All posts by Rasika Mathur

Spotlight on Three Fabulous Women of Breakthrough Reading Series

Teresa Huang, Karen Herr & Melissa Bickerton

As I said, I would take a special post to highlight the three co-producers of Breakthrough Reading Series because I believe they deserve so much recognition for what they done started, y’all!

Teresa Huang

Is she looking at you like that because you’re
inspiring another story idea?

I first met Teresa Huang through a mutual friend and prolific, talented artist and illustrator Nidhi Chanani on her visit to LA. Add to the mix another mutual friend and creatress, the marvelous workhorse Cecil Castelluci, and you know I’m sitting up to pay attention about how I could possibly hang in this magnificent mix.

Over the next few years, I’d see and hear about many of Teresa’s ventures, and what stood out was how she would generously inform her communities about networking opportunities, fellowship and scholarship deadlines, casting notices, and more writing gigs. She doesn’t keep anything to herself. She has literally cultivated her community by giving away what keeps coming back to her. This trait has blown me away and kept me watching and learning from her.

A quick glance at her social media reveals how many have been touched by her generous spirit

Teresa just wrapped on her second show as a staff writer. In 2020, she’ll be fielding new writing opportunities and finishing up the first draft of her sci-fi romance novel. And of course, she churns out great work in volume making BRS her own gym and playground where all are invited to partake.

I’m playing the essence of a 13 year old Chinese-American girl and Aimee McCrary is playing the essence of a traditional Chinese grandfather. Clearly this is a game of heart and soul.

When Teresa Huang announces that she is taking what’s in her brain and teaching POC how to write a pilot, you sign up. Or apply for the scholarship. Or attend the showcase. Or get one of the students drunk, make them talk and take notes. I had strong motivation to do all of the above, and in the end, was invited to act in the class’s student showcase at East West Players just this past November.

Laying the groundwork for more diverse stories on TV

Teresa is no stranger to the lonely grind of LA and says that what’s kept her going is focusing her energy on what’s important outside of her career aspirations. She also draws upon classic wisdom from some modern-day creators:

“I live by two words – gratitude and tenacity. Tenacity gets me where I want to go and gratitude doesn’t allow me to be angry along the way.” ~ Henry Winkler
“Stop complaining and just be undeniable.” ~ Sarah Silverman
“Be so good they can’t ignore you.” ~ Steve Martin

Lucky for us Karen and Teresa love working together

Karen Herr

In an alternate universe, Karen is a hair care commercial model

This woman. This voice. This cosmic cheerleader for artists. Where do we begin? I met Karen at BRS obviously, and we quickly gravitated to each other because that is one positive energy swirl!

Karen is responsible for penning the first piece I ever saw, a rom-com called IN LIKE FLYNN, when BRS was being held at Tom Bergen’s bar in a packed back room in the summer of 2017. What I witnessed was astonishing: A dashing Asian-American actor playing lead to a gorgeous woman and nobody was batting an eye. It was the most natural thing to this room.

Happy faces that frequently show up in my gram ~ Karen, Aimee, actress Megan Barker

Karen likes and marches towards challenges, and she not only casts with actors of color in mind, she actually writes stories about POC. When she spoke to me about a few scripts she’s got in development, she came off so humble and open. For her process, she will make a point to surround herself with people of different backgrounds so that she can display historical/factual accuracy, pepper in cultural insider gems, and approach with sensitivity. Don’t we want more writers like HERR?

Karen also has a collaborative spirit. Not only was she willing to make some time to give me screenwriting notes on a script I will eventually showcase, she came onboard the crew of “What’s In Front Of You?” – seven beautiful one-acts written and directed by Joe Walsh, also a BRS alum, to bring it to the Broadwater stages, and brought me along with her! Because when Karen Herr has you in mind for something, you say YES!

Cast & Crew of What’s In Front of You? Can you spot the photoshopped people?

Melissa Bickerton

It’s the eyes. No wait, the smile. No wait…

Melissa is the casting powerhouse of BRS. When you come to our room, introduce yourself to her, and let her work you in to the myriad of roles to fill. One of the biggest highlights for me was when she saw me, her face lit up upon recognition from the previous month and she made her way over to hold my hand and eagerly introduce me to a writer.

Melissa spearheads the casting of 60+ roles
each month at BRS

She knows this part well because she is a brilliant actress herself. She got her start as a young dancer and singer in Australia, booking the starring role in a major musical against all odds. It’s always a treat for the BRS crowd when she takes a role for herself in a piece or two for the evening.

I mean would you pass up the chance to play in a project by Chriselle Almeida called SHAKESPEARE’S HEROINES AT THE GYNECOLOGIST? Me thinketh not.

With such a full roster of TV/Film appearances under her belt, Melissa shared some of her triumphs in this business and told me this very inspiring story:

“I was offered The League which is a completely improvised show – no script at all. When I got the offer I said, ‘Who booked me? I don’t know anyone in that casting office!’ Well it turns out I had auditioned for another office and the associate girl BEHIND THE CAMERA whom I barely remembered MOVED to this new office and literally PUT ME UP FOR THIS based on THAT comedy audition.  And it turned out to be a beautiful four scenes … and I got to have the last comedic beat of the episode … So it was a foundation for a new found confidence with comedy from which I went on to book Arrested Development, Shameless and Love (Netflix).”

Getting in on quality shows is a career dream fulfilled

Most recently, Melissa is starring in and producing a short film called Post Sentence produced by Teresa Huang. It was showcased at BRS and it got a fantastic response. She also recently shot an episode of ABC’s Fresh Off The Boat.

Inspired? Of course you are! If you ever have the chance to hang out with, attend an event with, learn from or jump onboard to offer your services to any of these wonderful women, do it. You will grow personally, professionally, and skip away with a sparkling pep in your step.

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 able to have drinks with all these people while holding a Sprite.

Breakthrough Reading Series – One Actress’s Perspective

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.

Kids who take their play seriously

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.

Karen (in black), Melissa (in blue), and Teresa (in red)
cheering on their selected writers

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.

Reading for HOW TO LOVE by Christina Nieves, it struck me:
Oh dang, I know how to cold read

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!

Lighting it up reading Jaclyn Chan’s MUFFINBOX ~ Me & actress-writer Hazel Lozano ~ People you WANT to KIT with afterwards

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.

Dream cast reading of Karen Herr’s SUPERHEROES IN LOVE

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.

Stellar casting for SPOKEN by Tricia Lee

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.

Hitting the beats with a phenomenal cast, and playing title character in Brigitte Erickson’s hilarious TRISH OUT OF WATER

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.