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Ruth Golden

Talking About Suicide Loss With Louisa Rocque

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The ripple effect of every suicide reaches far and wide.  A factoid I’ve used in prevention presentations says that for every death over 100 people are affects.  Along with the family, friends, teachers, business partners, hairdressers, neighbors – no one who knows someone who died by suicide is left untouched by it, yet are forgotten in the story of the death.

While my mother’s suicide made me understand how it can affect a family, I’m fascinated by the deep impact it can have on others, specifically their friends and peers.  Louisa Roque lost her friend just before heading off to college, which later in life it led her to become the Area Director of the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention’s Los Angeles and Central Coast Chapter, for which I volunteer.

She is this month’s guest on Talking About Suicide With, in honor or Mental Health Awareness month.  Even with 3-year-old twins, Louisa’s passion for the subject and her work has been expanding the chapter and it’s reach to great effect, working to save lives daily.

Her background is as a non-profit leadership expert, TEDx speaker, public speaker, and trainer who delivers high-energy presentations that challenge audiences to leverage their focus and pay attention to what matters most in life. 

She is skilled in fundraising, relationship management, curriculum assessment and development, staff development, target marketing, and organizational development. Her work touches audiences from every walk of life, and they love the practical strategies they can apply personally and professionally. 

Louisa earned her MPA from California State University Northridge and is currently the Area Director for Greater Los Angeles & Central Coast for The American Foundation for Suicide Prevention. Her strong background in learning, development, and extensive experience in managing teams and volunteers makes her the perfect fit for any audience. 

When not speaking, or fighting for suicide prevention and mental health advocacy, Louisa can be found hiking or spending time outdoors with her husband and sons.

April Showers Bring More Than May Flowers

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One year ago on April 2, I lost one of the big loves of my life – my car when it was killed by a red-light runner.  It was a 2000 Toyota Rav 4 with over 200k miles that had become part of my identity and my life for over 20 solid years.  It was also that day that I learned a huge lesson in generosity, friendship and fatherly love when my friend “Brigid” (identity covered for modesty) and my father collaborated to gift me with a brand new Nissan Kicks on April 7.  The full story is in the blog I wrote when it happened.

The incident also taught me about letting go, moving on and focusing on what is right in my life.  When I sat in the car to take the test drive it had 3 miles on the odometer, now it has 5139.  I have fallen in love with it but am still slowly getting adjusted to the 20 year jump to the future in car technology.  It has been to the mountains and it has been to the beach.  Need to get it out to the desert for the full trifecta of “Los Angeles is great because you can get mountains, beach and desert!.”

Like the miles, my life has slowly progressed in the year since.  I have a full script for my documentary and am deep into the rough cut of the story with the intent of have a full film by the end of July. My house/petsitting business is fabulous and I have great, steady clients and a group of new ones that are keeping me housed in style while fully giving and receiving love to and from all the animals – cats included.  I have even quashed my reptile phobia enough to share a room with and keep the water dish full for a small, elegant snake.  I fed it today.  A frozen mouse.  That was traumatizing, but I did it.  So I’ve grown up just a bit.

My friendship with Brigid has held strong and she has never held it over my head in any way or made things awkward – speaking about it is joyful for both of us.  I do understand the joy of giving, as that’s my jam, but it’s constantly a newish feeling to be the recipient such a huge gesture as the car.  We plan to take a ride to celebrate on the 7th, the day I actually got the Kicks.

Learning how worried people were about me driving around in my Rav, with it being so old, was very touching and since my father seemed thrilled to have the opportunity to get me in something safe, my appreciation is on the tangible and the emotional level with him.

It’s interesting to look back on the even a year later and think about where the car has taken me and what it has allowed me to do.  When I was considering the offer, Brigid said “it’s for what comes next.”  Once my doc is done I know change will come and I am ever so curious to find out where that wonderful little car and I will go!

Happy Birthday?

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Many of life’s milestones bring up grief for those who have passed on.  After losing my mom at 19, the two that always hit hardest for me are the anniversary of her death, January 15, and her birthday on March 15.  The anniversary brings up memories of how much I miss her as a person and having a mother in my life.  Her birthday, however, makes me think about all that she has missed.

