Top Billing Entertainment Academy

Where Every Performer Gets Top Billing

Archive for the tag “top billing entertainment performance academy”

Where Your Money Goes

As a non-profit 501(c)3 our staff, board members, and performers are all owners of Top Billing Entertainment Performance Academy. As such, we are all stake holders and all of us partner together to make the shows happen; as the Executive Director I want to make our budgets and processes as transparent as possible. We have been blessed over many years by amazing donations of money and items, but mostly of volunteer hours. We do musicals because we love doing them. Not every child is an athlete, and musicals can uniquely feature performers of all ages with special needs in addition to those with amazing dancing, singing, and acting skills in a team oriented environment. In addition to the athletic and music components, stage musicals help build discipline, confidence, and presentation skills. We love giving the performers a Broadway level experience where every one of them gets a featured solo moment, but to create these professional level productions takes a small army. We are especially proud of the amount of national awards our productions and performers have received as well as the amount of talent scouts and agents that attend our shows to recruit our performers.

If we charged each performer for the instructional time, costumes, sets, theater time, etc. which we provide for each production, the cost per person would range from $500-$700. Instead we ask each performer sell tickets or program ads to help cover the costs. We are working on grants and other income streams, but currently have been making ends meet through donations from our staff and board members. Below is a sample budget of the costs for our summer productions. The biggest factors are the amount of performers in the show, the length of time we are in a theater, and the cost for the performance rights, but with the rehearsal space and other costs added in, we are generally always operating at a deficit.

Again we do the shows because we love doing them. The musical productions are also good advertising for our private lessons and classes (although the majority of our musical performers do not take any) and they help launch our performers to the next level. To keep all this awesomeness going, we truly need each performer and their families to follow through on their commitment of volunteer hours and ticket sales, as well as maintain a positive and supportive learning environment. We are planning for and hoping in the near future that large grants and other income streams will come our way, and would love any help offered, but mainly need everyone to take up their small burden to help make the large musical productions possible. When we all work together, we can make dreams come true.

General Musical Budget_Page_1General Musical Budget_Page_2

Friday Feature ~ Kristina Keener Ivy, Executive Director

 Kristina Keener Ivy

Kristina Keener Ivy is the Founder and Executive Director of Top Billing Entertainment Performance Academy. She is also a former high school choir director turned professional performer and private music instructor. She has performed with various jazz bands, as a member of various church worship teams, on three film soundtracks, and in numerous musical theater productions throughout the South West. Currently she teaches almost 70 private students a week. Her students have competed and won in many local and national competitions including Spotlight Awards at the Music Center, Southern California Vocal Association Vocal Solo Competition, America’s Got Talent, Covina’s Got Talent, California All-State Choir, California Honor Choir, along with various talent shows and musical productions. She has also worked as a musical director for over 25 local musical theater productions including Peter Pan, Beauty and the Beast, Seussical and High School Musical.

It has been a life-long dream of Kristina Keener Ivy’s to start a performing arts group. After performing all over the country and heading a similar program at West Covina High School for five years, she decided to found her own 501(c)3 nonprofit where she could ensure that each performer is treated with respect, given professional instruction, and given the opportunity for a featured solo. At Top Billing they work with every performer, from ones who have extreme special needs to ones who are Broadway bound. In January 2015, they expanded to a full service performance academy in the Village of Glendora and offer classes for all ages in acting, on camera acting, dance, voice, all instruments, and musical summer day camps. They have classes for ages 2 and up with partner dancing classes for adults.

See the commercial for Top Billing Entertainment Performance Academy

From Kristina, “I think a lot about why I should keep on doing what I’m doing. I had a dream as a child that there was a school I could go to that would help me be a Broadway star, or on TV, or just prepare me to be an awesome performer. I wanted to be in Seattle when the grunge rock scene hit or in Paris after the World Wars with all ex-pat writers and poets. Problem was my family was po’ (so poor we couldn’t afford an r). Then one day while teaching at WCHS I realized I could create a place and time like that. A place where aspiring performers can come and work with master teachers and get professional performance opportunities while inspiring each other to excel. Fast forward and now I have an amazing location, awesome teachers (including Eddie Garcia who danced with Micheal Jackson for two world tours,Christine Ivy who is an amazing dancer and technical teacher, Jamie McMahon who is a choreographer genius and improv impresario, Melanie Rabajante who is a partner dancer wizard and dance cardio goddess, Timothy Jackson who can dance all styles, play piano, teach voice, acting and is the hardest worker I know, Andrew Cristin who is an amazing acting teacher and David Ivy – the best on camera acting teacher I have ever seen.) I have donors to help us cover part of the costs, awesome Board Members (Desiree Cabana, Elisa Field, Kimberly Beaufeaux Krok, Heidi Petersen Leach, and Camilla Danison) and Office Staff/Volunteers (Heather McDowell, Erik Jacome, and Justin McDowell). Just wish we could get more performers to come work with us! It’s hard changing the world one step at a time, but I’ve come so far already and there are so many people who have joined me now. Only thing to do is keep dreaming.”

