Tag Archives: Acting

Here’s What’s On Tap

16 Nov

Yes, let’s title with a beer analogy, because 2016 my friends. I think we can all agree this year has been a wash of ugly. (I still miss you Alan Rickman). Luckily in addition to beer, art-making is also a beautiful and highly effective coping mechanism.

This weekend, for the first time in a very long while I am performing in a straight dance show. No singing, no acting, just moving. The showcase is called I’d Rather Be Dancing. My piece is less than two minutes long, but I’ve already put in about five hours of rehearsal and here’s a lovely taste of what I have to show for it.

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I bet you thought it was going to be a cute dancer pose. ahHA. ah ha ha ha.

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There we go

If you’re not busy this weekend, come see me! My piece is a really neat contemporary lyrical/hip hop amalgamation. Showtimes are Friday, Saturday, Sunday at 8:00 at Dance 101 Atlanta. Tickets are only $10! If you’re looking for even more cultural entertainment, I highly recommend checking out my insanely talented buds at Act 3 in Violet, and over at OnionMan an original work called Cul-de-Sac, both in their final weekends.

While we’re on the subject of original works, I’m sure you’re dying to know how NaNoWriMo is coming along *snort*. So far, I’ve stuck to my goal of five minutes per day, and it does usually turn into more (my evil plan is working muwahaha). With wild extremes at both ends, I’m averaging about 45 minutes and 400 words per day. As a result, here at the mid-month mark I’m very close to being done with my short story and have about 40 (.doc) pages of the play. My current struggle is making each scene follow a logical set up without having the structure be completely naked and obvious (don’t you hate that?). I have no actual training or experience in play construction other than just reading and acting in them, and it’s harder than it looks.

For your entertainment, here are the summary blurbs I’ve written about my pieces.

All There Is (Play):

The Finleys are a work in progress. Winn’s long-time marriage is starting to feel more like a triathlon than happily ever after and Willa can’t understand why her childhood neighbor Sam is suddenly on her mind. Formidable matriarch Polly is white-knuckling her tenuous influence upon her children and the community without the support of her checked-out husband Ernie, even as her elderly father-in-law’s grasp on reality is starting to slip. Down the street, Sam’s fragile wife Laura seems ready to drag them both beneath the surface. It will take a national tragedy for this balancing act to right itself.

The Sieve (Short Story):

Gia and Leece are close as sisters. When Leece becomes a White Walker, a voluntary citizen honor guard tasked with a series of targeted peace-keeping assassinations every third year called the Sieve, their friendship will be put to the ultimate test. This is one girl’s story told through the lens of the other, exploring the nature of good and evil, the undercurrent of violence that exists in all of us, and the sacrifices we make for peace.

For those who are really invested in this, below is a sneak preview from the short story. It’s stumbling towards the unlikely genre of Literary YA fantasy, because that’s how it came out of my head. You may recall that the plot is based on a dream, and in that dream the characters were, in fact, young adults and the events were, in fact, fantastical. So you can blame my subconscious. At this point my biggest accomplishment of the entire piece is having worked in a word that T invented at age 2, but which I totally think should be an actual word (since it’s not in this excerpt and I don’t want to leave you on the edge of your seat – it’s lasterday).

Please bear in mind that this is a totally unedited rough draft. Sorry for any references that don’t make sense out of context. 

Hours later, as we filter out into the watery sunlight, Leece finds me. I recognize the violet layered gown she wears as the one I liked best from the Tiny Frock mock-ups. She’s had it readjusted though, with mauve wrappers at the arms and bodice that serve to make it both beautiful and warm. The ever-present white quilted jacket, which by all right should have made the effect gawky, instead makes it entirely original. Her increasingly haunted face does nothing to detract from this. She looks dazzling.

I don’t say this though. Instead I say, ‘We couldn’t afford a new gown this year. My brothers grew too much and needed new things.’

‘You should have said something. I would have given you one of mine.’

‘It’s too cold for any decent Mayfair dresses anyway,’ I say, and immediately regret it.

Leece is unruffled. ‘You did a lovely job today. Your solo piece was extraordinary, truly.’

‘It was only two lines.’

‘Oh, but they are the most beautiful lines of the whole song. And I’ve never heard anyone perform them that way. It felt like dancing.’

‘Well,’ a flush creeps under my collarbone and I try to resist the urge to scratch it. ‘I practiced a lot.’

‘Gia,’ she says, and stops walking, pulls my hand and leads me away from the flow of bodies moving toward the market fairway, where the celebration is tuning up. ‘I need to ask you something. A favor.’

‘What is it?’ I say warily. Her hand is sweaty. She drops mine and licks her lips, glancing sideways. We’re in a natural alcove created by a stand of lullapple trees. The lush buds which had burst into blossom over the past few days look stunted and shocked from the chill.

