What are you doing this summer?

Something to do with theatre, I hope. What? You haven’t a clue about how to include the performing arts with all that hanging out and chilling you plan to do?

Check out these four short but pithy (and inexpensive) handbooks for performing arts students (and their teachers) that have suggestions and ways of looking at ordinary summer things with your real goals in mind. These are things you might be doing anyway, so why not turn them into a learning experience that won’t feel like you are still in school. Like how hanging out with your friends can be an acting exercise. Like how arranging your sock drawer can be an exercise to develop your talent.

Here’s what you should do

Get a jump on summer right now. Even if it isn’t summer, there is plenty of information and inspiration to get going with your performing arts career right now. Go to Kindle and buy all four handbooks. Buy the handbooks and get your brain synapses firing before too much leisure time gets you stupefied.

Need to know more?

Here are the handbooks and their descriptions. There are also audio clips of me reading a short sample. Click “Listen to a sample . . . .” Click the title link or the “buy now” link to go directly to the handbook on Kindle.

Coming soon: MP3 audio versions of the four handbooks.

  1. Making your Summer Count

The structure of school breaks down in the summer, and many of us are left adrift. Here are ten practical things you can do to bring some of that structure back and to put focus on your art. Turn your summer reading into insight and inspiration and what you do outside of theatre into artistic exercises.

Listen to a sample . . .                                                                                 . . . buy now on Kindle

  1. Turning the Corner this Summer

So here you are. Another summer. And you are facing crossroads. You may already know you’d like to move on in the performing arts. You’re the person who shows up at auditions, volunteers on Saturdays to build and paint sets, or you help to hang and focus lighting instruments. You even bring costumes home to sew (or foist off on your poor mother to sew), or maybe even direct scenes for your actor-classmates. But how to prepare for what’s next for you?

Think about turning all those fuzzy ambitions into something focused. How will you choose which path to take? If you know where you are going, you’ll know which corner to turn to get there.

What can having focus do for you? It is knowing what you want to do with your life and having realistic goals for getting there.  It is planning. It is developing healthy habits. It is recognizing your strengths and building on them.

In this handbook, you’ll find some easy things you can do in your free time, this summer, or whenever you have a block of time, to help you focus on moving toward a career in the performing arts. Things like setting goals, making lists, setting up a portfolio or résumé, developing artistic taste, and other activities that will point you in the right direction and get you out of the crossroads and on to the path that leads to your right destiny.

Listen to a sample . . .                                                                                 . . . buy now on Kindle

  1. Zen and the Art of Summer

Summer is more than working and relaxing for the up-and-coming artist, and I want to give students a different perspective, one from a higher plane. Sort of as Yoda in Star Wars said: “There is no try. Only do.” Very Zen.

The idea behind the short handbook, Zen and the Art of Summer, is to give young artists a way to see what they are doing on a more mindful level. No, it isn’t a lesson about Zen or eastern philosophy, but it does clue you in that what you do today matters for a future career. That you can chill with your friends, but if you do it mindfully, you may all be contributing to each other’s artistic well-being.

Listen to a sample . . .                                                                                 . . . buy now on Kindle

  1. Using Summer to Get Ready for Fall

Fall, for the performing arts student, opens whole new possibilities. There might be the fall musical to try out for or work backstage on, to help choreograph or design. Maybe this is your last year of high school or college and you are seriously facing that Big Transition into the world of finding your place in it, perhaps making a living while you search for work in your field. Or you may already be in the Big Transition.

This can be daunting, or it can be part of your Grand Plan. I guarantee it will be daunting, especially if you don’t bother making a Grand Plan.

There is no one answer or one way that fits everyone, but this handbook will give you ways to prepare for the next step. From help with planning for tryouts, how to plan for being on your own, or how to find the right college, you’ll get some serious tips in the fall handbook, the last in the summer series.

Listen to a sample . . .                                                                                 . . . buy now on Kindle


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Working hard this summer

Yesterday, I published my third summer handbook for you performing arts students who want to do something toward building a career.

The handbooks are funny, chatty, and full of practical and maybe even spiritual things to do that will make your summer mean more to your future than only hanging out would do.

