the day to day of a professional actor in the San Francisco Bay Area

mostly the day to day of a professional actor in the San Francisco Bay Area, but also the home of the Counting Actors Project

Saturday, May 26, 2012

large female casts, women at tech conferences & counting actors reminder

Some fantastic links to point out:

First, a list of plays with 6 or more characters, and 5 or more roles for women is here.  Lots of links, lots of opportunties.

Next, an OT article with a lot of resonances for the theater field is Courtney Stanton's 'How I got 50% Women Speakers at my tech conference'  Take a look!  (and thanks Alicia Coombes for the link).

Also, if you've seen a show or are working on a show with performances in May, send me that info so it can be included in the May Counting Actors post.  It's not too early to send in things for June too! How to send is here.

Sunday, May 20, 2012

On working for free

If you really think about it, working for free is the wrong name.  When we don't get paid, we're actually working for less than free - because we spend money on gas and/or transit and/or tolls; we might wear our own suit on the indie film and then have to get it dry cleaned afterwards;  they might ask us to get a certain hair cut, or the character really needs to wear lipstick and eye shadow that we'd never wear in our civilian life.  So, we end up losing money in order to participate in the project!

So, why not ask (or negotiate) for compensation for these expenses.  You're donating your time and energy, so maybe they can pay for your bridge tolls, or create a clothing allowance, or give you a make up store gift card in return.  When a stipend offsets your total expenses, then you're actually working for free. 

Set a bar for yourself.  It can be scary, and you may feel like you're limiting opportunities for yourself.  In the long run though, dropping those free projects will allow you to be available when projects that offer compensation for your time and energy come along.

However, if you do choose to work for free or less than free, have a very good reason to do so.  I have worked for free or less than free when it: 1) gave me the opportunity to meet people in the position to hire me for future work 2) allowed me to learn or practice a new skill related to my acting 3) would result in me getting some amazing new marketing materials for myself - photos, footage, etc.  4) promoted a cause or organization that I strongly believed in.

Value yourself and others will see your value.

Friday, May 18, 2012

#TBACON takeaways

Due to my usual juggling of jobs, I wasn't able to get to the conference until after the keynote speaker had finished, and I didn't get to stay for any programming after 4pm.  The TBA Chatterbox blog has a post with several different perspectives on the conference, and comments on many things that I wasn't able to attend. 

The first thing I was able to attend was the Season Selection and Local Acting Landscape panel.  I wasn't sure what this would really address, but it turned out to be a glimpse into the mind of people who make casting decisions.  There was some terrific discussion around how they all talk to each other ALL THE TIME.  They are constantly having conversations about 'do you know any actors who fit this specific type that I should be seeing?'.   My take-away - always go to the audition, and focus on the relationship you're building over time, not just whether or not you got this part this one time.  The other topic they really delved into was when actors are dealing with multiple offers.  My take-away here was - be as honest as you can, and involve the casting director in the conversation as early as possible.  It's much worse to drop a show when it's already in rehearsal than it is to leave prior to rehearsals starting.  Also, they're dealing with this conflicting set of emotions - some frustration and hurt because you've created more work for them in having to recast, but also a lot of excitement for the actor who is making a big leap with his or her career.  Two more takeaways - make a facebook connection to casting directors, and keep letting them know what you're doing.  Your headshot and resume may be on file in their book, but their book isn't their brain - connecting w/casting directors will keep you in their brain.

After lunch, I went to the Diversity on Purpose panel,  I'll confess to a combo of nerves about my upcoming panel and a little bit of the post-lunch spaciness.  I didn't get a lot out of this panel.  Diversity is a huuuuge topic for one hour, but the points here about diversifying the audience, not just the actors on stage was well taken.  Also, the many forms of diversity that exist - not just ethnicity, gender, sexual orientation, but what about age, political affiliation, religion.

My last event of the day was my personal MAIN EVENT - the Gender Parity panel.  Panelists AJ Baker playwright and founder of 3 Girls Theater, Rebecca Ennals of San Francisco Shakespeare Festival, also an independent director and Marilyn Langbehn, another independent director who also works in the Cal Shakes marketing department were all fantastic, and I'm so grateful to them for their contributions.  After about 30 minutes, we began a group discussion with the 30-40 women and 3-4 men who were in the room.

