Just what is a no?

No is a pretty powerful word.  When we are growing up, it stops us from putting our hands on a hot surface, keeps us from eating all our candy at Halloween and as a teenager, creates wails of agony, foot stomping and cries of “you just don’t understand” when it follows a request to hang with the crowd.  We learn pretty quickly that no is not a good thing.  Avoiding a no becomes an eternal quest.  Anything to feel that disappointment or shame from hearing it.

When you choose to become an actor, no becomes in intrinsic part of your world.  It’s not often expressed verbally but you know the no is there when you don’t get that call back or the shoot date comes and goes and by golly you weren’t on set.  Or heaven forbid, you don’t even get the call in the first place.  Ugh.  It’s hard not to take that personally.  Especially when the product you are behind 100% is yourself.  And if you hear, or don’t hear but it’s implied, no often enough, you start to believe it.  I’m not right.  I’ll never get hired.  I’m just not good enough.

I had an AHA moment recently when I heard something about the word no and it hit like a 2 x 4 between the eyes.  No is just a result, it’s not a judgement of me or my talents.  So while it’s not the result I wanted, it is nothing more than a result.  And I can take that result and refine whatever it is that I’m doing so I get closer to the result I do want.

Taking the judgement and rejection out of no really helps dull the sting.  It is merely a notation in the grand experiment of life that gets you closer to the yes you want.

Living Through It All Again

It’s been a really tough couple of weeks.  My focus has been awful, sleep has been interrupted at best, my emotions all over the place, I can’t write anything for lack of concentration and my productivity non-existent.  It started in a subtle way and was hardly noticeable but before I knew it the wheels had come completely off the bus and it was a train wreck of chaos.   I couldn’t figure out what was wrong.  Maybe it was the change in the seasons.  After all, we’ve been living with tropical storm winds for over 72 hours now and it was starting to get on my nerves.  Maybe it was my moon was in Virgo and Pisces was in retrograde.  Maybe it was my biorhythms (remember those?!)

Whatever it was I kept plowing ahead feeling like I had a lead shoes on my feet and a kryptonite helmet on my head.  Nothing was coming very easy.  Everything was a challenge.  It was really starting to get to me.

But last night I was awoken yet again at around 4:09amish but this time I remembered the dream I was dreaming just before I woke up.  I was being laid off all over again.  There were a few minor details that weren’t the same, like for some reason my Mom was with me and what I was cleaning out of my files included lots of bags of vegetables and a squashed PB&J sammie which I never took to work, but everything else was the same.  Except for one vital thing, this time I wasn’t happy to be leaving to start my new life, this time I was anxious and worried.

AHA!  Finally some enlightenment.  You see the past several weeks I’ve been looking for new health insurance.  I stayed on my old plan because it was really good and surprisingly wasn’t super expensive.  But now I’m making the last break with my old life and it’s a biggie.  I never realized how difficult it is to compare and select plans because for so many years I just picked between the 2 plans my job offered.  Now I’m having to do all the leg work and evaluation by myself and apparently I’m a lot more anxious about this than I thought I was.  What a relief to finally realize what was holding me back and to identify the dark cloud in my mind.

I think I’ve found a few plans that I’m interested in.  Once I get that done I’ll be able to get back to my new life with excitement, hope and energy.  It’s funny how something can weigh on you and you don’t even know it.  But it sure is great to figure it out and take the boogy out of the boogy man.

Noteworthy vs. Noticed

The Midwest Independent Film Festival is a film festival with a twist.  Instead of running for a week with an insane schedule of movies to try to see, it runs once a month and focuses on films either shot in the Midwest or made by folks from the 7 states included.  The presentation this month was a series of shorts done by people from the advertising community.  Before the films are shown there’s always a producers panel that talks about the film to be shown and how they were able to get it made.  This time the panel was made up of judges from the selection committee for that evenings program.  The 3 gentlemen were all from ad agencies around the city.

One of the judges was a guy named Dennis Ryan.  He’s the Chief Creative Officer at Element 79, which used to be DDBNeedham a lifetime ago.  Dennis writes a blog about the ad business called Brands Are Opinions.  I like reading it not only because I was a part of that world for so long, but also because it’s well written and it makes me think.  He wrote a posting recently that really struck a nerve. It was about the subtle distinction of being noteworthy versus just being noticed.  Dennis was talking about the ad agency world but I took it far more personally.  That stopped me for a minute.  Lately it seems like there really is no such thing as bad publicity.  Being mentioned, no matter what for or why now, is the ultimate goal.  In today’s media savvy culture that craves more and more content, staying in the headlines seems to be the goal many are chasing.  And the work you did to get noticed and become noteworthy gets shunted aside in the quest to feed the publicity monster.

