The road from co-star to series regular
Amir Talai is an actor and Berkeley grad whom I have long admired for his positive attitude and consistent proactivity with regards to his career. Years ago when I was acting, I would regularly stop by his old website and read his postings, hoping some of his marketing mojo and self-confidence would rub off on me.
On our Coffee Date, I invited him to share what he’s learned from all he has experienced during this past decade – from hitting town as a newbie to climbing the ladder (all the way to recurring and series regular roles).
Creating a full-time storytelling career
Antonio Sacre is a writer, a published children’s book author, a professional storyteller, and a solo performance artist who graduated with an MA from Northwestern University. He has an active national and international touring schedule and he teaches writing and storytelling throughout the country. He can be heard as part of NPR’s Latino USA and has performed at The Kennedy Center and at The National Book Festival at The Library of Congress. So, yes, he’s very talented.
But so are a lot of people. Antonio, however, has been able to take his talent and build a career as a full-time, self-employed artist successful enough to support himself and his family here in Los Angeles. I invited him on this Coffee Date to hear how he did it.
Building a full-time voice over career
Bob Souer describes himself as a “professional storyteller” and if you have watched PBS television, flown US Airways, or taken an eLearning course, you have probably heard his voice. When I first met Bob, he told me that his desire was to have a full-time voice over career. A few years later, his dream was a reality.
Not only did he transition from part-time to full-time artist, but also, during the process, he created and nurtured one of the most outstanding and widely known blogs in the voice over world. Bob completely embodies the spirit of “success through service” and on our Coffee Date he generously passes along some of what he’s learned.
Starring in a cult film
Bostin Christopher is a bi-coastal actor, producer, teacher and director who was raised in Alaska. I could have talked to Bostin about SO many things – he has acted off-Broadway and at the Public Theatre in New York, directed theatre throughout the country, and appeared in numerous television shows…
…what we did chat about during this Coffee Date was his starring role in the Warner Bros/Raw Feed horror film Otis (with Daniel Stern, Illeana Douglas and Kevin Pollak), which premiered at the SXSW Film Festival. We talked about the effect one role can have on a career and what it’s like to suddenly have a higher profile and a fan following (and how to deal with all of that). Bostin won best actor at the International DV/HD Film Festival for his portrayal of Otis.
Creating a one-person show
Brenda Adelman is an actor, writer, speaker, and forgiveness coach who also has an MA in Spiritual Psychology. Brenda has a stunning personal story: when she was in her early 20s her father shot her mother and later, when he was released from prison, married her aunt. From those circumstances she created a one-woman show, My Brooklyn Hamlet, that has touched the lives of audiences all over the world.
Her business of teaching people how to forgive grew organically from her art. During our Coffee Date, she shared great advice about how to extend the life of a one-person show beyond its initial run.
Making bold moves despite the fear
Networking and making bold moves have never come never easy for me (especially when I was pursuing my acting career), and I still draw inspiration and enjoyment from listening to folks tell tales of how they gather the courage to “feel the fear and do it anyway.” Well, Darin Toonder definitely has some tales to tell in that department.
I’ve been wanting to have a Coffee Date with him for a long time, not only because he is someone dedicated to consistently pushing himself beyond his comfort zone, but also because he takes the time to reflect on his fears, how he can challenge them, and what he learns from each new experience. (Note: Don’t let the food-in-his-pants thing fool you – Darin is serious about doing what it takes to move his career forward faster.)
Boosting a career to the next level
Many actors have told me about the level of success they say they want to have. But I believe that staying on any path that leads to that type of achievement requires some significant personal growth along the way. Sustaining a life of Big Success, requires more of you than simply being an extremely talented and cool guy (which David Goryl most certainly is).
During the years that we’ve known each other, I’ve watched David make some mental and emotional shifts – and, as he did, his career blossomed. In this Coffee Date, he generously shares this part of his personal journey with us, about how it impacted his approach to his art and how it changed his perspective on working in this industry.
Booking a recurring role on a TV series
After a long, successful career in radio and voice-overs, David H. Lawrence XVII decided he wanted to also act on-camera. As with everything he’s done, David laid the groundwork for success. He studied the craft, technique, and business of the on-camera world and, as opportunities came into his life, he hit them out of the park.
David’s role on the original NBC series Heroes was his first TV credit. His character was supposed to die in that episode. Instead, he became a recurring guest on the show. How did that happen? What was it like working on a network show? How did it change his career? We cover all that and more during our Coffee Date.
