Tuesday, September 29, 2009

ON ACTING: Thoughts on Thinking

Most people would agree that the human thinking process allowed humanity to dominate the world.

However, it was not a cost-free evolutionary leap. (If nothing else, a larger brain became an extra burden for the feet to carry). Thought takes effort.

Most people don’t want to think. Neither should actors-as-characters. Thinking (which is nothing more or less than a mental delay prior to overt physical action) is a human activity forced on us by the severity of prior inner emotional turmoil.

Even intellectuals would rather live without thinking: otherwise they would not look so dour and sour all the time--with wardrobes dominated with black, brown or gray--if thinking for them were such a wonderful and desirable a human activity.

The good actor must accept: the action of thinking must be motivated by a deep emotional dilemma caused by a prior moment in the scene; it is a result of a prior feeling problem for the character that can not go unresolved; hence it must be thought about.

Monday, September 28, 2009

ON ACTING: Reactions

A tip on re-acting, facially or otherwise: the good actor does not wait until the end of the other person’s dialogue to emotionally begin to react. True emotional reaction occurs at various and ever-changing moments during a listener’s and looker’s reception of dialogue.

Although the script may dictate your character is not to say anything until the other character’s dialogue is over, remember this: although your dialogue takes an extended time as it makes its circuitous path from your inner impulse to brain to mouth, your emotional response, and its non-verbal outer manifestations like movement, the look on one’s face, the shift of our stance, the formation of new ideas, etc., occur at different points in the other person’s conversation.

Real emotional reactions begin at all junctures in all conversations. Only the bad actor just stands there with blank face waiting for the end of the other character’s words before reacting to the conversation. The good actor will listen and look, will feel and allow changes in both inner (feelings) and outer (facial, movement, etc.) as they occur emotionally all through conversation, not just when the other character’s dialogue has ended.

Although scripts (and courtesy to other actors who are speaking) may dictate a delay in the verbal response until the other character’s dialogue is over; this does not necessarily mean you should put a feeling response on hold. The complex, fluid multiple leveled reality of stimulus/synapse/response dictates a continuing state of feeling--and non-verbally reacting--during listening and looking.

Remember: the audience is watching both sides of an acting conflict. They know the rhythm of real interactive life, as they know the rhythm of an interactive tennis game: they know each player in a real game is reacting to the other’s approach toward the ball even although the actual return-of-shot (or return of dialogue) does not occur until some time in the future. Good performances occur in this spontaneous reactive and interactive interdependence…or they will be rejected by the audience.

Monday, September 21, 2009

ON ACTING: Language

Words are not written for the actor (by the writer) just to express a character's emotion. If emotional release were all that was involved in the effort to speak, people would simply groan or a wail or a bark. Expletives would mark the edge of human discourse.

Humans use words to convince other people. Actors must do the same.

Language--dialogue--is the human species' sophisticated way to logically maneuver the human landscape to their purposes. Language takes inner emotions to a higher and more functional purpose: to convert short term bursts of emotional energy into long-term functional instrumentality. Words converts inner emotional experience into logic, with the intent of convincing people to aid us in achieving long term goals.

Saturday, September 19, 2009

ON ACTING: Passion

Theatre and film is about passion. I once asked an acting class what they were willing to die for. I got no response. I asked them what they were willing to kill for. They shrugged, confused. I told them that without definite answers to those questions, without the passion to be certain in regard to killing and dying, it was going to be a long, hard climb to becoming good actors.

Thursday, September 17, 2009

ON ACTING: Feeling on Demand

Tim A writes again:

"I was wondering how do you approach a scene when you're obligated to do or feel something? For example, an actor approaches a scene in a movie where he is breaking up with his fiancee, and in the scene, he eventually breaks down crying. How do you deal with the obligation to cry? There are some actors that crying comes easy to them, but not that's not always true with some."

