All the World’s…a Phone? : The Theatricality of Telemarketing

Anthony Cornatzer

  • OnStage New Jersey Columnist

He prepares. He goes over to himself how to begin, and anticipating what might happen and what might not happen. He tells himself that he can do this, that he’s been doing this for a while. But still, he hopes it goes well—that, of course, it’s gone well in the past so why worry now? It’ll probably go great, he finally tells himself. He’s ready to perform.

Looking at this from a glance, one may assume that I’m referring to the mental preparation and self-talk before actors go on stage…well, let’s just say that this is a different kind of performance. Instead of a stage, imagine just a phone and a headset. Yep, I’m talking about working as an interviewer in telemarketing—but bare this with me, I’m seriously going somewhere with this.

This past summer, I needed to find work in my hometown of Cherry Hill, New Jersey to help with obvious expenses in college. And the one job I ended up landing was working as an interviewer in telemarketing for a local research firm that was within walking distance from my house. At first, I didn’t think much of it. It was usually always guaranteed work, you got paid incentive based on the production rate of completed surveys you completed--it seemed like very basic work, case and point.

But within my first month there, I discovered something really interesting—the last thing  I would ever expect in a job like this. I stumbled upon the epiphany that interviewing, essentially, actually had a lot to do with acting. In its most basic understanding, interviewing is very much improvised conversation. That being said, I found myself having different approaches to conducting surveys and getting respondents to complete them. I started usually just by asking how the respondent was; not just to make small-talk, but also—more importantly—to weed out and determine the current mood and mind-set they were in, which directly affected the next move I would make from there either in going through with the rest of my intro into the first question, shortening the intro and getting right to the point, or (most frequently) asking when would be a better time to call back if I could even get to that point.

Often too, I would be able to get respondents to go through at least part, or even half of the study, and then the respondent would ask how much was left, or they would hang up, or naturally complain about the length of the study. Whenever I could, I implemented what’s referred in telemarketing as “turn-around refusals”; which are, basically, implorations to keep the respondent on the line and complete the study. It would of course vary depending on the study, but overall I would always emphasize with the respondent that we would be done very soon, that I really appreciate them helping me with this tonight—which of course, was more than true. In developing myself for several months as literally a performing interviewer, I found that what worked best—especially in moments like that—was sincerity. Above anything else, respondents seemed to appreciate that the most. Who wouldn’t? And if I had learned anything in my several years of acting, I had learned that the best and only thing an actor can ultimately be is honest under their given circumstances and the role they were playing. Oddly enough, I found the same principle somehow applied in being an interviewer over the phone—who knew?

Sincerity aside, though, the job still brings in so much, too much, negativity from various respondents who surprisingly “try” to go out of their way to be rude and just overall nasty if given the right opportunity...hence, us. Like any interviewer, we’ve all heard so many comments and insults that have made the hair on the back of our neck stand up they have been that nasty (for myself, I can’t even put some of them to writing they’re so disturbing). On the plus side, however, if there’s something to be said about that, too, it serves as good practice for any growing actor—and anyone, in general—to deal with that crushing reality of rejection, negativity, and always somehow getting on at least someone’s bad side. From this experience, I’ve learned even more how much of a perfectionist I can be with everyone and with everything, and that if I don’t allow myself to let go and detach myself of things—and people—that are really so beyond my control, it’ll ultimately drive me crazy.

For respondents who would go ahead with rest of the study, the improvised conversation would then continue. Once again depending on the respondent’s mood and disposition, I had various approaches to how I would conduct the survey with them. If they were in a rush, I would get right to the point and do what I could to speed through each question reading verbatim. If they were hard of hearing or of slower pace, I would do my best not to read too fast and articulate especially well. And if they were easy-going and of a rational mind (which is so rare to find in this business, let alone over the phone, as I mentioned), I would do what I can to make small-talk with the respondent. I would do this both for myself and my own sanity to seriously talk to this God-send of someone over the phone who actually treated me like I was—you know—a person; but also it was frequently to make the respondent feel like they were having a genuine and real conversation with someone, rather than just have them arbitrarily answer so many questions and put down various ratings for things they might otherwise not care about in many cases. It was encapsulating all of this understanding of interaction and reaction—this direct application of what I’ve learned and still try to perfect in my ongoing five years of acting—that seriously proved itself to be the key to my success there, and much to my surprise it really showed.

In the course of this summer, not only did I catch notice and even praise and compliments from my monitors and supervisors there, but I also found myself being at numerous times asked to do special assignments and surveys that many of the other respondents were hardly ever asked to do, if at all. And I would actually steadily rise above the ranks and be assigned more special surveys and job opportunities within the four month period I worked there before I had to finally take my leave of absence to return to school and resume my studies. I currently plan to return in working with the firm whenever I happen to be home for long periods at a time from school.

Overall, just for this summer, I seriously felt like I left in earning the respect and recognition of nearly all my monitors and supervisors; in proving myself as someone they can depend on and trust in my efficiency to detail, and giving complete and undivided attention to each respondent and survey I had. Again, like theatre, I seriously learned all the more that that’s really just how I roll—and that people outside of the stage really do appreciate and find use in that. 

So, just when I thought this would actually be a summer in which I didn’t have anything theatre-related going on, low and behold I ended up bringing and applying it to a line of work that ended up lending itself more towards my acting skills than I ever expected or anticipated in its current success I have now in between my work in college.

And, of course—I do at least have some line of work for me if my endeavors in theatre end up not working out. But as much as I have found and enjoy my success in telemarketing, I really do simultaneously pray it’s not a sign for my future.

 

Broadway Dreams Foundation Philadelphia Summer Intensive

Spencer Lau

  • OnStage New Jersey Columnist

Part 1

In Part One of my Broadway Dreams Foundation’s Summer Intensive story, I will take you through the three of the workshops that I attended and describe what sets them apart from other summer theatre camps and prep programs that charge an arm and a leg for a week. 

