The Art / Biz Diaries

Laura Jean Salerno's tag line "Sassy, Sarcastic & Slightly Sweet" describes her to a "T." I first met LJ when she joined my Classical Styles class at Antaeus. Right away we could all see she's found that great big "x" on the success map I call "holding onto your roots." LJ's embrace of who she is & where she comes from allows the entire wow-factor of her unique & essential self to show up big time in her work. She calls her business "Make Something Productions." (as in, DO IT!) Her title is "Classy Bitch in Charge."

“Actor” is not a dirty word.

I find I have to remind myself of that more often in L.A than any other city I have lived & worked. The stereotypes & stigmas attached to the word “actor” are like a fur coat on Venice beach: hard not to notice. 

There’s so much fluff / hype / fake buzz / fake boobs / that if you’re not careful & buy into it, you end up one cocktail away from waking up 5 years later & feeling like being an actor is not something to be proud of. 

I come from a from a loud, Jersey-Italian family. So Sunday dinners were always filled with a lot of food, laughter & PBS. That's where it all started. I always wanted to be the one to make everyone laugh. My friends back east would say, "You’re one of the lucky ones, you have always known what you wanted to do with your life."  -- a blessing or a curse? 

My friends are right. It's true. I’ve been a performer since I was 4 years old. I danced seven days a week, participated in well over 100 competitions & was a professional choreographer at 17. I performed with Savion Glover at Town Hall in NYC & planned to make a life as a musical theater actor. 

Then the trifecta happened. 

  1. I fell in love with Aaron Sorkin & The West Wing. 
  2. I was accepted to Mason Gross, as a BFA Miesner student (no musical theater.) 
  3. I saw Mary Louise Parker in Proof on Broadway. It was a game changer for me. 

So after four years of repetition, perfecting my craft, studying & performing at the Globe theater in London, booking my first two features films in NYC (one of which premiered at the Tribeca film festival) -- it seemed like time to go to L.A. Hello, Hollywood: CAST ME, HERE I AM!!! ....ummm hello? Bueller? Bueller?? 

Rule #1 for surviving LA: Find a community. I love how Jeanie’s “The Art of the Biz” group is not really a scene study class or a "How to book film/ TV” class. We don't work on sides or scripts, it's not on- camera. 

It's more like artistic therapy / career counseling / goal setting / marketing / jam session. That sounds super hippy dippy but it's laser focused & it's the difference between amateur hour & "going pro."  

I'm blunt, crass, wickedly well trained & funny, which is all well & good, BUT WHAT'S NEXT! That's what the group is for. It's like my artistic AA meeting: to check in, share, get ideas & make a game plan. & the group is filled with such talented, lovely, smart, insightful artists that you immediately want to pull your own weight as well as put them all in your pocket.  

As my friend Sarah Hollis wrote here a few weeks back, “I want to do it all, act as well as make my own projects. & it‘s just not happening fast enough for me. I'm really ready for what acting every day, all day has to offer me.”

Here’s my struggle:  

  1. Selling my self short when my job is to sell myself! (I don't like to brag, I don't like to "self promote" but if I don't do it for myself, who will?....yep, no one.) 
  2. Launching my production company & building a solid group of flake free producers & directors to add to my already rad group of actors & writers. AKA shmoozing!!! I want to be an active participant in my own career & not sit back as a spectator in a sport where I am at the mercy of others.
  3. I feel as if I am in a constant battle with my logic. Fighting the urge to grasp onto stability at the risk of sacrificing of my creative voice. Paralyzed on a tightrope steps away from great success or utter failure. With every step the end is farther from sight & as I get older sometimes my nerve falters. 

Living up to all of life’s responsibilities constantly whispers in my ear. I am lucky to have a day job in the industry which gives me the opportunity to work with a large number of CDs in town. It has also giving me the opportunity to book some great roles recently. 

