Tuesday, June 16, 2015

"Lady Parts" Trailer is Ready!

The trailer is ready for Season 1 of Some Lady Parts! Episodes will be dropping summer 2015. Stay tuned ;)

I'm really excited about this project by Katrina Day following the life and times of female actors valiantly battling everyday sexism, in which I will happily appear as such glorious characters as "The Sexy One" and "Homewrecking Slut."

If you've ever known a woman who had more to offer the world than a pretty face, this series is for you. (If you've ever known a woman, this series is also for you.) Feminism is for everyone, and the good people of Some Lady Parts are subverting the status quo in the sassiest, best way possible. Check it out, share, and get ready for some smart (and hilarious) entertainment!

#makeart #womeninfilm #tellstories #keepitreal #doitnow #feminismisforeveryone

Wednesday, February 18, 2015

What Does it Mean to Be a Working Actor?

Lately I've been asking myself the question, "What does it mean to be a working actor?"

I would argue that all careers have ups and downs. I have friends who went into more "practical" fields, becoming teachers and nurses and technicians and businessmen, and just like me their young adulthood has coincided with a recession and been riddled with job changes, unemployment, switching tracks, and constantly shifting goals. Also lots of wine, moves, breakups, and the occasional zen happiness.

Several of my friends have already changed careers and finished second degrees. Many more have found their career breaking down to one important hurdle at a time: If I just pass this licensing exam. If I just get this promotion. If I just get a job a half an hour closer to home. If I can just get through to Tuesday. If I just can relocate. If I just get a job at all.

Actors and artists are luckier than most in some ways - I like to think; we go into our dream profession expecting upheaval and uncertainty, so in many ways we are better prepared mentally for the curve-balls this life can throw us. Actors have the edge in that we know from the get-go that our career is going to be a madcap adventure through unchartered territory. We can dispense with the illusion of a predictable path from the start, and learn to create our own stability as we go.

But without a map, how the heck do you know if you're doing it right?...Welcome to my ongoing inner debate on this very subject.

So what does it mean to be a working actor, Jeanne Joe?

Does it mean you have to have an acting job at every given moment? Because I don't. Neither does Stephen Tobolowsky, whose column I religiously read in Backstage. Neither do any of the guys interviewed in the wondrous documentary "That Guy Who Was In That Thing," which delves into the stories of sixteen journeymen character actors that have some of the beefiest resumes I've ever seen.

And you know what? None of them work all the time.

No one works all the time.

Not even Meryl Streep works all the time, no matter the appearances to the contrary. I'll say it again, for my own benefit: no one works all the time. Rejection is part of it. Lulls are part of it. Rehearsals and preparation and training and submitting and auditioning and day to day minutia are part of it.

But still, there seems to be this deeply entrenched misconception that you're not a "real" actor unless someone else is currently endowing you with that identity via a "real" job. I've gone to parties in Manhattan and actually been told by dead-serious, hopefully (but doubtfully) well-meaning people that I couldn't really call myself an actor because I wasn't currently performing in something. Or because the thing I'm performing in isn't on Network TV, or isn't paid. Or whatever.

I mean, okay. That just literally makes no sense, but okay; you do you.

"It's like calling yourself a cowboy if you don't have a hat," they say. Because cowboys wear hats 1000% of the time.

"No," I reply calmly, grinding my teeth to distract myself from the desire to grind my heel into their toe. "It's not really like that at all."

Here's a practical-application problem for you, you know, like the word problems in the math SATs, because those were so much fun the first time. Good luck!
Last weekend, at one point, Jeanne Joe was at a bar with three other actors. (I know, I was proud of myself - socializing! Woo.) Two of the actors have full-time jobs (not on Network TV), and the other two have a mishmash of the stereotypical part-time/nannying/freelancing whirlwind that many young New York City actors compile. None of them are currently attached to any high-profile projects, but all four have built their entire lives around their artistic careers. So, are all four of them working actors?
What is the answer? YOU TELL ME, UNIVERSE. Because I say yes.

