Since the pandemic, the addition of self-tape submissions as the first filter and first option to be seen by casting has become the norm.

The stage actor now must become proficient in front of the camera. They also must have the means to film, edit, and submit these self-tapes using good lighting, camera angles, editing tools and applications. On-camera acting training has now become essential for the stage actor. Actors looking to get in-the-room callbacks or even the opportunity to audition in the room are required in most cases to submit tapes first.

As a part of our series about creating a successful career in theatre, I had the distinct pleasure of interviewing Leesa Csolak.

Leesa Csolak is an expert international career consultant specializing in the performing arts. She has helped hundreds of clients, minors, and adults, to gain professional representation and have successful careers in the performing arts, on stage including Broadway, in Film, on Television, in Commercials, Print, Voice Over, Commercial Dance, in the Music Industry, and more.

Having worked in many aspects of the performance industry for four decades, she has been helping both parents of talented children as well as young adult actors, singers, and dancers launch careers by giving them insight and guidance and sharing real and true information that is not available elsewhere.

Her new, groundbreaking online courses, Professional Kids & Teens 101; A Primer for Parents and Professional Biz 201; Young Adults, College Students & Grads offer clients a fast track to top industry networks and training, resume building opportunities and all the tools necessary to obtain professional representation (getting a top-level agent or manager). She teaches exactly how this elusive industry functions from the inside out based on years of navigating it herself and with and for her own children and her many clients.

Leesa has been a select speaker at national events both live and virtually, quoted as an expert in Dance Magazine and Dance Spirit for Dance Media, Inc, and has been a featured expert on managing children, teens, and young adult careers on Oxygen for NBC Universal. Leesa is a sought-after industry expert speaking on stages throughout the US and as a guest on podcasts and on YouTube regularly. This all to allow talented individuals the chance to have the support they need and the career of their dreams.

Thank you so much for joining us in this interview series! Can you tell us the story of how you grew up?

I was raised in central western New Jersey, the true garden part of the Garden State by two academically oriented parents. Schooling came easy and from a very early age I spent all my free time in some aspect of performance…. usually for family and friends and even casting these unsuspecting folks in various roles in my basement or garage stage and television productions. From age six thru twelve this was a constant occurrence. I could not wait for family holiday get-togethers to lure the unexpected guest into my fantasy world complete with a grand curtain, scenic, props, music, tickets, snacks, even advertisements during intermissions.

I was lucky enough to get some early training through local YMCA’s and Dance or Theater programs. I did my share of dance recitals, took other odd extracurriculars including piano, gymnastics, swimming, golf, tennis… And…advanced sewing and pattern making; yep, by the age of twelve I could make an entire lined suit. This skill came in very handy when designing and creating costumes. I credit my amazing mother for getting this ball rolling by teaching me how to design and create doll clothes using a sewing machine when I was just six years old.

My first experience with Musical Theater was at age ten, when I was cast as the lead in Snow White & The Seven Dwarfs. I cried and wouldn’t go on during the in-school performance (as I was a very serious actress) and could not understand why my fourth-grade peers thought ‘Someday My Prince Will Come’ was so funny.

In Junior High I excelled in all the school choirs, was chosen for solos and an elite small group performing advanced harmonies. In High school I was the only freshman female to make the Spring musical and got to do classic Broadway as a member of the ‘Hot Box Girls.’ And I believe this along with the ‘New York Daily News’ (pun intended) literally solidified my parents’ assumptions about what the NYC performance community must be like.

Fast forward and I was in a State University BS program with a double major in engineering and biology. Yes, I was a true Renaissance girl.

Can you share a story with us about what brought you to this specific career path?

All I ever wanted to do was to work in the Performing Arts. Once I realized how close I was to New York City, I spent my older teen years and college days sneaking into New York City to take voice lessons at the Metropolitan Opera and dance classes at Broadway Dance Center and at Steps on Broadway. The catalyst was seeing the original cast of Pippin on Broadway starring Ben Vereen. I remember leaving the theater in a daze, riding home on the bus gazing out at the city skyline and aching to be a part of that world.

Many opportunities to perform, choreograph, produce, and direct were presented to me even during college, however the times being what they were with no internet or accessible real and true information, I treated these like one-offs and did not explore networking opportunities related to them. It was so ingrained in me that the performance arts were not feasible or considered a real profession. I participated in opportunities at the top of the industry having no idea that these jobs could have spring boarded a successful career at the top of the business.

I married way too early for today’s standards and started a family settling in Hunterdon County, in rural New Jersey. Based on my capabilities I opened a highly successful performing arts school. Years later, after helping numerous staff teachers and my students gain professional representation, I realized my forte was mentoring and lifting young new talent.

