Creativity Snooze Button

It was hard getting out of bed this morning.  When our upstairs neighbors use their heat, the steam travels up the pipes, making a hundred little stops along its way on the sides of the old metal radiator in our bedroom.  In my mind, the steam has transformed itself into little creatures with metal construction worker hats bouncing back and forth with glee, occasionally smacking their little hammers on the pipe for added affect.  By 5:30 or so, Ben gave up on sleep and I sprawled out, covered my head, and wished that the birds weren’t already chirping along with the hammering creatures in the pipes.  Both were conspiring against me.

Finally, my alarm went off, and I knew I couldn’t hide from the birds any longer.  I sat down to write and debated if 15 minutes more in bed would save me from a day of exhaustion.  I spent a sold five minutes writing about sleeping instead of writing or sleeping.  I finally gave in and realized what my problem was- I’m great at finding reasons to put things off, whether the pipes were clanging all night or not.  And as I usually do, I wanted to figure out why.

After we gave up on sleep...

After we gave up on sleep…

Things to DO lists…

For close to five years, I temped, consulted, stopped-in, freelanced, helped out, and part-timed my way through my work life.  Though all my “part-time” jobs usually added up to more than a 40 hour work week, I was always temporary.  Walking in and out of these offices without commitment and knowing that no one expected me to stay helped me maintain control of the feeling that I could be creative any time I wanted.  I could just up and leave to go be an artist whenever the mysterious and elusive art world called my name.  Choosing a dreaded full-time “permanent” job, as they’re known in the temping world (which really needs some rebranding), seemed like the end of the creative line.  I thought that adopting this kind of schedule would give me a “doing” life, and not in the “get stuff done Home Depot ad” kind of way.  I imagined it full of errands, schedules, distractions, and predictability.  I was worried that I would look back after a year and realize in terror that I hadn’t created a thing.

And yet, here I am, at my new “permanent” job (again, terrible name) with more time and space in my mind than I did when I had one foot out the door.  I am not saying that all you freelancers (and I’m sure I will join you again someday), should jump on a full-time job, I am saying that there is no perfect atmosphere or specific time to create.  But there is a balance to be found.  For example, for a while, I tried to only work “creative” jobs that would aid my drive to write and audition in my spare time: background work, teaching crafts classes, non-profit work.  At another point, I completely distanced myself from the creative world: hedge funds, PR firms, law offices.  Perhaps making more money and the starkness of the scenery would encourage me to write more.  But no matter where I was, the patterns stayed the same.

Writing and auditioning came in pretty unpredictable spurts, but usually coincided with the rare moment I was not obsessing with getting my constantly changing schedule or financial situation under control.  These moments were rare, since maintaining this magical flexibility was more exhausting the more it worked.  If I booked a job, I had less time to try and book the next job.  But if I didn’t book anything, I have to work extra hard to find something to maintain my budget.  So where did creativity fit into any of this?  My only choice was to focus all my energy into maintaining this work life, I had to eat, and I had to pay rent. And to be a complete musical theatre nerd and quote Cabaret, “Feet don’t waltz when the roof caves in.”

Write for your life!!  Raaaah!!

The point that I’ve come back to over and over, is that I cannot live a life without creativity.  When I am not working on a project, my weekly existential crises number double.  Poor Ben has to give me the “you’re always an artist” pep talk more than any husband should.  Even when I was a kid, my dad would tell me that I was grump when I wasn’t in a show.  The “I’m bored” whine-fest as a child was met with, “Oh, you just need a show,” or if that didn’t work, “Go clean the hallway closet.”

What happens to me when I don't write or perform after a while…CAT FACE

What happens to me when I don’t write or perform after a while…CAT FACE

So why is it so difficult to squeeze our creativity into this list of survival needs? Is it that no one is holding us accountable?  Is it because the world will keep spinning if you ignore it?  If I don’t make dinner, for example, I won’t eat, and then I will be hungry, and eventually get sick.  We have to seek out food in order to eat it.  But if I don’t write my play today, nothing changes.  Nothing bad will happen.  I will just feel blue that I ignored my play again.  Is this just as important as eating?  It’s great to sound poetic and say it is, and sew it on a Pinterest pillow, but really though?  How do we make this need a life necessity?

“I wanted it enough”…and other BS

I’ve never liked this phrase.  I’ve heard successful people say many times, “I simply wanted it badly enough.”  Great, so do the rest of us.  I usually find that the people who say this are either not mentioning the generous help they received along the way, OR the incredibly unhealthy unsustainable lifestyle that goes along with their career.  Simply wanting something does not write a novel or put you on Broadway.  Did wanting something enough make your parents buy you a Tamagotchi?  Is that where this is coming from?

It can’t just be about desire.  Basic needs, discipline, opportunity, education, and health play a pretty nice role as well.  As artists, we may never have a constant safety net.  And we can choose to focus on falling or being envious of someone else’s net.  But we can also look the possibility that balancing these things can assist in keeping us up in the air.  Perhaps it is about supporting each one of these puzzle pieces to weather any storm or any changing circumstance.  When one puzzle piece is out of balance, you have the others.  Your money is low, but you have discipline in your schedule to fall back on.  Or your education is lacking, but you have the opportunity to reach out for advice from someone.  You’re sick, but you have money to get yourself to the doctor or take time off.

What will happen if you lose the balance...

What will happen if you lose the balance…

 

Yes this blog post only had cat pictures…

I actually didn’t begin writing this post knowing how it would end.  Writing out these thoughts got me here though.   Having this blog added that tiny bit of discipline I talk about that keeps me writing, even if it’s not in the way I planned when I woke up today.  There may never be the absolute ideal moment to work on your art, but you also can only get so far with the “But I want it!” mentality.  Respecting how difficult it is to care for your creative energy is the only way to maintain this wild life-long journey of being an artist.  So I am going to start looking at these puzzle pieces as way to balance out my brain when I find the excuse to hit the snooze button or ignore my writing.  At least this is something I can put my finger on and tackle from a new perspective.

 

As always, feel free to share thoughts below!  And thank you for reading!

Two Dollar Last Chance Mums

I saved a plant yesterday.

I went to Pathmark near our new apartment during a particular grumpy morning.  Don’t get me wrong, I’ve been thrilled about our new town so far, especially the fulfilling job that doesn’t involve body-checking people on the Path train, fantastic friends nearby, and best of all- a porch to sit on.  And yet, I hit a slump yesterday morning.

