Foreplay?

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Pilot Season – the perfect storm that brings out the crazy in all of us. Where (even more than the other 8 months a year) each day has the potential to take you from rags to riches.  Where the world is suddenly rushing past at light speed…and where you most acutely feel you are riding the comet to success, or standing perfectly still as it passes you by.   It is exciting.  It is panic inducing.  I’ve had pilot seasons where I was so busy, it was a blur….my record is 9 auditions scheduled in one day.  I’ve tested for pilots.  I’ve booked pilots.  I’ve also had years where I’ve gone the entire season without reading for a single project.  I’ve had everything in between.

I’m starting this season with big dreams, and some bigger obstacles.  The details aren’t important, but the pieces of my chess board were unexpectedly upended recently…so I’m starting the year without all of my ducks in a row.   Maybe this won’t matter either way….but the odds – while always awful, today feel crushing because so much is out of my hands. I’m tempted to curl up in a blanket and hibernate. Sleep through pilot season and wake up once the opportunities I’m missing aren’t right before my eyes.  I have to remember- all it takes is 1 appointment…it just has to be the right one.  I also have to remember pilot season is not the only route to success… opportunities come in all shapes and sizes – and usually are not what you’ve been expecting.

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So I sit here, amused that I have absolutely no idea what is around the corner.  I only know:
a) It will surprise me.
b) I will give my everything to whatever comes my way.
c) My effort is all I have control over.

I feel READY.  I’m ripe for the picking, bursting with flavor, a juicy f*cking peach…but you never know the appetites of the industry.  Maybe this year they are on a cleanse and only gluten free-vegan-organic-raw-sugar free-Kombucha infused foams are on the menu.

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I can’t complain….I signed up for this roller coaster ride.   I shall remain optimistic and driven, even on days when everything is sprinkled with a dash of overwhelming and impossible. And though some days, if my career was a person I would want to punch it in the balls for giving me the run around –  I will remember to be grateful for each opportunity coming my way – despite the size, the budget or the distance from what I most want.  I have no idea what seemingly small step is leading to the next big milestone.  I must focus on doing great work and trusting it is where I’m supposed to be.

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I had a very auspicious beginning.   The first day of my first acting class, led immediately to my first audition, which led immediately to two major job offers.  Although due to circumstance I was not able to accept the jobs, that validation convinced me this career path wasn’t entirely crazy.  It gave me the confidence to be brave enough to give this career a go.   Months later, I moved to Los Angles feeling like I would be employed within days and on warp speed to ‘making it’.   It never occurred to me to consider the odds.

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Which is actually a good thing.   The odds are impossible and if you allow yourself to truly admit to the numbers, you would be paralyzed in fear – or headed home to start plan B. I love/miss the insulation youth gives you.  You are brave without realizing it.  Audacious swagger seeps from your pores, blind faith is the pheromone you give off.   You arrive a bright shiny penny that has no idea what awaits it.

I’ve had a couple of difficult years and I feel a bit like I’m waking from a slumber, from anesthesia of heartbreak and loss and disappointment.    Now I’m on the edge of the cliff ready to dive in.  Every career ebbs and flows, but when the years start to pile on, it’s a whole new reason your confidence can begin to shake like a leaf.  My career is a shameless flirt. Teasing me like a stripper. Batting her eyes at me, dropping one item of clothing at a time, giving me a glimpse of the goods to keep me interested, but staying just out of reach.  Leaving me frustrated.  Alas, I am sick of this casual ‘flirtationship’.  I’m looking for commitment.   Give me the (brass) ring.
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When I first moved to LA I assumed I was on the same playing field as everyone else – it was calming to be so naïve. I quickly realized that much of my competition had been working professionally since they were children, even infants – and had resumes, connections and on-set experience that was 20 years deeper than mine.   Whoa, wake up call.  I want to take comfort in the fact that I’m the one who now has a hefty(ish) resume – but the quirk of working in this business, is that A+B doesn’t necessarily = C.  It might as well equal monkeys or mason jars.  This business is like a platypus – it’s super cool, but you don’t really understand it (is it a bird or a mammal?  Part duck, part beaver?) and you have a hard time describing it to others.