She died at age 47 – before my sister graduated college and became a nurse; before I found a career in television that I liked and was successful in, and before my dad retired and began traveling, something she’d always dreamed of doing.  There is no imagining what “back to normal” would have been like for her, our family, or me had she not killed herself or been able to beat the cancer she’d been fighting.

To me, she has never aged past 47, yet I still see her as the “adult,” even though I now am, and look, older than she got a chance to be. For yet-to-be-discovered psychological reasons,  I don’t keep track and rarely think about the age she’d be had she not died and have to do the math to first figure out when she was born by subtracting her age from date of death to get the year she was born then subtracting that from the current year.  And this year’s answer is 85!

When I figured that out, I said to myself “wow, I can’t picture that,” which immediately made me think, “I bet there’s an app for that.”  My next thought was “I’m not sure I want to see that.”  I decided to confer with my father and sister to see if they would be interested in seeing such a thing.  They were, so I gave it a try.

I’m sorry I did.  Not because it was freaky to see her looking old, but because it looked like someone scribbled lines over her face and added fat to the lower portion of her cheeks.  I did one with my dad’s face too, using a photo from around the time of her death and they appear to have used the same template.  I’m not going to name and shame because it was a quick experiment, but it is an image I will not keep or think about again.

Luckily, working on The Silent Goldens Documentary allows me to constantly go through family photos from when we were all young, healthy, and relatively happy.  Thanks Mom for giving me a good life and grateful for the good times we did have. Happy Birthday!

Looking Ahead in 2022

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When I started developing the idea for The Silent Goldens, I was told it takes an average of 7-10 years to complete an independent documentary. I didn’t believe mine would as I knew the story, had access to all the people and had worked on productions with many more moving parts in months. I am humbled to say I was wrong. I am now about six years from conceiving the idea and a little over five from when I launched my website and began production. Now I am proud to announce I have completed a working script! There is still much work to be done in editing it down, making it look and sound nice etc, but I am committed to the construct and have my co-producer Jamie Smith and director Jon Bendis focused on it as well in our push to finish the doc this Spring.

As an observer of the process to get to this point, I can see the personal, environmental and mostly financial issues that have eaten away at the time with the main one being “alone is not the way to get things done.” A lesson I am determined to keep learning over and over it seems. I have made great strides in many areas, but have realized I really need – and want – a partner-in-crime (or a few) to get me to the finish line, especially being so close to the subject matter and am activating those resources.

It was in 2016, when I floated the idea of breaking my family’s decades-long silence and filming it for a documentary while attending the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention’s first Long-Term Survivor’s Summit. I got incredibly positive feedback, which gave me the confidence to move forward with the idea. I always thought it would be a fantastically full-circle thing to premiere it at the yet-to-be-scheduled next one. That was announced for 2020 and then cancelled by COVID. Same for 2021. When word came out that it would be a go for 2022, I made that my goal to have a finished cut to premiere sections as part of a workshop I’m presenting to the audience who inspired the project.

The registration information for the Summit just came out, so if you are interested in attending, all the info is here.

In other news, later this month, I’ll be part of a interview and photo profile series on creativity and mental health that is part of the A Light In Dark Places non-profit, which also produces the play series I work with at Stella Adler Acting School in Septembers during Suicide Prevention Month. It involves a session with a professional photographer, so that’s exciting and I will share when it comes out.

I’m feeling in the groove, or groovy if you prefer, and very much look forward to seeing how The Silent Goldens finally turns out!

A Belated New Years + A Lesson in Love

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George and I rang in 2022 together.

At 6:30 am on New Year’s Day, I left my cat sitting job after partying the night away with George  and headed over to my most frequent clients that keep me the busiest with their 2 bullmastiff, little terrier and cat.  

I am deeply in love with each of these animals and have known the two mastiffs since they came into the family as puppies.  We all enjoy our time together very, very much.  I am constantly accused of spoiling them and I confess it’s true.  The joy of being the dog sitter, not the dog owner.  The animals keep me busy but there is typically a routine to the day so I can get a few things done during for myself during nap times and in the evening.  

