Wednesday, June 18, 2014

American Bravado.

A month ago today I started working as a dishwasher, and to officiate my position we were robbed on Sunday. They were extremely brazen robbers: I was in the kitchen when I heard someone outside our back door. I walked over and saw someone sitting in what looked like a get away car, not nearly as cool as Ryan Gosling in Drive but the effect was there. I was suspicious, and the staff had told me about things being stolen before,  so I closed and locked the door. I went back to work and thought about checking the basement to see if someone had in fact snuck in, but by the time I worked up the courage to go check I heard footsteps running up the stairs. I got to the door and saw one dude with what looked like a big case of beer running and jumping into the car.

I told my fellow employee and she bolted out the door (thinking they had her purse) and sprinted down the road after them. She returned out of breath and with the license plate number. We proceeded to inform the staff and the cops were called. They came down to the restaurant, stated they had caught the car and wanted as much information about what happened only moments before. I proceeded to act everything out (as I do) and one of the senior staff members went with the cops to identify the goods that were taken. 

As we got ready to leave for the night my fellow employee said that I had passed my restaurant initiation. 


Before this incident, my week started off with an audition for a principle character in a feature that my good friend had been cast as the lead in. He had pushed for me to see the director and my agent managed to get me in the room, which was awesome. The days leading up to the audition I thought about nailing the part, but didn't actually hunker down and solidify my choices until the day of. I had a friend of mine help me prep before and when I finally got in the room I froze up and tried to play what my pre determined judgment of the character was, or rather what I thought they wanted to see. 

Needless to say I tanked it, and left rather disappointed in myself, not only for knowing that I wasn't as prepared as I could have been, but also because I felt like I was letting people down. It was then that this Matt Damon quote popped into my head, "It’s just better to be yourself than to try to be some version of what you think the other person wants." It dawned on me that I needed to stop doing just that, and actually be true to myself, I needed to actually live what I have been preaching: Ideally, these people are looking for truth. The most I can offer them is myself, which happens to be a lot. I'm sure they go through hundreds of people trying to BE the character and I don't wanna be just another one of those. I want to be real and make them stop and watch. 

I made a pact to myself that from now on I would give myself to each audition 150%, as Cory Monteith told me to, and walk in confident and prepared. No more of these sloppy, half there attempts. I'm kind of shocked in myself that I actually had to make this pact, but me walking into that room and being surprised by how cold things were made me realize all I had to make myself comfortable, was myself. No one was going to hold my hand and ease me into the work that needed to be done. I need to be able to work comfortably under pressure and the only way I can do that is by being prepared.

Later in the week I had my first singing lesson in years with Susan Cuthbert, who is awesome. She was also Christine in the original Canadian cast of Phantom of the Opera, which made my knees buckle when she told me. Well, to be honest she told me indirectly. I was signing some of the Music of the Night and when I got to the final note, she replied, "That's how Colm would do it every night, while he held me in his arms..."

I died a slow nostalgic death. For those of you who don't know: My mom and I love Phantom and I grew up listening to the Toronto cast recording. Susan throwing this little tidbit out about her and Colm Wilkinson threw me for a complete loop. I realized who I was in the room with and became a tad star struck. Luckily this was closer to then end of the lesson. 

Before this moment happened, Susan and I talked a lot about performance and how even to this day she still gets nervous and is critical of herself in rehearsal; something that, as you know, I completely identify with. We also talked about how I felt isolated not being able to sight sing or play any instruments, that the way I learn how to sing a song is by listening to it repetitively so that it becomes ingrained in me. 

She said that she uses the same method. 

To find someone, who continues to have a career in musical theatre and shares the same method of learning music as me was deeply encouraging. She told me that I may not be as musically gifted as those that are able to sight read like kings, or play piano but I am still able to sing well, follow melodies and rhythm and ultimately perform what is asked of me. Who cares how I get there. It left me feeling so full and made me realize how much more achievable a musical theatre career could be. 

I left my lesson feeling so positive and excited for my next one. 

Last night I audited a class at Armstrong Acting Studio, specifically Salvatore Antonio's level 4 class. It reminded me of the scene studies we would do at NTS, the biggest difference being that there is a camera involved. I took a lot of notes, as Salvatore was full of golden advice nuggets, not only about scene work but about the industry. Looking back over my journal, as I rode the streetcar back to my apartment, there were some things that resonated with me. Especially where I am still in this state of not knowing. 

Salvatore spoke about how actors tend to talk profusely about their issues with a scene rather than simply doing it. As an actor, I have found myself being intimidated by what was being ask of me in a scene or complaining that it was "too hard" or "what do they expect me to do with all this stage direction?" and all kinds of personal issues. He talked about how there is always going to be a way out, something to complain about, but the people who succeed are the ones who can move past that attitude and give everything to the request at hand. Which is, for 1-8 minutes (for film) of ones life and commit to what is written on the page. It's that simple. 

