Making Things!

Within just the last couple months I’ve had the opportunity to work on projects as set decorator, production designer, and window display artist. Since writing my last post I have been able to set my fears aside and focus on the joy that comes from creating things and learning as I go. What I’ve enjoyed the most is having my imagination explode with ideas when handed a project. I’d like to post about each project individually but as of right now I’m up to my armpits in freelance gigs.

I’m looking forward to posting more photos of the projects I’ve been working on. One of my projects was fabricating the props for Nordstrom Window displays (appearing in storefronts the first weekend of September).

This week I’m busy working as production designer for a fun fantasy short – let’s just say I’ve got a lot of magical wizardry to whip up before Saturday’s shoot!

Next month I’ll be designing the set for my old high school’s fall musical, Seussical the Musical. More fun fantasy and imagination work there!

And only 3 more weeks of the summer quarter. Lordy, I hope I find time for my homework and finals.

 

 

 

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Two Cents

Kitchen

I’ve been meaning to write another blog for awhile now…but time just slips away (surprise surprise). However, after reading this article: “Is Parenthood the Enemy of Creativity”,  I just can’t help myself but to take a moment and write a few thoughts of my own on the subject.

Stop doing so damn much! We get sucked into busying ourselves within every sweet second of our life (I am a huge offender of this thing). Specially while living in LA and doing all the business of being an actor and trying to get my work out there and be seen and noticed. Then to add on top of that being a new mom, the list of “must dos” and “should dos” is staggering and even debilitating.

I’ve had to take a step back and really look at this long list of things I “need” to do. Who is telling me I need to do it? My society or my instinct? This goes for both actor things and mom things. Here’s an example – that is actually quite timely due to recent events: Actor workshops. I hate them with a passion. I did a few because I was told they were what you needed to do in order to get any “real” work in this town but every time I went to one, everything in me cringed. The desperation you feel in that room is just awful, and you can’t help but become a part of it. In a town where you already feel quite helpless, this was just another thing to put you in your place.

So I stopped. The money I would have spent on workshops I spent on my own projects. New filming equipment, money for crew (or at least feeding crew), for submission fees for festivals, for classes that actually helped my acting muscles, etc. And now I feel a heck of a lot less shame – and helpless!

This idea can continue on to other actor-y things: building a twitter following, a large Instagram or YouTube presence, sending postcard after postcard, sending out a million envelopes with your headshot and resume in them, going to a bunch of parties to mingle and make industry contacts…. You can get so caught up in all the things you’re supposed to do to help make your career and get you noticed as an artist, and yet if you don’t spend time and passion on you art, what have you got to give?

Nothing in this town is certain. You could win an Oscar one year and in the next people could be asking “whatever happened to…?” There are no guarantees. You can book a commercial or a t.v show, get excited and tell all your friends, and then get edited out! I think what it comes down to is the work itself. Are you doing work you love and are proud of? Or are you focusing on taking the steps for success -whether that be financial or social. What is important to you? If its popularity and success, then fine! Go for it. But the only thing I have time to focus on, care about, and know I have a little control in is my own work. That means in the scenes I put up in class, the short films I write, shoot, and put out into the world, and even taking time to see the world around me and enjoy it.

So now I switch gears (a bit) and go into my dealings with being a mom. I feel it is very similar in my approach. I can get so caught up in what society is telling me I need to do as a mom! The amount of books I’ve read is… pretty ridiculous. I also find it funny that I am drawn to books and articles that basically reinstate what I already thought was good parenting. Isn’t that what a lot of us do? We take a piece of this theory, or that style, or a new program for parenting  (kind of like how some people take their favorite bits and pieces of religions)  just so we can feel less guilty about what we’re doing. And that’s another thing: GUILT!  Oh dear Lord, the way we can pile on the shame and guilt! I think we like it! Because no one likes a cocky parent or a parent that says “I think I’m doing a great job!”. But why not? (now take that idea back to acting – no one likes a cocky actor either!)

So, now to tie the two of these things together and actually relate it back to the article I had read about how being a parent can decrease you artistic abilities… or be the enemy… or whatever. So far I have not found that being a parent has made me less of an artist. It has strengthened my passion for my art, and it has laser focused the precious time I get when I can work on my art. Yesterday I dropped my daughter off at daycare, headed to the theatre for  three hours to work on a one act I’m directing. I then enjoyed a quiet afternoon to focus and work on a one act I’m acting in, then proceeded to my two hour rehearsal before picking my daughter up at 5pm. This is not a typical day, but when I get a day like that I relish it!! I’ll admit I felt a twinge of guilt for a minute or two, but let it go. I’m spending all day today with my daughter, and now I can focus on her and not worry about the art I’m not doing.

