Tuesday, December 28, 2010


An amusing thing about David Mamet's take on acting: having thoroughly trashed The Method, pronounced drama instructors as frauds and insightless institutional hacks, and drama schools as utterly unnecessary, he is not only NOT burned at the stake for heresy but suffers an even more horrible fate - everything he says is co-opted into a drama school curriculum!!  Man, you just can't beat the machine!

Getting a peek at my new headshots this week.  A new year begins.  Champing at the bit.

Wednesday, December 22, 2010

Trying Not to Act

Life intrudes.  Rehearsals have been going well, but suddenly the holidays are upon us and family takes center stage.  I’ve been up and back to New York twice since I last wrote.  It’s the first time I’ve been to the city this early in the season, with the Christmas tree vendors set up on the corners and the scent of pine mixing in with the smell of hot pretzels and cigarette smoke that seems uniquely New York.  I breathe it in and smile.

My day job comes with a third floor, east 16th Street branch office two feet from the door to Killer Films, the company that produced the wonderfully quirky picture The Notorious Bettie Page.  Trying to think of a way to strike up a conversation, but I only see the staff when their door happens to open as I’m putting the key in my office door lock.  They’re all sitting around a long table.  It’s quiet, like an architectural firm.  Not what you’d expect.

Nothing yet lined up after the indie feature, which films in January, weather permitting.   I know that if I had anything else to think about this month I’d be in total meltdown, but I like having a couple of follow-on projects and feel anxious when I don’t.  Work has slowed for almost everyone these past few weeks. 

January is a fresh start.  I’ve been making a list of things to do after the first, like sending out introductory letters and headshots, listing with new job sites, signing up for voice or dancing or riding lessons to keep in shape, getting rid of the 6 pounds I’ve gained sampling Christmas cookies.  I’ve been reading David Mamet’s True and False, along with A Practical Handbook for the Actor, which was written by his students and based on his ideas about acting.  What a breath of fresh air this is!  Understandably some of what he says is writer’s bias, but he’s the first I’ve read to lay out a strategy, a way of approaching acting that seems to make sense. 

Also, I think he’s right when he downplays talent and emphasizes practice.  Acting is a learned skill, like cooking or playing the violin.  If you’re brilliant it will reveal itself.  If you’re not, you can still be damned good.  I’m too much in my head for Method acting.  I’m a puzzle-solver.  What makes the character tick?  Why would she move about this room?  I’m not an inner turmoil type

Mamet also makes the point that what directors are casting is you. Not you being someone else – you!  Your height, your face, your voice, your walk, your look!  And sometimes you have to strip away what you’ve been taught in acting class to find that. 

I got a part once and didn’t know how I did it.  I got stuck in traffic on the way to the audition and a 20-minute trip took 45.  I walked in exactly on time instead of 15 minutes early as I’d planned.  I was handed the sides and given less than five minutes to look them over, then parked in front of a camera and given the signal to begin.  I thought, what the hell, breezed through the lines as best I could, smiled, thanked everyone and left thinking I’d completely blown it.  A few days later I got a puzzling email from the director, saying “you are an amazing actor!” and offering me the part.  What happened - I think - was that in arriving later than I’d planned I didn’t have time to think about how I was going to “act” the scene.  I just got comfortable and played it on first impressions, and that worked.  Maybe I was just lucky, or maybe I was what they wanted.

Anyway, applying what I’ve learned to the current script, determined to give a better and more truthful (to me) performance, and with the next film better and more truthful again. 

News: the trailer is just out for a short thriller I did in November – Commitment.  I haven’t seen the whole film yet, but it looks like writer/director Richard Volin has done a wonderful job with it.  Actors Frank Vince and James Whalen are terrific. I was lucky to work on the same film with them. They’re exciting to watch. Volin is turning to features after this.  Is anyone surprised?

I read online today that Tom Selleck had to fight to make Blue Bloods a character-driven series instead of just another standard-issue cop show. I was happy to see that.

Sitting in a Marriott in Philadelphia wishing I were anywhere acting. 

Thursday, November 4, 2010

Two Hours into a Four-Hour Trip to New York

Two hours into a four hour trip to New York.  It's raining and getting foggy.  Someone else is driving.  I've got my seatbelt on.

Tonight is the first cast meeting for the film that's shooting in January (hopefully under better weather conditions!) and the focus is on three scenes out of the 90-page screenplay, one of them is one of mine.  I'm being dropped off 11 blocks from my destination and hoping for a break in the weather, otherwise it will be a long and wet schlep with an overnight bag and computer case.

The film is being shot as a kind of documentary - i.e. this tragedy occurred, people are interviewed and asked to tell their version of the how and why, and a mystery is resolved.  An interesting approach and one I've not done before.  I'm looking forward to meeting the rest of the cast, especially the actor playing my late husband.  We don't have scenes together, but since I talk about him a great deal in my scenes it will be good to put a face with the name.

My second Stonehenge Audition was posted to YouTube Monday.  Reading David Mamet's Three Uses of the Knife.  Fascinating.

Getting too dark to write.  So far no traffic tie ups.  We may make it in time.

Thursday, October 28, 2010

Where are my Clips?

3 a.m. Dog tired, so naturally I can't sleep.  I got a gratifying email from an old friend this week who had taken a look at my taped Stonehenge audition from a few months back and told me how much she liked it and why.  I felt like Dianne Wiest in Hannah and her Sisters, when Woody Allen's character praises the play she's written (Really?!!  Did you really like it?!! Gosh!)

Saying you've decided to act after a career in another field, isn't met with much acceptance typically, especially by those who've known you a long time.  Some react with embarrassed silence, like this annoyintg behavior will go away if they just don't acknowledge it.  Others say "Well, you've certainly gone a lot farther than I thought you would," which sounds a lot like "How come you haven't failed yet?" Then there are those who say "Well, just so you're having fun," as though your behavior is a little bit dotty but as long as you're not hurting yourself or others they'll refrain from throwing a net over you.  I suppose it relates to that Biblical line about not being a prophet in your own land, which if I understand it right means if I know you in one capacity I can hardly find you believable in another.

More dismaying is the negativity you sometimes get from those in the business, like the actor - well known locally - who advised me not to bother ever joining a union, unless of course I was planning a really big career, because an actor can make more money negotiating small non-union gigs on his or her own.  Well, maybe that's true, but it's not about money alone and if you're not planning a really big career, why bother?

I know why I'm awake at 3 a.m.  Frustrated at the time it's taking for all these films to make it through post-production so I can get a show reel together.  Stonehenge is all I have and next week I'll have a second Stonehenge audition going online.  Those little tapes get a lot of views.  My online acting profiles and photos are getting a phenomenal number of views, especially for someone who does not have a Facebook page and 3,500 "friends" following my every move on Twitter.  And, yes, I am enjoying what I'm doing, and I'm not surprised at how far I've come, and I want to join the union.

I'm just just held up by those damned clips!  And the need for a manager.  I'm beginning to feel that I've taken this as far as I can on my own.

Tuesday, October 26, 2010

The Good...The Bad...and The Ugly

Having one of those weeks when I wish I'd been cloned.  There are three areas of my life that require attention: acting, the day job and the household.  Two of them tugging at my sleeve I can handle.  But when all three are saying"Hey, you're needed here!" it becomes a little crazy.  Still, if happiness is defined as someone to love, something interesting to do and something to look forward to, then I'm a happy person, if a little run-ragged at the moment.

