Balancing Money and Art

Well-meaning coaches everywhere are telling actors to treat their careers like a business. We’re told to be the “CEO of our own Company”. We’re expected to spend a minimum number of hours working hard at our business. But working towards a bottom line “at all costs” is a prescription for anxiety and depression.

Here’s what this prescription neglects to include: Acting careers don’t exist without both the business and the art, plain and simple. They are two inseparable sides of the same coin. While most actors intuitively know this, they still believe that the only way to get work is by sacrificing and grinding away at marketing, networking, and self-submitting 24/7. Look back – haven’t we all gotten some good gigs just from doing our art? Work begets work, as the saying goes.
 
When I was just out of Conservatory, I worked hard “doing the rounds”, checking in personally with every office on a regular basis. It paid off with auditions and jobs by the end of that first year. But I also experienced the fun work of doing theater (often for free) that got me auditions and jobs as well. (I still do it.)
The key to living in our art and thriving in our business is not balance, but harmony. When we try to force balance by scheduling times and assigning days for either art or business, we muck it all up. Balance is natural. The idea that we can control desired career outcomes based on time spent, is an illusion. The business (and life) impersonally shifts, but we insist on taking it personally. When finances are low, we experience anxiety, guilt, shame, and when our creative skills go unused, we become depressed. The pain lasts as long as we distrust the natural ebb and flow of life. The pain deepens when we think we’ll never get out of anxiety (no money or job) or depression (no artistic fulfillment).
 
Ebb and Flow.
An actor’s life is filled with so-called good years and bad years. This is a constant. While we know the thrill of getting that big check from an acting gig, we also know the pure bliss of doing creative, ensemble work with no pay at all. Yes, the possibility of that dream job — both financially and creatively fulfilling — always exists, but once we see the natural ebb and flow of things, we begin to trust and allow it.
 
Instead of trying so hard to live up to soul-killing standards of being a business first and an artist second, just notice the obvious thing to do. You know when your business needs marketing. You know when your art needs a Viewpoints class. We are just so bombarded with outside voices telling us how to be a “successful actor” that we’ve stopped listening to our own voice.
 
You are genius. You are wise. Listen to your own voice.
 

The Secret Value of Joy

Survivor’s Guilt.

It’s what happens when a person finds themself to be the only person who’s survived a tragic event. This past year, in spite of the pandemic, my auditions have surprisingly increased. Sometimes I feel guilty that I don’t feel guilty about this, so I try keep it to myself. Are you keeping the good things in your life a secret?

As soon as I came back from my family vacation, I was hit hard with non-stop auditions. In July, I had fifteen of ’em in nineteen days, including two callbacks (see video above). Some say it’s not cool to mention this when so many actors are suffering dry spells, but attempting to control other people’s feelings is a losing game.


 
Two years ago – when I had 22 in-person auditions in 21 days – I had some wisdom to share. Now confined to at-home auditions, I have something new to share: Discouragement seeps into our psyche when we no longer see what it true. What I know to be true is that there are infinite possibilities. I’ve lived too long not to see that anything is possible. (Don’t confuse this with the folly of “This could be the one!”) I see possibilities, but am attached to no specific results. Even if I suspect that some of these potential jobs might have already been cast, or that my tape may never be shown to producers, the only thing I see is opportunity. Opportunity to have fun.
 
There is value in joy.
Yes, auditioning two to seven times a week can be exhausting, – especially when some of them are deeply emotional and/or several pages long – but acting is what I love, and so I also relish in the “art of the audition”. From first downloading the script, to recording it on my audition app, to planning my wardrobe, to setting up the camera, I love the process of creating character and story. In fact, we’re all here to create, no matter what our profession. And now that I’m working in an age range that spans over twenty years (40s to 60s!), I get to add yet another layer to the creation process. How fun is that?
 
When we allow ourselves to experience joy, we feel connected to every living thing. This connection has us feeling/seeing the world differently. During a worldwide pandemic, we can either grab on to what is wrong with the world, or what is right with the world. So instead of assuming the future is bleak, why not grab on to what is true: The future is full of possibilities.

Ever ask, “Am I the only one who sees this”?

I drove home from an acting gig this past year, like Carrie walked home from Prom – desperately needing to wash it all off of me. It took me awhile to figure out why. No, I didn’t set anything on fire, and I sincerely enjoyed the work. but the plainest I could tell was that even in the so called “grown-up world”, high school cliques still exist.

Artist’s rendering of Carrie walking home from prom.

 
In every YA book, there’s the kid who doesn’t fit in, but ultimately becomes the hero of the story. I’ve decided that I’m that kid. But then again, I make up stuff for a living.
 
