The Thankful Challenge: Day 7 & 8

7

Gusty winds.  Freezing temperatures.  Heavy snowfall.  Work at Jacob Javits Center for eleven hours?  There’s no way I was going to walk five avenues in a nor’easter after work to catch my subway in Herald Square.  Outside, it looked like the beginning of Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer where claymation snowman Burl Ives is talking about that horrible blizzard that nearly cancelled Christmas.

When my life is made into a movie, I want Burl Ives’s claymation snowman to narrate

Okay, it wasn’t quite THAT bad; I’m exaggerating a bit, but it WAS frigid and the snow was blowing all around.

Luckily, the Javits Center runs free shuttle buses to several hotels for conference attendees.  I say “luckily,” but really those buses are necessary since Jacob Javits is located in the armpit of New York along 11th avenue, and no visitor in their right minds should be forced to walk from that wasteland of auto body shops, construction sites, and other general eyesores back to where civilization begins again on 9th avenue.  So to prevent a walk through a decidedly un-magical version of Narnia in the cold, which would have been miserable, I hopped aboard one of the free shuttle buses.

I’m definitely thankful for that free shuttle bus.  It was warm, Seinfeld was playing on the TV screens, and it wound up dropping me off right by the entrance to my subway at 47th/7th, shortening my commute considerably.  If only a happy snowman Burl Ives had been there to serenade me, it would have been the perfect way to finish up a very, very long day.

8

Despite my total and utter loathing of the Jacob Javits Center and all that working there every so often entails, I’m thankful for a lot of the people I’ve met who are working alongside me.  Normally when I temp, I work in office buildings and get to know some of the people there, but I’m basically left alone most of the day.  When I work events and trade shows, I get to work with lots of other temps my age (or even a little older) who are all usually actors or dancers or artsy types.  Because of that, I’ve gotten to know and actually become pretty good friends with a lot of those people.  I see them at auditions or we hang out.  They’re interesting and come from all over the world.  My work friends make being at Jacob Javits Center or the U.S. Open or whatever a little less awful.  It’s nice knowing I’ll see so many familiar faces every day when I walk through the door.  Events are not really my favorite thing in the world to work, but it’s consecutive days of a decent paycheck, so having good people around me to ease the pains of being a “temp slave” is most welcome.

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How Being a Temp(orary Receptionist) Has Helped My Acting

I spend, on average, 20+ hours a week answering phones, sending emails, delivering packages, and re-stocking fridges in office buildings all around the great City of New York.  I have worked for Barnes & Noble Headquarters, NASCAR, Grey advertising, Patek Philippe, and tons of fairly prestigious financial investment firms.  And while I haven’t had say, an actual professional acting gig yet, I consider many of my temp jobs as an opportunity to hone my acting skills and use them on a day-to-day basis.

You might say then that I do, in fact, act 20+ hours a week as well.

So how exactly has being a temp helped my acting (other than padding my bank account and keeping a roof over my head)?  Let’s take a look.

The receptionist is the first point of contact for all guests, which means it’s vitally important to make a good first impression so every guest feels welcome throughout the duration of their visit to the office (and also doesn’t think ill of the company).  That means offering a smile, a seat, something to drink, and taking their coat.  Above all, the receptionist offers respect.  Most days, I am perfectly friendly and have no trouble greeting people, but like any normal person, I occasionally have days when I would prefer to be anywhere but the office and not have to interact with anyone.  As an actor, it’s important to be respectful of everyone around you from your fellow actors to the crew to the director to the audience, much like being a receptionist.  And even if you aren’t feeling up to the part (at least emotionally; sickness is a different issue), you still have to perform at one-hundred percent no matter what else is going on in your life.  You owe that to everyone around you, especially when they’ve brought their A-game.

Answering and transferring phone calls is a big portion of any reception job.  Again, it’s important to be friendly, but it’s even more important to speak clearly and to listen well.  So much weight in acting training is put upon all the complexities of various methods from Stanislavsky to Meisner, etc, that many actors forget the simplest, most significant part of acting: listening and responding with clarity.  What’s the point of living in the woods with nothing but prospecting tools from the 1880s and the clothes on your back as “Method research” for your character if you don’t bother to really listen to those around you and speak clearly and accurately?  When I answer the phone, I really attempt to listen hard to what the person on the other end is saying and then do my best to speak as clearly as I can so they know what’s going on or get the answer they’re looking for.  In turn, I’ve learned to be an even better listener (and have proper diction when speaking!), which is not only good for my acting, but just in life in general.

