How to Succeed in an Industry full of Heartbreak

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It is the day of her audition for a series regular role on NBC’s Chicago Fire and Jamie Massimilian has been preparing all morning for her time to shine. She walks down a quiet, narrow hallway that shows no personality or hint as to what she is about to walk into. As she walks in the room, she sees eight other women that have similar features sitting in front of a door with a sign that reads “CHICAGO FIRE: PLEASE SIGN IN.” After checking in, she sits in isolation on an old, leather brown couch and puts her headphones in. As she waits for her turn, she listens to “I’m a survivor” by Destiny’s child to get her energy up. It’s been five minutes and Jamie closes her eyes – it’s her turn. She walks into the room and stands on her mark, observing the room full of producers that are studying her. She says her first line and is immediately cut off by the director that says, “Thank you, that’s all we need.” She is surprised, leaves the room and her mind starts spinning out of control. Did she do something wrong?

As humans, we have two desires where the foundations of acting lie. The first desire is the idea that we want witnesses. We live alone, die alone and are terrified about that. Acting is born from this desire. Our second want is the desire to be effective and influence your audience. Actors must be so in tune with what they are saying that they influence an audience, and with this being said, witnesses are needed to influence. As an actor, your goal is to get empathy from your witnesses. This is the most amazing feeling, but you must get through auditions before having the opportunity to showcase your talent to a big audience. Within two minutes, you must convince a room of directors, writers and casting directors that you have what it takes.

Jonathan Poremba is a theater fanatic and ex-actor that could not handle the baggage that comes with the process. “It’s a tough business, man. You take off work to go to auditions that you don’t get paid for and are most likely not booking. You must have tough skin in this business and be okay with failure. I wanted to sprint, but this industry is a marathon and after a few years I couldn’t support myself anymore.”

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Jamie Massimilian.

Jamie Massimilian, long-time friend and actor, chimes in on the important of letting go. “Focus on that audition, go into the room for those two precious minutes, leave and never think about that audition again. I’ve had so many days where I start thinking to myself, ‘what could I have done better? Did I look funny? Why was the director looking at me like that?’ and I completely destroy my confidence.” She goes on to explain that it’s hard being in a world full of rejection, but the focus should not be on rejection, but rather that excitement of that one yes. “This business is 99 percent rejection, so it is important to get excited about that 100th audition that will land you the role you’ve been wishing for.”

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Mickie Paskal (left) and AJ Links (right) at Paskal Rudnicke Casting.

AJ Links is a casting director at Paskal Rudnicke Casting (PR Casting) and has been in the professional business for six years. She is a young, vibrant, beautiful soul that lights up a room with confidence and excitement. When asking what her favorite part of the job was, she simply responded with, “matchmaking.”  In an audition room, AJ explains that casting wants all actors to do well and wants to book everyone, but that just isn’t how the business works. There are details as small as the color of your eyes that decide your fate when auditioning for a role in television/film/theater/etc. “Honestly, this industry is about faking it until you make it. You can have an audition an hour after you walk in on your boyfriend cheating on you, but you must find something that makes the audition the best part of your day. Find something that makes you happy, whether it’s doing yoga in the lobby or listening to two minutes of Beyoncé. Actor preparation will make or break you, so find a way to calm yourself down and be in the moment.”

So, to all actors reading this – breathe. It is going to be okay as long as you find what makes you happy. Focus on that.

A Dancing Sandwich with a Powerful Message

Sheri is a baser, which is arguably the most important job when in the sandwich-making business – she is the person that introduces the sandwich to a customer. Sheri got cold sleeping in her car one night, so she decided to sleep at the sandwich shop so she wouldn’t have to move much to get to work the next morning. Sheri “woke up” to a talking sandwich that was “eating her fears,” and that is when Sheri saw life in a completely different light.

“American Hero,” a play about the opening of a sandwich shop and how four uniquely crazy characters keep it alive and running, made its debut at the Den Theater in Wicker Park and it was, quite literally, about sandwiches. However, what made this play so intriguing was the subtext of the script – what we weren’t being told but should have caught on to. This play was targeted towards the millennial generation that don’t pay attention to what is happening in the world and need to open their eyes. “This play is so wacky, a great break from reality where we can actually laugh about how badly humans treat each other,” says Lacy Yonkers, a twenty-something audience member that was at the show.

“American Hero is a show that you really have to pay attention to to catch the underlying messages,” says Brian McKnight, an actor in the show that plays four different people. “It may seem like a show about sandwiches, but it’s much more complex.” When the sandwich in Sheri’s dream is telling her that he’s eating her fear, he is basically saying that she should never give up on her dream. The play had underlying themes of respect, independence, privilege, fear, hope… The list goes on.

I caught myself in an eye-opening experience watching the show. The four characters were so different and at first I started to judge their actions, like when one of them looked like they had a rough night of partying and kept chewing her gum obnoxiously. Then, once I found out more about their stories, I realized I needed to stop judging people before I got to know them.

Lacy recalls after the show, “I never thought a sandwich would make me laugh, but here I am, laughing at a sandwich. I mean, when they started dancing together, I died.” “American Hero” is playing in Stage B, a theater with seating for a maximum of about 48 people. The set is small and in the center of the seating, with no barrier between the audience and the actors.

