The Science of Acting

I know. Math is hard. Which is why we become actors.

However, as I have come to learn, math is a big part of being an actor. What your salary is going to be. The budget breakdown for your short film. How many roles of a new pilot are given to name actors and how many to the masses. Box office reports. IMDB Star Meters. Yup. Lots of numbers.

One way to deal with all of these numbers is to organize them. There is so much information to understand as an actor, that you need to make it easy on yourself. This is where the spreadsheet comes in. Spreadsheets aren’t just for boring 9-5 jobs or school assignments. They are the foundation of any successful and organized enterprise.

Let’s take a look at my spreadsheet arsenal:

1. Pilots

I have a whole spreadsheet dedicated to the current pilot orders. Here is how I organize it:

Screen Shot 2014-01-28 at 10.46.58 AMNow I know all of the pertinent information about any given show. I highlight my favorites, and lowlight my not-so-favorites. Check Deadline daily for new pilot orders, and then update the spreadsheet!

2. Film Festivals

I have started a list of film festivals for future project submissions. Here is how that breaks down:

Screen Shot 2014-01-28 at 10.50.25 AM

 

I will be able to plan a submission schedule and budget when the time comes.

3. Target List

This is for representation. Though I’m not actively seeking an agent in LA, I will be soon enough.

Screen Shot 2014-01-28 at 10.53.12 AM

 

I take an actor I like in a role category (co-star, guest-star, etc.) in which I could be cast. Go to your trusty IMDBpro and look them up. Who is their rep? Write that sh*t down! See how you could fit into the roster: how does your Star Meter compare, is there someone exactly like you, etc.? Make notes and adjust the rank accordingly. When you are ready to seek representation, you have a pretty good place to start.

4. Fall TV Directory

Much like the Pilot Spreadsheet, I have a Fall TV one as well. When the new fall tv schedule comes out: write that sh*t down! This one is based on a color code for me. Sort them by network and then show, then color them in:

Screen Shot 2014-01-28 at 11.04.09 AM

 

I watch at least one episode of every new show. That way I know if it is a good fit for me. Or if I get an audition, I will know what to expect.

5. Show Bible

Ms. Bonnie Gillespie ain’t messin around. If she says to make a Show Bible, you make a damn Show Bible. Trust me, I wish I had done this sooner. Mine is a list of all the people I have met or worked with (save those call sheets!) That way you have a reference in case you forget a name or need contact info.

Evernote is another great program to use for this. You can make, as I like to call them, “trading cards” for people. Add a picture, name, company and credits, and contact info. Like a souped up rolodex.

These are my main spreadsheets. I have more and update them regularly. The last time I was in LA, a manager I met was so impressed with my industry knowledge, she said I should be an agent. Bam! Know the game so you can play it.

Smart actors know there is a science to the business. It is worth the effort to figure it out.

xo,

Signature

 

 

Overwhelm

I have felt pretty guilty the past few weeks for not posting anything to the blog. Yes, I was traveling in Europe for five weeks so that bought me a free pass, but now that I am back? I just feel lazy.

Snuggie_Burgandy_1000

But every time I start writing, I stop. I have no inspiration. I have nothing to say. I just want to not deal with blog posts, social media, producing projects, writing scripts, etc. etc. All of the things actors are expected to do these days to keep their careers moving forward.

Don’t get me wrong. I enjoy doing all of these things for the most part. And I can be a bit rabid about keeping my plate full and keeping the momentum going in my career. But sometimes…

You get overwhelmed.

What do you do when your to-do list is pages long, but you don’t feel like doing any of it? What happens when you want to spend the whole weekend in bed or watching movies and cuddling your cat?

This is not a new problem for me- in fact I have at various points, worked myself into illness. There are infinite things we are expected to do/have to do/should do/want to do. But when you don’t feel like doing them, when you feel like they are sapping your life blood, for goodness sakes don’t do them!

