Real Live Theater

Posts Tagged ‘actors’

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

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

Additional articles by Phil Gravitt include:


The Mystery of the Unidentifiable, Invisible Actor with Two Left Feet

In Editor's Note on February 28, 2009 at 7:46 pm

Editor’s Note

Mystery photo by ThomasTroy

Mystery photo by ThomasTroy

Help me.

These two words are at the heart of my two cents worth of advise to anyone out there in the world who would like to get cast in a show.

If you are an actor, you may be thinking, “Help you what?”

If you are a director, an artistic director, a casting director or production manager, you may be thinking, “Yes, please help!”

If you are none of the above, consider this an insight into the world of theater and read on anyway, if for no other reason but to store the information in your brain to be disbursed at some later time during a conversation you may someday find yourself engaged in about casting shows.

What I need help with is to solve the auditors’ dilemma*.

The Auditors’ Dilemma

I attended a huge audition at the Berkeley Repertory Theatre a few weeks ago as an auditor at which I amassed a mountain of actors’ photos, headshots which are at present, piled all around me. I am sorting them: men go in this stack, women go in that stack and children go in the little stack on the corner of my desk. Some of the headshots have resumes printed neatly on the back (best), others have resumes stapled on (acceptable), others have resumes precariously paper-clipped on (less desirable) and others are missing resumes altogether (frightening). I search though the pile for the missing resumes and cannot locate them. I check again and to my dismay they are nowhere to be found. Some of these resume-less headshots have the names of the actors printed on the front, others do not. The resume-less headshots that do not have names on the front get thrown out.

Pretty face. No name. Unidentifiable. Goodbye.

Of the resume-less headshots that have the names of the actors printed on the front, I go to Google, type in their name and hit enter. If the actor has a website (agency page or personal), great! I can at least glean resume and contact information from there, print it out and staple it to the headshot myself for future reference. If I cannot easily find resume and contact information on a website or if actors have nothing but a Facebook or LinkedIn or YouTube or Tribe or Classmates or Plaxo or Twitter or some other cool new social networking tool presence where I cannot easily obtain the actors resume, email address (to send an email with an invitation to audition for a role) and phone number (to call and make a casting offer) I may not want to bother spending any more of my time doing detective work searching for contact information for these invisible actors who apparently do not want to be invited to auditions nor be offered any roles. If they did, their information would be readily available to those who need it.

Handsome features. No email. No phone number. Goodbye.

As for the complete headshots and resumes remaining in the three stacks of men, women and children, they will be sorted further, categorized and cataloged by age, type and any array of other attributes including Shakespeare experience, musicals, dramas and special skills.

Which brings me to dancing.

Please, if you are an actor, help me cast you:

  1. Please make sure your resume is securely attached to your headshot and that your name is printed on the front of your headshot. Also make sure your email address and phone number (or that of your agent) are included on your resume.
  2. Please get a website that includes your phone number, email address, resume and some additional photos of yourself. Be sure to keep your website  updated if you change your email address or phone number. (I might have a headshot and resume of yours from two or three years ago. If you have changed your email address or phone number since then I need an easy way to find your new email address or phone number so I can contact you.)
  3. Please take dance classes, any kind of dance classes. Tap. Ballet. Jazz. Anything. I see you can act. I hear you can sing, but what I want and don’t seem to be able to find enough of these days, are actors that can move interestingly across the stage and do a swing-dance-hip-hop-tango-till-the-lights-come-up-good-old-fashioned-boogie-woogie-cha-cha-simple-yet-elegant-waltz if called upon to.

While is is imperative to find great and appropriate monologues, and it is important to practice your monologues and songs to perfection, and while you may even enlist the assistance of an audition coach to help you prepare for your audition, remember the auditor’s dilemma and remember to help me.


