Tuesday, November 2, 2010

Audition=Mostly Yay; Social Skills=FAIL

Last night's audition was strange in several ways. Not the time spent in the room - that was mostly good, and I'll get to that later. No, it was just...odd.

First of all, my audition time was at 10:50 p.m. I've never in my life had such a late audition appointment. I assumed it was because they were in rehearsals all night and that's why their auditions were running so late, but then I realized it was Monday, and being a union theatre, this theatre would be dark, except for their administrative offices. Maybe they just have that many people who wanted to audition.

I knew that I would most probably be the last person auditioning that night and that I really needed to walk in with energy. However, even though I managed to not be yawning or sleepy (10:30 p.m. is usually my bedtime these days - don't judge - I'm a mom), I was not bouncing off the walls with my usual static electricity. However, this was actually a good thing, since the scene I wound up reading required a calm that normally I might have been too nervous to pull off.

I walked in 30 minutes too early - I live far away from this theatre so I never know when to leave. Traffic in Austin is capricious and often bad. But when I walked in, the person managing the auditions said, "Oh good, I was just calling you to come in early!"

So great, I thought, I can get home early. But after I filled out my audition form and handed her my headshot, I looked at her, waiting to hear something about the earlier time she wanted me to audition. She said nothing. I looked at her. She looked at me.

I looked at her.

She looked at me.

"So...I should..." I was at a loss. I didn't even know what to ask. She looked at me like I had three heads.

"Uh...I don't know when you want me...?" Again, the stage manager looked at me like she did not remember that five minutes earlier she had mentioned wanting me there early. I felt like a fool. Finally I gave up.

"That's my car out front - I'll be out there if you need me." Confused, I walked out the door and into my car which was visible from the table. I felt like I had somehow made a faux pas but wasn't sure what it was. I then saw a young woman who I had seen at my other three auditions in Austin last month. I decided to try to make a friend. Mistake!

I hopped out of the car.

"Hey! I keep seeing you at all my auditions, so I thought I would say hello!" She regarded me like a homeless person who had just asked her for money. I immediately realized this was not someone I wanted to know: she did not want to know me. This was someone who did not come to auditions to make friends. I was An Enemy. But now I was stuck.

"I just moved here from Madison. Have you lived here long?"

"Oh...yeah. I moved here in '06 from New York." She emphasized NEW YORK.

"Ah." I said. What was I supposed to say? 'Mercy, New York, tha BIG CITY!' Her aloof manner reminded me of the snobbish women I encountered in Chicago at regional auditions. I was beginning to dislike her.

"Have you heard from Austin Shake?" I admit, I was desperate for information. It has been almost three weeks since I had my second callback, yet I had heard nothing. I wasn't sure if this was normal or not, and had no one to ask.

She batted her eyelashes and demurely purred, "No, I haven't." It was clear she did not think it was kosher for me to ask.

"Oh me, either, "I gushed. "I just wondered...I mean, is that normal? I mean, not Not Being Cast, but not hearing for a long time, even if you are cast? I mean..." I was sinking. She was watching me with the steady, unflinching glare of the little boy from The Omen, refusing to throw me a lifejacket.

"I have heard that they often go several rounds of auditions," she said coldly. She glanced at her sides, clearly indicating that I was taking up her precious practice time.

"Gotcha, "I said. I was ready to give up the ghost. We chatted a few more minutes about Madison but as soon as the stage manager opened the door and said, "Hey, can I talk to you guys for a minute?" she was in the door without a backward glance even as I was mid-sentence. The stage manager said there had been a change of plans and the scene we would be reading had changed. The woman nodded and took off down the hall, forgetting me. That was all right, as I wanted to go back to the car and focus on the scene that I would now be reading.

The woman's audition was right before mine, but even after coming out and seeing that there was no one else in the building except for me, she did not acknowledge me or say goodbye. She swept out in a flurry of leather boots and fashionable scarves.

I have little patience for rudeness that seems accompany women who are in competition with me for a role. It's ridiculous. I realize that Austin is a small theatre community and there's not a lot to go around, but it doesn't mean anyone has to actually be rude. Honestly, shouldn't your acting speak for itself? Shouldn't your audition be what gets you the part, not treating your fellow actor like a wart on the nose of life? I tried very hard not to make judgments about New York actors that I happen to know are not true, and went in to my own audition.

