Timing is such a strange thing. There's such allure in how events flow at the exact moment necessary to give an outcome that contributes to the creation of a bigger picture. A bigger picture that we try to reveal on a daily basis. A bigger picture that we often attempt to take control of. A bigger picture that can only be understood in its entirety after it unfolds before you. This morning something so small reminded me that we need to look at everything from that bigger picture mindset. Let me elaborate. Sunday night I was riding the train to visit a good friend in the suburbs of Chicago. When the train attendant came to punch tickets, he completely skipped me over and didn't take my ticket. Initially I thought to myself, "Well what a waste of my money, ugh!" Then come this morning while I was trying to catch the train back into the city in time for me to catch a second train back out to Michigan, I was running late. I didn't have time to stop at the ATM to get cash and the train was early! I sprinted from the car onto the train and had no cash to purchase the ticket. Luckily, after being completely frantic for no reason, I remembered I had my ticket from Sunday. Good deal! There was a reason that the day before the attendant just happened to skip over me. It took something as small as my train ticket to remind me to be grateful for each circumstance that comes your way, good or bad, and that it is always part of a bigger plan.
The plan had been that I was going to live out in California a few more years. Then, after being more developed as an artist, I wanted to take on the journey that is Second City. In January of this year, I hit a point where no matter how much I laughed or surrounded myself with things I adored, my body didn't feel right. So much of me was pulling in another direction and I needed to get on it. I was going to wait for June's audition of the conservatory and slowly transition myself here. I didn't do that. I submerged myself to the Midwest immediately and now more than ever, with this uncertain chance of auditioning a week away, I realize that there is something bigger still in the works. I have to let it unfold at it's own pace, and be ready for any outcome next weekend.
I tend to be challenged in thinking with this mentality. I am very much a right here, right now ambassador for living in the moment type girl. And as next weekend's audition is creeping up on me, I will admit, my uneasiness of not having a slot has kept me quite restless. So for this week I wanted to make sure I got myself out of my mind and into a place of self reassurance that everything does happen for a reason. To say that is one thing, but to truly come to acceptance of it requires reflection, analysis, and application.
This past month's events have been nothing short of a test to my strength, tenacity, forgiveness, and patience. I have learned so much about the people that come into my life who I genuinely care and love. I understand that the lifestyle I live comes with two things, one- a lot of people stepping in and out of your life for various reason and two- a need for an abundance of reassurance and unconditional love from those closest to me. Recently I have learned that not everyone can love a free spirit. During this major change and transition some people I cared very deeply for chose to let go of being in my life instead of walking beside me. On the flip side, I have been blessed to have people make such major steps towards me. Old and new friends have shown their acceptance, love and support for me in ways unimaginable. There's always a bigger picture, right? Right! So what exactly has been unfolding for me in the last few weeks?
I am regularly teaching at a dance studio in Michigan. The kids work unbelievably hard for me and it shows in their progress. I have found my self staying at the studio later into the night to choreograph or improv just out of the love for it, not because I have to. I have been conceptualizing and writing my first three sketches, one of which showcases my newest character I have been playing with. The feedback from people around me has been more present than ever. Not to mention that I am stoked about several up and coming dance performances in Chicago. The rehearsals for them started this past weekend. So my week is roughly going to be looking like this: Monday through Thursday I am in Michigan teaching, writing, choreographing and then Thursday night through Monday mornings I am in Chicago rehearsing, training, and popping over to Second City for their drop-in improv classes. So as you can see, setting aside my main subgoal of getting into the conservatory, a lot has been unfolding in the favor of my different layers of art.
The way I am looking at it, regardless of whether I get to audition next weekend or not, I know that I am in the right place. Call it a guess, a feeling, intuition, or insanity but I feel like for once many different aspects of myself are being nurtured.Don't get it twisted, I am still very nervous about next week's outcome/update. But I know that it is not the end-all-be-all of my journey if I don't get to audition. It simply means timing isn't in the right just yet. So, keeping it short, I am continuing to look at each circumstance as a slice of the bigger picture (or pizza- hmm now I am hungry) that is my path. All I can do is embrace each new addition to it and live the adventure that is our lives! Keep on, Keeping on.
