“I believe that what you get out of something equals what you put into it…most of the time.” Marin Johnson
Marin Johnson, who co-owns Forte Studios with her husband Wes, grew up in Baltimore, Maryland. She took her first dance class when she was 11 and was instantly hooked. That passion, along with her talent, has taken her all over the United States – and the world – as a performer. Today, she lives in Wisconsin with Wes and their 3 charming children, and focuses both on teaching students her profession and on running a successful performing arts studio. She was gracious enough to take time away from her busy schedule to answer some of my questions. We talked about her career as a dancer, instructor, mom, and business owner, and Marin also took some time to give tips to younger dancers and dance teachers.
1. Tell us about your career as a dancer.
I have always been very physically active and after discovering my passion for dance at 11, I knew it was something that I wanted to do for my career. Throughout high school, I danced for about 10 hours per week studying Ballet, Jazz, Tap and Pointe with former Radio City Music Hall dancer, Jean Kettell.
While working toward my BA in Dance at Point Park University, I took a break to start my performance career at Opryland USA in Nashville, TN. I will never forget how excited I was on the first day of rehearsal and also on opening day of the show! Opryland was an amazing training ground for young performers and musicians. I loved being there so much that I returned after earning my degree. I worked there for a total of 5 seasons. That is also where I met my husband of 20 years. :-)
So many opportunities came my way as a result of working for Opryland. I have been able to dance in music videos, large theatre productions, corporate events and more. Some of the highlights of my dance career have been performing for and meeting President George Bush Sr., and performing with so many great artists such as Brenda Lee, Lee Greenwood, and all three of The Judds. Anthony Thomas, choreographer of Janet Jackson’s Rhythm Nation videos, was one of my favorite people to work with.
Eventually, I started being offered choreography jobs. I have had the opportunity to choreograph for cruise ships, main stage theatre productions, and many large corporate events. Some of my most memorable moments as a choreographer have been for Celebrity Cruise Lines, Country Tonight’s Theatre in Pigeon Forge, TN, and for Tribute Theater in Myrtle Beach, SC. I also enjoyed working with the Miss USA Regional Pageants as their choreographer.
2. When and why did you go into teaching and running a company?
I have always loved teaching. I taught my first class at age 17. Throughout my dance career I would sub for teachers at local studios. I also enjoyed teaching for dance conventions when I could fit it into my schedule.
In 2005, I was pregnant with my 2nd child and my first child was preparing to start school. I really wanted to be closer to family, so we moved to Wisconsin to be near my sister. The transition was difficult because I had worked very hard to make so many connections in the entertainment business in the south. I didn’t have any connections in Wisconsin and I was coming to the end of my career as a performer which is one of the best ways to start making connections. Honestly, even if I had been younger, there aren’t many opportunities for live entertainment in this area of the country. At least not like there are in Nashville or one of the other larger cities known for entertainment. For a brief time, my husband and I almost moved back to Nashville, but as I said earlier, my family has always come first. I wanted my children to have extended family and I didn’t like only seeing my sister and parents two or three times per year. Once we made the decision to open a performing arts school in Mt. Horeb, everything just fell right into place. That was a great sign to me that we made the right decision… even though I do still miss some of the job opportunities I had in TN and the many friends we have there.
3. How do you balance the demands of running a business, teaching, and family?
This is my biggest challenge! Often, I don’t feel like I am balancing everything. There are certain times during the year (getting ready for a big student performance, registering families for a new season, etc.) when I feel very overwhelmed. I try to just take a breath and do the best I can, but I don’t want anything to suffer. I always have a to-do list. If something isn’t on the list, it likely will not happen. This interview was on the list! I am also getting better at delegating and realizing that while some things may not be done exactly the way I would do them, often times it is still just fine. I need to let go of some things. I also love my crock pot and use it all the time so that my family can still eat healthy even though I don’t have time to stand over the stove! While there is definitely a limit to the messiness, I try not to get caught up with always having a clean house. I’d rather spend time with my kids. When they are grown, hopefully they will remember spending time with me and will not remember or care that the house was messy.
4. What do you think are the keys for students to improve as dancers?
I think I could go on and on for this just because there are so many different personality types and I see so many kids sabotaging their efforts. Here are some things I would tell them:
*Don’t be lazy. Work hard every time! Then work harder!
