First Day Teaching

11 09 2015

Today I began teaching theatre class (after school) at my kid’s school in New Orleans.  It is a curriculum I am designing, and they will be doing an adaptation of several of Shel Silverstein’s poems from WHERE THE SIDEWALK ENDS.

The last time I taught elementary level drama classes was right after I got my MFA, and I taught Kindergarten – 5th grade drama once a week at a Catholic school in Queens.

I can remember, in a very visceral way, exactly how overwhelmed I felt about that teaching job.  I had never taught such little kids.  I was fresh out of grad school, having done some wild and esoteric theatre over the summer at THE BERKSHIRE THEATRE FESTIVAL, and having completed an internship with LONG WHARF THEATRE – where I got to act alongside some theatre greats – JEFFERSON MAYS (who won the Tony for I AM MY OWN WIFE) and FRANK WOODS (who won the Tony for SIDEMAN).

But I felt majorly out of my league teaching these little ones.

And I felt that again today.  BUT, the difference was, I didn’t feel AFRAID.  I felt like I would figure it out.  I have kids of my own now, and so know better how to negotiate and redirect.  I am so much less afraid to make things a work in progress at this stage of my life – whereas back then, I felt I had to know everything.  I was afraid to not know everything.

I want to try and blog about this teaching experience, along with other aspects of my career over the next several months – as I think it is time to take stock again.

SO – to sum up – here is what I learned today:

  1.  You must run little children like horses first, if you expect them to focus on theatre after a long day at school.  Next week – we shall run them ragged!
  2.  As much as it hurts to do so, you have to be pretty strict on the first day of class, to establish your role as the authority figure.  I definitely utilized time-outs, and talks, and as much as I hated to make a couple kids sad, I think it was necessary for a good start to the semester.
  3. Although the world would have you believe that all our kids are TV and video game zombies, this is not the case.  The sense of wonder I encountered, as I helped my littlest ones read through SARAH STOUT by Shel Silverstein, was enchantment at it’s best.
  4. I don’t care if the play is “good”.

Let me clarify that last one – of course we will practice, and do our best.  But it is lovely to not care about product as much as I used to, and care more about the experience.  I have so much to learn!  Talk soon!DreamPlay





Drop Everything and Audition

6 07 2015

When you Get an Audition – DROP EVERYTHING AND DO IT

Here is what an agent LOVES after three months of weekly “do you have any auditions for me?” phone calls. When it takes you 24 hours to answer an email about an audition. AND THEN when you say you “have to figure out if you can make the audition”. YOU CAN make the audition. Or you aren’t pursuing this as a career – it’s a hobby.

Generally, this is how auditions work: the casting director contacts YOUR AGENT with a list of actors they want to see. Usually, the agent is asked to have talent pick a window of time. For instance, “Auditions will be Wednesday, Oct 30th from 4-7pm, have your talent choose a time.” Then, the agent writes to YOU, the talent, asking you what TIMEFRAME would be most convenient for you. Then your agent WAITS for your response. Meanwhile, all the other agents who were asked to get chosen time for THEIR clients are also waiting.

If you check your emails regularly, within a few hours, your agent should have your preferred window of time. Your agent sends your preferred time to the casting director, and they write back confirming an EXACT time. Let’s say you requested “somewhere between 4 and 4:30pm”. Your agent passes that on to the casting director. Along with everyone else’s requests for timeframes. Then, the casting director sends back exact times. You got “4:12pm”. Your agent calls your or emails you the exact time, and you write back to confirm receipt of the time.

Do you see how NOT checking your email can be prohibitive to this process? You can actually LOSE auditions with a quick turnaround – of which there are MANY these days – by being lax about checking your email. I have had clients request that I “text” them or “call them ALSO” when there is an audition request. Can you imagine remembering the preferences of every client? And sending out 20 emails, 30 texts, and making 25 personal phone calls every time there is an audition? (This could be 25+ auditions a week!) Get over yourself and CHECK YOUR EMAIL!

