Saturday, August 20, 2016

I'm Tired of Marvin Asking Me What's Going On

My grandparents recently sent me an email (WITH AN EMOJI!!!) telling me they've been hoping for a blog update soon. It was the final motivation I needed to dash one off really quickly. Things have been busy in the House of Chapman. Here's what's going on.

Getting a job! 
I work 20 hours a week as a receptionist for a graphic design company called Royter Snow! I applied on Monday morning, interviewed Tuesday morning, and started work on Wednesday morning. It's really fun! My organizational heart is happy with the tasks I do, and I have plenty of down-time where I'm allowed to work on homework. The guys who run the business are friendly and laid-back, and the building is awesome. (When I mentioned my acting work during my interview, the business owners said I'm welcome to take off for an interview or day of filming if that ever comes up. PERFECT JOB.)
(Incidentally, if you're looking for an office space in Salt Lake City, Royter Snow has two suites available for rent. Only $420 per month. Check out the KSL ad here.) 
And working with designers means my office space is pretty. Here is a picture of the view from the break room.


Cabaret!
OMG WE OPEN ON FRIDAY. I feel super good about the show, and a little nervous about layering ALL the tech in over just four days. But it's happening whether I'm nervous or not. We did a "sitzprobe" with our small orchestra today and I grinned my way through most of "Wilkommen." It sounds SO GOOD. So full and lively and gritty and awesome! If you'd like to see me in vintage tap pants, you can get tickets here. Aaaaaand you'll get two for one*--Jacob is also in it! Surprise! A cast member had to drop out, and the production team was desperate to find someone to replace him, and I put Jacob's name/face forward, and now he's Ernst Ludwig. And he's spectacular. Obviously. Everyone is. Here is a picture of Anne-Louise Brings, who plays Sally Bowles, in rehearsal with the orchestra at a local studio.


Liz gets an MFA!
Still plugging away at my Masters. There are days when I feel so certain that it's the right thing to do, and other days when I question my decision. But deep down, I know that this degree will open doors for me that were previously closed, both because of the degree itself, and because of the writing skills I'm learning. This semester I'm taking two classes: The Craft of Fiction, and "The Rock Stars and the Poets." The last class is as fun and interesting as it sounds. Here is a picture of my homework for this week.


Acting! 
I've had a bit of a dry spell when it comes to casting, and for a while there, it was really rough. As much as I intellectually KNOW that rejection is a big part of this industry, it can still get to you. During July, I had 8 auditions and didn't get cast at all. I know that doesn't sound like a lot, but that's twice a week. When you're getting a "no" twice a week, it starts to feel like it must be something personal or something. It threw me into a little funk for a minute, there, and I'm still sort of re-arranging my psyche to help me better deal with rejection in the future. In the meantime, I keep auditioning! The dry spell can't last forever. I do not have a picture to accompany this item on the list.

The Internet! 
I love the internet. So to conclude, here is a favorite thing from the internet lately. In response to a prompt to name the creatures on this old-timey map, someone came up with these species names:


D - Pigdoggle
E - Snuffcumberworm
F - Schnozpoddler
G - Seahorse
H - Piggly Frontwave

(Snuffcumberworm and Schnozpoddler are my favorites.)

*Beedle-dee-dee-dee-DEE.
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Tuesday, July 19, 2016

All My Salt Lake City Acting Advice in One Big Post

These were originally published a few months ago as 3 separate entries. But I've put them all together into one big post, just for convenience's sake--it makes it easier to share! 

DISCLAIMER: I'm still fairly new here! My info is limited to my own experience. There are plenty of other actors out there who will have different advice and different insights. I am not any kind of resident expert--just sharing what I know. So ask around--lots of other folks ARE resident experts.


Jacob and I have been here in the Salt Lake City area for a little over a year now, and I've been thinking lately about how much I've learned as an actor. Not just when it comes to the actual craft of acting, but how to make it your career. So I thought I'd share with you a few of the things I've learned!

First of all, why move to Salt Lake City, Utah to pursue a career in ACTING? A few reasons:

1. It's pretty here. (Hiking! Mountains! Trees! Nature!)
2. The cost of living is pretty darn affordable. Rent for a 1-bedroom apartment runs in the $400-$800 range, depending on your neighborhood.
3. Lots of films and television shows get made here, because filmmakers get a BIG tax break from the state.
4. It's a great "training ground" if you'd like to move to Chicago, LA, or NYC someday. If you do choose to move to those places, you'll be competing with people who have IMDB credits and regional theaters on their resumes. If you DON'T have those things, SLC is a great place to gain them.
5. Most projects are non-union, so if you're not Equity or SAG, you can still find lots of work.

Do I have you convinced? Okay, here's what I've learned!

