Friday, May 31, 2013


I'm back in Brooklyn after an amazing year away from home.  I was incredibly fortunate to spend that time with the wonderful folks in the Department of Theatre at the University of Minnesota in Duluth.  And even MORE fortunate to have an unbelievably supportive and understanding wife...who held down the fort while I was away!

I cannot say enough about the heart and soul of these young artists.  As a professional going into academia my goals were share my beliefs, experiences, and do what I can to influence strong aesthetics in the evolution of the art form.  In other words, to take the time to share and create with the next generation, who will no doubt carry the torch high and proud!  Well these folks are already doing that!  And I was blown away by their eagerness and hunger for knowledge and experience.  And could you NOT be at that age.  But really how could all of us not be at ANY age!!

Still, in my final days in D-Town I was involved in an audition/interview process that delivered, on the surface, only two polarized outcomes.  Acceptance or Rejection.  Now I know rejection.  I mean I KNOW it.  I don't think it's possible to be alive and not experience rejection on regular bases but as an actor of over 20 years...rejection becomes a way of life.  Now when you are IN it then it is only about YOU.  It’s personal.  It’s crushing.  It’s isolating.  And downright embarrassing.  Suddenly there are so many WHY questions flying through your head...and it doesn't even matter that there may never be or could possibly be a justifiably "right" answer to sooth your busted soul.  Yet still it's always...ALWAYS personal.  But is there a way it could ever NOT be personal?  Should it never be personal?  It's obvious, the way we take rejection so personally, is clearly a reflection of how much we care or value that which we are being rejected from.  And if it WASN'T personal then why would we care??  And yet, when I think about some of my most amazing rejections...that stung like HELL...if those rejections had not occurred then the amazing things that took their place down the road would never have existed. 

It's hard for me not to think about LOVE when I think about rejection.  I would guess, probably because those were the most personal rejections, where the WHYS always seem to circle me not being “whatever” enough.  And you know what...sometimes they were exactly THAT and I was rejected justifiably so.  But sometimes there were reasons beyond mine or the other party/parties understanding.  There were external circumstances.  There were just too many variables to answer WHY.  But I can tell you right here and now...if I didn't have those rejections of love in my past then I would have never met my amazing wife.  So as I thought about rejection in a larger artistic sense both as a professor and a person sitting in a more proverbial "rejecter" position, I couldn't help but look for the upside.  And the simplest truth is rejection is no different than the best acceptance...BOTH are just the beginning of the NEXT thing.  Now how is it when I've been faced with rejection time and time again I couldn't see this?  OH right!  Because my ego was a big fat pussy!  Now, I certainly don’t mean to play stupid, we all know there will ALWAYS be that first sting…but that doesn't mean it has to last.  You can either let rejection beat you up or you can let rejection inform your way.  Maybe there is nothing to learn from a rejection...maybe it's just one of those things where there is no WHY and therefore not worth your time or sorrow.  But maybe if you have an honest chat with yourself and learn something from rejection then you could be off in a wonderful new direction.  You could change something in yourself or make an adjustment for the next opportunity.  I say it all the time..."you can't make an omelet without breaking a few eggs!"  But the worst thing you can do is let rejection slow you down or worst...bring you to an artistic HALT!  And I've felt that.  I've let rejection become so personal that I stopped taking risks and stopped living.  There is nothing good in that!  Rejection is NEVER a full stop.  It’s a RE-DIRECTION.  It's like those annoying satellite navigation know, when you miss the turn the voice always says RECALCULATING.  It’s annoying as hell but it doesn’t mean you pull over or just turn around and go home!  There's never only one way to get somewhere!

Wednesday, May 23, 2012

Every Opportunity is the Opportunity of a Lifetime

These days I'm in rehearsal for a Shakespeare project.  I'll be honest, it's been some time since I worked with verse.  And I've discovered I'm NOT yet immune to some of those familiar feelings we actors all wrestle with...ANXIETY...DOUBT...FEAR.  So it only seems appropriate for me to rummage around and use THIS opportunity to reflect/share how ALL this relates to an actor's development. 

First off, there is no doubt in my mind if you have been reckless enough to chose the life of an actor/artist and then STICK with it for better or for worse then it's for love.  Even if you are new to pangs of love and haven't been able to articulate yet WHAT those butterflies ARE down there in your soft's LOVE all the same.  And as we all romantically imagine, if you love something with so much devotion then NOTHING can prevent you from fulfilling your ACTS of love.  Yet time and time again we let ourselves and others get in the way of our fulfilment.  So why do we do it?  ESPECIALLY since we know what it is -- right?

FEAR.  Plain and simple.  It's no secret.  There's no mystery to WHY we stumble.  Its fear, doubt, and all the other fictional emotions that haunt us in the dark.  I'm sure I sound like a broken record and every acting class you take or book you read will cover "STAGE FRIGHT" and offer means to overcome it.  It is a major obstacle for even the surest actor.  But remember -- and as I've said before it before and I'll say again -- over coming your fear in order to do what you love GIVES what you love VALUE!  Fear of failure is to your artistic life as death is to your real life.  It's always going to be there but you don't have to wall yourself up at home so nothing bad will ever happen!  Even better, a creative failure -- if there even IS such a thing -- isn't the end of the world.  Life GOES on.  Creation GOES on.

SIDEBAR -- As actors we are always encouraged to take risks with our choices.  You know...BE BOLD!!  But from start to finish THAT is exactly what acting IS!  A RISK!  Every time!  Creating a Character with all of our imagination and vulnerability is risky business.  There are no certainties with risk.  Ever.  The word itself conjures up feelings of anxiety!  By simply TAKING a risk you are forced to accept at any moment it could go terribly wrong.  And yet we still take the risk in hopes of HIGH rewards.  Because we HAVE to.  Artistic fulfillment is ALWAYS a risk worth taking.  So if we accept the dangers of a risk then why do we fear the consequences so much?  Why do we allow that fear to spoil the enjoyment of the risk?

