Sunday, April 19, 2015

You are the Product!

Sunday musings...

Do you recognize YOU are the product you are selling?

If you choose to be a developing artist or performer in the business,  are you aware of your product?

If you are making excuses,  frustrated,  and simply not focusing on what you are offering, or have to offer,  then it's time to get your shit together NOW or find something else to do.

Is that harsh?  I don't think so.  Why?  Because there are simply too many people saying they want to work in the business.  There are way too many people given the number of jobs available. Why should someone hire you if you don't really know what you are doing or what you have to offer?

If you don't know the product you want to sell,  and more importantly HAVE,  then don't expect the business to figure that out for you.


Several casting professionals have spoken to me over the last few weeks about the lack of understanding an actor/singer has when finding a great head shot to submit,  and even the quality of a video or audio clip.

So let's talk about that shall we?

If you want to work,  you have to be prepared.  Two KEY ways to reveal yourself are through your head shot,  and through your reel or clips.

Why are you not committed to making those things sizzle?

You don't have to sell a kidney or your first born to find a great head shot photographer.  You DO have to do your research. 

The research starts with you.

Again, I quote the great choreographer/director, George Faison: "What are you doing?"

(those of you who know or have worked with George know EXACTLY what I am talking about!)

Your head shot needs to reveal YOU.  Who is that?  It needs to look like you,  and it needs to evoke an energy that draws the person looking at it to pause for a minute and take you in. 

You need to know what you are evoking.  You need to figure out what you are going to be called in for.  You need to find a way of showing us that in a head shot through your EYES.

The set up of a photo can be spectacular but if the eyes aren't saying anything, then the head shot is thrown in the "no" pile and never looked at again.

What are you saying? 

Figure it out! 

An head shot is NOT artsy fartsy.   A head shot is often the first thing a casting director or director sees and responds to or fails to respond to.  How are you going to get the right kind of attention?

Know your product.  YOU are the product.  Do you know what you have and what you wish you had and do you know the difference?  Wanting to reveal something that isn't there is not helping you. 

What are you saying in that photo?  What are your eyes saying?  "I want you to call me in"  isn't enough.  So does everybody.  Next...

What are your eyes saying about YOU?

You can't be ambiguous.  You have to figure out who you are, why you are, what you are, and evoke that.  Simplify. 

What are you singing?  What roles are you suited for vocally, dramatically? 

Make a list of your repertoire.  What does it suggest? 

Make a list of possible "types" within your repertoire.  Start to hone in on adjectives to evoke those types.  Do those adjectives connect to your personal energy?  Can you reveal a combination of those in how you look at the camera?

Vacant, scattered,  disassociated and confusing head shots just don't sell a product.  They dismiss it.  Why take the time, energy and money to do a photo shoot if you ultimately don't know what you want to say? 

Talk to photographers.  Interview them.  See how they respond to you and how you feel with them.  Look at their portfolios.  How are they capturing that energy? 

And what about your reel?  Do you have one?  What are you making public on YouTube and can you actually use anything to submit with?

Again,  with electronic submissions you need a reel.  Period.  You need clips of you doing what you say you do.  Those clips need to reveal what you DO WELL.  You would think that would be a no-brainer, but sadly,  again,  several casting professionals have told me recently that I wouldn't believe what is sent in for them to view and consider for a personal audition.

And I then quote my niece Ruby:  "Seriously you guys?! SERIOUSLY?!"

If you don't know what is good enough or exceptional or is going to catch a CD's attention enough to listen to the full clip or want to hear more of you,  then you have to figure that out.  Sending out a poor video is worse than not submitting at all.

Commit to making a reel or recording a few short clips that show what your voice does well, and  reveal the possibilities of what roles you would could be seen for!

YOU are the product.  If you want somebody to stay interested, you have to have something to sell!

You need to sell your product CURRENTLY.  CURRENT head shots.  CURRENT clips be they audio or video. 

If you believe you are continually evolving as an artist and performer, then you have to show that through your head shot and reel.  What are you CURRENTLY evoking, revealing & discovering.

This is part of the business of show.  This is part of how you market and produce your product for others to get a glimpse of. 

Given that those you are sending these things to only have a second to make a decision,  it has to be a strong glimpse,  enough for them to take an extra second to pause,  not to wonder what you are doing, but to be intrigued enough to call you in. 

So no more excuses.  Figure it out.  Ask questions.  Prepare for honest answers so you can get it together to package a strong, clear, concise and REAL product.  YOU.

Sunday, April 12, 2015

What do you need to know?

Every aspect of the business - from opera to music theatre to straight theatre to film & TV - has its own land mines, its own process, its own game.

It's up to you, should you find yourself in one or more of those games, to figure it out.

However, ultimately, what do you need to know?

It all comes back to YOU.

Or what a dear friend and famous choreographer has been known to say,  "What are you doing?!"

Yes, you have to figure out the game,  learn the rules, learn how to bend those rules, learn how to navigate the landscape but more importantly,  you have to learn about YOU.

