Constantly Learning

Beth Grant, Los Angeles

Twitter! Skype! Webcams! I'm still trying to find time to check in on Facebook once a month. I'm finally enjoying text messaging, and I love email—takes far less time than a conversation, we can communicate in the middle of the night without waking anyone up, and it's great for getting the word out about screenings, plays, events. Now the pressure is building for Twitter, a website (aren't our IMDb listings good enough if we keep them up to date?), and soon, I have no doubt, we will be able to beam ourselves to other locations as holograms.

I honestly love it all. But keeping up is interfering with my work. I had imagined going to San Diego fully prepared to begin rehearsals, lines learned, in the exciting throes of research, isolating myself with my cast and digging in to the deep, rich work of doing an original play. I worked up to the Friday before we began rehearsals on Tuesday. I'm lucky enough to have a family but had little time with them as I readied for my trip. I recorded the play on my minicassette recorder; loaded my car with clothes, food, and personal items for the 10 weeks; and took off on Interstate 5 with its bumper-to-bumper traffic all the way to San Diego.

I arrived to discover I had to carry my stuff up three flights of stairs. Memories of 1972 New York and my arrival there flooded my heart. In this case I was able to call the company manager and get some help, but the tiny studio apartment and the stained beige carpet were the same. As I unpacked I reminded myself that I had accepted this job to stretch as an artist, to help create a work of art, to grieve my mother's death, to support a beautiful feminist play written by an exciting writer who seems to be channeling my family and people from a time and place I know very well: the 1970s in Alabama.

We were screening Herpes Boy, the movie I helped produce, May 4, and I still had invitations to send out. Thanks to my laptop, I was able to do the work in San Diego. Then I visited with my husband and daughter on the webcam, received text messages on my iPhone, and went to bed.

I awakened the next morning bright and early, reread the play, and set off to San Diego's Balboa Park for the table read. I was not as prepared as I had hoped, stressed from the adjustment to living in an apartment after 20 years, still with unfinished work in L.A., missing my daughter and husband, vulnerable because of the closeness of the material, and all of the above, but ready to start this new adventure—with the help of technology that allows us to be in several places at once. If only they would invent a chip for my brain so I could know the lines. More to come.

Employment Options
Leon Acord, Los Angeles

This month I took actor Bobby Reed's wonderfully exhaustive Marketing for Actors workshop. Bobby works constantly, so even though I'm pretty good at marketing myself, I signed up immediately. I mean, when the pope offers communion, you take it!

His five-hour class was inspiring. He discussed how to track every show-business contact you make, "stalk" projects you're interested in, promote yourself when you have nothing to promote, ensure CDs always remember you, and many other topics.

When he asked me how many auditions I'd had in 2009, I confessed I've been focusing solely on co-producing and acting in Carved in Stone this year. Bobby said he never felt the need to produce his own projects; he's happy to be "just an employee." And because he's employed so often, that makes sense for him.

Alas, it seems that every five years or so, I need to stir things up and become my own boss. It began in 1992 with a featurette, OUT. A character I created in acting class became an obsession and led to my first lead role on film—which I had the youthful bravado, or stupidity, to write and direct, as well. In 1997 I wrote and performed a one-man show, Last Sunday in June, for the challenge of playing multiple characters on stage, at Theatre Rhinoceros in San Francisco. Jeffrey Hartgraves directed that one; he then wrote Carved in Stone, the 2002 San Francisco stage comedy I co-produced because it provided me the dream role of Quentin Crisp.

I joked with Bobby that producing gives me the "illusion of control" over my career. It's usually to play a type of role, or to work in a medium or genre I'd never get cast in otherwise, or to stay busy during a slump. I encourage every actor with a strong constitution and an ability to multitask to try it at least once. With today's technology, it's never been easier or more cost-effective.

Thanks to online casting, we had a plethora of submissions from which to choose. Clips of the San Francisco production on YouTube have whetted our audiences' appetite—and will be joined soon by a new commercial, shot very cheaply with a digital camera. We already have a fan page on Facebook and plan to use its very cost-effective advertising that allows targeting users who've listed the writers portrayed in our show as their favorites. PayPal allows us to accept credit cards for tickets on our website, Setting up said website was a breeze with Network Solutions. And one can "comparison shop" for everything from post-card printers to wigs. My co-producer–partner Laurence Whiting now says we need our own Twitter page.

But he'll have to do all the tweeting. I'll be in rehearsals by the time this issue hits the stands—and very happy to be "just an employee" again.

Campfire Stories
Meagan Flynn, Kansas City, Mo.

Remember when you were a kid and you would go away to summer camp for a week? You would meet complete strangers, and seven days later you had all these new friends. You shared these common experiences and adventures, and you knew they were the only people in the whole world who could possibly understand exactly what that week was like because they were there with you. Then when you got home you felt sad and lonely and like nothing was quite the same. You'd tell the stories to your friends and family, but it didn't quite capture it. Nothing at home was as fun and exciting as the week of camp. Summer-camp withdrawal.

