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Growing up, I was cautioned against “meeting people online,” but sometime around 2012 I threw that advice out the window.
AND I’M SO GLAD I DID.
Being open to meeting people on the ~world wide web~ means that I have made some amazing internet friends (who I consider BEST friends).
One such friend is Atlanta-based model and actress, Nikki Garza. I met Nikki through my Instagram in late 2017. Her Instagram stories are freaking hilarious, and she’s one of those performers that makes you go, “Where can I dedicate a weekend to her new Netflix series??”
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As well as being funny AF on her Instagram Story, Nikki also shares BTS (behind the scenes) goodness of her acting classes and self-tape audition sessions (more on what that is soon). She’s a plus size Jewish AND Latina actress based in Atlanta, as well as bisexual.
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Something that ENDLESSLY fascinates me is the work and planning that goes into making BIG BOLD dreams (like Nikki’s) happen.
Talking about training, learning, paying for coaching, etc. Deciding what training to prioritize. Talking about this isn’t glamorous to some people – but I find the grit of fellow creatives TRULY inspiring and hella glamorous. I’m interested in the nuts and bolts of the day-to-day life and training.
ANYWAYS, I am pretty fascinated by allll of the training that goes into Nikki’s craft, and I wanted to learn more about what goes into training as an actor, and how she’s making her dreams happen.
It’s not enough to dream a dream, you know. You gotta plan and schedule that ish.
SOOO, I got her on the phone at 11PM Eastern for an interview. (Nikki really knows how to get the most out of her day!!_
BH: Okay, before we jump into what you’re doing RIGHT NOW can you tell me about what you were doing before you went to Atlanta?
NG: Before moving to Atlanta, I worked on cruise ships for 6 years. It’s a popular job for performers. You get to travel and make a lot of money and save a lot of money. It’s a win win (win).
I worked in a variety of roles, but ended up being really good at managing all entertainment revenue, around $1M a year.
BH: DANG! Okay so then how did you end up in Atlanta?
NG: I was ready for the next chapter in my life, and I wanted to focus on performing. After leaving my job, I went to stay with my mom for three months in Spain. Then I came to Atlanta.
Choosing to come to Atlanta was pretty easy. The film & TV industry was growing incredibly fast, and I had family here. When I got to Atlanta, I did community theatre for my first few years here. At the time, my background was mostly in musical theatre – which is a very specific set of skills.
BH: Love me some Sondheim. You then moved from community theatre to professional theatre – but ultimately didn’t stay. (I think we became friends during this transition point?) What happened to make you move away from theatre?
NG: I would audition for professional work, and I’d get callbacks – which was great! Except it was for the same type of roles. I would always get called back for matronly roles, or the roles written as “fat.”
Theatre is NOT diversified, and typecasting (stereotyping) is still how most shows are cast. It’s frustrating, because I don’t want to continually be called in for all of the grandmother roles in my twenties!
I realized I needed to change my approach. I decided, “I’m going to focus on film and TV, because the body diversity is better than in theater.”
BH: Wow, I feel like ~Film and TV~ have a loooong way to go, so that’s saying something! I imagine acting for TV and film is wayyy different than performing on a stage in a musical theatre number. How did you make the switch?
NG: My first thought was, “I’m going to get fully proficient in one technique. In university, you spend a few weeks learning different acting techniques or frameworks as a performer, but I wanted to dive into one. I chose the Meisner method.
BH: I’m going to plop a little definition of Meisner into the post. From our friends at Wikipedia:
The focus of the Meisner approach is for the actor to “get out of their head”, such that the actor is behaving instinctively to the surrounding environment. To this end, some exercises for the Meisner technique are rooted in repetition so that the words are deemed insignificant compared to the underlying emotion. In the Meisner technique, there is a greater focus on the other actor as opposed to one’s internal thoughts or feelings associated to the character.
BH: Where did you go to learn Meisner?
That intensive ended July of last year. Before that intensive, I was never one of those actors that could just cry on command, but now I can, thanks to tearing my heart up for six months.
It also made me a better listener, which is so important as an actor. After 6 months of getting into your heart and soul, I realized I was not listening to my partners on stage. When in a scene, I was always waiting for my turn to say my line, waiting for my cue. I learned how to be in the moment and hearing them – asking myself, “How does what they just did impact how I say my line?”
BH: That sounds really freaking intense. OKAY then what happened on this “Nikki Drama School” plan?
NG: After that, I went into my first on-camera class. I had done the work in my intensive, and now it was time for camera work. Acting on camera is worlds different than stage performance.
All in all, I spent a year and a half at DRAMA Inc, doing all of their courses. I took Practical Aesthetics (subset of Meisner), I took On-Camera 1 and On-Camera 2, On-Camera Meisner, On-Going Meisner, etc. I also took Commercial Crash Course, which was really helpful.
After a year and a half at DRAMA INC, I decided to try a new studio and network. Every studio has their own people and own contacts, so it’s important to mix it up. I started at a new studio, The Robert Mellow Studio. which is Meisner studio in Atlanta. I’ve taken Advanced on Camera, and I’m currently taking a Meisner Work out Scene Study.
BH: How hard is it to choose a studio? Do you recommend these studios to other people?
NG: For me, I look to see if the teachers or coaches at a studio are currently booking work. I want to learn from people who are utilizing their craft. I wholeheartedly recommend these studios.
BH: Say what now? What’s a “self-tape”?
c A “self-tape” is basically a tape of you auditioning. You get a script and you perform on-camera. I go to Dustin’s studio to self-tape, as he has a great setup. Once you have your self-tape you send it to your agent, who after reviewing it sends to the casting director.
BH: Oooo okay that makes sense. How did you get an agent?
NG: I’m relatively new, and I just got an agent. During my year and a half of training, people were like, “Why don’t you have agent? You should get an agent RIGHT NOW.”
But, I’m a Capricorn, I don’t want an agent until I can go into an audition and freaking nail it. I am going to get an agent because I’m ready.
I paid Cat Dyer, my business acting coach, to help me strategize on an agent. We talked about all the agents and casting directors in ATL She reviewed my headshots, and she redid my acting resume. She helped me go step-by-step to cultivate a professional package.
I submitted to 15 agencies, got down to like 4. And I chose my agency, a boutique agency, because I don’t have any large TV or film credits. I don’t want to get lost at a big agency.
BH: WOW. I’ve learned so much from this. Any advice for people trying to break into acting in Atlanta?
NG: TAKE CLASSES. Wherever you’re coming form, take classes for your craft and to meet people. It’s a small acting community. You want to enter the community and the best way to do that is to do that through a studio. Be sure to thoroughly vet the studio and make sure it fits with your career goals.
You need to continually be training. As far as casting goes, the Atlanta market isn’t taken as seriously as the LA market. People know the hustle is in LA. Here in Atlanta, we are taken less seriously because the community takes it less seriously.
Professional actors should continue to train as the industry is continually changing. There’s always something to learn.
BH: What roles are you currently auditioning for? What roles would you like to see?
NG: I’m excited to audition for “Faith the Plus Size Superhero.” (Sony Pics, call me.) I didn’t know when Hollywood would get a plus size superhero, so I’m really excited about that.
I am also checking Backstage everyday for the new Selena biopic on Netflix. I would love to play Selena’s sister, Suzette. She’s plus size and Latina, and I AM READY. (Also, I have taken drum lessons, just saying!)
BH: Anything else you want to add?
NG: I’m freaking hilarious, just book me.
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