Thursday, August 17, 2023

Let Me Entertain You (Two/Too)!

At our new venue: Bistro 46

Let me entertain you
Let me make you smile
Let me sing some bold songs
Some parodies
Some old songs
I'm not that versatile

And if you sign up
You’ll join the line up 
Want your spirits
To climb
So let me entertain you
And we'll have
A real good time, yes, sir!
We'll have
A real good

Ten years ago Sophie approached me about hosting a new open mic. I wrote about it here:

Follies on Zoom with my mother during the pandemic


In that time, we've been at several different venues, 
including on Zoom from Scotland (with my mother) but one thing has remained constant: the people. 

International Follies on Zoom

We've seen that the community
we've built is what remains consistent,
including welcoming newcomers.  During the pandemic we had singers from all over The U.S., the U.K., Spain and Brazil!
I'm grateful to every venue, pianist, bartender and, 
of course, every singer.

As an actor in the city, life can have so many highs and lows.  Add a pandemic to the equation and multiply those highs and lows.  Follies has remained an artistic outlet for so many of us.  A special thank you to the friends who have encouraged me to write more parody songs.  Here's an example that welcomed us all back on Monday Nights (to the tune of "You'll Be Back" from Hamilton:

You say
the price of that drink’s not a price that you’re willing to pay
You cry
In your 8 dollar wine cos you miss the fajitas goin’ by
Why so blue?
It’s summer, it’s humid but we’re here there’s no need to fret
I’m looking at YOU
Put a smile on your face - we haven’t closed this joint yet 
Look! We’re back, we’re still here
Pat your back and give yourself a cheer.
Look, we’re back (time will tell)
If we close the venue here as well
Prices rise, restaurants close
We have been there for the highs and lows
And when push comes to shove,
We’re still here every Monday Funday to remind you of my love. 
Da-da Da-da Da....etc. 

Come sing the songs you know and that you’re skilled in.
Please welcome on piano - Michael Gildin!
He’s here to play this Monday
And don’t you love a Monday
Our precious funday, Monday
We’re back here every Monday
Forever and ever and ever and ever and ever.
Look we’re back, we’re still here
Ask Lorena if you want a beer
Look we’re back, friendships dear
Without you, there’d be no atmosphere
Look! We’re back. With a song
Kelsey, Michael and The Judy Wong
And when push comes to shove
We’re still here every Monday Funday to remind you of my love. 
Da-da Da-da Da....etc. 

Come celebrate ten years with us this coming Monday.  As ever, NO COVER and NO MINIMUM!

Monday, December 2, 2019

Well, Maybe Next Year.

The last couple of years as an actress have been lucky ones. I worked right up until December 30th, 2018.  In terms of getting work, I was busy, busy, busy. Straight offers, long runs, working with so many people I admire and respect and, of course, a Soderbergh movie with Claire Foy (I think I've mentioned that once or twice). 

And all without representation. Thank you, Casting Directors.

After years of ups and downs I ended 2018, feeling very grounded and hopeful for more work to come. I had my Green Card, Equity card and was a member of SAG.  I was ready for more.

Isn't it rich?
Are we a pair?
Me here at last on the ground,
You in mid-air,
Where are the clowns? *

As is the case with many actors, though, there are highs and lows and periods of "resting".  And I spent much of the years feeling down and thinking I'll never work again. So, as the year is coming to an end, I decided to practise (British spelling for the verb) what I preach with The Actor's Friend and gave myself homework I have given to students who have felt stuck.

Isn't it bliss?
Don't you approve?
One who keeps tearing around,
One who can't move,
Where are the clowns?
There ought to be clowns.*

After years of tearing around, I felt I was  doing well so maybe took things a little for granted.  So many people said after UNSANE, "Your career is going to take off." And being offered jobs without auditioning is so lovely! Heading to the grind of E.P.A.s after that can be a struggle. And I still could not find representation. I've spent much of the year on a bit of a downer. 
And it's time to stop.

