"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

Thursday, September 2, 2010

Caitlin's Guest Post: How Being an Actress ADDs Up

I opened up my electronic mailbox one day and found an email I had sent to myself back from the past when I was a senior in college. Upon closer inspection, however, I found that this was NOT an email from myself, but from Caitlin Coons!

This young actress emailed me with a few questions and I was absolutely just taken with her excitement and happiness. I asked her to write why she's an actress and had no idea I would get such a personal and amazing post. 

She is finishing up her last semester and then her "real journey" begins. I would watch this one if I were you. We're meeting for the first time in late September, and I absoutely can not wait. I'm already in love with her. I know you will be too.


Why I'm an Actress

I love writing. It comes easy to me. The words come spilling out of my brain at an ungodly speed, much too fast for my poor fingers to keep up with.
Not this time. When Lira asked me to write Why I’m an Actress I could wait to get started. So I did...and then, I started over. I started over again and again aaand again. It's tough! Explaining why I am an actress is like explaining how my brain works.
So, I suppose I should first explain how my brain works.
I have ADD, or attention deficit disorder. I’m the inattentive type, and ever since I was a toddler (my parents have stories) I have been stuck in my own head. My brain is filled with what is commonly described as “chatter.” ADD differs slightly in everyone, just as any other condition would, and for me “chatter” describes the million and one thoughts and voices that are screaming in my head at any given second. Think of me like Sookie from True Blood, and acting is my Bill. The first time I stepped onto a stage in second grade to perform a few songs for teachers and parents with my classmates I suddenly heard silence. I left my head and was able to focus my attention on something else. The best way to describe it was that I was in the moment. For the first time. Ever.
After that, my life as an actress took off. I took acting classes, attended acting summer camps, transferred to a performing arts high school, and was accepted into a preprofessional theatre group for teens. While I wasn’t training I was auditioning, auditioning, auditioning, and even getting to perform sometimes! I also worked hard learning the other side of my craft. I interned backstage for several summers, and stage managed and crewed a few shows at my high school.

