Tuesday, March 24, 2009

Stay “Cool” Boy!

1961. West Side Story. This film won ten Academy Awards in its eleven nominated categories, including Best Picture. The amazing genius of Leonard Bernstein with his powerful score along with lyrics from Stephen Sondheim are timeless. You know the story of course.

One particular scene will roll around in my head quite often.

To help set the scene.... start snapping your fingers in rhythm …..now… visualize “The Jets” (ready to rumble) getting antsy...while waiting for “The Sharks” to show up for the fight. An attempt is made to convince the Jets to call off the rumble….but…. to no avail….. so “Riff” tells them to stay “cool”….. to keep it …….“cool”…….. boy.

Enjoy "Cool" from West Side Story ...click the link on the right.

This song brings some rather essential advice for us all really. For the Voice Actor, keeping it “cool” and relaxed may be one of the quintessential ingredients to a creating and achieving excellence.

It’s remarkable what happens to your body from stress and tension. Here’s way too much information for you but important just the same:

Stress can result from many things: a high-pressure job, relationships, financial problems, loneliness, crowds, traffic jams and life changes. Because of the complexity of today's world, stress is experienced by everyone at one time or another. Everyone has his or her own comfort level where stress is concerned. What is considered stress by one may be just a small bump in the road to another.

Symptoms of stress include increased adrenaline, increased heart beat, increased blood pressure, and increased cholesterol levels, changes in blood makeup, and muscle tension.

Stress may create an environment for other illnesses and conditions to progress, such as appetite changes, fatigue, headaches, irritability, insecurities, memory loss, stuttering, teeth-grinding, cold hands, high blood pressure, shallow breathing, nervous twitches, reduced sex drive, insomnia, gas, indigestion, heart burn, stomach upset, withdrawal, anxiety, panic and higher risk of heart attack.

Enough already!! Just reading this can make you tense!

So what can we do to manage tension and stress?

Physicians recommend we best manage stress by regular exercise, meditation or other relaxation techniques, structured time outs, and learning new coping strategies to create predictability in our lives. The management of stress depends mainly on the willingness of a person to make the changes necessary for a healthy lifestyle. We need to keep it “cool” kid.

I like to use (or attempt to use) humor. My late father was the “king” of bad puns…and if you know me well…you know that “wonderful” quality was passed along. …LOL! Seriously, humor works wonders to relax you and prepare you for your project. (Wait “seriously, humor”...isn’t; that an oxymoron?)

And here are a few of the "cool" performers from whom I’ve taken a lesson:

If you enjoy golf…then you know of Masters Champion Fred Couples. As an athlete, he may be the “coolest”! His walk ....lazy....as if he hasn’t a care in the world….chatting while walking and carrying a club to goof with….you get the feeling he is out for a leisurely stroll on a Sunday afternoon...he is so thoroughly relaxed. Yet in the heat of competition his ability to take dead aim and make the important shot has been remarkable over the years.

Sinatra! A master at exuding a sense of casualness with perfection. You can feel how much he “loved” to sing and seemingly without a care in the world. He would fill a concert hall singing to thousands and appear to be in his living room...with his feet up.

A relaxed “stress and tension free” environment is essential to help to strive to achieve excellence.

Keep it "Cool" .....Life is fun!

Inside Studio A …..I’m James Herron

Wednesday, March 18, 2009

So You've been Rejected?

I remember like it was yesterday and yet it was some 35 + years ago. Funny how rejection has a way of leaving an indelible mark on your memory.

I had just created a voice over demo and was thrilled to learn that "Marvelous" Marv Brooks (WPGC "Good Guy" and Program Director) had agreed to listen and review it. Of course, back in the day this was analog.... submitted at 7.5 ips as a reel to reel tape .

If you grew up in the D.C. area then you recall that Marv was a bit of a radio legend. He had great voice with amazingly clear dic-tion. Marv Brooks spent years on air with "Good Guy Radio" WPGC (top 40 radio) and then went on to provide voice overs for agency's, the voice of the Capital Center, provide the play by play for the Washington Capitals and served as a radio Program Director.

Virtually all of us were cigarette smokers back in the '70's...and believe me Marv was a chain smoker. One afternoon, I presented my tape to Marv and with his "Kool" cig dangling from his mouth he threaded it on the TEAC...hit play....and away we went. Marv listened...focused... almost no expression . As my demo ended, Marv hit rewind, opened the tape box and placed the tape in the box. (pause) "Well, Jimmy"..he said. "Some people have it and some people don't and YOU don't!"

BAM! Hit me like a ton of bricks. (I know many of you reading this are saying....he was correct! Ha Ha.... very funny!)

