January 9, 2021
Many times in my life I have thought to myself “I’m glad so and so is no longer alive. He/She would be appalled at what is happening in our lives right now.” I have thought that exact thought during the following events: the 1989 San Francisco earthquake, the great Oakland fire of 1990, El Nino, the 911 tragedy, the skyrocketing unemployment and economic crash of 2008, the horrific fires in California wiping out entire cities in a matter of minutes. Tragic events only to be followed by the great Covid-19 pandemic of 2020 and the Capital Lockdown in Washington D.C in January 2021.
Sometimes I wake up panicking about everything that has happened so far and I ask myself “Can this get any worse?” Do I want my children to have kids when the world is going to hell in a handbasket? Those poor kids will live a life of misery.
A common thing for me to do when I need to switch up my mood is to put on a TV show that I have watched many times to basically get my mind off of seemingly hopeless situations and also to provide a little bit of white noise so I can get back to sleep. The Covid-19 pandemic started lockdowns in mid-March 2020. No one knew what to do during a lockdown so a lot of people did things like puzzles, Zoom parties, made sourdough bread, and drank themselves silly. Others were forced to face the front lines and put themselves and their families in danger. The summer months brought sunshine, a flattening curve of cases, and a sense of returning to normalcy, which gave everyone hope. But just as we thought it was safe to go back in the water we got knocked down again with surging cases, deaths, and more lockdowns.
For me, that meant back to TV. This time around I decided to revisit the entire series of Downton Abbey. It starts with the Titanic disaster, moves on to World War I, the Spanish Flu, the deaths of husbands, daughters, fiancés, and if I remember correctly it didn’t’ quite make its way to the crash of 29. They made noises about changes coming (servants and homes the size of Downton were becoming passé.) But they didn’t get to the devastating stock market crash, the Great Depression, World War II, the Korean War, the Vietnam War, the assassination of JFK, and the long list of events I mentioned above.
Yes of course Downton Abbey is a nighttime fictional soap opera but it is based on many historical facts and true human losses that we all experience during a lifetime. What all of this tells me is that people are far more resilient than we give them credit for. For the most part, our ancestors were survivors. Whatever tragedy they lived through shaped how they lived their lives going forth. The Spanish Flu was estimated to have taken 500 million lives worldwide. Families were quarantined and passersby were alerted by rags tied to the home's front doorknob. Those influenced by the stock market crash started saving their money in mattresses and coffee cans. Those who went hungry during the Great Depression never wasted a crumb of food. Those who witnessed their parent's devastating unemployment in the ’30s stayed at their jobs for over 30 years so they could get that pension and gold watch. People went from drinking champagne non-stop in the Roaring Twenties to setting up a card table and playing bridge and drinking percolated coffee with their neighbors in the ’50s. The people that lived before or after each of these events called these jaded folks silly, worrywarts, gutless, etc.
I truly believe that if you have lived through a tragic event you walk differently than before. A large percentage of people get through unscathed entirely. They know realistically this is life and all it encompasses. Others become cautious, lacking trust, and adopt the “save for a rainy day” philosophy. And some fall by the wayside. Alcoholism, homelessness, mental illness, drug addiction, domestic violence, and child abuse are not new subjects. Those topics were apparent to most of our family members going back to our great-great-grandparents and further. In some ways, we have made it easier to get help, and in many ways having too much information is overwhelming and detrimental.
Lockdowns and quarantines give us time to reflect. Am I inconvenienced? Yes. Am I sad to see local businesses shutter? Yes. Am I unhappy that my career has seen more starts and stops due to the virus than I have ever experienced before? Yes. But I’m not starving, I am not homeless, I am not sick. No one I know is sick with the virus. So I consider myself incredibly lucky and I am truly grateful.
This essay is all observation. I don’t have any answers. But I do know that my ancestors survived far more than I have so far. So that gives me hope and faith that I will survive this too.