‘This isn’t usually done.’

I’m intrigued but I force myself to act nonchalant. ‘OK.’

‘You know tomorrow is Assignment day.’

I hadn’t known. Of course I know Mayfair marks the beginning of Sieve season. But I’ve never paid attention to this particular part of it. It seems like I’ve learned more about the Sieve in the past month than I gleaned from an entire lifetime. How blind have I been all these years?

‘OK,’ I repeat, feeling stupid.

‘I need you to get my assignment for me. Please.’

‘What?’ I couldn’t have been more shocked if she’d walked up and licked my face. ‘Am I even allowed to do that?’

‘Well…it isn’t the usual way of doing things, it’s true,’ her eyes skirt sideways. ‘But it’s not totally unprecedented. The Guide states that if a White Walker is prevented by earnest affairs from receiving his or her target assignment, a proxy may be appointed to receive the scroll.’

‘What earnest affair is preventing you?’ fire rises in my gut, sizzling the words on my tongue. This business has been eating our entire lives for weeks. When will we have peace? Haven’t I laid enough at this altar?

‘I…I can’t tell you.’

I stare flatly. ‘You want me to pick up your scroll – which is not ever done – and you can’t tell me why?’

‘I’m so sorry Gia. I promise I’ll tell you when I can.’ Apology shimmers off her like a road throwing heat. It’s absolutely suffocating.

‘Alright. Fine, yes.’

‘Yes?’

‘Didn’t you hear, yes!’ I have to get out of here. I feel dangerous. My fingers curl and stretch of their own accord. ‘Tell me what I have to do.’

Then she does.

All of you out there doing writing projects – it ain’t easy, is it? [she says, wiping away beads of sweat].

But despite the bruising and the sweating and the nightly crises of self-doubt, I’ve kind of been enjoying my time off from involvement in a production. P and I are planning a trip to Harry Potter World in early December (HELLZ YEAH) and I’m headed to the beach next week (HELLZ YEAH²), where I plan to huddle on a mermaid-looking rock wrapped in a blanket guzzling my decaf and write. like. crazy. I’ve even been doing a little cooking at home (don’t look so shocked) and will share an easy recipe in time for T-gizzle.

And not to worry, the stage is in store for the near future. I’m all lined up for my next gig in February, playing Alice in the stage version of Closer. Yep, it’s the stripper part, which should surprise absolutely zero people considering my track record of playing prostitutes and other morally bankrupt characters (is it the red hair?).

alice

Alice is considerably closer to 20 than Janie is, so this holiday season I will be accepting gift cards for Juvederm and Botox. Kthanks bai.

At least this one has deep, deep layers. Mark your calendars for February 9 – 26!

Put on That Red Light

26 Oct

 

hire-me

Self-marketing. It kind of leaves a bad taste in the mouth, no? Yet as anyone who has ever interviewed for any job ever knows, you forego that skill at your own peril. This is especially true of any kind of artist, because you are your commodity. And if you don’t sell yourself, nobody’s going to do it for you.

Last week I happened to get an invitation to an online survey from my alma mater college of the arts. They wanted to know, among other things, how prepared was I for a career in the arts?

Well, let’s see.

Ability to problem solve and analyze? Check.

Thorough knowledge and practice of performance technique? Check.

Interpersonal skills that enable you to look people in the eye and make coherent and intelligent things come out of your mouth at the same time? Check and check (most days).

Self Marketing skills?

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Alas, other than a fuzzy working definition of “networking” that boiled down to a mental picture of well dressed, cocktail-holding people standing around name-dropping at one another, I really had no good understanding at age 22 of how to sell myself.

My post-grad certificate from the School of Hard Knocks has shored up my education considerably, but even so, I sometimes find myself in the thoroughly uncomfortable position of figuring out how to make one success translate into another.

After Unified auditions in March, I wrote thank you notes to the auditors, including a note about my upcoming projects. It took way too long to do it – I don’t mean the 6-7 lady-hours of doing handwritten notes, I mean the fact that I wasn’t getting around to it until June. True, the hot iron I ought to have been proverbially striking was closer to lukewarm, considering the heinous disaster that was my vocal audition, but still.

And then we come to today. Due to circumstances that have nothing to do with talent and working relationships and everything to do with schedules and the fact that I live in Atlanta where a ten-mile trip takes an hour and a half, I will not be doing the choreography project that I usually do in the winter time slot. It’s a bummer because I am so hard-core in love with the prospect of choreographing right now.

I have a generalized feeling that I should be hustling but am not really sure how to go about it. In the meantime, I’m starting a serious writing project this fall – more on that later – and I have an acting gig on the horizon and a possible directing gig later in the spring. In the meantime I’ll be picking up dance classes when I can.