More later…





Residuals and the Waiting Game

29 06 2015

A quick primer: WHAT ARE RESIDUALS? This is very general, as the world of residuals is a strange and scary place, with lots of twists and turns, and different rates and equations, and math is not my forte. Essentially, when you are paid for working on an episodic (tv show), your pay covers the shoot days, and the first airing of the show – unless the contract states otherwise. Subsequent airings of the episode you shot require the payment of RESIDUALS. The amount of your residuals in television, is based on the original pay you received. If your show is on cable television, the 2nd airing of the show will usually pay you 50% of the original fee you received, with exceptions. A network show pays more on the 2nd airing, and more on 3rd airing and 4th and so on.

For films, the residuals are significantly harder to figure out. Your residuals on film work are based on a complex equation that includes: the number of days you worked, the pay you received, the number of people working on the film that have specific “stakes” in it, and finally, the number of DVD sales. Once the movie moves to tv distribution, and Netflix distribution, etc, there may be more residuals there too. I worked on BIG MOMMA’S HOUSE 2 nearly 10 years ago, and I still get nice little $150 residual checks from that! But that movie is a very popular film, this is not something that happens with GARGATUAN MONKEYS FROM HELL, know what I mean?

The point is, the money you make on the job itself, if it is a SAG/AFTRA productions is not the FINAL amount you will make on that job. Keep that in mind when you are bitching about driving three hours or MORE to an audition, or when you are regional hire and have to drive your ass to another state. 🙂

This next bit is going to be a way for you to benefit from the mistakes I have made with my agent, or folks have made with me as their agent. To protect the guilty, myself included, I will not tell you which is which.

When Newly Signed to an Agency, RELAX YOURSELF

Somewhere along the way, some well-meaning professor or coach or hapless actor-friend told you that with an agent, “the squeaky wheel gets the grease”. Inferring that calling your agent to check in is an important thing to do in order to insure you are getting submitted for all the work you SHOULD BE GETTING SUBMITTED FOR DAMMIT! SO in the beginning, maybe you call your agent once a week for the first few months, when you haven’t gotten an audition yet, and you leave a message saying something like, “Hi! It’s Ann Mahoney. Just calling to see if you have any auditions for me!”

Let me say this: IF your agent signed you in earnest, and IF you really are good and well-trained, and have amazing head shots, your agent is submitting you. Sometimes it takes a but before casting directors will call in a NEWBIE! Especially a newbie with no resume! If you aren’t getting ANY auditions after 6 months or so, maybe you got your Uncle to do FREE head shots for you. 🙂 MAYBE you need a little film experience so you have a reel! (See Chapter 6)

Also, it is important to have self-assuredness and self-confidence, but I literally passed on representing a talented 11 year old one time, because they came on so strong. I thought, “If they are like this NOW, what is going to happen when they book work and are on set?” The mother insisted that her daughter be on my “A List” immediately, and elaborated on the agents they had had previously that “didn’t do ANYTHING for her daughter”.

The girl was talented, don’t get me wrong, but talent doesn’t mean you will book immediately and often. I pictured myself fielding endless irate calls from this Mom, about what I wasn’t “doing” for her daughter. I politely declined… and I am REALLY glad I did. All this is to say, you absolutely have to have a good ego in pace to do this job, and you shouldn’t play down your talents and skills, especially to your agent. But don’t be a diva. EVER. Even when you are booking work left and right.

Answer Emails in Record Time

The business has a lot of wait wait wait wait wait wait wait wait wait wait wait wait wait wait wait wait wait wait wait wait wait wait wait wait wait wait wait

wait wait wait wait wait wait wait wait wait wait wait wait wait wait wait wait

wait wait wait wait wait wait wait wait wait wait wait wait wait wait wait wait

wait wait wait wait wait wait wait wait wait wait wait wait wait wait wait wait

wait wait wait wait wait wait wait wait wait wait wait wait wait wait wait wait

wait wait wait wait wait wait wait wait wait wait wait wait wait wait wait wait

OH MY GOD GO NOW NOW NOW! UHHHHHHHH…. too late.

Seriously. When your agent emails you – ANSWER. YES even if you haven’t heard from them in months. ANSWER. Check your emails!!!!!!!

