The Sun Only Rises Once

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Early Atwater Burst

The glimmer of the morning sun on the beach of Atwater Park in Shorewood, WI

I’m teaching a weekly filmmaking class through the Shorewood Recreation Department and today my students spent some time looking at the sun. Not the real sun. The sun in an imaginary scene. But the conversation at our table inside Colectivo Coffee wasn’t necessarily about how to light an outdoor scene. I took us in a different direction. Continue reading

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Improv for Teens: Acting & Life

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This week I brought my approach to improvisation to students at the middle school here in Shorewood, Wisconsin. The school’s drama director Joe King kindly invited me to speak to them. We all know 7th and 8th grade can be a tough and awkward time so I wanted to empower the students to make stronger acting choices and make a direct connection to other choices in their lives.

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10 Reasons to Age Characters in Casting

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I have more than a few actor friends over the age of 50 and the common complaint seems to be the lack of roles in many film projects. Not lack of good roles. Lack of roles period. The most recent comments I read about he subject prompted me to think about ways to change this situation.

I’m not using this space to take on the ageism in Hollywood. That’s a battle for other people. Instead, I want to talk to the people making independent films. Short films and feature films that get private screenings for cast and crew, end up on YouTube and Vimeo, or get submitted to festivals. I have some ideas for you newer filmmakers to rethink how you see people over the age of 50.  Continue reading

Steps of Self-Taping on a Budget

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You have been asked to submit a taped audition for a role in a film. Perhaps it’s a short film. Perhaps it’s a feature. Maybe it’s a paid gig. Maybe not. Regardless of the particulars, you’re going to want to create a process for how you will get that audition taped and get it to the decision makers.

In most markets, someone has the equipment, expertise, and studio space to record you professionally. It could cost you anywhere from $25 to well over $100. It’s always an advantage to rely on these people for quality taped auditions, but you may decide to go it alone if funds are low or there’s no one in your local area who can do it.

Now the ways you execute the steps I am about to share may change. The change may involve people, place, or thing. The people who help. The place where you record. The thing you record with. The order of the steps may be different for you, depending on your needs, but the process overall should not change. In some cases, you will be working on multiple steps at the same time, beginning one then moving onto the next before that previous one is finished.

Self-Taping Steps

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Stop Using the F Word

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It’s Spring Break here and my daughter insisted we go rollerskating at least once. I looked online for a place in Milwaukee, and when we got there I saw little rooms decorated with themes for kids’ birthday parties. The one that caught my attention had The F Word on the wall.

Okay, it’s not the one you’re thinking of right now. That would be crazy! But it’s a different four-letter word that gets thrown around a lot: Continue reading

Me-Free Marketing for Actors

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Not a day passes when I don’t see hundreds of actors post links on social media inviting us to check out their demos, auditions, Facebook pages, IMDb pages, websites, new headshots, or some other related visual element of the business. While each one of these things is important in marketing yourself, it can end up contributing to the “noise” online and fail to truly draw (and keep) the attention of peers and anyone casting projects. So I have a challenge for you and your acting career: can you create a “me-free marketing” week?

Me-Free Marketing means you don’t mention yourself in any of your social media posts, with one exception. If you’re responding to a casting notice, mention yourself. Otherwise, the entire 7-day period is devoted to marketing yourself without attempting to focus on your talents, your skills, or your goals.

How can that be done and still allow you to remain engaged on Facebook, Twitter, or any social media option you regularly use? It’s simple. You put on the focus on what interests you, what you enjoy, and what you value—without making the direct connection to yourself. Continue reading

Reinvent Yourself This Year

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In 2015, a family decision prompted me to leave a regional market where I have four agents in four cities and move to a city with virtually no screen acting. I retained my agents but could no longer appear in person for live auditions in those cities. That means I could only be submitted for roles when casting directors accepted taped auditions. It felt a bit like Tom Hands in Castaway, except I made the decision to put myself on the island and suffer.

Suffer, I did. I went from auditioning live or taped as much as 10 times a month to one taped audition every few weeks on average. It was demoralizing to feel like opportunities were out of reach. When I did get an audition, I felt so much pressure to nail it and stopped truly enjoying the process.

