Acting & Experiences, Life in General, New Novels, writing

Hiding Behind the Real Me.

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The lady behind the ARC’s of Invisible Ellen

So…last Wednesday, I’m booked to do a radio show. It’s been set up by the Putnum publicity department in NY, and communicated to me by email. The show, “Connie Martinson Talks Books” is ‘taping’ in Santa Monica at 11:00 and she’s featuring me and “Invisible Ellen.” So, I put on some jeans and a comfortable, very wrinkled shirt, throw on some mascara at the last minute, (I hate makeup, but I don’t want to offend anyone) and make the drive. Parking is tricky, and I go the wrong way, and have to run back to make it to the studio on time. I rush in, sweaty now, and look around.

Cameras. In the back of my mind, a little buzzer is going off, Not Radio. Television.

I look down at my wrinkled shirt and almost clean jeans, realize I’m pale and shiny, will be totally washed out by the lights, my hair is frizzy and snatched back with a plastic clip, and all I can think is…. Perfect. As I’ve said, I’m an everyday philosopher, meaning that I say, ‘Oh well,’ a lot. And this one has an exclamation point at the end.

Oprah has her “Aha” moments. I have my ‘Oh Well’ moments. So I get miked up for sound, sit in the hot seat, chat with Connie, who, it turns out, shares an ice skating past in Lake Placid with me, (small world) and then we roll. We have a delightful thirty-minute conversation about my new book. She’s so complementary, has me read a page, ‘to show how well-written it is’ which is delightfully flattering, and then asks me to sign a book for her at the end.

I couldn’t be happier. After years of soaps and movies and modeling, to appear on a TV show where nobody gives a crap how I look, but is interested in how and what I write, is a major milestone for me. Not because of my attitude. I have always preferred to not wear makeup and be liked, or disliked as the case has often been, for who I am. I have spent a life time with idiot men telling me I was “smart for a women” and thinking it was compliment when I was twice as smart as them. And too much time dealing with and diffusing  women  feeling competitive with me because of how I looked. Insanity. Unworthy. Ridiculous.

We count as people. Our actions must speak louder than the surface. They don’t call me Shari Action for nothing. If something needs to get done, I’m usually the first to pitch in. Be it as a mom at school, or my charity, or speaking up for someone who can’t, I’ve just never been able to stop myself.

So much for that. But there is more to this story. As soon as I saw her, I realized that I had been on Connie’s show once before, years ago, and thank goodness, she did not remember either. It was for my third book, “The Man She Thought She Knew,” and the only reason Connie had me on was that she was friends with the publicist. I answered her incorrectly when she asked about a character, telling her that they weren’t in this book, (wrong) thanked her at the end of the show by calling her Colleen, and she definitely didn’t ask me to read from the book. Shhhh. So when she asked me this time, before filming, if this was my first book, I answered, “No I have two series, one is a woman named Calla-….uh, it’s a crime series.” Cutting myself off because I’m embarrassed that the light will dawn and the flattering, soft-filtered veil will fall.

It always does, eventually of course, but sometimes we find a few moments of forgiving grace. Yep I’ve got a past, and it’s back there,but as one friends said to me, “That’s what pasts are for.” We don’t need to wear our learning curves, but we can use them for traction.

‘Oh well’, and ‘Aha!’ They make a good combo, and both are welcome in my life now. I wouldn’t be here if it weren’t for those other moments, those mistakes, those embarrassing scenes, those times I fell on my butt on the ice in front of twenty thousand people. But you know what? I’m glad I did. I lived to tell the tale, as it were. And most likely, as it shall be.

So embrace your fundamental imperfections. Be human, let the wrinkles on your shirt and your face show. You earned them. And if, in spite of all that, you can hold up your book—or better yet, your life—and be proud, then you are a success.

In my case, it’s a success with some pretty scathing memories behind it. That’s me, Shari Action. If my life were a race, I’d look back and see lots of hurdles laying on their sides where they were knocked when I didn’t quite clear them. Look closer and you’ll see my cartoon outline in the brick walls I sped into and crashed through. You’ll see the indents where I gave up for a while and curled into a ball to rest.

The more I think about it, the more I think that the word ‘imperfect’ describes me best. It describes us all.

And isn’t that wonderful?

Shari, June 19th, 2014

Acting & Experiences, creating character, family, Life in General, writing

I’m Write and You’re Wrong.

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Backstage at “Much Ado About Nothing” with three women who are terrific friends.

As the publication date of “Invisible Ellen” looms ever nearer, and the premier screening of “Scream at the Devil” is less than two weeks away, I find my focus turning to two things, reworking the book’s sequel, “Emerging Ellen,” and making time for my neglected friends.

I’ve been in a work frenzy for the last year, and I have a rather large family, who must, by needs, often come before friends. But now I find myself longing for that simple shared laughter and warm support that only a long time friend can offer. And friends, I realize, could sometimes benefit from some attention from me!

As for the new book, I am doing something I’ve never done before, (though that, in itself, seems to be a theme in my life!) I am removing one complete story line and replacing it with another. Not because I don’t like it, not because it doesn’t have it’s value, heart and excitement, but because I think I’ve gone one plot point too far, and I want to spend the wordage on the building of character.

Sound familiar? They are both the same thing, aren’t they? I could continue to focus on work—which is to say, plot, story, complexities, etc—or I can balance it with time spent with friends—character, laughter, tears, and the arc of developing relationships. As always, I choose both, but my focus, and therefor my time, will be split more evenly.