(If you're having a crisis about this particular job-defined-identity-validation - like I do every Tuesday - I seriously recommend watching "That Guy Who Was In That Thing." Listening to a dude who has acted in literally 165 actual Hollywood blockbusters and 57 TV shows talk about his deep, gut-wrenching fear that he'll never get another job will give you some perspective on the fact that THAT'S JUST HOW THIS BUSINESS WORKS. Sometimes you don't have acting jobs and sometimes you do.)

So what the heck does it mean to be a working actor?

I still don't know if I know. But I am one, dammit.

Does being a working actor mean that your acting jobs have to come from the outside, and involve money and recognition? Is it not professional unless there's money? What is work, or life, even? What is the meaning of life? Is money real? Am I real? What is reality? What?

...I think I exist. I'm pretty sure.

Does being a working actor mean you have to have a recognizable body of work? What is a recognizable body of work? Do I need an Oscar to be a real actor? Am I a working actor even if people in the Midwest have never seen my face?? Why aren't I famous yet?

Do you HAVE to be on TV? Do you HAVE to be making a living at it? Geez, if so, there really aren't that many working actors out there. I've had one, yes one, precious person recognize me from a film. (They were a friend of a friend and it was one of the most surreal and special moments of my life.) I've had countless conversations with people asking, "Are you still doing that acting thing? Are you on Broadway?"

Yes. No. Grind teeth.

I will say this, though: it really helps to know what kind of work you want to do to build towards making a living at it. Some people get further faster than me, but I think the point is to always be asking myself what I really want, and how to get it. And being really, really real about the answers.

Does being a working actor mean that you have to be one of those people who do nothing but promote themselves as actors all the time? 

I don't think so? I hope not?

Look, I fully realize rabid-schmoozy-actor-mode is a valid business tactic. Part of me really envies the people who are good at it, because when I do it it usually involves smiling so hard that I strain my lips and get an eye twitch and aspirate my words and scare people. Frankly, those smooth actory-actors will almost certainly outpace me because I just don't want to promote myself all the time, and sooner or later I'll be at the same industry person's birthday party with one of those actors, and they'll schmooze better than me and get themselves a role that I could have schmoozed for too. I know it. I can predict the future. It is written in the stars.

But guys, sometimes I want a birthday party to myself sans schmoozing. Sometimes I want a weekend, or a week, or a month off from being an actor-in-actor-mode trying to get acting work and showing people how much of an actor I am so that I can act and be acting as an actor who acts. You know? I really think there's more to life?

Sometimes I want to go to Maine or Massachusetts or Texas and just hang out with people who are doing TOTALLY different things with their lives, and touch base with different aspects of what being human is. I mean, that's what I'm supposed to portray as an actor anyway, right? Being human. Visiting the non-acting world also reminds me that what I am doing with my life is kinda unusual and special. Yes, that's some useful #perspective.

It's easy for "being a working actor" to become the be-all end-all, but I don't really think that works for my sanity in the long run. Sometimes I take on internships or jobs that aren't at all about acting so that I can learn new things or survive or be a part of something I believe in or expand my skill-set or question my own life choices a little bit. Sometimes I go home and make myself soup instead of going to a workshop. (Okay, I usually go home and make myself soup instead of going to workshops. Who am I kidding.)

I remember someone telling me early in my career, "You're an actress. People don't want to hear about it if you're sick or have a headache or you're tired. You're an actress. You have to be pretty and vibrant all the time. You're selling an image. That's your job."

Right. And also the job of the Stepford Wives.

I'm more interested in being a human being and telling real stories than in being an airbrushed product, thanks very much. I firmly believe that acting (and all art) is fundamentally about telling the truth. In love. And the first person I need to tell the truth to is myself.

