It’s probably the biggest investment decision you will ever make in your life next to buying a house. You’ve done everything right. You’ve parlayed your high school education into a portfolio of dreams. You worked hard, found a focus and passion for your future, auditioned for your dream schools and now the acceptances are in and the decision must be made.

First, take the pressure off. You’ve been looked at and evaluated by every college program to which you applied. That means in their professional opinion, based on years of experience at their institution, you are deemed to have the talent and ability to make it through their department and graduate! Now you get to make your decision. You get to decide where YOU want to spend the next four years.

It’s not as hard as it seems. There’s a still small voice talking to you. No, it’s not your friends, or teachers, or even your parents. It’s that excited feeling you have when you think about the letter you received welcoming you. It’s the dreams you have for yourself. It’s that vision you get when you close your eyes and think of yourself on that particular campus, on their stages, or with a camera or script in hand. It’s where you know your life-long relationships will be made.

I had a meeting today with an intelligent and talented young man. He’s making a choice between two top-tier colleges on two different coasts. Two outstanding schools with two entirely different programs. Not only that, one is offering a BA program to him and the other a BFA. I was so impressed with how well he had done his homework and how clear he is on his own dream. He’s focused and passionate. He didn’t need my help but it was sure fun to talk about what the future holds for him.

I suspect you’re in exactly the same position. Deep down, you know what the right choice is, but it’s always good to have a sounding board. Find someone you can trust. Who will listen and not unduly persuade. Ultimately this should be your decision. You’re the one who will be going to class, rehearsals, performing, writing the scripts, directing, or filming. You’re the one who will be fulfilling your dreams. Congratulations on making the right choice for YOURSELF!


College Tour

College Tour

If you’re asking the question, it’s time to do it! It’s really never to early to begin to think and plan for the future. Gathering information is the first step. Think of it a little bit like planting a garden. First you till the soil. Then you sow seeds. Next you weed out unwanted growth and then you reap the harvest!

Gathering information and breaking it down is like tilling the soil. You can begin that as early as freshman or sophomore year in high school. When you think about it, it’s so easy to do and fun. You can start by asking older friends and family about their college experience. Get to know universities and where they’re located. Find out about their performing arts and digital media departments. Keep a journal and a file about the things that interest you. Figure out what part of the country you think you’d be happiest living in. Go online and visit CollegeWeekLive which is an excellent source of general college admissions information. You can even take a virtual tour of most universities. You’ll want to start with this general information because selecting the right theater, film, or digital media program is more than just being a part of the smaller arts community. To use another analogy, the department is like being in a suburb of a major city. You are part of the larger community too.

A great step towards learning about the performing arts and visual media departments within the university can be done by attending the NACAC Performing and Visual Arts College Fairs.  There are several coming up this month. These outstanding annual fall fairs connect students and departments. They have material to hand out and will gladly answer questions. There will be one close enough to you to make it possible to attend. Start early in your high school years and attend several years in a row. (Sow your seeds.) Each year you can narrow down your choices (Weed your garden.) so that by the time you reach your senior year you’re really ready to hone in on the schools to which you plan to apply. Soon you’ll be ready to reap your harvest!

STEM. Or, The Day They Misspelled STEAM!

Science, Technology, Engineering, Math. STEM an important trend in education. Like any trend, many people and companies are jumping onto the band wagon. Is this bad? Certainly not. Is it wrong? Most definitely.

There are many who feel an all-out educational push in our schools will help America reclaim its place as the world leader in each if not all of those fields for our future generations. Something that seems to be painfully missing is the all important “A.” A for Arts. Performing and visual arts. Perhaps the best way to define it is the nurturing and encouragement of creativity. Why is this important?

The STEM Coalition has done an outstanding job of creating a sense of urgency in building programs in school districts across the nation. Many districts have found that the best way to jump start STEM is to borrow budget by cutting the arts in their schools. But, here’s the question. Once all those scientists, techies, engineers, and mathematicians perfect their skills what are they going to do with it? Who’s going to C R E A T E the NEXT…? Don’t we need the “out-of-the-box” thinker to see beyond what is here to…there? That’s where the Arts come into play. Abraham Lincoln said it best. “The best way to predict your future is to create it.” In order to create it we have to nurture imagination…and dreams. Nurturing the innate creative ability in each of us is an important part of educating the whole man. To learn to “play” and imagine is crucial in developing discerning analytical skills that are vital to our critical thinking. And, that’s just for STEM.

Young people already passionate about the arts deserve the opportunity to further their skills and reach for their dreams of college and beyond. The knowledge they will receive and the abilities they will gain are transferable beyond the stage and screen. Skills such as discipline, listening, imagination, and collaboration will stand them in good stead throughout any walk of life and throughout time.