An upside to our move…Montclair Bread Company Samoa Doughnuts.

An upside to our move…Montclair Bread Company Samoa Doughnuts.

The Pathmark near us is not the place to go if you need to feel better about the state of the world.  It’s A.) Disturbingly empty whenever I go, and B.) I wouldn’t surprised be if their produce section was made up of what the Whole Foods down the street decides to chuck.  It’s also tucked inside a plaza surrounded by recently closed businesses.  When I left, there was a man standing with two bird cages yelling, “I’ve got these finches!”  ….??!

So if you’re feeling odd about your day, don’t go to Pathmark.  Nonetheless it’s cheaper and closer, so we’re not complaining too much.  In the back of the store sat a table of very sad plants.  Drooping daffodils, rotting Easter flowers, and a few struggling roses.  A sign stood in front reading, “$2.00!  LAST CHANCE!” I desperately looked for something I could salvage.  Lo and behold, there was a a pot of yellow mums calling my name.  The leaves were completely slumped over and when you picked it up, half the petals fell onto the table.  It was the Charlie Brown Christmas Tree of Mums.  Determined to turn my morning around, I put it in my basket and accepted that I looked like the weirdo who was buying a dead plant to my three fellow shoppers.

This is NOT what my plant looked like.

This is NOT what my plant looked like.

The cashier’s words are what truly did it.  It’s funny when strangers say things that stick with you all day.  Maybe it’s because they’re strangers, and kind words are coming from a place of complete selflessness. He didn’t need to say anything about my dead plant.  But he did.  As I was walking away, he yelled, “You bring that plant back to life, BRING IT BACK TO LIFE!!”  Yes!!  Yes, cashier man!  I debated buying some finches from a screaming man, and headed home.

So as you can imagine, Ben was very confused when he found me on our back patio passionately watering a nearly-dead plant surrounded by grocery bags.  Two hours later, with the help of a lot of water, a very sunny spot, and a lot of pruning, the leaves stood back up.  It now looks like a real plant on its way to growing new flowers, not just a two dollar last chance mum.

I stayed outside on the porch for a good chunk of the morning and remembered that I came to this town feeling drained.  Drained of energy, of creativity, and of belief in my art.  I’ve had this blog for four years, and since then have moved farther and farther away from the city I tried so hard to work in.  Throughout my time working in NYC, I worked as: a secretary, a teaching artist, a barista, an auction assistant, a development administrator, a background actor, a post-it note display decorator, a props designer, a gas station promotor, a casting assistant, a scientist welcomer (long story), an exchange student conference organizer, a gift basket stuffer, a babysitter, an accidental Mac help-desk specialist, an audiobook recorder, a conference planner, and a database specialist (I punched holes in documents for four weeks). As thankful as I am to have all these jobs and experiences, I am TIRED.  Only two of these jobs on the list are related to acting.  So after almost five and a half years working in the city and trying to find time time to audition, I have to change my approach before I hate theatre altogether.

So I am working at an incredibly positive school while taking classes in the city until I am ready to return to the audition scene as a useful human being.  Because I wasn’t one.  I was a jaded, angry New Yorker that wanted to punch every musical theatre 20-something that still looked full of hope.  I felt everyone around me had more money, time, talent, and confidence than I did, which I know is bull, but I needed to get out to remember that.

I am very grateful for all these odd jobs.  If I hadn’t worked them, I wouldn’t have ended up where I am now, surrounded by adorable students and genuinely friendly coworkers.  Every office around me has a candy and girl scout cookie secret stash, including mine.  If I hadn’t marked this path out for myself, I wouldn’t have anywhere to go when I get burned out.

Coincidentally, I am reading a book called Brain Rules that describes the physical reaction your brain has to exercise and other stress-reducing activities.  You are actually feeding your brain.  Since I couldn’t go for a run without someone calling me “baby” in my old neighborhood, I am looking forward to my new running path and the less stressful town all around.  I am looking forward to perking back up and waltzing into Ripley Grier someday soon without looking like a droopy plant.

 

Where I'll be.

Where I’ll be.

So I am going to sit on my porch for a while with my glass of wine next to my revived flowers.  And when I no longer look like a two dollar last chance mum, I will head back to the races.  Until then, I hope to finish my book…or my play…or maybe just my bottle of wine to start.  In the meantime, I have a porch with extra chairs, extra wine, and extra plants that need watering for you city-dwellers that also need some porch time.  Don’t hesitate to come sit with us.

 

Happy Monday all, enjoy the sunshine:)

Rituals, Direction, and How to Not Kick Your Cat While Doing Yoga

daily rituals

 

A couple months ago, I read Daily Rituals by Mason Currey, a book that many bloggers have been chatting about recently.  Man did this collection make me feel better about myself as an artist. He has collected the daily routines of famous and historic writers, artists, scientists, and other great minds throughout history.  By breaking down how each person spent their day, it is A.) a fantastic read for someone with a short attention span like me and B.) incredibly humbling and inspiring.

The most eye-opening part?  They were all regular people, who ate meals and did chores, had crazy sleeping schedules, and errands to run.  They’re like you and me!!  Doing people things!  So I tackled the whole “if they can do it, I can give it a go” mantra and broke it down.

These are some of the themes I spotted (The quotes are all pulled from Mason Currey’s Blog, also listed above.)

1. Consistency, even when life takes a turn: On Joseph Campbell: “So during the years of the Depression I had arranged a schedule for myself. When you don’t have a job or anyone to tell you what to do, you’ve got to fix one for yourself. ”

2. Drugs, drugs, drugs: On Paul Erdos: “Erdös first did mathematics at the age of three, but for the last twenty-five years of his life, since the death of his mother, he put in nineteen-hour days, keeping himself fortified with 10 to 20 milligrams of Benzedrine or Ritalin, strong espresso, and caffeine tablets. “A mathematician,” Erdos was fond of saying, “is a machine for turning coffee into theorems.”

2. Guilt: On Alaa Al Aswany: “I have a very firm schedule. I must wake up at six a.m. or I feel very guilty. I write from 6:30 to 10:30 six days a week, like a soldier—no interruptions.”

4. Above all, doing whatever the hell works for you: On Gary Panter: “Get up at 7:30 in the morning — feed cats, drive daughter to school, read the NY Times and drink chocolate milk.”