Mona in front, Mac left, Izzy right

Unfortunately, Izzy tore the ACL in both her legs and the surgery was scheduled for 2 days before I would start sitting during the family’s annual first-week in January getaway.  They totally gave me an out, but I had no issue taking this on for any one of my “babies.”  My experiences with my own dog, Riggs, after surgeries had been him mostly sleeping and slow walks just so he could relieve himself.  I thought it would be easier in a way since Izzy had to be somewhat confined and separated from her playmate and I wouldn’t have to try and keep 3 dogs happy with just my two hands as they simultaneously clamored for attention.  Not so much. Not at all.

The three dogs were not in sync in their needs and wants, and each day with Izzy’s recovery was a new obstacle to be overcome, making my first 5 days of January a complete blur and taking me off-the-grid except for Izzy’s mom and a few others connected with her well-being. One of the issues Izzy and I faced were having to shove pills down her throat and blow into her nose to get her to swallow.  The nose part was new to me.  Once in her, the meds gave her digestive issues starting 3:30 one morning that continued throughout the day, forcing me to go through about 8 rolls of paper towels to keep things tidy.  The next day,  while attempting to go for a walk, she popped a stitch and watery blood started running down her leg.  I got her into a bathroom but before I could close her in the shower she walked around leaving what literally (in the literal sense) looked like a crime scene.

Izzy on way home from emergency vet visit.

I called an emergency-contact relative at 6am to help me bandage the area so the blood would stop and get her in my car (she’s over 100 lbs) and take her to an emergency clinic since the hospital where she’d had surgery didn’t have enough staff due to COVID.  Luckily  for me the cleaning service was due to come that day, but I had Izzy’s mom warn them about the situation.  If I’d walked into a house and seen that scene and the person was missing, I might have called the police.  

The point of my story, other than to explain my absence from wherever people expect to find me for the last week, is that this was a huge lesson in love.  Never having had a child, I don’t have much experience with things seeping out of body parts and I typically look for an “adult” to take care of these things.  I’ve handled gross before, but in more one-off circumstances.  But there I was, the human in charge and it had to be done.  And my love for Izzy allowed me to do it and not even dry heave.  I didn’t get annoyed by it, I just wanted Izzy to be ok.

Mac wants to play.

My anxiety, which would typically be about my own to-do lists, was solely focused on making sure Izzy was comfortable and the other two were happy.  Mac, Izzy’s mastiff brother, is only 1.5 years and they play a lot and play hard so his energy is a little pent up.  He doesn’t usually play with toys on his own, but I bought him a new rope and he loved it!  And that brought me so much joy.  Nothing like seeing a truly happy dog at play!

By January 2,  I had given into the fact that I wasn’t going to implement any resolutions that week and just let myself fully be with the dogs.   Does it matter that some of the things I wanted to, planned to or “needed” to do waited a week?  Not in the bigger picture. Rather than deriving satisfaction from checking a few things off the never-ending “to-do” list, my happiness came from being there for them and knowing how much trust the family put in me to deal with it all.   They returned to 2 healthy, happy dogs, 1 healthy, happy cat and a dog who is recovering well and comfortable.

Me and Gus, the Cat.

Today I start my 2022 having learned a better lesson about letting love rule and going with the flow than I had in store to teach myself.  And if any dog needs me, I’ll know I can and will be there and do anything for it!

Happy New Year to all!  I wish for everyone to find lessons in love this year.

 

 

The Thanks I Gave

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This Thanksgiving weekend, more than most,  I have spent really reflecting on the many, many things I have to be grateful for in light of the many, many trials and tribulations that humanity has been chugging through this past year.  Mostly I am grateful for how my unconventional lifestyle has continued to work for me and allowed me to have ‘homes’ in places I could only dream of living  with an abundance of dogs to love, and that my big problems have come with solutions.

Numerous bad choices, lack of long-term goals, and various mental health issues have kept me on the edge financially throughout  my 20+ years of freelance work living in LA.  After the panic attack and depression that started my journey to dealing with my mom’s 1985 suicide and The Silent Goldens documentary, I decided to pursue dog-sitting as a way of making some money while giving me time to work on the film on my computer wherever I was.

A word-of-mouth business started by caring for the dogs of those who used to care for my baby, Riggs, when I traveled for work.  My schedule eventually became filled consistently enough that paying for an apartment I was never in became silly, so I gave it up.  Over the past 2.5 years, I have secured ‘crash pads’ to use when there is a hole in my calendar, but other than that, I circulate typically in the North Hollywood area.

