"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

Friday, May 31, 2013

Actors with Disabilities

Andra needs advice:

Hi Lira,
I recently found your blog when I was doing some research on the legitimacy of MZA.  Thank you for your words of wisdom on them.  I ran across too many postings that would just say,"they're a scam!" without really  qualifying that statement with a reason why. Your site gave a much more balanced view.  Thank you!
Also, I wanted to get your thoughts on something. I'm new to the acting scene and I have come across several helpful tips for new actors.  However, I'm in a wheelchair and I find that a lot of the advice given is (understandably so) for a wider audience. Do you have any advice for a actress with a disability? 

Hi Andra! Thanks for reading.

You are absolutely correct that your situation is going to be different. You have a very lovely headshot and I like it a lot, but there's one thing missing. Can anyone guess what it is?

Andra, it's your wheelchair. It needs to be in your headshot.

All actors and actresses with a disability need to highlight it because that's what makes them different and sets them apart. Casting won't be able to add you for diversity to the cast if they think you are like everyone else.

You might be under the impression that you have to hide your wheelchair and that it is going to hurt you in the long run. If you hide it and you're called in for an audition you submitted yourself on for an indie film, the building casting is in might not have ramp access. That sucks. Conversely, if you don't have the chair in your headshot and you look like everyone else, casting might not call you in because they already are going to be seeing 20 other straight haired brunettes. But hey! An actor in a wheelchair could definitely play the teacher in this role! And all of a sudden, you're another option to go.

It's true that the roles you will be able to play are going to be limited, but you can open up the options by showcasing the very thing that makes you different. So: highlight your chair. That's your thing, girl. Celebrate it!

There are some very good agencies out there who will rep you if you are a good actor. I Googled "los angeles talent agencies disabilities" and KSR and Affinity came up (They are NOT the only ones who will consider repping you). When you submit to your target agencies, make sure your headshot shows your chair, and write "Wheelchair" on the outside of the envelope. Not all actor submissions get open at every agency, but again, you are immediately another option and I'm sure your envelope will be opened because of this.

Also, because you offer something different, you can mail postcards to casting and they'll keep you in their files because they might only have a few, if any, in your category and they'll want to remember you.

I also found this article from Backstage from last year, and he says all the same things I am. Highlight what makes you different.

Now onto your reel: You might not have one at this point and you should probably put a few small things together. Write a scene of a teacher talking to her troubled student's parents. Film it. Write a scene of a woman on a terrible blind date. --Write whatever the heck you want! But your reel is going to be where we don't point out the chair. You don't hide it, no no. Make sure it's visible and obvious, but don't have your or any character mention it's new or unexpected. You're a teacher or a mom or on a bad date and your character happens to have a wheelchair, and I think that's going to be the majority of roles you book when you start out: co-stars and guest stars where casting says, "An actor with a wheelchair is another option."

There are, of course, going to be roles where casting will want an actress who really is in a wheelchair but those roles will be few and far between and you know this. But like I said, I think you'll be going out for a lot of roles that aren't specifically written for a disabled actress, which is kind of awesome. Be a good actress first and foremost, and the rest will fall into place.

Good luck!


Tuesday, May 28, 2013

Your Friends Can Manage You

Struggling Actors and Actresses have to constantly reevaluate their skills and acting level and figure out what the next step is. Is it marketing? Taking new classes? Getting a new image?

You know what's hard? Going into ourselves and figuring all that stuff out. You know what's super easy? Asking your actor friends what you should do next. Shatera wrote me a very long backstory that all came down to two questions that I underlined below:
I’m kind of stuck in the “My career doesn’t have a 1, 2, 3 step path and I’m confused” mode. I lose focus because I don’t know where to go or what to do and in which beneficial order to do it. 
Here is my plan thus far:

-Find out what my type is, my brand, how to work my business which is me (I’m considering buying “The Savvy Actors Career Manual”, any advice/reviews on that?)
[Everyone is welcome to use the Google Search Bar I installed on the right sidebar. I HAVE written about The Savvy Actors Career Manual. -Lira]
-Get headshots that reflect my type
-Submit, submit, submit (I’m submitting to both tv/film and theatre opps, I want my union cards!)
-Take acting classes to grow and network
-Get a job that allows me the flexibility to audition while still working and saving (SCORE! But it wasn’t easy)