Okay, here are a few things that people have told me, or that I've learned on my own, to help you build a career in acting. I'm gonna focus specifically on theatre and screen in separate posts, so here are just some thoughts about acting in general.

1. Make an investment in your career. 
Be wise, and don't pay for things you can't afford. BUT, you should definitely expect to pay some money for good audition outfits, good makeup (for the ladies), and good headshots. Optional expenses include things like a pro membership on IMDB, a personal acting website, business cards and postcards, and lots more. Keep track of your expenses, though! Because if you make any money acting, you can write them off on your taxes.

2. Seriously. Get good headshots. 
This is so so so important. Like, this is what will get you in the door, and help people remember you. Here's what a headshot should be: It should focus on your face, and specifically on your eyes. Choose colors that flatter your skin and hair color, and stay away from black, white, and busy patterns. You should have two main headshots: one "commercial" (smiling, friendly) and one "theatrical" (serious "acting" headshot).

3. Remember that there are LOTS of factors that go into casting. 
Talent is a part of it, but it's only one small part. Other factors include look, type, voice, availability, compatibility, how much they'd have to pay you, pure instinct, what phase of the moon it is, the will of reptilian overlords, etc. It's impossible to know why casting decisions are made. And remember that success is a numbers game, as much as anything else. For every "yes," there will be at least ten "no's." So just keep auditioning. Sometimes it's pure statistics...the more you audition, the more likely it is that you'll be cast. Keep getting yourself out there, even if it feels like nothing is happening. (And when nothing is, remember the parable of "F you, Matt Damon.") So just give it the best you've got, and don't get too discouraged when you don't get something.

4. Actually, expect to be discouraged. 
Sometimes. Not all the time. But discouragement is almost inevitable. So is poverty. Especially when you start out. I think a lot of people start out by thinking that they won't experience discouragement and poverty like every other actor, but you probably will. That's okay. Join the ranks.

5. Keep an audition diary. 
It can be as detailed or as simple as you'd like it to be. This serves a couple of purposes. One, it will help you keep track of who you've auditioned for before, and if you've done any followup. Two, it will give you a chance to record thoughts and/or things you've learned. Finally, it actually offers a bit of encouragement to see what you've gotten, compared to what you haven't gotten. (Example linked here.)

6. Take a class.
Acting is a muscle, and if you're not working for a little while, taking a class is a great way to help you improve your work. It can also give you networking** opportunities, and help you build your audition repertoire. Sometimes another pair of eyes can see something about your work that you're not seeing, and can give you additional advice.

7. ASK for help, guidance, and advice.
When Jacob and I first made a plan to move to Utah, I sent messages out to everyone I knew who worked in acting in this area. I asked them every question I could think of, and their advice and guidance made my own career here possible. Sometimes we're afraid to ask for help, because we think it will make us look weak, or we're afraid to bother someone. But the reality is that people often respect those who ask for help, and they're often happy to provide their thoughts. It has always been 100% worth it to reach out to others in the field.

8. Learn to look your best.
*sigh* As much as I believe that our appearances aren't a measure of our talent or worth, they ARE a factor in casting and working. So ladies, learn to put on makeup that makes you look your best. Learn to put on fake eyelashes and take good care of your hair. Gentleman, learn how to style your hair and shave well. Everyone, learn what colors and lines flatter your shape, and wear clothes that make you look good. We all have insecurities, and that's okay--just don't dwell on them. Learn to play to your strengths.

9. Remember that your body is your most important tool. 
Treat it well. Learn to eat well, sleep well, exercise well. Don't fill your body with things that will harm it, like drugs or alcohol, or excessive sugar.

10. Decide whether you want to pursue paid or non-paid work. 
This is the big, ongoing debate in the world of the arts in general. Here's what I figure. You've worked hard to become a good actor, and you deserve to be paid for your work. But not everyone has the funds to pay you, nor the time/resources to find that funding. So you can decide for yourself on a case-by-case basis, or make a big decision and stick to it. For me, I focus on pursuing paid work. BUT, as I'm trying to build my resume and demo reel and IMDB credits, I'll sometimes take unpaid work if it will provide me with those things, or if it will give me a unique networking opportunity.

11. Don't ever forget your CRAFT. 
This is the most important thing. This is my deepest belief about acting as a career. In the midst of all of these businesslike tasks--"networking," getting headshots, taking classes, updating your resume, tracking your expenses--don't ever lose sight of your work AS AN ACTOR. Don't get into this for the fame. Get into this for the art. Take every opportunity to continue to improve and learn and grow. Challenge yourself. Connect with and listen to your fellow actors, on and offstage/screen. Your work as an actor must be about the human experience. If you don't know why you're doing this, that's okay. But try to find out. Think about and create your own philosophy of acting. Learn about techniques and systems, and find tools that work for you. Continually build your tool-box as an actor. Don't forget why you're doing this.



