As I am the new intern at the Fountain Theatre, I am supposed to tell you a little bit about myself. Where do I start?
Do I tell you that I can spend hours arguing my opinion on all things nerdy? (SuperWhoLockTer, Comics, Buffy. Try me.) I could mention that I have been compared to Leslie Knope more times than I’ve been to the gym. Should I mention that the fastest way to my heart is through Thai food? How do I even begin to scratch the surface?
I guess it’s best to start with my testimony of theatre. Testimony? That’s a strong word, Lexi. Yes, yes it is. But I believe in the power of theater, and that’s probably the number one thing you should know about me.
When I was a small child I imagined being famous. Not just in the vague sense that most children have, but I honed in on all the small details. I drew up lighting motifs that would spell my name behind me on stage (all purple and grey obviously). I practiced small talk for all interviews I was sure to be on (“oh Oprah, of course I sponsor Pokemon”). I knew that my stage name would be Lexi Lou (because I was too young to realize that it sounded like a stripper name). I had on my rose colored glasses and all the world was a stage, a stage in which revolved around me and how awesome I was.
I grew up in Oregon, the hub of children’s’ theaters and Shakespeare. At a young age, I didn’t necessarily have talent, but I was outgoing and had the ability to speak without a lisp so I got a fair amount of parts right off the bat. That led to acting lessons at some of the local children’s theaters and soon all my time was spent on one stage or another. In fact I probably saw the fake set walls of charming houses more than I did my own house.
As I got older I stopped getting as many lead roles, and started getting more roles in the chorus. At first it was disheartening. My goal was to be famous and I didn’t see how being Whore #1 in Les Mis was going to lead me there. The sentence “There are no small parts, only small actors” became the bane of my existence. But I made a decision it was better to be singing the same alto notes in the chorus than be sitting home alone. And I’m glad I did because that’s when theater itself stopped being about the service it could be to promote me, and started being about the story, the experience, and the family.
In the musical Onceon this Island it says “Our lives become the stories that we weave.” I have found this to be true. The plays I have worked on have forced me to look at my own set of beliefs and build upon them. Plays have taught me how to fight for my convictions, and what happens when society doesn’t. They have taught me how to empathize with people who hold beliefs other than myself. And most of all they taught me the importance of working with a family. A family of fellow artists who are all aspiring to the same vision. Theater isn’t just the exuberant final performance. It’s everything in between. It’s posting audition sheets, late night set construction, and ticket sales. Theater isn’t a star, it’s a group. And I wanted to do anything to be part of that group.
I went to BYU and studied Theater Education. My dreams started evolving less into starring roles and more into how to share and spread theater. I know I want to start my own childrens’ theater. I want to work with children and see them go from being the stars in their own lives to realizing how not only theater, but life, is all about the way we work and help each other.
So through the years I have tried to work in every aspect of theater. I have acted, directed, stage-managed, front of housed, ushered, advertised, managed, did lighting, built sets, for many different theater companies around Oregon and Utah. This past year I was in Australia had the experience to intern at Holden Street Theater helping see to all the daily tasks of running a theater.
Which brings me to now.
I am so excited to now be joining The Fountain Theatre. Los Angeles itself is daunting to me, but the wonderful family here has been nothing but welcoming and kind. It’s importance to not only the artists, but the community as a whole can be profoundly felt. I am so eager to learn all the things it has to offer, and more so to hear from you guys how it has impacted your lives as well.
I am so excited to be joining your community, your family. When I look back on the little girl, stealing microphones and dancing in tutus I think she would choose the love that emanates from this tight-knit theater over a thousand nameless fans any day.
Theatre school was great. It is great. But it can omit some of the more fundamental and important career lessons. School is, after all, a bubble. It’s not a natural professional environment.
So, with what little wisdom I have regarding a career as an actor, here’s a list of some things I wish somebody had told me in theatre school. Some of these lessons, I had to learn the hard way. Others simply would have saved me a bit of time.
“Stealing the show” is not a compliment. The ensemble is more important than your “moments”.