*Learn to love the barre. Or at least appreciate the technique that comes from barre exercises.
*You MUST only speak to yourself with positive phrases. Example: Instead of saying to yourself, “I’m not going to fall out of this turn” which only makes you focus on falling, say,”I’m going to have perfect balance for this turn” which makes you focus on balancing. May not work every time, but it gears you in the right direction.
*Stop worrying about the level of the class you are in or who else is in there. Concentrate on you and your skill and how you can perform the steps better each time. If you think a dance is too easy, maybe it is because you aren’t doing it right.
*You look sillier when you only halfway go for it, than when you really go for it and fall or stumble. You will also never find out what you are capable of if you only half way try because you are worried about what other people will say or think.
*While the shows are exciting and fun, the shows are not the pay off. The pay off is being able to dance everyday. You will spend many many more hours in the studio than you ever will on stage. If all you are focused on is the stage, then you will likely not put in the work necessary to actually get there.
*Amazing technique is always impressive, but when you can bring someone to tears with your emotion, you will have the gift of leaving a lasting impression on your audience. With that said, you still must work to perfect your technique.
*Be open to new ideas, new techniques, new styles, and new ways of doing old steps.
*Improvise whenever you can. It may be uncomfortable at first, but will eventually help you find your own style. Most auditions include improvisation.
5. What advice would you give to all first year dance teachers or dance teachers of any level of experience?
*Being a great dancer does not equal being a great teacher. You have to connect with your students and make them understand what may come naturally to you at this point.
*Constantly observe them. While dancing with them is beneficial for everyone, don’t do it all the time or you will not see mistakes they are making.
*Don’t get caught up in getting through your whole lesson plan. If you only get through half of it, but the students really understand the concepts, then the class was a success!
*If you are only there to collect a pay check, it’s probably not the right job for you.
*Be honest with the students. If you don’t know the answer to something, don’t make one up. Tell them you will research it and get back to them. Then follow through.
*STOP telling them “Good Job” when it is clearly terrible! Do what you can to build them up, but be truthful or you will end up with a group of kids who stop trying because they already think they are great.
*Stop students in the middle of a dance combination if you have to in order to fix mistakes as early on as possible. Once muscle memory has set in, mistakes are SO hard to fix.
*Give all of your students, no matter the skill level, an opportunity to improvise and think on their own.
"Dance from your heart and say something!"
Visit fortestudios.biz for more information on Marin and her amazing studio.
Actually, that title, besides being really long, is also a lie. I don’t wish I’d known these things. If I had, I wouldn’t be where I am now, and I’m pretty happy where I am now. But for the sake of this blog, here are some random things I wish I had known.
1. There’s enough success in the world.
If I had known this, I would have been happier for my friends when they succeeded instead of asking, “What about me?”
2. Excuses are for losers.
Sure, they make you feel better in the short term. But in the end, all you’re left with is the fact that you didn’t come through and didn’t own up to it.
3. Fresh spinach is amazing.
Knowing this would’ve kept me from wasting so much of my life eating iceberg lettuce, which is dumb, as discussed last week on this blog here.
4. Everyone, at one point, was a little baby whom someone loved and had dreams for.
It’s hard to remember this when you run into people who act like jerks, but we all started off the same way. Then life, and choices made by us or for us, took control.
5. Surround yourself with people that challenge you.
Sure, being a big fish in a small pond feels good. But you won’t grow until there are bigger fish than you that push you to be better.
6. Not everything is about you.
For the longest time, I thought the world cared about everything I said or did. Until I realized that everyone else thought the same thing. Doing the math, something didn’t add up.
7. When you’re 12, the way to a girl’s heart is probably not adult contemporary music sung by Dan Hill.
Especially when the first line of the song is “Can I touch you? I can’t believe that you are real.” My bad, Missy.
8. It’s never really about winning.
It’s about working hard enough to put yourself in a position to win. To have a chance. Let the results fall where they may.
9. Be the person you wish everyone else would be.
If you can’t, why would you expect anyone else to?
10. Buy thousands of boxes of Christmas Fruity Pebbles.
That cereal was awesome.
11. And while I’m at it, let’s buy a thousand boxes of Lemon Coolers, made by the Sunshine brand.
The perfect beach cookie.
