Tuesday, December 29, 2009

ON ACTING: Living Dangerously

Actors can afford to be brave on stage or onscreen; they can "take risks," or have something emotionally "at stake" in their performances for several reasons.

To begin with, acting occurs in a safe, accepting environment. When watching a a performance in a play or film, the audience doesn't judge the actor according to the ethics or morals of the character they are playing. All the audience asks is that they play the role performed fully , engagingly and excitingly. Once the performance is over, the actor--and the societal judgement that may apply to the character--never attaches to the actor.

Acting is the ultimate 'one night stand.' An acting performance has no social consequences...other than failure to engage the audience. Danger in acting exists only emotionally, never factually in any consequential societal sense; and for only a short time. There are no long term everyday life consequences other than a brief period of deep feeling. No ones ever gotten fired for having acted angrily to a character wife or an onstage boss, gotten pregnant from loving too sexually onstage, or committed suicide from living the character’s the depths of despair.

Moreover, acting is an intermittent occupation (some wags call it a lifetime of unemployment occasionally broken up by a job). There is plenty of down time to rest up from an emotionally demanding role. Even when working in the most arduous emotional circumstances, it is a union protected job (at least for union members). Even during the most demanding acting role, SAG (the actor’s film union) legislates a twelve hour ‘turnaround’ time; time to rest between leaving the set and being required to return to the set. In theater, rest periods during rehearsal are required by the theater actor's union, Actor's Equity.

Finally, living dangerously on stage may be exhausting and enervating, but it is survivable...and the reason you get paid. A performance in any one scene, no matter how intense, only lasts an incandescent moment or two. Therefore the actor can press himself (and be pressed by ravenous demanding producers, directors and audience) to go beyond his natural and protective hesitancies to achive an above-average, more-than-superficial, creatively extremely intense and varied effort in his acting choices. A long-lasting acting career is the reward for such job behavior.

Wednesday, December 23, 2009

ON ACTING: Finding the Possibilities within a Scene

I would suggest the actor, in an attempt to discover variety in a scene (variety is the spice of life, after all...and acting), rehearse any scene from a variety of emotional tacks: once angrily throughout the whole scene, sadly once, happilyy once. Benefits accrue: the actor will soon discover the host of emotional possibilities inherent in the scene…and in the actor/character herself. Scenes (and dialogue and movements within them) are extremely malleable, almost infinitely elastic. Personally, I have said the same words and sentences to someone in a conflict at one time with extreme rage, while at a later time had the same conversations…with the same person with the exact same dialogue….while tickling the other person and laughing.

By approaching rehearsal of any scene in that wide-ranging manner, actors can begin to pick and choose what attitudes and emotions work best on what lines and sections of a scene; and begin to emotionally sculpt their scenes accordingly...and always with variety in mind.

Saturday, December 19, 2009

ON ACTING: Thinking during Performance

From Tim A:

"Any advice on how to not think too much about acting? I find that when I try to work hard, I end up thinking too much and I end up getting self-conscious."

My reply:


The best general rule about thinking while acting is: Think before you act; think after you act; but when you act, just live.

As in sports, an actor (or athlete) can prepare for a game; but you can't prepare the game itself. It hasn't happened yet! And once the game starts, you don't really know what the other team is going to do; so when the game (or performance) begins: You just play it as it lays. (And trust your in your preparation; that you will spontaneously and automatically play it well.)

Friday, December 18, 2009

ON ACTING: Striving for Complexity

The philosopher Hegel said tragedy is not a matter of right versus wrong, but of right versus right. In acting terms, one character being right doesn’t necessarily make the other character be wrong.

By putting the audience through a witnessing experience of complex emotional conflict--where there is no singular right and/or singular wrong--and allowing those complex emotions to stir concomitant complex thinking in the audience, the actor forces the audience to consider the fullness of the presented dramatic issue and in the long run to understand themselves and their existence better.

That is the whole point of drama, by the way: to keep alive at the forefront of the audience’s consciousness their own personal and universal unresolved emotional issues. As James Joyce said in his Portrait of The Artist as a Young Man”: in his work the artist must “forge in the smithy of my soul the uncreated conscience of my race.”

Wednesday, December 16, 2009

ON ACTING: The Complexity of Emotions

From Tim A. on October 21 at 10:37pm:

"I know I keep asking you questions Mr. Osmond, but I really want to learn as much as I can, so for that, I don't think it's right to apologize.

"I have been reading reviews of movies, and some say that actors seem to play two emotions at once. Reading your blog posts, you talk about using exercises to get you cooked, but I don't think I've read any about playing more than one emotion at a time, or even if a character goes through a whole array of emotions during a scene. How would you prepare for that?"

From me on December 16: "Tim: First: sorry for the delay in answering you. And never apologize for quesions. There can be no answers without them."

"Second: as to your question about playing more than one emotion at a time: Think of emotions as pistons in an eight cylinder car. While one piston/emotion is maximally rising to the top at any given moment, all other pistons are in the motor functioning and waiting for their turn to rise to the top. To wit: I may be angry at any given moment, but I know y sadness co-exists beneath my anger, as well as my laughter and/or any other emotion.

"So I'm angry; and suddenly I laugh because I'm sad. All three are in operation at once; what the audience sees at the surface is merely a result of which emotion dominates at any particular time due to what particular stimulus occurred just prior.

"All emotions are co-existent in all human beings; and they are not exclusive when they surface. Others are present as well; only at differently apparent levels.

