Real Live Theater

Posts Tagged ‘actor’

From the Big Stage to the Silver Screen: casting theater actors in film, television, voiceover and print projects

In Behind the Scenes on March 23, 2009 at 12:46 am

by Phil Gravitt

Action photo by Graffizone

Action photo by Graffizone

SONOMA COUNTY, CA – Lori Laube and Jen Côte are the co-owners and driving force behind American Eagle Studios. They place everyone from kids to older adults, from untrained to seasoned actors in smaller or local roles for films, commercials, television, print and voiceover jobs.

Some of their actors are self employed or are waiters, and are almost always available, while others support themselves with day jobs and occasionally risk their  jobs to take off for auditions and filming.

Theater actors have an additional challenge explains Jen, “Theater actors are often in shows or rehearsals, and have to be off a shoot by 5:00 PM to be at the theater [for rehearsals or a performance] by 6:30. We try to accommodate them.” She continues, “A few actors we work with are experienced actors living in Marin or Sonoma who have done ‘the big thing’ in film, and want to keep a foot in acting and relax.”

Working with both theater and film actors, Jen has found that, “Some actors are more successful than others at making the transition between stage and film. Training helps you in either medium, teaching you to create character, analyze scripts. In film, the actors don’t have to be big in vocal choices and can be subtle in faces and expressions.”

The films American Eagle works on are often independent, with small budgets, usually involving actors who are not members of the Screen Actors Guild***. Jen explains, “We’re not a glamorous big time casting agency. We won’t make you a star. We are a good place to get exposure and footage for your reel, before moving to the City or LA and joining SAG and a larger agency.”

Actors register through American Eagle’s web site, and send in a head shot, a resume, and their sizes.

“We want as many actors at our disposal as possible,” Jen says. “If we or a client think an actor will fit the need, we will bring them in for an audition.”

When a client calls with a request for actors, Lori and Jen send them to the talent section of their web site.

Jen explains, “Once they review the head shots, they may give us three names they want to audition. When the client tells us they want a certain look, we offer more names from our files of people not on the site. Occasionally we’ll say, ‘This guy is a great actor, and has a good track record,’ and our clients take our word for it without auditioning. When we have auditions to fill a specific request, the client may sit in on an audition we hold.”

What does the future hold?

Jen says, “We believe the North Bay scene has potential to become a mecca for artists and filmmakers. Studios are springing up in Novato and Sausalito, producing and creating. Even in this economy people want to create. We hope they need actors and will call us and our actors will keep working.”

***American Eagle also has a long successful history of casting large independent films and television series as well as commercials. Recent film and television projects include Bottle Shock, Cheaper by the Dozen, Bartleby, and a number of series for The History Channel and Women’s Entertainment TV. Corporate clients include Comcast Spotlight, E.J. Gallo and Sonoma County Turism Bureau among many others. Additional information about American Eagle Studios is available at www.americaneaglestudios.com.

Phil Gravitt is a freelance writer whose articles have appeared in the San Francisco Chronicle and Examiner, the Noe Valley Voice & other San Francisco neighborhood newspapers, and the Bay Area Visual Arts Blog http://www.BAArtQuake.com.

Additional articles by Phil Gravitt include:


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Shop ’til You Drop, or Find the Right Prop for Theater (or Theatre)

In Behind the Scenes on December 18, 2008 at 1:27 am

by Phil Gravitt

Holding the Trophy photo by Yuri Arcurs

Holding the Trophy photo by Yuri Arcurs

SONOMA COUNTY, CA – When Stephanie Lisius goes shopping, there is no telling what she’ll come home with — an antique suitcase, a salesman’s sample case, a 1930’s football, a leather basketball.  She shopped for all those things recently in her role as prop master.

Asked to describe what falls under the responsibility of the prop master, Stephanie replied, “Anything that gets picked up and moved around by an actor in the show.   The set designer is responsible for items that remain in one place, like a bed, refrigerator, or piano.”

