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Quotespiration # 25: Neil Patrick Harris

“Sometimes you can have the smallest role in the smallest production and still have a big impact.”

– Neil Patrick Harris (an openly gay film and theatre actor; multi-winner of the Emmy awards and four-time Golden Globes nominee)

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Every role counts. I hate it when actors think they are too good for something..unless it is downright, undeniably awful- and even then, there’s no need to be rude about it! I’ve spoken to an actress who goes to auditions she doesn’t want just for the “practice” and prays she doesn’t get the role. How egotistical! I also know an actor who will ONLY go for leading man parts. Yikes. Acting is hard enough as it is without closing doors before you’ve even had a peek through the curtains.

On the other hand, I have also met directors and writers with their heads up their asses who think that actors are disposable puppets and that everything that comes out of their mouths is made of gold. Barf. But that’s for another post some other day…

From how I see it, every set or stage you work on is a potential for you to network and sharpen your skills. No matter how big or small the production and how big or small your part is. There’s always something to learn- either from the people around you or from the experiences you gain and mistakes you make.

And you never know, someone somewhere may just remember you and give you a job somewhere else down the line. Trust me. It happens. A lot.

Be grateful.

All my love,

The Aspiring Actress.

Leave It All in the Room.

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I had an indie audition today that I was going to bail on because I’ve been rather ill for the past few days. I woke up, contemplated going, printed off and went over my sides, then decided fuck it and sent off an email asking to reschedule. But with auditions coming to a slow as of late, I got this nagging feeling I just couldn’t shake. I knew I’d kick myself once I felt better for not going. So I said EFF IT again, popped a bunch of Advil and decided to suck it up.

So I went. Luckily I knew the CDs on this project, which is always nice when you have that established rapport. Though, of course, it doesn’t really help me feel any less nervous!! Nerves are good for you though. Assuming you retain control over your voice and trembling, that is. Sometimes your grasp of the English language just miraculously disappears in the audition room..

Anyways, I was determined to go in and do my best. Then at least I could leave knowing I TRIED and have no regrets over my performance. Sometimes when you think something’s gone terribly, it turns out they loved it! I firmly believe in the quote that you miss 100% of the shots you don’t take.

#Truth, people.

I don’t know if I killed the audition, or did mediocrely. I don’t know if they liked me or not, or if they were just being nice cause they kind of know me. Or if I even interpreted the character how they had envisioned. But I do know that if I’m not right for this character, then hopefully I’ll be right for a different/new character they might write in the future in this or another project.

There will always be more opportunities. Never forget that. No matter how off you are feeling, whether or not you really connect with this character or not. Do your absolute best, make no excuses and leave it all in the room.

And no, I did NOT drink any coffee, thanks for asking :).

That is all.

Ciao, bellas..& fingers crossed!!

The Aspiring Actress.

P.S. Ryan Gosling believes in you.

P.P.S. If you’re sick to the point where you can barely speak or think, or are puking…best you stay home. Your agent will understand, and everyone in the room will thank you for it. Don’t be a hero!!

The Universe’s Order.

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There’s a line, you see. Let’s picture it like this: the line up to your city’s most popular and exclusive club. But this isn’t your typical line. This isn’t your usual ‘first come, first serve’ kinda line. No, this line is different, because every day its sequence changes at random.

It doesn’t change based on how much you want to get into the club, whether it’s your girlfriend’s birthday or how much you’re willing to bribe the bouncer (although that helps…a little bit). It doesn’t even change based on how much you’re willing to do to get to the front, though it is taken into consideration so it does help your chances over not doing anything at all. It’s more like..the club’s going to owe you favours. Not favours big enough to like you know, get you in to the club but things that’ll help you get there.

But even then, you could easily be pushed down the line by someone who’s been there for a way shorter time than you, who has done way less to ‘deserve’ it and vice versa, you could do the same to someone else who’s been there longer and paid more dues. Things have to be fair to keep people coming and staying, after all.

There will be plenty of people who come and go out of this line while you’re there, not everyone has the same patience or tenacity that you do. Plenty of people will walk past you and scoff as they make their way to the establishment down the street, that’s niiiice but not quite where you want to be. It just doesn’t quite hit the spot of what you’re looking for.

Ignore such people that come into your life.

