Steven Sabel’s Twist on the Trade: Do The Show That You Know

This week I will open my 128th full-scale production as a producer/director. The group of artists working on this post-modern adaptation of Euripides’ “Trojan Women,” will become the 128th group of artists to hear me say – at every rehearsal and performance to come over the next three weeks – one of my most famous Sabelisms: “Do The Show That You Know!”

Having produced and/or directed 128 productions, I still hesitate to say I’ve seen it all. I’ve learned that’s the best way to ask for a situation you have yet to encounter. Nobody likes to face a situation they have not yet encountered. Familiarity is an essential part of success in our trade. Look how many directors and actors have chosen to work together time and again due to their familiarity with each other’s work. The history of famous director and actor teams goes back hundreds of years. Familiarity is the reason why theatre companies form and exist. It is an essential focus in the making of every major motion picture – especially today, when audience “familiarity” with certain brands leads to entire series of films featuring the same actors playing the same characters in sequel after sequel. It is the key to the success of any long-running sitcom, dramatic series, and even game shows, with audiences developing their familiarity with the hosts of the shows.

Humans crave consistency. With hundreds of millions of dollars on the line, film producers crave consistency too. Consistent talent, consistent performance, consistent work ethic, productivity, attitude, and most of all – consistent box office draw! The best and most sought after artists in every field of this trade – editors, sound engineers, lighting designers, special effects teams, make-up artists, costumers, actors, directors, you name it – are the people who are known for their consistency. They are the people who do the show that they know, consistently. They are a known commodity, and in this industry, where a known commodity can be worth gold, it is no wonder that a known commodity is always going to be considered for the job before taking a risk on an unknown.

Taking all of this into account, you would be surprised how many times I have watched an artist decide to stray away from familiarity and throw consistency to the wind while on stage in a performance. “Do The Show That You Know” is a pretty clear direction. It is straight forward. It contains only single syllable words. It even rhymes so conveniently. Yet there are actors – I’ve seen countless numbers through 128 shows – who just can’t seem to understand those six simple words. As I mentioned above, I hesitate to ever say I have seen it all, but I have seen a wide variety of actors do outlandish things in changing a performance after a show has opened.

Green Room Gary has been giving advice to his fellow actors throughout the production process, continues to do so in performance, and then also decides – since he obviously knows best – to make changes to his own performance as well. “When the director isn’t here, I’ll do it my own way,” says Gary.

Sam the Ham

Dorothy Drama and Sam the Ham have different motivations. When her best friend, Edna, and her Grandma Matilda are in the audience, Dorothy just can’t help but turn on that extra juice, and melodrama the bones right out of the text of the play! With sudden bursts of random emotion and much sawing of the air, Dorothy sets out to prove to her friends and relatives that she is indeed a serious actress. Sam has the same intent whenever his mother comes to the see the show, or even worse yet, when he has a potential love interest in the room. Then consistent performance be damned, because Sam is trying to impress a lady and win himself a date.

Isaac Ideas isn’t a bad fellow, but his “magnificent brainstorms” are a day late and a dollar short. Poor Isaac is just trying to be helpful when he arrives to the theater with new blocking in mind for an important scene. He isn’t trying to sabotage his fellow actors by presenting them with something they haven’t encountered before on stage, he’s just trying to make the show “better.” His pal, Brandon Brando, is just trying to keep things “real” when he decides to change a line or two to make them sound more “natural” and “true” to the character.

Last Night Norman is such a prankster. He just can’t help chatting with everyone back stage about anything and everything completely unrelated to the show at hand. He’s full of funny jokes and silly anecdotes, and thrives on being the class clown of the cast. On the last night of performances, Norman just can’t resist playing that little prank on his fellow actors, that he is oh so sure will help them forever remember closing night. He is always right. We never forget him…

These types of actors can be a terrible detriment to a performance. Changes of any kind to a performance should be made only with the knowledge of the stage manager, and only after thorough discussion with every actor involved in the scene. Anything less is disrespectful to all involved, and completely self-absorbed behavior. Whatever your great new idea is – if it wasn’t good enough for rehearsal, it isn’t good enough now.

On occasion there are unforeseen circumstances that call for required changes involving safety, or semantics, or sight lines, etc. There are occurrences on the stage, mid-performance, which sometime call for quick thinking, adjustment, and adaptation right on the spot. Props hate people, and they can often be the cause of these unforeseen moments. It’s live theater. Things happen. All the more reason you don’t want to be the person causing things to happen that are outside the realm of what was rehearsed and prepared for performances. If a prop sabotages a performance, we blame the theater spirits. If you sabotage a performance by making changes, we blame you.

Do The Show That You Know. Stick to the plan. Be consistent. It is what your fellow artists have become familiar with. It’s what they expect from you, and it’s a quality that will get you more work in the future.

Actors often ask me why I don’t make it a point to watch every performance of my productions. Part of that aspect of me is based in having other responsibilities to fulfill, and the nature of our trade which finds the director’s job complete after opening night. It is the stage manager’s show after that, and their job to maintain a consistent production. You think directors get upset when an actor changes things on stage? Hah! I fear any stage manager worth their salt on this issue, and you should too.

Secretly a key reason I often can’t bear to watch performances of my productions is because of actors like Green Room Gary, Dorothy Drama, Sam the Ham, Isaac Ideas, Brando Brando, Last Night Norman, and any variety of others who decide that they just can’t possibly show up to the theater on time, follow their preparation routine, warm up, get on stage, and do the show that they know. I don’t give director’s notes to actors once a show has opened. I shouldn’t have to. The show should be the same way I left it on opening night, if you will just Do The Show That You Know!


The Winners at the 50th Annual ‘LA Drama Critics Circle’ Awards Ceremony Held at the Pasadena Playhouse

The 50th Annual LA Drama Critics Circle Awards at the Pasadena Playhouse, Monday, April 8, 2019. (Photo by Better Lemons)

The LA Drama Critics Circle (LADCC) held their 50th Annual Awards ceremony at the landmark Pasadena Playhouse where Better Lemons was in attendance to live tweet the evening’s festivities and entertainment, Monday, April 8, 2019.

Wenzel Jones presided over the festivities, and Christopher Raymond served as music director with musical performances by Kristin Towers Rowles, Constance Jewell Lopez, and Zachary Ford.

There were four recipients of the 2018 Production award: Cambodian Rock Band (South Coast Repertory), Come From Away (Center Theatre Group/Ahmanson Theatre), Cry It Out (Echo Theater Company), and Sell/Buy/Date (Geffen Playhouse / Los Angeles LGBT Center).

Better Lemons’ Chief Operating Officer Stephen Box (Left,) Publisher Enci Box, and Playwright & Screenwriter Steven Vlasak at the 50th Annual LA Drama Critics Circle Awards at the Pasadena Playhouse, Monday, April 8, 2019.

The Antaeus Theatre Company received the most awards, with three of its productions winning a combined seven trophies. Celebration Theatre’s Cabaret took home six awards, the most awards for a single production, including one for Revival. Tom Hanks received a lead actor award for his performance as Falstaff in The Shakespeare Center of Los Angeles production of Henry IV in a competitive category. 17 awards were presented in other categories with 17 productions taking home the honors.

In its inaugural this year, the Theater Angel award was presented to Yvonne Bell in recognition of her “long career devoted to fostering theater in Los Angeles … [and] successful fundraising campaigns” to help open several cultural institutions, such as The Museum of Contemporary Art and the California Science Center.

Eight previously announced special awards were presented, including the Margaret Harford Award for sustained excellence in theater to Sacred Fools Theater Company and the Ted Schmitt Award for the world premiere of an outstanding new play to Lauren Yee for Cambodian Rock Band.

The LADCC was established in 1969  “to foster and reward merit in the American Theater and encourage theater in Los Angeles,” the LADCC site quotes from an announcement in the L.A. Times of that year.

Here is the list of award recipients as announced during Better Lemons’ live coverage on Twitter:

Featured photo by Enci Box – Theatre patrons in the courtyard of the Pasadena Playhouse for the 50th Annual LA Drama Critics Circle Awards, Pasadena, California, Monday, April 8, 2019. Enci Box contributed to this story and photos.


AUDITION: The Wedding Singer

Book by Chad Beguelin and Tim Herlihy
Lyrics by Chad Beguelin
Music by Matthew Sklar

Directed by Kristie Mattsson
Music Directed by Daniel Koh
Choreography by Niko Montelibano
Produced by Spencer Johnson

SYNOPSIS

Based on the hit Adam Sandler movie, The Wedding Singer takes us back to a time when hair was big, greed was good, collars were up and a wedding singer might just be the coolest guy in the room.