My answer:

Remember, Tim, to begin with: no one wants to cry, only actors. But good actors can be made to cry by the other characters or events in a scene; that is, on demand, precisely when the script requires them to cry.

The key to developing this sensitivity factor to crying or any other emotion is to erase the human impediments to emotional response that the actor is victim of; often learned over a life time of survival; to de-callous-ize ourselves, as it were. Re-sensitizing oneself to fulfill the demands of and actor's life can be done, but it requires work.

There are, in fact, tried and true actor's exercises that can enable an actor to strip away the desensitized and calloused covering of emotions; to mention a few: 'emotional recall', 'sense memory', 'substitution', etc., so that the actor can, on demand, be made to feel the intense emotions required at precise moments by a script. (As introductions and supplemental reading when practicing the exercises ad techniques, I recommend the written works of Stanislavski, Strasberg, and a host of followers of their insights and techniques.)

Saturday, September 12, 2009

A Compliment

Tim A. wrote to me on Facebook about my blog:

"I love your blogs Mr.Osmond! I am studying to be an actor, and these blogs help me so much when professors aren't as helpful as I feel that I need.".

I reply:

"Poor professors. I was one once myself; and 'some of my best friends are'. They are often too much in their head to be of much practical help. When he/she is unclear, tell your professor: 'Cliff said, "Acting is ultimately an experiential activity, not an intellectual one. All good acting theory, training and advice must spring from that reality." If he/she doesn't throw you out of his/her class, you might be helping him/her clarify his/her attempt to help you."

Thursday, September 10, 2009

ON ACTING: Elements of Comic Characterization

Comedy characters have inordinately great emotional needs. Emotion (and its need to be fulfilled) is the engine that drives them. Reason (reasonable thought) is never a consideration in their drive. That is why they say and do funny (illogical) things. The measure of their logic is emotion, not reasonable, careful consideration.

Comedy characters are always decisive, They seem never to consider they are wrong: the other character always is.

Comedy character are impulsive. They leap before they look. (Because their emotional needs are so great, they are in a hurry to win and need to be fulfilled immediately.)

They have no time to carefully consider their opponents point of view. In fact, most comedy characters are not really listening to their opponent's point of view very carefully. Rather, they measure what is said to them exclusively from their emotional point of view; totally subjective. Sometimes they seem to be just waiting for their opponent to shut up so they can explain how absolutely wrong the opponent is and how absolutely right they are.

Comic characters act as if they are always right because they truly believe they are.

Rigorous logical consistency is not the comic characters' strong suit. In fact, illogical change (from an outsiders point of view) is one of a comic characters essential traits. Comic characters' logic can go from from A to Z, even within a single sentence. The academics call this comic incongruity.

Comic characters often say (and we laugh at) two absolutely contradictory statements--back to back--without apology or pause; without perhaps even realizing they are doing it.

That logical inconsistency (albeit emotional-need consistency) is the source of a comic character's comic innocence; and, ironically, that innocence and logical obliviousness creates their lovingly audience appeal.

Saturday, September 05, 2009

ON ACTING: The 'No-no' of Pretending to Look and Listen

An audience can tell the difference when an actor is really looking at and listening to other actors in the scene; rather than just aiming his eyes and face at other actors; when his sensory concentration is somewhere else (usually in his head). The audience may not have the courage to live life on stage according to the precise demands of acting, but they know life. They live it every day, and can recognize real life when it happens.

A good actor, to ensure audience belief, must focus on other actors, must really read the newspaper on the table, must really scan the photograph in their hands. When an actor doesn’t, the actor’s eyes will have that glazed look, that blank ‘inner focus’ look.

Eyes are called the “windows to the soul” for good and logical reasons. They are an infinitely complex and startling composite of millions of cells, and when they engage in specific visual perception, there are real and discernible changes in eye composition.

These cellular changes in composition cannot be controlled by an actor’s voluntary nervous system; an actor cannot pretend to be looking; he cannot choose to make his eyes appear like he is seeing when he is not.

