So . . . what do YOU do?

I went solo to the theater last week. Going solo is easy at a movie theater, but not for L.A. stage productions where everyone is checking each other out in the bright lights of the lobby, trying to figure out how they might know you, or looking for someone semi-famous to show up. theatre_audience I took my seat next to a young man and his wife. We were introduced by a third party who immediately walked away. (Probably to see if anyone “important” had shown up.) I was curious, and asked questions like “How do you know so-and-so?” and “What kinds of projects did you two work on?” I really didn’t know too much about his end of the business, so I couldn’t contribute much more than questions, and inevitably the conversation began to wind down. Then – with one of the most obligatory tones I had ever heard – he said, “So what do you do?” I hate this question in general, but his blatant I’m-just-asking-to-be-polite tone made me hate it even more. I suddenly beganmouth blathering about my business to which he reacted with the “eye glaze”. I tried to save the conversation by adding something more familiar, like ” . . . and I’m an actor.” That was his cue to ask me what time it was, because he “needed to check on something”. He left me alone with his wife who, thankfully, was much more pleasant.

It drives me nuts when I forget to do what I encourage my clients to do: Share your enthusiasm with others. It’s the one, immediate thing you can do to market yourself that requires no money or materials.  If I had chosen not to let this guy’s tone affect my energy, I could have shared my love of working on actors’ self-promo and how rewarding it is to see them light up with inspiration. Instead, I came off apologetic (the ultimate sin!) and reduced my business to nothing more than “marketing”. As an actor, I could have mentioned I was there to support a fellow actress while exploring new plays – instead I proclaimed my profession with about as much enthusiasm as if I were announcing my credit card debt.

I know better, right? And so do you. Have you ever found yourself talking about a project apologetically? If you know that there’s just got to be a bFind-Your-Voice-298x300etter way to marketing, then come join me in November’s SMART Action Path Program. It’s four weeks to finding your marketing voice that will catapult you into the New Year with fresh marketing materials. You will discover what holistic marketing is, just how enjoyable self-promo can be! Sign up by October 30th, because it starts Monday, November 3, 2014.

Roller Coaster (of Love)

Where did the time go? All of September seemed like a slow trip up the roller coaster tracks. October is now teasing us with a little drop that circles once around before we plummet uncontrollably after Halloween, only to be strapped into that non-stop ride called the holidays. No doubt, this is fun. It’s filled with events and family activities, reasons for old friends to meet at the pub, reasons to dress up and be festive. But like I said, it is uncontrollable and non-stop. santa roller coasterWe give in to rich food and drink, racing to buy stuff for other people, neglecting our own needs and finances. No wonder everyone gets sick right before New Year’s Eve. We’re in the habit of blaming it on “flu season”, but really we’ve compromised our immune systems.

I may sound like a crazy person, but what if we planned health days like holidays? What if we marked our calendars with specific non-negotiable time dedicated to clean relaxation and self-nurturing? When we put “Judy and Steve’s party” on our calendar why not add “foot massage”? When we race around town checking off our gift list, why not check off green tea and probiotics for ourselves? Wacky, right? tai-chiPermit me be a full on nut case, and go further by proposing that we sign up for a restorative yoga or Tai Chi class? Whaaaat?

I love, love, LOVE roller coasters. They make me feel like I’m flying, and I laugh through most of the ride.  But I remember a time when I didn’t like them. I would shut my eyes and white knuckle it all the way. If we have to be strapped into one two months out of the year, why not make the ride a stress reliever instead of a stress inducer? Any suggestions?

 

Does Your Resume Prove Your Worth?

I think it was in college when I fully embraced the busy lifestyle. I went to a theater conservatory, held a full-time schedule, had nightly rehearsals, and hostessed on the weekends. I loved it – the ever changing rotation of shows, schedules, and jobs fueled me. I continued this pattern after college as I pounded the pavement creating a career in Chicago theater. Exercise_cartoonExplaining my artist’s path was exhausting, so it was easier to prove myself with projects. I kept doing and doing and doing, and saw my results as markers of my worth in the entertainment field. I was so focused on results that I never stopped long enough to see why I was doing what I was doing.

