Blog Archives

John Breglio Talks Producing with Backstage

Next Tuesday, John Breglio shares the dos and don’ts and the hows and wherefores of being a Broadway producer in his news release from Applause Theatre & Cinema Books, I Wanna Be a Producer. Breglio’s production credits include the 2006 revival of A Chorus Line and the 2008 prodcution of Dreamgirls at the Apollo Theater and in this interview with Backstage magazine, he shares some of his lessons learned.


IWannaBeCOVERJohn Breglio went from entertainment lawyer to successful Broadway producer. Now he’s sharing advice gleaned from a decades-long career in theater in his new book, “I Wanna Be a Producer: How to Make a Killing on Broadway… or Get Killed.”

Why did you want to write this book?
I decided it might be helpful to put instructions on how to produce a play from the idea to opening night in one place. I also give real, live stories of what I went through with my clients, everything from getting the rights to marketing and advertising to getting the show up and running.

Why make the switch to producer from entertainment lawyer?
I was a shadow producer. I woke up one day and thought, I could do this myself. I’m closely associated with “A Chorus Line.” Michael Bennett was a very good friend of mine. When I was producing the revival, I noticed there was a line where Cassie says, “I’m tired of teaching others what I should be doing myself.” I heard that line and said, “You know what? That’s how I feel.”


Read the rest of the interview at backstage.com!

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DRAMATIC CIRCUMSTANCES AND THE SCIENCE OF ACTING

Dramatic CircumstancesWilliam Wesbrooks studied psychology, theatre, and music in preparation for his theatrical career, which, in its 40 years, has encompassed performing, directing, playwriting, and teaching.  In his new book, Dramatic Circumstances, Wesbrooks shows how actors can “live inside” the stories they tell in a way that brings them to life for them and their audience.

 In a recent article in The Atlantic, titled “How Actors Create Emotions: A Problematic Psychology,” Judith Ohikuare writes that “fully inhabiting the mind, mannerisms, and reality of a fictional character can be as alienating as it is rewarding.”Here, Wesbrooks looks at where acting intersects with brain science and psychology.

 The acting process presented in Dramatic Circumstances can have a significant impact on the way singers and actors tell their stories, and I think that brain science offers intriguing insights into why that process works.

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            Brain science is an ever-growing field of study that endeavors to address any number of mental, emotional, and physical issues that trouble many people, and I realize that applying that science to the study of acting may appear somewhat frivolous. However, in the best of worlds actors tell stories about what it is to be human, and I believe that we are all better off because these stories get told. It only follows that these stories have greater impact when they are told truthfully, in a manner that really looks inside human behavior and the human condition.

            Years ago I was told that the subconscious mind has no sense of humor. This struck me then as an extremely useful idea when applied to the art and craft of acting, and it has proved invaluable in the development of the dramatic circumstance process. The ideas we plant in our subconscious mind are, as far as that particular part of our mind is concerned, true.

            In a New Yorker article (“Head Case: Can Psychiatry Be a Science?” March 10, 2010) Dr. Louis Menand wrote, “The brains of people who are suffering from mild depression look the same on a scan as the brains of people whose football team has just lost the Super Bowl. They even look the same as the brains of people who have been asked to think sad thoughts [italics mine].”

            I believe that an actor’s subconscious mind evokes responses and inspires action in circumstances that are entirely imaginary because key components of the actor’s brain do not realize that those circumstances are, in fact, imaginary.While it is certainly not necessary for actors to understand brain function in order to live truthfully “inside the stories we tell”, I find it a compelling way to think about acting. 

            It is certainly something worth exploring.

Nothing Comes of Nothing

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.

I am currently working on a play at the University of Miami. That’s not unusual. I am often involved in a production at this time of year. But the play is King Lear, and I’ve only done one other production of Shakespeare since I began teaching some twenty-six years ago.

In my last year as a secondary school drama teacher, I directed a production of the Scottish play. It was to be the first production in a new state of the art theatre, but the construction fell behind. Since the old theatre had already been demolished, we had to perform the play on a makeshift space that wasn’t quite ideal. I probably shouldn’t have mentioned the title of the play so fearlessly and so often. It was pretty stressful, but in the end the production turned out nicely.

Now, some eighteen years later, I’m doing Shakespeare again. But this time is very different. I’m not directing, you see. I’m acting. I have the role of Gloucester, the parallel plot role to Lear. I get to have my eyes poked out and be led around the stage in a bloody blindfold by my students. I have not acted in eight years, and I have no desire to do so. I was drafted, plain and simple. A professional actor was jobbed in to play Lear and he wanted a professional actor to do this parallel role, so the age differential between the patriarchs and college aged students would be consistent. When my chair asked me to step up, I felt I had to say yes because I had already turned down his offer to direct. I have never before acted with students, particularly my own.

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.

Stephen Schwartz: A Creative Force at Age Sixty-Five

Guest Blogger: Carol de Giere is the author of Defying Gravity: The Creative Career of Stephen Schwartz, from Godspell to Wicked. Today, we are celebrating Stephen Schwartz’s 65th birthday!

