25 February, 2014

Arlington: Rehearsal Log for TheaterMania.com

As commissioned by Theatermania.com, here is a comprehensive log of our Arlington rehearsal process over at the Vineyard.

All with wHitty qWhippy captions. Because that is how I roll...

"Arlington Star Alexandra Silber Takes Us on Her Journey From Rehearsal Room to the Stage of the Vineyard Theatre

Behind the scenes at the new Polly Pen-Victor Lodato musical.

Starring in a one-person show is a daunting task, especially when you're performing at a veritable institution like off-Broadway's Vineyard Theatre. But if Alexandra Silber, star of the new musical Arlington, is nervous, she's not letting it show. Backed only by a pianist, Silber is all alone for the show's 55-minute duration, taking the audience on a harrowing journey through the psyche of Sara Jane, a lonely army wife who eagerly awaits her husband's arrival home.
In preparation for the start of performances, Silber takes us on a journey of her own — one from her rehearsal studio to the stage of the Vineyard Theatre — where you can catch Arlington through March 23. Check out her photos and quirky captions in the gallery below."

19 February, 2014

Ask Al: Networking

Hi Al, 

I'm an American acting student studying at The RWCMD [Royal Welsh College of Music and Drama]. What are some actions I can take/things I can do to network while still in school overseas? And similarly, when I am back in the states? 



Dear Abroad,

All of these are great questions.

First of all congrats on your educational adventure! (I obviously identify...) Remember: continue to celebrate your adventure. It can be difficult to see so many of your British classmates make plans to stay in the UK. I know it is hard to envision an alternative life for yourself when you are in the minority, but fear not! Celebrate that you get to have yet another adventure as you return home to the Land of the Free.

Networking can be tricky and emotionally taxing, but breathe: if it doesn't come naturally or easily, take heart. It can be tough on anyone. Everyone in every and any business has to attempt it on some level, so try to approach the entire thing first as a necessary exercise in human nature (not a make-or-break career killer.) You're special. I know that. The trick with networking is getting other people to know it too.
...That's it.
So while you're taking heart, don't freak out—you're not slicing brains or FIXING SYRIA...you're mostly just... going to parties...

The advice I have to offer is pretty simple. (And in six steps. You know how much I love numerical points...)

Here we go... 

1. Don't lose touch with the people you already DO know.

I know. I know. But think about it—"Networking" is only as powerful as your base Network. And you absolutely never know who or what anyone will ever become, who or how anybody can help you--even in the most seemingly insignificant ways.


2. Continue to network with the new people you meet. 

Even the British people— you never know who they might be able to introduce you to.

When young actors ask me for advice, I sometimes tell them what people in the corporate world call 'NYFO'— or, Network Your Face Off. You want to NYFO so hard that you HAVE NO FACE.

Nearly everything I have worked on in the last three years (from theatre, to orchestral gigs, to my teaching at Pace), can be directly traced back to both connections I’ve made, and help I’ve received from a network that is expansive, diverse, and crucially: active.

3. Say 'YES.' Then Show Up and Show Often. 

The best networking suggestion I can offer? Say yes to invitations. Even if it isn't clear what you’ll 'get' out of the event.

I’m not arguing for overbooking yourself into exhaustion, nor am I campaigning for long,  unstructured conversations with every single person you meet at the opening of an envelope. But my most fruitful business connections have resulted from a spontaneous gathering or event I was not, at the offset, entirely sure about.

Some call this "making your own luck—" but making your own luck simply means increasing the odds of making the right connection.

Of course you can’t possibly go to every soiree, cocktail to-do, industry party, opening night, nor could you take every single meeting. But by regularly connecting with people you think are interesting, you guarantee yourself a richer life. But you also heighten your potential for unexpected benefits in the form of seemingly serendipitous connections. Some of the best friends, allies, business partners and jobs I've acquired came through other friends, acquaintances who saw me and sparked a mental connection—even when I did not.

You may be asking, how can I make these connections in the first place?
That's my point: SAY YES. Then show up, and show often. Get off the sofa, put down the Pringles, turn off the Netflix binge marathon, brush your hair and go—go to that thing your roommate's boyfriend's cool artist cousin is throwing.

