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      Call Board: a theatrik blog

      How Are You Holding Up While the World Is Burning Down?

      When life as we knew it spiraled into oblivion last year I began searching for ways to keep my mind preoccupied. Though running Theatrik is a full-time job, I stumbled upon a little side hustle that admittedly I am not proud of…that of a doom scroller (it’s only part-time, though I’ve been putting in a lot of overtime these last couple of weeks). I’m not sure why I’ve chosen this second occupation. It certainly doesn’t pay well, the hours are terrible - sometimes I’m scrolling long after I should be asleep at night, or as soon as I wake up - and frankly, my boss (uh, me) just doesn’t know when to back off.

      But I can’t bring myself to quit.

      The world is burning down. At least, that’s how it feels sometimes. And apparently my thumbs have a pressing desire to scroll through my phone and learn just how high the flames have risen. Our phones provide what seems to be the only outlet for connection, especially during this time when we’re all cooped up in our homes or workplaces without much human interaction, and nearly all activities and events are held virtually. I’ve lost count, but I’ve already checked my phone at least four times in the writing of these last two paragraphs. And the thing about the doom scrolling is that NO GOOD CAN COME OF IT. It can lead to so much anxiety and depression, yet it is so hard to stop. One day while talking to my therapist (side note: therapists are amazing and EVERYONE should have one) I mentioned my doom-scrolling gig. It went a little something like this:

      Me: I keep reading all the horrific news and it’s making me feel super anxious.

      Therapist: What do you usually do when you start to feel that way?

      Me: Well, I usually try to distract myself by scrolling through my phone.

      So you see my dilemma.

      I know I’m not the only doom scroller out here. Horrific news is in no short supply and there is a constant demand for other scrollers like myself, which begs the question: How are you holding up? Are you making a conscious effort to put away your phone? Are you treating yourself to small luxuries now and then? Are you doing some sort of physical activity each day?

      Are you still making art?

      As artists we have an innate need to create. Creating helps us work through our emotions and provides a better understanding of the world around us. But with theaters shuttered indefinitely and many productions shut down (though many tv and film shoots are back in action full force - in the middle of this pandemic - and that is a topic for a whole other day), finding that necessary outlet is challenging, to say the least. So my next question is this: Are you creating? I’m not talking about the “work” kind of creating, where you set unrealistic goals for yourself and force yourself to write a play or produce a podcast or pen a novel while in quarantine. I’m talking about the carefree, “play” type of creating, where you scribble down random musings, doodle in a notebook or make up songs while you cook dinner. The type of creating that’s just for you, that keeps your mind active and allows you to have fun. It’s the kind of mental health check-in we don’t typically recognize as self-care, because perhaps it seems frivolous or unimportant. However, playing is vital to our well-being.

      Listen, I’m all for coping in whatever ways it takes to get through this. Want to eat ice cream all day? Grab a spoon! Feel like staying in your pajamas for three days straight? Who cares? Plan on spending an entire Monday watching all eight episodes of Bridgerton? That sounds like a pretty great afternoon and evening to me. But I also know how important it is to maintain some semblance of a “normal” routine, whether it’s keeping up with your workouts, reading consistently to keep your mind active, or completing household tasks that perhaps you’ve been putting off. And as artists, creating is also part of your routine, no matter how small or seemingly insignificant that creative activity might be.

      The news is terrifying, there’s no debating that. And I fear what might transpire in the days ahead. But it’s important that we don’t completely lose ourselves. So this is just little ol’ me, checking in on all of you, and looking forward to the time when we can once again attend plays, and run into each other outside of a casting office, and go out for a drink after a show. Stay safe, wear your mask, wash your hands…and play.






      Q & A with Actor José Antonio García

      José "Tony" García is an actor who made the move from Chicago to L.A. earlier this year. His recent credits include Superstore, The Chi, Proven Innocent, Empire, Chicago P.D., Chicago Med, and Shameless, among others. He also heads up the Instagram account The Practical Actor where he provides acting advice and guidance. Tony and I met a few years ago while working together as interns at a casting office, and recently I interviewed him to learn more about his decision to move from Chicago to Los Angeles.

      José Antonio García headshot
      José Antonio García


      How long did you live in Chicago before moving to LA?

      I had two "Acts" in Chicago. I first lived there from 2003-2008, then from 2011-2020. We moved down to Houston in 2008 to be closer to [my wife] Sarah’s family and for a change of pace. We quickly realized we missed Chicago terribly as well as all the friends we still had there, so we moved back just in time for Snowpocalypse in 2011. Good times!

      What do you miss most about Chicago?

