Clintonian living her dream stars in independent film up for award

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CLINTON — Growing up watching the series “Grey’s Anatomy” may have inspired Erika Rose (Shankman), as a young girl, to want to become a doctor, but she’d later discover that she was more meant to play one on TV.

Known professionally as Erika Rose today, the actress/writer/producer has co-starred in the film, “White Ink” — a short movie that was recently nominated for consideration at the Moonfaze Film Festival in Los Angeles, Calif.

The female directed and produced film, set in Mexico, tells the story of Lou and Sophie, life-long friends who embark on their annual camping trip. But what normally is all fun and games takes a turn... now they must face each other and their “truths” out in the wild.

A 2010 graduate of Clinton Central School, Erika Rose said she owes her artistic passions to her school days and the teachers who encouraged her to pursue her dreams. She will soon begin work on the film, “The Binge,” at the Liverpool-based Syracuse Studios, which was formerly Liverpool Middle School.

Syracuse Studios, home of film production company American High, boasts more than 20,000 square feet of custom-built production offices designed to serve the unique needs of film and television productions. Its Academy hosts trainings for film professionals. In addition, local students don’t have to move to Los Angeles or New York City to work in the film industry, they can build their careers right in Onondaga County.

Erika Rose explained that New York state offers what is known as a base line 30 percent Film Production Credit for qualified production costs in the state and a 35 percent Post-Production tax credit for companies outside the Metropolitan Commuter Transportation District. According to the Syracuse Studios website, companies spending $500,000 or more on production and post-production in qualified areas including Syracuse, the state grants an additional 10 percent tax credit on qualified labor expenses, making Syracuse the leader in overall tax incentives in the U.S. The filmmaker said Syracuse has been looking a little more like Hollywood, and the incentive has helped brought the industry into central New York.

Erika also worked as a personal assistant to the female lead — British actress Rebecca Hall — on “The Night House” at the Syracuse site, which just finished production.

The Clinton native would first be bitten by the acting bug at age 8, when her mother — now “Momager” — Julie Shankman, decided she needed to find some activities to keep her very energetic daughter busy.

“I’ve always been very energetic, and my mom wanted me to do a bunch of activities,” Erika recalled. “She saw an announcement for a production at HPYT (Hartford Players Youth Theater in New Hartford).”

“They said, ‘We need a girl who can scream,’ so I went to audition, and I nailed it,” she laughed.

With that Erika delved into the world of musical theater, which she was deeply involved in even through high school at Clinton Performing Arts Center.

“It’s sad that so many schools (districts) are trying to shut down their arts and performing arts departments,” Erika said. “I will always be grateful for the opportunities and experience I developed” as a student, “and I appreciate where I’ve gone from there.”

A gifted student, Erika would be accepted to and attend Cornell University where she would begin her studies to eventually get into a pre-med program and become a physician.

“Here I wanted to be a doctor from watching ‘Grey’s Anatomy,’” she joked. “But it would turn out I hated blood and vomit.”

A bout with mono (mononucleosis), however, would veer her off her intended course. She would go to New York to make up for 16 elective credits she had missed during her illness, over at New York University. Still having a passion for what was once considered an extra-curricular activity, Erika said she figured while being in the Big Apple she could “finally get the acting bug out of me.”

Erika would graduate from Cornell, but when she thought she’d be starting the process of applying for pre-med schools, she actually enrolled in performing arts studies through NYU’s Tisch drama program and its Stonestreet Studios. Stonestreet Studios is an advanced training studio, available to Tisch Drama students after they complete two years of primary training. Stonestreet is the only studio partner of Tisch Drama that is dedicated exclusively to training actors for screen acting and learning how to build their own creative life by understanding filmmaking, production and producing.

It would be Ted Sluberski, owner and operator of Ted Sluberski Studios as well as acting and audition coach, who would influence Erika to continue with her acting and consider it as a career.

“I had an audition class with him, and he’s the reason why I continued on,” she said, explaining that she was trained to do both in-person (on stage) auditions as well as taped auditions. “Right on the first day of class I said (to him), ‘What do you think? Can I be an actress?’ And he told me I had good energy, ‘but let’s see where it goes.’”

The rest is pretty much history. Erika would begin writing her own material, and performing and producing, basically learning the industry as she went along. At least that came after she left New York and moved to Los Angeles.

“I view my (personal) journey as being like a ladder,” the artist explained. “Every time I create a new project I start at 0 and then maybe I’ll put my goals up on the second step, or ring. Maybe I won’t make it to the second, and only make it as far as the first, but then now I’ll know what it takes to make it that far.”

In this industry, “I’m continuously learning new things,” she continued. “I don’t think I’ve really made mistakes — maybe bad judgements — but I always stick to my gut, which is a more valuable way for things to happen. And I make sure I remain open-minded and flexible.”

At the end of her drama studies at Tisch, Erika said she made an audition tape as one of her final class assignments with Sluberski. Even then, the actress said she needed a little more validation in making sure she was following the correct life path.

“In my class with Ted, I turned in my tape and he asked, ‘So how do you think it was?,’ and I still was a bit green,” Erika recalled. “I felt some things could be fixed or could have been done better. Then he told me, ‘Well, if you sent that tape in, you could be among the top 4-5 people for that role.’”

