Archive for the ‘New York City’ Category

I’m an Actor and proud to be one!

I was at an event last week with a friend, and at some point, we were introduced to another guest as Actors. The apparently humorous response of said guest to the one who introduced us was something to the effect of, ‘Oh, did you have them come to cheer and provide the high energy in the room?’ – And me being me, who can’t seem to suppress my utter disdain, especially when it comes to stereotyping in all its forms and interpretations, ended up saying, polite yet firm, ‘Umm, we’re not for hire, we’re here to support a friend’. Mind you, said guest didn’t make his comment from a place of intentional arrogance, but maybe ignorance, based on his perception of what actors do, and their quality of life and work.

Ironically, I came across a Forbes article not too long ago titled, “Are Creative Careers Now Reserved Exclusively For The Privileged?” –  Even though its a writer’s perspective, it will resonate with anyone in the creative field. It took me down memory lane to my year right after graduate school, and the years that followed – to the incredible artists I crossed paths with, ‘privileged’ and not, NYU-Yale-Columbia-educated and not, struggling and not – and the one thing that seems to have kept us all going, is the sense of passion, community and support for one another. The ‘privileged’ on the other hand, a good percentage of them, seem to prefer creating reality TV shows to showcase their dog or cat or newly done breasts, possession of narcotics, drunk driving and frequent arrests, over practicing the craft and applying it to actual work.

I had quite a few thoughts and questions already brewing in my head when I came across this video titled ‘THE AUDITION’ by Celia Rowlson-Hall floating around the social mediasphere this weekend. It was hard to watch. My reaction went from hysteria to feeling myself cringe, and finally a sense of heartbreak sweeping through.

My mind has been spinning ever since – all of this speaks to a higher question: What is the perception we are giving out as actors?

We are probably the most hardworking and multifaceted personalities, whose drive is fueled by Passion more than anything else. I can’t speak for everyone, as there are always exceptions who have self-centered and gratuitous reasons for being in the business; but for me and the community of artists around me – all we want is to do what we love, tell stories. No actor has just one job – we use existing skills and develop new ones in order to pay our bills, take classes, audition and live the life of an artist. Some of my dearest and most talented actor friends and colleagues from all over the world are my biggest inspiration – jumping through hoops of how to make rent; how to figure out a way to stay in the country legally (or not); how to be okay with the choices made, whether to move away from home, or lose an opportunity of being with someone were circumstances a bit different, or the fact that people around you, including your own family, don’t ‘get’ you or what you do; how to balance the work-life dynamic so that it is in fact possible to fall in love with someone who actually understands and respects the art form; how to then make decisions about having a family, of being a mother, a father, and figuring out the path to continue living the artistic life; how to stay inspired and creative during dry spells of no auditions or work coming in; and in spite of all those challenges, have the incredible courage to be open and vulnerable enough to share personal stories, have the innate curiosity of wanting to know more, of wanting to be better, of wanting to tell a story in the best way possible. And if you’re a woman and/or an actor of color, add to that the consistent battle with under representation, stereotype and caricature.

Viola Davis said it best in her Tavis Smiley interview on PBS when he told her and Octavia Spencer that he was ambivalent about what they were winning for, in context with them playing maids in ‘The Help’ and being nominated for Academy Awards. She said, “That very mind-set that you have and that a lot of African-Americans have is absolutely destroying the black artist. The black artist cannot live in a place — in a revisionist place. A black artist can only tell the truth about humanity, and humanity is messy, people are messy.” Once again, a statement that resonates with anyone who has been boxed in by stereotype.

And yet, as actors, we are the most willing, resilient and courageous people you will ever meet. Though we may or may not move on to wear different hats later on in life, and add other titles to our resume; the training of an actor, the experience of an actor, the WILL of an actor, is what ultimately shapes us, and feeds our future endeavors. Writers, directors, producers, casting directors, talent agents, publicists, pretty much anyone in the business has most likely been drawn into the world through an acting class, or two – No one knows more about the human spirit, the human condition, and what makes us and our relationships ‘messy’, flawed and complex, more than an actor. Not even psychologists, in my opinion. Because we not only explore and learn it, we internalize it, live it, and then offer it right back to the world, staying truthful, present and in the moment. That takes exceptional skill, craft and vulnerability. That is Art.

