Tuesday, November 25, 2014

The Least of These

His long dreads were tied back neatly, his dark clothes hung on his lean body, and his backpack was limp with hollowness. He trudged along the roadside bearing a sign that read "Anything helps".

I didn't get a very good look at him.

I stopped at his intersection on my way home from my pre-Thanksgiving grocery trip, and I suddenly became fascinated by the driver to my right. Normally, I keep granola bars in the glove box for such a time - I never carry cash - but I had devoured them a few months prior and never bothered to replace them. I hid my face in shame, and then I remembered: I had plenty of groceries in the trunk - more than I needed! But I feared the light would turn green, and so I moved on.

Burdened with guilt I asked my husband to look for the man on the way home from work. Allen took him to the store to buy groceries.

He was from Miami. His parents had been killed in gang wars, and he made the mistake of joining in the fray. He is an ex-con now. At first, he was just unemployed. Then he was homeless. Three years he traveled, but no one would hire him. So he begged. He selected filling foods high in nutrients like peanuts and Gatorade spending less than forty bucks of our money. He hoped to get a job at a local Christmas tree lot, so he had Allen drop him off there.

He broke every stereotype I've ever harbored about the homeless.

He wasn't at all scary. Nor was he on drugs. He was well groomed and motivated. He shrimped and chopped Christmas trees and when the season was over, he struggled to find other jobs that would hire felons. He was humble and smart. He went to food banks and churches to acquire food when he couldn't find work, and he didn't complain when he was offered mac'n'cheese and other items he could not use. He wanted to help himself, but society was set against him.

His name was Greg.

I never met Greg in person, but he haunts me. He represents an entire demographic that I believe is neglected by everyone. Including the Church. Throughout my father's military career we visited hundreds of churches. Not one of them had a program for ministering to the homeless. Food pantries, missions abroad, and even sometimes orphans' ministry. But I've never seen a church with a ministry for the homeless. Or ex-cons for that matter.

And I find that disturbing.

"And the King will answer them, 'Truly, I say to you, as you did it to one of the least of these, my brothers, you did it to me.' " - Matthew 25:40

If the Church does not care for these human beings, who will? The government? If Christian business owners do not hire felons, who will? The nearest Walmart? Is it any wonder that local governments have recently forbidden feeding the homeless? If the body of Christ does not tell these outcasts that they are loved and they are valuable, who will?

I will.

I have not formulated a plan yet, but I have ideas. I foresee more trips to the store. I envision extra blankets and brown bags containing peanuts and Gatorade stored in my trunk. Guess who is coming for dinner? A warm shower, a fresh haircut, laundered clothes. Scratch that: NEW clothes. A job. The message that they are not forgotten, they are loved, and someone cares.

Who will? Will you?

Wednesday, November 19, 2014

Easy Gluten Free Chocolate Chip Cookies

I am on a gluten free cooking roll, right now. Pun very much intended. (Though ironically, I have not come up with a good gluten free roll recipe yet.) Hence, I am posting a recipe for the second week in a row!

I have finally perfected a gluten free cookie recipe. The ingredients are fairly standard, they taste normal, and all the measurements are pretty much the same (hurrah for minimal dishes!) - making this the easiest and quickest gluten free chocolate chip cookie recipe I've ever made!

Gluten Free Chocolate Chip Cookies

1/2 cup  (1 stick) butter
1/2 cup granulated sugar
1/2 cup brown sugar
2 large eggs
1/2 tsp baking powder
1/2 tsp salt
1/2 tsp vanilla extract
1 cup of my gluten free all purpose flour
1/2 cup oat flour
1 cup chocolate chips
1/2 cup nuts (optional)

Preheat oven to 375°F. Melt butter. Mix in sugars, eggs, baking powder, salt, and vanilla extract. Gradually mix in flours and chocolate chips. Bake 8-10 minutes. I like my cookies really big (like really), so it only made 2 dozen for me, but more moderate people might get as much as 4 dozen cookies.

