Sunday, May 24, 2020

Actors Take Note

Take note of who is doing what. On-set safety counts.

picture of a video camera on set with a pink teddy bear wearing a face mask on the view finder screen

There are some producers and directors who would rather get you and everyone you come in contact with sick than spend any more time and money to make their projects safe.

We all want to work. And we all want to say yes whenever work is offered that makes sense to take. We each have to decide what sort of actor we want to be and what sort of life we want to live. It is not necessary to give up basic safety in order to work, get paid and make things worth making. I know it can feel like it is something we must surrender. We don't have to. Most protective measures are reasonable, relatively low cost and only cause slight delays.

Will work that is rushed and cuts corners be good work that can move your career forward? Or is taking some extra time and money to insure the work is good (and those who make it are safe) better? I suggest the latter is the best way forward.

Getting paid matters; we all use money to exchange for goods and services. And getting paid does not require recklessness or taking dangerous risks. Nor does doing projects well require easily avoidable risk and facing injury or death. I can't believe I have to say that out loud.

Every year films and TV have ever been made have unfortunately included productions who hurt and killed cast and crew. Case studies of why rushing, cutting corners and ignoring safety are foolish are too many to name here and predate both 2020 and the pandemic by decades. The Twilight Zone movie (which killed and injured many people) and Midnight Rider (which killed Sarah Jones and injured many others) are 2 well known examples. There are many many others.

Film sets are largely construction sites and include risk independent of contagious disease. Preventable death is worth preventing. Working with people who will work to prevent your preventable death leads to career longevity, and for that matter life longevity.

Most danger on film and TV sets can avoided by taking simple steps. Many people do not take those simple steps. They will not take cheap and fast steps to make the cast and crew way more safe. There are no good reasons they don't take those steps. Impatience and laziness are not good reasons.

Good projects are not good by accident. Talented people working in unison to realize a good vision has always been the best bet to create good work. Being needlessly unsafe is not a wise path to creating good work. People who are worried on set will not do good work. People who are calm and feel safe, and are safe, will do better work. Being in danger does not lead people to be calm, nor does danger lead to people doing their best work. This is true of every department. This is true of every set. This is true of every job on earth.

Production insurance companies agree with me on this even if their arguments are largely financial. Lack of safety is more expensive than safety. Productions are already gambling whether or not the audience will show up and like the finished product. There is no good reason to gamble with having the production shut down and bankrupted by taking foolish and avoidable risks. There are no good reasons productions gamble foolishly. Ever. Impatience and laziness are not good reasons. Greed is not a good reason.

I am surprised to find myself writing this. I have also been surprised to see proposals for restarting production that contain next to no comments on keeping people safe. I am surprised to see people planning productions like it is 2019. Before this year it was stunning to see people take risks they don't need to take. It is still stunning seeing people take risks they don't need to now.

We do not want to work with those who rush. There is little upside. We do not want to work with those who cut corners. Cut corners diminish our gains. They ruin work. They break people. We want to work with people who are working to the best of their ability to do good work.

Sometime later we can forgive those that are reckless now and still remember who they are. People who would be reckless with you and your cast mates' lives are unlikely to do good work. They are unlikely to move your career in a good direction. This may be true of them beyond 2020. This may be true of them beyond 2030. Find the people you want to work with, not only for your career but because your career is your work life. You only get one life and it includes your work life.

We can all be positive that good work is more likely being done by people focusing on all details effectively, including safety. Our careers are marathons and not sprints. Working well and doing good work are how we book more work and book better work. We make progress by not merely saying yes, but by saying yes well and wisely.

I know we all want to work. And we all have bills to pay. I am extremely eager to book work too. I feel desperation. And there is no good reason to be foolish or reckless pursuing work, pursuing our careers or pursuing our next paychecks. Desperation is not a good reason. Desperation is a feeling, and it is better felt than acted on. Acting out of desperation leads nowhere good.

Feel desperation, but try not to act on it. Be well. Work to thrive. Good luck and caveat actor.

If you are in an unsafe situation on set, you can contact SAG-AFTRA's Emergency Hotline 24 hours, seven days a week at: (844) SAFER SET / (844) 723–3773, and/or leave set.

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this posted by David August at 11:23 PM - 0 comments -  

Thursday, May 21, 2020

How We Use Time Now

how productive is enough

picture of a river through a wooded mountain area tinted blue with the words 'Any time not sick, is time well spent. -Julie Nolke' written on it
pine watt/Unsplash

Let that sink in. Everyday you aren't sick is a good day. In a fairly objective sense we know this is true. I know it hasn't felt like that to me, but I suspect it is still true.

