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Andrea Dantas on Learning, Leaning in to Your Why, and Doing Work that Matters – Cracking Creativity Episode 59

Andrea Dantas could have ended up poor and broke in Brazil. Her father went bankrupt when she was a child and her mother struggled to feed two kids. Her one saving grace was her love for acting.

Andrea left Brazil to study acting in Australia. While she was able to get a tourist Visa, she had trouble getting a work Visa. So her mother smuggled her money by putting it inside books she sent through the mail. While she survived on a diet of canned beans, she was still happy because she was learning and doing what she loved.

She has been able to build a successful career in acting through years of studying, performing, and working in multiple countries.

In this episode, learn why you should never stop learning, why you should always remember your why, and what it takes to do work that matters to you.

Here are three things you can learn from Andrea:

Never Stop Learning

One thing Andrea made very clear is that you should never stop learning. It doesn’t matter if you’ve been practicing your craft for one year or one hundred years, you are never done learning. “You never stop learning, and if you think that you’ve got it, and a project comes along and it’s just going to kick your butt and prove to you ‘Oh my gosh, I thought I knew everything.’ Hang on a second, but that’s with everything in life I think.”

Andrea also believes your technique matters. You can’t just go through the motions. “Nothing is more important than technique until artistry comes along. It’s the only way that your art is going to come out.”

She also believes that once you’ve discovered and mastered what works for you, the possibilities are endless. “Once you find what really works for you, and you hone into that and you become a master at that, then you can do… pretty much anything.”

Remember Your Why

Some people get so caught up in trying to be rich or famous that they forget about their craft. They forget the reason they got into art in the first place. They are too caught up with their vision of the future that they forget to live in the present. “I think it’s that ability of not being married to a situation and holding on so tight to it that you don’t see the change right in front of you and also being silent and asking yourself ‘Why am I doing this in the first place? Why do I still love doing this thing?’ It’s important.”

When I asked Andrea why she loves her work, she said it came from a direct answer from the divine. “My reason for doing this is because this was a direct answer to a question I had forgot and I believe that vocation, which is the most important thing in my life, is in total alignment with the divine and I think that I’m answering a calling. And I see how it’s impacting these artists in New York because New York can be a pretty intimidating city and how they found each other and they’re making things together… It’s such a rewarding job. It’s not even a job because it’s so good.”

One thing to remember when you are going through your journey is, it’s hard to do it alone. You need to find people who are going through a journey too so you can help each other out. “Find your tribe. For an actor, for an artist, that’s so important. Find an artistic family, the family that you choose to go through this journey together, to go through this journey with, because it can be pretty lonely out there when you’re an actor.”

On Doing Work that Matters

When we are starting out on our artistic journeys, we have grand visions of what we can accomplish. We look at those who came before us and think “I can do that too.”

While this may be true, it can also be stifling. Our expectations become unrealistic too quickly. It can stop us dead in our tracks. So, remember to stop being so hard on yourself. Just do the best you can at the moment. The rest will come to you in due time.

Just listen to what Andrea has to say. “Don’t be so hard on yourself thinking it has to be a masterpiece. Chances are, your first movie is not going to be a Martin Scorsese film. It’s not going to be that. So, I say get that idea. Put it on paper. Get people together. Go do it. Give birth to your ugly baby, and then, what do you know, you learn something. And the next one, you learn something else… We live in a day and age where there’s no reason for actors not to be working, for filmmakers not to be working because we have access to technology and things and we can be making our own stuff.”

It all begins with starting. “You have to start somewhere. Start somewhere, don’t stop and do the things you’re passionate about.”

And don’t get too caught up in the future. Live more in the now. “The future is now. No, I stopped thinking about the future a long time ago. I go as I go.”