But the hard truth is that in this town, being an actor does sometimes feel -- shameful. The only thing you can truly hang your hat on is the work, so at the very least you better love it. 

Besides, I have a slight obsession with proving people wrong. "Well you can't be pretty AND funny." Or, "You certainly won't be able to do comedy AND be taken seriously as a dramatic actor" ...Watch me.

I think I really CAN make the career I have envisioned into a reality. I’m trusting in Jeanie & the group to help me stay on task, to not shy away from success or embrace the "buzz.” It is possible to dance in the middle of the hype of Hollywood without getting sucked into the stigma of what it means to be an actor in LA. Hold strong to the morals & value system I was raised with. Stick to my goals & give myself permission to feel a sense of pride in the journey of the work I have already done & all that I know I will do in the years to come.

Hey, I get to write “actor” on my tax return & I'm damn proud of it.

Laura Jean Salerno's most recent theater: The west coast premiere production of Diving Normal at the SFS Theater as Dana. Recent TV: The Mentalist, Days Of Our Lives & Off Their Rockers in which she has a very cool scene Betty White. She is also about to shoot a new project as writer, producer & actor: the 1/2 hour single camera comedy pilot of StopKarolCooking.com

Meet the gifted Misha Bouvion. When she first came to me for coaching she impressed with her range as an actress & her incredible vocal instrument. She's an astonishing singer, though I don't think she's given that aspect of herself much play yet. & she's a woman who has had more than her share of loss for her years. At the same time, she's able to use all she's been through in service of her craft. Which, of course, is one of the things that defines an artist.

My mom is dying from type 2 diabetes, a disease she contracted largely through lifestyle choices. She didn't have as many opportunities as I had. She raised her family as a single mother without a lot of resources or support. She made few deliberate decisions in her life, but instead let life happen to her. She found it hard to take risks & I've seen her struggle with regrets. I've vowed to learn from her mistakes & not squander the future she fought to provide me with. Today I understand why you have to do what you love now, not later.

I made the big decision this year to go back to Grad school to get my MFA in acting. It wasn’t a very logical choice for me to make at this stage of my life & career. Besides my mother's illness, it's been a while since I graduated from college & I haven't even made a dent in my student debt.

All things considered I’m coming out of my most successful year in my career thus far, but I still felt restless and unsatisfied. I kept asking myself what else could be possible. Is this where I'm meant to be? I find at times I feel uninspired & unfulfilled. I was making the usual yearly goals about booking more co-stars or commercials. There is nothing wrong with these kinds of goals. But they didn’t excite me or make me feel like an artist in any way. Plus I felt like I was only chasing these accomplishments because I felt like they were the only way I would feel validated as an actress in this town. 

With Jeanie & the rest of the group’s encouragement, I continued to rethink my goals. I started to challenge myself to think more about the big picture. I started focusing more on what I wanted my career to look like 30 years down the road instead of at the end of this pilot season. I then realized something I think I knew deep down in my heart all along: I’m a theatre actress & that is where I need to put my attention. It's not that I don’t think there will ever be a place in my career for film & TV but I think my primary focus has been & always will be in the theatre. 

It’s funny, as soon as I made this decision to limit my focus I felt a huge sense of freedom. Possibilities seemed endless. I knew Grad school was the perfect place for me to strengthen my skills & create relationships with people I wanted to work with in the future. 

By the end of this weekend I will have finished the first round of all my auditions. I have already been invited for the callback weekend at The New School. I made it through the callbacks at Juilliard & NYU, & am still waiting for their call-back weekends to be announced. Each school’s audition process is different. Not only did I learn a lot about the school I was auditioning for, I learned a lot about myself through each situation. At times I have been both surprised & scared at how much I want to be admitted into one of the “top” schools.  I’m nervous I won’t be accepted anywhere, or I’ll be lucky enough to be accepted in more then one school & I’ll pick the wrong school for me! My list of worries goes on & on. 

