Tuesday, September 17, 2013

Turn Off Your @^#*)@#%^& Cellphone!!!!!

I have a bit of a pet peeve.

It starts out small. The light in the corner of your eye, just for an instant, you can't even be sure it was there. Then again. Then another one, in a different place. Then the unmistakable tinkling sound, followed by a whispered "shit!" and the sound is suddenly cut off.

Cellphones in the theater.

I feel this way about both the movies and more conventional theaters, where I go to see plays. They aren't always great works, and sometimes not even very good, but dammit, I am there to watch the movie/play and it is SO DISTRACTING.

This was my experience at a play this past September 11.

The show was called 110 Stories, and was basically a bunch of actors with scripts reading the true accounts of people who were at the World Trade Center during the attack on September 11, 2001. For me, this is kind of a tough show to see in the first place. No, I wasn't in New York, I was in Northern Virginia, at school, and my dad was in Crystal City at a hotel for a meeting, pretty much across the street from the Pentagon. Please, no one share their ridiculous conspiracy theories at this point. Yes, THERE WAS A PLANE IN THE BUILDING. It was harrowing, and scary, and most of the day was spent watching the incessant footage on the news and worrying about our parents, many of whom worked in DC or the Pentagon, and who had a really hard time getting home. It felt like 9/11 happened to me.  To my community. I think it felt closer to those of us in Virginia, DC, Maryland, Pennsylvania, New Jersey, and New York, than anywhere else in the country. There were close calls for a lot of my friends' parents, one of whom was supposed to be at the World Trade Center that day, but had finished a day early and come home. I still well up with tears sometimes when I think about it. And there I was, twelve years later, listening to the harrowing experiences of the people in New York.

Or at least, trying to.

Because two seats down, some older gent was on his phone. I guess he was expecting a text or something, because he kept turning on the screen and looking at it, then putting it down. Every five to ten minutes. Finally, some wonderful, blessed soul leaned over and in a voice exactly as annoyed as I felt, asked him to stop. He did, very apologetically.

Then the girl on the other side of me fell asleep. She woke up about two thirds of the way through, and started texting. Seriously. Not even trying to hide it. Eventually she got up and left. Before the show was even over. It had gotten to the denoument, there wasn't that much time left! But I guess she didn't really want to be there. I guess neither she nor that other guy respected the actors or their fellow audience members enough to turn their phones off and disconnect from the outside world for two hours.

That's one of the things I love about going to the theater, to any theater. I can disconnect. Maybe my rage was an overreaction, but I always get distracted by those little screens lighting up in the corner of my eye. Guess what? Unless you're a doctor, it's not that important. If someone is on their deathbed, you should be there, not at a theater. I know there are plenty of people out there who don't see the big deal. "So what?" you may ask, "We live in a social, connected society now, this is the way it is. I want to tweet about how jiggly the camera is!" But what you may not understand, is that some people go to the theater for a cathartic experience. I know the producer had a catharsis during 110 Stories, because he was so full of emotion by the end of the show that he was practically crying on the stage while thanking everyone who made the project possible. I was a little jealous. I kind of wanted that release. Maybe the show didn't do a good enough job of grabbing my focus, but I feel like they didn't even really have a chance, thanks to a couple of inconsiderate patrons.

I know, as an actor, that I want to reach out to my audience, to communicate with them on an intimate level, even if there are thousands of people, to create a shared moment with each of them. If they're all on their phones, I can't do that, whether the performance is live or recorded. You can't reach someone whose attention you don't have. I promise you, cellphone user, you will get all those texts when you turn your phone back on. You can call people back. Tell them you were in a movie/play, they will understand. You can wait until afterwards to IMDB that one actor because you know you know him from something but you can't put your finger on it. You can wait until afterwards to take your turn in Words With Friends. We, as a society, put way too much emphasis on instant response. Just because somebody doesn't answer back in five minutes, doesn't mean they don't love you. It just means they're in the middle of something right now and can't respond. And no, it's not enough to have it on silent or vibrate, because I know that even though it's not ringing, you're going to feel it, or it's going to light up on its own, and you are going to pick it up and look at it. If you're meeting up with someone after, tell them you're in the theater now before the show starts and you'll text or call when you get out.

Just like with texting and driving, IT CAN WAIT.

Unless of course, you're a doctor on call. Then you are excused.


