Keira Keeley is a professional stage actress based out of New York City. Keira wanted to be an actress ever since she was a little girl. During middle school and high school she was quite focused on sports, and often had to make a choice between participating in theater and participating in sports, and in those early years, she usually chose sports. However, when it came time to go to college, she refused to let go of her childhood dream and decided that she truly wanted to study acting. Consequently, she invested all her efforts in the craft completely. Keira also studied English in college and, in fact, graduated with a double major just to cover her bases and pursue teaching as a career in case acting didn’t work out. Luckily, she found success in the theater fairly quickly. In the years since, Keira Keeley’s acting career has only grown, and she has been involved in professional acting for over 20 years.
Where did the idea for your career come from?
I wanted to be an actress ever since I was a little girl. It’s been a life dream. I’m one of the lucky ones that has, thus far, been successful with that. I think the main idea behind becoming an actress was that I wanted to live as many lives as possible with this one life that I have in order to make it full and exciting.
Of course, as an adult and a working actress, I have an agent and agency that works with me. So, besides my own innate get-up-and-go and keeping my finger on the pulse of what’s happening with colleagues—especially playwrights and directors—I check out casting notices myself, and stay aware of what’s in the work log. All that has helped me to stay productive. It also helps my agency if they know what personal projects I’m working on. The agency helps me through screening auditions and then getting in touch with me about good opportunities.
I don’t just look for certain types of roles. I’ve done a lot of different things. There is a category of actors that seem to be typecast. Casting directors will say, “Oh, you are the ingenue, the fool or the comedian of the group, the tragic figure, or the likeable girl next door,” and so on and so forth. One of the major challenges for my agency with regards to my career is that I have been told—and I agree with it—that I’m quite the chameleon as an actress. It’s happened before that I’ve bowed after a performance and left via the stage door and audience members are looking around me for me to come out, but they don’t recognize me. And that’s not just hair and makeup, I just carry myself differently and I’m not being that character from the show anymore. The ability to do that makes me more versatile, but it also makes me harder to categorize and harder for my agency to submit me for opportunities, because I’m not just the girl next door or the tragic hero or anything easily labelled. That makes things a bit more difficult, but it’s very exciting for me. The roles I’ve gotten to play are very exciting. I’m just so proud and grateful for the range of opportunities I’ve had. It’s been really lovely.
What does your typical day look like and how do you make it productive?
There isn’t really a typical day as an actress. Some days you might wake up and receive a phone call about an audition in a few hours or a call back. On other days, you just wait for the phone to ring and it doesn’t. A typical lifestyle includes the regular boring stuff, like getting the laundry done, shopping for groceries, cleaning the apartment, as well as keeping up with friends.
Besides the general day-to-day stuff, I do a lot of self-care in three different categories. I try to do something for my mind, something for my body, and something for my soul or spirit every single day. These things can be as little or as big of an experience as I want, or am able to do that day. It could be something small, like drinking more water, doing yoga, or going for a walk with my dog. It may be reading an interesting essay or interview, or going back to a book—it can even be pulp fiction, it doesn’t have to be Ulysses. And then something for the soul or the spirit, which usually consists of slowing down and connecting to my breath and my presence in that moment, or appreciating a sunset, or a laugh, or a bit of humor—something that resonates deeper than one particular external thing.
I think it’s really important as an actress to be in touch with how you feel and what you’re going through, but it’s also important to protect yourself from yourself. If something is too painful to record, you can be gentle with yourself and trust that your mind will recall it in a way that is healthy for you at a later point in time. One of the techniques we use in acting is pulling from our own life experiences, but it doesn’t have to be a dangerous choice. If a memory is too painful or too charged to be able to keep a handle on, then, as acting professionals, it is the wiser choice to leave it alone.
I think it was Uta Hagen—an acting coach who is very famous and respected, and whose theories I highly subscribe to as part of my toolbox for acting—I think one time she is purported to have said to a student who asked her, “What if I act so hard that I give myself a headache?” She replied, “Well, you’re acting too hard. Act so hard that you give yourself an aspirin.”
I think it’s important for everyone to have self-care activities, especially during turbulent times, but also, to remember to go back to this practice when things are going pretty well because it maintains your well-being. An actor is a human being, and I think that is good advice for all human beings.
How do you bring ideas to life?
