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Sunday, November 30, 2014

SAD... and also just sad

So, I don't know what it's like where you are, but where I am, it's now getting into that time of the year where I start to droop. The days are gettin' shorter, and thanks to the miracle of daylight savings, I receive approximately 30 minutes of daylight in each 24 hour cycle.

Screw you, Uncle Sam!

Let's face it. The guy's got a point.

Whatever. I'm over it.

But that's just the thing. I'm not. Not really.

Because here's the deal. I get depressed every winter. Sometimes badly so. It's called Seasonal Affective Disorder (or SAD), and it's a real thing, so don't make fun. Or make fun if you wish, but try to do it quietly so you don't hurt my feelings. Or, you know, wake me up from one of my depressive-state naps.

Because of my SAD, I have a tendency to not enjoy the holiday season as much as some others. And by others, I mean my wife. She LOVES Christmas. Everything about it. The lead-up to the season, the shopping, the decorations, the smells... every single tiny detail of Christmas is something she eats up with a spoon.

And then here she is, stuck with her grouch of a husband who's just trying to make it through to the end of the fall semester classes he's teaching so he can faceplant. And then wake up sometime in the spring, when it's warm again and the sun has decided to make a more regular series of appearances.

Thing is, I like Christmas too. I really do. But there's a lot of stressors there for me. And so, since there may be others out there just like me, I decided to write about it. Good reason n'est-ce pas?

But that's not what I really want to write about today. What I really want to write about is some other stuff that's got me wearing a sad-face emoji, but in real life. And that's people.

Don't cry, Justin. It'll be okay.

Before you start thinking that I'm some terrible misanthrope, I would like to say the following: I'm not. Truly. I love people.  I love talking to them, interacting with them, working alongside them... sometimes even debating with them.

What I don't love is when we get so set in our way of seeing things that true communication can't happen. As far as I'm concerned, it doesn't matter which side of the fence you're on, ideologically speaking. Religious, non-religious, conservative or liberal, Twizzlers or Red Vines... I want to love you all. I won't agree with you all, but I feel that when I engage in true discourse with those who disagree with me, I learn something.

I'll tell you what I don't learn from. Diatribes. Rants. Word vomiting (is that a thing?).

Lately, it seems that there is so little true communication. And that's something that's important to me. As actors (and the same could be said for directors, writers, musicians and artists of almost any discipline), one of our most important tasks is to communicate.

The plays and films that talk AT me instead of inviting me in don't do much for me. Without a connection with those characters who move through the piece, I don't care enough to stick around for the lecture. I'm not opposed to art that seeks to educate (although I will say that when that is the principal goal, the art has a tendency to suffer, in my opinion), but if you want to keep my butt in the chair, you need to reach out and touch me. And that can't happen without communication.

Communication is, by its very definition, a two-way street. It's a dialogue. And while the dialogue with the audience can sometimes be obscured, it still exists. The audience teaches us, the artists, what they're willing to tolerate, how far they're willing to be pushed. We can push beyond that, sure. That's our prerogative. But then we can't complain about the fact that no one comes to see our shows.

So maybe the minimalist approach wasn't such a good idea...

Same thing goes for xenophobic behavior, whether over issues of politics, religion, race or patriotism. This is the way I look at it:  if I'm ever tempted to look at the other side and think, "If you really believe that, you're either evil or stupid," then I'm the one in the wrong. No matter what the other person is doing. Same with the whole, "If you do or say x, y or z, then we can no longer be friends." Whether that's on Facebook or in real life.

Because if that person is engaged in behavior or discussion that's disconnected or hurtful, there's a reason for it. Upbringing, trauma, life experience that we haven't shared... all of which can lead people to all kinds of differing points of view. And typically, the truth isn't found in the extremes. Nor is it found, I think, in some kind of middle ground. My experience is that it's discovered somewhere off the binary line... out in three-dimensional space. And that space is only found when we engage fully in kind discourse.

If I'm angry or offended by what someone else has to say, that's because I'm either hurt or afraid. Now, if that person didn't mean to hurt or frighten me, then the offense doesn't do me much good. But if they DID mean to hurt or frighten me, then by becoming hurt or frightened (as expressed by anger), I'm doing exactly what they want me to do.

So I would like to apologize to Uncle Sam. I don't love daylight savings. I have my reasons. But I'm sure you have yours, too. A logical basis for something that pisses me off every year.

And I would love to have a chat about it at some point. You let me know when you're available...

Saturday, June 21, 2014

Three C's of Acting Group Class in Provo/Orem UT

Okay, everyone! Here are the details for the group class that I will be teaching locally in the Provo/Orem area of Utah.

I have a unique style of teaching that will help you to unlock your individual style as an actor and allow your presence to explode on stage or in front of the camera. The results can be stunning, and reach beyond just the acting class. The process is designed to be transformative.