So if you happen to know anyone who is looking for a good choreographer, send them my way. I’ll be the surly-looking chick at Chocolatte who just spilled decaf on her laptop wearing this tag.

 

So what do you think – is self-promotion a dirty word? What have you done to sell yourself lately?

Peel me an Onion – The Brave New World of Directing

27 Jul

Tomorrow begins the last weekend of Onion Man Production’s July Lakeside plays, the second of three 10-minute play festivals produced in their new space in Chamblee. I’m especially connected to this set though, because it was my first foray into directing.

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Don’t have the production photos yet – so enjoy this shot I snuck during dress rehearsal.

You really can’t ask for a better way to get your feet wet on anything new in theatre than a short play. The elements of the set were already in place as prescribed by the parameters of play submission, so I really go to focus on coaching the acting. I was also lucky to get a very well written piece by Arika Larson – a family drama with the unlikely name of “SodaPop.”

I couldn’t be more proud of the actors in my show, Jerry Jobe and Crystal Robertson. With things like new work showcases, so much depends on who you get for auditions. I ended up with two folks who are crazy-talented, super easy to work with, and can take direction like nobody’s business. Which is good because half the time I didn’t know what I was trying to say (and the other half of the time I was probably saying it annoyingly).

I’m very happy with the way it turned out, and it’s been an audience favorite every night (which is saying a lot for a heavy drama dealing with dead pets and missing children). If you’re in the Atlanta area, do yourself a favor and come see the show. These guys deserve a good audience and you deserve a good time. Thursday – Saturday at 7:30, Sunday at 3:00, tickets at onionmanproductions.com. Tell them I sent you for the industry discount!

And now for something entirely different – in the August set of Lakeside Plays, I’ll be directing a show about a man and a talking fish. So that should be fun.

See you at the lake!

 

Stay Classy: Three Performance Courses to Take in Atlanta

1 Jun

The serious professional in any industry knows the importance of continuing education, and artists are no exception. But after an entire college education in theatre performance, in everything from storytelling to Shakespeare to sketch (not to mention dance from kindergarten), you can get a little over going to class. For a considerable amount of time, I rested on my educational laurels, relegating my training to the school of hard knocks that performing in real time affords (which let me tell you – are neither small nor few).

But earlier this year it struck me that after *cough* years out of college, it might be time to brush off the books. I had just finished a writing project and a large production, and had only a small choreography project going for the winter. So when my friend M asked if I wanted to join her in an acting class, the time seemed ripe. After that I was having so much fun I didn’t want to stop.

So for any of you who may have a gap in your schedule and are looking for something to sharpen the tools in your box, check out my review of the following classes around town.

The Alliance Theatre Education Program

The Skinny: Befitting the regional mecca of theatre that it is, the Alliance offers the most comprehensive set of classes, serving all levels and all ages.  They’re also probably the most traditional. For adults, classes are offered in three levels: beginner, intermediate, and advanced. I took the intermediate class, which at four weeks is the shortest and least expensive course. Each level covers slightly different material; intermediate level is a scene study.

Who to expect: People from related industries with limited acting training. Business people who want to break out their shell. People who Googled “become an actor” last week.

What to expect: There are several instructors employed in this program, all qualified and experienced. The instruction is more or less from the classic Stanislavsky-Chekovian school. There is a small formal lecture component so bring a notebook and pencil (or a camera to snap the whiteboard). You will do some actor-y warmups – nothing too off-the-wall, but it involves yoga so don’t wear a skirt. The course will be spent applying the lecture concepts to a short two-person scene from a classic stage work (ours was Glass Menagerie, and yep, you have to memorize it). Be prepared to find a new scene partner after your original one ghosts the class (adaptability! it’s a skill).

My favorite part: Although I’d already covered most of the ground with my degree, there was one neat technique we learned in the very last class that involved using physical hot spots in the body to reflect various emotional centers (head, heart, and groin). It’s a handy shortcut for when you get the nebulous “can you try it another way?” in an audition. As dancers M and I could really get down with the kinetic aspect.

Tip: Take the free intro workshop first – not only will it give you a sense of whether this is what you’re looking for, but you’ll also get a discount code to use when signing up for a full course. Details and info.

Meisner Foundation at Pinch n’ Ouch

The Skinny: Pinch n’ Ouch, named after a core concept of the Meisner technique, is a tiny professional theatre that presents edgy contemporary works. The Artistic Director, Grant McGowen has fingers in multiple pies including video production and headshot photography – and of course, teaching. Meisner was a school of acting I’d heard of but never studied, so when Grant suggested I audit during our headshot sesh in January I was all about it.  PNO offers other classes in film acting and scene study but the Foundations class is a required prerequisite unless you’re already a working Meisner actor.

