Grit

Angela Duckworth, in her seminal work on Grit, and how it makes us successful, lays out the 4 characteristics she believes defines a gritty person.

  1. They’re interested- Gritty people are passionate, excited and enjoy what they do.
  2. They practice- day after day, hour after hour.
  3. They have purpose- they believe their work matters and is meaningful.
  4. They have hope- they believe their dream is within reach.

You can take her grittiness test here.

I’m a 4.3 out of 5 on the scale.  This doesn’t surprise me.  I think I would out work anyone on anything, even if I didn’t care about the project anymore, just because that’s how my being works.  If you asked any friend of mine who was the most driven, disciplined person they know, I can guarantee I would top that last.  To a fault, for sure.  My tenacity often blinds me to what’s important and smarter work habits.  Often times I get so stuck on what I think is the best way to do something I will work myself ragged doing a 32-step process in order to come to the same result someone else could’ve, but with much less effort.

Hard work doesn’t scare me.  After working for 10 hours in the front yard one day this week on an extensive cleanout of the garden, I felt like a 1920’s cotton farmer- not at all blending in with the manicured, clean, callous-free hands of anyone around me.  While running wiring under the house in our crawl space last week, I was disgusted to see this as I army crawled in the 2 feet of space I had to move around:

underhouse

Yep.  That’s animal (I hope) bones.  There was a spine, a femur, and other assorted bits of bone.  That I had to crawl over.  <shudder>  But I did it.  It’s dirty, it’s gross, but I did it.  There have been several occasions I texted a pic to my husband of my days adventure in the attic or under the house, or clearing out a 200 pound branch that fell from our tree into the street, often with the caption: Today didn’t go how I planned.

The point of this post is not to praise my inability to be a gentle, polished, lovely lady.  The point is to say, I enjoy it.  The things I do- whether it’s the constant grind of an acting career and people yelling “NO!” or the endless house projects I just have to do and wouldn’t dream of paying someone to- are what make up who I am and the life I’m enjoying.  It’s a process, it’s a non-stop grate, it’s a sweating, dirty, aching, bleeding, crying, despairing, dreaming, exciting, joyful, painful lovely journey.

So when someone asks me why I do what I do- why I put up with agents who tell me to lose weight, or rejection on an hourly basis- or 12 years of solid, exhausting, diligent work and discipline that result in not one single film/tv agent interested in giving me a chance or the opportunity to say one line on a stupid ass CBS show like “I don’t know- He always kept to himself” all I can say is “Because.  Because it is and I am and we are.”  It’s as simple as that.  The work, the grit, the dream, the hope, the process and the journey.  They’re all mine, and I love them, despite their setbacks.  Mine.  It’s me and who I am.  I don’t plan on changing that.

 

Advertisements

Worth

I thumbed through shirt after shirt and rack after rack at TJ Maxx.  Too dark.  Too loose.  Too patterned.  This could work, though it’s not exactly like the pinterest ensemble.  Will my sweat show up on this?  What will everyone else be wearing?  Is it trendy enough?  Too trendy?  Does it accentuate my shoulders or make me look fat?

2 hours, a messy fitting room and endless picture texts to my sister later, I walk out of the store with 3 shirts, a pair of very cheap black boots, and some nail polish.  I feel lonely.  I feel insecure.  I wonder why I just spent all that time in that store, and all the time before it, looking up paired outfits.  Why did I do that?

The answer , if I dig down deep, is self doubt.  I do not feel confident enough in my own abilities for Friday nights’ performance.  So I fritter away my effort on trying to wear the most attractive outfit I can manage so that I might distract the viewers from watching my talent.  Instead, maybe they’ll see a pretty girl and be more lenient with my jokes that don’t land, or the characters that don’t work.

I hate this.  I hate that I feel insecure about my worth as an improv comedian.  I hate that a lifetime of being told I’m pretty makes me run to that shortcut when I feel doubtful.  I hate that it’s possible that’s worked in the past.  But, here we are.  I will likely primp and prep and obsess over my outward appearance for far too long on Friday, but I will also warm up, try for a group mind (though that’s difficult to do with a team you’ve practically just met), and put on my confident alter-ego until she convinces me that I belong there.

And I do.  I feel anxious typing the words, but I belong.  I auditioned for this.  People are paying me to do improv, so they must’ve seen something they wanted to invest in.  I’ve come to the rehearsals, I’ve brought what I have to the table.  I’ve taken my craft seriously, and I’ve attempted to make my teammates look good.

That is enough.

I belong.

Getting in shape

So…..