Top Billing Entertainment has received 23 National Youth Arts nominations and six wins, won “Best Dance School” in the 2014 San Gabriel Valley Tribune Reader’s Choice Awards, “Best Dance School” and “Best Music Instruction” in the 2015 San Gabriel Valley Tribune Reader’s Choice Awards, and won first place for Best Theater Production and second place for Theater Directing in the American Prize National Competition 2014.

Current & past students have:

*Placed in the top three of the Spotlight Awards at the Dorothy Chandler Pavilion

*Won National Youth Arts Awards

*Won Southern California Vocal Association Solo Singer Competitions

*Won local talent competitions including Covina’s Got Talent, West Covina Talent Show, and various school and district talent shows

*Performed in Honor Choirs & All-State Choirs

*Placed in the top 100 of National Television Talent Shows including America’s Got Talent, American Idol, and The Voice

*Performed as leads and featured soloists in school, local, and national performance events & tours

*Been featured in national television shows, national commercials, and major feature films

*Attended with scholarships & graduated from music or performing arts programs at Los Angeles County High School of the Arts, Orange County School for the Arts, American Musical and Dramatic Academy, Azusa Pacific University, California State University Los Angeles, California State University at Fullerton, California State University at San Diego, & California State University at Long Beach.

Kristina Keener Ivy’s Education & Awards:

Bachelor’s of Music in Opera Performance from Northern Arizona University, Summa Cum Laude with Honors, 2002

Bachelor’s of Music in Music Education Choral Conducting from Northern Arizona University, Summa Cum Laude with Honors, 2002

American Prize – #2 Musical Theater Director in the USA, 2014

National Youth Arts Awards 2011, 2012, 2013

Best of Glendora – Music Instruction, 2013

YWCA Woman of Excellence Award, 2005

West Covina High School Inspirational Teacher, 2003, 2004, 2005, 2006

West Covina High School Tireless Teacher, 2004, 2005, 2006

West Covina High School Staff/Faculty of the Month, Dec. 2002, May 2004

West Covina High School Fine Arts Faculty Member of the Year, 2003

Northern Arizona University Golden Axe Award, 2002

NAU New Century Honors Program, 1997 – 2002

Rodger & Eldon Ardrey Scholarship, 2001

Mary Lou Thompson Scholarship, 2001

Choral Dinner Scholarship, 2001

Charles & Ellie Meister Scholarship, 2000

Phi Kappa Phi Honor Society, 2000

Carroll Lane & Mildred Adams-Fenton Scholarship, 1999

Year of Education Award, 1997

Regents Scholarship, 1997

See videos of Kristina performing at https://www.youtube.com/user/KristinaKeener

How to Choose a Youth Musical Theater Audition Song

One of the most exciting parts of musical theater is choosing your audition song! Here are some tips to help you make the right choice for you.

1)      Research the Show You Are Auditioning For

Watch videos on YouTube, get a DVD from your local library, or buy the cast recording. What type of show is it? A classic Rodgers & Hammerstein, something more pop and modern like High School Musical, or a jukebox musical made up of songs from a recording artist like Mamma Mia. Choose a song in a similar style or feel, by the same composer for another show, or sung by a similar character in another show. If you are new to musical theater do a web search, for example “Rodgers & Hammerstein audition songs”, or ask a voice teacher or choir director to help you. If you are auditioning for a child in Sound of Music sing “Getting to Know You” from The King & I, for High School Musical sing “We Go Together” from Grease or “You Can’t Stop the Beat” from Hairspray, for Mama Mia sing “Stand by Me” from Smokey Joe’s Café.

 

2)      Sing a Song You Like

Especially if you do not have time to learn a new song, sing something that you really like to sing that is age appropriate for you. A song that you like will help show off your personality and will help you be more comfortable when the nerves hit. For Youth Theater, never sing a song with cuss words or content that is not appropriate for young kids. If you are choosing a new song to learn, choose one that you would like to learn, not one that you think the casting directors want to hear. Don’t worry if it is a song everyone knows. Try to choose a song from musical theater or maybe a Disney movie musical. In a pinch sing a pop song or “Happy Birthday” but try to avoid these if you are going out for a lead. If you are allowed to sing from the show for the audition, only do so if you are very familiar with the show. If you sing a song from the show well, it could clench your casting as a lead. If you don’t sing the song from the show well, your audition choice may put you in the chorus. Also unless asked to do so for the audition, avoid choosing a song normally sung by the opposite sex or that has lyrics specific to another ethnicity.

3)      Choose a Song In Your Best Range

Do not try to show off if it will show the breaks and weaknesses in your voice. Sing something that showcases the best part of your voice and that is easy to remember. For new singers it should not go too high or too low in pitch. You only need to prepare about a minute long section of the song, so find the best part of the song for you. I recommend either the first pages or the last pages; they usually work the best for shorter cuts. I usually use the end of the song, because it generally has a nice long note for you to sing and an exciting piano crescendo.