Who to expect: Film actors who want to get into stage, stage actors who want to get into film, people who have met Grant personally through other avenues (the dude’s guerilla marketing strategy is on point).

What to expect: Bring a pencil and paper here too, but only to capture tidbits from Grant’s non-linear notes given after chunks of activity. You’ll spend the first several classes of the 12-week program working on variations of one single exercise – the basis (foundation? ha) for more advanced work. The commitment is pretty extensive – the class itself is three hours long, and you’ll be asked to get together with classmates outside of class time for 2-3 hours of practice. Many actors don’t care for the Meisner technique, and PNO isn’t the only shop in town offering it, so you’ll hear mixed reviews. Personally I found it helpful and interesting, and also very challenging. If nothing else, it’s another tool to have in your kit.

What I love: The Meisner technique is excellent for the overly analytical actor (hello, Stanislavsky training) because it’s all about getting out of your own head and focusing on pure reaction to a partner. (By the same token, if you’re more of the instinctual actor you might benefit more from Chekhov). You don’t even use written material. I also love that the PNO circle is very cozy, but not in an exclusive way. You’ll be welcomed in to this little community with open arms.

Tip: Even though the time commitment is huge, don’t let it scare you off. Grant knows many of his students are working professionals and allows you to make up missed classes in other sessions. Details and info.

Listen Up! Audio Narration

The Skinny: If you’re looking for something a little bit different (and a lot less emphasizing on physical type or ability), you could do a lot worse than this series on audiobook narration. Audiobooks are a huge market right now, and we have a little share of that pie right here in Atlanta.

What to Expect: The class is half lecture half experiential, and the small class size affords ample time to practice and ask questions. Bring a mobile device to read your practice sides. You will go on-mic and read a short piece, but try to get past the actual sound of your voice – it’s totally not the point. The focus is all about giving life to the story – acting through the voice. You’ll be learning what makes people late for work sitting in their car listening to a book.

What I Love: I’ve been wanting to get into audiobook narration since I first visited a studio during a Maymester in NYC my senior year. I’m good at cold reading (my primary audition skill), I have an acting and storytelling background, and I love books. As I found out during class, there’s more to it than that, but in a way…there’s also not. You don’t even need to be an actor or have an NPR-worthy voice to be a good narrator. My mom, who has never performed a day in her life, even came with me to the last class and knocked it out of the park! (Guess where my reading and storytelling skrills came from?).

Tip: This set of courses can be taken a la carte but there’s a small discount for purchasing all four as a package. If you don’t take all four, there is still a discount code available for signing up for the next in the series. Also good to note: these classes are NOT offered on a consistent and regular basis – it’s up to the discretion and schedule of the instructors – so if you see the class come up, jump on it quick!  Details and info. 

In addition to these, I also picked back up on voice lessons where my vocal therapist left off. I’m fortunate to be working with the fabulous and lovable Lyn Taylor. Lyn has done considerable work with youth and schools, which means her teaching style is right up my alley – broken down into small chunks and explained in five different ways with vivid imagery and a heaping helping of encouragement. But make no mistake, this lady really knows her stuff, and is super organized too boot (think lesson plans and recorded warmups). Vocal coaching is a very personal thing, depending on your needs and your level, but in general I recommend finding someone who can a) play the piano well, and b) has a good ear. Because those two things are nearly impossible to do for yourself when you’re training your voice. Everything else really just depends. I’m well on my way to getting my voice whipped back into shape, hopefully in time for some fall auditions! Lyn doesn’t have a website, but if you want to know more email me at cushioncut at gmail dot com.

Taking class is a great way to experiment; to get out of your comfort zone without the high stakes a tight timelines of an actual performance. It gives you rooms to stretch your legs, both figuratively, and in the case of dance classes, literally. Things are picking back up for the summer (choreography rehearsals for my next project, Dirty Rotten Scoundrels at OnStage Atlanta, started this week!) so alas, I may not get another golden opportunity to indulge for a while. But if you have the time (and the funds,  WAH for all time) do yourself a favor and get in a course or two, or at least a workshop. You won’t regret it!

Keep it classy, friends.

I’m Doing My Best

26 Aug

A couple weeks ago I was asked to speak at Sunday Assembly* in a segment called I’m Doing My Best. That’s a short life anecdote given by a member that relates to the subject at hand–in church we might call it a testimony. Each month’s assembly has a different theme and August’s was Gender and Performance. Somebody got wind of the fact that I’m into theatre I guess, because I was asked to share this month. Scary!