More later…





Is Your Agent Legitimate?

22 06 2015

Before we get into the Dos and Donts of having an agent: a word about being sure your agent is legitimate. There are agents called SAG SIGNATORY agents, who are legitimate, but they aren’t the ONLY agents who are legitimate. There are many agencies, including the one I run and the folks who are my personal agents, who are NOT SAG Signatory Agents and are totally legitimate. Here is how to tell if your agent is legit. Don’t sign with an agent if they:

  1. Want any money up front. The exception to this may be if you have absolutely NO film training and they want you to take an inexpensive film class, from an instructor (there should be more than one!) they approve of.

  2. Want to take more than 10% of the GROSS of your wages for film/tv work, or more than 15% of the GROSS of your print/convention work.

  3. Tell you after an audition with them, that you have been “selected” to audition at a convention for a bunch of casting directors. You just have to pay $1200 entrance fee, and have to fly yourself there, and have to put yourself up at a hotel, and the parents have to come too. *(more on this below)

  4. Sign an exclusive contract “in perpetuity,” or for a long time period.

*While the convention itself may be completely

real, and there may be real live casting directors

there, you are better off meeting those casting

directors when you are called in for an ACTUAL

audition for an ACTUAL tv show or film.

Completely legitimate things an agent may ask you to do:

  1. Sign an exclusive contract. Particularly in the Southeast, we have a lot of overlap in regions, and if you are not exclusive represented by ONE agent, it can actually mess up what you are submitted for, and in which location. Most contracts should be for between 12 and 18 months, and renew automatically unless you indicate wanting to leave the agency near the renewal date.

  2. Give them 10% of the GROSS of wages you earn doing film, television, or commercial work. You have to pay your agent 10% of the GROSS because your agent has to pay taxes on it as well! So, if you only pay them 10% of the net – we pay the government taxes twice. Let’s not do that. Here is an easy equation: the total amount of what you are paid – BEFORE A SINGLE THING IS TAKEN OUT – is the GROSS. You owe your agent 10% of that. Your gross is $4000, you owe your agent $400, your gross is $876.98, you owe your agent $87.70. * (see exceptions below)

  3. Give them 15% of the GROSS of wages you earn doing Print or Convention work.

  4. Give them 10% of the RESIDUALS you receive from a film/tv job they booked and negotiated for you FOR THE LIFETIME of that JOB. So, if you decide to leave the agent that booked you that role on GARGANTUAN MONKEYS FROM HELL, you still owe them residuals from that film for as long as you get residuals. Same applies to the 15% from Print/Convention work.

  5. They may ask you to sign a CHECK AUTHORIZATION, which allows your agency to have your checks mailed to THEM. The checks will still be MADE OUT TO YOU, not to the agency. The reason many agencies want you to sign a check authorization to have your checks mailed to them, is because otherwise they have to go chasing around after their money. My agency is very small, but even with only 35 clients, if I have to run around after 35 checks several times a year, it is a nightmare. Same for residuals. There are actors who do not pay their agents residuals, assuming that they “don’t know” about the residuals. Believe me, if a year or two goes by on a job they booked for you and they aren’t seeing 10% of the residuals – THEY KNOW. And it is a breach of contract.

* Exceptions to the 10% of GROSS being owed

agent. You do not owe your agent 10% of a

travel or mileage fee if you are paid that. You

also do not owe your agent 10% of per diem, if

you receive that during your work.

More later…





Getting and Agent

15 06 2015

The business is full of Catch-22s, which will drive you mad if you let them. You can’t get an agent until you work, you can’t work until you get an agent. I can share with you my journey, my rather short journey, to getting an agent. But know this, there are as many paths to getting an agent as there are people in the world. I have a unique perspective on this now, because I have been on both sides of the battle to get an agent.

One of my OTHER jobs, is that I currently have a very tiny roster of kids, teens, and college-aged actors that I represent. I get email requests for representation daily, and I ignore 99% of them. When I get someone’s headshot and resume in the mail, I usually toss it in the trash without opening it – really. I am not a jerk, but I really want my roster to remain small and effective. So, I only take submissions through referrals at this time: referrals from local casting directors. OCCASIONALLY I will take a referral from a fellow actor, or teacher. But mostly, the folks I represent have come to me through an industry referral.