This all got me thinking and that got me talking and soon I was having conversations with fellow actors about how to change this and the answer is fairly simple.  Certainly nothing new or original even!  But what if we could start at the inception of the acting impulse?  What if we could create a way to prevent fear from even getting a foothold?  What if we could simply see EVERY TIME we act as an "OPPORTUNITY TO SHARE YOU?"  Because it is.  It is an opportunity to share your creation.  It is an opportunity to tell your version of the story.  It is an opportunity to tell that story the ONLY way you can tell it.  It is an opportunity to share it through your eyes with all your unique qualities.  Every actor wants to be "special."  We all want to STAND out in the crowd but the only way to do that...the only way to BE "special" is WHEN you use each opportunity to share with the audience your unique perspective.  If you are afraid to share YOUR perspective then you have no FAITH in YOUR perspective.  If you let fear steal your confidence then somewhere you have decided that the universe isn't interested in what you have to say...the audience doesn't care to hear or see your creation...and no one is really interested in you.  But in truth-- THEY ARE!  Yes, not everyone in the universe will agree with your perspective.  So what?  That doesn't matter!  You can't control what everyone will think.  NOR is it an actor's JOB to do so.  But it IS an actor's job to seize story telling opportunities!

A WORD OF CAUTION -- I would argue in acting there is a delicate balancing act of both personal and technical elements.  And your EGO will weigh in the most.  To create bold characters takes risks.  To take risks takes courage and confidence.  Don't mistake courage and confidence for arrogance and inflated self importance.  Sadly we witness poor behavior encouraged ALL the time.  Egos are grossly stroked to build confidence to cut corners to capture that "perfect" realistic vulnerable moment.  Actors abuse direction out of insecurities.  And the cycle spirals to promote petty STARS and DIVA behavior.  While it's always important to encourage the uniqueness of your qualities it is just as crucial to remember that acting is never about your Actor/Self.  Fight for the Character.  Not for yourself.  Remember your creation is only as alive as the world it co-exists in.  We all have the potential to give in to the dark side but don't.  Fight it.  Don't be "That Guy."  Be strong, smart, confident actors!  Don't be a cliche.  Be sure of yourself.  Be sure of your choices.  And don't take direction or criticism personally.

The other thing to remember about opportunities is that sometimes they are there -- sometimes they are not.  When you start out on your acting journey you might be in a studio or academic setting and those opportunities will be abundant.  You will be exhausted from all the opportunities!  But the day may come where the down time between opportunities grows wider and wider.   Therefore, each audition...each class...each production is a CHERISHED opportunity.  It shouldn't be spoiled with fear or doubt.  And yes, it is EXPECTED that there could be uncertainty BUT like riding a never forget how to do it!  Just dust off your chops and ENJOY the risks all over again!

I don't think there is a coincidence that for many actors acting is considered our FIRST LOVE.  It makes sense.  When you fall in love you fall because the way someone makes you feel.  You feel confident.  You feel wanted.  You feel secure.  You feel helpful.  You feel safe.  You feel joy.  You feel sexy.  You feel important.  You feel attractive.  You feel silly.  You feel comfortable.  You feel accepted.  You feel yourself.  You can't WAIT to see them again.  You can't wait to share more of yourSELF with them.  You want to be BETTER for them.  BUT!  Just like being in love, the jealousy, the insecurity, and the neediness...all the ugly parts of it...will ALWAYS make you less attractive.

Technique will be discovered through trial and error...through more or less failure.  Through RISKS!  It's all part of the process of creation.  Learn to expect it and not to fear it.  Because just as in real life nothing is constant.  But you will discover those moments of pure fulfilment -- THOSE are what you are always striving for!  And you can only FIND them in an opportunity.

Thursday, April 12, 2012

The Responsibility of Trust

I am the first to admit I'm not always the most trusting person in real life.  Maybe that's age, or experience -- maybe in the end it's just human nature.  For me, it might come from living an urban lifestyle most of my adult life.  Maybe it's from the impressions of folks I've known -- for instance, years ago I was as an administrative assistant on an investment institution's trading floor.  I worked for a grumpy, but wise trader, who would repeatedly say "Trust NO ONE!"  It's certainly sound business advice.  Maybe my trust issues have something to do with how I was raised.  I mean, my mother is convinced EVERYONE is up to no good.  Plus, I grew up in a religious home -- and somehow instead of accepting everything I was told to believe at face value I became determined to discover for myself WHY and WHAT needed to be true.  Who knows where it starts?  But one thing is for sure -- for me, investigation started early.  And for the record, I'm fortunate to say...nothing exceptionally terrible has happened in my life that could be considered the SOURCE of mistrust -- just your average wisdom gained by a few "mistakes" -- but like many folks, somewhere along the way I discovered I'm a very suspicious person.  EXCEPT when I'm acting. 

Trust is an extremely difficult thing to give, an even harder thing to earn, and an almost impossible thing to regain once lost -- BUT as actors it's essential and DEMANDED of us from the very start of our lifelong artistic journey to each creative project we embark on as collaborative members.  Trust is a very unique component to Acting and the Performing Arts.  Primarily because Acting and the Performing Arts are ALWAYS A COLLABORATION.  You are never alone in your creativity.  As a result TRUST is one of the more mysterious events that occur in the process.  Immediately the work throws you into a place that commands trust.  Trust in yourself and complete trust in your colleagues.  It's almost as if by stepping in to a rehearsal with another actor -- a STRANGER often -- time and experience compress to the point you feel as if you've known each other for years.  Maybe the phenomenon is similar to an actor's awareness and there are levels and layers to trust.  Maybe this is just some professional "degree" of trust that allows us to work so well together.  A special TYPE of trust that allows us to connect on such a personal level and still keep a safe emotionally real world distance?  Maybe there is some crazy psychological connection between trust and emotions that is triggered by deep commitment to your imaginary circumstances?  Maybe it is an illusion of trust created as a by-product to fully committing to the imaginary circumstances?  Maybe it is that someplace deep down we know no matter what happens acting is never reality and therefore trusting other actors is easy?  Whatever IT is it creates a quick and personal bond between actors.  And how quickly IT binds each of us together is often consider by many civilians as suspicious.  Still IT is something very specific and essential to our art form.      

