November 25, 2019 2;15pm
I just had such an odd but refreshingly beautiful *truly* human experience.
I was leaving a particularly difficult therapy session where I cried most of the way through. As I was leaving my therapists office I booked it to the elevator because my puffy red eyes and the potential that I was going to burst into tears and shatter into pieces was happening and I wanted to get out of there as soon as I could so if I broke down it wouldn’t be in the lobby and I could just get outside.
I clicked the button to go from the 5th floor to the lobby while I stood alone in the elevator. Then the elevator stopped one floor below me- a different floor of the therapy center I was at.
A young 20 something female presenting human came into the elevator and stood slightly in front of me. I heard sniffling and realized she was silently, bravely trying to contain her crying. Their faux fur coat hood obstructed my view of their face but I could hear the restraint. As we stood there descending in the elevator I just thought to myself very mindfully “here are two people who are hurting in the same space, each going through something different but feeling pain and yet we stay silent.”
For a moment I had the urge to reach out and hug her. I felt the same way as I walked half a block down the road behind her, with her cries still being stifled the whole time but audibly getting a bit louder.
I chose not to touch her because some people have trauma and would be startled if you touch them so I didn’t. But that’s the only reason I didn’t do anything. To respect that she might be startled by my intentioned loving and empathetic touch.
But to have two humans together in a box descend 3 floors and not acknowledge each other was powerful. I don’t know if she noticed me, if she knew it was okay to cry in front of me because internally I was still crying.
The silence of two peoples hurt was ear shattering. Painful. Sad. But the most visceral human experience I’ve ever had.
My eyes are open, I saw another persons humanity and we were linked in one way or another. We stood in silent solidarity. Resilient, we stood in tandem in our hurt.
I hope they are okay. I hope they have someone that can hug them in the way that they need. In the way I need right now. But instead I sit here on my hour ride home on the train now filled with a curiosity, heaviness, sadness and yet peace. I hope they know they were seen and not feel invisible.
So I read this article from Backstage probably 4 days ago and just haven’t had time to share about it despite being so moved and inspired when I first read it, and here I am now on Saturday morning finally getting to talk about it because it’s STILL stuck out to me.
The featured actor on September 26th edition of backstage is Ginancarlo Esposito You might know him from his terrifying role in Breaking Bad, which is where I personally recognized him from.
He was quoted in the article when asked about his approach to acting saying:
“ I say take the best and leave the rest, if you commit yourself to one technique for me it would disallow me to pull from other modalities that I feel work.”
When I read this is was like YAS! I’m glad I’m on the same page and not the only one who does this. But specifically the wording “take the best, leave the rest” really stuck with me.
Over my time as an actor and the professional training I’ve done I’ve dabbled in meisner, Stanislavsky and my most intensive modality of technique being Practial Asthetics and I am an alumnus of @atlanticactingschool where that is the only school@that teaches PA because it was developed there. I spent 2 years of my life learning PA which for those of you that are unfamiliar with that method- it was created by William H Macy and David Mamet and has strong roots in scene analysis, intention and purely listening to your scene partner and being a human on stage.
While I was at Atlantic the steps to analyze a scene were extensive and very methodical, but when you did the work the results that were yielded were impeccable and I did my best work while learning at that school.
But after I left Atlantic I was faced with my first role, let me correct that- my first lead role in Anton Chekhov’s ‘The Seagull’ playing the protagonist, Konstantin. This is such a juicy, complex role and a huge undertaking and I didn’t have much time to prepare for it since rehearsals were a little under a month to take on such a behemoth of a play that spans 4 acts in which my character is on stage in almost every scene.
