The Inequity of Motherhood on Set

24 04 2018

With all the articles about actresses having their children on set with them, about production companies making room for actresses to still be mothers while working, it may be tempting to believe that the film and television business is quite progressive nowadays when it comes to supporting working mothers.  Recently, I was on set working in New York City, and the female director and I got into a conversation about this.  She said, “I think it is so wonderful how far we’ve come with productions accommodating mothers and their children on set.”  I paused, deciding if I was going to share some of my own experiences… I didn’t want to be seen as a complainer.  Have you heard “don’t want to be seen as a complainer” recently in another context?  Perhaps attached to the #metoo movement?  I am here to assert that #metoo isn’t just attached to sexual abuse on set, but also to sizeism and definitely to motherhood on set.  This director was astonished when I relayed some of my experiences.

There is a vast inequity in who is given space and accommodation to care for their children on set.  While I am absolutely thrilled for a name actress who “has her child’s playpen just off set to be able to nurse between takes,” there are millions of stories of actresses who are never afforded that opportunity.  I am one of them.  And I hear a new story every day about other actresses dealing with the same issue.  There is a reason I disappeared from acting for the first three years of my oldest child’s life – I knew no one cared about my baby, my nursing, or anything about my life outside of what I could offer them as an actress.  And with my son, we lived far from any familial help.  I wasn’t prepared to leave my 8 month-old with a stranger so I could seek out work.  Knowing if I booked said work, it would mean lots of time away from my newborn.  And in case you didn’t already know it, there is ZERO maternity leave for actors.  So when we take time off to care for children, we stop being paid.

It first happened once I was pregnant.  I had a very healthy pregnancies with both of my kids, no issues.  I booked a role on a film when I was about 4 months pregnant with my second child, so I already looked pregnant.  Filming was in a month, so I told them I would be showing more.  Producers initially liked the idea of my rather sexual and forward character being pregnant.  So I booked it, and started working.  This was not a leading role, but about 2 weeks of work, which I was excited to have.

I got my dates for shooting, and two days before – as I was preparing everything I needed to to leave my then 5 year old son with his Dad to go on the shoot – I got a call.  They had recast.  It was too much of a “risk” to have me on set while pregnant.  Huh?  I got no money.  I lost the work.  Keep in mind, I was simultaneously doing a two-woman DANCING AND SINGING MUSICAL onstage… so… double huh?  So you can imagine my dismay when I read all the gorgeous CGI stuff and camera angle stuff tv and film folks do to hide other actresses’ pregnancies, right?

My youngest child was a little over a year when I booked some work that would take me away from her for 9-14 days at a time.  I didn’t even ASK production if I could bring my infant.  In fact, an agent actually told me that I SHOULDN’T TELL CASTING DIRECTORS or PRODUCERS that I have children.  Because as a person who is NOT traditionally the lead actress or a series regular on a show, it would just cause me to lose work.

I gave up nursing my newborn daughter so that I could do that work on that project  It was a balance for me.  I could bring in money, or I could nurse my daughter.  Pumping wasn’t an option – unless I had pumped and then figured out how to freeze and mail my milk home – this was a far away from home project.  But when would I pump?  I had times on set when I had my period but I didn’t want to interrupt a take or a series of takes and be seen as “troublesome” or “a complainer” so I bled through everything.  So asking for breaks to pump so my milk supply wouldn’t dip?  Impossible.

The inequity of motherhood on set is that if you are FAMOUS ENOUGH, or IMPORTANT ENOUGH to the production they will gladly make any accommodations for you as a mom.  It is in their best interest to do so.  What would happen if they lost their lead actress because she didn’t want to give up nursing her baby?  Bad for business.  But that secondary character, that recurring character, that supporting character… she needs this work, she is expendable – so we aren’t even going to entertain that.  It isn’t overt.  No one says to you, “YOU, lead actress, you can gladly bring your baby to set and nurse her as you need to – but YOU secondary character, you CANNOT bring your baby to set.”  It is done much more subtly.  Which is why that one agent probably counseled me to not even REVEAL that I have children.

