Unexpected Turns

I just discovered that I love directing!

This is after a lifelong love of acting.

I had never even considered directing. Always thought I didn’t have the brain for it.

(And who knows, maybe I don’t.)

But a fellow actress recently asked me to direct her in a one woman monologue play, and though I hesitated at first, something in me wanted to.

That part was almost drowned out by the voices that said what was I thinking? Who am I? I’ve no formal experience directing.

(Never mind decades of being directed, studying theatre and acting. Never mind helping fellow actors countless times stage and work on their auditions over those decades.)

But somewhere in the midst of the cacophony of negative voices, I felt a curiosity, an interest in the play, an interest in the actress who asked.

And so I said yes.

And it turns out, I am loving it.

Now, I have no intention of stopping acting.

But.

I want to continue exploring this new perspective within acting alongside my acting pursuits.

I want to do more directing!

Who knew?

(I’m so glad I listened to that quiet little voice.)

A Wrinkle in Mine

I recently got sent to a casting that actually welcomed wrinkles.

(Full disclosure: I am still not sure how I feel about being invited to attend the casting!)

Here is the actual wording of the casting notice:

These men and women are portraying people who were leftover hippies in their youth. They were drug users back in the day; this is how they contracted Hepatitis C. Bright Eyes are important. Somewhat weathered faces would be beautiful.

Now, there are some pretty “out there” notices that come across one’s computer. I have seen some real doozies. The wording used for many women’s roles can be pretty atrocious. (Also, those dealing with race and skin tone.) There is actually a blog that collects such notices, to “out” the people writing such sexist descriptions called Casting Call Woe.

This issue has gotten some press over the last few years, and there has been a commitment by some in the industry to do better. Rachel Bloom took a poke at this with a hilarious-in-a-sad-but-true kind of way in a well-publicized tweet in 2016.

I think the above notice handled things pretty gracefully, I think. It is unusual for “weathered” and “beautiful” to be in the same sentence in the advertising world. Knowing the casting director for that job, I am not surprised that the notice was so sensitive. If only they all were.

I have come along way in choosing to move through the remainder of my time on this planet with dignity, passion, grace and creativity. I am committed to being a part of changing the way our society views aging and older people.

And yet, I get called in for such a casting, and I admit it: I am relieved that I was not cast.

Sigh. I guess I have more work to do around this issue.

Inspired by The Daily Post Daily Word Prompt: wrinkle

Pay It Forward

Commit yourself to a mighty purpose.

– H. Jackson Brown, Jr.

I was saved, in large part, by reading and acting.

Growing up, my friends, my hope, my pleasure, my education all came from what I watched and read. As this was before the internet, this meant books, magazines, television shows and movies.

I had friends, sure. And a family. But I didn’t trust most people, with good reason due to early trauma. So I turned to other resources for help. To what was available to me as a child: books and television.

Through them, I could enter into other worlds and become a part of them. This saved me from the intense loneliness I felt, the extreme “otherness.”

I have no doubt that were it not for books and movies, I would have descended into a kind of madness that might not have turned out so well.

Fortunately, I had a library and a television at my disposal. They brought me works that gave me hope that another life could be made for myself. They gave me company. They gave me connection.

Today, as I navigate my life as a performer and as a writer, I can think of no higher purpose for myself than to create work that can do the same for someone else.

I am on a never-ending quest to examine and understand both the light and the dark sides of human behavior. I’m drawn to works that explore and celebrate the human spirit. Stories of how people rise above the problems of life and the human condition to make change and follow their hearts. I have a soft spot for the seemingly ordinary moments and people in life: the underdog; the unsung heroes; the quiet, small moments that can sometimes hold a lifetime.

It’s my mission to collaborate deeply and bravely as an actor and singer with all of the people who make up a production, so that together we can create stories to inspire, educate, elicit, and evoke. To wake people up so that they may live life more fully and authentically and to embrace their lives.

I also volunteer as a reader with SAG-AFTRA Foundation’s BookPALS program. I read storybooks to kindergartners in hopes of sparking a lifelong relationship between children, reading and books that I hope will help them navigate the murkier waters of growing up, of life.

That is my mighty purpose. What is yours?

Inspired by The Daily Post Daily Word Prompt: mighty

Freefall

I love to jump off cliffs.

This runs antithetical to just about every way I was conditioned growing up.

I come from very fearful people, stoic Protestants who practice “keeping things in the family,” “never let them see how you really feel,” and “stick close to home.” Cautious, careful, deliberate action-takers. Spontaneity? Not so much.

