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.
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.
Back in December, Hollywood Reporter compiled a guide of all the pilots each network was producing. Nearly 100, not including Netflix, Amazon, HULU, etc. Pilot Season is the reason many actors visit Hollywood for the first quarter of the year hoping to kickstart their career. That rhymed. Twice. Nice.
For the past six weeks, I’ve been taking the Pilot Season Prep class at AdlerImprov Acting Studio with Rob Adler and Amie Farrell. The class simulates a pilot season audition. Sides and scripts are sent the day before. You sign up for your audition slot when you arrive to the studio. You audition. You may or may not get a redirect, especially in the first couple classes. And then you head back out to the hallway. After everyone auditions, you head into the studio to watch each person’s audition. If you’re unaccustomed to watching yourself on screen, it can be a bit unnerving, but the camera doesn’t lie. What you see is what the casting director sees. It’s extremely useful.
Aside from tips and tricks Rob and Amie shared, this pilot season class taught me a lot about my audition process, including what works and what doesn’t. Things I learned:
- Small things make a big difference – a tilt of the head, a look away and back, body position, etc. all communicate something and can set you apart on the screen.
- What’s your role, both as a character and in telling the story?
- Who’s producing it, what have they produced in the past and what assumptions can you make as a result?
- Lesly’s Comedy Intensive paid off in spades with comedy scripts. By knowing the map of the scene, including builds and reversals, heightened emotions in multicam vs. single cam, and pace, etc., those auditions sang.
- The WHERE game Rob Adler teaches (among many other tools) makes staying present in the audition room much, much easier.
A couple weeks ago, Larry Bates came to the AdlerImprov Acting Studio to share some insight regarding his process. You may not know who he is, but my guess is that’s going to change because he has some very exciting projects in the works. One of the things he discussed was making choices in his auditions. He said he rarely reads the character breakdown first because he doesn’t want it to inform his initial choices. He goes through the script and figures out the story that needs to be told. Then he starts making his choices – the choices that tickle him or engage him. He shapes the space, figuring out what’s in the room so he’s comfortable when he walks into the audition. And then he might go back and review the breakdown. That’s particularly important insight because I think there’s a prevailing mindset among actors to give the producers and directors what you think they want vs. the best of you and your interpretation of the character.
That small piece of advice changed my approach. It reminded me of something Bryan Cranston said at the Oscars a couple years ago. He said your job as an actor is to create a compelling, interesting character that serves the text, present it in the audition environment and walk away. The rest is out of your hands.
Wise words. One of the tenants of Rob Adler’s teaching is you’re the artist. You get to decide which tools and colors you paint with on the canvas. Now I’m figuring out what tickles me and causes me to light up. I’m choosing MY colors and painting MY pictures. I’m making stronger, more playful choices for me. And the results are pretty damn awesome.
We had a guest casting director for the final class (Veronica Mars, Smallville, Switched at Birth) and she said my audition was callback worthy and could see me cast me in the role, depending on the look the directors and producers were looking for. She also discussed what goes on behind the scenes, what actors can and can’t control and, most importantly, how casting is rooting for us in the room. In other words, focus on process, not product. More wise words.
Aside from offering pilot season tips and tricks, Rob and Amie are very supportive and warm teachers. Highly recommend the class.
For pilot season tips, click here. For more information on AdlerImprov Acting Studio’s Pilot Season Prep class, contact Rob Adler.
I just completed Lesly Kahn’s December Intensive and it was…intense-ive.
For those of you that don’t know Lesly’s method, it’s “a simplified…way of breaking your scene down by focusing mostly on identifying subtext or what Lesly calls ‘thoughts’ behind what you’re saying based on what is going on in the scene, the relationship, and what is said before your lines (or if you have the first line creating a thought behind it).” Thanks Truthteller59 for the recap.
Here’s the catch with the method – you can respond with your subtext, which might be 100 percent honest and true, but it may not be what the script is actually asking the character to communicate. Unless you do the script analysis and specifically understand what the script requires you to do, you’re going to be off base.
That was the big takeaway for me. Sitcoms are extremely technical. You have to know where the script is leading you because 99 percent of the work is setting up the joke so you can surprise the audience. The other big takeaway was you have to raise the stakes. Big time stakes. Everything is important.
