Why Jorge Teaches: Twinkie Byrd Edition

Tracy “Twinkie” Byrd is the famed and well-respected casting director behind such Hollywood projects such as “Fruitvale Station” and “Being Mary Jane”. Her complete work can be found at: https://www.imdb.com/name/nm1359173

I first met Twinkie a few years ago when she came to speak to students at the Richard Lawson Studios. Since she was the guest speaker, we wanted to screen a reel of her casting work before she spoke to the students. Richard put me in charge of finding examples of her casting work and cutting it together to form the reel.

When we played the reel, Twinkie was thrilled and overjoyed. I even remember her turning to me at one point and saying, “Oh my God, where did you find that? I’ve been trying to find that movie!” My detective work, and the fact that we were both from Brooklyn, began a journey of mutual admiration and respect for one another. I’ve also had the honor of auditioning a couple of times for Twinkie and she has praised my acting abilities.

So when I discovered that Twinkie wanted to take the Professional Development Program 1.0 class at the Richard Lawson Studios, I was thrilled! I interviewed her and I asked her why she wanted to take the course. She told me that she wanted to take her career to the next level by incorporating directing and producing into the mix. I knew that PDP 1.0 would be perfect for her because she would have to write, film and edit 10 short films over the course of 16 weeks.

It was also great to see Twinkie, a casting director, have to do auditions in the PDP 1.0 class. She got to be an actor and audition in front of the camera. And because she had been casting for years, she instinctively understood acting. She made wonderful choices as an actress and knew how to work in front of a camera.

Richard and I both taught this class and it was great to see her growth and wins, as well as the growth and wins of other students. For the Final Film project, Twinkie and fellow classmate, Ashley Jackson, collaborated to create a project called “The Counter: 1960”. Their short film looked at the segregation that existed in America during that time. It was a powerful film that utilized a number of Richard Lawson Studios students in front of the camera and behind the camera. It was cast well (of course, Twinkie’s a casting director!) And Twinkie directed it.

The first cut of “The Counter: 1960” was really well done. The story was incredibly impinging. It was ambitious in concept. Richard gave his notes in terms of how they could elevate their film to the next level. They took their notes like pros and their excitement grew.

Twinkie and Ashley decided to reshoot the film from scratch and gave themselves more time to carve out the film (In PDP 1.0, you only have one week to conceive, shoot and edit these 10 short films)

They reshot the film, with Twinkie staying on as director, and ever since they released it to the world, it has been killing the film festival circuit! “The Counter: 1960” has won awards in Cannes and Hollywood and has also screened in Martha’s Vineyard, New York City, Atlanta, India etc.

Twinkie recently posted a message on Instagram that thanked and acknowledged her PDP 1.0 teachers. I was moved because it’s these moments that remind me why I love teaching. As a teacher, I love seeing the numerous and diverse wins that my students have. Whether it’s a student booking a job or finishing a passion project or having a positive shift in their personal lives, it brings me immense joy.

As much as I love acting and writing, I also love giving back as a teacher and knowing that I had a meaningful impact and contribution on my students’ lives. That I had a hand in bringing out their full potential and talents.

And I love that Twinkie acknowledged the people who played a part in her current success! It’s so important to acknowledge the people who contributed to your journey and success. Your acknowledgement will come back to you a hundredfold. I taught the Audition Bootcamp class this past Friday and I said that more often than not, people only acknowledge the new friends who conveniently show up at their new level of success. I told my class to acknowledge the people who were there from the start. The people who were there when you weren’t a household name. The people who were there when you didn’t have money. Or when you didn’t have a meal to eat. Or when you didn’t have a place to live in. Or when you wanted to quit and they convinced you not to. The list goes on and on.

So thank you Twinkie for your acknowledgement. I am so proud of your success. You postulated at your interview that you wanted to be a director and now you are experiencing déjà vu! You saw it in your mind as a foregone conclusion and now you are experiencing it again in a realized, tangible way. You are such an example of what we teach at the Richard Lawson Studios!