Acting jobs in the DC area appear to be drying up, which everyone is blaming on the local politicians, primarily the Democrat governor of Maryland who eliminated tax breaks that had previously been in place for production companies.  The big business has been going to Louisiana, New Mexico and other states actively courting the film industry, but now even small projects seem to be disappearing.  The rare exception being those that have to have the capitol in the background because it figures into the plot; we have Transformers 3 shooting downtown at the moment.  The election is a week from today, but I don't think actors have enough votes to kick out the governor.  That's why it was a safe tax break to eliminate.

I'm looking farther afield.  I have to be up in New York on the 4th for the first read-through on the screenplay for Pegasus I.  I submitted for another film shooting in New York in March, but haven't heard back yet.  Happy to work in New York, even on a small, non-union picture.  My day job company has a branch office in Manhattan in Chelsea so I'll just stay and work there on the 5th and come back late.  Handy that.

Inundated lately with ads for workshops on acting and the business of acting, including one that wants $350 to let me listen to five taped "conversations" guaranteed to put my career on track.  Most of these things seem of limited value.  Even if a workshop or seminar is presented by someone of note, I have to consider how much information I can get in a couple of hours shared with 12-20 other people.  I can usually get far more insight and information out of  book that costs less than $20.  Still, I've been to a couple of workshops that I thought were worth the time and money.  You just have to weigh the potential benefit.

Anyway, went over my lines for Commitment and now I'm sitting here watching The Good, The Bad and The Ugly.  A couple of years ago my son, who's a big Sergio Leone fan, went to some event where Eli Wallach was present and asked him for his autograph.  Wallach signed his name and then underneath wrote "Tuco," as if my son might not know who he'd played in the film.  My son thought that was very funny.  Me too.

Sunday, October 17, 2010

I got the role in the New York film, shooting the latter part of November in Manhattan.  It's a very small film, but an interesting script - a kind of docudrama about tragedy that strikes the first commercial flight into space.  I play the widow of the lead scientist.  This is the third time I've played a widow, but at least this time I'm not an Italian widow.  In fact I see this role as more Kathryn Hepburn in Keeper of the Flame, a stoic preserving the reputation of her late husband.  I look forward to meeting the rest of the cast and seeing the final script.

Shooting begins on Commitment in 10 days, but my role doesn't come in until the first week in November.  In this one I play a judge, but the role has to have some ambiguity to it for a plot twist to work at the end.  The production company, Team Sizzle Worldwide, is backed by Baltimore Ravens linebacker Terrell Suggs, who is branching out into film production and screenwriting.  I believe Richard Volin, who is also an attorney, wrote this particular script and it's very good.

Finished Michael Caine's autobiography and watched a couple of his earlier films over the weekend: The Italian Job, which was Ocean's 11-style fluff, and A Shock to the System, which was darker and more interesting.  He plays a murderer well, as he did in Dressed to Kill.

I wish the book had revealed more about the man though.  The first 200 pages or so - up until the part where he becomes a star - are a portrait in admirable determination.  But once he catches fire the book becomes Lifestyles of the Rich and Famous.  He goes to party after party and they're all "lavish."  He is invited  to "exclusive" and "intimate" dinner parties and the food is invariably "delicious." All the hostesses are "charming." Everyone he knows is "famous," and they're all "close" or "very close" friends.

That's what his life is like I'm sure; it just doesn't make for very interesting reading.  But, you know, he had a long, hard slog getting where he is (the first "luxury" item he bought when he finally had money was soap) so you can hardly blame him for being wary of any dropped comment that might jeopardize that.  It's a careful book, written by someone who seems painfully conscious of status and keeping his.  In contrast, Kathryn Hepburn in Me was more opinionated and fully aware that she was revealing herself at times as a self-focused and thoughtless snot (hence the title), but she really didn't give a damn.  Hepburn, however, was born to money and status, and supremely confident of not losing that no matter what happened.  

There are things to like and emulate in both of these actors: Hepburn's physical and mental preparedness for auditions, like an athlete; Caine's work ethic and determination to stay sharp, even if it means taking a small film or one with a less than perfect script.  Reading Caine's book you realize that one common way into big films is the same route a musician would take to get to Carnegie Hall (practice! practice!)  Caine has appeared in more than 100 films, in addition to television and all the promotional appearances he puts in.  He really works at it.  I like that.

I also learned that Michael Caine and I have at least one thing in common; our fathers were both horseplayers whose gambling risked the family finances.  Many photos of me as a child are taken at Hollywood Park, Delmar, and Santa Anita racetracks.  We were poor to the cramped lodging and clothes from the thrift store level, but not to the no soap level.  My dad used to tell the story of how I - a "Little Miss Marker" at aged 2 - cracked up all the railbirds one day by holding my arms up to him and saying "Pick me up, Daddy.  I wanna watch 'em break!"

As I got older our shabby life became less amusing.  I still love horses, but never took up the habit of betting on them.

Monday, October 11, 2010

Auditioned yesterday in New York for a supporting role in a small independent film.  Interesting plot.  Nice people.  
I like New Yorkers, which is why I’m often there.  Walking down the street you feel on another planet; there’s New York and then there’s the rest of the country.  But New Yorkers are always friendly, always striking up conversations, happy to give directions.  You rarely see anyone really overweight in New York because they walk everywhere – something I’ve noticed in many European cities.  Two women I passed while walking the 15 blocks from Penn Station to the audition I saw again two hours later on totally different streets.  Also saw lots of young women who look like Rockettes – 6 feet tall, legs that start under their armpits and wearing black leggings. Black is as ubiquitous in New York as turquoise is in Miami.

Anyway, I blundered in in the middle of another actress's audition - not for the same role - apologized sheepishly and found a chair outside in the empty hallway.  A few minutes later she left, grinning and giving me a thumbs up as she went.  I thought that was charming.  

The audition went okay, but only just.  Once I have a role and filming begins I’m confident that I know where I’m going with it, but in an audition there’s no set, no actor to play off of, no strong sense of time, place or plot.  They say not to memorize the lines, but when I don’t I’m distracted by having to hunt for the lines on the page.  Bah. It’s a small film – very small – but it shoots in New York.  Keeping a good thought.

Tuesday, October 5, 2010

I Could Use Some Good News

Old cat didn’t make it.  Spent last evening curled up on the sofa watching Rudy and feeling horribly depressed.  I read that humans are the only species that adopts the young of another species and cares for them into old age.  We have not succeeded in making them live forever unfortunately, although I spent a small fortune in a last ditch attempt.

Slow week for this actress.  I could use some good news.

Saturday, October 2, 2010

Up until 2 a.m. with a sick cat who was admitted for tests.  Out of bed at 7 a.m. to meet the gardener who's going to turn my bedraggled yard into Eden in small, affordable stages.  Hopeful on both counts.

Still reading Michael Caine's autobiography and I must say it's a remarkable study in dogged determination.  Surprisingly, for one so very talented, Caine took many, many years to get his career off the ground.  I wonder if it didn't have something to do with simply taking a long time to discover where he fits in as an actor - his screen persona, if you will.  I watch him now and, from film to film and character to character, I see mannerisms that remain the same, that are uniquely his.  How did he arrive at that place?