I believe, the 17th century philosopher, Blaise Paskal, said it best: “All of humanity’s problems stem from man’s inability to sit quietly in a room alone.”

Today, when I sit in silence (a practice, practice, practice), I am able to sense what is important and what is not. I am able to sense that my True Self can never be validated by results and outside recognition. That while advertisements insist that “more is better”, I understand that the differences I make in the world – no matter how small – are enough. I understand all of this, because silence reminds me of why I do what I do. So when I first speak with a potential client, I simply listen. Inevitably, they call me to find out how they can solve a problem. The truth is, even if I tell them the “how”, they will never follow through until they know the “why”. So I ask,  “Why do you want to do XYZ?” – and this is where the silence begins.comfortable+silence

They say (“they”?) that our minds have on average sixty thousand thoughts a day. There’s nothing wrong with thought. I love thought (I love algebra for cryin’ out loud). Goals, dreams and problem solving tend to emerge from thought. But I believe that vision, self-compassion, and solutions are born in silence.

Did a Life-Changing Event Influence Your Career?

In 1997, I biked the Twin Cities => Chicago AIDS Ride 2. It was a personal achievement that taught me life lessons, and ultimately fueled my move to Hollywood. I can’t possibly contain the entire experience within the confines of a short blog, so here is a[n edited] copy of the thank you letter I gave to my donors (bad grammar and all) that expressed my transformation:

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Devil’s Lake State Park, Baraboo, WI

” . . . I’ve procrastinated this Thank You letter because I couldn’t figure out how to express it. I think the overwhelming feeling is incredulity. I still can’t believe that I did it.  . . . . What you don’t know, and I didn’t know until now, is what an incredibly immense impact this ride has had on me. I will never look at a blade of grass, a butterfly, the sky, a lemonade stand – anything the same way again. You all contributed to something more . . .  Again, it’s incredible to me that I was able to . . . ride my bike (halfway) across the country  . . . . The funny thing is, if I really knew what I was getting myself into, I never would’ve done it. Really.

I’m so glad I didn’t know what I was getting myself into. Once I was in it, failure was not an option. It’s the thing worth having that puts us through the most. I wanted to cry so badly on that fourth day. Every time I had just worked my ass of . . . getting up one hill, there was another, and another, and another. I wanted to stop, to cry, to yell, to just stop mid-peddle and collapse, but there’s that thing within us that pushes and convinces, and in the middle of it all, just carries us through.  . . . Looking at the next hill from atop the one I just climbed, I saw it huge and impossible, and I planned to not do it, to rest, to walk my bike up.HILL I had this thought process every time, and every time I pushed on through. I went beyond believing until I actually knew that every hill was not as big as it looked. I broke through an illusion.

So when it’s all over and I’ve traveled 470 miles, put my body through hell, put my mind and soul through cleansing, my best friends are waiting for me at the finish line, the country’s been made aware of the dying, and I’m tan and muscular and exhausted and lonely, I cry. I just cry and cry and cry and can’t believe it. It was the most difficult thing I’ve every done in my life and I will never do it again. But then again, every hill looks harder than it really is . . . Thank you for contributing to this life-changing event. I am forever grateful,

Sincerely, Doreen”

Will “Liking” Me Get Me Work?

Every day I see actors asking for “Likes” for their IMDb or Facebook Page. Somewhere in some “marketing” seminar someone has told us that this is how actors get work. We are told stories of how producers narrow 100k-Facebook-Likesdown their choices to whoever has the greatest social media following. We are shown charts and statistics that “prove” their point. So every day I see actors scrambling  . . .  to get more “Likes”.

This concept never sat well with me. Something in my gut said, “No, this is not true. This is not how an actor gets work.” I couldn’t prove it, I couldn’t argue it, because there was always some random example of how it worked for “someone”. (Most likely because the producers needed the talent’s “friend” list more than their talent.) But here is what I have witnessed:

Working actors are “well liked”, while actors scrambling for “likes” are not working. 

