passionate, honest, bold observations about life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness (read: property) from a los angeles lioness longing to be a unicorn. theatre. dance. laughs. love. passion. faith. strength, excellence. chaos.
same as you?
Having been perpetual students of an art form that can’t be fully learned because all the stories haven’t been told yet, we are now able practitioners.
Not only that, we’re partisans in a great struggle that may seem holy to some and crazy to others, but is wildly quixotic even at the best of times.
We’re all veterans of hope, sergeants and captains of an idealism and courage that seem anachronistic and beautifully, dolefully, painfully antique.
Because what we do, what we are trained to do, is to keep an ancient and sullied and disrespected and much maligned and amazing tradition alive.
We together keep the spoken word from going silent, spectacle from disappearing in the ones and zeros of forgetfulness, great life-and-death themes from dying of malnutrition, enormous characters and souls from the purgatory of indifference and ignorance.
Together we keep the The House of Atreus from foreclosure and the Skryker from extinction and Kent and Salem from dying of cancer and Pozzo from getting too lucky.
We are apostles of language, dreamers in blank verse, aristocrats of sight gags, archeologists of gesture and dance and sword battles and mask wearing and mythic games of tragic and comic consequences.
We bring Falstaff to the party and hope he doesn’t get too drunk and pinch too many butts even as we enter through the back door and try to deliver dream-worlds to the wary and the post-modern and the unsuspecting.
We traffic in awe and metaphors and are impatient with the ordinary and expected.
We fight the inertia of silence and talk too loud in polite locations and there is no Ritalin for us.
We don’t succumb to psychoanalysis and the voodoo of easy answers.
We thrive on complexity and ask that our monsters truly terrify us, that our lovers truly slay us with their passion, that our magicians truly make something out of nothing and hand it to us with smoke and a rakish smile.
We seek connections with the strange and communion with brave souls seeking the truth – not the entire truth, just a piece of it will do – a coin of truth we can keep in a pocket near our valuables, that we can spend in those frightening moments when we don’t know ourselves, when we’re in too deep and some clarity would help, some beauty that could redeem and enliven the night.
We turn awful experience and bad relationships and murdering office jobs and loveless parents and poverty and addictions and angst and loss and death itself into the fearsome gold of art.
We are alchemists and con artists, acrobats and used car salesmen, liars and enlighteners, and we are here to do the earth’s bidding because the earth is screaming out its stories and begging for us to write them down, and act them out, and draw her pretty pictures on the face of the clouds.
What’s in store now that you’ve made it through this training ground of the imagination?
Here are some of the highs and lows you can expect on this amazing journey.
There’s joy as you travel to wonderful places and receive the smiles and affection of new friends made in the crucible of performance, in front of raging armies of critics and prove-it- to- me, I’ve-paid-too- much-for- these-tickets, I-saw-it-last- year- in-London audiences and a perfect stranger comes up to you after the show to say they never felt so transported in the theatre before and they understand something about life they never understood until tonight and how you captured her parents’ pain and nobility so beautifully.
Fatigue as you give it everything you have, every single day, every muscle engaged in a marathon that doesn’t end until you end.
Pain because you tell yourself it’s just a gig, just a job, but then you fall in love with it anyway.
Discovery of your limits and appreciation for the breathless power of your mastery.
Bliss when you’ve written that one good sentence; or you delivered that one perfect moment when the lights are on you and only you; or you discover in the text an idea or an image or a parable so true that it makes your audience weep with recognition; or you put out into the world a rendering of a staircase or a costume or a throne of gold in three brilliant dimensions that just last week existed in none.
Awe when you sit backstage, a moment before your entrance and realize you’re about to give the greatest soliloquy in our language.
Gratitude when it dawns on you that you make a living from the honey and perspiration of your mind.