Our first master class (class with an expert in the field) was with Morgan James. A Broadway veteran, Morgan has appeared on Broadway in Motown, Godspell, and The Addams Family. Today, she was vocal coaching a group of middle school students. What struck me off the bat was her connection with the students. She asked them questions about what they were taught in school about acting, and how they felt about what they learned. Then she said something unexpected, she agreed with the kids. Some of the techniques that they were being taught are old school and do not necessarily work. As an educator, I hear from other directors about locking kids into certain techniques or tracks. Morgan tried to teach the students the “true voice” in singing. A true singing voice means maximizing your voice with the least amount of effort. She recalled being taught the same techniques as a student but  then went on to teach what she has found to have worked for her. In that short time I was surprised how much cleaner and clearer the sound was from the two students that I was able to observe.

After observing a vocal master class, it was on to script analysis (cleverly named Texting 101). This class was taught by Christopher Hanke, who has appeared on Broadway in Rent, In My Life, Cry-Baby, and How to Succeed in Business Without Really Trying. The class had a much more collegiate atmosphere with Christopher engaging the students in an analysis of a scene from a play. His goal was to “end up with a very strong character with specific wants and objectives.” Christopher posed analytical questions that forced the students to question their motivations if they were the character. One of the questions was “how the environment to affect the character’s actions.” The class then had to figure out what (from the character’s dialogue and actions) how they were raised and what morals and thought process the character had. This was a room of high school aged students doing what many do in college. Another educator moment that I would like to highlight is that Christopher did not just call on the kids that raised their hands; he went all over the room, bounced up and down with energy, and did many things teachers do in their classroom. If you did not know any better, you would think he was a high school or college educator. But include the fact that his Broadway resume is impeccable, you cannot help but tell that these students are getting the highest level of education possible.

The final class I was able to attend was a rehearsal of the song “Mein Herr” from Cabaret. Deidre Goodwin was directing this particular piece that had an advanced group of high school actresses. Deidre’s resume speaks for itself. She has appeared in Jesus Christ Superstar, The Rocky Horror Picture Show, The Boys from Syracuse, Nine, Never Gonna Dance, Chita Rivera: The Dancer’s Life, A Chorus Line (Revival), and can most recently be seen in Chicago. What I saw was high school aged students preparing like seasoned Broadway professionals. Every little step, gesture, and look was scrutinized, rehearsed, and rehearsed again.  Watching Deidre work was a master class in how to run a choreography rehearsal. Her eyes scanning each performer during each run through, stopping, making adjustments, and going again, then making a small change and expecting it to happen in the next run through. The actresses delivered those changes almost immediately and it was a joy to see. You saw the desire to learn and to teach merge into this symbiotic relationship.

After attending two master classes and a rehearsal, Hilary introduced me to Creative & Educational Programming Director, Craig D’Amico (Annie Get Your Gun, Fiddler on the Roof) and Artistic Advisor, Stafford Arima (Ragtime, Carrie, Altar Boyz, Allegiance). I asked them the obvious question that many parents would ask. What makes Broadway Dreams Foundation different than all these other programs that are offered in the Philadelphia/South Jersey area? Craig’s response was that Broadway Dreams is “a combination of master classes and immediate application of what is being learned by Broadway professionals. Each student is building their acting skills, as well as building relationships that continue to grow after the camp is over. This relationship is not just with other students but their clinicians, interns, and guest artists. Stafford added that, “this is a mirror of the Broadway acting experience”. It provides these students with real-life situations and expectations of actors so that they learn as many aspects as they can. 

Hilary then allowed me to take a glimpse into one of their best classes entitled “Do You Want to Know the Truth?” In this class students voluntarily did a mock audition in front of a panel lead by Stafford Arima, and Annette Turner (Founder and President). Their class mimicked a professional audition. They were honest and gave student who performed every little thing they saw, both positive and negative. The line that Stafford used that has stuck in my mind is, “My truth to you is…” The advice given was meant to be inflective for each student and reminded them to be real and how to better do that.

Following my time with Craig D’Amico and Stafford Arima, Hilary introduced me to Elon University student and 2nd Year Intern, Cassidy. What Cassidy wanted to emphasize about the program is the education she is getting. She is not only learning how to be a performer and take classes; the production aspect and getting an opportunity to teach and perform as well with the students. Internships are available and tuition is free, but you have to make your own living arrangements, although Broadway Dreams help arrange that.

Ok, so I gave you a narrative of my observations of the program. That was from the music educator’s perspective, but let’s say you are a parent and want to know more. I asked questions that I knew the parents of my own students would be curious about. I have been fortunate to have students work Off Broadway, have aspirations of making theatre their lives, and am an uncle to a couple aspiring actors and actresses. That will come in Part Two 

Part 2

Every year around April I get asked, “What is the best program I can enroll my child in to be a Broadway performer?” Each year I would mention programs that were local or programs in New York City. Sometimes parents come to me with a list of programs they have found that they want my opinion on. Many of these programs are sleep away, are in New York City (or various parts of the country), and are some of the most expensive programs I have ever heard of. Over the past couple of years, I have been hearing about the Broadway Dreams Foundation and the work they are doing so I took a day last week to visit them and learn about their program and what has set them apart from all other programs I have heard and seen. In this first article of a three part series, I will discuss the basics of Broadway Dreams.

I was able to meet with Hilary Miller, Marketing Director of the Broadway Dreams Foundation, and she took me around to some of the classes and introduced me to members of the Broadway Dreams staff. After observing the program, speaking with the staff, and returning for their matinee performance, I can clearly say with certainty that if your child is passionate for, wants to improve in, and begin their training to attempt to have a Broadway career, you want to enroll your child with Broadway Dreams.