I've never really been outgoing. My shyness is debilitating at times, but when I act I transform. It brings me peace, and I feel like I actually have control over the way I think.
These feelings got me hooked. Beyond hooked! I was completely devoted, I loved not having a life outside of the theatre! When it came time to look at colleges I was touring conservatories and schools with well respected BFA programs. One of them, Emerson College, also had an awesome film program.
If you’re seriously considering a life of acting, you’ve probably had someone tell you “If you can do anything other than acting, you should do that instead.” I’ve had countless people tell me this, and I always scoffed at the notion. “Be anything other than an actress? Oh, puh-leaaaaaze.” But buried deep inside of me there was the knowledge that I was smart. I could do other things easily. And some of these other things, well, I found them fun too.
This feeling surfaced three days before my Emerson application was due. That combined with a million other little reasons caused my extremely impulsive self to completely redo my application to my dream school for the film program. I got in. And for the past three years I turned my hobby of film into my life.
It has been great, and I learned so much that I am so thankful for! But college was also the first time my slight problem with ADD became an issue. It’s a common misconception that people with ADD are just lazy. Oh, I can be lazy sometimes and I’ll own up to it, but this is something different. When you have ADD (I’m speaking in generalizations, but this is pretty much the defining characteristic of this disorder) you literally do not have the ability to do something that isn’t 100% stimulating to you. It’s not that you choose not to because you would rather do something else, it’s that no matter how hard you try you can’t make your brain work. I’m sure everyone reading this has experienced a mental block at some point in his or her life. Now, imagine that when you’re trying to check out a camera from your school for a film project. It’s easy enough; you go to a desk and tell the person working there what class you’re in, what you’ll need, and how long you’ll need it for. Later, you pick up said camera and sign a piece of paper. So simple! But my brain froze. ADDers think divergently, we having trouble going through the steps involved in a process. I had to go there I knew, but that seemed wrong, I had to be missing something, but what? I would mispronounce my own name. I would forget my class. I never knew the dates. This started happening more and more frequently, and not just with checking out equipment. Everything I was doing was giving me panic attacks. I started having anxiety and sleeping problems. The “chatter,” which I kept at bay with theatre pre college, came back and was worse than I had ever experienced before. I couldn’t even hear myself think.
I was miserable.
I was prescribed stimulant medicine. I cried the first time I took it, because it was also the first time since I had been on stage that my brain was quiet. I remember it kicked in when I was riding in a car and I suddenly realized I was hearing the music on the radio. I wasn’t thinking about a million different things, I was simply listening. It sounds crazy, but that’s really what it’s like to have attention deficit disorder.
My medication has helped me get through college. I have a semester left, a semester which I will be spending at Emerson’s Los Angeles campus. Half of the program includes taking a couple of classes, and the other half is working at an internship for school credit. As I prepared at the beginning of this summer for the program it was time to ask myself “What do I want to do? What do I want to be?” That’s the whole point of this program; to get an internship and familiarize yourself with the field you hope to work in upon graduating. I always knew there was a good chance I would want to continue with acting after college, and when I asked myself those questions I confirmed that “I AM an Actress.” You could say I have an extreme case of ‘do what you love.’ It’s like my doctor said during my last visit, “Find something that interests you, and you’ll discover you need your medication less and less.” Acting is my passion. When I’m in my zone, doing what I love, my issues with ADD disappear.
There is a major benefit to my ADD brain. It’s called hyper-focusing. I may have trouble doing other things, but when I find stimulating I commit my energies to it 130%. So when I made my declaration to myself and to the world that I was going to try IT (acting as a career) I decided to get back in shape. I started searching online for any hints to the business. I found Lira’s blog, and read through the entire thing in a few days. After I finished I started emailing her (best decision! She is super nice and helpful if you didn’t already catch that from reading The Struggling Actress). I found other blogs. I read them too. Interviews and articles from a certain casting director kept popping up, and I decided to email her my cover letter and resume. By doing so I secured my internship for the fall. I’ll be working with CD Risa Bramon Garcia. She cast the pilot for The Cape which got picked up by NBC, and while I’m interning she will continue to cast their episodes. Acting is a hard business, and it’s constantly changing. Blogs are a great resource because you can hear from pretty much every perspective. You can find out what it’s going to be like for you when things aren’t going well, or when they are. You can prepare yourself, learn from other people’s mistakes! It’s also a great opportunity for you to hear from the other side. So many casting directors have their own blogs or facebook pages, and they’re constantly doling out AWESOME advice!
Now if you’re interested I have a few resources! First, go read The Element by Ken Robinson. It’s an interesting look into the education system, but more importantly, if you aren’t absolutely sure what you want to do in life this will help you. Even if you are absolutely sure, go read it. It was life changing for me. I knew I wanted to act, this helped me realize I had to. We all have our doubts, this will put yours at ease...or make you see that those doubts are coming from a very true place and you need to reevaluate what you’re doing.
I’ve also been reading The Actor’s Art and Craft (William Esper and Damon DiMarco) which has helped me tremendously. However, unless you have studied some of the Meisner technique before I’m not sure this book would have the same benefit. I’m also a firm believer in the Grotowski method. I think it’s lesser known, but if you ever find a good class I would suggest TAKE IT. It’s all about physical acting which I’ve always connected with. As for the business side of things, Lira’s blog has been great insight. I also occasionally pop over to The Working Actress and dream about what it would be like to one day enjoy that level of success. Websites which offer some great articles include Brains of Minerva, Kill the Door, and The Actor’s Voice. On Facebook I’m connected with a few CDs’ pages, including Risa Bramon Garcia’s and Marci Liroff’s which are both awesome and updated often.
In addition to all that, I just started my own blog. Right now I don’t have too much to say, but come September 9th, I’ll be in Los Angeles working at my internship! (And don’t you want all these insights I'm going to be gaining from inside the casting room? I think yes :)

If you’ve made it through this whole thing I want to thank you. Being an actress means the world to me, and if you cared enough to read about it then that means the world to me too.


  1. There is nothing more gratifying than being paid to do something that you already love. Since you are already committed, I hope that you learn tons and bunches and achieve the success you are seeking. Just keep reminding yourself that it is a journey. Lucky for you, you have some pretty excellent cheerleaders to inspire you and commiserate with you no matter what lies down the road.

  2. This was an incredibly inspiring letter! I just stumbled across this blog because it was in a 'similar reads' column. I'm finishing up my BFA in acting this year, and these are all the things I think to myself about the passion I have for what I do. I'll be following both your blogs now! You're right, I'd love your insight into that internship. :)

  3. Amazing post! :) And you're an amazing girl! My brother was diagnosed as ADHD when we were kids, and later as bipolar- the challenges can be huge and not everyone understands that. Kudos to you for charging forward for your dreams! :)

  4. I loved this!! And good for you for turning into what could be looked at as a negative thing into something that works in your favor. Good luck in LA!


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