An In the Moment Unique Creation

17 01 2017

I often find themes intersect in my life… perhaps you find this too?  The fun thing about this is – I never see it coming.  I am never stepping outside myself when I am listening to a sermon, or watching a show, or listening to a podcast, and saying to myself: “THIS THEME SHALL REPEAT ITSELF MANY, MANY TIMES THIS WEEK.”  It is only when I am in the midst of the repeat, that I suddenly see the connection.  It is a little bit of magic that I look forward to in life.

SO – to lay out the theme- in plain fashion:

  • This Sunday, the minister at my church, Sione Tu’ata, talked about contemplating what people might say about you at your memorial service, should that happen NOW or sooner than you imagined.  Would YOU BE REMEMBERED as you hoped?  Are you living your life in such a way that HOW you are remembered is LINING UP with how you LIVE?
  • The other point of the sermon was how – LIVING YOUR TRUTH means acknowledging that you are a unique creation of God.  Sione talked about how in the Bible, God’s creating of the world is primarily done by words – “God spoke… and it was.”  But when humans were created, God put his HANDS in the dirt, spit in the dirt, and from the clay – MOLDED man, with his hands.  There was personal involvement.  Each creation, handheld, handcrafted, personal, UNIQUE – nothing else, no one else like YOU in the world.

So, this morning I taught my SUZUKI METHOD OF ACTOR TRAINING class, as usual, at Crescent Lotus Studios in New Orleans.  For those of you unfamiliar with this actor-training technique, hop on over to YouTube and check it out:  I got my MFA in Acting at UCONN primarily studying this technique under my mentor, Eric Hill.

When I am in New Orleans, I teach Suzuki Training as an open, drop-in class, twice a week.  I don’t just teach, I am a student as well.  Several of my former students from Loyola University, where I still teach, train with me.  The beauty of this time training together, is that I feel like I have epiphanies while teaching too – things that either I never thought of, but the training has brought out – OR things I always FELT but couldn’t put into WORDS.

Today was a collision of these two things:  repeating themes in my life, and epiphanies about acting.

After one of my former students did a monologue in statues, an exercise we all do, I had him repeat the monologue.  As he repeated the monologue I said, “Just be HERE.  Just be HERE right now.  This studio, this place, this position, don’t imagine, just BE where you are RIGHT NOW.”

When he finished the exercise, he told me his trepidation about having thoughts – other than those connected with his MONOLOGUE and his CHARACTER cross his mind.  He said that at times he found himself thinking, “Oh I don’t believe that line I just said, FAKE!” or “That was good but not totally emotionally where it should be.” As actors, we are deathly afraid of being inauthentic – we somehow imagine that we can transcend all time, space, the fact that we ARE onstage, the fact that we ARE being observed in what is script-wise a solo moment, that we can somehow LOSE OUR MINDS and be truly in the space/time/character/IN THE MOMENT so much that it is LIKE IT IS REALLY HAPPENING.

This is… crippling to the actor.  This idea that you should be “out of mind” enough to depict life and live it without any knowledge of being in your light, being loud enough, hitting your marks, being in frame… etc.  And if you are not “out of mind” you are not a GOOD actor.  Well… dammit… where is the ART if it is really REAL LIFE to the extent that you can be clueless about your space, your light, your frame, your marks?  It isn’t art.

The REAL ART is in being able to juggle all of those things simultaneously.  Being in the moment, with hitting your marks, with being in your light, with being heard, with connecting with your partner, your environment, etc.  So, when this student talked about all the thoughts crossing his mind he sparked something amazing in me…. a memory, a connection…

Which leads me to this:  I remember having bad meditation teachers.  They were simplistic.  JUST FOCUS.  JUST CALM YOUR BREATHING.  I was like, “I am a crazy motherfucker, how am I JUST going to focus?”  Then, I had an amazing mediation teacher, who said, “If thoughts come into your mind, that’s ok.  Just acknowledge them, and let them pass on through.”  What a CONCEPT!  INSTEAD of denying the existence of my thoughts, let them in – and pass them on through.  THIS is what occurred to me when my student was bemoaning his “thoughts” during his monologue.

