Friday, December 20, 2013

Still Gainfully Unemployed

I started this blog years ago because friends kept asking how I was going to spend my time after leaving my lucrative day job to pursue acting. I think they thought I was going to watch Oprah and get manicures. Maybe they didn't think I could get enough paying work.

In the days before FB and social media were all the rage, this seemed like a good way to keep them informed.  I didn't try to grow readership or become known as a blogger. For years, I blogged every Thursday like clockwork. Now I think I've covered most of the issues I wanted to discuss.

I'm managing a career as a full-time freelancer...and spend my business days auditioning, self-marketing, and doing paying VO and on-camera jobs and the very occasional print shoot. I work via talent agents for big gigs, such as national TV commercials, and have acquired some private clients, mostly for technical and medical narration. I sell the occasional article. I give a few workshops and act in some films and web series.

The business can be random. Some weeks (fortunately, not that many) I might have no incoming auditions (though I can always find something to self-submit to) or jobs, others I'm running to and fro. Of course things slow down for the holidays, which gives me time to catch up on other things. 

I've been put on hold for projects, then released. An audition might get cancelled. On the other hand, an audition or even a booking might pop up on short notice. A client might pay more to use something I did for a longer period of time. I'm always grateful for direct bookings (meaning I don't have to audition, someone just hires me). 

I used to spend more time and effort writing manuscripts and trying to get them published than I did this year, though I still have interest in two manuscripts. Seriously considering self-publishing next year.

Can I continue on this path, or will I have to return to Gainful Employment? Time will tell. 

I'll continue to post every so often. Or perhaps more often if I do self-publish or sell and find that path worth documenting.

Hoping for a great and rewarding 2014.

Friday, November 29, 2013


Much has been made this year of the once in a many lifetime confluence of Hanukkah and Thanksgiving.

I'm not usually big on the holidays because of all of the preparation for so little actual dining time, resulting in so much cleanup.  I was glad that my mom decided to go to a restaurant for the first time.  She chose a buffet at a popular restaurant near her so we could go to her place after we ate, light candles and open gifts for kids only.

The vast repast included turkey, carved sirloin and ham my brother couldn't stop raving about. Crab cakes and amazing grilled salmon for seafood lovers, butternut squash ravioli for vegetarians. Sides included several kinds of soup, 3 kinds of deviled eggs, several salad options, delicious Brussels sprouts, crusty baked mac 'n cheese, mashed potatoes, stuffing (not as good as my mom's IMO and too salty), sweet potatoes and green bean casserole. Dessert was several kinds of cookies, delicious cheesecake and very pumpkiny pumpkin chiffon pie.  We all went around the table and said what we were thankful for.  The only downside: no leftovers.

It did seem a little less homey to eat out and then gather at my mom's (possibly the first time ever with no food except for a fruit platter), but IMO worth it because of all of the saved time and effort. 

My mom had two menorahs prepared with candles so my niece and nephew could each light one. We sang the blessing. The kids enjoyed opening their gifts, even though my mom and I got my nephew one of the same books.  He looked forward to returning one and choosing another gift.

Then my mom pulled out something from her freezer.  She'd made our favorite stuffing and wrapped portions in foil for us to take home. The thoughtful gesture, knowing that stuffing and leftovers awaited restored any missing joie de vivre.

There are many different kinds of holidays and people to share them with. The sense of family and celebration comes from within.

Friday, November 22, 2013

Obamacare and I

As a gainfully self-employed person, my current insurance plan was one of those canceled because of the Affordable Care Act, aka Obamacare. I wanted to believe the ACA was a good thing for me and America. That I could still get good coverage, and save money.

Hearing about all of the problems rolling out the federal marketplace site kept me from hopping onto the  site right away. But my current insurer set an end of November deadline for choosing a new plan through it....

So earlier this week I went to the federal marketplace site and painstakingly typed in all of the requested info for my application, feeling a bit odd as I wondered about the safety of my and other Americans' data. And then when I went to register...poof. I got an error message that said to try again later. I called a broker (recommended by a friend) who prefers BCBS plans, and got his take on the whole process.  Even after all I've read and heard, I wasn't aware until talking to him that I could just buy private insurance and bypass the marketplace. If I decide to do that, I'll have to see if there's a way to unregister?

I have 2 undergrad and 2 graduate degrees and passed the IL bar exam, yet I can't seem to grasp the ins and outs of all of the different plans or what the best approach for me is despite all of the information out there. It looks like I'll pay a lower monthly premium than I do now, but  my deductible will be nearly twice as high and I won't have as much 100% coverage, and, depending on the plan, might have some copays, unless I go with an HSA plan...which means more paperwork and things to figure out. Hope I stay healthy!

The special Aetna site won't let me log in, and says to call a certain 888 number. The wait was 30 minutes. I called back, deciding to suck it up and wait. The line was busy. I'll try again later.

So far, this has been a frustrating process...and despite spending several hours reading, clicking, entering and browsing, I don't have a new plan ready to go, nor am I sure if I want to be in or out of the marketplace.

I hope the process is going more smoothly for others.... 

Thursday, November 14, 2013

Do what you say you will

If you say you're going to call or communicate with someone, complete a task or be somewhere by a certain time, follow through. The other person or people are counting on you.  Respect the bond of your word and other people's time.  Don't let them or yourself down.

Perhaps co-workers need your part of project or information so they can move forward with theirs in a timely manner. Maybe your significant other, family member or friend is waiting for you to let them know when you're available so you can get together.  Perhaps they juggled their schedules to do whatever was agreed upon, but you were late.

