Back in the Classroom

10 01 2019

I have the great privilege of getting to teach young actors at Loyola University in New Orleans. I say this because, just like raising my kids, my students teach me so much, and remind me continually of why I decided to pursue this career in the first place. For me, getting the opportunity to engage with these artists who are SEEKING is crucial to maintaining my own sense of wonder and questioning when it comes to the work of an actor. I also really treasure getting to share my real-life audition, work, triumphs and failures with them. It was something I wasn’t often afforded in my own education as an actor…. and I always promised myself that I would be sure to share what I learned – and AM learning – about the pursuit of this work.

I teach one, sometimes two classes each school year – SUZUKI TRAINING in the Fall, and ACTING FOR CAMERA every other Spring, and this is one of the odd years I get to teach ACTING FOR CAMERA.

As I began, this past Fall, to revisit my syllabus from 2017’s ACTING FOR CAMERA class I forced myself, once again, to really unpack what I was teaching, to decide what was working, and what was not – and to do the most important thing in a business that changes constantly: make sure what I was teaching was the MOST CURRENT. It is never my goal as a professor to “overwork” my students, to load them down with assignments until they feel overwhelmed. But it IS my goal to make sure they leave the class prepared, and BETTER at what they do.

This is a daunting proposition in an undergraduate program. There is only ONE camera acting class they will take in four years, and my class is ACTING THREE. By the time they take my class they have taken ACTING ONE and ACTING TWO, and have a good theatrical base for their training, but I have one chance… just a few months, to relay all the information I can to make them walk out of my classroom… and into a casting director’s office.

As I looked over my 2017 syllabus something came over me… I realized that in 2017, I auditioned about 50% of the time LIVE in an audition room, and about 50% of the time I sent in a self-taped audition. Fast forward to now. I NOW audition about 15% of the time LIVE in the room, and 85% from a self-tape. I further realized that ALL of the major roles I have done since 2014 have been cast DIRECTLY from my self-tape. No callback. Just my tape. This includes: THE WALKING DEAD, SUN RECORDS, RECTIFY, LOGAN LUCKY, and a bunch of other stuff.

The syllabus had to change. So it did. In 2017 I focused mostly on the nerves, preparation, and the last-minute nature of the LIVE AUDITION. But I knew that THIS YEAR, I had to focus equally on the self-tape, or I would be doing a disservice to this one, little, short ACTING FOR CAMERA class my students will get in their 4 year actor-training journey.

I am trying to remember this same mentality as it applies to my LIFE as well as my own acting work. What worked? What didn’t? What helped me to truly be prepared (as much as i can be) for what is coming next? What needs to change? Is there anything I deem “too precious” or anything I really feel like “I’ve figured out”? Those are the things that probably need the deepest examination.

CHANGE is a big, scary word sometimes. Especially as we get older and set in our ways. I am not taking about the changes LIFE throws at us, in a way I think those are sometimes easier because the older we get, the more we come to expect disappointment, job changes, death… I am talking about internal CHANGE.

The first day of class I always just get every student on camera, in a “loose from the shoulders up” shot, and I just interview them. I don’t ask anything difficult or particularly deep, just some “who are you? What did you do for Christmas?” type of questions. And then we watch the tapes back. There is a more complex part of this exercise that is too difficult to explain in this already too-long blog post. But ONE of the things I do is point out to each student their particular distracting quirks.

You raise your eyebrows a lot.

You clench your jaw between answers.

You are holding your breath ALL THE TIME.

You twist your mouth sideways when thinking.

You look up, or down, or sideways a lot and it distracts me from just listening to you and enjoying who you are.

I preface these things I notice by saying, “I don’t want you to get overly fixated on this or obsess about it. I just want you to KNOW. So you can choose to do these things IF they serve the scene you are doing, but you can also choose to NOT TO USE THEM when they DON’T serve the scene.”

This is what I mean by the big C.H.A.N.G.E. Noticing those things which are habit. Not obsessing about them or fixating on them. But noticing them. And realizing that just by noticing them, you gain power over them. And THEN, you can use them to serve you when it fits, and let them go when they stifle you.