None of us can achieve success without some help along the way. Is there a particular person who you are grateful towards who helped get you to where you are? Can you share a story about that?

I credit my mother for teaching me grit. I strongly believe that grit is the difference between success and failure. There are five characteristics of grit. 1. Courage. Courage not only as it pertains to physical bravery but also 2. Conscientiousness; being thorough, careful, or vigilant. 3. Also having Perseverance 4. Resilience, and 5. Passion.

I believe many young people today need to understand and add some grit to their arsenal of talents. I have taught my students this for over forty years and continue to teach it every day when working with my present clients.

I also must give huge thanks and credit to a coach I had during my teen years, Joanie Lamina. She pushed me hard; she believed in me more than I believed in myself. She took my abilities as a performer to another level, and this changed the trajectory of my career.

Additionally, I credit my three boys, without whom my connection with the top of the performance industry would not be what it is today. Their innate talents, work ethic, and love of performance have opened many doors.

The educator, Rita F. Pierson’s famous quote, “Every child deserves a champion — an adult who will never give up on them, who understands the power of connection, and insists that they become the best that they can possibly be” I have found to be so very true throughout my life and my career as a teacher, mentor, and consultant.

My son, Kurt Csolak, said, “I’ve witnessed first-hand the lives Leesa has changed over the years: not just helping various children, teens, and adults land roles and launch careers in the performing arts, but gifting them with direction, purpose, and newfound confidence in who they are as human beings and that their wildest dreams are indeed possible.”

You probably have a lot of fascinating experiences. Can you tell us the most interesting story that happened to you since you began your career?

It is tough to choose just one. I have been blessed and am so grateful for so many moments over the years. One that is a standout is coaching and choreographing for Madonna’s 2012 World MDNA Tour. That experience was

rewarding in so many ways. I had the honor to work with the entire creative team, M, and the female cast. I have utmost respect for performers in the commercial dance world, their love and passion for their work is unmatched, but most importantly their resilience is beyond what the average person could even imagine. Again, hard work and grit comes into play driven by love for the art form. I applaud music artists and their casts and crews.

It has been said that our mistakes can be our greatest teachers. Can you share a story about the funniest mistake you made when you were first starting? Can you tell us what lesson you learned from that?

I totally agree that we always need to learn from mistakes and never dwell on the negative but consider these situations as a step forward to greater successes. One mistake which is not really funny but specifically offers insight to those pursuing professional performance careers is this.

I received a call from New York City’s Metropolitan Opera while I was still in college. It was an offer to choreograph for Gian Carlo Menotti’s comic opera, The Hero to be performed at the Theater at Lincoln Center in honor of the composer’s seventieth birthday. I said yes to this opportunity after initially thinking it was a fake call.

The night of the big birthday celebration I was backstage with the likes of Robert Redford, Caroline Kennedy, and many more stars and dignitaries. At the close of the show, I called my parents to report on the success of the show. They insisted the city was far too dangerous for a young woman to be attending any parties alone and instructed me to head home. This was a huge career mistake on my part.

I often wonder the turn my young career may have taken had I stayed for this most important part of the event, the networking. I preach to all my clients the importance of appropriate organic networking, developing healthy relationships, and being there for others’ successes.

What are some of the most interesting or exciting projects you are working on now?

In conjunction with my Online Courses as well as the many free materials I offer to parents of talented kids, teens, and young adults as well as adults seeking careers in the arts, I began a podcast, Makin’ It Happen; A Career in the Performing Arts with Leesa Csolak streaming on all platforms and available on YouTube. This has been the most exciting and interesting project of late due to the incredible guests who have given of their time and expertise by sharing their personal journeys and their own tips and tricks to success.

Guests include professional performance artists, producers, directors, choreographers, musical directors, costume designers, stage managers, film makers, parents of professional kids & teens, university admission directors; just an amazing array of professionals willing to help new young talent. The goal is to enlighten parents about the feasibility of performance arts as a viable career path and give young artists information and the tools to move their careers in a positive direction.

You have been blessed with success in a career path that can be challenging. Do you have any words of advice for others who may want to embark on this career path, but seem daunted by the prospect of rejection, lack of support, or failure?

In any career you must love the processes within it. With performance arts the most time spent on the job is in the audition process. Performers are going to be in the audition room or recording self-tape submissions much more than performing in front of an audience. Treat each audition as an opportunity to perform, to show what you can do on that day.

Also, preparation is everything. Don’t allow the expectations you have for yourself to get skewed. Base your performance in any room to be equated to your actual preparation time and efforts.

