Sarah Jane Marek ’04, M’07 didn’t want to sit around waiting for her big break.
The aspiring New York City actress harnessed the humor of going to low-budget basement auditions, attending bizarre and eccentric acting classes, and meeting a cast of slightly crazy characters into a successful web video series titled, “Off Awful.”
After completing a season of shows, garnering some awards, and making plans to move the series to Los Angeles, she returned to Winona April 11-12 to impart her wisdom and lead a workshop with Saint Mary’s theatre students, titled “Web Series 101.”
As part of the workshop, participating theatre students read the textbook “Byte-Sized: Create Your Own TV Series for the Internet” by Ross Brown. Marek, once a theatre student at Saint Mary’s herself, reviewed the basics of what it takes to make a web series from concept to creation. Students were asked to come up with a pitch for a web series topic, and the winning concept was fleshed out in class.
“The best way to learn is hands-on,” Marek said. “I wanted the workshop to be really interactive.” Marek also arranged for Brown and other web series creators to Skype with students.
Her key advice: “Whether you want to be an actor or a journalist or in the business world today, you have to chase it. Things aren’t going to fall in your lap. You have to make your own opportunities, and that’s a huge reason why we made the web series.”
Marek, who continues to divide her time between Naples, Fla., and New York, had been doing some off-off-Broadway plays, doing improv at the Upright Citizens Brigade, going to auditions, and taking acting classes, when she found herself in some surreal situations.
“I began encountering odd characters and people, things that made me sit back and say, ‘Is this really happening? Do these people exist in real life?’ I met a girl in my first acting class in New York; we were in this awful class together. We said, ‘Let’s write a web series about this stuff.’ The whole web series concept was not as explosive then as it is now.”
Quickly growing in popularity and scope, web series are vastly different but no less valuable than the communication vehicle used by her father, fellow alum Patrick Marek ’79, publisher of the Winona Post newspaper.
After some starts and stops, and a lot of learning on the job, Sarah Jane Marek said “Off Awful” picked up momentum in 2013 with a director and an official budget. Throughout the process, Marek has served as producer, actress, and co-writer.
“We took our common experiences—loosely based on some of the things we experienced or our friends experienced—and decided to show what being a beginning actor in New York looks like,” she said.
“Off Awful” was part of the LA Web Festival 2014 and took home two acting awards. This past fall the series was one of 154 web series accepted into the Miami Web Festival, where “Off Awful” was one of five web series nominated for best comedy. Additionally, one of the actors was nominated for best supporting actress, and the series took home an award for best director.
These successes have opened additional doors and opportunities for Marek and garnered more attention for the series, which will relocate to L.A. for next season, and will begin depicting the experiences of new actors.
“Have we arrived? No, I’m still not making any money from this,” Marek says with a laugh. “But it was a launching pad and we have next-level opportunities because of it.”
To learn more about “Off-Awful” visit www.offawful.com or follow “Off-Awful” on Twitter at the handle @offawful.