It went very well. I read the first scene with a groundedness that impressed even me. The director unexpectedly asked me to read a second scene, and knowing that I was the last person that night and that they probably wanted to clear out ASAP, I saw that as a very good sign. They also asked me to let my hair down - I suppose so I would look more like my headshot (I had made a conscious choice to wear it up to look like what I imagined the character to be. Of course, this went against one of the cardinal rules, which is: LOOK LIKE YOUR HEADSHOT). However, I think I might have blown it in the second scene. I wasn't as prepared as the first, and missed some line interpretations. Most importantly, I just didn't have the rhythm of the scene down. I was misinterpreting the beats - I could feel it. And my characterization - so perfect in the first scene - had degenerated into camp. The scene was a fight between two characters. So hard to jump into, and so hard not to over-act. I was trying to be real. It wasn't working.

There was nothing I could do. The scene was too short to recover, and my character didn't have enough to actively DO - meaning, she was mostly reacting through the scene, and I had not prepared enough to be able to do so adequately. You can't react properly when you're looking at the sides the whole time. This was my own fault - we had been given all the sides ahead of time, but I had only fully prepared the one I knew I'd be reading. Stupid. Neophyte mistake. Always be ready for anything - number one rule.

I am not fretting too much. He saw that I can do the right thing in the first scene, and hopefully he'll believe I can do it again with the proper preparation. Of course, if someone else read both scenes that night beautifully, he won't NEED to bother with waiting to see if I can. I think I'd be great in this role, but if they don't cast me (or call me back) I can live with it.

All in all, it was a successful audition. Some lessons learned, and one of them was that Austin isn't the most friendly theatre community. I suppose it's my fault for being too forward. Actresses aren't known for their affability. Most of them, anyway.

If you know me, you know that what you see is what you get. I'm down to earth; I laugh a lot; I am unpretentious. I have humble origins and I've never aspired to be famous or rich - just the best that *I* can be, and therefore never felt the need to belittle or spite anyone in the business. I have a lot of faults and don't see much use in trying to hide them. I don't disguise how I'm feeling; not because I can't, but because I don't see much reason to. I'm overly sensitive and extremely intuitive. I wear my heart on my sleeve. Directors call this "emotional availability". I call it "$@#%ing annoying" a lot of the time, especially when it comes to my personal life. But it seems to be useful in my career, so I'm willing to accept it as a personality trait that doesn't need to be adjusted too much. Clearly though, not everyone appreciates it. The woman I tried to talk to made me feel like a complete idiot.

A male actor with whom I read for Man and Superman a few weeks ago had mentioned this phenomenon to me - he had moved here from L.A. and liked it all right, but found the community to be closed off and difficult to penetrate. I didn't want to believe that at the time, but now I am starting to wonder. Too bad. It's completely opposite from what Austin has always seemed to be to me - friendly, open, and laid-back. I disagree with the saying, 'you can't go home again', but if you do, brea in mind: home will have changed.

Wednesday, October 20, 2010

What Kind of Theatre Artist Are You?

Last night I was thinking about how I am always just a little bit embarrassed to tell people I am an actress. My next door neighbor was talking to me outside and said, "So, Jack tells me you're an...ACTRESS." There's always a trace of amusement in people's voices when they say it, as though they are indulging a child's belief in Santa Claus.

I admitted that I was, indeed an actress, and had even gone so far as to actually spend 8 years total earning two degrees in said art. He raised his eyebrows.

"Oh! So you must be makin' the big bucks, huh!?"

Because as everyone in the country knows, having a Masters Degree automatically means you're "makin' the big bucks". Just ask all the MBAs who are out of work after the recession.

I had to explain that I was not making tons of money because, well, because of a lot of reasons, but mainly because I was portraying the biggest role of my life as Zoe's Mother, and was a stay-at-home mom right now. I did say that I was starting to audition again. My neighbor perked up immediately.

"Hey, you should tell me if you are ever in a show! I'll come see it. You know, I like FUN shows. When I was in fourth grade, I was the Scarecrow in The Wizard of Oz. It was like we were famous." He went on to sing a little of "If I Only Had A Brain" while I tried to decide if this was endearing or making me uncomfortable.

But this conversation got me thinking. There's a stigma about actors - well, all artists, really. According to a lot of people out there, we are flighty, lazy, incapable of holding down a "real" job, dramatic, catty, narcissistic, overly idealistic, liberal, leftist, Communists, moochers, degenerates, atheists, addicts, consumed with trivialities and worst of all, believe that the arts are important enough for government funding. Phew. That's a lot of responsibility.