How old do you have to be?
There have been students as young as 5-6, but generally 7-8 year olds would be a good place to start. Each child under 14 has an intern who serves as their counselor for the week.  Parents can stay in the Kimmel Center, but must spend the day in the lobby area if they choose to stay.

What type of schedule will students have?
Their week will consist of individual coaching, ensemble work, and in the little free time they have, they are able to attend other classes.

How many teachers are there and what is their focus:
Broadway Dreams tries to cater the number of coaches and their fields to the amount of students attending and what their strengths and weaknesses are.

What should be the goal of my child?
-The goal of Broadway Dreams is to prep your child for what they want to do. Hilary Miller explained that if it’s developing confidence, if it’s improving for a school show or if it’s auditioning for Broadway, the foundation helps each student with what it is they are looking for.

Where can my child attend Broadway Dreams Summer Intensives?
-There are intensives in Atlanta, Omaha, New York City, Aspen, Charlotte, Philadelphia, and Toronto. They start in May and run through August, each during a different week of the year.

What is the tuition cost, how long is the program, when can I sign up?
The tuition for Philadelphia ran about $1,075 per student for the week, but tuition varies. The fee covers materials, and a complimentary one look headshot session with a professional photographer. Each session is about a week. Registration begins around December 1st to the first day of the intensive and the scholarship application process begins February/March. There are family rates available, as well as payment plans.

Are there scholarships available?
Broadway Dreams Foundation is a non-profit organization and needs-based scholarships are available ranging from partial to full tuition. Nearly 50% of Broadway Dreams students receive some level of scholarship.

There are just a few other things you should know about Broadway Dreams. They are constantly doing fundraising to help reach the greatest amount of students possible. In other words, if you are looking for a charity to support for kids and for theatre, this is it. 

Broadway Dreams is also looking to expand and invest more of their programs in the cities they visit. If you are interested in Broadway Dreams but not sure if your child is ready for the program, there are weekend Triple Threat Extreme camps, a Broadway Boost Program that brings in a Broadway Dreams coach to work with your high school program, and a New York Initiative that has programs all year round. You can also see them perform locally at the Kimmel Center Mummers Event.

Finally, the Broadway Dreams Foundation offered something called BDF University on the last day in Philadelphia. The event is meant for students preparing for college, for the interns, and for parents and it mocked college auditions. There are also times there will be casting directors from the various agencies who may attend the program. The master class teachers mentor and help teach networking to the students. They get to meet, connect, and be seen by people who can advise them on the next step(s) they should take.

I would be remiss if I didn’t include how much help the Kimmel Center is to Broadway Dreams. They subsidize the program, and their advocacy and philanthropy for Broadway Dreams makes the program in Philadelphia possible. Hilary Miller could not say enough about the Board of Directors and staff of the Kimmel Center and their allowance of Broadway Dreams to use Perelman Hall and so much of the complex for the week. The arts are alive and well in Philadelphia and supported greatly by the Kimmel Center and those who support its programs.

In closing, as an educator, musical theatre advocate, and uncle, I have never seen a program close to what Broadway Dreams provides. This IS the program that I believe all serious middle school, high school, and college students should be attending. If you have any further questions about the program, visit their website. 

Broadway Dreams Foundation
http://broadwaydreams.org

In Part Three and final article, I’ll discuss the concert that Broadway Dreams performs for the parents, family and friends at the Perelman Theatre at the Kimmel Center.

Part 3

After reading Parts One and Two, you are thinking that because the participants had so many master classes and rehearsals that the production must be short and sweet. The production that Broadway Dreams Foundation put on in the Perelman Theatre on August 13th was nothing short of a spectacular two-hour professional performance.

What made the production unique is that it is not just a recital of performance pieces, but the students. It is not like theatre camps where the camp puts on a production that everyone is a part of either. What Broadway Dreams Summer Intensive does is puts on a high level performance that incorporates Broadway work with original pieces. It also mixes the coaches performances in with the students. How often does a student or parent wonder if their child’s teacher is a master at their craft that his/her teaching? During the Broadway Dreams Concert you see the teachers in action working along side their students. This is a refreshing view because it is the connection the actors make to the music and to the students and all of them working together to put together a high caliber production. There is an old saying that if you want to get better, surround themselves with people better than them. This is obviously a philosophy Broadway Dreams teaches. The students saw and learned how detailed they must be by working side by side with their coaches.  For parents who are more sports fans, it is like being coached by professional athletes and then playing in a game with them.

The Philadelphia Creative Team is lead by Otis Sallid (The Wiz, Smoking Joe’s Café, Mariah Carey at the Beacon), and each number in the show is directed by or choreographed by the coaches that are brought in for the week. As you may recall from Part Two, all the coaches are Broadway performers.  Each acting group had multiple songs and routines that they were a part of and they all participated in an opening and closing number. I will not go through every number in the show but I do want to highlight some of the things I saw and my overall impression.

The Opening, directed by Otis Sallid, began with younger students singing about16 bars (standard audition amount of music) as individuals. They first began separately and then blended together (while still singing their songs) and ending with what seemed to be an affirmation of the mission of the Broadway Dreams Foundation. From there each ensemble performed their work, mixed in with the coaches and original work that members of Broadway Dreams were working or collaborating on. The different level groups were all mixed together so that you would constantly be seeing growth and evolution of the students in the program. First off you would see a cute young group of actors doing a piece and then you would see high school level students or interns performing pieces as if they were Broadway performers. Woven throughout the matinee performance was a group called Diva and this group broke up the performance with a number of wonderfully harmonized, powerful show stopping women trio songs. 

