Saturday, October 06, 2012

ON COMEDY RELIEF: The Requirenment of Seriousness

The actor's primary obligation as the character in the scene is NOT to be funny, but to be very, very serious; to thereby provide the tension in the scene (vis-a-vis the conflict/arument with the other character(s) in the scene) so that the joke in the scene can relieve that tension.

That, in fact, is the origin of the term Comedy Relief.

Friday, September 28, 2012


I am doing all comedy scenes this month in class. Hence:

Comedy is different from drama--and yet they are the same. They are the same in that both obey all the major requirements of good acting: reality, conflict, honesty, interdependence and shared placement (in front of an audience); as well as structure and elegance. The rub between them lies in the last three elements of exciting acting: Intensity, Variety and Complexity.  (Please read my book, Acting is Living, for a complete exposition on these ten fundamentals of good acting,)

INTENSITY: Comedy requires a highly heightened intensity, compensating for an increased intensity with a reduced demand for variety and complexity.

While drama is intense, comedy is very, very very (often absurdly) intense...while of course the actors have to remain real and honest and elegant, etc. (the good actor mustn't lose all the other requirements of good acting in the process of comedy. In comedy, you lift the energised and stylistic head of the flower, but must not tear its roots out of the soil of good acting reality.)

VARIETY: Drama hopefully has much variety; whereas comedy is more emotionally monochromatic.

In fact, that's where the idea of comedy 'types' come from: a comic character has such an excess of one personality component that they seem to have little--if none--of any other.)  

COMPLEXITY: comedy has emotional simplicity (non-complexity, as opposed to the more complex demands of drama). That's why comedy has to move fast. If you slow down, the audience soon realizes that nothing profound or complex is going on. Comic characters are simpler in emotion complex, but make up for it by being intense in that emotion.

Comic characters are compulsive about their emotional needs. They refuse to admit to (or logically recognize when arguing any issue) any doubt in their 'rightness' of their logic. They seem beyond denial. Their relatively implausible argument (to us, the audience) --based on their fundamentally excessive human needs and doubt--drives them to certainty. That's why they say and do such irrational and unreasonable (funny) things in their conflictual discussions: THEY HAVE TO BE RIGHT!

This need and manifestation of certainty creates in the actor's/character's persona a quality of innocence if not naivety; and is a large measure of why they seem so delightfully appealing to audiences. They are absurd-ly human in their emotional need and commitment to fulfilling it; genially oblivious to what they are saying and/or doing in pursuit of the need-fulfillment.

Saturday, September 22, 2012

ON ACTING: A reply to J



"I am here in LA and you are in Pittsburg. I have great respect for your love of acting and your willingness to work for it and on it; and congratulations for your success in the 6th grade. But I don't know how I can overcome the distance and help you in any specific way. On my blog ( I have written a lot about acting for many years (although I have been derelict lately. Read some of if it. This week I vow to start up again.)

"I also offer for your look-see a video series I have started on my website called A Series of Conversations about Acting. See the nine segments I did with an actress called Jessica Kokak. I believe there is some wonderful information for young actors on it.

"I have also written a book: Act is Living. See a link to it also on my website. I also offer long range one-on-one lessons via Skype. Call me if you are interested. Get a cheap video camera and make your own films. Be super critical of your own work. Ask yourself, after viewing you efforts: Would you stay at home on Saturday night and watched that.

"Finally, I ask you to be patient. You are 13. Life is beginning. Along with your efforts in acting, do well at school; acting requires all knowledge of all life because that's what we actors so: life; that's what acting is. Always work hard on your acting, study, and work smart. Study and perform with the best. Learn quickly to evaluate their efforts. Don't just listen to salesman bull from acting tearchers. Demand truth. See the teachers acting work, and ask to see their teaching outputs and their student recitals. Ask to audition a class. Do you want to be as good as their actors...or better! Remember: You are the buyer. The teachers are the sellers .Just like shopping at the market: look at their food carts and squeeze the fruit to make sure it is ripe and the tastiness and consistency you want.
Trust your taste. It must pass into your mind and soul.

"Gook luck. And if you love something, never give up. Just make sure that love involves self-respect and hard work.



