Frank the Bastard or Being Ready to Act When You Most (or least) Expect It

from "Frank the Bastard"
me as Mrs. Gast with hubby Mr. Eddie Gast

So on a balmy August day in 2011, I woke up at 7am, my eyes burning and my vision blurred. I had just slept for exactly one hour and I felt like a melting mass of protesting muscle.

You see, I had just been on set for over twelve hours the previous night, working on a film called “Frank the Bastard.” It was fun. It was creepy. I was working in scenes with talented actors like Lance Greene, Rachel Miner, William Sadler, Jennifer Engle, Chris Sarandon, etc. When I was wrapped at 4:20am, I didn’t even have the ability to fully let it sink in that I would need to be on set at 10am on the CT shoreline for my OWN project.

Fast forward to now and “Holding” is completely wrapped, has been in festivals, and just this past weekend, “Frank the Bastard” opened in select theaters and on itunes, which basically means, everywhere. This film was especially important for me because it made me realize a couple of things.

1) You just never know what can happen and

2) You just never know what can happen.

A scene with Lance Greene.
Me in scene with actor Lance Greene.

When we filmed this, I was not expecting to have multiple scenes, or close ups, or multiple days on set. I really thought I was just going to be on set for a day as basically background. Which leads me to my first point: You just never know. I was on set for multiple days, in scenes with actors like Ellen Albertini Dow, who asked if she could “act with me.” I was told there would be a close up of me witnessing the unraveling of my husband, Eddie Gast. And the shots, literally, just kept coming! The director, Brad Coley, pulled me aside afterwards and thanked me and said I was a “true actor.” It was the best feeling in the world and nothing I would have been prepared for if I hadn’t kept the open mind that just because I assumed my part was one way, didn’t mean that it wouldn’t be used for the overall story in another way.

After we wrapped on this film, I was so excited. But then, nothing happened. I didn’t hear about the film until there were rumors of it on the film festival circuit…

That is, until last week. I heard it would be released in theaters and luckily on itunes! Would my close up make the final cut?

IMG_1988

Ulitmately, the majority of my scenes were cut. And they weren’t MY scenes anyway. The parts that were there to serve the story were kept, and that’s all that matters anyway.

which leads me to my next point: You just never know!

So, what was my takeaway from this experience?

I love working in film. it is the best job in the world. Watching yourself in a film is only an inkling of the true joy spent on set for hours with extremely talented people, and finding the magic at 1am for a last minute closeup and rehearsing with the other principals with a kind and focused director who creates a perfect environment for an ensemble of characters. Nothing beats that feeling for me, and honestly, that is what it’s all about.

So, if you are an actor, and the next time you’re on set, keep an open mind. Whether you are the lead, a background actor, a stand in…be prepared, keep your ears open, and remember to play. Because you just never know what part you could play next.

What’s in a label?

Definition of label: a word or phrase indicating that what follows belongs in a particular category or classification: The following definition has the label“Archit.”.

Okay, so there are a few definitions of the word label. I find the definition above to be one of the more dangerous.

Usually, when we are at parties or networking events or meeting someone for the first time, we get the question, “What do you do?” The funny thing is, more often than not we answer with a title, rather than what we actually do. I’m a lawyer. I’m an actor. I’m a construction worker. I’m a librarian. I’m an artist.

Titles, labels, and status have become so important in our society that we rarely open with what we do. “I work in law. I perform. I build houses. I run a library. I create.” How much more interesting do you think conversation would be if we answered in verbs? I myself have run into this dilemma multiple times. If i answer that I’m an actor, I know I will get a, “Whoa, cool” or a “Oh…isn’t that cute.” or “How do you do that?”

I went to a #RespectHERHustle conference last year and Lynn Bardowski encouraged the entrepreneurs to begin answering the question, “What do you do?” or “What does your company do?” with a vision and mission statement instead. This immediately takes the pressure and worry of you and instead focuses on what you accomplish. And shouldn’t that be what this is all about anyway?

Do we all only do one thing? Not really. Some of us are daughters, mothers, fathers, teachers, bankers, accountants, soldiers, leaders…The world isn’t as black and white as attempt to make it out to be. And why is that? Why do we feel the need to constantly seek validation from OTHERS by picking one thing and being defined by it?

I know I am asking a lot of actual questions here. But I think it’s important for us to remember that we are never one thing. And that’s okay.