Career advice for voice over artists
My friend and mentor, David H. Lawrence XVII, is another multi-hyphenate with an extensive and varied career in all things voice: hosting his own broadcast satellite radio shows and podcasts, working as the THE voice of AOL (among other VO gigs), producing, directing, casting (video games, demos reels, audio books, etc), and teaching and speaking internationally about the business and craft of voice overs.
So, he knows the voice over biz from many different angles and he shares some really helpful info in this Coffee Date. (Oh, and in his spare time he created this.)
Getting a screenplay sold and produced
After graduating with honors from the University of Wisconsin’s Creative Writing Program, David Stieve moved to L.A. to pursue life as a screenwriter. In fact, a year of his life was chronicled in the documentary, Dreams on Spec.
That documentary happened to capture the period of his career where his screenplay, Behind The Mask: The Rise of Leslie Vernon, was sold and made into an award-winning horror satire feature film. He is an in-the-trenches, climbing-the-ladder writer in Hollywood who, in this Coffee Date, offers some sage, practical advice to aspiring writers – and really, to anyone daring to follow their dream.
Re-entering the industry at age 45+
Dawn Joyal exemplifies my belief that – if you truly bet on yourself – you CAN BE the “exception to the rule.” Yes, it is possible to become a highly connected actor with current network television credits – even if you are female… even if you are quite older than 45… even if you are returning to the industry from a multi-year hiatus.
I have been following the rejuvenation of Dawn’s career for several years now and I have been blown away by her commitment to sustaining a joyful attitude and diligent approach. Those two qualities, coupled with her talent, set her apart from the majority of her “competition.” In this Coffee Date, I invite you to soak up Dawn’s spirit – and her networking savvy.
Taking a dream from vision to reality
Devin Alexander is a New York Times Bestselling Author and star of the cooking show, Healthy Decadence, which originally aired on the Discovery Health Channel. She has authored five cookbooks (including The Biggest Loser Cookbook), been profiled in and contributed recipes to many, many magazines, and appeared on The View, The Today Show, Good Morning America, etc.
AND she created all of this from scratch – via networking and risk taking and elbow grease. It can be done! In this Coffee Date, she generously shares, step-by-step, some of the strategies she employed to create and maximize opportunities for herself.
Marketing for voice over artists
When I met Doug Turkel he had created a very successful full-time regional voice over career from the ground up. He had an Addy Award and over 10,000 spots under his belt. He was preparing to go national. Which he did.
That’s a transition many voice over artists desire to make so I thought I’d have a Coffee Date with Doug about the nitty-gritty, step-by-step of how he marketed himself and made it happen. (Side note: And never have I seen better branding of an artist before in my life! Doug wins.)
Filming and funding a web series
Dylan Kussman is an actor, writer, musician, and Berkeley grad who starred as Richard Cameron (a.k.a. “the fink who finally gets punched in the face”) in the classic film, Dead Poets Society. Although he still occasionally flies in to work in his hometown of L.A., he currently lives in the Southeast US (Chattanooga, TN), works professionally out of nearby Atlanta, and is the creator and star of the (fabulous) web series The Steps, a modern day noir thriller.
The initial response to the first three episodes was so positive that he pulled those episodes out of circulation, got a grant, got sponsorship, created a web presence, hooked up with a distributor, and relaunched the series. I thought it was worth a Coffee Date to hear how he did all of that.
Working in voice over and animation
Eliza Jane is one of the most gifted people I know: an actress-playwright-fiddler-songwriter-singer-voice over artist extraordinaire AND one of the top dialect coaches in the country with degrees from Northwestern and UCLA. She can perform any dialect, teach any dialect, eliminate any accent, and match almost any voice.
For five years she performed all of the female voices on South Park and, in this Coffee Date, she takes us behind the scenes of that gig (including how she proactively got it for herself) and several of the other VO jobs she’s had. As always with Eliza, it’s a very interesting conversation.
Starring in a Tyler Perry film
Hope Olaide Wilson is an actor and aspiring producer who landed a lead role in the Tyler Perry film, I Can Do Bad All By Myself. Hmmm… what an amazing opportunity for her as an aspiring producer to connect with one of the industry’s most prolific and successful moguls. (The Universe works in mysterious ways.)
I was already planning to have a chat with Hope to hear about what the experience was like, so I figured I’d record it as a Coffee Date so you could join us! We discuss the audition process, life on set in Perry’s Atlanta studio, bonding with her co-stars, performing a scene with just her and Perry (as Medea), the movie premiere, and what it’s like to now have fans.
