I have decided to step out of acting for the time being in order to get some perspective. I'm not sure where this journey will take me, but I trust that I am doing the right thing. I will stay committed to my current project, which is the Actors Studio audition scene from Hello From Bertha, but I have no other work scheduled after that.
This means that you will most likely not see me on this blog in the near future. But then again, who knows what the future will bring?
I haven't posted in a while because the show kept me very busy. We closed Julius Caesar last Saturday, October 2, much to my melancholy, as this was a fantastic group of people with which to work.
Currently, I am working on a scene from Tennessee Williams's Hello From Bertha, which another actress, Sui, and I will perform as her audition for the The Actor's Studio. We are playing two prostitutes in an East St. Louis brothel in the early 1940's.
Next Saturday, I am auditioning for Othello, to be directed by Christopher Dames at the Paul Robeson theater in Brooklyn.
This is an Equity Showcase--Equity members get in free, as well as any industry folks. The show is performed in the environmental theatre style; please be prepared to move around the building, and be ready for a unique, gripping experience of Shakespeare's tragedy.
You might have noticed that I have a new headshot posted there to the right. That is compliments of the talented Jeremy Kruse, who is establishing his business here in New York after working as a headshot photographer for 10 years in Chicago.
He is also an actor and a filmmaker, so he knows what it's like to be on both sides of the camera. He's easygoing and understands that nervousness that comes over you--even if you are an actor--when a camera is pointed at your face, which is a nice trait in someone who's pointing a camera at your face.
You might have noticed that I changed the title of this blog from "Elizabeth Bernhardt, Actor" to "Elizabeth Bernhardt, Actress." While it seems to be the thing to do in the theater world these days to claim the gender neutral title, I like the fact that I am a woman and an actor...I mean actress. And I am doing my part to bring back that word. So there it is, on the title.
And seeing how popular this blog is, I know this change will bring a real impact to the New York acting scene as we know it.
I was notified by Jen Halpern that I am on first refusal for the Windstream commercial (meaning they gave me a date that they want me to hold open because they liked my audition and might give me the job). We will wait and see!
I auditioned today for casting director Jen Halpern for a Windstream (internet, tv, phone) commercial. It was fun. I sat at a table and the camera was positioned low to the table, so it was supposed to be a web camera I was ranting into about my bills going up. We had been given copy, but the directions were that you didn't have to follow the copy verbatim; just be yourself. I had fun making up complaints about cable company fees, and I liked the improv nature of the audition.
After my first go, Jen said that she didn't really have any adjustments for me because it was really good, but said to go ahead and try delivering it in a more mature style (maybe she meant not quite so quirky?), as if I were a little older, maybe a mother. So I slowed everything down, soothed it out a bit, and the second read went well. As I left the room feeling at ease and confident, I was grateful for my commercial classes with [casting director] Ken Lazer. Good stuff, Ken!
My good friend, Virginia Kull (look for her on HBO's Boardwalk Empire), gave me some great advice. That whole "be in the moment" thing can seem so elusive. What is the key to being in the moment when your every move is being watched by an audience or a camera?
I asked Virginia about this, and she told me to "uber-memorize the lines." Know them better than you think you need to know them. Roz Coleman (the on-set coach for HBO's In Treatment) told our on-camera acting class that you should know the lines so well that they come "trippingly off the tongue."
I kept these two phrases in my head as I prepared for my current show, Something Outrageous. You would find me walking to the subway, saying the lines as fast as I possibly could under my breath, going over and over the parts where my mind would "blank out". And it worked!
I feel so much more freedom performing these monologues. I realized that lines are an actor's task; thoughts are a person's task. When your lines come trippingly off the tongue, they seem to come from the same part of your brain as normal speech. So you are no longer an actor, but rather a person having a conversation. You are in the moment.
I was cast in the play Something Outrageous to be performed at either the 45th Street Theatre or The Producer's Club in midtown Manhattan on July 24 and July 31. The play is a combination of monologues and improv, and deals with romantic relationships.
I have an audition tomorrow in the city for a new original play (as yet untitled), which is a comedy set in New York City. According to the description, "the play is a collection of funny sketches and antidotes from every day life experiences of people living in New York." They will be casting 10 men and 10 women, and I am excited about this project because, well, life in New York is worth writing endless plays and movies about--really. I don't see it as overdone. There is that much material. Also, it looks like this would be an ensemble piece, and I love that kind of thing.
