If more actors were like Claire Winters, acting might actually become a respectable profession. For starters, Claire is pretty much the antithesis of a narcissist. Any self-examination she does, she uses in service of her art—which, in turn, she uses in service of making the world a better place. Any frustration she encounters, she subjects to intense scrutiny—and then, after careful thought and thorough (and, I’m sure, often tedious) research, turns into some piece of beautifully crafted learning for the edification of those who come after. Slowly, quietly, she’s built a monumental legacy of written material to serve not only young actors coming up, but all pilgrims in search of the truth. If you have not yet heard of Claire, it is because she has devoted her time and energy to creating, not promoting. But trust me: in the end, she will be the person you not only have heard of, but whose name endures.
When did you decide to become a writer?
I don’t think I ever decided to become a writer, but I do remember moments when I decided to jump into writing. In the 6th grade I won a classroom contest for a story about bears, and that made me think this whole writing business might be something to look into. Around 20, to help my life in acting (i.e., mitigate my daily attacks of crazy) I started doing daily morning pages after reading The Artist’s Way. These have helped birth my good ideas and given me a place to abandon my bad ones. When I moved to Los Angeles I found that few people would talk to me because I couldn’t offer them anything (it can be a cold world out here in the desert!), and so I volunteered to write articles about acting training for a publication for teen filmmakers, which helped me make contacts and learn how to write on a deadline. Then, a year or so into my time here, my friend Sarah Sido and I started Brains of Minerva, a blog for journeymen actors to share their info & stories. That’s when writing for public consumption became my a part of my daily life. This led me to study with Brenda Varda at w o r d s p a c e, which has been the beginning of my ‘formal training.’ All the time, though, writing about my characters has been a part of my acting preparation. When I took my first workshop with Brenda it was the first time while writing that I had the same sensation in my body that I do when I’m acting well, so I said, “More, please!”
Who was your favorite teacher?
Argh – that’s a Sophie’s Choice question! Frank Ottiwell was my Alexander Technique (a movement technique) teacher in my MFA Program at American Conservatory Theater. We called Frank “Yoda” for his mind-blowing simple suggestions which would transform our performances and how we felt doing them. He taught me what it felt like to come “deeply from myself” when I work. A lot of his lessons I’m still unpacking. I also had two teachers, Mr. Gordon in 3rd grade and LuAnne Willis in the 9th, who stepped outside of their roles in the classroom and did some great things to make sure I was okay. When I think about what these three gave me—the recognition that I have the right to work from deep inside my own experience and that I have the right to be cared for—I feel that is what WriteGirl does for so many young women.
What do you love to write about?
How the inner life becomes the outer life and vice versa.
What has writing taught you?
How to tolerate discomfort! In anything worth doing there’s usually a dark before the dawn. Working on a piece, getting to and through those rough spots, is a microcosm of all the other parts of life that take some rock-up-hill pushing. I also have to work when I can and where I can, so writing has taught me the miracle of how much you can get done by setting a timer for 20 minutes and sitting your butt down in a chair.
How has writing made you stronger?
I can see my growth in concrete ways and that’s a nice complement to my work in acting, where the results are ephemeral and when your big wins (e.g., a great call-back) might not be seen by more than a few people who you may never see again! It’s broadened my creative support systems, and sharing my writing has allowed me to stay in sync with friends and families in other lands.
If you could go back in time and tell 10-year-old you anything, what would it be?
A lot of people are going to feel very comfortable telling you their opinions of you. You decide what’s true.
What are your five favorite books, blogs or things to read?
Mary Karr’s memoirs (Liars’ Club, Cherry, and Lit) – about her Texas childhood, creative awakening, and getting sober, respectively. Compassion, guts, craft – great writing & a lot of information on how it got that way.
The Daily Rumpus – a sometimes-daily email from writer Stephen Elliot about his adventures in the world and in his head.
Nancy Franklin’s writing on television in The New Yorker – whip-smart, funny and fun – you know, like good television.
The Working Actress blog – a juicy anonymous blog chronicling a young actress’ move up the food chain.
And every week I stop by Evan Marc Katz’s dating advice blog for, um, research, yeah, for, um, a screenplay…
Claire Winters is a Los Angeles-based actor and writer. You can find out more about her work at clairewinters.com and follow her on twitter here. She’s co-founder of BrainsofMinerva.com, a career and lifestyle website for the LA acting community.
Photo by Andy Riddle.