Hear critique as feedback not personal criticism. When I first started acting, I had a really hard time processing critique in a productive way and took it as a comprehensive referendum on my skills as an actor or as criticism or who I was as a person. Occasionally, you’ll encounter someone who doesn’t know how to give critique and veers into personal attack — -if that happens, acknowledge it and move on. In most cases though, critique is just feedback on how to make your work better. If feedback is being given verbally, I find it helps to write it down, so I can look at it later and see how I can use those comments to help me get to the next stage in whatever I am working on. If you are working on a long-term project though, limit the circle of people you receive critique from to a small group you really trust so that you can be sure the feedback you’re getting is useful even if it might be hard to hear sometimes.
As a part of my interview series with popular culture stars, I had the pleasure of interviewing Adriana Jones. Adriana is a performer, writer, and producer, based in NYC for the last several years, but this fall will begin pursuing her MFA in Creative Writing with a focus on Screenwriting from University of British Columbia in Vancouver, BC. Film work includes the short comedy Death of a Vacuum (Audience Choice Winner at Katra Film Series and Indieworks Film Series), the short comedy Introvert’s Guide to Activism (Nominee for Best Cinematography at Atlanta Comedy Film Festival), and several other short films and comedy series. Her original work for theater has been performed at Theater Row, The Players Club, Edmonton Fringe Festival, All for One Festival Salon Series, the Women at Work Festival, FED Stage, and the Words and Music Show in Montreal.
Thank you so much for joining us! Can you tell us a story about what brought you to this specific career path?
I started acting as a kid, participating in every local production I could find and subsequently earning my BFA in Theater from Cornish College of the Arts in Seattle, WA. In the last few years, I have expanded from being solely an actor to also being an avid writer and producer of my own work. Starting in late college, I began writing, producing, and performing my own live solo shows and discovered that I enjoyed having more than one role in the generative process. After a few years of experience in creating my own work for theater, I began writing what would become my first short film, Death of a Vacuum. It was the first overtly comedic piece I’d written and there was a long journey to get the screenplay to where it needed to be — it started as a web series and went through several drafts in that form before I realized it needed to be a short. I co-produced and starred in the final film and built an amazing relationship with my co-producer, director, and editor on that project which has translated into a long-term filmmaking partnership that I couldn’t be more grateful for. The film screened at several festivals and opened a ton of doors for me — -it led me to new collaborative partnerships and even earned me the opportunity to assist with programming for a small festival and judging a screenplay contest. The wonderful experience I had with Death of a Vacuum solidified for me the desire to create my own opportunities, to embrace my comedic side, and to continue working in film.
Can you share the most interesting story that happened to you since you started this career?
I think the most interesting stories I have involve specific people and the times when I’ve taken my work on the road. My very first professional acting job when I was in college was at a theater located in a yoga colony in Iowa which was interesting to say the least — -there should have been a documentary crew there capturing everything. I have also toured productions in Montreal and Edmonton in Canada and met a lot of fascinating people there. When I perform my solo shows, audience members tend to feel that they know me, so I get a lot of people coming up to me afterwards wanting to have long conversations and share stories. I’ve spoken with everyone from academics to experimental musicians to families having their first theater experiences and I love getting to connect with audience members on that level and learn about people in other parts of the world.
Can you share a story about the funniest mistake you made when you were first starting? Can you tell us what lesson you learned from that?
This wasn’t a mistake per say, but I think it was funny. The first time I produced one of my solo shows outside the context of a festival, I had to purchase liability insurance which covered up to one million dollars in damages, but I misheard the people in the theater office and thought it cost a million dollars to obtain. I was fresh out of college and terrified, so told them with my most professional face that one million dollars was a little outside of my budget. The people in the theater office just about died laughing and explained to me that it only cost a few hundred dollars to purchase the insurance. These days when I produce, I spend a lot of time beforehand researching the costs and what options I have available to me, so I don’t get caught off-guard the way I used to.
What are some of the most interesting or exciting projects you are working on now?
I am really proud of my short film Introvert’s Guide to Activism which is a short comedy about the tension between caring about social justice while being an introvert who dreads interacting with other people. We are screening in LA this week at Broad Humor Film Festival and have several screenings lined up this fall. I had a workshop this summer of a new solo piece called The Apocalypse Around the Corner and am working on an expanded version to mount in 2020 and am currently writing my first feature-length film.
Who are some of the most interesting people you have interacted with? What was that like? Do you have any stories?
My favorite celebrity encounter was meeting Vanessa Redgrave, when I was an intern at a theater where she was performing. She probably doesn’t remember this, but she was really sweet and kept offering me cookies after I had delivered a video she wanted for research on the character she was playing. My New York circle of friends is full of interesting characters too — -solo storytellers, painters, activists, filmmakers — -I am mostly interested in meeting people who pursue their passions relentlessly and that is what New York tends to attract.
Which tips would you recommend to your colleagues in your industry to help them to thrive and not “burn out”?
Creating my own work was a gamechanger for me, because I found it really stabilizing to always have at least one project going on that wasn’t dependent on permission from anyone else; I strongly encourage anyone in the arts, but especially fellow actors, to create their own opportunities and find ways to claim personal power in an industry that sometimes treats actors as though they are inferior to everyone else on a production. If you have the time and the opportunity, it’s also helpful to go on artist dates with yourself, go to a museum, see a fantastic film, remind yourself why you are doing this. Taking classes can help you stay motivated if you find the right studio or community, so it’s worth the time and money to find the right fit and continue pushing your craft to the next level.