4)      Get Sheet Music or a Karaoke Track in the Proper Key

There are a ton of places to download sheet music online for $3 – $5 where you can also change the key and hear what the first page of the music sounds like before you buy it. I would do a web search like “Tomorrow from Annie sheet music” and see what comes up. I like Sheet Music Plus. There are also sheet music books that come with vocal demo and piano accompaniment CDs and 16 Bar Audition Books. If you need a track instead of sheet music for the audition, you can buy karaoke tracks for almost everything on Itunes or other similar mp3 sites, or even convert the tracks from YouTube.

5)      Practice Your Moves

I recommend one conversational gesture per line of text. You don’t stand still when you talk, so don’t stand still when you sing. However on the same note, don’t go too ridiculous with your gestures. When in doubt see what other performers have done with the song on YouTube or ask your friends and family to watch your performance and tell you if any gesture is too big or too small. The gestures should enhance your performance and make you look like a confident and competent performer. They should not pull focus from your vocals or make you look ridiculous.

6)       Five Songs I Recommend For Youth Theater Auditions

 

For Girls

“I Feel Pretty” from West Side Story

“My Favorite Things” from Sound of Music

“Never Fully Dressed Without A Smile” from Annie

“Tomorrow” from Annie

“What I’ve Been Looking For” from High School Musical

 

For Boys

“Be Our Guest” from Beauty and the Beast

“Happiness” from Charlie Brown

“I Just Can’t Wait To Be King” from Lion King

“What I’ve Been Looking For” from High School Musical

“Where is Love?” from Oliver!

 

For Any Kid

“Consider Yourself” from Oliver!

“Do, Re, Mi” from Sound of Music

“Getting To Know You” from King & I

“Oh The Thinks You Can Think” from Seussical

“We’re All In This Together” from High School Musical

 

Now that you have a song, check out my article about what to do at your audition. Also if you have a favorite audition song please leave it as a comment below!

 

How to Audition for Youth Musical Theater

ImageSo it is your first audition for the school or youth summer musical. You have your song and sheet music ready, but what now?

1)      Prepare Your Sheet Music (If it is required.)

In another post I discuss how to pick your song and where to get sheet music. In this post I assume that you are all set on that front. Once you have your sheet music copied, make sure you mark where you will start and where you will end. Bright colored pencil is best. Also be sure to circle any key changes, ritardandos, accelerandos or other unusual things in the piano part. Hole punch the music so the accompanist will not have to turn pages and put it in a 3-ring binder. Do not use the clear plastic sheets as they are hard to see through when lights glare on them, do not use single sheets of paper outside of a binder as they can easily blow away, and do not use a music from a book if the accompanist will have to turn pages (they are more likely to play wrong notes when they have to turn the page) and if the book will not stay open by itself. Make a copy of the music you need and put it in a plastic 3-ring blinder.

2)       Dress for Success

Treat the audition like a job interview. Dress professionally, do your hair, don’t wear too much jewelry, don’t wear a hat, don’t wear clothing with holes or stains. Dress to suggest the part you would like to have or are most suited for. Do not wear a full costume. If you are auditioning for Cinderella wear a skirt, do your hair and if you are allowed to make-up, wear it. If you are auditioning for Sky Masterson in Guys and Dolls wear dress pants and a button up shirt, a tie is optional. I love bright colors because it helps the casting directors to remember you, but do not wear the same color top to bottom. For example, do not wear a red shirt with red pants and red shoes. Do not wear a t-shirt with a slogan plastered across it or a lot of patterns as they are distracting from your performance. If you are a girl, a shirt with sequins around the neck always looks great. If you are a boy, a brightly colored button-up shirt is always a good choice. If there will be a dance audition, make sure you can dance in the same outfit or only have to change the bottoms. Again this helps us to remember you; if you completely change your outfit it is confusing for the casting directors. Be sure to always wear or bring other shoes that you can dance in. Practice in your audition outfit doing your audition in a mirror to make sure you can breath and move properly. Also to make sure your dress doesn’t raise to high when you raise your arms, your shirt is so tight that your bra can be seen through the buttonholes, etc.

3)      Your Special Secret

Before your turn to audition, try to keep calm by thinking about your special secret. It could be anything. Some of my students think about the special treat they will get to eat after the audition is over, some read their favorite book, some pray and remember they are singing to please God, some put baloney in their shoes or wear their lucky underwear. Whatever helps you to stay positive and calm. Before I audition, I particularly like to remind myself that the beautiful thing about singing is that every voice is different; you are the only person in the whole world with your fingerprints and your voice. There will always be someone better then you and someone worse, but there is only one you. Forget about those other people. Use them for inspiration but not as a measuring stick. You are on your own journey as a performer, comparing yourself to others, especially during the audition, will only hurt you so don’t do it. Focus on doing the best YOU can at this moment in time, and improving the next time you audition.

