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Sunday, September 1, 2013

Who is TAE, and What Exactly is Career Coaching?


Many of you have been reading this blog faithfully year after year, gathering little nuggets of knowledge about this wild business of acting. And most of you know that I write these blogs based on my experiences as a professional actor and a business/career coach for actors.

But have you ever wondered what career coaching actually looks like? What do I do at The Actors’ Enterprise? Well, look no further!

Thanks to Andrew Poretz, from Ingenuity Coaching, I just completed a fun, conversational interview that explores concept of career coaching for actors. We talk about my acting career and early corporate career, and how they blend together when I am coaching actors on marketing, PR, organization, time management, and audition/interview technique. We share stories about coaching, and even come up with an idea of creating a “Koaches Karaoke” event!

So, check out this fun podcast interview on BlogTalkRadio: Coaches Corner. You can listen right here, or you can download it for free through iTunes.



Have a comment or question? Leave it by clicking below!

Erin Cronican's career as a professional actor and career coach has spanned the last 25 years in New York City, Los Angeles and San Diego. She has appeared in major feature films and on television, and has done national tours of plays and musicals. She has worked in the advertising & marketing departments of major corporations, film production companies, theater magazines, and non-profit acting organizations. To learn more, check out http://www.theactorsenterprise.org.

Thursday, August 22, 2013

Making Money Using Your Acting Skills- Part I



Hey, everyone! Given that as actors we're constantly in a battle between making money and being artistic, I thought I'd write a series of blogs about different ways you can use your acting skills to make money. And I oughta know - I’ve done a crap ton of unique and crazy work all in the name of being a working actor.


Part 1- Standardized Patient for Medical Schools

Ever see the episode of "Seinfeld" where Kramer signs on to be a "fake patient" at a local hospital? (clip from show) Would you believe that these jobs actually exist? Ok, so the TV show over-dramatizes the job, but every day in medical schools throughout the country, actors are being used as "standardized patients” - allowing medical students and resident MDs to practice/test their clinical skills in a safe and controlled environment. This past week alone, I spent 3 days playing 3 different cases, and it is a heck of a lot of fun.

The scenarios we do have to be kept under wraps, because most involve national testing for medical students to get to the next level. But I thought I could still give you a little taste of what we do, and what the programs are like.

The idea behind using standardized patients (SPs) is one of fairness - if students are expected to see a patient in a testing situation, they have to make sure each student gets an identical test. Given that no two actual patients are the same, medical schools hire actors and train them to give an identical, precise performance. So, all SP work starts with thorough training on a specified case. We learn the back story of the character (which can be up to 15 pages of content, sometimes more) as well as the general demeanor while in the scenario - should the patient be frightened? Frustrated? Edgy? Easygoing? What kinds of clues should we give in our performance to indicate that there is something deeper going on, something that the student should dig for?

Then we make sure we understand all of the medical jargon that might be thrown at us, and we learn the correct (and incorrect) ways to do physical exam maneuvers. For example, did you know that they teach students to listen to the heart in 4 keys areas, and to compare the lungs, listening at a minimum of 3 levels -- and this is called auscultating? Did you know that testing for eye movements (“follow my finger”) can be used to see if a patient has hyperthyroidism? (indicated by eyelids that are slow to respond when the eye moves -- who knew?) I know more medical terminology and practices than I ever thought possible. It’s pretty awesome to be on the inside track of this amazing profession.

Then comes the fun part - doing the actual scenarios. This is improv at its finest, because despite training on a case and knowing your character cold, you never know what kind of questions will be thrown at you. Just yesterday, I (as the character) told the student that I have two kids. Instead of them asking how old the kids were, the student asked me how old I was when I had my kids. (Say wha?? I was not prepared for that! I mean- c'mon, I majored in theater so I wouldn't have to do math on the fly.) But somehow I was able to stall the student while I did the math in my head. Other times, I haven’t responded so gracefully. One November several years ago, the student asked, “What costumes did your kids wear for Halloween?” I froze, then blurted out, "We don't celebrate holidays!” leading to a few seconds of awkward silence. (Yeah... not my finest moment.) But now I always try to guess what kind of small talk the doctor will do (“where do you live?” “what do you do for fun?”) and then come up with something appropriate for the character. The good news is that those little details can vary from SP to SP - not everything has to be strictly the same so there is some room for creativity.

