Red Bull Theater – Summer Shakespeare Workout

I attended a workshop last weekend put on by the Red Bull theater in New York (http://www.redbulltheater.com/). It was fun, challenging, exciting, inspiring, Red Bull Theaterand enlightening.

The instructors were all exceptional, every one. Here were the Bios we were given with the Course outline.

Jesse Berger is the Founding Artistic Director of Red Bull Theater. He has adapted and directed productions of Pericles, The Revenger’s Tragedy, Edward II, Women Beware Women, The Duchess of Malfi, The Witch of Edmonton, Volpone, The Maids, Loot, and ‘Tis Pity She’s a Whore. Jesse’s adaptations of The Revenger’s Tragedy and Women Beware Women are published by Dramatists Play Service. Jesse has also directed at many fine regional theaters and Shakespeare festivals across the country.

Tracy Bersley teaches acting, movement and directing/devising work at conservatories and studios in and out of New York City and is currently on faculty at Princeton University and CAP 21 Musical Theatre Conservatory.

Dakin Matthews is a Shakespearean actor, director, dramaturge, and Emeritus Professor of English, whose most recent work includes dramaturging Much Ado in last year’s Shakespeare in the Park production, the 2005 Broadway production of Julius Caesar with Denzel Washington, and the 2003 LCT production of Henry IV for which his adaptation won a Special Drama Desk award. Dakin is currently appearing on Broadway as Winston Churchill, opposite Helen Mirren in The Audience.

Laila Robins is a much lauded stage, film and television actress. Her Broadway appearances include Heartbreak House, Frozen, The Herbal Bed, and The Real Thing. Off Broadway includes Antony & Cleopatra, The Merchant of Venice, The Lady from Dubuque, Tiny Alice and many more. Laila is also a frequent performer at The Shakespeare Theatre of New Jersey. Laila starred in Red Bull Theater’s The Dance of Death.

Kate Wilson is voice and speech faculty member at Juilliard and one of the industries most sought-after vocal coaches. Her recent New York voice/dialect coaching credits include: A Raisin in the Sun, Machinal, The Trip to Bountiful, The Heiress, War Horse, The Mountaintop, The Merchant of Venice, Red, Driving Miss Daisy, and many others. Film/television credits include: The Black Box, The Leftovers, Olive Kittredge, The Harvest, Inside Llewyn Davis, and more. Regional coaching includes: Chautauqua, Williamstown, Shakespeare Theater DC, McCarter Theater, and more.

Mirriam Silverman. We weren’t give a Bio on her. She came in on Sunday, but her work was exceptional. She’s an experienced actress and movement coach.

Each one of them came in and worked with us on scenes we were assigned 6 days before the class started.

We were each asked to be completely “off book,” for the first session. I almost made it! I could do it when sitting with my partner, but crashed and burned when we got up on the last day to work with Jesse Berger. Ahhh, well. He sat us down and went through it again, looking at the intentions behind the lines and the arc of the scene. I got a lot out of that.

What was really fascinating was each of them had areas of expertise that were deep and rich and extremely specific (or at least, they focused on one area of their expertise to bring to the class). There were some that overlapped. There were also a few that knew each other, and had worked had together, like Kate Wilson and Dakin Matthews. So, even as they delivered their material they were aware of with the other would say, or had said.

Some of the others were really much different, and approached the work from a different angle. There were times that one gave the exact opposite guidance as the teacher had given in the prior session— but in a way they didn’t seem contradictory. Each one was peeling back the layers of truth from a different point of view. It was like finding a different facet of a gem catching the light in a different way.

Dakin, as an actor, director, and dramaturge, worked with the language—and the scene structure. It was unbelievable how clearly he was able to break down the progression of the scene, and take each line of text and expose how one “thought” led to the next—and to the next—and to the next… all clearly revealing the inner life of the character and their psychological progression through the scene. He was sweet, kind, and generous. He had an impish twinkle in his eye as he-led people along to a deeper understanding of how the text uncovered “who” those characters were– and how Shakespeare gave you all the clues to find them. Even the “lifting” of the tone of a single word in a sentence clarified its intent.

Kate came in and worked with our voices initially. The first part of her session was devoted to warming up the voice. After that she had us play with the text in the scenes in ways that really opened up the whole group.

