The BGB Blog

Industry News and Insights from Risa Bramon Garcia & Steve Braun


Why Hating L.A. Is Bad for Your Career

Posted by Risa BG on September 08, 2014  /   Posted in All Categories

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It’s textbook. You move to Los Angeles from your hometown or where you went to school or the last place you were pursuing an acting career, and you hate it. Heck, you may have even hated it before you got here, resenting the fact that you felt obligated to be here “cause that’s where the business is.”  Hating L.A. is an art form, perfected in bright, sunny coffee shop patios by chain smoking cynics, defiantly wearing all-black in the hundred-degree heat, and interpreting everything that L.A. has to offer in the context of what they did “back east” or in Europe or wherever. And those are people who have been in L.A. 20 years!  It’s so cliché that it’s become part of the very fabric of L.A.—as L.A. as the Dodgers or the palm trees.

But for actors, that level of cynicism about the place you’re hanging your hat can seep into the very fabric of your life, foster bitterness, and lead to the practice of hopelessness and paralysis. All of a sudden you’re looking for things to hate. And when you’re auditioning a couple of times a week at best, the practice of hopelessness and paralysis can sabotage your career. If all goes well, you’ll book a TV show while you’re in L.A. and there’s a decent chance that it’ll shoot here. And you should be so lucky as to get an agent in L.A. and get to audition consistently, living the life of a working actor. Either way, you’re going to have to get right with this city, and find your piece of comfort and happiness here so that you’re not a miserable human being. Here are four ways to get right with LA.

1. Los Angeles is not L.A. If you want to be happy in this city you have to step back from your intense focus on the business and start to focus on this place as your home (even if it’s your home for just a pilot season). The first thing you have to do is understand the distinction between Los Angeles and L.A. You’ve moved here because this is where the business is, and the focus of your life is your pursuit of the business. Agents, managers, auditions, casting directors, premieres, etc.This is L.A. L.A. is what people outside of the city think of when they think of us here. It’s glitzy, it’s sunny, it’s had work done. L.A. can make you a star and then put you in a fancy rehab all in the same week. L.A. creates art that profoundly influences the entire world’s perception of America, but then believes its own B.S. L.A. is Hollywood and show business, with its wonderful art and all its dangerous narcissism. When you come here for pilot season or to test for the TV show, you’re in L.A.

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By contrast, Los Angeles is the city where we actually live, struggle, and thrive outside of our pursuit. Ninety-eight percent of Los Angelenos are not in our industry. Los Angeles is a city of rich cultures, unique communities, and stunning landscapes. It’s where we raise our kids; the schools, the parks, the community centers; it’s where we make friends, in and out of the industry; it’s progressive thinking and long commutes; it’s Sunday farmers’ markets and frightening droughts.

In order to find happiness in this city, you must move from L.A. to Los Angeles. You must move from a hyper-focus on the career pursuit to the engagement in your present life. You have to know when you’re in L.A. and when you’re in Los Angeles. Know that each one has its limitations and that if you’ve been in one too long, it’s time to drive to the other (just not during rush hour).

2. Do the work of being an Angeleno. …And speaking of bad traffic, this city doesn’t always make it easy for you. Driving can make you crazy, which beyond the hours of frustration in your car, can lead to isolation. No one wants to get in the car at the end of the day and drive anywhere. It could take 20 minutes but it could also take 2 hours. There’s no real center to the city like there is in New York, there’s no comprehensive transit system, and it’s tough to find a sense of community here. A person can get lost in this city, falling into the depths of obscurity, never truly seen by another human being. In a city this vast, community doesn’t present itself when you walk out your front door. It’s on you to carve out your own community in Los Angeles (and L.A.). It’s on you to step out of your comfort zone and engage in what the city has to offer…which is a lot.

Volunteering is the best place to start. There’s plenty of need in this city and you can join like-minded people working towards a worthy goal. Involvement creates community, staves off loneliness, and leads to opportunity. So sign up for that yoga retreat, join a choir, take that Mandarin class, make plans with someone you know (and keep them). Do the work required to be a resident of this great city.

