Thursday, January 22, 2015

Ten Questions, Part 2

Last week's post was a big hit, so here's Part 2.  Take it away, working artists!

6.  What is one aspect of your work you adore?
Creating art. Touching an audience.

The magic of community and collaboration!  My casts usually feel like my family rather than co-workers.  There's nothing better than telling a great story with people I love and respect.  

Getting to sing a lot of different kinds of music.
Adam Kemmerer

Wow, this sounds corny but --where to start?! I love that no job is ever the same-- always new stories, new people, new locations, etc etc etc. Its the best. 

I just love making music, and having the opportunity to move an audience. Unfortunately, that's about 5% of my job.

I feel so blessed to be in a business where uniqueness and being different is celebrated.  I have never really seen people for their color or gender in a negative light...more rather in a curious light.  I've always been intrigued by different cultures and nationalities than mine and theatre has played a huge role in feeding that fascination positively.  

Standing on stage, holding the attention of the crowd, and taking them on a journey with me. Also spending time with my castmates backstage.

Heidi's Takeaway - The attention, the money, the cache of being a performing artist are attractive, but that's not what makes artists thrive.  The act of creating, of expressing something larger than yourself -  that is what keeps people in the business.

7.  What is one aspect of your work you despise?
A lot of producers and creative teams in this business will dangle carrots in front of you to get you to agree to things, most of the time they end up being empty promises. Also I hate the Catch-22 of needing to be a "somebody" before anyone will take a chance on you for that big role. Less and less casting directors will hire anyone who doesn't already have a Broadway credit.

Networking and self promotion. Its endless. No matter what level you're at. And what I've found surprising is it only gets MORE stressful as the stakes get higher and higher. Yes, it hurts to almost be hired by a regional company but lose out for reasons X or Y. However, it hurts more when you lose out to a gig for a Broadway show or a BIG house (like the Met or Los Angeles Opera). It's nice to know you were close, but the sting is just that much more. 

I also hate being "camera ready" at all times. You never know when a photographer is going to show up at a rehearsal. Technically, a company is supposed to give you warning, but usually that warning is as you walk in with your hair in a scrunchie and caked-on eye liner from the night before and the stage manager says "Hey, there's a photographer here. I hope that's okay." I'm not that much of a hair and makeup person, but after a company had to PHOTOSHOP their rehearsal photos of me (I was supposed to be playing a glamorous fallen diva), I learned my lesson. 
Donata Cucinotta
Open calls. There's nothing worse than sitting in a room full of 300 jolly people at 7:30 AM.

The lack of financial security for sure.  I think we already went there, haha! (That's correct, we did, in Question #4 of last week's post.)


There is nothing about it I despise. The thing I struggle with, or "dislike," is how social aspects creep into, or are blatantly a part of, the work. Sometimes that can be amazing and great, but when it's bad-- it's bad! I guess I have this view that a plumber has it easier because he just gets to go in, do his work, and leave feeling good when it's done. On the flip side, the mixing between business and pleasure is also why artists are able to walk away from their work with deeper relationships and fulfillment. It's not so bad, just sometimes can be a little tedious.

Heidi's Takeaway - There are many aspects of this business that are exceedingly challenging.  Successful artists find a way to rise above the challenges.

8.  What surprises you the most about your business?
The amount of loyalty in the business....and sometimes, the amount of cold hard business.

How small of a world it is!  In the last show I worked on, one of my cast member's wife happened to be a Broadway performer I very much looked up to as a kid and would sing along with all over my house.  And now here I was, clicking cocktails with her and talking to her like any other normal person.  If you told little me that, she would have flipped!

Owen Pelesh
That it's not impossible to be a working actor. That success can come from hard work. Until about a month ago, I still thought that I would never work again after each show closed (thanks to the endless college speakers who talked about how hard it was to make it). Sure, it's hard, but what good things in life aren't? 

I think you just never know what is going to happen or what you're going to be considered for. I've gotten to sing roles in genres of music that 10 years ago I would have never even considered myself capable of doing. 