I think at some point every person unconsciously decides what kind of career they want.  Do they want to do good work over and over again and have their body of work be their most noteworthy item?  Or do they want to be in the tabloids coming out clubs at all hours or getting thrown off of sets?  This decision is usually not made with any deliberate thought.  It seems to be made as circumstances sweep a person along with the tide.  And by the time one becomes aware of what kind of career one has, it’s usually too late to make a change.

Dennis’s post made me thing about what kind of career I wanted to have.  While I will admit I want to be in US Magazine at some point on the red carpet INSIDE the ropes posing in some fabby gown (hey, I can dream!), I decided I want to craft a career that consistently does good work.  One that is far more noteworthy that noticed or notorious.  I can handle a photo or two of me taking out the trash with no makeup on, but I want to be known for quality not crap.

The Gift of Aspiration

Everywhere in this world there are people who are further up the spectrum than I am.  People who have more money than me, have achieved more fame than I, are skinnier, more proficient, more talented, you name it.  But there they are, ahead of me in some way.  As I write this, I am sitting on a plane in coach 2 rows back from first class so I have a bird’s eye view of the way they get to fly. I usually sit further back on the plane so while I know first class is there, I’m not as acutely aware of it. Lunch has just been served, on china and the flight attendant is bringing around petit fours for dessert, along with a refill of wine.  I haven’t even been asked if I want to buy an overpriced snack yet.

I say this not to complain about how awful air travel has become but to highlight where they are versus where I sit.  Watching the lovely way they are being treated made me want to be up there.  To figure out a way to get in the club.  Research the challenge.  Problem solve to achieve the goal.

Having those backs to look at as I travel my path is a wonderful gift. It lets me know what I want is achievable and if they can do it so can I.  I don’t look at those who have achieved with anger or envy (ok maybe a little envy, lunch sure smelled good and I would kill for more leg room) but with assurance that one day I’ll be up there, eating lunch on china at 35000 feet, accepting accolades on my performance and finally fitting into a wee size (or at least a wee-er size).  Just need to keep aspiring.  That’ll make it happen.

Raise Your Game

My Mom and Dad have been avid golfers for as long as I can remember.  My Dad started playing when he was young but my Mom didn’t pick it up until she married him.  She also started skiing when they got married.  But I digress.  We were fortunate enough to live in a small town with several pretty good golf courses close by so they were usually able to play somewhere.  Even if for a hole or two or to shag balls.  My Dad really enjoyed the game and the release it provided him from his stressful career.  For my Mom, I think it was a wonderful opportunity for her to find a moment of peace and quiet amongst the chaos of raising 5 children.  It’s blissfully hard to answer a million questions and referee the multitude of battles when you are on the back nine!

I always thought it was great that they shared this common interest.  They took golf trips together, went to golf school together and played together several times a week.  My Mom, being the great competitor she is, really worked at her game.  She has a great eye for analyzing a swing and for putting what she learned into practice. It got to the point she could play better than my Dad, who was no slouch himself.  In fact she plays better than almost the entire male membership at their club.  There’s quite a bit of grudging admiration in the men’s locker room for my Mom’s skills.  All of us kids grew up playing, with varying degrees of success.  I like being outdoors but the time it took to play a full round was time I wanted to use elsewhere.  So while I am proficient, I haven’t excelled to the level my parents have.  But I always loved playing with them.  It was really fun and the laughs we had were priceless.  Best of all, I always played better than when I was playing in an outing or a league.  Both my parents would give me tips, and my Mom especially was great at fixing my errant swing.  I played up to their game and was the better for it.

I thought about that last night when I attended a table read for the latest project I’ve been cast in, a short film.  One of the actors there had really prepared for the read, our first meeting as a cast.  He’d really thought about all the characters and had read the script multiple times.  He’d mapped out past histories and relationship nuances I hadn’t begun to think about.  His work got me thinking about decisions I’d made about my character but hadn’t formalized.  Made me commit to certain aspects of my role and who I was in the story.  Made me work out where I was going in this story.  In short, improved my game during our brief meeting.

It had been a while since I’ve been in a collaborative effort like this.  Voiceover can be a solitary business with no one to bounce ideas off of.  I was excited leaving the meeting and reminded that I should always try to work with those better than me.  Push myself.  Raise my game.  How else am I going to get that hole in one?

