Monday, September 19, 2016

Let's Get to Know the Faculty: David A. Miller

We’re interested in getting to know the faculty of the Division of Theatre and Dance a little better, so we asked them a few questions. Here’s what we learned from Professor David A. Miller who teaches acting, directing and scriptwriting at Bloomsburg University.

The Robot Inventor (Then)
What first got you interested in theatre?
My first experience seems to be acting in skits in Cub Scouts. I recently rediscovered a photo of one of those. In the skit I played a Robot Inventor. Like all Cub Scout skits, it was a comedy. As my colleagues and students can attest, my interest in comedy has not diminished since that fateful Pack Meeting performance oh so many years ago.

What made you want to teach theatre?
I have always loved working with young people in a teaching or mentoring capacity. From an early age I was a babysitter. In Scouts I was regularly a leader. In grade school I wanted to be either a teacher or a professional soccer player. By the time I reached undergraduate I had dreams of teaching theatre at the college level. But there was something particularly special that happened during undergrad: When searching for a summer job I saw a posting for a part time teacher to teach visual arts and drama to 8 to 11 year old students. I was amazed at the prospect of teaching arts to young people. I don't know that I believed before that moment that I might be able to create a career teaching theatre and visual art. That was turning point for me in my marrying of my two passions of teaching and the arts.

What is your most memorable theatre experience?
Perhaps my most memorable experiences, or at least the most unique, was when I served as an understudy for a professional production in Seattle. As an actor, the job of being an understudy is fascinating and potentially nerve wracking. The understudy is the "back up" for a role or for multiple roles. The actor has to learn those roles—the lines, the stage business—and be ready to go on at a moments notice if the actor in the role cannot, for whatever reason, perform. 
For this production, Kenny's Window at Seattle Children's Theatre, it was unlikely that I was going to be called to perform. The actors I was understudying were notoriously sturdy in their health and work ethic. However, I got the call on a Sunday afternoon. (Actually, I got the page, then called back, as this was in the pre-cell phone era.) It was 20 minutes before the matinee was to begin and stage management could not get a hold of one of the actors and they could not get a hold of his understudy. I grabbed my script and ran to the theatre which was thankfully only blocks from my apartment. While wardrobe fitted the Soldier's costume to my body I rehearsed lines with the other Soldier and talked through how he would help me while we were on stage. I had seen these scenes in rehearsal, but I had never rehearsed them myself. We performed the first act with a script in my hands and my fellow Soldier whispering directions to me ("Stay here." "Sit on the bed.") By intermission the other understudy had been contacted, so I got out of the costume and he got into it to perform the second act. We came out together for the curtain call.

What is one show you would love to work on?
There are so many great plays and musicals out there... These days I am thinking a lot about the plays of Eugene O'Neill. Pig Farm by Greg Kotis is on my list. Some day I would love to direct the play Spring Awakening. There's a slew of playwrights creating new work with whom I would love to collaborate, including Brenda Withers, Erin Mallon, Catherine Weingarten.

Who would you love to work with?
There are several directors who I would love to assist. They include Ivo Van Hove, Katie Mitchell and Arin Arbus. Their work is always so clear and so compelling. I would love to be part of their process to learn more about how they approach a play script and how they work with actors and designers.

David A. Miller is a professional director, playwright and educator. He is Resident Director at Amphibian Stage Productions (Fort Worth, TX), a member of Stillwater Writers (New York, NY) and former Artistic Director of The Artful Conspirators (Brooklyn, NY).

Friday, September 2, 2016

Portrait of an Artist as a Theatre Minor (or, Five Questions for Sarah Shuren)

We wanted to get to know more about our Theatre Minors, so we are asking them each five questions. We asked student Sarah Shuren the questions and here’s what she told us.