Acting in L.A. – my first 3 years
This is a unique Coffee Date… the first half is an interview I did with James Jolly in the spring of 2008. In that early interview, James had been in L.A. (by way of Chicago) for a little over a year and had already nabbed his SAG card, started networking, and enjoyed a month-long shoot on a major summer blockbuster film.
Because he is a lovely person and extremely passionate about creating a career of significance, I thought it would be fun to check back in with him, almost two years after that initial interview, to see what he had learned since then. Turns out he had a lot to share.
Performing with Cirque du Soleil
So, you’re a talented, comedic actress living in L.A., and one day – totally out of the blue – Cirque du Soleil calls YOU to audition for one of their shows. That’s what happened to Jeana Blackman. I kid you not. And, because she said “yes” to this very unexpected opportunity, she’s been climbing walls and hanging hundreds of feet above a stage performing in the Vegas production of KA.
How did this all come about? What was the audition process like? How did she make the final decision to do it (considering she has a new condo and hubbie in L.A.)? And what is it like when a dream (that you weren’t even dreaming!) comes true? In this Coffee Date, Jeana answers all of those questions – and more.
A life coach’s advice to performers
I started working with Lauri Johnson when I was 29. Back then, I felt like I was banging my head against the wall and I knew I didn’t want my 30s to be a repeat of my 20s. Thankfully, in Lauri, I found an insightful, tell-it-like-it-is guide who still continues to help me shape my life and move faster than I ever could without her.
After an extensive corporate career, Lauri decided to follow her own calling and built a successful acting career in film and TV – everything from being directed by Steven Spielberg and Christopher Guest to performing with John Lithgow at the Hollywood Bowl. She’s a font of wisdom and I thought you’d enjoy hearing some of it for yourself in this Coffee Date.
Guidance for screenwriters
Pamela Forrest is an Ovation Award-winning playwright and a script/story consultant who also leads transformational writing workshops dedicated to helping women of all ages craft personal stories from their own past.
As a truly gifted comedic actor, improv artist, and director (I met her when she directed me in a play and have adored her ever since), Pam excels in helping actors and writers give life to specific, detailed, truthful characters. In this Coffee Date, she shares the highs and lows in her life as a writer along with words of wisdom for those undertaking this often solitary, often mercurial pursuit.
Creating theatre in L.A.
One thing that is for certain about creating theatre in Los Angeles: it’s always a weird and sometimes long and usually winding road. Pamela Forrest can attest to that! She is an Ovation Award-winning playwright, director, actor, script consultant, and monologue/stand-up coach who has shepherded many an actor (including myself) through opening night or an Equity audition or a stand-up gig.
And I’ve been on the production side of theatre in this town as well. In this Coffee Date, Pam and I talk shop and swap stories… what it’s like to stand before a surprised cast and say “Hi, I’m your new replacement director” (which Pam’s done more than once!)… common problems that occur when actors produce their own shows… having to fire someone in your cast or crew… you know, juicy, problematic stuff like that.
Shifting from a full-time day job to a full-time performing career
Pam Tierney is an actress and voice over artist based in Chicago who has actually made the shift that so many folks talk about, dream about, and sometimes even attempt: she transitioned from a 40+ hour a week upper-level corporate job to life as a full-time artist.
Oh, but she was able to do it cuz she was young. (Nope.) Well, she had a spouse supporting her. (Nope.) So, she landed a series regular role. (Nope.) Okay then, she has family connections in the industry and/or a trust fund and/or a magic wand. (Nope, nope, and nope.) In this Coffee Date, Pam takes you through the highs and lows of how she made this transition and what life is like on “the other side.”
Developing an internet TV show
Peter Bedard is an actor, designer, author, entrepreneur, community activist, AND creator and host of Create Your Health, a website, media platform, and internet TV show spotlighting alternative health resources.
Peter is someone with the tenacity of spirit to turn his dreams into reality. The road has not always been easy, for sure, and during our Coffee Date he candidly shares the lessons he has learned throughout the process of creating, pitching, producing, filming, and broadcasting his show.
Creating and funding a short film
After graduating with an MFA from Yale, Phil Kaufmann divided his time between acting, directing, producing, and teaching – first in New York and later in L.A.
For this Coffee Date, I asked him to share his experiences producing and directing his 15-minute short film Living In Walter’s World, which starred Ethan Phillips (Star Trek Voyager), Armin Shimerman (Star Trek: Deep Space 9) and Stephan Furst (Animal House). Phil totally came through and offers us a detailed map of what it takes to go from “hey, this is a cool idea” to “it’s ready for the festivals.”