I was crushed. What was I to do with this? Was I that bad? Did he mean for me to give up and find something else to do for my life's work? You know the feeling, as if someone had just punched you in the stomach. What started as depression quickly moved into frustration. Then, I just got pissed off! "Who the hell does he think he is?"

I would take his blunt comments as a challenge....in fact almost made it my mission to prove him wrong.

Several months later, I created a new demo. This time I submitted it to Dave McNamee Program Director of WMOD-FM in Washington D.C. Dave was also a chain smoker. I remember meeting Dave at the WMOD/WOL studios in Georgetown. I told him how confident I was that I was going to be his next hire! (where was the humility?) He smiled...almost in a sarcastic way. Dave threaded it on the tape deck ....listened a bit and stopped the tape. He said. "Thanks for coming in". End of meeting. "Not again!" I thought.

A few days later my phone rang. It was Dave McNamee. He said..."after reviewing your tape....I wanted to let you know.... it was among the worst demos I've ever heard! But. I hear potential and I like your confidence. When can you start?" Amazing.

I'm sad to report both Marv Brooks and Dave McNamee are gone each taken by Cancer. Fortunately, I had the opportunity to let each know how grateful I was for the bluntness, candor, guidance and opportunity each had given me.

Talk about how to stay focused and positive without fear of rejection. Check out these examples:

An account executive I worked with in radio had a jelly jar of pennies on his desk. I remember reaching into my pocket to contribute to his collection. He said thanks but no thanks....that he knew how many pennies were in the jar and that he used them regularly. "I dump them out once a week" he said. "Then I start making phone calls for potential clients. I place a penny back in the jar after I make a call. I won't stop making calls until I've been through all the pennies. If I did not make a sale I'll start the process all over again." I'm not sure I could do that but I certainly admire the strength of character, the will to increase the odds of acceptance or success and to simply move on to the next "penny" after rejection.

And then there's the amazing example of rejection that Steve Jobs received when he presented the idea of a personal computer to IBM. They rejected Steve flat out! The idea of a personal computer appeared foreign to the IBM vision. The company did not foresee computers used for anything but business. Whoops.

Steve Jobs of course went on to form Apple....and the rest is history.

Here are a few favorites quotes on rejection:
  • "Actors search for rejection. If they don't get it they reject themselves!" ~ Charlie Chaplin
  • "Lukewarm acceptance is more bewildering than outright rejection." ~ Martin Luther King Jr.
  • "If one dream should fall and break into a thousand pieces, never be afraid to pick one of those pieces up and begin again." ~Flavia Weedn
  • "Defeat may serve as well as victory to shake the soul and let the glory out."~Edwin Markham
Here's something I think you'll enjoy! Cristin O'keef Aptowicz is a wonderful young poet comedian and author. She recently performed "Notes on rejection" at Brown University . To view her performance on You Tube click the link on the right.

I love to audition and do so every day not just for the opportunity of securing a new project but to keep on my "A game". Frankly, it's a great way to practice. I submit auditions confident I'm ideal for a particular project or part, only to find out that once again... I have been rejected.

Today, I find it much easier to say - "C'est la vie"!

Inside Studio A.....I'm James Herron

Thanks for forwarding my pieces to your friends and linking to your websites and boards.

Saturday, March 14, 2009

The Summer of '72

It was a typical hot and humid evening in the summer of 1972 . I guess one somehow gets used to the sticky summer weather growing up in Maryland. This particular summer night would bring change to my life forever.

The hot, humid summer evening did not deter the golfers from hitting a bucket or two of balls at Fairway Golf Range. This was the driving range which was owned by my father. It was a popular place to come for serious golfers or just those wishing to test how far they could crush a golf ball!

I worked (slaved) evenings at the golf range while attending college. I think it was the old Ford farm tractor with the ball picker-upper on the front, that made it fun! Chasing gofers (not golfers) and snagging balls as golfers tried repeatedly to hit the tractor which had a screen cage (thank God) surrounding it.

(FYI ~ I think you'll get a kick out of the "Driving Range" spot featured on You Tube...click the link on the right)

Most of my time was spent hanging-out in the golf cabana checking in golfers and filling buckets with freshly washed balls.

Once or twice a week, a couple would arrive and spend a few hours hitting golf balls. Actually, the truth is, this very fit middle aged woman would hit basket after basket while her husband (who made a striking resemblance to Winston Churchill) would walk his lazy basset hound, smoking a good sized "Cuban". He would never miss an opportunity to strike up conversation with me. His name was Stan McCormick.

Over the many weeks we became friends and would discuss sports, politics, weather, dogs….you name it we talked about it. I do remember laughing a great deal….and that he had the most infectious laugh!

