Friday, May 15, 2020

Females in Entertainment Interview: NYC Actress/Director Shara Ashley Zeiger Talks about Getting Started in the Big Apple, Keeping it Going and her #MeToo Moments

Shara Ashley Zeiger
Back in the day, pre-COVID, I would spend an afternoon every so often meeting with young women in the business that I've never met in person. Shara was on of the go-getters that I sat with at a busy midtown coffee shop to talk "shop." Shara is well-entrenched in the NYC acting community. Her seven shorts have circulated on the film festival circuit, she has another in post, she's acted in several hit TV shows and she's got a script looking for production. Shara survives and thrives with a circle of creative people to constantly keep her on her toes. Right now, she's part of "The Homemade Sketch Show" which can be seen on Youtube, but she's also got so much more going on.

Suzee: You are like on creative overload! Let's talk about your latest project first. Tell me about the virtual reading you had. How greatly have you been affected by this crisis?

Shara Ashley Zeiger: The crisis has been interesting. I have asthma and it's newish and I never thought it really put me in danger, but it puts me in the immune-compromised category, and navigating that and living in Queens has been quite a doozy. It's taken a lot of planning but I find delving into my creative projects to be a wonderful distraction.  I'm currently working on a few projects. 

I'm in post for my short film IMustacheYou, a silent physical comedy, and I'm in the script phase of a thriller feature called "The Red Lotus" based on my short film of the same name, and a half hour comedy pilot for a show called "Oy...A New Comedy Series." I just had a reading for my thriller and will be scheduling a reading of my pilot soon. 

Suzee: What inspired you to write it?

Shara Ashley Zeiger: The Red Lotus is the bigger story of the short. It's largely inspired by the aftermath of the 2016 election, and everything going on with women's reproductive rights. I personally had an ectopic a year ago, and the abortion story has become somewhat part of my own narrative to save my life at the time. The bigger story of Lotus is juicy and I hope to find the producing partners to help me tell it one day.  Oy...A New Comedy Series is largely inspired by secular American Jewish life, Jewish Organizations, growing up very involved with the culture of it, and showing that world in all it's schtick and chutzpah from a very authentic personal place. I hope to get as many Jews involved in front of and behind the camera as well as on the producing end in a way I'm not really seeing being done often with Jewish content in Hollywood. 

Suzee: Tell me about some of the shows you've been on lately, you've been on some really popular ones! How did you get on? What was the experience like? Do you have any interesting stories from onset?

Shara Ashley Zeiger: I work on a lot of indie stuff, but from time to time I get to work on a TV show on a network. Some that people have heard of include The Last OG, Bull, and most recently The Plot Against America. It's always a wonderful experience to be on set in general, and getting to work at that level is such a treat. The budgets are there so the worlds are fully realized, the professionalism is there, and it's a glimpse of the dream of working that way all the time.

Getting cast on TV has come from a combination of my representation submitting me, but also building relationships with casting directors for years and "booking the room" over and over that they trust me and bring me back in. I've never booked a major job that it was the first time in their office. It's always trust that has built over time. A lot of people get submitted to that stuff, so getting auditions alone is a triumph, and then getting to play sometimes on set is just the cherry. Every set is different and a different story, and they are all very special. 

Suzee: You act, write, do voice overs, make films. What is it that you like doing the best?

Shara Ashley Zeiger: I'm an actor first. That's my roots and most of the other things I do are in service of that and then telling the stories I want to put out in the world. I love balancing acting in other people's projects and then spearheading my own. It puts me in community with filmmakers and I can actually contribute to a conversation beyond "hire me!" It makes me feel like a contributor to the content landscape and more of an artist that way. 

The first thing I ever produced when I became fiscally sponsored and started The Platform Group was a co-production with Rosalind Productions of a sold-out production of "Savage in Limbo" by John Patrick Shanley. I played Linda also. We even moved it Off-Broadway and it sold out there too. It was a magical experience, way before it was ever "kosher" to self-produce anything and it taught me a lot. Since then I've done a staged reading series, written and produced my own play for the stage (my critically acclaimed Off Off Broadway production of "Roughly Speaking"), and many short films I've written (Faustess, The Red Lotus, JOE, Secret Feminism, etc.) The past two shorts I've also directed and that has been a fun hat to add to the juggle. 

