Friday, May 30, 2008

Barrel of Monkeys

Are there any deeper, darker, more terrifying words in the English language than 'children's theater?'

Last winter I was contacted about taking publicity shots for The Barrel of Monkeys. Trying to keep an open mind, I asked if I could see a show first. Performing at the ungodly hour of one o'clock, I trucked down to the Neofuturarium to catch the matinee. The Barrel of Monkeys show is a collection of skits written by children and performed...for children. When I arrived at the theater, it was packed with kids ranging in age from three to ten and their parents. Many were repeat visitors and all of them, including the parents, seemed giddy with excitement.

The material covers a wide variety of topics, from a skit on how to make friends to a production number proclaiming the virtues of jelly. Where the actors found all that energy on a blustery Saturday afternoon still mystifies me, but the performance was crisp and the overall approach was respectful of the material. There is nothing more tiresome than a bunch of adult actors condescending to kids -- or worse, trying to be a kid. But this troupe assumes that their audience is smart and speaks directly to the kids in their own language. "Jelly is good," had many kids in the audience nodding at that sage observation. The audience would erupt into laughter at punch lines that completely stumped me, but there was no denying that the kids loved the show, and as a result I loved it too.

The Monkeys travel around and perform at different venues, so a trip to their website is the best way to find out how to catch a performance. And even if you don't have kids, their shows can be enjoyed on a variety of adult levels. Go. Enjoy. Jelly Rules!

Friday, May 23, 2008

Kristine Kavanaugh

When I met with Krissy to plan her headshots, we focused on her career goals. Where most actors answer the question, "What kind of roles do you want to play?" with the answer, "I just want to work;" Krissy was laser precise. She's developing her improvisation skills with an eye toward a starring role in a sitcom. To that end, she's written a one-woman show, Am I Crazy, or Just Highly Evolved.

This is the focus that improves Krissy's chances for success.

As we went further into the discussion, we talked about what the sitcom might look like. She sees herself in a blue-collar, working-class story not unlike Roseanne. However, it's also clear that she's much lighter in spirit and while talking to her I was continually reminded of Goldie Hawn. Though there is absolutely no resemblance between the two actors, Krissy was struck by that comparison. With a sitcom in view and informed by Goldie Hawn as a model, Krissy and I discussed how we might visually convey that. We talked about props and poses. Everything that would say, "blue-collar Goldie Hawn." The image above is the result.

Actors are often told that casting directors just want to see them. Nothing could be further from the truth. Casting directors want to see the characters they are casting. The chances are much greater that a casting director is looking for a "blue-collar Goldie Hawn," than they are a "Kristine Kavanaugh." They want to believe that the picture they hold in their hands is of an actor who possesses that indefinable quality that will make the role their casting memorable. By being specific in what Krissy is saying, this picture catches the viewer's attention. On her way to that sitcom, this picture will also get Krissy considered for a lot of other work. Check out some of the other shots from the shoot at

Working Archetype -- Mary Anne Bowman

Have you ever seen Mary Anne Bowman act? It's a velvet visceral experience. She is a dynamo that is ready to break free at any moment and the enjoyment is in seeing how and when.

Mary Anne is working to corner the niche market of the Great Roles in the English-speaking canon, and that includes translations. When we discussed her headshots, she told me that she loved doing screwball comedy, but it was the tragic roles that really interested her. And, not willing to be pigeonholed, she wants the great roles, regardles of gender. Currently she's gunning for the role off MacBeth. While I have my reservations about a woman pulling of such a masculine role, if ever there was a woman who could do it, it's Mary Anne. And I will definitely be in the front row cheering her on.

Soon, Mary Anne will appears in 4Play at The Theatre Building, running June 5 thru 29.

