Playwrights and Writing…

My first play was published in 1991.  23 years ago.

What?!?

My fifteenth play will be published this year with number sixteen to follow.

My plays are performed throughout the world.  Translated and published in foreign languages.  Off-Broadway production.  A film adaptation.  Awards.

I work with playwrights of all levels.  Well, we work together.  I am not an expert.  Who is?  And my having worked in all facets of the theatre has helped my work as a playwright enormously.

Each playwright has a different process.  None is strictly right or strictly wrong.  It’s very personal and “whatever works for you.”  Some playwrights spend years on a script.  I cannot work that way.  I like to get it done and into the marketplace.  And some playwrights make the process a great deal more difficult than it needs to be.  And some make getting their work produced much more difficult by not taking heed as to what producers, director and actors are looking for.

Broadway isn’t the end all and be all.  Some plays on Broadway open and close before they officially open and are never heard of again.  My work is NOT Broadway.  I know that.  I also know my first script published 23 years ago is still one of the most produced scripts in the general market in the country.  And that is because having produced, directed and acted prior to writing, I knew what each of these wanted.

I am constantly amazed by playwrights who insist on writing scripts which will never be produced, simply because they do not take the economics of the producing theatre and film into consideration. I read lots of scripts.  Lots of them.  Most of which will never see the lights of a theatre rise on them.  For several reasons.  Sometimes they just aren’t any good.  But there are other reasons somewhat good scripts will never be produced.

What kind of scripts are these?  These are scripts which are riddled with profanity.  Or sex.  Or violence.  Or technical and casting requirements which render a production impossible.   I read a script which required a dead dog on stage.  Another required a scene with 50 background actors.  And when you suggest a playwright make adjustments one of two things is going to happen.  One, they are going to listen and make the needed changes.  Or, two – they are going to feel their artistic integrity is insulted, insist you are treading on their “art”, and refuse to make the changes.

Well, thank you very much for submitting, but we shall pass.  Yes.  I know it’s the greatest script ever written.  But…we shall pass.

Most playwrights I have encountered do not write with an audience in mind.  This is a mistake.  As a writer of any kind, you have to know your demographic. Are you writing for a young audience?  Are you writing for a broader audience base?

And if you are writing a comedy, make certain the comedy is accessible by a large audience.  A script with a series of inside jokes or “oh, look how clever I am”, will flop.

After all, everyone gets Neil Simon.

So here are a few pointers about who wants what…

PRODUCERS:

Producers want a good script which is going to be inexpensive to produce, but generate an audience and bottom line, money.  Yes it’s art.  But it’s also business.  Minimum outlay for maximum income.  This isn’t a compromise.  It’s smart and good business.  And just because something is inexpensive to produce does not mean it’s of inferior quality.  I have produced plays for less than $100 and a short film for less than $50.  The plays went on to tour and be published.  The film was featured at the New York International Film Festival in Los Angeles.  What makes a good play?  Characters with heart and a story.  I write comedy.  Better yet – farce.  The plots are thin, but the characters are real, and that is the key to my work’s success.  You can have a terrific plot, but if your characters fail to jump off the page, it’s a waste.

Economics are important in the theatre.  If the first page of a script lists five acts, 35 scenes and a cast of 75, the producer will not continue to read.  The thought which immediately goes through their mind is “What?  I can’t produce that.  It’s going to be too expensive.”  My advice?  Write a two act script.  Minimum costumes changes.  Avoid a period piece, if possible.  One unit set.  Other locations to be simply suggested.  More female than male characters.  Small cast.

DIRECTORS:

Good story.  Good characters.

ACTORS:

Good story.  Good characters.

AUDIENCE:

Good story.  Good characters.

Write from the heart.  A play must have action.  It cannot be a bunch of  people standing around talking.  What is at stake?  In the creation stage, what is the “What if?” element.  Comedy must be character motivated, and not a series of jokes.  Is there a  beginning, middle and end?  Is there a journey of the character?  Does the character start at one place at the beginning of the script and end someplace else by the end?

See.

That was easy.

Now go write.

 

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2014: The Year of Renewal

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Ah…those New Year’s Resolutions.  Written with vim and verve.  Enthusiasm and commitment.  Piss and vinegar.

No.  I literally write mine in piss and vinegar.  No ball point pen for me.  I’m old school.  A traditionalist.