Perhaps I’m not quite writing this out as well as I would like… but the point I’m trying to make is that being a parent has deepened my relationship with life and the world – and how can that not make you a stronger artist. Don’t look at the quantity of time you put towards your art, look at the quality.

So that’s my two cents on this early Wednesday morning. The sun is coming up and I hear my daughter waking. Time to get on with the day!

 

PS: I’m super excited to write more about how I’m letting go of my “identities” as mom, actor, wife, etc. ….. but that’s for another early morn.

In the mean time, check out this book: How to Wake Up by Toni Bernhard.

 

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Starting with the basics…again.

I did it. I put up  my first scene in class…. and lo and behold all that fiery passion for the craft has come back full force. It’s so weirdly addicting. I feel so at home on stage discovering a life and story on stage.

So now I’m learning about finding the balance and new ways of doing my homework for the scenes. It’s a bit difficult sitting and doing my imagination work on the story at home while also trying to keep Cordie out of the dog food (boy, does she love that stuff!). I have to work towards a new discipline of using my free time a bit more wisely. Also, I hope to become more efficient with my work. Instead of trying to work at getting the entire play believed, just starting with little parts, problems, situations, etc and letting it grow. I have a habit of trying to get everything from the very beginning.

I’m excited to work these muscles again and to see my confidence grow in my work that I put out into the world. Whether that be my own writing or what I bring into the audition room.

My overall career/game plan is still a bit fuzzy but let’s just start with the work. I think over the coming weeks more will clear up.

Mary Blair

PS: I’ve come across Mary Blair’s artwork, and I’m in love!

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Soul Searching on a Sunday Night

I’ve begun acting class again and it is stirring up quite a few soul searching questions for me.

How serious am I about being a professional working actor? Am I willing to make the sacrifices? What do those sacrifices mean? Does that mean I’m putting my husband and daughter second? Am I afraid of true success? Am I afraid of failure? What if I put in all this hard work and I actually am not that talented? Do I have actual goals? Something tangible to head towards? Am I flailing about aimlessly?!?

Do I still want this? 

That’s the biggest question I seem to keep coming back to. Do I still want to be an actor? And I honestly don’t know. But do I not know because I don’t get to act much anymore? Will that strong desire and passion come back once I get to perform again (even if it’s just in class at first)? Or have I given up on the hope and dream but continue to plug along out of sheer habit? I am scared to answer this question. I have found my identity in acting/as an actor for so long that I’m scared to have to go “find” myself if I let that go.

The last time I was in acting class was about 4 years ago. I was a single girl working 5 jobs (none of them acting) and trying to get work as an actor. Now I’ve come back after having moved to a different town (and back), married the love of my life, bought a home, and had a baby. All really awesome things! And pretty significant life changes.

I think I expected to go back to class and pick up where I left off…. but that place (and person) feel long gone. I know I will always love acting. But to what degree and how far do I want to go?

And now I just have the lyric from A Chorus Line going through my head: “Who am I anyway? Am I my resume? Or just a picture of a person I don’t know….”

 

I don’t know what I want. I don’t even know where to begin.

So I’ll just start with a scene. Put a scene up in class and take a look at what we’ve got.

 

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The First Six Weeks is Like a Stiff Cocktail…And now we’re at 3 months…

Just shy of our 6 week mark I am finally able to sit down and right a post post baby. We’ll see just how long it takes me to write this and publish it. Right now, it is 9:48am on Friday…

I like to think of the first six weeks like a stiff cocktail. Semi-sweet, bitter, a swift kick to the gut, and a cherry on top. Like a well done Manhattan.

They say that time flies when you first have your baby. To treasure every moment. It all goes by so fast and before you know they will be walking.

It hasn’t felt that way to me.

This time has lagged on so long for me. The first two weeks felt like a dark and scary cave. Here we were in our little condo with this tiny little human. No one knew how to communicate with each other (except for Eric and I) and many nights were spent trying to figure out how we could all sleep at the same time for more than 45 minutes. I’ll be extremely honest and admit there were quite a few times where I thought “when does it feel worth it?” And then would immediately cry feeling guilty for having such thoughts.

By the third week my parents came to town to help us out. I’m so glad Eric and I got to have the first two weeks to really get an idea of who we were as new parents and start to have opinions on things. Having the parents in town helped us catch up on a bit more sleep, helped me get through the days now that Eric was back to work, and gave us some good ideas for what could help Cordie when she got fussy. What it also did was help Eric and I discover we had opinions about how to take care of Cordie and that we actually were able to pick up on what she wanted or needed.

