Not a success? Sez who?

I have entered a field where the odds are stacked incredibly high against achieving success.  Especially at this stage in my life.  Just ask any number of so called friends, former boyfriends and “‘supportive” colleagues that give great face when I talk about my ambitions but snicker behind my back at the first opportunity.  But they determine success in my field, acting, as achieving that $15 million per picture paycheck.  That’s like telling every computer or IT major that unless they achieve Bill Gates’ status they are a failure at their chosen profession.  Or every finance major they must achieve Warren Buffet’s wealth in order to be successful.  Sure it would be great, but why must we insist that actors are failure’s unless they are an Oscar nominee, in the tabloid’s on a weekly basis or pulling down 7 figures for each project?  Acting is a craft and a skill to be mastered like a plumber masters the art of pipefitting.  That’s why it’s in a trade union.  Plenty of people earn an honorable living each and every day working at their craft that they happen to love.  They aren’t stinkin rich but they are able to meet their obligations, provide for their families and enjoy a nice standard of living.  Perhaps it’s because we do it out of love that people put such ridiculous expectations on an actor to succeed.

It’s important to define for yourself what success means to you.  It’s great to dream dreams that may seem out of our reach because you never know.  But in the end, only you can decide if you are successful at what you are trying to accomplish.  No one else can do it for you.

Closed fist/Open hand

As I mentioned the other day, I was talking with my career coach Kristine Oller about my transition from full time j-o-b to full time artist and she mentioned that so many times in counseling people  in this particular aspect of their career, they hold on so tightly to what they know that won’t let go until they have a for-certain guarantee that what they are going towards will be successful.  They won’t let go of the past until they are sure of the future.  Which of course can never happen.  We can never be sure of the future.  Life is full of twists and turns that can’t be predicted.  I was in that exact same spot.  I wanted to make sure I had every base covered, every potential pitfall considered, every monetary need accounted for.  And on top of that I wanted an absolute sign that I was doing the right thing.  I wasn’t asking for much right?

The image that kept coming to mind was the one in Raiders of the Lost Ark where Indiana had to cross an uncross-able ravine.  There was no bridge that he could see.  He closed his eyes and stepped out, fully expecting to plummet to the bottom but instead his foot hit solid rock.  There was a bridge only it was disguised so his eyes didn’t see it.

I realized I had to let go.  I had to unclench my fist from the past so my hand could be open to receive what the future was offering.  Letting go is easier said than done but it is necessary to move forward.  Otherwise you’ll always have one foot in the past not moving you forward.  Let go a little and see what the universe brings to you.

The Rookie

The other day a rarity happened to me.  I had a day, it was actually the first one in 37 days and only the third one since January 1st, that I didn’t have anything scheduled outside the house.  No rehearsals, no auditions, no travels, no filming, no workshops, no errands to run.  I couldn’t believe it when I saw the break in my schedule.  I am very grateful for all the activity but sometimes just having an entire day uninterrupted is so needed and welcomed.  I allowed myself to sleep in, relishing that I didn’t have to answer to an alarm in the morning.  Even when I awoke, I didn’t jump out of bed, instead I flipped on the TV to see what the weather was offering for the day.  I surfed for a while and ended up on a movie channel showing the film The Rookie.  It’s based on the true story of Jim Morris, a high school baseball coach who, due to injury, failed earlier in his life to make it in baseball.  At age 35, in an effort to inspire his players to win their divisional championships, he said he’d try out again and went to the open tryouts of the Tampa Bay Devil Rays.  That day, he was able to throw a dozen 98 mph fastballs which earned him a spot in their double-A farm team.  He soon went up to triple-A and before the season was out, was called up to the bigs.  His first fame was in his home state of Texas with his family and friends watching him as he pitched for a win.  He was able to pitch for 2 years before he old injury returned and he retired to teach once again.

The story really hit home.  I’m always on the lookout for examples of people who made career switches late in life.  Those people that had the courage to take a huge risk when they knew how far they could fall.  Perhaps I’m looking for more like me.  Examples that were successful.  Leaders that came before me and conquered all odds to follow their dreams. I’m not as scared as I once was but that doesn’t a little encouragement goes a long way.

