Sunday, July 25, 2010

ON ACTING: Waiting For the Director to Direct Me

I recommend all actors learn to be “director proof”.

That is, ideally, actors should learn to be self-directing and self adjusting, capable to direct themselves into an "on" performance; or, when there performance is "off", (“That didn’t feel right”) and adjust themselves before the next ‘take’ or the next night's stage performance.

Often the director doesn’t have the time to cure the actor’s performance illness.

Often the director doesn't have the ability.

I believe the following capability formula is operative in all professions: 3% of any given craft are excellent; 47% are okay, the rest are for sh*t. So this leaves at least 50% of directors incompetent.

It is important that an actor be prepared to fill not only the void of an incompetent director, or but also protect oneself from an engaged, well meaning but untalented director.

Bad directors often want to work with you; discuss with you, hovering over you and your performance, spending endless effort tinkering and micromanaging you…all the way to mediocrity!

Even if you luck into an excellent director (3%, remember!), remember that the best directors are not threatened by actor competence. Don't worry about director disapproval if you add your actor insights into the performance mix. Both good and excellent directors appreciate an actor who can bring a sense of self-direction to a scene, freeing the director to do other things on the set.

Beware the opposite extreme, however: actors who stand around waiting for the director to tell him everything to do. That is naive and unproductive. Even when the director is among the three percent excellent at directing and knowledgeable about actors and acting, he or she would rather not bother.

Imagine this analogous situation: You are about to throw a big party. But a leak springs out under the sink. You hire a plumber who comes to the house, looks at the pipe under the sink, and asks you how to fix a leak.

The plumber would deserve the following response: “Fix the leak?! Are you kidding? What do you think I hired you for? Here’s the dripping faucet, I’m paying you lots of money. I expect it to be done in an hour. I’ve got a million other things to do to prepare for the party.”

Just so the director will think: “Here’s the role, here’s the set, the blocking and the lines; I’m paying you $1000 (its a union job!) I expect the scene to be done excitingly, and in a day; if you need help, I’ll get under the sink to help you…but, believe me I'd prefer not to.

Imagine arriving at a set and have the director ask you: “How do you think I ought to direct this scene?” You think you'd have much confidence or respect for that director? Well, neither is a director much comforted by an ever-questioning, blank-slate actor.

When an excellent actor (only 3% of us) and an excellent director (3% of them) come together...magic happens. But until that day occurs, hope for the best, and prepare for the worst. Become director proof. (Or, in case you're a director, become actor proof!!!! That's a whole harder task, believe me!)

Friday, July 16, 2010

ON ACTING: Poorly.

What is bad acting?

Fundamentally, bad acting is performing a role without real, honest emotional involvement on the part of the actor in the character's portrayed; that is, however abstract or surreal the form and dialogue of the character the actor is being asked to enact, a bad actor acts on stage or on screen AS IF he were really feeling the real emotional life of the character rather than really feeling it.

Bad acting is really a way to avoid emotional truth: The bad actor in performance is saying: “How can I do this (acting the life of the character) without REALLY experiencing any real personal emotional involvement in the life of the character, in the life the scene?”

The answer of course is, if you want to be a good actor: “You can’t.”


Trying to achieve fakery, an attempt to fool the audience into believing emotional truth and involvement is occurring when it really is not, is THE SOURCE OF ALL BAD ACTING HABITS...and the raison d'etre behind good teaching.

For example: a bad actor in class tries to speak the dialogue fast with the real emotional energy, which, in life, is what makes one speak fast, I say "Don't do that." The bad actor tries to enact the character in the scene without really listening to the nuances of the dialogue spoken by the other actor, I say "Don't do that." The actor tries to speak angrily when they are not really angry, I say "Don't do that." And on and on.

Until, finally, when they are convinced that that there is no way around good acting, there is only 'through' it, I show them various emotional (truth telling) methods and techniques they can can practice and impliment so they can accomlish IN REALITY their necessary (for audience involvement) character performance desires; I enable them to wed emotional substance to their desired performance forms.

When I teach good acting I am really teaching actors how not to lie and then how to tell the truth.

Why do actors lie? Why does anyone in life lie? Liars are afraid of the naked reality and power of the truth.

To act the emotions that are often required to excite millions, to really feel those emotions in the first place, to really feel those emotions while saying just these words (the dialogue) and moving just here or just there (the directed movement), to really feel those emotions within the formal constraints of a performance, and then perhaps in front of millions, is fundamentally an act of great courage.

I teach...and greatly admire and appreciate...courage; and my work is structured to help people face the difficulty to attain truth consistently and powerfully over a long career.

Thursday, July 08, 2010

ON ACTING: 'Beginning' a Scene

The actor said to me: "I have trouble starting a scene. It is always flat, boring. It isn't until half way through that I 'get connected'; and only then it becomes interesting. What do I do?