I took an acting class in which one topic was professionalism, including punctuality.  Yet we'd start late if someone hadn't bothered to show up on time.  I've also been at rehearsals that fellow cast members couldn't make for one reason or another.  Their absence makes blocking, dancing and running scenes without them and then catching them up harder for everyone else.

Why do one or two people get to hold up others?  As Spock said, the needs of the many outweigh the needs of the few.  I believe meetings, rehearsals, gigs, etc. should start when scheduled to respect the time and other commitments of those who did arrive as scheduled.       

Some voiceover scripts take longer to be vetted by the client than expected, leaving me with less time to record than expected.  The client's delivery date can't always be extended, so I may have to work faster.

Of course there can be extenuating circumstances.  People might sick, for example.  Some blame weather or traffic.  That won't fly with Chicago casting agencies or production companies. They don't want to hear that traffic was bad or parking was hard to find. They expect talent to leave earlier.

Do your best to do what you say you will.   

Friday, November 08, 2013


Feelancers never know when the phone will ring or they’ll get an email asking for a quote or offering work.  We just go about our business, completing projects already on our plates or prospecting for more.  But we’re always hoping more work comes in.  

For actors, suspense for a gig can last days or weeks. In addition to auditioning (and waiting to hear about a callback, or having a callback and waiting while not thinking about waiting for the call that we got the job or the shoot date to pass) or quoting our rates for projects when we may not know when the shoot/recording date(s) will be, we also get put on check avail and hold (or “on ice”).

Check avail means a client may want to book you on a certain date.  I got one yesterday for a VO job in the suburbs tomorrow, but I don’t know exactly when I’ll hear if I’m doing it or not.  For almost a week, I’ve also been on hold for three days this month for an on-camera industrial for a major corporation, and have been told I’m one of two finalists for the role (I don’t know how many auditioned). 
That agent has called a couple of times since.  When I see their number in Caller ID, I think they’re calling to let me know one way or the other.  But it’s been about something else.

If I happen to get something else for one of those days, the corporation gets first refusal.  I have to contact the agent before committing to the second opportunity.  This leads to more suspense, wondering if #1 will release me or book me, and what either means for #2.

Even if I don’t get the gigs, check avail and hold means more client interest than an audition or a callback.  There’s a chance the client will want me for a future project, and it’s good for staying on the agent’s radar and reminding them you can do that kind of work. 
So I don't sit by the phone and keep wondering when I'll find out, though there's nothing I can do to make it ring, I focus on other tasks.  A watched pot will never boil and all that.  But knowledge is power, as, IMO, is knowledge of my schedule and whether I'm working for a client or not on a given day, especially when the potential job is only a day away.... 



Thursday, October 31, 2013

I don't care

Some days your (or friends or family member's) first world problems could get you down, especially when it rains and they pour. Instead of getting frustrated and worrying, I'm going to be a duck and let the literal and virtual rain roll off.

Say something breaks and you need to stop everything to get repairs in the works.  Don't bemoan the issue. Take steps to get it repaired and move on.  When your work calendar is filled with tedious administrative tasks and follow up rather than creative and entertaining projects, don't procrastinate. Make yourself do those pesky items so you can feel good about checking all of them off your list. Remind yourself that auditions, opportunities and/or jobs can and will come at any time.  Dwelling on the negative, as they say, doesn't empty tomorrow of troubles but drains today of strength.

Continue to put irons in the fire. Reward yourself with a short break to do something you enjoy. Vent (briefly) to a supportive friend, if needed. Look forward to things that make your day, such as fun social activities, catching up with TiVo, and/or reading.  If you can, schedule a massage or facial to help you relax while doing something good for yourself.

As I write this, the sky is clearing and brightening.  Really!

Thursday, October 24, 2013

Ebb and flow

Feelancers control how many outgoing self-marketing things they do in a given week, but they can't control the number and timing of incoming opportunities. Some weeks I may have only one audition via a talent agent, no clients offering work, no work already scheduled. My head may know that's just part of the ebb and flow of the Gainfully Unemployed (aka self-employed), but occasionally my heart still stresses out when the phone's not ringing and the inbox is empty.

Last week was super slow....only one incoming audition, no jobs. Although I always submit at least a few auditions to pay-to-play sites, Actors Access, Casting Networks and/or Craigslist, I don't keep close track of those because they can be like throwing spaghetti at a wall.

Slower weeks yield time to catch up on administrative tasks, such as following up on a couple of unpaid invoices, and, of course, more self-marketing. And to attend networking events and/or learn more about the industry. Last week, I went to a recording studio's party, a reception for and the actual all day film summit.

This week, I've had 8 auditions so far, a VO job from a pay-to-play site (and the client didn't ask for any revisions), and another from a new, possibly ongoing, client.

There can be benefits even when I don't get the outcome I'd like. One on-camera audition was cancelled (fortunately I hadn't prepared for it), but there was communication with a talent buyer, so I know there was interest in seeing me. I was on hold for two radio spots I didn't even audition for, showing interest on the part of the producer who submitted me and the potential client.

Most actors I know also work for free on occasion, to expand their repertoire and/or hope for an addition to their demo reel, have fun, make new contacts, help a friend and/or increase exposure.  I pick and choose such projects carefully, because they can take a lot of time and/or end up conflicting with paying projects. I fit in a short filming session for an Internet video project and three rehearsals for two upcoming stage shows.

Since I have to finish editing two of this week's auditions, back to work!

