Let me start off by saying that nothing will truly prepare you for grad school. You can prep until the cows come home but at the end of the day it’s all about conditioning. Mind over matter. Long days, tough nights, and sore muscles. No I’m not talking about my time in the Marines, I’m talking about grad school. Then again I did go to “Trauma Centre” but I’ve heard similar things from colleagues about other institutions as well. Let’s start at the beginning, which is essentially where it felt like we began. The first month of my masters training felt a little bit like the first month of my undergrad here in NYC. It was very much a test of “let’s evaluate everyone so we have a foundation to start from” and then we worked from there. Granted this was primarily the acting classes, but every other class operated on the assumption that everyone was starting from scratch even if they did have some experience. For instance, a couple of the girls in our group had ballet training but we all started from first position and worked our way up from there.
They started us off easy with 9 hour days in the first couple weeks and then progressed to 12 hour days for the rest of the year. Again stamina. One of the things our course leader stressed was how the work environment in the professional world would be much harder than anything in the academic world. So essentially we were building up our physical and mental endurance to prepare, a concept which was easy for me to grasp coming from the “train as you fight” mentality in the Corps. From my experience so far in the professional world, he was right. There are days where you have a 5 hour rehearsal in the beating sun before a performance in order to accommodate one of your fellow cast mates that’s going up as an understudy for a lead. There are days when you’ll be at the theater for 12 to 15 hours during tech and need to stay sharp because you could be needed at a moment’s notice. Mental and physical endurance are crucial in this business and only come with time.
Speaking of physical endurance, one of the things I learned early on was muscle memory through repetition and this correlates to the donkey work at DC. Yes you read that right, donkey work. Donkeys are known for carrying the shit that no one wants to carry and they aren’t necessarily pretty animals. Donkey work is what my course leader Paul called all of the work that you don’t want to do but need to do. Essentially it’s a system of voice & body warm-ups, textual analysis, and character exploration that becomes second nature through repetition. As an actor it’s on you to make sure you’re doing everything you need to be doing to give the best performance you can. Basically it’s making sure you aren’t cutting corners because there are parts of the job that just take time.
Of all the exercises that pushed me to my limits during 1st term, Organic Silence was by far the most difficult. It’s a 2 person exercise where you have to create a scenario but due to the context of the scene neither of you can talk. Sounds fairly easy right? Wrong. My buddy Sam and I came up with so many ideas that we thought were viable but our professor shot them down because they were either too ordinary or they had been done before. Here’s the criteria: Verbal Exposition that leads to at least 2 minutes of silence, stay away from performance pieces, must be physically flamboyant & elaborate, complex physical dialogue, and must contain specific tasks. Conquering this exercise was like beating our heads against a wall for months. Trying, failing, adjusting. Trying, failing, starting over. Trying, failing, and finally breaking through the wall. The scene we ended up exploring was: two Victorian era servants setting the table for a strict head of house that requires silence at dinner. We added in a little verbal & physical abuse from the master, a poison revenge plot, and lived through the scene. It was physically exhausting because without words we were forced to truly live each moment with our bodies. “You are the instrument your imaginations are played on.” Alex Bingley, Drama Centre Voice Instructor.
By the end of the 1st term I was exhausted in every way imaginable and was in much need of a vacation. Which brings me to one of my own mantras that I live by; recover, relax, and recharge. In order for your instrument to be in the best condition, you have to take care of it. Sometimes that means doing absolutely nothing. Recover, relax, and recharge can mean different things to different people but no matter what it means to you, just make sure whatever it is relieves stress and recharges you. Spend the day walking through a park, reading a book, watching TV even but just make sure it’s an escape mentally and physically.
If I were to cover everything from my year at DC I’d be writing a novel so if you have any questions please feel free to ask in the comments. Thanks for reading!
Grad school is a big decision no matter where you decide to study, but moving overseas makes things even more of a challenge. When my wife and I decided we were going we had roughly 5 months to get things in order. Passports, storage, sell stuff, bank accounts, paperwork for our dog Lily, and most importantly MAKE SURE WE HAD ENOUGH MONEY IN OUR SAVINGS. The reason I say this is the most important thing is that you most likely won’t have the time, nor the energy, to work. Also there is something we never found in all our research, and that is when you move to a new country you are essentially a newborn. What I mean by this is that you didn’t exist in this country prior to your arrival and therefore you have no credit. None. This makes opening a bank account and finding a flat (apartment) difficult to say the least. To make things even more stressful most landlords will ask for up to 6 months of rent up front in order to deter international renters from leaving the country midway through the lease. Still thinking about going to grad school in the UK? Alright, then lets keep going because it is very possible to do as long as you have everything in order prior to your arrival.