I start with the text. There is something I studied called script analysis. There are books about it, if anyone is interested. I always go to the text first, especially since I have done a lot of original works and new works during the course of my career, but the technique works equally well for all plays. You just look for clues in the text and build from there. So, for me, I depend on script analysis, and then I kind of think from the outside in. I think about how the character would hold their body, hold themselves or move, if they would lead from, for instance, their head, like lean their head a little bit forward because they think so much, or maybe lead with their chest because they are heart centered, or maybe they have hunched shoulders because they’re always protecting themselves.
After script analysis, I think about body posture and movement and the motivation I infer from the text regarding how the character would present themselves physically. That usually informs how I would dress for an audition—while also portraying myself as a person who is friendly, that you would want to collaborate with, and as someone who is able to portray this character, but with only a hint of the character. So, I always ask myself a set of questions: Heels or no heels? Jeans or a skirt? How should I wear my hair? Glasses or no glasses? That kind of stuff helps me, too. And then I practice in those heels or in those cowboy boots or whatever, anything that’s a little bit different than what would be normal casual wear for me, and something that would be specific for that character presentation or character embodiment. Then, with all those considerations addressed, I’m able to ‘fill the space’ to use an acting term, and storytell with my body and my voice, using the words from the page, as well.
What’s one trend that excites you?
The entertainment industry is always on its toes, so that’s really exciting to me. But I think the most exciting stuff that is specifically happening right now is in the realms of inclusive casting, as well as creative positions, or expansive casting and expansive creative positions. The industry is being blown open to more perspectives, more history, more opinions, and more points of view, at present. That can only help tell stories more authentically and reach more people in the audience.
What is one habit of yours that makes you more productive as an entrepreneur?
Preparation. One of my mantras is to control everything I can control. You can’t control the cell phone going off in the audience. You can’t control the late seaters. You can’t control someone having a coughing fit. But you can control knowing your lines backwards and forwards, being prepared, having your prop ready, knowing what your next costume change is—just doing all the homework. Control the things you can control, and then you can handle any curve balls a lot better.
What advice would you give your younger self?
I was told something one time—it was a mantra at the Actors Theatre of Louisville, where I studied in the apprenticeship program. Unfortunately, it is no more, but it had a long legacy, a long history, and the leader of that program taught us the philosophy “I am enough.” For me, it meant telling myself to not compare myself to other people or judge myself too harshly. I am always looking to evolve, but not necessarily change or edit. Besides things like “Don’t go on that second date,” I’d probably tell my younger self that you are right on track and keep going.
Tell us something that’s true that almost nobody agrees with you on.
People will ask me, “Oh, what do you do for a living?” And I will reply, “I’m an actor.” After that, one thing they usually say is, “Have I seen you in anything?” And I will say, “Probably not unless your last name is Keely.” And the second thing they usually say is, “Well, what do you really do?” And another thing they say is, “Oh, so you are a liar. Actors are professional liars.”
I strongly believe that actors are actually truth-tellers. We’re not acting merely to pretend to be someone else. We’re actually taking our roles in at the deepest level and drawing from our own life experiences in order to tell the truth, or as I like to think of it, hold up a mirror to the audience. You hold up that mirror, and it allows or invites an audience member to experience a catharsis or release. It can also lead to an epiphany or enlightenment because the audience has to step outside of whatever situation they are experiencing in their life. It allows the space for someone else to go through it and illuminate them. A lot of people think actors are liars, and that the profession is itself a red flag, and that we’re all drama queens, but in fact, I firmly believe that we are the truth-tellers in society.
As an entrepreneur, what is the one thing you do over and over and recommend everyone else do?
I think this is good advice for everybody, but specifically for actors: Go and live an interesting life. Go explore. Go study something. Go do something interesting. I’ve only ever played an actress once. Every other time that I’ve been on stage, I’ve played people in professions that I didn’t study in college or that I don’t have any experience with. So, go ahead and make interesting choices. That way, you will have a lot to draw on, and also, you’ll be more interesting at a cocktail party. Nobody wants to hear you drop names and recite your resume. Go ahead and be interesting and be interested. There is always an opportunity to learn and expand your horizons.
What is one strategy that has helped you grow your business?
As an actress, growth comes from staying informed and participating in the entertainment industry, being aware of what colleagues are up to, knowing what potential trends are happening in the storytelling community, and trying new things. You don’t want to pass anybody in the industry. You don’t want to be better than them or leave them behind or beat them out at an audition. You want to rise together and always try to improve or enhance storytelling or truth-telling. I think being involved and being aware and celebrating the industry and colleagues has helped the industry grow as a whole, but it also helps with your involvement in the industry.