Below is Twinkie’s Instagram post:

Twinkie Byrd

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Homeward LA (Art Making a Difference)

Art is powerful. Art creates change. Whether it’s a movie, a song, a painting, a book, etc. Art has the ability to make us move towards change. And as an artist, I love using my art to create and inspire change. That’s why I am honored to be a part of Homeward LA.

Homeward LA is a 10-day citywide event from April 13 to April 22, where over 20 productions of monologues based on stories from people who have experienced homelessness will be performed by actors all around the Los Angeles area. I will be acting in the April 22nd production at the Richard Lawson Studios at the WACO Theater Center!

Together we will experience stories from the lives of those who strive to find their way home, increase awareness around the homeless crisis facing Los Angeles, and raise funds for The Midnight Mission, an amazing nonprofit organization on Skid Row.

If you are interested in attending, please click on this link:

http://bit.ly/homewardla

Homeward LA

James Franco Said No To Me

James Franco said no to me. Okay, okay, insert endless jokes here:

e.g. He said no to me because I’m not a woman. He said no to me because I’m not an underage girl.

I started developing and writing a feature film back in November 2014 and I knew I wanted James Franco to play the antagonist. I tailored this part for him. I was so excited about my feature film script and had a blast writing it. I held a successful table read in August 2016 with working actors and created a clever social media campaign in the summer of 2017 that involved celebrities endorsing my script to James Franco.

In July 2017, my friend and I dropped off a hard copy of my script to his production company, and that same day, we emailed a PDF version of my script to his production company as well.

In November 2017, a fierce and courageous friend and colleague of mine asked me what was the latest news with my script. I told her what was going on and she offered to help me connect the dots and take it to the next level. After Thanksgiving break, I went to her house and we spent three hours connecting the dots. The meeting culminated with her calling James Franco’s manager and emailing my script to them.

I had an audition for a feature film in mid-December that Noah Baumbach was directing and when I got back from my audition, my friend’s assistant told me that James Franco passed on my film. Well actually, his first line of defense at his production company passed on my film. So James never received my script. I just like to say James Franco passed on my film because it will bring in more viewers to my blog 🙂

And I have to say that when I received the news, I felt great! I didn’t take a loss on it. I wasn’t upset or angry. I had nothing on it because I received an answer. I received an answer for this journey I had been on since November 2014. There is no loss. I still have a fun and great script on my hands.

Besides, there’s Dave Franco who could step in and play the antagonist. Or Samuel L. Jackson. Or Finn Wittrock. There are possibilities!

So, this chapter closes on James Franco (for now!)

Table Read Fun!

Hey artistic warriors! Hope you’re all having a great weekend!

I had an opportunity to act in a table read for an exciting and powerful feature film. I was asked to be in it by the writer of the film. He and I met at the Richard Lawson Studios two years ago and we kept in touch by sharing our artistic endeavors with each other. Plus, he had seen my work as an actor and liked it. He mentioned at the table read that he hand-selected each of us because he knew what we would bring to the characters.

And although I can’t talk about the storyline of the feature film, what I will talk about is the process I employed for the table read. First of all, the scripts would only be available at the table read, so none of us had the opportunity to read it and work on our characters beforehand. We were only emailed our character names and their breakdowns. So essentially, this was a cold reading! Which I thrive on!

Based on my character’s breakdown, I came dressed as the character. I decided to wear something “hip nerdy” and I wore non-prescription glasses. When I took my assigned seat at the table, I literally had five minutes to find my scenes and read through them. On the first read through of my scenes, I just read them in order to gather the facts that the writer was giving to me. What’s going on? What’s happening?

When I finished the first read through, I went back and created a quick history for my character. Then, I created a moment before and then I began reading through my scenes again. I allowed myself to be open and present so that my instincts and impulses could come through. As subtext and thoughts popped into my head, I wrote them down on the margins of the pages. I didn’t question myself, I didn’t flinch, I didn’t critique. I honored my impulses. When I finished the second read through of my scenes, I closed the script and let it go. I didn’t do any more read throughs.

A minute later, the table read began. I connected with my other scene partner and found moments where I was impinged by him and where I impinged him. I allowed myself to have a moment of real reflective delay when he delivered some bad news to me and I allowed myself to have an experience.

