Wednesday, June 28, 2006

"The Right Choice"

An actor asks me: How do I know if I have made the "right (performance) choice" in a scene? For that matter: what is the "right choice" in a particular scene? Example: suppose the director an I disagree about a 'choice'? Is one of us wrong? Or is there more than one "right choice"? Perhaps there is no "right choice"? In the case of disagreements, is there an arbiter?

My rule: if an acting "choice"--which is how to perform a paqrticular moment or a whole sries of moments in a scene--is consistent to life, or 'real', (logical to human experience), it is automatically right! The question then becomes: what makes it a "right-er" choice, a better choice--not to mention a best choice?

Let's back up a minute, go back to basics: If the purpose of acting is to move an audience to the fullest, deepest experience of itself (at least in my acting world), I would offer up the following criterion for making right/right-er/right-est acting "choices" (performance decisions): "choose" to perform a particular moment of whole series of moments in such a way as to best move that audience most fully and deeply.

The best "choices" should always move an actor toward being exciting: to creating a real living moment that , while logical to experience, is logical to an exciting experience; which is, an experience that is varied, intense, complex, structured and elegant...and, if at all possible, a combination of all five at once!

Impossible you say? No; exciting acting experience is what separates the men from the boys, the women from the girls, the Meryl Streep, Anthony Hopkins--and a handful of others--from the rest of the pack--and, most cogently, the artist from the hack: the difference in performance quality arises from hard work that is entailed in becoming varied, intensel, complex, sutructured and elegant at all moments in the piece; i.e. brilliant. Remember: acting is easy; excellence is difficult...and requires constant work.

Tuesday, June 27, 2006

A MOVIE RECOMMENDATION: "A Prairie Home Companion"

Meryl Streep! Meryl Streep! Meryl Streep! Watch her greatness; yet again!!!!!! Otherwise the film is fine; sweet and user friendly. It is a Robert Altman film: therefore it is a character enjoyable, multi-story juggling, smoothly edited, and well acted. (Woody Harrelson is also wonderful, by the way.) A real nice Sunday afternoon film.

What is Literature?

Literature is humankind's search for truth through the imaginative organization of its human language.

ON ACTING: "Working Backwards"

A great performance is a combination inner feeling and outer form. They are actually two sides of the same coin, aspects of the same thing: which is nothing more or less than the totality of a human life.

How an actor arrives at their living integration of form and feeling in final performance is up to them. Some actors work from feelings: they find in rehearsal how they (as the character) truly emotionally respond to the situations and events they encounter in the piece, and subsequently work outward to give those feelings the most impactive shape; others work from a perceived sense of outer shape, a physical aesthetic, and work inward to activate the real feelings that normally give those outer actions birth in exciting everyday living.

"Working backwards" is the second process: working backwards from the outer physical manifestations of dialogue and voice, physical movement, 'prop' choices and facial reactions and finding the emotional inner reality that can give them exciting reality in performance. It is called that phrase, "working backwards" ('external to internal' is another term), because in the everyday real world, the normal "forward" operative process is: our inner emotions initially occur, then proceed to outer actions; we are stimulated, we feel, and we subsequently "feel" like saying and doing.

However, since form and feeling are inextricably bound in any geshalt of human life, and the connection between emotions and their resultant shapes are wired in a continuity into our neural circuits, in rehearsal deciding to push someone hard can help make us feel angry, slumping our shoulders can help make us feel sad, laughing out loud can help make us feel happy, wearing a tuxedo can help make us feel elegant, wearing a tight skirt and a low-slung blouse can help make us feel sexy.

So either working forwards from felt emotion to subsequent molded shape, or working backwards from chosen shapes to logical activated inner feelings is a matter of an actor's individual working choice, his/her chosen "process" as it were. But one element of an actor's process is beyond choice: in performance that independently activated prior rehearsed form and feeling must be interdependently co-joined. Both sides of the coin must be present or there will be (and can be) no coin!!

Friday, June 23, 2006

ON ACTING: Nouns/Verbs; Adjectives/Adverbs; Vowels/Consonants

An actor might consider viewing dialogue in the following way: noun and verbs are the active components in a sentence. They define who/what is doing what to whom. They are plot; and propel story. For example: "The girl (noun) went (verb) to the store (noun)."

Adjectives and adverbs on the other hand are the modifiers; they emotionally qualify the noun/verb activity: they denote what the speaker feels about the nouns and verbs, the meaning inherent in 'who is doing what to whom'. They define and underscore the feelings inherent in character and context. For example: The girl went to the store' now becomes "the beautiful (adjective), ravishing (adjective) girl went happily (adverb) and eagerly (adverb) to the huge (adjective), expensive (adjective) store."

So if an actor wants to discover the emotional essence of a scene, s/he is advised to emphasize adjectives and adverbs in the dialogue: "...beautiful;...ravishing; ...happily; ...eagerly;...huge;...expensive."

Moreover, to plumet the emotional essence of those words even further when emphasizing those adjectival/adverbial words, emphasize the vowels within them. Vowels (a,e,i,o,u) can be compared to consonants (the other 21 letters of the alphabet), as adjectives/adverbs can be compared to nouns and verbs: vowels become the emotional component of a word, the feeling elements encased in a word by the consonants.

Singers love vowels. One of the reasons so much great opera is written in Italian is because the Italian language gives great emphasis to vowels. Listen sometime to someone speaking in Italian. You will hear how Italian speakers often (always?) find it difficult to end any spoken words or sentences on a harsh, definitive consonant sounds. There always seems to be at the end of a phrase or sentence a final expulsion of air that sounds very much like another vowel (more feeling) ready to come out!