Here's the big pro: There are TONS of theaters out here! Mormons love the arts, and there are dozens of community theaters and a hearty handful of professional theaters.

Here's the big con: There may be tons of theaters out here, but everyone who works at them knows each other. It's one big incestuous theatre family. BYU has a huge musical theatre program and a huge acting program, and UVU's theatre department is INCREDIBLE. And the teachers from those programs also direct at several of the theaters. And most of the directors direct at multiple theatres. So it can be kinda tough to "break in" as a new face. (I seriously just got lucky with "Damn Yankees.") Then there's another almost separate world of non-Mormon theatre, and it's the same story. Persistence will be necessary.

And here's something that's either a pro or a con, depending on you: There's a BIG emphasis on musicals. There definitely is interesting, push-the-envelope, amazing theatre going on, but it's generally a little smaller, and doesn't always pay quite as well. So get comfy with musical theatre. (And you may be able to sing, and you may be able to dance, but the people at auditions with you have been doing both, with professional teachers, for 15-30 hours per week, for YEARS. So either get hella good, or get hella good at selling whatever you've got.)

So here's what I'd recommend:

1. Build your audition repertoire. Buy a binder and fill it with sheet music of songs you know, and make 16-32 bar cuttings of them. Bring it to auditions. Have a handful of monologues memorized or handy (30 seconds - 1 minute, both comedic and dramatic.) Practice often. Build variety. Know your strengths and play to them.

2. Get audition coaching. Starting with my "Oklahoma" audition, I've been going to Audition Advantage in Bountiful, and IT'S SO AWESOME. Erin, Jean (spelling? Sorry!), and Anne are all amazing. They can help you find a song, give you inside info about the production team and what they'll be looking for, coach you on the acting and singing, help you cut your music, help you pick an outfit, RECORD A REHEARSAL TRACK. I love it. No matter how good you are, it's always helpful to have fresh eyes. When I went there with my audition song for "Oklahoma," I was thinking I don't know what else these ladies can do for me. But Erin helped me break down the song and fill in the gaps, and I don't think I would have been called back without her guidance. It runs about $60/hour, but they'll also pro-rate that if you take less time. More info here.

Three frequently asked questions:

1. How do you format your resume?
For a long time, I approached that question like a graphic designer, and made GORGEOUS resumes. But in the acting world, straight-forward is actually best. Times New Roman, Helvetica, or similarly familiar font, no big graphics or flashy colors. You can see my current resume here. Print out a dozen copies, 8x10, ready to go so you don't have to worry about it on your next audition.

2. Should you join Equity? 
That's up to you. There are pros and cons, and it takes some research, but for most people, the answer is "no." Not unless you are living in New York and acting full-time. Because there just aren't enough Equity theatres in Salt Lake, and if you're Equity, you can't always work at non-Equity theatres. Joining a union always includes this dichotomy: You'll get less work, but it will probably be better paid work.

3. How do you find out about auditions? 
Most theaters will post their audition info online. You can also follow a handful of Facebook Pages to see audition notices (Audition Advantage is a big one, along with Theatre People of Utah Valley.)

Finally, here's a little info on some of the big theaters around here. (There are SO MANY theatres, you guys. I'm just listing the ones I've heard the most about or worked with personally.) Each of them hold regular auditions...the best thing is to keep checking back on their websites (some also have an email list that will notify you of upcoming auditions). If you're OCD like me, you can even make an organized list of these auditions.

Pioneer Theatre
Salt Lake City
Professional LORT venue. They hold auditions in New York and Salt Lake. They rehearse during the day for 2-3 weeks and shows run for about 4 weeks. Paid (equity rates). Audition info here.

Hale Centre Theatre
West Valley (close to Salt Lake)
Hub of musical theatre and comedies! (Think family-style theatre.) Very professional--take good care of their cast and crew. Shows are almost always double-cast. Rehearse for 6-8 weeks in the evenings, shows run 4-8 weeks. Paid ($15 per rehearsal, $25-$65 per show). Audition info here.

Hale Center Theatre Orem
Orem (close to Provo)
The smaller, more intimate cousin of the Hale in West Valley. Same details as above, but pay is a little lower ($15-35 per show). Audition info here (click on the side link that says "Auditions).

Egyptian Theatre
Park City (about 40 minutes east of Salt Lake)
Serves as both a venue for concerts, stand up, recitals, and films, and occasionally produces shows. Rehearsals and run times vary. Occasionally paid. Audition info here.

