The potter’s wheel spins with no master in the dusty clay studio. Tools languish in a plastic bucket, unused. The Starbucks barista asks “Where have you been?”
“Getting my horror on!” Eileen proudly responds.
“Uh, ok.” the barista replies, eyebrows raised, looking for some sugar to stock to avoid eye contact with the animated actor.
Eileen O’Donnell has been absent from her favorite spots for weeks, including her clay studio. As actors know, a film project is not your typical 9 – 5. It is an all-consuming experience where you must exit your life via a black hole, and into the project at hand. Eileen has been exploring her inner Hitchcock with the Blue Light web series.
Blue Light is the story of Mildred, a 1950’s housewife, who comes home to find people from the future talking to her through her television. One reviewer thus far has called the series “an excursion into Hitchcockian horror.” Eileen plays Mildred.
With this being an independent film, (translating as extremely limited resources), Eileen was also responsible for the duties as the Cinematographer, Production Designer, Wardrobe, craft services, and anything else her writer/ director husband was too busy to do.
Although Eileen knows her way around a film set, and is more than comfortable there, this was a particularly fun, yet terrifying experience. Her comfort comes from her typical position, nestled behind the camera. For Blue Light, Eileen had to take an acting class to get her skills up to speed. The acting class alone was enough to shake loose the inner demons. Eileen says that she already experiences a serious case of the jitters while presenting a sculpture at an exhibition, but that this is nothing compared to having to inhabit a character. As Mildred is in the middle of an emotional and mental collapse, she had to practice “breaking down” on a regular basis. Her practice began with having to stand up in front of the class and scream to the top of her lungs at an ashtray.
“You’re a stupid ashtray!” she screamed. Hoping the instructor was satisfied, she quickly passed the ashtray to the next student. The next student shook the ashtray violently and bellowed “YOU SUCK!”
Each student took turns emitting what Eileen describes as soul rending, ear shattering screams from the depths of hell- all at this little ashtray. Afterwards, the students smiled and chuckled while Eileen stood perplexed.
“How does yelling at an ashtray prepare an actor for portraying a character?” Eileen wondered.
One of her fellow students came up to her and put a hand on her shoulder after class.
“Don’t worry,” the student said, “It’s all part of the process.”
Eileen froze. How much had she revealed about herself in class, that she needed to be comforted?
“Process of what?” she asked.
The student responded, “Of becoming less self-conscious. So you can be the person you’re trying to be, you know, without worrying about what you think…or, like, what other people think.”
Eileen looked at her incredulously.
“It’s all about being truthful, you know?”
At the next class, it became clear. Yelling at the ashtray was just one of a number of public solitude exercises the class participated in to rid themselves of self-consciousness. Eileen realized that she couldn’t accurately portray Mildred, a woman unraveling to the brink of insanity, if she was too frightened to scream at an ashtray.
On the set of Blue Light, Eileen was ready to cast all of her doubts and insecurities away. When it was time for her to have her emotional breakdown in front of the rest of the cast and crew, instead of being suffocated by self-consciousness, the emotions oozed.
You can watch Eileen (and her emotions) in Blue Light, currently available to be viewed on Youtube.
Written by Eileen O’Donnell