An Open Letter to My Graduating Seniors, Vol. 4

For the last several years, I’ve written an open letter to my seniors graduating from Marymount Manhattan College. I think I’ve made it abundantly clear to my students that I am in their corner. And it’s a crowded corner, because my Marymount colleagues are also standing there, rooting on these talented young theatre artists. And so are the alumni of our program.

This year, I asked several of my former Marymount students of varying ages and experiences to give one piece of advice to my three graduating gentleman. Their openness, love and dedication is deeply touching to me, as I hope it will be to you.

***

Dear Connor, Justin & Kevin:

As we’ve discussed, your graduating and leaving Marymount is wholly unacceptable to me. I did attempt to hold you back, but was told that was a bad idea.

Since you are determined to go out into the world and pursue your dreams, allow me to provide some world-weary advice, a la Man in Chair. But, come to think of it, you’ve heard me drone on for the last four years. Maybe it would be best for it come from your new peers: other alumni who have graduated from our studio.

With best wishes, they shared the following advice for your benefit

Hugs, David

Lauren Marangiello – Ready, Set, Grow

IMG_0257Graduation, along with my entire senior year, stands out as one of the happiest times of my life.

The day after stands out as one of the worst.

I had just interviewed for a big time restaurant gig when I realized, I had no viable skills to present to the real world. I had a degree, sure, but all I did was get an A+ in clowning, weld a set made out of steel, and perform an entire number in 4” heels.

Similar to starting your freshman year of college, your freshman year of the ‘real’ world is full of this looming sense you’re not exactly sure how to make this thing work. “Am I adulting right?” is a phrase me and my friends would come to use constantly over the next four years as we tried to land day jobs that granted us a livable salary while simultaneously scrounging up the energy to wake up at quarter to 6 in the morning for auditions.

I landed that restaurant job. It was the best and worst thing to have ever happened to me. I was able to effortlessly pay my bills and schedule my shifts around auditions. Although, if I’m being honest, those auditions were rare since working late nights was not conducive to early mornings. After a shift, my body was way too tired to take a dance class or practice anything. I wanted to eat, I wanted to sleep, and I wanted a drink.

As I continued to try and get my career on track though, I gained focus. I got up for auditions, sent daily submissions, worked on my website and even booked my first real gig.

As the years continued, more and more of my friends dropped out of the lifestyle, and I had to admit, it was wearing on me. The restaurant that gave me all that flexibility was now driving me nuts. I took time off from the audition process and spent some time contemplating what was going to make me happy, not what would make my friends happy or my parents proud.

The best and worst part about graduating is there is no one to tell you what to do, what’s right or wrong. And that’s probably because it’s not so black and white. No one can tell you what’s right for you and what your career trajectory will look like. Now is the time to take what you’ve learned and use it to create the life you dream of, and if ever that dream changes, learn to change with it. You are not one thing and your life shouldn’t be either. Fill it with wonderful moments that bring you happiness and joy, let go of things that no longer serve you, and find your own success.

Oh, and don’t work at a restaurant.

Matt Walsh – New Musical Theatre Work 

Matt Patrick Walsh

I always felt a tad out of place in my undergraduate program as an aspiring composer in a performance program. I never felt entirely like a musical theatre performer. Often, I was more focused on the harmonic progression of the vamp we were in rather than the time step we were doing over that vamp. It was my voice teacher, David who truly exposed me to the world of musical theatre writing (and the BMI Workshop).

It wasn’t until I got out into the real world that I realized what I’d truly developed in college: a sense of community. Another favorite teacher of mine, Darren Cohen put it best, “Contacts dry up fast…like contacts…like contact lenses for your eyes, ya know!”

I had developed amazing relationships with a group of driven, imaginative classmates. Once I began writing musical theatre, I realized how integral my college friendships were as my friends began performing my material and bringing it to life. I immediately got into a groove and began putting on original cabarets, setting up readings, and participating in festivals!

I will say as a writer and a performer: participate in new work. Yes, there are tons of revivals that are being done constantly, however the opportunity to bring new work to life is an entirely different sensation that reminds us of the reason that we came to school for musical theatre after all: to emote and live in an imagined reality through a musical medium! What’s better than exploring an all new medium?

In addition, fill up your audition book with new work. There’s no better conversation starter in an audition than, “Hey, I loved that song! Who did you say it’s by?” There’s your “in”!

Frank Sansone – Be Your Best You

Frank SansoneAt this point I’m sure you have heard tons of advice on how to find auditions, the perfect song, outfit and headshot. Though all these things are important in building a strong career, people rarely tell you how to manage working in this business in the day to day sense. It will be tough. There will be days you won’t get seen at a call after waiting all day, or days you wonder if you’ve made the right decisions in your career and if it’s time to throw in the towel. And those days will be matched with some of the greatest ones: the day you get that callback, or the job offer you were dying for and the day you get your equity card.

I am sure people have told you “Be yourself” or your “Best You” and that extends past what happens in an audition room. Of course you will strive to be the best at what you do and the best person to work with, but being your best also means that you treat yourself the best you can as well. Don’t beat yourself up because someone else got a job, or because you had a bad audition. Everyone has those days. It’s how you learn and adapt from them that will set you apart.

