The Court of MVB

Just ‘Go Be A Star’

On a picture perfect summer day I stumbled upon a performance by singer/songwriter Justin Marra. His laidback energy let the music flow at Coastal Roasters in Tiverton supporting the cause Singing Out Against Hunger.
 
Justin likes to rock. With an unforced raspy tone he can clear his throat and crank it to 11.  He breaks out his originals but sprinkles in covers that fit his style from Elvis Costello’s “Miracle Man” to the Wallflower’s “One Headlight”.
 
He exudes cool just like his vintage fender acoustic with its beat up pastel green finish. He was about to up the ante and take his performance to the next level.
 
Then his microphone and amp went out.
 
The runners of the show race to fix the sound while Justin shrugs, smiles, and without skipping a beat he keeps on going like a pro. photo__1_
 
“I hope so,” he says. “I’ve been doing this for 16 years!”
 
And he doesn’t need the power. He brings it himself, more real, more personal and more soulful. He did his job and connected with us all. Musical talent has a way of doing that. So does personality. Justin has both.  A month later I was stoked to catch up with him for a one on one talk about how he keeps rekindling the fire for performing his music, on his terms.
 
Talk to me about the music scene in Rhode Island. What’s it like to be a singer/songwriter here?
 
I think I started doing this at the end of the golden age of music in RI. That’s not to say there aren’t great bands and venues here today but it’s very different. If you went to Richmond St. 15 years ago there were 50 cafes with 50 different bands playing on one night. If you wanted a gig there was a venue for you to play at.
 
But I can almost remember when it switched and clubs started closing all over the place. There aren’t a lot of games in town left. There are only a few left and if you want to play you’ve got to play the social media game. 
 
Do you think that’s a result of the climate in the music industry in general and the market where everything’s online and streaming versus what used to make bands their money, which was touring?
 
Yes. And that’s still true. All booking is done through social networking now and venues will ask how many Twitter, Facebook, Instagram followers you have so they know how many people they can expect at the gig. And if you don’t have that following you’re not getting the gig. Or you’re locked into a pay to play gig. You have to sell ‘x’ many tickets in advance.
 
I was in a band in Worcester for years and one of the guys had a business so we would do these once a month events at his store. More people would hear our music playing as the house band at his monthly event than would hear us at every gig we played in the city over 3 months. I remember saying to him, “the bar stools really know our set list man, why are we doing this?”
 
What I find interesting is that way of promotion should be easier today with the Internet and the tools we have. But it seems like it’s harder because it’s so accessible.  
 
It’s basic supply and demand. If something is scarce and valued people will pay for it and they will hunt to then ends of the earth to find it. What makes something desirable, desiring it and not being able to get it. Having to wait. And we live in a society where we don’t have to wait for anything!
 
I talk about the Internet all the time with people who think it’s great that everybody has a voice and everything’s out there on whatever platform. There’s always someone blowing up.
 
There’s one. But there are millions who don’t.
 
How can you possibly sift through it all? I remember when I was 17 A & R guys would chase me down trying to sign me and get me to work with them, but I wanted to go to college. I thought there would be time for this later. Now it’s like, “apply for this opportunity to work with this company we will choose 3”. How many people do you think are applying for that? Millions! And you’re gonna pick 3?
 
But on the flipside, the Internet has been good to me. I’ve maybe played a few hundred shows between open mics, coffee shops and shows in New England. So maybe a few thousand people have heard me live versus 10,000 streams of my latest mp3 out there. That’s insane! I’ve got a small dedicated following in Finland. I’ve never been to Finland! That’s pretty awesome. I have a really strong following in Massachusetts where I haven’t lived in 5 years. I’ve only played a few shows there. That’s awesome that I can still interact with those people and they care. That’s 100% because of the Internet.sitting
 
When did you start getting the confidence to get up and play in front of people?
 
For me it’s always been about getting on stage and playing for people. I’m not the person that goes home, sits in their bedroom and noodles around or I have to learn that song and play it exactly. For me it’s always been about playing on stage. I never wanted to be a musician or a great songwriter. What does every 15-year-old want a guitar for? You want to get up on stage. You want to impress people.  Starting out the only gig I could get was AS220, but you can’t play covers there. So that forced me to sit down and write songs. I had to be me if I wanted to play.
 
What’s it like the first time you started writing and performing your own songs?  
 
Terrifying. Exciting. Exhilarating! I’m kind of an introvert. You gotta go find your comfort zone, and if that’s not on stage you have to create one. The guys I’m in a band [Survivors of The Kraken] with right now, Allan Furtado and Brian Decotaux, we’re in one of the first bands I ever played in. They’ve had my back for a really long time and I know that they have it now. So that helps. But there were times when they had to pull me out of the bathroom before we went on because I was so nervous.
 
That’s so interesting because when you were performing at Coastal Roasters, you couldn’t have had more things go wrong for you technically.  But you just kept entertaining and laughed it off. 
 
Thank you!
 
When did you start getting comfortable on stage? How do you find that pocket to go up and connect with people?
 
The same way that you got your high school crush; Do they like me? Do they not? Are we connecting? Is this going well?  Being on stage is a similar experience. There are some audiences that you’re just a human jukebox. Or the radio could be on. Then there are some audiences that are cheering and shouting for you.
 