ON ACTING: I Return Less Certain

I have just finally finished a memoir about the summer of 1957 when I hitchhiked around the country by thumb (causing my absence from this column).

Since then I have asked myself a series of questions:

Where does memory end, and imagination begin?
Where does fact end; and fantasy begin?
Where does the truth end; and lies begin?
Where does science end; and art begin?
Where does reason end; and passion begin?
Where does reality end; and creativity begin?

Perhaps there is no fixed demarcation line in any of this.
Memory is a constant interface with fluid imagination.
Thinking is a twisting symbiotic process subject to
of Einstein's relativity as emotional truth wrestles with the human obsession for certainty.

What is more valuable?: the definitive facts of what was, or the certainty of what one feels about those facts? The artist argues that facts should be allowed to transform under emotions' flood to new facts, better facts, more true facts.

The artist's chore is not to reconcile dichotomies, but to embrace them.
As Whitman said "Do I contradict my self? Oh, I contradict myself; I contain multitudes."


Monday, July 16, 2012

ON ACTING: The Shared Experience

At the core of acting are a series of transferred feelings: the actor's and the audience's. The actor transfers his/her feelings outward through their performances, encasing them in their personal in their voices and words, their body movements, their faces and their gestures. Then the audience picks up on those outer expressions, and has their own emotional systems thereby activated.

Watching a performance is an experience in self-identification and shared humanity. "Oh," the audience says, in effect, in watching and hearing an actor act. "I recognize myself in you. We are alike, aren't we? I may not be a great lover, like your character, or a killer, or a man or a woman. But your characterization, when reduced to it's simplest sounds and sights, shapes and form, makes me you."

Acting becomes the same experience as the author Pat Conroy says about reading a novel: "finding out we are not alone."

Thursday, July 12, 2012

ON ACTING: General Thoughts

There are three major performance chores for any exciting actor: to create a performance that is (1) emotional honest (the actor truly lives the scene), and (2) logical to the contents of the script (in acting terms, we call both these criteria being "real") and (3) to create a "real" performance that is exciting (audiences come to the theater to be lifted beyond reality. They seek a reality that is memorably exciting (the task of the working actor).

Living reality (theatrical or every day) is exciting when it exhibits emotional  intensity and profundity; and when that heightened emotional reality is artistically structured and elegantly moulded and shared, those latter qualities only serve to enhance the overall performance effect.

Exciting human beings (in theater or in everyday life) exhibit several other  fundamental qualities: they are goal oriented, and as they pursue their goals courageously to other human beings (in acting terms, they pursue their goals through the other 'characters' in the scene).

To be an exciting actor is also bottom line to be (generally to have learned to be) an exciting person-one who exhibits an many of the personal qualities noted above as possible--and when acting the exciting actor exhibits them on demand, in front of people, and without being inhibited by the requirements saying just these words, moving physically just where the director suggests, and handling the artifacts of the scene (the props).

To manifest the the above acting skills better than more of your competitors is 99% of the time the product of learning, and experienced effort. There is an old--but still insightful adage: To be excellent at any task requires the focused effort of ten thousand hours of effort. 'Don't cheat the gift,' as they say (of becoming an exciting actor; believe me, its in you) by just dreaming of success and not working toward it.

I advise actors to leave the house today and become an acting 'gym rat.'

Tuesday, July 10, 2012

ON ACTING: A life, onstage or off, without an obective, is a boring life.


Why is an objective (goal, intention, arc, aim) important for a character to have in any scene, short or long, or whole work?

Objectives energize people, and hence actors-as-characters. A life (or performance) without a goal is formless, unfocused and random. Yes, I know that one could argue that all life is random. But I would argue in return: (1) random life is very boring; (2) moreover, the statement that 'all life is random' is an untrue statement, at least from my perspective. Life may seem random to someone else's perspective, but I would argue that at that person's unconscious, unrealizable core--if they are alive--they are about something purposeful: that is, fundamentally, their own survival. Their heart beats to enable them to stay alive; their blood flows to enable them to stay alive; they have eyes to enable them to stay alive (to see danger coming...). Once all these physical elements cease their purposeful functioning, the body is dead.

So is a performance without a goal, or objective.

