Staying Enthused

I’m in the middle of a big project.  One that has been in the writing and planning stages for several months now.  It’s a web series called Mags N Mel that I’ve co-written with Maritza Cabrera and we are co-producing and starring in it.  It’s been a lot of work to get to this point and now we are halfway through shooting all the episodes.  A feeling I used to feel when I was doing a play is starting to come over me and I’m a bit surprised at it’s appearance.

When you are planning something big there is a lot of excitement and enthusiasm leading up to the commencement of it.  Months of planning, writing, rehearsing, what ifs and how abouts.  All leading up to that first day or first performance or first launch.  There’s so much energy in the air, you can feel it.  Then you start and that feeling carries you through the first day or so.  And then you realize, this is going to be a grind.  More so that I thought it would be.  And that feeling always surprises me because I don’t expect it.  It’s happened midway through the run of a play, when my closet contents are spread all over the floor and when I’ve commenced a complicated craft project.  That’s when the “ugh” factor kicks in and it’s not fun anymore.  It’s work.  I thought it was going to be fun!

We started this project for various reasons, to get ourselves in the Screen Actors Guild, put ourselves and our friends to work, create content and put our writing skills to use.  All of these objectives have been accomplished but the project isn’t finished yet.  Finding the enthusiasm and the drive not to mention the money to finish what I’ve started isn’t going to be easy but finishing it will be so rewarding.  This is usually when I wish I had Samantha Stevens bewitching nose to just twinkle it into completion!

Thousand Points of Light

One of my two favorite Brothers In Law (full disclosure, I only have 2!) co-opted a phrase a few years back in reference to my sister and myself.  It was back during the second Bush’s presidency and was taken from a speech he’d given on volunteerism.  President Bush made reference to all volunteers being a thousand points of light in the darkness of our world.

As I said, my BIL co-opted this phrase and used it when my sister and I would talk to each other.  One of the things I love about her is how fast she processes information.  She’s even faster than I am  – which of course I’m totally jealous of.  I’m so used to how fast we bang around topics that I am always taken by surprise when I meet someone who isn’t quite as adept.  It can be a bit challenging for those around us when we get started to keep up but boy is it fun when we are in full swing.  Lots of ground gets covered in those talks.  And we can switch gears midstream to a new topic, hence the thousand points of light reference, with ease and then pick up the old topic without a breath.  It truly is refreshing.  What’s really cool is her daughter is just like her and to watch her little brain work far beyond her years just blows me away.

We haven’t done that in a while.  Life, obligations and responsibilities often get in the way.  I miss it.  Maybe when things slow down we can get back to it.  I have this vision though that we’ll both be so deaf, we’ll just be having these lightening fast conversations at each other and not with each other.  That’s when I really pity those around us!

Generosity Plus Plus

This post has been noodling around in my noggin for several weeks now.  I’ve been struggling with what to write and how to write it.  You see, I recently returned from the first FaffCon, which was a voiceover unconference.  I’d never been to an unconference before and due to a scheduling conflict, wasn’t originally planning on attending this one.   Fortunately I was able to rework my schedule and get to Portland for the event.   I wasn’t sure what to expect even though I’d helped to organize it.

What happened during those 2 days was absolutely unbelievable.  Let me back up a bit.  The structure of an unconference is different in that the attendees create the topics to be discussed and the expertise comes from within.  So if I want to learn about accounting software and there’s someone in the group who’s a wiz at it, they offer to lead the discussion.  Or I may know a ton about marketing that I think would benefit the group so I’ll lead a discussion about that.  The physical structure is such that you sit in a loose circle or something close to that and move chairs around as needed to accommodate the group.

So here we were in this new structure not really knowing what to expect.  Which was great because the sharing that was done and the knowledge that I gained blew me away.  You know when you see someone who seems to have all the answers and you wonder just how they found all that out?  What was the secret key they used to open the door to the success they’ve gained?  You know it’s there; you just can’t seem to get it for yourself.

This was the type of stuff I learned during those two days.  People were really letting down their guard and showing me the way to grow my business and exceed my goals.  It was truly life altering.  I’m so glad I was able to attend and so honored that those in attendance trusted everyone else with their secrets.  I hope FaffCon continues for a long time because; to borrow a line from the organizer Amy Snively, this is the conference I’ve always wanted to attend.

