Monday, November 30, 2009

ON ACTING: Vertical versus Horizontal

Actors: You feel a scene you're performing is slow, inert, without drama? You want something more in a scene? Don't necessarily just think horizontally, introducing more props, movement and reactions to supplement the dialogue in your scene; perhaps think vertically: deepen the emotional resonance in you that lays beneath the dialogue: in actor's terms, deepen your "sub-text" so that when you perform the formerly placid text will now vibrate with meaning...then perhaps you won't have to hyperactive the scene with excessive movement and props.

Wednesday, November 25, 2009

ON ACTING: Intensity and Importance

Even if the character’s objective in a scene seems inconsequential to those of us outside the character’s life…perhaps even unsubstantial to the character at some other time or place…the objective quest must always be important inside the character’s life at the moment of the scene. Think of it this way: the character in the scene could be anywhere else in the world at that particular moment, but instead, she is present and dealing with whomever and/or whatever she is dealing with. A priori, that exclusivity of attendance, if nothing else, should embue the scene with personal importance.

Emotional intensity in a scene occurs in direct proportion to the character’s sense of the importance of the scene.

Monday, November 23, 2009

ON ACTING: A Reprise Blog

Over four years ago, in response to a blogger's question, I wrote the following. For some rare reason, I wish to reprise it:

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

My answer:

"If you want to reach the pinnacle of your acting profession (fame + $$$$) LA or NY is where the majority of the big time work is.

This not to say that quite a few excellent acting/actors do not do excellent acting work 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 or Louisiana, if you want to get into the big-time potato farms, you go to Idaho, if you want to get into the big time skiing business, you go where the snow is. Like it or not, most major film producers are functioning in LA and NY, as are most big time casting directors, most extraordinary acting teachers, and the highest salaries. LA and NY 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. So in designing your career ladder, if you must go to NY or LA (you want it all) the old rule of thumb is: 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 in professional sports: the best sandlot football players get on the high school team, the best high school football players go to college, and the best college players make the pros.)

However, like all rules, these rules about climbing the career ladder are only an average wisdom, applying to the average. And we all think we are exceptional, don’t we?

So if you decide to go early to LA or NY, leaping the career ladder five rungs at a time, consider these factors: (1) life style changes; who are you leaving behind, and how much is that going to cost you psychologically and emotionally to move from your town in Anywhere, America to LA or NY. After all, they are the biggest cities in the US? (2) Are you ready for the loneliness? Nothing is lonelier than a being a stranger in big town. Do you know someone? Are they ready to put up with you for six months while you meet and get really friendly with some natives? (3) Are you ready for bald-assed competition? LA was once described as six million ambitious people pretending to be laid back. New York is even worse. (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 in your former town to live on before 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 will need to get better. Even if you arrive in LA or NY ahead of your competitors , you will only stay ahead of them if you work harder than them...otherwise they will catch up.

Don’t let me disillusion you, however.

Many years ago I came to LA without a job, knowing only one person, and with twenty five dollars in my pocket…and had a more than respectible career.

But if I have disillusioned you; don’t go. As a wag one time opined: there is nothing logical about being an actor; except that you have to do it.

A final suggestion: If you do choose to go to either town--because you have the guts, the confidence, and the ability--go to NY or LA eagerly with the thought of adventure.

To decide to become a big time actor (or a big time anything else) is a wonderful life journey. And like most journeys, remember that pleasure occurs more in the process, in the courageous headlong attempt, than in any final achievement. And good luck.

Sunday, November 22, 2009

A Heretical Thought

Reality TV may be more a social rather than an artistic phenomenon. Low level drama satisfies low-level demands. Contemporaries are so isolated in their private everyday life styles they have no idea how their neighbors live, therefore they find it fascinating to peek in through the windows: look at how all those everyday people behave boringly just like me! That’s why the best reality shows add drama and anticipation and races and contests to their reality shows. They’d be unwatchable without these elements. The best reality shows are really dramatic shows shot on the cheap.

A Reminder Brought On by Alex

Acting is having the courage to stand in your own light.

A Nice Letter for the Holiday Season

I was a student of your's in Birmingham and Dallas back in the early 90's. I wanted to take the time to thank you. Your classes really helped a young person find more about themself in such a short time that I continue to use to this day. My only regret is that I did not continue your classes (due to work traveling) and enjoy the beautiful craft of acting.
I will monitor your website and see when the next time you are in Dallas. I would love to attend classes again and enjoy your whipping my ass into shape and asking me when I was finished hiding and would start finding the light. I miss that.
Warmest Regards,
Alex K"

Friday, November 20, 2009

An Apology

DM said, in gentle rebuttal to my blog writing about stage actors and their potential for dishonest acting:

"Of course, stage acting isn't [necessarily] lying, on stage, right? Nothing [inherently] dishonest in projection and physicality. Just say'n."