That Roaster’s show, it took a minute to gauge. Was I just there playing? Because it didn’t feel like people were enjoying what I was doing; we weren’t connecting until I stepped away from the mic. I felt it in that moment. And I was one of many performers that had gone on in the day. But that worked to my favor frankly, the power going out, because it was something different and it caught people. You don’t always get the opportunity to hook someone. Sometimes you’re just the next band on.
 
So a lot of the comfort level is what you get back from the audience. But a lot of it is you have to know what it is your doing and be okay with the audience not paying attention to you. For me my happy place is on stage or wherever your platform is, that’s where I’m the most me. So any chance I get to go there I’ll take it.
 
You’re not on that end of the spectrum where this is all there is and you’re going to eat ramen noodles until you have a gold album. You have a career, a wife and some perspective on this. But at a certain point a lot of people give up. What’s the allure of being a struggling musician? Why is that your happy place?
 
I can’t explain it. I wish I knew. Because when I figure it out I think I’ll be more successful. I think we all crave adventure in our life. We go and see dystopian movies. Like, the reason the Walking Dead is so popular isn’t the zombies, or the gore it’s because people are on the edge of their seat. They’re excited. They’re craving adventure.  Every performance is a new adventure. Every song you play is a new experience. You just have to decide if you want to go on it. Some gigs bring a great payday some gigs don’t but the free gigs I usually get an experience that works its way into a song.
 
Do you know when you’ve written a good song?
 
God no!
 
Do you know when you’ve written a bad one?
 
I know when I’ve written a song that doesn’t connect with me. I don’t know if they’re good or bad. There are songs in my arsenal that don’t mean anything to me that I’ve written. They’re not part of the message I want to put out there.
 
What is the message you want to put out there?
 
I’m telling stories. My stories. Other people’s stories. I’m writing one now. One of the last gigs I played was at George’s of Galilee. I ran into this girl I knew in high school and I said, “hi, you probably don’t remember me, we were acquaintances in the theatre program.” And her response is “I’m sorry I don’t know you. I recently had an accident and I have no memory of my life.” So she’s 30 years old and brand new.  Every experience for her is brand new. How amazing is that? To be 30 years old and take all of that baggage that gives you inhibitions and put it somewhere else. Everything that knocked you down in your life is gone. And you get to go forward as a fully developed human being with natural charisma and personality from day one.
 
And you’re writing a song about it?
 
Yeah, I said to her there’s a song here are you cool with that? “Yeah change the names and places and have at it.”
 
That’s an amazing story. screen-shot-2017-01-22-at-2-50-17-pm
 
It is. And I wouldn’t have gotten that story if I hadn’t played that gig that night and reached out to her. So every experience brings you to the next one. I don’t know if it’s going to be a good song but I know it’s a story I want to tell.
 
I’m a storyteller too. What I immediately go to is knowing when it’s ready to be told. For me as a writer I can go back and edit, edit, edit but it’s never really done. How do you know when your stories are ready to be told?
 
I think a song’s ready to be told when you’re ready to share it. Is there ever a right time to break up with someone? Or give someone bad news? Ask them to marry you? Go on a date? No. You just have to decide that you’re willing to put yourself out there and do it.
 
I’m not a prolific songwriter. There are people who write hundreds of songs and pick and choose. I’m the guy who needs one more to fill this thing out and I don’t have it yet.
 
I worked on my third album for 7 years! There’s a song on the album called “7 Years” and it’s essentially the big things that happened in my life in those years between my second and third album.
 
I needed to figure out what had happened to me in the previous 7 years. I recorded two albums before 25, and then nothing. I stopped writing songs and I didn’t know why that was. I figured it out. But I needed to tell that journey.
 
The first 4 songs on my third album are everything that had happened up until that point. So the whole first half of the album is kind of a downer.  Track 5 is called “2nd Time Around” and I wrote and recorded that with my band. It was the first song we wrote in 12 years. From being a band in high school, to going our separate ways and getting back together, figuring out who we were as adults, meeting my wife…  the 2nd half is kind of like, “wow, adulthood’s not terrible!” I still have things to say. Things are still going to happen to your life that are amazing or not and you have to move forward. But it tells the story I wanted it to tell.
 
I still have story ideas that I think are great. I came up with them when I was 18-20 years old. But I didn’t know how to tell those stories then. Now I do.  Is some of that the same with you?
 
That’s really interesting. One of the first songs I wrote was “Go Be A Star”.  And I put it on my first album. It doesn’t work. Because when you’re 19 or 20, you don’t have the life experience to look back. Everything’s still so brand new.
 
When you’re 18-20 years old you think you have experience but you really don’t.
 
You don’t even know who you are!  I firmly believe you can have an experience that comes to define you and you can carry that but you have no idea who you are when your 18.
 
And that song is very different now. I had to go through my teens and 20’s to be able to sing that song now in my 30’s. And it’s interesting because Allan and Brian were there when I was writing it. They heard the rough cuts. And they said “you had to find your voice before you could sing that song and tell that story right”. It didn’t work back then. It does now. But I changed nothing about the song. The guts of the song, chords, lyrics, hook, all the same. I changed.
 
 
So you put out 2 albums before you were 25; 7 more years before the 3rd one. What stopped you and what changed? What sparked you finally?
 
screen-shot-2017-01-22-at-2-51-41-pmBeing really unhappy! I’m comfortable doing what I do for a living and it works for me. But I neglected the musical side of me. I stopped playing my own songs. I went on tour playing other people’s music and covers. I became a gun for hire for whoever needed a guitarist and a back up vocalist. I shut that part of myself off without realizing it. That’s not what defines me as a person. I put all of my energy into the career. And I work in an environment that fosters creativity and creation. I’m trying to create that experience for other people. But I still want it for myself. I still have stories to tell, I have something to say. I still want this. I should be doing it.
 