Finally, the SP is charged with leaving feedback about the encounter. Sometimes, feedback is given to the student verbally, involving the SP telling the student how it felt to be their patient. But most of the time, the SP fills out a digital checklist at the end of the encounter, which notes the student’s success in the areas of history taking, physical exam and communication.

This is where it gets tricky - we wear “two hats” as an SP. On the one hand, we’re a patient with a full history, complete with thoughts, feelings and fears. On the other hand, we’re an educator, going through a mental checklist while answering questions to make sure the student has the opportunity to cover everything on the exam checklist. This means that both sides of the brain are working at once, and it can be easy to become overloaded or confused. Often, an SP will see 12-14 students in a given day in 15-30 minute encounters. At the beginning of the day it’s easy to remember which questions you’ve answered and which you haven’t. But at the end of the day, when you’ve answered the same batch of questions 12 times, you start to become a little fuzzy on which items this student asked and which they missed. So, a sharp mind and good memory are essential for the job.

One of the greatest things about SP for work actors is that it is very flexible. Much like temp work, once you are in the system they notify you when work comes up in your age range/type. If you’re available, you do the program. If not, they’ll ask again for the next program. Therefore, as an SP I can take on as much work as possible when not working on a film or theater project, and then take a break from SP work when I’m working elsewhere as an actor.

As an actor, SP work is fabulous training, particularly in the practice of “the illusion of the first time.” Recently, I had to see 14 students as a part of the Compass II 3rd Year exam. Each student needed to have the exact same portrayal, so each time there was a knock on the door, I had to reset for a brand new encounter, as though I’d never done it before. This is where my work on film sets comes in real handy. And for those of you who subscribe to the Stanislavski and/or Strasberg techniques, being an SP is a fabulous way to practice sensory work.

If you’re interested in doing this kind of work, your best bet is to contact the medical schools in your area and ask for the department that handles standardized or simulated patients (usually the department of medical education.) You can often find that information on the school’s website or you can just call the main switchboard. I did some basic research for NYC, LA and Chicago, and here are a few of the major medical schools. (Note- not all schools have their own program - they may share in a single SP program. For example, many NY/NJ/CT schools use Mount Sinai’s Morchand Center for their testing. Contact each school for more information...):

NYC Area: Mount Sinai School of Medicine, Weill Cornell Medical College, NYU School of Medicine, Kaplan Medical, City College of NY, Clinical Competence Center of NY

Chicago Area: U of Chicago School of Medicine, Northwestern University, University of Illinois at Chicago

LA Area: USC School of Medicine, UCLA School of Medicine,

Here is a list of programs from the Association of Standardized Patient Educators (though, it does not appear to be complete. I happen to know that there is a robust program at UCSD Medical School in San Diego, but it is not listed.)

Added Bonus: (Because at The Actors’ Enterprise, we think you deserve bonuses every now and then!)  As I was searching for the clip from Seinfeld, I came across some spoof videos about standardized patients. Now, granted, some of these might be more like inside jokes for folks already involved in med school or with SP work, but I thought they were worth sharing... Clip 1 / Clip 2 / Clip 3 / Clip 4. Enjoy!

What do you think? How many of you have done SP work, and what schools have you worked with? We’d love to hear about your experiences (especially the funny ones!)

Have a comment or question? Leave it by clicking below!

Erin Cronican's career as a professional actor and career coach has spanned the last 25 years in New York City, Los Angeles and San Diego. She has appeared in major feature films and on television, and has done national tours of plays and musicals. She has worked in the advertising & marketing departments of major corporations, film production companies, theater magazines, and non-profit acting organizations. To learn more, check out http://www.theactorsenterprise.org.

