Saturday, December 10, 2011

Why I Write And Produce My Own Work

Writing is something I had always wanted to do, but would often be intimidated by the beautifully well written and poetic books I'd read. I'd get so discouraged because I knew I could never write like that. However, I still attempted it in college and ended up with a writing teacher who shattered my confidence with C's. It was hurting my GPA so I gave up writing.

Writing Plays
Fast forward a few years and I found myself dabbling in writing again, thanks to my acting teacher at AADA and friend Pamela Scott who encouraged me to write (Pam is a wonderful playwright, member of the Actors Studio Playwriting Director’s Process Unit). This time, I was giving play-writing a go and fell truly in love with writing while taking classes with members of the LAByrinth Theatre Company, in particular, Stephen Adly Guirgis. What I got from Stephen is that you don't need to write fancy just be real. Real as in sharing who you are as a human being, baggage included - what keeps you up at night, what makes you happy, what conflicts are you struggling to resolve - a true sharing of you and your inner world. Infusing your dialogue with diverse characters to create the story that you want to tell, no matter how outrageous, and no one gets to grade you. So, I wrote plays with a lot more depth and colors...and then moved onto screenplays.

Writing Screenplays
I began writing screenplays out of necessity. You see, as actors we rely on reels to showcase our work so that we may, in turn, get more work to further our career. But how can we put together a reel if we don't get copies back from Directors? I did my fair share of student and indie short films in the hopes that I'll end up with good material for my reel. Some directors gave me copies and others simply failed to keep their end of the bargain. Then there was the issue of quality - some of the stuff I got back just wasn't usable. Frustrated, I decided to turn some of my short plays into screenplays so I can shoot something for myself. In the process, I discovered that screenplays came a lot faster and easier to me than plays because my mind functions like a film projector that plays out vivid images that tell a story.

I began researching American films and TV (I'm more of a foreign film and TV junkie) and went back on the film/TV auditioning track to feed my writing and that's when reality sunk in for me. What I had gathered from my research and auditioning is that despite being an intelligent polyglot Juris Doctor who has traveled and worked abroad, I may never get to portray a character like myself on screen because I'm an ethnically diverse woman, Latina to be exact. It's bad enough that some of the roles written for women can be very limiting and that roles for ethnically diverse actors are limited, but with the combination of the two I knew my chances were slim to none.

Realizing that the American entertainment industry has a long way to go before it gives up on the archaic and often times negative stereotypes it perpetuates, I decided to produce my own script: "Justice Woman".

Writing Justice Woman
When I first began writing Justice Woman a while back it was meant to showcase myself as an actor. As time progressed and I evolved as a writer, I started to find a voice that wasn't just about me, but about the many things that are unfair and disturbing in our society like racism, gender and age discrimination, homophobia, immigration, double standards, sexual hypocrisy, class power, political corruption and the list goes on. Those became the issues I wanted to tackle in Justice Woman. However, as my dear Oscar Wilde recommended: "If you want to tell people the truth, make them laugh, otherwise they'll kill you", I decided to put a humorist twist to my writing and the results have been remarkable. I am truly happy with the incredible work the cast and crew have done up to date and I'm eager to share it with everyone soon.

About Justice Woman
Justice Woman is a web series that follows the story of Sofia Escala, an Assistant District Attorney, determined to fight injustices within the legal system and the fiasco she and her office mate Robert Galion get into as a result thereof.
It's campy with an engaging story line that involves Sofia and Robert bringing to light questionable practices in the prosecution of the city's cases, most notably the incarceration of an innocent migrant worker, Jesus Lopez.
Get ready for "Law and Order" to meet "Will and Grace" for some "Sex In The City" superhero style minus the super powers.

Starring: Vanessa Verduga (Me), Lee Kaplan, Luke Guldan, Mary Porter, Lino Del Core, Omar Gonzalez, Alison Ryan and many more.... 

My Piece of Advice/Suggestion
To anyone reading this is: 

Take control. If you see something you don't like then do something to change it. Put yourself in the driver's seat and tilt the balance even. You have a voice!