 
What’s going to make you keep doing what you do, and grow it five years from now as you get older, your family, responsibility. What does having this side of you out in the public mean to you?
 
Success is 15 years from now I’m still doing it and people are listening. Would I love to make a steady income from this? That would be amazing.  If I could be performing regularly, giving lessons, recording others bands and that’s what I do? Awesome. If I was touring 7 months out of the year? That’d be awesome. In my corner at the one steady gig I have on Tuesday night and people are listening? Awesome! As long as I still have stories to tell and I’m telling them, that’s success.
 
 

Want to see Justin live?

You can see him next at 8:00PM on January 26th, 2017 at:

Woodstock Inn and Brewery

135 Main St
North Woodstock, NH 03262

You’ll be seeing more of Justin in Rhode Island this summer at:

 George’s of Galilee
250 Sand Hill Cove Rd.
Narragansett, RI 02882
Find Justin online at www.justinmarramusic.com where you can purchase his latest albums and check for future performance dates!  

5 Signs You’ve Exhausted Your “Cookie-Cutter” Career Path

Pink Floyd has a song that kind of relates to this. They used the symbolism of bricks. I use a cookie cutter. Why? Because if I’m going to allude that we’re all under “thought control” regarding our societal conception of a successful career at least my analogy is sweet and delicious after it’s baked.

I decided long ago that I never wanted a “typical” career. It never appealed to me. Where’s the adventure? The excitement? The chance to learn new things, evolve, and adapt your experience to meet new challenges? If that sounds like fun to you ask yourself this question…

When was the last time that sounded like my career?

It’s not for everybody. I think there’s something to be said for people who can go to work and do the same thing day in and day out in hopes that 40 years from now they can retire with a 401k, social security, and a cute retirement party culminating in the presentation of an engraved gold watch.

You go to work.

You do your job.

You get paid.

You support yourself and your family.

You retire.

Rinse and repeat for generations to come.

It’s a great idea. Who doesn’t want a safe, calculated path to follow toward retirement?

Every other person in America isn’t happy with their current work situation for whatever reason. Studies show that the majority of millennials will change jobs 4 times by age 32. And I’m sure there’s a percentage of people who would probably rain insults from a soapbox of blood, sweat and tears toward all those ungrateful punks who want happiness in the workplace. It might go something like this…

Why can’t  you all stop whining and be grateful for a cookie-cutter career path? That’s what the previous generations did. We shut up and took the work we could get. It was harder. It wasn’t about happiness. It was about paying the bills. Survival! And I hate cookies!

It’s easy to conform. It’s easy to do what everybody else does because the blueprint is there. You don’t have to roll the cookies out from scratch that inevitably create a bunch of mutant cookies you can never put in the display case because they don’t look right.

 

But more and more people are breaking the mold and developing their own career paths. Starting up their own businesses. Pursuing their interests and finding a way to make a living at it.

Isn’t it more satisfying when you build something from scratch and can watch it grow? Why not incorporate yourself instead of working for the corporation? How many times have you thought I’d love to just work for myself?

It sure is terrifying for some. For 53 million Americans who make part or all of their income freelancing as independent contractors it’s liberating, flexible and makes them happier. And the numbers are trending upward.

Now freelancing isn’t for everybody. But alternative ways of generating an income and diversifying your individual revenue streams has become a viable career path. When do you realize that you want to shed your “cookie-cutter” career path and create your own?

Here are 5 signs I noticed when I shed mine. And they apply to anyone who’s thinking of going down a different career path.

1. You spend more time planning your breaks than your assignments.

Where’s lunch gonna be today? It sure as hell won’t be in the break room. I hate that break room!  And somebody on that new fad diet’s gonna heat up broccoli in the microwave and stink up the whole place again!

The bigger signs of course are when your lunch breaks “accidentally” get a little bit longer. Or you invent new breaks like walking around the office looking like you have a purpose but really your just killing five minutes. Or taking longer in the bathroom then you need to.

Then there’s smoking breaks, which I wouldn’t recommend because then “Broccoli Guy’s” gonna think you smell. And if your job is so stressful you decide to take up a habit that will slowly kill you, that should be a sign.

2. Continued education in your field is a chore.

Ugh. Why do I have to take this stupid course? And I have to do it on top of work! At least they’re paying me for it. There’s no way I’d bother if they didn’t.

Remember when you used to like learning about new trends in your profession? When you wanted to gain more knowledge and experience to be the best you can be? Everything moves so fast in today’s global market with the spread of information, continued education is no longer a way to get ahead. It’s how you keep up.

But when learning new things about your initial profession of choice becomes a bore, it’s probably because your reading up on another one that peaked your interest.

3. That brown-nosing noobie you can’t stand used to be you.

 God what is that guy’s problem? Coming in early, staying late. Doing this extra thing and that.  Nothing ever rattles him. He’s making us all look bad. Oh and he’s working through lunch? What a jerk!

The funny thing is when you started your first job some old, jaded vet said the same thing about you. But you were young, naive and eager to be a company person. How did time erode your positive, can-do attitude, strong work ethic and all those other power adjectives you described yourself with that the recruiters want in the perfect candidate? By slowly revealing that you’re the perfect candidate for a different job that will stand the test of time.