Laila’s class was a completely different take on approaching the work. She had the “technical” background on the text and the meter, but was more interested in the interaction of the actors and their relationships. There was one scene from Julius Caesar, where she had the two actors playing Brutus and Cassius play the scene as if it was an episode of the “Sopranos.” The “relationship” between the two actors “popped!” For her, the relationships of the characters, discovered through improvisation, helped inform new ways of interpreting the text.

Tracy and Miriam came in and had us playing “games” with the scenes. One game that Mirriam had one pair of actors doing in a scene from “All’s Well that Ends Well” was to say “Oh, you don’t understand,” before every “thought” the character had… and when they finished the thought, say, “you see?”

That’s a little hard to understand, so here’s an example from the script, where the Countess is trying to get her “adopted” daughter, Helena, to admit that she loves her (the Countess’) “birth” son. Helena is trying to deny and evade the question. They “bracketed” each new thought with those two phrases.

Countess:

[Oh…you don’t understand] I am your Mother. [you see?]

Helena:

[Oh…you don’t understand] Pardon Madam. The Count Rousillon cannot be my brother: [you see?]

[Oh…you don’t understand]I am from humble, he from honour’d name; [you see?]

[Oh…you don’t understand] No note upon my parents, his all noble: [you see?]

 Maybe it doesn’t translate (you had to be there?)… but what it did was create “each thought anew.”  The “character” didn’t know they were in a scene that had three more pages! They thought everything they “said” would be the final answer to the questions of the scene… but it wasn’t. They said a line, and (much to their chagrin) that idea didn’t satisfy the other character in the scene… so, they said the “next line.” And that one didn’t satisfy them either… so they said the “next” line. It created the sense that the scene was unfolding, and that every new line was an attempt to make the “thing they were trying to get at” clearer. Every new thought was “discovered” in the moment, as a response of the character’s need to try and get what they wanted. Just like you and me, in real life, when trying to explain something… we keep talking… and come up with another way to make our point if we didn’t think what we’d just said had landed. That was an “acting game” that could be used in any play, not just Shakespeare, but it certainly enlivened the work this weekend!

Every one of the Coaches they brought in came with something like that. They each provided a clear, specific way to approach how to understand, clarify, and act the text of Shakespeare (and beyond).

It was really fun, and interesting. And, as to be expected, the people in the class ranged from a college student intern, to a recent college grad, a few college professors (and actors), a few actors and actresses, and an opera singer trying to learn more about Shakespeare. They too, were varied and interesting, smart and talented. Most of us were more or less local, but a few had traveled from as far as Pittsburgh and Colorado.

It was a great experience, and I’m looking forward to taking more workshops and classes. Funny, I graduated from Mason Gross 30 years ago, so it’s been a long time since I was engaged in this kind of work at this level, which such talented and experienced people.   For the last year or so I’ve been taking a different class, and participating in a Shakespeare “play reading” group with Rhona Silverbush. Rhona is the text/acting coach for the New York Shakespeare Society. She’s also another extraordinary talent. Those classes and group too are another “space” to learn and play in (and Rhona gave me a great audition monologue of Polonius, that I never would have thought of!). The point of all this is, whatever my “talent” is, there’s plenty of room to grow and stretch before I find the edge. Sounds like fun to me!

Maybe the next thing for me is an improve class!

Advertisements

My Official Website is almost done…

I’ve been working with a website developer, Eric Doss, from DFXden  (www.dfxden.com).  Coming along nicely!  Eric is doing a great job.  I still have some work to do, providing him with content for a few pages, but there’s light at the end of the tunnel.  I’m going to be working on identifying the first round of “prospects” to call for my first marketing push.  I’ll be working a simple script to reach the key contact at a group of audio production companies I’ve targeting.  I’m not ready to send a demo link yet, but I’ve got plenty of postcards to send out!  I’ll begin by creating some buzz around my logo and brand… so when I have some audio content, and a demo CD, I’ll have planted the seeds that will begin to grow.  The launch of Golden Tonsils isn’t too far away!

Live and Learn…

I’ve been emailing a friend of mine, Steven Reisberg.  He’s another of the Mason Gross Mafia.  He’s the booth Director at TGMD Talent in LA.  I’ve been keeping Steve abreast of my progress on Golden Tonsils.

Funny, I told him I’m learning Pro Tools.  All the people I’ve spoken to, and from what I’ve read on different sites on the internet, it’s considered the “standard” in the industry.  I also went to a few classes at Edge Studio, where I’m working on putting together my demo… and a few professionals in the group came in with the M-Boxes (that’s the hardward interface to the Pro Tools software).  Even the engineer in the class I was taking at Edge uses Pro Tools… so I figured “ahhh… what the heck… no one ever got fired for buying IBM!” (… metaphorically speaking!  Man, I’m really dating myself!)    So… I went out and bought Pro Tools.

