Friday, February 29, 2008

Auditioning vs. Performing

As an actor auditioning for me is a necessary evil. Not everyone thinks of it that way, but I do. I LOVE performing. To me, performing is like taking a breath of fresh air. It's such a release and it feels like I've taken a hit of the best drug in the world. It's very hard for me to come down from it once I've done it...

I often ask myself this question: Why am I so good at performing and so horrible at auditioning? I've tried a million times to answer this question. A few Saturdays ago after having one of the worst auditions ever and then going on to have one of the best performances later that night, the question came up again...In order for me to get to the performance I have to audition. What is it about auditioning that freaks me out? I don't know.

Maybe it's the competitive aspect of it. A group of people get thrown into a room and they have to prove that they are the correct person for whatever character they're going for. Perhaps I feel a bit intimidated because there are several people I compete with who have their Theatre and Film degrees or have been doing this since they were 16 years old or younger. Or maybe it's just because they seem so sure they know what they're doing and in my head I'm screaming, "What the hell am I doing here?!", while worrying that everyone around me knows that I don't belong there.

I had a conversation with a friend/colleague about this very thing the other day and her advice to me, "Honey, you need to let that go!" (thanks, Carole). She then gave me examples of people that started their acting careers later in life with much success. No formal training, just a dream. It all seems so possible, yet so far away...

It's amazing what the mind can do to a person. I mean it's my mind, with my thoughts and it's working against me. I've taken countless classes, I've been in several workshops. And I would highly recommend several of the classes/workshops I've taken. I often ask myself what ingredient is missing...confidence? Is that what it is? I try to create rituals for myself so that I can feel more calm and ready and focused for an audition. I've asked my friends what they do and some of them seem to have their thing down, while others don't. But I need to find my own thing. How do I do that???

Or maybe it's not even that. Maybe it's all about the mind over matter. Maybe I just need to change my mind set. After all, auditioning is a form of performing. It's a shorter performance with different intentions behind it, but a performance all the same.

Why do some people do so well at auditioning and suck at performances? Why do some people rock at performing and plummet when auditioning? Why is it that some excel in both areas? And how do I get to the point of kicking butt in both areas?

I believe that I come out of my shell in performances because there is no pressure. Isn't that funny?! Because there really is. There's the pressure of connecting with the audience. There's the pressure of keeping the audience entertained for longer than 5-10 minutes. Actually, there's more pressure in performance than in an audition. But the pressure of competition is out the window...sort of (unless you're competing for an Oscar or Tony). But who really thinks about that when they're working on a film or theatre project?

How do I change my mind set in order to do better in my auditions? How do I figure out a routine to make me feel calmer and more focused? Do I need one? Is it all just a bunch of crap? Is anybody out there feeling what I'm saying?

Patricia A. Robinson

The Strike's what's next?

The writer's strike is over! YAY! But what's next for Texas? After the writer's strike ended, I read an article in the news paper. It was regarding what shows were safe and which shows were gone for good. Two shows that were in danger of not returning according to the paper, were Prison Break and Friday Night Lights.

It read something like this : Prison Break gone, probably for good. Friday Night Lights, future unknown. Why did this bother me so much? Both these shows are filmed in Texas! Prison Break is filmed in Dallas and Friday Night Lights in Austin. That means Texas is going to lose more work! Not to mention the fact that both are great shows in very different ways. I was devastated.

My devastation grew even deeper when I later read that although Prison Break would be back on the air, shooting would no longer take place in Dallas. It was moving to LA...sigh. As for Friday Night Lights, well, their future was still up in the air.

So what's next for Texas? Sure there are plenty of films coming into our state. But who gets the leading roles? What about the regular work? And the convenience of having these opportunities right on our doorsteps? Not just for me but for other Texas actors. I happen to watch Friday Night Lights every single week and there are several actors on that show that I know, personally! Although I don't watch Prison Break break as much, the times I've seen it, I see people on that show that I know (personally and professionally).

So it bothers me to think that some of these people will be out of work. Texas has been fighting so hard for the title "Third Coast" and the reputation of being just as capable as LA and NY in the film industry. But with all that "big Texas" talk, Louisiana has passed us by. Word has it that's where you should go if you're a Texas actor and want to get some day player roles and more opportunities. It's closer than LA or NY... At this point in time, there seem to be more chances for a Texas actor to become SAGe by working out of Louisiana.

