Tuesday, September 30, 2014

If You're in West Hartford, this is a Must See!

Rae C. Wright, my good friend and a fabulous actress, opens tomorrow night as Hannah Pitt in Angels in America at Playhouse on Park in West Hartford, Connecticut.  You can read the write-up in the New York Times here.

I first saw Rae three years ago in Juliet Lashinsky-Revene's deeply moving short film Keys. Wallet. Phone.  When the lights came up in the theatre, I couldn't move. Rae's performance had been so gut-wrenching. She has a face like the great Lesley Manville. It shows every emotion.

Directed by Sean Harris, #AngelsinAmerica runs through October 19. See it if you get the chance.
Rae C. Wright as Hannah Pitt and Jim Shankman as Roy Cohn rehearsing Angels in America, which opens tomorrow night at Playhouse on Park in West Hartford, CT.

Thursday, September 25, 2014

Consider Roles in Commercials Carefully

Actors often disagree over the direction a career should take. Some feel that an actor should take any job offered, as long as it pays and it’s not pornography, because you never know where a job might lead. Others set rules about the kinds of roles they will accept, especially if the job has a potentially negative impact on their career long-term. 

Stephanie Courtney
TV commercials can be a lucrative specialty area; just ask Stephanie Courtney, who had a series of small parts in film and television before landing the role of “Flo,” the spokesperson for Progressive Insurance.  She’s making a fortune with that gig and she’s everywhere!

But acting in commercials is very different from acting in film. Because they don’t roll credits at the end, commercials present the audience with a kind of reality that blurs the line between actor and role. It isn’t an actress playing a soccer mom there on the screen, it’s a soccer mom telling you that she uses the sponsor’s product and you should too.  
If you are widely identified as that commercial person, it can severely limit what other opportunities are offered to you. A casting director might not consider you for a film or TV role if the audience response is likely to be, “Oh look, it’s that woman from the bank commercial!” It destroys the magic. Listen to one viewer's commentary on this House M.D. clip of Courtney posted to YouTube: 

As if that isn’t bad enough, the product can leave an impression about you personally that could make you unemployable. This came up today when I got an email from a casting agency saying they’d like to submit me for a commercial spot. They didn’t say in the email what product or services were being promoted, which raised a red flag. I play in the 45-60 age range, so I asked: Is the product/services age-related? Casting finessed with the broadly generic response: “healthcare.”

I passed on it. An actor friend thought I was nuts. Commercials pay good money, he said!

But I look at it this way: I have no problem playing roles where I’m not at my Sunday best. I do it all the time in film and it’s fun. But in a film I’m clearly an actress playing a role. In a commercial I’m “the person” and if “the person” is promoting health alert systems (“I’ve fallen and I can’t get up!”), home scooters, death benefit insurance, medication for chronic pain or to prolong their love life, or anything else that screams “infirmity,” that all comes back on me. And the next time a casting agency considers me for a role, that image could affect their decision to even see me.

Not convinced? Remember Jane Powell’s unfortunate decision to promote adult diapers? I groaned.  Sure, they probably paid her a ton of money for that spot.  But now instead of fondly remembering her as the lovely little blond with the big soprano in that classic 1954 musical Seven Brides for Seven Brothers, I get the image of her in….well, you get the picture.

Consider your commercial roles carefully. It’s money now that could end up costing you much more money later.

Monday, September 22, 2014

12 Habits to Jumpstart Your Week

It's easy to feel too busy to think, but Monday mornings set the stage for the week ahead and give you a chance to regroup and consider the big picture. Monday is the day to get pumped up about acting and your decision to make this your career. Here are things to do on Monday mornings (and some you can do every morning) to keep your acting career on track.

1. Wake up early and exercise. Not a morning person? Sleep/awake cycles are not genetic, they are set by you. Partying a lot or staying up to watch late night talk shows have to be weighed in terms of the benefit to your career. If you’re not awake until noon, you won’t be prepared. 

2. Eat a healthy breakfast. If you skip breakfast, your growling stomach will soon become a distraction. If you eat a sugary/starchy breakfast, you’ll be nodding off by 10 a.m. You want your brain to be alert and running on all cylinders, so go high protein and save the carbs for lunch.

3. Establish a routine and get started early. Review your calendar for the week and check for networking opportunities on those days when you’re not working: i.e. film festivals, union meetings, free acting seminars, etc. I’m very big on free events and the SAG Foundation sponsors a lot of workshops, casting director Q&As, and panels that are well worth attending. When you attend, make an effort to be accessible. Put a smile on your face. Introduce yourself to that person sitting quietly off to the side. You never know who you might meet. 

