You may find these letters a bit annoying to read. But I am at present reading “Letters to a Young Poet” by R. M. Rilke and for the fun of writing have decided to the write the next few posts in a meandering wordy style. I implore your forgiveness in this age of efficient targeted messages. I must confess that as I working actor I can not tell you if you are any good. Nor can I tell you how to be a success. All I can do is share with you my experience in the hopes that perhaps something I have learned will be in some way of some benefit to your future goals. As every actor is a unique individual with a very personal practice and path to success what is factually true for myself will be categorically false for others. So if you find that something I have writing strikes you as complete and utter bull shit trust your instincts just as you should trust your instincts if you feel something rings true for you. In the end you must be the final judge. Enclosed are the statements I would give to my younger self knowing the roads I have traveled and the path that has brought me to the position of ambition and contentment I now occupy.
As Rilke advised the young poet. Ask yourself if you must act. Find some quiet time where you can be alone. Quiet your mind and stop all the thoughts of the day-to-day hustle and buzzing. Look deep in to yourself and ask if you must act. Ask if it is need deep within you that must be fulfilled. Ask if it is a part of your very being as necessary for survival as your, heart, lungs and breath. If you’re answer is a resounding “Yes” then go forward in your endeavors with enthusiasm. You need not know this answer for life in the moment. The first 7 years of my acting on the same date every June, I asked myself if I wanted to do this for one more year. Every June my answer was “yes”. In time I stopped asking as I now know this is not just my career but my way of life. So dear actor answer for yourself, and no one else do you need this way of life? Look within, Look deep and find your true answer.
Since I was a kid I thought that #growing up meant one day I would have an epiphany and know everything I needed to know. I would suddenly “get it”. I knew I wouldn’t know everything in the universe but I would know everything an adult needed to know. I mean all the adults around me acted like they knew everything. Eventually I learned that they were just acting. Because that #epiphany that I assumed was coming never came. I kept faking like I knew what was going on and sometimes the results came out in my favor and sometimes not. The good days are the ones when you can laugh regardless of the results.
But While I’ve never had the bolt of lighting sort of intuition that made all the secrets of adulthood clear I have learned 1 or two important lessons along the way.
The first big #lesson I remember was at age 36. That was the year I realized that the homeless man standing in the park arguing with the trees wasn’t talking to the trees. He was arguing with people from his past getting in those last words he never got in at the time. I figured this out because I started doing the same thing and realized the line between he and I is not so thick after all.
The most recent lesson has come in this my 45th year. It’s big and it’s simple. “Don’t solve the problem before you have it.” I finally understand that. It’s similar to the advice “don’t worry” but that has never worked for me. I’m something of a worrier. But one can worry and still accomplish goals. But the only way to solve problems that you don’t have is not to try anything, not to go anywhere, not to have any fun. I’ve talked myself out of a many experiences in life by brainstorming all the things that could go wrong until I ran out of solutions, and then never started.
So now I have a new mantra when I start talking myself out of a new experience or opportunity that feels like a “Hell Yes!” from the start. “Don’t solve problems you don’t have yet.”
Even when I worry that’s ok. I know I can get to the other side of fear and soak in the goodness.
When I was in college I heard a lot of stories about Actor’s Equity. Mostly from the other students. Depending on the opinion of the teller, the story was either so positive that once you joined the union you automatically got celebrity treatment including healthcare, first class seats on the subway and a candy lined dressing room, or so negative that you never stepped on stage again and spent the rest of your days waiting tables.
I held on to the negative stories for a long time because once I committed to my acting career I had a lot of success as a non-union actor very quickly. I avoided joining Actor’s Equity for years and worked as much as I could, for whatever they’d pay me, sometimes rehearsing and performing as many as 5 productions at a time.
During this time, I met other actors who were working in professional theaters, some union, some not, and learned that the reality of joining was much different than the extremes we’d imagined in college. In fact it wasn’t even somewhere in the middle. Still I avoided joining for a long time because of my many professional relationships with non-union theaters and my concern I would lose them once I joined.
Eventually, I changed and so did my life goals, so that membership in the union felt more in harmony with where I wanted to go, so when I got the chance to join, I took it.
