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      Call Board: a theatrik blog

      Happy Birthday, Theatrik!

      Balloons and confettiIt’s been exactly one year since I posted the first blog piece for Theatrik (check out “It’s Theatrik, with a ‘K’”), so essentially that makes today Theatrik’s first birthday! Shortly after writing that piece I officially opened Theatrik’s online shop to customers, selling actor-centric items such as light kits, backdrops, plays and stage makeup, along with gift items including candles, cards and stickers. Over time the inventory has grown and changed, but the overall goal remains the same: provide affordable products and resources to actors so they can “break a leg” without breaking the bank.

      One of the best parts of owning this business is getting feedback from customers. For example, on social media many of you expressed your dislike for the traditional dark blue pop-up backdrops because the color is not very flattering on camera. Thus, I began looking at other color possibilities and found a manufacturer that could produce backdrops more suitable for self-tape purposes.

      Your feedback is invaluable to a small business owner like myself. Ordered something from Theatrik recently? I’d love for you to leave a review! Looking for a particular play? Let me know and I’ll try to get it in the shop. Need other equipment for your self-tapes, but having trouble finding it? Drop me a line - I’ll see if it’s something I can make available.

      Aside from products, what resources would you like Theatrik to provide? Perhaps you’d like to read more interviews with industry professionals, or you’d like to learn more about the different crew jobs on a set. The more feedback you provide the better I can serve you.

      Most importantly, I want you to know how much I appreciate your input, so I’m offering you a special discount. Just email your feedback to hello@shoptheatrik.com, and I’ll reply with a discount code you can use in the shop. It’s a birthday treat for us both!

      Answers to Your Self-Tape Questions: Part One

      Self-tapes are here to stay, and for those new to recording their own auditions it can be a confusing and sometimes frustrating territory to navigate. I've compiled a list of a few of the questions I've received followed by my answers, and will be answering more in later blog posts. If you have a self-tape question you'd like answered, reach out on social media @shoptheatrik, or email hello@shoptheatrik.com

       

      Do I have to have a reader or can I pre-record the other characters’ lines and play them from my phone?

      A reader who is there with you in person is always your best option. It gives you someone to play off of in the scene. However, there might be times when having a reader there with you is not possible. You could pre-record the other characters’ lines but then you’re likely stuck constantly hitting pause and play during your take. It’s hard to concentrate on acting when your focus is on cueing up the other lines, unless you time your recording just right that you can play it straight through and still get your lines in. An alternative is to reach out on social media - there are Facebook groups specifically for actors looking for readers. Additionally, there are a number of apps designed for this very purpose. A quick internet search should lead you to a healthy list. You can also check out this Backstage article “13 Apps Every Actor Should Use.”

       

      For musical auditions, should I sing a cappella or try to find an accompanist?

      Unless your audition instructions specify otherwise, you’ll likely want to have accompaniment. You could certainly hire someone to play the music for you live, or you could record them playing it and make your self-tape without them present. However, finding an accompanist is not always possible. Playing the music from your phone is totally acceptable and pretty standard for a self-tape. If the music isn’t provided by the casting office, you can likely find it on the internet.

       

      Is light from a window sufficient?

      Natural sunlight is great and usually looks good on camera. However, you shouldn’t rely on a window as your sole lighting component. What if the sun moves or is covered by clouds in the middle of your recording? The lighting will change on camera and might not be consistent throughout your audition. What if the sun is so bright you have to squint to get through your audition? Or what if you have to record at night and don’t have the benefit of natural sunlight? You’ll want to invest in a good lighting kit to ensure you can be clearly seen on camera.

       

      How do I prevent shadows from showing up on my backdrop?

      Shadows appear when you are standing too close to your backdrop. Moving closer to camera and further away from the backdrop will reduce shadows. You can also adjust your lighting device to a different position to help prevent shadows.

       

      Are “ring light eyes” really a big deal?

      Yes. If you are using a ring light, depending on how it’s positioned the ring of light can completely cover the irises, so the actor’s eyes appear to be “glowing.” If this happens it becomes difficult for a director to focus on the performance because, as you can imagine, glowing eyes can be rather distracting (not to mention creepy). If you use a ring light, try turning it around and bouncing the light off a white wall or reflector screen, or adjusting the height of the light so it’s not directly centered on your face.

       

      Do I need a backdrop or can I use a plain wall?

      A wall works just fine if you can paint it a light color that flatters your skin tone. White or beige walls usually don’t look great on camera and are often unflattering for the actor.