And I realized that the opposite is true, too. That working all the time to establish yourself as a theatre and performing artist, is kinda out of balance, too. That’s when I said, “Aha!” because here I was, publishing the handbook, writing this blog, planning my next podcast, and wondering when I’ll have time to get to the grocery store. (My two dwarf rabbits are almost out of greens! Call 911!)

So what should I do? Cut back on my work? Yes. Do less? Yes. Do work in the morning? Yes. Shop for bunny food in the afternoons? Clean the house? Yes, yes.

But what is missing from this self-assessment is that nowhere do I list what fun things I can do every day. I need to relax every day. Smell the roses (if only I had time to plant any). I need a good way to Chill that doesn’t involve food or Candy Crush.

Hmmm. Can I count television? Probably not. Much as I enjoy television, I watch it from a drama critic’s point of view. Same for movies. More work.

So what to do? Any suggestions?

Meanwhile, check out my work: the handbooks on Kindle.  The one I just published is called Zen and the Art of Summer, where you can get laid-back helpful hints on arts activities and what to do to relax. They could help you out of whatever funk you may be in.

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What’s happening this summer?

It is already June, and I am soooo behind. My goal for this summer was to publish four handbooks, charging very little for them, so you could have a kind of road map to how a more productive and active summer than might be usual for those of you who just want to chill out for a few months.

Handbooks for the summer on Kindle

So how am I doing? I do have two handbooks finished and published in the Kindle bookstore. Two more scheduled now for late summer, but I take heart that maybe they won’t be so late after all because one of them is about what you can do to prepare for fall, whether you are in school still or not.

In case there is still time for performing arts career direction, even though you might already be immersed in summer activities, here they are:

You can check them out by following the links to my Kindle bookshelf.

Online Theatre Repertory

What is it that has made these handbooks so late? Yes, I do live within walking distance of the beach, but at my age, sun is not my friend. No, I have been indoors, at this computer, writing original dialogue for what I call podcasts, but which are audio versions of theatre repertory. The dialogue ties together pieces and cuttings from novels and short stories, poems, plays, and essays around a theme. This next podcast is about the Summer Olympics in Rio. George wants to go to Rio. Martha, his wife, just laughs at him, knowing he expects the Girl from Ipanema will materialize on the beaches there.

I bet none of you know who the heck that is. Ask someone older.

So the podcast involves finding a theme, then finding and cutting pieces we can use (without infringing on copyright), rehearsing with me directing and acting, and teaching what I know about the techniques of oral interpretation of literature. Then we record it all and edit the recordings,

We’ve done three so far. You can catch the latest on www.theatrefollies.com.

I am also preparing a workshop for my community theatre on how to do Readers Theatre, a form of theatre I really enjoy because it makes good use of the voice.  It will be ready this fall and I plan to make it available online. You teachers out there may want to check it out on www.theatreowl.com.

If this issue sounds like a pitch to sell, or as the Car Talk brothers call it, “shameless commerce,” it is. Lots have gone into these projects and I would like to know that maybe some of it is useful or instructive, or merely entertaining for you.

All of this is going on in what are the hottest and most humid days and nights of the Florida seasons. But no sweat! I’m doing theatre!

What are you doing?

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Thinking about summer when the livin’ is ….

If you filled in “easy,” you’re either musical theatre-literate or you are used to just chillin’ out for a couple of months until someone drags you back into the reality of school, classes, jobs, lessons, putting on plays, whatever keeps you busy.

So many of you with aspirations toward the performing arts think you can afford to fritter away these lazy summers. Seriously? I’m here to throw cold water over those plans.

Yes, you need to chill. Yes, you need downtime. Time to do the things you like, even if what you like to do is nothing. I’m all for it. I say a well-balanced, creative life is healthier than a compartmentalized one. To have projects to work on and still find time for other things makes your life more fluid and fun, too. A balanced life is more like the art you want to make. When you are open to things, life has a way of bringing you the unexpected and if your mind is open, you can make into something unique, more whole, more meaningful.

Make your bed

So when I advise you to make your bed in the morning, I’m not envisioning turning you into a neat freak, one who gets the approval of all the mothers in the neighborhood. What I am seeing is you onstage or backstage doing what you love. And all because you made your bed today. Because if you remember to make your bed today and do it again tomorrow and the next day, you will have learned a little of the kind of order you need to bring to your world and to do it consistently enough to get the skills, the determination, the mindset to make your dreams come true.