      The CTA, believe it or not. We sold our car back in 2013 and pretty much lived off the CTA and Lyft. LA has public transit, but it's just not as efficient. We have a car now and it's great, but I do miss being able to just hop on a train and let somebody else do the driving. I'll admit, I'd probably feel differently if I was actually still there taking CTA during this pandemic.

      What made you decide to move to Los Angeles?

      Opportunity. My last few years in Chicago I really started focusing more on TV/Film work. The Chicago market is great, but it does have a ceiling. I got the opportunity to work on a lot of the shows in Chicago, so I found myself staring at that ceiling. The LA market is the biggest in the country. There is no ceiling here. If a Chicago show gets cancelled, it's kind of a big bummer. If a show gets cancelled in LA, there's 10 new shows to take its place. Simply put, it's a numbers game, and there's just a ton more opportunity out here to find work in the TV/Film world.

      You moved at the beginning of the pandemic. Did that have any effect on your decision to pack up and go?

      Yes and no. We'd been planning this move since 2019, it wasn't just something we decided to do a few months prior. When March hit and everything started to shut down, we were already way deep into our planning. We did stop for a minute and discuss whether we should keep going or come up with a Plan B. We quickly decided to keep moving forward and come out. We'd been working on it for so long it just felt like we had to keep going no matter what. If we were going to be stuck somewhere, might as well be stuck out here. Plus at that time, we were all still under the impression that things should be going "back to normal" by July, so of course we wanted to be in LA when things opened up again. Moving during all this oddly worked in our favor as well, because everything and everyone was operating on high alert. Being super careful, super detailed, and making sure that everything was handled safely. 

      How has the reality of living in LA differed from your expectation?

      It has differed quite a bit. Because so much has been closed or at least not opened all the way, we haven't really gotten the "LA Experience" so to speak. We've certainly gone here and there and have gotten to the beach a few times, but everything feels held back. Nothing is operating at full potential or capacity, so it's just a "less than" version of everything. And since all of the auditions I've gotten out here have been Self-Tape or via Zoom, I haven't gotten to go to an LA Casting office in person, so I can't even compare that experience. It's kind of like going to the Target on Elston, or the one by UIC, and then going to the one on Belmont and Clark. That's a weird analogy, but yeah. 

      With auditions and many productions moving to a virtual format, what have been some of the challenges in adapting to the new normal?

      Making sure the mess is well hidden behind my pop up backdrop! I count myself somewhat lucky. I started familiarizing myself with doing self-tapes a while ago and had been slowly building my arsenal of equipment. I picked your brain pretty much every time I worked with you on a self-tape! Feels like I've been preparing for this "new normal" without even realizing it. The challenge then became making sure I had the right tools to get the job done and not just a bunch of unnecessary bells and whistles. Practicing my setup so I can get it up and ready quickly and not having it be a burden every time I have to do a self-tape. I'm still fine-tuning things to help expedite the process. I'm currently looking at creating a permanent set up so I can just hit the on switch on everything and be ready to go. The other side of this coin is maintaining an elevated sense of energy and commitment. It can be easy to relax a little too much with your self-tapes when you're in the comfort of your own home. That "in the room" feeling is gone, so you have to be able to create that energy for yourself. We don't have casting directors giving us notes, asking us to try it differently, or even a sense of how we might be doing based on the energy in the room. We have to be able to produce and perform in a vacuum, on top of now also having to be good at lighting, rigging, cinematography, sound, etc. Being able to create that world for yourself becomes that much more important when you've got a pile of dirty laundry and your dog doing unmentionable things to your throw pillow just off camera.

      What advice can you give actors who might be considering a move to L.A.?

      Come out for a visit. Get a feel for the place. Have a plan and commit to that plan. "I'm willing to travel" is one of the biggest lies actors use. Talent agencies and casting directors are not going to take a chance on anyone whose presence is dependent on the efficiency of Southwest Airlines. It's just not going to work. The new growing standard of accepting self-tapes is certainly going to open doors for some people, but being a local hire is still very much a thing that a lot of productions are not going to budge on. Especially with the dangers of traveling right now, they're just not going to do it. Find the right people out here. Everyone is an "actor" out here, everyone has a "project" they're working on, everyone has "connections," and there's a reason I'm putting all those words in quotes. Stay focused and do the work. That part doesn't change. Everything is just bigger and more plentiful and more spread out. Don't allow yourself to get overwhelmed.

      Lastly, what is your favorite thing about L.A.?

      Street Tacos!! Holy crap they are everywhere and they are all delicious. Dine at your own risk, of course, we are talking about street meat here after all. But dang, just good tacos everywhere. The ocean. Nothing like salt water. Lastly, fitness is a religion out here. Even casual fitness. I'm hoping some of that rubs off on me.


