ACTRA and the end of the Auto Show

Working at the Auto Show is a great opportunity for actors, writers and creatives who have the time. A history of trade shows for the campground also really prepared me for the hours on your feet, repeating the same things to every passerby, hoping to hook one into an actual conversation. I am so grateful I got the opportunity…but I really wish it was at a different time.

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Last Wednesday I got up early and spent as much time as I could at the ACTRA conference before having to get to the auto show. This meant I had breakfast while catching up with a lovely actress I met there last year, then watched some TIPs before slipping out. Having co-written, produced and starred in my own TIP this past November, I was particularly interested in what other members were able to achieve. I loved how others played to their skills, using knowledge of sound to make a thought-provoking masterpiece, or equally made use of actors and locations that were available to them. It was so inspiring and I can’t wait to make more movies, and to hopefully see mine at next year’s conference.

On Thursday, I also spent as much time at ACTRACon as I could, but in this case it was just the mingling, and getting some very important questions answered from the various booths, that hadn’t been set up yet the day before.

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Less than an hour after I got to work, my agent called to say I had a self-tape audition for a Christmas Movie. This was amazing and felt a bit like a sign, because I had spent a chunk of time the day before telling one of my colleagues how I would absolutely love to be in Christmas movies and Hallmark movies and all of those, cheesy, feel-good films that you can almost always predict, but still make you feel warm and fuzzy at the end. This one seemed perfect for me. However, I haven’t been getting into a lot of rooms, audition-wise, and one theory is that it’s because I’m always me in every performance, I never fully give myself in to the character. This time, I worked on it with Ayisha, my life guru extraordinaire, and I’m not sure how the casting director feels about it, but I am proud of myself for taking a risk and hopefully showed them something interesting enough to be brought back, even if it isn’t for this part.

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On Saturday, finishing at 10 pm meant I had to rush to The Carlu for the ACTRA Awards, amidst a torrent of hockey fans. I had changed at work and put the final touches in the elevator on the way up. I had reserved my ticket before booking the auto show and very much debated whether I would make it or not. It was a combination of me realizing that my reserving a ticket meant someone else hadn’t been able to go, and one of my co-workers reminding me how much I would regret it if I didn’t go that finally pushed me to get there.

As soon as I walked in, I knew I had made the right decision. I immediately ran into someone I knew, then got to watch the end of the Awards before mingling with friends. Last year I had gone with a solid group of friends, and ran into a few people I had met at the conference. This year I went alone, but I knew so many people. Some stunt actresses I knew from various trainings, the kindest casting director, creators I met through YEAA, ladies from background, my fearless leaders from TAWC…and gorgeous Shiva, whose boyfriend played photographer for us. My coworker was right; I was so happy that I went. I also came home to homemade, meat crust pizza, so the night was a win on all fronts.

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Yesterday was my last day at the auto show, so we all went out for a bite and some drinks to celebrate. You get close when you spend 12 hours a day with people, and I definitely hope to hang out with these people again. Maybe at next year’s show…ready for round 2?

“If it is important to you, you will find a way. If not, you will find an excuse.”

-Ryan Blair

Not So Networking

Business is winding down as the holidays are approaching, but some eager beavers are already thinking of the year to come, while others celebrate the end of the season, so I still had a lot going on this week.

Monday morning I had an agent meeting in Toronto, which was really awesome, whether I get signed with them or not, because in addition to asking me questions and having me share why I could be an awesome member of their team, she also went through my resume with me, giving advice on what should stay and what should go, what classes I am missing, what casting directors are looking for in certain situations…if nothing else, it was really enlightening, industry-wise, and gave me stuff to think about.

Which is good, because as soon as the meeting was over, I had a nice long drive back to Montreal. I didn’t exactly drive there just for the YEAA Holiday Mixer, but I did leave a day earlier in order to attend.

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I stay with my parents when I am in Montreal, so since the mixer started at 6, I told them I would be home by 9, 10 at the latest. I am getting better at networking, but I am still really good at finding valid excuses to go home early, cuddle up with a tea and catch up on work. Especially given that I wasn’t sure how invited I was, since YEAA, the Young Emerging Actors Assembly, is an ACTRA committee, which I am not a part of.

Still, I showed up just as it was starting, before most people had arrived, and started talking to the people that I knew, as one does at networking events. Before long I was invited to sit at a table, and then before I knew it, I was not self-consciously trying to find people I could talk to in order to not look weird by myself in a corner; I was having fun, talking to friends, introducing people to each other. I was catching up with old friends, making new ones and genuinely having a really good time. So good, that it was 11 before I even thought of leaving. Maybe the secret to not being terrible at networking it to… not network? In the end, although I didn’t come back just for that, if I had, I think it would have been worth it.

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The next few days I spent a lot of time with family, Christmas shopping and doing all kinds of self tapes. I find it really funny that after moving into a house full of actors, I still end up doing most of my self tapes with my dad. He may not be an actor, but he is a trooper, and amazing. From self tapes and keeping my car clean and safe, to putting up Christmas lights because he knows I love them. No news yet, and they all film in the new year so I’m not holding my breath just yet, but it feels good to be constantly submitting myself and putting myself out there.