But I do know a few things for sure. I have some amazing friends & mentors here in LA. Every time I updated on facebook about a call-back success or a fear of this big unknown I have been completely overwhelmed by support & encouragement. I have coaches, like Jeanie, who believe in my talent &  abilities when I do not. & deep down I know that I have friends & family who will love me no matter what happens.

Iʼve witnessed my momʼs health degenerate over the years. I watched her lose her eyesight, kidneys, and her right leg. She also lost her hope during the dark times. Iʼve been my momʼs caretaker, which in darker moments has strengthened my resolve to be an actor. Iʼve struggled to balance my life & ambition while carrying that responsibility. My dreams were necessarily postponed, which makes me more grateful now that I have the opportunity to follow my heart.

Iʼm ready to fulfill my potential. To boldly carve out my own path. I'm committed to doing the work necessary to become the best artist and person I can be. I have so much I need to say creatively & further training will give my voice the strength it needs to speak my truth.

I believe things happen for a reason. That I will end up in the school I am meant to go to when I am meant to go there. Until I know when & where that is going to happen, I am just trying to enjoy the ride as best I can. & continue to focus on the big picture. 

Last summer Misha spent the summer performing Shakespeares's Venus & Adonis in the Czech Republic, a co-production with Shakespeare Orange County & Prague Shakespeare Festival. She is currently rehearsing her own adaptation of Shakespeare's epic love poem as part of her own one-woman show to be performed in LA. She has a national commercial, print & radio ad currently running for Charter Communications. 

Amin El Gamal is one of those extraordinary actors who is fearlessly true to himself. Like a lot of us, he does a multitude of things well (see his website/blog). I first became aware of his formidable talent when we worked on Antony & Cleopatra at A Noise Within. One rainy Sunday night he brought his "manifesto" to our "Art of the Biz" group, all of us struggling to find words for values / purpose / vision. As he read aloud his first draft (& it's still a work in progress) Amin took our collective breath away. It's nothing less than an articulation of the actor's soul. 

We believe that actors are the last vestiges of humanity. We believe that we have inherited the talents & impulses that have propelled storytellers since the dawn of humankind. We are proud to take on the responsibility to preserve & bring to life our shared wealth of human experiences. 

We also take responsibility for the images that we release into the world through our performances. We strive for a global consciousness — not bound by any doctrine or “morality,” but guided by what feels necessary & right to us. We value diversity, equality & social progress. We believe each of our performances has the potential to help solve world problems. 

We are humbled to know that we are servants to our audience. We honor them for supporting us, for being vulnerable with us & for being the limbs that extend our stories into the world.

In the process of building our professional career, we are delighted & blessed by every opportunity to share our artistry & values. There is no such thing as failure. We make everything a win-win. If we feel discouraged, we allow that feeling to pass through us &, ultimately, we forgive ourselves & others. If we come from a place of joy, curiosity & forgiveness, every step is a step forward. 

Excellence

We recognize that a virtuosic performance has the power to move, delight, inform & challenge an individual, a community & the world at large. And so we rigorously & continually develop our craft: mining the deepest truths in ourselves, exercising our imagination, broadening our intelligence & strengthening our bodies vocally & physically. We acquaint ourselves with the practices & traditions of our predecessors & our contemporaries. We read voraciously. 

Relationships

Though virtuosity is an essential component, we also value the many communities to which we belong — the largest being humankind. We value open & direct communication with these communities, be they fellow artists, industry partners, or audiences. We treat everyone with the utmost respect and gratitude. We believe human relationships are more important than gigs. It is never too late to express gratitude or to seek & offer forgiveness.

We stand up for the fundamental importance of the acting profession. We know our power. We are not only the liaisons, but also the heart & soul of any project. We are beloved.

As actors, we respect & nurture each other. We do not let pettiness or bitterness poison our lives or relationships. We celebrate each other. How lucky we are to pursue something so beautiful in spite of the odds! We agree to bask in this joy together as we find our means by which to thrive. 