It’s also important to nurture your friendships, especially friendships with people who aren’t industry people. Theater and Film are tumultuous at best and there are inevitably going to be times when things don’t go well, when the workload feels overwhelming, or when you miss out on an opportunity you really wanted. I find that nothing puts things into perspective for me faster than having tea with one of my friends outside the industry, lamenting some opportunity I’ve missed out on, and having them ask me “what’s that?”. It’s always good to have reminders that while my work is important to me, it’s not the only important thing.
You are a person of great influence. If you could start a movement that would bring the most amount of good to the most amount of people, what would that be? You never know what your idea can trigger. 🙂
As an actor and writer, I believe in the power of storytelling to change people and foster empathy. However, the press is being censored in many parts of the world while arts organizations are being defunded, which limits what stories can be told. While urgent stories sometimes go unheard, misinformation and propaganda still manage to find receptive audiences. I would love to support any organization that fights for freedom of expression, provides funding and support to artists and writers, and conducts education and outreach in media literacy so that people can think more critically before sharing inaccurate stories on social media or other venues.
What are your “5 things I wish someone told me when I first started” and why. Please share a story or example for each.
- Making art isn’t a competitive sport. When I was starting out, I often felt like I was competing with my fellow actors for roles and opportunities. Seeing them as competitors rather than colleagues led me to close myself off and miss out on possible friendships. As an artist in New York, many of my best opportunities came from fellow actors and writers and I recommend fellow artists for jobs all the time. Rather than trying to beat people for opportunities, focus on being a valuable part of the community you’re in and trust that people will notice your contributions.
- It’s okay to take time for self-care. When I first started, I thought that if I wasn’t operating at maximum intensity all the time, I wasn’t working hard enough and wouldn’t achieve the things I wanted. If you push yourself too hard though and don’t take the time to check in with yourself, you won’t last. I’m not saying to be lazy, but if you feel like you need to take the weekend to unplug, that is okay and there is no fraud police that is going to find you and tell you that you aren’t a real artist (and if you haven’t listened to Amanda Palmer’s speech about the Fraud Police on YouTube, I recommend that highly.)
- Your plans will probably change and that’s okay. I am the kind of person who likes to set target goals and make lists, but while I always knew I wanted to be an actor, my current path is quite different from what I initially envisioned for myself as a kid, thinking I would only perform in musicals and Shakespeare plays. Most of the successful people I know aren’t doing what they initially thought they would be doing, or at the very least, they are going about it in a different way than they had originally planned. Be open to new paths and following what feels right even if that instinct leads you into scary and uncharted territory.
- Advocate for yourself. There are a lot of gurus and gatekeepers who will try to take your money and treat you poorly. You deserve better and better people and opportunities are out there waiting for you — -have the courage to stand up for yourself and find the kindred spirits who appreciate what you have to offer.
- Hear critique as feedback not personal criticism. When I first started acting, I had a really hard time processing critique in a productive way and took it as a comprehensive referendum on my skills as an actor or as criticism or who I was as a person. Occasionally, you’ll encounter someone who doesn’t know how to give critique and veers into personal attack — -if that happens, acknowledge it and move on. In most cases though, critique is just feedback on how to make your work better. If feedback is being given verbally, I find it helps to write it down, so I can look at it later and see how I can use those comments to help me get to the next stage in whatever I am working on. If you are working on a long-term project though, limit the circle of people you receive critique from to a small group you really trust so that you can be sure the feedback you’re getting is useful even if it might be hard to hear sometimes.
Can you please give us your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Can you share how that was relevant to you in your life?
There’s a quote by Ira Glass that I always come back to: “All of us who do creative work, we get into it because we have good taste. But there is this gap. For the first couple years you make stuff, it’s just not that good. It’s trying to be good, it has potential, but it’s not. But your taste, the thing that got you into the game, is still killer. And your taste is why your work disappoints you. A lot of people never get past this phase, they quit. Most people I know who do interesting, creative work went through years of this. We know our work doesn’t have this special thing that we want it to have. We all go through this…It is only by going through a volume of work that you will close that gap, and your work will be as good as your ambitions. “
When I first started out, I had incredible vision for my work but the work itself didn’t always meet my expectations, which was incredibly frustrating for me. This quote was a reminder to keep going, to know that being an artist is a marathon not a sprint, and to give myself permission to fail in service of creating as much work as possible and gaining the experiences that would shape me into the sort of artist I wanted to be.
None of us are able to achieve success without some help along the way. Is there a particular person who you are grateful towards who helped get you to where you are? Can you share a story about that?
My mom has always gone above and beyond in her support of me, I think she drove me to every class and rehearsal I ever had as a kid, and she continues to be a huge advocate for me now. I also studied with both Anne Runolfsson and Kelly Kimball for many years in New York and know that both of them have had a huge impact on me as a performer, and Kaye Tuckerman was a lovely mentor as well. My filmmaking partner Simone is an amazing collaborator and one of my best friends, so I’m grateful for her. There are too many friends and mentors who have helped me over the years to properly list them here, but I am thankful for all of them.
Some of the biggest names in Business, VC funding, Sports, and Entertainment read this column. Is there a person in the world, or in the US whom you would love to have a private breakfast or lunch with, and why? He or she might see this. 🙂
Phoebe Waller-Bridge is living my dream life as an actress/writer/producer so I would love to have lunch or tea with her and pick her brain. Yorgos Lanthimos is my favorite director right now so if I get lunch or tea with more than one person, I’d love to meet him too.
How can our readers follow you on social media?
You can follow me on Instagram at @adriana.k.jones. You can also see what I am up to on my website www.adrianajones.net.
Thank you so much for joining us. This was very inspirational!