This was the epiphany: “WHY NOT?  Why not allow those thoughts?  I am here with you all in this Suzuki class, and I can promise you I am so deeply focused on the work we are doing.  BUT I am also thinking about my daughter at baby school, and how she is doing.  What I am going to cook for dinner.  What the rest of my day looks like.  I don’t get STUCK on those thoughts though.  I let them pass through me so I can stay focused on the task at hand – teaching class.

THE DIFFERENCE IS, when we are ACTING – we let these THOUGHTS enter into a place of criticism and JUDGMENT in our minds.  WHY am I thinking about this when I should be ‘in the moment’?”  “I am NOT truly in the moment if I am thinking about how I am doing right now!”  Well, what if you were to acknowledge those thoughts, let them exist, and let them go… in actuality I think that is more 3 dimensional and REAL than pretending to be single-mindedly focused in on your PERFORMANCE.  Why shouldn’t this deep, multi-layered set of thoughts exist in our acting work, just like it does in our real lives?

So, this leads me full circle to being a unique creation in God.

IF we allow ourselves to be human, and our minds have multi-layered thought processes as actors… how do we get to the place of letting that happen?

First, is – as it always is with workaholic me – doing your homework.  Knowing the circumstances, the time period, the lifestyle, the everything about your character to your CORE – so that your pump is PRIMED for the next bit.  KNOWING YOUR LINES so unbelievably cold, so that your body and MIND are free to wander and engage without worrying about losing your PLACE.

THEN, BELIEVING that no matter how many people have done this SAME ROLE before you, that YOU – YOU ALONE – have something unique to bring to it, just by virtue of being a unique creation of God.  Someone God put His hands on… molded from the ground up.  YOU have something no one else could ever bring to that role.  Trusting that you don’t need to think of your character as a costume – separate from yourself – that you climb into and zip up.  Your character IS you, is ALREADY in you, you have everything you NEED to make this person ALREADY inside of you – if you only have the balls to go there.



14 12 2016

Now that THE episode has aired, I can talk about all kinds of things that I couldn’t breathe a word about up to now.  SPOILER ALERT – if you haven’t seen the Walking Dead Season 7 Midseason Finale – READ NO FURTHER.




I know I am not the only person who has noticed that things happen in clusters.  I started a new notebook process recently, as I had seven to ten different notebooks working at once, and it got very confusing.  I love these Leuchtturm1917 notebooks that have a table of contents, and page numbers.  It allows me to have everything in one notebook.  They have a variety of pages – up to 250 pages.  I started a section entitled “LINKED” where I detail these types of clusters.  It’s simple – a date, and then a list of the recurring themes I am noticing.  For instance, one week I had “the number 11, Trojan Horse, prosthetic legs”.  I am hoping to circle back to these throughout the next year and see if there are any connections.

Some of the “clustered occurrences” you don’t have to write down, because they are MONUMENTAL.  The week I found out that Olivia would die on The Walking Dead Midseason Finale was one such week.

I was out of town for my first break in over a year with my family – in Connecticut.  On the agenda for the 7 day vacation was lots of time at a fresh water lake, adult coloring (nerd alert!), and family dinners.  The first call came from my Mom.  She told me that she knew how I felt about her keeping things from me – which is absolutely true, I hate when someone waits to tell me something – and she told me she had been diagnosed with Parkinson’s disease.  My MOM who had beaten leiomyosarcoma, uterine – which had already metastasized to her LUNGS, she had BEATEN that… and now Parkinson’s.

Complications from Parkinson’s killed my Grandfather Rumsey (Mother’s Dad), and I was living near him in the last few years he was alive.  My Granmommie Rumsey never left his side.  Fed him all his meals.  Refused to travel while he was alive and couldn’t go with her.  I would go and help feed him sometimes, put lotion on his chronically dry legs, talk to him.  He didn’t make a lot of sense, and often called me “Dorien” (my Mom’s name), but in one particularly lucid moment, he pulled me close to him and whispered, “You’re going to make it… actress.”  My Granmommie Rumsey heard it too-  tears came to both of our eyes.

So, that was my memory of the ravages of Parkinson’s and I pictured the same happening to my Mom… it was devastating.  Mom assured me that her Parkinson’s is a mild case, and not very advanced at all.  And I believe her.  It still scares me.