3. Fountain isn’t the answer. When asked what advice she has for actors trying to make it in Hollywood, Bette Davis famously responded, “Take Fountain,” a reference to the less-traveled Hollywood avenue that’s often a quicker ride than Sunset or Santa Monica. Yes, traffic in L.A. sucks. The serenity we achieve from all the yoga, meditation, and kale-eating we do here is vigorously tested every time we press our electric car’s “on” button. If you’re going to be happy in this city, you’re just going to have to accept that traffic sucks and move on.

Download a bunch of audio books, pack snacks and a change of clothes, and accept the fact that it might take you an hour to get there. Got an important meeting at 10 a.m.? Leave your house at 7 a.m. Seriously. Just in case. Just finished an audition in North Hollywood and you have another one in Culver City in 10 minutes? Have your agent tell them you’ll be late, accept traffic for what it is, and relax. Sure, sometimes a certain street might be quicker at a certain time of day, but even the act of looking for that shortcut that lets you beat L.A. traffic suggests that you think you can beat L.A. Give in. Surrender to the vastness of the landscape and the fact that there aren’t enough lanes for the amount of drivers on the road and that the ratio of person to cars is one to one. Surrender!

4. Look at what’s in front of you. It’s all here. LACMA and MOCA, Bergamot and the Gettys, arts colonies and galleries, theater and music scenes, historic and state-of-the art cinemas, The Hollywood Bowl and countless hole-in-the wall music and comedy venues, the Dodgers and the Lakers, the Kings and the Clippers, farmers’ and flea markets, street food and food trucks, independent bookstores and public libraries, cafés and bakeries, beaches and mountains, hiking trails and dog parks, urban agriculture and gardens, baths and spas, yoga and martial arts studios, small towns connected by other small towns. Topanga to Silverlake, Pasadena to Venice, Malibu to North Hollywood, Los Feliz to San Pedro—the magic of old Hollywood is still alive in the cracked tiles of faded hotels and bleached pools, a city with so much to love…growing faster than the freeways can manage. But grown by countless dreamers still settling in the West to find gold.

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Take it all in. Immerse yourself in everything Los Angeles. Make a date with the city once a week. Explore endlessly while you’re carving out your touchstone community that you come back to when you need consistency. Enjoying your life is good for your work. And there really is so much to enjoy.

This city doesn’t have it out for you. It’s just too massive to nurture each resident. It has a lot to give but you have to take it. When you realize that this city is more than the business and then engage fully into being a member of this community of Angels (or Dodgers depending on where you’re coming from), you’ll find comfort and ease here. And finding comfort and ease helps you audition and work with comfort and ease as well.

As Randy Newman said, “ Looks like another perfect day. I love L.A. (We love it.) I love L.A. (We love it.)”

Over Worked and Under Played

Posted by BGB on August 27, 2014  /   Posted in All Categories

By Will Doughty

When I first started acting, I would get so excited to work on my audition sides. I would put all the work I did in class to the test. ‘What’s the story? Who am I? How many lines to I have? What’s my motivation?!” The first read of the sides felt so fresh, new and alive! However after all the WORK I put into it something seemed flat. Somewhere in the time between the first read and the audition the excitement fizzled out. “What happened? I put a lot of work into this audition. It should be amazing!”.

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I believe doing the work is vital as an actor. However, I also believe that a scene can be OVER-WORKED. Below are signs when my scene was OVER-WORKED:

1) I figured out exactly HOW I am going to say every line.

2) I figured out exactly HOW I am going to REACT to the readers lines.