He said this great thing, "if we are thrown off by everything that is fake (meaning what the given circumstances of the scene are) then we are in the wrong profession." If as an actor I am going to waste my time focusing on the things that are hard or uncomfortable, rather then stepping up to the plate and knocking it out of the park, then I have to question what I'm doing with my life. Dread and complaints have no place in my work. This is not to say that they don't exist, they do. But as Salvatore suggested, write down a list of the things ones hates about the scene; look at them, acknowledge them, and get back to work. Or a phrase that I am stealing from him, "Journal that shit out!"

People don't wanna hear about someone’s issues, ain't nobody got time for that, they want to see the person who can do the job. And I need to be that person, or at best give my attempt at being that person, which leads me to something else Salvatore spoke about: Start viewing auditions as simply attempts. Stop being so precious about the work, dive into it and have fun. Even the best actors have to sit in that waiting room for their opportunity to give an attempt at a role. Everyone gets the same sides at the same time, has to sit in the same room and do the same lines as everybody else, so the only things I have control over is how my time is used before the audition, and focusing on how to do the best version of me in the audition. If after I have done that and they still don't like me, well then that's their issue not mine. At the end of the day, if I was truthful to myself, did the prep work and was confident in what I was offering that’s all I have control over, especially in film. 

It's funny how much control I want, but actually have to let go of to be successful in this industry. So many things are out my control and I simply need to do what I can and leave the best impression possible. 

Salvatore spoke about an 'American Bravado' and I thought this encapsulated exactly what I have been looking for.  This translated to me as a pride and ownership over my work, a claiming of territory, and the competitive and patriotic nature of Americans. I know that I have these qualities inside of me (I am half American) and I really need to let them thrive. I need to stop excusing myself or making up reasons why I couldn't give the time to something I claim to care so much about. I don't take no for an answer in my personal life, why should my artistic life be any different? 

Thinking about this reminded me of what Colm Feore said to us (NTS) when he won the 2014 Gascon Thomas Award, "If you want to be where I am, prove it." I think this is one of the biggest hurdles I am facing, simply proving to myself that this dream is a reality. It is so easy to fall into doubt and negative feelings. I just have to go for it, as simple and cliché as that may sound, it's the only thing that is stopping me from rising to the top. Also preparation. I have coasted through a lot of projects because of my talent and that can't really help me anymore. This is the big league; I am not in the safe environment of school where teachers are focused on my needs. I have chosen to enter this storm of an industry and if I don't fight hard I will be ejected to the outskirts. I want, more than anything, to be in the eye of it. 

I have been buying books instead of food, and yet somehow I still feel full. 

I got sunburnt today because I was at the beach for most of the afternoon. 

It was glorious. 

It may seem as if Salvatore has paid me to quote him as much as I have, but this is the last one: "The great actor is simply the great observer; he who observes himself and those around him." When I allow myself to be informed by my actions, and allow others actions to inform me I become better as a person and ultimately an actor. Yet another cliché that when actually put into motion can change ones life. 


Tuesday, June 10, 2014

Fight or Flight

This week was a very reassuring week. I was able to meet up with and talk to some of the people who inspire me and they gave me some stellar advice on how to relax and move forward and simply enjoy this new element of my life.

 I am slowly but surely relaxing. 

The week started off with having some almond tea with a good friend of mine, and fellow actress who inspires me. Her drive and work ethic is what motivates me to push for what I want in MY career and to always be as prepared as possible. I remember working with her and her being consistently present and dedicated to the work at hand in rehearsal. She knew what her body needed and was able to set a standard for me as an actor, she embodied what I wanted for myself post graduation. We talked for a few hours and she was able to help me accept my impatience and understand that having drive is great, and is something that we share, but at some point we have to learn how to relax and give up trying to control things.

A constant struggle. 

I am such a doer and I want to to have my hand in everything, which is impossible and by letting go I will actually let the people who want to help me do just that. I want control out of fear that these 3rd party individuals will "mess" something up. Learning how to trust myself and other people is a big hurdle, and is going to take constant maintenance to keep in balance. The great thing about my friend, Leah, is that her and I have a lot of similarities so to hear that she has/had the same issues post graduation was encouraging and made me feel much more at ease about this period of transition. 

Later that day I had a job interview, which ended up being a bust. Although I was excited about the prospects of working there the staff seemed pretty unenthusiastic about life and had the emotional colour wheel of Wednesday Addams. I know I'm better off not being there, and by not being hired life granted me an opportunity to work at a high end men's wear store that specializes in suits for men under 5'8". 

