Me on the carpetI went to my first “Hollywood” premiere. And even though it was for a small indie film, to me, it felt important. As actors we don’t create work in a vacuum, so having your work premiere for people to see, really is the reason we do what we do. I would be lying if I said that I wasn’t nervous. What if my no one likes the film? My performance? My dress? What if I sound like an idiot? What if I trip? It wasn’t hard to shake-off these petty actor thoughts when I just reminded myself what I am there to do. I am there to support and promote the film that I helped to create. It is our job to always put the story first, and promoting a film is just an extension of that. Once in this head space, nerves went away and I actually had a great time. I spent the evening mingling, conversing about the film and about other films that people had made or are making. Actually, premieres are so cool … cause you meet so many artists who are actively making films. I was struck by a sense of community, which I had heard, doesn’t always exist in Los Angeles. What I’ve learned is that when you can show a genuine interest in someones work, they, might in return, show a genuine interest in yours (key word genuine). This in my mind is Networking. I “worked” the room and spoke to several people about the film they had just scene (mine) and future and past projects of their own.

 I also witnessed another form of “working it.” Many actors showed up on the red carpet, (looking absolutely beautiful, I have to say) and “worked” the cameras in ways I’ve never seen. Every pose was a picture. They really knew how to promote themselves on the red carpet. Once the cameras were done snapping, many of the left without seeing the film. I had never seen this before and when I asked a very seasoned actor friend of mine he said that that is actually common practice; your manager or publicist wants you to go to these events to stay visible. Simply put, its good publicity. I get it. Its a part of our job … but … why not stay and see the film? Let me be clear I am not judging … just acknowledging that there are different ways of “working it.” I would be remiss not to point out that on the flip side, the more people show up to a film’s premiere, the better for the film. So for that I am grateful. But for me I got clearer on the kind of actor I want to be. Story is my food. Any opportunity to take in a new film, should not be wasted.

Melissa & MeI recently worked in a two-day workshop with actress Melissa Leo who talked a lot about what it is to be an actor. Something that stuck with her early in her career was a teacher saying, “If something can stop you from being an actor, let it.” If you have been in this field for longer than a minute you’ve seen what can happen; people start to drop-off, give-up, lose focus, become bitter. This career is demanding, sometimes tortuous. It is not for the weak at heart. But we do it, day in and day out; waking up early, going to bed late, going to auditions, going to class, with sometimes very little reward in the way of recognition or money. But in the end all of this is OK with us. We do it because we have to with every fiber of our being. We do it because we are storytellers. Melissa said, “I wake up an actress, I go to sleep an actress.” And everything she does in between … is in service to that.

Establish your singularity of purpose. Streamline your life so that every day’s activities become the backdrop of your life as an actor. The day Melissa quit her waitress job, was the day she began (slowly) to make all her income from acting. Now I’m not saying we can all just up and quit our survival jobs, they are without saying, a necessary part of our survival. What I am saying is … make sure that however you are spending your time, it is always in service to your greater goal.

We have to take care of ourselves; We have to feed our bodies with the right food, we have to sleep when our bodies demand it, we have to chose the people in our lives with care, we have to chose the right survival job, and we have to be compassionate with ourselves and our self-depreciating-actor-brains. We have to always listen to what our inner voice is telling us. If the survival job isn’t right, quit and find another one. If a relationship is negative, end it and create the space for another one. If your agent/manager and you aren’t on the same page, look for one that is. Spend money on things that matter and let go of everything else. Maybe spending money on new headshots, is a better decision than buying those new boots you’ve been wanting. Its Spring so now is a good time. Take stock. Let things go. And reorganize towards your singularity of purpose.