This should be obvious, but when you are starting out in any industry, it is an understandably unappealing idea to socialize with people you don’t know (especially when you’re working 16-hour days at some temp job to supplement your artistic dreams). But everything, and I truly do mean every single thing, starts with showing up.

4. Ask others for help both directly and specifically.

If you work with someone you REALLY connect with (say, a guest director), ask them directly: “Do you have any American contacts you might be willing to make an introduction to?” If they do, the probability is that they will. People LIKE to help other people. Well, most do.

When it comes to the networking, my advice is ALWAYS to be very specific. Identify who precisely you might ask for help, then ask for EXACTLY what you need. General questions aren’t going to help you at all. “Can you help me?” simply is not as effective as “I am looking for American connections to meet in person the week of February 18th. Do you have anyone you might be willing to connect me with through email or by phone?” The latter is a specific request to which a person can offer a “Yes” or “No” answer. Help people help you by knowing what you want and need! On that note, my penultimate, highly-complementary strategy:

5. When you identify exactly what you want, broadcast that to every person you meet. 

When talking about your career goals and artistic dreams, be honest—first with yourself and then with others. A little candor combined with an honest bid for a connection with others, goes a long way in turning a conversation from trite to meaningful.

A few months ago, a friend of mine was on the hunt for a new agent after a long pause from the entertainment industry. For an entire month, she answered every “How are things?” question with some variation of: “Great! I just started back in the business, which has been a great adventure. Auditions, meetings, and I’m also trying to meet with a few new agents. How are things with you?”

96% of the time, she said the conversation continued as normal, with a corresponding update and usual small talk. .
...But four people she spoke with were different:
       "They immediately responded by suggesting they had a former colleague, relative, mailman, or ex-husband at Blah Blah Agency," she said, "and would I like an introduction?"

Within six weeks, she went from career stagnation, to four warm personal introductions to power players who could make her career re-boot happen. Eight weeks after that: she had both a voice over gig and a fantastic job in regional theatre. The overall point is this: people WANT to help others if they can. But they can't help out if you don't make it known.

Behold! A party at chez Al Silbs.
6. Don't just get a life. Have a life. 

If you have a life—by which I mean a life full of friends, family, meaningful activities, interests, and higher purposes—you won't feel as desperate about your career.

Then, don't just be the person that goes to the parties. Be the person who throws them! They don't have to be big or fancy. Two years ago I resolved to open my home up to two or more people per month. There were no restrictions on what they had to mean (giant Labor Day soiree, Burns Night with Scottish pals, a tea party with Nikka and Amy Jo, or Make-Fun-of-a-Movie Night with local Astorians—no matter!) I not only learned a lot about hosting and opening my heart and home, but I entered a new form of networking sentence "Oh, hey didn't I meet you at Al Silber's party?" Look at that—I get to fill my house full of friends and fun, and my name gets out there in the universe when I'm not even there. Magic.


Remember that networks are powerful, but only as powerful as YOU make them. And, when the dance is done well, a network reveals a core of individuals who are all rooting for your success, more often than not, truly pleased to help you.

16 February, 2014

The New York Times

©Tony Cenicola
It is so exciting to be featured in The New York Times.

But, what is even more exciting is when the feature emerges from a truly heartfelt conversation with a writer who you feel actually "gets" you; a woman you spent nearly an hour with, opening your the true nature of your soul up to a sympathetic and interested confidante.

Such was the case with Times reporter Anita Gates.

Better still, was that I feel the feature truly reflects the nature of our conversation.

The print version is available everywhere, today.


A version of this article appears in print on February 16, 2014, on page AR2 of the New York edition with the headline: After Marquee Roles, an Epiphany.

11 February, 2014

Playbill "Cue & A"

I recently filled out a delightful little questionnaire for Playbill.com [and big thank yous to Matt Blank at Playbill who is always a joy to work with!] Here are some highlights! I had an absolute blast with it.

The full article can be viewed here.

* * *

If you could go back in time and catch any Broadway show, what would it be?
    ⁃    The original 1938 production of Our Town
    ⁃    Tyne Daly in Gypsy
    ⁃    Uta Hagen’s famous first performance on Broadway of A Streetcar Named Desire (when she stepped in from the touring company for Jessica Tandy), where she went on with Marlon Brando with only five minutes of rehearsal before the curtain went up…? Yeah.

