Intrepid Spirit Blog
|Posted on December 18, 2016 at 3:10 AM|
I love to profile some of the fascinating and inspiring people I have had the honor to meet throughout my life. This month I present to you Erin Cronican who I met working as a standardized "fake" patient (for med students) many moons ago in San Diego. Erin was always a self-starter and from the time I met her was always working hard (and succeeding!) at the business of being an actor. An incredibly gifted actress, she currently is starring as Lady Macbeth in NYC. I find her story particularly inspiring for many reasons and so with no further ado I present to you our interview!
Jennifer Jonassen: Tell us about your upcoming production of Macbeth!
Erin Cronican: Our production of MACBETH is running in NYC with my company, The Seeing Place - an ensemble theater company that uses an actor-driven rehearsal process derived from the practices of the Group Theatre. We have an amazing cast of 14 people, and one thing we’re committed to with this production is giving more opportunities to women and, within those opportunities, break open the stereotypes of the roles to make the characters more dimensional than typically seen played.
I’m very lucky to have the opportunity to play Lady Macbeth in this production, and I also co-direct and produce. This is the second time I’ve done the play - I played Lady Macduff in college.
Jennifer Jonassen: Macbeth is definitely one of my all time favorite plays! I so wish I could see you play Lady Macbeth! And your marketing is brilliant.
Erin Cronican: Thank you! One of my favorite things about MACBETH is how complex and multi-faceted it is. But we rarely get to see that because there’s this performance standard of Lady Macbeth being a maniacal manipulative force, and the Witches being crazy and demonic. In our production, we try to examine what is actually going on in the story to make the women behave the way they do. Lady Macbeth has just lost a child, and we incorporate that into the opening moments of her first scene. We also invited our actors playing the Three Witches and Hecate to look at what their responses would be in the midst of a war-torn country that doesn’t support their pagan views, ostracizing them to the point that they have to take action. It made a huge difference in our audiences modern understanding of the play. And as an actor that self-produces, that’s very gratifying.
Jennifer Jonassen: You have so many talents! Talk a little about The Seeing Place and Actors Enterprise.
Erin Cronican: Thank you! The Seeing Place is a theater company I co-founded with my (now) boyfriend in 2009. The company is completely comprised of actors, and we make it our mission to train the next generation of actor-producers in a supportive, artistic environment. With that, we put a contemporary spin on published works by master playwrights, like John Patrick Shanley, Anton Chekhov, Marsha Norman, Rebecca Gilman, Christopher Shinn, Tom Stoppard, and Shakespeare (to name a few.) And we do all of it under our Affordable Ticket Initiative, where all tickets are $15 to make great theater more accessible.
The Actors’ Enterprise is my career coaching service which I launched in 2007 to help actors learn how to manage the business aspects of their career. The idea is that if actors understand how the business works, they’ll feel more empowered as they manage their careers and have solid, concrete steps to take to build to where they want to be. It’s the supportive day job I created to fill in the gaps from the income of my acting career.
I view my work with The Seeing Place and The Actors’ Enterprise as part of my personal mission - I like to leave everyone feeling more empowered, creative and inspired. I feel very lucky to be able to structure my life the way I want to, and I think everyone else should be able to do that, too.
Jennifer Jonassen: Have you ever dealt with stage fright?
Erin Cronican: Definitely! I think that if you aren’t afraid, there may not be enough risks being taken! Anytime I am asked to reveal myself before others, there’s always a fear of not being like or the art not being appreciated. This is especially challenging as a singer, because precision is necessary in music and the slightest illness or lack of energy can adversely impact all of your efforts. Not only that, but anxiety itself can also impact your instrument, not just vocally but throughout the body.
Jennifer Jonassen: How do you deal with fear? Where/how do you find courage?(personal and or professional)
Erin Cronican: I have all kinds of fears! I try to do is compartmentalize what’s going on to deal with my fears little by little. I ask myself - “is there anything small that I can deal with right, and put the rest aside?” If so, I try to just deal with that. This helps me reduce any anxiety I have and then I can keep moving forward bit by bit, step by step. For anything in my life, be it performing, producing or teaching, I try to remind myself that I’m only as prepared as I am, no more and no less, and that is going to have to be enough for now.