Some takeaways for me:  How to change the perceptions in the general population so that women's stories become human stories is a big one.  Also I was surprised that a lot of people who were there weren't familiar with things like the Bechdel test and who the Guerilla Girls are.  Rebecca Ennals spoke about her experience of watching women audition at the TBA generals with monologues along the lines of 'why doesn't he like me?' or 'how can I get him to notice me?' and coming out of that with an idea to create a monologue database of empowered female characters.  Marilyn spoke about creating change from within - coming to a company as a freelancer, and then suggesting to that company plays by women and/or roles for women for future productions.

Mostly I was struck by the fact that we can all be agents for change.  We need to read women's writing, get to know the plays with roles for women, and the women directors and women actors so that moving forward we can advocate for each other when the opportunity arises.

Thursday, May 17, 2012

Tom Ross responds to Carol's open letter

Still working on my TBA Conference wrap up!  In the meantime, I'm very pleased that Tom Ross of the Aurora has allowed me to post his response to playwright Carol Lashof's open letter.

Read below.

Dear Ms. Lashof,
Yes, you are right that next season we do not have any women playwrights represented in our roster of five plays. That was certainly not my aim nor is it something I am proud of.  As a playwright, I would imagine that you understand that a theatre’s seasons come together in more of an organic way than simply saying that we are going to do plays xy&z and then obtaining the rights to plays xy&z.  This is particularly true when you are a small 150-seat theatre like Aurora.  Playwrights and their agents, both woman and men alike, like to give permission to produce their work to the larger houses so they can make larger royalties.  In preparation for this season, I tried to obtain the rights to five plays written by women and in all instances was rejected.
I certainly have no prejudice against plays by women.  We recently closed the Bay Area premiere of Annie Baker’s play, “Body Awareness” to great critical and financial success.  Last season, both our world premiere of Allison Moore’s play “Collapse” and Alice Childress’ infrequently performed “Trouble in Mind” were big successes. Additionally this season, we commissioned Margret Schaefer to translate a new version of Schnitzler’s “Anatol.”
As far as Aurora theatre going backwards, that is actually incorrect.  There have been huge strides in diversity at Aurora in all ways since I became Artistic Director 8 years ago.  I am not going to get into statistics but I have produced far more plays written by women in my 8 seasons than our founding artistic director did in her 12.  Additionally, in those same 8 years, 23 Aurora productions have been directed by women and 17 by men.
Sexual diversity goes well beyond playwriting and directing here.  We hire many women set, lighting, costume designers, electricians and scenic artists who work with us regularly. Muriel Maffre, the former prima ballerina of the SF Ballet initiated, conceived and co-directed a version of Stravinsky’s “The Soldier’s Tale” here last year utilizing Mary Chun as our music director/pianist and featuring alternating female violinists who appeared onstage.
I appreciate your passion and how hard it is for anyone in theatre, whether they are playwrights, actors or designers, to have their work appear on stages.  I understand that women and racially diverse playwrights are produced less than Caucasian males.  I have devoted my life to producing and creating the best work I can and am proud of the strides we are making here at Aurora to represent a diverse group of people behind the scenes and on our stage.
I am supplying a link to an article (its 2 ½ years old)  by Robert Hurwitt in the San Francisco Chronicle about the production of female playwrights in the Bay Area Theatre you may find of interest.
Tom Ross
Artistic Director
PS Alas, we do not receive any state or federal funding.

Wednesday, May 16, 2012

Open Letter to the Aurora

I know I need to write about the Gender Parity panel from Monday, but day jobs are getting in my way.  It's coming soon, I promise.

In the meantime, I met playwright Carol Lashof on Monday, and she agreed to let me share her open letter to the Aurora Theatre with folks who read this blog.

This is an open letter to the Aurora Theatre, which I am copying to the International Centre for Women Playwrights, the Berkeley-based Play Cafe email list, and Gary Garrison of the Dramatists Guild:

I am a playwright, librettist, and educator, living in Berkeley, and I have been a fan of the Aurora Theatre since its inception.  In fact, I took an enthusiastic student group to see "Dear Master" at the City Club before the Aurora formally existed as a theatre.  My husband and I were subscribers for many years but as our schedules got busier and our budget tighter, we let our subscription lapse.  Nonetheless, I continue to attend the Aurora regularly and enjoy your work, so when the season brochure arrived in the mail this morning, I was quick to open it.  And I said to myself:  if women playwrights and directors are well represented in the season, I will resubscribe because I have been vowing to myself and my colleagues that I would start putting my money where my mouth was to support equal representation of women theatre professionals (especially playwrights, since I am one) on American stages.

