Submit To Me!

All professions are riddled with systemic flaws that everyone knows about, and yet very little is done to fix them. For playwrights and musical theatre writers the systemic flaw that I hear complained about the most is the submissions process.

Now, these complaints are completely justified. The problem with the system is…well, there isn’t one.

In the professional theatre world - at least where play and musical submissions are concerned - it’s a total free-for-all. (and not the enjoyable kind, like a lovely game of Super Smash Bros. on the good ole Nintendo 64! …no? just me being a video game dinosaur? oh coo, cool…)

And like most problems, this one gets completely ignored and nothing is really done to change it. Well, I won’t say completely ignored. Writers talk about this all the time - how messy, inconsistent, biased, and often expensive the submission process can be (yes, many come with attached fees). But the people who have the power to do something about it (aka the Theaters and the theatrical community members who receive submissions) either don’t want to change the way they do things, don’t want to engage in the discussion, don’t have the time, or aren’t aware that there is a better way to go about all of this.

And there is a better way, isn’t there?

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“Opportunity Is Not A Lengthy…whoa, but there are so many opportunities!”

For those of you who are not theatre writers and have never gone through the process, here’s a little peak into the world of submissions.

The first thing to note is what types of opportunities you can submit for. There’s:

  • Competitions - Prizes are usually monetary, but sometimes also come with readings, workshops, or (in rare cases) full productions. And the institutions may cover your travel to see the fruits of this, or they may not.

  • Festivals - Festivals range: geographically, in numbers of participants, in what is provided, in how many performances are allotted, in administrative and creative support from the organization, and in fees to participate. But what they all have in common is that, at the end of the day, you either need to have a producer raising the money for you or you will be producing this yourself. And they range from your local Fringe festival to Edinburgh to NYMF.

  • Residencies - Generally these are lovely retreat-style blocks of time set aside for a writer or writing team to go somewhere secluded and pretty, and to get a great deal of work done without the pressures and stressors of regular life. Often room and board is covered, though not always, and sometimes you are provided with access to rehearsal space, recording equipment, full living access, other artists, and/or a presentation gathering of some sort at the end of the stay.

  • Conferences - These include the “biggies” like NAMT and the O’Neill. Conferences are like a mixture between a residency and a festival - you reside in a place for the length of the conference and workshop your material, and at the end there is a large presentation. The larger conferences are highly sought after due to the fact that they attract producers and industry professionals looking for projects to take on.

  • Theaters and Theatre Companies - Although there is a sizable difference in the result of submitting to a large regional equity house versus your friend’s small theatre company that started last week, in both cases you are submitting to an entity that you hope will take on the burden of producing your material for you (in comparison with self-producing, as in a festival). These entities all have mission statements and many of them also have specific new works programming, and if your material fits what they are looking for then you can submit with the hope of getting programmed into a future season.

  • New Works Development Opportunities - Many of these are part of a Theater or Theatre Company’s set path to producing new material. The opportunities might be a reading, a workshop, a script analysis, a staged reading, etc., or there may be tiers of opportunities that you will be considered for. And if you are accepted, then the participants in these opportunities are then put in a pipeline of consideration for the one new works production slot for the following season. Though each theatre company treats their own programs quite differently, and these can vary greatly.

  • Awards - Much like competitions…well, really these are competitions. But like a theatre company, awarding entities come with mission statements that specify what kind of artists and what kind of works they are looking to award. And the awards are monetary and often quite large. For instance, the Kleban Award ($100,000) is specifically for musical theatre Librettists and Lyricists (two separate awards). Other times the work must fit within specific parameters, or the artists must be from a certain geographical area or ethnic background.

  • People - Producers or artists in whom you are interested. Generally, these submissions are more personal and have no parameters, and they only tend to be successful when you already have a connection to the person you’re contacting.

  • Cold Submissions - There are thousands and thousands of theatrical entities out there, and sometimes they have no submission policies whatsoever. Maybe that means they don’t take submissions, or maybe it just means they have no official policy for them. Cold submitting an inquiry rarely works out unless you have a connection to someone at the theatre, in which case it’s probably better to submit to the person than the entity. Well, that’s my opinion at least!

