Wednesday, November 27, 2013

And Still You're Grateful

You're always sorry,
You're always grateful,
You're always wondering what might have been.
Then she walks in.

And still you're sorry,
And still you're grateful,
And still you wonder and still you doubt.
And she goes out.*

(The "she" in this is referring to the men's wives. It is something different for me. It can be something different for you too. The genius of Sondheim's lyrics. Interpret as you see fit, dear reader.)

Thanksgiving is a holiday I have fully embraced since first moving to the U.S. 5 years ago. I love the sentiment, I love the invitations, I love the people and I love the food! It's like Christmas without the stress.

First attempt cooking for Thanksgiving in NYC, 2009.

What I love most is the fact that people take time to reflect on what they are thankful for. Something we should be doing daily. And, in this business, it is certainly something that helps our sanity. A time to reflect regularly about what we have that we should be grateful for.

As I get older, I realise that so many of the things that I felt sorry, sad and regretful about are the things that I realise now were the right things for me. Things that happened for a reason. Even if I could not see it at the time.

In no particular order, I am grateful for:

1.  The fact that I am unwell right now. I have inflammation of the lungs so am at home resting and have time to write this blog just in time for Thanksgiving.

2.  Not going to drama school when I was 22.  When I was in my final year of high school, I played Meg Brockie in "Brigadoon" and then sang in an end of year concert.  And that last month of school planted the seed that I might actually be able to pursue acting as a career.  It had not been a serious option before.  But I had two wonderful teachers who saw something special in me and even my father paid me a compliment, so I knew it must be serious.  I went to University, as planned and studied for my MA in Philosophy and Theatre with the aim of going to drama school in London when I graduated. I fluffed one audition and had fallen in love so did not even apply to any other schools. Love and youth. Spent my twenties regretting it and now I am so very grateful! My thirties are so much better.

Everything's different,
Nothing's changed,
Only maybe slightly

3.  So many wonderful teachers. Teachers who have challenged me. Teachers who have become my friends. So many wonderful students.  Students who have challenged me. Students who have taught me. Students who have become my friends.

Bermuda High School trip to NYC
Recording radio shows with ACTeen Juniors

4.  Having my heart broken. The material I have been able to use in my acting work is endless. There was one man in particular that I thought I would spend the rest of my life mourning. Now I realise that it would have been a disaster if we had stayed together. I thank God every day that I did not marry him.

You don't live for her,
You do live with her,
You're scared she's starting to drift away  
And scared she'll stay.*

5.  Netflix.  Cable became so expensive and I, like so many actors, am broke.  So I cancelled it.  Netflix is wonderful. And I am watching some excellent stuff (most recently "Breaking Bad") instead of lying on the couch in a coma watching some reality crap on cable.  Watching good acting and feeling inspired.

6.  Clinical depression. I have battled with depression for years. I am grateful for it and the challenges it brings. And, as ever, how it helps with the actor's homework. I do not trust people who are happy all the time!

You're sorry-grateful,
Why look for answers where none occur?*

7.  Being Scottish!

Dancing a Gay Gordon's at The Caledonian Ball in Bermuda.

I have several issues with being Scottish here and working as an alien. There are challenges in addition to the normal challenges American actors face. I am not allowed to join Equity here and have had to turn down work as a result. But, I look at the positive. It makes me stronger and more determined. Besides, being Scottish is pure dead brilliant!

8.  Not getting jobs after auditions. Before acting, I got every job I applied and interviewed for. I did not really understand failure properly (well, apart from getting 42% on my second year Physics exam.) Of course, when I first starting auditioning and getting callbacks, I prayed for a big break that would get me my dream job. But it did not happen. I am grateful for that. I understand the day in/day out process of auditioning and  have realised thanks to some of those wonderful teachers mentioned in 3 and my wonderful new manager Kathy Olsen of Encompass Arts that, I can give a wonderful audition and not get the part. There is so much more to casting than that (that's for another blog). But the preparation and the going out there is what matters and learning that the job is not mine is making me stronger and a better actor. Fairly recently I auditioned for one of my longtime dream roles and I did not book the gig. Of course, I was upset, but now I realise, that if I had booked the job, I would not have been able to be doing what I am loving every Monday night at The Cafe at Broadway.  (now Polly's Follies)

There are so many more things to be thankful for but I do not want to go on forever. Perhaps I'll revisit them next Thanksgiving.  

