Wednesday, November 30, 2016

The myth of progress

Listen, children. I've had a revelation. And I want to share it here.

I've been working on being a "professional actress" for a little over two years. In those two years, I've had some incredible opportunities. (This is going to sound very Gilderoy Lockhart-ish of me, so I apologize, but there's a point to this, so stick with me...) I've been on sets with Rob Reiner and Cary Elwes, I've acted opposite Michael Cerveris under the direction of Steven Soderbergh, I've done one local commercial, and I'm currently in rehearsal for my sixth stage production since moving to Utah. Which is all so so so amazing.

But there have been (and continue to be) plenty of "no's" along the way. And there's something particularly painful about "no's" that come after having success. You start to think awful things like, "I've played a lead in a Hale West Valley show, and now I'm ensemble?!" Isn't that awful? It's awful. It doesn't feel good. It isn't good. It's snobby and prideful and self-serving. So then you swing to the opposite and start thinking things like, "Those times I was cast were just a fluke. I'm not actually good. I'll never actually 'make it.' I truly deeply suck." Which also doesn't feel good. Both of those philosophies distract from doing the actual work of acting.

So here's my realization. I've been thinking of acting in this "linear progress" kind of way. Something kind of like this:

(Don't judge my hasty clip art illustration.)

And it makes total sense that I would think that way. There are plenty of forces at work to put this idea in my head. Darwin, for one. This is the subject of a Master's thesis, so I won't go into details, but there's this weird idea that people seemed to take from the theory of evolution, and that is that everyone and everything is working towards becoming more "advanced." And it's all tangled up with fairly recent ideas of imperialism, too...that some societies are more civilized than others, and that they can bring civilization to the primitive peoples of the world.

Not only is Darwin and imperialism at work, but all of the mythos of the American dream centers on the same idea of progress, of slowly rising to the top, out of your own hard work. And this is how most other industries work. You slowly get promoted until you're at the top. If you don't get to the top, well then, you didn't deserve to be there, or you didn't want to be there.

But for acting (or a lot of other industries, actually), I don't think it's quite an accurate way of looking at things. And I don't think it's quite as healthy a way of looking at things, either. There are a few accurate things about it, but I think it's mostly problematic. It allows for both pride ("I'm at the top!") and self-loathing ("I'm at the bottom!"), and it creates a world in which we set people up as "better" than others. It oversimplifies things, and ignores all of the other factors that go into casting. It doesn't leave much room for complexity. It also doesn't actually reflect reality. You don't move steadily up that green arrow. But when we think of acting in this way, we're filled with resentment when we feel we've moved "down." Because "that's not how it's supposed to work! I'm supposed to work hard, get better, keep getting bigger and better roles, and then I'll make it!"

So, maybe it's better to look at progress in acting in a more "cyclical" way. Something like this:

(More clip art action.)

If you think of acting this way, there's less feeling of "I'm not making progress." There's less resentment when you get a smaller role than you think you "deserved" or when you don't get cast. You take the incredible opportunities that come to you without thinking they're owed to you. You can't think of yourself as above someone else on some march of progress to the "top" when they're just across from you, or next to you. And if you keep your own acting goals in the center, then everything you do can be seen as moving towards that somehow.

Fame and fortune and success are strange, often impermanent things. John Travolta was nominated for two Academy Awards. He also made multiple talking baby movies...between Oscar nominations. If you think of acting progress in that linear way, those are steps backwards and jumps forwards...the momentum is exhausting.

Of course, it can also be exhausting to move around the circle above, too. Especially if you spend a lot of time in the "not being cast" portion of it. That's hard. And the only thing you can do is be patient and keep trying. I have a friend who recently moved to New York to pursue acting. She said that when she's talked to people, they all say, "You've got to work steadily at this for ten years. If you can stick with this for ten years, you can make this your full-time job." But most people only give it a year or so. A year isn't long enough. You've got to keep yelling "F*** you, Matt Damon!" until you're where you want to be.

There's also the very real possibility that doing this relentlessly for ten years will take too great a toll on you. It could be that the exhaustion of moving around that circle of progress is greater than the reward. It's a scary thing to realize--that you might need to take a step back, adjust your goals. There are two kinds of dread when it comes to doing that: the dread that you're giving up too easily, or the dread that comes from giving up a dream you've held onto for so long, even if it doesn't fit you any more. What will people think? Who will you be if you don't hold this dream? But you will suffer less if you listen to your own intuition, try not to give a damn about what other people think, and make the choices that will make you happy and whole.

I'm still trying to shift my own paradigm here. But this change in thinking has already helped me find peace, helped me live in the moment, helped me do better work onstage and be a better person offstage. I hope it can do the same for you.

Wednesday, November 16, 2016

What It Means

In the week following the election, I had this strange kind of "reactive mutism." I couldn't figure out how to say what I was thinking or feeling, so I just didn't really say anything for a little while.
I tried to write about the election when it first happened. That blog entry is a jumbled, emotional mess, so I left it in drafts while I processed everything. I'm still processing, and this is the best I could do when it comes to organizing my thoughts.

As an American, as a Christian, as the granddaughter of immigrants, as a survivor of sexual assault, as an environmentalist, and yes, as a woman, I cried myself to sleep over the election results.

Electing leaders is a matter of evaluating both character, experience, and policy. Trump's character is mercurial, narcissistic, unpredictable, dishonest, and thoughtless. He has no political experience, and his experience as a businessman has been fraught with bankruptcies and failure to pay the people he has hired. His policies are marginalizing and harmful to people who have been marginalized and harmed for decades.

Clinton's character is level-headed, thoughtful, and intelligent. The email "scandal" is the result of technological ineptitude, not criminal intent. She has spent a lifetime in civil service. Her policies are well-researched, and do the most good for the most people. 

And America chose Trump. A reality-television "star" who has used fear as one of his main campaign weapons. And even if something happens and Trump is impeached or resigns, Mike Pence will be in office, and he worries me, too.

 Everything feels wrong, and it feels like nothing will fix it.

A friend said that she woke up the morning  after the election, it was like waking up after a really bad breakup. You have a few moments of peace before remembering what happened and then it hits you again...all the heartbreak. It's like a bad dream that you can't wake up from.