If you’ve decided this club is exactly where you want to be, and can’t possibly imagine waiting to get in anywhere else then here’s my advice to you:

Buckle down, work hard, pay your dues, look to your neighbours for words of wisdom, never be afraid to ask for help and stay looking your best while you’re doing it so that when the day does come that you are chosen to be front of the line, you’re ready and you know you’ve deserved it.

We don’t know what the order will be tomorrow. All we can do is get in line, do our part, try to stay inspired and just wait. Don’t just wait around STARING, contemplating whether you should get into it. You have to be IN the line to get the chance to be at the front of it. So step in. It doesn’t bite. And for the lucky few of you out there, you might even have a nice friend who’ll let you budge.

And for the even luckier few, if you’re patient enough, you’ll be in the club, partying with the best of them soon enough.

So dream on, my dreamers. And I’ll see you lot in there.

The Aspiring Actress.

The Importance of Acting Classes [cont’d]

[Read part one here]

If I could go back in time, I’d probably argue that whole ridiculous coffee cup thing. But aaaaat the tiiiiime I took it in. I was confused but I took it in. Also apparently when you’re “listening” to the other actor and don’t have much ‘action’ going on, having your arms glued to your sides is the most natural thing you can do when you don’t know what else to do. Okay then. So I did that. Whenever we made a mistake, we’d have to start over. But it was done in a way that made me feel frustrated and embarrassed. The whole classroom was set up like a stage, so you have all these other students staring at you as the teacher is telling you you’ve done something wrong, try it again. I mean it could be a lot worse, he could’ve been insulting. But it would’ve been nice if we got a more detailed response as to what we could do exactly to help NOT make those mistakes. Making me feel dumb about it doesn’t really help. It wasn’t just me. It made me feel uncomfortable watching other actors being critiqued for their acting choices. You could just see the humiliation burnt onto their face. And I know you’re all thinking, how are you going to learn if you’re not getting critiqued? It’s all in the WAY the critiquing is done. It has to be constructive! And while the teacher meant well, I don’t think he realized how condescending he could come across.

What bothered me the most is the lack of feedback when it came to HOW the lines were being said. I remember my acting partner having the most annoying speech pattern. He would literally say his lines the exact same way, with the exact same tones and inflections each time. Talk about monotony. There was no connection whatsoever.

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So come week 6, we were ready to put it on film. Where for each scene, a student would volunteer to do the filming. The first take would be on you, the second on your partner. Lovely. It’s always nice having one of the students shove a camera in your face. It’s just different when you’re on set and there’s a camera on you (usually somewhat stationary) handled by a professional versus trying to act in a somewhat confined space with a “camera man”/student moving awkwardly around you (SO distracting) and your scene partner, sticking a camera all up in your grill. Not to mention the classroom was set so that the living room “couch” was literally facing the “audience”. At least on a set where you’re facing an audience or crew, there are usually cameras and directors and lights in the way. Nope. This was just…all clear. I see you, you see me. Awesome.

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And no, it’s not anything like theatre. I like theatre. I don’t mind theatre. When you do a theatre production, you get to be on a stage, the audience isn’t usually eye-level to you (note: usually) and there are bright lights and there’s more space and doing a theatre production you EXPECT there to be a crowd people somewhat in front of you. But in a medium sized classroom with like 10 faces staring right at you at close proximity while someone waves a camera in your face? No thanks.

TO TOP IT ALL OFF, we had to playback our videos on a TV monitor riiiight afterwards. Nice. So now I have to watch a close up of my face under unflattering lighting AND get critiqued in front of the entire class. Again. How fun.

The studio also encouraged substitution as a means of feeling an emotion. What that means is using some sort of relatable memory in your personal life to play the character’s emotions. For example, my character was meant to feel guilt. So I spent 20 minutes relaying personal information about my life (for the craft, you know) about the things I’ve done that made me feel guilty. For the first time in a long time, I cried. I admit, it was rather therapeutic and so naturally I thought it was amazing. Looking back at it, it was terrible of them to do that. I believe. I know there are people who believe in substitution. I don’t. First of all, it’s potentially emotionally damaging. Second of all, when you over-use a memory it loses its emotional impact over time any way cause like everything else in life, we get conditioned to things. So what are you supposed to do when that memory no longer affects you that way?? Also, how are you supposed to stay connected with the other actor if you’re busy thinking about your own memories in your own life aka being in your head. It’s selfish.