Maximizing work in commercials
Immediately after graduating from Northern Michigan University, Porter Kelly started her professional acting career touring in several shows with the prestigious Missoula Children’s Theatre Company (visiting 37 states and 3 Canadian provinces). Performing theatre in Chicago was next – where she graduated from the Second City Conservatory – and then she returned to L.A., where our paths crossed.
Porter has booked lots of commercials (we’re talking high double digits) and she teaches a very popular commercial audition workshop. I thought she’d be a terrific person to sit down with and compare notes about the best ways to increase opportunities for work in the world of commercials.
Working in the world of motion capture
Richard Dorton is one of the top motion capture performers in the field. He’s a stunt man and stunt coordinator as well as a motion capture consultant, director, and producer. His very first game was Scooby Doo! Night of 100 Frights in which he played Shaggy – and almost 80 other characters! He has performed motion capture in video games, feature films, television series, and commercials.
I knew very little about this (growing) area of the industry but, considering the popularity of films like Avatar (and the issues that particular film brought forth regarding the union governance of motion capture performing vs. on-camera acting), I thought having a Coffee Date with this seasoned veteran would be a fascinating and enlightening conversation.
Pursuing your passions
Rita Maye Bland is a true Renaissance woman. Since graduating from CalArts, she has worked steadily in the spotlight and behind the scenes as an actress, dancer, choreographer, producer, and casting director – including for some major concert tours: Rihanna, Britney Spears, Madonna, American Idol, Dancing With The Stars, etc.
She is someone who can speak to the rewards of hard work, the value of extending your career through diversification, and the pleasure of pursuing your passions. I wanted to have a Coffee Date with her because she is someone who has created her varied and successful career by being true to herself and defining success on her own terms.
Networking despite the nerves
I’m a big advocate of having Coffee Dates with people outside of your own field. Often you will find that they have dealt with many of the same issues you are dealing with as an actor (like networking) and often they will be able to offer guidance from a perspective that’s different from what you’d receive from your own colleagues or peers.
When Sean Inman was laid off from a job he’d held for 12 years, he decided he wanted to pursue work in a totally different industry, but openings were scarce and he didn’t have many professional connections. Despite being shy and very new to networking, he extended himself anyway. A little over a year later, he is known and liked by most of the L.A.-based movers and shakers in his niche. We go step-by-step through how he made that happen.
Creating a web series
In fact, Shanna was the inspiration for this whole Coffee Date series because I had sent many, many folks her way to hear exactly how she shot the ten episodes of that web series, how she Taft-Hartley-ed herself (and several other actors) into SAG, and how her series became a finalist in the New York Television Awards. Now that I’ve finally recorded her story she can relax and rest her voice.
Life as an international model
How does a gal from a teeny tiny town in Oklahoma become a model in Milan and then an actress in L.A.? Well, ever since I discovered that was Shelley Dennis’ story, I wanted to hear all the details – especially because she is one of the most sincere, grounded, and motivated Beautiful People I’ve ever met.
We discuss not only how these events unfolded and what life as a working model was like, but also how these big transitions impacted her growth as an individual and as an artist. Shelley talks about leaving the nest, getting guidance, trusting her gut, and taking leaps of faith.
Developing and monetizing your own material
Troy Conrad is an internationally touring comedian, actor, writer, producer (and former college professor), who has been supporting himself with his art for years. I’ve watched Troy grow as an artist on the indie comedy circuit and I marvel at how he has learned to patiently nurture an idea to its full potential and maximize his opportunities (case in point: Set List: Standup Without A Net which he created and turned into a TV show and Nerdist web series).
Troy’s work is sharp and hilarious and it has helped him attract established comedic talent as collaborators and mentors. During this Coffee Date, Troy generously shares some great suggestions about how to take a good idea and run with it (including his step-by-step method of getting publicity and putting butts in seats).
Being an actor and a mom
Lilas Lane, Paula Price, Milby Barron, and Heather Gonzales are all talented actresses and moms in their thirties (give or take). That decade is an important one in the lives of most women because it is usually when some major life decisions get made – including whether or not to have children and, if so, when.
In this Coffee Date, these women share their perspectives on handling acting and motherhood, their thoughts on how becoming a mom impacted their acting careers, and some words of wisdom to those who are considering embarking on that same, significant journey.