How could that not be true during a global catastrophe. Whatever the specifics of our individual situation, we are facing a world that's different than it was in 2019. As you may be acutely aware, our industry, both on camera and on stage, has been largely hollowed out. This isn't new, Shakespeare faced this too when the plague came to London.

But what do we do? I mean what do we do and feel we need to do now? I have felt alternately that I should be solving everything all at once, and also be content to do whatever I can each day and be ok with whatever that is.

Don't forget to be thankful for the time you have, and make use of those low moments. Feeling uncomfortable is great because it shows you all the things you can be, and what you need to be.

- David Bowie, as told to me by Joseph Dale Kelly

This does not mean you must "be productive." As Bowie says: be what you need to be. Surviving a pandemic is success. Having a pulse at the end of this is success. Have a pulse and then all your dreams can come true.

This may sound harsh, or reductionist, but couldn't it really be just that simple? Couldn't surviving a global pandemic be enough, and anything else is bonus? I think this is an uncomfortable and oddly simple truth. Thriving as we may all wish to thrive may be less possible now than at any other time in our collective lives.

This angers me, and my rage lands on the virus itself. Unfortunately, it has no face to punch, literally or metaphorically (though washing hands does help kill it). So in my distemper, what should fill my time, occupy my days?

There have been good things said about how to spend and even structure time during lock-down and quarantine, but what do we do as actors specifically? There are resources for financial relief (donate to the Actors Fund if you can, mail a donation for COVID-19 relief to The Actors Fund Home, 155–175 W Hudson Ave, Englewood NJ 07631 or visit and click donate), and unemployment is also worth perusing. I am also seeking other options myself.

So step one seems to be pursuing financial relief. Step two probably can be seeking other income. This likely means seeking a non-acting job. Like anyone not doing what their career is, we are very allowed to be unhappy about it.

And there we land back on Julie Nolke's words: any time not sick is time well spent. As mentioned, having a pulse is now the bar for success and we have the gift of anything else. Seeking work that doesn't require going to set or stage isn't fun, but is worth doing anyway.

Maybe step three is to get ourselves creative sustenance. I'm not talking about paying acting work which is likely more scarce now than any other time in the last century. I'm talking about feeding our souls and using our instruments. Creative outlets now, as before, don't always require many others to participate or a hiring to happen first. We can do this without permission from anyone else. No guarantee it will always be satisfying, but it is possible.

Now may be a time we can work on a screenplay we have had on our back burner, or a play. But it's ok if we don't. Maybe we can join one of the online script readings by video chat. But we're fine if we don't. Maybe just cold read something. Or don't. There is no playbook for this or plan we have to fit. That doesn't mean we aren't pushing back against our own expectations. And one's own expectations can be oppressive.

Our own expectations do get dicey. Our own judgements often aren't particularly useful or helpful. That doesn't mean we don't have them or shouldn't have them. It does mean we are likely better served by not acting on our judgements or feeding them. Have I done all the things in an ideal world I would love to have gotten done so far during the pandemic? No. Do I gain by beating myself up for that? No. Do I beat myself up a bit anyway? Yes. It is also tempting to beat myself up for beating myself up? Also yes. I am reminded that it is worth remembering to breathe.

The Crux: the Sabre-Toothed Tiger

And here's the crux of it: many people feel uncreative right now. Many are unmotivated to work on acting things or really anything else as well. You are not alone. A metaphor I hastily came up with early on in this was that we're all trying to do everything we're trying to do with a sabre-toothed tiger in the room with us, looking on and ready to pounce. After all, there is a threat looming. Something that might hurts us and the people we love is, in a way, stalking us. This can't be comfortable. It truly cannot.

This can, all by itself, account for not being motivated. It can explain why creativity may be less accessible. And it is awful. Acknowledging the pain at least gives us some sort of handle on it even if it doesn't help it go away. Yes, Shakespeare wrote some great work during epidemics, but almost everyone else didn't. Almost everyone in the history of the world hasn't. Virtually everyone. And that does not make them any less valid of a human. If you have made anything, it's bonus. Our worth is not bound to our output. We do not earn the right to be ourselves through productivity. It is worth saying again. We do not earn the right to be ourselves through productivity.

And there's the gain we can have that Bowie name checks: this discomfort can show us all the things we can be. Yes it is awful, and the possibilities for the future are limitless. Still. These feel mutually exclusive but they aren't. It strains the mind to hold the ideas together at once: the difficulties we face now and our dreams coming true. We can survive this, and doing so is enough to achieve greatness when the threat has passed. Having a pulse at the end of this is exactly enough for us to thrive down the road. Yes, we'd like to thrive all day everyday, and often we may have been amazingly lucky to be able to. Right now, that is less possible. And that is the fault of a virus. Place the blame there, where it has been earned.