To begin with, I would start correcting the problem of initial boring-ness by erasing the idea of 'starting a scene' from your mind. Acting is life. And life never just starts. It is a continuum. Granted, at a certain point in our life--a certain point in the life of a character--people (audiences) start paying attention. The curtain rises, or the camera is turned on. But who and what we are-- before the scene and moment the scene 'starts'--is the sum total and ongoing energy of all that has gone before...we are at any moment of our lives the sum total of the bundle of emotion that has propelled us into the scene in the first place.

If we have walked up three flights of stairs, we should probably 'enter' the scene perhaps tired and breathy (unless we are playing a phenomenal athlete); or if our boyfriend has left us three hours before, we may 'begin' the scene sad and fighting not to show our sadness; or if we have raced across town to get to the house, we 'begin' the the scene bursting with the energy and emotion of the cross town travel...if you're in Los Angeles, you're still dazed by insanity...melded with the emotional need and objective which is aimed at the person we are talking with, including the style of manner appropriate to our dealing with the other character(s) in the scene.

Don't 'begin' a scene...just allow the camera or audience to pick you (the charcater) up in the scene.

Point two: perhaps another reason you are more interesting and connected in the second half of the scene is that generally the characters--including yours--are by the second half of the scene, and the script, now talking about the central issue in the scene, and the emotion underlying the scene has arisen to the surface, energizing you (the actor as the character) to participate in the life of the scene.

To wit: adjstment. Don't wait until the second half of the scene (when the taxt forces you to get emotionally involved or to get interested) to get stirred up; prepare that emotional/issue involvement far earlier in before the scene starts! The emotion underlying the whole scene has been (should be) present in you (the character) before the beginning, before the curtain rises or the director says "Action". Just because a person gets angry in the middle of the scene does not mean the anger--the potential to be angry--has not bee swimming around in you UNDER THE SURFACE before, perhaps all day...which makes for the audience focusing in on an interesting character right from the start. Two characters may not kiss until the middle or end of the scene, but the sexual desire and tension has been there from the beginning of the scene. A volcano may erupt at the ends of the scene, but a volcano has been rumbling deep in the earth for some time before. And when the audience--as well as you, the actor/character--feels and senses that rumbling before the so-called 'start' of the scene--all present are interested and interesting when the scene 'starts'.

Silly, arbitrary and helpful Rule: start activating the character's emotion and needs at least two minutes before the official 'start' of a scene, and you will find that that official 'start' of a scene will no longer be as boring and dull and uninteresting to either you or the audience as you were before.

Monday, July 05, 2010

ON ACTING: The 'No-no' of Auto-stimulation

Some acting instructors teach actors how to apply--during a scene--certain emotional tricks or exercises or techniques to self-induce desired emotions.

Warning on the label: When using such acting methodology, negative consequences may arise.

Problem number one: emotions in real life--hence in good acting--do not generally arise by self-stimulation. Certainly no one in life wants to feel pain, or sadness, or fear...only, it seem, self-stimulating actors! Emotions in reality arise, or are generally induced, by the the external stimulation of outer stimuli. Even when deep emotions are induced by inner thought, that inner thought is secondary, and dependently reactive: the thinking brain has been initially activated by external stimuli. For example: we see a man who reminds us of out father; we feel a strange longing. That feeling of longing produces the desire to remember our father, which caused our final (and actor desired) deeper feelings.

Potential problem number two: the concentration of self during emotional self-stimulation takes the actor's concentration out of the scene; and, ironically and unfortunately, the less the actor’s focus in on the eternal reality of his scene, the less he renders himself capable of being stimulated by the scene itself, where real emotions generally and most properly happen!

Problem number three: when that happens, when the actor is so busy self-stimulating, and ceases listening and looking to external reality of the scene itself, the scene loses its conflictual tension because the auto-stimulating actor is somewhere else than in the tension of the scene: in point of fact, he is within himself.

Actor’s and teachers who plan to improperly use such preparation emotional techniques and exercises during a scene should recognize the ‘pre’ in the word preparation. This would seem to indicate that emotional preparation techniques should occur before the scene, not during.

There is an old joke: A married couple had been married twenty five long years. They are in bed having their obligatory once a month sexual rendezvous. It is a warm evening. They’re tired; but they are dutifully committed to the success of the joint venture. They are working very hard. Ten minutes pass; twenty. Both are now covered with perspiration. Nothing emotional is happening. Thirty; thirty-five. Finally, after a three-quarters of an hour passes, he stops, looks at her and says: “Can’t you think of anyone else either?”

As a last resort, applying tricks, techniques or exercises mid-scene may be acceptable as a salvage effort on behalf of an emotionless scene, or an emotionless marriage, but wouldn’t it be nice if the two people in the scene were fully prepared to get off on the sights and sounds of each other instead of their separate selves.