Yes I need to invest in and promote my business, but I also need to invest in and promote my spirit. It wasn't until the last few years that I realized, looking at my list of favorite actors, that most of them had studied something other than acting in school. I don't think that's a coincidence. Most of them had dayjobs for years, and actually kept up some kind of dayjob after achieving financial success as an artist. Advocacy work, charity work, faith, political groups - these things are not necessarily acting-related, people. But they relate actors to the world. Because it's all about being a human effing being. So what else inspires you? What else do you care about? What matters to you? Are you feeding all aspects of your life? Are you investing in yourself as a human? In other humans? I hope so.

So what does it actually mean to be a working actor???

The bottom line is, I think there is no one correct or right definition. Being right or doing it right is not a thing. We each must make the tough choices and fun risks as we deign fit.

To me, lately, being a working actor boils down pretty simply to seeking out opportunities to work in projects that excite me. It means developing my own projects. It means fostering relationships with people I want to work with (I'm looking at you Caroline Dooner. And hey, while I'm looking, I'm look at you too Sam Mendes).

Being a working actor means paring down my schedule to support the things that really actually matter to me, and being painfully honest about what those things are. It means taking an afternoon off sometimes and reading a book or going to a capoeira class or having happy hour with a friend.

It means allowing myself to focus on rediscovering the joy of play rather than constantly hounding myself to "improve my craft." Yes improving craft is important, but if that's all acting becomes for me I will have lost the soul of it.

To me being a working actor above all means living from my soul all the time.

What does being a working actor mean to you?

Wednesday, January 28, 2015

Returning to Manhattan From the Woods

This essay of mine was originally published in the lovely Quail Bell Magazine on January 18. I thought it was the perfect first post of 2015 for my Calamity Joe blog, too. Enjoy!

Returning to Manhattan from the Woods

January is rough for lots of us; it’s cold, we spent all our money on the holidays, it’s hard to adjust to a work schedule again, hard to say goodbye to loved ones and leisurely days spent eating whatever we want. Yes, January is a quiet month. Someone told me once that if January were a color, it would be blue.

For me, January has an added layer of post-holiday blues: a serious “home for the holidays” hangover, where the ghosts of Christmas past and present and future linger, uninvited and inappropriate and utterly at odds with the date on the calendar.

I realize that the holidays have been over for most people for a while now, but I only just got back to New York City, and I just got back from Del Norte County, California: a place that couldn’t be farther from New York City either physically or spiritually. It’s the place I went to high school, fell in love for the first time, joined the abstinence club, and did a lot of other ridiculous things – like driving my car into a table that was inside a building, driving my car into a fence, and driving my car into a dirt road in the mountains where no one could find us, to kiss for hours and look at the stars.

Del Norte County is a place where people wear plaid and beards without irony, tack the Confederate flag on the back of their pickups, and listen to the country station non-stop. It’s a place where people deer-hunt, prospect, surf, kayak, fish, whale-watch, and live off the grid. It’s a wild place. A wooded place. An isolated place that, this time, took me 35 hours to reach via plane and car. It’s the place about which my mother always said, though she loves it and still resides there, “You can’t stay here. You will go to college.” You will go out of the woods, and into the world.

Her town has maybe 500 people. My borough has maybe 1.7 million. When I am there, I am lonely for people. When I am here, I am lonely for trees.

When I visit my mother and step-father for Christmas, I am also visiting the woods. Literally. Figuratively. We sit together, drink wine, and unwind the spool of our desires, struggles, and history through conversation, and all the while the trees outside rustle in the wind, listening.

There’s a bay tree on the top of our hill that I’ve sat in and talked to for eighteen years now, ever since we moved there. It guards the waterfall that we only have in the winter. It guards most of my secrets. It saw my first kiss, and the mountain lion that could have eaten me alive when I was fifteen. It survived my ill-laid plans for a tree house as well as several epidemics of Port Orford Cedar root rot. I hope it will survive me, survive the plans upriver to install a nickel mine that would destroy Del Norte County as I know it. I hope that bay tree will be around to watch the sun turn red.