Tuesday, September 3, 2013

Accents

Recently I've had a few auditions where I've needed to use distinctive accents. I thought it would be good to address some of the tips and tricks that help with accent work.

First of all, it's very important to practice. A good tip I had once was to mimic people's accents when they talk to you. It's surprising how few of them actually notice it. When I was a teenager, my friends and I would put on accents when we walked around DC or went shopping, trying to be as convincing as possible. Be careful though, if you're doing a British accent and meet a British person you may have an uncomfortable conversation on your hands. Don't be afraid to have fun with it either, play around with accents whenever you can! I always get a kick out of doing Yakov Smirnoff impressions, and really getting on my co-workers' nerves.

The first step to mastering a foreign accent is understanding its origins. Accents are always easier if you speak the original language, even a little. Every language has rules of pronunciation, and if you know them, you can apply them to English. French, for example, uses hard R's, and sometimes roll them, depending on the region. It's also spoken at the front of the mouth, like they're constantly kissing as they speak. When you first practice French, puckering your lips like that helps get an idea of where the accent lives. Obviously, once you get the hang of it, you can stop over-exaggerating.

Regional accents and dialects are a bit trickier. It's hard to fool a native speaker, and you definitely don't want to be insulting. Again, it's important to discover where the accent lives in your mouth. It helps to listen to others speak the accent, and then choose a few characteristic sounds that really make it recognizable. It helps to annotate your script incorporating those sounds, so that as you read and memorize it you can trigger the right sounds when you speak. For example, use a symbol that makes sense to you when a word needs a flat "a" sound, or an "ee" sound when you have a short "i" like "it", as many accents use.

The more you practice these elements, the more natural the accent will sound. Try and see if you can (privately) identify a person's origins based on their accent. Identify your own, and try and understand the elements of it. The best way to master an accent, in short, is to break it down to it's smallest parts and understand how they work together.

I found a few things very helpful recently, and I would like to share them! First, the accent database at the International Dialects of English Archive! It's amazing! People from all over the world, of all ages and races, speaking in their own accent, reading a bit of copy and then very naturally talking about their lives and the way they speak! It's amazing. Oh look, here's another one from the good folks at GMU! Another helpful source is this video from a voice actor that really breaks accents down. He has tons of them, and is pretty good at showing you how to pick them apart.

And here's a video of me doing a German accent! This one was really challenging, because many German people try to mask their accent when they speak English, so I had to play a German accent trying not to be German. Very meta. I had a lot of help, but you can judge how successful I was. PS, this was like, 6 years ago or so. I'm a better actor now.




Wednesday, July 31, 2013

This is My LA!

A project I've been working on is finally up on youtube! Basically, I kept thinking of all these things I wanted to show my family and friends who live far away, but of course it's hard for them to come out here. So I created My LA, a travel show. I also wanted to work on my hosting skills, so it made sense to just get out there with my handicam and do it! I had some help; this first episode features my good friend Cole Matson who was visiting me at the time (and is working on his PhD in Theology and Theater at St. Andrews...he does lectures all the time about CS Lewis, and has an interesting blog.), and I had a ton of audio help in the voice overs from Danny Fasold, who was also generous enough to let me use the music from his band, In Fades. Please give them some love if you like what you hear!

I had to do a lot of chopping for this to look decent, and I've been learning a lot along the way about filming and editing! You heard it here, kids! The best way to learn about filming is to do it! (Yes, I would greatly benefit from producers and directors and editors who actually know what they're doing. This was kind of hard, and needs a lot more work.)

Anyway, here's the finished product!



The hope here is to do weekly episodes. Part 2 should be up this Friday (hopefully) and I'm working on my script and voice over for the next one. Suggestions for places to go are greatly appreciated! I'm planning on doing mostly stuff that is interesting to locals, but include some of the more touristy stuff too.

Saturday, July 27, 2013

Eco-cast Madness!!

So, I had to do an eco-cast audition. Basically what that means is you take a video of yourself, upload it to a website, instead of going to an audition in person. This has a lot of advantages; the actor doesn't have to spend the gas or time on the road going to an audition, they can upload only their best takes, and the casting director saves time and money by not renting a space and having to wait around for flaky actors when they could be doing other, more interesting and important things. So, win-win. In theory.