“When someone like that” with Sluberski’s experience, notoriety and ability, “validated her ability and she decided to go farther, I said, ‘Here we go!,’” her mother Julie said proudly.

“That is the moment I said, ‘It is real — it’s possible and it’s enough,” Erika added. “It was time to move on to the next level.”

Erika admitted she was a bit unique compared to her Cornell classmates who were going on to pursue careers in medicine and investment banking when she confessed she’d be moving to L.A. to become an actress.

After moving to L.A., Erika put all her energy into perfecting her craft with additional training. In addition to her studies, she was also working as a nanny and at the Laugh Factory comedy club in Hollywood. At the club, Erika said she started out as a hostess and eventually moved up the ladder to a management position, where she got to meet and work with such famous comedians as Bob Saget and Tim Allen. And if that weren’t enough, Erika Rose begin writing and producing her own web series, “The Linda Show LA.” She also worked at a casting studio and for comedian Erik Griffin.

In the meantime, the ambitious young artist started her very own non-profit theater company, Polymath Theatre Company, describing life in L.A. as being like you’re “running on a hamster wheel.” She would put on productions where 30 percent of the proceeds would be donated to UNICEF.

But it would be following a production where Erika said her life “hit a brick wall.” The box office that handled the tickets sales for one of her theater’s shows didn’t give her the money that was made through the production. She ended up having to pay her director, lighting crew and the rest of her stage hands out-of-pocket, which was a huge financial hit. Besides that and some other personal struggles, one of her good friends also committed suicide.

“A bunch of bad things” were going on “and it happened all in the same morning — everything just hit me all at once,” said Erika, who admitted that the fast-paced life of the entertainment business in L.A. contributed to her “burn out” as well. Someone who has struggled with depression and anxiety throughout her life, the 27-year-old said she needed loving support and to connect with her core, so it was time to travel back home.

During time with her mom, reconnecting with her roots, “I was basically taking tiny steps toward enjoying life again,” Erika Rose said. “When I wanted to just sit on the couch, my mom made sure I’d get out and take a walk with her and the dogs.”

To tackle her depression, Erika said she attended a support group to work on Dialectical Behavior Therapy skills, which focuses on learning mindfulness, interpersonal effectiveness and emotional regulations. In essence, Erika was allowing herself to experience all those emotions that made her feel overwhelmed during this difficult time, and to work through and express herself in ways that allowed her to healthily deal with them. Today, Erika said she’s a strong advocate for mental health and works to find ways she can support awareness efforts through her art.

About two days after arriving home, a friend “in passing” informed her about Syracuse Studios, and Erika said she made the drive up. She literally walked through the door and said, “Here I am, give me a job,” but who she thought was the studio manager turned out to be the groundskeeper. So maybe it wasn’t immediate, but that groundskeeper did give Erika the contact information for co-owner Will Phelps. They eventually had a meeting “and it went really well,” she said.

On Wednesday (Sept. 11), Erika Rose will now begin work filming “The Binge.” She even helped run the casting call at the studio.

“When I saw people after they read, even if they weren’t right for the part, I would tell them, ‘I want you to know, that I understand this is your dream and if you really want this, then you should follow it, and you should keep training,’” she said. “Personally, I’ve come so far from the first place I started. I’ve grown a lot from my professional and life experiences. I’ve worked 4-5 years now training really hard, and all the time I’m practicing the skills I’ve learned to become a master of my art and craft.”

Life may have just gotten a little more hectic again, with Erika admitting she recently had to get ready, with her dog, in the L.A. airport restroom for her audition in Syracuse — traveling 12 hours before having to drive to the studio.

It was just a little more than a year ago when another friend reached out that she had trained with — “White Ink” co-star Shelly Ro — who informed Erika she had written a script for a short movie that she’d be “perfect for.”

“White Ink” explores issues of love, female friendships, identity, sexuality and most importantly following one’s truth no matter what awaits on the other side.

According to www.whiteinkmovie.com, Ro said, “I am committed to gender equity and inclusion in the workplace through the 50-50X2020 initiative; we were lucky to have a team of female producers, a female writer (76 percent of writers are male), a Latina female director (96 percent of film directors are male/87 percent are white), and an inclusive and diverse cast and crew. Over 80 percent of our cast is female, since it is a story written by women for women.”

Ro continued, “We were fortunate enough to shoot the film in Baja Calif., Mexico — my hometown — with crew from both countries. Our sets come together across borders, where half the time you’d hear Spanish and then English. I am proud that this was fully embraced by everyone involved and as a result something short of magic was added to the experience behind and in front of the camera.”

Erika Rose said it was an honor working with her friend, who is “just as passionate about feminism and equality issues as I am about mental health. The shooting was intense and we were outside, always on the move.”

The actress/writer/producer plans to continue flying back-and-forth between homes in L.A. and Oneida County, where she will continue living out her dreams and greatest passions. Although she left a note on a cafe table for Natalie Portman once, admiring the actress’ work, with a reply that was never returned, Erika Rose said she vows to keep the promise written in that note: “I hope to work with you one day.”

In the meantime, Erika Rose hopes to touch others with her art and to help spread the word about mental health awareness.

“The most amazing feeling as an artist is when you can connect with someone else and they are able to take something away” from what you’re giving, she said. “That’s what it’s all about.”

To keep up with Erika Rose’s acting, professional endeavors and mental health awareness, her Instagram handle is @heyerikarose.

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