Been in LA for 4 Years and All I Got Was this Lousy T-shirt

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On July 20th, 2012, I arrived in Los Angeles to start my professional acting and writing journey. I was 24, slightly heartbroken/very single, without an acting agent, without a job, and wondering what the hell I had gotten myself into.

4 years later and life has proven that it can be cyclical in the shittiest possible ways.

I’m newly heartbroken/single, without an acting agent (though, I did briefly have one), and still wondering what the hell I’ve gotten myself into.  But I have a job so I guess I can be thankful for small mercies. And I’ve learned to avoid Adele this time around, which is hard because her latest album is perfection.

4 years seems like a lifetime ago–24 year old me had just left her collegiate bubble not long before her journey and was so optimistic about all of the golden opportunities that surely abounded in Tinseltown.

And then I got here, inhaled my first lung-full of the months of dust that had collected on the streets due to the extreme drought conditions and learned what racial type-casting parts are available to women that look like me (maid, thug’s girlfriend, slave, repeat).

It would have been easy to high tail it back to the East Coast. It would have been easy to quit pursuing this astronomical goal and resign myself to a life behind a desk or wiping baby butts that don’t belong to my progeny.

But for some reason, which is frankly beyond all sane thought and comprehension, I am still here. epdlt

 

I am still here and still as in love with lists as when I arrived back then, so I’m going to give you a bunch to sum up what I have accomplished and what I’ve learned.

Things I HAVE accomplished:

  • I’ve lived in the same apartment consistently for the longest period of time EVER. As a Navy kid and due to a turbulent teen experience, I’ve never lived in one house/apartment/dorm for longer than 4 years.
  • I’ve somehow chipped out a reputation as a highly sought after childcarer. As a nanny, I’ve reached the top of the pay bracket in the last 4 years and established myself in many celebrity and high-networth circles as the girl to hire (now, only if my acting and writing took off like that).
  • I’ve managed to support myself financially since I graduated from college 6 years ago, and paid off my student loans (which were supporting me the previous 4 years) in less than 5.
  • I have significantly reduced the amount of panic attacks I experience and that’s probably my GREATEST accomplishment.

On Work:

  • There has to be a balance with the rest of your life. You’ll go crazy/lose friends if you don’t.
  • Having lived a life constantly trying to make ends meet, it’s hard to say no to paying job opportunities, even if you’re financially in a good place. Practice saying “NO” or you won’t have time to pursue other goals.
  • Sometimes we have to do jobs we don’t actually want to do in order to fund our dreams. You are not in the position to be a freeloading millennial. You are not a trust fund kid. Suck it up. Go to your survival job.

On Hollywood and The Grind:

  • It’s all about who you know–and even sometimes making big industry connections won’t do shit unless they are ready to go to bat for you. WHICH WON’T BE OFTEN because so many people here are “risk averse” unless there is something specifically in it for their benefit.
  • Connections can be formed in the weirdest places–like when you go to help someone potty train their kid and they mention they’re an agent and would love to read your work (happening right now, in real life).
  • You have to put in the hours, the thousands of hours, to even make the tiniest bit of headway. But if you don’t, you’re not getting anywhere fast.
  • If you’re a POC, Hollywood is currently interested in “diversity”–and “diversity” includes anyone other than cis-gendered straight males. So white women and white LGBTQetc men are clumped in there with you. Don’t let this be a fad–let it be the new reality by refusing to play a stereotype or a trope (as much as possible). It is entirely possible to write POCs without being offensive, predictable, and boring.
  • Be supportive of other artists–you can’t play ALL OF THE ROLES so try to be excited when your friends/colleagues book.
  • Many people outside of Hollywood won’t know what a coup it is to even GET the audition in the first place. Celebrate every small victory.
  • Even when it feels like you’re banging your head against the wall with new headshots, new (expensive classes), and invested money leaking out of your ears, just keep going. Half the battle is sticking around and outlasting the competition.
  • And the best advice I’ve received (this tidbit of wisdom coming from a successful comedy producer): BE PATIENT.