4)      Keep Calm and Do What You Practiced

Especially in youth theater, the directors are not looking for perfection, we are looking to see if you have abilities we can work with. As a director I will be spending all my free time for three to five months with the kids we cast, if an auditionee is an amazing singer but has a bad attitude (or sometimes a bad stage parent) I will not cast them as a lead because I don’t want to deal with the stress. On the other hand, if the auditionee has no training but is very enthusiastic and is willing to work hard, I would much rather cast them as a lead. How can you show your enthusiasm? By the way that you introduce yourself before you sing, by your attitude when you are given a direction, how you treat the accompanist and the people who help with the sign-in and paperwork, and especially how you deal with making a mistake. Stay positive and keep going, always smile. Other than that, do what you have practiced for your audition, even if the person right before you sang your song, don’t change it last minute. Always do what you practiced. Also I want to add here that you should try to do one gesture for each sentence in your song that shows your personality. Do not make the gestures too indicative (for example pointing at your wrist for time). Make your gestures conversational. When in doubt find a YouTube video of a professional performing your song and copy some of their movements. Do not sit down, turn around, or move around off you mark when doing your gestures. Stand there and sing to us like we are your best friend.

5)      How To Introduce Yourself

After you have gone over your sheet music with the accompanist, find your place to stand. There may be an X on the ground, if not find the middle of the space. Not too close to the audition table where the casting directors sit, but also not too far away from them. Wait for one of them to look at you and give you a nod. If you are nervous, a trick I like to use to control the hands is to touch just the middle finger of your hand to your thigh so you are glued to yourself. If will make you appear calm. Also take a good wide stance with your feet under your hips, not with your feet next to each other, so you have a good base to your posture. This will also make you look more confident. Look directly at the casting directors and clearly state your name, your age, the title of your audition song, the show it is from and the composer. For example you would slate, “Hello, my name is Kristina Ivy, I am 16 years old and I will be singing ‘The Wizard and I’ from Wicked by Stephen Schwartz.” Then take a deep breath, give the accompanist a nod, and sing your audition song! When you sing look directly above the casting directors. It makes me uncomfortable when auditionees look directly at me. It’s like breaking the fourth wall on stage.

6)      What You Can and Cannot Control

You can only control how your audition goes by how you practice. When you make a mistake, KEEP GOING, in a real show you cannot stop and go back. Only in extreme circumstances should you ask to start again. Remember you control the tempo of the music, if you want the pianist to play faster or slower, simply sing faster or slower. They will follow you. Don’t take it personally if the casting directors are writing, have their heads down, are eating, or drinking. Audition days can be very long for us. As a professional performer in LA, a successful booking rate is 1 out of 10 auditions. As a performer you will be rejected all the time. You have to learn not to take it personally. Usually it has 40% to do with things you can control and 60% to do with a million other things you cannot control. I cannot tell you the number of times we do not cast the most talented auditionee because they are too tall, too short, too young, or too old to play against other cast members, the wrong size for the costumes that were already built, or have too many conflicts with rehearsal times because of other activities. Also I have been cut from an audition, only to get a call from the same people a few years later who booked me for a job. Just because you are not selected this time, doesn’t mean they won’t remember you in the future. When in doubt, take lessons to improve your skills.

7)      Be Ready For The Callbacks

Sometimes the callbacks for leads is the same day, sometimes a few days later. In either case be prepared. Study the show you are auditioning for by watching a DVD and as many different performers on YouTube as possible. Pay special attention to anything particularly hard to do: an extremely high or low note, an accent, a song that is especially tied to dance moves like “Show Off” from The Drowsy Chaperone. Practice those things so they are already in your body. You will ahead of the curve at the callback if you are already familiar with the songs from the show.

8)      Learn From Your Mistakes

After your audition make a mental list, or even an actual list, of the things you did well, the things you did not expect, and the things you want to improve upon for next time. Refer back to it before your next audition. It might look something like this:

Things I Did Well

Sang all the words to the song correctly

Introduced myself well

Did the gestures I practiced

 Things I Did Not Expect

The audition location would be so cold (bring a hoodie next time)

The audition would take four hours (bring water and snacks next time)

I would physically shake because I was nervous (need to practice a few more weeks in advance next time)

Things To Improve

Start practicing at least three weeks before the audition every day for 20 minutes

Be more confident (even if I am not confident, I am going to pretend to be)

Work on my upper register notes to gain more control and tone quality there

Please leave a comment if you have a tip that helps get you through auditions, and break a leg at your audition! (It’s a theater saying from the Old English meaning to bend a knee aka take a bow.) Have fun and keep smiling.