All actors need to find their niche, and simply asking "Who am I on screen?" can often jump-start the process.  For what roles is my physical self - height, weight, face, tone of voice - most suited?   Am I the girl next door?  (Nah.) Hero's best friend? (Could be.) Rugged individualist? (At times.)  Authority figure? (Oh yes.)  Then look just for those roles and audition.

Many actors take the approach of trying out for every kind of role with the idea that it's good to practice auditioning and eventually they'll find whatever roles fit best.  In the process they audition for a lot of roles they are unsuited for, don't get, and feel depressed about.  Or if they do get some of them they end up with a performance that doesn't show them at their best.  I try to narrow the types of roles down first.  That means fewer auditions but a far greater rate of bookings.  My intent is to build a successful base in one particular type of personality, then broaden my roles from there - although I suspect that even as I do the new characters will retain many aspects of the old ones.  I am what I am after all.

Another factor in slowing down a career is something I see in many young actors; they're not fully focused.  Yes, they want to act, but they also want to party every weekend, get entangled in love affairs, take a few months off and sail down the coast with a well-to-do friend, go to Europe and hang out for awhile.  (Been there, done that, happily married, whew!)  Acting is a business.  You own a company competing in this business. The product you have to sell is that screen persona of yours.  Where's the market for your product and how can you make your product better than the other actor company's similar product?  It needs to be new, improved, unique or in some way have more features.  It's good to think about it that way.

Enough pontificating.  Lack of sleep does this to me.  Mark Westbrook, who's an acting coach in Glasgow, Scotland, has a terrific blog post today on reading action into your dialogue.  I've been following Westbrook's blog for a couple of months and it's full of practical and highly useful advice on ways to approach acting. ( I agree with everything he says!)  I wish I were in Scotland; I'd take his classes.

Tuesday, September 28, 2010

Dashing off to the office.  Gloomy and drippy out.  Fall is here at last.  (Break out the sweaters! Yes!)

My Stonehenge audition on Sunday went okay I think.  I cut a line to relieve some of the time pressure and went with the dressier outfit.  Took Ken Arnold's advice and directed my monologue just to the left of the camera.  It helped that it was a little lighter in the studio this time.  At the June audition the room was so dark all I could see was the light in my face.  I could only guess where the camera was.  Anyway, looking forward to seeing how it turned out in 6 weeks when it's posted to the Internet.  Also hoping they will let me have the high res footage to keep.  The organizers typically discard it, but last time I got lucky - they still had it and emailed it to me.

This is my second and last Stonehenge.  The organizers had a great idea in putting it together and it's a wonderful opportunity to connect with a lot of promising young filmmakers and build a demo DVD, but my plan is to move on to bigger union productions in the spring, which means taking my show on the road so to speak.  That's going to be a challenge.

For now, still working on clips for my demo.  Submitting for a taped book promo today.  A couple of auditions coming up.  Waiting for more details on the short film I'm doing the end of October.

Saw Michael Caine in The Statement over the weekend, one of his lesser known films.  What a terrific performance!  He created a very complex character in what could have been a more one-dimensional villain.  Noted some of the mannerisms he used in his more recent Harry Brown, which I also liked, although I thought Emily Mortimer was miscast.  Also reading Caine's autobiography, What's It All About?  (Very funny!) He says early on in the book that he developed a belief in God from all the many times when good fortune appeared out of nowhere.  I have experienced that too.

Wednesday, September 22, 2010

Still struggling with the monologue for Stonehenge, but I put my 1950s Mafia widow into a different outfit and it made a huge improvement in my delivery. Initially I put on a loose, floral print dress, beige cardigan, low-heeled shoes, drop earrings - what I thought looked vaguely “Italian.”  Trouble was, the dress kept gaping at the buttons down the front when I sat down and the beige washed me out and I just felt uncomfortable. 

And if you feel uncomfortable nothing works. 

So I decided that there’s nothing in the script that necessarily says this woman is a frump and radically changed her look to something more upscale – high heels, black pencil skirt, black/gray sweater, black/white polka dot scarf, double strand of pearls, button earrings.  The pearls still say 1950s.  The monologue went much better.

So, we’ll see how it goes on Sunday.  This may be my last Stonehenge audition. The one I did in June has been very helpful in getting some big roles in small, non-union productions, but I’m hoping to join one of the unions in February and that will change what kinds of work I can accept. 

For now I’m just happy to be making progress toward my goal of having 10-12 significant on-camera roles by the end of the year so that I can put together a decent demo. 

So far I have 8.  I’ve played (or will soon play) a police detective dealing with a hostage situation, an elderly widow with a late-night visitor from her past, the mother of a troubled teen, a grandmother holding a family together after the death of her daughter, a corporate executive regretting her life choices, and a judge who must rule on a man’s sanity.  All dramas.  I’ve also been a hotel gift shop clerk and shopping mall information officer in two industrials and was the telephone voice of a kidnapper in another short film (good roles, but still up in the air as to whether I work those into the demo.)  

Somewhere in all of that has to be three minutes of good face time.  I might even use a few seconds from the Stonehenge auditions, if it makes sense to do that. Then I’ll need to find a video editor who will work with me to achieve exactly what I want.   No standard-issue demo. I’m a contrarian.

Saturday, September 18, 2010

The Monologue Needs a Lot of Work

Spent the morning with actor Ken Arnold at Studio 333 in Baltimore, going over my monologue for the next Stonehenge Audition.  Ken is a great guy and, as it turned out, I had his undivided attention as the rest of those expected to show up bailed at the last minute to attend an open casting call.

The monologue needs a lot of work.  I'm beginning to wonder if it's really right for me, whether it's too far out of my comfort zone to pull off successfully.  Certainly the Italian accent wasn't as good as I'd hoped.  Maybe I have Anna Magnani/Sophia Loren so much in my head that I'm unable to work through Kathryn Browning.  That's the down side of doing a monologue from film.  You actually see somebody do it first.

Wrapped on Clear and Sunny Skies early in the week.  Shooting had a bumpy start and a few miscues, but eventually came together and I really liked the footage I was seeing.  All of the interior scenes were shot in a charming, cottage-style restaurant in North Beach, Maryland, called Bilvil.  The owner and chef gave us use of the place for the day and even made lunch for the cast and crew (fabulous food!)  North Beach is right on the Chesapeake Bay and town officials have offered to host the CASS premiere in November, which would give me the opportunity to introduce my husband to a  lovely little town and a great restaurant.  It's also being shown to financial backers on November 6th in Arlington, Virginia, and I have it on my calendar to attend.

Once I get past Stonehenge I'll be focusing on playing Justice Rider in Richard Volin's new thriller Commitment, which is now in pre-production and begins shooting in October.  Very intriguing script with a twist.  Looking forward to getting started on it.

For now I'm just bushed.  Too many long days beginning at 5 a.m.  Too many hours on the highway.  Turmoil at the office.  Husband not feeling well.  Nice talking to Ken though.  He was just in a film with Alfred Molina and auditioned for a part in Tom Selleck's new television series.  Two of my favorite actors. I am green with envy.

Wednesday, September 8, 2010

Beloved Meisner

I don’t know what to make of this. I have been reading Sanford Meisner on Acting, anticipating at the outset that I would be as excited about this book as I was in reading Harold Guskin’s How to Stop Acting. Just read what’s on the back cover:

Today Sanford Meisner, who has been a fixture at the Neighborhood Playhouse for fifty years, is the best-known and most beloved teacher of acting in the country. This book, written in collaboration with Dennis Longwell, follows an acting class of eight men and eight women for fifteen months, beginning with the most rudimentary exercises and ending with affecting and polished scenes from contemporary American plays. Throughout these pages Meisner is a delight – always empathizing with his students and urging them onward, provoking emotion, laughter, and growing technical mastery from his charges.

