Hollywood 101 Recap Part 2!

Hey everyone! It’s that time of the year when I like to stop for a moment, recap and catch everyone up on the exciting blog entries I’ve posted over the last 4 months. Ranging from When To Get An Agent to When To Leave Your Agent to What Is A Win to me dropping off my feature film script to James Franco’s production company, let’s take a stroll down memory lane from oldest blog entry to the newest:

 

Happy Birthday! https://wp.me/p8uI5M-iN

Taking It To The Next Level: https://wp.me/p8uI5M-jx

A Big Win With James Franco: https://wp.me/p8uI5M-jR

What Is A Win? https://wp.me/p8uI5M-mS

The Revolution Begins: https://wp.me/p8uI5M-os

When To Get An Agent Or Manager: https://wp.me/p8uI5M-6T

Happy 15th Anniversary! https://wp.me/p8uI5M-qq

Happy Labor Day Weekend! https://wp.me/p8uI5M-rq

Self-Tape Audition Adventures: https://wp.me/p8uI5M-rA

The Showrunner In Me: https://wp.me/p8uI5M-sx

Do You Celebrate? https://wp.me/p8uI5M-uj

A New Journey Begins: https://wp.me/p8uI5M-wo

The Power Of The Human Spirit: https://wp.me/p8uI5M-x6

Quick Tip: Callbacks https://wp.me/p8uI5M-xn

Pre-Production Begins! https://wp.me/p8uI5M-xx

When To Leave Your Agent: https://wp.me/p8uI5M-y5

Happy 15th Anniversary!

15years-majic-painting

Photo courtesy of Majic Painting

On August 26th, 2017, I celebrated 15 years of living in Los Angeles!!!!!!!!!!

I celebrated by attending a Moët champagne and Veuve Clicquot champagne taste testing, amongst other cool things!

I am so blessed and grateful for the journey that I have been on as a person and as an artist. I am blessed and grateful because I came here to create my dreams and I am still in the game. I am blessed and grateful because I am still living my dreams and enjoying them whereas I have seen countless others give up on theirs. I can’t tell you how blessed I am that I am still living my dreams. I am blessed and grateful to have turned many no’s into yes’s. I am blessed and grateful that I have changed perceptions and enlightened many people on what I can do by honestly being who I am. I learned who I really am by moving to Los Angeles, living on my own and becoming an adult.

I was born and raised in Brooklyn. I went to Vassar College in Poughkeepsie, NY. I am from the East Coast. However, Los Angeles is my home and I look forward to the next 15 years here.

I want to thank the following people and things that have contributed to my experience here in Los Angeles. This is just a sampling and not a comprehensive list:

My family: both biological and the ones I’ve created here

My friends past and present

My teachers past and present

Relationships past and present

Places of employment

My former co-workers

Past apartments I’ve lived in

My agents past and present

Actors

Co-stars

Casting Directors

Directors

Producers

Writers

Various crew members who also make the magic happen

Concerts

Writers Retreat

The beaches

Madonna

Harvey Weinstein

RuPaul

Drag Queens

James Franco

Jennifer Garner

Evangeline Lilly

Ryan Murphy

 

Happy Anniversary!!!!!!!!

 

 

A Big Win With James Franco!

Hey everyone!

Last Sunday, I mentioned that I was taking a big action for my career on Monday, July 24th. That I was taking an action that would move one of my projects significantly closer towards my goal for it. I also mentioned this was a project I had been diligently working on since November 2014 and I postulated how everything would go on Monday.

The project was my feature film script that I wrote with James Franco in mind to play the villain and I successfully dropped it off to his production company!!! Shortly after I dropped off my script, my management company emailed his production office a PDF copy of my script! And let me say that this wasn’t an unsolicited drop off. This was a result and culmination of all the hard work I’ve done to get to this point. And I am filled with extreme gratitude and pride.

Monday was a lesson and RECONFIRMATION of many things.

#1 Postulates. I saw exactly how the drop off would go. I saw how the conversation would go with the contact person at his production office. I saw it so clearly. Now, on the day of, there were a couple of hilarious twists and turns that were thrown into the mix, but they still led me to the postulate I had. Everything played out how I saw it in my mind. And because I saw it in my mind, I was able to deliver my product successfully in person.

#2 Community. I could not have done this without the support of my teacher, my trusted classmates and friends. Richard Lawson for teaching me what it means to create your own career and to go after it. My classmates for asking me the next question when I would present my script in class and when I would present ideas I had to create exposure for it (e.g. From having a table read to creating an extensive social media campaign) Lindsay Hopper for researching and gathering info the week before. Reed Iacarella for being the best assistant a person could have. You are a great cheerleader!

#3 Research. Knowing what I’m walking into. Knowing who the buyers are. Speaking their language and vibe. When you take the time to do research and be thoughtful about your outflow to someone, it makes a difference. Research creates an honest connection and it was incredibly satisfying to see items that I had already been outflowing to them in their possession.

#4 Always be nice to the gatekeepers! They are the first line of defense: Security guards, receptionists, assistants, etc. We were so nice to the gatekeeper and treated them like a fellow human being, that they quickly became our ally. When we arrived, the person we were looking for wasn’t there yet. We waited. We knocked on the door. We made a phone call. We then decided to go downstairs and because we were so nice to the gatekeeper, they asked us how it went. When we told them that our contact person wasn’t there, they immediately said, “Wait, I just saw them go upstairs. Go back up there!” They wanted us to successfully complete our meeting.