On Thursday I had supper at my cousin’s, where she decided we would celebrate her birthday by her giving me all kinds of gifts. I know she is very into clearing out her clutter in recent years, but I feel like I am making a killing off of it.

On Friday, I went to work at McGill, for a scenario I do almost every month and really enjoy. A few people did ask what I was doing there (I am sure I have friends who still don’t believe I moved away), and though I assured them I was already in town so it made sense to say yes, the truth is that the trip got planned around this booking, and that I am sort of constantly looking for reasons to come back. More to justify family visits with work events and opportunities, but I am starting to realize that if I really want to make things work in Toronto, I may have to stop spending so much time in Montreal. My goal is to be working in both markets, and my family is still in Montreal, so the visits will never stop, but I think I am currently spending as much time in Montreal as in Toronto, if not more. Something to look into and figure out after the holidays.

That afternoon, I went to see Star Wars with my brother, which I really enjoyed. We could dissect it and nitpick, but I was entertained, I laughed, the popcorn was good, the company was great, and it was a lovely way to spend an afternoon before driving home to Toronto. Through a whiteout. Which was a new experience, in that they don’t usually last that long, and I am usually more familiar with the roads that I am not seeing. But I made it home in time to be bright-eyed and bushy-tailed at the Holiday Party Saturday morning.  Though I also learnt I should coordinate and establish leaving and arrival times with people in advance. I used to have an OCD-like compulsion to make a schedule and stick to it, which I have been working on this past year or so, and living with roommates and going places with them is definitely teaching me to be less fixated on my plans and more willing to just go with the flow. Like a lot of things, I am working on it.

It turned out to be a day of Christmas parties, and I got an impromptu at-home salon day from my roommate, who straightened, cut and curled my hair. I was basically her Barbie doll, and she made me…not quite me. Or at least not the me I am used to. But I like her. I think we can be friends. At the party, I met some cool people; actors, agents and entrepreneurs alike. I was also touched by the kindness of not entirely strangers, but pretty much. Since coming to Toronto, I have been slightly scrambling to get all my stuff together (not that I really had that in Montreal, but new town, new me, right?) and it is overwhelming how many people are willing to help. To give advice or support or even help you achieve your goals. Acting is a lot of competition, yes, but it is also community. And I am finally finding mine, both here and in Montreal.

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Sunday morning I woke up early for an audition, which luckily was set the morning after a work Christmas party, so I was right in the proper mindset. I considered keeping last night’s makeup, but decided that might be a bit much. And they might not realize it was a costume choice and think I’m just…weird? We did the scene once, with them cutting right before the end, where I would have had a bit of power moment, then they gave me a few notes about backstory and had me go again. From their reactions, I think I played it differently than the others who had auditioned so far, which could be awesome, or it could just not be what they are looking for. But, I made a choice, showed them that I could act, and take direction. So no matter what happens, I’m putting this one down as a win.

By the time this gets posted, I will have been on set for hours with my 4:30 am call time. And as much as I love sleep (a whole lot), I love acting and being on set way more. Even for background.

 

“To nurture the sort of relationships that will truly help propel you towards accomplishing great things, you need to forget transactional networking and focus on having in-depth conversations with fewer people about subjects you really care about.”

-Naveen Jain

“I’ve met so many who have opened doors for me and remained in my life both personally and professionally. After a while, networking doesn’t feel like ‘networking’. It’s both serendipitous and unpredictable, and something that just naturally becomes part of your work life and your personal life.”

-Narciso Rodriguez

Month One

I have now been in Toronto for a month (with a few trips home in between) and although I’m assuming this will feel temporary until January at least, I am starting to get my bearings.

My last post ended with my parents leaving, but a piece of home remained in the form of Johnny, who I still think of as my cousin’s best friend, but has also been a coworker and a great friend in this whole acting business. Most of the day was spent unpacking and setting things up, until Shiva arrived, making it a Tom Todoroff reunion with the 3 of us and Christie. It was also on that night that we decided to participate in Hidden Gems, an elementary school’s talent show, that has since blossomed into the idea of writing and filming our own anthology of shorts. I love writing (actually won Nanowrimo this November, even with the move, and for non-fiction en plus) and acting and these people are pretty awesome, so I am really excited for this project. For now, we had a rehearsal with the 3 kids and most of the adults, then the official audition at the school. I knew the adults were all good, having seen everyone perform at Tom Todoroff, but the kids blew me away with their emotional availability and dedication. I am definitely going to be learning from them in the coming months.

We didn’t have internet at our apartment for most of this month, so a lot of my time was spent going to cafés to do some agent sendouts, and trying to get a job in the acting world. My original plan had been to spend November in Montreal, doing these sendouts, so that I could move to Toronto in January with an agent and a job and have it all figured out. Opportunity knocked and things changed, so I am multitasking, getting settled and getting representation, but being in the city does make it easier to go to the agent meetings I get. And I managed to get myself a job doing what I did at McGill, and have already worked a couple of days at it. Hopefully by the end of the month I will also have an agent that I love, who is excited to work with me and help me build my career. If not, I’m still excited to work with me, so I’ll just have to hustle.

