The Unicorn Booking: Actor Nicole J. Butler on Being "She-Shed Cheryl"

Actors always believe there’s one booking out there that will magically transform their careers into a continual stream of job offers, fame and fortune. The reality is, of course, less magical. While one notable booking can open doors to more and better opportunities, true success is the result of repeated and consistent work that makes up the journey that is an acting career. Actor Nicole J. Butler writes about this very process in The Huffington Post. Her HuffPost Personal essay shows all of us how, after 22 years as a working Actor, she’s found pop culture ascendence and massive virality but knows that she still has to get out and work at it again tomorrow. The fact that she’s making her living doing what she loves is Nicole Butler’s big win. You can read Ms. Butler’s essay below (shared with her permission) and click on her photos to visit her website.

I’m The Star Of That ‘She Shed’ Commercial. Here’s How Going Viral Has Changed My Life - by Nicole J. Butler

At 4:37 p.m. on Jan. 30, 2018, I received an email notification from my agent regarding a State Farm commercial audition scheduled for the following afternoon.

I’m an actress in Los Angeles and this was a normal occurrence for me, so this particular email did not stick in my memory. But I can tell you that I most likely thought, Aw, man, I’ll be stuck in Santa Monica during rush hour! ― because that’s what I usually think when I have to audition in Santa Monica right before rush hour. But this is the career that I chose, so I stopped whining and set about preparing for the audition.

I put the time and location into my calendar, mentally chose appropriate clothing based on the character description, and then downloaded the audition script and began to read. That’s when I first saw the phrase that would change my life: “she shed.”

What the heck is a she shed? I wondered.

A quick internet search revealed that a “she shed” is the female equivalent of a “man cave,” only instead of being inside the house, it resides in the backyard.

Cool, I thought as I scrolled through Pinterest, nodding my approval at the array of brightly colored, creatively decorated sheds. Moments before, I hadn’t even known that she sheds were a thing and now, to my artsy eye, they’d become #goals. 

The next day I went to the audition, did my thing and left. I felt like it went well but fixating on the outcome of an audition makes me a neurotic mess, so I put it out of my mind.

Six days later, my agent emailed to say that casting wanted to see me for a callback the following afternoon. Commercials usually have a turnaround of two or three days from first call to booking, so I was genuinely surprised to find out that I was still in play for the role of Cheryl.

This time I arrived at the audition to find several male actors seated in the waiting area ― potential husbands for Cheryl. I was paired with Reggie Currelley. After we introduced ourselves to one another, we went into the audition room to be judged by a host of decision-makers including the director, the casting associate and several people from the ad agency. This is what actors do.

I remember thinking that the director, Craig Gillespie of “I, Tonya” fame, was very clever and that the audition itself was a lot of fun. Reggie and I worked well off of one another, everyone in the room laughed at the moments in the script that were supposed to be funny, and I left feeling like I had done a good job. I wish I could tell you that it felt “magical,” but the truth is that it felt as solid as hundreds of other auditions for hundreds of other jobs that I didn’t end up booking. 

But this one, I did book. I was going to be Cheryl with the burning she shed.

One day after the callback, I was told that the shoot would take place on Feb. 10 ― a rare Saturday shoot at Rose Bowl Stadium in Pasadena. I was happy to get the job in the first place, and knowing that I would be paid at a higher rate because it was on a weekend was a bonus! And though I’m not a sports fan, even I knew that shooting at the Rose Bowl was a score. 

When I pulled up at the Rose Bowl that Saturday afternoon, the first thing I saw was a flaming shed on the lawn. It was the she shed, and it was very much on fire. After hair and makeup, Reggie and I were shuttled to a nearby house where we filmed in the backyard, across from a makeshift she shed consisting of a white tent with moving lights inside.

Reggie and I followed the script pretty closely, and Craig alternated between guiding the action and letting us improvise, all while keeping the atmosphere convivial. During a break, we watched a small but impressive display of Hollywood magic: An editor at his laptop superimposed video of the flaming shed at the stadium onto an image of the white tent standing about 15 feet away from us. The moving bulbs inside the tent had thrown a flickering light on our faces the way a real fire would have.

Reggie and I, along with the crew, worked until it got too dark to shoot anymore. I left tired and chilled, and my feet were a little achy, but inside I felt the contented glow that comes from putting in a good day’s work with good people doing something that you love. We tried so many different variations of the script that it was impossible to guess what the final product would look like but, luckily, we didn’t have to wait too long to find out. The State Farm she-shed commercial premiered on television about a month later. 

Our commercial wasn’t the only one State Farm shot around that time ― there were several others. One had over 11,000 airings by the time the she-shed ad started to run. My hope was that the she-shed spot would be popular enough to air that much, but there was no way to tell how viewers would react to it.

I’m happy to report that as I write this, the she-shed commercial has aired on broadcast television well over 33,000 times and has racked up almost 1 million views on YouTube. A thousand of those views were probably family members, but it’s still safe to say that the ad has gone viral ... and so have I.

Before we go any further, I want you to understand that I’m not out at parties trying to see and be seen (not that there’s anything inherently wrong with that). I have never tried to “go viral.” I hone my craft, do my work, go home and mind my business.

Actor Nicole J. Butler

Actor Nicole J. Butler

I’ve shot a lot of commercials ― about 40 of them ― and some of them have been popular, including spots for Progressive Insurance, Gain laundry detergent, Pizza Hut, Walmart and Target. On occasion I’m recognized as “that actress from that thing,” but before the she-shed ad, it wasn’t very common. I’d get a lot of “your face looks familiar” but that was usually as far as the recognition went. So when strangers started yelling “SHE SHED!” at me when I was walking down the street and stopping me in the grocery store to ask if I was “She Shed Cheryl,” I began to realize that this commercial was on a whole different level. 

Yooooo ... what is this? I wondered. I mean, acting I understand, but fame? Bruh.

One day, a few months after the commercial started airing, a waitress brought me my bill and said, “I’ve been meaning to ask you ... Are you ...?”

