Theater veterans offer words of wisdom in book

How does an actor keep things fresh during a long run? How does he mentally prepare for a performance? How important is it that he have a life outside the theater?

The recently published "Performance of the Century: 100 Years of Actors' Equity Association and the Rise of the Professional American Theatre" provides some thought on these subjects by those fortunate enough to be surviving the trenches. (Last week's column talked about the book's fascinating telling of the union's history.)

Here's a brief, random glimpse at some wise words.

Actors' Equity audition committee Chairwoman Linda Cameron on, what else, auditioning: "Find out all you can about the show and the character. Practice your material at home, before you go to the audition, even if you've done it a million times. Make informed choices about your appearance. Keep your audition short. Auditors always tell us they can tell in a very short time if the actor could be what they're looking for. Once the auditors have gotten the sense of the actor, they tend to get irritated if the actor goes on and on, and whatever appeal the actor had diminishes quickly."

Baayork Lee, a dancer from the original "A Chorus Line," on tough competition: "Chorus work has changed as musicals have evolved. Because of 'A Chorus Line' the term 'triple threat' was born - one person singing, dancing and acting. All ensembles are made up of triple threats nowadays; it is the norm."

Jayne Houdyshell, a tour veteran, on performance preparation: "On performance day, everything I do is geared toward protecting my energies. I get to the theater an hour and a half early, so I have enough time to schmooze as well as getting to hair, makeup, and costume. I hum and sing scales. Usually it involves entering into a meditative state and thinking about the true purpose of why we do what we do."

Suzanne Grodner, another tour veteran, about long runs: "Each show has its own joys and challenges. Sometimes when you get out there with every line landing perfectly, maintenance can be a breeze. It's the nights when the house is half full and half asleep, when the cast wants to play, 'Find the Audience Member with the Fabulous Christmas Sweater,' that your focus can stray. I toured with a show for three years, and the one constant for me was the audience. I knew that every person in those seats that night was probably seeing this show for the first time. For me, it's about giving the audience my gift. Every night."

Ken Page, from the original "Ain't Misbehavin' " cast on the importance of actors having lives: "As a young actor, I wish someone had told me that career is PART of your life - not your WHOLE life. Your life needs the same attention we so willingly give our careers. ... (As I get older) what has not changed is the absolute joy I get from working in the live theater - not only from the work, but from the relationships as well. We are a rare and wonderful breed. They are and have been my mothers, fathers, sisters, brothers, lovers, and teachers, and I wouldn't have had it any other way."

Anthony Del Valle can be reached at You can write him c/o Las Vegas Review-Journal, P.O. Box 70, Las Vegas, NV 89125.