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



Thursday, May 18, 2017

I'm Calm

They Promised Her the Moon

I'm calm,
I'm calm,
I'm perfectly calm,
I'm utterly under control.
I haven't a worry:
Where others would hurry I stroll.
I'm calm,
I'm cool,
A gibbering fool
Is something I never become.
When thunder is rumbling
And others are crumbling,
I hum.*

On Friday night last week May 5th, I received a text from my friend (and dialect coach) Amanda Quaid at around 8.30p.m. I had been teaching for The Actor's Friend and was relaxing with a glass of wine at my favorite midtown bar, L'ybane. The text was asking what I was up to and that she had put my name in the mix as an immediate replacement for an actress who had left the play that Amanda was in. Another glass of pinot grigio down and I had locked myself in the bathroom to take a 'phone call from a director, Valentina Fratti. She told me about the play and the characters I would portray (a teacher, Jerrie Cobb's mother, a fan girl, a scientist and a reporter).  I immediately liked Valentina from just this 10 minute call. She was clearly passionate about the play and if Amanda was involved, well it seemed like a no brainer. One slight catch: there were 3 days left of rehearsal before tech and then first preview set for the following Friday night. SIX DAYS!  

Colour coding my script for the different characters.

I must think calm comforting things,
Butterfly wings,
Emerald rings,
Or a murmuring brook,
Murmuring, murmuring, murmuring...look,
I'm calm,
I'm calm,
I haven't a qualm,
I'm utterly under control.
Let nothing confuse me
Or faze me  -  
Excuse me.
I'm calm.
Oh so calm.*

I rushed home to check my email for the script.  I read it, loved it and went to bed (after a series of frantic texts back and forth with Amanda and Valentina) for a fitful night of sleep before my first day of rehearsal on Saturday.To say I was terrified was an understatement.  The physical sensation of the anxiety rushing through my body was overwhelming. These people had put their trust in me and I did not want to let anyone down. When I was greeted with gratitude and praise by a room full of strangers, I felt a severe case of imposter syndrome. 

Amanda Quaid as Jerrie Cobb and Polly McKie as Helena Cobb in They Promised Her the Moon
Photo Credit:  Jeremy Daniel

Friends and family asked the obvious question: "How are you going to learn all those lines?".  Yes, of course that was a concern!  And I am grateful to the friends and colleagues who drilled me. But there is so much more to it than that. 5 costumes, various entrances and exits but most of all, the actor's homework. My training at HB Studio prepared me for that. And the work I have done since. There is always more work to do. Layers to discover. Even when I was in a good run at The Mint in "A Day by the Sea", I was discovering new things 2 months into performances. 

Polly McKie, John Russell and Amanda Quaid in
They Promised her the Moon.
Photo Credit:  Jeremy Daniel

I must think calm comforting things,
Butterfly wings,
Emerald rings,
Or a murmuring brook,
Murmuring, murmuring, murmuring...look,
I'm calm,
I'm calm,
I haven't a qualm,
I'm utterly under control.
Let nothing confuse me
Or faze me-- [yawn] --
Excuse me.
I'm calm.
Oh so calm.*

During this experience, I have fallen on my face (figuratively and literally), I have cried, forgotten lines, vomited, walked backstage half naked because I forgot what change I was on, had the most vivid anxiety dreams (continuing) and worked harder than I thought was possible.  Last Tuesday (the day before tech and 3 days into rehearsals for me), I had a meltdown and kept saying I could not physically do it. I was the opposite of "The Little Engine That Could". I prayed, I cried and I kept chugging away. I could not have done it if it were not for the trust, talent, good humour, sheer class and monumental support of this cast and crew. And of course the love and support sent across the pond by my ever faithful family (I have to include that sentence for my mother).

Edmund Lewis, Andrus Nichols and Amanda Quaid
Photo Credit:  Jeremy Daniel

I'm calm,
I'm calm,
I'm perfectly calm,
Indifferent to tensions and shocks.
Unruffled and ready,
My nerves are as steady
As rocks.*
Polly McKie, John Leonard Thompson,
Amanda Quaid and John Russell
Photo Credit:  Jeremy Daniel

I'm calm, controlled,
So cool that I'm cold,
Aloofer than any giraffe.
When something's the matter,
Where others would shatter
I laugh.
I must breathe deep, ever so deep,
Think about sheep
Going to sleep,
Stop and count up to ten, 1-2-3-4-5-6-7-8-9...when
You need aplomb
And want to be calm
'Cause life is a horrible dream,
Just count up to ten
Very slowly, and then--

Life is a glorious dream and I am blessed to be living the one I was given.