How To Write Your First Song

 

There is no wrong way to write a song. This is simply a way to get you started. Songs will come differently every time you write one. Sometimes melody and lyrics come first, sometimes a title or theme idea. Also, these tips assume that you can play four or more chords on an instrument or in some kind of music editing program.

1)      Stick To Form

Most pop songs follow a certain form. Usually Verse 1, Chorus, Verse 2, Chorus, Bridge, Chorus. Verses are the parts that tell the story. The chorus is the part that repeats the same every time and usually has a catchy melody. The bridge is usually an instrumental solo of some kind and uses different chords or a different rhythmic pattern than any other place in the song.

2)      Choose Your Chord Progression

Chords and the order they go in cannot be copy written, only melody and lyrics can. For your first song it is okay to use the chords from one of your favorite songs. C, F, G, am, dm, em in any order sound great together. Keep it simple and play only four or five of them for each section of the song. Make sure you use the same progression every time that section repeats.

For example your song should go something like this:

Intro – C, G

Verse 1 – C, F, G, am

Chorus – C, G, F, G

Verse 2 – C, F, G, am

Chorus – C, G, F, G

Bridge – em, am, C, G

Chorus – C, G, F, G

Ending – G, C

3)      Come Up With A Short Title

Your title can come from anywhere; a newspaper story, book title, I especially love the poems of Shel Silverstein for inspiration. Try to limit it to one to four words. Your title will also give you the theme and topic for your song, Adele and Taylor Swift and great examples to study. Here are some random words from titles from the books on my shelf to get you started: Star Machine, Guilty, Teardrop Romance, Nobody, Penny Road.

4)       Write Your Lyrics

Using your title as a topic, write your lyrics sticking to your form. Here is an example using the poem “Nobody” by Shel Silverstein:

Verse 1

Nobody loves me, Nobody cares,

Nobody picks me peaches and pears.

Nobody offers me candy and Cokes,

Nobody listens and laughs at my jokes.

 

Chorus

But yesterday night I got quite a scare,

I woke up and Nobody just wasn’t there.

I called out and reached out for Nobody’s hand,

In the darkness where Nobody usually stands.

Verse 2

Nobody helps when I get in a fight,

Nobody does all my homework at night.

Nobody misses me, Nobody cries,

Nobody thinks I’m a wonderful guy.

Chorus

But yesterday night I got quite a scare,

I woke up and Nobody just wasn’t there.

I called out and reached out for Nobody’s hand,

In the darkness where Nobody usually stands.

Bridge

Then I poked through the house, in each cranny and nook,

But I found somebody each place that I looked.

I searched till I’m tired, and now with the dawn,

There’s no doubt about it- Nobody’s gone!

Chorus

But yesterday night I got quite a scare,

I woke up and Nobody just wasn’t there.

I called out and reached out for Nobody’s hand,

In the darkness where Nobody usually stands.

5)      Come Up With A Riff

Pop music writers like to include a riff or hook in the song. It is a pattern of three to six notes that is memorable and repeats throughout the song.

6)      Keep Rewriting

Like any other form of art it takes lots of reworking and layers upon layers to make a masterpiece. So keep writing and reworking your song as needed. It will get easier every time you write a song, so keep doing it!

 

Learning to Practice Takes Daily Practice – 6 Tips to Help You Get Going

Image

As a private lesson music teacher, the most common question I get asked is how to get new students to practice. If you are the parent of a young student, you will have to set practice expectations and times for your child. Rarely will they practice on their own. Just like school homework, practice time must have rewards when completed and punishments if not completed. If you use the tips below, your child should be successful and after 4-5 months they will usually practice on their own. If you are an older student, these tips will help to give your practice time structure and focus.

1)      Find Time Every Day

Because learning a new instrument, a new dance move, or memorizing a monologue is kinetic, it is imperative that you work your muscles daily. It is better to do a small amount of rehearsal every day then do long rehearsal periods once or twice a week. If you are learning to play an instrument you have to learn to control your minute muscles, and are often learning how to read music which is like learning a foreign language. Both these skills require daily repetition.

2)      Set a Time Limit

Set a timer for about 5 minutes longer than you think you can do. If you are a beginner or the student is very young, 15 minute practice sessions every day is successful. As you progress and your interest grows, keep extending your practice time by 5 minutes. An intermediate student should easily practice 30 minutes to an hour every day, advanced students can practice anywhere from one hour to six hours a day. I find it successful for young students especially to practice 10 minutes in the morning and 20 minutes in the evening.

3)      Set a Goal

Especially for young or beginning students, it is important to set goals. For example, play the song five times, each time at different tempos. Find the hardest parts and repeat them 9 times. Ask your teacher what you should be working on, if they are not already giving you homework.

