There are dark moments when I want to walk away from ‘entertainment’. Grab the cats. Toss Tastykakes into my backpack. Jump into the Honda. Hit the road. Head north. Open a gem store in Vermont. Follow other pursuits. The casting and teaching — both by-products of my career as a director, author and former actor – persistently pull for my attention. And during that talent tugging, once-in-awhile, a moment of magic happens. A joy not plotted. And I realize that what I consider an off-shoot to my pursuits has brought a primary success to actors I encounter. And that makes all the attention grabbing by casting and teaching extremely wonderful. If my tasks as teacher and glorified human resources can help just one actor attain goals; the Tastykakes and turquoise can wait.
Recently one such magical moment materialized…
Holly Williams, a charming young actress, recently received 43 weeks of consecutive work at a TONY award-winning LORT theater; her AEA card; plus several leads in musicals and new plays including the female lead in the first national tour of CIVIL WAR VOICES– all from one audition!
She was one of my students in the Broadway version of Access to Agents. I subsequently called her in for the bountiful casting as a direct result of her being in the class. If she had not participated I wouldn’t have known her. The audition slot would have gone to someone else. An opportunity for both of us (and my producer-client) would have been lost. Thankfully she got into the sold-out class when a drop-out occurred. Luck and timing (and yes… her wonderful talent) over a year ago brought Holly to her present employ. That’s how this business often works; luck and timing. And that’s magical. As I’ve led the cyber-cry to actors; ‘networking and study do work to enhance career prospects’.
I’m thrilled for Holly’s success. When actors land jobs via auditions for my projects or get agents and subsequent employment via classes like Access to Agents I’m happy and celebrate their good fortune with a Tastykake or two. (Thanks again to Chris Delaine for the side-tracking Oreos.)
There’s a disturbing recent trend among musical theater artists. They’re hiding. (O.K. I can hear your inner vibrato belt, “No I’m not!” To which I reply; when was the last time you did a mass mailing to agents, casting directors and regional theaters? If you answered “I don’t recall” or “When stamps were licked”; come out, come out wherever you are.)
Agents, other casting people and artistic directors are noticing this disappearing act when seeking musical theater actors (apart from open calls). The mailings and perpetual follow-ups from the Webber and Sondheim minded have been diminishing over the past several years. What’s up with that? Why have too many musical theater artists directed themselves solely to career stagnation/gamble/too-damn-early-to-audition-complaint of the open call? I recently encountered a musical theater actor who asked me if ‘he should ignore reading Back Stage; sending mailings; and attending agent seminars?’ Well, geez if you want to be a funeral director… yes. If you want to be a working actor… duh.
Stop hiding. Send out mailings. Participate in classes that network and grow your career. Open calls alone don’t make for career longevity. I’m not B.S.-ing when I ardently say, “Agents are constantly seeking musical theater artists because there’s more work for actors who sing.” Look to what happened for Holly Williams. Then there’s the actors who got agents via Access to Agents like; Renee Bergeron, A’Lisa Miles, Michael Sample, Natalie Kim, Benjamin McHugh, Guito Wingfield, Crystal Kellogg, J.P. Groeninger, Lenny Gutierrez and many other wonderful actor-students I’m ashamedly overlooking because the list keeps growing.
Yes, this may seem exploitative here… But you choose how to grow your career. I and no one else forces you to participate in any particular venue or path. Your success… wherever or however attained, gives me an excuse for Tastykake sugary indulgence while keeping the cats from meow-panic in the Honda on the highway to Vermont.
Butterscotch Krimpet anyone?
Paul Russell’s career as a casting director, director, acting teacher and former actor has spanned nearly thirty years. He has worked on projects for major film studios, television networks, and Broadway. Paul has taught the business of acting and audition technique at NYU and has spoken at universities including Yale, Temple and the University of the Arts. He writes a column for Back Stage and is the author of ACTING: Make It Your Business – How to Avoid Mistakes and Achieve Success as a Working Actor. For more information, please visit www.PaulRussell.net.
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