Sunday, July 31, 2005

Other People's Response: From Karen RE "Innate Talent"

"Thank you! This is just what I needed to hear today.
Your the Best!

My response: Glad to help.

Saturday, July 30, 2005

My Reply to Letter: "Innate Talent"

Karen writes: "I want to act...but I wonder: 'Do I have "charisma"? Do I have innate talent?'" [OR:] "Is acting something I can learn and practice and get good at because I am a very dedicated worker?"

I respond: Karen; allow me to quote from an article on my website (the fuller text, Natural Talent, which can be seen on the link, Writings on Acting, on "Natural talent [substitute the word, innate] may seem natural, but if by natural we mean blessed by certain qualities irrevocably denied to others, don't believe it. In acting, as in many, many other professions, natural blessings abound, and can be learned, and earned (and always strengthened) by hard work."

Acting is nothing more than living excitingly in a special context. You know how to live, don't you? All you have to do now is practice living (acting) excitingly in that special context. "Charisma", by the way, is the attactive, seductive power of a confident person. When you grow confident with your acting ability ('practice makes perfect'), you will exude 'charisma'.

Friday, July 29, 2005

On ACTING: "Sympathy vs. Self-Pity"

Merriam-Webster dictionary defines 'sympathy' as "the act or capacity of entering into or sharing the feelings or interests of another". 'Self-pity', sympathy for oneself, excludes sharing it with others. It is self-containing. It is inner directed. When an actor exhibits 'self-pity', the audience is distanced. Think of it this way: there is only so much sympathy possible in an auditorium or theatre. The more the character feels sorry for himself, the less is available for the audience to feel. As a corollary, the less the character feels for himself, the greater the possibility for the audience to feel for him.

Don't indulge in pain. Turn pain outward into corrective, solving energy. Two children are saddenened by the death of a mother. One child cries and cries in abundant self-pity; the other child, while feeling equally sad, tries bravely to help carry the coffin. Who do you feel more sympathy for? The latter. By not induging in one's own sadness, greater sympathy is engendered. Under the same amount of emotional duress, act bravely and I will sympathize with you. Exclude me through self-directed-pity, you've co-opted all my sympathy...and I will leave you alone to wallow in your own pain.

A FINAL NOTE in this regard. Emotionally indulgent bad acting (whish often occurs when an actor is manipulating their own emotion rather than letting outer stimuli activate it) unfortunately creates what also appears to be a 'self-pitying' character. The actor's emotion is inner activated and self-centered; and thereby appears 'self-pityingly'. The result is audience off-putting-ness. A good actor's performance does not overly embrace emotion, either honestly activated or falsely activated. Embrace your emotion too tightly, you lose audience embrace..which, in the long run, is a far more satisfying than any possible self-embrace.

Wednesday, July 27, 2005

ACTING PROBLEM: "I have a squeaky-high pitched voice."

The problem with a squeaky high-pitched voice is not the pitch. The problem is the 'squeak'. In good acting as in good singing, there are tenors and contralto as well as basses and baritones. When your voice 'squeaks' it means your voice is coming either from a tensed chest and/or a tightened voice box. Think of a kid playing with an air-filled balloon but letting the air out only gradually through a pinched release snout. It 'screetches' as the air is expelled. The same phenomenon occurs with 'squeaky-voiced acting'.

The disease is tension; the solution is relaxation.

Where does unwanted tension come from? It arises from several sources: uncomfortableness with emotion or even uncomfortableness with acting: fear of feeling in general and/or expressing that feeling in public. Another possible source is the fear of conflict which lies at the root of all acting scenes. Many of us don't like conflict, or confrontation; or even negotiation. We get tense when dealing with any opposition.

Another possible source of 'squeak': sometimes the actor, while comfortable with conflict, emotion, and public performance, is trying to force air out of the voice box, to "show" that they are feeling more deeply than they are really feeling. They are trying to 'show' the audience what a good actor they are! The actor tenses the chest to "express" a feeling that isn't really there. Or the actor is trying to underline or exaggerate the small amount of honest emotion he or she is really feeling...the attempt to 'indicate' unfelt feeling producing a constriction in the chest and voice box. It is the kind of bad vocal behavior that causes a rasp in the voice; a tickle or slight pain in the throat when speaking in that manner for an extended period of time.

The remedial corrective to any and all of the above: learn proper vocal placement initiating from the diaphragm and up through a relaxed vocal chamber; learn to enjoy conflict (on stage); get comfortable with emotion and public revelation of same; and, finally, when performing, don't 'gild the lily': pretending you are feeling more than you really are. In a good performance, what you are really feel is what you vocally (and overall physically) deliver.

Wednesday, July 20, 2005

BUSINESS QUESTION: "When should I go to LA (or NY)?"

If you want to reach the pinnacle of your profession (fame + $$$$) and are prepared to do the work (creative and personal) to ascend those heights, LA or NY is WHERE THE MAJORITY OF THE BIG TIME WORK IS. Notwithstanding that quite of bit of excellent acting/actors and big time work occur in many other and smaller cities in America...but...if you want to get into the big-time oil business in America, you go to Texas, you want the big-time potato farms, you go to Idaho, if you want to get into the the big-time acting business you go to LA or New York. Like it or not, most major producers are functioning in those cities, most big time casting directors, most extraordinary acting teachers, most higher levels of salary occur there. It is where the action is. Unfortunately, it is also where the major competition is: there are more good actors in those two cities than anywhere else in the US. In designing your career ladder, decide how high you need to climb; only then head for the rung you need to be on.