Monday, October 21, 2013

My kind of town...

...Chicago is. There are just so many things to do and see, from theatre to events, and so many great restaurants in this beautiful city that some weekends burst at the seams. 

Friday was an art show at Intuit (which managed to snag the great domain,, followed by a tasty Italian dinner. Saturday began with Draw Like Darger, part of Big Draw Chicago. I wish I could have made it to some of the other BDC events, but this one was wonderful and so well-organized. We selected squares with images of Darger's drawings and were encouraged to combine elements rather than copying each square.  Using tracing paper, we outlined people, butterflies, flowers, etc., to create our drawings, then brought them to life with colored pencils.

Open House Chicago, offering access to and tours of many buildings and homes, was also this weekend. After I whisked off to a student film audition, we went to two near DLD, then saw a friend in a short play produced by another friend. After that was the VIP Reception for the Film + Media Summit, which was at the vast Cinespace Studios.

Sunday I went to the Summit, and enjoyed seeing friends, panels with industry experts and networking opportunities. My favorite was a talk by Lance Weiler on transmedia. He's involved in so many amazing projects, it's mind boggling. I had to leave early to go to a rehearsal in the suburbs for a play next week. This was our first staging with the entire cast and musicians. Then a delicious dinner at a bar/restaurant near me I'd never been to before.

Next weekend's calendar is already filling up...


Thursday, October 10, 2013

The cost(s) of health and other insurance

One thing I miss about gainful employment is company provided health insurance.  Not only was it reasonably priced at the time, decisions were easier.  Now the GU and GE have so many more decisions to make.  And for some of us, more to pay?

So much is being written about Obamacare/The Affordable Healthcare Act and how it may or may not benefit the insured.  I’ve gotten several letters from my current insurance company, but have been waiting to pay attention to them until some of the hoopla dies down and the new ACA websites work better.  We may get more or less coverage than we had, but at what costs?

Premium costs may be clear.  But because the prices of treatments are not, even with my and some friends’ current insurance, who knows how much we’ll actually have to pay out of pocket, if, say, we need minor surgery?  How can we prevent those unpleasant surprises when bills arrive?

The time, energy and often frustration individual consumers spend to figure all of this out are also costs.  There are costs to businesses to implement new laws --from employers to all of the exchanges and companies providing insurance. 

I recently switched my condo and auto insurance after finally getting one of those quotes purporting to save me money.  Lo and behold, it did.  But it took me some time to be sure I was getting the same coverage.  The change seemed to go smoothly.  Until my former insurer didn’t respond to my cancellation request.  (When I followed up, they didn’t even ask why I was cancelling.)  Then the new insurer sent follow up papers I found confusing, with not much time to respond upon threat of the new policies being cancelled.

We are at the mercy of insurance companies and their policies.  I’d like to feel like a valued customer vs. a number.  With so many changes, so many deadlines, can that happen? 

Thursday, October 03, 2013

Ding Dong! The Witch is Dead.

Hard to believe, but this is my 25th year performing in The Bar Show, The Chicago Bar Association's original parody musical revue written and performed by talented lawyers. And I'm the chair of the 90th annual production, THE MERRY OLD LAND OF LAWz, which runs December 4-8th.

The Bar Show’s not just for lawyers. It's for anyone who is interested in the news, current events, celebrities and life in general.  Who wouldn't want to see Governor Quinn opine about same sex marriage to the tune of “Ding Dong! The Witch is Dead?” Hear Lisa Madigan and Deb Mell sing “A Dad Like That” to “A Boy Like That” from West Side Story

What will The Bar Show’s creative team do with Robin Thicke’s “Blurred Lines” and Macklemore and Lewis’s “Thrift Shop?” Plus we'll have parodies of songs from popular musicals such as Wicked and The Sound of Music. Casting is underway, and rehearsals start soon.

More than 60 attorneys will dance and sing under the direction of Jeff Award-winning Marla Lampert. My favorite roles include the difficult chair dance in "Rahm Emanuel, the Favorite Son," My favorite number that I wasn't in is "Pay Miserables."

To buy tickets and see highlights of previous shows, visit The Bar Show at

Thursday, September 26, 2013

Improve your concentration

I have a major scene involving some research and new characters to add to a manuscript thanks to an editor's suggestion.  Ideas and approaches have been churning in the back of my mind, but it's time to get this scene written and the revised manuscript off to the editor.  

I'm a morning person, and think better and faster before dinner.  So I like to work 9 to 5 ish, in big blocks of time.  I don't do as well with 15 minutes here or there, unlike some writer friends who can produce an entire scene in their SUVs while waiting to pick up their kids from soccer or ballet.

Others may find their minds work better in the evening, but social and family plans may keep pushing projects off. 

Some prefer to work in total and uninterrupted silence (me), others find certain kinds of music help them focus.  There are times I can get a lot done in a Starbucks.  Other times, the music, chatter and even noise from the cappuccino machines and blenders are disruptive. 

I need to get in and stay in the zone.  Once I'm distracted by, say, a phone call, it's harder to return to quality concentration. 

How can you make the most of your most productive hours?  First, you need to know when they are.  Second, list things that keep you from doing your best work.  I don't like little projects--emails I need to return, auditions that are due soon--hanging over my head.  So I clean my desk before tackling larger projects...though some experts advise the opposite.  Exercising and eating a good, healthy meal vs. a heavy one help me feel on top of my game.  Consider working with a friend to reinforce each other's goals and help keep your noses to the grindstone.