I knew where this was headed. 

“Yes, that’s me,” I responded.

“That’s my favorite commercial!” she said, grinning broadly.

I thanked her and tipped her extra because I can’t have her out here telling folks that “She Shed Cheryl” is a cheapskate. Smart woman, that waitress. I’m not at all mad at her hustle.

There has been talk of petitioning State Farm to shoot a sequel to the commercial and some people have expressed a desire for a she-shed sitcom starring Cheryl and Victor.

While visiting friends in South Carolina six months after the ad began to air, we went to the state fair and there were two women staring at me. I mentioned this to one of my friends and she said she’d overheard one of them ask the other, “Is that that woman from the she-shed commercial?” I looked up and smiled at them, and they smiled and waved back. Yes, ma’am, that’s me.

As more and more encounters like these happened more and more frequently, my introverted-but-not-shy self has had to learn how to navigate the visibility that comes with going viral.

Now I receive memes and screenshots of myself on TV from friends and family members almost daily. I also routinely get sent links to internet discussion boards where “Who burned down Cheryl’s she shed?” is a burning hot topic. I joined Reddit just so I could participate in one of the discussions. There has been talk of petitioning State Farm to shoot a sequel to the commercial and some people have expressed a desire for a she-shed sitcom starring Cheryl and Victor. Someone even mocked up a she-shed movie poster. I laugh every time I see it.

Nicole J. Butler in front of several of her oil paintings

Nicole J. Butler in front of several of her oil paintings

Thankfully, the commercial is comedic, so people tend to be happy when they realize that I am that actress. I get a lot of questions about what “she shear” means (it’s actually “chichi-er”) and theories about who burned down my beloved she shed (Victor is always the prime suspect). And it seems that everyone wants to know what Cheryl’s new she shed will look like. To be perfectly honest, so do I. 

I’ve posed for quite a few pictures and been asked for my autograph. I was recently told by one woman that I look younger in person. I just said thank you and awkwardly posed for a photo with her.

When I first began to be recognized, I would try to deflect the attention with a bit of self-deprecating humor. But I am truly grateful for fans of my work and I never want my discomfort with the newly gained attention to read as dismissiveness, so now I roll with it. It’s getting easier with time, and I’m even getting used to having “SHE SHED!” yelled at me. It once made me want to pull my hat down over my eyes and hide. Now it makes me giggle. The bottom line is: I’m in a hit commercial that makes folks happy and I’m honored to be a part of their joy.

Since my family recovered from the shock of my announcement that I was moving to Los Angeles to pursue an acting career 22 years ago, they’ve been mostly supportive. Now I can actually feel that they are proud of me. And when people ask, “What has your daughter/sister/niece been in?” all they have to say is, “You know She Shed Cheryl?” It’s actually “real” now. And my mom’s name is Cheryl, so this is kismet. (That’s my story and I’m sticking to it.)

On a very personal level, the birth of She Shed Cheryl doesn’t mean that I’ve suddenly become wealthy (yes, people ask me about my finances *side-eye*) but my bills are paid, which is a beautiful thing, and I’m getting used to that as well. Some days I still get a little overwhelmed, but most days I just feel blessed beyond measure.

I don’t know what’s next for me or for Cheryl and her ill-fated she shed. As always, I have my hands open: Whatever is no longer mine will fly from them, and whatever life has in store will find me when it’s time. For now, I am making a living doing what I love to do and that alone I call winning.

Castable Types Headshot Makeovers: Check Out The Difference

The purpose of your headshots is to market you, your energy, types and talent. That comes through your eyes, facial expression and body language.  You must always elicit your Castable Types from the inside as well as the outside. Don’t just sit there and listen to music or chat away between the flash. Be in the prior moments of the appropriate Castable Type monologues so that you are truly, deeply and honestly projecting the life of the character. Be in their world, not yours, or the photographers. Your headshot must say something; speak for you when you aren’t there to do it in person, essentially auditioning for you before you ever get a call. Make sure it does the job nd isn’t another run of the mill actor pic that hits the trash can rather than the submission file. Check out the difference in these two Castable Types Headshot Makeovers below. Each of the Actors featured had a significant upsurge in interest and response from the industry once they put their new Castable Type headshots into circulation. If you want to turn your headshots into a truly effective marketing tool for your acting career and get noticed, I take you through the process step-by-step in my webinar course, 7 Steps To Launch + Grow Your Acting Career. You can get the webinar here, If you’d like to sample before you buy, sign up for a free 60 minute webinar version of the course at this link:


The Power of Your Castable Types

Why do so many wonderful actors never get the chance to use their talent? Why do well-trained actors fail to convince casting directors to book them for jobs and agents to take them on as clients? Why do so many actors find they're chasing after any career opportunity as opposed to creating a career they love?  The simple answer is most actors have no understanding of their Castable Types® and without that crucial knowledge and insight, a majority of actors will fail at their creative career goals.  


Understanding your Castable Types is more than saying I'm this or that type. It's having a thorough, in-your-bones knowledge of what is unique about your talent, how that can set you apart from the competition, giving you a recognizable identity as an actor. It builds demand for your talent. It becomes your area of acting expertise in the market. Strengthening and then using the unique and essential qualities that make up your Castable Types allows actors to take their work to Performance Level by bringing specificity, energy, relatability and nuance to every role. That is what casting directors look for in actors. That is what gets you to the final callback. That is what persuades a director to take a risk on a fresh face or an actor who differs from the breakdown and give him or her a chance. That is what tells an agent your talent is worth the investment.

Right now, you may be thinking, what are Castable Types?

If you think of your career as a small business - which is what it really is, your Castable Types are your unique selling proposition. Don’t let the word selling freak you out. You are selling your talent, your artistry and showing the industry what roles you can successfully bring to life at every audition and callback. The job of talent agents and managers is to pitch and sell your talent. You can’t pitch or sell actors/talent that is undefined, amorphous and general. Your Castable Types set you apart from the competition, giving you a recognizable identity as an actor. They build demand for your talent. They are your area of expertise, your place in the talent market.