As in our acting work, we honor our impulses, thoughts, feelings & imagination in our daily lives as well. We facilitate & value real-world human-to-human contact: we volunteer, we talk to strangers & we give to others when & what we can.  

Though we strive to bolster human-to-human interaction, we adapt to the vastly changing world in which we live. For example, we share our thoughts, feelings & imagination through an authentic social media presence. We know that an actor is nothing without an audience, so we tend to our audience in as many avenues as possible. 

Profits

We define our profit by three essential factors. Ideally, we seek projects that combine all three:

1. Creative growth: We covet projects that light our inner fire as artists — projects that take risks, that share our standards of artistic excellence, that challenge us, that move us, that activate our imagination.  

2. Social progress: We champion projects that value social progress or that better humanity in some way. We take a holistic view as we make these choices: not looking only at the size of the role, for example, but the overall impact of the purpose the piece to serves. This purpose can be as grave as sparking a revolution or as light as a divergent (but truthful) piece of entertainment. When done with virtuosity, we see the value in both. 

3. Financial compensation: We also expect financial compensation commensurate to our training, time, experience, professionalism & talent. 

Occasionally, we will work in the absence of one of the above factors, but at least one must be present.  

These career choices are never motivated by desperation — we do not violate our values under pressure by “the industry.”  &, while we respect the many accomplished & high-ranking people in the field, we also believe in the equality of humankind. We communicate ourselves to these people authentically; we do not grovel. We see “the industry” as an exciting community of collaborators. 

As leaders in the quest to progress humanity, we also initiate the production of new work. We are compelled by story & truth — not purely by showcasing ourselves or feeling like we “should” create work. 

Routine

It is one of our fundamental beliefs that professional growth cannot exceed personal growth. So we recognize the importance of a regular routine that includes: rest, nutrition & exercise in addition to the practice & pursuit of our art. Because our field often blurs the line between the personal & professional realms, we must make an extra effort to provide structure & rest in our daily lives. Without structure, we become unfocused & discouraged. Without rest, we burn out. In other words: though we commit to losing ourselves in our work, we must also ensure that we can always be found again afterwards.   

We must never lose touch with what it means to be human & alive. So, our routine includes some flexibility: allowing us to live full lives & to investigate passions outside the limits of acting or “the industry.” As collectors of humanity, we are always curious, always open & always listening. Our hunger for every facet of the human experience is rapacious, our desire to share it is relentless & the methods by which we share it are boundless & constantly evolving.  

To manage this boundlessness, we turn to our routine. Within the limits of a routine, these vast experiences can become tangible pieces of work — work that can extend beyond us & into the world at large.

Mastering this routine is our profession.

Lastly...

In order to achieve the excellence to which we aspire, we must build meaningful relationships, strive for excellence, work only for measurable profit (monetary or otherwise) & maintain a healthy, regular routine. When these components conspire, we can truly achieve the unparalleled joy & the staggering power in the actor's work.

Amin El Gamal is best known for playing the titular character on the "Amen" episode of Aaron Sorkin's The Newsroom (HBO). He has worked at theatres across the country including the NY Public Theater, the Magic Theatre, the LA Phil, A Noise Within & Coeurage Theatre Company. He is currently playing the iconic Ali Hakim character in Musical Theatre West's 70th Anniversary production of Oklahoma!, producing the world premiere play Forget My Name with director David Bridel (opening this May), and rehearsing for a reading of Steve Yockey's new play Feverish at EST-LA. Amin is a 2011 graduate of USC's MFA in Acting Program and a graduate of Stanford University.

2013 = New challenges, new energy, new ways of looking at things. Already enlivened by my Art/Biz gang's first meeting this year. I've extended the group through January & am imagining it as an ongoing project, free to anyone who coaches with with me. (Stay tuned!) Sunday eves from 6 - 8 we gather in my studio to collectively support, mentor & channel creativity into career focus. This week: the gorgeous & talented Tyra Colarshares what she loves, who she is & who she is becoming. Read on.