The second phone call came a few days later… and was not unexpected, but was still sad.  My Granmommie Rumsey (Mom’s Mom) had finally passed away at 91.  She beat all three of her children in Pinochle the night before she passed.  I knew it was coming, but I was very close to her.  Her unwavering positive attitude about life – no matter what the circumstances – her deep love of family… I would sit and talk to her about family stories for as long as she would indulge me.  I also thought about my Mom – Parkinson’s diagnosis, and now her Mom is gone.

The third call was a few days later, on a Sunday, when I got home from vacation.  I was sitting in bed with my husband, the kids were running around, and my phone rang… “SCOTT GIMPLE.” I looked at my husband, drew one finger across my throat, and said, “I’m dead.”  LOL!  Scott was so gracious and complimentary and apologetic – I found it incredibly moving that he called me and took time to talk me through it.  And even though Olivia’s death was fictitious, it did feel like a lot of death all at once.  Death, sickness, change…

A few weeks later one of my best friends from high school passed away…

I am not trying to be a bummer here, it is a rather long set up for what I hope will be an uplifting pay-off.

A cluster of occurrences surrounded the Mid Season Finale as well.  I didn’t want to, nor expect to, be upset about Olivia’s death.  But as soon as The Talking Dead folks asked me about it, I got choked up.  There is something to having lived with a person for two years, and then one day…. they are gone.  The day before the midseason finale, I sang at the funeral of a 64 year old woman from my church.  “Somewhere Over the Rainbow.” Although she and her family were rather new to our church, I was particularly struck by the reaction of her two sons, the younger one especially… who was clearly trying so hard to grapple with the idea of life without his Mom.

Sunday, the death of Olivia happened, and then today… I met with my minister Sione Tu’ata to talk about a memorial service for my high school best friend who passed away.  It is for him, and for another person from our very close-knit group of theatre/speech & debate nerds from high school.  We were a TIGHT pack.  Not only did we spend all day in school together, we spent hours after school nearly every day in Speech and Debate practice, or “PLAY PRACTICE” for the school theatre shows.  Anywhere from 12-16 weekends a year we left school on Friday afternoons for tournaments, and then competed all evening, and all day Saturday.

The conversation that happened when my best friend, the second one of our group to die in two years passed away was this:  we must get together before another one of us is gone.  So, that was what spurred the meeting with my minister to plan an ecumenical memorial service where everyone, religious, or spiritual, or neither, or anything in between – would feel comfortable.

Then it hit me again… mortality… a cluster of reminders of how we’re not of this world for long.  And I remembered something that always helps me as an actress… and really as a human.  Something that reminds me to savor every second I have with every person I have the great fortune of having in my life….

Whenever I feel as if I cannot grasp the GRAVITY of what I am doing onstage, or on camera, I remind myself of how finite this life is.  It isn’t depressing…. on the contrary, it lends great vivid realness to the moment.  It stops me from trying to get ahead… to get away from the pain of the moment – my human real-life pain, or the pain of the person I am portraying in the moment.  I remind myself… “this could be it.”  If it is… have I given this moment the weight and preciousness it deserves?

In episode 4 of Season 7 of The Walking Dead, while I was waiting to find out if Rick had found the missing guns, I remember standing there next to Negan acting as if I was contemplating my last moments on earth.  And then I reminded myself… “Why PRETEND to do it… when you can just DO IT?”  I found myself looking at the long grasses blowing in the wind… the blue sky… I would be sad to see that go… I was scared… but I also felt a bit like if I had to go…. what a beautiful day to do so.  I didn’t skip ahead to what I KNEW was coming – relief, a reprieve, I would be saved – THIS time.  I stayed right there in that moment in all its complexity.

Reminding myself, in acting and in life, of my mortality puts everything in perspective.

The Avett Brothers put it so beautifully in their song LIFE from The Carpenter.  Listen.  Enjoy.  Be thankful for another second, minute, hour, day… year.


20 08 2016

I almost didn’t write this post – because I don’t think it’s a very interesting topic.  I think we could spend time talking about so many other aspects of the acting business, the craft of being an actor, and… good God – about a million other interesting things besides this.

