I am such a fan girl for Brene Brown. If you haven't checked out her work and research, immediately go to her site. Yep. That is how much I love her: I am telling you to promptly leave my site, and go to her site.
I wanted to quickly share with you some of her inspirational posters. You can find these on her site (link above) as well.
And if you are anything like me, then TedTalks give you LIIIIIIIIIIIFE. She has a fabulous TedTalk (two, to be precise), and they will both give you LIIIIIIIIIIIFE. Happy viewing!
I apologize that it has taken me so long to write another post! I have been on set the past week, but I will make sure to post photos very soon. Please feel free to leave me comments as to what kinds of posts you would like in the future--tutorials, advice on the business, ponderings over inspiration--there are so many possibilities!
In the meantime, I wanted to post some photos my boyfriend and I took during our trip to the Rain Room at LACMA. As described on their site, "Rain Room is an immersive work by the London-based artist collective Random International. Within this large-scale installation, water falls continuously to create a cacophonous interior downpour that pauses wherever a human body is detected. Upon entering this surreal environment, visitors can move through this space freely, protected from the water falling all around them."
I think that as artists it is incredibly important to partake in different types of art than the ones you practice. Participating in other kinds of art stretches your creativity and opens up avenues for new forms of inspiration. I love going to museums, concerts, and dance performances as a way to not just support the arts, but to also cultivate my art within another form. I'm very fortunate because Los Angeles has such a diverse art scene. I think a big misconception is that Los Angeles is only full of celebrity wannabees, and therefore our art is lacking. What I have discovered, thankfully, could not be further from that presumption.
I hope you enjoy these photos!
Since my last big blog post was about MFA programs in acting, I thought I should share the following article. I wrote this when I was in Moscow, completing my artistic residency for my MFA. It was my first article (of many many articles) for a fantastic arts magazine called Bleep. You can find it here: www.bleepmag.com.
I hope you enjoy :)
Ok, I have a confession: I have not been practicing with my Rosetta Stone like I should. Ever since I arrived in Moscow for my three-month residency at The Moscow Art Theatre, my Russian skills have remained pretty much the same: abysmal. To be fair, I am not alone in this sinking Russian boat; my fellow company members and I share the same face of confusion and fear when Muscovites ask us for directions. Said face is especially prevalent when our ex Bolshoi prima ballerina ballet teacher yells at us in Russian. Needless to say, we have become very adept at hand signs and pointing. Interestingly enough, the language barrier has not been as challenging in the art world. Stick me in a restaurant and you will see a fantastic pantomime between the waiter and myself, but throw me on the stage in front of a Russian audience or plop me in the back row of a Russian theater, and something magical happens: the differences in vowels and consonants and verb placement are all trumped by the human experience, overtaken by the transaction that is taking place among artist and observer. My studies at the Moscow Art Theater are teaching me how to create this communion between the audience and the actor. It is about taking down walls, eliminating differences, and attempting to find what it is about that specific character or play that is universal and relatable.
The Moscow Art Theater, or the MXAT, was founded by Stanislavsky and Nemirovich-Danchenko and is known for producing some of the first performances of Chekhov's work. It set the stage for naturalistic acting, and as such, birthed the modern form of theatrical training and acting in Europe, which then spread to the rest of the world. Stanislavsky’s acting techniques are at the foundation and core of the most prevalent acting styles in the world. The MXAT is what I and my seventeen other classmates now call home, taking classes that range from ballet to fencing to acrobatics and voice, as well as performing in repertory as a part of their spring season. Theatre is a way of life here, unlike the theatrical scene in America that is slowly diminishing in popularity. Daily lines outside of box offices stretch around the block; scalpers sell tickets for MXAT plays for at least a thousand dollars. Of the approximate twenty shows I have seen in my six weeks in Moscow, every single one has been sold out, leaving a rather large and enthusiastic crowd to stand in the back and enjoy the performance on their tired feet for three hours. Art galleries are packed. Ballets are packed. Operas are packed. Russia has built a community that respects and appreciates art, a community that strives to produce enlightening, invigorating, and inspiring art.
Perhaps the artistic realm is so strong in Russia because of its rocky past. Our drama history teacher, the artistic director of the Moscow Art Theater, told us that in order to understand theater history, one must understand Russian history. Our first class was held in the Portrait Gallery of the MXAT. It was an incredible experience to be surrounded by portraits of actors, playwrights, and directors whose work I have always admired. He told us that whenever there is a change of power in the Russian government, the Portrait Gallery must be rearranged, eliminating certain artists all together and bringing others to the forefront. During the breakup of the Soviet Union, all of the Soviet artists were removed from the walls within two months. The father of 20th century directing, Vsevolod Meyerhold, fell out of favor with Stalin and was subsequently executed; after his death, all of his work was erased from the history books, and his portrait was forbidden to hang in the Portrait Gallery—he was even replaced by an open umbrella in a company photograph. In fact, some of the first groups to be targeted by Stalin’s purges were writers and artists. Art is extremely powerful and dangerous because of what it represents and what it shares; fortunately, it is also extremely resilient. It is this resilience that allows it to exist multi-culturally, allows it to cross boundaries and borders and establish communal experiences.