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Recently I spent even more time in coffee shops, regardless of internet, to make new friends and meet up with old ones. First I had coffee with a director I had worked with back in Montreal, to catch up and talk about the city, but mostly because he wanted insight for a movie he is currently writing, which is awesome, because it means he thinks that I have knowledge ; ) Next there was my first Toronto Ninjas meeting, which only featured one TO ninja, but she was wonderful and someone I definitely want to meet up with again. Then I met up with someone I work with at McGill, who had done an amazing  photoshoot with me once. While he probably used to be more of a colleague, I’m pretty sure that now he’s a friend. So distance can bring people closer.

I got my first opportunity to live up to my self tape promise in Toronto after being in the city for just a few days, and not only made a new friend, I got to cuddle a rabbit out of it. Also, it was in French, so always nice to ‘use it so I don’t lose it’. (For those wondering what the self tape promise is, I vowed to always say yes to help friends out with self tapes, as long as I wasn’t busy. So even if I am at home in pjs and don’t feel like going out, unless I am booked to be doing something different, I will come and be your reader. This not only works for if you ask me directly, it also works if I see your facebook post. I used to scroll by, assuming someone else who was closer to them would volunteer, but now I do anyways. Because sometimes there isn’t anyone closer, and even if there is, I love being a reader, so might as well put myself in the running.)

To prepare for all of the eventual auditions I would be getting, my roommate brought me on a tour of the studios and casting houses, which really are all super close to our house. We were there for her to audition more than for a tour, but it is exciting to see how much is going on in this city, and how many opportunities there are. Not to mention just how many Montreal expats you can randomly meet in a single café. (The answer is 5 of us, and one of them happens to be connected to all but one of the 5 people living in my house).

If you know me, you know I love movies, so while we have had a bunch of unofficial roommate movie nights, I have also started scoping out nearby theaters, catching up on my Justice League, and getting to know Ladybird.

We had a slightly impromptu very low key housewarming party, but it is the quality that counts, not the quantity, and we had a pretty awesome group of people (one even offered to build me a ladder for my loft, which may or may not have been serious, but is still really sweet). We had so much fun that night that we made plans to do it all over again the next morning at the Christmas Market. That was maybe aiming too high, given just how much fun was had the night before, but we did get to meet up after separately exploring the market, and have a pretty fun afternoon together.

Before signing up for classes, which I think I will do in January, I have been auditing them, to try and find the best fit for me in a new city, because my acting teacher in Montreal, Suzanna LeNir, is really hard to beat. I am not only excited to get into acting classes here, but also to learn new things, and maybe brush up on and improve some skills I have merely dabbled in so far. And I’m open to suggestions J

This past weekend, I had my first real Toronto audition in front of a casting director (where I somehow talked my way into a rendition of Little Big Town’s “Girl Crush”), attended an open casting call and participated in the cold reading of a feature-in-progress at Toronto Cold Reads (it was the part of a seven year old, which I am told I nailed), rounding out an incredible month full of firsts and exciting new adventures. The plan is to keep the momentum going and just keep expanding my comfort zone and making the absolute best of this move.

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Which will eventually mean spending more time just in Toronto, rather than all these back and forths, but I have 27 years of being a homebody, so it will take some adjusting. Back in Montreal I spent lots of time with family, was a reader on set and for a casting agency, filmed a cool new top secret project, did some background with some awesome peeps and had brunch and coffee with friends. I feel like it’s important to keep in touch, especially since I am living more like I have 2 homes than like I moved away at the moment. And don’t ever want to lose the sense that Montreal, and everyone there, is also home.

 

“Home is where the heart is.”

-Pliny the Elder

“Life is like riding a bicycle. To keep your balance, you must keep moving.”

-Albert Einstein

Masking, Sets and Reboots

Since last week was the last in June, we had our audition classes with Suzanna. On Monday, I chose the Rabbit Hole scene, because I figured it was the one I had the most to work on. I volunteered to go first, and my first take was definitely my best take. Not to say I shouldn’t have done the others, because they were very useful, but the first time is where I connected the most emotionally. There is a part where I talk for a paragraph, so my reader looked up at me, and at first it felt off, but then I just felt it and connected.

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Suzanna asked me about my moment before, because she felt I was coming in already expecting what was about to happen in the scene. Having done my homework, I explained that I wasn’t reacting to what I knew was coming, but to what I had been doing in the scene before this one. Which is true, I got the core right, but I needed to cover more, at least in the beginning, because the thing upsetting me is something I don’t want to share with my husband.

For the last take, Suzanna had me try it angry with my husband, so I try to leave and get offended with his accusations rather than just hurt. There are some moments that felt so much stronger with the anger rather than the pain, but a lot of moments truly benefit from the raw vulnerability I usually play it with.

I recently had an audition where we had to send in 2 different takes of each scene, and I think it’s a good thing to try while prepping all scenes. If I do the whole thing angry, then the whole thing sad, there are obviously moments that won’t work, but hopefully a combination of the two will bring a richer, more moving performance. And I always have to remember to mask my core.

