Two actors in The Fanstaicks

How Theatre Saved My Life

dramamommaspeaks.com

This is how theatre saved my life.

My imagination (and later, theatre specifically) saved my life. When I was a child, my mother was quite ill and consequently to show respect to her, I controlled my emotions. so I didn’t want compound her stress.

I was the youngest in my family. With ten years between me and my next closest sibling, I rarely had anyone to play with or talk to. I depended upon my imagination to comfort me and take me away from loneliness I felt but wouldn’t admit to anyone. I learned how to slap on a smile and pretend everything was good with me.  I was quite a little actress.

When I saw movies, I would act them out and sing very dramatically while sequestering myself upstairs on the east porch of our house. It had no heat and I remember freezing to death for my “art”.

I was born and raised in Kansas in a small town.  Our only claim to fame is we had two colleges, one university which was a teacher’s college and another one a religious affiliated.  Oh, an an enormous beef packing plant which made our town smell…..unusual. Ugh!

I thought I was crazy, though. I never told my friends about my make believe playing and when I would visit their houses, they never played make believe. So I decided I wasn’t like everyone else. I played make believe until I was twelve.

My father was a physician and my mother was raised in Japan when she was a child. Consequently, her wander lust was difficult to satiate and we traveled to many countries when I was quite young.

If it wasn’t hard enough being the youngest, my world view was very different from my fellow classmates. Just another thing to make me an oddity, at least in my mind.

My mother wasn’t at all supportive of my interest in theatre. She intimated I could end up like Elizabeth Taylor, “She’s been married seven times. Look at her…”Something was mentioned about me ending up on a “casting couch.” I didn’t know what that was, but by my mother’s attitude I knew it must be bad.

Trying to be the good daughter,  I left behind my imagination and became a cheerleader in junior high school. It makes sense if you think about it. That worked for two years and I loved the performing aspect of it.  I was a rotten jumper.  No one taught me how to do a round off or cartwheel, so I taught myself.  But I could yell loudly and lead the crowd in cheers.  At least I could do that!

When I was in high school, I found exactly what I was seeking –the stage! I was cast in my first play as Madame Arcati in “Blithe Spirit”.  Since I had no previous acting experience, but lots experience playing the piano, I notated my script as if I was playing the piano. I used fermatas for pauses and crescendo and decrescendo signs when I wanted to speak louder or softer.

To this day, I grow nostalgic whenever I step backstage. The scent of sawdust, newly painted flats and the warmth of the stage lights are a magical elixir to me. I brush the back of my hand across a velvet grand curtain and immediately I feel I’m home.

This is how theatre saved my life
In college, I experienced an epiphany. It was the early 1970’s, and society impressed upon me to hide my negative feelings or only express those feelings most accepted by others. I realized by sharing myself hiding behind a character, I could express  all my feelings and thoughts. I felt accepted universally.

That’s a heady experience which made me come back for more. Nearly forty years later, I’m happily stuck here.

this is how theatre saved my life

I became a director for a community theatre production of The Miracle Worker because there was no one else willing to do the job. Ha! I have a leader type personality and directing fit into my life. I was quite young to take on such a challenging production but I took to it right away. I saw the potential of affecting people through stories that I created in my own manner.

Now, I adore making a statement through words and actions.

As of this writing, I have directed over 250 plays and musicals with adults and children alike.  I chose to direct and act at the community level for most of my career.  It’s not that I don’t enjoy professional theatre.  On the contrary. I’ve appreciated the professional positions in which I have been employed.

It’s just not where my life’s journey has taken me.  I’m always open to work in whatever venue needs me.

I’ve portrayed many beloved roles–Maria in “The Sound of Music”, Marion Paroo in “Music Man”,  Dot in “Cricket on the Hearth”, Penny in “You Can’t Take it With You” and many others. Above all, more than any particular role or any special production, I have learned about myself.

Theatre saved my life.  It has given me great joy, creative challenges and great friendships (I even met my husband while acting in a show).

I don’t know where I would be without it.  image

Contact me at dhcbaldwin@gmail.com or check out my website at DeborahBaldwin.net.