So as Father Time completes his 2013 run and Baby New Year opens 2014, my New Year’s Resolutions, though challenging, are as follows:

1. Return Oprah’s wok.

2. I will not tell the same story at every get together.

3. I will do less laundry and use more deodorant.

4. I will try to figure out why I *really* need nine e-mail addresses.

5. I will balance my checkbook. (On my nose.)

6. Start buying lottery tickets at a luckier store.

7. Remember to brush teeth with bristly end of toothbrush.

8. Don’t eat medicine just because it looks like candy.

9. I will spend less money on buying useless stuff like this new DVD Rewinder I had ordered for Christmas.

10. I will never again take a sleeping pill and a laxative on the same night.

11. I will stop saying,” Ooh, that feels nice” whenever the security guys frisk me at airports.

12. I promise to stick to these resolutions for more than a week (even though I never do).

Wish me luck.  I, like George Michael, have faith.

I have never been much of a New Year’s celebrant.  To me New Year’s seemshough thousands of people desperately trying to have a good time.  Most do.  And most lose their shoes.  For me New Year’s is a race to see if I can actually stay up until midnight, a race I lose more often than not.  And this year was no exception.  I was in bed by 11.30 pm.  “Just another half hour, Mark!  You can do it!”, said One Direction’s Harry Styles.

Harry 2

 

Alas, I could not hold not.  Every New Year’s Eve, this is what I envision the evening to be akin to..(and yes, I know I spelled victrola wrong…)…

Joan

 

And this is my reality…

Curlers 2

 

Fortunately my good friend and stone-around-my-neck, Justin Timberlake, does not judge.

Justin

Although JTs sense of humor is flagging.  The other day I asked him if we could swing by Target so I can return a gift.  “Sure”, he said in a falsetto.  Upon our arrival at the Customer Service desk the CS representative asked if she could help…”Yes, please.  We’re bringing sexy back.”

JT rolled his eyes and sighed.

I do have goals for the New Year, and they are two fold.  I have found as one grows older, (I turn 50 this month), one’s priorities shift.  I literally purchased a bleaching cream for the suddenly appearing dark spots on my skin.  I have never been hung up on age.  It is what it is.  Might as well embrace and enjoy.  With bleaching cream in tow.  My goals this year, and from each year hereafter are more in regards to personal development.

I have always been a very happy person.  Thanks to my parents who taught me happiness is a choice.  Not a result. Certainly there are things which give us temporary happiness, but to have an inner contentment, peace and joy regardless of your circumstances is a wonderful gift.  I cannot always control my circumstances, but I can control my attitude.  Oh, what a wonderful truth.  So as 2014 begins, so do I and share the following 20 things to let go of in order to reach unlimited happiness…

1. Let go of all thoughts that don’t make you feel empowered and strong.

2. Let go of feeling guilty for doing what you truly want to do.

3. Let go of the fear of the unknown; take one small step and watch the path reveal itself.

4. Let go of regrets; at one point in your life, that “whatever” was exactly what you wanted.

5. Let go of worrying; worrying is like praying for what you don’t want.

6. Let go of blaming anyone for anything; be accountable for your own life. If you don’t like something, you have two choices, accept it or change it.

7. Let go of thinking you are damaged; you matter, and the world needs you just as you are.

8. Let go of thinking your dreams are not important; always follow your heart.

9. Let go of being the “go-to person” for everyone, all the time; stop blowing yourself off and take care of yourself first … because you matter.

10. Let go of thinking everyone else is happier, more successful or better off than you. You are right where you need to be. Your journey is unfolding perfectly for you.

11. Let go of thinking there’s a right and wrong way to do things or to see the world. Enjoy the contrast and celebrate the diversity and richness of life.

12. Let go of cheating on your future with your past. It’s time to move on and tell a new story.

13. Let go of thinking you are not where you should be. You are right where you need to be to get to where you want to go, so start asking yourself where you want to go.

14. Let go of anger toward ex lovers and family. We all deserve happiness and love; just because it is over doesn’t mean the love was wrong.

15. Let go of the need to do more and be more; for today, you’ve done the best you can, and that’s enough.

16. Let go of thinking you have to know how to make it happen; we learn the way on the way.

17. Let go of your money woes — make a plan to pay off debt and focus on your abundance.

18. Let go of trying to save or change people. Everyone has her own path, and the best thing you can do is work on yourself and stop focusing on others.

19. Let go of trying to fit in and be accepted by everyone. Your uniqueness is what makes you outstanding.

20. Let go of self-hate. You are not the shape of your body or the number on the scale. Who you are matters, and the world needs you as you are. Celebrate you!

And finally, I created a “goal wall” for 2014.  This serves as a visual reminder and encouragement and provides accountability.  It’s a challenging wall, and an exciting one.  And I look forward to marking each challenge off as achieved and posting my final tally this time next year.

Meanwhile, Justin and I have work to do..

Happy New Year!

 

Caught in the Crossfire.