Yesterday, after reflecting on Thanksgiving, I gave myself a good talking to and went through my planner to look at everything I did achieve in 2019 and accentuate the positive. In no particular order:

1.  Readings, readings, readings.
Left:  Indigo: A New Musical
Right: 2 short Thornton Wilder plays at Irish Rep.

These are such a joy to be a part of. I've been involved in many this year, ranging from a first table read to A.E.A. 29 hour staged readings. It's such a thrill to be there at the early stages of new works or revisiting old works. S
ome are in very early stages.  Some are on a path to Broadway. Most projects are years in developing and it's very exciting to be a small (or maybe loud) voice in that process.

Left: Reporter Girl by Laura Noni Rohrman
Right: The Unmanageable Sisters reading at Lincoln Center.

2 readings of The Caucasian Chalk Circle with Nomad Theatrical
ahead of a run in Autumn of 2020 at La MaMa.
2. Representation.

I love how small this business is. I first met the wonderfully talented LeeAnne Hutchison when we worked together Off-Broadway in A Lovely Sunday for Creve Coeur last year and we've kept in touch and worked on 3 readings together this year! While we were chatting, I explained I was still struggling to find representation and she kindly sent my materials to her manager, Robert Graham at Baker Management. He sent a lovely email, we met in person and it was a great match! He's been sending me out and getting me in some great rooms.

Left: Mouthpiece
Right: The Perfect One
3. Short Films.

So often these are made with such great love and passion.  This was certainly the case with both of these short films. Mouthpiece, directed by Yaron Lotan and The Perfect One, directed by Matthew Szewczyk.  And it's always nice to get some more IMDb credits!

4. On hold!

Don't you love farce?
My fault, I fear
I thought that you'd want what I want
Sorry, my dear!
But where are the clowns
Send in the clowns
Don't bother, they're here.*

I've been on hold for 2 commercials, a movie and 2 T.V. shows.  Frustrating as this can be for an actor to be so close but not book, it also gives tremendous hope. It's the sign of a good audition and you're never auditioning for just one job. Good C.D.s will remember and call you in again. In fact, one was lovely enough to ask my commercial agent to tell me how right I was and that she would certainly be calling me in again.

Top: with Helen Gallagher
Bottom The Irish Rep Gala with Bill and Hillary Clinton

5. Singing.

I've been taking class with the glorious Helen Gallagher since arriving here in 2008. Every Tuesday, it's a joy to sing and continue to learn from her. In June, I had the huge honour of singing at The Irish Rep 30th Anniversary Gala at Alice Tully Hall, thanks to the brilliant Musical Director, John Bell. And, of course, every week there is Polly's Follies. 

6. Family (or, as we say, Flamily)

This slow work year has meant I've been able to visit my family more than any other year. Last year, I was in A Child's Christmas in Wales at Irish Rep. and had to miss holidays at home. And while I'd love to be in a play just now, I'm incredibly excited to see all my nieces and nephews and bring in 2020 with family.
Left: My nephew and Godson's 21st Birthday
Middle: A long overdue holiday to visit my dear cousin, Jane and Auntie Ray and Uncle Chris in Canada
Right: My Dad's 80th Birthday

As for 2020,

Isn't it rich?
Isn't it queer?
Losing my timing this late in my career
But where are the clowns?
There ought to be clownsWell, maybe next year.*

*Send in the Clowns,
Music and Lyrics by Stephen Sondheim

Friday, April 12, 2019

In Praise of Casting Directors

I am so grateful to the people who read my blogs.  It's been a while. Mainly because I have been busy working. Lucky me! Some people see that I am working and want to know how. Good question.  It has not been easy and it continues to be a struggle. I have learned from the ground up.  I came to New York as an immigrant on a student visa and already 33.  I knew nobody, I didn't have an apartment, I was struggling for cash, I did not even know what an E.P.A. was. I had to learn quickly.  Acting classes lead to me wanting to stay and pursue my life here. On social media, it might look easy and that luck has served me well. The reality is long and hard work, patience and tenacity. Success (for most of us) does not happen overnight and it is certainly not a constant. The Actor's friend blossomed from people asking me about getting in the room.