I didn’t give up but I certainly didn’t make much progress in the first few months after the move. But I took a lot of time of reflect on my situation. My deep thinking led me to one conclusion: I needed to reinvent myself. Staying here on the “island” wasn’t getting me anywhere. So I started a process of how my ideal life here looks. It’s quite different than the one I was living. It may be 100% different.

I must preface these next statements with the fact that I haven’t reached all of these goals yet. I’m in the early stages of reinvention. But the vision is getting clearer and clearer.

  1. Work full-time in a different field with benefits beyond income. I found work as a Special Ed aide at the elementary school level. 32+ hours per week. A direct deposit check every 15 days. The benefits are unlimited. I get to work with young students, help them problem solve inside and outside the classroom, be part of the school culture, and see opportunities to put many of my acting/filmmaking/storytelling skills to good use.
  2. Become a resource in my primary field. Not long after moving here, I hosted a couple of free workshops and started joining Facebook groups for acting and filmmaking peers in the area. This past weekend I hosted the second of two paid workshops for students and now have two more scheduled as well as plans to develop weekly acting and filmmaking classes.
  3. Find a space for my classes and workshops. So far, I have used a free space arranged by a friend and a computer lab at a high school made available by the Rec Dept of the village I am living in. Ideally, I would have a space that’s private, affordable, and multi-purpose.
  4. Write and produce films as vehicles for my acting talents. As a SAG-AFTRA member in a market with almost no union projects, creating my own work will be most useful than ever. To make it happen, I need to continue networking to meet talented professionals to add to my team and write a film or find a script that will fit my goals as an actor. It may be a short film first, and that’s definitely ok.
  5. Secure sponsorship for my workshops and other endeavors.  I want to expand my marketing reach in this area by aligning myself with reputable businesses. I send business to them; they help send business to me. They may even provide some fun samples or swag bags for bigger events.

I often think about the phrase “be the change you wish to see in the world.” I can adapt it: be the change you wish to see in your own life. Rather than waiting for all the variables in your acting career to work positively for you, it’s helpful to remember there will always be challenges beyond your control. Sometimes, and for extended periods of time, the challenges can outweigh and overwhelm the positives. You’re left with either complaining and indulging in self-pity or just finding some way, one way, to keep moving forward.

So, as 2016 proceeds, I will focus on letting go of how I saw myself last year and let myself embrace the reinvention. It gives me a better chance of creating success for myself than waiting for the winds of change to blow and send me in the right direction. Like you, I am more the person I am becoming than the person I was yesterday.

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10 Things to Remember When Hopeless & Discouraged

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I don’t think there’s an actor alive who hasn’t felt hopeless and discouraged at some point. It can drive us mad to not get auditions, not get work, not get an agent, or not get recognition. We can become filled with self-doubt and wonder if the situation will ever change. Even when the work is steady for awhile, there’s always the fear the streak of “good fortune” could change overnight. It’s no wonder so many actors resort to self-destructive behaviors during the course of either launching or maintaining a career.

So if it’s you who is sitting alone quietly right now trying to solve the problems in your head by yourself, remember you’re not really alone. There are a whole lot of actors around the globe, new and experienced, dealing with the same situation. But instead of blaming others for their lack of auditions, bookings, income, etc., many of these professionals are following strategies taught to them.

I have a list of 10 things I encourage you to integrate into your daily and weekly lives when you’re feeling at your lowest. If this is your first time reading my blog, this list will give you a clear sense of how I see an actor’s role within the industry as a whole. Take time to read and reflect on each one before moving on to the next.  Continue reading

Coolest Spot on the Ice for Actors

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I’m not an expert skater so it’s not on my list of special skills. I do enjoy getting on the ice once in a while, and a couple of days ago I took my daughter to the Pettit National Ice Center in suburban Milwaukee. While skating for a couple of hours, I discovered the coolest spot on the ice for actors.  Continue reading

“Nobody Made Me, I Made Me”

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Sherlock

Sherlock Holmes: The Abominable Bride returns to PBS stations in the U.S. on January 10

In last night’s PBS premiere of “Sherlock Holmes: The Abominable Bride”, the brilliant and eccentric consulting detective speaks a truth for every actor, new or experienced, to consider carefully. He says to his assistant Watson, “nobody made me; I made me.” It resonated with me in such a way that when I first heard it, I had to rewind so I could hear it again, and it inspired today’s message. Continue reading