Last night, I attended yet another great seminar led by Lisa Gold of Acting Outside the Box. It was called "Networking Know How" and was expertly timed to be 2 days before her monthly networking party at B. Smiths in midtown. (You can go for just $5--check it out at http://actoutsidethebox.com/). What I appreciate most about Lisa--and her lovely assistant Tracy Costa--is that she teaches artsy fartsy actors to be in the business of show, showering us with wisdom like candy from a pinata, wisdom that could help us end the "starving actor" syndrome and make actors into savvy business people who know their product (themselves) and can market it in a way that offers something of real value to the industry.
Haven't gone to one of these seminars? I highly recommend them. Seriously. I tend to walk away from every one going, "Okay, I CAN make it in this business, AND I know how to get there." She's helping us turn our dreams into plans. Wonderful stuff.
Yesterday was Shakespeare Day for me! I took a free Shakespeare class with Andy Goldberg of The Shakespeare Gym in Manhattan, which was wonderful! It really made acting Shakespeare, and the approach to acting in general, a total body experience. I loved it. I ended the class really needing some water. We'll see if my schedule, budget, and goals work out to where I decide to continue with his training.
Last night, I auditioned for the Queens Players' production of Julius Caesar at The Secret Theatre in Long Island City. Coincidentally, this production will also be taking a total body approach to Shakespeare--there's even a physical bootcamp required for the whole cast. So great! If I've been called back, they'll let me know this week sometime. I am definitely excited about the prospect of taking on both Shakespeare and a team-building physical challenge.
I had a great audition last night. It was for a murder mystery play called "Nut Case". We were asked to prepare either a one-minute comedic monologue or a joke.
I met Ken and Susan and did my monologue for them, and then they asked me to tell a joke. I had one ready, which was the "three sisters"joke (thank you, Summer from Camp Lutherhaven!). Ken died laughing, and Susan was laughing, but I think wasn't sure if she should be laughing! (You'd have to hear the joke.) Then, they wanted to know if I could sing. I had explained in our initial chat that I sing for my church, I like to sing, but I don't have a lot of vocal training. They said to just sing anything. So I started into Amazing Grace, singing the first verse. When I opened my eyes at the end, Ken sat back in his chair with his hand to his heart, and said, "And you said you couldn't sing." He mentioned that he was impressed with the musical style I gave the song. I said, "Well, it's not me; it's from God," and pointed up.
They gave me a line from the script to work on, and let me go outside to practice it. It had some very technical-sounding words in it, so I figured the point was to show them that I was good with copy. So when I went back in, I delivered the line matter-of-factly, not stumbling over the words. Ken talked to me about the character he wants to see behind the line. He said the character of Cookie is mostly on a video screen, but she's got to have a certain appeal, she's got to have "something". He asked me to seduce the two of them with the line, which was interesting given the technical-sounding jargon, and then to try it using my Texas charm.
Ken said it had been was a good audition, and that they would definitely be calling me next week. (I know from being in this business for a little while that that is no guarantee of a part, but definitely encouraging!)
So, I found myself working on a commercial last week in a unitard, covered from fingertip to toes to neck in stretchy, shiny orange fabric, with a matching orange bike helmet on my head. I was on a sound stage dancing, doing the wave, and standing at attention like I was in the military.
Is acting an uphill climb? Yes. Does it make you wonder if you'll ever have career stability? Yes.
At the beginning of this month, I worked background on the show Lights Out, and got to talking with one of the guys behind the camera, who was happy with my professionalism on set, and decided to give me one of the available AFTRA waivers for the day. For those of you not in the industry, this means that I was counted as being a member of the performer's union called AFTRA for that day of work. Because of this waiver, I am faced with the decision of whether to go ahead and join AFTRA or wait. For research purposes, I attended a talk at Actors Connection given by the heads of the NY Chapter of all three actors' unions: AEA (Actors' Equity Association - stage), AFTRA (the American Federation of Television and Radio Artists), and SAG (Screen Actors Guild), and it was very informative.
What the decision really comes down to is whether the large monetary investment upfront will end up being worth it, and also whether committing myself to only working under the jurisdiction of one particular union will pay off in this economy, where there seems to be more non-union than union work available. Big decisions, but I know that having to think through these things will only help me grow.
Casting Director Ken Lazer called me in yesterday to read for an industrial video for a drug called Fragmin. My preparation involved doing my research by calling up my cousin, Anna, who is studying to be a physician's assistant, and also memorizing some very technical copy--"heparin-induced abnormally low platelet levels" anyone?