*Having just had a discussion on this topic with Denise Stevenson from KZST at the press reception for La Cage Aux Folles at 6th Street Playhouse, and having just finished reading and thoroughly enjoying Michael Pollan’s Omnivore’s Dilemma, I decided to relay excerpts from my own experiences surrounding the basics of casting from the perspective of the auditor in this article. I adopted Michael’s theme of “the dilemma” and thus The Auditors’ Dilemma is born. Now on to In Defense of Food.

Cheryl Itamura is the Founder and Editor in Chief of Real Live Theater.

Other articles by Cheryl Itamura include:

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

Tatyana Borisovna: theater (or theatre) as a labor of love for Ukrainians and Russians

In Artist Spotlight on December 13, 2008 at 6:24 pm

by Ray Sikorski

Photo courtesy of Regional Academic Ukrainian Musical and Dramatic Theater

Photo courtesy of Regional Academic Ukrainian Musical and Dramatic Theater

RIVINE, UKRAINE – Rivne, Ukraine, is not the sort of city one imagines when one thinks “theater capital.” Bombed in World War II and occupied by the Nazis, this industrial city of 400,000 has plenty of big Soviet-built apartment blocks, but little in the way of charm. In winter, it can seem downright bleak.

Until one visits the sumptuous Regional Academic Ukrainian Musical and Dramatic Theater, that is. Like the Russian-built Zil limousines that once ferried gangsters and high Communist Party cadres around Soviet cities, the theater flaunts its size and stature. It’s five stories tall: the waiting area has marble floors, high ceilings, and crystal chandeliers; and the seats of its 700-seat proscenium stage are plush red velvet.

My experience in Ukraine, spent mostly in Rivne, was one of contradictions. Antique Lada, Volga, and Muskovitch cars puttered along next to brand new BMW and Lexus SUVs, while antique babushkas shared sidewalk space with statuesque girls in tight pants and calf-hugging stiletto boots. So, in a way, Rivne’s fabulous theater made sense – one of the best theaters in Ukraine, plunked down in a district more reminiscent of Cleveland than the West End or Times Square.

Tatyana Borisovna, an 18-year veteran of Rivne’s stage, now works as manager for the theater’s 45 salaried actors. Borisovna says that it all makes perfect sense, because despite appearances, Rivne is a city of theater lovers. The building actually houses two theaters – there’s an intimate 100-seat theater along with the luxurious proscenium – and barely a night goes by without a sellout performance. And this is with shows going on six nights a week.

Are Ukrainians simply mad about theater? Perhaps. However, with tickets going for a ridiculously cheap 10-30 hryvnia per show (about $1.30-$3.80, and cheaper than a movie), it could just be a good excuse to stay warm. Not so, says Borisovna – the theater puts on lavish, first-rate musical and dramatic performances by Ukrainian and Russian playwrights, with up to 13 different shows per season. People come from the entire region, she says, because the shows are top-rate. I asked her if tough times would keep people away; she said during the 1990’s economic crisis, after the breakup of the Soviet Union, people still came. The theater, she explained, is like a drug, for both actors and audience members – and the people of Rivne are hooked.

But where does the money come from? Certainly not many American performances could be made by charging people a dollar. Borisovna explained that the money people pay for tickets goes to the government, and then the government pays the salaries of everyone involved in the production – there’s a 21-member orchestra, too – who are full-time employees of the theater. Basically, it’s a holdover of the old Soviet system, which put a high value on theater. Among the working people of Rivne, it seems that every day is a struggle to survive; but its actors are well-paid, the theater is well-maintained, and productions are first-class.

One might lead to the conclusion that the people who work in Rivne’s theater are just employees doing a job, and don’t share the same passion for theater that American actors have. After all, private theaters need to sell tickets to keep their doors open.  Borisovna says that’s not the case at all. She points to several “legacies” among the actors in the theater, where children – including Borisovna’s own daughter – have taken up the craft after spending countless days after school watching their parents.

“Theater is not just a building,” she says. “It’s a life. Everyone who works in theater loves it; there are no people who don’t. Everyone who works with actors works not just for money.”

(The interview with Tatyana Borisovna was conducted with the translation help of Vova Lypchuk.)