Fire up that DeLorean…

Current show other than your own you have been recommending to friends:

Rachel Bay Jones’ performance in Pippin.

Favorite showtune(s) of all time:

Let me begin by saying that I have a very specific definition of what a ‘show-tune’ IS, and believe you me: Anything does NOT ‘Go.’ A true Broadway show tune  is more than merely a tune from a show—it must have pep, tunefulness, and vigor—it tune rallies those musical theatre troops in a singularly sensational, glittery fireball of razzle dazzle reminding you that it is time to start livin’.
That there is no business like show business.

A Show-tune is you and your family singing in the car.
A Show-tune is sung in the shower. 
Can we all agree ‘Epiphany’ from Sweeny Todd is not a sing-along in the car sort of number?
For this reason: “Sunday,” “One Hand One Heart” and “Will He Like Me?” are not on the Show Tune list, and
“Morning Glow,” “Camelot,” “It’s Today,” “There is Nothing Like a Dame,” and “The Lees of Old Virginia,” ARE.

Some favorite modern musicals:
American Idiot destroyed me.

Some favorite classic musicals:
Classic musicals are my thang so this is tough. [*thinkthinkthink*]

She Loves Me, Fiddler on the Roof, Hello Dolly!, Carousel, 1776, and Show Boat.

Broadway or screen stars of the past you would most have loved to perform with:
Mary Martin

Your personal performance idols, living or dead:
I admire many people, including:

    ⁃    Danny Kaye,
    ⁃    Bea Arthur,
    ⁃    Cate Blanchett
    ⁃    Maria Callas,
    ⁃    Marcel Marceau,
    ⁃    and Irene Pappas.

But I save the term idol for only one woman, and that is Dame Angela Lansbury.

The one performance – attended - that you will never forget:
[WARNING: I’m offering this answer in numerical points to prevent you from having a stroke whilst reading.]

1. In Seventh grade.
I went along to a
2.  middle school production
3. The Sound of Music
4. Hillel Day School
5. my friend Shira (yes, really), 
6. ballet class
was playing
7. Max Detweiller…
And Five seconds after the curtain went up I realized the entire production was…
8.    …in Hebrew.
It was also happened to be
9. Groundhog Day.


Most played song on your iPod:
“Heaven When We’re Home” by The Wailin’ Jennys.

Most-visited websites:

…Hungover. Owls.
[*She lets it sink in…*]
Get into it.

Favorite Tweeters:
Anika Chapin (@AnikaChapin). She is one of the few tweeters that can make me *actually* laugh out loud. Her thread is an uber-smart, super-witty, MENSA-level, anthropologic braniac-splosion of pop culture and musical theater.

Just follow her.

Last book you read:
I’m a voracious reader but the last book I finished was The Trickster’s Hat by Nick Bantock. Nick Bantock is an author and visual artist (the author of the Griffin & Sabine Trilogies), my lifelong artistic idol. This is his latest book which is a mischievous and thrilling study of (and guide through) the alchemical art of creativity.

Must-see TV show(s):
This lady loves herself some crime drama… the real nitty-gritty vintage stuff.  If it "looks like we gotta murder to solve" ... I’m IN.

Some films you consider classics:
What About Bob? and The Court Jester. (Cult classics? Are they cult classics if I am the only one in the cult? Dunno...)

Performer you would drop everything to go see:
I have dropped everything to see Rebecca Luker.

Three favorite cities:
Venice, Glasgow, Detroit.

Favorite sport/team/player: 
All Detroit sports rile me profoundly. I love the Red Wings (hockey), but I’m a baseball lady down to the bone marrow (my Dad was a phenomenal [left-handed!] first baseman)—so without question my Detroit Tigers! I get very emotional about it.