A contolled burnIn the Giant Forest in California’s Sequoia National Park lives the largest tree in the world. Though 1,000 years younger than the oldest, The Sherman Tree surpasses its elders in size due to optimal soil conditions contributed by a number of factors; fire being one. In the forest, fire is the biggest agent of change. A prescribed-fire, otherwise known as a controlled burn, literally brings about growth. It prepares the seedbed, cycles nutrients in the soil, diversifies the age & types of vegetation in the forest, and protects the trees from insect-attacks & disease. For these reasons natural wildfires are protected, and it is policy to let a natural-fire, caused by a lightening strike, to burn.
In the middle of the first month of 2014 we should all take page from nature. As history shows, within the next few months our new year’s determinations begin to breakdown. That resolve to run two miles every day slowly lessons to two blocks. The decline back in to our old habits make us feel like failures; a mentality we’ll carry the rest of the year, reaching its end, and affecting more resolve to be different in 2015. Nature, human nature is cyclical. Change happens two ways; we chose to reinvent ourselves, or circumstances do it for us i.e. lightening strikes. Like the Sequoia trees, change requires that something dies for something to continue to live, & to live better. Rather than mourn the deaths of our meat-free, caffeine-free decisions we should all let die the idea that we have to be perfect, & have to change so that we are. What change should really take place this year is the acceptance that we are how we are & that that is always changing. And with this level of acceptance, will finally come the strength for growth.
“Those who contemplate the beauty of the earth find reserves of strength that will endure as long as life lasts. There is something infinitely healing in the repeated refrains of nature — the assurance that dawn comes after night, and spring after winter.”
―Rachel Carson, Silent Spring
So set fire to the things that keep you small & have a happy 2014.

F.E.A.R.Darwin would argue that fear is a necessary emotion. In context, he’d be right in terms of The Origin of the Species, survival of the fittest, flight-or-fight. But most of our day-to-day isn’t like The Hunger Games, even though stakes can feel comparable. Though fear can be a motivating factor, it’s not always a helpful feeling to have say … in an audition. So, what to do? How to get rid of it? Did you know that fear is actually more of an acronym than a word? It’s true … F.E.A.R. (in case you didn’t already know) stands for: False evidence appearing real. Think about it? How rational are our fear-based thoughts in the audition room? (rhetorical question). Here is a snapshot of my brain at an audition last week. During the course of about 6 minutes: number of times I thought what I was doing was complete sh_t – 1,789; number of times I thought I wasn’t right for the part – 1,243; number of times I thought the casting director doesn’t like me – 1,006…you get my point. Then I got a callback which reminded me yet again that I have no business judging my own work. But what about the fear that precipitated those judgments? Where does that come from? As it turns out … NOWHERE, or at least nowhere within the realms of reality. So now when fear-based thoughts come up, I ask myself, What evidence do I have that that is true? And trust me; I always come up with the same answer. Next time you feel that natural normal butterfly- sensation in an audition turning in to something much more paralyzing…. Remember: False evidence appearing real, and instead focus on realities like… I showed up on time and prepared. I kept my eyes up and off the page. I made a strong choice and I made the CD laugh.
At my survival job last month I worked The Kids Choice Awards where it was inspiring to watch all these young performers run around the space with no inhibitions. I started thinking about the evolution of our relationship to fear and how the acronym of the word is much more prevalent in our adult lives. Sitting at my desk writing this, I looked up at a picture which has been hanging on my wall for years and I forgot its significance. It was taken the day I “learned” to hold my breath in a swim class. I remember interrogating my teacher about how to hold your breath, because I didn’t believe it was a real thing … that people could actually do it … I was very suspicious and … terrified! What happened next was probably a gross exaggeration in my childhood mind but I remember the teacher shoving me underwater; suddenly with both hands, and with strength of a … uh … a … Water Buffalo (I think they’re strong). This picture was taken at that exact moment. I keep it above my desk to remind me that fear is false evidence appearing real, and it’s pretty awesome how I’ve been proving this to myself for years.