Enjoy!

Thursday, November 13, 2014

Gluten Free Pizza!

Time for another recipe!

In case you are wondering, no, I'm not avoiding an issue like I was last time when I posted my gluten free blueberry muffin recipe. I'm being good, I promise! In fact, I've been excessively happy for no particular reason for a few weeks now. (I'm trying really hard not to drive my husband crazy - especially before he's had his coffee. Ha.)

I just want to share my number one, most used gluten free recipe:


Gluten Free Pizza!

3 cups of all purpose gluten free flour
1 tsp salt
1/2 tsp baking powder
3 TB sugar
1 TB yeast
3 tsp xanthum gum
1 1/4 water
3 eggs
1 TB olive oil

Preheat oven to 350°F. Mix dry goods in a bowl. Make a little well in the dry goods mixture. Add liquids to the well. Mix well and knead. Roll into a greased 12x17 pan. Bake 20 minutes. Take out and top with your favorite pizza toppings! Sometimes I baste with a stick of melted butter, spices, and parmesan cheese before adding the shredded cheese and pepperoni and sometimes we use tomato sauce instead and sprinkle the spices on afterwards. Up to you and your taste buds! Bake for another 20 minutes. Allow to cool before eating in order to protect the roof of your mouth!!


We pretty much eat this every Friday night. There's no craving like the pizza craving, and if you have to eat gluten free that is absolutely no problem. In fact, you just might like this pizza better than any store bought ones. True story.

Enjoy!

Wednesday, November 5, 2014

5 Things I've Learned by Being an Actress

One of the aspects I love most about acting is the education I receive. I would attend college for the rest of my life if I could afford it. Learning makes me feel alive, and my acting career has more to offer than strictly academic content. Hence, I grow as a person as well as in knowledge.

(Which, yes, means that two of these points are negative. Bear with me - it gets better, I promise!)

#1: I am prone to entitlement

I learned this dissatisfying point rather begrudgingly, but now that I've resigned myself to the lesson it is absolutely necessary to acknowledge it aloud. I had always assumed I was a hard working woman who deserved to be successful. Never once did I pause to ponder the possibility that I might harbor a sense of entitlement.

I recently ranted about the irritating casting website membership fees to a fellow actress, and I was disgruntled when she did not immediately jump on the bandwagon. Not only did she not get with the program, but she told me to "suck it up". And that's when I began to suspect myself of being a sleazy leech. Then my friend pointed out that "they've got to pay employees" for the services we receive and equated the fees to paying a cell phone bill. And that's when I was sure I was a sleazy leech.

In retrospect, I realized that not only was I entitled about the money but also about the industry in general. I often subconsciously felt I deserved to be cast in a role simply because I auditioned for it. But the fact of the matter is, there's no reason to believe I'm any different than all the other penniless actors who didn't get cast.

#2: I do not have a very good self esteem

In class last month, we covered the topic of vulnerability. Originally, I thought this concerned the actor's ability to do awkward or bizarre things on stage or set without worrying about the audience's opinions of you personally for doing said things. In reality, my teachers' point was that everyone has a vulnerability and discovering your character's weaknesses enables you to portray that character better.

Not to miss a chance for personal application, I wondered about my own vulnerabilities. I came up empty and promptly concluded that I didn't have any.

Then my hearing aid broke. As I've already mentioned, getting my hearing aids fixed is a multi-week task and is likely to incur a panic attack and a very long mood swing. To top it off, my optometrist declared that my contacts were irritating my eyes and I should transition to wearing glasses on a daily basis. Later that week, I confessed to my husband that I was okay with being a nerd ... until I looked like one.

And that's when I realized that my vulnerability in life is my physical appearance. I am a carbon copy of Princess Diana herself, and I have a low self esteem about my beauty. *facepalm*

At least I can take comfort in my ability to struggle with arrogant entitlement and a poor self esteem simultaneously.

