Tag Archives: audition tips

Young actor shares audition tips

By guest blogger Aaron Zweiback

Being a young actor myself, I know how stressful it can be to audition. Sometimes you aren’t sure what to perform, sometimes you get nervous and don’t do your best, and sometimes the competition just seems too talented. That is why I am writing this article: to teach aspiring young actors how to navigate the audition process, and to give them some useful tips.

The first step to auditioning effectively is to be aware of the calendar for upcoming shows. A website that I have found very helpful is durantcom.com, which shows the auditions that are occurring locally. If you have any friends who are also into theatre, make sure to stay in touch with them and share information. Also, make sure you are familiar with the current “season” that is going on at certain theatres that interest you, so you will know what shows will be featuring kids’ roles.

Lto R: Sam Primack (Ralphie) and Aaron Zweiback (Flick) in "A Christmas Story" at Phoenix Theatre

Another important rule to live by that will help you tremendously on your path to a successful career is to always have a monologue and song “in your back pocket” (memorized). This way, you can be completely prepared and ready for an audition if you make an impulsive choice to try for a role but don’t have much time to prepare.

Frequently learn new songs and monologues, because some directors will get bored if you audition for their theatre with the same material more than once. It can be hard to read the minds of directors, because some hate it when you sing a song from the show you are auditioning for, but others don’t seem to mind. You should definitely think about the mood of the piece you are auditioning with, and see if it matches the mood of the show or the character you are hoping to play.

Now, if you are going to try to pursue acting, you must have the essential “tools” for the auditioning process: a photograph of you from the shoulders up (a “headshot”) and resumé (also called a “CV”) are almost always required. You can pay a professional photographer to make you look legit, ask a family member or friend to take some pictures and print them at Costco or a camera store, or even use a school photo that would appeal to a casting director.

Make sure your headshot is recent, so that you don’t show up looking completely different from the picture you are submitting. As for a resumé, simply type up all of the shows you have been a part of and the roles you have played, as well as the years and the theatres in which you performed them.

I have noticed that many young actors worry that they have no experience and therefore nothing to offer. If you feel this way, you can launch your career by attending workshops and camps, and by auditioning for as many theatres and directors as you can. Most of the professionals in town know each other, and they actually encourage actors to learn from their colleagues in different programs. I myself have performed on the main stage and/or participated in summer workshops at Phoenix Theatre, The Phoenix Symphony, Valley Youth Theatre, Childsplay, Desert Stages, and Paradise Valley Community College.

I have also watched my friends act in plays and musicals at Spotlight Youth Theatre, Greasepaint, Arizona State University, and Nearly Naked Theatre, and I hope one day to have an opportunity to perform in those venues as well. It is also tremendously productive to work with a singing, acting, or dancing coach. Choreographers like Molly Lajoie and Katie Casey have given me dozens of new dance steps that I can use on stage, and singing coach Toby Yatso has been hugely important in helping my voice mature.

L to R: Aaron Zweiback (Flick) and Sam Primack (Ralphie) in "A Christmas Story" at Phoenix Theatre

Finally, the most important thing to keep in mind when auditioning is always to keep a positive attitude, regardless of whether you win that part you’ve always craved. Casting a show is a matching process: if you don’t get a role, it does not mean that you did a bad job at the audition or that you have no talent! It simply means that the director didn’t feel you fit the part as well as someone else did, which is something you can’t control.

And if you “only” get cast in an ensemble role and feel discouraged that you didn’t get a bigger part, instead you can celebrate that you were accepted into the show at all. That old saying really is true: “there are no small roles, only small actors.”

I hope these tips have been helpful and that you will use them the next time you audition. I’ll see you at the theatre!

Note: Both Zweiback and Primack are currently performing in “Gypsy” at Phoenix Theatre and Zweiback shared with me that they’ve been cast in “The Color of Stars” with Childsplay. Zweiback attends Arizona School for the Arts in Phoenix, and is also performing in The Phoenix Symphony’s “Green Eggs and Ham.”

Coming up: Art meets architecture, A journey home, Gaga for dance

Resume tips for young actors

During a recent episode of Lifetime’s “Dance Moms,” lead dance instructor Abby Lee Miller of Abby Lee Dance Company in Pittsburgh invited a Broadway casting agent to her studio.

The agent held individual auditions with young “Dance Moms” cast members, inviting them to sing as well as dance. He also attended a showcase performance meant to spotlight student talents. (Never mind the solo by a mom with misguided mojo.)

While preparing dancers for the experience, Miller explained that three things are needed for auditions — a resume, a headshot and talent. But details were sorely lacking, perhaps because there’s little drama in offering sound resume advice.

A lovely headshot of Maren Maclean photographed by Larry Stone

So I turned to Valley director, actor, coach and instructor Maren Maclean for thoughts on a few of the finer points. Whether your child performs in theater, music or dance, you’ll want to keep track (from the beginning) of training and performance experiences.

