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.
“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.
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
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.
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.
“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.
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