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I’d like to share a moment I had last week.

On Thursday night I was standing backstage at Donny’s Skybox Theater, mentally preparing myself for my first show at The Second City: A full 30-minutes unscripted performance with Hugs and Pullups. As the team warmed up, I looked to my left and saw the above picture. I had to stop and take a moment.

John Candy, Dan Akroyd, Eugene Levy, Rosemary Radcliffe, and Gilda Radner.

“Oh boy,” I thought, “What am I getting myself into!?”

Call me crazy, but here were five of the most talented performers ever to rock Chicago all smiling (or, in the case of Eugene Levy, looking bad-ass) back at me, as if to say, “Hey JVB, go get ’em, tiger!” I was in their house, and they we’re welcoming me in.

The moment was incredibly humbling, and made me realize just how lucky we are to be professional actors. I mean, really… who could ask for a better job than this? Sure, it’s not exactly the most stable career, nor the most financially promising, but…oh, what the hell, I’ll say it: Acting is NEAT! It’s FUN! We get to do the same things, perform on the same stages, that our childhood idols got to? Sweet!!!

Here’s my point: Actors, let’s make sure to appreciate little moments like these that sneak up on us when we least expect them. They’re a great reminder as to why we’re here, what came before us, and what may lie ahead.

~JVB

PS – While writing this post, I accidentally misspelled “performers” several times, typing “perFROmers” instead. Clearly Eugene Levy’s 70’s-tastic hair has made an impression on me…

“I can’t believe I made that face!”

“Why do I keep moving my head so much?”

“I’m speaking way too loudly here…”

These are just a few of the self-critiques I made while watching the final cut of I Can’t Get No, a student film written and directed by Andrew Messer.

In my film acting class, I was told that some actors like to watch themselves on screen and spot areas they might need to work on, while others prefer not to, believing it only interferes. This leads to the question: Is it possible to accurately rate your own work? After all, you know your own face/expressions/voice better than anyone else, right? But can you really keep an objective point-of-view?

Myself, I’ve always preferred not to watch, simply because I usually wind up feeling bad about my acting. For some reason, I look right past all the good things about the performance and my brain only identifies the areas I could have done better, leaving me feeling embarrassed and deflated. Logic tells me that if I can get past my insecurities and watch myself with a constructively critical eye, then there can be room for tremendous growth as an actor. Plus, shouldn’t I be looking for footage I can use in my reel?

With that in mind, I’m going to opt for the path of most resistance and spend a little more time studying my own work after the fact. There’s a lot of upside in knowing thyself, and I intend to reap the benefits.

What do you think? Are you one of those people who prefers not to watch their own films? What’s your process? Is this an area where it might come in handy to go beyond film classes and hire an acting coach? I’d love to hear your thoughts!

~Joe VB

Whew!

Filming just wrapped for I Can’t Get No, a DePaul student film directed by Andrew Messer and starring some incredibly talented Chicago actors. We’ve spent the past two weeks shooting, re-shooting, hauling equipment, setting up lights, and staying up ’til 3AM perfecting this film. Needless to say, it was the best kind of exhausting there is.

I had the privilege of portraying Cal, a young man who is tired of living “unsatisfied in an unsatisfactory world.” One afternoon over lunch, Cal tells his best friend Jared that he intends to take his own life the following day. Playing this part, I encountered a number of acting challenges that forced me to step outside my “comfort zone.” But the more takes we shot, the more I felt the stage actor in me begin to relinquish control and let my natural instincts take over. I could feel my body becoming more aware of itself in front of the camera, and it felt great to watch the raw footage afterward and see the payoff. ๐Ÿ™‚

If you’re in Chicago and looking for a training center to learn and/or improve your on-camera technique, I recommend The Green Room Studio. I’ve only completed the first level of their program, but it has already helped me become a more confident film actor. Check it out!

~JVB

At a Las Vegas buffet, you can load your plate up to the ceiling and eat like a king without thinking twice.

In acting, I’d like to suggest another tactic: common sense. I learned this the hard way this week.

Between auditions/callbacks for student films, helping run the business side of an awesomely-ambitious improv team, planning a fund-raiser for my theatre company, and making weekly classes/rehearsals, I have worked myself sick.

Like…literally. Sick with a very stubborn flu.

And when you can’t really move, let alone get out of bed, the acting business changes.

  • You can’t answer emails.
  • You can’t tweet.
  • You can’t rehearse.
  • You can’t attend meetings.
  • You can’t perform.
  • You can’t go to your classes.

