Thursday, August 30, 2012

Learning Lots of Lines

Every actor has lines to learn for auditions and performances. It’s preferred that we’re off book even for auditions. But more and more often, we don’t receive the script(s) until we arrive at the audition. Many preparation techniques we’ve learned go out the window. Gut reactions prevail. Sometimes we may be able to put the copy on our ear prompters, but that doesn’t always work with dialogue scenes. Some audition venues have cue cards, which can help or hinder--if you lose your place.

Usually the amount of lines we need to learn for commercials or industrials is far less than a play. Years ago, I was in a production of Mamet’s Oleanna. A two person play…a college student and a professor. Each has many long, long monologues, and both are on stage the entire time. That experience stands me in good stead to help a friend who’s starring in a play opening next week and has the bulk of the lines.

Some people like to record their lines and/or those of other characters and play them back again and again. The problems with that process are that, as with cue cards, you might rely on the cheat this case, the spoken word, as opposed to your memory, which might make it easier to get thrown off.  And there’s no one to prompt you if you get stuck. In rehearsal, actors get used to calling, “line,” while staying in character. They’re prompted with a few words, and rehearsal continues smoothly.

In my experience, the best way to make lines stick is two-pronged repetition. Part A is looking at the script, using a piece of paper to cover most of the section you’re working on. You learn one line, then repeat it and add on another and then another. But it can be hard to stay focused when huge chunks of script await.  Part B is running that scene with another person. And not just any person. Someone who, for example, knows how and when to prompt without frustrating the actor by interrupting his flow. Someone who can keep track of variations from the actual dialogue and help the actor make corrections. Someone with a lot of patience to listen to the same scenes again and again and again. Because even after lines have been memorized, they need to be repeated as often as possible. Even after the show starts.

I learned that lesson years ago while working as house manager for Chicago Shakespeare Theater during a production of Cymbeline. It surprised me that the actors, who’d already had successful performances, would walk around mouthing their lines before going on stage for each scene….night after night.

So my friend and I have been meeting almost every day, for hours at a time.  Repeating, running scenes, catching script deviations to make sure jokes and poignant moments aren't diluted, and to make sure he gets cues correct for fellow actors. 

Though time consuming, it's a lot of fun to see his progress.  As it happens, I too am learning the play, and can already run some scenes or offer corrections without looking at my copy of the script.    

Thursday, August 23, 2012

Over your head vs. taking on a challenge

Feelancers can get inquiries about new projects at any time from prospective or returning clients.  Sometimes projects are in our wheelhouses, other times they may push the envelope of things we've done or require skills we're not sure we have. 

In some situations, we may refer the assignment to a colleague.  Especially if the project necessitates significant expenditure, say for software or hardware.  Assuming the project goes well, that's good networking.  The client is happy, the colleague is happy, we're happy.  We didn't accept that gig, but we've become a resource for the client.  In others, we may choose to take on a challenge, perhaps because we want to expand our repertoire.  On the other hand, we want to be sure the new task is of the same quality our client has come to expect.  We may team with a colleague, if the client is willing.

Doing something new can be exciting and/or stressful.  There's a risk of failure.  A learning curve.  Being proactive and staying up to date on trends in our fields and thinking once a month, "What other services can I offer?" can help us expand our product line with greater comfort.  We may ask colleagues for advice and/or assistance.

There may be times we simply have to say no, because we don't want to or don't choose to learn how to do an assignment.  We may chicken out so we can remain in our comfort zone.  But if we never push ourselves, how can we grow, both professionally and personally? 

21 times for a freelancer to say no
Working with other freelancers  
What's your freelance specialty?    

Thursday, August 16, 2012

8 Days a Week

The Gainfully Unemployed feelancer may find it easier to stay motivated and on task when under deadline.  A client is expecting your work.  Not only will you damage your professional reputation if you don’t turn it in on time, you may get less or no money.

But when in between projects, we’re on our own.  There’s no boss, manager or even fellow employee to tell us what to do or make sure we move forward.  Will we choose to spend our time self-marketing--contacting current, former or potential clients, updating our websites, taking a course to enhance our skills, or will we convince ourselves we deserve a reward--playing hooky via sleeping in, a spa day, shopping spree, vegging in front of the TV, or cruising the Internet for political commentary and/or pictures to post on Facebook?

