Sunday, May 23, 2010


"James Beaman plays Charlie Davenport with a New Yorker's wily acumen." ~Hartford Courant


This week, for several reasons, I chose to stay in East Haddam for the days off. It's amazing how long and luxurious those two days can feel when I'm not motoring back and forth to New York, hustling to auditions and various appointments in the city. During my free time I spent a few hours exploring the extraordinary archives of the Scherer Musical Theatre Library at Goodspeed. This great facility is the only library in the U.S. solely devoted to the preservation and advancement of musical theatre through the collection of performance materials for research and study. Its collection of scripts, scores, sheet music, playbills and other materials is second only to that of Lincoln Center's Performing Arts Library in New York. You can just imagine what a boon this place is for the performers who work here. Not only am I always committed to expanding my knowledge of the craft and the history of my work, but as an actively auditioning performer, I am forever seeking great songs and monologue material for use in auditions--preferably material that is more obscure and not as commonly used by other actors. The Scherer Library provides unfettered access to a wealth of material that may be completely unavailable elsewhere.

I had an audition this week for a prominent Shakespeare festival, for which I was required to perform two monologues, one classic and one contemporary, as well as a song from a Gilbert and Sullivan operetta.
I selected a tune from "Patience," one of the lesser known G&S shows, which lampooned the aesthetic movement in the Victorian era. The Scherer Library had a complete score and libretto of the piece, and librarian and education director Josh Ritter was able to take an old LP of a British recording of the operetta and transfer my song from an analog to a digital track right there, sending me away with a CD of the music I needed to study! While I was waiting, I looked through the library's extensive collection of play scripts, and happened to find a very, very funny comic monologue which completely captivated me, and which I have spent my days off memorizing and working up for this audition. While I admit I am a theatre dork, the discovery of a new and workable comedic monologue that can serve me in auditions for years to come is a real find.

I was also able to help out one of my performer friends who needed a song from a rather obscure contemporary musical. The song is not available in published vocal selections from the show, even though it is included on the original cast album, and my friend had searched the Lincoln Center Library for the score, to no avail. Wouldn't you know the library here had the entire score, in a copy of the original, unpublished manuscript? I was able to take the song and fax it to my friend, who will be able to use it for his own audition next week. While I want to toot the horn of this amazing resource center, it's so wonderfully managed and so easily utilized here at Goodspeed, I rather selfishly don't want to see it get too popular! I am only kidding. Really, folks, if you are a lover of the musical theatre genre, or a scholar or performing professional who desires access to some really valuable material, the Scherer Library is something to know about. Goodspeed Musicals truly gives back to us all by dedicating space, manpower and resources to this great institution.

Another way Goodspeed gives back is through educational outreach programs, and they offer all us visiting artists the opportunity to participate. These opportunities can involve anything from pre- and post-show discussions with audiences and school groups, to classes and workshops with area students.
This week, the talented Molly Tynes, one of our ensemble dancers, and I devised a workshop on auditioning for a group of ten students from the Community Music School in nearby Essex. These kids study voice and music and theatre and every summer participate in a musical production with the school, so they have a passion for musical theatre. Auditioning is an integral and essential component of the actor's career, and requires a set of skills that need to be developed above and beyond the training a performer receives in their craft. Auditioning draws upon one's interpersonal skills, one's ability to improvise, and challenges the performer to develop methods of relaxation and of presenting one's best self in an intense and concentrated encounter with potential employers. Through question and answer and a series of exercises, Molly and I encouraged the students to focus on their strengths, both as performers and as people, knowing who they are and the unique combination of qualities they project.
Then we asked the kids to present 16 bars of a song and set things up like an actual audition. We were not only impressed by the abilities of these talented teenagers, but by the way in which they took our direction and coaching. The results in just a couple of hours were really inspiring. It reminded me how vital it is for older, established artists to provide encouragement and positive reinforcement to budding young talents, and I felt so grateful for that reminder. Revisiting the wonder and excitement of a young performer finding his or her self expression helped me to realize that I need to keep those same energies alive in myself as I pursue my own work. Thank you to Josh and the education department at the theatre for a stimulating classroom opportunity, and best of luck to our ten young aspirants! Carpe diem!

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