It’s Thanksgiving week, and aside from my health, my family and my friends, I must express gratitude for one very special room in Los Angeles filled with some very special people. That room is Breakthrough Reading Series.
What is BRS?
Breakthrough Reading Series is a room that “supports women and diversity in TV & film by highlighting six stellar writers a month at a cold reading event filled with enthusiastic actors. It’s a powerhouse evening of inspiration and elevation.” Writers submit 10 pages at deadline a few weeks prior. Actors jump up the night of the monthly gathering to play in service to writers hearing their work out loud. The room stands out for one incredible reason – it is warm, supportive and known for being a place where everybody makes everybody else look good.
BRS is the brainchild of Teresa Huang, Karen Herr and Melissa Bickerton. I will be highlighting each of these incredible women in a subsequent post.
By attending their monthly event for the last 2.5 years, I’ve witnessed many actual “breakthroughs” in my career life.
Shifted the Work Ethic
Cut to the year 2017. I thought I was done. Washed up. Burned out, figuratively and literally (I’m looking at you, Thomas Fire). I needed to throw myself into the magical, healing powers of the performing arts I’d grown up with and began studying sitcom acting with Tony Rago over at Scott Sedita Acting Studios. Quickly I realized that I also needed a free (ok, $10) way to keep my skills sharp (hey, comedy school is expensive). And Breakthrough Reading Series became my batting practice.
It was a place to apply technique to scripts, try things out, hit my 1’s and 2’s. (Any DJ’s out there?) To practice being gracious and supportive if I didn’t get cast. To practice asking a writer questions about what she wants, about anything that’s not clear, about how she was inspired to write the piece. To practice introducing people to others. (Ok, don’t flog me, I still need tons of help in this area). This room brought me back to life. This room was my comeback.
Shifted the Schmooze
I have never enjoyed networking. I either left events and classes early, or I’d stick around hoping others could give me more, MORE! (Don’t we all want that?) But in this room, I was learning how to actually stay and hear compliments, congratulate anyone who stood out to me, chat about myself as well as the other person. I was learning HOW TO STAY IN THE ENERGY AND SAY YES!
So, when the producers needed help with concessions or ticketing (which some of us would think menial) I cheerfully made it work, which got me an amazing free burrito (but did you have one? Ok then) and an evening of drinks w the co-prods. If you’re awkward like me, this wasn’t something that came easy to you. Normal people may have just taken this initiative a long time ago. But for me, it felt earned, and I was surrounded with genuine support, feeling grateful and humble to Teresa, Karen and Melissa. This is the adjustment my ego needed as an actor who had sadly come to expect overnight results. It helped give me the foundation for learning how long term relationships in this industry are formed, and how to fulfill on some “networking” etiquette I recently read on Linked-In: it’s a two-way street. So I got to do more, MORE! for others, in addition to others naturally doing for me, leaving everybody nourished.
And maybe that first yes earns us the badge of reliability in another’s eyes. So, of course along comes the incredible Karen Herr asking me to please come onboard as her Assistant Stage Manager for a play she was helping to produce, “What’s In Front Of You?” – seven one-acts written and directed by another lovely BRS co-hort, Joe Walsh. TO WHICH I SAID YES.
Now I could really learn to be humble and invisible! These are real-world actor lessons, y’all! How else will we learn to appreciate all the OTHER moving parts of a production or play? And yet, I have never felt so important, the way that generous cast made me feel, citing how integral I was to the show running smooth. Joe and Karen were always on hand to rave about my on-stage talent as well (they did NOT need to do that). And I got paid waaay more than was promised. Life was starting to feel like that song by The Fixx, One Thing Leads To Another.
Shifted How I Saw Myself
Over 2.5 diligent years of attendance, I’d gone from dazzling the room as quirky, cute neighbors and cynical side characters to being asked to play Leading Lady. YEAH. And when you get to play opposite the handsome, uber-talented, “is there any accent he can’t do?” James Tang, it can really feel like dreams come true.
The same night [above] happened, I met a writer-director who wrote a wonderful piece that I wasn’t asked to read for. This didn’t matter. Tricia Lee (Meeting Mommy, Mother-Daughter) and I were so impressed with each other’s work, we kept in touch.