Thought I would share the fortune I received this past weekend!
ADVENTURE IS OUT THERE!
I clicked refresh time and time again in hopes that my computer had a glitch or that it would magically change what I was seeing. Nothing. Quickly, I shifted my focus to the phone in attempts to hear from another individual that this isn't real life. Ouch! Pinching myself didn't work, this was really happening. There is no open slots for the auditions. If you have been following along with my feed, you are aware that one of my main sub-goals is to audition for Second City's conservatory program at the end of this month. As of March 16th, slots were open for signing up to audition. The following morning, I anxiously went to the website and - BOOM! It hit me like a pile a bricks- everything was closed. I was too late. I know what you are thinking as you are reading this, "Why didn't she do it first thing on the 16th," followed by some cute idiom like, " The early bird gets the worm!" One thing is for sure. Leave it to me to make a big mistake early on. Whelp, there is no use crying over spilt milk, right? Wrong, what if that milk was the last cup in the entire world and was deliciously infused with a few tablespoons of NesQuick?!? Okay Amanda, you are being dramatic, back to reality.
The fact of the matter is I am not guaranteed even an audition for two weekends from now. The best I can do is show up the day of the auditions super early and wait in hopes that someone is a no show. If in fact a slot opens up there is a waiting list of people just like me trying to hop on the opportunity wagon. Now, where does that put me as far as my year long journey? Although I can still hope for the best and think that I will have the chance to audition, the reality of it is I need a PLAN B. On that note, this is what I have thus far. In the event that I cannot audition, the next audition is dated for June 1st. (believe me when I say I will be the first person to reserve a slot when those audition times open up) Until some answers are a bit clearer, I will finalize everything as far as settling in the Midwest, focus on dance, and get myself as prepared as possible. In the meantime I will sign up for a writing class or two over at Second City to keep me moving forward and staying well rounded in my craft. Good deal.
This week I wanted to share a little bit more about the dance side of me. But not just any part of dance. Specifically how I use the parallels of improv acting and improv dancing to further explore performance quality. I feel very blessed and grateful to be a dance teacher to all ages of kids. They give me such inspiration to create, search to gain more knowledge, and practice the meaning of unconditional love. When you are in my classes the things you will gain go way beyond learning how to dance. I believe in molding individuals with strong characters who have a genuine passion for life. In my training, the focus roots from extracting expression, uniqueness, and the inner performer- rather than expecting perfection. I comprehend that not every student of mine will pursue the arts. But I am determined that the kids I teach, whatever they may pursue, will have an unbelievable work ethic and tenacity for their goals. Our relationships give both ways. In all that I have to offer as a more experienced artist, they are the ones who inspire me the most to step outside of myself regularly. My students are constantly giving me ideas and things to write about. The interactions that we share and the experiences that we go through in the intimate space of dance studio is truly a breeding ground for new material.
Tiege, a graduated student of mine.
Madison Leigh another student whose artistry is one to be on the watch for!
A piece I choreographed based on "CLUE" the board game.
You see, the experience the audience gets when seeing an actor portray a role is quite parallel to that of a dancer in a piece. There will always be an "intent" behind their movement or an underlying message that the performer has to get across. Often enough dancers are also put in concept pieces where they actually play a character and carry a storyline. That's why with my students the learning process doesn't stop at dance. Believability is just as important with dancing, if not even more, because dancers cannot rely on dialogue to back up what they are attempting to make the audience feel. To get the dancers to connect in a deeper sense with their craft I have them improv. Go figure!
a shot from an Alice in Wonderland concept piece.
A shot from a dance based off the movie "Stepford Wives."
Similar to acting, when improving with dance we start with commitment and strong choices. A few students of mine in particular have made a major journey with me in creating a method to connect our acting, improv, and dance together to dig deeper behind our movement. We explored the meaning of the word "intent" in our dancing and developed a four step thinking/ experimental process that we can go through to further our abilities to feel.