I MADE THE TEAM!!!!!

I am so pumped to be a part of Live on Fire, Whitefire Theatre’s livestreamed improv show.  We’ll be performing every Friday night in October.  I’ve been to 2 rehearsals so far, and I can say, these are some quality improvisers.  I’ve been on teams with not great improvisers.  It’s a drain.  Being on a team with people who take comedy as seriously as I do is refreshing, and, quite honestly, makes me get my butt in gear to work hard at improving!

The format is short form improv, which is not my forte nor my preference.  I’ve been doing long form for years so it’s been an adjustment to try and retrain my brain for shorter scenes, quicker jokes, faster one liners.  I’ve gotta say, I’m enjoying it!  There’s fun games, the players are great, and I’m just pumping away my comedy squats to get in shape.

As I mentioned before, it is a muscle that has to be kept in shape.  And I am flabby.  But you know how you come back from the gym after a hiatus and it burns and is uncomfortable to lift those 20 lbs, and you get frustrated because you used to be able to lift 40 with no problem?  Then, at the end of the workout, and then the next and the next, you start to feel your muscles responding to the routine and slowly remembering what it felt like and how they’re supposed to act?  It’s like that.  I feel awkward, but not discouraged.  I know I can do this, I just need to get some more reps in.

We’re doing musical improv too, which makes my heart sing.  That’s one area I feel like I can shine, though it’s slightly flabby as well (but not as out of shape as regular short form).  All this to say, I’m getting in shape.  And it feels great.  I can’t wait to see how it turns out and to enjoy the fun journey along the way!

 

The plays the thing

I auditioned for a play last night.  I haven’t had that experience since my senior year of college, 2005.  That was the last time I did a play.  12 years later I’m a different person, with a lot of acting experience under my belt, but very little stage time.  My naivete was obvious when I overheard the director and producers chatting about my resume, questioning why I would put ‘drive stick shift’ under special skills.  They murmured “I guess that’s important for film projects”.  I sheepishly began the scene, trying to keep the mood as light as possible.  The director stopped me after 2 lines and said “I can’t hear you dear, you’re far too quiet”.  I quickly made a joke out of it, and attempted to act out the scene with more volume, but I can tell you right now- projection?  Not my thing.  I don’t have the training to know how to project without harming my cords.  And with a musical audition coming up this weekend (the one I really want to snag!) I couldn’t risk overusing my voice.

They had me read for another role and do a few scenes, so while I was waiting my turn outside the audition room, I heard another girl who had no problem what-so-ever with projecting.  She sounded like a foghorn and, to my subtle film-acting ears, completely over the top.  No matter how much I want to get on stage, I just can’t bring myself to overact.  I want realism and truth in my performance.  And I am not experienced enough to know how to bring that without overacting.  So I choose subtlety.  This, inevitably, is likely another point against me.

What’s a film actor to do when they are dying to get on stage?  In my case, I’m taking singing lessons.  12 years since I’ve done a play.  It’s been 19 years since I’ve taken voice lessons.  That’s right, the last time I had a voice lesson was in high school, preparing for UIL competition.  Talk about rusty.  As we did vocal warmups I had a real hard time keeping up with the piano.  My support was bad, I was singing from my throat, my jaw was holding tension, all the things you shouldn’t do in singing.  But when I sang my song?  She was speechless.  I can emote the hell out of a song, but will that internal subtlety matter when the decision makers are 20 feet away?  I’m attempting to put more movement and physical expression into my songs, but I’m having a hard time doing anything that doesn’t ring truthful to me.

I have to do this on my terms, in my way.  If I give a performance that I don’t believe, I don’t want to do it.  I’m a story teller.  An interpreter.  And if you don’t believe my story, then it’s all for nothing.  A farce, a sketch, a joke.  I hope after this weekend I’ll be given the opportunity to tell that story.

slooooow down

This summer is SLOW.  I’ve had some auditions and callbacks peppered in here and there, but the industry (at least for me) is pretty calm right now.  So what does an actor that never stops working do when the work is not in progress?  She travels and works on her own stuff!

Right now, I am approximately 1 day away from completing my short film, Priscilla.  Fortunately, after securing the rights to a song from a band I love, the final pieces of the film came together beautifully.  Once I finish the credit roll, I send it to be color corrected and that baby is finished!  So exciting!  It’s not really my cup of tea to have a film take 7 years to complete, but that is the journey this film took.  I won’t make the same mistakes on the next one.

