Thursday, September 29, 2011


Acting is DOING!.

Acting is a noun, but it also is a verb; it comes the root concept"to act," to DO something.

Actors must remember that "Action",  not "Emote!" or "Feel!", is the verbal command at the start of every filmed scene.

Feeling is as feeling does.

Drama is character revealed in action. A picture is worth a thousand words; a deed is often worth ten lines of dialogue.

Dialogue itself is an action, an active attempt to change someone else's mind. Language actively seeks confirmation, agreement, a change in someone else's behavior. By speaking, we are doing something, trying to actively alter the human landscape to our favor.

All human activity is active. A reminder to actors: don't just stand there (feeling), do something. Convert feelings into action.

Feelings themselves are inner actions; the inner body coming up with something to express with the outer body. Feelings are the origin of actions that eventually act on the world around you in such a way as to keep it the way it is if you are feeling happy; to change it if you are feeling sad, frustrated angry or morose.

Without actions, feelings are a static, dead pools of bad (unreal) acting...and the emoting, and thereby inactive actor (or character) is a dead actor. And will be buried far off audience yawns. (If they ever get the job in the first place.)


Sunday, September 25, 2011

ON ACTING: Banishing Consciousness of Purpose

Some actors are very good about defining and "playing" their character's objective in a scene. They know that character objective properly underlays character energy, character economy and character actions.

But where these same actors often go wrong is having the character consciously aware of their objective during the playing of the scene.

Most people is life--which is what acting is attempting to emulate--do not know their purpose in most 'scenes' of their life. They often move through life unaware of ultimate goals. That's why they often create unproductive actions, why they often find themselves in the middle of comedy or tragedy. (In acting, in drama, of course, characters are ALWAYS by definition in the midst of comedy or tragedy!)

An actor who is consciously aware of his or her objective--the meaning of his/her actions--throughout the scene loses the possibility of wonderful moments of discovery, reversals of fortune, great emotional upheavals and surprises--all elements of an exciting performance. An all-knowing actor also invites the question: if the character was always so aware of his wants and needs during the scene, why did he or she get into the scene's dilemma in the first place. Consciously aware people most generally avoid unproductive situations.

I would argue that in the midst of drama or comedy most people--and interesting characters--lose awareness of their goals and actions. They are too caught up in life-saving denials. They are living 'moment-to-moment', their emotions too caught up in the present, their blood rushing to the heart and groin, and away from the brain.

I advise actors, in their scene analysis and preparation, to ferret out their character's objective in a scene, commit to it, be prepared to fight ferociously throughout the scene to attain it, but, once the scene commences, forget it, push knowledge of it away from their consciousness, bury it deeply in their unconscious muscle memory, so that it while it will energize their character's actions, there will be no residue of consciousness infecting the reality of their performance nor the innocence of their character.

Can an actor be knowing of their objective before the scene and unknowing during? Yes, of course. In life, as I mention above--it is called denial. It is part of a good actor's acting technique and craft...and training. Avoid it at peril.

Saturday, September 24, 2011

ON ACTING: "I don't like the role!"

Why do certain actor's either consciously or unconsciously resist certain scripts.

The answers are varied.  (1) The script may be in truth a bad one. Period...and the actor is smart to avoid it. (2) The script may be good, but actor may have played that kind of character before in another script and finds the character/performance repetitiously unappealing. (3) Or...and this is my point in this mini-essay--sometimes the actor is threatened by the over-challenged emotional demands of a certain character, and blames the script for the undesirable (for him or her) character portrait. (We often do that in everyday life, don't we? Mischaracterize--negatively judge--a person who puts emotional demands on that we are uncomfortable in fulfilling?)

When an actor judges a character as unworthy of being acted--in effect, turning down the role-- I ask the actor the following question: is it possible you are uncomfortable with that particular aspect of your own character? Is the emotion demanded by the role one you generally do not wish to feel, onstage or off? Are you negatively and subjectively judging the emotion required in the characterization and projecting that onto your seeming "objective" analysis (and denigration) of the writing and character?

Good actors must be brave in their logical emotional evaluation of self. There is nothing wrong with avoiding a role one does not wish to play--or feel. We are free to decide what is good or preferable for our emotional comfortableness and/or needs. However, I think it is important for the actor to realize when they are turning down certain character demands--and worse through blaming the writer for a bad, unreal or "corny" script and rejecting it--and hence limiting the range of roles available to them; in most instances they are rationalizing away their fear rather than honestly admitting a limitation.

