Dirt Sifting

One of my favorite blogs to read is The Simple Dollar by Trent Hamm.  He does a daily blog generally about frugality but he also touches on many other subjects.  He is a prolific writer, churning out 2 postings a day and I don’t think he’s missed a day yet.  At least not since I’ve been following him.  The other day he posted something sort of off the beaten path for him.  The value of doing grunt work, or slog work as he called it.  It’s the necessary but mind numbing work that exists in every job, whatever it is you do.  It can be data entry, invoicing or in his case, dirt sifting.   Really.  He got paid to go through dirt.  One of the most challenging things I am finding about this transition to working for myself is consistently and purposefully attacking the grunt work that exists for me.  In my case, it’s doing things like auditioning on the pay-to-play sites, sending out an invoice, writing a blog post.  Finding the concentration to just get it done isn’t the easiest thing for me.  When I finish a post, it’s a natural ending point so I break off, go out of the office and it’s 45 minutes later before I return.  Goofing off instead of going back to the list of topics I’ve identified I’d like to write about.  I do the same thing when I finish an audition.  I feel like I need a reward for completing something so I head to the fridge, or check my email for the 98th time, or get lost on the interwebs.  All because of a lack of focus and discipline to just get the job done.  I used to have the same problem when it came to doing forecasting reports but I was able to knuckle down and plow through them.  I need to find the same focus I had then and apply it to my work today.  I know I can do it, it’s just a matter of figuring out how I did it before and doing it again.   It’s not fun, but it is necessary.  It’s on the back of diligence that a strong career is forged.  If you can do the dirt sifting well, you will excel at the bigger tasks.

Green Eyed Monster

It’s not something I’m very proud of.  But I’ll admit it.  I suffer from the green eyed monster, Jealousy.  I know I’m supposed to strive to be better and to be happy for those who win.  My time will come if I’m just patient and hard working.  There’s enough work for everyone and all boats are raised when 1 boat is raised.  Yeah, right, whatever.  Sorry to disappoint, but I’m not that evolved.  The thing is my failures or non bookings keep getting rubbed in my face time and again.  The commercials, the films, the narrations, the TV shows I audition for end up on the air and I usually see or hear them.  Sometimes over and over.  It’s salt in the proverbial wound.  Or a friend takes the leap of faith and heads out to LA to make it happen for themselves and I’m reminded of my progresslessness-if that’s a word!

I get that everyone is on an individual path and timeline and mine doesn’t match theirs.  At least I get it intellectually.  That doesn’t mean the petulant child in me still doesn’t throw a tantrum more often than I care to admit.  That I don’t wallow in self pity on my couch with the remote control in hand and a bag of whatever food drug I’m using to numb my pain.  It just stinks that this is taking so long and there aren’t any surefire ways to make it happen.  So forgive the melt-down.  I’m due.  My goal is to spread out the meltdowns a little further apart from the last one I had.  Now that’s progress!

Bearing witness

Have you ever seen those interviews where the actor or actress, in answer to the question “What do you think about your performances?” and they reply, “Oh I never watch myself.  I can’t stand to see myself on screen”.  I can’t understand this.  Why would they expect someone to watch them if they couldn’t watch themselves?  It just doesn’t make sense.  Of course being the vain creature that I am, I love watching myself on screen.  I do pick apart every single flaw in the minutest detail but I get a big grin on my face when I see my mug up there.

Performing in workshops has never been an issue for me either.  For some reason, in my noggin, everyone who is there is on the same level as I am.  We are all there to work and learn.  No one is there to judge and no one person is better than the next.  We are at varying points in our career with the ensuing levels of success but this is irrelevant to me.  The fact that I paid the same as everyone else means my needs, goals and expectations are as important as everyone else’s.  This always makes me shake my head a bit as I’ve been in the room with some pretty successful talent that would make it easy to downplay myself.

What I can relate to is the pressure I feel when I am performing in front of someone I know and who’s opinion I care about.  Since I haven’t been on stage in a while, I’d forgotten about this feeling but it came to light the other day and surprised me quite a bit.  I was working with a friend on a joint voiceover project and all of the sudden I was in my head thinking all kinds of screwy thoughts.  I didn’t want him to listen to me.  Now how silly is that?  I think it was because I was voicing and I’m not the most confident about my abilities in this field.  But I need to get over it.  As the author Jessamyn West said, “It is very easy to forgive others their mistakes.  It takes more grit and gumption to forgive them for having witnessed your own.”

