The 100 Day Character

I am terrified.

I have made the decision to do something different for the next 100 Days of Self-Taping. Starting November 1st, I will be embarking on a journey with a single character that I am creating that I will live with every day for the next 100 days. Each day I will tape a 15 second or less excerpt and post it to a new Instagram account that is dedicated to this story.

There are several things about this that terrify me. 1) I have never done anything like this before. (Nor have I seen a story told like this before.) 2) I really want it to be amazing and I’m afraid that it won’t live up to my own expectations. 3) The whole story isn’t written yet. I have a good idea of where I want it to go, but I want to be open to changes, both that are influenced by myself, as the writer/performer, and by you, as the audience.

Every day that I prepare for this I have been on the edge of quitting and going the much easier route, but then I remember that the things that terrify me are the same things that excite me. And that is why I HAVE to do this project. November 1st is this Sunday. I invite you to go on this journey with me. As I said, there may be points where you have the power to influence this character’s fate. To follow be a part of this character’s journey, go to my new Instagram account: The100DayCharacter. If you want to do a 100 day project of self-taping or another 100 day project of your own with me, follow my regular Instagram account: CharissaJActor, where I will be posting updates and encouragements for the group of us who doing these 100 days of creating together.

Let this terrifying adventure begin!

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The NEXT 100 Days of Self-Taping!

Almost three months have passed since I completed The 100 Days of Self-Taping. It’s incredible how quickly one can fall out of a habit once the expectations and accountability fall away. I had high hopes of continuing self-taping, if not every day, at least multiple times a week. But I have to admit that, acting class and auditions aside, I have self-taped very little on my own. Life and excuses can so easily get in the way. This simply reinforces my observation that routine and accountability are absolutely key for me in practicing my art. Without those, it becomes a habit of saying, “Tomorrow!” And tomorrow never comes.

Rather than continuing to put things off, I am giving myself a deadline, another routine, a new system of accountability. The last time I was a part of a large group of people, led by The Great Discontent, doing The 100 Day Project. This time I will be leading a group of people in 100 Days of Self-Taping beginning November 1st, 2015. The main platform will be Instagram, using the hashtag #100daysofselftaping. If you would like to join me, follow and message me on Instagram. If you would like to tweak your 100 days into another artistic practice, go right ahead and make your own hashtag to track your progress. The main point is to be in this together, cheering each other on. Come on and join me!

The 100 Day Project: Process

I can’t believe The 100 Day Project is over. I did it! I put myself on camera and worked on my acting for 100 days straight. What a journey! Now I am looking back at what I learned and how I grew over the last 100 days. Not only did I see my skills improve, I can actually see a difference in my ease in front of the camera, from my first post to my last(you should take a look!). Through the journey, not only did I recognize the obstacles that lay in way to doing the work, but I also learned a lot about my artistic process. What do I need to do to get the best result? One of the best things about the 100 day project is that it forces you to do something tangible every single day. While that created a habit of practice for me and improved my on-tape acting skills, I began to wish I had more time with each piece. Some didn’t require that much time: commercials, improvised bits, co-star roles with a couple pages of script. But the Shakespeare monologues, guest star roles, leading roles ask more of you and I wish I’d had more time to dedicate to them. That being said, I learned a lot about what I need to do to best prepare for all sorts of auditions or roles.