Some days it's easy.  Others, like the beautiful fall days we're having in Chicago or when a friend wants to go to breakfast or lunch, it's more of a challenge to put in what I consider to be enough hours.


Foods for Better Concentration

Huffington Post: 13 Ways to Improve Concentration on the Job 

Thursday, September 19, 2013

Juggling & plate spinning

Some weeks being a feelancer is akin in certain respects to being a juggler and a plate spinner.  Not only do I have to keep my eye and focus on many balls in the air, I have to run down the line to make sure my plates are still spinning.  If I drop a ball or a plate falls, I could lose income and disappoint a client/agent/casting director and myself.

I want to juggle more balls, spin more plates... but what's the tipping point?  I can't know when another ball will get thrown at me.  Work and auditions seem to have a shorter lead time than they used to, and we're asked to keep more days open when we audition...   For example, a project I'm auditioning for this week needs two weeks of availability in October.  And tomorrow was open on my calendar.  I'd planned to take care of assorted details and finish judging a writing contest.

I just got called by a client who may want me to work tomorrow for a couple of hours in a location TBA. Great!  It's not confirmed, however, and I don't know when it will be.  And I was just asked to be on a call this afternoon.  Ok.  Now I need to juggle and spin faster so I can still get the work done I'd allocated to those times. 

Then again, sometimes I can't do it all, even if I want to.  Sometimes I have to say no, though I'd like to do another job or help out this or that committee or organization.  I was asked to do a film Saturday in Milwaukee, but wouldn't have been done in time to be back in Chicago for a previous commitment.   

Having so many balls and plates is exciting.  I have to focus on that, and let any stress go.


Friday, September 13, 2013

Priorities, priorities

Everyone needs to prioritize daily, weekly, and monthly tasks.  Some do it well, while others rationalize and justify poor choices.  Many sites offer advice, such as making a to do list, then ordering tasks by importance.  Or ways to break down large projects so we can meet our deadlines.

Do we let our emotions, heart or mind rule our time management?  Do we ask for extensions and still scramble to finish because we've let, say, social or online activities trump work? 

Some days, projects just take longer than we anticipate, through no fault of our own.  Doctor appointments, meetings, film shoots then leave fewer hours in a day we can work.  For an actor, fitting in a haircut before a big audition or after a shoot (couldn't get it cut before because it had to be the same as at the callback) can take a chunk out of a day.  Or jobs or auditions can pop up or are rescheduled, taking priority over other things we'd planned.

Occasionally pressure to get stuff done competes with sleep or necessitates canceling or postponing social events.  I woke up before 4:00am this morning, mind already filled with time-sensitive tasks.  The satisfaction of checking many items off of my list before 9:00am tastes as good as morning coffee.  Perhaps I'll need more caffeine to stay awake to enjoy my evening...
Time Management Guide
Mind Tools

Thursday, September 05, 2013

Playing catch up vs. making progress

Many feelancers and Gainfully Employed have to do lists a mile long.  Checking items off can be very satisfying.  But how much of what we do in a given day, week or even month is playing catch up, and how much is making actual progress toward our goals?  Do you even have goals?

Catch up tasks are often very specific, and thus may be easier to accomplish, from emails we need to respond to to learning lines for today's on-camera auditions or gathering wardrobe for tomorrow's fitting.  I like to get these out of the way and out of my mind so I can delve into bigger projects.

I had an article due this week on an assigned topic.  I'm not a procrastinator, so I'd been working on it off and on.  This morning I put on the finishing touches, and sent it to the editor.  But does the article qualify as making progress toward my main goals, such as getting more on-camera acting work?  Not unless someone who reads it sees my website in the "about the author" section and decides to hire me, which is unlikely given the audience for this particular publication.  But I said I'd write it, so I did. 

Suggestion: every time you say yes to a task, ask yourself if it's just for fun, to help someone else out, or if it pertains to your core business goals.  Often we respond to emotion instead of logic, and commit to things we don't really need or want to do.  For example, I agreed to judge another writing contest because I know the coordinator and she asked me.  I'll probably enjoy critiquing the entries, but my time could be put to better use.

Career goals are often more amorphous, and need to be broken down into concrete, discrete steps.  To some, that task itself is overwhelming.  There are so many possibilities.  Where do I start?  Start at the beginning.  As Nora Roberts (the multiple NYT bestselling author) says, "You can't edit a blank page."  What are three things you can do today that will bring you closer to achieving your goals?  

Thursday, August 29, 2013

Is this the one?

Each week I audition for and submit to a variety of projects, from film to TV to web series to VO jobs.  Some opportunities come from agents, some from referrals (including one this week from a client in the Dominican Republic!), a few from networking, and some I seek out. 

And occasionally, like last night, I participate in what’s called “generals,” where a group of people audition to be part of a database for future projects.  Talent buyers view/listen to the submissions, and either cast directly from those (which is very nice) or ask for an audition from a script specific to the project at hand.  I’ve noticed that more potential clients are creating their own databases, instead of only relying on casting or talent agencies or even Craigslist to provide talent. 

I never know which thing will come to fruition.  Will I get a callback and/or the job?  Will the potential client respond to my submission at all, much less ask me to audition in person or via self-recording?  If my audition is great, will anyone who saw it remember me for additional projects? 

I try to let such thoughts go, because once I’ve auditioned there’s nothing else I can do.  So I keep putting more irons in the fire.  But every once in awhile, the more I try to stop thinking, the more the thoughts stay.  Like a song stuck in my head.  Especially if it’s a role I really want, a huge project like a national TV commercial or if I’d be working with someone I’ve wanted to work with. 