Stephen Schwartz 2008 - photograph by Erin Dorso

Stephen Schwartz 2008 – photograph by Erin Dorso

A small upright piano arrived at the home of Stan and Sheila Schwartz on Long Island when their son Stephen was seven years old. It wasn’t long before the boy started goofing off from his piano lessons so he could improvise new tunes. No one imaged his creative “noodling,” as he calls it, would become one of his strategies for writing songs for Broadway and Hollywood, including the megahit musical Wicked.

Now, at age sixty-five, Stephen Schwartz still centers much of his work around his pianos, including his two grand pianos at home in Connecticut and one in his New York City office/condo. While writing scores for musicals, he almost never writes notes on paper as a first step. And even though his lyrics have won awards, when he feels his way into a character’s psychology, he likes to keep his hands on the ivories. “It’s my belief that music has a certain internal emotional logic, and therefore it should rule the song,” he says.

Schwartz’s credits to date include numerous stage musicals, such as the Broadway hits Wicked, Pippin, The Magic Show and Godspell. His movie credit list is not too shabby either, including lyrics for Disney’s Enchanted, Pocahontas, and The Hunchback of Notre Dame, and songs for DreamWorks’ The Prince of Egypt.

As he marks his sixty-fifth birthday on March 6, 2013, even with his many achievements he still has no desire to retire. After all, one of his collaborators, Joseph Stein, with whom he worked on The Baker’s Wife and Rags, continued working up until his final days at age ninety-eight. Schwartz is currently penning lyrics for a DreamWorks animated feature as well as songs for a Broadway show about Houdini. (To keep up with his activities, subscribe to The Schwartz Scene newsletter.)

While the songwriter keeps busy writing new musicals, he also takes time to help up and coming composers, lyricists, and librettists through his role as Artistic Director for the ASCAP Musical Theatre Workshop and as President of the Dramatists Guild.

When I was writing his biography, Defying Gravity (Applause Theatre and Cinema Books, 2008), I noticed that Stephen was especially good at talking about his creative process. I decided to include many of his perspectives and tips in a series of “Creativity Notes” so that other writers and fans could enjoy the insights.

For example, one of the challenges that every writer faces is deciding how to work with feedback while maintaining his or her vision for the piece. This is especially critical for success in collaborative arts like musical theatre. As Wicked developed, Schwartz and his collaborator, Winnie Holzman, found it challenging to sort through feedback when everybody around them had opinions. In my Creativity Note about this I included one of Stephen’s reflections about this process: “Ultimately, I think you have to take everything in and understand what in your show is communicating and what’s not—and then write what you think you would like to see, informed, of course, by what you have learned. My experience has taught me that when I write what truly moves, amuses, or interests me, it usually communicates with others.”

As many millions of owners of his cast albums will testify, what Stephen Schwartz writes seems to touch on their own life experience. That’s the magic of creativity at its best.

For more creativity ideas and stories about Schwartz’s creative career, read Defying Gravity and visit the book’s website.

Defying Gravity takes readers into the creative world of Broadway and film composer Stephen Schwartz, from writing Godspell‘s score at age 23 through the making of the megahit Wicked. For this first authorized biography, de Giere draws from 80 hours of interviews with Schwartz and over 100 interviews with his colleagues, friends, and family. Her sympathetic yet frank narrative reveals never-before-told stories and explores both Schwartz’s phenomenal hits and expensive flops. The book also includes a series of “Creativity Notes” with insights about artistic life, and more than 200 photographs and illustrations.

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.

An Audience Experience

Guest Blogger: Peter Filichia is the author of Broadway Musicals and Broadway Musical MVP’s: 1960-2010. Below is an excerpt from a blog post he did on Stagenotes.net.

I had a good time talking to a group of teachers on how musical theater is a worthwhile addition to their curriculum. I told story after story that proved how the arts enriched lives — but how could I forget this one that happened to me in 1991?
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I was driving back from the Baseball Hall of Fame in Cooperstown when I spotted a poster in Albany advertising a free outdoor production of The Wiz. Well, I thought, it is close to showtime, and the price is right.
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I arrived just a minute or two before eight p.m., and rushed to the one seat in the first row that wasn’t occupied. To my left was a quite old albino woman, who had a number of elderly people seated to her left. I assumed they were all transported from a senior citizen facility.
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To my right was a twenty something black man who looked terribly surly, and to his right was a twenty something black woman who looked surlier still. I guessed that she’d brought him here under duress. I imagined their conversation at home: “Come on!” she said, “It doesn’t cost anything! We are going and that’s that!” But she’d already found there was indeed a price to be paid — because he was going to display his anger all night long to pay her back for dragging him out of the house.
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Keep reading Peter’s story on StagesNotes.net!
Yes, Broadway is the oldest established permanent non-floating crap game in New York, and Peter Filichia takes a look at 100 shows that met either the most glorious or the most ignominious fates in Broadway Musicals: The Biggest Hit and the Biggest Flop of the Season, 1959-2009 (Applause Books).
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In Broadway Musical MVPs: 1960-2010, The Most Valuable Players of the Past 50 Seasons, Peter Filichia names his choices for the MVPs of each of the past 50 Broadway seasons – they might be performers, producers, directors, or choreographers. Not surprisingly, many of the featured MVPs are multitaskers, such as directors who also choreographed, or wrote the book, or even designed the costumes! Also included are awards in categories such as Comeback Player of the Year, Reliever of the Year, Rookie of the Year, and Led League in Errors. From Tammy Grimes, MVP of the 1960-61 season for The Unsinkable Molly Brown, to Joe DiPietro, MVP of the 2009-10 season for Memphis, Filichia recognizes the best and the brightest that have appeared on Broadway.

