How Cross Country Changed My Life

How Cross Country Changed My Life

I played football my first year of high school. I was 5’8″, 125 pounds. I had one catch for seven yards, an interception, and a permanent pit of fear in my stomach I’d receive the kick off and get bent into a pretzel during the return. The daily bullying during practice from two team members didn’t improve my outlook. I soon realized football wasn’t my calling.

During the summer between my first year and sophomore year, I told my father I wanted to play golf. He said, “You’re running cross country.” His house, his rules. I joined the cross country team.

My first day of cross country practice, I wore my brand new Nikes. We did what we reverently referred to as a Zulu run. We ran a mile and a half to the Indian Boundary Forest Preserve. Then we were supposed to run three miles through the Forest Preserve and then two miles back to school. When we arrived, we saw heavy thunderstorms caused the North Branch of the Chicago River to overflow its banks. Undaunted, we walked the mile or so in thigh high water through the Forest Preserve and run back to school. I was hooked.

I ran cross country for the remaining three years of high school and all four years of college. I have several great memories from running cross country – winning conference individually my junior year of high school, finishing eighth as a team my sophomore year in high school, finishing seventh in the state my senior year of high school. And while I spent most of my collegiate running career addressing injuries, it still deeply affected my life.

To give anything less than your best is to sacrifice the gift.

Here’s how cross country changed my life:

Goal setting

Each year, we set goals to kick off the year, both individual and team. That’s the beauty of cross country – you’re competing individually and as a team. And you spend each week training to achieve your goals.

Mental toughness

Your mind wants to protect you. It will tell you to slow down or stop. There’s no shortage of stop signs – muscle cramps, muscle soreness, stress fractures, side stitches, shin splints, etc. Over time, you learn to push your body and understand and surpass its perceived limits.

Training

There’s only one way to progress. Run farther. Run faster. Run farther faster. Each day, practice is different and designed to increase your ability to run farther faster – base miles (building your mileage), tempo runs (steady pace), fartleks (speed up and slow down), intervals (speed work). Take a day off training and you suffer the next day.

Lifestyle

I like being in shape. After I graduated college, I packed on a bunch of weight because I was eating the same and not running. Two years ago, I started working out religiously again because I wanted to get back into shape. When I’m stressed, I go for a walk. I try to walk at least six times a week. I see the benefit. I feel the benefit.

The people

Perhaps the greatest benefit of running cross country was the people I met along the way. Runners, like artists, tend to be a different breed. They run because they love running, not necessarily for accolades. There’s a community – they cheer the last runner as much as, if not more than, the first. There’s a sense of running into battle together.

Interestingly enough, running cross country and acting have similarities. We have our individual goals – I have my personal objective and tactics in our scene – but we’re operating as a team – actors, director, DP, lighting, sound, etc. We’re working together to tell the story. It requires ongoing, specific training – improvisation, script analysis, cold reading, on-camera techniques, audition, etc. It requires stamina. And I’ve met some really great people along the way. I love running. I love acting. Let’s run together.

 

2017: Year in Review

2017: Year in Review

2017 was a bumpy year personally and professionally, but I learned a ton and I’m excited to use my skills to climb another rung on the professional acting ladder in 2018. Here’s a recap:

LEESA

After three months of waking up completely drained, I decided to buy a new bed. I bought a LEESA and I’m glad I did. For those of you considering whether or not a bed in a box is for you, I can tell you I’m getting deep sleep (lot of vivid dreams) and the LEESA sleeps cooler than a traditional mattress. It’s the one change I’ve made this year that is having the greatest effect on my life.

Therapy

I spent time processing why I do what I do with a therapist. A couple big takeaways: First, I can only control how I respond to situations. Second, I can’t project expectations on others and get disappointed when they don’t meet those expectations, especially when those expectations were never communicated. Third, I’m learning to set better boundaries. Boundaries, in particular, have been especially helpful in reducing stress and focusing my time and energy on projects that will enrich and excite me. Fourth, I’m listening to my body and doing more self-care. And I learned a lot about myself, which, considering my body is my instrument for acting, has been extremely helpful in learning more about my personal process.