Lets define it: Your Castable Types are the roles or characters you not only play well but embody, then relate fully and authentically to the audience or camera. They are the roles which, from the point of view of casting directors, agents and theatrical directors, fit you as an actor because you live the role and energize the material. Your Castable Types are the role’s you portray more effectively than other actors in the commercial and theatrical arena, both emotionally and physically.

By understanding your Castable Types, using the right techniques to achieve Performance Level work and having a clearer, current grasp of the industry, actors can finally make a successful and sustaining acting career a reality. You can learn how to define and use your Castable Types with my book, Your Castable Types.

Your Talent Is Your Business


It saddens me to see actors struggle to understand what some people call the “business side of the business” and be told by so-called experts that it’s something separate from creativity, almost like a burden you have to bear...and I’m frustrated by those “acting experts” who haven’t done much professional work in years and teach outdated acting technique that’s nothing more than a series of imagination exercises ending in lots of discussion about the exercises but not a lot of professional level performance or follow through on how to use imagination in actual working situations on the kinds of projects being produced today. I’m especially saddened watching actors spend all their money on endless scene classes where memorization gets you brownie points but your skill set is no better off and your unique talent remains underdeveloped. Your talent, creativity and imagination are the tools you need to succeed in the acting industry. They are your business! Knowing how to develop, polish and present them is simply an extension of who you are as a performing artist and when you have great, focused, authentic marketing tools and a reliable, accessible performance level audition and acting technique, you have a tool kit other actors lack. I can teach you how to put these elements together so you can launch, grow and sustain an acting career that makes you happy and becomes your reality.

Integrating Your Physical Appearance With Your Castable Types

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Your Castable Types are, of course, shaped in part by your physical appearance. The only time it isn’t considered is in voiceovers. But keep in mind that societal and cultural influences are constantly and exponentially expanding the definitions of beauty, masculinity, fitness and what is “camera ready”. In most cases, your appearance should give definition to your Castable Types rather than determine them. You do that by integrating your physical appearance with your Castable Types. For instance, many of us are hyper-focused on our weight but there are many other facets of appearance which inform your Castable Types, like physical life and voice, just to name two. These are outward aspects of your energy that are very relatable to the camera or audience. A beautiful full-figured actor with a smoldering voice, who brings sensual intensity to words and movement across the stage or on camera can be far more compelling and authentically sexy than a model thin one who moves and speaks awkwardly and self-consciously. If you’re a size 18 female you may not be cast as the next Bond Girl but then again, you never know. You could certainly be cast in a role that calls for a sense of sexuality, of sensuousness or seduction if those are qualities you radiate authentically. It just may not be in a formulaic vehicle. And that may only be one of your Castable Types. Embracing your personal Castable Types and developing the elements you radiate authentically will allow you to perform using all those parts of your talent and not feel less than or eliminated by your physical appearance because it’s integrated in your Castable Type. That’s what we want as actors, that’s when we do amazing work! Bringing your look into harmony with your Castable Types is crucial to developing your talent to a professional level and often easier than you might think.

Why Do So Many Talented Actors Never Get The Chance To Use Their Talent?


A burning question most emerging Actors have, the one your Mom probably asks you, is why do so many talented actors never get the chance to use their talent, many seeming to never even get out of the starting gate? The simple answer is that no one tells them how to attain their creative goals, establish artistic credibility and how to build a professional acting career. They don’t have the core, required information, that working blueprint they can follow to get an acting career off the ground in a sustainable way so many of those talented actors, often the smartest ones, decide they won’t even try because they refuse to set themselves up for failure. Others bluster ahead and feel like they may be going in the right direction and gaining momentum for a time, but inevitably hit roadblocks that cost them in big ways. Usually, to the point that it pulls the rug out from under anything they might have achieved so far. I see this a lot with people who get an agent or manager to submit them a couple of times, often for parts cast mainly on physical appearance or age - though the actor may not know that, and maybe they book something once or twice, and then they get nothing else and the agency or manager drops them. A little bit of forward motion that ends up hurting you because you now have to explain why that agency dropped you to the agents and managers you try to get to represent you next. 

You don’t want to go down a path of very predictable trials and errors, chipping away at your creative, financial and emotional capital until you feel used up and hopeless about ever realizing your dreams. You can’t just decide to get headshots one day, slap a scene you’ve done four or five times in class on a reel and put it on the internet or send it to some agents and think anything real will come of that. That isn’t a career plan its a chore list. To get yourself off that well worn path of futility and go from struggle to progress right away you need to: 

Get Industry-savvy guidance so you can begin to plan out your career goals in a real way because saying I just want to be in something is the kiss of death. It shows that you know nothing about the industry and are probably not in it for the long haul. Frankly its what fame whores and fools say.

  • Don’t solicit or accept advice from people who aren’t actively working in the industry. This includes family, significant others and your friends.

  • Learn to identify advertorials and promotions in the trades - this goes for schools too! Just because they have a celeb alum or former client has no bearing on the present.

  • Stop looking for shortcuts and wishing for silver bullets

  • Make and embrace necessary changes.

It can take a little time to get a handle on how any industry really works and who the reliable professionals are at each rung of the ladder but you have to find the right people to advise and mentor you and you will make mistakes along the way. Just don’t fall for the idea that one connection, one agent, one gig, one chance will put your acting career where you want it to be. It’s all a building process so make sure your foundation is solid.

Next, get professional performance level coaching - this is what establishes your artistic credibility. This is absolutely crucial. This is not where you skimp in terms of your time or your financial investment:

  • Private Coaching is more intense and demanding but yields the best results.

  • Understand that College and Conservatory training rarely translates to performance level work when you’re out in the real world.