It all starts with an intent. For example, let's say the dancer was asked to portray "wavering." One can easily look up the definition and hope to get a better grasp of what to express. We choose to play. Step one is to solely focus on the floor beneath you. It is no longer a dance floor but instead something of your choosing to put you in the environment of wavering. This gives the dancer the ability to experiment how much of the body uses the floor or how much of the floor space they will use. By doing this, the dancer gains the ability to literally put themselves in the world that the word creates. Step 2 is to choose a property of water that can signify wavering. With this exercise, the dancer discovers new textures to their movement. They play with the dynamic in their execution and give the word a heartbeat.
Step 3 is to take a trip to the zoo ( not literally). You see, in a art where dialogue isn't there to back up your emotions, having the ability to come across with the right body language is extremely important. For this step, the dancer interprets an animal ( or insect) whose body language can enhance your word. They then take that animal's movement and mannerisms and infuse that with their technique-based movement to inspire them to experiment with what they already know. Step 4 is definitely the kicker. Real life experiences. This is the step some dancers have difficulty with because some may not have felt this way or experienced the word. Here is where I ask the dancers to remember a time where they have been in a similar situation or feeling to their intent. Through their dance I don't want them to relive it as much as I ask them to revisit it. As humans we put our feelings, experiences, or beliefs into a certain area of our body. So in this step, the dancer hones in on a specific body part which then becomes the principal use in their movement to express, in this case, wavering.
I am not saying that this works for everyone, but in my experience, a lot of dancers have channelled into deeper and more meaningful movement. They experience a way to layer their portrayal of an intent. The matureness that I have witnessed in an artist studying this process and taking it further each time is extraordinary. The great part about it is the options and choices are endless. You should never have to same improv. It can help identify who you are as an artist and how far your creative thinking can reach. Like I said earlier, there are so many parallels between and actor and dancer that it almost seems to me like you can't have just one in your life. I feel blessed to have the opportunity to connect the two. Below is a recorded process I went through with the word wavering. There is no wrong way to approach or experience this other than a closed mind. I felt it important to express this side of me somewhat through spire spire as I have never just been an actor. In fact, dance and acting go hand and hand with me.
- to shake with a quivering motion
- become unsteady and unreliable
-undecided between two courses of action
1. FLOOR/ ENVIRONMENT:
- I chose a surface with a lot of big rocks taking up my space. This forced me to experiment with either staying put or taking big steps to travel and get elsewhere in the space. I felt it helped show the questioning almost as to where my decision should go. It also was almost unreliable in the sense of not knowing if the rocks beneath me were stable. This in turn forced me to almost question my movement.
- I chose a sprinkler. Sprinklers almost contradict the sort of movement quality that I would want to produce. You see they can have that staccato-like spray, but simultaneously are still moving in either a circular pattern or an arc shape. This was difficult for me because I found myself wanting to create that pretty arc or circle, but then drastically changing to something more sharp. It definitely enhanced the unreliableness that is wavering.
- For this one my choice was easy, chameleon. They are known as more shy creatures, slower moving, but can at the drop of a pin become quite skittish. Their bodies are very flexible and bend easily while their tails are used to hold onto things. I used this to my advantage of being undecided within my intent. Going along with that, chameleons can move their eyes separately, being able to look two ways at once. symbolizing for me not knowing my next course of action. Finally, they change colors based on light, surroundings, or mood. This was perfect because when i was closer to the camera it was darker and further from the camera it was lighter. I chose to express myself through acting more up close and then dancing further away- but still staying true to wavering.
4. BODY PART:
- The body part I really used going through wavering was my hands and my eyes. I could not decide on one.
So, here it is, my interpretation of wavering. Enjoy.
" It's the actors who are prepared to make fools of themselves who are usually the ones who come to mean something to an audience."
It is seven a.m. and my phone is playing a tune reminiscent of the summer's warm and fuzzy-like atmosphere. Barely forcing myself awake I realize it is not warm, things were not feeling fuzzy, and I had only gotten two hours of shut eye. My hand presses snooze while I give a less than enthusiastic sigh and roll over for a few more moments. After all, I sort of deserve to be sleepy. On the west coast it was just turning 4 a.m. and that's usually the time my night ends, not begins. The next 30 minutes or so were a blur. Magically I got myself up, ready to go, did the morning Starbucks routine, and got into the dance studio just in time for the 12 hour rehearsal I was running. Nailed it!