The first meeting of our Art/Biz group, I definitely got hit with the intimidation stick. My insecurities were loudly feeding my mental chit-chat! But after an hour or so, in a room surrounded by talented actors, each with an impressive resume to their credit, the feelings of intimidation began to fall away. I saw that I was among professionals who were dealing with the same ups & downs as I am. It was eye-opening, to say the least, not to feel so alone with my fears!

In the several weeks now that I’ve been in the group, I’ve opened myself up to all kinds of new things. I’ve started acting for “15 Minutes A Day” as per Jeanie’s assignment & in that context have worked on many of my favorite films including Halle Berry’s monologue in Monsters Ball, Sean Penn’s monologue in Milk, (yes, he is a white man and I am a black woman, but that’s the fun part!) & even a scene from Guess Who’s Coming To Dinner. Selecting my own work has given me unabridged freedom. I never thought to cast myself opposite Billy Bob Thorton or Sidney Poitier, but in the privacy of my home, they are my co-stars!

I’m also working on creatively designing my own unique brand. I’m still in the process of finding it, but at this moment, the name of my business is Driven Destiny. My job title is Vessel of Artistry. My company's tag line is Dream, Live, Embrace. By writing a Vision Statement & Mission Statement I’m in the process of articulating to myself what is unique about me. 

I started acting as a teen & have been in love with the craft ever since.  I’m originally from San Jose, but my love for acting has taken me from coast to coast. First: to Los Angeles -- going to auditions, taking classes, meeting new people, basically finding my way for the first time. I was also going to college then & after a while, driving all over town to auditions every day became too much with my class schedule. So I took a hiatus. After graduating with my bachelor’s degree, I knew I wanted to get serious about acting, so I relocated to New York City.

Once in New York, I spent many hours a day in acting class & on many train rides & in many cafés sat memorizing text & analyzing the work of August Wilson & Spike Lee, to name a few. Intent on learning my craft, my passion intensified. Finally I landed a job!! Woohoo – the icing on the cake. It’s interesting:  I didn’t go to New York City to work, I went to learn & the Universe gave me double for my trouble. Don’t you just love when that happens? I worked on soap operas, films, & even booked a few national print campaigns. Needless to say, I loved New York! In the words of Frank Sinatra, if you can make it there, you can make it anywhere (right????)

When The Guiding Light, a New York based soap opera that I was working on, was cancelled I decided to return to Los Angeles. I felt I was ready & well prepared for the “Olympics of Acting.” Shortly after returning, I started coaching with Jeanie. I had no idea when I met her that she would turn into someone who regularly continues to inspire, teach, and at times, uplift me. I think God puts specific people in our lives at the perfect time. I’ve known Jeanie for several years now, so when she asked me to be apart of her Art/Biz group, not only did I feel “chosen” (oh, us actors) but I felt ready—ready to dig deeper, to come to terms with the business side of the art & craft I love.  

Today, I absolutely adore my representation (shout out to the Gage Group & Luber Roklin). I feel as though I have an incredibly strong team & I rest assured knowing that they too have my best interests at heart. It feels so good to be able to say that. I’ve been with the Gage Group since I lived in New York City & have developed a strong relationship with them. They are my family. I’ve been with Stephanie at Luber Roklin for a year now – the Universe sent her to me as a happy 2012 gift – I graciously accepted! Collectively, I feel like we can all take over the world!

I will admit, however, there are times when I feel like I'm losing momentum or inspiration. Rejection hurts. I want to book more roles that allow me to grow as an actor. I want to work with actors whom I admire. I want to work so much & so often that I no longer have to think about having a second job.

Am I dreaming too big? NO! I spent time pondering Joel Osteen's theory on what we would do if we knew we only had to hear 20 more "no's" before our grand "YES"? We would go out searching for each"no" until we met our "yes." I know I can & will accomplish my dreams, it just may happen on a different timeline than I expect. God’s orchestrating it, not me! So I am learning to go with the flow, to not judge myself or my path, & to be appreciative of everyone & every experience I encounter along the way.

