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?

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SIFF Crash Horror Film Challenge

Last Saturday, October 26th, 2013, I had the pleasure of participating in the Seattle International Film Festival (SIFF) Crash Horror Film Challenge. The Crash Film Challenge is a bi-monthly film-making challenge: to make a short film in 8 hours. If you are looking to get experience making films, but don’t know where to start, THIS is an excellent way! Just sign up on the SIFF website (for a small fee of $10) and show up! (The next one is December 14th.) I had never done it before and didn’t have a group so I was placed in a group with all the other newbies. It was tons of fun and a great way to meet people and get more experience.

At 9am we met at the SIFF Office and got our groups assigned and the instructions for the day: write, film and edit a 3 minute film by 5pm.  The confines for the film were also drawn out of a hat:

Character: Michael M
Action: waving goodbye
Prop: a spoon
Line of Dialogue: “To be really dead, that must be glorious.”

This is what we came up with. Enjoy!

A Love Letter

Dear Dad and Mom,
Thank you for taking me to the Oregon Shakespeare Festival to see my first play when I was 4 years old. I couldn’t get enough. And all the plays that followed (at The Bathhouse, Seattle Children’s Theatre, and Taproot) kept my imagination alive! Dad, thank you for reading bedtime stories to me in funny voices. Mom, thank you for organizing our school plays, driving me to all my rehearsals, and seeing as many of my performances as possible. You both instilled in me a love of story and a belief that I should follow my heart. Thank you!

Dear Molly, Loren and Wendy,
My first drama teachers, you turned a passion for story into a love of acting! I loved being on stage. I loved speaking those words. I loved becoming the character. I loved it so much I couldn’t believe any of my friends wanted to do anything else with their lives. If you hadn’t been there, I have no idea what I’d be doing with my life. Maybe making a decent wage? Ha! But really, I wouldn’t want to be doing anything else and you got me started! Thank you!

Dear ECA (my school in Madrid),
Thank you for the experience of a lifetime, directing Arsenic and Old Lace my senior year. Thank you to everyone who helped make, what seemed impossible, possible! Sometimes I still can’t believe we did it. Thank you!

Dear David P,
I don’t even know if you will be able to read this, but I need to thank you anyway. When I was in Prague, you gave me a chance that I didn’t deserve. You saw something in me that I didn’t see in myself. You encouraged me to keep pursuing my dream, at a time when I had let it go. Thank you!

Dear Jeff,
At a crossroads in my life, you came along and guided me through. You helped me see through the fog of fear and doubt into my true desires and helped me believe pursuing them was worthwhile. Thank you!

Dear Taproot Theatre,
You gave me my first professional acting job… and you keep asking me back. Every time I get to work with you, I am encouraged and overjoyed. You are a wonderful group of people, full of integrity and creativity. It is always an honor! Thank you!

Dear Melissa,
As my agent, you have hustled and fought for me. Thank you for believing in me and opening doors to my career that I didn’t think possible!

Dear LA friends,
Thank you for housing me, encouraging me and helping me build a foundation for a career down there!

Dear Leah (and the cast and crew of Julius Caesar),
I am so grateful for being in Julius Caesar. You don’t know the depth of disappointment I’ve experienced over the past few months and how going to rehearsal every night was  a rock to hold on to. Being in this show saved me(from quitting). On top of that, the artistic and friendly spirit I have found in you, excites me for the possibilities of the future. I can’t wait to create with you again!

The Seattle theatre community,
Every community is flawed and cracked, because it is made up of human beings. I’ll be honest that sometimes you haven’t been my favorite, but for some things I owe you a debt of gratitude. Thank you to the artists who treated me as an equal when I felt less than. Thank you for giving me the benefit of the doubt when I doubted myself. Thank you for demonstrating the camaraderie that is possible in a competitive world. If we keep working together, who knows what could happen?! ART? Let’s do it!

Dear, dear friends and family,
You, who have sat and talked with me over the phone or countless cups of coffee, helping me process, mourn losses and dream dreams; thank you!

Dear Michael,
Last, but most of all, my husband. Too often I take you for granted. From the beginning, you have believed in me and pushed me forward. You have made so many sacrifices so that I could pursue this dream. I don’t deserve these gifts and yet you keep on giving them. I apologize for the times I’ve dismissed your words of encouragement, downplaying what you see “because you’re my husband.” I was throwing away the sweetest offerings of love because I couldn’t see past my own insecurities. Thank you for your love, belief and sharpening imagination. I owe more to you than I can ever repay. Thank you for not letting me quit. You keep me going!