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Okay. Clearly, I had a lot to say about that. But I mean the funny thing is, I stuck around that studio for like 6 months because I didn’t know any better. I knew I felt uncomfortable, I knew I wasn’t quite keen on a lot of the techniques and exercises. I didn’t feel safe with the teachers or students. It didn’t feel like I could just be or make a huge fool of myself. I felt very guarded the entire time. And yes, that partly had to do with me and who I was as a person, but a good teacher should be able to inspire and bring you out of your shell. They’re supposed to guide you and make you feel comfortable, to help you grow. I got none of that. I mean, sure I got some good really good feedback and I did get a couple pointers here and there that’ve stuck with me. Mostly they’re now things I know NOT to do or that just aren’t right for me. Everything felt very stuffy and over-analyzed, over-rehearsed, without enough constructive feedback. Wasted time playing theatre games and doing “connective” (but not really) exercises instead of teaching us how to just ACT.

I’ll be honest, after all of that, I was kind of scarred. Apprehensive. It reaffirmed my initial feelings of the classroom environment not being for me. I was hesitant to drop more money on new classes at a studio I had no idea whether I’d like or not. Every studio seemed to have such mixed reviews online. Maybe I was better off to just keep learning by doing. Not knowing any better, I kept doing the things they taught me. Looking back, it made for some very mediocre work.

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Fast forward 6-8 months, and by some random chance of fate I was introduced to my acting coach now. And you know what? I haven’t looked back since. Even during that first audit (yes, she makes ALL new students audit before deciding on joining her class- WHAT A REVELATION!!) there was something different about her class. First of all, everyone was so warm, professional and very clearly serious about their craft but there was still a very relaxed feel to it. It was very natural, there was lots of joking and bantering. The beginning of the class was dedicated to general chit chat, a time to tell the class about any updates, things happening in their lives etc. not pointless, ridiculous ‘voice & movement’ exercises.

Then after they were done catching up, it was straight to business. Get centred and just act. Just be present, stay grounded and get into that headspace, then let it play. No prior rehearsals besides running lines with your partner before class. A lot of focus and constructive criticism was put on quality of voice, body positioning, energy, listening/connective-ness, being present/out of your head and just being!

If in the moment you are inclined to clutch a coffee mug, THEN YOU CLUTCH THAT COFFEE MUG.

As long as it’s not contrived and just comes from the moment. Then the latter half of the class is dedicated to practicing a cold read, while staying connected to a scene partner, and that script is then the scene you’ll be performing the next week. We also have a week dedicated to on-camera auditions. All bases covered in one place?

PERFECT!

What? You only spend a week on scenes? And you know what? I’ve done and seen some of the best acting work since. Over-analyzing and being overly technical and over-rehearsed with it is so yesterday’s news. Plus, if you really think about it, a lot of the time actors only get their scripts a couple of days in advance, if not the night before shooting or an audition.

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This class felt safe to me, which has allowed me to grow immensely creatively and emotionally. Don’t get me wrong though, this coach is a fucking hard ass. She yells, she’s blunt and will stop your scene and tell you that you’re doing shit wrong. BUT then she’ll tell you how to fix it. And her intentions are good and her methods actually make SENSE to me. The whole class vibrates with warm, creative energy the second you walk into it. And since then, I’ve grown tenfold, twentyfold as an artist.

I’m not saying the previous methods of teaching were wrong. They just weren’t for me. At all. I’m sure there are a ton of people who love that studio. I’m sure. Whether or not they churn out talent is debatable. Most people I meet now have nothing but negative things to say about them. I mean, to each his own though. I will say this though, since I’ve left, they’ve lost all their teachers (dispute with the owner/founder/master teacher) and have had to completely revamp. That kind of says something.

The best thing I did take away from that first studio is all the the actor/acting stories and industry casting director tips we got. They were all quite amusing and informative. I mean the teachers were really cool people! Just…maybe not the best teachers in the studio that they were at. But despite all that, it was just not worth the 6 months I spent that cost me well over a thousand dollars. I didn’t know any better. I was sticking it out, trying to force myself to conform and get used to this class because I figured this was just the way it was, and I’d have to get used to it.