When it comes to stage fright, a big part of dealing with fear is relaxing my body so that fear doesn’t get in the way of my expression. You can actively relax all throughout performance by breathing, releasing your muscles, and putting your concentration on the task(s) at hand.
Jennifer Jonassen: If you are comfortable sharing about your journey with cancer, I’d love to hear a little about your journey...
Erin Cronican: In May 2015 I was diagnosed with breast cancer. There was no serious history of breast cancer in my family and I had no risk factors - and genetic tests showed that I did not have a genetic mutation that led to the diagnosis. It was just dumb luck that I got it.
Not only did it throw a huge curve in my day to day life, but it severely impacted my acting career as well. Because not only did I have to take about a year off just to handle treatments (surgery, chemo and radiation), the side effects of these treatments have had long reaching impact. Most notably, chemo makes your hair fall out and the steroids that combat other symptoms of chemo cause most breast cancer patients to gain weight. As an actor who relies on my body as a marketing tool for my career, this has been devastating. For many years I was known as the young leading lady with long wavy blonde hair and a slim frame, and when I was done with treatments I had gained 15 pounds and had hair that was growing back in patches. I also had 4 scars across my chest, courtesy of the cancer and lymph nodes being removed and the chemo port being implanted and de-planted. I looked and felt like a beaten refugee - a refugee from cancer.
This forced me to really look at who I am as an actor, outside of how I look. Hair grows back and weight can be lost, but that’s a future result I couldn’t count on right away. How could I reconcile the changes in my body and feel comfortable presenting my altered self to the world? I set about creating a whole new brand - I looked at the roles I wanted to play and went about finding how I could tell that story with the look I had now.
I also had to find some way to deal with the changes to the inner me - the emotional and psychological changes that take over when you face a life-threatening illness. I’m looking at roles through a new pair of eyes, and I realize now that I can no longer relate to characters that are naive or innocent. I have looked death in the face and am living to tell the tale, am I’m now learning to include that in my work as an artist.
What’s amazing is how cathartic it is to be able to share myself with the world through creating art. For however long I’m still on this planet I hope that I’m able to continue to create with freedom and love.
(For anyone who wants to know more about my story, you can read through my blog posts on the topic here: http://www.erincronicals.com/search/label/**Yes%20I%20Have%20Breast%20Cancer)
Jennifer Jonassen: Thank you for sharing so much with us Erin!
And if you're reading this & in the NYC area make sure to catch Erin Cronican in Macbeth--running with rave reviews at the Seeing Place Theatre through December 22nd
|Posted on August 23, 2016 at 3:40 PM|
Thanks to cyberspace I am happy to say that I've been friends with Jen Ponton for about seven years! I had been writing for Plus Model Magazine and she sent me a lovely email about one of my articles. At the time she was an aspiring theatre actress who was longing to play a leading lady in a romantic comedy. It was obvious to me from the get go that Jen would go on to do great things. You can tell just by looking at her early headshot that she's got that " x factor." Right?
Fast forwad seven years and scrolling down my facebook stream is Jen Ponton looking like a million bucks and playing opposite the hunky Steve Howey of Shameless fame! And not just a leading lady in romantic comedy--but and adventure film to boot! If you're reading this the film just came out and you can catch it on VOD and Digital as of Friday August 26th: DirecTV, Dish Network, iTunes, Amazon, Google Play, Vudu & Hoopla!
JONASSEN: Tell us about Love on the Run!