At the end of the fourth week Eric’s parents came into town as well. That was an epically crowded weekend. I’m glad all the new grandparents got to have time hanging out together, but dear lord our home was crowded and I’ve never been so happy to have to nurse Cordie and go into another room. A quiet, dark, room, with no one else in it.

My parents left after two weeks here. Eric’s mom is still in town till Sunday. And then, we’re “on our own”. It’s felt like 6 weeks of new parent bootcamp. Or at least what I would imagine bootcamp to be like.

So, here are some things I’ve discovered about myself and about parenting:

I kept reading that breastfeeding is magical and wonderful.

I freaking hated it. I’m getting the hang of it now, but I still don’t like it that much. It hurt, it’s annoying, and I have a time limit when I go anywhere away from her. Thankfully it’s starting to get easier – but you don’t believe it when you’re on day 3 and crying your eyes out. 

I’m no earth mamma

I try to eat organic and bathe organic and live organic… but it usually lasts a day or two. I’ll drink organic milk and then swiftly eat an overly processed Oreo cookie with it. I tried “healthy/safe” shampoo and it made my hair feel weird so I went to the chemically one I liked that made my hair soft. I’m surrounded by forums and posts with moms talking about chemically safe this and that and being opposed to pediatricians that tell them things they don’t like. They want organic cloth to surround their baby in, nature based cleaning things and wiping things and living things…. and I just can’t. I feel like I’ve entered a room I was supposed to go in but don’t feel like I belong. I just don’t have the patience or energy to try to minimize my footprint or chemical intake. I’ll just say an extra prayer of protection each night. 

“Formula is the devil!”

This goes along with my trouble with breastfeeding. The first night we brought Cordie home we ended up giving her a bit of formula – and instantly felt we had failed as parents. Bullshit. Now six weeks later I’ve eased up on myself. If I need to go run an errand and whoever is at home baby-sitting for me has to give her a couple ounces while I’m gone – fine. My baby will not become obese by a few ounces of formula – or if that’s the only thing I could give her she would be fine. 

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And now here we are at the 3 month mark!

As you can see, me sitting down to write has not happened much since I began this post. But it’s nice to look over what I wrote and I’m happy to post it as well. Those first 6 weeks were really tough. At 3 months Eric and I feel like we are getting into a groove of our new normal. Cordelia (lately) has been going to bed between 7 and 8pm. She wakes at about 4am to feed, then sleeps until about 8am. I could not be happier.

I also now feel like I can play with her and she interacts with me. I love my days at home with her (something I never thought I would say!). This has been a gradual thing for me to love. Fortunately, the day before Mother’s Day I came home from a long day of workshops/meetings for The Fringe Festival and held Cordie in my arms and something clicked. Like the stories you hear from moms who hold their baby for the first time and instantly fall in love and know their lives will be forever changed and they could never imagine life without their little one…. ya, that happened to me. 12 weeks (to the day) after beginning my contractions with her. I am not ashamed to admit it. I hear other moms took some time falling in love with their babies, but you never seem to see it mentioned in our more public society.

I hope to write more soon. And I look forward to writing about the last improv show I did and prepping to do Dear Hollywood again. But goodness gracious, this post has taken me 6 weeks to finish and post. So here it is.

Cordie

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Embracing My Own Path

I sat at the computer ready to write some sappy “I feel sorry for myself because I’m an overwhelmed and confused artist” and then I watched this video:

What a great speech. I love Charlie Day and his show and his path that he took.

Seriously though, I sat at the computer this morning feeling overwhelmed with this LA world and feeling like there is a never ending list of things you “must-do” to become a successful actor in LA. I got up to pour another cup of coffee before writing and it was like I had walked up and out of my weird sappy mood. I looked behind me and couldn’t help but laugh.

Who is this girl who feels sorry for herself? Boo hoo, you haven’t booked anything in a year. So you haven’t gone on an audition in quite a while. Etc.

Wake up! I have a lovely home with an amazing husband. I just wrote, produced, and starred in my first one-woman show. I get to teach theatre for a whole month back in my home town this July, and in August I’m directing a friend’s short film.

Sure, I get overwhelmed sometimes (a lot of the time) with all the amazing things I want to do and learn. The list of classes I want to take is endless. That’s part of never wanting to be done learning. That is part of being an artist. And, yes, I wish I was part of something bigger. Part of a creative community. Ok, so I need to get off my ass and go participate. It will mean sacrificing some of my evenings but in the long run will pay off.