*Sunday Assembly is, in their own words, “a life-celebrating congregation without deity, dogma, or doctrine.” Yes, in other words, Atheist Church. Along with the very cool folks that attend, what I like about Sunday Assembly is: 1) it’s Sunday night, not Sunday morning and 2) it’s only once a month. If you think it’s weird that I work at preacher school (where I occasionally participate in chapel services) and then sometimes attend godless church…well, yes and no. My personal spirituality could best be summed up as “I’m not ruling anything out at this point.” But that’s another subject for another time.

Anyway, I thought I’d share my speech with you guys. As a bonus for the “reader version,” I’ve added a few extra endnotes for your interest and edification. My thesis for this piece was inspired by this article I read recently, which put words to something I’d been feeling for a long time but hadn’t yet been able to articulate. It turned out a little more like a graduation speech than perhaps I intended, but I hope at least a few people will find the essential message resonates with them, as it did with me.

* * *

I’m not sure if you know this, but in theatre you face a lot of rejection.

Of course, most people will face rejection of some kind in their professional and personal lives, but in few other lines of work can it be so constant and at times so utterly arbitrary. For example, they like you, but…you’re too old for the precast lead. Or you remind the director of their ex. Or you’re too short for the costume.*

*yes, this actually happened to me–I almost got to be in the chorus of Beauty & the Beast at the Fox but you had to be at least 5’3″ to fit the dancing plate costume, FML.

You have to develop a bit of scar tissue to keep bouncing back, time after time when somebody tells you you’re not good enough.

But what’s even more insidious is the rejection that comes from within—the way so many actors—and so many of the rest of us, I’d wager—diminish our own accomplishments.

I got bitten by the theatre bug at an early age. In 5th grade I managed to convince my teacher to let me leave class every day for a week with my friends to write, direct, and (obviously) star in an original work. It’s a little fuzzy now but it involved princesses and a magical quick change into one of my old ballet costumes.

It was really good.

Anyone who knew me as a child would tell you what an incredible burst of passion it must have taken to motivate me to propose this scheme to a grown-up, let alone open myself up to the critique of my entire class. Just the year previous I had broken down in the middle of singing The Last Unicorn during the talent show because my friend was “looking at me weird.” I wasn’t really your most outgoing kid. Not a natural leader.

But whenever I tell people about this episode in my life, I’m quick to qualify it. You know–in a small school they let you get away with anything.*

*Not untrue. Hollatcha Clairemont Elementary. 

Fast forward several years. My parents were supportive of all my performances in middle and high school, but they weren’t so thrilled by my decision to major in it.* It was also around this time that I got my first significant rejection—my audition based application for a theatre scholarship was turned down. I still can’t hear the song I chose for my dance piece** with cringing a little.

*The technical name of my degree is actually Theatre & Performance Studies. The episode referenced here happened at Berry College where I attended for two years as a theatre major/psych minor before transferring to Kennesaw State to finish up. Fun fact: I transferred partly for money and culture reasons, but mostly for boy reasons. The relationship didn’t last but I’m still #winning because KSU is now recognized as one of the top schools in the nation for theatre degrees. Go Owls! (Berry has an excellent theatre program too; their shows were more professional than some actual professional houses.)

**”We Love to Boogie” from the Billy Elliot soundtrack. I wasn’t adept at choreography yet. Lots of head isolations were involved. 

But for whatever reason, I stayed a theatre major. I didn’t get cast in the first play of the season*, but I did get cast in the second.** And I regularly got cast in shows for the rest of my college career. They even awarded me that scholarship the second semester—thankfully I didn’t have to audition the second time.

*Translations by Brian Friel. It was down to me and another freshman for the part. That girl (who also later transferred to KSU) was a truly extraordinary actress by any standards, and led me to fret that college would be like high school, with the same girl getting cast in every single lead year after year (she was really good too and is actually sort of famous now, but still–this is an educational environment we’re talking about). Thankfully Berry, unlike Decatur High School, didn’t chose their seasons around their stars.

**The Learned Ladies by Moliere. I had a freakin’ awesome wig. 

Eventually I graduated and the minute I got my degree in hand, my dad said, Alright! Let’s see you start putting that thing to work! And cut me off.* I got lucky and was hired almost immediately as a dance teacher and within a year or so, I became a program coordinator and designed a dance curriculum that was still in place after I left that company.

But that was really only a part time job, and I was barely making rent.  It was just a kids’ school anyway.

*Yes, I realize how entitled this is. And I wasn’t even entirely cut off– I was still on my parent’s health and car insurance plans for a few more years. But for someone who had never supported herself, and who at that point hadn’t been taught any but the most rudimentary fiscal wisdom, it was a shock that cannot be denied.

Around that time I made two life decisions: that I would not pursue acting as a full-time profession and I would never marry another actor.

One of those resolutions I kept.

