What Makes Your Acting Career Grow?

All of my life, I’ve been so devoted to my career that it would take me by surprise when I’d see some actors not do obvious things like submit for auditions or mail the headshots they just paid hundreds of dollars for, or even trying to learn about the business. They never understood the value and the payoff of “planting seeds”.

Beware impatience.

For instance, when I was working in Chicago, a theatre director called me in for a lead in a show I never submitted for, and was ultimately cast. My roommate, a fellow “actor”, said, “Hunh – must be nice.” Her tone implied how “it must be nice not to have to do anything and still get a called in”. I was speechless. Had she not seen me bust my butt over the last several years, auditioning, auditioning, doing staged readings, auditioning, performing, auditioning, doing free work, performing, etc? Did she not see how it made perfect sense that my name would come up for this kind of role, because I had already worked so much around town? I mean, we’re talking years. (Truth is, she never submitted for anything.)

So what I’m saying is, it’s vital to plant seeds. Yet doing activities that are supposed to get us ahead when they have no immediate result, is the hardest thing to do. So we don’t, and we’re back to where we started for another day . . . another week . . . another month . . . another year.

This is why I hold Action Groups. This is why my programs do the things that actors just can’t bring themselves to do. Even if you don’t work with me, do something that will hold you accountable. Do something that will make the tasks easier for you. Just don’t do nothing. Nothing grows from nothing.


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.

The Tortured vs. The Healthy Artist

As I sit in the fallout of tortured “geniuses” before me, I reflect on how we, in an effort to feel safe, separate our art from our daily living.
I watched the documentary, Salinger, on PBS’ American Masters. As an actor, I’m fascinated with human behavior. Salinger was – is – a writing phenom, but what interested me was how he wrote as opposed to what he wrote. Not long after Catcher in the Rye was published, he moved from Manhattan to Cornish, New Hampshire, an idyllic, sacred place “away from it all”. But unlike most writers, who use their sacred places with scheduled intent, he used it (and his windowless office) non-stop, and it became a place for him to hide. I see obvious parallels to this and the abuse of natural drugs. Originally intended as medicinal and sacred, plant based drugs are now used as modern day transports to “hiding places”.

There’s a false romance that plagues our arts. It is one that says we must be a “mess” in order to be a genius: Van Gogh, Sylvia Plath, Curt Cobain, Whitney Houston, Phillip Seymour Hoffman – you get it. But, come on, we know that it doesn’t have to be that way. We can be “normal” and still fulfill our art purpose. Yet still we continue to romanticize eccentricity bathed in the light of genius and fame. As with Salinger, we categorize his willful separation from his family (and his odd Lolita complex) as just a part of him being a genius, and turn our palms upward. What can you do? Something. I believe we can do something. I wondered, as I watched this documentary, if his work would have benefited from healthy relationships. Could he have created art without having to deny his daughter and wives the affection they so craved? Could being a good father, neighbor, teacher, or husband, have driven him to write even better works?
In the five main areas of life – career, relationships, health, finances and spirituality – artists tend to focus on only one: career. I want to pile all of these areas in the same car, and take a road trip through art. I imagine good health supporting my career. I imagine frequent, in-person contact with loved ones fueling my career. I can see a strong spiritual base inspiring my creativity, and a good financial flow that keeps me abundant in art supplies. Being a loner is considered cool. Being career driven at the expense of personal relationships is deemed admirable (unless you’re a woman). Being an outsider, being separate is considered synonymous with being a genius. It’s also synonymous with being a serial killer. We are not separate. We are not our art. Our art is simply an expression of who we are. And who we are is the sum of all of our parts.



How to Dodge the Flying Sh*t

slippery-slope-3One year ago, the beginning of my downward spiral began. On September 11th, my boyfriend’s father called to say he didn’t have long to live. I drove my boyfriend to the airport, supporting him with strength and optimism. I thought he’d be back in two weeks. Instead, he spent four months tending to his dad’s declining health. From September to January, I drove back and forth from my place to his – over the hill and back – to forward his mail and personal items, water his (now dead) plants, and care for his cat. Kitty’s renal failure required special care. As bad timing would have it, I began to suffer from painful facial eczema that greatly affected my quality of life. My strength and optimism were beginning to wane. Just before Thanksgiving, my computer died. With all my running around I had no time to see friends. I was quite alone, and started to feel it. We decided it was best if I moved in to his place. I felt a sense of relief, but now I was looking at having to purge thirteen years of my lifePallBearers. On New Year’s Eve, I gave my thirty days’ notice, and on January 3rd, my boyfriend’s father died. I had my phone turned off when he tried to call me. Epic Fail.

I jumped on a plane to help with his dad’s funeral, but didn’t expect to help with his mom as well. Dementia was setting in, and now her son had a new reason to stay even longer. Back in L.A., I had to either sell or give away most of my belongings before I could move. It wasn’t until March when I felt I could finally catch up with my business and my life. (Really, there is no “catching up”).

Now six months had passed, and my savings were drained. Commercial auditions were unusually scarce, and theater jobs trickled. I still suffered from the eczema, buGetting to know yout could no longer afford a doctor. In May, Kitty was diagnosed with cancer and needed even more care. In June, my theatrical agent went out of business, I had a terrible falling out with a friend, and my dentist informed me that I needed a $1000 crown. July was a very dark month. Then on August on 29th – in the vein of “wfronthat else could go wrong?” –  my parked car was totaled by a reckless driver.

Don’t’ ask me if I can see that “everything happens for a reason”. That’s a question to occupy the mind, not the heart. Here is what my heart awakened to: Every terrible thing I experienced gave me something concrete to fix/solve, and every single time, it revealed itself as a distraction. Everything distracted me from working on my art and on my business. This is not to say that I place no importance on these outside events. I very much do. What they’ve brought to my attention, however, is my willingness to put my art and my business aside in favor of them. There are no clear outcomes, no guaranteed results in creative endeavors. To do the work for the sake of doing the work is “poo-pooed” in our culture – How can you enjoy (fill in the blank) when (fill in the blank) has happened? Are you making money at it? Are you forwarding your career? These questions are nothing but excuses for not showing up to the canvas. couch_potatoDuring hard times, it is more acceptable to self medicate in front of the TV than it is to expand ourselves. What we must see is that exercising our talents – with no societal agenda or audience approval –  is how we feel better, feel joy, and reap the rewards.

What is that thing you’ve been yearning to do that will expand your talents and put a smile on your face? doingMakeUpAre you too busy checking off your to-do list to get down to the real work? Are you doing the work, but repeatedly coming up for air to see if someone is clapping? Expanding our talents is what we are meant to do. It is not selfish. It is mandatory, and it gets us through the hard times.