I was on set on another project with a new Mom, and I admired her for being back to work so quickly.  I admired her even more for taking breaks as needed to pump, and carrying her ice chest around with her to keep the milk cool till she could get to her trailer and feed her baby herself.  I admired the other new mom whose tireless partner showed up at all breaks and lunches to hand over her baby, so they could snuggle, and feed, and reconnect.  And my heart broke thinking that this was a luxury that was never afforded to me, and that the time has now passed where I need to do this anyway.

The inequity of motherhood, is that a series regular on a television show, for instance, who is already making anywhere from $25,000 to $100,00 dollars per episode on a show is also allowed to bring her child to set.  And if necessary, she might be asked to pay a nanny herself, but that is also covered sometimes by production.  A secondary actress on the same show, who is probably working for scale plus 10% (which is roughly $900/day or $3500/week) IF she dares to bring her child or children, will have to hire her own nanny and pay them out of that salary.  After taxes, and paying 10% to an agent and 10% to a manger.  Usually, the secondary characters will work a week at most on an episode. And KEEP IN MIND, that may be the only money that actress makes that month. SO… $25,000-$100,000/episode with childcare paid for, versus $3500 an episode paying for your own childcare, and usually travel.  That is IF you decided to bring your child at all.  Financially it might not be worth it.

This is not to mention all the “oh shit” moments that happen when you have children.  You may have to drag your kids into an audition when they are sick and home from school and your babysitter flakes out.  It happens.  I have only had one instance where the casting director was understanding about this.  It has happened three times in fifteen years of auditioning.  But it happens.  There is zero generosity of spirit afforded to secondary characters when it comes to us having any life outside of their life as an actress – who is available at all times under all circumstances.

I have had agents request that I spend a month away from home auditioning.  What?  Leave my kids for a solid month, move to another city, just so I can be available at the drop of a hat SHOULD anything come up?  I do this for a week at a time and go home on weekends, but a month solid away from home?  Not happening.  My children’s mental well-being is more important than the convenience of me being close to auditions.  That is why we have audition taping.

The only productions I have ever been a part of that were accommodating to me as a mother were two films I did last summer – both of which were shot by smaller production companies in New Orleans.  I cannot tell you how beautiful it was to have my children welcomed, with childcare PROVIDED, at a read-through.  To have an “oh shit” moment where my son HAD TO come to set with me, and the production easily making room for him.  This is how it should be.  I sure could have used this when my children were infants.

Here is the funny thing, I have been meaning to write this post for some time, but I was afraid to.  Why was I afraid?  Because I don’t “want to seem like I will be troublesome” or “be difficult”.  #metoo needs to extend to sizeism and mothers.  I am sure there are some folks already thinking, “You know what?  If you can’t make all the accommodations productions want then shut up and let actresses who will take your place.”  Maybe I will.





Pilot Season 2018, Part 2

13 02 2018

If you haven’t read Part One be sure to do so, as you will need to reference it.

Jan 29, 12pm

I get a call from my agent. He has an audition for me for a great CABLE show. Let’s call this one MONKEY BARS. Character is dark and sad. I mishear what my agent says on the phone (I am hard of hearing), and THINK I hear that the audition is due at 3pm TODAY. As in THREE HOURS FROM NOW. This is not unusual in my previous experience, so I kind of flip out and jump into working. This means I have to schedule someone to pick up my two kids from school, so I can tape when I would have been traveling 1.5 hours round trip to get both of them, and so I can focus with what little time I have.

12:05pm

Frantic call to best friend and fellow actor Nick Thompson to see if he can drop everything and come tape me. He can. Thank GOD for him.

12:10pm

ACCENT FIRST:

I start my process, knowing it will be a bit truncated. Focus first on accent! This is a REGIONAL accent I am unfamiliar with, and it crucial to the story. David Alan Stern and learnaccent.com/ to the rescue again. I also YOUTUBE some people from the region and listen to them for a bit.

I go to work on the script, they didn’t give me the whole script this time, so I am really using that Tim Phillips method of “SHERLOCK HOLMES-ING the text” to glean all the clues I can from this one. So many questions I need answered to even begin to act this one authentically, including the names of several other characters and things that they are doing/have happened to them – and NO REFERENCE MATERIAL for who they are or what happened.

I do my best to memorize, but it is six pages of THICK dialogue. Whew.