But even though the lifestyle of a full-time professional performer wasn’t for me, I didn’t regret my major for a second—not even when justifying it for the 80th time in a “real world” job interview. I kept with it on a part time basis as I slowly made my way into the field I’m in now, which is flexible enough to where I get to moonlight as an actor, dancer, and choreographer without having to worry about whether I’ll be able to afford air conditioning in August.  I’ve had a pretty decent amount of success—for a non-professional—and then…I had a baby. After my baby-induced hiatus I tried to return to acting. I went to about a dozen auditions without even a callback. I nearly quit acting, but my husband convinced me to go to one more call and I got cast.* After that, things started picking up and now I have a full time day job, a family, and a pretty awesome hobby to talk about at parties. I even have a blog [hi guys!].

*In Cabaret, as a Kit Kat girl. The fact that I wore underwear on stage within a year of given birth is a feat in and of itself.

In some ways, I have more time to devote to creativity now than when I pursued it professionally—Case in point, I wrote a play last year—I’d never written a play before in my life (unless you count the one from 5th grade), and, it got selected to be produced in a new works festival. But eh, it was only a ten minute play.

Does anybody else do this? Achieve something, only to disparage their own achievement? Get excited about something and then feel the need to sort of downplay it?

Theatre is weird. You have to promote yourself relentlessly as if you were a business entity, not a person. At the same time, it behooves you to be friendly and personable—the guy everybody wants to work with. There are some jerks in the biz–that’s a stereotype with truth to back it up. But you’ll also make some of the best friends you’ve ever made in your life – only to turn around and compete with them for the same work.  With these kind of contradictions it’s really a miracle that anyone besides sociopaths stick with it—although you might meet a few of those too.  But those of us who are not egomaniacal have a tendency to downplay our glory. After all, we don’t want to make our best friends feel bad. We don’t want to be That Asshole.

At the performing arts camp where I met my husband we had a talent night, and one of the other counselors sang a soulful rendition of Fever by Peggy Lee. When I complimented her afterward she said “yeah, that’s the one song I can actually sing.”  She was being kindly self-deprecating, but I was truly kind of floored. Did she really think she was a bad singer? But the crazy thing is, I do that kind of thing myself all the time.

The arts are a hyper competitive environment under the best of circumstances and you can’t help but measure yourself again and again and again against what other people are doing. Doubt and self-sabotage are the Ebola of the creative professions—contagious and deadly. And complaining is practically a team sport.

But, ask any actor why they submit themselves to this continual self-flagellation and you’ll hear the same thing: we do it because we love it. It brings us joy.

I’m talking about theatre but everybody has these moments in their life that spark joy and fulfillment. Whether it’s starting a new business venture or starting a new relationship. And isn’t it strange how sometimes it’s actually easier to dampen that bright little spark than to fan it into a flame?

The truth is, there’s a lot that’s difficult and dark about doing something you love. We accept that as part of anything worth doing. But that’s why it’s even more important to stop throwing shade on the silver linings. They’re rare enough as it is.

It’s important for our own sanity, but it’s also beneficial to others. As Marianne Williamson said, “It is our light, not our darkness, that most frightens us. Your playing small doesn’t serve the world. As we let our own light shine, we give others permission to do the same.”

So let me ask you this. Can you imagine if I told you everything I’ve just told you about my theatrical life…without the qualifiers?

So instead of saying, I’m an administrative assistant and I sometimes do theatre, what about…

I am an actor.

I wrote and produced a play when I was ten years old and performed it in front of my entire class.

I went to school on a theatre scholarship and graduated with honors.

I designed a dance program from scratch at age 23.

I’ve done shows all over town and gotten to play some amazing parts.

I have a blog that got Freshly Pressed within its first month.

My first play was accepted at a festival and was an audience favorite.

And how about a new one: I just finished the draft of a new play last week.

Both of these stories are mine. Which one is more compelling?

I like to tell my son I’ll never run out of kisses because for every kiss I give away, a hundred more pop up in its place. I’m doing my best to believe that joy, like kisses, is not a limited resource. There’s room for everyone at the table, and by letting ourselves really shine, we become a light by which others might see the path to join us there.

 

Why good actors should do youth theatre

17 Aug

 

 

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Naval gazing on the set of The Hundred Dresses.

Earlier this summer I had the opportunity to perform in a stage version of a well-known children’s classic, The Hundred Dresses. Most of the other roles are played by children. Technically and practically, this relegates the production to “Children’s Theatre” or “Theatre for Youth;” this particular company used the term Family Show*.

*For the purposes of this post, I use all these terms to mean shows with children as either audiences or actors.

I recently read an interesting, if academic, essay on HowlRound that argues for abolishing the division between “grown-up” and “kids” shows (if you read it, read the comments section too). I can get behind that theoretically but in practical real-world terms, I think most audiences appreciate the distinction, especially if they are bringing children viewers. But one particular phrase in the intro stuck out:

[Simone] examines how we might include children, as audience and artists, without the deadening label “children’s theatre.”