How small it is. We all have mutual friends. eventually you get to a point where we all know the same people.

9.  Do you have your career goals written down?
I tend to take it one day at a time. 

Yes. I have a 5 year plan that I re-evaluate on a yearly basis. 

Yes, and I look at them every morning.

Only in my brain.
Lauren Cupples

No I do not. I'm terrible at writing things down. There's a good book called The Organized Actor that helps with that. I've never committed to it. Maybe I'll write that goal down...

I do.  I did a program called Magical Manifesters in the fall of 2013 that got me back into journaling and writing down what I want...and making it a feasible reality!  I believe in that power of putting it out there so much- make yourself accountable for your day dreams!

10. How often do you coach or study (voice, acting, dance, etc.)?
I go in for a voice lesson once a month. Teaching has REALLY helped my singing. I'm currently shopping for an acting coach.

I try to take a voice lesson at least once every two weeks, a fitness class like Pilates or barre three or four times a week, and short-term acting classes (like at the Walnut or 11th Hour) whenever I can afford them, like once or twice a year.

I work on rep and my vocal exercises every single day. I try to study voice once a month with a teacher. I take dance classes often when I'm not in a show.
Tara Tagliaferro

It never stops!  Even on the road, I have voice check ups with a cast member who teaches voice and other teachers via Skype!  I dance as much as I can when I'm in NY and sign up for workshops/classes whenever I see a stretch of time.  I love being in class and having that safe exploratory environment.  And I'm always practicing yoga- whether it be tracking down a local studio or doing videos in my hotel room!  What an irreplaceable peace!

Hmm...I'm sad to say I have not coached or studied since I graduated about 2-3 years ago (guilty confession)... but fortunately I've been working in the field since and am thus constantly using those muscles (and definitely doing my own warm-ups!!).

To be honest, when I have the money and inspiration. I myself am a coach, so that helps me keep in touch with audition rep and technique. When I have the cash, I try to make an occasional voice lesson. If I have a big audition, especially for a play, I will try to see an acting coach. Luckily, working is its own coaching - it keeps my voice and body relatively in shape. However, I do go to the gym 3-5 days a week. 

Thank you again to the working artists who responded for your time and honesty.  I'll see you on a stage soon.

Creataviters, your response to 10 Questions has been overwhelming and positive.  Therefore, I'm going to make this series an annual event.  Send me your questions, especially the ones you've always been afraid to ask.  Posting a comment here on the blog is best.

Looking forward to hearing from you!

Friday, January 16, 2015

Ten Questions, Part 1

To kick off 2015, I asked some of my favorite working artists ten questions. Some background on the artists:
  • all of them live on the East Coast, either in New York, New Jersey or Philadelphia
  • all of them are actively employed in theatre, classical concert or opera
  • some are married and and some are single
  • all of them back up their artistic passion with hard work, determination and persistence.
Throughout this post you'll find photos and links to the websites of many of the artists who participated (a few chose to remain anonymous). I know each one of them would appreciate visitors to their websites, so please take the time to click through. They're an outstanding group of people, who have taken the time to give remarkably thorough and honest answers . In fact they were so generous that there's enough material for two posts. So here's Part 1, and next Friday I'll post Part 2.

1. How many auditions have you gone to in the past 6 months? In the past year?
8 auditions. Been working on two other shows though so haven't been focusing too hard on auditioning.

Theater -15. Opera- 15

I haven't been too an audition since June because I was lucky enough to book two jobs from that back to back, but those jobs are about to end, so I have three coming up this month. Usually I hit about three per month if I'm not working.

Probably about 5-10 but since it's not "audition season" and I choose to stay local, there are less to go for. I generally audition less but go after roles/shows that I know I am really right for and this has seemed to work for me. 

Tara Tagliaferro
I believe 3 auditions in the past 6 months. (Way lower than normal as I've been working the entire time outside of New York.)

I haven't been auditioning since June when I found out I got the Sister Act national tour, but before that I was auditioning and in callbacks in NY and Philly about once or twice a week while running How To Succeed at the Walnut St. Theatre.  May was my busiest and I had the whole running around like a chicken-with-its-head-cut-off business going on!