Imagine that you are an independent artist.  If you are a painter or a writer working solo then you have to have faith in your abilities.  You have to trust that your vision or perspective is true to your voice.  You have to have faith that your audience will accept your art with open and objective arms -- and if they don't -- you have to trust in yourself and never stop believing.  There may be mentor, colleague feedback, or friendly advice that you consider valuable -- and you may have a great deal of trust in those sources and that their advice has you/your art's best interests at heart.  BUT your creativity is not DEPENDENT on trusting their advice.  You can take it or leave it and your art will still stand or fall on its own.

But as an actor we have NO CHOICE but to place our trust in our fellow actors -- our creative partners.  We cannot create WITHOUT each other.  On a basic level we have to trust that they are doing their OWN work.  We have to trust that they are learning their lines, blocking, and cues -- that they are doing their job so we can focus on doing ours.  We have to trust that they will be open to all the potential choices that we will offer.  We have to trust they will not be judgmental or critical of our experiments in rehearsal.  And we have to trust that they will handle all our emotional vulnerability with respect and dignity.

Even more important is an actor's trust in the director.  At the end of the day we do not have the luxury OR objectivity of an artist who's art is made outside of themselves.  We cannot step back and look at the painting from across the room.  We cannot walk around our sculpture to confirm the story is told on all sides.  Sure we can AND DO make many observations internally to adjust our performance/creation but internal sensations are often clouded by our personal preferences.  Not to mention that the majority of the time our inner critic is distracted from being worked over by our ego and fears.  Word of CAUTION: It's worth mentioning again -- if you allow it; your ego and fears will keep you SAFE and UNINTERESTING.  Always take risks!  What we FEEL is not always what comes across -- or what is communicated.  We cannot truly KNOW how our performance is being received because we cannot SEE it.  AND if we ARE more focused on how our performance is being received then all our energy is falling back onto our self.  You can never fulfill your creation OR purpose to the story if your acting is the center of your attention.  In fact, when all your focus is on yourself then your performance is worse than safe and uninteresting -- it's SELF INDULGENT.  This is why placing your trust in the director will always equal FREEDOM.  Your trust will send fear packing and redirect your focus to doing the job of fulfilling tasks.

So it's safe to say that GIVING trust is fundamental to acting.  It is a fact driven into us from the very beginning of our practice.  But what about EARNING trust?  Obviously it goes without saying that if you are learning to trust you will in turn learn how to gain trust.  But I think too often it is assumed that you will do the right thing WITH that trust.  Not everyone does.

This got me thinking.  As mentioned above, when we enter creation with our fellow cast members and creative team we place our vulnerable and fragile creativity in each of their hands.  We trust that they will treat it with the utmost respect.  Now reflect on what it means to be on the receiving end of that trust.  In the most basic trust fall exercises if you are catching then you are responsible for the actual PHYSICAL safety of your partners.  This is an obvious example of how responsible you have to be with the trust placed in your hands.  Literally!  And just like the trust fall you may find yourself in performance responsible for your fellow actor's physical wellbeing.  But what about the responsibility when you are given your fellow actor's emotional and creative trust?  I think too often we overlook the dangers that can occur when this trust is lost or abused.  I think we have all worked with a few actors or known friends who've worked with actors who took advantage of this trust.  Like those artistic predators who blur the lines of creator and creation for their own selfish PERSONAL wants.  Or those who prey on someone's vulnerability to glorify their own performance.  It's disgusting and it cheapens who we are.  Just to be clear THIS is not a morality post.  Who you are and what you do in your REAL LIFE is your business BUT when you join a creative collective there IS a higher artistic moral code.  Your colleagues open up their most protected parts of themselves to you -- their emotional vulnerability, their creative spirit -- and you have a responsibility to ensure that protection is extended through you and your work.  You don't have to agree with everything placed in your care.  You may have different tastes/aesthetics than what is offered.  You don't even have to like or trust or be friends OUTSIDE of the work BUT your differences should never diminish the responsibility to keep what is given to you safe. 

Think about what your creativity means to you.  It is something precious and so personal because it comes out of you.  Created FROM you.  And the more truthful the creation is the greater the risk.  So just as you offer your creative gifts to your colleagues with trust they will handle it with respect -- in turn you must accept their creativity with the same care that you expect to be given to yours.  To me it's as if someone is giving you a priceless family heirloom.  Or a deep and personal secrete.  I think this is where the bond originates.  Because not only are you thrown into an experience that demands you to give your trust but you are instantly responsible for those around you -- YOU are now accountable.  The bond is quick because it evokes the intimate responsibilities of family. 

Perhaps this comes across as self-righteous or artsy fartsy to some.  Maybe it IS.  But the truth is that actors have to realize the great responsibilities that come with the job.  We open Pandora's Box with our imaginations.  We spend hours upon hours conditioning ourselves to be open channels of creativity.  We focus our artistic evolution to always say YES and even though we KNOW that our creations are never real we still dabble with mixing the waters of fiction and reality.  And since we do this in collaboration with others the responsibilities are that much more important.  As actors we all enjoy the instant gratification that comes from an audiences' acceptance of a strongly fulfilled performance.  But the truth is that independent gratification would never be possible without the complete support -- both given and received -- by you and your fellow actors.   It's understandable that learning to trust in yourself and your creative partners is a difficult task.  You may have personal challenges that create obstacles.  That's OK!  Allowing yourself to be artistically vulnerable in the hands of others is a lifelong process that is constantly changing.  The more you learn to trust the more fulfilled your work will become.  But how you accept trust should be easy.  Make the choice to be responsible with what others give you.  Make the choice to value your colleague's creativity as much as your own.  Make the choice to let the work be greater than you and you might just discover how easy trust can be.