And that is just the spread of what exists out there that you could possibly submit to. Whoa. Right?

And let us keep in mind that this is you - the writer - submitting to these places. Unless you are lucky and/or rich enough to have a secretary that does this for you, then you are the person looking through all of these opportunities, checking websites, researching people and theaters, making lists of deadlines, writing up all of the submission materials and statements and cover letters, and sending the emails or filling out the online forms. That’s a lot of time and work.

But never fear! There are websites dedicated to helping writers find submission opportunities and that give the deadlines so you can plan on when and how to submit!

Now, granted, some of these websites are really looking to make money off of you and this information (paying for subscriptions and whatnot). And some are far more comprehensive than others. But the Dramatists Guild Submissions Calendar and Play Submission Helper are probably the most comprehensive of the sites for American submissions, and both are quite helpful.

 

“I’ll take…one with everything - but hold the synopsis!”

So what exactly do the writers submit? What are the limitations or parameters?

Well, if you thought the types of submission opportunities were varied, then just you wait (Henry Higgins)!

The first thing I will point out is that many of these submissions to the more prominent institutions and producing entities are agent submission only. Theatrical writing agents are not nearly as plentiful as acting agents, which really limits the groups that are able to submit to these places. Which is of course the point. Sometimes there will be a way to submit an inquiry if you don’t have representation, but more often than not you are simply out of luck. Rough times. (“No Submission Without Represen-tition…!”???)

Another limitation that might exist is needing the accompaniment of a professional recommendation letter to your submission - preferably from a recognized theatrical institution. There can be even more restrictions than this, but they aren’t as common as the agent restriction.

But if there is a submission policy that is open to the general theatrical writing public, then there are myriad types of materials that might be requested of you. This list below will include a mix of information that might be asked of both playwrights and musical theatre writers:

  • Log Line - A one-sentence description of the show and its themes. Not quite a tag line or hook, and also not quite a synopsis. These are pretty rare outside of in-person pitches.

  • Short Synopsis - These are almost always restricted to a certain word count. For instance, The King’s Legacy has different short synopsis versions in: 100 words, 150 words, 250 words, and 500 words. Writers must do their best to summarize the plot, main characters, and themes of their shows within these word counts.

  • Treatment/1-Page Synopsis - A little more lenient than the short synopsis - though strict on the page limitation - these synopses are the opportunity for the writer to give a full blow-by-blow of the entire plot for their show. Now is the time to say exactly what happens, when, and how. No worries about mystery or spoilers here - they want to know the ending.

  • 10-Page Dialogue Sample - A small sampling of the feel of the show. Generally best to start at the beginning if you can, but if that doesn’t show off the piece at its best, then it can be acceptable to choose ten pages from elsewhere in the script.

  • 20-Page Dialogue Sample - These should definitely start at the beginning. If you aren’t showing off your best work in the first twenty pages, it might be time to give the top of the show another pass.

  • Lyrics with Descriptions - For musical submissions these are fairly common. Choose [2/3/4/6/8/12] songs from your show (yes, I’ve had all of those restrictions at some point) to send. They want the full lyric to the song, but with a detailed description of the characters, plot placement, and other context.

  • Music Demos - Again, the number of these may vary. Most submissions are very forgiving on the quality of the recording as long as the music isn’t garbled and the lyrics are understandable. Occasionally you are allowed to send demos for the entire show!

  • Links to Media - Many online forms will include a box to add links to other media, though this generally means Videos if you have them. Youtube links, or a link to a Video page or a playlist, are great items to have!

  • Production History - Exactly like it sounds. It’s a list of where and when the show has been produced. If it has not yet been produced, or has only had a couple full productions, then provide a list of where it has been developed, in what manner, and when.

  • Other Relevant Materials - This is the space to add in any of the other materials that this submission did not specifically ask for. Or this is a great place to include a link to your website if you have one (and you should!).

  • Artist Bio or Resume - It’s always one or the other, not both. Why? I am unsure. But have these handy always!

