Today's guest blog is presented by Stage 32 member and actress, Cassandra Seidenfeld. Cassandra graduated in 2014 from both Columbia University and The William Esper 2-Year Conservatory. In her short time as a professional actor, Cassandra has landed roles in two indie features for MoMa New York's New Films/New Directors and the Lincoln Film Society. But her breakout role came almost instantly when landing the role of 'Johnna Monevata in August: Osage County for The Rep.
In January (2015), I submitted myself through an online casting site for the role of 'Johnna Monevata' in The Rep's upcoming August: Osage County (Tracy Letts), lead by Creative Director Robert Hupp. In late January, I received an email from The Rep for my audition in the city, which was held during New York City snow blizzard #77! There’s nothing like the stress of it being freezing cold outside and having to be “on” after getting snowed on right before you walk in the door.
I auditioned on a Monday in the front of a panel of Casting Associates including Mr. Hupp. I had prepared myself as best I could (snowy head aside) but I was still quite nervous when I went into the audition room. But, the sheer excitement of being there and getting to audition for Mr. Hupp kept my adrenaline pumping! I auditioned with my reader and Mr. Hupp expressed to me that "It was a good audition for a film." But, this wasn’t for a film. It was for theater. But then, to my surprise, he gave me two adjustments and a callback!
I canceled everything that I had on my calendar and worked on my callback. One of my Mentors, Suzanne Esper taught me to make clear choices with my actions and I incorporated that into what Mr. Hupp told me. Wednesday afternoon, I went in, auditioned with all that I had in me. When I was done, the anticipation was killing me. Mr. Hupp paused and said "You did exactly what I asked." My eyes watered as I expressed my gratitude that what he told me. Those are the words that any actor lives to hear from a Director and a Casting Director! I trusted my initial prep and choices for this audition and after all that hard work I was appreciative for the positive feedback. As I waited to find out if I got the part, I realized that I couldn’t control the past. I could be confident in the choices I made. I stayed optimistic and I turned my focus to an upcoming trip to Europe I had planned, still not hearing anything back.
I was off to Europe on February 3rd and I arrived in Paris. Almost instantly when I landed I received an email confirmation that I had booked the role of 'Johnna Monevata'! I had to travel half way around the world to receive the exciting news that I was booked in my backyard! That day 1,167 friends on Facebook were almost as happy as I was in landing this dream role.
Since I was a kid, I have been enchanted with film, stage, and TV. I used to live out my dream fantasies cinematically. I also watched all of the classics like All About Eve, Auntie Mame, The Philadelphia Story,African Queen, The Lady from Shanghai and Wuthering Heights to contemporary classics such as Philadelphia, The English Patient, Castaway,The King’s Speech, Capote, and My Cousin Vinny. Similar to film, there is so much great TV including Seinfeld, Orange is the New Black, The Walking Dead, House of Cards, and Downton Abbey (will be missed). Incredible and transformative minds including Mr. Hitchcock, Mr. Spielberg, Mr. Lucas, Mr. Eastwood, Ms. Taymor, and Mr. Tarantino (the lists for film, stage and TV are a bit more comprehensive) have changed the cinematic and entertainment culture in a way that affords upcoming artists creative freedom and license to make more courageous and innovate choices/ concepts that were not necessarily available even 10 years ago. Their boldness and vision dramatically shifted filmmaking, theatrical production and TV in so many refreshing and innovative ways.
I continued to audition, film, work outside of our industry, exercise, and rehearse weekly for August: Osage County. I remember people saying to me that my play didn't start until June so I had ample time to prepare. I felt differently from the moment that I booked the role. Each week I read the play and rehearsed my lines. The audition process in New York is extremely competitive and it is critical if you aspire to be a “working actor” to stay on top of using the latest tools for casting submissions, making sure your resume and headshot are updated in all databases, as well as with any agent or managers that talent is affiliated with. This requires a constant commitment to paying attention to one’s individual track record and accepting the responsibility for its accuracy because when you receive “that call” or “email” that we actors live for, if we are not thoroughly prepared in every way, casting will most probably remember that, and talent will most likely not be considered for the current job or any future jobs under their employ.