But I have my panties in a twist now – so I am going to write about it.

It is disgusting to me that the majority of our discussions around female actresses center around three things:

  1.  Their fashion sense
  2. Their weight
  3. Whether they are aging gracefully – or not

When did the world become a Middle School Locker room?

I am never knocking my skinny sisters – you go girls – you do you – but why why why why do I read endless attacks on actresses who are NOT super thin?  Why?

And not just the attacks – why do we TALK ABOUT IT as if it is the most fucking interesting thing about these actresses?

Think about your Grandma.  Think about your sister.  Your daughter.  Your best girlfriend in high school.  Your Mom.  Your Aunt.  Were they all super skinny?  If they were – YAY genes, but you probably have several women you know, love, and find ATTRACTIVE that are bigger than a size 8.  Size 8, incidentally, is the size Carrie Underwood was when everyone talked about how “fat” she was.

Think about your Grandma, sister, daughter, girlfriend, Mom, or Aunt, and imagine if millions of strangers, the media, magazines, newspapers, Facebook posters, and Twitter posters, took it upon themselves to publicly comment (usually in very vicious fashion) on their:

  1.  Fashion sense (What is Grandma WEARING?)
  2. Their weight  (Whew, Aunt Georgia really let herself goooooooo…)
  3. How well they are aging  (WOW, your MOM needs some BOTOX.)

And see if that doesn’t strike a nerve.  If it doesn’t… check your pulse.

The biggest victims I see lately of the keyboard-warrior-weight-police?  Actresses who have had babies.  Lemme tell ya – I am amazed by women who are able to be back in their high school jeans mere weeks after having a kiddo – I won’t pretend to know their methods for doing so.  BUT – imagine this:

You have watched your actress friends who tried to commit to being a NEW MOM, breastfeed, be up late nights, rearrange all their life priorities, and also – KEEP WORKING, only to see them ridiculed for not “losing the baby weight” fast enough.

So, YOU, the actress who has witnessed this time and again – you have your baby… what might you sacrifice in order to avoid that criticism?  Breastfeeding?  (Again, formula-on my formula-feeding sisters – you do you – this is no knock against you.)  Because not all women LOSE weight when breastfeeding – some women’s bodies actually hold ONTO weight until they STOP breastfeeding.  To avoid that criticism, might you decide not to breastfeed, and get back on a strict diet as soon as possible (which would make milk production rough anyway).  You might, right?

Might you decide you need your rest, so – let’s say you have the money – perhaps you hire a night nurse to get up with the baby so you can sleep.  Your heart aches to do it, but you know that not enough rest makes you hang onto weight, and you don’t want TrollGoober78 to plaster his opinion on your post-delivery thighs for all the world to see.

Might you decide you need to hit the gym for three hours a day, but your husband works too, so – assuming you have the money – you hire a nanny to watch the baby so you can go to the gym.  Again, your heart aches to leave your firstborn, but you need to amaze the public with your bikini-body “JUST SIX WEEKS AFTER GIVING BIRTH!”  (Again, some women come by the NATURALLY, but not all women do.)

Understand, I am not judging the Moms who do these things – I am SAD for them that the public feels so justified in criticizing a woman WHO JUST MADE A PERSON – to the point where that actress Mommy is willing to give up their sacred moments of motherhood to avoid the dreaded commentary from the public, the media, everyone who SHOULD BE FUCKING WORSHIPPING THE GODDESS WHO JUST BROUGHT THE MIRACLE OF LIFE INTO THE WORLD.

Same with aging.  Same with fashion.

Isn’t there ANYTHING more worthy to talk about?


26 06 2016

I am working on a new show for CMT right now, playing Gladys Presley – MILLION DOLLAR QUARTET.  The director of all the episodes, a brilliant move on CMT’s part, is Roland Joffe.  You can see his imdb profile here:

He directed one of my favorite movies of all time – THE MISSION.