It’s hard to construct a complete and accurate resume if you haven’t kept track of the data. Saving programs in a single location is your best bet on this one, and you should start with that very first show (even if it’s just a summer camp show for family and friends).

We went many years without compiling information about our daughter Lizabeth’s music, dance and theater experiences — making the process of crafting her first acting resume more tedious than it might have been otherwise.

When it came to time to finesse the finer points (and to choose the best head shot), we called on Maclean — who does private coaching — for expert advice. For those of you just now putting those resumes together, Maclean shares the following tips:

Tip #1: “Never lie, trust me.”

“Don’t make up the names of theatres to hide that it really was your high school production. Be proud of the high school credit and give credit where credit is due. The theatre world is too small and we talk too much.”

Tip #2: “Take lots of classes.”

‘Take lots of classes and add the details to the ‘training’ portion of your resume. Every class is important and the instructor is a direct facet to your profession[al] theatre network!”

Tip #3: “A one page resume means a one page resume.”

“Don’t go back more than 8-10 years. List pertinent info and learn to let go. It’s hard but a 12 year old credit that you are so proud of can be listed on your website, not on the third page of your five page resume.”

Maclean’s own resume is posted online, so you can visit her website to see a sample. Young actors seeking to polish their auditioning skills have several options. Valley director, actor and teacher Toby Yatso once told me that the best way for Lizabeth to boost her audition skills was to audition. In many ways, it’s about learning by doing.

Joe Kremer and Maren Maclean in a 2010 Phoenix Theatre production of Noises Off! (Photo by Laura Durant)

But there are plenty of places to study and practice auditioning — including acting studios and theater companies. Also private acting coaches who can offer one-on-one instruction and notes.

Recently I read through the 2011-12 class listings for Voices, a music and arts studio in Scottsdale. Their offerings include “Audition Techniques” for 9-12 year olds and “Auditioning Skills” for 13-18 years olds.

If your teen is auditioning for college theater programs, snag those audition requirements early. He’ll want plenty of time to select, learn and polish both monologues and musical selections, which may vary by college or conservatory.

Above all, model calm and collected behavior for your child. Even the super-talented young “Dance Moms” cast members buckled under the pressure after seeing both teacher and parents in nervous-wreck mode.

Your child’s first resumes and early auditions won’t be perfect. But trust your child to live and learn a bit of it on his own. Surround your child with supportive teachers and mentors, and do some of your own letting go.

– Lynn

Note: Plenty of actors post their resumes online too, making it easy to check out what sorts of formats and such are out there. Click here to see the resume for Kyle Harris, who holds a BFA in acting from the University of Arizona. Harris performs the role of Tony in a touring production of “West Side Story” coming to ASU Gammage next month.

Coming up: Finding audition opportunities for children and teens, Fall Glee camp, Tea parties without politics, Dance and disabilities

Anthem tales

I met a 12-year-old named Sarah Miller, and her mother Ruth, during intermission for Tuesday night’s performance of “Mamma Mia!” at ASU Gammage

I was delighted to learn that Sarah has performed in several community theater productions in Anthem, where she lives and plans to attend The Caepe School come fall.

I spoke with Sarah by phone Wednesday evening, after she’d finished a dance class with Dynamic Motion Dance Academy in Anthem — where she studies jazz, musical theater and tap. She’s also trained in ballet and hip hop.

I spotted Sarah in the huge “Mamma Mia!” crowd thanks to her powder blue t-shirt with a large “Mamma Mia!” logo. Although Sarah told me she loves the show, she was most eager to talk about her hometown theaters — Starlight Community Theater and Musical Theatre of Anthem.

Sarah has performed in several Starlight Community Theater productions — including “Beauty and the Beast” and “Cinderella,” plus her very favorite piece of musical theater — “Annie.” Sarah’s last “Starlight” role was “Tweedle Dum” in “Alice in Wonderland.”

Both Starlight and MTA of Anthem feature performances by and for youth

She’s excited about Starlight’s 2011/12 season, which includes “Willy Wonka,” “Miracle of 34th Street – The Musical,” “Fame!,” “Arsenic and Old Lace,” “Rapunzel,” and “Once Upon a Mattress.”

Playwright and director Jim Gradillas, artistic director for Creative Stages Youth Theatre in Peoria, will be heading the “Rapunzel” production. Sarah praises Gradillas for working directly with each actor, for being a master at motivating kids to do their best, and for using games and other strategies to keep theater time fresh and fun.

So far Sarah has performed in just a single Musical Theatre of Anthem production — “The Wizard of Oz.” But she hopes to perform in more MTA shows down the road.

The 2011/12 lineup for Musical Theatre of Anthem includes “Disney’s Aladdin Jr.,” “13,” “Willy Wonka, Jr.,” “Seussical, Jr.,” and “Annie.” Sarah describes it as “a good selection” but already knows at least one show will conflict with other plans for the coming year.

Sarah is especially excited about auditioning for “Annie.” While she’d love to play the lead, Sarah told me that young actors have the best chance of getting major roles when they indicate a genuine willingness to accept any part they’re offered.