I don’t want to knock the tough times. I’m just acknowledging and admitting that I have been in it lately and now I’m making a choice to try and get out. Hopefully get a glimpse of the bigger picture. Breathe. I am on my own unique path. No need to compare myself with anyone else or where they are on their path. I release my need to prove myself to everyone else (this is a daily thing to remember).

And I could not be more excited and happy to be teaching in my hometown in just a little over a month. I’ll write more about that later.

Now I must pour another cup of coffee and begin to watch my show that I filmed and work on making it better for next time.

Happy Wednesday, dear friends.

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Remembering Why I Do What I Do

I can’t watch this without smiling from ear to ear.


I love both Danny Kaye and Luis Armstrong. Their pure joy and love of performing and entertaining is contagious. And both of these men were at the top of their game. Always improving and a force to be reckoned with. I hope I’m that someday. A force to be reckoned with. Not in a weird conceded way but just always playing to the top of my ability and constantly working and becoming better. I hope to inspire others to do their best as well. Every time I get an opportunity to perform (auditions included) I want to exude an air of this is what I love, let me share it with you.

It’s a challenge. What I would like to do is just sit around, watch inspiring movies, and wait to be handed something on a silver platter. The problem is is that I won’t be ready to take whatever is given to me by just thinking in my head I have talent. I need to work on it daily. There are days when that is really really REALLY tough. And some days I succumb to just sitting on the couch watching movies or t.v shows I wish I  was working on. Some days I have to push through and make myself write something or practice working on a script of some sort. And a few days it’s a breeze and I make huge strides in my work. Like I said, it’s a challenge. But when I’m resisting something the strongest it usually is an indicator of where I need to go.

I am constantly reminded that fame is fleeting and is only sometimes a byproduct of pursuing and working on  your craft. The true joy (hopefully) comes from working on what you love. If it isn’t, maybe it’s time to reassess what’s going on and what you want.

I want to be great. I want to continually be getting better. To inspire people with my art. Grand scale or small, as long as I give it my all 100% of the time. That’s what I want.

 

Happy Wednesday, my friend.

 

Oh! And my show goes up again this Saturday. Just FYI

Dear Hollywood 4.26 (c)

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Happy Birthday Charlie: Year 6

Charlie-Chaplin1440x900

I love that the anniversary of my moving to LA coincides with Charlie Chaplin’s birthday. It makes it’s doubly special.

I am so very grateful for these past 6 years. I’ve learned so much and am very happy that so many of my first LA friends I still call friends today. I may not have accomplished all the things I had hoped by now but through the years, the tough times and the smooth times, I have let go of some plans, made a few new ones, and better yet – hung on strong to the goals that I really desire. Somedays it all seems a bit fuzzy or overwhelming. I wonder if I should give it all up. But those thoughts quickly vanish. I would much rather keep plugging along. Letting the little victories come as they may.

Last year was quite a doozy. I look forward to this next year. I have my hopes but I look forward to the surprises even more.

Thanks for following me on this journey.

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Dear Hollywood – from page to stage

Whew! I did it!

And no way could I have done it without all the amazing support from my husband, family, and friends. Thank you.

It feels good to finally get the show up on its feet. Now it’s on to refining, adding, subtracting, and booking it at another venue. This is the fun part. Thanks to my friend Dustin for filming it I can go back and see what worked and what didn’t. I’m ok that it’s not perfect. It will continue to get better the more I do it. Besides, this is my first solo show attempt.

I am very excited to see how this will evolve over the next year.

Here is a little highlight reel for those who weren’t able to make it.

Thanks again!

 

Dear Hollywood: Live – Highlight reel from Julisa Smith on Vimeo.

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Storm Before the Calm.

Only a quick little post today. Most of my time is spent trying to get this show in ship shape for Saturday.

But I thought I would just check in a say that this is not easy! I’m struggling a bit here. It’s amazing the how loud that evil little inner critic can get. You wonder “why you ever came up with this crazy idea and how dare you ask people to spend some of their Saturday night watching you perform on a stage by yourself saying things your wrote”….lame shit like that.

This afternoon while I was wallowing the idea dawned on me – what if this was the only time I get to do this show? I’ve lost myself so far in the future and how great I hope this show can be…that I’ve lost the pure joy and fun of just performing and telling a fun story. That really what I’m doing. Sharing a funny idea I had. Just for one night. Done.

So with that, it’s back to rehearsals. A little more pep in my step.

See you Saturday!

 

 

Oh, and if you’d like more show info:

iO West link

Dear Hollywood promo 2

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