It’s not too late to talk New Year’s Resolutions.  This year I decided to take a different approach.  In years past I’d make mental lists of what not to do, how I was going to make this year better by abandoning bad habits.  My New Year’s week, the week after the 1st, would be chock-full with reminders to myself strewn on various scraps of paper in my planner, on my desk, and on my fridge about what not to do.  This year I will not over eat.  This year I will not procrastinate.   This year I will not dwell on the past.  I realize that it would be much more effective to modify the negative language and instead say, this year I will eat healthy.  This year I will meet deadlines.  This year I will live in the moment, etc. But what I realized this New Years is that I am tired of making the same resolutions year after year, positive or negative.  I’m Fed up telling myself not to do things or to resolve to be different than I naturally am today.  So . . . no resolutions this year.  I’ve just too decided to be exactly where I am, doing exactly what it occurs to me to do.  I hope this year you can cut yourself a break too.  But if you still feel compelled to make a list for yourself of how you want to make this year different than the last, why don’t you take a page from fashion legend Diana Vreeland.  Diana wrote a column called Why Don’t You? for Harper’s Bazaar in the 1940’s in which she pontificated on fashion and style.  In each column she would make outrageous suggestions trying to inspire readers in original ways to introduce new bursts of life in to their home and heart.  Diana wrote things like why don’t you . . .

. . . use a gigantic shell instead of a bucket to ice your champagne?

. . . have a yellow satin bed entirely quilted in butterflies?

. . . tie an enormous bunch of silver balloons on the foot of your child’s bed

. . . paint a map of the world on all four walls of your boys’ nursery so they won’t grow up with a provincial point of view?

. . . have a private staircase from your bedroom to the library with a needlework carpet with notes of music worked on each step — the whole spelling your favorite tune?

Why don't you?Why not approach this year with a kind of spontaneous exciting randomness like Diana?  Don’t make lists or private promises of how you are not going to waste time and make the same mistakes as last year.  Why not set out to waste time in fantastic ways and make bigger and better mistakes.  Why don’t you spend an entire day finger painting on old t-shirts?  Why don’t you throw a dance party and only invite one other person?  Why don’t you sing?  Why don’t you work on a role that you are not at all right for?  Why don’t you show up at a casting office that says NO DROP OFFS with your headshot? Or call an office that says PLEASE NO PHONE CALLS?  Why don’t you illicit change by actually changing?  Got any other “why don’t you?”s


In this business, they say, it’s all about who you know.  This is a fact according to countless industry publications, blogs, books, marketing seminars, agents, casting directors, friends, parents, etc. etc.  As a self-proclaimed/self- inflicted lifelong sufferer of chronic social anxiety, I find this fact to be more than a bit disheartening at times.  I’ve always thought the world was divided into two types of people: those who were shy, and those who weren’t.  From a very young age I felt I fell in to the “shy” category always feeling out of place in a room full of people; first at birthday parties, family reunions, and summer camp as a kid.  Then as I grew older I felt equally anxious at high-school dances, and college parties, and now as an adult, at work parties and networking functions. It has always brought me comfort to read an interview and discover that shyness and social anxiety inflicts some of my favorite actors including fellow alumni Gene Wilder.  I once heard him talk at the 92nd Street Y in New York where he said “In front of a thousand people on-stage, I’m fine, but at a dinner party I want to hide.”  A couple of times a year (I’m embarrassed to admit) I find myself binging at the self-help section of the nearest bookstore  loading up on any and every book written on confidence building.  I remember reading Larry King’s book on the art of the conversation which taught me to always ask questions.  When there is a lull in the conversation, ask a question.   This tactic worked for me for quite some time until eventually conversations progressed and I would find myself on the receiving end of a question and would freeze.  These skills are important for us actors to hone.  We have to be able to show interest towards someone else’s work and be able to talk about our own work in a confident and articulate manner.  These skills are even more vital in today’s industry where the pool of actors is large and always growing.  This is why many career coaches advocate a marketing approach that involves creating a network of fellow artists; actors, writers, directors, filmmakers; people who are making the movies not only sitting behind the casting table.  It is important to go to networking events; films, film festivals, plays, talk-backs, Q & A’s and talk to people; participate in the panel discussions, strike up conversations.  Now I am sure that none of this is news to any of you and you are all probably already actively networking.  I just learned of a trick however that fellow introverts might find helpful at these said industry events.  Get a Wingman.  Sometimes you may lack the courage to approach someone.  Your wingman will give you a shove.  Sometimes your nerves will get the best of you and you suddenly go blank in a conversation.  Your wingman will jump in and try to revive it.  Sometimes you may find yourself in a conversation that isn’t going as planned but you don’t know how to end it.  Your wingman can be there to offer you a graceful way out.  A wingman is someone who supports you, brings out the best in you, makes you feel relaxed, gives you a push when you need it, and saves you when you need saving.

