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Jonathan Slaff




NEW YORK, May 4, 2020 -- As showbiz changes, so do actors' needs and the ways they get information. Covid-19 has dealt a knockdown (but not, we trust, a knockout) to the performing arts. So the needs of actors as individual artists--to remain engaged, to grow artistically, to keep mind and body together--have shifted. An admirable resource for them is Jenna Doolittle's newly-created Actors Quarantine Newsletter, which launched March 19 as an email to 36 people and has gained a readership, as of this writing, of about 5,000. All subscribers have come through the actors' grapevine.

Now that Covid-19 has precluded audience events, not to mention the close person-to-person work of rehearsals and performance, most of us are wondering what the future will bring for actors. If you sit up all night wondering "whither my acting career," you're not alone. But you will find free and low-cost resources and guidance here.

Doolittle's newsletter is a voluminous compendium of links to casting director seminars, film festivals, acting seminars, workshops, articles in the trade press, podcasts, writers' events, voiceover training, union news and more. Industry news runs from open calls to closings of casting offices. It is all compiled single-handedly by Doolittle with an emphasis on what's free and otherwise affordable, including deeply discounted services like reel editing and audition prep classes. There's even a "give" section, with ideas on how you can help others for free or at low cost. It's circulated via Mail Chimp.

The material is a combination of what Doolittle harvests herself and what she gathers from her subscribers' referrals. Recipients are advised to submit items to ActorsRise@gmail.com by 4:00 PM the day before an event and to put in the subject line "Recommendation." She relies on the community for submissions and each newsletter carries a disclaimer at the end which says, "I am not able to vet every single resource listed so please do your own due diligence. And of course this isn't a list of EVERYTHING happening, just trying to share the info I think you'll find most valuable. Apologies for typos & mistakes. I'm just one person here trying to do my part!"

The newsletter carries the modest heading "Free Actor Events & Recommendations..." It represents an historic development in the trade press of our industry: crowdsourcing the actors' grapevine for the purpose of sustaining the performing community in difficult times.

Leo Shull's Show Business, an actor's lifeline for decades, started in 1941 as Actors Cues, a four-page mimeographed daily he distributed out of the basement Walgreen's drug store at 44th Street and Broadway. Legend says that Lauren Bacall hawked it outside the entrance to Sardi's, hoping to get herself discovered. Industry mainstays Backstage (born 1960), Variety (born 1905) and The Hollywood Reporter (born 1930) have all morphed in their form and editorial focus through the years. Theater coverage first came to the Internet with Playbill On Line in 1994, but the publication, like its print magazine, had news but no reviews. New York Theatre Wire launched in August, 1996, pioneering drama criticism on the World Wide Web, followed closely by two other review publications, Martin’s Guide to New York Theatre (later christened nytheatre.com) and Elise Sommer's Curtain Up! More recently, there has been a proliferation of blogs of many kinds dedicated to theater and film criticism, evoking (to me) the Elizabethan tradition of pamphleteers, including the likes of Boswell and Thomas Dekker, who stood outside Shakespeare's Globe passing out their leaflets. While today's cyber-pamphleteers do not bear the imprimatur of a major publisher, they have made it possible for the industry to have a marketplace of opinion in a time when print outlets are falling like autumn leaves. Doolittle's newsletter has the historical distinction of being the first theater publication whose content is crowdsourced and which was founded in response to an emergency.

Holistic in its approach to actors' needs, it also has referrals on wellness (including mental health), home care and beauty articles. "The fluffier sections rotate in and out," says Doolittle. The "Make You Smile" section contains humorous diversions. A financial resources section helps people navigate unemployment insurance and get grants. Occasionally, there is a section for kids.

This week, the Monday newsletter weighed in at a hefty 5,400 words--it's a big job to sustain for one person who is not a career editor. Originally published seven times a week, it's been pared down to five, explains Doolittle, "because I needed two days off." Even a Doolittle can do too much, I guess.

She explains, "Some days I have to remind myself that done is better than perfect. It's more important to reach people and share resources. This has given me purpose: I know how I can give back and it's gratifying." She organizes herself with a calendar where she can copy and paste future events. In beginning this project, she created a Gmail address (ActorsRise@gmail.com) and a Facebook group where she can interact with actors for a sense of community, not just to spew information. A website is coming.

Jenna Doolittle

Jenna Doolittle, born in Rhode Island, lived in New York for years and did primarily theater. She also attended the Commercial Theater Institute's 16 week program and worked in management of the Snapple Theater Center as assistant to its founder, Catherine Russell, for two and half years. She but found herself most passionate about acting. Her acting website is www.jennadoolitle.com.

Now she lives in Los Angeles in mid-city, south of Wilshire, with her husband, screenwriter Matt Tente. It was perhaps inevitable that with her theater management background, she would also be drawn into career coaching. She named her private practice Actors Rise.

Proportionally, her newsletter's subscribers are about 65% in LA with the rest mostly in New York, although Atlanta, Canada, Australia and other random places are amply represented. There's a universality to her content because, as she points out, what you can learn online from a casting director is applicable everywhere.

It's not her intention to make the newsletter remunerative and she's not interested in making money on the project until the pandemic is over. Referring to the proliferation of free and low-cost casting workshops online now, she says, "Lots of people want to help: many casting directors, agents and acting teachers are offering their time for actors right now, and I think it's a beautiful thing." She's been carrying all the newsletter's costs herself up to now, but anticipates that the project may some day become too large for her to sustain single-handedly. "I applied for some COVID-19 grants," she says, "and I hope to at least get reimbursed for the last three months. As long as I can keep it free for people, I will."

See the May 6, 2020 newsletter here. It contains opt-in instructions.


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