After all these years, when I audition, boy oh boy. Sometimes I still am a bucket of nerves. With Jeanie’s help, I’ve learned that my nerves are just my body’s way of saying “I want this, I’m excited about this, now I get to play.” I have also learned to use the energy to my advantage. I find it gratifying & I secretly feel like I’m “winning” when I coach with Jeanie prior to a big audition. It’s part of my routine for success – so I don’t fix what’s not broken. 

Like everyone in our group, I just wish I booked more jobs… I can leave an audition & know that I did a great job & still not hear back from the casting director. Instead of beating myself up, I have learned (again through Jeanie) that there are so many outside forces in play when it comes to why we don’t book a role – no need to blame myself. The roles that are destined for me to book are already in the works. Every job is not for me, but every audition IS an opportunity for me to learn.

I have been pursing my dreams for a while now. Some days I feel fortunate to have the opportunity to be in this field, some days I feel frustrated. It’s so easy to feel “less than” when comparing myself to other actors I admire, who have broken through to the kind of career I would like to have. But no matter what, I’m working on fully understanding that all things work together for my good. As long as I remember that, I know greatness & success will follow.

Tyra started coaching with me about 3 years ago & I love seeing how her work & confidence have grown. She's always aiming high --  & tirelessly striving to improve her craft, her mental outlook & her spiritual perspective. Right now, along with gearing up for pilot season, she's writing, producing & starring in a web series called Small Town Somewhere. She's recently played co-starring roles on Cougar Town & The Mentalist & will be seen in the upcoming feature film And They're Off starring Cheri Oteri, Kevin Nealon, & Sean Astin. 

Before the holiday break: Week 4 & me & my gang of intrepid career-builders are crafting a structure for our creative/biz aspirations. Peter James Smith calls his business Commūn. His title is Directer (yes, that spelling.) His tag line: There is no other. & Peter's also grappling with the monetary value of excellence. How do we get paid what we're worth? Read on.

I am one of the lucky ones. I haven't had to worry about working at a non-acting job for over ten years.

Though every year for the last few years, there always seems to be a point when I do wonder & worry if THIS is the year that I'll need to find a non-acting job to help pay the bills -- whether this year will be the year that I don't make enough as a union actor to keep receiving health & medical benefits.

I missed the first two sessions of our arts/biz group. I had already committed myself to vote on a couple of plays on those two dates. I vote in the local Los Angeles theater awards, the Ovation Awards. Being an Ovation voter, in fact, is how Jeanie & I initially cyber-met--on twitter using the #OVoter hashtag.

Catching up on the e-mails and notes the group had sent out after the first two sessions, I felt a little defeated already. I have taken a goal-setting workshop & I have a list of things that I think would be good for me to do for my career--that kept getting carried over to the next day's/week's/month's/year's list of things to do.

Everyone seemed so together & powerful, that I wondered if my lackadaisical style would embarrass me. However, Jeanie reassured me with: "this isn't a place where we should be beating ourselves up about anything. & really, we're not to the point of setting 'goals' -- & maybe in this round we never will be."

Wow! A place where I shouldn't beat myself up & where goal-setting is not the driving force? This really freed me up to think about the arts side of the arts/biz. I feel I get to do that so rarely. I know one of the cruxes for this group is integrating the business side with the creative part of our work. However, since I feel I spend more energy thinking about the biz side (& mostly getting so overwhelmed that I do nothing on my to do list) I feel the art side needs my attention most right now.

One of the first tasks of the group has been to think about what my company name would be. Also, what would be this company's tag line, vision statement & mission statement.

Right now, I'm definitely drawn more toward the altruistic, idealized & artsy voices in my soul, but we are all putting our creative ideas down on paper in a very structured way & thinking about these ideas within the construct of a business or company.