With an introduction by Sydney Pollack, director of Out of Africa and Tootsie, who worked with Meisner for five years.

“How lucky we are to have this glorious book for actors and everybody else. O rare Sanford Meisner!” Maureen Stapleton

“This book should be read by anybody who wants to act or even appreciate what acting involves. Like Meisner’s way of teaching, it is the straight goods.” Arthur Miller

“If there is a key to good acting, this one is it, above all others. Actors, young and not so young, will find inspiration and excitement in this book.” Gregory Peck

“This is the best and most illuminating book on the process of acting I have ever read – and I’ve read them all.” Robert Whitehead
“A fascinating glimpse into the creative mind of a wonderful teacher, a primer for beginners and a refreshing reexamination for the professional.” Eli Wallach and Anne Jackson

“delight” “beloved” “empathizing” “urging them onward” “glorious” “rare” “inspiration” “excitement” “illuminating” “best” “key” Clearly this man made a positive impression on some very famous people.

So why is the book such a hard slog? Dennis Longwell’s “you are there” approach to capturing Meisner and his technique is almost impenetrable and, worse, reveals the master as condescending, dismissive, often cruel to his students, and overly fond of criticizing his competition at The Actor’s Studio and the American Academy of Dramatic Arts.

Well, it was a different era.  I’m going to try to finish this book, but I hope the students Meisner summarily dismissed from class had enough sense of their own ability to continue acting.

Update 10/6/2011:  I have now taken a class in the Meisner method and I will say that for all his seemingly bad behavior, he was onto something.  The improvement in the performances of the actors in class was remarkable.  This training is worth pursuing.

Friday, September 3, 2010

Disappointed I Can't Work Everything In

Missing another acting workshop. Last time it was Geoffrey Soffer, casting director for Ugly Betty, The Beautiful Life and a whole long list of TV and theatre hits. This time Studio 333 in Baltimore is bringing in Kathleen Randazzo, acting coach and drama teacher at Sanford Meisner’s Playhouse West in Studio City, California. As it happens, I’m reading Sanford Meisner on Acting by Meisner and Dennis Longwell. It would have been good to see his technique in practice, but I’m booked the whole weekend. Disappointed I can’t work everything in.
I signed up for the next Stonehenge Audition coming up the end of this month in Baltimore. I want to finally do my monologue from the 1958 film The Black Orchid - a part that was written for Anna Magnani (above left), but went to Sophia Loren (such is the movie biz.) It will be interesting to see what I can do with it. Hoping to get out to the Studio 333 Actor’s Group to run through it and get some feedback, even if I don’t get an audition lottery slot. The monologue I did in June was cool and controlled. This one is more ethnic and emotional.
Getting up early tomorrow to take the train to Philadelphia and record “The Voice” for Anthony Fletcher’s film Deadline. Sunday my husband and I drive down to Richmond to do some background research for a novel he's writing (one with a dynamite title and wonderful, quirky plot). Monday brunch with our son and his wife and a drive over to Herrington Harbor. I want to get a feel for the place before filming begins on the 13th. The weather forecast – so far – is indeed for “clear and sunny skies.”

Tuesday, August 31, 2010

Reading Sanford Meisner’s book on acting. He says that it takes 20 years to master acting. Not sure I would agree with that. I suspect it takes 20 years to master acting only if you’re 20 years old or younger when you begin and you never pursue any other career but acting

So much of this business draws upon personal experience and an understanding of the human condition. Someone who approaches acting after age 35, having worked as a schoolteacher or oil rig engineer or insurance salesman or whatever, having experienced years of success and failure, triumph and tragedy, has a far richer inner life to draw upon in creating a character than those who are just starting out in life and career.

I know I feel way ahead of the game when I act, in part because I have a stronger sense of self. I have a more mature approach to my studies. I can judge when a classroom exercise has lasting value and when I’m simply indulging the instructor in the latest fad.

And my acting is beginning to feel true – acting with the emotions, not the intellect; achieving that “public solitude” Stanislavsky talks about. I feel like I’m making rapid progress.

Two weeks to filming Clear and Sunny Skies. I can hardly wait.

Friday, August 27, 2010

Crying Time

No, nothing’s wrong, but I do need to cry – on page 5 of the script. I’ve been working very hard on this (take a deep breath, let the words come when you feel them) and so far it seems to be working, at least when I’m alone and trying to get the lines off the page. But how I’ll feel with a camera in my face is something else again. My character is a person who is very into self-control, so when she cries she’s also doing her damnedest not to cry. Letting it out and holding it in. Has anyone ever had to deal with that in a script? I would be interested to know how you handled it.

Tuesday, August 24, 2010

Working on my lines this week for Clear and Sunny Skies, which starts filming the middle of next month. I must say the Guskin book has really helped me discover my character for this film. Ms. Porter is a fiftyish, newly retired corporate executive trying to figure out what to do next with a life that never had room for husband and children. Lots of inner turmoil. We’re shooting exterior scenes at Herrington Harbor on the Chesapeake Bay, which is a lovely resort area (Photo above left. I’m sure my yacht is in there somewhere!) Hoping for a “clear and sunny” day. Also shooting some interior scenes in a restaurant where I’m called upon to drink copious amounts of scotch whiskey, but not appear drunk. I volunteered to bring the Glenlivet – or rather the Glenlivet bottle filled with exactly the right shade of tea.

Contacted by a casting agency yesterday about a role in a film shooting in Baltimore next week. They must have had an actress bail on them at the last minute. I’m certainly looking for more film roles, but had to pass on this one since I’m gearing up for CASS and didn’t think I could learn the lines in time to do justice to the part. It would have had me shooting major roles in three short films within a two-week period. September 4th I’m in Philadelphia to record “The Voice” for Anthony Fletcher’s film Deadline (which is already up at IMDb, by the way.)

I need to line up film roles for October on. Toying with doing a play, or a public reading of a play, but really prefer to work on camera. I was reading film production news this morning and all the big productions lately are going to Louisiana! Phooey! The state must be cutting film companies an incredible tax break.

Friday, August 20, 2010

Very funny article in this morning's Wall Street Journal-Personal Section titled "Revenge of the TV Writers." According to author Amy Chosick, unlike screenwriters on feature films whose clout is practically non-existent, writers on television series reign supreme and mete out horrible on-screen deaths to actors who make themselves more trouble than they're worth. (Michael Moriarty?! No, I can't believe that.) Television writers have also been known to pattern despicable characters after film critics, former employers and that girl in high school who wouldn't give them a tumble. (Note to self: Never ever get on the wrong side of a television screen writer!) Anyway, I had a good laugh.

Thursday, August 19, 2010

Patience. The next part will come along, and it will be exactly right. In the meantime still reading Harold Guskin’s book How to Stop Acting. I am so excited about this book. It’s an entirely different approach to creating a character. I read it with a pen in hand, underlining passages and starring sections that are especially important. (An awful lot of this book has been marked up, I tell you.)