Last December I started freelancing with an agent in NY (I live in DC btw) and have auditioned for one feature film and I’m sure she’s submitting me (I trust her) I just haven’t been auditioning a lot through her or booking. Though I have an agent, I know that at the end of the day I AM MY OWN AGENT until my career gets to the level where I don't need to be. So I have gotten a lot of auditions on my own but I am very thankful for the agent in NY also working on my behalf.
My goal once I moved back from LA last year (long story short, it wasn’t my time to be there just yet) was to make a name for myself here in DC (stay here no longer than 1.5 years) then make the move to NY with the credits and experience (oh and money) I build.
I’m a singer actress with major film and tv dreams and NY is a better market for me and my type right now (I’m African American female, mezzo soprano belt, big curly natural hair, average height, curvy but thin build). My problem is that I’ve been auditioning but I haven’t booked. I’m still doing theatre because I once watched a forum where Denzel Washington was speaking and his advice to actors who want to be film stars was “Do theatre. Theatre will lead you into film. Do theatre.” Literally.
I figure since I have a theatre background (BFA Theatre Performance) and I am usually cast in theatre shows here in DC, I should work what I’m good at and perfect what I want to do (film, tv, commercial auditioning) by taking classes and auditioning for them when they come my way. I am pleased with how far I’ve come and the connections I’ve made since my move back from LA, I know it was the right choice for me in my journey thus far, I just wanted to ask you, from the information given, does my plan seem realistic? Is there anything else I could be and/or should be doing?
The only thing I can think of doing that I'm not doing enough of is taking classes. I’m a good writer but I’m not really interested in writing or doing anything outside of performing. It’s what makes me happiest, everything else always just feels like busy work…

[Everyone, please check out Shatera's website and see if you agree with me. If you can think of other things she can also do, please comment and let her know!]

Oh, Shatera, How I feel you! How Everyone feels you! You're right, there is no 1, 2, 3 step path and the worst part of it is: There will never be one. You will never get to follow any steps in any order that makes sense because it all varies from person to person.

I went to your website, and although you describe yourself as having big, curly natural hair (hey girl!) the headshot on your home page is you with your hair straight. Go ahead and nix that one. It's not you.

I'm not a fan of most of your headshots, and I don't blame you; I blame the photographer. It's pretty clear s/he is not a competitive LA headshot photographer and your photog didn't know how to pose you or frame a good shot. Also, you need to wear makeup so we can see the dimensions in your face. Your natural lip color doesn't pop against your skin. Hire a makeup artist next time. I think your pictures are definitely the reason why you're not getting more work through your agent. They're not competitive with the NY market. I googled Best NYC headshot photographers and look at what I got. Do you see the difference between the photos that pop there and how yours don't grab one's attention? Get new ones.

Women our age only really have two types to choose from for film/tv: Leading Lady or Best Friend. You have unconventional beauty, so you're the best friend. Easy, right? Half your work is already done for you. For the stage, though, you are everything you think you can play! (God, I miss the stage.)

And Shatera, don't do theatre because Denzel said you should. Do theatre because you effing love it. I know you know this. Still.

I heard you sing: Amazing voice. I think you should have a commercial jingles demo reel so you can also make money that way. http://www.edgestudio.com/archive/jingles-and-singing-how-do-i-get

But your main question: does your plan seem realistic? I don't know. I don't know the NY/DC market. I don't know anything there. The only thing I can do is offer suggestions. Suggestions from a fellow struggling actress! Ah, life.

The better question: Is there anything else you can be doing? Always!

Yes to taking classes. But not just acting/singing/dance classes. Take any and all classes. That's right, Shatera, TAKE ALL THE CLASSES! You'll get to meet fun, new people and once you make more friends, your world will open up. Someone in your vegan cooking class could have an aunt who's a talent manager looking for a legit actress with an amazing range. Plus, now you know how to cook a bunch of vegan things.

Keep uploading singing videos, but in ALL singing genres. Find a new song you love, buy the karaoke version and upload it. Make musician friends. Take a Justin Bieber pop song and turn it into a sultry jazz cover. Build Youtube followers and fans. Keep stretching yourself as a musical artist. Singing is your thing. SING. EVERY DAY. Do a new video once a week.

Learn accents. I love love love your look. Learn Jamaican, learn Dominican, learn Senegalese. You have a good ear for music and accents are just spoken music, right? I bet you'll pick them up super fast.

You say all the other stuff outside of performing feels like busy work. That's because IT IS. Are you postcarding and emaling and updating your website? You need to be. Get on people's radars.

And finally, if you're in a rut, ask your friends what else you can be doing. They will always have an answer.

Good luck!


PS: Have you thought of dropping your last name? Shatera is badass. Maybe your singing persona is just 'Shatera'? Ask your friends their opinion. 

Wednesday, May 8, 2013

Need a Print Agent?

Hi Guys!

My modeling agent sent out an email I'd like to share with you:

Chic Models is always looking for New Faces for our Fashion/Print division.
Fashion Division: Must have a portfolio. Online or Book.
Males: 5’11 & Taller. All ages.
Females: 5’8 & Taller. 0-6 Dress Size. All ages.
Commercial Print: Must have smiley headshots.
Male & Female. All ages. All heights. All Size.
If interested, please submit current headshots, full length shots, and link to online port
if you have one to faces@chicmodels.com
Please limit pictures to no more than 5. Preferably, resized if possible.
SUBJECT: Fashion/Print New Faces

Please let her know that Lira referred you, and GOOD LUCK!