We can’t be constantly-producing-little-engines-of-creativity. We are humans that need inspiration, rest, and the occasional veg out. Of course, don’t let this go on for too long or you won’t start back up again, but give yourself permission to take some time off. No writing blog posts/self-submiting/taking workshops/reading acting books.You have plenty of time to pick up where you left off after your few days of rest.

Give yourself a break.

Being an actor is a long road. It is also one of the best jobs in the world, so if you aren’t smiling like an idiot most of the time, you might want to consider going into another line of work.

If you are still hell-bent on being productive, as I usually am, go through all of the things you could be doing to boost your career or your craft. There might be one little thing on that list that you actually feel like doing (watching an episode from your target list of shows-you can even stay in your pajamas!) Every little bit adds up!

So if you are feeling overwhelmed, don’t worry. In my experience it is par for the course and part of the job. Now, make occasional resting periods part of it too.

xo,

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You Are Enough

When you have numerous auditions without bookings, when you feel like you aren’t good enough, when you wonder if things are ever going to get better, it’s hard to remember that you are enough.

You. Just you. As you are, right now.

As I write this, I still struggle with feeling that I am enough. It’s hard in this business of rejection, and when you don’t get any feedback how can you know for sure? All you hear over and over is “NO”.

That is hard for anyone.

So for you and for me, let’s remember:

You are Enough

xoxo,

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Advice to a Young Actor

I had the pleasure of talking to the graduating undergrads at my alma mater, the University of Washington School of Drama. I can’t believe it has been five years (!) since I graduated, but those years have been full of life and career experiences. There were a few things that I wrote down before the panel, but my responses were mainly inspired by the students themselves. As I was talking, I realized that everything that I was saying is common knowledge to me now, but five years ago it definitely was not!

Thus, I would like to share with you the highlights of that conversation. Hopefully they can help you out, especially if you are just starting out  on your acting career.

Unions: There was a question about whether to join the unions or not. The students had gotten mixed reviews. Now, I’m a little biased because I joined Actors Equity (the stage union) before I even graduated college. It has paid off well for me, but I know others that struggle. So here is my advice: if you want to pursue acting on a more casual basis and do community theater, or a play at a smaller house, and not depend on your acting income to pay your rent- don’t join the unions. If  you want to make acting your career and/or work in a big market (LA/NYC) you will need to join the unions at some point.

Pasta: There was a lot of the “what do I do?” energy coming my way. Well, here is my advice: do as much as you can! Don’t be afraid of messing up. Throw as much pasta against the wall and see what sticks. A lot won’t, some will. But the biggest mistake is not making mistakes. You don’t know what will work and what won’t, but do it anyway. That’s the only way you will find out. Don’t be led by your fear.

$$$: As I told the students: HAVE A SAVINGS ACCOUNT. If you want a life in the arts, and especially as an actor, you will be living off your savings at some point or another. So when you book that show or commercial and your paycheck looks pretty sweet, save half of it. Or 20% As much as you can, because you don’t know when your next gig will be. And remember, the Feds are going to take back a huge chunk at tax time if you aren’t a union member. Also find a survival job that will pay your rent and put food in your fridge. You can’t perform if you don’t eat. *Side note: find a job that can serve your goals. Like teaching and working with kids? be a nanny. Want to produce? Get an office job. Love interacting with people? Bartend. Find a job that fits with your personality. Then it isn’t just about collecting a paycheck.

Work/Life Balance: I’m pretty bad with this one. I am notorious for pushing myself as hard as I can and then wearing myself out. You have no control over when you book work, so sometimes, you are doing four jobs at once. It’s not pretty, but there it is. Sometimes you are unemployed for stretches at a time. What is important is to find things that make you happy outside of your work. Love gardening? Start an indoor garden. Love biking? Allow time for a ride every week. And make sure you surround yourself with people who support your dreams and understand your crazy life. But that doesn’t mean you can just call people when you’re bored- be a good friend and stay in touch. Same goes with relationships!