We had only gotten through 2 groups and I was already loosing energy. As each minute passed my focus diverted to my empty coffee cup and how much I wished it to be full. Stupid caffeine addiction! Cue daydream sequence. I drifted off and thought, " What if there was some sort of superhero that magically appeared to individuals who are over worked and under caffeinated? A superhero who knew all of your high maintenance, nonsensical drink orders and brought them to you in times of need? A superhero who spoke only in Starbucks lingo and knew all there was to know about it's franchise!"
As an improv actor, having many characters, voices, dialects, and impressions are a necessity. I need to always be coming up with new ideas and circumstances that are built off of real life situations. This will enhance the quality of my performances. So where do these characters come from? How can my characters best obtain believability from an audience? The answer is: TO PLAY! Let me ask you this. Does a chef to a rich CEO give his boss a brand new dish without trying it out first? No! How about a baseball coach, would he put in a new pitcher without knowing his strengths and having practices to raise his skill level? Absolutely not! It's the same with performing.
In Anthony Meindl's new book, At Left Brain Turn Right, the Los Angeles acting coach states, "I learned that life’s potential lies in the not knowing: the excitement and fear of throwing yourself into something with abandon — risking embarrassment, failure and ridicule rather than sitting on the sidelines of life asking for a guarantee before you take the leap. Acting is a lot like throwing spaghetti on the wall. You just have to see what works!"
I will not have my best performance if I don't "play" around and see what works. The only difference for improvers is that the playing happens in the moment that I am performing. So I have chosen to better prepare myself for quick thinking, a scrolling mind, and developed characters by letting my playing bleed into my everyday life.
I love attention. I admit it. But in all honestly any performer who states otherwise is probably lying to you. I will be the first person to jump at the opportunity to transform into something and play. I could give you some uppity definition of playing to distract you from immediately picturing a five year old dressing up as Mrs. Pilafluff the english tea party hostess, but that's EXACTLY what it is! I completely admire the juvenile mind. They somehow grasp the idea of being carefree enough to do, say, or be anything they want. To me, that is one of my greatest inspirations. With that said, when my mind takes me to an idea that might seem immature or off-the-rocker, I shamelessly give in and do it. Those are the moments I can use to create, develop, or expand my repertoire of characters.
Anyone who has experienced me could say that I have a hundred sides, and you never know which one you are going to get. They are a 100% right. I tend to decide who I am each day depending on the way I get ready, the clothes I wear, or the tasks I need to accomplish before I sleep. For example, one rainy day in California I wore a big red trench coat and combat boots. Immediately, I decided I would encompass the characteristics and mannerisms of Captain Hook. I quickly added to my attire a big black belt, a hat, as well as a lingo only the scallywags of sea would be accustomed to, and went about my day. Did I get strange looks? Duh! Did I have unusual interactions with random people? Of course! Here's the big one: Did I get a reaction? (Cue game show atmosphere. " Ding Ding Ding! Yes! What do we have for her Johnny?!?!" ) Yes! You see, that's exactly why I do what I do. I love to get the reaction and make people feel! Even if it is at the risk of looking completely ridiculous, sounding strange, or causing a scene (sometimes in public.)
" It's better to be absolutely ridiculous than absolutely boring." - Marilyn Monroe
Truth is, I thrive for those types of improv moments. Don't get me wrong, I love to be on a stage putting on a show. I adore being behind a camera repeating a performance to get that "perfect" moment. And who isn't fond of receiving a check for playing?! But the spontaneity of carrying my performances into my everyday situations really helps with believability. After pulling antics or stirring attention, I am regularly reflecting and recording. Being able to step outside how people would react to Amanda helps me create scenarios with a completely different perspective. In wanting to be a sketch actor, I need to create characters that have enough depth for others and myself to write continuously for. In getting that depth, it takes a full commitment to my craft.