A few days after the event she reached out and it turned out we had a few things in common. Among those, both Canadian, both lovers of family relationship stories, both fans of Dr. Joe Dispenza’s work. But at the end of her note, she asked me to share my goal/dream with her. Well, I have to admit I was still coming out of a creative depression/still feeling skeptical/still kind of fuzzy about all of this. But when someone else asks us, it’s an indicator that it might be time to get clear on it. So I closed my eyes and asked my sweet inner child Rasika what she wanted. And it was really clear, and yeah, she still wanted it. And I shared it with Tricia, and I shall share it with you as well:
To be an Emmy-Award Winning Character Actress on an Emmy-Award Winning Conscious, Ensemble Sitcom or Dramedy That I May or May Not Have Written!
The Last Breakthrough
Now. There was ONE last, sad, nagging thing amidst all this happy that continued to be a huge albatross in my game. And that was that somehow, I still couldn’t seem to translate the confident, creative genius that everyone witnessed at BRS to my auditions.
See, I would experience the kind of auditions that I want to forget but can’t because they’re so traumatizing they’d become an indelible part of my fabric and wiring.
- The one that was so insulting because they asked me to instead “try it with an Indian accent.” I cried for 4 hours after (in 2014 for a major network y’all?? UGH.)
- The ones I’d prep and prep and feel amazing and bookable and then I get to the waiting room where some sassy pants is chatting everyone up and she looks great and in my mind I cast her and abandon myself
- The ones where I’m ready! In the waiting room casting myself! But then I get in the room and the CD feels hot, bored and tired and is looking at her phone the whole time and actually cuts me off! So much for “I own this role”
I brought this problem to each of the co-producers as well, because let’s face it, they’d become my fans and my friends. They each sat there shocked that I was still dealing with this. Here are the amazing words of advice each one gave me.
Melissa: You don’t enjoy being a girl. You always dress tomboy. So either go out for those parts, because you rock at them, or start loving your feminine and dress with that essence.
Karen: You’re so amazing. You have got to start transposing all of our faces cheering you on, on top of the faces of those casting directors. Start imagining all of us there, in the room with you.
Teresa: It’s higher stakes, so somehow you have to trick yourself to thinking it’s no big deal. I know that’s hard when money is on the line. Also, keep writing, because when you have something else going on, it removes the stink of desperation off of you.
So, like batting practice, I tried to transpose, but I got thrown by the waiting room. The next time, I tried to transpose but I got thrown by the thin walls of the casting room. Another time, I tried to transpose but the girl they really wanted had a cute baby in the lobby and an existing relationship with this casting director, so.
Then, finally, the day after the last BRS (see above, with me as Lead Mermaid), I got dressed confidently for my audition with my cute suede power boots worn the night before. I enjoyed doing my curly hair and my glossy lips. I literally had the BRS energy coursing through my veins and fresh photos and likes in my Gram. I also had one last secret weapon: 20 pages of a script I was writing, posted up in the passenger seat like a co-pilot. And what was being asked of me for this audition? IMPROV. Just like a stone cold read, baby.
I got there early, and cool as a cucumber, transposing all on the drive down. And it was still mine no matter how stressed the CDs were about late actors. I went in and was told to drive the scene’s beats while my fellow players asked random questions. I found my game, kept it understated and snuck in my wits in little bits. The other CD was trying to contain himself from cracking up on camera.
I DID IT.
I NAILED WHAT I WAS SUPPOSED TO, AND I HELD IT LIKE A NINJA, LIKE THE PLAYFUL, COOL, RELAXED, RELIABLE ACTRESS THAT I KNEW I COULD BE, THAT I’D SEEN MYSELF BE AT BRS.
So, did I book it?
NO, and that’s totally NOT the point, DAD.
The point, my dears, is that THIS IS A 17-YEARS-IN-THE-MAKING BREAKTHROUGH. Now that I’ve done it, once, it’s right back to swinging so I can increase my averages. Because, and wait for the sport metaphor switch: this is a marathon, not a sprint. Understanding the patience, grace, process and gratitude that is needed now, I feel like I’m actually ready to manifest my dream. And that HAS to be why they call it Breakthrough Reading Series.
The next Breakthrough Reading Series will be held February 5, 2020 at the Broadwater (Main Stage). Tickets are being sold now. See Writer Submission details at the same link.
Rasika Mathur is a comedy actress, writer, and yoga instructor. She has tv/film and stage credits but is most proud of being Canadian.