There’s no right or wrong way to live your life, there’s no ‘supposed to’ or ‘rules,’ there is only what you can do with the strength and passion you have. There are only the choices you make. Do you spend your time seeking ‘success’? Money? Fame? Or do you give to family until there’s nothing left for you? Do you know that there’s a place in between? For us all, there are times, times of great sadness or stress, when we have nothing left to give, and that is when, hopefully, we can turn to others, for a little while, to cast the net that keeps us from falling. And sometimes, we are the ones who need to ‘spot’ our friends, to catch them when they fall.

One good friend just had a baby. She was not trying to get pregnant, did not particularly want children, but it happened and she embraced it, but now finds herself overwhelmed. She said to me, “I don’t really know who I am right now.” Everything in her life is being redefined. I will do what I can to be there for her, to take the baby for a few hours so that she can breathe and remember who she is. I will take her for walks in pretty places so that she not only remembers who she is, but also discovers the magnificent new person she is becoming. And I will devote some of my attention to lauding her for the strength it takes.

I have another friend whose husband passed away a month ago. He drank himself to death, and in the process of his destructive behavior, he left her in a legal and emotional battlefield which she must now face alone, deserted by him. I cannot bury my face in my computer and ignore her pain and need. I might not be able to fix all that, but I can remind her of her grace and class, buoy her up to face the legion of lawyers and the nightmare of uncovering the depth of her husband’s betrayal. I will talk to her as often as I can, I will take a day off to visit a museum with her and remind her that life is bigger, that there is more, that the future holds beauty.

These things take time and energy to do well. That time and energy will come from other areas of my life that will have to slip from fevered pitch to low idling hum. But I feel lucky all the same.

What more can we do? I cannot live others lives for them, they must do that, I am only a character in their story. Writing a book, I can change the story, I can effect the change that brings about the ending as I want it to be, and I truly believe that it is the same in life. We create our friendships and relationships in a different way, and to a different degree, but we can rewrite our story, we can be a strong supporting cast in the dramas that belong to others. And this, we must do, not because it’s the ‘right’ thing to do, but because it makes us complete.

I decided long ago, or perhaps ‘realized’ is more the mot juste, that I need balance to make a real life and be happy. Success to me, equals happiness, not fame or money, or the envy of others. I needed something besides the pursuit of stardom and big houses, that is to say, the things that other people tend to envy. What I needed was to contribute sometimes, and sit back and revel other times, in sunlight on leaves, on the victories of others. What use is a life lived only for how it appears to others? The greatest danger there, in this world of social media and constant exposure, is that people invent themselves to look good to others… and then they begin to believe it. And then they can’t live without that approval and admiration, because they have nothing else.

It reminds me of Michael Caine, when we were working on “On Deadly Ground.” We were sitting in the makeup trailer and I was laughing about a story I had read about myself in an Italian rag magazine that stated that I had been institutionalized for mental illness, overwrought with jealousy. I said, “It’s crazy, the Italians just make stuff up and print it!”

And Michael leaned around his makeup artist and said in that charming cockney accent, “The Italians have got nothing on the British. In England, they make it up…and then they prove it!” We laughed about it.

So, make up your own story, but live it honestly, and make the story about you, not about someone else. Do it for you, not for what you think others see. Give because it makes you better, spend time supporting and cheering for your friends, and even strangers, because it fills your heart and reminds you that we are connected and that without that connection, we are unfulfilled and no trip to the mall, no McMansion will ever fill that frightening void of separation. Remember only this, other’s lives belong to them, yours to you. Own it, fill it, live it, share it, and do it for love and joy.

Write your own story, so that when you read it back, you smile.

 

Shari April 23, 2014

Acting & Experiences, creating character, Entertainment, writing

Walking on Water.

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So, you want to write a book or make a film? Welcome to two of the world’s most popular clubs! We’re so pleased to have you as a member!! Ours is an inclusive club, one where the process means as much as the result. Where the novices are every bit as respected as the ‘successful.’ Are you ready?

Did you know that water represents the subconscious in your dreams, and in this blog, by the way.

If you just want to be famous, well, that’s a different organization. Not much value in the process there. I do not belong. You will pay dues for this club as well, make no mistake, though the monthly newsletter, “Pay Attention to Me!” is unreadable for anyone with creative aspirations. But, I digress.

There are two perspectives on ‘creative success’, at least two. The first is how we define ourselves to others, and the second is what brings us contentment.

So, if you are just starting out in…say filmmaking, you will probably be more focused on the world view of you, being recognized and lauded. Outward gratification. If you’ve been in the business for 30 years, you are more likely in a position to pursue projects that truly mean something to you, you may have more freedom to express your uniquely creative voice and not care as much how the world will perceive it. Inward gratification.

Ironically, perhaps, it is almost always those pure expressions and visions from the inside that strike us as an audience with the most force, and go on to stand as classics or examples of the highest quality.

If you want to make a film, write a novel or a screenplay, produce a play, or any number of other creative projects, what’s the first place to start?

Precisely because you are starting out, the tendency is to look out. What is popular? What will people like?  What will make me look good?

Whoa, put on the breaks, screech to halt, back up and let the engine idle for a minute. If it were possible to  know any of those things, every single book, film, play, and song would be a smash best-seller.

But they aren’t. Mmm…it’s a mystery.

