Steven Sabel's Twist On The Trade: Get Ready For Your New World


The world has forever changed. There is no doubt about that. The world changes all the time. The world of entertainment changes all the time. The most successful artists have been the ones who have been able to consistently adapt to those changes, adjust their approach, redirect their strategy, and provide the new required content.

So much has been written about the necessity of approaching your career as the business it must be in order to succeed. Look around you right now. Take notice of the businesses that are successfully adapting to change, adjusting their approach, redirecting their strategies, and providing the new required content. Learn from them so that you will be ready to hit the ground running when auditions open up again.

Auditions will open again. If you don’t believe that, then you should turn your focus right now to locating work in the least expensive, most attractive suburban community you can find.

If you do believe auditions will open up again, then you better get ready for your new world.

None of us can know exactly yet what the new world is going to look like. History tells us that entertainment will still be a commodity, no matter what the planet throws at us.

Auditions will open again and once they do, it will mean work for every artist in every field of this craft - unless they’re not ready. You are your commodity.

Get Ready.

Here are some things you should be doing right now to get ready.

First, get healthy.

That’s actually the easiest one. We all know the hours can get crazy when we’re working on a project, especially if we are also working another job. That schedule presents far too many excuses for eating random crap at random times and washing it down with cocktails at whatever is open and still serving both.

Not now.

Get healthy. Learn to prepare healthy food for yourself. It is a life skill that will serve you throughout your life and future career in anything. Make a commitment to yourself to treat your commodity better. Prepare your product for the showroom floor.

After you get healthy, get in shape.

If you’re in front of the audience, you need to realize it’s an aesthetic art. Look the part. If your roles are the “I’ve been sitting on my sofa eating my own homemade baked goods during quarantine” look, then rage on! Undoubtedly, the way that art mimics life, there will someday soon be auditions for those roles. Go for it.

If the audition you want is a “dashing leading role,” you had better get ready for your new world. The most beautiful aspect of this truth is in the also strong truth that most people will not take this simple advice, thus only enhancing the advantage of those who will.

Those who use this time to perfect their look for the roles they wish to have, will have far greater success than ever before in obtaining auditions for those roles when auditions open again. It just stands to reason. A lot of the business is about beating the odds.

Next, get educated.

The internet is an incredible thing. You can pretty much learn at least something about just about anything. Learn how to stitch a tear in a costume. It’s a very valuable skill that may save your own bum from being exposed some day. Learn how a camera operates so that you know better how to operate in front of a camera. Wow. Learn more about the details of how certain microphones work so you will know how to use them better. Learn how to use power tools so you can help build a set some day. Or maybe not.

There are so many things about our craft you don’t know that you could use this time to at least dabble into right now. Learn to edit your own reel. Woah, what?
Read scripts. Stop scrolling through everyone’s clever memes and photos of their homemade baked goods, and read some scripts. Read all types of scripts: plays, teleplays, radio plays, screenplays. Find a better understanding of the use of direction in the script. Discover roles or types of roles you want to play. Read them out loud to keep your face, tongue, lips, voice, and diaphragm from atrophy. Use your tools, or you will be rusty when your opportunity comes. Get on your feet and read some scripts!

Learn an entire new set of monologues to use for the new world of new auditions you are preparing for. Throw out that old piece your college theatre professor helped you perfect in your old world and learn a new piece. You’re a new artist preparing for your new world. This is a perfect time to refresh and renew your vigor for pursuing your craft by exploring new monologues to perfect.

Sharpen your skills and hone your edge. Remember what it was that made you want to pursue this craft as a career. Remember what inspired you to throw yourself into it. This is a time that has been thrust upon you. You get to decide how to use it. Or not.

Auditions will open up.

Get ready. Get healthy. Get in shape. Get educated. Read scripts. Learn new monologues. Remember why you’re here, and throw yourself into it.

Get ready for your new world.