Enjoy the preparation exploring the scene, the song, the dance, the character. If you enjoy the process, you will be living in the part, the character, the story, the relationship, you will do your best work and bookings will come from that headspace.

Continue to work the muscles. No matter where you are in the professional space, train, train, and train. Do not settle for where you are today, talent wise. Seek out new experiences that allow you to grow as an artist and increase your professional network.

Lastly, you may be one of the best in the audition room, but you must be the best for the project. There are so many factors that enter a creative teams’ final choices. The project is truly a huge puzzle, and you cannot begin to understand all that enters the director or producer’s final decisions.

Which tips would you recommend to your colleagues in the live performance industry to help them to thrive and not “burn out”?

Know that many times my own boys and many clients have not booked and from that audition process ended up being perfect for a future project. Say yes to things; you never know who you will meet, who will see you and your talent, and what that opportunity will bring to you in the future.

Surround yourself with others who support the arts and who can support you. Nurture your artistic self by creating on your own or with friends in whatever form feeds your heart and soul. Spend time in nature. Spend time with friends, family and those who lift you up spiritually. Try to live in the headspace of ‘the glass is always half full.’

Thank you for all that. This is the main question of our interview. What are your “5 Things You Need to Create a Highly Successful Career in Broadway, Theater or Live Performances” and why?

Number 1: To have a successful career on stages including Broadway a strong performance skill set would be the first consideration. Having the technical capability to act, sing, and or dance with the added talent to convey a message, a story, with charisma and confidence and to be comfortable and able to connect to your audience. As a stage actor you must be proficient in using your body language, your physicality, your facial expressions, and even silence to convey emotions and messages to the audience.

Assessing your ability level is important. It is smart to enlist the opinion of an expert who can give you a clear evaluation of your talents and abilities and how they hold up against the goals you have as a performer.

If you are concerned you do not have a clear and concise understanding of where you are talent wise, get with a top professional even if their fee is higher than you anticipate, it is well worth getting their opinion and guidance. Consider these costs an investment in your future and not simply a ‘cost.’

Number 2: Understanding your type and being flexible, versatile, and adaptable to play a variety of characters will give you more opportunities.

Being aware of your type and types you are comfortable playing you can better choose what to focus on when submitting. Be open however to the perceptions of other industry professionals who can many times see more clearly the roles you are perfect for… be open to their advice and honor their experience and expertise. Keep an open mind when opportunities present themselves.

Remember work begets work. Work also increases your network and visibility.

Here is a simple example.

I was in the city with my son Kevin for a booking and the next day a call-back for another project. Once in the city I got a call from a noted professional wanting me to attend a showcase of actors performing monologues for various agents, managers, and casting directors. This so I could see what his company could offer to my top students and clients. He wanted me to attend and watch the event that evening.

Later the same afternoon he reached out asking if my son, Kevin, would like to participate. This event was an adult showcase and at the time my son was a child.

Following the booking, we rushed back to the hotel to change, grab food and head over to the showcase. Once in the hotel room, with no pressure whatsoever, I asked Kevin if he’d like to participate in the event (being held within just a few hours). He had nothing prepared. So together we looked over the sides for the callback and tried editing his lines together so he could perform the sides as a monologue.

I told Kevin he could decide once we arrived at the event. Again, no pressure. He casually rehearsed the scene as a monologue during the few hours we had before arriving at the showcase.

Kevin decided to participate.

The end of the story is… the following week I get a call from The Discovery Channel. There was a casting representative at the showcase who felt Kevin was perfect for one of her associates’ projects. The associate was doing a short film, as an independent filmmaker and wanted Kevin to come in for the final call-backs to read for the lead role.

We said, yes. Kevin booked the role. It became a pivotal line item on his resume. It opened other doors to film and TV and offered his manager more ammunition to sell him for higher level opportunities.

Which brings me to Number 3 — Be schedule flexible. Learn to juggle. And be organized.

Number 4: Once booked on a project, don’t live in a bubble. Value others who make the process and the project live and breathe. Learn how the industry works from the inside. Respect others and their responsibilities. Keep the goals of the project at the forefront. Understand your place in the project. Be the person that makes others’ jobs easier. Be focused and alert. Solve the problem before anyone notices there is one. Be prepared, on time, and communicative.

All these things seem self-explanatory. However, I have found that many teens and young adults today focus on themselves only. Members of Broadway workshops and labs have not moved on to the out-of-town performances or to Broadway with the show because of their inability to stay on task, their inability to be non-reactive to corrections, their inability to stay focused on the goals of the director, musical director, or choreographer. And they never find out why they were dropped. Be smart. Once booked on a project stay focused on the creative team member and the goals, they have during the work sessions.