When I began researching the role and beginning the ground work and inevitably creating the character as a whole and bringing that into rehearsals I was met with an expected road block: What method do I use? My default was to use Practical Asthetics because that’s how I was trained the last 2 years ( I got this role not too long out of school and it was my first since leaving school. But I found due to the IMMENSE personal nature of the material and how I view Konstantin as an extension of myself, PA wasn’t really going to help me. Instead over time I found myself leaning more into Stanislavsky and the method. I bought “An Actor Prepares” and sunk my teeth into it. ⠀
What ended up resulting was using a lot of emotional memory (which is commonly associated with the method) and deep character work like writing diary entries in Konstantin’s first person POV. ⠀
Essentially I created my own method. I did end up using PA for the parts of scenes I sincerely COULD NOT find motivation for some of Konstantin’s choices confused me and I couldn’t rely on my own personal experience to being truth to the character. For example, I would never shoot a bird and hand it to the love of my life and then threaten to kill myself all in the same sentence. Those were moments when the method wasn’t able to help me. ⠀
It was truly astounding going through that process of playing Konstantin because I created my own method using tips and tricks from past modalities and crafting my own unique process. I wrote, created a playlist, made sure to wear his clothes each rehearsal- all things that weren’t focused on in my extensive training at the Atlantic. It was thrilling, confusing, frustrating at times because I felt lost and like I should be “sticking to” the training of what my life centered around for the past 2 years. ⠀
In the end, and even now as roles as come and gone I still do the same. I pick and choose which modalities to use to create a character and I feel forunate that I’ve found my own formula, but more importantly, told myself it’s okay to use more than one and not be married to PA. ⠀
I’ve taken the best of my trainings and what has worked for me, and then experimented by meshing them all together and as a result, cultivated my own approach, hence- leaving the rest.
“We speak into existence what we are. If you keep saying ‘I can’t,” then you won’t. If you say ‘I can,” then there’s a transition that happens all around you,” he says. “Me speaking life into myself ultimately has changed my life”
– Billy Porter, Backstage Magazine 8.1.19
Ok hie beautiful truth bombs!! This hit me haaad (imagine a Boston accent.) So I’ll start with this quote and move forward. One of my old managers use to tell me, or rather (immediately) lovingly scold me whenever I would complain about being “poor” and “having no money” she would tell me to put positive energy out universe and soon those things would come true- roles would come to me and my acting career could take off and eventually—I wouldn’t be poor. It ultimately, (in her eyes, and I believe the immediate connection I made to this quote) comes down to not believing enough in myself that good things could come my way and voicing them aloud. Instead I was stuck in this pit that things would be the way the are because I spoke aloud about my misery and misfortune, somehow making it cosmically true.
That was her take on money and inevitable success coming to me. Now to expand it more broadly in relation to what Billy said, I agree- in this business, there isn’t room for “no” in your head. I remember this young girl I studied with while I was at the Atlantic, one of youngest in our class and extremely talented one day said aloud “I’m finishing this program, and then I’m getting into Juilliard and if I say it aloud enough times it’s going to happen” and this is coming from a girl who is already studying at a prestigious acting school at the time but had her eye set on a dream years ahead.
Now when it comes to me, things are a bit more murky- I have a heart of stone and commitment to my career as an actor I will not take no for an answer, however, being trans- I know for a fact I am not suited for every (or like, most any of them) cis male role and that’s when the audible “I can’t”s slip out.
I believe that because of the way I look and sound and where we are in the industry we aren’t in the place that I can play some of my dream roles and types of characters because the world wouldn’t believe me as maybe the deranged killer on an episode of CSI: DALLAS (is that a show yet? If so- hit me up casting directors?) I believe I won’t be taken seriously and CAN’T play all the cis male roles in mainstream media because the world just isn’t ready for a freckled face, brown skin, high voiced person like me to be believed as “a man” And try as I may to talk aloud and seemly “manifest” good vibes for myself, I have to keep in perspective where the industry is when it comes to trans people playing cis roles.
With THAT being said, I find it very exciting Billy is finally getting his due on such an important show like Pose where trans poc are in the spotlight (literally). Hell, I’ll admit I even had an audition for the show. I had the opportunity to see Billy in Kinky Boots years ago and it’s inspiring to see that a 30 year career in the theatre and after winning a Tony and Grammy he is finally on TV and nominated for an Emmy and mainstream media knows his name because of a show about queer and trans poc. It’s about damn time for HIM and the rest of us for some visibility.
