‘Sex and the City’ lied to me

My friends and I (or my co-workers and I) were sitting backstage of Pride and Prejudice before it closed this weekend in Ellicott City, Md., putting on our make up and making chat (including Abraham Lincoln Vampire Hunter, Dark Knight Rises, Anne Hathaway being amazing for once, the Capital Fringe, and chimpanzees with the predisposition of being gay… you know the norm) and we got on the topic of school.

Acting school.  Its importance.

We were saying how a lot of training really hasn’t hit or settled in us until now – two years after graduating. I thought about it – about how much I’d had to absorb in four years as an undergrad.  We were taught to be in the moment, to react, to really listen, to really talk and to have an intention (what’s my motivation?!).  But what does all that really mean after you graduate – when you’re trying to find a job and make money and have benefits (sometimes)?

Acting is hard, but I’m not running because I want it.

And how do you put those tools into practice so that your acting is not just believable in the context of a scene, but in a whole show, telling a full story?  How do you get people to care about the truth you’re telling them?

We found in our discussion that the technical nature of school, however mechanical and tedious it felt at the time, was actually what allowed us to find the natural, real and organic moments that we were finding on stage of P&P.

It makes me think of Picasso and how he went through his blue period (creating realistic looking works of art in shades of blue) before discovering his true passion: cubism.  He needed to go through the blue period to get to the cubism period.  So I had to go through my mechanical acting period to get to the organic acting period.

All this talk about school v. what we know now made me realize there are a few things I wish people had told me when I was training … so here’s my list of what I would say to those in training now:

If you can see yourself doing anything else with your life, do it.  Acting is hard.  Let the play I Happen to Like New York , break the lifestyle down for you:

Clare (venting): I woke up at 5:30, took a shower, got a 6 a.m. train to midtown where I lined up for an hour and a half in the rain, in the snow, in the sleet, in the cold behind miss pretty pants whose hair is redder than mine, whose boobs are way bigger and way perkier than mine and whose train is faster than mine because she’s already been to the gym, showered, changed and beat me to this cursed place. But I get into the audition – I get seen – which means the fates of acting are smiling at me (and my boobs are, in fact, the right size) – I get into that audition room and I give and I give and I give of myself. And it’s lovely. And I’m crying. Whether it’s from my passion for my art or my strained fatigue, I’m not sure, but it’s beautiful and it’s teary. And then at the end I look up and my eyes find theirs, I spread my arms to them – ready to be received into their fold – and they open their lips to say, “Thank you.”

Thank you?  I can’t eat “Thank you.”  I can’t pay rent with “Thank you.”  Sex and the City lied to me!  Some are little lies and some are doozies. Don’t get me wrong – I sat behind Sarah Jessica Parker in a play once and we made serious eye contact. So as much as I love you, SJP – you lied to me, Carrie Bradshaw! You told me that as 20-something girls in a big city we’d be dating all the time, living in a gorgeous apartment, wearing designer clothes, drinking cosmos and that our biggest worry would be where are we brunching tomorrow afternoon!

  • Doing my Pride thing – fourth from left. (Chesapeake Shakespeare Company)

    My apartment is smaller than a shoebox.

  • I can afford only Old Navy clearance fashion.
  • I think cosmos taste nasty.
  • The city smells like urine.
  • Every man I know is gay.
  • It takes three jobs to pay the bills.
  • I don’t have time to do laundry – let alone audition.
  • I saw a mouse in my apartment.
  • And four women cannot walk abreast in the street!

It’s raining today, I forgot my umbrella, my hair looks like the mane of a lion and I stepped in gum while wearing the Prada shoes I bought when I actually had money. What am I doing here …?!  … But no, really. What am I doing here?

OK. Back to reality. Scene over.

Now, don’t be scared.  Anyone who wants to be an actor can be an actor – but you have to want it.  You have to see acting as the only way of finding happiness.  Otherwise – “Thank you” won’t sound cute.

Say: “Thank You.”  When you get an opportunity, write a thank you note to your director, producer, stage manager, costume designer, dresser, make up artist, production assistant, intern-minion, and box office assistant.  And if your grandma sends you a birthday present, write her a thank you note, too.

Yeah, yeah, yeah, snail mail is slow and lame, but it’s also intricate and people don’t use the art of letter writing enough.  People love to get mail – you see the way they check their iPhones.  How fun to get mail in a physical mailbox (I forgot those existed)!  And it’s in your hand writing.  People eat that up – and it’s a very sincere way of saying thank you for all that you do.  I’m serious – you could text “thx” or you could write it out and explain why you’re thankful.  Which would you rather receive?

Be You.  You are not a product.  You’re yourself.  Yes this a business and you’re the thing you’re selling, but that doesn’t make you a bar of soap.  You don’t have to package yourself as an Amy Adams or Emma Stone look alike.  Be who you are.  I’m Jana Stambaugh – and I’m the only one.  No one else can do what I do because they aren’t me.  That means I already have a leg up!  Woot woot!

It’s because you look like his ex-girlfriend.  When you’re getting callbacks and you aren’t getting cast, you have to take a deep breath and remember it’s not you or any talent you think you’re lacking.  It’s because you look like his ex-girlfriend, you remind him of his mother, his wife, you are too tall, too thin, too bodacious, too fun, too silly, too quirky – whatever.  You’re just not what they’re looking for because he doesn’t want to be in the same room with someone who reminds him of his ex.  And even if none of those things I just said are actually true, they have to be in your head because you are talented, so keep at it.

Training’s important.  My dad always told me to take every class I could – acting related and otherwise.  That’s why directing, playwriting and nutrition classes were also so essential.  They gave me extra tools to work with.  It was overwhelming at the time.  It almost seemed as though I wasn’t quite getting it or that I wasn’t able to put it into practice all at once.  And even now, two years later, I probably still don’t fully understand it, but the machine has been built and now, I’m just oiling out the kinks so it can run smoothly.  The foundation’s there and I’m just building up.  On the up and up.