This is a re-post of my Backstage Take 5 column from December 2008
Edamame goes existential: Now that I have a “crackberry”, I feel the need to take advantage of my new found 24/7 connectivity by updating my Facebook status more regularly than the average person. And most of the time it’s not exceptionally witty or clever, literally just what I’m doing. I posted one such status this past weekend that simply read “Seth just had the weirdest salad.” Surprisingly, I received several comments about this status, which then lead to thoughts way too deep for lunch.
And this is the story of how edamame became existential.
On Sunday, Erica and I met two friends for lunch at BLD in Hollywood. I look through the menu and land on a salad. (from the BLD menu: FRESH VEGETABLE SALAD with edamame, fresh corn, jicama, haricots verts, red bell peppers, avocado, toasted cashews, hemp seeds, daikon sprouts, ginger vinaigrette) We order, and the server brings out our meal. She places in front of me a wonderfully artistic but odd-looking creation. I ordered a salad, right? But this had no lettuce, no bowl, none of the normal things that a salad contains; just the above ingredients piled high on a white porcelain pate. We all exchange confused looks, I tentatively load up my fork and take a bite. Turns out it was fantastic.
But if I’m honest, I have to admit that I was somewhat annoyed and frustrated that out of all the options I could have selected – I got this weird thing. Doesn’t the chef know that a salad comes with lettuce? I’ve eaten my share of salads, and this was certainly unlike any I had ever seen. It did not look like what I thought a salad should, and did not contain any of my expectations of what a salad should be. It was just this combination of weird things slapped on a plate.
The point I’m trying to make is that I have an idea of what my career should be. I set goals and work to accomplish those goals. I know where I’m headed and what I expect it to look like when I get there. But this moment at a restaurant with friends reminded me that the “salad” of my career is so much more than an idea. It’s made up of many different experiences and moments that if thrown together on a plate, one might wonder if it was a salad (read: career) at all.
As I get ready to place my career order for 2009 – I remind myself that life is unfolding just as it should. What comes to the table may not look like what I imagine my order should – but I will put away the filters, prejudices and assumptions and just be in the moment of what is. And who knows, I may find my new favorite lunch.
I have thoroughly enjoyed writing these columns each month and sharing with you my journey through 2008. Best wishes to each of you as you continue on your path of each day “livin’ the dream.” See you on the road.
This is a re-post of my Backstage Take 5 column from November 2008
Pick Me, Choose Me, Love Me: I’m a fan of Grey’s Anatomy. I think the show is smart, well-written, and full of talented actors. However, the character of Meredith Grey gets on my nerves. One of this character’s most memorable quotes is “Pick me, choose me, love me.” This could easily be considered a driving force of her subconscious. Uck! It reeks of desperation. It’s whiny, self-centered, and allows her to keep choosing to be the victim.
I had a general this month with the office that casts one of the episodics on which I would most like to work. The piece I prepared was spot-on for my primary type, consistent with the tone of the show, and accurately showcased my emotional range and availability. Before the meeting, I did my work. I put in the time to memorize the scene, personalize the moments, and make clear, specific choices.
About an hour before I go in, I start freaking out. My mind starts swimming with all these thoughts: Oh God, I hope he likes me. Did I pick the right scene? Am I really ready to be in front of this guy? You only get one opportunity to make a first impression; what if I blow it? He’s never going to call me in. I’m a terrible actor. Why am I even doing this? Who am I kidding? It was endless mind chatter that sends my blood pressure through the roof.
My wife, Erica, is in the kitchen, and all of sudden I hear, “All right, Meredith, knock it off.” In that moment I had instant clarity as to what I was doing. I thought I needed something from this guy, that somehow his approval or acceptance of me as an actor would validate the fact that I was in front of him. I was going in with a Meredith Grey mindset. Was I seriously willing to give all my power away and let myself be defined as an artist by the opinion of some casting director? Seriously?