I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again. All you have to offer is you. The only thing that you can give—that no one else has to offer—is your voice, your vision, your work. Trying to reproduce someone else’s style, art, or visual expression will only create a cheap, and most likely inferior, imitation.

Obvious, right? So, how do you begin? Some of the best advice I ever got when I was first writing was, “Write what you would like to read.” Frankly, I didn’t have the skill to write what I truly loved at first, because I loved some of the very, very best. A good goal, but a difficult place to begin. So. As a warm-up, I chose to write what I loved on a lighter, entertaining level. My first books are designed and written to be fast-paced, exciting, funny, and page-turners with complex characters.

Now, what I want to write is different, I want it be original. I want to get into the brain of my characters and share their lives, thoughts and feelings, their very unique view of the world with you. And I want to do it with language that speaks beyond the definition of the word. I want to write mountains and tantrums and storm clouds and fits of laughter. I want to express the embracing arms of your own bed after a difficult day, the screaming inside when a bully gets away with it, a feather caught in an updraft.

So what is your goal? What do you want to read, see, hear? And more than that, how do you want to say it? I’ve offered exercises for writers, on starting characters, scenes and stories in different blogs, and some of them really work for me. Just scroll through my past blogs and you will find them.

Screenwriting/filmmaking is a different beast by nature of outlay. By that I mean both monetary expense and group participation. You need equipment to make a film, you need a crew, you need to feed that crew, you need to rent expensive editing facilities and experts in color correction, the list goes on and on. And, you may have a very clear vision of the shots you want and how to put them together, but you will still have a director of photography and an editor with brains and visions of their own. To ignore their contributions would be wasteful. Qualifier— though there must, on any film, be someone with final say. Too many cooks…. But be careful, very careful, not to let your ego deprive you of what your team has to offer.

You begin the film process by  writing—or finding—a script that resonates somehow for you, something that offers, maybe not a new or unique story, but at least a unique point of view. Next, you interview people until you find the ones who understand your vision and will support and add to it. That’s how you begin the long road of film production. And when you find those people, keep them close, pay them fairly, let them contribute, and  give them the credit they deserve. Conversely, if they moan, complain, talk behind your back, or otherwise hamper the overall production, cut them loose—with blessings. Just like in your life.

Both the arts of writing and filmmaking begin with a vision, one that should be your own, not a compilation of other’s people’s ideas. Learn from, borrow suggestions, and practice examples of the greats in your chosen field that you admire, of course!! If it weren’t for Tom Robbins, P.G. Wodehouse, and Jane Austin, I wouldn’t be a writer, because I wouldn’t love books and words so much. But I can’t be them, I can’t write them, I can only admire and gently reflect some of the things I learned from them.

Study your favorite filmmakers, directors, photographers, writers, set designers, and include them all!! Of course.

Then let it go and see what bubbles up. The ideas are there,  as is all your attention and research, under the water you’ve peered into so intently, but you need to be above that, walking on the water. You are an amazing creative force, the Great Spirit, (however you define that, Creativity, the Universe, or that somewhat polymorphic entity, ‘God’) made you unique and it is your journey. If you choose a creative life, your path is to unleash your power and your talent. So that we can all revel in it, and thank you for sharing it with us.

It’s all there, just below the surface, trust it, swim in it, and let it hold you up.

Shari, October 20th, 2012.

Acting & Experiences, Life in General, mental illness

The Now on which the Shadow Stands.

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Loving life…all of it!!

This is one of my favorite quotations. As far as I  know the author is anonymous, and this poem is inscribed on the base of a sun dial at a University.

The shadow by my finger cast
Divides the future from the past:
Before it, sleeps the unborn hour, 
In darkness, and beyond thy power.
Behind its unreturning line, 
The vanished hour, no longer thine:
One hour alone is in thy hands,-
The NOW on which the shadow stands.

The reason I’m sharing this today is that I’ve had a sort of time warp jump illustrated to me in my life, perhaps in a way, a very external one, that few people will experience.

It’s been over ten years since I’ve done a film or TV. I have no regrets.  I’m so glad I took the time to be with my girls, and there’s no question that the theatre I did in that time has made me twice the actress I was before, but what an interesting thing to see myself on film again with a decade jump.

Now, forty to fifty is a big leap, and Scream at the Devil is far from a Vanity piece. You don’t play a woman tortured by schizophrenia with full make up and fake eyelashes. Not if you want any kind of reality, and I certainly did. Actually, I’m fifty-two now, so call it a dozen years. And I look different. I’m in good shape, but I have cellulite, and a few more pounds. I have the same cheekbones, but the skin is a big looser around my mouth. My eyes crinkle when I smile, and let’s face it, extreme emotion is seldom physically flattering.

And I’m all right with that. Of course, editing is a strange process, you can, and often have to, change the tempo of scenes, choose shots that make the scene work or fit into the other actor’s improvised lines, it’s not anything like choosing the best still photos from your vacation or head shot shoot. What I’m hoping for here is a performance that moves those who see it, and that honors the suffering of those affected by crushing mental illness and chemical imbalance.

I know, though I don’t care all that much, that people will judge my appearance in this film, and compare it to my much younger self. Why? I don’t know. I suppose as actors and performers and even as a people, we have allowed judgement of physicality and age to so infect our perceptions that even the judged have bought into it.

Big mistake. And here’s why. I don’t care how young you are, how beautiful, how sexy, or how much you place your self-value in those traits, you will age. And I wish for you the same joy in it that I have found.