The arts are important to all of us. Whether we use the creativity we gain through their pursuit to further our other professional skills or participate as an artist or audience of the work, through it we learn first-hand of the human condition and this knowledge promotes our education and compassion. This is why I believe STEM is misspelled. I think we all want to be propelled by STEAM!

Rumer and Val in the Number 1 Spot

Rumer Willis DWTS Hard work, determination, grace, poise, humility. Those are the words that describe Rumer Willis and those very characteristics are what makes us proud to call Rumer an alumus of US Performing Arts. Rumer isn’t just a celebrity she is an artist. An artist who understands her craft and ‘stays in the game’ continually stretching herself and reaching for higher goals to conquer.

Together with Valentin Chmerkovskiy America is getting to know a very special dance team. Dancing With the Stars has allowed this duo to show us their best work week after week. Rumer and Val have earned the top position on The Leader Board this week and I hope you’ll join me in voting for them. Cast your vote by dialing 1-855-234-5610. Be patient…because of their popularity it often rings busy but they need your vote to stay on top and you’ll be glad you cast it.

Are You the Artist of My Dreams?

Sculptor at WorkOften when explaining to people what I do I will say that I head a company that trains the next generation of artists. Recently somebody asked me to define what an artist is to me. That certainly gave me pause to reflect on my words. I have a concept of what I think makes an artist, and by the way that isn’t a word I throw around loosely. I realize that if I am embracing the phrase then I have to be able to convey my definition of the word.

An artist is many things to many people and Webster gives us many definitions. The person I was speaking with today is a visual artist. In fact, a scenic designer. To him an artist is and will always be someone who is extraordinary as a painter or sculptor, someone who has an idea or image in her head and can use her hands to convey that image in a visual medium so that others can share it. My friend’s definition notwithstanding is not the only definition of an artist. Every synonym in Roget’s Thesaurus has to do with being a performer: actor, singer, dancer, musician, and so on. I would add to that list filmmaker, writer, and other media talent.

An artist to me though is more than a category. In fact my friend’s use of the word “extraordinary” is one that I think of in connection with a true artist. I would say that an artist is an extraordinary craftsman. I also think of an artist as being fearless. They break new ground. They challenge themselves to do more, learn more, and to constantly express their insatiable passion.

Some artists, past and present, that come quickly to my mind are Robert Duval, Tom Hanks, John Lithgow, George Lucas, Stephen Spielberg, Myrl Streep, Ella Fitzgerald, Maria Callas,YoYo Ma YoYo Ma…and the list goes on. Each of the artists that come to mind come to my thought because of their fearless ability to step out of their comfort zone and break new ground as artists and discover new passion.

So, for our next generation of artists, I say embrace your passion, learn your craft, develop a hunger for new frontiers, and thus honor your profession with becoming an artist.


studentCongratulations to those of you who found your college path early, were motivated to seek Early Admission and have already heard of your acceptance. You can now sit back and encourage your friends through their application…and waiting process. As daunting as the application process can be, I think waiting for the responses is even more difficult. My word of advice on college applications is the same I give to auditioning actors. Give it your best and then let it go!

I’m sure that those of you who are college-bound seniors are well into the process and probably have completed most of the applications you are planning to submit. For those of you who are still procrastinating, now is the time to get organized and get the job done!

However, before you can truly “let it go” you have to make sure you’ve covered all your bases. Over the years I have found that one of the most overlooked parts of the application and perhaps one of the most important is the Letter of Recommendation. For those colleges that request letters, and therefore will read them, those letters could be the difference of an acceptance or a denial. Often students are so focused with getting the procedural parts of the application completed that they forget to contact the individuals from whom they want to request letters. This isn’t a time to just pull names out of hat.

Selecting those individuals that you want to write letters of recommendation for you should be a thoughtful procedure. Since every school is looking for students who fit their student profile and makeup, each school will have their own criteria for letters of recommendation. This is their way to get a better look at you. Like your essay or Personal Statement the Letter of Recommendation is a more personal view of who you are. How you stand out among others who have applied. Look at the requirements carefully and select those teachers, counselors, coaches, business leaders, religious advisers who really know you and can highlight something about you that is unique to you. If you are sending letters to more than one school you might want to select different people for different schools.

Writing a letter of recommendation is not an easy task. It takes thought and some research. You can help by giving those you’re asking for recommendations some tools to help them. First, you should contact them directly, either by e-mail or phone to ask if they would be willing to write a letter for you. Be sure to give them the deadline by which the letter must be received by the college or university and offer to send them a pre-addressed envelope. Ask them if they know anything about the school and be prepared to tell them about it and why you have chosen to apply. Offer the website address and ask if they would like to see your copy of the View Book. Tell them you will send them in writing all the information they will need. Once you get their agreement double check the requirements, put together all the information you promised to send and do it immediately! There is a wonderful quote I used to have hanging outside my office that is very applicable here, “Lack of planning on your part does not constitute an emergency on mine!”