So I go in and actually do what my acting coach has been telling me for years: to put all the work away and just be in the moment. So I was. And this overwhelming sense of peace came over me because I didn’t want or need anything from him in that moment. I did the scene, we said our goodbyes, and I left. The feedback I got was great. He loved my work, I had made a positive impression, and he will definitely keep me in mind for anything he is looking to cast.
When we don’t give our power away and look to other people to give us value as artists and individuals, we allow our true selves to shine through. And when we stand in the truthfulness of who we are, it’s powerfully attractive to others. Hey, Meredith, maybe you should give that a try.
This is a re-post of my Backstage Take 5 column from October 2008
Bring It and Make It: Wow. I’m learning something right now, at this very moment. It’s 10 a.m. on a Wednesday, and this Take Five segment is due by noon. I’m sitting in my favorite coffee shop, sweating it because I don’t know where to start. I usually sit down with one or two things to write about and then just let the words flow. But today, instead of trusting myself and writing from my truth and letting myself come through whatever words happen to end up on the page, I’m sitting here worried about you. What are you going to think? Are you going to like this column? Does it measure up to last month’s? Is it witty enough? Is it insightful enough? There are literally too many thoughts racing through my head right now to even write them down.
I’ve been listening to a podcast (www.accidentalcreative.com) recently that is produced for those of us in create-on-demand fields. Whether we’re writers, actors, directors, marketers, designers, we all face the unique challenge of being able to creatively “bring it” in high-pressure, deadline-driven situations. The host signs off each podcast with the following statement: “Remember, this is the age of creativity. Cover bands don’t change the world. Find your own unique voice.”
How many times have you heard in class or at a workshop that when you go in for an audition, callback, or meeting with a producer, you just need to relax, have fun, and bring yourself to the role? Don’t go into auditions trying to figure out what “they” want. Just go in and bring your own unique voice to the material and, most important, have fun in the process.
I had the opportunity this month to work as a reader for a couple of casting directors. It was a fascinating experience, being on the other side of the table. I could immediately see those actors who came in and were nervous, trying to impress us — or worse yet, who were unprepared. I could also immediately tell those actors who had done their work and were there to have a good time. Those who came in prepared, willing to let their unique selves come through in their work, were captivating to watch. They were human.
So the lesson that I’m learning right now is that my responsibility as an artist, writer, and designer is to sit down and face the resistance that comes from looking at a new set of sides or a blank page and be vulnerable enough and willing to let myself show up in that room or on that page — whatever may come of it. So if you see my work in an audition or on stage and like it, or read this column and enjoy it, great. I had a great time creating it, and for me that’s all that matters.
P.S. For those of you who are interested in my marathon training, I blew through the wall and rocked 22 miles last weekend. I can’t wait for 26.2 on Oct. 12.
This is a re-post of my Backstage Take 5 column from September 2008
September 1, 2008
Can summer really be over already? In August, our Take Five actors do some networking, table reading, casting workshops, commercial callbacks — and hitting the wall.
The Wall: Everyone hits it. In my marathon training it was mile 18. In my acting career it was the month of August. The wall is legendary. Runners usually hit it around mile 20. It’s the point where your physical body weakens, your spirit sags, and the will to go on falls from you with every drop of sweat. It’s a moment of being completely overwhelmed ? when you lose sight of hope, you begin to ask yourself, “Why am I even doing this?” and you want to give up.
August was a wall for me. Yeah, I’m going to be that honest. Hey, I signed up for this thing; I can sit here and write some feel-good nonsense, or I can share the truth with you. I opt for the truth.
The truth is: I’m broke, my survival job is no longer paying the bills, debt is growing greater, my acting mentor is in the hospital with severe head trauma and it’s not known when he will recover, I seriously botched more than one audition, and I found out how some of my family really feels about my pursuit of this dream and it hurt.
I don’t share those things with you for your pity. I choose to share them because I know that I am not the only actor who has felt these feelings at one time or another. Writing these columns each month is a bittersweet challenge. It asks me to take a truthful look at my life and have the courage to share it with you.
