Thursday, July 31, 2014

Acting Out: The Orpheum's Musical Theatre Intensive

Director/Choreographer Jeff Whiting teaches Broadway
choreography to Musical Theatre Intensive students.
You might have noticed that construction is well-underway for the Orpheum Centre for Performing Arts and Education.  Once completed, the Centre will provide much-needed space to expand our Education programs.  But while we wait patiently for the Orpheum's new facility, our programs are going strong!

Yesterday at Collage Dance Collective, a student group of Broadway hopefuls wrapped up three full days of training from Broadway professionals as part of the Orpheum's Musical Theatre Intensive.

Offered each year as one of the Orpheum Theatre's celebrated summer camps, the Musical Theatre Intensive is a three-day workshop that gives students a taste of what a career in musical theatre is really like.  This year students focused on the art of the audition.  Broadway actors and directors taught students actual Broadway choreography, shared NYC trade secrets regarding agents and acting unions, and coached them on how to sharpen their musical audition techniques. 

In true Orpheum fashion, students learned from highly experienced teaching artists: Jeff Whiting, Jake Speck, and Teddy Eck, who curated the workshop.  These three theatre professionals collaborated to give students all the tools they need to prepare themselves to make that first step into the biz.

Among his many Broadway credits Jeff Whiting, who focused on teaching students audition choreography, was the Associate Director for this year's Tony nominated production Bullets Over Broadway.  Not only that, he's directed and choreographed for a long list of your favorite Broadway shows and national tours.  Little shows like, oh I don't know, Young Frankenstein, The Producers, and the fifth anniversary production of Wicked.  Yes, Wicked!

Musical Theatre Intensive students practice their
song selections with coaching from actor Jake Speck.
Students also got to work with Jake Speck, whom most of us would recognize from Broadway's Jersey Boys and a few episodes of our own Tennessee TV hit "Nashville."  Not to mention that he's worked with some of the most famous Tony Award winners in the biz, such as Susan Stroman.  Jake taught students how to perfect their 16-bar song selections and gave them the do's and don'ts of preparing for an audition.

The intensive was curated by actor/director Teddy Eck, who has over a decade of NYC acting experience including Off-Broadway's Richard III and the award-winning Steven Spielberg hit Lincoln as well as an extensive local resume of directorial creditsTeddy worked in collaboration with the team to teach students about acting unions (which one you need and when you need one) and agents (what they do and how to get their attention).

This hands-on workshop culminated in a mock audition where a panel of local arts professionals and educators gave students a chance to exercise their new skills in front of a fresh audience.  Armed with finely tuned song and dance audition pieces, these students are one step closer to taking Broadway by storm!

Thursday, July 24, 2014

President's Page: Fall Into Fall Theatre

The fall semester begins in just a few short weeks for our local students, but school isn't the only thing that is on the horizon.  The fall always heralds the beginning of the “theatre season.” 
After everyone has returned from their vacations, camps, and outdoor activities, things begin to wind down.  It is just natural to start thinking about the broad span of entertainment options that always follow Labor Day cookouts and trips to the lake.

I think the Orpheum's fall lineup is really intriguing.  This year the fall begins with the magic and humor of Penn & Teller on Friday, September 19th.  We've wanted to bring this duo to the Orpheum for about 10 years, but their popular Las Vegas show leaves only a few open dates for outside venues. 
If you've never experienced Penn & Teller, their routine is hilarious and illusions are top grade.  There is a slight resemblance to the Marx Brothers in that Penn does all of the talking and Teller has never - and I mean never - been heard saying a single word.  EVER.  Since I have waited such a long time to book them for this single Orpheum performance, I think I am safe in saying that this is a one-time opportunity for all of us to see this totally entertaining  duo.    
Next, we bring you a spectacular new production of Andrew Lloyd Webber's Phantom of the Opera, running September 24th through October 5th.  We get more requests for Phantom than any other Broadway show, and this production is one of the largest touring musicals on the road so it promises to be a memorable event.

Our insatiable appetite for cooking celebrities will be met with a one night event featuring Alton Brown on Saturday, October 25th.  The always entertaining Food Network personality will be on the stage telling us the most interesting things about our foodie habits.  There will also be some humorous food science experiments, audience participation, and a little bit of messiness in the kitchen.  This is a funny exploration of the most interesting things he has discovered through his popular weekly shows. 