Grassroots Shakespeare Company
Orem (close to Provo)
Founded and run by a few college-aged enthusiasts, they take an awesome sort of "punk" approach to Shakespeare. Or an "Elizabethean" approach, depending on how you look at it. Just like in Shakespearean times, actors rehearse very little, bring their own costumes and props, and perform in an outdoor space. A few of their past productions include a production of "Titus Andronicus" with a "splatter zone" audience area, and a production of "The Little Mermaid," told through verses of Shakespeare's plays and sonnets. Minimal rehearsal, shows run 3-6 weeks, with occasional exceptions. Also produces 3 plays as part of its touring company. Unpaid. Audition info here.

Salt Lake Acting Company (SLAC)
Salt Lake City
Home of some of Utah's "edgier" theatre. They do everything from musicals to comedies to dramas, as well as develop new plays. They also do a yearly show called "Saturday's Voyeur" (har har), which is an irreverent satire of current events, focusing on local culture. Rehearsals vary. Shows run 4-6 weeks. Often paid, but rates vary, and sometimes unpaid. Audition info here.

Utah Repertory Theatre
Salt Lake City
A tamer cousin of SLAC. They also produce musicals and straight plays. They provide detailed content advisories for their shows, but will still do theatre that wouldn't work at places like the Hales. Rehearsal schedules vary, but generally evenings for about 6 weeks. Shows run 2-3 weeks. Occasionally paid (rates vary, usually not more than a few hundred dollars). Audition info here.

Centerpoint Legacy Theatre
Centerville (about 30 minutes north of Salt Lake City)
Big fancy theatre that does lots of professional shows. Their season usually features similar fare to the Hales (family-oriented musicals and comedies). Rehearses in the evenings for 6-8 weeks, shows run 4-6 weeks. Unpaid. Audition info here.

Scera 
Orem (close to Provo)
This venue is both a movie theatre and a live theatre. They have both an indoor space and an outdoor space. They have a big focus on education, so they do a lot of theatre for young audiences. Generally rehearses in the evenings. Shows run 2-6 weeks. Unpaid. Audition info here.

Utah Shakespeare Festival
Cedar City (about 3 1/2 hours south of Salt Lake City)
Summer-stock theatre, repertory style. Auditions are held in late summer/early fall for the next year's season. Full-time summer work. Paid. Audition info here.

The Grand Theatre
Salt Lake City
Focuses on musicals. Rehearsals run evenings, about 6 weeks. Shows run 3-4 weeks. Paid. Audition info here.

Desert Star Playhouse
Murray (10 minutes south of Salt Lake City)
Dinner theatre that does locally-focused parodies of well-known works (stuff with titles like "Star Wards" and "Murder on the Frontrunner Express"). Open auditions are held seasonally. Shows are usually double-cast and run for about 3 months. Paid. Audition info here.

PYGmalion Theatre Company
Salt Lake City
Theatre focused on women and women's stories! They put a big focus on original works, but also do well-known plays as well. Shows are usually cast for the entire season during one audition process. Paid (around $1000). Audition info here.

The Echo Theatre
Provo
Small community theatre--actors usually assist with costuming, set construction, etc. A great place to work and create collaboratively. Rehearsals run in the evenings, usually about 6 weeks, and shows run 3-6 nights a week for about 2-4 weeks. Also runs short play festivals. Unpaid. Audition info here.



I've been doing theatre for a long time, but when we first moved to Utah, I was pretty new to the screen. I still feel like I am. But here's some of the info I've found helpful on my journey.

1. Get with a good agency. 
This is the best way to get great auditions. Most major films and television shows DON'T have open auditions--they just don't have time to weed through everyone. So they'll contact the local agencies and run auditions through them. I'm with McCarty, and I love them. They're one of the two big agencies in the area--the other is TMG (Talent Management Group). They're about even as far as how good they are, but TMG is a little harder to get into. If you know someone with them, or have a ton of IMDB credits, that will help you. But I'd suggest keeping an eye on McCarty's website for open auditions (that's what I did), or stop by with a copy of your headshot and resume. Both McCarty and TMG represent both actors and models.
BEWARE ANY AGENCY THAT ASKS FOR MONEY UP FRONT. Reputable agencies in this area will take a fee from your paycheck anytime they get you work, but they won't require certain classes or headshot sessions or initiation fees. They may recommend or ask that your headshots are of a certain quality, but  (For example, do NOT join Urban Talent Management. They have scammed a handful of people I know, and you'll take five steps backwards in your career.)
Most of your auditions through an agency will be with Jeff Johnson. He runs a casting studio in downtown Salt Lake, along with Robert Andrus, who usually does most of the readings. They are both awesome guys.

