The Workroom is just about one year old! Since I launched, it seems like new resource sites for actors are cropping up everywhere. A dizzying array of teachers & coaches & casting director workshops, blogs, branding experts & social media consultants -- dispensing good, sometimes great, & sometimes just plain bad advice at every turn.
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& maybe just because they are now so discoverable, it also seems like, exponentially, there are a lot more of actors out there. The army of creatives & the people they serve have marched out of the closet & are no longer mutually exclusive. At the same time, our business keeps expanding. There are new ways to work in all kinds of new mediums. The gatekeepers are folding up shop as the artists now build the recording studio at home & shoot the film on the iphone.
Has there ever been so much to read, so much to access, so many choices? Who out there still remembers the old days, when what you did to move your career forward was “make the rounds” -- physically, on foot? When you knew the names, at least, of every casting director & every tv show & every film director & there were only about 4 or 5 good solid coaches / actor training programs to choose from?
But still, I believe there’s room for everyone. & the 1st anniversary of The Workroom seems like a great time to share the things & people & processes I’m currently in love with / trying to figure out / championing / sharing the stage with. No one’s a competitor. As I see it, we’re all in this new world together.
I made The Workroom for myself & for artists like me. I don’t know how to “make” anything -- classes, books, blog posts, productions of plays -- that I wouldn’t be drawn to personally. I think of it as an idea, a soul-space, rather than a web-site. I didn’t try to please anyone but myself. I didn’t try to think about what would “sell” or what would be popular, or how to make everyone like it. I just wanted a kind of creative shelter, a place I enter that would remind me to move into -- & stay in -- proximity with the work that saves me. A portal to “only connect.”
I particulary love the connective tissue I've found I share with strangers via this space -- on my site, on twitter, on my FB Page, Pinterest, Flipboard (read more, below) Tumblr, etc. But actually these people aren’t strangers at all. We recognize each other without ever having met. Somehow we’re all in the same life-boat.
& yet, I’m still trying to find my authentic voice. A problem for us actors: our personal voice is expressed through someone else’s words. This new kind of direct engagement seems to many not just a time-waste, but also utterly tasteless. Older & even younger actors find it scary that to gain -- & maintain -- access to all the moving parts of our profession means that now we have to show up at the online party. & share in a genuine way. Learning new tech skills gives us the means to come out of hiding -- but first we’ve got to want to do that.
Early days in this virtual terrain: a wild, wild west with an epidemic outbreak of experimentation, blunders, technological minutia & every kind of soulful encounter you can think of. Artists in all different fields making virtual art-spaces in all different ways. People who make books & art & music & theater finding a blood-line to each other & to content-consumers, without the middle-man. So many trains of possibility arriving at all kinds of different platforms.
But I’m worried, too, about the creative artists not finding these platforms, not catching these trains. I find myself (who me?!) side-coaching terrific actors & acting teachers about how this new world works. They’re daunted by the new technology, they don’t know where to begin to play catch-up. & a lot of them don’t want to. Mostly because they don’t know how to be in this new world. Learning how to use twitter is not as big a problem as knowing what to tweet.
For me, the best way to jump in is to find role models. I’m always keeping an eye out. Whose sites am I attracted to? Who’s speaking my language? Who has found their own, unique private-in-public voice? Here’s two of my new faves.
Over 60,000 people follow writer Ksenia Anske on Twitter & I’m one of them. She's a fantasy writer, the author of Siren Suicides, a book I haven't read (yet). The tag line on her website: "Reader, you are my publisher. Share my books, send them to friends, download for free, and, if you can, buy or donate to keep me writing." I don't know her, but I do: she speaks in a voice I relate to -- funny, irreverent, vulnerable, a tad wacky. Most of all, she's fully grounded in her distinct artist-persona.
& then there's Casting Director / Coach Marci Liroff. (Who is also a contributing editor at Backstage with her own column.) Her new site is smart & unfussy but that’s not the point. Take a look at these excerpts from her Audition Bootcamp DVD & you’re immediately hooked by her direct, pragmatic, actor-friendly audition-tips from the other side of the table. There are 5 or 6 clips here with gems for every occasion. for example, Marci: “One good thing to know is that all of us behind the camera, behind the desk -- we’re all living life on the edge just like you are. We’re just coming at it from a different place. But we’re all going through the same thing." & she’s a twitter maverick: Check out her latest article: 10 Things Guaranteed to Get You Unfollowed on Twitter. (oh, did I learn from this!)
& this: commenting = connecting. We all do it on FB. But take the plunge on your favorite websites (...like the NY Times, even.) Commenting on articles, blog posts, status updates, photos, videos, etc. is the great equalizer. Years ago a letter I wrote in response to an article was published in the NY Times Magazine. Then, that was a big deal. Now? Open to everyone. The age of the passive audience is over & I for one don't mourn it. (& some other time, I want to talk about what this means to theater.)
My new addiction. Pinterest is a beauty-soporific for the late night hours. But for me, Flipboard evokes sheer awe. (Google Reader, be gone!) First, it’s an app for your phone / pad that aggregates all your favorite forms of content in a really gorgeous interface. But it’s not just that. Flipboard lets you create your own magazines, featuring original & curated content, which others can subscribe to.
I’ve got quite a few. The Workroom, of course -- my “inspiration stream” + a round-up of a-life-in-art articles + ted-talks + music + videos + podcasts & pictures -- my collection of the real & the true for the performing arts. In Theater Purist I gather content about roles / plays I’m particularly interested in, places I want to work, people I want to work with & the ideas about the future of the art. I’ve got Entrepre Artist, about running a creative business, with tech / social media & leadership ideas. Oh, & 6 or 7 more! About Chekhov & Cousin Bette & health & food & on & on. (I’ve even got The Wordshed for the short stories & poetry I’ve written over the many years, which, until now, idled in pristine, unseen files on my computer.) Oh, & actors, I also love this Flipboard Magazine: Marci Liroff's Actor's Hub.