A)     Work Your Technique

Half of your practice should be making sure your muscles are doing the proper technique. For example in ballet class making sure your hip to toe position is correct and then repeating the movement so it becomes part of your subconscious. If you are learning to read music, do music flash cards or other music theory worksheets so the note names and rhythms come easily to you. As a singer, I like to record myself either with a voice recorder or by video so I can really hear what I am doing and watch my posture and chin to make sure I am in the optimal position to create the best sounds. My voice students who practice by listening back to our lessons, then use a voice recorder for their personal practice time, progress twice as fast as those who do not. They are able to hear themselves as others hear them, experiment with different sounds, and guide themselves to their desired sound.  Sometimes watching yourself back on video will reveal small tics or habits that you were not aware of. Once you are aware of undesirable habits, then you will be able to modify them until all that is left is good technique.

B)      Work Your Memory

The other half of practice is memorizing repertoire to perform. Personally I’ve found that I must practice a musical phrase or dance routine about 9 times before my muscles can really start to memorize it. If I am learning a dance routine or blocking for an acting scene, I find it is helpful to review a video so that I do not add anything or skip anything. Once the routine is in your body incorrectly it is twice as hard to fix it, so do take your time making sure it is correct before you go about memorizing it. If you cannot get a video, make sure to write down the routine or blocking right after you first learn it. I will write tips about how to memorize in another post.

4)      Do NOT Restart From the Beginning Every Time You Make a Mistake

It is a waste of time and energy to go back to the beginning every time a mistake is made. It only reinforces the part the student already knows well, since they continue to repeat it, and it causes anxiety that at any mistake all their hard work will be destroyed. I like to tell my students that practicing is like eating a meal; we don’t shove the entire plate of food in our mouth but take bite sized portions. Some of the food will go down easy, but other bites may take extra chewing. Meaning, break your task into smaller manageable tasks and then focus on the hardest parts of those smaller tasks. For example, if you are learning a 10 page song, do not try to play it all in one practice session. Instead play just the first page. After your first run through, go back for the hardest measures and play them until you feel you have mastered them, then repeat for the next page and so on.

5)      Record Your Work On a Practice Log

For young learners and beginning students, seeing their goals and progress on a chart can be very encouraging and can keep them motivated. Also over the years, a practice log will help you to remember how you started and to truly gauge how far you’ve come.

6)      Give Yourself a Reward

For young students getting a small treat or privilege after every practice session will help keep them motivated. Try putting the treat or reward near the practice area so the student can see it and know it is coming. As they get better at practicing for longer periods I usually make the rewards bigger, like a larger toy or special outing, but less frequent. For older students, treat yourself accordingly. I can’t tell you the number of times I have used a cup of frozen yogurt to motivate myself to memorize a song, or a trip to Disneyland to get myself through a six month rehearsal process for a show. Knowing a prize is waiting at the end of all my hard work helps me to keep going, especially when I don’t feel like it.

Learning to practice daily takes practice. For children, the discipline of learning to do a task they may not always feel like doing will help prepare them for adulthood and the amount of work it takes to be successful. Practice doesn’t make perfect, practice makes habits. Practice the habits you want to have until they become part of you.

6 Tips to Find a Good Performing Arts Private Instructor, Class, or School

So you finally decided to take music, dance, or acting lessons, but where to go? How do you find a good program and a good teacher? Here are six tips to help you find the right teacher for you.

1)      Know what you want and what you can afford.

Take a look at your budget and your schedule. Are you looking for a once a week activity or every night? Do you want to do solo performances or group performances? How much can you afford to spend? How far are you willing to drive? Deciding these things will help you to narrow your choices down to something you can live with.

2)      Do Some Research.

There are a plethora of websites that give reviews. Check out the local studios on Yelp, Google, and Angie’s List. Also check professional membership groups like National Association of Teachers of Singing (NATS) or other similar groups for your discipline. Every year Backstage does an edition listing the best teachers and schools as voted by readers in NYC and LA. But remember like everything else in life, you may not agree with all the opinions presented on the web, however they will give you a feel for the studio. Also check out class fees to get an idea of the going rate in your area. For example at the time of this post in Covina, CA half hour music lessons range from $20-$30. In Hollywood, CA they range from $40-$60. The local community college is also a great place to get quality classes for cheap and they take all ages. My husband took fine art classes at the local community college when he was in 4th grade after his school day was over. During high school I took music classes in the evening at the local community college. At the community college dance class I took a few years ago, we have a bunch of retirees. They are usually offered at all times of day and are a great place to start your training. Also check out what your city offers. Many have a large selection of music, dance, acting, and art classes. They are a good place to start, but if you are a more advanced student one on one classes are the way to grow.

3)      What do they offer and what is required.

Most studios offer 2-4 recitals or showcases a year. Most charge an extra fee for recital or performance participation. Some provide your book or learning packet, most do not. Do they offer scholarships? If so, what kinds of commitments are involved? Most places that offer scholarships require the families to do many volunteer hours. Some places will allow videos and photos of the performances and rehearsals, but many hire professionals and sell photos and DVDs of the performances as a fundraiser. If it is an on-camera acting class, do you get a copy of the footage? If it is a dance class, do you have to provide a uniform and specific dance shoes? For many dance studios you must purchase specially designed costumes for every dance number your child is in, so take this in to account. Do you pay weekly or monthly, and are they willing to work out a payment plan if you need it? Find out as much as possible about all the “hidden fees” involved in your activity.