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This is a career where you are constantly starting from scratch after each gig.  Your job is fulfilling the needs of the character and it’s basically a level playing field in terms of what you bring into the room. The finances of the project may dictate that your resume gives you more sway, as might your prior connections, but not always.   In fact, it is horrifying to realize that sometimes the only sin you commit is being familiar…just the fact that you already have an established relationship with them, can sometimes work against you.    Can stop someone from seeing you in a new way.   You have to push for the chance to change their minds, to SHOW THEM that you are more than what they expect.  More than they imagined

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In this business I fluctuate daily between being amazed, downright flabbergasted that my life is so fantastic, and being paralyzed by how agonizingly far my life is from what I hope it can one day be.  So much is beyond our control….but hard work and bravery are rewarded.  Tides turn every day.  Fortunes change.  Circumstance shift.  Almost anything can happen at almost any time. Even (some version of) this:
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(*Shout out to PulseStudios for making/sending me this hilarious photo… and no, I’m not stalking BP, nor is this supposed to represent ‘ideal’ – just thought this image was too funny to keep to myself).

So shake off the disappointments.  Let go of the ‘what should have been’ or ‘almost was’.    There is no room in your heart to hold on to complaints, heartache, or the bitter pill of ‘not yet’.    Stop telling yourself the same old story of how it didn’t work and how high or frightening the stakes are.   Remember, you are a juicy peach, it is a new year, a new pilot season, a new beginning and anything is possible.   The past?   Well, that was just foreplay. The best part starts now.

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I can’t wait.

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How to make a casting director happy.

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I’m planning to share a list of my own tips and advice for new actors, soon – but this jumped out at me today.    Its a great little blog from casting director Risa Bramon Garcia  listing the top 15 things actors do that make her happy.  No, it’s not about bribing her with flowers, getting featured in a tabloid or reaching a certain number of followers online.  It’s about inspiration and responsibility.    Here are two that caught my eye:

11. You understand the power of fear, that it’s a force, not an impediment. You take risks in spite of your terror. You let it fuel you. You do what Yoda says: “Feel the force!”

12. You’re courageous. You embrace the struggle and find a way to love it, knowing that the creative spirit grows from battling through the night, that this is the force with which we create. You’re willing to do whatever it takes.

Read the full list here.

The Slow Boil

Glenn Close is a beast.  She devours scenes.  She eats dialogue for breakfast.   She leaves lesser actors in the dust.  She owns the work.   Whether she is playing the good guy or the bad guy, I am always rooting for her.   I love her.

Possibly my favorite of her performances was as Marquise Isabelle de Merteuil in Dangerous Liaisons.  I loved it so much, that the first monologue I learned at age 16 was her character’s calm description of creating herself in a culture that ‘only wanted me to sit still and do what I was told’.   Yes, this was ridiculous – as it was a entirely inappropriate monologue for my age….but it was so insanely delicious watching her on screen that I HAD to know the material.   Had to hear those words trip off my tongue.  If you haven’t seen the film – check it out.  You find costume drama’s boring? Give it a chance.  You will be delighted with how sexy, vicious, and riveting the story is.   It’s an intoxicating mixture of chess, porn and warfare.

I was feeling a bit dusty this week – frustrated with progress that feels nominal and effort that feels Herculean.   I was reminded that Glenn didn’t book her first on-screen role until she was 35.  In Hollywood that’s like saying she was 700…and had leprosy. It’s impossible.   But she did it.

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That really IS the question! Are you going to make it happen, be who you want to be, or not?   Time IS of the essence, but I breath a sign of relief that it isn’t as dire as we are told.   Hollywood makes you believe that if you haven’t headlined a film by the time you hit 22 (especially as a woman), you probably missed your chance. It’s nice to be reminded there are exceptions to the rule.   That passion, perseverance and skill can trump the status quo, skew the bell curve and beat the odds.