Equally, choose work that is best for you. It’s ok to turn down work as long as it’s not the right choice for you. Maybe the pay isn’t enough to keep you going – as you know this city isn’t cheap. Other times you may get that feeling it’s not what you want or the right direction for your career. Sometimes you just know something else is around the corner. Always trust your gut and don’t regret the decisions you make, because one door closes in order for the next to open.

Congratulations on all your accomplishments so far and good luck in all your endeavors.

Leanne Brunn – Road Dog Tips

Leanne BrunnHi everyone! Leanne Brunn here! I just finished my first national tour with John Tartaglia’s Imaginocean. It was one of the best experiences of my life so far and I would live to share with you some tips about living on the road!

  1. Packing: you will often be staying in a hotel for a night while traveling to the next venue. Pack a backpack with everything you need for that night and the day after and leave that bulky suitcase in the truck!
  2. Food and Fridges: So you don’t have a fridge in your room. No Problem! Take a trash can from your room and fill it with ice, put your food inside there, and cover it with another trash can upside down. Instant Fridge for 12 hrs!
  3. Rooms: Take a picture of your room number on your phone. I promise you will forget! Also keep your current hotel key card in a business card holder or cigarette case and never lose it again!
  4. Renter’s insurance: Very important! Another tour was robbed and had all of their suitcases stolen. If you have renters insurance all of your things will be covered!
  5. Boredom: Podcasts will save your life! I recommend “The Dollop”.
  6. Family: Keeping your family and friends in the loop is important. Download  the app “Tripcast” you can invite people to view it privately even if they don’t have a smartphone. You can post pics, videos, notes, and it organizes it in a cool picture map!
  7. Lastly, have fun! Sometimes the smallest towns have alot to offer! Research the area on tripadvisor! Look up the shops and restaurants on yelp. I had the most fun in the most random places.

Happy Trails!

Nick Lamedica – Conquering EPA’s

Nick LamedicaThe EPA is a gnarly and unpredictable, but conquerable beast. Here’s the basic run down:

Equity Principal Audition

Typically “sign ups” begin one hour prior to the scheduled time of audition (9am for 10-6 calls and 8:30am for 9:30-5:30 calls). You will find that the popularity of the theatre, pay for their contracts, season, and number of other auditions happening on a given day HEAVILY influences the turnout for an EPA. Predicting the popularity of an EPA is like predicting the weather: you can guesstimate, but sometimes the hurricane’s path will throw you for a loop. Equity members get to sign up for appointments on a first come first served basis. When all appointments are filled, members join A and B alternate lists. The differences between them don’t really matter right now, so I’m going to skip over that. If a given time slot is not full of Equity members (no one signed up, and no one called from the waiting list is there) they move on to the EMC (Equity Membership Candidate) list. They’ll call names from this list in order, and if you aren’t there when you’re called, you miss your spot. After there are no available EMC members, they may move on to the Non-Equity/Non-member list. No theatre at an EPA is required to see non-Union actors, but 99% of the time, they will.

You can sign up on the Non-Union list whenever you want, but they CLOSE THE EMC LIST AT LUNCH. So get there in the morning, even if it isn’t looking super hopeful.

Moral of the story is: SHOW UP EARLY. What I try to tell myself when I’m sitting there cursing my alarm for waking me at an awful hour is, “If I don’t get there now, someone else will get my slot. That could be the difference between getting seen at all.” Your goal should always be to be the 1st person on whatever list you’re eligible for.

(A quick note, check out the list of EMC Theatres on the Equity website. They’ll detail how the EMC system works, but ultimately know that having 1 point or 49 in the EMC system still means that you can sign up on the EMC list, which is much more likely to be called into the room. You can earn EMC points working at lots of places, and reach out especially to theatres where you have local housing available about understudying/interning/fellowshipping and earning EMC points. (Parents, cousins, aunts, uncles, and family friends nationwide are often more than excited and through-the-roof proud to have an actor staying with them while you pay your dues at regional theaters!). It makes a difference and you’ll get to watch and learn from other professionals.

Look out for audition notices that list that SIDES will be available at the audition. THIS IS A FANTASTIC SIGN!!! It usually means that A) They are actually planning to cast from the open call or B) The casting office has a tangible respect for our work as actors. Dan Swee and Camille Hickman (LCT casting) tend to do this and use great readers, so enjoy those days.

As an EMC or Non-Union actor waiting around all day for your possibility to get in the room, you may have little to zero notice that you’re getting in. Get good at staying warm mentally and physically, because you’ll have 10 minutes or less often to be ready to go in there and do your thing. Bring a book and walk around every now and then, have a chat with the person you’re next to, do something to keep yourself aware and alive.

ActorsEquity.org makes most of the EPA and ECC listings publically available. While it is not the most digestible format, it can save some time from looking through every BroadwayWorld, Playbill and other listings.