It’s 1985, and once a rock star wannabe, Robbie Hart, is now New Jersey’s favorite wedding singer. He’s the life of the party until his own fiancée leaves him at the altar. Shot through the heart, Robbie suddenly starts making every wedding as disastrous as his own. Enter Julia, a winsome waitress who wins his affection. But Julia is about to be married to a Wall Street shark, and, unless Robbie can pull off the performance of a decade, the girl of his dreams will be gone forever.

The Wedding Singer features a wacky ensemble with a dizzying array of fun, featured roles for actors who sing and dancers who act.

AUDITION DATES

Saturday, April 13, from 1:00 to 5:00 p.m (Stage)
Sunday, April 14, from 1:00 to 5:00 p.m. (Rehearsal Hall)

No appointment needed. Actors only need to attend one day of initial auditions.

CALLBACKS on Monday, April 15, from 6:00 to 11:00 p.m. (Stage)

You will be notified by email if you will be needed for callbacks.

PREPARE

For the vocal audition, please prepare two 16-32 bar musical theater selections, at least one of which needs to be in the style of the show (i.e. 80’s pop.) Please bring sheet music in the correct key with cuts clearly marked; an accompanist will be provided. Auditionees may be asked to only sing one selection based on time constraints. For this show, all singers must be comfortable singing in 80’s pop styles.

Dance audition will take place on the day of callbacks. A combination will be taught.

LOCATION

Santa Monica’s Morgan-Wixson Theatre, 2627 Pico Boulevard, Santa Monica, CA 90405. Street parking available. Venice Family Clinic’s parking lot is available on weekends and on weekdays after 6 p.m. Do not park at our neighbors AAMCO/Viking Motors or SGI or you will be towed.

PERFORMANCE DATES

June 29 through August 3, Fridays & Saturdays at 8:00 p.m. and Sundays at 2:00 p.m. Please note that actors MUST be available for all performances.

REHEARSAL DATES/TIMES

Rehearsals begin Sunday, May 12 and are held Monday through Thursday evenings from 7:00 pm to 10:00 pm, Saturdays from 1:00pm to 6:00 pm and Sundays from 6:00 to 10:00 pm. Actors are not called for all rehearsals – only rehearsals when they are being used for a scene.

BRING

Picture, resume and list of all conflicts for the rehearsal period (May 12 – June 29). All conflicts MUST be submitted prior to callbacks. If additional conflicts arise after casting, it may result in an actor being replaced.

CHARACTER DESCRIPTIONS

In reference to the character descriptions that follow—most characters we encounter currently are on the binary and are written with he/him or she/her pronouns and you will see that in the following descriptions. But, however limiting the descriptions are, our casting seeks to be as inclusive as possible and we invite gender non-conforming, gender fluid, transgender and non-binary actors to submit for the roles they most identify with.

We will also list race/ethnicity when specific to the character but are otherwise seeking all races and ethnicities; we encourage Arab, Asian, Black, Caucasian, Latino, Native, and Multiracial actors to audition for all roles. In addition, we will list disability when specific to a character, but are otherwise seeking actors with disabilities as well as non-disabled actors for all roles. Please let us know if you have any questions, concerns, or if there are any accommodations we can provide.

We are actively committed to casting an inclusive show that reflects the community.

CHARACTER BREAKDOWNS

This is a high energy show with many upbeat numbers. Accordingly, all cast will be expected to perform some degree of movement and dance.

Ensemble
We are seeking a wild, eclectic, brilliant assortment of brides, grooms, bridesmaids, groomsmen, banquet servers, wedding guests, parents, strippers, Wall Street executives, club goers, bartenders, waiters, priests, old folks, maitre’d, best men, bums, shopkeepers, engaged couples, airline agents, valets and Las Vegas impersonators including Cyndi Lauper, Mr. T, Billy Idol and others. The ensemble is a vital part of this show, chock full of hilarious, scene-stealing potential. Everyone is encouraged to audition and bring your most hilarious character choices.

Robbie Hart
The charismatic lead singer of the in-house wedding band in a chintzy wedding hall in New Jersey. A truly ‘nice’ guy that has the classic lead singer aura and personality. Also a bit of a dreamer. A true romantic at heart until his fiancée, Linda, leaves him at the altar and shatters him to pieces. Movement required.
Gender: Male
Age: 25 to 35
Vocal range: very strong, HIGH tenor (B2-A4, falsetto to C5) Note: Ability to play the guitar is a plus, but is not necessary.

Sammy
The bass player in the wedding band and one of Robbie’s best friends. The epitome of a Monster Ballad, Sammy is a total guy’s guy. However, beneath his bad boy bachelor antics, he is actually sensitive and very in love with Holly. Movement required, dancing ability a plus.
Gender: Male
Age: 25 to 35
Vocal range: Tenor/High baritone (C3-G4)

George
The wedding band’s keyboardist and one of Robbie’s best friends. He is sensitive, flamboyant and endearing. Out of all the characters, he is living life to his truest self. The perfect counterpart to Sammy’s super guy attitude. Movement required, dancing ability a plus.
Gender: Male
Age: 25 to 35
Vocal range: Tenor, including comfortable falsetto; must also be able to rap (C3-A4)

Julia Sullivan
A starry-eyed waitress at the banquet hall, she is a sweet and quirky “girl next door” in looks and personality. So in love with the idea of love, she gets engaged to her long term boyfriend, Glen, but, ultimately, truly falls for Robbie and is conflicted as to who to choose. Movement required.
Gender: Female
Age: 25 to 35
Vocal range: Strong and flexible Mezzo/Alto, must have versatility between belt and lighter head voice (A3-E5)

Holly
Julia’s cousin and also a waitress at the banquet hall. Holly is sassy, in control of her body and mind, and always up for a good time. Deep down she dreams of romantic fulfillment, but for now she’s having fun in looking for love in all the wrong places. She ultimately reignites the flames with her ex, Sammy. Dancing required.
Gender: Female
Age: 25 to 35
Vocal range: Mezzo/Alto, must belt high (A3-E5)

Glen Guglia
Julia’s fiancé. A Wall Street broker. Sexy, seductive, and charming. He is rich, shallow, and materialistic. He is a bit of a womanizer. Movement required, dancing ability a plus.
Gender: Male
Age: 30 to 40
Vocal range: Tenor/High baritone (D3-G4)

Rosie
Robbie’s grandmother who raised him. Motherly but adventurous and always trying to remain “hip” regardless of her age. Movement required, some dancing ability a plus. Performs a rap number with George.
Gender: Female
Age: 55 to 75
Vocal range: Alto, must be able to rap (C4-C5)

Linda
Robbie’s fiancée who leaves him at the altar. Keeps Robbie around as a back-up plan. Is more in love with the idea of Robbie being a rock star than she actually is with Robbie.
Gender: Female
Age: 20 to 30
Vocal range: Alto/Mezzo, maybe with a rock edge; must belt high (A3-D5)

Questions or requests for additional information should be directed to Kristie Mattsson at kristierutledge@gmail.com.

OTHER

Non-Equity, no pay


Steven Sabel’s Twist on the Trade: Tailor Your Career

Either your mother lied to you, or she was just flat out wrong. Though her intentions may have been the best, and her motives without suspect, nonetheless the damage has been done and you will only compound the problem unless you listen to this advice. Your “book” will be judged by its cover.

In a previous column, I covered the importance of having proper headshots. In last month’s column, I covered how important it is to be consistently working and generating content. These are both crucial aspects to how you will be judged by casting directors, agents, and others who may have a hand in the future of your career in this industry. Yes, the person at the desk when you arrive to an audition WILL say something to the casting directors inside the audition room if you give them reason. Those words can be the difference between you getting the role or getting the shaft. I can’t tell you the amount of times I have had an audition monitor come into the room to tell me things such as: “That person is weird, don’t cast them,” or “That person wouldn’t shut up in the lobby,” or even “Whatever you do, don’t cast that person, they were a real A-hole!”