Into the Woods just came out, and my mother and I drove two hours to get to the nearest movie theater screening it. She fell asleep after the prologue, and I chuckled to myself all through the lyrics: 

“The way is clear,
The light is good,
I have no fear,
Nor no one should.
The woods are just trees,
The trees are just wood.”

The trees are never just wood. Anyone with half a brain knows that. Not in any woods I’ve ever seen.

The woods of Del Norte County are many things to many people, and for me they’ve gone from woods to solace to retreat to playground to dungeon to padded cell to hostile territory to symbols and back to woods again. It struck me this holiday that somehow, over the last ten years of being outside the woods, I’d come to fear them in a strange way. Not just in a New Yorker vs. nature way: I’d come to fear going into the woods, for fear of what the trees would remember to me.

Each time I enter the woods, I am my twelve-year-old self writing a poem, and my sixteen-year-old self scaling a mountain with my friend Amy who I never see or hear from anymore, and my twenty-one year old self at odds with the world for the first time. The woods play tricks, bend time, and whisper. The woods change color with the twirling light of day, going from laughter to silence.

Del Norte County is the northwesternmost county in California, bordering Oregon to the north and the Pacific Ocean to the west and Humboldt to the south. It’s an isolated corner of the state, sparsely habited and poor. Most of the land is protected as National Park, National Forest, State Park, or reservation land of one of the two local Native tribes. There’s a sad history of war and racism. There’s a sad present of poverty. And, within that, there are all the joys and blessings of human life. Families. Schools. Beaches. Most of all, there are the woods.

When I went to school there, Del Norte was the methamphetamine-production hub of the state, smack-dab in the middle of the notorious “green triangle.” It’s easy to hide a meth lab in the woods. It’s easy to do drugs in the woods. When a high school buddy of mine bought a house in Crescent City, she found a recipe for meth written on the inside of a cabinet door in pencil. Apparently the previous owners had forgotten that graphite erases. It was scrawled there, carefully, like lovers’ initials in tree bark.

The woods were where I spent my time in order to avoid the drugs and poverty. My friends and I would bodysurf in the Smith River or forge our own trails behind Stony Creek. We’d lie in the sun and talk about books, or not talk at all, and let the trees do their thing. Once or twice we’d climb to the top of a mountain with no path, and then to the top of a tree on the top of the mountain, and spend the afternoon staring over the velvety-green folds of the foothills of the Coastal Range or the Klamath Mountains, I could never tell where one ended and the other began. I could never tell where the ocean began and the rivers ended, or where the trees and the mountains split into definitive articles.

It’s hard to explain these things to New Yorkers. Most of them have never spent an afternoon in a tree, in the woods. It’s a different breed of tree than park trees, like cats and dogs: park trees are there to please you, forest trees don’t give a damn. They just see you, like another insect picking its way over the bark of the earth’s crust, small and temporary and tame. The trees see, but they are not your friends.

There are dangers in the woods. The woods back home were my escape but also a wild place, like the time my girlfriend and I stumbled into someone’s pot field in the ravine we were playing in and received a shotgun-blast in the air as warning to make ourselves scarce, or the time my dog Teddy disappeared from the trail barking, only to scare two bear cubs out of the bushes to my left that ran straight at me, wild-eyed, afraid of my 50-pound dog, while I looked at them, wild-eyed, afraid of their not-yet-seen but presumably nearby mother, or the time my mother fell and dislocated her hip and had to lay there in the woods for an hour before another human could answer her cellphone call. She's lucky there was another human. She's lucky she had reception.

The woods look down on book-nerds and hippies drug addicts and loggers alike. They look on memories and the present alike. There are voices in the woods.