  • Learn how to audition, ace callbacks and interviews - that means learning how to break down a scene or commercial copy on the spot and then apply your deeper work, through those choices, to the script at hand. It means learning how to improvise and incorporate adjustments and make clear choices on a dime that bring you and what’s uniquely you to the fore. It means doing Performance Level work. The work done in class isn’t usually at that level. It means knowing what a successful agency interview or go see is like and practicing those as well. Yes, you can actually practice for interviews! (It took me forever to learn to interview -  here’s a secret, shorter is better

DIlligently and consistently put in the required capital (time, effort and money) consistently on a continuing basis its the only way to sustain a professional career:

  • To achieve performance level work, you must practice four to five times a week as well as read and view. This is your investment of time

  • Marketing your talent requires creation of a plan of action and the time commitment to see it through. This is your investment of effort

  • This is a career not a crash diet. It isn’t going to happen in six weeks or six months. You must learn how to finance your career costs. This is your investment of money

There really are no short cuts to building a sustainingand fulfilling acting career. What may seem like a lucky break is usually the sum total of all the work done before. As Actors, we have to live Shakespeare’s words from Troilus and Cressida, joy’s soul lies in the doing.

Getting Started In VoiceOvers: TheWorkAtHomeWife.Com Interview

I was interviewed by Angie Nelson for an article on being a Voiceover Artist for the website Check it out and, by the way, she saved the best part (my interview) for last!


The SuperNova Podcast Interview

I had the pleasure of being interviewed by the incomparable Lena Ski on her show, The SuperNova Podcast. Lena is a a Marketing Coach who helps purpose centered Entrepreneurs take bold and courageous steps to create their stories, share them with the world and live their brands. Lena invited me to be on her show because she's keenly aware of the value Artists can bring to the entrepreneurial world. At the core of artistry is imagination, authenticity and courage. Three elements that, in the business world, are often systematized out in the pursuit of, what is ironically termed, best practices. For any Entrepreneur to succeed the ability to be reflexive, original and boldly move beyond the box is key. Performing Artists live and breathe these qualities. More and more business, education and technology professionals are seeking out Performing and Creative Artists as consultants and more, to gain the highly valued, competitive edge that authentic connection brings to a brand and the freedom and joy that accompanies working in the flow. You can listen to the entire interview here:

Film Review: Unbroken

At the SAG Awards Screening of the film Unbroken followed by a q+a with director Angelina Jolie and cast members Jack O'Connell, Domhnall Gleeson, Luke Treadaway and Miyavi.

Director Angelina Jolie and cast members of the film Unbroken at the Screen Actors Guild Awards screening, Florence Gould Hall, NYC.

Director Angelina Jolie and cast members of the film Unbroken at the Screen Actors Guild Awards screening, Florence Gould Hall, NYC.

Unbroken is a richly shot, well scored film made with an intelligent, unflinching eye. Based on the Laura Hillenbrand book of the same name about the life of WWII veteran Louis Zamperini, the opening air battle sequence is truly heart stopping and will pull you in through sheer excitement alone. Yet, there's not much that's new in terms of narrative, historical or emotional content after that or in the film as a whole. There is no standout acting performance to speak of as the star of this workman-like bio-pic is the unceasing brutality. It is incredibly hard to take, especially when the emotional payoff is already known before the film even begins and would be minimal at best as we never truly bond with the character of Louis, we merely pity him and his tragic lot. The flashback sequences of his childhood and rise to Olympic glory are standard Hollywood tug-at-the-heartstring issue. You've seen them played out in dozens of movies in the past. Bathed in slightly sepia hues, they're more interesting for the period footwear than anything else. They seem to have the same emotional distance that Jolie as an actor portrays so often and effectively. What the viewer of Unbroken needs is tangible insight into the driving forces inside Zamperini that kept him going in the most unbelievable situations that seemed to be never ending. The degree of soul shattered forgiveness the real life man had to find at the close of World War II and practice for the rest of his life (he passed away earlier this year) was surely stunning and, had it been a part of this film, could have taken it to another level entirely. I've seen this same story of epic, war induced suffering and post war healing realized to much greater effect in other films and stage plays, most notably, the one man play set on a bare Broadway stage, Primo, written by and starring the masterful Antony Sher. Granted, a different side of the horrors of WWII but I couldn't take my eyes off Mr. Sher or untether my heart from his during that show. He so engaged me on an intellectual, spiritual and emotional level, wholly unaided by sets, lighting, music or Foley effects, I never noticed the hours passing. As a story, Primo's footprint was firmly planted in the struggle for personal, spiritual and societal redemption vs. exiting the world on one's own terms to what could only be a less painful place, in equal measure. A battle that, in totality, turned out to be far more difficult than withstanding the tortures of the Nazi concentration camps alone. Unbroken is unfortunately mired in the dead eyed brutality of torture without ever exploring another, deeper level of narrative or emotional involvement. While watching the film I found my thoughts drifting to the late Iris Chang's devastating book, The Rape of Nanking. Chang's excruciating documentation of Japanese war atrocities wrought on the Chinese people (especially the women) of Nanking was one of the most difficult books I've ever read, yet, I found it hard to put down. She cannily wove the politics of war and racism with the redemptive power and bravery of ordinary individuals into her narrative non-fiction so you were caught up in a moment to moment emotional life that left nail marks embedded on the book cover. Throughout Unbroken I was anxiously waiting for the end of the war and some evolution in the throughline of the film, as well as a stop to the constant brutality. Unbroken, with it's many lingering and over-Foley-ed sequences of beatings, torture and imminent death, wraps up the end of the war and the remainder of Mr. Zamperini's life in less than five minutes rather than exploring to any degree what must have been a gut wrenching journey to home, acceptance, healing and his place in a post war world. I had the feeling that director Jolie got lost in the horrors and injustice of war and felt that one brief, simple, emotionally resonant shot of the blank faced O'Connell in the quarters of his torturer at the end of the hostilities would serve as a fitting coda. It doesn't. Nor does the shot, like most of the film, resonate to any degree as it's exhaustingly and distantly playing out.

