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What Are You Passionate About

What are you passionate about

What are you Passionate About

What are you passionate about?  Makes you think, doesn’t it?  I knew exactly what I wanted to do at a very young age.  I wanted to dance.  There were no ifs, ands or buts about it.  It was very clear, never a doubt or question in my mind.

Why?…because I was able to escape when I was dancing.  On the outside it certainly didn’t seem I needed to flee from anything, but as I recall I was escaping myself.  I was a very shy, insecure child.  I could become someone else while I was dancing, someone confident and assured and beautiful.  There was nothing else I wanted to do.

Ahh youth…

But, there were definitely some set-backs.  One stands out more prominently than the rest.  When I was about 11 or 12 I was at a ballet camp one summer in Champlain Illinois and I auditioned for a scholarship for their full time school (sort of like a performing arts school, but strictly for ballet dancers).  After the audition I was presented with a partial scholarship.  My mother was very displeased.  She promptly marched up to the Artistic Director and asked why not a full scholarship as she was clearly the best dancer in the room (an unbiased opinion, I’m sure)?  He excused himself for a few minutes and upon his return he handed her a letter with the answer to her question.   It said in a nutshell that I would never make it as a ballet dancer because my hips were too big and my neck was too short.  That I would never make any audition passed the body type cut, meaning that I did not have the perfect ballet dancer’s body.  My parents, after much anguish, decided that I should see said letter.  At the time we were driving back to Ohio and I couldn’t believe what I was reading.  My dream was being shattered right before my eyes.  I wept the whole ride home and for the next few days.

Ultimately what that letter did was made me even more adamant in my pursuit of becoming the next Gelsey Kirkland.   So, I picked myself up and went back to class determined to prove him wrong!  And did I?…No, but it certainly didn’t stop me from trying!  I danced with the Cleveland Ballet all through High School, but I wasn’t satisfied.  My dream was to dance with one of the major New York City Ballet companies and I wasn’t going to stop until I did, or so I thought.

I graduated High School early and in April of the year I turned 17 I asked my parents if I could move to New York City to pursue a career in Ballet.  They were not thrilled, but were 100% supportive.  They agreed it was something I had to do and off I went.  And, oh yeah, did I mention they had a backup plan?  If I hadn’t started supporting myself in 6 months they were dragging me back home and sending me off to college.

So, this brings up a good point.  Is it the parent’s job to prepare us for failure, or do they let their children fly on their own and allow them to have their own experiences?  After all everybody has a different path.  How could parents possibly predict with any accuracy how things will turn out for someone else.

I truly believe my parents did the right thing, one by letting me read that letter and two not telling me their backup plan.  I think that might’ve put doubt in my otherwise foolproof plan of getting off the plane in New York City and immediately being discovered by Balanchine!  So, off to New York City I went and never looked back.  When we landed I hit the ground running.  I surrounded myself with creative people who all wanted what I wanted.  My days were spent in class honing my craft to within an inch of its life.  My mother used to say to me, ‘If you’re not the best in class what’s the point”.  I took those words to heart.  I was at the top of my “game”.

So, as I mentioned before that Artistic Director just happened to be right, but when that door closed many more opened!  I had to expand my “game” to suit the jobs I was being offered.  I was asked to do things I’d never done before and never knew I wanted until the challenge presented itself.

Never tell me that I can’t do something as I will do everything in my power to do exactly that.  I spent my days studying each and every new art form being asked of me so that when I went into an audition I was as confident as I could possibly be.  Don’t get me wrong I had many flaws, but I worked diligently to improve and or conceal them!

My creative desire was exploding and I was being offered opportunities I never dreamed possible.   My passion had changed course, but it was more than I could’ve ever dreamed of!

The morale of that story is, if there’s something you want to do by all means go out and do it, don’t wait.  After all what are you waiting for?  Take chances.  No fear!  My theory is that fear is something that other people have convinced you of.  It’s their unsure, insecure feelings that they project on to you.

Wipe the slate clean and take one baby step at a time, just like we did when we were kids, and face that fear head on.  Don’t be afraid to look inside yourself and find what you really want in life.  If it seems the real you is buried a bit too deep try thinking about what you used to play when you were a kid.  What you used to fantasize about back when we could be whatever we wanted to be.  Before we knew what rejection and failure was.  Before we let other people’s opinions distort our own view of ourselves.  Trust your instinct.

A while back I read a book about an Indian tribe who when raising their children never hovered.  They stayed back and observed.  They only involved themselves when they were needed.  The idea is to allow the child to listen to its own instincts.  If the parent is always telling the child what to watch out for and when, then the child stops listening and trusting his own natural instinct.

