Thursday, August 26, 2010

Aging Gracefully?

Our society favors youthful appearances. If we didn't care how young we looked, there wouldn't be a proliferation of medispas featuring Botox/other non-surgical proceduresor or such a rapid rise in plastic surgeries. The vast majority of fashion models wouldn't be in their teens. We wouldn’t buy trendy garments much less makeup, creams, lotions or potions. There wouldn’t be so many articles about cougars or men who prefer much younger women.

As an actress, I have to consider how age affects my bookings. Certainly there are roles for everyone from infants to septuagenarians. But since I look and sound much younger than I actually am, sometimes age is just a number— meaning clients go by what they see and hear. Sometimes they go by actual age. Since many opportunities seem to be for younger or older women, I can find myself in a gray (pun intended) area---too chronologically old to be the typical mom with kids, too young to be a senior.

--At a national commercial audition for women 20-70, seeking a young, medium and older nun, I was placed in the middle, or medium, chair. I booked it as the oldest nun...which could have been for age-related or any number of other reasons. Maybe the clients just liked my look or how I did the bite and smile. But when age is so much a factor in the initial specs, it’s hard not to wonder. Check it out, here.
--Chicago improv is a very young community, with many players half my age. So I was to be a grandmother for a live project in Las Vegas. When they decided to book me, they changed the character to an aunt.
--I just did a billboard shoot as a mom. My “kids” were 9 and 13.

So do I try to keep looking like I’m in my thirties and skew younger as long as I can…and if so, to what extent? Via anti-aging/wrinkle creams; coloring my hair, keeping my longer, curly hair vs. going with a shorter cut; wearing no-line bifocals and bifocal contacts so I don’t need reading glasses? Do I embark upon more costly measures that yield more obvious results, such as laser treatments or eye surgery, and if so, when?

Or do I embrace each wrinkle, crow's foot, line around my mouth, gray hair...the realities of getting older?

Time will tell.

Thursday, August 19, 2010

Improv & Auditions

The techniques of and experience doing improv can benefit almost everyone, from actors (enhances skills plus it’s a resume credit agents and clients appreciate and/or expect in Chicago), writers (helps spark plot and character ideas) and business people (learn to think on your feet, gain confidence during presentations, work on team building, etc.). I’ve completed several improv training programs and have performed with a variety of groups in assorted venues.

Lately I prefer performing improv over theatre because:
-when improve works, IMO it's funnier than almost any play or sketch comedy, because the humor is being created in the moment and hasn’t been tweaked and rewritten, with each move and line rehearsed. When it falls flat, audiences tend to be a little more forgiving for the same reasons. (Some audience members have said they’re impressed that we can even stand up there and create characters and scenes on the fly.)
-though improv teams rehearse (to help members work together better, grow as improvisers and learn that venue’s approach), it’s usually only once a week instead of several times a week. There’s nothing to memorize, and you don’t go over the same scenes time and again. You’re always coming up with something new, creating your own scripts.

So many elements go into each scene: individual abilities, knowledge and frame of mind; team synergy; audience mood and knowledge, and the combination of a team’s or venue's approach and the suggestions received. Add in the usual performance elements of timing, character development, blocking, etc. Suggestions, players and audience need to click.

It’s challenging enough to get that click during a show. Add the pressure of auditioning, knowing you’re being judged, and the stakes ratchet higher. Usually you only get to do one two-person scene and a couple of short montage scenes in an audition. So an improviser can be derailed by a suggestion that doesn’t resonate, a scene partner he or she has never met, or one of those moments where you get stuck in your head and lack ideas. When you audition for a play, commercial or any scripted thing, you should benefit from knowing what you'll say and rehearsing how.

Most major Chicago improv venues are holding their annual auditions now. There are so many hopefuls that even getting an audition time can be difficult, much less getting cast. iO’s and the Playground’s slots filled way in advance. Another venue said it had 135 auditionees and added nine improvisers to the roster; only three were women.

As with any audition, if you don't get cast, it's hard to know if you're just not good enough that day or in general, or just not what they're looking for...