Advanced AlderImprov

I’ve been studying improvisational acting at AdlerImprov Acting Studio for four years now and it’s transformed my acting. I feel more present and connected with my partner, more comfortable in chaos, and more spontaneous and creative. In the last six months, in particular, I’ve gotten exceptionally good at following a focus and letting it lead me instead of manufacturing or inventing. Ric Murphy, who currently teaches the class on Sunday, has been teaching acting for 40 years and helped create the professional actor program at DePaul University’s Theater School. He has taught some fantastic actors, including John C. Reilly, Judy Greer, Gillian Anderson. Under his and Rob Adler‘s tutelage, I’ve grown quite a bit and am very excited to use my sharpened tools in the New Year.

AdlerImprov Youth Summer Intensive

I co-taught the AdlerImprov Youth Summer Intensive with Amie Farrell. Amie’s a great teacher, coach, and actor, so it was an honor to work with her. I learned a ton about teaching, acting, and directing. First, “kids” have tremendous imaginations and they’ll surprise you with their creativity. Second, I realized how many choices are available in a script after sitting in the director’s chair. Third, I learned what it’s like to collaborate and how to use an actor’s inspiration to feed other takes. Teach if you can. It’s a highly rewarding experience.

Headshots

After three years of using the same headshots, I needed new ones. I worked with Sage Kirkpatrick at Fresh Look Photography and was extremely pleased with the results.

Commercial Representation

I am now represented by Stewart Talent Los Angeles. Stewart was founded in Chicago and opened up it’s LA office three years ago. I’m grateful to work with them and hope they’ll take me on theatrically.

Remi

I shot a short with my good friend Jason Markoff. Jason and I worked together on Platoon of Power Squadron episode 7 in Chicago and a series of plays last summer in LA.

The Groundlings

I wanted to get back into an improv comedy class and my commercial agent suggested casting directors are always looking for Groundlings or UCB on the resume, so I enrolled in Groundlings Basic. It wasn’t for me. I felt like it was too heady – start with a 10++ emotion, and activity, and get out the who, what, where in the first three lines of dialogue. I’m an Annoyance guy. If you’ve read Mick Napier’s book, Improvise: Scene from the Inside Out, the Annoyance doesn’t believe the “rules of improv” make a good scene. It takes a different approach, one that I prefer.

Alexander Technique

A couple years ago, a casting director suggested I’d benefit from The Alexander Technique. This year, I explored it for 10 weeks and I’d highly recommend it.

The goal of the technique is to “to develop the ability to avoid unnecessary muscular tension by retraining physical movement reactions.” In layman’s terms – break body habits/tension to improve overall body efficiency. I feel like I benefited in a couple different ways:

I carry myself with more confidence and presence.

I felt my wind pipe open, which means I’m using my voice more effectively and breathing more comfortably.

I learned some simple tips and tricks to use to prepare for auditions.

I’m more efficient. I brush my teeth different. I wash my dishes differently. I walk more efficiently.

AFI Directors & Meisner

Rob Spera puts his AFI directing students through a five-week Meisner crash course to encourage them to write more personal scripts and find their creative voice. To kickstart the crash course, Rob brings in a handful of Meisner trained actors to help with the repetition, emotional preparation and activities. This is the third year in a row I’ve participated in this initiative.

Pilot Season Prep

I took AdlerImprov Acting Studio’s Pilot Season Prep class with veteran working actors Amie Farrell and Brian Kimmet. While I don’t do a ton of theatrical auditions at the moment, I know it’s a valuable skill I’ll need to have as I move to the next run of the ladder. I took the class last year and saw how. I feel more relaxed and composed in the audition itself. I’m making stronger choices based on what the script is telling me. And, most importantly, I’m putting less pressure on myself to “get it right.” The one big takeaway this year is if I’m in the ball park, I’ll get a second take and I can use that take to play even more.

All in all, this year was another solid year of growth and exploration into my creativity, spontaneity, and presence. And I’m better actor for it. Looking forward to applying all my tools in 2018!

RompHim Parody – HipDot

RompHim Parody – HipDot

My friend, Ashley, works for HipDot, which promotes shopping on its site through facebook live broadcasts. If you’ve been on facebook recently, you saw the kickstarter video for RompHim, a romper for men. Ashley suggested a parody to her bosses. They green lighted it. Here’s the result. Glad to play a part. I’ll add that women’s rompers are quite comfortable, although I’m not sure how to best navigate using the bathroom with them on, I got a nice spaghetti strap tan line on my shoulder, and I wish they were made of moisture wicking material. I’ll also add it was a blast too see support from both shop owners on Larchmont Ave (we’ll gladly take a picture with you) and the LAPD (thanks for snapping a pic as well).

