Foster kids are some of the most vulnerable members of our society. The ones who are able to return home to their families or are adopted are the lucky ones. Every year in the United States approximately thirty-thousand kids age out of foster care. Many are ill-equipped to start adult life. I wanted to do something to help these young adults. A few months ago my friend, fellow actress, and former foster youth, Carob Mars, asked me to work with her on her new project, Age Out Rise Up (AORU). The organization provides life lessons, advice, resources, and a safe space for people of all ages who have aged out of foster care or survived of any kind of trauma.
As a part of our interview series with the rising stars in pop culture, I had the pleasure of interviewing Meredith Binder. Meredith is film and stage actress, screenwriter, and producer/content creator who splits her time between NYC and Seattle. Her screen credits include Beloved Beast (Lionsgate/Amazon), STILL (Hulu), and A Crime to Remember (Investigation Discovery). She won Best Lead Actress in the NYC 48 Hour Film Project.
Thank you so much for joining us Meredith! Can you tell us a story about what brought you to this specific career path?
Before I started working in film,I had a successful career as and engineering manager. But I’ve always had a creative side too. I minored in fine art in college and for most of my life I’d taken ballet lessons. I loved ballet. Ballet was my great escape until, at age 40, I got injured taking my last great leap in what would be my last ballet class. I was devastated! I missed performing! Then I heard about The Freehold Acting Studio and started taking classes. It was then that I realized that if I had been introduced to acting earlier in life, I would have become an actor instead of an engineer.
Can you share the most interesting story that happened to you since you started this career?
In 2005 I had a crazy dream about a community of people who all lived in side load dryers. I wanted tell a story about such a community, but I didn’t know if the format should be a play, short story, or what? Then I realized the format should be a Buster Keaton style black and white silent film. I’d never made a film before but I pitched the idea around the Seattle film community. The idea was so unique that I had no trouble pulling together a talented team of 35 people. That short film, Rent’s Due, has played in festivals all over the world. Frontier Airlines screened it for a few months. It was also part on a series of short films available on Netflix for a few years. Even now, 15 years later, I’ll get an email from film festivals asking for permission to screen it and college professors asking to show it to their class. Here’s a link to Rent’s Due for anyone who missed it and would like to watch:
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?
Coming from engineering, I was clueless when it came to the etiquette of the filmmaking world. Engineering firms are always looking for engineers of all skill levels. In addition, upper management is always fighting over engineers once they’ve become skilled! Eager to work on more films, I’d walk up to anyone at a party or screening, hand them a head shot, and chat them up about how much I’d love to work with them. I got a lot of cold shoulders! I quickly realized that I was alienating myself with my enthusiasm. The rules are different in an over saturated field like acting! It takes a long time to gain people’s trust.
What are some of the most interesting or exciting projects you are working on now?
I’m sure most of your readers will agree that the COVID restrictions have put a dent in everyone’s productivity, but I feel fortunate to have a few projects that are moving forward.Former Senator Joseph Carraro (NM, Independent) has written a second version of his Broadway play Conversations with an Average Joe. We’ve been rehearsing over zoom with the rest of the cast and plan to open in NYC as soon as we are allowed to use a suitable space. The plan is to eventually move the play to Broadway when Broadway is open again.
Who are some of the most interesting people you have interacted with? What was that like? Do you have any stories?
Tom Skerritt (nominated for 2 Golden Globes) and the late Lazarus Pal (multiple Emmy Award winner) are/were live/living in Seattle. I’ve taken workshops from Tom and been directed by Laz over the years. They’ve been such an inspiration!
Once I was acted in a film that Laz’s and students at the University of Washington were making. At one point Laz interrupted the business on set and pointed at me to say, “She’s really good to work with! She uses her time in between shots to prep so she’s ready for the shot!” A few days later we were on location in downtown Seattle. We were shooting a scene in which my character was riding in a cab at sunset. The students wanted to get the light just right. Unfortunately the light was perfect in the middle of rush hour. This meant I was in the cab for at least an hour before each take as the driver repositioned the cab. The students teased me “Did you have enough time to prep?”