Getting your own work: I’ve been in this for a while so I can rely on my agent to get me most of my work, but I never stop looking for work either. To start out, look at community callboards for student films or fringe plays. These are your training grounds. They will build your resume and get you experience. DO NOT accept projects that require any kind of nudity. Unless you are a life model or have and agent to negotiate a contract, you should not be taking off your clothes. This can lead to some scary situations especially for young women. After scouring the callboards, think about making your own work! Get some friends together to read a play in your living room. Make a short film. Start a youtube channel. In the internet age, the possibilities are endless. Then when you’re ready, you can start looking for representation.

Training: You may be so happy to get that diploma and think you are done with your education. WRONG. As an actor, you will be training for the rest of your life. Sorry to burst your bubble. As I told one young woman, “You have built your foundation. Now you have to build your house. It is up to you what it looks like.” Now you can expand your repertoire with improv, commercial classes, dance, camera classes, scene study, the list goes on and on. And like a professional athlete, you have to work out regularly to be able to compete.

Bigger Markets: Live where makes you happy. Some people love New York, some LA, some Austin. I happen to be stupidly in love with Seattle. Remember, you are living 24/7 in a place, not just when you audition or perform. So if another city makes you happy- move! But if you want to stay in your hometown, explore all avenues there and get yourself in a fighting position to move into a bigger market. Yes, now I am spending more time in LA, because that is the work I have graduated to. Just remember, life comes first. Pick your zip code accordingly.

I hope all of this is helpful. If you have any questions or feedback, feel free to post below!

xoxo,

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A Christmas Carol

We just opened A Christmas Carol at ACT Theatre this weekend. This is my third year doing the show and I couldn’t be happier. It is such a heartfelt story that people come to see every year and share with their families. It’s a holiday tradition for so many and has become one for my family as well.

In previous years I have played the Ghost of Christmas Past, but this year I am playing Belle, Scrooge’s jilted fiance. You wouldn’t think that this would be a hard show to act, but the breakup scene is one of the hardest scenes I’ve done in a while. There are so many turns and transitions in such a short amount of time on top of some big emotions. But I do get to dance in the Fezziwig scene so that makes up for it!

Here is Belle- I love being a blonde again!

Belle

 

Then there is Fred’s wife. She’s fun because she and Fred have such a great marriage and just want to entertain their friends. It’s almost like I get to live out the marriage Belle and Scrooge would have had if he hadn’t turned to the dark side…

The Niece

 

Most of all, I adore wearing these costumes and wigs! This show feels like the show I always wanted to do as a kid because it is so fun dressing up!

Christmas Carol is a wonderful show for all ages and is a great way to feel the holiday cheer. Get your tickets now because we will sell out! And if you would like to stay up to date on my instagram photos, follow me on Twitter or like my Facebook page!

What are your favorite holiday traditions?

 

xoxo,

Secrets

As an actor, you have to keep secrets.

Sometimes you have to keep your casting under wraps. Or the story line. Or the nature of your contracts. There are so many things that actors have to keep secret. Many times, not doing so can result in legal action against you. Or you have a situation that casting director Lana Veenker recently blogged about. You may recall a young extra revealing the results of the prom court on Glee by tweeting from set. There was a huge backlash and she may have a hard time getting hired again.

If you are not sure if you can share a piece of information, ask! Ask the producer, director, casting director, your agent, whomever is your best contact about it. It is always better to say too little than too much.

I have a lot of secrets I have to keep. Some I will never tell, some…. well you will just have to wait and see ;-)

xoxo,

The BEST Advice I Can Give An Actor

 

 

That’s right. The BEST advice. Are you ready for it?

……

 

……

 

See a financial planner.

 

Stay with me here. This isn’t something you would read in an acting book, or hear in acting class, but it is one of THE MOST important things you can do as an actor. Really, it is the most important thing anyone can do.

But why would I spend money for someone to tell me how to spend my money? I don’t even have any money! I’m and actor, right? Yes. I know. Trust me I know. As an actor you never know where your next paycheck is coming from. So many of us live paycheck to paycheck. The whole country is doing the same thing.