In this instance, your mother was correct. You do not get a second chance to make a first impression, and there are several moments when first impressions are made in the audition process. It begins with your cover letter or email upon submission. Do not submit to auditions from your cell phone unless you have no other choice. Yes, it is important to submit to projects fast and early, but not at the expense of your first impression. You MUST tailor your first impression, and it begins with the first communication. If your cover letter is informal, full of typos, or otherwise slovenly, then that is exactly how it will be viewed. Take the time to sit at your computer and write a professional, well written cover letter or email to accompany your submission. Proof read it before sending. Brief and concise is good, but clean and proper is more important. Use proper forms of address, and please use proper punctuation. If you can’t pay attention to those simple details, you are demonstrating that you cannot pay attention to details in the script, in the rehearsal schedule, in the direction you receive, etc.

Tailor your resume to the project. That doesn’t mean you should pad your resume with lies. It means you should organize the elements of your resume so that you are properly highlighting your qualifications for the role you are submitting for. If it is a theatre project, move your relevant theatre credits to the top of your resume. If it is a musical, make sure you list your musical theatre credits first. If you are submitting to a classical production, be sure to prominently place your classical theatre training and experience where it can be valued. It is also a good idea to include a line or two about those aspects of your resume in your cover letter or email. Make sure you have properly spelled the titles of shows, characters, names, etc. You would be so surprised at how many resumes I have seen where the actors have listed “McBeth” as one of their theatre credits. Yeah? Yeah, and NO. No one can possibly take you serious if you don’t know how to spell the titles of shows you claim to have spent several weeks, or even months working on or in.

You may be the type of person who lives life overlooking little typos and grammatical errors as “common mistakes,” or “no big deal.” That’s all good and fine for you as a human, except for the simple fact that the goal in this industry is to be un-common-ly good in order to become a very big deal. If your cover letter or your resume contains careless typos and errors, you aren’t going to make it. Perhaps your mother’s basement back in Oklahoma would be a great place to return to in order to consider another career choice. Tailor your attitude to success.

Tailor your clothes! We have all heard it before, but it always bears repeating: An audition is a job interview. Dress for success. That doesn’t mean you have to arrive in a suit and tie or fancy dress in order to get the role, but you also can’t expect to be considered a professional in your trade, if you show up wearing flip-flops and a RVCA t-shirt, complete with a mustard stain courtesy of today’s 7-Eleven hot dog lunch. If you don’t have the time to properly prepare and dress for your audition, then you don’t have the time to commit to the project. That is exactly what you are telling the casting directors the moment you walk into the room. It’s that simple.

Dress appropriately. Be sure to dress nice, but not fancy; professional, but not uptight. Be sure to wear clothes and shoes that will allow you to move well and make strong physical choices. For guys, a suit and tie doesn’t allow for strong physical choices, unless the role is established that way. For girls, skirts and high heels are a terrible idea. You can’t make bold character choices if you are worried about your balance, or your skirt flying up. If you have to be pulling on your clothes to keep them up, or keep them down – don’t wear those clothes. The character isn’t going to be constantly checking to make sure their skirt is down, or their top stays up. Character shoes are fine, but those sexy boots with the three-inch heels are best saved for the club scene, not the audition scene. Both genders should definitely accentuate their physical attributes, but don’t flaunt them. No muscle shirts. Don’t be that tool. No excess cleavage. You’re selling your talent, not your body. You want them to assess your abilities, not stare at your bust line.

Tailor your monologue. Don’t show up with the same tired monologue you have been doing since you learned it in high school. Don’t just drag out that monologue you still know from when you played the leading role in that one college production. Learn something new and specific to help you land the job. In a future column I will elaborate on the number and types of monologues you should always be “carrying in your back pocket,” as I like to say, but for now, suffice it to say: if that old tired monologue hasn’t been landing you work…. Duh…. Throw it out and learn something new. Tailor it to the project if you can in some way, and in case there is any confusion about my “back pocket” analogy: don’t show up with script in hand. Ever.

Take control of your career path. Take control of your image and appearance as a professional artist. Being hip or cool, isn’t going to get you the gig. Showing a concentrated and professional work ethic right from the start – with a clean and proper cover letter, a well-tailored resume, and clothing that bespeaks professionalism and hygiene – says to the casting director, the agent, the manager, the contracting producer, and everyone else on the job, that you are a committed and dedicated artist worthy of hiring and working with.


Announcing the Formation of the OC Theatre Guild

The OC Theatre Guild has officially been founded and formed by an acting Council consisting of the following Orange County Theatre community members:

Amanda Demaio, President
Kristin Campbell, Vice President
Oanh Nguyen, Secretary
Tamiko Washington, Treasurer
Brian Newell, Brian Page, and Jeff Lowe as Council Members

After years of development and consideration, the OC Theatre Guild is prepared to move forward with its mission to nurture, support, and promote live theatre in Greater Orange County. The OC Theatre Guild is inclusive and open to all to join in making our theatre communities a better place for everyone, cast, crew, theatre organizations, and audiences.

Memberships are available as both an Individual at $50, and an Organization/Producer at $250.

Interested parties can sign up at www.OCTheatreGuild.org

Membership brings with it an invitation to help shape and enjoy many short terms and long term goals including:

Individual Membership:

Support of the OC Theatre Guild and its mission
Theater ticket discounts
Free or discounted admission to industry workshop and events
Membership vote for OC Theatre Guild board members
Recognition on OCTheatreGuild.org
Expanded networking opportunities

Organization Membership:

Support of the OC Theatre Guild and its mission
Cross -Promotion, collaborative marketing efforts like the Program Inserts for all participating member theaters
Participation in the Annual General Season Auditions
Access to post on the OC Theatre Guild Facebook page
Consideration for the Annual OC Theatre Guild Awards Ceremony
Membership vote for OC Theatre Guild board members
Recognition on OCTheatreGuild.org
Expanded networking opportunities

Becoming a member will also allow an individual to self-nominate for the inaugural OC Theatre Guild Board. The Board is responsible for approving all Guild plans and activities, giving one an opportunity to help shape OC Theatre as a whole. Those interested in serving on the board can self-nomination through OCTheatreGuild.org by March 15, 2019. Voting for these positions will begin April 1, 2019.

For more information visit OCTheatreGuild.org


Steven Sabel’s Twist on the Trade: Content Equals Character

We were all recently reminded that it was Martin Luther King Jr. who famously dreamed of a world where we would all be judged by the content of our character, but in our industry, artists are judged rather by the amount and quality of their generated content. Content equals character in a world where online presence is often the key to getting the job.

Whether we like it or not, the norm of the modern age of entertainment is to judge an artist by the amount and quality of the online content they can continue to generate. Relevant content equals relevance in the industry and viability as a marketable commodity. As an entertainment industry professional, you are a commodity. Or, you are not. We have all heard the stories about people getting work because of their large social media followings, YouTube subscriber base, or viral content. Go viral, or go extinct. Create a high profile, build an online presence, generate constant content, or slide into the oblivion of just another fantasy hobbyist. Get serious, or seriously reconsider your choice of profession.

Think about it. You are a business. Your commodity is you. You are your product and you are selling a service. In order to succeed in business, you must build your marketing machine, and your marketing machine must include an online presence filled with relevant content for prospective customers to seek, find, and assess before they will purchase. In today’s age, nobody purchases anything or uses any service without first researching the company or the product – even if all that entails is posting to the “hive mind” for recommendations of where to eat, what to buy, or who to use for a needed service. I won’t eat at a new restaurant, if they don’t have a website with a menu, photos, and reviews. Would you?

As entertainment professionals, we cannot expect that anyone will hire us if we are a complete unknown without a relevant online presence. If you don’t have a website, you don’t exist. If all you are is a collection of personal social media accounts, you are no different than your cousin, Cecil, who works at the canning factory back home in Wisconsin. Get real. Google yourself. I guarantee that casting directors will before they offer you a job. What will they find? Your personal Facebook page? Your Instagram account?

If you don’t have a fan page and a website associated with you as a commodity, then you are not a commodity. How serious can you really be about your professional career if you can’t take the time to register a domain name and build a simple website? Or if you’re completely tech illiterate – get a friend, bribe a friend, or pay a friend to build a site for you. Look at the major professionals whose careers you wish you could have. Assess what they all have in common when it comes to their online presence and generating relevant content. Most of them have people who do it for them, but until you are able to hire a marketing team – you are your marketing team.

If you don’t have available content associated with your career – you don’t have a career.

What you have is a fantasy life – no different than your best hometown friend, Sallie Mae, who you left behind back in Nebraska to become the manager of the local mini mart. If you happen to be the manager of a mini mart here in LA, but you’re not using every spare hour striving to demonstrate that you are something more than a fresh-off-the-bus fantasy player – then Sallie Mae has it all over you, because she isn’t paying $800 per month to rent a room with five other people in a three bedroom apartment in Koreatown with one bathroom. In fact, Sally Mae is laughing at you from her three bedroom, two bath house in Omaha, that (according to a Zillow search) she can get for $1,000 per month.

