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!

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Finding the Right Teacher

A couple years ago, when I first arrived in LA I audited a whole bunch of classes and wrote a wish list of the ones that interested me the most. Then, last year I was able to take Annie Grindlay’s Advanced Intensive Audition Experience. It changed my life! Well, maybe not my life, but my acting, which in turn changed my life. With my previous training, I felt well prepared for auditioning and developing a character in theatre(in other words, when you have time to figure things out), but not super confident when approaching the limited time frame you have with film and TV auditions.

Photo of Annie Grindlay from anniegrindlay.com
Photo of Annie Grindlay from AnnieGrindlay.com

Soon after taking Annie’s class I booked The Reel Deal with this audition (even though the show was postponed, I’m still really proud of my work). Then I booked a feature film in Seattle over the summer and GRIMM last fall. Booking jobs aside, I feel more confident going into auditions and I know my acting has improved. Just yesterday, I had a coaching session with Annie in preparation for an agent showcase and I was reminded of all the reasons I love working with her. I left, having worked out the kinks, confident in my performance, and ready to have a great showcase!

If you’re an actor reading this, looking for a teacher, I highly recommend you check out her FREE Workshop/Audit!!! Hey, IT’S FREE–which not a lot of things in LA are. BUT, here’s the thing. I’m raving about Annie Grindlay, but she may not be the right teacher for you, just like I didn’t click with all the teachers who came highly recommended to me. She also may not be the right teacher for me in a couple years. I know at some point I will move on to someone else who can help me with a different area of acting. But for now, I know I’m where I’m supposed to be.

Here are a few questions I’ve come up with to help me find the right teacher:

  • Does the teacher’s philosophy connect with me?
  • Is this teacher helping me with the area(s) that I want to improve?
  • Is my acting better, whether or not this teacher is present? (In other words, is this teacher giving me tools to take home or just teaching me to rely on their coaching?)
  • Do I feel the money I am paying is worth every penny and then some?
  • Can I see/feel a difference in my acting?

Listen to your instincts. If you’re on the fence about a teacher, they’re probably not the right one. Look around. Find the one who speaks to you where you are right now. In LA, there’s bound to be at least one!

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?

A Lesson in Acting: Improv 101

I used to avoid doing improv like the plague. Why?

  1. Somehow, somewhere along the line, I got the idea that I’m not funny, or at least that I wasn’t the token “funny one” in the group, so naturally I would be terrible at improv, right? I couldn’t handle the pressure of making people laugh. Well, as any improvisor will tell you, that isn’t the point. If you are trying to make people laugh, you probably won’t. AND …..don’t tell anyone, but …a few people have actually told me that I might be kind of funny…sometimes. So I just need to get over myself.
  2. Secondly, I was afraid. Afraid of failing. Let’s face it, improv is high risk! No one knows what is going to happen next. If you can’t handle that…. you probably need to face your fear, and JUST DO IT!!!
  3. Lastly, I didn’t see how it had anything to do with my actual acting career. Well, when I got to LA and started asking people what someone needed to do to pursue a career in comedy, what was THE ONE thing everyone said? That’s right. IMPROV TRAINING.

Okay. So I decided to bite the bullet and do it! I signed up for Upright Citizen Brigade’s Improv 101 Intensive. Eight 3 hour classes in two weeks, ending with a performance.
I let go of that view of myself (funny or not), faced my fear, and learned a lot about acting in the process.IMG_0460

  • “Yes, and…!”  The basic principle of improv. Agreement and addition.  I saw this and experienced it repeatedly; if you are (artistically) fighting with your scene partner over wherever the scene is going, nothing good or interesting comes of it. (There’s a difference between the actor disagreeing and the character disagreeing. Actors disagreeing is embarrassing. Characters disagreeing is interesting.) I used to do this a lot on stage, kind of direct my scene partner, internally, and act at the same time. It doesn’t work. Commit. Be in the moment. Surrender to the story.
  • Take a point of view and stick with it. If fighting (artistically) with your scene partner over an opposite idea is deadly, having no idea can be even worse. Saying “I don’t know”  in your head or out loud always diffuses any energy the story has. Your scene partner is throwing you a ball; if you are a pile a goo, you’ll be stuck in wishy-washy land forever. Be the player that bounces the ball back! How many times have you heard an acting teacher or director say, “Make a choice!” It’s true. Make a choice and commit to it! That’s when you can play.
  • The more specific the better: names, how it makes you feel, descriptions. Details bring images alive. We thrive on images. Create pictures for each other and the audience. Same with characters from a script. The more specific we are, the more interesting a story becomes.
  • Find what’s unusual. In improv, this is how the “game” is found. However, this is the same principle with creating a character from a script. What makes this situation or person unique? Get specific. Add details.
  • If this is true, what else is true? This is the “and” part of “Yes, and…” When adding to a story, follow a logical train of thought. In improv, sitcoms, or slap-stick comedy the situation is often taken to an extreme, but it is still follows the logical path down a certain trajectory. Same with acting choices with a script. We are given specific information in the script. Ask, “If this is true, what else is true?” I used to make pretty arbitrary choices, just to be different or creative, except the arbitrary choices didn’t serve the script/story. They ended up being a distraction. The road map is there. Find it and expand on it.
  • Ground it in reality. One of the pitfalls of beginning improvisors, myself included, is going with the most outrageous idea ever, just because you can!!! This may be an entertaining idea (in your head), however, the audience starts to detach if things get too crazy or bizarre. One of our teachers said, “We always pursue pleasure over pain.”  That’s what it means to be human. Find that truthful place. As actors, all we have is ourselves. Use yourself. Connect your character and your scene to what you know. Ground it in reality and go from there.
  • Don’t pimp out your scene partner. This is a fun one. Telling your scene partner, “Show me how you do that sex position,” “How do you sing that song?” “You know that dance routine, right?” is just putting everyone in an awkward position. Basically, do unto others as you would have them do unto you. Same goes for when working on stage or in front of the camera, don’t leave your partner hanging or be goofing off in the corner. Be there for them. Saying “We’re in it together!”
  • Listen! Easier said than done. I think the key here is having an outward focus, rather than an inward focus. As an actor, it’s so easy to get caught up in what I’m doing and evaluating it. Instead, the best thing to do is focus on the other person. What are they saying? What do they want? This is a good lesson in life as well as acting.

I had a blast in this class! I met awesome people. I faced my fears and challenged myself to push through, especially when I sucked. And our performance was pretty decent! I’m proud of myself and my fellow classmates. We grew a lot in two weeks. I want more! Soon I’m hoping to take Improv 201 soon and I’ll be looking for more improv opportunities along the way. If you’re shying away from improv, maybe improv is exactly what you need to do!

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!