Overall, it was a wonderful experience and the writer loved and appreciated what we all brought to the table read. We had a quick Q&A afterwards and he shared with us his upcoming plans for the film.

Until next time! Have a great artistic week!

I Can’t Act!

Hey artistic warriors! Today’s blog entry is inspired by several scenes I have on the schedule for my scene study class. Coming up, I have: Best In Show, Black Mirror, The Out Of Towners, One Flew Over The Cuckoo’s Nest and a repeat of a scene from Weeds, to name just a few. And I thought about a blog entry I wrote back in August 2015 that addressed the doubts I have about my talents whenever I do a first rehearsal for anything I’m working on.

I wanted to share the original entry below for laughs, shits and giggles. And also sharing this entry to see if anyone else has a similar experience when it comes to picking up material for the very first time (Like a virgin…touched for the very first time…)

Original entry below…this was when I was rehearsing a scene from “I Like It Like That”

On August 2nd, 2015, my scene partner and I began our first rehearsal for a scene we’re putting up in class. We met at a neutral midway point since we both live far away from each other. And “neutral” meaning no coffee shops and no restaurants. Somewhere where we could sit down with minimal to no distraction and start digging into our scene work.

We settled on a small park that was inhabited by a handful of people. It was a very quiet park and we both knew this was a perfect setting for our first rehearsal. We sat on the lawn and became really excited to start working together on this powerful scene. We pulled out our scripts and before we even read one line, we talked about the movie: Our observations; our relationship to each other as these characters; where in the movie this scene took place so that we understood the magnitude of the event and evaluation of what was going on; questions that I had; questions that she had; we talked about how to effectively rehearse and what today’s rehearsal would encompass.

Everything was going great! We were quickly getting on the same page. We were bouncing ideas off of each other. We were very “yes, and…” Meaning that we were building upon our ideas: “Yes, that’s great and how about…”, “Yes, and I can bring this…”, “Yes, and if I do this, then…”

Again, everything was going GREAT…

…Until we read the scene for the first time.

OH MY FUCKING GOD! I WAS SO AWFUL. As soon as I started saying my first line, I was like, “I should quit acting right now. Who the fuck am I kidding? I’m terrible! I can’t act.” That’s right. I said it. I’m a terrible actor and I can’t act. I should just move to Hawaii and open up a surfboard shop by the beach (LOL Does this sound familiar, DawnMarie?) As I continued saying each of my lines in the scene, I could hear discordant piano chords gradually getting louder in my head. Each off-key, jarring chord made my body twitch and jump. My head kept cringing more and more to the left. I could hear missiles getting closer to hitting their target (the target, by the way, was me!) I could hear nails scratching against the chalkboard.

Even WORSE, I could see all of fellow Vassar grad Meryl Streep’s 18 Oscar nominations flashing before my eyes. My eyes crossed. My vision got blurry. I may have even slapped myself to snap out of it and become present again. My scene partner–thinking I was making an inspired, bold choice in the moment–slapped herself as well. I looked up at her and saw Meryl Streep sitting across from me, pointing and laughing hard, while she was surrounded by her 3 Oscars, 8 Golden Globes, 2 SAG Awards, 2 Primetime Emmys and countless other awards. And just when I was about to lose my mind, we finished reading the scene.

Depleted, exhausted and shaking, I looked up at my scene partner and said, “That was really cool. Let’s read it again.”

LOL!

What I just described is an interesting phenomena that occurs 80% of the time when I first pick up a script for scene study class or sides for an audition. The first read through is so horrendous and I always question my abilities as an actor. Does anyone else experience this? If so, I’d love to know why it happens to you too. And look, I’ll be honest, Meryl Streep has never laughed at me, but I’ve heard and experienced those discordant piano chords. I think part of it has to do with starting from scratch. I’m picking up a script again for the first time and embarking on a brand new, unknown journey. I’m starting with a clean, blank slate that I now have to start filling in and piecing together bit by bit. It’s that first step into the unknown that is the worst.

Bottom line: Can I build another scene from scratch again and deliver a fully-realized performance? (Even though I have delivered fully-realized performances countless times before.) Will this finally be the scene where people discover that I can’t act? That I am a sham artist? That I am a fake?