In December, I believe, of last year I received a message from a friend who teaches film making at a local university, and they were looking for actors for a project.  Student films are a great training ground.  Not only for the film makers, but also for actors.  And although there usually isn’t pay involved, an actor can get some good reel out of it.

The question posed to me was:  “We are looking for an older actor…oh, say 40’s, to play the role of the evil head of drone operations for Afghanistan.  Do you know of anyone?”

Uh.  Yeah.  I do.  Me.

And thus began my journey in the film Crossfire produced by the John Brown University Film Department under the exquisite leadership of Steve Snediker.

Why do a student film?, you may ask.  Well, for several reasons.

1.  I loved the script.

2.  I enjoy playing evil.

3.  I enjoy film making.

4.  I was available.

5.  They wanted me.

6.  These are outstanding young film makers.

7.  The opportunity to get some good reel of my being evil.

8.  There’s a very good chance I may be working for these film makers someday.

9.  I wanted to.

There are some actors who may look down on being in student films.  Well, they shouldn’t.  But it also depends upon the students.  The department.

The film students at JBU are, simply put, excellent.  They are heads above more professional than several professional sets I have worked on.  They are organized.  Respectful.  Know precisely what they are doing.  And are good film makers.  I have admired their work several times before, and was thrilled to be a part of this project.

I do feel, however, some of the crew on the set found my personality a bit much.  To one crew member I said after their being very standoffish…”I make you nervous, don’t I?”  “Yeah.  You do.”

Okay.  Whatevs.  Let’s shoot.

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In this film I play the role of Paul Greaves, an evil guy who uses his power and position for personal revenge.

Delicious.

The actress playing the protagonist, the ethereal Emily Barden, was a total and complete trouper.  In once scene I had to slap her.  I asked the director/screenwriter, the very talented David Amonsen, if we were going to cheat the shot.  “No,” he said.  “I want a full on slap.”

Which freaked me out.  My sweet niece, like Emily, is 21.  So everytime I slapped Emily, it was as though I was slapping my niece and it terrified me.  The slap took several takes.  And at one point Emily had tears welling up.  It was time to stop the slap.

There’s a lot to be said for cheating certain shots.

The cinematographer, John Owen?  So professional.  And so, so, so good.  I cannot wait to see his work in the in the final product.

The shoot lasted about a month with my being called for a total of seven days.  And was a joy.  Being surrounded by the film makers of tomorrow who are doing it today, was very exciting.  They are doing and going to do great things.  And several of us actors in the region have had the privilege of working with them.  Jules Taylor, Kenn Woodard, Justin & Virginia Scheuer, Bill Rogers…

I am proud to be a part of this film and proud of myself for not “helping” the director, which can be my tendency.  By “helping” I mean offering bits of advice…

“Shouldn’t that light be on the right?” (TRANSLATION:  Move the light to the right.)

“Don’t we want to get a reverse shot?”  (TRANSLATION:  We need a reverse shot.)

“Do we have enough coverage?”  (TRANSLATION:  We don’t have enough coverage.)

No.  I kept my mouth shut.  And soon learned everything I was thinking needing to be taken care of, but not voicing, was being taken care of without my having to voice it.

Keep your mouth shut, Mark.  You don’t know everything.  These guys know what they are doing.  Be patient.  And keep your mouth shut.

And I did.

Cross Fire

 

Yes, they are excellent film makers, but one can only be as excellent as the leadership, and that’s where these students hit the jackpot.  Steve Snediker is exceptional.  He loves film making.  He loves his students.  A perfect storm.

And he’s a really, really, really nice guy with high standards with no compromises.

Just my kinda guy.

If, as an actor, you have an opportunity to work with the JBU film program…do it.  Don’t hesitate.

If, as an audience member, you have an opportunity to see a film produced by the JBU film program…do it.  Don’t hesitate.

It’s a win-win.

Sweet Emily.  Pre-slap.

Sweet Emily. Pre-slap.

 

Gordon Family Tree. A True Family.

This week was a very special one.  But, let’s face it…most of my weeks are.  But this one was extra special.

Last October I had the complete joy to be a part of a truly wonderful project – Gordon Family Tree.  This feature film was produced by Purpose Pictures and spear headed by Ryan and Jennica Schwartzman.

GFT 5

I have been on other sets.  In other films.  I always enjoy the work, but the atmosphere from set to set can be markedly different.  Some sets are all business and no nonsense where the actor is a head on a body expected to know lines and hit marks.  Others are so laid back and disorganized, one wonders how anything is getting done.

But this one.  This GFT set.  This one was extraordinary.

Ryan and Jennica have a passion.  A passion for film making.  A passion for telling a story.  A passion for people.  Each passion very honest, very real and true.  They love what they do and they love the people involved.

