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 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.
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!
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.
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.