F i e r c e
“Those of you with nothing to fall back on,you will find are home.”
This is a lesson and quote I take WHOLEHEARTEDLY. This quote from him book True Or False reminds me that I have to remember to stay hungry and never give at all costs. I’ve found that if you really want a career in acting you have to be willing to have 𝘯𝘰 plan B. I know that sounds unreasonable and maybe stupid but I believe if a person wants to be a professional actor you have to be so driven and believe enough in yourself that things will work out you will stop at nothing until you have reached the goals you have set for yourself.
I believe if there is something else you would rather be doing, or even have a faint interest in as a career path and can 𝐢𝐦𝐚𝐠𝐢𝐧𝐞 doing, one should pursue that instead.
This business is draining and frankly can be soul- sucking. The amount of rejection and never hearing the “𝘸𝘩𝘺” of why you didn’t the hundreds of roles you auditioned for can be maddening and make you feel insecure, confused, at times hopeless and maybe even worthless and THATS when the thoughts of “I want to give up, this is too hard” come in or when you can’t pay your rent and you’re at HRA applying for food stamps just to get by.
But I believe you have to have 𝐚𝐫𝐝𝐨𝐫 for your work, accept the fact that maybe you simply didn’t get the damn role for a “stupid” reason completely out of your control like you were simply “too tall/short” “your speaking voice was too high” “you’re too flamboyant” “you were TOO attractive” Or maybe at the time of the audition you were 𝘵𝘰𝘰 heavy or 𝘵𝘰𝘰 thin. These continual moments of that 𝘣𝘪𝘵𝘪𝘯𝘨, 𝘴𝘵𝘪𝘯𝘨𝘪𝘯𝘨, unknown rejection 𝘵𝘦𝘴𝘵 you to keep pushing and then eventually, EVENTUALLY something will happen. You will “make it” in whatever way that looks like to you.
So I say if you’re on that grind, get out there and 𝐠𝐞𝐭 𝐨𝐧 𝐢𝐭. Use every resource possible. Study films, watch your favorite actor’s movies and study their performances but also branch out and watch films you 𝘩𝘢𝘷𝘦𝘯’𝘵 seen. Learn about filmmaking and theater, read plays. Go to school and study, and if you can’t afford that, take acting classes.. Get on Backstage.com (@backstagecast on instagram) and setup a profile, apply for roles, audition and get your face out there and 𝘣𝘦 𝘴𝘦𝘦𝘯, also, read the 𝟷𝟶𝟶𝟶’𝘴 of articles on that behemoth as another resource— put in the work.
One of my favorite quotes that I’ll leave you with is this:
𝗪𝐨𝐫𝐤 𝐇𝐚𝐫𝐝 𝐈𝐧 𝐒𝐢𝐥𝐞𝐧𝐜𝐞, 𝐋𝐞𝐭 𝐒𝐮𝐜𝐜𝐞𝐬𝐬 𝐁𝐞 𝐘𝐨𝐮𝐫 𝐍𝐨𝐢𝐬𝐞.
Voice Over: We all know it, whether we hate it (the car commercials, those horrific training videos before you get on the floor at our new job or even those annoying peppy- ass Spotify ads) or the ones we like, the ones that voice our favorite TV characters in animation, video games, the NOT so annoying commercials like maybe you like the sexy old spice guy? Or the Dos Equis dude? These are just tiny examples of where voice over is present in our daily lives because baby- it’s everywhere. Instructional how-to’s, McDonald’s dollar menus, bar safety videos and our beloved Homer Simpson and Stewey, are all faceless voices, even the stuff on on TV telling us WHEN a TV show is going to be on at “8/7 central” are all voice over.