Steven Sabel's Twist on the Trade: The Connections We Make


When not practicing government-mandated social distancing, actors tend to be some of the most social people you can find, both on and off the job. From standing in line to audition at a cattle-call, to table reads, to rehearsal processes, the entire world of creating theater or cinematic art requires actors to be “social.” Add to the mix the after-rehearsal bar gatherings, wrap parties, opening night or premiere galas, and closing cast parties, and you find that social distancing is impossible for working actors.

Sometimes black box theater and indie film projects call on actors to quite literally be on top of each other in confined spaces that have been converted into makeshift dressing rooms, green rooms, and performance locations. Factor in love scenes and the social connectivity goes through the roof!

There is still no telling how the COVID-19 lockdown will forever change the dynamic of artists creating their art in limited spaces with limited resources. Perhaps when the threat has ended, it will be business as usual for small storefront theaters and backroom indie film projects. Perhaps new mandates will require an end to the type of close-quarters we have all worked in from time to time. Only time will tell.

In practicing our craft, we find ourselves connected to so many other artists in so many ways: physically, mentally, emotionally, even spiritually at times. It will be interesting to see how much more cognizant we will be of the physical connections we have with each other in the Post Covid Age.

When actor life resumes, perhaps stage managers will have to be more tolerant of actors missing rehearsal due to illness. They will certainly be adding massive amounts of hand sanitizer to their first aid kits and more hygiene talk in their backstage etiquette speeches. Dressing room divas may find new justification for demanding their own mirror space now. Love scenes may have to forever be cut from all scripts, and shared props eliminated during virus season. Let’s not even talk about rented and borrowed costume items. Wigs? Yuck!

If you’re smirking about the wigs line, that proves our artistic connections will not change. Our mutual love, appreciation, frustration, and anxieties about our art will remain the same. Our ability to create new and lasting bonds with our fellow artists will remain with us. I have connected with most of my closest friends in life through my craft. Some of those people I may never work with again, but they will always be treasured colleagues and lifelong friends.

The personal connections we make as artists sharing our art run the gamut of human relations. Mentors, friendships, family-like bonds, lovers, soulmates, and even sometimes enemies can be developed through working on a project together. In my lifetime, I have witnessed no fewer than 10 marriages result from relationships developed during the artistic process, and a few divorces as well. On at least one occasion, a divorce of two people led to a second marriage for one of them.

Then there are those awkward connections; the ones we sometimes don’t know how to break. Thanks to social media groups, we all have a string of project groups we are connected to down the sideline of our pages. If your list is anything like mine, some of those groups date back years. Forming a group page can be very helpful during the project to share information, contacts, schedules, etc. Yet, once the projects are over, there the groups awkwardly accumulate down the side of your page.

Sometimes a project is so fun or so successful, or so full of great people, the members of the group talk about the group continuing forever, reviving the show, working together again, or having regular get-togethers that almost never happen. Instead, every once in a while, someone from a past group will post something about the new project they are currently working on as a promotional effort which leads to additional awkward moments for everyone still connected to group. Do you ignore them? Do you respond and reopen that can of worms? Are you suddenly reminded to leave the group, but then hesitate because you don’t want the person to know you left the group right after they posted out of the blue after three years?

Nearly 150 productions into my career, I’ve found it’s best to cut ties where there are no true ties, and not be false about being further connected where you truly are not. There will be other “best cast ever” experiences in your life. There will be plenty of groups to add to the sideline of your page. The true lifelong relationships will continue to exist without the aid of the group, the stage manager on the project, or the director who brought you all together. You will still have your fondest memories of the project and the best people involved.

While you’re shut up inside during this historically unprecedented time of isolation, practice a little social media distancing and clean up your groups list. Reach out to any artists you worked with before whom you truly miss, and then archive that group or drop yourself out of it to make room for new groups, new experiences, and new connections to come in the Post Covid-19 Age.


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….


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