Friday, November 30, 2012

Rick Millikan Casting...

Workshop alert with Christine Ciraolo of Rick Millikan Casting at Actors Advantage Studio.

And why is Ashton Kutcher the face of Nikon? Wierd. Sorry, a commercial distraction.

Christine Ciraolo is super laid back and super cool. She obviously doesn't want to waste anyone's time. She is upfront and highly opposed to actors wasting their money.  (No postcards, Actors. Do you really think that CDs give those priority? Maybe 1 out of 50 put them on their lists for their assistant to read.)

Christine casts BONES and MELISSA & JOEY.  Rick casts pilots come January and Ms. Ciraolo takes over the brunt of the regular casting work. Now, I don't watch Bones regularly, but I know MANY people that do. Hilariously, even my friend Nate, who was a gamer/stoner/political activist in the 22 year old male demographic LOVED Bones when it began.  "REALLY?!", I thought, back then. Well, to me it proves the point that BONES draws a very diverse audience. Christine even mentioned that their audience is growing EVERY season. WTF? It's in its 8th season!  She did say the show has a "weird" edge - and if the writing is decent, I can see that happening quite easily.

I was given a scene from an episode called "The Bikini in the Soup" where a woman is pulled from her home the day of her wedding (thus in curlers and a robe) to enter interrogation about her former wedding planner - who was murdered!!!! (dun dun duuuuuuunnnnnnnnnnnnnnn).   Shock! Surprise!

Anyway, I had all the lines and my poor scene partner had hardly ANY, but...when in Rome. My character was a real bitch, bridezilla tendencies and NO worries about anyone but herself on her wedding day.  I gave her a country dialect because it felt natural to do so. That's my happy risk via Jack Plotnick.  Well, it paid off. Christine had no adjustments whatsoever and said (verbatim) "Wow, I loved how you really went for it.  You made her the bitch that she is, no apologies, and no concern for a murder, this is her day and you owned it", etc etc. "You completely got the BONES vibe". 

Oh good, I landed the BONES vibe.  Well, MAYBE she'll call me in. I have yet to get called in for any workshops, despite excellent feedback from most, but it's just a question of persistence plus timing. I love to do workshops when I can, but will the wallet allow it? Not always...

So have fun if you take Christine Ciraolo workshop. She is a no bullshit kind of gal. Little feedback, probably a bit more internal with her critiques. She seems that way.

Viva la Bookings!

Mexico, here I come.

What's that? Oh, WHERE in Mexico? Uuuuuh, no se! No se!

That's about the extent of my two years of high school Spanish with Senora Cunningham, who unfortunately "perdio a su marido" one semester.

Anyway, after weeks of non-auditioning, I suddenly went on three in one day - bam bam bam. I got a callback for the third,, and wal-lah! I booked! This is my first official job as a SAG member, THUS I get SAG scale and per diem and a trip to Mexico! Que emocionante!

To top it all off, the one cool chick I met and conversed with at the callback booked it with me.  So we're going to take over Cancun, or whatever sub-town, together.  Luckily the girl is from Miami so she has a bit of espanol already engrained. Thank goodness.

PS - my LA TIMES "Join the Conversation" commercial spot is playing now!  Probably until the Oscars. You can barely see my face because the editing is so whip-fast but that is good - because I look like a Russian mail-order bride in it. Thanks make-up and hair girls! You did a spectacularly Euro job. (big insincere smile!)

Tuesday, November 13, 2012

Meet Wendell

I take workshops at Actors Advantage Studio sometimes. It's a very nice facility with good casting directors coming through (I've taken about four or five workshops there) located round Robertson somewheres in the B-Hills.

They are also affiliated with dog adoption programs and often ask for volunteers. Strangely enough, lots of casting directors and acting facilities are involved in some sort of animal rescue org. But AA Studio says that in exchange for a four hour shift on a Saturday, an impoverished actor like myself can get a free workshop! Whee!  (But you have to be on their mailing list.) ANYway, I said "yes yes yes!" when I got an email. And one may think I did this only for the free workshop, but NO.  That ain't true. Like a stoner pulling into a Trader Joe's parking lot, I have been majorly feining... for some volunteer work - specifically with animals; sweet, sweet little animals that I can cuddle, walk or feed treats. My mother volunteers with wild birds (owls, eagles, vultures, etc) in Kentucky and I hear AMAZING stories.

