Thursday, April 23, 2009

nytheatremike's Advice to the Players (Interview with Michael Criscuolo Part 2)

In the concluding segment of my cyberinterview with Michael Criscuolo, we talk about his blog and the current theatre scene. He also shares some wisdom with upcoming actors:

Me: You’ve been working hard to foster community within the world of Indie Theater here in NYC. Tell us about your blog (nytheatre mike 2.0) and your vision for it?

Michael: I’m a naturally curious person, and I love reading interviews with people and finding out about people. So, I thought I’d start using my blog as a forum for interviewing my friends and colleagues in the Indie Theater sector. I figured that’d be a good way to help them out, publicity-wise, since most of them don’t get any kind of coverage by the so-called “mainstream media.” I could write a long, impassioned treatise on the disgracefully apathetic attitude of New York arts journalists toward Indie Theater, but I don’t want to completely eat up all of your blog space. Instead, let me just say that I think Indie Theater deserves copious amounts of coverage and media attention because they make up the vast majority of theater that happens in New York every year; because that’s where the next wave of theater artists is coming from; and because that’s where most of the interesting work in New York happens. Just my opinion, mind you, but I’ll defend it to the death. Anyway, my blog aims to give Indie Theater a little bit of that copious media coverage.

On a more practical level, I like doing the interviews because they’re easy to do. I know that a few bloggers like to use their blogs to write theoretical think pieces (and a few bloggers also like to complain about theater bloggers who don’t use their blogs for that purpose), and I think that’s great. I love reading those, and wish I had the diligence to do them myself. But, it feels a little too much like writing a term paper for school. Don’t get me wrong: I would happily write a nice critical think piece if I were getting paid for it. But I’m not going to do it for free just to fulfill someone else’s idea of what a theater blog should be. Besides, all of the people I interview have far more interesting things to say than I do.

Me: What advice do you have for folks who are trying to begin acting careers in theatre in NYC right now?

The same advice that my father – who is also an actor – has always given me: hang in there. Be diligent. Don’t give up. My dad has given me a lot of great advice over the years that has kept me in good stead. He has always reminded me that, no matter what, good work rises to the top. People will ultimately recognize you if you do good work, so you always have to try and do your best because you never know who’s watching you. More recently, Pop has been good about reminding me that everyone who hangs in there eventually gets their shot, which I’m discovering more and more, as time goes by, is true. I’m guessing that at least seven out of every ten actors eventually quit the business altogether, so if you just outlast them your chances at getting ahead become exponentially better.

I find that setting annual goals for myself is a good way to keep me on track, kind of like New Year’s resolutions. Last year, my goal was to land one paid acting gig. Well, I did seven shows last year – Indie Theater shows, mind you – and got paid for four of them. Mission accomplished. This year, my goal was to land a paid off-Broadway gig, and here I am working at The Pearl. Mission accomplished. Every year, the goal involves a higher degree of difficulty but I make sure to keep it do-able in relation to where I think my career is (or where I want it to be).

I also take a longer-term view of my career by targeting specific people and theater companies I want to work with, people who do the kind of stuff I like and want to do. I only started doing this within the last couple of years, but it has worked out beautifully so far. I contacted a bunch of different Indie Theater companies I wanted to work with and asked them to keep in mind for future auditions. Many of them did, called me in, and then hired me. Some of them I’m still trying to get in with. But, I’ve created great relationships with all of them. They all know who I am, and I’m very grateful that many of them keep calling me back in to work with them. Now, I’m trying the same strategy with several larger off-Broadway companies, which I’m not expecting immediate results with. But, we’ll see how far along I am with this by next spring.

All of which leads me back to my dad’s advice: hang in there. Be diligent. Don’t give up.

Me: Finally, we see your reviews on from time to time, but I still have to ask…what have you seen lately that you’ve loved? And what are you looking forward to?

I haven’t been able to see a lot of stuff since the beginning of this year, but the couple of things I have seen have been really super.

Top of the list is the new Off-Broadway revival of Our Town, playing at The Barrow Street Theatre. Unbelievably good. Just a tremendous production. Maybe the best Our Town I’ve ever seen because director David Cromer and the cast treat it with zero reverence. They don’t get hung up on being “respectful” to the play’s reputation. Instead, they treat it like a new experimental play, which is exactly what it was when it first debuted. A great choice that pays off beautifully.

I also have to recommend Tartuffe, the show I’m working on. I’ve seen it nearly fifteen times now, and it’s amazing to see how it’s grown and changed over the run. The cast is excellent – they really know how to handle the comedy and the rhyming couplets – and they never fail to find something new, even when they’re having an off night. It’s a production that holds up to repeated viewings, and is very funny. We run until April 26th, so hie thee hither over to The Pearl.

I’ve made plans to go see the new Broadway revivals of Desire Under the Elms and Accent on Youth, and Ashlin Halfnight’s new play, Artifacts of Consequence, over the next couple of weeks, and I’m excited about all of them. Especially Ashlin’s play. He is such a talented and gifted writer, and I love seeing new stuff by him. He’s a versatile writer – no two plays of his resemble each other – and he’s very funny. As for the other two, I think Brian Dennehy is one of our best theater actors, and I love going to see him. And I’ve never seen David Hyde-Pierce live in person, so I’m looking forward to that, as well.

There are many other things on the horizon, further into the summer, that I’m excited about seeing, but I think you get the point. I will now stop hogging your blog.

Thanks to Michael for taking time to answer my questions! Michael blogs at

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