Music biz hiatus…more new posts coming very soon!
True Story: “My Ex Is The New Guy On GIRLS”
Alyssa Ritch and Michael Zegen at Zegen’s graduation. “We both decided to bleach our hair for some reason,” Ritch said.
News (“news”) broke yesterday that an actor named Michal Zegen has been cast to replace “Charlie” on Girls, after Christopher Abbott abruptly departed during production of the third season. Through the graces of social media, we located Alyssa Ritch, who dated Zegen when they were both students at Skidmore College, and interrogated her about what it’s like to see an ex-lover depicted on a hit TV show. Listen up, Lena Dunham: This could easily pass for its own, strangely meta plot line on Girls. You can have that one for free. You arewelcome.
How long ago did you date? For how long? We dated in college, for about a year.
Are you still friends? He’s still a very good friend, and we have a lot of mutual friends.
How did you hear about his new role on Girls? We’re friends on Facebook, and someone put up a post about it.
Do you watch Girls? I do watch Girls. I think everyone does—even if they don’t like it . We’re all really excited that we know someone on a hit show. He was also on Boardwalk Empire, so I did already get my first taste of seeing my ex on something I watch.
How does it feel? There’s a little pang of envy for his success, but at the same time I’m really happy for him. It’s the feeling that all performers get when they see their friends succeed.
The “now” photos.
Are you a performer? I have declared myself a failed actress, and now I work in the music business.
What do you hope for his story line on the show? The Facebook post said he might fill the Charlie void—that’s as specific as it got. Basically he’s been officially cast to have a role that’s more than just one episode. With Charlie gone there needs to be a new hot guy on the show—I think that he would fill that void well.
Any regrets about breaking up? No regrets—we broke up amicably. We moved to different cities after college. It ended good spirits. He’s a wonderful person.
“Have you ever considered law school?”
If you are a performer in your late twenties or early thirties who hasn’t managed to hold down steady work as an actor, you may begin to hear questions like this from your family.
My parents have always been supportive of my desire to be a performer, but after all the ups and downs on the bumpy road of an actor’s life in New York City, I think they’d be pretty psyched if I finally chose a path that might guarantee good money and a respectable, steady career. To have a child grow up to become a doctor or a lawyer is a parent’s dream, but since the image of me performing open heart surgery makes them feel uneasy, becoming a lawyer is the next best thing.
“You are such a smart girl, and you’re certainly good at arguing,” my Mom says on a weekly basis. “A law degree can help you in any field and you’ll be able to become financially secure, maybe even rich!,” my Dad says hopefully. They both stare down at me as I pretend to be absorbing and considering their words of wisdom.
Inside, however, these words stir up a profound nausea. A churning, if you will, of heart, mind, and stomach. While I always loved being in school, the thought of sitting through three years of studying torts and contracts makes my soul hurt a bit. Whilst I respect those who have worked hard and passed the bar exam, I often wonder what made them choose that particular path. Has it always been their goal, or did they choose it by default because nothing else worked out for them? Maybe they were pressured to do it? Maybe they just didn’t know what else to do?
“The Artist vs. Lawyer” debate is what I have dubbed this discussion with my parents. It happens on a weekly, and sometimes daily, basis. But my mother is right about one thing, I am a good debater. So far, I have managed to win my case. As time marches on, however, the stakes get higher. I have to fight harder, and find new angles and loopholes to save myself from a life of legal briefs.
It’s true, I would make an excellent lawyer. But I’d make an even better actress portraying a lawyer in a starring role on Law & Order. Hear that, Mr. Casting Director?
I may call myself a Failed Actress, a term most actors should embrace and accept with a sense of humor, but I have landed a number of roles, and those experiences have taught me a few things about auditioning.
The Seven Most Important Rules of Auditioning:
1). Arrive early. Never, ever come late. If you do, you will not be cast, period. They will toss your expensive headshot in the trashcan once you walk out of the door (though they might do that anyway).
2). Be crazy prepared. Have at least three different styles of monologues fully memorized. Some people say to have six, but I have never needed more than three. Know them so well that you can casually improvise if you stumble on a line. Many castings prefer having you read from sides these days. Treat sides like you would a monologue and memorize them so you are not glued to the page. If it’s a cold read, you’re either really talented or you’re really screwed.
Also, have a professional headshot. Casting directors have no patience for photos taken by friends that you had blown up at Rite Aid. Again, they will be tossed in the trashcan.
3) Dress The Part (Within Reason) You want to show that you can easily pull off the style of the part you want. You want makeup that subtly adds drama to your naturally fabulous face. But whatever you decide to wear, don’t be that person who shows up in Elizabethan costume or a poodle skirt.