Previously, Lisius had schedule intense roles like stage manager, with rehearsals four days a week, working late into the night, plus the run of the production.  As a full time social worker, committing to the long hours and specific times was no longer feasible for her.   Becoming a prop master allowed her to stay involved in theater while being fully present as a social worker.  Now she attends a few rehearsals, in case the director adds a prop or two, and weekly or biweekly 6 P.M. production meetings, which last no more than ninety minutes.    “I can do the rest of the prop master responsibilities on my own time,” she says, “instead of being tied to specific times and many meetings.”

Stephanie has what it takes to be prop master.  She is detail oriented, cares about authenticity, and is relentless in finding just the right item without going over budget.    In addition to forays into the property rooms of local theater groups, Lisius scours Craigslist and eBay, where she found the 1930’s football for ten dollars.   Shopping at antique and second hand stores on weekends, Stephanie always mentions the various things she is looking for.  “People are always eager to help and make suggestions when they know it is for a theater production.”

Another great resource is the Sonoma County theater community.  Lisius says, “There are many people with three or four decades of theater experience.   After an unsuccessful search for the leather basketball, a theater veteran suggested “Pick up an inexpensive rubber one, and spray paint it brown.”   An involved local actor and antiques collector generously offered to loan period suitcases.  “I keep many lists,” she says. “Since many props are borrowed, it is important to make sure an item gets back to where it came from, and in the same condition.”

Sometimes not finding the exact prop works out fine.  In one musical comedy, the store scene called for an old cash register.  Not finding one, a child’s plastic register was spray painted to look metallic.    Since the store in the scene wasn’t making any money, having a cheap sounding cash register was realistic.  For a drama, sports pennants were to be carried in one scene, and a megaphone was substituted.

To determine what props are needed for a show, Lisius explains, “I go through the script and notice anytime an item is handled or mentioned—an actor buying a trophy, carrying shoulder pads, asking ‘Where are my stockings?’   Knowing how and when an item will be used on stage, how visible it will be, and if it will be noticeably from the time period the play is set, are also important.  When the prop fits the scene, attention stays on the actor.”

Phil Gravitt is a freelance writer whose articles have appeared in the San Francisco Chronicle and Examiner, the Noe Valley Voice & other San Francisco neighborhood newspapers, and the Bay Area Visual Arts Blog http://www.BAArtQuake.com.

Regarding the well-rounded, multi-talented, pinch-hitting people that make theater (or theatre) happen

In Behind the Scenes on December 8, 2008 at 6:20 am

by Phil Gravitt

SONOMA COUNTY, CA – In the world of theater it is often useful to know how to do more than just one thing.

Wearing Multiple Hats photo by Shane Michael

Wearing Multiple Hats photo by Shane Michael

Jeff Basham, a truly multi-talented person and wide-ranging contributor to Sonoma County theater, says, “It helps if the technicians understand the whole picture. A well-rounded technician is able to pinch-hit in any technical spot at a moment’s notice. If the deck crew knows how to run the sound board, and the sound operator gets sick in the middle of a show, that deck crew can run to the booth and take over.”

Basham is a stage manager and sound engineer, but he has also contributed to theater as a rehearsal stage manager and as an assistant stage manager, and in many other ways.

“It is extremely helpful for theater technicians to be well-rounded. If a production manager knows that they can use you in any position they need, rather than just lights or just sound – they will keep your name high on the list.” says Basham.

Although he has spent countless hours on the technical side of theater, Jeff has managed to find time to be an actor too. The difference in the amount of time acting takes versus other theater aspects is somewhat of a balancing act and must be considered carefully when choosing between the two.

Basham explains, “ The main difference is the time commitment involved. An actor or stage manager devotes 80% of their time to the rehearsals, production meetings, press events, etc. A sound engineer or deck crew member is only involved once tech week starts and during the run.”

There are other differences between being the on-stage presence and being a backstage or technical booth presence too.