Deadening label indeed. It got me thinking about the subject from an adult actor’s perspective.

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The book version of The Hundred Dresses was written in the 1940s, and although it’s still popular with teachers I had never heard of it. The director, who I know from previous projects, asked me to come in and read for the part of the mother. At first I was shocked I was reading for mother roles. And then I was shocked that I was shocked–I mean, duh, I am a mother.

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Mom Face.

But anyway, had I seen the audition notice for the piece it’s not likely I would have come out. Being unfamiliar with the show is part of it, but the larger part would definitely have been the family tag.

But then I thought, why?

Of course many would say that it’s not worth it to do unpaid children’s theatre. I don’t think that’s the real issue. Many Atlanta actors both professional and non-professional attend Unified Auditions* It’s not uncommon to hear an actor complain after Unifieds that they only got callbacks from theme parks and kids theatres. These places pay. So there’s more to it than that.

* If you’re not an Atlantan, or an actor: Unifieds are a yearly general audition, aka cattle call, attended by many local and regional companies. Most are hoping for an audition invite from one of the big companies as most cast their seasons exclusively from Unifieds or personal recommendations.

I won’t attempt to explain this phenomenon–maybe it has to do with memories of our own youth theatre experiences (although I would argue that the majority of those are positive…why the hell else would you still be doing it as an adult otherwise?), or maybe it’s because daytime shows are par for the course in youth theatre, and day performing feels like a lower step on the totem pole (but then how do you explain the celebrities that clamor to do Shakespeare in the Park every summer?). Or maybe it’s simply that more kids=more noise. Whatever. I just want to point it out so I can refute it.

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I think most people–including actors–would argue that we have a responsibility to the next generation. And you’d be hard pressed to find anyone in showbiz who doesn’t think arts education is important. My question, frankly, is how do you think arts education comes about? It doesn’t exist in a vacuum. We don’t put little kids in a machine that spits out professional actors on the other end.

Yes, there’s theatre in schools (well, sometimes), and there’s acting classes for kids. But I would argue that live theatrical productions (and to some extent film as well) touches many more young lives, either igniting the initial spark of inspiration or giving them the tools needed to actually practice the craft.

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Two young actors in Lionheart Theatre’s Production of The Hundred Dresses, July 2015

It’s true that mediocre family theatre is a common phenomenon. A lot of folks are afraid of a potential black hole on their resume into which three months of a lackluster children’s production was sucked. When this happens (and I think it’s rarer than we imagine), I suspect it can be entirely chalked up to inexperience.

The vicious cycles goes: more experienced adult actors don’t audition for family shows because of the bad rap they have, and without experienced adults the kids don’t have a good support system, so you end up with mediocre performances. The same holds true for the rest of the production team–a lot of people experienced in one aspect of theatre cut their teeth on new roles (stage managing, directing, technical design, even writing) in youth theatre settings. I guess the argument is, it doesn’t matter because everyone’s parents are going to love the show regardless. Sometimes you get just a few too many newbies trying to juggle all the balls, and a few get dropped.

That’s all the more reason for professional theatre artists of all ilks to throw their shoulder into the work of producing quality children’s shows. The inexperience should be concentrated in one aspect of the production only–meaning if the kids are new to the stage, the director, technical crew, stage manager should not be at their first rodeo. And it’s very important to have experienced adult actors lay a foundation of support. There will be a little more hand-holding, yes. A little more chaos, definitely. But I think it’s 100% worth it when you think of it as an investment in the future of theatre.

And at the very least, it’s a low pressure situation–everyone’s parents are going to love the show regardless.

Everything is Awesome

29 May

Happy Friday!

As if the three-week run of temps in the mid-80s wasn’t enough of an indication, Memorial Day’s passing means summer–season of warm nights and mosquito bites–is officially here!

The beginning of summer is my absolute most favoritist time of year. It’s time for picnics and outdoor movies when it’s nice, puddle hopping and reading when it’s not (which is basically every other day here. Since when is Atlanta the tropics?). It’s the time to grab that iced coffee, roll the windows down, and crank up the tunes. I hope summer 2k15’s playlist lives up to the bar set by last summer’s. I’m grooving on this track right now.

 

It feels like everything good and exciting is just ahead of you. For me that includes not one, but two beach trips. (Look for a post about emergency bikini-readiness in the near future!)

But a lot of good stuff is right here, right now. Here’s what I’m grooving on this month.

Venus Swirl

If you’re me, you’re wondering why you can spend 50% of your shower attempting to shave your knees and still see those light fluffy hairs the second you hit a patch of sunlight. Lo and behold, somebody finally took the technology that dudes use to hug chin stubble and made it into a lady razor. If you’ve heard of this and are wondering if it actually works? It does.