Excitement when you write Act One, Scene One on the top of the first page; and you sit along the wall on the afternoon of your third call-back for your favorite play; and you stand in the back of the house and that moment you worked on for fourteen hours with that actor who never seemed to get it gets the biggest laugh of the night.
Amazement when your lights reflect in the physics of time and space exactly what’s happening in the unlit chambers and labyrinths of the hero’s soul.
Even more amazement when your project, which you put together with faith, spit, and favors turns a remarkable profit in actual U.S. currency.
Humility when you look around and everyone else seems more successful, or richer, or quicker, or better reviewed or living on both coasts and are equally familiar with Silver Lake and Williamsburg.
Relief when you figure out that, like all great cyclical events in nature, your long career will rise and fall and you’ll be hot, then forgotten, then hot, then forgotten, then hot again.
Anger when the words won’t cooperate and the costume’s too tight and you made a grave error in casting the world premiere, or passion seems to be ebbing, or you’d rather have a baby, or the grant goes to your rival, or that barbarian in the second row keeps texting his lawyer, or ten people show up to your reading in a theatre with three hundred seats, or you can’t stand Bushwick anymore, or the McArthur people overlooked you – again – or the sitcom’s too tempting, or your favorite actor’s not available, or the culture’s going north while you’re going south.
Or maybe you’ve forgotten something – you forgot the joy and the magic and the purpose and the need for it all.
But then you remember and come back anyway.
That’s the amazing part.
You come back the next day because even when the words don’t come and the costume’s cutting off the blood to your legs, this activity connects you to your most authentic and naked self, to the child who told sweeping sock puppet sagas and imitated your dad’s big laugh and drew pictures of avenging super heroes, to the adolescent who fell in love with the smell of opening night flowers, to the mature artist who became enthralled with the great blank space, that enchanted oval, on which battles determine the course of history and lovers learned the key expressions of the heart and men and women modeled heroism and humanity and Estragon lost his way and colored girls considered suicide and Proctor wouldn’t sign his name and Arial was free to go and a wicked Moon under a Lorca sky betrayed the idea of love.
You come back to balance art and family, and sometimes your checkbook, because nothing feels as good as the act of acting.
You endure the indifference of agents and literary managers because nothing sounds as nice as the click of that perfect metaphor falling into place.
You put off children, or you put off real estate, or you put off the thousand intangible compromises of the spirit because nothing frees you from the dark enchantments of gravity like this.
You stay up to three in the morning memorizing those sides for your best friend’s new play even though she wrote the part for you and the producers insist you have to audition anyway, because nothing brings you closer to Creation that this.
So why do you do these things?
Why come back when it hurts so much?
What kind of people are we?
How crazy do we have to be to put up with this?
Let’s face it, given the speed of today’s run-away clocks, given the accumulation of power and money in the hands of the very few and all the injustice that flows from that, given the complexity of social intercourse in an age of instant talk and delayed reflection, you’re a member of a different species entirely.
You age differently than the rest of the population.
You try hard not to succumb to the common theories and manias of the crowd.
You speak in tongues when everyone else is speaking in fortune cookies.
You make one-of-a-kind little miracles with your bare and blistered hands for below minimum wage as stock markets soar and die and soar and die.
You write about your existential pain in unsentimental words for sentimental audiences.
Your curiosity is so vast and out of control you don’t know boundaries and you annoy your lovers with your constant need to analyze their every nuance and no answer is ever good enough because each answer leads to ten new questions.
You dream in such vivid colors, you wonder if you can market your sleep as the next cool drug.
Your sensitivity to the pain and joy of others is so acute you might as well have multiple personalities.
You and failure are so intimate with each other you could birth one another’s bawling babies.
You are gifted and cursed with a love of words so intense few other pleasures can move you like Lopahin’s declaration that he bought the cherry orchard, or what Li’l Bit had to do to learn to drive, or what devils of self-doubt whispered to a beautiful and wounded soul in a psychosis at 4:48 am.