Your school will be the one sponsoring your Tier 4 Student Visa and they will help you get that process started but make sure you get that paperwork in with plenty of time to spare. They recommend 6-8 weeks, otherwise you have to shell out about a grand for an expedited processing fee. You are allowed to bring a dependent with you on the Tier 4 Visa and they are technically allowed to work, with a few exceptions. We found this out on arrival when the customs agent asked my wife what she would be doing while we were there. She had planned on trying to work under the table so she just said she’d be traveling and I think he understood our hesitance so he informed us she was indeed allowed to work. However, that doesn’t mean it’s easy to get a non-service industry job. They usually want to make sure that there’s not another international employee with a visa expiring at the same time or else they’ll have to sponsor a visa. In order for a company to sponsor a visa they’ll essentially have to prove that there is no one in the entire UK that could do that job. So this brings me back to finances.
You don’t have to stay in your own place and shell out 6 months rent in advance. There are dorms available but be sure to sign up for them in advance as well since they fill up fast. Once you have your finances in order, I recommend setting up a bank account with a British bank that has branches here in the US in order to make it easier once you arrive. We went with HSBC and even though we opened one in the US beforehand it was still a pain. In the UK you can’t just walk into a branch and wait for an available agent. You have to make an appointment and the banks close at 4 or 4:30. Naturally the Saturday appointments for most places are booked out weeks in advance. You can open an account in the UK through HSBC while still in the US if you give yourself enough time, at least 5 weeks I believe. Unfortunately we didn’t learn about this with enough time before we were leaving to test it out.
Pets. We brought our dachshund with us and there is a lot of paperwork involved. The UK used to be a rabies free island and pets coming in would have to be quarantined for 90 days minimum. Luckily for us, a rat made it through the Chunnel from France and we just had to submit the necessary paperwork with Heathrow Airport prior to our arrival. An agent met us at the plane upon arrival and checked all the paperwork and we were good to go. Now, if your dog is not an emotional support animal and if you are not FLYING ON A US BASED AIRLINE your pet will have to travel in the cargo hold.
One last thing I will say is, don’t forget that when you leave you are moving and you’re going to be taking everything you’ll need for the next 1 to 4 years with you. So if you decide to ship stuff it’ll definitely cost you but it will save you the hassle of carrying multiple bags through at least two airports.
As always if you have any questions about anything I covered, or anything I didn’t cover, please feel free to comment below!
In the fall of 2014, after the first few months of Basetrack, I started looking into graduate programs again. This time I knew what I was looking for and what I wanted out of a program. At this point I had also started looking at actors whose work I really admired and did my research on where there were trained. A lot of the people I looked up to for years such as Anthony Hopkins, John Lithgow, Michael Fassbender, and many more were all trained in the UK. My wife, girlfriend at the time, found an article detailing the Top 10 graduate acting programs in the world. Five of these programs were in the UK and so it seemed logical to shift my focus overseas. At first I had to find out if it was even feasible for us to move there and survive, which is something these programs require their international students to prove. Once we sorted out the financial aspect I applied for three of the programs on the list that were in London: Royal Central School of Speech & Drama, LAMDA, and Drama Centre.
Now before I get to the auditions for LAMDA & DC I want to talk about the Central audition. Of all the graduate programs I auditioned for their process was by far the weirdest. After having completed a graduate program I understand a little bit of why they may have done it this way, but I still disagree with it. In a graduate acting program you are with the same group of people for every class and for every second of the day, for most programs. There are some programs where you will have classes with the undergraduate students but that is not typical especially for UK courses. The Central audition was set up like an ensemble class where we all stood in a circle while one person performed their piece in the middle. Then whoever was leading the audition would direct you and give you an exercise to work with; in order to see how well you take direction and how it effects your performance. My exercise was that I had to turn 180 degrees and direct my intention towards a new person every time the auditor said to, which she increasingly sped up as my piece progressed. All this did was make me extremely dizzy and lose focus of my intentions. Ultimately the woman asked each of us if we would be willing to consider Central’s MA Screen course as well as the MA Acting course, I said no as I wanted the theatrically physicality from my graduate studies and not the subtlety of film. In the end it was just a very strange day and I left the audition feeling not sure if I’d go there even if they offered me a place.