Trust me. I seen tens of thousands of them--the one's without an objective--and they have all been boring.

Monday, June 11, 2012

ON ACTING: The Potential for Emotional Vulnerability

Before a performance, the actor must create their potential for emotional vulnerability. That is, they must stimulate in their rehearsal their capability and willingness to subsequently feel deeply during the scene when stimulated by other's words and events in the scene. This is often called the actor's "emotional preparation" for the scene.

A few thoughts on "emotional preparation:"

Emotions do not have to be learned by an actor. They are all already deep within them, fully created neurologically by the time they are a small child. All they need is to be freed up (activated; stirred up) by the actor for his subsequent use on stage or on screen.

In performance, no actor's emotion is a priori good or bad, moral or immoral. They are all proper for the actor to use - subject only to the demands of the character and the need for audience excitement. The audience during performance will decide the propriety. morality or ethics of a character's emotion--and his/her resultant character actions--but only after the actor-as-character has freely used them and made them subject to that audience judgement. Actors: don't pre-judge. You are the character's advocates; the audience is the judge and jury.

The Potential for Emotional Vulnerability is just that: a potential state. It is part of the "preparation" for a scene. Before the scene, actors make themselves willing to feel the love, sadness, fear, silliness, etc. appropriate to character arousal during the scene; so that these emotions will be capable of fully and excitingly arising in the actor when stimulated by the words and deeds perpetrated upon the actor in the scene. In other words, actor: don't let your sadness, love, fear or silliness in the scene arise until the actual words and events of the scene CAUSE them to arise. Preparation for emotional vulnerability is creating the potential for feeling; performance is the actual blossoming of the prepared feeling.

Emotions are complicated beyond our understanding. Knowledge of our emotions goes only so far in rehearsal anticipation. (Let's face it, the science of emotions is a new science, and not a very exact one at that.) Therefore, we cannot predict or control exactly the full width or depth, texture or tome, of a performance emotion. A great part--and delight--of an actor's performance is the spontaneous discovery of the fullness, richness and profundity of these heretofore imprecise and unknowable complex human emotions.

Saturday, June 09, 2012

ON ACTING: The Child Within You

Children are a bundle of emotions, initially much freer with their feelings than their emotional adult counterparts.

But, in order to prepare children for their eventual life-away-from-the-protected-household future, they are taught to constrain those emotions; to act "appropriately in public." Adults teach them (or they learn "the hard way") which emotions can lead to negative consequences in life, and then to stifle, or at least minimize, the free flow of those negative-consequence producing emotions in their everyday activity. In many ways, one can view the process of turning children into successfully mature adults as one of teaching children to be emotionally careful.

But to become good actors, the opposite task is required: keeping the child alive within. Actors nust learn and accept that there are no inappropriate emotions (on-stage or onscreen)--except those illogical to the character you are playing. To successfully act (and to please an audience) often requires (in the role) the killer in you made manifest; or the whore; or the silly fool; or the depressed intellectual.

Audiences can be defined as a cluster of emotionally needy people who feel at that point of time (when they enter the theater) that too much of their own  childhood emotional freedom has been lost--or at least over-constrained--and so they seek the child within them once again, at least for the duration of a play or film. So to achieve that they seek out the company of actors, who, in their trained, professional child-like emotionally-free performances can guide them for a brief time to their own (the audience's) wide-ranging-but-not-suppressed childhood/childlike natures.

A readily accessible childlike nature is an actor's professional requirement. It is what you are paid to deeply access in your role in drama, tragedy or comedy: you must always keep the childlike emotional nature always alive, nearby, ready for professional use...while hopefully you will also live a mature, adult, careful life offatge and offscreen. (Ah, and therein lies the challenge!)

ON ACTING: The Formula of Human Actions...and Good Acting

The sequence of human actions (in reverse): Actions are fourth. Feelings are third. Sensory experience is second. Goals are primary: all life--and its resultant actions--starts with goals (objectives, aims, intentions, etc,) and move on to stimuli, feelings and finally actions, or responses.

People seek to attain a goal; then they come into contact with the world through which they must move to attain their goals; then they are stimulated by those sensory experiences to feel. And ultimately, these stimulated feelings (a sense of inner activity) result in outer actions.

