30 April, 2009

Ask Al: A Life in the Theatre

Hi Al,

Secondly, if you hadn’t have become an actress would you have still tried to forge a career in any other side of the theatre, such as backstage or casting director etc?

Many Thanks,


* * *

The short answer is Yes. I say this all the time but I shall repeat it here because it is a perfect example of how I feel. I love the theatre, and acting is my contribution to the theatre.

If I had no talent for acting or singing, I would utilize my organizational side and delve in to the world of stage management. Or, I would try my visually artistic hand at design. I still intend, when I am brave and experienced enough, to direct. I have, and will continue to, teach.

I am often asked about pursuing an acting career in film and television, and though I would love to experience the thrill of a completely different medium, I explain that it is not acting that I love, but specifically, the theatre.

23 April, 2009

25 Things

Apparently this is the biggest case of narcissism in Internet history. 5 million notes have appeared on facebook in the past week. 5 MILLION facts.

* * *

1. I am addicted to badcrimedrama. The worse it is, the better.

2. This addiction to badcrimedrama has, in many ways, made me particularly suspicious and careful. Definitely paranoid. I sometimes think about things like "my finger prints are all OVER that..." or, "why would anyone throw their napkin in the bin when it is in plain sight? That NEEDS to be incinerated...." It's probably not healthy.

3. I have flat feet.

4. What About Bob? is my undisputed favourite film of all time. In a top ten list of favourite films, Bob would take up the top three slots. I could watch it on repeat, I could probably quote the entire thing from beginning to end (with intonations and pauses, inflections, music cues and everything). The last time I watched it? Yesterday in my dressing room between shows. Oh! And when I was young, I put a microphone up to the television and recorded it on audiotape so I could listen to it at summer camp and in the car. THAT my friends, is love. Every single time I watch (or, uh, hear) this film I get something new from it. Bob is not only humourous, Bob is strangely moving and enlightened. And well! I could probably write an entire post about Bob and indeed, just might...

5. I love owls. (Also, a friend of mine has a child who thought my name was "Owl" instead of "Al" and it stuck.)

6. I love Halloween. And Autumn. Both of these things combine two of my favourite things: a sort of dark and sinister aesthetic, and the melancholy nature of the fall season. I have a dark side I guess, and it revels in that time of year.

7. My favourite food in all the world is watermelon. But it HAS to be good. There is just no point in eating it if it is mushy or sour or mealy. But good watermelon? I could eat it all day every day. For every meal. Forever.

8. I'm fascinated by redheads. And redheaded culture. I like that redheaded-ness is a genetic mutation. I love how weird it is that redheads need more anesthesia than everyone else. My first proper boyfriend was a redhead ("with hair the color of a ripe orange peel"). I know three left handed redheads (one of whom was that first boyfriend). Redheaded-ness is not only a hair colour, it is a STATE OF MIND...

9. I have a very mysterious connection to the letter "J." Excluding a few key people, the majority of the major players in my life along the way have had J names, or had some connection to the letter J themselves. Examples...
Childhood best friend: Jessica.
Childhood boyfriend: James.
First proper boyfriend: Jeremey.
Brother: Jordan.
Love of my youth: Justin.
Kindred Spirit: Josh
Other major friends: another Jeremy, another Justin and another Jessica.
The one that got away: Jim.
I had a pre-teen crush on another Josh, taken over (in various ways) from a Jill a Jyoti and a Justine. I've been taught very important things by two Jeans, two Judys and a Julia, sung for Jeff, and of course, played Julie Jordan opposite Jeremiah James.

When pointing this phenomenon out to childhood friend Justin Boday, he nodded his head suspiciouly and then pointed to my parents quizzically. What about your Parents Mike and Cathy? Their names don't start with J, his expression read. I thought for a moment and replied: "Jom" and "Jad." Aaaand it stuck.

There are over 20 other Js which shall remain nameless, but they are OUT THERE (and I am certain they know who they are)...

10. I am really.... REALLY good at pinball. Don't challenge me to duel....REALLY GOOD...

11. I know that in admitting this next piece of trivia I will, without question, move down a few pegs in people's estimation: I know it is absolute garbage, but I secretly love Ghost Whisperer and cry at every.single.episode. It is bad. It is bad bad television and I love it. I. love. it. Iloveit. And I am NOT ASHAMED. Yes I am. I am ashamed. But now it is out there and that is that. Am I embarrassed that when we first tech-ed the final scene of Carousel that my reply was "Oh my god that light is so magical and JUST like the one in Ghost Whisperer!" ? --Yes. Yes I am. Am I discomfited that sometimes when (prepare yourself) "G-dub" is on, I turn off my PHONE? Absolutely. Do I care? Not really.

