The Life and Many Deaths of Peter Pan

Today I return to my beloved home town and jump straight into the last rehearsals for The Life and Many Deaths of Peter Pan at the Seattle Fringe Festival. I am delighted to be reprising my role as Lady Cynthia Asquith, JM Barrie’s secretary and friend for the last 20 years of his life.

As his light wanes and the tick-tock of the clock winds down, the man who made Peter Pan is confronted by the shadows of his past.  Eclipsed by his greatest creation and burdened with devastating loss, JM Barrie has forgotten how to fly.  Dark and whimsical, tragic and joyful, silly and profound – this shadow play romps through the borders between true and make-believe, journeys back to Neverland, and invites us all to remember what we have forgotten.
If you are in Seattle, please let me share this little story with you!
Performances:
The Life and many Deaths of Peter Pan
directed by Leah Adcock Starr
Seattle Fringe Festival
At the TPS Black Box
2.25 @ 7:00pm
2.27 @ 3:30pm
3.4 @ 8:30pm
3.5 @ 5:00pm

Tickets may be purchased at the door and online at:  click4tix.com/fringe/peterpan
For interviews and adorable childhood pictures of the cast(including myself) and crew, click here.

Interviewed by the Ballard News-Tribune!

As a part of being a Finalist for The Reel Deal, press releases went out to all of the local newspapers about this exciting opportunity. Seattle’s local paper, the Ballard News-Tribune, contacted me letting me know that they would love to do an interview. Last week, I was able to talk to Christy Wolyniak for about 40 minutes and answer her various questions. We not only talked about The Reel Deal, but my experience as an actor and my new production company, Light a Match Productions! Enjoy.

Read the article Here!!!

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Training: My Wish List

My perspective on training has certainly shifted since coming to LA. Everyone here is taking classes. Now, maybe you think that is because people are taking advantage of the poor actor and extorting him/her for all he/she is worth. There will always be people doing that, especially in this town. HOWEVER, there are some freaking amazing teachers in this town and you are either penniless, too timid or too proud if you don’t take advantage of learning from the best of the best. In this town, it seems like everyone takes specific or ongoing classes in leu of a bachelors or masters. Hey, I have a lot of affection for my little theatre program and the people that I met there, but I have to say that there is so much more that I need to know for my career than what I learned there.  In Seattle, it seems to me that ongoing training is not highly valued. Of course it can’t hurt, but I never got the idea that it was necessary. As long as you get cast, neither the need nor the expectation was there. Last year, because I wasn’t getting cast where I wanted to, I started to desire more training. These are the options that I found in Seattle.

  • Charles Waxberg with Theatre 9/12. He hosts an ongoing class (the only one I know of in Seattle) which uses scenes as a means by which to study the Stella Adler technique.
  • Freehold. They offer a wide range of classes from Voice to Meisner. If you have a specific aspect of your craft you want to work on, you can probably find a class that addresses it there. Often the faculty there offer coaching too.
  • David S. Hogan, Angela DiMarco and Tony Doupe with Mighty Tripod Productions. They now offer on-camera classes for adults and children. I am sure they have some other courses up their sleeves as well, so stay tuned. They are committed to raising the bar in Seattle!
  • Steven Anderson with Actorswork. Steven teaches in LA on a regular basis, but travels up to Seattle every few months to do weekend intensives.

These are the main places, that I know of, where a professional actor can study outside of college in Seattle.
In LA, I learned very quickly that ongoing training is an expectation. Agents and Managers ask you who you are studying with. The name of the teacher is less important than the fact that you are studying and improving your craft. The competition is so fierce here that there isn’t room for laziness or complacency. “YOU MUST TRAIN” is the motto. Athletes train. We should be held to just as high a standard.
As for the teachers here, I don’t even know where to begin. I have barely scratched the surface of all the acting teachers here. However, I have had the chance audit and visit a few. (If money were infinite)… Here is my acting class wish list in LA:

  • Lesly Kahn. She offers a Triage session to assess where you are at and what you should work on (with her or with other teachers in town for Improv or Commercials). Lesly is keenly perceptive and will not shy away from telling you exactly what’s wrong, even if it isn’t your acting, but some other facet that might keep you from getting cast. I left feeling like she would be able to address my specific bad acting habits and mental traps and be able to steer me in the right direction. Can’t wait to take classes from her!
  • Annie Grindlay. I visited a free workshop she offers, which explains a bit of her methodology. She addresses the acting technique through the lens of your audition experience. This seemed especially helpful to me because how to do we get work? By auditioning. If you can’t audition well, you can’t work. I loved her!
  • Stephen Book. He offers a free seminar every time he accepts new students (only every 18 months or so) to demonstrate his methodology. He approaches acting through the lens of improv and spontaneity. Over the course of two years with the same students he teaches exercises, tools and structures by which to approach scripted work. I was fascinated by this idea, very tempted to sign up for the class, but not ready to make a two year commitment. I hope to be able to in another 18 months.
  • Anthony Meindl’s Actor Workshop. I was able to audit his class and was fascinated by what I found. He teaches in almost the complete opposite way of the traditional 20th century acting technique because he bases a lot of what he teaches on science. From watching the class I am not sure what the basics are, except that he doesn’t encourage memorization and wants you to create in the moment. It seems taking the basic class is necessary to learn how he goes about his technique. It seems really intangible the way I’m describing it, but I left completely fascinated. I want to read his book: At Left Brain Turn Right. This I think will give a better idea of what to expect.
  • Improv!!! Every comedy casting person has said that improv is a must. I am currently taking an introductory class at UCB (Upright Citizens Brigade) and LOVING IT!!! The other main schools in LA are Second City, iOWest, and Groundlings.

I know there are MANY more teachers I should visit and audit, but so far theses are my top choices. Now, to make the money to pay for them…. it’s all in the priorities. One thing is for sure. I want to keep training!

Business Relationships: Trust

I was planning on writing about my “type” journey this week, but I woke up thinking about something else: relationships. I couldn’t shake the feeling that this was a much more pressing subject to write about. The more I explore LA and wonder how to “make it”, the more I keep coming back to this theme of relationships.

We’ve all heard the phrase, “It’s all about who you know.” Well, Yes and No. The longer I’m in this business and the more involved I get, I believe that is true, IF you quantify the word “know.” I used to hear this phrase and think just because someone knew of someone or had some connection (i.e. so-and-so’s nephew’s cousin’s dog needs and job and so they’ll give it to them) you had an “in.” However, I think this “know” goes deeper. It has a lot more to do with trust.
There’s a reason why directors often return to the same actors and crew, time and again. They’ve worked together, know how each other functions under pressure, and trust that future projects will have a similarly positive outcome. I have a friend who got a job because of his dad’s relationship with this production company. I’d wager to guess that the boss at the production company hired the son because he trusted that if the son was as dependable and hard working as his dad, hiring the son would be a smart choice. If the opposite were true, you can bet the son would still be looking for work. Good relationships build trust.
“Networking” has always kind of been a dirty word to me. It made me feel like I had to sell myself to people and put up with other people selling themselves to me, resulting in this superficial “network” of people using each other to get what they want. Yuck! However, as I look at the successful people(people who keep working) both in Seattle and LA, I’m beginning to see that these people have built a network of fellow artists who genuinely like each other and therefore like working together. No one keeps working with someone they absolutely hate and no one likes to be used, so how does this genuine relationship happen? Perhaps we need to reverse the scenario of networking I gave above. Instead of using people to get what we want, what if we found the people who want the same thing and work together to get there. Novel idea, right? (Not really, but I’m just discovering it myself.)  Everyone wants people around them who’ve got their back. So, take the first step and be that for the other person. And if they don’t reciprocate, then you know you can’t trust them and you move on to the next person. Pretty soon you’ll have a group (i.e. network) of people who’ve got your back and you’ve got theirs. What better way to tackle this business than with a team of people around you that you can trust?

I’m preachin’ to myself here. As an introvert, it’s much easier to sit at home and watch a movie. Then I wonder why no one asked me to work on a project. I need to take the first step and offer to help. “Treat others the way you want to be treated”, right? Every time I’ve put myself out there, something positive has come back my way. So, what are my goals this week?

  1. Putting myself out there.
  2. Finding those people who have common goals.
  3. Treating them the way I want to be treated.

My Headshot Journey

My very first headshot was taken by my dad. You should have seen the configuration of floor lamps and sheets hanging on the wall we had to make up a studio. It was right before my first audition out of college and I needed a headshot. My dad has always had CharissaJHuffa mild fascination with the camera as a toy to play with and use for the benefit of others. So, I made him my headshot photographer. For what we had to work with and the fact that my dad had never taken formal portraits or headshots of any kind, it was pretty decent! (Thanks for being volunteered, Dad!) The first thing the director said at my audition was, “You’re prettier in real life than in your headshot.” Oh! I had been so concerned with the lighting and how fat my shirt made me look that I hadn’t been thinking about whether or not the picture captured me. Maybe the picture was too dark and we didn’t catch the light in my eyes. Maybe I’d been preoccupied with the contortionist act I was performing. Or maybe it was something else, but I’d just learned my first lesson in headshots.