We have so much to give. We have so much power within us. We go through so much to do what we love. Then why do we end up giving it all up, including our sense of self, in this career path that we chose for ourselves? Why do we have the need to give someone else that power? Ultimately, it is a collaboration isn’t it? Why don’t we stand up for our own talent and hard work, and draw the line? Who decides that the casting table in the audition room needs us less than we need them? Why do we refuse to support our own choices and our own selves? (And when I say ‘we’, I ask this of myself as well) I know actors who have stopped introducing themselves as actors and prefer to either include the other credentials first (writer, director, producer, teacher, filmmaker), or not mention ‘actor’ at all. Why? Because standing alone, the term emanates a vibe of neediness and limited credibility. Aren’t we ourselves responsible to a great extent for creating this perception? And if perception is based on what we give out, then what’s stopping us from reclaiming that power and credibility, owning who we are and what we stand for? Let’s move from a state of desperation and need, to a place of empowerment, self respect and pride in our craft. I bet you, perceptions will change.

If you’re not an actor and are reading this, don’t feel bad for us or pity us, just be glad you know us. And if you are an actor (or any artist for that matter – a singer, dancer, painter, writer, director, producer, poet, anyone) and are reading this, say it with me – I’m an actor and proud to be one!

Practicing Detachment . . . or at least trying.

Grace and Ronald – Just Married!

June 23

Grace and Ronald are the sweetest newlyweds you will ever meet! Grace is the ITLP Program Director for the Tanzania schools and her husband Ronald, an accomplished musician, will be joining the Teaching Artist team.

It is not easy being bombarded with questions by 5 crazy New Yorkers, but somehow they managed to keep us all calm. Not that we had incredulous demands, but being in a new land with a new language, and a program starting in a day, there are bound to be questions, tons and tons of questions. They have been so helpful, supportive and awesome to hang out with, it makes this collaboration seem so perfect, and the idea of not being around them that much more difficult to handle.

It is way past midnight and I can’t sleep. We all stayed up until an hour ago sharing our games and curriculum, using each other to see what worked and what didn’t, singing, dancing, laughing through it all. All day we’ve tried to pick up as much Swahili as possible, speaking it ever so confidently in a variety of broken phrases, trying to impress ourselves and each other, failing miserably at times, and surprising ourselves at others. Having just met, we are still getting to know each other, not to mention being completely jetlagged, mentally over stimulated, and emotionally who-knows-what – but we still had an incredible day!

Tomorrow Ione and I leave the lodge and head to Mama Tesha’s house. The principal at St. Margaret’s School in the town of Mojamba, she will be hosting us in her house, as the school is located an hour away from the other 2. I’ve only been here a day, and it deeply saddens me that we have to leave. Of course, we know we will have an experience unlike any other, but the idea of not being able to come back and relax with the rest of the team and share our days, our successes and challenges, seems to dampen the spirit . . . for now. I know for a fact that I will feel differently within the week. Until then . . .


Meet Ione!

The lovely Ione lloyd

My  partner teacher, Ione Lloyd and I had our third work session this morning. We are two days away from leaving and we seem to be keeping it together for the most part . . . or so we think? Who knows!

I was having a conversation the other day with someone who had lots of questions about this trip to Africa, and the topic of co-teaching came up. I explained how I had just met Ione a few weekends ago, and we’ve been paired up to work together at the St. Margaret’s School in Arusha. And then I went into this extensive conversation about how we had come up with some pretty darn awesome plans for our workshop. But in my heart I know, (and if you’re a teacher, you know this too!) these ‘awesome’ plans will either work beautifully or fall flat! And we are preparing for both.

That’s what I love about Ione. She brings me back to Earth during the times I get too idealistic in our planning sessions. She becomes my mirror of reality at times, reminding me what we are working with. We’ve by now spent hours discussing, agreeing, disagreeing, working, rejecting, re-working curriculum, but we make sure we’re constantly moving ahead. I look forward to teaching with her, and getting to know her outside the walls of Caffe Bene, which, by the way, is a great meeting spot in the heart of Times Square. Despite their slow service, their waffles are worth the wait. Haven’t tried the pastries yet, but they sure look delishh! The cozy library-esque seating area doesn’t get too crowded, and you can actually get work done in the heart of crazy-tourist-town!

The lists are getting shorter, still lots to be done, and exactly 36 hours to go . . . breathing in, breathing out.

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