History and Musicals by Laura Frankos

Guest Blogger: Laura Frankos is the author of The Broadway Musicals Quiz Book. This post was originally published on StageNotes.net.

I’m an historian by training and I’ve been addicted to musicals since childhood.  Not surprisingly, I have a special love for musicals and show tunes referencing historical themes.  A few of my favorites: the opening of Japan to Western trade in “Four Black Dragons,” Pacific Overtures; business monopolies and Social Darwinism in “What a Remarkable Age This Is,” Titanic; disputes in western land use in “The Farmer and the Cowman,” Oklahoma!; national marketing in “Rock Island,” The Music Man; and, of course, the entire score of 1776.

Eventually, I managed to combine my two obsessions in The Broadway Musical Quiz Book.  While the subject matter is geared towards die-hard fans, it’s also an anecdotal history of Broadway, so readers can learn to tell Jerome Kern from Jerome Robbins.  Teachers of the dramatic arts could use the book with their classes on musical theatre history, both in surveying the development of the musical and in studying key figures.

But what about social studies teachers?  There’s a specific quiz on U.S. history, one devoted entirely to 1776, and questions on English and French history as well.  Some examples:

1.  True or false: Les Misérables is set during the French Revolution.

2.  How many characters in Ragtime were based on real people?
A. 9
B. 10
C. 11
D. 12
E. 15

3.  Which song lyric refers to the U.S. diplomatic policy of improving relations with Latin America?
A. “America”
B. “Conga!”
C.  “What’s New, Buenos Aires?”
D.  “The Men Who Run the Country”
E.  “How Can You Tell An American?”

For the answers to this quiz, visit StageNotes.net!

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!

Great Singers and Great Actors? Yes, please!

Guest blogger:  Alan Hicks, author of Singer and Actor: Acting Technique and the Operatic Performer. Available from Amadeus PressAmazon, and Barnes and Noble.

Illustration by Cliff Mott

In the last ten to fifteen years, many changes have occurred in the operatic profession largely due to a dwindling audience and a need to attract the next generation of operagoer. The most obvious example of such a change is the advent of the high definition broadcast – for an eighth of the price of an orchestra seat at the Met, opera lovers can go to their local movie theater (maybe “theatre” is more appropriate here) and see the latest operatic offering.

In addition to changes in marketing and the diversification of mode of presentation (and perhaps, because of these changes), artistic directors are now looking for the “total package” performer – one that can sing, looks the part, and (hold your breath), can ACT.

Most people think opera is a musical art form. Well, they are only half right. When the Camerata met in the late 1500’s, they were not setting out to create a new musical art form – they were setting out to create a new theatrical art form. It was Greek theatre and the use of the voice in Greek theatre that inspired the first operas. Letters from the great composers including Verdi, Mozart, Gluck, and Wagner (to name only a few) prove their desires for singers to be not just great singers, but also great actors. Gluck and Wagner went so far as to say that drama was more important than music. And these guys were no slouches.

So, why did we get away from the theatre of opera? There are likely many reasons, one of the most interesting being the advent and mass distribution of sound recordings, which allowed consumers to listen to the music of opera devoid of the theatrical spectacle. Whatever the reason or reasons, operatic theatre (and by association, acting) seems to be making a comeback.

Available now from Amadeus Press
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Singer and Actor demystifies theatrical acting technique stemming from Stanislavski’s Method of Physical Action and provides singers at all levels a roadmap with which to complete character preparation, using a clear and organized progression based on the work of Franchelle S. Dorn and exercises and examples (recitatives, arias, and ensembles). Singers (including choristers) are given the necessary tools to prepare auditions and inhabit a character from rehearsal to final performance.

Singer and Actor also provides a history of acting from its beginnings to the present day, including a survey of acting techniques from Stanislavski, Meisner, Hagen, Strasberg, Larry Moss, and others. Drawing additionally on the writings of composers and other creators of opera, the book deals with the misconception that only the singing matters in opera and includes a discussion of previous approaches to operatic acting.

Alan E. Hicks, in nearly twenty-five years in the arts, has worked as a professional opera singer, award-winning stage director, and teacher of musical theatre and opera. He is a former faculty member of the Actors Studio Drama School and the American Academy of Dramatic Arts as well as schools of music across the country. His students have found success from Broadway to network television and from opera to major motion pictures. He lives in Iowa City, Iowa.