1:30pm

Nick shows up and we start taping. I am rusty on this one due to a lack of time, and it feels horrible. I warm up eventually, and we start getting great stuff.

2:15pm (you read that correctly)

I start loading the audition into my computer, and as I move the takes into the editing bar I realize… even though the camera was showing that it was taping, it was cutting off one minute and 30 seconds into EVERY SINGLE TAKE. The scene? It’s nearly FIVE MINUTES LONG. Something is up with my camera. SHIT SHIT SHIT SHIT SHIT. I have 45 minutes to get this fucker in.

It was not Nick’s fault, let me be clear, the camera was running, but somehow it is not transferring into the memory card. FUCK ME. Now we have to retape.

2:30pm

I write a panicked email to my agent about the camera glitches and tell him I am retaping. We strap my iPhone to the tripod and dive in. We tape the second half of the scene, and I will have to be ok with cutting them together – there isn’t enough time to retape the whole thing, import to the computer, edit, and export and send. A five minute audition tape takes FOREVER to export and send.

2:40pm

I upload the iPhone footage into my computer – after cursing and figuring out the AirDrop thing – and as I do so, I notice an email from my agent. “Why are you rushing this? It isn’t due till TOMORROW at 3pm.” Oh man…………

I am partially relieved and partially super-annoyed at myself because I didn’t read the audition notice carefully, as I thought I had limited time. Never going to make THAT mistake again. Well… I have more time, so now I am going to USE IT. I ask Nick if he can come back tomorrow morning so we can try this again – with the iPhone – because I don’t trust my camera now (even though I reformatted the memory card, the internal memory – everything), luckily Nick CAN come back.

3pm-5pm

I take advantage of the kids being with family to work work work in my usual methods. See the previous post. I know when they get home it will be homework, dinner, baths and bed, so I need to use these extra two hours for all they are worth.

8pm-10pm

One kid is in bed, and the quieter one is awake – but he understands when I say I have to work – so I buckle down and work some more before heading to bed.

January 30, 9am

The kids are off to school, Nick comes over, and we tape. This time, it is so much better. I have had the time to put into it, and I don’t feel like a complete hack. Plus, in the extra time I figured out a really important detail about another character… something I was playing completely incorrectly. DAMN am I glad I misheard my agent.

I edit the tape and send it in. Again, into the ether…

Here is a glimpse into the audition tape for MONKEY BARS.





Pilot Season 2018, Part 1

12 02 2018

This post is more for the non-actors than the actors – but I feel like maybe there might be some interest in knowing our process – so here goes!

It’s Lundi Gras and Mardi Gras week in New Orleans, but pilot season in the acting world.  As a native of #nola and someone who has lived here most of my life (except college, grad school and a few years in NYC) there is something oddly eerie about the “time out of joint” feeling of being in the midst of my city’s most celebratory time of the year, AND in the midst of the big fight for my career all at once.

I have entirely new representation this year, agents and managers, and this means for the first time I have direct access to all the big auditions for this year’s possible series-to-be, and it is such a breath of fresh air.  And a lot of stress and work.  But I live for that stress and that work.  In fact, I find when I am NOT auditioning or working I am the most ill-at-ease.

So, here is a glimpse into the last several weeks in the life of this working actor.  In the first couple of entries I will detail my process more specifically, and give each part of the process a title.  In the subsequent entries I will just use the title to indicate.

(Sidebar:  Most of the audition and show processes don’t allow me to share the role or the show or even information on the network.  SO, if I say NETWORK television – it means your channels you get without cable.  If I say CABLE it means…. cable.  If I say STREAMING it means streaming.  Also, any resources I mention here I get no kickbacks for.  They are truly the resources I use.)

Jan 23rd, 5am

A new role comes across my desk – via my sources.  (Odd that you must have “sources” to know what is going on right?) NETWORK TV, we’ll call this show:  CONDO.  Character is a single mom, works as a nurse in a specific facility.  Age 38-42.  Nothing in the description says anything about her size, or about her being “breathtakingly beautiful”, so I think – ok – this is a possibility.  I send it on to my managers, who rock.

Jan 23rd, 1pm

I get the audition!  Due in four days, which is a crazy luxury.  (FOUR WHOLE DAYS???) .