Thursday, August 12, 2010

Time is Money

Technology is amazing and frustrating at the same time. Of course computers, the Internet, e-mail, etc. make our lives easier in many respects. I remember writing college papers using carbon paper and Wite-Out because my typewriter didn’t have a correct key (at least I had an electric, not a manual), and actually cutting my first drafts into pieces and taping them together for typing because word processing wasn’t readily available; there was no cut and paste. If we weren't at home when someone called, they'd have to call back. I won my first answering machine senior year in college when I represented the University of Michigan on The Joker’s Wild’s College Tournament. (Other prizes included some cash for me and the U of M, a case of Golden Grain Macaroni & Cheese, WD-40 and a reel to reel tape player.)

On the other hand, technology also can result in de-personalizing business and personal relationships. There’s the pressure to always be connected; I don’t want to miss something requiring a response ASAP. I have my phone set to make different sounds for different e-mail addresses so I know which messages to read right away.

Figuring out how to do a new task often takes far longer than it should. We spend time registering for various sites, keeping track of passwords/changing them, backing up. For every dollar we save in postage by paying bills on line or emailing work product such as submissions to editors/agents, we spend another in software or hardware. Do we spend as much time talking to actual people as we do catching up with e-mails, texts, Twitter and Facebook?

As a voice talent, most of my auditions are now self-recorded. Many are due ASAP, others with less than 24 hours turnaround time. Though obviously recording at home saves travel time to the agent and back, it’s hard to get the best reads when directing yourself. And you don’t get any feedback as to whether your audition is in the ballpark or if you could have talked faster, slower or with more of whatever emotion. “Friendly and educational,” for example, means different things to different people. So sometimes for big auditions, I seek coaching and production assistance from people I’ve worked with, which takes travel time and/or money. Instead of getting the opinion of the agent who has actually communicated with and is familiar with the client, whoever helps is another step removed from knowing what the client really wants.

So many people communicate mostly via e-mail or text to save time, but in the process some elements of communication are lost. You don’t get to hear the other person’s tone of voice or share reactions to conversation. Many now work at home, spending all day staring at their computers and not interacting with co-workers. We miss out on camaraderie and exchange of useful information.

Sometimes we leap into new technology because it seems fun, or maybe even because everyone else is doing it. We may not realize how many hours we spend a day with it, or how often we pull out our phones when out with family/friends. Maybe every so often we should step back for a minute and consider the opportunity costs of investing in and spending so much time with technology. Maybe there are times when our time could be better spent elsewhere.

Thursday, August 05, 2010

A Day in the Life of a Gainfully Unemployed

I sometimes get asked what I do all day…given that I don’t have certain common obligations that require a major time commitment, such as full time job or kids. So here’s yesterday, a sample day in the life:

--Promised to deliver a VO job for a social networking site by 9AM. Had received the script @ 5:30PM the night before when not only were they pounding on the new house being built behind me, I was getting ready for an improv show. When I sat down to record Wednesday morning at 6:30AM, the loading dock I live near was in full, noisy swing. Then came driving rain loud enough to hear over my mic, and a thunderstorm. Then, of course, the house construction started. In between periods of hammering and running engines I was able to record the appx. 3 minute script. Did not hear if revisions were needed.

--While at the Romance Writers of America conference in Orlando last week, I met with several literary agents/editors. Worked on fine tuning one of my manuscripts to submit.

--Completed variety of email correspondence for work and play, including some with co-author of non-fiction project and possible freelance writing client.

--Examined potential new headshots; a friend is photoshopping my black shirt to a better color, apparently not an easy task.

--A talent agent called about a print looksee for a pharmaceutical company that afternoon. Chatted with him about the frustrations of the new online casting site Chicago casting agents are using.

--Printed a headshot. Primped for (aka tried to tame my curly hair in this humidity) and drove to print looksee appx. 20 minutes away. Fortunately there was no wait. Posed for 3 different pictures in about two minutes. "Smized" as Tyra advises. Photographer kept saying, “Perfect.”

--Returned home around 2PM to find an ASAP VO audition, which I managed to record between more bouts of hammering.

--Got a call from and talked for almost an hour to a friend who’d won a RITA (RWA’s Oscar, awarded at a fancy ceremony attended by appx. 2000 people) in FL.

--Worked more on my ms.

--Just after 5PM, got an email for another VO audition due this morning by 10AM.

--Went to ComedySportz for my team’s REC League show. We’re down a couple of players, so our coach and a guest coach we had (both CSz ensemble members) joined us.

--Stopped by a friend’s for a short visit.