When I hit mile 18, I had a choice. I could have thrown in the towel and quit right then. I mean, come on: I ran 18 miles. No one would fault me for wanting to quit. How many other people have run 18 miles in one shot? Well, I didn’t give up, and that’s in part thanks to my iPod and Matchbox Twenty. I’m being honest again. It was right about that time that the song “How Far We’ve Come” came on, and I broke into tears, literally. In that moment I was reminded that just four months ago I could hardly run six miles, and here I was about to finish running 18, literally.
Sept. 1 marks the two-year anniversary of my migration from Virginia to California with my wife, Erica. When I take a moment and look at what all has happened in my life in the last 104 weeks, I am overwhelmed at “how far we’ve come.” I’m not done yet. August taught me who my real fans are and how lucky I am to have a running partner in Erica.
So whether you are just starting on this run or you’ve already made it through your wall ? as someone who is pushing through and beginning to see the relief on the other side ? hang in there. You can do it. And if you feel like you have no one cheering you on and no one believing that you can make it, know that I do. I want to see you at the finish line.
This is a re-post of my Backstage Take 5 column for August 2008
August 1, 2008
by Nicole Kristal
In July, our happy — and hot — Take Five actors in Los Angeles face some inevitable transitions, embrace change, go back to their roots of inspiration, and find themselves surprisingly starstruck!
Run Your Own Race: To continue last month’s marathon metaphor, I have learned a couple more career lessons on the training road in July. In running a marathon, I’m trained to measure progress by my own personal performance and not by comparing myself to someone else. Everyone is running his or her own race. This month a very close friend of mine booked a national commercial and a meaty co-star role on one of my favorite episodics. Did I mention it all happened on the same day? I immediately started comparing my own success to hers.
“Why didn’t this happen for me?” “What am I doing wrong?” Then, my marathon training kicked in, and I realized: I don’t run an eight-minute mile. For me to be hard on myself when I don’t finish with the same splits — definition below — as someone else is wasted energy. So is comparing the progress of my acting career by looking at someone else’s. From now on I’m going to run my own race, be proud of and accept the accomplishments that I make, and cheer like crazy when one of my fellow “runners” has a big win. Way to go, Kellie!
During the week, I am running three out of five days for a minimum of one hour each day. On the weekends, we have our “long days” that are beginning to get longer and longer. If I don’t put in the miles during the week, I am hurting on Saturdays. The same plays out in my acting. This is a career and lifestyle choice that never stops. As an actor, I have to be ready at a moment’s notice to perform at the height of my potential. If I’m not, someone else is and they book the job. This month I attended a fantastic three-day workshop on training for success. Success is simple, but it’s not easy. Every day there are practical things that I can do to “put in the miles” for my acting career to strengthen me for the “long days” to come. In running, your split is the time it takes you to run each mile. “Watching your splits” keeps you running your own pace and on track for finishing in the time you want. Here are my splits for my acting in July: We had a continued successful run of Refuge From the Storm at the Actors Group Theatre, I had three theatrical auditions and one callback, I worked one day on The Young and the Restless, I signed with a commercial agent, I continued to volunteer at the SAG Foundation, and I met new casting directors. See you on the road in August.
This is a re-post of my Backstage Take 5 column from July 2008
July 1, 2008
by Nicole Kristal
In June, our Take Five actors in Los Angeles had to face the summer. There was eye-opening travel, good fortune meeting good preparation, and a bit of looming burnout.
Watch Your Pace
I get this note almost every weekend. Bert, one of our trainers, is concerned that I’m going to “go out too fast” and then not be able to finish the race strong. As someone who is dedicated, determined, and stubborn, I have a difficult time taking this advice. I want to go, go, go and tackle this thing with everything I have. I want to be the best. I want to finish first. I can say the same thing about my acting career. I’m always looking for the next thing, the next project, the next class, the next workshop that’s going to get me to my goal quicker.