And that's just the beginning!  The fall will also feature several concerts, special events, and the Tony Award winning musical Once.  So I encourage you to kick off your fall season at the Orpheum with this wide variety of great entertainment.

Pat Halloran
President and CEO

Thursday, July 17, 2014

A Wild Ride From Broadway to Beale: The Press Agent, Part 1

Periodically, Main and Beale explores the ins and outs of how Broadway shows make their way to Memphis.  This week, we wanted to explore the incredibly important partner that many of you probably never knew existed: the press agent.  Don't let the title fool you: it usually takes a team of agents to get the job done, and they juggle a whole lot more than press which is why we had to split this topic into two blog entries! 

Press agents act as a liaison between the show's producers, the actual production, and the theatres that have booked the show, taking care of every little detail that the production simply can't manage while traveling from city to city.  So let's start where we left off.  The show is booked, the contracts are signed, the booking agent's job is basically done.  Enter press agent. 

First, the press agent will reach out to the theatre, and everyone will learn more about who's doing what.  The good news is that if you've been in the Broadway business for more than a year, you've probably worked with at least someone on the team before.  For agencies with larger staffs or agencies that are managing a blockbuster show, the theatre usually works with a group of people.  For example, there might be one contact for the marketing and box office departments who keeps a close eye on cash flow and ticket sales, another contact who approves the artistic design and layout of advertising materials, and a press contact who helps schedule press appointments, interviews, and education workshops for the actors.  Other times one agent is handling everything... with every theatre... sometimes for more than one show!

Then you start the planning process.  The theatre and the agent start working together as much as 18 months in advance to determine the answers to a lot of questions.  How and when will the theatre announce the season to the public?  What marketing materials does the theatre need in order to announce successfully?  What are the ticket pricing levels for the show?  When will the show go on sale to the public?  What is the marketing budget, and how will those dollars be allocated?  Will the production allow promotions or advertising trade and to what extent?  And many times, especially with blockbusters, the press agent has to go back to the producers for approval before the answers to these questions can be finalized.

For season announcements, theatres need production video, pictures, and copy that briefly describes the show.  For a show that's hot off of Broadway, the press agent must to work with the production and the producers to create these materials since Actor's Equity Association (the actor's union) typically prohibits using Broadway footage and images to promote the tour.  Not to mention, it can be misleading to distribute pictures or video of the Broadway cast when those aren't the same actors that audiences will see on the road.

The original Broadway cast of Kinky Boots. Photo by Matthew Murphy.
Sometimes, however, particularly for shows that have yet to actually launch their tours, it's unavoidable.  Kinky Boots is an example: when the Orpheum announced its season last March, the show was still in pre-production, so there was no way to get new materials that included the touring cast.  In that case, the press agent has to make sure that the Broadway cast is clearly credited, and then they have to rush to get new video and photos as soon as possible.

Yep, that's their responsibility too.  Every time there are major cast changes to a touring production, the press agent has to get the producers to approve another shooting budget.  Then they hire photographers and videographers to come to a rehearsal and take a new set of photos and videos for the theatres to use.  The agents will sort through literally hundreds of production photos ("Nope, that photo is kind of blurry. Nope, the lead's eyes are closed in that one.) to find around five that will actually make it to the marketing site.

Wait.  What is a marketing site?  Glad you asked.  Another big job of the press agent is to create a comprehensive marketing site and marketing manual that will give the theatre's staff all the tools they needs to promote the show.  The site can include photos, "b-roll" footage of the production, sample copy for radio ads, suggestions for promotions that have been successful in other markets, logos and fonts, unique opportunities for the local press, options for educational outreach - the list goes on and on!  These marketing sites allow the markets to have access to the insights, materials, and messaging that made the show successful on Broadway.  It's a lot of work for the press agent, but it makes their job much easier down the road.

Some agencies will host a marketing junket where all of the markets who have booked a show for the coming year will come together to learn more about the show.  These are sometimes done via phone conference, at the annual Broadway League Spring Road Conference in NYC when everyone is gathered in the same place at the same time, or in a host city.  For the latter option, market reps will fly in and see the show in order to experience it first-hand.  Then the agent will spend a full work day going over all of the marketing opportunities and guidelines to the group.  This is also a great opportunity for various cities to collaborate and learn from one another.

From then on the agent is in constant communication with the show's producers and increasing communication with the theatre as the dates for the show close in, consistently checking with one another as questions arise.  In Part 2 of our exploration of the press agent's responsibilities we'll discuss what the press agent's role in the weeks leading up to the performance.