  • Accountability. I work best with accountability. Social Media has been the best form of accountability for me. If I put it out there that I’m going to do something, then I am much more likely to follow through. If I have an audition, the accountability with my agent and the casting director is built in. I need some form of accountability for my daily practice(at least I did to get started).
  • Time to memorize. Or at least get familiar with the words. I have learned to audition with script in hand, without staring at the page, but sometimes(more often than not) the better you know the words the better you will do. While my focus was on doing the character prep work, I didn’t dedicate as much time to memorize and I could tell. I am learning some new memorization techniques and I think that will help me, moving forward.
  • Figure out the technical requirements. I know that I have to figure out what the scene/monologue will require physically and rhythmically. That takes some trial and error. That’s where self-taping is very handy. Something I think reads on screen, may be completely lost.
  • Emotionally connect with the relationship, truth and need in the conversation. In Annie’s class, we work on being able to connect to the conversation with only 40 minutes and then with 48 hours. Obviously, 48 hours gives more time to find a deeper connection to the relationship and words. For the most part, I was only giving myself about 40 minutes in the 100 day project. I started to miss sitting with it for longer and having the freedom to explore, image, and create.
  • Time to make it my own. After I’ve done all of the above, then I feel like I can finally discover some things that are a unique perspective that only I have. I might come up with some of that off the first read, but more likely it will come with a bit more familiarity and experimentation. Also, the more I practice, the more quickly I can find those things that make it uniquely mine.

Now that The 100 Day Project is over, I know that I have created some excellent habits and carry more knowledge and experience with me moving forward. I may not be posting a self-taping video every day anymore, but I will be working daily on my craft. Again, so many thanks to Elle Luna and The Great Discontent for organizing this group of artists across the globe. I had so much fun and connected with such a great community of people through this project. May the creating continue!

 

To view my journey through The 100 Day Project, go to my Instagram feed and search #100daysofselftaping.

The 100 Day Project – 25 Days

I am 25 days in to The 100 Day Project. YAY! I am so glad that I started doing this and am grateful to The Great Discontent for initiating this. They say that it takes 21 days to create a habit. Well, I’ve passed that landmark! Woohoo!!! I think even after the 100 days are over I will still self-tape on a regular basis, even if only once or twice a week. It is such good practice. Here are a few thoughts that have emerged since beginning this project.

  • Self-taping doesn’t scare me anymore. My agent asked me to tape an audition the other day and my first thought was, “Yeah! Let’s do this.” Rather than, “Ugh. Okay. Let me figure this out.” When I had to tape an audition before, most of my focus went to the logistics, rather than the story I was experiencing. That is no longer the case.
  • Resistance to doing the work will always be there. On the days when it was stronger, instead of being defeated by it, I let it inspire me. One day when I wasn’t particularly feelin’ it I read Dr. Suess’ “Oh, the places you’ll go!” Some of those words I needed to hear myself say outloud. There was also a lot of satisfaction in just overcoming the resistance and doing something!
  • I am so glad I’m also taking Annie Grindlay’s acting class in which I am taped once a week and getting feedback. That is pushing me and giving me some areas to work on, on my own.
  • I am more aware of my strengths and weaknesses, in a good way. Along with getting feedback, on my own I can see where I’ve had some great moments and where I need to grow.
  • I’ve made some delightful discoveries. One being my improvised Awkward Office Lady… which you just might be seeing a bit more of.

I’ll be writing more about this, maybe at 50 and 75, but definitely at 100 days. If you haven’t already taken a look at my journey so far, you can go to my Instagram account and search #100daysofselftaping. You should also check out the thousands of other 100 day projects but searching #The100DayProject. It’s been really cool for me to share in this experience with other people and not just be in it on my own. Alright, 25 down, 75 to go!

How can I help you?

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Bill Coelius

Recently, I took a commercial acting class with Bill Coelius, who has done over 40 national commercials and several cos-star roles on major series. (I highly recommend him as a teacher, by the way!) His life philosophy is lived out in asking the question(out-loud or silently), “How can I help you?” He uses this attitude of service in everything, especially acting.

How much would that change how we live if we could put that into practice?

For one thing, I believe it would change how we approach auditions. Instead of being focused on myself, how well or horribly I am performing, or how much I think I need this job; I can place my attention on the other people in the room. I’m less self-conscious and stressed; it makes me a better listener, scene partner, and actor. As I’ve put this into practice, it has lessened the pressure I put on myself. I am there to help the casting directors make their decision. If I happen to be the solution to their problem, then great! If not, then I know I helped them (and possibly the other actors) along the way. Either way, it’s a win!