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For our actor roles and auditions, we were all paired up, so I was the bubbly and overexcited wife with Nick and Sean, then a receptionist who is going on a cruise for the second one with everyone. Often when we do commercials I wish I could have done an Actor role instead, but these were sooo much fun, and I can only imagine how hilarious it would have been to actually get to film them.

On Tuesday I did a bit of background with some awesome people, discovering that someone I admire is even more of a class act than I already assumed them to be.

Wednesday I was all over the place, starting by helping a friend with a Self Tape. She thought my original offer was for a limited time only, some kind of resolution I was trying out, but no, I am actually committing to help out with readers and self-tapes and running lines and what not for however long people need me, as long as I am available. Why would I say no to the chance to act and help out a friend, all in one?

Next I went to meet Carolyne so we could catch up and talk about the industry and our lives. As always, she offered insightful advice, reminded me why I need to stand up for myself more, and we left emphasizing our Compass Feelings. If you didn’t listen to Dallas Travers’ 5 Day Acting Reboot, you probably don’t know what that is, and neither did she. At least not with that terminology. Basically, Day 1 of the reboot was about finding a feeling that we want to drive our careers and our lives. Instead of what goals we want to accomplish with our acting, we should be asking “How do I want acting to make me feel? How do I want to feel every day?” I chose Confidence as my Compass Feeling, because it has more to do with how I feel about myself, rather than how I think others feel about me. The whole reboot was pretty awesome, if ever you do want to check her out and find out more secrets. I was lucky enough to be featured in one of the Live Q & A sessions:

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In class that evening, I chose to do the Eternal Sunshine of a Spotless Mind scene, because drunk is still an issue. Unfortunately, I was pretty off. The first take felt like I was just running lines, and the second like I was playing anger more than feeling it (she told me to try being angry rather than a giggly drunk). The third take I sat on the chair rather than just standing, but like the wall from last week, I think I was using it as a crutch to drive the performance. And I focused again on the being drunk rather than the heart of the scene, which I did work on, but did not internalize.

I was on book for the actor who came after me, and was truly inspired by the fact that he brought a monologue rather than doing one of his scenes over. Although sometimes I think I really benefit from an extra chance to work on a scene, I think it would be incredibly beneficial to start bringing in scenes from my target shows, or monologues I want to work on. At least when I feel like I already did my class scene justice.

I had to leave class early for an interview, to see if I could attend an acting class in Los Angeles. This is definitely progress, because almost all of the really cool classes I have taken were chosen, not entirely, but very much because there was no audition process. I have often taken an entry level class, when I know an intermediate class would have been so much more useful for me, because trying for the intermediate class would have meant auditioning. And the possibility of being turned down. This time, I had to pull out an old monologue, and answer all kinds of questions no one has ever asked me before. It was a very interesting process.

On Thursday, I was back in Quebec to film some scenes for Deep Web, which were incredibly reminiscent of the Dark Shack. There were less ropes and someone different was wielding the knife, but it almost felt too close for comfort.

 

“Your future depends on many things, but mostly on you.”

-Frank Tyger

Eternal Sunshine

Last Wednesday’s class presented a whole new challenge; that of being drunk. I was tipsy in a comedic scene over a year ago, and worked on being drunk in my first ever Tom Todoroff intensive, but it isn’t quite something I have mastered yet. Which was largely due to the fact that I am usually too shy to really go for it, but this time it was more about not really having the life experiences to back it up. Which is a frequent problem of mine, and the reason I am trying to get me some life experiences now. Not necessarily getting drunk, because I don’t generally drink, but I am trying to do all of the things that scare me. And live more in the real world, rather than mostly vicariously through books and writing.

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Our scene is from Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind, where I play Clementine. We ran it a few times before class, where playing drunk got me nervous so I was shaky on my lines the first time, but I fixed that. He had trouble with one so he changed it, and I told him it was okay as long as he said something mean to get me upset.

I was on camera for the first scene, and then it was our turn. Suzanna had returned a hat she borrowed from me, so I used it as a bit of business at the top of the scene. I would walk in wearing the hat, throw it across the room while taking off my shoes, then lean against the wall, which was the biggest proponent of my drunkenness.

Our first take, Suzanna congratulated me for going there, but she wanted me to be less of a cute and giggly drunk. I tried to get offended more, to be more defensive. When she told me to try and get a rise out of him, we talked about my goal and I realized (what I should have much earlier) that I wasn’t just coming home drunk and unaware of what I was saying, I was purposely trying to start a fight so he could break up with me now rather than when it would destroy me. That definitely helped. And although I thought it didn’t matter what he said to me as long as it was mean, when Suzanna had him say the actual line, I wasn’t just sort of upset and leaving because I was supposed to, it actually hurt. The improv before our last take was also kind of weird, and veered sort of off topic, but it was informative and fun.

