Thursday, May 27, 2010

ON ACTING: Preparing for the Scene

The student asked me:

"What do I do in the next class after having received and cold read the scene in the first class?"

My answer:

"Work hard to memorize your lines, and then find a way to "become your character", that is, find emotional similarities in your life and the character's life until you are no longer playing the character, but during the scene you are the character: reacting onstage to the other character's words and events of the scene spontaneously and without consciousness aforethought, at the deepest, most interesting aspects of yourself."

Saturday, May 22, 2010

ON ACTING: "Losing Control"

John had been married and divorced many times, and could see no rhyme or reason to his inter-gender experiences. Life was emotional madness; and as he saw it, without discernible method. Very depressed one day, after the breaking up of another disturbing relationship, he went to a psychiatrist: “Doc, my love life is in chaos. I can’t seem to find any consistency. There’s no pattern. I date all kinds of girls…tall girls, old girls, married women, deaf women; women with cancer, health nuts. I marry them, I co-habituate with them; we have separate apartments, bi-coastal arrangements…I even dated a guy one time. But no matter who I go out with, a month later we break up…there’s no pattern...I tell you, I’m losing control…”

"Losing control?" the psychiatrist says. "You break up with everyone of them after a month. Your problem is not too little control, it's you want too much control!"

In acting, as was the case in the ‘John and his Psychiatrist’ scenario, losing control is so rare that it really is a misnomer: control is never lost; it just switches from exogenous, cognitive, mental control to inner, spontaneous, emotional control: in either case, whether the voluntary nervous system or the autonomic nervous system is at the helm of action-creation-from-emotional-impulse, structure is unavoidable and inevitable.

When my student actors are hesitant in releasing emotion in performance for fear of losing their ‘personal control’: hitting someone in anger, or really falling in love, or becoming irretrievably sad, I tell them: in all the years I have been teaching I have had no murders, no suicides and no pregnancies. I tell them, as the psychiatrist said the Jon, if actors err on any side it is having too much control.

To break the pattern of too much performance control, I tell reluctant actors to inch up in class toward emotional freedom like a child crawling away from Mama’s skirts, a few feet at a time; in every scene rehearsal, allow themselves a few steps of emotional freedom before returning to check out if Mama is still there, and then a few steps more, and them back to Mama. In that way a reluctant actor ‘loses (actually give up conscious) emotional control’ a little at a time, growing more and more confident with each emotional freeing step.

Saturday, May 15, 2010

ON ACTING: "Discoveries" and "Surprises"

"Discoveries" and "character surprises" are important structural elements in any scene. They are moments of major transition, when the character is forced by facts and stimuli of adversarial life to pause, re-consider, reflecting on newly confronted realities and ramifications of plot.

Moments of discovery and surprise are, by definition, never anticipated. Characters are caught unawares. In this way the idea of a ‘moment to moment’ performance wraps itself around the concepts of discovery and surprise. Discovery and surprise can only happen to the actor-as-character when the actor-as-character is living "moment to moment"; not in anticipation. Anticipation is dramatically antagonistic to discovery/surprise; it is fatally toxic.

Writers call these discoveries and surprises "reversals of fortune". They are really major character transitions in the plot, and exceedingly revealing moments and change (developments) in the character’s life.

Thursday, May 06, 2010

ON ACTING: A Long Delayed and Apologetic Response to Michelle

From Michelle Enriquez January 5 at 9:52pm Report

"Hi Mr. Osmond, my name is Michelle Enriquez and i was recently seeking tips through the Internet on where to start in acting. I have little to no experience in acting, but i feel as if i have potential with the right training, and the right connections. I was wondering if you are offering any acting coach classes in the phoenix area? do you have any extra tips on where to start? do i need a resume? thank you so much for your time. I hope to hear from you :)"


Dear Michelle:
(1) Connections are important, but developing your talent is initially more important. Before your connections (to buyers, after all) matter, you've got to have a good product (your acting ability) to sell.
(2) Concerning my coming to Phoenix. I used to come there a lot, but the contact I had who used to set up my Phoenix workshops gave up that local business. Ah, well...
(3) Start your acting by studying and learning and practicing; just as it is in any other profession. Find out (by asking other serious actors...and you can often find them in local theaters!) who the best teachers are in your area; study with them, and from those contacts, a base of connections will develop.
(4) A final thought on connections: Next time you and I are born, we'll choose to be born by either Hollywood studio heads, and/or Academy Award winning actors. Then we won't have to worry about connections. Just surviving the upbringing they provide for us.
(5) Call your local Screen Actors Guild (there is one in Phoenix) for any and all advice and pointers.
(6) A resume is only an beneficial as the information it provides. Do theater; do independent films; study, etc. Then, when your have done a few things, you will have experience(s) to 'resume' about ...and then you can write one up, print is out and send it around to buyers of talent. (You should be able to get sample resumes from Screen Actor's Guild.)
(7) Good luck in your efforts.
(8) Happy New Year.