“As an actor, the audience really identifies you. In other positions such as stage manager, sound engineer, or light board operator, talents come in the form of staying invisible, and your skill is based on how invisible you are during a show.” says Basham.

Besides the obvious technical training needed in order to run the vast array of electronic equipment involved behind the scenes, Basham explains other important skills that are necessary in order to work behind the scenes, “The ability to stay cool, because so many things can and will go wrong each performance. The microphones will mysteriously eat all their remaining battery when the battery was full ten minutes before curtain, the lights will randomly flash all over the stage, the actors will drop a line or a page or two of lines, and the technicians will then scramble to get in sync.”

The technical training necessary to work behind the scenes can come in many forms. For someone interested in theater, but who simply doesn’t know where or how to begin, Jeff recommends, “contacting your local community theater group, and asking how you can volunteer to learn about the area that interests you. Musicals give the most opportunity for the most people to be involved in the greatest number of ways. If you’re interested in breaking into acting, see if your local junior college or theater company offers classes. Many classes are taught by individuals who you may find yourself auditioning for in the future. If you do a good job in class, and show your determination, commitment, and heart, it will be remembered. If you also have the ability to listen and to give an encouraging word, you’ll go far, no matter what you set your mind to do.”

Phil Gravitt is a freelance writer whose articles have appeared in the San Francisco Chronicle and Examiner, the Noe Valley Voice & other San Francisco neighborhood newspapers, and the Bay Area Visual Arts Blog http://www.BAArtQuake.com.

Ayse Ulu: striving for a place in theater (or theatre) as a woman in a patriarchal society

In Artist Spotlight on November 30, 2008 at 8:05 pm

by Ray Sikorski

Submitted photo of Ayse Ulu

Submitted photo of Ayse Ulu

ISTANBUL, TURKEY – There is a soft-spoken intensity about Ayşe Ulu, a 19-year-old Turkish acting student. With only inches between us, her eyes seek out mine and never look away.

This has always been Ulu’s way. She was 13 in her home town of Izmit when she saw her first play. She sat in the front row, but it was as if she was in the play itself.

“I was trying to see their eyes – eye contact, always,” she says. “I was right in the scene – I feel it. When they smile, for example, it’s just as if they look at me and smile for me. I was feeling like one of them, on the stage. But I’m doing nothing, only watching.”

Afterwards, she told the actors how much she enjoyed their performance, and they invited her to watch them rehearse. This was the start of her love for theater – a passion that marked her so indelibly that the fabric between the stage and real life wore down to mere threads. At first, Ulu was more than pleased to become the souffleur, or prompter, because it meant playing every role in the performance.

“You have to know all the text, and you must be interested in all,” she says. “And I don’t want to take only one part of it. I was in all the play.”

Now a student of Guidance and Psychological Counseling at Istanbul’s Bosphorous University, Ulu hopes her training as actress will help her control the strong emotions that come naturally to her.

“I will be a counselor and some people will come to me with their problems, and I shouldn’t cry with them,” she says, laughing. “Maybe theater will educate me in this way.”

Since my own experience with acting classes in America was quite the opposite – I wanted to learn how to bring out emotions I naturally suppressed – I asked her if this was common in Turkey.

“It is common,” she says. “For all people interested in theater.”

The primary difference between theater in Turkey and America, she says, is the culture of theater-going. Whereas in America it’s not unusual for parents to take children to plays, in Turkey entertainment revolves squarely around the T.V. set. This, combined with low wages, results in a theater scene that has little support, even at a prestigious university such as Bosphorous.

“We can’t study on a real stage, we are studying in a classroom. You have to prepare posters, but you can’t have enough,” she says. “And people hear but can’t come – again, economic reasons.”

Added to that is the pressure a woman actress has in a patriarchal society. Ulu says that Turkey’s conservative culture often interferes with the intent of the play.

“On stage, you should kiss a man because it’s your role, but people think this is not good – ugly things, you can’t show these kind of things. And women should wear more clothes.”