Friday, March 23, 2012

An Actor's Judgment - Know When To Leave It At The Door

For some time now I've thought about JUDGMENT and how it plays in an actor's artistic development.  Maybe you don't have any issues with this but I do.  I feel like I've wrestled with managing it since I started acting and creating.  I've felt it take on many shapes within my own work and I've seen students struggle under the weight of it in their work.  But no matter HOW it effects you there is now way to ignore the deep roots judgment sets down in each of us.  So I thought I would spend some time sharing my thoughts and perspective. 
judg·ment //ˈdʒʌdʒmənt//

  1. an act or instance of judging.
  2. the ability to judge, make a decision, or form an opinion objectively, authoritatively, and wisely, especially in matters affecting action
  3. the forming of an opinion, estimate, notion, or conclusion, as from circumstances presented to the mind: Our judgment as to the cause of his failure must rest on the evidence. 
From the definition above it doesn't look like that much of a bad thing, right?  It's noble and objective -- wise.  But the ivory tower of judgment has a dark side -- and I'll get to that in a sec.  After all, it's massively incorporated into our everyday life.  It assists us with all sorts of important choices.  It IS our important choices!  In fact, it's so much part of our identity that we judge almost instinctively without even being aware of it.  Judgment is BUILT into WHO we are.  And as we hopefully use our BETTER versions of it -- then our judgment shines through as one of our strongest assets and a defining example of our character in real life. 

But just like everything else in "real life" it is inevitable this too will -- for better or for worse -- play a major role in your artistry. 

And why SHOULDN'T it?  YOUR judgment is another unique element specific to YOUR origins of creation.  It's another unique quality of who you are!  SO your judgment is an extremely useful tool for you individually as an artists.  For example, it will help you discover your aesthetics and guide you through your artistic choices.  It will play a large role in the projects you seek out and the roles you will long to play.  It will keep you out of uncomfortable and shady collaborations with uncomfortable and shady artistic predators.  It will become a major force in your career choices and how you define yourself within the industry.  It will help you find the audience to whom you want to communicate and play a large role in the message you wish to share.  And just as in real life, your JUDGMENT will lead you to make choices that can DEFINE who you are as an artist/creator and the direction your creations will take.  So THIS is judgment's positive side --as an ever evolving necessity in your artistic journey.

But AGAIN!  Just like everything else in life and art, there is light and dark.  There is PRODUCTIVE JUDGMENT and there is DESTRUCTIVE JUDGMENT.

PRODUCTIVE JUDGMENT, as mentioned above, plays a major role in the development and identity of your Actor/Self.  Since it guides you through your career and professional choices then using caution and discretion throughout these areas SHOULD be encouraged.  But here is where those judgmental lines can start to blur and things can get sticky for us.  We are always looking to improve our creative abilities and widen our artistic range.  We ALL have a HUNGER to be more fulfilled in each creative moment BUT to do so takes a certain level of self awareness.  If we are not careful this is where we can get into trouble by judging our work instead of being aware and learning from our observations.  So how do we differentiate between healthy self awareness and DESTRUCTIVE self judgment?  How can you take your artistic temperature without letting critical stinkin' thinkin' slip indoors?

For starters, it will help you to just accept that battling your destructive judgmental demons is going to be a never ending struggle.  AND THAT'S OK!!  There is no way to just "turn off" your internal critic.  In my forty years I've never been able to discover a way to do so and I've never met anyone else who was successful either.  And if you COULD then you might never evolve.  It's just part of the human condition and there is FREEDOM to be gained by letting go of one more thing we try to control.  However, you can learn to use that critic to your advantage -- by learning how to SPEAK BETTER to yourself.  How many times have you finished rehearsal or a performance and walked away...not only speaking internally to yourself but actually VOICING the words to the universe...I SUCK!  Or I'm terrible!  Why am I doing this?  I'll never get it right!  I'm not funny AT ALL!  What's the point?  Who cares!  It's just not IN me.  I'll NEVER be able to go there.  I'm not pretty enough.  That was shit!  I just wasn't REAL enough!!  Well guess what?  All of these words start to settle deeper and deeper into your soul the more recklessly you use them.  It's like pouring salt on the same ground you plan to grow your dream garden.  You are poisoning the very soil you should be nurturing.  Trust me; I'm guilty of this myself.  It is only natural to feel frustrated when you are struggling with a role that you just can't find a way to fulfill -- that precious actor ego of ours is very protective of itself.  We are all terrified of looking foolish or FAKE.  We desperately want it to FEEL REAL but trashing your own work just leaves it broken.  So remember -- we've already established that what we do ISN'T real which means we need to search for a more realistic way to evaluate our performance and development.  Besides, if you get right down to it what we do IS foolish and fake...right? 

Of course that doesn't mean we consider acting without the utmost respect.  We do.  But if our inner critic is trying to compare our performance to reality...something which is an IMPOSSIBLE comparison to achieve...THEN it is vital as actors to shift our attention to more attainable goals.  We should strive to create something truthful not realistic.  This is where elements like FULFILLING tasks, SENDING and RECEIVING action, and FOCUSING your attention OUTSIDE of yourself start to take center stage.