Not all the people I played with in the woods survived. Drugs and poverty ate up a lot of the kids and neighbors that I knew. A girl who had once been my best friend had a baby in 8th grade. Our charming, handsome class joker was dead my sophomore year of high school, drunkenly playing chicken on the highway that wound through the woods. When I was in junior high we had the highest teen pregnancy rate in California: my high school graduating class started with 418 students, but by the time I walked across the stage as salutatorian, our total numbers had dropped to 214. But me, I had a great time in the woods, even though they didn't belong to me and I didn't belong to them. I knew I couldn’t stay.

To get out of the woods I moved to Manhattan. Except for two years in Brooklyn and a half a year in Ireland, I’ve been in Manhattan ever since. When I go back to visit Del Norte, it seems strange that I am a professional artist, that I spend my time in skyscrapers and sidewalks and not in trees anymore.

Some people never got out of the woods.

I’ve gone back to Del Norte County every single Christmas since I moved away. It’s a ritual. A pilgrimage. A re-opening and healing of a strange wound I only found a name for this year: my innocence. I thought I left it in the woods, when I was in love with them and in love with a boy from the woods, when I was still able to shut out the bad things about the world and rightly whisper to the trees that I was good, back in the time when I'd crush the moss under my feet breathlessly, half expecting to surprise God behind those next huckleberry bushes, eating his fill, always preparing what I'd say if I found him.

When I left the woods and the boy behind, I told myself I was heartsick and broken and that the better part of my heart was lost in the woods forever. I’ve been afraid of wandering through the woods ever since, convinced that at any turn a Hemlock would confront me with my mushy heart, or a Douglas Fir would drop my innocence on my head, and force me to take it up again. It seemed like too great a burden to risk. I didn’t have time or bravery for my innocence anymore. I needed to move fast and light and heartlessly to succeed. And so I’d dread the woods, not wanting to be confronted with bravery, sticking close to my mother’s living room instead.

This Christmas, I realized I hadn’t actually lost anything in the woods. The woods are what you make of them.

Last night I had a long, elaborate dream birthed out of my extended 3-week holiday at my mother’s house. In it, I had a long conversation with my high school sweetheart that was polite and impersonal and devoid of emotion. We were at his parent’s house, or mine, or in the Redwoods – it could have been all or any of those places, they are the same. For the first time in years, I woke up grumpy about dreaming of him, because he had nothing to tell me I didn’t already know, nothing pertinent to add. His kind words didn't mean anything. What’s the point of that? I wondered. I could have been dreaming of Toby Stephens or Benedict Cumberbatch or Jason Momoa. And then it struck me: I’m free, not afraid anymore of going into the woods, going into myself. I can take the woods with me this time.

Then I woke up in Manhattan.

I crossed five items off my 2-page to-do list and submitted for 24 acting parts. I made couscous and pondered how little I have in common with the world I just left behind yet again, and how this particular Christmas somehow shifted and transcended the stormy relationship I’ve had with the river, rocks, and trees of Del Norte County over the years: how very much I am out of the woods, how I no longer dread going there, or leaving. How it’s no longer home or my dream of home, but instead the beautiful place in the woods I go to in order to sit on the couch and drink wine with my mother and contemplate the escape I made from the woods and the yearly escape I make back to them. We stare at the trees through our kitchen window, watching the mist dissipate in the morning and the sunlight dissipate at night and the moonlight dissipate at dawn and time dissipate in our hands. My mother is my haven, not the woods.

I am my own woods, now.

“Into the woods and down the dell
In vain, perhaps, but who can tell?
Into the woods to lift the spell
Into the woods to lose the longing

Into the woods to have the child
To wed the Prince, to get the money
To save the house, to kill the Wolf
To find the father, to conquer the kingdom

To have, to wed, to get, to save
To kill, to keep, to go to the festival
Into the woods, into the woods
Into the woods, then out of the woods”

*Lyrics from Into the Woods by Stephen Soundheim and James Lapine