I’d love to hear from you!

Beginning Acting–My Acting Debut in Third Grade

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Let’s talk about beginning acting.

(That’s me, with all the hair, holding on to the young Oliver Twist, circa 1986 I think. Yikes!)

To this day, I have no idea how I got cast as Queen Isabella in third grade. I was a good reader and very expressive. I know we didn’t have auditions or at least I don’t think so. I mean, that was a long time ago.  I sort of remember my costume.  My mother made a crown out of cardboard, blue pop beads from a necklace of hers and aluminum foil.  I wore Mom’s clear-plastic-but-looked-glass wedding shoes (from the 1930’s, this was the l960’s) that cramped my feet something awful but I would never have complained.  Maybe I wore a white bathrobe as my gown.  Heck, I don’t know.

But I do know one thing:  I had wanted to be an actress since I was teeny.  We lived in a huge old brick house in a small town in Kansas.  It had three floors, four fireplaces, a front and back staircase (one for the servants to use, I guess but we had no servants) and two porches.  One porch was on the second floor and enclosed and another porch was connected to the living room.  On the upstairs porch, I spent many late afternoons and Saturdays playing dress up, making blanket forts under the ping pong table and dramatizing any and all books I had read or movies I had seen. There was no heat on the porch and I remember just about freezing off my toes in the dead of winter, and forget playing out there during those hot, hot Kansas summers! I’d go across the street to Lori’s house and have Orange Crush pop and soda crackers and bask in the breeze of her window air conditioner.

Mostly, I just pretended and pretended.

I kept real quiet about my pretending, because I was afraid people would think I was crazy and maybe I’d get in trouble with my parents.  That seemed to be a great fear I had.  I didn’t like to mess up and get those looks from them.  The ones that said, “Oh my. We are ashamed of you.” I still can’t handle those looks from people.

Sorry, I digress…

Acting was a fabulous outlet for me!  It was effortless and such fun!  I still enjoy it.  It is never stressful like directing can be for me. Don’t get me wrong, though.  I enjoy directing even with all of its stresses.  It is just very different from acting.

Deborah Conard Baldwin

I remember ordering a kneeling boy (ironically named Christopher–maybe that’s why he got the part), “Rise, Christopher Columbus!”  I gestured upward with my arm copying the high school girl portraying the Angel Gabriel I had seen in the annual community Christmas pageant.  I guess I thought all important people gestured like that–queens, angels, presidents and the like.  Even today when I direct a young child to gesture in the same way, I am reminded of my performance as Queen Isabella. Hopefully, they look better than I did.

It took me years to become proficient (I think it’s the best word to describe my acting) as an actress.  I think I stunk at it pretty badly until I was way up in my twenties.  When I look at myself in photos from a show I always remember what I felt like at the time the photo was taken and for me at least, it doesn’t feel at all the same on the inside as what I am projecting on the outside.

Some readers who have performed will understand me when I say that acting is a gift you give yourself. When an actor “finds the character”, it’s a huge surprise–like receiving a present one didn’t expect. There is something very mystical about acting and lifting my chubby arm to Christopher Columbus that first time in my life as an actress confirmed it. I was totally intrigued and excited. To this day, I still feel the same way. How many times can a person say that about life?

That’s my  beginning acting story.  What is your story?

backstage of theatre

Amazing Photos: What Actors See the Audience Does Not

https://www.buzzfeed.com/lauragallant/15-photos-of-what-actors-see-when-theyre-on-stage?utm_term=.ciWqJPYW6#.faDWzre9d

I have a little story for you which complements this post.

When I was in college, my college had its own summer stock theatre.  It was built out of an old airplane hangar way up in near Okoboji, Iowa. I spent two summers there–one as an actress playing several leading roles and one as the properties mistress.  I learned lots both summers.  I’m not big on defacing property, but we were invited to leave our autograph backstage somewhere.

Fast forward thirty years and guess what?  Our youngest daughter attended the same college and performed at the same summer stock theatre.  When we went to visit her at the end of the season, she took me aside and told me shhe had a little gift for me.  We walked backstage and she showed me her autograph which she left on the wall backstage right.over. mine.