Sure Villa Muse is supposed to open in Austin in 2009 or 2010, but even that's up in the air. Let's hope that next Thursday Austin makes the right choice and decides to let them build here. Because if Austin loses Villa Muse, I just don't know what people like me will do...I'm torn because I love Austin but there just aren't enough acting jobs here to support my finances. So I guess we'll just have to wait and see what happens next....

Patricia A. Robinson

Thursday, February 28, 2008

My Experience with Death and The King's Horseman

So I did this show called Death and The King's Horseman. It was at the Mary Moody Theatre on St. Edward's campus. Pro Arts Collective collaborated with them.

It's based on a true story about a Nigerian village in the 1940s. The story goes something like this, a king passes away and his best horseman is expected to commit ritual suicide in order to help lead him into the next life. Well, there's colonialism that's taking place within their country and when a British officer catches wind of this ritual, he intervenes and tries to "save" the horseman from committing suicide. He actually doesn't end up saving the man, he makes the situation much worse.

If you want to know what happens, I suggest you look for the play, it's by Wole Soyinka. The purpose of my blog is not to talk about the play but my experience.

I played the bride. The bride has no lines. When I first started rehearsals for this, even before rehearsals, I wasn't all that enthusiastic about it. I was like, are you kidding me? No lines?! And they have all these expectations of me?! Whatever....I mean, don't get me wrong, I was excited because I was going to do a show. But a bit disappointed that I didn't have any lines.

At the first rehearsal, I was amazed at how much the director put into it. It was like going back to school and getting a history lesson (and then some). He had a historical expert on staff, a dialect coach, we watched videos of different rituals being performed in the Yoruba culture (the actual village that where the events took place were within a Yoruba tribe). We even got one hundred and one handouts on the play, the themes of the play, the culture we were portraying and on and on and on.

It was intimidating, I felt overwhelmed and I was a bit confused. Were we going back to school or doing a show???? What was the reason for all this? But, I was one of the "lucky ones". The other Nigerian and British characters had to take dialect lessons and listen to CDs in order to familiarize themselves with the language and better sound like they were actual Nigerians/British, not Americans faking the accents. But wait, turned out that although I didn't have any lines, the dialect coach made me a CD. She said it'd be a good idea to think in the language...ooooooooooookaaaaaaaay!

So I did. I listened to the CD for a bit each day (for the first week) and tried to imitate what I heard on it. I checked out the handouts once or twice and put them away in my folder (after the first week). I showed up for rehearsal and watched. When it was time for me to enter a scene and do whatever, I did it. I mean, I wasn't exactly sure what I was doing, but I did what I thought I should do.

I tried very hard to stick to my correct cues for entrances and exits and I tried very hard to remember my blocking. Even though I had no lines, I created a story for my character and tried to figure out what she wanted. I even shed a few tears in the scenes that I was supposed to cry in. I was doing what was expected of me, I was "acting"...

Then one day, the director said to me, "We need to feel that innocence from you. You're playing a 16 year old girl." He showed me some pictures from different tribes of young African women. Then the dialect coach said to me that for one of my entrances I come in and it's too Americanized. So we went over ways to make it more "Nigerian".

After this, something happened. I realized that what I had been doing wasn't enough. Sure I read the hand outs once, I read the play once, I showed up for rehearsal and listened to those darn CDs a few times. I even created a story for my character. But I realized that it wasn't enough because I wasn't convincing those around me that I was this 16 year old Nigerian girl. Heck, I hadn't even thought of a name for my character yet. The thing was, really, I didn't care very much and it was starting to show.

So that night with my mind full of the question, "How the hell am I supposed to be an innocent 16 year old Nigerian girl?" I went to the new encyclopedia...the net. I researched all that I could about that culture and their customs. I tried to find any picture I could of the pre-married teens so I could have something to draw on. I even went on some website and looked up Nigerian names so that I could name my character.

Then I went back to the drawing board, Van Brooks' acting class 101. I began to really ask myself questions about my character, I wanted to make sure that I knew her better than I know myself. Like if someone asked me 20 questions about her I could answer them without hesitation. So I worked on her, I worked on her and worked on her. Every scene she was in, I asked myself questions like, "What is she thinking about here?" "What does this particular line mean to her?" "How would she react in this situation?" "Why would she react that way?"