I guess what I am wondering about now is how will the past 12 months shape how we walk, talk, react, and live going forward? Will we put our money in a coffee can, serve leftovers, pop open a card table, and invite the neighbors over? I’m asking myself that same question. What will I do? Will I act differently than prior to March 2020? I definitely feel a lot less innocent. I feel bruised. I often feel scared. I’m not sure what I will do differently. But I do know this: I will find the beauty in the small moments of life. I will be grateful for my amazing family and friends, my beautiful home, my dog, my resources, and my health. I will remind myself to be kind, to be helpful, but more than anything I will protect my own heart and soul so I can give from a full cup. I will move away from those who do not value my time and love, and I will get closer emotionally to those who do. And, I will enjoy my Downton Abbey with a cup of tea that I made for myself. Yes, indeed.
WHY TAKE IT OUT ON EMILY?
I really enjoy watching YouTube videos by a lovely, classy, gorgeous French woman. She gives wonderful advice on beauty, wardrobe, style, and so much more. I can watch her for hours. But I was really taken aback by a recent rant she recorded about the hit Netflix show “Emily In Paris.” She took the time to list each and every falsehood the show reflects regarding Paris, the French culture-women-business practices-couture and so much more. She obviously made it to the end of the series because she does have a few spoiler alerts in the video. I guess it shocked me because I see those falsehoods portrayed over and over again in movies and TV for cultures and people all around the world. And……I am an actress in Hollywood!!! The incorrect portrayals of people and cultures have made me laugh since I watched my first TV show as a child and decided to become an actress.
I am a 5th generation Californian on my maternal Mexican grandmother’s side and I will be the first to let you know….….. Californians are not all blonde, we do not all surf, we do not all have swimming pools in our backyard, we do not all speak like the Kardashians, and we do not all live in Malibu. For the Mexican part……..we are not all dark with black hair, we do not all clean homes for a living or blow leaves around…….but Hollywood wants you to think that. Why? Because apparently, it sells movies and TV shows. And in LA (where the movies are made,) about 90% of the people living here are not even native Californians. They bring their own freakiness to our town and call it Californian.
So now, let’s step over to New York City. If you only knew about NYC from Woody Allen movies you would have no idea that black people live there. (Except maybe to serve a meal or two in your home.) If you got your information from Sex and The City you would think that single women drink at least 6 cocktails a day, take four-hour lunches, and wear high heels to the gym. In truth, Kristen Davis is sober, the other three actresses choose to pass on alcohol to save their skin and figures-although they might have a glass of something every now and then. But they certainly do not drink the gallons of booze the Sex and The City fictional characters do. Regarding the high heels……..no one skips through Manhattan wearing Manolo Blahniks the way Carrie did. For her scenes you know damn well the crew cleaned up all the dog crap, made sure the area was smooth and dry and held back unruly crowds from interrupting her sprint.
If we head over to the South we only see uneducated toothless hillbillies, or blonde racist Paula Dean lookalikes. All Alaskans live in igloos, and everyone in Hawaii knows how to hula. Are you starting to get the idea of how every single culture is inaccurately portrayed most of the time?
If we go even further back in television we can explore The Brady Bunch. I used to sit and watch that show and wonder why in the world is everyone so white and blonde (hell, even their sidewalks were uber white,) why do they have a maid when the mother doesn’t even freakin work, and why is the furniture orange? I mean I spent more time watching that show questioning everything they did rather than enjoy the plotline. (Although I still love the episode where Jan loses her locket.)
My grandma took care of me as an infant and toddler and we watched I Love Lucy every day. Looking back I am sure it was my grandmother’s favorite because Ricky was always screaming in Spanish, and they had money problems. That was as realistic as television got for us.