It’s simply a reversal of events, and comes down to two things: working actors go out into the real world and grow their network (hence more “likes”), and they have something to offer their followers. We see production stills, personal stories, funny or insightful observations, RandomQUOTEphotos from industry events, etc. The Non-Working Scrambler re-posts links and quotes from other sources and we only hear from them when they need an audience or money for their crowdfunding campaign. If we reverse our actions and maker better use our time by scrambling for work in the real world, our rewards will be far greater and more tangible than scrambling for “likes” in the virtual world.

I am writing this as I contemplate opening up my Profile Page to the general public. What to do?

 

ACTORS – Get Instant Results Now!

Every day, I see promises of instant results. Actors are targeted more than we care to admit. We so desperately want a change in our careers that we actually believe the promises are true. Worse, we believe that instant results are better than long-term results. Be_an_ArtistMost people would rather pop a pill to cure their aches and pains instead of investing in regular body movement like Tai Chi or morning walks. The red flag for these promises is usually a number in the ad like, “Top 6 Foods for Weight Loss!” “Top 3 Ways to Triple Your Income!” We see the number 10 (or less) and suddenly intense hope fills our being, and hope springs eternal.

My recent booking slump has really me gotten down. I resisted seeking help, because  like most actors, I told myself that I couldn’t afford it. I kept hoping that something would turn around. Finally, I realized that I couldn’t afford not to seek help. After investing in private coaching, I felt confident and energized. I breezed into my auditions knowing that things were changing for me. I planned my month in advance as if I booked everything. Then . . .  crickets. No bookings and only one callback. I can’t understand this. I mean, when I first came to town, opportunities just flowed to me. Bookings came immediately and often – all with no agent and no coach.  Then yesterday, while I was doing the dishes, it occurred to me that I was looking for instant results.

Don’t get me wrong – I believe that good things can happen right away. (In fact, they have.) I also believe that hope is necessary. It is, after all, the only thing that fuels our pursuit of happiness. What is wrong, I believe, is getting caught in the trap that the artist’s journey is linear – believing that if I do A, B, & C, then D will automatically happen. What is wrong is sitting in the disappointment of non-instant results.Cellar Door copy I believe in the coach, the support group, the “Top 10 Tips”, but I also know that these artists’ survival tools are meant to used over and over and over. When I do the daily work, expect nothing, and hope for everything, the world of all possibilities opens up to me.

What is a “Weekend” for the Artist?

Dowton’s Abbey’s Lady Grantham’s character was best summed up in her remark at the dinner table when she asked, “What . . . is a ‘weekend’?” Their dinner guest was a doctor – someone who actually worked for a living – and he confused the Dowager with this term.Lady Grantham While it made me laugh, I have been asking myself that same question all of my adult life. From the time I was in college I worked on the weekends to support my acting career. I envied “normal” people who brought home regular paychecks with enough left over to enjoy the weekend, which often included having brunch, where someone like me would serve them. I save my weekdays and weeknights for auditions and rehearsals. And of course, when I was in a show – I worked the weekends.

After awhile, I began to see that I was living a privileged life, not a deprived one. I could do all of my errands without having to beat a crowd. I could see a matinee on a Tuesday afternoon.Reading Break I could enjoy a good book and coffee while the rest of the world was “working”. While this non-traditional life never offered me a retirement plan, I also never planned to retire. I took trips when I wanted, played when I wanted, and had the luxury of living day to day because there was no company ladder to climb or boss to please.

I still work the weekends, and I continue to work everyday for my career and my business. What I love most about it, is that my rest and enjoyment isn’t restricted to just Saturdays, Sundays and holidays. Yes, I have chosen a smaller paycheck in this life, but as every artist knows, freedom and creating art is the paycheck.