First, before you even attempt getting an agent, make sure you have your ducks in a row. Have a really REALLY good set of 2-5 head shots, showing slightly varying looks. Though you may have played a nerdy high school student, a British spinster, an aging debutante, and an axe murdered in college, your film/tv work will be significantly less vast and varied – especially initially. SO you need a headshot that looks like YOU and is done by a PROFESSIONAL.

When you get to emailing agents, don’t just cut and paste an general email and change names. Do your research! Ask actors you know who their agent is, and if they like them. THEN, find out if the agency has a website! GO TO THE WEBSITE, AND READ EVERYTHING ABOUT THEM, especially take note of their SUBMISSIONS POLICY. For my agency, I have very specific needs for the agency listed on my submission info page. I specifically state, “I DO NOT NEED ANY CLIENTS UNDER THE AGE OF FOUR,” however, I get SEVERAL parents asking me to represent their infants and toddlers every day. What that tells me, is that those parents QUICKLY WANT REPRESENTATION, but are not willing to do the work to understand the needs of the agency. Not a great way to start a relationship.

Lastly, BEFORE you begin pursuing an agent, and therefore auditions/work – get your shit together and have a mode of transportation. Really. I am all for leaving less of a footprint on the world, so your mode of transportation can be a really reliable BIKE, but have a mode of transportation! Not being able to GET to auditions is really the worst excuse for not having a career, right? Remember, there is a lot of traveling to auditions these days, and you are better off having a CAR that you can DRIVE to auditions, or to do regional hire work.

Once have your shit together, and you know which agency, or agencies you are interested in, pursue them in the proper way:

  1. Go to classes offered where the agent/agency is the featured speaker.

  2. Get into student films, or put together your own films to have some experience, and to put together a demo reel.

  3. WORK in the industry, in a job, to UNDERSTAND what it is really like on set, and decide if it is FOR YOU.

  4. Seek out coaches who are WORKING film/tv actors, and work on the craft with them.

  5. GO SEE local films, get involved in the film festivals, go to local plays, AUDITION for local plays. In short, get yourself out there.

  6. IF the agency’s submission policy allows for sending a headshot/resume/demo reel, by all means do so. I do not recommend sending one if the submissions policy specifically says not to.

Having realistic expectations is really important in this business. I have been there too, fresh out of college, with lots of great theatre credits, lots of great compliments from great directors, lots of training, expecting to just GET WORKING. The truth is, you aren’t really there yet IF it isn’t falling into your lap! Don’t be afraid to be humble, take classes, meet people, and get more training. THAT is how you will eventually get an agent!

More later…





On Keeping Relevent

8 06 2015

It is also important for your head shot to CHANGE for you to remain RELEVANT. The obvious reasons for a head shot change are: you gained weight, you lost weight, you cut all your hair off, you dyed your hair a drastically different color. However, the other reason to change out a head shot is much more subtle, and has nothing to do with how you look. It has to do with casting directors seeing you again for the first time.

Imagine you are a casting director. You see hundreds of submissions for thousands of roles every year. For a certain amount of time, particularly if you are working a lot, that sameness of head shot may be comforting. “Oh look, there’s Ann Mahoney again!” But after a while, a year or two, the same head shot COULD become like “jeans” to the casting director: they won’t even really SEE your head shot anymore. Let me explain.

A friend of mine who is a costume designer refuses to put jeans on any actor onstage. Refuses. She says putting jeans on an actor is a non-choice, and that so many people in our everyday world wear jeans we don’t even SEE them anymore. They aren’t a part of what we look at on a person’s outfit, they almost blend into the background, because EVERYONE wears them ALL THE TIME.

It is my opinion, that having the same headshot for more than two years at a time makes you almost fade into the background as a casting director looks through a stack of head shots. Comforting for a while, but then, more like jeans. If your head shot is working for you, then go go go! But if you feel a lull in your work, or like you are ready to show something new, get those new head shots. Keep on trend. Keep relevant.