4) DO NOT TOUCH THE CASTING DIRECTOR or LOOK AT THEM DURING YOUR MONOLOGUE! This one is important. Smile, acknowledge them when you first walk in the door, and when you exit, but DO NOT shake their hands, hug them, or focus on them whilst performing. They don’t want to be touched, and actors are especially germy. Staring at them makes them feel awkward. The one exception of staring is when they are reading a scene with you, but still, don’t touch. During your monologue, find a focal point in the general direction of the casting director, pretend it’s a person, and talk to it.
5) Never Apologize or Make Excuses Nobody cares. Nobody cares if you are sick. Nobody cares if your grandma just died. Nobody cares if all the subways in Manhattan stopped running due to a bomb threat. Plus you don’t want to be that guy or girl who says “I’m sorry” all the time. Again, headshot in the trashcan.
6) Stop Giving A Shit Some of my best auditions were when I just didn’t give a shit. People perform better when they are relaxed and don’t get too attached to a part. There are hundreds of auditions a day, so move on, and don’t quit your bartending job just yet.
Also, VERY IMPORTANT: Any truly professional theatrical or film audition has probably PRE-CAST the most significant roles. Trust me, I’ve been on the other side of the audition room many times. Also, most Equity and Non-Equity cattle calls are a waste of time. If you have ever been cast through a massive cattle call, please feel free to correct me. Otherwise, don’t bother with them. Unless you just want to have the hilarious experience of watching hundreds of hopeful actors re-applying their makeup and doing theater warm-ups in the hallway. That can be funny.
7) Break a leg! Literally. Because then you’ll be so distracted by the pain of your leg that you won’t even remember the pain of not being cast. Plus, you’ll get painkillers from your doctor.
One morning I woke up with butterflies in my stomach. It was casting day for the big show. I rocked my audition and was sure I’d be cast in one of the lead female roles. So I got out of bed, curled my hair in hot rollers, put on my frilliest blue dress with a lace trim and black patent leather shoes. I was in the second grade.
This was my first real foray into the theater, aside from all the at-home productions my sister and I performed for our parents. At my audition I felt like such a natural in front of an audience, that I decided then and there I was meant to become an actress.
The show was called Stone Soup. This musical was based on the old folk tale about poor, hungry travelers who come to a village looking for food. When the selfish villagers refuse to give them any, the weary travelers are forced to create their own soup, made with two big stones. The travelers eventually start asking the villagers for other ingredients like carrots, tomatoes, spices, etc, and suddenly they have created a fabulous Stone Soup that the whole town wants to taste.
Between all the villagers and travelers, there were lots of adorable female roles in which I could have been cast. I was cute, with my bangs, ringlets and dimples. But no, I was cast as a man. The weary Traveling Soldier desperately looking for a juicy soup bone to add to his Stone Soup.
When I first saw the cast list, I ran to the bathroom and cried. The Traveling Soldier? Why couldn’t I have been the pretty maiden, or the milkmaid? Not only was I cast as a man, but I had to sing about a JUICY SOUP BONE. All the other girls got to sing about carrots and tomatoes, and I had to sing about a juicy soup bone!
But once I accepted my fate, I eventually realized that I has been cast in a lead role. It was a very important part, singing about a very key ingredient.
After two months of rehearsal, it was finally showtime. I was ready for my big stage debut. All the other girls had their hair in curls, with red, rosy cheeks and pretty dresses. I, on the other hand, had my hair slicked back, and wore a soldier’s uniform, with a big orange sash across my chest. Testosterone was soaring through my tiny, second grade body.
I waited in the wings for my big entrance. My stomach was churning. My palms were sweating. When my cue came, my teacher gave me a wink and I walked onstage. The moment I took my place, with the bright spotlight in my eyes, I suddenly felt calm. My nerves disappeared as I introduced myself as the weary Traveling Soldier in need of food. Once rejected by the villagers, I walked downstage defiantly to prepare a large pot of Stone Soup. Then I marched back to the village singing “you can’t have soup without a BIG, JUICY SOUP BONE!”
The audience roared with applause, and a diva was born.
Many actors, myself included, started performing at an early age. Putting on shows for our families, we developed a passion for applause. That recognition launched us into an actor’s life of dedication, training non-stop, investing money in our pursuits, and competing with countless others on a daily basis. All for just a brief moment to shine, with the hopes that this moment will bring us fame and lifelong security. Isn’t that what Olympics athletes hope for as well?