#5 Celebrate. After all was said and done, I celebrated and let it go. I focused on that win. What happens afterwards, happens afterwards. The win was that I delivered my script to James and his staff. My manager also delivered my script to them. That’s the win. I delivered my product. The rest is out of my hands now. I DELIVERED my product and the rest is now out of my hands.

That being said, I WILL finish my social media campaign today (Sunday) just to complete that cycle of action (and so everyone can see all the cool celebrity endorsements I utilized to create visibility for my feature film) And I’ve already begun working on securing an attachment for the female hero and lead of my feature film script.

Onward and forward!

Assassins (Wanna Produce Theater?)

Hello! Hope you’re all doing well! I love paying it forward and this week’s blog entry is a GUEST BLOG! My brilliantly talented friends are doing an exciting production of Stephen Sondheim’s “Assassins” in May! And here to share some lessons and tips of producing for the theater is Lindsay Hopper, one of the producers of Assassins.

Lindsay, take it away!

Adventures in Producing a Musical, From Start to Finish.

By: Lindsay Hopper

As a film producer, I’ve been fortunate enough to find my routine, my preferences, my people. When all of those things are in place, my job is easy. Well, as easy as it can be when putting together all pieces of a film puzzle in place, Richard Lawson, my mentor, always says “prior planning prevents poor performance” and I couldn’t agree with him more. And while I adore film and working on a set, this year I got to a point where I could no longer ignore my first love: theatre. More specifically, musical theatre. I grew up in a world where people would sing and dance to express themselves, where the magic of storytelling happened in the beat of a drum or the playing of a chord. So naturally, when I was approached by my dear friend and talented colleague back in July and he said “let’s do a musical”, I was all in. This has been one of my biggest dreams for as long as I can remember, and while I always thought it would happen later in my career, now was the time! I’ve produced a number of different projects, how hard could it be to produce a musical?

Famous last words.

We did everything backwards. Everything. I’ll admit it. But you know what? We made it go right. And the result is going to be something full of more of the magic I talked about before than I ever thought was possible.

Last week, a friend of mine asked me: “What would you have done differently”. The easy response would have been: “Everything”. But instead, I thought about it. And in thinking about it, I realized I now know how to do this!

So what are the steps in producing theatre? (and I recommend doing them in this order)

Find a venue. We had a theatre lined up but it was still being built. Our goal is still to eventually mount our show there but had we had a solidified location for our show, a location that was already built and established, this process would have been smoother from the get go.

Have money. Seriously. Film you can produce guerilla style on no budget while borrowing, begging and making everything you may need. Not in the theatre. The amount of things you need money for, from the licensing (if it’s not an original play) to the props to the musicians, if it’s a musical, is astounding. Seriously, I could have made like 8 short films for the cost of this small show we’re doing.

Design the show first. Everything from props to lighting to sound should be put in place before you even start working on the show. It’s really hard to make a budget if you don’t know how much it’s going to cost to create the director’s vision. Think about what you’ll need to buy. Think about who you’ll need to hire. And how much all of that will cost. Once this step is done, you can make a pretty realistic budget and you’ll have a good grasp on how things will need to be structured.

Find the licensing and purchase the rights to the show. And yes, this can be expensive. Could you do a play without the rights? I mean, logistically, yes. You can easily go to Samuel French, purchase the play and say “I want to do this show, and we’ll do it for 6 weeks and charge for tickets and it will be great!” but you could get in a lot of trouble. Writers need to make money too!

Hire a kickass PSM (production stage manager) and stage management team and make a schedule. Ahead of time. Seriously. Without this, you’ll cast people and then all the sudden they tell you they won’t be there for the dress rehearsal and all hell breaks loose. Having a schedule allows the people you bring on to work their schedules around your project from the get go!

Cast the show! This is the fun part. And in my case, I really achieved one of my biggest dreams because I was able to cast all my talented friends and have been so fortunate to work along side of them and their art for the last 4 months. This is really where the magic is.

Rehearse, rehearse, rehearse. Everything. Rehearse with as many props, food, costume items you can, as early as you can. Drill the songs over and over again. Run the scenes multiple ways. Practice the lights, the sound cues, transitions to and from the stage. All of these things need to be rehearsed so that the magic can live at the performances and not be clouded by logistics.

Have fun. This is the most important thing. Theatre is not a huge money maker, but, as I keep saying, it’s magical. This is why we do it. So always come back to that, because it’s what will keep you going. The last thing you want is to resent your child, and I’ll tell you, producing a show is like having a child.

Our show opens in 5 days and I don’t think I’ve ever learned as much as I have over the last four months at any other point in my life. But the most important things I’ve learned is to hold on to gratitude and enjoy the process. It’s a hard road but it’s worth it 1000 times over, and I can’t wait to see everything come to life.

All The Feels Productions production of Assassins (by Stephen Sondheim) opens at the Lyric Hyperion Theatre in Silverlake (Los Angeles) on May 5th and runs for 2 weekends (May 5, 6 & 12 @ 8pm, May 7 & 13 at 2pm and May 14 @ 6pm)

Tickets are available online at allthefeelsassassins.brownpapertickets.com

You can also support the show by donating to their production at www.gofundme.com/allthefeelsassassins

Demo Reel Tips

A demo reel or a theatrical reel is a collection of short scenes that showcases your best work as an actor. It lets the viewer know what you’ve done, but more importantly, it shows them the kind of characters you can play. A reel can also be used in the voiceover world, the music world, the directing world, the producing world, etc.