Over the years, you'd think I'd have gotten used to not hearing, waiting to hear, etc.  That getting called in to one of the big three casting agencies would be old hat.  But every audition is new and full of possibilities. 

Thursday, August 22, 2013


Chicago has a vibrant storytelling community.  Some evenings there are three live lit events to attend and/or participate in.  Each has its own vibe and approach.

I've told a couple of times at Here's the Story.  HtS offers a potluck, several featured storytellers and several walkups.  Stories should be memorized.

Last night I told for a standing room only crowd at Story Lab.  Held in the back room of the Black Rock Pub, this show has six storytellers plus a story told by the host.  Storytellers gather a couple of weeks before to get feedback on their stories, with time to revise before the big night.  Stories must be true, between 7-10 minutes, and don't have to be memorized.

What does it take to be a storyteller?  First you have to think of a story you want to share, craft the arc of emotions to convey and decide which details stay and what go.  It's important, IMO, not just to read, but to perform and draw the audience in.

I enjoy doing the storytelling and deciding what to say.  But it can take a lot of time to revise and then to rehearse, so I'm not sure how many more I'll do.  However, I know the producers and the host of another popular show and may want to tell there....

Thursday, August 15, 2013

The eye of the beholder

When submitting an audition, manuscript, or any project, I want to put my best foot forward so I can get the job, sell the book, earn money and feel productive.  But everyone else in the pool wants the work also, and is doing his or her best.  Which leaves the client in the fortunate position to choose who he or she thinks suits the project at hand. 

Our product may be great.  But it may not catch the eye and ear of the beholder.  They may already hear a voice in their heads they want to match, or envision someone older, younger, taller, or with different hair.

Perhaps another  sample of our work would’ve done the trick,  or another picture. Nowadays more demos and clips are the norm for actors.  A general narration demo may not suffice when others have eLearning, medical, technical, audiobook and/or promo demos, too.   A single on-camera reel may be all you can put together with the clips you’ve been able to accumulate.  Many talent now have separate dramatic and comedy reels.  At some point, I’d also like to offer hosting and commercial reels.

Occasionally I’m asked to audition for an actual historical figure, celebrity, fictional character or to create the voice of a mascot.  Usually they include a link to a sound bite of the person or at least what they have in mind.  I listen carefully to every nuance. 
Can I match the timbre and inflection?  It may sound great when I’m recording, but not so great when I play it back in my headphones.  How can I match the sound?  Or if I’m creating a voice to go with a picture or drawing, will my imagination harmonize with the client’s? 
For today's casino game audition, I'm pretty sure I got the requested character's laugh down.  Pacing, too.  The nasal quality - check.  But there's a certain roundness to her tone I'm not as sure about. 
As with any audition, I can't dwell on the outcome, over which I have no control.  Onto the next....

Thursday, August 08, 2013

Planning my feelancing days has gotten more challenging over the years because I'm still not very spontaneous.  Others may be fine with ever-changing client and agent requests.  But writing auditions, jobs, social events, etc. in ink (yes, I use a paper calendar because it's easier IMO than trying to click around on my phone to find the day(s) in question and see what's already on them) gives me a sense of satisfaction.  I like having some sense of certainty and order.  In the acting business, that's rare.

A potential new client informed me on 8/7 that I was one of 6 selects--in this case, the top 3 male and 3 female voices for a Friday morning session.  The client would make the final decision.  I could reschedule or perhaps push back breakfast with a friend, but if I don't get the job I'd rather leave things as they are.  I have no way of knowing when I'll hear, or even if. 

More and more often audition specs list the shoot/recording date as TBA or week of.  So while I glance at my upcoming calendar each time I audition, I can't know if I'll book any of the gigs or when they might happen.  Some on-camera auditions want availability for a callback, wardrobe fitting, and however many days of the shoot. 

Fortunately my friends are flexible.  But doctors and other service providers often require 24 hours notice of cancellation or payment of a fee or the cost of the visit.  If I don't find out about an audition or callback until after 5PM, I either suck up the cancellation cost or pass on the opportunity. 

And as for travel, it's been awhile since I've taken a long vacation.  Last month I was out of town at a conference for a mere 2 business days, but missed out on a couple of things because one of those days was either when something I could've auditioned for was shooting, or the only time I could've auditioned. 

It's a matter of juggling priorities.  I do enjoy having many balls in the air, but sometimes I'd like to be sure how many I'll be keeping track of at once.

Thursday, August 01, 2013

To play or not to play?

A colleague called to ask if I'd be interested in auditioning for one of two lead roles in a play she's in that'll run for 16 performances.  Quite flattering to hear that she'd recommended me to the director.

For a variety of reasons, I haven't done a play for a long time, or even auditioned.  Several years ago I was asked to audition for the part of Golde in a non-Equity touring production of Fiddler on the Roof, but the weekly pay was much too low for me to consider being out of town for weeks at a time, so I declined.

Most non-Equity theatre in Chicago doesn't pay well either, so if I got the part I wouldn't be doing it for the money.  I'd do it for the experience, resume credit and exposure.  I've heard two major TV/film casting directors here talk about the value of doing theatre.  But would they or my talent agents come to see this production of a well-known play, or is it enough for them to know I did it?  Would it get good reviews, or perhaps even a Jeff (Chicago's version of the Tony Awards) nomination?