Remember to Play

The majority of what we do as actors and voiceovers, I would say probably 90% of the time, is look for work.  Seriously.  Even those that are in successful shows are looking for their next gig.  At last year’s Emmy’s, Kristin Chenoweth, who won for outstanding supporting actress in a comedy for the recently canceled Pushing Daisies, commented in her acceptance speech that she was once again looking for work so if anyone had anything, please call her .  The woman had just won an Emmy and she needed a job.  WOW.  How’s that’s for a reality check?!!

Because so much of our time is spent looking for work, we rarely get to do the work which is why we got in the business in the first place!  Our days are filled with cold calling, auditioning, connecting, marketing, and hardly ever with acting and performing.  Which is why a recent exercise I did was so important to me.  I think I’ve mentioned before that a group of like minded Voiceovers are banding together and organizing an unconference called Faffcon.  The name is a made up name derived from the British term faffing about which means goofing off.  An unconference is a meeting which is unstructured in that you don’t have a speaker droning on from a podium or a dais and you are sitting in a darkened auditorium and your only participation is passive.  Instead it is a collaborative meeting with everyone as a presenter.  Anywho, one of the multitalented members of the group, Peter O’Connell, was putting together a video to help potential attendees understand what Faffcon was all about.  He sent out a script and asked whomever was interested in participating to record themselves on a video camera doing the script.  Well this got my little noggin all stirred up with excitement.  Instead of doing the 3 takes of each line so Peter could cull the best for video, I chose to record several characters that happened to take roost in my brain.  I did the lighting, the sound, the costuming, make-up, and of course the acting in each one.  And let me tell you, I had a blast doing it.  I almost didn’t send Peter the takes because I was all in my head thinking about were they stupid or embarrassing but in the end, I sent them off with a smile.  Acting is about taking chances.

I needed to be reminded of how much fun it is to do what I do for a living.  I am so fortunate that I am able to play for my job.  I just need to remember to do more of the play while I’m doing all of the other stuff that has to happen so I can play more.

A Clarification from Mr. Franklin

Ben Franklin was a man of many wise saying that still have relevancy today.  You know, “A penny saved is a penny earned”, “By failing to prepare, you are preparing to fail”, “He that is good at making excuses is seldom good for making anything else” and of course every hostesses favorite “Guests, like fish, begin to smell after 3 days”.  One of my favorites is “Never confuse motion with action”.  This one has really resonated with me, especially recently and has led to a slight change in how I’ve been evaluating opportunities.  I’m a big proponent of taking workshops and classes even if I’ve had to travel to take them.  Let’s just say I’ve never met a workshop I didn’t turn down.  I’m not that bad about it but I do take a lot of them.  I do believe there is something to be learned from any situation and of course there are contacts to be made.  I am pretty choosy about who I take classes from so I’ve been able to avoid most of the shysters that prey on the acting and voiceover community.

Recently though, my thought has turned away from learning and more towards doing.  I realized that all this traveling to take workshops really threw a monkey wrench in my schedule.  There was a gearing down and gearing up time that took energy and attention away from my progress.  And because I was out of the studio and wasn’t in town, it was affecting my ability to audition both on the mic and on camera.  I realized that while I was learning from each opportunity, what I was giving up wasn’t being paid back in kind.  I was confusing motion with actually taking action and making progress.

As a result of this, I’ve said no to several recent workshop opportunities.  I realized I needed to practice what I’d learned at all the other ones I’ve taken.  So my suitcase remains in the closet.  I’ll be attending workshops again in the future but for the time being, I’ve got my feet planted right here at home and I’m no longer confusing motion with action.  Besides, the heat finally broke and it’s heavenly here.

Transforming

Transformers 3 is filming in Chicago at the moment.  It’s a really big deal because they’re going to be here for about 7 weeks and they’re putting a lot of industry people to work during that time.  They’ve really taken over the city and they’ve infused an unmistakeable excitement all over town.  Not just the tourists are getting excited.  Even the hard calloused natives are enjoying the ooh and aah factor of it all, even if only because it gives them something new to be snarky about.  The stuff these guys are doing and the stunts they are co-ordinating is rarely if never seen in these parts.  Explosions, base jumpers, helicopters, real ammo (albeit loaded with squibs), cars and buses on fire or flipping upside down.  And they aren’t relegated to the hinterlands of the city.  All this is happening downtown at the intersection of Michigan and Wacker right along the river.

