That "Nostalgic" Feeling

Jennifer Butler

  • OnStage Massachusetts Columnist

In the past I have written about time travel and the places theater can take you but this post is a little bit different. This is about the nostalgia of theater and how certain shows and experiences can make the theater feel more like home than any place does.

For me, the theater is nostalgic because it was the first place since college that I have actually felt like I belong. Getting reacquainted with the theater two years ago was seriously the best thing I ever did.  It gives me a place to go when I feel the urge to run. The shows themselves create new memories or bring back long forgotten ones, but the theater itself gives me a sense of belonging and that is not something that happens very often, and at times is the one thing I wish I had in a lot of other places.  

My first introduction to theater was when I was seven and my grandparents took me to see a local production of Annie. It was unlike anything I have ever seen and led me to being in my first show at my elementary school. Now this is not my favorite show or necessarily the best one I have seen but because of that night and the people that I saw it with, that show will always mean something to me.

 I've seen Jersey Boys twice but not with the person that would love it the most. Growing up that was my grandmother's kind of music and it’s a show she would've loved.  I had one of those moments after the first time I saw the show, both my mom and I looked at each other and said “Nana should be here.” There are many other shows I wish she was here to see with me. I know she would have loved to see An American in Paris and The King and I, but most importantly she would have wanted to see any show that I was involved with. We didn’t get to experience the theater much together before she passed, but that first memory of seeing Annie with her and my grandfather at age seven is one of those memories that I will never forget. 

Wicked brings that same feeling of nostalgia because it’s talks about the difference in people and how we can all connect on some level. This is also one of very few shows that both my mom and I can enjoying watching together. Most of our theater adventures are because she wants to support me and the things I love. 

I have seen many shows, and enjoyed some aspect of them all, but these are shows mentioned here are ones that will stick with me of the nostalgic feeling I get when I see them. Some people say certain shows are the best because of the amount of awards that they have won or because of the actors that are in them. But to me, the best shows are the ones that bring back the forgotten memories or remind me of the people that I saw them with.  

Photo: Greater Austin High School Musical Theatre Awards

 

An Actor's Perspective - Part 3: "Getting That Call..."

Jennifer Kuzmeskas

  • OnStage Massachusetts Columnist

Getting That Call...

The dreaded waiting game, you check your email about 10 times more than you normally do, you check your phone incessantly to see if anyone has called…I mean perhaps you missed the call. Then the phone finally rings, you know it’s the call you have been waiting for.  You hesitantly answer it, hoping for the best but fearing the worst. The person on the other end tells you about all the amazing talent that came out and how it was very difficult to cast the show. Your heart sinks, as they keep talking your heart sinks lower and lower. You even start to concentrate on what you could have done differently. Then, just as you are completely convinced you didn’t make it, the person says, “Given all of that, we are very excited to offer you a role and to have you in the cast.” ELATION!!!!!

Now what? Well, first you need to know if all your friends have been cast. Texting is such a great invention for this. You all went through this agonizing process together; you might as well let them know what’s going on. Plus, they will know that casting has begun and you can let them know what part you got.   Then the full cast list comes out, you get to find out who will be your theatre family for the next few months.  This is something I always get very excited to see. It’s so nice to see so many familiar names and exciting to see many names you don’t know.

By the end of the show most/all of those unfamiliar names will be friends.  

Wait, so you have a part now. Of course you did your research before auditions, but how much do you know about the part you just landed?  It’s time to do some more research. Another form of technology that helps in this process, the internet.  What would we do without the ability to watch videos of our favorite performances, actors/actresses and, of course, watch how others interpreted the part we are about to embark on. Some may say they want to create the part themselves without outside influence, I totally support that. For me, I want to watch at least a couple of videos just to get an idea, even if I don’t use any of the character they created.  Oh and don’t forget to download the soundtrack (assuming you don’t already have it) and listen to it…about 10,000 times.  

In this case, there is also a second waiting game, till the first rehearsal. Auditions were a bit early for this show so they don’t start right away. It’s exciting to have something to look forward to, but part of you wants to start right away and jump in. I mean, you just landed a part, along with a bunch of your friends and there are new people to meet. Let’s do this thing!  