12. I famously get song lyrics mixed up. And allow the confusion to perpetuate within me for decades at a time. Famous (totally sincere) misunderstandings:

Hard Day's Night
"...and I've been working like a log...."

"I Say a Little Prayer For You"
"forever and ever you'll stay in my heart and I will hug you..."

and my favourite lyrical mix-up of all time:

I Will Survive:
"I just walked in to find you here with the fat whore upon your face...."

13. I love red. Anything red. It has always been my colour. I love to wear it, to look at it, if I could, I would bathe in it.

14. I don't think I have ever loved a city more than I loved, and continue to love, Venice.
"Perhaps I am afraid of losing Venice all at once, if I speak of it. Or perhaps, speaking of other cities, I have already lost it, little by little." -- Italo Calvino

15. One time, my friend Kit took me to Bastille Day at the French Embassy in London. Perks included, among other things, a security check at the front gate, shaking hands with the ambassador (his hand was incredibly soft), an Eiffel Tower and Arc de Triumph both made of baguette, and accidentally walking in on the Ambassador's wife in the toilet. Somehow, a hearty "pardon" just didn't cut it. Fantastic.

16. Sometimes, when I don't feel like getting hassled, I pretend to be English just so I can get on with my day without talking about Friends or politics. Sue me.

17. I am really good at making salads. And naming them. If I were to put out a personal ad, I would list salad making as one of my virtues because I am really very talented. Savoury, sweet, pasta, bean, Greek, Italian, Michigan, you NAME it, I can make it and you will love it. I promise. I once made a salad in Sheffield for our New Year celebrations with pomegranate seeds and called it "Persephone's Delight." Good, huh? Or what about "The Traverse City Surprise"?-- my Michigan theme salad made with apple and pear slices, (what I call) "yuppie greens" and dried Michigan cherries?

18. There was a period of my life when I thought I was going to be a meteorologist. I really love everything to do with weather, especially clouds.

19. I mix up words ALL the time. It is an Al-ism. Not important grammatical things like their there and they're, but words with a slightly more complex make-up, insinuating that the psychological blundering is something that lingers deep within my psyche. (I welcome and encourage theories.) One would think that a fairly intelligent girl such as myself would never mix up the words "antidote" and "anecdote," would one? But I do, and many others. And perhaps, if I am honest, I sooooometimes lean in to this little character flaw, and push it a bit, making mistakes I am already aware of, to spread amusement and joy to those around me!

20. My dad invented light beer. Seriously. It's true. Ask my mom. You can call her. I always do when people don't believe me. (And no, we're not filthy stinking rich. Dad sold the patent long before light beer became huge. But it is okay, he was too busy saving people's lives to bother with brewery and such...)

21. I once strolled through Borough Market during The Great Depression of '06, saw a giant rat eating a bit of what I hope was sausage, and thought to myself, “My life is over.” It wasn’t. (Obviously).

22. I love a good footnote.*

23. I am obsessed with All. Things. Russian.

24. For reasons unknown, I pretty much exclusively wear solid colours and simple patterns (if patterns are present at all). By simple I mean, clean, not-at-all-busy polka dots or stripes... and that is pretty much it. Any adventures I take in to the world of pattern are always precarious, and if I really think about it, I believe only one dress I own contains a pattern I would classify as "busy." I have no idea where this comes from. I wonder if branching out is necessary... or if I should just accept that I like what I like..?

25. My parents and I never discussed the fact that Santa Claus was not real. Mom and I still talk about Santa as if he is coming to dinner like Elijah. (Or, say, an actual house guest). It is just a sort of blasee thing, you know, Santa will be coming, naturally. We sort of knowingly talked around the subject during my teens, but still have never really discussed it. I like that. We are a magical family.

* who doesn't?

17 April, 2009

A Murderous Hiatus

Are there any words sadder than these:

"Jessica Fletcher will be taking a break from crime solving for now, but she will be back in a few weeks."

This seemingly innocuous phrase graced it's way in to my living room this afternoon after I had settled down post-workout with a salad and found myself perusing the TV guide, selecting "Murder, She Wrote" with glee (I even said the word "jackpot!" OUT LOUD), watching it with tremendous delight and amusement as per usual.

