Jessica Blank: Taking the Reins – Taking Charge of Your Career and Creativity

As actors, we’re trained to fully inhabit other people’s visions: the playwright, the director, the screenwriter, the producers. When it happens, this is a beautiful process—but when it doesn’t, it can leave us feeling disempowered and waiting: for someone to give us a job, “discover” our talent and skill, hand us an opportunity.  Too often, actors feel we have no control over the course our creative work takes in the world.

But it doesn’t have to be this way.  We each have the power to create our own opportunities and make stuff happen—to get out of the “passive actor” mind-frame and take an active role in channeling and manifesting our own creative energy.  This is not an ephemeral process—it is a concrete, practical skill set that can be learned.

Whether you want to write a solo show, start a theater company, write and produce an independent film, create a play, direct, make a webseries, write a pilot—you can do it. You just need the tools, the mindset—and a plan.  I’ve done all of the above—while remaining a working actor in other people’s projects as well—and I can help show you how to identify your ideal project, break it down into simple, manageable steps, create an action plan—and make your creative work manifest in the world.


On Saturday, we will work together to identify each student’s goals, ideas, and possible projects. YOU DO NOT NEED TO HAVE A FULLY FORMED IDEA TO COME TO THE WORKSHOP.  You need to have the germ of an idea ONLY.  I will work with you individually to discover the subject matter and form that make the most sense for you, whether it’s writing a solo show, play, or screenplay; creating a webseries; producing a showcase for yourself as an actor; or directing or producing an independent film.  Together, we will identify, elucidate, and hone your vision, and you will learn how to turn a vague inspiration into a fully formed idea.

Trained actors know how to break down and analyze a story, but not necessarily how to build one from the ground up.  From your work as an actor, though, you already have many of the tools required, without knowing that you have them! It’s just a matter of learning a new vantage point.  I can teach you how to view storytelling from a different angle—and master the “rules” for telling a good story.  From my work in multiple storytelling mediums, I’ve learned that the same set of narrative principles applies (with some specific variations) across mediums. We’ll talk about what these principles are: the basic building blocks of storytelling that apply to theater, film, television, and fiction; and we’ll talk about how YOU can learn and make use of them.

You will leave the first day of the workshop with a fully fleshed-out idea, new insight into the guiding principles of storytelling—as well as how they operate in different narrative mediums– and a practical understanding of how those principles can manifest in your project.

The second day of the workshop is all about making your vision real: finding and building collaborative relationships; identifying the resources you have at your fingertips; figuring out how you create and what your ideal methodology is; and getting past common blocks (procrastination, follow-through issues, disorganization, nervousness about working in new mediums, the “I have no time” syndrome, and all the rest).  We will create a creative action plan, breaking down your project into concrete, do-able steps, troubleshooting in advance and identifying potential solutions and possibilities for each step of the way. We will also discuss the process of putting your work out in the world, and how the “business” part of the process works in the film, television and theater industries.

You will finish the weekend with a fully formed idea, brand-new storytelling skills, a clear starting point, a creative action plan tailored to fit your project and the way YOU work–and the invigoration and sense of empowerment that come from taking the reins of your own creative process.


Jessica Blank is an actor, writer, director and producer. With her husband Erik Jensen, she is author of THE EXONERATED, a play based on interviews they conducted with over 40 wrongfully convicted death row inmates across the United States. THE EXONERATED won Lucille Lortel, Outer Critics Circle, Drama Desk, Ovation, Fringe First and Herald Angel Awards; it has also received awards from Amnesty International, the American Bar Association, the National Association of Criminal Defense Lawyers, Death Penalty Focus, and Court TV, and was listed by the New York Times as “the number 1 play of the year.”  It was made into an award-winning movie adapted by Jessica and Erik, starring Susan Sarandon, Danny Glover, Brian Dennehy, Aidan Quinn and Delroy Lindo.  Their documentary play AFTERMATH, directed by Jessica, opened New York Theater Workshop’s 2009-10 Off-Broadway season to rave reviews, was a New York Times Critics’ Pick, toured internationally for two years and was nominated for two Drama League Awards.  Their new play, HOW TO BE A ROCK CRITIC (based on the writings of Lester Bangs), under commission at CTG, was workshopped at the Public Theater and the La Jolla Playhouse and recently completed a sold-out run at the Kirk Douglas Theater and South Coast Rep, with Erik starring and Jessica directing.

Jessica and Erik are currently writing the pilot THE NEGOTIATOR for Gaumont TV (exec producer Tom Fontana); they have developed for television with Fox TV Studios, 20th Century TV, Avenue Pictures, Sunswept Entertainment, Virgin Produced, and Radical Media.  They currently have a feature in development with Cary Brokaw/Avenue Pictures. Jessica’s first novel, Almost Home, (Hyperion, 2007) was optioned for feature film with Jessica and Erik adapting and co-directing; the film is slated for production in 2016. Her second novel, Karma for Beginners (Hyperion, 2009) is in development for feature film and her third novel is forthcoming from Penguin in 2016.  LIBERTY CITY, a solo play co-written by Jessica and April Yvette Thompson, was produced Off-Broadway by New York Theater Workshop in 2008 (with Jessica directing), has toured to Miami and elsewhere, and was nominated for Lucille Lortel, Drama Desk, and Outer Critics Circle awards.

As an actor, Jessica appeared regularly as the lead’s loudmouthed big sister in CBS’ MADE IN JERSEY.  Additional TV credits include the pilot of HIGH MAINTENANCE for HBO, BLUE BLOODS, ELEMENTARY, THE FOLLOWING, THE MENTALIST, BORED TO DEATH, RESCUE ME, LAW AND ORDER: CI, THE BRONX IS BURNING, and several more. Film acting credits include THE NAMESAKE (dir. Mira Nair), YOU’RE NOBODY TILL SOMEBODY KILLS YOU  (prod. Spike Lee), THE EXONERATED, and several indies including CREATIVE CONTROL (Grand Jury Prize, SXSW 2015) and ON THE ROAD WITH JUDAS (Sundance).  She has acted in theaters throughout New York City and has five new films coming out in 2015-16, including #HORROR with Timothy Hutton and Chloe Sevigny.

Jessica is a graduate of the William Esper Studio.