I never questioned it growing up. It was normal to me. Things like traffic and weather dictated activities. Never let them see you cry. Don’t show weakness. Therapy might as well have been witchcraft.

It is imbedded in my code, this desire to avoid potential problems. This fear of something bad happening if you are not careful at all times.

And yet.

I am no adrenaline junkie or extreme sports athlete. While I do enjoy a good rollercoaster ride now and then, I have not been ticking off a list of things I must do such as skydiving and bungie jumping, though if the occasion arose I might do those things.

But.

Years ago, at a quarry in Vermont, I discovered that inside me is a kind of a dare devil all the same. That there are times I want to take risks, when I must, in fact, take the leap.

I love to stand at a precipice and then jump off into a deep body of water. I just love that sensation in my body as I step off into the air, my heart in my throat as an unheralded scream of joy-fear comes out of my mouth. Those moments of being totally free and falling through the air are just so life-filled, so in the moment. I experience the rush of my own full life force. There’s a feeling of being at one with something outside of me and yet within myself all at once. And then, the landing into the water. Being encompassed, becoming one with it in those moments in the muted depths before surfacing. Astounded at having been saved once again.

Maybe those moments are my church, my sanctuary.

For those seconds I am not thinking, not watching, not taking care.

I just am, and I am far from alone, and it feels great.

I know that experience now, and I seek it out in other ways. In my work as an actor. I feel that same way when I fully invest in my character and truly lay deeply personal life and death needs on the line and take that same kind of leap into the scene. My partner and I leap into the air of the play and sometimes find astonishing moments of true experience together. Surprises, places unexpected. When it is over, the same astonishment and gratitude for having landed safely. This is also my church, my sanctuary. It, too, is holy.

My early conditioning and the family encoding have not gone away, maybe never will. I can still catch myself getting very anxious when it is raining hard and I am in the car with my husband, feeling as if we should go straight back home. I carry unwarranted dread around at times like a Pashmina shawl. It can feel comforting and necessary.

But that’s OK.

Today, I consciously choose times to allow my spontaneity to take the front seat, put caution and fear in the back and assure them that “I got this.” I look for more places to find my free-fall worship, and I’m so grateful that I do what I do for a living.

Acting as I know it is not for the feint of heart, and I am honored to embody the lives of people who are fighting to live better lives, love more fully, taking risks to get what they need.

For them, and for me, I am happy to take that step off into the air and see where it takes me.

#freefall #risk-taking #acting

Inspired by The Daily Post Word prompt: precipice

 

 

 

Spike

One of the more interesting “day jobs” I have had as an actress was selling products on one of the major home shopping channels.

Or should I use the official term “guest product specialist?” Sounds more important, right? “I was a Guest Product Specialist.”

At the time, green and eager, I was thrilled when my agent told me I had booked the gig. It would be a challenge! It would be live television! I glossed over the fact that I was essentially a sales person. I was going to be live on television and that was exciting. (And scary.)

The studios were located outside of a small town in the Tri-state area. I lived in Manhattan, so that meant a 2- 3 hour drive there and back for each airing depending on traffic, but I didn’t mind that. I loved traveling for acting work. It made me feel sophisticated, like a true “working actor.”

So what if some of those airings would be at ungodly hours like 4:25 AM? I was a professional! This was exciting!

I went through the training that the home shopping channel requires of all its potential “guest product specialists.” Some of it was on-line, essentially to introduce us to their approach to sales. The final part was a trial on-camera segment with one of the real hosts. When the trial came, I was so nervous, but the host I was paired with was just exactly how they seem on the channel: she was great at her job and charismatic enough to make me feel like I was her very best friend in those minutes together on-camera.

Described as a kind of dance, the synergy between the host and the guest specialist is very important to a successful home shopping channel sell. As the guest specialist, you are coming into the hosts’s “home,” so they are given the lead, but as the specialist, you are the one with the details and the passion. I felt like I was in a spell under the capable host’s lead. What was an 8 minute segment flew by in a blur that felt like 2 minutes.

After reviewing my taped segment with a producer, I was told that I passed. I was ready to start going on the channel to sell my product live.

And so my home shopping channel career began.

One of the products I sold was used in hot weather months. It was a personal comfort item that was used to help cool the body in the heat. So my sales pitch included a large table, several mannequin heads and some lucite display trees. I brought the heads in a rolling suitcase, as well as samples of the product, but the table and the lucite trees I had to hunt down and borrow from production for my segment. I’d find what I needed and set myself up in the assigned studio, then go to hair and makeup, and then sit in the green room to await my pre-sell 1- 2 minute meeting with the host to go over the features of my product.