And questions like these:

How did you get your Equity Card?

How did you book  Soderbergh film without an agent?

How did you get in the room at Irish rep?

How did you book your first Off-Broadway play?

How did you become SAG-AFTRA?

How did you get appointments for T.V. without representation?

The answer to ALL of the questions above: CASTING DIRECTORS.

I often hear actors complain about how hard it is to get in the room.  Often they think getting representation will solve this.  Not so. Of course good representation can help you but you need to do ground work in building relationships with the gatekeepers. Casting directors hold the key.

Get to know CASTING DIRECTORS and help them get to know YOU!  With or without rep, they are your friends.  And they will bring you in regardless of rep.  I love so many of them.  Here are just a few, in no particular order:
How I got may Equity Card
1. Judy Bowman
We first met at The Network a long time ago. After that one meeting she remembered me and would call me in for projects.  And I made sure I kept in touch. I went in for a few things and never booked. Now I have the experience and wisdom (maybe?) to know that does not matter.   We're never auditioning for one job.  She called me in for a play at the Mint. I have since found out it was a very close call between me and another actress.  At the time I was devastated but I realize now, it was not meant to be. I was called in for the next play at the Mint and booked it.  AND it was being directed by my first acting teacher in the city, Austin Pendleton.  So it felt very special. Oh, and I got my Equity card. (oh and as I was typing this, I just received an audition appt for something Judy is casting!)

2.  Debby Brown.

Many friends would ask why I had never worked at Irish Rep. It wasn't from the want of trying! I had gone to some E.P.A.s and even managed to get an appointment for one of their projects. But, as ever, I kept in touch with casting directors I have met. I invited Debby to come and see "A Day by the Sea" at the Mint. She came and we chatted afterwards. So when something came up at Irish Rep that I felt I was right for, I emailed her and she gave me an appointment and I booked the job. Charlotte Moore wrote on my opening night card, "Why did it take us so long to find you?!". I had been there just waiting for the right time. I've since worked at Irish Rep three times. Lucky me!

3. Robin Carus 
Far from the Madding Crowd
Stu for Silverton
During the run of "A Day by the Sea", I submitted for a role in a A.E.A. staged reading of a new musical of "Far from the Madding Crowd". And what a treat that gig was with some very special and talented people. We became friends in that short week and I love following all their stories and successes on social media. I even booked another reading from that because of the multi-talented Will Reynolds (acting and singing in Madding Crowd and then Musical Director for Stu for Silverton). Fast forward to a couple of weeks ago, late on Thursday evening, facebook messenger pings.  Robin asking if I was around. The next day an offer for another A.E.A. reading: Indigo, a new musical. It was an American role and I asked Robin after, "How did you know I could do an American accent?" Her reply, "I think when we were working on Madding I seem to recall you doing a bunch of accents and thank goodness for YouTube. So, I knew you could do accents with ease. 
And I decided, well, I have a pretty good ear and so this lady will not let me down - and there you are!" An example of another great C.D. who is good at her job!

4. Kimberly Graham
Another facebook ping! I met Kim at her wonderful class which I highly recommend. So far, I've talked mainly about theatre connections. The film and T.V. world can be a much tougher nut to crack, especially without representation. But again, Kim is great at her job and remembered me and I made sure to follow up with her. And she has called me in since for a new show on Showtime.

And finally...

