Friday, March 31, 2006

ON ACTING: "The Director"

The student asked: "What is the function of a director?"

My answer: The director function is (1) establish the vision or overall 'meaning of the piece'. He asks and answers the basic question: "What is the 'point', or lesson to be drawn by the clash of the scripted characters in the piece?"; (2) s/he acts as group organizer and head cheerleader (the director = manager) of the various film or play workers; getting everyone to offer their best efforts to the project (after all, they all know more than the director about their functioning specialty RE manifesting that theme); and (3) to act as the physically mounting ('blocking') specialist of the play. This includes maintaining consistency in the overall physical style of the piece, the manner in which the director thinks the theme can be best carried to the audience.

One thing the director is NOT...And should NOT be expected to do is... help the actors act!!! The director is not their acting teacher or coach. Insecure or confused actors should not wait for the director to tell them what to do or how to do it. Imagine if the director came up to the actors on the set and asked them how s/he should direct! Writer's write, set decorators decorate, property masters master props, wardrobe wardrobes, and actors act....And directors manage them all, stimulating and encouraging them to do their unique tasks excellently and efficiently toward a unified purpose.

Wednesday, March 29, 2006

ON ACTING: "More on Dialogue"

Since words are so central to an actor's performance--especially in theater where the spoken word almost invariably serves as the primary vehicle of the actor's/character's emotional life--the actor needs to have a highly developed and subtle responsive verbal mechanism (including a swell-developed brain...Words = logic!) to carry the full complexity of the actor's/character's emotional experience. Without that developed verbal mechanism (strengthened through speech classes, breathing classes, practicing Shakespeare's and Cicero's rhetoric and the like), feeling actors are like thinkers with a million ideas but only a hundred word vocabulary, destined to live lives of limited and frustrated discourse. Only a freed-up and subtle developed vocal (and body) instrument can freely express and reveal, with precision and power, the deepest and most complex human truths in performance.

Tuesday, March 28, 2006

ON ACTING: "The Importance of Dialogue in Auditioning"

Actors often ask me "How important are the words (dialogue) in an audition?" I tell them (1) very, very important; and, at the same time (2) totally unimportant.

(1) The words written on the printed page are important in the sense that most TV shows' producers wrote the words (most of the producers on TV shows are the writers) and they will be sitting in on the audition. And they have a proprietary (read: ego) interest in the words: they spent a lot of time crafting them. And they like to hear their words spoken as written. When you change them, it is like you are saying: "I've got better words (i.e., better than yours)."

(2) Words are totally unimportant in the sense that when you audition, you must not rely on the words written on the page to carry your auditioning abilities. If words were so quintessential important to an actor's performance, they wouldn't have hired someone else to write them. An actor is not hired to be a word-crafter. Just like a tennis player is not required to make his own racquets--but rather wins or loses according to how well he plays using the given racquet--so an actor's performance is judged not by the words he uses but how well he plays the acting game with the words crafted by someone else and appearing on the printed page.

The words in the script have already been auditioned--by the judiciaries of scripts. By the time the words get to the actor, they are a given, literally, to the actor. That aspect of performance is a priori. If in an audition an actor relies merely on saying the words on the printed page as the essence of their audition, they are going to fail!

Every actor auditioning for the part is going to say the exact same words. The auditioner is looking for other aspects in the actor's audition, other non-verbal aspects: feelings, voice, face, body, etc...all things NOT on the printed page, things NOT given to the actor...But which underlay and surround and give impetus and meaning to the verbal parts of the performance...And it what the actor is being auditioned for.

IN SUMMARY: Words as words are set in granite by the time the actor gets there. Change words if you can't get a real performance with the words as given you (but remember...cost = threatened writer; SEE writer's 'ego' above). And always keep in mind: what sets one actor apart from another in an audition are not the words...It is the life force, the vitality, the emotional truth and exciting personality of the person delivering them.

Monday, March 27, 2006

ON ACTING: "Character"

To enact a new character is to re-arrange the furniture of your inner house into a new pattern.


You want to make your character interesting? Make your character interested. Interested people are always interesting.

ON ACTING: "Doing something different"

I have a dear friend, a theater director, who, when approaching a new project, invariably comments: "I've seen this play done so many times. I've got to do something different!" He then spends the next few weeks, before and after rehearsal, agonizing over his quest for "different". He calls me, he calls all his friends. He begs, cajoles, demands we all read the play. He demands we give him advice, telling him our thoughts on finding a unique perspective on the piece.

A week ago he received a new directorial assignment, and the timeless quest for "different" bubbled up yet again. He once more called all his friends, sent them copies of the play, admonished us: he needed our advice soon. Dutifully, I read the play. Twice. Three times. I called him. "John (not his real name), I've got it! I've got a way to do your play!" "Go," he said eagerly awaiting my insight. "It's perfect. It's unique; it's rarely done this way..." "Go on," he said. I paused. "How about just doing it well."

The quest for "different" is all too often an avoidance of the more difficult challenge of achieving excellence. Fear masks as boredom. A search for a "unique perspective" often means circling the play's central thematic and stylistic task without ever committing to it. My friend has yet to call me back for further advice.

Saturday, March 11, 2006

ON ACTING: 'Less is More' and the Muted Horn

In acting and music: when the actor/trumpeter blows out inner emotion held in by muted hand or steel restrainer, it heightens the feeling. Less is always more.

ON ACTING: More on 'Style'

Style is merely the manner of releasing inner impulse. It should never be a substitute for the impulse itself.