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.