While networking at a film festival recently, my Mother became my wingman.  We had just watched a film that we were both particularly moved by.  When the lights went up and the panel discussion began I immediately came up with a comment/question that I wanted to ask the writer/director.  I sat in my chair silently formulating my question. My heart rate accelerated.  My temperature rose.  That ever-familiar lump in my throat tried to lodge itself in my airway.  I began the oh-so-familiar inner battle that went like this,

“Raise your hand you idiot!”

“No your comment isn’t interesting!  You will sound like a fool.”

“If you can’t do this, what makes you think you can be an actor?”

“If the comment was smart, I would raise my hand, but it isn’t,” and on the battle went as the winner emerged from the rubble.  In my silent despair I wondered why I am like this.  Why do I get so nervous and waste so much time? While I was busy arguing with myself, the mediator ended the Q & A and I exited the theatre, head bowed in defeat, wingman in tow.  The intervention began like this,

“Dammit Mom, I had something really interesting to ask.”

“Well why didn’t you ask it then?” I detected a bit of laughter in her voice which I took as a sign of empathy.  I sighed out,

“I don’t know.  I got nervous,” and shrugged.  She smiled coolly and asked what my question was and as I told her, her eyes got wide and she started to nod in agreement.  Not only was it a great question but now I had her wondering as to the answer too.

“Well there’s the filmmaker,” she pointed across the room.   I only managed to shake my head once and barely got out the n-sound in the word no, when she grabbed my hand and practically dragged me over to him, tapped him on the shoulder, and switched places with me shoving me right under the director’s nose as he turned to respond to her tap.  And before I knew it, there I was asking my question as if the whole build up had never even happened.  My Mother acting in the role of my Wingman helped me break the ice (so to speak), and pushed me to do something which at first had terrified me.  This experience taught me that a) I am articulate and interesting, b) my Mom rocks.  Maybe your wingman isn’t your mom; maybe it’s your significant other; maybe it’s a best friend; maybe a fellow actor from a class, doesn’t matter.  Just get one.  Trust me, it helps.


An actor lives a life of dualities.  When it comes to a rehearsal process, these dualities are three-fold.  1) The actor and the character; on stage we create characters who may or may not have any living similarity to our own innate character.  While some character’s seem to “make sense” to us at the on-set, others require time and work to understand.  2) The character’s inner world vs. outer world; as in life, characters on-stage have a public persona (the way they interact with the outside world) and a private persona (their internal life motivated by their own secret desires).  Ellen Barkin said “Acting is a giving away of one’s secrets.”  It is our job to find out what the character’s secrets are and slowly let them trickle out into the stream of the story.  And 3) in the rehearsal room, the separation of the personal from the professional; every rehearsal space is filled with little (or big) artistic schisms and such discord is to be expected, in (what needs to be) such a collaborative space.  Often times the actor has to balance the duality of appeasing their director while staying true to what their own inner artist is trying to express.  Balancing these three dualities in the rehearsal space isn’t always an easy task and every rehearsal is a great opportunity to practice what doesn’t come easily.  Here are some thoughts I had in my most recent rehearsal process in an attempt to find and maintain my own balance.


In the beginning of rehearsal, while you’re still in the early stages of exploring who your character is (i.e.: his/her background, desires, thoughts, flaws and motivations)… stay open.  Allow for movement and change.  If you set an idea in stone it will be harder to make new discoveries as you go through the rest of the rehearsal process.

Do not bring your own personal baggage in to a rehearsal, or leave the rehearsal with the character’s baggage.  It is your job to show up 100%.  Everyone has personal tragedies, disasters, or at the very least stresses in their day-to-day.  Leave them at the door.  The best and most consistent way to do this is to show up early with plenty of time to warm up, meditate, and get in to a neutral mind and body.  Don’t skip this part of rehearsal.  You have to start from a place of neutrality.