When the latter reason--fear of the emotional demands of the role--for rejecting a role occurs in class I try to cajole actors into trying the role anyway, trying to expand their emotional range into previously avoided places. As encouragement I offer them FDR's statement: "the only thing we have to fear is fear itself;" class is a safe place, and what one initial fear becomes, with hard work, less frightening--and perhaps, hopefully, eventually, exciting to deal with; like turning one's fear of heights into the exciting thrill of mountain climbing. The fear remains; but it has been transformed into the joy and excitment of testing and overcoming that particlar arena of fear,

Ironically, more often than not, on those wonderful occasions when a previously frightened actor ventures into the emotion that they had up to then avoided, and taps into that aspect of themselves, they sometimes find a performance treasure.

Are not diamonds carbon transformed by pressure? Similarly, when an emotional arena of oneself has been kept under severe 'wraps' or pressure (repression) within oneself for years (eons, in an individual's experienciong of repressed everyday life), and is finally dug up and experienced and revealed in performance, one more often than not finds that that repressed emotion has become  the actor's field of diamonds--to be gathered and formed into the new core of one's performance excellence.

Saturday, September 17, 2011

FYI: San Francisco Workshop; Sat/Sun, October 15/16. For details, go to

Thursday, September 15, 2011

ON ACTING: A "Corny" Script

From class:

She: "I don't like the scene you asked me to do."
Me: "What's wrong with it?"
She: "I find it corny."
Me: "What does that mean?"

She pondered a bit. We agreed it meant cliche, transparent, sentimental and obvious. (I've always felt the word derived from an Eastern-born attitude--bias-- against the Midwest, the "Cornfield States", the land of simple people and simplistic--or so Easterners thought--ideas, values and lifestyles.)

I said I agreed with her estimate of the writing. The scene--about a call-girl-mother and long-lost daughter conflict--was not in and of itself a great writing example of subtlety, complexity and profundity. was about a mother-daughter, which always had the potential of being profound, dependent on the involvement of the "players" (translate: actors). After all, all daughters derive from mothers; all mothers obtain evolutionary immortality through daughters. Very basic stuff, that!

Moreover, I said, a professional actor's job is to enact a character that could be in  lesser actor's, hands a mediocre, banal endeavor, and turn it into a thing of deep beauty. After, we can't get Shakespeare or Moliere or Arther Miller or Neil Simon to write all our scripts.

And speaking of Shakespeare: what is considered his greatest play, "Hamlet", is on the plot level a really a melodramatic story--one might even say, "corny." After an opening scene, a college kid named Hamlet come home on vacation and is confronted by a ghost!  The ghost says he is the kid's recently expired father who tells the kid his mother had been sleeping with his uncle for a while and together they had killed the father by pouring poison in his ear!. And the father wants the kid to execute revenge on the mother and uncle.

A bit obvious and melodramatic, no? One could even say, "corny?" In lesser writer hands, of course, the resulting script could sound like a horror flick, the Elizabethan "Blair Witch Project"...but in Shakespeare's hands, it become probably the greatest play in the English canon.

So I argued to the student that performance profundity--like Shakespeare's Hamlet--can result from the execution of a seemingly corny character by a great actor. The great actor is great because he/she has the ability to turn even corn into a gourmet delicacy, lead into gold, shit (pardon the crudity) into Swiss chocolate. That's precisely why great actors get paid so much. They are great chefs, and alchemists, and taste-bud enhancers.

Postscript: Being class, a place for experimentation, the student, being a brave and good student, decided to overcome her attitude toward the corny script and accept the challenge: to create a performance that rises above--or penetrates below--the surface obviousness and possible banality of the material to become a profound, complex and subtle performance of one of life's basic relationships, and tensions.

Sunday, September 11, 2011

ON ACTING: The Irish Government is Wrong

The Irish government give tax breaks to their writers...but not to their actors. The rationale is that writers are creative, whereas actors are "interpretive" artists (not "creative": they do not create original material, but merely interpret the creative material of others: namely, writers).

The Irish government is wrong,

Writers and actors are both creators, if we mean by that the establishment of something tangibly new, something that had not gone before. Both sets of artists take experience--in the case of writers, the experience of their lives and educations, in the case of actors, the experience of the written piece presented to them to perform (as well as their life and education), and filter this experiential material through their own individual imaginations, through their own emotional sensibilities, creating a new emotional imaginative form and narrative (writers through subsequent story and words/dialogue, actors through their subsequent physical being in performance, their voices--the sound of the dialogue--and their other physical actions or gesture and movement). Both mold raw material into something not seen or heard before.

