BLACK LIVES MATTER. BLACK TALENT MATTERS.

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      Call Board: a theatrik blog

      The Art of the Slate

      "Hello, my name is " nametag

      It’s amazing how the words, “Hi, my name is _____” can become so nerve-wracking and angst-ridden once the camera is rolling. Slates are a vital part of an audition, though many might think of them as more of a necessary evil. So why are slates so difficult? To the chagrin of many, standing still and introducing yourself while exuding charm and trying to appear oh-so-perfect for the role can be an anxiety-inducing challenge. This feeling is magnified when you are trying to self-tape and don’t have the energy from the director/producer/casting associate in the audition room. The good news is slates don’t have to be terrifying, and the more you do them the easier they become.

      There are two schools of thought when it comes to slates. The first is that you should slate as yourself. In other words, introduce yourself as you, not the character you are trying to play. Allow your own personality to come through in those first few seconds before you launch into the scene. The second school of thought is that you should slate in character. So which do you choose? Different casting directors will have different preferences, and sometimes these preferences change depending on the project.

      Sometimes you can determine what kind of slate you should do based on the information you have about the project. If you are doing a general open call as a way to introduce yourself to a casting office, it’s probably a safe bet to go with the first school of thought. Be yourself. You’ve probably heard the phrase “You’re auditioning for the room, not the role.” An open call allows casting directors to meet actors they haven’t worked with yet, and they want to know what it is they’ll get if they call you in for a project. They want to get to know YOU.

      If, however, you’re auditioning for a director or producer who has auditioned you before and already knows you or your work, then slating in character is perfectly acceptable and possibly even preferred. This is especially true if the scene is particularly emotional or dramatic (it would be rather jarring for an actor to walk in and slate with a smile and bubbly personality and then launch into a tearful funeral scene). Use your best judgment. To that note, you also don’t want to scare those that are in the audition room. If the role is an angry, loud-mouthed character who is constantly shouting, that doesn’t necessarily mean you need to yell your name right into the director’s face.

      If you’ve done the work and are mentally prepared for the scene before you walk into the audition room, the slate will come naturally. Often, I find the most organic slates come from a combination of the two aforementioned options. If you get yourself into the mindset of the character before you walk into the audition room, you’ll set the right tone in those first few seconds before you begin the scene.

       

      Q & A with Director Matt Miller

      Recently I chatted with Matt Miller, a Chicago-based industry professional who has been working in the arts for more than twenty years. Here he discusses navigating jobs through a pandemic and his thoughts on the future of theatre and tv/film production.

       

      What is your job title?

      I'm a director. Plays and commercials mostly.


      How long have you been doing that?

      I've been directing theatre professionally since I moved to Chicago in 1999. I've been directing commercials now for the last six years.


      I’m sure COVID-19 has caused quite a disruption in your occupation. Are you working or are things at a standstill?

      Live theatre is at a dead stop and will be for a long time I fear.

      Commercial and TV/Film production stopped for a couple months when quarantine began back in March, but, as we have learned more about the virus and how to contain it, production has adapted and slowly re-started. Commercial production pivoted quickly to user generated content at the beginning of quarantine and now more traditional shoots are happening with new protocols, social distancing, and on-set COVID compliance officers in charge of keeping everyone safe.


      How is your job different now than it was before the pandemic?

      In May I directed a commercial for Lowe's that took place in four locations across the country (LA, Chicago, Alabama, and New Jersey) all through Zoom. That was definitely a very different experience and not something I ever anticipated doing. I don't think anyone liked working that way, but we were able to keep people safe and capture some good content that the client loved. I can see that kind of shoot happening again.

      Matt Miller on set


      What are the biggest challenges you’ve faced while working during this time?

      With the return of commercial production, the biggest challenge has been keeping actors safe. For crew, there are all kinds of protocols and procedures in place. However, most of those safety practices are rendered ineffective when you need to put actors in a scene together without masks. Right now most productions are casting actors or families who are already quarantined together to reduce risk. This will probably be the norm for the rest of this year at least until testing can become more readily available.


      Has anything good or pleasantly unexpected come from being quarantined?

      Well, on a national level I feel like our country is more actively wrestling with the many social inequalities and injustices that have long been allowed to fester in a culture that normally likes to serve up plenty of distractions. I think that has been positive and hopefully continues.

      On a personal level, I'm trying to use this time to read more and work on projects around the house that I have been too busy for previously. My girlfriend and I are also growing tomatoes on the back deck and they are straight up delicious.


      What are your thoughts on how you see the industry moving forward?