And then-- THEN! To hear these shattering words dispassionately articulated by the soporific voice within the television. To have my heart so unceremoniously cracked without so much as a warning! I didn't see the signs! I had not planned ahead...

Oh! BBC 2!! How can you do this to me?! It is not that you do it, it is that you did it with such callous. With such a heedless, devil-may-care attitude of terrible coldness. Diagnosis Murder has already been eliminated from the BBC1 afternoon lineup... and what. am. I. to do?

May you find greener pastures this summer, Jessica. Perhaps you are dining in Barbados with Mark Sloane.

Ah, how I always longed for a crossover. There they would be, Jessica and Mark, sipping Pina Coladas, remembering their golden days (with a gentle nudge nudge wink wink to both of their involvement in musicals and Disney films), on a jolly holiday to portobello road... How grand it would be until, of course, someone kicked the bucket! And then they would solve the crime together, side by side. With an animated penguin bobbing along beside them...

Well, wherever you are, I hope all remain alive and well... though naturally, this is just too much to hope for...

01 April, 2009

Ask Al: Musical Theatre or Acting?

Hey Alexandra,

As a wannabe actress/whatever-the-hell-job-i-can-find-related-to-theatre I just wanted to say how much I enjoying reading your blog. I always find your posts insightful as to life in the theatre and if nothing else they can always give me a good giggle and I for one share your love of incredibly bad crime drama!

I just wondered if you would be so kind if I could pick your brain...

Correct me if I'm wrong but the course you trained on at Royal Scottish Academy of Music and Drama was straight acting? Obviously the majority of your professional jobs have been in musical theatre and I wondered how ‘prepared’ your found yourself despite the course not being centered on this. Or if in any ways you felt that this benefited you more, the pros and cons etc. I am still undecided as to whether to audition for acting or musical theatre courses, I would prefer to apply for MT but while my voice and acting are strong, my dance is definitely the weakest area! So I’m unsure how far I would get.

Many thanks,

* * *

Hi Laura,

Any lover of badcrimedrama is already a friend of mine! How are you dealing with the depart of Grissom? I am, sadly, not coping well...(I have even taken to singing the theme tune "Who Are You?" with a note of derision specifically aimed at Lawrence Fishburn, which I intend to keep up for at least 2 more episodes until I am sufficiently readjusted). Grissom was the quintessence of CSI: Regular. I am lost, NO! THE CITY OF LAS VEGAS is lost, without our bug loving leader...

Now! To the topics at hand.

1. Ah, the classic question, what to study? I cannot tell you how often I get asked this question, so this is a perfect forum for me to extol the virtues of training. I want to start by stating that naturally, you are asking my personal opinion, and that is all that I represent here. I speak for no one but myself, and articulate only my own views and personal experiences.

My thoughts...

a. I believe, with every single fibre of me, that Musical Theatre is a genre of story telling. One. Single. Genre. As important and as legitimate as any other genre. (And believe me, I love it very, very much.) BUT. This being said. It is ONE genre of a very wide and expansive art form indeed, and I have never really understood fully why anyone would study a single genre for 3 or 4 years.

b. I suppose the theory is that you are technically studying three genres at once. That you are working three times as hard. And while I understand that Musical Theatre is a very technically demanding discipline, I deny that a person with a Musical Theatre degree is necessarily better armed for the world of Musical Theatre, let along a varied professional acting career. I would even go so far as to say that in some (certainly not all) instances, a mediocre (or poor) MT program actual does very little justice to truly honing one's abilities further than "polishing", it merely makes you competent, not excellent in three areas. There are, obviously, always exceptions to this, but I personally believe aiming to do one thing with true excellence, rather than many things with mediocrity. True excellence should always be your goal, not only in this highly competitive industry, but in life if you ask me.... and you are... (That is a snippet of a thought for an entirely different essay altogether, but you catch my drift).

c. My next point is this: I want you to think about all of the performing arts. Have you ever seen a dancer perform a technical feat of 20 pirouettes? It's impressive, it is like watching a contortionist or a high jumper at their best. But at The Ballet, you are meant to be telling a story, and I wager you, as an audience member, wouldn't care if the dancer performed only 5 pirouettes if their entire body and soul was laid bare for you to see whilst they danced for you?