 

Breaking the Seed

Breaking the Seed

Remember, seeds need to break and grow and push through a bunch of dirt before they can reach the sun and fully bloom.

-Amie Farrell

2017 has been a particularly testy year. Let me give you some backstory.

My side hustle is doing publicity for small and mid-size tech and business to business companies, their products, and their people. It’s a good gig. I get to control my own hours. I enjoy what I do. And I’m good at it. Instead of pursuing more clients last year though, I rolled the dice on my commercial career. The thought was, “All I need to do is book a commercial or two and I’ll be financially free.” Unfortunately, it doesn’t work that way sometimes. While I appreciate my optimism and naivete in retrospect, it came back to burn me. I ended up putting my taxes on my credit card. Not fun. On the plus side, I should get a nice bump in miles.

Normally, I don’t get wrapped up in the hoopla of Hollywood. I’m a pretty level headed, risk adverse person. But I did it anyway. And I don’t regret it. Well, that’s not entirely true. Being in debt creates stress and now I have to climb out my financial hole. It also puts a bit of a damper on my social calendar. The truth is though, you can’t play it safe and expect to make it here.

As I was chatting over my predicament with one of my acting teachers, Amie Farrell, she gave me a great piece of advice wrapped up in a nice analogy. “Remember, seeds need to break and grow and push through a bunch of dirt before they can reach the sun and fully bloom,” she said. Wow.

I’ve had the opportunity to shadow Amie in the AdlerImprov Acting Studio’s teen class. And she’s asked her teen students on more than one occasion – why are you an actor? Her goal is to remind her students of their artistry and to give them a sense of purpose, which will guide them in their careers, especially during those testy times when the industry is telling you no over and over again and you’re wondering if you should have taken the blue pill instead.

Speaking of purpose, during a recent scene study class, Amie invited each of us to take a line from The Invitation, a poem from Oriah Mountain Dreamer, and read it out loud, putting our own personal spin on them. There’s so many lines that resonate with me and reminded me why I sold my stuff, packed up my Corolla, and headed West 3.5 years ago. And the reminder came at a time when I needed it most.

Here’s the full poem. What lines resonate with you? What’s your purpose?

The Invitation – Oriah Mountain Dreamer

It doesn’t interest me what you do for a living.
I want to know what you ache for
and if you dare to dream of meeting your heart’s longing.

It doesn’t interest me how old you are.
I want to know if you will risk looking like a fool
for love
for your dream
for the adventure of being alive.

It doesn’t interest me what planets are squaring your moon…
I want to know if you have touched the centre of your own sorrow
if you have been opened by life’s betrayals
or have become shrivelled and closed
from fear of further pain.

I want to know if you can sit with pain
mine or your own
without moving to hide it
or fade it
or fix it.

I want to know if you can be with joy
mine or your own
if you can dance with wildness
and let the ecstasy fill you to the tips of your fingers and toes
without cautioning us
to be careful
to be realistic
to remember the limitations of being human.

It doesn’t interest me if the story you are telling me
is true.
I want to know if you can
disappoint another
to be true to yourself.
If you can bear the accusation of betrayal
and not betray your own soul.
If you can be faithless
and therefore trustworthy.

I want to know if you can see Beauty
even when it is not pretty
every day.
And if you can source your own life
from its presence.

I want to know if you can live with failure
yours and mine
and still stand at the edge of the lake
and shout to the silver of the full moon,
“Yes.”

It doesn’t interest me
to know where you live or how much money you have.
I want to know if you can get up
after the night of grief and despair
weary and bruised to the bone
and do what needs to be done
to feed the children.

It doesn’t interest me who you know
or how you came to be here.
I want to know if you will stand
in the centre of the fire
with me
and not shrink back.

It doesn’t interest me where or what or with whom
you have studied.
I want to know what sustains you
from the inside
when all else falls away.

I want to know if you can be alone
with yourself
and if you truly like the company you keep
in the empty moments.