(This article was originally published at  Playbills Vs Paying Bills)

Thursday, December 6, 2012

10 Sacrifices An Actor Makes

Featured Article: Backstage Experts!
Being an actor is amazing. You get to “play” for a living, embrace your creativity, and sometimes, if you’re lucky, earn a very good living at it. But there are also so incredible setbacks and sacrifices that an actor makes as they pursue the Silver Screen, the Small Screen, or the Great White Way.

So what exactly are you giving up?

10. Social Life. There is a reason that, “I can’t, I have rehearsal” is emblazoned on t-shirts at thespian festivals and significant others are known as “theater widows.” You’ll create intimate relationships with new castmates at lightning speed, only to have those relationships crumble when the project ends.

9. Leaving Town. Every time I go on vacation, someone contacts me asking me to audition or offers a role outright. The size of the opportunity seems in direct proportion to how far away I am from home. It’s gotten to the point that I’m afraid to leave town for even a day, let alone a weekend or even a week.

8. Security. Ah… to know where your next paycheck is coming from. That would be great, wouldn’t it?

7. Life and Limb (due to Paper Cuts). C’mon, admit it. How many times have you given yourself a paper cut while stuffing your headshot, resume, and cover letter into that pesky 9x12 envelope. See? You’re cringing. Enough said.

6. The Time/Space Continuum. Thank goodness for Facebook and Twitter. Seriously, without these things, I would never know what day it is. I’m a solo-entrepreneur and an actor, which means I work from home and make my own schedule. This also means I have to have a calendar nearby to function. There is no one around to tell me how much they hate Mondays, or a day job to let me know when a weekend is approaching. What’s worse, there’s no one to remind me to “Fall Backward” or “Spring Forward." I run the risk of being an hour late or early as least twice a year.

5. Stability. A few years ago, I was shooting the title role in an indie feature, and my leading man was forced to leave the film to take a theater job out of town. Why? He thought he had plenty of daytime hours to shoot the film while he was appearing in the brand new Broadway musical, “High Fidelity.” You remember that one, right? The one that closed after 10 days of performances. All of the sudden, the sure thing of Broadway was a figment of his imagination, and he was on the hunt for another job. It was heartbreaking.

4. Birthdays. Monday is my birthday, and in the first part of the day I’m doing a reading of a musical, in the early evening I have a meeting for my theater company, and then I’m teaching a master class in social media to my company members. There’s no time to celebrate my birthday that day, nor the days before or after because every other day of the week we’re in rehearsal for our upcoming show that opens at the end of the month. So, add not celebrating your special day as a huge sacrifice on this list.

3. Health. Not only is it difficult to afford health insurance (or earn enough to qualify for union insurance) but our schedules are so erratic that we often eat food that’s bad for us, drink way too much, and exercise way too little. Well, at least our ECC Dance Calls give us a little exercise, right?

2. Tattoos, Odd Hair Colors, Piercings. You’d think that as an actor you’d have the luxury of being able to express yourself in any way you please. Not so much. Our level of expression is limited by the “type” we portray. The last time I checked, Laurey in "Oklahoma" did not have a punk red stripe in her hair. Drats.

And… the number one sacrifice that actors make?

1. Sleep. Film & TV actors are regularly on set for 12-14 hours. Theater actors get up early for auditions and stay up late for performances. We squeeze in day jobs and time to memorize lines, to go to the post office and pay our taxes. Add to that the juggling of items 2-10 on this list, and you can just kiss that 8 hours of beauty rest goodbye.

So, with all of that bad news, why do we do it? Are we crazy? Yes, a little, because we love it, despite all of that. We actors are living historians, yearning to share ourselves with the world in the stories we tell. We need to do it. We burn to do it. And that’s pretty wonderful.

Big shout out to Twitter follower, @TomRomero2, who gave me some inspiration for this article.

Note: This article was originally published by Backstage in their November 22 issue, and on their website

Have a comment or question? Leave it by clicking below!

Erin Cronican's career as a professional actor and career coach has spanned the last 25 years in New York City, Los Angeles and San Diego. She has appeared in major feature films and on television, and has done national tours of plays and musicals. She has worked in the advertising & marketing departments of major corporations, film production companies, theater magazines, and non-profit acting organizations. To learn more, check out http://www.theactorsenterprise.org.