12. Keep perspective.
Nothing is the end of the world. Except the end of the world. And when that happens, no one will be around to say it anyway.
13. Always do work you’re proud of.
If you’re not proud of it, do it again. And do it better.
14. No one knows exactly how you feel, and you don’t know exactly how anyone else feels.
You can’t. There are too many variables. Knowing this makes empathy a lot easier.
15. Learn everything you can about others and the world.
The world is full of awesome things. Experience them. Learn about them. Other people, with all of their interesting quirks and backstories, are amazing – if you take the time to get know them.
16. There are a lot of talented people in the world.
And most of the time, it comes down to who works the hardest. Make it you.
17. Never forget how to believe in the impossible.
It was easy when you were three. It’s harder now. But not impossible – if you remember what it was like to be three.
18. Remember that everyone grows old and dies.
19. Laugh at yourself.
We all do awkward things sometimes. Laugh at yourself, forgive yourself, and then move on.
20. Be nice to yourself.
You’re going to have bad moments, like at least 18 of them. You’re going to say the wrong thing sometimes. You’re going to fail to come through sometimes. It’s okay. Do better next time.
21. There is no 21.
I just didn’t want to end at 20.
22. You don’t always have to have a concluding paragraph.
And now we end at 22.
That was not a metaphor. It is a statement of fact. Iceberg lettuce, a member of the daisy family, is dumb.
It is pointless, tasteless, and makes babies cry.
There. I said it. And I feel better. I’m sure all of those “Iceberg Lettuce Fan Clubs” are up in leaves because I mocked their idol. Only they’re not.
Because there are no iceberg lettuce fan clubs. (I checked.)
My distaste for the “Lettuce formerly known as Crisphead” started when I was but a wee lad. I remember it as if it were . . . 1st grade. Because it was. I was going through the lunch line, minding my own business, getting my sub sandwich, a cookie, and maybe that weird mixed veggie thing. Then the cafeteria woman, whom I had previously found charming, demanded that I put this faint green fiend on my plate. She also included one tiny piece of purple something (perhaps cabbage) and a sliver of carrot. I gave her an affronted look, which she did not see.
Near the end of lunch, it remained on my tray. Until my first grade teacher, Ms. Corn, came by.
“Mark [my middle name], you haven’t eaten your healthy salad yet.” She did not leave until I did. Really strong commitment, that woman.
Lunch was ruined, but something good did come out of it: That day, I discovered my food nemesis, iceberg lettuce, that barely-any-nutritional-value abomination.
I would compare it to celery, but celery at least has ants on a log.
I don’t like leaves of it and certainly not shredded. I don’t like it on my sandwiches. I don’t like how some restaurants pile half the plate with it. Seriously, iceberg lettuce adds nothing to my tostadas. Nothing but sadness.
I would not eat it in a boat. Or in a moat. Or with a goat. The goat would be all over it, though. Because goats eat everything.
I don’t like iceberg lettuce. At all. I do like fresh spinach, though.
So why must we continued to suffer through this lettuce plague? Because it’s a not a plague? Because some people like iceberg lettuce? Because you’re the only one that feels that way, Steven? No, none of those are correct. If that’s the way you feel, your opinion is false.
The reason we continue to face this tasteless enemy is because someone, somewhere told you that it was healthy. It’s the most popular lettuce in the U.S. What does that say about America? Nothing good, I assure you. Something must be done, and now.
Because if not, it will only get worse. Trust me. This is just the tip of the iceberg.
It isn’t. It never is.
When we define something as good, it usually means that we’re happy with it. A good day. A good meal. A good effort. But when we add the modifier “enough,” we’re now saying that it is in fact not good. We’re saying that it’s okay . . . average.
As for my students, I don’t want them to use the phrase “good enough.” I don’t want it to be a part of their vocabulary because “good enough” is never actually good enough. It means that you could’ve done better. That something more was out there just waiting to be discovered, but you didn’t discover it. Because you didn’t look. Because you settled.
I get that it’s fine for some things in life not to be amazing. Like the coffee that I make at home. I don’t need perfect coffee; I need it to do its job, to wake me up in the morning and not be so awful that I spit it out. Or have my wife ask “What did you do to this coffee?” So if my coffee accomplishes those things, I’m good.
There are other things in my life, as I’m sure there are in yours, where I settle for less than amazing. But when it comes to the things of value – family, opportunities, once-in-a-lifetime moments – you should never settle.