We all need to collectively take responsibility for our financial health. Hopefully that can keep us out of another financial mess like we are in right now. Even though you might not be rolling in the dough, make what you do have work for you. Learn how to budget, plan, and most importantly, SAVE.

My good friend Verhanika has just started her own financial planning business and I met with her to talk about retirement planning. I’m in my twenties and have no plans of retiring anytime soon, but the earlier you plan, the more you have to play with. She asked me about how I envision my retirement, what my assets look like right now, and what my expenses are. After she got all the info, she suggested different ways I could invest and save so that I can do a little bit now and will have a comfortable life when I do retire. I left feeling so confident and grown up, that even though I don’t make a ton, I can support myself in my old age.

She also has services to help you create a budget, a trip savings plan, or even have a comprehensive plan to cover everything (great gift for college grads!). If you have a tenuous relationship with money, get some professional help, it is something you will thank yourself for down the line!

If you are an artist or live in the Seattle area (I’m sure she would skype if you don’t), I highly recommend Verhanika at Artistic Financial Planning.

Do yourself a favor, and start planning now!

xoxo,

Five Years

This month marks the fifth anniversary of my being a professional actor. In September of 2007, I took a quarter off of school (which would have been my last) to go to the Indiana Repertory and be in Hamlet. Thankfully, my career hasn’t stopped since. Yes, there have been breaks in between as there are in any career, but for the most part the Jessica Martin train has kept rolling (thank the Lord!).

Stopping to think about the last five years is… intriguing? Amazing? Hopeful? I actually can’t believe it has only been five years. It feels like so much longer sometimes! And as I said in my first blog post, I, like everyone else get caught up in the “things I haven’t accomplished”. But looking back at the last five years here are the bullet points of things I have gotten to do:

  • Worked for four LORT theaters, one SPT (Small Professional Theater) in 8 total productions. Counting the two more shows I am doing this fall, that brings me up to ten shows in five years. Wow.
  • Played the lead role in a major franchise video game for Nintendo. What what, Other M!
  • Appeared on network TV in NBC’s Grimm
  • Performed in two commercials, one a national add for Toyota
  • Voiced a Mariners radio spot
  • Appeared in numerous indie short films including one webseries
  • Produced, wrote, directed and starred in my film For Patrick
  • Taken a variety of classes including improv, voice over, Shakespeare, scene study, hand gun skills, and modern dance
  • Performed in over 20 staged readings
  • Founded Bridging the Gap, a program that fosters mentorships between older and younger actors at ACT Theater.

Whew. That’s just the laundry list. It doesn’t include the day to day stuff like running this website and blog, marketing, promoting, and reading plays and scripts. It is hard work being an actor, but it is the best job in the world! I am so grateful to have met so many wonderful artists and people along the way.

I used to get down on myself about not having done more by this time. Then I read Outliers by Malcolm Gladwell. He talks about how all the masters in any craft have 10,000 hours logged in their given field before they achieve greatness. I’m nowhere near my 10,000 hours! This was so reassuring to me, because I am not preparing for my career tomorrow; I am preparing for my career ten years from now! You have to lay the foundation before you build the mansion.

I can’t wait to see what the next five years holds. In celebration of this landmark, I treated myself to a little Froyo:

 

Froyo! I can’t believe I just ate all that…

 

Thanks for sharing this journey with me!

xoxo,

Your Instrument

Ok, I know I have talked about healthy eating and getting in shape, but I really want to hammer home how important it is as an actor.

Your job is to play a myriad of different people. They may be a cop, adventurer, paraplegic, or a fairy princess. All of these roles require their own set of physical characteristics and thus physical skills of the actor. Just as you have the flexibility to play all of these different parts mentally and emotionally, you need the flexibility physically to play them as well.

Naturally, a regular exercise routine is recommended as well as a healthy diet. Basically, the most important aspects I can say are to have good core strength, cardiovascular health, and basic flexibility. Now, I am not adept at all of these things. I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again: I don’t like to run unless I’m being chased by a bear. However, I had enough endurance that I could run from Bigfoot take after take doing a full night of shooting on Grimm. (Adrenaline is also a hell of a drug.)

