"The label you give yourself cannot impact external forces that are not motivated by your own psychology or influenced by a third party's pre-existing consciousness of you. We are all presented with reasons to struggle which come from completely external forces; to pretend that one is not struggling is either arrogance or an admission of defeat. To admit that one is struggling is a sign and a source of strength." - Evan A. Baker

Wednesday, July 21, 2010

Parents Want Their Children to Be Happy

When I was 12 years old, I auditioned and got a part in the first play of my life. It was children's theater and to be a part of it, your parent was also required to work on it for free. They called it volunteering, but I have a hard time calling any unpaid work volunteering when you are forced to do it. (I turned down the college high gpa frat too because of this. phi beta kappa? They required volunteer work. I was like, bitches, please, I've done over 500 hours of volunteer work without having to. Don't MAKE me have to do something I should want to do anyways. You take out all the fun. Wow. Parenthetical tangent. Where was I?)

They also had a "period makeup class" for all the moms out there, but of course, my mother couldn't attend, but this was a really important class to take. My DAD comes with me, and with, bless his heart, a notepad and pen so he could take copious notes.

Here is a father, working over 40 hours a week, paying ridiculous medical bill after bill for my mother's care, and he shows up to a class about makeup. With stuff to take notes!

I am only 12 years old, but all of this is not lost on me. My heart swelled with so much pride for my dad, who was willing to put himself in completely unknown territory just so he could support his daughter. And to bring notepaper!! The moms next to him even said, "Oh, what a great idea! Do you mind if I have a piece of paper so I can take notes too?"

Immediately after that class, my dad took me to Long's Drugs so he could buy the stuff he listed as absolutely necessary: "pancake foundation, powder, lipstick, blush, eyeshadow and eyeliner." My dad, bless his heart, found a young woman who worked in the makeup section and asked her to help us find the right colors for me because, as he said proudly, "She is in a play! And I don't know anything about makeup!"

That's love. That's pride. That's a really good parent, seeing something his child is in and excited about, and supporting it and helping as much as they can.

My college friend Jen now works as an acting coach in Boston and one of her clients, a young 17 year old who will be starting her senior year this September, also has a parent who is very supportive and excited whenever her daughter finds something she likes to do. Because the daughter showed an interest in acting, Mom went above and beyond. She didn't know anything about the acting world, and so asked her daughter's acting coach what a typical actress's life is like in Los Angeles.

The typical actress in LA is struggling, so Jen immediately contacted me asking if I would mind meeting with the mom and daughter to give them some real insight and advice on life, the biz, and recommended paths to take when pursuing this life. Mom was setting up a weeklong trip where they would get to explore LA, tour the studios, possibly go on agent meetings and auditions should the opportunities arise.

Well, I was more than happy to, since this mom reminded me very much of my dad, who will research his happy little heart out before committing to anything he doesn't understand. They were coming in about three weeks and we started emailing to set up a time to meet. I sent Mom a few questions:

Is she planning on going to college? What other activities, besides acting, interest her? Why does she want to be an actor? If you could forward those questions to her so I could get a better idea of her as a person, I think that would be a great place to start. Also, how long has she been studying acting? Does she have any family out here?
I was excited to read back what the daughter would answer. I remember being 17 and very excited. But the daughter let almost a week go by when I asked the mother to remind her daughter to write me. The mother wrote back that the daughter preferred to dictate the answers to mom.


Here are the answers:
She would go to college to study acting but first choice is to get acting  work out of high school.  She likes to make videos (ie did a math project with video and she was the primary organizer, also has done several music videos on youtube) also singing, writing songs.  Acting is her passion.   She wants to become an actor because it is fun and she also feels like she belongs there.   One of the areas  she'd like to work in is  disney and/or  Nick because it gave her so much joy and she'd like to do the same for other kids especially ones that are struggling.  She has been studying acting since she was about ten years old.  She was involved in a local kids theater group  for a couple years and then took classes at Boston Casting and that's where she met Jen.
Okay. Decent answers. My favorite is she wants to be an actor because she feels like she belongs there. Great! Me too! But you know what? I'm extremely annoyed that the daughter took the easy way out and dictated her answers. I don't know what's from her heart, or edited by her mom, and I get no sense of personality from this girl. I can't! And that's why I wanted her to write me. I wrote back:
I wanted her to write her answers to me so I could get a sense of her personality. Her choosing to dictate them to you, thereby making no personal connection with me, is worrisome. Los Angeles and the Hollywood game is all about networking and making and keeping friends in the business. So far, she has shown no interest in me while I am setting aside time to advise her.