On Love and Relationships**:

  • Dating is hard. Dating sucks. It’s a necessary evil unless you live in a culture with arranged marriages (and by all accounts, those aren’t fun).
  • Getting hurt is the worst. But if you don’t open yourself up, if you refuse to be cautiously vulnerable, you run the risk of never making that meaningful connection again and pushing away something that could have been great.
  • Don’t settle–you will find someone that loves you just as much, wants to be with you just as much, and isn’t afraid to both show and tell you often.
  • If you’re with someone that is changing how you perceive your value or self-worth in a negative way, END IT. RIGHT NOW. GO. DO IT.
  • Don’t stay with someone because you’re afraid of being alone. Worse than that, don’t stay with someone because you’re afraid of being “the bad guy” by initiating the breakup. Inaction in stringing someone along is more hurtful than taking action.
  • And if it doesn’t ever work out that you meet “the one“, Jane Austen was a spinster and a #BadBitch so you’ll be just fine.

**Full Disclosure–Newly heartbroken/single me thinks the above advice is complete horse shit. But some day (hopefully soon), I’ll let it sink in again.

On Life:

  • Hiring a housekeeper to come once a month is WORTH IT–especially if you’re horrible at cleaning. Paying the money for this luxury will truly raise your spirits beyond measure.
  • Getting married, having babies, owning a house, the “normal life milestones”, etc. may come at a slower pace than your friends back home. But you’ve got a goal, here, and dwelling on what you “don’t have” won’t get you any further to it. Those things aren’t out of reach for you, so be happy for those who are taking the fast track to them.
  • Keeping in touch with non-LA friends and family is key to longevity out here. Having your own cheering section to comfort you, even if over the phone or internet, is sometimes more meaningful than in-person relationships.
  • Your metabolism will slow down. Exercise isn’t an option–it’s a necessity to keep you from turning into a blob.
  • Wash everything in cold water with cold water detergent. And bras last longer if you air dry them.
  • You may miss the simplicity of the life you left behind–but that life wasn’t meant for you, so think about it in the past as a learning experience and not something you abandoned.

And finally, “nothing worth having comes easy”. Life is hard,  but wanting something bigger and better for yourself–wanting your dreams to actually become your reality–takes an incredible amount of moxie–remind yourself that you’ve got it.

“There’s been trials and tribulations
You know I’ve had my share
But I’ve climbed the mountain, I’ve crossed the river
And I’m almost there, I’m almost there
I’m almost there!”
–Princess Tiana, The Princess and The Frog
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Surprise! You’ve Got an Audition in Less Than 24 Hours–Part 2!

*Read Part 1 over here*

Ahem, where were we? Oh, yes. I began my walk down the corridor towards the casting offices. On my way there, I saw a bathroom and quickly ducked into it. I wanted to make sure I didn’t look as disheveled as I felt.

I “took care of business” in the restroom (I’m pretty sure y’all don’t need details), and exited. A little further along, I came across a sitting area with several tense looking adults in various states of nervousness. Some were sitting mouthing words, others were walking around, gesticulating to no one.

I knew I had found my people.

I painstakingly wrote my information on the sign-in sheet and saw that, though others were reading for the same characters, no one but me had the one I had been assigned. I took that as a good omen. The reader and casting director wouldn’t be hearing the same old piece when I went in to read. It would be a breath of fresh air. At least, I hoped so.

I put my things down and sat on a couch opposite a few other actors. One was dressed in a full suit while the other was dressed in jeans and a t-shirt. I have no idea if they were matching their clothes to the part they were reading, or if this was their normal audition attire–just goes to show that an industry like this has very few solid guidelines.

After sitting in a pretty comfy armchair for about five minutes, I needed to stand up and readjust my clothing. As soon as I got to my feet, I knew that sitting had been a bad idea as my entire body had contorted into one very tense ball of energy. I needed to get up, stretch, and stay standing. Even if that meant I was up for the 30 minutes between then and my scheduled audition time.