29 months

As I’ve been known to say, Holy Macaroley.  I was talking the other day with my career coach, Kristine Oller , whom I’ve been working with for a while.  I started with her when I wasn’t happy with the way my acting career was progressing and some of the things I’d heard her say at a conference really resonated.  As they say, when the student is ready, the teacher appears.  So I contacted her and on my next visit to Los Angeles sat down with her.  Her forte is organizing but one of the things she said that struck a chord with me is her favorite space to organize is the mind.  That really hit me.  I felt so helter skelter in my career planning.  I was going at fits and starts and really not gaining any traction.  It was at that first meeting that we started to map out the transition I could make from full time day job/part time actor to full time actor.  That day was was pivotal to me as it was the first day I really considered acting as a full time career.  It was the first time I’d allowed myself to entertain even the possibility of giving up the career I had worked at for over 2 decades to take on a new challenge.  Over the months that ensued, she and I reviewed my progress and set new targets for the next steps to take.  That arrangement continues to this day.

But purpose of our conversation on this particular date was a coffee date she was recording for her new venture and she wanted me to tell my story for those that were contemplating the switch to a full time creative.  In her introduction she mentioned that we’d begun working together in October 2007.  That stopped me cold.  We had only been working together for 29 months.  29 MONTHS! I couldn’t believe how far I’ve come in so short a time.  I was amazed at my progress.  All too often I bemoan the fact that this or that hasn’t happened and certainly nothing was happening at a pace that was fast enough for me.  I am so grateful Kristine happened to mention that date.  If she hadn’t I wouldn’t have taken the time to look back and see how far I’ve come.  I know I have so very far to go but I am so encouraged by my progress. And proud of myself.  Who knew I had it in me?!!  And who knows what lies around the corner?

This apple fell far from the tree

If you live outside of the Chicagoland area, I bet you don’t know where O’Hare Airport got it’s name from or why the ID letters are ORD.  ORD came from it’s original name Orchard Depot Field.  The O’Hare part came from a local boy, Butch O’Hare, who was first flying Ace of WWII and was awarded the Medal of Honor for his heroics.  While born in St. Louis, he didn’t grow up in here as his parents divorced and his Mom moved the family back to St. Louis.  His Dad lived here and became part of the city’s notorious past.  He was an attorney who started out running dog tracks and ended up working with the notorious Al Capone.  Capone and Chicago are forever linked.  When I studied in France during college, they’d never heard of the state of Indiana so I’d say it was near Chicago.  They’d inevitably reply with their Pepe LePew accent “oh Sheecahgo, bang bang” with thumb and forefinger extended.  Ah-the French.  But I digress.  Butch’s dad eventually turned against Capone, testifying and providing evidence to bring him down.  He was murdered by the Capone gang for his efforts.  But before that happened, Butch entered the Naval Academy and upon graduation, completed flight school as a Naval aviator.  There was speculation that Butch’s dad turned states evidence to get his son into the academy-he certainly wouldn’t be the first parent to want better for his son that he had.  Whatever the reason, Butch was awarded the first flying ace ever for the US Navy, until then a branch of the military not thought of in a flying way.  A Medal of Honor soon accompanied the Ace.  At the height of WWII, Butch was shot down by the Japanese leading the first nighttime mission ever off an aircraft carrier.  His plane and his body were never recovered and he was declared dead a year later.  Orchard Depot Field was renamed O’Hare International Airport in 1949 in honor of his courage and bravery.

I’m one of those geeky people that reads every plaque and sign I find along a path.  I love collecting random factoids about stuff.  What I took out of this besides a really cool part of our history, is that Butch didn’t let his parentage get in the way of becoming the best he could be.  He didn’t whine or moan that life wasn’t fair because he wasn’t born with a silver spoon in his mouth.  He made the best of what life dealt him and while his life was cut short, he excelled in the short time available to him.  He made the most of every minute available to him.  Makes you think doesn’t it?

Glory Days

Spending so much time with some pretty nifty college students these past weeks took me back to my own experience at university.  I chose to go out of state to Marquette for several reasons, it was Catholic, they’d just won the NCAA Men’s Basketball championship, it was urban-at least more urban than where I came from, they had a journalism school (my first major until I realized I’d have to write every single day-so not for me!) and no one I knew was going there.  High school was a challenge so I wanted a fresh start somewhere where no one knew anything about me.  Plus the application didn’t require an essay.  Did I mention I wasn’t all that jazzed about writing?

So there I was at my new school with no friends around me, no one whose face I even recognized.  In other words, be careful what you wish for.  I was lucky to fall in with a good group of people that were pretty much like me, average students, average looks, average families, average ambitions.  We weren’t the jocks, the rich kids, the cool kids, the prepsters, the brains, the theatre kids.  In short, we were average.  I was happy with my friends and loved them for who they were, not what they did.  It didn’t hurt as much as it did in high school that I wasn’t part of the in crowd but I was still aware of the cliques.