One of the things that feels new to me is thinking about pricing. There seem to be two main business models for pricing: 1) We will get our customers the cheapest price possible or 2) Our customers will want to pay more because of our quality. I, as an actor/artist, want to be thought of in the latter category. It's a little scary & empowering to value one's self & one's art at that level. One of the notes I jotted down that the group seemed to find powerful was: "Worth the money. Compelling audience & employers to pay top price for my excellence."

I have no idea where this journey will lead, but having a place where I'm free to acknowledge the sensitive, artsy, humanity-embracing part of me--in an industry town that --  well, look at the phrase itself: "industry" town. There are no sensitive, artsy, free-hug, sign-wielding souls that show up for me in the word "industry." Industry feels to me cold & steel & waste-cloud producing.

However, the more I'm able to embrace my own humanity & the humanity of the other players in this dream factory ("factory," another cold word), the more I can reconcile that dreams are a part of it too.

Peter & I are fellow Ovation voters & we first got to know each other via Twitter. He most recently was seen on stage in the L.A. premiere of David J. Duman's Fishing at Archway Studio/Theatre wearing leather hot pants & a harness & on TV in ABC's Revenge In scrubs. Catch him soon in new episodes of Anthony Q. Farrell's web series, Dwelling (WatchDwelling.com), wearing regular clothes.

Here's Melina Bielefelt: actor #2 to report from the art/biz trenches. Week #3 & we're all romping around in a playground of words, sounding out the name of our business, our title, our tagline & our Vision Manifesto. Articulating our own personal acting brand = injecting poetry into the prosiac grind of career-building. Melina calls her business Harness Humanity. Reimagining her place in the industry = Flipping the Script

Several years ago, I took a much-needed break from pursuing “the Industry.” I was fed up with paying for Casting Workshops that were neither feeding my soul or my pocketbook. 

I decided to go back to acting class & spend my money in a way that felt creatively supportive. I joined a theatre company & produced a play that got nominated for two LA Weekly Awards. It was exciting to break through old belief systems & generate opportunities for myself. Happily, a number of nice acting roles in this same 99-seat theatre company followed.  

Although still very happy with my mates at our company, (except maybe, a proper lobby & more than a unisex dressing room & bathroom?! -- ) recently I’ve also acknowledged the itch to spread my wings. Not only to act at larger theatres but, surprisingly, the urge to once again pursue paying work in TV & Film. The Holy Grail.

I was scared & feeling incredibly resistant to facing both the inevitable rejection & the difficulty breaking through my comfort levels to put myself up for consideration amidst an industry that heretofore had rendered me invisible. Fortuitously, I happened on a post by Jeanie Hackett announcing the formation of this group. As Jeanie wanted one member in the group to be someone she didn't already know, luckily she invited me to join.  

I sat there the first night in a puddle of insecurity & unworthiness. I felt such shame about where I was on my career path & how little I felt I had to show for my age & schooling. Even now, just a few weeks later, with my feet more firmly on the ground, I can see how silly & inaccurate these feelings were. But they felt so real!

My friend Ron Allen: poet, playwright, performer, teacher, director, & activist, had a phrase he liked to use when encouraging me to move out of a mental rut towards something more productive. "Flip the script, Melina, flip the script!" He was a 6-foot-tall, 60-year-old, Buddhist black man, so this usually impelled me to action. As an actor, this note might mean to try a single moment differently, but as a human being this directive signifies a search for a wholly new perspective, a "flip" of your inner dialogue. It's an opportunity to cleanse the mind of its patterns so that something new can emerge.

Now that we’re deep in the middle of articulating Vision & Mission Statements, I'm feeling more strongly rooted in my potential. I'm stirring the proverbial pot to release darkness & doubt, & I’m daring to dream to boot. I am now of the belief that my creative work is worthy of a clear roadmap. I don’t have all the answers, but I’m asking questions & patiently waiting for answers, all the while being encouraged by Jeanie & others in the group. They are listening with me too, helping me to form half-thoughts into the shape of next steps. After just 3 meetings, I’ve gotten up the gumption to write this blog post! 