For all this and more you came to this school and sacrificed, and worked your ass off, and delayed some big life decisions, and dreamed exceptional dreams, and fertilized your mind, and kept important promises you made to yourself.
That’s the important part: you kept the promises you made to yourself to stay in it and learn.
So now that you’ve come this far, and we’re in this room, together, what’s my advice?
It’s not a lot.
Recycle your pain.
Think about greatness.
Make babies and make art for them.
Slay your heroes.
Laugh at yourself.
Betray no one’s trust.
Make time for silence.
Search and search and search and search.
I could go on, but I don’t think you need any more advice from me.
I think you’re ready.
You, the fighter and hero of this morning’s tale are trained and ready to unpack your Heiner Muller and your tap shoes and your colored pencils and are brimming with ideas and full of courage and full of fight and you know the obstacles and laugh in their faces and the dragons you fight are windmills and the
windmills you fight are straw and the time to talk about doing it is over.
It’s time to do it.
So let’s go out now, you and I, let’s go out and make some art.
I am a staunch Democrat and a devout, if terrible, Christian. What this means is that I am socially and fiscally liberal, an old style bleeding heart liberal, who loves Jesus and tries to be His faithful servant, supports gun control, abortion rights and tries to love everyone as a brother or sister.
Some days go better than others. Like many people, I am equal proportions of narcissism and low self-esteem, so every now and then, on festive occasions, I get wrapped up in my own petty distractions, obsessions and needs. But as much as possible, I try to help take care of the poor, the aged, the hungry and scared. I get to keep starting over.
That’s what being a Christian means to me. There is, in truth, very little snake-handling involved. Still, it can be quite embarrassing: When non-specific spiritual people—let’s call them the Nons—hear the word “Christian,” they think of public Christians. Upon hearing that you are a Believer, they instantly think of stages full of Christians on TV, waving their arms like palm fronds in a hurricane. Now, I mean no offense if you frequently appear on the stages of televangelists, fronding for the Lord. I know that is not a real word, but it should be.
When Nons hear the word “Christian,” they do not instantly think Martin Luther King, Dorothy Day, Oscar Romero, Abraham Lincoln or other profound and visionary heroes. They think Jerry Falwell, Michele Bachmann and Rick Perry, people who seem close to hysteria in their convictions. They think Jim Bakker and Ted Nugent, who asked his audience, in an editorial, whether the country would have been better off if the South had won the Civil War.
I don’t want to get distracted right now by complex political controversy, but, uh: no.
Nons hear about Christians, and they see us cringing before the image of hell’s flames. Yikes. If I believed in those literal flames, it would be such a stretch for me, as I am extremely sensitive and worried, with a low pain threshold. They think we fear the devil as represented by Al Pacino or Trey Parker, not as the dark energy of addiction that has destroyed our own lives, and the lives of our most beloved; the painful and deeply human craving for power and domination, both in families and in national positions, although I am not going to name names.
But what I believe, and what my moderately left—and right—wing Christian brothers and sisters believe, is that Jesus preached a gospel of radical sacrifice, of giving away everything we possibly can—our time, our money, our prayers—to the have-nots, the same old/same old suffering people of this world, widows and whole nations.
Let us go in peace then, to be people of goodness and service and sacrifice. I keep trying to do better, like most people do, but I don’t have a magic wand. I am learning as I go; and boy, am I humbled by my failings. And “humbled” is always a great place to start anything, from being a better parent, artist, mate; or still, after all these years, trying to save the world.
Casting Director Danielle Eskinazi shares the top five mistakes she sees actors make in auditions.
1. Material. Never assume the copy will be easy or unsubstantial enough for you to “wing it” or cold read at the audition. It shows the casting director that you are not taking the audition seriously, and we would rather have given the appointment to someone else who wanted the job more than you.
2. Punctuality. Never arrive late or assume there is a “window” for you to fit into, unless your agent has instructed you otherwise. Scheduling auditions involves a very complex grid of variables, and it’s important to be respectful of that. Arriving late – flustered and unfocused – will never land you the job.