Friday, May 3, 2013

Wanting to Act When You're Young

One of the gals who was in my Interactive Theatre Show asked if she could take one of the monologues I wrote and shoot it. Hooray! I just saw the 1 minute edit of it for a film festival they're going to submit to and it's pretty cute. Once it's premiered, I'll be able to show it to you guys.

I've got a few other things on the back burner I also just can't talk about  yet, but I am Counting Down the Days, y'all.

In the meantime, here's a question from a reader:

Okay, I feel rather silly. But I want to explain my story, so you could maybe further help me. By the way, I love your blog! Found it day before yesterday, and been hooked ever since! Anyways... So, we live in Mississippi. My mother is on disability, and has had 62 operations on her kidneys but is a bit better. We've been in homeless shelters the majority of my life (I'm only fifteen). We barely make life by, but we live in an apartment with my 17 year old sister, whom I don't get along too well with. So, we don't have much money. For 11th and 12th (I'm in 9th) grade I am trying to attend Mississippi School of Arts high school (MSA). After that, I want to move to LA. I realize I'm a southern country girl, but I know I have talent and I believe if I'm persistent enough, I can make it somewhere In life and live my dream. As stated, I've had a hard life, and don't really have any money. How can I live my dream of LA still though? (:
Also, if I gave the impression somehow that I only want to act to be famous (one of my friends said that), that's not the case. All my life I've felt unwanted and like I can't do much right. Acting is were people tell me how good I am. Its where *I* feel I can stand out. When something isn't right in life, I act. Its the only thing that calms me down. I love doing it so much. It makes me feel like I have a purpose. Every chance I get, I act. Thanks, ~Mikailah
 Hi Mikailah!

When I was in fifth grade, I had two outfits. A sky blue sweatshirt and sweatpants combo, and a red shirt and pants combo. I had two pairs of socks. We were poor. We had a house, thank goodness, but my mother's health bills meant there were no frills like an outfit for every day of the school week. By Friday, my socks crunched when I put them on.

I understand what it's like to have no money. To have such little money that an extra outfit is out of the question. To be woken at night by mice eating your bedroom walls. To know that no matter what, no matter what it is, you can't afford it. I've been there.

In 9th grade, I was able to get a work permit and make some money. This is what you need to do as soon as possible, if you haven't already. Make money and save it.

Because as much as I want to say that it is perfectly fine to move to LA at 18 as soon as you graduate, with $20 in your pocket, it is not. Unfortunately, you are in a situation where if you move ANYWHERE, you will always need to have emergency money to get you back home so you can go to your mother's funeral. This is something I know you know. It is terrible, and awful, but you will need to go. You will never forgive yourself if you are so poor you can't get there in time.

I'm sure you've read my blog enough to know that you need $10,000 minimum to move out to LA. You need good headshots and you need to submit those to agencies and that whole process is very expensive. And then, what if you don't get picked up by an agent? That is a possibility. It happens all the time.

But that is all years away from you right now. We need to focus on what you can do now.

You need to get a job. You need to read as many plays as you can. You need to practice monologues. You need to do your best to act and make it look like you're not acting.

You want to attend the Mississippi School of Arts for 11th and 12th grade. Fantastic! So you need to prove it to them that the school wants you. If you don't have a device to record yourself (a friend's old ipod or iphone [without the phone plan] will both work) so you have videos of you acting. Get a group of friends together and record and edit small videos of play scenes. You need a folder filled with your favorite monologues and scenes. You need to watch all the film classics. You need to research, research, research and create, create, create, because if you don't do these things, you won't be fulfilled. Make the school see that you are serious about being an actor and you are acting and creating videos already, and just think what you could do with their guidance and resources.

Find out where there is a theatre within a decent distance of you. Ask if you can work or intern there. Box office, house staff, whatever, and put yourself in a group of adults who know about you. Who can guide you, who can help you. Actors and theatre crew are nothing if not incredibly generous and kind and just a teensy bit crazy. ;)

Do everything, EVERYTHING you can to get to the point where you are researching, creating content, interning at a real theatre, and making and saving money. Expand your circle within the theatre world that already exists around you. Do NOT leave your home state until you have at least $10,000 and a bonus extra savings so you can get home in an emergency.

And you know what? Check out Atlanta before you check out LA. It's way closer, they do hire smaller roles (the only ones you'd be getting for a few years anyways)  and you could be a big fish in a small pond over there. I strongly recommend going there before going to LA. Get your feet wet. Get representation. Get film work in Atlanta.

Work on your General American accent too. Watch clips of Californian newscasters to hear what that sounds like.

It's going to be a hard and tough road for you. It's unfair, but that's your lot in life. We all have to deal with different things. But keep your chin up, work hard, and know that eventually, things could be much, much better. As long as you're willing to work very hard.

I wish you all the luck in the world.