ACCENT FIRST (if there is one):

I buckle down and work on the regional accent the character has first.  Thank you David Alan Stern, and https://learnaccent.com/ – he has every regional accent and foreign accent you can imagine, and teaches from the place of resonance FIRST, vowel and consonant changes SECOND.  I had the good fortune to study with him in grad school.  Go to that site and you can get all of his materials.

Jan 24-25

READING THE SCRIPT:

I also get the entire script for CONDO, a luxury I never had with my previous representation.  So, I get ready to read read read.  I try to read initially without favoring the character I am auditioning for.  Just to understand the story and the tone of the show.  Then I dig into the character’s story specifically.  While I do this I take notes, and just let my imagination go wild with what everything LOOKS like in the show:  my house, the condo, my daughter, the place I work, etc.  If someone says to you, “Where do you work?”  You know EXACTLY what your workplace looks like.  It lends validity to your story because it is TRUTHFUL based on what you PICTURE when they ask you.  You want the same thing in the fictional life of your character – to know what everything looks like.

LOOKING AT ALL OF THE CLUES:

As I work, I take everything into consideration – the network station (every station has their own brand… if you carefully look into the shows each channel produces you will see trends), the producer – especially if it is a producer/writer (it is in this one).  They typically have a very distinct STYLE that can give you lots of clues into how to approach the work.  I think about the character’s name, which I can’t tell you, but writers pick names for really specific reasons.  The name Mary, for instance, can have a lot of connotations.  The Virgin Mary – hence she is motherly, virginal, etc.  OR the writer could have picked “Mary” as an ironic name – maybe Mary is a prostitute.  Get it?  My favorite resource for preparations for film/tv auditions is AUDITION FOR YOUR CAREER NOT THE JOB, the work of the master Tim Phillips.  Here is his website – www.timphillipsstudio.com . You can go there and download his book, DVDs, all kinds of great resources.  I am thankful to James DuMont, who was my husband in BAREFOOT for introducing me to Tim’s process.  http://www.imdb.com/name/nm0003069/?ref_=nv_sr_1

MEMORIZATION:

Then, the memorization starts. I don’t memorize with any specific inflection in my voice, as I don’t want to lock in any choices.  My choices aren’t really ready yet, but I want to know the words as if they are in my SUBCONSCIOUS, because this will allow me to play moment-to-moment when I start taping the audition, and take everything off of my partner.

TAPING:

I bought my own set of lights and camera several years ago, and it is a lifesaver.  I have several great actor friends I can call to come over and read with me, and not having to find a studio or taper, and pay someone every time I need to tape is just… financially crucial.

I don’t allow myself to tape too many takes, as I want to be sure I remain in the true state of what LIVE AUDITIONING is like.  You MIGHT get two takes in a live audition, but more often than not it is ONE take.  So, I don’t want to get into the habit in my taping from home of allowing myself to do things over and over.  I prepared for my taping the same way I would for a live audition (if time allows!), and force myself to be on point.

EDITING:

I edit the video very simply, no title cards, no crazy fade ins or fade outs, none of that.  Fade to black at the end quickly.  I send the tape in.

Here is where the process is strange and can be very nerve-wracking if you cannot let go of your auditions.  I say this because I am not always great at letting go.  I obsess over some characters, and hope hope hope I will hear something.  Other characters don’t haunt me as much and are easy to let go of, but for your mental health you really need to have the “Next!” attitude about your auditions.

You send this audition in, and it is as if it disappears into the ether.  You don’t know what they think of it, you don’t hear back unless you get a callback, so all that work just kind of… disappears.  Now, if you consider every audition a chance to show your chops, it is quite different.  It disappears, but you know even if you don’t get THIS role, you will be remembered as a prepared and compelling actor… and who knows what that could lead to in the future.

I can’t show you the entire audition for CONDO, but here is a little glimpse of what I looked like for the character.  Stay tuned for Part 2 of this PILOT SEASON blog.