#3: The nitty gritty details of the business

To be honest, there is a plethora of things I never knew about the entertainment business until I became an actress. I could probably write an entire blog post about it (and I probably will). But for the time being allow me to put in a shameless plug for the people who have taught me the most.

Tandem Media is designed to give up and coming actors all the information and tools they need to be good actors and businessmen. We artsy people tend to forget that what we love to do is actually a business and that often poses a problem. Tandem Media offers tips, tools, and answers about the business at the beginning of each class - and then they help us become even better actors. What a deal!

They have made me a professional, and I am eternally grateful.

#4: How to be a better screenwriter

When I was younger and I felt that my hearing impairment would prevent me from being an actor in the filmmaking business, I decided I wanted to be a screenwriter instead. Mumsie would often assign English homework that involved writing plays and got me a book on how to write screenplays. Sadly, I never really got into it and I gave it up as a hopeless dream.

Since I decided to be an actress, I have attended the aforementioned classes and had several on set experiences including "Romans XIII" and "Talisman". Each of these films had their own distinctive learning opportunities, but both of them taught me a lot about how movies are filmed. And this proved invaluable when I got bored enough with being an unemployed actress that I took up writing again. Not only did I finally read that book on screenwriting, but I have since written two feature length screenplays and one and a half episodes for a sci fi TV show I created.

So if the acting thing doesn't work out, maybe I can make some money in the writing business.

#5: To appreciate the roles I have

As a human being, I have a very specific need to feel that I have accomplished something significant, a purpose, in life. Unfortunately, since I have yet to be cast in anything other than a few non-paying short films here and there my acting career isn't a great place to foster feelings of fulfillment.

So I began to look elsewhere, and eventually I realized something profound. I may not have a role in the latest Hollywood blockbuster or one of the most popular TV shows, but I do have roles in life.

I am a Navy wife and a homemaker. To my liberal and politically correct counterparts these may sound like silly and insignificant roles compared to being a career woman, but they're not. Where would America be if her military servicemen did not have the support of their families? How would we fend off the plague of bugs and disease we would suffer if no one did the dishes? Without these seemingly invisible roles our society would literally break down.

"There are no small roles," my high school director used to say, "just small actors." I venture to argue that the same is true of life, and I intend to excel in my roles just as feverishly as I would any Hollywood role.

Wednesday, October 15, 2014

7 Pet Peeves of a Young Actress

I know what you're (probably) thinking. You've only been an actress for a short time. How could you possibly have pet peeves already?

Because I'm that good. (Ha.)

I actually wasn't going to write about this specifically because I didn't want to be viewed as stuck up or a whiner. But it's been on my mind a few weeks now. And I really need to remember that I already admitted I'm not perfect and just be honest about myself and my feelings. (Funny, how most of these posts seem to be written against my will.)

But in order to keep things in perspective, next week I'm planning on blogging about the positive things I've learned as a direct result of my acting career. So if you're tired of negativity skip reading my blog this week and tune in next week instead.

And really, some of these are obvious the moment you decide to be an actor.

So without further ado or excuses, here are my 7 pet peeves about my new profession:

#1: The high start up cost

Everything about acting costs money. And I do mean everything. Everything from my IMDb page to the professional photos I had printed last week. There's the weekly cost of acting classes and the monthly cost of workshops. The yearly cost of buying and maintaining my own website. I invested in recording equipment and paid a professional company to shoot my demo reel. I pay monthly membership fees to the casting websites as well as media fees to upload the aforementioned reels and pictures to said sites not to mention the fees required to submit for roles.

Guess how much money I've made from my acting career? Nada.

This morning my husband said he didn't want to leave me to go to work, and I quipped back: "But you have a job, and I need your money to pay for my job." Funny, sad, and true.

I spend a lot of money on my acting career. As a cheapskate, I find this extremely annoying. (I should probably go for counseling for my tight-waddedness, but it costs too much money.) As a wife who is attempting to be responsible, it's nerve-wracking. I often wonder how long I will continue to invest money in the sinkhole of my acting career before I decide to cut my losses and retire before I even start.