I’ve also studied with Charles Waxberg who was the late Stella Adler’s personal teaching assistant. He’s not only an amazing teacher but has shared many fascinating stories about working with Stella over the years.
Which tips would you recommend to your colleagues in your industry to help them to thrive and not “burn out”?
Take breaks. Go on vacations. Spend time with family and friends. Actors do so many things these days We all write and produce our own content, teach, and keep up on social media. Whew! It was sure easier ten years ago!
Can you share with our readers any self care routines, practices or treatments that you do to help your body, mind or heart to thrive? Kindly share a story or an example for each.
I try to practice yoga and go for long walks as often as possible. It’s important for me to spend time with people who are not in the industry. I’m a member of the RPCV (Returned Peace Corps Volunteers) groups in both NYC and Seattle. (I served in Fiji after college.) The folks at RPCV are involved in a variety of charitable activities, both locally and internationally. We have a lot of provocative conversations.
It’s important to me to give back to my community. A few years ago I went through an extensive training to become a CASA (court appointed advocate for foster kids). I represent kids who are too young to have a lawyer in court. It’s gratifying to know that I’ve helped several children find and settle into permanent homes.
If my schedule permits I go on one international trip once a year. Walking out the door and seeing amazing things that you don’t see every day does wonders for the soul!
What are your “5 things I wish someone told me when I first started” and why. Please share a story or example for each.
- You will have many mentors in your life. Find the teachers who speak to you and only stay with them as long as you are still learning and excited to work with them. Early on I auditioned for an advanced training program at my studio school. The advance program was taught by the school’s well regarded founder. The audition lasted a full day. Halfway through the audition and I realized that I no longer wanted to study Meisner technique. I also realized that I didn’t want to study with my much loved teacher any more. I had grown so much in the studio’s year long Meisner training program and I loved my teacher both personally and professionally, but it was time for me to move on. Unfortunately I still had the second half of the day to get through!
- Even if colleagues beg you for advice, don’t give it to them. In this biz we only trust the advice of highly paid mentors. (There are a few exceptions, but until you really know someone, assume they do not want your advice.)
- Be prepared to spend your own money, a lot of it, on training, self-funded projects, and travel to study with teachers and work on projects you don’t have access to in your own community.
- Be humble and grateful for every opportunity. Even the projects that seem disappointing while you’re on set can teach you a tremendous amount in retrospect.
- Be trustworthy and reliable. Not everyone will love you or even like you — but everyone can respect you — make sure they do.
Can you please give us your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Can you share how that was relevant to you in your life?
I had a saying when I was an engineering manager, “It doesn’t matter if the cup is half full or half empty. The only thing that matters is how many milliliters you have, how many you need, and what your contingency plan is should you fall short.” — I think this can be applied to any project in any biz.
I also love the old Yiddish proverb, “This too will pass.”
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?
I’m certainly grateful to all of my teachers, mentors, the many producers and directors who have cast me, and the people who worked tirelessly for me on my projects — but I am most grateful to my mom-in-law. Without her help to taking care of my kids while I was on set and cooking for my film crews I would not have been able to build a career in the arts.
You are a person of enormous 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. 🙂
Foster kids are some of the most vulnerable members of our society. The ones who are able to return home to their families or are adopted are the lucky ones. Every year in the United States approximately thirty-thousand kids age out of foster care. Many are ill-equipped to start adult life. I wanted to do something to help these young adults.
A few months ago my friend, fellow actress, and former foster youth, Carob Mars, asked me to work with her on her new project, Age Out Rise Up (AORU). The organization provides life lessons, advice, resources, and a safe space for people of all ages who have aged out of foster care or survived of any kind of trauma. All interested parties are welcome to join our community. Here are a few links:
We are very blessed that 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. 🙂
I’d love to meet the playwright Tracy Letts to discuss how he develops his characters and their unique voices.
I’d also love to meet the Duplass Brothers! Mark once gave a talk at the SXSW that has become one of my mantras “You are the cavalry!” Here’s the link if anyone would like some inspiration from Mark!
How can our readers follow you online?
Thank you so much for joining us. This was very inspirational!
Thank you for the opportunity and for the wonderful articles you publish!