It’s a special memory between us and one I will not forget!

So when I saw this photo of backstage, I was immediately reminded of my own experiences backstage during a play.

I hope you enjoy these photos as much as I do.

 

Architectural photographer Klaus Frahm wanted to take people through the “fourth wall” that separates actors from their audience. To do this he photographed some of Germany’s most beautiful theatres from the perspective of the actors, looking out into the audit

Theaters backstage

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

This is so cool to see the theaters from the view point of the actors.

If you haven’t visited backstage of a professional theater, you are missing out. They are fascinating architecture.

Do check it out!

Ten Audition Secrets From a Director

Previously, I blogged a list of ten audition secrets from a director.

You knew this subject was coming, didn’t you? It only seems natural to speak about how I make decisions about casting someone in a play.

Remember, these are only my opinions. Someone else will have a different viewpoint, obviously.
Here is my advice (and secrets) to landing the part:

1. Arrive on time for the auditions and stay until they are finished. If you arrive late or are in a rush to leave early, it implies that the production is not that important to you.

2. Dress appropriately for the audition. If you are auditioning for a musical and there are going to be dance auditions, either bring the right shoe wear or wear them. There is nothing more distracting to a director than observing someone flop around in the wrong shoes as they attempt to dance or move about the stage. And ladies, you hair needs to be swept back away from your face and controlled with a bobby pin or something.

3. Read the script prior to auditions. Now reading the script ahead of time does not guarantee you a part in the production, but most scripts are very well written (that’s why they are produced) and worth your time to read. Or at least watch a movie version of the play or musical if there is one available. My guess is some people don’t read the entire script before auditioning because they don’t want to commit their free time because if they aren’t cast, it feels like they have wasted their time. One hasn’t wasted their time. They have enriched it.

I try to be patient with people who haven’t read the script ahead of time, but secretly nothing is more frustrating than having someone say to me, “So, what’s this play about?” I don’t have the time to explain the story to them nor do I think it is my job to do so.

4. Pay attention during the auditions. If the auditions aren’t closed and you are able to observe them, watch other actors. You never know when a director might call you up to read with someone and if you pay attention you are ready to go.

Ten secrets to a great audition5. A director doesn’t need to know if you have a cold or don’t feel well, or whatever the excuse might be at the moment. So, don’tannounce your maladies–just audition confidently. A director will ask the actor to call backs if he thinks he needs to hear the actor once the cold or illness is over.

6. If you mark on your audition sheet that you will accept any role you are offered, please tell the truth. Nothing is more frustrating than taking the time to cast someone and afterward they announce they won’t accept the role you gave them (since the person wanted another one instead.) Tacky! And, if the accused auditions for another one of the director’s plays, chances are the actor won’t even be considered them based on their past actions.

7. If you mark on your audition sheet that you have no conflicts, then a director expects you to have no conflicts! Avoiding informing the director of a few conflicts and spinning that you have none then coming back later with a litany of conflicts does nothing for the actor’s relationship with the director. Better to tell the truth and let the director work around the conflicts if he thinks he can do so. An actor’s behavior gets around in a theater community very quickly, so just be honest and up front.

8. Sometimes a director will put out the word that they are looking for a particular age actor for a role. It is not wise to try and make yourself up to look half your age if you aren’t really able to convince your best friend of your age change. If your friend thinks you look silly trying to be twenty-five when you are fifty-five, then believe them. Audition for a play that suits your age range.

If you are an adult, you can usually appear ten years either direction of your age. Children and teen agers are a bit different in this regard. Personally, I am more likely to cast someone who is taller and thirteen to play a sixteen year old than a short thirteen year old to play a ten year old.

9. No matter what, always finish your audition with a thank you and get the heck off the stage. An actor trying to make conversation with the director can come across as a desperate attempt for attention. If the director initiates the conversation, then I think it is safe to chat a moment with him or her. But I wouldn’t begin the conversation. Directors are usually considering many things during auditions, so it’s best not to interrupt them.