       

      What color backdrop is best to use?

      You should use a color that is flattering for your skin tone. Light blue tends to look good on all skin tones, but light gray and light pink are also great options for some. Avoid yellows and greens - these colors tend to make your skin look yellow or green on camera. Many actors use a dark blue backdrop, as it is widely available on such sites as Amazon, but the color isn’t flattering for everyone. You should also avoid colors that are too bright - you don’t want your backdrop to distract from your performance. Muted, light colors work best to ensure the focus remains on the actor’s performance and not what is happening in the background.

       

      Is an external microphone necessary or will the mic from my phone suffice?

      While it’s fine to use your phone’s microphone to record your sound, an external mic will enhance the overall quality of your audition. Lavalier microphones are great because they are small and can clip onto an actor’s clothing. The sound is clearer than a phone’s mic and it is easier to cut out the background noise.

       

      Keep those questions coming! Confused about how to edit your takes and send the file? Unsure what to do when the scene includes a kiss? I'll be answering more of your self-tape questions in future blog posts.

      Q & A with One of Hollywood's Most In-Demand Stand-Ins

      Kyle Humphrey didn't move to Los Angeles to become a stand-in. In fact, she had decided to leave the entertainment business altogether until one phone call changed everything. Now she's making quite a name for herself as the go-to stand-in for such A-listers as Meryl Streep and Julia Roberts. I recently interviewed Kyle when she had a break from set to find out what exactly her job entails and how she built this career for herself.

      First off, could you explain exactly what it is a stand-in does?

      Stand-ins are really important on set because we help the DP (Director of Photography) and camera department light the actors and set up the shots. It is also usually our job to let the actors know if anything changes in their scene. What happens initially is that the actors will come in to rehearse their scene. Stand-ins will have a script and take notes on everything that their respective actor does (i.e. when they walk across the room, what hand they pick up their cup with, on what word they sit down, etc.). After the rehearsal the actors will go get ready (hair/makeup/wardrobe) and the crew will then use stand-ins in place of the actors. It is your responsibility to know exactly what your actor does in that scene! If the Director or DP changes something they might ask you to tell the actor about the change. For example: "I don't want your actor to cross across the room at this point, instead do it here.” It's also helpful (and sometimes required) that the stand-in look similar to the actor they are standing in for in terms of height, weight and hair color.

      How did you become a stand-in?

      Weirdly, I became a stand-in when I was looking to get out of the entertainment business. When I moved to LA I started booking infomercials, hosting gigs, a few commercials and a role in a movie. [Acting jobs] were few and far between though and I was working three other jobs at the same time, so I was hustling like crazy. I partnered with a friend of mine to start a casting/management company. Sadly, shortly after we teamed up he passed away. I decided then that I was done with the entertainment industry and began a new job as General Manager of a restaurant. After about a year I got a phone call from Bill Dance of Bill Dance Casting. I'll always remember his message... "Hey Kyle, this is Bill Dance. I'm not sure if you live in LA anymore or if you are still in the business at all, but Matthew Weiner, from The Sopranos, is creating a new show called Mad Men. One of the leads is Talia Balsam and you look exactly like her (which I do, ha!). We were wondering if you'd like to stand in for her on his new show?” I had just paid off all my bills as the GM of the restaurant, I was tired of working 80 hours a week and I had come to terms with the loss of my friend enough to possibly get back into the business, but I seriously had no clue what a stand-in did on set. I figured I'd go to the wardrobe fitting and see what it was all about (on Mad Men stand-ins also did background, so we were fitted with 1960s costumes). It was one of the best decisions of my life and Mad Men remains one of the best shows that I've ever worked on to this day.

      What are some things standing in has taught you about TV/film and being on set that you didn’t know before?

      Wow, this is a great question! I actually learn something new about TV/film every single day that I stand in. I've been standing in non-stop now for 13-14 years and it has been better than any acting class that I've ever taken. You are on set every day, you are a valuable part of the crew, you see the show from beginning to end...the opportunities to learn are endless.

      Has standing in ever led to acting jobs for you?