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In addition to class, I had an audition for a webseries, with the same team from Talion’s Law, which was awesome, because they’re a great group of people. And I found out this weekend that I actually booked one of the parts I auditioned for. Was it because of my incredible acting, or was it predestined that I should play Amanda? The world will never know…

 

“I’ve always been spontaneous and outgoing…I’ve tried lots of things so I’ve got some good life experiences, which is great ‘cause it means I’ve got lots of material to work with as an actor.”

-Leonardo DiCaprio

Time over shallow

Last Monday’s acting class was the kind where I know I can do so much better, but I just didn’t put the time and effort into it. The first time I was supposed to do the scene, I got booked to be on set and couldn’t make it. Then the week after was a holiday, so when last Monday came around, I had sort of forgotten about it, especially since I had something else I was supposed to be going to. Ultimately, I decided to go to class and then be late for the other thing, but it meant I only put a quarter of the time I should have. Which for me, usually entails learning all the lines and not doing much else. I sometimes get lured into a false sense of having done something when it is a show or a movie I have seen, because instead of building the relationships and creating the other characters for myself, I just remember the ones I have seen on screen. I would say that all things considered, I was good, but good in reference to bad is not what I am looking for in class. I want to not be afraid to fail, and to fail badly, but in the way where I am prepared and did the work, but take chances and go out of my comfort zone to try things. Not fail because I didn’t try.

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My scene partner wasn’t expecting to do our scene, because he had done it a previous class with someone else. Luckily, we went and ran it out back a few times and he easily got back into it. Lucky for me, because otherwise I was going to have to do it audition style, which is still something I like working on, but it is a lot more fun to play off of someone else.

Our first take was…shallow. That was my word to describe it. We had our lines, it wasn’t entirely flat, but I wasn’t internalizing anything. The second take was better, although I am not so sure about my decision to be super cool-headed rather than to get upset.

The third take Suzanna had us try a new exercise before we started. I love the subtext improv, or just improvising in character, but this was different. We both shared our goals in the scene, then Suzanna had us think of someone, or a situation where we have the same goal. So, the improv was me as Amanda talking to someone that I wanted to grow up, through Sean. He, in turn, was Sean, talking to someone through me and trying to get their support. I didn’t like the exercise, because it made me feel like a horrible person. We were using real circumstances, which made me feel like there would be real emotions as well. I much prefer the subtext improv in character, but at the same time, I probably needed to feel bad for crushing him in the scene as well. So I can see its use, I am told it was our best take, but I didn’t feel good afterwards.

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As for the commercial, it was fun, but I was doing it way too low energy, and needed to be much more excited.

“Sometimes, things may not go your way, but the effort should be there every single night.”

-Michael Jordan

Class Lessons

It has been over a month since I shared what I have been learning in my acting class, so today I will go through the scenes I have worked on recently, as well as what I learnt from each one.

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First is the Break Up, a scene I did with Nick. I hadn’t worked on it as much as I should have, and he had a cold when we did it, so I was slightly worried, but through running the lines a bit before class, I was reassured. He even went all out and got a doorbell sound effect on his phone for the end of the scene. If you remember, last time I wrote about my classes, I said that I didn’t want to keep getting the same notes; I wanted to get different ones and constantly be improving. This was my first class since then and it was a success; my note was to make it personal by remembering the history between us. I was reacting as if this was the first time he hadn’t brought what I wanted, but I had to imagine all the previous times I had asked him to do something and he had forgotten, or done the wrong thing, because he didn’t care enough to listen in the first place. So, from now on, I won’t only look at the current conflict, I will ask myself whether we have been here before, if it’s the little things that keep adding up, or the big things that we can’t ignore anymore.

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The next class was the last of the month, where we choose one of our scenes to audition. Forgetting that it wasn’t actually my scene, I had decided to do In Treatment. When I got there and remembered I had just been a replacement, Suzanna suggested I do Mrs. Maizel. I knew the lines and had done all of the preparation, but I was definitely not dressed to play her. If I had no other choice, I obviously could have, but there is something about the dress and the shoes that make it so much easier to slip into her skin. Not to mention, there were layers I wanted to explore for the In Treatment scene. The other girl hadn’t shown up yet, so Suzanna let me do her scene, figuring at worse we would see it twice (as it turns out, the other girl was on set and not able to make it). For this, my note was that I wasn’t taking some of the beats. In the sense that at one point, he makes a diagnosis and I ask him what he thinks I’m afraid of. I was asking it like I didn’t know, whereas in reality, I do, I just want him to tell me. So the note here is to not just take what is written on the page or said as truth, but to look deeper and know what I am hiding.

That class, I was also a reader for a scene from Donnie Brasco with Elysia. To help her get somewhere emotionally, Suzanna had us do the entire scene yelling at each other, knowing that sometimes it wouldn’t make sense, but as an exercise. We were probably the last people who would just yell at each other like that, but it was interesting to see how it changed and felt different.

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For the actor role/commercial auditions, I got to do two. Suzanna is continuing with her conviction that I am good for commercials, and the more I do them, the more I agree. It still feels a bit weird, but it is quickly becoming more fun than weird.