More later…





On Headshots

1 06 2015

The head shot is your introduction to the professional acting world. In-person introductions are rare these days, and usually only occur with actors who are established. If you are just starting out, your HEAD SHOT is your KEY to getting any interest from agents, casting directors, and directors. I PROMISE. This is why it mystifies me when an actor goes for “free” head shots, in the name of saving money. If you were a race car driver, would you get a less fast car that was falling apart, just because it was free? You could, but you won’t win any races with it. Your head shots are the first thing about YOU that anyone will see. They need to WORK for you. No matter how awesome your photographer Aunt is, or your friend who is in photography school is, you need to get the right photographer to take your head shots

As an agent, one of my other jobs, I get a lot of push back from parents about getting their kids “professional” head shots. They insist that the school photos are great, or that their brother, or father, or family portrait photographer CAN DO IT. I can tell you that it takes three times as much effort on my part to get kids with terrible head shots in for an audition. Getting professional head shots done shows that you have a level of seriousness about what you are doing, and are willing to INVEST in your success. Be careful how you invest your dollars, however, and do your research before choosing a head shot photographer.

How do you find a great head shot photographer? Ask. Find out what actors are WORKING in your area, then find out who photographs them. If you happen to go to a workshop taught by a casting director, ask THEM who they recommend for head shots locally.

There are certain aspects of the business where you must be CURRENT to be RELEVANT. The preferred style of headshot DOES change, and you want to be on top of the trends. Unfortunately, if your acting professor has not done any recent professional work in the film/tv world, their perspective on a “good” headshot may not be relevant anymore. When I was finishing grad school, I got black and white head shots and held on to them for dear life, even after the black and white trend had faded away. I still ADORE a black and white headshot, but that is not the trend anymore. As of this writing, in the Fall of 2014, the trend in New Orleans is: natural light, simple make-up, simple hair, neutral clothing, simple SHOT OF YOUR HEAD in color. I know this because that is what I see day in and out through being an agent, and doing auditions myself.

More later….





NYC and 9/11

18 05 2015

See, I had always thought, my entire life, that everyone was just waiting for me to finish my training, and that once I arrived on the scene my career would just START. I had done so much to prepare for this NYC debut, including spending a summer starving/exercising myself back down to a size 8 (SKELETEL for me), and working at some of the most prestigious regional theatres in the country. Surely I had it all! Talent! Skinny! Regional Theatres!!!! But I didn’t know anyone. And no one knew me. And unfortunately, all my training had not included even a bare minimum of primer on how to proceed when no one gives a fuck who you are and what your training is.

SO, 9/11 happened. And in my mind, it confirmed what I felt I already knew about NYC. It wasn’t for me. This was also at the time when tv/film actors were popping up more and more on the Broadway and Regional Theatre stages. I remembered joking with some of my fellow MFA Grad Actors, saying, “I am going to have to go and get semi-famous on TV or in films in order to get to work on the regional theatre stages I have ALREADY worked on as a young adult. We laughed heartily, and then everybody looked scared. Because we knew it was true, even though we didn’t know shit.

But when 9/11 happened and my dreams of “making it” in NYC came to a screeching halt, something even more important than any career I will ever have also happened. I found my faith again. And my FAITH, not my talent, and training, and skinniness (yes NOT my skinny ass) would be what would bring me full circle to the career I always wanted.

I met my husband on the 2nd Avenue stop of the “F” train in Manhattan at 2:30 in the morning on a Thursday, well – Friday morning. I was coming home from a rather disappointing date. The guy I has been out with was going back uptown, I was going home to Brooklyn. We were both a bit drunk. The guy I had been out with screamed my name across the platform, and we talked loudly for quite a while across the platforms until his train came. Then, I pulled out a book I was reading, JUSTINE by Lawrence Durrell, and I leaned against a pillar to wait for the train.

