Buyer Beware: The Case Against Getting an M.F.A.

Buyer Beware: The Case Against Getting an M.F.A.

If I were to tally up all the money I’ve made as an actor since getting my M.F.A., my basic calculations total less than half of what I owe for my degree.  This is with an Equity card that I’ve had for 15 years, and booking gigs on TV, in films, in commercials and onstage in a national tour.  

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Paving Your Own Path: Creating Your Own Work Puts You in Control

Paving Your Own Path: Creating Your Own Work Puts You in Control

What if, after coming home from a not-so-great audition, or a mind-numbing temp job, or a workshop where that big director kept forgetting your name, you were to sit down to your own creation?  A project all your own, where you called all the shots?  Something that made you feel that you were cultivating your own career?

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Help Me Re-make "The Music of the Night"

Help Me Re-make "The Music of the Night"

Cameron Mackintosh once said, when he announced the closing of the original Broadway production of Les Miserables, “I have also realized that I can’t have a crack at the Tony for Best Revival until I close the first.” This after pointing out that he wanted to take the musical out on a high note, “with audiences once again fighting for tickets,” as he had with Cats and Miss Saigon. The only one of his big four that he doesn’t seem to have felt this way about is The Phantom of the Opera, which celebrated 30 years on Broadway this past January, and looks all set to way beyond. Phantom being my favorite musical, I have a smug pride that it is unlikely that any other Broadway production will dethrone it for the title of “longest running in history.” At the same time, though, I have to wonder what that “crack at the Tony for Best Revival” would look like.

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"Whose Production is it Anyway?" : Violating Copyright in Theatre

"Whose Production is it Anyway?" : Violating Copyright in Theatre

During my 30 years in New York City I had the opportunity to see the original Broadway productions of many plays and musicals.  I have also had the unsettling experience of seeing many of those productions replicated elsewhere, without any credit given to the original director, choreographer or designers whose work has been copied. This creative plagiarism seems to have grown exponentially with increasingly easy access to bootleg videos of Broadway shows and the proliferation of YouTube.

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Working With Kids and Those Who Don't

Working With Kids and Those Who Don't

“Never work with animals or children.”  While W.C. Field’s quip has become a comic cliché, there are plenty of directors who live by those words of presumed wisdom.  I pontificated on the first subject in my column, “Sandy, Toto and Chowsie Walk into a Bar…”, so here I’ll address the second subject.  “I just don’t like kids, period.” is a common mantra among certain directors.  Some elaborate: “It’s too hard.  They don’t have the experience, they’re slow, they throw off the rehearsal schedule, they don’t have any technique or discipline, they’re unpredictable and their parents are a pain in the ass.”  

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A Chat with Glenn Slater: Giving Voice to Belmont Avenue

A Chat with Glenn Slater: Giving Voice to Belmont Avenue

“I had a very specific role in the show: to be the person who listened,” A Bronx Tale lyricist Glenn Slater told me.  In listening, he discovered the voice of Belmont Avenue.

A Bronx Tale opened on Broadway in December 2016; and now after 500 plus performances (and a North American Tour just announced), the show is still going strong.

I recently caught up with Slater by phone to discuss the show’s success and the creative process of adapting Chazz Palminteri’s popular film “A Bronx Tale” to Broadway.

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"In America, It's Better I am Told" : Immigration in Musicals

"In America, It's Better I am Told" : Immigration in Musicals

It is no surprise that musical theatre writers over the years have gravitated to the theme of immigration. Many of Broadway’s earliest artists, like Irving Berlin, Richard Rodgers, and Cy Coleman, were either immigrants themselves or born to immigrants. My great-uncle Harold Katz, who wrote the musical Happy Hunting as Harold Karr, was the son of a man who, as a boy, fled Romania with his family under circumstances similar to those faced by the residents of Anatevka in Fiddler on the Roof. And where does Tevye take his family at the end of that musical? America. Specifically, “New York, America.” The von Trapp family from The Sound of Music is based on a real family that ended up in Vermont.

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May I Suggest..."The Great Comet" as Travesty

May I Suggest..."The Great Comet" as Travesty

Again and again the show places some of the deepest truisms of the characters into their own mouths. When Mary says, “It’s now or never, my fate is slipping past me,” or Pierre says “None of us are great men, we are just caught in the wave of history”, they are clearly aware of the essential truth that they ought to know but don’t — at least not yet. Tolstoy lets us know that these things may be true of Mary and Pierre, but neither of them would ever think it themselves, much less say it.