As many Olympians discover, even the world’s most talented athletes can have a moment of weakness or bad luck, which makes all their hard work seem for nothing. That’s why I am proposing an Actor Olympics, so that the most deserving actors can take their shot at the gold medal.
Some may say that The Oscars or Tony Awards are the equivalent to the Actor Olympics, but I’m talking actual head-to-head competition where various categories in live performance are judged by experts from around the world.
Like athletes, actors have skills in various categories. The Actor Olympics could feature such competitions as: The Monologue Showdown, The Shakespeare Soliloquy, The Battle of the Mimes, The Viewpoint/Theater Game Challenge, the Avant Garde Competition, Scenes from Classical and Modern theater, The Triple Threat Match (acting, song, and dance), and of course, Accents from around the world.
This would not be easy. But it would separate the wheat from the chaff, and I would bet that the majority of young Hollywood would not make the cut. (Shout-out to NYC, Delhi, and London!) The British might be better at Shakespeare, but the Americans would wallop them in Tennessee Williams, etc., although Poland may impress us with a mean Stanley Kowalski. But now that I think about it, China would probably beat us all.
It would take the same dedication, devotion, and determination that the Olympians possess. It would strip down the luxuries of performing on camera and its ability to shoot take after take. No camera trick would be able to make you look or sound better than what you actually are. Being judged for appearance, voice, movement, wit, and ability to entertain would take theatrical acting to the next level.
It seems to me, especially from a New York City point of view, that the world is FULL of actors. Why not make it into a worldwide competition? Sure, we may not all be the Michael Phelps of acting, but I’m at least a Ryan Lochte.
I was extremely lucky to be referred to one of NYC’s most sought-after acting coaches, known for his biting, honest insults. Tough love, as it were. He was a coach to the stars, ones that I admired, and I hoped to burn as brightly as they did one day. But it was not so easy. You couldn’t merely pay to work with him. You had to audition for him first so he could decide if you were worthy of his efforts.
I sought out his home studio on a quiet, beautiful West Village street and went downstairs to the basement to await my audition with the great teacher. A pleasant woman, whom I later learned was his wife, told me to wait in the hallway and asked if I wanted some tea. As I waited, I eavesdropped through the walls on another actress working with him. After a while they wrapped up, the door flung open, and let’s suffice it to say that a VERY famous actress, one we all know and love, rushed past me to the exit, giving me a quick smile as she went by. If I was nervous before, I was then about to vomit. Then a tiny, bespectacled man in a black turtleneck peeked his head around the corner and beckoned me to come inside.
It was him, the great acting coach. I made some bumbling comment about the VERY famous actress who just strolled by me, and he just shrugged, shushed me, and threw a script on my lap. “Read the page I have marked,” he said. No hello, no where are you from? Just “Read it.”
It was Chekhov. I giggled and said, “Oh, we’re starting with something light.” He just looked at me for a minute and then nodded toward the script. I opened it and began to read the highlighted monologue.
I got through the whole thing, put the script down and looked up for a response. The coach just looked at me and said “Read it again, and this time, STOP ACTING!” Oookay, I thought. I read it again, this time not getting through two lines before he growled, “Start over!” Okay. I started over. “STOP ACTING!” He yelled. “OKAY!” I yelled back. I read some more, getting through the first few lines, hesitant, knowing he would stop me. He yelled, “Just SAY it, stop thinking about me and just SAY it!” Okay! I started over, and then stopped to take a breath. My hands began to tremble, but I kept reading. “Do you even know what you just said?” he barked. “Keep reading!” I did. “Again!” I started over, and once more he yelled, “Do it again, start from the beginning!”
Suddenly angered, I threw the script to the floor in frustration. He slowly got out of his chair and left the room. Oh shit, what had I done? I blew it with the great acting coach! Where did he go? I sat awkwardly in his bohemian living room full of books and photos, and started to look around. Suddenly the door swung open and a sassy, little white dog strutted into the room and sat down across from me. Like his master, he looked at me expectantly. I looked back, not sure if a show of friendliness would cause him to bite. The coach re-entered the room, sat down, and said, “I wasn’t sure about you until you threw the book onto the floor, so I am giving you one more chance to read.”
I took a breath, feeling annoyed that the little man, and his little dog, thought I might not be able to hack it. Then I began to read. I relaxed and just read. I said the words, I spit the words directly at the great coach and he smiled. When I finally finished the whole monologue he said, “Okay, let’s do this.”
And that was how I began a new, somewhat abusive, journey with one of the world’s greatest acting coaches. To this day, I can’t utter a sentence without “stripping it of its bullshit,” and the best piece of advice I can give any fellow actor is to “STOP ACTING and just f*cking speak!”