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Solo Slap, Faux Local

Solo Slap, Faux Local

Dear Michael:

Where does one begin? Your sarcastic, self-righteous, and dismissive reasons for not doing one-person shows [The Working Actor, Nov. 27, 2008] are so judgmental, as if you speak for the entire acting community and for industry members who attend theatre by saying they "avoid these things like the plague" and by calling it "one of the most hated theatre forms of all time." Tell that to the casting and industry people (of whom there are many) who have attended any Lynn Manning show. Or Roger Guenveur Smith. Or Chazz Palminteri. Or Sandra Tsing Loh. Theatre is theatre. If it's bad or poorly written or not relevant, it doesn't matter if it has one person or 100. It's still bad. I have seen many more multiperson shows that never should have gone on than one-person shows. And what's probably just as galling is right next to your column of "sage" advice: The Last Word, asking actors about reality TV. Are you serious? To dismiss a theatre genre out of hand yet imply that reality TV might be a good thing—along with the ads that Back Stage shills for reality TV auditions—is laughable. This used to be a magazine about acting. Now it's a feeding ground for nonactors who want to become famous for 15 minutes. To call yourself an actor then say you think reality TV is an artistic choice is bleeding stupid. Yet no one from Back Stage even makes a comment refuting that idea. But to dismiss a real, sometimes very good, and ambitious art form is offensive. —Bob Schuch via the Internet

Dear Bob:

Always happy to print opposing viewpoints. Point taken: I may have been a bit cavalier in my response to the letter from Me, Myself, and I. And yes, you're right: Bad theatre is bad theatre, regardless of how many are in the cast -- though for me it's like the difference between an awful two-hour dinner party and an awful two-hour date. I'll take the dinner party anytime.

But it seems you missed the part where I specifically mentioned several terrific one-person shows by established actors. To restate my point: It isn't that all one-person shows are bad; it's just that not everyone should do them. In fact, I think most people shouldn't do them. If any of the performers you named had written the letter in question (though why they'd be asking my advice, I can't imagine), I'd have given a very different answer. But since Me, Myself, and I was clear that he was an inexperienced actor looking for ways to promote himself, I felt it was for his own good to dissuade him from going solo. Because when actors without writing ability, a story to tell, or the chops to hold forth alone on stage present one-person plays as a means of self-promotion, those pieces, I think, tend to be pretty awful and poorly received. In other words, it's not an art form for amateurs.

I can't address your comments about Back Stage's take on reality TV or the content of The Last Word, as it's not part of this column. But I will say that Back Stage tries to speak to actors at different levels and with different interests. Whether or not one considers reality TV artistic (I certainly don't), it's a genre that provides employment opportunities for actors and is therefore germane to this publication. At any rate, it's never our intention to offend.

Dear Michael:

I recently joined Actors' Equity and have been to a couple of Equity principal auditions in New York (I live outside Philadelphia). In your opinion, is this worthwhile, or do producers and directors look for talent closer to New York? Is it worth my time to go to EPAs at all, if for no other reason than to be seen and get a little exposure? Part of me thinks so, but part of me thinks I'm being unrealistic. I just turned 60, and I'm in the other unions as well. I've had better luck finding work in the theatre here than in film or TV or commercials. Still, I'd like to branch out. My goal is certainly not to become a household name or to get rich, just to work at what I love and what I know I'm good at.

—Actor-at-Crossroads Philadelphia

Dear Crossroads:

Congratulations on your newly acquired Equity membership. Theatres always seem to pay closer attention to the actors they see in New York. We had a letter a while back from an actor who couldn't seem to get arrested in his hometown, as the local theatre company kept bringing in New York actors and overlooking the locals. That's because there's a widely held idea -- and some would say it's true -- that New York actors are better. (Naturally, as a New York native, I'm reluctant to contradict such an astute observation, though there may be a remote possibility I'm biased.) So all of that is to say yes, I think it's worth it to make the trip to New York for auditions. But what you should never do is let people know you don't live in town. If they call you and ask, "Can you be here in half an hour?," you should answer, "I can't. I'm in Philly," rather than "I can't. I live just outside Philly." Producers who conduct auditions in New York do so because they're looking for New York actors. So if you're auditioning there, then as far as anyone should know, you're a New Yorker. Why make the trip if you're not going to capitalize on the cachet?

Don't worry if you don't have New York representation or a New York phone number. If it comes up (it probably won't, as they're mainly focused on casting), tell them you've just moved.

Now, in my usual fashion, I'll offer slightly contrasting advice as well. If you're finding that auditioning locally is bearing more fruit, then by all means focus on that. The advantage is there's less competition, and what's more, the competition overall is less seasoned. But since you say you're looking to branch out, New York auditions might be worthwhile, even if only for the experience. While you're there, say hello from this homesick columnist.

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