My response (and "just sayn" respectfully back):

"You are absolutely right, David. You're right. Nothing dishonest about speaking the truth loudly and boldly. especially on stage; being moved by the truth onstage with a loud voice and large body movements, Sorry I was unclear about that. I guess I was too worried about some actors, when performing in theater, often producing fake acting in order for 'projection' to occur. Thanks for forcing me with your question/statement to clarify the possibility of 'truth' and 'projection' cohabitating in reality onstage."

ON ACTING: The Director

The director is primarily the audience’s representative, their "eyes" and "ears", on the set. He guides the camera and microphone to what he thinks is most important for the audience to see and hear at any particular moment. (The editing of the rhythm and succession of the images on screen in film, to be done later in the editing room in collaboration with the editor, can also be seen as fulfilling this “audience-witnessing-through-directorial-guiding” requirement. It can be seen as placing the various and sundry already filmed actor(s) in the best or most kinesthetically impacting time and space film continuum.)

Unfortunately I’ve known many amateur directors (and more than a few professionals) who define their task with actors exclusively physical: “Well…the actor’s were seen and heard. I did my job.” Or: “Hey, it was beautifully shot and edited.” Left unsaid: “Don’t blame me if the actors’ performances sucked!”

The truth is, the director has not done her job if the actor’s performances sucked. If that occurs, the director is only performing half her task in the physical mounting of the performance.

Her job, if she is any good, is more than just getting performances seen, heard and filmed. She must also insure that the author’s intent in the piece (or as she so defines it!) is realized, and that the actor performances are worth being seen and heard: that the actors’ truth-in-reality is being witnessed through the physicalization of the performance.

The director is the means to an end. The actor’s performance is the end. That is why Stanislavski said: “The great director dies within the actor.”

Tuesday, November 17, 2009

ON ACTING: The Danger of Solitary Rehearsal

Solitary rehearsal is one of the great toxins to interdependent real acting, too often a strong siren call to bad acting, a Sargasso Sea of good intentions. In rehearsals, whether solo or public, through endless repetition, and we often unfortunately get into a solo performance modality: we have everything planned down to the last detail.

So by the time we enter performance, we are operating as if in a glass bell jar. We know in advance what we are going to say, and we know how we are going to respond the other characters….irrespective of the actual ensuing reality of the living, vital other persons on stage or on set with us at the time; we are acting not with that other real persons-as-characters, but with straw dogs of our own solo-rehearsed or self-rehearsed making.

The other actor in the real performance scene has by now has become a figment of our imagination, not the living, shifting breathing spontaneous person in front of us. Rather s/he is some imagined personage from our rehearsal, a straw dog to deal with as we predetermined.

The other actor could be any actor in the cast or even off the street. It doesn't matter to the locked-into-rehearsal bad actor; s/he would still act and react to them in performance all the same!

Love rehearsal; but beware of it. See rehearsal as a planned set of desired possibilities; not permanent choices set in stone. Reality (in performance) must always trump planned expectations; as it does in life...which is what we are trying to create on stage.

Sunday, November 15, 2009

ON ACTING: Relationships; Past and Present

Past experience may color my "relationships," color my experience with people, but the past is merely a modifier; the present objective quest is the main determinant of my present emotional "relationship"; and therefore in the most fundamental ways is the prime determinant of my emotion-sourcing of my actions and reactions. Therefore, as a guide to actors, when enacting “relationships”, consider the present as primary noun and verb, the past mere adjectival and adverbial.

For example, when Hamlet’s father appears onstage in Act I of Shakespeare’s “Hamlet”, he and Hamlet obviously have a lot of past, they are father and son, after all--and they initially relate accordingly--but the father’s and son's primary relationship in the scene is based on the Ghost wanting something from Hamlet in the present. In fact that’s why he appears to Hamlet at that particular point of time and place. That’s why he talks to him. Their primary and basic "relationship" in the scene is based on the King's desire to convince his son to enact revenge on Claudius, the usurping King! And Hamlet wants something from the King: "Go away! Don’t burden me with old guilt and old love, with a new severe responsibility of regicide. Be a dead father and not a demanding present one. Return to the netherworld. Let me remain happily a student."

That is what the whole scene (and play) is about: Will Hamlet fulfill his father’s present need for revenge, or will Hamlet find an excuse to shirk his filial obligation? The conflict of the scene becomes the King’s present need for revenge set against Hamlet’s need to maintain and enjoy his youthful innocence.

