Tuesday, May 21, 2013
You can do anything if you have enthusiasm.
Enthusiasm is the yeast that makes your hopes rise to the stars. Enthusiasm is the sparkle in your eye.
It is the swing of your gait, the grip of your hand, the irresistible surge of your will and your energy to execute your ideas. Enthusiasts are fighters. They have fortitude.
They have staying qualities.
Enthusiasm is at the bottom of all progress.
With it, there is accomplishment. Without it, there are only alibis.- Henry Ford, quoted in Your Business Brickyard
Pursue Work Openly
Be upfront and honest about what it is you really want to do, by putting it out there you may be surprised at what stars align and you'll only deter opportunities that wouldn't have fit you well anyway
Some days you don't want to do what needs doing. Maybe it is laundry, or mailing those headshots, or whatever other task doesn't have appeal in the moment. On those days, do what you can anyway. Progress is progress even if it isn't joyful 100% of the time. Or as fast as we might prefer. Push against resistance.
I've mentioned before the value of doing "it" now whatever "it" is. But our characters also have reluctance, and resistance, to overcome. Some do, eventually, like Hamlet, some don't, tragically, like many of Chekhov's.
Often, the scenes we play are the moment they push through, or as the improv guideline states: "today is the day" meaning that right now is when whatever major event or change is happening in the character's lives. Part of why we watch a scene, or why it was written, is because this is not just an average Tuesday. There is something elevated, special and extraordinary about it.
For us, today is the only present we have, so anything we might do can only gets done now. Life is a sequence of now. For our characters, no one sees on stage or screen the years of growing stagnation that lead to today being the day it all needed to change. Only a montage or an example mundane day that must pack years into moments is shown. Nor is the time building up the courage to tell the other character how our character really feels going to be shown. The projects we work on are the highlight reels of our character's lives. Kind of like Facebook, all milestones and high stake events.
Our lives have the everyday, the mundane. If we can, it is good to find joys in them, though some things are more fun than others. And I'm off to annihilate some items on my to do list (I don't fold laundry, I break laundry's will to be wrinkled).
Sunday, May 19, 2013
Don't Avoid Failure
Quit trying to avoid failure. Break it and fix it. Mess it up and clean it up. If the gaps are short enough, it looks like unbroken success.
I've suggested before, try failing.
Saturday, May 18, 2013
What You're at Auditions For
I'm there to show them that I've done the work. I'm not there to book the job, I'm there to show them that I've done the work. And you are there to solve their casting problem.
Thursday, May 09, 2013
Kickstarter's Take on Stars and Hits Using Crowd Funding
A follow-up to my earlier Stars and Hits Using Crowd Funding post and how things are not someone-must-lose-for-me-to-win; life is not zero-sum.
The world we live in is hyper-competitive and often pits us against each other. If someone is winning, someone else must be losing, right? But that's not what we see happening on Kickstarter.
The Veronica Mars and Zach Braff projects have brought tens of thousands of new people to Kickstarter. 63% of those people had never backed a project before. Thousands of them have since gone on to back other projects, with more than $400,000 pledged to 2,200 projects so far. Nearly 40% of that has gone to other film projects.
We've seen this happen before. Last year we wrote a post called Blockbuster Effects that detailed the same phenomenon in the Games and Comics categories. Two big projects brought tons of new people to Kickstarter who went on to back more than 1,000 other projects in the following weeks, pledging more than $1 million. Projects bring new backers to other projects.
(emphasis added, from Who is Kickstarter for?).
Wednesday, May 08, 2013
Weathering the Ups and Downs
Do you remember Madeleine L'Engle's A Wrinkle in Time? Meg & Charles traveled through time and space by means of a tesseract. Imagine a piece of cloth. You're standing on one end as the cloth folds at the center allowing you to easily take one step to reach the other end of the cloth...i.e., the wrinkle. This is the journey of the actor
She goes one to list
...three quick things to remember when you're having 'one of those days.'
- It's not linear, it's tesseract-ical.
- What you do today matters tomorrow.
- Pack your bag.
- Acting isn't accounting, don't expect your career to progress in a linear way, because acting careers rarely do.
- Do what needs doing today even if you can't yet see the results.
- Number 2 means preparing now for a future that doesn't yet exist. Prepare, it is one of our only tools to cope with uncertainty.