Right after my first child was born I was hired to be in a grocery store commercial. I went through hair, makeup, and wardrobe and came out feeling amazing (after sleepless nights and not having time to even wash my face.) I had the most beautiful natural makeup on, a very cute sporty outfit, an adorable swinging ponytail and I felt like a million bucks. They introduced me to twin babies that were going to play my child. They put one baby in the grocery cart and we started filming. After about 10 minutes the baby started screaming, They quickly yanked him out to put his brother in his place (apparently he was the “back up” baby.) While the crew was making the switch, the makeup artist freshened my lip gloss. This went on for an hour or so (switching babies back and forth,) and then my scene was wrapped. As I drove home back to my newborn baby I thought about the luxury of switching out your screaming baby for a calm one and having someone step in to freshen up your makeup so you always look amazing.
Many years later I was cast as Wendy the maid of the mansion on the soap opera Passions. (Remember, Mexicans can only play maids.) Even as the maid I had my own dressing room, a huge plush white robe to lounge around in, a stack of magazines next to a crate of fan mail, and endless munchies. The hair and makeup staff always loved playing with my thick hair and fat lips so they ended up making me look quite stunning for a servant. With two young children at home, I truly enjoyed my day off in my dressing room wrapped in my soft white unstained robe waiting to be called to set. I felt like a princess (even though I was a maid.) But low and behold the next day I would be back to slapping together peanut butter and jelly sandwiches, knocking dog hair off of backpacks, searching for signed permissions slips, and unclogging toilets.
Ok, maybe as an actress living in Hollywood I have an unfair vantage point to all the untrue portrayals of people and cultures in the land of movie-making. Now you can consider yourself informed. And remember, if you find something offensive you have the power to change the channel.
The Voice In Your Head
Last night we walked through a casino in South Lake Tahoe and low and behold I heard my voice coming out of a blackjack machine with a virtual dealer. Yes, that is my voice, and no….those are not my boobs. But it was kind of cool to see that my voice was matched with a gorgeous model. Walking back to my cabin on a beautiful summer moonlit evening I made a mental list of everywhere my voice could possibly be right now. At an ATM in Firenze, Italy (English audio instructions,) at a castle in Germany (I’m the English version of the audio tour,) emergency evacuation announcements for a train in Europe (I remember recording the announcements in my home studio in my bedroom. The client told me to read with escalating urgency as the evacuation levels increased. I always get worried about neighbors hearing me voice such jobs.) Apps, children’s learning toys, voice prompts……….you name it and I probably provided the voice for it. Sometimes when I get hired for an explainer video I will ask the client to provide a reference so I can match the energy and pacing they are looking for. More often than not they send me a YouTube reference of an explainer video that I narrated. I’m never sure if they know it’s me because voice credits are not given on that type of work. Another interesting fact: most of my clients are in Europe and Asia. For some reason, they like my voice. I have been told a few times (in broken Google-translated English,) that they chose me because I sounded the “least American.” (Whatever that means. Haha.) But send me Euros and I can sound however you want me to sound.
Voice over is actually a super cool way to earn a living. You can pretty much stay under the radar when you provide voices for non-broadcast jobs, and it is also super fun when your friends hear you on the radio or TV. But I can walk into Von’s in Burbank and no one has a clue who I am. When I was on a soap opera people would follow me around in Trader Joe’s in Studio City hoping to find out what the future held for Theresa and Luis.
I’ve also had three people call and beg me to replace the voice in the elevator at Kaiser in North Hollywood. I had to laugh because I was a little shocked the first time I went to pick up a prescription at that location so I knew what they were talking about. The voice in that elevator is a tad too sexy. I felt like I was being taken to the Bunny Ranch rather than Kaiser.
A voice-over student of mine recently asked me a question that I thought I could answer in an instant but after reading it I asked if I could have a few days to think about it. She wanted to know why I was successful in voice-over when so many people get trained, get demo reels and go nowhere. Hmmmmm……how can I answer this without offending a lot of hopefuls? I think I am successful because first and foremost…….I am an actor. And true actors know there is NO plan B. It’s acting and only acting. We can’t do anything else. So giving up is not an option. We keep going no matter what. I was chatting with a friend recently about the differences in getting to auditions in LA and San Francisco. I was telling her that in LA we have so many options for getting to the studios. If the freeways are at a standstill we just get off at the next exit and drive city streets to our destination. But in San Francisco, we are royally screwed if there is a fender bender on the bridge. The only exit is Treasure Island. My friend said “Yeah but Jan I know you. To get to an audition you would exit at Treasure Island and swim to San Francisco.” (In truth, I probably wouldn’t swim because I never get my hair wet, but I would probably rent a kayak.)