That is the formula of human existence.

That is the formula of good acting (and, since all good acting is living), it must be thus in good acting. You, as your character, commits to a goal (to be achieved through others in the scene), your character listens and looks to the other characters in the scene, these 'others' stimulate you-as-the-character to feel, your feelings are expressed outward in what you say and do vis-a-vis the other characters. These resultant on-stage/onscreen actions implicitly--directly or indirectly-- reveal the actor-as-character's feelings which gave them birth)...and by seeing and hearing the actor's actions, the audience identifies and is thereby emotionally moved.

It is simple and basic in design. But it is a nakedly honest task; and all too often, to follow this formula excellently well--the task of any good actor--takes some time, patience and, above all, confidence in self.

Saturday, May 26, 2012

ON ACTING: Seeking Performance Complexity

[The following is quoted from my book, "Acting is Living,"]

Many years ago I had the good fortune to direct the brilliant actor Raul Julia in a film. Before every scene we would sit and analyze the scene. We would mutually agree on was the emotional essence of his character in the scene. Then as he started away toward the set for filming, he‘d stop, turn and we‘d say: "And yet...." That was our code way of expressing: 'the exact opposite might also be true,' so Raul would enter every scene with a complex set of emotional possibilities.

Contradiction seems inherent in all exciting life. Characters (like people) love and hate simultaneously. Characters are brave and cowardly. Characters are certain and confused. Characters contain paradox, contradiction, irony, and mutual opposition, even absurdity.

When a stimulus occurs in the presence of a mediocre actor, it echoes singularly, with monochromatic dullness, as if off the walls of a one room cave. But when it echoes in an exciting actor, one who has dug through the cavern walls of their own deepest life, who has deeply explored all sides of all issues, who has through a career of emotional rehearsal process become a high-ceilinged, and multi-roomed hollowed-out grotto of feeling, that stimulus resonates profoundly, over and over again, like the eternal inner voices in the caves of E.M. Forrester‘s Passage to India.

If an actor enters an scene without sufficient appreciation of and preparation for the depth and resonance of human complication possible in the scene, their acting craft will fly very low to the ground…and will generally crash in performance in the unremitting and all-consuming explosion of audience boredom.

Thursday, May 17, 2012

ON ACTING: The Art of the Unknown

I sometimes ask young actors how much they know of themselves; how much they understand how they will emotionally respond under the deepest vicissitudes of life? The youngest say 85%. The middle-aged say 50%. I tell them I am down to 2%...and my surety is declining from there.

There are as many cells in the body as stars in the universe. The journey into us is about as predictable as our journey beyond. The good actor therefore is most exciting when their final performance is ultimately beyond their own analytic grasp, amenable only to their deep experiential involvement (in performance) in their personal inner emotional universe.

When an excellent, practiced and complex actor subsequently sees their performance on the screen they are often surprised as the rest of the audience by some of their own (sub-conscious) acting choices. "Oh, my God…so that‘s what I am when I am under that kind of pressure. My love has elements of sadness in it; and sexual need. Oh my God, look at my confusion, too! I‘ll be damned."

Such surprise/discovery moments are a good sign: they mean that the actor had been living at a performance level of complexity that even the actor herself had no idea what she was emotionally capable of achieving.

Science is based on the formulaic replication of the known; art is based on the experiencing and unconscious revelation of the inner unknown.

Tuesday, May 08, 2012

ON ACTING: a la Michael Jordan

From a philosophy attributed to Michael Jordan, probably the greatest basketball player of all time, I pass on an operating modality to actors who make a mistake in a scene, and let it bother them--allowing it to negatively affect their next performance. Or to actors who forget a line, and fully drop out of character. Or actors who fail an audition, then drive themselves crazy second guessing their total ability...and majorly screw up the next explaining why he never let missing a shot, even at the most critical times of a game bother him, why he was never reluctant to go right back down court and shoot the ball again: "Greatness fears no consequences."

Saturday, May 05, 2012

ON ACTING: "Free Falling"

I had been encouraging a new student actor to give up once performance begins conscious control of his rehearsed performance, and instead to give over to the subconscious reality of the new performance fact, to treat each new 'take' as a new and vital thing, to look, listen to the other actor-as-character in the scene (each and every time--always in renewed pursuit of his character's goal), trust that all his prior rehearsed work was somewhere in his subconscious muscle memory, and let come what may.