…and suddenly you find yourself way behind the pack on all these commitments you made. And in my case, that elevates stress and renders sleep and impossibility. Which is why I’m awake now, my very first morning of moderately good health, at 5AM writing e-mails and blogs, simply hoping to relieve that stress and get back on the same page with everyone so that I might actually get a couple hours of sleep before work.

HERE’S MY POINT:

FRIEND/LOVED ONE – “You do too much. You’ll work yourself sick.”

ACTOR – “Bah! I’m an ambitious young actor. Hard work equals success!”

FRIEND/LOVED ONE – “Yes, but you simply can’t say yes to every single thing that comes along, or you’ll get buried alive.”

ACTOR – “Bah! I’m an ambitious young actor. Hard work equals success!”

FRIEND/LOVED ONE – Punches ACTOR right square in the damn nose.

Trust me, that punch is the best thing that could happen for ACTOR. Don’t overdo it, kids. Hard work is super important, but you have to know when enough is enough for the time being.

You don’t wanna be the one at the Las Vegas buffet with no appetite and a fever, do you?

~JVB

…but I’m going to write a post about student films!

As you might know, my biggest goal for 2010 is to “break into” film acting. And by that, I simply mean to start filling the gaping void on my resume under the “Film” heading. My entire career has been spent on stage, so I figure it’ll be wise to explore a fun new medium.

My 3-part checklist:

  1. Get on ActorsAccess.com. Check! Such a great tool for actors!
  2. Submit, submit, submit! Check! I recommend paying the yearly $68 as opposed to the $2 for each submission. It makes submitting to multiple roles much easier!
  3. Kick ass! ๐Ÿ™‚

Columbia College, DePaul University, and The School of the Art Institute of Chicago are just a few institutions where the great filmmakers of tomorrow are getting their feet wet, and they deliver plenty of opportunity for aspiring on-camera actors to do the same.

Many of my colleagues complain about doing student films, insisting that the projects are somehow beneath them. Baloney! I have been having a ton of fun and learning so much along the way. I’m echoing Ben’s post in a few of these, but here are some realizations I’ve had about student films over the past couple weeks:

  1. Appreciate the journey. Take in every little moment of the process and appreciate its worth. How long did the commute take? How did the specific outfit you were wearing affect your audition? Are you noticing any common motifs from audition to audition? Classes are a fantastic tool, but you’ll do your best learning & growing on the playing field.
  2. If you’re not having fun, you’re not doing it right! Keep in mind that as actors, our primary job is to audition. Forget about trying to get the part: For these few minutes, you actually get to play the part! Have fun!
  3. Give them your best You. Gandhi said, “Whenever you have truth it must be given with love, or the message and the messenger will be rejected.” The easiest thing you can do in an audition is to be professional and smile! Show up early and prepared! Treat every audition like the biggest audition of your life, and leave the casting director with a favorable impression of you as a person. Accomplish that, and the rest comes much more easily.

I have booked two film projects for the coming week, and I went on three more auditions yesterday. Line memorization has claimed almost all my free time. My CTA fare card is tapped out, and I have been going to bed exhausted at 10:00pm.

Living. The. Dream. ๐Ÿ™‚

~JVB

My fellow blogger Ben recently wrote about the importance of having a copy of your headshot and resume with you at all times. I’d like to reinforce that mantra with a real life example…

Yesterday at my day job (for those who don’t know, I work as a server at an Italian restaurant), I had a table of two gentlemen come in for lunch. I immediately recognized one of the two as a prominent Chicago theatre director, and my mind began racing.

Do I dare say something? Introduce myself as anything other than their server? Run the risk of ruining their perfectly good lunch by an unwelcome chat about the business?

“Nah, better not,” I thought, opting instead to keep my mouth shut and do my job. Throughout their meal, I overheard them talking about recent shows they’ve seen in Chicago, the state of theatre as an art form, and the commercialization of the American musical. The whole time, I wanted to chime in, but I held my tongue.

Then came the shocker: At the end of their meal, the director actually asked me if I had a headshot and resume I could give him! I was surprised, but answered with a confident “Yes, actually!” I retrieved them from my backpack and handed them both to the director. He explained that he recognized me from an audition that I had given about a year ago. We stood around talking theatre, laughing, and sharing stories for a few minutes before they eventually left.

I don’t know if anything will come of it, or why he even asked for them in the first place, but it felt AWESOME to be able to make the connection!

So actors: ALWAYS be sure to have a copy of your headshot and resume on you wherever you go, even if you think you won’t need it! You never ever know… ๐Ÿ™‚

~JVB

Hello faithful readers! It’s only fair that I let you know…

I’ve decided to quit acting and enroll in culinary school. It’s just too hard to make a career in theatre/film, so I’m pursuing my true dream to open my own restaurant in Las Vegas!