I think another component of voice over success is embracing technology. You pretty much need a degree in sound engineering. I am 100% self-taught but I do pick up tips and tricks from sound engineer friends. And we all love to talk shop. Interfaces, noise floor, gain, mics, acoustic housing………….all perfect cocktail chit chat. You absolutely have to love tinkering with digital files and if you don’t love it………you better learn how to love it fast.
Last but not least, you need to be a master marketer for your product (your voice.) Yes, it is a bit like panning for gold to uncover all of the possible production houses that can use your voice, but I was born in the land of the 49ers so panning for gold is in my DNA. I train all of my students on how to market their voice. But the drive, determination, tenacity, and consistent hard work is up to them.
Here I am in Lake Tahoe at my cabin with all of my recording equipment and I’m trying to figure out when I will get my auditions done. My daughter wants to go horseback riding, we want to walk around Camp Richardson, go grocery shopping and then probably have a cookout in our backyard. So…..I think I will record while they are out on the deck. I’ll make it work somehow. Where there is a .wav file……there is a way.
The next time you are pumping gas and your gas pump encourages you to go inside to buy a hot dog or a cup of coffee, the next time you hear your GPS telling you to “watch out, object in the road,”or the next time you hear a blood-curdling scream in your video game realize that it might be me, recording from my bedroom in Toluca Lake. Or better yet, it's one of my students recording from anywhere in the world.
New Blog Post - March 17, 2019
WHAT EXACTLY IS IGTV?
I recently launched my comedy show The Sit Down Comic tm on IGTV and while it has been well received, I would have to say the most common question I get asked is “What is IGTV?” Good question. I asked myself that same question several times over the past year and then I decided to finally look into it and now……I am an IGTV creator. As a matter of fact, IGTV is begging for content, producers, creators.
Here is the actual Wikipedia description of what IGTV is:
IGTV is a standalone vertical video application owned by Instagram made primarily for smartphones. Unlike Instagram, it allows users to upload vertical videos up to 10 minutes in length or up to 60 minutes if you are verified or popular. Wikipedia
Initial release date: June 20, 2018
Developed by: Instagram (Facebook)
Now, do you understand what IGTV is all about? A lot of people wanted to know why I shot my show in “vertical” as opposed to “horizontal.” Well, for one IGTV requires you to shoot vertically, and two, these days most people are doing everything on their phone (shopping, reading, conducting business, dating, communicating, etc.,) so why not watch TV too.
Another common question is “how do I find IGTV?” You can actually download the IGTV app or you can access it from your Instagram app. If you go to my profile @starjan you should see the IGTV button and it will take you straight to my channel. If you click the IGTV button on your home page it will take you to all the IGTV channels that are owned by the people you follow on Instagram. It will also show you what is popular and make suggestions based on your Instagram interests.
The first time I went to IGTV was by accident. I think I hit the button on Instagram because I was curious and I was instantly sent to low carb recipes, wrinkle creams, 30 day fitness challenges, and non-stop JLO (who happens to be my guru and hero. I have my headshot photoshopped onto her body on my vision board.) I realized that my experiences are based on who I follow on Instagram and probably on everything I Google.
I encourage everyone to check out this platform if you haven’t already done so and let me know what you think. Every episode of my show is under 2 minutes and I did this for a few reasons. I wanted to take on a project that I knew I could finish because I’m insanely busy but also insanely creative. Short videos seem to be the answer. And the other reason is that as we have all been told, people’s attention spans are rapidly reducing by the minute (or second.) My own attention span has always been short and I used to think I probably had ADHD but now I realize I was born way ahead of my time. I was born for one-minute videos.