I’ve never been happier, or felt more beautiful. It makes me so sad when I see women who are in their fifties still trying to sell themselves as ‘sexy.’ Not that they aren’t, of course, they are, but it’s a different sexy, it’s a confident, feeling sexual and contented on the inside instead of counting on others feeling that you are what you want to be.

Does that make sense? Once when I was in an intensive scene study class, a very attractive blonde young actress was struggling to do a scene from “Cat on a Hot Tin Roof,” and the coach was trying to get her to embrace Maggie’s sultry, seething sexuality, but she just coudn’t. Finally I said, “I can help her!”

David, the coach, looked at me and said, “Fine, Shari Shattuck wants to tell someone how to play sexy. Please, yes, be my guest.”

Instead of speaking up in front of everyone, I left my seat, went down to the stage and whispered in her ear, “It’s not about ‘acting’ sexy, it’s about feeling turned on, feeling sexual.”

She nodded, started the scene again and virtually slithered over furniture and the actor playing Brick like a cat in heat.

David turned to me and said, “What the f*ck did you say?”

I just winked at the actress and said, “It’s a secret.”

But it’s not, or it shouldn’t be. Ladies, gentlemen, embrace your age, be the best you can be, and smile at the fact that the twenty-somethings will get more attention than you. That’s okay, it’s a relief really, to stop being thrown into the arena of physical competition. Don’t let anyone do that to you anymore, and don’t, please, I’m begging you, do it to yourself.

I’m very excited about my life now. I’m calmer and happier, and more fulfilled and focused than ever before. I have as much, maybe more energy than I did in my twenties, I am so much better at dividing my time and knowing what I want and who I want to spend my time with. What a gift!

Take that gift, reach out and grab it. Unwrap it and smile and rejoice. The gift of now, the culmination of all your work, realizations, epiphanies, emotional growth, and wisdom.

Who could ask for anything more?

With love and contentment,

Shari. June 30th, 2013.

Acting & Experiences, Entertainment, Life in General, New Novels, writing

A Legacy of Love.

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The fourth book in the Callaway Wilde series, “Legacy’ will be coming out in ebook soon. This one is a slight departure from the first three books because I break the first person narrative and visit the past. The subject is one in which I am very interested, war crimes during WW11. My uncle was one of the senior officers who was actually present at the surrender of the Germans to the Allied forces in Milan during that fateful war, and he worked for years before that undercover with the Italian resistance. So, much of my information comes from real letters and stories of people who lived it.Though my uncle is gone, his son sent me copies of letters, reports, and files that have been declassified now. The stories they hold, the drama revealed even within the factual, military reporting are inspiring and humbling. My uncle made it through that war unscathed and went on to become a Senator and then an Ambassador, but too many did not. We know this, but when we pay attention to the real stories we are reminded of what our current lifestyle cost, and who paid the price.

Which is why I do not think much of people who take from the world and give nothing back. No matter how talented, wealthy, beautiful or famous. When you go through that door, as our first lady said, you do not slam it behind you. You turn around and help others through.

Writing this book really got me thinking about the people that I admire in my life. While there are certainly actors or musicians whose work I adore, it is the intentions and contributions of people that matter most to me. There are artists who also do a great deal of good in the world, this separates them from the crowd of the self-serving to whom being ‘famous’ is the life goal.

I admire them and others who have made a choice to be of service to someone else. People  like Ileana and Bernie Geestman who founded the Desi Geestman Foundation. I have served on the board of this charity for 13 years and in that time we have assisted the families of children suffering through the cancer journey in so many ways. But what I do is small, it is Ileana and her family who truly perform the mission. To have lost a child, and then dedicate your life to helping others who are fighting that battle takes more strength of character and is far worthier of our admiration than any star of any TV show.

People like the doctors and nurses at City of Hope, where our charity is primarily instrumental. In my years of helping out, I have seen again and again the sheer relief of families when they know that  they have the full support and commitment of so many devoted professionals. There is a place on the grounds of City of Hope, the meditation garden, where the staff sometimes go when the stress and the sadness become overwhelming. And then they go back in. I am in awe of the hugeness of the human spirit in these people. Yet no one will ever write them a fan letter.

And so it was that in my research for this book, I came across stories of so many people, forever unnamed and un-lauded who acted with such bravery and selflessness. All across Italy, including in the Vatican, Catholic priests and nuns hid the hunted Jews, often at the cost of their own lives. How remarkable. This book tells some of those stories.

If I were asked what the most important traits a person could have my answer would be simple: Kindness and Courage. Those two things both compliment and balance each other.

Most of us will never have to face the horrors and heart-rending decisions that even the common citizens faced during that war or many others. We would like to think that we would act with courage and honor, but we don’t really know. I think though, that sometimes it is good to stop and ask yourself, would you help? Or would you save yourself and even, possibly, profit from the suffering of others? And if your own family was starving, could anyone blame you?

These were very real questions in that horrible time, often on a daily basis, but I believe that they are applicable even now. If only we would all reach out a hand, help in one small way, the world would be such a kinder place.

So, I like to remind myself, I always have a choice. Will I spend my life acquiring ‘things’ and glorifying myself? Or will I do what I do for the love of it, and include as many others in my success as possible?

I choose the latter. Here’s  my hand, take it. Now reach back and offer yours. See? We are chain, stronger than we are alone.