4. Bringing home your work frustrations is becoming a trend.

I cannot turn it off tonight. Work is so annoying. Every hour is torture. I can’t stop thinking about it. I can’t do anything right now. Can’t handle it. Don’t want to. I don’t even want to go to sleep because when I wake up I have to go back!

And more than likely you won’t be able to sleep because you’ll be playing all the awful events of work in your head on a loop. You can’t turn off your brain. Everything you try to do reminds you of something annoying from work.

Congratulations, your professional life has officially infected your personal life for the worst. Do you really want to be on a 24/7 hate fest? I bet your friends and family will love it too! Or you’ll get to my 5th sign…

5. Taking a leap of faith seems easier than one more day of your current career.

There’s got to be a better way. This can’t be it. What am I doing? Can I really turn back now? I’m not 22 anymore. What if I mess this up too?

Of course the older you get the harder that last question gets. We are so conditioned to advance. Move forward. Taking steps back is considered failure. But what did you fail at? The job? Or yourself?  And if you’ve reached this 5th sign than you finally realize it’s time for change.

 

Most people say they hate change. I disagree. We’re afraid of change but are intrigued by it at the same time. I believe deep down most people don’t want complacency.  The hardest question to answer is what will make you happier with your career, trying something different or being just another brick in the wall?

Even cookie cutting gets boring after a while.

 

 

I’d rather be the one eating them.

Writer’s Block Is Just Another Version Of Procrastination

Procrastination is a part of human nature. I think it’s much more natural than working a 130 hour week like Yahoo CEO Marissa Mayer claims to have slogged through in her Google days. But for the rest of us mere mortals who don’t have the possibility of a $44 million severance for not doing your job procrastination is a thing.

Are the majority of us just lazy animals outpaced by the alphas?

I mean if we were lazy we’d still be using campfires, quill pens, rotary phones, percolators and stamps, right?

Ultimately I believe we all see the end game. We can imagine and feel the sense of accomplishment even before it’s accomplished. It’s getting there that’s the hard part. That’s the torture. That’s the part we’ll subconsciously look to avoid. And the torture lasts longer. And the end game grows further away.

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I feel it all the time when I write and it’s why I don’t believe in writer’s block. I believe I’m a solid procrastinator, just like most of you.

Writer’s block is an excuse for not doing the “hard part”. Often times a writer knows what the basic beats of the story are. You know the theme you want to write about. You probably even know how the end of the story works. It’s filling in all the gaps that leaves the page blank as you stare at a giant figurative question mark that becomes your focus rather than the task at hand. And then your 21st century, smartphone ADD comes into play leaving the page blank for even longer.

The only thing that blocks writing and imagination is procrastination.

  • Research
  • Development
  • Brainstorming
  • Drafting
  • Outlining

It’s all part of writing.  That’s the process. And I’ll admit the process is annoying sometimes because not everything you write is gold. The first words you write probably won’t make the final cut. In fact for every 100 words you print you’ll probably type 1000. So start writing and mining for those magic 100. Once you start, you won’t be able to stop.

But I don’t know what I want to write!

Write anything! Start typing.  Brainstorm a bunch of ideas about different subjects and start building on it. Guess what? You’re writing! And there’s no block!

No idea’s a bad idea. It just might not be the right idea for what you’ll eventually write and publish at that moment. And afterwards you’ll have a bunch of other ideas to elaborate on so you won’t have to go through that whiny writer’s block phase again.

It’s not just a writing thing either. It’s societal.

Admit it. You’re a procrastinator just like me. Just like the silent majority. You wake up in the morning with all these grand delusions of accomplishment that’ll take place on the hour, every hour of the day. You’re going to whittle down that giant task list that gets longer and longer every day of the things you should, need to, and want to accomplish.

That’s not including the stuff you forget to write down.

And before you know it the sun’s going down, you’re hungry for dinner, and once you get through cleaning up after yourself your task list’s just as long while your body’s saying no.

Where the hell did the day go? Why didn’t I get everything I wanted to get done?

You’re a procrastinator.

But I really wanted to get a lot done today!

You did. You…

  • Texted a bunch of people
  • Checked your email
  • Stalked all your “friends” on Facebook
  • Put another selfie on Instagram
  • and Facebook
  • Checked your email
  • Kept texting
  • Sucked at Candy Crush
  • Retweeted a bunch of funny sayings, memes and “amazing viral pics you won’t believe”
  • Checked your email
  • Kept texting
  • Read about all the mundane crap your favorite celebrities did
  • and the celebrities you hate
  • Got into an argument with some jerk in the comment’s section of your favorite celebrities online gossip article
  • Checked your email
  • Crushed Candy Crush
  • Kept texting
  • And if you had put all of the above on your “to do list” instead of all that other more important stuff you’d be winning

Wow. Where does the time go?

Time goes as far as it always has. And you’re a procrastinator.

It’s not that all the ancillary stuff takes long. But it all adds up. It breaks your focus and becomes your focus at the same time.

And sometimes there’s so much to focus on your brain short circuits. All that’s left is a pile of burnt up cords only a few stiff adult beverages and your unmade bed can rewire!

(Unless a few turns into a lot than the rewiring will bleed into the next day and your task list still won’t have any strikethroughs!)

Of course, 130 hours of working harder than a blood thirsty zombie satisfying their appetite for overweight, out of shape, out of breath prey is no way to go either. You can’t replace one end of the spectrum with the other and expect it to even out in a healthy way.