Lesson #1: Your headshot must look like you and you like your headshot. (Besides the fact that no one does black and white anymore.)

Fast forward. I am now having my headshots taken by a professional headshot CHARISSA ADAMSphotographer. He’s been recommended to me by one of my favorite directors. He and I have talked about what to wear and what not to wear. I’ve had my haircut a couple weeks before to let my hair readjust. I’m ready! We met at a dance studio and started the shoot. Here’s where something I hadn’t anticipated started to interfere with the process. I was uncomfortable. A middle aged man, whom I had never previously met, was taking pictures of me in a secluded room and trying to draw out a wide range of emotions for the camera. I want to be clear that this photographer was completely appropriate and did everything with integrity, but that didn’t change the fact that I didn’t know how to handle it at the time. After all was said and done, I had maybe three really good, natural looking shots.

Lesson #2: If you are uncomfortable, the camera knows it.

So, I was able to use those two or three shots for almost three years and get a lot of work. Last Summer I went to a casting workshop in Seattle with a casting director from LA and asked for her thoughts about my headshot. “There’s something not quite professional about it.” Keep in mind I was printing this headshot on card-stock (something another director had told me was ok). But there was also a difference between the style of Seattle theatre headshots and that of Hollywood film headshots. Ok. Time for new ones. Charissa J AdamsThis time I picked a highly recommended and sought after headshot photographer in Seattle who has an eye for the LA style, Susan Doupe. If you are in Seattle, go to her she is awesome! I picked out my outfits, got my makeup done and had a fabulous headshot session.
Now I’m in LA, using my quality, LA level heashots. A couple weeks ago I went to a casting workshop. The casting director looked at my headshot and gave me a scene where I play a serious government agent. After I finished the scene she said, “That was great! But I would never cast you as a serious government agent. In person you are cute and bubbly and in your early 20s. In your headshot you look like you’re in your 30s and a serious agent or mom.” She is not the first person to tell me the same thing.

Lesson #3: Makeup and wardrobe can make or break a headshot session.

Lesson #4: Know your type and how to capture that on camera.

So within six months of my latest headshot session, I go back the drawing board. Several things lent themselves to this headshot session success:

  1. This time I had my friend, an experienced headshot photographer and actor, take my shots and I really was myself with her! (Audrey Matos)
  2. I wore very little makeup (not because it over glamorized me, but it aged me!).
  3. I wore clothes that are MINE, very ME, not something I picked out just for my headshot session (one of my wise husband’s pet peeves).
  4. I now know my type (more on that later)!

Here is the result! Granted, this is only one step in the journey. I am sure that I’ll learn something else from this group of shots and know what to do better next time. It’s all a part of the journey. Enjoy!

Charissa 5

Get Over Yourself!

There is no such thing as absolute perfection, so get over yourself!

I think we can all agree that we humans aren’t perfect.
Especially when it came to auditions, I used to worry if I was the “best” or if I was “perfect for the part.” However, I’ve found this to be a useless exercise. First, what does “best” mean? MY best? My best for TODAY? The BEST person who auditioned? Was I exactly what they wanted? These questions usually only become bigger and more haunting if you don’t get the role. The answers often made me feel lacking and like I would never “arrive” at that pot at the end of the rainbow, called “perfection.”
In addition, I used to idolize those people who got cast all the time(or at least in my mind they did)! What did they have that I didn’t? A certain look? A specific education? More talent? More connections? This led to jealousy, a deadly vice. Time and again, it would destroy any hope or confidence I ever had.
Through a series of ups and (mostly) downs in auditioning this last year, I have come to a revolutionary (and quite professionally helpful) conclusion! There is no such thing as “perfect” and there is no use answering those questions! JUST DON’T DO IT! Helpful, right? I know that advice wouldn’t have helped me at the time. THIS is what did help me.
One of the biggest pieces of my journey last year was applying for the Ensemble Training Intensive with Freehold Studio in Seattle. I spent most of the Summer hoping and waiting to hear if I would be accepted into the 10 month program which would consume my life for its duration. I thought, “This is the answer to all my auditioning woes!” I was tired of not getting cast and thought this would be the solution: intense acting training, connections with Seattle theatre professionals, and a great addition to my resume! I was ecstatic when I WAS ACCEPTED! I was even more devastated when, two weeks later, the program was CANCELLED, due to lack of funds and participation. Back to square one! As I picked myself up off the floor, I tried to find meaning in the failure of this plan. This is what I learned.

