Friday, November 13, 2015

What do theatre and dance students learn? Part 2

In Part 2 of “What do theatre and dance students learn?” we explore how theatre and dance students learn the skills that employers most desire in potential candidates. (Haven't read Part 1 yet? Check it out.)

Communication Skills: There’s a fantastic triangle of communication with every performance of theatre and dance: artists communicate with one another and with their audience. They must communicate on multiple levels. And in the creative process one must articulate their intention as well as a reflection on process and on the product and on the relationship between process and product. Students are constantly challenged to articulate their intent through written words, verbal expression and through performance (often through the lens of another artist's play or choreography—another layer of communication).

The auditions sees the demonstration of learning on stage in
productions such as The Nosemaker's Apprentice (Spring 2015).
Problem Solving/Analytical Skills: There are an incredible number of ways to accomplish a performance. The road from first thought to final performance is a winding path with many obstacles. Whether it’s analyzing a script for performance or discovering the piece of choreography that’s right for every measure of music, the theatre and dance student is challenged to be analytical in their creative problem solving.

An important aspect of this skill is Time Management. There is always a great, looming clock that threatens “Opening Night”… The problems, we hope, will have been given a solution by the rise of the first curtain. When alumna Kellyanne Klause was asked, “What would you consider the most valuable thing you have learned at Bloomsburg University?” she answered, “Time Management. You need to learn how to manage your time as a theatre major…to organize and to prioritize your time.”

Teamwork: Collaboration is at the heart of live performance in theatre and dance. Students understand not only that they need to rely on others, but that others rely on them. We stress the value of “ensemble”—respectful, effective collaboration that puts the good of the group first.

Initiative/Self-Starting: Developing a strong “work ethic” is how students will succeed in theatre and dance at school and beyond. We know that being "on time" arriving at least 15 minutes early and being ready to go—warmed up, having rehearsed and prepared on your own—when rehearsal begins. Student set designers, actors, dancers, directors, playwrights are all expected to meet the goals set out by the faculty and by themselves.

Leadership: Students are regularly given leadership roles, formally and informally. Informally, there is a culture built in theatre and dance that the more experienced students are role models for the less experienced. Formally, students are assigned “Practicum” assignments that cast them as Head Usher, Director, Assistant Director, Fight Captain, Producer, Costume Designer and other roles that require that they join the leadership team or are the leader of the team itself.

Flexibility: Sometimes your first idea doesn’t work. Sometimes someone else has a better idea. As an effective collaborator, you have to be willing to let go of your “favorite idea” if there’s a better solution in the room.

Every one of these skills was used in the process of creating
this scene from Macbeth (Fall 2015).
Creativity: This may be the most self-evident?

Willingness to Learn: Every theatre and dance student is challenged to take advantage of every opportunity to learn. A great artist is to be a well-rounded artist. Students should not only be willing to learn about all areas of theatre and dance, but to seek out those learning opportunities every chance they get.

Attention to Detail: On stage and off,  students are asked to “go back to the basics”—what is being communicated in this play, this lighting design, this choreography? Does that match your original intent, in every detail? As an artist you are responsible for every choice on that stage, every word in that script, and every line of that criticism. Every detail is a choice, so you had best pay close attention to every detail.

Interested in seeing these skills at work or in getting involved in the division of theatre and dance? Visit

Thursday, November 12, 2015

What do theatre and dance students learn? Part 1

Students in theatre and dance learn what it means to be a professional artist. They gain knowledge about the history, the profession and the practice of theatre and dance. But in the process they learn the skills that are the foundation for working as a highly skilled professional in whatever field or fields they work in over the course of their likely varied careers.

We know that most students on any college campus will change career paths several times over the course of their lives. The USC Student Affairs office notes: “In a job market where recent graduates indicate they are changing jobs four times within five years of graduation, it is important to articulate the skills you have developed as they relate to new opportunities.”  The skills that employers seek are often referred to as transferable skills—the skills that a student can take with them wherever they go.

What are the transferable skills that theatre and dance students learn? We researched the transferable skills that most employers are looking for in potential employees. We weren’t surprised to find that more than one “top ten list” of skills include those that are integral to theatre and dance education:
Communication Skills
Problem Solving/Analytical Skills
Willingness to Learn
Attention to Detail

How many of these are theatre skills? All of them.

And how do theatre students learn these transferable skills? Stay tuned for “What do theatre and dance students learn? Part 2”…

Top Ten List from USC Student Services

Thursday, October 29, 2015

Five Questions for Maggie Korell, Props Designer

Maggie Korell is the properties or props designer for Neighborhood 3: Requisition of Doom. We asked her five questions.

What made you first interested in theatre?
I became interested in theatre because as a child I hated sports. My mom wanted me to get involved in something and after five years of sitting on the bench she signed me up to audition for Alice in Wonderland and I was hooked. After high school I thought I would be done with theatre until I took an introductory theatre class my freshman year and realized that I wouldn’t be able to leave it again.

