Sunday, June 30, 2013

Apologies not accepted

When at parties, on the bus or chatting at a coffee shop, invariably it comes up:
"What do you do for a living?"
A perfectly harmless question designed to elicit the furthering of an enjoyable conversation. If only that person knew how loaded an inquiry that is.
For the longest time I all but shuddered when someone asked it. I would go somewhat quiet, hem and haw a little bit, dig my toe through the imaginary sand at my feet and then, in an almost apologetic tone mutter something about being a "whatever" who also happens to be pursuing an acting career.
I was afraid to admit to otherwise complete strangers my dreams and aspirations, as though their judgement would be immediate and absolute.
Why should I be embarrassed by such a thing?
I suppose I can look at my upbringing. I am your typical lapsed Irish Catholic from a working class neighborhood. This was a place where pursuing your dreams was all well and good, but at the end of a day you had a gang of mouths to feed. Dreams were "a nice thing to have", but to actually pursue them with anything other than passing interest was somewhat taboo.
The idealism of youth bore me through that time. I got my art degree and I earned a living for years as an artist for computer games and any other industry that could use my skills. Even though it was an "artistic" endeavor, it still had an observably linear progression that one could assign a dollar amount to.
Acting doesn't really have such a linear path to success. So, to many, it can seem far more frivolous. A pipe-dream.
Coming to terms with that in my own mind, being a responsible husband and father, was a daunting task. I questioned myself constantly:
"Is this a selfish pursuit? One where I am dooming my family to a life of uncertainty?"
A life of uncertainty? After losing two jobs and both my parents over the span of six years, I learned the hard way that there is no such thing as certainty.
You could drop dead tomorrow. the only thing you have any control over is what you choose to do with the time you have.
Never apologize for following your dreams.
Politeness has nothing to do with it.

Thursday, June 27, 2013

Walk the walk

"They never call!"
I sent my head shots out for seven different projects today. Fingers crossed!"
"My reel is positively anemic! I just can't get any good footage!"
Sound familiar? I personally have dealt with this from day zero. It wasn't really till this past year that I realized I was doing myself a disservice. 
Like most people in this profession, I presumed that my success was entirely dependent upon the good will of others. That is a very disheartening way to approach something you are passionate about. The one thing I would sell my everlasting soul for requires more than indifference from the powers that surround a seemingly impenetrable industry.
I continued in this vain till one day when a friend from a film project contacted me to see if I could help with a comedy web series. I figured it would be a fun distraction while I awaited my shot at fame.
I showed up at a restaurant where they planned to shoot a number of scenes for their first season. I was floored at the level of professionalism I witnessed. Who was running this machine?!
Turns out, actors. Like me. These two girls, I will call them "The Jenns", wrote, produced and starred in their own comedy sci-fi series. 
This was the missing piece of the puzzle for me.
So many of us sit by the phone, attend workshops and beg borrow or steal time with the folks who may one day invite us in to audition for something we may ultimately not prove right for. Wash, rinse and repeat.
It had honestly never occurred to me that it was possible to write the perfect part for me, let alone produce it and get it out into the universe.
"The Jenns" are doing just that. They released the tenth and final episode of season one this week. They are already developing season two. That is commitment. That is passion. That is two actors who decided not to wait for Hollywood's permission to show how great they are.
To someone like me, they are an inspiration and an example of how serious you have to be to make it in show business. We don't have to sit in the stands and wait for our chance to play. We can just play.
The cost of admission has never been cheaper. The technology needed to play with the big boys is literally sitting on a rack at Best Buy these days.
You have power over your career. Show the world you are serious about what you do. Show them you aren't in the business of being ignored. You became an actor to do just that. Act. You didn't put all this money, heart and effort into the hopes someone would offer you the chance to act.
Be that chance you have been waiting for.
Check out the fruits of "The Jenns" tireless labors here:
Oset with "The Jenns"

Tuesday, June 25, 2013

What's Yer Type?

I sat in a coffee shop the other day...
(A lot of my posts will more than likely start with this, as do most of the more thoughtful moments of my life.)
I was sitting there and pondering the most difficult question I have asked myself as an actor:
What is my type?
I have asked myself this question approximately every three days since I started this adventure. The problem I kept running into was I am far too close to the product to be able to answer it objectively. It is the same thing as looking in the mirror and only seeing the flaws: Scars, acne, wrinkles, one eye is ever so slightly higher than the other. You fail to see the whole of you after a while.
There is no way around it, you need an outside opinion.
Objective, unbiased and brutally honest.
As it turns out, my wife somehow fits all three.
Ours is a special kind of relationship! She sees quite easily through my self-wrought bullshit. Her's is a laser focus of frankness for which I am by far the richer.
That being said, I still had to do the initial leg work.
What words would best describe me as a performer?
What qualities do I bring to a role?
Actors who can't answer this question find themselves swimming against a tide of generality in their work. They fire off their resume and reel like buckshot into the ether that is Hollywood and hope someone can see the spark that is their greatness.
"This kid can do it all!" 
Actors that developed in the theater possibly face this sort of problem more than others. In the theatrical tradition, you can be a twenty-two year old ingenue who has played everything from the chamber maid to a Shakespearean king.
Not so in film. Here, you are what you seem. First impressions are king and that which you sell most readily with a head shot is what gets you in the audition room. So, you best know what you seem.
This brings me back to my own conundrum. As I said, I'm too close to the product, and sometimes, frankly, we don't see eye to eye.
So I had only one other place to turn to: The work I have already done. These are the things I was drawn to as an actor. Things I have auditioned for, things friends and neighbors have cast me in. In some cases, they were roles written just for me, based on something that they may not have even realized they were seeing in me.
Thankfully, the pattern was fairly easy to pick up.
I've played the serial killer with a soft side.The young father with a secret that protects those he loves. My looks, to be honest, are average. I'm a man who is passionate about things. I tend to wear my heart on my sleeve. I am very vulnerable in my approach. Things hit me hard. I gravitate towards the darker side of human nature in my work, but I can see the humor in almost any situation.
Boiled down? I land on this:
Everyman with something to hide.
My wife agrees, so I'm sticking with it.
Ah well. So much for The leading man with the nice car...