Monday, May 06, 2013
If Not This There'll Be Another
Your roles are your roles. No one else will book the roles that will be yours. Hard to have faith that you'll book something even if it isn't "this" thing (whatever you are currently working on). If you don't book from this audition, you will book another. This is simple fact.
I know, part of an actor's work require us to be in the moment, in the present: now. We're trained for it. That means not living in the future where all the roles you haven't booked yet, but will, are for the time being. Your roles are finding their way to you just as you are finding your way to them.
And I know, when bills are due, and you're feeling restless, or far from where you want to be, or otherwise dissatisfied and impatient, it is hard to breathe, find calm and remember that you really will book again. Whether it is this role or another or both: you will book. Think of it as math.
Not only are you stacking the deck in your favor by preparing and honing your work. Not only are you talented and intrinsically capable of being human (the core of our work) but the arbitrariness of the industry means that opportunity comes to everyone. Your chance to do great things with the opportunities that come your way is a certainty. It depends only on having the patience and persistence to make luck; luck being preparation meeting opportunity.
It really is mundane when you find the balance of investment and detachment from outcome. Like the formation of diamonds: time and persistent energy make good things.
In an audition you have the role, you are playing it during the audition. Whether you are offered the opportunity to play it again has little to do with you. I told my grandmother once that when I book, or when I don't, I give her the blame or credit. The genetics she and my other grandparents gave me make a difference and are beyond my power to choose them. Booking, like many things in life, is not about you.
Do your work, trust the process and jobs will come. If you don't book this, you'll book another. So have fun, enjoy the journey. Find fun in the process. Success is inevitable.
Sunday, April 28, 2013
Resilience in the Face of Change
The rest of the world is coming to encounter the constant change that actors have for a good while now. And managing change can some times be as simple (but not always easy) as talented people aligned toward a common good vision. Can be talented as actors, or as friends, family members, people. Preparing for the unexpected isn't totally possible, but some mindsets can help:
Intentionally stripping away dependencies on things you can no longer depend on is the single best preparation to change.
We're tempted to isolate ourselves from change, by building a conceptual or physical moat around our version of the future. Better, I think, to realize that volatility is the new normal
(from In search of resilience).
Saturday, April 27, 2013
Stars and Hits Using Crowd Funding
While there are real issues with crowd funding for film and TV projects, the idea that name stars are "taking away" donations that would've gone to lesser known projects, if the star had never arrived, is not true or at least unlikely. It may be flawed zero-sum thinking. It is yelling into the wind.
It's possible established people and projects turning to crowd funding helps the less established. It makes crowd funding something a bigger group of people are aware of and more open too. It legitimizes the funding method for the mainstream.
Zero-sum thinking, a "someone must lose for me to win" view seems to be one of the key problems in entertainment (and possibly life).
Either way, run your own race, and fund as you need to, or choose to. Griping doesn't change things. If hits and stars use crowd funding, it only really makes a difference if you have influence over what funding options they use. If you don't, they fall into the category of things you don't control, and can't change by wanting them to change. So handle the impact of what is out of your control as best you can and move on. Easy to say, but hard to do. Break a leg and have a great weekend.
Update May 9, 2013: Kickstarter has chimed in with numbers supporting the famous-things-bring-new-audience-to-less-established-things idea, read more in my post.
Thursday, April 25, 2013
Why Web Series Are Not Television
...it's far easier to get understanding or buy in quickly (from investors, in-laws and users) when you take the shortcut of making your digital thing look and work just like the trusted and proven non-digital thing. But over and over again, we see that the winner doesn't look at all like the old thing. eBay doesn't look like Sotheby's. Amazon doesn't look like a bookstore.
The only reason to venture into the land of the new is to benefit from the leap that comes when you get it right
(from Skeuomorphs = failure). So for goodness sake stop trying to make TV-lite when making a web series. The web is not a television. Match the show to the venue, try to examine what the medium is and perhaps realize that computer programming and storytelling are becoming one another.
Tuesday, April 23, 2013
Finish Your Work
Your work can be both complete, and have luster. Work, as in expend effort, to deliver a finished product.