I mentioned that there were original pieces that were mixed into the Broadway pieces. Annette Tanner, Executive Director of Broadway Dreams, mentioned how important they felt it was to have new and experimental works performed as well. As an educator I found it refreshing for them to do this because it teaches the students that you don’t just take chances as young actors, you take chances as professional actors, choreographers, and directors. It also showed the process a piece takes in its infant stages to where it is a performance piece being premiered. I want to highlight the two Chet Baker pieces called “Idle Hands” and “Almost Blue”. Both pieces were astonishing visually and opposites of each other. “Idle Hands” was an ensemble piece with many moving parts, choreographed to beautiful smooth jazz tones. “Almost Blue” was a small trio choreographed in a sea of blue lighting. Both pieces were set in a modern, contemporary dance setting. 

One of the other parts of the concert that I enjoyed was the mash ups that a couple of groups had. The mash ups followed the theme the group was given. They were witty, insightful, relevant and seamless. The one that I absolutely adored was Housewives that was directed and choreographed by Christopher J. Hanke. It had the audience rolling and was a pure pleasure to see. There were also medleys of songs from iconic Broadway shows like West Side Story, Guys and Dolls and Grease involving bigger groups.

There was one thing that I have neglected to mention was this entire production was costumed and put together during the week. There are production meetings after all the students have auditioned and they are placed in their groups, the directors and choreographers choose their numbers and then the costume designer, Kelly La Vine, goes to work on each kid and each number.

What I really enjoyed watching was the energy on the stage that afternoon. Every child, teenager, and adult associated with the production just personified joy, hope, and love. They represented musical theatre in the best possible ways. The students represented the passion and drive to be better performers. The coaches represented how loving and giving true Broadway is and the Broadway Dreams staff showed the best in how to give the students, parents and (in this case) Philadelphia community a camp with honest answers, positive results and better performers.

So in summary of my three-part article about Broadway Dreams Foundation’s Summer Intensive, it is a brilliant program and the best summer program in the country. It is what Craig D’Amico and Stafford Arima said in their interview. It is a connection of a young actors with the professional actors. It is educating the students and having them immediately connect what they’ve with the pieces they’ve work on. The staff is top notch and has answers to all the questions actors and their families have about the business. Most importantly it helps grow the love of musical theatre in children and helps them take those lessons home to their programs. So parents who tweet, email, and message me, next time you want to ask me where to go, here is your definitive answer, Broadway Dreams Foundation.

Great thanks to Broadway Dreams Executive Director Annette Tanner, Artistic Director Stafford Arima, Creative and Educational Director Craig D’Amico and especially Marketing Director Hilary Miller for their time and allowing me to come and visit with the Philadelphia Creative Team and students.

 

The Rundown: Kristin Chenoweth in Concert at The Borgata

Spencer Lau

  • OnStage New Jersey Columnist

Kristin Chenoweth is a bonafide superstar. We have seen her in “You’re a Good Man Charlie Brown”, “Wicked”, “On the Twentieth Century” on stage; “The West Wing”, “Pushing Daisies”, “Glee”, Disney’s “The Descendants” and in NBC’s live performance of “Hairspray” on December 7th; and in the movies “RV”, “Rio 2”, “Four Christmases” and most recently “The Peanuts Movie”. Tonight she went back to her roots and the eclectic audience who packed the Music Box Theatre at the Borgata in Atlantic City was treated to a synopsis of Kristin’s life and career up to now.

Kristin opened her show with the song “Should I Be Sweet” from the 1932 musical Take a Chance. You are probably asking yourself right now, “I’ve never heard of that show, why would she open with that?” The answer is simple and in the lyrics. The song asks the two age-old questions: Who should I be? Who could I be? Those questions define Kristin’s career as she has played the gambit of characters available to an actor. Throughout the evening, Kristin told wonderful stories about her career, and how she grew up (she has a connection to West Chester, PA) and sang songs that she felt represented her life, her views, and the most meaning to her.

Kristin sang “Taylor, the Latte Boy”, a song that she made famous fifteen years ago. Following that she sang a song, written by Jodi Marr, and dedicated to her father called “Fathers and Daughters”.  Kristin then sang one song from her upcoming album The Art of Elegance. The album is a collection of American songbook standards like the one she sang, “I Get Along Without You Very Well”. Some of the stories Kristin shared were about her first acting experience as a child, what it was like growing up in Broken Arrow, Oklahoma, and how some of the songs she would sing on Broadway needed to be edited for the Midwest audience.

There was a poignant moment in the show where Kristin told the audience to take a minute and be kind. She also said that we should all be grateful for our lives and then sang a beautiful rendition of “Bring Him Home” from the musical Les Miserables. Soon after that, and while the audience is still drying their tears, she was able to lighten the mood by singing “Popular” from Wicked, which she dedicated to Donald Trump. After a couple more American songbook standards, Kristin brought out an octet of seniors from Philadelphia’s University of the Arts musical theatre program. She then talked to the students and to the audience about “being yourself” and opened up about her faith. She told the audience you could be a Christian and be a gay activist as well.  Kristin then closed her concert with two songs about her faith with the students singing back up for her.

Kristin returned to the stage after a standing ovation and sang two more songs. One of the songs was a favorite of mine called “Smile” by Charlie Chaplin. The song reminds us that a smile can get you through anything in life.

I had a few observations about the concert. The first observation was how diverse the audience was. There were Broadway fans and teenagers hoping to hear songs from musicals to seniors hoping to hear songs from the American Songbook and religious songs. None of them walked away disappointed. Kristin actually took a minute to thank all the boys, dads, and men who attended the concert because they may have been forced to. My second observation is that Kristin’s concert is emotionally charged and powerful. The set list that she picked for this concert brought out so many emotions in her. She openly shared them with the audience throughout her performance and her narrative in between the songs. Finally, many of us knew how great a singer and performer Kristin was, but I do not think many people knew or understood how humble and grateful she is for the life that she has.