I must end the list, however, with the best. 

9.  I could not be doing any of this if it were not for these  grown-ups in my life...

My family:
Back row: Dad, my sister, Jane, brother, Andrew, Mum
Front: brother, David, me, brother Johnnie
Foreground: back of a nephew's head!

10.  ...and these wonderful little people:

Nieces and nephews:
Back row: Nancy, Molly, Flora, Tess (on my knee), Hector, Jimmy, Charlie
Front: Tom, Jock and George

*Sorry-Grateful from "Company" 
Music and lyrics by Stephen Sondheim (for whom I am also eternally grateful)

Sunday, November 3, 2013

Getting it together is the whole trick!

Here's a little story
That should make you cry
About two unhappy dames.
Let us call them Lucy X and Jessie Y,
Which are not their real names.
Now Lucy has the purity
Along with the unsurety
That comes with being only twenty-one.
Jessie has maturity
And plenty of security
Whatever you can do with them she's done.*

I am Lucy and Jessie, and Polly and Mary, with a touch of a few other dames (certainly my mother) thrown in for good measure.  And how do we show that versatility to casting directors while staying true to what we keep hearing they want: the real YOU. The reality is that these women are all the real me.  It's about choosing what to show and when.

Just when I am finally getting around to getting my reel edited, it seems that might be obselete now.  Everything in this business moves fast. And, if you are looking for work (let's face it, most actors are) then you need to be in the race.

Most actors I know use Actors' Access to submit. And I know I always wondered about how to get noticed.  There is a very simple pecking order if you want to be at the top of the virtual pile.

The pile from top to bottom

1. Actors with headshot, slate and video clip (for so long I thought it had to be a full reel, but it can be any short clip  -  even better actually as you'll see if you read on.)
2. Actors with headshot and video clip (no slate).
3. Actors with headshot and slate.
4. Actors with headshot only.

I recently attended a seminar held by the lovely folks at Actors' Access.  Anything to keep in the loop and up to speed.  And, of course, I always share what I learned.  There were many depressing facts that could make one just want to give up.  We watched a live version of how the submissions work.  Within an hour of a job being posted there were THOUSANDS of submissions.  And the reality is that a casting director will call in around 20 people for the role.

So what can we do to help ourselves? Easy. Look at the list above and if you do not have a manager or agent, there is still so much you can do to help yourself.  Just give the casting directors what they want. Or at least try!

1. Headshot (still the king - or queen - of submissions)
2. A slate (a new addition to Actors Access)
3. A reel (although, that is becoming less important. Number 4 is taking over)
4. Short, specific clips. (more specifics on the specifics later).
5. Cover note: short, sweet and, above all, to the point.

And herein lies one of our major problems.  and it is so hard, as an actor, to step away from the trap.  We want to show EVERYTHING.  If I submit a short clip of a great dramatic scene, how are they going to know how funny I am?  The wonderful Heidi Marshall explains this problem: At Ease, Actors.

Given their advantages,
You may ask why
The two ladies have such grief
This is my belief
In brief:
Lucy is juicy
But terribly drab.
Jessie is dressy
But cold as a slab.
Lucy wants to be dressy
Jessie wants to be juicy.
Lucy wants to be Jessie
And Jessie, Lucy.*

So, given our own advantages, what can we do?  Let's go back to the list.  Headshot. Simple.  It should look like you and be recent.  Latest advice is that it should be no more than two years old. There is plenty of advice on this without me going on. Let's get to the new thing: the slate. Simple, clear. Do not try to be clever or fancy. Just state your name clearly. The way it is set up on Actors' Access is that when a C.D. clicks on your headshot, it comes to life with your slate: almost like a talking headshot. It may seem silly but you'd be amazed how much one can see from a simple slate.It is free to upload one take (under 7 seconds).  A second slate is $5 to upload.  And here's the best news: your submission is automatically higher up the list than actors without slates. The following was taped after I heard about the slate and I rushed to my go to on camera wizard, Heidi Marshall (I think I may have mentioned her before...just once or twice!) and recorded the following.  Obviously, this is before editing for final slate, but it's amazing what you can tell about me just from this little clip.  

