Big Choices to Make

“Have you considered suicide?”

My acting teacher asks me this question with unsettling regularity. No, she’s not suggesting I give up. (At least I don’t think she is…) She is simply pushing me to make big choices.

Because I never went to a formal acting program, I would sometimes get confused about the idea of “making a choice.” What does it mean to make a choice? A choice about what? Furthermore – what does it mean to make a “bigger” choice? Continue reading Big Choices to Make

The Birthplace of Innovation, Creativity and Change

For the longest time there was a wall I couldn’t surpass as an actor. I didn’t know how to be fully emotionally vulnerable in my work. Every now and then I would hit on something and it would surprise me. I couldn’t get back there, and I didn’t understand why.

A few months ago, I saw a play that featured a word that I thought I understood, but realized I didn’t truly understand. The word was shame. I thought I had a sense of what shame was, and I had a feeling about its pervasiveness in our society, but it was a vague sense and a vague feeling.

As it turned out, Vulnerability and Shame were inextricably linked. Continue reading The Birthplace of Innovation, Creativity and Change

How to Improve Any Skill

When I first began teaching at USC, I was hesitant, afraid. “Those who can’t…” kept ringing in my head. I didn’t want to focus too much time and energy training other people to do what I was still focusing on perfecting myself.

The past few years of teaching acting has proven me very wrong. Rather than sapping my attention away from my skills, it has only honed them and made them all the more available to me in my professional career.

It reminded me of the time I spent helping my friends with their homework in grade school. My friend Danny was not very good at math. So I would sit with him and work through the problems, step by step, going through the process we had learned. Doing this allowed me to solidify the process in my own head. When it came time for the test, I now had double the practice and confidence to do well.

If you want to improve something you know how to do, all you have to do is teach it to someone else. Here’s a list of things you’ll find: Continue reading How to Improve Any Skill

The Money Problem

moneyI have always been a worrier when it comes to money. Blame it on my practical Midwestern upbringing. Or my Father. Or the fact that I’ve chosen writing musicals as my ironclad fall-back career in case acting doesn’t work out.

Thankfully, I’ve been extremely lucky to make my living as an artist. I say “artist” because it encompasses the various roles that I play in my work. Sometimes I’m an actor, sometimes I’m a writer, sometimes I’m a musician or a teacher. But it all stems from my passion for and abilities as an artist.

It’s only been recently, though, that I’ve had to actually sit down and think about what to do with the money I’ve made.

Shortly after college, I found myself with a big chunk of credit card debt. And because of the piecemeal nature of making money as an artist, I had no real system to keep track of how much I was making and how much I was spending. Never mind saving or investing!

That’s when I had to get smart about my money. Continue reading The Money Problem

How to Step Outside Your Comfort Zone Today

07a7f800-b3b0-0132-457f-0ebc4eccb42fIf you’re shy about taking risks, you can thank evolution.

Humans evolved to be risk-averse. As social creatures, we don’t always feel comfortable standing out from the crowd, and in small populations (as humans typically evolved within) taking a risk could lower your chances of survival.

But as artists and creators – risk is necessary to success.

In teaching actors at USC, I’ve noticed that one of the hardest things to get them to do is to be “outrageous” with their acting choices. To go too far. Even though that’s always the advice acting teachers are giving! “Go too far, and then you can dial it back.”

But people are afraid of doing what they think will be making a fool of themselves. The truth is, however, when you “go too far” you’re actually going exactly as far you need to go. The ideal place to get to is exactly one step outside your comfort zone. That’s where vulnerability shows up, and real moments begin to happen.

But how to get there? Continue reading How to Step Outside Your Comfort Zone Today

Mind-Hacking the Audition Process

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The relationship between actors and the casting process can sometimes be antagonistic, and that’s super unfortunate. If you find yourself ripping your hair off over the audition/casting process, and feeling resentful toward casting directors who “always bring you in, but never cast you,” consider these 3 mind-hacks: Continue reading Mind-Hacking the Audition Process

The Most Underutilized Resource in Theater

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PC: Caitlin McNaney

Rajiv Joseph is one of my favorite contemporary playwrights. I remember seeing his play A Bengal Tiger at the Baghdad Zoo in Los Angeles and being blown away. It was political, yet personal. Surreal, yet plainspoken. It captured a place and a wonderment that I seek to find in my own writing.

In this Broadway.com interview on the occasion of his latest play Guards at the Taj, he describes a lesson he learned about collaboration: Continue reading The Most Underutilized Resource in Theater

Craft is for the Brits!

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An article in The Atlantic caught my attention the other day with the headline The Decline of the American Actor. Being an American Actor myself, I must do what I can to stay up-to-date about my decline. Wait…come again?

First a quick digest of the article: author Terrance Rafferty makes many assertions that bumble about throughout the piece. The most important, in my opinion, is the comment that (in relation to their more successful British counterparts) American actors have less appreciation for training and technique. Continue reading Craft is for the Brits!

A LESSON FROM OFF THE MAP

As I’ve just recently purchased an iphone, I’ve begun to listen to a lot more music than I usually get to do.  One thing in particular that I’ve been able to use it for is for my pre-show warm up.  I have a “Prince of Atlantis” playlist that includes Adele, Josh Pyke, Imperial Teen, Snow Patrol, and so on.Image

One song that has been making a strong impact on me in general is Sara Bareille’s “Uncharted” off her album Kaleidoscope Heart. For me, this song sums up many key points about acting in that poetic way that only music and lyrics can.

No words, My tears won’t make any room for more,
And it don’t hurt like anything I’ve ever felt before,
this is no broken heart,
No familiar scars,
This territory goes uncharted…

This is every moment in a play.  It’s brand new.  The first time. You may have walked into this room before, spoken with this person, but these circumstances are brand new, and it’s important!

I’m going down,
Follow if you want, I won’t just hang around,
Like you’ll show me where to go,
I’m already out of foolproof ideas, so don’t ask me how
To get started, it’s all uncharted.

This is the idea of not-knowing.  In line with this being the first time, there’s also an element of taking an action, and not really knowing how it’s going to turn out.  Or not even really knowing how to go after what you want, but trying anyway.

I won’t go as a passenger, no
Waiting for the road to be laid
Though I may be going down,
I’m taking flame over burning out

This, for me, is the idea of taking risks.  Not just kind-of-sort-of going after your objective, or making a safe choice, but REALLY going after your objective, and REALLY making a choice.  Jumping with out a net.  Deciding it’s better to go big and feel utterly vulnerable than play it safe and easy.

Compare where you are to where you want to be, and you’ll get nowhere

And finally, the truest of truisms in this whole song – and the rhythm in which it’s sung…ugh ::kisses fingers:: – this is the idea of not aiming for results.  In life, in acting, you have to live in the process.  Only in the looking for something will you actually find it.

So thank you, Sara, for this incredible lesson on acting, and, of course, life.

You’re my hero.