Of course, not everyone thinks all of these things, and even if they do, I am sure they aren't consciously running through the list. But think about the instant gut reaction you feel when someone tells you they identify with a heavily stereotyped profession: what goes through your mind when someone tells you they're a stripper? A Senator? A musician?

Well, someone a lot older and more cynical once told me that stereotypes exist because they're true - and to some extent she was right. Stereotypes wouldn't exist if there wasn't data to bring them into cultural mythology in the first place. But once they're there, it's up to us to do something about it if we don't like them.

So what kind of artist are you? Do you identify with those labels? Are you so consumed with your work that your relationships suffer? Are you one of those artists that nobody likes but they put up with you because you're such a great director/actress/scenic artist? Do you take advantage of family by allowing them to support your bad financial habits year after year while you inconvenience your friends by crashing on their couch for yet another winter? Or are you taking responsibility for your career, staying healthy - emotionally and physically, and paying just as much attention to saving for the future as you are to starting a revolution?

The first five years or so of my career were dark days. Everything seemed difficult. I was struggling so hard to 'make it'; why wasn't it working out? I was bustling around between Wisconsin and Illinois in various shows, frequenting theatre bookstores and actor bars and sending out pictures to agents. But I drank too much, slept with my co-stars, made enemies. I spent time involved in petty drama at my waitressing job instead of going home and reading Ibsen or studying Chicago's theatres' seasons and audition schedules. Things turned around for me personally when I decided to put Human Being at the top of my Mental Resume. The surprising thing was, the more I focused on being a better person, the better my career got. My acting became richer and more full. Directors, actors, vocal coaches and teachers all enjoyed having me around...so they continued to hire me. Word spreads. Don't think it doesn't. Maybe the Real World will never know us very well, but the Theatre World will.

Who do you want to be?

Tuesday, October 19, 2010

Does 100% Mean Something Else When Your Circumstances Change?

What is giving 100% in the theatre? Is it 100% of what you have that day? Or is it a fixed standard that does not change, regardless of your personal circumstances? How does being a parent fall into this code of behavior?

In a different blog, I left this comment to a friend about the recent audition I had last weekend; around 8 pm the night before:

I'm so stressed out right now. Due to Zoe being high maintenance and not having any help watching her today, I am just now sitting down to try to struggle through the text and the dialect. I don't really have time to do it all (for one thing, I was sent a total of TEN PAGES to be familiar with. Which would be awesome...if I had three days). I don't know what to focus on. I'm afraid if I spend too much time on the dialect I will forget to emote.

I was really excited until it became impossible to prepare properly. And now I feel stressed.

Her response was kind and encouraging, but part of it was this:

be fair to yourself and let what you are able to offer in auditions be a true representation of what you will be able to offer in rehearsals, which might be, energy/time-wise, a little less than in your pre-mommy days. NO SHAME! you will find the depth of your work will increase because of your experiences.

Her advice was meant to make me feel better. But I've been thinking about this ever since I read it. Does being a mom mean that I have to settle for giving less than 100% at the one thing in my life that makes me feel like Me?

There are definitely sacrifices you make to be a mother. A lot of moms are less fortunate than me. They are single parents who have to work a full time job while taking care of their children. Thankfully, that's not me.

My husband works a conventional full time job, and childcare is my full time job. I have about 90% of the childcare duties. I get up with her, watch her all day, feed her, clothe her, diaper her, play with her, teach her, and put her down most evenings. I take care of her on the weekends unless there is something I need to accomplish where I cannot take her; in which case my husband watches her. I also take care of our house, grocery shopping, laundry, errands, returning phone calls to our myriad parents, making certain we have toilet paper and toothpaste, and so on. Basically, what most moms do (and many of them do all this PLUS go to work outside the home. God bless you, ladies - I don't know how you do it).

Of course, I should interject here that having my daughter is the best thing that ever happened to me. It made me more mature, empathetic, and strong. It taught me the true meaning of unconditional love. And it made me realize that at the end of the day, nothing is more important than family. I have not been involved in a theatrical production for a year and a half, but I haven't missed it. Motherhood has taken all my time, and the learning curve has been tougher than any class. I've been content to be Mom and only Mom for the last 15 months. But now she doesn't need me as much as she did before she could walk and play and independently explore the world. And in kind, I need to start getting back to the parts of me that go beyond Mom.

Were I cast in a show at this point in my life we would have to adjust our situation - otherwise I do not have the time to work on a script or learn lines or do any of the normal prep and "homework" I would normally dedicate to a rehearsal process outside of the parameters of actual rehearsals.