Let’s not rush life though, savor the moment, you had a great audition, you landed a part and you are about to embark on another great theatre journey! Hang out with some “non-theatre friends,” after all, once rehearsals start your standard answer to hanging out with them will be “I can’t, I have rehearsal.” Enjoy the rest of the summer and look forward to your upcoming journey!

 

Theatre & The Olympics

Jennifer Butler

  • OnStage Massachusetts Columnist

Watching the Olympics reminds me of being at the theater. Why is that you ask? It is because the Olympics along with Community Theater in general are some of the only places that I have seen true camaraderie.
   
While watching the Olympics I have seen high 5's everywhere and I also have seen an American swimming competitor take a selfie with swimmers from other countries in the warm up ready room. Then two gymnasts, one from North Korea and one from South Korea, took a picture together even though their country is divided. I have seen other examples of this during the gymnastics and throughout the entire competition. Most of the athletes wished each other luck or gave high fives and congratulatory hugs to those who have won the competition. As they say on TV, they do it “in true Olympic Spirit”.  Recently I saw the women’s 5000 meter track race, when two racers fell and helped each other up in order to finish the race. 

At the Olympics you are competing against others for that coveted gold medal, some from your own country and many from around the world.  Some just want to get on the podium to say that they are one of the best in the world at what they do. In theater it’s anywhere from getting a role in a show at the community level to the allusive Tony Award at the professional level and anything in between.  I have never worked on the professional level but I have worked at community theaters where things are so well run that the quality of the shows could be professional. So my experience comes from the community theater level when I talk about what I know. Working with theater I have seen actors tell each other to “break a leg” both before and after the audition process.

 In both the Olympics and Community Theater everyone you are with are after the same thing, the gold medal or the role in the show. But if you don't succeed, most are willing to admit that it’s because the other person, or people, were better on that night in that moment.

I must also note that there are cases of poor sportsmanship in both the Olympics and Community Theater. It’s not something that I have personally seen very often, but nonetheless, it does exist and I needed to mention that no one or nothing is perfect. People can easily become upset when they don’t advance to the finals, especially when they were expected to win gold. In theater it can happen when someone does not want to be a part of show, because even though they were offered a role it wasn’t the one that they wanted.

You see, the theater is my home and is something that I love to be a part of. What I have recently realized is that both the Olympics and the theater are unique experiences to be included in. And although I have never been to the Olympics, I can tell just by watching them, that like theater, no matter what you do or how far you make it, it’s a special place to be. Those who are involved both know and admit how special an opportunity it is. The way that the athletes feel about the Olympics is the same way that I feel about theater and that to me makes them one in the same.  

Balancing Theatre & Dance

Jennifer Butler

  • OnStage Massachusetts Columnist

I have been involved with both theater and dance since I was young, but rarely at the same time, until now. I had a part in my elementary school play, did dance in middle school and focused on theater in high school. I went off to college hoping to be involved with theater but wound up in dance and have been in a dance class at least once a week ever since. 

Then about two years ago, I realized how much I missed theater and wanted to be involved again. Since then I have been balancing rehearsals, competitions, and performances, sometimes having to figure out how to be in two places at once. 

However, for me, there is something about having to be in two places at once. Something about the rush of leaving dance and running to the theater, or being late for dance because you got stuck at the theater, it fills me with adrenaline and pride. Pride in that I get to spend my days and nights doing what I love. Which is weird for me because I am someone who highly dislikes being late. 

Yet, I don’t mind having to balance both dance and theater as well as a couple of part time jobs. Don’t get me wrong though, that feeling of pride comes with a really high stress level at times and I wouldn’t be able to do it without the help of my dance friends and theater production team members. Occasionally things work out and theater and dance rehearsals fall on opposite nights. That just means I am hardly ever home and feel like I am living at the theater and the studio. This has taught me balance in a different way. To make sure that I am eating right and getting enough rest to keep my energy up, in order to make it to all of the rehearsals and performances. 