So actors: to drive a story plot (and its dialogue) highlight nouns and verbs; to expand upon the story plot and underline its emotional essence use the adjectives and adverbs (and the vowels within them).

Tuesday, June 20, 2006

ON ACTING: Emotional Typecasting

Actors often complain to me that they are typecast; that is, they are constrained in their offered roles because casting directors only see them physically in a certain way.

However, I would like to suggest to these actors that they very often typecast themselves in a worse way...emotionally..., and in a way they can control and change. In fact I would offer that more actors are emotionally typecast than physically typecast!

All leading men and women are not necessarily beautiful: Glenn Close, Meryl Streep, John Cusack, Phillip Seymour Hoffman. They are OK looking...but they get leading man and lady parts because they are able to "feel' like leading men and women.

A casting director will often say to an actor's agent: "Yes, XYZ is a wonderful actor, but I just don't think they are right for the role. I don't see them that way (the way the scripted character is slated to behave)." Which means: "I have never felt the appropriate sexiness...or anger...or sadness...coming from that actor that would convince me they could fully, convincingly, excitingly play the role I envision in performance.

Everyone makes estimates of people's emotional proclivities all the time. We say: "boy, she's sexy. Or "boy, he's angry." Or, "wow, she's one happy lady." What we mean is: those people we are referring to have those respective emotions bubbling close enough to (and more often enough than not at) the surface of their behavior so we can confidently and accurately describe them in that fashion.

Which leads us to the reason behind emotional self-typecasting: an actor who does not have a familiarity with an aspect of their emotional selves, irrespective whether those emotions are are happy or unhappy, up or down, stressful or unstressful, will rarely be typed in roles requiring those emotional behaviors. Instead they will be cast (typecast) in the emotional roles in which they are familiar...roles in which they are more comfortable with the required emotions, irrespective of outward craft and physicality demands.

So if actors want to escape emotional typecasting, to be considered for a wide range of roles, they must develop and hone a wide range of emotionally proclivities, so that when a casting director meets them, or sees their headshot, or views their work, they can (they will say): "Yea! Sure. I can see him (or her) in that, angry, sad, bright, stupid, confused, worried...etc."

Actors who ellicit such responses are beyond (emotional) type; and work alot...and generally complain less about physical typecasting!

ON ACTING: Four Basic Steps to Acting Successfully

To play any character successfully, their are four basic psychological steps the good actor must take: (1) understanding their own emotional humanity (as it related to the character), (2) acceptance of that humanity, (3) love/enjoyment of that humanity, and (4) eagerness/willingness to reveal that humanity in front of others. The rest is pure mechanics.

Friday, June 09, 2006

Researching a Role

The student asked me: "Some professional actors say that they always research a role down to a fine detail. For example, if they are going to play a fireman, they visit the firehouse, talk with firemen, perhaps even go out on a firefighting trip with them. Is that necessary?

My answer: "Do as much--or as little--research as it takes to be brilliant!"

Actors aren't bureaucrats: simply following orders. There is no one rule, one method or way of working that works for everyone.

There are two basic obligations in acting: to be real and to be exciting...and one of the sub-obligations in being real is being logical to the outer and inner and life of a character. So if the character is required, for example, as scripted outer behavior to put out a fire, it would seem you should operate with some specifically well-researched knowledge of a firefighting technique would seem to be an almost absolute must. However, if the need is for defining the inner reality of a firefighter, 'feeling like a firefighter', as it were...firefighter feelings are much less definable--and unique to firefighters. And there are many more possibilities of emotional character for firefighters than there are firefighting teachniques.

So.....should one 'research' how firefighters feel? Maybe go down to the firehouse and asks firefighters how they feel? My answer: If it helps you to feel deeply in performance in general, do it. I never question a successful technique of becoming exciting in performance. that emotional research of inner firefighter's feelings absolutely necessary? Probably not. (Unless you want to sepecifically know how a firefighter feels about the death of a colleague in a fire. That is specific to firefighters much more so than in the population in general.) However, there is as broad a range of feelings in firefighters as there are in any other category of human feelings. I would let the script and dialogue determine the best appropriate feeling possibilities of your character than simply limiting yourself to researching firefighter feelings.

The guiding rule: do as little or as much detailed work as is necessary for YOU to be real (logical to character and script) and exciting as possible (experiencing deep, wide, complex feeling within elegant form) in performance.

Tuesday, June 06, 2006


For those of you who have been following this blog, I apologize. The last posting, on March 31st, was a long time ago. Why have I not written? I have been writing...but on an acting text, which I have been writing and re-writing for two years. I finally finished a draft that can go beyond my best friends and their worthwhile comments, criticisms and corrections. I am sending it to a publisher who wishes to see it and I am now ready to take my licks; and get back to other writing.

While I've been blog-away, I did see a few films. One of which is "An Inconvenient Truth", Al Gore's passionate defense of the theory of (and warning of) global warming. Whatever your politics, it is a film worth seeing. It is well made, reasonable--even given its self-convinced point of view--and thoughtful (as opposed to the usual mindless offering of the mindless film marketplace). And Al Gore has found his true metier: he makes a sterling professor. Perhaps that is why he lost in the 2000 election (I know he didn't lose...etc., etc.) there simply were not enough votors who wanted to be lectured to for four to eight years. A sort of 'kill the messenger' type of thing?

Another film I saw, "Friends With Money", is a must miss. Enough said. Not even worth discussing.

More blog offerings to follow.