Anyway, I’ve been thinking about Guskin’s book in relation to the Robert Duval/Sissy Spacek film Get Low, which my husband and I saw last weekend. It’s a simple story extremely well done. Duval turns in such a powerful performance; he should get an Academy Award. And Sissy Spacek looks amazing. Twenty years ago she was all elbows and hard angles; now there’s this soft, round, womanliness about her that is just lovely. She is of the earth somehow. I want to see more of her in other films.

But, back to Duval. Guskin, at one point in his book, talks about “physicalizing” your lines as you read the script out loud – i.e. jumping, singing, making sounds and gestures as impulse and the lines move you. (Something that would benefit me especially since I’m at heart a shy person.) Well Duval, in this story he tells at the end of the film, makes this whooshing sound. I was just stunned watching it. It isn’t the kind of thing most people would do, but his character was so in the moment of reliving this incident from his past that it was like he could see everything again, fresh, and that sound was what he was hearing. It was so right. It made the scene so much more than just someone telling a story and relying on filmed “flashbacks” to show the viewer what had happened. With that sound, Duval brings you right into the story with him, moment by moment. Really remarkable.

One thing I’ve learned about acting – and I’ve probably said this before – is how hard it is. It’s hard even to be a bad actor (and I have much more respect now for bad actors!) But when you study it, and when you see acting done well….wow.

My husband and I talked about that film for a long time after we left the theater.

My home computer fried its brains this week - third time in seven years. It's in the shop, but I suspect the tech is going to call and tell me he can't resurrect it. Thinking about abandoning PCs and getting a MacBook Pro, which is what I have at work. This week's snag. Not insurmountable, just costly.

Tuesday, August 10, 2010

Antsy. I need to line up more film roles and so far I’m not seeing any scripts with a part for me. You’d think I’d welcome a chance for some down time, but I really live for days when I’m shooting a film.

My husband and I saw L’Affaire Farewell last weekend at the only theatre close by that shows foreign films. The Other Guys with Will Ferrell was the only other option, but we finally decided to wait to see that one at the second-run cheap seats. I enjoyed Ferrell in Stranger Than Fiction, but not too sure about this one. Family members give us movie ticket coupons for Christmas because we see so many films, but we think long and hard before deciding something is “coupon-worthy.”

L’Affaire Farewell was suspenseful and quite good. I found myself thinking as I watched it that this is why I go to the movies : to marvel at beautiful photography, take pleasure at a director who knows his craft, enjoy a story that makes you think and leads to conversation after the lights go up. No crashing cars. No flying dragons. No teen vampires. There’s a shot in the opening of three Soviet soldiers in a truck. The way the light off the snow frames the face of one of these young soldiers is rather breathtaking. It made me wonder if you can even do that with CGI. It always seems a little flat to me, even in 3D.

Not everything in the plot worked, but Director Christian Carion did a very good job of keeping me on the edge of my seat. Toward the end one of the main characters and his family are making a break for the Finnish border – dead of winter, middle of the night. After hours of waiting in line, their car drives slowly through the two border gates, even as the call comes through at the Soviet guardhouse to stop them (okay, that’s a little clichéd, but it still works). The POV is inside the hero’s car, sharp focus on the foreground, the road ahead completely out of focus. You see a light seeming to come toward them. But is it a fixed light pole? A truck with soldiers to arrest them? You don’t know. Carion holds on that shot for a long time. I thought that was nicely done.

Saw previews for a couple of others we may see – The Concert and Mao’s Last Dancer. Putting the Pathé film The Illusionist on the Netflix list. You can learn a lot from watching a good performance.

Weather is miserable. Four more weeks of the tropics and then Washington will wring itself out, the sky will turn crystalline blue and we head into fall. In the meantime, I read in the shade at noon with a hot wind in my face, wondering what this San Diego girl is doing here.

(sigh) At least I'm having a good hair day.

Saturday, August 7, 2010

I've added production stills from The Shadows of Strangers to my August 2 post. The picture at left is NOT one of them.

The Shadows of Strangers is the feature-length film being shot by Rick and Jonathan Robinson out of Baltimore. It's an anthology of six interconnected stories. Mine was "The Story of Bella" about an Italian widow who has a late-night encounter with someone from her past. I liked the role. It's dark and a little weird.

I asked my husband what he thought of the photos. He gave me a long look, wrinkled his nose and shook his head. I reminded him that Ellen Burstyn got a raft of awards and award nominations, including an Academy Award nomination, for Requiem for a Dream, a film where she's made up to look like she put her finger in a light socket! (THAT is the photo at left!) We had a good laugh over it.

I promised myself I'd get organized today. I signed up for Performer Track to keep track of my contacts, bookings, and costs. Lots to key in before it starts getting "easy" as promised. Also need to find the $78 error in my checkbook. I'm off.

Friday, August 6, 2010

One thing I like about Tom Selleck's Jesse Stone series (one of many things I like about it) is the pacing. He takes his time to develop his character and the story. Also, apart from the tarty wives of the Paradise Cove council members, he uses actors that look like real people. I'm not against using actors who are young and attractive, but I wonder if we sometimes go down that road to the point where the characters become interchangeably attractive. There were three 20-something actors in an industrial I worked on last fall who were all about the same height, all with angular jaws, dark spikey hair, and two-day stubble. Two appear in one scene and as the camera cuts from one to the other you think you're looking at the same guy who keeps inexplicably changing his shirt!

British directors often take the view that average-looking people of any age can have riveting life issues, have others fall in love with them, and be generally interesting to watch. I like that. People are like furniture. You get a new cherrywood table and you're happy with its lovely perfection until someone leaves a wet glass on it and you get a foggy ring on the surface. Then the table is spoiled because all you see is the flaw. But give that same table 30 or 40 or 50 years, and many stains, scratches and dents and it develops this lovely patina. It becomes an old friend. It's beautiful even with the flaws (maybe even because of them)and when you touch it you feel the many hands that went before you over its whole existence.

I think Selleck himself is more interesting to look at and listen to today than he was 30 years ago. He now has this wonderful craggy face. He has more breadth and depth; his characters have more vulnerability. You can touch them and feel all the life experiences that went before. I wish there were more films and television series that appreciated that.

Thursday, August 5, 2010

At the office on three hours’ sleep. Too much after-dinner caffeine last night. Plus I stayed up too late trying to finish The Autobiography of Benjamin Franklin, a book I started reading while waiting for more acting books to arrive in the mail. I woke at 3 a.m. with Glenn Miller’s “Little Brown Jug” running through my head – specifically the trumpet riff that comes in somewhere in the middle. I credit my father for my love of music popular before I was born, but sometimes it intrudes. Fell asleep ten minutes before the alarm went off at 5. Tried parking under a tree at lunch time and closing my eyes for a few minutes, but still groggy.

I was thinking while that trumpet was blaring away of all the remarkably bad movies this summer. The Wall Street Journal had a piece on that very topic last week – “The Worst Year Ever for Movies” – or something like that. So much money spent. So much talent wasted. Even Inception failed to do anything for me. I got lost in the tangled plot 30 minutes in and there weren't any characters to care about. Marion Cotillard, who was so terrific in La Vie en Rose, was little more than a lovely prop. Michael Caine’s reassuring presence didn’t get enough screen time. You have to care about at least one character for a film to be successful. Gimmickry alone won't carry a picture. My husband and I watch 4-5 films a week - old ones and new ones. This summer there have been many weekends when none of the new ones felt worthy of the price of a ticket. Let's hope this is just a temporary condition.