I continue to be amazed how the dates seem to work out for the most part, and new clients have been popping up the last few weeks.  This year, a couple of regular clients moved into bigger and better places and, well, let’s just say the above panoramic picture was my view from the back porch all Thanksgiving week.

I am grateful not just for the work and the lovely places to stay, but also for the trust that my clients put in me.  My dog was my everything and I know the animals I care for are loved the same way by their people, so I how big a deal entrusting their care can be, as well as allowing me to stay in their homes.   I am proud to say that I deserve that trust, as I have no interest in snooping, stealing or otherwise taking advantage of the situation.  It’s not in my nature, but also I appreciate the job and I want them to call again.  So far, very very good.  🙂

In my April blog, When In Need, I Had a Friend Indeed, I expressed gratitude to my friend I call ‘Brigid’ and my father for their coordinated purchase of my Nissan Kicks after my 20-year-old, 207k mile Rav4 was taken out by a red-light-runner.  Every time I get it in I feel thankful and know how lucky I am to have people that care so much about my safety and well-being that they would just flat-out give me such an enormous gift.  As much as I loved my old car and mourned its loss, having a new one is a new lease on life in just knowing I have the freedom to “go” if I need to or want to.

I am extremely thankful I did not catch Covid and those I do know that had it did not develop the most extreme effects of it.  The help from the government in making pandemic unemployment available to gig workers like myself was life-saving.  My business went from booming to nothing starting March of 2020, as obviously people were in their own homes with their own pets, and the money I was counting on making to cover my life was suddenly gone.  Getting that assistance allowed me to eat, get gas, pay my modest bills (no rent since I’m on the move) without having to dig into my coin bucket.

Business has started to pick up again over the last few months, and I’ve also been helping the clients that have moved organize, which is something I’ve always enjoyed doing – for others.  Right now I have all of December booked!  So I’m very happy and grateful for that.  

So much gratitude also goes to all those who have donated to my documentary and continue to support me in my effort, which is now on track to have a finished version by Spring.

There are numerous other specific things I could list that I’ve noticed this year, but those are the big ones – money, housing, and transportation, the basics – that were covered and helped me feel grounded and safe throughout 2021.

And a special thanks to all who read this blog!!!

Happy Holidays!

Talking About Suicide Loss With Dr. Donna Barnes

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Marc and Donna Barnes

The Saturday before Thanksgiving was designated International Survivors of Suicide Loss Day in 1999 when Congress passed a resolution proposed by Senator Harry Reid of Nevada, whose father died by suicide. At observances around the world, people share their stories of loss, healing and hope in a safe supportive space with others who truly understand the specific issues and pain those left behind endure.

When I began dealing with my mother’s death 30 years after it happened, the first event I attended held by American Foundation for Suicide Prevention in Santa Monica was incredibly meaningful.  It showed how you could honor the life of people who have passed and not focus solely on the cause of death. I could see how powerful the experience was for those among the hundred or so that were there who’d had a recent loss and hadn’t yet found a way to speak about it.

Hearing others stories reflected in mine in these types of situations convinced me to begin speaking publicly about my loss six years ago.  In doing so, I have been able to process the grief for bothmy mother’s loss and wondering how different life might have been without closing myself off from my emotions for decades.  Most importantly, I’ve found purpose in helping others in their grief and encouraging conversations. 

Just as my story of silence after suicide is a common one in the loss survivor community, so is the one of the loss pushing survivors to “jump in” to the world of awareness,  prevention, and healing. This month, in honor of Survivors Day, and because I am thankful people like this woman exist and do what they do, I am featuring Dr. Donna Barnes in a new episode of Talking About Suicide Loss With.  After losing her 20-year-old son, Donna earned a Masters Degree in sociology, focusing on the social environmental factors that contribute to suicidal impulses, and has served the loss survivor community in many impressive and important ways.  Here are the highlights:

A certified Master Trainer for suicide prevention and intervention, Dr. Barnes trains faculty, staff and students as well as the community on how to recognize the signs of someone who is in a suicidal crisis. She is also the co-founder of the National Organization for People of Color against Suicide (NOPCAS) after losing her son to suicide while he was in college. Dr. Barnes teaches suicide risk management for the College of Medicine’s Department of Psychiatry at Howard University and has published peered reviewed articles and chapters as well as conducting presentations on the topic across the country. She is the author of the Truth About Suicide published by DWJ books in New York as part of the “truth about series…” for middle school and high school students.  She has developed a campus-wide prevention program at Howard University; and through NOPCAS conducted support groups for friends and family members of suicide loss survivors.  

