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Theater: A Melting Pot

What I love about theater is that it is a collaborative art form and career.  Actors are just a small piece of the puzzle when it comes to putting on a ‘commercial,’ or money-making show.  As an actor, you get to work and create side by side people with all different skill sets and interests.  There are many departments, people, and jobs behind the scenes that contribute to putting on a live performance.  Even beyond creative careers, there are many positions associated with a theatrical production that are integral to getting a show up and running.  For example, on our Sound of Music national tour, we have 32 actors in the show, but travel with 25 additional people who work on the production in other various aspects!  These positions encompass every skill set and specialty I can think of.  They include our music director/ conductor, 3 musicians (2 keyboard and 1 violinist), 3 stage managers, 2 company managers, 2 heads of wardrobe, 1 head of hair and wigs, 1 head carpenter, 2 sound technicians, 3 fly rail technicians, 1 automation carpenter, 2 electricians, 1 spot light operator, 1 head of props, 1 child wrangler, 1 school teacher.  These are the people that keep our show running each night, load it in and set it up at each new venue, and work tirelessly to maintain it and it's quality between show times.  

Other than the people who travel with the show, there are even more that work on the show every day from afar.  These include, but aren’t limited to, a lead producer and production company that work on financial, administrative, and organizational aspects of our show from afar, a press company that advertises our show, local presenters in each city we visit that work for the theater/ venue, local crew, dressers, hair dressers, and musicians hired in each city, a casting team in New York City that is constantly auditioning for replacements, a creative team of director, choreographer, music supervisor, and assistant director and choreographer that come out to check on us and rehearse replacements to the cast.  

As you can see, our show, like most other tours and commercial shows employs people with varied professions and strengths.  In fact, it is a full ‘Limited Liability Company (LLC)’ of it’s own, just as if it were a company that operated out of an office building that you’d work at 9 to 5. 

Maybe you love theater, but are unsure if performing is the way you want to participate in it.  As you can see, there are a plethora of skill sets needed that extend beyond art when it comes to putting on a show.  There are many ways to contribute to, and be a involved in a production. 

For more info, I’ve included links to some of the companies and unions that work on our show below.  Maybe this will inspire you to find out where your skills fit best!

Our crew loads in the show to each new venue before opening night 

Our crew loads in the show to each new venue before opening night 

Crew:

http://www.iatse.net

Musicians (New York):

Logo of the International Alliance of Theatrical Stage Employees (IATSE), the labor union representing technicians in the entertainment industry 

Logo of the International Alliance of Theatrical Stage Employees (IATSE), the labor union representing technicians in the entertainment industry 

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Summer break!

Hi Theater Cats!!!  Hope you’re all enjoying the summertime!  I certainly am because guess where I am writing to you from… HOME! Yes, that’s right, home for two whole weeks, at my parent’s house in Sacramento, CA! 

'How?,' you may ask, am I sitting in my backyard with my cat on my lap, wearing a University of Michigan sweatshirt, Limited Too boxers, an old ballet scrunchie, and not a stitch of show makeup? Well that’s what I want to tell you about today!  

On national tours, we sometimes have ‘layoffs.’  These are periods of time, usually lasting 1-3 weeks in our profession, when we have unpaid time off.  This typically occurs because many city’s subscription series run seasonally, and don’t continue through the summertime. This can be because local theater producers don’t want to compete with the summer stock theater in town, or because many audience members go out of town during the summertime, etc.  Therefore, it is hard to find a venue for national touring shows so we just close up shop for a bit!  The word ‘layoff’ can have a very negative connotation because, yes, it is hard to have unpaid time off, but, on such a long running show, it can be a nice way to take a break without having to miss work by your own choosing.  We do receive vacation time via our Actor’s Equity contracts, and if we choose not to use that that off, we end up getting paid for it at the end of our run, so it’s almost like taking an unpaid vacation now, and get paid for it later!  So after having performed The Sound of Music for 10 months straight, we now have had a total of 5 weeks off during the summertime!  We had a 2 week break, performed the show for 3 weeks, and are now on a 3 week break, then back full time.  

To make the most of this time, I try to find a balance in the way I spend my time.  During this limited time off, it’s difficult to get invested in other projects, or actually accomplish anything fully, so, what I’ve tried to do, is invest in activities and experiences that make me feel like I am both taking a break, and feeding my knowledge, training, and creativity.  I’ve been traveling to new places, seeing shows, taking class, writing my blog, teaching class, going through my belongings, reading and watching new things, and also returning to some of my favorite places and activities to see what kind of new place I’m at in my life after being on the road for 10 months.  It’s a good way tocome back to the show rejuvenated after performing a straight 300+ shows!  Another nice thing about having this time off is knowing you have a job to return to!  When you’re in New York auditioning, it’s inevitable that the moment you plan a vacation, or go out of town, you get an audition and have to rush back.  Or, you’re too afraid to plan trips because you’re nervous that you’ll miss out on an opportunity.  So it’s great to have time that you can feel safe and relaxed about utilizing.  When you are handed down time like this, it can feel indulgent, but if you go in with a plan, and the intention not to waste it, it can be supremely enjoyable AND productive!

So that is the theatrical ‘layoff’ in a nutshell, thanks for reading!  As always, contact me with questions, etc. - I would love to hear from you :) That’s all for now, Theater Cats! 

 

Travelled to Japan on our first layoff this Summer!

Travelled to Japan on our first layoff this Summer!

Got to visit my brother, Grant in Portland, OR!

Got to visit my brother, Grant in Portland, OR!

Home in Northern CA :)

Home in Northern CA :)

More Oregon

More Oregon

Going through things at home...  

Going through things at home...

 

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Getting to know Maria Knasel, The Sound of Music's Louisa VonTrapp

I’ve written a lot about performing, and touring from my perspective, but I thought it would be fun to hear from one of our younger cast members, Maria Knasel, who plays Louisa in The Sound of Music.  Maria has a lot of experience performing and touring, and is one of the sweetest Theater Cats I know, so I thought it would be fun and interesting to learn about how she juggles being a professional actress with high school, friends, and her favorite hobby, memorizing all of the lyrics to Hamilton!

 

PS: How long have you been performing, and what are some of your favorite roles and shows?

MK: When I was 7 I did my first professional show, and when I was 9 I played Gretl at the the MUNY, so that’s one of my favorite roles.  White Christmas, A Christmas Story, and Billy Elliot were my other national tours - those are also my favorites.