#2: The belief that IMDb credit and meals is acceptable payment

I spend many hours combing the casting websites hunting down roles. I eventually - finally - find a role for my demographics that's right up my alley: snarky sense of humor, redhead, and stage combat experience required. Set in a futuristic sci fi world.

Perfection, that's what that is.

And then I see that the role's pay rate is listed as "Credit and meals". In Los Angeles. And they sent the casting call all the way over here in Florida. But you'll get credit! And if you're lucky you might get parking validation! (Sadly, not a joke. Parking validation is commonly listed as a pay rate.)

Okay, let me try to set this straight: this is akin to asking a plumber to drive 24 hours to fix your toilet for a glass of lemonade and the chance to list you as a reference on your resume. ("Travels far, works hard, and you don't have to pay her a thing!")

Ridiculous.

If I could afford to fly myself to Los Angeles on a whim I could afford to fund a small budget film of my own. Actors invest a lot of time and money into the perfection of their craft. Production companies in turn should expect to compensate them for their time and expertise.

#3: The plethora of females roles who are hookers and/or have a sexual past

My guess is that approximately 95% of the roles for my demographics are either hookers or someone who is described as having a sordid sexual past. And the other 5% are usually stereotypical character actors (Because no one's ever seen the "bombshell blonde arm candy" or the "comedic fat girl" before).

Really?

That ratio does not even come close to accurately representing the world's female population. Females, like males, come in variety of shapes, sizes, personalities, and backgrounds. It's time that our entertainment industry realized that and start putting some thought into creating realistic female characters instead of inserting a few scantily clad females in a couple of scenes to hit on the males and calling it diverse.

(Note: I realize that there are some TV shows and movies that do create realistic and varied female characters and these I applaud. However, these are the exception rather than the rule. And these types of roles don't usually appear on the casting billboards for the no name actors such as myself.)

#4: The number of people who think that nudity is "tastefully done"

Conveniently, most of the casting billboards have a place where the casting call lists whether or not nudity is required for the role or present in the project. Most often I will see something that reads like this: "This role has a nude scene but it will be tastefully done and a bathrobe will be provided on set".

(As if having a bathrobe on set really matters when you're revealing all to the world on screen.)

Hate to break it to the wannabe artistes out there, but all nude scenes are pretty much the same. There is no such thing as "tastefully done". That's why most famous actors who can afford it hire a body double. After all, why show your butt or boobs on screen when you can just hire someone to do it for you with such grand pay rates as "parking validation" and the handy excuse that it's "tastefully done" to ease their conscience about disrobing - for free?

#5: The inability of anyone to correctly determine my age

I get it. I really do. When you write a story or a screenplay, you have a very specific look in mind for your character. Your lead male is definitely 6 feet 5 inches tall and ripped with a dimple in one cheek (preferably the left), and your lead female just has to be 30 years old but look 18 years old with flaming red hair but absolutely no freckles.

If you don't fit the parameters you don't fit the parameters. That's just part of the business. I understand that.

But I find it ridiculous when I fit every single parameter, nail the audition, and I get rejected from the role because someone doesn't think I look like I'm 24 years old. Guess what? I am 24 years old. True story. I have also been told that I look too old to play 21 years old and look too young to play 28 years old.

Meanwhile, famous stars my age are still playing high schoolers.

Stop trying to guess my age. Or get a different excuse.

#6: The lack of privacy

No, I'm not famous. No, I don't have paparazzi camped out in my front yard. No, I've never been featured in a tabloid. However, I have realized that being an actress requires me to give up certain aspects of my life as no longer private.

For instance, my height and weight are posted all over the internet for everyone to see. And every time that changes it is professionally expected of me to update all those entries. (Talk about motivation to not gain any weight!)