Have her write me.
 Mom responded back that she has been talking to her daughter about the reality of the business and that her daughter is particularly shy with people she doesn't know.

Uh oh. More RED FLAGS.

Now, I get it. I am EXTREMELY shy with people I don't know. I went on a huge camping trip with 40,000 people and felt so fish out of water that I was given the nickname "Quiet" on the first day. But when I am in a room with a captive audience, I shine. I can make small talk, I can joke about my name, where I'm from.  And if I had the opportunity to make friends with a Real Life Struggling Actress, you bet your Sag Scale I would be emailing and asking questions and seeking advice.

Okay. I'm giving this girl one last shot. I sent her a one minute monologue and asked her to prepare it for me. That way, I could at least see if this girl had any potential. I had already emailed Jen asking for more info on the mom and daughter, predicting that they would cancel on me last minute, as the daughter seemed to show very little interest in meeting me at all.

I got another email:
Lira,  my daughter  has been trying to prep  this monologue and is having a hard time with the content.   I've been thinking about this a lot and how to make this work for all of us.  If this works for you could we make this meeting a "meet and greet," only [instead of the previously agreed upon consulting/coaching]?   I know you are trying to give her the most for your time but she's not there yet.  I would like it if you talked of your life and how you learned/studied the business and how you make it work now.  Also speak of the endless auditions.  I know there has been alot of back and forth but I feel this is ultimately good because she will have a glimpse of what life in the TV/film/acting world is about.
So, the daughter who wants to act, doesn't want to act when given the opportunity.  I responded that in order for me to properly advise them, I will need to see how she prepares the monologue. The morning of our meeting, I received another email from Mom:
Hi Lira,  I apologize for this late notice but my daughter is not up for this meeting.   We have been talking alot and she isn't ready to do this type of one on one yet.  I know it is a missed opportunity for her.   However she is feeling like it is too much and won't be herself.  I think the reality of life here is beginning to set in and it is overwhelming right now.   So having said that I am wondering if you think it would be worth it for me to speak by phone or meet briefly with you at the same time or another time.  I feel we are here and I won't have other opportunities to discuss this with a professional again.  If it seems not worth it to speak to me only I understand that too.
I REALLY want to speak to Mom. I have been writing her over and over again how she's doing the right thing by trying to get as much info as she can for her daughter, because, really, all she wants to do is help her child be happy. Daughter found something she liked, and Mom is so happy, she is supporting and supporting and, and.....doing a lot of the Daughter's homework for her.

When I first saw a flier for auditions for a play, I took it home and begged my father to take me to try out. He said no. I pleaded. He still said no. I bargained. He said no again. I bribed. He laughed, then said no again. And I cried. I cried for days. Yes, I was only 11, but I was also a bit melodramatic, but you guys, I REALLY wanted to be in a play. The next year, a new flier, a new play, and I begged my dad again. So he took me because I still wanted to do it a year later. And I got it.

When I wanted to take singing lessons that summer, "to help my career," I found the class, I found the teacher, I showed my dad I was serious. I did drama in high school. And when Senior year rolled around, I chose Psychology, Creative Writing 2, Beginning Choir and Drama 3 as my electives. My dad saw this and said, nope, uh uh. You need Physics and Calculus. When I calmly explained that I would have no need for science and math class for my life as an actress, and that learning to read music and learning to write plays and learning why people do the things they do in psychology would benefit my future in the arts, and I had taken all the required math and science to apply to the UC system the year before, he took it all in, scratched his bearded chin and said, "You're right. Okay." I was figuring out what the best way to become an actress for myself. I was convincing my dad that this was what I wanted to do. Not the other way around, which unfortunately, was what I was getting from Mom and daughter.