Get real. Get serious, or you might as well move back to Nebraska. If your only online presence is your personal social media accounts, you are not a professional business person – you’re a hobbyist. In this world, you are what you do. If all you do is post about drinking at local bars with friends – your social media presence says you are a bar fly, not an industry professional. If all you do is post about political issues that interest you – you are a gadfly, not an industry professional. If all you do is post about that great restaurant you ate at last night – you are a wanna-be food critic. You are not an entertainment industry professional.

Entertainment industry professionals post about the work they are doing – even when they do not currently have any employment in the industry. Remember my favorite Sabelism: you have to do the work to get the work. True professionals will post about anything and everything they are doing to better their career. They post about acting classes they are taking, auditions they are preparing for, new physical workouts and diet regimens they are committing to in order to enhance their physical viability for the roles they wish to play. At the very minimum, true professionals are posting about new scripts they are perusing, monologues they are learning, accents they are perfecting, skills they are acquiring, or industry books they are reading to learn more about their craft.

When they do have work, true professionals are generating content about that work. They are posting about learning their lines, studying their scenes, doing their research on their project’s time era, setting, hairstyles, clothing, manners, and any other thing that can assist their backstory and the creation of a viable character. They post about rehearsals. They post from the set while on break from filming. They post behind-the-scenes looks into their processes. They provide hints about their costuming or props, and they sell themselves as professionals on the job. Even when they are not on the job of fulfilling a role or a contract, they are on the job of getting more jobs by constantly generating content to demonstrate that they are true serious professionals.

True professionals post about the projects they are working on – promoting themselves and whatever it is they are doing day and night. The best way to market your product and services to new potential customers, is to promote the work you are currently doing for existing customers. It is far easier to generate relevant content when you are working, and far more important too, if you want to keep the string of work flowing. When you book a gig, it isn’t an excuse to take a break from doing the work, but should rather serve as the impetus for doing even more work to line up the next project.

Build and fill your website. Create a public fan page. Flood your sites with relevant content. Do your best to be the only Joanie Jones or Sam Smith on the first page of a Google search. Content is character, and if your dream is to make a living in this industry, you must know that you will be judged by your content, or lack of it….


The Winners at the 29th Annual LA STAGE Alliance Ovation Awards

The 29th Annual LA STAGE Alliance Ovation Awards were presented on Monday, January 28, 2019, at the Theatre at Ace Hotel in Downtown Los Angeles where 36 awards were bestowed on theater productions, producers, directors, artists, and technicians.

Sixteen different Southern California theatre companies won thirty-six awards, including the Center Theatre Group for “Soft Power“, Rogue Artists Ensemble and East West Players for “Kaidan Project: Walls Grow Thin,” the Bootleg Theatre for “Theater Movement Bazaar’s Grail Project,” the Geffen Playhouse for “Ironbound,” “Sell/Buy/Date,” and “Skeleton Crew,” the La Mirada Theatre for the Performing Arts for “South Pacific” and “Ain’t Misbehavin’,” the Celebration Theatre  for “Priscilla Queen of the Desert,”  and  The Echo Theater Company  for “Cry it Out.” A Noise Within received the Best Season Award  for “A Raisin in the Sun,” “A Tale of Two Cities,” “Henry V,” “Mrs. Warren’s Profession,” “Noises Off,” “The Madwoman of Chaillot.”

Members of The Kilroys, hosts of the 29th Annual LA STAGE Alliance Ovation Awards at the Theatre at Ace Hotel in downtown Los Angeles, Monday, January 28, 2019. Photo by Monique A. LeBleu.

The Ovation Honors, which recognizes outstanding achievement in areas that are not among the standard list of nomination categories, were awarded to Adrien Prevost (Music Composition for a Play, Kaidan Project: Walls Grow Thin, Rogue Artists Ensemble co-produced with East West Players) and Brian White, Sean Cawelti, Greg Ballora, Morgan Reban, Jack Pullman, and Christine Papalexis (Puppet Design, Kaidan Project: Walls Grow Thin, Rogue Artists Ensemble co-produced with East West Players).

The Center Theatre Group presented the 2018 Richard E. Sherwood Award to writer, comedian, and performance artist Kristina Wong, which also includes $10,000 endowed by the Sherwood family for innovative and adventurous artists.

Wong, who took the unique opportunity of this night to announce her candidacy for Wilshire Center Koreatown Neighborhood Council Subdistrict 5 Resident Representative, said in acceptance, “In this line of work there’s a very fine line between being a madwoman and a visionary. It is so validating to be recognized as the latter by this vibrant LA Theatre community that has made me the performance artist slash political candidate that I am today.”

The Kilroys came with their message to the theater community at large to encourage the hiring and support of more women, trans, and non-binary artists in theater in order to achieve gender balance. Pulitzer Prize-winning playwright, Paula Vogel, offered words of encouragement to the theater community as well, aligning with The Kilroys message of the evening with “The sooner produced, the sooner prolific.”

This year’s show, held at the glorious landmark United Artists 1927 movie palace that is now the Theatre at Ace Hotel, was directed by Artistic Director of Coeurage Theatre Company Jer Adrianne Lelliott, also featured live performances including by women’s choral group Vox Femina.

The Ovation Awards is annually produced by LA STAGE Alliance, “a non-profit organization dedicated to building awareness, appreciation, and support for the performing arts in Los Angeles” and companies DOMA Theatre CompanyUCLA School of Theater, Film & Television, F&D Scene Changes Ltd., USC School of Dramatic Arts, Bakers Man Productions, Venture Hill Entertainment LLC, Seven Waves Entertainment LLC, Requiem Media Productions LLC, Variety, and Ken Werther Publicity sponsored the event.

Here’s the complete list of winners. For more information visit LAStageAlliance.com

The awards show was broadcast live on YouTube and Facebook, in case you missed the show or would like to relive it.

Featured top photo: Rachel Myers accepts her Ovation Award for Scenic Design (Large Theatre) for “Skeleton Crew” (Geffen Playhouse) at 29th Annual LA STAGE Alliance Ovation Awards, Theatre at Ace Hotel, Downtown Los Angeles, Monday, January 28, 2019. Photo by Monique A. LeBleu.


Marsha Hunt, Actor, Activist and Survivor

In today’s volatile political and social climate, actors and celebrities are often as well known for their causes as for their movies and plays. Angelina JolieOprah WinfreyYoko Ono, and Alyssa Milano, to name just a few, are known for numerous foundations and humanitarian causes, for speaking up and out, and for making huge financial donations. It seems as if this is a new development, due to the omnipresent information that fills our screens regarding the famous. However, if you travel a little further back in time you find Jane Fonda fighting the Vietnam war, and prior to that, Audrey Hepburn leaving acting to focus on humanitarian work for UNICEF. The intersection of arts and activism is not new, and it doesn’t always have clear cut benefits for those who engage in it. Especially in certain eras, morals and integrity stood in direct opposition to fortune and popularity. Many who stood up for the former ended up fading in the latter. For those who aspire to use public platforms to create and facilitate change, Marsha Hunt is a person to both honor and emulate.

Marsha Hunt is a retired actress and activist. She is 101 years old and still lives in her beautiful home in the San Fernando Valley. She has led an amazing life, both as an incredibly gifted and intelligent performer and as a forward thinking activist championing both individual rights and institutional evolution. Everyone should know her name, her unique voice and be aware of her legacy. This article serves simply as an introduction to her incredible life and work. It is impossible to condense all that she has created and stood for into one piece. I’ve included numerous links and additional information at the end of this post.

Ms. Hunt was born in Chicago in 1917. She did it all. While training as an actor, she began to work as a model, becoming one of the industry’s highest paid by 1935. Although she wanted to do theater, she moved to Los Angeles in 1934 at the age of 17 and was initially signed by Paramount, where she starred in several films. Even at this tender age, she started to assert her rights. She refused to do pin up photos (known as “cheesecake” and “leg art”) and did not take part in the social party scene. She was starting even then, to find her own voice and to stand up for her values. Although she showed promise, Paramount released her from her contract after a few years. She freelanced for a while before ending up at MGM, where she stayed on contract through 1945. Notable films include Pride and Prejudice and Blossoms in the Dust. She also starred in the only wartime film to acknowledge the Holocaust, None Shall Escape (1944). While she did not become an A list star, she worked constantly as a supporting actor in quality films. During the war she also sang on USO tours and developed a career in radio. She appeared in over 50 films in her career, over the course of several decades.