So once again, check out IGTV, let me know what you think, give me feedback on The Sit Down Comic tm, and please start to create your own content. All it takes in an idea, your phone and a minute.
Blog Post-February 18, 2019
All The World’s A Track – an actress who runs
In 2013 I was invited to become a runner for the documentary A Long Run. The documentary profiled runner and founder of Runner’s World, Bob Anderson. He started running races and writing Runner’s World when he was 15 years old. For his 50th year of running, he decided to produce a documentary that featured him running 50 races in one year. 50 races for 50 years of running. Imagine that. One race per week with two weeks off. That takes up the entire year. And the dude was running half marathons, not 5Ks. I was super impressed chatting with him the first night we met at a café in Silicon Valley. He was interviewing me to possibly be profiled as a non-runner who starts running during his 50th anniversary year. I remember sitting in the coffee shop with Bob, his wife, and his adult son. They asked me “Can you run three miles?” I immediately thought to myself “Three miles? A piece of cake!!!” Three miles doesn’t sound like much until you start running. Yikes! I had no idea what I got myself into. He offered me the part and I signed on. About three weeks into the year I was quite sure I had made a horrible mistake. Whatever made me think I could run a race. I always felt like I was in fairly good shape, but wow, the minute you start running you realize how out of shape you really are. With life getting in the way every five minutes it took me the entire year to train for a 5K. My deadline to complete the project and be profiled in the documentary was his Double Run Race right at around Christmas time. I had the entire year to train and on race day I still did not feel ready. It was pouring rain, my start time was 7 am, and I had to get to Pleasanton California. Somehow I did it. Crossing the finish line was incredibly emotional and at that point, I felt hooked for life. My niece ran the race with me and she felt the same way. We were hooked so for the following year we signed up for a lot of races, eventually working our way up to several half marathons. Each year we ran a few “fun runs,” like The Color Run 5K, but we also factored in 10Ks and more half marathons. I’ll never forget the San Jose Rock & Roll Half. Coming around the corner near SAP center, seeing the finish line in the distance, and hearing the screams of several South Bay High School cheerleaders cheering me on to finish………wow. What a feeling. After running 13 miles I really needed those cheerleaders to emotionally push me to cross the finish line.
In 2018 I fell back into lazy patterns. I only signed up for one 10K to support Northern California firefighters and one 5K to raise money for our rescue dogs at the Pasadena Rose Bowl. I didn’t even really train for those races. At this point in my life I can pretty much run 3-6 miles without training. Not a good idea, but I can do it.
So…..here we are 2019. At the end of 2018, I was seriously thinking about trying to find a very special race so I would feel motivated to train. Then I met my new friend Donna. She and her husband own Surreal Brewing. (Surreal brews my favorite non-alcoholic craft beer.) www.SurrealBrewing.com I met up with her to buy a few cases of her non-alcoholic beer and we really hit it off. Later in the day, she emailed to ask me if I knew about Title Nine and their races. We both love what Title Nine stands for and I love their clothes! She said they hold a race every year called The Mermaid. They have a 10 Mile race that goes across The Golden Gate Bridge! Can you imagine how gorgeous that run will be.? They will close the bridge for several hours that morning for this race. At the risk of having every single person in Marin County hate me…..I am going to do it. Now that is something to get excited about. The race is in October. Does anyone want to run the 10 Mile with me? Donna is going to run the 5K with her little boy. So we won’t run together but we will be accountability partners for the training and we can hang out on race day. I’m going to ask her to bring a keg of her fantastic non-alcoholic craft beer!!!! I’m going to need it after running 10 miles. Donna is a cancer survivor like my son Ryan, so on race day I will be running for the health of both Donna and Ryan while running across the Golden Gate Bridge.
man·i·fes·ta·tion Dictionary result for manifestation/ˌmanəfəˈstāSH(ə)n,ˌmanəˌfesˈtāSH(ə)n/noun an event, action, or object that clearly shows or embodies something, especially a theory or an abstract idea