Yesterday I put my red dress on and drove over to Hollywood and Highland to celebrate the American Academy of Dramatic Arts 40th Graduation Ceremony at the very same place where the best of the business are honored every year for the Academy Awards. The Dolby Theatre was full of young actors - class of 2015 - ready to continue the journey to being a professional story teller. The highlight of the event was Actor, Director, Writer (The Notebook, Blow, Alpha Dog, The Hangover, the list is very long and impressive) NICK CASSAVESTES who spoke frankly about his experiences since graduating from AADA 35 years ago.
It wasn't until Cassavetes was 36 years old when he earned his first big paycheck from show business. Before his ultimate success he had experienced many highs and lows as a passionate artist. Which is what being an artist ultimately is about. In addition to having the ability to do whatever you want everyday when you wake up in the morning, and actually doing it. At 16 years old he had run away from home, causing trouble in the streets of New York City before entering the Academy where he reports behaving like he was the "cat's ass." Apparently, his confidence helped propel his efforts of breaking into the industry regardless of how broke he was while even going to far as to working as a janitor at Sear's in North Hollywood at one point of the journey. The journey, Cassavetes reiterates, is what being an actor is really about. The deep examination of the human condition. It's open soul surgery! Focus on the journey, not the destination.
Some additional pointers that Cassavetes lists off. . .. If you want to be an actor you need an agent - get your tools together (headshots, reel, website). Stay in good shape. Be friendly, but not too friendly, at your auditions. Keep expanding your network. Always be creating fresh content. Don't get discouraged.... in fact, what Cassavetes wanted the young graduates to know on their graduation day is that it takes courage to eliminate the fear we all innately have in life. Thinking will not overcome fear but action will.
Although it was exciting to have such an honorable guest speaking at the graduation, I really found joy and truth in the final speech given by the class valedictorian Zada Clarke - the part about period underwear gave me a good chuckle. Ever at a loss for words when the socialites challenge your life's profession as an Actor, here's Clarke's brilliant rebuttal:
" So this is what you say to the cool person at the party who’s looking you up and down with a saucy smirk. Who is reducing your life’s passion into a bite sized stereotype. 'Pardon me, What I am doing was formed around the first campfire. I can fight a mean-ass fist fight without even hurting you! I know what kind of underwear was worn in every decade. The imaginary line is one I walk daily. I can raise the stakes so high, ain’t no one heard of medium-rare. Excuse me but while you text, I will just dance the minuet around you. I know what IPA is and it is not just a beer. I know how to speak like your ancestor, oh they’re from Ireland…no problem. I can recite language written over 400 years ago that still applies to what you say when you flirt with someone at a club. I can contort my face to that of a person fifty years my senior, learn how to express their regrets and their happiness’. Most of all I know what it is to explicate the soul. I can awaken you and at the same time awaken myself. What I do is essential to humanity. I am an actor, I tell our story.”
Read Zada's full speech here.
Artist to Artist,