Ms. Hunt’s film career came to an abrupt halt when she was caught up in the Communist witch hunt of the McCarthy era. Ms. Hunt was and continues to be outspoken, with a liberal belief system that she guards fiercely. Ms. Hunt, along with her second husband, screenwriter Robert Presnell Jr., were so disturbed by the actions of the House Un-American Activities Committee (HUAC) that they joined the Committee for the First Amendment which was formed in 1947 and made up of many A list actors and Hollywood players. The group went to Washington to protest the hearings and produced Hollywood Fights Back, a star-studded radio program which was co-written by her husband.

Like many other notable actors and screenwriters who dared to stand up to the government and studio system, Ms. Hunt’s career came to a complete stop in Hollywood. She was asked to denounce her activities if she wanted to find more work and she steadfastly refused. In 1950, Hunt was named as a potential Communist or Communist sympathizer (along with 151 other actors, writers and directors) in the anti-Communist publication Red Channels. Though she would continue to work through her 90s, the blacklist effectively stopped her ascent in major motion pictures.

Not one to sit still however, Ms. Hunt simply knocked on other doors, returning to her first love; theater. She made her Broadway debut in Joy To The World, in March of 1948. She continued to go between theater, working both on Broadway and in Los Angeles, television and radio for the rest of her career. She starred in the first live televised Shakespeare play, playing Viola in Twelfth Night. In 1950 she appeared on the cover of Life Magazine as the star of the Broadway play, The Devil’s Disciple. In 1987 she even appeared in an episode of Star Trek! In addition to opening up time for theater, the blacklist also opened up her time for activism. This was not a new avenue for her to travel. She had worked throughout the war years at the Hollywood Canteen dancing and socializing with service men, especially on Saturday nights, when no one else wanted to. But, after the blacklist, the world opened up to her. As she stated in an interview with Film Talk in response to the question:

“How did you get involved in all the charity work you did for so many years?”
When I had so much free time because I wasn’t allowed to act, I discovered the outside world. I went around the world with my husband and I came back as, what I called, a planet patriot. I fell in love with the planet, not just my country, but all of us. I learned about the United Nations which was right here in this country and I spent twenty-five years working as a volunteer on behalf of the UN, I worked on the Year of the Child, international cooperation, and made a documentary film during World Refugee Year with fourteen stars appearing in it to tell the stories of different refugees. There were still twenty-five million people floating around the world, stateless, with no travel papers, no identity papers, no work permits – fifteen years after World War II ended. The United Nations was trying to get the governments to open their borders and let their fair share of refugees in, so I made this film to acquaint Americans with it. It was very rewarding.

In addition to world wide charity work, Ms. Hunt made a huge difference right in the San Fernando Valley, opening the first homeless shelter for women and children. This is especially poignant because her own baby did not survive. During the turmoil of the McCarthy era, she gave birth to a baby girl, born prematurely, who later passed away. This was a true heartbreak for her and she did not have any other children.

Ms. Hunt’s creative spirit is expressed in numerous ways. In 1993 she published The Way We Wore … a beautiful coffee table book detailing fashion of the 1930s and 1940s. All of the photos are of her, in glorious outfit after glorious outfit. Many are studio shots used as publicity for her 50 movies, some are fashion shots for the designers. Each photo is explained and detailed by Ms. Hunt in her own charming manner. I actually met Ms. Hunt when I was directing and costuming a play set in the 1940s. She lent us clothes, making sure that each piece was truly representative of who would wear it. Her knowledge of fashion rivals many who made it their life’s work. Her generosity of spirit was on display even in such limited contact.

One of the most charming surprises, but one that goes to the heart of Ms. Hunt’s belief system is the song that she wrote about love and marriage equality for same-sex couples, titled Here’s To All Who Love. She wrote it at age 95, and it has become an anthem at marriage ceremonies. She wrote it as a gift and it is has been received as one.

There is a documentary by Roger Memos about Marsha Hunt. It had a short run in 2015 but in order to recut it for streaming services, Mr. Memos is raising funds. The documentary was filmed in collaboration with Ms. Hunt and features countless interviews, clips and insight. It is a labor of love and an amazing project. If you would like to read more about the documentary you can check out the Facebook page. If you would like to donate to the GoFund account to help with the sound mix, closed captioning, the film’s website and the film trailer, please click here.

In preparation for this article, I sent Ms. Hunt some questions to answer via email. Rather than edit them, I will share them with you as is.

Marsha being surprised by the crew of her documentary for her 75th anniversary. She is in her late 90s in this photograph.

What similarities do you see in the political climate today and during the 1940s and 1950s? Are there differences that you feel are more or less dangerous? 
At 101 years of age I am not as well informed as I once was. But of course I favor, as always, the most peaceful, most even handed solution to problems.

I don’t know if you would remember, but we have actually met! You were extremely generous in helping me costume a play that I directed, set in the 1940s. I came over and you lent us clothing and gave me a copy of your book, which I treasure. How do you feel that fashion (or the lack of it) affects women’s power and collective voice? I have been watching the new congress and all of the new younger and female members of the House in their bright clothes and fashion forward choices. Does this, in your opinion empower or diminish them?
I think there is an effect but it’s hard to define. I think how well, how effectively, a woman legislator dresses can tell us something about her IQ, the effective, the becoming, the appropriate, which then empowers them. I don’t think “fashion” diminishes unless it’s extreme – then it can be negative, but I think that’s pretty rare. I guess women in government dress without “headlines’. If they were fashion plates it would be distracting from their effectiveness in what they are there to do. It would become the wrong topic.

What do you want to tell women and actors who find that their activism is more important to them than their acting careers? Do you think it is worth it, if being known for your politics is hurting your castability. Do you think that is a truism, or simply a fear?
When you take positions you lose some people just as you gain others. On matters of importance to me, it is worth it.

What role do you think that the unions should play in helping actors become activists? Should the union be neutral or an active partner? (NB: Ms. Hunt was active in SAG prior to the blacklist and served on the board)

The union is there to protect and help the actor so when one’s union takes a position the individual is spared blame or credit for it. At that extent we are protected by our unions.

Do you see any positive aspects to social media as it it used today? Do you see it as a danger (do you not care about it at all??)
The internet/social media is a way of “getting it out there” but then nothing remains private including opinions.

What changes would you like to see, both in the nation and in the entertainment/film industry, in regards to women specifically.
The changes in the entertainment/film industry ideally would be that it that it be an open opportunity to write, direct, produce whether a woman or a man.

Sweet Adversity Documentary:
Review

Book website:
The Way We Wore

Links to additional articles:
NPR: Actress Marsha Hunt, 100, Has Matters Of Principle
Movie Maker: Marsha Hunt at 100: The Actress Recalls the Blacklist, Film Noir and Being Cast in Gone With The Wind
IMDB bio
British Film Institute: Marsha Hunt: American girl, Un-American woman, upstanding centenarian
LA Times: Actress Marsha Hunt survived the blacklist without apologizing for her activism
Film Talk: Marsha Hunt: “MGM let me play absolutely everything, the studio gave me such joy”
Huffington Post: Marsha Hunt Pens ‘Here’s To All Who Love’ Gay Rights Anthem

Video:
Marsha discusses her career and the Hollywood Blacklist


Steven Sabel's Twist on the Trade: Get Resolved

A new year, and everybody is talking, tweeting, posting, snap-gramming, and insta-chatting about their New Year’s Resolutions. I find it ironic that we wait until Dec. 31 to get resolved about things in our lives which obviously need resolving every other day of our year, but are then ignored. When it comes to your craft, you better resolve yourself to make some kind of effort every single day to better your chances of success, or you might as well resolve yourself to a lifetime of waiting tables, babysitting, dog-walking, customer greeting, Ubering, or whatever it is you’re currently doing to pay your bills. For that matter, if you have resolved yourself to a life of driving other people around for money while they ask you questions such as: “Oh, are you trying to be an actor?” and “Are you doing that ‘acting’ thing?” then you might as well resolve yourself to Lyfting in a city that isn’t so damned expensive, and leave Hollywood behind you.

If it takes the new year to encourage you to resolve yourself to making more effort each day to advance your entertainment career, then so be it. Nonetheless, if you want to make it, you are going to have to set a new resolution every day. Every day!