PS:  How did you hear about auditions for The Sound of Music?

MK:  I was in Washington D.C. for my 8th grade class trip and my mom texted me and said there’s an equity call for The Sound of Music, do you want to go?  I said sure, but you’re going to have to pick me up!  So she flew to D.C., flew me to New York, and I auditioned!  I heard from my agent 3 weeks later saying that I’d gotten the role!

PS:  What was your audition process like?

MK:  We were asked to prepare a 16 bar cut from a song of our choice, and we also picked from “Do Re Mi,” “So Long, Farewell,” or “My Favorite Things.”  I did “My Favorite Things” - we did an audition cut of that, and were never asked to sing our own song.  Then we were all given the lines from the opening scene with our character names and everything, and then we were also given a separate scene to read, specific to our character.  We did a bunch of rounds of that until they narrowed it down.

PS:  How does school work on the road?

MK:  We do about 3- 4 hours of school work a day, usually 5 days a week.  We come in, usually to the theater, and we have all of our books in a big box that the company travels for us.  We come in, and I do online school, so all my work is on my laptop, and I just sit down and do my work straight through for 4 hours.  Sometimes we have homework, sometimes we don’t, but we have due dates that we have to get everything done by.

PS:  I’ve explained a little bit about how guardians work on the road, but who do you have as your tour chaperone?

MK:  My mom usually comes once a month for about a week at a time, and when she’s not here, me and Lucas, who is the boy swing, alternate guardians.  One week his mom will be both of our guardians and one week my mom will be both of our guardians.  But that also changes - right now I have my Uncle on tour with me, I’ve also had friends, friends of friends, parent’s friends who I haven’t even met, but I know of, who come to chaperone me.  

PS:  What have been some of your favorite field trips on tour?

MK:  In LA we were lucky enough to go to Disneyland as a field trip!  We weren’t going to be able to go because of school hours, so they gave us a break and counted it as a field trip so that we could go.  That was definitely one of the best ones - and the Georgia Aquarium - that was really fun.  We did the Coca Cola Museum after that.  Oh!  And also in LA, we got to do a little aquarium that was right on the beach and then stayed, and counted the beach as our field trip!

PS:  Can you break down how understudy rehearsal and warm ups work?

MK:  So for warm up before the show, we come in at half hour call, and we have 5 minutes to change in to either our robe or our costume, then we have vocal warm ups for 10 minutes.  We run some of the songs in the show that have a lot of harmonies, or the tough ones that we need to work on, and we also do regular warm ups.  Sometimes we do clapping rhythms, and we’re actually learning to read music now.  Cathy, our associate conductor, is our warm up leader, and makes us music cards to study.  Then for understudy rehearsals, it’s about once a month for the kids.  We come in and run the show straight through.  I get to play Brigitta sometimes, and we all kind of switch around parts based on who we play and understudy. 

PS:  Have you been able to make friends on the tour?

MK:  Some of my best friends I’ve made on tours.  I’ve kept in touch with all my friends from the past tours, and I know that I’m going to really want to see, and keep up with my friends from this tour.

PS:  What do you miss most about home?

MK:  My dogs.  And I’ve found that I really miss having a place to live with separate floors.  When we were in Florida my family rented a house and I loved having my room upstairs and being able to go downstairs to where the kitchen and couch and everything else was.  And when I go home, I love having my own space upstairs, then coming downstairs to where all the family stuff was, instead of one room for everything.  I play the ukulele so it was really fun to go home and be able to do that without worrying about bothering the neighbors or anything.  And I also miss my home cooked food… and local chains.  We have a roast beef chain called Lines Choice and it’s my favorite after school snack.  So I miss that… and of course my friends.

PS:  What’s your favorite thing about performing in this show?

MK:  My favorite thing is that I’ve made so many great friends on this tour, and getting to perform with them every night is amazing.  And I love all the stage time that we have, and all of the great numbers and harmonies that we get to do.  I've never really been in a show that has a ton of music and harmonies that the kids get to do.  Usually it’s either dancing, or ensemble stuff.  It’s really fun to be able to do it with all my friends.  

RAPID FIRE: Getting to know The Sound of Music’s Maria Knasel

Age        I'm 14 (15 on May 9th)

Grade        I'm currently in 9th grade

Hometown    I'm from St. Louis

Middle Name Suzanne

Travel day pastime     

I usually listen to Hamilton over and over to memorize more lyrics, or I watch movies with my friends. 

Pre show rituals      

The boys and I do 25 push-ups and a 4 min plank for fun- and sort of a competition.

 And we also have our warm up with Cathy.  In the wings before I go on, the boys and I, who are on the other side do the "I don't wanna be a chicken, I don't wanna be a duck" dance, and Mackenzie and I whip & nae-nae. And Donna (who plays Frau Schmidt) and I do squats while on opposite sides of the stage… I didn't realize I had so many pre show rituals!

Post show snack 

If I'm hungry after the show, I'm usually craving chocolate.  Or if I want a meal, 24 hour diners are where it's at. 

#1 travel essential

Besides my phone, my #1 travel essential is packing squares!  I love them so much, it makes packing and unpacking so much easier because shirts are in one compartment, shorts in another etc.

Makeup or beauty must have

Because of late nights, and semi early mornings for school, I wear no makeup at all, because that requires getting ready earlier than I have to.  Head bands and bobby pins are my best friends since I just wake up and pull back my fly aways and go to school. 

Favorite musical is currently Hamilton, but before that came around, it was Hairspray and In The Heights. 

My favorite TV show is Criminal Minds, and Say Yes To The Dress.  And of course Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt. 

Funny onstage mishap for me was when I fell up the stairs, and when the nazi banner fell over me a few times.

My dream role is Mary in the secret garden, or the narrator in Joseph because I love the music in both of those shows.  And I would love to be in Hamilton, however I'm white, and that is a completely ethnic cast except for 2 women in the ensemble, so my chances are slim. 

 

I hope you enjoyed getting a glimpse into Maria's life on tour.  I have loved getting to know her by playing her older sister.  She is always kind, calm, ready for fun, and inclusive... not to mention awesomely talented!  She holds a very special place in my heart, and I can't wait to see what the future holds for her!  

