What’s In Your Toolbox?

Recently I reread The War of Art by Steve Pressfield and picked up things that I didn’t catch the first time around.  If you aren’t familiar with the book, it’s about the resistance every creative feels as they pursue whatever discipline they’ve chosen to work in.  For writers, it’s the infamous blank page syndrome, for actor’s it’s the always prepping-never doing syndrome, for all of us it’s the getting ready to get ready to think about doing something problem.  In fact I was so impressed by my second reading that I immediately went to Amazon to purchase the follow up book Do The Work.  So I logged on to Amazon and put the book in my cart.  When I went to check out, Amazon gently says “Ummmm, you’ve already purchased this book”.  I did?  I don’t remember getting it as I didn’t recognize the cover art in any of the books I owned.  So off to my past history of purchases I went and doggone it, there it was in my Kindle books.  Seems I’ve owned this tome for almost 2 years.  Boy did I feel foolish.  It made me wonder what other great tools I’ve purchased or obtained one way or another and haven’t made use of.

After pursuing a career for many years, we accumulate resources, contacts and guides that may get lost in the shuffle of the everyday of our business.  Pulling out long forgotten notes from a conference or weekend workshop is a great way to mine new tidbits of knowledge that may not have resonated when we first heard it.  It’s like cleaning out your closet of clothes you don’t wear anymore and finding that awesome pair of shoes or jeans you totally forgot you had.  Bang!  New outfit and it didn’t cost you a dime.

So I’m pulling out my notes from various conferences and workshops and seeing what I can glean from them before I sink another dime into buying that awesome thing guaranteed to push me to the next level.  I wonder what else is in this toolbox?

It All Comes Into Play

Working in the entertainment world in a secondary market means that you will work with and come across a lot of people who eventually move to either New York or Los Angeles.  Sadly it’s kind of a given as there isn’t enough work in a secondary market to financially sustain most people full time.  So most will make the move to the factory town, either New York if they are interested in theatre or Los Angeles if their goal is film or television.  Even voice artists may have to make the move.  While being able to work anywhere due to advances in technology, if you wish to pursue voicing animation, gaming or looping, you kind of have to be where it’s being created and that means LA.

What it means for me is I have a lot of friends and colleagues who now reside in LA.  I had the chance to catch up with one recently.  She made the move 2 years ago after graduating from college and was living the stereotypical actors life, waitressing to sustain herself while pursuing auditions and meeting with managers and agents.  You know the drill.

She updated me on what was going on in her life as we hadn’t spoken for quite a while.  She’d just left a long time waitressing job at a chain to move to a different restaurant.  It was a difficult decision as she truly felt like her co-workers were her family.  But this chain didn’t support her idea of living responsibly which included only eating what you really need and not serving huge portions that either go to waste or to waist.  Instead she found a place that supported her lifestyle choices of sustainability.  Even then, it wasn’t an ideal situation as she was being over-scheduled and she hadn’t as yet established many solid relationships with co-workers.  But she felt this was a temporary situation that was getting better every day.

It made me think about my last corporate job I held.  I was there for 12 years which is almost unheard of these days.  I stayed for various reasons, first because I liked and respected my co-workers.  Then because the environment was so healthy.  After all there weren’t many places that actually treat you like a grown up and let you do your job without second guessing every move.  Finally I stayed because once I started acting, I realized that my longevity and seniority gave me the flexibility I needed to pursue this new passion without sacrificing the quality of work I did for my day gig.

Hearing my friend discuss her decisions helped me to realize that everything we do, every choice we make about how we live, work and even eat, comes into play with our careers.  If we have a good paying but toxic job that sucks energy and passion from our quest, we may pay the rent but our progress will be slow or maybe even stalled.  If we work at a place that encourages overeating, you may find yourself being not so camera ready before long.  Taking care with all of the choices we make, even the seemingly non-important or non-related ones will serve us well as we go forth.

Recalculating

If you own a GPS, you know that word.  I don’t think the person voicing it meant to be as accusatory as it sounds when you make a turn contradictory to the directions the computer feels you should be following.  Sometimes you know where you are headed so you aren’t complying with the preset path, you just need the computer to keep you up to date on what your ETA will be.  Other times, you remember you need something and make a pit stop on the way.  Sometimes you genuinely get turned around and go the wrong direction.  Either way, you get the GPS all discombobulated and she’s clattering away, “recalculating….recalculating…recalculating”  I know! I know! you want to scream.  Just chill out while I get myself back on path.

It often seems this way with accomplishing our goals.  We think there is only one way to achieve them but then something or someone bumps us off that path and before you know it, your internal GPS is saying “recalculating” as you get your bearings and get back on track.  Being flexible enough to take this all in and not let it deter you from continuing on is key to making progress and not quitting.  There’s never just one way to get to your destination and knowing you just need to recalculate your way takes a lot of the anxiety away from those bumps and bruises.  And hearing a less obnoxious voice in your head certainly won’t hurt!

