Tuesday, October 30, 2012

The Busy Castleberry

Last Sunday, I attended my first Actors Key workshop in a looooooooooooong while hosted by Kendra Castleberry of Donna Rosenstein Casting.  I see Kendra's name on workshops ALL over L.A. ALL the time - she is a busy, busy bee pollinating actors with her casting knowledge.  She is currently casting the 5th season of CASTLE (adore Nathan Fillion), the 2nd season of GRIMM, and the 1st season of a new half hour comedy starring Anne Heche entitled SAVE ME!.

Also - girl is from Louisville, Kentucky so she gets big brownie points from me, a native Campbellsvillian and honorary Louisvillian (mark one year of graduate school at U of L and a frequented condominium owned by the 'rents.)

Ms. Castleberry's approach is pleasantly succinct. She believes in getting it right the first time round when auditioning for television, specifically for shows that have already been running and are available for the actor to STUDY and RESEARCH (heaven forbid!).  I must say, I absolutely agree. Especially when an actor is given a list of sides preferred by the casting director prior to her workshop. Now...sometimes, when Eva is at a grocery store looking at a wall of grocery items - say, soup or cereal - rows and rows of the same thing in slightly different boxes or cans, she has a difficult time finding exactly what she needs. Visually, she can eventually focus on the brand she desires or the flavor she loves, but only after some frantic eyeballing. Look, all of this is the say that when I look at these damn workshop websites, I sometimes miss information that is CRUCIAL - like a link to the list of said preferred sides that Kendra Castleberry wanted her actors to prepare!!!  My mistake was seeing that the CD was using her own sides - and while missing that little link to all of my needed information, I thought she was giving them out for a cold read.

(Eva bangs head on wall here)

Fortunately, I arrived quite early to the workshop. I finessed the rather tense Actors Key manager into letting me view sides on their office computer and then printing them out for me. Well, they had no choice. This HAS to happen to actors every once in awhile - someone misreads or misunderstands the workshop description. Big surprise!  Judging from the healthy veins in the manager's neck, this had happened before.

Anyway, I saw some sides from a 2009 show called "Life on Mars" that I was already a bit familiar with. I printed, I studied, and I applied the Jack Plotnick ways.  Get the words down just enough, ingrain the circumstances in my head/body (or what I can deem them to be from the context), and authentically deliver the scene.

Without going into the details of the scene, I completely misinterpreted the role of my character, Annie. I thought she was a friend assisting a friend back home, but apparently she was a COP.  There is very personal dialogue and action within the scene and since I DID NOT SEE THE SHOW OR STUDY IT BEFOREHAND (ahem) I was not aware of this particular, yet essential, tone. So my first note from Kendra was "Good job, but WAY too casual." Um, YEeeeaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaah. When Ms. Castleberry talked on about the show and the character and the time period, I understood completely.  But too late!  She doesn't give adjustments in her workshop, but she does give excellent feedback to use next time around and in future television auditions. Me learn good!

Regardless of the screw-up, I had fun with Kendra, with the scene, and I received very high scores on my "evaluation sheet" (part of Actors Key education).  I'll be tacking Castleberry again in the future, she is a very good egg to learn from.

Sunday, October 28, 2012

The Sessions; The Unexpected

I went to a screening of The Sessions last night.  I felt hesitant. I knew the gist of the storyline - a severly disabled man who lives most of his life in an iron lung seeks out a professional sex surrogate to help him lose his virginity. It's not the content of the film that made me wary, it was simply my mood - you know "I don't feel like seeing that" when you review the dvds in a redbox or flip through the channel guide. And every time - EVERY SINGLE TIME - I am reminded not to listen that mood of mine or any pre-conceived ideas I have about said film because do I know what is really in store for me? Do I really have any clue what kind of experience I might have? No, and it could be a brilliant one, so why deny myself this possibility?

John Hawkes and Helen Hunt.  John is one of those actors we always like when we see him pop up on screen, but we can't remember his name, we only know he was GREAT in that one movie....(what the heck was it? Oh, Winter's BONE!).  He looks like a less attractive cousin of Joaquin Phoenix and he is cast as such. He is a wonderfully real, risky actor who invests in the full creativity of each role. In "The Sessions", he embodies Mark O'Brien, a poet/journalist who was held horizontally captive by polio since age 6. He lives most of his time in an iron lung, but can be out and about for three to four hours with a portable respirator. He calls people, types on a typewriter, and carries out simple tasks with a mouthstick.  John Hawkes's performance is going to draw a Best Actor nom, mark my words with that mouthstick.