One evening Stan asked me what I planned to do with the rest of my life. I remember saying rather profoundly....“I want to be a professional Actor, Drummer, on TV or the Radio….I think?” I recall Stan as being very supportive and encouraging upon hearing of my dream(s). "Go for it kid!" He said. I later learned from Stan, that he worked in Television and that his responsibility was as Sales Manager for WRC TV in Washington D.C.

Several weeks and many golf balls flew by. Then one evening boom! “You know. Jimmy" (his nickname for me) "…..I may have an idea for you..... I have some friends who just acquired a small A.M. radio station in Laurel Maryland….maybe they need some help?....I’ll call ‘em and let you know.”

Well he did and they did…and I received what so many of us are fortunate enough to get; a break! Think of it. A casual, kind, discussion.....later a phone call.....and my life was changed forever.

"We make a living by what we get, but we make a life by what we give" ~ Winston Churchill

One never knows how, from where, or from whom opportunity will present itself. But don’t think for a moment it’s not out there. Sure as the sun will rise, opportunity is actively searching for its next victim! You may be next! Perhaps you are looking for that first job, that first role ….or you are a veteran actor looking for your next performance…..whatever you’re in the hunt for….be confident …your door will open! But be prepared. Oddly enough, chances are, you’ll be guided to your next opportunity through a most remarkable circumstance.

If we're truly honest with ourselves this comes as no surprise. After all…this is LIFE!!

It’s the people we meet along this remarkable journey that makes it so extra amazing!

Thank you, Stan!

Oh yes.....one important footnote. Be sure you "PAY IT FORWARD" and help find someone that next opportunity. You'll bring about immeasurable joy!

Inside Studio A.....I'm James Herron

Thanks for forwarding my pieces to your friends and linking to your websites and boards.

Monday, March 9, 2009

Stop! Those 25 Items May Be a Scam

The other day I was thrilled to connect with a friend from high school with whom I had not heard from in more than 35 years!

I find I thoroughly enjoy the various social networking sites. I guess I tend to lean more on Facebook these days….seems all encompassing. I’m still trying to figure out how to best use Twitter. But indeed, it’s really wonderful…..almost a gift….to connect with long lost friends and develop new friendships via Facebook and others sites. The ability to follow friends in daily activities is tremendously interesting. With friends from all over the world and the distance so vast….. it’s remarkable how the technology somehow brings us all a bit closer together.

It’s also richly rewarding to participate in helping others by supporting a good cause. And yet....I’m not sure about you, but I tend to get bomb barded with causes everyday….which has “caused” me to become selective.

A few weeks ago a friend had his Facebook account hacked. The crooks high jacked his identity in an attempt to make money. They created a fraudulent crisis scenario involving my friend. Using his Facebook IM they were contacting any of his friends on line and described his crisis; “He had been robbed….was stranded in London and desperately needed to get back to the states and needed money…he had no where else to turn” I called him at home in North Carolina to check his status and of course he answered the phone. He said he was working to fix the mess these jerks had created. Fortunately, no one took the crooks up on the scam this time…..but I understand others have not been so fortunate. I imagine we should be cautious with "friends", "links" and "games".

This leads me to those interesting "sharing" games most all of us have participated in. You know….25 intimate details about your life etc. They are a blast to read! Learning about your friends foods, music, travel experiences etc...is captivating. Certainly, they appear innocent enough? I got to thinking however...….suppose the overriding purpose was to provide hacking information to "would be" thieves?

See if you agree…and check out one you’ve completed or about to do. Many ask for nicknames, pet names, maiden names….and on and on. Perhaps I’m a tad paranoid….but I think a little caution may be in order. Yikes!

Inside Studio A.....I'm James Herron

Thanks for forwarding my pieces to your friends and linking to your websites and boards.

Thursday, March 5, 2009

Push and Embrace Limitations

One of my favorite scenes from the motion picture “Field of Dreams” is when “rookie” player “Archie Moonlight Graham” faces awesome pitcher Eddie Cicotte …. after two pitches tight and inside… rookie Graham hears from team mate the great “Shoeless Joe” who says “The first two were high and tight, so where do you think the next one's gonna be? Archie Graham says; “Well, either low and away, or in my ear.” Shoeless Joe; “He's not gonna wanna load the bases, so look low and away.” “Right”… replies Graham. Shoeless Joe; “But watch out for in your ear!”

It's hard to know what our next pitch or project will be. So, what steps can we take to help see what's coming?

In a recent Tavis Smiley interview with Academy Award Winning actor Sean Penn. Sean was asked about his limitations on the roles he accepted. His response (paraphrasing) was to push yourself beyond your own boundaries but that one must be aware of limitations…to rely on the strength of your talent(s)….but don’t be afraid to test yourself outside your comfort zone or limitations.