I love films. I've seen several thousand and have favorites that I watch five or six times each year. I don't understand people who want to work as an actor or director, but have no interest in studying great old films and the actors and directors who made them great. The art form didn't begin with CGI.

I hope to pack in as many leading roles as I can over the next 6-10 months and move into films with bigger budgets. So far my booking/audition ratio is about 8 in 10, in part because I try to choose carefully.

Just before I drifted off to sleep I was thinking how much fun it would be to work with Tom Selleck on a Jesse Stone mystery. My fantasy. I like the series; it's very well done. He looks terrific too. The one flaw is the Stone character's ex-wife. Her babykins voice on the phone has got to go.

I'm babbling. Time to get back to work.

Monday, August 2, 2010

Being a Good Sport

Filmed over the weekend in Baltimore. Interiors for the most part, so they had to light it and shut off the AC to kill the sound. It’s now August. That meant two long days of filming in what felt like 90-degree heat and 90 percent humidity. Even my scalp was perspiring. As each day wore on my clothes stuck to my skin, my hair went limp and damp. I kept patting my face with tissue trying not to smear my makeup or get the powder wet when I reapplied it.
Too tired to drive home and spend the night in my own bed, so I opted for a somewhat seedy hotel next to the Baltimore bus station – chipped furniture and a bluesy saxophone recording playing in the lobby. Dinner at McDonald’s. I was missing my husband and bone tired and sympathizing with Private Benjamin (“No, there must be some mistake! I signed on for the picture with the catered gourmet meals and air-conditioned private dressing room trailers!”)
Being an actor is not for the squeamish and often means being a good sport about working conditions. It was an interesting script, the directors were good to work with, and the film has a gritty feel.
What have I learned? To trust my choices. That’s it’s easy to cry on cue when the words move you.
Meeting tonight with Andrea Ellis, who's directing a film I’m doing in September. This one is to be shot largely outdoors on a bench at a boat pier – I am so relieved!

Wednesday, July 28, 2010

Saw Helen Mirren in a film called Greenfingers this evening (with Clive Owen who I adore.) It was a nice little film, obviously low budget, but it underscores something I love about British actors. They move from big pictures to small pictures and back again, and they don't scale back their performance just because a film isn't considered "important" and likely to win awards. They respect their craft and they never phone it in. Mirren was perfect in the supporting role of the famed horticulturalist. Really wonderful.

Got an email this afternoon about doing another film where only my voice is heard. It's a quirky script (I won't give away the plot) and I'm one of several actresses they're looking at for the role. (Note to self: put more of your VO samples on your website.)

I’m still laughing. I spied the cover of this week’s TV Guide as I was dashing out the door this morning – Stephen Moyer and Anna Paquin in what is supposed to be a lusty clinch under the headline “Hot Blooded.” Ha! From their facial expressions, it’s hard to tell if either of them knows the other is even in the room! Moyer has his hands on Paquin's caboose, but he may as well be holding on to a coffee table! Give me Burt Lancaster and Deborah Kerr entwined in the surf in From Here to Eternity. Now that’s hot-blooded!

The next six weeks are going to test my stamina as I juggle production schedules and try to keep three characters – ruthless kidnapper, regretful Italian widow, jaded childless executive – separate and unique. Every weekend I’ll be hitting the freeways between Washington, Baltimore Philadelphia, and a TBD beach locale. It’s exciting though. The scripts are terrific, the characters challenging, and for all the demands of juggling acting and a 40-hour work week, I’m already looking for new film projects for October and later.

Sticking largely to leading roles in small films has given me a lot of on-camera experience – and many opportunities to experiment – in a very short amount of time. I could never have come this far scattering my energies in every acting direction. And my small films are becoming not so small. Bliss.

Saturday, July 17, 2010

I continue to get work and have two more film roles lined up. Starting immediately I play Bella in "The Story of Bella" segment of the Robinson Brothers film The Shadows of Strangers, opposite Stephen Rutledge and Nora Achrati. There are six short stories planned for this film, which means the finished product will be feature length. The script is terrific - really excited about it. In September I play Ms. Porter in Anthony Greene's film Clear and Sunny Skies. Part of it is to be shot over at the shore, which means delaying until the summer vacationers to go home. Still waiting for a date to record the kidnapper's voice for Deadline, which is shooting now in Philadelphia. Plus I'm shooting a corporate video this week, playing a weathercaster. Working all of this around my day job. It's going to be a busy, busy next few months, but I'm staying on track for having 12 significant roles for a new demo reel by the end of the year. Also, it's likely that a couple of these films will be posted to IMDB.

More news: my Stonehenge Audition from last month is now posted to You Tube (screen shot above and video linked at right). I thought I looked good and sounded good. Pacing and delivery need work. A bit worried about a talented friend who was dissatisfied with his audition and ask that it be taken down. I think he has a wonderfully unique look and on-screen personality. I hope he's not being too hard on himself. My drama instructor, actor Michael Gabel, also has a new Stonehenge Audition and it's terrific. He showed us how it's done.

Out tomorrow to look for costume options. My house is a mess. Bah.

Thursday, July 1, 2010

Got the voiced role in the Philadelphia film so the three-hour drive (each way) wasn't wasted. Here's the challenge: I play a kidnapper and viewers will only hear my voice over the telephone. I need to create a character without the use of visuals - gestures, expressions, reactions. Plus - since the plot has a very interesting twist - there has to be some ambiguity in my voice or the director can't pull it off. Wow! This is going to be terrific!

Meanwhile a film I appeared in this spring - A Beautiful Love - is premiering in two weeks in Kensington, Maryland, and the poster is...well...posted. I will glam-up and show up. It was shot in 16 mm and the film quality is absolutely gorgeous. I was thrilled to be a part of it.

Still looking for another on-camera role. On leave next week from my day job, so I'm dropping by Central Casting and getting some marketing done. The most promising thing is that I'm finally feeling relaxed in front of the camera, which means I can concentrate on my character in relation to my scene partner, the environment in which the scene takes place, etc. It's hard to put in a realistic performance when the blood is pounding in your ears. I'm enjoying it, and I'm getting better and better.

Monday, June 28, 2010

Equatorial weather. Shooting outside. My makeup is running off my face. Washington, DC is no place to make movies in the summer unless it’s one of those gritty, we’re-hot-and-miserable-and-want-to-kill-someone films. It’s a good thing young filmmakers are not into extreme close-ups. The shine would be blinding.

I like extreme close-ups actually. Not for vanity’s sake. You can say a lot with a face and eliminate pages of weighty dialog in the process. “The eyes are a window to the soul,” as they say. I believe someone also once said that “man created language to hide his thoughts,” which is as good an argument as any against too many words in a script. Let’s convey thoughts, moods, feelings, motives. Too many screenwriters forget that film is a visual medium.

I was watching Dear Frankie again the other evening, Shona Auerbach’s very unslick 2004 film that got a standing ovation at Cannes. She does things that you don’t often see anymore – close-ups of just the eyes, shots of characters where little is said but so much conveyed by their body language. Look at the long, drawn-out awkwardness before Gerard Butler and Emily Mortimer kiss. Where did Auerbach find the confidence to do that?

Or look at Michael Kitchen in Foyle’s War. He says so much without words. I love Michael Kitchen’s work.

Having said all this I auditioned in Philadelphia on Saturday for a part as narrator. All words. Still, they are short and to the point and the film has a very intriguing plot twist that could prove challenging. Every film is an opportunity. Need to line up more on-camera work for August though. I’m focused; something will come up.

