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Acting Jobs in Germany

Well-Rounded American Performers are Being Called on Stage

New York is not the easiest city in the world to make it as an actor—just ask the attractive blonde taking your drink order at any given restaurant in Manhattan. It's also a very expensive place to live and, unless you're landing occasional speaking parts in television and film or performing on Broadway on a regular basis, it is an inevitable breeding ground for frustration. But what are the rest of the truly gifted performers to do if they want to make a living in show business? Move to Germany.

According to Simone Linhof, casting director for Stage Holding GmbH, the theater company responsible for bringing Phantom of the Opera, Les Miserables, 42nd Street and Mamma Mia!, among others, to Teutonic audiences, many of the blockbuster musicals put on in Germany today are cast in the United States. Why? "American performers are simply better trained," she says, adding: "The schools in the United States place equal emphasis on all three areas of musical theater—singing, dancing, acting—making for an extremely well-rounded education."

At least once a year Stage Holding GmbH travels to New York in search of new talent. What they're in the market for obviously depends upon what particular show they're casting, however, Linhof explains: "We're always on the lookout for exceptional tap dancers as well as men who can both sing and dance—they just don't exist in Germany." Also, with the enormous success of Walt Disney's The Lion King (over 2.5 million viewers in Hamburg alone), multi-talented African-Americans are in great demand.

But just because you can carry a pop tune, recite a classic monologue, and buffalo shuffle your way from one side of the dance studio to the other, it's no guarantee of getting a job. "If someone's seriously thinking about coming to Germany, they should have a basic understanding of the language," says musical actress Maryanne Kelly, a Philadelphia native whose been working in Germany for more than a decade; her credits include Betty in Sunset Boulevard, Annie in 42nd Street as well as Grizabella in the Zurich production of Cats. Linhof, who says all American cast members are required to take German and phonetic classes, couldn't agree more: "If too many in the chorus only sort-of speak German, you're going to hear it. There needs to be a sense of balance between good and not-so-good pronunciation." All words and music in any German musical, with the exception of Queen's We Will Rock You, are performed in German.

How to find out when auditions are being held:

The weekly U.S. newspapers Backstage and Backstage/West list major casting calls taking place in the U.S. For Stage productions only you can visit their website, or just send the Hamburg-based company a headshot and resume. 50 percent of applicants, Linhof says, stem from the U.S. For a monthly fee of 10 euros you can pore over various European listings at www.stagepool.com. In Germany, and published in German, check out Musical magazine.

If you are fortunate enough to land a role in a production, you might very well be on your way to having a long-term career in Germany. Stage Holding GmbH contracts run for 12 months, plus two months of rehearsal, and include seven or eight performances a week. Each performer is allowed six weeks vacation. In most cases, and depending on the success of the show, contracts are automatically renewed at the end of each year. Work and residence permits are applied for through the company. It should go without saying that actors need to have a valid passport.

Net payment for ensemble members is about 2,000 euros a month; payment for leading roles is by negotiation, starting at a net fee of about 3,000 euros a month. Living expenses are not covered by Stage Holding GmbH. Yet regardless of where you live—be it Hamburg, Berlin, or Stuttgart—even on an ensemble salary you'll be able to afford a decent, one bedroom apartment and still have enough left over to live off of comfortably.

"We take good care of our performers simply because we need them and really want them to stay on," says Linhof, whose more than happy to give feedback to actors who didn't make the cut. Also, for actors already involved in a Germany-based production, and who are interested in auditioning for other productions in the country, every effort is made to ensure that they receive the best training. Months may go by between a general audition and a callback giving actors ample time to work with a voice coach or phonetics teacher (actors auditioning for lead parts are often required to perform a monologue in German) and enroll in a few dance classes.

Unlike in America, understudies in Germany get to perform on a semi-regular basis. Kelly, who understudied the part of Ellen in Miss Saigon, performed the role more than 200 times in the four years she spent with the production; in the one year with Dance of the Vampire, Kelly played Magda nearly 100 times—and she wasn't even the only actress understudying the part.

Most importantly, as an American singer, dancer, or actor in Germany your biggest advantage is going to be the fact that you have a lot less competition and a lot more opportunity not only to perform, but also to segue your experiences into other theater-related positions. Kelly, for example, having just finished a year-long run of 42nd Street at the Apollo Theater in Stuttgart, was recently offered the job of resident director for the theater's upcoming production of Elisabeth. Her responsibilities will include teaching the understudies their parts and watching nightly performances to ensure that the show stays up to standard.

Although it may take a few months to get used to the German mentality, which may seem a bit rigid and cold at first compared to the sometimes superficial friendliness associated with Americans, it is a small price to pay for a performer itching to fulfill a dream. And it sure as hell beats waiting tables.

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