The best sitcoms feature actors that execute technically and the actors are organic – they listen and respond like human beings. That’s why Cheers, Scrubs, Seinfeld, Arrested Development, etc. were so good. It’s extremely well written AND the characters are operating moment to moment.
Some other key learnings:
- You have to know the words verbatim.
- You have to hit your cues.
- You have to get rid of the air (more often than not).
- You have to get ahead of the audience. As soon as they’re ahead of you, game over.
- Improv and sitcom comedy use the same tools (duh) – threes, breaking patterns, reversals, etc.
- Honor the punctuation. Like Shakespeare, the writers included commas, question marks, dashes, etc. for a reason. Follow the map.
If you’re end goal is to appear on sitcoms, I’d recommend Lesly’s Intensive. I learned a ton in a short amount of time.
A study of more than 2,000 people by Microsoft found that our average attention span is eight seconds, down significantly from previous research conducted in 2000 that found we have an attention span of 12 seconds. (For the record, the average goldfish is believed to have a nine-second attention span.)
“You Probably Don’t Have a Long Enough Attention Span to Read This,” Korin Miller, Yahoo News
I have a love hate-relationship with my iPhone. I love it because I’m connected. I hate it because I’m connected. There are days where I constantly check facebook, twitter, the news, and my productivity goes down the tube. Some days I feel like I’m moving from one task to the next and constantly running on a hamster wheel. I’m aching for a vacation.
Zooming out, I think about what that means in terms of acting. Eight second attention span. The energy required to memorize lines, deliver them with intent and connect with your scene partner (or the people behind the lens in commercials) is immense. Are we making our job more difficult because we’re chained to our phones?
A couple weeks ago, we spent our AdlerImprov class in Griffith Park.
The final exercise was to leave a central point and explore the space in slow motion for 30 minutes and then return to the same spot 30 minutes later. The photo to the left is me moving in slow motion.
There’s something about forcing your whole body to move in slow motion. The energy required is still immense, but you get the benefit of really seeing, not looking, at the space.
-Moving one foot in front of the other is second nature, but when you slow down, you realize how much you take for granted. Muscles flex. Joints bend. Tendons stretch and compress. Balance teeters. There’s a lot that goes into just taking a step forward.
-Picking up a napkin in slow motion while a gentle breeze ruffles it takes a lot of concentration.
-I saw a tiny lizard scrambling away in the sand. I wanted to hold him and hug him and call him George.
-Tree bark. In some spots it was crusty with cracks like a war torn shield. In other places it’s stringy and felt like a Labrador’s fur.
-Peaceful. In a small clearing, the sun shone through and I sat in that moment for a couple seconds and took it in. Much needed tranquility.
-Some people will engage. Others will pretend they don’t see you and walk past you like you’re not even there. And others, like a woman walking her dog, will ask you what you’re doing. And when you respond, “Accccttttttttinnnnnnnnggggggg cccclllllllaaaassssssssss.” She’ll respond, “Moving in slow motion” while she gives a slow knowing nod because she gets it.
-People might look at you funny when they’re grilling on a bright sunny day and you’re having an improvised snow ball fight in the clearing.
A great class. And a great reminder to slow down and take in the world around you because there’s so much more to see, hear, smell, touch and feel.
A final haiku:
of the evergreen branches…
slowly turning brown
Hold choices like a feather.
The Tuesday before last, we worked moment to moment for each scene in AdlerImprov’s Scene Study class (make well prepared scenes look improvised), including the scene I’ve been working on, “Death of a Salesman.” I saw/experienced how easily you can get locked into rehearsal choices and the power of games/focus in creating new, inspired and spontaneous choices for each take. Some takeaways:
- A pair of first time lovers in David Mamet’s “Sexual Perversity in Chicago.” The game – touch your scene partner in a different way each time you say a line of dialogue. The result – a post-sex-for-the-first-time-couple acting completely awkward, yet intimate, with each other. And completely honest and real.
- Two brothers in Sam Shepard’s “True West.” The game – make fart noises after each line. The result – two guys who were both annoyed and amused with each other. Just like two estranged brothers would be toward each other.
- And my scene – two brothers in Arthur Miller’s “Death of a Salesman.” The game – wrestle. And we did. Not play wrestling, but full on take downs and escapes. And then pass a roll of duct tape back and forth between each line. The result – a brotherly bond, an untapped and released anger and an increased energy pushing through my monologue.
Can’t wait to see what this Tuesday brings.