Fast forward to the present…it actually does feel like it all happened in fast motion…but I now find myself without all of that ‘passion’ and excitement in my life.  I’m comfortable and have a beautiful family that I adore.  I am thoroughly enjoying experiencing life through my son’s eyes.

So I go back to the original question, what am I passionate about?  Do I have to be head over heels about something in order to be fulfilled?  My passion isn’t as overwhelming as it was when I was young, but I know it’s still there.  Or maybe it’s possible my ‘passion’ isn’t all about me anymore.  Maybe I’m looking outside myself instead of embracing what I already have.  What comes to mind is my Meisner acting technique and the one phrase that was repeated over and over again in class, “Be in the moment”, four simple words, but oh so hard to accomplish.

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Phantom Of The Opera

Phantom of the Opera

Phantom of the Opera

Phantom of the Opera, it’s certainly the most well known show that I’ve done in my career.  It just became the only show on Broadway to surpass the 25 year mark.  It is the longest running Broadway show!  Yes, I know what you’re thinking…I was 2 when I got the job of Meg back in 1988…or at least I was hoping you were thinking that!

I was living in Los Angeles at the time just having finished filming the last year of the series Fame in which I played the character Jillian.  I got a call from an old friend of mine telling me this new show was coming to Broadway and they were having trouble finding the “Meg” character.  She needed to be able to sing, act and dance…on point!

Having been in LA for the last year, I was completely out of the Broadway scene, but I called my agent and they got me an audition.  I packed up and jumped on a plane the next day.  I went to the audition, danced, sang and read a scene from the show and then I flew back home the next morning.    When I walked in the door there was my answering machine blinking (no cell phones back then).  I listened to the message as I started to unpack my suitcase and it was my agent saying they wanted me back in New York for a callback!

I made another reservation for a round trip although this time I was going to spend the whole weekend since the callback was on a Friday.    Then I called my agents to make sure this was the last and final callback as it was getting a bit expensive!  They assured me it was.

This time when I arrived in the city I noticed on the buses and all of the telephone booths an ad with a white mask on a black background.  No copy at all, just the mask.  Then I started noticing them all over the city.   This was some ingenious advertising.  Talk about leaving them wanting more.  I guess this show “Phantom of the Opera” was going to be a pretty big deal.

Again I sang, danced and read for a roomful of people.  Afterwards they brought me back into the room and explained that I would have to sing for Andrew Lloyd Webber…at his apartment…in Trump towers the next day.

Needless to say I got absolutely no sleep that night.  I arrive at Andrew’s front door.  A woman answers and ushers me in to the most amazing apartment (more like mansion) I’d ever seen.  I walk in to the studio where there sits Andrew Lloyd Weber at the piano with Hal Prince next to him.  I give him my music as he himself played for me and as I’m singing I’m wondering if they can hear my knee caps shaking.  He then had me sing a bit from the score and then said “Thank you”.

I walked out a bit stunned thinking that was kind of cool, but I guess I didn’t get it.  So my boyfriend and I decided to rent a car and head to Atlantic City to blow off some of my nerves.  That night I happened to call the woman I was staying with in the city and she said that Johnson/Liff (the casting office for Phantom of the Opera) was trying to get a hold of me.  They wanted me to be at Chelsea studios on Monday morning.

But I was flying home on Monday!  I had no idea what was going on.  And it was Sunday so I couldn’t get a hold of my agents or the casting office to find out what this meant!

I show up Monday morning and there were about 100 people in the room.  Now I had even less idea what was going on and frankly I was too embarrassed to ask.

The Stage Manager explained that, one by one, everyone will stand and introduce themselves and say what character they will be playing.  So, we all sat down in a big circle and proceeded with the introductions.  They were all very confident in the knowledge of what roles they were playing.   So, when it came to me I said, “I’m Elisa and I think I might be playing the role of Meg, but I’m not sure?”  A burst of laughter erupted.

At that point the Stage Manager took me over and introduced me to Cameron McIntosh.  Apparently, he was the last person who had to sign off on me before I could officially be hired.  Thankfully he did and I was off and running.

It was one of the most exciting six months of my life.  Everyone who was anyone came to see the show from British Royalty to Michael Jackson.   They would keep us all on stage after the show so that they could meet us all and shake our hands (or bow in the case of Royalty).  It was a little like a receiving line at a wedding every single night for the first 6 months.

Here I am 25 (or so) years later.  Who knew?  I guess maybe Sir Andrew Lloyd Weber and Cameron McIntosh know how to put on a show!

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The Biz

The Biz

The Biz

The question I am asked most often is, do I miss the business.  It’s never an easy one for me to answer because it varies depending on the day’s events.  And it usually makes me a little uncomfortable.  That is to say, I’m not sure my answer will satisfy them, but here it goes.