2. Become eligible for SAG-AFTRA (Screen Actors Guild), but don't join. 
This may be different for every situation, but if you're living and working in Utah, this is the way to go. You become SAG eligible by playing a lead role in a SAG film. Then you can put "SAG Eligible" on your resume, which makes you sound a little more legit. But Utah is a "right to work state," which means that non-SAG actors can still work on SAG projects and get paid SAG rates. But if you do decide to join SAG, it may disqualify you for other work, because you HAVE to be paid SAG rates.

3. Build your IMDB credits. 
This is becoming more and more of an important "resume." It's easily accessible to everyone in the industry (they don't have to know your personal website URL to get info about you). You can put your demo reel and your agency contact info on your page. And you can't fake any credits on IMDB. In order to gain control of your IMDB page, you've got to create an IMDB Pro account, which runs $150 per year, or $20 per month. Your IMDB page will be created automatically if you get cast in something that the film creator puts on IMDB, or you can create your own page and add your own credits. You have to submit your acting credits, and they have to be approved. You can check out my page here.

4. Create a demo reel
This can be tough if you haven't done much film. BUT, you can use what you have to your advantage. Don't have anything? Then create your own stuff! Find a few scenes or monologues, and film them. There are a handful of folks in the SLC/Provo area who will help you create a demo reel for a small fee, or you can do it yourself on iMovie or a similar program. Just make it look as professional as possible--this is a casting director's big chance to see your work! Check out my short reel here.

5. Keep your resume simple
Include relevant information, but make it easy to read. Film folks are trying to do a lot of work in a short amount of time, and keeping your resume to-the-point is the best way to show that you're a professional. You can check out my screen resume here.

6. Do background work! 
Seriously. Being an extra is one of the best ways to get into the business. First, I do have to clarify, that it is EXTREMELY RARE for anyone to be "discovered" by doing extra work. I can almost 100% guarantee that it will not happen. BUT, there are a few other important reasons to do background work.
- It's a source of income! Standard background pay is $101.50. Not bad, eh?
- It connects you to other industry professionals, whether that be directors, makeup people, production assistants, or other actors. It's helpful to make friends in this business.
- It builds your resume! Even if you don't have a speaking part, you can still credit yourself on IMDB and include it on your resume. You can give yourself a "name"--not a specific one, but one that just explains what your role was (bar room patron, nurse, airport patron, party attendee, etc) (NOTE: I'VE HEARD A LOT OF DEBATE IN THE INDUSTRY ABOUT WHETHER YOU SHOULD INCLUDE BACKGROUND WORK ON YOUR RESUME. Some say yes, others say no. The answer for you may depend on what kind of work you're looking for. Some have also suggested that you can put it on your resume if you don't have ANYTHING else, but to take it off as soon as you build some other credits. Ask around and see what others have to say.)
- Most importantly, it's the best way to learn how film works in a low-pressure environment. In film, time is money, and there's a specific way of doing things, and there's all this jargon, and if you've never done film before, it can be a little overwhelming. And if your first time on set is doing a speaking role, it's...intense. So do background work, so you can learn all the little details about how a film or television show is made.

7. Use the internet!
There are a couple of sources outside of my agency that I check in order to find work (especially background work).
- Utah Actors NING (background, speaking roles, non-speaking roles, paid, unpaid, etc)
- G&G Casting (they do a TON of background stuff)
- Yun Casting (lots of background stuff as well)
- Facebook Group: Utah Filmmakers and Actors (great place to start for all kinds of projects...Gumby of G&G Casting often posts for projects here)...this is a closed group, but just request to join, and it's pretty easy to get in
- Facebook Group: Utah Film Gigs (same)
- There's also Backstage Utah, which I never use, but it's another resource to look into


HAPPY AUDITIONING! 

Have anything else you'd like to add? Give us your tips and insider info in the comments!

Friday, July 15, 2016

Under construction

Sorry if things are a little messy around here for a few days...I'm re-vamping the ole blog, but I don't quite have time to do it all at once. Love you guys.

Tuesday, July 12, 2016

Don't be a snob.

I downloaded Pokemon Go this weekend. Jacob and I spent part of our 6-year-anniversary wandering around a park in Sugarhouse, catching pokemon and collecting poke balls and incubating eggs and trading duplicate Pokemon to Professor Willow for candy. I was never into Pokemon as a kid, so this hasn't been the same "childhood dream come true" for me that it has been for some people. But it's still been awesome.

But I've seen some folks on the internet who feel it's their duty to spread things like this:


Or who keep perpetuating blatantly false stories about how Pokemon Go caused a major traffic accident. Or who take to Twitter to announce their disdain for the game.
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To which I say:

You guys.YOU DON'T HAVE TO BE INTO POKEMON GO. But that doesn't make you superior to other people. It doesn't mean you're better than other people. It means you're DIFFERENT from other people. It means you have different tastes and interests. OTHER PEOPLE PLAYING POKEMON GO DOESN'T MAKE YOUR LIFE WORSE.