  • Artistic Statement - Now we come to the parts that take the most time per submission. Artistic Statements are basically personal essays that speak to who you are as an artist, what your goals are, and why you do what you do. They must also be catered toward the place you are submitting to, particularly if they have a mission statement readily available.

  • Letter of Intent - Similar to an Artistic Statement, but these are usually laid out for you with specific questions to answer in the body of the letter. (ie. Tell us about…? Why our theatre? What do you hope to accomplish with this opportunity? etc.) It’s part Cover Letter, part Artistic Statement.

  • Cover Letter - Or Letter of Inquiry. These are used to introduce yourself, speak about how you found the opportunity and why you are interested, and to introduce the piece you are submitting. Generally, less than one page is desirable for these letters. And sometimes this is just the email that precedes all of the asked-for submission materials.

  • Full Script (and Score) - You lucky duck! They’re going to read your show! Unfortunately, this doesn’t happen nearly as often as we all would like.

  • Blind Materials - Sometimes theaters ask for any of the above-mentioned materials without the writer’s name, for a more fair and unbiased judging of submissions. There aren’t a ton of opportunities that ask for this, but it’s good to have blind copies available just in case.

Dizzy yet?

These materials can be (and are!) asked for in any combination without even a semblance of consistency between the submission processes. And because every submission opportunity is different, it takes a great deal of time to write up every submission that you send out. Not to mention that you want to have done your research and personalized the submission as much as possible.

*Tip: Keep track of your submissions in a document! Write down what you sent, to whom, and on what date. It’s great to be able to reference back!!

 

Can We Consolidate?

As you see, this is a mess of a system. So the question becomes: can we consolidate all of this information?

Well, there is an entity out there who is trying to do just that! They are called The New Play Exchange. Their mission is essentially to be the hub where writers go to upload their pieces and all attached materials, where submission opportunities go to post and search out what they are looking for, and where producers and directors can go to search out scripts of a certain criteria so they can read what they are interested in. It’s a fantastic idea, but it’s definitely still in its youth and will need more time to make a greater impact.

I don’t know what any other answers may be, but if there was a standard submission packet that everyone took for every opportunity, it would make the theatrical world far more productive. Writers wouldn’t have to spend so much of their writing time doing specific and varied submissions, and institutions would know exactly what they are going to receive from writers (whether or not they care to look at all of it). All I know is, there must be a better way.

I could say oodles more about submitting to opportunities, but I think I’ll leave it here for now. Honestly, I have two submission opportunities in my inbox right now and, well, that means I’ve got some deadlines to hit!

Until next time, folks!

Hole-y Plots, Batman!

Over the course of my musical direction this past year I have had the pleasure of working on shows that I know well, as well as a couple that I didn’t. But one thing is for certain - you never truly know a show well until you have worked on it.

And once you have worked on a show, it becomes ingrained in you somehow. A piece of your life. A window into a specific period of time or a specific mindset. Perhaps it changed you somehow. Perhaps it was just a great time. Or perhaps it was a less positive experience. And all of this is wonderful and valid, but it’s also not what I’m going to be focusing on today.

Today I come bearing a question. At the end of the day what is more important: an airtight plot, or to move the audience?

Several of the musicals I have worked on in my life have brought me to ask this question, but I have been thinking about this yet again this year. Of the three shows I MDed this school year, 2 of them had “hole-y plots,” yet both seemed to give some sort of emotional satisfaction to the audience. And the other was absolutely airtight in plot, but was ultimately more entertaining than moving.

So which is more important? And can we have both?

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God I Hope I Get It

Audition (noun) - A necessary, and often grinding, step to acquiring a theatre performance job, which some actors love, many actors hate, and everyone else is relatively indifferent to

*Warning: This post is geared mainly toward the actor-folk and those interested in the audition process!

Last week I found myself once again in an audition room - this time behind the table, which was a lovely change! Generally speaking, whether or not I am part of the casting team, I’m hearing/viewing auditions on a weird side angle from the piano. So this was a lovely little treat!

