From Los Angeles, meet Robyn Simms, a 20 year veteran of the funny, from acting and writing to costume design and puppetry. Her short film "Sisyphus" has played a number of prestigious film fests, including Palm Springs Shortsfest and the LA Comedy Shorts '09 and won a jury prize at the FilmOneFest. Robin is currently the assistant director of the Santa Barbara Minute Film Festival (the films are not small; they are 60 seconds long).
Sara Faith Alterman (also known by her nom de blog, “SFA”) is a bicoastal performer frequently subjected to bad in-flight comedy as she travels between San Francisco and Boston to practice her crafts – primarily, as co-producer of Mortified: Boston, and a member of San Francisco’s The Loose Interpretations. To the IRS, Sara Faith works full time as a freelance writer. She is working on her third book and contributes the occasional feature article.
Not all the comedians Miss Bender knows are Emerson College graduates. Just the best ones.
CB: I tend to start these interviews with a naïve question based completely on stereotype. Working in performing arts seems to me like a constant stream of job interviews. Or dating. How does it compare to, say, a business interview or a job application?
Robyn: It is totally a constant stream of job interviews. You know when they like you. I find it comforting when they at least like me, even if I don't book it. It's awful when you know they DON'T like you.
SFA: You have to constantly try to market yourself, then cross your fingers and hope for the best. I thought I did a really great job on that press release. Are they going to call me? Or are they going to choose some other starving idiot?
Deana: As artists we all kick into performance mode easily, and therefore we do incredibly well in job interviews. We can convince anyone to hire us. The problem is that we might not want that job. I had to learn to shift out of that mode long enough to ask the important questions so I could evaluate whether the job was right for the "real" me.
CB: Which describes the experience more accurately: Fame, High School Musical, American Idol, The Apprentice?
Deana: Is there a reality show where a stay at home mom takes a class and gets cast out of nowhere in a show? That was my experience. That should be a show...
Robyn: Fame- the original movie. It captures the thrilling soaring feelings of creating, and the really sh***y times too. When they have the hot shot grad as their waiter, the dancer having an abortion and Coco having to take off her shirt at the end. I stand by Fame. A fairy tale, yes. But one with actual reality.
SFA: I've only seen Fame, and the live theater version of High School Musical. Don't ask. So, I have no idea. But I DO get a lot of comparisons to the lovably annoying Rachel on Glee. Because I'm a diva. And Jewish. And I love knee socks.
CB: But the rejection - the rejection! How do you bounce back from "we'll call you"?
Robyn: You keep other irons in the fire at all times, and don't take it personally. It's a numbers game, and as long as a percentage of [it] is sticking to the wall, you know you got something.
Deana: Since I am [also] on the business side of things … I cast just as often as I want to be cast. I learned that there really is something specific folks are looking for. More often than not the choice is not about who is the most talented - when you get to this level everyone is talented. It's about the right look, the right vibe with other actors, the opinion of one person that day. There are so many variables that, at least for me, there is no way to take it personally. It's not about me, it's about what they need for the role.
CB: Yes, let's hear a pep talk. Tell us a story about nailing the audition.
Robyn: I just went through 3 rounds of phone interviews and one on-camera, and then booked it. We shot it over this past weekend, a game show pilot which we then won.
SFA: When I walked into my audition for the a cappella group I sing with, I was so nervous I thought I was going to boot all over my sheet music. I took a deep breath, closed my eyes, opened my mouth...and f[lubb]ed up the opening lines of my song so badly that I had to start over. I just made a joke about it, slipped the director a fifty, and voila! Not only did I get in, but if you don't blink during the first 10 seconds of the latest promo for Hawaii 5-O, you'll catch me and the girls shoo-be-doo-bopping in front of the Golden Gate bridge.
Deana: The last commercial gig I got was amazing. I was the first person they saw for the role. The call was for a "Kelly Rippa" type. I got in, chatted them up, read the sides (part of the script) in a perky, Rippa-esque way - light news interview, morning show style. I finished and the director said, "I really wanted it to be more hard-hitting, like Barbara Walters". I wouldn't characterize Barbara Walters as hard-hitting, but what do I know. I asked if I could read again. I delivered a blend of Barbara Walters and Hank Phillippe Ryan - pensive, smart, then went for the jugular. He loved it. He was impressed with the reading, but he was more impressed that I could throw away the first reading so quickly and give him something completely different. He went out to the lobby and sent everyone else home. The shoot turned out to be a really fun day and has led to more work with that company.
CB: What have we seen you in?
Robyn: I have an episode of Tim and Eric Show this season-I'm in a Cinco commercial.
Deana: I perform at ImprovBoston at least once a week in various improv and sketch shows. This month you can see me in the Mainstage shows each Saturday at 8 & 10. I just finished a run of the musical Lube - which I wrote and starred in. I will also be hosting the Boston Improv Festival here at ImprovBoston September 8-12, featuring improvisers from all over the world.
SFA: The latest promo for Hawaii 5-O! Plus Mortified shows in Boston, LA, and San Francisco. And you can find my first two books on Amazon.