What is one failure you had as an entrepreneur, and how did you overcome it?
In the theater, there are more parts you don’t get than you do, so you fail a lot. What is it that Michael Jordan said? It was something like, you miss most of the shots you take, but you miss 100% of the shots you don’t take. There is also the baseball analogy that you strike out more than you hit the ball, but somehow you can still have a really good batting average. An across-the-board truism in acting is that failure means that there are more parts you don’t get than parts you do get. You can leave an audition and feel like you failed, but a healthier approach would be to leave an audition and resolve to learn from what you did, look closely at what you did, and what made it not so good. Maybe you didn’t spend enough time with preparation or maybe you weren’t feeling well that day. It might be something totally out of your control, like they weren’t feeling your performance. Learn from it, then let it go.
One of the things that I do is give myself twenty blocks after an audition, which is about a half an hour of walking. In New York City, that’s a fair distance, but if you’ve got some adrenaline racing around in your veins, you can cover it fast. I give myself twenty blocks to feel however I want to feel after an audition or a call back for an important meeting. For twenty blocks, I’ll walk and I’ll feel like I’m on top of the world or I’ll think about how great the audition went or that maybe I’ll get the call back and get the part. I’ll think things like, “Oh my gosh, that would mean I’d be travelling to this part of the country or working with this person.” So, I give myself those twenty blocks to feel really great about it and then let it go. You can’t just be checking your phone for responses all the time. Let it go. Or, on the other hand, I will also give myself twenty blocks to think, “How did I mess that up so bad? What happened? Why are they not going to pick me? I know I won’t get the call back. I can feel it.” So, I give myself that time to analyze what happened, to learn from it, but also to get it out of my system and then go on with the rest of my life and the next audition.
What is one business idea that you’re willing to give away to our readers?
The audition process is a really difficult one. I once had a British director audition me, and all we did at that audition was sit around a table and talk. That was really helpful. That’s an idea that I would like the industry to employ a little bit more. I think that would help to humanize the process. It would allow for a little more respect and a little more humanity on both sides of the table—less of the “You have two minutes! Next, next, next!” mentality. There have been a few instances where I was up for a role and had to go through several steps for it, and one of the steps was a dinner with some of the production and creative team. That was a really nice experience and it made me a lot calmer, more comfortable, and I was able to speak and express myself in a way that showed how I would actually be to work with.
What is the best $100 you recently spent? What and why?
I am a very frugal person. I think that comes with being an actress. I really haven’t splurged lately. I’ve just gotten some everyday things, but a splurge for me would probably come in the form of headshots or some type of really cool experience, like going to a museum or going to see a couple of movies. I wouldn’t go skydiving, but I did try soaring, which is when you fly with a motorless glider plane. You get pulled up with these air currents and released and you kind of ride the currents like a bird does, circling down and then coming back up again, and then landing. I spent some money doing that, which was really cool. If you can manage to do some interesting things, it’s always fun!
What is one piece of software or a web service that helps you be productive?
Honestly, probably just the internet, including Wikipedia, to do some research on the people I’ll be auditioning for, their past theater productions, and where they are in their careers. Also, looking at pictures of initial performances, casts, costumes, and just doing some general research. I don’t watch other people’s performances of roles I’m auditioning for because I like to bring my own thing in, but I will definitely do some research on the internet to understand historical events that I might need to brush up on, or just learn whatever’s relevant to the role. The internet is the tech resource that I use the most.
What is the one book that you recommend our community should read and why?
I recommend Respect For Acting by Uta Hagen. It is the biggest tool in my toolbox. I’ve pulled a lot of techniques from a lot of different studies and workshops, including Anne Bogart’s ‘Viewpoints’ theory, studying and working with the Suzuki method, and working with City Company. But Respect For Acting is probably the book that spoke to me the most. I still use it to this day for preparing and performing.
What is your favorite quote?
“Your journey has molded you for your greater good, and it was exactly what it needed to be. Don’t think that you’ve lost time. It took each and every situation you have encountered to bring you to the now, and now is right on time.” — Asha Tyson.
- Live an interesting life.
- Go explore.
- Control the things you can control.
- Learn from your successes and your mistakes.
Carlyn runs the day-to-day publishing operation here at ideamensch and interacts with our awesome customers and entrepreneurs. She is likely editing this with a cat on her lap.