My character in “The Rover” had a very different public and private persona.  In Public, she was an obedient daughter and sister of a staunch Catholic Family in 17th Century Spain.  In Private, she was a rebel and mastermind of a plan for her and her sisters to escape their home, in search of the free and debaucherous lives of gypsies at Carnival time.  The play “gets good” when the Private and Public worlds collide because the stakes of the play depend on this clash.  It was my job to create this multi-dimensional character so that the audience understands and connects with what is at stake.  In order to do that, I had to dig deep and do the work.  Usually this requires a commitment to work outside of rehearsal as well.  For me it starts with script analysis first.  Sometimes I find it helpful to color code my script.  Pick one color for Private persona and one for Public and mark in the script when and where I think each one is operating


Actors don’t always agree with their directors.  I have seen fellow actors storm out of rehearsal room and rebel in all kinds of ways.  I remember in high school an actress that performed with me in Tina Howe’s “Museum” had decided on opening night that her character needed to be pregnant.  When she approached the director with her idea it was, of course, immediately shot down; A) It was opening night and B) we were, after all, in high school.  The actress decided to go on anyway with a pillow stuffed under her shirt aka Fanny Brice in “Funny Girl.”  Funny?  Yes.  Professional?  No.  Of course being in high school the consequences were small, but certainly the anecdote holds true in a professional setting.  Be a rebel, but don’t rebel.  In other words, have a mind of your   own, but don’t disregard your director’s.  Find ways to insert your own ideas into your performance without a complete disregard of the way you’ve been directed.  During my   most recent rehearsal experience I saw an actor walk out on a rehearsal during a heated discussion on the meaning of a line.  Do not take up rehearsal time arguing with your director or walking out on them.  Both behaviors are beyond unprofessional and discourteous to the rest of the artists you are working with.  Don’t be a stick-in the-mud.  Listen to your director.  Try their suggestion first and with all your focus and heart (don’t half-ass it).  If it doesn’t work, trust that your director will see it and move you in another direction (maybe even your own).  The bottom line is, you were hired for a job.  If you don’t want to do it, you can always quit, but I’m of the mind that it rarely needs to come to that.

In closing here are my Top 10 Rehearsal Do’s & Don’ts.  Hope you find them helpful.  They work for me. If you want … you could copy and paste them into a word document, print them out, and tape them to the inside cover of your rehearsal binder or script.  I did! Please share any more that you, my fellow actors, come up with.  I would love to hear about your own rehearsal schisms and ways you meet the challenges of balancing so many dualities.  Have a great rehearsal!













Having been living in England for quite some time now, I feel some strange obligation to spout some historical facts about this fair city I now call home.  Historically, Bristol, England was one of the leading manufacturers of mustard gas during the First World War.  A huge factory was set up in Bristol manufacturing the chemical weapon and as a result parts of Bristol became toxic; terrible smells hung over the neighborhood; locals were banned from picking fruit; and workers of the factory were struck down by a series of horrible afflictions.  Interestingly enough, during the same time, Bristol, England was also one of the leading manufacturers of chocolate. In 1847 at the Fry’s chocolate factory on Union Street in Bristol, the first ever chocolate bar suitable for widespread consumption was molded.  Near the start of World War I, while on one side of the city Bristolians were hard at work manufacturing mustard gas, on the other side, the largest employers in Bristol were making chocolate.  And so it seems, as in the case of Bristol during the First World War, good and bad can simultaneously arise out of any climate and situation.

And now for a gear-switch and an attempt to draw a connection from history to present day, here is what happened to me recently:  While rehearsing in Bristol, I had the pleasure, and I do not say pleasure in a sarcastic or ironic way, of working with a “difficult” director. We all have worked with people with whom we don’t agree.  It’s a normal part of any professional environment (and very common as an actor) to encounter these kinds of . . . (searching for a PC way to put it) . . . professional “challenges.”  But at the end of the day what this “difficult” director taught me was much more than I could’ve imagined.  Even though I considered this particular working environment to be, in some ways, toxic, I still felt joyful to be in a rehearsal and to be acting at all.  At the end of the day what mattered most was that I was where I wanted to be, doing what I wanted to be doing, even if at times it seemed difficult.  When you love what you do you can always hold on to the good in a “bad” situation.