When I first arrived at The MXAT, one of the first things I noticed was the symbol of the seagull that the company had adopted as their emblem. This symbol commemorates Anton Chekhov’s The Seagull, the theater’s first production and claim to theatrical fame. One wouldn’t necessarily think that a seagull would become my own personal emblem of my time in Moscow, a city that is completely landlocked and the furthest thing from “beachy.” Yet, it has begun to represent more to me than just Chekhov’s famed play. Seagulls must scavenge, making their home wherever there is available food; and in a way, isn’t that the life of the artist? We must bounce from location to location, searching for the next play, the next spark of inspiration, the next gig. I am grateful that I have found a home in Moscow that provides me with plenty of artistic nourishment. Similarly, seagulls, like artists, must be resilient—crafting the wind into something that lifts us up, instead of bringing us down. Finally, seagulls are a source of comfort for weary sailors, representing that land is near and that the journey is almost over. I think everyone feels lonely and lost, and it is our responsibility as artists to connect with people that we have never met before and show them that they are not alone. My favorite pieces of art are the ones that when I leave, I feel emotionally stirred—I do not feel as lonely or as lost, and I am reminded again that everyone is struggling, searching. This communion with the audience surpasses language barriers because something much more important exists, something bigger and deeper than any Rosetta Stone or Russian teacher could possibly teach: the human experience. And somehow, in the dark of the theater, between the curtain rising and the curtain call, we all speak the same language. Even if the words are not clear, the meaning is fluid and universal
I love the look on people’s faces when I tell them I have an MFA; they promptly ask me one of two questions: What is an MFA, or Why? If they decide to not ask any questions, they just blink a few times, nod their heads, and say, “Ooooh, how nice!” My own aunt even said to me, “But Alex, there are so many opportunities for women these days…you could even be a weather girl!” This comes from the woman who has her own master’s degree in education…
I understand their confusion. True, an MFA is not a requirement to act, neither is a high school diploma or a bachelor’s degree, so why would someone dish out so much money and valuable time—that could be spent auditioning—to get a degree that isn’t a necessity? I had to ask myself this question when it came time for me to decide whether or not I wanted to apply to graduate school. In the end there were several factors that helped me determine that graduate school was the right path for me.
Disclaimer: If you do decide to apply to graduate school, make sure you apply to a school that is known for their graduate acting program. At the end of this article, I will list off what is considered by many in the business to be the top ten graduate acting programs. I am sure there are many other great programs that are not in the top ten however, having a reputable graduate school on your resume ensures that you will be receiving the best training, connections, and professional experience. Furthermore, going to a school in the top ten ensures that future employers will be aware of your level of training and expertise when they look at your resume. The following five points regarding the benefits of having a master’s degree apply to the programs that are in the top ten.
1. Quality of training
When it comes to training, no acting class or workshop you take can beat out the advantages of the variety of classes that are offered in graduate school programs, or the fact that you will be studying all day, every day. Furthermore, most acting classes that take place outside of a college or graduate program have students that are not serious actors; instead, they are professionals in other careers who are looking to improve their presence, skills in speaking in public, etc. Being in a graduate acting program allows you to be surrounded by like-minded individuals that you can grow and learn from throughout your years as classmates. Any program worth their salt will offer classes in several different acting techniques, voice, a variety of movement courses (fencing, acrobatics, ballet, jazz, etc), singing, bodywork, speech, and Shakespeare. Most programs will also have workshops on castings, cold reads, and audition preparation, as well as classes on how to navigate the acting business. The large variety of subjects ensures that you will reach your fullest potential.
The connections you make in graduate school—with your professors, visiting artists, and fellow students—are paramount when it comes to building a career. Hopefully your professors will be working professionally in the theatre world, whether it’s as actors, producers, directors, theater managers, etc. Having professors who are active in the artistic community guarantees that you are getting the most current information on all the happenings, deals, and trends in the business. I cannot tell you how many auditions and jobs I have received from casting directors based off of recommendations from teachers. Visiting artist and directors can also be an excellent source of future work; there have been several alumni from my program who, right after graduation, found work with past directors and producers who have done temporary work at Harvard, whether as workshop leaders or visiting directors. Also, keep in mind that your classmates might one day be for whom you are auditioning; furthermore, alumni from your program will be out working and auditioning as well, and seeing as the acting community is quite small, those connections can be extremely important.