      For a time, I do think that anything that can be done remotely through Zoom will be. Already clients and ad agencies are watching shoots via Zoom rather than being present on set. Now that this option has been tested, that approach may be something that sticks as it's a big time and money saver. Casting directors have been able to use the break-out room feature in Zoom to good effect and virtual casting sessions have become more standard. This development puts more responsibility on actors especially to have quality at-home set ups for recording with proper lighting, backdrop, and microphones. So I think we are going to see--and already are seeing--the rise of the home recording studio for actors. While I think we will get back to in-person casting sessions when it's safe, I would not be surprised if Zoom casting sessions remain in the mix after the pandemic.


      What advice can you share with actors as they navigate through this crazy time?

      Read fiction. Engage with challenging stories. An actor's best tool is their imagination and reading fiction helps keep that blade sharp in the absence of actual stage or screen time. And, on a practical level, today's novel is tomorrow's movie.

       

      Check out some of Matt's work at mattmillerdirect.com.

      It's Theatrik, with a "K"

      At the start of January, the year 2020 seemed full of promise. (Pause for laughter). I was eating healthier (not really) and exercising more (no, but I had EVERY intention to), and “Cheer” on Netflix had me believing I was fully equipped to judge a national cheerleading competition, should the unlikely opportunity present itself. Nevermind the fact that I began the year with a concussion, thanks to my unusually strong eight-year-old niece and her new virtual reality punching game. In hindsight, I should have viewed that as an omen.

      But I felt more than ready to tackle my personal goals head-on. In addition to my freelance business of coaching actors and recording their self-tapes, an idea had been brewing for quite some time to incorporate a retail aspect into my work. In 2017 I launched an LLC making and selling candles with an entertainment theme. I loved it - experimenting with different fragrance oils, the trial-and-error of figuring out which wicks worked in which candles, marketing the product - it was all new and terrifying and exciting. But it was only the beginning.

      From the start I knew the business wouldn’t just be about candles. Once I learned 

      Kate, founder of Theatrik, age 7 or 8

      the basics of getting a company up and running, I was ready to branch out into what I’d always wanted the business to be: a retail shop for actors. Why actors? Because I’ve spent practically my entire life in the arts. It’s my passion. I truly can’t imagine working in any other industry. Starting at a very young age, I was either dancing in a recital (see pic of my fancy "Red, Red Robin" costume), performing in a play or studying theatre in school. During the summers I would make home movies using my grandparents’ colossal video camera (the kind you had to hoist up onto your shoulder), complete with theme music and closing credits written in crayon on 8.5” x 11” pieces of paper.

      If you’re an actor, you know a lot is required of you at any given time: have a resume and headshot available at a moment’s notice (in fact, have multiple looks for the headshot); have a monologue prepared at all times - make that several monologues, from various genres and time periods; be able to produce and submit a self-taped audition with little notice; rearrange your schedule for those last-minute auditions; hear the word “no” A LOT and then be expected to get up and do it all again the next day; the list goes on. My goal with this company is to make your life just a bit easier by providing some of the tools needed to help you along the way. At the start of this year (back to the whole being “full of promise” thing), I rebranded my website, changed the name of the company and began expanding my inventory. Whether it’s plays, stage makeup, filming equipment, rehearsal gear, or even a gift for your roommate who helped you run lines, I hope you are able to find it at Theatrik. If you can’t, let me know and I’ll see if I can make it available in the future.

      Of course, we all know what happened as the year progressed. With the global pandemic still wreaking havoc all around the world, lives have been uprooted, careers have been halted, and the arts industry - like so many others - has taken a devastating hit. In addition, we are confronted every day with the racial injustice that continues to plague this country. We as a society are facing a reckoning with our own biases, and must acknowledge the inequities we have all borne witness to as well as helped perpetuate. We have a long way to go.

      My heart aches for all those young theatre kids who didn’t get to perform their final play at the end of the school year, the kids who are missing performing arts camp, the graduates who were planning to attend an arts program in the Fall, the kids who don’t get any arts education at their schools, the performers whose shows ended abruptly, the artists whose work has been pushed to the side time and time again because of the color of their skin, the theaters whose doors have closed permanently because of the pandemic…it is easy to get lost in a sea of negativity. However, there is one thing I know for sure: art survives. Artists are always creating, therefore art will always exist. And if the current health crisis has taught us anything, it’s that we NEED art. I don’t know about you, but I have watched more shows and read more books in the last four months than I did probably all of last year, thanks to the artists who created them.

      While I didn’t envision launching my arts retail company at a time when the arts industry is effectively shut down, my goals for Theatrik have not changed. Theatre will be back. Productions will resume. Artists will continue to create. And Theatrik will be here.

      Kate McCoy Signature