      I've been written into a film (Cat City) just by standing in on it, gotten a role on a TV sitcom (Young & Hungry) by standing in on it and gotten three voice-over gigs (Young & Hungry, Fuller House and Hot in Cleveland) all by standing in on the shows. This isn't typical, but it's not unusual either. Directors, writers, and producers all get to see you act, they get to see your level of professionalism and maturity...it's a great opportunity to shine! But, you also need to stay in your own lane. Don't overstep your bounds and try to become “BFFs” with your actor or any of the “higher-ups.” Just do your job and do it well! Many stand-ins will wander off, fall asleep on set, not pay attention...trust me, that is ALL noticed. This is a job just like an office job and you should always, always treat it as one. I think one thing that I learned as a stand-in is that acting really is hard work. It's very long hours and not always in the best conditions. I've worked in pouring rain, in hail, in sleet/snow, in 120 degree heat...I've done 15-hour days five days a week for seven months, and more Fraturdays than I can ever count (a Fraturday is when you go to set on Friday but you don't stop shooting until Saturday morning). Acting is a commitment. It's not all the glitz & glamour shown about Hollywood. You have to know your lines, hit your marks, be dedicated and BE GOOD.

      Can a person make a career out of standing in?

      Yes, you can absolutely make a career out of standing in. I did! It'll take a while to make the connections you need to make, but once you gain experience and trust from higher-ups you'll get called in repeatedly from the same people. When I was doing only multi-cam stand-in work I had three different ADs (Assistant Directors) who basically took me to every show with them. If they didn't have a show at the time they would pass my name on to other ADs who were looking for an excellent stand-in. When I got into single-cam shows the same thing happened...I was requested by a few ADs continuously, as well as recommended by the head of Casting from various casting companies. As I stated before, professionalism, maturity and experience will always shine. Don't be late, don’t cause drama, stay in your lane and you'll work a ton. Once you become a recurring stand-in you also become eligible for SAG Health Insurance and SAG Pension. This year I became vested in my pension which means I'll have it when I retire.

      Do you have to be SAG to be a stand-in?

      I know that in LA you don't have to be SAG to be a stand-in, but I’m not sure about the New York, Atlanta, Chicago or Canada markets. It's actually an excellent way to get a SAG voucher (note: not all markets operate on the voucher system). If you're non-union and you happen to be on set doing background work it's always possible (and happens frequently) that an AD will need an additional stand-in. They'll scan the people who are there and see who looks like a good match for the actor. If that happens to be you and you're non-union, you are usually given a SAG voucher for the upgrade, and you can tell casting companies that hire stand-ins that you now have experience. Again, this is just another reason for you to always, always be professional on set. If you're there as a background artist but you're sleeping/late/goofing off, you’re the last person they'll think about upgrading to a stand-in position.

      What steps should a person take if they want to become a stand-in?

      I would say that if you want to become a stand-in you should get on set as much as possible. Doing background work gets you seen by a lot of people, attending any classes at casting companies will get you noticed and networking helps a lot as well. I'm an avid networker! Go to social events that are being held by your local theaters (once it's Covid-safe, of course), go to meet & greets for fellow actors, attend workshops, etc. - anything to learn more about the craft and also be seen and network. Central Casting, the largest background/stand-in casting company in all of CA, holds monthly stand-in classes where they teach actors how to stand-in. I think Backstage magazine might hold a few too. We all create our own opportunities, so go out and create yours!

      What are some memorable experiences, positive or negative, you’ve had while working as a stand-in?

      Memorable experiences, wow! So many...both good and bad. Mad Men will always be dear to my heart because it was my first full-time stand-in gig. I got close to a core group of ladies who were also stand-ins on the show and I've remained friends with them to this day. Standing in for Meryl Streep was a huge moment for me too. I covered Meryl for the entire run of Big Little Lies-Season 2. Working with and around Meryl, Reese Witherspoon, Laura Dern and the fabulous Nicole Kidman was a dream come true.

      Wow! Standing in for Meryl Streep - that sounds amazing!

      It was incredible! We shot in Monterey and Carmel for three to four months. We were put up in a nice hotel, paid a per diem each day and were carried for the entire run of the show (being 'carried' means that you are paid for the entire run of the show whether you work or not. You are basically on-call though, so if the schedule changes at the last minute and your actor ends up working, you have to be available, too). After we wrapped on that show, Meryl requested me to stand in for her yet again when she shot the film The Laundromat with Director Steven Soderbergh. We shot all over LA, flew to Vegas for two days to shoot, took a bus to Arrowhead for a few days to shoot and then wrapped back in LA. I ended up standing in for Meryl, Sharon Stone, Antonio Banderas and Gary Oldman. A once-in-a-lifetime experience, for sure!

      Are there any other celebrities you've worked with that stand out to you?