5. A wonderful amount of interestingly-timed whiskey.: On Winston Churchill: “At 11:00 a.m., he arose, bathed, and perhaps took a walk around the garden, and took a weak whisky and soda to his study.”

There wasn’t a single artist that was the same, thus disproving any self-help/success guru that claims there is one way to do things.  But looking at this list, obviously there are some things I can do without.  I need to go to work, so an 8 hour regimen is not possible yet.  If I stayed home all day, I would probably start to go crazy.  Drugs aren’t up my alley.  I get nervous when I take too much Tylenol.  So scratch that.  Guilt?  I was raised Catholic, so I am not in short supply of guilt.  Consistency!  Heeeey, there’s something I’ve never been great at, that may do!  And whiskey.  I can keep that part.  I would be up for making Moscow Mules a brunch staple.

Literal Sun Salutation…

Taken on the Camino!

Taken on the Camino!

For the past four weeks (at least on weekdays, all bets are off on weekends), I have gotten up a little earlier than usual to write and do about 5 minutes of yoga before hopping in the shower and going to work.  At first I thought:

This isn’t going to last, it will be like one of those Pinterest Yoga challenges I desert for sleeping in by day 4.

Or…

It’s so dark out in the morning, this is depressing, I am in my dark living room doing yoga with my cat chirping at me.

But it’s wild: the more I did it, the more I couldn’t imagine not doing it before work.  It’s still slow, I am not about to join a 6am yoga class or anything, but I have found that I am no longer an evil anxious human being while getting ready.

And what’s even more fascinating: without planning or following some sort of guide, my yoga and writing have been going a bit longer each morning.  Thanks to my cat who wakes me up for food at 5:45am, I have a natural alarm clock.

The other wonderful thing about writing and yoga at this specific hour is watching the days get longer through the winter.  When I first started, it was still dark by the time I headed off to the shower.  Now, the sun is rising as I start yoga.  I am so much more aware that Spring is on its way, no matter what this little asshole says next week.

The Cat Part of the Blog Post

Strangely enough, I didn’t expect the ritual to grow into something far more important than exercise and journaling.  Of course this makes sense, if you do the same thing every day, you’re going to feel more comfortable with it.  Right?  But I honestly didn’t assume that 20 minutes out of my day would make much of a difference.

I recognized I had made a yogic breakthrough when I no longer wanted to smack my very loving cat the moment I rolled out my mat (Hey I rhymed!).  Whenever I stretch down to floor level in a sun salutation, here comes Tiber, our overfed dog-like cat rolling, cooing, and running back and forth under my downward dog like I’m a playground bridge structure.

tiber

At the end of my practice, I meditate for a few minutes while Tiber purrs and occasionally makes his signature “chirping” noise that translates into, “Hhhey….Heeeey….Hey youuu.”  With each chirp, he pats my knee with his claws half extended.  It’s great.  After many days of shooing him away, lightning struck.  All of my Buddhism instruction talks about remaining in the moment while meditating, not closing your eyes and drifting off into philosophical la-la land, a common misconception. So Buddha Tiber (he has the belly for it) is the present moment saying, “Heeey…stop thinking about cleaning the floors.  Hey, yes we still have cereal…heeeeeeeeeey, HEY.”

When I thought of this, I chuckled, gave him a pat, and he stopped chirping.  He purred, which was way more calming than my spastic thoughts.

Cats: Better than Overpriced Yoga Props

viola

Since I have learned to work with my furry yoga partner, I have been noticing other helpful things about his distractions.  He is often standing exactly where I was about to put my foot, causing me to have to look where I am placing it.  This was often mentioned in yoga classes I took anyway, but I never really understood its importance.  When I look before I place, much like spotting in dance, I see where I am headed and have less of a chance of flailing around like a drunk person.

not yoga

For example.

I am more present, because I don’t want to kick Tiber, and I feel more in control of the movements.

Thanks cat!

What does any of this have to do with a book about rituals?

What I loved most about the routine book is that each artist built upon their work, slowly but surely through some consistency.  And because of this, they found a direction, however abstract.  It’s hard to have direction as an artist when so much is out of your control.  You can build it, but you don’t actually know if they will come.  So I find setting a goal is tricky, and they often sound too abstract to act on.  Building on the smaller things is actually in my control, and they just take time.  I feel I have made some progress at the end of the day, however little, and this is invaluable.

Writing and exercising each morning is something I can act and build on, and I have already started to learn from it.  So I tip my hat to you, Mason Currey.  Thank you for showing me that accomplished artists live regular lives like the rest of us in the same world we know.  It’s not on some magical wealthy creative cloud that we can’t reach, but usually in their living room, with dirty dishes in the sink, and maybe some whiskey.

Rephrasing the “Fall Back” Question

About four years ago, right after I moved to NYC, I started a word document simply called “Life.”  It evolved into my Morning Pages, and sometimes acts as a ranting journal for when I don’t feel like using a pen.  Occasionally, especially on snowy days like today, I skim through it and relive getting to know Ben, quitting a million temp jobs, and struggling through an endless slew of days loving or hating New York City Theatre.  I will gladly skip the tiring bits about Sallie Mae or getting stuck on the D train and gravitate toward the wine-induced evenings when I sounded surprisingly poetic.  Good for you, tipsy brain.  Either way, it’s always an adventure to read.  It usually ends in me declaring I forgot to feed the cats, and then the sentence abruptly ends.

The hard part when looking back is seeing the patterns.  Have I always complained about not being able to pay my bills?  Have I always believed that I don’t work hard enough toward acting?  Have I always hated living in a densely populated city????  Am I a crazy person going in circles slowly accumulating cats and cat pictures??

It's possible.

It’s possible.

I’ve struggled with getting caught in patterns for years.  If you look back through these posts, you’ll definitely see it here.  I have written about pretty similar themes each time: surviving your survival job, overcoming stress in an audition, not going insane even though you’re broke.  Round and round I go.  Not to say these posts weren’t genuine or warranted, but they weren’t kidding when they said being an artist is exhausting  (They being all my guidance counselors before college).

Speaking of guidance counselors…

I partially blame this fretting cycle on the American Dream-esque rhetoric we are fed in school.  “If you try hard enough (or “want” something enough), you can achieve anything.” Then I mix this with a good dose of, “If you can’t stand the hard life that comes along with acting, what will your fall back be?”  Ew.  What a terrible, and illogical amount of pressure to put on yourself, not to mention your creative self.  I should pick a secondary career to pursue if I decide one day that I don’t “want” something enough to push through the hard stuff?  That doesn’t sound pleasant or productive.  What I feel the question leaves out is:

-When you act/write/paint/stand on your head while juggling, do you feel that you are truly at home?  Do you know that this is the best way to share your ideas with the world?  Then congrats, you are that.  That’s the end of it.