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Kids on Tour

One of my favorite parts of performing in and traveling with The Sound of Music is getting to do it with 8 younger siblings! I am inspired daily by their energy, positivity, and lack of inhibition.  They are a constant reminder of why I started doing theater, and what I love so much about it as an art form and career.  In this blog, I’ve described my life on tour, but I thought it would be fun to break down a day in the life of a KID on tour! 

In The Sound of Music tour, we have eight children in the cast, who we’ve come to refer to as the ‘VonTrapplings!’  There are six kids who perform every night in the show and two ‘swings’ (one boy and one girl) who ‘cover,’ or understudy multiple roles and perform only when one of the six ‘calls out’ for sickness or a personal day.  All of these children travel with us to each city, and because they are all under the age of eighteen, they are required to travel with a guardian, go to school, attend field trips, and even rehearse - in addition to performing in the show every night!

While touring, each child must be accompanied by a guardian.  In most cases, this is a parent, but it can be anyone designated by the child’s family, and they can switch out as often as need be.  For example, chaperones have included relatives, family friends, professional, hired guardians, and even members of the cast and crew!  The guardian stays with them overnight at the hotel, and makes sure they get to and from school, rehearsals, and their call time for the show.  The guardian will sign them in and out for these activities, but won’t need to stay while the show or school are going on.  After the guardian signs them in for school hours, their teacher become their guardian, and after they are signed in at their ‘call time’ (a half hour before each performance), the ‘Child Wrangler’ becomes their guardian.  The ‘Child Wrangler,’ like the school teacher, is also hired by, and travels with the company to make sure all performers under the age of eighteen are safe and where they need to be during work hours.

The kids in our cast accomplish school in one of two ways.  Some are home schooled by their guardian, but most attend school everyday with a teacher who travels with us on tour.  Each child receives a lesson plan from the school district in their home state, and she guides them through the curriculum. Those students attend three hours of school on weekdays, and one hour on the weekends, either in a designated school room at the theater or hotel.  Because the kids in our cast are so varied in age and grade level, many of them have additional tutors who they Skype with or talk to on the phone for supplemental help in subjects such as math or foreign language. 

A fun part of being in school on the road are field trips!  Because we’re in a new city every week, the VonTrappling’s teacher tries to plan a field trip every week that has to do with the history or culture of the place we are visiting.  They’ve gone to see the Liberty Bell in Philadelphia, The National Aquarium in Baltimore, the Science Museum in Columbus, and many more! 

In addition to school, field trips, and the show, many of the kids also find time to take voice, guitar, and piano lessons from some of our cast members or via Skype, and they take dance lessons from me!  They also find time for hobbies like skate boarding, drawing, playing the ukulele, and memorizing every lyric to ‘Hamilton!’ 

One tough part of touring is being away from parents, siblings, and friends.  Many of the kids haven’t been home since January - and even that was only a week long break!  Luckily, our VonTrapplings have each other, and get along very well.  They really have become like brothers and sisters!  Keep an eye out for what’s up next - I’ll be interviewing some of the kids for first hand details about their experience! Thanks for reading, Theater Cats!

Practicing ukulele in the hotel

Practicing ukulele in the hotel

School time!

School time!

Travel day activities on the bus

Travel day activities on the bus

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New Week, New City!

 

As another Tuesday arrives, I thought it might be fun to walk you through what happens each week when we arrive in a new city, and how we settle into each new theater!  After our travel day on Monday, Tuesday is our first day at the new theater and our opening night!  We arrive earlier than usual (2 hours before the show) to have a company meeting, a safety walk/ orientation in the backstage area, and finally, a sound check before we start getting ready at our ‘half hour call.’

In the ‘Company Meeting,’ the cast convenes in the lobby of the theater to receive information from Company Management about the city, living accommodations, any news pertaining to payroll, schedule, upcoming travel, events, and details about the venue such as ticket sales and availability of seats.  Then, both Stage Management and our Heads of Wardrobe let us know if there are any changes to the set/ show/ backstage configuration based on the size and shape of the venue.  Each theater’s stage and backstage areas are unique, so there is always something to adjust to spacially.  For example, the stage width can vary, the width of the ‘apron’ can vary (this is the distance between the stage, or ’deck’ and the orchestra pit which changes the distance the actors are from the audience).  Backstage, our dressing rooms are always in different places, our quick change booths are in different configurations, and the amount of space can be drastically different.  It can be very disorienting!  That’s why it’s important to take a minute to really get oriented in each new theater so you’re able to stay safe and focus on performing the show.

Next, the cast puts our microphones on to do ‘sound check.’  This is done to set the sound levels for the actors and orchestra based on the acoustics and sound equipment configurations in the venue.  It also gives the actors a chance to get used to what they'll be hearing onstage so that the volume and mix of what you hear is not a shock when you have to do it in front of an audience for the first time.  To do this, we sing, and ‘mark’ through the blocking of songs in the show with the orchestra in our street clothes.  We have a set order that we go through the songs every week.

After we finish sound check, we usually have a little break to walk around outside, eat dinner, warm up, etc.  No matter where we are, something that doesn’t change about our pre-show routine is that everyone is officially ‘called’ to be at the theater one half hour before the show.  Most people choose to arrive earlier, but half hour is the absolute latest you are allowed to arrive.

When half hour is called, we get into makeup, wigs, and costumes.  In this show, we all do our own makeup and wig preparations.  We always travel with our two Heads of Wardrobe and our Head of Hair and Makeup, but in each new city, we acquire local ‘dressers’ to help us with our costume changes.  We also have local hair dressers to put on and take off our wigs after we pin curl our hair, put a wig cap over it, and pin our microphone on.  Though they are paid employees of the venue, at the end of the week we always tip our dressers as a thank you for all of the personal help.

While getting ready, we receive time updates from stage management over the intercoms, or 'monitors' backstage.  These come at half hour, fifteen minutes, five minutes, and finally, 'places.'  When 'places' is called, everyone goes to their spot for the top of the show and we begin!  Tonight we open in Columbus, OH - fingers crossed that everything goes smoothly!

All of the Von Trapp kids onstage for sound check in Orlando, FL!

All of the Von Trapp kids onstage for sound check in Orlando, FL!

Sound check in Knoxville, TN

Sound check in Knoxville, TN

Backstage signs from Stage Management - so we don't get lost in each new city!

Backstage signs from Stage Management - so we don't get lost in each new city!



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New Year!