A perfect match.  

I had my second commercial audition this week and it was hilarious. I had to go in with a group of three other people and dance to some weird music and wave to an imaginary goat. 

Kudos to whoever booked that. 

I also got to chill with my mentor, the artistic director of Shakespeare in the Ruff this week. Every time we hang out he enlightens and charges me up. I talked about my issues with comparison and feeling like I am running out of time despite me having only been her for a month. I asked him about how he got through the hard times; where he felt stuck or questioned what he was doing with his life. I asked him about hits and whether it is more beneficial to be categorized or elusive. No matter what I threw at him he had an insightful and eloquent way of answering me. 

The biggest things I took away from our conversation was presence, patience, trust and that no one has the answers. He said this really great thing about forging ones own path; "Your path is only a path when you look back at it." It's easy to follow pre made paths and hope to have the same things happen to me as it did for someone else, but why not forge my own and see what things I can experience? I have spent so much time trying to emulate the careers of people who I admire and this tenancy will always fail me because I am an individual, everything that happens to me is mine and I only have control over what direction I want to take. 

Brendan also spoke about how important it is for artists to take the time to be present in everyday life, and to be present with themselves. As an artistic director, he said that he would rather work with someone who has experienced life and the love and pain that comes with it, than someone who has spent their entire lives in a black box honing their craft. 

In my opinion, the best actors (the ones I look up to) are the ones who have lived and are able to bring humanity and vitality into their work; cleverness and beauty will only get one so far. Perfection is boring, imperfections are what makes us human. And these imperfections are what people relate to in one another. I am striving for authenticity and balance, not perfection. 

We talked about my "hit" and how I feel like I want to capitalize on not being able to be pinned down. I want to be diverse and transform in everything I do. We talked about how this was an admirable goal, but in these early stages of my career I should focus on my ace card rather than pushing the whole deck on people. Once I am able to build up more of a career I can start showing my other hands, so to speak. I think this is a great way of thinking about it. It doesn't mean that I cannot show those other parts of myself, but there is a time and a place. Right now, I need to focus on what is marketable and what my strongest assets are. I need patience, and to trust that my agent knows what she is doing. 

Lately I have found myself wanting a break or needing time off, but then when I do get time off I don't do anything that I want to do. I simply eat crap and sleep. Perhaps I am still reeling from graduating and have yet to establish a routine so everything personally has gone to heck, but I can feel my body craving stimulation beyond endless Twitter and Facebook creeping. I use "networking" as an excuse to not be present with myself, I am obsessed with trying to maintain a constant online presence. I need to stop worrying about it so much. I have set up everything I need and now I should be able to relax and focus on the massive amount of book and movies I want to enjoy, but I don't. I waste countless hours looking at the same posts or trying to think of something funny to tweet. It's stupid. 

I went for run through High Park last week and it was liberating. I had forgotten the simple joy that comes from being in nature and taking it in. Then, the other day I went to the St. Lawrence Market and bought a Napoleon square and a butter tart. I just sat in the sun and took my time eating those deserts, not checking my phone or listening to music, just being there. It might sound goofy or artsy but these moments are what have stuck with me over the last week, not the tweets I favourited. There are certainly benefits to social networking, and I will always believe that, but there are more benefits to enjoying life and being present in each experience. 

I am slowly learning, from all of the artists that surround me how important it is to take my time and feel out this new environment. As I have been told over and over again, if I continue to speed through and distract myself from the simple things, I am going to have lived a pretty meaningless life. I realize that I feel uncreative because I am stopping myself from being creative. It is easier for me to eat a whole pumpkin pie, watch Arrested Development, surf twitter and listen to music all at once, then to simply give each thing its own time.

Right now, my career is in its first stages and I have to stop demanding it to be anything but where it is. My time will come and things will happen because I am afraid and that fear is what will push me to greatness. I need to let go and allow myself to flounder.  No one is going to give me the answers I want, because no one has life figured out (no matter how well they seem to have it together).

Babysitting is reminding me how present and unfazed kids are. They don't judge themselves or care what you think, they are real with how they feel and are constantly in a life or death situation. Things affect them deeply, but are able to go on with their lives. One moment they can be crying and the next running and playing. Things aren't as precious or dramatic, they just are. Life is just happening for them and they deal with things as they arrive. They aren't preparing for next week or what their next life choice is. Sure they don't have the same responsibilities that adults do, but there is a freedom and honesty about them that I want to rediscover. She is teaching me a lot about life and myself. 

I'm grateful for everything life is offering me right now. 

P.S. All the Wrong Reasons is being officially released on all platforms on June 23rd, so mark it on your calendars and pick up a copy of this wonderful Canadian film featuring some fantastic actors and yours truly. 