Wednesday, June 16, 2010

Well I survived the Stonehenge Film Auditions in Baltimore. I didn't forget any lines and I did okay. I started getting a frog in my throat midway into my monologue, but managed to get rid of it without having to visibly clear my throat. Also managed to keep stress to a reasonable level.

The auditions were held a small black box theatre. There were about 60 people from 35 production companies in the audience sitting on risers (a record number). Basically the only light was on the person doing the audition, but nobody watched the person; instead, everyone watched each audition projected onto a large screen. Most of the production companies were no pay/deferred pay. But about 6-8 did Screen Actors Guild low-budget productions and 2 paid SAG scale rates. There was also a casting director who has cast extras and supporting roles for major films. That was interesting.

The organizers from Team Jabberwocky brought us in to audition in groups of five and we had to perform a monologue suitable for TV or film that was not more than 90 seconds long. It went very fast! When each group finished up, all of the production company reps applauded. Then we were marched back into the theatre lobby and everyone there applauded. The organizers did that for every group. It was a nice stress breaker actually because every person who had just auditioned was thinking “Whew! Thank God that’s over!”

I ran into two actors I know. One was in the group before mine and the other in the group. I'd say of those I saw waiting to audition about 80 percent were twenty/thirty-somethings and 20 percent were over 40.

Although the specification was for monologues "suitable for TV or film" the ones I saw were overwhelmingly stage monologues, which meant mine looked very different and very abbreviated. We'll see if that turns out to be a plus or a minus. The young woman after me was very, very good. Glad she didn't go before me.

Anyway, glad I did it and glad it's over. It was a 90-minute drive each way. I got up at 6:30 a.m. and left the house at 11 for a 2:30 p.m. slot because I was afraid I'd get stuck in traffic. By the time I got home at 4:30 I was just dead. The auditions should be posted to YouTube by mid-July.

Despite the stress of auditioning for such a crowd I’m already planning a new monologue for the next Stonehenge Auditions, coming up on September 26th and also in Baltimore. This time I’m hoping to present a softer, gentler character to show some range. Will also use a different headshot.

For now my summer is busy days, nights, and weekends. Just wrapped on the hotel anti-terrorism video for the Dept. of Homeland Security. It was shot at the Wardman Park Marriott here in DC and I play “Grace,” who runs the gift shop next to the coffee shop where a bomb has been planted. (I love anti-terrorism videos!) Also voiced a conference video package for the School Nutrition Association. Tonight I’m meeting with the wardrobe person for the web series – Orange Juice in Bishop’s Garden - that’s about to start shooting Season Three. Sunday I have read-through with the writer on a Sci-Fi animated short where I’ll be voicing the Artificial Intelligence character. Then on June 26th I drive up to Philadelphia to audition for a narrator part on another short film. Despite all the voice work, my goal is still a dozen on-camera roles by the end of the year. Onward!

Saturday, June 5, 2010

Trying to keep my nerves at bay. I landed an audition slot for Stonehenge XI, coming up on Sunday, June 6th, in Baltimore. I’ve prepared the 45 headshots and résumés required, and signed the release to let them tape my audition and post it to YouTube. It’s a good opportunity. Representatives from 35 independent production companies with near-term film projects in the works will be in attendance and the YouTube posting makes it possible – from what I’ve heard from other actors - to get as much or more work out of the web posting as from the live audition.

My monologue is an Elizabeth Deane scene in the sci-fi thriller Virtuosity (a role played by Louise Fletcher in the film). It’s the one where she’s offering a pardon from prison to Denzel Washington if he’ll catch the android killer, played by Russell Crowe. A very “I’ve got all the cards; take it or leave it” kind of scene that calls for cool on so many levels. So naturally the weather forecast for Sunday is high heat and humidity, which almost guarantees a shiny face and frizzy hair. Must think positive. I have the monologue down pat. Also my astrology forecast says Sunday is my lucky day. (Hey, I'm grasping at anything.)

I’m also hoping my scene is different enough to draw some positive attention. One thing I’ve noticed watching open auditions is that most dramatic monologues are essentially “I’m going to tell you a little story and it’s all about me.” So if you watch a large number of actor's audition, what you see frequently is this:

“I’m going to tell you a little story and it’s all about me.”
“I’m going to tell you a little story and it’s all about me.”
“I’m going to tell you a little story and it’s all about me.”
“I’m going to tell you a little story and it’s all about me.”

It very soon becomes a blur, and at Stonehenge the production reps watching will have seen about 80 of these before they get to me. I think every actor has to consider their monologue in the context of the open audition itself. Will I make them sit up and take notice with a scene that simply has me talking to someone else? I don't know. When I performed the monologue on camera in class, my drama instructor actor Michael Gabel (who’s had supporting roles in major films and done the Stonehenge auditions several times) said that I have a lot of on-camera presence and control, and that I command the screen in a way that is seldom seen at Stonehenge. I hope he's right. I also hope that whatever I did with it that night I manage to replicate on Sunday.

The SAG Regional Boards are recommending that all acting unions merge into one union – an idea that’s come up before but couldn’t get the required support of 60 percent of the SAG membership. Still, it again raises the questions of whether and when to join a union. Acting friends say union membership cuts you off from 90 percent of the work in the Baltimore/Washington area, but is that paying work? I need more experience, but by not joining am I missing out on a chance to take my career to a level that’s more professionally recognized?

And how much experience in film is enough experience? I watched Steven Spielberg’s Young Sherlock Holmes last week (a good film and superior in many ways to this year’s Sherlock Holmes with Robert Downing Jr. and Jude Law). The star of YSH, Nicholas Rowe, was 19 and fresh out of Eton with no acting experience apparently. Daddy was an MP, which may have helped him get a crack at reading for the part. Also, he looked like a young Sherlock Holmes, which helped. But, bottom line, he was extremely good in the role. He did sword fights, fist fights, love scenes. Spielberg’s a great director. Is it just good direction?

Or how about Himalaya – a dramatic film shot entirely with non-actors – in fact, with people who’d never seen a film because they lived in a village that’s a three-week hike from the nearest road. They quickly got the concept and turned in really remarkable performances.

Anyway, mulling it all over – unions, experience, whether I need to unlearn everything I’ve learned about acting for the stage because it doesn’t seem to help me in film. I’m reading I’ll be in my Trailer: The Creative Wars between Directors and Actors by John Badham and Craig Modderno, a terrific book recommended to me by actress Victoria Natalia. Very valuable insights into theatre and filmmaking, largely from the point of view of the director. I've learned a lot from that book.

But God I hate auditions. My heart pounds, my hands shake. Yesterday I auditioned for another industrial the company I work for is producing for the Department of Homeland Security. No monolog, no sides, no reader. I was asked to on the spot improvise one-half of a conversation. Bah! What kind of audition is that!

Well, a woman is not a prophet – nor an actor – in her own land. Looking ahead to Sunday.

Monday, May 17, 2010

One of the advantages in turning to acting later in life is that I’ve learned to research those areas where my experience is limited, to assess thoroughly the career advice I’m getting (since I’m paying for it out of my own pocket) but in the end to always trust my own judgment (since it's held me in good stead in the past). Certainly there are many wonderful acting instructors and coaches – wonderful actors themselves often. But outside of Los Angeles, New York and London many times what we encounter are instructors who are themselves struggling to get a career off the ground, or instructors whose experience and reputation is in local theatre. However much we admire them, they may not have every answer and their wisdom may not always be sound.

