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Acting Reflections: What You See is ME

There seems to be a shift in casting roles for the next film, TV show, or theatrical production. More and more casting directors, directors, and playwrights/screenwriters are not just looking for who could best fit the role for their project, but their also looking at AUTHENTICITY. And that can be both artistically and physically. Think about it for a second: More and more productions are making sure that if a role calls for a certain demographic (i.e. race, sexual orientation, occupation, etc.), they make sure that it will be filled by that individual who fits those list of requests for the role. Even if they have to go through hundreds of self-tapes or search in some pretty unusual places, casting will find its next role, no matter what it takes. You see more and more characters being portrayed by individuals who are actually BIPOC, LGBTQ+, MENASA (Middle East, North Africa, South Asia), physically disabled, and more. Or even a mixture of both or several demographics. And while it's not in droves or as fast as we'd like it to be (thanks to stereotyping still going on), it's still progress. I'm sure you've heard of auditions where in the next round or even in the beginning stages there are callbacks where the individuals look exactly, if not similar, the same to each other. The same hair and eye color, height, weight, you get the idea. Or even something called "typing," where the casting team looks at all of the headshots in the room and selects the ones they want to see perform their selected pieces and the rest go home. It's definitely challenging, frustrating even. There are numerous actors out there who look so alike to each other it's freaky! And you know what else is freaky? Casting somehow knows what they're looking for in their projects, even before an actor opens their mouth. Wow. So, I can walk into an audition room or put together my self-tape and they somehow know that within the first six seconds whether or not I'm right for this particular role? Even before I open my mouth and do my monologue or sing my song? Yup, definitely freaky. I had the opportunity to take the Success Breakthrough Workshop with actress Wendy Braun earlier this year, and it was truly a game changer for me. Not just for my career, but also for my mental and emotional health. While I can't give too much away about this course, I will say to everyone out there who is an actor who is interested in progressing in their career along with their well-being to take this course. I promise you, it WILL change your life. One of the first lessons I learned was how in the first six seconds of an audition or self-tape you will be determined for what roles you are naturally capable of playing. So, we all took six second video clips of ourselves and shared them with the class. We didn't say anything, though. We just looked directly into the camera the way we were. From there, we were given adjectives and roles from our observations that they believed they saw that individual portraying in the first six seconds. Each of us did this exercise, and all of us got some pretty amazing responses. I was especially surprised by the responses gave my video clip. It was only recently when I looked back on this exercise that I had a question: Are the roles the casting teams see us in six seconds the ONLY characters we are capable of portraying? Read on, MacDuff. We're going to explore the adjectives & roles I was given in this exercise, the characters I've portrayed thus far, the parts I hope I get a chance to play, and how we shouldn't limit ourselves to what casting or even our past credits tells us.

First, let's look at the six second clips I shared with my fellow classmates in the course. (NOTE: I don't have the original six second clip, but I was lucky enough to record myself prior to this week's post being published.) Here's one clip with me in my frames:

And here's another one, without the glasses (for those of you who want to get technical about it):

And here's the list of responses people shared with me from those six seconds (from the time the course started, not now):