Security in Silence

No I’m not referring to the fact that it’s been such a long time since I’ve posted anything.  That is for another day.  This phrase came to me in a wonderful note from a friend, Jenna Johnson, who’s moved to LA and is trying to make a go of it there.  She meant it differently than I’m using it here but the the phrase was powerful enough to stand out on it’s own.

Finding the security in silence isn’t an easy thing to do.  So often as talent, creatives and simply human beings, we are very uncomfortable with silence.  How many times have we experienced the awkward silence in a conversation?  Or when someone falls silent, rushed to fill a perceived void with meaningless words that sometimes end up doing more harm than good?  Or when you think that nothing is happening in a situation, tried to make something, anything happen by forcing an action?

We are not comfortable with silence, especially in today’s world.  There is so much stimulation visually and aurally that this has become the norm and silence is almost abnormal.  I’ve really tried to make an effort to embrace silence when I work from home so I can let flow what needs to flow without the scattered focus interruptions these noises bring.  But it’s a never-ending battle against a very strong tide.

The even more difficult silence to handle is when you feel there is silence in your career.  You haven’t had an audition in weeks so you must be blackballed at the casting office.  Or your agent is on the verge of dropping you.  You haven’t done a voiceover in you don’t know how long so obviously your voice isn’t hirable.  You had no response to your latest marketing campaign so that was a big waste of time and money.  What you don’t know is what is happening in the silence.  What is transpiring behind the scenes in the big picture of things.  Trusting the silence, being secure in the knowledge that no news may really be good news, that you have planted and are are continuing to plant seeds of success is not easy.  It’s takes a lot of faith, trust and discipline to not try to make something, anything happen because of course that’s the only way progress is measured right?  Visible action must mean progress.  Not always.  Sometimes there’s plenty of action going on, you just can’t see it.  Just know that it’s there and find security in the silence.

A Starbucks with no coffee

I know, sounds a bit ridiculous doesn’t it?  But that’s what happens when you don’t give yourself the tools to properly market yourself in your chosen profession.  Not too long ago, I had the opportunity to intern at a local casting office.  This is a very busy casting office with sometimes several different sessions going on all at once.  Working in the room was great but I also really liked working at the front desk.  I like greeting everyone, telling them which waiting room to head to and then shushing them when they got too chatty and loud.  Right up my “I’m the boss/big sister/know-it-all” alley.  When a talent would come in to audition, they present their headshot with a resume of previous work attached to the front desk so we could attach an info sheet for that particular casting.  I was continually amazed at how many experienced working actors would come in without a headshot, or the picture was in black and white still (meaning it was at least 5-6 years old) or they were bald and the photo clearly has hair.

Voice Talent does the same thing.  They sit on a demo that was produced back in the mid 90’s with a style that clearly is no longer current.  They don’t have a website.  They don’t promote or market themselves to those that can hire.

To me, this is tantamount to going into a Starbucks and being told they don’t have any coffee.  Really?  This is what you do for a living people.  Get the beans.  Grind the grounds.  Foam the foam.  Overcharge me.  Ok that last one wasn’t really relevant but I couldn’t resist.  Just so Starbucks doesn’t feel as if I’m picking on them, it’s as if McDonald’s didn’t have any burgers or the pretty Apple store with no overpriced Macs.  There I go again.

Having the proper tools, up to date and relevant to today’s work and world is a basic responsibility of a talent.  It’s hard enough to get hired, why make it harder on yourself by using old materials.  Do yourself a favor, lose the 10 pounds, think about the image you want to portray and get thee to a photographer.  Or not.  But no griping when there are no calls or coffee for you.

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.

Announcing FaffCon 2!

As many of you know I was involved in the planning of the first FaffCon and was able to attend due to a schedule switch at the last minute.  It was a career and life changer all the way around and I was so happy I made the effort to make it out to Portland.  The second one has been in the works, just like the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade, since the day after the first one ended.  All the i’s have been dotted, all the t’s crossed, and we can now announce that FaffCon 2 – Electric Boogaloo (don’t you just love that title?  I keep singing the old disco song Electric Avenue for some reason!) will be in Atlanta on February 25-27, 2011 and the registration is now open.  FaffCon is an unconference for working voiceover professionals.  The Westin Peachtree Plaza right in downtown Atlanta will be the HQ for the fun of it all.  I’ll be there, with bells on of course.  Wouldn’t miss is for the world.  It’s kind of hard to describe what the premier event was like.  I hate to say you had to be there, but that really was the case.  Over 50 people, not just Voice Talents but engineers and marketers, took a chance on a new concept in conferencing and their courage paid off.  It was a paradigm shift for many, including myself.

The growth I underwent and the great stuff I learned went way beyond my expectations.  I usually have a great time with my VO peeps, and have long asserted this is one of the most, if not the most, supportive branch of performing artists.  So I knew I’d have fun with these fabby people.  What I didn’t expect was to learn so many nuts and bolts of how people run their businesses.  The event far exceeded my expectations.

There are many ways to separate a talent from their hard earned money.  Many people and companies who offer this service or that coaching.  FaffCon was designed purposely to keep the costs low.  Let me tell you, the return on my investment would make many a hardened Wall Street investor smile.