Not now, thank you

One of the most frustrating and undefinable parts of this business I’ve chosen to be in is the casting process.  So many times, getting cast in a project has nothing to do with your talent.  I know that doesn’t make sense because off all the training and workshops and coaching we actors continually invest in.  Those things are very important and shouldn’t be ignored.  But all that training and coaching isn’t for those who are casting but for us the actors.  It continues to inspire and inform us.  Those who are casting assume you have what it takes to do the job or they wouldn’t have invited you to the audition.  That’s something we as actors always forget.  You wouldn’t be there if you couldn’t do the job.  We need to remember that first and foremost.

What it comes down to so many times, more times than we can even imagine, is are you the voice they heard in their head or are you the face they saw when they wrote the script?  Most times the answer is no.  And that’s not easy to accept.  After all, we know we can do the part, voice the script.  We did a great job at the audition.  Why weren’t we picked?  ARRRGH!

Sorry…I digress.  What is actually happening isn’t a “no” but a “no thank you, not now”.  You just don’t fit what they need at the moment.  But that doesn’t meet that they won’t be calling on you soon for a different project.  A no in casting is rarely a forever no.  It’s just a no for now.  Eventually it will be a “Yes!  Thank you!”  Eventually.

My Imagined Life

Recently I received a wonderful gift from a friend in celebration of my birthday.  I’d become closer to her recently and she surprised me with a beautiful silver bracelet.  On it is inscribed “Live the Life You’ve Imagined”.  The funny thing is I am living what I thought the life might be but I never gave myself the chance to imagine that I would be the one living this life.  I know that sounds confusing but stay with me on this.  I realized that with all the planning and edumacating and work I’d been doing, I never allowed myself the opportunity to think about what this life would look like, feel like and live like.  And because I didn’t do that imagining, I didn’t recognize that I was actually in the midst of living this life.  My days are filled with on camera auditions, rehearsals, film shoots, voiceover auditions, casting sessions, commercial shoots, recording sessions, to name a few.  And my day doesn’t end at 5pm like it used to when I was in corporate.  My time is very fluid so the evening can be a jammed packed as the day is.  I realized this recently when one day I had an early morning on camera audition, then was back home to do some Voiceover work and was able to slip a quick nap in, then I changed and prepped for the next on camera audition, returned home to do some research work I’d been hired to do and I ended my day directing a voicetalent on an e-learning session he was doing.  It wasn’t until someone pointed out to me what I’d done that day that I realized it was a day that most people in my new business would be thrilled to have.  Thank goodness I was forced to step back and take a longer look at how I was living my life.  Otherwise I would have continued in my days not taking note of how I was spending those days.

Taking a bit of time out of my day to imagine how I want to live the next few days is time well spent.  Without it, I won’t know I’m living the life I want and then what I want my life to look like at the next step.

Relentlessness

The other evening, due to a mixup on scheduling, the class I usually take was cancelled which allowed me to attend a meeting at the Chicago Film Actors Meetup group.  I haven’t been to one in a really long time so I was quite happy with the situation.  The forum for these meetings is usually chocabloc full of fantastic information for the Chicago actor and this evening was no exception.  They were interviewing owners and instructors from various acting schools around Chicago on their curriculum and philosophies.  One of the great things about this group-aside from the fast that it’s run by a very accomplished actress and organizer Grace McPhillips-is it’s adaptability and relevancy.  The forums aren’t set in stone so if something comes up that resonates with the group, that path can be followed.  On the other hand, she’s great at reining in rabbit hole discussions that lead to nowhere.  The question was asked by an audience member what is was that made an actors successful, was it training, networking, luck, voodoo offerings to the gods at midnight in a cold dark swamp?  Actors especially, are always looking for that secret key that will unlock everything for us.  The answer came back that those in this person’s mind who were successful, where those that were relentless.

That hit me like a 2X4 between the eyes.  I’d had a not so great couple of days that were filled with frustration and no signs of progress.  I wasn’t going to give up by any stretch of the imagination, but it gets pretty tough to keep moving forward when nothing seems to be going right.  Especially when you are going at it alone.  But moving forward is exactly what I need to do and the message came through loud and clear.  Relentless is exactly what I’m going to be.

Remember that school yard game where you linked arms with your mates and marched lockstep around the playground chanting “we don’t stop, get out of our way!”?  The nuns didn’t like us to play that game.  But that’s going to be me with my career.  Sorry Sister.

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.