Most of the industry was shut down last year, because many producers couldn’t afford to implement the new COVID safety protocols. The few that could afford it, implemented regular COVID testing, special food handling, hourly sanitizing, extra personnel, zoning, etc. It was tough, but when they got it right, it was impressive. They knew that any missteps could have serious consequences. So when this particular production refused to check any cast or crew member’s COVID test results, I was speechless. They insisted that “HIPAA law states they cannot see anyone’s test results”. In my head, I was like….yeah…no, that’s not how it works. I then asked playfully, “Well…would you like to know if I tested negative?” They looked me straight in the eye and all super-serious-like said: “We assume that responsible people would not show up on set if they tested positive!” Wowza, they just told me that their safety standards were based on…assumption!
 
Only three of us consistently wore face masks. It was about 50/50 for everyone else. The day they added fourteen (untested) extras on set, I had to walk out. No drama, I just laughed at the absurdity of it all, and waited outside until they were ready to roll. The COVID Compliance Officer (CCO) apologized profusely, but I could feel I was becoming a “problem” for them.
 
According to safety protocols, I was due for a re-test along with two other actors. In the clinic, I pointed out that we were about to be administered the wrong COVID test. (Why am I the only one who actually reads stuff before signing it?) One actor agreed with me, while the other remained silent. Our CCO spoke to the nurse to see if she could give us the proper test, and she said yes. The three of us went in for our “swab up the nose” only to find out minutes later, that production did the old bait & switch – they gave us the rapid, cheaper test after all. Oh, and they still didn’t want to know our results. I just laughed and laughed.
 
But I felt alone. Stupid and alone. No one else asked questions. No one else seemed to care. Some of you may be asking, Why didn’t you call the union? Why didn’t you just walk away? The best I can come up with is this: I got a strong sense that this was a defensive bunch who would double down on how right they were, I felt a bit trapped being on location, out of state, and quite frankly, I was stunned. I also know the importance of “playing well with others”, so I never pointed fingers, I never got super serious, and I never pushed the issue. I honestly didn’t know if they were arrogant a-holes or just plain stupid? I did know, however, that I was turning into that hall monitor no one likes.
 
So when I was finally wrapped – cut a day early – I felt like a social leper. I hadn’t discovered their nightly bar visits until four days in, because dummy me was going straight to her room every night to be safe. The one night I did join them for a quick beer, it was only the sound guy and me who wore masks. They memorialized a karaoke night a few nights later in an email. Hmmm…. everyone sharing mics and singing/shouting between swigs of alcohol – Thank you for not inviting me. Seriously, thank you.
 
My drive home was…freeing. I could breathe again. I wasn’t being judged for asking questions or wearing a mask. I was giddy to the fact that I wasn’t in their high school drama anymore, and the mean girls – I felt the most disparagement from the women – were just girls.
 
It is usually that kid who is comfortable in their own skin, that kid who marches to the beat of their own drum, who ends up being the hero. So when you happen to be the “only one” who sees something out of place, relax in knowing that the truth always come out.

Hermione Granger reads a book.

P.S.: The union was called and they took swift action.

How I Did It (My Life Strategy)

Ian and I were enjoying the oceanside pool at a five star hotel in Hawaii, when he sheepishly said to me, “I’m just waiting for someone to tap me on the shoulder and say, ‘Excuse me sir, you don’t belong here’.” (c.1997)

While in Hawaii, I pose like King Kamehameha.

That I’ve been lucky enough to travel all over the country (and beyond) because of my various acting gigs, has not gone unnoticed. But how did I do it? When I was finished with conservatory, I took classes – just for fun – at The Second City, but a few years later, they hired me to tour. Just to keep sharp, I took classes at ImprovOlympic (RIP), which led me to performing with Boom Chicago in Amsterdam – because the producers knew me from the iO stage. While playing with new scripts at Chicago Dramatists’ Theatre, I met a producer/actor who was establishing a live industrial business. I ended up working with him for the next ten years, and made good money as an actor while traveling to many states including Hawaii, and later to Europe.
 
In March of 2020, I once again landed an out of town gig, but my flight was suddenly cancelled. I felt the rug burn my feet as it was pulled out from under me. The silence that replaced auditions over the next several months was deafening. There was nothing for me to do except… surrender. Every business – including show business – got busy figuring out how to work safely amidst a deadly virus. Slowly, auditions – in the form of self-tapes – began to ramp up. Productions were actually happening – virtually, or with masks, or with social distancing, etc. My three day gig that was canceled five months earlier was offered again in August. That three day trip transformed into a seven week job, escaping Los Angeles’ historic heat wave. Even in the middle of a world pandemic, I was traveling because of an acting gig. And that same departure week, I shot a national commercial.
 