Now both my auditions for LAMDA and Drama Centre were much more my style. I entered the room and there were either a few people (LAMDA) or just one person (DC) and I did two of my pieces. After I finished we talked a bit about myself and then they gave me some direction on how to adjust my piece, again to see how well I could take direction, and after making the adjustments I did it again. I remember in my LAMDA audition I was asked to do my Edmund the Bastard piece like I had smoked an entire pack of cigarettes and just drank half a bottle of scotch. It was the most interesting performance I have ever lived through and when I finished I knew this was the type of thinking I needed from a graduate program. Finding new ways to approach material and always going deeper, along with the much needed movement training. After auditioning for these programs, which were all in NYC so they didn’t have callbacks, I tried to put it out of my head and finished up the tour with Basetrack. After the tour I found out that I was waitlisted for LAMDA, my first choice, and was offered a place at Drama Centre. There is a lot that goes into moving overseas, which I’ll cover in my next blog, so I needed to make the decision soon but I was waiting to hear from LAMDA. Each program was a 1-year intensive, with great curriculums and an impressive list of notable alumni. I waited until June and finally accepted the offer from Drama Centre. I was actually in my second week of term at DC in the fall when LAMDA emailed me saying they wouldn’t be able to offer me a place. There was months of planning and preparation for my move to London so I’m not sure how they think international students can just drop everything in the blink of an eye. But like I said, I’ll touch on that more in my next post.
If you have ANY questions about auditioning for grad school either in the US or London please don’t hesitate to ask. If I don’t know the answer I can at least point you in the right direction.
Thanks again for reading!
Looking back it's been almost two years since my last blog post and a lot has happened. So over the next few months I'm going to try and cover all the major events from those two years, and then start regularly updating this blog. There is so much I've learned as an actor, an American living abroad, and as a person that I would like to share with you all. I have a list of topics that I'll be covering but if there's anything specific you want to hear about, please feel free to let me know in the comments!
If you’re thinking about pursuing your masters in the performing arts then you need to do your research, the same as you would looking into any potential job or academic endeavor. There are many different programs throughout the US, and the world over, but not every program is going to benefit you. When I started truly considering graduate school I was in the final semester of my undergraduate at Marymount Manhattan College in New York City. I loved the training I got at Marymount but everything I was being told about being an actor is that you never stop learning. This doesn’t mean everyone has to get his or her masters, but you should always be open to new forms of expression and taking classes to keep yourself sharp. Personally, I knew after my time in the military that I was still very rigid and stiff on stage which prevented me from utilizing one of my biggest tools as an actor, my body. So in the fall of 2013 I applied to the top two graduate programs in the city, the MFA program at Tisch NYU and Juilliard, on a whim with the mentality of “if I get in I’ll go from there”. I did my research on the alumni who had come from these programs and what teachers were teaching there at the time, but I didn’t look in depth into the programs themselves.
When I went in to audition for NYU it felt very near to the atmosphere of what I was used to at Marymount. The building was larger and the studios were bigger, it is NYU after all, but I never felt out of place. For each graduate school they ask you to prepare 4 monologues; two contrasting classical pieces and two contrasting modern pieces. I prepared pieces from King Lear, King John, Beyond the Horizon, & Dead Accounts. The way it worked for NYU is they brought us all in to a small studio where we were “on deck” or up next, and then you were called into the room to do your pieces to a panel of 4 or 5 people. Full disclosure, I was not ready for graduate school. Looking back on that audition I know there were so many things I would do differently, but hindsight is 20/20. They ask you to present two pieces in whatever order you prefer and then you go back out in the waiting area. Once they’ve gone through all of the people in that time group, they announce the people who they’d like to stick around for an afternoon callback session. I was asked to stay since I had presented my two strongest pieces, King Lear & Beyond the Horizon. The callbacks went much quicker and we just went straight into the audition room this time. I remember standing next to a vending machine going over my other two monologues just trying to slow my breathing. When I got into the room they asked what my other two pieces were and then it was all up to me. The King John piece was the stronger of the two so I started from there and then when I transitioned to the Dead Accounts piece, which involved miming eating ice cream; I planted myself on the ground and got stuck. Ironically the ice cream monologue will come into play a few years later for my London showcase. I left feeling like I gave it my all but that somehow it wasn’t enough. As you may or may not know, I didn’t end up at NYU and it’s probably for the best. I would have spent 3 years in a graduate program, which means I’d still be in school.
