Week Five- What do you want from me?

So I now have a scene nailed down. It’s a nice little scene from the TV show, Stranger Things where a character named Hopper seems to give up hope on the eve before death in a Russian prison- you know, a typical comedy scene. My goal was to:

1) avoid draining all breathable air from the room (not suck).

2) convince my teacher I had done the work.

3) convince myself I did the work

Not sucking is the primary goal of most tasks in life. I have to admit that this new generation has created more shortcuts to work than I have seen in my life, but sometimes there is ingenuity in laziness. But in my acting, there seems to be no work around. You pick you scene, research the character, get the backstory down, MEMORIZE and make it your own. Wash, repeat, rinse. Sounds simple. But the primary goal of not sucking is very much dependent upon the wild card of the audience. And if you aren’t pleasing the audience, whether live on stage or on TV or in a movie theater, your days can be numbered. Actors love to say that they made the bold choices for their character to get the accolades, which is true. But we all know that bold choices were made many more times by actors for parts that were not received well by the audience. It’s just no one remembers those actors anymore because their choices were not in alignment with the story or they didn’t make sense or…they sucked.

Now 2) and 3)  go hand in hand with not sucking. If I don’t suck, it should convince my teacher and myself that I had done the work. But the biggest hardship I have faced has not been 1), 2) or 3). The toughest part has simply been getting the part by being what the CD or director wants. And since telepathy has never been a strong gift for me, I languish prognosticating the mind of the decision makers. Our teacher, Sally, reminded us sometimes it’s as simple as the actor reminded the director of his uncle and got the part. Or the actor reminded the director of the bad uncle and didn’t get the part. There are so many factors involved that are out of the hands of the actor that I appreciate so very much the times when the holy grail for actors is attained when we are given feedback.

Feedback or notes are some of the greatest things for me. Sure accolades are nice. Who doesn’t like a pat on the back for a job well done. Even though my booking rate for commercials with Buffalo Casting is really good, I can’t think of a time when the CD, Tisha Blood didn’t complement me after an audition. But that never guarantees a booking. So when I am given notes or feedback so I can make my performance better as to what is desired by the god-like figures at the top of the food chain, I love it.

So last week when I thought I had my scene fairly set, Sally comes and upends my world by not only cutting out a few lines I loved, but she changed the prison from Russia to America and instead of spilling my guts to a former guard turned fellow prisoner, I now confide with a female former guard that I may or may not have feelings for. The dynamics shift reminded me of my first earthquake when I moved to L.A. But just like that earthquake, everything was fine and I got an adrenaline rush from the experience. Sally had  taken me out of my comfort zone and even though it was hard for me to wrap my head around her suggestions at first, she had done exactly what I wanted- she gave me notes so I could book a role.

This is what we want as actors. The hard working ones desire to do the work but also want to know from the powers that be what they are looking for so we may use our gifts to entertain the world. And when Sally gave me an earthquake shift that was uncomfortable, it was exactly what I needed.

Years ago in L.A., I read for the Marvel TV show Agent Carter. My character was a drunk at a dance hall. I learned the lines (all six of them) and decided to take a risk. The character was supposed to try to dance with the lead and in the audition, I asked the assistant if I could try to dance with her. She agreed but I eventually found that she wasn’t keen on it. I had studied dance a looong time ago so the dancing was appropriate and not creepy. But I could tell when I left the room that I wasn’t getting the gig because they felt uncomfortable with my “bold choice” (this was long before the Me Too movement and again, I was being very respectful). Last night I read an article by Sarah Finn, the Marvel casting director. She spent a good amount of time in the article saying how actors should make bold choices and take risks and even improv during auditions. I guess it helps if you are Robert Downey Jr or Chris Pratt. But that day, it did not help me at all. Perhaps I reminded Sarah of the bad uncle. I’ll never know. But for now, I am elated to have notes from Sally and I promise that I will do my best to not suck.

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