Maybe we can see things more clearly through this, even ourselves and our priorities. And maybe we can't. Either way is ok. Because simply being around tomorrow leaves us with options. So do that, and you're succeeding. Anything else is a bonus. Everything else is a bonus. Talked to a friend? That's bonus. Ate something vaguely healthy? That's bonus. Scrawled something down for a future project? Bonus. Read this paragraph aloud to check in with your cold reading and speaking of text? That's bonus too.

No two actors have the same career path. We're not lawyers, accountants or anything with a singular sequence of steps to take that lead to employment or professional development. We also get fewer road signs along the way confirming our progress is in the direction we want or that progress is happening at all. This has long been true.

But often our best work is when we, and our characters, face uncertainty with courage. And courage does not mean not being afraid. Courage does not mean knowing the outcome or forcing ourselves into some form of comfort that is known and straightforward. Courage does not mean feeling good about it and courage is not concerned with comfort. Courage is doing what we do anyway. Sometimes that thing we do is read a line, execute blocking, show up to an audition on time or play a role. Right now the "it" we have to do is have a pulse. Our task is to be. Our success is to look back on this pandemic and tell those unborn now what it was like back then. Back now.

We can act in faith or act in fear, but not both. Act in the faith that surviving now lets you thrive later. The thriving will come, as certainly as the sun will rise tomorrow. Right now, just be. And may all the time you spend be not sick and so well spent. And if you do spend time sick, may that time pass as gently as possible and return you to days well. Just be.

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this posted by David August at 1:05 PM - 0 comments -  

Friday, May 15, 2020

How to Feel Miserable As an Actor

Thank you for indulging the short stories I posted earlier; I was seeking a creative outlet and hope they entertained.

I did not write these (they seem to be least 10 years old and I can't find the original author), but they still feel relevant today:


Sometimes, pain may be inevitable, but suffering is optional. I'm finding things stressful, but stressed is the new black. Please feel free to let me know how you're doing: you can @ me on Twitter.

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this posted by David August at 12:38 PM - 0 comments -  

Saturday, May 02, 2020



by David August - horror/sci-fi short story

cover image for the story Heartbreak by David August - a tree in a field surrounded by trees

"Grandpa?" Tommy asked his grandfather, holding his hand, "why don't you want to go for a walk unless there's some wind?"

"Well, back in the first pandemic, the idea was that it could hang in the air from people breathing it out. So if there was some wind, then you could walk a good distance behind them and the wind would blow it away before you stepped through the cloud of their exhalation."

The little boy smiled a little, and felt guilty. He knew talking about the first pandemic was hard for his grandfather. But he also knew that his grandpa's eyes would light up with a twinkle he'd never see otherwise, not even when they had birthday cake or went bike riding. He was glad to get his grandfather to speak about those times, even if it sometimes made his grandfather hesitant. And Tommy felt a little bad for bringing it up. But grandpa's twinkle seemed worth it.

He'd never met his grandma, but in the stories his grandfather told of how they met, their adventures (as grandpa called them), Tommy felt like he could imagine her, moving and interactive, not just the photos and videos he could watch.

"I know it might seem a little silly," his grandfather continued, "but..."

Tommy looked back up at him as they got to the end of the driveway.

"...nothing was quite the same after that, and so I... I don't know. I guess it feels kind of nice, even if it's nostalgia, to keep some habits from then going."

"I think I can understand." Tommy was glad he hasn't seen one of them yet. The shortages, the lockdowns, the way his grandpa and the TV describe it all seems kind of scary even if old fashioned. "Do you miss it? You know, how things were?"

His grandfather paused. Tommy would realize years later it was like his grandpa was reliving it. "Yes, I do. I miss the time before. I miss the thousand little things that no one even thinks about now."

"Like what?"

"Well, there's the architecture for one."

"The architecture?"

"Yeah. They used to build stadiums and theatres and everything with people way closer together, and no screening corridors at entrances. Don't get me wrong, they are a great way to ease into the space, and they make good use of them. And who doesn't like having more personal space during a game or a show, but..."

Tommy waited, hoping he'd continue.

"There is not a great way to explain the way it is to be there now, with people just...together. Spontaneous and planning, let you really enjoy it, get into it and connect with the players."

"Uh huh."

His grandfather looked him in the eye. "You could really feel it. Like at a ball game there could be a wave started, people standing up and raising their arms in unison, and following the people next to them as this whole, wave I guess, would go all the way around the stadium. You'd feel the people starting to stand near you, so even if you weren't paying attention, like you weren't watching the stands, you were looking at your food or something, you'd feel it. People try to do it now. In stadiums now you can't get that close to feel it the same way. Even at Wrigley, after the renovations it's not the same,"

Tommy knew his grandpa loved Wrigley. His grandpa and grandma had their first date there when his grandpa had been given two free tickets. That was before they'd won the last time, and before later when tickets got hard to get for in-person.