Thursday, July 21, 2011

The Actor's Process

Every actor, over time and with experience, finds his/her own "process" for connecting to a character and story. It's not an easy feat to accomplish, but certainly an attainable one if the actor is willing to put in the time and effort required, both physical and emotional.

There's a huge difference with approaching acting as a child and then approaching it as an adult. As children we don't have the inhibitions adults have and so we're able to connect to our imagination and live in our fantasies carefree. But as we face the realities that come with growing older we get to a point where we leave our child behind in order to conform to the idea of how our older self should be and we become guarded. I call that my "loss of spirit" point.

Loss of Spirit
I remember it as experiencing a deep sense of loss and confusion. A loss of innocence and fear of not knowing who I was or who I was to become.  I found myself following the path others wanted me to follow, conforming to everyone's expectations and forgetting who I was at the core.

I returned to acting once I realized I was dead inside. During my first year at law school, I joined the thespian student association and did an Ayn Rand play that reawakened my inner child (I credit acting for this, not Ayn Rand for I am not a fan).  However, I stowed the experience in the back of my mind - after all, I was in law school to become a power house lawyer not an actor.  Needless to say the hollow feeling returned and no matter what I tried doing in law school and afterward I just wasn't happy until I gave acting a real go.

Although my inner child wanted to play again and felt an enormous bliss doing so, I realized that acting as an adult required a higher commitment than I was prepared to give. The commitment of opening myself up and allowing myself to relive experiences and feel emotions that I had learned to suppress for so long. That's when I went in search of my so-called "process."

You Must Know Yourself Before You Can Inhabit Another...

...Part Of Yourself.  I started my formal acting training at the American Academy of Dramatic Arts, and, thereafter, continued with various teachers, most notable ones being Terry Schreiber and Harold Guskin. I've studied all the techniques I could possibly study - Lee Strasberg, Sanford Meisner, Stella Adler, Uta Hagen, Michael Chekhov, Larry Moss, Atlantic Theater, The Barrow Group just to name a few. I've taken what works for me and have discarded what doesn't from every single type of training. Nonetheless, at the core of every training lied the inescapable fact that I had to know myself in order to know how I'd act/react in the given circumstances as the character.

What was further tricky was that although I brought myself to the character, the character was not always me - at least not on the surface and so I needed to delve into what is called "character development." Again, you must know yourself in order to know when you have your work cut out for you with a particular character. However, once the character development was in place I came to realize that the character was always me just buried deeper within.  

In the words of Orson Welles:

Getting to know yourself is not easy and can be scary.  It does require bravery in order to go to places and/or revisit events you may not want to go to or you may have forgotten even existed (that's how powerful the mind is - it protects you by blocking certain things out). I must clarify, however, that I'm not referring to "affective memory" here.  Although, I am trained in method acting and do make use of the technique as needed I do not believe in using affective memory as a means to relive your life traumas on stage. In this sense I somewhat agree with David Mamet: "Nothing in the world is less interesting than an actor on the stage involved in his or her own emotions."  I would rectify this statement by adding "self" in front of involved.

The type of knowledge to be gained from the work required to know yourself is not meant to be traumatic, but rather healing or therapeutic. Therefore, I do believe it's something best done in private and/or in a safe environment. I must stress the importance of a safe environment because being overcome by emotions brought about from past events in an unsafe environment can be damaging and so I'm very grateful to teachers like Pamela Scott and Terry Schreiber who allowed me to go through those events safely in class.

As I previously brought up David Mamet, I wanted to further clarify that I am not in full agreement with his views on acting. As per David Mamet: "The actor is onstage to communicate the play to the audience. That's the beginning and the end of it" (from his book "True and False: Heresy and Common Sense For the Actor"). Moreover, he tells actors that they should forget about emotional preparation because "[t]he audience will teach you how to act." True, the audience will indeed teach you how to act, but...

We Are Vessels Holding Emotions For The Audience To Experience

As actors we must feel and in order to feel we must first unblock ourselves by coming to terms with certain things in our past and/or present - it's an ever evolving process.