The Three C's are connection, communication and commitment.

The approach I use is largely Stanislavski-based, but incorporates elements of many other disciplines. I also work with you to really open up and connect. It will get personal, but in a very good way. :)

We will start off with a short monologue that you will select and memorize before the class starts. We'll dive in immediately. The monologue will help me get to know you and what it is that you need in your process.

After that, we will work on scenes together, either one or two depending on the number of students and how detailed we get with each scene. I leave it open-ended as each actor is different. One size does not fit all in this case.

In addition to the acting work we'll be doing, we will also have discussions about real-world steps you can take to create more opportunities for yourself to act. Whether you are doing this as a hobby or as a career, I can help you to move forward.

Right now, the venue is a bit up in the air. More than likely, we will be doing them at the Echo Theatre, but that could change. It will definitely be in the Provo/Orem area, however. More details to come!

The classes will be held in a residence in Orem, inside a studio space in that home. It's near the intersection of State Street and 400 South. I'll send you the exact address and instructions for parking, etc. once you've signed up for the class.
The class will run every Tuesday starting July 1st at 7pm and will run for six weeks. There will be two weeks in the middle (July 29th and August 5th) where I will be out of town, so the six classes will extend until August 19th.

Class size won't go over 12. If the class gets bigger than that, we will split into two groups, so that everyone gets personal attention. In this case, smaller=better. :)

The cost for the class is $150. If you can't afford the $150 right now, you can pay a nonrefundable deposit of $35 to hold your place in the group. Then you would only need to come up with the remaining $115 before the first day of classes.

So, the way to sign up for the class is to go to the scroll-down menu above, select the options you would like, then click the "Buy Now" button below the menu. payment button above. To reserve your place in the class you can choose one of two options: "Three C's of Acting deposit" or "Three C's of Acting full amount." Once you've either paid the deposit or the full amount, I'll get an email confirming that fact, and you will be officially enrolled in the class.

If you chose to pay a deposit right now, payment will be due the first day of class, and can either be paid online or by cash, check or by credit card before class starts.

It's going to be an amazing class, and space is limited, so sign up today!

Tuesday, June 10, 2014

Fear of...

It seems like such a simple choice, really.

So, time to talk about fears again. Seems like I'm doing that all the time.

But I've found that one of the truths of my life is that my fears do a lot more steering of my life's boat than I do. And I would like for that to no longer be true.

At one point, I'm relatively certain, I've spoken about the importance of acknowledging our fear. If I haven't, here it is in a nutshell, using the example of an audition or performance.

Walking into an audition or performance, trying to hide the fact that we're nervous, is a recipe for disaster. But when I not only acknowledge that I'm afraid, but WHY I'm afraid, things get better. The fear never goes away entirely, but it does diminish.

One of the fears we have going into an audition or performance is that we'll fail. We care so much about acting, and the terror of falling flat on our faces is almost crippling. And that's a real fear.

In another way, it isn't really. Because no matter how amazing our performance or audition is, it won't be perfect. And no matter how bad, there is more than likely some small gem in there somewhere, if you look hard enough for it. It really depends on where our focus is. If we're looking for the bad, we'll find it. Conversely... well, you get the idea.

Thing is, that's not what I'm talking about today. What I want to talk about is something far more challenging, I think. And also something far less obvious.

I want to talk about the fear of success.
No, no. You keep that filthy lucre to yourself, moneybags.

That's right. You did not misread that statement.

Some of you read that and said, "YES. That is EXACTLY what I'm afraid of. Thank you so much for articulating it." Others looked, scratched their heads and went, "Huh?"

How can we be afraid of success? Isn't that what we want? What we're shooting for? Don't we long for it with every fiber of our being?

Turns out, the answer to that last question is a resounding, "No." Because if that weren't the case, we'd already be successful.

We are powerful creatures, we humans. Capable of changing the world around us in massive, sometimes terrifying ways. We are not weak.

Except when we chose to be.

Okay. Enough metaphysics. The thing is, we sabotage ourselves all the time.

"But what is there to fear about success?" you might very well ask.

Well, if we're successful, then all of the sudden there's pressure to stay successful, isn't there? We start by thinking, "If I just had an agent, things would be fantastic." Then we get an agent, and from there it's, "Man, if I could just get a callback! I'm so afraid my agent's going to drop me." Then it's, "Okay, I am so SICK of day-player parts." "I'm over these guest starring roles." "Why can't I just break into film??" "What does it take to be a bona fide star?"

And finally... "How on Earth can I keep this career going?"

There's another part of it, too. Many of us are conditioned to see fame or fortune as inherently bad, as much as we may chase it.

I was struggling with my writing this last week. I mean, really struggling. I was writing, but I felt like I was slogging through molasses.