Time and professionalism are a two- way street for both the actor and the client. The more professional talent presents themselves, the more seamless casting’s job will be and the more likelihood that you will be remembered with good favor even if you don’t book the job. Leave a good impression and it can surprise you with an opportunity when you least expect it. This exact thing happened to me while I was in rehearsals at The Rep in Little Rock last week. A Director called me and booked me in a lead role for a new mafia film that he is directing. He shared with the producers that he had worked with me and remarked on my professionalism and talent (humbled and grateful).
A fully filled out profile is so important. I constantly update my information with any new role that I book, any changes to my resume that are no longer applicable and any new classes that I am taking. This allows anyone looking at your profile to see that you are aware of the importance of keeping your information accurate. Before I departed for The Rep in Arkansas, I was accepted into the Professional Improv Ensemble and I posted that information immediately. A friend saw the update and called their friend in the business and I was asked to audition for Stand- Up in July, something I never thought I would be considered for. After graduating Columbia University in 2013 and The William Esper 2-Year Meisner Conservatory in 2014, I set sails for my acting career, but I never knew how to navigate the water. It’s constantly moving and you have to move with it.
Even though I am blessed to be working in a dream role now on stage, our profession is one that we truly never know what we will be working on in the next moment. This can be exciting and terrifying because of its instability. That is a major obstacle because we can only be in one place at a time and I was booked for both an Episodic and a film while performing in an existing commitment. So, while I pounded the pavement as heavily as I could in the late winter and early spring, the cumulative results overlapped and there’s nothing that one can do but see if filming can be postponed. But at least, the lasting impression was professional and positive.
All of these lessons helped prepare me for my role in August: Osage County. On May 12th, I departed for Little Rock to work for The Rep!
Upon arrival in Little Rock, I dropped off my bags at my apartment, and proceeded directly to the theater for my first rehearsal. On the first day of rehearsal, May 12th, we did a table read of the script and met with the production team led by our Director. Then Mr. Hupp gave us a very interesting and intriguing piece of homework which was: "Tomorrow, share something personal that relates you to this play".
The following day, we (the entire cast) all arrived with our assignments. The shareware was incredible and brought us very close to one another quite quickly. Our candor, openness, vulnerability, and willingness to share made it possible for us to bond almost instantaneously. This bond, which is still growing, enabled us to create a life in the house of the play that gives us a feeling and a sense of closeness and familiarity that is required and expected in a family dwelling particularly "where emotions run deep".
The production team set up a three level rehearsal space in a one- level room in our theater, as the stage was being presently occupied by another show until the Wednesday before our Opening Night. The precision of the design of the rehearsal room enabled us to transfer rather comfortably to the stage. I remember when I first set foot on the stage in Little Rock at The Rep, a sense of wonder, awe, and creative explosion as this was going to be my home for 17 days.
After 18 days of rehearsal and 3 sold out premieres, we opened to a full house on June 5th. It is an evening that I will never forget. I feel incredibly blessed to be with such an incredible cast of amazing talented actors and a beyond professional off the charts production team led by our esteemed Creative Director Mr. Robert Hupp! The collaborative effort set forth by Mr. Hupp and his amazing team gave us (the cast) a phenomenal cohesive and intimate place to unleash our feelings and lives on stage.
If I could share one humble thought or two with you that I’ve learned, it would be to trust the decisions that you have made based on your preparation and understanding of your character when you are auditioning. Likewise, when you are performing.
Prepare and rehearse as much as possible about the specifics versus generalities. As well as, do research your character and most importantly, work with your Director and your entire team. "Absorb direction like a sponge". Personally, I have to admit that I did not do any research on my character in terms of watching films or watching interviews of this critically acclaimed play because I wanted to bring my sense of my character to the table, similarly as Mr. Hupp's directing sentiments. I desired to be open and accessible to his direction and vision. And, it worked for me. I couldn’t be more proud of not only my work, but the entire team’s work.
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As always, Cassandra is available for thoughts and remarks in the Comments section below...