The Fine Art of the Industry Showcase

Over the last couple months, I’ve attended almost two dozen industry showcases. Frankly, for the most part they are very, very bad. An event designed to showcase your talent should do just that, but too often factors outside of the acting prevent you from being seen at your best.  I’ll examine four recent showcases and comment on what they did right and did wrong, and give you some pointers for putting your best foot forward.

The Musical Theatre Program

A few weeks ago, I attended a showcase for a New York-based musical theatre program.  I received the invitation in the mail, and I decided to attend.  I confirmed a reservation through email and showed up a few minutes early.  I checked in and received a satisfactory industry packet. Like most showcases, it started 15 minutes late.  The talent level was uneven, but the showcase was well-directed, the scenes flowed quickly, and the there was a sense of cohesion to the entire event.  The biggest problem was the song selection, in most cases the songs did not show off the actors’ vocal or emotional range which led me to conclude they had neither.  Also, in addition to industry, there was a large contingent of friends, students and family members.  I think an industry showcase should be for industry, faculty, and staff only.  The presence of friends and family diminishes the professional setting and makes your showcase seem more like a high school talent show.  Of course you want to present your work to those near and dear, so have an open dress rehearsal or a separate performance for loved ones, and keep the industry showcase professional.

The Small MFA Program

Another recent showcase for a small MFA program based outside New York was held at a small venue in the theatre district.  I walked in and there were no signs to direct the audience and no person greeting in the lobby.  There was a large crowd that I navigated to find that there was no box office or reservation area.  I finally managed to get an industry packet after asking several people who seemed to be in charge.  The show started 10 minutes late, but the scenes were quick, for once they were actually too quick (each scene was less than two minutes).  The brevity of each scene was a disservice to the actors.  It’s important to find just the right length for a scene.   Too short, and I don’t know what you can do; too long, and I’m planning my grocery list in my head.  The talent was uneven, but the whole evening had an air of defeat.  The performers seemed disinterested and disengaged as if they had already moved on.  It still boggles my mind that a university will teach students all the principles of acting, but won’t take the time to teach them how to compose a résumé.  Every actor’s résumé contained spelling mistakes, formatting errors, or incomplete information.  This showcase obviously did not show off the student in their best light, and after paying for an MFA, I think the least a student can ask for is a professional showcase.

The New York Studio Program

At an acting studio based in New York, I attended a showcase of one-year program students.   When I arrived, the person checking in industry people was very rude, and regarded me with suspicion.  I was dressed casually and I hurried to make sure I was on time, so I was a little out of breath and had to dig around for my business card, but the attitude I got from the man at the door almost pushed me to walk back out the door.  A note: casting professionals come in all shapes, sizes, and colors.  Sometimes we are well-dressed because we’re coming from a meeting, sometimes we’re squeezing you in after a trip to the gym and whether we cast for a big company or a small one, we should all be treated with respect.  You did invite us after all. I decided to stay, and I walked into the room.  I took a seat in the industry area and looked through my packet. Another note: Cut your résumé to fit your headshot.  Over-sized résumés look sloppy and are likely to cause paper cuts. Slowly the room started to fill up and by 10 minutes after start time, every seat was full and the staff had lined the aisles with chairs.  Even more people sat at the foot of the stage, and when the program began, the place was roasting and the over capacity room was in violation of about 30 fire and safety codes.  When one person had to leave mid-performance, the commotion it caused was a loud, prolonged distraction.  The heat in the room got to a point where nearly everyone was fanning themselves, and the program which was advertised as running for an hour clocked in at an hour twenty-five.  The audience of friends and family hooted and hollered so much that it was difficult to hear the actors.  Also, they laughed at moments that weren’t supposed to be funny and undermined their loved one’s performances with cackles of recognition. As for the acting, it was a mixed bag as usual.  And the original material written for the showcase, was amateurish sketch comedy at best and borderline offensive at worst.  The few standout talents were diminished by the unpleasant atmosphere, and because of the rude treatment I received, I do not plan to go back to that studio again.

The BFA/ MFA Showcase

A well-established university program held a showcase at a midtown theatre.  I had received an invitation and made a reservation.  I arrived five minutes early and checked in, I was treated with kindness and respect, handed a complete and highly professional industry packet, and directed toward the theatre.  I took a seat and waited for the show to begin.  The atmosphere was comfortable and those in attendance were all industry, faculty, staff, and a few program alumni.  The performance began in a timely fashion, and all of the performers took the stage and stayed onstage for the entire program.  This choice allowed the scenes to flow quickly.  Also great attention to detail had been taken to establish a cohesive theme and create smooth transitions.  The entire atmosphere was professional and the actors approached their work with energy and determination.  They were well-rehearsed and well-directed and the material for the most part was well-chosen.  This university gave their students the professional program they deserved, and allowed their talent to shine unmitigated by unfortunate distractions.  As for the talent level, there were a few duds but most of the actors had promise and a few were really outstanding.  It looks like this university’s faculty put as much energy into the showcase as they did into the training program.

Some tips for a successful showcase!!!

  1. •Showcases should be for industry only
  2. •Send announcements at least a few weeks before the date and then follow up via phone or email
  3. •Have an eye-catching and professional looking invitation
  4. •Target your invitations to the industry members you would like to attend
  5. •Have friendly and helpful people at the check-in desk
  6. •Make sure the space is comfortable with plenty of room and a pleasant temperature
  7. •Keep your scenes and monologues short and to the point (about 3- 5 minutes tops)
  8. •Spend the time and money to create a meticulous professional program and industry packet
  9. •Choose scenes wisely and stay away from original material unless you are working with a professional writer
  10. •Hire a professional director to direct scenes and create thematic cohesion and smooth transitions
  11. •Let everyone shine, all scenes should be of similar length and show off each actor’s best traits
  12. •Have dress rehearsals with respected faculty and staff and get feedback on how to improve your work
  13. •Have fun, relax, do your best, and have a post-show reception with food and wine

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