Adding to her frustration is the lack of respect that women actresses and directors are often shown in comparison to men. She keeps her acting classes a secret even from her parents.

“I will have a good job, and I will have a husband, I will have a good life, get good money, have children, they want grandchildren,” she says of her parents’ expectations. She contrasts that with the intensity of performance.

“This is the best thing – trying to show people what you feel,” she says. “No other thing tests me. Only theater gives that feeling to me.”

Ray Sikorksi wrote and directed his first one-act play in 1988, and his second 20 years later. He is a freelance writer based in Bozeman, Montana, and is currently traveling in Turkey, wondering if he can find someplace where they sell peanut butter.

Fikret Seditoglu: keeping Turkish theater (or theatre) alive

In Artist Spotlight on November 15, 2008 at 11:01 pm

by Ray Sikorski

Photograph of Fikret Seditoglu by Ray Sikorski

Photograph of Fikret Seditoglu by Ray Sikorski

ISTANBUL, TURKEY – “In live theater you can see the eyes of the audience, you can feel the excitement, ” says Turkish actor/writer/director Fikret Seditoglu. “When I first walk on the stage, my body is shaking. But after a couple of minutes, I feel comfortable. The audience becomes my family, and I feel at home.”

Seditoglu emits a warmth that gives the sense that he’s at home or part of the family anywhere, even if his name isn’t known in many homes here in Istanbul. Despite having produced eight plays in this cosmopolitan metropolis, he isn’t expecting audiences to start lining up anytime soon.

“There are lots of plays, but no audience,” he says. “Turkish theater is almost dying. Especially if there are no famous actors in a performance, there is almost no audience in the theater.”

To the 27-year-old Seditoglu, the problem is as simple and as difficult as the conundrum that is modern Turkey: the few who frequent theater are the Europhile elite – educated, secular, and, according to Seditoglu, disdainful of Turkishness. The Turkish masses, on the other hand, can’t relate to plays by Europeans.

“The plays about Turkish and Islamic culture, and the plays written by Turkish writers, have been ignored,” he says. “Always the people want to see Shakespeare or European plays – Moliere, Anton Chekov, Cervantes. They don’t prefer Turkish writers’ plays because they see those plays as basic, simple theater. Naturally, the audience wants to see people who are like themselves, but you cannot see the people who are like yourself, so you don’t want to see the play. So you’ve been separated from the theater.”

Considering that he’s describing his fate as that of perpetual obscurity, Seditoglu displays a disarming nonchalance. His one positive take on the Turkish theater scene is that new plays by Turkish writers do manage to make it to the stage.

“They are creative.” he says of the diligent crop of young writers and directors, “Although they don’t have big audiences, it’s not always the same old, same old. They can produce new things.”

While live theater is his first love — he studied at Istanbul University’s arts conservatory and teaches acting on the side – Seditoglu has been dabbling in television and film with the hopes of making enough money to finance more plays. His latest film project, still in the idea stages, is a divergence from his usual comedies – a historical epic about the Ottoman conquest of Istanbul in 1453. Naturally, a movie requiring a cast of thousands will require some serious funding, but Seditoglu isn’t interested in kowtowing to get it made.

“Everything except Islam and the country is not important for me. So don’t ask me to leave my principles.” he says. “If you can be successful on your own, good for you. But this is hard, without serving anyone.”

In fact, rather than succumb to the elite to gain a little fame, some of his work criticizes that system.

“When things are going on and you’re just watching, not doing anything to correct the wrong things in life, it makes me feel uncomfortable. I have to correct some wrong things.”

(This interview was conducted with the help of translators Osman Gokce and Tugrul Ozsahin.)

Ray Sikorski wrote and directed his first one-act play in 1988, and his second 20 years later. He is a freelance writer based in Bozeman, Montana, and is currently traveling in Turkey, wondering if he can find someplace where they sell peanut butter.