“My life was good enough” probably isn’t the last sentence you want.
Because that would mean it wasn’t.
“Take this glass and fill with it water. Trust me.”
Bendable Jesus has made his way to Christmas Town just in time for the holidays. During his stay, he encountered some of the residents, and we at StackCorp were there to snap pictures and get some quotes from the big man himself. Note: Bendable Jesus did not encounter a certain Dolly because she was off being depressed with Charlie Brown. Or was it because a certain daughter misplaced her? A missing doll report has been filed.
So without further ado, I present . . .
Bendable Jesus Goes to Christmas Town
“All I’m saying is that “Silver and Gold” might not really be what this season is all about.
It’s the exact opposite, actually.”
“Buddy, I cured lepers and raised the dead.
I can take care of your spots and still make it to my spin class.”
“What would make Bendable JC even awesomer? Being a lion with wings.”
“Yeah, I can see how this could be a problem.”
“So you love him but you wait a year to go look for him?”
“Your dogs are disproportionately tiny! How do they even pull you and your sled? PS, they’re totes adorbz!”
“Seriously, just change your name to Jack. It’s that easy.”
“Hermie, you didn’t choose to be a dentist. It’s just who you are. Oh, and I think there’s actually more to it than yanking out teeth.”
“You realize that you stole this hat and almost froze a little girl to death to save yourself, right?”
“So what if they pull all your teeth out? You could still rip them all apart. Sorry, went a little Old Testament there.”
“I actually didn’t think the elf song was that bad.”
"Merry Christmas Everyone!"
Alexis lost a bet. Now, she must venture into the abandoned home of the formerly living Abigail Caldwell to take something while her friends wait outside. Unfortunately, this house is not empty. There is someone waiting for Alexis. Someone who has been alone for such a long time. The Lady in White.
The excerpt below is from my play, The Bottom of the Lake, available from Theatrefolk. The play itself mixes many genres but this is pretty much a straight up ghost story. Enjoy!
(Alexis enters the house. The only light coming from her flashlight.)
ALEXIS: This isn’t so bad. Just an old house. An old, dusty, decrepit house. There’s nothing to be scared of. (Bumps into something. Screams.) Crap! (Flashlight pans around on dolls.) Wow, she did have a lot of dolls. Maybe I should just take one of those and . . . (We hear a cat’s meow.) Well, that’s cliché. Here, kitty, kitty. Where are you? I bet you’re not scared. (Moves the flashlight around. Hears movement behind her. Cat makes screeching sound and then runs.) Or you are. (Hears a noise and quickly turns.) Who’s there? (Sees nothing.) I’m just letting Molly get to me. Nothing here but me, creepy dolls and a cat. (Hears children laughing.) And laughing children. (Looks around with flashlight.) I gotta get out of here. (Flashlight starts to flicker and then cuts off and Alexis is left in the dark.) Okay, okay. Relax. Just slowly make your way to the door that you left open. (Footsteps are heard.) Oh god. Who’s there? (More movement is heard. We hear Alexis bumping into things.) Oh, man. (Breathing is heard. Alexis stops moving. Her flashlight starts to slowly flicker on. Alexis begins slowly moving the light around. After a moment, her flashlight finds the Lady in White, a ghostly figure dressed in white and obviously dead. She is looking at Alexis, who is completely frozen. The Lady in White starts moving closer to her. Alexis continues to stare, unable to move. The Lady in White ends up right in front of her. Alexis looks as if she is about to cry. Silence fills the space.)
LADY IN WHITE: Did you come to play? (Alexis struggles to speak.)
ALEXIS: Wh . . . I . . . what?
LADY IN WHITE: Did you come to play? (Silence)
ALEXIS: Uh . . . no.
LADY IN WHITE: That’s too bad.
ALEXIS: Are you--?
LADY IN WHITE: I am.
ALEXIS: Holy crap.
LADY IN WHITE: I assure you, there’s nothing holy in this house. (Alexis looks scared.) You’re afraid.
ALEXIS: Seems like a natural feeling.
LADY IN WHITE: I suppose. (Lady in White walks away from Alexis and over to a window and looks out.)
ALEXIS: Look, I just came to--
LADY IN WHITE: Take something. I know.