"I don't think you learn how to act. You learn how to use your emotions and feelings." -Marion Cotillard

We absolutely need to do emotional preparation prior to going on stage if we are to become vessels for our audience. Not wanting to discredit Mamet, who's practical approach to acting has served me well in audition scenarios and who I think is a brilliant writer, I will admit that I would hate to be Mamet's protypical actor that serves solely to fulfill the objectives written in the play or script devoid of feelings and emotions. Those feelings and emotions are what provide that intangible experience that serves to inspire and move audiences. And I know that before I can give or communicate that experience to the audience I need to experience it myself.

"I wouldn't dream of working on something that didn't make my gut rumble and my heart want to explode." -Kate Winslet

I've been very fortunate to work on characters that have not only moved me, but have moved my audience. I know that I'm doing my job when I feel every pore in my body electrified - my entire body shakes and vibrates - it's as if thousands of ants were crawling all over my body - it is that electricity full of feelings and emotions that I transmit to my audience. That is the culmination of my process.

There is no right or wrong way of approaching this. As actors we need to continue exploring within ourselves who we are at our very core and make use of whatever techniques and tools best aid us.

Patsy Rodenburg - Why I Do Theater:

Sunday, July 10, 2011

"No woman leaves an abusive relationship...she flees."

If She's Lucky.

The title of this post is a line from the play "Flowers: A Thorny Romance Story," which is playing at the Workshop Theater Main Stage as part of the Midtown International Theater Festival (for tickets go here: I play the role of Marisol Hughes, a Fortune 500 executive who gave up her career to start a loving family and found herself stuck in an abusive marriage. The play reads like what my life could have been like had I stayed in an abusive relationship. I was lucky. As for Marisol...well, you'll have to see the play and find out - I highly recommend it.

1 in every 4 women will experience domestic violence in her lifetime

I never thought I, a smart-ass from the Bronx, would be a part of that statistic, but I am. I met him while bartending. He was friends with the owner of the bar where I used to work. He'd always stop by for a chat with his boys and a couple of beers. He seemed nice, calm, and sweet - an All American Ivy League graduate. He was the quiet type....

It's Always The Quiet Ones....
Who would've known that underneath the facade there would be a spiteful, angry, hateful person? I didn't. He put his best foot forward, won me over and everything was great at first. But his true colors gradually came through and I just couldn't, better yet, I didn't want to believe that he was such a dark and ugly individual.

It started with verbal abuse, but I didn't think much of it cause they were just I thought. But those words were slowly breaking me down as my self-esteem diminished. Then things escalated to physical abuse, but, again, I didn't want to make much of it because it was just a push and a shove here and there. I didn't understand how he could go from building me up one minute to completely tearing me down the next. Intertwined with his apologies were the excuses that he couldn't control himself because he had never loved anyone this much and that I needed to develop tough skin since I was too weak and fragile, thus, he was doing it for my own good. Then he'd tell me that no one else would ever love me as much as he does. Was that sick? I didn't know at the time. All I knew was that the whole thing was so confusing and embarrassing that it was happening to me.

My acceptance into law school prompted him to talk about our future together. He had it all planned out - we'd get married and start a family as soon as I'd graduate from law school. While he spoke of marriage and children, in silence I'd be hoping and praying that this wasn't God's plan for me. Walking by jewelry stores was nauseating - he'd drag me in to look at rings and I'd walk right out telling him that I preferred to be surprised when the time comes. He also liked to talk about the irony of it all - you see, he had envisioned the future mother of his kids to be a tall blonde woman, the Stepford type, who would bear him blue eyed children to look like him. Bit much? I thought so. But why couldn't I leave him? Because I feared that maybe he was right - who else would love me with this much passion? It wasn't was a sickening obsession as he tried to take control of me.

Although the embarrassment kept me from telling anyone, keeping it inside was too burdensome. I had to tell someone and I did. I told a co-worker who had previously asked about a couple of bruises I had - I lied to her then, but came clean now. To unburden myself to her was relieving and empowering for a bit because I began to fight back. However, he wasn't one to back down and my fighting back just seemed fruitless and exhausting. I became numb to his fighting - he'd start and I'd completely space out as if he weren't even talking to me. I just wanted out of the relationship and resolved to move out as soon as law school began, but my decision was precipitated by a fight that topped all others.