And now for a seemingly relevant anecdote: I heard a story once about someone who worked with the Chicago Bears Football Team. This person decided to go in to the office to work on the weekend. When he got there he saw the owner, George Halas who was in his eighties, sitting in his office. The man asked, “George, what are you doing here working on the weekend?” George merely replied, “It’s only work if there’s someplace else you’d rather be.”


Creative blocks feel the same regardless of the medium.  Although I have come to regard blocks as a necessary part of the creative process, the amount of frustration that I feel when one crops-up, has not gotten the slightest bit easier to handle over the years.  Blocks are always accompanied by a mild strain of amnesia.  When you’ve found yourself hitting a wall, it feels as if this paralysis of imagination and creative thought is a completely new experience. And, as the terror sets in, you can’t imagine how you will get past it.  The miraculous unflinching truth is . . . you always do get past it.  I’ve gotten past every creative block I’ve ever had one way or another.  In short . . . here is my most recent one and the tale of how I got past it.

It reared its ugly head a few weeks ago when rehearsing Nina in Chekhov’s ‘The Seagull.’  The rehearsal process was quick and it wasn’t long before we were on our feet.  And that’s when it happened: right away, at my entrance, the first time Nina comes on to the stage.  When a character first appears on stage it’s an extremely important moment.  The audience will size them up in lightning speed, the same way we decide what we think about a person within ten seconds of meeting them in real life.  And so, an entrance on stage is crucial in the telling of the story.  Every nuance has to be accounted for; the pace with which they walk, run, crawl on to the stage; how long it takes for them to speak; whether they address people directly, or whether they stand “unnoticed” in the world of the play for some time.  Everything is important.

For those of you who don’t know Nina . . . she is a ball of energy.  She runs onto the stage in hysterics for fear that she will miss a play that she is meant to be acting in, on a night that she thinks will change her life forever.   It’s like if Cinderella actually did miss the ball, or Annie never did meet Daddy Warbucks, or Harry Potter never found the last horcrux.  (Sorry strange examples . . . the blog- block-battle continues . . . moving on.)  When Nina enters, in the span of only a few seconds, she runs the gamut of emotions; from terror to joy; from crying to laughing.  As an actor the job that I faced in making my entrance as Nina in Act One was, likewise, both exciting and terrifying.  Through the course of working on Her I had various ways and methods of getting to that level of high-stakes that the role demands.  Sometimes it worked beautifully and sometimes it was  . . . well . . . a total block.  But the whole time that I worked on the play, what really stuck with me was what my Director said (and it was this that eventually got me past this particular creative block).

The first time I attempted the entrance in Act One it was pushed, stale, and ungrounded.  The Director watched me, and then paused.  He thought a moment and then simply said this:  “You, the actor, have to come in hitting the ground running.”  That was it.  That was all he said.  And it was all I needed to hear.

When I felt blocked I thought of this and used it as a kind of mantra for myself.  What it means to me is this:  JUST GO FOR IT.  Most of our blocks come from a fear of getting it wrong or not being “good.”  But 99.99% of the time if you just go for it and trust yourself, it will be good, maybe even brilliant.  I’ve been musing over this idea/imagery of hitting the ground running and have been applying it to not just all my creative endeavors since, but almost everything, and it has had a profoundly positive effect on my life.  When I went for a cite-reading audition last week I applied it.  I made a strong choice and I went for it.  It was one of my best auditions yet.  I now try to bring in a burst of energy and enthusiasm to everything I do; auditions, introducing myself to a casting agent, even ordering a cup of coffee at a café: NO HESITATION.  When you hit the ground running you are showing up 110%.  You are not afraid or apologetic, and are ready to face any blocks that crop up and slow you down along the way.  If you’re at a business meeting, an audition, at the gym, cleaning your apt, anywhere doing anything . . . try hitting the ground running and see if things suddenly start seeming just a little bit easier.  Blog-block? … Case in point!