Shownotes

  • about Andrea
    • from Brazil, started acting in teens
    • decided she wanted to seek something else because the quality is Brazil wasn’t good enough
    • acting school in Australia
      • first thing she saw was quote – “Acting isn’t lying, it’s telling the deepest truth.” – Sanford Meisner
      • spoke so deeply into her heart that she left and never went back
      • lived in LA for six years and is now in NYC
  • time in Brazil
    • being able to speak English vs. being able to act in English
    • emailed teacher about school, while living in a hostel dorm with female rugby players
    • saved money for two years and went through crazy personal things

7:09 “I had nothing to lose but also knew how much sacrifice I had to make to be able to be there. So, it was a challenge that I had to overcome.”

  • sacrifices she made to pursue acting
    • father went bankrupt, so she had to count pennies to take bus or jumping subway
    • mother sacrificing her food for children when they only had two eggs left
    • didn’t find it difficult to leave that situation
    • grew up in theater community with the arts
    • didn’t have roots, family wasn’t a family
    • father was absent and mother struggled to raise two kids
    • learned affection from her grandfather
  • surviving in Australia
    • had a tourist Visa, and applied for work Visa but couldn’t get one
    • mother sent her money in books
    • ate canned beans but was happy because she was learning so much
    • making sacrifices to do what you love

11:32 “At the end of the day, your heart needs to be fulfilled with joy and I think that comes from your ability to do what you were put in this world to do and follow your vocation.”

  • Meisner vs. other techniques of acting
    • Meisner saw obsession with emotion
    • living truthfully under imaginary circumstances
    • you need to have imagination but also do things for real
      • don’t pretend
    • you don’t have to be a messed up person to play someone who is messed up
    • it gives you room to play different parts using your imagination as opposed to emotion
  • didn’t make money into she moved to Europe
    • ex-husband was supportive and pushed her
    • she was going through self-doubt and uncertainty
    • went to Los Angeles to help her
    • was already working as an actress for ten years by this time
    • married for seven years, stayed for ten years
    • constantly studies and experiments with new things

17:04 “I have never stopped studying since I began, since I was 14 years old, I have always studied no matter what I’m doing because with this art form, if you stop, you just can’t stop because you’re your own instrument… So you change in life and you evolve.”

  • learning and the ability to become better
    • technique gives you freedom to be artistic
    • there’s always a stage in life where you experiment and find the thing that’s for you

18:31.5 “You never stop learning, and if you think that you’ve got it, and a project comes along and it’s just going to kick your butt and prove to you ‘Oh my gosh, I thought I knew everything.’ Hang on a second, but that’s with everything in life I think.”

19:45 “Nothing is more important than technique until artistry comes along. It’s the only way that your art is going to come out.”

20:31 “Once you find what really works for you, and you hone into that and you become a master at that, then you can do… pretty much anything.”

  • Meisner technique
    • went to 3 year academy in Brazil
    • it works when you need it
    • Playhouse West actors
    • it allows you to take your own approach
    • script analysis, making choices, using your emotions
  • how she gets into character
    • her acting comes from herself
    • puts herself into the shoes of the character
    • find clues in the script and bring the story to life
    • reads the whole script before beginning to play a part
      • re-reads the script all the time

27:20.5 “If acting is living truthfully under imaginary circumstances, I better know what circumstances we’re talking about. That’s so obvious.”

  • evolution of her characters
    • her reaction is dependent upon what the other actors give her
    • being present in the moment and reacting to what’s happening
    • reacting as human beings to what’s happening
    • knowing when someone is not being genuine

28:18 “I think a mistake a lot of actors make is to lock into something and plan things and hold onto the idea so tightly that there is no room for real interaction. So I hope every interaction is different because that means that I’m really present with the other actor.”