A Gift Beneath the Rubble of 9/11

I woke up alone this morning, and listened to the lovely silence of the early day, when suddenly I remembered the morning silence of 9-11. That day didn’t start out silent, because I was disconcertingly woken up by my clock radio. I was half in and half out of dreaming about airplanes crashing into buildings for about a half an hour until I realized it wasn’t a dream. I think I froze without panic. It was all so confusing. What was happening? Is this for real? Are my friends and family hearing about this?

At the time, I was living alone (for the first time) in my little studio apartment. Even with seventy-five units crammed against each other, I didn’t really know anyone in the building. Except Andrew. I called him immediately. He said, “We’re all going over to Mari’s.” trio-of-seagulls-in-flight-robert-jensenI walked for thirty minutes without a single aircraft above me. People seemed kinder. Everything was so quiet. I kept looking at the virgin sky that held nothing but birds. When I got to Mari’s house, our Group of Ten was forming: Andrew, Mari, John, Anthony, Margie, Oscar, Laura, Rob, Rachel and me. We sat close and held hands for hours as we watched the day’s broadcast. There wasn’t much discussion, just a lot of dazed confusion.

We were clear across the other side of the country that day, but as every American knows, there was no escaping 9/11 – no matter how removed one was lucky enough to be. After thirteen years, our Group of Ten has disbanded by way of geography, marriage, lifestyle, and even death. Memories keep us together.

holding-hands-007

What I remember most about 9/11, was the love and warmth and security I felt just sitting there with a group of people who just wanted to be together. Because when you strip everything else away – like the destruction of historic buildings and over 3000 lives in one (OK, four) fell swoops –  it’s the only thing that matters.

 

How Violent Are You Willing to Go?

I watched Sons of Anarchy for the first time last night (I know, I know), and hung in there for about 45 minutes. I like gritty shows (my favorite is The Walking Dead), but something about this particular episode bothered me. The plot seemed to take a back seat to the violence, and the violence seemed to focus on torturechild with gunI get The Walking Dead  –  it’s fantasy, zombies, etc., but with all of the real violence covered in our national news: beheadings, school shootings, police shootings, domestic violence, etc. is it redundant to put it in our entertainment? Am I a hypocrite to say this if I love Breaking Bad? I don’t know. Breaking Bad never put storyline in the back seat.

Just this week, I saw a minimum of three casting notices for small independent films all looking for “badass military” types with martial arts experience. All the plot lines centered around lone heroes who violently took the law into their own hands. The meager female roles simply required youth and beauty. With the recent exposure of football pro, Rice, punching his fiance (now wife) unconscious, rap and footballI became extra sensitive when I watched a brand new rap video depicting gorgeous women as bored, horny, desperate things whose only purpose was to either please the men or annoy them.

Too often, I hear actors make fun of a project they weren’t too proud of and say “Hey it paid the bills!” All my life, I’ve heard that same justification for anything that wasn’t illegal. The American Way is to make cash above all else. But what is our obligation as artists? Are we held to a higher standard? I’m not saying turn down a series regular gig on SOA, or only do projects that are family friendly, but where do we draw the line? Everyone’s “line” is different, but if we know our personal boundaries, then the “almighty gig” won’t create them for us. My mind is spinning with this.

I got a thank you card today. Well, it wasn’t really a card so to speak. It was an e-card with a pre-formatted “Thank You”, and they had typed in a quick message. At first I was glad to know that they had received the birthday gift I dropped off, but then I stood back and observed how removed our personal contact has become. generic_thank_you_I used to think that emails were impersonal, but now I appreciate them more (personal emails that is). I understand how busy we are, and that a thank you is still a thank you, but I also know the remarkable difference a personalized letter can make.

Industry professionals get bombarded with Tweets, Facebook plugs, and emails, but how many of them get personal letters from us? Or even postcards with handwritten messages? Yes, as actors we often must cover a lot of ground and send out cards to a lot of casting directors in the most economical way, but we also need to pepper in the personal, the sincere, the detailed communication that creates human contact. After all, isn’t that what makes human relationships . . . human?