Hey Theater Cats!  As we enter a new year, I think it’s a perfect time to check in with ourselves and reassess our routines and goals, and create, or revamp our plans of action to achieve those goals.  Even if you are working hard, it’s easy to get stuck in a rut and prevent yourself from working smart.  Have you ever found yourself doing something over and over again as part of your routine, like going to a certain dance class, or practicing the same section of a song over and over, even though you know it’s not yielding the desired result?  It’s hard to break out of those patterns, but now’s the perfect time!  

What I do, and suggest you try, is writing it all out.  Seeing your goals laid out in front of you helps to make them feel realistic, something you can actually accomplish, instead of just unclear ideas meant for some other time "in the future". Start holding yourself accountable by mapping out your goals. Break them down into sections: long- term, this year, six months, this month, and weekly.  After you have identified your goals, you must create a plan of action.  It’s like scene work in acting class- identify your objective, identify your obstacle, and figure out a way to get around it.  

For example, Long Term Goal: I want to be the lead in a professional show.  Obstacles:  1. I need to improve my singing voice 2. I need to gain confidence 3. I don’t know how to find out about auditioning for professional shows. Plan of action: Yearly: create performance opportunities for yourself to get experience in front of an audience build confidence.  Put on your own concert or show, sign up for a class that culminates in a showcase or performance, or sign up for open mic/ cabaret style performances, or a school or community theater show.  Six months: Attend professional shows in your area, stay after, and meet the actors at the stage door.  Ask them questions about how they got started, how they auditioned for the show, if they teach classes or privately, etc. Contact local professional theaters and ask if they have a training program.  Monthly: attend voice lessons at least every other week. Sign up for classes at local professional theater or with local professional actors.  Put together a list of songs and monologues that are appropriate for auditions that you will practice.  Weekly: practice repertoire and technique at least 30 min a day.

Breaking your Plan of Action down into manageable chunks will make your goals feel more realistic and achievable.  If you just do a little every day that is in keeping with your plan and serves your ultimate goal, you will achieve it! 

Here is a blank chart that I’ve put together and use myself!  Feel free to print, fill it in, and even share!  I’d love to know what your goals are and how creative you can be in planning to achieve them! 

Screen Shot 2016-01-10 at 12.02.58 AM.png

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Replacements and Put-ins

Because the run of a touring show is so lengthy, it is common to have cast members come and go.  People leave tour for many reasons- another job, a lifestyle/ career change, or a life event such as marriage, pregnancy, health, family, etc. When this happens, the cast member must be replaced.  Usually, depending on their contract stipulations, the cast member will need to give a minimum of four weeks notice before leaving.  Then, auditions will be held in New York City, and the new cast member will be flown out to meet the cast and begin rehearsal two weeks before their first scheduled performance.  We call the new actor joining the show a ‘replacement.’  I was actually a replacement in the last tour I did!  

Rehearsing and learning the show as a replacement is a very different process than starting with the cast from the beginning.  Because the rest of the cast has been together for so long, and because the show doesn’t sit down in one place, integrating a new actor into the cast can be tricky and exciting for them, and the preexisting cast!  The replacement will generally get two weeks to learn the show by their self with the instruction of the dance captain(s), music supervisors, and stage managers.  This is challenging because you rehearse in an empty studio and have to imagine all of the other cast members, sets, and props around you!  These studio rehearsals will take place in the show’s current city, and at the end of the two weeks, there will almost always be an official ‘put in’ rehearsal before the new actor’s first performance.  The ‘put in,’ is a one time attempt for the replacement to run the show onstage with costumes, limited set and props, and the full cast.  The preexisting cast will do the run in street clothes, but the new cast member will perform the "put-in" in full costume to practice quick changes and to get used to any tricky wardrobe.  It is a very nerve-wracking day because all eyes are on the newbie!  Imagine joining a show that is already set, with a cast that has been working together for months, or even years already!  It’s a huge relief once you’ve made it through your put in - you finally feel like you are officially part of the cast - it’s a right of passage!

We have already had two new cast members join The Sound of Music Tour, one adult and one youth company member.  It is always sad to lose someone you’ve spent so much time with and come to know so well, but it’s also exciting and refreshing to add a new person to the mix!  

Hope this was interesting and informative, subscribe below to stay up to date on all Theater Cats posts, and follow on Twitter and Instagram for even more behind the scenes fun!

My friend Eric decorated my station for my first performance in Evita when I was a replacement...

My friend Eric decorated my station for my first performance in Evita when I was a replacement...

...So I passed on the tradition and decorated Lucas, our first child replacement in The Sound of Music's station for his first performance!

...So I passed on the tradition and decorated Lucas, our first child replacement in The Sound of Music's station for his first performance!

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Daily life on tour

Now that our show is set, and we are well into our regular performance schedule, the cast and crew have most of our days free before the show at night.  We generally have a lot of freedom to explore our current city and fill our days however we choose.  The exceptions being company travel time to a new city, press obligations, and understudy rehearsals.  

Monday is our ‘travel day’ where we either fly or drive (depending on distance) to our next performance location.  The company manager organizes and pays for these travel arrangements.  There is an option, that applies to company housing arrangements as well, to take a ‘Buyout’ and make your own travel plans.  If you choose to do this, the company reimburses your for the cost of the group travel and you can use that toward getting to the next city by your preferred method.  People do this if they want to leave earlier or later than the group to go home, visit family/ friends in a nearby city, or just have a day to themselves.  If your costs exceed the company's, you must pay the difference. 

Another daytime obligation can be participating in press activities to advertise the show in a current or upcoming city.  These include interviews for local TV news or radio stations, phone interviews for newspapers or blogs, appearances at local businesses, talkbacks, outreach, or masterclasses.  We are paid a lump sum for these appearances as part of our contract.  Here are some examples of press events I’ve participated in: 

Lastly, the stage management team conducts weekly, or biweekly understudy rehearsal.  This is an opportunity for the understudies to practice the roles they don’t perform every night to keep their performances ready to go at a moment’s notice.  They do a barebones run through of the show without costumes or set, but go straight through as if it were a performance.  For this show, there are two ‘teams’ of understudies because one person may cover multiple roles- so one week an understudy will do the run through playing one of their roles all the way through, and the next week they’ll flip and do the other.  If you are not an understudy, you do not participate in these rehearsals, so there are gaps in the cast and the dance captain or swings usually end up running around, filling in and playing multiple roles.  It’s a pretty fun/ funny way to practice the show.  Understudies are paid extra, usually via contract 'riders' for their additional rehearsal time and responsibilities. 