I give great professional respect to Angelina Jolie for making an intelligent, beautifully shot and scored film that sadly falls short on emotional content and nuanced storytelling. Her work as a director is smart enough that I'm willing to invest my time in seeing what she creates next. I also thank her for being generous with her q+a answers, talking in depth about her approach, creative conundrums and directing process with an audience of her industry peers rather than defaulting to boring, sales pitch-y, pat replies crafted by a p.r. team. Ms. Jolie is one of the only people in the last few years (the brilliant actors Ann Dowd, Bruce Dern and director Ava DuVernay being the others) who graciously signed programs, shook hands, posed for photos and chatted with guild members after the panel discussion ended. That is very appreciated as a voting member of the unions because it's a major time commitment to attend all these screenings and panels which don't always allow audience questions. Last night, we stood in the freezing rain for an hour waiting to sign in. So props and kudos to cast and director for remaining available. I look forward to Angelina Jolie's next film and hope she continues to challenge herself as a director and filmmaker and open her story telling to include a richer, more complex emotional core.

Wow, that was fun! My "Get Behind Me, Now Stay There" Experience

The hosts of Get Behind Me, Know Stay There. Image: Maya Seligman

The hosts of Get Behind Me, Know Stay There. Image: Maya Seligman

I had the most fun radio interview evah on the show, Get Behind Me, Now Stay There which can be heard on the Public Radio Exchange. If you've never listened to this fresh, fun radio show, tune in and give it a go. It's one of the hottest and fastest growing shows on the Public Radio Exchange. The conversation ranged from theatre, film, arts, culture, my book, Your Castable Types and entertainment out of hipster Ashland, Oregon, give a listen to Episode 51, on which I was a guest. You can listen here, starting at the :50 minute mark:

Joan Rivers: Brava to a Trailblazer

Joan Rivers, a trailblazing comedian, left us today. Younger performers may not realize just how influential Rivers was because she had the rare ability to reinvent herself, her cultural and industry relevancy, repeatedly, in the face of brutal life and career events.

In the era of Betty Friedan's The Feminine Mystique and Second Wave Feminism, Joan Rivers, along with Phyllis Diller and Totie Fields, paved the way for female stand up comedians and a more honest and authentic way for women to be seen and heard. Sure, these women wore cocktail dresses, always had their hair done and the jewels on but instead of standing behind their men, they stood apart: on stage, in front of the country, speaking to how their husbands, kids and options disappointed them. Their gags were often self effacing but resonated a longing for something more substantial in life, something different. Something beyond housewife and parent. They voiced a gender-centered, societal anger in an era when righteously angry females were not accepted as a reality. They may seem quaint when compared to the comediennes of today, but stand up performers didn't broach the subject matter or employ the same dialectic these ladies used to create comedy in the late 50's through the 60's and 70's. They were trailblazers and audiences, especially women, embraced them and their truths. They showed every female comic who followed how to succeed in the biz and they did it in a man's world with all the attendant Mad Men style shit that entailed.

These ladies had to kiss, bite and then shake the hands that fed them because all the opportunities came courtesy of the same men and cultural constructs they were skewering in front of the camera. No way to make your own career opportunities. No independent production companies with alternative distribution pipelines. No YouTube and Twitter to build your grassroot fan base. No comedy festivals to be broadcast to a well targeted demographic. No reality shows to take the edge off your persona and convince the public you're really lovable in pseudo-private. Just seven minute sets on variety and talk shows and week after week of live shows for unknown audiences. While Fields succumbed to a pulmonary embolism at age 48 and Diller went the sitcom and film route eventually becoming a permanent guest star, Rivers went for broke. In the world of comedy, the late night talk show was and continues to be hallowed ground. It led to the prestige gigs of award show hosting and becoming a treasured national icon.

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It put the performer and his pov into the homes of tens of millions of Americans five nights a week. A degree of influence no politician could hope to achieve. She made it to the mountain top and did so without taking the societal and gender-aware bite out of her humor. It was big news when she became the permanent Tonight Show sub for Johnny Carson and even bigger news when she chose to step out of the role of comedy consort and compete with him on her own show at a fledgling Fox network. The show failed miserably, her reputation was in tatters and she would find herself widowed a year later. A personal and professional disaster of which Rivers has written at length. But what a fabulous flame out! Here was a woman who could have settled in comfortably and profitably as Carson's substitute host. An ersatz talk show housewife. Keeping his show hosting dinner warm when he was off making bank in Vegas, emceeing the Oscars or vacationing with one of his real wives. Joan Rivers chose not to have a career in the shadow of a man while waiting for him to pass the torch in a decade or two, if the network suits didn't decide she wasn't attractive or young enough and kick her to the curb first. Rivers chose to stand on her own and let the chips fall where they may, all the while being portrayed as an ingrate bitch. Would a man ever be subjected to that level of degradation or would he get kudos for his independence, for taking his turn when opportunity knocked? Do we see this level of creative career risk today? It's hard to think of anything close. In an era of three networks and a shaky fourth being born and financed on the back of a cartoon family, Rivers' move was pure balls. When her show was cancelled, her professional reputation in the toilet and her manager/husband lost to suicide, she figured out how to create her comedic career all over again and make more money doing it. Knowing she had to stay relevant and independent for the rest of her days, she did just that. Broadway, a documentary, cable shows, award shows, books, product lines: Rivers embraced the times and new generations of audience, with a degree of success unmatched by other performers. Joan Rivers seemed to learn the universal life lesson that, at a core level, you can only depend on yourself and speak with your own authentic voice. Once you do, opportunities and options appear for as long as you want them. As a performer, that gift of independence allows you to take risks again and again, even when no one else will back you and long after the competition has fallen away.

I don't believe we'd have the biting, risk taking, sometimes shocking, on-the-nose comedy and creativity of Roseanne, Wanda SykesAmy Schumer or Leslie Jones, if Joan Rivers and her contemporaries hadn't paved the way. We still don't have a woman in the influential 11:30pm (or even 12:30pm) talk show host seat with one of the big networks, though the positions have changed hands a dozen times with lesser known talents, since Rivers had her turn.