Another healthy productive way to consider talking about your work is that performances are neither GOOD nor BAD but they should be considered FULFILLED or UNFULFILLED.  Good and Bad are finite labels.  It's over.  Bad is just BAD.  Even good never really feels like it has anywhere else to go.  Except maybe on to GREAT or EXCELLENT but those are such lofty "headline" labels that you never feel satisfied.  Fulfilled gives you the feeling of BEING filled with PLEASURE and JOY in your performance.  Fulfilled allows you the opportunity to continue to grow as your performance takes on MORE fulfillment.  And unfulfilled ALWAYS has somewhere to go.  If the work was unfulfilled today that only means it isn't fulfilled YET.  Again, bad is bad and just shuts you down.  These are SIMPLE things that you may consider silly "self help" jargon but the truth is they really work.  AND the fact that they are simple silly adjustments makes them that much more accessible to help fortify your Actor/Self against your own destructive judgment.

Still there is another gate crashing cousin of your destructive critic who strikes at the heart of your creation -- that pesky CHARACTER JUDGE.  But this is an easy fix.  Just get rid of him/her.  NEVER.  JUDGE.  YOUR.  CHARACTERS.  Just that simple.  This is a cardinal rule of acting.  You will never discover your full potential within a role if you are standing in judgment of their actions and who they are.  How could you?  For example, if you are playing a character who is a free spirit with her love and you think she (or he for that matter) is a nasty slut and rather unlikable person -- you have already determined WHO she is and how close you will ever get to her.  You have projected your own "real life" values onto her and who she is.  Your judgment will cloud your understanding for WHY she is in the story and WHAT she is there to do.  You certainly will not be able to consider say -- why she sleeps around or how she views her actions.  And more importantly you will be neglecting your responsibility to the story you are there to tell.  And why would you even do this?  Sometimes we don't even realize that we ARE judging our character.  We believe that we've already found them and there is just something wrong with the direction the play is going which doesn't match our characterization.  So we rebel.  But mostly we are just victims of our insecure ego once more.  We are afraid of looking bad.  We are afraid the audience will not LIKE us.  And not the character but they will not like US, the ACTOR.  Or worse they will assume that in real life we could be SLUTTY.  And here again I have to say...ACTING ISN'T REAL.  Your character is there to serve a function and if you deny them their function then you deny them their true purpose.

Ask yourself: Are my choices those that my Actor/Self is making or are they the choices that my Actor/Character would make?  Are my choices inspired by the Likes & Dislikes of my WHO AM I?  Or am I afraid of looking foolish and making choices that are SAFE?  Or worse do you believe your character's actions are WRONG and are afraid it's WRONG for you to perform them?  Maybe you are just afraid that if you can perform and understand an amoral character -- that you fundamentally disagree with -- then you might be forced to re-evaluate your own beliefs.  Well you might.  But remember truth has nothing to fear of investigation.  AND the characters you play are NEVER YOU and NEVER REAL.  Your performance is for the benefit of your audience.  Your performance is part of a larger story that is trying to communicate SOMETHING-- ANYTHING to your audience.  They are the ones who deserve your utmost honest and UNBIASED interpretation so THEY can have a personal and REAL experience.

So be honest and fair with yourself.  Acting should be FUN and IMAGINARY!  Characters are our CREATION.  We are allowed to explore the actions and lives of Characters -- that might have nothing in common with our own identities -- in a safe and healthy environment.   Judgment only ruins the fun!

Tuesday, March 6, 2012

UNIQUE YOU: Who you ARE is more than "Just Be Yourself"

Since my last post I've been thinking a great deal about the actor's origin of creation.  In a number of my previous posts I have made mention of and echoed many similar traditional beliefs that acting starts with you--THE ACTOR -- and I wholeheartedly agree with these beliefs.  Who you are is where it will all begins.  All your past experiences and the depth of YOUR imagination are what will feed the creation of your characters -- Your Who Am Is.  But this is just the beginning NOT the finished product.  I have heard so many acting teachers coach actors to do less "acting" by prompting them to "BE more of you" or "find more of yourself in the role."  This really gets under my skin.  Why is it that acting teachers go straight to "just be yourself" as Maggie the cat or "find yourself" in Hedda to curb Behavioral/Quality acting?  Is this at the core of what the American Method has created?  I will agree that when two actors are just sitting there AS THEMSELVES reciting lines simply without "acting" in the room together it can be a very honest moment -- it CAN be moving.  But what if that style/technique/approach doesn't fulfill the demands of the text in the scene or the overall story?  What then?  Can an actor make an adjustment to who they are as a person?  No, YOU can't.  But CHARACTERS can!

No you are missing the point of What If!  I have to imagine how I would do this if I were in this situation!

You know somewhere along the way I think Stanislavsky's "What IF" has been reduced to a lazy Actor Centered excuse.  Instead of actually using it to discovering a character -- which might take too long, result in going to emotional places that are uncomfortable, or WORSE unbelievable acting -- the modern style is to re-interpret the character's identity to that of the actor's.  Now how "I" react in the imaginary circumstances is based on who "I" have evolved into from my own real life experiences.  As a result the character is no longer in the play...the ACTOR is.  But let's imagine that you are playing Stanley in A Streetcar Named Desire.  It's the end of Scene III and you are rehearsing the famous "STELLA" moment.  You decide based on your life experience that you, the actor, really wouldn't over react in circumstances like these because you don't really like conflict in your real life.  You are more level headed about things -- not to mention you can hold your liquor pretty well so you don't believe that if YOU were in these imaginary circumstances you would behave so erratic or emotional.  Besides, this is really YOU and honest to how you would get Stella back downstairs so everyone needs to accept your performance as fulfilled.  REALLY???  This is NOT what the magic IF is about.  An actor CANNOT replace the character with their own actor self.  The What IF is not about how YOU would behave in the given circumstances so much as it is about how the given circumstances might AFFECT you.  Stanley -- in accordance to the story you are in service of -- has been drinking for hours and most likely more than normal -- for starters -- because he is losing money.  His living situation is inconvenienced.  His wife is less compliant/cooperative now that her sister is living with them.  He is threatened some and possibly attracted to his wife's sister -- all of which is creating conflict and disrupting his happy life.  So how YOU, as the actor, might react to the given circumstances is only the beginning.  How YOU might react is what starts to inform your imagination to the sensations of the given circumstances.  You are not imagining what you would do in that situation -- you have to imagine what those circumstances would do to you.  Remember characters rise up out of the given circumstances.