If you must go to NY or LA, the old rule of thumb was: before venturing to NY or LA first become the best actor in your local area; then the best actor in your sub-regional area; then the best in your regional area; then go to New York or LA. Like professional sports: the best sandlot football players get on the high school team, the best high school football players go to college, the best college players make the pros. However, rules are 'average' wisdom: rules for the 'average' apply. But we actors think we are exceptional; we defy the rules.

If you decide to go early to LA or NY, consider these factors: (1) life style changes. Who are you leaving behind, and how much is that going to cost you psychologically and emotionally. For each new choice there is a commensurate cost. (2) Are you ready for the lonliness? Nothing is lonlier than a being a stranger in a crowded town. (3) Are you ready for competetion? LA was once described as six million ambitious people pretending to be laid back. (4) Are you prepared for an increased cost of living? A probable general raise in prices, plus apartment, head shots, transportation, phone service(s), etc. (5) Do you have a job lined up before you get there, or do you have a new egg built up before to live on until you get a job. Another 'average' rule: don't expect to make any appreciable acting$$$ for the first two years. (5) Are you prepared to work hard on your acting craft? No matter how good you are, you are going to have to get better. Even if you are ahead of your competitors, you will only stay ahead of them if you work harder than them...otherwise they will catch up.

Finally, go to either town with the idea of adventure. It is a life journey, a career journey. And like most journeys, pleasure occurs more in the process, in the courageous headlong attempt, than in any final achievement. And good luck.

Monday, July 18, 2005

>>>>>>>GENERAL THOUGHTS<<<<<<<

"Look forward with hope to stop looking backward with regret."


Actors often get caught 'playing' (acting) style: be it urban, Southern, Shapespearean, classical, etc; in so doing they make the package more important than the gift, the wrapping more important than what's inside the box. Playing 'style' qua style as the totality of character and performance is false acting. Style is an adjective, not a noun. You can't play 'style'; your can only act with (a certain) style. A good actor acts truthfully, with honest emotion, and then allows that truth to be made maninfest in the manner (style) appropriate to time, place, gender, socio-economic class, etc.

The dilemma of style-in-place-of-substance is often eggregiously manifested when actors enact a Shakespearean character. They are so busy playing what they think is Shakespearean style (the style appropriate to people living and acting in late sixteenth and early seventeenth century England) that they forget that Shakepearean characters of the period loved, hated, were frightened, angry and confused just like people today...and they were engaged in the same conflicts and stories that happen today...the only difference being that when those Shakespearean actors-as-characters lived onstage in that true-to-life manner, they did so in an appropriate-to period-gender-class of the turn of the 17th Century English life style.

Actors should realize the emotional and conflictual substance of life and therefore acting has not changed much in the 2500 year human life span since the origins of Western Civilization's drama and acting. Only the style--the clothes, the way of speaking, the way of walking and gesturing--has. But the emotional and conflictual truth...which is at the core of good acting...has remained essentailly the same. So good actors--in any generation, and with any style-- must enact universal truth beneath the particular form. Good actors remember: act truth with style; never act style as a substitute for truth.

Sunday, July 17, 2005


The director or casting director/auditioner tells you your performance is "over the top". What does s/he mean by that? The answer(s): (1) Your performance was fake. It was over the top of any really-felt, emotional reality; that is, you were pretending to express more than you were honestly feeling. In brief: you were indulging in bad, fake acting. OR: (2) The emotion was real, but the actor in you was too eager to express it. You were 'pushing', over-emphasizing or self-indulging your emotion: another form of bad acting. OR: (3) You were engaging in real acting--good acting--but you were living the honest emotion at too obvious a level from the director/auditioner's point of view. S/he wanted the character's emotion, while deeply felt, to be more hidden; preferred a more contained character in performance: a good, honest acting job but just not the form of character style the director wants at that juncture of the piece. A FINAL REMINDER: Always perform at all times "at the top" of emotion...feel an intensity of emotion that is always rich and full however moulded to character and events and desire for obviousness at hand. Never act "over the top".

********MOVIE RECOMMENDATION********March of the Penquins

SEE "March of the Penguins". It is a documentary beyond documentaries. It is Disney's classic"Bambi" and then some. If you want a deep understanding about males, females, offspring, work, sacrifice, love, duty, honor nobility and the mysteries and miracles of life...all in an hour ten minutes more...and all set in the breathtaking beauty of unadorned nature...hurry to this movie. Normally I am a tough critic and a cynic, but this film is special!

Saturday, July 16, 2005

On ACTING: "The Method"

I get a lot of inquiries asking "What is the Method?"

The Method is a course of acting study, a series of acting/emotional insights, developed by the early 20th cetury Russian actor/director/teacher Constantin Stanislavski. He created a series of acting exercises and acting techniques to aid his Moscow Art Theater actors to create emotionally real and deeply impactive acting. In devising such exercises as 'emotional recall' and 'sense memory', he relied very heavily on the brilliant psychological and emotional insights of his somewhat co-contemporary, Sigmund Freud.
Stanislavski's theories and practical work on acting was studied and imported to the United States in the 1930's by such New York based groups as 'The Actor's Studio', The Group Theater, the Neighborhood Playhouse and HB Studios. 'Method' teachers such as Lee Strasberg, Uta Hagen, Stella Adler and Stanley Meisner developed their own unique variants on Stanislavski's 'Method', and created the teaching wave in New York that produced exciting actors such as Marlon Brando, James Dean, Julie Harris, Karl Malden. Kim Hunter, Hume Cronyn and Jessica Tandy.
Actors must remember: before "The Stanislavski Method' became'The Method', it was a method...and still is. It is a brilliant, powerful teaching and training tool.
But many roads lead to Rome; many techniques lead to good acting: emotional truth delivered to an audience in powerful form...whatever the method of getting to that result.