Outside of our auditions, I have experienced how this philosophy improves many artistic relationships. Helping each other out builds trust and loyalty. Theatre and film are both highly collaborative arts. Where would we be without the people who helped us along the way? The more we can practice giving, the more we will connect with people and find the relationships which keep on giving. That sounds corny, but I think it’s true. I think of the places where I’ve given a little extra, volunteered when I didn’t “have to,” and been generous with my time; usually something good comes out of it.

Take this philosophy to all your personal relationships and you could have a revolution on your hands!

Of course there is a disclaimer here: There is a difference between service and servitude. We have to be able to recognize when our service is being abused. When that happens, walk away.

So, here we go. How can I help you? How can we help each other?

5 Factors of Fringe

I started reflecting on my experience doing independent/fringe (in this case-read unpaid) projects, specifically Julius Caesar. Often these types of projects can be absolute disasters, but Julius Caesar was not. This was an ensemble experience for the history books(my history book, anyway)! I am generally wary of fringe theatre. I have all but stopped auditioning for unpaid shows. It takes a play that I love or a company I know to get me to take a chance. For this one I did it because it is Shakespeare. I only took the role, because of the 5 minute interaction I had with the director in the audition room. I had this feeling that she really knew what she was doing and that I would be safe in her hands.
Still, even if the director gives off a good vibe, you never know if they’ll show their crazy later on. You also have no idea who else will be cast and how they will approach the process. There are so many variables, so many things that can go wrong, that those of us who have seen them go wrong many times, stop taking the risk.
But Julius Caesar was different. Not perfect, but one of those experiences that reminds me of the incredible potential of ensemble creations.

Julius Caesar with Handwritten Productions
Julius Caesar with Handwritten Productions

The following factors are what I think made it great!

1. Commitment
It is special when there is an agreement among individuals to meet and create something which would otherwise be impossible. This especially astounds me when it is a group of strangers and no one is getting paid.
2. Talent
Perhaps this goes without saying. In addition to the traditional meaning of the word talent, I would add a curiosity and eagerness to explore. Talent without curiosity is dead. Curiosity without talent is lost.
3. Vision
I have been in plays with committed and talented actors, but without the light to guide them, confusion and/or chaos ensues. With vision, I count organization, clarity of thought as well as artistically mapping the course of the project.
4. Respect
Without respect, there is revolt. (Respect of time, of personal cost, of talent and individual contribution.) As mildly mannered as I am, I have revolted a couple times when I did not feel respected in a cast. Money or not, without respect it is easy to lose the passion with which you started. Without the passion, you can easily lose the drive and then the commitment follows quickly after.
5. Decisiveness
It’s all great having a bunch of wonderful ideas, but if you can’t ever settle on which one to use, the vision is diluted and the process and product suffer.

When all of these factors are at play, I believe beautiful art can be made.

Since writing this bog about Julius Caesar I also participated in the 8 Hour SIFF Film Challenge and the 48 Hour Film Project and I would say that the same rules apply. What about you? Would you add anything? Take anything away? What have been your experiences?

About Quitting

How many motivational posters, slogans, and stories have we heard? Never quit. Don’t give up. Just do it. How many times did all those famous people fail before they succeeded? As much as that makes me feel better about my failures it doesn’t make me think I will be so lucky. Not everyone “makes it.” stash-1-5020355b9ac95That’s a fact. If everyone tried as hard as these success stories, would they make it? No. That would be impossible. The very nature of “making it” is being at the top and of course not everyone can be at the top, because then it wouldn’t be the top anymore. WE ALL CAN’T MAKE IT. No one ever tells you that. Most of us won’t get to the place we want to be. What then?
A lot of this motivational advice comes from people who have made it. Of course they can give this advice, because they’ve made it. But what about those of us who have done everything the successful ones have done and we haven’t made it.  It’s like those married people who tell the single people, “Just you wait, it will happen.” or “When you know, you just know.” And all you want to do is punch them in the face! Some things are just out of your control. You can’t just live your life waiting for it to happen. Every contented single person I know who would like to get married someday is living life, making plans without that certainty. Of course there is still disappointment when a potential relationship doesn’t work out, but without it a very happy and fulfilling life continues. Can I approach acting the same way?