Suzee: For all of us out there trying to juggle different projects, and make our ideas come to fruition, what is your key to prioritizing? What is your day like?

Shara Ashley Zeiger: Every day is different and that makes life exciting and fun and keeps me from ever getting bored. I'm very conscience about what hats I think I can juggle and what I defer to other people. With my feature, I really want to find a producer who has done that and lets me have a seat at the table, because I haven't and would rather work with some really good at that.

I am in awe of people who have technical abilities. That stuff is never my forte. When it comes to wearing multiple hats on the same project I think it's really important to be diligent and purposeful when building your team, and then in the thick of it, trust them to do their job. If I'm not the director, I can have all the writer/producer conversations before we get to set, and I'm big on getting my paperwork out of the way up front, then it's important to take those hats off and just be an actor, and trust my team. 

When I'd produce theatre I'd get there early to have meetings and then at half hour I turn my show over to my stage manager and house manager. I have to.  With IMustacheYou being the actor, writer, producer and director it was important to go on very detailed location scouts with my cinematographer before we shot. We did all sorts of pictures and little videos that became our storyboard that when it came to stepping into a shot, I knew he knew what I wanted in the frame, because we had already talked about it. Preparation makes it easier to play. 

Suzee: Tell me about Joe and what that experience has been like.

Shara Ashley Zeiger: JOE has been the most beautiful journey. I created it in a place where I really needed joy in my life and that collaboration was all of that. My team was incredible, every single one of them and the fun we had is palpable on the screen. It's kind of insane to think back to shooting a twenty minute project in only two days, and it's good! We screened at 25 film festivals around the world, won a bunch of awards and it's going to be available to rent or buy on Amazon! (So please watch it and give us a nice review!) It's such a warm hug of a film and I'm really thrilled to be able to bring that to people right now, because I think the world really needs it. 

Suzee: Is this what you always wanted to do? What advice would you have a young girl trying to make it in showbiz?

Shara Ashley Zeiger: I've always acted and created from a very young age. My first shows were in camp and then my elementary school did plays and musicals. Growing up I was really into fine art as well and for a long time I wanted to be an animator for Disney. It was always about creating characters though and one day in high school the hobby and career took a flip flop and now I'm a performer and visual arts are the hobby. I am always creating characters though, so I guess in someway it is still the same.

My advice to young girls is have fun. Train and learn the craft yes, but fill your life with varied experiences, because those experiences will be your tool box you'll have to draw on, and an actor's toolbox is everything. 

Suzee: Have you experienced any #meToo moments? What are your thoughts on this? Do you think change will come?

Shara Ashley Zeiger:I've had some really uncomfortable moments and inappropriate moments pushed on me as an actor. One that sticks out was when I was non-union working on a show with union actors and there was nothing the union could do for me calling the behavior out. I was being abused on stage and I had no one in my corner to do anything.

I'm so glad the times have changed. Intimacy coaches and directors are a godsend we never really had before. I think a lot of it is out in the open and I think people aren't getting away with as much as they used to, but we still have a long way to go. It's hard.  We are a crazily over saturated industry and everyone wants to be successful. It lets predatory behavior slide on the #metoo front and other fronts as well.  Gatekeepers and charlatan gatekeepers impose a lot of power on a lot of people, and that breeds some really ugly things. 

Top Five Movies

Almost Famous 
Wlly Wonka and the Chocolate Factory (The Gene Wilder one!)
A League of Their Own 
Troop Beverly Hills
Shawshank Redemption 

Top Five Shows to Binge on

Schitt's Creek
Castle Rock (2nd season) 
Westworld (I'm so late to the game) 
Working Moms 

Favorite Restaurants in NYC

Momofuku Noodle Bar
Alice's Teacup 

Favorite places to create/write in NYC:

The Ace Hotel Lobby
Sheep's Meadow in Central Park
Renaissance Tea House
Irving Farm
Social Media: 
@SharaAshleyZ (Twitter, Instagram, TikTok)
@PlatformGroup (Twitter, Instagram)