But in respecting the distance, quicker is not always better. Just as I am really doing myself a disservice by taking a quicker pace at the beginning of my run, only to feel the effects of diminished strength, dehydration, and pain later on, I’m not respecting the distance of pursuing this career by trying to tackle it at breakneck speed. If I was only in L.A. for pilot season — if that really exists anymore — then fine, sprint and do it all. But this is a lifestyle choice for me, and I am committing to it for my career. I have to learn to slow down, watch my pace, and respect the distance.
The Mental Race
There’s a point in training for a marathon where you feel like you can’t take another step. However, if you stop listening to that little voice in your head telling you that you can’t, and you focus on your breathing and just keep moving, suddenly you find yourself not only going farther but also getting stronger in the process. This month I had moments where I felt like I couldn’t go any further. I was emotionally drained, frustrated, and just plain ol’ tired. So instead of giving in, I chose to be present and let go of that voice in my head and just did those things that needed to be done. I sent out the packets to agents, made follow-up calls to CDs I’ve met, worked on my preparation and memorization skills, went to rehearsals and auditions. I focused on the seemingly small things that I could directly affect and let everything else just happen — not superglamorous or exciting, but neither is the distance between mile six and eight; it’s just part of the race.
Hydrate, Hydrate, Hydrate
As an artist I must replenish my creative self. Each role I take on allows me to tap into the emotional richness that is uniquely me. However, tapping into that source can eventually drain the supply. So in July I am going to put some focus on hydrating my soul — finding those moments that replenish my spirit and inspire me creatively. I hope you can find some too.
This is a re-post of my Backstage Take 5 column from June 2008
June 1, 2008
by Nicole Kristal
In May, our actors geared up for union membership, read around in this year’s unusual pilot season, stealth-networked at parties, and learned some ‘Idol’ lessons.
I’ve Got a Golden Ticket — Two, Actually: June is already here, which means the year is halfway over and it’s time to look back at the goals I set for myself in January. One was to become SAG-eligible. This happened last month when I was hired to work two days as background, securing the last two vouchers I needed. It was also my first time working on a sound stage in L.A. There I was, working on a dead body, surrounded by three well-known actors on one of the top-rated procedurals of all time. I was totally playing it cool on the outside but inside was as giddy as a schoolgirl. At one point one of the series regulars said, “Do we have a show on tonight? How cool is that: We’re on TV and we’re making TV at the same time.” Now I won’t give away names, but it was awesome to see someone who has been in the business for almost 30 years and still has that kind of love for what he’s doing. I have waited a long time to join the fraternity of SAG actors and am thrilled to now have that opportunity.
Beefing up my demo reel is also a goal for this year. I was asked to help a friend screen-test for a feature for which she is being considered. We shot a fully produced scene with an amazing professional crew. Our work is still with the editor, but I am confident it will be a nice addition to what I have. Also as part of this shoot, I worked with and was directed by a top acting coach who has many students currently working in television and film. It was quite surreal.
I volunteer at the SAG Foundation. It recently hosted a panel — featuring Margie Haber, Gary Zuckerbrod, Marc Bass, and others. In response to the question “What is one characteristic that you look for in potential clients?” Bass, president of Marc Bass Agency, answered, without hesitation, “Training.” He added that as professional actors in Los Angeles, we are “Olympic athletes in this profession” and therefore must approach our training as such. To go to a class once a week or once a month is not going to cut it. Hearing this was confirmation that I am doing the right thing by getting back into scene work on a daily basis. It’s exhausting, but I’m sure Michael Phelps gets tired too.
This month I was brought in to read for a sitcom pilot, did some chemistry reads for a lead in a short film, and was cast in an original play called Refuge From the Storm. The play opens June 27 at the Actors Group theatre in North Hollywood. It’s a great script, and I am looking forward to creating this role and working with each person in our cast.
Run Baby, Run
As if my schedule is not packed enough, my wife and I began training for the Disneyland half-marathon, which is Aug. 31. We joined the Train to End Stroke program sponsored through the American Stroke Association. In September 2006 my grandfather passed away from complications related to several strokes. This race is for Paw Paw.