10. Be confident in your audition. If you audition with others and someone does something that is comical (and the director reacts by laughing), it does not mean you must do the same thing if you read the same part. Be yourself. Be clever and memorable, but don’t behave in such a manner that you make others feel uncomfortable by your audition. In other words, keep your clothes on, keep your mouth clean and be polite.

10. The biggest secret to auditions? Listen to what the director asks of you. I am more likely to cast someone who honestly tries to do what I ask of him (such as lowering the pitch of his voice, trying an unusual laugh or reaction), than someone who has a preconceived vision of the character and can not or will not budge from that idea. Also, I really don’t like it when an actor just imitates someone else portraying the role–either someone else at the auditions or someone they have seen portray the role in the film version, for example. Generally, if I don’t think the inflexible person can adapt themselves to my needs, then I can’t cast them. Simple as that.

So, there you go—audition secrets from a director.  I hope this helps you. I would love to answer any other questions you might have about auditions, so send them on. P.S.  If you’d like to audition for Beauty and the Beast, go here for information http://www.theatrelawrence.com/index.html

Contact me at dhcbaldwin@gmail.com or DeborrahBaldwin.net

Beginner’s Guide: Talent Agencies

beginner's guide: talent agencies

Here’s is a beginner’s guide: talent agencies. Almost every year of my career (35+) someone  asks me if they should sign with an agent.

No kidding.

I shudder each time, because I know they are not going to like the answer I give them.

My answer is a resounding–NO!

My answer is a bit misleading, however.

Here is my beginner’s guide to choosing a talent agency.

If you want to pursue acting work in the professional realm, then you need an agent.

There are many costs to the avocation and they are yours to pay–headshots, auditions clothes, dance and acting classes, etc.

If a “talent agency” is crazy about you the minute they meet you and are very quick to offer to represent you, be very wary of them. 

More importantly, if the agency thinks you need more training and requires you take their “classes” at YOUR expense, run away.  Run very far away from them.

beginner's guide:  talent agencies

Here’s a little story:

Several summers ago, I asked a talented girl (we’ll call her Barbie) to choreograph for a youth theatre camp production of mine.  She wasn’t a professional yet, but I could see she had the potential to be one someday if she so chose.   I like to give young people an opportunity to staff my shows–how else are they going to learn?

Barbie and I agreed on the musical numbers she would stage or choreograph, splitting them between us.  It was a solid agreement.

ballet dancer yellow

Or so I thought.

Two months later, Barbie arrives for the camp displaying an air of superiority. Her nose was held, honestly, up in the air.  Hmmm.  My director intuition knew something had changed.

Oh boy, had it!

Seems in the two months since I made the agreement with her, Barbie was “discovered” by a talent agency.

“Discovered”–that was my first red flag.

I have never seen someone so star struck in my life and honey, I’ve been around novice actors for years.

Her mother (equally gullible) and she had attended auditions for a talent agency who traveled to their metropolis seeking “exceptional talent”.

Barbie auditioned for them and they were crazy for her talent–IMMEDIATELY.

Now granted, the girl is great dancer, but she was coming out of eighth grade and had no performing experience other than dance recitals.  She was a beginning acting student of mine–note, BEGINNING.  At that point, she had performed in one show which I directed and she was a chorus member. Chorus, people!

What Barbie lacked in experience and training her parents made up for with money. An example–the girl owned a full size harp. Weekly her mother drove her to harp lessons in a major city about an hour away. Get the picture?

“It’s only $2,000 for their training,” she shared “and then I’m in a showcase with real agents (from like Disney and Nicklodeon) in attendance and they offer you jobs from there.They said I was a shoe-in.”

Oh dear…

After I picked my jaw up off the floor, I reminded Barbie she made a commitment to my production.  I’ll give her mother some credit, she expect Barbie to fulfill the commitment but gee, Barbie wouldn’t be able to attend the dress rehearsals or actual productions.