The following are tips I have learned and applied for myself and have shared with others in my artistic community.

**Your reel should be concise and to the point for maximum impact. Your scenes should be 30-35 seconds max. Nobody will sit through a 5-minute, 7-minute, and in some cases I’ve seen, a 10-minute reel! Too freaking long! Trust that people are actually smart and intuitive. They get your casting and your ability to play the part in seconds. Each scene on a reel should give the person watching it just enough to leave them wanting more. Find the “heart” of the scene where you’re shining as your character, where we see the height of what’s going on, hook your viewer with that section and then move on to the next scene.

**Don’t use multiple scenes from the same episode or film in your reel. We already saw you as the U.S. Senator in “House of Cards” or “Scandal” in the beginning of your reel, so we don’t need to see you again as that same U.S. Senator later on in your reel. Similarly, if we already saw a clip of you as a detective from one show, we don’t need to see you playing five other detectives from five other shows on your reel. We got it the first time! You’re a detective! Are the other five detectives going to be vastly different from the first detective we saw? Don’t be redundant. Get to the point. Show us other castings. I think people do that to show off the number of credits they have. They want to show that they have been on numerous network shows or feature films. Remember: Quality vs. Quantity. Things will all look and sound the same if you put five detective scenes on your reel. Pick your best detective scene and let people go to your IMDB page to see the rest of your credits.

**Production value! If you’re just starting out and want to create your reel or if you’ve been in the business for a while and want to update your reel, you can generate your own material and shoot it yourself. Shoot it with high production value so that it can stand up to things that were professionally shot. And for me, production value includes:

  1. Utilizing a great camera.
  2. Utilizing great sound equipment.
  3. Utilizing great lighting equipment.
  4. Having a small crew of people who are proficient with 1, 2 and 3. Also, having a small crew that can assist in other areas such as production assistance, script supervision, a first AD, etc.
  5. Writing a scene that puts you in your best, strongest light. A scene that brings out your great acting work. Going back to a scene being 30-35 seconds max, the rule of thumb is that one full page of text usually equates to one minute of screen time. So write a half page scene for your reel and keep the scene focused on you since it’s for your reel.
  6. Rehearsing with your scene partner to carve out the performance.
  7. Creating a simple, yet effective, shot list. Because this scene is for your reel and it’s to showcase you, a medium, dirty over-the-shoulder shot will do the trick! A dirty shot is a shot that contains some physical intrusion, usually in the form of a body part from another actor, like their shoulder, head, hand, leg or waist. The director may want to make the shot dirty to simply give a sense of distance between the two actors.–actinganswers.com

Here are two examples of a dirty over-the shoulder-shot:

This particular shot keeps us focused on you. It’s your reel. You’re the star. If you want to keep the shot static (where we don’t cut back to the other actor) then make the scene shorter. In this way, you lessen the risk of people losing interest in your scene since it has no one to cut back to. And because of the way the above shots are framed, you can set up a nice and simple production design in the background that gives us a sense of where we are.

**When you edit your reel, find the musical rhythm and flow of it. Is your first scene light and fun and then the rest of your reel alternates between dark and light scenes? Do you start your reel with something light and end it with something light? Do you have three procedural scenes next to each other that need to be broken up by a scene from a different genre? Depending on the scenes you’ve shot, you will arrange them on your editing timeline in a way that creates a musical rhythm and flow.

**As you play the scenes on your editing timeline, make cuts as needed. Going back to a scene being 30-35 seconds max, when you look at an entire scene you’ve shot, find the heart of the scene. Feel where the in and out points are in your 30-35 second clip. I’m really good at feeling the in and out points of a scene. As a dancer and as someone who loves music, I can feel where the scene should begin and where it should end. My body does this physical motion of when it feels the scene should begin and where it should end. I hope that makes sense LOL.

When I look at someone’s reel, I’m good at saying, “End the scene right there. Don’t go past that moment.”

Hope these tips help you!

ShondaLand Update!

So in last Sunday’s blog entry, “Yale + Harvard = ShondaLand?”, I shared with you all an assignment I received to read challenging material out loud for five minutes in the morning and five minutes at night for one full month. The objective was to train myself to pick up material cold, on the spot, and read from it with confidence and fluidity. This practice will help me with procedural auditions (cold readings in particular)

I decided to tackle articles from the Yale Law Review, the Harvard Medical Journal and the New England Journal of Medicine. I want these journals to be one of the tools I use to understand and get myself into a procedural world like ShondaLand.

Lord chile! I stumbled through all of the journals for the first fews days. I think I had a 70% success rate of ease and comfortability. The remaining 30% of challenge came from law and medical terms I was not familiar with. Or a series of large words that require effort and thought. Every time I stumbled, I would read the section over and over again until I nailed it.

DEFIBRILLATOR!

AORTIC!

UNILATERAL HUMANITARIAN INTERVENTION!

Critics of the criminalization of aggression adopt the same understanding of the internal normative posture of the law, but object to its classification alongside the other international crimes precisely because it privileges sovereignty over humanity. (Yale Law Journal. “Why Have We Criminalized Aggressive War?” by Tom Dannenbaum)

The cool thing I noticed was that I read each article as an actor. Meaning that even though I stumbled over unfamiliar words here and there, I still had a strong sense of storytelling. I understood setup and payoff with certain sections. I added emphasis in certain sections to drive a point home. I felt like I was delivering a speech to an assembled audience of doctors or lawyers and I wanted to make sure that my communication landed on them. That I was impinging them. That I was connecting to them.