3) I figured out exactly which word to give emphasis to show my depth of emotion. (“I love YOU” versus “ I LOVE you”)

4) I figured out exactly what to do with my hands and face. (I press my hand to my chest when I say “love” for the line, “I love YOU”. Then furrow my brow to show I mean it)

I really did all of the above back in college and when I first started auditioning! Ugh. I was over-working the scene and the result was a stale performance. I knew in my gut that there had to be a different way of approaching the work. I wanted to bring that fresh, new, life back to the work. Improvisation training was the key to unlocking the life. Improv gives you no way of figuring out exactly how to do anything! Improv forces you to “not know”.

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The more improv scenes I do, the more I build the muscle of “not knowing”. The result is a new muscle called PLAY. I believe that an actor must do the WORK on the scripted scene FIRST. Then stop, and bring in the PLAY. Playing keeps the fresh, new and alive feel throughout the work. Below are a few ways how to bring the PLAY after the WORK:

1) PERMISSION: I give myself permission to do, say, feel, react, think anything that strikes me in the moment. That is my truth. Honor the truth always. It leads you to spontaneity.

2) LET it be Different: Instead of trying to figure out that ONE way of doing a scene, I now let it be different. Improv showed me that you can not do the same scene twice. So, instead of trying to replicate a performance, I start back at the beginning and find out what happens as if it were new.

3) ALWAYS Explore: I give myself permission to explore the scene every time I do it. In between takes I explore the world, the given circumstances, my want, and am willing to change any of them to surprise myself and excite me about the next take. The next take will then have a fresh, new life because I am open to exploring where it goes.

4) YES, YES, YES!: I accept EVERYTHING that is happening right now without trying to control or invent anything. Controlling and inventing are signs of working. By the time I am in the room all I can do is let go, accept everything that is happening. I have learned that accepting is a muscle that must be developed it does not just appear. A quick “Yes, yes, yes, yes, yes” chant gets me into that space of being open and ready to play!

BGB giving back!

Posted by Tessa BGB on August 14, 2014  /   Posted in All Categories

We can’t be stopped! BGB is continuing to revisit The St. Francis Center to help give back. Make sure to join us next time!

Thank you, thank you, and thank you again to those who showed up this Wednesday, August 13th: James Babbin, Eli Johannesdottir, Erin Kaufman, Cameron Moir, Devon Ogden and W. Cameron Tucker!

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And a sneak peek into our next event–MMP_Walk_Logo755a7c55d3f5007d2f303c7011a2a7click
The Mary Magdalene Project (MMP) is holding a Superhero Themed 5k Walk/Run to stop trafficking on Saturday, September 13th @ 8am. Email: bgbcommunity@gmail.com to get more info!

13 Things to Never Say in a Casting Room

Posted by Risa BG on August 01, 2014  /   Posted in All Categories

We’ve all put our foot in our mouth at least a few times but somehow, in the casting room, actors do it more often than they or we would like. Nerves, insecurity, neediness, and self-doubt set in and there’s no stopping you. You say things you’re not aware of, feeding the narcissism, looking for connection and reassurance, but sometimes those few little words can bring your audition to a screeching halt. So, here are some things you don’t want to say in an audition, no matter what impulse arises:

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1. “I just got this last night.” No excuse. Everyone else likely got it last night and someone is making it work. Do your work as best as you can in the time you have. If you have to, work on it till 2 a.m. Alternatively, do the work that’s necessary so you get a good night’s sleep. You don’t need days to prepare.

2. “Should I sit or stand?” You decide. You need to walk into the room confident, ready to go, putting us at ease. If we want you to do something else, we’ll ask.

3. “I’m going to enter, sit, then stand on this line, then exit…” Keep it physically simple. Blocking will happen on the day. In this abstracted and often confined space, make it about the relationship you have with the other person or people in the scene—the reader. What you’re doing actively, not physically, is what matters.

4. “Where are the producers?” Not here. We’re here, and we’re here to collaborate with you. Producers will view your best work if you bring it. Enjoy the intimacy of the relationship with whatever casting directors or associates are in the room. They are your audience and your advocates.

5. “Is there something everyone’s doing wrong that I should know. What mistakes are everyone else making?” Really?

