Much of the difficulty in addressing the issue of whether a ‘gay actor can play straight’ is due to its being conflated with the issue of homophobia. The two issues are entirely distinct. Homophobia is loathsome, but distinct from the technical matter of sexual orientation and casting. So stay with me….
Studio X is casting a part for a basketball player and needed someone 6′ 6.” You’re 5′ 5″, but you know a thing or two about basketball and you get yourself in there somehow. When you walk in, the casting person starts the internal calculation: Hmmmm. Too short. The part is for a very tall person. Why are they here? Hey, look, he can act. But still totally wrong. Or right. Hmmm…. I don’t know that any of these thoughts get verbalized, but I’d put money in escrow that these comprise some of the thoughts of the casting director.
Next: Studio X is casting a part for an African American, and you’re white. But you think you’ve got an angle on this part, you think you can change their mind, and you get yourself in there somehow. When you walk in, the casting person starts the calculation: Hmmmm. The part is supposed to black, this guy’s white. What the fuck? Okay – hey, look, he can act. Let me think… The writer says the guy is black but the story point is not bound to race one way or the other…Hmmmm…. OR: …. This is crazy, the story point makes it unavoidable that this guy is African American, there is just no way….
The performance-tracking website I’ve been developing for a couple years has gone through a significant revision this summer that I think really improves the functionality.
The biggest change is that users of the site can proactively place their gig information on other users’ calendars. This change allows you to tell all your performer friends, “Listen – just put it on mygiginfo.com.” And that’s it – you don’t have to do anything else. You truly no longer have to pay attention to overstuffed Facebook newsfeeds and event invitations, emails, texts, postcards, etc. You can tell your friend Joe Actor to put his performance information on the site, and Joe is responsible for putting the correct information on there, clicking your name, and his gigs appear in your calendar. You will also receive a weekly email every Sunday night with your friends’ gigs for the upcoming week.
In terms of the user interface, I’ve created a “My Relationships” page, where you’ll find a single list of names, and simple checkbox functionality to control whose calendar you want to appear on, and who exactly you want to appear on your calendar.
It’s a free site to use. Check it out: www.mygiginfo.com – “All the Gig Info, None of the Noise.”
Part of the Big Frustration with pursuing an acting career I think comes from the seeming zero relationship between competence and employment. My opinion is that certainly in the short run (under 5 years chasing acting professionally), it can appear that merit has little role to play in your career. It just seems too much a lottery, and that some lucky new person who’s been in town three weeks gets a great audition or books a swell job or signs with that perceived awesome agent/manager, while you, who have trained and are responsible and caring and artistic and have dutifully completed the latest workout regimen – you are unfairly left behind, unrewarded for hard work and talent.
Hence one can see a hell of a lot of randomity in the actions of those in the 1-to-5 year early chapters of this strange novel – constantly changing teachers, approaches, philosophies, desperate grabs at weird projects, too many bad plays, too many bad comedy reels, a sudden veering toward improv workshops, no, sitcom workshops, no, on-camera workshops, no, such-and-such a motivational speaker, no, a new Significant Other, no, back to the old Significant Other, no, New York, no, Los Angeles, no, writing, no, new agent, no, new manager…. On and on it goes. Actors can veer from one major decision to another along the steep, jagged upward and downward slopes of morale and inspiration that mark the early part of the journey. There’s always a good little high you get from making a decision, implementing some sort of change, but around the bend awaits the same old discouragement when this change didn’t yield results: regular acting work, a feeling you’re breaking through at last.
I’ve had occasion recently to read a few students’ Career Concepts, and figured I’d offer some thoughts on the matter.
I think writing down, at any length, some specifics about what you’re looking to achieve in your career is a good thing. This is why Milton developed the idea and put it early on in Dreams Into Action. He alluded to the result of this exercise as certain kind of “Declaration of Independence,” and some write-ups that I have read have DECLARATION OF INDEPENDENCE written on the first page rather than CAREER CONCEPT. Okay. I don’t give a shit what the title is, but I think it’s important to note that the actual Declaration of Independence marking the breaking off of the American colonies from the British was just over 1,300 words. A history-making, country-founding document was 1,300 words. While Milton encouraged writing down as many specifics as possible, he also used the words “lean, mean and concise,” and did so for a reason.
I’m getting a subtext when reading them that they have been created for someone else. Three of them had a very similar format, as if adhering to a template for how these things should look. There seems to be a significant effort to explain not only details about a possible acting career, but political and personal belief systems that are interwoven throughout, as if the actor is trying to communicate some innate truth about themselves, something that is probably clear to them when they look in a mirror, but harder to explain to an outside reader. Why all this effort? There is no need to explain your beliefs, politics, philosophy, or psychological inventory in a career concept.
This is fantastic. (Reprinted from an item in the Los Angeles Times.)
While appearing on Broadway in her Tony-nominated role of Jeanette in The Full Monty in August, 2001, Equity member Kathleen Freeman died of lung cancer. Equity Councillor Jane A. Johnston, a longtime friend and executrix for Ms. Freeman’s estate, later discovered among Ms. Freeman’s papers a document containing A Code of Ethics for Theatre Workers. Ms. Freeman was a daughter of a small time vaudevillian team. Her childhood experience of touring with her parents inspired this Code of Ethics, Ms. Johnston writes. She also notes: “What is particularly interesting about this list of dos and don’ts for the theatre is that it was written in 1945 when Kathleen was establishing one of the first small theatres in Los Angeles and she was 24 years old. I wish I had been told some of ‘the rules’ when I was a young actress instead of having to pick them up as I went along.”