Shari, February 3, 2012

Acting & Experiences, creating character, Entertainment, Life in General

How to Survive a Casting Session.

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This shot was taken by the CBS photo studios when I was on Young and Restless.

I spent last weekend, and will next spend next weekend, casting for our movie, Scream at the Devil. The level of talent coming in is amazing, mostly due to Joseph’s weeding out of anyone without fairly serious acting credits, but there are still distinct differences in style and effort.

Some people have memorized the lines, some have costumed for the part, some even bring props. Some are cheerful and complimentary, some are aloof, some are focused to the point of distraction. As actors ourselves we understand that everyone has their process.

Obviously, I’ve been involved in many casting sessions before, mostly on the actors’ side, but I’ve also been on the other side, because of directing theatre and sometimes being the actress who needed to be ‘matched.’ And it’s an eye-opening experience. If there were one thing that I could tell actors about this process it would be this—don’t take it personally.

The second thing would be this—make strong choices. Now you have to understand that 98 percent of the people judging you have absolutely no clue about acting. They have an idea in their head of an imaginary person in the part, and they just want that person to walk in.

Which is why, most of the time, I could tell from the minute I entered the casting office if I had a shot or not. There have definitely been times that I could change that, but they were rare.

What I mean by making choices is that you make choices about the character. How they behave, how they speak, walk, hold themselves, how do they feel? A decent director, or even casting director knows that if an actor comes in with strong choices, and they aren’t the ones they are looking for, most likely that actor can make different choices, and they will ask for an ‘adjustment’ to see if the actor is capable of being directed. They should do this anyway.

If the director doesn’t understand the process, they won’t ask, and all too often, the cold read they got in the audition was a lucky guess and the best they will get on the set, a real actor who has range will only improve.

I remember one audition in particular, where the other ladies were coming out of the audition pissed off. They all said the same thing, “The director didn’t look at me! He was looking down and writing the whole time!” So I went in. The casting director started to read and I didn’t start. She looked up at me in surprise and I was watching the director. Wondering why no one was speaking, he looked up, and I asked, “Are you ready?” as though I had only been being polite. He nodded.

I started the scene and he looked back at his clipboard again. So I got off the chair, onto the floor and crawled across until I was right in front of him, low enough for him to see me, and did the lines from there. It shocked him, and clearly made him uncomfortable.

But he offered me the part, which I refused, because it wasn’t a good enough movie for me to work with a director that had no idea how to respect or work with actors.

I used to look at a script for how good it could be, I learned to read it for how bad it could get. There just aren’t many great directors out there, and people with real creative talent—not to mention good taste—are the exception not the rule.

For our casting sessions, the actors coming in are getting to read with experienced actors, myself and other theatre actors from Joseph’s company who have come in to help out and get the invaluable perspective of being on that other side. And Joseph worked with each person auditioning to give them input and adjustments.

They even get a rehearsal. What? Crazy. Stop it, that can’t be true. You mean I’m not reading with the casting director’s assistant who speaks in the same monotone they use when they do their main job, answering the phone? You could see the relief and gratitude on their faces. It was a treat for them. Whether they get the job or not, they got to act. Fun.

You see usually, you go in, introduce yourself, read the scene one time across from office personnel, and you’re outa’ there, hoping desperately you accidentally did something they liked.

Ultimately, there’s a particular personality and look that needs to be filled, the best performance doesn’t always get the job. And sometimes your two best actors just don’t work as husband and wife, or sisters, or what have you, so you have to go with what services your script.

Don’t take it personally.

But do your homework, be prepared, have a question about the role ready to ask. It just shows professionalism. You might not be right for this role, but the powers that be will remember you as someone they can trust to call in the next time.

And remember this. The people who you are so nervous to see, who you are trying to impress, who you know are judging you, they want you to be good. It’s in their best interest, that’s what they are there for, hour after hour. So take them into your space, audition them. Are they good enough for you? Are they rooting for you?

I haven’t been on many non-acting job interviews, but I’ll bet the procedure is pretty close whether it’s an accounting firm or a retail position. You can’t predict what they want or will hire, but you can be pleasant, prepared, and know that the choice is sometimes random.

So make good choices, enjoy the interview, and walk away. Just like life, be the best you can be, and know that you can’t please everyone and every personality won’t agree with yours, what you say and how you act this morning is different than the way you will feel and act this afternoon. Accept that. The dots that need to connect aren’t always in your control, but if you’re ready, and you work hard, and you stick with it, the numbers will usually come up, eventually.

If it doesn’t, don’t blame yourself, it might not have anything to do with you, so go be brilliant in your next audition or in something else all together. Kiss your kids, bake a cake, volunteer, smile at someone sad, it’s all important, and you never know what will lead to your next big break.

And if that person doesn’t smile back, don’t take it personally, you did your best.

That’s all that matters.

Shari, January 23, 2013.

Acting & Experiences, creating character, Entertainment, Shakespeare

The Insane Reality.

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They say the road to insanity is a lonely one, so why do I need so many people in my head?

Paranoid schizophrenia, the disease that my character in “Scream at the Devil” suffers, is a fascinating, and very frightening form of schizophrenia.

In my research of this disease, I realized very quickly that as laypeople, we often misuse and misunderstand mental illness definitions. A schizophrenic is one who suffers a long-term illness that causes them to loose touch with reality (a psychosis). A Paranoid schizophrenic loses touch with reality and has symptoms that are specific to paranoia.