However, by the second read through of the script or the audition sides, I feel better (That’s how I felt when my scene partner and I read through the scene again.) I got through and survived the first read. I got it out of my system and no longer felt this expectation to deliver an Oscar-winning performance. I am now open to actually receiving what’s on the page. And then I read the script or audition sides a third time. And then I read it again. And again. And again. Each time, I gain more understanding of what’s happening. I know which questions to ask. The picture comes into focus more and more.

I believe another reason for this phenomena is that I want to know and have all the answers right away. Instead, I have to remind myself that part of the journey with rehearsing a scene or preparing for an audition is the willingness to have patience and not know the answers right away. To trust that by doing the work, the answers will eventually come. The “ah ha” moments will hit me along the way.

And like I mentioned earlier, this phenomena doesn’t always happen. There is that remaining 20% where I immediately connect with a new scene and I know exactly what’s going on and how to play it. Interestingly enough, however, whenever I have to do a cold reading at an audition (where the casting director gives you the sides on the spot and you have a few minutes to look them over), I DON’T experience this phenomena. With cold reads, I put no pressure or expectation on myself because it’s a COLD read. I know that they know that the performance I’m delivering is based upon the few minutes I’ve spent with the sides. I have a few minutes tops to figure out what’s going on in the scene, what’s the relationship between my character and the other character(s) in the scene and to make one or two strong choices that supports the story.

My scene partner and I have had more rehearsals since our initial one and I am having fun with the process. I am gaining more clarity and certainty with the scene and with my character. I am honoring my genius and instincts. The unknown is no longer an issue and doesn’t scare me anymore. I am piecing together the wardrobe of my character and have taken my character public on two occasions so far. By taking the character public and interacting with people, I’m enhancing my belief as this character. If the public believes who I am, then my belief is enhanced as well.

We are exploring subtext. We are figuring out WHY we are saying each line. We are looking at the chapters in the scene (a new chapter occurs when there’s a dynamic shift in the scene). We are looking at our relationship. What makes this night different from other nights? What’s the moment before? What is this moment about over here? Why do I turn off the music? I bonded with my scene partner’s child this past Monday for a few hours because in this scene, I’m arguing with my sister about the way she’s raising her child (my nephew). I need a nephew. I need to have a real kid that I can connect with and fall in love with and fight for. My scene partner and I even took a picture with him so that I can frame it and make it part of our set (Specifics equals belief) We had another great rehearsal today where we connected to what the scene was about!

So our rehearsal process is progressing beautifully.

What allows me to build confidence in my work is a set of solid training tools which helps me to create and construct things from scratch. To take words on a page and bring them to life. Tools are vital. Without them, you’re fucked. You’re kind of hoping and praying that you’ll get lucky and deliver a great performance. And let’s say you DO deliver a great, solid performance. Great! But you have no idea how you did that. How you got there. So, when you’re asked to repeat it either by an acting teacher, a casting director or a film director on set, you’re fucked because you don’t know how to repeat that experience or moment. You were just winging it. I’m glad I have tools to work with to help me understand how I got there and how to repeat a performance. I have structure that helps me be free and play within it. I’ve done the work. Now I can go play.

So whatever your acting training is or wherever you currently study, use those tools to embark on the journey of the unknown and into the known.

And yes, I CAN act. See you soon, Meryl Streep.

My 2018 Goal

Hey kitty girls! I couldn’t resist. RuPaul’s Drag Race All Stars 3 premiered on January 25th and I am getting all my life right now!

We’re still in January and 2018 is still very much new and filled with wonderful possibilities. I wanted to share with you all what my goal is for 2018. I recently shared that my birthday wish was to continue honoring my imagination as an artist. Which I love! So, what is my goal for 2018? What am I focused on?

When I look over my DOIN’ (Declaration of Independence aka my personal business plan), one of my postulates is:

I am a household name infiltrating and conquering mainstream Hollywood through my film acting work and by creating TV and Film content that is just beyond the margin of comfortability (Daring and artistically free content that falls within the wheelhouse of HBO, Showtime, Netflix, A24 and powerful indie studio houses)

Which is great! I still love and believe in this postulate. However, as I looked at it, I realized that in order for me to fulfill that postulate, there was a prior step that I needed to accomplish. There’s a step that comes before becoming a household name and I need to achieve that first. And that is to become an industry name first. I want name recognition and name value with industry professionals (e.g., producers, writers, directors, casting) That fellow colleagues know my name and respect it because of my professionalism and hard work.