On the pillar next to mine, about 12 feet away, a guy was also leaning against a pillar reading a book. We eyeballed each other a few times, then he walked over to me and said, “Hey there, Ann Mahoney, whatcha reading?” He is now my husband, and amazing father to my two kids. In the grand scheme of things, NYC was not the place I would find my career, but God brought me there to find something even more important – what life was about, and what truly matters.

More later….

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Life After Training

11 05 2015

SO, what do you DO after you get all this training? How do you get started in the actual business of acting? I think many of us think of this process in the wrong order. The perception of starting life as a professional actor is often this:

  1. Get Training (B.A., B.F.A., or extensive classes)

  2. Get Agent

  3. Start Auditioning

  4. Get work!

However, I think there are a few steps missing before “Get Agent” and after “Start Auditioning.” I think it should go a little more like this:

  1. Get Training

  2. Get Involved in your local theatre, film/tv scene

  3. Get to KNOW Local Working Actors

  4. Start Auditioning for Student Films, Indie Films, Theatre, New Media Projects

  5. Get an Agent – maybe through this “getting to know” process

  6. Start Auditioning for Higher Profile Projects

  7. CONTINUE TRAINING…. ALWAYS

  8. Get work!

Walking right out of college with your B.A., landing an agent immediately, getting auditions immediately, and booking one of the first jobs you ever audition for DOES HAPPEN. It just DOESN’T HAPPEN OFTEN. If your expectation is that you will get an agent, and work immediately, you will be very disappointed as you start out in this business. I can remember hearing similar things when I finished graduate school and planned my big move to NYC. I thought, “Well, that applies to everyone BUT me! I will get going immediately! No one will be able to DENY my talent!!!!” A certain amount of that ego was necessary for my survival as a nascent professional actor, but I can tell you…. I was SORELY disappointed.

Not only did I land in NYC approximately 18 days before 9/11, I had no agent, and no one cared that I had my MFA in Acting. No one cared. I didn’t have an agent, I didn’t have any “real” experience, even though my grad school resume was quite impressive. I was already a member of Actors Equity Association! I made sure I had walked out of grad school with my CARD! I began the process of attending Equity Principal Auditions in Manhattan! Surely it was only a matter of the right person seeing my audition, and I would be ON MY WAY.

Even if 9/11 hadn’t happened a mere two weeks into my NYC experience, I was already finding out that getting in the door of a NYC theatre company to ACTUALLY audition for someone that might ACTUALLY cast me in an ACTUAL role, and “Equity Principal Auditions” had nothing to do with one another. When I realized that the business was who you know, and who your agent is, it burst my delusion balloon real quick.

More later…

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It is Enough…

4 05 2015

I think this knowledge is helpful in becoming completely OPEN to the material you are given to work on. In my personal experience, my habitual gestures, or facial ticks, are a defense mechanism I use to detach myself from people or situations. My personal facial gesture, that I massively overuse, is a crinkled forehead. My Suzuki teacher, Eric Hill, was the first to point this out to me. He would simply say, “Relax your forehead.” I found that when I relaxed my forehead, it was almost as if my spirit re-entered my body. My breath became mine. My vision became mine. I was suddenly IN the moment, and not thinking ahead. Which, let’s face it, is where we need to be to be compelling actors. We need to be in THIS moment – not deflecting it with gestures and facial expressions.

To this day, if I am feeling disconnected from the actor I am working with, or the scene I am auditioning with, I say, “Relax your forehead.” BAM. Spirit is reconnected, I drop into the scene, and I can live moment to moment again. So notice those habitual gestures and facial ticks and expressions you have, and let them go. Watch yourself drop into your work. You don’t need to go overboard and police every second of your work, because then you will be outside of yourself looking in! But DO recognize it, and let it go, much like you might notice a tense muscle in yoga class and release it. Don’t obsess. Just give yourself the note and move on.

This is one of the major elements of Acting on Faith. BELIEVING that just by noticing your habitual gestures, and letting them go, you are allowing yourself to live more freely within the truth of the moment. A moment at a time. You don’t need to obsess, just HAVE FAITH that you have given yourself the note. And just by doing so, you are more fully invested in the moment. It is enough.

More later…College!