But the next time you’re wondering where the time goes or want to blame “writer’s block” or any block for that matter on your lack of productivity, ask yourself if your end game is worth the process. And stop using your imagination on procrastination.

 

 

I’m Just Another Hack With A Blog

What makes you such an Expert?

What have you done lately?

Where are your writing credits?

You’re just another hack with a blog that still lives in their Mom’s basement!

If you’ve been keeping a blog long enough you’re bound to find these personal attacks in your comment section. It’s easy to get defensive. You spent time on that post. You wrote a couple of really clever turns of phrase, a few witty jokes and absolutely nailed your topic with a sharp, edgy, well thought out opinion. You think anyway.

You hit that publish button with the utmost satisfaction and a wry smile on your face.

“Get a load of this one Internet!”

You get positive responses.  You get likes. You get shares. Your website traffic spikes. But inevitably not everyone agrees with what you wrote. Some offer a counterpoint that’s equally well thought out as a means of generating discussion and learning from one another’s point of view. At least that’s what this sort of thing is supposed to encourage right? I mean ancient philosophers like Socrates and Plato would have gotten hard if they had the means for global Socratic Seminars where we engage, communicate and educate. If only that’s what we actually used these platforms for. 

Instead there’s always somebody who hides their venom behind a keyboard not necessarily shattering your well crafted post to pieces, but you the author. They attack you as a person with the aptitude of a schoolyard bully spewing the lowest common denominator amidst mud slinging insults and integrity questioning propaganda.

The worst part is it’s coming from a 30-40 something year old professional whose balls would most likely shrivel up during an in person confrontation. It’s the culture that social media has cultivated through the means of human nature’s battle between the good and the bad, the positive and negative, right from wrong, the kind and the assholes.

We’re never going to avoid them friends. We’ll encounter them everyday. And while it’s tough to ignore them I offer this cloak of safety from The French literary critic Roland Barthes.

Barthes wrote an essay called “The Death of the Author” regarding how audience interpretation, reflection and criticism should be directed solely on the text or work itself and not on the author at all. He argued the person claiming to be the author didn’t “author” the work. They simply regurgitated thoughts, other artwork, opinions, and life experiences to generate a new text of what’s been done. There’s nothing original about it. Even the words used aren’t new ones. They’re all the same words that have been used for centuries. Therefore, the author of any text, or artwork for that matter is the person comprehending it that’s regurgitated back again. Of course this takes away a bit of an author’s ownership and what exactly they intended.

But one could argue if Barthes is claiming that we are the author of what we ingest in literature and art than really those haters personally calling you out in your comment section aren’t hating on you. They’re hating on themselves! See what I did there?

What makes you such an Expert? Where are your writing credits?

 

What makes you such an expert? And what are your credits? The whole reason you get started in a hobby or career is to gain credibility. No renown author, musician or artist started off renown. They had to write and paint a lot of crap before they wrote something great! And there are even typos in the great stuff too.

I’ll always reply and engage with those looking for a discussion about what I write and vice versa.

You should too. It’s how we get better.

But the next time someone leaves a revolting pile of poo on the doorstep of your social media space, remember, it’s not you. It’s not even what you wrote. It’s them and how they interpreted it.

Don’t you feel so much better now?

Than blog, post, debate and create away friends!

 

Dynamic Characters vs. Static Characters and The Star Wars Conundrum

I’m a character guy. Always  will be. I don’t care how brilliant your storyline, plot twists or special effects are. I don’t care much for your lens flare, or your beautiful sweeping camera shots. And I really don’t care how many millions of dollars you spend on making your film. Here’s the bottom line…

If your characters suck so does your film. End of story.

Characters are everything. As a writer your work is way easier once you have fully developed, real, emotional, three-dimensional characters at your disposal. They’ll drive your story for you creating an organically developed storyline that flows and makes sense.

You also tend to avoid plot holes that way.

In literary theory there are several character archetypes but for me it’s most important to identify who your dynamic and static characters are.

  • A dynamic character is one who goes through a cathartic change in personality due events and encounters over the course of a story.
  • A static character is one whose personality stays consistent over the course of the story no matter what happens. They remain status quo.

Both need to be awesome. But the most dynamic character of your story should be your main character. The hero. The focal point of the story. Their journey should matter most while the static characters build other storylines around them.

This in my opinion is the biggest problem with a little known saga in a galaxy far, far away.

I like Star Wars but I don’t love it. You’ll never see me in a Storm Trooper costume waiting in line to get into San Diego Comic Con. It’s not because I don’t appreciate the franchise’s landmark achievement in filmmaking that’s grossed billions of dollars. It’s not that the story itself isn’t a fun ride with incredibly creative ideas about the Skywalker family and their destiny to bring balance to the force.

Its that I’ve got absolutely no love for static Skywalkers who should be the dynamic main protagonists and the most dynamic character in the saga is a sidekick archetype that should be a static character.

Yup, I’m a Han Solo guy. It’s solely because he has the most developed personality and character arc in the whole saga. And in case you’re one of the few who hasn’t seen Episode 7…

Spoiler Alert

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Now Han Solo’s dead and I have very little interest left in the story unless Luke has finally become a boss and somebody explains how the hell Rey learned to use the force so fast!

When we’re first introduced to Han Solo he’s a selfish gun for hire that doesn’t believe in the force or putting his neck on the line for anything that doesn’t involve money. By the end of Episode 4 he actually utters the line “May the force be with you” to Luke and comes in at the last second to save Luke’s neck from Darth Vader so he can blow up the Death Star.

