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 

 

 

Defy Logic or Die

I had to laugh when, after hours of agonizing over this week’s topic, I realized this weekend celebrates my twentieth anniversary of moving to Los Angeles.
My sister and I drove cross country over Valentine’s Day weekend, 1998. We made incredible time, but managed to stop for important stuff. The most important was visiting the Oklahoma bombing site that had happened just a few years prior. There was this tree.

Survivor Tree 1998.

This tree was the only thing left standing at ground zero. It defied logic, yet made so much sense. When I arrived in L.A., I only had theatre credits and two co-star roles – I had neither connections nor representation. I did, however, acclimate very quickly. The weather, the driving – I never owned a car before – and the possibilities! Unlike Chicago, I could meet dozens of casting directors face to face and no one had a preconceived idea of who I was or who I should be. That first year I booked three network TV shows and a national commercial with no agent. It defied logic.

As the years went on, I embraced my newfound freedom by joining a theatre company, teaching improvisation, directing for the stage, performing stand-up – and partying.  While I had some successes, I focused more on my “failures”. I began to take on the insecurities of my fellow actors. I saw my early success as a fluke that would never happen again. I worried that my hometown friends and family expected more than I could produce. So between crappy day jobs and theatre rehearsals, I commiserated with others over beer. I had at least four theatrical agents over a dozen years with huge gaps in between, while my acting credits grew increasingly stale. I was also living in a tiny studio that had thin walls and no light.
At the top of It’s a Wonderful Life, Clarence asks God, “Is he (George Bailey) in trouble?” God replies, “Worse – he’s discouraged.” That was me, and I felt deserving of nothing. My sister noticed this, and reminded me of my talent for defying logic. So without knowing how I’d pay for it, or what I’d study, I returned to school. Again, I walked through the process with easy, yet laser-like focus. I loved it, and discovered I didn’t have to pay a dime for my Graphic Design degree. My sense of accomplishment returned, my energy came back, and the universe hugged me. I started to book again. Upon graduation, I decided to create my own business, because I was done working crappy day jobs. When I hired a coach to help me, my business began to grow. This time, unfortunately, I took on the insecurities of my then partner and chose not to grow too much. I developed a serious skin condition, and I stopped booking. I spent the next three years putting his needs above mine.As soon as I made the decision to end this long term relationship, the universe welcomed me back with open arms. Where you been, girl? I was happy, hopeful, and younger. My energy was bright and attracted good things. I booked two national commercials and four network TV spots within that first year. I created a living space full of sunlight and peace. Soon I obtained amazing representation in both L.A. and Chicago. I was free from the fear that had been disguised as “good common sense”.

I have always loved living on the edge, not knowing how things will turn out. I love it, because deep in my soul I know everything will always turn out fine. And now I am determined to love my way of living more than others fear it.

Survivor Tree, 2011.

R U Leaving Your Soul in the Seat?

“When someone fears losing your affection, he or she will strive to keep it. Perhaps you have strived to keep someone’s affection, too. Fear of loss is not love.” – Gary Zukav, The Seat of the Soul

So you’ve got all of your tools in place. You’ve explored your Brand (I like to use the term, “Essence”), you’ve got your perfect headshots, your reel is up to date, you’re in class, your resume is growing. Congratulations! But there’s something no quite right. There’s this intangible part of the business that seems to open doors for everyone else, but you haven’t quite got it yet. What is that?

An actor friend of mine spoke about his early career mistakes, and it took him awhile to understand the biggest one. He had the looks, confidence and talent, but every time he left his seat in the waiting area to walk into the audition room, he said he left his soul in that seat. He didn’t know why, but he chose to leave the most authentic part of himself outside the door. Perhaps, he thought, no one wanted to see that? He thought professionalism was the ability to compartmentalize. In his mind, “Leave your sh&t outside the door” also meant “Leave your self outside the door”. He paid the price for hiding his best parts.

When I was in my twenties I knew that it was the time for making mistakes. I loved turning thirty, because I knew I was done making mistakes. Boy, was I in for a big surprise! As my mistakes continued, I mistook that for not being good enough. Thus began my downward spiral of contorting myself into a more “palatable” me. I played small and stayed safe. While my peers’ careers got sidetracked by starting families or dealing with serious life issues, my career got sidetracked by my lack of self worth.

Life immediately changes when we relax into who we are. When we relax into our own skins we no longer need to prove anything. The adolescent cry, “You don’t know me!” morphs into the quiet knowing that it’s perfectly OK if most people don’t get me. The most attractive people we know are those who know there is nothing to prove. And when we can enter the room with our whole self – free of the need to book the job and free of outside approval – doors will open.