I would also be unable to get a tattoo or cut or dye my hair without telling the industry at large where the tat is located and what it is or purchasing a new set of professional photos to demonstrate my new 'do. Whether or not I skip my workout today becomes a professional - not a personal - matter as is whether or not I decide to overindulge in that year's supply of Blue Bell tomorrow. I even have public accounts (Twitter and Facebook) that are free to be trolled by anyone who so desires.

This is really less of a pet peeve and more of a professional expectation I've had to begrudgingly accept. Necessary? Absolutely. Completely comfortable with it? Nope.

#7: The constant reminder that I'm a nobody

I have mentioned this before, so I won't repeat myself at large. But it's really depressing when you've finally found a role that seems perfect - and it's paying to boot! - only to discover that they are specifically requesting that only "A-list" or "name talent" submit.

Sometimes, when I'm feeling good about myself and I don't particularly care about the submission fee I'll submit anyway. Just so you know.

But most of the time, I realize that everyone wants something from someone else. And more often than not, it isn't just a role well acted. It's a well-recognized name that does half of the marketing production team's job for them. And that's precisely what I can't give them.

What bothers me is that this mindset excludes many many very talented actors simply because they weren't born to famous parents. That seems like bad business to me. And not just because it makes finding a job harder for me.

Though that is what elevates it to pet peeve status.

*********************************************************************

Okay, thanks for listening to me rant. I hope it wasn't too painful to read, because it felt good to let out all my frustrations. So good that I didn't even include the last three pet peeves because I decided they were minor after all. See? You're helping. Good for you, you nice person you!

I'm putting myself in a more positive mind frame now. I'll write again next week!

Wednesday, October 8, 2014

I Scream for Ice Cream

I always wondered how they did those "year's supply" awards they give out for contests. Well, now I know, because I won a year's supply of Blue Bell Ice Cream! Evidently, a year's supply comes in 24 gift certificates each valid for a half gallon of Blue Bell.

I also won a coffee table book entitled "The History of Blue Bell". But I'm not sure anyone cares.

Technically speaking, I wasn't even the winner. I was just the runner up. But hey, there wasn't supposed to be a runner up to begin with, so I can still feel good about myself.

To backtrack: Blue Bell Ice Cream ran a contest in which people submitted a 20 second homemade commercial for Blue Bell for the chance to win an expenses paid trip to Brenham, TX to tour the factory and get a spot on their latest commercial. At the time, I was experiencing a lull in my auditions and my housework alike, so I figured: why not? At the most, I could break into the acting world by the weirdest way possible. And on the other hand, it's not like I have anything to lose.

So I spent a day writing a small script, filming it, and editing it.

Once I had the idea solidly in my mind, I began to film it. (Thank you, Allen, for my video camera and tripod!) Interestingly enough, as I was filming it I never quite felt like it was very good. But given that I had no real vested interest in it, I made my perfectionist self move on anyway. I began editing right afterwards, and then something amazing happened.

I changed the script on the spot.

Basically, I looked at the clips and decided that I didn't want to put them in the order that I had scripted it. I liked the clips much better when I told the story out of order rather than chronologically. The comedic value was worth so much more when I started at the end and then revealed how I got to that end.

The result was this video.

The Blue Bell representative who called me said that I had the judges laughing really hard and that they really liked my video. They evidently had a tough time of it selecting a winner, and when I didn't win they wanted to reward me anyway. So they decided to create a runner up position that they hadn't originally planned.

And now I will spend the next year or so struggling with not getting fat. Ha!

Surprisingly, I learned a lot just by making one 20 second video. I learned that you can tell a lot of story in 20 seconds. I am too much of a perfectionist even about things I supposedly don't care about. There is always room for more inspiration and editing. I am a lot more creative than I thought.

Now if you will excuse me, I need to go find more room in my freezer.

Wednesday, September 24, 2014

3 Things I Learned On the Set: "Talisman"

"Talisman" features a family sent into chaos when they come by a talisman that forces them to tell the truth to each other.

Still from the short film "Talisman" by Tandem Media.
Initially, we were only going to film a demo reel for myself and a few others in my class at Tandem Media. A demo reel, for my non-acting friends, is a compilation of scenes which demonstrate your ability as an actor.

