Tuesday, July 31, 2012

Bridging the Gap: Educational Theatre to Professional Theatre

Perseverance and Practice
by Philip Cuomo

Recently, I facilitated a conversation with a group of artists at Post5 Theatre as part of the first annual Outdoor ShakespeareFestival.

The artists at Post5 asked me to talk about how an emerging theatre artist moves beyond their training into the professional world. Like good acting, the answer is simple but not easy: perseverance and practice.

Perseverance is about the commitment to a lifelong body of work. Practice refers to the discipline of doing - like a yoga instructor who reminds you of poses to do and ways to challenge yourself in your “daily practice.” In order to succeed as an artist, in any discipline, one must do the work - the practice - and commit to that practice in the long term. Persevere in that practice.

54 West 22nd Street
Former home of Theatre 22
and Sydney Armus
I often think about when I first learned this lesson. About 25 years ago I worked at Theatre 22 on West 22nd Street in NYC. It was a small, 40-seat black box theatre, with a tiny office and rehearsal space. The entire place was less than 1000 square feet. The gentleman who ran the space, Sydney Armus, was a successful actor. He had been the original Speed on Broadway in Neil Simon’s The Odd Couple, played a supporting role in The Thomas Crown Affair (1968), and he was a regular on the early years of Law & Order, playing an eccentric judge.

Sydney owned and lived at Theatre 22. His bed was in a loft above the office desk.

A few years after working at the small theatre, I ran into Sydney on the street and said, “Sydney! How are you doing? How’s the…how’s the…”

In his deep resonating voice, trained and practiced in Broadway theatres, he interrupted me: “’How’s the career,’ Philip? Do you mean to ask me, ‘How’s the career?’”

Armus in 2002
(Photo: offbroadwayonline)
“Well yeah, Sydney, how’s the career?” I replied.

“Philip, you and I, we don’t have careers, we have lifestyles.”

I heard that and completely understood. Here was a man in his sixties who was a successful and committed professional actor, who had chosen a life in the theatre. He devoted his time and pledged his energy to the practice of theatre. He lived in a theatre – it was his place – not his workplace.

His lifestyle exemplified the sacrifice and dedication required of anyone, in any discipline, who is an artist.

This is part one of a multi-part series on Bridging the Gap: Educational Theatre to Professional Theatre, by Portland Actors Conservatory Executive Director Philip Cuomo.

Thursday, July 26, 2012

How do you define success?

In the coming weeks, Philip Cuomo, Executive Director of Portland Actors Conservatory, will be writing a series of blog posts about defining success as emerging actors bridge the gap from educational theatre to the professional theatre.

In the meantime, we're musing on this New York Times column by Sarah Ruhl, a Pulitzer Prize finalist for playwrighting, who has decided to take criticism out of the equation with her latest production, “Melancholy Play." By doing so, she is redefining how her work is judged successful - who gets to decide? How is successful theatre defined?  How do you define success?