Here's what I discovered when I opened the brochure:  Five plays.  None written by women. One directed by a woman--founding artistic director Barbara Oliver.  What a long way the Aurora has come--backwards--from its first production, which was co-created by Dorothy Bryant and Barbara Oliver and was about the pioneering woman writer George Sand. 

Although I cannot bring myself to boycott any theatre as excellent as the Aurora, I will not be subscribing this year.  Maybe next year?

Carol S. Lashof

The Aurora's season announcement is here.
Carol's play Just Desserts will have a staged reading on Monday, June 4 at 7:00 PM.

Stage 2 @ SF Playhouse
533 Sutter Street, upstairs
San Francisco, CA
Hosted by the Dramatists Guild.  Free and open to the public.

Sunday, May 13, 2012

Quick, name 3!

I'm getting really excited prepping for the panel at the TBA Annual Conference tomorrow.

I just had to post links to two terrific and timely articles.
1) Playwright Lauren Gunderson writing in the TBA Chatterbox blog "Women Aren't Minorities!"  It's short, simple and to the point.
2) Meghan Arnette, founder of Seattle's Live Girls theater, has a post over at Howlround, "In Defense of Supporting Work by Women" Both the article and the comments are terrific.  Her point of naming 3 female playwrights you love instead of rehashing the same tired old questions is inspiring.


Hope to see you tomorrow!

Wednesday, May 9, 2012


No, it's not a delicious new breakfast meat (that was my first thought anyway), it's the Theatre Bay Area Annual Conference!

It's happening next Monday, May 14th and has speakers, a vendor faire, breakout sessions and all kinds of info for all kinds of theatermakers.  You can go for the full day, or just for the evening 'after hours' sessions.  And, if you've got the time but not the money, they still need volunteers.

I'm super excited to be moderating a breakout session on gender parity for the conference.  Here's the program description of the panel:
Research tells us that women make up the majority of ticket buyers and theatre attendees. Yet, the issue remains that work of, for and with women make up a disproportionately smaller percentage of programming field-wide. Join this discussion as we look at how this issue affects the Bay Area theatre scene and what the future might look like.
This panel happens from 3-4pm - come on by and say hi!

For info on TBACON, including registration and a preview of the conference program, go here.

Sunday, May 6, 2012

A book for actors that's not about acting

I just finished reading The Power of Habit by Charles Duhigg.  I highly recommend this book.  It's really easy to read, and a fascinating look at why we do the things we do and how so many of the things we do are habitual.  It's a great tool for understanding yourself, as well as how to break or change old habits and create or build new ones.

Also, the book got me thinking a bit about how actors' lives are different.  We have comparatively few habits and routines - I do different things just about every day.  I go different places to work my multiple day jobs, and my schedule is constantly changing as I add auditions and fold in new projects or say good bye to old ones.  Because my day to day isn't 'routine', there are a lot of things I don't do habitually.

Even so, this book is still a terrific read.  You'll learn about keystone habits, and see how habits are influenced by groups, and understand why even when you build a strong habit, it may still falter under extreme pressure.

An excerpt from the book is available here.  It's a guide to how to replace a 'bad' habit with a better one. 

Wednesday, May 2, 2012

Counting Actors April 2012

Here are the stats on the 11 shows counted in April.  To learn more about this project, including how to contribute, visit this page.  To read all the posts in this series, going back to June 2011, go here.

11 shows counted:
Berkeley Rep/Red
ACT/Maple and Vine (not included in the count below are 3 local union understudies, 2 m, 1w)
Ross Valley Players/Harmony in Hiding
AlterTheater/References to Salvador Dali Make Me Hot (in this production a woman played a young boy character)
Magic/Any Given Day
Instrumental Theater/A Game (this production is part of the BOA Festival)
MTC/Othello (in this production, Bianca and Emilia were given some lines usually assigned to minor male characters)
TheatreWorks/Of Mice and Men

The Stats:
8 male directors, 3 female directors
10 male writers, 1 female writer
64 total actors: 37 men, 27 women
42 union actors, 22 non-union actors
32 union men, 11 union women
52 local actors, 12 non-local actors

Thank you thank you thank you to all who shared stats with me - audience, theater staff, cast members, show directors, including Lauren Bloom, Anne Hallinan, Amy Prosser, Eva Rebane, Kathleen Antonia and Paul Cello

The blog post with stats for May will be published between June 1 and June 5. 

I do my best to just put up the numbers, and leave emotion out.  But I know that seeing these numbers inspires emotional reactions in the reader.  If you've got a strong reaction to what you're reading, please share this post with others.