A professor once told me, "You are a designer. You are concerned with the way things look." This mantra has become a constant reminder for me to look at what I’m creating and to make sure it's deliberate, intentional, without unfinished edges and, most importantly, without the disclaimer that I could have done better. It has made me aware of the need to assess what I can do for a particular project with its given resources, and to ensure that I'm not attempting to create something I will not be able to finish. I don't believe we should be creating designs that hint at a larger, more expensive and unattainable vision-rather, we should be creating with awareness and respect for our limitations, with the goal that what is presented to an audience is finished and without apology
(from The Right Chair). So too with acting. You are an actor. You are concerned with the way people do things.
Joe Bill, one of my instructors at Second City in Chicago, said:
How you do what you do is who you are. As an actor, do what you do like you mean it. As a character, have them do what they do as they would uniquely do it.
Handed the sides and given 5 minutes to look them over before the audition, or having the script for months before rehearsals start: do a finished version of the role. At least for auditions and jobs, turn in a final product.
That doesn't mean you must be perfect, by all means take risks and fail well, and class is a wonderful place for trying things that may not work. Things that, to put it bluntly, may suck. But our job is to do the best we can at that moment. Our job is to act. The gig is the final performance to the audience that sees it, so give them what they paid for.
Our resources may be more a matter of time, focus, energy and other typically less material things than a stage set design (unless of course one includes coaching, classes and other things that cost money), but they are still resources.
Like a film that never gets out of post, our work doesn't exist until it hits the lens and microphone or crosses the footlights. So put the best work you can out. Finished work. Don't just point at what you do, do it. Will your well studied and prepared version be better than the improvised, ad-hoc 3 second preparation version? Maybe. Maybe not. But doesn't matter if the production is losing the light in its last day and really needs this take to work in the next 5 minutes or the story won't get told. Do your best work.
Even if it is low budget, you are coming straight from an 8 hour shift at an exhausting non-acting job, you are wearing your own clothes for wardrobe or the script has only just been handed to you, do the best you can with what you have where you are. Make it a good finished product.
And yes, do try to avoid poorly resourced situations that compromise the work. Or your morals, or your health. Like a dressing room that is below freezing and gives you pneumonia; the unions have rules like minimum dressing room temperatures for a reason. And yes, I well know it's always easier, and so much nicer, to do our work with bountiful resources available. Shrimp cocktail being brought to you by craft services at 2am outside on a night shoot in the winter just because crafty is awesome and does it even though none of the cast or crew asked them to? Yes please and thank you. Enjoy those times. Do what you can with what you have where you are right now.
It is often more comfortable to have time to hone a scene's lines with a different dialect than your own. But actors have booked roles even after learning just moments before their audition that the character speaks with a (fill in the blank) accent. It is more pleasant to know your bills are getting paid while you work because you are getting triple-scale and not $100 a day, but actors have won Academy Awards for roles that paid them $100 a day. In an ideal world, resources would never be limited in unpleasant ways. We don't live in an always ideal world. But we can do great work anyway, without resorting to pointing toward what could have been if only we'd had __________.
And if you are producing your own work, then for everyone's sake, and especially your own, don't start a project you will not finish. It is better to quit before you start and put the time/money/energy/sanity elsewhere. And in your acting, remember: you are already a complete, whole, and finished person. We get refined, honed, expanded every moment of our lives, but the hard work of having the raw material of our work, being human, is done. You are enough. So have fun, and break a leg!
Wednesday, April 10, 2013
There is No Role
There is no spoon. Or for us, there is no role. At least not yet.
We play a character during an audition, when we're called in and at that moment a callback does not exist, for anyone. Not for us. Not for the auditors. Not for any other actor. One can argue there is the potential for one, the potential for a callback, but why do that.
There is the potential for Godzilla to start stomping the city you're in during your audition too. And the potential for the project to get canceled, lose its funding, go into turn-around and never have any callbacks. Pretend I inserted here a discussion of infinite quantum possibility.
So during an audition, there is no role. In fact even on set, there isn't a role. No role yet in a being-watched-by-the-audience sense, at least not beyond whomever is watching in video village or live on set. So don't focus all of your attention on a void, a non-thing, a total lack.
Sure, we all want, and work, and plan for our work to come to full fruition, and there is nothing wrong with that. As long as one remembers that a good way to make God (or the universe) laugh is to make plans, one should plan. Do laundry, put money in savings, do your acting preparation. But between action and cut, there is no moment after now, only now.