Last Saturday at the West Hollywood PETCO, I volunteered for Ace of Hearts - a dog rescue organization (one of MANY) located in Beverly Hills.  Surprisingly, a billion people showed up and we were overstaffed, but not surprisingly, none of them wanted to shake a jar full of change and one dollar bills while holding a sign in the cold at the corner of Doheny and Santa Monica.  So I did that with their most faithful volunteer, ol' Barbara. She's a master of the donation process, approaching cars like a sweet little old lady and then thrusting a jar full of guilt in their faces. Haha, I'm kidding. She gets major kudos for taking the most unpleasant job and performing it with persistance and gusto. I tried to do the same, but I kept getting yelling at cars as they approached knowing full well that they can't hear a damn word I'm saying. It made me feel bolder though to vocalize the needs of the organization, so I rolled with it for awhile, momentarily spinning in circles from the madly whizzing sports cars and taking full advantage of cracked windows and red stoplights, heh heh.

Purposefully avoiding animal shelters while hardcore craving a pet (my animalogical clock has been ticking for about 4 years), I was quite astonished to see that ALL the dogs were fully grown. Well?! I didn't know! In fact, half the dogs (out of 15 or so) were old boys, one nearly blind from cataracts and constantly slipping around in his own slobbery crate, barking at nothing and everything. It was a little maddening. I teared up almost instantly while staring at a fat sweetheart of a bitch named Thelma. Oh, these dogs they all had so much LOVE to give.

Anyway, in the duration of my volunteer work - aka jar-shaking, name tag making - I found out that people can foster dogs while the dogs wait for a permanent adoption. YyyyyyyyyyyyyyyyyyyyyES!!!!!! I will do that! I can do that! Ace of Hearts desperately needed foster people for their dogs. Not only do you get a cool dog to hang out with for a month (perhaps longer if you choose), not only does Ace of Hearts provide you with food and doggy supplies, not only are you making a sweet pooch feel love until someone is ready to love him forEVER, but each time you take a dog into your home, you have opened up a slot in the kennel for a new dog to move in that is typically saved from being euthanised. I signed the Foster form, and BOOM Monday morning I get a call that they have an emergency dog named Wendell that they need me to take, so can I take him?

Nervous! Um, uh, well, yes, I guess, what is this dog like? Will he chew my shoes up? Is he housebroken? Had he had a traumatic life? How big is he? How do I do this? Do I really wanna do this? Do I really wanna commit to a month of being responsible for this animal?!?!

Yes, yes is the answer. I saw Wendell, actually, the day of the pet adoption, but I didn't get a good look at him. He is the only dog I didn't see properly.  All I remember is that he looked like a fox and seemed rather crafty inside of that cage. It turns out that Wendell is SO new to Ace of Hearts that they really don't have any info on him. They don't know what breed he is, they know he was a stray and found on the streets somewhere, they don't know of any trauma and they need me, the Foster Parent, to do the research.

It's been one day thus far with ol' Wendell. Three walks, two poos, and 75,478 tail wags later, I do not regret this decision at ALL.  If you are interested in fostering a dog, please go to this site which explains the process thoroughly: Be A Foster Pet Owner 

Also, consider adopting Wendell. He was obviously owned by someone before because he has a very domestic demeanor.  He has coloring like a border collie, looks proportionally like the dragon in The Neverending Story, and an adorable snaggletooth juts delicately from the end of his snout. He sleeps upside down and he has difficulty with separation anxiety (which I hope to research and help him heal from).  He is also the perfect size, 20 plus pounds. If you are interested, let me know. Below is a pic of WENDELL! Updates as the month goes on.