My audition day at Juilliard was a little more short lived. A friend who is an alumnus gave me a tour of the school prior to my audition day, so I wasn’t as nervous going in. The day was set up a little differently from NYU though. We were all herded into this grand room with chairs and given individual time slots, but as we were brought in all of the student helpers and staff were smiling, clapping, and cheering for us. If you’ve ever seen the movie Bubble Boy it was a little like the bright & shiny cult, which kind of threw me off, but I tried not to think about it. I had prepared the same 4 pieces and felt a little more confident in my performance this time around, but when the time came to check the list for afternoon callbacks my name was nowhere to be found. In this business you have to roll with the punches and just forget about an audition as soon as it’s over because you never know why they do or do not choose you.
After these events I put graduate school in the back of my mind and focused on finishing up my bachelors degree and graduation! Funny thing is, I was offered the lead role in Basetrack’s inaugural national tour the day of my Marymount showcase. A role I would not have been able to accept had I been gearing up for grad school in the fall (if you want to know more about Basetrack click here) So off I went on my first big job as an actor. Yet there was still that little voice in the back of my head saying “what happens when you are cast in a show that isn’t about Marines?”
Keep an eye out for Part II in a few days!
So here's the deal folks, audiobook production is a lengthy, time consuming process. There are thousands of authors out there looking for a narrator to tell their story, but for a royalty deal. If you believe in the story and the power of the author's following it could be worth your time and money. I took on such a project to get my feet wet in the audiobook narration world.
More Than a Job, An Adventure is a historical fiction novel based on the author's experiences during his naval enlistment in the Vietnam era. Naturally I gravitated towards a story like this and Andy felt I could accurately tell the story he had written. Then came the hard part of producing an audiobook. For those of you first timers out there let me tell you the rough estimate of how much time, and money, I put into this. First you need the proper equipment; microphone, recording software, and more than likely some sound proofing. I spent roughly $150 on a good mic, AT2020 USB, and a stand to go with it. My sound engineer friend, Paul, gave me the rundown on good equip as well as software and told me to download Reaper. This software is similar to Pro Tools, but without the price tag. In fact I recorded, edited, and mastered my entire audiobook within their 60 day trial period. Bonus, once the trial period was up they continued to let me use it! So naturally I promptly bought their software. Once I had acquired the necessary equipment I had to get my space down to the right noise floor levels, max -60db. I spent another $150 on sound blankets to help with that. After reconfiguring my bedroom, along with a little jimmy rigging of couch cushions, I had my studio set up.
Now in order to get a good understanding of how long things will take, let's break it down. The actual recording can take anywhere from 10 minutes to an hour and a half, per chapter. This will depend on the length of the chapter and how many times you mess up. Think about it, if you fudge, replace, or completely leave out a word you have to go back to the beginning of that sentence. I found that I messed up more on my first chapter of the day, but once I got a rhythm going I tended to make fewer mistakes. This audiobook came out around the 11 hour mark, but I probably had closer to 18-20 hours of raw audio before going into editing. That brings me to the next point, editing. Now that you've got everything recorded you must now go back and listen to every second of audio to find clicks, pops, breaths, and remove any bad takes. You can end up listening to the same chapter twice over once you're done. Then you have the mastering process, which I just lumped in while I was editing. Bringing the sound levels to their required place, between -23 and -18 db with peaks no higher than -3 db, while double checking for any missed errors.
All totaled I probably spent anywhere from 45-60 hours and approximately $360 to produce & narrate this audiobook. The question is, was it worth it? I now have the equipment, technical ability, and knowledge necessary to produce & narrate audiobooks. Not only that but I acquired all of these things by helping another veteran express himself artistically. So yes I would say it was definitely worth it.
For those of you still reading I thank you and would like to reward you! Audible has given me a few promo codes to help drive sales for my audiobook. The first 10 people to comment on this blog will get one for a free download of More Than a Job, An Adventure. All I ask in return is that you write a thorough review on Audible once you're done listening and share the link to the audiobook with your friends and family as well.
Thank you again for all your support!
I can't believe that the opening weekend of Basetrack has come and gone. It seems like just yesterday I was getting the amazing news that I had been cast for the national tour! We had an amazing premiere at the McCullough Theater at the University of Texas' Performing Arts Center. It all still feels very surreal to me so I'll go through the play by play of how this summer lead up to this past weekend.