I moved over to the adjacent hallway and took my friend Marina’s advice to do a “power stance”. You raise your arms above your head and spread them apart, while also spreading your legs apart (your body is basically shaped like a star).

Joy from Pixar’s “Inside Out” in an upside down power stance

In combination with deep “belly breaths” this is an incredibly effective way to calm your nerves and boost your confidence before an interview or audition.

Then I stretched, paced, and went over my lines for what seemed like an entire lifetime.

Just when I thought that I couldn’t wait a second longer, I was called into the audition room.

I was introduced to the reader and the casting director and found my “mark”–a piece of tape–on the floor in front of the camera.

My delivery was a blur. I knew that I’d gotten all of the lines right, but my performance started on such high energy that I had no where to go. I plateaued as soon as I started.

Woops!

The casting director noticed. I thought I was done for.

“I like what you did,” she said, “but this time, I want to see more levels. I want to see you start off a little softer so that you can grow throughout the piece. Let’s do it again.”

HOLY CRAP. She gave me an adjustment–that happens SO LITTLE in this industry. It’s usually a “one and done”. I knew I couldn’t screw it up this time.

With a renewed sense of confidence, I started over. I made eye contact with the reader through out–I matched her tone and intonation and it was as if we were actually having a dialogue (shocking!) instead of me reciting some meaningless lines. Most importantly, I sloooooowed dooooooown. You’ve only got them held captive for as long as you’re in the room and doing your lines. Milk it. (But don’t get crazy.)

After we had finished, the casting director gave me a very generous, “Great job, that was a nice adjustment” with such sincerity that the people-pleaser in me knew it would never get better in life than this moment.

Walking out of the audition room and out of the ginormous studio building, I felt good about my audition, which happens very rarely.

What happens next?

I forget it ever happened.

No, seriously. In this industry, if they like you, they’ll call you. If they don’t, you’ll never hear from them again. Ever. That’s how it works. So, instead of stressing about “will they, won’t they” you train your brain to forget that there’s even a possibility that you may be chosen.

Happy ending….right?

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Surprise! You’ve Got an Audition in Less Than 24 Hours–Part 1!

“Life is what happens to you when you’re busy making other plans”–John Lennon.

“Now that I’ve come to grips with the fact that my career in the entertainment industry isn’t entirely in my own hands, I’ve decided to switch my obsessive-control-focus…” —Short and Feisty Finances

I was so dead set on exclusively blogging about finance for the next handful of blog posts. But then the entertainment industry comes along and smacks me on the tush! Normally, I would think HOW RUDE, but I’ve been dating the industry for a while and I’ve been waiting for a sign that he’s just as into this thing as I am.

I was babysitting for a former family on Tuesday when I got a call from a North Hollywood number–I assumed it was the library calling to inform me that the books that I had placed on hold were ready for pick up. Answering the phone to numbers I don’t recognize (strangely) triggers my anxiety, even for a robot call, so I let it go to voicemail.

I LET IT GO TO VOICEMAIL.

I understand that an actor automatically excludes themselves from opportunities by missing “the call”, literally; however, in my defense, I hadn’t submitted anything in weeks and wasn’t expecting anyone to come ringing.

“I wonder what book waits for me in the library stacks,” I mused as I checked my voicemail.

“Hello, this is So-and-so calling for [Short and Feisty] from [Major Network]. We want to schedule you to audition for our Talent Showcase, please give us a call back.”

GAAAAAAHHHHHHH.

I furiously dialed the number, reached So-and-so, picked what kind of genre of a side (that’s the short blurb of dialogue you perform) I wanted to read, and scheduled my audition. Minutes later, I received an email with my side, directions to the building on the studio lot, and a short breakdown (description) for the character I would be reading for.

I then went and changed a dirty diaper, prepared fish sticks for dinner, and washed several crusty bottles just patiently waiting for me in the sink.

Talk about your Cinderella story.

I mentally smacked myself on the forehead over and over, playing the “what if you hadn’t checked that voice mail??” scenario in my head.