No worries though, I would not change what I am doing for the world. I am at a point in my life that I have been working towards for a while now, and doing things that I thought were impossible. You see though, the thing about having both theater and dance in my life is that they both give me the opportunity to learn new things, opportunities to be creative, and most importantly, they are the places where I feel like I finally fit in somewhere. 

The studio and the theater are my home away from home, a lot of the time, and as stressful as it can be, I would rather have to figure out how to be in two places at once then to live a life of “What Ifs” like I did two years ago.  

An Actor's Perspective - The Waiting Game

Jennifer Kuzmeskas

  • OnStage Massachusetts Coumnist

The day of auditions has now come and gone. Perhaps I should have written separate posts as my feelings before the audition, compared to during the audition, compared to after the audition are very different.  Looking back on yesterday (the day of auditions) it somehow seems to be a blur.  For starters, it was a Monday and, like most people, my “real world” Mondays are no fun.  

In my “theatre world” though this was a different Monday, it was audition Monday. I had done all the right things. I printed my theatre resume, printed my music, did my research, rehearsed hours for a thirty second audition and printed my headshot. It would seem that I should have felt like I was ready. Yet, the inevitable nerves of an audition were ever present.  All day I couldn’t escape my own brain and the nerves that accompany just about every audition I have ever been on.  

Surprisingly, my nerves were calmed significantly after arriving. The thing about community theatre is, it’s a very small world.  I was very fortunate to see friendly and familiar faces upon entering. In fact, a lovely friend of mine from a past show had just finished her audition and was walking out as I was walking in. Then, as I checked in, two more people came in that I knew.  This continued for most of the night.  I find this to be something very special about the community theatre world.  I have worked with multiple different theatre groups in my area and in the process have met so many incredible people along the way. Some of my closest friends I met in this world we have created.  

These people become your cheerleaders, as they did for me last night; they are the ones who understand how you are feeling, want to see you do well and will hopefully become your cast mates for the next few months.  I know what you are thinking though, and yes, you are right, there will be some who aren’t this supportive. Some will be cut throat, some want the same part as you, etc. However, I believe in general most people genuinely want you to do well. I, for one, would rather have everyone give the best audition they can, even if we are going for the same part and leave everything up to the decision makers.  

I digress…back to the auditions…everyone sang last night. A few people were asked to stay because they were awesome and had a conflict with the callbacks. For me personally, I was happy with my audition. That is not something I often say, but I felt good after, still feel like I left it in that room last night and have to say I did better than I normally do.  The parts I auditioned for will probably not be parts the director does a callback for, so the waiting begins.  As far as community theatre goes, this one is going to have a long audition process. The second night of auditions won’t happen till Friday and the callbacks are not until Sunday. 

As a side note to this specific audition experience and if I could offer some advice…if you are considering auditioning for a show, but aren’t sure if you should. Always GO FOR IT!  I stand by the mantra of, “Every audition is a good experience.” You learn something about yourself, the audition process, how a group works and/or you build your confidence for the next time around.  Plus you never know what will happen, you might just land your dream role, you can’t be cast if you don’t audition. 

 

Embracing Your Theatre Passion

Liz Chirico

  • OnStage Massachusetts Columnist

A friend noted my intense passion for the theater, as evident by my willingness to drive 7 hours in one day for a 2.5 hour show. I didn’t know how to respond to that. For me, NYC has always been a day trip. (The day’s just a little longer now that I live in MA.) And honestly I’ve gone farther for a show. I traveled to London in the fall of 2005 to see Mary Poppins before I knew it would cross the pond. I mean, sure my friend was studying abroad in London so I had a place to sleep but my main priority was seeing Mary Poppins. Bumming around British pubs with her was a bonus. 

I don’t know how this passion/obsession started. I wasn’t involved with theater or dance as a child. I attended shows but until high school, when I could largely pay for tickets myself (or at least contribute a good chunk towards the cost) I only saw a handful of shows. 

I only know that I have loved theater for as long as I can remember. That I watch the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day parade for a glimpse of my favorite theatrical performers and I go crazy when shows past and present are featured. Watching the Tony’s for me is a reverent, almost holy experience. I pour over Playbill articles and interviews on the nominees the way a gambler does before putting it all on Fat Louis to win the 9th race of the day.