When you get in the room (and you will sometimes, so chin up….this is how I booked a National Tour and got my Equity card…IT HAPPENS!) make sure that you take your phone out and snap a pic of the page on the monitor’s table that says who was there! You can use this information to follow up with a post card or mailing, take a class, etc. It is cheaper to go in and do good work at an EPA (free) than it is to take a session at Actor’s Connection/OneOnOne/Actor’s Green Room/The Network($30+) so take advantage! After a while, you’ll get to know and recognize the people in the room. It takes the edge off and makes you feel more comfortable. This is how I began my days showing my work to casting directors and it helped to build an initial relationship to then get called in for appointments on other projects.

One last note! Do yourself and everyone else a huge favor by showing up ONLY to audition for shows that you are truly right for. This means that you fit the breakdown advertised, and only go against it if you deeply believe your curveball is worthwhile. As a courtesy to your fellow actors and the casting directors who are seeing you, don’t take an audition slot away from someone else who deserves it. You hurt yourself by looking unaware and you hurt your colleagues by nudging them out of opportunities.

MAKE FRIENDS. This means real friends. You’re going to see these people over and over and over and over again. Some of them will be career auditioners who will never seem to book anything. Some will go from sitting next to you to Broadway tomorrow. Talk about your life and other hobbies with them in equal measure to talking about who you’ve met, your great coach, that showcase you’re doing, or the breakthrough you had in the clowning workshop. Make yourself a team with your friends to keep each other motivated and informed. Look out for each other. Support each other through the hard times and celebrate the good ones with equal authenticity. Have pride and excitement for your opportunities and those of your friends. When you leave the room, smile and say “Break a Leg!” to everyone still waiting because you really mean it.

I’ll see you there!  Lovingly, Nick

Jason Gotay – On Trust

JasonGotayHeadshotSomething I think about a lot, and always like to remember, is how important it is to trust oneself. You’re in a business unlike any other, where your product is YOU. As actors, we are selling ourselves: our abilities, our talents/skillsets…our “work” is US. As we move forward, it’s easy to rely on advice or direction from outside sources. We listen to our agents, our parents, our peers, etc… I encourage you to listen to yourselves. When it comes to making personal or professional decisions of any kind, it’s important to take advice from the people you respect, but it’s also important to trust your own instincts. If you don’t like the way your career is going, change it! If you want to go after something, pursue it! Your career is in your hands, and you have the power to approach it in whatever way feels the most authentic and true to you. Trust yourself. Follow your gut. It’ll always lead you in the right direction.

And would you mind a final word from your teacher?

David Sisco – How to Measure Success

Here is a complete list of the awards and professional honors I’ve achieved to date:

  • 2003 – Present BMI Musical Theatre Workshop
  • 2003 Astral Award
  • 2009 Anna Sosenko Assist Trust Grant
  • 2009 Syracuse University New Play Workshop: FALLING TO EARTH
  • 2009 York Theatre Developmental Reading Series: FALLING TO EARTH
  • 2010 NATS Composition Award
  • 2015 New Dramatists Composer-Librettist Studio

Before you think I’m an egomaniac, allow me to share the complete list of what I didn’t win:

  • 2006 Jonathan Larson Award
  • 2007 Jonathan Larson Award
  • 2007 Fred Ebb Award
  • 2008 Jonathan Larson Award
  • 2008 NATS Composition Award (Finalist)
  • 2009 Dramatists Guild Fellows
  • 2009 NYMF Next Link Reading Series
  • 2009 Eugene O’Neill Theatre Conference
  • 2009 Fred Ebb Award
  • 2009 Yaddo Residency
  • 2010 Jonathan Larson Award
  • 2010 NAMT Presentation
  • 2010 NYMF Next Link Reading Series
  • 2010 Eugene O’Neill Theatre Conference
  • 2011 Richard Rodgers Award
  • 2011 Sundance Theatre Lab
  • 2013 Eugene O’Neill Theatre Conference
  • 2014 EtM Residency
  • 2014 Eugene O’Neill Theatre Conference
  • 2014 Rhinebeck Writers Retreat
  • 2014 Sundance Theatre Lab
  • 2015 Rhinebeck Writers Retreat
  • 2015 ASCAP Musical Theatre Workshop
  • 2015 Eugene O’Neill Theatre Conference

By this ledger, some would call me a failure. I’m at least 10 years off from my goal of having a Tony by 30. I’ve lost a lot, including some hair. Ah, vanity…

But here’s what this little ledger doesn’t show you: I am 100% happy and fulfilled in my life. I’m making a living as an artist in this amazing city. The relationships that I’ve built and experiences I’ve had far outweigh what I haven’t received. And a lot of that is owed to working with students like you.

Do I still long for a Tony? Yes. Am I still working toward that goal? You bet! But through a lot of heartache and growing pains, I’ve learned how to be present to the beauty of the current moment while also being open to all that is to come. I pray you each develop the same inner sight so you might be aware of, as Oprah calls it, “the yellow brick road of blessings” in your life, even as you strive for more.

***

I wish you great happiness. I wish you true success. I wish you didn’t have to go. But you know my door is always open to you. You know you are loved. And that will never change.

Every ending is a beginning. Places, please. Curtain up! Light the lights!

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