So many of us have taken that “day job” to help us pay our bills, and then allowed it to derail our efforts to make a living through our craft. So many of us get overwhelmed by our “adulating” responsibilities that we forget to concentrate our available time and energy toward at least improving our craft. Every day. You have to do the work to get the work.

You absolutely have to resolve yourself to doing at least one important thing every day toward perfecting your craft and advancing your career hopes. If you want to escape Uber hell, then you have to be constantly working toward that escape – one spoon full of earth at a time, if necessary, to dig your way out of the restaurant server servitude and the like.

While you are reading this, ask yourself right now what you have done today to advance your entertainment career, and then resolve yourself to set an immediate plan to do something more before the day is over.

Resolutions are such a curious thing. The word itself has so many profound meanings. We commonly adhere to the most prevalent meaning: to be earnest in a decision; determined. Yet to resolve also means to separate into parts, or to break up; even “disintegrate.” Perfect. Then as artists it should be our goal to resolve the obstacles in our path to success. Separate them into parts. Break them up, and accomplish them one at a time, every day. Resolve to eventually disintegrate them.

Additional meanings of resolve include: to transform by any process; reduce by mental analysis; to deal with conclusively; to clear away or dispel; answer.

Certainly. If you can’t disintegrate an obstacle, then resolve it into something else in order to resolve the problem. Here’s the problem with most people – not just artists: They spend 90 percent of their time doing what it takes in order to provide the means necessary to do what they want to do with the other 10 percent of their time. That may be true for you, but it doesn’t change the fact that you need to spend 100 percent of your energy toward your goals during that 10 percent of time available to you to pursue your craft.

Listen to plays or books about the craft on tape, or podcasts about your art while you drive around waiting for that next customer who needs a ride. Read a play or a screen play on your breaks or lunch hours. Turn off the LuLoo at night in favor of practicing a new audition monologue, or perfecting the one you have that hasn’t been winning you any roles lately. Don’t spend time caught in the Flix Net, binge watching the latest series. Watch documentaries about your craft, and the best people who have succeeded in the craft. Learn from them. Here’s something they all have in common: they did the work to get the work.

Get resolved.

In chemistry, resolve means to separate into “optically active components.” Nothing could be more clear. You have to be able to actively “see” the components to each and every goal. You cannot reach any point without knowing how to get there, and crossing the countless points in between. That requires seeing the points in between with a clear plan about how to traverse them. When we resolve an image, we “separate and make visible the individual parts.” These principles of optics are important to pursuing your craft – one facet of the spectrum at a time, if need be.

In music we “resolve” a chord, or a harmony section from dissonance to consonance. If you are not resolved to pursue your craft every single day, you have cognitive dissonance about your chances of making a living through your art. Resolve to create some consonance between your dreams and your actions. Get busy.

Work doesn’t always have to be work. We are creative people. We can create ways to enjoy doing the work. Instead of inviting that fellow actor friend out for drinks, invite them over for a bottle of wine to share monologues. Perform for each other. Give each other notes. Help each other grow as performers. If you are writers, then share some pages with each other of what you are currently working on. Give each other feedback. Advance the draft just one step further…..Every day!

Cartoon of the Algonquin Round Table by Al Hirschfeld. Clockwise, from the bottom left: Robert E. Sherwood, Dorothy Parker, Robert Benchley, Alexander Woollcott, Heywood Broun, Marc Connelly, Franklin Pierce Adams, Edna Ferber and George S. Kaufman. In the background, left to right, Lynn Fontanne, Alfred Lunt, Frank Crowninshield, and Frank Case, manager of the Algonquin Hotel.

It’s 2019 – the 100th anniversary of the founding of the Algonquin Round Table. The new Roaring Twenties are upon us! When you plan that next dinner party, become your own John Peter Toohey, and create your own Round Table of artists. Do acting exercises with each other, play theater games to keep your skills sharp, and read plays or screen plays out loud together. Plan your next production, Perform scenes and monologues together, and for each other, to learn from each other and improve your craft. Write. Share ideas. Work on accents together.

Resolve yourself to host a theme party for your industry friends. Choose a genre of theatre or film to inspire your theme. Choose a playwright, and ask everyone to come to the party prepared to do a scene or monologue from one of the plays. Choose an accent for the evening, or make it a game throughout the night that every hour on the hour someone draws a new accent out of a hat, and everyone has to do their best to maintain it for the next hour.

We can create ways to have fun doing the work, but we must be resolved to be diligent in our continued pursuit of our craft, and we must stay resolved; whether it is Jan. 1, or Feb. 1, or March 10, or July 29, or tomorrow. And tomorrow, and tomorrow…


L.A.Drama Critics Circle to Celebrate Its 50th Annual Awards Show in 2019

2019 will bring Los Angeles Drama Critics Circle (LADCC) into its 50th year with a new season of Los Angeles theatre, and with it a new Board.
The 2019 Circle’s board now includes President Terry Morgan of Stage Raw and Talkin Broadway, Vice President Jonas Schwartz of TheaterMania and ArtsInLA, Treasurer Hoyt Hilsman of The Huffington Post, Co-Secretaries Erin Conley of On Stage & Screen and Jenny Lower of Stage Raw, and Web Content Editor Ellen Dostal of BroadwayWorld Los Angeles and Musicals In LA.
The LADCC will celebrate its 50th Annual Awards Show in 2019 to honor excellence in Los Angeles theater, with nominees, venue, and date of the ceremony to be announced soon.
Founded in 1969, The LADCC currently includes 20 critics who cover productions across Greater Los Angeles and the awards show it typically in the latter part of January.
The LADCC and greater theatre community are still feeling the recent loss of member and longtime theater and arts critic, Shirle Gottlieb, in 2018. Gottlieb was a member of the Los Angeles Drama Critics Circle “since 1999,” according to the site.
Stay tuned for more announcements the LADCC 50th Annual Awards Show in 2019 here and on Better Lemons Twitter and Instagram social media @betterlemons, as well as LA Drama Critics @LADramaCC.


Steven Sabel's Twist on the Trade: A Head Above The Rest

Most head shots are horrible. Mine is. My headshot is a perfect example of a number of things that are wrong with most headshots. Before I get into all that is wrong with my headshot, and many headshots I see on a regular basis, let me give you the really lousy and lazy reasons I don’t have a better headshot. I have no excuse. I know several very good photographers who take fantastic headshots, who would give me a great price for a setting session with multiple looks. I don’t want to do the work. I don’t want to take the time to schedule the session, choose the looks, decide a location, and drive my ass to the location to pose for photographs. I hate posing for photographs. It’s a good thing then I’m not trying to build a career in front of a camera. I always laugh out loud at actors seeking film careers, who say they hate posing for pictures. It is sort of a requirement of the trade.

After the arduous work of having to pose for photos in my favorite clothes in front of cool locations, I don’t want to have to filter through the scores of photos to narrow them down to the best selection. I mean, I don’t want to spend that much time focused on how my own face looks on film. It’s a good thing I’m not out there trying to land a national commercial. I don’t want the anxiety of having to choose just one photo to be my commercial look, and one photo to be my comedy look, and one for dramas, and one for stage – it’s just too much stress! Lucky for me, I’m a producer/director, and those rare times when I do get on stage or (God forbid) in front of a camera, it’s for my own productions. I don’t have to submit headshots to anyone…

My horrible headshot

I can actually remember the days when the industry standard was to submit hard copy black and white 8 x 10s. I remember composite cards, or “comp cards” for actors: an 8 x 10 composite of multiple black and white shots in different looks. Only print models really use them anymore. If I recall my own comp card, it contained a headshot in the center, surrounded by one shot of me as a gang member, one in business attire, one “sporty” look, and one of my silly grin with a can of generic peanuts in my hand. The goal was to get into the room by showing your various “looks.” Fast forward to less expensive color printing, and suddenly the industry standard was color 8 x 10s, and black and white comp cards disappeared. Show them that beaming white Procter & Gamble smile to get yourself a call, and bring your portfolio of looks with you in case they ask for them.

   The digital age changed everything about headshots, and I mean everything. Most importantly, digital technology has changed how producers and casting directors view headshots. It used to be that they received them in the mail in giant manila envelopes. They (or some assistant of theirs) opened the envelopes one by one, removed the contents, and immediately had your photo, your resume, and your trite little cover letter right in their hands all at once. They were seeing actors for the first time in full 8 x 10 color print, one at a time. Not anymore.