Evergreens…and Good Friends

Nutcracker TreeIn show business the phrase “evergreen” is used to mean a production with great audience appeal that can be brought out year after year. Some become an “evergreen” by accident and some are produced to hopefully fulfill that achievement. One that comes quickly to mind as a happy accident is The Wizard of Oz. It is not only a yearly event but it is often shown several times a year in celebration of other holidays.

Of course the symbolism of the evergreen is the wonderful fir tree that never loses its leaves (needles) and is cherished by all. Remember the story of The Little Fir Tree by Hans Christian Anderson?

The greenest of evergreens in the show business world is probably The Nutcracker Ballet. This week there are thousands of Nutcrackers being presented in the United States alone. Every dance school, community and regional ballet company present their version of The Nutcracker. Nearly every professional company in the world presents their choreographed “original” of The Nutcracker Ballet. Why? Because not only is it a cherished story and a family holiday tradition, but it is an almost guaranteed box office bonanza. The San Francisco Chronicle in a 2007 article stated that The San Francisco Ballet earns 43% to 45% of its total ticket revenue http://revenue in its two and a half week run! It has also been reported that Velveteen Rabbit, another Christmas “evergreen” earns ODC more than double what they earn in their entire repertory season. So you can see how important “evergreens” are to arts organizations’ budgets.

I wonder if my dear friend Jocelyn Vollmar had any idea when she stepped onto the stage as the first Snow Queen in the very first full length Nutcracker performance in the United States that she was not only making history, but would be contributing to the financial health of ballet companies far into the future? In those days the dancers only wanted to dance a story ballet. The original story ballets were almost all adapted from fairy tales and this one really fit the bill. It was also the time in dance company history when everyone did a little bit of everything just to get the show mounted. In fact, the first Nutcracker hit the stage in the middle of wartime rationing so the dancers stood in line to each get their limit of fabric so they could eventually costume the entire show!

How fitting that Jocelyn Vollmar was in that very first production that has gone on to be a symbol in the arts and a tradition for so many. To me, Jocelyn is an “evergreen.” She stands tall and strong for everything in the arts that I hold dear, and she never loses a needle! She is the epitome of the prima ballerina. She is both gracious and graceful. She is a consummate artist and her talent is far reaching. When her time came to stop performing she gave back to her art through teaching and coaching. So many new generations of ballerinas have benefited from her counsel and her training. She has enriched my life so many times over. She is my role model, my mentor, my colleague and my “evergreen” friend.

So, as the Nutcracker performances begin to close one by one for this 2014 season, I lift a toast to George Balanchine, Alexandra Danilova and Lew Christiansen who had the vision, each in their own way, to bring The Nutcracker to American audiences. And a most special toast to my friend Jocelyn and our other dear friends in that original cast. You started a wonderful tradition and now with our little group of Chickadees and Hen, Jocelyn, Leslie Crockett, Nancy Johnson, Christine Bering, Zola Dishong and Henry Berg, we gather for lunch each year at this time for our own little tradition. We joyfully watch the next generation of Nutcracker fans scurry off to the Opera House having no idea that in their midst is a table of former dancers who have danced nearly every role in that ballet! To borrow from Charles Dickens’ “evergreen,” A Christmas Carol, the Ghost of Christmas Past inhabits the stages of the present through each one of us.

Scholarship Opportunity

Over the years I have had the privilege to work with The Jack Kent Cooke Foundation and its scholarship students. I can not speak highly enough of this wonderful organization and the opportunities it gives students to follow their dreams. This might be just the opportunity you need to succeed in taking steps towards fulfilling your dreams.

The Jack Kent Cooke Foundation seeks high-achieving high school seniors with financial need for its College Scholarship Program, the largest undergraduate scholarship in the nation. Selected students receive college planning support, ongoing advising, and up to $40,000 per year to attend a four-year accredited undergraduate institution. If you know students who stand out for their exceptional academic abilities and achievements, persistence, leadership, and desire to help others, please encourage them to visit the Jack Kent Cooke Foundation’s website to learn more. The application closes on November 4.

College Auditions: Shed the FEAR and Find the FUN

College auditions…TV pilot season auditions…Broadway auditions…The list goes on.’Tis the season.In fact, I think the rest of the lyric is ’tis the season to be jolly! “How can I be jolly,” you say? “There is so much riding on this audition!” Let’s shed the stress and fear so that you can go forward to nail that audition.