Well, I know I have missed people. Once you start thanking people you can’t stop. It’s contagious. Think about it. Thank someone. It will make a world of difference!

Have a little Faith

Back in 2008 I lived in Prague, Czech Republic and I was convinced that my destiny was to serve the city through theatre and community involvement. To do this, I interviewed with a faith organization called World Harvest Mission and returned to Seattle to “raise support.” Like with a lot of non-profit endeavors, my next job was to inspire people to get on board with my cause and support me in any way they could.

Basically, that’s a fancy way of saying I had to ask people for money. I hated it. I felt like I was imposing on people. If people said, “No” then it made things weird (for me). I didn’t like putting myself out there and making myself available for rejection. I had a coach assigned to me who gave me an outline of things to do, including: writing and sending out letters, setting up meetings and presentations, follow-up phone calls, and then repeating the whole process over and over again. I did this for about a year.

Over that year, my perspective of this process shifted. This is what I learned:

  1. Instead of asking for money, I was initiating a 240_18150425782_450_nrelationship, a partnership in this opportunity to make a difference in the world.
  2. Not to focus on the result. The result was out of my control. I had to put myself out there. What happened as a result was secondary.
  3. Instead of thinking I “have to” do this so that I get to do what I love; I got to serve and open people’s eyes to an opportunity, which they wouldn’t otherwise have had.
  4. Belief in my cause spoke to some people and not to others. That was okay.
  5. In the midst of hearing “No” over and over again, I had to have faith in something bigger in order to keep going.

As you might remember, 2008 coincided with this little thing in our economy called the recession. Because of that and a few other circumstances (I started dating this guy…), I decided to stay in Seattle instead and pursue acting. What seemed like a year wasted preparing for non-profit work I never got to do, turned into training for my acting career. That list of things my coach gave me to do is the basic framework for networking; only, letters turned into headshots and resumes; meetings turned into auditions; and follow-up turned into postcards and status updates. And look at what I learned above, don’t those things also apply?

  1. Every audition is an opportunity to build an artistic relationship for present and/or future projects.
  2. You have no idea if you will be cast, you can only focus on the chance you have in this moment to act, play and perform. That is a gift. Getting cast is secondary.
  3. The audition IS your opportunity to do what you love, not the gateway to it! And I’m serving the casting director by meeting a need they have.
  4. You will be right for some roles and not for others. That’s a good thing.
  5. No matter what it is, to keep going, you have to have faith in something: a god of hope, the greater good, art’s power to change people, a sense of destiny, the purpose of your own gift, or all of the above. These are true and powerful things.

Sometimes I forget and I start to resent the process, wondering why I chose this winding, rocky path. It is good to be reminded where I came from, how I got here, and what it’s all about. I don’t know about you, but sometimes I need a little faith to keep going.

The Other Things in Life

I like being busy. Every quarter in college, I took 20-22 credits (normal was 15). After college, I worked a part-time job for 30 hours a week to pay the rent and was involved in shows another 20-30 hours a week. This idea of productivity and busyness is highly prized in our culture. The harder and longer you work, the better!
At some point during college, my pastor at the time, talked about the lost practice of the “Sabbath,” the day of rest. Few people, religious or not, keep this tradition in our fast-paced, advanced technology, stores open 24-7, modern world. For most of us in the theatre/film industry a day off is way too hard to nail down. For many years, I had to work the days that I wasn’t performing. Add that schedule to my need to always be doing something and resting becomes nearly impossible.

Whether or not it is a specific day or time of week, I keep being reminded that taking time for the other things in life is an important practice for a few reasons:

  • To let go! Remind myself that it isn’t all about me and what I do.
  • To spend time with people who make life worth living.
  • To be renewed and re-energized by the people/things that are the inspiration for our art.
  • To not burn out!

This is a constant battle for me, but taking time away is healthy and good. I’ve spent almost two months in LA and I still hadn’t done anything that didn’t have to do with the industry is one way or another. So, I’m purposing to take time for the other things in life, like:

  • IMG_0455Today, I took a hike in Griffith Park. I’d forgotten how much I like to hike and be outdoors. It was amazingly refreshing.
  • I’m reading a book from the fiction section, having nothing to do with acting or the business.
  • Last weekend, I spent the whole time with my husband: going out to restaurants, watching movies, cuddling. Just what we needed!

How are you purposing to enjoy the other things in life?