In fact, the phenomenon is making life better for a lot of people. It's helping people overcome social anxiety and depression. It's allowing people to connect with one another. It's helping people explore their worlds. It's creating bonding opportunities for friends and family members. In a huge way, it's reminding people that we're all part of this big, huge, human family. I can go to a public park, and complete strangers can call out, "Are you a Pokemon trainer?" and we can all sit in the grass together doing this silly thing that connects us as people.

And if ever we needed something that connected us, it's now. It's been a rough year or so. (Decade?) Trump continues to gain popularity despite the fact that he has repeatedly done and said things that are blatantly racist, misogynistic, xenophobic, and anti-Semitic. ISIS continues to destroy lives and monuments. Black men continue to be killed by police officers. Our LGBTQ brothers and sisters are still not safe. So if there's something as harmless as a game that effectively brings huge amounts of people together, despite race, class, gender, political party, religion, or sexual orientation? Let's grab that and run with it.

Or at the very least, let other people grab it and run with it, even if you're not interested.

Friday, June 17, 2016

"In a pair of lacy pants": A Defense of Being the Mormon Cast Member in Cabaret


If you follow me on other forms of social media, you may have noticed that I'm in rehearsals for Cabaret with Utah Repertory Theatre. I'm in the ensemble, playing one of the Kit Kat Klub girls, who works in the nightclub in "a pair of lacy pants." (Incidentally, this is the one show I've done in the past several years that my dad and stepmom are able to come see. The one where I'm dancing in my underwear. I gave my dad fair warning, and he replied that he's not prudish, and truth be told, he knew me as a toddler, and has seen me dance in less than my underwear. Fair enough.)

You may be thinking, "But Liz! 'Cabaret' all sex and stuff! You're a True Believing Mormon! What are you doing dancing in your underwear?!"

I'm dancing in my underwear because I believe in the story that Cabaret tells, and I think it's important.

Here's my philosophy; the six main ideas behind my decision to do Cabaret.

POINT #1: THEATRE CAN TEACH AND INSPIRE AND MAKE US BETTER HUMANS
Brigham Young once said, "Upon the stage of a theater can be represented in character, evil and its consequences, good and its happy results and rewards; the weakness and the follies of man, the magnanimity of virtue and the greatness of truth. The stage can be made to aid the pulpit in impressing upon the minds of a community an enlightened sense of a virtuous life, also a proper horror of the enormity of sin and a just dread of its consequences. The path of sin with its thorns and pitfalls, its gins and snares can be revealed, and how to shun it."

And I agree. But I don't think that limits valuable theatre to ONLY "The Testaments" and the Nauvoo Pageant. Mormons don't have a monopoly on truth and virtue. We can learn important lessons about how to be smart and kind humans from so many sources, including shows like Cabaret.

POINT #2: NO DARKNESS --> NO CONFLICT --> NO DRAMA --> BAD THEATRE
Therefore, actors are needed to play the parts that aren't always saintly. If the Bible was made into a stage play, SOMEONE would have to play Jezebel. You simply can't have good storytelling without including people making bad choices.

(And to be honest, I don't even know if my character's choices to work in a nightclub are all bad. I haven't decided yet.)

Sometimes there are just characters making choices, and you as the audience can evaluate if they're good or bad, or why they made them, or how you can live your life differently because of their example.

POINT #3: IT'S PRETEND
I just finished a play wherein I set things on fire with the intention of killing people. The play before that, I kissed two men who were NOT my husband. Those are both bad things in real life. Significantly worse things than dancing in my underwear, if we're being honest. But it's not REAL. I can't bring myself to believe I'll be held accountable for things I'm doing in character. There are a handful of things I don't think I will ever do onstage or on camera, but the majority of them have to do with whether or not I feel the work is valuable.

POINT #4: I BELIEVE IN THOUGHTFUL STANDARDS THAT NOT EVERYONE HAS TO SHARE
If you're uncomfortable with shows like Cabaret, I think that's okay. You have a right to abstain from the things that don't feed your soul. You also have a right to do so free from judgement. But that judgement needs to go both ways. Others have a right to participate in things you feel uncomfortable with. I, personally, don't feel uncomfortable with the content of Cabaret. I've thought and studied and yes, even prayed, about this decision for myself. I won't be offended if you don't agree with the content of the show, or feel uncomfortable, or don't want to see it. (I'm a little offended by the idea that you might think I'm a heathen for participating, because I feel it doesn't give me due credit, but that's my own issue.)