Core strength is so important for a number of reasons. First off, it helps with vocal control and production because you are utilizing your diaphragm- part of your core. It also helps in carrying things. Maybe you have a prop or weapon that is a little unwieldy- engage that core strength and it makes it much easier! And in film you may have to sustain an awkward position to get a certain shot right. In order to maintain that position you need some core strength to get you through and take any stress out of your limbs. And I’m not going to lie, a trim torso sells (see Magic Mike).

Also, look at your type. This will tell you a lot about the type of physicality you specialize in and can expect to play in future characters. Do you play a lot of blue collar workers? You may want to do some weight training. Play snarky office workers? Make sure to stretch properly as sitting can cause lower back pain. Play young mothers? Work on that core strength and some resistance training because moms frequently tend to be carrying things (groceries, children, laundry.)

Above all, you need to be HEALTHY. You cannot work a 12 hour day if you aren’t feeling your best. Yes, Dr. Footlight works miracles (I performed every night even with swine flu because we didn’t have understudies), but he isn’t always there when you need him. Stay hydrated, and for goodness sakes people, SLEEP. One of the best things you can do. Acting takes a lot of energy so make sure to eat enough and rest enough to recover or prepare.

Take care of yourselves, people. Because, trust me, you don’t know the value of your health until you don’t have it.

xoxo,

Jess

PS. I might also recommend Lyam White as a personal trainer. I have been working with him for a few weeks now and really love the workouts! Warning: he will kick your ass. Disclaimer: You will enjoy it.

Putting Yourself Out There

A friend of mine mentioned that she was still nervous about “putting herself out there”. I totally understand. I get it. But that is your job as an actor- to put yourself out there. Do you want to do big-budget feature films? You are going to be way out there. Press junkets, interviews, publicity photos, paparazzi, and of course, the film itself. To be a hermit as an actor is pretty counter-intuitive. I know quite a few, and they are happy doing stage in Seattle and not being bothered with anything else. One doesn’t even have email or a cell phone. So you just have to decide what you want your career to look like, and put yourself out there in conjunction with that.

Making a website is nerve-wracking. Facebook pages and Twitter are the same. One friend asked me if I thought that was kind of pretentious to have my own fan page. I said, no, no it isn’t because I want people to be able to follow my updates if they would like. Careers are communal things. My work is for you, and your support is for me. It is a direct feedback loop.

Now, the more you put yourself out there, the more vulnerable you are. Yes, more exposure can empower your career, but you are now exposed to innumerable critics. Here are just some of the things people have said about me over the years:

-So she is the one who ruined Other M…

-You can see she is so faking it, she was in it only for the money

-She’s probably as mousey as her character.

-Her high forehead gives a sense of innocence.

And my personal favorite:

-Jessica Martin is a whore trying to pass as an actress.

Ouch. Some of these were from actual reviews, some blogs, and some from message boards. You can probably guess which are which. At first I was very upset about bad reviews and the hate on message boards. How can you not be? I am one of those actors that reads reviews because I just want to know other people’s experience of projects I am in. Everyone is entitled to their opinions. But the internet somehow gives people permission to say terrible, personal things about you and make generalizations.

You have to let this go. You have to wonder, what would make a person say these things? Because they think they are clever? That they have some sort of authority? Comments tell more about a person then the actual person they are talking about. So let it go. Now these sorts of comments entertain me and keep me humble. Not everyone is going to like you. And that is ok, they’re not supposed to.

I am also fortunate to have really supportive fans, and have gotten really great reviews. So it evens out, though sometimes the hate feels like an anchor. That said, don’t let a huge fan base or a rave review go to your head either.

A friend of mine shared this article that also talks about letting things go. As an actor you have to be brave enough to bare your soul and put yourself out there. You will get a lot of hate and critics. But as long as you believe in yourself and have an honest and supportive community of family and friends (and fans), all that negativity can be cast aside.

Acting may just be the art of letting go.

xoxox,

Jess