Yes, our characters plan, fixate on the not-right-now in all sorts of ways. Chekhov's make a habit of lamenting the past that's gone (and may never have actually happened) and hoping for a different future they all too often do nothing to bring about. Sometimes Arthur Miller's react to now in the name of what-they-think-will-be-a-better tomorrow. Shakespeare's can synthesize an epoch in a sentence or scheme and cross-dress to get a satisfying denouement.
But the actor, between action and cut, has nothing to work on, nothing to fixate upon beyond the now. Sure, maybe you know that a given phrase is at a "7" because later in the story the character hits their "10" but also know and remember that right now, at that instant and as you play, the "7" is all that needs to happen, all that exists.
A short version of this might be:
- be present
- be in the now
- be in the moment
- simply be
This can involve creative flow.
Staying in the present moment often is something any near death experience can also do. Though I seriously don't recommend courting near death experiences as a working technique. You may have already had one that you can remember, and draw from.
Do what you do, what you need to do, what needs doing, right now, in this moment. The next moment you'll take care of when you get there. Act now, and have fun.
If you stop worrying about the outcomes, you will achieve a better outcome
Tuesday, March 19, 2013
Believe in Yourself
...click your shoes three times and say one thing: I believe.
Just simply believe in yourself. Believe that you are special. Believe that you have something to offer that no one else has. (Some would say that's confidence.)
Success is not defined by others, but only by what YOU define it to be. You will always be the defining factor in your successes
Wednesday, March 13, 2013
There is No Luck
Not the victory but the action; Not the goal but the game; In the deed the glory.
- Hartley Burr Alexander
There is no luck. At least not that matters for us as we make our choices. Yes, things outside of us can conspire in our favor, but since they are outside of us, they are not our concern.
A colleague taught me this last month: focus on your process, the root not the fruit. I had a good sequence of things happen, and I said to him "I was lucky with that, that those things happened" and he immediately said:
No. Don't ever say it is luck. Luck has nothing you can do to change it, to affect it. It's not luck. It is the combination of what you do, what you're doing that you have to look at. Understand what was working. Don't ever put your results, what you do, on luck. Luck is out of your control. What you do isn't. Focus on what you do. Work on what you're doing; refine that, learn from that, figure out what is working, and what isn't.
All those other things are not about you. They will take care of themselves. Anyone can have a list of good things or bad things happen. Your job, your task, is to do what you do, and improve that.
It has been a few weeks, so I paraphrase, but that is the core: run your own race. Focus not on chance, or fortune, focus on what your work is.
Whether this is objective truth or not, it might help put our focus where it belongs: where it makes a difference. Doing what you can and having faith that what is out of your control will take care of itself is not easy. Maybe not even always possible.
Many of Chekhov's characters never do it. They see themselves as at the mercy of everything but their own choices. They never go to Moscow (Three Sisters) or they never change how they run their estate, and so they lose it (Cherry Orchard). A director could chose this single theme for a production: putting the blame/credit/focus in the wrong place in life. Or if not wrong, certainly not useful.
Ibsen's characters tend toward a different mix of taking charge vs. passivity. They burn their lovers' novel (Hedda Gabler) or slam the door as they leave (A Doll's House). A director could chose to make the play an examination of what happens when people take control of their situations, both for better or for worse.
Death of a Salesman could also be done with an eye to what we each do to change the lives we're living. Hamlet almost exists as an examination of what action and inaction are, personal agency vs. paralysis.
Giving away your power to chance is not the same as being humble in the face of a world you don't control. Giving luck the credit, means giving luck the blame, and can leave you helpless to do anything about anything. In our lives and careers the balance must be struck.
We are blessed with many things, things that have come to us or been given to us not through our direct choices (ex: we are alive), so be thankful. It may be this simple: while you are being thankful, do the things you can. And luck? That's preparation meeting opportunity.
Federally Funded Theatres Face Sequester
While audience development and ticket sales may be the most resilient way to fund theatre, it would be good if all sides in our government would actually govern.
The sequestration budget cuts that clicked in automatically after Congress failed to reach a deal before March 1 could lead to fewer roles for actors.
Theater executives who have been through government budget tightening before say it’s likely most organizations will see a percentage reduction rather than an outright elimination of their funding. Still, for small-to-midsized theaters a reduction of $5,000-$10,000 could mean one or two less Equity actors in a production.
Friday, March 08, 2013
Refuse to Accept Shame
The artist, then, combines courage with a fierce willingness to refuse to accept shame