Friday, July 31, 2009

Going for it

My first time scuba-diving was an exciting but scary experience. I was in the Caribbean with my fiancee, Rob, and we had taken a beginning scuba-diving course on this amazing cruise where we could dive with a certified instructor in the gorgeous Caribbean ocean.

I was a little nervous because my mask would initially fill with water and I would panic, but my instructor - Keri, was her name - was so wonderful and literally held my hand, helping me deal with my mask until it was tight against my face and I could dive down to 30 feet with Rob and the other divers.

On our first dive, we swam with a sea turtle and it was so incredibly mind-blowing. Rob and I went on daily dives after that, and even though I'd have that tug of fear, I'd still dive in. I couldn't wait to get in the water and swim through that turquoise liquid world world. Just amazing!

There's no holding back with scuba-diving. You have to go for it! And this reminds me very much of the audition process.

I had an audition this week for a Lend Me A Tenor by Ken Ludwig. It's one of my favorite plays and is being revived on Broadway.

I did my research, re-read the play, picked a monologue I felt was appropriate, and was ready to roll. But when I got to the audition, I had a little moment of uncertainty. Had I chosen the right piece? Would I be showing them what they were looking for? Should I try a "safer" monologue instead of the character piece I loved?

I took a breath and thought about how some of my favorite actors like Judi Dench still get butterflies. "It's anxiety and fear that create adrenaline, which for me is petrol," she explains.

Many actors refer to it as "the juice," and my coach, Karen Kohlhaas talks about how nervousness is part of life and it's up to us how we choose to use that energy in performance.

And yes, even though I've been performing professionally since I was 14, every time I go onstage, I still get those butterflies, but it's also very exciting and I can't wait to get out there.

It's a lot like scuba diving.

There's no holding your breath. You HAVE to breathe through it. And you have to be alert and aware and open to the joyousness of it all.

And you know, I found that with my Lend Me A Tenor audition this week. I took a deep breath and supported myself and the choice I had made for that audition. And instead of focusing on how to please "them," I went in and took care of myself by doing the piece I loved and had prepared and felt really wonderful with. I followed the action of the piece (Atlantic Acting technique that Karen talks about in her book The Monologue Audition), and just let myself go, not putting anything on top of it, but just letting myself and the character bloom through the words and the action of the piece. It was marvelous! And the gal who was behind the audition table was wonderfully complimentary, even stopping me as I was leaving to say how much she liked my audition, what a great monologue I had done and that I would be great in that role.

It was such a great affirmation and made me realize I have to get back to clarifying and defining my goals, because - heck yeah! - I KNOW what I want! I want to play Billie Dawn in Born Yesterday someday (that was the piece I auditioned with and got such great response). I'd love to perform in Lend Me A Tenor. I want to play many of Alan Ayckbourn's characters in his delicious plays. And you know... I feel like I'm on my way!

Taking a breath... and diving on in! :)

Woo hoo!

Friday, July 24, 2009

Your Own Back Yard

You know how in The Wizard of Oz, Dorothy talks about the magic of her own backyard? Well, it made me feel lucky, because Manhattan is my backyard, and it has always been my dream to make it on Broadway. But it also made me think of friends and family who are making their dreams come true in their own backyards. :)

My brother is recording music and filming videos with the bodacious band Hippie Cream in our hometown of Hemet, CA. I am amazed at the talent that has come out of that tumbleweed town, but it keeps booming! A few people have even remarked that "Hemet is the next Seattle" for the music and art boom. They also make some awesome coffee at the Ya Ya's Coffee House. :)

I could say the same thing about Lancaster, PA, a place that was home to me and my honey for a few years while we performed with the acting troupe for the PA Renaissance Faire.

I recently visited The Twisted Sisters, two hysterically funny women whom we met at the Faire. They ran the Herb Shoppe at the Faire and later branched out into their own businesses, including handmade soap. Maryanne also makes gorgeous glass jewelry via her Torchsong Studio, and Tina has cultivated various books and is the editor/creator of the magazine The Essential Herbal.
I visited the Sisters last weekend, and got the bonus of hanging out with Tina's daughter Molly (above left) who is a very groovy girl all her own.

Going to their place was almost like visiting Oz, because it's SO GREEN!

This is Tina and Maryanne's backyard. Wow!

The Sisters make incredibly cool products, and I'm HOOKED on Tina's tinctures and teas. I'm hoping they'll be adding the teas to their websites soon, because they are AMAZING.

And their soaps are absolutely luxurious and smell wonderful! Chock full of essential oils and herbs. Mmm!

While I was visiting Lancaster, Tina also showed me the booming downtown area, complete with art design school and all sorts of hip little shops.