  • being a Flamenco dancer
    • Flamenco dancing influencing her acting
      • strong technique, expressiveness, and presence
      • has taught her discipline, expressiveness, and the ability to do something
      • you can’t be in your head, you have to listen
    • people who study more than one art form have a leg up on the competition
    • flamenco informs every other art form because  it has so much spirit and heart
  • directing and writing Drug of Love
    • story about people seeking love
    • cinematographer Hunter Nolan coming in to bring a visual direction to the film
    • everyone who was cast was from Playhouse West Brooklyn Lab

36:46 “Just to work with my students and see that they’re slowly becoming their own artists, it’s so rewarding.”

  • how acting and Flamenco influenced her project
    • importance of story
    • sacrificing scenes you like if they don’t move the story forward
    • as a director it is important to be in sync with your director of photography
    • being clear with your vision of the film and map things out
  • the importance of being in sync with your team
    • clashing is going to happen
    • not being too tied to your vision and being open to new ideas
  • how directing will affect her work from now on
    • it makes you more sensitive to what’s going on
    • are people talking to each other and listening or are they just pretending?

43:10 “I’m not sure if directing helps my acting, but definitely the ability to translate the director’s notes into a way that works for me. That for sure.”

  • Playhouse West Brooklyn Lab
    • met the founder, Jim Parrack, in Los Angeles at Playhouse West LA
    • he moved to NY while she was still in LA
    • she was directing a play and decided she needed to slow down
    • after three months of not partying/going out, she asked God “Where do you need me? What do I need to do? I’m listening.”
      • next morning, she got a text from Jim saying “I need you in New York”
      • she sees it as a similar moment to when she saw the quote from Meisner
    • he talked to her about his vision of the school
    • being a place of community
    • they held a 120 hour film festival
      • students made 14 films in five days

46:14 “The whole thing with the work that we do is ‘How can we change the actors?’ If you come here and you train, you better leave this transformed. You better leave this place being able to being cast in anything and know how to handle yourself. You better leave this place not ever needing to drag a coach on set with you. Become your own artist.”

  • single moments changing the trajectory of your life

47:41 “I think it’s that ability of not being married to a situation and holding on so tight to it that you don’t see the change right in front of you and also being silent and asking yourself ‘Why am I doing this in the first place? Why do I still love doing this thing?’ It’s important.”

  • Andrea’s reason for what she does
    • Jim’s reasons for bringing her in:
      • she has high standards and makes people respect her
      • seeing eye to eye with him and being in sync
    • she said yes because of the vision for the school and it’s a place where actors can really be changed and have a community
    • nothing is forever. the journey will end

48:15 “My reason for doing this is because this was a direct answer to a question I had forgot and I believe that vocation, which is the most important thing in my life, is in total alignment with the divine and I think that I’m answering a calling. And I see how it’s impacting these artists in New York because New York can be a pretty intimidating city and how they found each other and they’re making things together… It’s such a rewarding job. It’s not even a job because it’s so good.”

51:40 “Find your tribe. For an actor, for an artist, that’s so important. Find an artistic family, the family that you choose to go through this journey together, to go through this journey with, because it can be pretty lonely out there when you’re an actor.”

  • importance of community
    • students don’t come in seeking community, they are looking for something for themselves, then they find a community

52:22.3 “I’m not sure if people consciously choose to go through something by themselves. Maybe. I’m not sure they know they have a choice.”

52:53 “I tell my students all the time, this isn’t a country club, this is for you to change your art and to become another kind of actor. On top of that, there is the aspect of community, of course. But I think it’s so important because acting is not a profession that you can do by yourself. It’s not writing. It’s not painting. You need to be dealing with people all the time, and the only way is to find your tribe.”

  • the tribe they’ve built
    • they are hardworking, they are for each other, constructive not destructive
    • they are hungry for art and have formed their own production companies
    • casting directors have complimented their school saying they must be doing something right
    • they want students to learn from them first, then go out and learn for themselves as their own artist

55:20.2 “I think it’s  passionate people that found each other and are doing something together while pursuing their own dreams and careers as well.”