POINT #5: I ALWAYS WANT TO GROW AS A PERFORMER
I haven't played a dance-heavy role since...2006? After several injuries in my early twenties, I shifted my focus away from dance and more towards acting and singing. I still enjoy dance, and I'm fairly decent at it. But this show will push me to re-awaken and strengthen skills that have laid semi-dormant for a decade. Skills that I know will make me a better performer. And it gives me an opportunity to explore and shape a character unlike any I've played before. I want my acting jobs to push me into new territory, to force me outside of my comfort zone just enough to help me grow.

POINT #6: RELEVANT ART SHOULD BE DONE
When we had our first meeting as a cast this week, the director and several cast members talked about the deep need they (we) feel for this show right now. Because here's what Cabaret is actually about:
- It's about the dangers of nationalism, when it runs unchecked.
- It's about what happens when a leader shows up and promises to fix the problems of a lot of people who are underemployed, disenfranchised, and angry.
- It's about blaming an entire group of people for the problems of society.
- It's about a time and place in history when LGBT rights were being fought for, and sexuality and gender was being researched and honored, and the LGBT community was given a safe haven from bigotry, before a World War sent the entire movement underground again.
- It's about joining the crowd without trusting your own heart and conscience first.

Those are lessons we need now and always. As the granddaughter of German immigrants, as an LGBT ally, as a citizen of the United States, and yes, as a Latter-day Saint, I feel a duty to share these lessons. It really is okay if you feel uncomfortable about the context in which these lessons are shared. But for me, I'm grateful for the opportunity.

Saturday, June 11, 2016

Thwarted Plans


Here's why yesterday was a bummer.

The first part of the day was just one of those dumb days when little things just keep going wrong. The store doesn't have the one thing you're looking for, you can't load the podcast you want to listen to, and you hit every single possible red light. One of those days.

But then, that night, I finally got around to opening my financial aid letter.

Wait. Lemme back up.

So, I'm getting my MFA in Writing right now, through an online program. I started in January, and made this plan: Take 9 credits per term in order to graduate by summer 2017. During this time, I work a few times a month for the U of U as a simulation patient, and pursue acting, all while working on my degree for a few hours per day. I'm eligible for enough financial aid to cover the cost of tuition and have a little left over to supplement my income, so that I can focus on acting and school.

Great plan, right?

So, I got my financial aid letter for the next school year, and apparently I am eligible for $12,000 LESS than what I was expecting. Starting in July.

Plan THWARTED. All kinds of thwarted.

Suddenly, I found myself in this terrible conundrum. Here were my options:

1. Keep taking 9 credits per semester, but get an additional job to make enough money to pay the bills. This would necessitate giving up acting for the year, because I don't have enough time to work as an actor, take 9 credits, AND work an additional hourly job.

2. Drop out of school altogether, get an additional job, and continue acting work.

3. Reduce my credit load to 6 credits per semester, meaning I'll graduate LATER, but which gives me enough financial aid to continue my current plan of working as an actor and my several other jobs.

After freaking out for about half an hour, I finally chose Option #3. My acting career is really important to me, and I didn't want to give it up. I also didn't want to drop out of school. I'm disappointed about taking longer to finish my degree, but ultimately, it's the option that allows me to pursue both my current goals and my future goals. It's the one that makes the most sense. But it's still a bummer. Because time. And because money.

It means that my budget is a little tighter than I had planned, so I REALLY need to get more paid acting work if I want to do anything except pay rent and utilities. Things like the orthodontist and new character shoes just have to stay on the wish list until and unless I get a paid gig.

Luckily, there are lots of those to be found around here.

(But, Liz? Doesn't Jacob have a job? He can support you both, can't he? Yes. He does have a job, and he could, theoretically, support us. But a few years ago, we decided to split our finances. Our shared monthly bills are split evenly, and anything else we do with our own earned money is up to us. This is the best solution for our marriage. I don't claim to believe that it's best for everyone, but it's DEFINITELY best for us. We do help each other out in emergencies. But I'd really like to hold up my end of the deal and pay for my share of things. Someday, our circumstances may change, and we may shift the way we do things. But for now, this is how it works, and I want to do my part.)

The final chapter to this mini-drama is a happy one, though. I posted that above-pictured Facebook status in the wee small hours of the morning last night (time makes sense?), feeling a little lost and trying to embrace my vulnerability. And I woke up this morning to this ENORMOUS outpouring of love and support, far more than I was asking or hoping for. I had private messages and memes galore to lift my heart, and lifted it was. I was humbled by the kindness that so many showed me. I feel incredibly blessed to be surrounded by so many large-hearted people. It makes disappointments far easier to bear. Thank you.

So here's to a longer MFA career with less money, with loving friends and family by my side! Onward.

Sunday, June 05, 2016

Walmart stake out

I had a homework assignment last week to go to a public place and write what I was observing all around me in an unusual form. Inspired by my beloved X-Files, I did a stake out.