When I mentioned that to Steve in an email, he replied “I found Pro Tools too needlessly complex and slow for my day-to-day VO recording tasks at work.” On the MAC, he uses Sound Studio 3, and on the PC he uses Sound Forge.  He said they’re both “faster, easier to use, and cheaper” than Pro Tools!

He ought to know! Here, I’m starting to look around for a course in audio engineering… and I probably could have purchased something that’s easier to use at half the price.  Hey, waddaya gonna do!?  Like I said, Live and Learn.

We move on…

Recommendation

On another front, my friend Kevin recommended me to his agent at Innovative Artists Agency.  It was a very gracious email.  Jordan and Kevin have both been great (it’s probably because of Jordan that I’m ensconced in Piermont!).  Not only are they good friends, but good role models.  They’ve made a life for themselves as working artists… it’s a beautiful thing!

I sent a brief, follow-up email.  I look forward to speaking with him (Kevin’s agent).  I have no expectation that there’s going to be any deep discussion of “representation.”  Jeez… I don’t even have a demo yet!  Not only that, a “representation” relationship is a really personal thing.  Both parties, the Agent and the Artist have to deeply believe in each other… as well as “gel” personally.  It’s a marriage of sorts, that has financial and professional ramifications for both parties.  It’s not something to be entered into lightly… on either side.  I’m not in a position today to offer, or be offered that kind of relationship… but that day isn’t too far off.  That said, I’m really looking forward to meeting with him.  Who knows….

The main thing is to continue “engaging” in the world I’m moving back into.  I plan on having my website up by the end of April, or May.  That should happen in conjunction with completing my Demo… and after that I’m going to be marketing my butt off!

I’m also building out my contact database in Salesforce.com (anyone at work who’s following my blog will laugh at this!)  I’ve copied the coding scheme on the AFTRA Website, indicating what the “signatory” agencies of the union focus on.  I’m applying this to all the companies “in the business” that I add to Salesforce.  Of course, some of them have “nothing” to do with Voice Overs, or Acting… but there a number of classifications I could fit into!  It’s not too long before I might qualify for “Older Actor!”  :>).  I’ve already created queries of Production Companies that focus on Animation, CD’s, Commercials, Film, Industrials, etc.  I’ve got marketing tee’d up to different segments.  I’ve got a “cold call” campaign set up to find the key contacts in advertising agencies, production houses, even large corporations—that produce in-house training videos and telephony.

On the “delivery side,” I’m confident that “I’ve got the goods.”  I know I can produce high quality (sometimes inspired!) work… but I also know that that’s not enough.  I plan to out-market the competition.

As an example, these are some “dashboards” of Accounts in New York.  The “Leads” are companies I downloaded from MelissaData.  I set up a search of Advertising Agencies (by their SIC Code) in New York City, looking for “operations” and “production” job titles in companies reporting ove $5MM in revenue each year.  I downloaded 145 companies for $25 bucks!  Cheap!

Plus, I’m starting to put together some great swag to give away as I build my brand!  :>)

When I moved here from Boston in July, I gave myself a two-year time-frame to make the transition to working full-time in the Arts.  That gives me 18 months to go… but if I can compress that, all the better!

I really like what I’m doing in my “day job.”  I’m working my ass off, but I’m learning a lot, and the new SVP of Sales and Marketing that’s just been hired is really sharp!  I’m going to glean as much as I can from his experience.  But, after all is said and done, I’m trying to apply all I know, and what I’m learning, to the “next iteration”… to the “future I’m living into.”

Headed West

I’m going to be visiting the west coast next month.  I’m attending the first of 5 conferences I’m scheduled into as part of the Landmark “Team Leadership and Management Program.”  It’s in San Diego.  While I’m out there, I’m going to take a little Vacation, and visit the West Coast crew (including Steve).

Looking forward to it.

Building my Business Plan

OK… so I’m diving in!

I’m trying to be smart about this.  Maybe I should be more fearful than I am.  After all, this is going to be a pretty big transition in both lifestyle and career… but I feel very calm about it.  I’ve been involved with various spiritual practices over the years (I just joked with an old friend of mine from Grad School that I’m a non-practicing JewBu!).  For the past few years, I’ve also been involved, on and off, with Landmark Education (the evolved iteration of EST, of Werner Erhardt fame).  I’ve found that to be a very useful and positive influence.  Although it’s completely “non-spiritual,” it’s hard to argue with a teaching that’s rooted in “being your Word, living with integrity, being of service, and playing the game of Life full out!”