One week down! Three more weeks to go! At some point, I’d love to film myself reading one of these articles cold and then sharing it with you all.

Yale + Harvard = ShondaLand?

I recently did a cold read audition in class. I had 10 minutes to prepare for this procedural type material. I was playing a character who was one of the top heart surgeons in the city. I quickly started making strong choices, but I found myself tripping over the medical terms. I realized that procedurals are an area where I need more strengthening. By the way, “procedural” is a term used to describe a type of television series: medical, law, cop/detective.

I did my cold read on camera and it went very well. When I watched my audition and assessed my work afterwards, I said that I was happy with what I created in 10 minutes. However, I could see that my attention was on making sure that I delivered the medical terms correctly first and that my performance came second. I was more focused on getting the words right then focusing on my performance.

So my teacher, Richard Lawson, gave me an assignment. Actually, he gave the entire class an assignment. Over the next month, he wants us to pick up and read challenging material out loud for five minutes in the morning and five minutes at night. In this way, we build certainty and strength in picking up challenging material and reading it cold out loud.

Like anything else, it’s about the reps. It takes practice. Some people are just naturally at ease when it comes to procedural terminology. For others, like myself, it takes practice. If I go in for any procedural show like Scandal or NCIS New Orleans or Chicago Med, I need to be comfortable with saying their words in a clear and confident way. Picking up challenging material and reading it out loud for the next month is going to be very helpful.

So I decided to read articles from the Yale Law Journal and the Harvard Medicine Magazine. I’ll also read articles from The New England Journal of Medicine.

In a month, we’re going to do cold read auditions again and he’s going to give us sides from procedural TV shows. It will be great to see how much I improve in picking up challenging procedural sides and reading them cold with more certainty and confidence.

Will Yale and Harvard lead me to ShondaLand?

Stay tuned!

How To PICK Your New Headshots

Okay! So you’ve had a successful headshot shoot. Hooray! Congratulations! You did it and you’ve celebrated all the hard and fun work you put into having a wonderful headshot shoot experience.

So, now what?

Depending on the photographer you’ve shot with, the length of time you spent shooting with them, the number of characters you shot, etc., you could end up with anywhere from hundreds of shots to choose from to over a thousand to choose from.

For a lot of actors, this is an agonizing process. How do I choose my favorite shots out of hundreds? Out of thousands? YIKES! YIKES! YIKES! The horror! The stress! Bite your fingernails, tear your hair out, run to a corner and sob violently!

“Not today, Satan, not today!” (Thank you Bianca Del Rio for creating that phrase!)

Actually, this process doesn’t have to be agonizing or painful. It doesn’t have to consume weeks of your life. Choosing your favorite shots can be a very easy process.

I want to share with you my process for how I made my final selects from the headshots I took on February 25th.

1) I go through each photo with a forward and intentional pace. I don’t linger on each photo for five minutes. Move with intention because the photos will either hit me on a gut level or not. Our instincts are incredibly powerful. We know what we know. A photo either hits me or it doesn’t. Those that hit me, I move them over to a new folder. I continue this process until I get to the last photo. Once I get to the last photo, see number 2.

2) I repeat the process to see if there are any other possible photos that hit me on a gut level.

3) I go to the new folder and call it “Selects”. I then go through each photo a little more carefully and make note of things that would disqualify the photo from making it into my final selects. For example, is the photo blurry? Do my eyes look a little dead in the photo? Is there a shadow across my face that maybe can’t be fixed in Photoshop? Am I blown out? I go through this folder to examine mistakes.

4) I weed out the photos that contain mistakes and I’m left with 56 photos in the “Selects” folder (By the way, we shot a total of 463 photos.) I go through the 56 photos to start narrowing down my personal favorites. I look at the subtext of my characters. I look for a secret in the characters’ eyes. Whenever I choose a favorite photo, I tag them (I work on a Mac, so I right click on the photo file name and choose “Tags”. Then, I choose a color to go next to the file name. I chose red.) The photos I don’t tag as my personal favorites are still kept in the “Selects” folder because they are still strong contenders and I want to have options to present to my community and to my agent. They may see something I don’t see. Once I’ve tagged my personal favorites, see number 5.

5) I present these 56 photos to my small group of classmates (These are people I trust and respect.) It’s important not to have too many cooks in the kitchen because you will only become confused!!! So find a handful of people you trust to share your photos with. When I presented my photos and went through each one, I took note of the photos that received the biggest reactions. If my community was responding powerfully to certain photos, then those were keepers and I later tagged them in red as well (and it was nice to see that my class and I matched on several photos I already tagged.)

Now, for the photos I already tagged as a personal favorite, but didn’t receive as big of a reaction as others, I looked them over to see why they didn’t impinge my classmates. I ended up removing 4 personal favorites from the “Selects” folder. So now, I have 52 photos left in this folder. Again, some are tagged as my personal favorites, while the rest are un-tagged photos that are still strong contenders.

6) I sent the 52 photos to my agent to see which ones he liked. When he emailed me his list of favorites, I tagged them in a different color. I chose blue. And it was great to see that he and I matched on several photos. He also chose a few photos that I didn’t tag as a personal favorite. However, I took those photos into consideration because his job is to field the entertainment market place 24/7. He knows what’s out there. He knows what’s selling and what’s being bought. I want this to be a collaboration between the two of us and include his picks as well.