Perspective

2 01 2019

Having children has been the greatest gift to my life. And to my work as an actress. I was warned often about the perils of having kids when you are an actress throughout my earlier life. Initially, it was some who thought that I couldn’t really be BOTH a great artist and a mother. Later on, I was actually told that it would cripple my budding acting career if I ever even mentioned having children – because at my particular stage in my career it would be seen as a nuisance. That is probably true. But when I tell you that I would not be able to access what I now access as an actress without the birth of my two kids – know that THIS is what is really TRUE.

The touching stories you hear about actors bringing their babies to set, having them nearby to snuggle or breastfeed between scenes are wonderful, and I have great joy in my heart for those actors who are well known enough to have enjoyed that privilege. For the average working actor, however, that is a luxury never afforded to them. I understand why, it isn’t feasible to have every parent of a toddler, or baby, bring the kids to work! But for lower level actors this often means being away from their newborns (even!) for weeks at a time. As a supporting character, or recurring character, we actors are often traveling away from home for work, and so even the joy of coming home from work to our families is not a possibility.

I worked with an actor once who had a newborn, and we spoke quite a bit on set about the heartache that comes with leaving your littlest ones to pursue your art. Since this actor was the leading character, the production – which was quite progressive for the time – was making sure the actor’s schedule was flexible and very respectful to their need to be with their newborn. The actor’s family had moved to the town we were working in temporarily, so that this actor did not have to rely on strangers to help with the newborn while the work was going on. I didn’t tell this actor that I, too, had a very young baby thousands of miles away that I was missing. I didn’t want them to feel guilty, because ultimately, we have the same struggle.

But I think about all the actors who have chosen to have children, and I see the richness of this struggle and the depth of this experience in their work. And the same is true for me. As with all aspects of life, I find myself saying things to my kids in an effort to teach them, and within hours I find myself laughing about what I said. Laughing because the “wisdom” I am dispensing to my kids is something I need to hear and apply to my own life as well.

Is it Alice in Wonderland who said, “I give myself very good advice but very seldom follow it?”

The most recent grain of wisdom I found flying back into my face surrounded this:

One of my kids got the retro Nintendo game for Christmas. It has something like 37 games on it, MARIO BROTHERS, CASTLEVANIA, basically, all my favorite games from way back on one machine. We had Christmas at my parent’s house this year (they live in the same town), so he opened the gift there fairly early in the day.

As the day went on, all the cousins wanted to play his Nintendo… and he got fed up with having to share. This is an unusual change for my son, he is generally very generous, but by the end of the day he was beside himself with all the requests from his cousins to play. Once it was clear the kids were losing their collective shit we decided to pack it up and head home for the night.

On the drive home, he was still brooding and even a bit weepy about it. I told him, “Buddy, you have got to maintain perspective on this! I know you just got this game, and you want it all to yourself, but YOU decided to play with it at the grandparent’s house. If you do that, you have to expect that the other kids are going to want to play too! You need to keep the perspective that, yes, you will have to share this for a FEW HOURS today, but once we are home, it is YOURS and you can play to your heart’s content! This time where you have to share it is FINITE (explained what finite meant) and after that, it’s all yours. So, get some perspective.”

He understood and adjusted his attitude.

Later on that night, as I started to panic about this coming year, and the work that may or may not be afforded me as an actor, and what may or may not happen with the TV series I have written or the film I’ve written I started cracking up. I mean, you could probably make a 2 hour film by now, using the graveyard of audition tapes I have made over the last few years call it, ALL THE THINGS SHE NEVER BOOKED. I have circled the globe in pursuit of financiers, networks, all the people I need to make my series or film happen. And I sat there boiling in this stew of disappointment without…. guess what? Perspective.

I remember when my son was born 10 years ago. When he was an infant, he was a horrible sleeper. He slept no more than 1.5 hours at a stretch for nearly the first year of his life. On a day when I felt like I might throw myself off of the roof, I called my Mom in a panic. “I can’t keep doing this! I can’t! I am losing my mind!” My Mom said, “it isn’t always going to be like this Ann.” Perspective.

It isn’t always going to be like this. Thanks for the lesson Mom. And thank you God for my kids.