Over my years of taking classes and workshops on “THE AUDITION” I have certainly learned many things about the audition process, and particularly about myself as an auditioner. But there is no better way to learn the ins-and-outs, dos-and-don’ts, and [other-cliched-phrases] of auditions than to sit on the other side of the table and observe with non-actor-oriented eyes/ears.

So, here are some of the things I’ve learned about auditioning.

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Don't Bring Around A Cloud...

…to rain on my paraaaaaaaade! (sorry, I couldn’t resist!)

For those of you who read last week’s blog post - welcome to Part 2! For those of you who didn’t, check out the first part of the post here: As We Stumble Along…

Last week’s post focused on the more negative aspects of the risk-taking and the learning processes in this business. The journey is often imperfect and difficult and involves a great deal of trial-and-error, and that’s totally okay. But what I skipped over were all of the positive steps and outcomes that can result from this journey.

Every single success or accomplishment that is presently in my life can be traced back to either a risk I took, or a moment where I enhanced my personal education through non-traditional (aka classroom) means. And I am not unique in this regard.

So, the question becomes - how? Well, there are many routes, but I’ll tell you about some of mine.

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As We Stumble Along...

This week I had the pleasure of being part of the first NYC externship for my Alma Mater’s brand new, and now fully developed, Musical Theater Program. I had the chance to work with some lovely SUNY Geneseo Juniors and Seniors in a new musical theatre workshop - an entirely new experience for all of them - and attended the first ever Senior Showcase. The talent was wonderful, the interactions were lovely, and the entire experience got me thinking…a dangerous pastime, I know.

As a part of the workshop I had to essentially explain to the students who I am, what I do, how that’s relevant to Geneseo, and how I got to where I am. And you know what? That was much more difficult than I expected.

At this moment in my career, these are the titles that I can, and generally do, give myself:

Composer-Lyricist/Librettist (technically 3 titles?)

Performer (Musical and non-Musical Theatre)

Musical Director

Vocal Coach

Accompanist (I do this less often)

Arranger/Orchestrator (though mostly my own material these days)

One of the Geneseo students said “You do so much!” and I guess that’s true. But I think the better question is, how the heck did I learn to do all of these things?

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Medea Must Have Been An Artist

Allow me to explain.

In the art world - and particularly for musical theatre writers - we are often told that we need to be prepared to “kill our babies.” Obviously this is not meant in a literal sense. ‘Cause that would be bad. Very bad.

For non-theatre or non-artist folks, this idea might be a bit confusing. What is meant by this?

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Those Who Can...

It’s an old and cliched phrase at this point, but I do still occasionally hear people say: Those who can’t do, teach.” Which is really a misquote from George Bernard Shaw’s Maxims For Revolutionists:

“He who can, does; he who cannot, teaches.”

Now, is there any truth to this? Perhaps for some people. Though I would bet that those who go into teaching purely out of disappointment of falling out of their chosen profession aren’t very good teachers, nor are they likely to be teachers for long.

And yet this idea persists. Why?

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Hey, Old Friend

What is a theatre writer’s best friend and worst enemy?

You might think: Writer’s block? The blank page? Technology? Caffeine? Sleep? Outlines? All good possible answers, but…nope. What applies only to theatre writers and to no other form of writing?

Readings.

DUN DUN DUN! *Insert dramatic zoom here*

But why, Michael? Why are readings both potentially wonderful and oh-so-evil at the same time?

An excellent question.

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There's A Place For Us...

I was at a networking event earlier this week and got into a conversation - one that I’ve had countless times with theatre professionals and audience members alike - where the central questions are:

Should Broadway shows be about the art or the money?”

Is there a place on Broadway for shows that are only light and feel-good? What about dark, depressing shows?”

How do you expect to get new audiences if all shows look, feel, or sound alike?”

Now, I don’t find the mere asking of these questions to be problematic, but I do find the heart of this oft-had conversation to be problematic. Whichever side you fall on - and yes, there do ultimately seem to end up being two sides to this conversation - there is an insinuation that one type of theatre should exist on Broadway and another type should not.

But my big question is: Why?