7) The photos where he and I matched (Red and blue tags) were definite keepers. For the photos where he and I didn’t match, I chose a few photos that had a blue tag (his personal favorites) and a few photos that had a red tag (my personal favorites) In this way, I’m including both of our personal favorites and respecting both of our opinions. I create a final folder called “Winners” and put these final photos in it.

And that’s it! A pretty easy, painless process!

I have 20 photos that I will upload across Actors Access, LA Casting, IMDB, etc.

Let the new chapter of submissions begin!

See you all later!

HAPPY ANNIVERSARY!!

On August 22nd, 2015, I celebrated 13 years of living in Los Angeles! 13 years!

It feels like yesterday that I was still living in Brooklyn with my mom. I was at a real crossroads in my life. After 9/11, I knew that life was too short. And I knew that if I wanted to pursue film and TV fully, that LA was where I needed to be. I was so determined to get to LA, that I purchased a one-way airline ticket and didn’t tell my mom that I was moving until three weeks before my scheduled flight. She was so shocked that I gave her such little notice, but I had to make sure that no one, and I mean no one, had time to change my mind.

And in taking all of yesterday to reflect on and to celebrate the last 13 years, one theme emerged. As Madonna said above at the end of her 1995 music video for “Human Nature”: “Absolutely no regrets.”

I have none. I could easily have spent all of August 22nd lamenting all the losses and disappointments, both real and perceived, that I’ve had in the last 13 years. After all, 13 years is a fucking long time and anyone could easily fall into the dark side of regrets and the dark side of the woulda, coulda, shoulda: I could have worked more as an actor, I should have worked more as an actor, I should be at a better place in my life right now, I should have done this sooner, I should have learned that lesson earlier, if I only I knew back then what I know now, etc. But what a waste of time and energy that is.

Again, absolutely no regrets. I’ve never been one to look back…not for too long at least. There’s nothing I can do to change the past. I can only focus on today and how to make it count.

I spent yesterday celebrating how much I have grown as a person and as an artist. Celebrating the fact that I am STILL in the game and that I haven’t given up. I recently saw some pictures of people I went to college with on Facebook and I was shocked by how much some of them have aged. Aged because they gave up on their dreams. They lost that fire, that spark, that thing that made them youthful. That spirit left and life settled in. They are doing other things with their lives now. No judgments. I cast no
judgments. I’m just making an observation. People that I used to have a crush on in college have aged badly or gained so much weight. They’ve let themselves go. Meanwhile I, who used to be so awkward looking in college, have continued to age beautifully both inside and out. I still feel like a big kid sometimes. I’m still connected to my dreams. I still act, I still write, I still dance. I’m surrounded by a fantastic community of mentors and artists who keep me alive, vibrant and focused. Always have since 2002. Always will until the day I die.

When I first landed in LA, I broke down in tears at LAX. Shit just got real. I arrived. There was no turning back now. I came with one suitcase and a leather CD book containing 200 CD’s. I only knew one person out here. I had no job lined up. I had no apartment lined up. I had no family out here. All I had was my faith and determination that things would all fall into place.

And taking a line of dialogue out of the Madonna mythology, I got into a taxi and said, “Take me to the center of everything.” In the Madonna mythology, she arrived in NYC in 1977 with $35 in her pocket. She told the taxi driver to drop her off in the center of everything. So, he dropped her off in Times Square. My taxi driver dropped me off in
Beverly Hills. Now, I know some of you may be laughing, but the universe was quickly working in my favor. The taxi driver dropped me off at an Enterprise Rent-A-Car on Robertson Blvd., one block south of Wilshire Blvd. Little did I know that located just a couple of blocks south of Enterprise Rent-A-Car was the place that would become my second home for the next seven years, the Beverly Hills Playhouse.

I got my rental car and drove away. I turned on the radio and the first song I heard in LA was Kylie Minogue’s “Love At First Sight”. I’ll never forget that. It was a beautiful, clear, sunny day. I was vibrating with excitement. The only person I knew out here was a buddy of mine who I used to work with at a dance club in Manhattan. He was out here with his twin brother on business (I would later discover that their “business” was the escort business and they were marketing themselves as 2-for-1 all-American blond twins!)

They were renting a room at the Ramada Plaza West Hollywood. He said I could stay with him and his brother until I got my own place to live. Twenty four hours later, he got me an interview with the front desk manager and I got hired. I started work a few days later. The universe was taking care of me.  Within a week, I found a place to live in West Hollywood. The universe was taking care of me again.

My second day in LA, I ran into someone I graduated with from Vassar. I told him I moved to LA to pursue acting and he immediately recommended the Beverly Hills Playhouse (which is where he was studying) I called the BHP to schedule an interview. They accepted me and I began classes in the first week of September. I sat in the front row, on the edge of my seat, eager to learn and to be inspired. I could feel a palpable energy in the room that I have never felt before in a class (acting class or otherwise) When Gary Imhoff first walked into the room, the class cheered and gave him a standing ovation. I wasn’t expecting that at all!

I don’t remember if I stood up and cheered as well or if I remained in my seat. But what I DO remember was that as soon as Gary settled into his seat, I leaned back into my seat and I said to myself, “This is my teacher. This is my home.” I just felt it in my heart and in my gut. After the first day of class ended, I walked north on Wilshire Blvd. and saw the Enterprise Rent-A-Car! I immediately became emotional because I knew that the universe was taking care of me. It was a cool moment of experiencing something coming around full circle.