And they are extraordinarily professional.  As was the entire team.  Marc Hampson, the director.  Danny Brown, cinematographer.  Darlene, costumer…and on down the line.

Film making is hard work.  For everyone involved.  And at any given moment a myriad of things can go wrong.  Frustration and discouragement can set in…if you allow it.  What is important is one’s attitude.  And the attitude on the set of GFT was nothing but encouraging, supportive and positive.

Quite a difference from other sets I have worked on.

As an actor when you walk onto a set the first day, there’s a quick evaluation.  One gets a feeling.  A sense of what the experience is going to be.  Immediately on set for this project I felt at home.  At ease.  Loved.  Myself and several other actors involved have agreed we were spoiled.  Not in a “May I get you a cup of coffee, Miss Ross?” (Although we were very well taken care of.)  No.  We were spoiled by the love.  The camaraderie.  The mutual support.  This was a family creating a film about a family.

Just.  So.  Wonderful.

And since then working on other projects, the phrase which runs constantly in my mind is…”Well, it’s okay.  Lovely.  But it’s no Gordon Family Tree.”  The bar has been set high.  And I am so thankful and thrilled to have been a part of the process.

opening credits

The premiere this week was thrilling.  It’s always fun and nerve racking to see yourself on the silver screen.  A delightful combination.  And I still get a chill when I see my name in the opening credits.  But what made this particular premiere so memorable is we were each sharing a common experience and seeing the fruits of so many labors.  We were with our friends.  Our family.  Seeing so many of our friends on the screen doing such good, good work.  The pride of looking around and seeing your fellow actors, most I have known for a decade and are my local family, sitting next to me and around me.  Then glancing up and seeing them on the screen.

Wow.

The film itself is simply beautiful.  A man’s journey to find himself in the most beautiful way.  Several times during the premiere I got a lump in my throat.  And a few tears.  Due to the combination of the film itself being so touching, (no spoilers here), and being surrounded by my dear and sweet friends – old and new…my parents were my dates and I was so proud to share this with them.  Hearing my father, when he saw an actor on screen, turn and whisper to my mother, “We saw them in the lobby.”  And just an overall sense of awe and wonder I was a part of this.

Me.

And I am so thankful.  Thankful and grateful for Jennica.  Ryan.  Marc.  Darlene.  Janice.  Jules.  Julie.  Warren.  Bill.  Laura.  Cassie.  Patrick.  Jocelyn.  Jason.  Kenn.  Kristin.  So many more.

Just thankful.

Can we do it all again?

Pretty please?

The Playwright. A bit of advice…

My first play was published in 1991.  22 years ago.

What?!?

My fourteenth was published this year.

My plays are performed throughout the world.  Translated and published in foreign languages.  Off-Broadway production.  A film adaptation.  Awards.

And I work with playwrights of all levels.  Well, we work together.  I am not an expert.  Who is?  And my having worked in all facets of the theatre has helped my work as a playwright enormously.

Each playwright has a different process.  None is strictly right or strictly wrong.  It’s very personal and “whatever works for you.”  Some playwrights spend years on a script.  I cannot work that way.  I like to get it done and into the marketplace.  And some playwrights make the process a great deal more difficult than it needs to be.  And some make getting their work produced much more difficult by not taking heed as to what producers, director and actors are looking for.

Broadway isn’t the end all and be all.  Some plays on Broadway open and close before they officially open and are never heard of again.  My work is NOT Broadway.  I know that.  I also know my first script published 22 years ago is still one of the most produced scripts in the general market in the country.  And that is because having produced, directed and acted prior to writing, I knew what each of these wanted.

PRODUCERS:

Producers want a good script which is going to be inexpensive to produce, but generate an audience and bottom line, money.  Yes it’s art.  But it’s also business.  Minimum outlay for maximum income.  This isn’t a compromise.  It’s smart and good business.  And just because something is inexpensive to produce does not mean it’s of inferior quality.  I have produced plays for less than $100 and a short film for less than $50.  The plays went on to tour and be published.  The film was featured at the New York International Film Festival in Los Angeles.  What makes a good play?  Characters with heart and a story.  I write comedy.  Better yet – farce.  The plots are thin, but the characters are real, and that is the key to my work’s success.  You can have a terrific plot, but if your characters fail to jump off the page, it’s a waste.

Economics are important in the theatre.  If the first page of a script lists five acts, 35 scenes and a cast of 75, the producer will not continue to read.  The thought which immediately goes through their mind is “What?  I can’t produce that.  It’s going to be too expensive.”  My advice?  Write a two act script.  Minimum costumes changes.  Avoid a period piece, if possible.  One unit set.  Other locations to be simply suggested.  More female than male characters.  Small cast.