Every one of us has our OWN unique way of reacting in every situation that we encounter in life.  We react the way we do based on our very complex development, perspective, and the values we give everyone and everything in our personal universe.  This is what makes us who we are AND is our greatest asset as a creator.  But TRUTH is not limited to your real life experience which is why "just be yourself" falls short of inspiration.  I think if you are only acting AS yourself in the given circumstances then you are limiting your potential.  And it seems that the accepted belief in this approach is that you, the actor, ARE the epitome of truthfulness and honesty in your everyday existence and we KNOW that isn't true.  Most of the time in "real life" we are too busy trying to be anything but honest with ourselves and others.  We try too hard to get our friends to think we're funny.  We do things we don't believe in to impress our bosses at work.  We smile a little too much to convince our spouse we still adore them.  Real Life is FULL of "fake" moments so how can you trust THAT to be your artistic benchmark?

But what you can trust about BEING YOURSELF is just how UNIQUE that self is!!  There is no one else like you in the entire world.  In the entire HISTORY of the world.  There never has been and there never will be anyone who is like you.  No one who thinks like you.  No one who speaks like you.  No one who has the same imagination as you.  That same complex development, perspective, and values you give everyone and everything in your personal universe has only evolved the way it has ONCE in all of time.  And only ONCE with you.  This is what makes your performance so special and different than anyone else.  No matter if you say the lines with the same reading as another actor -- with the "same" inflection and "same" objective -- the performance will NEVER be the same.  Declan Donnellan has a great perspective on this topic in his book The Actor and the Target as one of his "uncomfortable choices:" Originality or Uniqueness.

"Whenever we try to be original it is evidence that we have lost confidence in our uniqueness.  We may fear our uniqueness might not be there when we need it, or, what is more sinister, we fear that what is different about us may actually be inferior.  Particularly when young, uniformity can be reassuring.  But uniformity is impossible.  Uniformity is only an ideal, always a dangerous one.  But it shouldn't frighten us too much as it has never actually existed.  Like attention or presence, uniqueness is given to us; it has to be accepted and is out of our control.  Like anything else out of our control, we suspect uniqueness simply because it just might let us down.  So we invent an imaginary substitute, a synthetic dummy, which will be our personal creature.  Hello originality, goodbye uniqueness...The more we strive to be original, the more we obliterate our inherent uniqueness.  The more we try to be 'new', the more repetitive and reactionary we become."
For years I wanted to STAND OUT and be original to the point that I was more interested in that than fulfilling my character's wants and needs.  This was once again my ego driving the bus to nowhere.  My acting had no purpose and therefore my choices were self-centered.  I believe there is nothing wrong with a desire to unearth an inspired choice but when you neglect your purpose the result is just you being clever.  Of course at the other end of the spectrum, resting on your uniqueness (just being yourself) instead of doing the rest of the required investigation is only HALF the work and just plain lazy.  Have confidence that your uniqueness will drive you forward in creation.  As your imagination and investigation develops then your uniqueness will shine through in your choices.  The Who Am I/Character WILL be uniquely yours but TRUE to itself. 

I think that teachers train actors to "be themselves" because they do not know how to inspire truth in unfulfilled acting any other way.  I'm sure this started out as a very productive and useful approach.  However, this is not a healthy or constructive way to develop an actor.  It is limiting.  If an actor's boldness is "fake" or "showy" then the issue isn't that they need to be less of the character and more of themselves.  The issue is that their performance is detached from truth.  It is detached from purpose.  It's like hydroplaning in your car.  You know the second the car has left the road -- you are no longer in control and at any moment you could fly into oblivion.  You can feel it in all of your being.  It should be our job to help you discover why you came off the road.  Not tell you to get out an walk.  Not TRICK you into NOT performing by directing you to "just play yourself."  Acting is not a reality show.  The inescapable fact about acting is that you ARE performing.  There is no way around it and you will never be able to convince your brain that you are not -- so you might as well accept it.  So with that in mind my first advice is, DON'T SHOW ME A PERFORMANCE.  PERFORM FOR ME A TRUTH.  Then we can be as bold as we want all day long!


Tuesday, February 14, 2012

Technique Schmechnique!

Really??  Do I need technique to act??  Can't I just show up and say my lines with confidence and believability?  It's not THAT hard!

You know these days it seems like that's all you really need to do--at least for commercials, television, and film roles--those paying gigs that seem to matter, right?  Just BE yourself.  So in recent years I started to wonder.  After all, the only actors sharing their secrets about technique are those famous film and television celebrities...and many of them have no background in training what so ever.  Or if they do -- they have long left it behind because they are paid more to play their own personality.  AND is there anything wrong with that?  Honestly, work IS work!  And to be PAID to show up, say your lines, and not bump into the furniture is GOOD work!

Then the other day I read something that appeared so near the truth it made me sad.  It was one of those blogs about the awful "truths" about acting and why you SHOULDN'T pursue a career.  One of the blog's points said "Most roles have nothing to do with acting."  Well THIS really got my gears turning.  Most roles have nothing to do with acting?  Could that be true?  If so then maybe years of study and technique ISN'T that important.  So...I started to think about what I've seen and heard about modern trends in acting.  I thought about the stories I've heard on the many different ways actors work.  I thought about the horrors I've read about all the different tactics directors use to manipulate actors into giving that perfect performance.  I thought about typecasting and how typically casting is based entirely on your physical appearance--and even at times the essence of your personality/who YOU are as a person in real life.  I started to think about how more and more film actors are encouraged to ad lib dialogue and how other actors have the confidence to approach writers/directors with "I don't think I would say this" complaints.  I started to really consider the "method" way of acting and all the short cuts I've railed against and wondered if it at all matters -- IF the end result is to achieve a truthful moment.  Why waste years training if the only goal is to nail it in ONE take!  IS a schizophrenic approach to becoming the character all THAT destructive if it means you will become a successful actor recognized in the industry?  I mean, every career requires sacrifice--occupational hazards, right??