Now is a great time to watch Rivers' seminal stand up routines on YouTube, her appearance on Louie, the 2010 documentary, Joan Rivers: A Piece of Work or read her 2012 Hollywood Reporter article  and consider what it took to get to a place where a woman had the chance to risk it all and the epic bravery it took to seize those opportunities, deal with the consequences and rise again.

Bravo, Joan Rivers. Bravo.

Open Casting Call for Steve McQueen's HBO Project This Saturday in NYC

Here's your opportunity to be the leading man in 12 Years A Slave director, Steve McQueen's new project for HBO.

Director Steve McQueen. Photo: Xinhua/Landov /Barcroft Media

Director Steve McQueen. Photo: Xinhua/Landov /Barcroft Media

This Saturday, August 23rd, at the Harlem School for the Arts, located at 645 Saint Nicholas Ave. in New York City, from 10AM to 1PM, the casting and production team for Steve McQueen's still untitled HBO pilot, will be conducting what they say will be its only casting call in New York.

Holding the open call is casting director Cindy Tolan. Tolan will run the open call auditions, which McQueen, it has been emphasized, will not be present for. According to Tolan, “No experience is necessary. They are just looking for a quality individual."

All black men between the ages of 20 to 40 are invited. Casting directors will also look at dancers, musicians and anyone with any interest in being a part of the project. 

The HBO pilot is centered around a young African-American man's experience entering New York high society. 

My Midnight Conversation with John T. Maye of Binge Watchers

Listen to my midnight interview with LA based Comedian and Filmmaker John T. Maye on his cult fave podcast, Binge Watchers. I joined John for an awesome conversation about modern acting technique, my approach to writing, directing, acting, and mentoring other actors through IndependentActor. Side discussions include guilty pleasure TV shows and the "cheeseburgers of film vs. the filets of cinema." Plus, I made John Travis blush, woof! Check it out here:

The IndependentActor Interview: No Strings Attached

Welcome to the first in a continuing series of interviews with the independent creative professionals making work that is truly worth our attention. My goal with these interviews is to provide insight and motivation for all the Actors and Originating Artists who visit this website. What we do is never easy but, when done well, we know it’s something special. Enjoy this series and the opportunity to learn from the process, struggles and successes of our talented and tireless colleagues.

Actors Casey Burden, Afrim Gjonbalaj & Kevin Perez of   No Strings Attached   by Manuel Igrejas. Photo: Joel Bischoff.

Actors Casey Burden, Afrim Gjonbalaj & Kevin Perez of No Strings Attached by Manuel Igrejas. Photo: Joel Bischoff.

Today’s interview is with the director, writer and cast members of the play, No Strings Attached, the Left Out Festival hit currently in an extended run at Manhattan’s Stage Left Studio. I spoke with director, Robert Teague, playwright, Manuel Igrejas and actors, Casey Burden and Kevin Perez.

IndependentActor: No Strings Attached is having a strong run for a true indie play. You're riding a nice wave of positive reviews and strong audience response. What were your original hopes for getting this play to audiences and how has this positive energy effected your future plans for the play? 

Bob TeagueThe business model for indie theater is so tricky that concepts like "future plans" almost become moot. For example, we had no plans for No Strings Attached after the Left Out Festival, but here we are in the middle of Round Two.

Our goal with No Strings Attached at Left Out was to see the play on its feet. As much as theater people wish it weren't true, the only way to know if a play has legs is to see it stand up. When No Strings Attached stood up, Manny, the Actors and I saw something that could grow. Then, Cheryl King with Stage Left Studios, suggested we bring it back for a longer run, and it seemed the obvious next step, so, here's No Strings Attached. Our goal with the longer run is to give the actors a chance to truly inhabit the roles without initial jitters or excitement or luck coloring the performances. It is a proving ground for the script. Are there areas that can be improved? Are there holes that need to be filled? The answer is always yes because, unlike a movie or a novel, you are never really done with a play. So the big question is does it continue to work? The answer, in the case of No Strings Attached is yes, it does. That's a good sign for the future, but for the present we are just going to continue the work. Manny has been at every show and is fine-tuning the script. The actors are constantly evolving and stretching. I am whispering in everyone's ear. It is actually a golden time.

Casey Burden: Outside of supporting and wanting success for Manny, I don't really have a stake in any future plans for this play. That being said, this is an important topic that he brings up. Even working my way through these questions, I've found that I tend to want to discuss my views on the struggles that the characters are facing rather than my approach to the piece as an artist. I think a show that does that deserves a life. I was lucky enough to be a part of one of the first readings back when it was called XYZ where I played the bad boy character. I've watched this show grow and evolve and I do hope that I can stay on this ride as long as they will have me.

IndependentActor: Tell me about the creation of this play, from inspiration to final dress rehearsal. How long was the timeline, how did you raise the funds to get it up and what were the major rehearsal/creative/production hurdles faced by the project?

Playwright Manuel Igrejas

Playwright Manuel Igrejas

Manuel Igrejas: An early version of the play was done in 2011. It was called XYZ then and Casey was in it. As XYZ it was a semi-finalist in the Eugene O'Neill program in 2013 and a finalist in Pregones Theater Asuncion Project in that same year. With a new title, NSA, played two performances in the Left Out Festival in April 2014 and returns with the new title No Strings Attached.

The life of this particular production started in March of 2014 with an offer to participate in the Left Out Festival at Stage Left Studio. I reached out to actor Afrim Gjonbalaj, who I had worked with a few years ago, to play Luis and he said yes. Casey Burden was in my 2010 play Hassan and Sylvia and he had the warm quality I wanted for Monty and we snagged him. We had another actor pretty much cast for the role of Stefan but met with Kevin Perez anyway. He was so dynamic and charming that we hired him for the part. I knew Robert Teague from Truant Arts and liked his play, Chaos and Other Worldly Possessions and he wanted to direct this play.