"So, Tim, to be emotionally real--which is what we actors all strive for--is to be complex and simulataneous alive. There is no acting emotion without another threatening to reveal itself from below and within. How do we learn to do this? We learn to be emotionally real and it will automatically occur. Don't 'play' emotion. Be real and emotion will play you...properly and with simultaneous possibility."

Monday, December 14, 2009

ON ACTING: Giving the Audience Their Money's Worth

Audiences are emotional consumers; they are prudent-buyers of feeling. They want their money’s worth.

They expect a ten course meal of emotions when entering a theatre and/or witnessing a performance. To satisfy them, a director can either hire several actors in one scene to serve up one emotional a dish at a time: i.e., cast one actor to do an angry character, one actor to do a sad character, one actor to do a sexy character, etc. Or the director can hire one actor who can serve up a full course meal of emotions all by himself, on a single plate, in a single scene.

So when approaching a role in a scene, I encourage the good actor to look for the widest array of character-emotion possibilities in the scene, to consider turning any single performance or any single scene into a star-turn, a ten event decathlon, a meal of multi-dished emotional possibilities.

Friday, December 11, 2009

ON ACTING: Divng Deep into a Scene

Actors are often given scenes where "nothing is happening." They complain they want "more out of the scene." So they talk faster, sometimes louder; move about the set with frenetic physical action. They get up rather than sit, move rather than stand still, handle a multiplicity of props with great imagination and dexterity.

While all of the above are valid and sometimes entertaining compliments to the dialogue in a scene, there is another way perhaps to create excitement in what the actor perceives as a "dull" scene.

Sometimes I tell actors that if they want "more" in a scene, don't just necessarily look to enhanced physical expression to activate the seeming "nothingness" in the scene, I gesture and say "look here," pointing to my gut, indicating a deepening of emotions as the way to make "something happen" in a scene.

I call it the "still waters run deep approach". While maintaining the calm surface level of a scene, the actor can, by deepening the emotions swirling under that calm exterior, create a sense of foreboding. Then each simple movement that formerly seemed unexciting now becomes fraught with significance. Like swimming out in a deep lake, in so doing the actor creates a sense of excitement and danger. While the actor still swims smoothly along the surface of the scene, under/in him the darker waters of truth or substance are now-enhanced, threatening to swallow the actor from within, or burst through the surface, creating a vibratory tension on the surface in the actor otherwise outer smooth performance.

ON ACTING: Importance --> Intensity --> Excitement

The intensity or excitement of a scene, which correlates with an audience's involvement in the scene, is directly related to the character's sense of importance of the scene. Character importance = actor-as-character intensity = audience interest.

And since every good actor seeks to maximize audience involvement in his/her performance, it follows that a good actor wants every scene to be important to the character.

Therefore I submit to actors looking to increase emotional importance in playing a character: if you can attach supreme importance to everyday events of your life you certainly are able to attach importance to the events in any character’s life.

Character’s goals are generally no more or less mundane than yours.

Actors: develop a talent to appreciate that everyone’s goals, in everyday life or dramatic life, are all important and significant, at least to them, and proceed, AND act, accordingly; even when playing the most (seemingly) mundane of characters.

Live according to this motto: No one's life or goal is insignificant or unimportant; period...an important lesson for life or performance.

Tuesday, December 08, 2009

ON ACTING: Every Scene is Personal

Every scene should be personally important to the actor, as well as to the actor-as-character. As a method of inducing personal importance in a scene, Uta Hagen suggested the device of substitution. The more personal the actor can make the scene, the more the scene is about him and his life, about his reactions to that life, the more important the scene becomes; and the deeper and more identifiable the emotions the actor will feel and reveal in performance.

The actor might well ask when handed a new scene to play: “What important emotional event in my life do you want me to re-live in this scene?”

An actor should inquire of any scene: what is the personal importance of this character, this scene to me, to my life, to my set of convictions? How can I identify my life with the characters? What do the character and I have in common; if not on the topical surface event of the scene, perhaps then in some analogous, metaphorical emotionally experiential way? Have I experienced emotions similar to what I think the character will go through?

And when that emotional identity, whether factual or analogous, occurs between actor and character, the character will no longer be isolated from the actor and his/her concerns; the character’s concerns and the actor's concerns are now one. And the scene and performance will be more exciting to perform and watch.

Saturday, December 05, 2009

Drama's just another way of singing the blues.

Tuesday, December 01, 2009

ON ACTING: Achieving Reality Plus

The actor's obligation in performance is primarily to be emotionally "real", that is, to really feel when portraying and character; to let those feels initiate and infuse all the character's overt actions (dialogue, movement, prop handling, etc., whether these actions be "natural" or highly stylized).

However, the actor's performance achievement of reality is only Step One on the road to good acting. Actors on reality shows are real, but (a) I find them generally boring; or (b) these reality actors generally get paid much less than actors on scripted shows, which may infer that producers don't value them as highly because they are not as good "actors"...if they really can be considered actors in the first place. (Which I believe they are...and should be unionized.)

A good actor, however, whether in reality TV or scripted shows, must strive for not only reality when they are performing but also exciting reality. Remember, audiences leave the reality of their lives and watch TV and go to movie houses to experience a heightened reality...and actors must provide that heightened experience through the exciting nature of their onstage performance: which asks that the actor must always be real, agreed, but that reality must contain elements of intensity, variety and complexity, and moreover be artfully structured and elegant in delivery. Those additional elements invariably will lift an actor's performance from just "real" reality to exciting reality, and heighten the audience's emotional identification and involvement...which, as we know, audiences seek, for which they are willing to pay for...and which provides the money which eventually trickles down to actors' pocketbooks.