5. Carmen Cuba
Flashback to March 2012: The fabulous Heidi Marshall coached me and put me on tape for a new film. As is often the case with this particular director, it was all very hush hush. I was called back to meet Carmen Cuba (L.A. based) in New York. Sadly, I was non-union and still without a Green card. It was not meant to be. Of course, I kept in touch with Carmen (do you see a running theme here?) and she remembered me and asked me to self-tape for another secret project. I was in tech for "They Promised Her the Moon" so had no time to go anywhere to record the scenes. I frantically called my friend, Vanessa who came to the dressing room and filmed me on her iPhone. We were very tight for time and had to record 5 different scenes. I think I broke all the basic rules of self-taping and uploading the videos in a basement dressing room (with sketchy wifi) during tech was stressful to say the least. But lucky me, again. I was the director's choice. On my last day on the set, I told Soderbergh that I had auditioned for Carmen for Side Effects in 2012 and that she had remembered me for this. He hugged me and said "I'm so glad she did!"  Thank you, Carmen! 

with Claire Foy in Soderbergh's UNSANE

I have always kept records of auditions and C.D.s that I meet and so much of what I have learned as an actor has informed my teaching with The Actor's Friend. Something I have found invaluable is Casting About. After years of using notebooks to keep track, this tool is wonderful.  I've been using it since 2013 and I have records of every C.D. I've met and the auditions. 

Be patient, be kind, be yourself and remember that C.D.s want you to be the solution for them. By doing a good job we let them do a good job. We're all in this together.

Tuesday, January 2, 2018

Goodbye for now...

"A Day by the Sea" directed by Austin Pendleton for The Mint

Yes I know, goodbye for now,

 How long? A year, a day *

Last year I finished the end of an extended run of an Off-Broadway play.  It was a first for me, as most of you know if you've been following my journey.  It was bliss. Even better than I could have dreamed.  I am used to goodbyes in life and in shows. Even in high school we have those emotional highs and lows. But there is something about the working relationship, the dressing room, the family you become. I was lucky to be cast in a 29 hour reading of a new musical so I did not have time to wallow. And then I bonded with another new family!

"Far from the Madding Crowd" directed by Hunter Foster

Yes I love you, yes you're with me,
Here now, next to me, and worlds away!
See I free you, and I'll see you when I see you,
Fine, OK? *

I am living what I have dreamed of for years.  For those of you who know me or have been following my blog, this has not been an easy road.

What's next?  The end?

Will I ever work again?

I have been lucky in work in 2017.  Of course there have been periods of "rest" and anxiety and pounding 42nd Street but the good has far outweighed the bad. In the absence of a manager or agent, I have been representing myself and, although it has been tough, I have been able to practise what I preach as The Actor's Friend in private coaching and my Accountability Group.
Hagen Institute Teacher Training Lab at HB Studio.

Taking my nieces and nephews to see Gayle in Pantomime, Christmas, 2017.

"They Promised her the Moon" directed by Valentina Fratti 

January 2017 started with a wonderful group of actors and teachers with the Hagen Institute Teacher Training lab at HB Studio. 

It was a joy to revisit Uta Hagen's exercises and I was stretched as an actress and a teacher.  Friendships founded here remain and I just had the joy of seeing my scene partner and friend, Gayle Telfer Stevens perform here in Glasgow while I've been home for the holidays.

So much of this business is about building relationships. Working with friends is such a treat. Amanda Quaid was one of my first teachers when I studied full time at HB Studio in 2008. When she recommended me as a last minute replacement for "They Promised her the Moon" I was terrified, but very flattered.
I made yet another group of wonderful friends. 

Hard work and anxiety mixed with sing-alongs and dancing in the dressing room. Thank you, Amanda and my new friends for a trip to the moon and back!

"The Home Place" directed by Charlotte Moore at Irish Rep.

The first time I saw Amanda perform was at The Irish Repertory Theatre. Many people had suggested it would be a good place for me to work. Fast forward eight years and change and I did. It was a long journey to get there, but well worth the wait!

The work itself was a treat. The wonderful Brian Friel's last play, The Home Place. The play started performances in September and was due close in November. Then it was extended to December 17th. It's always a blessing to extend and keep working, especially when you're working with so many people you have grown to love.

"Stu for Silverton" directed by Andrew Russell and musical supervisor, Will Reynolds.