Tartuffe… from “many” years ago at Glassboro State College

But, I digress.  I’ve developed a written business plan (an evolving document).  In it, I anticipate a two year transition to supporting myself as a working artist.

Bit by bit, I’m putting the pieces in place.  Of course, it helps that I’ve had such a varied background: my undergraduate degree was in communications, my MFA in Acting was from Mason Gross at Rutgers in New Brunswick (where I studied with Bill Esper), then I left the “business” to run a family company with my sister (founded by my Mother) for 17 years until selling it 8 years ago, then worked for the last 7 years selling accounting related software to multi-state real estate companies and REITs before being promoted to the role of Director of Marketing and Sales Operations for that same company.

So, I’m putting all that experience to work.  I’ve created an LLC, finalized my logo and collateral materials, and I’m in the process of building out a Contact Database,

(I’ve got to admit, I was a little bit of a stickler about this.  In my “day job,” that’s a good part of what I do– create and develop the marketing and sales processes for my company.  It was really important to me to have a software tool that let me do that effectively (oh yea, I’m a software geek too!)… as, aside from actually “delivering the goods,” the main determinant of my future success will be determined by how well I can market myself.

There were a number of packages out there, some even specifically written for actors and people in the performing arts, but at the end of the day I felt constrained by their limitations (or, at least, what I thought of as their limitations).  In essence, I wanted to have complete control over the software.  I wanted to customize it specifically for my needs… so I went with what I knew.  I licensed  www.salesforce.com.  It’s a “web-based” CRM (Customer Relations Management Software).  I’ve worked with it for years, and that’s what I use all day long.  It’s certainly not the cheapest solution out there (costing me around $700/year– but at least I don’t need any special hardware or “backups” for my data– it’s all in the “cloud”)… but it does everything I need, has great marketing tools integrated right into the platform (or partner integrations through their AppExchange… think the “AppStore” from Apple).  I’ve already entered, downloaded or uploaded hundreds of records/contacts from the industry– from agents to casting directors, advertising agencies to production studios.  It’s expensive, but very cool!  Plus, they’ve got nifty apps for the iPhone and iPad!)

I’m also working with Edge Studio to produce my first Demo (I’ll probably do 3 actually: Commercial, Promo and Narration).  I’ve had a very good experience there so far.  Right now, I’m shooting for producing my Demo by the end of April… which is also when I anticipate launching my website (shopping for web designers now!).  By the early summer, I should be up and running!

Then, in the words of Montgomery Burns, “release the Hounds!”  It’ll be marketing, marketing, marketing!

On a separate but related note… my friend, Jordon Baker (we went to Grad School together… she and her husband Kevin Kilner are both successful, well-traveled actors) was telling me about a local Shakespeare company that holds auditions soon for their summer season.  They’re right on the Hudson, across from West Point, about 25 miles north of me.  I think I’m going to dust off a few of my old audition pieces and head up there!

Sweet!

Here we go!

Whhheeee… here we go! Blogging. Egad! I was speaking to a friend of mine. My current (sort of) employer, David Miller. David is going through a transition in his life… after co-starting a now successful software company he’s off to begin a new venture.

Me too, really. I’ve got my “day job,” which I really like… but I’m putting the pieces in place to transition over the next two years to my first love…  Acting. The first step is creating a Voice Over Career… another (related) dream of mine. I started out, many years ago, pursuing this path. Somewhere along the way my life took a different direction. But now, at 55 years old, I’m putting my feet back on the path.

Someone once said, “you’re never too old to be who you could have been.” Well… I’m going to put that to the test.

Back to my conversation with David, he’s started a Blog– to document this momentous transition in his life, and he encouraged me too to “start blogging.” My initial response was, “no… it takes me too long to write… not really my forte’.” “Nonsense” he said! “Dive in!”

So, here we go…

This will be the journey of a man that found himself at 55, divorced, with no children, and on a pathway he never anticipated or desired… finding his way back to a life and a community that he left long ago…

Oh, there will be twists and turns along the way I’m sure– but my goal is to keep my eye on the prize, and transition my life and career from a Director of Marketing and Sales Operations for a software company, to being a full-time, working artist as a Voice-Over talent and Actor!

Wish me luck!