Thursday, July 10, 2014

Beyond the Stage: Crystal Wishes and Orpheum Dreams

Nothing beats that moment when you walk into the Orpheum Theatre for the first time.  It's like jumping headlong into the 1920s, attending an exclusive formal event, or possibly even getting a taste of what it would be like to have a royal title.  One of our favorite things to do is to listen to all of the "oohs," "ahhs," "whoas," and "wows" that we hear when people walk through the doors.

We work hard to keep the Orpheum historically preserved, making sure that even the chandeliers are pristine.  Chandeliers aren't necessarily the first things that come to mind when you think of preservation, but the Orpheum's Czechoslovakian crystal chandeliers are in fact original to the building, meaning that they are at least 85 years old and certainly among the most beautiful antiques we have. 

Last week, our team cleaned the Orpheum's six grand and four "bowl" chandeliers.  Once a year, the chandeliers are lowered to eye level for a little maintenance - and this is no easy task!

Because of the sheer weight and size of our grand chandeliers (the largest of which, pictured above, weigh 2,000 lbs. each), it takes hours just to lower them from the Orpheum's massive ceiling.  So slow in fact, that the naked eye can barely tell they are moving without the help of a vantage point.  Once on the ground, every single piece of Czechoslovakian crystal is prepped to be cleaned and polished. 

First, each chandelier goes through a gentle steam clean using good old fashioned distilled water.  This allows the fixture to be cleaned thoroughly without the use of harsh chemicals, helping to preserve the integrity of the crystal.  While doing this, workers look for any broken or cracked pieces and evaluate if they can be repaired.

Next, each and every piece of crystal is hand-polished using a lamb's wool cloth.  As you can imagine, this takes a considerable amount of time to polish just one chandelier, let alone ten!  Finally, the bulbs in the chandeliers are replaced, allowing plenty of light to keep the chandeliers sparkling.  All in all, it takes a team of four at least two full days to restore the chandeliers to their maximum luster, not counting the day or so it takes to lower and raise the chandeliers.

So the next time you walk into the lobby for a show or look up towards the auditorium ceiling at intermission, we hope you'll notice that the twinkle in our chandeliers is a little brighter, enhancing the beautiful, magical ambiance of Memphis' historic Orpheum.

Wednesday, July 2, 2014

President's Page: London's MEMPHIS Tours Memphis!

Beverley Knight will star in the role of "Felicia" in the London
production of MEMPHIS.
The London production of MEMPHIS, the 2010 Tony Award winning Broadway musical, is getting closer to its long-awaited opening where it will make a huge impact on potentially millions of European theatre lovers. 

MEMPHIS is scheduled to open at the Shaftesbury Theatre on October 23rd of this year.  We expect to have a long run for this show, and if my math is correct, about 2.5 million Europeans will get a lesson on the role our city has played in cultivating many of the musical genres that the world enjoys today.

Recently the "Queen of British Soul" Beverley Knight, who has been cast in the lead role of "Felicia," and David Bryan, keyboardist to Bon Jovi and composer for MEMPHIS, visited Memphis so that Beverley could get a taste of our incredible city in preparation for her role.  She experienced Memphis blues, rock and roll, and gospel in addition to barbeque from Central BBQ in Downtown Memphis.

The group, which also included members of the London press as well as Beverley’s husband and manager, visited the National Civil Rights Museum, Sun Studios, the Stax Museum and Academy, and she also attended a service at Mississippi Boulevard Christian Church.  Highlights of the trip included Beverley and David performing at BB King's with the Stax Academy Student and Alumni Band and a recording session for "Colored Woman" - a signature song from the show - at Royal Studios.  Of course there was also great BBQ, soul food, and some late nights on Beale.  How’s that for a healthy dose of Memphis music, history and culture? 

I had the pleasure of seeing Beverley perform on the West End (the London equivalent of Broadway) when my wife and I went to London.  She took on the Whitney Houston role in the musical version of THE BODYGUARD.  Wow – was she fabulous!

I am excited to be putting together a group from Memphis to go to London in October for the opening.  It will be one memorable occasion for all going along.  There is limited availability for the London trip in the fall, so if you are interested in more information, contact Lauren Steinkamp at 901.529.4224.

Pat Halloran
Orpheum President and CEO