Apart from those obligations, we have a lot of free time, which can be both good and bad!  I am the type of person who thrives on routine and schedule, so the touring lifestyle can be challenging, but because we are always in a new place, it’s easy to find new things to see and do to fill the time in a productive way!  One of my favorite things about touring is exploring and learning about each new city we visit!  With at least a week in each city, you have the opportunity to briefly immerse yourself in the culture and get a feel for what each place is about.  It is such a unique opportunity to get to visit so many places I’ve never been, and perhaps wouldn’t have a reason to visit otherwise!  I love educating myself about the history of the region, and noticing the differences in architecture, city planning, culture, the demeanor of local people, and what they seem to value and enjoy.  It is also very interesting to note how audiences react differently to the show in each place we visit.  That helps keep us on our toes every night!  Even though we are performing the same show 8 times a week, it never feels the same because the feedback from the local audience is never exactly the same from city to city! 

In addition to exploring on my time off, I try to find local dance classes to take or teach, practice voice, exercise, work on the blog, stay in touch with family and friends via computer, phone, and snail mail (my favorite), grocery shop, do laundry, and get massages.  When our hotel/ housing is more than a half of a mile from the theater, the company provides us with rental cars which gives us more options for activity during the day. 

I am currently with the cast on a flight headed to Knoxville, TN after a great week in Baltimore, MD.  We performed at the Hippodrome Theatre which was beautiful, and the audiences were very kind and responsive.  Baltimore is the closest we get to New York for quite a while so we had our creative team, and lots of family and friends visiting this week, which was comforting :) 

Stay tuned for the next post - I’ll write about what happens when we get new cast members, and how they get ‘put in’ to the show!

Here are some examples of my daytime adventures on tour so far:

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Teaching on Tour

While on tour, something I've been enjoying doing is teaching performance and dance classes.  Last week, I taught the youth theater group at Dallas Summer Musicals a themed class, based on The Sound of Music, including a mock audition and Q&A session!  It was such a sweet group of students!  I've found that teaching is a fun way to pass on what I have learned from my beloved teachers, and connect with aspiring young performers.  Teaching also ties in to my writing on this blog because I aim to share my experiences as a professional actress with young performers, and my former pupils can use the blog as an extension of the time we spend together in class! 

On the road, I have also been teaching group and private dance lessons to the kids in our cast, and working with the organization, "Broadway Connection."  Check them out here (https://www.broadwayconnection.net) to find a class in your city!  If you, or someone you knows lives in a city where The Sound of Music will play this year, get in touch!  I'd love to teach at your local studio or theater group.  Below is a list of cities, and if we don't visit your area, I am available online to answer questions, or talk via Skype/ iChat!  I am always looking for more opportunities to teach, and connect with readers!  

Happy Thanksgiving!

Paige

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The Sound of Music touring schedule:

  • Charlotte, NC - North Carolina Blumenthal PAC

Nov 24, 2015 - Nov 29, 2015

  • Durham, NC - Durham PAC

    Dec 1, 2015 - Dec 6, 2015

  • Baltimore, MD - The Hippodrome

    Dec 8, 2015 - Dec 13, 2015

  • Knoxville, TN - Tennessee Theatre

    Dec 15, 2015 - Dec 20, 2015

  • Tampa, FL - Straz Center

    Dec 22, 2015 - Dec 27, 2015

  • Miami, FL - Adrienne Arsht Center

    Dec 29, 2015 - Jan 3, 2016

  • Orlando, FL - The Dr. Phillips Center for the Performing Arts

    Jan 5, 2016 - Jan 10, 2016

  • Fort Myers, FL - Barbara Mann PAC

    Jan 12, 2016 - Jan 17, 2016

  • Columbus, OH - Ohio Theatre

    Jan 26, 2016 - Jan 31, 2016

  • Madison, WI - Overture Center

    Feb 2, 2016 - Feb 7, 2016

  • East Lansing, MI - Wharton Center

    Feb 9, 2016 - Feb 14, 2016

  • Houston, TX - The Hobby Center

    Feb 16, 2016 - Feb 21, 2016

  • Austin, TX - Bass Concert Hall

    Feb 23, 2016 - Feb 28, 2016

  • Atlanta, GA - Fox Theatre

    Mar 1, 2016 - Mar 6, 2016

  • Providence, RI - Providence Performing Arts Center

    Mar 9, 2016 - Mar 13, 2016

  • Philadelphia, PA - Academy of Music

    Mar 15, 2016 - Mar 20, 2016

  • Pittsburgh, PA - Benedum Center

    Mar 22, 2016 - Mar 27, 2016

  • Boston, MA - Boston Opera House

    Mar 29, 2016 - Apr 10, 2016

  • Ottawa, ON - National Arts Centre

    Apr 12, 2016 - Apr 17, 2016

  • Greenville, SC - The Peace Center

    Apr 20, 2016 - Apr 24, 2016

  • St.Louis, MO - The Fabulous Fox

    Apr 26, 2016 - May 8, 2016

  • Detroit, MI - Fisher Theater

    May 10, 2016 - May 22, 2016

  • Denver, CO - Buell Theatre

    Jun 21, 2016 - Jun 26, 2016

  • Costa Mesa, CA - Segerstrom Center for the Arts

    Jul 19, 2016 - Jul 31, 2016

  • Fort Worth, TX - Bass Performance Hall

    Aug 17, 2016 - Aug 21, 2016

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Auditioning in NYC, part 2

The major advantage to living in New York City as an actor is the high volume of ‘open calls’ that happen every week.  These are auditions that any equity actor is welcome to attend, with or without an agent.  Non- Equity performers are also invited to attend and are often seen, time permitting.  In my opinion, it is essential to attend these open calls, in addition to the appointments your agent sets up for you.  Even if you are not interested in attending these auditions, it is still important to stay up to date and informed about what auditions are happening each week.  There are many resources online, and in print that you can turn to.  My favorite is actorsequity.org/castingcall.  I’ve found that this is the most reliable and professional resource for information about theatre and musical theater auditions in New York City.  If you are looking for a more comprehensive listing of auditions, including film and tv, industrials, and extra work, check out backstage.com.  They list auditions in a wider variety of regions and cities - you might even find something in your hometown! 