He finally did just that--very successfully--during his monthly scene work filming class a few days ago. He took the DVD home, watched it, wrote the following back to me:

"Just wanted to thank you again for pushing me through the airplane door. Who knew that free falling could be so fun?"

I wrote him back thanking him for such a good performance--and giving me a brilliant metaphor for good, spontaneous, 'reality' acting. "free falling." And, I should have added: 'free fall' acting is an activity in which you never hit the ground. The parachute opens before any dangerous long-term, external consequences ensue; like in bungee jumping, the curtain closes or they yell 'cut,' before you get permanently whacked.

Tuesday, May 01, 2012

ON ACTING: The First Time

An actor's analysis of a scene, as well as any subsequent rehearsal and/or performance, must always be seen by the actor as only a working hypothesis, a self- suggestion rather than a certainty, when facing the next performance (or in film, another 'take.')

Acting is a constant work in progress. The final truth or final reality of any scene does not happen until it happens. Just as no moment in time or event in our lives (think of the every different shapes of a snowflake) can be an exact duplicate of what went before, each performance must of necessity be new and fresh, waiting the actual give and take of the scene to determine the scene's final, precise form.

That is what 'being in the moment,' 'reality,' 'acting honesty,' and the other demands of real and spontaneous acting means: the actor must each time in every performance or 'take' newly look and listen, respond and relate to the other actors as if it is happening for the first time...which it will be if the actor has forsworn trying to duplicate the past (analysis, rehearsal, prior performance) and instead properly focuses his or her attention on spontaneously living the life of the scene.

Listen, look, feel and respond anew--each time--IN REALITY. Believe that rest of the true and moving performance will follow within the general outlines of what you did before. Your rehearsal and prior performances are somewhere in your muscle memory. Trust it.

I know it takes acting courage to live a performance fresh each time; we want to cling to the past as a crutch, a lifeboat in our sea of insecurity. But spontaneity is required; or the actor will never succeeed as an actor to the fullest extent possible.

Saturday, April 28, 2012

ON ACTING: The Preparation Technique of "Prior History"

To encourage and facilitate more emotional openness and complexity in an actor-as-character, actors sometimes are asked in their rehearsal to create a fictional ‘prior history’ of the character. They are asked to imaginatively ‘fill in the gaps’ of a character’s past life left open by the script. For example: “My character got married (this was in the script) because she was pregnant and a week after the marriage her husband talked her into an abortion (this was not in the script) .” Or: “My character was born wealthy (in the script) but secretly hates him her father because he was arrested for stock fraud, and spent six months in jail and she has always felt betrayed (not in the script).” Or: “My character is a college graduate (in the script), got straight A’s but cheated on finals (not in the script).”
Imagined prior history works very well as an emotional exercise because it forces the actor to stir up their own complex and often contradictory emotions and experiences and to thereby make those emotions available to the actor-as-character in performance. (Not surprisingly, the imagined histories almost invariably reflect the actor’s personal and often complex histories! After all: who is doing the 'back- story' fictional imagining but the actor?!) The exercise then becomes a highly effective method for the actor to tap into and grant himself permission to feel what they are already capable of feeling, to emotionally open up and emotionally‘identify’ with the character through the fictional use of such character invented history. At core it is a trick to end-run one's own emotional reluctance: tricking-oneself into activating and using deep, often hidden (denied?) experiences and feelings one already has for subsequent use by the actor-as-character in performance.

Friday, April 27, 2012

ON ACTING: "Edginess"

The actor had given a performance in class the night before, and he felt he had not tapped into the full richness of his own ability. It lacked a certain 'something'--an 'edge,' he called it. He got the same criticism from several casting directors and producers: his work, while good, lacked edge.

He called me about it.

I told him--as I had told him before--that I, too, while I thought him a wonderful actor, agreed that his work lacked edge; he lived in performance aback from the edge, a few feet back from danger, where the actor's emotional life was often very interesting to watch but rarely exciting, engaging; never dangerous. The audience always appreciated his work, but was rarely swept away.