Tuesday, June 18, 2013

Yes, and...

The most important building block of improvisation is also perhaps the most powerful tool in my life and career. I received my introduction to improvisation at IO West in Hollywood approximately a year ago. I was not a natural. It was easily the most challenging class I have ever taken as a performer. However, I would do it again in a heart beat. It was there I learned my most important lesson as a professional trying to make it out here; "Yes, and..."
"Yes, and..." is the concept of building a scene organically through positive interaction. Simply put, say yes to everything your scene partner gives to you. In addition to saying yes, you offer them something in return. This keeps the scene going. Negativity is the death of this art. The scene can go nowhere if you deny what is given to you.
This simple concept has transformed my life in so many ways. It has given me incredible confidence as an actor. If you can survive a minute on stage with nothing but the clothes on your back and open ears, an audition room poses no real challenge, where everyone wants you to succeed.
"Yes, and..." has motivated my career.
An example:
A friend of mine reached out to me about a year ago. She was producing a web series and needed some more hands on set. I thought about it, figured "what the hell", and showed up. Within a week I was running sound and setting up lights. A few weeks after that, I had a recurring role in a few episodes. Before I knew it I was an associate producer. Now I work on two different web series and I have a show family of beautiful, creative people that I hope to keep around me as long as they'll have me.
"Yes" is a very powerful word. You never know where it will take you.

Sunday, June 16, 2013

Josh McHugh. He acts.: What being a father means to me

Josh McHugh. He acts.: What being a father means to me: I am the proudest father of a 5 1/2 year old boy. He keeps me honest. He keeps me humble. He keeps me focused. Honest? He forces me to cons...

What being a father means to me

I am the proudest father of a 5 1/2 year old boy. He keeps me honest. He keeps me humble. He keeps me focused.
Honest? He forces me to constantly evaluate what I am trying to accomplish in my life. Everything I do comes back to my relationship with him. Am I providing the kind of role model I want for him?
Humble? He reminds me that I can always do better. Do better for myself, for my wife, for my family. Nothing is worth doing if you aren't giving it 100%.
Focused? He serves as constant reminder of why I am doing what I do. I want him to know this:
 It is better to go after what you want in life and fall flat on your face in failure than to sit around, watch life pass you by and suffer the insufferable question, "I wonder what my life would have been like if I had tried?"
These are the lessons he teaches me every day. It is the price of admission to fatherhood. I am by far the richer man for it.

Friday, June 14, 2013

Hello, world!

So, here it is. I am the sort of person who has started more than a few blogs in his time. This marks possibly the fourth in a rather long dismal line of failures to launch.
They usually get about as far as fin.
But no longer!
"Josh, whatever has changed?"
Well, you didn't actually ask, but I'll answer nonetheless. My blog = my prerogatives.
I wanted a venue where I could express myself that didn't actually involve spamming family and friends with my usual half-baked Facebook musings. This will serve as my dumping grounds of the the one thing I geek out the most over:
I have done it, for good or ill, nearly seven years now if the calendar serves me right. I got my start standing around in my friend's small production office back in Boston, MA. At the time a life in drama had never actually occurred to me. I had been a 3D computer artist for years at that point, making decent enough money, shared an apartment with my wife. There was no particular amount of discontent in life. Not till that fateful day. It was an innocent enough comment cast out during a simple conversation:
"I bet you'd be a great actor."
Never has such a casual statement caused me so much anguish and joy. I went home that night buzzing from this new concept. I remember telling my wife, as she lay in bed that very night that I wanted to look more into acting.
I bought my first book on the subject, David Mamet's " True and False" the next day. I would proceed to read it cover to cover no less than five times consecutively. The idea utterly mesmerized me. I can't explain it. I was obsessed, in the purest definition of the word.
I talked about it endlessly. I wrote about it. I read about it.
But I hadn't actually DONE it.
Finally, my wife threw down the gauntlet and challenged me. She sent me to a one day adult education class on this very subject I had tortured her with for a year.
I was dreadful. It was scary, humiliating, exasperating.
I freaking loved it.
I have been doing it ever since.
My friend's off-handed comment seven years earlier was the proverbial butterfly flapping it's newly-dried wings in the Andes, sending a gentle gust that propelled me to where I am today. A professional looking to make his creative statement in the entertainment capital of the world, Hollywood, CA.
Success or failure, I will love the journey.