Kristin Chenoweth will be touring domestically through May of 2017. If you have an opportunity to see her, Kristin is another must-see performer. You will laugh, you will cry, you will understand that Kristin Chenoweth is a force of nature, but still the girl from Broken Arrow, Oklahoma.

Kristin Chenoweth
http://www.officialkristinchenoweth.com
Four out of Four Stars Concert
The Art of Elegance (release date September 23, 2016)

The Rundown: Leslie Odom Jr. at The Borgata Music Box

Spencer Lau

  • OnStage New Jersey Columnist

When you walk into the theatre, the stage is gorgeously bathed in a violet light, the seats are soft and comfy, and there are great sight lines of the stage from every seat. Which theatre am I at this evening? Actually, this is The Music Box Theatre in the Borgata in Atlantic City, New Jersey. I was privileged to be in the audience for one of Leslie Odom Jr.’s first solo concerts promoting his self-titled debut album.

Leslie opened his show with a few of his songs from his album “Leslie Odom Jr.” (iTunes $9.99). The first impression of his band is just silky smooth, like his voice. Tonight he opened up with “Autumn Leaves”, the third track from his album, and just set a beautiful tone for the evening. Following that, he sang the beautiful song “Look for the Silver Lining”. This upbeat song truly does represent Leslie’s outlook at life. If you don’t know Leslie Odom Jr. from that “small” Broadway hit Hamilton that earned him the 2016 Tony Award for Best Actor, then you should get to know him.

Leslie was born in New York and raised in Philadelphia. He was in the same class at Carnegie Mellon University with a few people you might know: Josh Groban (debuting this fall in Natasha, Pierre and the Great Comet of 1812), Josh Gad (Book of Mormon, Disney’s Frozen), Rory O’Malley (Hamilton), and he was at school the same time as Megan Hilty (Noises Off), Billy Porter (Kinky Boots), and Renee Elise Goldsberry (Hamilton) were there. Can you imagine having been there at the same time seeing all these phenomenal talents together? If you want to hear stories, check out Leslie’s Playbill Vlogs. They are by far hysterical (PG for language) and insightful of how supportive, loving, and caring they are of each other. 

The third number was his beautiful samba Spanish track, “Brazil (Aquarela Do Brasil)”. I heard from people around me that they wished they could dance to it and I found myself asking why I took French in school and not Spanish because I wish I understood it when I first heard it rather thank looking up the translation. Following that song, Leslie introduced his next song by telling the audience that so many people asked him “Why would you leave the hit Hamilton?” He asks the question “Well why would you leave your job?” before giving his response with the song “Joey, Joey, Joey”. The chorus of the song is:

“Joey, Joey, Joey, 
Joey, Joey, Joe
You’ve been too long
In one place
It’s time to go
Time to go, oh”

The song perfectly sums up Leslie’s attitude towards his work. He is always striving to improve himself, learn something new, and take a chance. Now I know you are reading this and asking, “Does Leslie sing anything from Hamilton?” Well, of course he does. 

After “Joey, Joey, Joey”, Leslie talks a bit about Hamilton, the creative process, and his love of the show and Lin Miranda. He then goes into a couple of his signature songs from Hamilton. I was fortunate enough to see Leslie in Hamilton before he left and I can tell you that he delivered those songs with the same fire and passion as he did on stage, although the arrangements were built around his jazz sound. But following the Hamilton songs, Leslie then goes back to his first big break, replacing Tituss Burgess (Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt) in Jersey Boys. Leslie then explained his role in the production and love of that style of music. He then sings this amazing medley of Jersey Boys songs.

Following his Broadway set, he said something that I think anyone who knows his voice was thinking. Leslie said that when he started to create this album, he wanted it to be “something Nat King Cole or Sammy Davis Jr. would have made right now.” The medley of songs he then sings, like the Jersey Boys medley, just take you back in time. They are what our parents or grandparents (depending on your age) listen to and would sing in the car. His soulful sound just bring you back to those days of simpler times, or how you enjoyed hearing a parent or grandparent singing these songs as it did for me. 

After the medley, Leslie comes back around to the album to close the show and features the amazing band and has a song where his wife, Nicolette Robinson sings the vocal backups to him. Following the concert, his encore, tonight was a crowd-pleasing song from Hamilton. You know, the one that is a love letter to Aaron Burr’s beloved at the time.

Leslie’s concert was absolutely wonderful. It was a night of unbelievable music, a marvelous band, and fascinating insight into Leslie as a person and performer. As he said during the show, this is still a very new and fluid process. He is just getting started and this concert wasn’t even his tenth yet. I hope that when you go out and get tickets to see him that he gives you more of his Broadway songs, and a few more of those good old fashioned crooner songs.

So why didn’t I just give you a set list? Because they are all going to change up and I want you to go out there and buy his CD and learn more about him and his story. After his concert, he came out and met with everyone who wanted to meet with him, and it was pretty much like the Hamilton stage door. Leslie signed Hamilton Playbills, “Hamilton: The Book”, his CD, and took pictures. He took time with his fans and took in their thoughts on his show and spent time with younger members of the audience. I know because there were a few of my students in attendance that evening. Leslie connects with people through his story, his music and voice, and in the person he is. You could see how much he appreciated the younger crowd he had there and that he was inspiring the next generation of musical theatre actors and singers. He was also exposing them (and the entire audience) to more than musical theatre and that is something everyone can appreciate.