For instance, two of the traits most often associated with paranoid schizophrenia are—1. hearing voices, and 2. delusions, almost always of a harmful nature.

Not surprising, in our very predominately Eurocentric Christian-American society, the number one voice heard by schizophrenics is Jesus Christ.

The number two is Satan.

So, beside the obvious questions that raises about the mental health of people who insist that they have an inside line to the Almighty, and know better than the rest of us what ‘God’ is thinking, it gives me a starting point.

The voices can be one, or they can be many, they can tell the person to do things that can be harmful to self or others, they are most often critical and make cruel comments about the person who ‘hears’ them. They can talk to the individual or about them. I’ll be inviting quite a few personalities into my head, distinct individuals that I am creating now.

The most common delusion is that the individual is being singled out for harm. The government is targeting them, or a co-worker or mate is poisoning their food.  These delusions can result in aggression or violence if the individual believes they must act in self-defense against the imagined harm. Some of my past drug addiction is working for me here. I would sometimes not sleep for days, and I actually thought that the police had tunnels around my house, and I would imagine people in shadows. I can sit still down, quiet my mind, and clearly recall those feelings, though they were more than 30 years ago.

So now I begin the work of building this character and her decent into this kind of horrifying madness. I cannot build this person the way I would usually create a character. No relative past history, experiences that create current emotional responses and behaviors will have any bearing, no logical reaction to reality can be prepared.

Which leaves me with two things: Sensory work, and Transference.

Sensory work, means that I need to create an intense fear (or other emotion) of something that isn’t there. Well, it isn’t there on set, but in my mind it is very real and very present. Fortunately, the screenwriter-director has done his homework and so mine is much easier. Something is moving under the carpet? In my mind, with a good bit of focus and preparation, I can make that a river of acid that will fry off my skin, or a huge snake that will wrap around me and squeeze until I choke. Sensory work.

Transference means I move a reaction I would have to one thing, onto another. In the script, my husband is trying to get me to take my medication, I put myself in the place of swallowing  a piece of glass that broke off a juice cup when I was six. Transference.

It’s remarkably similar to being a paranoid schizophrenic. They believe it, I have to believe it, even though it isn’t there.

They say that the only way to understand someone else’s journey is to walk a mile in their shoes. I’m about to cross a continent, and believe me, my compassion for the people suffering from this cruel disease is profound.

How do I respond to a voice no one else can hear?  The answer, of course, is that I have to mentally speak that voice, yet detach it from my own consciousness.

Deep, I have to go deep.

I’ve done ‘crazy’ before. I’ve played parts that are delusional, with visions of grandeur, and insanity caused by extreme guilt or obsession, but that’s different. This woman is in a constant hell, a long hallway with less and less windows, fewer and fewer glimpses of light or sanity, and no way out, or back.

Am I scared? Actually, I’m having a blast.

Roles like this don’t come around all that often, believe me, I’ve done a whole lot of acting work, and maybe two percent of it has been well written. Mostly stage, of course, where you have the option of choosing the best of the best.

But Lady Macbeth’s journey into insanity is quite different from Miriam Jones’. Lady M. is driven to suicide by horrible actions, and their consequences, that she herself put into motion around her, Miriam is dealing with actions put into motion by the machinations of her own brain.

Inside out. Outside in. For the first time, I’m starting a character at the end of her journey, and working backwards. I feel like I’m in a Pinter play, only far more twisted.

And here’s the thing. The real goal in acting is to do all the homework, be completely emotionally and mentally and physically ready, and then, forget everything and just react.

And then there’s that element that the director has so beautifully interwoven into the story.

Maybe she’s not crazy.

I like to apologize in advance to the entire cast and crew of “Scream at the Devil.” Putting myself in that place won’t always be easy, and even though, at my very deepest, most distraught insanity, some level of me will be going, “Whoo, this is fun!” I know that the crazy will leak somewhat. It always does. And I’ll be extremely vulnerable on set. That’s why the director’s first job, on every set, is the protection and well-being of everyone there. Stress out and start blaming or bitching, and I’ll withdraw. Tell me your issue calmly, and I will work with you.

I promise.

If you need me, I’ll be in my padded cell.

Shari, January 16. 2013.

Acting & Experiences, Entertainment, family, Life in General, parenting

A New Window of Opportunity.

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Good morning and Happy New Year! The champagne bottle is in the recycling, the caviar has been consumed, the candles extinguished, and, I admit it, I didn’t even make it to midnight. And now I’m up, before eight, my brain churning with all the things I want and need to do.

But it’s not like the panic of past years. I know now, at 52, that even the annoying stuff will get done, no matter how much I put it off and sweat over it, so I might as well just get to it. The difficult things will be endured, passed through, and learned from, and I’m looking forward to the challenges.

I’ll have books being re-released, new ones coming out, ideas still unformed to spur me on to new, unimagined novels.

I have daughters to care for, laugh with, hold when they cry, encourage, remind to be ladylike, kind, brave and fair, tutoring to arrange, school functions to chair, and so much to learn about parenting. It’s an ongoing process.

And I have a movie to produce and act in. I’ve done so much theatre in the last few years, but I’ve taken a break from film and TV to raise my daughters. Now, with one in college and one going into high school, I can finally spend part of my time back on a set.