CB: What's a role/show you've always wanted to do but haven't?
Robyn: The wacky neighbor.
CB: I find that an obvious misuse of resources.
SFA: Saturday Night Live. It's been my lifelong dream to be a writer and performer for that glorious Svengali Lorne Michaels.
Deana: As comedians, we all have the same dream - getting on SNL or winding up with a tolerable sit com. In mine I play Ellen Degeneres' sister, we have a large family, our other sisters are Bonnie Hunt, Katherine O'Hara and Amy Poehler. You know, because we're all funny and blonde.
CB: These crazy kids today.... what are they doing wrong you would like to set them straight on? (is it ending sentences with prepositions, perhaps?)
SFA: Stop thinking that life would be so much more glamorous if you could just land a reality TV show for you and your posse.
Deana: If it isn't a joy for you there is no reason to do it. Each audition is an opportunity - even if you don't get the role it is not wasted time. A casting director might remember you for something else, that actress you met in the lobby might turn out to be a great contact or an even better friend.
CB: That sounds like good advice in any profession
Robyn: The crazy kids are doing everything right. I got no complaints about them.
CB: Correct our naive notion that Life is a Cabaret. But without calling me "chum."
Robyn: We have a saying at our house called "Circus Family." It is for when we have to do something (good or bad) that might seem really out of the ordinary to regular people. For instance- I have a coffin stored in the garage, for a short film [my husband] Steve wrote, but we have not gotten around to shooting yet. This weekend it's getting hauled out for a photoshoot that is being staged in our backyard.
SFA: Honestly, it's all about the Benjamins, baby. If i could be confident that I'd be able to pay my rent, and that I wouldn't have to face too much rejection on a regular basis, I'd go for it. Wow, that makes me sound like a timid a****le. Maybe I should just go for it right now.
CB: When you imagine yourself in a completely different professional field, what do you think is most likely?
Deana: Teacher - which is sort of cheating because I teach here as part of my job. But I mean classroom teacher, like elementary school or something. A good teacher uses the same elements that we use in improvisation - tapping into what interests your audience and exploring that, setting up an environment that insists on supporting one another and thinking quickly on your feet.
Robyn: My fantasy jobs all seem to involve wearing smart looking suits with statement jewelry and working in an office. They also pay a lot. I'm always well groomed and have many material possessions. I think it always boils down to money. Happiness doesn't play into these fantasies at all, they are pure and utter Stuff Porn.
SFA: In my next life, I'd like to run an animal rescue organization.
CB: When do these kind of thoughts occur to you?
SFA: Every time I look at my dog, Noodle, who I rescued/kidnapped from Beijing, China in 2008.
Robyn: When I realize there is too much month at the end of the money.
Deana: But then I remember that teachers don't make any money either.
CB: Do you now, or have you ever, worked in a traditional office/cube type environment?
SFA: I was a reporter with The Boston Phoenix until 2009, but being a journalist, especially for an Alternative Weekly newspaper, isn't terribly traditional. I kept a bottle of whiskey in my desk, and would toss one back with my coworkers on a rough day. Don't think that would fly at a financial services company.
Deana: I have certainly worked in lots of offices, though I would not call any of them "traditional". They have all been crazy in some way or other. Maybe the common thread there is me, and when I am not there they are very normal places to work. I have also worked in very corporate environments where I had to wear suits all day, it just wasn't the right fit for me, but they were all great opportunities and led me to where I am now.
Robyn: For about 6 months at the beginning of my career in NYC, I was the receptionist at two different production houses. Both were terrible jobs. Had one of them been better, instead of making me think I would go postal, where would I be now?
CB: Anything you would (or do) borrow from that culture to benefit life backstage?
SFA: Being a successful business person means constantly having to go with the flow and not let unexpected obstacles trip you up too badly. And to constantly envision the big picture. That sort of mentality is tremendously helpful when you're trying to produce a show, or when you f*** up onstage.
Deana: [I]t is important whenever meeting directors, casting agents, and other actors to be very professional - some actors just don't get that. Be on time, be polite, follow up after the shoot to say thank you, simple things that the corporate world knows very well.
Robyn: The [entertainment] world I work in…IS corporate. Still art, but there is a lot of money at stake.
CB: What aspects of the arts/entertainment environment would benefit the corporate world?
Robyn: Craft Services would be a great morale booster. So would wacky costumes and better lighting.
SFA: The principals of improv are the same as those of negotiation and general communication; accept another person's idea and build upon it, rather than shoot it down. That idea makes for much more productive communication and idea/product development.
Deana: I am a corporate trainer as part of my day job. I teach businesses how to use the foundations of improv to benefit their bottom line. We teach people how to create corporate cultures that encourage support and creativity, that truly allow for ideas to grow, and that allow for better communication across all levels of the company. I truly believe that in order to have a successful business you need to embrace ideas, encourage humor and allow folks some fun in their day.
One to grow on...
Single Mother on Election Night
note: 20 questions round tables are conducted by email. Participants are not in actual conversation. But then, this isn't a real Finishing School. ~~CB