Surprised by any of these? Which ones do you definitely see me portraying? Which ones made you scratch your head? What roles do you think I could play based on the two six second video clips? Well, from looking at these roles, I could definitely see myself playing a receptionist. Or a secretary. Or a creative (i.e. poet, actor, writer, etc.). Or an assistant. Or a best friend. Or a hipster. Or an entrepreneur. Or a teacher. Or even an action hero/superhero. From looking at these adjectives, I know that I'm nerdy. Quirky. Determined. Geeky. Quiet. Intelligent (or SUPER intelligent, as one person said). Caring. Funny. Talented. Friendly. Compassionate. Sweet. Honest. Studious. Ambitious. Supportive. And even the roles and adjectives that aren't on this list. Here's the thing I think we all should think about: As actors, we can see ourselves playing every and any role we choose, even if we're not qualified. We did it all the time when we were kids playing make-believe at home. As we got older and had the experience of being in every role in a school production - the leading man, the leading lady, the supportive best friend, the crotchety next door neighbor, and yes, the ensemble/background roles. We were reminded constantly that "no role is too small" in a production. And yet we yearned for that opportunity to play the meatier ones that showcased our talents in the best way (or if you were content with being in the ensemble, that's okay! The ensemble has quite a reputation for showing what they can do as much as the principal roles.). As we got older and some of us wanted to pursue this as a career, things started to get more serious and detailed. We started to break away from the roles we played as kids and auditioned for the ones we wanted the opportunity to play. Whether it was a tried and true show or a new play, we wanted the chance to have as much fun performing in a role that proved that we can do this and be capable of performing this character with as much grace and justice given to us. That continued on into adulthood, or as far as we wanted to continue as actors. Throughout our careers, we played so many roles, big and small, with all of the adjectives attached to our characters. And yet, when we go with our resumes to audition for our next opportunity, the casting team already has an image in their eyes and minds based of what we look like and how we present ourselves. The sad thing is we end up only limiting ourselves to playing those roles and adjectives based off of how we're perceived in the first six seconds in the audition room and self-tapes. If we get called in for those same roles repeatedly, it forces us to believe that we're only capable of ONLY playing those roles. That's a pattern that needs to be broken. Successfully getting a role is a lesson in frustration. There are numerous actors out there but so few roles, and we're not meant to get them all at every single audition or callback. However, when we box ourselves into the same roles and adjectives that got us the jobs before over and over again, we allow ourselves to believe that we're only good for those same characters. That causes stagnancy. And even doubt, in some cases. As actors, we want to be able to grow in each of the roles we play, not stay rooted to one spot. That means getting the opportunity to play a variety of roles and the adjectives that come with it, even if it's not who the casting team sees us as in the first six seconds of an audition or self-tape. That's especially true if we want to be able to get work AND thrive at our careers when opportunities come our way. I remember reading somewhere that Alfred Molina played villains for a long period of time, which helped get his kids through college. That's something I may occasionally hear from actors. "I know I should be venturing to different roles and opportunities, but the work I'm being offered is helping me with financial security." I get it. It's hard to get work these days, let alone a good paying job in something other than what you're known for from past credits, auditions, and self-tapes. But what happens when you want to go for a role that is really juicy and shows your talent in the best possible way, and it's out of your range of what you've played previously? And you end up not getting the role because of your past experience and an assumption from the casting team that you're only good for those roles you've played and won't give you a chance? And you go back to what worked before because you're so desperate to work? I don't know if you've experienced this, but if you had, I'd imagine you are heartbroken and frustrating. And to go back to what you've been doing just so you can have the money to pay the rent, food, healthcare, and more. But I also know that if you keep yourself in the same roles you're so good at playing because of the money, with no opportunity for artistic or personal growth, you will be unhappy. The same applies to BIPOC, LGBTQ+, MENASA, and more minorities and representations that aren't usually seen on stage, screen, or TV in a positive way. You're not meant to repeatedly play the same stereotypical roles heaped on us just for the sake of money or even an IMDB. Not every single role describes us as people, and even if it's important to the success of the project, you do have the option of not taking on roles that are demeaning to your moral values or what history has portrayed minorities as based off of racism and prejudice. In fact, if you look back at a previous blog, I explicitly call out casting, directors, and producers for stereotyping minorities and underrepresented performers in characters that help make a show or project a profit. Maybe it's time for them to actually look at the rare stories of the BIPOC, LGBTQ+, MENASA, and more who are something OTHER than what's being constantly stereotyped in the media. But more importantly, it's time for those of you who are in these categories, whether one or several to look at the roles you've played and how it's made you feel. As much as it's helped bring in some spending money or to pay the bills, there must be some form of resentment in you when you are playing a slave, terrorist, drug addict, prostitute, gangster, or anything that is seen as "normal" for that specific race. You do have the right to say no to opportunities and roles that don't bring you joy or align with your beliefs and values. It's okay to do so, especially these days when there's a push to tell more stories and introduce characters who don't necessarily fit the mold of what society thinks the BIPOC, LGBTQ+, MENASA, and minorities should be seen as. I would rather play roles within my race that uplift and strengthen others, not be demeaning or stereotyped for the sake of a nice payment or credit boost. Think about it. Reba McEntire put it best this way in the song "You're Gonna Be:" One should learn "what it takes to know the difference between getting by and living." I believe that as actors we're meant for more than "just getting by". We're meant to live out our lives in the best ways possible, creatively speaking. Not everyone should be stuck in the same roles repeatedly just for the sake of making sure that the money is there for the things we need to have taken care of. All of us performers should have the chance to break away from what we're known for based off of our past credits and how we look & behave in the audition rooms and self-tapes within the first six seconds. We're not meant to be stagnant all the time. It will drive you crazy. Believe me, I know. The best way to break away from the stagnancy of playing the same roles over and over again, no matter how comfortable or financially secure you are? Be brave enough to try something new, especially out of your comfort zone. Go to those auditions when you see a role that you want to play that's different from anything you've ever played before. And KEEP GOING to those auditions and submitting self-tapes until you get a yes. Don't be discouraged after one "no." Don't give up after 75 direct "no's". Just KEEP GOING. Put yourself in the eyes and minds of the casting teams so that they see you are capable of more than what's on your resume and how they perceive in the first six seconds. Do it repeatedly, even. Who knows? Your persistence and determination to break away from what past roles, characteristics, and adjectives were placed on you will pay off in the most unexpected and greatest ways. I know you feel comfortable and secure being in the same roles that provide you with the most security, but we're not meant to be in the same place all the time. We have to be taken out of our comfort zone, and in times like these, we have to have faith in the universe, God, and ourselves that it will all be okay. Trust me when I say this. IT WILL BE OKAY. YOU ARE NOT MEANT TO STAY IN ONE SPOT FOREVER, NOT EVEN IN YOUR CAREER. YOUR PAST CREDITS DO NOT DEFINE YOU AS A HUMAN BEING. YOU ARE CAPABLE. YOU ARE ENOUGH. YOU HAVE WORTH. YOU ARE CREATIVE. YOU ARE DESTINED FOR GREAT THINGS. If you look back at the workshop I had earlier in the post, you can see a message at the bottom of the paper. "I don't have to 'play' at being any of the above. I already AM IT + people know it. I relax + trust that who I am comes across easily. I am open to revealing the shadow sides of myself through the characters I play." From the clip I showed my classmates, they gave me roles and adjectives that I somehow knew that I already possessed, even without acting or doing anything. In other words, I embody these characters and qualities by just being myself. The beautiful part of this is as soon as I enter into the audition room and read for a character that fits one, some, or all of the adjectives I can portray, I don't have to overact or pretend. I can just be my authentic self. But even if I'm seen for roles and qualities based off of my past credits or how I hold myself in the audition room and self-tape submissions, I choose not to box myself in those same characters over and over again. I believe I can take on the roles that seem impossible for me to get, let alone audition for. But I also know that I'm not meant for everything, and that's okay. Yet I'm not limiting myself on what I can or can't play as an actor. Will I ever be the young ingenue? Probably not. Will I ever be the femme fatale? Hardly. Will I ever be the main character's love interest? Hmm... That one's still up in the air. But that's still not going to keep me from going out for these or other roles that I can do my best at playing, even if I'm not fitting the image of what the creative team wants. What roles and adjectives do I hope to play someday? Well... I would love to play someone who is creative and fashion savvy, like a personal assistant or writer living in NYC or London and the misadventures she would have in her career and wearing the most beautiful pieces of fashion (and NOT being a stick figure, that's a big plus!). I would love to play a magical being living in a fantasy world of long ago or hidden in plain sight protecting our fellow citizens from evil and the unknown dangers of the world. I would love to play an up and coming activist who finds her voice on a cause that she cares about and by doing so trusting the voice within herself. I would love to play a major supporting character in a period film or series that can offer encouragement, show vulnerability, and be authentic while dealing with racism from her Caucasian counterparts. I would love to play a street smart detective in the past who is intelligent, compassionate, and kind while navigating the ups and downs of living life as a black woman. If anything, I want to do roles where there's so many layers to a character that I can bring myself to performing well, even if I'm not the heroine or the good guy. Don't you see? If you only box yourself up in certain roles or archetypes you want to play, you're missing out on all of the amazing characters and adjectives you can do just as well. And perhaps you can actually grow, evolve, and transform as an actor and as a person. I never imagined I would play conniving and downright villainous roles like the Earl or Warwick in Saint Joan or Decius Brutus in Julia Caesar, but the fact that I can show how ambitious or wickedly intelligent I can be in my acting without overthinking it says a lot on how I can grow in my performance skills and the willingness to evolve as a performer. I couldn't believe that I recently played Benjamin Bassanio in District Merchants or Elizabeth Bennett in Pride & Pride & Prejudice, but I did it, and I allowed my passion, vulnerability, and compassion to shine through those roles naturally simply by opening my mind to what that and my skills can achieve by working hard and not listening to the naysayers.