4)      Meet with the teacher before you pay any money.

Most good schools will offer a meet and greet, free introductory lesson, or free class observation to make sure you are a good fit with their program. At that session you can ask all your questions, talk to other students and their parents, and get a feel for the teacher’s style. They might have a very reputable program and successful students, but if the teacher rubs you the wrong way for any reason then you have not lost any money or made a commitment you do not want to keep. On the other hand, if you are hesitant and the teacher is awesome, then you will be excited to start classes.

5)      How to tell a good teacher.

Make sure their training and accomplishments and in line with what you want to achieve. If you want to be an opera singer, don’t learn voice from someone who doesn’t sing. If you are getting ready to audition for a certain school or scholarship program, find a teacher who has either attended that school, is one of the people for whom you will be auditioning, or has many students who have auditioned for that school. Make sure the teacher you want is the person who teaches the class. Sometimes teacher’s assistants or other professionals teach 50% or more of the time. You are paying for this teacher’s time, so make sure you are getting your money’s worth. Often I have to remind my students that private lessons should be tailored to the student and that they should speak up about what they want to learn. Make sure the teacher gives you good personal attention and is available to answer questions or give advice during class time, via e-mail, or open office hours. Another thing to consider is how well-connected the teacher is to the industry you want to get in to. Do they offer special classes with industry professionals? Do they have the inside scoop on various auditions, competitions, performances? What professional memberships are they part of? Lastly, make sure your personalities and teaching/learning styles are compatible. If they are not compatible, don’t worry, just keep looking for a teacher you like. You will know it when you find the right teacher for you.

6)      Don’t stay too long or too short with one teacher.

When you are first developing your technique, it is important to stay with one teacher. As an opera singer it is imperative to stay with one teacher somewhere 3-5 years. I think the same can be said of dancers or other types of performing that are very muscularly technical. Getting too many different methods and techniques from different teachers can be more harmful than helpful when you are first starting out. However, once you have a solid technique in place, definitely check out other teachers so you can gain new and clearer perspective on your craft, make more contacts, and gain different performance opportunities. I would never go to more than one teacher at a time for the same skill, but different teachers for different skills at the same time is great. For example, the crossover effect of acting classes on how a performer sings can be remarkable. Similarly you do not want to stay with one teacher for too long and get stagnant. Sometimes it is hard to stop working with someone you love, but you have to keep growing and a good teacher will understand. My motto as a teacher is “my job is to make myself obsolete.” After three years, my students should know what I am going to correct in their performance before I have to say anything. Hence why finding someone you admire and enjoy learning from is important, a good student will become like their master.

I am proud that you are looking to better yourself and your craft by learning from a master teacher. There will be lots of bumps on the road to becoming a performing artist, but keep learning, keep playing, keep creating. You are worth being the best you can be, and the world needs your skills as an artist!

10 Steps to Becoming Famous

English: Justin Bieber at the Sentul Internati...

English: Justin Bieber at the Sentul International Convention Center in West Java, Indonesia. Português: Justin Bieber no Sentul International Convention Center, Indonésia. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

There are really two kinds of fame: 1) people who are famous for honing their abilities and talents and 2) those people who are famous for their “personalities.” These are 10 steps to help you achieve the first kind of fame.

1)      Know Your Craft

Take lessons, classes, perform at open mic nights, talent shows, school events, community theater, etc. Know the history, the greats, see every production you can. Remember it takes about 10 years to master a skill and as the adage goes, you do not want to jump into the water with sharks if you can’t swim. If you start trying to do things beyond your skill level, you are setting yourself up for failure or to be taken advantage of. Always keep learning new aspects to your craft. Professional performers practice and rehearse 6-8 hours a day. You must love your craft enough to spend every free moment with it, and you may have to give up other activities to be truly great. I do not always have fun practicing, but I love performing and I am dedicated to it. Music, dancing, acting are muscles that you have to work out daily. I set daily practice sessions with a timer and make myself practice whether I feel like it or not. Sometimes it is only 10 minutes, sometimes it is hours, but I practice every day. In another post I will discuss what to look for in a good teacher, a good class, or a good school.

2)      Find a Mentor

This could be a teacher, coach, manager, anyone who has done what you want to do and can help you avoid common mistakes and pitfalls. Sometimes this person will magically fall into your life, but more than likely you will have to go find them. Again, more on the details of finding a good mentor in a later post.