Towards the end of the run, I received a message from a Casting Director asking about my availability for another 29 hour reading of another new musical. Will Reynolds, with whom I had worked in the "Far from the Madding Crowd" reading had recommended me as a last minute replacement. Was I able to start rehearsals the next day? Yes, please. Rehearsing a new musical during the day and then performing in "The Home Place" in the evening. Exhausting, draining and fabulous. And, as I had realized during "Far from the Madding Crowd" reading, you can form firm friends even in a 29 hour reading. Thank you, Will!

Above: Full cast and crew of "The Home Place"
Below: My beloved dressing room mates, Rachel Pickup and Andrea Lynn Green

Thank you to all the wonderful people with whom I have shared stages and dressing rooms in 2017. Here's to 2018!

Goodbye for now, again
Goodbye until whenever then
We're free, that's what we said we'd be,
At leave to come an' go, you as well as I,
Somehow each "hello" makes it worth "goodbye"
For now. *

*Goodbye for Now from "Reds"
Music and Lyrics by Stephen Sondheim

Tuesday, October 10, 2017

I wish...

I wish...
More than anything...
More than life...
More than jewels*
With Chris Noth and Christopher McDonald

I moved to New York 9 years ago. To this day, I am asked where in Ireland I am from. Often not actually asked. There is Fedex guy who says "Top o' the morning'" to me and bursts into gales of laughter at his own wit.

One of the natural things that happened was people telling me, "You should get a job at Irish Rep." Because that how it works.  Chris Noth once told me I should be on Broadway.  He and my mother have that opinion in common.

It does NOT work like that!

I first went to The Irish Rep to see a play my teacher and friend Amanda Quaid was in. I collected my ticket at the Box Office and Charlotte Moore (The Artistic Director) was the one working behind the desk (one of the many things I love about the ethos of 
Irish Rep). When she heard me speak, she said "Oh where in the north are you from?" (Glaswegian is very similar to parts of Northern Ireland). I replied "Oh, I'm from Glasgow    but if it will get me a job here, I can pass for Irish!" The next day she had asked Amanda for my headshot and resume.

Mind you, at that time, I was an F1. A student. Even if I had been cast in something, I would not have been allowed to take the job. All those years ago, when I first moved here, though I had big dreams and also no clue about how difficult the whole Artist Visa/Actors' Equity situation would be.

I auditioned a couple of times for Irish Rep over the years but nothing was the right fit (or I messed it up).

Fast forward a few years: My Scottish friend Jennifer McVey (wonderful actress) texted me on the day of the Irish Rep E.P.A. to see if I was going. I was in a bad summer slump of depression of "I'll never work again". I could not go to the E.P.A. and was angry with myself. So I took action.

And you can't just sit here dreaming pretty dreams.
To wish and wait 
From day to day
Will never keep
The wolves away.*

I decided to bite the bullet and get in touch with Debby Brown. I had met Debby in previous auditions and kept in touch, inviting her to see "A Day by the Sea" at the Mint. She said some very kind things about my performance. I have been acting as my own representation for a few months now and I have to be brave. 

We've no time to sit and dither...
Into the woods without delay,
But careful not to lose the way.
Into the woods, who knows what may
Be lurking on the journey?

Into the woods to get the thing
That makes it worth the journeying.*

I emailed asking if I could audition for a role I thought I might be right for: 
"Mary Sweeney: 40’s A local woman. Shabbily dressed. Poverty and hunger have made her desperate. She is frantic to the point of despair for herself and her young family. Irish Accent." Right up my street!

L-R: Stephen Pilkington, Christopher Randolph, Polly McKie and John Windsor-Cunningham

Debby replied that she thought they had someone in mind for the role (often the case in this business) so I resigned myself to the disappointment of not even getting an audition. But then a few days later she said they didn't and gave me an appointment. I was so grateful and wanted to make sure I made a good impression at the audition. We're never just auditioning for one thing and, even if I did not book this, I wanted to be in their minds for future plays at Irish Rep. I'm also keenly aware that Casting Directors are relying on the actors they bring in to do their best work. I was brought straight to callbacks so the pressure was on to make sure Debby did not regret her decision! I had auditioned a few times for The Mint before I booked a dream job there last year. Patience and persistence are so important! And now I have another dream job at the glorious Irish Rep.