Everything was falling into place. LA was new and exciting. The weather was great. Palm trees galore. I had a place to live. I had a Plan B job supporting my Plan A game. I found an amazing second home at the Beverly Hills Playhouse. Kelly Clarkson was crowned the first American Idol on September 4th, 2002 (and honestly, her win was the only one that truly mattered) Then, within a month, I hated LA. And I would end up hating LA for the first year because I experienced everything from home sickness to hating public transportation to hating that nothing was 24/7 like in NYC. It wasn’t until I got my first car around my first year anniversary, for FREE, that I fell in love with LA. Having a car really turned my feelings around.

13 years later and I still love LA. LA is my home. I’m part of that very small percentage of New Yorkers who love LA and prefer it to NYC. When I fly into LAX, I always feel good to be back home.

Absolutely no regrets. I don’t regret calling every single agent in the agent book in 2002 to receive representation. I don’t regret walking into casting offices to drop off my headshot and resume. I don’t regret any career administration I’ve executed. I don’t regret putting one foot in front of the other. I don’t regret any scenes I’ve put up in acting class in the last 13 years. I don’t regret the personal and professional choices I’ve made. I don’t regret the people I cut out of my life in order to pursue my career. I don’t regret the people I cut out of my life who were not part of my career bus. I don’t regret the friends I’ve made and the friends I’ve lost. I don’t regret all the times I’ve danced in stores, supermarkets, beaches, streets, subway platforms, trains, bus stations, parks, etc. I don’t regret all the times I ran lines to myself in public places. I don’t regret all the times I rehearsed a scene in public with my various scene partners. I don’t regret rehearsing the diner scene from “Biloxi Blues” at the Silver Spoon Diner in West Hollywood and causing such a mess with my amazing scene partner that management banned us forever. Ironically, the Silver Spoon Diner is no longer around, but I am 🙂

I’m still here! I’m still in the game! Yesterday was a celebration of all the good things I have experienced here in LA. A celebration of all the wins and all the growth I’ve experienced. I started my day by doing DanceFitWalk at the Rose Bowl at 8am. I danced my ass off for an hour and a half with my DFW team. Then, I went home and showered and went to the beach to not only celebrate my anniversary, but to join a friend who was celebrating her birthday at the beach as well.

Then, I went to a restaurant and had an early dinner. Then, I bought champagne and put it in the fridge. And then, I ended the night dancing away with a cool friend I’m getting to know.

Celebrating these 13 years was about joy and happiness!

See you soon 14th year anniversary!

Being Myself & Finding My Voice

“Thank you for always being you. It’s refreshing.” This was said to me by casting director and human being extraordinaire, Twinkie Byrd, on July 16th, 2015. When she said that to me, I felt really good. It also made me pause for a second to reflect on how much I HAVE changed as a person. To take stock on the journey that I have taken to become the person that I am today. “Thank you for always being you.”

Because there was a time where I wasn’t being me. At all.

I was born and raised in the projects in Brooklyn, NY. Let me be more specific: I was born and raised in the projects in Brooklyn, NY as a gay man. Not an ideal scenario. Growing up in the dangerous projects, and knowing that I was different since the age of five, I was afraid of being killed. So as a result, I shut down and became incredibly shy. I had no voice growing up. No point of view. Whenever I DID speak, I had to be really careful how I sounded. Too feminine sounding? Death.

I was also the fifth child out of six children. My older brothers and sisters didn’t want to hang out with me because they were all teenagers or young adults by this point. They did not want to be seen hanging out with a kid. And so I felt that being me wasn’t valuable or worthy. The only way I could stand out and be seen and heard was to act out. To be somebody else. I think that’s part of the reason why I became an actor. To be seen. To get attention. To feel worthy.

Having no voice and pretending to be somebody else became a recurring theme in my life and it got progressively worse. I desperately wanted to fit in and be liked in elementary and junior high school. I wanted my classmates to see that I could be a cool straight kid. I failed miserably. Students would tease me and not be friends with me. I ended up doing school plays because it gave me a voice. It gave me an opportunity to be seen and to be a star in a way that I couldn’t be at the school cafeteria or on the school playground.

Going into high school, I kept pretending to be somebody else because I still desperately wanted to be accepted and to be validated. Being ME was never valued and high school is all about appearances and all this other ridiculous peer pressure. I wanted to be cool. I wanted to be popular. I wanted to fit in. So much so that I even denied where I came from. Up until high school, I attended an elementary and junior high school that was within walking distance of the projects. So the majority of the school population was made up of students from the projects. We all knew we lived in the projects, so whatever. There was no need to pretend we were rich.

But high school was a different story. I had to take a train into a better, residential part of Brooklyn to attend school. I went to a really good public high school that wasn’t a block away from the projects. For the first time in my life, I was surrounded by white students. And these white students came from middle class to upper middle class families. Many of these white students lived in houses; had working parents who owned one or two cars; had material things; had intelligence; had an outlook on life that was more positive and abundant vs. my projects outlook of negativity, scarcity and death.

So not only did I hide my sexuality, I also hid where I came from. I became Molly Ringwald’s character in “Pretty In Pink”. Molly played a high school character from a working class family who falls for and begins dating an incredibly wealthy student (played by Andrew McCarthy) She was ashamed and embarrassed to reveal to him that she came from the poor side of town. He would give her a ride home, but she always had him drop her off somewhere else so he wouldn’t see where she lived. She always had an excuse as to why she didn’t want him to drop her off at home. Finally, when he insisted on knowing why he couldn’t drop her off at her home, she exclaimed, “Because I don’t want you to see where I live, okay!” She bursts into tears, and even right now, I’m getting emotional writing about it. Damn muscle memory! So, I didn’t tell anyone where I lived.