 There's a part of me that hears the faint strains of a fiddle being played while the country burns.

And before anyone accuses me of whining because my candidate didn't win, let's get something out of the way right now. This is more than just partisanship. I have been disappointed in elections before. I've been sad when people whose policies I disagree with are elected to office. But this is different. This was the first female nominee who has a lifetime of civil service vs. a man who has zero political or military experience. You may have been disappointed when Obama took office, because maybe you disagreed with his economic policies or his healthcare plan or his budget recommendations. I'm disappointed that both Congress and the Presidency will be Republican, since I'm a Democrat.

But never before has the President-elect: made so many false claims during his campaign, advocated war crimes, said women should be punished for abortions, urged violence at rallies, mocked a reporter's physical disability, called for a ban on members of an entire religion entering the U.S., described climate change as a hoax perpetuated by China, called Mexican immigrants rapists, disparaged someone's military service because they were captured, praised the poor treatment of Japanese-Americans in America during WW2, praised a North Korean dictator, not paid his bills as a businessman, bragged about sexual assault, been praised by multiple white supremacy groups, discussed the size of his penis in a Presidential debate, lied about charitable donations, said that "laziness is a trait in blacks," been a plaintiff in almost 2,000 lawsuits, been accused of sexual assault, made multiple disparaging remarks about women (pumping breastmilk, menstruation, looks), and more. Any one of those things should have been an end to it. Any one of those things should have shut the whole thing down. Even if he's apologized or recanted, the thing about words is that once they're said, they're said. Do not compare the dismay I'm feeling to disappointment at losing.

(And before anyone accuses me of media bias, some of the links I provided are through media companies, but the primary sources are not hard to find, nor do they refute any of the things reported. It's not my job to do your research for you. I'm just providing jumping off points.)

I know that a lot of Americans are in a really tough place right now. For example, Detroit got completely screwed by the auto industry. The closing of coal mines and manufacturing plants throughout the U.S. have put a lot of people in a desperate place. Trump talked a lot about rising crime rates, even though he was completely wrong about them. Donald Trump offers hope and policy that speaks to people who feel afraid or disenfranchised, even if he might not be able to follow through. Cracked had a great article that explained the appeal of Trump for so many people. But all of that stuff? That's not a good enough excuse. Because your economic situation is a result of your circumstances. They can be changed, even if it's really difficult. Being Muslim, being black, identifying as a woman--those things can't be changed. For some of you who voted for Trump, it looks for all the world like you traded the safety and value of Muslims, people of color, and women...for a job.

All of this means we haven't come as far as I thought we'd come. I know that not all Trump voters are racist, xenophobic, or sexist. But even if they aren't, they were willing to overlook those things in their nominee, and that's just as big of a problem. Which means the country I love is not as thoughtful or kind as I believed.

Liberal vs. conservative is rarely about "right" vs. "wrong"'s more often a question of what people value more. And I'm dismayed to learn that fewer people than I realized value diversity and equity and kindness. Or at least, it seems like they don't value those things as much as I thought people did. 

I'm always wary of hyperbolic or highly emotional posts about politics. I try to counter my emotional reactions with rational thought. But I am disturbed in both mind and heart. I am deeply troubled that the majority of the people in this country are willing to risk the lives and safety of so many others for what they want. I know there are still tens of thousands of kind, thoughtful, good people. (And I'm sure that many Trump supporters are also kind, and thoughtful, and good.) But it's heartbreaking and terrifying that there are so many who were willing to put a demagogue in power--someone who has not demonstrated kindness or thoughtfulness or goodness.

My mom sent me this inspiring email on the morning of the election, about what it means to her personally that we have a woman on the ballot for President. Before the election results came in, I sat at my desk at work and cried at the beauty of what it means to have a woman President. I cried for Susan B. Anthony and for the Equal Rights Amendment and for the generations of women who weren't encouraged to have a career. I agreed with Hillary Clinton's policies and trusted her character, which are the main reasons I voted for her. But I also couldn't escape the beautiful symbolism of her candidacy.

Listen, I know things will be "fine." I am inspired by the messages of hope and love and yes, anger and disappointment. That anger and disappointment assures me that there are still so many good people in the world, and the hope and love they're willing to share reminds me to be better and kinder and to not let my sorrow make evil of me. I know that America will recover from whatever possible disaster happens over the next four years. That's not what I'm worried about. I'm worried about the COST. I'm worried not about the ultimate fate of this country. I'm worried about the casualties.

I'm worried about Planned Parenthood. I'm worried about the Environmental Protection Agency. I'm worried about health insurance. I'm worried about foreign relations with Cuba, with Russia, with Mexico, with the Middle East. I'm worried about race relations in America. I'm worried about the Dakota Access Pipeline. I'm worried about the Muslims in our country and throughout the world. I'm worried about survivors of sexual harassment and assault--if they see what our President could "get away with," it sends the message that they won't be listened to and that perpetrators won't suffer consequences.

People always say, "It could never happen here" when they talk about political disasters. But I'm sure that's what ancient Rome said. I'm sure that's what Germany said. And while America does have legal and cultural checks in place to prevent our own self-destruction, we did put over 100,000 Japanese Americans in camps less than 100 years ago. There are people alive today who were interred by their own government simply for being Japanese.

I don't know how we'll explain to our children what happened. I don't want to be a fear monger. But I also don't want to ignore what are potentially really really really big problems. Don't tell me we need to come together. I know we do. But I refuse to ignore the real problems of people of color and women and Muslims in this country.

I deeply admire those who are patient and forgiving of those who spread hate and fear and ignorance, even while fighting it. I'm not there yet. I'm working on it. This is why I haven't spoken a lot about the election during the last week--I'm still hurting too much, and I don't know how to be patient and forgiving without feeling like I'm abandoning my principles of standing up for those who need defending. When I say "I forgive those who spread hate and fear and ignorance," it feels a lot like I'm saying that what they did or said is okay. And it's not. I've got plans for how to deal with it when I witness harassment. I'll continue to participate in marches and rallies and protests. Right now, I'm just concentrating on letting my anger/hurt/disappointment take the Martin Luther King, Jr. route, instead of the Malcom X route. Because I know that ultimately, letting feelings make decisions is what got us into this mess.

I have hope, but I'm exhausted just thinking about the next four years. SaveSaveSaveSaveSaveSaveSaveSaveSaveSaveSaveSaveSaveSave

Sunday, November 6, 2016

A resignation

Liz Chapman
123 Address Place
Salt Lake City, UT 11111

Sunday, November 6, 2016

National Novel Writing Month
123 The Internet Blvd.
The Internet, The World 00000

Dear Sir or Madam:

This letter is to regretfully inform you that I have chosen to tender my resignation from this year's NaNoWriMo. Please know that it is very likely that I will participate in future years, and that your organization still has my full and enthusiastic support.

I am very grateful for the inspiration and guidance you have given me in past years. I first participated in NaNoWriMo in 2012, with a manuscript I did not complete that year, but which has since been finished, and which never would have existed without your group. I have completed a novel every November since then, and now have three full novel manuscripts. Through my participation in NaNoWriMo, I have learned discipline, how to overcome writer's block, the value of writing continually in order to improve, and have gained enormous confidence in my ability to create work. I am eternally grateful to your organization for all of the things you have given me.

In order that you may have a deeper understanding of my resignation, allow me to present my reasons:

I am currently pursuing my MFA in Creative Writing from an online university program. This semester, I am taking a class in ekphrastic poetry and a playwrighting class. Both of these courses demand that I complete weekly writing assignments, and in a few weeks, I will begin work on a full-length play manuscript. To add a 50,000-word novel to my to-do list gives me a sense of diluting my forces me to focus on breadth instead of depth. I am not able to give any of my writing projects my full attention, especially with other demands like working as an actress and keeping a day job. Normally, I would reject "I'm spread too thin" as an excuse. I feel you must make writing a priority in order to be good at it. But with my MFA program, it's ALREADY a priority. It doesn't make sense to add a secondary writing priority. Doing so makes me less able to do meaningful work in either place.

This MFA program forces me to write regularly, which is one of the great strengths of NaNoWriMo. If that need is being met through homework assignments, I don't have as strong of a need to participate in writing a novel during November.

For me, NaNoWriMo is also a yearly reminder of the value of just creating, and that I am capable of writing, despite frustration or fatigue. But after 3 years, it's a lesson I feel I carry with me more permanently. I have less of a need for that reminder this year, though I'm sure the time will come when I need it again.

I have been worried that my resignation will be a disappointment to friends who have watched me on my yearly NaNoWriMo journey. I even set up a support group on Facebook for those who are participating this year. I regret stepping away from my novel, and worry about what it will mean for those friends who I began with. But ultimately, I knew this resignation was the best choice for me. I will still be available to offer moral support to my fellow WriMos, and I look forward to finishing my novel in the future. This resignation was not a decision made out of fatigue or frustration with my story or a lack of confidence. It was a thoughtful decision based on what my long-term and short-term goals are, and whether or not NaNoWriMo this year was helping me meet those goals.

Thank you for everything you do. You have inspired and continue to inspire generations of writers. I look forward to working with you again in the future.


Liz Chapman

Sunday, October 16, 2016

Safety vs. hurt feelings

Listen up, guys.

I sat at a restaurant in town today, by myself. I do this a lot--go out to eat alone. I do a lot of writing and reading at restaurants by myself. But today's experience was marred by an overly attentive waiter. Normally, I wouldn't write about that, but the specific kind of attention I received from this waiter was not okay in my book. The problem is that it wasn't okay, but it also wasn't the kind of thing I can complain to the manager about.

It's the kind of thing I can blog about, though. Because I think it represents a larger problem in our society, the problem of respecting the personal boundaries of women, especially when they are alone.

(Disclaimer: I know nothing about this waiter. He could be on the Autism Spectrum and have a hard time picking up social cues. He could be an introvert who hates his job and compensates by being overly friendly. I don't know. But I wish society as a whole would have taught him how to respect my boundaries as a woman ALONE in a restaurant. He may not have been intentionally threatening. But the entire reason I'm writing this is to help the men around me understand when their actions ARE threatening and how to avoid that.)

So I sit down in a booth. Waiter comes by, probably in his early twenties, and takes my order. Comments on what I order, telling me I made a good choice, normal friendly waiter stuff. He walks away. I pull out my book and start reading. A few minutes later, the waiter comes by again.

"What are you reading?" he asks.

Okay. This is how you can tell a reader from a non-reader. Non-readers think they're making friendly conversation with this question. Readers understand that you're READING and would prefer not to be interrupted. So I'm already annoyed at being interrupted.

"The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up," I reply.

"So it's a book to help people develop OCD?" he jokes. Cool, a joke about mental illness to someone you don't know. I give a courtesy laugh and attempt to return to my book. "Women," he says. I look up to see him shaking his head and smiling. "All women have OCD. They always want to tidy everything. Women, women, women." I feel vaguely annoyed that he's used my gender as the butt of a joke that isn't really funny, or true. But hell, I don't know this kid, and I don't want to be mean, so I give another non-smiling courtesy laugh and wait for him to go away.

A different waitress brings me my food and I can eat and read in peace for a few minutes before the waiter comes by again. "Everything all right, ma'am?" "Yes, thank you," I say. I don't look up. I'm still reading. I'm polite in my voice, but I'm trying to signal that I'd just like to be left alone with my book please. He keeps talking. "Well, I'll want a read aloud when I come back, okay?" Like, you want me to read to you? In what context? Here in this booth? In your car? What does that even mean? He winks. I conceal a shudder, because I don't KNOW you, dude.

I finish my meal, order a dessert. Again, another waitress brings it out. I'm two bites in when I hear the waiter's voice again. "Hey, where's MY spoon?" he asks, eyeing my dessert. I keep my eyes on my book. "Yeah, sorry, this is all for me," I reply.

He sits in the booth next to me.

Did you read that? He sits in the booth next to me. I am literally physically trapped in a corner. I am alone in this restaurant, in a corner booth, with a strange man blocking me in. For the men reading this, here's what you need to understand about this moment: This waiter is "Schrodinger's Rapist." This is a man who may or may not try to sexually assault me. I have no way of knowing what his intentions are. If you suggest I should give him the benefit of the doubt, then you are valuing his potentially hurt feelings over my personal physical and emotional safety. His potentially hurt feelings = a rough day. Me being sexually assaulted = a trauma that is also illegal. As Margaret Atwood once said, "Men are afraid that women will laugh at them. Women are afraid that men will kill them."

So I'm trapped in this booth, refusing to look up at this waiter who has invaded my personal space, and I don't have any way of knowing if he will next make a joke, or try to put his hand on my upper thigh. He doesn't do either; he places the check on the table and says he'll be back to pick it up again in a minute. He continues to sit next to me for a few more seconds. "So do you want this on a single check, or split...?" he asks. I don't think I even answer. "Yeah, I'm just kidding. Single check." Then he stands up and leaves, and I feel my shoulders relax a little bit.

I pay the bill and leave.

Here's the problem with all of this. All of these interactions are walking a fine line between friendly waiter banter and flirtation. In my professional opinion, you shouldn't flirt with your patrons at all if you're a waiter, but whatever. What you definitely SHOULDN'T do, however, is sit next to a strange woman who is sitting alone in a restaurant without an invitation. Especially if you're a waiter. Because you're in a position of slightly more power--I don't feel like I can call another waiter over and say, "Excuse me, this man is bothering me." I'd be saying, "Hey, your friend is a creep" and then everyone would be embarrassed.

But it's a moment that really sucked. Because in that moment, I did not feel flattered. I did not feel like I was getting positive romantic attention. I felt trapped. Because I WAS trapped. If he had attempted to touch me or assault me or harass me in any way, it would have been very very difficult for me to escape. So I'm left to assume one of two things: either he was aware of this, and decided that what he wanted was more important; OR he wasn't aware of this.

So I'm writing this blog entry for all those who aren't aware of this. Because you need to be aware of this. The article on "Schrodinger's Rapist" linked above is an excellent, more in depth version of this same lesson, and I highly recommend you read it, but here's the Reader's Digest version:

WHEN INTERACTING WITH STRANGE WOMEN, ASK YOURSELF, "IF I WERE DANGEROUS, WOULD THIS WOMAN BE SAFE IN THIS SITUATION WITH ME? Would she physically be able to escape? Does she have friends who can help her?" If the answer is NO, then change what you need to in order to create safety for this woman. Even if it means leaving her alone to read her book at a table in a restaurant. Because even though YOU know you're not dangerous, SHE doesn't know that. You can blame all the other skeazy men who have ruined things for the rest of you. But this is the world we live in. Many women spend time every single day calculating their risks. You men need to understand this, and do what you can to make it better for us. And you can do that not by approaching strange women and attempting to convince them that you're the good guy. You can do that by making sure that the women around you feel (and are) safe.

Women tend to respect the men who make them feel safe even more than they respect the men who make them feel admired.

"But Liz, come on! He was just trying to be nice! Give him the benefit of the doubt!" Have you not been reading? I'd really like to, but unfortunately, that's not a risk I can afford to take.

Sunday, October 9, 2016

The "no's" that hurt

Acting = lots of rejection. We all know this. It’s part of life in the arts, blah blah blah. I’ve gotten to be pretty good at dealing with it, but sometimes there are “no’s” that hurt more than others. In an effort to embrace some sense of catharsis and to be honest about my journey as an actress, I thought I’d share a few “no’s” that hurt.

(Wait. I need to make a disclaimer. I 100% respect the casting choices made by the producers in all of these cases. I don’t share these stories to say “I should have been cast!” or to complain or to talk down these producers or theatres. It’s no director or theatre’s “fault” that I didn’t get the part. I’m just trying to be honest about my experiences as an actress and what I learned from them.)

#1. “Les Miserables” at Hale Center Theatre Orem, 2014
I auditioned for this show shortly after playing Sister in “Damn Yankees” at this same theatre, with this same director. Madame Thenardier is one of my DREAM roles, and I was like, 95% certain I’d make it. So when I didn’t even get a call-back, I was pretty crushed. But here’s the reality—I was still in “BYU-I mode,” where if I didn’t get cast in one show, I was almost CERTAIN to be cast in the next. I’d gotten cast in the FIRST thing I auditioned for in Utah, and so there was nothing in my experience to teach me that my being cast wasn’t guaranteed. So I did a mediocre audition, counting on the director knowing me to get me through. But I didn’t do anything in my audition that showed I could play Madame Thenardier. I didn’t do anything in my audition that showed that I was willing to work hard. I didn’t do anything in my audition to show I cared enough about this to give a stellar audition.

This one hurt because it was a dream role. But it also hurt because it was the first time I had to face the reality of rejection in the arts…like, REALLY face it. It was the first time I realized I couldn’t count on the director knowing me, and that I had to truly bring it to every audition, every time. It hurt to learn those things. (But I’m damn glad I did.)

#2. “Peter and the Starcatcher” at Hale West Valley, 2016
This one hurt only because it came right after “Beau Jest,” and I was so in love with “Beau Jest” that I just didn’t want to stop coming to the theatre. I know that there is no role for me in that show—I don’t think I would have made a good Molly. But a few of my “Beau Jest” family members were cast in the show, and it was a little heart-breaking to watch them get to keep doing this thing I love, while I sat at home at night. I had a similar experience with “Christmas Carol,” right after “Oklahoma”…I just loved doing shows at the theatre so much that I didn’t want to stop.

#3. Netflix Original Movie, 2016
Oh man, this one was tough. I won’t go into the details of which film this was, but I’ll say this. My initial audition was one of the best auditions I have ever done in my life. It feels so boastful to say that I nailed the audition, but…I nailed that audition. I was called back on the spot. For a NETFLIX ORIGINAL MOVIE. It wasn’t a huge role, but it was a decent one. Like, I would have been on set for probably 3-5 days. And I nailed the call-back, too. The call-back was with both the casting director and the film’s director, and after I read, the director just looked at me and said, “That was perfect. I have NO notes. So…tell me more about your experience?” We chatted, and I left feeling really really really good about it. I was one of the last people seen that day, and when I signed out, I discovered that I was the ONLY person called back for that role. I knew nothing was guaranteed, but everything about the experience gave me this sense that I had a really good chance.

Here’s the thing about film/television. Often, they’ll cast everyone ahead of time, maybe have a table read, then start shooting. But sometimes, for smaller roles, you won’t hear until later. That happened to me with “Mosaic.” I auditioned in August, they started shooting, and then I got a call saying, “You’ve been offered the role. Can you be there on Thursday?” So when I heard that the Netflix original I had auditioned for started shooting, I was like, “Okay. So I probably didn’t get it. But maybe!”

I had a friend who was a PA on the show, so he kept posting pictures on Instagram of the shoot, and I kept waiting to see if I got the call. Then another friend posted about how she was called in to be a featured extra on the movie. Then another friend posted about landing this amazing speaking role in the movie. And I just kept waiting, and waiting, and waiting, just on the off-chance that I was still cast somehow. I’ve learned that star power carries a little more weight than talent/being right for the role, so I knew that if they got someone with more credits, with a more well-known face and name, they would get the role. But I didn’t want to be the needy girl texting my friends on the project, saying, “Hey, do you know who they got to play ____?”

And then, finally, my PA friend posted about “wrap day,” the last day of filming. And I hadn’t gotten the call. I didn’t get the part. I looked up who DID get the part on IMDB, and she definitely has way more credits than I do. Which is fair enough. And I’m sure she was awesome. She had a great look for the role, and I’m sure I can learn a few things from watching her (and my other friends) in the movie when it came out.

There will be other chances for me, I know. I just want everything NOW.

#4. “Sister Act” at Hale West Valley, 2016
It’s kind of taken me a while to really realize how this one hurts. Present tense, because it’s opening in a few days.

This partly hurt because this “no” came towards the end of this weird sort of surge of “no’s” that I experienced in June and July this year…it just felt like one after another. So not getting called back for “Sister Act” felt like I was being kicked while I was down.

I really, 100% really do understand why I wasn’t cast. My audition was…not great. My song choice was okay, but in retrospect, maybe not the best. And I didn’t sing it well. (In fact, I bombed the ending—played it off as comedy, but I still bombed it.) I didn’t act it well. And even if I had, there is nothing I could bring to the show that someone else couldn’t bring just as well. And “Cabaret” conflicted with like, the first three weeks of “Sister Act” rehearsal (almost half of the rehearsal process). So even if I did have a really great audition, if there are other people who could bring what I could to the show who could be THERE for the entire rehearsal process, then of COURSE, they should be the ones with their names on the list.

But it still hurt. (Hurts.)

My sister and I grew up with the movie “Sister Act.” It’s a huge part of my childhood. There are some significant differences between the film and the musical, but I still feel the same sense of nostalgia. And the messages of “Sister Act” are so beautiful and important to me…messages about being yourself, about worshipping in your own way, about allowing others to express their faith (or lack thereof) in ways that are meaningful to them. About worrying less about appearances and rules and more about genuine spiritual experiences. And those are messages that are especially needed in the Utah community where I live, and it would have been a beautiful privilege to be a part of sharing it.

And some of my dearest, dearest friends are in the show…people whom I love and admire for their work onstage and their friendship offstage. I’ve been so blessed to make some amazing friends since moving to Utah…it’s one of the greatest blessings of my life, in fact. So I feel a little sad that they all get to tell this story that I love together, and that I can’t be a part of it. And from all the posts I’ve seen on social media, it seems like this show is a really special experience for everyone involved. It seems like it stands out for the cast as a really unified production, and a really fulfilling experience, and one that means a lot to them. I’ve been in shows like that…where everyone just sort of feels that this cast is special, and this show is different from the others they’ve done. And I wish with my whole heart I could be a part of this one.

I don’t begrudge my friends the experience. (Friends in “Sister Act,” if you’re reading this, PLEASE don’t feel weird or bad or anything! Don’t stop posting, don’t stop loving your experience, please continue to embrace it for all that it is. Embrace it MORE for what it is.) My feelings aren’t jealousy—I don’t want to take away something you have and have it for myself. I just wish I could share it with you. I’m excited to come watch your work, regardless, though.

The positive thing is that each of these “no’s” also led to other “yes’s.” Whether that means being involved in other projects, or having the chance to take a class, or to focus on writing or school or my family. And each of these “no’s” did teach me something about being an actress, whether it’s to bring your A game to every single moment of every single audition, or that sometimes, you’re just not right for a part, A game or not. To the people who didn’t cast me in the past, or won’t cast me in the future, either way, I have an opportunity to learn and grow, and I respect your choices. I’ll keep learning. I’ll keep working. I’ll keep auditioning. And I’ll probably keep hurting every now and then. But it’s totally worth it. You’ve got to get through the “no’s” to get to the “yes’s.” And I’ll keep doing that. I don’t know how to not keep doing that.

Post-script: It felt really good to write all of this out. I've been catharsisized, and I feel better about life in general already. 

photos via this guy and this guy

Monday, October 3, 2016

"Keep this in your wallet if you are a pansy fan-boy."

Recent discovery: Mark Hamill autographs. They are the best. He is the best. I love these so much.

Additional discovery: There is an entire Twitter account dedicated to Mark Hamill autographs. Because Mark Hamill autographs are the best.

Friday, September 30, 2016

A Letter to the Upcoming Generation, inspired by a recently completed MFA class called "The Rock Star Poets and Writers"

Dear teenagers of 2016:

If I were truly an authentic, this letter would be handwritten, in a red spiral notebook, Kurt Cobain style. I’d write it in crayon, like Jack White did his receipts when he worked cutting fabric and stapling around the corners of sofas. Or on hotel stationary like I was Bob Dylan and it was 1961 and I was playing shows in Greenwich Village.

But I'm lazy and this is a blog, so typed it is.

In true “Chicken Soup for the Teenage Soul” style, here’s my advice for you upcoming poets and rock stars.