There’s now a baby-smooth place on the hollow of my ankle that probably hadn’t been graced with a blade in like, four months. Imagine that if you will. The only downside is you’ll have to get a second job to afford the refill cartridges, but hey. Beauty is pain.

Sally Hansen Complete Salon Manicure Topcoat

After trying about 42 brands of top coat (many of which were high end) trying to get a “gellish” effect, I got this one in a Hail Mary pass at Target. It’s a miracle! Check this out.

The blobs you see are from crappy cuticles and lack of skill.

The blobs you see are from crappy cuticles and lack of skill, not chipping.

This is day five of this manicure. On my right hand. And I type all day, do the dishes, and have a very deep purse to dig in.

One caveat is that it takes a bit of time to dry completely. So don’t do it an hour before bed or you’ll get sheet prints.

Turn, Turn, Turn

Fact, we’re living in a new golden age of TV. I’m always looking for new favorite shows to watch, especially a little off the beaten path. But if you’re part of a couple you know that you don’t always have the same favorites. P and I both got into this AMC show hard.

I’d never even heard of it, but Netflix’s scary accurate algorithm predicted I’d five-star like it, and I five-star did. (How did it know I am a Revolutionary War era nerd when most of what we Netflix is Wild Kratts and Daniel Tiger? I’ll sure as hell never know.) We actually finished the available episodes weeks ago, and I still keep wishing I could watch it.

Mic Drop

BBC is making a TV drama about the Bronte Sisters.

Mic Drop Again

Colin Firth is playing Professor Higgins in My Fair Lady on Broadway.

Another openin’ of a Another Show

You may recall that a short play I wrote was accepted and produced in an original works festival called Onion Man Summer Harvest last year. This year I’m performing in that festival. P directed me in this short. We did not kill each other, even though he made me do improv (revenge for my making him help demonstrate choreo for Hairspray). The one I’m in is called Amber Light and it was written by one of the actors who performed in the play I wrote last year. This year she’s playing a character in a totally different play whose name happens to be Amber. How cool is that?

My scene partner J is rad-a-ma-tazz. Ours is one of only two heavy pieces in the showcase, so of course we can’t take a normal backstage photo.

That photobomb hand belongs to the playwright. We kept saying we were going to crop her out until we realized: she probably should’ve legit been in the pic HA.

Alas, it’s hard to get support for new work in this city of perennial Steel Magnolias and Legally Blonde revivals. If you’re in the area, I’m officially inviting you–it runs through June 7. Tickets are cheap as heck and available here and at the door.

So many good books

I’m pretty much living 80% of my life in other worlds right now. Look for a book review post coming soon!

Sketchy

As soon as I get done with Harvest Fest I’m diving into another show called The Hundred Dresses. This will mark the first time I’m officially playing a mother on stage. It’s a mainstage production, not a junior show, yet I’m one of only three adult actors—the rest are fifth graders. But these are talented fifth graders so it’s OK. One of my dear castmates from Blythe Spirit is doing the costumes. But the super-cool thing is that my super-artistic mom will be featured strongly in this show. I don’t want to give too much away, but she’s finally getting to almost fulfill her childhood dream of being a fashion illustrator and costume designer. I’m basically more excited for her than for myself.

Dress collage

Sunscreen Smackdown

Consumer Reports just came out with the results of its 2015 sunscreen test. So did the Environmental Working Group.

And they are totally at odds with each other.

Both of them say that the majority of sunscreens don’t actually do what they say they do, but they completely disagree on which is which (No-Ad made the top 3 for CR, while I’m pretty sure the folks at EWG would sooner eat No-Ad than put it on their skin). Am I the only one that find this kind of thing hilarious?

EWG says spray sunscreens will keel you and yer chilren, while not one, not two, but five of the sunscreens that passed the CR test are–you guessed it–sprays.

The root of the problem is that EWG says that mineral (aka natural) sunscreens are the safest, while CR maintains that–well–they don’t actually protect you from the sun.

The end result is that for another year, we’re left to stand in the sunscreen aisle utterly flummoxed about what’s best again, and probably end up not using it right again, and getting melanoma again (wait–what?).

The only sunscreen the two managed to agree on is….guess.

Freakin’ Coppertone Water Babies. That’s right, the same crap that made that gritty, stingy reapplication at the beach hell on earth for us as tots.

…And one huge let down

I tried Bulletproof Coffee just for the heck of it. It’s a thing. It’s a gross thing though. I just used the knife I’d buttered my toast with to stir my coffee–so I guess maybe I didn’t really do it right? It just made my teeth feel scummy all day though. Do not want.

What are you into this May?