A few days ago, I wandered into where they were storing the cars in their non-Autobot state.  It wasn’t long before I was hustled out of the area by a young, but well meaning production assistant.  Seems I wasn’t supposed to be there.  Imagine that!  I was curious about the PA, how he got the job, was he local, how many days he’d worked, how long were his days.  Turns out he was local, this was his 7th day on the set and the longest day he’d worked was about 15 hours.  Most of the days were well over 12 hours as the locations they had were high traffic areas that couldn’t be shut down for long so the crew needed to maximize the time they had.  I spent about 45 minutes asking him all kinds of questions which is something I can’t help but do.  I’m a question gal.  He was a student at a local college studying film and wanted to worked in production design which sets up all the non human parts of a film.  Even on a 90 degree day when the closest he was getting to where everything was blowing up was standing 500 feet away guarding cars under tarps and answering the same silly questions from throngs of tourists, his enthusiasm for his job and the chance to be part of this production was palpable.

I have no doubt this guy will one day be working in production design.  And even when blowing stuff up becomes an everyday occurrence, he’ll still get excited about doing it because that’s the great thing about working in this business.  We get to do things everyday that people only dream about or see on a screen.  What’s not to love about this business?

The Art of Coloring

Recently I was able to do one of my favorite things in the world.  I got to spend some time with my nieces and nephews.  It’s always a blast and the energy just blows away any bad juju you have going on in your world.  I would never say dinner was a relaxing experience-more like a food triage system of trying to get nutrients into ever moving mouths and keeping butts in the seats.  But it is enormously entertaining.

After dinner one  nephew, who has recently discovered he likes coloring, brought out a huge Star Wars cartoon coloring book, you know the kind that is about 18 inches by 30 inches.  We had our choice between a box of markers, thankfully washable, and a bucket of crayons.  He and I started coloring together, mostly him, but soon his sister had to get in on the action and the attention (I have no idea where she gets that from) and I was nosed out of the picture, literally.  It was kind of hard to get my southpaw in to do any work with 2 kids sitting on my lap and the third one trying to climb up and join them.  There was much jostling for real estate between the two.  Eventually it settled down, the toddler moved off to another flight of fancy and I was able to get in a few strokes of color.  We were staying in the lines but the cool thing was we were also drawing new lines within the bigger spaces.  Colors weren’t locked into specific parts but instead were all over the board.  The big gloved hand had about 20 different colors and patterns on it.  He was promptly christened Rainbow Plo Koon.  It was beautiful in its own uniqueness.

Kids have such an amazing way of seeing things.  They don’t see the rules, the way we’ve always done something, the way it should be done or the logical progression of a picture.  They just put the color down without a thought and are quite happy with the result.  They enjoy the process of coloring and really don’t care about the outcome at all.  Auditioning and performance should be this way and it’s something I strive for every time I step in front of the camera or the mic.  Letting go of all the thoughts and the head drama seems like it would be an easy thing to accomplish but this isn’t always the case.  Next time I’ll thing of Mr. Rainbow, enjoy the process and not worry about the end result.

Anniversaries

Today is an interesting anniversary for me.  It was one year ago today that I was laid off from my corporate job as a Sales Manager for a television commercial sales firm.  Even though I was planning to leave and had been saving for over a year for this leap of faith, I was still surprised.  I sat there with a grin on my face during the meeting because I couldn’t believe my plans were coming together.  I’m sure they thought I’d gone over the edge and had security on alert just in case.  It was a surreal experience.  Not because I wanted it to happen, but because it was happening at all.  Being a manager one of my responsibilities was to forecast the month and quarter ahead.  I’d been watching the numbers get smaller and smaller as the recession tightened it’s grip around the economy.  I thought the powers-that-be would merge us with another division and keep the strongest people.  Kind of like what happened when the NFL merged with the AFL.  Instead they chose to amputate us.  I don’t blame them.  Our amputation brought them back almost to breaking even.

The funny thing is, even though I wanted it to happen exactly the way it did, I still went through a depression afterwards.  It’s not easy being told you aren’t wanted anymore and that you as an employee aren’t valued.  It took me a while to break through that and move forward to my new life.  One of the best things I did was take a long driving trip through the south.  It was a physical and timing break, a perfect transition from one life to the next.

So here we are 1 year later and I can’t believe it’s been a year already.  I am living the life I envisioned for myself, a free lance creative life full of auditions and go-sees and bookings and voiceovers.  At this point I really can’t imagine going back to corporate.  Hitting this one year mark in important because if I were to go back to my former corporation within a year, I would go right back in as if I’d never left.  Back into the health plan, the 401K and the earned vacation.  I needed to hit this mark so there’s nothing for me to go back to.  Here’s to moving forward!