Well, I'm going through a little summer-camp withdrawal after wrapping filming on Major Major Hollywood Motion Picture. I was blessed enough to have an extra day of work added. This ended up meaning extra lines, getting to stay in the location city a whole weekend, the chance to hang with the cast and crew that Saturday night, and the opportunity to meet an incredible character actor who has been around for decades and filmed a scene with us on my last day. Also got a hug and kiss on the cheek from Mr. A-List when we were done. Priceless! He really is a gem. It was so much fun, and I truly loved everyone on that set. I happened to mention to one of the producers that I was ready to start right now on the next one. I think he thought I was kidding, but I would really like to have the opportunity to work with these folks again. I think they are making a really special film that is going to be huge this year. The director is so talented; I just can't wait to see his movie! Do I get to go to the premiere? Hmm.

Point being, now that I'm back home, I am so ready to go back to camp. I know the feeling will fade, but doing what I love just makes me so hungry to do more. It reminds me why I got into this business and how nothing else I could ever do could compare. I long for the day when I am jumping from film to film with no breaks in between. I belong at full-time summer camp.

However, I have to focus. I have a film premiering at the Kansas City FilmFest this weekend, and I'm excited to see it and help promote it. I haven't seen a final cut yet, and I've been dying to. A lot of people put their heart and soul into it, and I'm proud to have been a part of it. Check out for the trailer; you can catch a glimpse of me attempting to seduce the lead character. I am a little nervous about seeing the love scene we did on a very big screen. Having every flaw you notice about yourself magnified by a million times—yikes! Oh well. Film fests are always fun because they're an opportunity to immerse in new films and talk shop with other creative people. Off to mingle with the film-fest crowd, and trying not to miss camp.

Defining the Path and Taking It
Victor Joel Ortiz, New York

I just finished my Capes Coaching class today, and I must say it was very insightful. I feel like I have clearness of vision in my career and a better understanding of how to make it a reality because I know what stands in my way: my personal demons. I think everyone is self-destructive in a way, to some degree; I know I am. Betsy Capes helped me shine a light on the "path" of my career, and for that I am forever grateful to her.

One of the goals I set out for myself in the Path Class was to have a guest-star role on Law & Order. In my mind you are not really a New York actor unless you have mastered Shakespeare and been on Law & Order. A friend of mine, Lauren Nordvig, offered me two tickets to see Exit the King (with Susan Sarandon and Geoffrey Rush), but I couldn't go because I was on set for All My Children for my second under-five. So I decided to call the casting offices of Jonathan Strauss, to offer them the tickets. I spoke with Phil Huffman, and he was grateful for the offer but couldn't make it out in time.

That same week I saw that New York networking organization The Network was having a seminar with members of the casting teams of all three L&O's in New York, and I signed up immediately. Paul J. Michael, who runs The Network, is very discerning about who he lets enter seminars, so it was a compliment that I was admitted. I presented the sides they chose for me and felt great about my performance. I met Huffman there, and it turns out he is in the same fraternity as me: Pi Kappa Alpha. I was president of my chapter as an undergrad, so we went on about that for a minute, and I invited him out to my showcase. Hopefully, I planted a seed for the future.

My school, T. Schreiber Studio, just finished putting up a run of The Real Thing, by Tom Stoppard. I am so proud of being a member of the acting company there because they always put on spectacular productions. I went to the studio to drop off post cards, and whom do I find is attending that evening's performance? Edward Albee. I spoke with him for a second and found him to be quite funny. I invited him out to the showcase I am producing, and he said if he were in town, he would try to attend. He said he likes to travel as much as he can to try and stay a "moving target."

I have been mailing my Take Five columns out, and LaMont Craig from As the World Turns auditioned me. I didn't get the part, but he said he'd come to the showcase. Quote for the month is from The Departed: "No one's gonna give it to you; you're gonna have to take it."

Separating Life and Art
Julian Miller, Philadelphia

Howdy all! Well, I've passed the halfway point in the contract for All Shook Up, and it has certainly been very much the experience I hoped for. It has challenged me in a lot of ways. It has reaffirmed so many things about the kind of actor I want to be and the kind of person I want to be. Furthermore, it has allowed me to reconnect with the idea that one should never betray the other. I am a person who happens to act. Acting is what I do, not who I am, and here I think I've learned that blurring the lines can often do more harm than good. I've come across some actors who prefer to martyr themselves to the "drama" that can occur outside of the theater. My job is simply too important to me to allow me to waste time on the things that don't matter.

One thing that has been made abundantly clear is that as actors, when we make choices that do not enhance our ability to do our jobs, we pay for those choices. We might not realize how, but the cost is there nonetheless. Those choices may keep us mired in the day-to-day operations of a theater or its casting policies, when we should be focused on the future and the lessons we are meant to be taking from the current experience. Those choices may make you seem unprofessional and ruin your reputation for a group of your peers—as has been the case here. As a young black actor, I am here to learn, do my job, be the best that I can be, and constantly prepare myself so that when the right opportunities present themselves, I am able and ready to capitalize upon them.

I've got several options as to what comes next, and a casting director is coming to see a performance of All Shook Up specifically because I couldn't attend his auditions. He is driving about three hours, which I must admit has me feeling pretty good about myself. A perfect example of why it is important to be a professional and courteous actor? I'm glad you asked. He has also expressed to me that I am welcome to "introduce" him to any of the other actors from the show whom I've enjoyed working with and would like to work with again. There are a few people on the "I can't wait to work with you again" list and, sadly, a few on the "never again" list.

I have two weeks left here in Indiana, and it is unbelievable how quickly the time flies and how much experience we are able to pack into it. I am ready to take what I've learned into the next venue and stage in my life. Cheers.