Wednesday, October 10, 2012

Are Bad Reviews Useful?


I was going through my archives, when I found this article that I wrote for the Green Room Blog in 2011. As I read through it, I realized that this top will forever be… well, topical, and certainly worth discussing again. I’ve also recommitted recently to opening up more about myself on this blog - what makes me tick, how my work as an actor makes an impact on my coaching, etc. So, check out this article on how to deal with bad reviews - and why should anyone care?


***

May 6, 2011 - Ok, so I have a confession to make. I’ve been away for a really long time. Like, more than a month. But I have a really good reason -- I was in a play. Correction: I was in a play by Shakespeare! After a long rehearsal process where we spent much of the time improv-ing the scenarios of the play to develop a rich sense of purpose and history for the characters, we opened “TWELFTH NIGHT” at the end of March for a three week run into mid April.

For the most part, it was a successful run. We sold tickets. We had names added to our mailing list. We consistently had donations dropped into the bucket as patrons left the theater each night. Audiences remarked on how accessible we had made the Shakespearean language, and how much they appreciated the subtlety with which we told the story. We had patrons come back to see the show again and again, which is no small feat given that it is a three hour show (we made no cuts to the script.)

Which is why it was all the more puzzling that nearly every reviewer had this to say about what we were doing:
“We really love The Seeing Place Theater and their realistic, ensemble driven approach, but we think it’s a mistake to do ’subtlety’ with Shakespeare.”
Give or take a few words.

And those were just the critics who agreed to post their reviews. Some reviewers loved our theater company so much that they neglected to review it at all, stating that they’d rather remain mute than hurt our reputation with a terrible review. (That was nice of them. I think.) There were also some audience members who had a hard time with the fact that Shakespeare was being played as though each characters had a life offstage and an arc. Some were self-proclaimed Shakespeare scholars -- but most were people who had simply seen the play before and had a certain expectation going in. Given how untraditional our rehearsal process was, I was certainly prepared for some response of the kind.

As an actor I try to pretend that reviews don’t matter. In the grand scheme of things, they don’t -- I’ll still give the performance that my director, ensemble and I have built together over hard-won and long-thought-out rehearsals. But day to day as an actor, reviews provide many highs and lows. You get to a point that you no longer read the good reviews because you are trying to avoid the bad ones. On the other hand, I always tell my students that getting a bad review means that you’ve made it to the next level - you’re now someone that the audience has to contend with. :) I still laugh about the time I was called the “nadir” of a production. (I had to look that word up. I was shocked.) I thought, “My goodness- I must have been doing some risky things with a big role to be hated that much!” It’s those thoughts that make being reviewed a slightly saner process.

All reviews, good or bad, are valid when they’re well written and thought out -- we may not agree but that’s the joy of living in a free society. But this last production got me thinking about the nature of reviews and their value:. I pose these question to you, faith readers of Bite-Size Business for Actors:

Who are the real critics in the theater? The reviewers? Or the audiences?

Who would you rather listen to when choosing to see a show?

Many sites, like TheaterMania, allow patrons to log on and leave reviews of what they’ve seen. Would you be more apt to judge a show based on a cross section of the audience, or would you still hold the reviewers opinions as top dog?

POST A COMMENT BELOW, AND GET IN ON THE CONVERSATION!
If you have thoughts about reviews, or want to share a story about how you determine which shows to see, I’d love to know about it. Leave a comment so we can all learn from you!

PS: If you like the play, “TWELFTH NIGHT” you might be interested to know that, during one show, I live-tweeted as the character, Maria! I posted a transcript, adorned with production photos, on my acting blog. Enjoy!

PPS: In researching for this article, I found a neat article on the value of bad reviews, written about the book industry. Click here to enjoy!


Have a comment or question? Leave it by clicking below!

Erin Cronican's career as a professional actor and career coach has spanned the last 25 years in New York City, Los Angeles and San Diego. She has appeared in major feature films and on television, and has done national tours of plays and musicals. She has worked in the advertising & marketing departments of major corporations, film production companies, theater magazines, and non-profit acting organizations. To learn more, check out http://www.theactorsenterprise.org.

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