Post from April, 2019

Let Them See Your Vision

Sunday, 28. April 2019 23:06

Artists working in the style of other artists is a fairly common practice that I have written about before, specifically about the uses of imitation and artistic theft (also here). Imitation and artistic theft are usually considered ways to develop as an artist: we imitate a style to learn from it or we take from here and there and make a new thing out of it. Perhaps the resulting work is derivative, but it also has some originality in it. So I was surprised and more than a little dismayed to discover how widespread the practice of copying theatre productions as closely as possible with little-to-no new input is.

The internet has made it really easy to find out what the hot shows are and to see enough of them to reproduce the style, the set, the costumes, and at least some of the choreography. What some directors are now doing is gathering that information about show that is currently popular and then attempting to produce that same experience on their home stages. This happened, for example, after the 2013 revival of Pippin, which was based on a circus metaphor. As soon as the show became available for non-professional production, circus-based Pippins popped up all over the place. Many productions attempted to reproduce the world of the circus that had been seen on Broadway; others just took the circus metaphor and production style. It was as if there were no other way to produce this particular show.

And this happens again and again. So what we are beginning to see in non-professional and academic theatre is copy-cat theatre. Very often the first move of the director or designer or choreographer is to the internet to see how others have done the show—so they can reproduce that. Some directors will go to New York to review shows, again to see how they’re done. Perhaps it’s an attempt to cash in on the national reputation of this or that show. Or perhaps it’s the result of artistic insecurity. Or perhaps it just a time-saver; everybody is incredibly busy. No matter the reason, it’s still reproducing someone else’s vision.

The same thing happens in other arts. “That film was terribly successful, so let’s make one like that,” or “that movie was successful; let’s make a sequel.” But in film, even if it’s a copy-cat film, it’s not an attempt at exact reproduction. And the same is true in other arts. If an artist paints too much like another, more successful artist, it’s called at best homage and at worst plagiarism.

Usually what happens is a painter or sculptor or photographer will follow a style or trend. This allows the artist to become part of the trend, which is useful commercially, but retain his/her own vision within that trend. Indeed, Creative Live Blog just this week published an article entitled “7 New Wedding & Portrait Photography Trends for 2019.” The article cites some examples, then distills the trend to generalities and suggests some ways photographers might participate in the trend. And no doubt some photographers will read this article and follow some of the paths, but to do so successfully, they will have to insert their own vision.

And inserting our own vision is what all of us as artists need to do. Those of us who became artists because we wanted to put our vision out into the world have no trouble with this. However, others of us came to work in the arts for other reasons; we are the ones who need to allow ourselves to go beyond copying, regardless of our insecurities or time constraints. We need to let our audiences see our own visions.

Category:Creativity, Theatre | Comment (0) | Author:

You’re Always Auditioning

Monday, 15. April 2019 0:08

Auditions suck. Just ask any actor. For that matter, ask any director. The problem from an acting point of view is to demonstrate that you are the best choice to perform a given role with—if it’s a generous audition—a couple of prepared monologues and a cold read against people you’ve never met. In just a few minutes you have somehow convince a director that after you’ve learned the lines and had some time to work on the character, you will be able to bring this character to life on the stage. It’s an impossible task. And it’s just as bad from the director’s point of view.

This is why directors use other means to help them make their casting decisions. Some even use casting directors, who also use methodologies in addition to the actual audition. Directors will call other directors and their friends to find out about potential actors. They go to shows and observe the actors, how they work, how they perform, what they might be capable of. They network. They invite actors they think might be able to do the job to come in. They interview. Then they hold an audition, sometimes to see if what they thought was true really is true.

Directors are in the judging business; it’s what they do. And they mostly do it all the time. The wise actor learns, hopefully sooner rather than later, that s/he is always auditioning.  Audition time is not limited to the time the actor is actively auditioning.

Here are a couple of stories to illustrate. A good while back an actor I know went to an audition. She is a bubbly out-going person and a man walked by as she was getting out of her car. They had a brief conversation about the difficulty of finding parking spaces. Then they met again in the elevator that she was taking to the interview/audition. Again they had a brief up-beat conversation. They both got off at the same floor but went in different directions. She checked in for the interview, waited a few moments and was ushered into the interview room. Behind the desk sat the man with whom she had just made friends. Her formal audition went well, perhaps because she had already auditioned and didn’t know it. She got the job.

The other story didn’t turn out quite as well. We were casting a musical; when I say we, I mean I was the director; additionally there was the musical director and the choreographer. We were doing an open callback, which is to say that all those called back were in the room. There was one actor we had pretty much decided would be the second lead, but we wanted the callback to confirm that decision. The actor that we had in mind was in the room when we got there, as were a number of other actors. As we got settled, we noticed that the actor we had in mind was not only overly loud and boisterous for the situation, but he was displaying an inordinate amount of egocentricity. His behavior was offensive and unacceptable. Each of us decided individually (we discovered later—we did not discuss it at the time) that we would rather not put up with that behavior and attitude for the rehearsal period. Fortunately, there was another actor there whose callback was excellent; he was the actor who got the role.

Behavior and attitude before and after the actual audition matter. In fact they matter all the time. It’s something actors need to know.  And it’s not just in the theatre that this happens. Wedding photographers, for example, are auditioning every time they meet potential clients.  Even when they are shooting, a potential client is watching and judging—deciding if this is the person they want to do their wedding. Graphic artists are always auditioning for the next project. Painters are always auditioning for the next commission or the next show or both at the same time. Writers audition for readership for their next book. Both stage and film directors are always auditioning for producers. No one escapes.

Like stage directors, people who seek creative services ask others; they watch, they evaluate—before they ever get around to calling for an appointment.

Not only actors, but every creative person who sells his/her work is always auditioning; there is no down time. It is something that we all need to be aware of—all the time.

Category:Marketing, Theatre | Comment (0) | Author:

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