DIRECTORS:

Good story.  Good characters.

ACTORS:

Good story.  Good characters.

AUDIENCE:

Good story.  Good characters.

See.

That was easy.

Now go write.

 

 

 

 

Audition Advice…Please Heed

I cast a lot of actors.

A lot.

All sizes.  All ages.  All types.

I am also an actor.  So while I am casting, I am also actively auditioning and working.  This gives me the advantage of working on both sides of the table.  And I love both sides.  And because I have an understanding of the casting process, I am better at auditions.  And because I understand the casting process from an actor’s perspective, I am better at casting.

I love to audition.  My time to shine.  A lot of actors dread it.  But not this cowboy.  The reason actors dread auditioning is they feel they are being judged.  Ugh.  Judged.  I hate that word.  It sounds so judgmental.  I prefer the word “considered”.  When I call an actor in for an audition and tell them they are being considered for a role, it’s an immediate confidence builder.  And in casting, we love confidence.  Not cockiness or conceit.  There is a big difference.  One is reassuring.  The other is a big turn off.

In seeing so many actors, I am dismayed how many damage their opportunities without knowing it.  So…here are a few tips to guard against doing just that.

The first thing all actors need to know is the casting director and/or director is on your side.  We want you to be good.  We want you to be great.  It makes our job infinitely easier.

BEFORE THE AUDITION:

Do your research.  In casting the roles are made public along with a description.  Make certain there is something for you.  And know your type.  I am a small guy.  I will never be a leading man or the center for the football team.  But I play a great nerd, fop, someone who is dying of something, addicted to something or is quietly evil.  So those are the type of roles I go for and I work.  I see actors who are in their 30’s going for the young 20’s roles.  And that let’s us know the actor has no idea who they are as an actor.  And that is a turn off.

Prepare your audition.  So many actors “wing it” with disastrous results.  Does the audition ask for two contrasting monologues?  (And please do not use a monologue from a movie.  Or from monologue books which do not come from published plays.)  Stay within the time limit given, if not under.  We have a lot of people to see so don’t put us behind.  And if you go over, that sends the message you didn’t prepare.  Time yourself again and again.  Then again.

If you are reading from a side which you have received ahead of time, study it.  Do not memorize it.  We don’t expect or want that.  It’s not about the words.  It’s about the heart.  Do bring your side with you.  Highlight your lines.  Make notes in the margins if needed.  Do not bury your face in the script.  Make certain in the reading your are connecting with your scene partner.  Which may be a reader, invisible partner or the camera.  We need to see and feel you are talking TO someone.

Make certain your resume is in an easy to read and professional format.  Always bring a few head shots and resumes.  I do not care if you have worked with the director fifteen times, always present yourself professionally.  A big turn off for me is when I call in an actor I know personally.  And they do not bring a head shot.  Or a resume.  And on the audition sheet where it asks for experience they scribble “you know.”  Well, yes, I do know.  But this is a professional situation.  So be professional.

Do not list grade school credits on your resume.  Do you know why we want your resume?  We want to see the types of roles you have played.  Where you have worked and with whom you have worked.  Because if after your audition we want to call you back, we may give one of these directors to call and ask what you were like to work with.  We are calling you back.  We know you can act.  Now we want to know how your are to work with.  If there are two actors who give equal reads, but we find out actor #2 is difficult and actor #1 is a joy to work with, we are going with actor #1.  Every time.

If you are above the age of ten, leave off you played Flower #4 in your elementary school spring pageant.  It is irrelevant.  The ONLY exception to this is if you played Annie in “Annie” when you were twelve and it was directed by a well known director.  And I mean nationally and internationally known.  If you were directed by Steven Spielberg, we want to know that.  Do not list dates on your resume.  It dates you.  And is irrelevant.

Of course, do not lie on your resume.  You will be discovered and it will be extremely damaging.  The world of entertainment is very, very, very small.  Everyone knows someone who knows someone who knows you.  I recently was working with a casting director whom I had never met and is based in another country.   However he knew someone who knew me.  It’s a very small world.

It’s a good policy to always be honest and transparent.  Not just in this type of work, but in life in general.  You can never go wrong being honest and transparent.

Do not rest on your resume laurels.  I have met actors who have impressive resumes and an attitude.  An attitude of they are doing us a favor by auditioning.  Well.  No.  That’s not how this works.  Some actors don’t feel as though they have to “work” for the role because of their previous experience.  Yeah. You do.  Meryl Streep continues to have to audition.  Really.