 

 

 

 

 





10 Years from Now

20 01 2018

So, I know I am usually all positivity, sunshine & rainbows flying out of my ass… but I have had some experiences in the last half year or so that have me in a troubled and questioning place.  I always promised myself that when I started this blog I would be honest about my experiences… even if they may cast me in a not-so-great light – or show that all is not hunky-dory with my career.  This is difficult, as it is partially the actor’s job to make it seem as if all is going gangbusters at all times, lest you seem like you may be not as successful – and desperate.  That is why you can be looking at a fellow actor’s Facebook page and assume that they are just constantly busy, but when you bump into them at the coffee shop they usually confide, “Yeah, actually it’s been a pretty scary/shitty/rough year.”

Preface over.

This past summer I made the decision to completely start over from a representation perspective.  It was becoming clear to me that I was getting too tied down to being only a “southeast actor,” and I was afraid of getting pigeon-holed into being an actor that does this for a hobby… not a living.  I knew I needed to make a leap, and several troublesome instances made that abundantly clear, and so I did.  It was super scary, and I really did doubt myself through most of it.  In the end, I landed an agent in Los Angeles that really knew and appreciated my work, and a manager who reminds me of my first agent Claudia Speicher… if you know me at all that is one of the highest compliments I can give.

I have had several auditions in Los Angeles in the last few years, but most have them have been rather ideal.  I was sent to meet the VPs of casting at a major network, and they sent me to a great Casting Director who read me for the title character in a show.  (The show ended up not going forward at all.)  These experiences were way different than the cattlecall-ish auditions I had gotten used to in the southeast.  For example, coming in to an audition for a guest star role and sitting with 20 other actresses – all of whom I know – and auditioning one by one for a Casting Director.  I actually loved those auditions.  Just me, the Casting Director, and time time time time.  I also started booking things without having to audition at all, which was a goal I set for myself about a year ago.  This is all good.

BUT, the second half of this last year, with the change in representation, and all the other chaos that surrounded it, kind of pulled me out of any auditions and work – also fine.  But as this new year rolled in, I felt more than ready to get back to work auditioning.  So I went to Los Angeles, I had other things to do too, and I had my first LA audition – which was much more like the cattlecall-ish ones from the Southeast.  The actual waiting room vibe was QUITE different, which is fine – I am flexible – I tend to roll with things – but there was a very different attitude in LA.  Not bad.  Just different.  Felt way more desperate and sad than auditions in the Southeast.  Ok – no problem.

I signed in, and I noticed several familiar names on the list.  One in particular.  Let’s call her Stephanie Smith.  I didn’t have the time to process it at the moment, I wanted to stay focused on my audition.  But when I got back to the place I was staying, anxiety swallowed me whole, and I looked up that one actor’s name.  That is when it hit me.

Let’s go back about 10 years…

I had moved to Asheville, NC after my house in New Orleans drowned in Hurricane Katrina.  I got a call from one of my favorite Southeastern Casting Directors asking me to come in and audition for a series regular role on a new series.  WHOA!  Very cool.  I drove to Atlanta, did the audition, the Casting Director was really happy with it.  I didn’t book it.  Guess who did?  Stephanie Smith.

The show actually ran for some seasons, and I watched it – she was quite good.  To be clear – this is not a jealousy thing – just a point of information.  She is the same type of actress I am:  size 14-16, brunette, can do funny, also does drama, you get it.

Fast forward to right after I had my first child.  Again, that same Southeastern casting director called – I was being asked to audition for a Guest Star role on a new show.  I drove to Atlanta, really not wanting to leave my newborn, and auditioned.  Again, the casting director loved my audition.  Guess who booked it?  Stephanie Smith.  The show she was a series regular on had been cancelled, and she was back to Guest Star roles for one episode at a time.

I blew it off…. until this week.  When there she was again… Stephanie Smith.  The reason?  Not because I had to compete with her yet again.  But because what happened with us being in that same audition room – a full TEN YEARS after we both auditioned for that series regular role – was an absolute kick in the stomach.  Here she was, this super-talented, beautiful actress – who happens to be my size.  She had landed a series regular role in a show with a very famous cast, the show aired for a while, and now here she is all over again.  Back in the cattlecall-ish auditions for a Guest Starring role for one episode.