However, I'm lucky that I do have the option to ask my husband for help. Not everyone does. In my view, this means that I am responsible for giving just as much in an audition situation as anyone else who is working two jobs or taking care of an aging parent or whatever their circumstances. In fact, in some ways it might be easier for me now than it was when I was struggling with three jobs in Chicago.

As far as my energy level...it is true that I'm more tired on a regular basis than I was in my 20s. But acting energizes me - it fills rather than depletes. If anything, I am more effervescent, focused, and creative the minute I walk into the room (and even more tired when I get home).

So I reject the notion that it's all right to show less of what I am capable - either in the audition or rehearsal process. My child will always come first, ultimately. But I will do my best to have both worlds, and give equal (yet separate) parts of me to each. I don't know how to approach anything with mediocrity and be ok with that. In truth, I'd rather not work in the theatre at all than become resigned to giving less than 100%.

Callback Part Two - Shaw

Sunday's callback went really well. I underestimated how much work I had done Saturday night. When I was trying to put together the text work, dialect, and intention that night it seemed overwhelming, but the next morning when I was going over the scene I realized it had sunk in. Yet another thing I actually teach my kids (work a little over several days instead of cramming it all in on one day) but forgot about its merits when putting it into practice myself. Physician, heal thyself.

My husband went out of town Sunday morning so I had to throw myself on the mercy of my friends, who graciously watched my kiddo while I ran off to be Actress. Zoe freaked out a little at first since she, for the first time in months, decided NOT to take a nap that day, but she chilled out eventually - enough that I felt comfortable leaving her. I'm starting to realize that I could probably write an entire blog series about being a mom, returning to acting, and all the insanity that entails.

The audition itself was a lot of fun. There is so much you can't really see in a scene until you can actually read it aloud with someone else who is 100% invested (ESPECIALLY when it is elevated language like Shaw or Shakespeare), and when I read my second scene with an enthusiastic partner it was...magical. We were both totally caught up in it and had a wonderful time. We walked out in the hallway afterward and he said, "That was great...I'm actually sweating!" I laughed. The director praised us up and down afterward saying we did a great job, and mentioned our chemistry. I don't know if this particular director is normally this free with praise or if she says this sort of thing to anyone who doesn't actually fall on their face, but regardless, it was nice to hear. And you always know when you gave a good audition, even if they don't say so.

The post-audition high is always a wonderful experience. I was so tired by the time I collected the baby and got home, though...the preparation and the stress of leaving Zoe with a sitter for the first time combined with the regular stress of an audition was emotionally exhausting.

So now we wait. No idea how long we wait, but I feel I did the best I could, and that's worth something, at least.

Saturday, October 16, 2010

You Never Know

One simultaneously fun yet frustrating thing about being an actor is waiting to hear from the production staff after an audition. It could take a day, a week, a month. I once received an email asking me to be in a show two hours after my audition. And you might not hear back at all, since many shows don't take the time to contact those they do not cast. It's equal parts hope and dismay. Dreaming and disillusion. And it happens every single time you audition. The cycle never changes.

I tell my students that there are two ways to combat this: 1. audition often, and 2. forget about it the minute you walk out the door. These two pieces of advice serve to work together in that if you are going to several auditions a week, you just don't have time to sit and fret about What If; especially if you are doing the proper prep. And if you let it go from your mind it's always a happy surprise should they call you and offer a role.

I didn't hear back for three days after my callback for Love's Labours Lost at Austin Shake on Tuesday, and assumed I didn't get cast - I couldn't remember how long it takes to hear back, or IF I would hear back at all. I had it good up in the Midwest - I had long been in the position that I no longer had to go to general auditions - directors called me. I knew everyone. They knew me. I invested almost fifteen years up there. I had a career well established. Now, I'm completely starting over here, and while it is exciting to get back up on that horse, it feels impenetrable at times. I admit my impatience with humility.

But, it doesn't take much to get that cycle of theatre bi-polar manic depression going again, this time with a manic episode when you find out, quite out of the blue, that no, in fact, they HAVEN'T cast the show you auditioned for yet, and btw, please come to the callback for the OTHER show this weekend. And then you go DOH! and have a rush of adrenaline all over again. Which is what happened to me yesterday. It's such a high, to know you're still in the running for something and that on top of that, they want to see you for something else as well.

