How to Survive Summer Stock Theater: 10 Rules for Actors With Bug Spray and a Dream

I’ve done it. A lot. And I’ve been thinking of what I wish I’d known back when I was first costumed in fair isle wool sweaters, in mid-July, in a barn without appropriate climate control. For better or worse: some lessons I’ve learned.



1.  Just because there’s a lake doesn’t mean there are no rules.

You still may have a significant other in some other geographical location. There may be beautiful natural surroundings, porch swings, and pie, but there is no wrinkle in time, so keep it in (or out of) your pants if that’s what your real-life relationship requires.


2.  Write down your first impressions of people.

It will be hilarious to you later on. Your standards will slip after weeks in the hinterlands; especially if you’re single and/or you disregard rule number one. When you find your heart broken in August, you will want to remind yourself who wore an Ed Hardy t-shirt to the read-through. It will help.


3.  Bring one dress-up outfit. 

There will be zero reasons to wear it. (YOU: But the opening night party! ME: Birkenstock up. You’re in the middle of the woods. Put the platforms down and walk away from Rent the Runway; they hold no power here.)


4.  Do not forget warm clothes.

If you’re near a body of water, mountains, or old people A/C, you will need more layers than you currently imagine. You will repeat outfits anyway, because the cast washing machine will be eternally in use, broken, or too far to get to easily. Put a clean color on top and rotate your way through.


5. Have a substance abuse game plan.

If a bomb dropped on the outdoor dramas of the mid-Atlantic, US marijuana consumption and probably production would dip by 60 to 70 percent. Interested? Start saving up for the vape. Not interested? Maybe don’t audition for outdoor drama. And give yourself some bottom lines.




6.  Related: pick one form of alcohol you won’t mind having a physical aversion to for the rest of your life.

You may want to go crazy for one summer season; but once you vomit at a bonfire you’ll never be able to drink that form of alcohol again. (Not kidding. I haven’t had a drop of gin since September of ’02.)


7. Be prepared for bats.

Or ticks, water beetles, mosquitoes, sweltering heat, or disturbingly curious locals. Management is busy plunging the toilets and returning the last show’s wigs at the Walmart. They don’t have time to protect you. You have to protect yourself.


8. Speaking of plunging the toilets… learn to spot influence in the most surprising places.

Your artistic director is not the person having three-hour lunches at the yacht club with patrons. A development volunteer or board member *may* be doing that. Your artistic director is the person scraping pine tar and muffin crumbs off the front of the stage and attempting to install a new memory chip into a 2006 Dell desktop computer to give to “the education department.” Never be rude or dismissive to anyone doing what seems to be hard, disgusting, or menial tasks. They probably hired you.


9. Do good work.

It’s hard to get a job. When you do have a job, you should have one mission. To spread your actor wings and do the best work you possibly can. Imagine it’s your ticket to Broadway if you have to. (It’s probably not.) Convince yourself that a bad play is wonderful, or that your work will raise the consciousness of the people in the summer stock community who are able to see it. Work hard. You really do have the best job in the world.


10.  Go to the crick.

And then AFTER you’ve insured that you can do good work, go to the crick every time you are invited. Walk to the water, play the midnight croquet game, and explore the town. Watch the deer in the dusk, talk to people at the general store, run your lines with cast members at the boat launch, and get your nose up in nature every chance you get.


This, combined with the work, is how you will become the best version of you that you can be. Well-fed, well-exercised, and well-rounded.


You are so lucky. It’s your summer stock experience. Don’t forget to live it.


If you go climb the hill past the cemetery and take a right at the big white barn, you’ll get cell phone service. So follow me on Twitter! @jtparson


Lady Band Loves Shonda Rhimes; and what that has to do with me



(Shonda Rhimes)

Note: This is the origin story for Lady Band. To skip to our new Shonda Rhimes musical shout out, go to: Lady Band Shout-Out to Shonda Rhimes. Follow Lady Band on Twitter (@ladybandnyc) and Youtube (Ladybandnyc). And let us know who you want us to shout out to next! 


Shonda Rhimes is the creator of ScandalGrey’s Anatomy, Private Practice, and now the upcoming How to Get Away With Murder. This fall, she will have a three-hour block of TV programming on ABC Thursday nights– which to my eyes, makes her not only one of the most powerful women in TV, but one of the most bad-ass women ever.

Fortunately, I have a way to express my non-stalker-y admiration for ladies I think the world ought to celebrate. Last year, dynamite singer/actress Liz Asti approached me and the sublime singer/actress/Marie’s Crisis pianist Franca Vercelloni. “Let’s work together for fun!” she said. “I want to sing with you!”



So Franca (center), Liz (right) and I took a look at our combined schedules, threw up in our mouths a little bit, and realized if we wanted to work together, it would need to be squeezed in among our other obligations-slash-joyful-artistic-commitments.  And we knew it had to be something we cared about. And I mean really cared about. Like, “mission-critical, this aligns with the reason I am living,” cared.

Basically, we came up with the idea for Lady Band for the following reasons:

1) We love each other.

2) We love inspirational women.

3) We want all women– our friends and people we don’t know– to become more aware of what is possible in this world. To become more aware of each other. And to celebrate the shit out of that.

4) We’re really good at writing, arranging, and singing two-minute a cappella songlets.


And so Lady Band, the world’s foremost creator of three-voice a cappella video shout-outs to bad-ass women, was born. We’ve got more in the hopper, and you can see our videos to Holland Taylor and Cyndi Lauper on Youtube already.

But today, the day after the 2014 Emmy’s, I present to you our latest creation: Lady Band’s musical shout out to The Great Shonda Rhimes!



In Konstantinos Antonopoulos’s “C-Minor”

A few pictures from Kostas’ short film, tentatively titled “C-Minor,” coming soon. A Columbia MFA project.

I’m mulling over a guitar purchase:

Leading a student band:

Living with some consequences (we shot this live in the street– that woman on the lower left came up to me and tried to help– very sweet!):