Monday, May 03, 2010

ON ACTING: Anger; and a Squeaky Voice

I was working the other night with an actress who was having vocal problems: specifically a "squeakiness" of tone, as well as lack of volume, or tonal projection. She was not alone in this dilemma. Many of my students--especially women--have a problem with vocal tension, or unnaturally high-pitched-ness. I must admit, I find the sound of their voices off-putting, as I do with many shrill (mostly female...the male newscasters are just annoyingly loud) political commentators on Fox-News, CNN and MSNBC.

What causes it...or more specifically, how to get rid of it.

I gave the young lady in class an angry scene. She said she had difficulty with anger; especially admitting it ("copping to it", was the phrase we used) in public. She played the scene with her usual "squeakiness" of voice...until one moment in the scene when, truly aroused, she gave full vent to anger...and the squeakiness disappeared; and a full, weighty sound came easily out of her throat.

Comfortableness with anger--and the subsequent full open sound emanating from an open throat and a un-tensed chest (and therefore the possibility of full lung capacity)--are directly related.

I believe people with squeaky voices are holding something back, generally anger. Not that they don't feel anger; they do, but when they speak, they "squeak", exhibiting their uncomfortableness with it. They back off of confrontation. They don't like conflict. They are reluctant to reveal their anger in public. They (the women) often say they feel like a "bitch" when exhibiting anger. I tell them they are wrong. Most women feel like bitches when exhibiting anger because men, as a tactic when facing women's often justifiable wrath, have told them that they are bitches when in truth the women are merely being strong...even when the woman's anger is perfectly justified by the circumstances.

My work with this particular actress is to get her comfortable with anger, the full power of her personality, in public, whenever she feels so moved, without embarrassment or apology. She must embrace justifiable conflict, stand forcible up to opposition. Her anger is hers. She need not back off, both literally and figuratively, tensing her chest and vocal cavity--squelching her anger--when feeling like directing her anger at someone. Let it out.

My experience with the squeaky voices in hundreds of actors--her and others--is thata repressed vocal tone will invariably become a richer, fuller, more weighty and more pleasant to hear one when their anger is an acceptable part, in and out of public, of their human personality.

Sunday, May 02, 2010

ON ACTING: The Simultaneity of Emotion

An actor who ‘plays’ emotional moments one after another as if they are discrete occurrences, plays falsely. Emotions are like pistons, all part of a single entity. Perhaps one emotion may be dominant at a particular moment, coming to the top of the engine’s (actor's) actions, but the others are co-existent, susceptible of rising to the top at any other moment. As in life, one emotion does not end, and another begins. They overlap in real time. Like playing the piano with a depressed foot pedal, there is a blending of subsequent sounds over time.

Think of driving a car. At first the driver is driving straight ahead, the whole body headed in a forward momentum. Then, when the driver makes a turn to the left, her whole body does not make a full turn. Part of the driver’s body still maintains forward direction. Suddenly the driver turns right. Now part of the body is going right, part is still going left, and part straight ahead. (Try it sometimes…carefully, on a deserted street…please.) Forward momentum mixed with left turn and right turn dynamics; the body is now going in all three directions at once.

So actors beware: The audience, as I have repeated again and again in these blogs, knows life (without even consciously knowing they know it). They recognize the falseness of discrete emotions and the truth of simultaneous emotions. They ‘know’ emotional changes in life are not discrete events, with one emotion stopping before another begins. They have driven many emotional cars in their lives, So when they see an actor’s false performance such as we have described--discrete emotion following discrete emotion--they know the actor has removed herself from real life, and the audience--as they always do when presented by an actor's unreal emotional life--ceases to identify with the actor’s performance.

Saturday, May 01, 2010

Human life is a felt experience. It must be so in acting.

ON ACTING: Variety in Performance

Variety is the natural and inevitable range of a winner...and a good actor. As any scene is a conflict, a natural winner is one who is unafraid of paying the widest range of emotional prices to achieve victory in that scene. A long scene should be a priori evidence to the actor that positive results are not easily forthcoming with one, and only one, emotional tactic. Variety in performance is automatically present when conflictual life is fully engaged in by goal-oriented people whose emotional courage frees them to have many emotional options at their command.

The presence of emotional variety in a scene, while required for exciting acting life, is, like all the other elements of excellent acting, logical to (exciting) life, on or off stage. Natural winners create emotional variety naturally; it is an inevitable concomitant to their desire to win. “All right; here’s my anger. Now do I win?” No. “All right; here’s my sadness. Now do I win?” No. “All right; here’s my sexiness. Now do I win?”

Emotional flexibility is built into the survival/winning mechanism; as the emotional system moves from one emotion to another until it finds the one that works. Only fear inhibits emotional range and flexibility; thereby rendering the fullness of the human system unavailable for effective use.

Actors must abjure fear, and embrace courage.