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:
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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!
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).
Remember, seeds need to break and grow and push through a bunch of dirt before they can reach the sun and fully bloom.
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 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
I want to know if you can
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
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,
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
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
and if you truly like the company you keep
in the empty moments.
There’s gold (an acting career). It’s buried. You have a vague idea of where it is. And a vague idea of how to get there. But you have to run around a graveyard to find it. If you’re lucky, someone will throw you a shovel, but just when you think you’ve found it, there’s someone in the wings ready to take it from you. And even though people will tell you it’s in Arch Stanton’s grave, it’s probably in the unmarked grave next to it. Admittedly, that’s a bit of a dramatization, but it makes for a good story.
The one thing I’ve learned in my time in LA is that you can’t focus on the gold. You’ll run in proverbial circles while the pressure you put on yourself feels like a blazing hot sun beating down while the soundtrack of your life crescendos. I’ve also learned that your psyche can play games like the final duel: Do I pull the trigger? What if someone else to pulls the trigger first? Am I going to die? Another dramatization. The reality is this: you have to focus on the process and enjoy it, while building relationships with the people that will help you dig. If you get wrapped up in the ecstasy of gold, you’ll miss out on the journey along the way.
I grew a lot as an actor this year – more physical, playful, artistic, vocal and comfortable in chaos. I also made a big distinction toward the end of 2016 that really changed my perspective, and subsequently, my outlook for 2017: there’s a huge difference between struggling and being in the struggle. The latter includes acceptance, it’s active, and it’s empowering. Before I kick 2017’s ass, here’s a look back:
Pilot Season Prep
I took AdlerImprov Acting Studio‘s Pilot Season Prep class, taught by Rob Adler and Amie Ferrell, to kick off my 2016. By watching how other actors approached each week’s script, I realized there really is no right or wrong way. Instead, there’s your interpretation of the character and how you communicate the circumstances. There are certainly better, more active choices one can make that better serve the story, but relieving the pressure to “get it right” really changed my approach and, ultimately, freed me up to make more artistic choices.
A good friend from Chicago, Jason “The Dragon” Markoff, invited me to perform a Christopher Durang monologue in the middle of two one act plays he and another Harvard grad, Rushi Kota, were putting up to showcase their talents. Having enjoyed my experience working with Jason on episode 7 of Platoon of Power Squadron, I jumped at the chance to work with him again. I also played a cowboy in the second one act. Both characters required dramatically different physicality and vocal dynamics. I had so much fun bringing those characters to life. It reminded me why I started acting in the first place.
The second play was Bootleg Theater’s original work, The Stand-In, written by Pete Monro and Alicia Adams and directed by Ric Murphy. This was a tremendous opportunity and I’m extremely grateful I got to work with and watch some fantastic actors and see their process. I played three different characters, each with a different physicality. The beauty of Ric’s direction is that everything is measured by what it communicates to the audience. The choices aren’t necessarily good or bad, but rather communicate or don’t. Two examples in particular. As one character, I came out futzing with a belt. The action pulled my head upstage so the audience couldn’t see my face. A brief second, but it didn’t work. I scrapped it. The second was a regimented walk and turn as a soldier. A fairly standard choice. On closing night, Ric suggested I play with communicating the environment’s temperature (it was cold) rather than the regimented walk. The result – a blow of both hands to warm them up and a deep breath. A complete change of character and a heightened chilling affect on the scene.
Mike Stutz is a writer, director, actor and producer. He wrote and produced a short called Fat Lamb (directed by Rob Adler), which asked the question, “What if instead of ascending to heaven in a blaze of glory Jesus just sorta…stuck around?” In it, I played a suicide hotline operator. This was a hoot and the lines in the final cut were completely improvised.
Mistress Jane is a short written and directed by Roberto Roquer. It’s a story about a mistress who lets down her guard and falls in love with her sub. I play the sub. I’ll share the final cut with you when it’s available.
The same Mike Stutz mentioned above taught a six week writing class at AdlerImprov Acting Studio. The beauty of this writing class was that it was physical. All the writing takes place in the space, not in the head. You’re on your feet most of the time, letting distance, gesture, movement, and ultimately, your body, inform the writing.
iO West puts together a team of graduates to perform the Harold in a show called The Pool. Six weeks of rehearsal with a coach and four performances. Doug Sarine was our coach and often pushed us to keep it simple and emotionally vulnerable. And the group was extremely supportive and willing to take risks. What a great experience!
Commercial Technique Intensive
Amie Farrell is a commercial booking machine and she shared her tips and tricks with us over a weekend intensive at the AdlerImprov Acting Studio. The big takeaway from Amie’s class was camera awareness and environment, and using both to keep my face in the screen early and often.
Deb Barylski is an Emmy award winning casting director with monster comedy credits on her resume: Arrested Development, The Middle, Home Improvement, Just Shoot Me! This workshop offered insight on type and worked several scenes. Deb champions actors and pushes them to offer the best versions of themselves in auditions. She is specific with her feedback and generous with her time. Highly recommend taking her workshop if you have the opportunity. Unfortunately, she’s a St. Louis Cardinals fan, but I digress.
My previous commercial agent and I parted ways and I signed with DPM Talent just before the holidays. Daniel has been a commercial agent for almost two decades and tells it the way he sees it. He’s a no bullshit guy. Unfortunately, he’s a White Sox fan, but I digress. I’m looking forward to this partnership.
At the tail end of the year, I had the opportunity to work with 30 or so up and coming directors in the American Film Institute‘s directing program. The teacher, Rob Spera, an accomplished director, studied with Sanford Meisner and teaches the Meisner Technique to his students to help them craft deeper emotional stories and better understand the process actor’s go through to deliver their performances. He invites a handful of actors to demonstrate the technique and share their experiences with the students. I’ve participated in this program twice and loved every second of it. Special thanks to my friend and talented actor, Katie Adler, for sharing this opportunity with me.
I continued studying with with Rob Adler, Ric Murphy and Amie Ferrell at the AdlerImprov Acting Studio throughout 2016, taking the Sunday Advanced AdlerImprov and On Camera Scene Study classes. It is my artistic home and I continue to cherish the time I spend there and the work I create there. The space has enriched my work and the artists who work there continue to challenge, inspire and motivate me to achieve and do more.
At the end of 2015, I wasn’t in great physical shape and it affected me emotionally. I stopped working out for the last quarter of the year and, as a result, I was depressed. I felt sluggish. After stepping on the scale at my mom’s house for the holiday break, I knew I needed to make a change. Since then, I’ve worked out at least four times per week. I weigh about the same as I did last year, but it’s muscle. And as a result, I feel more vibrant.
I started seeing a therapist to figure out my blocks and the behavioral patterns holding me back. I’m an analytical person and I tend to focus on hypothetical outcomes, which ends up draining a lot of mental energy and creating a lot of unnecessary worry. I also tend to avoid. After two months, I’m already seeing the benefits. I started making more active choices. I started using my words. I talk to myself in a more positive, healthy way. And I’m less stressed. I look forward to reaping the fruits in 2017.
I took more breaks in 2016. I went for walks. I hiked. I napped. Taking a break freed me up to brainstorm and ponder. Naps recharged me. It’s easy to get caught up in the grind of LA and the idea that constant motion is necessary. That’s draining. And to quote a popular line in The Princess Bride, “Get some rest. If you haven’t got your health, you haven’t got anything.” In 2017, I want to chew my food literally and metaphorically by enjoying the world around me.
That was my 2016. I have aggressive plans for 2017. But I’ll share those in a different post. Wishing you continued success on your path and health and happiness in your life. Embrace the struggle.