I have to consider the rehearsal and performance time commitments, which would be significant.  I probably wouldn't have an understudy.  Would needing to be at rehearsal or a performance prevent me from doing any on-camera work?   One of the major casting agencies requires auditionees to put theatre conflicts on each audition form. Many TV series are filming here this fall, but there's no way to know if or how often I'd have the opportunity to audition for them.  Or would the play conflict with other commitments?  Fortunately the theatre is nearby, so I wouldn't have to spend a lot of time commuting or money on gas.

I'm looking forward to talking with the director and gathering more information....

Thursday, July 25, 2013


It's rewarding to mark milestones along my acting feelancer path, from my first audition at a major casting agency to my first VO and on-camera bookings to my first national TV commercial. 

This week: my first time auditioning at all three of Chicago’s major casting Tuesday, one Wednesday and one Thursday.

Another milestone is that for the first time I've been cast in five on-camera projects at once, from a sitcom pilot to a TV reporter in an indie feature, two web series and a short film.  And I'm waiting for two corporate VO scripts.

As an entrepreneur, business metrics are important.  So I’m surprised when I hear that other actors don’t keep track of things, such as how many auditions they average per week, where the auditions are and for what client and product.  Some don't even keep a list of all of their bookings.  Some audio book actors know how much they earned for the entire book, but they don't calculate their hourly rate.  Five thousand may sound like a lot, but perhaps isn't so great if your target hourly rate is say, $50, and the finished hours took 200 hours to produce, which is only $25/hour.
Increased revenue is of course one way to tell if your business is growing, but I also want to know if I’m auditioning more often and for what I consider to be better clients and better projects, and also for different production companies and/or ad agencies.
Consider keeping a chart of your stats and referring to it at least monthly.  Then you'll be able to see where you've been and could have even more milestones to note.

Monday, July 22, 2013


Where was I Thursday morning, my usual blogging time? In Atlanta with luminaries of the romance writing community.  Approximately 2000 other romance writers from household names to newbies, editors, agents and other industry professionals attended Romance Writers of America’s 33rd National Conference.  The wealth of educational and networking opportunities made it a challenge to decide how to spend my time.  Should I attend one of the 10+ workshops an hour, free publishers’ book signings or publisher spotlights?  Not if they conflicted with agent and editor appointments.  There were also assorted get-togethers and parties, and a lot of catching up with friends and making new ones.
I participated in a panel workshop, “There’s no ‘I’ in Bestseller: Why Hitting the List is a Team Effort” with NYT bestseller Simone Elkeles, her editor Emily Easton, her agent Kristin Nelson, her virtual assistant and her other critique partner. I also met with three editors, an agent and many friends, and had a lovely talk with Library Journal's Bette-Lee Fox, who won RWA's national industry award, and Daisy Marles, executive editor of Publisher's Weekly.
I came home with 40 free print books and 9 e-books without even trying very hard, a lot of information about craft and changes in the industry including trends and the growth of self-and e-publishing, and many compliments about my writing.
Back to the keyboard.  To get my submissions out, not blog.... 

Thursday, July 11, 2013


What do you do when you feel a cold coming on?  At the first sign of a scratchy throat, I reach for the Zicam or ColdEeze.  This time, trying to ward it off failed.  I got slammed by the worst cold I've had in years...including a throat so sore that every swallow was a challenge, a stuffed nose, and overall discombobulation.   

I tried to rest/sleep it off by watching The Walking Dead marathon, feeling like a zombie myself as I drank orange juice, took  Dayquil and Nyquil, assorted lozenges, tea and Throat Coat tea with honey....  After several episodes, I'd become inured to the gore of zombies chewing on people and getting their heads or eyes bashed in, but was glad to have so many episodes on my DVR.

Every so often I'd make my way to my computer, but couldn't focus on anything beyond an email or two.  I managed to go to a lovely garden party Saturday night, but suffered most of four days and nights. Lingering effects include some laryngitis.  I put off a couple of VO auditions as long as I could, and hope I didn't sound too scratchy when I did them.  I postponed a workshop.  I've never felt worse at an audition than I did this Tuesday, but the casting session director said she liked all three of my takes.  Fortunately the scene wasn't very long or complicated.

By the time Wednesday rolled around, I had so much to catch up on from errands to work that I put in more hours than usual, and rewarded myself by meeting friends for a late drink.  I still feel a little out of sorts. 

Usually I'm efficient and a pretty good time manager.  But when whole days are lost to illness, I feel derailed.  Getting back on track physically and mentally is a challenge.  Checking a lot of items off the to do list yesterday was satisfying, but there's also pressure to get out a large project that'd already be underway if I hadn't gotten sick.

Hope I'm back to 100% soon.

Thursday, July 04, 2013

Affordable health care?

This week I received a letter from Aetna saying my insurance plan isn't grandfathered under the upcoming health care law and I may have to pay more for health insurance.

I already pay what I consider to be a very high amount for a high deductible plan.  So why under a law that begins with "affordable" should I have to pay even more? 

I'm not looking forward to investigating all of the options...will I be able to pay less, but still have quality coverage?  Time will tell.  

Thursday, June 27, 2013

Liars, scammers and cheats, oh my!

Unfortunately, many of us will cross paths with people who have malicious intent.  They may lie, commit a crime such as embezzlement, or otherwise take advantage of those who believe in honesty.

Last night, I got more than one call from someone who purported to be a Microsoft Certified Technician.  I shouldn’t have even picked up the Unknown Name call, but I have a good friend who sometimes comes up that way on Caller ID....