I am, happily, in possession of a handi-cam, so I didn't have to record from my webcam, which the eco-cast site expressly tells you not to do. I recorded it, did several takes, and went to download it onto my computer. But alas! I didn't have enough space! "Not to worry," I thought (I think in a 1930s British accent), "I can put it on my external hard drive, there is plenty of room there!" I plugged it in, and...nothing. The computer didn't recognize it as a valid USB device. Fail. So I tried to move some stuff around, get more space on my computer. Still not enough. And yes, it works just fine on other computers. Fast forward a couple days, to today, when it's due. Out of sheer frustration I plugged the hard drive in again, and eureka! It worked! I downloaded the video, cut it up in Windows Movie Maker to look decent, and went to upload it onto the eco-cast site.

It was too late. The file was due by noon.

Womp-womp.

Directors, not everybody has access to a RED camera or some other fabulous technology, or FinalCut Pro, or AfterEffects. We don't all have reliable computers that are awesome and always work. We tend to spend any extra money we have on headshots, classes, and gas. So maybe give us the option to either do an eco-cast audition, OR come audition in person. I know, this is a scary concept, but you may actually get better results...on BOTH fronts.

Meanwhile, I'm going to tell myself not to be disappointed, be glad my hard drive is working now, and that it obviously wasn't meant to be. I'd probably be terribly unhappy even if I had gotten the part, right? Maybe the director isn't very nice, or they don't have the budget to do what they want and it's going to turn out terrible. These are the things I tell myself.

And now I can move on to the next thing.

Tuesday, July 23, 2013

Pen Holder

Well, I made another craft! This time it's a pen holder. I was inspired by this one:

And I thought...I can make that! So I did! It was pretty easy too. If you're like me, you have a bunch of maps in your car that have been rendered obsolete since you got a GPS/Smartphone. If you are even more like me, you live in a city far away from your hometown, your family, and everything familiar. So I chose an old map I had of DC. I never drive in DC anyway, the Metro is pretty awesome so I don't need to, and people drive even worse there than here in LA! I used toilet paper tubes as well, for the shape.

Materials needed: 6 Toilet paper tubes (they tend to just collect, if you don't bother to throw them out when you're done.), glue (I used a glue gun, but I think anything strong will work.), and maps.

Step 1: Measure the tubes. You need the circumference and the length. Then cut up the map in squares that match your measurements, using the circumference as your top length, and the length as the sides. Try to be strategic, so that the map pieces you choose have inspiring or pretty features. I picked mostly bits from the mall and Smithsonian museums. Cut 6 pieces of map to fit the 6 tubes.

Step 2: Glue the map pieces onto the tubes.

Step 3: Glue the tubes together. I did a flower pattern, with one in the middle and the other 5 around it. If you want, cut map or cardboard circles to fit the bottom. Or not, I didn't really bother with it, and as long as you put pens in each tube it won't tip over.

I did mine this way because I had a bunch of different pens I wanted to organize. I used 1 tube for my favorite pens, Pilot Precise Rolling Ball ink pens, 1 tube for highlighters, 1 tube for pencils, 1 tube for sharpies, 1 tube for ball-point pens, and 1 tube for other fancy pens. I just like to be able to reach and grab the pen I want without sifting through them all.

Anyway, this was how mine worked out!


I think it looks neat! ^_^

By the way, if you want something larger, use tin cans like this one! (I made mine like I did because I wanted to organize my pens in a bit more specific compartments. And I had a lot of toilet paper tubes and not a bunch of cans).

You can see how she did it here!

Tuesday, June 18, 2013

A Fan Video In The Making

In an effort to stay creative, I've started just doing my own projects. One of these, which I hope to have completed before the end of July, is being loosely called "Sad Robot" or "Lonely Robot."

Here's the back-story: working at Banana Republic, we have a bunch of songs that play all day long. There is a variety of maybe 15 or 20 songs. Sometimes songs are added or detracted, but not often. So I hear the same songs, over and over, every day, all day long. One song that stuck out to me in particular was "I Am Not a Robot" by Marina and the Diamonds. As I listened, a narrative began to develop in my head. When I saw the video, however, I was a little disappointed. There were no robots! Certainly it was my duty to amend this. And so, I'm attempting to create a "fan video" in which I overlay her audio over my video, and pray that I don't get sued. I may send a fruit basket or something preemptively.