I’ve already started working on the character and emotional life of Miriam Jones for “Scream at the Devil.” I’ve been immersed in research about schizophrenics, mental hallucination disorders, and the effects of the medications used to treat them. The physiology of these things are fascinating and the torture these people endure is both heartbreaking and profound. Equally fascinating are the dynamics of their relationships with the people who love them. All of these will be explored in the film, with a sinister twist—What if she’s not crazy?

What I’ve discovered is this; whether or not the fear and depression are real or not, the emotions that accompany them definitely are.

Which takes me to my next step. How does fear affect me? I notice a tingling on the back of my hands when someone cuts in on me on the freeway, a tightness in my neck that won’t go away when I do sensory work on seeing things moving under the rug, things that want to hurt me. My whole body senses the exhaustion from the constant voice in my head telling me that I’m not good enough, that someone, or something, wants me dead.

It’s one thing to watch and observe, it’s quite another to take on the emotion and the weight of mental illness. As actors and writers, we do these things, we have to. If we don’t feel them in our very cells, then they won’t be true.

And then, by the grace of all that is creative, we can put them away and go back to our ‘normal’ lives. Take a bath, shake off the evil, find something to laugh at until our strength is restored.

My New Year’s wish is this ultimate release for those who are suffering from depression and paranoia. I can imagine what it might be like, because I have to, but I can also put it aside. They cannot. Science is making big strides in helping these people, and that gives me hope. It also makes me wish I had gone into medicine so that I could contribute. Who knows, maybe I’ll go back to school. That’s what a New Year is for, possibilities.

Me in college. Ha! Wouldn’t my daughter just love having a new dorm mate. “Hey Roomie!”

The thought makes me laugh, but she might not be so amused. She loves me dearly, but I don’t think she wants to share a bunk bed with Mama.

So raise your glass of orange juice, and say a January first morning toast to 2013. It will be filled with joys, sorrows, fears, excitement and the great unknown.

Bring it.

Shari, January 1st, 2013

Acting & Experiences, family, Life in General, parenting

Mistakes and Successes.

gioia_cover_jpg  The cover of an Italian magazine called, Gioia

 

I once had someone send me an email, I can’t remember what they were commenting on, but they asked, “Why don’t you include your Playboy cover on the list of your accomplishments?”

My response was, “Because it’s not an accomplishment, it’s a modeling job.” One of hundreds. I flew to Chicago, shot several cover options, was paid my normal modeling fee, and went home. Months later, I got a call saying one of the shots had been chosen for the April cover. I said, “Oh, that’s nice.” No big deal.

Then it came out. It was shocking to me how much everyone else responded to it. You would have thought I had reached some apex, I had this big ‘success.’ It was very confusing to me.

I  mean, it’s a photograph, and not even one of my favorites. Yes, I prided myself on being a good model. I was known as one of the ‘smart’ ones. I understood the layout, the lighting, where the text would go, how to create a mood and not just a pouty look, etc. No matter what I do I want to do it well, but to me, that was so much less important than what my sister did everyday. She taught kindergarten. I admired her, and others like her. People like her are the ones who change the world, who make a difference every day. Models seldom do.

All my life, I think I’ve been confused about the way looks and fame are valued by people, for this simple reason; It doesn’t connect proportionately to any feeling of real value inside.

Looking back, I can safely say this is the reason I had trouble with drugs and relationships early on, (not to discount the relationships themselves, I made some bad choices.) I had no allies, no one who really knew me for who I was, I had no real sense of self-value, I was too busy pursuing what everyone else thought was impressive. Bad choice.

I remember, at one of my lowest points at that time, telling a good friend that I was so depressed and lonely, I felt that no one really knew me, that my life was without substance, and his response? “How can you be unhappy? You have what everyone else wants!” My heart fell through the soles of my feet. I was a ‘successful’ model, therefore I didn’t even have a right be sad, to be human. The immediate cure? Another hit, numbing myself for another night.

I had a friend who was a very famous comedian when I modeled in New York, at the time he was often subbing as the host on the “Tonight Show.” We would walk along the street and people would shout out. “Hey Dave! Hey Buddy!” they’d slap him on the back and shake his hand like an old friend. I said to him, “It’s like they think they know you.” He answered, “They think they do know me. I’m in their living room, every night!”

Of course, the comedian who was always ‘up’ and made them laugh was not the whole man.  In life, this man was very intelligent, quite serious, filled with old pains, and a gentleman of impeccable taste. He had stayed loyal to his friends from his very poor upbringing because he knew that they were the ones who truly ‘knew’ him and it kept him grounded, with all of his success. It was a valuable lesson.

We all need accomplishments, I think, to be content. And the athlete who wins the medal and the business person who lands the big deal have every right to feel exhilarated by the experience, they worked for it! But what I’ve learned over the years is that just as important, just as real accomplishments are the small things, the felt things.

Oh yeah, I’ve been down, way down. And I’ve had a lion’s share of exhilarating moments. But all these things have passed. And here’s the most important thing I’ve taken from all of it:

I learned so much more from the mistakes. The most valuable moments in my life have been the bad ones. Not the absolute lows, I don’t mean the frustrating moments when desperation weighs on you so that you can’t lift your head, much less get out of bed, but the second right after that, when I made the decision to snap out of it, to buck up, to get over myself and be of service to someone else.