Heidi's Takeaway – Working performers view auditioning as a part of their job. They stay prepared and audition as much as possible. They don't wait for the perfect audition. They do as many as they can when their work commitments are light because they know how difficult it can be to find the time to audition when they are in a show.

2. Union or non-union?
I am non-union, but am at must-join with Actor's Equity and planning to take my card at the end of my Sister Act contract.  I was supposed to become AEA (Actor's Equity of America) with How To Succeed, but decided the Sister Act opportunity was worth the delay!

Non until the right project comes along. Definitely eager and ready though.




I'm Equity so all the theater auditions I go to are union.  My opera auditions I get through my manager. In general, the opera union (AGMA - American Guild of Musical Artists) is all but non-existent so it's not that big of an issue.

3. Thoughts on that?
[In the union] it's a lot harder to get jobs but the pay is so much better. I think it's better to do a couple non-union jobs at union theatres, to get to know people and gain experience, before taking your card. But it's different for everyone.

I believe I will be taking my card in June. I will probably work less, but I believe I'm ready to take the plunge. Eventually, if one is to make a real living as an actor, he/she has to be in the union. It will mean less work at first, but I'm ready to make a decent living when I do get the job.

Owen Pelesh
In the realm of theater, I know for a fact I have LOST jobs because of my Equity status. Where I was told how much a company wanted to hire me, but didn't have enough Equity tracts to go around and essentially needed to save them for harder to fill roles (this has happened to me twice in the past 6 months). However, ​I cannot imagine NOT being Equity, having to wait even longer to audition as a non-Eq performer. It sucks, but I just do not have it in me to get up at 4am to get to NYC by 6am to wait in line all day to hopefully be seen (It's much easier to get up at 6am, sign up for an EPA at 9am and audition when I please).  

I think joining AEA is different for everyone and its tricky these days with our economy and seemingly less work at the coveted production contract level.  I've taken my time joining since I am generally use to playing fun "Mom" types and/or character roles that I'm still a little young for.  For me, it hasn't been about the money so far as much as its been about the work and the relationships/collaborations.  I am though pretty lucky to say most of my non-union gigs have paid decently, been majority on Broadway national tours or at Equity houses, and have been stepping stones disguised as marvelous experiences where I've grown leaps and bounds.  But now after many summers working in stock while in college and over 4 years since my college graduation pounding the pavement and beginning my professional career, I feel beyond ready to join.  I feel like I have the credentials and confidence now and am especially excited for the financial shift and level of caliber!

I think it depends mainly on location, set of skills, experience in the field and what kind of work you're interested in taking. Ex: as a young, musical theatre performer who also does classics/straight plays/physical theatre, with decent regional credits, based in Philadelphia, I feel its not as hard getting work as non-union, and getting paid enough. If I were musical theatre only, in NY, it would be a totally different story and I would have probably joined at least a year or two ago. 

Non is great while building a body of work but eventually you need to join the union if you want to be taken seriously by major casting directors. Plus speaking as someone who has spent a lot of time in both union and non-union shows....there is a very real difference in the way your time and talent are appreciated and taken care of. All of the non-union gigs I have done the producers will take advantage of you whether they mean to on purpose or not.

Heidi's Takeaway: There is work available on both the union and non-union levels. Being a union member does not guarantee work and is not for every performer. You need to consider your personal situation. I recommend discussing this decision with people who know the business and know how you fit into the business.

4. Do you make enough money from your performing to live?
No. I have to supplement with other jobs. It is not always easy performing 5 - 8 shows a week AND working a day job but you do it because you love it and it's the life you want.

Not enough if I want to keep auditioning in NY, take classes, et cetera.
Donata Cucinotta

I could (barely), but I have another job. I have pretty cheap rent which is great but if I were to just live off performing, it would require lots of planning and discipline. 