On a theatrical audition listing, you will find basic information such as date, time, location, pay rate, what to bring/ prepare, and names of the team - producers, directors, musical director, and choreographer.  Often, it will also include a “breakdown,” which is a list of available roles in the show, along with their descriptions.  I’ve made a mock up of an audition posting to give you an idea of what to look for, and have provided tips below on how I read and use the listing before attending an audition.  It’s a silly example, but take a peek!  These listings are the gateway to auditions and it’s important to get familiar with them.

When looking at an audition posting, it is imperative to read carefully!  It’s easy to get time or location wrong, or mixed up because they are all very similar! 

The information on an audition posting can be used as a clue to give yourself the best chance in an audition.  It’s not like cheating on the test, it’s like studying!  For example, I recommend researching the choreographer’s previous work - there is so much on youtube these days, you could really give yourself a leg up by familiarizing yourself with their style.  It is also important to research the genre and time period of the show, if there is any source material, or if this is a brand new production, whether it’s been produced/ performed anywhere perviously.  This research can also lead to photos, videos, previous casts lists, and a lot more information that is helpful in choosing what to sing, wear, etc. for the call.  Visit some of the sites I listed above and start getting familiar with what is out there, learning about it is the first step!!!

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Celebrating on tour

This year on tour I will not get time off for Thanksgiving, Christmas, Chanukah, nothin’!  While it’s fun and fulfilling to perform and share what I love with audiences as a personal celebration, it can be hard to be away from home and family during holidays, especially with so many kids in this show!  Instead, I look at holidays as an opportunity to bond with others in the cast, learn more about them, and make fun, new traditions as a tour family!  

For birthdays, we have what we call ‘Birthday Club.’  It works like a chain - the person who’s birthday was celebrated before yours brings a treat to celebrate on your birthday, and we all gather backstage at our half hour call time and sing “Happy Birthday” to the birthday boy or girl.  Then you bring a treat for the next birthday, and so on.

This week we had our first official holiday celebration on tour!  For Halloween, we planned to have all of the kids dress up and visit each of the adult’s dressing rooms to trick or treat before the show!  We decorated, and some of the cast even turned their dressing rooms into mini haunted houses!!  The crew went all out and even used lights and fog!  I’m sure everyone missed their friends and relatives (I know I did), but it was a great way to celebrate so we didn’t totally miss out on the fun :) 

Thanksgiving is next, stay turned to see what we come up with!

The Von Trapps all dressed up and ready to Trick or Treat!

The Von Trapps all dressed up and ready to Trick or Treat!

Spooky backstage haunted house!

Spooky backstage haunted house!

One of our cast doggies, Eddie, dressed up for the occasion! 

One of our cast doggies, Eddie, dressed up for the occasion! 

The kids visit my dressing room for a treat!

The kids visit my dressing room for a treat!

Birthday Club fun in the women's dressing room!

Birthday Club fun in the women's dressing room!

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Auditioning in New York City

As an actor you have the opportunity to travel and work in cities all over the world, but most professional auditions, no matter what theater they are for, take place in New York City.  The audition room in NYC can be a portal to so many new, exciting places, or, it can give you the chance to perform and live in the same place - the most coveted and rare scenario! 

Three of the things I audition for most often in New York are: 

  1. Broadway Shows.  Both upcoming shows, and to be a replacement in shows that are currently running.
  2. National Tours.  Same deal - new shows, or to be a replacement.
  3. Regional Theaters.  These are theaters that operate under Equity rules and produce their own shows in cities around the country.  You might have one or many in your hometown! Some examples are The 5th Avenue Theatre in Seattle, WA, The Goodspeed Opera House inEast Haddam, CT, The St. Louis Muny, Paper Mill Playhouse in Millburn, NJ, American Repertory Theatre (ART) in Cambridge, MA, and American Conservatory Theatre (ACT) in San Francisco, CA, to name just a few!

When auditioning in New York, you will not only have different kinds of theaters to audition for, you will have different ways to audition for them!  Auditions are broken up into different categories and each category has it’s own rules and procedures.  The most common audition formats include:

-Agent Appointments

This is when your agent sends you to an audition at a specific time, usually having had you prepare material (songs and scenes) from the show you are auditioning for, or your own song in the style of the show you are auditioning for.  

-Equity Principal Audition (EPA)

These auditions are for lead roles.  You will sign up for a time slot the day of the audition at the audition location.  At your chosen time you will go into the room alone and perform the material the casting team has asked for on their official audition notice.

-Equity Chorus Call (ECC)

These auditions are for ensemble roles and are broken up in to ‘Dancer’ and ‘Singer’ categories - males and females each have separate auditions.  For ECCs, you sign up at the Equity office up to a week ahead of time, or just show up the day of the audition.  For singers, the day of the audition, you sign up on a list organized by a ‘Monitor’ (a representative from the Equity office) and go in one at a time in order.  For dancers, you sign up in the same way, but go into the audition room in groups based on the order you signed up.  Group sizes vary, but are generally 25-30 at a time.  You go in, learn a combination all together, and then perform it in small groups for the auditors.   

There are a few set locations where auditions most commonly occur. These are privately owned studios with pianos, mirrors, and dance floors in large office buildings in/ near midtown.  Some of the most popular studios include Ripley Grier, Pearl Studios, Nola, Chelsea Studios, and the Actor’s Equity Center.  Theaters can rent out their rooms for auditions, rehearsals, classes, etc.  This means the studios are often bustling like a backstage area, filled with people in jewel toned dresses and nude heels running between rooms to fit multiple auditions in one day, or setting up camp to wait after signing up for their time slot in the morning.  Many times I’ve done just that - often to avoid trudging back and forth through the snow after getting my hair and makeup just right - hah! 

Because there are so many types of productions to audition for, and so many ways to audition for them,  you can keep yourself very busy and audition almost every day of the week!  I think it is important to audition as much as possible, because it is a skill that requires practice.  It is also essential to meet, and be seen by as many casting directors and theaters as you can.  If you are feeling in tip top shape, why not put yourself out there?!

Stay tuned for posts about how to find out about auditions, and how I prepare for them! 

I snagged this photo during the children's auditions for The Sound of Music!

I snagged this photo during the children's auditions for The Sound of Music!