SIDEBAR: Check out this amazing interview with David Cronenberg.  It is no surprise that actors thrive and deliver stellar performances in his pictures.  He clearly has a great respect for actors and how we work.  As opposed to the horrific directing techniques (mentioned) that are apparently TAUGHT to film directors all the time!  David Cronenberg on Directing: 'Get Good Actors and Let Them Be Good'

I think the thing is, if you are not that SERIOUS about acting...if it isn't a true passion of yours and you just want a shot at fame...and I know I've said something to this effect before but...go ahead and forget technique.  Give the fast track a try.  You could very well make it on your looks and confident/natural abilities in front of a camera.  In fact!  I have a theory that many of the younger generation -- who've grown up with video cameras recording their every move from birth on -- have a leg up over the older generation.  It makes sense right?  The camera is not a foreign voyeur.  The camera is a natural companion.  It documents "real" life and you can be "real" in front of it, right?  Or better yet the sensation of performing or being observed has developed into a NATURAL sensation.  But even if all of these things do fall into place for you...and I hope they do...that ALONE will only carry you so far.  Eventually you will want more.  You will become bored with portraying yourself...or worse yourself, YOUR PERSONA will become the only character you CAN play.  You will long to play ANYTHING different.  Not to mention the fact that you will reach the limits of your emotional least the ones you are comfortable sharing...and then in order to go deeper that will require you to alter the events of your realities to inspire true emotion.  And that always gets messy.  Enter method.  Welcome to crazytown.  Not to mention that longevity is KEY in this business and the mob tires of the same thing after a while.  If you are only after fame then range is the only thing that can save you once you are yesterday's news.  You will have to re-invent yourself or prove that you are not just a pretty face.  Then you find yourself asking our original I REALLY need technique? What do you think now?

But what about the person who is passionately devoted to acting?  The person who feels that it is their calling and they can do nothing else in life.  The person who believes in storytelling and creating.  The person who believes that acting is an art.  The person who devotedly finds ways to build their life around those beliefs.  For myself, and this company, I believe that technique is part of the draw and pleasure of acting.  It is the satisfying challenge.  It is what makes acting art.  It is what gives structure and definition to the act of creation.  So if we foolishly concede that most roles have nothing to do with acting -- then where is the joy of our career?  Where is the creation?

So at this point I think we have to return to a place of faith.  I admit, I CAN see where this blogger would say what they said but I still think he is wrong.  I actively choose to BELIEVE he is wrong.  Acting is more than the job.  Acting is more than the role.  It's true, you will go out for many auditions and be asked to do things that you THINK have NOTHING to do with your training.  I've thought that myself.  That's ego.  And in the end those thoughts didn't serve me and they won't serve you.  EVERY acting event is an opportunity for technique.  Every foolish, abstract, disconnected, simple, every day task that you AS AN ACTOR are asked to perform IS an opportunity for technique.  An opportunity to play a character.  An opportunity to take on a new WHO AM I.  Some tasks may appear to be merely an extension of you the actor but do not fall into the lazy trap of thinking that you are "just playing yourself."  You are still "performing" for the benefit of someone else.  No matter what the task is a shift in your reality occurs.  A shift in your awareness.  So ACTING takes place in EVERY role.  And here is the BOTTOM LINE: The moment you cross the threshold of reality into imagination and creativity is the moment you cease to be you--"the actor" and in that moment technique becomes your navigator. 

Is every role Lady Macbeth or Richard III?  Not at all!  Austin Pendleton uses a perfect image to describe "new" actors.  He says we are all like little puppies with tongues excited to lick everything up or in the actor's case ACT everything up!  "Oh I'm ready to cry!!  Let me CRY!!  Oh I can be crazy.  Let me be CRAZY!!  Oh I can be angry.  Watch me...I'm MAD angry!!"  Then somewhere along the way our ego bullies in and gets involved.  It starts to define WHICH roles deserve technique and which roles we can phone in or just play "our self."  WHICH roles are acting and which roles are not worth our time.  Well that is sad.  I do not dispute that we ALL crave challenges in our work.  Just like every profession we want to excel and be pushed outside of our professional boundaries.  We want to impress our superiors and be praised for a job well done.  Sure it is only natural and human to want approval but every job, or role, deserves quality attention and execution.  And an actor's JOB is to do this with EVERY character that they pursue.  Even if it is one line on a commercial.  Or standing at a sink washing dishes and being asked to pick up the dish soap and flash your pearly whites.  Or as a town person in a crowd.  An Actor's PRIDE should be at the core of his/her artistic reputation -- NOT in just his/her most POPULAR roles performed.

And after saying this it brings up a key point.  Do we judge quality by the degree of effort required to create?  I mean wouldn't it be amazing to play King Lear with the same ease of selling tooth paste?  The thing is it SHOULD be!  Now don't get me wrong because the physical and emotional demands of King Lear are LEAGUES beyond the physical and emotional demands of a personal hygiene commercial BUT the techniques are the same.  Each role requires different degrees of technical depth but without that you are simply coasting on your personality.  You will never cross into creation.  Then it isn't the ROLE that requires true have made the CHOICE not to act.

Don't make that choice!