In my over decade career of acting and years perusing professional training through my BFA in musical theatre and my 2.5 conservatory degree at the Atlantic Acting School in New York which specialized in solely acting, VO (Voice Over) was not even on my radar as something I would ever do, was in my range of possibilities or even of interest to me.
Now a year later in my professional relationship and contract with my management overall, 98% of my auditions were for VO. My auditions are for animation so: The bulk is mostly TV show characters, a TV spot here and there ( the person telling you when a TV show- mostly for nickelodeon was going to be on), a few video games, I did one audiobook audition and I recently had an absolute blast for a horror-story podcast based out of an eastern city metropolis. Now, the other 2% of auditions can be broken down into physical in-person auditions and self-tapes. The physical in-person auditions have all been for wildly successful and high profile things that I still can’t believe I’ve been able to step into those rooms to audition for such as Netflix TV shows; FX, or big-name showrunner TV peeps or wonderfully exciting well known NYC Theaters–My managers are goooood to me! (Shout to SG if ya’ll are reading this) The self-tapes have mostly been for films which I have the least experience in and don’t have much to say about.
So that 98 % of VO auditions that have taken up my August 2018- now present July 2019 have been such a learning experience and what I want to focus on. I’m not going to lie and say in the beginning and even middle and here and there, there have been moments where I have said after having so many auditions in a row (sometimes 4 in a week- but like- I wasn’t complaining then because HI AUDITIONS AND CREATIVITY!!) where I was looking at the potential trajectory of my life and saying “I don’t want to do voiceover ” or maybe some variation perhaps of ” This isn’t what I planned, I want to do theatre, where are those auditions?”
So privilege check for a moment- I am extremely lucky because in my best days I was getting a minimum of 2 auditions a week. Usually 3. Lucky? Check. The shit I was/still am auditioning for was and is ridiculous to be brought in at that level is extremely lucky and so fortunate. Check. I know there are actors out there who would murder their families Menendez style to audition for the companies I have in a medium they “didn’t plan on” or “want to.” So I know when those gross words slip out I need to shut the hell up and look at my life and be grateful.
So here’s the part where I’ll lay it out and just be transparent and in the words of Amy Schumer (who I can quote this almost verbatim because I was practicing my VO skills the other day from her book The Girl With The Lower Back Tattoo) and say “Choose your own adventure and skip ahead if you don’t want to hate me or hate your life.” I’ve had the pleasure of auditioning (and I’m going to stick to VO only because that’s the point of this post) for new shows on PBS, Nickelodeon TV shows and commercial spots, Cartoon Network ( some established shows like Steven Universe and new ones), Video game franchises, Dreamworks and my personal greatest accomplishment and honor was when I finally got to audition for Disney about 10 months in. Privilege check meter: meter has exploded- mercury exploding all over. check check check.
Now here’s a fun fact. Out of the however many auditions I’ve had (including the in-person ones)…I haven’t booked a single one! And I put that exclamation mark there for 2 reasons, A) for proof that you can have all the opportunities in the world and it doesn’t mean shit because this biz is hard and B) also hopefully you’ll be like “see he doesn’t take himself that seriously and he’s not a conceited asshat” *Nervously looks around hoping for the latter*
But in all seriousness, I’ve auditioned for a lot of stuff, and haven’t booked anything and while yes, that super sucks and my bank account weeps and I’ve been on the verge of having to move out of my 1 bedroom apartment I live alone in– heres where things turn around- I’ve learned so much about acting through VO and honestly this past week I have begun to learn so much more- which is why I was inspired to write this all down now.
The main thing about Voice Over acting: You have so much FREEDOM TO CREATE. You can literally do ANYthiNg. You get to be so SO big. You are literally, at the true essence CRE-ATE-TING a character from just lines on a page and conveying it all with your v o i c e. You get to encapsulate and paint the picture of a whole human with your mouth dude! What a concept!