There is you the artist and the discovery.

There is you the craftsman and the development of said craft.

There is you the business person and the marketing of said business.

SO, here are the 2 questions for you:

1.  What do you need to know?
2.  What are you doing with that knowledge?

Do you know what you are working with as far as ability, craft, practical application is concerned?

Does your study and your athletic development allow you access PAST the 16 bar cut?  Could you actually do that role 8 shows a week?  Could you actually sustain that role on an operatic stage with a full orchestra?

Are you training vocally, musically, dramatically to access that possibility?  Do you really understand what that takes on all levels?

What about the business aspect of you?  Do you know what you are selling?  Do you really see what you have to offer and can you reveal that fully in a head shot?  In a video clip?  In a slate?

Do you have a really clear sense of what you want to reveal, and is that honest and true or is it just what you are wishing for?

These are hard.  For all of us.  A reality check is necessary on a regular basis.  It's not always easy or comfortable,  but real growth isn't;  thus growing "pains". 

We don't always want to hear what we absolutely HAVE TO HEAR.

This is why the team of professionals around you is so crucial.  You need to have people who will be honest,  challenge,  question,  and give you reasons to find the next.  You do not need people around you who just tell you what you want to hear.  That doesn't encourage growth, originality, reality or passion for the next step.

So, what do you need to know?

The truth.

About what you reveal;
Where you are;
What you want;
What is realistic;
What is wishful thinking:
What is downright wrong;
What is downright delusional;
What is absolutely worth exploring;
What is absolutely worth taking a risk for;
What is coming across;
What is not being claimed;
What is ready;
What is not;

The more you know,  the more you need to know!  The more you know, the more simplistic things can become, because the clutter around you can be cleared, and the reality of what you have, what you are claiming, what you are honing, what you are developing starts to emerge with force and reason.

And the most important thing:  it's up to you.  It demands you.  It holds you accountable.

It's not the pianist's fault if you sing out of tune or come in at the wrong time;
It's not the photographer's fault that your head shot isn't working;
It's not the voice teacher's fault that you aren't booking;
It's not the gym's fault you aren't losing weight;
It's not the coach's fault you didn't figure out how to sing that cut or that aria in the right style;

YOU have to find what YOU need.  YOU need to figure out what you are, what you have in order to figure out how to develop it, and what you need to know to develop it further.

You need to know what is going to make you noticed: for the right reasons.

It's all up to you baby.  ALL of it is up to you.

Sunday, April 5, 2015

MT Singers: What's in your book?

What's in your audition book?

What's supposed to be in your audition book?

What are you doing????

Well, if you book weighs about 7,000 pounds, you are probably a MT student freshly graduated from a program.  A dead giveaway.

I am going to let you in on a little secret:

In the real world,  you do not have to micro-manage your audition repertoire.  You learn how to do that in school in order for you to LEARN what is being written,  who is writing, who wrote, what they did, why they did and actually have some knowledge of what the overview of music theatre is;  but in the real world?  For your audition book?


First, and foremost,  how are you singing?  Where is your technical development at?

You can't sing something that doesn't fit.  Period.  You may LIKE to sing it, but if it doesn't fit, and doesn't reveal YOU in a positive and intriguing way, or allow you to tell a story without us seeing flaws and misunderstandings in technique both physical and stylistic,  then do not sing it.  DO NOT SING IT.

Another little secret: in the real world, you don't go to EVERY audition.  Just to be seen.  You only go to the auditions that you are right for. 

If you know the shows and kinds of shows you are right for, then you know what you need to look for within the massive repertoire of music theatre and other genres that reveal YOU and YOUR STRENGTHS.

You can have binders and binders of music at home on a shelf that you are perusing, that you love to sing,  that no longer fits, that may someday fit,  that you want to try.

Then you have your audition book.  Everything in that book should be ready to sing, if asked for.  EVERYTHING. 

Uptempos, ballads,  different genres, different eras, but everything that's in there you have to sing.

If you think you can sing all genres - give your head a shake.  

You need to figure out what you do WELL.  What your voice is doing NOW.  What you could be seen doing realistically.

Then figure out what repertoire reveals that fully without question.  Don't make them try to figure it out.  SHOW THEM what you DO.

If you aren't clear, they aren't clear.  If they aren't clear, you don't get a callback, or consideration, or a second thought.

Know what you do.  Figure out what you CAN do.  Do it.

You shouldn't need a forklift for that audition binder.  It should be light and easy to access. 

When you sing what reveals you and those at the table say "thanks, what else do you have?"  you should be able to easily reveal another aspect of you immediately.

If you can't, you aren't ready yet.

Get ready.  Make it your mission to discover what your voice does,  how to make it more accessible, and how you can reveal your strengths in the room IMMEDIATELY.

YOU.  YOUR book.  Make it personal,  and make it accessible.  Make it comfortable.  Make it real.