The Three Witches from BU Player’s Macbeth  
gather around their cauldron. Prop Design by Maggie Korell.
 What is exciting to you about working on Neighborhood 3?
Neighborhood 3 is a play I loved after the first time I read it. This is a play that will spark so many conversations among its audience and that is what attracts me to theatre.

Where have you found inspiration for your design?
I found a lot of my inspiration in listening to my gamer friends talk about their passions. They were so enthusiastic in telling about the worlds and characters in their games. It was eerie in a way because it made the characters in Neighborhood 3 seem more accurate.

If you could design any show, what would it be?
Ever since I read Michael Weller’s Moonchildren I have wanted to work on that show. I would love to be involved in recreating the atmosphere of a college student’s apartment during the Vietnam War. The show has an excellent sense of humor that would be amazing to be surrounded by.

If you were a fruit or vegetable, what would you be?
Pineapple. I wouldn’t mind being in a tropical climate right now. Also I think pineapples have the best hair out of all the fruits in the basket.

Maggie Korell is a senior dual majoring in theatre and mass communication with a creative writing minor. Maggie has previously prop mastered for the BU Players for Macbeth (Fall 2014), The Children’s Hour (Spring 2014), The February Festival (Winter 2014), and Avenue Q (Fall 2013).Maggie is vice president for the BU Players and a member of their Season Selection Committee.

Wednesday, October 21, 2015

Five Questions (or more) for Jennifer Haley, Playwright

In preparation for the BU Players production of Neighborhood 3: Requisition of Doom by Jennifer Haley, we found that Sacred Fools Theatre Company asked the playwright some great questions about the process of writing the play.

Tuesday, September 8, 2015

How does an actor select & prepare a monologue? (Auditioning, Part II)

This is the second post in a series about auditioning. (Read the series.) In this installment we ask Professor David A. Miller—who teaches all levels of acting at BU and will direct this fall's production of Neighborhood 3: Requisition of Doom—five questions about monologues. 

What is a monologue?
In contrast to "dialogue" which is two people speaking, monologue is one person speaking for sustained amount of time. As Joanne Merlin defines it in Auditioning, "A monologue may be a soliloquy in which the character speaks to himself, or it may be a speech take from a scene in which the character addresses another character at length and without interruption, although the other character is not physically present and must be imagined by the actor."

Here is an example of monologue from The Drunken City by Adam Bock, one of the monologues found in In Performance by JV Mercanti (the paragraph breaks are the playwright’s):

I'm not kissing you in a church. I got more important things to figure out. Be serious.
You gotta help me figure this out. Please?
I wanted the wedding. Because it's gonna be a gorgeous wedding. I'm gonna wear my Mom's wedding dress.
It's from 1910 and her Mom wore it
and her mom's mom wore it
and it's satin with inlaid pearls, well not inlaid pearls, that's not the word I'm, and I remember when I was a tiny little girl I remember thinking “I’m gonna wear that dress" because it's the most, it's gorgeous and I'm gonna get to be looked at, I'm gonna,
Gary was just a prop. He was. He was just
And I knew he wanted me to say yes, so I did. I just
I kept lying
And then, worse, Frank, worse, he suddenly changed on me.
He started acting like a husband. How he thinks a husband is, the world's dangerous and he has to protect me and that means I have to listen to him and he's gonna tell me what to do and I'm gonna have to act like he tells me. He's gonna be like his Dad. But his Mom's this little mousy woman who never says Boo.
And I'm not gonna be her.
Uh uh.
But I just don't know what to say to Gary.
I want to tell him the truth. I do.
It's good you brought me here. I'm gonna need some help doing all Will you wait for me? I'm gonna go sit and be quiet for a minute. You're so sweet. I wish I'd met you before I met Gary.

How does an actor select a monologue for an audition?
Some auditions with ask that you prepare a monologue. Or two. For a "general audition" often times actors are asked to prepare "two contrasting monologues" lasting a certain amount of time, from two to five minutes depending on the audition. A great starting point for all actors is to have a contemporary monologue (As opposed to classical such as Shakespeare or the Greeks) that is 1 to 2 minutes long and is in the actors age range (The range of ages that you would be most likely to play on stage). As you move further along in your acting career, you will build up a full set of monologues—an arsenal—that will have a variety of types for each type of audition,, such as a dramatic classical piece, a comic classical piece, a dramatic contemporary, a comic contemporary, an off the beaten track monologue, a song, etc.

How does an actor prepare a monologue?
The first thing to do with any monologue is to make sure that you read the play. And read it more than once. In order to understand, the given circumstances of who, where, when of the play and of the monologue itself. The next step is to determine the specifics of the monologue. I really love starting with Michael Shurtleff’s “guideposts” which he lays out in his book Audition:

  • Relationship. Who are you talking to? And what is specific about that relationship? A mother-daughter relationship is factual, but it's not enough. What kind of relationship, is it strained or healthy, etc.?
  • Conflict. “What are you fighting for?” Shurtleff asks. What is it that you need from that other person and what is it that makes it urgent? Why do you need it right now?
  • The Moment Before. What happens to you before the monologue begins that propels you into this monologue? There's a reason that you begin speaking and the reason comes from that other person. What is it that they say or do that you are responding to? And what is it in your backstory is a character that fuels your need at this very moment?