We had a very harmonious three week rehearsal process in late March and April and ran two sold out performances. Got a good review from NY Theater Now. There was a good buzz about the show so the team met and decided to go for a 4 week showcase run and to call the play No Strings Attached, so as not to be confused with the government agency. Again, a very harmonious process. So here were are, right in the middle of it.

Kevin Perez: When I first received the script I was intimidated a bit. Here is a character who is miles a way from the person I am. It was also the first play in English I’d done in a long time. So, language was something of a barrier for me in the beginning. As soon as I got through this, and with Bob's help, I was surprised how many things I found in myself that I could lend to this character. Even to this day I still find new things. The power of stillness.  

Director Bob Teague

Director Bob Teague

Bob Teague: We were actually on a very tight rehearsal schedule for budget reasons and scheduling reasons. Rehearsal time needs space, which costs money. Also, theater people are busy people, trying to fit a lot into their lives. Add a two-performance festival piece to the mix and scheduling becomes a nightmare. So does the amount of time that the actors can reasonably be expected to spend in specific places at specific times.

We addressed these issues by expecting more pre-work from the actors. They got the script a month before rehearsals started. We did a table read and talked about what we wanted this play to become, and then the actors went away and did a lot of prep work.  

I think this is a model we are going to see more of in the indie theater scene, and I think it is a change for the better, because it respects the actors and the process. But, they have to do the homework. When we hit the rehearsal room, we aren't there to learn lines. We are there to work the play.  

IndependentActor: You've described this play as "off kilter". Does that description emanate from the subject matter of open relationships, gay love triangles or a style that breaks the fourth wall at times? What "off kilter" aspects of the play have been the most challenging to perform and which, if any, do audiences react to most strongly?

Casey Burden: Most of the "relationship" issues that are dealt with in this show are universal. There are plenty of straight love triangles and we've all seen the "closed" straight relationships that aren't really that closed and end up in scandal destroying all involved. For me, embodying the one character in the play that sees all the dysfunction yet still strives to hold on to the belief that there is an innate goodness to people is the most challenging and also has the biggest payoff in the end.

Bob TeagueActually, "off-kilter" was reviewer Martin Denton's phrase. It's the reviewer's job to find things like that in a show. In hindsight, he is correct, but I think during creation artists must avoid thinking in terms like that off-kilter or experimental or any other label, for that matter. For artists, to think in labels is potentially deadly because performances and staging can quickly become gimmicky.

For us, it was a story of three people in a love triangle wrestling for something that resembled happiness as each character defined the term. The script has memory elements and direct address and some odd shifts in time, perspective and geography and of course, the characters are gay. But for us, it was a story we were telling, plain and simple. We all came into the first table read from the same place. This was a play about love and sex, period. The fact that is was about a gay love triangle was less interesting than the ideas of fidelity and emotional love.

In fact, Jack Mauro, in a recent review for, pointed out that one of the impressive things about this production is that it is a gay play "where the gay is meaningless”. For me, this is one of the crowning achievements of this piece. If we can turn a gay play into just a play about people who happen to also be gay, we have really accomplished something.

The biggest challenge was the direct address in the piece. As a director and playwright, I always enjoy direct address. Having the audience in the room is what separates theater from everything else, so why not acknowledge the fact and try to capitalize on it. As an actor, direct address can be a bitch kitty to pull off. The challenge is that some audiences are okay with the idea of participating in a play and some, frankly, simply are not. When they are okay with it, there is no challenge. The piece just glides along. When they are not okay with it, when they expect theater to be akin to watching characters through a window, the actors have their work cut out for them.  

Manny and I were lucky because Casey, Afrim and Kevin are fearless actors. They are comfortable with the idea of following, guiding and coaxing the audience. This is not a normal trait, and the fact that it exists in all three actors is not something I take lightly.

IndependentActor: Indie Theatre usually entails performing in non-traditional venues for smaller - though often savvier - audiences: what adjustments in performing style, timing and staging have you had to make over the run of this play? How has audience size affected the actors work from performance to performance?

Casey Burden: Performing in a smaller, more intimate setting always brings it's own challenges. Particularly for a show where we directly address the audience so much and rely on at least some participation. It's not always easy to tear down that fourth wall and find an audience that, although appreciative, would rather sit quietly and just watch the play. With bigger shows it's much easier to keep that wall up and just do the show you know how to do. But then that's kinda the point, isn't it? You do it this way because it really becomes about the characters. The audience is way too close to try to hide any flaws. Sure, as actors, we'd like to believe that every performance will have the same impact and you will be able to get to the same place every time, but the reality, and for me the beauty of doing live theater over movies, is that when you get that audience that is anxious to go on the journey with you it reminds you of the reasons that you got into this in the first place.

Kevin Perez: Smaller spaces terrify me at first. But by the second performance the terror dissipates. At first it feels like I’m invading a space and by the second performance more like this is my space.  

Bob TeagueYou mentioned dress rehearsals earlier, and that's one area where things are different. We started this project in a festival setting, which meant no dress rehearsal and a two-hour window of opportunity for tech. There was no time to work out the production kinks and make the stage our home before we were facing a live audience.

Having this extended run has been great for us because we have been able to take command of the space. It has been a process of trial and error, but with every performance, the actors have been able to more fully inhabit the world of the play and Manny and I have been able to fine-tune trouble spots. Again, we have been incredibly lucky that we have a fearless cast. Fearlessness brings with it a necessary flexibility. If Manny makes an edit, we see it the next night. When I make adjustments an hour before the show, I can see if it worked immediately. It is priceless.

IndependentActor: The characters in this play all possess what could be described as highly flexible, individualized moral codes. How did you create a level of internal authenticity to ground your character that you could reliably bring to performances?

Kevin Perez: It has been a process of learning to trust what I have inside to make the character more grounded. Bob has been a wonderful guide in this whole process. 