1. Find inspiration everywhere.
Read Shakespeare, and Rimbaud, and Dylan Thomas, and Jack Kerouac. Listen to Iron Maiden, and Pete Seeger, and David Bowie, and Prince. Let all of their words and melodies tumble around inside of you. Let yourself re-tell their stories. Try on their style. Write a poem in the cosmic style of Walt Whitman. Try writing a beat poem and perform it like Allen Ginsberg. Turn on Nirvana, and scribble your thoughts as it plays in the background. It’s like visiting a thrift store…everything has already been used, but you can try things on for size, make alterations, create new combinations. Some things will fit you better than others. But you might discover that something unexpected looks amazing on you. Something that, on the hanger, doesn’t seem to be your “thing.” But it could be that you ROCK those billowy sleeves. Just try things on. Impersonate those who have come before you. You’ll find your own style eventually.
Pete Seeger wrote a song based on verses from Ecclesiastes. Simon and Garfunkel wrote a song based on the poem “Richard Cory” by Edward Arlington Robinson. But you could take more indirect inspiration as well. Lana Del Rey drew inspiration from Walt Whitman’s “I Sing the Body Electric,” and wrote a song playing with some similar themes and images. Paul Westerberg’s song “Crackle and Drag” is inspired by Sylvia Plath’s poem “Edge.” You could “translate” a poem by just adding music, or draw your inspiration from one or two lines.

2. Your poetic voice can support the status quo, question it, or be a part of the human machine that destroys it.
Your words can be Woody Guthrie’s guitar…the “machine that kills fascists.” Don’t feel like you have to stifle your rage. Write about black lives in America. Write about college rape culture. Write about abortion, and Wall Street corruption, and redlining, and the public school system, and the shitty way the United States treats Native Americans. Poetry is not limited to noiseless patient spiders and suicide. Let your anger flow from your spine into your pen. Scratch deep into the paper. Shout about the way things are until they change.
Sisters of Mercy wrote “Dominion/Mother Russia” about the Cold War. Siouxie Soux adapted Abel Meeropol’s “Strange Fruit,” a harsh look at the treatment of black Americans in the South. Plenty of these artists also wrote about love and breakups and the usual pop topics. And that’s fine. But you don’t have to limit yourself to those topics.

3. Don’t let stereotypes destroy your creativity.
You don’t have to be Hemingway, piling up empty bottles. You don’t have to open your heart or legs to violent passion like Rimbaud. You don’t have to make a permanent stop in the woods on a snowy evening like Cobain or Plath or Sexton. Beware the harsh light of fame. Despite the viciousness of the artistic life, fame is far more destructive. You set the terms. Guard the terms of your fame fiercely.
I think Kurt Cobain both wanted and didn’t want fame. I think he wanted to be known and loved, but didn’t want to be the symbol of his generation. (Same with Bob Dylan.) It can be easy to get caught up in those tensions, but you don’t have to. Just follow your voice, even if it leads you away from the spotlight. Your work is more important than your fame.

4. On a practical note, be intentional about stanza length in your work.
Many poets insert line breaks where they “feel” them in the content, where there’s a natural pause. (And by “many poets,” I mean me, specifically. I’ve been writing poetry consistently since 1998, and this is the first time I’ve considered that even in free form poetry, line breaks make a difference.) This has an effect both visually and rhythmically, one that you may not intend. There is something powerful in being consistent in stanza length. At the very least, be intentional. If there is no pattern to stanza length, make sure you have a good reason for it. Is the work supposed to be disjointed and chaotic? Or tidy and clean? Don’t let line breaks distract from the message and meaning of your poem. Stanza length is another tool in your poetry writing kit…it’s like clothing. You’re saying something about yourself, whether you intend to or not. If you ignore your clothing, you’re sending the message that you don’t care. Same with stanza length.

5. Cut the extraneous stuff.
Listen. I know. These are darlings and it’s hard to kill them. This is the lesson that I have to relearn over and over and over again. Maybe you’re used to prose poetry, or maybe you just make pets of pretty, docile words. As an exercise, try this: Write a poem, then let it sit for 24 – 48 hours. Don’t even look at it. Don’t re-read it, don’t leave it out where it can be glanced at. Then go back and cut it by a third. Ask yourself: “If an editor demanded a word count limit that’s less than what I have, what would I keep?” Trim until the poem is tidy. Condense meaning until it’s compact and hard and dense. Say what you need to, and then get out of there.

Monday, September 19, 2016

Things To Do While 31

Hey, I had a birthday recently! And I've been doing a lot of thinking about my birthday goals. I think I want to continue this tradition, but I think I'm going to do 3 goals per year. The purpose of having these yearly goals is to help me move towards my mountains, and to do things I've always (or just lately) wanted to do and probably won't do unless it's on a list somewhere. But I don't want these things to DISTRACT me from other important progress. So we'll limit the list to 3 goals.

And I like doing things on my birthday instead of New Year's--New Year's doesn't feel like a natural time to make goals. It's in the dead of winter, in the middle of this time of hibernation. I like making my goals in September, as summer is ending, and I start to prepare the house for colder weather and come up with projects to motivate me when the days are shorter. Plus, I'm a rebel/hipster and I don't want to do New Year's Goals because EVERYONE does New Year's goals.

So here are my Things To Do While 31!

1. Read 1 script per month 
I want to write more scripts, and I'm a big believer that you should read the types of things you want to write. And I know there are thousands (TENS OF THOUSANDS) of amazing scripts out there that I just haven't gotten to yet. I want to have read 12 new scripts by the time I'm 32. They can be TV episodes, screenplays, plays, etc.

2. Write a spec script
I have zero intention of publishing or sending out said spec script. I consider it purely an exercise in writing. It's a good way to start--it's kind of like fan fiction. The characters, world, and format already exist...I'm just creating a different story. I'm bowling with the gutter bumpers up, so to speak. I'm thinking "The X-Files"? I'll keep you posted.

3. Complete 1 painting
I've had this on my list before, and I've had a few different ideas for paintings floating around in my head lately. I think I'd like to make one of them a reality this year.