I have seen actors with great resumes who completely blow an audition.  I have seen actors with no credits nail an audition.

In the end it doesn’t matter what you have done before for the most part.  We do like working with actors who know their way around a set or stage.  But it’s not a total deal breaker.  Directors aren’t there to teach actors how to act.  That’s your job.  We are there to shape your interpretation.

What matters is what you are able to bring to the table the moment of the audition.  And that should be honesty and heart in the character.

Do not be late.  Do not blow off an audition.  If you are going to be late – call.  Do not blow off an audition.  We are calling YOU in to read.  If you blow it off and just don’t show up, we are not likely to call you again.  If you have a scheduled audition and are unable to attend-call.  Things happen.  We understand.  You do not have to go into detail.  In fact, please don’t.

Training is very important.  Some actors think they are “trained” because they took a two hour acting for camera class.  They are not trained.  Professionally trained actors spend years working on their craft.  They carry degrees in theatre.  BA’s, BFA’s, MA’s and MFA’s.  And putting a trained actor against an untrained one is so uncomfortable and unfair.  Now, you don’t have to have a degree in acting to be considered trained.  And honestly, some are so natural they don’t have to have training at all before their audition.  But training will follow.  Oh, will it.

If you consider yourself and model/actor, leave the modelling credits off the resume.  It’s difficult to take an actor auditioning for “The Glass Menagerie” seriously who has listed on their resume they won a runway modelling contest.  In the modelling world this would have significance.  So know which credits are going to help you when.  And which won’t.

AT THE AUDITION:

Arrive early.  Look nice.  Smile.  Be nice to EVERYONE.  

When you are called in to the audition and the casting director and/or director asks you how you are, we except to hear something short and pleasant.  “I’m great, thank you!  Excited to be here!’

That’s what we expect to hear…something along those lines.  You’d be stunned how many give  too much, and sometimes very personal,  information.  And that’s a turn off.  What it says to us is that actor is drama waiting to happen.  And we do not have the time or patience to cast actors who cause drama anywhere but onstage.

We do not want to hear about how bad traffic was.  How you had a cold last week and it may affect your audition.  We don’t want to hear how you won Mister Thong 1985…it’s all irrelevant and sends up a red flag.  We want to know you are nice, professional and fun to work with without having to ask.  Show us.  But be sincere.  We can spot a suck up and panderer one hundred and twenty miles away.

Sometimes a casting director/director will ask “Why do you want to work on this project?”  Be very careful how you answer.  Let’s say the script is about someone who died a violent death.  If the actors says something akin to “I want to be a part of this project because I relate to the character because my father died a violent death…’, which the actor then describes in detail, that tells us drama is going to ensue.  A better answer is “I want to be a part of this project because I would enjoy the challenge of developing such a complex character.”

Do not play your audition to the casting director/director.  It freaks us out.  Play facing the casting director/director placing your eye line to your invisible partner just above our head.  That way we can see your face.  Playing directly to us eye to eye, freaks us out because we feel we have to react to you speaking to us instead of being able to listen to your audition.  Some auditions will be taped, and in this case ask if you should play to the camera.  When in doubt, ask questions.

If you have an agent, great.  You still gotta prove yourself.  I have met with actors who think saying “I have an agent” is a magic phrase.  It isn’t.  Honestly, I have met actors with agents who are just not good actors.  Or at least weren’t good at the audition.  Which makes us think “How did this person get an agent?” and “What kind of agent would sign them without being familiar with their work, and if they are familiar with their work and this is the example of it  – yikes.”  Again.  Professional training is SO important.

What are we looking for?  We are looking for actors who are friendly, easy to work with, professional and who create characters who are honest and have heart.  That’s what it’s all about.  Don’t try too hard.  Don’t try to impress.  It’s all about honesty and heart.  Play the subtext.  If you don’t know what subtext is, this is where the training comes into place.  Make strong choices and if you are given a direction by the casting director/director, take it.  I have seen actors who have been asked to give three different choices on the reading of a line, and they give the same reading each time.  This is a huge red flag the actor isn’t listening and isn’t able to take direction.

Next.

You should enjoy your audition.  Which really isn’t an audition, but an opportunity for you to perform.

So do it.

Tales From The South

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About Tales
“‘Tales From the South’ is a radio show created and produced byPaula Martin Morell, who is also the show’s host, in conjuction with Temenos Publishing Company. The show is presented byThe Argenta Arts Foundation with additional support provided byAY Magazine, The North Little Rock Visitors’ Bureau, andWilliam F. Laman Public Library.  The show is taped live on Tuesday nights at Starving Artist Cafe’ in the Argenta Arts District of North Little Rock, Arkansas. We offer dinner and a show, and shows are $5 admission and open to the public. The night is a cross between a house concert and a reading/show, with incredible food and great company. Tickets must be purchased before the show, as shows are usually standing-room only.”
No tall tales!
“‘Tales from the South'” is a showcase of writers reading their own true stories. While the show itself is unrehearsed, the literary memoirs have been worked on for weeks leading up to the readings. Stories range from funny to touching, from everyday occurances to life-altering tragedies.”
 