In addition, most graduate programs are affiliated with a professional acting company, allowing their students to interact with—and hopefully take classes and workshops from—top actors, playwrights, and directors. For example, Harvard is paired with the American Repertory Theater, one of the top three theaters in the country and led by the Tony award winning director Diane Paulus. While I was a student at Harvard, American Repertory Theater was commissioned by the Gershwin estate to reproduce Porgy and Bess; it starred Audra McDonald, was directed by Diane Paulus, with a book by Suzan Lori Parks, and it won several Tony Awards. This connection between Harvard and American Repertory Theater grants me the opportunity to be associated with two Tony award winners and a Pulitzer Prize winning playwright. Talk about an opportunity to make some great connections!
My grad program gave me the amazing experience of performing and studying at Stanislavski's theatre, The Moscow Art Theatre. Make sure your MFA experience gives you just as many incredible opportunities.
You can graduate from most master’s programs with your Equity card, something that can take years to earn in the acting world. In addition, most programs will offer their graduating class a showcase at the end of their time at the school, a chance to perform in front of casting directors and agents in New York and Los Angeles. Granted, you can audition for showcases or get a group of friends together and create your own; however, it is much more difficult to get a good caliber of agents and directors to come see a showcase that is put on by a group of actors than it is to get them to come to one hosted by a reputable graduate acting program.
4. Back-up Plan
With a master’s in theater you open up a myriad of career opportunities outside of acting. Teaching on a collegiate level, running a theater company, working in casting…the list goes on. Attending graduate school allows you the peace of mind of knowing that you can have a stable career with a steady income while still pursuing your passion of acting. Not to mention that you can still have a career in your chosen field. No offense towards any waiters out there—you guys bust your butts, and I have nothing but respect for all of you hard workers.
5. Advantage in Auditions
More than ever, theater companies are looking for actors with graduate degrees. I worked for a theater company in Los Angeles before graduating from University of Southern California, and sitting in on their auditions was an enlightening experience; whether or not an actor attended a graduate program spoke volumes in the eyes of the casting director and the producer. Hiring an actor with a master’s degree guaranteed the director that the actor knew how to project onstage, analyze a script, scan Shakespeare, move onstage with a knowledge of composition, and above all, had the dedication and drive to complete several years of rigorous training. True, casting directors in film look less at graduate training; however, most film actors start off on stage, and if you want a career on stage, obtaining a master’s degree is a good start.
All that being said, it is important to say that graduate programs are not for every actor. You have to be willing to commit two to four years of your life, six days a week, twelve hours a day, to training. This means picking up your life and moving to a different state, maybe even a different country like our program requires, and possibly putting relationships on hold. It is a large sacrifice, and it is up to each actor to determine whether or not the sacrifice is worth it. Graduate programs require 110% dedication, and believe me, it will forcibly take it from you if you do not offer it up willingly. However, if you put it all on the line and go into a program with an open mind, sensitive heart, and thick skin, the rewards can be monumental. I thank God everyday for the opportunity I had to study what I’m so passionate about, and that’s all I have to remember when I’m confronted by a shocked face and a questioning attitude when I describe my degree. After all, there are so many opportunities for women these days…I could even be a weather girl…but I prefer being an actress.
Tips on auditioning for a graduate degree:
-Get a coach, or at least have an acting teacher help you with your monologues. You have to have an outside eye: it is vital for your success.
-Know your type. They are trying to fit you within a company of actors, so the clearer you are in marketing yourself, the easier you make their job. Are you the leading lady, ingénue, character actor, villain? Have your friends and teachers help you out with this. What actors share your type? Once you determine this, look at their line of work and find material that will showcase your type and your strengths.
-Be confident! Don’t look at the process as facing a firing line of judgmental auditors; instead, look at it as an opportunity to show a group of people what you love to do. We have all seen performances where the performer is so nervous and unsure of themselves that it makes the audience nervous! Instead, go in with confidence that you are prepared and ready to allow the auditors to relax and enjoy their job, instead of feeling nervous for all the actors coming into the room. All of this, of course, rides on the fact that you must be prepared! The last thing you want to think when you go into a room is that you didn’t do all your homework.
-You will be nervous. There is no way around that. Acknowledge the nerves, and use them. In other words, find a way that your character might be nervous. Most monologues, or good monologues anyway, deal with a character who is tackling a pivotal moment in their lives; they are confessing their love, confronting an enemy, chasing an important opportunity…wouldn’t your character be nervous as well in these situations?
-Get moving. A few months before your audition tours, start doing a physical activity. Most programs have a call back process that will require you to think quickly on your feet, and your body needs to be acutely attuned and ready to act on quick impulses. Build up your movement vocabulary by taking classes in Pilates, dance, yoga, aerobics, anything! If you are already active, choose a different activity—anything to increase your movement palette. I trained for a half-marathon before my auditions, and it was a great way to not only relieve stress, but also get my body ready for anything the audition process might throw my way.