The guy said MS servers showed reports that my PC suffered critical errors and could crash at any moment.  I’d worked with actual MSCTs extensively over Memorial Day, and wondered if that was how they had my PC ID and other information. 

I was very skeptical from the get go, and kept asking how I could be sure this wasn’t a scam.  The guy told me to go into run/eventvwr/custom views/administrative events.  Sure enough, there were literally hundreds of red error exclamation points and dozens of yellow warnings. Very scary looking. 

To fix these issues, he wanted me to download something from, which he said partnered with Microsoft.  That was that.  I knew better than to download anything.

I’m annoyed that I even gave the guy the time of day.  But I had spent many hours with MSCTs only a month ago, and thought perhaps they were following up because of that.  I wish you could hear how convincing and persistent he was.  I’m glad I didn’t fall for it.  But how many do? 

How many people trust that others have good intentions?  It's sad that bad apples spoil so many bushels.

Thursday, June 20, 2013

Gifts that keep on giving

Every career has its ups and downs, so sometimes we have to take the good with the bad.  When I embarked upon the life of a freelancer after 16 years in corporate America sales, marketing and training, I knew I was leaving behind more than four weeks of paid vacation and personal days, benefits, and a salary. I knew I’d need to rely even more on self-discipline.  I didn’t know what would surprise me the most--positively or negatively-- about my new lifestyle.

The not as good:

1. Scheduling. 
a. Auditions can pop up at any time. If it's on-camera, they’ll say, “Be at this casting agency at 1:05 on Tuesday.”  Only rarely can you ask for a different time.  Turnaround times for VO auditions seem to be getting shorter. 

b. It's great to be put on first refusal or hold for a project, but I can’t really plan anything else for that day or days. And there's no way of knowing when I’ll find out if I booked the job or have been released.          

c. More and more often the recording or shoot date is listed as TBD. 

2. Being a one-man-band.  I record and edit some jobs and submit most VO auditions from home.  So I had to learn more than I wanted to about audio engineering. Fortunately I have helpful, knowledgeable friends, and access to other home and actual studios, should the need arise. Sometimes I'll record a big audition with a friend so I have another set of ears to hear if I'm meeting the audition specs.  More on-camera auditions now ask for self-submissions. Meaning I need someone to help with recording and to be my reader if it’s a scene or spot with dialogue. 

The great:

1. Rerecords.  I didn’t realize how many times clients would make changes to things I’ve recorded and need rerecord sessions. Sometimes there are only a few short paragraphs to record, but they have to pay for an hour of my time.  And I don’t have to audition.

2. Usage fees.  A job usually has a session fee plus usage, such as X dollars for Y months on the Internet.  When those Y months are up, if they want to keep using the recording, they have to pay again.

3. Lifts.  Sometimes I’ll do, say, a :30 spot.  Then they decide they also want to make it into a :15, so they “lift” some of the content.  And I get paid for that, though I don’t do any additional work.
May there be many more great surprises.

Thursday, June 13, 2013

Stop Procrastinating

I'm not usually a procrastinator.  I rarely pulled all-nighters in college or graduate school (except on occasion to type a long paper in the days before word processing or even correct keys).  I don't scramble to meet deadlines and am always early.  But I confess to procrastinating on a recent project.

I much prefer the satisfaction of productivity, accomplishment and checking items off my list than carrying around the weight of not finishing something I need to do.  This project hung over me like a dark cloud, yet I still put off finishing it. And that made me feel worse. 

People procrastinate for a variety of reasons.  Some do it out of fear...of failure or success.  Others, to avoid unpleasant, difficult or seemingly overwhelming or possibly painful tasks or conversations.  Online research shows some consider chronic procrastination to be an addictive disorder.

In my case, the diagnosis was secondguessitis.  I'd sit down to do the work with plenty of time to devote, yet be stifled by uncertainty.  Would the recipients like it?  Was the product as good as I could make it?  Did I need more preparation or research before diving in?  Instead of pressing on, just doing it and trusting my instincts and experience, I'd troll the Internet, run errands, clean and organize my condo, make time for less important stuff....    

Some interesting takes on why people procrastinate:
Time Management

BBC News Magazine


The Neighborhood Counselor

Thursday, June 06, 2013

Good news!

This week, I’ve been fortunate to have a lot of good news.  For an actor, that can come in many forms.  I’ve been Gainfully Unemployed for years, but it’s still good news every time an audition comes in.  IMO, it’s better news if it’s for one of the three major Chicago casting directors and/or an ongoing gig. 

A callback is next up the food chain.  That means the field has been narrowed, and you get another opportunity to show what you can do and further relationships.  Next might be a “first refusal,” meaning you’re in the running (and if you get another job the same day, you have to let the first client know so s/he can decide to book you or not).  After that is “on hold” or “on ice,” which according to SAG-AFTRA means you’re due a cancellation fee if you’re not booked.  All three show your agent and the casting director or client that you brought to the table what was required, and show all industry professionals involved that you can do the job.  If you don't get selected, it's probably for reasons out of your control, such as the mix of blondes and brunettes, tall or short, young or older actors required.  

Booking the job is best, of course because you earn money.  You get to work with new and/or familiar actors, clients, production staff and crew,  and perhaps have another clip for your demo reel.  Other times, it's exciting because it's a role you really wanted, for someone you've been hoping to work with, or perhaps something you've been wanting to try that's outside your comfort zone . 

This week so far, I have 10 auditions (and a nice mix of VO, on-camera and print at that), one callback (independent feature film), one first refusal (TV spot), and a booking for next week.

 Here’s to more good news.