“The camera already loves you deeply.” –Michael Caine

“The first time you go out in front of a camera is not like going out on a first date. You don’t have to make a special impression. The camera doesn’t have to be wooed; the camera already loves you deeply. Like an attentive mistress, the camera hangs on your every word, your every look; she can’t take her eyes off you. She is listening to and recording everything you do, however minutely you do it; you have never known such devotion. She is also the most faithful lover, while you, for most of your career, look elsewhere and ignore her.”

 On first reading this excerpt from Michael Caine’s book, “Acting In Film,” I fell in love with this analogy. Coming from a theatre background, at times I’ve struggled a little with the transition to film. I’ve had theatre directors instruct me to “show” the audience what I am feeling. In contrast, casting directors for film told me my face was too expressive. I ended up feeling like I needed to dumb down or lessen my facial expressions for the camera, which only stunted the honesty of my performance. This tension between too much and too little expression was only heightened in the audition room where there is the added pressure of “proving” myself.

Realizing that the camera already loves me has completely changed the way I approach the camera, especially in auditions.  I’ve started trusting that she, the camera, will see the truth in me.  I no longer need to win her affection or prove my worthiness.  I’ve found freedom in this unconditional love. I can just be in the moment and that will be enough.

Thank you, Michael Caine, for letting me know!

Stay tuned for more acting insights from Michael Caine and others.

L.A. here I come!

It’s been a long time coming…

I grew up in Seattle, making yearly trips to the Oregon Shakespeare Festival, attending shows at the Seattle Children’s Theatre, Taproot Theatre and the Bathhouse. I fell in love with Shakespeare at an early age and was easily grasping the language and playing characters by age 9. By Jr High, it was a given that I would be an actor, in the theatre, of course! I grew up a THEATRE snob.

Following my college graduation with my THEATRE degree, I’m visiting a college friend who moved to LA to pursue her dreams. We’re sitting in a sushi restaurant across the table from her fiancé. First thing he asks, “When are you moving to LA?”  I laugh and dismiss the question. “LA isn’t for me. I am not for it,” I declare.

Fast forward a few years.  I was invited by a fellow theatre actor to be a part of the 48 Film Project, where groups compete to make the best short film, all in 48 hours. I have never done anything like this before! We met on Friday night at 7pm, just before this crazy event began. Within the hour the writers were soon typing away. We actors were on-call, with a promise to be contacted by midnight if we were cast. Midnight came and went. I went to bed, thinking I can have a calm and relaxing Saturday, only to be woken up at 4:30 am. “You are the lead! Can you be on set at 10am? Bring x, y, and z for costume pieces.” OK! Being my first time on camera, I was thrilled and simultaneously frightened. But there’s no time to panic. There’s only time to do! I went to set. We filmed my first scene. Changed location. Filmed second scene. Changed location. Filmed last few scenes. And by 7pm I was done! The director spent the next 24 hours editing and reediting the film. Finally, with minutes to spare, we got our masterpiece, ‘The Belgian Pretzel” in on-time!

About a week later, the 48 hour Film Project hosts a screening in a real movie theater and then the awards are given out. As soon as I saw my face I wanted to point and scream, “That’s me!” while at the same time crawl into a ball, just in case someone heard me. The awards…“And Best Acting goes to… ‘The Belgian Pretzel.’” WHAT?! “And finally, the one we have all been waiting for… Best Film goes to…’The Belgian Pretzel!’” Out of 52 groups, we won 5 of the 16 awards!(See complete list here.)

What an incredible experience! I didn’t realize until later just how lucky I was to be in a group of such talented and organized artists who were just at the beginning of successful careers. As for me, I would never be the same. Once you’ve experienced the magic of excellent film-making, you can never go back!

Shortly after that, I landed an audition, which gave me the lead in a short film and a co-staring role in a web series. Since then, my appetite for camera work has only grown and LA started calling my name. About the same time I fell in love and married a wonderfully talented musician who moved to Seattle to be with me. We kept saying, “We’re moving to LA in a couple months.” A few months went by. “We’re still thinking about it.” Another couple months went by. “The time just isn’t right.” Pretty soon, a couple months turned into a couple years. I will spare you all the details, but essentially, my husband turned to me a couple months ago and said, “I don’t want us to get 10 years down the road and you never got the chance you deserve. Now is the time!” And so, I quit my job. My loving and supportive husband sold a guitar, a 1960 Fender Jazzmaster mind you, to help pay for the trip and…. I’m going!

Dear LA,

I don’t know what you have for me, but I’m giving you a shot. I’ve heard you can be cruel and ruthless, but I’m hoping you’ll be kind. I will work hard and give my all, because I know you’d expect nothing less. Here I come!

Charissa J Adams