Bring on the digital thumb nail. In today’s world, we view actors by the page full, all at once, sometimes as many as 20 to a page on our computer screens. When a producer or casting director sees an actor for the first time, it is in a 1 x 2 photo surrounded by 15 other people who look a lot like you. If we are looking for a very particular type, we can scroll screen after screen of tiny little faces until one catches our eye enough to actually click on it to see more. Oftentimes we simply give each face a number ranking of one through five, and then ask the software to eliminate anything that isn’t a one or a two, before diving any deeper into the quest for the right actor. In most cases, an actor has already had to survive at least one or two rounds of digital elimination before anyone actually opens their profile to see their resume or other photos.

   The importance of the headshot has changed. The specifications for a good headshot that does its job, have also changed. My headshot is 10 years old. That’s the first thing terribly wrong with it. Your headshot MUST be current. At this point in my life, I almost always have a beard. The only exceptions to that are when I am playing a role that requires me to be clean shaven, which isn’t very often. However my age and my facial hair are not the worst parts of my old headshot. The style is completely wrong as well. There was a time in the past when headshots taken from slightly above the subject were the in thing – especially when you have a prominent Roman nose such as mine. Head shots today must be straight on. One of the important reasons for straight on photography is the ability to capture and fill the frame with your face. It is ALL ABOUT your face! If your face isn’t filling the frame of your headshot, you are wasting very valuable thumbnail space with content that does not help you get past the first elimination. Here’s the good news: you don’t have to spend so much time trying to choose which clothes to wear in your headshot, because if there is that much of your clothing showing in your headshot, it ISN’T A HEADSHOT! Here is a good rule of thumb. Pull up a thumb nail of your headshot. Put your thumb up to the picture. If you thumb covers your entire face, then you need a new headshot.

Full bodyshots can be important to have, and you should have at least one or two in the photo gallery of your casting site profile, but never… Let me repeat, NEVER submit a full bodyshot unless you are specifically asked to. Submit a headshot, and make sure your head is the most prominent thing in the picture. Show them your face. Don’t show them your fancy shirt, your favorite blouse, that cool sweater, your broad shoulders, your pronounced cleavage, or any other of your “assets.” If that’s what they are looking for, they will tell you. If that’s what they’re looking for, and they didn’t tell you, then that’s probably not what you’re looking for.

   I’m the first person to tell you that this is an aesthetic art. Yes, it is about how you look, and yes, your body is part of how you look. That is definitely something you need to consider when you are submitting for roles. You know if you are truly an ingénue type, hunky guy, or sexy vixen – if that’s what they are looking for. If that’s what they’re looking for, have that available to show them in your gallery, but get their attention with your face. Ultimately it’s the close-ups that will matter in the end, and any true casting director knows that the face has to come first. Show them as much of your face as you can possible fit into a thumbnail.

The days of agents, managers, producers, casting directors, and personal trainers telling actors to stay in shape are never going to end. As I said, it is an aesthetic art, but I hope the days of agents and managers telling actresses to show their cleavage or their bust line in their headshots has come to an end. That isn’t how any actress wants any job to begin. “He picked out of the digital pack because he liked my bosom,” shouldn’t be a thing. If they can see your bosom in the thumb nail, then your head looks like a pinky nail.

   The casting site profile gallery is the modern comp card. That’s where actors need to have their “sexy” look, their business look, thug look, sporty look, serious shot, comedic shot, full bodyshot, etc. If they are interested in your face, they’ll find the other photos, and hopefully your resume as well. If you’re lucky, they will spend a few minutes to look at your reel.

It takes a lot to get ahead in this trade. A good headshot can give you a leg up. A poor headshot can keep you in the fringe. Just like anything else in this industry, if you want a really good headshot, you have to do the work to get the work.

Research good photographers. Actually research, as in visit their websites, look at samples of their work. A Facebook post asking friends for recommendations is something you do when you want good Chinese food, not when you are selecting something as important as this is to your future career. Have friend take some sample shots of you – even on their phone – in the type of looks you are considering, in different types of light, with different make up. Yes, I’m saying REHEARSE you photoshoot. What a novel idea. Look at the “dailies” from your practice shoot, and learn from them before you go for your actual session. Be well rested the night before your shoot. Drink tons of water – its good for your skin. East something light – it’s good for your color (a little sugar in the blood). Most importantly – have fun at your shoot. Be an actor there. Do what you do. It will show through in the photos, and make the work of choosing the best shots an easier task to accomplish. When you choose the best shot, use your head.


Steven Sabel's Twist on the Trade: Just Getting Warmed Up

 

Just Getting Warmed Up

Welcome to a new monthly column which I hope will add some perspective to our trade – sometimes new, and sometimes perhaps tired out from over stating, but yet somehow still needing to be stated again and again. I have been a student of this craft for most of my entire life. Cast in my first summer stock stage production at the age of 9, I developed the “bug” (as we often call it), and never found the cure. I produced and directed my first production in 1993, and there have been 126 more since then, at an average of five productions per year for the last 25 consecutive years. I’ve seen a lot. I haven’t seen it all – yet – but I’ve seen a lot.
Throughout the past 25 years I have viewed more than 40,000 head shots and resumes; I have witnessed more than 10,000 audition monologues; and I have worked with nearly 2,000 different actors. The range of talent I have seen runs the entire gamut, from children as young as 5, to aging actors in their late 70s; from the greenest of the green, to the most seasoned veterans, and everything in between. Many of the lessons to be learned from working with such a variety of artists are the same year after year, show after show, and the artists who have worked with me repeatedly know that I have certain mantras, maxims, aphorisms, and axioms that some actors have heard so often they call them “Sabelisms.” They are indeed, my twists on the trade.
This new monthly column will attempt to deliver those Sabelisms in such a way as to explain their meaning, relevance, and origins. They have developed over time, and no matter how old I get, or how many shows I produce, they remain an essential aspect of doing the work to get the work. There’s one: You have to do the work to get the work.
Most actors are lazy. Don’t be offended. Most people are lazy. We are designed to seek the path of least resistance. It is part of the learning process of the human species. Yet the most successful artists I have worked with know that there is nothing easy about succeeding in this trade. It is work. It is hard work. Those who are willing to do the hard work, will continue to find work to do. Those who demonstrate an ability to do the work, will develop a reputation for doing the work, and find themselves sought after when there is work to be found. We hear it all of the time: “She’s always working,” or “He is the first to arrive, and the last to leave,” or “That artist is so great to work with.” When was the last time anyone said any of those things about you as an artist?
A vast number of the actors I have worked with have to come the trade with a degree in hand from an expensive school with a major theatre or film department behind them. I always marvel at how an actor struggling under the weight of student loans and stifling debt incurred through their artistic education, can so quickly throw out so much of the education they paid so highly for. Nearly every theatre program I have ever heard of, known of, or have been associated with teaches certain precepts in year one of their program. They teach these aspects in year one, because they are the foundational beginnings of doing the work.
One essential aspect of that training is the importance of a good warm-up routine. Acting is a physical craft. Acting is 90 percent what you DO, and 10 percent what you say (there’s another Sabelism). Text Nazis, stringent stage managers, and dramaturgs everywhere often get upset at me for reiterating this aphorism, but it is true nonetheless. Pitch, tone, inflection, and rate of speech are all physical choices made by an actor, just as much as are posture, stance, gait, and gesture. We have all heard – perhaps ad nausea – how important our bodies and voices are as the tools of our trade. Yet every show I produce, I find myself having to remind actors to do their warm ups. It is ridiculous. It is ridiculous for anyone to think that they can ignore the importance of their tools – in some cases, outright neglect their tools – and hope to do their best work. This is true in ANY trade. Imagine a surgeon without a sharpened scalpel. Ridiculous of course, except I have seen so many actors bring a butter knife into the operating room of their trade.
Warm ups are not just a good idea, they are essential to the craft. Finding and creating that neutral physical place to build the character from is just the beginning. Warming up and strengthening the body for doing the work of maintaining the physical character – especially in a two-hour live performance – is the difference between presenting a believable performance, or “phoning it in.” You cannot possibly hope to accurately speak your lines with proper clarity, diction, and projection without first warming up your voice, your face, your tongue (one of the strongest muscles in the body), your jaw, your diaphragm, etc. You wouldn’t go out and pitch a World Series game without first warming up your arm…
“But Sabel, not every role I play is equitable to a World Series game.” That’s part of your problem. How you view the work, is how you will be viewed in the work, and how you will be viewed by your fellow artists. Treat every role like that starring role in a feature film, or don’t accept the role. If you are not willing to do the work, then don’t accept the work.
“But Sabel, this isn’t even a paying gig.” You cannot expect to receive offers for paying gigs, if you can’t demonstrate your ability to properly perform every gig you accept. You have to do the work to get the work.
Warm ups are not just for your body, but also for your mind. They should be a part of your routine that also helps you focus on creating and truly performing the character. Many actors incorporate their lines into their warm up routines. Some actors incorporate exercises that are specific to the physicality of the role they are playing. The great actor, Fredric March, used to walk completely around the outside of the theatre doing his vocal warm ups while he assumed the gait and posture of the character before making his first entrance. He was also known for his intense focus backstage. No chit-chat, no socializing – just an actor focused on doing the work. You cannot hope to walk onto the stage in full character, completely focused on the scene at hand, when three minutes ago you were chatting with a fellow actor about the Dodgers, or skimming social media for the latest click bait.
You have to do the work to get the work, and the work begins with a proper warm up, proper focus, and maintaining that focus throughout the job. The actor who is properly stretching, developing muscle isolation, focusing on breathe control, generating a physical character different from self, dwelling within the mind of the character while warming up the apparatus of performance, is the actor who is going to do the best work. Period. That goes for auditions as well as performances. Nobody wants to hire a lazy actor. Nobody wants to hire a lazy employee in ANY trade. Don’t be lazy. Do the work. Now go look in the mirror, and ask yourself whether or not you are willing to do the work. If not: Get out of the way for the rest of us who are doing the work.
Got your nose out of joint? Check back for next month’s column on head shots, because I’m just getting warmed up….


