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.

Advertisements

The Honesty Experiment

If you’ve been following #honestyexperiment as put forward in my last post, you know now that

  1. I have no compassion
  2. My ego is through the roof
  3. I am messy
  4. I compete with every living being
  5. I’ll sacrifice my views in order to obtain success

The responses (Yes, I check them, because I can only stop my need for validation so much) haven’t varied too much- mostly focusing on the other person, or lifting me up to not feel bad about myself.  I began my postings with this-

disclaimer: I am not proudly owning any of the #honestyexperiment These are things I despise/am embarrassed about myself. Point is, I suck.

Perhaps people are taking each post at face value or think I’m in a depression spiral of self loathing.  Or, maybe we’re all pretty awful people so no one is too disgusted with my behavior.  Or, maybe everyone is already too aware of my failings and is far more grace-filled than I am and willing to love me anyways.  To me, the picture I am painting of myself is pitiful.  I wouldn’t touch me with a 10 foot pole.

Last Saturday, I climbed Mt Baldy with some friends.  My ego assumed I was in the same athletic shape as my friend, an IronMan Triathlete.  I was not concerned at all about the difficulty of the hike.  The night before, I began to pray “Please keep us safe on the mountain, free from injury-” and I stopped myself.  We were going on an adventure, taking a risk, pushing ourselves, and I was praying for safety?  Why would safety have anything to do with that?  The familiar words of Mr Beaver rang in my ears:

“Course he isn’t safe.  But he’s good”. -The Chronicles of Narnia

I re-routed my prayer to say “Let this be an adventure with great memories made”.

So, how did it go?  One of the worst hikes I’ve ever done.  My slowness was a burden to the rest of my group, I’ve still got some gnarly blisters, and on the way down I was positive my legs would collapse underneath me.  I barely walked the next day and it wasn’t until Monday, after a steamy epsom salt bath that I could use my muscles semi-regularly.  #egofail

When we only show the positive side of ourselves and never “lead with the worst of me” (Dear Evan Hansen), ego is front and center and the whitewashed tombs we present become more and more dead inside.  It’s not about embracing your flaws.  It’s about recognizing you’re a fuck up.  You take beautiful things or exciting experiences and dump your ego all over it, making it less of what it was.  It’s placing yourself above the thing, the person, the idea, the situation.  You might think you’ve won after all that, because you’ve “maintained control”, but you’ve sacrificed the beauty, the pain, the risk, the honor of truly living.  And I don’t know about you, but that’s what I want.  To truly live.

 

 

The Comparison Game

I’m going to level with you here.  I compare.  Constantly.  My competitive drive hungrily jumps on every setback I experience and starts to decipher why it happened.  This inevitably means comparing myself to whomever succeeded in the midst of my failure.  Comparisons rot your soul, but I do them because they’re an attempt to make things alright.  To find a reason I failed that is outside the territory of my talent.  God forbid I think of my skills as anything less than divinely inspired.

A few weeks ago I had a callback for a film I felt really good about.  I paid for coaching to make sure I did my absolute best, and the director and producers were totally on board in my callback.  I had hoped and somewhat expected to get the call that I booked it within a day or so.  I’ll save you the anxiety: I didn’t.  So I looked it up.  I almost can’t help myself but to go and see who got the part.  I lie that it’s in order to analyze what I could do better, but in reality, it’s to find/fabricate a reason to prop up my ego.  The winner?  A woman 15 years older than me (so it wasn’t even my demographic! nothing I can do about that!) who had been on Baywatch and was clearly selling a very sexual image in her career.  I patted myself on the back that sexuality is something I have never and likely won’t ever sell- I’m more of the funny, weird best friend than the sexy seducer- so not only am I more talented than her (I don’t have to rely on my sexuality to get roles, I’m a gifted actor and funny!) I also didn’t stand a chance because she was older and had way more credits.  Whew.  Off the hook.

It’s almost as if it’s not enough to win or lose.  Everyone else has to lose, too.  When I don’t succeed (which is more often than not) my obsession with fairness and world of scarcity steps in and screams

“But what about me?  Will I never get my piece of the pie??”