The past relationship (father and son; and the attendant emotions) is prelude to this essential present relationship, that of revenge-seeking father versus equivocating son. Past may be texture on the present, but the real drama, the real "relationship" governing the scene's primary feelings (and actions and dialogue) is whether The Ghost-father will get Hamlet to kill Claudius.

Their present father-son relationship is based on that. It trumps any past feelings they may have/had for one another.

Friday, November 13, 2009

Film Reviews + Apology

Sorry I have been away from this blog so long; I have been putting the finishing touches on a soon-to-be published acting text.

During my absence I did (bad boy) go to three movies: "The Informant", "The Damn United" and "Couples Retreat".

The "Informant" is a big movie with a big star, but unfortunately it is typical stylistically of its time: it mistook confusion for profundity. There is the content problem also. It is a charming but fragmented tale about a pathological liar and his involvement with Archer, Daniel's Midland--an agro-business par excellence; thereby a perfect and deserving target for the liberal film maker's condemnation. Whereas ADM deserved all the shots he film took, but the film could have been more balanced in the attack. Unfortunately, the film, a political satire, kept this film viewer's possible identification at a distance. It is as if had someone had taken me on a hunting trip to kill a deer that was already tied to a stake in the ground. I would have backed off from the all too obvious invitation.

"The Damn United" is s a well-made film about the great British soccer player and coach, Brian Clough. It is a film made with the artistic intent to make you understand and ultimately sympathize with a course, driven anti-hero. It would have more fully succeeded if the actor playing the lead, Michael Sheen of "Nixon/Frost" and "The Queen" fame, had carried in his otherwise excellent performance more of what actor's call, sub-text. Ultimately I didn't care for the film's Brian Clough because I didn't see and feel, in Sheen's performance, the vulnerable, identifiable emotion that drove Clough to such an ambitious life/career course. The film hinted at it, but Sheen didn't (are he rarely does other performances) carry it. Although a star, and a deserving one, Sheen is a cold, albeit brilliant, mechanical performer. He must one day learn to feel, and then one day I will learn to feel for him. (Ironically a brief few shots of the real Brian Clough in some ending documentary-flavored scene, fixated me. The real Brian Clough, especially in his eyes where human sub-text is always most truly revealed, seemed a wild animal, insecure and needy, the perfect emotions that explain this obsessively driven and ambitious human animal. In the stills, I cared for that arrogant, course man, because I felt his feelings.) In Sheen, through Sheen and his performance, I felt nothing. Sorry.

"Couples Retreat" is an embarrassment. The star, Vince Vaughn, a wonderful comic actor (and dramatic actor when he and others give him a chance to manifest that now-often-hidden side of himself) has his fingerprints all over the film: co-writer, producer, and star. It is a buddy film at the core; and all the men in the film seem to be on an actor's (as opposed to characters') retreat: let's have a good time making a movie, in a beautiful place, with lots of beautiful women, and lots of booze around; where we (through the script) can be witty and ribald, do plenty of dialogue improvization and self-congratulatory make fun of ourselves, to show how hip and post-modernly masculine aware we are. Because it is a "home movie" at its core, funny mainly to the participants and contemptuously rib-poking to the audience, the film fails, except with audiences who have a like attitude to their uber-masculinity in this sensitive post-feminist world.

"It's all bullshit," Vince Vaughn would often think and say when he was young (I was his acting teacher in the early first three years of his career) and now he exemplifies that attitude (brilliantly and winningly) over and over again in his very successful general comic acting career. The problem is, in this film, Vince is the not playing a cynical "it's all bullshit" type lead. He is the normal everyday eyes through whom the film, and its more outlandish other characters, are to be seen. And in this film Vince has trouble making the adjustment from sidekick wise ass in other more successful films to scripted Tom Hanks "eyes of the audience" type role in this film.

Vince has trouble taking his character's plight seriously, and so we don't. The film is "all bullshit," as Vince would say.

He's right.

Tuesday, November 03, 2009

ON ACTING: Film Acting; The Good News and the Bad News

To stage actors who also want to act before the camera, there is good news and bad news. The good news is that whatever truth the actor creates, whatever the size or subtlety of performance, the camera and microphone can and will pick it up and enhance it. No need to worry about projection. The bad news is: all false acting will be picked up also. “The camera never lies." (Which means the actor better not lie; give a false, fake, unreal performance or it will be discovered). Film is rigorously revealing. Stage actors should remember: you may get away with lying on stage, but in film tell the truth. The audience is right in your face. (I lie better on the phone--at a distance--than I do in person.)