But then the powers that be got this inspired idea to convert the scenes they had written for our reels into a short film. As a short film, we can not only splice the videos into individual demo reels, but we can also submit the film to IMDb. If accepted, I would receive another credit on my IMDb page and resume!

I had a lot of fun on the set, but more importantly, I learned some things about my job:

1) "Bake at 400*F for an hour or until golden brown"

The first scene was filmed in the garden. We did this scene at 9am, because we wanted to do it before it got too hot out.

Too late.

I believe that "sweltering" is the correct term. I thought the scene would never end. I stood in the sun watering the same plant and having the same conversation with my "son" for about an hour.

One of those items people neglect to mention when discussing the glamorous life of film actors.

In between takes, the director was kind enough to fan me with his copy of the script, and I used paper towels to dab up all of the sweat on my face and inside my shirt. It was kind of awkward, but extremely necessary. I couldn't exactly shoot the scene with sweat spots on my shirt. So in my shirt went the paper towels.

I did get over the awkwardness eventually.

But not until I realized that it would've been unprofessional of me to do otherwise. As an actress, it's my job to play a role. And to do anything to disrupt that - neglecting to dab my sweat, moving off my mark to go inside between takes, complaining - would have been a failure on my part to do my job.

2) "Love turns work into rest."

Once we finished that scene, we retreated inside and the crew began the next scene - in which I did not have a part. Thankfully.

But I couldn't really afford to take a break.

I changed costumes, touched up my make up, and re-styled my hair. And when I had completed those tasks, I memorized and ran lines with my fellow actor for our next scene. In between I drank copious amounts of water and snagged a few snacks.

It was kind of exhausting. I'd been working all week on auditions, workshops, and updating my resume, etc. I get up every day at 4:30am to accomplish it all (and my housework) in a day. And here I was getting up early on my weekend, driving an hour to the set, and working through my breaks.

And then sometimes my job didn't involve much acting either.

The set up for the next scene took longer than the actual scene. They rearranged lights, adjusted angles, moved my stool - with me on it - multiple times, and set up props exactly so. All the while, I had to sit on my stool. I couldn't leave or move, because it was necessary that the crew be able to see how the light was hitting me.

At least I got to swap Monty Python quotes with the crew while I waited.

I even stepped out of my role as an actor and briefly played the role of crew while we filmed another scene. I gently waved a light reflector in order to make a candle flicker and bounce the light. Seriously. That was my job for about half an hour. Though in reality, on a set with a bigger crew, I would never have been allowed to do that.

And besides, the director assures me that I will get IMDb credit as "candle flickerer". Haha.

An actor's work is long and hard and usually involves more time off screen than on screen. And I am okay with that. Because I love it all.

3) "Our doubts are traitors and make us lose the good we oft might win"

After a lunch break and a rearranging of the lights because one of them went on the fritz, we began what I would term "my big scene" This particular scene required all the focus and energy I could muster.

I braced myself for the necessity of many takes, but we actually only did a few. I was quite surprised. I didn't receive a lot of direction either, and when I asked the director about it afterwards he said that good actors don't need a lot of direction because actors who do exhaust their director.

When we previewed the short last night in class, my classmates were very positive about my performance - even after class when we went out for drinks and it was no longer necessary to offer compliments or critiques.

The minimal number of takes, the director's lack of direction, the ravings over my performance - these are all comments and behaviors that I associate with really really good actors. And though I think of myself as a decent actress, I don't view myself as that good. For one thing, I lack experience on the set. For another, if I were that good, wouldn't I know it?

I suppose not, since clearly in the eyes of my professional peers, I am underestimating myself somewhat.

I realized that I need to learn how to evaluate myself properly instead of allowing my negativity to cloud my objectivity. The only way I will persevere and improve in this difficult craft is by recognizing what I can and do accomplish.

These are the things I learned on set of "Talisman". I can't wait to show you the footage - coming soon!