The passion has largely been hidden for most of my life. Sure, my family and close friends knew I loved the theater- when in doubt of a gift anything Broadway related was sure to go over big, but I don’t think they fully comprehended it. After all, I didn’t live in NYC, I didn’t come from a theatrical or artistic background, we certainly couldn’t afford to go to shows as a family (and I’m grateful for the sacrifices made so I could attend as many shows as I did those early years). So through high school it was a closet obsession. In college I let my music collection (virtually all soundtracks and show tunes) speak for itself but I didn’t elaborate unless pressed. I learned that while it’s cool to quote Ferris Bueller and Nine Inch Nails (or whatever music group was in vogue- remember soundtracks and show tune CDs?) it’s far less cool to quote from Damn Yankees and Kiss Me Kate. 

Now I embrace my passion. I regale friends with backstage stories and antics I read about via Playbill.com., and proudly have Hamilton lyric battles via Facebook, squeal with glee when finally the Wicked movie looks like it’s going to be a real thing (dear movie gods- please don’t screw it up!). I think Facebook helped, certainly it has for me. It seems like more people are into the theater than I realized or maybe it’s just because more of my feed is made up of those I’ve met via community theater. That’s the other thing. While not everyone in Community Theater may enjoy theater with the same intensity I do, either they understand to a degree or they simply let it be. That attitude helped me be more confident in bringing my passion to others outside the theater world around me.

Now I’ll anxiously countdown the minutes to the livestream of She Loves Me in front of my new in-laws and blast the Waitress soundtrack at work without care or at least without much care. Because I’ve come to realize, recognize and love that this passion I have is as much a part of me as my red hair, freckles and dimples. They are things that make me unique, who I am and things I never want to change.

5 Ways to Weather the Different Seasons of Your Creative Life

Melissa Bergstrom

  • OnStage Massachusetts Columnist

The phrase "work-life balance" has been talked about so much these days that it's become almost meaningless. Does balance in the life of a theatre artists even exist? Each day is so different from the one that came before it and the one that will follow that it seems nearly impossible to set out to strike that fabled "balance" we all seek. Over time, I've become less interested in balancing my creative work onstage and my personal life and more curious about how to make peace with the different seasons that my life in the theatre brings.

Here's a few strategies I've found helpful when trying to navigate my life with the different parts it contains--my work as a theatre artists, my day job, spending time with people I love, and being a healthy, whole person:

1. Accept that perhaps "balance" doesn't even exist.

I always start off with good intentions about how to keep things "balanced" and sane during a month of intense rehearsals or a tech week, but have to admit that often times, the quest for striking that "balance" only makes me more stressed. I set myself up to do the impossible--during a busy rehearsal schedule, if I try to also exercise as I do when I'm not rehearsing, continue to make home-cooked dinners, and be in bed by 10 pm, I'm bound to fail. Instead I've experimented with embracing the idea that life has seasons--some allow us to binge on Netflix and be in bed early and others mean that we lose a little sleep, eat a bit more take-out, and take a bit longer to answer our emails. And that's ok. 

2. Reach out to creative community to chat with others who share the unique experience of balancing theatre/life/day jobs.

When it comes to self-care during busy seasons of your creative life, there's not much that beats making connections with friends and colleagues that know the struggle is real. If possible, make a coffee date en route to a rehearsal to share some quality time with a fellow artist. If that's not realistic for your schedule at the moment, even sharing a daily text with a creative pal near or far can help make you feel supported. 

3. Unplug.

If you're like me, you like keeping up with the latest arts related news, podcasts, articles, books, music, etc. But when you are living through a full season of your theatre life, allow yourself to fall off the wagon for a bit. Often times when I'm running from a day job to a rehearsal to an audition, I find that I both love and need some silence as a way of staying relaxed and focused

4. Turn to some of the best books out there on creativity when you need some additional support/advice.

Don't reinvent the wheel when you need support! There are so many wonderful books out there that discuss the topic of creative/personal/work balance and offer practical tips that you can implement RIGHT NOW to help you glide a bit easier through the creative seas. A few of my favorites include The Artist's Way by Julia Cameron, Manage Your Day-to-Day: Build Your Routine, Find Your Focus, and Sharpen Your Creative Mind edited by Jocelyn K. Glei, and Big Magic by Elizabeth Gilbert. 