My writing partner suggested that maybe I was afraid of success. I agreed. This is something we've talked about quite a lot. She also suggested that I was afraid of money. Again, something we've talked about, although this one's harder for me. I have issues with money that I can trace back to some very specific experiences in my youth.

But even after the conversation, I was still having a tough time of it. Slogging along, hating my life, wanting to write well but convinced it would never happen. And on some level, wanting to forget it all and go back to being in real financial trouble. Because that's how miserable I was.

I was afraid of success and money, yes. But why?

And then it came to me. A flash of insight. I believed, on some fundamental level, that if I became wealthy, I would also become a bad man.

I had been taught, from an early age, two things that I had accepted as truth. One was that men were inherently evil. And the other was that wealth turned people into complete jerks.

Neither one of those statements are true.

Problem is, you can find ready examples of both. Are there men who do terrible things? Yes. Resoundingly yes. Are there wealthy people who are, for lack of a better term, jackasses? Again, most assuredly yes.

But being a man does not make me evil. Neither does being wealthy.

Wealth and success are not evil. They are tools. And when they are wielded in a conscious way, they can both achieve magnificent things.

Used unconsciously, they give us great power to destroy ourselves and others.

So the fear was... and is... real. And it's also a choice. I get to decide who I will be if I become enormously successful. And I do that on a day-in, day-out basis.

Once that came to me, I began writing faster than I ever had before. It's not like the problem is solved. I still don't love editing. Blech. And I'm sure I'll have days where it'll feel like I'm slogging along.

But I have another tool now.

So if you find that you're struggling, ask yourself if it's possible that you're afraid of success. And look at what a successful future might look like--the good AND the bad. And then figure out if you really want it, make plans on how to deal with the bad, and move forward.

And then let me know what happens. :)

Wednesday, May 14, 2014

Creative Blocks

Well, howdy doody! Looks like what was once a weekly (and then monthly and then once-every-other-monthly... is that even a thing?) blog has somehow turned into a once-yearly (if even that) occurrence. Mea culpa. Mea maxima culpa.

I will not now spend precious time making promises of rededication. I will either write more or I will not. Remains to be seen. But one thing is true. I would like to engage more. I think it's worthwhile.

I've been doing some crazy stuff lately. One of those things is that, since the time I stopped writing regular blog entries, I've become a writer.

Now, I know what you're thinking, but it's not true. You're thinking that I now resemble that most hated and beloved of writers, Mr. George R. R. Martin.

That is a half-truth.

I have put on a few pounds, it is certain. It is also true that I have a penchant for faux sailor attire. However, to put me in the same category as this brilliant and misanthropic soul would be a grave error on your part.

The other question that may come up is what exactly I mean when I say that I've "become an writer"? That I've written a few short stories? That I've submitted an essay or two to my local newspaper? What?

Well, the first thing I will say in response to these totally imaginary questions is that it doesn't matter. One of the things I say all the time, and I believe it to be true, is that if you do it, you are it. In other words, if you act, you're an actor. If you write, you're a writer.

No need to wait for outward acclaim and success to identify as whatever it is that you are practicing. Success is perhaps a marker to determine whether or not you should quit your day job. It is not a marker to determine whether or not you get to call yourself by whatever artistic title you so desire. All that's required is that you be actively working on it.

This was a tough concept for me to embrace. Over the course of the last two or three years I have written 8 full-length novels, and they're doing quite well. But I was still struggling with the idea that I just wasn't a writer. I would argue with my writing partner about it all the time.

Finally, she took me to task, essentially asking me at what point would I fess up and admit that I was not just a writer, but a pretty successful one? So, that was my first hurdle, and it can be a doozy to get over. I'm not sure I'm quite there yet, to be honest.

And here's where we come to the heart of this post. We all go through times of difficulty in our creative process. It just happens sometimes. Times when we feel crappy about our work, or hesitant about our process, or just downright blocked.

That's okay. It's part of the whole creative thing we're doing. The challenge is to keep going.

Writer's block isn't a real thing. It FEELS like a real thing, trust me. But it's not. It's just fear made manifest in a blank page.

The truth is, it's okay to suck sometimes. Write bad stuff. Act badly. Paint and sculpt and sketch pure awfulness from time to time.

I think we're so afraid that we aren't talented, that the idea of embracing suckage is just wrong, somehow. Like we'll be exposed as the frauds we are.

But everyone is. Or at least, everyone is just doing the best that he or she can in the moment. Talent or skill isn't a good indicator of ultimate success in creative endeavors. Just look around you. Lots of "bad" actors have careers. So do a lot of "bad" writers.

Doesn't matter. If they keep doing it, they get better. But they have to keep doing it. All the time.

We have to keep acting, keep writing, keep directing, keep doing whatever it is we're doing through the bad stuff. That's when it's most important. It's the only way we can get better.

So keep creating. Risk suckage. Embrace the occasional spewing forth of crappy work.

And then keep moving forward.