Saturday, March 22, 2014

Who's That Woman? (Stagelighter Review)

Who's that woman? I know her well,
All decked out head to toe.
She lives life like a carousel:
Beau after beau after beau.
Nightly, daily,
Always laughing gaily,
Seems I see her everywhere I go.*

If you substitute audition for beau, you pretty much sum up the actor's carousel. Constantly looking for work, seeking approval, trying to get noticed. A huge part of that now in today's casting world is paying to meet casting directors (as I talked about in "Opening Doors"). In the past, I have chosen to meet casting directors at classes or seminars, in person. I like the personal contact and the idea that I go in the room, do my work and that is it. Putting myself on tape terrifies me. I first read about stagelighter on Facebook (of course) and was drawn to find out more based on the people I saw associated with it. Coaches Michael Cassara, Gayle Seay and Joy Dewing leapt out at me. I also watched a sample feedback video from Duncan Stewart and was impressed by how friendly, honest, detailed and helpful it was. I liked the whole approach. I still was not convinced about putting myself on tape, though! If an audition goes badly, it's over. You leave, wallow for a little while (my length of wallowing is becoming shorter and shorter) and move on. If it's on tape, it's there forever. And as for choosing a take to submit? I'll never be 100% happy with any of them! So, although I liked the website and the people involved, I was not going to use the service. It would mean having to watch myself on tape, for goodness' sake!

Who's that woman?
I know I know that woman,
So clever, but ever so sad.
Love, she said, was a fad.
The kind of love that she couldn't make fun of
She'd have none of.
Who's that woman.
That cheery, weary woman
Who's dressing for yet one more spree?
Each day I see her pass
In my looking-glass--
Lord, Lord, Lord, that woman is me!*

I have, however, realised that times are changing and if we do not move with that, we are left behind. I see so many of my older actor friends who are out of touch with what is happening in the business and, in many cases, it is stopping them getting work. No matter what your opinions are on the changing nature of casting, auditions, etc. you have to put your best foot forward and be willing to try. Hard as it is to watch myself on tape and acknowledge the flaws, it is getting easier. The main reason? Heidi Marshall. Taking her class changed so much for me. She's an inspiration. I still do not like watching myself, but I am so much more at ease about the thought of going on tape. The class for a start helped with that (you tape scenes every week and have several takes to watch and learn from) and, since taking the class, I am going in for many more on camera auditions.

I was starting to warm to the idea of stagelighter.  I could see the advantages: value for money, have myself of tape, my choice of coach (casting director, directors, agents...a great library of choices). I took the plunge. 

My first port of call was Heidi. You do not need to go to a coach to tape (you can do it yourself on your computer or even iPhone or iPad) but this was my choice. I prefer someone else taping me and wanted her expert eye. Then I chose two coaches: Joel Carlton (an agent) and Stephen Kopel (casting director). I thought it would be good to have different opinions from different perspectives (or maybe they would both agree that I am terrible!) of the same video. I decided to perform a monologue rather than a song. Although I sing, the thought of taping a 32 bar cut fills me with even more dread. Somehow, that seems even more artificial. It would also be more expensive because I would want to hire a pianist and a studio. For now, I still prefer the idea of a live room for musical theatre. Get in the room, sing your 32 bars (or 16...or sometimes even 8!) smile and leave!

She thought that
Love was a matter of "Hi, there!"
"Kiss me!" "'Bye, there!"
Mirror, mirror, answer me.
Who is she who plays the clown?*

I digress, I think my whole experience of musical theatre auditions deserves a blog of its own.

Once I had my session with Heidi, she emailed me the various takes and I chose one (let's not dwell on how long that took!). Then I uploaded the video to youtube (you can keep it private if you want) and submitted it to stagelighter. The whole process is very easy (even I managed) and there are very clear instructions. I knew in advance that I had chosen very busy people so I did not sit by my computer waiting for responses. The site tells you the average response time for each coach. I posted my video on the 16th of February. Joel replied on the 27th and Stephen on the 1st of March. Joel followed the list that stagelighter gives to coaches and went through everything in great detail (this is where it really started to show that it was, in general, more comprehensive than the usual in person meet and greet. He gave feedback on my headshot, resume (already made changes based on his advice), my look, my type, the choice of monologue and acting choices within that. He was friendly, helpful and clear. And I got to see his cat on the video too, which was an added bonus. It's pretty clear he is not signing me tomorrow but that is not why I submitted. That said, if there are agents you want to target, I think this could be an excellent way to introduce yourself and start a potential relationship. Stephen did not follow the traditional list from stagelighter, but it did not matter. He liked me! There is also an opportunity to ask one specific question in your submission and he was wonderful with that. I asked about the limitations of an O1 visa when working in theatre and he was encouraging and knowledgeable. No matter which coach you choose, it is likely that they will give different insight. Or maybe they will point out the same thing and then you can see it is something to work on. Submitting the same video to two different coaches was definitely helpful. Not everyone will have the same opinion about your work and that is what makes being an artist so interesting. I'm sure any of you readers watching will also have your own thoughts. Having not wanted to send to anyone, I am now sold on the whole idea.
Of course, I shall still strive to meet casting directors in person but now I see the great advantages of this service.

Monologue from "Strange Snow" submitted for stagelighter

  1. You do not have to wait for when the person you want to target is holding a class. You can choose then and there and send your video.
  2. The monologue or song is on tape and can be used for other coachings or submissions. I would love, however, if they could add the option of performing sides. Most on-camera auditions ask for sides and this would be a more attractive option to me than the dreaded monologues!
  3. The choice of coaches includes performers. That's usually reserved for masterclasses so it's a great chance to be seen and hear advice from some Broadway veterans.
  4. It's perfect for young performers. You can submit to college faculty and get a head start with meeting casting directors and agents.
  5. You do not have to be in New York! 
  6. Even when you take notes at meetings with coaches, it can be hard to remember everything. With stagelighter you have the chance to watch your feedback as many times as you want to.

Although I think I still prefer the adrenalin and atmosphere involved with an in-person meeting, I have to admit that I am going to use stageligher again. Who'd have thought?

Mirror, mirror!
That woman is me.
Mirror, mirror!
That woman is me!*

* Who's that Woman from "Follies"
Music and lyrics by Stephen Sondheim