One of the waiting areas at Ripley Grier studios

One of the waiting areas at Ripley Grier studios

Example of an audition form used for ECC auditions

Example of an audition form used for ECC auditions

The inside of an audition room at Pearl Studios

The inside of an audition room at Pearl Studios

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Tech Rehearsals

Greetings from Los Angeles! It’s been a while since I’ve posted, but we’ve been working hard to get THE SOUND OF MUSIC up and running.  After rehearsals in New York, and before opening night, a lot goes on behind the scenes to get the show ready for an audience.  This period of time is dedicated to technical, or “tech” rehearsals, where we add costumes, lighting, sound, set, orchestra, and full crew to the show.  This is a very time- consuming process because we want all of these elements to work together seamlessly so that the audience can forget reality while they watch the story unfold.  

To make this happen, the lighting designer (legendary and unbelievable artist, Natasha Katz) illuminates the story and ‘writes’ the lighting cues in a computer program so they are synched up, and in the proper order for performances. We work out set moves, which are both automated (meaning they move mechanically on tracks), and manually moved and hoisted up and down on the ‘fly rail’ where they are stored when not being used in the scene.  I’m still afraid to walk under the heavy set pieces when they’re hanging up above the stage and backstage areas!  *Fun fact: Inspired by the ‘VonTraps,’ the carpentry crew on our show has dubbed themselves the ‘VonCarp Family.’ I thought that was pretty clever :)  We also work out and practice quick costume changes with dressers and start working with our microphones so the sound designer can adjust levels to match actor’s volumes and track when everyone’s mic needs to be on/ off.  The stage manager (bonafide Superman, BJ Foreman) keeps track of all of these elements, and is the person who ‘calls’ all of the cues during the show.  This means he follows along with the script as we perform, and talks to members of each crew on headsets to signal when set moves, lighting, and sound changes should happen.

Preparing and synching these technical elements takes a lot of time. In order to accomplish this, we rehearse in blocks of time called “10 out of 12’s,” which means, in a period of twelve hours we rehearse for ten.  In the last week, we rehearsed noon- eleven pm with a one hour and a half dinner break, and three ten minute breaks throughout the day (spaced every hour and a half).  The schedule can be grueling, but it is so worth while when we begin to see the technical elements bringing the production to life, and elevating it to a level that can transport audiences to a different world. 

For this show, we held our tech rehearsals in Boise, Idaho instead of New York or Los Angeles because we were able to use the facilities and crew members from Boise State University.  There, they have a very large theater with extensive backstage space, and a built- in crew made up partially of students, which contributed to a lower operating cost for our production team while our hours were longer than normal. 

Now that we are in Los Angeles, we only have a few more daytime rehearsals during our preview period (September 20- 30).  Then we will be fully up and running for the year.  There will be understudy rehearsals once a week as we move forward, and brush ups when members of the team come to visit - but more about that later…  I’m ready for a nap!

The Morrison Center- our theater in Boise

The Morrison Center- our theater in Boise

Loading the set into the theater for tech!

Loading the set into the theater for tech!

Microphones ready!

Microphones ready!

Rehearsing with the orchestra for the first time!

Rehearsing with the orchestra for the first time!

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What does it mean to be a professional theater actor?

When I tell people I’m actor, their first questions are usually something like, “but… is that your real job?” “Do you get paid to do that?” “Isn’t that just for fun?” 

These questions are always a little complicated to answer.  The answer is yes, as a member of the Actors Equity Association (the actor’s union) I have a salary that enables me to pay all of my expenses and contribute to savings, and provides me with benefits, such as health insurance and a 401k, like a member of any other union. Therefore, I am able to make a living as an actor, that is, when I have a job as an actor.  But that’s the hard part- employment consistency. 

As an actor, jobs are very temporary, so you spend a lot of time in pursuit of the next job.  Even when you are working on Broadway or a National Tour, arguably the most stable of theatrical employments for actors, your job is only secure for a finite amount of time.  Few shows or employment contracts last longer than a few months! So in-between acting jobs (or even during), you are constantly auditioning, which is a consuming full time job that you are not paid for. During these times, actors generally find ways to supplement their income. 

My friends and I usually turn to jobs with flexible, and primarily evening hours so we are still able to audition during the day.  I’ve tried waitressing/ hosting, babysitting/ nannying, temp work at offices, and working at the desk of salons and fitness studios. You often have to piece multiple jobs together and just ‘make it work!’ While I’d of course prefer to be working in theater 365 days a year, I find that in the times I’m not able to, it’s refreshing to spend time with people who aren’t involved in theater. Also, having a consistent and structured work schedule is very helpful because the theater schedule can be so haphazard it can be difficult to always generate your own schedule and stay motivated and productive. 

My last side job was working as a temporary secretary for a building maintenance company in New York- I did not know what I had gotten myself into!  The phone rang off the hook all day with very upset people who mainly spoke in Spanish!  I had to decipher what they were saying to field calls and figure out who to transfer them to- that high school Spanish really came in handy!  …Talk about a ‘making it work’ moment!

Keep an eye out for the next post! I'll switch gears and write about different types of theater jobs!

Can you tell how much I liked being a restaurant hostess?! ...Definitely not my favorite side job!

Can you tell how much I liked being a restaurant hostess?! ...Definitely not my favorite side job!

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Rehearsal: Day One!

Yesterday was such an exciting day! We had our first official rehearsal for The Sound of Music tour! 

To start off the day, the whole cast and team (producers, designers, marketing, crew, etc.) met at our rehearsal studio on 42nd Street in the morning for a meet and greet reception.  This meeting included photo taking, speeches from the producers and director, and design presentations from the scenic and costume departments (complete with slide show presentation!). Next, we had a session with a representative from the Actor’s Equity Association (the actor’s professional union who protect our rights and safety) to discuss rules and procedures, and to elect the ‘Equity Deputies.’  These are members of the cast (one from the principal cast and one from the ensemble) who will act as a bridge between the cast, company manager, stage manager, and the actor’s union should any professional concerns arise during the tour.

Then after our lunch break it was down to business! While the ensemble learned the beautiful ‘Prelidium’ (the opening of the show) the principal cast sat down for ‘table work’ with director, Jack O’Brien. During this time, we discussed the historical and circumstantial context of the show, relationships between characters, and in what ways our version of The Sound of Music will differ from previous iterations. I really enjoy this part of production and think it is very important to do before diving in to rehearsal. That way, everyone can be on the same page, and work together to have cohesive intentions as a group, making for a focused narrative with a clear message.