MEET THE CRITICS II – SATURDAY, OCTOBER 27TH

LOS ANGELES, October 23, 2018 – LA’s most talented and prolific Theatre Critics take to the stage to answer the questions that keep us up at night, “Who are these critics, what do they do, and how do we find them?”
Writers, Directors, Producers, Publicists, Performers, and anyone else who has struggled to get their work reviewed will benefit from this free workshop that bridges the gap between performer and critic.
This event is free and open to the public. Attendees are encouraged to RSVP via Contact@Better-Lemons.com and to bring their questions, comments, suggestions, and elevator pitches.
Panelists will address strategies for connecting with reviewers, pitching productions, maximizing the benefits of a review, and building relationships with reviewers and critics.
The “Meet the Critics II” panel includes:
Vanessa Cate
Vanessa Cate is the Assigning Editor for Stage Raw and the Editor-in-Chief for @thisstage.la. Vanessa is a performance artist, writer, and jack of all trades, and can be found on stage, in strange audiences, and in interesting situations.
Ellen Dostal
Ellen Dostal writes for BroadwayWorld and Musicals in LA. She is also a Senior Editor and longtime writer for BroadwayWorld Los Angeles. She has covered the performing arts community, jazz, and classical music for KJazz 88.1 FM and K-Mozart 1260 AM. She holds a Bachelor of Music from the University of Northern Iowa. She is also the LA Show writer for TheThreeTomatoes.com (The Insider’s Guide for women who aren’t kids). Ellen joined the Los Angeles Drama Critics Circle in 2017.
Ernest Kearney
Ernest Kearney is an award-winning L.A. playwright and rabble-rouser of note and has worked as literary manager or as dramaturge for, among others, The Hudson Theater Guild, Nova Diem and the Odyssey Ensemble Theatre, where he still serves on the play selection committee. He has been the recipient of two Dramalogue Awards and a finalist or semi-finalist three times in the Julie Harris Playwriting Competition. His play Peddle was selected by the Midwest Theatre Network as one of the best plays of 1997. His most recent work ‘The Salt Prince’ was awarded honors from the Nathan Miller History Play Contest as well as the Fremont Center Theatre Play Contest. A passionate theatre and history buff, Mr. Kearney’s reviews can be found on WorkingAuthor.com and TheTVolution.com.
David MacDowell Blue
David MacDowell Blue has been reviewing Los Angeles theatre via his blog “Night Tinted Glasses” since 2012. He has a degree in Theatre Arts and graduated from New York’s National Shakespeare Conservatory. At different times, he has acted, directed, written plays and designed things from sets to lights to costumes. Born in San Francisco, he ended up raised in Florida (where he lived through twelve–yes TWELVE–hurricanes) then eventually landed in Los Angeles.
Tracey Paleo
Tracey Paleo is founder of Gia On The Move. Gia On The Move was established in 2009 as an arts & culture dialog site attracting influencer readers in a variety of industries. In addition to Gia On The Move, Tracey Paleo is the former Associate Editor of FootLights and has been a contributor to Discover Hollywood, FootLights, Tolucan Times, Extra Virgin: Under the Tuscan Gun, among other publications. In 2015, Tracey also spearheaded the groundbreaking 1st Stage Raw Los Angeles Theatre Awards live broadcast and Twitter Campaign, which trended regionally to an audience of over one million views alongside Drake, Madonna and The Avengers movie. Tracey was also a panelist on the 1st Stage Raw ‘Visualizing The Invisible’ Performing Arts Coverage Symposia.
‘Gia On The Move’ is Tracey’s brand as well as her site and she is an influencer in other places under that moniker.
‘Tracey Paleo’ (alone) is mostly known as the actress from Scorsese’s, ‘The Departed‘  among other things.
Rob Stevens
Rob Stevens began reviewing in 1973 for the monthly community theatre magazine Showcase, covering the professional theatres in Los Angeles. He served as editor/co-publisher of It’s Showtime in 1996-98. He has also been a reviewer/interviewer for Dimension, Data-Boy Magazine, The Civic Star, Frontiers, Frontiers After Dark, Drama-Logue, Backstage West, L.A. Reader, Santa Barbara Independent and a few others. In 1988 he began writing the column West Coast Stages in the national publication Backstage. In recent years he has written for the websites ShowMag.com, TheatreMania.com, and StageHappenings.com. He is the founder of The Robby Awards which began as a listing in Showcase magazine in 1975 and has since grown into an annual awards show. The 30th Robby Awards were presented in February, 2016. He is a member of the Los Angeles Drama Critics Circle.
The “Meet the Critics II” panel will take place from 10am to 12 noon @ Theatre West, 3333 Cahuenga Blvd. West, LA, CA 90068
Arrive early, bring your coffee mug, and get ready to get connected!
Parking is available in the lot across the street and also on the street.
Audience reviews:
Meet the Critics was the event that I needed to help me learn how to network with prominent members of the Fringe community and the LA Theatre scene. I learned the best ways to contact critics, the do’s and don’ts of a press release, and ways to draw an audience. I also met some critics who came to my show and gave me reviews that boosted my confidence as a performer and writer. It it wasn’t for Better Lemons, I would have been totally lost trying to navigate the Fringe Fest. ~ John Brahan – actor, playwright “Ain’t That America
Meet the Critics panel is akin to learning the trick behind the magician’s illusions. Only in this case it’s dream making instead of fantasy breaking. Any serious thespian would be a fool to miss it. ~ Cooper Bates – writer, performer “Black When I Was A Boy
Yes! Another Press Panel! At the Better Lemons’ Fringe Critics panel, I was able to connect and form solid professional relationships with the people at the heart of support system for the LA theater community – it’s Press. These events are a must for anyone producing and performing in Los Angeles. ~ Jonathan Tipton Meyers – actor, writer and filmmaker “We Are Traffic – A Rideshare Adventure
Critics’ Review:
The supreme achievement of humanity finds expression in the word “community.”  By bringing together artists, producers, critics and all those who have a passion for L.A. theatre, Better Lemons serves to strengthen us individually and collectively. ~ Ernest Kearney, Playwright and Critic
Better Lemons is Home of the LemonMeter and LA’s #1 Arts & Entertainment Calendar. Founded in 20016 by Enci Box, Better Lemons aggregates reviews from critics and audience members, and features news and opinion on LA’s theatre.
Theatre West is an internationally acclaimed non-profit organization, founded in 1962 by movie star Betty Garrett, and is the oldest continually running theatre company in Los Angeles.
For more information, call Stephen Box at 323.864.7586 or email Stephen@Better-Lemons.com.
Fill out the form below to RSVP and add questions you want us to ask the critics.
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To listen to the Critics Panel from earlier this year, visit https://soundcloud.com/betterlemons/meet-the-critics-panel-june-2018.
To get connected, join us this Saturday, October 27, 10am-12noon at Theatre West, 3333 Cahuenga Blvd. West, LA, CA 90068