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6. “Let me do it once and then you can tell me what you want.” So we assume you have no point of view and can’t decide for yourself. Is that what you want us to know about you?

7. “If I suck just tell me and I’ll do it again.” This is setting yourself up to suck and for us to expect you to do just that.

8. “Wow, that was good to get one out of the way. Now can we do it for real?” Therefore, we sit here while you get one out of the way? How does that serve anyone? Don’t wait to get into the room to say it out loud, or do it for the first time with someone. Make sure you do your scene with someone else. Even your dog. Engage. It cannot live in your head or as you talk to the air in your shower or your car. Make your choices, feel what it’s like to engage with someone, know what you’re feeling, have a point of view, and then come into the room to explore.

9. “I just said that out loud for the first time.” Why? See above.

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10. “So many words.” What a gift! Find ways to learn your lines; it’s part of your craft. Different methods work but they all require commitment, certainty, and connection to what you’re actually talking about. Nobody didn’t get a job because they got every line right, but you have to decide you know it, and be fully engaged. The words will come.

11. “How do you pronounce_____?” (a word you can easily look up) Seriously, look it up.

12. You don’t actually say anything, but when you finish the scene you make a face like you’ve just smelled feces. Are you waiting for us to take care of you? We can’t. We don’t have the time. Nor is it our job, as much as we often suffer from being enablers. Do the work for the work, for you, but not so that we will tell you that you did it right.

13.“Well that sucked.” And we’re done.

We don’t want to sound harsh. But we need you to walk into the room ready to work, with conviction and sureness, happy to be there. Then we can do our work together. Then we can create something that is in service of the script. Then we can take your unique interpretation to the next level. Help us do that!

BGB #actorsgivingback AGAIN!

Posted by Tessa BGB on August 01, 2014  /   Posted in All Categories

BGB actors giving back and feeling happy! BGB has become regulars at The St. Francis Center Downtown! We love the community, the warmth and the hard work at The St. Francis Center. We’ll be back again!

A HUGE thank you to those who joined this time: Ryan Angel, Eli Johannesdottir, Liesel Kopp, Jules Lambert, Matt Laydon, Jaime Puckett, Deborah Puette, and her son Wyatt, and W. Cameron Tucker.

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Storytelling Your Way To The Callback

Posted by Steve Braun on July 18, 2014  /   Posted in All Categories

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The practice of actors communicating with a live audience is the core of our art and the essence of our human connection. It is the campfire, the tribal sharing, the ancient ritual of storytelling, live, immediate, for that moment and then forever gone. There is nothing quite like it, and for those of us whose roots are in the theater, it’s the origin of our creative expression. It’s our touchstone. Likely somewhere along the way we were also smitten by film, seduced with another kind of voodoo. We disappeared into the enchantment of the screen and felt its magic. But the initial spark of the human connection happened on stage with a live audience, telling both an intimate and universal story. It was, and is, our lifeline. It’s sometimes ritualistic, sometimes church, (as Denzel would profess), always communal.

“It has been said that next to hunger and thirst, our most basic human need is for storytelling.” —Khalil Gibran

Joseph Campbell talked about original rituals—in conjunction with myths—satisfying pleasure, power, and duty. These myths become collective storytelling, taking on a life beyond their original rites. Then they became entertainment for their own sake, needing storytellers and performers. These stories live in us today just as they always did. So if we can find the power of the personal myth in each of us, in each of our stories, we can affect each other profoundly.

Once a myth “catches you, you develop such a longing for one or another of these traditions of information of a deep, rich, life-vivifying sort, that you won’t want to give it up.” —Joseph Campbell to Bill Moyers

What we have been experiencing at BGB is this kind of immediate, intimate storytelling, acting that takes your breath away. Each individual sharing a story through personal and connected narratives. Some of the best “theater” we’ve witnessed has happened in these rooms. Just recently, we were blown away by a succession of provocative live encounters in class. Actor after actor threw themselves into deep, personal stories. It was what we have always loved about theater. It was both private and communal. It was our myth-sharing, our collective storytelling. It was our campfire.