Another factor is that there is no single approach to acting, and that we pretty much have to find out for ourselves what works. But while sorting that out we may have to dodge bad advice – if we recognize it. For example, I do a lot of reading on the acting profession and one of the things I’ve read again and again is that auditors most appreciate monologues (when they ask for them) that show something of your personality, something that moves them or charms them in some way. They want to like you, in part because they're thinking ahead to what it will be like to work with you. What they do not want to see is a piece heavy on the “ick” factor – no monologues that have you stepping on gerbils, disrobing, shouting or raising mental images that make them feel embarrassed or uncomfortable during your audition. In fact, there is one obscure play - I think it's The Woolgatherers - that some auditors hate so much they will stop an actor from doing his monologue rather than endure any scenes from that play again.

Some months ago, I took a class from an instructor who has some reputation locally. The first day the class met I told her I was looking for a new monologue – something moving or charming. She said she had one she thought would work for me and that I might want to include in my repertoire for auditions. Well, given her reputation I was thrilled. After class I snatched up the monologue and rushed home anxious to read this gem and start learning the lines.

Well, hmmm. You know, I can accept the need to challenge yourself as an actor and to stretch beyond your comfort zone, but the monologue she recommended was not one that I would have ever performed in an audition, in class, or even in front of my most trusted friend. It was unbelievably icky! So much so that I am convinced that performing it publicly would have given me quite a reputation of my own locally and been a serious set back to my career. That the instructor thought that particular monologue was appropriate for auditions made me question her judgment and her advice. Consequently, I immediately transferred out of her class.

But how many budding actors get tripped-up by something like that? Probably at least some of those doing monologues from that much hated play mentioned above.

Wednesday, May 12, 2010

Crunch time. Looped the audio last weekend for a film in post. Audition tomorrow for another short film. Just returned from seeing the youngest graduate from college in Colorado. Will soon start rehearsals for “Orange Juice in Bishop’s Garden.” Another audition in mid-May, this time for an industrial set to start shooting in early June. Somewhere in there I’m working a day job scripting corporate videos, writing magazine articles and finishing a drama class. It’s good to be busy. It’s also easier to get work when you have work.

I’m hoping to benefit from what actor David Millstone calls a shortage of non-union over 40. My goal is to have 8-10 short film roles in the can by the end of the year and then to add union membership to my résumé. This is my year for putting to practice what I’ve learned, and it’s a struggle - a struggle getting it natural. I would like to take another class or two, but something that really challenges me. I’ve heard that the instructors at Studio Theatre in DC are a rather exacting lot, so I may take a look at what they have to offer. By this point I’ve developed a thick enough skin to judge whether criticism of my acting is valid or not. (Most of the time it’s valid.

Just finished Paul Russell’s book Acting: Make It Your Business. He talks a lot about creating a personal brand and establishing a look and feel to all of your query materials that says you’re serious about your work. Having worked as a publicist before getting into TV and video I have to agree with that. A lot of people get into acting for the social aspects. They’re the ones most likely to remark that an acting gig was “fun.” Well, anything you do professionally should be enjoyable, but for me – and for a lot of actors – the point is to get as many opportunities to act as you can and to do it well. Creating a brand can help get those acting jobs, and acting well is an ongoing personal improvement project.

It will soon be summer. Bah!

Tuesday, April 13, 2010

Two short films in post production. Shot the last scenes for one on Saturday - in a cemetery no less - and drove home thinking, what now? I haven't managed to line up anything as a follow on. Got home and checked my email and learned I had landed a role in Orange Juice in Bishop's Garden, Otessa Ghadar's web series about growing up in DC in the 1990s. It begins shooting Season 3 in June. Absolutely thrilled! I will play Jill Davis, the mother of Remi. Scripts to follow.

Season 2, which added parents and teachers to the cast, will be posted next week so I will have a chance to see more of the adult characters. Not to discount the younger ones. Many of the teenaged actors are from the Duke Ellington School for the Arts and very comfortable in front of the camera. Extremely talented. More on the series when I hear more.

I learned a few things this week, which made it a good week. One was the effect of costuming on movement. One of the films had me playing a detective, making my way down a dark DC alley with a prop gun and holster on my hip. The director remarked that I walked just like Mariska Hargitay of Law & Order SVU, and it was true. The weight of the gun changed my center of gravity and my walk became totally different. Drama instructors say you need to rehearse in costume; now I can see why.

I'm also learning not to try so hard to "act," which is probably part way to becoming more comfortable and natural in front of the camera. I really think that much of what I learned for acting on the stage is proving to be a stumbling block for acting in film. I need to unlearn it to connect with my character and achieve the kind of authenticity I want. When I start thinking too much about gestures and expressions I start thinking about me and stop reacting to my scene partner.

You'd think I would have learned some of this in four years as a television producer, but political talk shows are a different game altogether and I wasn't consciously analyzing what was going on as a performance, although certainly it was.

Anyway, happy, happy. To bed.

Friday, March 26, 2010

You know that dream everyone has where you’re back in high school and it’s final exam week, only it suddenly dawns on you that you haven’t been in class all semester, have no idea what you’re going to be tested on, or even where your classroom is and you’re going to fail miserably and why-oh-why aren’t you more organized and prepared?

Yes, that one.

Last night I created a variation: I dreamed I was in New York and had a 3:15 p.m. appointment for an audition, only I didn’t have my monologue with me and I couldn’t remember which one I was going to use or even all the words, so I got in a cab and tried to find a bookstore thinking that, hey, it’s only 1 o’clock and I have time, only the cab gets lost and I can’t remember the address where I’m to audition and I’ve muffed my big chance and they’re never going to let me audition in New York again!!! (shriek!)


Well, at least I wasn't naked.

The weekend is here. Shooting through Monday night. I must say that working seven days a week certainly helped me drop the 10 pounds I was trying to lose. Have a lead on a web series in its third season that has parts for older actors. Checking on it.

Thursday, March 25, 2010

Watched Louis Malle's Au Revoir, les Enfants last night - an engaging and thought-provoking film - and was again struck by how difficult it must be to direct children and get a natural and touching performance. Children cast in American television seldom capture anything that looks like genuine childhood, but perhaps it's because they are shown talking too much and thinking too little. What I mean is, and I’m sure there’s a term for this, Malle keeps the adults’ and children’s visible emotions to a minimum, allowing the viewer to project his or her own emotions produced by the story onto each character. Julien doesn’t cry, the viewer cries. Shona Auerbach achieves a similar result in her wonderful film Dear Frankie.

I’m becoming increasingly aware of this in films and working hard to tone down my own performance so that I get less “acting” and more being. Interestingly, I’m finding that film directors seem to respond very positively to that, saying things like “I like that subtle thing you’re doing.” This is, of course, exactly the opposite advice I was given for stage work, where directors said they wanted an all out, eat up the scenery audition because it was easier to tone that down than to ramp up a performance that was too low key. All I can say is that it must take a tremendous amount of experience and confidence to move easily between stage and film.

It’s warming up. Scouting out some film work for the summer as the two short films I’m working on are wrapping up. Not as easy to find roles for older women, but something will turn up. My employer is casting an industrial for a physicians’ association on Hypo Sexual Dysfunction Disorder. I’d ask to do the doctor part, but I think I’d get the giggles. Not good.