From the outside it feels like success comes roaring all at once…when usually it has been simmering for years.  While the media focuses on the kid who booked a huge role on their first audition and immediately launched into a full throttle career-  the greater truth is the ‘15 year overnight success’.   Job by Job, gig by gig, building a career over time.  Until that one special job arrives and your career goes from ‘Who’s that?’ to ‘That’s who!’ .

So, I still allow myself to want it all.  To believe in the possibility I can still have it.   I hope you give yourself that gift too – whatever your dream, your passion, your goal.  Fifteen year overnight success sounds great to me!

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I heard a quote once about Zach Galifianakis– it said, something to the effect of  “we are lucky he wasn’t his most successful when he was young, because his talent needed to ferment, to marinate and we are all the better for it”.   I get that.  I hope that is me. I’ve always been an ‘old soul’ and I know that has come across in my work.   I look younger than I am.   But I’ve always had a quality of maturity that is older than I am.  It’s a strange mix.  Perfect for some meaty roles- but not the generic young woman that is so often the role being cast.  I’m now reaching the point where it is all coalescing together.   A yummy soup of womanhood that I hope I can capitalize on.

I’ve always said I would rather be starting my career, have it continuing on the rise, than to realize the best is behind me.   That it would be more interesting to have a career full of dynamic women’s roles, rather than the empty roles of vapid college co-eds or muted girlfriends.   So I will keep pushing forward.

I ran into Kathryn Joosten several times over the years.  The final time was about two weeks before she passed away.    I didn’t know her well, but she was just as sweet, lovely and grounded as you expected her to be. I am inspired by her story of following her passion and living her dream.  I hope you are too.

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Age ain’t nothin’ but a number.  And Dreams aren’t just for the bright-eyed cherubs amongst us.   Life is short – you owe it to yourself to chase after what you most want.

No excuses:

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What in the what?

Brad Pitt, I heart you. Dig you. Dig your work.   I totally understand you have six kids, and when opportunity knocks, you’ve gotta make them dollar dollar bills, yo.   But let’s be honest….this is just silly:

Its like a film school commercial – all that’s missing is a well lit tear sliding gracefully down your cheek as we fade to a black card with ‘fin’.

Well, they can’t all be winners.

And to state the obvious – Yes, I hope to be lucky enough one day to have the opportunity to make a ridiculous commercial like this.

Sidekick Envy

Thinking today about fantastic duos of the past.  What happened to the teams of stars who would co-mingle throughout their careers?  Dance partners, comedic twosomes, romantic counterparts falling in love (on screen) again and again.   When did that go out of favor?

While at moments it may have been exasperating to be dependent on the strengths and weaknesses of someone else, I bet it was also comforting going through the nonsensical rise and fall of fame with a partner.  Sharing the experience with someone who truly gets what you are going through.

It’s not something you can completely explain to someone who isn’t along for the ride.  It’s far too Seussian, fall-down-the-rabbit-hole, Narnian-otherworldly to fully convey.  I’m envious of those partnerships from the golden era who could lean on each other to fend off the surprising loneliness, exhaustion or chaos the limelight can bring.   Or to push each other to shine even in the most challenging days in your search for the spotlight.

I’m not blind to the jealousy, infighting, or drama that must have been there too…but you look at gorgeous old photos and can’t help but think having a shoulder to lean on (or arms to dip you) looks divine.

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Breadcrumbs & Pots of Gold.

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Are you?   There is a certain smugness…a self-satisfaction artists often have.  Even when their mojo isn’t working, they are still attempting to do what they love, chasing their dream.  It’s a luxury not everyone has {discovering what their dream is, let alone being able to attempt it}.   It’s a strange journey, freeing and also one that makes you a bit of a prisoner.  A love affair you stubbornly cling to even when it starts to fall apart.  Persevere though you’ve been cheated, faithful to the promise of a happy ending.  It’s a marriage contract between your reality and your dreams. For better or for worse?  For richer or for poorer?  When do you throw in the towel?    I’m far from throwing in the towel, but I am ready for some change.