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The audition room can be your campfire. You’re not there to show anything or to perform in a heightened theatrical way. (We don’t know the difference, frankly, between a stage and screen performance other than volume and the understanding that you might have to reach a little further.) You’re there to have a shared, live, even divine experience with us. No matter what kind of spectators you think we are, we are your audience; we are a part of what you do.

Even in a casting room, you are ordained to be the storyteller. You’re there to take us on a mythological journey. To engage with us in that ephemeral moment in time when, like on any stage, in any ritual, or campfire ceremony, the lights go down (they may not actually go down in most casting rooms), everyone looks with wonder and anticipation, and you transport us into your story. A story we may have written, are directing, producing, or casting.

zZCFaPRhzhDPAZq0Wy60vbsNeWzrJqKYScqs9eSu1xkAnd still, for those few minutes, we are sitting around your campfire and you are telling us your story—your interpretation of the myth. You are chosen to help us “suspend our disbelief.” We await with excitement. For no matter what we know, you have the power to move us, to carry us to any place you choose. Then together we experience that enigmatic moment; it’s alive and then gone. We’ve shared something intimate together, storyteller and audience. We’ve done it just as it’s been done for thousands of years. In a gathering in the woods, in an amphitheater, in a pub, in a black box, in a classroom, in an audition room.

So for your few minutes living in the world of that play, why not make it about immersing yourself and us, your audience, in the most sublime storytelling possible? Why not light the campfire and draw us in? Why not give it everything you’ve got? How else can you affect your audience? How else can you stay in our minds and in our hearts? How else can you secure your way to the callback?

 

9 Tips For Being Seen In Any Casting Room

Posted by Steve Braun on June 13, 2014  /   Posted in All Categories

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We want to see you. We crave it. Whether in the studio classroom or in the audition room, seeing you fully, intimately, is the true definition of showing up. For us as your audience, your teachers, your collaborators. We have to see where a scene or a role lives in you. We have to know you personally through the story you’re telling.

When you come into the casting room, when you walk on set or on stage, or when you get up to work in class, the moments of utter surrender, exposure, vulnerability, are the moments that define your talent. You can be the most gifted actor on the planet. But if you hide your heart, if you allow fear or anxiety to determine how you approach the work, you’ll be denying yourself the joy of connection, and certainly deny us the gift of your talent.

That is why we love Meryl Streep, Johnny Depp, Cate Blanchett, Joaquin Phoenix, and Benedict Cumberbatch. Even when they mask their vulnerability, we see deeply into their hearts.

That is why you do this thing, to affect each other and to affect your audience on an emotional level. That’s what brought you to this amazingly daring exploration. You were moved by a performance that changed your life. Or you were so deeply engaged in an acting experience that you felt something you’d never felt before. And now you must have it. All the time.

An actor from our studio (the BGB Studio) recently had a breakthrough moment. He joined us at a “network test” as a reader. He read on tape with a fairly well-known female actor, and as they went from scene to scene, finding the relationship and every nuance that came from playing together, he realized that they (we) were all just doing the work. The same work we do in class. To be fully engaged with another person, to make bold choices unique to you, to be spontaneous and free to discover the scene, moment to moment…Well that’s it, isn’t it? The actor got the part, and the reader’s work changed forever.

The actor who shows herself, the actor who allows himself to be seen, the actor who is willing to engage fully, is the actor who has the most rewarding experience. He is also the actor who is likely to book the job. Or at least affect a director, writer, or casting director so completely that he’ll be cast in the not-so-distant future.

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There are actors who just surrender to it. Who treat this as play, inhabiting their worlds with fervor. There are actors who throw themselves fully into a scene, be it with a scene partner or a reader. There are actors who make the work personal—not the “job,” but the work itself, finding the essence of the writing, the character in themselves. There are actors who live in a scene with all their heart and allow that experience—even if it’s only two and a half minutes in a casting room—to be the enough to get them through the week.