 Barnes has been featured on several radio shows and media outlets including NPR, CNN, The Huffington Post and The Washington Post.  She currently serves on the CDC’s Board of Scientific Counselors for the National Center for Injury Prevention and Control. 

Talking About Suicide Loss With Josh Reiter

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Today I am posting the latest episode of my YouTube interview series Talking About Suicide Loss With…, featuring  Josh Reiter, who I met while representing the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention during the performances of A Light in Dark Places, a September play series about suicide, loss and hope. 

In the three year span of 2011-2014, six of his classmates at W.T. Woodson High in Fairfax, VA died by suicide.  Two of those students were discovered dead just a day apart.  Though it’s not believed the suicides were connected, it was a time when suicide wasn’t being openly discussed in an environment that was filled with pressure to achieve.  

Like in all suicides, no definitive answers have been found of “why” this happened, but the silence around the subject obviously had a part in it.   After the first one or two, the phenomenon of suicide contagion to take hold.  This contagion is  defined on hhs.gov as “the exposure to suicide or suicidal behaviors within one’s family, one’s peer group, or through media reports of suicide and can result in an increase in suicide and suicidal behaviors. Direct and indirect exposure to suicidal behavior has been shown to precede an increase in suicidal behavior in persons at risk for suicide, especially in adolescents and young adults.”  

Luckily Josh found a way to get through high school and has used his experiences to reach out to those he knows are in pain.  He is excited that working with A Light In Dark Places is giving him a bigger platform to help reduce the stigma and silence and save lives.

Now, Josh is a Los Angeles based actor, writer, director, and coach. He has worked across the country in regional theatre appearing with the Saratoga Shakespeare Company, the Know Theatre of Cincinnati, and the West Coast Jewish Theatre among others. Josh can be seen on Saved By The Bell and Warped! He can be heard on Netflix doing the English Dub for The Hockey Girls and Vampires. Josh is Mr. June in the 2020 Nice Jewish Guys calendar. He holds a BFA from CCM and is a proud member of SAG-AFTRA.

Talking About Suicide Loss With Ale Fips

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I got a bit behind on my special content postings for September’s Suicide Prevention Awareness Month, as it’s always a very busy month for me, but there is always a good reason to spread awareness and that’s because people sadly keep dying by suicide and leaving many of us behind.

Every year when I show up as an American Foundation for Suicide Prevention volunteer to help out with the play series, A Light In Dark Places, a series of short plays about suicide that bring understanding and hope, I am so impressed with the production, the content and the people who make it happen.  This year I’m featuring a few of the cast and crew on my YouTube Talking About Suicide Loss With… series.

This week is Ale Fips , who directed one of the plays this year, among serving in numerous other production capacities.  When she was a teen, a good friend’s older brother died by suicide, and the silence surrounding it in the community affected her deeply.  When she began struggling herself, she found talking to be the way out  – something her friend’s brother wasn’t able to do – and has advocated for people to do the same since.

There isn’t a one-size-fits-all remedy to preventing a suicide or helping someone cope after losing a loved one to suicide.  Support groups and therapy can be an invaluable resource for many, but the tools we learn aren’t always enough to get us through another bout of depression or anxiety, as Ale discovered.  For her, the the added layer of a few good friends and a mom who were open with her and really listened helped pull her back from the abyss.  

In advocating for “talking about it”, the idea is to talk to anyone that can help you when you are in pain.  A friend, a kind stranger, a faith leader, a neighbor, a teacher, a therapist, a co-worker – the list is endless.  You can decide who you trust.  There is no right answer or one path for everyone, just what works for the individual. If the person you first choose isn’t up to the task, they might be able to help you find the person who is. If you feel someone to isn’t being helpful, look around for someone who will be.  Others might not have answers and likely won’t be able to change anything for you,  but there is an indescribable relief just in getting something off your chest and feeling heard.  Talking is healing and if you look, there will be someone to talk to.