The Last Straw
I came home late from work one night and found the coffee table completely smashed, things knocked over and holes in the wall. I thought maybe someone broke in, but that wasn't the case because he was sound asleep in the bedroom and the holes looked more like punches. It wasn't the first time he rammed his fists through the wall. I slept on the couch that night (but that wasn't unusual; I had started to feel repulsed by him).

The next morning, I found out that he had thrown a temper tantrum all by himself because the server hosting his business websites had crashed and lost all of his data. I designed those websites and maintained the databases for him (free of charge, of course, because it was my duty as his girlfriend - as he put it). That day he was leaving to visit his parents out of state for the weekend and wanted me to get everything up and running immediately. I was the general manager of a bar/restaurant and needed to open the establishment to let the staff in before brunch. He saw me getting ready for work and threw another tantrum because he couldn't believe how I wasn't working on his websites at that very instant. I told him that I'd work on his websites later. He gave me a whole speech about how he had priority and not some stupid job that I was planning to leave soon anyway. I told him that his sense of entitlement was starting to get on my nerves. He yanked the towel off my head, said "I don't fucking care" and then spit in my face.

I was sobbing uncontrollably, but continued to get ready for work. He freaked out and apologized profusely - he wouldn't let me out of the apartment until he was sure that I had forgiven him and that I would work on his websites that evening after work. I gave him the assurance he needed.

The Escape
That evening, he called demanding to know why the websites hadn't been up yet. I told him I was working on them and that they'd be up by the following day.  I lied.  I was packing up to move back to New York with the help of a very dear friend to whom I'm eternally grateful. I took all of my stuff and, inadvertently, took all the backup CDs I had made of the websites and databases with me. Oooopps!

I was long gone when he returned. He called me for months every single day leaving messages apologizing and begging that we speak. I had no desire to ever speak to him again until he called me from an unknown number on my birthday and surprised me. He asked to meet with me because he was a changed man and we owed it to ourselves to know for sure if the relationship was worth saving or not. I started to feel bad for him and agreed to meet, but when he called to confirm our meeting, I realized there was nothing worth saving in that relationship.

I Owed It To Myself
I owed myself the love, honor and respect that he (and I) had denied me while in that relationship. Many times, I think back and wonder why did I not speak up sooner or why didn't I call the cops on him? I had every right to do so and so does anybody experiencing or witnessing domestic abuse because we owe it to ourselves!

“No woman has to be a victim of physical abuse. Women have to feel like they are not alone.” -Salma Hayek

“This is not love. It is a crime, ... You can't look the other way just because you have not experienced domestic violence with your own flesh.” -Salma Hayek

For more information or to get help, please call:


Thursday, June 30, 2011


Something happened to me in vocal performance class today that compelled me to write this post on "judgments" and so here goes....

How About An Ice Cold Bucket Of....

I needed to prep for an audition that calls for a character that in short is fierce, hot, funny and totally comfortable with overtly sexual material. So, I took a somewhat innocent, cute, comedic song and raunched it up a bit - okay maybe a little more than a bit, but anyone who knows me knows that I love going for shock value (it's my way of sticking it to our hypocritical society). In any event, it didn't go over so well in class and I was reprimanded for it. By the way, my choices weren't that extreme - they just weren't appropriate for Disney, I mean that particular class. Nonetheless, it felt like an ice cold bucket of judgment was thrown at me.

My first reaction was to be embarrassed and ashamed of what I did so I quickly apologized, then as I stood there taking it all in, while being berated, I began to feel humiliated and helpless, which then turned into anger at the fact that I was apologizing for myself. Of course, I didn't act out on my anger; I understood where the judgment was coming from. I took it like a champ and explained what I was planning to use the piece for and sang my song again minus the fabulouSEXness.

Fuck Off...?