Hair and makeup was a hoot. Sometimes I would be in there at the same time as one of the celebrity guest product specialists (think Joan Rivers or someone like that) or one of the top-selling guest specialists who had become the stars of the home shopping network because they’d sold millions of dollars’ worth of their product on the channel. A part of me could not help but be in a bit of awe of these people. Everyone else certainly acted as if they were awe-worthy. These were the homecoming kings and queens of this microcosm, and they knew it, too.

Many of the other quest specialists had worked hard to get their product on the show. I was in awe of them as well. Some had invented their product and this was their shot to “make it.” I could sense that in some cases, everything was on the line for them: all of their hopes and dreams of making a good living at this, and who knows what else?

There was always a mix of us waiting to do our thing. Everyone was jacked up no matter the hour.

I especially loved doing sells in the middle of the night because the studio was being run on a skeleton crew and it felt like I had the run of the place. It was a super high to sell when it was in the selling shank of the day and things were buzzing, but the quiet of the darker studio suited my pre-sell jitters. I could get very grounded and prepared essentially on my own. Sometimes it seemed hard to believe that a sell was actually going to happen, it was that quiet and dark. But just when I’d begun to panic that maybe I was in the wrong location, a camera person would show up, the lights would flood on and at the very last moment, a golf cart would zip the host over from some other part of the studio and we’d start the dance.

I had a demonstration, or “demo” in my sell: a bowl containing one of the ingredients of the item I was selling. I would plunge a thermometer into the bowl to show to the television audience that this item would cause the temperature to plummet, a definite plus in product promising relief in hot weather.

I would come to learn that these demos where key to a successful sell.

I would also learn that the hosts were juggling many different things as they danced with the guests specialist. They were in constant communication (as was I) via an earpiece in one ear with the producer who was running the show. But they also had an earpiece in their other ear and were also hearing simultaneous real time feedback from the line producer.  So the host was having a live on tv conversation with me, while also taking information from the producer and the line producer. If there was a caller on the line, that added a fourth dimension to their roster. These people had to be able to be incredibly focused: their ability to keep so many balls in the air in their minds and seem totally present and charming at the same time was quite amazing.

The line producer would be keeping an eye on sales as the sell progressed, and if there was a spike in sales, they would tell the host, so that the host would know what out of what we’d just done or had been talking about had moved people to pick up their phone or get on their computer and buy. The host would then go back to whatever it was in an effort to spike the sales again and again.

Maybe it was the mention of a particular specific use for that product, or perhaps I had painted a picture with a particular word that had ben particularly affecting. Maybe it was the plunge of the thermometer into the bowl – the visual of the digital temperature going down. Maybe it was the host putting the product on and responding with an “Oooohhhh, that feels so cool.”

You wanted those “spikes.” You knew if you were getting spikes you were getting sales, and sales, after all, were the name of the game.

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You’d finesse repeating whatever it was that had created the spike, whilst trying to appear in the moment of whatever conversation point you were in. It was a delicate part of the dance, and it was exciting, because you knew those spikes were making or breaking the success of the sell.

When it was over, I’d pack up my product and my mannequin heads and then go back to change back into my street clothes, eager to see how successful the sell had been. The people who hired me would have watched, and they’d have feedback and criticisms for me. What had I not gotten in? Where could I have taken more charge and gotten more of my points in over the host’s lead? That part was a bit nerve-wracking, as I had to abide by the shopping channel’s philosophies and yet serve my boss’ needs as well. Sometimes the two philosophies were at odds and I was in the middle, so I had to finesse the gap.

I was always grateful when it was all over and I was heading back home. It took a lot of energy and preparation for such a short “performance.” But I did love doing it all the same. It was a challenge, and I learned a lot during the year and a half I did it. It definitely helped me learn how to stay in the moment under high pressure. I developed terrific focus and concentration that has served me well for all my other acting work, particularly on-camera.

I look back now sort of in awe of myself. I jumped headfirst into that world, and I was pretty good at it. I was jumping off the skinny branches each time I went out for the dance to sell that product, and even though it was nerve-wracking every time, I have to say I loved the sensation. It was a rush.

But eventually, I got a tour of a musical that would have me away for the selling season. And thus, my career as a guest product specialist ended.

I sent back the mannequin heads and the samples, ready to embark on the next thing. But I carry with me that love of the spike, that desire to feel that jumping-off sensation. Not a bad thing to seek out, that feeling of being totally alive and in free-fall through the air, only to find that you can, indeed, rely on your own wings to get you to the next landing place.

#actorslife #dayjobs #salesjobs #takingflight #spike