“Tales from the South” is uniquely Southern, in that while we don’t require that stories are set in the South (though a majority are), writers must be either originally from the South or live here currently, and the distinct Southern art of storytelling rich in language, detail, and voice is alive in all of them.  Contributors are from all walks of life and include professional writers as well as those who have never been published.”
MY TURN TO TELL MY TALE
In late October of this year, my dear and funny friend, Taylor Kidd, mentioned a radio show on NPR, “Tales From The South”.  I was vaguely familiar with the program, although I had never listened to an episode.  I think I knew they accepted submissions and recall thinking at some point prior to that day, “I need to submit.”
But I never did.
Until Taylor encouraged me to do so.
Why hadn’t I before?  I have no idea.  It wasn’t out of fear of rejection, as I have a thick skin and know my abilities.  I think I simply kept forgetting about it.
Fortunately I had been, (and still am), working on a book entitled “Mister Fancy Pants”.  An observational humor book along the lines of so many observational humor books.  A collection of stories about travels, friends, family, living and life.  Just things I find funny or interesting.  Several people had read what I had written thus far and the one chapter which struck a chord in so many was the one entitled “The Son of Miss Sharon”.
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The chapter is the story of how I discovered, quite by accident when I was 15 years old, my mother had been when I was one year old, Miss Sharon on television’s children’s educational program Romper Room.  The chapter is actually posted in one of my earlier blog entries entitled “The Son of Miss Sharon”.  Check it out.
I thought this might make an interesting submission, so I shaped it up a bit making certain I was within the required word count and electronically submitted the story on a Monday.
The very next day I was booked for the Tin Roof Series of Tales From The South.
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“The first Tuesday of each month, we feature a well-known Southerner for a special show we call the ‘Tin Roof Project.’
I was thrilled.  For several reasons.  First, obviously it’s an honor to be booked on Tales From The South, an internationally syndicated show.  And two, to be booked on the special Tin Roof series – a bonus!
But most importantly, I was thrilled my parents would be in the audience for the taping.  I would be given the privilege of honoring them.  And that was, well, thrilling.
My taping was scheduled for December 4th with an air date of January 3rd, 2013.  The taping took place at the wonderful and ambient Starving Artist Cafe.  Such a beautiful platform for artists.  Great atmosphere, food and service.  Located in the equally wonderful Argenta Arts District in North Little Rock, Arkansas, I was to arrive at 4 pm.  It’s about a three hour drive from where I live in Fayetteville and since I wouldn’t be done with the taping until 8.30 pm, I didn’t want to drive back that late at night alone.  So I made a plan to spend the night – UNTIL I saw hotel prices.
The Hampton Inn?  $109 a night.
What?   Do they now have gold taps?
Of course there were cheaper hotels which one could rent by the hour.
NO thanks.
So I reconciled myself to the fact I would have to drive back after the taping.
Ugh.
THEN, I get an email from the producers telling me if I planned to spend the night, they would put me up complimentary, (FREE), at the every-so-lovely Robinwood Bed and Breakfast.
The Robinwood Bed & Breakfast.

The Robinwood Bed & Breakfast.

 

 

Another score!

So I excitedly packed my little overnight bag courtesy of Louis Vuitton and headed for Little Rock with audio book at the ready.

I enjoy driving.   I enjoy driving by myself.  I enjoy driving by myself while listening to an audio book.

I arrived in Little Rock around 3.30pm and having printed off directions to the B&B, I navigated my way through strange territory and eventually became lost as I missed an all-too-important hidden turn off.  Thank goodness for GPS and maps as I entered in my current position and destination and quickly found my way after that.

Oh, the B&B was heaven.  Such wonderful hosts and the quest count that night, including myself, was…two.

Perfect.

I was led to my room where I discovered a jacuzzi tub, plush bathrobes, snack & drink bar and a bed so soft and delightful that it was not to be believed.

So I took a quick nap before leaving for the taping.

 

 

A quick nap and snack before heading out for the taping.

A quick nap and snack before heading out for the taping.

 

 

And to my immense disappointment when I asked my hostesses if the house was haunted, she said no.

Pooh.

 

 

The interior of The Starving Artist Cafe.  Home of Tales From the South.