3. Wardrobe. “My agent just called me about the audition an hour ago, so I’m sorry for the way I’m dressed.” NO. You are a commercial actor, and you should expect last-minute auditions. Keep a bag in the trunk of your car with several wardrobe choices suited to the types of roles for which you are most commonly called. For example: casual lifestyle, fitness, corporate, or even a bathrobe. If you don’t have exactly what is called for (i.e. a white physician lab coat), create the essence with an oversized white button down shirt.
4. Headshot and resume. Don’t assume that you don’t need hard copies just because you’re auditioning for a commercial. Last week, I cast a commercial for a feature film director. You never know when you’ll be asked for materials, so you should always have them with you.
5. Over-preparation. Do not over-rehearse your dialogue. Yes, of course, you should be prepared and make strong choices with the material. However, you must not be so attached to your choices that you can’t take direction in the room. In my workshops, I teach the importance of improv training specifically for this reason. Eye contact. Personally, I feel an actor should never make eye-contact while delivering sides. It feels awkward and itʼs the quickest way to get us to look away from you while you are acting. Your safest bet is to look into the camera lens, unless we tell you otherwise.
Avoid these common mistakes and you will be more confident walking into the audition. Now, go get the job!
Danielle Eskinazi is an award-winning casting director. With more than two decades casting films, television, theater, and commercials, Eskinazi has cast such talent as David Bowie, Rosanna Arquette, and Woody Harrelson, while also launching the careers of now-successful actors including Hank Azaria and Milla Jovovich. Today Danielle Eskinazi Casting has cast over 3,000 national and regional commercial spots. Danielle has been nominated for the Talent Managers Association prestigious Seymour Heller Award for Best Commercial Casting Director of 2009, and was a runner up twice for Favorite Commercial Casting Director in Backstage West. Danielle’s latest venture is Actvice, an online service she created to give immediate and invaluable feedback on audition rehearsals, monologues, scenes, reels, and/or headshots.
“Working in the industry, and living in this society, we are taught that we have to leap at EVERY opportunity. Say YES to everything, do more, do it faster, run yourself ragged trying to take advantage of every opportunity because you might miss out on something amazing if you don’t.
But that never felt right to me, and it always gave me such feelings of panic and anxiety… Like no matter how much I was doing, I wasn’t doing enough. And it is absolutely true: The industry, society, the world are chalk full of opportunities. But here is what I stumbled upon:
Not every opportunity that I encounter is an opportunity for ME.
The real work is in getting to know myself so well that I know what fits and what doesn’t, so I can turn my energy away from what isn’t mine and toward what is. When I do this, space opens up. Life opens up. I’m happier, I’m more relaxed. I’m free, I’m creative. I’m inspired. Saying no to one thing means saying yes to something else. Even if that something else is a much needed nap, a massage, or a walk on the beach. Every NO is a YES to myself.
It’s not about doing ALL OF IT. Because it’s impossible to live up to that expectation, it’s about knowing yourself so well that you can sort through the endless sea of everythings to find the shining one or two or twelve things that really enhance your life. And it will be different for everyone. And the stones that don’t fit, the ones you leave unturned or throw back, will be gems for someone else to find.”
Ang Lee: A Never-Ending Dream
“In 1978, as I applied to study film at the University of Illinois, my father vehemently objected. He quoted me a statistic: ‘Every year, 50,000 performers compete for 200 available roles on Broadway.’ Against his advice, I boarded a flight to the U.S. This strained our relationship. In the two decades following, we exchanged less than a hundred phrases in conversation.
Some years later, when I graduated film school, I came to comprehend my father’s concern. It was nearly unheard of for a Chinese newcomer to make it in the American film industry. Beginning in 1983, I struggled through six years of agonizing, hopeless uncertainty. Much of the time, I was helping film crews with their equipment or working as editor’s assistant, among other miscellaneous duties. My most painful experience involved shopping a screenplay at more than thirty different production companies, and being met with harsh rejection each time.