The theatre was the Circle Players (with Charlie Chaplin among its backers), which later evolved into the Players’ Ring. Although there is no record that either company used an Equity contract (they certainly pre-dated the 99-Seat Code in Los Angeles), Ms. Johnston confirms that all the participants were professionals.
I’ve been chatting in class a fair amount recently about administration, which is BHP-speak for the actions actors are taking to move their career forward. The good news part is that these discussions are coming about because I’m seeing a lot of very talented actors doing very talented work and are swell personalities to boot. The bad news part is that too many of these talented actors are “not working as much as they’d like to be,” as the euphemism goes.
So this begs the question: What’s going on with your admin? Answer: Some clever version of “not much.” Followup question: Why? Followup answer: Well…. They talk about confidence, they talk about “branding,” they talk about ineffective agents, they talk about how CD workshops don’t yield results, they talk about the alignment of the sun, moon, and stars, they talk about personal problems and relationship troubles and karmic injustice. But what most are not talking about is simply a diligent, consistent outflow of high quality communication and promotion regarding the product.
Outflow equals inflow, folks. And there is an X-to-1 relationship there. There is some number X of outflowing communication/promotion that will yield a unit 1 inflow. If you send out 100 letters and get one in response, then you’re a 100-to-1 person. So keep sending out 100 units of outflow. You don’t have to believe in it, you just have to do it. Some people have the admin gods on their side, it’s effortless, and it seems that if they merely think about Steven Spielberg, the next day they get the call for an audition for Jaws 10. The best possible ratio would be 1-to-1 – every single letter or call or what-have-you yields a positive response. That’s a fantasy, but it’s here just to make the point. Everyone has an X to 1, but very few people are solving for X.
I’ve had occasion to see a bunch of demo reels recently – mostly from BHP students but also a few on the outside as well. I include in this “demo reel” grouping the video auditions that many actors are doing as part of their effort to be considered for a role. Some random thoughts that come to me, completely separate from the acting – this all assumes terrific acting. (The terms “tape” or “reel” are themselves a little obsolete, but will be used as synonymous with the video product in all its current forms):
Two Communications: Two elements are being communicated with these reels – most people seem to be aware only of one. The obvious element is that of “how is this actor acting?” But the second element is equally important – and that’s the subtextual communication being delivered via the quality of the video. And that communication is very important. You simply cannot afford to act well in a video that sucks, quality-wise. Don’t know how else to say it. Because the suckiness keeps me from really observing the actor – it becomes a simultaneous communication that is discordant with the acting (assuming a good actor). And quality is easily achieved – there’s simply no excuse for sucking. Any excuse you think you have for poor quality is being crushed by the fact that tapes are being created that look and sound great, and your butt is being kicked. You need to make the effort not to suck simply because someone else is out there not sucking.
The holidays. Visible on the horizon. Now personally, this is my favorite time of year – the sun gets lower in the sky, the temperature falls (mostly), my fond memories of New England autumns stir, and I’m sort of a jacket guy, so I get to wear those jackets and sweaters. Normally I’m preparing my annual piano recital and, after 20 years of doing so, the changing light outside has its own associations with intense practice at the keyboard. (No concert this year, though – with a newborn at home, there’s no possibility of 4-5 hours of daily practice!)
But I probably speak on behalf of all administrators and teachers of acting schools in Los Angeles, (or for that matter, private artistic workshops everywhere) that the Holidays can spell impending disaster for the psychological health and artistic commitment of our students. It’s as if the entire last 8 weeks of each year is written off under the umbrella mass justification: “It’s the holidays.”
Are you in a funk because of the audition you think you just blew? The agent who didn’t sign you? The part that seemed as if it was yours, you read for it six times, various Important People seemed to wink to you in the waiting room – and yet it went to someone else?
Throw shit at the wall, scream in your car, cry, sulk, indulge in a sundae, and then knock it off and do the following:
Write a polite and professional followup communication. In a e-world where receiving a handwritten note has become like a having a unicorn walk up to you, I might suggest breaking out the ol’ pen and thank you card, and work up a hand sweat. But the world is as it is, and if you think speed is of the essence, or you don’t trust the physical delivery, a nice email or, god forbid, Facebook message, will suffice. (I got a nice followup from an actress recently who auditioned for a play I’m directing – and even though it came on bloody Facebook, the fact is it landed, I received it, I appreciated it.) Thank them for having seen you, express enthusiasm for the play / film / agency / project in question, and send it off. Try not to be clever or cute – just write a simple and forthright acknowledgment of the opportunity.
OK – so…. Everyone’s got money problems, right? It seems that whether you’re making money or dead broke, there are still money problems. I know lots of people who make plenty of money, and they still have money problems, so it’s not as if making the money solves anything if you’re clueless about what to do with it.
So, here’s a link.
It takes you to my renowned (in the small pond of the BHP) “Get a Grip on Your Finances” booklet. There’s nothing in this that I invented – it’s just a bunch of well-known financial principles put together in a sequence and written from a certain actor-friendly POV, since it came out of eight bazillion meetings over the years with cashflow-challenged students.
But since I don’t trust that anyone will click on the link and read it, here’s the Number One Important Item to Change Your Financial Life Forever (and you don’t need to send $19.95 or call an 800 number to get it)…:
SAVE TEN PERCENT OFF THE TOP OF ALL INCOME, AND NEVER TOUCH IT.