Growing up, I was the weird, theatrical kid who always tried to make people be in my plays. I've always loved comedy, but when it came time to figure out what I was going to go to school for, my parents were like, "Acting?! I don't think so. No." It took me a while to get the courage to pursue it. I had to do it in secret for a little bit, and then when I got married and was out on my own, I went for it.
I learned how to let other performers have their moment. A lot of people can't do that. They just chew the scenery and steamroll over their scene partners. It doesn't make you look better in the long run to do that. You have to have balance in your scene. If it's somebody else's moment, let them have it. Learn how to be generous. Plus, it makes the audience hate you.
As a performer, you can't just sit around waiting for the phone to ring. You have to write and develop projects for yourself, because casting people aren't always going to see you the way you want to be seen. Write a one-person show, shoot a short film, do plays, whatever - activity breeds activity. No one's interested in a stay-at-home actress.
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Improv is more than just spitting out a bunch of funny stuff that's unrelated to the material. You have to stay in character, you have to react and respond as the character you're trying to play. You have to service the story, and I think improv training has helped with my listening, responding, and my audition technique. It's sounds so silly, but it's true. Because not only do you improvise during the audition, but once you get the part, they'll say, "Throw away everything. Just improv this scene. Do whatever you want." Someone could panic if they're not used to doing something like that.
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I had seen some shows at the Groundlings [legendary L.A. improvisational and sketch comedy troupe] and thought, "If I could ever do that, that would really mean something, that I have arrived." So I went through the program and said to myself, "I'm going to stay here until they kick me out." Seriously, they can ask you to leave at any point. Luckily, they never did that to me.
I used humor to avoid being picked on as a kid. Or I would try and make my parents laugh, so I wouldn't get in trouble. But as a kid, I would watch Flip Wilson and I would memorize his whole routine, listen to Bill Cosby's records constantly, Steve Martin, Carol Burnett, Lucille Ball. I just drank that stuff up and loved it.
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