Click here to see my first recipe! It’s downright delicious. ๐Ÿ˜‰

~JVB


1. Tanning (Curse these English genes!)

2. Cooking (Damn these non-microwavable foodstuffs!)

3. Dancing (Blast these “in-desperate-need-of-a-GPS” feet!)

4. Film Acting (Confound these “stage-exclusive” chops!)

The first three I can deal with. That’s why God invented Hot Pockets, Dance Dance Revolution, and chicks who dig pale dudes. But no WAY am I about to settle for #4.

As of last Wednesday, I am enrolled in the On-Camera Training Program at Chicago’s The Green Room Studio, a training center for actors of all experience levels who are looking to brush up on their on-camera acting skills. According to their website, the program’s mission is to “not only educate actors in the skills required in on-camera acting, but to bring the actor to a place of full ownership of these tools.” you can learn more by visiting their website at www.thegreenroomstudio.tv.

Seeing as how I’m still looking to find an agent, I figure this will be a huge step toward achieving my goals. But the real benefit comes in the form of education and experience, where I currently have none. Having attended our first class meeting, I can already tell that I’ll be learning and growing a TON over the next 8 weeks! I can’t wait to start feeling more comfortable in front of the camera, and I look forward to sharing the ups and downs with you!

Now, where can a fella get some Bagel Bites around here?…

~JVB

You’re gonna call me crazy by the end of this.

As I was leaving my apartment yesterday, my eyes inexplicably darted to the bottom shelf of my living room bookcase. My roommates and I only keep “decorative” books on this bookshelf: Books that we don’t really read, but that we want visitors to think we read. (Have you actually tried reading The Audacity of Hope? Zzzzz…) But something caught my eye that made me stop and take another look.

Breaking Into Acting for Dummies.

One question sprang to mind: “Where the heck did this book come from? I’m sure none of my roommates have mentioned it before, and it certainly isn’t mine.” I quickly flipped through the pages and noticed that some helpful passages and tips had been circled or marked in pink highlighter. Without giving it a second thought, I stuffed it into my backpack and headed out the door for work.

Over the past 24-hours, I have read the first hundred pages of the book, and it is amazing how much it has affected my outlook! I started compiling a list of Chicago-based talent agencies that are union franchised and accept submissions by mail. I’ve got the names, addresses, and required submission materials of eight major agencies, and I will submit to all of them over the next week. As I write this blog post, I have a separate window open where I am crafting unique cover letters for each agency.

I realize that it will be hard for me to get an agency’s attention right now. After all, there is giant gaping void that is the “Film” portion of my resume. But I’m tired of not trying. As Dale Carnegie put it, โ€œDo the thing you fear to do and keep on doing it… that is the quickest and surest way ever yet discovered to conquer fear.โ€ย  So if the very worst should happen, and I don’t hear back from any of them, then I can spend a few months adding to my resume and try again!

Here’s the crazy I warned you about: I can’t help but wonder what it was that made me stumble across Breaking Into Acting for Dummies (Even though I was already aware of most of the information it has offered up, the change it has inspired is undeniable). Was this the Universe trying to push me along the path of destiny?

Jesus, I’m starting to sound like John Locke…

~JVB

P.S. – For all you Chicago actors, I’ve added links for some of Chicago’s top union-affiliated agencies, including all to which I’m submitting this week. You can find them in the Chicago section of our Three Cities page. Hope they help! ๐Ÿ™‚ If you know of any agencies that you’d like to see added to the list, or if you have a similar story you’d like to share, feel free to share it in the comments section for this post! I’d love to hear what you have to say! ๐Ÿ™‚

I wanted to take a moment to thank all of our amazingย  Playbills Vs. Paying Bills readers. When Ben, Emily, and I started this blog back in September, I had no idea there would be so many of you interested in what a nerdy kid from Colorado had to say about acting. You all have been an inspiration to us, and we look forward to continue providing helpful stories, resources, and advice for our fellow aspiring actors in the three greatest cities in the world! ๐Ÿ™‚ Thanks, guys!

Additionally, many of our Chicago readers were able to make it to the Hugs and Pullups & FDR improv fund-raiser last night at Clark St. Bar. We had a larger-than-expected turnout and were able to make enough money to cover a significant portion of the rental fees for the performance space! ๐Ÿ™‚ I can’t thank you all enough for coming out on a Monday evening in support of the arts. It’s a true testament to the strength of the theatre/improv community in this great city. Get ready for a fantastic month of shows, guys! It should be loads of fun.

~JVB

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