3)      Research Everything

Before paying a lot of money for any class, photos, demo CD, or any product, do research online and see what other people say about it. If it is a scam you will know. Remember managers and agents take max 15% of what you make on a gig they book you. You should never pay them up front. Backstage.com is a good place to start for all kinds of informative articles and audition listings for newbies. There are also a ton of books on various topics teaching how to do it yourself. I like the “Dummies”series of how-to books, they get right to the point.

4)      Compare Yourself Only To Yourself

Each performer is on a different journey as an artist, by comparing yourself to others you will only damage yourself and your process. Learn from your mistakes so you do not repeat the same ones over and over, and keep learning your craft. Use other performers as inspiration, not a measuring stick.

5)      Know Your Type

Being aware of how others perceive you will help you. This is LA after all and a media driven era, if you are a small petite blonde woman and trying to record gangsta thug music you may not get far. Mangers and agents want to represent total packages. Casting/Booking Agents want to cast a package. Do you have to look like a model? No. But don’t go to auditions for models and then be disappointed when you don’t make it. Be honest with yourself about your looks and your talent level. Audition and perform in things that are appropriate for your level. You will get better, and one day be able to create and choose bigger and better projects. An acting teacher I had once said, embrace the things about yourself you hate (crooked teeth, cellulite) and use them as an asset instead of a drawback. Also character actors have long successful careers, while pretty people generally lose work as their looks fade. On the converse, if there is something that you hate about yourself (crooked teeth, cellulite), then you may need to start working out and get braces. It is your decision, not something you have to live with. You chose how you look and what you wear. Moreover, you do not always have to play to your type, there are petite blondes creating gangsta rap successfully. When you are aware of how you are perceived, then you can use it to your advantage to reach your goals.

6)      Be Prepared For Failure

In LA a successful booking rate is 1 out of 10 auditions. As a performer you will be rejected all the time. You have to learn not to take it personally. Usually it has 40% to do with things you can control and 60%  to do with a million other things you cannot control. As a person who regularly sits on the other side of the table at auditions, I cannot tell you the number of times we cannot cast the most talented performer there because they are too tall, short, young, old to play against other cast members, the wrong size for the costumes that were already built, or have a crazy stage mother or reputation that production staff does not want to have to deal with. Also I have been cut from an audition, only to get a call from the same people a few years later who booked me for a job. Just because you are not selected this time, doesn’t mean they won’t remember you in the future. When in doubt, go back to working on your craft.

7)      Decide What Success and Fame Means To You

The world will tell you money equals success and fame, but I have found this not to be true. To me success is completing a goal, fulfilling a dream, and making the world a better place. You have to decide as a performer how you will measure success. Will it be the number of performances you do, the art you create, or the lives you touch? That is for you to decide. Also remember there is no age limit on success. You are never too old or too young to start. You and you alone decide your destiny. Heed naysayers warnings, but don’t let them stop you.

8)      Set Monthly/Yearly/10 Year Goals

This has helped me stay on track and achieve my goals more than anything else. I heard a great story about Michael Jackson setting goals. When he was recording “Thriller” he would write with a dry erase marker on his mirror every morning, “I will record the #1 album of all time.” It was no accident that he did. According to “Life Medicine, Wisdom for Extraordinary Living” by Nancy Spence, Ph.D., you should write down monthly, yearly, and 10 year goals in each of the following categories and refer to them often:

a)      Personal Life (Health, Hobbies, Love Life)

b)      Emotional Growth (Controlling and dealing healthfully with your temper, anger, sadness, etc.)

c)       Professional/Educational (Schooling, Lessons, etc.)

d)      Social/Public Service (Travel, Volunteer Work, etc.)

e)      Spiritual (Dealing with death, God, your purpose for being here at this time and place)

f)       Financial/Material (How you deal with money)

Yes, you need to think about all these categories to achieve your goals. They will help keep you balanced and happy. What use is all the money and fame in the world, if you have no family or friends to share it with?  You may not meet all your goals on time or they may change. That is okay, but you must have goals! “Don’t waste your time or time will waste you.”

9)      Deal Wisely With Finances and People

I have heard story after story of people making it big, winning the lottery, and ending up in double the amount of debt. Learn how to budget, invest, save, and spend. You will have seasons of plenty and seasons of want, and you will not be successful forever. When the money comes rolling in, make sure you put some away for a rainy day. Read all of your contracts. If you don’t understand them find a lawyer to help you. Never sign anything you don’t fully understand. Treat people fairly and kindly. There are a million stories of that lowly assistant you were rude to becoming the big boss. Make it a rule to NOT gossip, ever. The performer’s world is small and it will come back to hurt you. On the flip side, if you are great to work with, word gets around fast and everyone will want to hire you. Your reputation is your talent AND your attitude and work ethic.

10)   Get An Online Presence
Put your art out there. Get videos of your band or your acting on YouTube. Start a Facebook, Twitter, MySpace, Linked In account for your art, not for your personal stuff. Promote your performances to your fans. Post pictures, audio, whatever you have. If Justin Bieber can be discovered on YouTube, why not you?

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