Rest assured, I have now been answering every call I get, even the ones I know are robots, in an attempt to not miss out on my Big Break.

I read over my side that night after a relatively easy commute home (it was obviously my lucky day!). I noticed that the dialogue was noticeably stereotypical for a minority: fresh out of prison, returning to a life in a broken home, with lots of family drama thrown in there.

BUT I DIDN’T CARE.

I knew that this wasn’t the time to feel slighted by Hollywood’s ability to pigeon-hole actors of color. This was my time to finally get my foot in the gold plated door.

So I read that side and pretended like it was a back story for one of the prisoners in the hit TV series “Orange is the New Black.” That show may play on certain ethnic tropes, but it’s for every ethnicity–every girl, no matter her color in that show, has broken the law to get sent to prison and one isn’t “better” than the other (though, they do argue about that).

This particular side had moments of anger, frustration, and sadness all rolled in to a few short lines.

When you’re given material before the audition, you have to try your best to memorize it, or at the very least, become incredibly familiar with it. You’re allowed to hold the side in your hand while you’re auditioning, but constantly looking down to reference it takes away from your performance.

I’ve never had trouble memorizing lines. I started memorizing the words from story books that my mother would read to me at bedtime starting around age 3 which eventually lead me to learn to read at 4. That wasn’t the hard part for me.

The toughest part of my audition process is keeping my anxiety at bay.

As a classically trained actor, performing on stage after weeks and weeks of rehearsal makes me feel incredibly secure in my abilities–I never get stage fright. On the other hand, having less than 24 hours to prepare for ONE SHOT at doing a dialogue with a scene partner that I’ve never met or rehearsed with sends me into a nerve induced tizzy.

The next day, I made my way to the studio 1.5 hours early even though the trip would’ve taken 20 minutes, tops (I knew where I was going). One way my anxiety manifests itself is to make me paranoid about being late. This is particularly ironic considering I live in LA, the land of the “Fashionably Late”, and in an industry that is constantly running behind schedule.

Unfortunately, for me, the parking lot was subterranean, so I couldn’t relax with my windows down and go over my lines. Instead, I spent a good 15 minutes sweating my butt off, wondering if there was seating outside of the audition room.

I threw in the sweat-soaked towel 45 minutes before my scheduled audition and went up the elevator and in to the behemoth of a building that the network casting offices are located in.

I passed security wearing the ID badge that I’d been given when I pulled on the lot. I pushed the button in the elevator that would take me to the second floor and waited the split second it took for the elevator to travel upwards to my destination. When the doords opened, I stepped out into the light of a brightly lit corridor and took in a deep breath as I looked at framed photos from the movies and television shows the network had created.

And then I turned my body in the direction of the casting room.

duh, Duh, DUH!

STAY TUNED FOR PART 2!

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“PUT ME IN, COACH, I SWEAR I’M AWESOME! or “Finding a Hollywood Agent Post-Pilot Season”

It’s officially post-pilot season in Los Angeles which means some actors are celebrating the auditions/callbacks/and bookings that that particular season brings. Other actors are crying into their vanilla lattes because their agencies may have given them the boot for not getting the results they wanted them to (which can be entirely unfair as a lot of those decisions are out of the actor’s hands).

And some actors, like yours truly, are in the throes of “mail out season”. This is often seen as the bottom of the barrel as far as courting representation is concerned, because everyone has dreams of being approached by the best-of-the-best and being swooped up. Guys, that just doesn’t really happen, much.

In order to get an agent, I mean a really good one, you have one of the following:

  1. You can get something called an “industry referral”. That means someone you know in the industry (director, producer, etc) or another actor friend has to put their faith in you and submit your name to an agency for their consideration. This isn’t likely to happen because many of your friends in LA who are actors are friends with dozens of other actors–they may feel guilty referring you and not all of their other pals.
  2. If you have successfully booked work on ACTUAL TV shows or features or ACTUAL national commercials, without the help of an agent, you’re a freaking wizard please show me your ways. That means you have a lot of leverage in finding a really awesome agent.
  3. An even less likely way to get an agent is to get discovered. This means that someone that’s looking for new talent sees your work, goes to one of your performances, or something as random as “seeing you walking past the food court in a mall and thinking you have a good look” approaches you and asks for a meeting. This probably happens more than I realize, but it hasn’t happened to anyone I’m close to, so I think it’s pretty rare.

