Taking Stage Direction from a Broadway Pro is All in a Morning’s Class
September 27, 2013
Broadway star and Conservatory of Music alumnus Dennis Kelly ’67 has taken silly sitcom roles because work is work and another line on the resume is always good. He exercises and eats right because stage life is demanding. He walks into every audition room “with eagerness – unless I’ve been told not to.” And to this day he always makes sure to thank the accompanying pianists at live auditions.
“Then they know you’re going to be easy to work with,” the veteran stage actor and singer told theatre students Wednesday morning in Moulton Hall.
Kelly, in town for the current run of the award-winning Anything Goes at the Segerstrom Center for the Arts, visited the acting class taught by assistant professor Jonathan Pope Evans and shared insights and tips gleaned from a career that has included roles on Broadway, in television and in lesser-known but lucrative commercial work. The energetic actor popped from his seat to demonstrate a confident entrance into an audition; treated students to a chorus of a Goodyear tire jingle he sang circa 1970s; and recounted how he spent a residual check in the amount of $00.00 — he cashed it in for a drink at a bar frequented by television actors and where any residual check under $1 earned the bearer one drink.
Of course, those were the exceptions. Kelly’s career has been long and successful, and he attributes much of that success to plain old-fashioned business practices. While working in promotional films for the insurance industry, some of their sales techniques rubbed off on him, including their use of a notated card system to follow up on prospects. After auditions, he made a note card about the details of the experience and followed up with a quick phone call to make a personal thank-you. He urged students to do that today as well.
“Remind them that you were there and you had a good time. That’s just good business,” he said.
While much of Kelly’s talk was about the art and craft of theatre — working with directors, adjusting to different playhouses, learning to summon tears on cue — he also spoke to the heart and soul of the business.
“I really believe that every one of us here has a message,” he said.
That enthusiasm resonated for screen-acting major Sabrina Lyall ’15.
“Seeing that he still has so much energy and passion for acting and the art form in general was just really uplifting,” Lyall said. “Especially because in this program, where all the acting and technique we’re learning can be a little overwhelming, it was nice to see his passion really expressed and see that when it comes down to it, that’s really what matters.”