So you want to know how I did it? Well…um…I guess by now, you can see that I had no real strategy. There are strategies galore out there; books of “how tos” flood the market, but when we follow someone else’s path, we do NOT get the same results. Authors cite statistics showing how their method is the best, but most methods’ effectiveness decrease the more times we use them. If I had a method to teach (and I don’t), here’s what I’d say: Show up. Explore, try stuff, experiment. In physics, it is said, For every action, there is an equal and opposite reaction. But in life,
For every action, there is…a reaction.
 
Look at the good stuff in your life. Ninety percent of it was unplanned, but it happened because – on some level – you just showed up.

Labor Day

“It is appropriate, therefore, that the nation pays tribute on Labor Day to the creator of so much of the nation’s strength, freedom, and leadership — the American worker.”. ~ U.S. Dept. of Labor
 
 
What a difference a month makes! In August – out of work for four months – I wrote about my frustrations with commercial self-tape auditions. The process had become so demanding and complex, that I questioned whether or not it was worth it. If booked, would I even arrive on a safe set? Factory workers, front line workers, and (soon) many teachers (will) know the critical importance of a COVID-safe working environment. We all want to work, but at what cost? Since then, I’ve had four live commercial auditions – three remote and one in-person. I’m happy to report that two weeks ago, I shot a national commercial. #adsgounion
 
As I’ve witnessed production slowly opening up (and sometimes closing), I’ve pointed out the simple economic fact that only those who can afford it, can produce. The amount of money and time (and time is money) it takes to ensure on-set safety for all cast & crew is notable. My in-person audition had only one actor at a time in the lobby (two at most), there was no sign-in sheet (less contact), hand sanitizer was everywhere, and just one session runner in attendance who was masked & shielded the entire time. Two days before my fitting, I was given a “quick turnaround” PCR COVID-19 test (the most reliable). Currently, there are three test types.
 
The on-set experience required patience. Every crew member wore provided masks and shields at all times unless they were eating. This commercial was shot on location, so breakfast was served in a parking lot, and lunch was served on a lawn area. In L.A. we have the option of outdoor dining 99% of the time – a Hollywood luxury for sure. Personnel Zones were assigned on the call sheet, so only the bare minimum of crew was allowed indoors. Actors had to wear masks & shields until camera rolled. The masks made it difficult to hear voices, so the director used a mic. Every hour or so, the on-set COVID Safety Person stopped work to spray all hi-traffic trailers with an aerosol disinfectant that looked like a mobile fumigation kit. He also made the rounds – like a high school hall monitor – making sure we wore our masks. Trailers kept their doors open (except when I changed my clothes in wardrobe). There were only three actors in the spot, so no more than two were on set. In the afternoon, a union rep happened to pay a visit. I felt very safe.
 
This was a perfect example of how, with detailed research and adherence to protocol, work can begin. If there is the smallest of human error, however, (i.e. one person attends a crowded function the night before) it can quickly go south. National headlines report famous people who’ve contracted the virus, but news about lesser known folks is hidden in the pages of local papers. This is why we must commit to solidarity with our fellow workers by demanding on-set safety, and be willing to walk when we feel unsafe. The possibility of being out of work for a year is a small price to pay when it comes to long term neurological effects or even death.
 
As you celebrate this Labor Day, commit to solidarity with your co-workers. Share information, speak up, and take personal responsibility for strengthening your immune system. Yes, the opportunity for work is what we all want, but in order to keep working we must remember we’re all in this together.

Overworked and Unpaid

Recently, I read the article, Dear Hollywood: We Don’t Want to “Go Back to Normal.” Normal Wasn’t Working. While it was written from the perspective of a professional crew person dealing with insane hours, on-set bullying, and impossible expectations, it made me look to see how actors were affected – specifically with commercial auditions. While the author’s complaints were legitimate (thousands have agreed with him), one could say “Well, at least he was getting paid”. Actors don’t get paid for auditions, but it absolutely is work.
 
I’m not here to suggest paid auditions. I knew the deal before embarking on this career, but back in the day, we had higher earning potential. I missed the “golden era” where an actor could buy a house from one commercial. Four years ago, I did two national network commercials – a car company and an insurance company, arguably big money clients – but my combined pay was lower than the national poverty level.
 
Since Quarantine, there are fewer auditions, but commercial casting directors are accepting more and more self-tapes. The ad agencies’ audition demands have moved from the casting offices, to the actor’s home. Not only are we freely giving these ad agencies our talent in the form of auditions (also giving them new script ideas in the process), but now we’ve become unpaid session runners, location scouts, editors, and DPs. And here’s the kicker: ad agencies have yet to sign on to safety protocols recommended by our union. So even after jumping through hoops with self-tapes and editing, we’re not even guaranteed a safe set.
 