When I asked Sarah for additional audition tips for children and teens, she happily shared quite a few of them. Be present. Don’t act nervous. Make eye contact. Be easygoing. And most of all, don’t be fake. “Act like yourself,” suggests Sarah.

The approach seems to be working for Sarah, who shared that she’s already recording her singing and working with a producer at Island Def Jam Recordings.

She’d love to break into the music business or land an acting gig with Disney or Nickelodeon. She even shared this link to her performance of “I Could Have Danced All Night.”

Whatever the future holds for Sarah, it’s clear that her time on Anthem stages is serving her well — and that the memories she’s making right here in the Valley will last a lifetime.

– Lynn

Note: Visit the websites for Musical Theatre of Anthem and Starlight Community Theater to learn about current productions and summer programs. And watch for a photo of Sarah coming soon…

Coming up: Transformers — opera style, New plays — festival style

Update: An open call audition for the roles of Annie and the orphans in a new Broadway production of “Annie” is taking place June 12 for girls ages 6-12. Click here for details.

Theater students seeking an edge

The Arts Edge in Boston, led by founder and CEO Halley Shefler, offers consulting, workshops and summer programs for visual and performing arts students

As the college acceptance letters started landing in our mailbox recently, I spoke with Halley Shefler, founder and CEO of an organization called “The Arts Edge” — which offers educational consulting for students seeking admission to visual and performing arts programs.

Because some college theater programs require that students audition as part of the admissions process, our 17-year-old daughter Lizabeth is one of many students fanning out across the country to compete for coveted spots.

Shefler is a musician (she plays the flute) and a former dean of admissions for The Boston Conservatory. She holds an undergraduate degree from Sarah Lawrence College and a graduate degree from Boston University.

Though audition panels “really want to find kids who are good,” Shefler notes that they’re also looking for a “good fit.” It’s rather like a job interview, I suppose. Even the best author isn’t likely to land a CEO gig — but that’s as it should be.

Don’t just seek to impress. Strive to be the best “you” that you can be, rather than some cookie cutter image of what you assume panelists are looking for. But make sure you’ve done your homework. “They want to see people who are prepared,” says Shefler.

Following directions is just as essential. Know the exact monologue and vocal performance requirements for each school where you’ll be auditioning.

High school juniors just beginning the process might find it helpful to have a three-ring binder with a section on each school they are considering.

Sometimes a master chart comparing requirements is helpful as students begin to narrow down their choices of possible schools.

Most auditions consist of one or more monologues (usually “contrasting”) and at least one vocal selection of a certain length (often 16 or 32 bars). Sometimes students are asked to sing both a ballad-style song and something more up-tempo.

Learn more about Shefler and The Arts Edge at http://www.theartsedge.com

Shefler has several tips in the monologue department. First and foremost, make sure your monologue is “age-appropriate.”

As fond as your teenage daughter may be of playwright Tracy Letts, you wouldn’t want her using a monologue written for a middle-aged character using substance abuse to cope with a troubled marriage.

“Make sure you know the play your monologue is from,” urges Shefler. “You need to have read it and to know what is going on in the play.”

Choose vocal selections with equal care. “Don’t do a talking song,” says Shefler. “You need to be singing the whole time.”

If you’re expected to provide the music, have it “queued up and ready to go.” Shefler describes the faculty members on audition panels as “impatient” — noting that “nobody wants to wait.”

“Sing well and within your range,” suggest Shefler. It’s something best accomplished by picking song within your range and vocal abilities to begin with. “Know the notes, and know the rhythym.”

“Know the entire song too,” urges Shefler. You may be asked to sing additional bars. If piano accompaniment is being provided, have sheet music clearly marked and ready to give the person playing piano.

But don’t assume it’s all about your acting and singing chops. “You are being judged from the moment you walk in the room,” reveals Shefler. “You have to be in audition mode from the time you first open that door.”

While some of you may have been charmed by the sight of Johnny Depp chewing gum during the recent Golden Globe Awards ceremony, no one wants to see you spit out your gum or yank up your saggy britches as you enter (or leave) the room.

“Dress professionally,” says Shefler. Translation: Lose the T-shirt and jeans. Dress like you’re “going to meet someone for a first date.” Muscle tops and tuxedos, bad. Casual elegance, better. For women, think nice leggings tucked into classy boots with a long top and belt.

Students enjoying one of many workshops presented by The Arts Edge

“Make sure your hair doesn’t cover your face or your eyes,” says Shefler. “And don’t be overly chatty.” Unless you’ve been told by the panel beforehand whether to start with your monologue/s or vocal selection/s, just choose one or the other and go for it. “Don’t ask the faculty what they would like you to start off with.” (I’d probably ask you to fetch me a latte.)

Also on the “don’t” list — getting too involved with the other people waiting outside the audition room door. “They try and psych people out,” cautions Shefler. “Wear a headset,” she suggests, “even if your iPod isn’t turned on.” (Were this me, of course, I’d end up never hearing them call my name.)