These days, many people work more than 40 hours a week--maybe because there’s just that much work or they want to show their employers how devoted they are.  Actors often have to work every day...learning lines for upcoming gigs and performances, or working a day job and taking a class or doing a play, concert or comedy show at night.  So when do we get our weekends?  If we take the traditional two days off for downtime, socializing and/or errands or chores, when will we get the rest of our work done?  There are only seven days a week.

Many of us are tied to our smartphones.  If I choose to work, say, 8 to 4 on a given day, but an agent or client emails after 4 or 5, I still need to respond promptly if I want to get that audition, accept a job or move a project forward.

I’m not the only one wondering about how many hours to work: working more than 40 hours a week is useless the 40 hour work week back? of the 40 hour work week

Thursday, August 09, 2012

Do it yourself?

These days, we often have the choice of doing many things ourselves that we used to have to pay for...from pumping our own gas to printing our own business cards and documents.  We may save time and money...or not.  We may enjoy the control over our products and time, or be frustrated by the process.  (Does anyone like self-checkout at the grocery?  It's not faster--there's often a line, and scanning your own items is tedious, especially when you have to type in produce codes, etc.  And when the machine acts up, you have to wait for an employee to help...)

When I was in graduate school, my typewriter (remember those?) had a correct key, but if I wanted a copy (there was no saving documents back then, not even on a disk), I'd use carbon paper to save the trip to and expense of a photocopy place (no printers, either).  You had to have your acting and business resumes typset and printed, so any change was a cumbersome and expensive process.     

As Internet use blossomed, more individuals had websites.  Even in 2006, designing your own site required knowledge of complicated code.  A few do it yourself options existed, but IMO the result looked too much like a template instead of professional graphics.  I couldn't figure out how to design a quality product on my own.  So after extensive research, I hired a designer for my author site (  Now there's WordPress and Weebly, among others. 

I recently asked my designer (biondo studio) to transfer that site to WordPress so I could update it...adding audio, video, links and new clients.  The goal was to save money.  Her rates are reasonable, but I want to make changes more frequently, which could add up.

But what is my time worth?  Do I want to learn all of these new products, programs and skills so I can adminster my business, or is the effort better spent on craft and marketing?  I tried to figure out WordPress, but didn't find it intuitive.  Adding additional text is one thing, but adding audio and video and/or adjusting the layout is quite another. Now a friend is helping me figure it out and offered to do my updates.  I've helped another friend print assorted documents because her printer died, and she hasn't made time to research and purchase another.          

So sometimes do it yourself becomes do it for your friends.                  

Thursday, August 02, 2012

Do what you say you will

If you say you’re going to do something, do it.  When you said you would. 

Meeting deadlines and following through are key aspects of feelancing.  You won’t keep a client for long if you tell him a project will be finished by a certain date and time, but don’t deliver.  Talent agents won't continue to submit actors who are late to auditions/jobs or unprepared.  On occasion, you might have a legitimate reason for being late.  But in general, it’s essential to keep your word.

Others, who have their own deadlines, are depending on you.

I usually try to build in extra time on my end.  (In Chicago, people often blame traffic or difficulty finding parking for not showing up on time.   I say leave earlier.)  If it’s a VO job, I can’t know if there’ll be construction in my neighborhood or a thunderstorm.  Or if I’ll have an audition to prepare for/go to/submit or another job(s) due around the same time.  I don’t want the pressure of having to work into the wee hours, or decide to reschedule social events because I didn’t effectively allocate my resources.     

Many times, you don’t have control over all parts of a project, and have to wait until others deliver before you can.   Often my contact can’t send me the script until others write and/or approve it.        

Challenges arise when expectations aren’t met.  For example, a client says, “I have an X minute (or number of words) VO for you that I need by Y.  You’ll have the script by Z.” 

I plan accordingly.  But the script might arrive later than I was told.  Or it’s longer than expected, which means it’ll take me longer to do.  Yet in both cases, only rarely is my delivery time extended.  Because my client has to pass the files on to someone higher up the food chain or to his client, who my client doesn't want to risk losing by missing his deadline....

The goal is to be reliable, someone clients can count on.  I'm glad for the work and the opportunity to build relationships.  If someone doesn't do what he says he will, even if it's because someone else didn't do what he said he would, does that void my part of the agreement?  Do I push myself, make my life more difficult in the short term to help out my client?  When do you cross the line of being dependable to being a pushover?  If I say I can't deliver this much product in this small amount of time, will someone else?