When a wacky idea sprouts in my brain I instantly force off all voices of reason and just go with it. I will commit to having a strange quirk, carry myself from a different center of gravity, repeatedly use new lingo/ tones in my voice , dive into new experiences, or even change my environment drastically if I know it can help sharpen my art. In my journey to becoming a stronger improviser, the dedication to developing new personas is imperative. Sometimes that means creating a scene in public. Either way, It is something I have always done and am stoked to actually capture and somewhat archive through Spire Spire. Where was I? Oh yes, the twelve hour rehearsal!
It hadn't even been five minutes later that I had completely stalled rehearsal to commit to a new character and a chance to improvise in public. My costume consisted of things I could find around the studio; green feather boas, arm bands, a markered "SBA" across my chest, and of course the coffee collar mask (to hide my true identity.) I became Sir Bux A Lot. Along with a few students, I ventured out to the nearest Starbucks location. Those around me were a bit baffled, but I stayed committed to creating a scene. I have returned to the same Starbucks several times since and the workers would talk to me about this person who came in as Sir Bux A Lot. They told me of the antics he pulled and his outbursts of Starbuck knowledge. The performance had made quite the stir. A day or two before writing this, I went back to the Starbucks and "unmasked" the infamous SBA. The workers had no idea that SBA was actually one of their regular customers.
Needless to say, it was a thrilling experience that gave me the opportunity to work on my Starbucks based material. Now whenever I come to Starbucks I am greeted differently by the workers. They often ask about my work/art and the things I produce. Success! I had committed to a random inspiration, created a character (however silly he seemed), improvised a scene in public, got a real reaction, and won over the artistic support of new individuals! It was such a great feeling. Currently I am in the beginning stages of a new character. I can't wait to share with you all who she is as I develop her further. This week, if you are around Kalamazoo, Michigan, you might just run into her! ;)
Doing things like this over the years has taught me that you never know how many people you can touch until you try. The fun part is, you have an opportunity to share all the different sides of yourself by channelling it into an entertaining and creative form. Who knows!?! you can even learn something about you as a human by looking at life through another "character's" eyes.
Till next time…
" The only thing imaginary is the name of the character you are playing"
" In your work learn to live more privately, publicly."
- Anthony Meindl
I Stumbled upon that quote moments before making the decision to join Spire Spire. Consistently, I am writing to myself about my goals and my journey attempting to accomplishing them. Never, in a million years would I think to share it with others. I felt my writing was private and did not need to be exposed. After seeing this quote, as well as talking with fellow Spire Choir member, Christian, I realized the positive aspect to allowing yourself to be open and vulnerable in that way. The idea of having others knowing your goals and keeping you motivated/ accountable for them is an exciting feeling.
I am a worker bee. Always feeling as though something more can be accomplished in my day, even if it's already after midnight and I am onto my fifth cup of coffee. My list of goals, both short and long term, grow by the hour as I am endlessly dreaming of doing more and more. I will be the first to admit, I am a bit of a free spirit in the sense that I let my heart make decisions for me on a regular basis. At times, that even means completely uprooting myself in order to take a step towards a performance opportunity, a love, a job that I am passionate about, or a chance to sharpen one of my crafts as an artist. Most people who have gotten the chance to know me have learned and accepted that as an artist I often reside in a world of my own. An artist is defined as a person who is skilled in a particular task or occupation; a performer.
Performing of any sort rocks my world. There really is no greater fulfillment than making individuals FEEL something. With that said, as an actress, I wanted to gain focus and clarity as to my next steps toward success. (To me the definition of success is embracing your unique self and using that to obtain happiness.) While living in Los Angeles, I was privileged enough to be a part of an extremely talented group of improv comedy performers called "SAY WHAT." Together, bi-weekly we did shows of short-form improv to audiences at LA Connection Comedy Theater. Our shameless abilities to interact with one another through spontaneous choices and word play brought out the most passionate side of me. It was nostalgic in the sense that I reconnected with the root of my passion for improv and sketch comedy. As a child I was notorious for writing and putting together on the spot shows consisting of vignettes or variety performances. It was an amazing feeling, but it left me wanting more.