I’m about half-way through my first year as a member of Actors Equity. I was looking forward to some good things to come, and I knew I’d leave some good things behind. That’s the nature of change.
One thing I didn’t expect was how being in the union would change how I felt about talking money. In the past it’s been hard negotiating fees for my performances. I always felt like the value of my craft was a moving target. When a company would ask about my fee a little voice in my head always asked: “Am I asking too much?” “Can they afford me?” “Should I just take what they offer?” I knew I was sabotaging my own confidence, but it was hard for me to overcome. What added to my self doubt is that many of the theaters I work with are run by friends and I was concerned I was letting them down if I didn’t accept what they could pay.
But being in the union changes that whole process. A friend recently sent me an announcement for a non-union show she was doing with an offer to be part of it. I contacted AEA to learn the terms under which I could perform with the theater. Once I had them which included a minimum salary, I communicated them to the theater. It was easier than I expected. Because I had an outside metric i.e. the union says my craft is worth at least XX dollars and that’s the least amount I can accept. It removed the second guessing because it helped me feel that the negotiation was not personal. I wasn’t letting down a friend by asking more than they had initially offered, and I wouldn’t feel let down if they couldn’t make it work. It was a completely unexpected benefit of membership. As of this writing the theater is trying to see if they can meet the AEA requirements.
So we’ll see what happens.
The Sunset in Gloucester MA was was amazing. I love the lights on the clock tower and and the silhouette of the skyline.
There is an amazing website called Coursera Where you can take all sorts of classes designed and taught by college professors for free! I love having the chance to learn something new just because it’s interesting. Thus far I have taken courses in music, art and most recently game designed. Attached here is my first game free to download. Since 2015 was the 150th Anniversary of Lewis Carroll’s Alice in Wonderland I used the Jabberwocky poem as the them for the game. “Beware the Jabberwock” will print on 1 piece of 8×10 paper and can be played by 1 or 2 people, using 2 coins, tacks or other tokens and 1 6 sided die. Enjoy. and any feedback is welcome.
I don’t believe we’re going to make it as a species.
Not long ago the climate change experts were saying the earth was warming and polar ice melting much faster than predicted. What was expected to take 50 years was taking 10. There were no explanations for why the temperatures were rising so much faster. Even more recently Volkswagen was exposed as having hidden the fact that they produced higher emission vehicles than standards allow. They programmed the vehicles to register as less polluting than they really were. That made me wonder, if 1 company was getting away with that for years, how many other companies were doing similar things. How many corporations found a way to appear more green then reality? So decades of climate change research, modeling and suggested counter measures may have been created based on inaccurate data. Today I heard mention that Exxon Mobile despite knowing the truth about climate change used to fund groups that worked to debunk climate change.
How many more corporations?
I think we’re too late. We thought we had time but we’ve been lied to. The individuals who run certain corporations have sold the future of our species for profit, and we’re all going to pay the price. The human race is an endangered species. The planet is going to kill us.
As I was on my way to a ritual honoring our recently departed family, I was feeling a panic attack coming on. There were a few things I needed for the ritual and I was buying them at the nearest Wholefoods. I was down to the last item on the list a candle. I was looking at the few votive candles available they were different colors, and fragrances.
I was paralyzed trying to decide which one to get. What fragrance said “mom” to me? What color reminded me of her? Most of them were seasonal scents, pumpkin spice, or cinnamon. I lifted each and sniffed. While these are some of my favorite scents they didn’t feel right. Then I grabbed a white candle, with a “Pine” label. I don’t connect with Pine scents. Sometimes I burn them in winter, when I don’t have a real Christmas tree. I don’t buy them often. When I smelled this pine candle, this small white candle, I was transported back to the Christmas 1975. Mom brought home a incense burner in the shape of a snow covered cottage. When she lit the incense and closed the cottage pine scented smoke rose out of the chimney and filled the room with the smell of Christmas magic. I was enchanted. Even stronger than the memory of the fragrance or the little burner, was the memory of my mother’s smile in the warm lights of our home. And the warm feeling of a family still whole.
I found the right candle.