In May, I got a scene from Girls to do with Nir. I haven’t started the final season yet, so there were some spoilers I wasn’t ready to hear, but I really enjoyed the scene. The first class was hard because we had to figure out the movements. In the scene, I am trying to leave, and he is trying to get me to stay, which was really difficult, until a genius pointed out that the exit could be behind him, so I would have to go through him rather than just walk away. After that, it was much easier. Every time we did it, there were different emotions that I tried, from hurt to anger…I was really looking forward to discovering all the levels.

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The next week we ran our lines a few times, then put it on its feet. After the first take, Suzanna asked what our goals were. We both had excellent answers, but they weren’t clear enough for her to see them. We looked like friends in acting class. She said we had to fall in love with each other. The next take was better, because our goals were clear, but I was completely exposed, not covering anything. It was raw heartbreak and I am told it was beautiful to watch, but there is a reason it is called ‘core and masking’. If I don’t want him to know how much he hurt me, I have to cover it with anger or by trying to hurt him or by pretending I don’t care…something. We did it a few times, but I found it hard to be pissed and confrontational when he is so vulnerable. Sometimes it felt like I was forcing it, but the last take, where we could do what we wanted, I played all the levels. I was pissed at him, then I was heartbroken, then I said things with the goal of hurting him. It was all in service of my goal, which was to protect myself from letting him hurt me. Again.

The last class I had was a bonus class, where I was asked to do a scene from Single White Female. It was a scene I had actually done over a year ago, but the footage had been lost, so I never got to see it. I still haven’t seen this time either, because it is on a DVD at Suzanna’s, but I can say that my notes were that I needed more stakes and more crazy. The most interesting thing that I learnt about myself was that when I go crazy, I start a hair-ography. Running my hands through my hair, flipping it over…I was aware that I was doing it, and once or twice is okay, but not as often as I was doing. I used to always tuck my hair behind my ears during scenes, sort of like a nervous tick, so I am confident I will be able to remove that. The first take I tried it sitting down and waiting for her, but it was way better when I was just standing creepily in a corner. I felt like a crazy person every single take, but that was the point. The hard part is grounding the crazy with the love and the hurt that makes her act that way. I am looking forward to watching the scenes to find out if I managed it.

« Mistakes are a part of being human. Appreciate your ‘mistakes’ for what they are: precious life lessons that can only be learned the hard way. Unless it’s a fatal mistake, which, at least, others can learn from. »

-Al Franken

Catching Up On Class

I am a bit behind on sharing my class breakthroughs, so this post will cover 4 of them.

This month, Mondays were my official class day, but I also had a lot of days at Mcgill, filming things on weekends, self tapes…my brain was basically full of back stories and conversations that were not my own. Which I loved, but it also led to me trying to learn my lines for Nocturnal Animals between scenarios on Monday afternoon, and while driving across town to class (trying to repeat them to myself while driving, then waiting for a red light to glance down and see the script if I needed it, no scary driving I promise).

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Once there, I ran lines with Nir, my scene partner, mostly making sure we both knew our lines. I wasn’t even thinking about my goal or anything and the first time we put it up for Suzanna, it wasn’t any better on my part. I played her sweet and forgot to be defensive, forgot to care, even forgot the end of one of my lines. When Suzanna started to give notes, asking questions about our motivations, I had to admit that I knew the back story. I saw the movie, so I knew why it was a low blow to bring up my creative career that I chose not to pursue, how comparing me to my mother was not a good thing…I knew exactly what should be affecting me, I just wasn’t doing it.

As we continued to go through the scene, I got progressively meaner, but not just for the sake of being mean, it was because I was letting the circumstances and his words affect me. I found it so hard saying such mean things to Nir when he looked so crushed by them, but my being hurt and defensive helped him be more affected, which in turn got me more affected and I feel like we really connected. When Suzanna asked, we both wanted to do one last take to go deeper and by the end of it, I started tearing up and I’m pretty sure he did too.

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Last week, we came back and did it audition style. I had a wonderful reader, so we worked on the different levels, trying to find the balance between trying to be sweet and helpful, to being hurt, to hating him, to loving him (which was something I was told I needed to remember, because the reason why we can hurt each other so much is because we love each other that much). I really need to work on my “Okay”s, which is something I say way too much in scenes, both when I get really emotional, and when I am searching for a line. I know I say that most scenes were so much fun to do, which is absolutely true, because any time I can act is amazing, but this scene was really invigorating to play. And to watch when Nir did his audition without me. One of my goals this year is related to crying, and while this scene did not call for tears, just taking it all in brought me there. Not to the kind of crying that keeps eluding me, but I never set out to cry in the scene, it just happened. Which I think is excellent progress for someone who was blocked and guarded and couldn’t.

On a side note, not smiling apparently ages me, so my range goes older as long as it isn’t a happy character.

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For the commercial or actor role audition, I got a commercial, where I was seduced by condiments. Or, you know, by a guy talking about condiments. Which sounds weird, but it was so much fun, and hilarious. The hardest part was staying in it while everyone else was laughing.

