Thursday, January 31, 2008

Help! I've been hacked...

Twice last year my credit card number was hacked. Once in the TJX Cos. security breach...called the largest in history, with over 46 million TJ Maxx, Marshall's (and a couple of other chains) customers' credit and debit cards affected.

I found out when I tried to use my card and was told it had been cancelled. Nice. My credit card company said a new card was on the way, but I hadn't received it yet. Info on the TJX site says a settlement is being considered in which I may get a $30 voucher.

The second time, someone in NY somehow spent $971 with my credit card number on I happened to notice my online statement seemed awfully high. When I first called Best Buy, the customer service woman was very apologetic. She said someone would call to follow up. Three days later, the follow up guy told me he didn't know if the charge could be cancelled because the item was scheduled to ship. Even worse, his tone made me feel I'd done something wrong. He should have gone out of his way to reassure me that Best Buy was a safe retailer. So I wrote to the president. His contact info was nowhere to be found, of course, on Best Buy's site. So I used Hoover's to find him. Several weeks later, I received a $25 gift card.

Is this enough compensation for the frustration, for the time I spent on the phone? On the other hand, how can retailers afford to help everyone impacted by credit card security breaches? How can companies keep their encryption and other technology current, when thieves are working hard to stay one step ahead? 60 Minutes a few months ago did a great but frightening story about how easy it was to drive by some stores and use a laptop to siphon credit card numbers. It's on YouTube.

I host a cable program for the Chicago Bar Association...the show taped this week was on this topic. My two guests, Christine Nielsen, Asst. Attorney General, Consumer Fraud Bureau, and William Kresse, JD, CPA, Certified Fraud Examiner, Asst. Professor and Director, Graduate Programs in Financial Fraud Examination & Management,
Saint Xavier University gave some great and simple advice.
First, make copies of both sides of your credit cards and keep them in a safe place. Then, if your numbers are stolen, all the info you'll need is easily accessible.
Second, be proactive: carefully monitor your statements and charges.
Third, know that while you're usually not liable for fraudulent charges made on your credit card, you might be for those made on debit cards.

Thursday, January 24, 2008

Lip Syncing and Gremlins

My first VO job this lip sync dialogue from a short movie clip, but with some different client-oriented words.

This is not as easy as it sounds, like those one credit colleges classes for which you wound up doing tons of work. Recording at home means I need to be an audio engineer, a career I've never aspired to, even when I worked at radio stations. But I've had to dive in to the vast pool of hardware, software and technical terms. Plus I get easily frustrated when I can't get things to work on my computer, because resolving the problem requires too much trial and error.

The client wanted me to upload an AIFF file. I have heard of this, but usually send MP3s, which anyone not living under a rock is familiar with these days. My VO software, however, does not list AIFF as an option.

Fortunately a VO friend told me I needed conversion software. A quick Internet search revealed that I could use Quicktime PRO, which I already have. That was the easy part.

Now I know I have to convert a WAV file to an AIFF file, which the client wanted but I couldn't send directly because my software won't export in WAV. It will, however, export in Ogg Vorbis. Seriously. Whatever that is.

But then a gremlin crawled into my PC and did this: 1) if I tried to play the movie clip and my recording software at the same time so I could hear the actress's inflection and pace and then say the lines right after or with her, either the clip or my voice played back at super high speed like Alvin and the Chipmunks (remember them?). 2) Then,for some reason , every voice, including Mr. AOL's "You've got mail," started to play super low and super slow, like a record (remember those?) on the lowest speed.

Finally I figured out a system and sent the file to the client...who approved. Whew.

Next project: figuring out how to use FTP so if needed I can upload large files. And try to stay ahead of the technical curve. Ha.

Tuesday, January 15, 2008

On the Spot

Auditions are challenging enough when you have to do a monologue a cold reading from their script. But at an improv audition, you're expected to create a character and your own lines...on the spot.

Yesterday I had not one but two improv auditions, at

1. Second City. Yes, the Second City, which helped launch the careers of many actors, including Bill Murray, Jim Belushi, Dan Castallaneta, Steve Carell and Tina Fey. SC is holding three days of open, group auditions for "various opportunities." I'd like to get involved with their communications division, which does corporate training and I attached my work resume to my headshot with my acting one. Most people auditioning were probably half my age, so I doubt they've had the years of experience I've had working with executives. Will that help?