Who needs actors? More and more we’re seeing auditions requiring real families, friends or couples who are quarantined together with “no experience necessary”. I used to feel a camaraderie with actors who booked, because I knew they pounded the pavement on the regular, but now we’re seeing non-actors booking spots – not by luck, but merely because they live with a professional actor.
 
“Great occasions do not make heroes or cowards; they simply unveil them to our eyes. Silently and imperceptibly, as we wake or sleep, we grow strong or weak; and at last some crisis shows what we have become.” Brooke Foss Westcott
 
Sure, the current conditions give ad agencies a good excuse. But just like the article mentioned above, the industry is growing comfortable asking us to do more (like re-shoot auditions, record different angles, submit within 24 hours, etc.) Capitalizing on our fears, the industry expects us to ask, “How high?” whenever they tell us to jump. Home schooling will begin soon, but the demanding audition requests will continue, because they assume we have more time and that we we’re desperate and grateful for any crumb of an opportunity to work.
 
Whenever I look back to why I became an actor, I’m reminded of my truth: I’m an artist who mirrors human behavior within the human condition. It has nothing to do with television commercials. I look forward to navigating what is next with grace, and with my dignity in tact.
 
“In every crisis, doubt or confusion, take the higher path – the path of compassion, courage, understanding and love.” Amit Ray 

 

 

Feeling Sad Today? Maybe not.

I woke up feeling sad the other day,

but didn’t know why.

I just knew that it felt bad.

 

     I thought, “If I can figure out why I’m sad, then I can fix it”. I began a data search in my brain, picking out this and that, mulling over missed opportunities, lost loves, bad behavior, etc. Nothing clicked with what I was actually feeling. Instead, bringing up these memories just made me feel worse. I then woke up to a new thought: The sadness I’m feeling is all based on my thinking, and so I quickly switched gears. “OK, good. All I need to do is change my thinking. Think about something else…” I lay in bed, not wanting to get up until I solved this, so I mentally searched for an activity that would get me out of this “stinkin’ thinkin'”, something that would change my thought pattern. The only ideas I came up with were shallow distractions. Then I woke up again.
OMG – This is about judgment! For years, I had decided that feeling sad was bad for me! My whole life I saw sadness as something to be endured, avoided or fixed. “Hey, what if I didn’t judge it anymore?”, I thought. “What if I didn’t see it as something wrong?” In that moment – literally in that instant – my sadness disappeared, and I smiled.

My experience wasn’t about correcting the sadness, but rather about how I judged it. I laughed as I saw the simplicity in it all. Could it really be that easy? Yes, because I felt it.

(Originally Published January 6, 2020)

My Precious.

At a recent audition, I entered a small waiting area, and saw only one other actress. She was standing, facing the wall with her back to the center of the tiny room. She was “getting into the zone”. I grabbed the keys to the ladies room and left. When I returned, she was still facing the wall. Suddenly it occurred to me – she was trying to “toughen her mind”. I could tell by her body language that she was trying to control her fears. In that moment, I realized,

Oh, I don’t have to do that. None of us have to do that!

I exhaled, knowing that I’d already done the work, and that’s all I needed to do. She was called into the room, and through the thin walls I could hear her mess up the first line. On her second try, she still messed it up. They gave her a redirect (I couldn’t hear what), which prompted her to improvise in her own words. It was obvious that she didn’t understand the script.

When we hold on to something too tightly, it’s bound to slip away from us. When we’re more concerned about messing up than being in the moment, we’re bound to…mess it up. Even if we don’t forget a line, we’re liable to forget context, relationship, wants  – all that stuff we spent so much time & money learning – only to end up giving just a “meh” audition.

Audition stress can be boiled down to one thing –
the result of making something too precious.

This usually happens when we’re not getting as many auditions or bookings as we’d like. We’ve put so much weight on it. It’s as if this is our only (or most important) audition, as if this is the only time an office will ever call us in. We don’t even realize we’re doing it, but the heaviness is there. And then if we hear nothing – depression sets in. Making something too precious can drive us mad. We all know what happened to Gollum.

When it was my turn to go in,

I was focused and relaxed at the same time. It was…unusual. We’ve all heard that we are the solution to casting’s problem, but at that moment, I knew it. When I was done, they were speechless. Literally, silence hung in the air as the writer, directer, producer and CD all stared at me, waiting for/ wanting me to continue, but there was no more dialogue. Finally, the director simply said, “Can you do it again?” No re-direct. I felt he just wanted to see if I could replicate was I’d just done. And I did.