So the goal for 2018 is to close the deal on at least one writing and one acting project that puts my name in the entertainment trades (e.g., Variety, The Hollywood Reporter, Deadline, IndieWire, etc.) I have created a DOIN’ specifically for this goal. My 2018 DOIN’ as I call it. I’m so excited to have a plan of attack to make this goal happen in 2018. Close the deal so that fellow colleagues in the industry take notice of my name.

What is your 2018 goal or goals? I’d love to read what they are in the comments section below!

Acting In Tijuana!

My scene partner, Lindsay Hopper, and I are rehearsing a scene from Weeds. It’s scheduled to go up in our acting class in the very near future. She’s playing the role of Nancy and I’m playing the role of Guillermo. And in one of our rehearsals a couple of weeks ago, she asked, “Do you want to drive down to San Diego and then walk across the border into Mexico?”

She asked that question because the show takes place in Southern California. More specifically, we’re doing a scene from the third season and Nancy’s character has just moved to a fictional town in San Diego. My character is a drug trafficker who hires Nancy on a trial basis to work for him and his boss. Seeing her potential, my character hires Nancy to manage a maternity store in San Ysidro (an actual town in San Diego) that is actually a front for a major drug trafficking operation.

I jumped at the opportunity and said yes to Lindsay! I knew that being in San Ysidro and crossing the U.S.-Mexican border would be a valuable experience in terms of really understanding the world of this particular series. Being on location would give me a reality that I could experience. Also, being on location would be another way of turning over yet another rock in the development and construction of our scene. This was another way of taking our rehearsal process to the Nth degree.

So, on January 20th, we drove down to San Ysidro. As we got closer to our destination, I became more and more excited. I was like a little kid getting closer and closer to Disneyland. My eyes were filled with wonderment. We took the 5 Freeway South and there was an exit sign that was called “Last USA Exit”. It was exhilarating to know how close we were to Mexico. We got off at that exit because Lindsay knew it would be faster if we crossed the border by foot than by car. I tried to take a picture of the exit sign, but I didn’t take it in time. However, I did provide a picture below from a Google Images search for reference.

As we got off the Last USA Exit, I saw more signs pointing to Mexico. I could see the border walls (and the various numbers on each wall just like Weeds portrayed in one of their episodes) We drove around San Ysidro for a little bit before parking the car in the lot. We then made our way over to the San Ysidro Port of Entry.

Oh, by the way, I went in character. I took my character public to get into the belief of him more. To be able to interact with people in character. Again, just making sure to turn over as many rocks as possible for our first take of this scene.

We crossed the border rather quickly, and like that, we were in Tijuana, Mexico. There was an eerie silence in the air that I mentioned to Lindsay. I mean, there were people out and about and moving with intention, but it was eerily silent. We stopped by one place to get tacos and our host also doubled as a doctor. Let’s call him Dr. X and he quickly listed off a laundry list of drugs he could sell to us (from Oxycontin to Meth to Cocaine to Viagra) What a wonderful gift from the universe! What a perfect way for me to understand the reality of our scene. I engaged with Dr. X as my character and asked him for prices on one particular drug (and no, I didn’t buy it!)

We went to another location and interacted with a man who called himself Robert DeNiro. He called me Al Pacino and Lindsay called herself Meryl Streep. We walked around some more and I kept focused on my character and his physicality. I kept my space and was intentional with keeping my space. I was aware of how I affected/landed on people.

I’m so happy that Lindsay suggested this idea and that I jumped on the opportunity to do so. That I followed my instinct to say “YES!” I’m proud that I didn’t flinch or back away when she suggested this idea. Because at the end of the day, this experience was empowering and it really informed the scene even more so for me.

Below is a picture of the “Last USA Exit” sign courtesy of Google Images. And I created the collage below from some of the pictures I took.

 

Tijuana