So yes, I still want to meet with Mom. Mainly to point out that her daughter would be competing against 100 other girls who have been doing commercials for Pampers and Gerber's when they were babies. And they would have memorized that monologue, and three others in case I wanted to see something different, and they'd have two contrasting 16-32 bars to sing for me in case I'd ask, and they would show me their 32 count dance routine they choreographed, and they'd come to the meeting with thousands of questions on their own, and they'd probably have a few agent meetings to go to while they were here, which they had set up, themselves.

This daughter doesn't want it badly enough. Her competition does. Her mother has provided her with several awesome and wonderful opportunities to get her daughter ahead and in the end, the daughter had repeatedly shown that she wasn't interested in doing the work required. Which means that it's exactly that: work. And for us, the actresses who have known we had wanted to do this our whole life, it's not work. It's fun. Because this is what we are supposed to be doing with our life and we don't want to do anything else.

I met with Mom. "Let's save you and her lots of money and time and agree that she should be steered toward something else." If her daughter was there, I could've talked to her about the video she had produced for a class project. Because, if she likes the acting world, maybe she likes the film world, and would be more comfortable working behind the camera. It's still creative, it's still storytelling. Perhaps she could start with photography, but she is probably finding out that acting is not as easy as it all seems, that it's hard, that she's scared, and that she doesn't want to do it anymore. And that's okay! It's more than okay! So take that huge weight off your back and really enjoy the weather and attractions and sights that you have to see on this awesome CA adventure with your mom.

I said it sounded like Daughter still didn't know what she wanted to do with her life, and sometimes we don't know. Have her finish her senior year and take nothing but electives at the community college to see if anything excites her. Life is just beginning.

And what is so great about this, is that I had also was chatting to another girl who wanted to pursue acting out here.  Emerson College student Caitlin had written me this last week having found this blog, having read ALL the entries, and was asking if it would be okay to give her some advice and answer questions she had. The enthusiasm between Caitlin and the daughter couldn't have been more different. Polar opposites, those two. And I have no doubt Caitlin will start working when she's got all her necessary materials and an agent. I could see the daughter having anxiety attacks about auditions just in the waiting room.

If you want to act, you have to be ready to do the small crappy stuff for the first 10 years. You might have a few projects you're really excited about, that get you on TV, that you can be proud are on your resume, that people might have heard of, maybe even have seen! But for the most part, you will be here struggling. It sucks. But you have to want it so bad, to not be able to see yourself doing anything else, that you are willing to go above and beyond researching the town, the people, the business. Be prepared to be terrified and to suck and to find some awesome people doing the same thing, and assholes who will prey on your dreams and naivete and take your money. Be prepared to do a film that never, ever sees the light of day. Be prepared to have a British news crew follow you around because you aren't famous. Well, no actually. Don't prepare that. That kinda stuff only happens to me.

But despite all this, you must still be prepared to be happy, excited and exubherant that you are here, in LA, living your dream. You have to be optimistic that THIS is your year! You have to look back on the previous year and see how you went so far and beyond what you had hoped! You have to want it and love it and love it and want it.

Parents want their children, us, to be happy. But WE are the ones who must make the initiative for ourselves, to find out what that is. They call it passion for a reason. If you can't find it in what you do, then find something else that makes you love life.

My dad has dispensed some really good Dad Advice, my favorite being, "Do what you love, because then your job won't feel like work." And I'm doing that. And if you notice, my dad got exactly what he wanted: a daughter who loves what she does and is happy doing it.

Thanks Dad, for supporting me. I love you.


  1. Well, that is just good advice for anyone in any field. It is a shame that the girl didn't show up for the meeting. Like you said, you could have had any interesting conversation about alternatives that she might really enjoy, but she hasn't even thought of in terms of a career.

  2. Your dad sounds AMAZING!!! Great post Lira.

  3. Aunties want their neices to be happy too.
    Aunt Sira


Play nice.