BRING YOUR OPINIONS/QUESTIONS ABOUT THIS TOPIC TO MY TUESDAY FACEBOOK LIVE, 12PM PST

 

Facing Reality – is it good or bad?

We don’t see things as they are;

we see them as we are. ~ Anonymous

Every day news networks lead with shocking headlines solely to increase their ratings. To quote playwright, Adam Langer, “You never hear anyone say, ‘that’s too awful to be true.’ No matter how awful it is, you can believe it, why not no matter how good?” (Vivian in Film Flam)

Some may say that seeing the awful is facing reality. That in order to be safe, we must dutifully arm ourselves with worst case scenarios so as not to fall victim. We must watch the news, binge on real murder stories, click on depressing reports about our health care system and the environment – this keeps us ahead of the game! Beware hopeful stories, for they must be treated with suspicion. We must be careful not to have too much hope or else others will call us naive.

Our reality is based on what we believe. I like to play Black Jack, but I never win, because I have a hang-up about gambling. On the other hand, I believe so strongly in my body’s immune system that I’ve never had the flu even though I’ve never had a flu shot. Our beliefs are strengthened by what we choose to focus on. Good news – we can consciously shift our focus as soon as we are triggered by negative comments or disturbing stories. There is always good to be witnessed, and science shows it makes us healthier. Every horrible headline can be countered with something good. This is one of my favorites from last week: https://www.goodnewsnetwork.org/montana-governor-signs-executive-order-keep-net-neutrality-state/

Focus on the Good

You’re probably already seeing the connection between this and your career. I’ve encountered some crappy people and situations throughout the years, but the moment I no longer allowed them to predict my future, obstacles disappeared. Einstein said, “The most important decision we make is whether we believe we live in a friendly or hostile universe.”

Tune in to my Facebook Live – every Tuesday at 12pm PST – to further discuss this week’s blog topic on “The Recognized Actor” FB Page.

Cookies Are the Cure

There’s this great scene in the film, Soapdish (1991), where Sally Field’s character – an aging temperamental soap star – is depressed. Her assistant asks if she needs to go to the mall. Through tears, she nods “yes!” Jump cut to her bedazzled self descending down the mall escalator where slowly but surely more and more people recognize her and soon she’s surrounded by adoring fans who want her autograph. Depression cured. Alas, we are not soap stars, nor do we have malls where validation awaits to greet us. Any validation we do get is fickle and unreliable. Others’ opinions of us are based on how they’re feeling that day, after all. (And we cast our opinions in the same manner.)

At least once a week, I see a post from someone who is getting kicked in the teeth by life. Friends try to cheer them up with virtual hugs and well-meaning, but overused sayings. The truth is, if we don’t pick ourselves up, we’re gonna slide right back into the muck. Coming up with a pep talk in the middle of a personal slump, however, is nearly impossible.  Or is it? Here’s how we can prep our pep talk in an honest, look-at-the-facts sort of way before we need it: Make some cookies. I’m not talking empty calorie cookies, but “cookies” that shift our perspective in just one bite. This idea comes from ultra-marathon runner, David Goggins.

Get a jar  – or a vase, or a box, (or ziplock bag you can keep in the car) – and fill it with notes spelling out all of your personal achievements. Their size doesn’t matter, just as long as they matter to you. Here are some of mine:

  • You returned to college at forty, did the work, and graduated as class valedictorian.
  • You traveled the U.S. staying in four star hotels, because you showed up as an actor.
  • Your rode your bike from St. Paul, MN to Chicago, because you decided to.

So when you’re feeling like you can’t possibly get through a painful time, or recover from a gut wrenching blow, reach into that cookie jar and tell yourself the truth.

 

 

 

 

Social Media – What’s Really Going On?

When confidence is crushed by comparisons, social media has raised the bar on “keeping up with the Joneses”. What’s an actor to do?

The other day, I saw a celebrity’s IG post get over 500, 000 likes. Not 500K followers – 500K likes.

Actors fret over numbers – how many followers/likes do I have? – because they think it’s the be all end all. They think it’s important to casting. So now there’s a rat race to increase these numbers. I’m gonna say something controversial here…I think it’s bullsh&t. I think that for 80% of us, these numbers are unnecessary. I know that some CDs say social media is important, but I know others say it isn’t. I know some actors have been asked for their account handles at auditions, but I know I never have. What’s really going on here? Let’s break it down.