He continues his arc from selfish to selfless through episode 5 and 6 culminating with his ultimate sacrifice in episode 7 while trying to do the right thing. You’re telling me the Han Solo we first meet is the same as the one we sadly said goodbye to?

If the answer is “no”  (it is) then that’s your dynamic character of the Star Wars saga. That’s who your main character is. Except, Han isn’t the main character. It’s Luke  in episodes 4-6 and Anakin’s through 1-3. Yet their personalities remain consistent through out their chapters leaving them bland and predictable.

Star Wars got the “like father like son” thing down. Both are bratty teenagers who have special gifts that everyone really hopes will bring balance to the force one day. But in almost every situation they’re put in one throws an angry temper tantrum while the other throws a whining fit!

I’ll let you figure out whom I’m referring to in each scenario.

And in most finale situations or what I refer to as “a boss fight” they always need help or else they’ll die! Seriously, name one boss fight at the end of the films that Anakin or Luke Skywalker won on their own?

And I’m talking about Anakin, not Darth Vader.

 

I’m waiting…

 

Still waiting…

 

Yup. None.

 

Because their personalities don’t change. Despite their powers they always fall for the same traps. They always need a Hail Mary. And they always manage to lose a limb!

I know Star Wars fan. I know. This is blasphemy! How can I say Luke and Anakin don’t change at all? They go from being farm boys to Jedi Knights for crying out loud!

They learn how to use the force and go on fantastical adventures across the galaxy. Their lives are in danger, loved ones are taken from them! They gain so much experience and knowledge that should alter the way they think, act and behave.

I agree. But they don’t.

Time after time they end up doing the same thing over and over again.

Anakin became Darth Vader!

Yes he did. He became another character all together. Two static characters don’t make a dynamic one. And wasn’t Anakin always kind of angry anyway? So did he ever learn to let go of the anger? Nope. He never really changed. He just let it out more.

What about Return of the Jedi?

He killed Emperor Palpatine because Palpatine turned him into his puppet and was electrocuting the crap out of his son. Sounds like he did something out of anger doesn’t it?

At the end of the day Luke and Anakin’s motivations never change. Han Solo’s does.

That’s the biggest downfall to what should be a masterpiece of fiction that’s visually stunning and character driven. Not plot driven.

Granted, there’s still time for Luke. We may get a final climactic character arc over the next few episodes that actually gives him a chance to be a more dynamic personality. And maybe that’s just how smart Harrison Ford is for saying he always thought Han Solo should get killed off. Maybe he knows too.

Han Solo was too dynamic a personality and not the main character of Star Wars. With him out of the way, it makes room for Luke to finally bring some balance to the force. With any luck the writer’s will feel the same way.

The Hustle And Bustle Of A Successful Working Actress

Somewhere in her hectic work schedule between New York and Southern New England Elise Arsenault made time for coffee talk with me. Millions of young actors fall victim to the struggling Hollywood stereotype of the boulevard of broken dreams. But Elise is one who lights up a room in her own graceful way, exuding a comfortable confidence as she blazes her own artistic trail in the Northeast. Warm and welcoming, she immediately becomes your best friend while talking you through her roller coaster ride of hustle and bustle as a successful working actress.

 

Take me back to bright eyed, bushy tailed, 22-year-old Elise. What was that girl like compared to now?

Well when I was 22 I had actually just finished a yearlong tour with Missoula Children’s Theatre. Myself and another professional actor toured the country with sets, costumes, and lights to put on a 1 hour musical with 50-60 kids from the community. That tour took me all around the country to places I never had seen before. I was on Indian reservations, air force bases, small Mormon towns in Idaho. So already at 22, I was realizing… ‘Oh there’s more to this’. They call that company the peace corps of theatre!

It was a little less glamorous? 

green dress hs retouched
Photo credit: c/o Leslie Hassler

Absolutely!

When people hear you’re going to be an actor their brain goes to New York, LA, bussing tables, and waiting for someone to discover you. That’s the Hollywood script. But there’s a whole other underbelly to being a successful working actor in the world isn’t there?  

Yes, and when I first heard about this job (Missoula) I was like absolutely not. That’s teaching. My parents want me to be a teacher. Everybody wants me to be a teacher! I’m not going to do that.

But it turned out to be a life-changing job. I got to see what the power of theatre and acting could be when you’re working with kids who have never experienced it before and bringing that to communities that didn’t have a full time arts program. So already my idea was beginning to shift. But my plan was still as soon as I’m done with this tour move to New York. Move to DC. Move to where there’s a lot more opportunity for me to be performing.

And you did the circuit for a while, auditioning and waitressing. What was that experience like for you?

It’s a very degrading experience. Looking back on it now I’ve had to rebuild my confidence and power as an artist. When you’re waiting tables all the time you’re serving others. People don’t always look at you as another person pursuing their dreams. They might just look at you as the person who’s giving them their food or wine. But when I was in DC and New York I had this idea in my head that I had to do it that way. I was stubborn. I just had to be a waitress! I’m not sure why.

That’s how it’s done!

Yes because I didn’t want to be thought of as a teacher. I could have been teaching acting classes and maybe creating more relationships within theatres. I think the industry sees you in a certain way and you do need to be careful that they’re not seeing you as just a coach and just an actor. So I felt like I had to define myself as just an actor only.

