Looking the Part

“This is a good shot of you.”

As the casting director flipped over my head shot to scan my resume, I sort of smirked to myself as I shifted my weight and listened politely.  After saying “thank you,” of course.

That particular shot was 11 years old. I had just gotten new shots done, but I hadn’t received the files yet, so I was using some older shots that most resemble my current look.

And I knew the actual head shot had nothing to do with anything.

—–

I have come to the conclusion that when people say you need to “look the part,” what they really mean is “be ready” and what they really mean by that is “be comfortable with being yourself.” When I say yourself, I assume you know I mean your BEST self, but YOU none the less.

There have been times when I have perfected “looking the part,” using 10485% of my classical acting background and training and costuming skills and come nowhere near getting the part.

There have been times when I was called in to audition just after arriving, with no time to look over lines, improvised when requested and gotten the part. (PS the only thing I remember about that particular day was that I had woken up and remained happy before and during my audition).

There have been times when my hair color was growing out, I hadn’t gotten a chance to work out in over a week, and my head shot was hanging on by a thread. It’s where I was. But I was comfortable and ready and I felt fantastic and I knew the sides inside and out. And I got the part.

I’m not recommending being a mess going into your audition. But I am recommending SHOWING UP in LIFE as your best self wherever that may be. Like, here’s a thought.

If you are in a rut with monologues or auditions or just not “feeling it” lately, take a break. Go do something (else) fun! Go out dancing! Meet up some friends and don’t talk about acting. Learn to crochet!

Last year I had to take some time to get some perspective, but when I really think about it, all it ever really is, is getting back to myself.

Cause it’s not really about the role. It’s about you playing the role. And life is really about you. YOU are the main character in your life. So, shouldn’t you look the part of you?

Slow Clap…Right? Nailed it.

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One of my new shots,  mid-laugh. Credit: David Noles Photography NYC

 

Cookie time.

Sometimes, you just gotta bake some cookies.

There’s a good chance that if you are reading this in the US, you may have experienced quite the winter storm this weekend.

Kathleen Zimmerman and I were dreading the snow because we had been planning our joint collaboration planned for January 24th for over a month! Luckily, the sun did come out on Sunday, melting a lot of snow and allowing for safe travel for guests of the Kehler Liddel Gallery.

Her opening was a great success, with a steady inflow of people coming and going, and my devised performance piece was received well by a great crowd who decided to stay and see what the heck I was going to do.

Sometimes, these adrenaline-rushed, awesome times are followed by Mondays where a lot of planning, back-to-the-grind logistics and overall management of life is in order. I actually love the crazy actor’s life pace of never really knowing what’s coming next.

However, I went a little crazy on my to do list today, and decided it would be a good idea to take a step away, and focus on baking some cookies.

I present to you: Vegan Cinnamon Shortbread Cookies

It’s pretty simple, which is why I liked making them. The only other effort required is rolling them into shapes, which is also a good therapeutic maneuver.

Step 1: Combine 1/3 cup Earth Balance (or coconut oil), 1/2 cup granulated sugar (anything organic and vegan), and a tablespoon of vanilla (I never measure vanilla cause I always like to put in a little more than a recipe calls for) and blend.

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Step 2: Combine 3/4 cup almond meal (Bob’s Red Mill is best in my book), 3/4 cup gluten free baking flour – the one I have pictured is VERY good and gives the cookies a nice firm texture), a pinch of salt (I use himalayan for the mineral benefit. But I mean, these are cookies, so. Yeah.), a teaspoon of cinnamon, and then blend into the mixture.

You may need to add a TEENY bit of liquid. I used a little bit of cashew milk, probably less than a 1/4 cup.

 

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Step 3: Preheat your oven to 350 degrees, and then using whatever non stick baking surface you have (I use a silpat because I am obsessed with it! If you don’t have one, seriously consider making a purchase), roll about a tablespoon of dough in your hands in either a ball or if you want to get fancy, you can make a crescent shape.

Bake for 15 minutes.

Step 4: When the cookies are done, you can let them cool slightly for a few minutes. Then slide them onto a plate and while they are still warm, you can dip them and sprinkle them with some powdered sugar. They are so pretty and a nod to the snow outside and a delicious snack.

Or breakfast. Probably gonna be breakfast for me at some point this week. Cause I have no shame.

Here’s to a productive week! Be sure to take the time to smell / bake / taste some cookies to bring a little sweetness into your week.

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They may not be perfect. But they sure are tasty.

Leaving, Going, Starting Somewhere New

Have you noticed that change in the air?

in rehearsal for my show that closed this weekend
in rehearsal for my show that closed this weekend

I don’t mean the end of the summer, though the coinciding seasonal change does emphasize it all the more.

The director of my show that just closed this weekend is moving to New Hampshire for a few big directing projects. Another one of my friends is starting a new job this week. Yet another is moving to Florida next month. Several more of my friends are moving cross country. I find it interesting that changes seem to happen in patterns and cycles with friends. Not only that, but this year in general I have noted more changes than usual from large numbers of people.

And me? I am starting a new job tomorrow at After School Arts Program, a non-profit in CT that provides arts education for all levels and ages. My skills as an actor, producer, production assistant, producer’s assistant, and leader, will all come in to play for this Program Manager position. I have been wanting for awhile to experience something new, learn something different, and meet new people who are passionate about the same things as I am.