  • results
    • personal transformations, positively affecting students’ lives, quitting substance abuse, being able to book jobs and be more confident
    • instilling confidence
      • Jim is better than she is
      • she gives them tough love
    • helping people in your own way
  • current projects
    • one woman play about Frida Kahlo
    • Voices from the Towers – perspective of 911 operators
  • doing the project about Frida
    • asked herself What do I want to talk about? What do I want to do?
    • heard a story about Frida and wanted to learn more about her
    • Frida’s life was a struggle
      • surviving the struggle, producing art, and flourishing
    • lessons learned from Frida
      • appreciating how good we have it
      • Frida had many surgeries, had a leg amputated, and her husband cheated on her with her sister
      • despite all her struggles she still had a zest for life
      • learned to be grateful
    • books she read
  • directing/writing 9/11 movie
    • read an article about 911 operator who went through the event and what they went through
    •  operator said “We were the last human voices they heard, and if we were there to say it’s okay, we did our job.”
      • after reading that, she felt it was a story she had to tell
    • dispatchers were being blamed
    • did the research necessary to write a fiction story
  • doing work you want to do
    • the thing that stops people from taking the first step is self-doubt and listening to others
      • self-doubt, lack of encouragement, and fear also play a part

1:07:40.6 “If you ask me what’s the best quality an artist can have, I believe it’s courage because from that, everything else can be born. You have the courage to take that first step… I love taking that first step. I hate waiting. I hate waiting for anything. That’s the way that I grew up. I have to go get this thing for myself because no one else is giving me it.”

1:08:50.8 “You were born with yourself. You’re gonna die with yourself. Everybody else is temporary. Might as well follow your heart.

  • recommendation for someone who wants to do their own thing

1:09:23 “Don’t be so hard on yourself thinking it has to be a masterpiece. Chances are, your first movie is not going to be a Martin Scorsese film. It’s not going to be that.  So, I say get that idea.  Put it on paper. Get people together. Go do it. Give birth to your ugly baby, and then, what do you know, you learn something. And the next one, you learn something else… We live in a day and age where there’s no reason for actors not to be working, for filmmakers not to be working because we have access to technology and things and we can be making our own stuff.”

1:10:23 “You have to start somewhere. Start somewhere, don’t stop and do the things you’re passionate about.”

1:11:00 “The future is now. No, I stopped thinking about the future a long time ago. I go as I go.”

  • favorite quote
    • actors are doctors of the soul
      • they think what they do is insignificant

1:12:32.5 “There’s a lot of people out there that they go through stuff and sometime all they need so they can carry on is to watch a movie that takes them out of it or to go see a play that transforms them… Our role in society is important. It’s not a superficial one… There’s a misunderstanding that being an actor is the same as being a celebrity, and if you’re not a celebrity, you’re not an actor. Those two things have nothing to do with each other. And that’s why I think actors are doctors of the soul because we are the ones lifting people up when they see a movie or making them think or changing how they view the world. I mean it’s such an important and noble profession. It matters.”

  • morning routine
    • not a morning person
    • needs silence in the morning, and is always rushing
    • she hates routines and rules
    • practices Buddhism
  • books, movies, documentaries
    • Driven from Within by Michael Jordan
      • career in basketball and business
      • inspiration for getting motivated and gaining courage
      • athletes’ careers are usually over by 35, artists’ have their whole lives
  • creative people
    • Jim Parrack – creative and visionary
      • always looking for innovation
    • Madonna
      • innovative, forging the way, taking risks, etc.
  • definition of creativity

1:18:02 “I think creativity is allowing God to speak through you. Whatever you believe in in terms of the divine or a higher thing. It’s a mysterious thing that we don’t know but it’s out there and if you allow for that to speak through you, all of a sudden, you’re making creative things.”

  • challenge
    • for one hour every day, turn off your devices and just be with yourself
    • turn everything off and listen to your own creativity

Imdb  |  Playhouse West |  playhousewestbrooklynlab@gmail.com

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