I still felt like shit afterward because it's bad enough that I judge myself, but to have others do it just took it to another level. Sheri Sanders once said this about our inner critic: Imagine if someone came up to you and said all those negative things you say to yourself you'd tell that person to fuck off so that's what you need to do to the judge in your head. But today I couldn't just say "fuck off" to the entire class; I didn't want to and it really wasn't merited. Instead, I took the rejection to heart.

Stop Judging

I tried putting the incident behind me by focusing on memorizing lines for upcoming performances I have in the plays "Flowers" (dealing with domestic violence - will be writing about this next), and "The Taming of the Shrew" (Shakespeare - a raunchy mofo with my kind of humor). It was then that I recalled a great piece of advice I got from Terry Schreiber. I was doing a spoon river exercise in Terry's class and my character was "Dora Williams" - a bonne vivante who enticed wealthy men, killed them, inherited their fortunes and lived a short yet full life. I was fascinated by Dora because she was unapologetic of her life and even felt triumphant about it after death, but I was afraid of having others see me as her because that just wasn't my persona. Terry noticed my struggle and told me that I had to stop judging my character if I truly wanted to become one with her. I followed his advice and from that moment on I felt a huge sense of openness as an actor. I knew that I needed to achieve that openness in my personal life and I'm working on it, but I've come a long way baby and I do feel triumphant about that.

Okay, so maybe I should have reserved my audition piece for another setting (next time), but when I think about it I performed it without passing any judgment whatsoever on myself or the character and it was pretty darn good - even if I'm the only one who thought so.

I guess what I'm trying to say is that any form of judgment, be it external or internal, can be detrimental to us, if we allow it to be. I love acting and I feel I'm good at it for the very reason that I don't pass judgments on my characters or on myself as the characters. And really...who the fuck am I to be passing judgment(s) on anyone else?!

"The more one judges, the less one loves." -Honoré de Balzac

There will always be someone who makes you feel like you got it all wrong, but that doesn't matter so long as you remain committed to your actions and accomplish your goals.  I did HA! ;))

Thursday, January 6, 2011

I am all my glory and splendor!!!

I'm so excited to say that I've been casted in the role of "Saraghina" in the musical Nine. Yes, I am honored to be the prostitute who shows Guido the meaning of love...or, in other words, what it means to BE ITALIAN!!!

I must add that I'm also playing the role of the Nun and a Folies Bergère Showgirl. It's going to be so much fun because I get to embrace my type ;))

Embracing My Type
I've been told that I am both the Madonna and the Whore rolled into one. I used to take offense to that in my younger years because that wasn't how I wanted to be perceived by others. I wasn't comfortable with being looked at as a whore, prostitute, call girl, town bang or stripper. Yet, these have been most of the roles I've played and, I must admit, the ones I've greatly secrecy. 

I just can't believe how much of a prude I was and a hypocrite. I thought that being seen as a piece of meat would inhibit my acting skills and limit me as an actress, but I had it all wrong. The problem was that I was judging my characters for who they were and not allowing myself to embrace them fully because embracing them fully would require me revealing my inner sensuality - something I wanted to do, but didn't dare to because, underneath it all, I was actually judging myself. Deep down I wanted more than anything to own my sensuality, to unleash it and revel in it, but I was afraid of being judged by others. I've even purposely screwed up auditions where the casting director calls me in to read for the "nice girl" role and when I show up he/she wants me to read for the stripper or street walker instead. I look back and realize how foolish that was of me. There is great strength and vulnerability in owning your sensuality - that is what makes a character complex, powerful and poignant - just overall interesting to be and watch. That's what I strive for as an actress.

Owning My Sensuality
Every great actor exudes sensuality. And it has nothing to do with physical beauty or looks - just look at Marlon Brando in his Godfather days - he wreaked of sensuality. Sensuality comes from within, not from our judgments of ourselves, but from our acceptance of who we are so embrace it. BE ITALIAN!!!

"I am acquainted with no immaterial sensuality as delightful as good acting." -Lord Byron
I am acquainted with no immaterial sensuality so delightful as good acting
I am acquainted with no immaterial sensuality so delightful as good acting.
I am acquainted with no immaterial sensuality so delightful as good acting.