Be that kind of actor. Stop worrying about pleasing anyone, impressing anyone, being chosen. Allow those butterflies in your stomach to drive you forward. To be, as Dame Judo Dench says, your battery. Be happy with the good work you do. Keep doing it. Keep digging deeper, bolder, more vulnerably, with abandon.

We have seen the most glorious work at the BGB Studio and in the audition room when actors allow this to happen. For us, as teachers, directors, casting folks, it’s our fuel, our oxygen. Throw us this creative lifeline. Let us find you, see you, know you. Let us fall in love with you. (And withhold a very small, secret piece for yourself.)

Be willing to be vulnerable. Put your heart out there over and over and over again. It’s likely going to hurt like hell. But the feeling you’ll start feeling when you fully embrace the work itself, when you share yourselves with us in the most intimate way, is euphoric…for you, and for us. And that high, that satisfaction, will become far more important than getting called back or “pinned” or even hired.

This intimate revelation is the work of consummate professionals. This is the work of artists.

So how can you make that happen? Here are some ways…See where this resonates for you.

1. Practice!  Malcolm Gladwell’s 10,000 hours. Acting requires a lifetime of practice. You really get good when you’ve been at it for a very long time. Don’t even think about a successful career. Apply yourself to the work as a lifelong student. Work out. In a play. In class. Wherever you can. Create a daily and weekly practice that will keep your actor muscles tuned and your artistry alive.

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2. Create! Be an artist every day. As in the Artist’s Way, find where your artistry lives outside of acting. The more you’re creatively thriving, the less any one audition or lack of auditions will define you.

3. Live! Make sure your life is rich and full outside of your career. A fulfilled, happy human being is more at ease, more present, more interesting in any casting room. When your focus is not entirely on your career, the narcissism that comes from such a strong self-focus is replaced by generosity and joy.

4. Breathe, meditate, move! Make sure you have a physical and spiritual practice daily. Your body and your soul are your instruments as an actor. You have to be tuned, grounded, connected to something bigger than yourself.  Something that gets you through the anxiety, desperation, and panic. Not to mention attends to your general health and wellbeing. Yoga, Pilates, meditation, Alexander Technique, Qi Gong, hiking, biking, spinning… Whatever you can commit do on a regular basis.  Not only does the waiting room become more manageable; you can also tap into a deep inner life when your practice is but a breath away.

5. Prepare! Don’t procrastinate, leaving your preparation for 10:30 p.m. the night before an audition. Find a way to open that email, read those sides, and dig in with enthusiasm. This isn’t 11th grade chemistry. Working on material should be exciting. We just read a group of seriously talented working actors for a couple of roles on “Masters of Sex” and were awestruck by the deep, specific, personal work they’d done before walking into the room. Like it or not, right now auditioning is part of your job. You have to find a way to make peace with it. You have to embrace it.

At BGB we address preparation in a way that makes it less perplexing and overwhelming. If you can find ways to personalize the material—even a four-line role on a procedural show—you’ll start to dig in with a huge appetite. This takes shifting your focus from the need for the job to the need in the scene. What you want from another person in any scene has to be more important than getting the casting director to like you.

6. Trust! Trust that once you walk into the room (or onto a stage or set), the work is done. It’s alive in you. Now your focus goes off of you and onto the reader. Now you must surrender to the moment and allow the scene to happen to you right there. This is where the good stuff happens, but you’ve got to trust that you’re ready, and let go of control.

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7. Play! Bring a childlike willingness to create, to explore, to make believe. Throw yourself with abandon into the world of the play. How exciting it is to take that leap. Like a dancer, athlete, child at the beach, your ability to spin in the air comes from letting your imagination and your open heart guide you.

8. Get Over Yourself! You sit in your bubble and second-guess your audition. Well stop that. You need to understand what goes into the casting process (which we explain in our article “15 Reasons Why We Cast You!”). Realize that you are one component in an exceedingly complicated scenario. Work in a casting or producer’s office. Find out how decisions are made. Even if you do a killer audition, you might not get the role. And that has nothing to do with you.