In the meantime, I will be editing the lifestyle shoot photos I had taken of me in the woodshop and at the piano a month or so ago.  I also have an outrageous amount of travel coming up.  I’ll be climbing Mt Whitney in July as well as traveling the PacNW.  It’s great to have travel and events outside of acting to recharge your soul and get you out of the intensely narrow bubble that is the industry.

Now that I have Priscilla (almost) up on the completed works board, I’m ready to dive into a new script.  I’ve been hesitant to put too much into other projects while Priscilla was dangling, but now is a great time to form the pieces on new ideas, and have an answer to the ubiquitous “what are you working on now” that will inevitably arise when people view Priscilla.

I’m still dying to do a musical (not helped WHATSOEVER by the Tony’s last night) so am scouring the job listings, hoping to find one that interests me.  I suppose now would be a good time to get moving on some more kitchen cabinets in the woodshop as well.  Don’t let the grass grow under your feet when the industry slows down, actors!  There’s plenty of opportunity for you to grow your craft and nurture your artists soul if you have the motivation to work for it.

Being a Christian in Hollywood, pt 5

If you missed pt 1 of this blog, you can catch it here.

If you missed pt 2 of this blog, you can catch it here.

If you missed pt 3 of this blog, you can catch it here.

If you missed pt 4 of this blog, you can catch it here.

We are in pt 5, the final part of my series on Being a Christian in Hollywood.  I’m wrapping up my thoughts on the future of my place in the industry as a Christian.  By now you know I don’t want to do horror, reality, faith based films, simulated sex scenes, or nudity.  Some actors (Christians included) have argued for working on whatever project comes my way, and not imposing filters.  I can see that point of view- “you’re a character, it’s not you”- but I guess I just want to have more control than that.  I look at a story.  If it’s one that needs to be told and I like the way it’s being told, I want to be a part of it.  Otherwise, it’s just a paycheck and time spent away from the woodshop.  I’m a storyteller.  And a performer.  Not singularly an actor.  My stories are told through improv, theatre, film, TV, spoken word, writing, singing…I’m not in love with just acting.  I’m in love with weaving a tale that will touch souls and bring them to hope, reconciliation, redemption, living better lives.  Therefore, I’m not looking just to act in whatever comes my way.

In my search for my unique voice that I began last year, I came to understand that stories of reconciliation, vulnerability and hope were themes that I cling to.  These are the stories I want to tell.  Here are some great examples of stories that touch me and energize my desire to ignite passion in others with a similar tone.

The Secret Life of Walter Mitty.  Oh, this movie.  I can’t get enough of it.  From the kick ass soundtrack to the gradual change of one man’s life from risk-averse to living to the fullest, this film makes me laugh, cry and hope all at once.  This is a story that can be told again and again and again.  It’s not affected.  It’s not cheap.  It’s vulnerable, it’s real and it’s lovely.  It does this all without resorting to cheeseball family film territory, or rated x content.  See, it can be done!  Watch this immediately.  Repeat on a rainy day.  Then buy the soundtrack and tell me which song is your favorite.  Mine is Step Out.

The Philadelphia Story.  This is one of the most perfect films ever made.  Tracy Lord (played to acidic gold by Hepburn) is taken on a journey over 2 days of self discovery, humility, forgiveness and relocating her heart.  The dialogue is flawless, but there is so much story told in visuals as well.  The character change hinges on a line spoken to Lord by her estranged father- “You have everything it takes to make a lovely woman except the one essential.  An understanding heart.  And without that you might just as well be made of bronze”.  Out goes the model of calm, cool and poised, and enters the radiant, loving Tracy, pliable to life’s adventures.

Cinderella Man.  I can’t.  Just thinking about this movie makes me tear up.  This is the story of boxer Jim Braddock, and his fall from fame to poverty during the Great Depression.  Though he’s down on his luck “I didn’t always lose”, he somehow maintains hope, resolve, honesty, ethic, gratefulness and pride during a time so bleak that any man would crumble.  Without resorting to sappy throughlines, a beautiful story is told about the power and resolve of the human spirit.  If you can watch this film and not feel hopeful about living a good and meaningful life, you are a sociopath.

Emma.  As you know, period films are my world.  From the corsets to the restrained yet poetic speech, these films never get old for me.  This is the adaptation of Jane Austen’s novel by the same name of a young matchmaking woman who is blind to her own feelings amidst the chaos of alliances, pride and the simple act of growing up.  Ewan Macgregor as Frank Churchill alone will make you giggle your pants off.  Watching the evolution of one woman from naive, prideful, yet kind, to real, vulnerable and honest is a delight.  This movie has inspired a lifetime of trying to be a Yente for me.