Is there some type of stigma where, either you’re a working actor or you’re a coach because you couldn’t make it as an actor? As a student, don’t you want a coach who’s actively working? Obviously that means they have something to teach you that’s beneficial because they are working. Why can’t you do both?

beat gen pic
Elise in Beat Generation by Jack Kerouac at Merrimac Rep. Photo Credit: c/o Meghan Moore

I have been told by casting directors that you really want to keep that separate. That on your website you shouldn’t even mention that you’re a coach, so there is some extreme. But I can’t speak for everybody. What I’m really finding is that there’s a tribe of people you’re going to be working with who are telling the stories that you want to be telling. And it takes a while to find what that is. For me, I found that performing and coaching are both fulfilling ways to express myself and I hope that the people I’m meant to work with see the value of my experience in both.

I find that being a coach makes my work so much more real. And I’m in the craft all the time because as I’m teaching others I’m reinforcing my own direction. Years later, now that I’ve accepted I’m a good coach my coaching business is taking off because my acting career is taking off. So they’re growing together.

You’re not just performing. You’re a marketer. You’re an entrepreneur and your business is you. Is that something that gets lost in the shuffle for actors just starting out? Does the business side ever get translated?

I’ve taken some great courses on marketing and the business of acting…. post college. I didn’t learn that whole entrepreneur side while in school, which is basically what I do everyday! I had to hustle to find out where to get those tools. And yes I don’t think that’s something that is taught completely.

Are these the things you also offer when you’re coaching, the art form and the business side?

I have a few child actors that are finding great success on TV and in theatre. A lot of the business talk I have with the parents as far as where to look for listings, what casting directors they may want to reach out to. I like to give them headshot or resume advice, and help them with self-taping.

Now that I’ve accepted who I am as an artist it’s so much fun for me to see the unique qualities of all my actors. My students range from child to adult and I just encourage people to bring who they are to the table. This industry is looking for all types and everyone. I love the fact that I’m able to help people who embrace who they are because it’s taken me a while to figure that out for myself. But once I had it’s the most exciting way to live and be.

You don’t have to be Jennifer Lawrence to make a living as an actor.

Absolutely. There are only so many roles for her too. That’s one person. It takes all types to fill out the production.

What was the turning point for you? When did you start to get your confidence back?

taming of the shrew
Elise in Taming of The Shrew at Colonial Theater in Westerly, RI

I moved back to RI in late 2009 and began training with some great people here. I worked with Bob Colonna at 2nd Story Theatre for a while and then I found my current gurus, Thom Jones and Kathryne Jennings at Trinity Repertory who became my grad school, in essence. I also went to a program in Oxford called the British American Drama Academy. I really got some awesome one on one attention and my confidence started building. As soon as I got back from that program I booked my first show in Boston. And the next two years I built new relationships with 6 or 7 New England theatres so my career just took off with this new confidence.

When a lot of people hear “…and my career took off” they think you’re all set. But really what that means is you’ve been given the opportunity to work and there’s a hustle to that.

Absolutely.

Talk about as a working actor between Southern New England and New York, the hustle, networking, constantly practicing and honing your craft. Just how many hours a day does that take? What type of dedication does it take to really make it?

My days are full whether it’s marketing, looking up listings for work or working out. It’s hard when people say ‘what are you doing today?’ Because sometimes there’s a doubt… ‘Oh…uh it’s hard for me to say because I feel like you’re judging me.’ I’m not in a typical 9 to 5 job. I do set aside business hours in my day but there are some weeks where I’m narrating an audio book and that takes up 40 hours plus the travel to the studio is another 5 to 10. I’m prepping the next book, going to an audition, starting rehearsals for a play the next week. Sometimes it’s nonstop. Sometimes there’s a break.

It’s exciting where I am now because I’m at the point where I need to make some choices. Do I take these roles in theatre or do I keep time open for these relationships I’m building in TV? So I’m at an interesting place and am actually looking to take on an agent or manager to help me make those decisions.

The other thing that’s interesting about you is the voice over work and audio books. Is that another avenue actors and actresses should be looking into?

That work has been so gratifying because narrating an audio book is like putting on a one-person show. I am playing the lead role, the narrator, and the supporting roles. I may have to voice up to 30 characters for some of these books! It’s been so much fun. And you don’t have a lot of time to prep these so you have to just trust your instincts. It’s been very rewarding to be narrating these books and other voice over spots. I get to use my voice in different ways. People don’t know what I look like from the voices so I’ve got even more possibility to play a greater range of roles. I think my acting has gotten better, my cold read audition skills, my improv.

What’s the end game for Elise?

I would love to be a series regular on a groundbreaking show. But I would also like to be consistently working in voice over. I want to be one of those go to people that gets called for animation, possibly video games. My husband’s a big video game fan so that would be a kick!

You could be a Disney character!

That would be amazing! But there are also some really great TV shows that are using music also. I really love Galavant. Crazy Ex-Girlfriend. There are some shows like that I feel would be a fun fit for all my talents.

Currently I’m splitting time between New York and New England. A lot of things I still dream about. I’d still love to be on Broadway. That is still a dream. There are some musicals where actors play instruments and as a cellist and trombonist I’d love to do that.

So define success as an actor.

For me success as an actress is being a great storyteller. It’s working on stage, on screen, in the booth, telling stories that inspire change, bring people hope, and make people think. That’s what I’m looking for in my career. There’s so much more to discover. It’s a never-ending journey that presents new challenges every day. And as I go through the process of conquering them, I continually feel more successful.