Helen Hunt may get nominated as well (Supporting) for her brave (aka 'naked') performance. No, I really do think its quite fricking brave when a woman is nude for more screen time than she is dressed. When asked what her thoughts or concerns were when considering the role, she said "I read the script and when I turned the final page I knew that this was a role I wanted to play; that this story was a rare, beautiful thing. I didn't worry about the nudity at all." NO, she didn't.  She boldly tackled the role as a professional (on and off screen) and the audience loved it. We loved her work with Mark O'Brien, we loved their connection, we loved the edges they blurred and some they crossed and we loved the frank treatment of sex. I had a Deep-Throated Cackler sitting behind me the whole screening (that is a woman, not a bird) - just LOVING the film.

The film was wonderfully structured; incredibly playful, humorous and sensitively brazen around such complex matters like sex, disabilities, psychology, & Catholicism.  And by the way, every character was used intelligently by Ben Lewin, the director.  I loved Moon Bloodgood - I will be watching her from now on. She gave a thoughtful yet straightforward supporting performance.

This film may get a nomination for Best Picture, too. I hope so. It deserves it.

Lastly, this film was based on an article written by Mark O'Brien entitled "On Seeing a Sex Surrogate". Warning: it is very graphic. There is also an Academy Award winning documentary short on Mark from 1996 called "Breathing Lessons". You can watch it HERE.

Now, a trailer.

Friday, October 26, 2012

Vultures Beware...

Wednesday evening (Oct. 24th) I finally did a workshop with the oh-so-frank Jack Plotnick.  He's in an earlier post (The Plotnick Thickens) along with a link to his website.

Let me tell you something about Jack Plotnick - I'm fairly inclined to believe that he was sent down to earth by the Acting Gods to relieve us actors of our burden.  Jack is a working actor himself and one of those people who tenaciously strives for mental, emotional, and spiritual health while working in this death valley industry.  He has a great distaste for "acting teachers" mostly because there are so many bad ones who instill bad techniques, bad beliefs, and sometimes culture more insecurity by creating black and white boundaries to acting and - very often - dependent relationships.   On top of that, they take money from these struggling artists week after week after week all the while claiming to reveal the SECRETS of ACTING! They have the key! Just write a check and they'll tell you...

Now, Jack understands that there are plenty of good acting instructors, but he vehemently campaigns against anyone having the "right" answers that magically unlock our acting skills. In fact, Jack's approach is very simple: acting is SUPER easy, it is US / OURSELVES that get in the way of a free and realistic performance.  Our egos are constantly criticizing us, putting us down, telling us we aren't believable or saying the lines quickly enough - Jack calls an ego your "Vulture" whose only job is to sit on your shoulder and sqauwk a billion negative things into your head every day, all day long. Of course, this applies to your life, not just your acting - and Jack's teachings are about becoming healthier people who have FUN with their craft and stop considering it a labor or an unscalable wall. Many actors, especially after moving to LA (and maybe NY), let their first love of acting become more like a bitter marriage.  It's a TOUGH, tough lifestyle to master when you want to achieve success as an actor.

I LOVE Jack's approach. It taps me on the heart, head AND soul. It gives me hope, but more importantly it gives me permission to forgive myself when I don't live up to my own standards (basically I bop the Vulture on the head with an umbrella). I am terribly self-critical and that came out in the workshop on Wednseday.

The workshop was held at a cute little blackbox in The Village at Ed Gould Plaza - a place where Plotnick gives many lectures as well. As we arrived, a line formed for Jack to assign a scene of some kind. I was feeling not particular at ALL, so drama or comedy? Dramedy! From 'Brothers and Sisters' to be exact.  I don't know the show, but hey all the better so I don't have the character in mind and I can make it my own. Plus, the writing was good - funny, emotionally resonant, vulnerable mixed with some outrage. It was a wonderful piece with which to work. 

When I finally performed, I took a "joyful risk" by throwing my backpack across the stage (my character is a bit overdramatic and she begins packing to leave) but it didn't seem to work out that well. Ha - oh well! Jack stopped me 2/3 of the way into the scene and we spent some time discussing the voice of my Vulture; what it was saying to me while I performed, before I performed, and after I performed - and yes, he did speak that often. We delved into some root causes of the specific vulture-alizations and found a thing or two. Instead of throwing my backpack, I kept it rather steady the second time around - and I also found great emotion when I finally admitted to my boyfriend that it was HIM hurting me, not his family (in the scene, silly!). I found a very vulnerable and wonderful place within the material that allowed me some real, moving expression - so I was pretty happy with the work. Jack was also happy....I think...