A special thank you to Brian Brennan, PR Manager (Borgata) and the Borgata for bringing Leslie Odom Jr. in. There are a lot of Broadway performers who come down to Atlantic City to perform, but the Borgata’s Music Box is by far, my favorite venue. It is state of the art, beautiful to be in, and is just such an intimate venue for performances like this. I hope that there are more Broadway performers who choose this venue to perform because there are so many Broadway fans, young and old, who would love to attend and hopefully meet these brilliant artists and be inspired.

So in summary, you have to buy Leslie’s CD, find out the closest place he is performing near you, and go get your tickets right now. If he can stay and chat with you, take the time and stay, you’ll come on here and thank me later.

Being Caught up Again in Our Living and in Our Dying: Our Town at the Eagle Theatre Breathes New Life

Anthony Cornatzer

  • OnStage New Jersey Columnist

It was a quaint little town. There were so many old stores and shops that had so much history to them that no one acknowledged or ignored—it was just there, it was a part of those who lived there then as much as those who came before.

The town was Hammonton, New Jersey. And that evening on Saturday, June 25th, I came to see a production of Thornton Wilder’s Our Town at the increasingly popular Eagle Theatre. Following dinner with my aunt who was accompanying me that evening, we found ourselves strolling around the town and I remember remarking to her before we eventually made our way to the theatre, “This is the perfect place for Our Town.” At the time, I couldn’t understand why, but there was something so subtle and yet so transcending in walking around this old, historic little town…it was almost like a de- ja-vu sort of feeling, a visit amongst the living residents as well as the ghosts of the past that still have left their own indescribable mark there.

Arriving at the theatre, we were greeted by the sound of “oldie”, folk music that created a nice sense of ambience as well as an ironic feeling of remembrance and comfort in considering the Eagle Theatre’s history as an old movie house theater back in the day, before its renovation. We also were offered a first glance to a simplistic lighting and projection design by Chris Miller, that offered a nice layout and map of the town on a scrim, as well as to the scenic design by both Miller and  the director and co-artistic director of the Eagle Theatre, Ted Wioncek III. Both of which throughout the show not only honored Wilder’s vision of the play, but it also offered much more intimacy than the staging of the theatre already lends itself to. 

At the start of the play, in being introduced to the town by our Stage Manager (played by Charlie Delmarcelle) and cast, we  all suddenly learned to our pleasant surprise and delight, that the town was in fact set in this very town of Hammonton, New Jersey—not the original Grover’s Corners, New Hampshire that was the original setting of the play. And with just this subtle change of setting and history, as an audience we were offered that much more not just for entertainment purposes, but also for something far more personal as an organic integration of South Jersey’s history, our history. And thus the play became that much more a part of us.

Set in the very beginning of the twentieth century, we bared witness once more with this brilliant ensemble to retelling of the cycle of life in American society in this little town—but you already know it, don’t you? And in that little town, this town, we were reminded and immersed within our daily life, love and marriage, and in living and dying. And what a fresh perspective this cast offered to such a classic play! And frankly, that itself is much harder to do than most audiences give credit for. This ensemble didn’t let up once in engaging us with their own harmonious chemistry and relationship with one another as well as to the play itself and what it really means. It was such a clear-cut understanding of character, theme, as well as impact amongst all of the actors within this ensemble. What I personally felt contributed and epitomizes a great deal of this harmony was in having the actors visibly from behind the scrim up-stage provide the varying sound effects with whatever props and instruments they had on hand for the proceeding and well-articulated pantomime that would take place throughout the show. Such a subtle implementation and artistic choice very much made the play and production that much more organic and harmonious than it already was.

Delmarcelle as the Stage Manager was a literal breath-taking experience. In such an intricate role, he put a special emphasis on the true stoicism that encompasses this particular Greek chorus. It was a driving force that kept the audience grounded and drew them back in with all that unfolded with the characters within each act. Special recognition also deservedly goes towards the actors of the neighboring parents of Frank and Julia Gibbs (played by Jared Michael Delaney and Deborah Jenkins) and Charles and Myrtle Webb (played by Leonard C. Hass and Mary Lee Bednark); who not only brought unique and extraordinary interpretations to their character and their relationship with each other, but simply put—they were collectively just entertaining all the way through mainly because of their own given idiosyncrasies that they each had and utilized very effectively throughout the show.

And of course, the boy-meets-girl story of George Gibbs (played by Justin Mazzella) and Emily Webb (played by Maggie Griffin-Smith) melted our hearts and crushed it once again, but really to much more extraordinary depths than the characters already lend themselves to. Specifically, there was such an organic and transcending chemistry between the two throughout the show, that it proved as a glaring and bitter-sweet reminder that Our Town is as much an American love story as it is a play about American life. Including the ensemble as a whole, when you have a company of actors that have just such a natural connection between themselves, the play, what it means, and of course the audience—you really do have something special. So, that being said, when you have productions like this of Our Town, it becomes more than just a mediocre ritualization of a classic play; in fact, it becomes something else far more extraordinary in having new life breathed into it, and—like many of us who attended this production—you actually end up learning something completely new that you didn’t even consider.

It isn’t to say that good theatre, or even great theatre, is such a rare thing to find today; but once in a while you get the occasional production with any theatre that is discovered to be a real gem and a true source of communal identity in any given town. And that’s really what this production of Our Town was about; not looking to produce and put on the play “just because”, but really it is a re-evaluation of what Thornton Wilder actually intended in the first place: to be a play about our lives for all times, for all places, and for everyone.

And though, yes, it’s been a solid month since seeing this production, I still find myself getting these amazing flashbacks and recollections of how incredible this production was. But above all else, I’m sure glad it was at the Eagle Theatre, and even more glad that its setting and staging was all in this little town in South Jersey that exists by itself, for itself, and for those who came and gone, and for those who have yet to come in Hammonton, New Jersey.

     

Stop! You, Yes You, Are Killing the Future of School & Community Theatre!