I did two takes, one with the teleprompter and one without. The biggest challenge was making it conversational while trying to get out two paragraphs of difficult medical-related copy. I now see the merit of my friend, Virginia's advice to "uber-memorize" everything. Whether I got the part or not, I definitely learned a lot!
On Saturday we shot the pilot episode of X Pimp, a web series written and co-directed by Jeremy Kruse. The show follows an ex pimp named Antonio in his attempt to come clean and start a dating service. I co-star as Sarah, Antonio's upbeat and wholesome assistant.
I will post the link to the series on this blog as soon as it becomes available.
This afternoon, I took part in something which felt very important. From the casting call I attended in Soho in the early afternoon, I traveled up to Chelsea, to the SVA Theater, to take part in one of Tribeca Film Festival's documentary screenings. What I saw was Earth Made of Glass, the title derived from a powerful quote by Emerson about how there is no place to hide for the guilty, how the earth becomes like glass for them.
The film centered around a man called Jean-Pierre Sagahutu, a 47-year-old man living in Rwanda whose entire family--2 parents, 2 brothers, and 3 sisters--were killed in the 1994 genocide in his country. During the course of the film, Sagahutu finds and confronts one of the men who killed his father and talks to him face-to-face to learn the long-awaited truth.
What made this event especially memorable was the "Tribeca Talks" panel discussion afterwards, in which director Deborah Scranton, producer Reid Carolin, and Jean-Pierre Sagahutu himself answered questions posed by moderator Jeff Chu and members of the audience. During the discussion, they shared the country of Rwanda through the eyes of Rwandans and how it differs from the media's portrayal. They talked about the process of making the film, how they went in without knowing what the story would be, and stumbled upon Sagahutu's tale of a quest for resolution and memories of nearly two and a half months spent hiding from the Hutus in a septic tank.
What a valuable afternoon this was. Film is such a powerful tool for empathy: transporting the audience to another place and another life, and dispelling years of apathy in record feature-length time.
I was asked to come to the offices of Image Source today for a casting call for an "everyday health" stock photo shoot. Sitting on a sunlit white couch facing an identical white couch, I had a casual conversation with Lisa Curesky, the casting director, and Steve Prezant, the photographer, whose business card, which features a 1920's looking model, impressed me with its style. I've been thinking that stock photos would be fun to create; I use them often for the e-newsletters that I design. I'll let you all know if I book the gig.
I have been selected to audition for an Amtrak commercial tomorrow. The casting director is Ken Lazer, whom I met at NY Connection a couple of weeks ago. I'll also be taking his commercial class starting at the end of the month at Actors Connection.
Last week's 5-day NY Connection was incredible. I left with a solid understanding of where I fit into the industry (the girl next door), strong confidence in the work I am doing, and a host of new industry relationships.
"When you smile, the camera lights up. It just lights up."
Lisa Lawrence, Headline Talent
"Very good at taking direction. You look good on camera as well."
Michele Bianculli, Stewart Talent New York
"That was delightful."
Eve Battaglia, Eve Battaglia Casting
"Thanks for being good. You are very well suited for [romantic comedies]."
Brette Goldstein, Brette Goldstein Casting
Casting Directors in Attendance
This list in addition to list of agents on March 9's post (minus Peter Kaiser, who was unable to attend).
Independent Casting Director, Eve Battaglia Casting
Casting Director, Elissa Meyers Casting
Casting Director, Brette Goldstein Casting
Associate Casting Director, Lincoln Center Theater
I have started going regularly to the Actors Group that is part of Redeemer Presbyterian Church's Center for Faith and Work. The group meets once a month at Ripley-Grier Studios on 8th Avenue in the Fashion District. Last night, we had a guest speaker: Patricia Mauceri, who spent 14 years working on One Life to Live and has a New York acting career that stretches back about 40 years. It was such an invaluable time as we heard about not only her creative journey, but the journey that God was taking her on that whole time, even before she became a Christian. Her wisdom really helped this room full of young actors, me included, to look at our own journeys and motivations for being actors with a fresh perspective: one in which Christ gets the glory, not us. In fact, the first question she addressed to the group was, "Why do you want to be actors?"
Another piece of wisdom that I pray will stay with me is something she heard from her agent: "The minute you start believing your press, your career is dead."
Preparing for NY Connection is a process of being stretched. The 5-day intensive includes work on commercial copy, theater sides, and film/tv sides, all of which need to be memorized and prepared, ready to be worked over with casting directors and then presented to agents.