For more information and tickets, click here.

La Havana Madrid Stealing the Hearts of Chicago

The revival of a popular 1960’s nightclub in the Lakeview neighborhood, La Havana Madrid, has shook the Chicago Theater community with positive reviews. This story, written by the overnight superstar Sandra Delgado, follows a Caribbean nightclub where Latino’s would gather after arriving in Chicago. From the words of actor Ian Rigg, it is a show made to “celebrate and remember.”

With a live band on stage, the audience catches themselves thinking that they are actually inside of a nightclub where love and music are synonymous. Being a borderline monologue play, you hear many stories of Latino’s coming from around the world searching for a better life. The talent in the show are so refreshingly believable with everything they do, which sucks you into the show from the very start.

Sandra Delgado is a well-known name in the Chicago community now and has basically become a celebrity overnight. The Chicago Park District announced that this playwright will be featured in Theater on the Lake’s new play commission. Readings of her dark comedy, “Felons and Familias,” will be read in many neighborhood’s around Chicago, where “park patrons” can give their reviews. Just like La Havana Madrid, “Delgado has constructed a compelling compendium of tales, expertly woven together. She hasn’t exhumed stories long buried; she’s resurrected them.”

 

Martha Lavey, Chicago Theater Celebrity, Dies at 60

The Chicago Theater scene has been shot with the tragic news of the death of a Chicago theater legend, Martha Lavey. She died in hospice at Illinois Masonic Hospital after suffering her second major stroke. She was an actress and the Artistic Director at Steppenwolf Theater for 20 years and became an icon in Chicago.

Hedy Weiss, writer for the Chicago Sun Times, stated that she saw Lavey perform for the first time in 1987 in the play, “Aunt Dan and Lemon.” She stated that “The exquisitely beautiful Lavey, with her flawless, hypnotic diction and dreamy grace, captures the girl’s ghostly quality — turning her into a kind of cracked porcelain doll.”

Steppenwolf released a statement in memory of Lavey, explaining that services will be held in Virginia where her family is, but the Chicago Theater community will hold a memorial service at Steppenwolf, with times and a date TBD.

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Jamie Massimilian

Jamie Massimilian, who has been coached by Martha Lavey, explains the emptiness she feels now that Lavey is gone. “She had such a great heart and really looked out for the younger Chicago actors to give them a guide to success in the industry. She was such an amazing actress and had such passion for every performance. She will be missed.”

Martha Lavey is the first to leave the Steppenwolf ensemble through death. She will never be forgotten. We will miss you, Martha.

Musical Theater in Chicago

Need a last-minute date idea? Say no more. The Chicago musical theater scene is here to help! Check out the top three shows below:

  1. “Marry me a Little.” This two-person musical will pull at all of your heart strings. Playing at Stage 773 in Lakeview.
  2. “Aladdin.”  This musical will bring back your childhood. Playing at the Cadillac Palace Theater in the Loop.
  3. “Hamilton.” A hip-hip and R&B sensation that came to Chicago, this musical will leave you at a loss for words.

“Spamilton” Takes Chicago by Storm

Gerard Alessandrini has created a spoof of the famous Hamilton musical, and Chicago is loving it.  Keeping talent local, the show glorifies Miranda, played by young actor Yando Lopez, an up-and-comer determined to save Broadway with his rhymes. The talented cast of Hamilton made their way to the show, and even they were impressed.

For tickets, you don’t have to wait a year and pay a month’s rent. Buy tickets here.

On a budget? Say no More.

Did you know that Chicago is home to over 205 theaters? Shows are opening every week, so here’s a few shows I recommend that won’t break the bank:

  1. “Wig Out!”  A tale of “Community, queer sub-culture and sexuality.” Written by the writer of Moonlight. This show is playing at DePaul University for $10. “
  2. “Strangest Things! The Musical” takes us back to a time when “hair was huge, the music was loud, and parents were nowhere to be found.” This is Playing at Greenhouse Theater for $20.
  3. “Circle Mirror Transformation” Pulitzer Prize-winner Annie Baker dissects human behavior through the microscope of an acting class. Playing at Redtwist Theater for $30.

Must-See Shows in April

What does Chicago get right? The diversity that is shown at each theater in the windy city. There are musicals and plays from many different origins that will make you feel different emotions every time. Feeling Boujee? Make your way to Cadillac Palace Theater for Aladdin, the musical that was nominated for five Tony Awards. Not a musical person? Head over to Steppenwolf in Lincoln Park, one of the best theaters in the world, for a deep show inspired by a nightclub where Caribbean-Latino immigrants gathered in the 60’s.

A Young Artist’s Hustle to Making Dreams a Reality

Stephanie Clemens wanted to spread her love for dance from her hometown of Hollywood, California to Chicago, Illinois. She was inspired by her neighbor, Diageliev dancer Adolph Bolm whom suggested she take ballet class at a young age. She started from the bottom and made her way to founding MOMENTA, a company with over 600 students, including a preschool that will allow students to see the world through art. The dance program offers classical ballet and codified modern techniques like Graham, Humphrey and jazz. Where do I sign up?