You’d be surprised how few people are willing to pay for theatre tickets when they aren’t your friends and family and have no personal connection to you whatsoever.
No, you can’t actually play forty and fifty-year-olds in your twenties. At least, no one will pay you to do it.
By the same token, there are very few roles in the theatre for twenty-year-olds.
The stage manager always works much harder than you. And technically, you work for him/her, not the other way around.
Most people don’t get drunk on Opening Night…because they have a show the next day…idiot. Oh, and cast parties are more likely to be cast dinners.
Developing and producing your own work is the single MOST important thing you can do after you graduate.
Background film roles don’t do shit for your career.
Unions are awesome and the worst at the same time.
When people said you would be poor thanks to your brilliant career choice, what they really meant was “completely fucking destitute.” And that’s okay.
Auditions are on one level. Knowing the right people is a completely different level altogether.
Directors, casting agents, and producers care as much about how easy you will be to work with as they do about how good you are for the role. If not more so.
Remember how you used to have five weeks to get off book? NOPE. Get off book NOW.
Save up a certifiable shit-ton of money if you’re going to move to Toronto. Like, a ridiculous amount. Student-loan worthy. That is, if you want to actually be able to go for auditions, take classes, network, and you know, any of those other career-building essentials.
Don’t do everything. Seriously. Know when to turn something down. And believe me, you’ll know.
It’s not unreasonable to expect to be paid for your work. And you should be. But you won’t always be. So when you do work for free, which will be a lot, make sure it’s work that you’re passionate about or will really be a career booster. And honestly, it should be both.
Ninety percent of casting decisions have nothing to do with how you perform in your audition.
Most of the time, when you don’t get the part, it’s not because you suck, but because of some other (probably superficial) reason altogether. Unless you suck.
Energy is more important than appearance. So get more sleep instead of wasting your time making yourself look good. After all, there’s always a hair and makeup person on set. There’s rarely a person to spoon-feed you caffeine and cocaine.
Take your “me” time. And cherish it. Because the pursuit of an acting career will totally consume your life.
Don’t hide your “physical flaws.” Embrace them. And learn how to look at yourself objectively.
Your “hit” is no joke. It’s what you’re selling. Either be okay with it, or figure out a way to change it and still look like a real human being.
No matter how big of a star you were in school, out here, you are just a part of a team. So act like it. And give credit where credit is due at every opportunity.
Acting is actually easier than you want to believe it is. And more people can actually do it than you want to believe. And most people behind the scenes work harder than you do. So don’t be a diva.
You are replaceable.
The camera really does add ten pounds. No shit.
Stage and screen are completely different worlds requiring completely different approaches and are cast in completely different ways.
You thought there was “technique” to acting on stage? Just wait till you get some serious face time with the camera.
Rehearsals are a luxury. Don’t waste them.
It is not okay to be drunk, stoned, high, or any other kind of intoxicated while you work. Not for “professionalism” reasons. But because you are, in fact, worse.
Try not to get discouraged/cynical/jaded/resentful too early. This is a tough business. That’s just the way it is, and it’s not going to change any time soon. So be tough. Or get out.
And finally, don’t go down this path just because you’re “good enough” to be a professional actor. For the love of God, do it ONLY because you cannot do anything else.
Always be brave and bold.
Callam Rodya is an actor, electronic music producer, graphic designer, writer, and filmmaker based in Sudbury, Ontario, Canada.
The Fountain Theatre is dedicated to producing new plays that reflect the cultural diversity of Los Angeles and the the nation. To serve Latino/a audiences, we launched our 2012-13 season earlier this year with the West Coast Premiere of El Nogalar by Latina playwright Tanya Saracho.
“El Nogalar” (2012, Fountain Theatre)
Playwright Anne Garcia-Romero reports on the current state of Latino/a theater and the dream of creating a Latino/a Theatre Commons:
by Anne Garcia-Romero
In May 2012, Karen Zacarías, a playwright in residence at Arena Stage asked the Center for the Theater Commons to host an intimate conversation about the state of theater for U.S. Latino/a artists. A group of us met in D.C. It was a small gathering of theater artists from across the country representing diverse voices, but in no way intended to be representative of the breadth of the Latino/a theater scene. In the twenty-four stretch of the gathering, we talked about community, history, and action. We dreamed up a plan.
