A call for artists

13

Dear Artist,

Recently, my sister-in-law, New York playwright Laura Bray, made a short film with two collaborators about what it’s like to audition as a woman. In Casting Call, The Project, actors read aloud the character breakdowns posted on casting call notices, exposing the stereotypes and clichés that pollute female film roles – it’s all about gender, sexuality, race, age and body type. Intended as a conversation among performing artists about the need to be their own storytellers, the project has taken off — several hundred thousand views within 24 hours of being posted on social media.

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Artists Laura Bray, Jenna Ciralli and Julie Asriyan, 2016

I remember hammering it out with an actor friend a few years ago in my studio. At the time, I was living in a 6-floor walk-up in the Village. The linoleum had been duct-taped to the floorboards by a previous tenant, the ceiling was cracked and flaking onto the piano keys like angel dandruff, and the bed was collapsible — not so comfy but good for easel work. My friend was equally threadbare, juggling restaurant shifts with casting calls and navigating the psychological hang-ups of a haircut — her current style was “too glamorous” to sell washing soap, they said. Once, during a simulated on-screen food fight, she became temporarily blinded by an eyeful of hot sauce. “How to be an artist?” she mused.

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“I try to write parts for women that are as complicated and interesting as women actually are.” (Nora Ephron, 1941-2012)

We supposed she’d fallen in love with a seductive and beautiful art form, but to practice apparently required the operation of a big, disempowering machine. “A painter,” I riffed, “can set up alone in her room and, with hard work, become an artist.”

“I love acting because I believe in telling stories,” said my friend. She attended classes and workshops and readings to develop her craft — grinding, triumphing and floundering through the earning process of her industry. After a particularly exasperating series of auditions for tropes and bite-and-smiles, she decided to make a change. Today, she writes her own script.

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“Success isn’t everything but it makes a man stand straight.” (Lillian Hellman, 1905-1984)

Sincerely,

Sara

PS: “Art! Who comprehends her? With whom can one consult concerning this great goddess?” (Ludwig van Beethoven)

“I want to fly! I want to touch the sun!”
“Finish your eggs first.” (Lorraine Hansberry, A Raisin in the Sun)

Esoterica: Casting Call has now been viewed over 2.5 million times while Laura and her collaborators continue the conversation offline — on panels, in interviews and in their other creative work. “It got to a point where something more than sharing and talking about it among ourselves had to happen. It felt like more was required,” says Laura. You can see Casting Call here and connect with Laura Bray, Julie Asriyan and Jenna Ciralli here.

“What are you going to do? Everything, is my guess. It will be a little messy, but embrace the mess. It will be complicated, but rejoice in the complications.” (Nora Ephron)

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“I once had a rose named after me and I was very flattered. But I was not pleased to read the description in the catalogue: ‘No good in a bed, but fine up against a wall.’ (Eleanor Roosevelt)

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13 Comments

  1. The (patriarchal male-dominated) Status Quo- that has existed for at least (utilizing a great big rounded off number) 10,000 years IS WHAT IS. Is it changing? Yes! Slowly- as do all great big dead weight social structures. Women (in the USA) have only been able to vote for less than 100 of those years. And the struggle to get the vote for women took way too long- because way too many women themselves refused to challenge the Status Quo and were unwilling to change what was. What was? Well- from the (heterosexist) male perspective- if women were kept uneducated- barefoot and pregnant- then males could better control them. But from the female perspective- those very same males were expected to take care of their women- and provide housing and shelter and food for them- in exchange for their (presumed) safety- security and sex/procreation. So unfortunately- women learned that their male counterparts were going to give them everything they needed to survive.
    It’s a brave new world- right? And now- women who don’t like the stereotype are going to have to go out in the world and do exactly what every man has had to do- for- forever. They’re going to have to make their own way. Because nobody’s going to give it to them- anymore. Darn.

  2. Margo Harper on

    Dear Sara,

    You may not remember me, I believe we met at Tamara and Dave’s once or twice. I used to be Tamara’s boss before my particular world in journalism fell apart. I have been channelling Nora Ephron and “embracing the mess” ever since.