Catch a clip from the Sean Penn interview using the link located on page right.

I think far to often we spread ourselves thin, muddy the water, blur the image when we try to take on a role or project which we know down deep inside going in... is well outside our strength(s) as a performer. Yes, we should take time to explore, push and test our limitations. It is through testing we break out of our zone and may find a new dimension to add to our talent repertoire. But we must be honest with our basic skill set as a performer. In doing so, success may come a little more comfortably, confidently and more frequently.

It is essential to master those skills and talents found most comfortable within ourselves.

“People who write about spring training not being necessary, have never tried to throw a baseball.” ~ Sandy Koufax

You can tell I’m a baseball nut so I thank you for indulging me.

Practicing ones craft is essential to success. I don’t believe we ever “arrive” at the top of our game. It’s the routine of practicing… over and over…. those fundamentals of our craft that will prepare you for that next excellent performance.

Develop a routine if you don’t have one. Make time to work on your craft every day. Listen and learn from those performers you admire and respect. Master the fundamentals of your skills as a performer and as those skills become second nature, then push yourself and enjoy exploring what’s outside your limitations.

Inside Studio A.....I'm James Herron

Thanks for forwarding my pieces to your friends and linking to your websites and boards.

Sunday, March 1, 2009

Lab Results

It occurred to me the other day, just how much my daily routine has changed over the years. A change I am embracing with renewed enthusiasm.

"It takes a lot of courage to release the familiar and seemingly secure, to embrace the new. But there is no real security in what is no longer meaningful. There is more security in the adventurous and exciting, for in movement there is life, and in change there is power." ~ Alan Cohen

In the past, my day would begin with a trip to the city. I'd park the car (okay I know "pahk the cah") in the Back Bay and then enjoy a short (shot) walk to the Boston studio. Up the elevator to the fourth floor. I'm greeted by familiar friendly faces and the busy activities of one of the worlds most sensational recording studios. I check in at the desk, pick up the script(s), head to the lounge/cafeteria where an abundance of food and drink is made available to all. Oh my head....the food! Bagels, beautiful pastries.....on and on. Anyway, I find a comfy chair and engage in some brief discussion with other actors and studio personnel. The wall mounted TV has sports or news tuned in with the sound muted. While reviewing the script for the project for a few minutes, a call comes into the lounge phone. "We're ready for you, James. Studio 3". Once in the studio I am greeted by five or so..clients, the recording engineer, the advertising director, producer etc. Howdy! I say..(a typical New England greeting) ....then go directly in to the voicing booth...headphones....water.....level test......instructions from the Director...and the session begins. Done. I receive kudos from the good group and add my thanks say my goodbyes....grab my coffee to go and head to the car ("cah") for the long journey home.

In just few short (shot) years my routine has dramatically changed.

Today...I'm up generally before dawn (...that is "dawn" as in "Sun coming up" not to be confused with "Fratangelo").....so with fresh ground coffee perking....I check in with the local TV to learn just how much more snow we'll be getting. Uggh! Then (still in my P.J.'s) I make the long walk through the kitchen and down the 12 stairs to Studio A, my home studio. I check my email, log on to Twitter, Facebook, Linked-In, Plaxo, Voices.com ..etc etc. Before long I realize I've spent about an hour engaged with the computer! Yikes, time for a break. Up the stairs, more Java, kisses to the wife off to work, let the dog out, put a few more logs in the wood stove. Now...finally.... it's time to record. The morning's 8 a.m. project is a narrative for a University. The client calls and using my Telos phone system I'm now patched into four or five clients and the director. We briefly exchange pleasantries. After some instructions, I record the project. A few quick edits will be necessary but overall the client is delighted. I say my thank you to all, hang up the phone and send the edited .wav files via an ftp. Now..... comes that long walk up stairs to let the dog in. I'm still in my P.J.'s. This is crazy!

I sincerely adore going into the city(s) for recording sessions and of course will always do so for those projects requiring splendid facilities and food! I imagine I love it as much for the interaction of live living and breathing souls as the experience to work with such a pool of talent. And there's nothing like popping into "Mike's" for a cannoli and a pit stop in Topsfield to have lunch with my wonderful friends from the Fire Department.

And yet, I have to admit the home studio offers a unique and wonderful performing lifestyle. My projects have significantly increased in number and type via the new technology even amid this challenging economy. Oh.... and I suppose Facebook and Twitter may have replaced the idle discussion found in the"lounge" to some degree. Next to Hugh Hefner, I may be the only guy working all day in P.J.'s too.

The gift of change I really love comes at the completion of each project, when I'm greeted with an unconditional wag of praise from our wonderful Black Lab!

Inside Studio A...... I'm James Herron