Sunday, June 1, 2014

Nothing Compares 2 U

Hey Abyss, 

I feel like I have been here for months already. It will have been a little less than one as of Monday. My life has been broken down into either working, watching Arrested Development, or debating over what Pokémon should be on my upcoming Alpha Sapphire team. I have no money and my personal schedule is all out of whack. I need to find a way to reengage myself and get back on the horse. 

STRUCTURE for the win.  

Last week, I was asked to do a workshop of a new play. I jumped at the opportunity, which was presented to me by my ever supportive and awesome mentor. It was exactly what I needed; to sink my teeth into work again. It was a play for young audiences and was dealing with aspects of social media. After the table reading in the morning the director, writer and the cast (myself included) went to a high school to get the opinions of some eclectic students. They were awesome, and really responsive, which made the whole experience extremely fulfilling. 

I had my SummerWorks Leadership Intensive Program meeting a little more than a week ago, which was great. At this point, I don't know if I have been chosen, but it was great to talk to people who are passionate about what they do and their encouragement of young artists. Leaving that meeting I got to thinking about what I want for my life and I think that, more than anything, I want to be respected and known as an artist. Any way that I can accomplish that, is where I want to be. I realize that in order for this to happen I need to start developing ideas and bringing them to life. I constantly find myself creating "projects" with friends that they perceive as a funny scenario, or a joke, but I am genuinely serious about moving forward with these ideas. I need to find people that won't just create with me but who will actually follow through with our riffs. 

This leads me to wanting to find like-minded people in general. I need to keep discovering and surrounding myself with people who share the same drive and passion for respect and notoriety that I do. I need people with similar work ethic and conversational topics in my life. I feel so different all the time and I want to feel accepted. I want to find my group of people/artists. I don't want to waste time faking my way through a conversation simply to be social. I want each interaction to mean something, to learn about myself and that other person. I want honesty and authenticity. Maybe I have too many expectations for everyday life and I will only let myself down with all these hoops, but alternatively specificity has never let me down.

Prince has also never let me down, and Toronto is home to a Prince inspired party called Purplelectricty

Perhaps these are the ones I am looking for....

Yesterday, I saw my good friend Sebastien Hiens perform his show Brotherhood: The Hip Hopera at the Toronto Clown Festival and it inspired me, as it always does. It inspired me to really dig deep and see what I have inside me. Sebastien kills it in the show. It utilizes all the things that he loves and that are specific to him as a performer. His unique skill set. This is what sets artists apart, their specialties. I sometimes find myself trying to imitate other artists because I like what they do. But it never feels like home. I know what some of my abilities are, but not all of them. I need more time and opportunities to stretch my wings and truly find where I am happiest, what my ace cards are. Sebastien said this great thing about the show when we were hanging out post-Brotherhood, "...I have performed that show in living rooms and in grocery stores and now it will finally get it's main stage debut..." He has proven to me that if something is real and authentic to someone as an artist (and you pay your dues) then other people can't help but see and, more often than not, want to support that truth. He loves that show and it's easy to see why. 

For as long as I can remember I have been concerned with what people think of me and how I am being perceived. It dominates my life. I get so stressed out thinking about trivial things that for the most part don't matter. I get jealous of people doing things that I actually have no interest in doing, I simply wanted to be considered. 

I am aware of how ridiculous that sounds. 

This "envy monster" is the bane of my existence and I know that once I am able to delete him from my consciousness, I am going to discover so many new possibilities creatively and personally (at this point in my life these two words mean the same thing).

I have glimmers of confidence in my daily life and I feel so alive and focused when those moments happen. I feel my confidence is the strongest in performance, which I why I come alive on stage. I simply execute and think later. I know it's possible to live that way all the time. To be in a constant state of confidence, to take every moment as it is and deal with it authentically. No insecurities allowed. I have to stop keeping up with these "invisible Jones'" and live MY life. There is, actually, no point in comparing myself to people, I am never going to be them or have the same chances, jobs, lovers, families, lives as any of them. I am only going to have my own. I need to embrace my own truth and live for me. 

Everything that is happening to me right now is necessary. I have to work this Joe job out of need, not want. I have to miss out on the things I would love to do because I need to pay rent. I don't have financial freedom, I have a lot of debt. But what I do have is true independence. All the things I have are mine and are here because of me. Sure, washing dishes every night it isn't the easiest or most entertaining way to live but it's teaching me about myself, about food and people and I really like all those things. My friend said this to me recently, "...hard living makes you a stronger artist. People who are privileged don't know what it's like to struggle and makes end meet, which means they can't truthfully bring that emotional context to a character." 

From now on, if someone asks me how I'm doing I am going to say, "Character building." 

Night Abyss.