Maggie Bera: Take What Life Gives You and Go With it

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I met Maggie about a year ago when we kept bumping into each other on the audition grind. She was at almost every call I was at and we became fast friends and a support system in the typically manic holding rooms. On top of being a fierce performer, she has started an incredible blog and Podcast called Actor Aesthetic to inform aspiring actors and students about auditions and life as an actor in the city. I chose the adorable Optimistic Café in midtown to chat because Maggie is the ultimate optimist!
Drink of choice: Cold brew/iced coffee
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AF: So I see your drink of choice is an iced coffee even in the middle of winter!
MB: It has to be below 0 degrees for me to drink a hot coffee.

AF: We’re also still bundled. We are hardly out of our scarves and hats…So tell us about your life. Where are you from, when did you move to the city…give us a little taste of your background story.

MB: Jumping in! I’m actually from New Jersey.

AF: And you still live there, yeah?

MB: Still live in Jersey. I live in Central Jersey, which is like forty-five minutes from Penn Station by train. I drive in most days with my dad who works in the city. I save so much money that way! I either sleep in the car or have political debates with him at six o-clock in the morning! Sometimes he turns on the Broadway channel, because he’s obsessed with musical theatre now, naturally. His favorite show is Waitress. I grew up in New Jersey doing shows, community theatre, and my grandpa would take me and my younger sister in and out of the city for auditions. We had agents growing up, and I had no idea how cool it was at the time! I was just like, “Another audition!”

AF: That’s so great. So you’ve been doing this since you were very little…

MB: She and I both! She started when she was nine, I started when I was twelve. I eventually went to Texas State for my BFA in Musical Theatre. Once I came back to the city after finishing school, I hit the ground running again. I commute in from New Jersey every day!

AF: That is very admirable because I can hardly get myself out of bed and I LIVE in Manhattan! So what was the thing that sparked your interest in musical theatre? You’ve done it since you were little but what was an experience that you had that you were like, “I need to do this.”

MB: Well, what got me into performing in general…I was nine. My grandpa brought an ad from the newspaper to my parents…no joke. Also-pause–our queen is singing right now…

AF: (referencing the music playing in café) Is this “thank u, next”?!

MB: It is. Ariana Grande!

AF: This is your go-to song!

MB: It’s like they knew! Anyways, he shows this audition ad to us and oddly enough it’s to sing the National Anthem for a baseball team in New Jersey.
 
AF: That’s huge!

MB: Yes! So I go… it was in a mall. There were a hundred people auditioning and they chose ten people and I booked! For the next two years my parents would drive me around to auditions for different minor league baseball teams and eventually it led to singing for the Mets, the Nets and the Philadelphia 76ers at en years old. They dressed me up and I had sparkles in my hair and an American flag on my shirt… that’s what got me started! I think during that time I just loved getting in front of people. My parents eventually took me to an audition for Annie.

AF: Of COURSE.

MB: It’s always Annie!

AF: It’s how I discovered how I love to perform too!

MB: It always is! And that was that!

AF: The rest is history! So okay you went to Texas… how was that audition process?

MB: Crazy. It’s wild.

AF: Will you compare that audition process versus just pounding the pavement in the city?

MB: I’m stressed just thinking about it!

AF: How many schools did you apply to?

MB: I applied to 10-12 schools. Now it’s crazy because every single school is asking for a prescreen video…

AF: What? I don’t even know the process anymore…

MB: I auditioned in 2013 and I think that was one of the first years they started asking for videos in order to secure a slot to audition.

AF: Wait, you graduated a year ago…

MB: Yes!

AF: Oh my gosh, you’re so young! We still out here! I guess the college audition process has changed so much, and so has the casting scene in the city even since I’ve been here!

MB: Yes, it’s so competitive. And I recently watched my sister go through the process. She currently goes to Montclair [State]. My audition for Texas was by far my favorite one. They asked me to sing a pop song! They were like, “What’s your favorite kind of music to sing? Do you know any Beyoncé?” And I ended up singing “Take a Bow” but Rihannaand jammed out.