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What is a Theatre Critic's Actual Job?

What is a Theatre Critic's Actual Job?

It is easy to see why some can feel such disdain for certain critics.  Theatre practitioners will spend large chunks of their lives pouring their hearts into something they care deeply about only to have a faceless writer sit behind their notepad to write down and publish all of the things that they have done wrong. Even someone on trial for murder has the opportunity to look their accuser in the eyes but we powerless theatre folk are left with nothing but the black and white words on a page or screen.  Someone going online and publically sharing all of the things that they don’t like about you… isn’t that what we call cyberbullying?  How different would reviews be if the critic had to present their opinions to the creative company who worked on a show?

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May I Suggest....'Hamilton' Revisited

May I Suggest....'Hamilton' Revisited

May I suggest, now that Hamilton: An American Musical’s place in the culture seems secure, that it may be time to look under the hood of this juggernaut long enough to learn how it works? A second look at the show seemed in order, but with the back row of its balcony selling for a cool $564 (base price, not scalper’s markup) I decided that Alexander Hamilton would not mind, and might even approve, if I foreswore the fiscal improvidence of shelling out that kind of money. Instead, I visited the Atlantic Record website for a free download of the libretto and opened my iTunes. The results were illuminating.

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Your Brain on Auditioning Part Two: Cavemen Didn't Audition

Your Brain on Auditioning Part Two: Cavemen Didn't Audition

By now you can see that many aspects of the actor’s life involve perceiving threat in a way that was useful only thousands of years ago, when our lives were at risk on a daily basis. In our modern world, especially in a profession such as acting where we are forced to compete for scarce resources, encouraged to compare ourselves to each other, primed to seek out negative information, and flooded with gossip and opportunities for social comparison, this brain behavior doesn’t serve us and can cause us very real physical and emotional stress.

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Your Brain on Auditioning Part One: The Post-Audition Agony Spiral

Your Brain on Auditioning Part One: The Post-Audition Agony Spiral

If you’re like most actors, you’ve probably experienced the dreaded Post Audition Agony Spiral: you started wondering what went wrong and then couldn’t stop going over and over the whole sequence of events in your head, questioning your choices and trying to find hidden meaning in everything the auditors said (or didn’t say).

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An Open Letter to Critics and Media Writers

An Open Letter to Critics and Media Writers

As a former actor and long-time acting teacher, coach, and director as well as an avid consumer of entertainment commentary and criticism, I’ve noticed a disturbing pattern among otherwise clearly educated and otherwise honorable and incisive critics, entertainment bloggers, podcast hosts and media journalists.  I’m talking about a persistent misunderstanding of what actors actually do that ranges from unwitting perpetuation of outdated terms to inadvertent stereotyping to misapplied critique to inexplicable ridicule all the way to aggressively unapologetic ignorance.

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The Universe Doesn’t Care if You Book The Blacklist: Actors and Magical Thinking

The Universe Doesn’t Care if You Book The Blacklist: Actors and Magical Thinking

I have a friend on Facebook who recently posted about an eerie phenomenon she was experiencing.  Every day she found herself checking a digital clock of some kind (an alarm clock, the clock in her car, a microwave, etc.).  The time was always some form of three repeated numbers: 1:11, 4:44, 5:55, etc.  She found this bizarre in the extreme—surely it was a sign of some kind, but what could it mean?


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When You Have a Nemesis: Actors and Envy

When You Have a Nemesis: Actors and Envy

Something terrible happened to me the other day, followed by something wonderful, and I am ashamed to tell you about both things. I debated before writing this blog post because I wasn’t sure I wanted you to know this about me, but ultimately I found that one of the bizarre urges that motivated me as an actor (namely, to reveal unsavory personal truths) also motivates me as a writer and advocate for actors. Perhaps you’ll recognize yourself in my pettiness, and perhaps you’ll tell me so, and we’ll both come out of it feeling less petty, less alone, and with a better understanding of human nature that will inform our work. That’s my intention, anyway, and the actor’s life is nothing if not a constant attempt to balance intention and uncertainty. So, with that in mind, gird your loins: this ain’t gonna be pretty.

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