ALEXIS: But how could you--
LADY IN WHITE: I was watching from the window. (Lady in White turns to her.) It wasn’t the drapes. (Begins wandering through the room.) I’m glad you came. I’ve been rather lonely all these years with just
my dolls. And the children, of course. (Looks at Alexis) You heard their laughter, I suppose?
LADY IN WHITE: (Looks off.) When I hear them laugh, I relive it all again. Every painful moment. (Pause.) They said I murdered them, but how could I murder the only things I ever loved? (Pause.) They were like me. Damaged. (Looks at Alexis)
ALEXIS: Then why did you let them die? (Lady in White turns on her angrily.)
LADY IN WHITE: What did you say?
ALEXIS: I . . . uh . . .
LADY IN WHITE: How dare you come into my house and accuse me of such things?
ALEXIS: I’m sorry. I just heard-- (The Lady in White stares at her.)
LADY IN WHITE: You shouldn’t always trust what you hear. (Begins walking around the room.) I had locked them in their rooms because they wouldn’t listen to me. Unruly children need to be punished. (Silence) When the fire started, I rushed upstairs. The doors were so hot and flames . . . were everywhere. I couldn’t breathe, and the next thing I knew, I was outside on the porch. I tried to get back in but it was too late. So I sat and waited. (Silence.) They sent me away and when I got out . . . I came back here. To the only home I’ve ever known.
ALEXIS: How did you die?
LADY IN WHITE: (Lady in White turns to her.) They murdered me. The ones who believed that I was responsible for the children’s . . . (Stops herself and looks out a window.) They tied me up and locked me inside the closet. The one in the attic. The same one I was locked in as a child. I pleaded with them, but they didn’t listen.
ALEXIS: I’m sorry.
LADY IN WHITE: Are you?
ALEXIS: Yeah. (Lady in White smiles slightly.)
LADY IN WHITE: Then perhaps you could do me a favor . . .
What is this favor that the Lady in White desires? Will Alexis do it? Do she have a choice? Will she see her friends again or will she be . . . condemned? Head over to read more at Theatrefolk by clicking the play title at the beginning or you could just click the picture below.
After months and months of rehearsals, they’re finally here. Coming straight from work or from a day of relative leisure, they get their programs, find their seats, and begin the ritual of checking their phone or engaging in small talk. They occasionally glance at the closed curtain with various levels of expectation as to what awaits them when it opens.
All the while, you and your fellow actors are behind that curtain, anticipating the moment when it’s pulled back, the veil drops, and you let the people in the seats meet your characters and the world that you’ve created. While you wait, you might stand quietly with butterflies fluttering all over your stomach, maybe doing a little last-minute character work, some mindless chatter, or perhaps even engaging in some ritualistic phone-checking of your own. But all the while, you think about them. As they’re sitting out there. Waiting. For you.
They might be silent – but you know they’re out there.
Projecting their emotional needs onto you:
“Entertain me!” “Make me laugh!” “Make me cry!”
At times, supportive:
“I could never do that.” “So talented.” “I feel like I’m in another world.”
And at times, critical:
“That looks nothing like a real ship. It looks like painted cardboard.”
“Wow. Was that 40-second pause supposed to be in there?”
“Wait, I thought she was supposed to be dead? You can clearly see her breathing.”
What kind of audience will you get? You never know, but today I’ll share some tips that will allow you to focus on your character, your fellow actors, and the world of your play without worrying about that fickle creature known as “the audience.”
Without further ado, curtain up!
1. You are not performing for the audience. Yes, they are there watching you and your fellow actors bring a play to life, but you’re not doing it for them. Your only true objective is to create a believable character that lives, listens, and interacts with the world of the play.
2. But do care about your audience. You need them. All performers do. You invited them to share in this world you’ve created, and the way to show them you care is by simply being aware of them. The good news is that being aware of the audience is easy if you keep a few key things in mind: Am I projecting? Can the person with hearing issues in the back hear me? Am I avoiding the infamous “butt-shot?” (Or, “can the audience see my face?”) Am I holding long enough (but not too long) for laughter? There are other questions you could ask yourself, but those are the main ones that show you are aware of your audience.