This is the first time in my career, probably besides with the film SAME KIND OF DIFFERENT AS ME (coming out in Feb 2016), where I have had a significant enough role to where the director has really spent time with me.  There is something about being a day player, or a weekly player, or a secondary character, that means you kind of need to nail it the first time – every time.  There is not as much discussion, interaction, and collaboration.  It feels more like trying to be sure to be super professional, stay out of the way, and DELIVER.  This is a necessary part of the process – there is so much to be done on set, and a director has to reserve their energy!

So, initially, the collaborative spirit Roland works with was disconcerting for me.  I felt like I was failing at giving him what he wanted.  But then I realized, this was more like I felt working in the theatre as a professional.  In the theatre, it was a given that I had something to offer the production.  It was a given that I possessed the talent necessary.   It was a given that I would be prepared and emotionally available.  The director and I then became a team, and worked together, to create a nuanced, truthful, performance – with his/her guidance to be sure each scene lined up correctly with the arc of the show.

I haven’t had that feeling in quite a while, and so I didn’t recognize it.  But once I did, it felt so good to feel like I have a champion and collaborator again.  At one point, Roland said to me, “Annie,” (I love it that he instinctually calls me that), “if I don’t say anything, it just means I love what you’re doing, ok?”  I smiled big at him.  We are 7 episodes into working on this show, and within our first few hours together I felt completely safe putting myself in his hands.  I have my own ideas, sure, I have done my research, and I am ready to be raw and real and available.  But, I don’t feel like I cannot seek his guidance without everyone thinking I am not worthy to be doing this work – which is how you are made to feel (sometimes) in lesser roles.  Like no one can to be bothered with you.

This is bliss for me as an actor.  I crave the eye of the director, the one who sees objectively what I cannot.  And Roland is a master at specific direction – not the specific micro-managing kind of direction (which makes you feel like a neutered robot in a cardboard cut-out world).  His direction is SPECIFIC, and SIMPLE.  A few days ago, he said to me, “I think this is much more casual.  I think you are just doing this side work, and you are delivering this advice to Elvis, and then it is just conversational.”  The result?  It opened me up in a gorgeous way, and allowed me to just deliver the scene from the heart.

In another scene, it was quite emotional.  I was getting where I needed to emotionally, just by taking in the circumstances and the setting around me – but I would get stuck when I tried to look back at Elvis.  Roland simply said, “Annie, I think what you’re doing instinctually is quite lovely – you don’t need to turn back to him.  Keep staring at what you are looking at.  Stay there.”  And it worked – brilliantly.

It takes a combination of brilliance, sensitivity, intuition, and an ability to let go of ego for a director to move an actor in the deep way he moves me.  In some cases, directors want so badly to be sure their work is seen, that they control everything, that their fingerprint on the project becomes more of an giant anvil squashing any instincts the actor has.  In this case, Roland pays such rapt attention, and sees the layers of what the actor is trying to create… then he helps the actor bring the truth out.  The result is – he IS an auteur – and his fingerprint is light, but indelible.

I am so thankful.

Taking Credit

31 05 2016

I have had quite a few discussions about this lately… and I want to talk about it – as it’s something that bothers me immensely as a teacher AND as a student.

I was coaching with an actor out of another country via Skype about 2.5 years ago.  I wanted to have another opinion on what I was auditioning for – BESIDES my own – and I love the collaborative feel of working NOT ALONE.

Fairly early in our process together, it became clear to me that this coach wanted to make me dependent on them – in the way that a bad therapist makes the patient feel like they are never going to be “well” in order to extend the life of their professional relationship (and the money that it generates.) (Kudos to the good therapists who DON’T do this – I know there are many of you!)  So, I broke off the relationship, and felt like I could breathe again.  I cited money issues, when I should have been honest about how this coach made me feel completely inept…

A month or so after I separated from this coach, I booked The Walking Dead.  The coach posted on his webpage about how Ann Mahoney, HIS STUDENT, had booked The Walking Dead.  I was livid.  And again, I didn’t attack him the way I should have.  It should have sounded something like this:  “I have been onstage since I was 4, I got my BA and MFA in Acting, and have been professionally pursuing this for 17 years.  I had THREE sessions with you – that I PAID you for, and you are taking credit for my WALKING DEAD booking???”