And here's something important to remember: You may never be right for every single role, and that's okay! But you shouldn't limit yourself to what roles you are good at portraying or what you think you'd be good at without having the chance to trust your talents and allow yourself to transform and hone your skills in characters that challenge you emotionally and creatively. As actors, we're called to be imaginative, collaborative, understanding, and creative in whatever the mind can achieve. And that sometimes means taking on roles that are outside of our comfort zone and what we seem to do best. It's scary, I know. But how else can we get better at our craft if we don't explore outside of what we're known for in the audition rooms and what our past credits show us? Even if you make a pretty good living at playing the roles you're good at, you're not meant to stay in our comfort zone and what's easy for us forever. Even character actors and the most prestigious of performers know that. They took risks, and sometimes it paid off tremendously. Other times it didn't. But at least they took that leap of faith and tried something new because they believed in their talents and allowed themselves to get better to hone their skills and keep their creative juices by trying new things. They didn't box themselves in the same patterns, whether that was out of comfort or how the industry told them they would be successful by doing the same things over and over again. These actors took a chance on themselves, and that in itself is the greatest reward. What would you rather be remembered for in your career - someone who played it safe and stayed within their box of roles they're good at, or someone who kept on evolving and trying new characters that allowed them to grow and thrive in their careers? I hope it's the latter. (This is one of those reflections I loved writing about, even as things get busy for me. I hope you enjoy reading my observations from the past five years as an actor. But as I so often repeat, these are simply my observations and reflections. You are welcome to disagree with me or add your own experiences with this. I will not, I repeat, WILL NOT tolerate any hate speech, derogatory language, or anything disrespectful to what I wrote down or the comments from others. If you choose to do so, I will personally delete the comment and block you. We already have enough critics and naysayers in this world. Be kind to one another because we need more compassion.)