So here’s my piece of advice: trust your gut. If something feels a little off about the method, the teachers, the students (their attitude is highly influenced by the teachers in charge) or the class atmosphere in general, don’t stick around. Don’t waste your time and money. Don’t ever think that that is the ONLY way to go and there must be something wrong with you cause it doesn’t work for you. There are plenty of other studios and teachers out there with different vibes. Unfortunately there are a lot of bitter and negative teachers out there though, you just have to weed them out. But don’t give up until you find one that provides you with an environment that helps you grow and lifts you up.

You won’t regret it. Hope this helps.

The Aspiring Actress.

The Importance of Acting Classes

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When I first started acting, I was eager to jump into a class. Any class. But at $200-500 a month for classes held once a week, I realized I had a lot of careful contemplating to do. I wanted to try ’em all but which to try out first?? I didn’t have the time to audit all these classes. I never did make a decision thanks to my indecisiveness, but luckily after chatting to a couple actors I’d met on student film projects, the decision making process was made to be a lot easier for me.

I was pretty sure I’d made the right choice. I heard some fantastic feedback from a couple of actors, this place sounded perfect, not to mention these classes were 6 weeks long- clearly I would be taking more away from it than a 4 week class! I was surely on my way to acting enlightenment! I got so excited about attending these classes, that for about 2 weeks prior to my first day I obsessively scoured every inch of their website for every detail I could find on their teachers, their methods, philosophies, techniques. They also had an extensive YouTube channel, so I spent hours watching all of the videos, which I’d found very informative and exciting. The founder of the school seemed to be so passionate and had so many interesting stories to tell, it was hard not to be affected by it.

My first day there wasn’t quite what I was expecting but still, I was going to go with it. This was my first acting class ever! What did I know about how these things work? The teacher was pretty cute too, which didn’t hurt…though it did make it harder for me to relax and feel less self conscious about myself. Everybody seemed nice enough. There were students of all ages, genders and kinds of character. It did make me nervous not knowing what ‘levels’ they were at. Were they all experienced actors? Was I the only newbie?

Anyways. Looking back at that first class, it kind of felt like a waste of time. Like it was purposely there to waste that first week out of the six. He went through the basic principles they believed in, which was all great. Then we spent a lot of time just chatting. Then we sat around a table and read our new scripts out loud with our chosen scene partners. In this class, we only got to work on one scene the entire six weeks. I mean I’m guessing this is the norm in many acting classes? Spending 6 weeks on one scene. At the time for a newbie actor, this was perfectly fine. I probably needed all that time to get to know the character.

The next couple of weeks were dedicated to playing theatre games, analyzing our characters technically with very specific questions we were given (this was our ‘homework’), rehearsing the scenes we got and then finally putting them “up” in our last week while a person filmed around us with a camcorder.

First of all, I’ve never been a fan of “theatre games” (sorry, I mean “voice & movement exercises” *eye roll*). Not since I got a feel for them in my high school drama classes. I mean I get it. I get why they’re done. To open you up, loosen your body, help you relax, get out of your mind, learn to stay present and you know, cause everyone else is making themselves look like a douche bag, it’s okay if you do too! I didn’t have too much of a problem with them, except it was a little annoying when we spent half the class doing these exercises when we could’ve been working on you know…acting.

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There are also days where, guess what! I don’t FEEL like being particularly active or social and just want to be left alone and get down to business. So you forcing me to dance and make weird noises and faces at people is COMPLETELY LUDICROUS. To be honest, it would really turn me off of going to class. I also noticed that there were people who would just never get comfortable with it. The self-consciousness and inability to let go just oozed out of their pores, and it was painful to watch. Why are you making these people who are clearly already very uncomfortable participate in an uncomfortable exercise that’s kind of, somewhat humiliating? It’s like forcing the kid with stage fright to become the lead in the annual school play. You just don’t do that. You give him a one-liner and build his confidence up by making him feel safe but like he’s still doing something.

Another exercise they had us do was to partner up with somebody, stand like an inch from their face and just stare into their eyes for 5 minutes and “connect”.

Uhh…okay.