    I opened your letter the morning after my return from Montreal to visit my niece Emily who is graduating from McGill with a degree in music but has thrown herself into the world of multi-disciplinary performing in the last few years: improv, sketch comedy, musical theatre, classical and contemporary theatre. She lives in a tiny apartment and shops in vintage stores and works 3 jobs to make it even in Montreal, which we know is one of the best towns in N America for artists. She wouldn’t want any other life. She is just beginning to discover that the rules are different for women in the industry and mostly just laughs about it. I love her chutzpah. Sometimes – as her older (although not necessarily wiser) Aunty I am afraid for her. But also delighted and so freaking proud that she has chosen a life in art. I’m going to send her your letter as it is very wise.

    I continue to be moved by your dispatches and look forward to them in my in-box. I thank you for your commitment to keeping this going and want you to know that your reflections – and faithfulness to your father’s memory – have been an inspiration to me and I’m sure continue to ripple outward beyond what even you might imagine.

    With gratitude,
    Margo

    • Thank you, Margot. Go, Emily! And thank you to everyone who reads the Letters …and to those of you who share them and post your insights.

      Also, this: The Half The World Global Literary Award for Unpublished Work — open to everyone aged 13 and over — short story, novella, novel or screenplay…you have until June 8 to submit! https://halftheworld.media/

      Sara

  3. Well Sara,
    you are all so lucky to be females, but i know its hard, but lets face it, many of you do not know how to go about it, its like a game of chess, their are winners and losers, but personally you have the best of us males, you need to define it.
    As a worshiper of the female sex, i find it disturbing and disappointing that women are not feisty enough.
    kind regards
    Peter

    • I THINK FEMALES ARE THE BEST OF THE TWO SEXES….GENERALLY, THEY ARE SMARTER THAN MOST MEN, BUT ALLOW MALES TO MANAGE THEM…….BEING MORE FEISTY COULD BE AN ASSET…..BUT WE DON’T SEEM TO FIND THIS IN FEMALE POLITICIANS AND SOCIAL ACTIVISTS…..THEY ARE THE REALLY FEISTY ONES…………AND LOSE THEIR FEMININITY IN THE PROCESS,,,,,,,,,I’M NOT SHOUTING, BUT DUE TO POOR EYESIGHT NEED TO TYPE IN CAPS……

  4. Hi Sara, this is Peter Daniels, I live in White Rock and knew your dad, as I paint,sculpt and develop film. Currently I am completing the funding process on a feature Film. We have our lead principal male actor,(Greg Jackson from Days of our Lives),our D.O.P. Robert Crone was inducted into Toronto’s University Archives for 50 years of film. Our Director won Best Director for a play, etc. We are sourcing a female lead now. We are happy to say that we have kept the script somewhat balanced with female and male roles. One of our lead roles is a very important role, as the character is a mystic that carries a lot of punch. The film is a prison riot with men, so many roles are male, but our mystic and our Defense Lawyer,which carry two major roles are for women. We also have three more roles that are female within the script.
    Crowd funding is just around the corner for us, and an animator Ms. Marie Kerns is bringing our pitch up to high standards. As an artist,actor film Producer, I wear many hats. Please keep us in your radar, and if we can network any actress with us, just send myself an e-mail to; whoa.peterdanielsfineart@telus.net Cheers! Peter

  5. so good! Spring has sprung – start it with the Arts!
    Thank you for the fine article – I have saved and shared and will view Call after work!

    I am sending out a call as well – profound – if nothing else pass on the url below: my ArtWithHeart has helped a lot worldwide, but finally focusing for now on TAAF – the Anuerysm and AVM Foundation – the thing that took my beloved husband 30 years ago. My art is part of their 5K and auction in SanFrancisco soon and more – I am doing a 50/50 event in September at one of the East Coast Galleries – my own cause event ! My Art with Heart FROM the Heart http://www.ellesmithfagan.com/blog/2016/4/28/winning-through

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