Mostly - ACE of HEARTS is in need of DONATIONS, not just adoption. Please visit their site and give $5 or more so that the dogs can get medical expenses covered, boarding covered, nice doggie beds and good food. I had no idea a surgery for a dog could cost so much, but one particular dog named Bob has a neurogical disorder. It costs $3000 to identify the problem and another $5-6000 for the surgery. What? That's frickin' crazy! A doggy doesn't have a wallet! They don't even know why they are here on this earth! They just wag their tails and slobber, lick, and love!  Donate, adopt or foster. One, or all three. Do it!

Spoon River

I, like many, many misled others, once thought I was a possible poet. Yeah yeah, laugh, laugh at me. Then laugh at yourself because you went through that phase also and even NOW you probably have those poetic tendencies. The problem is, those who are excellent poets are truly excellent and most words we come up with are crap. I think this every time I read T.S. Eliot. His deeply rooted meandering. His purposefully structured wanderlust. Oh, I love him.

In Alhanti's class, we have been attacking the Spoon River Anthology.  Meisner did this with his students. I watched a segment of Frances Sternhagen (a much younger version, but who later plays "Bunny", Trey McDougal's mother on Sex & The City ....What? Yeah I watched every episode.) reciting Amos Sibley.  Meisner takes Frances through a process that brings purpose and point of view to the poem/monologue.  Essentially, Janet has instructed us to do the same thing - find a character in Spoon River, really GRASP the material (break down the cryptic nature so that there are no ?s left for the actor then you will KNOW and OWN what you are talking about), and find a specific point of view from which to deliver the words. We have easy guidelines here - all of the poems in Spoon River are by deceased people of the town. They are dead and gone and each monologue/poem is exactly what each person has chosen to say after death - now, to WHOM is the question, and WHY is another. Janet always asks "What is this about?", in her echoing Bronx tone.

What's hilarious is that most of us have NO CLUE what it's really about. The poems are not that hard to decode, but some are more cryptic than others - and despite an emotional and human through line that has lasted 100 years past Edgar Lee Masters's initial publishing, there are some differences that may be defined and unlocked by the period.  I will say what is said in Yoga that also applies here and many other countless places: Repetition leads to freedom. Spending actual TIME with our material/words/scripts can lead to levels of creativity and understanding that patience has not allowed us to find before. Is it our generation's doom - and others behind us - to be flagbearers of A.D.D. and let that excuse us from our disciplinary intentions, or - dare I say it - disciplinary necessities?!?

God, I hope not. A violin player is out there rehearsing 10 hours a day. An opera singer, 6. Where are the exercises and the time slots and the practice rooms that are being occupied by today's actors, specifically in La La?  Yikes.

Anyway, Spoon River is something that should be learned in high school, but if you had a Kentucky education like myself, I didn't get to it. Or maybe I skipped it and still got an A.  I don't remember. It is regardless a pleasure to visit this wonderful book of poems, this work that sticks like a deliciously dark film to your brain if you let it sink in, like the bodies that have sunk six feet under or more.

Thus far, I have performed Nellie Clark, Pauline Barrett, and today I added Mabel Osbourne. I've read others but felt less clear. Dora Williams was my first attempt and it is a wonderful doozy. I should revisit it on Wednesday with the sprightly verve that Dora deserves. I already promised to attack Pauline Barrett again - oy, she was a cryptic one. Pauline is a woman who committed suicide and wants to make sure her husband knows that he had no part in it whatsoever; that this was completely her decision due to the pitfalls and unfortunate events of her life. Here's the poem of Pauline Barrett. Tell me if you figure out what kind of operation she had. And don't cheat by looking it up online!

So these are the things I've been doing in acting class - Spoon River - and a recent scene from DINNER WITH FRIENDS with Rick Malambrai.  It went very well - he's a fun actor to react with. Hopefully he'll replace Channing Tatum one day.

Next up on the list: romantic poets. Byron, Shelly, Blake, St. Vincent Millay. Mucho, mucho excited to delve.

Thursday, November 8, 2012

You Want a JOB? (Gasp!)

WARNING: the following paragraph may be too raw for some in the industry (side note that this the only thing I have in common with ODB, I like it raw.)