The basics of the audition are the same no matter where or who you are auditioning for but for right now let’s talk about the college audition. The college adjudicator is looking for something very different than a casting director. Of course they want to see that you have talent but even more important they want to see your potential as an actor, dancer or musical theater performer. They want to know YOU. They want to know that you will be able to fold into their existing student body while adding your own unique stamp. They want to know that you have what it takes to balance an intense theater or dance curriculum and performances with your other studies and social life and still graduate on time. And they have to find all this out in about five minutes!

By now some of you have pre-auditioned or are getting ready to, as many schools are now requiring, and others have their dates and times secured and are awaiting the big day. And the National Unified Auditions are coming up in January and February. Now is the time for me to be talking to you seniors about the preparation process and inviting you to get prepared through one of our carefully developed College Audition Boot Camps. The first of its kind when it was developed, the workshop is carefully designed to help you navigate the process, demystify the process and put the FUN back into it. Our hand-picked faculty for the weekend are not only professional artists but they have years of experience auditioning students for colleges and thoroughly understand the process. You will leave the weekend feeling confident and ready to compete in the arena and secure your right spot. You’ll even know how to self-tape your preliminary audition.

Now might be the time to remind you a little bit about audition day etiquette. Here are a few tips we’ll discuss and some you will rehearse:

  1. You’ve rehearsed your monologues, now rehearse your route to the place where you will audition. Know the drive and know where you will park. Be sure you have money for parking meters if necessary. Know how long it will take you…and give yourself 15 extra minutes.
  2. Reread the instructions you received about your audition. Be sure to bring everything with you that you will need. Write down three questions that you would like to know about the department and bring it with you.
  3. Reread the plays that contain your monologues and songs.
  4. Dress appropriately. Remember that you are making an impression.
  5. Arrive early and sign in. Treat everyone you meet (including the monitor and accompanist) with courtesy. Pick up any last minute instructions and find a quiet place to focus on the task ahead. This is a good time to do any warm-up exercises that you need to do.
  6. When it is your turn to audition introduce your self to the adjudicator. “Hello, my name is…” They will probably respond by asking you what monologue you are doing. Introduce it and begin it immediately. If you are given an adjustment do what is asked of you. The adjudicator wants to see if you can make adjustments. You may or may not be asked to do your second monologue. That shouldn’t have any bearing on how you did. It is up to the discretion of adjudicator.
  7. If you are asked any questions about yourself (an interview) let your true self shine through. Be relaxed and tell an interesting story about the person you know best – YOU. If you are asked a hypothetical question let your creative self shine. It’s a time to show your imagination at its best.
  8. Don’t be afraid to ask a couple of questions yourself. Now is the time to use those three questions you prepared before you left home. You are “auditioning” the department. You want to know that if they offer you a spot it’s the BEST place for you. By the way, never ask how they think you did or what they think your chances are!
  9. Remember that they are auditioning a lot of students. Know when its time to leave. Don’t forget to sincerely thank the adjudicators as you leave the room.
  10. Have fun! It’s an important audition but it is not life or death.

Pick a weekend College Audition Boot Camp that works for you and let USPA help you shed the fear and find the FUN!

RIP Rob, Laurie and Robin

The family moved into the neighborhood with three teenaged kids. Fresh from Detroit, by way of Chicago, Mississippi, and New Orleans, Rob was handsome, Laurie gorgeous and the kids funny and smart. Even though their children were ten years older than ours, the friendship was quick and easy. Laurie often exchanged stories of her children’s accomplishments and her worry over her son Robin who seemed so shy and reclusive. I in turn bragged about my three children and pointed out my son’s drive to become a top nationally ranked tennis player.

Laurie was a Southern Belle with stories that regaled one and all. A former model, she was both beautiful and generous. Her sense of humor was unparalleled and there is no doubt that is where Robin got his. An afternoon with Laurie left my sides hurting from laughter. She was also very competitive. One of her favorite tennis partners was my then young son, Craig. The only way Laurie could beat this 12 year old was to call the lines in her favor. He knew she cheated. She knew she cheated. But it was too much fun playing with Laurie to complain.

Rob was a dapper, very proper, retired Ford Motor Company executive when they moved to Marin County. His son Robin was an enigma to him. Both he and Laurie wrung their hands over his street entertaining in New York City when he was at Juilliard. As someone from the business and one who watched their son perform in his pre-Juilliard days they often asked my advice which was very simple, “Let him be who he is.” I don’t know how consoling that was, nor do I know that they followed my advice, but I do know that nothing could have stopped Robin Williams from becoming ROBIN WILLIAMS.

I do know that both Rob and Laurie were enormously proud of their son. There was a time when Rob wouldn’t go see Robin’s standup routines because they embarrassed him but he was still proud. And so was Laurie. They understood this great talent and knew that it had to be shared with the world. Rob was the victim of cancer and left us much too early. Laurie is also gone. And now Robin has gone to meet them. RIP Rob, Laurie and Robin. You are all loved.