Being a temp is basically being a substitute teacher for offices.  I’m very lucky to often be asked back to offices in which I’ve previously worked, but I frequently am going to new places, which means I have to jump right into things quickly and often learn on the job.  Having to leap without looking can be scary, but it forces you to be confident with your choices and think on your feet.  It goes without saying that acting sometimes requires improvisation and always requires confidence and a commitment to making bold choices.  Because of temp-ing I have learned how to adapt myself quickly to new work environments and protocols and be more confident with my choices.  If I make a mistake, I don’t beat myself up, I just learn how to fix it and move on with my day, without anguishing over the fact I didn’t do everything perfect.  The goal is always to make as few mistakes as possible and make everyone else’s day go as smoothly as if the real receptionist were there.  Being confident also means not being afraid of asking questions.  If you don’t know the answer to something, just ask.  I’m a big proponent of asking questions, because I feel it’s part of my job to try to understand as much as I can about what’s going on around me (also highly important in acting).  I’m always surprised by how many people are too proud to admit they don’t know everything, so they never ask questions, fearing it will make them look unconfident or stupid or assuming people don’t want to help them.  This is totally wrong.  I’ve yet to meet a single person in one of my workplaces who doesn’t want to help my day go smoother by answering a few questions.  Ask and ye shall receive, kids.

So to re-cap, these things apply to both Temp Work AND Acting: 

  1. Show respect to those around you by being friendly and giving 100% at all times.
  2. Really listen to people and respond clearly.
  3. Be confident and make strong choices.
  4. Don’t agonize over making mistakes; fix them and move on.
  5. Be adaptable.
  6. Ask questions!
  7. Learn as much as you can about your role and what’s going on around you.

Apply these to your life (and acting if applicable), and I promise you’ll see instant, positive results!

The Young and the Restless

I’ve been a little absent from my blog recently, but that seems to parallel my life.

(I know, I know; it sounds a bit melodramatic.)

A couple months ago during a somewhat dark-ish period of time in my life, I decided I needed to get out of New York and detach from everything.  Naturally, I called my mother and told her I needed a summer vacation sometime in June-ish, and I either wanted to come home to Missouri or go visit my brother in Los Angeles.  I figured I had the money to buy a plane ticket to one or the other place, but she insisted that she and my father would pay for me to come home for a couple weeks.

Things eventually got better for me, and I started feeling like my old optimistic self again, but I still felt strangely blasé about work and auditions.  It even started to feel like spending time with some of my friends was an obligation rather than a choice.  The world around me was moving forward in a blur, but I felt immovable.  It seemed as though everyone around me had found some sort of direction, and I had no direction at all.

As I got closer to my vacation date, I withdrew more.  I grew tired of fighting my own inner restlessness, trying to keep it at bay.  Indifference was easy, so I chose to be indifferent.  I chose to be a little absent from my own life.

Now I’m in my old bedroom at home in Missouri, and everything suddenly looks different.  This time last year, I was slaving away for hours and hours at the winery nearly every day, trying to make enough money to move to New York in the early fall.  Here I am back where I started and feeling nostalgic for last summer.  It’s so nice to not have to worry about money and to have a full fridge at my disposal.  My parents take me to movies and shopping and out to dinner.  I get to drive (Sadly not MY car as it was sold back in February.  RIP the Green Machine.) around town and control what time I get places.  My BFF Nicole comes over on Wednesday nights to watch So You Think You Can Dance, and we yell our criticisms at the TV over margaritas and chips.  It’s so easy to slip back into this life.  To pretend the last nine months didn’t happen.

But they did.  And in six days, I’ll be going back to New York where the last nine months happened.  And I have barely anything in my fridge (or my bank account for that matter).  Where I take the train five or six times a day.  Where I hardly ever go shopping (except for groceries).  Where I watch SYTYCD alone on my couch and HeyTell/text Nicole my commentary.  This life is not so easy to slip back into.