      When Tony is not busy eating street tacos, you can find him here:

      Safety in the Time of COVID

              You have undoubtedly heard the phrase “these are unprecedented times” to the point of exhaustion by now. Determining how to navigate these uncharted waters is a complex issue, one that cannot be detailed in a single blog post. However, I’ve attempted to outline the key points below as determined by the framework developed by the AMPTP, DGA, SAG-AFTRA, IATSE, Teamsters and the Basic Crafts. While it is still unsafe for productions to resume as “normal,” some projects are opening up in limited capacity. For example, commercials are shooting again, but on-camera talent is typically confined to members of the same household (read my Q & A with commercial director Matt Miller, where he discusses his experiences on set - and on Zoom - during this time). While some major productions have the resources to provide adequate testing and safety protocols in order to resume work, that doesn’t necessarily translate to smaller productions, leaving many cast and crew members to remain unemployed.

      If you are an actor, chances are you’ve received a request to self-tape at least once in the last several months, as in-person auditions can still pose a health risk. SAG-AFTRA recommends that all initial auditions take place virtually unless there is a specific reason why this would not suffice. Any in-person auditions should be held in a space that allows physical distancing, move paperwork to a digital format including scripts, schedules, and confidentiality agreements, and offer actors the ability to wait outside until they are called. If a group audition is required then a partition should be placed between performers and/or clear face shields should be worn.

      Hair and Makeup
      With the hair and makeup departments working in such close proximity to performers, it is vital that all involved parties adhere to strict safety measures. As outlined by SAG-AFTRA, hair and makeup departments will have health and safety training specific to COVID-19. Hair and makeup artists must wear PPE, workspaces should be adequately ventilated, and strict sanitation measures should be taken regarding workstations and tools.

      The same safety measures apply to wardrobe; PPE must be worn and strict sanitation protocols must be followed. In addition, the number of people who come in contact with costumes will be limited, and wardrobe crew must plan ahead to prevent overcrowding of work spaces.

      As with other areas of production, strict protocols will be in place regarding props to ensure the health and safety of cast and crew, including thoroughly cleaning and disinfecting props before and after each use, and limiting the number of people allowed to handle them.

               Ultimately, the responsibility falls to the producer to provide PPE and testing, and ensure all safety measures are in place. SAG-AFTRA’s video below provides details on how to safely return to work (an outline begins at 10:18). For further information visit sagaftra.org/backtowork.



      Q & A with Director Matt Miller

      Recently I chatted with Matt Miller, a Chicago-based industry professional who has been working in the arts for more than twenty years. Here he discusses navigating jobs through a pandemic and his thoughts on the future of theatre and tv/film production.


      What is your job title?

      I'm a director. Plays and commercials mostly.

      How long have you been doing that?

      I've been directing theatre professionally since I moved to Chicago in 1999. I've been directing commercials now for the last six years.

      I’m sure COVID-19 has caused quite a disruption in your occupation. Are you working or are things at a standstill?

      Live theatre is at a dead stop and will be for a long time I fear.

      Commercial and TV/Film production stopped for a couple months when quarantine began back in March, but, as we have learned more about the virus and how to contain it, production has adapted and slowly re-started. Commercial production pivoted quickly to user generated content at the beginning of quarantine and now more traditional shoots are happening with new protocols, social distancing, and on-set COVID compliance officers in charge of keeping everyone safe.

      How is your job different now than it was before the pandemic?

      In May I directed a commercial for Lowe's that took place in four locations across the country (LA, Chicago, Alabama, and New Jersey) all through Zoom. That was definitely a very different experience and not something I ever anticipated doing. I don't think anyone liked working that way, but we were able to keep people safe and capture some good content that the client loved. I can see that kind of shoot happening again.

      Matt Miller on set

      What are the biggest challenges you’ve faced while working during this time?

      With the return of commercial production, the biggest challenge has been keeping actors safe. For crew, there are all kinds of protocols and procedures in place. However, most of those safety practices are rendered ineffective when you need to put actors in a scene together without masks. Right now most productions are casting actors or families who are already quarantined together to reduce risk. This will probably be the norm for the rest of this year at least until testing can become more readily available.

      Has anything good or pleasantly unexpected come from being quarantined?

      Well, on a national level I feel like our country is more actively wrestling with the many social inequalities and injustices that have long been allowed to fester in a culture that normally likes to serve up plenty of distractions. I think that has been positive and hopefully continues.

      On a personal level, I'm trying to use this time to read more and work on projects around the house that I have been too busy for previously. My girlfriend and I are also growing tomatoes on the back deck and they are straight up delicious.

      What are your thoughts on how you see the industry moving forward?