What could he do about it? We talked about increasing his out-of-class work on edginess 'preparation', stirring up his emotional sub-text before any of his performances so that when  he entered every scene he entered with a heightened emotional potentiality; susceptibility for emotional response, but he admitted he was still been resisting the very concept. "What is it about edgy people--and characters--that makes them edgy? Maybe if I understood the concept, it would help me."

I offered the following:

....Edgy people--and characters--know--emotionally--life and death; sexuality and anger, the alpha and omega, beginning and end of life. They are emotionally familiar with it. They live their performance on the edge of this existence; and are always at risk of falling off that character performance edge into the deep and dangerous chasms of their own rage, sexuality, despair, laughter and death. They may often may live their surface life "coolly," but they are always standing on thin ice. They barely are in control of their emotions. They are easily stimulated by life (events and others in the scene) into the fullness of their own rich passion. They are volatile human beings; they exist as volcanoes always ready to erupt. We, the audience, sense it, and wait excitingly in anticipation. The slightest provocation can stimulate edgy actors into any possible condition or state of out-of-controlled-ness. They back away from nothing. They embrace everything. They are impulsive, driven by momentary emotional need, not overly-disciplined by long-term thinking logic. They live in the moment, of the moment, for the moment.

....They are often self-destructive. They gamble constantly with their own lives. They play winner-take-all; they live a high stakes life. They adhere to one philosophy: "Better to have loved (and hated, and humiliated, and cursed and embraced) than never to be loved (or hated, and humiliated, and cursed and embraced) at all.

....Fuck it; if they are "in the game" of life, they are "all in." They vow to experience everything. To them life is neutral if not meaningless; BUT you give it meaning by the passion with which you embrace it. "Why live...except to LIVE!" Why perform but to embrace the rich edgy life of the scene --both interpretively and in execution--with vibrancy and emotional recklessness. That is the edgy actor's motto. Never backwards; always forwards. Even a momentary move or look away is only a clever energized end-run to the goal.

....From Dean to Penn, from Brando to Depp, From DeNiro to Pacino, from Robert Downey, Jr. to Chris Rock, those kinds of actors on edge the moment the curtain rises, or the director yells, "Action"...and the edge never leaves until they drag you offstage with a closed curtain or drag you off your thin ice of filming with the abrasive sound of "Cut."

...Directors, Casting Directors, Agents, Producers and Writers, work on an emotional safety net set far back from the edge of the set...and then place us actors on the emotional edge of their creating, in their plays and scripts and ask us to be openly humiliated, loved, infuriated, enraged, sexually overwhelmed, frightened, sad and often murdered. When we achieve it, they praise us and overpay us. When we don't, they dismiss us with faint praise.

....Thus is the life of an actor...onstage and off...on the edge.

Wednesday, April 25, 2012

ON ACTING: The Subjective Experience of Character Analysis

Actors often say, when analyzing any scene or script: “Well…my character is ‘blah, blah, blah….” I generally quickly interrupt them: “What character?” I ask. They look at me blankly. “The character on the page,” they say. It is now my turn to look blankly at them: “What character?” They stare; I continue: “You talk as if there were some character on the page.” I hold up their script page for them to look at. “Is there a picture of a person on the page, something that I am missing?” Their confusion continues, often exhibiting concern for my sanity. I continue: “All I see are black and white straight and squiggly lines on a black sheet of paper. I don’t see a character.”  A bit of frustration slips into their voices. “The character,” they say patiently and often patronizingly, “the dialogue…the words on the page…” “Oh (I feign a moment of lucidity), you mean your personal interpretation of those straight and squiggly black lines which you have learned to recognize and interpret as words, ideas, implicit feelings underscoring those words, on that otherwise blank, white piece of paper…” They ponder.

This has been a long convoluted way to make a very important point: No script (series of black lines on a white page)  will ever be interpreted the same way by the same two actors (or for that matter by the same two audience members). So actors should be warned at the very beginning of script analysis: Stop trying to find the one right (by that I mean definitive) interpretation of a script; it is futile.  The actor’s reading of a script is a priori their subjective evaluation of what we call dialogue and stage directions and its interpretation and performance are necessarily unique to that actor.