While I’ve been here in Missouri though, I’ve been thinking about a million things: life, the future, what I’ve accomplished so far, what I haven’t accomplished, where I want to be in ten years, relationships, my career, who I want to be.  I’m so restless right now.  I never want to be where I am; I always want to be somewhere else.  There are times when all I want to do is just pack a bag and disappear in the mountains of Montana or explore tiny French towns.  I want adventure and an escape.

But then I asked myself if I’m restless because I’m unhappy.  And I don’t know the answer to that.  I know I’m definitely not exactly doing what I want to be doing, and that has to change.  But at the same time, I don’t know if music theatre is even what I want to do anymore…or at least, right now.  Things that felt so certain a year ago don’t feel that way anymore.  I’m not giving up, but I know something needs to change.  I need to change.

Being away from New York has allowed me to have some perspective, and it’s made me realize how much more important other things are: family, friends, enjoying life.  When I’m in New York, so much revolves around either how I’m paying the bills or trying to get acting jobs.  I want a LIFE, and I am driving myself crazy with worry about too many things that aren’t that important in the grand scheme of things.

So I’ll go back to New York in six days because I have to.  I hope it’s also because I WANT to.  It’s just been…hard.

“It’s supposed to be hard.  If it wasn’t hard, everyone would do it.  The hard…is what makes it great.”

– Jimmy Dugan, A League of Their Own

I sincerely hope Jimmy Dugan is right.

BAM! or How I Woke Up From My Own Personal Matrix

“…And BAM.  It hits you.” – Brooklyn Academy of Music subway ad

Directly following a moment of impact comes a moment of clarity when the world just stops and buried truths bubble up to the surface for you to see and consider before you actually feel the effects of the impact itself.  In that brief space of time, you can see inside yourself for miles and miles as though you were looking out onto a vast canyon and marvelous vistas; the landscapes stretching into infinity, and sky blending into horizon.  For that moment of clarity, you see the whole iceberg instead of just the tip, and it’s what lies beneath the water that is most important of all.  It’s in that moment, you see just how precarious the situation really is, and that is when you finally feel the impact.  BAM.

When these moments of impact/clarity enter your life, it’s jarring.  At least, it was for me.  Suddenly I saw some truths about my life I had never seen before, and they were ugly.  I felt stripped to the bone; raw and naked.  I was utterly defenseless, my armor gone, and the truth went straight to my heart like the dagger of an enemy.  And what’s worst of all is that the Enemy turned out to be my heart itself.

A heart killing a heart.

(Sounds like something out of an Edgar Allan Poe story.)

pat·tern \ˈpat-ərn\ 

1. A regular and intelligible form or sequence discernable in certain actions or situations

The word “pattern” comes from the Middle English and Old French word, “patron,” meaning something serving as a model.  Webster’s says, “the change in sense is from the idea of a patron giving an example to be copied.”

Patterns are studied everywhere from math to science to psychology to traffic and I suppose, even the human heart.  How do patterns form?  DO patterns form or are they just inherently part of our own genetic makeup, our universe’s DNA?  And if our universe is made up mostly of patterns, how do we explain things that are patternless?  Or is not having a pattern also a pattern?

Needless to say, my brain hurts trying to consider this.

My question is: what do you do when you suddenly realize you’ve been stuck in a pattern you weren’t entirely aware of?  My moment of impact/clarity brought Matrix-level reactions to my brain: I had been quietly plugged into a pattern for close to twelve years and had just taken the red pill.  As I tumbled down the rabbit hole, I found myself confronted with just how much I had failed to see…or refused to acknowledge.  Like Neo waking up in the Matrix-created human farms of 2199, I saw for the first time how much I’d been deceived; only I was the cause of my own personal deception, and it was frightening.

If, like its origin states, a pattern is an example set down by a patron to be copied, then whose example have I been following?  Who is MY patron?

Perhaps a patron is not a person, but a feeling.  In my case, perhaps I have been following my feelings blindly rather than stopping to actually LOOK around at things; to see things and people as they are instead of as I want them to be.  One of my great strengths AND weaknesses is my imagination, my ability to romanticize events and create whole worlds out of nothingness, but now I see that perhaps I’ve been doing that a little too often in my life, and it has ultimately hurt me.  When reality doesn’t meet expectation, it can be excruciating; a hard slap to the face.