9. Believe! You are more important than any audition. Your unique voice is more important than what happens in any casting room. Your specific point of view, set of experiences, is unique in the universe, and universal simultaneously. Your artistry and your career will live on long after any one three-minute audition. And the more you believe this, the more you’ll be able to bring your unique voice onto any stage, set, or into the most indifferent room in this business.

 

BGB #actorsgivingback

Posted by Tessa BGB on June 12, 2014  /   Posted in All Categories

Another tremendous success on Tuesday at The St. Francis Center! We had 16 BGB actors join The St. Francis Center downtown in helping out organize and distribute food for low income families and individuals in the area.

It couldn’t have been done without the enormous hearts of Amelia Alvarez, Jerry Broome, Camille Chen, Jules Lambert (and her friends Lo and Stephanie), Michael Maize, Grasie Mercedes, Jaime Puckett, Deborah Puette (and her son Wyatt), Emily Reviczky, Laura Spencer, Lianna Taylor and W. Cameron Tucker!
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Join us in our next event with Heal the Bay’s Nothin’ But Sand on Saturday, June 21st from 10am to noon at Will Roger’s State Beach: 15800 Pacific Coast Hwy, at the end of Temescal Canyon Road, Pacific Palisades, CA 90272
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Email me at bgbcommunity@gmail.com to get involved!

BGB and Big Sunday!

Posted by Tessa BGB on June 05, 2014  /   Posted in All Categories

What a BLAST we had getting together with Big Sunday and Immaculate Conception Elementary School on Friday, May 16th! Seven BGBers went downtown to help beautify this 100-year-old school by de-weeding their garden, cleaning up around the campus, and painting plastic tubs to plant flowers in. The hardworking 3rd grade class joined us in the process and a few others on their recess. These students were so happy to have our support and we agreed it brought out the kid in all of us!

Again, it wouldn’t have been possible without the support of Mike Craig, Lauren Harrington, Danielle Kennedy, Steve Price, Charlie Roth and W. Cameron Tucker. Picture 3

4 Ways To Silence Audition Nerves

Posted by Steve Braun on May 21, 2014  /   Posted in All Categories

By: Steve Braun

Your heart pounds. You sit on a hard chair in a cramped closet of a packed waiting room. Twelve pages of thick dialogue swirl around inside your head. Each inhale sucks in the stew of nerves and fear simmering all around you. You’re up next. Your heart pounds faster. Sweat beads. As your moment approaches, your preparation, the dialogue, your own name, all begin to leak from your brain. The casting associate emerges—the executioner summoning you to the gallows. Your heart pounds faster. Sweat pours. She speaks your name. Like electrified taser teeth penetrating your skin, every molecule in your body tenses rock hard all at once. You push out a smile, say something you don’t mean, and walk into the room, leaving your heart and your head in the waiting room. You won’t book this job. You’ll forget your lines, and you won’t even notice the reader, let alone have a human experience with her. You won’t be called back in for the next one. Your talent was defeated by audition nerves.

While your nerves can seem like the enemy the Moriarty to your Holmes, using cunning and guile to sabotage any forward motion, the first step towards managing the nerves is to Sherlock and moriartyunderstand that they are the source of your power. Being nervous means both that you’re a human being with real feelings who is emotionally triggered by what’s going on around you, and that you are emotionally invested in what you’re doing. It means you’re sensitive and you care. And both are essential for an actor. So, it’s not about killing the nerves but, rather, managing them and using them to your advantage. Here are four ways to manage audition nerves:

1. Know and accept who you are. It requires patience and time, but if you have a full sense of who you are and accept yourself, the fear of someone telling you you’re not good enough doesn’t exist. So, if you’ve done the work of knowing yourself—all your strengths, all the things you’re working to change—no one has the power to dramatically affect your self-worth. The fear of that unknown criticism is minimized.