If nerves are a problem, Shefler suggests you “go jump around in the hall to get rid of them.” And remember, the more prepared you are ahead of time — the fewer nerves you’re likely to experience.

One final piece of advice offered by Shefler as we spoke — “Don’t get the last slot of the day.” She didn’t specify a reason but it’s easy to imagine both auditioners and panelists growing somewhat fatigued by the end of a long day.

Be ready. Be yourself. Be your best.

– Lynn

Note: For more audition insights, as well as information on related workshops and summer programs, click here to visit “The Arts Edge” online. Please note that “The Arts Edge” is not affiliated with the John F. Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts in Washington, D.C., which has an arts education program titled “ArtsEdge.”

Coming up: The role of arts in bullying prevention

“A Chorus Line” meets college auditions

Eric Carsia (Don) holds a B.A. in Drama from Ithaca College

It’s one of those “must see” musical theater classics — and it’s here in Phoenix, at the Orpheum Theatre, through Sun, Jan 16.

My plans to attend Thursday evening with my daughter Lizabeth have been foiled by a lovely cough I know better than to share with others during a live performance.

Of course, I still have “A Chorus Line” on the brain — so I pulled out my notes from a recent interview with Karley Willocks, knowing she offered plenty of pearls I have yet to share.

I’ve also added a mini-review from a fellow RAK blogger, mom and theater-goer following the end of this post — so you can still get a taste for the show itself.

Willocks is performing the role of Maggie in the national touring production of “A Chorus Line” — a musical crafted from the real-life stories of dancers auditioning during the 1970s.

Jessi Trauth (Val) holds a B.F.A. from NYU

Those of you parenting a high school student who aspires to work in theater may find her thoughts of special interest.

Willocks shared with me that preparing for BFA program auditions “is a hard, hard process” — calling it “one of the hardest things I have done.”

The college admissions process is plenty time consuming. Think school research, campus visits, application forms, personal essays and financial aid paperwork.

Gina Duci (Diana) holds a B.F.A. in Musical Theatre from Penn State University

But students who aspire to BFA (Bachelor of Fine Arts) programs must also audition with the schools they hope to attend. Some schools hold joint auditions, but many don’t.

So this time of year, plenty of BFA hopefuls fan out across the country ready to act, sing and dance to earn a coveted spot.

Arizona babies who’ve never lived in snow often find East Coast schools appealing, leaving parents to smile at the thought of care packages brimming with wool socks and ice scrapers.

Willocks recalls picking about ten musical theater programs with her parents, then doing eight auditions — which meant lots and lots of driving.

While all of this is taking place, high schools seniors with BFA aspirations still have their usual load of classes, homework and after-school activities.

Karley Willocks (Maggie) holds a B.F.A. in Musical Theatre from Shenandoah University

The very process seems to give a taste of what life with a touring musical theater production must be like — hard work, long hours and lots of trekking to and fro.

If your teen is readying for auditions, you already know that most auditions involve monologues and vocal selections.

What specific audition panels prefer varies from school to school — so check specifics carefully and follow directions.

Willocks urges students to choose something they are “comfortable with” rather than something they think is “the right choice.”

“Choose something you can actually connect with,” says Willocks — and be sure the material is age appropriate.

Netarrel Bellaishe (Larry) graduated from AMDA NY

“Be confident,” she adds. “Know that you will do your very best and have fun.” Willocks says that in general she found panel members to be “warm and understanding.”

There are, of course, auditions best described in other terms — which brings me back to “A Chorus Line” and the self-doubt that plagues so many of the dancers. 

All come to the stage with their own special brand of baggage.

Remember the dreams of the aspiring acting and musical theater students in our midst as you’re enjoying “A Chorus Line” during its Phoenix run.

Before long, it’s their faces we’ll be seeing on stage.

– Lynn

Note: Click here to learn more about “A Chorus Line” at the Orpheum Theatre. And please feel free to comment below if you have audition experiences or advice to share with our readers.

Coming up: More audition tips for BFA candidates, Art meets MLK Day, Symphony in the schools

Photos: Phil Martin

Thanks to Mala Blomquist, RAK blogger of “Blomquist Family Adventures” and RAK Directories and Calendar Editor, for sharing this comment on Thursday’s “A Chorus Line” at the Orpheum Theatre in Phoenix: I took a girlfriend and neither of us had ever seen the show before. It was spectacular! There was no intermission and when it ended we both turned to each other and said “That went by so fast!” It was both funny at times and very moving to see the raw emotion of what those kids go through. In the elevator back to the parking garage an elderly gentleman was whistling “One singular sensation…” and I commented that that song will be in our heads for weeks and he smiled at me and said “Yeah – but it’s one of the best!” Click here to read Mala’s blog, which describes a recent adventure involving astronaut William Gregory.

One singular sensation

Mesa and Phoenix welcome a touring production of "A Chorus Line" this week

Actor Michael Douglas reclaimed the headlines recently after sharing that his throat cancer has been successfuly treated. It’s a great relief to Douglas’ many fans, and wife Catherine Zeta-Jones — who won the 2010 Tony Award for best lead actress in a musical for her performance in “A Little Night Music.”