Celebrating Contemporary Latino/a Theater Theater can function as a reflection of our contemporary national narrative. The character journeys on a stage often help us better understand the complexities of our society. U.S. culture in the twenty-first century continues to move from a mono-cultural to a multi-cultural experience. However, U.S. theater currently does not always reflect this reality and therefore can perpetuate an outdated narrative. Contemporary Latino/a theater updates the U.S. narrative through presenting diverse cultural worlds that allow theater audiences to more fully understand the U.S. experience in the twenty-first century.
In 2012, Latino/a is a heterogeneous term that includes the diversity of all Spanish-speaking and indigenous cultures existing in the U.S. from Mexico, the Caribbean, Spain, Central and Latin America, in addition to the complexities which arise from the intersections of these cultures with non-Latino/a cultures. This definition highlights the globalization of the U.S. Latino/a community and mirrors the fact that life in the U.S. is now an intercultural reality. According to the 2010 U.S. census, 308.7 million people resided in the United States, of which 50.5 million (or 16 percent) were Latino/a. The Latino/a population hails from over twenty-two Latino/a cultural groups and was the fastest growing population from 2000 to 2010. U.S. theater production historically has only reflected a fraction of this diversity. Twenty-first century Latino/a theater artists are creating works that amply reflect this complexity. By embracing the current landscape of Latino/a theater, U.S. theaters not only present a view of contemporary Latino/a culture, they also provide their audiences with ways in which to more fully understand our multi-cultural U.S. experience.
Playwright Tanya Saracho
Creating a Commons A Latino/a Theater Commons acknowledges the gifts that Latino/a theater artists can share with each other by connecting Latino/a theater artists from across the U.S. to create a platform and promote the latest developments in the field of Latino/a theater. From artists who began their professional careers in the 1970s to those who recently completed their MFA training, a commons facilitates a vibrant, intergenerational conversation that reflects contemporary U.S. Latino/a theater. Building upon the foundation of the past and highlighting the realities of the present, a Latino/a Theater Commons creates new models of engagement and presentation of Latino/a theater that will not only illuminate the wide expanse of the field but will allow audiences to update the U.S. narrative by experiencing multi-cultural worlds on stage that reflect an ever-diversifying national reality.
Highlighting our History From the success of Luis Valdez’ 1978 production of Zoot Suit in Los Angeles to Maria Irene Fornes’ Obie-Award winning New York City production of Fefu and Her Friends in 1977, U.S. Latino/a theater continues to grow and thrive from coast to coast. Through the support of organizations such as the Ford Foundation and the Lila Wallace–Reader’s Digest Fund, several U.S. regional theaters have provided platforms for the continued development of Latino/a theater artists. The INTAR Playwrights Workshop in New York City, South Coast Repertory’s Hispanic Playwrights Project in Costa Mesa, California and The Mark Taper Forum’s Latino Theatre Initiative in Los Angeles became centers of training, collaboration and conversation from 1978 to 2005. These programs helped launch the careers of a generation of Latino/a theater artists including Pulitzer prize winners Nilo Cruz and Quiara Alegría Hudes, Academy-Award nominee José Rivera, Obie award winners Caridad Svich and Kristoffer Diaz and MacArthur Genius grant winner Luis Alfaro.
INTAR, founded in 1972 by Max Ferrá, is one of the longest-running companies producing Latino/a theater in the United States. Maria Irene Fornes created the INTAR Hispanic Playwrights-in-Residence Laboratory (1978-1991) and trained some of the most widely produced Latino/a playwrights in the U.S. including Cruz, Svich, Alfaro, Cherrie Moraga, Migdalia Cruz and Octavio Solis. Svich states,
Fornes, leading by example, did not require that the playwrights in the Lab address any ethnically specific subject matter or theme. Through daily visualization exercises, the writers were asked to discover the work within them, to create the forms that suited their visions, and under Fornes’ rigorous, watchful eye, to speak the truth about their worlds.