On Tuesday, I was expecting to head home after work, but I got a call from Suzanna in the afternoon saying someone couldn’t make it, so the spot was mine if I wanted it. Of course I did, so once I was done being a horrible person in a very long scenario, I drove to class. I was the only one there, so I caught up a bit with Suzanna before finally reading my scene for the first time and trying to learn my lines. I was pretty familiar with them by the time my new scene partner wrote to Suzanna to say he couldn’t make it. At that point, she could have told me I learnt the lines and came to class for nothing, but instead she said I could do it audition style this week and with my scene partner next week. I had a few more minutes of working on the lines while another pair rehearsed, before I manned the camera for their scene.

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Finally, I did the scene like an audition, then a second time with the note of waiting more for a certain line, and playing more off the reader, which is something I seem to be bad at. Or at least not as good as when it is a scene partner, or when I am the reader. Another thing to work on!

When we did it as a scene the following week, I understood that I had also been playing it one note, basing my motivations off of what she says, rather than what I know from watching the movie. The scene is from When Harry Met Sally, and I had played her like she was annoyed and didn’t want to talk to him. Luckily, as soon as I was running lines with Nick, who was friendly and goofy, I couldn’t exactly keep being annoyed by him.

I got better at taking him in and playing off him, but I also had to decide how I felt about things, rather than sticking to the lines and taking them for truth. It is always easier and harder for me when I know the movie/show and the characters, because I have the original performance I have to forget, and I often don’t think I need to do as much work because I know it so well, when really, I still need to discover my motivations and make it all truthful for myself.

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Since her scene partner couldn’t make it, I also got to be Lorelai in the Gilmore Girls scene. Normally she would have just done it audition style, but she wanted to work on the crying at the end, so we got into it. I didn’t have a script to go over, but I remembered it pretty well from last time we did it. I did, however, have to forget how Lauren Graham played it, and try to internalize the disappointment and worry rather than just saying the lines, even if I hadn’t expected to be doing the scene. Me finding the truth in the imaginary circumstances and being upset with her helps her ultimately get to where she needs to go at the end of the scene. Not sure we got there, but we definitely raised the stakes and made it more of an argument than a line reading.

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At the end of class, my audition was for a commercial with Bobby. It was a very light-hearted albeit unrealistic premise that was easy and fun to shoot. It’s probably because these are more characters than presenters, but I am getting more confident in these commercial auditions and can’t wait to test this confidence outside of the classroom

“Above all, be the heroine of your life, not the victim.”

-Nora Ephron

 

The Power of Mantras

A while back I mentioned that I started using mantras. I have always been pretty skeptical about them, partially because I was afraid of focusing on a mantra that wouldn’t come true and thus prove the theory wrong. You might not see the issue there, since not trying it would get the same effect, but part of me believes very strongly in the power of thought. So if my skepticism or setting my sights too high made the thing I visualized not come true, it would have reaffirmed my fears and that mantras don’t work…so I was afraid of sabotaging myself? It makes sense in my head.

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In that post I mentioned how after reading lots of articles from Dallas Travers, I started reciting mantras while shoveling instead of just thinking about how much I didn’t like shoveling in the cold. It became sort of like a wish list of a million different things, formulated as “Why am I getting so much work?” “Why am I booking so many roles?” “Why am I so confident?” “Why am I nailing so many auditions?” “Why am I accumulating so many ACTRA credits?” “Why are all of my dreams coming true?” I repeated these mantras over the next few days while walking to my grandmother’s, swimming, sitting in traffic…I had an open mind, but wasn’t really expecting anything either.

It started out with a bunch of days as a reader for a really awesome casting director. Then I got booked for all 4 days of what was once referred to me as the SP Olympics at McGill (which includes a whole lot of dry runs and orientations…meaning lots of days of work!). I also submitted myself for a few projects, excited to do some self-tapes, live some lives and win some rooms. I was absolutely thrilled when I booked the first one off a voice sample. Then the second from my demo reel. When I was sent a script and offered any part I wanted from someone I had worked for previously, I was starting to believe there was definitely something to these mantras. Finally, when the response to my self-tape was that I had officially booked every single one of the projects I had submitted myself for…I decided mantras were my new best friend.

So far, I have filmed two of those projects, got back to work on The Cohort and have other projects in various stages of development. Once upon a time, a teacher told me to use that as an answer for what I am up to if I am not actually up to anything at all. Today, it is the best way to sum up the many projects I truly have in various stages of development. And I am so excited about them. Even self-tapes for friends have me feeling so inspired, like I am moving in the right direction. Not to mention all of the awesome classes I have been attending.

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There have been a few years where I have told myself it would be my year, but they were more wishful thinking, something to appease the self-doubt that had built up over previous disappointments. This year, I mean it. Not just because I want it to be true, but because I am putting myself out there and making it happen. I am working so hard on the mindset, on putting myself in situations that take me out of my comfort zone, doing all those things I put off because they scared me…This is my year. I have been crazy busy and I haven’t been able to do ¾ of the things I had set out to do in March, but I have done so much more than I ever expected. As I write this, I am the kind of tired you get after working a million days in a row, but I am absolutely loving it.