3. Don’t judge the quality of your performance based on the audience’s response (or lack thereof). They might be loud. They might be quiet. They might respond to everything, some things, or nothing at all. So you must not gauge how well the show is going by the audience’s reaction, because no two audiences are the same. Play your objectives and attack every moment. If you do that, then you’ve done all you can. Besides, sometimes the quietest audiences will come up to you afterwards raving about how good the show was.
4. Play through. Your audience won’t hear or see the “mistakes” that happen unless you let them. Long pauses full of actors staring at each other with looks that say “Oh crap! What do we do now?” are one way of telling your audience “Something is wrong!” So is apologizing. So is a two-hour silence. Don’t do any of those. Play through the issue, and stay in character. Keep the show moving no matter what, as if everything that happened was supposed to happen. You will be surprised at how few of your mistakes were actually noticed by the audience.
5. You can’t make your audience respond. You can set everything up for a response, but in the end, each member of the audience responds or doesn’t respond based on variables over which you have no control. This also applies to making someone laugh. One audience might laugh a ridiculous amount and the next night, when the same joke is delivered in the same amazing way: crickets. Or silence, if there are no crickets. Once again, your focus shouldn’t be on getting a response; it should be on playing your objectives and attacking each and every moment. And if you do that, the responses will come. Or they won’t.
6. Remember: your audience wants you to succeed. This is because if you do succeed, there’s a huge chance that they are being entertained. (Also, a bunch of them are probably related to you.) So there is no reason to fear them. Unless they brought tomatoes. Then you can fear them.
Now, there are actually 245 more facts about audiences that you should know, but I’m not sharing them. If I did, this post would be really long. So instead of that, I encourage you to come up with your own facts about audiences based on your experiences. The more you know about these . . . “audiences” . . . the less scary they’ll become.
It was Friday. I hadn’t written all week, and I knew time would quickly slip away and I’d be faced with having to churn out a bunch of scenes on a tight time frame – not to mention that the online course I was teaching would be starting before I knew it. So I sat in front of the computer, ready to continue a bizarre scene I was writing about Humpty Dumpty.
Then a voice called out from the basement: “Daddy, will you come play with me?”
It was Zoe, our two-year-old daughter. I answered quickly, “I would, but I really need to write right now.”
“Okay, daddy. Love you.”
“Love you, too.” And with that, I started typing again.
Until I stopped and listened. Listened to the joyful playing of a two-year-old who wouldn’t always be two. Who wouldn’t always be there, playing in the basement, because she’d be off somewhere else, too busy to play. Who one day will ask me to play with her one last time.
I typed a few more words – and then I stopped. The work could wait. I could always find some other writing time. Maybe I could write instead of checking 25 times to see if anyone bought one of my plays. Or instead of changing the line-up of one my three fantasy teams. Or maybe instead of watching another rerun of Supernatural . . . well, you get the point.
I went down to the basement that Friday, and found that she had set up an elaborate picnic for us in the hopes that I would come down. I sat right down beside her, and we had a most delightful time (despite her highly questionable food and wine pairings). After our picnic was complete, we played some Little People together and then went to the zoo. It was a perfect day.
Well, maybe not a perfect writing day. I wrote around 34 words, which likely meets no known metric for success. But it was a perfect daddy/daughter day, one that I’ll remember when those days are nothing more than a picture in my mind.
I know that, in the future, there will be days when I can’t play with her when she wants me to – and that will be okay. Because sometimes, I’ll have to work. Sometimes I’ll have to get other things done. Sometimes the siren call of something else, whatever it may be, will just be too difficult to deny. But, more often than not, when I hear that little voice from Zoe or Chloe, I know what my response will be.
“Daddy, would you like to play?”
I’ve taught theatre for over 16 years now: in the public school setting, at both academic and traditional summer camps, and at one awesome studio in Mt. Horeb. So I’ve had many chances to refine my class expectations, those guiding principles that all students follow without fail (ha).
I remember that my first set of expectations (I called them “rules” back then) was filled with redundancies – and they were pretty epic in size and scope. As the years passed, I whittled that list to a more manageable set of seven expectations that would serve as a guide for me and my students as we embarked on our amazing and often bizarre trip through the world of theatre. Notice that I said me and my students, not just my students. If I expect them to honor these expectations, then I should be expected to do the same. This way, the students know that we’re all in this together. And yes, I did just sing a certain song in my head when I typed that last sentence.