I'd talk to myself constantly about my character and why she did every single thing that she did. What motivated each movement she made and every action she did. Then I took myself out of my character and using the counseling skills I learned so long ago, I found reasons to empathize with her situation.

I even went further in depth with my character's relationship with all the other characters that she came in contact with in the play. It was hard work, and I had to fight with myself to do it, but I kept with it.

Well, after all this, I discovered something. I discovered how much I liked my character. How much she meant to me. I don't think I've ever felt this way about a character. I realized how important it was for me to tell her story and have the audience really get it. Okay, so I had no lines, and okay so I was on stage with some really REALLY incredible actors, but my goal was to really get across who she was and what her small part was in this big story.

Being a part of this play was such a wonderful learning and growing experience. I had no lines and this was the most challenging part I have played thus far. I realized the importance of taking the time to get to know my character. I mean really get to know her as an insider and an outsider. I could look at the situation and assess what she might be feeling and why she might be feeling it. Then I could go into the character and relate to those same feelings through personal experience. And I discovered that the character doesn't have to stop growing after my first assessment. The character can grow as much as I allowed her to grow.

It was kind of like when I was a counselor, I connected with my character (created rapport) and I figured out who she was and where she's coming from (an assessment). Finally I became her advocate by telling her story. Then I discovered how similar acting and social work are. Both are about communication. They both use a middle party to communicate something from an unheard voice (or unheard voices) to a larger audience . It's such a powerful thing, and I'm so blessed that I do it.

Villa Muse Call to Arms

Friends, Countrymen, Austinites we now find ourselves teetering on the cusp of a bold future. Do we reach out with open arms to the glorious unknown? Or shall we remain as we have always been, simply a footnote on the pages and screens of film history, tucked away in the independent film sections of higher learning textbooks across the galaxy. For to long have we been considered a hobby and amateur film town at best with the exceptions of Terrence Malick, Richard Linklater and Robert Rodriguez. The average film in LA costs 70 million dollars while the average film in Austin costs a staggering 1.5-3 million dollars. We are seriously missing out.

Louisiana offers a 30% return of total capitol put forth for production in their state. There are fifteen other states in the union that offer 15% or more in return for capitol spent. Since the creation of these incentives the industries in both Louisiana and New Mexico have exploded from non-existent to power-houses that facilitate A-list productions on a globally competitive level. We are stuck in the middle. A sort of go between the talent and crew must traverse between the seeming future hubs of major film production. It saddens me and many colleges to think of all the talent leaving their beloved Austin simply because the work isn't here. The harsh reality is that if we do not make a strong and decisive entry into the ranks i fear we simply may never achieve the level of production many of us have so longed for.

Villa Muse is ready to make such a bold move. They offer a production facility that is both vertically and horizontally integrated. This means that when a production comes to Villa Muse they have the ability to handle preproduction, production and post all on a single campus. As well as all manner of digital animation and video game production. The facility is not closed off to independent productions. in fact the facility will have a full time staff of almost 400 employees capable of filling almost any roll during the production process.

To take this even further the villa Muse property will contain all manner of commercial and residential property as well as all the necessary infrastructure. The idea is to build a new community from the inside-out. As you can see there is a dual purpose for the surrounding community. Villa Muse's surrounding community serves as a both a home to its residents and as possible locations for any production to use. The so very intriguing aspect of this venture is the infrastructure being built with film making in mind. For example, a film crew wants to film at your local Austin grocery store. Well they are going to bring a lot of people, trucks, electrical equipment, props, lights, generators etc. Not to mention slowing traffic and disrupting the surrounding businesses. At Villa Muse the surround communities infrastructure will be wired and prepared. Instead of using a noisy generator they can simply plug in.
There will be alternate roads and walkways. Commercial properties will have multiple entrances.
Villa Muse really is unprecedented.

Villa Muse has paid special attention to the surrounding environment and communities when designing the layout of the subsequent facility. The landmass is essentially a flood plain that fills to about an inch of murky water. In order to make this land ready for development something would have to be done with the water. Fortunately this has been thought through. The flood plain will be filled in with dirt from a neighboring site leaving a man made lake that can support the water already present while not running it off onto neighboring developed or undeveloped areas.