 

“Be fearless in the pursuit of what sets your soul on fire.”

-Jeniffer Lee

Meisner, Meetings and Maggie

I have to admit that last weekend was pretty awesome. Work on Friday consisted of a really fun scenario at McGill (fun to play, because it involves acting on your toes and Improv and an awesome scene partner, but not-so-fun subject matter). Then I got to sing my heart out at a family karaoke night. Traditionally, one person would choose a song and sing it while everyone else listened and applauded at the end, sometimes singing along under their breath. Lately, it has turned into a much less formal, much more free-for-all setting, where people choose a song, which gets them one of the microphones, then everyone else who knows the song or just wants to sing crowds around and goes for it. By the end of the night, our voices were getting raspy, but I’m pretty sure every single person had an amazing time.

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On Saturday, I headed out to a Meisner class, for the first time in my life. I had heard of it before (something about boring repetition, right?), but wasn’t necessarily planning on studying it until my awesome acting teacher, Suzanna LeNir, told me about some drop-in classes she was organizing. I knew almost all the other students in the class, but not the teacher, who turned out to be really nice (both before and during class) and pretty interesting. He gave us a bit of a back story on Meisner, before getting right into it. Full disclosure, I have no clue what I am doing. It’s like I think I get the concept, but I have no idea how to make it happen. When I thought I did it wrong, I didn’t get a note, but when I felt like I nailed it, I apparently hadn’t. Sometimes I had a reason for it, which either redeemed me or was an excuse, but I am determined to figure this out. I have borrowed a copy of Sanford Meisner on Acting and am getting to work!

Also, this being something totally new and me being a really shy, timid person at first leads to me being incredibly nervous, which sometimes brings even more nerve-wracking, blushing moments.  It took me until just now when I was sitting here and writing the blog post to understand that one factor holding me back might be my desire to be a good student, do what I’m told and do it right. Like Debbie told me back in London, I should be less concerned with getting it right, and more attuned to what is going on and how it affects me. For one, just BEING instead of trying to achieve something will make it a lot easier to be in the moment rather than in my head.

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After the Meisner class, I went to a production meeting for a project that I was recently asked to be a part of. There is no script yet, but over the course of the afternoon, I went from being interested in to being really excited about the project. I know it’s terrible, but the last time I was at one of these meetings, I felt like it wasn’t really my place to hijack someone’s idea, so I kind of just sat back and listened, never speaking up when I had a suggestion or when something wasn’t working. I mostly just answered if they asked me something, and I was very much a ‘yes man’. This time, I actually wanted to be a part of it, so I spoke up, asked questions and it became such a collaborative experience. I left, not only anticipating this project, but with a really great location for future projects, some new friends, and a role in a really cool short the writer was working on.

On Sunday, the Oscars were…well, interesting to say the least. Even though I saw all of the best picture nominees, as well as the majority of the nominated performances, I was still terrible at predicting who would win. I was torn between who I thought should win, who I thought would win, and who I simply wanted to win. As always, there were some great speeches and incredible brandprov opportunities; especially when you ask yourself what you would have done if you were Warren Beatty faced with the wrong envelope. I think it is such a shame that Moonlight’s moment went to the mixup rather than the fact that a movie with such a small budget, that so few people have seen, about such an emotionally and politically charged subject matter won Best Picture at the Academy Awards.

On Monday, I spent the afternoon editing Shards of Glass, before going to Suzanna’s. The last class is always spent on auditions, and we had some newcomers this month, so Suzanna went over some auditioning tips and had me go up first to demonstrate how to slate. I chose the Maggie’s Plan scene for my audition, since I wanted to work on personalizing the need to be a mother by any means necessary. Suzanna kept mentioning how my face lit up when I saw her son over the weekend, so she knew I could relate. The first take I imagined Jake’s responses to replace my reader’s, who wasn’t familiar with the scene and was mostly reading it. Suzanna suggested I use what she gives me instead, so I can be frustrated when I don’t get the reaction I am looking for, or try harder to get her to see my side. It definitely brought a lot more layers to the scene, and it is always more fun to be playing off someone rather than my imagination.

For my commercial, I gave a testimonial about a hair product, which I find I am so terrible at. It involves being you and not playing a character, while also playing a character, because most people aren’t naturally that excited about their hair products. After my last take (and there were many to get the speed but not the rush, the proper emphasizing and so on) I said I wasn’t sure about commercials, but everyone argued and told me I was great because I look happy and very natural on camera. So I guess I should increase my commercial submissions!

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“Tarell and I are Chiron. We are that boy. And when you watch Moonlight, you don’t assume a boy who grew up how and where we did would grow up and make a piece of art that wins an Academy Award. I’ve said that a lot, and what I’ve had to admit is that I placed those limitations on myself, I denied myself that dream. Not you, not anyone else – me. And so, to anyone watching this who sees themselves in us, let this be a symbol, a reflection that leads you to love yourself. Because doing so may be the difference between dreaming at all and, somehow through the academy’s grace, realizing dreams you never allowed yourself to have. Much love.”

-Barry Jenkins