Below are the seven expectations that I use to set the tone for all of the theatre classes (and most other classes) that I teach.
Each day, you will be expected to . . .
1. Know that this class is all about you.
I assume that most students, when they read this, think “Well, of course it is.” But for those who don’t, this is important to state. It lets the students know that they are seen as individuals and will be taught and treated as such. That my teaching will be geared toward making their strengths stronger and helping them work to improve the areas in which they’re not as strong. Another reason this expectation is here is to set up number 2.
2. Know that this class is not about you.
Some students seem to be raised to believe that, despite scientific proof to the contrary, the world revolves around them. This is where I inform them that this is, in fact, not the case. The class is about more than them as individuals. It’s about the subject, it’s about the lessons, it’s about the learning, the projects, the characters, the performances, and most importantly . . . about everyone who’s in the class. Hearing the phase “It’s not about you” can be one of the hardest things a person can hear, but sometimes it’s also the best thing they can hear. Students, and adults, need to realize that they’re part of something bigger then themselves.
3. Do the right thing.
My friend and mentor Harvey Craft set this as the only expectation in his class. His view was that instead of having a lot of behavior-based rules, he would reduce it to one that covered everything. Throughout the year, he spent time talking with his students about what the “right thing” was, and most of the time, they knew in any given situation what choice they should make. When they didn’t, it was a great opportunity for a teachable moment.
4. Leave any issues that you have at the door.
To be able to get the most out of class, the students must be able to fully focus on what we’re doing. Everyone has issues they’re dealing with, and students feel those issues even more deeply than the rest of us. Dwelling on friends, family, school, or just being a teenager can make your students completely incapable of doing their best work, or any work. So before they enter, I ask them to simply leave their issues at the door. (I do let them know that they can pick their issues up when they leave, if they choose to.)
Naturally, some students find this difficult at first. Once it becomes a habit and an expectation, they’re often able as a group to help one another leave their issues at the door, where many of them remain unpicked-up after class.
Quick note: I do realize that there some issues you can’t just “leave at the door.” Those are handled as they come up, in whatever way the student needs.
5. Seek progress over perfection.
On a daily basis, I stress to my students that it’s not about being perfect; it’s about being better. At something. Every day. And when you do the best that you can do every day, you’ll make progress in some aspect of the class. I also stress to students the importance of looking back and recognizing the progress that they’ve made. Seeing how far they’ve come is vital for encouraging their continued growth.
6. Know that we succeed – or fail – together. Everyone is vital.
Here, I want everyone to understand that there is not a single person in the class who’s not vital. Everyone must do their part, play their role, to the best of their ability in order for us to succeed as a group. Success in theatre depends on everyone. Sure, there are bigger roles, but just like in a complicated machine, if the smallest part doesn’t come through, the entire machine can break down. That’s why I think it’s critical to develop a strong sense of community early in the year, to learn to operate as one instead of as a bunch of individuals.
7. Have fun.
At no point should you or your students ever forget that at the heart of theatre is the word “play.” People play because it’s fun. And when you’re having fun, you’re unshackled from the reality that you know in the rest of your life, and you have the freedom to create and truly experience the pretend, the magic. The fun.
That’s it! The magnificent seven. Feel free to use some, or all, if you find them useful.
As students head back to school, auditions for fall plays are right around the corner. I ran three auditions over the summer and have another six coming up shortly, so with auditions on the brain, I thought I’d share some tips for students who are about to embark on that stressful, yet fun, challenge.
These tips are assembled from my experience as an actor going through audition after audition, as a director running audition after audition, from students who told me about their own audition experiences, and from various directors who have shared their audition processes with me.
Feel free to pick and choose the ones that you think will be helpful when you audition. If you can apply some of these tips, you’ll be more likely to have a strong audition that you can feel good about, and to have a chance at getting a part. (Notice that I didn’t say you will get a part. Because you don’t control casting. All you control is your audition.)
Let’s take a look at some audition tips!
1. Auditions begin the moment you walk in the door. And they never stop – even when you’re off the stage.
Most directors are observing you at various times from the minute you arrive, even when you’re not onstage. They’re taking note of your personality, how you interact with others, how professional you are, and how seriously you’re taking the audition. This is one opportunity that a lot of actors (young and not-young) don’t take advantage of. I’ve gotten a lot of ideas for casting just by watching the students who are waiting to go onstage. So make sure the actor you’re showing to the director is the one who will help the show – not hurt it.