Some people stick to one discipline because it makes them happy. Others want to stretch in other ways because one discipline doesn’t make them happy enough. When I allowed myself to write, produce, direct, along with being an actor, I felt even more fulfilled. But it wasn’t that easy. Especially when I first realized I wanted to run my own company too, the thought terrified me. Not so much the thought of starting something new, but the idea that I could be leaving something behind. It took me some time to realize that I wasn’t leaving anything behind at all. I was using what I had learned up until that point to expand into something new.

Acting is one of my many passions. To me, it just feels right. But I have always been the type of person that enjoys having a few fires burning so I can jump back and forth between things and be stimulated in new ways. My mom reminded me to think about when I was a teenager. I was interested in so many things. I loved learning. I didn’t rush myself to decide what I wanted to do with my life, but when I knew it was the performing arts, I latched on and didn’t let go. It’s important to have that kind of focus to grow. But it’s also important to know when it’s time to transform and learn something new on top of it.

My unsolicited advice is this: Don’t hang onto a label because you are scared of what you will lose if you no longer choose to be defined by it. Think about what you will gain.

Labels take up a lot of time. We label monetary gain and loss, weight, time, family, professions, cars, places we live, statistics…it doesn’t end. So why don’t we all just give ourselves a break and instead of judging what we do, go out there and keep chasing what makes us happy?

I wish you a label-free day! (Seriously..the next time someone asks you what you do, tell them what you do. See how it goes!)

Arts Education

“I’m not an actor, but okay, I’ll do it.”

This about sums up the attitude of the amazing teens I have been helping in the Film Institute program at CPBN. I am working with a teacher who is focusing on the overall organization, structure, and technical aspects of the class, while I am teaching specifically film acting.

I wasn’t sure what to expect from a group of teens at various levels of experience and interest in film production. I will say, I was pleasantly surprised by what they had to offer.

When I arrived at my first class to teach, I was understandably (I think anyway) nervous. I have worked with teens dozens of times, but they can be a  tough crowd. They aren’t quite adults yet, but most of the sunshiny everything is awesome attitude of children is starting to fade fast. They see through BS, but they are still optimistic. They WANT to see the best in themselves and others. I think it’s an honor to work with them.

Anyway, I show up and I figure, the best way to show you’re serious is to dive right in.  The first scene we had to film was a kidnapping scene, shot in noir style. So I had them “Run for their lives” with me around the entire floor of the building (yes, we did get yelled at, but I took the blame as such the responsible adult that I am..cough..) and do a bunch of exercises (I was actually out of breath before them) to get them INTO their bodies. Actors know what I mean by this, but if you don’t..there is a myth with people that acting is just in your face and how you say something. I wanted to shake this idea out of the kids as soon as possible. And just by doing something to get their minds off the actual scene, this was accomplished.

I was very impressed by how quickly they took notes and adjusted them into a scene.  This keeps happening! Every time we shoot something new, they jump right in. They are goofy, sure, and they talk in between scenes, but when we are rolling, EVERYONE is serious. If someone messes up, they don’t make fun of them. They encourage each other and each of them truly want to produce the best work they possibly can. And they LISTEN. Think about the last time an ADULT actually LISTENED to you.

When we aren’t filming, I have had the interesting opportunity to hear them discuss films with their  teacher, with complex ideas and terms that most adults don’t even understand.

I have spoken one on one with some of the students who have a passion for filmmaking and acting running through them. It’s strong and they want guidance and I hope to help them out the best way I can. It is too easy for parents, teachers, and authority figures to say “Be realistic! You can’t make money doing that! You can’t major in artistic pursuits! You need to have a better plan!” To that I say SCREW. THAT. These kids are still malleable and I hope that if anything, I can be cheering on the sidelines, encouraging them to keep the dream alive. The status quo is not a way to measure success.

This has been a really big wake up call. Many schools in the country are getting their funding cut from their schools. I attended a salon in Hartford a couple of years ago and was told that there were NO arts, music, or after school programs in Hartford Public Schools. Disgusting. I cannot BELIEVE this is reality. I was so lucky to be exposed to nearly every single after school activity and cultivate my creativity in a supportive environment.

I would just like to put it out there that if you have any power in any way to support high schools with arts programs, whether it’s music, drama, yearbook, WHATEVER! PLEASE remember…some of these kids don’t have any other way to express themselves. Some of them don’t even believe they can get into college. They need this, it is vital. Life is not just about math and science. It is about creativity and we can’t evolve as a society without it.