      I spent five seasons standing in for Wendie Malick on Hot in Cleveland and we became fast friends. Now I hike with her, go to her house and she frequently requests me to stand in for her on her national commercials, pilots, TV shows and films. She is an incredible person with a true heart - totally down-to-earth, passionate about animal rights and just an all-around lovely person. And yes, I did work with Betty White for five seasons, too! Although I wasn't her stand-in I spent many, many hours on set with her talking and joking around. She is a true gem.

      Those sound like some pretty incredible experiences.

      Yes, for sure. Other positive experiences are, of course, what I mentioned above about being upgraded to day-player or voice-over roles while on set. I worked with the same director, Andy Cadiff, on a number of sitcoms. He upgraded me three different times to principal roles. As far as negative experiences, well, there will always be those in this business. You come across challenging actors, difficult stand-ins that you may have to work with for a long time, unpleasant location shoots and then the (almost always) young PA (Production Assistant) who thinks it's his job to treat you like crap. However, now that the Me Too and Black Lives Matter movements have come about, those experiences are fewer and far between.

      This has been great! Anything else you'd like to add?

      As far as becoming a stand-in, it's not something I ever sought out or thought I'd do for a living, but it's been quite a ride! I've worked with the best-of-the-best and I'll have stories to tell for the rest of my life. I have a SAG pension, I have continuous health coverage, I make a decent living financially and I've met some wonderful people on set who are now my best friends. I'm currently standing in for Julia Roberts on her new show with Sean Penn, and I never would have been considered for this opportunity without the professionalism and experience I've gathered through the course of these years.

      IMDB: Kyle Humphrey

      The Pros and Cons of Working as an Extra

      Some actors look at it as a gig for when they’re in between jobs. Other actors frown upon it and feel it’s not worth their time. And some actors who are new to the industry don’t even realize it’s an option. I’m talking about background, or being an extra.

      Background work certainly isn’t glamorous and probably not what a lot of actors have in mind when they decide to pursue this profession, but it is a job (and can pay pretty well, too). As with any job, there are pros and cons:

      PROS
      Money (particularly if you are SAG)
      If you’re non-union, then no, you won’t be making a ton (but it’s still a paycheck). If you are union, however, you will receive a higher rate. Additionally, you get pay bumps for a variety of things (i.e. if actors are smoking in the scene you are an extra in, you get a smoke bump; if the scene requires you be sprayed with water, you get a wet bump; if you have a car the production uses in the scene - even if it’s just parked - you get paid extra for your car; the list goes on). For SAG members, background work can count towards your insurance when the acting jobs are lacking.

      Possible Upgrades
      It is possible to earn your SAG card by doing background. When you do background you receive a voucher - union members get union vouchers and non-union members get non-union vouchers. However, occasionally a non-union extra might be upgraded to work on a union voucher. This happens in a variety of ways, such as they are featured prominently in a commercial or they are hired because of a special skill. You need three union vouchers to become SAG-eligible. However, not all cities operate on the voucher system, which can make it harder to earn your SAG card this way.

      On-Set Experience
      For actors just getting started in their professional careers, working as an extra can provide invaluable experience. You learn what it’s like to be in front of the camera, common set terms and rules (i.e. “back to one” - resetting back to your first position of the shot - and “MPV” - Meal Penalty Violation), and the various jobs of others (i.e. 1st AD vs. 2nd AD vs. 2nd 2nd).



      CONS
      Availability…or lack thereof
      If you commit to a background gig you become unavailable for other work that day, as well as auditions. So if your agent sends you a last-minute audition for the following day, but you’ve already booked work as an extra, you are going to lose out somewhere. With self-tapes becoming more and more common hopefully conflicts like these become less frequent. It’s never a good idea to cancel a background job once you’ve already booked it, as this will hurt your reputation with your background service (a service that provides job postings and arranges the details for extras). However, you also don’t want to cancel an audition. It can be a tricky path to navigate as an actor.

      Getting Stuck
      Background work can be a pretty decent gig, especially when acting jobs are few and far between. The more background you do, the more connections you make and the more work you can book. As more paychecks come in it can be tempting to rely on the guaranteed income rather than pursue auditions, causing you to get stuck in a rut of working as an extra rather than pursuing your acting dreams.