2. It doesn’t really matter what part you want.
This one is pretty simple: Directors don’t, or shouldn’t, cast a show based on which parts their actors want to play. They cast based on what’s best for the characters and the play, nothing more. As an actor, if there’s a part that you think you’re a great fit for, do your best to show the director that you connect with that character (remember: both on and off the stage). Now, sometimes the part you like the most and the part that fits you best are the same thing. But more than likely, they’re not – and that’s okay. Because remember, casting is not about you. It’s about the show.
3. Auditions are not a time to be timid. Bold choices are required.
When it’s your time to take the stage, your objective is not to blend in. Those that blend in get forgotten. (And usually not cast.) So take risks. Be bold. Move around and interact with the other actors onstage, even if you’re the only one doing it. Be willing to be wrong, to make mistakes. Don’t leave the stage thinking “I wish I had done this cool thing. . . ” because it does you no good. Do it while you’re there. What do you have to lose?
4. Pay attention to what the other actors are doing.
If you’re in an audition where you get to observe everyone who’s auditioning, put down your phone, stop talking to your friends, and don’t zone out. Pay attention to everyone’s audition. Find the choices they make that don’t work, and don’t repeat them. Find the choices that do work, and steal them for when it’s your turn. Steal them, you say? That’s right. Because in auditions . . .
5. Stealing from others is okay.
Your objective in an audition is to give yourself the best chance to get cast. One way to do this is by observing what the other actors are doing that works well when they audition. If they do something that makes you think “That’s amazing,” it makes sense for you to incorporate what they did, make it your own, and make it better. But what if you can’t make it better? Do it anyway. You never know what’s going to happen.
6. Treat every time that you get to “read” as your last chance.
You may get to read several times during an audition. But the truth is, casting decisions are being made throughout the process. Now, they may change (and probably will), but don’t think that way. Treat every time you “read” as the only chance you’ll get to show what you can do. Because it may be. Does that put pressure on you? Sure, but the pressure’s already there anyway. It is an audition, after all.
7. You are not competing with the other actors, no matter what anyone else has ever told you.
I know it feels like you versus the other actors, but it’s not. You can’t control how talented the other actors are, or their experience, or their looks, or what they do or don’t do onstage. You can only control yourself, what you bring into the audition, and how you use what you do have. The goal is not to beat everyone else: It’s simply to do your best, with the skills you have, when you get the chance.
8. You are never just auditioning for the part you’re reading for.
You’ve been asked to read for a role that you have no interest in. It’s a small part, and you’re scared that if you do an awesome job, you’ll be stuck with it. So you’re thinking of holding back a little – or completely tanking. Don’t. For two reasons: One, that’s not professional and could keep you from being cast at all. Two, you might be (no – you are) getting looked at for other parts at the same time.
9. Of course everyone doesn’t have an equal shot at every part.
This is the reality of casting a show. No matter how fair a director strives to make it, everyone doesn’t have the same shot at all parts. If everyone was exactly the same, in every way, then sure: everybody would have an equal shot. But it’s not true because everyone’s different. Different looks, different genders, different ages, different experience and skill levels. Not to mention that the play, and the characters, play a huge role in casting as well. And that’s okay. So don’t get caught up on something you have no control over. Focus on only what you do.
10. If you do nothing else, at least project.
Sometimes, casting a role comes down to the student who can project, or fill the theatre with their voice. That’s it. If a student can already project, that’s huge because one of the biggest problems students have is talking to “deaf Mrs. McGillicuddy” in the back row of the theatre. So if you do nothing else during auditions, at least project.
In the end, remember that you are auditioning for a play. There’s a reason it’s called a play. The ability to just let go and “play” whatever role you’re reading for isn’t as difficult as you think. You were free to do that when you were 4 years old. You could play any character you wanted, loudly and believably.
Why? Because it was called pretend back then. Now it’s called acting. The secret is: they’re the same thing.
So find your inner four-year-old, remember and use the tips above, and be big, bold and have fun playing whatever character you’re reading for. In the end, you might get cast, you might not. But in the end, you’ll know you did everything you could. Your best.
Here it is. Steven's blog, where his thoughts about things are revealed. Good luck.