  • Improve in (post performance) self-evaluation! You can’t go by what the auditors say, don’t say or whether or not you get cast. There are too many factors for any of that to be an accurate or helpful evaluation of how you did. Set a goal for yourself or pick one aspect of acting you are looking to improve and use that as your benchmark for your post-evaluation. If you met it, great! If you didn’t, you know what you need to work on for next time! (If you don’t see how or where you can improve, get over yourself. Everyone has areas in which they can improve. Seek the advice of a coach or director/actor friend you trust.) When you find areas for improvement, tell yourself….
  • “I may not be the best at ________, but I CAN get better!” I used to be so afraid of admitting a fault. If someone pointed out a flaw, I was crushed! As if, if I couldn’t do something now, I never would. FALSE. GET MORE TRAINING! There were all sorts of excuses I made for not getting more training, but it makes a HUGE difference. I thought a masters or intensive program would answer all my auditioning problems, which was false. However, desiring to improve and address certain areas was the best goal I could have made for myself. I can’t tell you how satisfying it is to have picked one or two specific things on which I wanted to improve, pursued training, and noticed a difference in that area! And lastly…
  • Celebrate your successes AND your failures! Success is not just limited to booking a job; it’s any sort of acting breakthrough or achievement of a goal you set for yourself. YOU define success for yourself: going to that audition, taking that acting class, or approaching that agent who is just out of reach etc. And possibly most importantly, celebrate your failures. Why? Because you took a risk! If you take any sort of risk in life, you will fall. Your ultimate success is determined by how you handle that fall. Celebrate your effort and risk taking ability! How to celebrate? You choose. Have fun with it!

These revolutionary ideas have made this process a whole lot more enjoyable and is especially applicable as I make my transition into the LA market! Those people, who I thought had achieved perfection, were only working hard, never quitting, and personally investing in this career we call acting! Instead of beating myself up over missed opportunities and telling myself I will never join the actor elite, I have joined their ranks, not because I am at the top, but because I have decided to work hard, no matter what the cost or the result! The joy IS in the journey!

Own it! (Part 1)

If it follows you wherever you go, just embrace it!

(…or call the police!)

The first time I acted in a full length play, it was Shakespeare and I was ten years old. From that point on, I knew I would be an actor.

I pursued theatre all through high school and college, graduating with a Bachelors of Arts in the subject. Post graduation, I started to audition. You would think my childhood determination should have carried me through, but the fear of competition and rejection held me back. I banked everything on one audition. Not getting cast, I soon declared I didn’t love acting enough to go through “all that.” It was easier to either leave acting altogether or hide in the director’s chair.

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“Laughing Wild” with The Prague Playhouse

So I left! I moved to Prague, Czech Republic to teach English. But my hiatus only lasted a month and a half. Half-way through my certification course my instructor sat me down and said, “I know you have a background in theatre. My friend tours an educational theatre company around the Czech Republic. Would you be interested?” Stunned, yet excited, I said, “Yes!” A few months later I was co-directing(i.e. hiding) and found myself standing-in for the lead actress during rehearsal. The other director confronted me, “I don’t know why you say you’re not an actor. You have great instincts! There’s always a need for more training, but never let that stop you!”

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“Camp Super Friend” at FringeJR in NYC

Fast forward a couple of years. I was back in Seattle, certain that my destiny lay in non-profit work, when a previous acting teacher asked me to perform in a Christmas show, no audition needed. Almost simultaneously a professional theatre company, with which I had interned, asked me to join their touring company, again, no audition needed. People were ASKING and PAYING ME to do this?!? That was when I finally started to take the hint!

I started auditioning for real, got an agent and continued acting professionally. However, even after a couple years of pursuing this career, I still struggled. Recently, when the time came for me to quit my part-time job, I was searching for something to take it’s place. An opportunity came my way which looked ideal on paper. I knew I was perfectly qualified, could be pretty happy taking this position and loved the idea of financial stability. But it wasn’t acting. Not only was it not acting, it would hinder me from pursuing acting fully. My heart didn’t flutter at the thought. It wasn’t my dream come true.

This whole time I’ve been afraid of commitment, making excuses and running from the possibility of failure, but this acting thing has persistently followed me everywhere I go. Someone once reminded me that “ambivalent” doesn’t mean you don’t care; it means you feel two ways about something and it paralyzes you. On the one hand, I loved acting so much; but I was so afraid of it not panning out, that it froze in my tracks.  No more! Who knows what this career holds for me, but it is sure to hold nothing if I don’t claim it for my own!

Here I am in LA, owning it! I AM AN ACTOR!

Stay tuned for Own it! (Part 2): “So, I’m an actor. Now what?”