How does an actor best perform a monologue?
Before the monologue begins, you will introduce yourself and the piece you will be performing today (the name of the play and playwright, as well as the character if appropriate). And be sure to take a moment before the monologue begins to make a clear break between you and you as the character. It does not need to be long—in fact, it should not be too long, but it should distinguish you from the character. Then, as the character, your focus should be above and beyond the director, casting director, or whoever else is in the room so that you are delivering the monologue to the imagined other character and not to them. Similar to the beginning of the monologue, make sure that you complete the moment after the monologue. Imagine that final response from the other person. Did you get what you want? Did you fail? Take that moment after, then take a moment to return to being yourself. And say thank you. The director then may have something to say to you or they may not. They may sell simply think you and your audition is done with the director might work with you on your monologue or ask you questions about your experience in theater.

Any tips for performing a monologue? Do's and do not's?
Don't use my monologues that are gratuitous in anyway—that indulge in violence or profanity or general anger. And make sure to put that focal point—where are you are seeing the other character—above and beyond the director. Don't perform as if the director is the other character. They are not they are not your mother or lover or whoever it is you're talking to.  And don't stand too close to the director. It gets real creepy when someone is right in front of you. The director wants to be able to take notes and not feel that you are reading their paper.

Professor David A. Miller teaches acting, directing, devised theatre, and playwriting at Bloomsburg University. He regularly directs productions for BU Players (Macbeth, The Nosemakers Apprentice: Chronicles of a Plastic Surgeon) and professionally (Amphibian Stage Productions, The Artful Conspirators). 

Tuesday, September 1, 2015

How does an actor prepare for an audition? (Auditioning, Part I)

Auditions for the fall productions begin next week. Some students have auditioned before, others are auditioning for the very first time. To prepare everyone for auditions, we want to share some insights about auditioning in series of blog posts. In the first post of the series, we asked Professor David A. Miller—who teaches all levels of acting at BU and will direct this fall's production of Neighborhood 3: Requisition of Doom—five questions about auditions. 

What are auditions?
Auditions are an actor's version of a job interview. Unlike a more traditional interview, however, we start working together during the interview. The actor has a chance to act and the director has a chance to direct during an audition. The director is looking for not only someone who is talented and right for the role, but also for someone they want to work with.

How does an actor prepare for auditions?
It depends on what the audition is asking for the actor to prepare. These differ from audition to audition. If you take a look at all the auditions on right now, for example, they are asking for different things. They may be similar in some cases, but there will probably be variations. One of the "standard" things that an actor may be asked to prepare for a general audition is a monologue--a one to two minute piece of text from a play in which one character is speaking (continuously) to another character, to the audience or to themselves. For musical auditions an actor will likely be asked to prepare a song or a cutting of a song and will be asked to dance during the auditions if the musical requires dancing.

What should an actor wear to an audition?
This is always an interesting question because I don't think there's a perfect answer. My advice is to wear something that is professional, an outfit you can move in, and one that you feel good about. In this case professional does not meet formal. It's an interview for a performance position, as opposed to an office position so a suit and tie are not really expected and would likely restrict your movement.

What should an actor bring with them to an audition?
There are some things that an actor can expect at most auditions. Actors should bring a headshot (a standard photo for all actors) and a performance resume. (For auditions at Bloomsburg, you have the chance to hand write your experience and we don't require a headshot.) An actor may be asked to complete an audition form that includes their potential conflicts with the rehearsal and performance schedule. It's so important that an actor look at the calendar closely before they arrive at an audition. If they are going to be out of town for the performances, it may not make sense to audition for the show.

Do you have any other tips about auditioning? Anything that an actor should be sure to do? Anything that an an actor should be sure to avoid?
First and foremost, remember that the director wants you to do well. They are on your side. They want the best possible cast filled with open, friendly, talented folks. Be confident and be yourself. Second, be prepared. Understand what you are asked to prepare. Then be sure to prepare and over-prepare the material (because when nerves kick in, the preparation has to be there). Finally, learn as much as you can about auditioning. Take an acting class if you haven't already. Read a book; there are entire books on auditioning. My favorites are Audition by Michael ShurtleffAuditioning by Joanna Merlin and In Performance by JV Mercanti (a series of books which have a fantastic introduction about auditioning as well as a lot of great monologues). And BU students should be sure to attend the Audition Workshop, generally offered each fall, with the Division of Theatre and Dance faculty at Bloomsburg University.

Professor David A. Miller teaches acting, directing, devised theatre, and playwriting at Bloomsburg University. He regularly directs productions for BU Players (Macbeth, The Nosemakers Apprentice: Chronicles of a Plastic Surgeon) and professionally (Amphibian Stage Productions, The Artful Conspirators). 

Note: This year's Audition Workshop will be offered on Tuesday, September 1 at 6:30pm to 8:30pm in the Theatre Lab. No need to prepare anything, just show up. Auditions for BU Players productions are open to all BU students.