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.

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.

Stepping into Liquid

The other morning I happened the catch a documentary about surfing called Step Into Liquid.  The title alone was so intriguing that I spent the next 90 minutes watching a film about a sport that I, as a landlocked midwesterner, will most likely never try.  It followed the sport all over the world.  One of the most surprising thing I discovered were all the places people surf.  Not just the expected Australian coast, or Maui, or the stereotypical California, but the unexpected places like 50 miles north of Milwaukee on Lake Michigan (we get fetch winds that travel straight down the entire length of the lake.  When they finally hit the southern end, the waves are pretty amazing).  Or off the coast of Ireland.  Or most intriguing, in the wake of the supertankers that travel from Galveston to Houston with their bellies loaded with oil.  Those guys are called Tank Surfers and since they’re Texans, with a Yee Haw as their battle cry, they are a breed unto their own.

Along with seeing some pretty spectacular scenery from all these exotic and, er, industrial places, there was scene after scene of men and women having fun.  The overriding sense I got from every surfer interviewed was how much fun they had doing it.  You could see it in their faces.  It was pure joy.  That joy brought them back time after time to the beach, knowing the minute they hopped on their boards and started paddling out, it would be ecstasy with a spray on their face.

One of the guys commented that surfing was a very selfish sport, in spite of the camaraderie.  Even though you most likely surfed in a group and hung out with the guys, when one of them caught a perfect wave, you wanted it for yourself.  You weren’t surfing against them, you were surfing for yourself and bettering what you did before.  Much the same in my business.

I thought about how fortunate these folks were to have found something in their lives that brought them so much happiness.  They made it look so easy, so effortless.  But these people were at the top of their game.  They’d been practicing for years, chasing waves all around the world, getting knocked about by one of the strongest forces of nature.  It made me think about my efforts to get some traction for my business.  Our journeys weren’t too dissimilar.  I’ve been practicing for years, I’m chasing leads all over the world, I’m getting knocked about by one of the strongest forces of human nature – the word no.  I realized I need to find some of their joy in what I was doing.  Even though I described the process as a slog, I need to reframe that as riding another wave that will lead to the next one.  And there will always be another wave, somewhere.  I need to step into my own kind of liquid and just have fun with it.  Find the Stoke as the dudes say.

TMI

This means too much information.  Not in the way it’s usually used where someone reveals WAY too much information about their gastrointestinal tract, or their hemorrhoids or their fetishes.  You get the picture.  No the too much information I’m referring to is all the information that’s out there for our consumption.  The blogs (guilty!), message boards, e-blasts, e-mails, newsletters.  I am constantly bombarded with information about my industry and those working in it.  It’s hard to get through it all each day but I make sure I sort through it or it starts to build up.  Very often there’s some good stuff buried in the muck, tips and job possibilities.  But the flip side of this is it can all become one big distraction in the guise of work.  I read, sort and comment so I must be working right?

Wrong.  This is busy work that takes me away from the “just doing it” part.  Don’t get me wrong, I’m a big believer in networking and marketing yourself.  I am my biggest cheerleader.  Biggest critic too but that’s a story for another day.  And I think that networking and marketing can be assisted by all this written communication.  But it all gets wrapped up and disguised as work when in reality it’s really not that connected to work.  Work, for me, is memorizing a new monologue, sending out an audition, learning a new scene for a class, practicing my movements, reading a play, improving my vocal strength.  While this is fun to do, it’s also not as much of a distraction as doing all that other stuff is.  And as I’ve mentioned before, I’m lazy.  I really don’t want to have to do the work.  I just want it easy.  I guess I’m a candidate for that ship on WALL-e.  You know, the people that move around all day in their floating barcaloungers sipping liquid stuff that makes you fat.  So paying attention to all this incoming data is like sipping that liquid stuff, it’ll make you fat with not-so-important info that slows you down and keeps you from doing what you should be doing.  Which is the work.  And my work is fun for heavens sake.  It really is.  I just need to unplug for a while to remember that fact.

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.