Spencer Lau

  • OnStage New Jersey Columnist

Did that catch your attention?  Who is killing in school and community theatre?  Aaron Burr? Scar?  Monty D’Ysquith?  Madame Morrible?  No, it’s not any of them.  They may be killing it on Broadway or on Tour but not in School or Community Theatre.  It’s production teams, directors, choreographers, etc. who either don’t know any better, or worse, don’t care.  

The State of the Art:

Earlier this year Chris Peterson, Founder and Editor in Chief did an article about a theatre company in Connecticut that had a set designer who copied from another company.

Believe it or not that has become something that is more common than we care to admit.  A little education on this subject, when a school, or community theatre, license a show they are all given a contract.  Some are more extensive than others.  But within that contract are regulations for show billing, videotaping (if allowed), scripts, etc. that production teams are to strictly follow.  Here’s where we go off the rails, READ AND FOLLOW THE CONTRACT!!!  It’s right there in front of you!!!

Right now you are saying, who are you to be telling me how to envision my show or who cares?  Honestly a lot of people do!  It’s a copyright that you are violating when you copy costumes, set, choreography, change songs, or add things that are from revivals or past productions.

Put simply, would you want someone to steal your creativity and imagination, or borrow it and not be given some kind of credit or compensation?  So how are these people killing the future of school and community theatre?  I’m glad you asked!

God I Hate Shakespeare:

If you know Something Rotten, then you know this song falls where the Nick Bottom wants to get ahead of William Shakespeare so badly, he takes extreme measures to do so.  Let’s apply that to present day school or community theatre.  There are a bunch of programs/companies in your area that you are competing against or groups doing the same show; you are just trying to get ahead because you know that your company is just that great.  Can you put a price on your integrity?  Are you really willing to risk it all?  Maybe you are a school in South Jersey or a community theatre group in Ohio?  Perhaps a blended program in Wisconsin or summer theatre program that is part of a dance academy in Texas.  Sure you could roll the dice and assume that no one is looking, and copy things from a Broadway production, or tour, regional theatre, whatever.  What does that say about your integrity?  What does that say about your trust in yourself, your production team or your actors?  Do you know what happens if you get caught?  Let me give you some examples from one particularly popular show right now, Lion King Jr.  Not billing the show as THE LION KING JR OR KIDS; copying the costume plots of the Broadway show; adding songs from the Broadway show to your KIDS version; turning your community theatre stage into a knock off of the National Tour.  I think anyone can keep going because you probably have seen things like this with any show.  What happens if you get caught?

Cell Block Tango:

He (she) had it coming…He (she) had it coming.  He (she) only had himself to blame…If you’d have been there…If you’d have seen it, I betcha you would have done the same.   Ok so you might not go to jail like Velma in Chicago and sing this but come on, you didn’t think I’d just use the title for this one did you?  How do you explain to your school/community theatre group when they get a cease and desist letter?  Or a fine of thousands of dollars?  Revocation of show rights?  We all hear the stories, this school or company got caught, but yet we don’t fear that?

Why is that?  Is the risk worth the gain?  Do you want to be known as the director or production team or company that ripped off a Broadway show or tour?  Take stock in what you do and the manner in which you do it!!!  Can you do very small things to “tip the cap” to the Broadway show?  I think it’s only respectful to do so.  Give your audience some Easter eggs (like so many movies do now).  For instance, the school I direct just did Legally Blonde Jr.  For the prison scene we had 15 girls on stage in highlighter orange T-shirts and each kid had a different number on it: 24601 (Les Miserables), 525600 (Rent), 1776 (1776), 442 (Allegiance), 42154 (MTI Offices), etc. etc.  Perhaps a very recognizable dance step (NOT STEPS OR CHOREOGRAPHY) will suffice, but to turn your production into something that it’s not.  There are people at iTheatrics who work with MTI, Samuel French, R&H, Disney, Tams Whitmark to craft these shows for schools or folks who work at these companies who do it for professional productions.  When did you get smarter and better than the folks who work with the writers, composers?  Now don’t get defensive, settle down.  How do we fix this?  It’s actually kind of simple folks.

Breathe:

There are high stakes in community theatre but there are ways to ramp up your show.  Here’s what you can do:

1.    Don’t watch any productions of the show you are producing.  Have a fresh perspective and let your creativity flow.
2.    Read and follow your contract, if you have questions, call your representative.  They have people who handle what is in bounds and what is not.
3.    Roundtable discussions with colleagues or your production staff and have reflective time on their ideas.  Some of the most insane ideas don’t always have to come from you.
4.    Pay attention to your surroundings.  There are so many other things that can inspire you and give you paths to follow.
5.    Ask for permission to make changes.  While this is doubtful to happen often, if you have a revolutionary idea, get it out there with the people who created the work.  You might just have opened a new path for yourself!
6.    Experiment, experiment, experiment but set yourself a deadline as well.  Try things 1000 times.  It’s part of the creative process, honestly.  If you trust your people, they may help guide your direction.
7.    Research, research, research.  Research the time period, the characters, society, the norms of society, the culture, psychology, all those things.  The more you read and learn, the more your mind will want to expand.

Always Starting Over:

So at this point you are saying to yourself, “oh jeez, I’ve read all of this and I still don’t get it.

How am I killing school and community theatre?”  How is my show imitation, change show billing or copying things from the show going to hurt my school or community theatre group?

There are a few answers to that.