So what is a success to me? Writing a book I’m proud of, certainly, creating a character on stage or film that resonates, of course. Those things take effort, learning and determination, and are therefore more fulfilling than someone thinking you look nice. But more important are the other successes—seeing my daughter fight through a conflict at school, tears streaming down her face, but holding her own against unfairness or bullying, the light in a parents eyes when my charity is able to help their desperately ill child through a terrible time, the level of trust and love that my husband and I have earned, and any moment of gratitude. Gratitude for a sunset, a spider’s web on a hike, the fact that I can skip down my sidewalk from the shear joy of being, the moment I can turn a stranger’s mood around with a few moments of patience, a joke, or even a smile when they didn’t expect it.

That is success to me, because that is what connects to my heart.

As for the ‘success’ of being in magazine pictures? It was living, but give me the triumph of a breakthrough smile from a waitress having a tough day when I commiserate with her over that any time. Playboy cover? Bah. But if I can get my favorite waitress at Coco’s, who is raising four kids and putting herself through college, to laugh about the rude, complaining SOB at table four, that warms me. Her smile makes my day.

Because that kind of beauty connects me to something deeper, truer, more human. That is what’s important. That is a success. It might not appear on any resume, or any website, or any other public forum, but it means so much more to me than any magazine cover.

And I’m trying to pass some of my painful learning experiences on to my daughters. Someone telling them they are gorgeous is very nice, but it is not an accomplishment. Visiting with a child at the hospital and lessening her boredom and fear, that is something worthy they both do. The difference of those values is something I’ve tried to make clear to them.

I’ve also tried to let them learn the hard way sometimes. It isn’t easy, letting your children makes their own mistakes and watching them feel terrible. It’s hard to insist that that they earn their kudos, that they fight for what they think is right, with or without the support of their peers, to value themselves for actually doing something in this world, but it’s crucial to them becoming the amazing women that I know they will be.

What I wish for for them is a  sense of value that will carry them through their lives. They will fail sometimes, of course, we all do, it’s what makes us better writers, actors, parents, salesmen, bosses, hell, it makes us better people.

I wish you all the eyes to see that every small kindness you do, every bad mood you work through, every difficult moment that you make better, is a success bigger and far more important than any ‘beauty’ photograph in any magazine.

See how successful you are? Yes, you are amazing.

Shari, December 1st, 2012

 

 

Acting & Experiences, Life in General, New Novels, Theatre, writing

Want to Write Well? Learn to Write Badly!

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Here’s a shot of me singing ‘Mein Herr’ in Cabaret a few years back. I know, I know, I didn’t write that. But, I did have to sing the part, and here’s the thing; I’m not a singer.

Sure, I can carry a tune, and have a ‘nice’ voice, but compared to those who work at it, I’m weak. So, I had to work my solar plexus/abdomen off to get myself up to belting-it-out level.

It took about eight weeks with a vocal coach and a minimum of an hour a day practice, not counting the actual rehearsal times, to get there. When I was asked to play this part, I auditioned for the music director, the dance choreographer, and the director. Acting? No problem. Dancing? Done enough with my ice skating to fake the lead, (it’s the chorus that really dances). Singing? Wasn’t quite so sure.

However, when the musical director, who was blind, said I could handle it, I agreed to take the part. And I’m so glad, it was one of the best theatre experiences I’ve ever had. One of the best overall acting experiences actually.

But I had to start with an average talent and work on it until I could hold the solos and bring down the house. It took weeks of cracking notes and perfecting technique, and if I had only been as good as my audition, the show would definitely not have been a hit, in fact, I would have let a lot of people down. There was pressure to be, not just good, but exceptional. A pressure that all to often, writers put on themselves too early on.

We don’t start off being perfect at anything in life, especially not when creating the first draft of a new book. You don’t know yet if the idea will be good, if you’ll be up to the challenge, if this is an idea that will flesh out into a full-bodied epic with pith and wisdom and sentences that make you weep. Most people, I’m guessing, begin a book with little more than a basic idea and go from there. If we expected our first draft to be the opening night performance, (i.e. finished novel) we’d be so terrified, we’d never even start.

So here’s my first advice, go ahead and suck. Be bad, let the typos and the spelling, and the over-writing and the rambling go. Get it down on paper, or at least, in a computer, then you can go back, work it, get advice, have an editor work with you. We do this in every other aspect of life, we learn as we go, we improve and we step up, it’s the same in writing.

Don’t forget, you’ve got the rehearsal to perfect it, to get better, to polish and fluff and fill. If you are afraid to put something down that isn’t good enough or might need to be thrown out, you won’t have the joy of writing, of the process. And if you don’t love the process, do something else.

I mean, look at it this way—you might not be Celine Dion, but does that mean you can’t belt out one of her classics in the car? Of course you can, and I’ll bet you sound good in there!!

So start that story, create those characters, dream up scenarios and whole other worlds, because it’s fun!! And if it isn’t quite right, change it, start over, twist and shape it into something you do love.

Just remember this, don’t do it the way you think it should be done, do it from your heart and use your own voice, because it’s all you truly have to offer.

I ain’t no Celine, but with a lot of sweat and more than a panic attack or two, I pulled off Sally Bowles, and loved the experience, even if I wasn’t good when I started.

So just write it down, get your idea out of your head and into some workable form. Your idea will evolve and improve, I promise. Your words will smooth out, and the discordant notes will strengthen as you work on them. Have the courage to cut and change when needed. In a month or two, or six, or twelve, each to their own tempo, you will have a finished work that you can hold up proudly and say, “I wrote this!”

And if nobody else likes it, so what! Nobody can predict that, but like singing in the shower, it’s still really fun!

Shari, November 13th, 2012