Try it right now. Go and make that bed. Then write it down on your list of daily activities. (What!!! No lists?? We are starting from scratch!)

Here’s the thing. You need an advantage to break into the performing arts. You need training and experience, but you also need an edge. By making your bed in the morning, you are preparing to become an entrepreneur, someone with business sense as part of his or her arsenal but who has vision, who has gotten past the humdrum of daily existence. Making the bed is humdrum. But you need to live in an orderly world, to get rid of the clutter in the mind and body that is keeping you from truly creating. You make the bed as a matter of course, the way you brush your teeth, and you no longer have to live in that clutter because soon, you will want to put your things away and at least clear a path to that made bed. Best of all, you don’t have to think about it. You do it out of habit. You are free and clear to do work on things on a higher level.

Be an entrepreneur

You are growing up in a lousy economy and a changing one. It used to be you could work in manufacturing and make a great living. Now there is service and technology. Thank goodness there is still the entertainment industry thriving but ever changing. This is the industry that you most likely will find employment in, but you need to do more than just aspire. You need to know about the changing economy and job markets and you need to sharpen your ambitions down into details. Just what are you aspiring to? Acting? Really? Do you know that you can be a singer who acts? Like in opera? Or maybe you’ll do improvisational theatre. Or you’ll make a great living acting in commercials. (Stephanie Courtney who plays Flo on the Progressive commercials, comes to mind. Her unique acting and comedy style landed her a plum of a job and, artistically, what she does in 30 seconds or a minute is amazing.)

Broadway is not the only way to see or take part in the performing arts and you know this already, just like you know you can see what should be a television show on your computer or a handheld device, your phone. You know there are plenty of TV shows and movies, old and recent, that you can see on demand through devices other than your old television set. Even more interesting and far-reaching for you and your ambitions, there are shows being developed just for the internet devices that by-passes the television set altogether. You need to see these things you take as everyday things as opportunities. No longer is the performing arts media only film and television, they are coming to you through the internet. Have you seen the series House of Cards with Kevin Spacey and Robin Wright? So far as I know, you can only see that from the internet through Netflix, which features the series as a way of getting into the original programming arena.

So what is it that you need that you may not be getting? The mindset of an entrepreneur, of a business person, of someone who is flexible and grounded enough to see what is happening. It is not just your grandparents who are coping with a fast-changing technologically robust world. You are doing it daily and you probably expect those changes. I am suggesting that you see those changes as something that is going to affect how you practice your art.

Spend this summer exploring the many paths of the performing arts. Narrow down your interests so that when you get to the real thing (college, conservatory, internships) you will be less likely to lose focus by having to change your major or your area of study. The more you know today about the outlets for the performing arts, the more solid your next level of study will be, whether it is producing shows on You Tube or performing on the international opera stage.

In a nutshell

  1. Make your bed every morning and get a grip on daily chaos. This is the first step toward acquiring the discipline you will need for your art. Find order in your life.
  2. Watch all kinds of media productions with an eye toward your possible future.
  3. Find the businessperson in you while you look over the field for opportunities.
  4. Begin to narrow down your performing arts interests with an eye toward acquiring skills, education, and experience.

Where to go from here: Check out some of the posts under Summer projects to find things you can easily do. And some not so easy.

Coming post: What you can do this summer: ideas abound

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Do you want to put on a play?

I’m toying with the idea of writing a series about how to put on a play when there is no play-producing structure in place. In plain terms, it would be you and your theatre-happy friends and school supporters who want theatre experience but there is no drama department to make that happen, no money allotted for producing a play, no trained person with the title of Director to take the helm, but you want to do it anyway. Maybe you are in a drama club and they are sick and tired of talking about theatre and just want to do it.

So do it, I say, and even as I say just do it, I hear in my head reason after reason tumbling down from on high where those Powerful Beings Who Know Better hurl down their lightning bolts of negativism and that makes me want to write this series even more. And I bet they make you want to do theatre even more.