His guidance is very simple, helpful and clearly for the greater good of the actor. Our minds are already complicated, our emotional lives warped by childhood experiences or people at school, our hearts a bit worn and faded through the years - so it is incredibly refreshing to be reminded that if we help ourselves as humans, we can help ourselves with our acting - or whatever craft we are pursuing.

I urge you to read Jack's online book, NEW THOUGHTS FOR ACTORS. It is a wonderful guide to being healthy and true to yourself and your love for acting.  Don't let the star-making machine drown out your passion.

Tuesday, October 23, 2012

The Unfilmable Made Marvelous

Oh man. Oh MAN! 

I saw CLOUD ATLAS.  I had low expectations after reading about it in the NY Times. (It's a good article and actually ended up helping me follow the movie more thoroughly, so read it.)

This film has all the qualities of a possible disaster:
1. INCREDIBLY complicated storyline - an interweaving of six stories, all in different genres, all in different time periods.  The book is - was - considered "unfilmable".

2.  The actors are cast in a repertory-like manner - some playing up to 5, 6, 7 different characters in the film. You know the make-up has to be astounding, but what about the performances?

3. The past work of the Wachowskis pointing to another big-budget dud ("Speed Racer", anyone? No, really, did ANYone see it?!) and the possibility of a philosophically dense screenplay not unlike the third Matrix installment. 

4. Completely independently financed because no one in Hollywood would make it, not even with two-time Oscar darling Tom Hanks giving his blessing. Of course, just because Hollywood is afraid to make a film doesn't really mean jack - there is a huge lack of vision and boldness in our filmmaking industry today. 'Safe, safe, and more safe' seems to be the mantra.

5. It has a running time of 164 minutes. 'Nuff said.

So yes, I was concerned. But then the movie began...........and despite some difficulty understanding some pidgin English written into one of the genres, I was SEAMLESSLY engaged.  CLOUD ATLAS is magnificently bold, intelligent, emotional, and hopefully a contender for Best Picture this year. If it isn't, I will be shocked and terribly disappointed. The story work alone exemplifies the direction filmmakers should be going, should be striving for.  There is a fearlessness present that translates into timelessness - because this kind of film I could watch over and over and over and over again.  

By the way, indie-lovers will be flocking simply because of the Wachowskis' collaboration with Tom Tykwer (pronounced Tick-ver, apparently).  This project was truly carried by a love of film and we feel that as an audience while viewing it.  OH - and the multiple performances? Totally, totally fun.  It's like watching each actor bask in a different stream - all are refreshing and bright in their own way.

Here's an extended trailer.

Thursday, October 18, 2012

The Trip Back Down Goes Up!

Let's talk progress. Let's talk breakthroughs. September 23rd is the Day of the Breakthrough. I was born on September 23rd. I'm dying to live up to an astrology book.

I've been given a scene in my acting class - a hugely emotional piece from "The Trip Back Down" by John Bishop. Let me paint the scene: A woman named JoAnn is in a seven year marriage to a once very successful racecar driver named Bobby. He is on the cusp of going out the door and out of town for one of his many trips to race.  She is really feeling the decline of his success for the last few years.  The strain on their marriage is so heavy it is about to collapse. If things went normally, she'd let him walk out the door, but not today. Today she decides to speak from her heart - and it does not go well between them.  Bobby's danger, magnetism, and charm have all transformed into defensive posturing, bitterness, and guilt.  Their daughter, Jan, knows little of her father's embrace. Come to think of it, that is true for JoAnn these days as well.

Something that has helped me tremendously as of late (in terms of scene study) was a tip from Jack Plotnick (with whom I'll be workshopping next Wed 10/24 yay!).  Ask yourself: What are the circumstances? The circumstances, if one is not used to defining them on a regular basis, can be fuzzy to sort out. But once some time is spent with a scene, they emerge clearly and give GREAT emotional dimension to the character's point of view - or in this case - JoAnn's. I know it sounds simple, but most all keys to education are this way.  As students, we forget our most basic needs and tools, thus we are consistently reminded - for YEARS - of the same fricking things.

Anyway, the circumstances - what are they? Then take the lines, which have never been spoken before (because each performance of a scene is the first time it is happening) and put them in the reality of that situation you've defined.  LIVE in the moment.  For this scene, I managed to use a monotone method of memorization which I normally don't use. Was it effective? Um, YES.  I was reading my scene with a friend, being monotone, until I began to RESPOND with the words. Suddenly, my words had life and authenticity. At an appropriate moment, I suddenly choked up and began to cry when admitting something terribly vulnerable to my husband, Bobby. Tears! (As the character!) Elation! (As the actress!)