His grandpa continued, "or at a concert. I remember once on this beach, I wasn't that much older than you, this festival. It was a total free for all. I mean they had the trucks set up with speakers, and vendors and this big dinosaur thing you could just climb up and get your pictures on. And there was this one camper that was converted into a sort of bar and dance club thing, right out in the open. People dancing and trading places with a DJ who was playing the music that you could feel through the speakers, and the ground. I swear you could feel the ground moving because of all the people's feet dancing with the rhythm. Dancers just freely moving among each other."

"That's weird." Tommy had never seen that except in an old black and white movie. "People don't do that now."

"No...they don't. And for good reason."

"I know, my teachers tell us that. Tell us about how it was and can't be. That that's why we can't play with our classmates, just our brothers or sisters."

"Yeah..." grandpa fell silent and Tommy could sense it was not necessary to say something, just hold grandpa's hand while they walked.

A delivery vehicle passed by and the wind gently moved the branches of the trees.

"Grandpa?" Tommy wanted to ask, and it seemed like now was a good moment. "Do you miss grandma?"

"Yes...every moment of every day."

"How did you, do you...I don't know, how did did you..."

"Well..." grandpa stopped walking and looked at Tommy. "Why do you want to know."

"Well, daddy says Wilson is getting old, and I can maybe prepare myself for when he goes." His grandpa smiled; losing your dog is hard for anyone, but especially for a little boy.

"Well, you probably can't perfectly prepare for that kind of thing. But your dad, he's a planner."

"Yeah. But he said you might be able to help me get ‘as ready as you can be.'"

"Right." His grandpa took a breath and let it out slowly. "Well, with your grandma we...I didn't have any real warning. It looked like we were out of it. We'd made it through. Vaccine was getting traction, and there was light at the end of the tunnel." Tommy saw his eyes turn wistful, like they always did when he talked about grandma. "And your grandma, she smiled, really smiled again."

Tommy tried to egg him on to keep going, "Uh huh."

"We went to the beach where we lived, well five or six blocks away, the day they opened them up. One of the last things to open up. First walk since it had started where we didn't feel like we needed to zigzag to keep away from everyone else. The sidewalks allowed two-way walking traffic then."

Tommy didn't see why they would have let that happen, it would put people passing too close to each other. "That's weird."

"Yes, it is. It was. Your grandma, she smiled when we got to the beach, and I hadn't realized how long it had been since I'd seen her really smile, her relaxed smile. You could light the world with it."

Tommy smiled. He'd seen her smile in pictures, but it was easier to see in his grandpa's eyes. "That sounds nice."

"It was. People were swimming, together, no lane markers either. And the waves and sand, the sound of kids playing. It was such a good way to celebrate being able to come outside and be with people again."

"I'll bet," said Tommy. He could hardly imagine but it all sounded very exciting.

"It was there she suggested we have your dad."


"Yeah. She was putting on sunscreen, and she said, totally frankly, ‘let's start a family.'"

Tommy saw his grandpa's face change. It was like storm clouds crashed into it and tears came from both eyes. Tommy had never seen this before. His grandpa's face was hollow suddenly, it was alone.

"Grandpa? You ok?" He was quiet. His eyes met Tommy's and they lit up again.

"Yes. I'm here with you."

Tommy felt good that that made his grandfather smile. "She never met me did she?"

"No. You were born a lot after she was gone. So was your dad. I'm so glad we'd frozen-"

"Popsicle Kid!" Tommy knew that well. Tommy knew that when his dad had asked his grandpa about where he came from when he was a kid, his grandpa told him and his dad had started calling himself Popsicle Kid. He'd even made his grandpa get him a cape that had PK stitched on the back so he could run around the yard like an old superhero. Tommy's dad now lets him play with it too.

"Yeah, your dad was a popsicle kid."

"So she never met dad either."

"No. She didn't. She would have really liked to."

His grandfather was quiet. The wind blew gently.

"What happened after the beach?"

"I never saw her smile, not really like that. Then..." his grandpa swallowed. "I didn't see it again until your dad was born. You and him have it."

That made Tommy feel happy inside. He was sure he would have liked to know his grandma. Could you miss someone you've never met he wondered.

"What happened after the beach?"

His grandpa paused. Breathed in and then out again.

"It mutated."

© copyright 2020 David August, all rights reserved.

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this posted by David August at 4:42 PM - 0 comments -