Not only that…I am dusting off familiar & favorite material & acting for at least 15 minutes a day. I’ve revamped my resume, xeroxed new scenes, committed to as many as 3 casting workshops in a single week, & most importantly I’m having so much more FUN!

Facing my vulnerabilities has sharpened my instincts & allowed me to open my deeper self more & more authentically. We’re all creative works in progress & I’ve at least temporarily given myself a break: from judgment, perfection, jealousy & inadequacy. I’ve been welcomed into a group of like-minded creative individuals who are searching for & dreaming of their own creative utopias. We have gifted ourselves with the time to develop, articulate, question, learn, experience & be inspired. 

I met Melina via Facebook when she "liked" my Workroom Page. One of the first actors to respond to my post about forming this group, a gut feeling urged me to add her to the mix -- I wanted a least one actor I didn't know to take part. Melina's measured & considered thought process elicits a similar reponse from the rest of us, as does her willingness to be candid about her vulnerabilities. Her work as a life-coach makes her highly perceptive about herself & others. I'm eager to get to know her acting work.

I've always wanted it all. I've always wanted to become a well-known actress, able to pick what I want to do from lots of amazing projects & scripts. But I also want to create my own projects, too. To do that, I must strive to believe in myself all the time.

If I don't get an audition that I submitted myself for, or if I don't book the actual audition, after a while it seems my "actor's pride" gets depleted. I want to make sure I'm always putting positive energy & positive thoughts out to the "acting gods" -- to really show how badly I want this! I really do believe that the more time and energy you put into your craft, the more you receive. I guess my mantra would be: Ask. Believe. Receive.  

The first meeting of our art/biz focus group was so intense! I found myself instantly feeling close to & understood by people I had never met before this night. Most of our 'wants' are pretty synonymous, which I think makes it easier to relate. I guess that's the thing about artists. We are unafraid to open ourselves up & let people see who we are. We enjoy & celebrate each other's success. We know the best policy for true artists is to "pay it forward." Whatever knowledge you have that's helped you, needs to be "paid forward" to the next person on the path. 

I like this idea Jeanie has about discovering what, specifically, you want to express as an an actor-artist. What is my voice? Who am I as an artist? What do I want to talk about? Even though this a biz-focus group, it's helping my focus on me. It's opening my eyes to the full spectrum of what the word "artist" means. It's also opening my eyes to what kind of artist I want to be. How big of a career do I want to have? And how am I going to get there? 

I'm anxious to see how the group progresses. Will using a combination of all of our tactics end up helping our careers grow in a big way? (I can't help it, I feel like I'm always looking at the end result!) I want to be the kind of actress who always works on projects I am proud of & believe in. But as much as that desire is there, I also want to be able to survive -- thrive! -- only on my income as an actor. 

Actors need to be business-savvy as well as talented. I actually really like the business & networking part of the job. Of course acting is the best part, but I've always thought that knowing about the other side of the industry is part of improving your craft. That's another thing I hope the group will help me with: learning how to brand myself, telling people who I am, as opposed to the other way around.

The hardest part about where I am at this moment is that I feel on the precipice of lots of different projects, but it‘s just not happening fast enough for me. I'm really ready for what acting every day, all day has to offer me.

I first met Sarah when she took a class I taught at the Antaeus Academy. Fresh from a recurring role on the series "24", her theater chops proved equally impressive. (I was especially taken with her perceptive take on Blanche from Streetcar) Sarah = Hollywood-up-to-the-minute red-carpet chic, mixed with the earthy strength of a theater leading-lady.  Next up: a juicy role in the movie Chase Liberty, shooting in Atlanta, GA in Feb. ‘13, starring Jim Sturgess, Olivia Munn & Thomas Hayden Church.