*"I'm Calm" from "A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Forum"
Music and Lyrics by Steven Sondheim

Sunday, March 19, 2017

The Game

Picture the scene: Sicily, 1922. Sorry, (I've been binge watching "The Golden Girls"). I mean New York City, March 2017. I did not want to get up, let alone get dressed and go out the door. So the idea of dressing up, putting on make-up and going to an audition seemed totally impossible.

Never let a chance go by, Addie
Isn't that what Papa meant?
Now and then you miss one
But I guarantee you this one
Is a winner
I'm no longer a beginner!
Addie, take the chance
Or it disappears!
Every card you're dealt opens new frontiers–
Let's be pioneers!*

2016 was a good year for meI worked and lots of friends and family assumed that would mean the work would just continue. This profession is rarely like that. I know friends who have worked back to back on Broadway shows and then don't work for huge gaps in between. I knew what I signed up for. And some good reviews are not a magic wand for more work with agents and casting directors knocking down your door.  
My planner

But I was ready to start 2017. Excited to   audition and work. I started the year with the wonderful Uta Hagen teacher training and felt motivated to work with fellow actors and teachers. Revisiting Uta Hagen's exercises was a joy (and a challenge, of course!) And spending time at HB Studio where I did intensive 2 year training back in 2008 was motivating and inspiring. I had my 2017 planner, my post-it notes, my highlighters. I was ready.

But being ready is not always enough. Auditions come and go. They do not just pop up at the perfect time!

I know well the agony of waiting as non-eq and trying to be seen.
Time after time. And I'm always telling my students that 
it can be worthwhile. Now we have online 
sign ups. So many members all trying to 
get on at once. You need to be on your 
computer and ready to click that button and 
watch the rainbow wheel of death at noon 
a week before the EPA. But, now that I am Equity
what can possibly be my excuse?

Audition board at Ripley Grier

The whole thing's nothing more than just a game
And, Addie, what I'm good at is the game
They said, "Come on in, sucker!"
Now they're sorry that I came

I tell you, kid, there's nothing like the game. 
Better than girls
Better than booze
Beating ace high
With a pair of twos
Better than snowdrifts
In your shoes

Even if 
Now and then you lose– *

We're never going to get a job if we're not in the game! And there is certainly a lot of losing. But not showing up makes sure you lose. I try so hard to practice what I preach as The Actor's Friend, but I think the fact I have the same struggles my students do helps me and them.

Here are a few things I've told myself when I don't want to show up. Maybe you'll recognize some:

  • I'm tired
  • My voice is not in perfect shape
  • I have not done this cut (or monologue) in a while
  • I do not have the "perfect" cut or monologue for this audition
  • The weather
  • I can't miss class
  • I have no money on my Metrocard
  • I might mess up
  • They are not really looking for anyone
  • I need to take survival work to pay the rent
  • I have a case of "the mean reds"

My #100Daysinthelifeofanactor post from Friday

The thing that really matters is the game
It's more than just the winning, it's the game
That moment when the card is turned
And nothing is the same–
The only thing that matters is the game

It's more than just the money that's at stake
That's nice, but it's just icing on the cake
It's your life
Every pot
Who you are
Not what you've got
Compared to that, the world seems pretty tame
The thing that really matters is the game*

By 2p.m. on Friday, I had talked myself out of going to an EPA. I had failed to get an online appointment and told myself I would not get seen.  Then I checked Audition Update and could see it was not particularly busy. I would be seen.  what was my excuse now? I felt tired and depressed. I had not done my cut of the song I wanted to sing for a while. My throat felt scratchy. I needed to wash my hair. I lay on my couch feeling sorry for myself and angry with myself. By 2.45p.m. something switched in my brain. I thought about what I would say to my students. What would I tell my accountability group? I gave myself a good talking to, got up and ready, packed my book and headshots and headed to Ripley Grier. I got an appointment and sang my cut and had a lovely chat with the artistic director about "The Beauty Queen of Leenane". Nothing spectacular happened. No callback, no job offer. BUT I lost my case of the mean reds and walked along 8th avenue with a spring in my step and a smile on my face. I showed up. I took part in the game.

What do you think
Papa would say?
"Boys," he'd say
"Seize the goddamn day!
This is your chance–" *

*"The Game" from "Wise Guys"
Music and Lyrics by Stephen Sondheim.