The way I see it, social media is important only when you’re on either end of the spectrum. On the low end: independent projects may choose to rely on “high followers” to help promote/fund their films – essentially using these actors as producers, without the producer credit. On the high end of the spectrum, a big budget TV series may – when narrowing down a series lead – choose the actor whose on-line visibility relates closest to their show.

My page expresses me as an actor

If you notice, I just outlined two different types of social media categories: numbers and presence. The numbers thing is just that – numbers. Companies who specialize in increasing numbers “like” my posts all the time, hoping that I will buy their service. I’ve been liked by strangers with over 20K followers, but I see nothing of substance when I click on their IG page. So not only do I know they paid for it, I also know they’re using me to employ a tactic designed to further increase their numbers.

What must be observed here is the difference between numbers and numbers with meaningful content.

Celebrities and people with great content build their following organically. Here’s how we, too, can create meaningful content  – find our POV. Humans are attracted to distinct, interesting points of view. This speaks to a person’s essence. A few weeks ago, I showed how self-improvement/self-growth is nothing more than the emergence of who you really are. So don’t just post a picture of your food, tell us how you see it. Share with us who you really are. Otherwise it’s just a another lunch pic.

I use my actor’s “pitch” in my bio

So when a producer asks for your social media handles, they’re researching you. They want to see a real person, they want to see who you are. (They also want to see that you’re not an idiot.) I am on FB and IG every single day. Several times. I continue to stumble, but my desire is specific: to maintain authenticity while expressing my POV.

April 15th is About Me, Not the IRS.

Tax season is about more than just my finances. It’s a time to dig out all the stuff I did last year. When I’m gathering all my data, I find stuff I forgot about…and some stuff I’d like to forget about. I don’t think it’s a coincidence that Tax Day is in the Springtime. I see it as a kind of Spring Cleaning when I can see what I want to keep in my life and what to throw out. If not for taxes, I’m sure I wouldn’t do it at all.

The value of life reflection is underrated if not completely dismissed. I learn from my mistakes (OK, maybe not always the first time around), and I learn from my successes. Especially now that I’m in a career “drought” it’s good to be reminded that last year was pretty darn good. When we review, we remember the crappy things that we survived, and we remember the wonderful things that came to fruition.  Reviewing my life patterns gives me perspective on the Big Picture.

I’m a big fan of looking at the Big Picture. It provides clarity when I can otherwise get caught up in the daily noise of survival. I see why I’m willing to undertake some projects and  why it would be wise to eliminate others – not easy for A-Types. It’s kind of like purging the closet. I can identify patterns that will either help me move forward or continually keep me stuck. Try this: open your calendar and review everything you did last week. What patterns do you see? Look around your home and do the same thing. What patterns do you see? Your refrigerator. See a pattern? Your car. See a pattern there? What one thing can you do today to improve your life flow?

The best person to tell us about our lives is us. The trick is listening to that person…that wise, wise person. So when you dread pulling out all your paperwork to do your taxes, look at it as an opportunity to make new decisions about the rest of your year.

 

 

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.

 

Why?

Let me share three questions that have kept me on track while keeping my eye on the prize. They have supported such goals as a 500 mile bicycle adventure, my move across country, and myValedictorian return to college at the age of 40 (just to name a few).

1. I ask myself, “Why?”

Sometimes we take on goals because we think we “should”. I should get in shape. I should go back to school. I should read more. Acting on these thoughts is usually a knee-jerk response to comparison to others. Unfortunately, there tends to be little follow-through, because we resent tasks that aren’t personal. (Were you ever forced to take music lessons? Join a sports team?) In order to succeed at any one thing, we must first ask ourselves why we want it. If our answer is dependent on the approval of others, then it’s time to reevaluate. And if we continue to ask “Why?” during the process of achieving it, our answer becomes clearer and clearer. So when taking on any new task/goal, life change, or career change, first ask, “Why do I want _____?”

2. Where do I spend my time?

The easiest way to see what we value is to review how much time (and money) we spend in certain areas. We may have made a goal to write a book, but upon examination we might discover that the time we actually spend on it is far less than the time we spend on say, working out. Maybe it’s just time to focus on getting in shape? And then ask ourselves “why” we want to get into shape. There is no “wrong” here, just clarity.

3. Is this still fun?

Nowadays, a person will change their career/job 7 times during their lifetime. But when is the right time to change? The question I always ask myself is, “Is this still fun?” As an actor, I almost always answer, yes. But when it doesn’t feel like fun, I go back to question #1 and ask myself “Why do I want (to act)?” My answer revitalizes me and usually has me exploring new options and honing my skills for the pure joy of it.

What questions help you along the way to your goals?