We went to Sarah Campbell's shop, Radiance, which was like walking into a layer of heaven. The shop is filled with color and light and all sorts of cool stuff. Books and clothes (I got a really cute tanktop) and jewelry (I actually bought some earrings that Maryanne had made), and I love-love-LOVE Sarah's bodycare line. I bought the eye cream and night serum and am thrilled with both. They truly are luscious! And there are all kinds of classes that go on there. The Yoga Room also serves as an art gallery. How cool is that? And Sarah's daughter has a massage room right next to the children's fairy room. Can't wait to go back there!

It was a great visit, and I can't wait to go back period!

The Sisters are going to start giving herbal tours called Weed Walks, an all day event that teaches how to identify herbs and plants, cooking with nature's bounty, and crafting. Their first all-day herbal adventure is coming up August 9th.

Talk about truly getting creative in your own backyard! :)

Wednesday, July 22, 2009

Setting Goals

I love Karen Kohlhaas' classes. I swear, that woman has such a gift for sharing adventures in acting and show business. It is amazing how much is to be learned!

I'm currently taking her Fearless Cold Reading and Audition Technique Class, and I have to tell you, the lessons learned are INVALUABLE!

A portion of last night's class focused on The Agent Interview and the many questions an agent might ask you, including, "Where do you see yourself in 1-3-5 years?"

Now, I've been on a few agent interviews, and only one manager asked this of me, but the thing that resonated with me about all this is the importance of goal-setting.

Karen shared this story about "a study conducted on students in the 1979 Harvard MBA program. In that year, the students were asked, 'Have you set clear, written goals for your future and made plans to accomplish them?' Only three percent of the graduates had written goals and plans; 13 percent had goals, but they were not in writing; and a whopping 84 percent had no specific goals at all.

Ten years later, the members of the class were interviewed again, and the findings, while somewhat predictable, were nonetheless astonishing. The 13 percent of the class who had goals were earning, on average, twice as much as the 84 percent who had no goals at all. And what about the three percent who had clear, written goals? They were earning, on average, ten times as much as the other 97 percent put together."

So you can bet I'm reassessing and setting up my 1-3-5 year goals. Some advisers will even counsel to have daily, weekly and monthly goals, and it's all good.

I was telling a friend the other day that every audition I hit, every submission I send out, every class I attend, is investing in the bank of Laura, and it feels good to invest in myself and in making my dreams come true.

I hope you are too! :)

Friday, July 17, 2009

Embrace Your Assets

One of my best friends is in the midst of interviewing for a job, and he was talking last night about writing a thank-you note to a company who had called him back for a lengthy 2nd interview.

He said, "I'm thinking of saying, 'Even though I don't have the full skillset you're seeking, I can learn quickly and am very personable,'" which of course, he is. But it bothered me that he should point out his lacks, and I suggested he ditch that intro and play up his assets.

I know him as an actor, writer, director, and a corporate survivor. Any task he's been assigned - technically or otherwise - he completes with success and goes at it with 150% focus. He seriously learned a new computer program in one day! So I suggested instead of stating his negatives, he should highlight his assets.

And that reminded me to do the same.

I recently updated my resume with all of my improv experience. Why I left this off in the first place, I have no idea, except that I'd been given so much advice as far as what I "should" have on my resume, focusing on NY and regional theatre, film and TV, and so I didn't think including my improv experience would assist me in booking a job. Boy, was I wrong!

Last month I booked a giant comedy/improv gig because I had worked with a fellow who was producing it and who knew I could do comedy, but he also asked that I send him a resume that included my improv work. As I reconfigured my resume, I discovered that I had at least 12 improv characters under my belt!

My first paid acting gig out of school (my actual first paid gig was in "Annie") was with the PA Renaissance Faire. They had hired directors from LA - David Leong and Chris Villa - and wanted part of their Shakespearean improv troupe to be from LA as well. It was the only year they did this, and I was quickly hired.

I enjoyed the Faire and its seasonal shows so much that I stayed on for 4 years, creating a plethora of characters! I played everything from a scruffy young rogue (Polly Pickalittle) to historical court lady Penelope Devereaux, struck-by-lightning-gravedigger, Spanish innkeeper Freida Synne, and even Queen Elizabeth herself!

For the Fall show I played the Ghost of Virginia Poe (Edgar Allen Poe's wife), Mimi Leroux (wife of Phantom of the Opera writer, Gaston Leroux) and Mary Shelley, among others.

When I left the Faire and came to NY, I ended up working in some murder mystery events, playing everything from a wise-cracking assistant DA from Brooklyn to a German psychic.

So when my Kaboom co-star, John Di Domenico, asked about my improv experience, I realized I had a TON, and it was so great to unearth it! So I updated my resume and ended up booking a very nice gig because of it.