Go ahead: Make your own. Download the app on phone or pad. Go to Flipboard.com on your computer & link your account there. Bookmark the “flip-it” button & easily grab anything you find when you’re trolling the web. Flip original content from your website or upload to a tumblr account. Once it has a URL you can publish to your Flipboard magazine as well. Here's a screen shot of most of them, them from my ipad.
Crucial. & for me, um, not really happening. A Workroom post every two weeks in the beginning...& then auditions come up, I go off somewhere to direct something, I get married (!!!) & all of a sudden I haven’t written anything for a month. (Or more!) It all starts feeling like that friend you’re avoiding who you owe a call to.
So, gnashing my teeth with envy, I give you James Devereux & The Great Acting Blog. He’s got this down in spades. Something shows up in my mail-box just about every dang morning. Smart, sweet, short. A kindred spirit, with the kind of discipline I vow RIGHT NOW to thoroughly emulate. Here’s a recent post I particularly liked: The Power of Idealism. Yes, we’re competitors for you artist-purists out there. But again, here’s what is so cool about this whole thing -- there’s room for all of us.
Thrilled to have gathered a diverse, seriously talented group of actors for my first Scene Study & Audition Technique Class in The Workroom. I’ve been teaching in NYC, at the Williamstown Theater Fest, & now, finally, I'm back to an ongoing class in LA where me & my gang get to grow, fail, fail better & even fly. After building two behemoth acting programs at Antaeus & The Classical Theater Lab, it feels good to be lean & agile again. It's an ongoing class, meeting on Tuesday nights. If you're interested in auditing or joining in, email firstname.lastname@example.org
I’m intent to explore & keep exploring what being really present in the work really means. How it manifests, how it transforms & overpowers resistance. Matisse’s recipe for great art = infusing the work simultaneously with intensity & rest. To me, this channeling of intensity & rest is one crucial thing that = presence.
But -- if you’re not taking my class, you should be leaping & bounding to Risa Bramon Garcia’s new workspace. The BGB Studio manifesto starts here: “You are more important than any audition.” Take a look at the Studio’s various offerings. Like Marci, Risa writes often as a Backstage expert. Tape this one on the fridge: 21 Things that Make Casting Directors Happy in the Audition Room. Her generosity to actors, her taste, & her formidable body of work makes her an ideal embodiment of the practical-purist.
The practical & the pure: it’s always a balancing act for me with these two. On the practical side, I’m reading Trust Agents by Chris Brogan & Julien Smith. A NY Times and WSJ best seller, Brogan & Smith are “...web natives who trade in trust, reputation & relationships, using social media to accrue the influence that builds up or brings down businesses online.” About finding that voice. & that “creatives” are no longer the anointed few, but, potentially, everyone.
In my “pure inspiration” column, I’ve picked up again a hard-cover book that has graced my coffee table for several years: Joan Acocella’s collection of essays called Twenty-Eight Artists and Two Saints. From Simone de Beauvoir to Martha Graham to Joan of Arc, “...what unites the book is Acocella’s interest in the making of art and in the courage, perseverance, and sometimes, dumb luck that it requires.” How’s this for a send-off into the purist realm: About the most influential dancer of our time, she writes:
“What has made Baryshnikov a paragon of late-twentieth-century dance is partly the purity of his ballet technique. In him the hidden meaning of ballet, & of classicism -- that experience has order, that life can be understood --is clearer than in any other dancer on the stage today. Another part of his preeminence derives, of course, from his virtuosity, the lengths to which he was able to take ballet -- the split leaps, the umpteen pirouettes -- without sacrificing purity. But what has made him an artist, & a popular artist, is the completeness of his performances: the level of concentration, the fullness of ambition, the sheer amount of detail, with the cast of the shoulder, the angle of the jaw, even the splay of the fingers, all deployed in the service of a single, pressing act of imagination. In him there is simply more to see than in most other dancers. No matter what role he is playing (& he has played some thankless ones), he always honors it completely, working every minute to make it a serious human story. In an interview...a critic...asked him why he danced. He answered that he was not a religious person...but that he thought he found onstage what people seek in religion: ‘some approximation to exaltation, inner purification, self-discovery.’”
...Exaltation, inner purification, self-discovery. 6 months before The Workroom was born, I reconnected to a vision from many years ago, when I first began to understand the life-force power of the work. A sacred, empty, abundant space, where I could realize all my potential as an artist. In recent years, I’d been too long distracted by the stuff around the edges of making art. Things happened that made me doubt myself, my instincts, my truth. I longed to be engaged in new conversations, central instead of tangential to the work. I wanted & needed a new community -- & the courage to live at core of my artistic being.
The blank canvas of The Workroom + finding my new tribe is giving me that. My journey had a steep learning curve. Imagining & building the site, along with learning things like Google Analytics, Mail Chimp & all those social media platforms still leaves me woozy. Wildly frustrating that my tech skills lag so far behind my aspirations. In turns time-sucking, infuriating & humbling.
But too, the feeling of boldly going where no one had gone before. (Yes, I know, it seems like just a website. But keep watching.) At launch & now I feel my singular aesthetic & insight gives me an edge -- but, actually, the very same edge everyone else has, provided we each stay strong & true to our inimitable selves. With one caveat: you have to put it out there. Find your voice. & speak. & then see how each new voice makes a space for another. & another. For everybody.
QUESTION: How do you speak with your singular voice? What boards / magizines / websites (including your own!) -- share with us!