting and is currently a lecturer at the New York Film Academy and Yale University. For more information, visit andrewgerle.com.

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Rock the Audition


Sheri Sanders
is an actor, singer, and teacher. She created her master class, “Rock the Audition,” in 2004, and since then has become a premiere rock-audition and rock-music repertoire coach. She travels extensively, teaching students and their instructors the art of holistically capturing the essence of the rock musicals prior to audition.  For more information, visit rock-the-audition.com.

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Temple of the Souls

Guest Blogger: Anika Paris, author of Making Your Mark in Music, reports on her new musical playing Off-Broadway through December 23rd.

Temple of the Souls is a story about the virtual extinction of the native Taino people by Spanish colonizers in 16th-century Puerto Rico. Directed by Lorca Peress and produced by Multistages, this production is playing at the West End Theatre in NYC Dec 8th-23rd to rave reviews. Order tickets here.

 Backstage‘s Clifford Lee Johnson III writes:

Playwright-lyricist Anita Velez-Mitchell and composers Dean Landon and Anika Paris (Paris also contributes some additional lyrics) use a “Romeo and Juliet” love affair between a Taino man and the daughter of a conquistador to depict the tragic consequences of that cultural collision, which they achieve with passion and clarity. Director Lorca Peress makes the scenes involving the central characters crisp and pointed…The most successful element in “Temple of the Souls” is its score, which is filled with accessible melodies in an Andrew Lloyd Webber vein. “I’m Not Dreaming,” a duet sung by Amada and Guario, is as achingly tender a ballad as I’ve heard all year. MultiStages can be proud for having introduced us to this songwriting team. I hope we hear more from them.

The fact that the collaboration ended up “all in the family” was not the initial plan. There was originally another composer who backed out of the show due to time conflicts. Lorca, my sister, had been developing the script with Anita, my grandmother, for about a year, and called to ask us if we’d be interested in composing Anita’s opera. We are contemporary songwriters first and foremost. And Opera is a skilled specialty. So we all spoke with the understanding that if Dean and I composed the music, it would lean more toward a classical pop feel in the realm of Sondheim or Andrew Lloyd Weber. This would change the direction and style of the show, but we would navigate our way through the process. After we hung up the phone, we went into the studio and wrote the finale. It was as if the words and music were floating off the page and into the air, taking on a life of their own. There was an unheard message in the history of the Taíno people and we were telling it. We sang every vocal part ourselves; bass, baritone, tenor, mezzo, and soprano, even hitting a high C, and then collapsed. After listening back, we knew we were onto something magical. And now two years and twenty songs later we have completed a musical drama premiering Off-Broadway.

Like Temple of the Souls on Facebook.

Making Your Mark in Music by Anika Paris is available from Hal Leonard Books and book sellers nationwide.

Since the age of seven, Anika Paris has been playing piano and writing songs, as well as singing and performing. Making Your Mark in Music re-creates the nurturing approach that she experienced growing up with a symphonic conductor father and a poet mother. Three solo records, songs in film and TV, touring the world, and ten years of teaching have all led to this authorship. Making Your Mark in Music serves as a personal mentor for the reader through stories and trade secrets passed down to the author over the years. This book, one of the very few on stage performance for musicians, blends psychology, Eastern philosophy, the art of conversation, and performance techniques valuable to performers of all levels. It reveals the inner workings of performance from an artist’s perspective while also functioning as a self-discovery and artist-development journal.

Included is a closer look on DVD of the author coaching artists, with before and after footage of each performer. The book also reveals what many readers want to know, through interviews with industry professionals. Record executives answer the question, “What exactly are you looking for?” A psychologist explores who we are and what role we each play in music. An image stylist talks about how to best fuse fashion with music. A television host discusses how to keep the audience tuned in. And a sound engineer explains how to keep the music playing. Find all of this and more in a book that will help you make your mark in music.

Event: Sheri Sanders Helps Oklahoma Rock the Audition

Free book signing at Barnes and Noble with Sheri Sanders, author of Rock the Audition: How to Prepare for and Get Cast in Rock Musicals (Hal Leonard Books)
When: Sunday, Dec. 11 at 7pm
Where: Barnes and Noble in Norman, OK
Sheri Sanders will be giving advice, taking questions, and signing books.

Rock the Audition – LIVE!
When: Tuesday, Dec. 13th at 6pm
Where: AMC@UCO Performance Lab 329 E. Sheridan, Oklahoma City
Rock musical guru Sheri Sanders will sing, talk about rock music and pop culture and invite you to get up on stage with her and she will adjust your rock musical audition songs! Live!. Only $5.

What’s Sheri like on the radio? Listen to this interview on Book Expo America!

Rock musicals are an increasingly dominant force in contemporary musical theatre. Rock the Audition defines what is required of the actor-singer to succeed in the audition room and gives the aspiring performer the tools necessary to interpret rock material with abandon, creativity, and inspiration. This book shows those interested in auditioning for a rock musical how to holistically embody the essence of the show for which they are auditioning.

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Visit Sheri Sanders on the web at rock-the-audition.com
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YOU can vote: Broadway Musical MVPs

Musicals and baseball have many commonalities: both have runs, hits, and errors; both have cheap seats that aren’t so cheap and overpriced concessions; both have stars with high salaries; and both have awards at the end of the season. But baseball does have what the Tonys, Drama Desk, and Theatre World awards don’t offer: an annual Most Valuable Player award given to the single individual who made the most impact either for his team or on the season. What if musical theatre did choose an MVP?

October 11, 2011, Applause Books will release Broadway Musical MVPs: 1960-2010: The Most Valuable Players of the Past 50 Seasons by Peter Filichia.

Post your vote!
Today, you are on the panel getting to choose winners from the last 50 years of Broadway. Have favorite for MVP, comeback, rookie, manager, or reliever of the year for any of the 1960-2010 seasons? Or if you’ve already read the book, care to agree or offer better suggestions for any of the winners? Leave your thoughts in comments!