But did you know that Douglas, perhaps best known for roles in “Fatal Attraction” with Glenn Close and the television series “The Streets of San Francisco,” was in the 1985 “A Chorus Line” film?

“A Chorus Line” is the tale of diverse dancers auditioning for a role in a Broadway musical. Douglas played Kurt, the director auditioning these 17 dancers on a bare stage that leaves them feeling various degrees of vulnerability.

It’s a story with true staying power — as evidenced by its current national tour, produced by NETworks Presentations, which stops this week in the Valley. A final Mesa performance takes place Wed, Jan 12. “A Chorus Line” hits the Orpheum Theater in Phoenix Jan 13-16, thanks to the Theater League.

It’s a “mature audiences only” production with a single act that runs about two hours  — but I consider it perfectly fine for teens, and even some children who are experienced in musical theater. Individual parents are always the best at judging such things.

Lizabeth and I are excited about seeing the show while it’s here, especially since she’s readying to travel from coast to coast to audition for musical theater college programs.

A year or so ago we enjoyed the work of documentary film makers Adam Del Deo and James D. Stearn, who shot more than 500 hours of footage as auditions and casting were underway in New York for the 2006 Broadway revival of “A Chorus Line.”

The resulting film — titled “Every Little Step” — presents a singular glimpse into the rigors of musical theater training and performance. We enjoyed seeing it at the Harkins Camelview 5 near our home, which often features films you can’t easily find in mainstream movie theaters.

Karley Willocks plays "Maggie" in "A Chorus Line" in the Valley through Jan 16

“A Chorus Line” originally opened on Broadway in 1975, and was the longest-running musical in Broadway history until eclipsed by “Cats.” Personally, I favor dancers in leotards over cats who sing and dance — but that’s just me.

The book for “A Chorus Line” was written by James Kirkwood, Jr. and Nicholas Dante. Edward Kleban wrote the lyrics and Marvin Hamlisch composed the music. It’s a “must see” musical for musical theater aficionados — and those who love them.

“It’s really a musical about us,” shares dancer and actress Karley Willocks — who performs the role of Maggie in the touring production now on Valley stages. She’s been dancing since her parents enrolled in her tap and ballet classes at the age of three.

Willocks auditioned for her first theater role when she was eight years old, following the lead of her best friend at the time. Her friend wasn’t cast, but Willocks landed the role of orphan “Duffy” in the musical “Annie.”

She spent many years performing with “The Talent Machine” in Annapolis, Maryland — where her favorite shows included “Brigadoon,” “Anything Goes,” and “Pippin.” Willocks also did high school theater before entering the musical theatre program at Shenandoah University in Virginia, where she earned a B.F.A.

Willocks first performed the role of Maggie in a Tennessee production of “A Chorus Line” the summer right after she graduated. “I grew up listening to the soundtrack,” she recalls — and had also seen the movie.

She recommends the musical for anyone whose life is touched by dance or theater — including families with budding performers in their midst. But “A Chorus Line” also appeals to a wider audience.

“It helps to know that these are real stories or real dancers in the ’70s,” reflects Willocks. For her, “A Chrous Line” is about “putting yourself out there — no matter what it takes.”

– Lynn

Note: Watch for a future post offering Willocks’ insights into the college theater program audition process — plus tips from Halley Shefler of The Arts Edge, which offers educational consulting for visual and performing arts students

Coming up: Art-related resources for bullying prevention

Update: Click here to read part two of my interview with Karley Willocks, and to read a “mini-review” of “A Chorus Line” by Mala Blomquist of Raising Arizona Kids magazine.

Getting to know Gaston

Nathaniel Hackmann (Gaston) and Ensemble in Disney's "Beauty and the Beast"

Belle isn’t particularly eager to get to know Gaston when they meet in the fictional French village of Disney’s “Beauty and the Beast” movie — which predates the Disney musical by many years.

Gaston is rather garish with a gargantuous ego — though the gaggles of girls who follow and fawn over him don’t seem to mind. But Belle, the “Beauty” to the story’s “Beast,” finds him ever so borish.

The actor who currently plays Gaston in the touring production of Disney’s “Beauty and the Beast” seems an altogether different sort of fellow. We spoke by phone recently when the tour stopped in Hawaii.

I caught up with Nathaniel Hackmann as he was enjoying the view from atop Diamond Head in Honolulu, where my mom and I lived for a time when I was in my teens.

Anyone who’ll take a call atop Diamond Head is beyond gracious in my book. Talking with the press or taking in paradise? It’s not a tough choice.

Turns out Hackmann hails from Scottsdale and “grew up on the Mesa/Chandler border.” He attended Dobson High School before studying vocal performance and vocal education at Northern Arizona University.

When his local voice teacher moved to Michigan, Hackmann transfered to Central Michigan University, earning his masters degree in 2006.