So like I was telling my job-interviewing friend, we have to realize all the great stuff we can bring to the table and lead with our assets! :)

Thursday, July 16, 2009

Emmy nods

This Spring I studied the art of the TV audition (or TV Bootcamp) with the marvelous Ross Meyerson at One on One Productions, and it was an awesome class. Ross came from a background in theatre and I loved his take on the acting process and the TV audition. It was akin to what I'm learning with Karen Kohlhaas at The Atlantic Acting School, and I just love when things jive like that! It's like driving down a road with a bunch of green lights.

When I went on Facebook this morning, there was the joyous news that Ross was nominated for an Emmy Award with Julie Tucker for Outstanding Casting of a Drama Series. Woo hoo!

Can't wait to see what happens next year when Nurse Jackie is in the running. I love that show! And it's yet another great gig that Ross was involved with as far as casting. Rock on!

It's funny. With most award nominations, a lot of folks focus on their favorite actor or actress, but there are so many people involved in the process of making a show happen, and it's wonderful to see everyone get some kudos.

Congratulations to all of the nominees!

Thursday, July 09, 2009

Increasing the Percentage for Success

Last month, one of my favorite columnists, Bonnie Gillespie, wrote a post for the Actors Voice, entitled Just Get Better, which made total sense to me, because, as she so aptly put it, "This, my friends, is the Super Bowl of Acting. Even the pros ride the bench much of the time. You actually want the honor of some decent playing time with these folks? Get better. Train."

This summer I've enrolled in two kickass classes. One is with Karen Kohlhaas from The Atlantic Theatre School and the other is with Deloss Brown, former Juilliard professor who's currently teaching at NYU.

I start As You Like It with Deloss tonight, working on the comedy of Shakespeare. And Karen's class is called Fearless Cold Reading, and I started that on Tuesday night.

I had taken Karen' Monologue Workshop in the spring and loved it so much! Her instruction and the Atlantic technique gave me this wonderful sense of expansion, and I felt a great improvement in my auditions. I had to continue my studies, so I jumped at the chance to take her Fearless Cold Reading class.

Last year I was cast in 2 off Broadway shows based on cold-readings: Kaboom and Johnny on a Spot.

This kind of an audition is seeing the script for the first time and performing it "cold," which I intuitively do well, but wanted to increase my success rate. And that was one of the things Karen said in class. So much of this business is doing everything you can to raise your percentage of getting work. There's 95% unemployment amongst actors, so the 5% that are working are literally doing something that works pretty much every time.

Like Bonnie said, even star performers are sometimes "benched" or out of the game for whatever reason, but do you think they're sitting around, twiddling their thumbs? NO WAY. There's training to do for the body, mind, spirit, and the craft of acting! Taking classes, meeting people, going to auditions, practicing every day, these are the things we need to do to stay in the game.

I was telling my sweetheart, Rob, that what I've been learning from Karen and Deloss this year are tips that add to my entire package. Heck! Every teacher has helped me cultivate that which I am today, and I am so grateful for that.

It's like cooking! All of these teachers have given me wonderful spices to add to my main dish, and it's a delight to sense all of this taking shape. Simple things like coming into the audition room "Big and Slow," emanating positivity, finding the action/objective of any piece of material (monologue, scene, song), breathing, leading from and opening up my heart, which actually makes me stand taller, not rushing myself, taking in my scene partner and the people in the room, going for the action/objective of the character, supporting my voice, using my physical and vocal range, talking with the casting people like human beings and not trying to "get" anything from them, just enjoying the moment of being there to share in the experience, to BE in that moment, and then to leave the room with ease and grace.

It's amazing how all that can happen in a 2 minute audition. :) But it's been happening more and more lately, whether its a musical audition like the one I did for Pure Country earlier in the week, or the one I'm heading to today for Smudge with the Women's Project. It's all good, and I feel like I get better and better every time I put myself out there.

It's a blast!

Monday, July 06, 2009

A Roof with a View

Every summer, my honey, Rob and I get together with our NY buddies and celebrate the sunsets on our rooftop. We are fortunate to live in a beautiful building overlooking the Hudson River and so we always get a stunning view of the city, glowing amidst the setting sun.

But this year, with the 4th of July Fireworks taking place over the Hudson, we knew our rooftop would be jam-packed, so Carl and Michael (my birthday buds who went with me to Blithe Spirit) invited us to their place. They live very close to Times Square and are in an old 4-floor walk-up, so we didn't know if we'd really be able to see the fireworks, but I tell you, it was the best view! Truly perfect!!!

For one, it was incredible to be in the heart of Times Square, surrounded by the glorious glassy buildings, the moon shining down upon us. And all we had to do was face west to see the amazing array of fireworks. It was FANTASTIC!

The other cool thing was that you could see the neighboring rooftops were filled with people, all cheering the colorful displays. It was such a unified experience, and we were all thrilled to be a part of it.