If none of these have panned out for you, “Mailing Out” is your best option and it’s exactly what it sounds like. You get your best headshots and attach your resume to the back of it. You write a brief cover letter explaining who you are and why you’re awesome and why they should meet with you in person. DO NOT INCLUDE ANYTHING ELSE. No gimmicks, no cheesey props, and DEFINITELY NO GLITTER–Tobias Fünke learned the hard way:

Spell things correctly! Make sure you put the right letter in the correspondingly addressed envelope! You take both of those bad boys, put them in a big old envelope (no folding!), and mail them to agencies that allow for “unsolicited submissions”. peter-parker-crying-meme-sends-agent-query-misspells-agents-name

If you mail them to agencies that DON’T accept unsolicited submissions, I can assure you they will be trashed (I know a Junior Agent that works at one of the Big 5 and he assured me he spent a lot of time in the mail room just tossing headshots and resumes into the “circular file” aka the garbage).

Now that technology is superseding the the good ‘ole days, a lot of agencies allow for submissions to be e-mailed, as well. This usually brings the fastest results for actors because there’s no lag time between you sending it and them reading it. They can also just quickly tap the “reply” button and ask you to come in without exerting much effort. Again, check to see that the agency accepts emailed submissions.

Last Thursday I emailed out to about 15 SAG Franchised agents (that means they’re “legit”). By Friday morning, I had two solid meetings scheduled and 2 tentative meetings–that’s a lot, even though it might not seem like it! On Friday morning, I mailed out to all of the agencies that didn’t accept emails and I’m keeping my fingers crossed. Agents are one of those special breeds that will only respond if they want to see you–if you never hear from them, you assume the answer is a “no”.

I’m crossing the heck out of my fingers that by June 1st, I’ll have representation.

Reading the Real Piper–“Orange is the New Black”

I avoided watching the hit Netflix show “Orange is the New Black” for a really long time after fans and friends began raving about it. The reasons are manifold, as is usual for my reasoning behind protesting hit shows, but here are just a few:

  • I dislike that a show that FINALLY features a cast with both white women and women of color sharing equal screen-time has to take place inside of prison–an awful trope for people of color,
  • I don’t like watching shows where one character is so dominant over another that the threat of sexual violence is always looming (important to consider when prison rape by guards is present and frequent in every prison setting), and
  • I have a horribly irrational fear of going to jail.

This last bullet point probably has to do with the fact that:

  1. As a small child I battled Kleptomania and was always told that my sticky-fingered ways would land me there, and
  2. I’ve watched more “prison lockup” shows than is probably healthy for one person. I’ve basically participated in my own twisted version of “scared straight” by watching mini-docs, TV shows, and reading articles about life in prison that make incarceration seem like a fate worse than death.

But one Sunday afternoon, my friend Elizabeth had me overcome all of my foibles and we sat down to watch one episode (that quickly spiraled into binge watching 5 of them).

But this post isn’t really about the show, much as I love it and most of its characters (don’t get me started on my loathing of Daya and Pornstache). This post is about the text that the show springs from–a memoir of the same title written by Piper Kerman. It details the before, during, and after of her 15 month sentence at Federal Correctional Institution, Danbury in Connecticut.

To be completely honest, I’m not actually reading it (bad English major, bad!). I’m listening to it on Audiobook on my hellacious Los Angeles commutes home.

In the beginning of my journey through Real Piper’s “Time”, I got the most joy out of drawing comparisons between her experience and that of Piper Chapman from the show. I was sad to see that the character inspiring Piper’s love interest, Alex Vause, isn’t as strikingly sexy as her real life counterpart (making TV Piper’s crime more of a crime of passion) and she isn’t really present beyond the explanation of the crime and again toward the end.