Currently the site chosen garners about 9600 dollars in revenue for the city of Austin per year. this a very small number by any standard. The proposed studio when finished and having fulfill their contracts that would pay the bond holders first then move on to be annexed by the city and taxed accordingly. Keep in mind no Austin resident will be taxed for the construction of the facility or the infrastructure, only its existence within the city after the fact. The tax revenue accrued after development will easily dwarf the previous number easily in the hundreds of thousands.

The truth of the matter is this. Should this facility be built and the productions file in, our incentives will come and our film community will grow from an amateur film town to global competitor.

We must show our support on March 6th before city council. This Studio concerns everyone that wishes to work in the business and stay in Austin.

Adam Moroz
Caught in the Act Production LLC
Contributing Editor

Contact Austin council:

To read Villa Muse's Jay Podolnick discuss these issue: (copy and paste to browser field)

Tuesday, February 26, 2008

An Actor's Life

I was watching Family Feud last night and the question was “In what occupation do people make millions of dollars”. 100 people were asked and the #1 occupation was actor/musician. I laughed out loud. I am an actor, married to a musician and I haven’t paid my electric bill in four months.
I do not ever plan on making millions. Don’t get me wrong, I wouldn’t turn it down if it was offered, but that’s not why I do what I do. I do this because I love it. I struggle and worry and work my ass off, because acting is all I’ve ever wanted. Performing is all I know. And, yes, contrary to popular belief, actors do work their asses off. (Pardon my French)
I’d like to give you an idea about what the life of a struggling actor is like. Perhaps some of you are just getting into it, or want to pursue a career in the arts, or are just a bit voyeuristic. Whoever you may be, please feel free to laugh at, admire, pity and/or take advice from my story.
Every day I, like most people, check my e-mail. I look at the casting lists and see if I am right for anything. If I am I send a polite professional letter, my headshot and resume and always end with “I look forward to hearing from you soon”. It’s a polite way of saying “you know you want to write me back”. I also send follow up e-mails to people I am working with, am about to work with or am desperately wanting to work with. (Much of my time is spent sucking up.) I am fortunate enough to get contacted fairly regularly about gigs. However, many of these are non-paying. When I was new in town, I took everything, but now I am able to be a bit more selective, which is reassuring. I started out looking for creative ways to say “no thank you”, but I’ve learned to just say “I am no longer working for free”. To be completely honest, this is a lot of fun to say.
Next, I am off to my calendar. My schedule is sporadic. There are days when I am overlapping gigs from sun-up to sun-down and days when I have absolutely nothing to do. (I hate those days) As a struggling actor, I have to pick up random jobs to make ends meet. I bartend for private parties, clean houses, model for art classes, mend clothing, etc. Any and every skill that I have or can learn is put to use. I refuse to get a 9-5. There are several reasons for this. One, I wouldn’t want to turn down auditions, shoots, workshops or rehearsals because I’m stuck doing something I’m not passionate about. Two, I feel that spending all day as a drone stunts my creativity. Lastly, I definitely can’t live with the infamous “desk-chair-ass syndrome”. Don’t even pretend that you haven’t noticed it. I am willing to suffer through poverty in order to accomplish my goals. The cake tastes sweeter when you make it from scratch.
Aside from finances, my biggest worries are: Should I switch agents? Should I get new headshots and from whom? Am I taking enough classes? What should I keep/remove from my resume? Would it be easier in LA or New York? These questions are constantly running through my head and of every other actor I know.
All in all, I think I am on the right path. Each year I meet more VIPs in the industry, get more gigs and gain confidence. I believe Austin is where I need to be right now, but I will be moving eventually. I love the challenges that face me on a regular basis and I am only growing hungrier for my dream career every day. My advise for anyone who’s starting out in this field is this: if you don’t feel like your heart is going to jump out of your chest when you think about it, if you don’t want to work on it every single day, if you don’t cry when you watch the Oscars (ok, maybe that one is just me), if you are not 100 percent sure that you can deal with the rejection, struggle and hard work then you need to find a new dream. It’s not all glitz and glamour all the time. In fact, most of the time it’s second-hand clothes and peanut butter and jelly. But, for this actress, it’s totally worth it.
Michelle Keffer