What do you love about theatre? I’ve been involved in all sorts of art forms since I was a kid, and theatre pulls together a bunch of different aspects from all these other forms of art and combines them into a separate entity. I love being able to work with all these different art forms at once as well as experiencing the atmosphere around theatre. Every time I went to see a play or performed in one I was always so invested in the experience, it was always so moving and I could always relate to what was going on in some way. Theatre is a way to get a bunch of people together and reach out to others and help change lives, and I love getting to be a part of it

What's one show you would love to be a part of one day?One show I would love to be a part of would be HAIR. It’s my favorite musical, I’ve gone to see it multiple times. The music is one of my favorite part of the show, the costumes are another. The hippie generation is something I’ve always felt very passionate about and I’ve always loved learning about it. Being a part of a musical that was written then to make a point about how the country was going in the height of a war that was so controversial is something I would just love to do.
Sarah Shuren, fourth from left, in her senior play.

What inspired you to become a Theatre Minor?
I had been in my high school’s theatre department for six years, and when I went to college I missed it (in the photo I am in my last play senior year at my high school. My arms are crossed and I'm making a face as my character has seen a ghost and no one believes her). I decided to take a few theatre classes my second semester at Bloomsburg to get myself back into it. After another semester I decided to add theatre on as a minor instead of a second major so I could still graduate on time while still being able to be involved in the whole process.

What is your major? What made you first interested in it? My major is Mass Communications, and I originally picked it because I thought I wanted to be involved with radio. But as I got taking more and more classes I found that I enjoyed video editing more. Getting to go through a whole mess of footage and finding the best shots and arranging them all to tell a story is a lot of fun. It’s also very rewarding to see the final product of spending hours on end editing together a short clip.

If you were a fruit or vegetable, what would you be? If I were a fruit of vegetable I would probably be a strawberry. Strawberries are more of a spring/early summer fruit, and that’s my favorite time of year. It’s just starting to get warm and everything starts turning green, it’s just so beautiful that time of year. Strawberries are also my favorite fruit, so there’s some bias there.

Thursday, September 1, 2016

How to arm yourself for a musical theatre audition

In this installment, we ask Professor Julie D. Petry, MFA—who teaches all dance courses offered at BU, in addition to teaching Voice and Movement for the stage, about how to successfully audition for a musical theatre show.  Julie will choreograph this fall's production of The Rocky Horror Show, and serves each spring as the Artistic Director for the annual Dance Minor Concert.

How does one prepare for a Musical Theatre audition?
Most of the same rules apply when auditioning for a musical that would apply if you were auditioning for a play.  For example, you should know the show’s plot (if it isn’t a brand new one), be aware of the roles that fit your playable range (both physical type and vocal range), and know if the show requires you to dance, use a dialect, play an instrument, or anything else you can learn about it in advance.  You should be prepared to sing, act and dance! If you don’t have dance training, get some.  If you don’t have vocal lessons in your history, start training immediately.  The competition in regional theatres across the US is strong.  There are many triple threats in the world.  What is a triple threat?  It means there are many fellow artists who have trained in all three areas their whole life.  So….to be your best self, you should strengthen yourself in all three areas.  And, lastly, (of course) plan to bring an updated headshot and resume that reflects both the musicals and plays you’ve performed in, as well as the performance training you’ve had in acting, singing and dancing. 

Always prepare both a song book and a monologue book:
One should always have a broad selection of rehearsed pieces collected in a binder that you know fit your vocal range and playable type.  Just like you want to have an arsenal of monologues ranging from classical to comedic to contemporary, you want to have an arsenal of musical theatre repertoire that covers up-tempos, ballads, classical pieces, country, holiday tunes, and rock/pop selections.  This will prepare you for any type of show.  Additionally, you should have both shorter and longer versions of all of your audition material.  For example, have 16 bars of every type of song in your arsenal, but also have a version that is 24 to 32 bars long.  Further, it is best to know the whole song you are presenting that day in case you are asked to keep going. Do note, however, in every musical audition you may well be cut off in the middle of your song if you provide more than was originally requested, so only initially plan to sing whatever the audition calls for. Mainly, you just want to have several options at the ready.  It is quite common a director may ask you to sing another type of selection, or to hear a bit more of the piece you’ve chosen, if they want to gauge your flexibility, vocal range, and/or preparedness.