Note--At 9:38 pm, I was approached by a police officer and asked to move out of the handicapped parking spot. My explanation that I was doing a homework assignment did not impress him.


Observation Log
Saturday night, June 4, 2016
Orem, Utah Walmart
Stakeout location: a handicapped parking spot just north of the market entrance (where I am illegally parked).

9:03 pm
I am Dana Scully, sitting on watch duty, badge hidden, red hair framing my face. I’m looking for stories. I’m an emotional voyeur, watching the faces of the people walking in and out of the Walmart, waiting to see if their faces will tell their secrets. Trying to remain somewhat inconspicuous, laptop notwithstanding. Carts roll with a metallic rumble across the pavement, the white noise of the I-15 in the deep background. In the summery dusk, potted flowers wilt in front of the store entrance. It’s warm, in the upper 70s. My allergy pill is wearing off.

9:06 pm
Older couple. 50s or 60s. Both wearing striped shirts. His is white, hers is pink. A silver car rolls by, windows down, classical pop piano blaring. A guy in his twenties walks past my cracked window; he’s too thin, angular jaw and long brown hair. He’s got a goatee and he’s talking with concern to someone on a cell phone, one hand in his pocket.

9:09 pm
Students from Utah Valley University push each other around in one of the carts—the kind that has the plastic seats for kids. They’re laughing hysterically, and in my 30-year-old wisdom, I think fondly of the days when I could be obnoxious in public without feeling obnoxious. Sirens suddenly ring out from Sandhill Road behind me. A fire truck and two ambulances. Their alarms change in pitch as they get closer, closer, then farther, farther.

9:11 pm
Inside the lobby, vending machines stand side by side with two redbox kiosks and a “treasure shoppe,” one of those rigged arcade games where you use the claw to try and get a stuffed animal. Two kids—I imagine them siblings—stand side by side to try their luck. I wait to see if they’ll win, but of course they don’t. Growing up, I always begged for quarters whenever I saw one, and my parents never let me try. My mom finally gave in at a Denny’s when I was 11 or so, and with one swift, smooth movement, I gripped a white puppy and let it fall into the slot. My mom was astonished, but I don’t know why. I always knew I could do it.

9:14 pm
This is the second person I’ve seen walk out of the Walmart with a limp. I feel like an a**hole for taking a handicapped parking spot.

9:15 pm
Two boys in their late teens stand next to the potted plants. They chat, with false shows of bravado. One’s got mismatching socks. They take turns pulling out their phones and scrolling through. Displays of masculinity so absurd, they’ll crack into a thousand pieces if you bump up against them too hard.

9:17 pm
I hear a wolf whistle…once…twice. It’s not aimed at me, but I’m enraged by it anyway. I could give whoever whistled the benefit of the doubt (maybe they’re just signaling a friend), but these teenage boys by the potted plants have got me all caught up in toxic gender constructs.

9:19 pm
A flashing yellow light signals a line of carts being returned by machine to the overhang. I wish they’d had that machine when I worked at Walmart, walking through the parking lot with an itchy yellow vest, Idaho sun high above me. Age 19, working full-time with two other roommates. We’d get snowcones on our way home every day, then sit in the warm living room, discussing episodes of House.

9:21 pm
Spotted! Returned Mormon missionary! Modest khaki shorts, navy blue t-shirt with a compass on it, the words “Arise” written across it. Hair tidy and militarily short. Glasses. He’s carrying two bags, and I feel certain that if the doors weren’t automatic, he’d hold them open for you.

9:23 pm
In the few minutes I’ve looked down to type, I missed it—the moment that shifts between dusk and twilight. I wait to catch it every summer evening, but it always happens in the moment I blink, or look at my book, or get distracted.

9:24 pm
Orem, Utah is mostly white. Lower middle-class and blue-collar folks frequent the Walmart the most. People speak in that regional accent peculiar to the Rocky Mountains. (“Mou-ins.”) I hear an occasional phrase in Spanish, a sentence or two in Arabic that makes me glance up. Two brothers, each pushing a shopping cart, in what sounds to me like heated debate, but it could be the media informing my interpretations.

9:27 pm
A middle-aged woman in her Sunday best strolls by, holding an unopened game of Monopoly. I begin to make up a story about her. Her college-aged children are in town, and she ran out at the last minute to pick up a game to play, to keep everyone awake and together at the kitchen table. Or maybe she’s teaching Sunday School tomorrow, and she’ll use the fake money as an object lesson. Or maybe she’s found some craft on Pinterest, and she’ll spray paint each of the pieces and glue them to a frame.

9:37 pm
My allergies are getting the better of me. I’ll wander into the store myself now, make my way to the pharmacy. One package of Allegra D. One of the white, lower-class Mormons in Orem, Utah.