Back in June we started rehearsals in NYC at the Snapple Theater in Midtown, which went all the way up until it was time for our first preview workshop down in Gainesville, FL at UF. We spent a week in Gator country in an amazing theater that was much bigger than I thought we were going to get for our previews. Both of our "in-progress performances" went over very well and we received a lot of feedback from the audiences who attended. Gainesville is a dominantly military town with Jacksonville just a few hours away and so the vast majority of our 1300 person audience were either veterans themselves or family. After returning to NYC the team split off into it's separate sections in order to refine the show with the help of what we learned in Florida. Next stop, Arizona.
At the end of August we travelled to our second and final preview workshop destination in Tempe, AZ at ASU. The Galvin Playhouse at ASU was a little more sizable for our show to get it's legs underneath it and find all the subtle nuances that have made the show what it is today. But this did not come easy. Songs were cut, lines were moved around, entire stories were replaced, and we finally had the entire crew on stage as one of our musicians was unable to join us at UF. We spent two weeks fine tuning, teching, and lining up all the pieces of this crazy multimedia puzzle. At the end of our stay we performed two "semi-polished" shows that helped us really put the finishing touches on before it was time to release this baby into the world. I was reminded that I was not only heading for the world premiere of our show in Austin, but also towards my toughest critic: AJ himself.
I play an infantry Marine named AJ Czubai in the show, and I had been told that he would be at the premiere in Austin. This really sunk once we were performing at ASU and I started thinking "what if I've fucked this all up and he hates it?" I was nervous. Like pacing around nervous. I've seen and done things in my life, in the Marines, that have made me as strong as I am. But holy fuck was I nervous. I'm telling this fellow Marine's intimate story of the struggle he went through after being injured in combat during his 2010 Afghanistan deployment. What was he gonna say? Showtime came, the curtain went up, and I told his story.
After the show we normally have a post-performance discussion with the cast and creative team along with a few select individuals from the local area, AJ of course was on the panel. I approached him as he came onstage and gave him a hug, bro hug of course, and he just said "Oorah". As the discussion went on AJ was asked how it felt to see his life portrayed up on stage and he kept using the word "trippy", which is understandable. We got together a couple times after the performances over the weekend and he kept telling me how trippy it was, not only to see his story up onstage, but how trippy it was to see himself so accurately portrayed as well. I was so humbled to hear that all the hard work I had done truly hit home for AJ and his family and that it was "trippy" seeing another AJ up onstage telling his story.
Before I left Austin, AJ told me I "should be proud" of my performance. Hearing that from him tells me I did my job and he has my back %100 to continue telling his story across country. That is the greatest honor I could ask for as an actor.
Some of you may or may not know exactly HOW the Society of Artistic Veterans began, and if you do then you can just skip this post. It began as an idea for my co-founder Neath Williams to be able to run a casting agency like those of Harry Humphries and Dale Dye except for our generation. I was attending Actorfest 2012 here in NYC and saw an opportunity to see how viable an agency, or at the very least a database, was that is specifically tailored to military veterans who are also actors.
My girlfriend Heather and I sat in on a workshop that two casting directors from ABC were going to be speaking at and I saw my opening. These two had just finished casting the first few episodes of the upcoming series Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D., which is set in the comic universe and involves a lot of special abilities background & day player roles that would be perfect for the military. The mic came around and I stood up and asked Marci Phillips, “Is there an agency or database you as a casting director turn to when looking to fill military, police, and other tactical roles? And would you be interested in something like that to provide an authenticity to the shoot?” Her response was,”No, we don’t want veterans…we want actors.”
After I pulled the knife out of my gut I sat down speechless. How is this woman going to tell me that veterans CANNOT be actors? After cooling down later and venting a little bit to some fellow veterans who have also been pursuing careers in the industry, maybe Ms. Phillips didn’t mean it exactly the way it sounded. What I really wanted to know, and probably didn’t word properly, was if they would like to see veterans who are ALSO actors. She probably thought I meant just veterans with no actor training…I hope.
Regardless, that is the spark for me that fueled the creation of the Society of Artistic Veterans in order to enable veterans to pursue careers in the arts & entertainment industries. We want to make it known that having a veteran on set, either in front of or behind the camera, is an asset. So spread the word, because we have traded in our camouflage for monologues, writer’s block, & dancing shoes.