Tuesday, December 13, 2011

Writing the Bio

In most theater programs there's a collection of cast and creative team biographies or Bios.  Someone's gotta write 'em.

Generally that someone is you.  It's hard to boil down what you need to say to the number of words allowed.  As theatrical budgets tightened in these lean years, so too has printing Bios: yesterday's was 100 words.  (Actually, I had to write two - twice the fun.)

There are two schools of thought: either write one stock Bio to use forever or tweak it to fit each project.  Theaters mildly prefer the second way; they like to feature work done for them or experience that reflects on this show.

There are also a couple styles of Bio writing.  Each theater dictates which format to use.

The List.  You've read them, line by line: work at this theater; work at other theaters; TV or film work; education; affiliations/etc.; awards.  Boring to read, boring to write, but sometimes preferred because it keeps things short and cuts all "Love ya Mom! Thanks H.S. Teach!  My Rock!" burble, which can look unprofessional unless cleverly written.

The Paragraph.  Same info, deposited in actual sentences.  Studded as those sentences must be with indigestible names of shows and venues it's not a huge improvement*, but even fruitcake-like prose is easier to read than a list.

Occasionally even amusing to read.  Unintentionally.  Besides sometimes odd gratitude ("Thanks for all the good grits!"), the patient Bio Reader can look forward to amusing pomposity - "re-dedication" - and purple prose - "never-ending undying love and support" and quirky enthusiasm - like my favorite phrase, which appears more often than you'd expect, "I'm stoked!"

Bios get interesting as you read between lines.  Look at schooling, then pattern of work.  Spot Locals versus (it IS versus, believe me) Out of Towners.  Spot Real Pros versus Newbies.  Spot Fish out of Waters and Divas and Drones...  All good fun.  And if you ever get a flier in your program announcing that actor AAA or designer XXX was replaced by BBB or YYY, then you know there is a dramatic! story hidden behind that bland photocopy.

Shoot!  Sometimes just the list of cast names tells a story to those in the know...

Believed public domain image from Wikipedia

* In yesterday's Bios I tried to gracefully fit in the show name, In the Next Room: the Vibrator Play.  Much easier to fit in Charm!
** In case you're curious, here's the 100, um 107, word Bio, written for the up-coming Diary of Anne Frank:

Clare Floyd DeVries is an architect and set designer. 

Among her favorite shows for WaterTower Theatre are: Traveling Lady, Our Town, Glass Menagerie, The Crucible, Urinetown, Enchanted April, Spitfire Grill, and Sweeney Todd.  She designs throughout DFW, including at Shakespeare Dallas, Undermain, Contemporary Theatre of Dallas, Casa Manana, Trinity Shakespeare, and Second Thought Theater.  Recently: Seven in One Blow at Circle Theatre, The Frequency of Death for Pegasus, and In the Next Room at Kitchen Dog, where she is a memberFilm work: Ciao and Whatta Ya Think?! 

Her sets have won Column, Critics’ Forum, and Leon Rabin Awards.  She recently published the design book Alice Through the Proscenium.

I'm now in a fruitcake (writing and baking) mood.  Fruitcake - have you noticed? - eats better when soaked in brandy.  Certainly, that Bio would read better!

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