When you’re living in an ivory tower of ambition and perfection, you have to work hard to manipulate the losses to become wins.  In the end, though, we’re all losers and that’s why it’s so amazing that we get to win.  Grace can’t set you free if you’ve no idea you’re a prisoner, right?  So, for the record, I’m a loser.  I thought with all my self deprecation and “truthfulness” others would see I’m a complete mess.  But people keep telling me I look like I have it all together, so I must be selling a lie somewhere.  Let’s end the game, shall we?  I’m starting what I will call

#honestyexperiment

wherein I will make it abundantly clear (to the detriment of anyone’s good opinion of me) that I am a loser.  Not in the carefully crafted seemingly negative commentary that is actually said to make me look good- i.e. “I use dry shampoo until I can’t get away with it anymore!” AKA- I don’t give a shit what others think, which is cool- but reality and vulnerability and doubt and anger and whatever else makes me feel like the most pathetic human being on the planet.  No ego props, no justifications, just truth.  (hopefully without hurting anyone I love- that’s not my intention)  If you and I can both be aware of how much I suck (and maybe how much you do too), I think we can make positive headway into humility, shedding our hubris, and ending the comparison game.

Let’s play.

You can follow me on here and @brittanydjoyner

Note: This experiment is inspired in part by a great podcast series I’ve been listening to on Alternative Wisdom, by Rob Bell.  I highly recommend. 

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 4

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.

Welcome to pt 4 of the series, ‘Being a Christian in Hollywood’.  Last week I reviewed the present state of my job opportunities while keeping the faith in this town, this week we’re going to talk about the future.  At present, the roles for my type in commercials are numerous (jackpot).  In film/tv?  Eh, not so much.  Just based on age and gender alone, the number of roles I could conceivably go in for on any given breakdown are slim.  By one day of breakdowns last week, I counted 46 projects.  There were numerous roles listed for each.  There were a total of 6 roles that were my gender and age range.  Eesh.  Clearly I am not currently in a desirable demographic for TV/Film.  That’s ok.  That changes eventually.  While I don’t feel optimistic about my chances at TV/Film at this state in my career, the positive side is that it motivates me to create my own work.  This accomplishes several things.  It flexes my writing muscles, it challenges me to tell interesting stories, and it tells them how I want to tell them.  As someone who loves being the boss, this naturally appeals to me.  An actor has very little say on someone else’s set.  On your own?  The sky is the limit.

Currently I’m nearly finished editing my 30 minute British comedy, Priscilla, that I wrote and directed.  As soon as that is completed, I have several script ideas brewing in my head that I’ll jump on, including a sitcom and a stage musical.  The future holds lots of self produced material, in my minds eye, and I’m excited to see what happens.  I’ve spent a good deal of time thinking about what my future career looks like, ideally.  What types of projects do I want to do?  What stories do I want to tell?  It’s a good idea to have a solid, specific idea of what you want so you can work towards it, rather than a nebulous “I want to act”.  So, here’s the types of films I want to do:

Movie Musicals

Period films

Clean comedy

I love watching these, and I’m certain I will love being a part of those stories.  Unfortunately they are also the most expensive to make, and make the least revenue at the box office, thereby decreasing their viability in studio heads minds.  So, what do you do?  Make your own of course!

My list of roles/films I’m not interested in doing has expanded to include horror films, reality tv, and faith based films.  There’s been a tightening of the reigns on the stories I want to be a part of, and it might lead one to think that there are very few crumbs left on the table from which to feast.  Faith based films?  I adhere to the idea that we don’t need more Christian films.  We need more Christians making films.  By the time a script has gone through every religious filter possible in order not to offend, the story has been sanitized and loses a lot of its meaning.  (see previous post 1 about people imposing their own ideas of what it means to be a religious artist)  I don’t watch those movies, so I don’t care to tell those stories.  It doesn’t mean they are without value, I just don’t care for it.

Horror films and reality tv suck the lifeblood of humanity and leave them with a sad shell of ‘unreality’ with which to live.  The same with our current explosion of violent sex scenes on TV and film.  If couples were actually having as much sex as Nicole Kidman and Alexander Skarsgard’s character are having in Big Little Lies, they would be unemployed and have a raging UTI.  Seriously, people.  These portrayals on your screen are unrealistic at best, and damaging to our perception of normality in our relationships at worst.  Stop using women as objects.  Just stop.  It doesn’t make them a ‘strong’ character.  It just perpetuates the myth that our value lies only in sex.  I don’t watch a lot of shows/films because of this.  I don’t want to be in those stories either.

I could talk about the future and my idea of what is great and gives me hope for a long while, but this post needs to be wrapped up, so we’ll save more on the future for next week!

 

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.