I arrived early, of course. The waiting area was filled with eager, very nicely dressed and, as expected, young improvisers. Surprisingly, more than 75% were men. Off to the left, I saw my improv teacher from my last class was warming up with a group of around 10. The leader had them do a an improv listening excercise and then a bunch of three line scenes (it's even harder to do improv with people you don't reason why most improv groups have weekly rehearsals). Next I saw a classmate, who'd just finished her audition. Then it was my group's turn to warm up. An interesting mix of 5 men and 3 other women.

In the theatre waited 10 auditioners. We stepped on stage, and were told to introduce ourselves and reveal our "special skill." First were short scenes, where the guy running the audition would call out a name of the person who'd start the scene after being joined by anyone else in line. When my name was called, another woman stepped forward to join me.

Picture yourself standing there on the stage in bright lights before all these people staring and judging you as you think of something to say.

You have to let go and just be in the moment.

The first thing that popped into my head was that we were best friends celebrating their 25th anniversary. My second scene was with a guy who apologized for putting a Magic Marker in the laundry. Very hard to tell how either was received.
Next we were asked to sit in the audience, then called up two at a time for a longer scene with a suggestion. Interesting that all the pairs were male/female. The suggestion for my scene was 'camp fire.' Immediately my scene partner started making a fire...but failed, like he failed at everything in our relationship. We got a small laugh or two.

Did I hold my own? I think so. Was I good enough for a callback? Time will tell...

Coming up: my second audition of the day...

Tuesday, January 08, 2008

Monologue Misery

I consider my weakest auditions to be those requiring monologues. Recently I attended an open call for one of Chicago's major casting directors, and was not happy at all with my performance. And supposedly she has a memory like a steel trap.

I do not like monologues, and don't feel comfortable doing them, which I'm sure comes across during the audition. Give me the actual script or copy and let me do a cold read any day.

Actors are supposed to have one classical (ie Shakespeare) and one contemporary monologue (ie almost anything else) prepared. Sometimes they want to hear 2 minutes of each, sometimes 1. This means you either need 4 monologues or 2 that can be coherently edited. You might also need separate monologues that are comedic and dramatic.

Finding the right ones can be a don't want to do something everyone else is doing and you want to show yourself to your best advantage. Ponder the daunting task of sifting through every play or movie ever written to uncover that pearl in the haystack! Of course there are many monologue books that attempt to help. I recently bought The Monologue Audition, but how do I know if I'm doing a good job?

So I am utlizing the services of a monologue coach. He's going to help me choose new monologues and, after I see what I can do on my own, will help me interpret them. We've talked so he can get a sense of my personality. I told him the monologues I've done (for the curious, they are: Carol from Mamet's Oleanna and two different Lady Annes from Richard III because I was in both of these plays and feel I know them well. Yes, I played Carol. No, I did not play Lady Anne, I played Lady Margaret who had 7 lines that were cut to 3. But I was on stage for 45 minutes frozen in a tapestry-like tableau so I heard Lady Anne do the speeches ad nauseum. I also have a Mary the maid from Ionesco's Bald Soprano, a Sabina from Wilder's Skin of our Teeth---why? because Vivien Leigh played her--and an Imogen from Cymbeline. Those who know these plays may realize that I've hung onto these a long, long time and that some of the characters may be too young for me now.) I sent my headshot/resume and he's going to watch my actor slate.

Then, next month, I'll be taking a monologue workshop given by two of Chicago's best known casting directors, including the one mentioned above. This should serve two purposes: give me the chance to work with them vs. zipping in for a minute audition and help me end up with a really good monologue!

Wednesday, January 02, 2008

Back in Gear

The holidays are over! Yea! Now the world can get back to business.

I did join most Americans in enjoying downtime:

1) watched some of Battlestar Galactica, Season 3. What a great show...interesting and diverse characters, creative plot twists and convincing escapes from numerous cliffhangers.
2) reading one of the best books I've come across in awhile: The Winter Rose by Jennifer Donnelly, set in 1900s London. I got an advance reading copy for free at the national Romance Writers of America conference...I picked it up because it's so thick (707 trade paperback pages). I love long books (possibly my all time favorite, The Autobiography of Henry VIII by Margaret George is 932 pages!), but today (except for Harry Potter) they are hard to find. High paper paper, to fit more books on a shelf and all that.

I shall confess that TWR made me cry at one point. Not only because the scene is moving, but because I fear I will never write anything that good.

But I digress. This is about working, not playing. Today so far I've submitted 2 voiceover auditions and sent out a bunch of e-mails asking for input on a magazine article I'm writing. And, to start on my main resolution: made an appointment for an individual yoga/meditation class.

In other news, my revised Web site went live today...I wanted it to be a little less girly and pink.