-Try again. You might have to audition several times before getting accepted. Do not let that stop you! I had a friend who auditioned for a top graduate school five times before being accepted. Look at each audition as a learning experience. What do you have to lose?
Top Ten Graduate Acting Programs, in no particular order (courtesy of mfaactor.com):
U of Delaware’s PTTP
Other great and reputable programs not in the top ten:
DePaul University of Delaware, UMKC, CalArts, University of Southern California, University of California Los Angeles
Some things to consider when comparing graduate programs (courtesy of mfaactor.com):
Recommended reading to prepare for the audition process:
-Acting is a Job: Real-Life Lessons about the Acting Business by Jason Pugatch
-Audition by Michael Shurtleff
-Auditioning on Camera by Joseph Hacker
This book deals a lot with on camera auditions, but you can still use these incredibly helpful hints for graduate auditions. Joseph Hacker was one of my professors at USC, and I found his teachings invaluable to me when I went through my audition process.
-Creating a Character: A Physical Approach to Acting by Moni Yakim
-The Expressive Body: Physical Characterization for the Actor by David Alberts
-The Stanislavsky trilogy: An Actor Prepares, Building a Character, and Creating a Role
-The website mfaactor.com is an incredible source that is loaded with information on different schools and tips on the audition process.
As previously mentioned, I am an actor. In Los Angeles. Yes, hoooooow cliche. It's true that I have chosen the most cliche profession in the most cliche town, but not a day goes by that I don't thank my lucky stars that I'm in the City of Angels, doing what I love. Except when I wish I was a doctor...sometimes that happens.
You know things are bad when you think, "Man, life would have been much easier if I just chose to go to med school!"
I feel like I'm allowed to say something this thick-headed because I come from a medical family. But that's neither here nor there.
I'm not going to drag on and on right now about life as an actor in LA because, well, that's a very cliche actor thing to do. Instead, I will hope that this blog (through time and entries) will be able to do the job. Aaaaaaand, I don't feel like doing it right now. So there's that.
The main thing I can say is that every year, thousands of actor hopefuls move out to LA, and every year, thousands of ex-actors move out of LA. The town can be merciless in that it doesn't reward talent. That was the biggest lesson. You can be the best in the room, and not get the job. In fact, most of the time, the best in the room doesn't get the job. If you can deal with that level of unfairness and injustice, then you just might be able to not go crazy.
I teach acting, and I always tell my students that when things get crappy, hate the business, don't hate your art. It's a play on that horrible line men use, "Hate the game, but don't hate the player." For the record, you can (and should) hate the player and the game. Do it. It's fun.
Back to the subject, Alex, back to the subject. Hate the business, and love your art because your art will always lead you to the truth. Your art will never let you down. Your art will stand by your side. There is always work to do.
Then, one day, I stumbled across this Humans of New York post; Obama was one of their stories, and I thought, "Whaaaaaaaat?? Obama! That's what I always say!" And then I gave myself a pat on the back and felt very validated.
Here is the story:
“When is the time you felt most broken?”“I first ran for Congress in 1999, and I got beat. I just got whooped. I had been in the state legislature for a long time, I was in the minority party, I wasn’t getting a lot done, and I was away from my family and putting a lot of strain on Michelle. Then for me to run and lose that bad, I was thinking maybe this isn’t what I was cut out to do. I was forty years old, and I’d invested a lot of time and effort into something that didn’t seem to be working. But the thing that got me through that moment, and any other time that I’ve felt stuck, is to remind myself that it’s about the work. Because if you’re worrying about yourself—if you’re thinking: ‘Am I succeeding? Am I in the right position? Am I being appreciated?’ – then you’re going to end up feeling frustrated and stuck. But if you can keep it about the work, you’ll always have a path. There’s always something to be done.”
If I had to give one piece of advice for someone moving to Los Angeles, it would be this: Focus on the work. Don't focus on fame. Focusing on fame is like focusing on winning the lottery. Fame is not an indicator of talent or worth or creative genius or ingenuity. Focus on being an actor's actor, meaning focus on being someone that other actors look up to. Focus on what it means to you to be an actor--not what it means to your parents, or your Aunt Sally, or even your agent. What is your voice? What do you want to say? How can you make an impact? Focus on that.
You are probably wondering the F this blog is about. Well, it's about anything that everything that I find inspiring! Curiosity is my favorite state of being, and I've become a treasure hunter and a trash hoarder, collecting all sorts of articles, artwork, and accessories that fuel my inspiration and creativity.
This will also be a place for me to document my life as an actor and comic in Los Angeles. If performing is your passion, I hope that this blog becomes a place for you to learn from my mistakes, grow from my accomplishments, laugh at my witless choices, and share in this crazy, unpredictable, beautiful, life in the arts.
Welcome to the clubhouse!
THE ACTIVE ACTOR
What is this thing?