That year, I turned 30. There’s an old Chinese saying: ‘At 30, one stands firm.’ Yet, I couldn’t even support myself. What could I do? Keep waiting, or give up my movie-making dream? My wife gave me invaluable support.
My wife was my college classmate. She was a biology major, and after graduation, went to work for a small pharmaceutical research lab. Her income was terribly modest. At the time, we already had our elder son, Haan, to raise. To appease my own feelings of guilt, I took on all housework – cooking, cleaning, taking care of our son – in addition to reading, reviewing films and writing scripts. Every evening after preparing dinner, I would sit on the front steps with Haan, telling him stories as we waited for his mother – the heroic huntress – to come home with our sustenance (income).
This kind of life felt rather undignified for a man. At one point, my in-laws gave their daughter (my wife) a sum of money, intended as start-up capital for me to open a Chinese restaurant – hoping that a business would help support my family. But my wife refused the money. When I found out about this exchange, I stayed up several nights and finally decided: This dream of mine is not meant to be. I must face reality.
Afterward (and with a heavy heart), I enrolled in a computer course at a nearby community college. At a time when employment trumped all other considerations, it seemed that only a knowledge of computers could quickly make me employable. For the days that followed, I descended into malaise. My wife, noticing my unusual demeanor, discovered a schedule of classes tucked in my bag. She made no comment that night.
The next morning, right before she got in her car to head off to work, my wife turned back and – standing there on our front steps – said, ‘Ang, don’t forget your dream.’
And that dream of mine – drowned by demands of reality – came back to life. As my wife drove off, I took the class schedule out of my bag and slowly, deliberately tore it to pieces. And tossed it in the trash.
Sometime after, I obtained funding for my screenplay, and began to shoot my own films. And after that, a few of my films started to win international awards. Recalling earlier times, my wife confessed, ‘I’ve always believed that you only need one gift. Your gift is making films. There are so many people studying computers already, they don’t need an Ang Lee to do that. If you want that golden statue, you have to commit to the dream.’
And today, I’ve finally won that golden statue. I think my own perseverance and my wife’s immeasurable sacrifice have finally met their reward. And I am now more assured than ever before: I must continue making films.
You see, I have this never-ending dream.”
(Following Ang Lee’s second Best Directing win at the Academy Awards last night, this beautiful essay resurfaced. Here is my translation of Ang Lee’s words, written in 2006 (post-Oscar win). Please credit the translation to Irene Shih (and to this blog), thank you!)
“Athletes and actors — let actors stand for the set of performing artists — share much. They share the need to make gesture as fluid and economical as possible, to make out of a welter of choices the single, precisely right one. They share the need for thousands of hours of practice in order to train the body to become the perfect, instinctive instrument to express. Both athlete and actor, out of that congeries of emotion, choice, strategy, knowledge of the terrain, mood of spectators, conditions of others in the ensemble, secret awareness of injury or weakness, and as nearly an absolute concentration as possible so that all externalities are integrated, all distraction absorbed to the self, must be able to change the self so successfully that it changes us.
When either athlete or actor can bring all these skills to bear and focus them, then he or she will achieve that state of complete intensity and complete relaxation — complete coherence or integrity between what the performer wants to do and what the performer has to do. Then the performer is free; for then, all that has been learned, by thousands of hours of practice and discipline and by repetition of pattern, becomes natural. Then intellect is upgraded to the level of instinct. The body follows commands that precede thinking.”
A.B. Giamatti, past president of Yale University and former commissioner of Major League Baseball
It’s easy to pretend ‘to be fierce and fearless because living your truth takes real courage. Real fearless and fierce women admit mistakes and they work to correct them. We stand up and we use our voices for things other than self promotion. ” - Gabrielle Union