4.  Check your emails/texts and screen for urgent requests. Every email should get a reply, but you can miss something important if you don't first scan your inbox for urgency. Star those messages that are priorities and think quality, not quantity, in your response. But be sure to add a touch of humanity. Before you hit “Send,” read them over to ensure that they're friendly and clear. It's easy to appear curt when you're in a hurry, especially in writing. You might start by saying "Hi" and "I hope you had a great weekend."

5.  Spend no more than 20 minutes on social media. Briefly comment on what others in the industry have posted, and post acting-related information that others can use. Author Dale Carnegie said that the art of being a good conversationalist was in listening to what others had to say. The same is true of social media. The purpose is to connect with those in the business by listening/commenting on what THEY are saying. If you've acquired 10,000 "friends" and everything you post screams "Look at me!" no one will want to take you to lunch.

6. Tackle the easy tasks first. Organize your computer desktop. File receipts and compute mileage from the previous week for tax purposes. Make sure current scripts and files are easily accessible. Then if you have tougher and more time-consuming tasks, you’re ready to tackle them without having to search for what you need.

7.  Allow time for unexpected intrusions.
Expect the unexpected and try to avoid scheduling anything on Monday until late in the day. That gives you time to organize your week and if someone in production found loose ends unraveling over the weekend you have time to deal with it.   

8. But if it’s not urgent, say no. You can wear yourself out trying to please everyone. If it’s not absolutely urgent, learn to diplomatically say no by offering to connect later in the day or in the week. Then be sure to follow-up.

9.  Update your to-do list and review your goals. Be sure you are current on the tasks that have to get done during the week, review your overall goals, and then set goals for the week. Even if you don’t accomplish them all, you’ll accomplish most of them.

10.  Scan one or more trade papers
(Variety, Hollywood Reporter, Backstage), either online or in hard copy, to pick up on trends and TV/films in pre-production. I don’t read a general newspaper and haven’t for years because I found myself getting worked up over issues that I could not resolve. Try to stay focused and hope that the political scandals, global unrest, and environmental “crises” are being handled by those with more knowledge and influence.

11.  Take time to touch bases with actor friends by text or email. It reinforces a sense of purpose and community for everyone, including you.

12. Visualize success. You won’t know that you’ve arrived if you don’t know what it looks like when you get there. And learn to be patient. As Harrison Ford once said: “I realized early on that success is tied to not giving up. Most people in this business gave up and moved on to other things. If you simply didn’t give up, you would outlast the people who came on the bus with you.” Amen to that.

Friday, September 5, 2014

Advice from Julie Newmar

Photo by Firooz Zahedi
Icon Actress/Dancer Julie Newmar turned 81 on August 16th, a fact I'm sure she doesn't mind revealing as she still looks absolutely fabulous. She often gives public lectures on "How to Be a Great Beauty...Even When You're Not." Here is a sample. You'll find more on her Facebook Page. (And yes, I'm getting a 3-way mirror!)

IMAGE: By seeing the inherent beauty, intelligence, mastery in others they will see it in you. This is the MIRROR you want.

VOICE: Where does your sound come from? You can't be beautiful, if you don't sound beautiful.

BODY: Tall or short, there is one element that defines the spirit that becomes your body and that is your spine. Lift it, give your head something to balance on, then breathe and smile.

LIGHT: All the great stars know where their light is coming from, no matter where they are. We call it the key light.

MAKE-UP TRICKS: One trick is - unless your eyes are the size of saucers, never, never put eyeliner inside your lash line.

HAIR: I don't care what color it is, I'm not too fond of streaking. It sort of screams "I'm artificial."

DRESS: Most people offend the eye. Logos on T-shirts look like you are on minimum wage, wearing a sandwich board. What were they thinking? They weren't!

GO CLASSIC: Ralph Lauren made a billion dollars with his RL classic look. For a few dollars more, go simple. The clothes don't enter the room, you do. Walk with dignity. "Everything is working out for me". Think this way.

WHO IS GORGEOUS? Who are your dress idols? Olivia de Havilland at 96 looks absolutely stunning. Brooke Astor at her 100th birthday party in blue, looking absolutely gorgeous.

RANDOM ADVICE: If you don't have a 3-way mirror, you shouldn't go out in public, under any circumstances.