Thursday, March 19, 2015

What Makes a Lion a Lion?

I don't often write about my singers specifically.  I write about what I see they deal with, discover, and what themes seem to rise through a week - cause there is ALWAYS a theme if you are paying attention!

However, after seeing THE LION again last night,  in its off-Broadway space at the Lynn Redgrave Theater on Bleeker Street,  I had to write about Benjamin Scheuer.

I am honored to have worked with Benjamin as this transformative and incredible piece of theatre has developed and deepened and taken roots.  His story,  his voice called The Lion.

Sean Daniels,  an innovative director with sensitivity, humor & vision,  took the reins and created the framework with Benjamin and this collaboration began to spin magic everywhere it went.  Sean now takes the reins as Artistic Director at Merrimack Repertory and you will be hearing from him and about him for a very long time  I have no doubt.

THE LION has been roaring everywhere it has been, and even where it hasn't been seen, is being felt.

The New York Times has raved;  The Huffington Post has raved;  The West End has raved;  Audiences are moved and lives are changed.

Am I over-exaggerating?

No I am not.

The Lion is transformative.  It is about becoming a man.  It is about Benjamin becoming a man. It is intimate and honest, raw and poignant, holds humor and tears,  and reveals shadows and light.

It oozes the truth of artistry.  Benjamin Scheuer is an artist.

What makes an artist an artist?

You cannot teach someone to become an artist.  They are born with that DNA.  Some artists perform, some do not.  It is how they live their lives.  It is how they view life.  It is how they choose to mold their journey called life and how they find that path to journey.

I am always humbled when an artist walks through my door and asks for my input.  That is a gift beyond words.  It is a responsibility that demands my truth, my commitment and my full attention.

Benjamin has everything.  He doesn't take it for granted.  He works at his craft.  Every day.  His musicality is so organic it's part of how he breathes.  His craft has developed to the point that it is simply an extension of his body.  His guitar playing isn't playing - it is a physical manifestation of the artistic energy that vibrates through his being.  He writes for his voice, and he finds the colors and timbres and textures because he works on it EVERY DAY.

It takes time to find out how to play like yourself.  Benjamin speaks of that in the show.  And he does. He plays, he sings, he reveals, as artist, as man, as forever evolving human being.

He is an old soul.  His artistry is timeless.  His absolute love affair with his music is visceral.

While working on the set of The Lion,  where it is just Benjamin,  and all those beautiful guitars,  he introduced me to that set by saying:  "Look at those guitars Susan, now THAT is sexy."

His love affair with his music is timeless.  He can make those guitars sing like no one else.  They SING for him.

So what makes an artist an artist?

What makes a lion a lion?

What makes Benjamin Scheuer,  Benjamin Scheuer?

Finding it each and every day.  Living it each and every day.  Being honest with it each and every day.

That lion needs to learn to roar.  Every day.

The artistry of Benjamin Scheuer could never be taught.  It needed and needs nurturing and breath and vibration so it keeps creating and renewing and growing.  He knows how to do that,  where to find that,  who to surround himself with to challenge him to keep honing that artistry and the craft it manifests in.

True artistry is complex but it doesn't need to be complicated.  It just needs a medium that allows it be seen, felt and heard.

When it is real, it doesn't need flash pots or jazz hands or anything blowing up.  It just needs to be about something real;  needs to reveal something real;  needs to tell us a story that makes us feel.

When you are in the presence of a lion,  you stay still and take in the majesty.  It isn't about you.  It is about the magnificence of something larger than you are.

When you are in the presence of artistry, you stay still and take in the miracle, knowing it is larger than you are.

When you are in the presence of Benjamin Scheuer,  you recognize the artistry,  the man, the spirit, the humanity, the humor, the depth and the warmth that touches you.  You are still because you know an artist like this is rarely seen in a lifetime.

The Lion is Ben.  It is his story.  Yet his story is larger than he is.  His talent and artistry is larger than he even fathoms.  His humbleness reveals that.  

And all those components were recognized and nurtured, along with director Sean Daniels, to take stage and dare theatre to get back to the truth of telling a story that reveals truth, human nature, human complexities, life, death, fear, humor, possibility, humor, tears, and laughter. 

Benjamin Scheuer is the embodiment of a 21st century troubadour.  He weaves a story through haunting musical language, and lyrics that will find their way into music history, with his voice, and his hands on those guitars. It is integrated, it is organic, it is real.  THAT is timeless.

And what do I do as voice consultant?  I just get out of the way.  I tweak.  I suggest.  I quietly work with the organic through the physicality of breath and language to give an artist more access to what they already know to do.  I try to simply reflect them, so they can see themselves and embrace it even further.

What makes a lion a lion?

You can still experience that for yourself in New York City at the Lynn Redgrave Theater til March 29th.    And when it goes on tour if you are even somewhere close to where it's playing,  please go and have your life changed.  One of the real reasons we go to theatre:  to be challenged, and forever changed.