Excuse me?

What did you say to me?

You want a...what? A job?.....A JOB?!

Sssh! Don't tell anyone that. Don't tell ANYone that you want a job. No, actors that want jobs, that talk about wanting jobs and call their agents and managers expressing that they want, that they NEED, work only come across as desperate.  Don't talk about needing a job.  No one will want you if you are too eager. People, directors, casting directors, agents - they only want people they CAN'T HAVE, so you can't go around talking about wanting work or a job or an acting opportunity because you will STINK of desperation and they will automatically think you are talentless and worthless. It's a turn off. That energy will crush you. Los Angeles will discard you faster than a chewing gum wrapper. You know what? You can't want it so much. That energy will repel you from work. You have to let it go. You have to sit back and let the universe do its work. Otherwise, the universe will run away screaming. Imagine the solar system spitting you out over by Pluto, that sorry little ex-planet.  No, let it go. Just...LET IT GO.


Some actors follow a formula for success out here in LA.  They believe that a stalwart commitment to the following steps will lead them to time. Could be a year (riiiiiight), two years, five years, ten years, fifteen years. It will happen eventually.  Get headshots, get a job with a flexible schedule (waiting tables, catering), do extra work, join the union, get a website, start your social media engines and tweet, post, blog 'n' build, get a gym membership, get a commercial agent, theatrical agent, perhaps a manager, send them candy, flowers, wine, postcards, do workshops, do showcases, go to acting class, get a coach, write your own web series and direct/star in it, take meetings wherever you can, explore all opportunities no matter how shady, keep your skirt down, tell people you have a boyfriend - wait, don't they want what they can't have, why that's fuel on the fire!, don't mix professional with personal even though this entire town mixes pleasure into business and vice versa it is the way of Hollywood, don't go to an audition with curly hair if your headshots have straight hair, don't change your look at ALL according to your headshot, dress like this actress cause she's really hot right now, don't say THAT in that meeting or you'll piss them off, don't call your agent to ask why you haven't heard from them in a month, don't pester your agent, don't ask questions, don't be naive, don't do a thing, but stand there and look pretty!

The do's turn quickly into don'ts.  The optimism can sour fast under the negative atmosphere. The heat is more like an inferno and will not only drive you out of the kitchen, but outta this town.

Here is what I am learning: there are no black and white agendas leading to success. LA is the land of opportunity.  Many of those opportunities are rotten, one-way alleys that can entrap you by those who take advantage of other people.  But you toughen up, you learn, you work to remain grounded and strong and whole while in a full-fledged battleground of people stepping on you with six inch stilettos and not giving a DAMN if it pokes your eye out. The challenge out here is HIGHLY DEMANDING.  The dreams out here are BIG and OVERWHELMING. The paths to get where you want to go are DARK and DANGEROUS with the eventual pocket of light and hope, but YOU must be the one to carry the hope. No one is holding a candle for you. If they are, you are certainly a fortunate one. Human nature, however, surprises everyone. That doesn't mean you can't build a support system - in fact, you should try so as to avoid being a recluse left with only your own thoughts to keep you company.

I've been given a billion pieces of advice since moving here. I am still being guided by some here and some there, taking words with grains (or truckloads) of salt. It's true that you can't NEED a job so badly that your energy and happiness depends on it (like Ailie waiting on Mungo in Water Music).  Of course you can WANT it. But you transfer that want into your work, into your commitment to improving and to making your instrument and your acting great.  Are you already a great actor? Good for you.  But you're a fool if you think that what you have now is enough. It is never "enough". The hunger that drives us to act should remain insatiable. Is it possible to master something so completely that you need never practice it again? Is it possible that you are even NEAR that stage? Why do you act if you don't want to conquer it? And even if the tools of your acting are perfectly honed, do you not have to begin again and again with the start of every role? 

Los Angeles is the rosebush of the world; stunningly gorgeous and yet completely treacherous to fall into.