Stranger Than Fiction.  Emma Thompson and Dustin Hoffman alone make this consummate piece of art worthy of a lifetime of watching.  Marc Forster and Zach Helm make what must’ve been one of the hardest stories to tell- it’s about a man who discovers he’s a character in a writers book- how do you even do that??- immaculate and real and funny and true.  I love this movie so much, I feel like I’ve saved the best for last.  Not only is it another story of a man deciding to finally live his life (I’m sensing a trend here), it’s done so cleverly and literary it will make you think for days.  I can’t praise this veritable masterpiece enough.

These are a few examples of stories that are told brilliantly without any of the elements that I am avoiding in my acting career.  True, they aren’t made that often, likely because it takes far more effort to make something lasting and meaningful than it does to throw together another trite action film, but when they are.  Oh.  My heart sings.  That’s what I want.  This is my future.  And if I can’t be a part of others telling these stories, I’ll make my own.  Because they need to be told.  Humanity needs to hear that their life is worth living well.  That their pride and misconceptions of others only keeps them from loving fully.  That the hard choice is sometimes the best choice, and worth fighting for.  That’s how this Christian plans to make her place in Hollywood.

Being a Christian in Hollywood, Pt 3

If you missed pt 1 of this blog, you can catch it here.

If you missed pt 2 of this blog, you can catch it here.

Welcome to pt 3 of Being a Christian in Hollywood.  By now we’ve covered perception and why it’s hard to put a public label on your beliefs as an actor, as well as the history of my self-imposed limitations on roles.  So, now that we have a framework/introduction, and a past, let’s move into the present.

Presently, I do mostly commercials.  And commercials are almost never in the territory of nudity/sex scenes/foul language.  So for my day to day job, it’s a non-issue.  When I did improv, my teams were almost always composed of fellow believers, so the comedy rarely went blue.  This is actually a hard thing to find.  I have sat through more excruciating time slots of teams detailing blow jobs than I care to remember.  Blue humor is cheap and easy, but rarely satisfying.

Like most actors, however, I didn’t come to Hollywood with the dream of selling products on TV.  Though it’s my bread and butter, doing commercials is not exactly creatively fulfilling for me.  I long to be doing films.  I’ve worked on a few, I’ve procured a couple of credits, but once you get to the narrative film corner of the industry, you have to be more careful.  I am very choosy about the projects I work on.  Not that I have offers flung at me from every angle, but it’s important to me to vet a script before I get to any serious stage of casting.

What does this mean?  A few years back I loosened up on the language requirement after realizing that in certain instances, those words held more power than the non-profane.  In the movie ‘Saved’ (interesting watch) at one point the lead walks up to a statue of Jesus and tumbles out a string of curse words to try and make sense of her relationship with God and what that meant.  Those words had purpose.  It wasn’t foul because the writers couldn’t come up with anything more descriptive to say, it had a point.  When I did ‘The Last 5 Years’, in the song ‘See I’m Smiling’, I was surprised to notice that when I sang ‘You could stay with your wife on her FUCKING birthday’ instead of editing it out, it put my emoting to a completely different place and level.  That had meaning.  So I said it.  That’s where I’m at with language.  I still don’t say GD.  Because, come on.  Yikes.

I was up for a really interesting, complex role on a film about a mixed race couple dealing with their family fall-out.  I enjoyed getting to improvise with several of the guys up for the lead at the callbacks and felt really good about this one.  I told them up front that insinuated sex scenes were ok, but I was not comfortable with the nudity/sex scenes that were scripted.  They called me while I was on set of a commercial to try and talk me into it and see if I would budge.  I wouldn’t.  They cast someone else.

Last year a casting director I knew sent me an audition for a film he was very excited about.  Not only was the script horribly depressing, it also left a bad taste in my mouth after reading it with all the violent sex scenes and foul language.  This was the first audition he had offered me, so I hated having to turn it down, but I did.  After sending him an email letting him know why I wouldn’t be able to audition for a role who’s few scenes included giving a BJ to the lead (ew), he made sure to put me in my place by saying “since you have very few film credits, I can’t tell, so you tell me, what type of film is it that you want to do?”  Firstly, thanks for belittling me, but secondly, how about redeeming films?  How about ones that make you want to be a better person when you’re through watching it?  That make you more hopeful about life?  There’s enough depression and awfulness in this world.

These are not infrequent situations I encounter being a Christian in Hollywood.  It most definitely limits what I want to work on, and my chances to work.  Next week, tune in to part 4- the future.