There are so many things I miss.  Here are just a few;

  • My friends and the camaraderie that exists due to the nature of the business.  When you’re working life’s great, when you’re not life’s not so great, and it’s back to the old grind stone.
  • Performing.  There’s nothing like performing for an audience (or a camera for that matter).
  • That feeling in my stomach just before a performance.
  • The extreme highs that used to make my heart flutter.
  • The artistry and the creativity of making a character my own.
  • And believe it or not, the challenge.  I always did like a challenge.  Don’t ever tell me I can’t do something, because I’ll do everything in my power to prove you wrong!
  • And, of course, getting paid nicely for doing what I love and what comes oh so naturally to me and would do for free (although, don’t tell the producers that last part)!

So, yes I guess the short answer is yes.

But when my son came along my priorities changed drastically.  It used to be all about me.  Now it’s all about him and nurturing this perfect little mini person as I think nature intended.  And he’s the only one I got so it’s got to be perfect.  I don’t get another chance.  I can’t put into words how exciting it is to witness all of his amazing achievements.  I wouldn’t want anybody else to experience them, but me!

Sure I have my moments of missing “The Biz”, but I would miss my son way more!

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Commercial Anyone

Commercial Anyone

commercial anyone

Passat commercial

There I am running like an overloaded bridge and tunnel fool down that extraordinarily long Port Authority hallway, only to be inches away from the door when the bus pulls away.   I had just come from a commercial audition in which my character perspired excessively.  As I watched the bus pull away with sweat dripping out of every pore of my body I thought to myself, this would’ve been perfect for the audition!

I know what you’re thinking, how embarrassing right?  But at this point very little makes me uncomfortable.  Some of the commercials I audition for these days would make a Lady of the Evening blush.

I’ve been doing commercials for about 30 years.  I shot my first one when I was 18 for a fast food restaurant (not sure if this is like Wheel of Fortune and I’m not allowed to mention the actual product, so to protect the innocent I won’t).  I moved to New York as a dancer, but I was shooting commercials before I did my first Broadway Show!

I am exceedingly grateful for commercials, they got me through in between shows.  It sure beat waiting tables, which I sucked at.  My first job was at the Brew and Burger in Times Square and they promptly fired me within hours of being hired merely because I spilled a couple of plates of food on the patrons.  Now I ask you, is that a good reason to fire someone?  Okay, I guess it is if your job is to serve the people food, not dress them with it.

It’s funny how the products change as I age.  I can remember the days of hair products and beer commercials like it was yesterday.  Now it’s eyeglasses and fiber for me.  How did that happen?

At this audition today I happen to notice some cellophane (like Saran Wrap) around the camera and I started to ask the casting director what it was for when I noticed that it was actually covering the lens.  Ouch!  He, very gingerly, explained “It softens the image and is designed to make you look…pretty” (what he meant was “not old”).

Auditioning is a lot tougher these days since we moved out of the city.  A commercial audition used to take about an hour out of my day, door to door!  Now, for that five minute audition, it’s more like three hours.  And that’s without traffic!  Not to mention negotiating the timing so I can get back before my son gets off the school bus and I have to be at the studio.

But, I still love it.  I’ve retired from everything else in the Business so when I shoot a commercial it’s like the old Elisa’s back, only with a few more wrinkles and a lot of hair dye!

Commercial Anyone?

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What The Arts Did For Me

What the Arts Did for Me

What the arts did for me

Fame

What the arts did for me…save my life!

That’s a bit dramatic, isn’t it?  Let me explain.

I was a painfully shy kid.  We moved around a lot which was good news because it meant that my dad was getting a promotion and it was always into a bigger house and a nicer neighborhood.  Sounds great except that I started to realize moving meant that I wouldn’t be seeing my old friends anymore and I’d have to find new ones.  The nicer the neighborhood got, the meaner the kids were.  Well, at least to the new kid.

With each move I got more scared and introverted.  I just didn’t fit in.  And every word that came out of my mouth felt stupid.  Everything I said came out wrong.  So, my revenge was to stop talking completely, in school at home, everywhere.  If I didn’t say anything, it couldn’t be stupid.

Brilliant idea, right?  I don’t know what I was thinking.  That was the problem.  I wasn’t thinking.  I was just scared…except…in dance class.  There I didn’t have to say a word and I was smart and I fit in and I felt pretty and popular and free of the fear!  It was like therapy for me.  I was able to work out all of my frustrations through movement.

Then I started taking voice lessons and acting classes and I found my voice (figuratively and literally) and I found who I was…who I am.

I truly believe that introducing the Arts into a child’s life will help them in whatever they choose to do.  They’ll develop grace, self-confidence and a healthy sense of competition.  They might just find out who they are.  I did.

What the arts did for me!