When the audience is confronted with ‘pretend’, or non-sensory involved acting (no matter how cleverly masked by the practiced bad actor), when the actor get a blank look on his face, the audience will become as emotionally uninvolved as the actor. “That was nice,” they say, exit the theater, soon forgetting that actor and his/her non-stimulating, unreal performance.

Thursday, September 03, 2009

ON ACTING: The Infinity of Emtions

Actors often mistakenly consider emotions as is they were a child’s box of eight basic crayons (some authors even speak of the eight basic emotions); and act as if a human’s feelings being just simple manifestations of that basic eight-color spectrum. But good actors, who want to grow in performance abilities, who wish to ‘paint’ more richly complex and textured character portraits, must increasingly grow to consider colors/emotions more like a box of sixteen colors, then thirty two, then sixty-four, and eventually, when the actor and his/her emotions are fully developed, face the fact that all creation requires an almost infinite gradations of colors/emotions. And at that point the most experienced fine artist will soon no longer be content unless they are making and mixing their own infinitely varying palette of color composites!

Tuesday, September 01, 2009

Quentin Tarantino and Confusion

I posted this a week ago on my Cliff Osmond Unedited blog. I decided today I'd like to also post it on this blog.

"Today's American film writers and directors are all too often substituting confusion for profundity (SEE for a prime example, Quentin Tarantino); offering a mangled storyline as a substitute for the truly profound audience involvement in the paradoxes and moral dilemmas of individual lives.

Perhaps it is because filmmakers (post modern?) like him don't really believe in morality any more; certainly not of the standard Western Civilization philosophical variety. So when they make a film, if morality is absent in the storytelling, there can no audience fascination (and patience) as the plot simply unfolds with the film's characters' moral and/or ethical decisions.

What we are given instead by Tarentinoites are events--especially bloody ones--without personal inner moral resonance (the complexity of old fashioned good versus bad); offered instead are sequences that are fundamentally gratuitous (SEE Tarantino's constant use of unthinking, uncriticized violence) and therefore--rather than the film compelling audience involvement--become audience uninvolving; except for a momentary scenes of shock.

As a result, to compensate, to maintain audience interest when the audience has no emotional long term involvement in character development (due to the characters' moral vacuity), the filmmakers jumble up the plot, abjuring any linear, understandable emotional progression, and force the audience to hang around until well into the film and unemotionally stare at the screen, wondering what the hell is happening to the two dimensional characters in front of them. The audience is not only confused about what the characters are doing (jumbled plot), but they also are being subjected to characters they don't fundamentally care about (since they have no moral depth or dimension).

Confused plot, un-relate-able characters: opening this week is another Quentin Tarantino (or his ilk) film brought to you by the same money-venerating vacuous movie producers from the same moral and education vacuum that produced and applauds Tarantino; or really themselves."

ON ACTING: Worrying About Learning LInes

A soon-to-be student just wrote to me:

"Hi there,
I am sending in a deposit for the seminars tomorrow.
When we talked I told you I am new to acting so I am a little worried about learning the lines.
Do you have any tips you could give me?

I responded:

"D: Not to worry. I will be sending scenes out to you a few days prior to class. You will have time to memorize. Also, I wil not send you a "too line-heavy" scene. Finally, in learning lines, just learn the words. Get familiar with the logic of the dialogue. Do not try to plan on how you are going to say every line in performance. First learn to say them flat, as simple bundles of logical response. Possible 'line-readings' and possible feelings will arise in subsequent rehearsal. Remember: in memorizing dialogue, learn dialogue as pure words, as unemotional statements of logical retort in response to what the other character says to you (in the logic of their writen lines). When you get in reheasal with another human being, emotions will arise, and they will form into subsequent 'line-readings'. Don't overburden the initial memorization process with planned and/or anticipated feelings or emotional/line 'meanings'. See you soon. Cliff"