Number 5: Since the pandemic, the addition of self-tape submissions as the first filter and first option to be seen by casting has become the norm.

The stage actor now must become proficient in front of the camera. They also must have the means to film, edit, and submit these self-tapes using good lighting, camera angles, editing tools and applications. On-camera acting training has now become essential for the stage actor. Actors looking to get in-the-room callbacks or even the opportunity to audition in the room are required in most cases to submit tapes first.

With the recent SAG/AFTRA strike and negotiations going on at this time, things may change, and in-the-room auditions may become something that must be offered by casting, however limited; time will tell.

If offered an in-the-room audition, understanding how to ‘be’ in the audition room is key. It is essential to understand the basic etiquette expected by top industry casting directors, producers, directors, musical directors, or choreographers. Be polite, friendly, and confident.

For the benefit of our readers, could you describe how the skill sets you need in a theater performance are different than the skill sets you need for TV or Film?

The differences between stage and film acting regarding the technical aspects are many. Yet with the addition of high-quality lighting and sound, today’s stage actors can play their roles grounded and real and the audience will hear and understand the intimacy and intensity of the work.

The simple answer is for film and television the audience is brought very close to the actor. We see each expression in detail. The audience is placed right there, in the scene, sharing as if to be the character opposite of the actor in the scene. The experience is much more physically intimate. The box is small. Therefore, the execution of expression must take this into consideration. Also, film and television actors have the opportunities to do multiple takes and therefore timing and pacing can be adjusted and fine-tuned on set and in the editing room.

On stage the box is much larger and the view for the audience is further away. The actors’ action and delivery can take up more space and needs to be larger to reach every person watching in the theater. Timing and pacing must be perfected as well to ensure a quality performance in front of a live audience.

Rehearsal time is lengthy for stage actors to perfect the skills necessary to adjust to audience reactions, lighting and sound changes, and fellow actors’ adjustments and choices. Whereas film and television actors usually have very little time in rehearsal and are expected to bring their talent to the set ready and able to go right into shooting. They have time between takes, as lighting and cameras are positioned, to adjust their performance.

You are a person of enormous influence. If you could inspire a movement that would bring the most amount of good to the most amount of people, what would that be? You never know what your idea can trigger. 🙂

I strongly believe that every person on the planet should be given the opportunity to take an acting class. I think it should be a standard in public schools across the world. Acting class offers so many benefits including self-awareness and self-confidence, empathy and understanding, communication both verbal and non-verbal, physical awareness, creativity, and expression.

Can you please give us your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Can you share how that was relevant to you in your life?

If I were to share a relevant life lesson quote it would be to put yourself first unapologetically. Always be kind and professional, but make final decisions based on your needs whether that be emotional, physical, family or career wise. You will disappoint others along the way, but what you do not want to do is disappoint yourself.

We are very blessed that some very prominent names in Business, VC funding, Sports, and Entertainment read this column. Is there a person in the world, or in the US with whom you would love to have a private breakfast or lunch, and why?

Ben Vereen would be the dream. I was so taken by his performance of the leading player in Pippin on Broadway. He was such an inspiration. I saw his one man show at 54 Below in New York City before the pandemic. To have a conversation one-on-one with him would be so enlightening and a full circle moment.

How can our readers continue to follow your work online?

To gain more insight and career guidance, readers can follow me on Instagram @leesacsolak_lbctalent,

Facebook or LinkedIn @LeesaCsolak | Listen wherever you get your podcasts to Makin’ It Happen; A Career in the Performing Arts with Leesa Csolak | Watch the podcast on YouTube @makinithappenwithleesacsolak

The Online Courses and more information.

Photo Credit: David Kaptein

This was very meaningful, thank you so much! We wish you continued success!


  • Savio P. Clemente

    TEDx Speaker, Media Journalist, Board Certified Wellness Coach, Best-Selling Author & Cancer Survivor

    Savio P. Clemente, TEDx speaker and Stage 3 cancer survivor, infuses transformative insights into every article. His journey battling cancer fuels a mission to empower survivors and industry leaders towards living a truly healthy, wealthy, and wise lifestyle. As a Board-Certified Wellness Coach (NBC-HWC, ACC), Savio guides readers to embrace self-discovery and rewrite narratives by loving their inner stranger, as outlined in his acclaimed TEDx talk: "7 Minutes to Wellness: How to Love Your Inner Stranger." Through his best-selling book and impactful work as a media journalist — covering inspirational stories of resilience and exploring wellness trends — Savio has collaborated with notable celebrities and TV personalities, bringing his insights to diverse audiences and touching countless lives. His philosophy, "to know thyself is to heal thyself," resonates in every piece.