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 Ukraine, wondering if he can find someplace where they sell peanut butter.

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.

Theater (or theatre) as Communication, Entertainment and Social Interaction in the 3-D World

In Editor's Note on November 15, 2008 at 4:38 pm

Editor’s Note

Talking Bubbles photo by Sirin Buse

Talking Bubbles photo by Sirin Buse

“Real, live theater. You know, the kind of theater where actors perform plays and musicals live, on a stage.”

I find myself saying these phrases a lot these days.

Upon meeting someone for the first time, the course of polite conversation always, ultimately seems to turn to, “So, what is it that you do?”

To which I answer, “I’m in theater.”

To which they often reply with uncertainty, “Uh, a movie theater?”.

The “Uh” of their uncertainty seems almost always to stem from the combination of their instant identification with movie trailers, movie advertisements, movies they’ve gone to see, and a vision of the megaopolis movie theater complex in their neighborhood that they regularly drive past during their commutes to work or to school or to both, and some cloud of remembrance of some other type of theater they vaguely recall from their far distant past. It is because of this hazy memory they are are unsure if “movie theater” is the correct guess.

When I correct them with my reply, flint rubs steel and there is a spark. The spark may be of: a play at church or at school in which they played some small part as a child; watching friends or their children or their grandchildren sing and dance across the stage in Guys and Dolls or Grease or more recently in High School Musical in, well, a high school musical production; or of a long buried desire to sing or dance or act on stage that was never fully ignited. Everyone, it seems has some story to recall and sadly, too often the existence of theater in their consciousness is referred to in past tense.

During the present technological times the preferred method of most of the world’s communication, entertainment and social interaction funnels through electronic devises and is delivered at a time of convenience to the sender and is received at a time of convenience to the end user, in the privacy of their own homes, laps, hands or offices usually via a two-dimensional rectangular screen that comes in varying sizes, sometimes with earphones or speakers attached. Fast. Reliable. Generic. Often bad. Sometimes good. Occasionally great. But where in this electronic age is real human interaction? Why is the need for privacy encouraged, pursued and prized to the point of creating a society of socially inept individuals? When does actual, not virtual human contact come into play?

We are distracted from our need for human contact as new services emerge that allow us to send and receive an ever-increasing number of voicemails, emails, text messages and an endless stream of hot, new products enable us to download endless hours, days and years, albeit more than a lifetime’s worth of information and entertainment to enjoy in the luxury of our own self-imposed solitary confinement. We are blinded to the fact that isolation is marketed to us as a most desirable situation and is highly encouraged in order to boost the sales of more and more gadgets.

Don’t get me wrong. I do understand the benefits of electronic communication, on-line entertainment and virtual social interaction — after all I am using an electronic device to write this to you and you are receiving it on your two-dimensional screen, all the while people have been sending me voicemails, emails and text messages for goodness sake! – however, I also understand the power of: attending a convention or conference to listen to and witness a live speaker move an audience; partaking in an engagement or celebration where food and drink is shared; real hands touching briefly in formal acknowledgment or in casual appreciation of each other; watching (or participating in) a live performance; and evidencing first-hand the ability of human effort to warrant a standing ovation.

Real, live theater is communication, entertainment and social interaction in the three-dimensional world. A three-dimensional world that must be reclaimed and nurtured in order to maintain our humanity set against the dimension reductionist marketing movements of our day. (What’s next – devices that reduce us all to a one-dimensional existence? We will all end but as a small dot on a globe somewhere in a far flung corner of the universe, but perhaps that is all we are anyway. It’s almost too much to fathom.)

[Applause] to you for your interest in balancing your two-dimensional and three-dimensional worlds.

I hope you take a moment to communicate with a friend and invite them to see a show, be entertained, enjoy the human interaction between the artists and the audience, then applaud yourself for being a part of the three-dimensional world of real, live theater.


Cheryl Itamura is the Founder and Editor in Chief of Real Live Theater.