1.    Show titles will become harder to license.  The more groups are found to be doing things the improper way, the better chance that the producers of the shows or the license holders of the shows will be less likely to allow them to be adapted for schools or community groups.
2.    Show titles will become more expensive to license.  If the current trend continues, I would imagine you will have to pay higher amounts for licensing, which you will have to turn around and put into your ticket sales, which, in this day in age will hurt your ability to operate in the black.
3.    Reputation, trust as lost.  You are as good as your work and your word.  I live and teach in a community that boasts 4 community theatre groups within 20 miles of each other.   The word gets around (yes that is a Hamilton reference), not only amongst the community but licensing companies.  It is a much small world than you think it is.
4.    Money, money, money.  You won’t be in the money, you’ll be out a lot.  Can you imagine what would happen if your school program was misusing your contract?  Even worse, you cause your community theatre company to fold?  You look at your Young Simba, or Flounder, Red Riding Hood and tell them and their parents what you did.

In order for musical theatre, or theatre in general is to flourish, we all need to work in concert with each other.  In the end, doesn’t our work speak for itself?  Do we really need to copy and steal to get ahead?  If you think so, you are in the wrong world folks.  There is brilliance in everyone that is involved in theatre.  How do we use that and actively engage it is the difference.  Be great, create great things, teach great things and do great things.  But make sure they are your things and not someone else’s.

Break a leg!!!

Spencer

Why You Should Boycott "Phantom of the Opera"

Chris Peterson

  • OnStage Founder

The year is 2001.

A young girl and her family from New Jersey go to see the Broadway musical, Jane Eyre. The young girl is an aspiring actress hoping to make it to Broadway. Her drama teacher knows one of the stars of the show, since he comes from the same town. After the show, the young aspiring actress is invited backstage to meet one of the actors, James Barbour. Barbour is a star on the rise. He had been the Beast in Beauty & The Beast, was also in the revival of Carousel.  

At some point during that encounter backstage, James Barbour fondled the young girl and then forced her to fondle him. She was 15 at the time and James Barbour knew she was 15.

They had another sexual encounter, a month later, this time at Barbour's apartment. After promising her that he would introduce her to Broadway producers, he engaged in oral sex with the minor, again knowing full well that she was indeed a minor.

After this, Barbour would go onto to be cast in productions of Assassins and Urinetown.

The year is 2006.

The young girl, now a 20-year-old sex crime victim, presses criminal charges against Barbour as he is about to star on Broadway in A Tale of Two Cities. Initially Barbour and lawyer, Ronald Fischetti, deny the charges and plead not guilty. But they don't stop there. They start a smear campaign against the victim, claiming that she is a gold digger, who is only going after Barbour now because he had just inherited money. They even go as far as trying to reveal the victim's name and set up a hotline number that people can call to see if she has tried to extort money from them through accusations of sex abuse(thankfully the court put a gag order on this).

During this time, a second alleged victim comes forward. She and Barbour met in California and he allegedly groped her as well, she as 13 at the time.

After pleading not guilty, Barbour would go onto to star in A Tale of Two Cities. 

The year is 2008.

After battling in courts and in the public, James Barbour confesses to the accusations. Barbour also revealed there was a third sexual encounter. It happened the same night they first met, at a restaurant where Barbour fondled the girl under a table while her family sat nearby.

Barbour plead guilty to two counts of endangering the welfare of a child - a misdemeanor. He is sentenced to 60 days in jail and 3 years probation. As part of the deal with the plea, Barbour would not have to register as a sex offender and only have to notify people of his conviction for the duration of his probation. So for only 3 years, Barbour would have to notify employers, casting agents, etc - that he groped a 15 year old girl.

The year is 2011.

James Barbour leaves the production of The Rocky Horror Show at the Old Globe Theatre in San Diego after several new outlets begin reporting stories about his conviction. However, Barbour and the producers stated that he left to be with his wife during her pregnancy.

The year is 2015.

It is announced that James Barbour will replace Norm Lewis in the role of the Phantom in Broadway's The Phantom of the Opera.

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

I believe that we live in a world of second chances. But we also live in a world with the likes of Earl Bradley, Jerry Sandusky and allegedly, Bill Cosby. For these reasons, it is unconscionable as to why the producers and Tara Rubin Casting would overlook this and cast Barbour in this role. In all likelihood, it was an oversight on their part. While Barbour didn't have to legally disclose his conviction, someone in their offices should have done the due diligence to at least Google James Barbour.

Unfortunately the producers didn't take these steps but the steps they have taken, make them look even worse. After releasing a statement on their Facebook page, which makes little to no sense, they went a step further and started deleted negative reaction comments on the Facebook page.

It's my opinion, that casting and now standing by James Barbour, the producers of Phantom of the Opera and Tara Rubin Casting, demand families with children pay the salary of a convicted child groper. That they require female cast members, some of who were 15 or younger in 2001, to perform alongside a someone who once admitted he fondled a 15 year old girl..

We have come a long way, in a short period of time in properly addressing the reality and brutality that is sex abuse in this country. What the producers and Tara Rubin Casting have done is take a terrible step backward.

I find it an utter shame that Norm Lewis, one of the most distinguished performers on Broadway today and the first African-American to play the role on Broadway, will be followed by the first convicted child groper to play the role.

And while I wish I could say that you should all be there to give Mr. Lewis a standing ovation before he departs on Feb 7th, I cannot in good conscience endorse you to give a single penny to a show that casts and supports James Barbour.

Therefore I urge you, your friends and your families, to boycott Phantom of the Opera. I also urge theatre companies and producers to cease using Tara Rubin Casting for casting services.

For a community that is usually so proactive in taking a stance against crimes and injustice, this is a terrible move.

Now there will be some who will jump to defend Barbour. But what they don't realize is that performing on Broadway is not a right, it's a privilege. If Barbour used his profession to commit a crime, in this case a role in a Broadway musical, why should he ever be allowed in a Broadway show again?

Oh and if you're wondering how Barbour was even considered for this role? Tara Rubin Casting also cast Jane Eyre, the show where James Barbour used his stardom to commit a sex crime.