I'm waiting for the stage manager to send me the sides (sides, for anyone wondering, is a term we derive from the Elizabethan theatre, and it means the part/pages of the script from which you will be reading during the callback. In your first audition, you usually perform a prepared monologue that is not usually from the play for which you are auditioning; in the callback you do a scene or monologue from the show's script.). The play is Shaw's Man and Superman. They're reading me for Ann, the female lead.

I told my voice teacher that this is a lot of fun when you aren't banking on it to pay the rent. It's a huge luxury to be able to enjoy this without the desperation of needing the job or going hungry. There are some definite advantages to being older, married, and suburban. I'm a lucky girl.

Wednesday, October 13, 2010

The All-Knowing Jolie - The Inevitable Part Two

"Everyone Calm Down! Angelina Jolie is not retiring from Hollywood."

Oh thank heaven.

Please see previous post for immediate proof that I am smart and should bet on horse races.

Friday, July 9, 2010

The All-Knowing Jolie

Today in the checkout aisle in the grocery store I read Vanity Fair's headline, "Farewell, Angelina?" The blurb hinted that Angelina Jolie is ready to "retire" from acting.

It's no secret I'm no fan of Angelina Jolie. I feel that many of her life choices are calculated attempts at publicity. She's stated several times how terrible cheating is and how damaged she is from her father cheating on her mother; yet she clearly was 'with' Brad Pitt when he was married. You can do the math. I'm not any great moralist, but I do appreciate and actually respect people who admit their faults and shortcomings rather than hide behind hypocritical false outrage.

Reading this headline only made me more annoyed by this lady, who, I admit, is probably the most beautiful woman on the planet. Am I jealous? Oh, probably. I wish I had cheekbones like that; I wish I had six children; I wish I could be in an action movie and look all badass.

But putting aside all of that, and even putting aside the fact that I don't like this particular woman, the main source of my frustration is famous actors' need to publicly announce "retirement". Lest you think I am some sort of unjust Jolie-hater, this phenomenon is not solely relegated to people who annoy me. Anthony Hopkins did this a few years ago, and within another year he was back (in a terrible movie, but I digress). Leonard Nimoy, Clint Eastwood, Joaquin Phoenix, and Amanda Bynes (I know, I know; who?) have all told the world, "OMG hold on to your hats - I might be less accessible to worship now!!"

And we won't even get into non-actors doing this; I'm looking at you, Bret Favre (I love you Bret, but I lived in Wisconsin for a long time, and you have irreparably damaged a lot of people there).

Okay, okay; Clint Eastwood can do whatever he wants; he's earned it. But he is also still producing and has his hand in all sorts of projects. And he hasn't regretted his announcement and gone back to any acting roles...yet.

Why not renege on the retirement statement, issue a mea culpa and go back to acting whenever they want, you say?

Well, it's bad form, for one. First they're assuming their career is so important (and I sure there are people out there who go to sleep clutching Amanda Bynes' photo) that we'd be shocked and confused if we just didn't see them in the movies anymore. But in the case of Jolie, she says that this decision is because she wants to be a better mother. She says she will probably won't "do it much longer...Because I have a happy home...I got back from work last night, and everybody was playing music and dancing and I suddenly found myself dancing around with a bunch of little fun crazy people."

That's awesome. But guess what? Having your own interests is part of what makes you a good mother. The reason you're happy to walk into a room full of crazy dancing midgets is because you've been out doing what you love all day. However, I'll save the proselytizing because you'll figure it out on your own and we will hear all about it in your "Angelina-Returning-To-Film!" interview.

The truth is, most actors in Hollywood are egoists who are certain the world revolves around them. They have entitlement issues and believe they abide by a different set of rules than us plebes down here on Planet Earth (Lindsay Lohan, anyone?) But whether or not anyone cares if they retire from acting or not, it's folly to arrange the rest of one's life in so permanent a fashion. Can you really say who and where you'll be in ten years? How you'll feel about the world in twenty? Look back to yourself ten years ago. If you can tell me you are exactly the same, I'll eat my keyboard. It doesn't matter if you are a movie star or a janitor in a county jail; people change. In the case of Leonard Nimoy or Clint Eastwood, since they are in their twilight years, I think they might have more of an idea of "the rest of their life". But announcing retirement before you're 40 is just stupid unless you're an Olympics medal winner. Angie, those kids won't be dancing in your living room all day when they're 20. What will you be up to then?

So good for you, Angelina for knowing how the rest of your life is going to play out. Thanks for letting me know. I won't miss you because you don't make good films. And I tip my proverbial hat to you on the way out. But you'll feel the ground beneath you rumble from the force of my eyeroll when you inevitably come back.