Hooray!

Hooray!

-If you enjoy something else right now (working in an office, bartending, driving the A train) does that mean that you’re not actually meant to be an artist?  No.  Wrong.  And let’s stop saying “meant to” please.  You are what you are.

-If someone doesn’t hire me to practice my art, does that mean I am failing?  Nope!  It just means ten million other people are doing what you are doing, and there is no logical latter to the top of the arts.  Actually, there is no top of the arts.  But that’s another blog post.

-Is my friend on Instagram who always takes pictures of their feet before an audition trying harder than I am?  Probably not.  They just take more pictures. #blessed #coolit #unfollow

If I was to talk to a room of doe-eyed college seniors in a theatre program right now, I wouldn’t threaten them with, “Times are hard!  Jobs are few!  If you can’t take it, don’t be an actor!”  Instead I would say, “You have your art, whether you need to pay back Aunt Sallie or not, money or time will never dictate that.  The trick is keeping your lifelong goal of acting alive.  So what job will you take on that will feed your creative soul while allowing you to progress as a person at the same time?”  Hey, hippie Ginny, nice to see you this morning.

Finding Your People, and your Lifestyle

iPhone Pictures 673

One of the biggest artistic things I have learned from my older and sometimes wiser husband (he is currently debating with me that he is never wiser, but I disagree) is that there is one thing in theatre that cannot be rushed: building your community and finding your people.  There is a joke among Ben’s friends called “the six degrees of Ben Bartolone.”  When he meets someone new in theatre, chances are they were his college buddy’s ex-girlfriend/worked at the mall with his best friend in high school/goes to his Steelers bar/actually a distant relative.  It never stops amazing me.  Why?  Because he knows the power of community in this field, and that time is necessary to build one. We are all running in circles at times, it’s just a matter of starting to run into each other.

Realizing who you don’t work well with is just as important.  I’ve taken a few acting classes when I’ve felt that I was missing some inside joke the rest of the group was riding on the whole time.  I felt old (not in a bad way) and that I’d rather go home to a book and wine at the end of the night instead of shots of fireball at a crowded midtown bar.  I sit in the Equity Lounge (something I couldn’t wait to do) and wonder why I don’t have any interest anymore in spending 12 weeks in a van performing Shakespeare to middle schoolers.  Does this mean I don’t want to be an actor enough?

Between the countless Drew grads in my life that share the same bitter-snarky optimism, and some lovely people I have found during my time here, I see how a community clarifies your artistic path.  Suddenly, like magic, my thoughts have shifted from “who will hire me?” to “what do I want to create with these wonderful people?”

box on head

Wonderful people.

Happiness also exists when you’re not in a show…

I am very fascinated by the phenomenon of two questions:

“What are you working on?”  In case you haven’t seen this…

and

“Oh you’re writing now…so you’ve given up Acting?”

Whaaaat??  I recently told a group of my coworkers that this was a common theatre phrase and they looked horrified.  What kind of career constantly asks you if you are giving up your career?

Since the wedding, I have been primarily freelancing in fundraising, specifically in a school.  I originally sought this out with the expensive wedding on the horizon.  But amazingly in the process found that working around adorable babies while working toward a cause I care deeply about, was pretty damn fulfilling.  It transformed from something I could do to something I wanted to do.  And the happy side effect?  I can finally work toward financial freedom, afford classes I enjoy, and free up a little part of my brain that used to focus on bills but now focuses on writing and acting.  How delightful! Am I going to EPA’s every morning and hoping to win the acting lottery?  Not right now.  Will I again?  I’m sure.  But my life is by no means on hold in the meantime.

The New Question (open to suggestions here):

Instead of “What will you do if you fail as an artist?” how about “What will I do to remain an artist?”

In other words, in today’s economy, with NYC becoming a more and more expensive city full of more and more trained talented actors (like yourself), what work can I put my energy toward that I care about, is in-line with my ethics, and will sustain that innate part of me that is, and will remain, an artist.

Isn’t that better than waiting for some impending moment to pull the plug on your passion?  Also, isn’t this option more logical?  There is no more “starving artist” archetype.  There is however, a “working three jobs while also doing my art-starving artist” archetype.  We need to adapt with the times without giving up our art, otherwise, the world will miss out of what you have to give.  So we need a better way to sustain ourselves: financially, creatively, and physically.

As usual, it’s all about intention.

If your intention when taking a job is just to make money (see myself, three months ago) there is a chance you will hit an artistic wall.  It is not in our nature to be obsessive consumers.  If your intention is hiding from being an artist, I can make an easy guess that will also fail.  It will find you.

In this metaphor, Claire= your art.

In this metaphor, Claire= your art.

I have to say that since I have set my sights on making education administration a long-term part of my life, I have begun chipping away at two writing projects, met a lovely Jersey City theatre community, and started singing regularly again.  This idea will not work for anyone, why would it?  But removing the pressure to live an actor’s like in a “typical” way, strangely made me feel more like an artist.  So let’s give ourselves a break and remember this is our life goal, not a “by next week” goal.  By having a varied and dynamic life, we are still hard workers, still passionate, and yes, still actors.

Survival Job Sanity: A Call for Advice

In October, I will turn 28, thus marking my 20th year in theatre.  Other than sending me into a bit of a crisis about how I thought I’d be a Rockette by now, I feel it will also give me the right to have loud, dramatic diva tantrums involving long scarves and phrases like, “I’ve been in this business for TWENTY YEEEAARS.”

Tiny me in Barn Theatre’s production of Kindertransport way back when.

What I found interesting about this realization is that I do not have a feeling of, “Where did the time go?”  I know where it went.  A lot of shit has gone down since I was eight.  Good and bad.

And I believe that theatre had a lot to do with me not feeling that life has just skipped on by.  Theatre fills your life with unique experiences and challenges you to be constantly looking at who you are and where you’re going.  Go theatre.  Ten points.

