LA LA LAND part 2a: LA-BASED ACTRESSES SPEAK UP


Stephen Fife

Stephen Fife

Writer, Non-Registered Critics


HIPSTER TIP OF THE WEEK:  Do not miss PLASTICITY by Alex Lyras at the Hudson Guild Theatre.  I beg to differ with Lovel Estell III for his prickly and nit-picky Stage Raw review of a show that has the best visual scheme and the most of on its mind of anything the Hipster has seen on LA small stages in recent memory.  Yes, it's true, the author has bit off more than he can satisfactorily chew - or, better metaphor, his reach does exceed his grasp -- but the author/performer's layered investigation of the human brain's complexity is fascinating in its many tangents, and the way it compares the intricacy of the brain to that of the cosmos.  I hope that Mr. Lyras continues to develop his flawed but intriguing script with his brilliant collaborators, co-writer/director Robert McCaskill and video artist Corwin Evans.  Don't let small-minded reviewers make your decisions for you.  The show has just been extended - check out www.plasticitytheplay.com for tickets and info.

(And don't forget, I can always be reached with any questions or comments HERE.)

Last week I posted a piece about the film La La Land and its less than believable thread about Mia Dolan (Emma Stone) writing, producing and performing a one-woman show in North Hollywood. (I hope everyone clicked on the link to the AV Club's take on the subject - hilarious!)  Anyway, it occurred to me that I'd like to hear what actual LA-based actresses thought of Mia Dolan's journey.

I put out the word to a few actresses I've worked with and to Facebook Friends, and eventually I received so many responses that I'm going to post a second installment with as many comments as I can fit.  It's my personal belief that being a professional actress is one of the most difficult possible endeavors.  That's not true for every actress, of course, but those who want to put heart and soul on the line and achieve an individual destiny -- as Emma Stone's character does in the film -- face untold numbers of obstacles.  Here then are three very different (and very unedited) views of very real Mia Dolans - Kaitlyn Fae Fajilan, Tamika Katon-Donegal and Jenny Lerner.

KAITLYN FAE FAJILAN

So here's my take on Emma Stone's character in La La Land:

It boggled my mind how accurate the way auditioning for roles in LA was portrayed. When I saw the film, I kept turning to my friend and whispering furiously, "OH MY GOD, THAT IS SO TRUE." From getting honked at for practicing lines while stuck in traffic, to trying her best not to get her hopes up after an audition, Mia's pain was frighteningly relatable. Each time she had to rush out in order to make an audition, I nodded and thought to myself, "Been there." When she goes straight home and face plants into her bed after a failed audition, my heart sank for her. I said aloud, "I totally know that feeling!"

There are two lines in particular Mia utters in the film that really rang true for me:

The first is when she said (something to the effect of): "It sucks walking out and seeing all the other auditioners who are better looking and probably more talented than me." MAN. That one hit home.  It can get so daunting at auditions, looking around and seeing everyone who appears much more suited to the role than you. It gets especially hard as a person of color trying to make it in an industry where minorities often get overlooked in favor of more "traditional" casting. I've literally had an acting teacher tell me that casting directors would consider me "non traditional" purely based off my race.

The second is when she nearly gives up on acting altogether after her one-woman play tanks. She tearfully tells Ryan Gosling "I'm tired of embarrassing myself." She took the words right out of my mouth. So many times have I walked out of an audition or acting class and thought, "Who do I think I am? I'm just making a fool of myself." It can get really, really disheartening, and I thought Emma Stone portrayed that aspect very well.

TAMIKA KATON-DONEGAL

Thoughts on La La Land

I found Emma Stone's character Mia to have a career and opportunities that not many LA actresses, ESPECIALLY actresses of color, have. For example, when I audition there aren't usually a room of Black actresses with curly blonde hair auditioning for the same part. It's like the UN; Asian, Latina, and Black women are all up for the same one line:

“Here's your gelato.”

At this phase in my career, I'm not auditioning for a variety of types either. It's usually: bitchy assistant, quirky best friend, or cop. (I no longer have a go-to prostitute outfit so I guess I've phased out of those types auditions.)

Finally, I've never experienced casting directors to be anything but polite and generous. If they are direct, or to the point, it's because I understand they have a job to do! It's my hope that I can make their search much easier!

JENNY LERNER
First, a little bit about me: I'm an actress in my late twenties, working 2 office jobs and some babysitting gigs on the weekends to pay rent around the theatre and tv jobs I (sometimes/seldom/will someday have more) get. I'm a member of the New American Theatre Company in LA and love acting and singing.  After writing this, I will leave my day job and go straight to singing class.