What the actor is really saying when interpreting a script is: “…according to my knowledge of oral language, represented by that symbolic structure called letters/words on the page--and based on my experience with life and human behavior in general—that is, how people behave by when offering such a verbal discourse, I believe such patterning of black and white straight and squiggly lines of dialogue on a printed page indicates that ‘my character is’ and ‘my character is doing (feeling and saying) this or that’…”

Of course the hope in all drama and dramatic performance is that the actor’s personal interpretation of the black and white squiggly and straight lines will strike a universal chord in the audience (Aristotle called it: finding the universal in the particular) But ultimately all art is subjective; subject to the artist's interpretation.

Great artists embrace that interpretive freedom...and challenge. Lesser artists run away from it. And ask the director: "How do you want me to do this?" Or: "What is the right way to do this.?" The answer is: "Your choice." The director can guide you with suggestions (i.e., his/her own necessarily subjective interpretations) and give you general encouragement, but what the black squiggly lines ultimately up to you...and your knowledge and insights into human behavior; both yours and ultimately the audience's.

Thursday, April 19, 2012

On a Personal Note: Warming a Teacher's and Writer's Heart

I want to share with the reader a lovely letter I received this week from a student. It warmed my heart. It reminded me of the core joy in teaching: reaching out and touching someone else for their benefit. He gave me permission to print it. I told him I would abbreviate his name to initials to grant him some anonymity.

"Dear Cliff,

You may not remember me but I certainly remember you. I am [T. C.], one of Mari Ferguson's students and I attended your workshop in Houston last June. I also bought your book Acting Is Living. And I will admit that I did not even open the book for months.

It wasn't until I went to audition for an acting school in New York called the New York Conservatory For Dramatic Arts that I wanted to be totally and completely in the moment. So I picked up your book and started reading. After reading bits and pieces of the book I quickly became attached to it. After confidently and successfully auditioning for the school, I received a phone call not even a week later from the school letting me know that I am accepted (only 300 can be accepted at one time) and I received a LARGE scholarship.

That was a couple of months ago. Now I am being enrolled into their program this week.

Also I am currently in High school one act play and am doing the role of Hal Carter. We are advancing to regionals and I have received best actor at both contests so far. I am now being fully in the moment and am now able to believe that I am the character "living." I fully blame my performance level on your book. And now my theatre teacher is telling other theatre teachers about it.

Your book is a testament to me. So I just felt I needed to share my appreciation and hopefully in the future I can work with you again.

I have a dream of becoming something BIG one day and your book will always there for me.

Thank you,

Monday, April 16, 2012

ON ACTING: Properly Increasing Energy in a Scene

The student saw a tape of his performance and said of his efforts: "I was flat; I need more energy." So he proceeded to increase his energy in the next scene. The subsequent performance, while it had more energy, appeared "acted," forced, short, fake and off-putting.

Where had the student gone wrong?

In a desire to increase the energy in a scene, an actor must remember that it is not the actor's energy we are desiring to increase in the scene, but the actor-as-character's energy. We want the character to come more alive; not just the actor-as-actor.

When choosing to be more energetic in the scene, a smart actor returns to the basics of life, which are the basics of acting: in life, energy is increased by a more increased emotional involvement in an event, primarily manifested by an increased desire to attain a goal.

Therefore, when an actor is requested by self or director to increase the energy in a scene (or, as a corollary, increase the pace), the actor should not just push their actor-self to be more energetic is the scene, but rather increase his character's commitment to their goal. He should want what the character wants in the scene more intensely; make the character's goal more important.

Then, with this basic 'real life' energy adjustment, the resultant effort will not only have more energy, but also give rise to all the other elements of living character truth: a heightened awareness and sensitivity to others, a greater emotional impact on the actor-as-character throughout the scene, an economy and focus in that energy as it moves through the actor's body and will create in the actor's performance the total human package, an energetic portrayal not disassociated from overall character reality and truth. The increased energy will result in the total life package in performance, and not be arbitrary, false and off-putting.

The student did the scene again, with the adjustment of increased commitment to the character's objective, and the resultant performance was energetic and exciting...and most importantly, excitingly real.