Art, especially theater, is  truly is a powerful force and great conversation starter about many difficult subjects.  Book and films can help educate others can help deuce You can use the play itself as the “in” to bring up the topic of suicide and go from there.

Check out Ale’s bio and then click here to watch her segment!

Ale Fips is from Guadalajara, México. Ale is an actress, singer and  producer that began her career at a very young age in shows for the FIL (International Book Fair)  for more than 4 years.  At age 15 she starred in the musical: El Principe Rana, performing more than 300 shows as princess Nadia. She moved to Mexico City playing a role on the Spanish version of Disney’s High School Musical. She has also been part of several TV series including Código Paranormal (LATV), La Rosa de Guadalupe, Como dice el Dicho (Univision) making a name for herself in Mexico, United States and other countries. She moved to the States in 2014 and Study at the Stella Adler Academy of acting LA. Her NYC credits include: “Seucy and Boto” “Undefined Fraction”(Loco 7 company); “Judgment on a Gray Beach” (La Mama, experimental theatre).

If you are struggling please go to our resource page for the National Crisis Hotline or text line and other help.

Talking About Suicide Loss With Tim McNeil

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When I began volunteering with the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention in 2015, I discovered purpose in life. Suffering from burnout and depression, I felt more accomplished passing out information materials at various events than I did seeing my name in the credits of whatever tv show I was working on. I told the director of the AFSP chapter I joined that “working in suicide makes me happy.”  It’s a line I heard her quote more than once.

While my mother’s suicide when I was 19 led to much grief and struggle in my life, when I learned to use my experiences to help others who suffered the same way I had, things came together in wonderful ways for me.  Meeting other suicide loss survivors has been the most impactful as there is always an instant connection, typically followed by a meaningful conversation.  Being a resource for the newly bereaved, or those who are still silent consistently touches my heart.

For the fifth year, I’m brining the AFSP’s resource materials to a very special event, A Light In Dark Places,  a collection of short plays about suicide and hope at The Stella Adler Academy of Acting theater, Fridays, Saturdays and Sundays, September 10-19.   The organization’s founder, Kelly O’Malley began producing the series in honor of her father, who died by suicide, after discovering the importance of conversation and community while studying acting at the school.

Every year has been completely different in terms of storytelling, as the plays are picked from nationwide submissions, but the dedication, compassion and care the cast and crew – both new and old – bring to the project are always outstanding.  I give an AFSP Talk Saves Lives presentation to them at the beginning of production to share the basics of suicide, risk factors, warning signs, and how to approach someone in crisis.  We also talk about how to safely discuss this important subject in a public forum.  Many came to the project because of their own losses or personal struggles and all have been incredibly open to these conversations and welcoming to me and all I have to say.

One of the first Talking About Suicide Loss With… short interviews I did for my YouTube channel was with Kelly.  This year I wanted to feature some of the cast and crew of A Light In Dark Places… to share their experiences with loss, the silence that followed and how eventually being open with their stories has changed their relationship to their grief and trauma.

This week, I present Timothy McNeil.  He is a writer, director and actor.  Tim recently directed his first feature film Anything, starring John Carroll Lynch, Matt Bomer, and Maura Tierney, currently available on Amazon , etc.  He will be directing his next film Purplish, which he wrote, soon.  He has had over 30 of his plays produced, including the play version of Anything (Best Production of 2008 by LADCC), Isaac Babel And The Black Sea, Machu Picchu, Tx., Supernova, Los Muertos, Crane, Ms., and Margaret, among others.  He has also directed over 30 plays including Hamlet, Who’s Afraid Of Virginia Woolf, Isaac Babel And The Black Sea, and many others.  Tim is also an actor and has done over 50 film and television shows including Forrest Gump, Contact, Starship Troopers, Seinfeld, and others, and over 75 plays.  He will be seen in Daniel Adam’s The Walk, coming later this year.  Tim is also a proud member of The Lab Theater and The Elephant Theater Company. He has been on the faculty of the Stella Adler Academy of Acting Los Angeles since 1999.