My issue?  I’m scared I’m losing that feeling.  Acting has been more of a struggle for me in the past four years that it ever was as a kid or even in college.  Part of that is a lack of consistent practice, part is keeping up with the bills and adult life, and a big part is good ol’ fashioned laziness.  Of course, another large part is that I’m not one of 10 young girls in Central Jersey pursuing acting anymore.  The odds have tipped a bit.

But things do need to change.  And recently, I have been making a great attempt to figure out where to start.

So I am raging against this loss of artistic presence by doing what I love most: over-analyzing my situation from a sociological standpoint and writing a blog post about it.  Hooray!!!

My Two Lives

Way back in high school, I had my first food service job.  I quickly realized I was the worst waitress on the face of the earth, so needed to find another game plan for my impending impoverished life as an actor.  Someone suggested secretarial work, and that was that.

For four years in the city, I have befriended several temp agencies, two of which have been very encouraging about my theatrical endeavors.  They know I am looking to bounce around between projects, that I am not looking for advancement in a company, and I am willing to do horribly mundane projects if they let me leave for auditions.  For all this, I am very grateful, and everyone wins.

Yet the culture of most corporate offices, and the culture of let’s say, the Equity waiting room, might as well be on different planets.  And most mornings, I bounce between the two. This is starting to mess with me.

Scenario A: Moseying into the office: non-audition days.

(Not a particular example from one company, just a mish-mash of experiences from where in I’ve temped.)

I come in at 8:45 and usually my office is still empty.  I’m a morning person and since theatre has taught me that being late is a mortal sin, here I am (My mom once told me that unless I was on my death-bed, I get to rehearsal on time.  Childhood!).

I go to the cafeteria and chat with the staff up there, who will be more chatty and friendly with me than pretty much anyone I interact with all day.  Except for the mail room guys.  For whatever reason, the mail room is always where the party is going on.  And for the most part, my immediate supervisor is also always a doll since they are also the go-to administrator.

I settle down with my breakfast at my desk and check my work email.  I don’t have any mail, because essentially, no one is really sure about what I do.

I start my ongoing data entry or filing project, feeling a bit like Sisyphus pushing a pile of file folders up a hill, but still being very grateful that I don’t have to wait tables and drop plates all day.  I drop things a lot, it would be a disaster.

I once discovered that I could take wacky pictures with the light above my desk. So I sent about five of these to Ben. You know, while being productive.

I once discovered that I could take wacky pictures with the light above my desk. So I sent about five of these to Ben. You know, while being productive.

Around 10:30, someone notices I’m there, very nicely thanks me for doing something boring and then I spend the day either talking to no one or chatting with the janitor, who often also has a real personality.

I leave at 5, and without a doubt, someone will make a comment about how it’s almost Friday, or how they wish it wasn’t only Tuesday, etc.

Repeat.

After about four months, I have a life crisis, take my favorite pen, and switch to a new office.

The qualities that I adore in theatre people (friendliness, near-obsessive passion for their work, motivation, discipline, and enthusiasm for Mondays) are rarely present in the officers where I spend 75% of my waking day.

What do I learn?  You can get by in this type of office by giving about 50% and you’re still patted on the back.  Complaining about being at work helps you fit in with the culture. Would this attitude fly in theatre?  Nope.

Scenario B:Audition Days

I wake up early and spend my shower and prep time warming up my voice and stretching.  I usually sprint around looking for the stapler to put my headshot and resume together and make it out the door by 7.  If I make it to the Equity building by 8, I usually get an appointment early enough that it doesn’t interfere with “office land” at all.

The waiting room is full of focused, energized, and anxious people.  Nothing like a healthy dose of fear to make you feel present and awake.  Yes there are always a few chatters who love to talk about the twelve productions of Midsummer they’re currently starring in, but I’m working on zoning them out.

There is a delightfully strict decorum, which as a former ballet dancer, I think is just dandy.  You have all your shit in order and if you don’t, you don’t audition.  You stay close by and respect each others space while sending out happy energy to those around you who know are in the same bizarre boat you are.  This is as close as I can get to making audition waiting rooms sound magical.

Overall, as stressful as auditioning is, you are awake, excited, and surrounded by grateful interesting people.

Where things get wacky

Here’s where everything goes a bit awry.  I get into the audition room and feel like a million bucks when I introduce myself.  Here I am!  Ready show you my one-woman one-minute play!

And then I open my mouth.  Apparently there is a room in my brain that holds my monologues, songs, and acting skills.  Also in this room lives every anxiety about theatre, my career path, my hatred of data entry, my self-consciousness about that spot on my dress, the idea that I gained weight after the wedding, and this Spiderman-like sense of every noise, smell, image in the room. It’s just a delight.  I then become the psychic of the year and believe I can read into every note taken by the audition panel, every body shift in their chair, every clearing of the throat.

From a Buddhist perspective, this is fricken awesome to analyze.  There are tons of things to learn from what your mind does when you are this present.  And though I know I can learn from it, it’s not super helpful for getting cast.

Suddenly, my monologue is over, and I leave confused, frustrated, and unable to remember how to do basic things like use the elevator.  Right, buttons.  We press those.  I return to office-land, where no one seems to really give a hoot about if I was ever gone, and I fall deeper into this frustration.

This post is getting a little ranty. So let's take a break and look at Tiber in a box from this morning.

This post is getting a little ranty. So let’s take a break and look at Tiber in a box from this morning.

My call for advice…

I wrote a similar post several years ago, and have made great strides as far as my discipline in my training.  Great, so I’m no longer feeling uncomfortable getting in the audition door.  I am now Equity, and am super grateful that I can audition for so much more.  And yet, my phone isn’t exactly ringing off the hook.

If I do not maintain a healthy and happy life outside of the audition room,  it clearly shows in my acting.  I am not fully present on stage, and therefore, no one is going to give a crap about the story I’m telling.

So where is the balance?  Bills are important, and a life in theatre is hella expensive.

Here is my question for you actors and artists out there (or anyone else who can relate, I’m sure it doesn’t only happen in theatre):  how do you “leave everything at the door”?  When did you reach the point where your frustrations with the business and the life you build around maintaining the business stopped interfering with the art itself?

I am not totally without ideas.  I recently took an incredible workshop with Blanka Zizka down at the Wilma which focused on a new form of actor training.  It was all about the your physical capability as an actor to be in the moment at all times on stage.  Her magical word that stuck with me was “Insist.”  Insist on your breath, insist on being seen, and insist on telling your story.  What a wonderful lady and teacher.