It also means prioritizing my independent efforts with my consulting and producing businesses, and of course, acting. It means trusting myself enough to know that I know what is best for me at this time, despite what the outside world may think, say, or do.

photo by Michael C Daly
photo by Michael C Daly

This year has been the first time in my life that I have made decisions based on exactly where I want to be five years from today. There are plans, projects, and changes already in the works that are not ready to manifest yet, but I am pre-paving the way with my attention to where I am presently. I used to believe that thinking this way would feel limiting or keep me from experiencing opportunities as they arose, but that is simply not the case. I feel freer and more creative than I ever have and I am grateful for the chance to further develop my craft as I start on a new journey.

Endings are scary and fun and exciting and hard. Whether you are moving, starting a new job, breaking up with someone, or buying a new car…remember to take a look at the long view and pat yourself on the back for making it this far. Cause we don’t know what’s next and we don’t know who we’ll meet, but all we can do is know where we are today and keep our eyes, ears, and hearts open for the next adventure.

Have a thoughtful and fantastic fun-filled week!

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?

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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.

Persephone et al

I got cast in a mythology project, happening at the Windsor Art Center on the following dates / times:

Thursday, August 13th 8pm

Friday, August 14th 8pm

Saturday, August 15th 2pm & 8pm

The performance will run about an hour, along with a Q&A talkback with the cast.

Among some other supporting roles, my main role will be Persephone, which I am really excited about. In Greek mythology, Persephone is the Queen of the Underworld. We are working in an organic way on these pieces, with improvised dialogue, movement, and storytelling. Using the myths as the basis, we are keeping the original Epic themes alive, but spun into the fabric of the modern day.

From Mythologian.net
From Mythologian.net

I have always been fascinated by the epic Greek plays, particularly Iphegenia (I workshopped a piece in college), the Bacchae (I was a drum kit playing Dionysus in college), Antigone (yep played that too), and many others. Sacrifice, Feminism, family issues, man, it is all there! And I have always loved working in those realms. To me, it is the basis of all truly awesome theater.

Here’s an interesting thing that happened to me. In college, we had been working on a new adaptation of The Bacchae. I, along with two other women in my class, played Dionysus. The idea was s/he was sort of omnipresent and super powerful. The goddess in this case, of Sex, Wine, Creation and let us not forget, chaos. I had been working on my voice for weeks to project in the new Nafe Katter theater’s thrust stage. I wore leather pants, a corset, and had my hair pinned back. And then…something really..weird slash cool happened.

As I walked on stage, I felt myself get bigger. But not my body. I mean like, I felt like I was bigger THAN my body. I also felt this weird, surging energy (no, not butterflies) shoot through my legs. It almost felt like I might not be able to keep control of how well I would walk, which was vaguely nagging at me since I was waring 4 inch leather boots.

When I spoke, the words came out effortlessly, and my voice resonated much deeper and fuller than I had been TRYING in rehearsal. It did not sound like ME.

I felt high. Literally, emotionally, everything. I was sort of having this 360 degree view of of the room. It was exhilerating.

It was not until we finished and I went backstage that I felt a sort of swooning effect. It kind of freaked me out like…UM, what WAS that!?

Later on I spoke to some other actors from other classes and they didn’t even know it had been me on stage! And that was when I felt complete validation for my performance.

The other day someone said to me, “UGH, why would anyone starve themselves for a role? That’s so Hollywood.” And I immediately shot back that it was not, indeed, the case at all.

Actors want to be someone else. They want to feel the rush of experiencing something epic, catastrophic, euphoric, tragic, and if you can find that path by altering your appearance for a role, then you will. It’s because it literally feels different and in some cases is a short cut. Granted, it’s not always necessary, but I totally get it.

I live for those strange moments. To me, the stage is a sacred space and magic begins to flow as soon as the actor agrees to take part in something else. Call it channeling, connecting with a higher power, whatever.

It’s all Greek to me…..ha. I couldn’t resist.

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!)

Reflections

Marsha Howard Karp and me, holding the illustrious Marsha Karp statuette of awesome.
Marsha Howard Karp and me, holding the illustrious Marsha Karp statuette of awesome.

Yesterday I was lucky enough to be a guest on “Cameras Rolling,” Marsha Howard Karp’s talk show where she interviews entertainers about how they make their careers work.

On the gorgeous spring day, I was happy to reflect upon what the past couple of years have been like for me. I often tell friends and family who are feeling stuck..”Think back to where you were five years ago to this day. Did you have any idea that this was where you’d be?” I had a moment of deep gratitude yesterday morning as we talked about the industry, the challenges, and the beautiful moments that come out of it. I was grateful for my perseverance. If I had told myself five years ago that this was where I’d be, I don’t think I’d believe it.

Of course, this is all a journey and we each need to take one moment at a time. But I think taking a step back every now and then is a great way to keep it all in perspective and to remind yourself that you’re doing all right. In fact, you’re doing great. I witnessed my own path yesterday and realized it’s always been there We just need to pay attention to what rings true for us, and not necessarily everyone else.

Where were you five years ago, and what have you discovered about yourself since then?