Still, he’s got high praise for performing arts programs at Arizona’s three state universities — suggesting that students going through that lovely college admissions process look at the University of Arizona musical theatre program, the Northern Arizona University theatre education program and the performing arts programs at Arizona State University.

Gaston would gladly offer college advice without ever being asked for it, despite his apparent lack of literary luster. Hackmann, on the other hand, strikes me as a humble fellow who is happy to share with others in a giving, rather than self-glorifying, way.

So I asked him about the college audition process for aspiring performing arts majors. “The first ten seconds are crucial,” says Hackmann. “You have to find that something that will stick in their minds.” It never hurts when that something is confidence or a “good attitude.”

“Sing what you sing best,” recommends Hackmann. Don’t choose audition pieces based on “preconceived notions.”

I asked Hackmann about how he landed the role of Gaston. “I was in New York,” recalls Hackmann, “doing lots of auditions.” I like the “lots” part. Take note young job seekers — one or two applications or auditions here or there is unlikely to do the trick.

“The audition was a pretty grueling process,” admits Hackmann. But happily, he was picked in the “first round” — meaning he only went through five or so call backs compared to the 35 experienced by other contenders.

Competition for the role of Belle was expecially fierce — with about 3,000 women auditioning for the part — which makes me especially eager to see this performance. (There were about 5,ooo auditioners in all.)

Hackmann says this musical shares a common thread with all Disney productions: It has something for everyone. There’s romance and action — a combo that makes musicals appealing to boys and girls young and old.

“It has a really spectacular fight scene,” says Hackmann, adding that this is always a favorite with younger boys in the audience. Those who’ve studied or practiced stage combat will appreciate it on a whole other level.

Hackmann notes that the production features a fresh young cast plus several new staging elements he describes as “ethereal.” He says audience members “from nine months to 99 years old” have enjoyed the musical during this tour.

The preschool-age girls who dress like Belle or wear other princess costumes only add to the magic. Though I’m too old for dress up, I’ll be in the audience on opening night — and share a review of the show with you next week.

But don’t delay in getting your tickets. Disney musicals are beloved by many and I’d hate to see any young princesses at the show who are all dressed up with nowhere to go.


Nathaniel Hackmann

Note: Disney’s “Beauty and the Beast” runs Oct 19-24 at ASU Gammage. It’s one of several musicals this season which have special appeal for children and families. Click here to learn about special offers – including a Disney princess costume event this Friday (where some will receive a free ticket to the show) and a “Beauty and the Beasts” event at the Phoenix Zoo this Saturday.

Coming up: Meet more stage moms, Fright night at the theater, Weekend arts roundup

Standing ovation

Clapping can be serious business

We’ve been to many a show that earned standing ovations–from the touring production of “August: Osage County” at ASU Gammage to Arizona Theatre Company’s “The Glass Menagerie” at the Herberger Theater Center.

Sometimes shows that seem to deserve the honor fail to rouse the crowd. Other times patrons are on their feet for performances that feel uninspiring.

We rarely experience a standing ovation at the movie theater, unless it’s for something like the 1975 cult classic “The Rocky Horror Picture Show.

Rocco Fiorentino has performed with Tony Bennett, Stevie Wonder and Elmo

But a “Standing Ovation” of sorts will be coming to movie theaters this week–in the form of a  movie featuring a song and dancefest of young performers ala “Glee” or “High School Musical.”

I’m a bit older than the average fan for this one, but can still appreciate the themes it tackles–including friendship, loyalty, competition, self-doubt and following one’s dreams.

I spoke recently with two of the young performers who appear in the film–both of whom shared with me that they got involved at the suggestion of their voice teacher, Sal Dupree, who plays “Mr. Wiggs” in the movie.

Elevating clapping to a fine art at a 2009 Kinetica Art Fair

It reminded me of the importance of performing arts teachers of all sorts in the lives of young singers, dancers and actors. Lizabeth’s own voice teacher, Michelle Hakala, will soon be off to pursue graduate study and stage work in NYC–and I marvel at all she’s done to enhance Lizabeth’s confidence and technique.

Soon Lizabeth, a senior theater major at Arizona School for the Arts, will be applying for college and conservatory study. Time passes so quickly, and I wonder what it must be like to have a piece of your child’s young life preserved on film.

Babies seem to prefer seated ovations

In most cases, our memories are captured purely, but no less powerfully, by heart.

I always learn something, feel something, discover something when I talk with young performing artists, whether they’re here in the Valley or performing elsewhere on stage or screen.

So it was when I chatted by phone with Alanna Palombo, who plays Alanna Wannabe in “Standing Ovation.”

Alanna Palombo stars in "Standing Ovation"

First, go for it! Alanna says she really didn’t expect to land a part when she auditioned at age six for a community theater production of “Annie,” but she tried out just for practice and was cast as orphan Molly.

From there the career of this 10-year-old triple threat has soared. (It probably didn’t hurt that mom put her in dance lessons at the ripe old age of two–something Palombo took to instantly).