OK. Firmer, more mature, even wiser heads would say, “Doing a badly directed and acted play is only going to do harm. No one learns anything. The audience will swear they never will go to a play again. And the students learn how to act, direct, stage manage, etc. badly. Just a waste of time, money, resources, and good will for theatre.”

There’s a lot to be said for the Powerful Beings’ viewpoint.

But ‘what if’

  • What if the members of the drama club and the teacher who sponsors it have a bit of experience and lots of desire?
  • What if the people who want to put on a play just have to do it or bust?
  • And what if there was a checklist, a guidebook, a simple handbook to tell you what you need to do, who you should get to do it, and when?

So I asked my friends, some of whom are teachers, what thoughts they had on the subject.

My brother Bob said, “It would seem that you only fail if you DON’T try….little to lose, lots to gain. Coaching from local or regional theatre may be available. Can’t imagine they would not encourage and even lend support.”

My friend Deb, an art teacher, said, “Absolutely!!! Art experiences allow students to express themselves and learning and succeeding in the arts build skills and experiences that cannot be achieved any other way.

“Art teachers (visual, performance, and music) all have been able to create and produce without funding. Granted, it may not be on a large scale, but the kids have to be the focus. Whether it’s recycling materials, getting business to sponsor, getting volunteer students and parents involved, and actually, as Bob says, draw in $$$ and generate interest, they “may” see the value in funding, but the kids see the value in creating. We all know that there will be changes down the road and the cycle will repeat itself. There are so many students, who don’t like to compete in sports, and academically challenged. These students need something to motivate and inspire them.”

I’m convinced and I am ready to go forward. Are you?

I want to discuss what is involved in this and I want to do it over this summer so that by the Fall semester, if a few of you out there want to do a play with a minimum of experience and know-how, you could do it and even provide a satisfying experience for the people putting on the play and the people watching it. It sounds good to me.

Any ideas? Points of view I need to consider? This is your last chance to talk me out of this.

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So how’re the theatre plans going for you this summer?

If your summer so far has been spent on nothing but dreaming, if you’re thinking up new food groups to abuse, if you’ve ignored my advice in “Making the Summer Count,” http://www.theatre-follies.com/2012/05/24/making-the-summer-count/ , try this article by John Andonov. He says it waaay better that I:

Top 10 Things To Jumpstart Your Career by John Andonov

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Why the theatre student has to read over the summer

Why spend any time reading especially if no one is “making” you?

You theatre arts students read over the vacation because you:

  1. Want to be knowledgeable about the theatre.
  2. Need to have a good theatrical background to even start a college or conservatory.
  3. Want to find some monologues to learn. To find strong, useful monologues you need to read a lot of plays.
  4. Want to know who the heck guys like O’Neill, or Williams, or Miller are, not to mention what some Greeks and Shakespeare and those people were all about. (I don’t have classics in this list. I think sometimes they are best left to a class where you have a guide.)
  5. Want to know what is involved in writing a play, or staging a play, or designing the sets, costumes, lighting of a play, what goes on backstage during a play, and who runs the front of the house.
  6. Discover what kinds of jobs and careers there are in the theatre world.
  7. Need to get a head start on college reading.
  8. Just like to read.

I’ve put together an arbitrary list, most of which I gleaned from browsing through published college lists. It is only a random sampling of books colleges want you to read and is by no means complete.

My idea for you is to find something that interests you or that you want to know more about and dig right in. I recommend that you first check in with your drama teacher to get an idea of what would be good to start with. He or she knows you much better than I do.

If there is one book you should read whether you are aiming for a career in the theatre or just want to be informed about where the American theatre came from, it is Moss Hart’s Act One. I had to read it before entering college and it changed everything for me. I went from a tentative elementary education major right to the drama department.  It is still a joy to think about how this delightful book opened a whole new world of theatre for me.

Two books this summer would be a modest goal, I think. This is in addition to as many plays as you can reasonably handle with your other commitments. My advice is to set a realistic goal of  what you want to read and tick them off as you get them read so you can measure your progress. You’ll find your local library will have some of these – plays may be in anthologies, etc – and online bookstores would be another source if you want to buy some of them. Also check out electronic versions (e-books.)

If I’ve missed some good reads (about the theatre) let me know and I’ll try to include them.

Check out: The theatre student’s summer reading list

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