So this is part of my insistence to not let this complacent office culture, a part of my life necessary to supporting my art, take away from the art itself.

All comments and advice welcome!  Thank you ahead of time for your love and happy auditioning/rehearsing/data entering this week.

 

In case you missed my recent crazy life updates, my name is now Ginny Bartolone and I have a new acting website in the works at GinnyBartolone.com 🙂  Yahoo!

I will close this with me making a ridiculous face while trying to cut our wedding cake. Wedding posts soon to come.

Wandering on Mother’s Day

Yesterday could have been a disaster.  I woke up to some all-too-familiar problems at my parent’s house, that lead to scrapping all Mother’s Day plans.  I had a very sweet offer from Ben’s family, and normally I would have happily joined them.  But at this point I wanted nothing to do with the Hallmark holiday, and was in a very cynical “I’m better off staying in bed all day, eating a block of cheese, and watching Say Yes to the Dress.”

cheese Plus   say yes

Luckily that didn’t happen.  Because I left my sunglasses at a friend’s house the night before…

Trusting you wandering intuition…especially when you feel like crap

A consistent thread in many of my blog posts is that good things happen when I have thrown my plans out the window and gone out wandering.   Some of the most unexpected and lovely days occur after a very discouraging event.  My “plan” yesterday was to mope down to Dan and Kim’s to get my sunglasses simply as an excuse to get out of the house before climbing back into my blanket cave.  But alas, they suggested food, and so that lead to a lovely brunch.  That lead to ice cream, which lead to a suggestion to check out a church book sale, which lead to me buying an awesome book, which lead to sitting in the park for 4 hours surrounded by toddlers and dogs, which lead to Helen running into me, which lead to drinks at a new bar, which lead to a great tipsy nap when I got home.  All because I forgot my sunglasses.

When I was walking up the hill to my house, I realized it was 5.  I left my house at 10 that morning.  What was supposed to a quick walk to stomp out my family frustration, became an entire sun and friend-filled day.

Hamilton Park in Jersey City

Hamilton Park in Jersey City

So I can quit my job, right?

Oh most definitely.  Because of yesterday, I made peace with that fact that I am leaving my temp job.  Any logical person would look at my situation (saving for a wedding, terrifying student loans, desperate need for dental insurance {stupid wisdom teeth}), and say “Do not leave that job!”  I make a somewhat decent hourly wage, and in theory, this is supposed to turn into a “permanent” position; which by the way, I think is the dumbest/scariest word you can put near a job title.  Permanent.  Ew.

Anyway, I can’t do it.  Every bone in my body for the past four months has told me that I simply cannot justify sitting in a chair all day with barely anything to do, except occasionally file a form.  I am not contributing to anything or anyone, especially not to myself.  I am just making money, and barely enough to save, which was the whole point in the first place.  So when I was reminded how much I missed the acting lifestyle at an amazing audition several weeks ago, I scrapped this plan.

When I gave my notice, my boss thought I was insane.  Like out of a movie, she started yelling about the “stock options and vacation days” that would await me if I stayed for several more months.  One day I’ll look  back at that moment as one of those funny crossroads of when I could have accepted some financial security in return for my sanity.  Or I may look back and kick myself.  Who can say.

It’s not for everyone, right?

I realized that I couldn’t have explained my plan to her even if I tried.  It’s not in everyone’s nature to choice an artistic career over a steady job.  I wasn’t screwing her over technically.  The job did not remotely end up being what she described at the start so the situation was now, “stay as long as you can and it may go permanent in a few months.”  Still, I see how doing this all day makes more sense to people than jumping from job to audition to job.  A friend of Helen’s once described the acting lifestyle as “running off a cliff.”

road

I got thinking this morning as I watched the push-and-shoves marching down 42nd street.  I bet many of them love their jobs, maybe they’re in the career where they feel fulfilled.  And maybe monotony to them is just consistence.  I couldn’t help but wonder if any of them would view things differently if they let themselves off their daily trail once and a while.  I wonder those things a lot actually, but who am I to judge them?  It’s just a sea of suits after a while.

This difference may be why I have felt so left out recently.  I’m here, and everyone is perfectly nice, but I feel like I don’t get something.  I am sent the simplest projects and people ask my if I need days to complete them.  No.  A robot could do this.  Also, the things that people complain about in offices blows my mind.  So all in all, I leave at the end of the day frustrated and bored, and not that much richer.  So whoever this lifestyle is for, power to ya.

My point

The moment you stop worrying about your plans working out, they usually do.  If you’re feeling lost, or if you feel there is something wrong with you because you haven’t chosen the 9-5 life either, give yourself a break.  There is something to  be said about trusting an inconsistent work schedule.  And about giving opportunities a chance, even if they seem illogical.  Some of the best things that have happened to me have been because I’ve trusted my gut instead of my paranoid logic

.If you have found a 9-5 that makes you happy, I’m not crashing your parade either.  I know that’s not the expression.  But I like the image it creates.  Very Ferris Bueller.  Anyway, I’m just reiterating the old “get lost to get found” adage.  I’ve been getting lost and running into wonderful things (and people) for about four years now, and I “plan” on continuing.

Your 9-5 Parade.  That I am not crashing.  Or raining on.

Your 9-5 Parade. That I am not crashing. Or raining on.

P.S. If you would like hire me to do anything while I am auditioning, let me know!:)  I am great at hot gluing, entertaining large amount of toddlers, and showing up to things on time.  I also accept pie, alcohol, or wedding craft project help as payment.

Thanks for reading, all.

The Secret Life of Background Actors

This post has been a long time coming.  So be prepared for a lengthy one.  When I moved to New York City almost two years ago, I was pretty clueless about the realities of finding part-time work that didn’t make me insane.  Ten dollars an hour seemed like a dream to serve people cupcakes.  And I could live in the grand ol’ city with just enough to make rent, right?  I didn’t need any left over for you know…living.

Four months later, with no savings and a newly formed hatred for cupcakes and stock brokers, I quit without a solid plan of what to do next.  I took very part-time work as an assistant teaching artist with an after school program.  It was heaven compared to food service but I was working with about $150 a week.  This is when I discovered my wonderful temp agency and the fine fine world of background “acting”….

Boardwalk Empire: Irish Immigrant 1921

It started with a suggestion from Ben.

Ben:  Well, you could always do extra work.  I used to do it, but it was a hassle so I stopped for a while.