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"Snow Day (A Day Off)"

As a high school student, I had a fairly constant refrain:

We need a snow day. Give us a snow day. Please.”

Now, this was not me praying or placing a sock under my pillow or attempting to bewitch the skies to make storms appear, this was me on days when school should have been cancelled due to inclement weather even though it had not been.

Some context:

I grew up in Binghamton, NY where most of our snow came from major storms across the interior or from large Nor’easters. So when we had a big storm - even though we knew how to move snow well (it’s upstate NY after all) - we had a snow day.

In high school I moved to Rochester, NY, which sees more snow each year than Binghamton does, mostly due to constant lake effect snow. Because of this, Rochester (for some reason) prides itself on moving snow so well that there’s no reason to ever have a snow day.

Um. What?

Let’s even put aside the obvious fact that big snow storms or large amounts of black ice are dangerous and potentially life-threatening, especially when you have students driving themselves and their friends to school. There’s another big reason that Snow Days are crucial: Mental Health.

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Why Is *THAT* A Musical?

If I had a nickel for every time I was asked this question, or even asked this question myself, I would have a very large number of relatively heavy and annoying coins.

But I do wonder - How often do people hear about a new musical or see a marquee and think this question to themselves? I mean, what makes a story ripe for adaptation into a musical? Why do some musicals seem like no-brainers, while others make us scratch our heads and think, “Huh. Really? That one?”

The Lehman Engel BMI Musical Theatre Writing Workshop answer to the question of what type of stories should be adapted into musicals is a relatively simple and subjective one: If you think there’s more within the story that should be told, and that music will enhance that storytelling, then it is likely adaptable into a musical. But if the story feels complete in its current form, and it doesn’t seem like music will enhance the piece and its purpose, it should probably be left alone.

Despite the subjective nature of this statement, I do think there’s truth to it. If you look at the types of stories that have been most successfully adapted into musicals (and most musicals are adaptations), the use of music in the storytelling has heightened the plots and characters, and filled in some invisible hole that helps the audience interact with the material.

This is the reason, I think, that certain stories see multiple attempts at musical adaptation. For a couple of examples, we have 2 adaptations of The Phantom of the Opera, 2 musicals of The Wild Party, and countless musical versions of Shakespeare’s plays (most of which have not worked well). Some stories feel as though they could be told well, or better, in musical theatre form and therefore multiple adaptations appear. Some are good, and some aren’t. Some use the original author’s intents, and some leave them behind.

Successful adaptation is a tricky process - and I know this from adapting one of the most-adapted stories in musical theatre, The Legend Of Sleepy Hollow. Approximately 5-6 musical versions of this story exist, but none of them has had great mainstream or commercial success. Yet. But why? What goes into this process?

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"Get Your Education, Don't Forget From Whence You Came"

Lin-Manuel Miranda has often spoken about origins: His own, his family’s, his musicals’, Alexander Hamilton’s, etc. He has written about them in lyrics, including the one above from “Alexander Hamilton” and his well-noted “we were that kid” rap in the 2013 Tony Awards opening number: “Bigger.” It’s a common theme of his interviews, whether he is the interviewee or the interviewer. Clearly Mr. Miranda seems to think our origins are important.

And I agree.

Particularly when it comes to the arts and educating young people. I firmly believe that our experiences and exposures as children have an incredible and lasting impact on how we interact with art for the remainder of our lives. And this includes formal and informal educations, extracurricular activities, time experiencing art with family and friends, exposure to all forms of entertainment, financial abilities, general access, community practices, and much much more. Every experience in life involves art in some way, and every exposure is another puzzle piece in a child’s education.

So how do we best serve young people? What kind of education do they need or should they have? What if some want to pursue the arts and others just want to enjoy them? What about those who have fewer resources available or greatly reduced ability to access art? Where does it all begin?

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No Rest For The Wicked

(…and I’m not talking about our green friend over at the Gershwin!)