Thursday, May 30, 2013

Technology vs. People

Sometimes I think I’m at war with technology, from my PC to printers and software.  When it works as it should, peace reigns.

On occasion, I discover a feature I didn’t know I had.  That’s like getting a gift from an ally.  I recently learned that my color printer came with a nifty device for scanning 35 mm negatives.  Figuring it out was easy, it works like a charm, and, because you can do a strip at a time, is much faster than scanning individual pictures. You can also choose to exclude some frames.

But when technology doesn’t allow you to do what you need to, your stamina, mood and more are put to the test.  Troubleshooting is time consuming and can be exceedingly frustrating whether you try yourself or enlist the aid of customer support.  The Gainfully Employed often have the luxury of an IT department to resolve problems.  Feelancers usually don’t.  A Mac friend often helps, but my latest issue was with a Windows update. So I went straight to the source: Microsoft’s Answer Desk.

(If you’re wondering why I don’t just get a Mac...despite using said friend’s Macs, another during a three-month internship a couple of years ago and many recommendations to switch, I’m a PC.)

Connection to the Answer Desk via online chat.  I’d rather talk on the phone because it’s faster, an option offered on the screen, but learned that the techs prefer chat.  You’re given a case number if you have to leave before resolution, but each new tech I encountered had a different approach and wanted to start over.  You can grant remote access to your PC, allowing them to do all of the troubleshooting while you provide passwords and permission as necessary.  It’s a bit creepy watching your mouse move seemingly on its own, files opening and closing, programs running, but it’s faster than doing complicated msconfigs, regedits or whatever yourself.
Fifteen hours over several days later, after multiple fixes including reinstalling Windows 7, more than 150 updates, and 50+ reboots, they’d  escalated my case to a technician who made appointments with me to follow up and figured it out.  My PC is much faster.

With their help, I won this hard fought battle.   

Thursday, May 23, 2013

U.S. Cellular has sold its Chicago customers to Sprint, forcing me to get a new phone (though my Samsung SIII is only about a year old) and change providers. Sprint promised “exclusive” offers for switching, but what they just sent via postcard isn't much better than anyone can get online.  And who knows what the * followed by fine print will do to said offers, such as "subject to availablility." And a two-year contract is required, with an early termination fee of up to $350! 

I'm not sure I'll find another provider that can replace all of USC's benefits.  I have free incoming calls and texts. Unlimited data. Better reception and service even on subways than friends with iPhones and AT&T who I’ve traveled with to several states, including New York, Michigan, California.  I've heard others say that even in their own homes AT&T service is inconsistent.  The only downside : slightly slower phone recently lost a race with a friend's AT&T/iPhone to view directions.  
USC also offered a reasonable rate with sufficient minutes and free battery swaps.  And excellent and knowledgeable customer service reps, to me is an important feature. 

Now what? I’ve been doing some research and asking for recommendations. Some suggested pay as you go plans. A few nods each for the major carriers. But no concensus.
I can't go by ads.  First, many now focus on phones' video features, not my main concern.  Second, they all make promises that sound too good to believe.  And I wonder if the providers are spending too much money on marketing instead of upgrading their service and products.
Decision coming soon.

Thursday, May 16, 2013


Life presents constant temptations, from the urge to drop whatever you’re doing to respond to your phone’s insistent notifications (because that random text is more important than getting work done) or take social calls (as if you can’t talk to friends another time) to having another piece of pie to playing hooky on a nice day or at a friend’s suggestion to spending more money than you should. 

For some, giving in to temptation can be easily justified.  I want to.  I deserve a break (even if I haven’t made a dent in my to do list).  I need that, right now.   

If you resist temptation, what happens?  When you push yourself to work out instead of going out for drinks, or to finish that project that’s been on your plate for months instead of going out for lunch on a weekday?  Does the sense of satisfaction and accomplishment trump guilt over consuming too many calories or racking up more credit card debt?   

What seems like overindulgence to one may be rationalized by others.  They convince themselves succumbing is preferable to restraint.  So what if I have a hangover and am fuzzy-headed today, I had a great time last night.  So what if I ate that bowl of Alfredo pasta big enough to feed a family of four, it tasted delicious.  Would you still have had a good time if you consumed fewer drinks or took home leftovers?
Some believe treats and breaks are rewards for a good day's work, and are best enjoyed in moderation.  Others will have to deal with the consequences of excess. 
Which are you?

Thursday, May 09, 2013

Is rejection failure?

Many platitudes and sayings about failure espouse the theory that it’s not about falling down, it’s about getting back up again.  Presumably you just dust yourself off and start over again.

As if it’s that easy when something you worked diligently toward and gave your best efforts to doesn’t yield the results you wanted...whether it’s a book submission, an audition, a job interview, getting into a certain school or even a relationship. 

Instead of lamenting our letdowns, we’re supposed to put on our game face and keep going, be grateful for all we do have.  If we tell our friends, we should get sympathy and support, at least in the short term.  Good friends know the right things to say to shore up our feelings.
If we don't tell, no one except those doing the naysaying will know.  But if we've put it out there that we submitted to X editor or, as some do on FB, auditioned for Y role, some are bound to ask how it turned out.  "They went in a different direction," you might say.      
Certain careers are rejection prone--acting, freelancing, sales, writing.  If you get a “no,” put another iron in the fire and believe something will come to fruition eventually.  Or you may wonder if the time has come to choose a more stable career.  

Perhaps the key is not to get your hopes up.  Simply go about the business of pursuing your dreams with no expectations.