I knew what occurred before Barbie even admitted it.

beginner's guide: talent agencies

“There’s this really hunky college guy with the agency who has been on the Disney Channel and he begged me to take the training so I can be in the showcase.” Barbie mooned.

Aha!

“This all conflicts with the production dates, so I need to be at the training. That is, if my parents will pay for it.” At this point, Barbie gave her mother a sweet little girl pout. (Sounds like the mother was wary about the deal, hence the daughter’s pout.)

Barbie’s mother asked me for my opinion and of course I spewed forth the reasons against the idea.

You can see where this is going, right?

“Hollywood here I come!” Barbie’s Facebook profile posted soon after.

beginner's guide: talent agencies

My negative opinion fell on deaf ears.

Don’t you love it when people ask for your opinion and then try to argue you out of it?

I released Barbie from the responsibility after her initial work was completed in the first week of rehearsal. It didn’t help her case when Barbie told my AD, “My work is done here.”

Uh, no?

There is nothing worse than having a volunteer who doesn’t want to volunteer…

About two months later, my AD messaged me about Barbie.  We both were curious how Barbie fared at the showcase. According to Facebook, it  seems her “training then showcase” didn’t impress the agents (haha–agents, oh please) and all Barbie got from the experience was–nothing.

Barbie never mentioned her  “Hollywood here I come!” post again.

$2,000 of nothing.

I think Barbie moved on to beauty contests. I saw her at a deli one lunch time and she was clothes in a bright pink dress with a white and silver sash across it. It was emblazoned with something like “Miss 100th Junior Miss of _________.”

Oy…

My advice:  If you want to secure an agent, that’s great. There are many reputable ones. Look around, research, contact other professionals for their opinions.  Keep your ego out of the decision making. There are unsavory people everywhere. Just because someone throws around words to compliment you does not mean they are honest.  It’s a tough pill to swallow, but honey, get real.

 Be cautious and pay heed to the people who have your best interests at heart.

So there you have it–  the beginner’s guide: talent agencies

Good luck!

If you are interested in my journey in my career in theatre, check out this post:  https://dramamommaspeaks.com/2017/01/17/how-theatre-saved-m%ef%bb%bfy-life/

 

 

 

Some Favorite Theatre Quotes

If you are anything like me, you enjoy quotes about various subjects.  Sometimes they are funny things I hear people say in real life.

Other times, they are beloved artists or authors.  If a person can succinctly express himself, it doesn’t matter if they are the most wealthy and powerful, or a commoner.

Here are a few of my favorites concerning theatre:

Great acting is not easy.  Anyone who says it is, is either shallow or a charlatan.  And one of the hardest things about acting is admitting that it is hard. Richard Cohen

Theatre was created to tell people the truth about life and the social situation. Stella Adler

I regard the theatre as the greatest of all art forms, the most immediate way in which a human being can share with another the sense of what it is to be a human being.

Oscar Wildeoscar-wilde[1].jpg

I am confused by life, and I feel safe within the confines of theatre.  Helen Hayes

Acting is behaving truthfully under imaginary circumstances.  Sanford Meisner

Theatre doesn’t last.  Only in people’s memories and in their hearts.  That’s the beauty and sadness of it.  But that’s life.  Beauty and sadness.  And that is why theatre is life. Unknown

All the best performers bring to their role something more, something different than what the author put on paper.  That’s what makes theatre live.  That’s why it persists. Stephen Sondheim

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The purpose of theatre is to put the audience in a better position to understand the world around them.  Mark Fortier

The theatre is the only institution in the world which has been dying for four thousand years and has never succumbed.  It requires tough and devoted people to keep it alive.  John Steinbeck

Art is the only way to run away without leaving home.  Twyla Tharp

twyla-tharp-2_credit-greg-gorman1And lastly,

All the world’s a stage,

and all the people merely players

They have their exits and their entrances

and one man in his time plays many parts.

William Shakespeare

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Purchase my book, Bumbling Bea on Amazon at https://www.amazon.com/Bumbling-Bea-Deborah-Baldwin/dp/1500390356/ref=tmm_pap_swatch_0?_encoding=UTF8&qid=&sr=