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What are you worried about when you sit in the waiting room? Typically, you fear the disconnection that comes with being told you’re not talented, not funny, not attractive enough, etc. If, on a fundamental level, you know and accept that you’re talented, someone telling you otherwise is like someone saying you’re wearing a red shirt when in fact you’re wearing a blue one. So, how can you know and accept yourself? Some people practice meditation, Qi Gong, yoga, therapy, etc., and taking a fierce inventory of what it is that makes them tick, celebrating the strengths, and working on the things they’d like to change. They write them all down, then actively celebrate the strengths, and work on the challenges. For some people, it’s about getting to know one’s self by going through a wide range of life experiences—discovering things about themselves by traveling, jumping out of a plane, or writing and shooting their own feature. Others derive self-esteem by performing esteem-able acts—consistent volunteer work, or doing something selfless everyday, thereby creating a positive self-identity. Whatever it is for you, look inside, explore the depths of your soul, work at changing what you’d like to change, and accept yourself. Your life and your acting career will benefit greatly.

2. Make choices that are more important than your nerves. If what you want from the reader is more important than your nerves, your fear, your desire to protect your heart, etc, the nerves will not get in your way. To the contrary, they’ll be a wonderful color in your audition. So, you’re auditioning for the role of a cop who’s interrogating a woman accused of killing her kid. In the scene, she’s denying it and you’re trying to get her to confess. You’re in the waiting room and you’re so nervous that you’re going to pee your pants. It’s not in the script, but you make the choice that the reader (the woman who killed her kid) has said that she wants to kill again. In fact, you decide that there’s a particular kid that she’s targeting. You make that kid specific. That kid is meaningful to you. So, fine, you’re really nervous, but you have a job to do. You desperately need a confession from the reader so that you can put her away and get her off the streets. Now your nerves are part of a deeper need. So whatever those choices are for you, make choices that are bigger than your nerves. It works!

3. Have a full, creative life. If the audition is the only meaningful event on your weekly calendar, you’ll probably start to obsess about it, think through every potential outcome, and allow the nerves to get out of hand. Hyper-focus allows your head to take over and causes you wallow in the fear of the possible negative outcome. If, however, you’ve got a play rehearsal Monday morning, a performance that night, you’re volunteering at a women’s shelter Tuesday morning, going to a writing session with a friend Tuesday afternoon, work Tuesday night, attend acting class Wednesday night, have the audition Thursday morning, and a student film shoot Thursday night, the audition will be part of your life, not the center of it. A full like keeps you in the practice of the work and distributes the pressure more equally.

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4. Apply Navy SEAL training. Sometimes the nerves are so big that you can’t even function. Some anxiety is clinical and needs to be treated. When the nerves are so huge that you can’t speak, the Navy SEALs offer some help that doesn’t involve a prescription. From SEAL training to the stresses of their work in the field, Seals employ Goal Setting (focus on what you’d like to do in the room), Mental Rehearsal (visualize what you’ll do so your mind feels like it’s already been there and done it, and might be more comfortable when it actually happens), Self-Talk (“I’m trained, I’ve done my work, I’m talented. I can do this.”), and Arousal Control (slow, deliberate breathing—inhale for four seconds, exhale for four seconds). So, before your audition set a goal (“I will be present,” not “I will book this job”), visualize yourself in the room achieving the goal, tell yourself you deserve to reach that goal, and slow your breathing as you wait.

Dame Judi said, “I’m always fearful. Fear in you generates a huge energy. You can use it. When I feel that mounting fear, I think, ‘Oh yes, there it is.’ It’s like petrol.” Like all your feelings, nerves are the source of your power as an actor. They’re a unique part of who you are, your truthful expression of them within the scene is essential. You must bring them to the audition with you. And with practice, the nerves that arise as a result of an audition can become one of the tools you use to emotionally affect a casting director. With practice, you can use the nerves even when you’re supposed to be calm and confident in the scene. You’ll be full, alive, and deeply engaging.

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