As an actor there are certain characters that are held sacred. For an actress, heroines like Lady Macbeth, Phaedra, Cordelia, and Hippolyta (the list goes on) are parts considered to be the Mount Everest of acting roles. There is something about these protagonists that seem to be almost unattainable at least not until you are much older, much more skilled. You have to train and win them like they’re Olympic Gold. And even if you get cast in one of these roles and suppose yourself to be ready and credible, panic will (at some point in the rehearsal) inevitably set in: “Am I equipped? Can I actually do the part justice? Will I be able to breathe new life into these juggernauts in a way that the amazing actress before me hasn’t already?” Of course there are going to be days when the answer is, “Yes, of course, I can,” maybe followed by an inaudibly low and defensive voice arguing, “Why couldn’t I?” And then there will be days when you think, “There is no way I can infuse any originality, or newness in to these oh so very famous parts . . . How could I?!” The fact is, these heroines are so well-known in the theatrical cannon that it’s inevitable that people come to see your version with a certain amount of expectation attached; People are familiar with the Judi Dench’s, the Sarah Bernhardt’s and the Nell Gwyn’s who made careers out of playing these famous roles. I think it’s unfortunate that we actresses sometimes feel that because these parts are so famous and possibly overdone, we shouldn’t even make an attempt. Of course it doesn’t help that for this reason, so often for an audition; there are specific speeches that are “off limits.” On most graduate MFA programs or Summer-stock auditions the requirements will read, “Please prepare one classical speech, but please NO VIOLA’S RING SPEECH.” Often times we shy-away from these roles or end up waiting thinking, “I am not old enough or ready to play Lady M, and so I’ll wait.” But what if you miss your chance? Imagine my surprise (and terror) when I recently got cast as Juliet in my training program at The Old Vic Theatre School. Before I left New York I had decided that my chances of ever playing Her were slim-to-none; I’m getting older, I’m too cynical no longer youthful enough in spirit. And I accepted my reality that I may never play Juliet outside my apartment, and for anyone other than my Mom, boyfriend, or cat. And NOW I found myself in a room with a group of actors and a director staring down at some highlighted words on page reading, “Romeo Romeo wherefor art thou Romeo . . .” With a rather massive lump in my throat and a tightness in my chest I sat around a circle for a table read and thought . . . “How am I going to do this?”
One thing that I really like about the English approach to theatre training is that they don’t put the same sacred stamp on these roles like we seem to do in the states. They train actors to feel that, not only are we entitled to a Go, but it is our duty as actors to strive for the summit as many times and as often as we can. The mentality is: These are great roles, great speeches, and if you want to be a great actress, then you have to work them at any age and skill-level. I came to realize during my rehearsal process that the only way to tackle Juliet is to dive in and get out of a comparative mindset; to take a massive bite out of her and begin to chew (even if I start to choke). You have to focus on one line at a time. Not long into the rehearsal process I had managed to truly convince myself that I was the only person to ever have experienced what Juliet experiences. I went through my script word-by-word and really contemplated the meaning of each thought. I found how each thought leads in to the next one. I found the journey. I personalized it and made it my own. I focused a lot on the magic “What if?” What if Romeo’s love really is honorable? What if we could get our parent’s blessings? What if my letter reaches him on time and he knows my plans? What if we get our happily ever after? When you focus on the “What if,” the playing of it becomes fresh and personal. What seemed sanctified and inaccessible became mine and no one else’s. The feedback I got reflected just that. I was original. I made someone hear the lines for the first time and in a new way. What I learned from this experience is not to put any of these roles in a trophy case behind glass to worship and wait for the day that you’re good enough to take them out. Don’t wait to be good, worthy, or older to play these classic and wonderful parts. Don’t wait to be cast in them either. Play with them on your own. Now certainly if you decide to audition for the MFA program at NYU, you might want to avoid Viola’s ring speech, but don’t let that stop you from working on it on your own. And most importantly don’t fall into a comparative mindset. While at the National Portrait Gallery in London I mused over the exhibit “The First Actresses.” I stared at portraits of Nell Gwyn, Sarah Siddons, Mary Robinson, and Hester Booth in portraitures of their famous portrayals of these roles . . . And after a while I could see no difference between them and me other than the high-hair and corsets.