Meanwhile I’m thinking maybe I shouldn’t have had garlicky pasta leftovers for lunch…

I also don’t like the whole partnering up thing. It reminds me of middle school, that awkward feeling when someone is clearly scrambling to find a partner cause he/she wasn’t anybody’s first choice. Then we’d have to tell each other things such as our deepest fears, our regrets, what our goals are in life, what we liked and didn’t like about ourselves. Talk about a breach of privacy. After that the teacher would have us tell the other person three words we thought described them based on first impressions. There’s nothing worse than someone telling you you seem like a “really nice person” because they clearly know nothing about you and don’t know what else to say. Nice? You think I’m NICE? That’s so…boring. And I was a bit passive aggressive back then, so I’d fire back with an equally mundane description. HA! Take that. PFFT.

Sometimes though people would seriously say things that made you go like, “What???” Things that were a little offensive to me, but I couldn’t blame them if they were forced to make uninformed judgements about me based on..nothing. So I didn’t take it too personally, but clearly I was not a fan of the exercise. And also, what is the point exactly?? They said it helps you connect with the other actor. But in what sense? I did not feel connected at all. In fact, I felt judged and uncomfortable.

In the 4th and 5th weeks, we got to rehearse our scenes in the latter half of class and were given feedback by the teacher. In those weeks, we’d also have to meet up with our scene partners to rehearse outside of class. Bitch, who got time for that?! Having to meet with my scene partner on my own time outside of class so that we could over-rehearse a piece, as beginners, with no guidance? Sounds like the perfect situation for bad habits to be formed. We might as well have been headless chickens feigning to know which direction we were headed. I mean, looking back, we were doing so much that was wrong when rehearsing on our own, that it really was just a waste of time. But sigh, I must digress. At the time, I thought this was the shit. I felt so actor-y. Whoop dee doo.

I also got some very strange feedback during the times we got to rehearse in class. This was a living room scene, mind you:

“Why did you decide to hold the coffee cup in your hands?”

“Uh…I don’t know. It just felt right? I mean she’s sitting at home and stuff and the coffee cup was there…isn’t that the kind of stuff you do at home, talking to your friend?”

“No. You can’t do something like that without a reason. Is there a reason your character is holding a drinking cup?”

“Um…no. I guess not.”

“Then don’t do it.”

“Okay.”

[CONT’D]

Here’s Meryl Streep’s Spot-On Advice About Being a Woman

Meryl Streep’s word of advice to aspiring actors.

TIME

Meryl Streep just added another accolade to her already crowded resume: an honorary doctoral degree from Indiana University. Despite being a Vassar graduate, Streep is a Hoosier by association because of her marriage to sculptor Don Gummer, who studied at IU.

After being given the honor, the three-time Oscar winner sat down for a conversation with professor Barbara Klinger. Streep was her predictable amazing self, dropping knowledge nuggets about getting started in Hollywood, being an actress over 50 and that time she had pizza at the Oscars. Also, apparently her fans are called Streepers. Who knew?

But she hit a home run when she offered advice to people, specifically young women, who want to make it in the entertainment industry:

“For young women, I would say, don’t worry so much about your weight. Girls spend way too much time thinking about that, and there are better things. For young men…

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Say No to the Americano.

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I’m sure most of you already know this, but for those of you who don’t, this is one worth remembering.

DO NOT CONSUME CAFFEINE BEFORE AN AUDITION.

Not even 4 hours prior. Just. Don’t. Do. It. Trust me. Would I lie to you?

And this is coming from a girl who can fall asleep after a strong cup of Joe. I know it smells so good and it’s so tempting in the morning, especially if you’ve had a long night or week. But to be honest when it comes time to it, the adrenaline from auditioning will be enough to energize you through your audition without the additional help.

See I’ve found that this miraculous thing happens before an audition..where any trace of caffeine in your system will somehow find its way to make merry friends with your nerves. The end result? Disastrous. And no amount of meditation in the world is going to save you from that situation.

The immediate energy you give off when you walk into the audition room will be: crazy, jittery, nervous, all over the place. Whereas, of course, you want to go in calm, collected with high but steady energy.

You end up tripping over lines because your lips can’t catch up with your brain, or vice versa.

OR nailing your lines…at the speed of lightening.

The only time I would recommend it is if you’re going in for a sitcom-y role. Then have it all you like. I personally still wouldn’t do it though. But that’s just me.

And there you have it.

Do you have any funny over-caffeinated/over-excited audition stories to tell?

I’d love to hear them.

The Aspiring Actress.