I think so few people in the musical theatre world actually make their entire living off of just performing.  Even being on Broadway doesn't mean financial stability since shows can close fairly abruptly (over 2000 musicals since Broadway's existence have closed after 200 performances and a near 1000 after 100).  Sadly, there is no tenure for actors on the Great White Way- most have got to find other outlets to stay afloat (which I'll get to in answer 5!).

I am surviving, but live pretty simply.  And I'm only supporting myself- my current financial situation would be extremely difficult if I didn't have support from my amazing parents or [had] a family of my own.  I currently am packed up in boxes in my parent's house to avoid rent while on the road and am on a budget so I can save enough to move to NY in June.  I've got to be smart with my money.  Voice lessons over manicures, dance classes over a night at the bar, new head shots over a mini-vacation, yoga over cable television- most of my money goes right back into my training and my mental/physical health.  I also take advantage of Groupons, sales, payment plans, low income housing lotteries, The Actors Fund - anything I can get my hands on that will save me a buck.  I eventually want to have more- I dream of getting married and kids of my own some day, which is why joining AEA is that necessary move.

Yes. That being said, I'm lucky enough to have enough non-union work right now to get by. Barely. I have been working for over 20 weeks straight at two different theatres, and have less in my savings than I did when I left for the jobs.

Nope, and honestly, I do not know anyone who does. A colleague of mine (baritone) was recently featured in Opera News, and is working all the time, but STILL has a catering job for between gigs. ​This country is going through a cultural dust bowl and everyone is suffering. Even people who appear to make a living off of performing are usually partnered with someone very supportive who has a normal job, or they teach voice and just don't advertise about it. It's very bizarre.

HEIDI'S TAKEAWAY: Most working artists on every level, especially in today's economic and cultural climate, are not making their complete income from performing. This has nothing to do with talent, desire, or even luck. It has everything to do with the realities of the modern business. The sooner an artist embraces this fact, the sooner they can get to work.

5. What other sources of income do you have?
I teach!  I have small coaching studio based out of South Philadelphia and am connected with the Walnut St. Theatre and Broadway Connections as a teaching artist.  I have also in the past directed, choreographed, and/or taught at camps, colleges, religious organizations, and schools- a slew of odd jobs that put money in the bank, but have also seriously kept my spirit happy and engaged creatively.  I especially love working with aspiring young performers looking to become professionals and adults who work as doctors, lawyers, etc that find singing a ditty to be a refreshing escape.  It gives me such a high to share all I've learned, learns my students' very unique stories, and see the sparks go off inside them when they connect who they are to their material.  I am hoping to turn my little coaching business into something bigger in the future- fingers crossed!

Adam Kemmerer
The list of things I don't do would be shorter. dog walking, training, boarding.  household chores for people like fixing lights and cleaning gutters, I work as a land surveyor on the weekends when I'm not in shows. I teach music lessons and guitar lessons to children. etc. etc.

I nanny. Initially I was teaching, but realized I liked nannying even more. For me, theres something beautifully intimate about being in someone's home, caring for their little ones. And like teaching, I'm getting to spend time with children, but it's all the more rewarding giving my full attention to one or two, instead of splitting it among 10-15. 

I work from home, doing online transcription editing.

I play piano on the side, though mostly when I'm in New York. While in New York I was waiting tables. Here in Philly I just started delivering groceries for Instacart during the day.

I teach voice out of my home in New Jersey (which I really enjoy) and have a church job. I feel really lucky to not be temping anymore and that all my income is all somehow music related.

HEIDI'S TAKEAWAY: It is crucial for artists to find a flexible parallel career – a way to create more income to sustain them when their art is not paying the bills. You'll probably be happier if this career fulfills your soul as well as your bank account. Artists have a reputation as being educated and extremely disciplined, so many non-creative fields are willing to consider the unusual demands of a performing career.

So, there you have it.  Real information from working artists.  That's what we're all about here at Creatavita.

Shameless Advertising:  Tickets are going fast for my upcoming cabaret on the Coffee House Series at the Darlington Arts Center.  Upcoming as on Saturday, January 17 at 8:00.  Why don't you click on over and buy your tickets now so you're guaranteed a seat?  See you there!