As I have mentioned before, I believe in Transformational Acting.  Going TO the character and not the other way around.  You cannot do this without technique.  You cannot DISCOVER a character without technique.  If you try to bring a character to you then you will always find yourself wrestling with the story, role, AND yourself to make everything work.  And it won't!  I guarantee you will wear yourself out and STILL never discover a true character.  Why not?  Because the truth is you aren't really looking to discover anything--you already found it -- IN yourself and now you just have to alter the character to fit your measurements.  This doesn't work.  You will never feel satisfied.  You will never feel fulfilled.  You will never feel like it fits and by the time it does you will only see your own reflection instead of the character.  When you bring a character to you then you are a SAFE artist and safe is never inspired.  There is no GROWTH in safe.  There is no creation in safe.  Creation takes RISK!

If you still don't believe me look at it this way...Technique helps you take the fearless journey of character discovery.  It supports you along your way and lights your path!  I agree with the safe folks, walking down a dark road to unfamiliar territory IS terrifying.  OF COURSE you want to bring whatever is out there BACK to you instead of going out to get it!  But that is not how it works.  You have to go out and find it.  You have to be courageous!  You have to believe that technique is your security, your faith, and your rescue.  Every SKILL is developed on a technical framework.  Sports, strategy, music, surgery, dance, fighting, painting, sculpting, design, carpentry...what have you...the list goes on and on but the one thing they all have in common is none of them are successfully without technique.  Acting is no different.  And the best thing about technique is that the more you master it the easier and more naturally your skills will perform on their own.  Eventually you are no longer THINKING about technique you are simply DOING. This is why technique will never let you down.  This is why technique is your truth! 

THIS is why every actor NEEDS technique.  Really.

Tuesday, January 24, 2012

Earle Gister - LIKE A LASER

One of the greatest joys of being an actor is getting to know and be influenced by the people I've been fortune to cross paths with.  I guess that can be said about any path in life.  Still I have met some wonderful folks over the years.  Many great artists who have burned their memories on my heart so they are always with me. 

I'm lucky to say a few have been amazing mentors--teachers who have shaped and forever change my life.  One in particular is Earle Gister.

Earle was Chair of the Acting program when I was at Yale.  I've mentioned him in previous posts but this one is dedicated to him.  Earle passed away on Sunday, January 22nd.  While the news of his passing is sad I can't help but think of the thousands of talented actors that he was able to influence with his insight, wisdom, and passion.  He's personal passion was Chekhov and there he was a master.  Of course, his genius was not limited to Russian Realism.  His passion for acting and the actor transcended all periods and genres.  For me, before I met Earle, acting was something that I just did by the seat of my pants.  I had strong instincts but no way to control them.  No way to understand them.  No way to broaden my abilities.  Earle gave me the confidence and the tools to be fearless of material.  He helped me to DEFINE my aesthetics.  He helped me to discover HOW to achieve them.  Acting takes great discipline.  Anyone can wing it and have moments of success with their instincts.  But GREAT acting is achieved with work, play, creation, joy, artistry, passion, perspective, courage, and commitment.  Earle made me excited and honored to be an actor.  So to honor his memory I've gone through my notes from his class and selected a few gems.    

9-7-1996: Earle's first class was an introduction to the craft as he sees it.  He explained the need for it and the reason we do it.  TO HAVE FUN!  Like children at play without any fears or serious contemplation of why we play what we play.  We just play.

Characters are characters not human beings.  No complexity.  Functional.  Functional in the play.  A semblance of human beings.

Transformational Acting - changing the self to the Who Am I

Action = How I want to make you feel

Find the NEED to be there--the need to be with each character

Don't play obstacles

Vulnerability -- The reason for playing action

Threading -- Tie yourself to the objective and it will pull you through the play

Play the action until you must change it

Sources are outside of us--never language--others, furniture, surroundings

It's got to cost you something for it to mean something

Focus on the characters in the scene not the actors

Acting cannot occur when self judgment is present

Positives -- play them, negatives deny energy

Something we create not something that we live--it is an artifact

You are the artist.  You are empowered.  You are responsible for your choices.

The actor is in service of the playwright

Don't generalize.  Get specific.

Don't just KNOW the facts (the Given Circumstances) personalize them

Action is the character.  They are defined by WHAT they do.

If you walk out of rehearsal feeling depressed or beat up then you are not doing your job--HAVE FUN!!!

Don't write diaries about your Who Am I

Don't be a character at the mercy of the actor's attitudes

Behavior Acting - Playing attitudes of behavior...don't act the character's feelings

Interaction is the key to discovery

Characters can't hear--Actors hear

Take time--Beginnings are important

Focus on the DOING not the WHY of the doing

Point of focus is the objective not the obstacle

Play an action on every line

Do!  Don't show!

Behavior is no good unless it is organic!

Exercise Room not Performance Room

Recognition - find problem
Definition - Define problem
Solution - solve problem

The want pulls us not the language...we do not act the language we recreate an experience

The only way to judge your work is to focus on your partner

How you talk to yourself is enormously important!!

If you are vague or uncertain the work will also be vague and uncertain

Five minutes of imagination every day!

Objective must be doable

Hearing is a byproduct of want.

Trust the action!

Go into an audition with your choices!

Be Bold!!

Don't ask psychological questions.  Stick to simple questions...what I like, what I don't like.

Do one thing completely and simply

Imagination personalises action

Reflect AFTER your work not during

A character can do two things 1) Do it and do it some more 2) Do it and pay for it.

Trust your work.  Trust your partner.

Don't play subtext...exist in it.

Like a laser!!

Never be afraid of the material.  Exercises everything.  Confront; go to the places you don't want to go.

"We shall find peace.  We shall hear the angels, we shall see the sky sparkling with diamonds.  We shall see all the evils of this life, all our own suffering, vanish in the flood of mercy which will fill the whole world.  And then our life will be calm and gentle, sweet as a caress." -Uncle Vanya
Thank you for your passion and inspiration!

Earle Gister