Teachers, coaches, etc you need to be careful.  It is tempting to see the success of a student, and pat yourself on the back, and tell the world how “you taught them.”  But in truth, as a teacher ALSO, I can tell you that it is essential to not take credit for your students’ success.  Especially in a way that indicates you think that student OWES you for their success.  Especially if they PAID for that education in some way – tuition, coaching fees, a workshop, etc.

If the student wants to identify you as a mentor, an influence – fine.  But to take that status as the student’s SAVIOR, and the ONE WHO MADE THEIR CAREER is egotism tinged with jealousy in a lot of cases.  The student has talent, and drive, and individuality, and tenacity, and you may have taught that student some important stuff…. but their success – is THEIRS.  Don’t take it away from them.  Be proud and shut your mouth.


13 05 2016

Here’s the thing: you never get over doubting your ability to deliver what the script asks of you. Maybe I need to keep that personal – I NEVER get over doubting my ability to deliver what the script asks of me. 

The night before I go to set is absolute agony. Can’t sleep, upset stomach, racing mind… But then!  Once I am there, that familiar clutch in the center of my stomach – not a knot, like a hand in there grabbing (not hurting) – that comes to me and I breathe into it….

And then I am home where I want to be. Doing what I love. Terrified and vulnerable and alive. 

Just a few more hours…..

Breaking Into the Business

29 12 2015

I am going to address this, because I have been asked by a LOT of people over the last several weeks – how do I get on THE WALKING DEAD?  How do I become an actor?  I think having a blog post I can refer folks to will help expedite explaining my journey, and help those searching for how to break into this business.

I can only speak from my experience – but it was not a matter of being “discovered”, or just being talented, or just wanting to be an actress.   It was a concerted effort – for many years – doing the RIGHT kind of work, getting the RIGHT kind of credits…. 35 years of work to be exact.

So here is how I “broke into the business” – this phrase is deceptive – because it seems to suggest that one definitive thing will happen and BAM!  You’re IN!  But this is not the case – I will explain further.

To start, I was onstage by age 5 as a dancer.  In high school I was an avid (nationally competitive) speech and debater :-), and I did my high school plays.  I decided to STUDY acting in college, this was THEATRE acting training – I got my BA in Acting.  Then, I went on to get my MFA – also in THEATRE acting.

In those theatre years I collected quite an impressive number of theatre credits – including major regional theatres like Berkshire Theatre Fest, Long Wharf Theatre, Southern Rep, Ma-Yi Theatre (Off-Broadway). I worked with Tony award winning actors.  Like I said, I thought I had quite an impressive resume.

HOWEVER, when I got an agent to try to start getting my foot in the door for film/TV acting, (my agent came to see me in a play on the suggestion of one of her clients and signed me), NO ONE CARED about ANY of my theatre credits.  I was initially miffed.  The training I had WAS meaningful – film/TV folks recognized that I must be somewhat of a serious actor to have received both my BA and MFA in acting.  But the regional theatre credits?  The Off-Broadway credits?  The Tony award winning actors I had worked with?  The fact that I had played HAMLET?  Nobody cared.

It was like starting over in many ways.  My theatre credits didn’t tell film/TV folks a thing about if I was able to act on camera.  So they didn’t care.  I had to start garnering film and TV acting credits, to have footage from those roles to show I could do the type of acting necessary for film/TV work.  And then, it took another 12 YEARS in the film/TV business before I got to audition for THE WALKING DEAD.

I don’t get irritated when people say, “How can I break into the acting  business?”  But you will rarely hear someone ask an architect, “How do I break into the architect business”?  Also, our positions as actors in this business are precarious at best.  So to ask an actor who is not an INTIMATE friend of yours for many years to vouch for you, and try to help you get your foot in the door…. yikes…. that would mean putting our already precarious position (that we have worked many many years to get to) on the line.  Something I would only do for a dear actor friend who is MASSIVELY talented.  The risk is too great.

Now, as a creator and writer of several TV series that are currently being pitched, I can tell you – my hope is to give several actors that I PERSONALLY KNOW, whose work is OUTSTANDING, the opportunity to get a series regular or recurring role.  But those are actors I know who have pursued this relentlessly – in training, in life, who have credits, and who are amazing talents.

If you want to be an actor – pursue it as you would any other profession you are serious about.  Love!