Thursday, May 15, 2008

Targeted Communication

At the end of the day, the headshot doesn't get you the job. It doesn't get you the audition. It gets the casting director to turn the picture over to read the resume. Then if the director has any interest, if the credits reflect similar roles to the one she's casting or if there's something that catches her eye, she flips it back over to the picture and says, "Is this guy my Hamlet?" If the picture does its job, it lands your resume in the "Yes" pile and you get a call.

Or, the headshot serves as a visual reminder of your audition. It has to look like you, but it should also evoke your personal style, perhaps characterize the monologue. If your headshot looks like everyone else's, I can tell you from experience, that after about the tenth monologue, all actors start to blend together. Your monologue was selected to show you off to your best advantage. It was carefully prepared. Shouldn't your headshot have more preparation than standing next to an open window on a sunny day?

A good headhsot is a well-thought-out part of an overall strategy that targets specific segments of the entertainment market, be that genres, such as film, musical theater, television, industrials, etc; or types of roles, such as epic, tragic, light comic. A good headshot does more than just "capture your essence," (whatever that means) or shows what you look like. And in spite of what photographers tell you, the photo shoot is more than "fun." It's work, and it's your job to work with the photographer to make it look effortless. Just like rehearsal, a good shoot is focused. And the focus is on communicating to your audience who you are within the context of the industry.

The most successful actors know what their professional goals are. Yet, ask an actor what type of work he wants, and most will hesitate in giving an answer. Either he's embarrassed or afraid or doesn't know. But that ambiguity shows, not only in his answer but his headshot.

It shows.

The Archetype Images mission is to work with professionals to help them create a marketing image that speaks to their targeted market segments. Beginning with the consultation, the discussion is all about where you see your career going and how we can visually communicate that to the weary casting director who has seen three hundred pictures of smiling actors backed against a brick wall and shot in natural light, beaming their essence.

Wednesday, May 7, 2008

Jennifer Buhrow

There are just somethings that entertainment and marketing professionals have to deal with that members of the other professions do not. Imagine this scenario:

A young, smart, highly qualified female lawyer walks into a recruiter's office to discuss a potential position with a firm. It's a good-paying job and the lawyer has a resume that demonstrates she is a perfect candidate. The recruiter is also a woman with an impressive list of accomplishments and clients.

The lawyer sits down in the office. The recruiter says to her, "You didn't get the job. You're not sexy enough."

If this scenario played out in the corporate world, the lawyer would become incredibly wealthy as a result of this conversation. Hiring bias based on sexuality is every industry except the entertainment industry. And if you're an actress, it's likely an everyday occurence.

Let's set aside the absurdity of the statement, and let's also ignore the fact that sexiness is in the eye of the beholder. The fact is that beautiful young actresses and models (and to a much lesser degree, actors) are held responsible for measuring up to an arbitrary, ever-changing standard of beauty.

In the recent Archetype project seeking actresses to create edgier headshots, I chose Jen for the "musical theater ingenue" archetype. Jen has some experience with some of the smaller area dinner theaters, but would really like to break into the world of Marriott and Drury Lane. Jen is a full-time actress and model, and much of that is as a professional spokesperson. In a recent conversation an agent who only sent her on assignments sporadically told Jen that she didn't get the jobs because her pictures weren't sexy enough.

This is exactly the type of situation that Archetype Images is dedicated to addressing. So, not only did we create an image targeted at musical theater (see website), we actively discussed creating a "sexy businesswoman" shot. This discussion was incredibly interesting, and we talked about women in corporate America, and the essence of their power and strength and how those combine with sexuality. As we began the shoot, our shots tended more toward the sexy and less toward the businesswoman. But as both Jen and I relaxed with the concept and got to know each other, we were able to combine the two concepts.

Ultimately, for the purposes of this project, I chose the shot above. In it, Jen is engaged in a conversation. The partner in this scene, the camera, is saying something very interesting, perhaps enlightening, and it is inspiring some new thoughts for Jen. This activity is exactly what turns a good headshot into a great marketing image. And it's this activity that actually helps put Jen in the sexy businesswoman category.