I don't know about you, but I struggle with being open emotionally and am especially concerned when it comes to authenticity within a scene.  I seize up, stifle, hide, and sputter like a malfunctioning robot when dealing with my emotion (sometimes).  But the true goal is to be free, in all things, when acting. Open and fearless.

So all of this twalking and tweeking is to say that I did my scene yesterday in class, at a table, nothing fancy. My tears - which were so loyal to that one specific moment - did not come.  Instead, I came to a moment where Bobby admits to cheating on me in a very vulgar and angry way. He stops himself when he realizes what he is saying.  There is suddenly a moment so filled with heightened, horrific tension that I respond with my lines and suddenly I am completely overwhelmed by the moment. I sob, I thrash, I nearly scream and NONE of it feels forced. Thank the good LAWD!!! Man, I needed that. And what I really need, is to understand how to ALWAYS be there, no matter what I'm going through in my personal true life - how to give myself over completely. 

Breakthrough. I was truly delighted. My scene partner may have been truly frightened. Dunno. But let's keep working like this, shall we?

The scene goes up with bells and whistles next Monday, 10/22. I'll be sure to give you a less wordy report. ;)

Sunday, October 14, 2012


Just saw this pic today.  Ben Affleck is pleasantly surprising us all (or maybe just me) with his mad directing skills (which are superior to his acting skills, oy). Cinemascore gave ARGO an A+, a rare occurence. I highly recommend going to see this film since it is based on an incredible true story involving a 1979 US Embassy attack in Iran; oddly relevant to current events today. Because of the difficulty of detail and weight of exposition, this film has been unsuccessfully developed over and over again through the Hollywood years. Today, Affleck delivers an extremely well-balanced, well-edited, fairly well-acted piece with great structure and emotion without losing important information. Some of his choices are rather predictable, but that doesn't lessen the feeling of arrest that rises and falls so musically throughout the film.

Also, I never noticed how short Ben's arms were before. Maybe its the cut of the blazer, but I think there's some reveal in the costuming.

Something else that's refreshing - casting. The six hostages are working actors, but still relatively unknown despite their previous work - with the exception of Clea DuVall and Tate Donovan.  But what do I know? I try to know as many actors as possible, I really like that Kerry Bishe gal, let's see what she does. Most comforting was to see John Goodman onscreen as the bright-eyed, bushy tailed John Chambers.  I love John Goodman. Seeing him is like seeing an old friend and I've missed his on-screen presence. FYI, Alan Arkin is, as usual, a hilariously foul character too.

Here's a trailer. Go, grip your armrest, enjoy...

Tuesday, October 9, 2012

The Paperboy

I saw a random preview of this film and internally said "Going to see that NEXT", so I did.

I enjoy where Lee Daniels takes his viewers, despite some annoying dream sequences in Precious. THE PAPERBOY, however, is not for the faint of heart or the prudish of mind.  Dark, dark Florida times with wacky, wonderful characters - a marvelous cast (meekly led by the dead-eyed Efron) and a very quirky, fresh, meaty storyline.

Oh Nicole - I've loved her dearly for a long time, the woman can act. She outshone her castmates by a few levels. Her work is, as usual, totally fearless, complex and wonderfully real.  Matthew McConaughey is his similar self, but takes some very brave turns. John Cusack is wonderfully cast and wonderfully one-note (no, I mean that!) And most surprising of all is the performance by Macy Gray. She swallowed that role whole - she was absolutely wonderful in the film.

The film ain't perfect, but it's really darn intriguing and mostly unexpected. So go see something interesting for a change.


The Plotnick Thickens

My manager has been asking me to go see this guy, Jack Plotnick, for AGES! No, for a few weeks. I missed the first round of lectures about 6 - 7 weeks ago, but last night I was able to run in and finally see the man himself! 

Jack is a well-respected actor in LA.  He also speaks passionately about acting and how to release our fears that constantly hold us back as performers and as people.  He has a wonderful book online that I am halfway through - and may I say that after reading just the first chapter, I went and had an amazing meeting with some industry folks by simply following his advice. He's a real person with real compassion for the career we're striving for out here. He also reminded me that I have permission not to like people I meet. What a concept - yep, I suffer from "Nice Girl Syndrome", a common condition.

I release the need to impress these people, Jack!!!

Here's a link to Jack's site and his online book, now start readin':

"Love acting again. Heal from the crap you learned. BOOK MORE WORK!" ~ Jack Plotnick


Alhanti. Alhanti? Alhanti. (Nod) Alhanti.

Guess what? Guess what? Guess what? Guess what?