Similarly, there is nothing like hearing an opera singer hit the high, big notes at the end of an aria. But if the aria is not sing with intelligence and passion, you are merely observing a technical feat, not an artistic one. A feat that can be measured with numbers, not measured with the heart.

Do you see where I am going with this? I studied straight acting for three years (plus two years multi-faceted training at Interlochen) because I knew that (get your pen ready) ACTING DRIVES EVERYTHING. One more time.... ACTING DRIVES EVERYTHING. If the story isn't being told, and told well, the odd voice crack here and there or 5 pirouettes instead of 20 will simply not matter. Believe me. This is not me giving licence to mediocrity, it is, in fact, the opposite argument. I believe that at the end of one's training, they should be very aware of the strengths they possess that can professionally deliver (on a scale of 1 to 10) between a 8 and 10, not the knowledge that they are "well rounded" and can deliver each discipline in the strong 4 to 7 range. Some people possess natural ability which accounts for a majority of their "delivery," but we're talking about training.

d. Take all three daughters cast in Fiddler on the Roof in London last year-- all of us classically trained (RSAMD and Bristol Old Vic). Lindsay chose us because he wanted to work with "actors," that is from the horse's mouth... not that Lindsay is a horse... he is really very nice and un-horse like.

Or, take my very good friend (since we were 16!) Santino Fontana. An incredible actor who trained classically at The Guthrie Theatre's BFA program in Minneapolis. He is an incredibly gifted musician as well, and he was not only in the original Revival Cast of The Fantasticks, but also in the Roundabout Theatre Company's production of Sunday in the Park with George and is now starring in Billy Elliot. Oh, and I should probably mention that he...you know....whatever... played the title role in Hamlet at The Guthrie Theatre in a highly acclaimed performance, and is the youngest actor is EVER play Hamlet in a professional production... so... that is fine... he is sort of talented....This is what he had to say about his training at The University of Minnesota/Guthrie Theater BFA Actor Training Program:

"I'm proud to say I have a visceral knowledge of the classics, specifically Shakespeare, and my passion for making those stories engaging, creative and dynamic was nurtured here over the last four years. My training has prepared me for a life as not just an actor, but an artist—aware of the world around me and informing how I choose to communicate a story to an audience. Moreover, my training has prepared me for life as a person—fully aware, curious, passionate, articulate, open and, above all, present."

And finally, look at the incredible performance of the beautiful late Natasha Richardson as Sally Bowles. A woman with no Musical Theatre training, using her natural singing voice and dancing in her underwear; giving a soul baring performance of a lifetime, and the woman won and deserved that TONY. I know. I saw it. Her performance was one of the reasons I decided to study acting. (May she rest in peace, she was an inspiration to so many...)

e. Your voice isn't going anywhere. As a friend once said (actually I think it was Santino, oddly enough in response to this very question) "it's not going to fly away like a bird!" If you work on it (and I trained myself all the time in between classes at RSAMD), it will grow and improve like any technical skill. Take extra curricular dance classes if you like. Push yourself outside of school, take it at your own pace. If you are an accomplished singer than you take private singing lessons or work on your own. If your dancing sucks get a private teacher or sign up for beginner tap. Challenge yourself and move at your own pace in those "technical skill" areas. The art is in the expression. That is what I think.

f. When I was offered The Woman in White, I was told that without question the reason I was playing the role was because I was such a strong actress. My voice was "very good", but I was told there were "so many people with good voices." I was informed that I was to play Laura because my acting had "won it." And that cannot be due to natural ability alone. I owe a great deal to RSAMD, thank you thank you.

g. Finally, the technical discipline and thorough understanding of all genres, not simply musical theatre, is integral to a complete understanding of the theatre and it's scope. I spent my entire first year working on Naturalism alone! It took that long for me to fully understand it and I am still constantly reworking my skills.

There you go. That is my advice. If you are serious about being a professional, if pursuing a career is not merely a whim, but a very serious goal, than that is the best advice I can offer you. Study Acting. Study acting and do it at the highest level you can. It is the beating epicentre of it all.

*I just want to add as a footnote, that I have met, worked with, and tremendously respect a great many performers who have trained in Musical Theatre (D being one of many who have thoroughly enjoyed not only their training but a varied and colourful career. There is always room for second opinions! I highly recommend asking for them!)

I really hope you find that helpful and I wish you the best of luck! Let me know how you get on.

All the best,
Al x


Related Posts with Thumbnails