AF: I love how intentional they were in getting to know who you are. You ultimately always end up where you’re supposed to be! Okay, so I want to talk about your amazing brand that you’ve created for yourself… and I also have to say it was very on brand of me this morning to listen to a podcast that was talking about your brand and how if you want to do something, you need to decide and commit to just doing it. I feel like that’s how your blog Actor Aesthetic is and how it’s growing! You’ve reached so many people and informed so many students and I want to hear how it got started and everything…go for it!

MB: So it started my second semester Senior year at Texas State. I came into school with a lot of credits, so I was basically finished with my degree. But in order to keep my scholarship, I needed to be considered a full time student so I took some extra classes. I had always loved writing. I thought if I didn’t go to school for musical theatre I would go for journalism or political science. So when I was looking around for classes I found some online classes that I could take while at school. One was Digital and Online Media and one was History of Mass Media.

AF: Oh wow, so you took classes to better inform you about blogging while you were at school.

MB: I was never considering making a blog, really. I figured if I wanted to pursue something else in the city that’s wasn’t performing, maybe I could apply for some writing jobs. That was the goal at first. But my online media class required us to make a blog…for a grade!

AF: How serendipitous is that!

MB: I know, it’s crazy how it all happened. It was perfect. I had no clue how to do all of this. I just had my actor website and that was all I needed… so we went through the process of making a site, basic search engine optimization, keyword research. Basically, in order to get your site searchable and to the top there are certain ways that you can manipulate your articles. Putting keywords and making it super specific. It’s about making sure that the headline is super specific. We learned about branding and generally what we wanted our blog to be.

AF: That is invaluable information!

MB: I had wondered what I would make the blog about. It was around the time Trump had just been elected, and it was very heated. I was in Texas, so even though the area was pretty liberal…it was a very conservative state. That said, there were a lot of debates about gun control and just basic human rights arguments, and so I thought about doing a political blog! But then I realized that I could probably get myself into a lot of trouble…

AF: Yes. Anything can be misconstrued… 

MB: I started off writing for The Odyssey Online which is a site for people to write for who are in college. That’s where I started writing. I was writing sort of political-based things…

AF: I sense a trend… you love politics!

MB: I do love politics! But I realized I would get myself in some hot water if I wrote about that, so I chose to write about what I love to do… and so I created Actor Aesthetic. The name stuck! 

AF: I LOVE the alliteration. 

MB: Someone asked me how the name came about…and I literally said I like the words “actor” and “aesthetic”…(laughs) 

AF: It easily rolls off the tongue! So you start writing this blog…and then it sort of evolves into this huge thing where you’re coaching via Instagram and podcast. So when did it turn from fun to, “Oh wow, I have a lot of responsibility and I have a lot of followers!”? 

MB: I think a year into having it. Once I joined Equity, I started gaining a lot more information about how the business works and specifically how the union worked. I was coming across information that I wanted to tell others about, because it was stuff I wish I knew two years ago.

AF: So what kind of stuff are we missing in our education…? 

MB: A lot of the stuff you can look up online and on the Equity website has become way more user-friendly, but I would hear from word of mouth the difference between an EPA and an ECC. I didn’t know which I would get seen at faster.

AF: Yes! I had no clue about the lines…

MB: Yes, it stressed me out!

AF: Yes, and you don’t want to feel stupid or ask questions and look stupid. That’s why your blog is so brilliant, because people don’t have to ask those questions. You’re thoroughly informing them before they even hit the audition circuit. You’ve laid it out so well.

MB: I didn’t see anywhere else online where I could safely ask these questions. There was a lot of stuff I wish I knew. So I started growing my following on Instagram because I started doing Instagram live videos. That’s what really grew it! It put a face to the brand and the blog. I wasn’t reading somebody’s anonymous post. I was directly talking to someone who’s currently going through this. It became a community. I was having people ask me questions and then following up with more.

AF: That’s so cool. 

MB: So then randomly somebody asked me to do a podcast, and I thought, “Well, how do I do that!?” I’m still learning. 

AF: It’s so much! It’s so amazing. You really just listened to what the people want. And I feel like it fills you up! It’s a side hustle.