PONTON: Love on the Run, directed by Ash Christian (Petunia, Miles, Hurricane Bianca) is a romantic road comedy that has major flavors of John Waters and the Coen Brothers. I star as Franny, an irrepressibly optimistic (and rather naive) romantic who's waiting for her Prince Charming to arrive. When he (Steve Howey, Shameless) shows up--robbing a bank and taking her hostage--Franny is convinced that he is The One. We're joined by Frances Fisher (Titanic) as Delores and Annaleigh Ashford (Masters of Sex) as Liza, Franny's incapably codependent mother and sister. It becomes a wild goose chase as Delores and Liza pursue Franny...who may never want to be rescued!
JONASSEN: Tell us more about your role in the film.
PONTON: Franny, in so many ways, is my dream role. As a woman of size (and an active part of the FA community), it's really important to me that we not only see women of size on camera, but that we see them genuinely loving themselves just as they are. It's also important to me that we shatter the stereotype of insanely beautiful, thin, white women as the only options for love interests. Franny defies both of these stereotypes, as a woman who truly loves herself and has zero abusive commentary on her body, and as a woman of size who is portrayed as lovable, sexy and charming.
JONASSEN: She sounds amazing! I'm so glad to see the tide is turning--and that you are pioneering these roles what was it like working with Steve Howey?
PONTON: Steve and I had a great time together! He's great on Shameless, but as anyone who's seen Reba can attest, he's just hilarious. So in between looking freaking terrifying (with his ponytail and him standing at roughly 6'4"). And there was a ton of trust between the two of us, which allowed us the freedom to really invest in the scenes and play together. There's a lot of 'stuff' going on between Rick and Franny--attraction, homicidal urges, manipulation. So trusting each other was really important.
JONASSEN: You've been cropping up all over! The other day I saw you on Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt and I literally cheered! Tell us some tidbits from the set--and OITNB if you can.
PONTON: It was wonderful to work on both of those shows! Orange was wonderful, Nick (Caputo) was such a nice guy. Since we were on-location, I didn't shoot at Litchfield. With Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt, I had the delightful situation of Tina Fey writing my role for me--not to mention getting to work with a lot of the crew from 30 Rock again, so that was a fun reunion! Ellie Kemper was an absolute delight. And I guested opposite Jeff Goldblum, who is just as much of the hologram unicorn that you would hope he is. Every last bit.
JONASSEN: What has your experience been like as a plus size actress?
PONTON: It's funny; we've circled back to this since talking so many moons ago! I mean, as a plus-size woman, of course--inner struggles most of my young life, and outer struggles. I was bullied for a long time. I was body-shamed by boyfriends. I was called Miss Piggy for years at camp (and only now as an adult think HELL YES SHE IS MY SPIRIT ANIMAL.) But in acting, it's a bit more freeing. Franny is one of the only roles I've played that specifically wanted an actress of size. And, you know, I think that speaks to a lot of success of getting known for your skills and not just your niche. But I also HAVE played some roles specifically for larger women (Blue Bloods, King Kelly) and they've been pretty juicy (pun intended). I will say that it can be tough being a 'niche,' because they don't often think about MANY niche actors together--there's lots of super-hot-very-thin-white actors and one or two token niche actors (whether that's ethnicity, size, gender, etc.). But that too is changing bit by bit. Overall, I see it as a blessing. It took me a long time to really unreservedly love myself, and now I work in a field where I hope I can be seen as a role model. If I had seen more women of size treated with respect in entertainment growing up, it would have made all the difference in the world to the way I saw myself.
JONASSEN: Where does your courage come from?
PONTON:Oof, that's a good question. I think it's just the rage/refusal of what was SO oppressive and miserable for so long? That makes sense, right?
JONASSEN: Any advice about finding courage?
PONTON: Ultimately? ...life is really, really short. It's a blip. And much like other unpleasant things, it SUCKS to look back and see how much time you spent feeling awful about yourself rather than appreciating what you had, and really being in the moment. The same way you can look at pictures of yourself when you were 16, 17 years old and say, "Oh my God, what was I thinking? Why was I ever worried about my hips, my belly, my arms?" That applies to every year of your life. So I think it's a dramatic reclaiming of joy and presence--in your body and in the moment. THAT is the fuel for courage.