Under the current leadership of Lou Moreno, INTAR continues to produce new work by Latino/a playwrights.
José Cruz Gonzalez
Hispanic Playwrights Project (HPP), 1985-2004, created by José Cruz Gonzalez and later directed by Juliette Carrillo, featured a yearly summer festival of new works at South Coast Repertory bringing together new plays written by Latino/a playwrights. For many playwrights, HPP provided a first professional theater development opportunity. The annual gathering launched the careers of many Latino/a theater artists including Octavio Solis, Rogelio Martinez, Karen Zacarías, Kristoffer Diaz, Quiara Alegría Hudes and Anne García-Romero.
The Latino Theatre Initiative (LTI), 1992-2005, at the Mark Taper Forum, was designed to diversify the Taper’s audience base by offering theatrical programming relevant to the Latino/a community while also providing access to emerging Latino/a artists who reflected the diversity of the city of Los Angeles. Founded by José Luis Valenzuela and later co-directed by Luis Alfaro and Diane Rodriguez, LTI developed new works through in-house readings, festivals and yearly writers’ retreats.
Playwright Luis Alfaro
An Action Plan: Generating New Models In our dream for a Latino/a Theater Commons, we build upon the foundation of the past and the momentum of the present to create four initiatives that will continue to advance the field of U.S. Latino/a theater.
1. The Los Angeles Theatre Center, under the direction of José Luis Valenzuela, will produce a festival of ten Latino/a plays over the course of the 2014-15 season. This festival seeks to present ten diverse plays that will mirror the complexity of the U.S. Latino/a community.
2. Latino/a Theater Commons will pilot a bi-annual conference of new Latino/a work hosted by the Theatre School at DePaul University in Chicago. The Festival will honor and be inspired by previous programs such as the Hispanic Playwrights Project, but be reconceived for the twenty-first century to allow for live and online participation and new methods of collaboration through workshops and focus groups on specific theatrical disciplines.
3. Latino/a Theater Commons will launch an online platform, Cafe Onda(Wave Cafe). This platform will be created as an online community and conversation about the current state of the Latino/a theater in the twenty-first century. Cafe Onda will contain articles, blogs and live streaming of theater events and will be linked to HowlRound, an online journal of the Theater Commons.
4. Latino/a Theater Commons will broaden the conversation by working with an expanded national cohort of Latino/a theater artists to convene in 2013 and solidify our efforts in implementing these plans that will generate a new national narrative for U.S. theater. Members of the Steering Committee who will be involved in planning this meeting include as of this publication:
Kinan Valdez (Stage Director; Producing Artistic Director, El Teatro Campesino, San Juan Bautista, CA)
José Luis Valenzuela (Stage Director; Artistic Director, Los Angeles Theater Center, Professor of Theater, University of California, Los Angeles, Los Angeles CA)
Patricia Ybarra (Theatre Studies Scholar; Assistant Professor of Theatre, Brown University, Providence RI)
Karen Zacarías (Playwright; Resident Playwright–Arena Stage, Washington DC)
These projects will provide a multifaceted view of contemporary Latino/a theater. Through exploring, developing and advocating for new Latino/a plays, all four initiatives generate necessary conversations about the diverse make-up of U.S. society. We respectfully share this plan in the hopes that a Latino/a Theater Commons will advance the state of Latino/a theater while also allowing audiences to update the U.S. narrative at the start of the twenty-first century.
Anne Garcia-Romero’s plays have been developed and produced most notably at the NYSF/Public Theater, Summer Play Festival (Off-Broadway), The Mark Taper Forum, Hartford Stage, Borderlands Theater, and South Coast Repertory. Her newest play, Provenance, was part of the 2012 Eugene O’Neill National Playwrights Conference. She is currently writing a book on contemporary Latina playwrights. She’s an Assistant Professor of Theater at the University of Notre Dame and an alumna of New Dramatists.