The interior of The Starving Artist Cafe. Home of Tales From the South.

 

 

I arrive at The Starving Artist Cafe just as my parents are arriving.

And I am SO excited to be sharing this with them.  Which can, admittedly, be difficult to tell at times.  Sometimes when I get too excited…too overwhelmed, I pull back.  I become very quiet.  Where others might be jumping up and down in excited energy, I tend to take a moment and a deep breath.  In a sense I want to sit back and observe as I don’t want to get so caught up in the moments that I forget the moments.  I want to soak it all in.  All the details.

And as my parents become older…well, I can’t bear to think about, let alone write about that, but you know what I am thinking…

As we walk up to the cafe I notice my name on the sandwich board on the sidewalk.

I take a picture.

We then are escorted to our table – front and center, where I find a lovely note and (BONUS), a Tales From The South T-shirt.  I am all about a gift basket.  AND my meal was free.

I felt like Kate Middleton.

We have a terrific server, Andy, whom I later find out from his networking email he sent to me is a musician and is interested in breaking into musical theatre.  Have I any advice?

I order a steak, which was DELISH!

During dinner a fantastic band plays.  Bluegrass-style, which I adore.

And there is a bit of dancing by the patrons.  One man is on the dance floor cutting a proverbial rug.  And then announces he’s 91 years old.

Ninety-one!

 

 

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Then the band finished their set and the show began.

Paula Martin Morell, the show’s producer and host, gave me a tremendous introduction.  And it was tremendous because I wrote it myself.  As requested.

If you have ever listened to the show, you know Paula mentions the set, which are a series of painted doors – which are, fabulous.

And for sale.

“And please welcome Mark Landon Smith…”

To applause and a few whistles, which I assume were directed as my posterior, I made my way up to the stage.

 

 

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I do not get nervous when performing.

I get excited.

And this was an ideal situation.  I felt very comfortable.  Very at home.  My parents were there.  There was a good energy in the room.  And I had my script in front of me.  So there is nothing left to chance.

So I began my story.  Which you can read, as mentioned earlier in this post, in an post posted earlier.

The audience was with me every step of the way.  Laughing when they should.  Being moved when they were.  And being there, soaking in the moment, reading a story about my beloved mother, I became emotional.  A bit teary.  I had to take a moment.  Stop.  Continue.

It.  Was.  Magical.

 

 

On stage at Tales From The South.

On stage for Tales From The South.

 

 

I was proud.

Proud of my parents.  Proud of my heritage.  Proud of being of the South.  Proud of the story I had to tell.

And very thankful.

At the end of the reading there was loud applause and whistles of appreciation.  A short break was taken as a Q&A from the host and audience followed.

The host forwarded questions for me to review/approve before I arrived, which I of course did.  Who am I to censor the questions of a host?  They were far from invasive.

As we ended the hosts questions and opened it up to the audience, I became momentarily afraid no one would care to ask anything.  But  was wrong.  The audience was fascinated with the fact Miss Sharon, a television icon whom they remembered from and had an impact upon their childhood, was there among them.

My mother felt like a rock star.  Because she is.

At the end of the evening audience members introduced themselves to my parents, which was thrilling to watch and I was pooped.

 

 

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It really was a perfect evening and over by 8.30 pm.

Perfect.

I thanked the host and our server.

Earlier in the evening they had an audience giveaway.  The winner of which was Jean Kerst.  A name I recognized.  I glanced over at the table and saw a large family sitting together and locked eyes with one of the menfolk.  A moment of recognition.

“Paul?  Paul Kerst?”

An old friend of mine from high school I had not seen since 1982.  He and his family live in Conway and discovering I was being featured, drove in with his family to celebrate his wife’s 50th birthday evening.  What a treat.  We spoke for a bit and had a picture taken.

What a small world.

My parents and I said our goodbyes in the parking lot and I would see them in two and a half weeks for Christmas.  Hugs.  Thank yous and as they pulled away, a few tears from myself.

Now all I wanted to do was to get back to the Robinwood, pop open a Coke and soak in that jacuzzi tub.

Which.  I.  Did.

And watched television and slept soundly.

The next morning I hit the jacuzzi one more time before heading down for breakfast.

 

 

Post morning jacuzzi time.

Post morning jacuzzi time.

 

 

A yummy breakfast and visiting with the B&B owners and playing with their dogs completed my morning before departing.  And saying goodbye and thank you and what a beautiful Christmas tree and what a treat this was and I will tell everyone about your wonderful place, I left.

And driving home I finished my audio book and arriving back in Fayetteville before noon, went straight to work at the theatre.

And that is my tale of Tales From The South.

You should try it sometime.

It’s delightful.