You can find Elise’s demo reels, audio books and more at: www.elisearsenault.com.

 

Want a chance to see Elise on stage? Your opportunity awaits. 

September 2nd – October 9th
Company

The Lyric Stage Company of Boston

140 Clarendon Street,

Boston, MA 02116

Tickets are now available!  For more information, click here.

 

5 Signs Video Games Have Passed You By

I spent way too many hours as a kid cursing programmers for developing too many levels of Zelda, screaming with joy once I finally knocked out Mike Tyson in Punch Out, feeling too proud of getting through levels of Sonic The Hedgehog in less than a minute, and memorizing every button mashing combination in Mortal Kombat only to hear the magic words FINISH HIM.

UP, UP, DOWN, DOWN, LEFT, RIGHT, LEFT, RIGHT, B, A, START and all its variations used were a secret language conquering a magical world of wonder created by bits of code defined by exponents of 8.

It was mindless. It was fun. Your sense of accomplishment rode high after mastering levels of brain-numbing nonsense developed to challenge absolutely nothing that would take you far in life.

That last sentence is probably the only thing that still holds water about video games  unless you’re one of those lucky few who…

  • Became a video game developer/work for a video game company
  • Manage to make a living in competitive video gaming tournaments (Yes that exists)

Today video games have become such an immersive experience so complicated and involved you need a crash course in computer programming to play some.

Or you need to be a kid again. I haven’t quite decided. I also don’t like to admit that I’m too old for something I used to enjoy as a kid. But in case you’re in the same boat here are 5 signs that video games may have passed you by.

When Two Joysticks Aren’t Better Than One

I can’t do it. Whoever thought I needed to control my character’s perspective as well as IMG_2389their direction was dead wrong!  And all you lucky ambidextrous folk who have no trouble at all with first person shooters or how to use the hit stick feature in Madden just remember; in my day I could destroy you with the push of one button! Literally. There was only one button. Or two. Timing was everything and that’s all you needed back in the day! Now you don’t even know if you’re playing the game because…

When You Don’t Know If It’s A Game Or A Movie

 Video game graphics have come along way from their 8-bit ancestors who moved around the TV screen like a geriatric on speed trying to stop themselves from tripping! Today they have just as much cinematic impact and appeal as feature films do.

But half the time I don’t even know if I’m supposed to be doing something or if the game is going through some elaborate exposition scene that completely captivates me (good) until it launches me right back into the game on some World War 2 battlefield where I immediately get shot and die (bad).

Of course every game that looks like a film gets the Hollywood treatment and becomes a film. Except most have the same problem book adaptations do. The 20 hours I spent in Imaginationland with that book or game is usually better than the 2 hour underdeveloped, underwhelming crapfest someone else imagined. Speaking of books…

When You Need A Book To Play The Game

There was a time when you played video games to avoid reading. Now you can’t play them without the strategy guide! Some even have their own book series to teach you how to control the damn thing! And don’t get me started on Minecraft! You want to feel stupid? Watch you’re 12-year-old nephew build a castle from scratch as he tries to explain how that software works.

You used to be able to figure out how to complete levels on your own. That was part of the fun. Now you need the strategy guide to tell you how exactly to get out.

Or you need it to tell you where that special tool or power is you didn’t know you needed and had no way of knowing you needed unless you bought the strategy guide that tells you so you can actually finish the game!

Thanks game company! Cause the game itself doesn’t cost enough I need to buy the companion book so I can actually play it. For the love of things holy just give me Tetris. I don’t even care if it’s on my phone. Which brings me too…

When Your Favorite Games From Your Youth Can Be Played On Your Phone

There was a time when blowing into a rectangular plastic case with a motherboard in it was normal and got the game to actually work.  That my friends was high tech. But how old do you feel knowing what was high tech for you as a kid seems archaic and stupid to you now? We’ve been reduced to getting the same entertainment value out of simple flash animation games on our phones. Sure you can travel with your “entertainment system” now if you don’t want to talk to anybody or drain your battery. But sometimes immersing yourself in things that aren’t real can be dangerous. Of course now we have…

 When People Call Trespassing, Reckless Endangerment and Death “Augmented Reality”

 I missed the Pokémon thing by a few years. I’m so out of the loop I didn’t realize the “E” was supposed to have an accent mark over it until Word auto-corrected it for me.

Think long and hard about that, Microsoft Word auto-corrected the title Pokémon for me!

But I’ve been following the whole Pokémon Go craze because I find it fascinating. Not because I’m playing it mind you. Because I really just want to understand what goes through somebody’s mind when they walk into a total stranger’s backyard at night hoping to find Pikachu. I can’t imagine being addicted to a game so much that you’d risk…

  1. Robbery at gunpoint
  2. Assault by one of the millions of jerks in our world
  3. Falling off a cliff
  4. Getting shot at for trespassing on someone’s private property
  5. Crashing your car into something
  6. Getting hit by a car
  7. Finding a dead body
  8. Getting into a fight yourself, with other players
  9. Getting lost in the woods
  10. Illegally crossing the border into another country

All of which has happened to people paying more attention to their augmented reality then their actual one. Just because your augmented world is more colorful and cuter doesn’t mean the real world doesn’t exist. (Damn I sound old).

And Pokémon Go has its benefits. More gamers are exercising and socializing in person because of it. Awesome. Except video games were never, ever meant to do that. Maybe we should keep it that way.