Me: A hassle?  Are you kidding me?  You’re saying I get to be in a major film or TV show and get paid for it??  I could work on set with celebrities and then be seen with them on TV??

Ben: You only get paid like $85 when you’re non-union…

Me:  I’m making $30 a day right now.  I’ll take it.

 

So I signed up for Casting Networks and was on my way to my big film debut!  Here’s the deal with Casting Networks:  You sign up for a bit of money and every day receive posts about what they are looking for in the next few days.  Things move pretty quickly.  Though I’ve talked about this is in other posts, it’s worth repeating.

Common types sought are:

-ND Peds (Nondescript Pedestrians, aka, not particularly noticeable people)

-Artsy Types (Still not sure what this means, my guess is you have to be sitting on funky steps or in front of a brick wall in your headshot to be considered.)

-Hipsters (Young people with the deadpan Williamsburg face.  They usually request tattoos or mohawks…?)

-Upper East Side Types (Waspy People)

-Low-Income Neighborhood Types (Not commenting on this one, it makes me uncomfortable.)

-Model Types (I got called in for Blue Bloods for this type once and did a go-see to be considered.  I was the shortest and least skinny girl there…and if you know me, I’m not concerned about my weight.  Afterwards I went and had ice cream in their honor.)

-Homeless Types (Many people have wardrobe set aside for this)

Uncommon but favorite types I’ve seen:

-Gay Bears with Cars: figure it out on your own.

-Bottom of the Barrel Prostitutes:  If I wake up and decide that that’s my type, I hope one of my friends stages an intervention.

-Seedy Brooklyn Types

-Corpse who has not yet worked on this show.  I’m glad there is work after death.

-High School Types with cow milking experience (THIS WAS TOTALLY ME!  I applied, with legit cow-milking experience and never heard.  Are there that many people in NYC who have milked a cow??!)

-Homeless types with high end car and news reporter change.

-Homeless Cabby Types with Suit Options

Untitled David Chase Project with two awesome ladies

The Oh-So Glamorous Life

Now don’t get me wrong, when I get called for BG work, I still get pretty excited.  It is nice feel a part of the shoot for the day, chat with some interesting new people, and learn about the way a film set works.  I was pretty clueless when I went into it and am now a member of the union with some experience and a plan under my belt.  The union pay makes it more worth it, especially when it’s something you do occasionally.  I also have a hell of a lot more patience…

So, yes, you get to follow those signs that say “to set,” and yes ,you get to eat from that free food table on the street…but how glamorous is it?  I’ve had family members and many friends actually be somewhat jealous when I’ve mentioned I’ve done this…so let me clear that up for you…

A typical day:

First you get the call from the casting agency the day before.  Pick up your phone or no job.  This makes you a little psycho about finding creative ways to duck out of other jobs when your caller ID suddenly says GW Casting.  There’s usually no way to call back.  Then you call in late that night and find out what time you should show up.  I wouldn’t cancel if I were you, I have a theory there is a background actor dart board you end up on if you bail too much.

Sometimes your call is on 160th street at 5am.  That’s when your boyfriend takes the 1 train with you at 4am because no background shoot is worth getting mugged for.  Next, you check in with the PA’s who have been there for a few hours already.  Be nice to these people.  They put up with a lot.  Next comes the great part!  The breakfast is one of the largest you’ve had in a while.  There will be enough breakfast food to feed a small army.

Then you sit in holding for 3-4 hours.  Activities include reading entire books, finishing other work, yoga, learning lines, playing with your phone, fighting for an outlet to charge your phone (only the strong survive!), and chatting with your table of fellow actors.  Initial conversations will ALWAYS include: rumors of when the day will end, who is union and how everyone feels about unions, the different casting agencies and odd ways people get work,where crafty is, and of course, personal details that are very TMI.  Choose your table carefully!  Look for people with books.  No matter what you do, one person at your table will be seeking their big break from today’s shoot.  Nod with sympathy.

If it’s a period piece, you were probably fit for a costume on a separate day.  You walk to set and tourists take pictures with you.  Someone may do your hair and makeup.  This is my favorite part, I often get life advice from the crew.

Next you get called to set and are given a place to sit or walk.  Don’t fuck around.  (Unless it’s 4am and you’ve lost all awareness of reality, then you should sing Les Mis with a group of fake Hamptonites.)  One very fun day on Boardwalk Empire, I had two different husbands and a child with one of them.   We had a fake family rivalry going by the end of the day.  Another time I spent 75% of the night trying to sleep in the Natural History Museum’s cafeteria.  It’s really hit or miss.

Lunch comes about 6 hours in and people turn into wild animals with the fear that the crew will eat it all.  They never do, there is always food.  Stop bitching.

You will then go back to set and begin picking up on any cues possible from the crew about whether the day is coming to a close.  Rumors circulate!  Bets are made!  Fights break out!  Not really, but some people get pretty funny about it.  I figure, if you’re not in for a long day, don’t sign up.  There are other options of how to spend your day.

Ben getting lunch on Pan Am. Looking dashing.

Thinking about doing it?  Things to know!

To close, below are some important vocab words and survival tips:

Craft Services: The most ridiculous assortment of free snacks you will ever have available to you at one time.  Want to slather almond butter on crackers and top it off with peanut M&Ms?  Or what about fruit salad with a side of Pirates Booty and an espresso?  Be sure to hoard candy bars and bring them back to holding for brownie points with your table.

Tax Forms:At every shoot you will fill out a whole new set of tax forms and receive the pink one when you leave.  This is because you are essentially being laid off at the end of each day.   Learn to fill these out in your sleep.  If you wrap at 3 am, you may be asleep.

Your One: This is the place where you start the shot.  You may do a million takes so you go back to it if they yell this.  You may begin your one with someone who is either very friendly and awesome or someone who wants to tell you about their taxidermy collection.  Takes all types.

Martini Shot: The final shot of the day.  The term goes back to have a post shoot drink.  Keep your ear out for this.

Golden Hour: If you are non-union, turn your ears off, you do NOT want to hear union people talking about it if you’ve worked this long.  If you are union: after 8 hours you get time and a half, after 10 you get double time, then the 13th hour (am I wrong about this?) you get a Golden Hour.  You are now getting paid about $147 an hour.  Celebrate.  Call your mom.  Buy new shoes.

