I’ve been a reader of The Actors Voice for quite some time now and have found it to be informative, enlightening, humorous, and many times sprinkled with a dash of tough love for good measure, which I’ve always appreciated. I am a self-producing actor — sounds strangely like an AA intro — with a story to tell.
First, a bit of history… I moved here over four years ago from NYC where I had a great career going on Broadway. In fact, I left a hit show mid-run to move to LA with no job or career prospects in sight. Why would I toy with such a wonderful, stable situation that I had worked so hard to achieve? One word: dissatisfaction. I felt creatively void, as if my voice wasn’t being heard, and that I had yet to express what was just bursting at the seams to come out! I was utterly stifled.
So I made my move out here, completely naïve, thinking that my extensive theatre resumé — working and studying with some of the most amazing and accomplished peeps in the world — would land me a great agent and allow me to start auditioning right away. Ha ha. Needless to say, I was put in my place rather quickly and I learned exactly the amount of weight theatre carries here in LA. During a meeting with a very powerful development exec, he took a look at my resumé and asked, “Broadway… oh, do you mean like, theatre? Oh, you’re going to want to put a hyphen and add the word theatre next to that so people know what you’re talking about.” We finished up that meeting by him saying to me, “Well, you’re not 17 and you haven’t done anything, so… good luck. You’ve got a long hard road ahead.” I got into the elevator and cried, then laughed, then cried. The next week I got a call to go back to NYC and finish up the run of the show that I had left. I ran as fast as I could back to my Broadway safe haven.
I came back and dug in to LA. I took class with the most reputable teachers in town, I did casting director workshops, I joined The Actors’ Network and delved in to all of their resources. I did short films (Liz Lachman’s Getting To Know You among them, which I remember you writing about in one of your columns), I did my best to connect and find my way. Let it be known that I have always had the good fortune of having representation, but that is NOT the end-all, be all by any stretch. Also let it be known that I’ve had five different agents and two different managers in the name of trying to find the right fit. Still to this day, almost every opportunity that has presented itself to me has been by way of my own hustle… just a plain fact.
Around that time a Tony Award-winning team was putting together a show that I was right for, I auditioned and got it and again I took off to NYC and then San Francisco for the run of the show. Loved the experience and the stability of the job, but again felt creatively stifled within an inch of my life. As the run of that show was coming to an end, I had a lightbulb moment for myself. No more running back to my comfort zone. I was going back to LA and going to stick to it. In the same moment (well, maybe one nanosecond later) I decided I should take an improv class. Never had taken one before, but something was screaming at me to do it… so I signed up for class at UCB.
That class was meant to be. A small group of us got together outside of class because someone had access to a green screen studio, and someone else had dusted off a sitcom script they had written years ago and whittled it down to seven or eight minutes. We shot what would become the pilot episode of one of the first character-driven webseries ever, Goodnight Burbank. This was three years ago, when new media and podcasting truly was the Wild, Wild West. None of us had any idea what we were in for.
Goodnight Burbank was quite collaborative when we first began but fairly early on Hayden Black took the reins as creator/producer (it had been his pilot script) and I was happily acting as a series regular in this ongoing show that seemed to be gaining momentum at lightening speed. There was tons of exposure and press as the entertainment community was figuring out what all of this meant, if anything. My agents and manager at the time all kind of patted me on the head not really paying much attention to any of it. In fact they had never taken the time to watch an episode because they were so busy. Warning sign, anyone?
I decided to move on from UCB and was interested in taking class at the Groundlings. While researching the Groundlings online, Gary Austin’s name kept popping up. Gary is the founder of the Groundlings and now teaches workshops on his own. My first class with Gary became the launching pad for my first self-produced project. Gary had me go up on stage and do an exercise called a “solo exploration,” basically just stream-of-consciousness stuff. Forty-five of the longest minutes of my life later, something happened. I’ve always been obsessed with Christmas and had a lot to say about it and it came pouring out. After class, Gary came up to me and asked me what that was and if he could direct it.
Confessions of a Christmas Banshee had its world premiere at The Lankershim Arts Center in December 2007. It completely sold out and was met with critical acclaim. More importantly, it was a LIFE-CHANGING experience. Just the knowledge that I could write, produce, and star in something that didn’t exist before was so empowering that I was hooked.
At one point during that time period, I attended a workshop with a producer who works on a lot of feature films and he was encouraging all of us to go out and shoot something on our own. You know, just make it happen. We befriended each other and in March of 2008 I called him up with an idea for a short I had written, he loved it and said, “Great, let’s shoot it!” I borrowed a friend’s camera, my producer friend was my DP, I had two PAs, and one kick-ass lead actor, and we shot all over Hollywood guerrilla-style and got everything we needed in one day. I learned how to edit on iMovie, had a composer friend of mine score it, and VFX friend of mine add a little glow into it, and it was done. My first short is called The End. By the way, as I’m writing this ridiculously long letter to you, I have just finished shooting on one of my producer friend’s features as an actor. It’s all about relationships and consistently doing the best work you can.
Next, one of my castmates from Goodnight Burbank — Angela Espinosa — contacted me. She had an idea for a webseries and wanted to talk about it. We had a meeting and Groupthink was born. We write, direct, produce, and star in the series. In addition, I edit (all grown up on Final Cut) and audio mix (on Pro Tools) the episodes. It is by far the most challenging and rewarding creative experience I have had to date. It is certainly not for the faint of heart but I cannot recommend it enough. The doors that have already opened for us are simply incredible and we have only rolled out half of the ten episodes that make up season one. We have taken all that we have learned during our three years with Goodnight Burbank and applied it to our show.
Recently a website called Broadcast Assassin contacted us about featuring Groupthink on their site. They review and push shows they like. We did a three-part video interview with them and they asked us if we would be interested in doing an ongoing production blog for them with three other webseries that they love. One of the other shows they are featuring is Jeremy Redleaf’s show, Odd Jobs. Jeremy and I exchanged a few emails and it turns out Jeremy was working backstage at a theatre in upstate New York when I was doing a show there almost ten years ago and he remembered me from it! Jeremy and I caught up at the Streamy Awards last month and had a good laugh and of course talked about all of the people we have in common. Relationships.
I cannot believe how long of a letter this has turned out to be, but I felt compelled to write to you and tell you about the journey that lead me to become the no-turning-around-now self-producing actor that I am and will continue to be. I FINALLY feel creatively satiated on a regular basis, and I’m so grateful every single day for that. Thank you for all that you do for the community. I think you rock and I look forward to the day when our paths eventually cross.
Rockstar. What else is there to say? I crow a lot about the many, many, many benefits to doing your own work — creative control, learning the jobs you’ve always sort of disregarded when you go on set, being totally responsible for the finished product, realizing a creative vision from scratch, getting your work in front of the buyers without waiting for an agent or a SAG card or a geographical proximity that makes it easier for you to meet the right people, and on and on and on. But, man, it’s the empowerment that really turns me on.
I love seeing actors taking their careers into their own hands and truly steering their way along the path a little more than they might have before. Awesome! Wendy, thank you. And keep up the good, inspiring work!
Originally published by Actors Access at http://more.showfax.com/columns/avoice/archives/001024.html. Please support the many wonderful resources provided by the Breakdown Services family. This posting is the author’s personal archive.