At this point in my career I feel the need to be doing more sketch work. Some of the most imbuing sketches I have experienced was at Second City Chicago. Thus bringing about my goal of being cast in a Second City mainstage revue by March 1st of 2013. I know that to attain a goal in this caliber of work will take much more than talent, timing, and tenacity. The first step includes becoming a family member of their facility. Second City offers a conservatory program for professionals to shape their art into their style of comedy and improv. The conservatory is a six level program that studies in eight week increments. In the latter half of the programs, actors write, direct, and perform for the de Maat, Skybox, and Second City etc. stages. The next audition is dated for March 30, only a few short weeks from now. In preparation, I realized I need to relocate myself to the Chicago area. In order to make a cross-country move happen it requires a lot of energy, time, and money. Currently, my belongings are enjoying the sunny 80 degree weather of the west coast, while I embrace the arctic tundra feeling of winter in the Midwest. In order to help you get a better grasp of where I am at with my sub-goals, I need to rewind and replay you the last month of my life.
You see, on February 9th, packing only a single small suitcase, I ventured out to Kalamazoo, MI for a short trip. A great friend of mine, Elliott, had recently gotten his first equity job portraying the role of Jamie in the musical The Last Five Years. My intentions were to come and support his opening weekend and return home shortly after. Needless to say, the show was brilliant. Elliott and his co-lead Ashlyn, ( a current Second City family member) were truly captivating.
While In Michigan, I returned to a dance studio that I used to regularly teach at. The kids were so grateful to have me back. I taught a few classes as well as ran their rehearsals. Cue tears. I had missed them as much as they missed me. My time here was well spent and it felt great! When it came time to leave and return to the west coast, something wouldn't let me get out of the car. I sat discussing my options with my assistant, Carley, and then watched my train come and leave. My heart was here, in more ways than you could imagine. Impulsively, I made the decision to stay.
Me and one of my students, Rachel.
Me and my brilliant assistant Carley.
Fast forward a week and a half. I have been in contact with several dance studios to pick up teaching jobs, reconnected with a old dance group about possible performance opportunities, and watched proudly as I got the dancers in Michigan prepared for their first competition of the season. Remember when I said I live my life spontaneously to make people feel? Well, here was a prime example. I decided to stay in the Midwest for the time being; possibly up through the date of the auditions. I truly believe that your heart will lead you where you need to be in life and right now it is here. Something about being here is motivating and inspiring me to work on characters that I began developing, continue to find and play with impressions, and begin writing sketches. Being in an motivating place internally as well as continuing with the dance side of my artistic self? Good deal!
As I continuously change my mind and make spontaneous decisions, my sub goals lists adheres and revamps its self almost every day. My main sub goal is to still audition and complete the Second City conservatory. Sub-goals regarding that will be put on hold until the audition outcome. However, having stayed in the Midwest, new sub goals are emerging that paramount the audition for the time being. For the remainder of this month I would like to have accomplished the following:
1. Complete the subleasing of my North Hollywood apartment.
2. Have returned home to retrieve my car and belongings.
3. Settled in a place near or around the Chicago area.
4. Teaching regularly a minimum of 2 days a week.
5. Have at least 2-3 dance performances lined up for the near future.
Every two months I would like to accomplish the following:
(specifically regarding my main goal)
1. Develop a new character to add to my repertoire.
2. Write a least 2 short sketches. ( 1-5 minutes each)
3. Have made progress on another impression to have in my back pocket for improv.
I am sure that as this month unfolds more goals will begin to set themselves up. For those of you reading, please note that an artist's greatest compliment they can receive is support. I am a firm believer in feedback of all kinds as well as insight from other artists. Today's industry is so cut throat and competitive, that having others who believe in you is extremely vital. Even those with the toughest skin get knocked down from time to time. Myself included. A friend of mine, Lukas Hall, gave me great advice recently saying, " You are a phenomenally independent and strong woman, like a phoenix, you need to rebirth." He is so right though. It's through perseverance that we grow as artists and rebirth into a newer and more complete self. So readers, I challenge you to follow all of these extremely ambitious individuals on Spire Spire. You really never know when you're insight might be just what they needed to spark that next step!
"It's not pretending, it's imagined possibility." - Meryl Streep