*"Into the Woods" from "Into the Woods"
Music and Lyrics by Stephen Sondheim.

Wednesday, July 26, 2017

No, Don't Look at Me

Now, folks, we bring you
Here she is at last,

Direct from New York,
Twinkle in her eye
Hot off the press,

Live and in person.
Polly McKie!

Strictly a mess,

I am strictly a messI have never been pretty or beautiful. I was called the runt of the litter in my family. In Scotland, parents do not tell their children that they are beautiful.  Well, at least of my generation.  My mother would tell me that my sister was the attractive one.  I was the funny one.  The stream of boys interested in my sister validated that. I spent my teens (and let's face it, my adult life too) with unrequited crushes. 

But last week, Michael Kushner made me feel attractive.  I cannot bring myself to write beautiful. Although, he did say that several times.  

Frankly, none of that matters.  As actors, we need a good headshot.  And what is considered a good shot changes all the time.  Gone are the days of a black and white that could last you 10 years.  Modern advice is to have a new one every 2 or 3 years.  And I certainly feel that.  I like my previous headshots but we change. I have been letting my grey hair come in and feel different about myself and my type since the last shots were taken.  And I don't know about you, but much as I like my old shots, I crave something new. It boosts my confidence to submit a new headshot. Makes me feel as if I am being proactive about my career.  
A headshot is SO important. It can be our ticket to an audition and without that, we cannot get a callback and a job. It is our calling card. 
My first proper headshot 8 years ago got me my first agent!

There is a strange disconnect that many actors feel. We are, by nature, vain and narcissistic and frightfully insecure. Please do not look at me, but, oh wait, please look at me! 

So, why Michael?

Michael Kushner is a GEM!  He is young, funny, talented, has a brilliant eye AND he is an actor.  He gets it.  And you can afford him!

I have friends who have paid well over $1000 for headshots and, to me, that is abhorrent.  Most of us are already struggling financially. The actors who do not need the new headshots because they are established names might have the money for that but most of us do not. I know of one Broadway actor whose headshot is a selfie he took in Central Park on his iPhone. I don't think that would cut it for the rest of us!

Michael understands. 

Now we have the ugly financial business out of the way, I'll tell you about my experience on the day of the shoot. I arrived at Michael's lovely, brightly lit studio (warning: it's a 6 flight walk up but, if I can do it, anyone can!). I was warmly welcomed with cold water and a comfortable seat and an understanding about my recent climb! Then we moved into the studio and Michael chatted to me about my type and my personality. He has a gift for "getting" people. I felt safe. I hate having my photograph taken and only ever like unposed shots. This never felt like a chore of posing. It was FUN. He asked me what music I wanted to listen to and some of the best shots were when I was relaxed and singing along. He even played a track that he thought would be good for me to learn. So now I have new headshots and a new song I want to learn for my book.

This is why Michael is so great. He is an actor. He gets it.


Just look at us...
Turning gray...

Still playing games,

Acting crazy.

Isn't it awful?
God. how depressing-

Me, I'm a hundred.
You, you're a blessing-
I'm so glad I came!*

What Michael offers:

  • An actor's perspective
  • Profound understanding
  • A keen eye
  • A talent for getting to your type and to YOU
  • A sing-along (not compulsory)
  • A great rooftop for outdoor shots
  • Various packages to suit your budget/needs
  • Photos emailed to you within 24 hours of your shoot
  • Editing
Now I just have to choose one to print!

What we need is a drink.*

Follow Michael on social media  -
Facebook and Instagram:  @themichaelkushner @thedressingroomproject 
Twitter: @mikie_kushner

*Don't Look at Me from "Follies"

Lyrics by Stephen Sondheim