The agents to which I will be showcasing are as follows:
Film/TV Steve Maihack, Stewart Talent Peter Kaiser, The Talent House Lisa Lawrence, Headline Talent Diana Doussant, Leading Artists, Inc.
Theater Ben Sands, The Mine Cynthia Katz, Gotham Talent B. Lynn Jebens, The Krasny Office
I have been offered one of the 20 spots in Actors Connection's NY Connection, taking place next month from March 20-24. The event will be an intensive 5 days (10a-10p each day) spent working with and showcasing to agents and casting directors.
I plan to bring my A game! I just finished Jandiz Estrada's (Mackey Sandrich Casting) film class at Actors Connection last night, and I plan to use her spot-on feedback to prep my monologues...as well as a lot of prayer.
-This last weekend, I auditioned by video submission for a student film entitled Finding the Words. The casting person was very happy with the submission and passed it on to the director.
-On Friday, I will audition for one of the twenty spots for actors at the NY Connection taking place in March, which would put me in front of agents and casting directors and give me the opportunity to learn from them for 5 days straight, 10am to 10pm! Wowzers. I have a goal to get an agent by June 1, and I would plan to use this to try and open that door.
-On Sunday, I have an audition for a movie musical called Picture Perfect. I am going out for the role of the rebellious daughter who is immersed in her struggle with an eating disorder.
And on Friday, I will join some other actors who are part of Redeemer Presbyterian's Actors Group to present an evening called The Drama of Grace & Race. Come out and see it! 7:30pm at the Redeemer Offices (1359 Broadway 4th Floor New York, NY 10018). I have not seen the piece I am performing yet, so it might be an exercise in cold reading!
The vision for the event is "to see the Redeemer Body embrace the Gospel call to redeemed relationships where the ethnic/racial other is pursued." There will be a discussion after the readings, which is the main focus of the evening.
I am currently taking the Feature Film Boot Camp class at Actors Connection, taught by Jandiz Estrada, casting director for Mackey/Sandrich Casting. The class is working to push me to the next level of my acting ability, and it is both scary and exciting! Baz Luhrmann's Sunscreen Song was right: it is worth it to "do one thing every day that scares you."
The first week, Jandiz got me on indicating. If you are not an actor, that means showing the audience what you are doing instead of actually doing it. I was pretty bummed after that, but with the help of friends (shout out to Boggie, Virginia, and Neil) and time spent in prayer (shout out to Jesus), I came back strong and faced my fears with the scene for the second week. This time, I found a new kind of freedom that I've been looking for in my acting. The big thing I learned: If I remember that acting is not everything, and I don't take myself or acting too seriously, then, ironically, I can act to the best of my ability, the way I have it in me to act.
Jandiz has been saying that in this class, we will work on developing our own system of preparation for roles. Here's how I prepared last week before class in order to not take things too seriously: I ate unabashedly in front of everyone on the subway, made sure to drink the Dr. Pepper that came with my Chinese taco stand meal (knowing that it would produce burps and that this would fit the scene, which I thought of as taking place after dinner), and decidedly did not walk down the streets of Manhattan to get to class as though I was a beautiful, aloof actress/goddess on the pages of People magazine, but rather just as myself, as Elizabeth, messiness, imperfect posture, and all.
And it worked! I am learning so many life lessons from acting. Very grateful to have the chance to pursue this calling.
I have been notified that I have an audition for a play version of The Little Mermaid sometime at the end of this month. More details to come.
This makes me laugh because they were asking for kids and youth 21 years of age and younger, and I thought, "Why not? I keep being told that I look younger and can play younger." And I got the audition! This takes me back to elementary school days, competing with Catherine Benavidez on the playground for who could sing "Part of Your World" better.
The play I am in, Neva Give Up, will be performed next on March 6 & 7. I am waiting for more details, as I was scheduled to go to my first rehearsal last night, but it was canceled because the mother of one of the cast members is in Haiti, and they are working to get her a way out of the country. I will post more details regarding our performances as soon as I have them.
It's nice to have a character to work on! I am playing the main character's friend, Sharon, both when they are in high school, and after time has passed, when they are out in the working world. One way I've worked on the part is by doing an animal exercise--shout out to Jared Housemann, my teacher at AIDA--where I decided what animal Sharon is most like (a butterfly), and then got under the skin of a butterfly to see how it moves and breathes, and then incorporated it into the character's lines. It made for some very interesting discoveries as well as a way to get at least one step away from who I am and create a character different from myself and my own mannerisms and patterns. It's scary but exciting!