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So You Want to Be a Working Actor?

So You Want to be a working Actor?

The most important thing an actor should have is an arsenal of material to perform at the ready. You need a rehearsed and polished sample of every style of song and or monologue (classical, contemporary, funny, and serious) ready to perform at all times.

So you want to be a working actor

Your 2nd most important tool is a fantastic headshot. It is your business card. If you are under the age of 16 you should not spend a lot on pictures because your appearance will change. You will probably need new shots taken every year. However, if you are an adult, this is where you are going to want to spend a little money. A really good headshot is very important. Your photo is the initial meeting you have with agents and casting directors so it needs to make a good and lasting impression on them. It must be the best representation of you and your personality.

You should find a photographer who specializes in headshots for actors. Look at their book. Do their shots jump out at you? Look at the eyes, are they saying something? If not, find another photographer. Once you have picked a photographer they should be able to tell you what to wear that will photograph the best. And for a woman, they should have a make up artist available for you (about $150 extra, but well worth it). Make sure you have a couple of different looks, commercial & musical theatre, (usually smiling), a serious shot for TV and film, and possibly a business shot (for adults).

Once you get the photographs done, the hard part is picking 2 or 3 of your favorite shots. You may want to get some different opinions from friends, family and anyone you know in the industry. You do want to look your best, but make sure you look like your picture so the people you are auditioning for are not surprised or shocked when you walk in the room.

When you have made your choice of shots, take them to a reputable reproduction shop. My recommendation is Reproductions in midtown Manhattan because they will know exactly what to do. You will have a few options to choose from you can do a composite shot so you have all your different looks on one 8×10 or separate shots with your different looks (commercial, theatre and TV and film). Make copies of whichever ones you decide on. Believe it or not some auditioners still ask for a hard copy of your picture and resume.  It’s something you should have on you at all times.  Never leave home without it!  You will also have the option of putting your resume directly on the back of the shots (which could be a problem if you want to add or change your resume) or you can just staple your resume to the back of your headshot.

When writing your resume, it should be in a 3 column format. If you have access to the resume of a working actor, copy their format. Otherwise here are the instructions in a nutshell. Your name should be centered along with your contact info below it. You want to list your show categories in the first column, the role you played in the 2nd, and where it was done in the 3rd. You do the same for film and any television. At the bottom of the page list your training, vocal range, dialects you have perfected and any special skills. Be concise as possible. You do not want to bore them!

Make yourself a website with video of all your acting gigs.  You’ll want to put all of your different looks on there as well. Be as specific as you can as you are selling yourself as the perfect actor for the job!  Be creative as well, just like a headshot you want your website to stand out from everybody else’s.

Now you can call yourself a professional actor. All you have to do is get the job!  How do you do that?  You spend every waking moment studying and honing your craft!

So you want to be a working actor?

 

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So You Want to Learn How to Tap Dance?

So You Want to Learn How to Tap Dance?

So You Want to Learn How to Tap Dance

It is really not hard to begin and it can be fun immediately!

Tap dancing at its core is about the rhythms you create and how you create them. The rhythms can be as simple or as complicated as you choose. A nursery rhyme can be a great rhythm to start with. It is the same for drummers. Where the beginning tap dancer often gets confused and frustrated is when they can “hear” the rhythms in their head but have trouble tapping out those rhythms in a coordinated way with their feet.

This is where it is important to recognize the other component in tap dancing, weight shifting. As toddlers we learn very quickly how to walk and then to run. But once we master those abilities and are able to get to where we want to go, we typically stop “teaching” our feet. Think about it. When we walk we are usually going in a forward direction while stepping right, left, right, left, etc. But in tap dancing we may move forward, backward, sideways, up and down, or not in any direction at all! We often make several sounds while standing on one foot before shifting to the other foot. In other words, the tap dancer must become very aware of where he/she needs his/her body weight to go to in order to help create the step! Children who skip, jump rope, or play the game of hopscotch learn this at a basic level very quickly.

Although the majority of the action in tap dancing rests at the feet, the truth is the entire body needs to be involved. With this in mind I suggest a game. Think of a rhythm. You can listen to your favorite song to help you find one if you like. Or you can simply use the happy birthday song. Now that you have your rhythm in your head, see how many different ways you can think of to tap out that rhythm with your feet. Do not worry about “looking good”. This is just an exercise in different ways to shift your weight.

When the music moves you, move to the music. Pretend the floor is a big drum and your feet are the drumsticks! The possibilities are endless and so is the fun. Once you get the sense of what tap dancing feels like, you are ready to learn specific steps that will lead to combination’s. Pretty soon you are doing routines and having the time of your life. So do not be afraid to pick up some tap shoes and join in!

So you want to learn how to tap dance?

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