What part of the song should I choose for my cut?
Recently, my artist friend was asked to sing 8 bars, and 8 bars only, during her NYC equity audition.  Terrifically, she was offered the part. This is because the 8 bars she chose were carefully selected to showcase the highlights of her voice.  Her amazing range, pitch-perfect ear, powerful use of breath-control, and her acting techniques were all sized up that quickly by the auditioning team, who saw hundreds of performers that day. The golden rule, anything that comes out of your mouth needs to be your absolute best work.  Don’t sing a note that is sometimes shaky.  Don’t pick something that is new and that you haven’t already rehearsed a hundred times. And, definitely absolutely do not pick something because it sounds great when your friend sings it, or it sounds amazing on the cast recording.  You need to pick what fits your voice, and your voice alone.  If you are a character performer, show that.  If you are a soprano who hits high A’s, show that!  Figure out what your personal vocal/acting strengths are and work to showcase them.  And, remember, to finish strong.  In musical auditions, the directors are looking for “the money note”. That’s an extra special moment that will wow everyone.  This may mean the way you growl on some special word, hold out a note a bit longer than usual, or belt out your final phrase with such energy that you become unforgettable after they hear the next 50 people.  You want to leave a lasting impression on everyone in the room.

Should I prepare the song like a monologue?
YES! You should understand your given circumstances, experience “the moment before”, a final moment of resolution, know who you’re singing to in the song, know how this piece fits in the character’s journey within the show, and be able to introduce the piece like you would a monologue. i.e. “Today I’ll be singing ‘Far From the Home I Love’ from Fiddler.” Once you have introduced the piece, nod to the accompanist to start.  As soon as you hear one note, you should immediately be in character.  If there is music following your last word, remain in character until the music ends, and even a slight beat thereafter.

Can I sing from the show?
You should definitely pick something in the style of the show, but avoid songs from the show unless it states in the audition call this is acceptable.  They don’t want to hear the same pieces all day.  Also, keep in mind they need to know your vocal range.  Be prepared to answer, “I am a mezzo soprano, and can sing from a low G to a high G” (for example). If you don’t know your vocal range and type, you should find a private vocal coach and take some lessons.  You will learn exercises to develop your range, and understand your vocal potential much faster this way.

What is a Cattle Call and how do I survive one?
Following your singing audition, you may be lucky enough to be asked to stay and dance. You should always approach this with positivity, regardless of your background training.  During a dance call, you will likely dance with several people around you, watching you.  Possibly, there will be so many individuals, it will fill the room and you won’t have much space to move.  This is known as a cattle call.  Sometimes, this can make it challenging to pick up the movement material being given/demonstrated by the choreographer, as space is limited and, therefore, so is sight.  However, stay focused, and move to another area if you can see better.   Avoid getting lost in the mirror watching others, or counting in your head.  Rather, assign names to the steps you are being shown, so you can memorize them quickly.  Example: Kick, kick, drop, jump, kick, turn.  The choreographer may shout out words like the above, or right/left, and/or counts.  However, to memorize, stick with names, or you will forget what “one, two, three” was by the time you learn “eight, nine, ten.”  Eventually, once everyone learns the material, you will break down into smaller groups to perform for the Director/Choreographer.  Do not try to hide in the back.  Just do your best with what you’ve got.  If there are stronger dancers in the room, oh well.  See it with humor and stay focused on doing your best work.  And, absolutely make sure you are wearing something that shows the lines of your body.  Form fitted attire that is meant for movement.  (Purchase some actual dance wear/athletic wear). If you are singing first, you can either plan to change in between calls, or layer dancewear underneath your preferred singing attire.  

For more information about BU Players auditions, which are open to all Bloomsburg University students, visit