5. If you do still find yourself needing or wanting a bit less of a packed schedule, try being pickier about the projects you take on.

In the theatre, we're taught that to get anywhere, we need to be working all the time, on any work we can get, always and forever. We're told that we don't dare have the right to turn down a project or a role until we've become Tony material. I'm going call this conventional wisdom out and challenge the norm. I've started to step off that treadmill of "act/direct/write/design/produce as much as you can (even if it kills you)!" and my goodness, the relief is sweet. Am I working more often? Not necessarily. Am I starting to find myself choosing projects that I truly love and am willing to spend more time on? You bet. Believe you are worth being choosy for. 

I'd love to hear from you! What keeps your creative clock ticking during the very full seasons of your theatre life? Do you have any tips to share for readers who are looking to find a bit more "balance" and joy during all the seasons of their artistic pursuits? 

My Actor's Perspective: Part 1 - Before the Audition

Jennifer Kuzmeskas

  • OnStage Massachusetts Columnist

Here it is, one week till auditions…I’m nervous, but I keep telling myself it’s too early to be nervous so I try to play it cool.  I’ve researched the show, chosen the part(s) I’m interested in, chose an audition song and keep rehearsing it over and over again. Will it ever be good enough, is it what the director will be looking for, is it close enough to being “in the style of the show!?” I mean I know I can sing it in my car, but can I sing it in front of the audition committee?  Why does it always sound so different when you sing for other people?  

Aaahhhhh community theatre, such a rewarding and cruel place, all at the same time.  Before I get ahead of myself, how about an introduction, my name is Jennifer, I did a few community theatre productions when I was kid, got away from it for a LONG time and then fell back into it in the fall of 2006.  I caught the “bug” and theatre has been my second home ever since.  The world of community theatre is a place like no other; some of my closest friends are also my toughest competition, the director can be your best friend and auditioning for him/her can be worse than auditioning for a stranger, yet when all is said and done it’s an incredible experience. 

The Upstagers in Del Rio, TX

The Upstagers in Del Rio, TX

The idea of this column has been brewing in my head for quite a while. Community theatre is such a unique experience that so many of us share in and so many others wonder “why we do it” that I wanted to share what it’s like…day to day! For many of us the theatre is a place to relieve stress, to spend time with friends, create something we are passionate about and escape from everyday life for just a little while.  

As a community theatre actor/actress most of us also have full time jobs, families to take care of, doctor’s appointments, laundry, dinner to get on the table and so much more.  Yet, in the midst of an already busy life, we find the time to include 1-4 nights of rehearsal (we won’t discuss tech week yet), time to learn lines, time to learn music, time to learn blocking, a set building/painting night here and there, perhaps some time to gather props, design a playbill, sew costumes, design a poster and so much more.  Not only do we do all of that, but we call it fun…and mean it. 

In this blog I am going to follow my path beginning from pre-audition through performance (assuming that I make it onto the cast list, if not, this will end after auditions) and possibly a bit beyond.  I want to cover the nerves of auditioning, the reconnecting with former cast-mates along with the making of friends with new cast-mates, the trials and tribulations of the rehearsal process, the stress it can put on life, the excitement of performing and post show withdrawal. As is with the rehearsals, some posts will be longer than others, some will contain more content than others, but they should all share an experience and make you feel like you are taking this journey with me.

So back to it being a week before auditions. Logistically, I really need to make sure my theatre resume is up to date, I have a good head shot printed and I should check and see if I can fill out the audition form before I get there.  And that song, I need to make sure that song is ready. 

 

It All Started on a Napkin

Jennifer Butler

  • OnStage Massachusetts Columnist

As we think about everything going on in the world right now, it really goes to show that tomorrow is never promised. As I sit here, I write this and think about how my life is going to change. Something that I have had every Friday for 3 years is coming to an end.  Change they say is good, and in order to move forward, you must make a change. 