The Audition Process: You get the email from your manager *LADY SPIDER DUE 7/4* you will usually get a break down which means it’s a description of the character, sometimes a paragraph giving the emotional arc (or other times, a very brief description like a sentence or 2 of key facets) of the character and sometimes you even get a sketch of what the character looks like, usually a black and white artist sketch. [[[Quick Trivia: Something I am learning now, (A year later…better late than never, but aren’t babies just learning to walk at a year or something? I know nothing of child development) as I am getting better from listening to the professionals, something paramount to creating the way the voice of the character is they may get the idea based on the sketch maybe about the way their mouth is shaped prompting this voice actor to then talk out of the side of their mouth, or have a lisp.]]] So you get the breakdown with or without the sketch. So here, let me give you a fake breakdown so you know what one would look like:
Lady Spider, 17-mid 20s, She’s a spit fire always ready with a witty quip. Her close friends; Jewels and Tyler all work together at the job they all hate, Dairy King.
And then the scene would probably take place in a Dairy king (maybe she puts it down with a snide comment?) but maybe the lines have nothing to do with Dairy King-I dunno. Who knows, it just gives you a slight idea that this girl has some sass, and then it’s up to you as the talent to portray that facet in whatever way you want. Then you record it at home, do as many takes as you want- me I do like 80,000, then you send it off as an mp3 to you manager and you continue on with your life.
The lines are usually short, and equal a page or 2. I am going to type usually again, but use italics this time. Usually. I’ve had some doozy’s where I’ve had almost paragraphs to read. Another fun fact is, you just read your lines, when you get the script, or some people call it sides, or copy, you get everyone’s lines but you skip down the page and just read your lines even if aurally it won’t make sense if when listening it goes from suddenly you shouting “NO!” when your line before was “I think I’m going to eat some pizza.”
So, as I said– you get to be as big as you want, which I have found a lot of freedom and fun in. I find myself creating these larger than life characters, doing things, making sounds (I’ve had to pretend I was shoving my face with cake, so I was licking my fingers and had to find a way to make myself sound full) to create a picture and tell a story, which inevitably is a lot harder than you think. However not everything is peachy keen, I wish and have a bit of disdain that I have no training in VO. I will be the first to admit, and then my managers can probably (although in a loving manner) back me up and say that I would benefit from VO lessons and classes. I can do a few specific things very well, a few accents, and placements in my voice and find endless emotion within that placement, but finding a great deal of vocal range has been difficult for me. An old acting teacher has told me, my speaking voice alone is interesting, so wouldn’t that be nice if I could just Mila Kunis it up in this B (She plays Meg on Family guy in her speaking voice) and just get cast using my regular voice? And I’ve honestly thought about that a lot, and I don’t know that that would be all that fun. Part of the glory of sending in all these audio files to the faceless suits of the 2 agencies I always submit to is creating these larger than life characters, most of which are not human (I would like to clarify though, just because I’m reading for a character named Lady Spider or Ollie the Octopus I’m not making guttural noises like a Pokemon, these are human beings and voices I am creating.)
And finally the last story I will share with you my dear friend, is the most challenging and longest audition I had because it was a 10-minute recording, was for an AudioBook. It was a while back but I believe it was 3 chapters of a successful teen novel that had been out since I believe 2014? It was very surprising but the audition came late at night, I want to say maybe 9pm and was due the next day. Now, here’s my thing when it comes to VO auditions- I do them immediately. I don’t have much of a life so I am usually always home and can get to my computer almost immediately and start recording. So, it was like, 9pm on say, a Wednesday and I get an email for an Audiobook audition (my very first) I don’t even know how many pages it was…Let me see if I can find the email- hold please…-okay, I’m back- it was 6 pages in about size 12 font. It took me hours to record.