In my career, I find there is a chasm between where I want to be and where I find myself now. When I recognize that that gap isn’t getting any smaller, I find it difficult to keep going. And how can I be content, keeping this goal in front of my face without being able to grasp it? Sometimes I feel like this:

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Why am I doing this?

Lately, I’ve been really discouraged. Faced a lot of rejection. It makes me wonder if it’s all worth it. How much money have I spent on gas, classes, headshots (and the list goes on)? How much time have I wasted because I was trying to keep my schedule open for auditions? I’ve given up on having a regular well-paying job. I’ve made sacrifices (including missing weddings and not going on vacation) for this career and where am I? I’ve devoted years to this and I’m still only getting paid for MAYBE one show a year. The rest I am doing for free. The other shows that I get a stipend for barely pay for my gas. Why am I doing this? I had hoped to get to the professional level, but I feel very little progress in that area. Every time I think I might be close to that next tier, I get another “We went in a different direction” letter. Will I ever make it?

If I’m not making it, why do I keep going? I’m starting to question my commitment. I’ve told myself I would never quit. Is that just because our culture shames quitters? Is it just “fate” that is keeping me going? Acting seems to always find me. I can’t stay away. Yet, I have this love/hate relationship with it: I love the work; I hate not getting cast and it discourages me so much that I consider giving up.
I suppose that there are a few reasons why people quit.

  1. You don’t want to look like an ass (see above).
  2. You face resistance, fear, challenges and start to back down.
  3. You figure out that other things are more important.
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It’s ridiculous, isn’t it? We believe so strongly that we need art; the world needs art, so we keep going. We starve, we sacrifice, we hold on because of a feeling, a belief that it is all worth it. Is it?

Although #1 is true, I’ve had just enough nibbles on the carrot to keep me going. Yes, #2 has been tempting, but looking back I know that I have or can find what it takes to face them and break through. #3 is the kicker. This is what I’ve been sitting with all week. Is there something that is more important? For that matter, what is so important about acting? Would I continue auditioning and acting for the rest of my life if I never got paid another cent? Would I continue even if I never got into my goal theatres or onto my target TV shows?  I need to know what I want in return. Is it money(because I’m certainly in the red on that one)? Is it personal fulfillment? Is it a contribution to the community at large? Is it fame?

An inspirational graphic by Bill Watterson has  been going around lately. I love this idea. It is the the reason I haven’t pursued anything that I thought would make me a lot of money. I want art to be a part of my life no matter what. However, what if you give up all of these things that the world says we need, and yet you still don’t get those things for which you made these sacrifices?

It’s been a week since I wrote the first part of this blog. While I’ve been contemplating all these questions, I’ve been in rehearsal. You say, “You mean you’re complaining, doubting, and thinking about quitting while you are actually IN a show?!” Yes, yes, I am. You see, this show (not getting paid, at a fringe theatre) is not where I thought I’d be at this point in my life. Perhaps I’m greedy and ungrateful….Yes, I’ll grant you that. Even more reason for me to reflect on where I am and why I am doing this. This week, a few things caught my attention.

  • When my director pointed out that this play is only happening because we all agreed and committed to making it happen.
  • Through collaboration, I am still surprised by the magic that results.
  • Story is powerful.

As I sit here, trying to explain what happened this week to give me hope, I can’t put my finger on it exactly. Some experiences are beyond words.

These are glimmers of why I starting doing this in the first place. Perhaps that is all I needed. Am I quitting? Not today.