Don't get me wrong, I love the challenge of this city, though I come from a tiny little town further away from the industry than one could possibly imagine. I love the competition though I abhor the relentless frustration. I love the ideas, the creativity and the dreams yet I consistently struggle with my lack of control. The letting go is important - accepting the lack of control and riding the waves out.  Doing what you can until the universe takes over and then allowing it to happen. Knowing when to step back, training your senses to be keen to these moments and these instincts so as to allow good things to come through. And also, having fun - even at the risk of breaking a "don't" rule that came from your agent or your mother or your childhood.

After three years, I speak pretty good La-La, but I can always get better. Discussion, comments and rantings welcome.


I just saw a funny little satire from Estonia that rushed out of the blue woods and blindsided me with its fresh, awkwardly dark, and humorous approach. Toomas Hussar's debut film, Mushrooming, is this year's oscar contender from the country that I can't tell you a damn thing about (wait....wikipedia says lots of things: ESTONIA).  Anyway, maybe you don't watch a lot of foreign films, maybe you do - this is my second year where my dance card is flushed with foreign films and I adore (sometimes begrudgingly) the variety of subject matter and choices. 

Mushrooming had a slow start.  It is literally about a couple (one parliament member in the media spotlight and his wife) who go on an excursion to pick baskets and baskets of chantrelles and boletuses. A relaxing task to enjoy the woods and get away from city life and lifestyle. Along the way they pick up a hitch-hiking rock star (a seemingly one-hit-wonder type who's success makes him recognizable but completely self-loathing) and they high-tail it PAST the normal mushroom-picking grounds to much deeper, darker, stranger terrain. The events that unfold, pop up, and incept you (yes, they appear to take YOU in rather than the other way around) are totally odd, surprisingly funny, and always closely shadowed by danger.

As an audience member, I felt a bit like I was in those same woods - I didn't know where I was outside of my immediate surroundings, anything could come from any direction, and suddenly while standing and contemplating, I see a pink stuffed animal in the bushes. Head cocked and eyes focused, I have no choice but to let my curiosity lead me over to the thing - and just as I get close, the stuffed animal begins to drag away by some unseen fishing line, deeper into the woods.  Most every moment of Mushrooming (after 20 minutes in) is unexpected, kind of intriguing, and both loaded and light.  Toomas Hussar does an excellent job of toying with his audience while also making interesting political and social points that stem from his home country and relate to us as well.

Someone leaned over to me afterward and noted the film seemed also "Tarantino-esque".  I would agree with that. A very, very fresh approach from an up and coming filmmaker. Here's a review and a trailer.

Tuesday, November 6, 2012

Testa, Testa, 1 2 3...

4 - 5 - 6 - 7 people only in the infamous Michael Testa's workshop at Actor's Key last Saturday.  Fools. FOOLS who didn't sign up for his class! In my opinion, this workshop experience was by far the most challenging and the most intimidating of all workshops I've taken thus far in Los Angeles.  Finally I understand why my manager listed Testa as #1 to look out for when workshop shopping online.

First of all, Michael is no longer with Shaner / Testa Casting - he is an independent casting director with a current focus on film. From the moment he opened our Q & A, I understood that here is a man that defines passion within his profession. He is extremely outspoken, unafraid, knowledgeable, and warm in that i'm-just-attainable-enough-in-my-authoritarian way.  Mr. Testa naturally commands respects from his students - and that is difficult to achieve in a world full of arrogant, self-absorbed, eccentric, A.D.D. actors. Not that everyone fits that category but you know what I mean...

Side note: a Chicago comrade and up-and-coming actress, Alison Lani, was in the workshop with me. Alison doesn't know this, but I secretly admire her skills, her unconventional beauty, and I give mad props to the giant pair of cajones she has for sticking it out and MAKING it here in La La.  Needless to say, I was thrilled to take a workshop with her.