Real Piper has a fiance named Larry, just like TV Pipes, but this Larry is much more likeable than the character portrayed by Jason Biggs. I can root for real Larry. TV Larry helps me rationalize, justify, and cheer for TV Piper’s infidelity. Many of the characters from the show can easily be identified as inspiration for people in the book–Yoga inspired by “Yoga Janet”, Red inspired by “Pops”, Pornstache inspired by “Gay Pornstar C.O.”, etc. And then there are some real life women from the memoir that offer hints and sprinkles of parallels to their TV characters like Pennsatucky, who cracks me up onscreen and wrenches my heart in text. Her story is so much more moving in the book and you won’t find much comedy in her predicament.

Although Real Piper doesn’t have the same crazy situational drama as her TV counterpart, her stories detailed on the page are just as captivating and just as intriguing. You get a real sense of the monotony associated with 15 months in a correctional facility. Inmates take pleasure in concocting recipes featuring stolen goods from the kitchen in two designated microwaves. Real Piper feels a tangible pride in her “Prison Cheesecake” recipe that I suspect I’ll eventually try to recreate using only the methods she mentions. Crocheting is a big deal at Danbury as are card games, reading, and blasting music way too loudly from their tiny radios, much to the chagrin of their neighbors. Keep your mind busy, stay occupied, or your thoughts will drive you insane.

Upon her arrival, Real Piper is exhorted not to make any friends (which seems ludicrous considering she’ll be locked up for more than a year). I’m glad she doesn’t take this advice because she has a powerful way of describing the relationships between these women. The victory over a long-awaited GED is given the pomp and circumstance of a PhD graduation because the woman earning it put in that much time and effort. Every inmate erupts in cheers and celebration and I was rendered a blubbering mess in the driver’s seat parked on the 101.

The pain and anxiety associated with a fellow inmate’s release rattles Real Piper to her core on more than one occasion. Can you imagine longing for a friend to remain incarcerated because you love them so much, so you’re less alone, and because you know things on the outside will be different? There are even times when these relationships cause Piper’s deeply ingrained beliefs and life practices to be put into question–whether it’s shedding the stoicism that she’d been prescribed at birth in favor of showing human emotion or cheating on behalf of a fellow inmate’s college coursework.

Real Piper also does an exemplary job of making me care about the injustices of the prison system and her website continues to further her work on Justice Reform. These girls, some as young as 18, are thrown into the system and then let back out into a world far more perilous than prison. They’re given no support in finding jobs, in finding housing, in finding money to simply feed and clothe themselves. It’s no wonder they wind up back in jail with three square meals a day, a bed to sleep in, and clean clothes to wear. The word of a prisoner means squat when thrown up against the word of a correctional officer, who is ofttimes her abuser. Filing complaints against them is an exercise in futility. Real Piper makes it clear that not all correctional officers are evil, but the ones that are feed off of the dominant/submissive relationship that they’re paid to be in. The red tape is astounding–one girl due for release is denied on the day of her departure because the license plate on the car of her family members is different than the one on her paperwork. She has freedom snatched from right under her nose and is made to wait weeks for a second release date.

My biggest takeaway from this memoir is this: The focus of the United States’ penitentiary system isn’t to reform the prisoner into a contributing member of society; rather, it’s to punish them for (sometimes) incredibly petty crimes with lengthy minimum sentencing laws. The crimes committed by most of the women in a minimum security prison like this one most likely aren’t crimes that would lock someone up for life. So why not make the effort to teach these women how to function successfully earning money a living in a legal way?

NO MONEY, I know, it’s the root of every argument.

But isn’t it more cost-effective to invest in the front end instead of spending 10’s of thousands of dollars on the same people being re-incarcerated because they’re not set up for success? I have a feeling this isn’t the end of my lesson on Justice Reform…

The Real Piper Kerman