MB: I read the other day that this is very therapeutic for you. I one hundred percent agree. Yes, I am very passionate about it, but it just makes me feel so good afterwards.

AF: After every interview I transcribe, I feel so full. Rereading the tidbits of wisdom is so refreshing. So how did you start a podcast?

MB: I did a lot of research going in. I follow some comedians’ podcasts, but that was the extent of what I knew! I’m definitely not a comedian…

AF: Yes you are!

MB: (laughs) You can be whatever you want to be! Basically I went through a site. You have a hosting site. I have a nice microphone that serves me well. I hook it up to my computer and I record through GarageBand and then I just upload those episodes and I can go back in and tweak, add music…Once you’re done, then you share it as an iTunes MP3. I pay a minimal fee now that I’ve used all my free trials. Your first couple episodes have to be approved by iTunes!

AF: Who got that job!?

MB: I don’t know! But they basically just listen to make sure you’re not cursing, and it’s all appropriate. 

AF: I am so inspired. You are doing it! I wanted to pick your brain…so when it comes to auditions…I see you at every audition. What is something that keeps you grounded and focused in an audition room setting?

MB: As a person who’s still relatively new, I had to get my butt to everything because one audition can lead to another. You’re getting called in for one thing, you’re called in for something else. So as I was going to all these EPAs and ECCs, I always reminded myself that though I might not be right for this, it could lead to something else. 

AF: It’s an audition for something in the future!

MB: It’s important to get in front of those casting directors! I always had to remind myself of this. So at auditions I love meditation. When a room is jam-packed with people I need it. I listen to calming stuff, or listen to comedians. 

AF: If you’re out of practice, it’s impossible to shut down the voice of insecurity.

MB: There was nothing going on before Christmas break and when I would go in the room I was like, “What am I doing?”

AF: Yes. When there is less going on, we subconsciously put more pressure on said audition. 

MB: Auditioning is like a muscle. 

AF: What has been a high and what has been a low?

MB: I could say a low…there have been a lot of really really close calls and then it’s hard to remember why you got close. After a week or two has passed and I get over the instant sadness about it, I realize it was actually a high! A definite high for me was when I booked my first show at the Fireside Theatre and was offered my Equity card with Phantom. That was always a goal for me to join the union once I finished school. It was a huge accomplishment and happened at just the right time. I got to understudy Christine! That process taught me a lot about work ethic and what does and doesn’t work for me.


AF: So what is a quote you live by?

MB: I worked behind the table briefly with Michael Cassara. I did this for a couple of years, and this is what I learned from that experience: the squeaky wheel always gets the grease. You’ve got to take what life gives you and go with it!

AF: Oh! I want to make a t-shirt of that! Actor Aesthetic merch?

MB: Yes! The story goes that I got so close to getting a job one summer…and didn’t get it. This was my junior year going into senior year and I was devastated. I didn’t have anything to do over the summer, so I messaged the head of my program at Texas State and told her I would love to shadow a casting director or agent. And it just so happened Michael was needing somebody to help him out for the open call for NYMF. I got to help him with that and then eventually he had me intern with him. It was mindblowing! If you ever get the opportunity to sit behind the table, do it!

AF: Tell us everything you learned and apply now…

MB: First of all, casting directors have a very difficult job. They are working nonstop, they need to know everything about the seasons they are casting for,  they have to be insanely organized… The biggest thing I learned from that experience is that theatre is so subjective. I watched actors come in and floor me with their talent only to find out after they left the room they just didn’t fit what the creative team was looking for. However, the actors who were more prepared were always the actors who did better in the room. It makes it easier for the creatives behind the table to imagine them in a role. In order to be the best performer in the room you better know the material like the back of your hand. You need to be able to take the adjustments from the director with ease. Preparation is the key to success. 

AF: That’s amazing. Everyone, go follow Maggie on Actor Aesthetic on Instagram and her podcast on Apple Music. She is a daily source of inspiration for me and it’ll be a great thing for you to listen to on your daily commute, wherever you are! Cheers. 

MB: CHEERS!

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