Saturday, August 20, 2016

I'm Tired of Marvin Asking Me What's Going On

My grandparents recently sent me an email (WITH AN EMOJI!!!) telling me they've been hoping for a blog update soon. It was the final motivation I needed to dash one off really quickly. Things have been busy in the House of Chapman. Here's what's going on.

Getting a job! 
I work 20 hours a week as a receptionist for a graphic design company called Royter Snow! I applied on Monday morning, interviewed Tuesday morning, and started work on Wednesday morning. It's really fun! My organizational heart is happy with the tasks I do, and I have plenty of down-time where I'm allowed to work on homework. The guys who run the business are friendly and laid-back, and the building is awesome. (When I mentioned my acting work during my interview, the business owners said I'm welcome to take off for an interview or day of filming if that ever comes up. PERFECT JOB.)
(Incidentally, if you're looking for an office space in Salt Lake City, Royter Snow has two suites available for rent. Only $420 per month. Check out the KSL ad here.) 
And working with designers means my office space is pretty. Here is a picture of the view from the break room.

OMG WE OPEN ON FRIDAY. I feel super good about the show, and a little nervous about layering ALL the tech in over just four days. But it's happening whether I'm nervous or not. We did a "sitzprobe" with our small orchestra today and I grinned my way through most of "Wilkommen." It sounds SO GOOD. So full and lively and gritty and awesome! If you'd like to see me in vintage tap pants, you can get tickets here. Aaaaaand you'll get two for one*--Jacob is also in it! Surprise! A cast member had to drop out, and the production team was desperate to find someone to replace him, and I put Jacob's name/face forward, and now he's Ernst Ludwig. And he's spectacular. Obviously. Everyone is. Here is a picture of Anne-Louise Brings, who plays Sally Bowles, in rehearsal with the orchestra at a local studio.

Liz gets an MFA!
Still plugging away at my Masters. There are days when I feel so certain that it's the right thing to do, and other days when I question my decision. But deep down, I know that this degree will open doors for me that were previously closed, both because of the degree itself, and because of the writing skills I'm learning. This semester I'm taking two classes: The Craft of Fiction, and "The Rock Stars and the Poets." The last class is as fun and interesting as it sounds. Here is a picture of my homework for this week.

I've had a bit of a dry spell when it comes to casting, and for a while there, it was really rough. As much as I intellectually KNOW that rejection is a big part of this industry, it can still get to you. During July, I had 8 auditions and didn't get cast at all. I know that doesn't sound like a lot, but that's twice a week. When you're getting a "no" twice a week, it starts to feel like it must be something personal or something. It threw me into a little funk for a minute, there, and I'm still sort of re-arranging my psyche to help me better deal with rejection in the future. In the meantime, I keep auditioning! The dry spell can't last forever. I do not have a picture to accompany this item on the list.

The Internet! 
I love the internet. So to conclude, here is a favorite thing from the internet lately. In response to a prompt to name the creatures on this old-timey map, someone came up with these species names:

D - Pigdoggle
E - Snuffcumberworm
F - Schnozpoddler
G - Seahorse
H - Piggly Frontwave

(Snuffcumberworm and Schnozpoddler are my favorites.)


Tuesday, July 19, 2016

All My Salt Lake City Acting Advice in One Big Post

These were originally published as 3 separate entries. But I've shortened and compiled them here, with updated information.

DISCLAIMER: My info is limited to my own experience. There are plenty of other actors out there who will have different advice and different insights. I am not any kind of resident expert--just sharing what I know. So ask around--lots of other folks ARE resident experts.

1. Get good headshots.
This is so so so important. Like, this is what will get you in the door, and help people remember you. Here's what a headshot should be: It should focus on your face, and specifically on your eyes. Choose colors that flatter your skin and hair color, and stay away from black, white, and busy patterns. You should have two main headshots: one "commercial" (smiling, friendly) and one "theatrical" (serious "acting" headshot). If you plan on modeling or submitting for lots of extra work, you can also spend a little extra and get a few "full-body" shots.

2. Remember that there are LOTS of factors that go into casting.
Talent is a part of it, but it's only one small part. Other factors include look, type, voice, availability, compatibility, how much they'd have to pay you, pure instinct, what phase of the moon it is, the will of reptilian overlords, etc. It's impossible to know why casting decisions are made. And remember that success is a numbers game, as much as anything else. For every "yes," there will be at least ten "no's." So just keep auditioning. Sometimes it's pure statistics...the more you audition, the more likely it is that you'll be cast. Keep getting yourself out there, even if it feels like nothing is happening. (And when nothing is, remember the parable of "F you, Matt Damon.") So just give it the best you've got, and don't get too discouraged when you don't get something.

3. Actually, expect to be discouraged.
Sometimes. Not all the time. But discouragement is almost inevitable. So is poverty. Especially when you start out. I think a lot of people start out by thinking that they won't experience discouragement and poverty like every other actor, but you probably will. That's okay. Join the ranks.

4. Keep an audition diary.
It can be as detailed or as simple as you'd like it to be. This serves a couple of purposes. One, it will help you keep track of who you've auditioned for before, and if you've done any followup. Two, it will give you a chance to record thoughts and/or things you've learned. Finally, it actually offers a bit of encouragement to see what you've gotten, compared to what you haven't gotten.

5. Take a class.
Acting is a muscle, and if you're not working for a little while, taking a class is a great way to help you improve your work. It can also give you "networking" opportunities, and help you build your audition repertoire. Sometimes another pair of eyes can see something about your work that you're not seeing, and can give you additional advice. (I highly recommend Ben Hopkin's class "The Three C's of Acting.")

6. ASK for help, guidance, and advice.
When we first made a plan to move to Utah, I sent messages out to everyone I knew who worked in acting in this area. I asked them every question I could think of, and their advice and guidance made my own career here possible. Sometimes we're afraid to ask for help, because we think it will make us look weak, or we're afraid to bother someone. But the reality is that people often respect those who ask for help, and they're often happy to provide their thoughts. It has always been 100% worth it to reach out to others in the field.