Rocco Fiorentino is a musician and advocate

Second, believe in yourself! Pianist, composer and singer Rocco Fiorentino, a 13-year old “musician and humanitarian” who makes his film debut in “Standing Ovation,” praises the film’s “message of hope and inspiration.”

Fiorentino, who is blind due to premature birth, says the film mirrors his “really positive outlook on life.” His message to young movie-goers? “Do what you want to do,” urges Rocco. “And never give up on your dreams.”

Parents often say these sorts of things to their children, but teens too often meet them with rolling eyes and sighs of disgust. Picture taking your tweens to a movie that might actually help them get the picture.

Anita Blaytron's "Standing Ovation" at the DFW airport in Texas

The importance of family and friendship. The value of hard work and integrity. It’s all here–shining through in “20 original songs, 5 classic tunes and 13 spectacular dance numbers that feature over 100 talented dancers.”

A trip to see “Standing Ovation,” opening Friday, July 16, might be the very thing to inspire your child to find or pursue his or her passion.

In a media landscape riddled with mean girls and lean girls, with rough guys and tough guys–this movie sounds like a perfectly entertaining antidote.


Note: Check out The Little Rock Foundation, a New Jersey non-profit organization established in 1997 that grew out of the frustration Rocco Fiorentino’s parents felt in seeking resources to help children and families affected by blindness or visual impairment. Remember too that local organizations who work with visually-impaired youth and adults need ongoing community support.

Coming up: “Save the dates!” as Valley arts organizations announce upcoming fundraisers, News you can use from the Arizona Commission on the Arts

Baker’s dozen for 16th season

Talk about multitasking

Desert Stages' 2007-2008 "Beauty and the Beast"

Desert Stages Theatre describes itself as “the busiest playhouse in town”–presenting more than 400 stage performances each year.

Their 2010-2011 season is expected to include a lucky 13 shows, assuming that rights pending on two of their prospects come through.

I suspect they’re keeping just about everything crossed over there while awaiting word.

Desert Stages' 2009-2010 "The Ugly Duckling"

Desert Stages Theatre performs on several stages within a single playhouse, and features three series of shows: The adult mainstage series, the children’s theatre series and actor’s cafe productions.

It’s conveniently located in Scottsdale close to Scottsdale Fashion Square so folks who live outside the area can easily make a day of it between the mall and other area attractions such as galleries and gift shops in Old Town Scottsdale, the Scottsdale Public Library, Harkins Theatre Camelview 5 (our favorite for foreign and independent films), The Scottsdale Museum of Contemporary Art, the Sugar Bowl old-fashioned ice cream parlor and more.

It’s even close to Greasepaint Youtheatre (formerly Stagebrush Theatre) so you can enjoy a matinee with one youth theater company during the day, then take in an evening performance with the other. And don’t even get me started on all the frozen yoghurt and coffee joints. Come to think of it, coupling youth theater and other attractions with a weekend stay at a nearby hotel or resort would make for a fun “staycation” right here in the Valley of the Sun.

Desert Stages' 2007-2008 "Cinderella, a Ragtime Musical"

Here’s the rundown on Desert Stages Theatre’s 2010-2011 season, with shows listed in chronological order. Check their website to learn more about particular shows, including information on auditions, group ticket sales and such.

It’s quite the eclectic menu this time around…

“The Dinner Party” (Actor’s Cafe) runs Aug 13-Oct 3.

“Gerry Cullity’s Cinderella, a Ragtime Musical” (Children’s Theatre) runs Aug 20-Sept 19.

“Dirty Rotten Scoundrels” (Adult Mainstage) runs Oct 8-31.

“On Golden Pond” (Actor’s Cafe) runs Oct 22-Dec 19.

“Disney’s Beauty and the Beast” (Children’s Theatre) runs Nov 19-Dec 19.

Desert Stages' 2007-2008 "Beauty and the Beast"

“Bye Bye Birdie” (Adult Mainstage) runs Jan 7-30.

“A Raisin in the Sun” (Actor’s Cafe) runs Jan 14-March 6.

“Gerry Cullity’s Charlotte’s Web” (Children’s Theatre) runs Feb 18-March 20.

“The Miracle Worker” (Actor’s Cafe) runs March 25-May 15.

“Cat on a Hot Tin Roof” (Adult Mainstage) runs April 8-May 1.

“Charlie and the Chocolate Factory” (Children’s Theatre) runs May 20-June 19.

Desert Stages' 2007-2008 "Cinderella, a Ragtime Musical"

The final two are scheduled as follows with “rights pending” (a topic I’ll explore more in a future post)…

“And Then There Were None” (Actor’s Cafe) is scheduled for June 3-24.

“Jesus Christ Superstar” (Adult Mainstage) is scheduled for July 8-31.

For information on family-friendly resorts in Scottsdale, as well as other parts of the Valley and state, check the Raising Arizona Kids magazine listing online.

If your child is eager to enjoy a youth theater experience before 2010-2011 seasons begin, consider one of the theater camps noted in our “Summer Solutions” guide.