      For a time, I do think that anything that can be done remotely through Zoom will be. Already clients and ad agencies are watching shoots via Zoom rather than being present on set. Now that this option has been tested, that approach may be something that sticks as it's a big time and money saver. Casting directors have been able to use the break-out room feature in Zoom to good effect and virtual casting sessions have become more standard. This development puts more responsibility on actors especially to have quality at-home set ups for recording with proper lighting, backdrop, and microphones. So I think we are going to see--and already are seeing--the rise of the home recording studio for actors. While I think we will get back to in-person casting sessions when it's safe, I would not be surprised if Zoom casting sessions remain in the mix after the pandemic.

      What advice can you share with actors as they navigate through this crazy time?

      Read fiction. Engage with challenging stories. An actor's best tool is their imagination and reading fiction helps keep that blade sharp in the absence of actual stage or screen time. And, on a practical level, today's novel is tomorrow's movie.


      Check out some of Matt's work at mattmillerdirect.com.

      It's Theatrik, with a "K"

      At the start of January, the year 2020 seemed full of promise. (Pause for laughter). I was eating healthier (not really) and exercising more (no, but I had EVERY intention to), and “Cheer” on Netflix had me believing I was fully equipped to judge a national cheerleading competition, should the unlikely opportunity present itself. Nevermind the fact that I began the year with a concussion, thanks to my unusually strong eight-year-old niece and her new virtual reality punching game. In hindsight, I should have viewed that as an omen.

      But I felt more than ready to tackle my personal goals head-on. In addition to my freelance business of coaching actors and recording their self-tapes, an idea had been brewing for quite some time to incorporate a retail aspect into my work. In 2017 I launched an LLC making and selling candles with an entertainment theme. I loved it - experimenting with different fragrance oils, the trial-and-error of figuring out which wicks worked in which candles, marketing the product - it was all new and terrifying and exciting. But it was only the beginning.

      From the start I knew the business wouldn’t just be about candles. Once I learned 

      Kate, founder of Theatrik, age 7 or 8

      the basics of getting a company up and running, I was ready to branch out into what I’d always wanted the business to be: a retail shop for actors. Why actors? Because I’ve spent practically my entire life in the arts. It’s my passion. I truly can’t imagine working in any other industry. Starting at a very young age, I was either dancing in a recital (see pic of my fancy "Red, Red Robin" costume), performing in a play or studying theatre in school. During the summers I would make home movies using my grandparents’ colossal video camera (the kind you had to hoist up onto your shoulder), complete with theme music and closing credits written in crayon on 8.5” x 11” pieces of paper.

      If you’re an actor, you know a lot is required of you at any given time: have a resume and headshot available at a moment’s notice (in fact, have multiple looks for the headshot); have a monologue prepared at all times - make that several monologues, from various genres and time periods; be able to produce and submit a self-taped audition with little notice; rearrange your schedule for those last-minute auditions; hear the word “no” A LOT and then be expected to get up and do it all again the next day; the list goes on. My goal with this company is to make your life just a bit easier by providing some of the tools needed to help you along the way. At the start of this year (back to the whole being “full of promise” thing), I rebranded my website, changed the name of the company and began expanding my inventory. Whether it’s plays, stage makeup, filming equipment, rehearsal gear, or even a gift for your roommate who helped you run lines, I hope you are able to find it at Theatrik. If you can’t, let me know and I’ll see if I can make it available in the future.

      Of course, we all know what happened as the year progressed. With the global pandemic still wreaking havoc all around the world, lives have been uprooted, careers have been halted, and the arts industry - like so many others - has taken a devastating hit. In addition, we are confronted every day with the racial injustice that continues to plague this country. We as a society are facing a reckoning with our own biases, and must acknowledge the inequities we have all borne witness to as well as helped perpetuate. We have a long way to go.

      My heart aches for all those young theatre kids who didn’t get to perform their final play at the end of the school year, the kids who are missing performing arts camp, the graduates who were planning to attend an arts program in the Fall, the kids who don’t get any arts education at their schools, the performers whose shows ended abruptly, the artists whose work has been pushed to the side time and time again because of the color of their skin, the theaters whose doors have closed permanently because of the pandemic…it is easy to get lost in a sea of negativity. However, there is one thing I know for sure: art survives. Artists are always creating, therefore art will always exist. And if the current health crisis has taught us anything, it’s that we NEED art. I don’t know about you, but I have watched more shows and read more books in the last four months than I did probably all of last year, thanks to the artists who created them.

      While I didn’t envision launching my arts retail company at a time when the arts industry is effectively shut down, my goals for Theatrik have not changed. Theatre will be back. Productions will resume. Artists will continue to create. And Theatrik will be here.

      Kate McCoy Signature