Watching the students during the filming of my recent projects I was reminded that those cliques still existed.  There were still those that were in and those looking in from the outside.  I was reminded how painful it was to look from from the outside trying to figure out how to get in.  Now that I’m old and grizzled being in the cool crowd is not even on my radar.  But that doesn’t mean I don’t remember what it was like when being accepted was the most important thing in my life.  And the most elusive.  My heart goes out to those going through it now.  It does get better with age, the pain diminishes and is replaced with all the wonderful accomplishments that lie ahead.  I’d never give up the wisdom and perspective I’ve gained for another chance at being 18 again.  Thanks but no thanks!

Getting out of bed

The other night I did something I haven’t done since my college days.  After a long day of working on a film, I’d fallen asleep on the couch around 830pm.  Pretty much a rockin Saturday night in my household.  I flipped off the TV around 9 and put the pjs on, turning in for the night.  The phone rang about 45 minutes later and it was a dear friend of mine who was joining another friend and her new boyfriend at a local watering hole.  She was so apologetic about waking me up but wanted me to join them.  I said no but offered a parking pass for my street so they could park without getting a ticket.  She stopped by a few minutes later to pick it up and it was then, standing at my front door in my pj’s, that I changed my mind and told her I’d be over in a few minutes.  I surprised even myself in my flip-flop.  As I was getting re-dressed and dragging a comb through my hair, I thought about why I was doing this.  I hadn’t been in town and available in 5 weekends, I hadn’t gone out for fun in forever and these particular friends were very supportive of me and dear to my heart.  Besides I had to check out this new beau.

I chuckled to myself as I walked the 2 blocks to the pub realizing I hadn’t done this since college.   I guess hanging out with the college kids recently rubbed off in ways I hadn’t expected.  2 hours later, having listened to some wonderful live music, drunk a cocktail or two and caught up with the girls, my decision to get out of bed and join my friends didn’t seem so crazy after all.  I had a wonderful time and fed a part of my soul that had been neglected of late.  Oh and the new boyfriend?  He’s a keeper.  I’m thrilled for my friend and at bit hopeful for me.

Youthful enthusiasm

One of the goals I’ve set for myself this year was to put together a reel of work for film & television submissions.  This would give producers and directors an idea of the type of work I’ve done.  Some people use a mix of commercials and films on the same reel but I’ve always believed that a reel should be specific for each type of work.  After all, an NBA player wouldn’t wear golf spikes to play in the All Star game.  Nor would Martha Stewart use a flour sifter to strain her pasta.  The proper tool for a proper job.  Which leads me to the need for film clips.  Since there is, at the moment, a dearth of major motion pictures shooting in the Chicago area, my quest has taken me down the road of student films.  We are home to 4 good sized schools that regularly produce film and television products, DePaul, Northwestern, Columbia College and Flashpoint Academy.  Recently I was able to work with 2 being produced out of Northwestern.  This school has a special place for me because the first student film I did (Movie Boy), my second film ever, won several prizes at film festivals.  It set the bar for me on how a student film should be produced.  Even though it was populated by 19-21 year olds, it was a very professionally run set.  The standard it set is something I look for each time I evaluate whether or not to be a part of a project.

So when I was asked to be a part of Moment Capacity, the 2010 Bindley grant film, I was expecting a good experience.  And they delivered in exactly what I was hoping.  The process was very organized and professional.  There was a plethora of very excited students working on the project as this grant gives the project the biggest budget to work with.  And while my lack of patience with students is pretty well known, I seldom found myself being challenged in this regard.  I was sad to realize I no longer had the energy they did and some of the shooting days were very long with little chance for rest.  Man-getting old is for the birds.

While on set, I was approached by another student to be a part of his project.  He sent me the script, we did a reading over the phone and I was cast.  This project, Divorce in America, quickly went into rehearsals and production as it was a short being produced in anticipation of it eventually becoming a full length production.  This was a completely different experience in that the producer, one of the most business focused 21 year olds I’ve ever come across, and the director, someone who I believe has a really bright future, chose for various reasons to go outside the university system and hire professionals for 2 several key crew positions-Cinematographer and Sound.  They partnered with a seasoned freshman actor for the other lead role and put together an extremely organized professional production.

Each project was different from the other in their approach.  But what they had in common was an excitement and an enthusiasm that was exhilarating to be around.  I can’t wait to see the final product but in the meantime, they’ve both re-energized me in my journey.  I’ll get back to it in a minute, I just need to rest my eyes for a bit.