I even started acting and speaking “white” because I feared that my Latino heritage wouldn’t be valuable. I had an uncle who called me “Kunta Kinte” when I was 12 years old because I’m the darkest in my family. So, I thought my skin color, my Latino heritage, was a bad thing.

June 14th, 2020 Update: How could I forget the time I booked the role of Tulsa in my high school production of Gypsy and the makeup artist made me a few shades lighter so that I could be more passable and more accepting as Tulsa. I remember looking in the mirror after the makeup job was done and thinking to myself with pride, “Wow, this is how I should look.” Thus reinforcing the notion that being darker is bad and that being lighter is everything. With this makeup on, I could not be called Kunta Kinte anymore.

It got even worse in college. I went to Vassar College. Vassar College! A Sister Ivy League School! Vassar declined Yale University’s invitation to merge with them back in 1969! That takes balls to say no to Yale! Vassar is currently ranked #11 amongst colleges in the United States! Vassar had even MORE white people everywhere and a higher economic status: upper middle class to wealthy individuals. On the extreme side of the economic spectrum, I knew a guy who drove a luxury car, who would fly in and out on a private jet and who would wear Gucci, Armani and Valentino as CASUAL wear to CLASS. Girls would go clubbing on the weekends at our underground dance bar in designer dresses, purses and heels during the middle of winter in Poughkeepsie, NY. It is FREEZING cold in Poughkeepsie during the winter! Hell yeah, in this environment, I ran for mayor big time and became Molly Ringwald’s character times a hundred. Ironically, I became open about my sexuality when I went to Vassar, but I sure as hell didn’t say where I lived. I acted and spoke even more “white”. I would say I was Puerto Rican, but not Dominican as well. Why? Because my older half-siblings, who are Puerto Rican, would sometimes make derogatory remarks about Dominican people when I was a kid. And because I wanted to be accepted by them, I believed that the Dominican side of me was wrong. So, I denied that part of me.

So, there was always this sense of incompletion and not really being me at any given moment. You always got a percentage of me, but not 100 percent of me. I could be gay in certain situations, but not in others. I could be from the projects in certain situations and around certain people, but not in others. I could be Puerto Rican, but not Dominican. Fuck me with a mental spoon.

Pretending to be someone else was about survival. Literally and figuratively. Both just as terrible. Literally surviving from being killed in the projects. Figuratively surviving from being humiliated and ostracized by my friends, colleagues and peers.

It has taken me a long time to be the person I am today. When I sit down and take a look at myself, I really enjoy my sense of humor, my sense of subversiveness, my intelligence, my wit and my point of view. I’m proud of my sexuality and my heritage. I’m grateful for all the wonderful blessings that I have and that I’m able to share with the world. I’m happy that I’ve gotten to a place where I really don’t give a shit what anyone says about me. The moment I stopped running for mayor, the moment I stopped caring about what other people thought, the moment I stopped wanting to be everyone’s friend for all the wrong reasons (for THEIR validation), is when I truly experienced freedom. What you see is what you get and that’s it. Now, that doesn’t mean that I’m done growing and evolving. After all, my intention is to continue becoming a better form of myself, a better version of who I was yesterday. I still have things to work on. This will be a life-long journey to continue being the best, most evolved version of me I can be.

Here are some turning points that were instrumental in helping me get to a place where Twinkie could say, “Thank you for always being you. It’s actually refreshing.”

**After I graduated from Vassar College, I met my best friend Geri at work. We were customer service representatives at the Metropolitan Opera House in Manhattan. We were required to do two weeks of training before we could officially start. On the first day of training, she arrived two hours late and she marched in like a grand diva wearing big sunglasses, high heels, and a huge purse dangling from her arm. My first reaction was, “Who the fuck is this bitch arriving two hours late?” We eventually warmed up to each other and hit it off within a couple of days. She later admitted that her first impression of me on the first day was, “Who the fuck is this yahoo wearing a cowboy hat?” Hey, Madonna’s “Music” album was all the rage at the time and the era and imagery was all about urban, modern cowboy culture. So when the Queen of Everything speaks and begins a trend, I comply.

Geri and I are still very close to this day. She’s beautiful, smart, funny, has great taste in style and has such a foul mouth–which I love. We would hang out often after work, and sometimes, she would drive me home. And yep, Molly Ringwald’s character possessed me once again. I would have Geri drop me off in a good part of Brooklyn, and then I would walk several blocks home after she drove away. This charade kept going successfully until one night, she asked me if she could use my bathroom because she really had to pee. I could’ve died right there in the passenger seat. I started to panic. I started thinking of alternative bathrooms that she could use instead.

But I couldn’t say no to her when I failed to think of alternatives. I didn’t want her to pee on herself. So for the first time in my life, I came clean about where I lived. And after I was done apologizing for where I lived, and then expecting her to throw me out of her car, she looked at me and said, “Jorge, I don’t give a fuck where you live. That’s not why I’m your friend. I’m your friend because I love you. And if anyone is going to judge you based upon where you live, then they’re not your fucking friend.” In that moment, I finally knew what a real friend was. I knew that I had a friend for life. That moment was instrumental for me. I wasn’t ashamed of being from the projects anymore. We parked in front of my building, she met my mom, my mom loved her and probably thought there was still hope for me (Oh snap! More on that in just a second!) Geri got to pee and the rest is history.