Yikes, I thought.  YIKES.  For as forward thinking and diverse as Hollywood is pretending to be…. why is this actress back in that same room after all she has done?  Why aren’t there shows with leads or supporting leads for her?  Why does it MATTER so much what size we are?  Why aren’t we 14-16 sized women just thrown into the mix with all those actresses out there competing for the leads in any of the shows out there?  Why do all our auditions have to be for characters listed as “frumpy”, or “unkempt”, or “lazy”, or “plain”.  Stephanie Smith is anything but plain… or frumpy… and ostensibly, she should have earned a place on a show given the proof of her abilities.

And this got me thinking… how can I even have a snowball’s chance in hell?  Am I going to be back in this cattlecall-ish audition ten years from now, no matter IF I finally book that series regular I want (you know the frumpy one… the one who cries… because apparently that is all I can do) – am I going to turn around in 10 years and find myself back here again because Hollywood cannot see anyone as a size 14-16 continuing the climb and having a steady career?  We’re just the freaks?  There isn’t a lot of room for us in casting in general if we are just the “wild card fat chick” all the time.

So that is where I am at.  Strong case of disillusionment.  Strong case of – if this is how it is going to be… I don’t want it.





Change: This is L.A. not LA

19 07 2017

It has been a rough couple of weeks.  For a lot of reasons.  Truthfully, it has been a rough first half of 2017.  The cyclical nature of this business can drive you mad if you let it.

There have been tragic deaths, which are still haunting me and several others – and I am in prayer for the families who surely need privacy right now.  There has been the loss of many possibilities…  Five possible jobs and several comic cons have fallen through:  and I remember in March wondering just how I was going to balance it all if even TWO of the jobs came through.  There have been realizations about the crooked way this business works, and realizations of just how much these ways have financially effected my family.

Everyone around me seems to be moving through a major change, and I am no exception.  I have a crazy itch right now for more, and I am seeking it out.  But the old adage that growth causes pain is surely true.  On some level, it feels easier to either – a.  give up, or b. stay with the “known.”  I find myself once again in that place where I wonder why I chose this fucking profession that causes me so much stress and uncertainty.  I find myself once again wondering if I should just move on, close this chapter in my life, and try something else.

Here is what I know right now:

  1.  There is a perception that if you are not an actor living in Los Angeles, you are somehow “less good”.  My Louisiana address makes it easier for casting to marginalize me as “local actor”, and keep me in a box where I am “good enough” but not “as good as.”
  2. I did an audition for a title character in a a sitcom, in Los Angeles, with only one hour prep time – which I was sent to directly from a meeting with VPs of Casting from a major network.  The casting director – a LOS ANGELES casting director – was completely blown out of the water.  I say this not to brag – but to qualify it with this:  I wasn’t nervous at all.  Once I got in that room I knew I understood what this character needed, and I did it.  So I am ready for this level of stuff.  I wasn’t ready a few years ago – when I had this same itch – but was too afraid to change.
  3. I am being considered for lead characters in many different shows – and am making it to the last few people in consideration – often.  Although I have not booked one yet, I know it is just a matter of time.
  4. The reason that meeting with the VPs of Casting happened in the midst of pilot season, is because they remembered an audition of mine from a year earlier that went all the way up the pipeline.  I only didn’t get to the next audition stage because I wasn’t a large enough size.
  5. I love myself, and I know now that my looks and my size are not at all an impediment to the type of work I deserve to be doing.

Who am I kidding?  I can’t try something else.  It isn’t in my DNA.  I just have to change.  Leap.  Quantum leap.

I can’t keep doing the same thing and expect different results.  I have to demand what I want, and expect to get it.

 





Autographs

11 06 2017

Preface:  I want to be sure as you read this, you know it is meant in an informative and warm way. I’m not angry about this at all – but a few things that happened at a con recently inspired me to write this post.  So think of a sunny, smiling face when you read this. ☺️

It happened again yesterday. A man and his daughter stopped by my signing table to say hi and tell me how much they love The Walking Dead. I always talk to everyone – regardless of whether or not they pay for an autographed photo or selfie. Then, the father said, “Can we take a picture with you?”  My manager chimed in, “Of course, that’ll be $15.”