Both actors and writers, if you want, re-interpret, their experience into something new. They both absorb tangible material set before their senses, giving it a new creative form. Only God Himself created out of nothing (or...perhaps he had molecules left over from creating another universe?)

Putting theology aside, the Irish government should tax them all, or tax them none (of course taxing God is at best a moot question; somebody in the Irish tax collectors office has to find Him first in order to collect any tax lien.)

Actors, remember these two things: pay your taxes, are creative.

Only bad (false) actors listen to the Irish government and limit themselves to mere interpretation of the writer's script. The writer's material is just a beginning of the actor's creative process. The writer's dialogue is simply an initial visual (albeit de-limiting and defining, but subsequently, when you speak the words and create the movement, a full personal physical experience) that aids you, stimulates you in your creatively unique (and once and forever; each time you do it, it is never exactly the same) acting performance.

Writers don't interpret dialogue in the sense of dialogue being solely a creation of the writer (which is, after all, nothing but black straight and squiggly lines on a white piece of paper to begin with. The actor's understanding of them is a joint act bewteen writer and actor) The actors IN PERFORMANCE create with their voices, their body, their emotions--dare I say soul): their full human to make manifest the meaning of the dialogue TO THEM.

It is said of Shakespeare that "he didn't write his thoughts; he thought with his pen." Actors don't just act the dialogue; the dialogue arises through their experience. They are both creative acts...deserving of equal respect...if not of tax breaks.

Thursday, September 08, 2011

ON ACTING: The Danger of Doubts

I offer insecure actors--those who don't follow up on networking, refuse to work hard on a difficult part, or  turn down a new and potentially more productive agent to remain with more comfortable but disinterested one--a valuable quote from Shakespeare:

"Our doubts are traitors, and make us lose the good we oft might win, by fearing the attempt."
                      .....from "Measure to Measure"

Tuesday, September 06, 2011

ON ACTING: About Short Scenes and Good Acting

Only actors want long, difficult scenes. People--which is what actors are generally asked to play--want short scenes; they want short paths to achieving their goals.

Emotional difficulty in a scene is forced on their character by the tenacity of the other character(s) in a scene.

The paradigm of a well acted long scene: character(s) enter the scene wanting quick, easy success, and  are unexpectedly thwarted in their desires. The writer has created conflict for the characters--a conflict that the characters are committed to winning--and because of the writer's conflictual narrative construct, the characters are forced to ante up a long series of dialogue exchanges, sometimes lasting five to six pages, forced to come up with the emotional energy that underscores their verbal outpouring.

However, and this is the key point necessary for the actor to achieve good acting: throughout the scene, he or she expects every line of dialogue to be his or her last line in the scene; expecting their most recent logical outpouring of dialogue to the other character(s) in the scene to be correct and convincing, worthy of causing the other character(s)' capitulation immediately in the conflict.

Like tennis players who don't want long matches, neither do good actors. In a great tennis match, the ball always surprisingly comes back over the net...forcing another volley return...and another. Like good tennis players, good actors while preparing for a long scene, entering scene with deep emotional and physical reservoirs, try to win (and expect to win) each and every point as easily and quickly as possible.

Enter the scene expecting a short scene to occur; and let the scene--and the tenacity and skill of the opponent--dictate the subsequent length.

Thursday, September 01, 2011

ON ACTING: The Craziness of it All

He (to me): When acting. even when we are most into the scene, aren't we still a little aware we are living a fiction?
Me (to him): Ideally, no.
He: You mean, we really believe we are living onstage in reality, that the other characters in a scene are our real wives, real bosses, real lovers, that we are not on a set?
Me: When acting, yes.
He: Then all actors acting are a little bit crazy, thinking that a performance is reality.
Me: Crazy as opposed to...?
He: Living in everyday reality.
Me: Everyday reality is just as crazy. We believe lies all the time, accept non-facts as facts: that our wives and girlfriends are faithful when they are not, that our fathers hate us when they love us dearly, that we are untalented when we really are talented...and act accordingly.

As I have said many times in this blog in the past, acting onstage is inherently nothing different than what we do in life off stage. Only actors do onstage life, on demand, in front of people, withing very narrow parameters of words and deeds...and excitingly. Craziness--believing in what we imagine is true but may turn out not to be when the curtain descends or the director yells "Cut!"--is not confined to acting. Welcome to life...and what the poet and critic Coleridge called the "willing suspension of disbelief." He said audiences practice it--crying over, or laughing at and being scared by fictional lives portrayed on stage or on screen. If audiences can suspend their disbelief and accept (by their real emotional involvement) onstage and onscreen fiction as fact, why can't actors? In fact, for actors to do anything else would be crazy of them, no?