**Another turning point was moving to Los Angeles. I now had to become an adult and support myself. To make my own rules and live by them. As soon as I moved to Los Angeles, I had the blessing and honor of studying with and being influenced by two incredible acting teachers. First and foremost, Richard Lawson. He has been INSTRUMENTAL in my journey of self-discovery and empowerment. I always speak about Richard and how he has changed me. But I also need to acknowledge my very first LA acting teacher, Gary Imhoff.

Gary started my LA journey of being myself and finding my voice when about a year into my studies, he told me to connect with my sexuality and to put it up in class as a personal monologue. He recognized that I was acting through a filter because I was afraid of being discovered or outed. So my work was not as rich and fulfilled as it could be. I would act cautiously and carefully. A year later, he told me to reconnect with my roots and put it up in class as a personal monologue. He recognized again that the denial of my heritage was causing me to act through another filter. How could I be personal and real with my acting if I was drawing from a fake place? Connecting to my heritage meant connecting to me, to my home, to my history, to my genetic makeup. Drawing from who I REALLY am and not who I was PRETENDING to be. These denials were not only negatively affecting my work as an actor, but they were negatively affecting my life as well. Both personal monologues became these John Leguizamo-inspired, mini one-man show extravaganzas that received standing ovations. Turning points indeed. Shortly after the second personal monologue, I put up a scene for Gary and during his critique, he said to me, “You sound different. You are more grounded and centered. You even look more black.” I laughed out loud, as did the class. Gary got the ball rolling for me accepting my sexuality and my Latino heritage.

**The community of true friends I have built and nurtured out here has been another turning point. Pulling in the right friends based on love, respect, integrity, drive, passion, fun, no judgements or criticisms, but willing to express tough love to help me get to the other side and be all that I can be. I love you all.

**But the biggest turning point was in December 2009. I came out to my mom…again.

LOL!

I was in a relationship that I was happy with. He was someone that I knew I wanted to introduce to my family. My mom’s birthday was coming up in February and I thought that would be a great opportunity to introduce him to everyone. Only one problem: I needed to make sure that my mom knew I was gay. I first came out to her the summer after my sophomore year at Vassar. She was completely shocked. She was trying to comprehend my sexuality and the Catholic guilt flowed through her: “God made it to be man and woman. Not man and man. God does not want it this way.” After that conversation ended, my sexuality was never brought up again. Neither by her nor by me. And so for years afterwards, I continued living in a blur, in a fog, in front of my mother and in my life in general. Even though I made steps forward in the area of sexuality with Gary Imhoff and Richard Lawson, I was still incomplete and hiding somewhat. This time, however, I wanted to make sure that she was crystal clear about my sexuality. I was prepared and willing to lose the love of my mother so that I could be ME.

I wrote a letter in which I came out to her again. I told her I was in a relationship with a great guy and how happy I was with him and with my sexuality. The letter was positive. It was not about blame or pointing fingers. It was not about dwelling in the past. It was my intention to clear up any confusion or ambiguity. I mailed out the letter and decided to wait at least a week before I called her. It was the holidays, so I took into account how busy the post office would be. When I finally called her, it was the most amazing phone conversation I’ve ever had with her. She told me she received my letter and that she didn’t care that I was gay. She loved me as her son and she loved me for who I was. She also added that she didn’t care what anyone else thought about me. That if they had a problem with me, they could go fuck themselves. She was very happy for me and my relationship and could not wait to meet him. She also said that she never forgot when I first came out to her. She said the reason why she never brought it up again was because I had never brought it up again. Since I never brought it up again, she figured I went through a phase (And that’s why I could see her excitement when she met Geri.)

LOL Jesus, Mary, Joseph, God! If only I had spoken on this sooner, I could’ve saved myself years of—Ahhh fuck it. No point dwelling on the past and what could’ve been. The point was that my mom and I were now on the same page and her unconditional love and acceptance blasted the door wide open! I immediately came into focus. I connected to who I was because I was no longer hiding. I was no longer pretending to be someone or something else. With her love and support, I didn’t care anymore what others thought about me. My brothers and sisters love me as well by the way…the gay AND the Dominican sides of me 🙂

The walls finally came down! I started settling into my body. My true voice started to emerge. I had a point of view. I expressed myself. My true being started to emerge and affected all areas of my life including my art: I’m a better actor, writer and dancer as a result. Other dynamics and colors came to the forefront and made me a complete, whole person. Being gay is just a wonderful part of my make up. It’s not my entire life. Or as one of my good friends, Lindsay, said to me recently, “You’re a power gay. You don’t show it off. You don’t make a big deal out of it. You just are and get shit done.” But I don’t apologize for being gay, nor am I ashamed of it.

Growing up in the projects is no longer a source of shame. Being Dominican is no longer a source of shame.

I am me. I don’t apologize for it anymore. I inspire people. I make people laugh. I am handsome. I am dangerous. I make people uncomfortable. I am a listener. I am a rock. I am a leader. I am a lover. I am subversive. I am light. I am dark. I am tough. I am vulnerable. I am masculine. I am feminine, etc.

I am a HUMAN being living my God-given purpose on this planet: To be an artist.

I hope that this blog entry inspires you in some way. Perhaps someone out there is currently experiencing what I have experienced before. Just know that there is a light on the other side. When you find yourself and your voice, honor it and protect it! Or, if you are already being yourself, I hope you advance that further too because I’m on the journey of self-improvement for life.

I love being myself and my voice 🙂