7. Remember that your body is your most important tool.
Treat it well. Learn to eat well, sleep well, exercise well.

8. Don't ever forget your CRAFT.
This is the most most most important thing. This is my deepest belief about acting as a career. In the midst of all of these businesslike tasks--"networking," getting headshots, taking classes, updating your resume, tracking your expenses--don't ever lose sight of your work AS AN ACTOR. Don't get into this for the fame or money. Get into this for the art. Take every opportunity to continue to improve and learn and grow. Challenge yourself. Connect with and listen to your fellow actors, on and offstage/screen. Your work as an actor must be about the human experience. If you don't know why you're doing this, that's okay. But try to find out. Think about and create your own philosophy of acting. Learn about techniques and systems, and find tools that work for you. Continually build your tool-box as an actor. Don't forget why you're doing this. Being good-looking, having a good resume, knowing the right people--none of it matters as much as your CRAFT.

9. Get to know others in the industry
I hate the word "networking." It makes me think of schmoozing people at parties, which is exactly the kind of thing I hate. Don't befriend people because you think they'll be helpful in your career. Think of "networking" as sharing what you love with other people who have the same passions. Think not only about how someone can help you create meaningful art, but how you can help them, and what ways you can create awesome things together.

10. Make decisions about your standards
Are you willing to swear onstage? Portray violence? Sexuality? Are you willing to take off some of your clothes? I'm not here to tell you what to be comfortable with. But be thoughtful about what kinds of stories you want to tell, and what you think needs to be done to tell those stories, and how willing you are to do those things. (For some of my personal thoughts on this, check out this past blog entry about Cabaret.)

1. Get with a good agency.
This is the best way to get great auditions. Most major films and television shows DON'T have open auditions--they just don't have time to weed through everyone. So they'll contact the local agencies and run auditions through them.
BEWARE ANY AGENCY THAT ASKS FOR MONEY UP FRONT. Reputable agencies in this area will take a fee from your paycheck anytime they get you work, but they won't require certain classes or headshot sessions or initiation fees. They may recommend or ask that your headshots are of a certain quality, but a professional agency will not force you to use THEIR photographers. Reputable Utah Agencies: McCarty, Talent Management Group (TMG), Elevate, Stars.
To submit to agencies, keep an eye on their websites and look for an open call. You can also stop by with your headshot and resume, but you’ll probably either need an impressive resume, or a strong recommendation from someone inside the agency.

2. Build your IMDB credits.
This is becoming more and more of an important "resume." It's easily accessible to everyone in the industry (they don't have to know your personal website URL to get info about you). You can put your demo reel and your agency contact info on your page. And you can't fake any credits on IMDB. In order to gain control of your IMDB page, you've got to create an IMDB Pro account, which runs $150 per year, or $20 per month. Your IMDB page will be created automatically if you get cast in something that the film creator puts on IMDB, or you can create your own page and add your own credits. You have to submit your acting credits, and they have to be approved.

3. Create a demo reel
This can be tough if you haven't done much film. BUT, you can use what you have to your advantage. Don't have anything? Then create your own stuff! Find a few scenes or monologues, and film them. There are a handful of folks in the SLC/Provo area who will help you create a demo reel for a small fee, or you can do it yourself on iMovie or a similar program. Just make it look as professional as possible--this is a casting director's big chance to see your work!

4. Do background work!
This is the very very very very best way to learn about film and television if you’re a complete noob. Don’t do this to be discovered. Do this to learn the ropes. It is EXTREMELY RARE for anyone to be "discovered" by doing extra work. I can almost 100% guarantee that it will not happen. But what will happen is that you’ll get to meet and work with awesome industry professionals, and you’ll learn all the jargon of being on set and how everything works.
You can find out about extras calls here:
G&G Casting
Yun Casting
Utah Actor’s NING
Utah Filmmakers and Actors Facebook group

1. Build your audition repertoire. 
Buy a binder and fill it with sheet music of songs you know, and make 16-32 bar cuttings of them. Bring it to auditions, along with copies of your headshot and resume. Have a handful of monologues memorized or handy (30 seconds - 1 minute, both comedic and dramatic.) Practice often. Build variety. Know your strengths and play to them.

2. Get audition coaching.
Starting with my "Oklahoma" audition, I've been going to Audition Advantage in North Salt Lake, and IT'S SO AWESOME. Erin, Jeanne, and Anne are all amazing. They can help you find a song, give you info about the production team and what they'll be looking for, coach you on the acting and singing, help you cut your music, help you pick an outfit, RECORD A REHEARSAL TRACK. I love it. No matter how good you are, it's always helpful to have fresh eyes. When I went there with my audition song for "Oklahoma," I was thinking I don't know what else these ladies can do for me. But Erin helped me break down the song and fill in the gaps, and I don't think I would have been called back without her guidance. It runs about $60/hour, but they'll also pro-rate that if you take less time.

There are lots more companies, but here are the ones that I've worked with, seen shows at, or heard great things about. (If you have strong feelings about the content of plays you're interested in performing in, I'd encourage you to research the shows themselves. Note that generally, Hale Orem and Hale West Valley will always produce "family-friendly shows.")

Instead of taking up a bunch of real estate on this page with lists and links, I created this Google Spreadsheet.

1. How do you format your resume?
Simply. You can see how I've done mine here. Print out a dozen copies, 8x10, and put them in your audition binder, so you don't have to worry about it on your next audition.

2. Should you join Equity (Actor’s Equity Association, Theatre Union) or SAG (Screen Actor’s Guild, film/television union)?
That's up to you. There are pros and cons, and it takes some research, but for most people, the answer is "no." The theatres in Salt Lake are limited in how many Equity contracts they can offer, and if you’re Equity, you HAVE to work under an Equity contract. You don’t have to be a member of SAG to do a SAG project in Utah. Joining a union always includes this dichotomy: You'll get less work, but it will probably be better paid work. I’d say become eligible, so you can put that on your resume and show you’re legit, but wait to actually join.

3. How do you find out about auditions?
Most theaters will post their audition info online. Film and television projects will usually just cast through agencies, but sometimes independent projects will send out casting calls on the Utah Filmmakers and Actor’s Facebook page.