I am SO excited to get started.  I think this is going to be a very striking and unique production of The Sound of Music and I hope some of you get the chance to see it! Follow along for more info about the show and process! There is so much more to come!

Day 1!

Day 1!

The Von Trapp kids!

The Von Trapp kids!

Our main rehearsal studio

Our main rehearsal studio

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The Sound of Music Costume Fittings!

I. love. costumes.  I am especially excited for THESE costumes because it is the first time I’ll have them made specifically for me, from scratch! 

Up to this point, I have only ever worn costumes previously created for someone else and modified to fit me. Some still have other people's name tags in them from years of being rented, and passed between theaters for productions around the country. See a few of my favorites from past shows below- they each had a long history before I got to wear them! 

Our incredible costume designer for The Sound of Music is the legendary Jane Greenwood.  She has been a costume designer on Broadway for over fifty years! - These costumes are going to be the real deal.

When costumes are made for a show, the designers usually sketch out their ideas, build 'first drafts'  based on your measurements, then call the actors in to have 'fittings' where we try on the costumes and make sure they are just right! 

For my first fitting, I went to Eric Winterling’s magical studio where the walls are filled with sketches of costumes that have been made there for shows including The Phantom of the Opera, Wicked, Mary Poppins, The Book of Mormon, to name a few! I was starstruck and thrilled to meet him. In the first fitting, Eric took my measurements, and assistant Greer traced and measured my feet for shoes.  Then I got to peek at the fantastic sketches for our show before leaving!

The next time I came to the studio, the team had created muslin mock ups of my costumes.  Jane was there to make sure they looked and fitted right before making the final versions out of the real material. It’s so fun to see it all come together! Then Tommy, the wig designer‘s assistant made a mold of my head to build my wig from.  This is a very unusual and funny process.  First, he put my hair in pin curls and a wig cap, then wrapped saran wrap all over my head, taped over it with clear packing tape so it would hold it’s shape, and finally traced my hairline with sharpie. 

The next step will be seeing the final versions of the costumes- stay tuned! I can’t wait!!! 

Eric Winterling's studio!

Eric Winterling's studio!

A Little Night Music at Sacramento Music Circus when I was 15!

A Little Night Music at Sacramento Music Circus when I was 15!

Into The Woods at Sacramento Music Circus- loved this costume.

Into The Woods at Sacramento Music Circus- loved this costume.

Hard to see, but this costume was completely covered in patches from years of wear and tear, haha!

Hard to see, but this costume was completely covered in patches from years of wear and tear, haha!

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Preparing for tour

It's the week before rehearsals begin! My contract has been negotiated and signed, the cast has been announced, and I have the schedule. Better get busy, there's a lot to do!

People often ask me about the logistics of going on tour- where do you live on tour? What do you do with all of your stuff? How do you get around? So I thought I'd talk a little bit about that today, and give you a glimpse into another part of tour life.

On tour, you live in a hotel that the production company manager arranges and pays for.  You also receive a “per diem,” which is basically a weekly allowance that is untaxed, and can be used to cover your basic living expenses- food, toiletries, etc. You can also chose to find your own housing in each city, and if you do that, you are given a higher weekly per diem to cover the cost. Each tour member is allowed to bring two, fifty pound suitcases with them, and you are provided a fifty pound trunk for bulkier items that the company transports from city to city for you.

So on one hand I'm thinking, “YAY! I have a job and room and board for a year!” And on the other hand I'm thinking, “what do I do with my apartment in New York and all of my furniture?  What do I do with all of the stuff that won’t fit in my suitcases?” I mean, I’m from California! I can’t exactly drive it home to mom. 

…So here’s what I'll do:

I set aside what I want/ need to bring on tour.  

Then, I figure out what other things I might need over the course of the year considering season changes, auditions, the inevitable costume party (haha!), and pack that in a box to mail home to California. 

Finally, I pack the rest (kitchen stuff, microwave, books, music, sewing machine, etc.) in boxes and bins (labeled clearly!), and put those in a public storage unit…… see photo. I’m telling you it’s not easy getting the boxes up there! Also, it is FAR away from my apartment so I try to avoid the expensive cab ride by carrying the boxes there on the subway. It adds up to a very long, tiring day. Prices on storage units vary considerably, so shop around for the best price. I’ve found it’s the least expensive, most efficient way to store everything when you’re from out of state. It also gives me peace of mind knowing everything is stored in one place. 

Now on to the apartment itself. I got really lucky this time because my lease ends the same day we leave for tour, but if that wasn’t the case, I would have to find a sublettor to move in so that I didn’t have to pay rent while I was away. Instead, since we are moving out, I have decided to sell all of my furniture. Luckily, this is very common in New York, and there are programs on Facebook made specifically for, and by actors and artists! Check out ‘Gypsy Housing’ and ‘Gypsy Furniture’ and Craigslist.

So far, it’s all going according to plan, but let me tell you, it’s a lot of work!  Wish me luck, and if you have any ideas or tips I’d love to hear them! Now, on to practicing lines and music before rehearsals begin!

Lots of love kitties!

My treehouse/ Rapunzel tower storage unit

My treehouse/ Rapunzel tower storage unit

"Public Storage Horror:" coming to a theater near you

"Public Storage Horror:" coming to a theater near you

Can't believe it's already time to leave 5A! Seems like we moved in yesterday.

Can't believe it's already time to leave 5A! Seems like we moved in yesterday.

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Welcome!

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Welcome!

Hi guys! Thank you so much for visiting this website!  If you’re here, you are probably a lot like me- obsessed with all things musical theater. So you’re in the right place, let’s be friends... WELCOME!

A little about the girl behind the blog- my name is Paige Silvester and I’m an actress living in New York City.  I’m originally from California, went to the University of Michigan for Musical Theatre, and am about to play Liesl on the new National Tour of THE SOUND OF MUSIC! 

On the blog, I’ll be posting stuff I’m learning, what we’re doing on tour, and lots of other fun bits about making acting your job!  If there’s anything YOU want to know or read about, shoot me a message or comment below-  I’d love to talk with you! Also find me on Facebook, Instagram, or Twitter and I’ll let you know when new posts, photos, and interviews are up! 

Much love, Theater Kitties! 

XO, Paige

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About Me

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About Me

Hi all! I'm Paige. Actress, musical theater fanatic, and kitty lover. Join me as I navigate life in NYC, and on tour with The Sound of Music one blog post at a time!

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