Desert Stages' 2008-2009 "Seussical Jr."

Although summer classes at Desert Stages Academy are full, there are oodles of other options–and there’s still plenty of time to enjoy current season shows at Desert Stages, including “ART” (through July 25, alternating weekends) and “The Wedding Singer” (opens July 9).


Note: You can reach the Desert Stages Theatre box office at 480-483-1664, ext. 1

Coming up: More new season announcements, Theater on a bus?, Upcoming fundraisers for arts organizations. “The Twilight Saga” actor offers audition advice

Theater camp alert! Theatre Artists Studio’s “Summer Theater Camp” runs July 6-16 for ages 7 to 13 in Scottsdale. Campers will work on a musical production of “The Little Mermaid.” Info at: http://www.thestudiophx.org/OPPORTUNITIES/2010SummerCamp.html

“Twilight” tales with Justin Chon

Actor Justin Chon

“Bella” has had plenty of boy troubles—but never from the nice young man named “Eric” who was among the first to greet the introvert during day one of her ‘new kid’ status at Forks High in the ‘freaky when in fictional mode’ Washington town.  The role is played by Justin Chon.

Chon was recently in the Valley doing media interviews in advance of this week’s release of “Eclipse,” the third movie in the “Twilight Saga” that’s perhaps matched in popularity only by the ‘also based on books’ films about boy wizard “Harry Potter.” 

Lizabeth and I first met Chon when he came bouncing into the makeshift interview room at a local resort with an enthusiastic entrance that seemed a sort of hip hop/martial arts mix (complete with sound effects). 

A friend sat nearby using his laptop while Chon tackled a deep dish of creamy macaroni and cheese topped with three tiny bottles of Tabasco sauce (the same item Lizabeth likes to order at this particular resort—minus the hot stuff). 

We asked Chon, sporting casual gear including a surfer-style t-shirt, how he landed the “Twilight” gig. He described the “five or six auditions” he went through before securing the role of “Eric Yorkie,” which he’s played in every “Twilight” movie to date. 

The real, and filmed, Forks High School

There was a pre-read, a director’s session, a chemistry read, even improvisation. After doing commercials, appearing in a Nickelodeon show and enjoying other forays into the world of acting, Chon “wanted to do a drama.” 

The appeal of “Twilight” was two-fold at that point—the opportunity to work with director Catherine Hardwicke (who studied architecture before discovering film), and the obvious appeal of still-just-a-teen Kristin Stewart, who plays the human-for-now “Bella” pursued at once by adoring vampire “Edward” and werewolf “Jacob” alike.

We asked Chon about his early experiences with theater, which garnered a hearty laugh and the observation that “my mom made me do all kinds of crap.” There was boys choir at the age of seven, complete with short shorts and sailor shirts with big blue bows for uniforms. 

It's a far cry from a sailor suit

There was visual arts camp, where Chon loved to draw—something he admits to leaving behind after junior high school. “I’d probably suck at it now,” he says. Chon also shares that he grew up watching his father, from South Korea, “do black and white television.” Unlike Chon, his father began acting when he was just 10 years old. 

Chon says he got involved with theater “on a whim,” thanks to a friend involved with a two-year acting program after high school. Never a big fan of going to school, Chon jokes about having sorry math skills despite his Asian heritage. 

Seems the boy from Irvine, California really didn’t know what he wanted to do after high school. But Chon decided to give USC business school a try, citing the entrepreneurial bent he expresses these days through two clothing and shoe stores—Attic I in Buena Park and Attic II in San Diego

I wondered aloud whether Chon might have ditched a class or two along the way, which prompted him to unabashedly confess to skipping classes every other day or so to hit the beach. Time in the classroom was always met with the same self-refrain: “I’d rather be surfing.” 

Chon eagerly rattles off the names of some of his favorite surfing spots, including El Porto Beach (part of Manhattan Beach in Orange County), San Clemente State Beach (midway between San Diego and L.A.) and Newport Beach (between about 36th and 56th streets)–rocking the surfer look with his tussled bleach blond hair.

Chon in film premiere mode

Still, there’s clearly more to Chon than his boyish looks and charm. His conversation is peppered with references to a diverse assortment of books, and his musings on the “craft of acting” reveal the strong work ethic that accompanies his intellect and humor. His apparent humility is equally refreshing in a day and age when so many “Twilight” stars are endlessly fawned upon. 

I’ll share more of Chon’s reflections on acting, plus his practical audition tips for young actors, in a future post. In the meantime, I’ll be seeing the latest “Twilight” movie with Lizabeth and readying a review to share with you later in the week. 


"Eclipse" opens on Wednesday

Note: Special thanks to Lizabeth, a senior theater arts major at Arizona School for the Arts in Phoenix, who has several qualities that make for a compelling writer, including keen powers of observation, strong listening skills, creative storytelling and the ability to strike that delicate balance between small details and the big picture. She’s also my unofficial consultant, serving as translator for actor-speak when theater folks take aim with terms of art.

Coming up: Art basics for babies, More new season announcements