Now, I say this 100% UNBIASED despite the fact that I am a Backstage (magazine) Brand Ambassador for the Backstage platform, but months before I got the call for this massive undertaking I was browsing youtube and stumbled across a video they had where it was something like “An audiobook artist (?) takes us through her session recording” And my interest was piqued enough to click and it was interesting because the 10? 12? minute video showed how this woman differentiated each character from the next by highlighting their lines of speaking in different colors so she knew who was talking and which voice to do. So you saw a colorful page in front of her, designating the different characters she was voicing and sipping tea. I was blown away. At this point it was just voyeurism- I had no personal stake in this woman’s genius or lifesaving tactics. But come that Wednesday 9pm email months later and when I scrolled that 6-page pdf and a flurry of swears came flying out of my mouth I remembered that video. I didn’t even need to watch it again- I just knew I needed to highlight who was talking. Luckily for me, there were only 2 people talking, a 60-year-old man, who I gave a deep southern drawl to, and a young 17-year-old fiesty/ defensive girl. So, my computer screen went from white to an array of pink and blue (no not gender norms- more like adobe pdf sucks and I didn’t have color options)
What I found perhaps most interesting was the “I said” and “he said looking down, embarrassed staring at his shoes” and then launching into the dialogue of a character because you then have to switch into someone’s voice you made up- also known as the narrative, in this case, it was first-person narrative. The older guy who I made up, with the deep southern drawl, we will call him Jack, was an interesting segue from the “I said’s” considering this was written in the first person and sometimes the characters would just dialogue back and forth. It certainly was a lesson and a sight to be seen.
Only now listening to the GENIUS that is Michael C Hall narrating, fuck it, acting the SHIT out of Stephen King’s ‘Pet Semetary’ do I KNOW what Audiobooks are supposed to sound like, oh my good god and heaven! I’ve never listened to one before, but thanks to Amazon prime I got a few for free and I am shocked at what that man can do ( I feel like Dexter didn’t do him justice because I was bored- sorry) He voices: an 80-year-old woman and man, 5-year-old girl, 2-year-old boy, the 40-year-old main character, his wife and the narration which I believe is third-person narrative ( “Louis put his shoes on”)
And finally finally (swear to god I’m done now) I got an official microphone to compete with everyone else with last week. This whole time bashfully I’ve been using my MacBook Pro microphone, so even as good as my auditions have been, the quality hasn’t been as nice as it could have been. BUT! The same 2 agencies called me for all my auditions so I won’t beat myself up too hard and fault myself, but now I’m ready for the big leagues. I’m ready to compete with the big dogs. Is this the $1000 microphone yet? No. But the difference is incredible. I am excited about my next audition and I want to practice because now with the microphone it has a jack so I can hear myself while I’m talking, and obviously playback afterward when I’m done. Mostly, I am excited to learn from my mistakes, correct my accent (My Wisconsin regionalism still creeps through) and just get better. Because whether or not in the moments I am an ungrateful piece of poo, VO seems to be where things are headed, so I might as well be the best doggone actor I can be right?
November 9,2018 8:00pm
Have you ever felt so alone but you feel like you could start screaming maybe in your apartment or even out in a crowd and nobody would hear you or even give you a second look? Well, have you? That’s how I feel sometimes, certainly how I’ve been feeling as of late. I feel alone, I feel isolated, I don’t know that “insignificant” is the word but I feel empty and hollow.
Loneliness fills my apartment. It takes up space as would helium in a balloon. It’s tangible. Palpable. Real. The angst and sadness lingers in the air and just hovers like cirrus clouds on a cloudy day. The artificial sound of connection emanates from my tv on an endless loop, I am surrounded by characters. Some I relate to, some I don’t, some shows that turn my brain to pure mush like a squashed banana on a seat or other shows that stimulate me and wake up my cells. But regardless of what streams out of my Tv from the $79 internet bill I pay a month I am still alone.
The tears that want to pour out of my eyes start in my stomach and then rise to my throat, build their way through my cheeks and then they stop. They never fully make it out of my eyes. Maybe if they did I would feel some type of release, some type of feeling, some type of catharsis. Some type of feeling alive and a little piece of loneliness would leave me but instead I feel boxed in and even more alone and isolated.