January 2 - March 10:

  • 67 Days

  • 3 Days Off, working 7 Days/Week

  • 2 Shows as Musical Director (Bring It On, Legally Blonde) and starting a Third (Rent)

  • 5 Casts (Bring It On) over 2 weekends

  • 70+ Cast Members (Legally Blonde)

  • 33 Weekly Voice Lessons and 3 Classes (regular work schedule)

  • I Repeat - 3 Days Off

March 11 - April 14:

  • 34 Days

  • 5 Days Off, working 6 Days/Week

  • 1 Show as Musical Director (Rent)

  • 2 Casts over 1 weekend

  • 33 Weekly Voice Lessons and 3 Classes (still)

  • I Repeat - 5 Days Off

For those of you playing at home, that means in the first 101 days of 2019, I am scheduled to work for 93 of them with a total of 8 off days.

We need to discuss work and overwork in the artistic world.

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Shut That Window 'Cause...

…it’s getting DRAFTY IN HERE!!

Yes, okay, I hate myself just a little bit for that one too. But I thought it was cute. Anywho…

Today I want to talk about the [grueling] process that is drafting. And I don’t mean in a graphic design sense (drawing is not a strength of mine). I mean it more in the sense of: sitting down to write a thing that you’ve been thinking about for a long time and have really wanted to write but haven’t had the time and/or motivation to do so but you’ve finally found the time or at least have now cleaned the entire apartment four times and done your taxes and solved world hunger so I guess now there’s nothing left to do but actually write the thing which you should want to write anyway since it’s your passion and you chose to do this with your life so why are you stalling oh wait Facebook is calling and oh look that rhymed and so I can get into a pointless argument with someone whose face I can’t see instead of forcing terrible first draft dialogue on unwitting characters oh wait they blocked me so I guess I really do have to write now. Darn.

You know. That kind of a sense.

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Sometimes I'm Down, and Sometimes I'm Up

New Year. A time of celebration, reflection, planning, and new beginnings…right?

For some people, I do believe that is the case. But it’s not the case for everyone, myself included.

Personally, I’ve never really been a fan of New Year’s Eve and all of the traditions that go with it. It seems a bit much to party and eat and drink so close to the holiday break, and the idea of “resolutions” always gives me a feeling of dread like I’m just going to fail all my new endeavors. Perhaps not the best head space to enter into a new calendar year with.

So what to do?

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"But I Can't, I'm So Busy!"

Busy-ness (not to be confused with the Business) is - if everyone is to be believed - the Number 1 Cause of Nothing-Ever-Happening. That’s right, simply being busy.

But Michael, everyone I know is busy. I mean, I know I’m busy. All the time!

I hear you and I understand what you’re saying, but I’m going to let in you on a secret that I was given which has truly changed the way I think about time and productivity. You ready?

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"Survival Is Paramount!" ***DUN DUN DUN***

Alright, a touch dramatic, I agree. But it’s true, isn’t it? We really can’t pursue any kind of career or interest if we aren’t living. So perhaps the drama is warranted?

Okay, let’s see. What are we told as children are the basic needs for survival?

Food. Water. Shelter.

And in order to acquire these things in our modern society, we require money. Which means jobs.

***HOORAY!!! PEOPLE ARE GOING TO PAY US FOR THE ART WE LOVE TO CREATE AND THEN WE CAN JUST AFFORD TO LIVE AND CREATE ART AND BE HAPPY!!!!*** Wait, no? What do you mean, “no”? I have to get a what?

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Why-Oh "The Glamorous Life"?

Ah, the Glamorous Life: The picturesque life of the Theatre Artist living their dreams in the Big City. Fun, Freeing, and Fulfilling! Right?

Well, sometimes.

As amazing as spending your life doing what you love can be, there’s so much more that comes along with living as a full-time theatre artist. And most of it is rarely or never talked about! Sometimes it’s Glitz and Glamor, but other times it’s Rejection and Ramen. So why not discuss it all?

Join me as I explore the everyday, behind-the-scenes, and real life stories of what it takes to make this journey happen. From the triumphs and joys, through the mundane and taboo, to the sorrows and frustrations. What is it like to live as a theatre artist? What kind of unique experiences do you have? What is the good, the bad, and the could-really-use-a-touch-up? Read, watch, subscribe, and come find out!

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