I can't tell you what will happen before, during, or after you audition for a role. That rests entirely on you and how much work you put into your preparation for the characters you read for. But what I will say is this: We truly have a fantastic career, and the beauty is, we get to be whoever we want to be based on our own observations about life, as well as the ideas and reflections from the creative team. But if there's one thing I've discovered in my career thus far, it's that the casting team doesn't want you to be playing a "character" in auditions or self-tapes. Someone who is over the top in their clothing options, speech, mannerisms, and more. What does the casting team want to see, you ask? It's probably the hardest thing you'll be in the audition room. They want to see YOU. No facades. No characters. No pretenses. Just plain YOU. And that's hard because we've worked so hard at playing roles we believe we're good at only to be told that we have to be at our most vulnerable and present who we are in hopes of getting a role. I understand. Vulnerability is not your strong suit. But it's the one thing that's sought out the most by casting teams, even more than whether or not you do a monologue, a song cut, or a dance extremely well. I used to hate being vulnerable because I believed that if I showed the casting team who I really am, they wouldn't cast me. And all of the scars I carry with me from the numerous times I was knocked down by life and auditions & callbacks was too much for them to handle. The truth is, the scars and lessons I was given and even forced to learn make a huge part of who I am as a person. Casting teams not only want someone who can play the roles they're looking for well. They want someone who can be themselves in a specific character's circumstances while showing their vulnerability. Acting is more than just playing roles and wearing costumes and having the most outrageous makeup choices. As Viola Davis puts it so eloquently, it's one of the few jobs we have where we get to exhume the lives of people and tell their stories. And the best way to do that is just being ourselves in the given circumstances of the character we portray. Find the similarities of your character, even if they're nowhere near to who you are. And just be yourself in the audition rooms and self-tapes. And more importantly, OWN who you are. (But remember that kindness matters, too!) There's so much change in the world of the arts, especially in casting roles that are getting to be more and more authentic to the world we live in. While there's still so much work to be done, it's clear that casting is moving away from the stereotypes and moving towards authenticity. The best way to showcase that authenticity in the audition rooms and self-tapes is to show the casting teams who we are, and that's through vulnerability. It's not easy to be this way, but look at from this viewpoint: every time we perform, we are telling audiences that it's okay to be vulnerable, even in the midst of the mistakes and challenges our characters go through. And yet, there's still so much hesitation on our part as actors. We want to be able to have consistent work, but there are times when some of us accept roles that we believe we are excellent at playing just for the sake of financial security and staying in our comfort zone. We're not meant to be stagnant all the time, especially if it's playing the same characters over and over again. We're meant to evolve and transform in our craft, even if it means stepping outside of the comfort zone and playing roles that are unlike the characters we've portrayed thus far. Even if the jobs are providing financial security for you, where's the challenge of creating the roles of a character if they are exactly the same ones or at least similar to the ones you've done? Especially if you're BIPOC, LGBTQ+, MENASA, and other minorities? Think back to those video clips I shared earlier. My classmates looked at me and saw the characters and adjectives I could portray very well, and it only took six seconds. But that's because I chose to be myself in those roles and not pretend or "act". At the end of the day, the roles you want to go for and the challenges that come with those opportunities are entirely up to you. If you feel successful staying within the comfort zone and playing the same characters over and over again, by all means, go ahead. But I hope you see that you deserve to learn, grow, and thrive in your careers. And sometimes staying rooted to one spot may not always serve you well. But the best character you can portray in those audition rooms and self-tapes the next time you submit is quite possibly the most important one in your life. That's YOURSELF. Own who you are. Own your talents. Own your strengths. OWN IT.

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