“May Go Late”: This is an overnight.  If you are non-union, proceed with caution.   I did many before I joined the union, and the $80 paycheck was rough.  If you have nothing to do the next day, just jump on for the ride!  Ever want to hang out with random people dressed up as hipsters during a fake blackout in Bushwick until the sun comes up?  Here’s you chance!  Or maybe pretend it’s the 50s and pony dance at a Fourth of July party.  I’ve had some of the goofiest nights this way.

I also had an overnight that was so terrible, I joined the union afterwards.  It was the final non-union straw.  After sitting outside in 45 degree weather for 6 hours in sundresses until 4am, my section of the crowd started losing their  minds and humming “Do You Hear the People Sing?” from Les Mis.  I still run into people who were there that night.  It’s like discussing a ship wreck.  We were dropped off by Grand Central Station at 5am.  Many people had to sit on the sidewalk until LIRR or Metro North started running.  No thank you.

My point:

I always have a point or lesson to all my blog posts, and I promise this one was not to be negative.  There are many great things about working on sets as an extra, especially once you get past the myth that it will enhance your career or help you be “discovered”.  You can take from it what you like, I personally have learned a lot and made some great friends.  It has been an occasional source of fun flexible income.  I also love observing other actors and picking up whatever I can from their work.  And hey, I got to meet Steve Buscemi and serve a fake breakfast to Michael Emerson.

If for some reason you’re a casting agent reading this…ummmm…I swear I’m a hard worker and background work is awesome!  I won’t bitch or stare into the camera:)

So next time you’re watching a show or movie, check out those extras.  There’s a whole other story going on back there.  Thanks for reading, and much love to all my fellow extras out there.

Play “Find the Ginny”

My Real Resume

Bit of a dreary day today, and not just because of the weather. I had one of those cursed mornings that started me off of the wrong foot, and then the next ten wrong feet. Sure, that makes sense. In a span of two hours my cat ate my breakfast, my metro card broke, my stockings ripped, and my lunch spilled all over my purse. I then had two hours to sit in a windowless hallway waiting for an audition sign-up. There was no bathroom in the building which didn’t help the whole “covered in orzo pasta thing.” Then they decided to bleach the floors. More awesome. After the audition, I headed to work where I am temporarily assisting the preparation for a conference. I made it home in one piece, more or less.

PLOTTING

By the end of the day, my head was spinning because of all the different roles I realized I have to play this week. I officially have seven jobs. Seven. And each week their schedules change. Sometimes I work all of them, some weeks I work none. It’s a real hoot. But it got me thinking about how odd it is that I am qualified to be an event planner, babysitter, art/science teacher, auctioneer, secretary, or financial assistant with a degree in theatre. Background actor is the seventh “job,” but any person who can walk and basically function on a normal social level (not always a requirement!) can be an extra.

For a while now I’ve wanted to write what I have ACTUALLY been required to do at these odd jobs and internships I’ve had throughout the years. Obviously I won’t list companies, that would be shady and possibly never get me hired anywhere again, but I will generalize….

My real resume…..

Virginia Bosch

Education:

About as Liberal Arts as You Can Get University

BA in Intro Class to Everything

Post Graduate Studies: Figuring out the Sallie Website, Walking Across Spain

Work Experience:

Brief Food Service, just long enough to move into NYC and not tell off a customer (well, almost!)

  • Trained legs to stand for 8 hours, fueled by sugar and endless free coffee
  • Perfected mopping, dish-washing skills, and dustbusting skills
  • Counseled guilty corporate types while breaking their diets
  • Invented new mixed flavored coffee drinks…fun with the syrup bottles!
  • Experimented and compared noises of different stale cupcakes when thrown against the floor

Various Temping Positions, day to day, sometimes even for two consecutive days if lucky

  • Ability to word emails and answer phones without sounding like an asshole
  • Can do mindless repetitive actions without losing sanity, AKA: data entry
  • Can organize a file cabinet like a beast
  • Can fix any copy machine by whacking it
  • Once covered a giant room in post-it notes

Elementary Art Teacher,ever since I learned I’d rather work with toddlers than serve adults food

  • Expert hot-gluer, especially when student’s craft crumbles seconds before dismissal
  • Trained in the “I will wait until you stop talking” passive-aggressive approach to classroom management
  • Willing to toss detailed lesson plans to the wind when kindergartners are more in the mood for general rolling on the floor. Hey, sometimes you gotta roll on the floor.
  • Ability to teach an enrichment class when teachers or parents decide to have last minute coffee talk in your classroom
  • Once pretended I was a turtle while walking through the Upper East Side

Babysitter, should have started sooner

  • Can create craft project out of ANYTHING
  • Trained in Grover voice
  • Willing to be covered in soap, chalk, water, food, mud, etc.
  • Know the Mickey Mouse Hot Dog Dance song by heart

and last but not least…

Actor, since I was eight

  • Willing to pretend I am pretty much anything during an audition, even a windsock. Or a bear.
  • Fine with sitting in hallways, on sidewalks, in packed churches for 6 + hours for possible unpaid work
  • Have a played man, frog, old woman, nun, drug addict, mythical creature, flower, snowflake, blind girl, bottle dancer, Lady Gaga (who turned into a bush…oh children’s tours.)
  • Flashmobbing in Times Square: pretended I was a trained hip-hop dancer for 48 hours
  • Can survive “Singers who move well” auditions

Special section for…

Background Actor, much more before I joined the union

(all the following descriptions are real by the way)

  • Types: Student, Non-Descript Pedestrian, Hipster, Hamptonite, 60’s teenager, Time Square Party attendee, Working class Irish Immigrant, Bread Company CEO Assistant
  • Not these types (yes, these are real): Homeless, Cab-driver, NYPD, Bottom of the barrel prostitute (straight off of casting networks!), mental institution patients, Edgy LES Hipters with tattoos, Gay Bears with Cars (me and Ben’s personal favorite!), Jersey Shore Types, Corpse
  • Will sit in waiting forever and not bitch, Crafty will help though.

And thus ends my somewhat bitter rant on my current job situation. I’m sure one day I will look back on this time and be pretty proud and thankful that I learned to make a mean excel spreadsheet or know how to work an espresso machine. I even handed out free coffee at a gas station once. The important thing is that for the most part, I have made ends meet and paid my bills somewhat on time. And more importantly, I have met so many people in such a short amount of time from all walks of life. Someday it’ll all make sense.

Please add your favorite stories if this inspires any healthy or comical ranting.