I have planned and plotted, and even made a storyboard! Check out a piece of it:


Rudimentary, I know, but it gets the point across to me, which is what matters. I also kind of think this particular shot is hilarious the way I drew it!

Anyway, I'm now working on building the robot costume. Once that is finished, I will start looking around for cast and crew. I don't want to commit people until I know I can set a shoot date. I have a couple of people already who have volunteered time and resources, so I think things will go along pretty smoothly. I need a few more people, mostly kids and guys to play mad scientists, an editor, some locations, a van, and the completed costume. The editor will probably be the most important, since I want to add visual effects and go in and out of slow-mo.

Here's where the robot is so far:

Doesn't it look like it does something? Cool, huh?


I pretty much gutted a couple of telephones. I'll be adding some more stuff, I found a lot of it through freecycle and people who were just super duper generous!

I like to lay out the stuff I have, I find it helps inspire.

Hopefully I'll have everything put together soon!

Tuesday, June 11, 2013

The Weirdest Audition Ever

I would like to share probably the weirdest audition I ever went to. It's been long enough now, I don't think I got cast, and they haven't really reached out to me at all, so I don't think I'll burn any bridges. I won't name names, but I will be very specific about the events, it will be hard for someone involved not to know what I'm talking about. Anyway, disclaimer over.

First of all, when I was asked to come in, they sent me a script. I had an idea of what scenes they would want me to prepare, since it wasn't very long, but nevertheless they didn't tell me specifically. From the beginning I was a little worried, there were some strange turns of phrase that made me think it was written by someone for whom English was not their first language. That's not really a bad thing, but if you're trying to write a script, and it's supposed to be about Americans, and you aren't strong in the dialect, hire an editor to look it over and polish it.

I showed up on time, but they were running behind; it looked like they were taking about 15 minutes or so with each person, which is kind of a lot for what they were doing. While I was waiting, I noticed another audition at the same location that didn't have anyone waiting. Another actress and I asked the director about the project, and asked if we could read in, since no one else was there. She said yes, and we did, and I thought it was really cool. Lesson: if the circumstances are right, take the opportunity to crash an audition. Be careful though, these opportunities are very rare, and sometimes it can be very annoying to the casting director.

I finally got into the room of the project I was originally there for, and they asked me what I thought of the project, and we discussed it a little bit. I was right about my assumptions about language, but it didn't affect my interview or ability to understand him. I thought. I asked him about the ending, which I found confusing, and he said it was supposed to be, and basically that was it. I read the scene, which involved sitting in a "Casting Director's" (agent's?) office looking for work, having to choke down annoyance at their attitude (not an uncommon experience in real life), and put on a professional face. In the scene the "casting director" immediately sends my character (who has just arrived in LA) on a job for a PSA, that "only pays five thousands." I wish it was that easy! Oh, and even with that paycheck she can't make rent.

Anyway, the point of the scene was to find the subtle difference between being completely gobsmacked at the other person's condescending attitude, and putting on a patient and professional front. I thought I had achieved this in my reading, but the director didn't think so, so I asked him if I should make it more obvious, and he said no. Let me rephrase...he told me I needed to play that conflicting duality, but not to play it. I'm not sure what he was getting at. I read it again, really gritting my teeth when I needed to, because I felt a pretty strong connection to what the character was going through at the time.

After my performance, the director asked a series of questions. They were completely random. They didn't seem so at first, what actors I like, if I like New York or LA better, but then what kind of car I drive, what kind of toothpaste I use...I really don't know why he needed to ask any of that, and he never told me. It was all very mysterious, like some sort of test.

What I should have said was, "why are you asking me these questions? What is their purpose? Why didn't you have someone edit your script so that the language barrier was less obvious? Why do you think casting directors send people out on jobs like that? Why do you have a direction in which the casting director "leafs through the pages of her resume?" Look at the headshots in front of you, that's what we use for agents and casting directors too. Why does the main character practice Chekhov in a mirror? How exactly do you plan on staging an "acting battle" at the end? Is it going to be like that scene in American Dad where Stan and Roger act at each other on stage? Do you realize how ridiculous that is?"

I'm glad they didn't call me back. From what I could tell of the script and meeting the director (who needs to try wearing deodorant if they're going to sit in a tiny stuffy room with bad ventilation all day), it would not be a project I would want to be involved in.