Poor sad souls,
Itching to be switching roles.
Lucy wants to do what Jessie does,
Jessie wants to be what Lucy was.

One of the reasons I love acting so much is that I can switch roles.  I can explore all the sides of me.  And a good reel will show that.  But, here is the problem.  Casting Directors simply do not have the time to watch every actor's reel. And in my research for trying to get my own reel done (thanks to a wonderful friend helping me out), I have been watching other actors' reels and frankly, I quit watching most of them after about 30 seconds.  The ones that capture my attention, I might give a minute or two.  If I do not have time to watch them while I am specifically researching reels, how do you think C.D.s feel about the prospect of watching thousands of them to cast one role? 

So this takes us to number 4 on the list.  I had always felt resigned to the fact that I would be on the bottom of the list of submissions on Actors access, unless it was a role that my manager had submitted for me (agent and manager submission still get more attention from C.D.s).  But there is hope, unrepresented actors. Do yourselves a favour! Stop worrying about the reel and showing everything.  Sometimes, we have a great clip but not enough for a good reel.  And without worrying about showing every side of ourselves, every skill, we should just focus on the task at hand.  Specificity helps the casting directors. I had already taken Heidi's advice and posted specific short clips on my website.  And now I know it's what casting directors want and I can post them on Actors' Access.  So when you are submitting for a job, you do not need to worry about showing everything. Just be specific.

Lucy's a lassie
You pat on the head.
Jessie is classy
But virtually dead.
Lucy wants to be classy.
Jessie wants to be Lassie.
If Lucy and Jessie could only combine,
I could tell you someone
Who could finally feel just fine!*

At the seminar, Blair Hickey (actor and co-founder of the wonderful Casting About) told a story about being called in for an audition based solely on the DESCRIPTION of a short clip.  The common thread is that Casting Directors are busy and they want you to be right for the role.  And they can tell so much from so little.  They are seasoned experts and you'd be amazed what a simple slate can tell you.  Watch them.  Pay attention to other actors:  in your classes, in holding rooms. We all make instant judgments on people. Save the casting directors time.  Even if you have an amazing reel, post BRIEF and SPECIFIC clips with descriptions (e.g. White collar professional: procedural interview). This also pertains to number 5: short and to the point cover note.  I used to think I needed to follow my good old-fashioned letter writing skills. Do not waste your time or the C.D.'s time. If the notice calls for Spanish speaking, under 5ft 3 and able to play the piano, the note should read "Spanish-speaking, 5ft 2, proficient pianist." If you spend time writing "Dear Mr. so and so, I was so thrilled to read about this project and would be delighted if you would..." well, they stopped reading long before I got to the elipsis.

Casting directors are very busy people.  They want the right person for the job and they want him or her quickly. I have heard from some casting directors not to use clips from class, but, what can you lose, really?  Of course, we would all love Meryl Streep's reel, but the reality is that, if you're an emerging artist, you are scrambling to get footage from short films you have done and if you have a great clip right now that shows you could play a battered wife or a diligent nurse and it's from a class, USE it.  

Have a website, post a reel, post a slate, post clips, be specific, make it clear and simple. Submit.  

So, let's do ourselves a favour.  Do it all.  Why not?

Tell 'em that they ought to get together quick.
'Cause getting it together is the whole trick!

* The Story of Lucy and Jessie from "Follies"
Music and Lyrics by Stephen Sondheim.