Currently, when asked about my career – I describe it as a ‘tapas menu’.  Luckily, I have several little things going on (2 films, a radio show, 2 popular web series, videogames, staged readings, etc) but I’m looking for a new main course.   I’m tightening my belt hoping the entrée is just around the corner.     I’m ready for a feast!

I’ve been talking to friends about this new ‘illusion of working’.    In the past 5 or so years, the economy of acting has drastically changed.  Partly when the writers strike happened which changed the landscape of the industry and the contracts, and partly with the advancement of technology and digital filmmaking.   It means that on one hand more work is being done than ever before, more quickly and for less money.   On the other hand it means it is harder than ever to stand out and get attention, so the studio work is ever more difficult to land.  It also means the pay for all of this work has dropped dramatically.

It is easy to suddenly feel how overwhelming the odds are…but you have to remember there ARE opportunities out there.   Keep walking forward!

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I’ve been working a lot the past few years, and I am shocked when I realize you can work consistently and find your bottom line has been ‘dropping like its hot’.  I find this crazy-making, but I also find this is par for the course in my peer group.     We are all hustling to get traction and reach the jobs that are steady and can still provide a living.  To book those jobs that can still turn into amazing opportunities that will potentially butter your bread for a lifetime – at least if you manage it right.  But those jobs are scarce.

As pay rates keep going down each year, you have this widening gap, between wealthy super stars and those struggling to make it work. It feels a bit like the death of the middle class actor.  The actor who worked all the time and made their living ONLY acting, but wasn’t super famous (hey I know that guy…but what is his name?).  There has always been a misconception of how the working-actor lives.  The public only hears about the mega pay-day that the top stars get, but this is entirely unrepresentative of most of the industry.   Its like comparing the CEO to the secretary.

Pretty soon I fear seeing actors hanging out outside of studios like day laborers in front of Home Depot.  Just hoping that someone will drive by and pick them for a day of underpaid, under-supervised, underwhelming work…but still work.

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Aaaaaaahhhhhhhh!   But then I calm down and reassess.  Things are different now.

Almost everyone I know is doing jobs now or accepting pay now that they would have never considered 10 years ago (sure I’ll do that short film for free- or that ‘co-star role’  or that web spot, or that {hopefully} viral video…’you never know what will hit!’)  You can’t help feeling like you are going backwards – but you also have to accept this is the new reality.  Readjust your thinking.  It’s the wild west and you have to carve out your piece of the pie.  Mine for the gold.  And we’ve gone from out right ignoring all of the ‘ultra low budget breakdowns’ to actively hoping some of them will hire you.   Pragmatically, you don’t want to lose your insurance….but it’s also about building your career, your homestead brick by brick, now that we are in this new frontier.

It gives you the exhilarating and terrifying opportunity to think of things in a different way – to channel your inner mogul.   Make it happen in ways that weren’t even considered in the past.  Yee-haw.

I see breakdowns sometimes that just blow my mind – ultra low budget deferred, you must cover your own travel and includes nudity, submit star names only.   Gee, sign me up.  Wait, no seriously, sign me up.    Ok, not really, I do have my standards – but you get what I’m saying.    Also, years ago it would have been impossible to imagine a star name being submitted for this….but lately it’s happening.   This is horrifying on one hand – and amazing on the other.   Everything is in flux.

I ran into a friend at a voice over audition the other day.   The material was quite gnarly.  It was a commercial for a restaurant, but needed to sound like a phone sex add.   We commiserated afterwards that we couldn’t believe we’d gone in for it…we were both disgusted and semi-humiliated by the content  “its the worst thing I’ve ever read, its terrible”. But we also both semi-joked.. “oh, I hope I get it!”    And though we cringed at the material, it was a great paying national job.   And you hate being in that position.   Hoping you book the project, but embarrassed to admit that you did. Not being in the position to turn it down.