There was a pause. The man cocked his head sideways. “I have to PAY for a picture even if I take it with my OWN PHONE?”  My manager lovingly explained that he could do a selfie for $15, get an autographed photo for $25, or do both for $30.  He was pissed. As he walked away he said to his daughter, “No, NO we are not paying $15 for a picture.  Come on.”

Full disclosure:  my prices at this time always range from $25-40 for an autographed photo, $15-20 for a selfie, or $30-$50 for a combo. 

What I totally understand: folks who attend cons pay for their tickets, which I know can get quite expensive, and also have to pay to travel, and stay in a hotel sometimes. 

As a guest of the comicon, what I receive to appear at the con is usually this: a flight, hotel room, and per diem. SOMETIMES I have a guarantee, meaning, there’s a set amount of money I will make regardless of how many autographs and pictures I sell.   But a lot of times, I do not have a guarantee, so what I take home is solely based on pictures and autographs that I sell.  

I have two kids, a mortgage, a car note, and some pending college tuition for my little kids that already scares the shit out of me. There is an assumption that because you are working on TV or in the movies, that you must be ridiculously wealthy. I know I have said this before, but you need to understand that only the top 2% of actors in the world are making ridiculously large sums of money.  The rest of us? On a good year, we might make as much as a nurse in a small town. In a rough year? We make less than a schoolteacher does.   So, believe it or not, many of us go to comic cons because they are part of what we have to do to make money to support our families.   Bonus is that we get to meet all the amazing fans out there who love the show, and that is always a thrill.

What you need to understand is how much money has gone into creating a career where your signature is now “valuable.”  I am 41 years old, I started on stage at 10 years old.  I went to college on a full scholarship, that I earned by having a very high GPA and being in every single stage play at my school, and competing nationally in speech and debate.  I went to a Louisiana public school, no fancy private school – we couldn’t afford that – so I pushed through that system to get myself into college. I got my BA in theater arts with a focus on acting.  Although I had a full scholarship, I still came out of college with a bit of debt.

I then went on to graduate school, also on a full scholarship, again based on my high GPA and a rather rigorous audition.  I graduated with my MFA in acting, and immediately moved to New York City.  

To live in New York City, and try to be an actor, is rather expensive proposition. But I poured every dime I had into auditions, networking events, new head shots when I couldn’t afford them, and eventually decided that New York was not for me, and moved back to New Orleans.

Over the 31 years I have been acting, in particular since I begin studying acting in college, there have been many “oh shit are we going to have our lights shut off” moments.  Many, “Should we pay the electric bill OR the internet bill?” conversations. There has been much eating of Ramen. There have been hundreds of auditions year, with only a few bookings. There have been jobs at wine bars, catering companies, wedding event companies, shoe stores, and any other work I could cobble together in order to pay the bills.

Then, The Walking Dead happened. I was 38 years old when I booked that show.  Married, with two small kids, a mortgage, a car note, and some rather impressive air-conditioning bills because, hey, I live in New Orleans. 

31 years, and now my signature is meaningful enough to people to have them pay for it. My image that I worked on for all those years in school, in films, on the stage, is now worth enough to charge for it.  At Cons, I am asked the same questions over and over again, but I don’t mind at all. To me, I feel so blessed that someone cared enough to come all this distance just to meet me and ask me that question.   I engage each person, and try my best to be cheerful all day long, because, frankly, that’s my job!

 I realize to an outsider, this may sound like “first world problems”.  And believe me, I know that my life is an embarrassment of riches. Unfortunately, so far it is not an embarrassment of riches to the point that it makes any difference in my financial life!!!! 🤣🤣🤣

So when you go to a comic con, and you step up to someone’s table, remember all the blood sweat and tears that went into that person getting to the place where their signature, and their image, is valuable.   And remember that this is our WORK. When we go to cons, we are going to work.  

Usually when I’m at a con, there is something very specific I’m trying to fund. In this case right now, I have to finish paying for my kids summer camp. So I can work.  At one point, I was at a con making money so that I could finish paying my daughters school tuition.  Again, so I can work. (There is no free preschool in New Orleans.)  Even though the profession we have chosen seems quite glamorous, many of us have the same struggles you do trying to provide for our families.

Thanks for listening. ♥️

Hope to see you at a con some day!





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: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ZFQSBOiyP9o  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.