Anyway, Testa is notorious for using complex material loaded with shtuff (physical, emotional, you name it) - which means, as actors, you aren't reading an interrogation scene yaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaay!  In fact, Alison and I were paired together in a wonderfully difficult scene from Marc Forster's first film (director of Monster's Ball) Everything Put Together.  Off we went to study our respective scenes. Upon our return, Michael's format was to have each scene performed in front of the other actor-students so that they can voice their own critiques and learn how to evaluate performances from a casting point of view. Peers judging! Ack!  Also, Michael gives extremely in-depth premises for the film, the scene & the characters right before the performance.  He gives a few beats to let it all sink in and WHAM, you are in the spotlight.

Alison and I performed a scene in which I (Angie) am a grieving mother in an upper middle-class suburban community who just lost her first baby directly after birth. At this point in the script, I am visiting my friend Judith (who also just had a child) at her home. Judith is nowhere to be found, so I enter her home without permission and end up in the baby's room. Judith - and the rest of my friends - already have distanced themselves from me because I have undergone such a huge personal loss that I am suffering from grief like a sickness - and none of them wish to catch it. As I have a moment with Judith's baby, she finds me, screams, and we proceed to have a very tough somewhat confrontational yet also evasive scene. Judith does NOT want me there, does NOT want me near her child, and is FREAKED OUT that I have come in unannounced. My character, Angie, is caught unconsciously red-handed. She doesn't know exactly how violating her actions are or why the community has turned against her.  She is so completely lost in her grief and her own experience that her reality is a few plateaus away from everyone else. She doesn't have bad intentions, but she is unfortunately tainted in the eyes of friends. Completely, completely affected.

Honestly, we did the scene with mediocrity in comparison to this above description, but Michael was somewhat impressed (so he said) with our first try and the class had nice things to say, but not great. Understood. Tough material, hello.

WHY - an actor might ask - does Michael use scripts with such deep, intimidating levels?!  Personally I say "Who cares? It's wonderful!!!!", but professionally, the purpose is to see how FAR we can take our own performances / attempts / commitments and to use these scenes as measurements for our skills and abilities. Where are we, as actors, in our acting? Where do we land in the realm of true commitment to the circumstances? It's SO smart of Testa to use scene work in this way - like an aptitude test for the actor. It's easy to choose a scene you are comfortable with and highlight your strengths.  But take something you are VERY uncomfortable with, something that requires you to stretch to places you've never even been before, and you will come out of that experience with fresh, vital self-knowledge.  Hopefully, that means discovering new confidence and new realms of ability. It also means clarity about your soft spots and underdeveloped areas.

Secondly, Testa gave us all the same monologue/scene to perform at the end of the workshop. Here is the premise in a nutshell: SAL is an older man who lives with his younger brother in their poverty-stricken apartment. Sal has dressed like a woman for many years and insists on being known as his brother's "Mother". They rarely leave the apartment except to go to Mass once a week. Sal is an alcoholic. Sal has two peg-legs. Sal uses other drugs, yaps like a sailor, and has just killed a man who attempted to rape her during a mutual crack haze. In this scene, Sal is at her brother's door, drunk, asking why it has come to this.  She begins to sing/speak lyrics of a song and proceeds to do so until she finds herself standing at the top of the stairs ultimately making the decision to fall and end it all.

Intimidating? Um, YEAH. But Michael insisted we do it. He insisted that he doesn't care HOW we get there in Sal's position, but just to do what it takes to get there. Be it, live it, allow yourself to be lost in it. 

The outcome? I did it like a slobbering, hopeless, frustrated, soul-searching, angry mess - and as Michael pointed out - I was 90% committed to the scene, not 100%.  He is right. I am still working on the self-consciousness that creeps in and watches me/judges me as I am performing. But overall I was pleased that I gave as much as I could at that time to such a ridiculously loaded piece of script.

I loved the challenging environment Michael Testa posed for his students. To me, it is exactly what we need as actors going through the same audition routes and traditions living in LA - a WAKE UP call.  More of that please. If I were to rename his workshop, it would be: The Trippio.  It's like a flight espresso shots. It's like being thrown into a plane with all the gear and you have no choice but to sky dive. In the end, the reward is total liberation. And you leave being proud of yourself for the work you pushed yourself to do and the new areas you've discovered.

Thank you and thank you, Michael Testa!