I don’t think I’ve consciously chosen this pattern for myself, but it doesn’t change the fact that I have one and MUST do something to alter it.  To be honest, I’m scared.  I’m scared to leave the comfort behind and possibly open myself and my heart up to be hurt in new ways, but I also know it’s the right thing to do.  I have no idea what’s coming next, and that’s scary too, but thrilling because anything is possible.  Choosing to stay in this pattern would hurt more than choosing to leave it behind; I know that now.  I just can’t go through something like this one more time.  Choosing the pattern is choosing the blue pill, and now that I’ve seen the truth, I, like Neo, could never go back.

So here I am, post-impact, ready to go through life without a patron.  Ready to be my OWN patron, setting down examples for myself to follow.  I’m in a new ocean and not quite sure how to navigate, but I’ll figure it out.  I have to.

It’s sink or swim.  Fight or flight.  There’s always a choice, and I’m finally making mine.

You’re Gonna Need a Bigger Boat

The Tribeca Film Festival just began in New York this week, and I couldn’t be more excited.  I’ve read lots about different film festivals (Cannes, Sundance, Toronto, etc) and the various movies that premiere at them but as I’m not an international movie star or even just been in a feature film or lived in a city that held one, I’ve never been able to go.  That’s why I am so enthusiastic about the Tribeca Film Festival!

And also because I’m praying for a glimpse of Robert DeNiro.

Anyway, the TFF is featuring many a free program this year, one of them being the Tribeca Drive In down in the World Financial Plaza right along the Hudson.  They set up food trucks, hand out free stuff, and screen fan favorite movies.  This year, they’re showing Jaws and the Goonies.

If you know me at all, then you know both of these films are among my favorite movies of all time.  I grew up watching both incessantly (and still do).

Last night, they screened Jaws, and I took myself on a much-needed solo date to see it.  As I was born in the 1980s, I only had ever seen Chief Brody, Quint, and Matt Hooper battle that terrifying shark on a television screen.  My parents, on the other hand, came of age in the 1970s, so they witnessed it all on the big screen when it came out in ’75.  As such, I’ve always felt that I missed out a bit on what made the film so awesome in the first place: the sheer size of a giant shark on a giant screen.

"You're gonna need a bigger boat..."

Watching Jaws basically in a harbor was probably the coolest thing ever.  I honestly couldn’t tell if the seagulls I was hearing were coming from the screen or the sailboats next to me on the Hudson.  It was a perfect setting.  Most of the audience was people my age or older who’d grown up with the movie in some way: either from seeing it in the 70s or the “handing down” of it from their parents who’d seen it in the 70s.  We all clapped together, laughed together, screamed together, and cheered together.  There was a kind of magic in the air.  A nostalgia made new.  Though the majority of the audience had seen the film before, for many of us (myself included), it was like seeing the film for the first time.

And it kind of GOT to me, you know?  I got this overwhelming feeling of happiness, love, and community.  All of us were here because we LOVED this movie.  We’d all had our own experiences with this movie; in some way, it had shaped us all.  Now here we were: all of us sharing this moment.  It made me realize how lasting an impact films have as opposed to other art forms.  Film lasts forever; handed down from generation to generation.  There’s something inherently special about that.

And I don’t think anyone can deny there’s something inherently special and MAGICAL about Steven Spielberg’s films from the 1970s and 80s.  There’s a mythical quality about them, you just can’t put your finger on; it’s just a feeling.  Paired with John Williams’ scores, I just don’t think it gets any better.  Maybe it feels like childhood or growing up.  I don’t know.  His movies from that time are…well, timeless.  Classic.  You never forget your first time seeing them.

Maybe that’s why last night was so special to me.  I nearly cried on the subway ride home.  I finally got to see one of my favorite Spielberg movies on a big screen for the first time…the way people saw it for the first time when it premiered in 1975.  The way my parents saw it.  And for just half a second, I didn’t know what year I was in.  It felt timeless.  I was under a spell.  We all were.

That’s the power of the movies.