So, here's what I think "La La Land" got right: most of the audition scenes. I loved Mia's auditions for the cop or the teacher roles where she's dressed in a police uniform or as a teacher doing certain prototype guest star "type parts". I thought that was really real. And we've all been on those stereotypical auditions for the medical show, crime drama, etc. where you're clearly the suspicious person throwing off the detectives before we find who the real criminal is.  And I also appreciated the moments where the casting directors are talking to each other and reading over her resume instead of really paying attention to her audition. These are all things that have happened to me on the regular. Even the casting director talking to someone else through the door during that intimate scene rang true. People in the audience seemed shocked when they saw that. I wasn't.

BUT  they lost me at the one woman show and everything that comes after it. I understand this movie is about the "ones who dream" and leaps of faith. BUT her one person show:  we see her designing costumes, and writing it and working on the sets leading up to it, but we never see one moment of this (supposedly) incredible one woman show (based on her experience growing up in Nevada or where the fuck was it? How is it supposed to be ground-breaking? Is it?). We see her walk on stage to a small audience and walk off. And when she walks off, people say it was awful. Shouldn't we know about her amazing concept or writing or acting which landed her the job of a lifetime?

It is very difficult getting casting directors, agents, managers to see any theatre in LA. I am currently working with my company on this very issue. I am currently trying to figure out how to bribe family members (short of giving blood) to get them to ask industry members they know to come see some new theatre we're doing in a couple months. People do drop offs to casting offices, print flyers, send emails, make phone calls. I'll be working on these pitches for weeks and will be lucky if 1 out of the 50-100 casting directors/agents/managers my team of actors contact will come. We're supposed to believe Mia's mass email got this casting director to come out? Yeah, okay.

So next, she goes into the life-changing audition with her boyfriend in tow, which by the way, let's talk about that. I guess Sebastian comes for added bravery or moral support. Cute and romantic and all, but adult actresses go alone to auditions most of the time, right? Unless you're underage and need your parents to drive you, you go to your auditions alone. I don't think I'd want my boyfriend to come with me to my auditions. My therapist, maybe, but my boyfriend, no.

That's not even the issue though. If I remember correctly, the casting director doesn't even know the plot of the movie except that it will be built around the right actress (?) and shoots in Paris for a few months. Okay. How did this movie get funded? THAT DOES NOT HAPPEN. I WISH IT DID AND THE INDUSTRY WAS COLLABORATIVE LIKE THAT AND WE COULD ALL GO TO PARIS AND CREATE MAGNIFICENT, DEEP ART IN A SYMBIOTIC AND FREE WAY AND EAT CHOCOLATE CROISSANTS BUT THAT DOESN'T HAPPEN. Or if it does, someone get me into the room where it happens.

I thought it was realistic and great that she and Sebastian didn't get together in the end and I guess this movie doesn't strive for realism. I should know that because of the dancing across the night sky at the Griffith Observatory etc, but it just seemed like parts of the movie aimed for truth and other parts...what are you doing LA LA LAND? Which brings me to....That apartment? For 4 or 5 girls or whatever it was with tons of space and old-Hollywood rooms? How much money are these baristas making? Change that apartment to a POS in the Valley and two girls are sharing a room and let's talk.

Also, did she get fired from her barista job? I don't remember. But she was late a lot.

No shade to Emma Stone. She's a great actress. But any actor, really struggling, with their heart in the game, pounding the pavement would have seen "La La Land" and hated that. Most of my friends did. More troubling: does this movie give my non-industry friends, colleagues and frenemy that I will inevitably run into at my high school reunion the impression that it's only a matter of time until someone "discovers" me and I go to Paris for a few months and come back a movie star? Sounds great, but I fear that everyone but my frenemy is in for some bitter disappointment on that score. They'll conclude that I must not be very good since that hasn't happened to me yet, and come on, do we really think that's fair?

Also I didn't like the singing, but that just seems petty at this point.

I promise I'm a lot nicer when it comes to non-"La La Land" things and perhaps its hard for me because this is a world I'm so close to. But that's just it:  I so wanted this to be my story. It could have been and I went in thinking it would be, but it wasn't. I wanted to fully feel this film and let the characters get under my skin. There were times in the theatre that I felt my experience as an actress totally echoed back to me, but mostly it just made me super angry. I won't be singing "City of Stars" at my next audition. But let's face it, if my manager gets me an audition for [the inevitable] "La La Land" the musical, I'll probably go. I need the exposure.

Stephen Fife
Steve is a 5-tool writer (plays, screenplays, novels, poetry, journalism) who has had 11 books published, 10 plays produced, and has written for the New York Times “Arts & Leisure”, Village Voice, New Republic, and many others. He is one of the few people on the planet who can lay claim to spending time with Lee Strasberg, Stella Adler, Sandy Meisner, Allen Ginsberg, Andy Warhol, and Rubin “Hurricane” Carter, as well as so many other extraordinary people who refused to color inside the lines. He is always on the lookout for the original and the incisive.