#thatfeelingyougetwhenyoustunthemwithyourbrilliance.

Be an Actor in Motion.

Consider the power of being an “Actor in Motion”. There’s more to an actor’s life than just being on set. Really. When we see this, we begin to see our auditions as just… something we do. They are part of the fabric of our “working actor life”. We know that there will be more. Most importantly, we know we have an actor’s life that’s filled with behind the scenes maintenance that is fun to do, like marketing and classes. (And if it’s not fun, it’s only because we’ve already decided it doesn’t matter.)  See movies & shows, read scripts, surround yourself with fellow actors who are doing the work, not just talking about it.

A Chill New Year

My best clients delight in career surprises, and allow for life/work balance.
They understand how “sacrificing your way to success” is an outdated social lie.

“I work with committed, driven actors who know they should be doing their marketing, but aren’t.” This elevator speech doesn’t quite communicate what goes beyond my marketing and postcard work. Whether I work with someone on a simple mailing, or a three month branding program, or in Action Group, or one-on-one coaching, I share more. I share with them a glimpse of their infinite value. Stick with me for a second.

I see, I listen, and then I shine a light on the actor’s value & inner wisdom.
Once you get a glimpse of that, there’s no going back.

We don’t need motivation. All we need is a reminder of who we are: valuable, wise people. Some may say, “I know who I am. I don’t need anyone to tell me my value.” If that’s true, I ask, then why are you working so hard to prove it? Why the endless to-do lists, excessive time spent on useless research, and overkill with classes, headshots & social media? My mission statement confirms: When we rely on recognition outside of ourselves, we are seduced into traps of rule following, people-pleasing, and working “hard” to prove ourselves.

There’s so much noise going on in our heads that we can’t hear our own wisdom.

We see countless social media posts touting the efforts of “the grind” and “the hustle”. Friends regularly post memes of sweating athletes or determined celebrities who worship discipline and hard work, and anything less than that is judged as laziness or dumb luck. Those magical times when we effortlessly receive abundance – and I know you have – are dismissed it as a fluke and then we express guilt for not having worked harder. I can think of nothing more self-defeating.

It is becoming easier and easier for me to live my best life, and I invite you to learn about it in my blog. I want you to experience the ease of doing more, but working less. Or you can ask me questions in person at public events. (Info in my monthly newsletter.)

Wouldn’t you rather enjoy 2019 in a Chill New Way, as opposed to gritting your teeth through “the grind”?

Next speaking event will be January 19th, My slot: 2:30pm-3pm, at the 2019 Pilot Season Career Productivity Meet-Up.


‘Tis the Season …of Pilots

Last year December 26th, I hosted a FaceBook Live event titled, What’s the Big Deal About Pilot Season?. Today I noticed that my talk not only still hits the mark, but I am now living proof of it. In the video, I said that Pilot Season had become artificially hyped up, and so I challenged viewers to take on the rest of the year just as seriously. I pointed out that being proactive can be as simple as just showing up.

Back in March, I was on a treadmill of episodic callbacks but no bookings. (I know, I know, a good problem to have.) As I was allowing self-doubt, anger, and fear to rule my mental health, I got another audition. This one fueled my anger. After all of the great auditions I had, I couldn’t believe I was being asked to go in for a “one-liner”. I couldn’t believe that after auditioning for educated, professional roles, I was being asked to go in for a Latina housekeeper.

Piss off, I’m not going!

Today’s topic: “What’s the Big Deal About Pilot Season?” Ask yer questions!

Posted by Doreen Calderon on Tuesday, December 26, 2017

As soon as I had expressed that thought, I knew it wasn’t practical, but I also knew I needed to change my attitude.  I reached out to a friend, and asked her to remind me why I should show up for this one. Very simply, she pointed out that I needed to meet the casting director, and that I needed a job. Practical and impersonal. That’s all I needed to hear.

I was so busy, that I didn’t notice that this was a pilot audition. When I booked it, I forgot that this was my first pilot! Long story short, my story beat the odds. The series got picked up, and I’ve been called back three times (so far). It’s exciting for me to be a part – regardless how small – of a successful new show.

Here’s the thing: I didn’t go through pilot season wanting to book one. I just focused on booking a job. There’s a saying, “Shoot for the stars, and you’ll land on the moon.” In my case, I shot for the moon and landed on a star.

And the only thing I did was show up.

Booking a pilot doesn’t have to be your goal, but you must have a goal. Your choice will determine your actions. No choice, no action. Where you end up can be a very pleasant surprise!