And I HAVE to be a part of that.  I HAVE to be a part of something so beloved it keeps drawing people back to it 37 years later.  Something people pass down to their kids.  I want people to feel all the things I felt last night: the nostalgia, the magic, the joy.  I want to tell stories people love.  Make films that shape their lives and experiences in a way that MUST be shared with others.

I WILL be a part of that.

The Never Ending Pasta Bowl or How I Didn’t Audition for the Olive Garden

I worked yesterday at Grey advertising again, and they just happened to be having auditions for an upcoming national commercial for that shining beacon of all that is Americanized about Italian food (but you get great free, unlimited breadsticks!): the Olive Garden!

Ooh the unlimited salad and breadsticks...

Now before you get all excited and start thinking that you will be seeing me chow down on pasta Lady and the Tramp-style with some attractive fellow while you’re waiting for Modern Family to come back, I didn’t audition nor did I attempt to sneak into the audition. I was working reception, and thus, it would be inappropriate for me to try to crash an audition for which I had no appointment unlike the hordes of attractive child actors and adult commercial actors who did. While I would have LOVED to have the chance to say some line to my good-looking, fake family about how much I love the never-ending pasta bowl, I instead spent my day directing OTHER actors back to casting with a smile plastered on my face.

Ah the ironies of life.

Or is it just situations that suck? I always forget because I learned about irony, like most people in the 1990s, from Alanis Morissette’s song “Isn’t It Ironic,” which is probably not actually the correct definition. (But despite your incorrect definition of irony, I still love both you and your songs, Alanis!)

Anyway, as I sat ushering child actors in, it occurred to me that a lot of them probably have more professional acting credits than I do. Like, here I am, twenty-three years old with a college degree in acting but no professional credits, no agent, no SAG card, no AEA card. Here’s this like, eleven year old perky blonde girl who probably is SAG/AFTRA with an agent and a resume full of commercials and probably a couple random guest spots on Law & Order: SVU and Royal Pains.  How does this happen?!

I’m not sure I would have wanted to be a child actor where people expected me to always act like an adult and never get to completely enjoy my youth.  I think being a child actor would have made me not like acting as much.  It would have made me have to grow up faster.  Already I could see some of those children maybe being there with their parents out of obligation rather than for their own enjoyment because it was something THEY wanted to do.  There are plenty of child actors who have grown up into successful adults, but also plenty who felt like they missed out on their youths.

But seeing all these children coming in to audition and knowing they probably have a longer professional resume than I do put things into perspective for me.  Then I thought about how much lengthier my CHILDHOOD ACTIVITIES resume is than theirs, and I realized I was the one with the upper hand.  I got to play baseball and go to the pool and have sleepovers and play in marching band.  I got to have family vacations and go to normal schools.  I have experiences that make up for my lack of professional ones; experiences that cannot be replaced by SAG cards or Olive Garden commercials.  I may not be where I want to be professionally, but when I DO get there, I’ll be happier and better educated.  I’ll be better adjusted.  I’ll be grateful.

And when I get acting work, I’ll celebrate  with my REAL family…but maybe not at Olive Garden.

Who Am I Anyway, Am I My Resume?

Like many people my age, I am in the throes of an identity crisis.  I am rapidly approaching the date marking my one-year anniversary of being a college graduate.  I do not have a steady income or a job in the actual field for which I (or rather, my parents) spent thousands of dollars in training at a private university.  Also, I don’t have a boyfriend (or god forbid, a fiancé), much to my extended family’s chagrin.

In short, I’m a little lost.

I don’t know what I’m doing with my life, and to be honest, that scares me sometimes.  I’ve always had a plan or known what I was going to do day-to-day because of school or my family.  We all grow up with a safety net, and the minute we reach a certain age, it’s yanked out from under us.  Once it’s gone, we’re in control of everything, and that is a lot of pressure to put on our shoulders.  Sure, we’ve been preparing for that pressure our whole lives, but until you actually feel it, you have no idea how much it can weigh on you.