      It is not glamorous
      While there are definitely pros to working as an extra, it can at times feel, well, somewhat soul-sucking. Large calls can be particularly dreadful. Extras holding - the space where background waits until needed for the scene - can be anything from folding chairs set up under a tent outside to a large warehouse. It’s often uncomfortable (those who do background on a regular basis often invest in their own chair they bring to set in order to be more comfortable). It’s easy to feel like you are just a number, one in a crowd being herded from one spot to another. There is a lot of downtime - many bring a book or some other activity they can do to pass the time. It can be a long, slow day with little activity and not much artistic reward.

      Despite the cons, I think it’s a good idea for actors to work as an extra at least once, if for no other reason than to have the experience of being on set. I have worked as an extra myself, as well as a stand-in, and learned far more about tv and film sets than I ever learned in my college theatre courses (we didn’t have a film program at my school). For those interested in getting into background work, I recommend seeking out a background service that is responsible for booking extras (a simple internet search should return some results). It will be far easier to find these resources in larger cities such as LA, Atlanta and Chicago than it will be in towns without a tv/film industry presence. If you do live in an area where working as an extra is an option, go on and give it a try! You’ll gain experience and make a little money along the way.

       

       

       

       

      The Art of the Slate, Part 2

      Personality Questions horror banner

      This post is a follow up to the previous entry about slates titled The Art of the Slate. In that post I discuss the basics of giving a clean, professional slate while still allowing your personality to shine. But what about those slates that ask for answers to specific personality questions? They’re the dreaded “tell us a little about yourself” type of questions that require actors to think on their feet while being funny/charming/approachable/charismatic/professional all in one. These types of questions range from such topics as favorite color to “If you had to choose between being a giraffe or an octopus, which would it be?” Um, what? Or the questions could be a bit more vague, with instructions to “give your name and tell us three things about yourself.”

      "...there are two types of personality questions:

      the kind you can prep

      and the kind you can't."

      So how does one prepare for these types of questions? First, let’s talk about their purpose. The reason these are sometimes included in an actor’s slate instructions are simply for those watching your audition to get a sense of who you are. They are trying to determine if you are someone they want to work with and would be compatible with the others booked on the job. Second, there are two types of personality questions: the kind you can prep and the kind you can’t. Obviously if you are submitting via self-tape you can rehearse your answers to all the questions, which has its pros and cons. Pros: you can ease your nerves about having to think on your feet and deliver a polished yet funny/charming/charismatic answer. Cons: your answer becomes too polished and you lose that sense of personality in your delivery. It’s a bit of a Catch-22. If you are in fact asked to answer personality questions in your self-tape, try not to allow yourself too many takes. You want your answers to feel genuine and not overly rehearsed.

      If you are auditioning in person, the thought of answering personality questions can be a bit daunting, so let’s first focus on the answers you can prepare in advance:

      • Have your “favorites” locked down. These include things such as your favorite color, food, movie/book, etc. You probably won’t get asked these often, which is why if you do it’s easy to get thrown off. If you have answers already prepared for these you’ll find it’s easier to talk about why they’re your favorites, which in turn will allow your personality to come through.
      • Have a short joke prepared. In fact, have two. Every once in a blue moon you might be asked if you know any jokes. This isn’t meant to throw an actor off - it likely means the director likes you and just wants to get a feel for your sense of humor when it’s not scripted on the page. Having a joke or two in your back pocket will keep you calm in this situation and allow you to actually have fun rather than freak out.
      • Identify some fun or interesting facts you can share about yourself. Perhaps you have a unique talent, such as you can hold a handstand for nine full minutes, or you’ve been taking clogging lessons for fifteen years. Maybe all the females in your family are twins, or you’re the first in your family to graduate college. When given the dreaded prompt, “Tell us a little about yourself,” many actors resort to basic info such as “I’m from Milwaukee and I have two dogs.” While that’s fine, it doesn’t really say a lot about the person. If you can highlight some of the unique things that make you you, your audition will be far more memorable.
      • Make note of anything particularly funny or interesting that occurs during the week. Funny observations can often be useful in an audition setting, and are another tool to have in your back pocket.

      For those questions in which the answers are impossible to prepare, such as, “If you were an ice cream flavor, which would you be and why,” it can be easy to get caught up in your head thinking of the “right” answer. The thing is, there is no right answer, which in a way is really freeing. Oftentimes these types of questions are asked simply to catch different facial expressions, particularly if the scene is MOS (without sound). Have fun with these! You honestly can't give an incorrect answer. Directors really do just want to see your personality shine through.

      Preparation, along with knowing why you are being asked these questions in the first place, can help take the awkwardness out of your slate and make for a far more successful audition.