I'm studying Meisner. Something I read about years ago. Something I've seen footage of. But Meisner technique is not something I've ever practiced regularly. I am fortunate enough to learn the basics from a master instructor who learned from Sanford himself, Janet Alhanti. She has guided many, many actors in her lifetime and it has been enlightening thus far. I don't adhere to one technique, but I hope to gather wisdom and knowledge from each teacher I commit to in order to find what works best for me.

Fascinating, however, was Meisner himself. Besides being a part of the revolutionary Group Theatre, he was an incessant smoker and developed throat cancer. He underwent a laryngectomy, but he taught himself to speak again through a method of breathing and burping out sound. Meisner kept smoking. He developed throat cancer again and again he re-taught himself to speak in order to continue communicating and to continue teaching. (Whether or not he used a voice box to assist himself, I do not know) A relentless teacher with a rigidly loyal following, some of his classes were caught on camera for the world to see.  My friend Chris gifted these very dvds to me one year - and indeed it is almost too disturbing to hear Meisner constantly burp and speak in his way - but what invaluable footage of a true master at work. Good stuff.

"An ounce of behavior is worth more than a pound of words." ~ Sanford Meisner


As Beck would say - "Go crazy with the cheese whiz."

I have been quite a busy bee, squirrel, your choice of forest animal or garden bug here.  I am working hard to integrate myself into the casting community of Los Angeles.  You see, if you are an "unknown" in Hollywood - which many of us are and many of us will always be (well, speak for yourself) - it is not enough to get an agent (fyi, I've since signed with Matt Jackson at Rebel Entertainment Partners for theatrical rep!) It is not enough to get a manager. It is not enough to be fully represented if you grew up outside of the industry and are unfamiliar to those in this tightly-knit world. So how do we meet these fine individuals in the casting chair? Actors take workshops.

A workshop is like a glorified audition. You get some one-on-one time with an important casting associate who could strongly influence your career by paying a small fee and preparing a small scene. Of course, many actors think this is a waste of time and money - but oh, are they wrong.  If you know the workshop offices, that's step one. Here's a few that I like:

Actors Advantage Showcase
ITA Productions
The Casting Network
Actor's Key

In the last two weeks, I've had the pleasure of performing for four highly respected casting ducks.

Judith Sunga of Audino / Schiff Casting - Judith comes across as a direct, no bullshit gal constantly evolving to be better at her job. Currently, she casts "Touch", "Nikita", and her office casts "Madmen" (Eee! Squeal of excitement!).  I was an extra on Madmen when I first moved here aaaaaaaaand it was a fab experience. I smoked herbal cigarettes in a French restaurant (aka Burbank cafe) and watched Don Draper hit on a suspecting young lass. Anyway, Judith paired us all up and gave me a GREAT scene from "Parenthood".  I had a real opportunity to act with this particular scene since the writing was rich and emotionally relevant, plus my character had a wonderful arc. Great experience and smart sides from her.

Mike Page of David Rapaport Casting - Mike is a joyous, wonderful, playful person to audition for (he casts "Arrow" on CW and "90210"). He gave the actors many CHOICES - including how to read the scene, what kind of scene, if we hate the scene please tell him so he can give you something you connect to, etc.  You can tell Mike Page loves to experiment with actors and heartily encourages the walls to come down. Choosing the drama genre, I read two scenes from "Fringe" (which Mike used to cast). He gave me great feedback. Guaranteed, you will feel comfortable with this guy and open to all sorts of possibility. FUN!

Rick Messina of Alyssa Weisberg Casting - Rick currently casts "Workaholics" (I vividly remember their VERY controversial billboard on Sunset Boulevard involving, shall we say "members" of the cast) and has also worked on "United States of Tara" and "Temple Grandin". Mr. Messina likes quick results, strong choices, and working in comedy. He paired me with a sweet little dude to read from "Past Lives" - a deceased pilot from years past. Although I liked Rick's approach very much, my character was the neutral, straight-edged attractive woman in the comedy with little dialogue to shine with.  I did well enough...All in all, Rick is an important man to see, so go see'im.

And lastly but not leastly, Chris Gehrt of Wendy O'Brien Casting - Chris is crazy attentive and a blast to audition for. He loves comedy, loves uninhibited performances and exploration AND loves his job. He is also a stand up comic, so he understands the risks, anxieties, choices - all of it. But he also knows what it means to have a pair of cojones. I was paired with a very talented guy and given a very funny scene involving a fake carrot cake recipe. Chris was in stitches and extremely complimentary. He casts "Sons of Anarchy" and a new FX comedy, "Legit". Highly recommend.

And that's the workshop update. Will keep you posted on others...