Psychologists and news commentators believe my generation is self-absorbed, whiny, and spoiled.  They say we’ve been given more opportunities than any other generation and grown up with the latest technology, but we squander it by using our education and technology to complain about our lives and detach from society.  We’re branded as lazy and ill equipped to do “real work in the real world” because we majored in philosophy or world cultures or acting – things that actually interest us – and don’t want to sacrifice our principles to work a job for the sole purpose of just making money (even though eventually, many of us do).

So naturally, all these psychologists and news commentators don’t think the quarter-life crisis actually exists.

But I’m here to tell you it’s very real.  Though I’m about six months away from being twenty-four years old and thus, not a quarter of a century old yet, I still feel this aimlessness sinking in.  Who AM I?  What am I supposed to DO with my life?  Which direction should I head?  There are so many questions and never any tangible answers.  No compass.  No map.  No schedule.  I am the only one who can answer these questions and decide where I’m going and what to do, and that kind of controlled chaos is terrifying.

Though I suffer from the general form of quarter-life crisis I’ve been talking about, my real identity crisis can be pinpointed to the decision between film and stage.  All my life, I’ve been training to be a stage actor, taking dance classes and voice lessons and acting classes, doing shows.  I’ve always loved musical theatre, because it let me do everything I loved in one space of time: act, sing, and dance.  It’s the best of it all.

But over time, my interest in film grew.  I’ve always loved going to the movies, but as I got older, I became more interested in how they were put together, different directors and their styles, cinematography.  I would study certain actors I liked and look for all their nuances.  I started keeping up with what was in pre and post-production.  I read about Italian and French cinema and watched every indie movie I could.  I followed the awards season religiously and forced my family to play an Oscar prediction game every year.  I basically began having a not-so-secret love affair with film, and that’s where the guilt began.

As you all know by now, I have a degree in music theatre from a rather prestigious, if lesser-known, music school.  All throughout college, I felt as though I had to put my life and interests in a box.  I was there to study music theatre, and that’s it.  Though I had an excellent educational experience at my school, one I cherish, it was far from a perfect place.  There wasn’t a lot of room for exploration outside your chosen field of study, and I certainly felt that if I committed to studying music theatre in college, I wasn’t allowed to do or be anything other than that.  I felt like I had to be all about music theatre all the time and couldn’t be interested in anything else or I’d be branded a – GASP – traitor.

So I stuck to the plan: finished my music theatre degree and moved to New York City.  I audition for stage projects (unsuccessfully thus far, I might add).  My friends audition for stage projects (some more successfully than others).  And the nagging guilt is still there.  I want to do music theatre, I do, but I don’t know who I am in music theatre right now.  Nothing seems to fit.  And the only place I’ve been feeling a sense of belonging has been the few times I’ve filmed at NYU.  I haven’t felt boxed in by how I look or what “type” I am; I’m just me playing a character and saying lines to a camera.  It feels good and right.  And that’s where I feel guilty, because I’m here in New York with a music theatre degree, and I think I want to pursue film instead of musicals.  Even the idea of moving to Los Angeles at some point down the road doesn’t feel foreign or repulsive to me anymore; ME, the girl who has wanted to live in New York City her whole life, wouldn’t consider living anywhere else.

I’m so tired of feeling guilty about my own life.  I’m tired of feeling guilty that I have a degree in one thing but I don’t necessarily want to pursue that right now.  I’m tired of feeling guilty about hating open calls for a stupid chorus role or rolling my eyes when someone talks pretentiously about some obscure, brand new musical.  I’m tired of feeling guilty about knowing more about what’s going on in the film industry than I do about Broadway.  I’m just exhausted by all this guilt.  It’s MY life, and I don’t know why I’m letting my guilt (or how I might be perceived by others) run it.  I have to take control, because there’s no net to catch me, and the leap or fall is mine alone to take.

I don’t know who I am or who I’m GOING to be, but I have to trust my instincts and stop apologizing for or feeling guilty about them.  I know who I’d LIKE to be, and I have to pursue that whole-heartedly and hope for the best, and I’ll be damned if anyone tries to make me feel bad about it.  I will not be boxed in anymore; I will not be categorized.  I am not one thing, I am MANY things, and I will explore and develop all these things inside of me because that’s what life is about.  Life is a series of identity crises and you have to get lost in order to find yourself.

So I’m lost.  Big deal.  I’ll find myself soon.