I have been struggling for the past two years trying to figure out what I want to do for the rest of my life. I volunteered and interned in several different places and everything I did there came back to me writing. I discovered that putting pen to paper made me happy and feel the most complete.  

Within the past year, I discovered that I was hardly close to where I wanted to be and I had to make changes in order to propel my life forward. You know the phrase: “The straw that broke the camel’s back”.  Yes, I had one of those moments.  I had finished working at a particular work place and knew when it was time to move on. I did not know where I wanted to go but I knew that I couldn’t stay where I had been. The moment occurred about 6 months after I had been re-acquainted with theater and became involved again.  It was then when I felt happy there and that the theater was my home away from home. 

People will often ask me “When did you become a writer” and I respond with “I have always been a writer.” It’s in my blood and part of who I am. From creating stories as a child, to winning awards in college, I really blossomed when I started getting involved with theater, which lead to me writing this blog. I feel lucky with every word that I write and am fortunate that it leads to pieces of mine that get posted online. Writing for this blog allows me to combine the two things that make me the happiest. Writing gives me a sense of peace when I feel like the world is turning upside down and theater gives me a place to go when I think the world is spinning out of control. 

The only unfortunate thing is that it doesn’t supply me with an income. Yet I write because I want to get better at it and because I feel the need to. Gloria Steinem once stated it best when she said “Writing is the only thing that, when I do it, I don't feel I should be doing something else” and that describes completely how I feel about writing.  Although I still need to find a day job to help pay the bills, I have come to realize that money isn’t everything. It is hard sometimes because I know I should be writing cover letters but want to write these blog posts about theater instead. 

Believe it or not, the first draft of this post was written on a napkin. That goes to show that writing is in my blood and that both theater and blog post ideas may pop into my head at any random moment. Lucky for me I have the opportunity to write for places such as this blog and doing the publicity for my local community theater. 

I have finally accepted that fact that I may be a struggling artist for the rest of my life and that I may never get a “day job” and that is okay too. However, whatever happens and no matter what tomorrow brings, there is one thing I know for sure. That whatever path I take, pen, paper, and Community Theater will be with me as I travel.  Right now I am at a good jumping off point in my life and it can only get better from here. 

 

Getting Out of the "Comfort Zone"

Liz Chirico

  • OnStage Massachusetts Columnist

That such a buzz phrase, “comfort zone”. It’s thrown around all the time and does anyone really know what it means? According to Webster’s Dictionary, comfort zone is defined as, “a place, situation, or level where someone feels confident and comfortable”. 

It’s really easy to be defined by what others see as the thing you do well and live in your own comfortable comfort zone bubble. Take me. Growing up, I was always told I could sing. Singing became my comfort zone. When I started auditioning for shows I always thought about myself as a singer first, then maybe an actor and lastly a dancer. If I found myself cast in a show I always told myself it’s because I can sing. I hesitated to try anything that wasn’t vocally-heavy for fear that I would not make the cut, that I would not succeed. 

My recent foray into a dance company brought me so far out of my element, my comfort zone was like a dot to me. Now I had nothing to fall back on; if I didn’t do well dancing at one rehearsal I didn’t have a vocal rehearsal the next day to boost my spirits, remind me that I was chosen for a reason. Instead it was a lot of questioning my worth, wondering if I could do this crazy thing and a whole mess of crying. 

That fear of not succeeding, of not being good is in all of us to some degree. It’s in me though to a large degree. And it sucks. Because that fear holds you back, keeps you in your comfort zone. There’s nothing wrong with knowing where your talents lie but if you don’t take risks once in a while, life can be kinda boring. Plus how will you ever find out if you have more talents if you don’t try something new? The fear takes some of the fun out of the process. It makes it harder to see the progress you are making (no matter how small) because you can only see yourself to compared with everyone else instead of looking at how far YOU have come.

I survived my first go-around with the dance company. I definitely wasn’t the best up there but that’s OK. I was up there. I didn’t quit, I didn’t retreat back to my comfort zone. Instead I pushed myself to widen my comfort zone. I am not naïve enough to think that 5 months makes me a dancer. But as I head into fall auditions I know I’m no longer just a singer.