First CD/Tape/LP you owned:
What’s an LP…? #kidding

What are some of your most memorable roles as a kid or teenager and how old were you?
Annie Sullivan in The Miracle Worker (I was 16)
Amalia Balash in She Loves Me (17, in high school at Interlochen Arts Academy—opposite Michael Arden as Georg)
MISS HANNIGAN… I was 8… it was most-likely an inappropriately accurate, gin-soaked carbon-copy of Carol Burnett’s performance down to the vocal inflection but still…

First stage kiss:
I don’t remember. But certainly my most memorable stage kiss blunder was last summer in She Loves Me with Santino Fontana (a very old “Dear friend’ from Summer camp). We ran at each other at the just-wrong moment and totally botched the final kiss.

Basically: I broke his face.
There was blood.
Then I apologized to Laura Osnes:

How you got your Equity card:
the anti-climax
Hilarious. I began my career in the West End for five years before I came to America for what I believed to be a short visit. Because I assumed I would eventually return to London, I didn’t join Equity for the two short projects (Carousel at Reprise and Master Class at the Kennedy Center) I was working on.

But by the time Hello Again at the Transport Group rolled around, I realized that my original 10-week “visit” to America had turned into a-year-and-a-half. Who was I kidding? I lived here.

I walked into the Equity building… and ten minutes later I walked out with my Equity card. Okay, fine—a touch anti-climactic, but that’s my story and I like it.

Most challenging role you have ever played:
Helen in Howard Barker’s The Bite of the Night, and Julie Jordan in the last West End revival of Carousel.

What has been the biggest challenge about this project?
Aside from it being a kind of performance marathon, Arlington is an incredibly complex piece of text and music which requires me to be in optimum shape in every respect. Combine that with a difficult subject matter (and subsequent emotional gymnastics) and you’ve got a challenge on your hands…

What has been the most fun or fulfilling aspect?
…I love a challenge.

Plus, working on it with the creative company I am keeping.

Worst flubbed line/missed cue/onstage mishap:
[Sigh… Please see blood-soaked stage kiss above.]

Worst costume ever:
Once upon a time I was a “spirit of the wood” in a Christmas pantomime in Glasgow in 2002.
I’ll say the words UNI-TARD and FELT LEAVES and just let your imagination do the rest.

Craziest audition story:
- I have sung all three daughters’ parts of ‘Matchmaker’…. with different voices for each daughter plus played all the dialogue…with myself.
- I have had someone say: “See we're gonna need you to create the physical comedy of the donkey yourself…”
- I have faked being English (in London), only to book the job and have to film it for three days… in New York…trapped in my English accent lie the whole time.
- I have mimed a blind girl being eaten by a werewolf.

But this one takes the cake:

When I auditioned for Master Class I—in utter seriousness—ACCIDENTALLY LOCKED MYSELF IN A UTILITY CLOSET at the studio. I might have missed the audition altogether had the casting director not come to GET ME OUT.  True story.

…Luckily that embarrassing tale of Sophie De Palma has a happy ending. :)

West Side Story
Any upcoming or side projects you can talk about?
I was honored to portray Maria in the first full-symphonic performance of West Side Story last year with the San Francisco Symphony (opposite the gorgeous Cheyenne Jackson as Tony). The recording is set to be released later this summer.

Leading lady role you've been dying to play:
Hedda Gabler.

Leading man role you'd like a shot at:
Captain Hook. [*achem*]— hand down.

Something about you that surprises people:
I am an introvert. Or, perhaps more accurately, a ‘shy extrovert.’

Something you are incredibly proud of:
I’m a proud lady from the state of Michigan.

Sooo…I even made up a snazzy Michigan handshake called “Glove Love” (because Michigan is shaped like a mitten or a glove for those of you who might not be aware)….It is super intense. I may or may not have Glove Loved with James Earl Jones (who is from Grand Rapids).

Career you would want if not a performer:
I am so lucky to already have it—a teacher.
I’m a Professor at Pace University and it is one of the most rewarding aspects of my life. (I’m “Professor Silber!” Ha!)

Three things you can't live without:
Honestly, there is nothing I “can’t live without.”
But I really like watermelon, crime drama and red shoes.

"I'll never understand why…"
…Skeeter is in The Muppet Babies but not in The Muppets? (Like: did she DIE?)
…Britons say “The Menopause”
…the Snuggie is a thing
…Theatres don’t do Ivanov more often?

Words of advice for aspiring performers:

Success is not about what you do, it is about how you feel about what you do.


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