When I was younger, I felt like a genius for picking this career.   Lately I occasionally think “why didn’t I go to law school?”.  If only because taking that route makes it easier to predict and count on the outcome.  Stability and predictability can seem like tantalizingly exciting ideas when they are out of your reach.   There’s a very specific frustration that comes along with having just enough to keep you pressing forward, but not enough to confidently build a life/career on.    It makes it hard to find a sense of peace.   Hard to feel you have the security to start a family, buy a house, or take that big trip, or even leave town… for fear of missing opportunities.     But this is a career that has benefits that are extraordinary.   ‘Spoils of victory’  that will take your breath away –they are worth the fight, the struggle, the persistence.

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I once heard it said that out-of-work-actors are to LA, what homeless people are to Calcutta.  That comparison is obnoxious and in obvious bad taste, but there is a grain of truth in the observation of the pervasiveness.  People arrive by the thousands each year, hoping to make it.   Many get swallowed up by the journey. Some are weeded out by lack of talent, or lack of good judgment or lack of funds.  Some come face to face with their own demons.  Some realize they only wanted fame and move on to other ways of getting attention.   That still leaves a wealth of incredibly talented actors in the mix pounding the pavement every day.   The actor who is between jobs is still working – each day attending meetings, classes, auditions, writing, rehearsing – just not getting paid for it.    They are taking the initiative and practicing alchemy…truly making something out of nothing.   Turning something of little obvious value into GOLD.

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There is a renaissance of people doing their own projects.   This is fantastic creatively and I’m lucky to be part of and to watch as so many of my friends aren’t waiting for studios, but are doing it themselves.  Creating brave, smart, unique projects that are inching their way into the mainstream.  But the vast majority of these projects aren’t yet paying the bills.

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I was talking to my sister the other day and telling her about this interesting job I was offered, I ended with – “but of course there is no pay.”   And she said – “oh, you’re doing more charity acting”.   I laughed at this description and also loved it.  Charity acting.   I’m adopting that phrase.   No its not SAG-Ultra low budget deferred…..its me donating my skills for a worthy cause.   Maybe I can write that off on my taxes.

The fear of being part of the ‘has been’ crowd is deeply embedded in all of us. We see fortunes changing every day.  We see both sides of the mountain…the rags to riches and the boom to bust multiple times in one career.  I recently found a book at the used book store that was a compilation of the ‘biggest stars of 1999’  – the shocker of the book is that very few of them are still working, still celebs, still known.    To be big enough to be included in a book like that – and to have vanished a decade later – is stunning.   It keeps you on your toes!

I never want to be the girl that stays too late at the party.   I don’t want to miss my cue to exit.   Don’t misunderstand, I’m hoping this ‘show’  is just getting started and continues to run for years….but I’m aware that is usually an industry with an expiration date. Know when to fold them.  Know when to walk away. I’m feeling at a crossroads trying to figure out the choreography of my next few moves.  How to finally reach the next level that will allow me to share the deep well of work I have burning inside me…and to find happiness during the lean times when the only audience who truly appreciates and witnesses your brilliance is your dog.

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I was talking to a friend recently who knows my work and has great expectations for my career.  She talked about signs from the universe. I am working consistently. I have good feedback. I’ve carved out a career I’m proud of without connections, without knowing anyone.     She told me that I had to focus on the breadcrumbs…that the universe was giving me  – these consistently positive signs that I am still on the right track.

So how much faith do you put in breadcrumbs? How do you interpret them…is it great you are working or is the sign that it isn’t more/better work?   How long do you put up with the struggle? And then the “aha!” hits you.  The breadcrumbs ARE the feast.   Celebrate all of the successes – even the minor ones. Don’t miss the extraordinary ‘now’.  Let go of your ‘plan’ and trust that it is all coming together as it should.  Put your best out there and believe it will come back to you.  You will lose your mind if you think of it any other way.

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