Film avail on VOD and Digital as of Friday August 26th: DirecTV, Dish Network, iTunes, Amazon, Google Play, Vudu & Hoopla
|Posted on May 8, 2016 at 6:35 PM|
"…if i leave you with one last thing it's this: to love your bodies, love yourselves and love everyone else's body if you get the chance. It set me free to accept my big body and I hope you accept yours…" Candye Kane
It seems so right that my inaugural Intrepid Spirit Blog should be about Candye. Often called the toughest girl alive- (title of one of her song) she personifies the word intrepid. Candye survived eight years with pancreatic cancer. Google it-its true! Preparing her for that fight was her challenging life which she wrote about ( and you can find out more in her play also titled "The Toughest Girl Alive."
As I've written many times before- she was the catalyst for so many things for me. Back in 1997 I had a very different and often hateful relationship to my body. There used to be this magazine called Mode which was the first plus size magazine I can ever remember. And one day I found an article about Candye Kane. Her message about larger women being desirable and attractive was the first time that possibility existed for me. I was twenty seven years old.
Back in those days I lived in my native Brooklyn, and was fortunate enough to work in the heart of Greenwich or "the" Village as we called it. And the next day when I rode the F train to into work I skipped down West 4th St to the $10 CD store where much to my delight I picked up 2 or three of her albums. Much to my delight her music was full of the same body positive messages as the interview in Mode magazine. And better yet- Candye's pictures in and on her CD albums were so gorgeous, and sexy. Again probably the first images I can recollect of a large woman being sexy or sexual or beautiful.
Soon after subsequent trips I made to work I'd end buying dresses and lingerie as well as feather boas and glitter! We all affect each other on this planet and lol and there is absolutely no denying that without her influence I don't think I would ever have ended up where I did in life--as a dancer-- a go-go dancer at that--and wearing many similar and bold lame looks!
Fast forward to 2004. Post 9/11, My youngest sister and I decided to move to the other side of the country. We first landed in San Diego- well Escondido really- and where at first we both felt like fish out of water. We see an ad that Candye Kane was playing at a festival in Solana Beach and were beyond excited to be able to go! After the concert we waited in line to take photos with a disposable camera lol! We started talking and she really took an interest in me & Amy. She was interested that I was an actress of larger size. These were the days on MySpace so we all swore to keep in touch and a few months later when she saw I was up for a local theatre award she offered to loan me something to wear!
Since then we became fairly good friends. (Though I always remained a little bit in awe of her. Never really able to shake off my fan self.) She invited me and Amy to her house. We'd get to hang out at her local gigs. She made me feel special when she let me read early drafts of her stage biography. She treated me to an all you can eat chinese buffet once- which was one of the best birthdays of my life needless to say!! Candye recommended the amazing canter my husband and I would use at our wedding. She even wanted to perform at our wedding but was booked on one of her many international tours.
When I saw her a few months ago at Cedar Sinai she looked amazing. Sitting up regally in her hospital bed -- she was almost a little old Hollywood glamourous even. It was really hard to believe she wasn't immortal in fact and would go on forever. She battled pancreatic cancer for eight year. EIGHT YEARS. That's got to be some sort of record! She seemed to keep surviving with the one disease that usually ends with a quick and dirty fight - maybe almost a year like another friend of mine- more often than not a few months like my grandmother.
Candye really was the toughest girl alive. But she was also one of the softest girls alive as well. She had an enormous heart and I remain profoundly better for having heard her music and having had the chance to get to know her a little. I urge you all to go listen to her music or read some of her writing. I found this old clip of Candye back in 1997the same clip that I quoted at the beginning of this blog. It's really hard not to fall in love with her: her witty lyrics, her bouncy spirit, her many talents and her genuine sincerity when she urges everyone to love their bodies and to love themselves. Make sure to watch it to the end! https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=BsiOVv4MNLc
And then visit her site at: www.candyekane.com