Casey Burden: Grounding Monty has been an ongoing challenge for me. For a reason that, honestly, came as a shock. When I first read this version of the script I instantly related to Monty. I actually share his traditional views on what is possible in relationships and marriage. Gay or Straight. I know marriages are hard work, but the payoffs always outweighed the struggles or are supposed to. I was excited that Monty seemed to be me. This was going to be a character easy to get into and understand.   As we began working however, I started to discover how my own views about Gay relationships have been beaten down through the years and I started to see Monty as "living in a fantasy". A view that is rarely a strong choice for a character. Manny and Bob have been wonderful through this whole process and allowed me to take that journey through my own head to discover that my personal struggles really aren't that different than Monty's after all. Every performance I find more and more strong aspects of Monty and his unwavering belief in his family. It's amazing and completely scary to work on a project that hits so close to my heart. 

IndependentActor: How has your work in No Strings Attached informed and potentially deepened your acting and directing skills? How has it effected your professional profile and new opportunities?

Kevin Perez: Stefan was a very challenging character for me to balance. I feel I was really stretching some acting muscles I never even knew existed. This will inform every upcoming project I'm in. As far as new opportunities coming from this play, too soon to tell.  

Bob TeagueEvery time I step into the rehearsal room I have two goals: one, make the play a little bit better, and, two, let the actors and playwright push me to be a little bit better at my job. With No Strings Attached, I was blessed across the board. Manny, Casey, Afrim and Kevin all shared those goals. Every day we all made the play and each other a little bit better.

I don't know if this will create new opportunities. The future is way too fickle a beast. But I do know this experience has strengthened my resolve to trust the talent in the room and push for more by being pushed.

Casey Burden: There are a lot of things you learn from acting classes and school.   Acting 101. Listen. It's the simplest and hardest lesson to learn how to effectively do.   But when you get into a show like this those 101 lessons become the most important.   Not that it's any less important in other shows, but for me, No Strings Attached really brought that to a different level since the subject matter is so very personal to me.

IndependentActorWhat are your next career steps beyond No Strings Attached? Where can audiences see your work next?

Kevin Perez: I'm in talks to act in an indie horror flick in Spanish. Then filming a movie around fall or winter about a Puerto Rican couple in New York City. It’s directed by the very talented Xavier Medina and acting opposite the also very talented Aris Mejías. Very excited for this one.

Bob TeagueI'm a playwright as well as a director, so it is time for me to write a new play.  

Casey Burden: Honestly, no clue. I do know that I don't want to stop.

IndependentActorHaving immersed yourselves in New York Indie Theatre with this project, would you do it again with a new play? If yes, what would you do differently? If not, why and what would you do instead.                     

Kevin Perez: Yes I would! Every project is different so I'm sure I would do it differently.

Casey Burden: I come from the world of Musical Theater and Cabaret. I have always had an appreciation for this type of theater, but for whatever reason never really got a chance to do it as an actor. I would absolutely do it again. To me, this type of setting is perfect for new plays. However, I'm afraid that I've been spoiled with Manny and Bob. I now assume that all playwrights and directors are as supportive and open as they have been.

Bob TeagueI got involved in this project because of my previous commitment to new work. Truant Arts, the theater company I co-founded a couple of years ago with my partner Jamie Rosler, is focused on the act of creation. We believe creation is where artists should live, and we try to present playwrights, directors and actors with the opportunities to always be living there. We do this through collaboration starting as close to the source as possible. The success of No Strings Attached has only strengthened that mission.

IndependentActorIs there anything else you would like to share with fellow actors and directors?

Bob TeagueI'd like to add one last thing, if I may. Because this is a blog for Independent Actors, I'd like to take this opportunity to say for all of us on the other side of the stage as directors and playwrights, we need you. We need you well-trained and fearless. We need you to see acting as a noble art rather than a chance to shine. We need you to know that you are as much a part of the creation as the playwright or the director, that you are not just meat puppets to be moved around a stage. These aren't self-evident facts, given the dictatorial terms director and playwright, which carry with them ideas of control. We aren't in control. As playwrights, we build the blueprint. As directors, we guide. But it is ultimately the actors, on the stage and in the world of the piece, who create. Embrace that and train for that. The state of theater will be better off for your efforts.

IndependentActor: Well said!

No Strings Attached is playing now through August 16th at Stage Left Studio, 214 West 30th Street, 6th Floor. Performances are Wednesdays through Saturdays at 7:30pm. You can buy tickets at:

My thanks to Dani Lynn at Propaganda PR for facilitating this interview.

A Great Convo: Kevin, Ashley and the ISTA Interview

Hosts Ashley Bagley and Kevin Stone

Hosts Ashley Bagley and Kevin Stone

ISTA stands for Inside The Area, which is a term familiar to Atlantans. I had the pleasure of guesting on the Inside The Area Entertainment Spotlight show hosted by Kevin and Ashley. These two smart, insightful and fresh Atlanta-based talents give great interview! We talked in depth about what it really takes to have a career as a performing professional and why so many talented people get sidetracked. It's such a treat for me to engage in a probing and witty conversation about my favorite topic and passion in life, Acting, Directing and Creating! Kevin and Ashley were the perfect people to do it with and I think you'll enjoy listening for yourself: 

The Bright Side With Teknishia Interview

Smart, savvy radio host Tekneshia Day invited me to appear on her popular daily talk show, The Bright Side With Tekneshia to discuss a topic so many of her Atlanta area listeners want to know all about: how to launch, grow and sustain an Acting career. You can listen to our interview here: 

My Interview on the Top Rated Singapore Radio Show CarryOnHarry

Harry Johal, host of one of Singapore's top rated radio shows, CarryOnHarry, interviewed me about my unique approach to Acting training and my book, Your Castable Types, which lays out the entire program. Harry's listening audience extends all the way to the United Kingdom on BalleBalle Radio. Acting is an incredibly popular topic with his listeners and we spent the entire show talking at great length about acting technique, the joys and challenges of performance and how to take your Acting career to a professional level. I think you'll enjoy listening to this in depth conversation: