Saturday, March 27, 2010

Improv, acting and real life

A student asked me about doing improv, using her life experience and acting. She said because of family stress she found it impossible to act convincingly and her performances were artificial. She had an audition for a TV Workshop that contained an improv section and she was worried she would not do it well. I replied: Well, improv is not the same as acting. It is a combination of skit writing and acting which the players do simultaneously. I do not believe that improv is good training for actors, although many actors are good at improv. Plays and films are done from scripts and often the directors and playwrights usually want you to be word perfect in your lines. Only occasionally are you asked to improvise in a film, and for plays only in rehearsals, although I do not care for the practice. Then, you have to understand that your personal life has nothing at all to do with your acting. They are two different things. I agree with David Mamet who says that you should leave your private life at home and the theater at the theatre. Acting deals with the imaginary, not with real life. Nothing messes up an actor's mind like being taught that his real life should be used in his acting. That is Method claptrap. An actor's real emotional reactions to the imaginary situations of plays and films are used in acting. The free expression of emotion is what makes an effective actor. But the theatre and cinema are not real life, far from it. They are contrived and unnecessary details are eliminated to get to what is exciting and interesting, just as they are in all art. You need to relax and play, for that is what acting is. Don't pretend anything, allow yourself to react to the moments of the play just as you do when watching a movie. Your real life is gone and the imaginary world of the play takes over. I think you just need some practice. I don't like the TV workshop for you at this point. I think a scene class or audition class would be better.

Friday, March 26, 2010

Acting schools, classes and being an actor.

I have got a lot of questions about which acting school to go to, or if the asker will be able to be an instant star like Robert Pattison if he goes to drama school, etc. , etc. Although I am quite sure that I have said this many times before, actors are born, not made. You cannot be taught to be talented. Acting schools are businesses. The older, more established ones are also bureaucracies. They are much more interested in your money than in your future. Why is it, do you suppose, that thousands of aspiring actors go to acting schools? Why do they think they need to go to acting schools? Could it be that the acting schools are advertising that they made actors talented? Why else would they claim they are responsible for the careers of several well-known stars? I believe the stars would be stars regardless of where they went to school. We all know of stars who did not go to acting school. That is because going to acting school is not required to be a star. Only talent, extraordinary in born, natural talent, having a saleable look and the right personality are required. Then a bit of luck wouldn't hurt. My advice is always for an aspiring actor to make sure he or she has talent before they spend money on acting classes or acting school. I also recommend carefully chosen classes over a full course or curriculum at an acting school. And be careful, there are "acting schools" out there that are over priced and poorly thought of. Make sure you do not waste your money on such places.

Monday, March 22, 2010

Do You Know the Way to San Jose?

A young lady I have had some correspondence about acting with wrote me yesterday that she was all excited about going to LA soon to become an actress and asked if I had any recommendations. Here are those recommendations: 1. my first rule on going to LA is don't go until you have a contract to work there. 2. that means you are SAG before you go. 3. you need a terrific resume, great head shot, unique business card and post cards, and a demo reel. 4. you need your three monologues ready to go. 5. you need a way to make a living while trying to become an actress. need a really dependable car. 7. you need to have an acting studio picked where you'd like to study. need to go to my web site at and read everything about professional acting on the site including my blog all the way back to Aug '09 and ask me questions about it. 9. Reconsider going. It is so easy to be glib about “the Biz” until you get there and actually have to compete in it. I have advisees all over the world making strides toward their careers except in LA. Most of the advisees I have had there have dropped out saying, "it is just too hard." 10. See rules one and two. Remember the Burt Bacharach song “Do You Know the Way to San Jose?” that speaks of “all the stars who never were are parking cars and pumping gas.” Want a menial job? Go to LA and try to become an actor. The way to try to avoid that is to be an actor before you go.

Friday, March 19, 2010

You scratch my back and I'll scratch yours

I have been in the 'business' of advising aspiring actors on how to have a career for several years now, and if there is any one thing that irritates me more than any other it is when I ask some one who has contacted me for information for clarification and they do not provide it. I actuall was contacted today by a young man wanting me to pick a monologue for him. He had read my blog, he claimed; but apparently not the post on monologues, for in it I tell people not to make demands about what sort of monologue and give advice on how to find one. In my book I also tell people how to choose the best monologues. I'm not sure if he had told me he read that as well, but most people who behave as he does do say that. Anyway he said he had been in many plays and wanted a one minute monologue. I had to guess his sex from his email moniker, but there was no other info about him. I told him I needed to know what roles in what plays, where he was and what he looked like to try to pick him a speech. He wrote back that he was in Southern Cal. I wrote back that I needed him to answer my other questions. He wrote back that he had had two leads and some smaller roles. That is not the answer to what roles in what plays have you done. He also asked me more questions about doing monologues. At this point I was through. I wrote back that if he was not going to answer my questions, I was not going to answer his questions. I predict that he will never do any professional acting since he is poor at commnication and cooperation. Look, people. You want to be actors? Then learn to communicate, learn to cooperate. Learn all the lessons I offer in my book and in my blog. You might stand half a chance.

Wednesday, March 17, 2010

A sound decision

This is a negative-sounding post, but I must say these things to bring the truth to light and get rid of the dead wood so there is a place in the acting world for those who are properly suited to it by innate abilities and experience. It is my life's work to help people become actors, but they must have those innate abilities and the experience or the means to get the experience. The most common situation I am running into these days, at least these most recent days, is people with little or no acting experience wanting to be actors. Anyone who has been reading this blog or my Yahoo Answers answers knows that I believe that acting experience is what is necessary for someone to become an actor. By acting experience, I mean being in lots of school and community plays. I recommend everyone who wants to be an actor to read this blog back to its beginning, because I believe there is a lot of information in several of the posts about what it is like to be a professional actor. It is nothing like the school play nor what you see on TV and the cinema screen. I try not to be negative, but to just try to get people to face the facts before they become another valet parking attendent in LA. Today, I think one young man made a sound decision as, after he read my blog, he realized he was not professional acting material and decided to go to college and have a regular career, as he put it. I applaud his decision. Perhaos the main thing that is wrong with the acting industry is that there are hundreds of thousands of aspiring actors and less than a thousand jobs and most of them are being filled by current professionals. Colleges and professional academies have to stop lying about training people to become professional actors, There are no jobs for the vast majority of their students. We need more people to make a sound decision and decide not to try to become actors.

Thursday, March 11, 2010

Will my race make it more difficult for me to become and actor?

I just got an email from an Asian student who asked if he would have a hard time becoming an actor because he was Asian and he didn't see many Asian actors in films..This is my reply. US theatre and cinema have, since the early part of the past century, been way, way ahead of society in promoting racial equality. The only reason that someone does not become a successful actor is that they are not good enough, not because they are of some ethnic background or other. A black student actually told me the other day the exact same story about blacks as you are telling about Asians in this email! I always remember this story that Fred O'Neal, the late, black president of Actors Equity told me when I was a student of his in the mid 1960's: He said that when he told his father he wanted to be an actor, his father told him, "OK, but remember: if you fail, it will not be because you are black, it will be because you are not good enough." That principle still holds. Anyone who is good enough has a chance to succeed, regardless of any other factor. We have had blind actors and we have had deaf actors and we have had actors of all shapes, sizes and colors. So don't play the race card. That is just an admission that you are looking for a reason why you are not going to make it when the truth is that you are not good enough. Acting is the most difficult of all careers to succeed in; it takes extraordinary talent and personality plus experience, training, knowledge of the industry and luck to make it.

Tuesday, March 9, 2010

I want to be famous

Dasia just wrote and asked me what the steps are to becoming a famous actress on Disney or Nick, and she opined that I must get this question a lot. This was my answer: "Yes,indeed, it is the most often asked question I get, especially around Academy Award time. Let me just give you some reality checks on your dream. 1. Fame is a by product, not a goal. So don't try for fame, try for excellence. 2. No school at any level will get you anywhere, only you can get you anywhere by being extraordinary. But do go to a perf arts HS. 3. The Academy Awards is just advertising for movies. That sort of glamour has nothing to do with an actor's everyday life. What you see on the screen at the cinema or on TV is illusion and is not what an actor does at work. Mostly the work is boring.4. You are not going to be on Disney or Nick if you do not live where the shows are produced,mostly LA, and unless your parents are working hard to make you a teen actor. What you need to do is to be in every show you can. Keep improving. You sound as though you are doing all the right things. But there is no one way to become a professional actor. It varies by each person and their particular situation. Best wishes and God bless, Doc"

Monday, March 8, 2010

I will become an actor when I lose weight.

Yeah. Well. I am very overweight and I know how hard it is to loose weight. But no one in the business of acting is going to put any stock in your promise that you will be forty pound lighter on opening night. Let's face it. If we are fat, we are fat. Better learn to love ourselves this way and go for what we can get now. One actor actually told me he was going to give acting a try after he lost weight. I said to him, that he would never give acting a try. I have not heard from him since. People don't usually like the truth. But we have a good truth right now. And that is that being fat is in. The popularity of "Precious" and "Drop Dead Diva" have done this for us. So take my advice. Accept yourself for who who are. Submit for the fat roles and by golly you may become an actor yet. BTW, if you happen to lose weight over the next year, then you can love the new and improved you and start marketing that actor. There are roles for all sizes, shapes and colors. If you don't make it, it won't be because you are the wrong size, shape or color. It will be because you are not good enought.

Sunday, March 7, 2010

The Academy Awards

Our media is having an orgy over who will win this year's academy awards. One on screen reporter or hostess or whatever they are called was dismayed that a dispute between Disney and Cablevision might prevent her from seeing them. I could care less myself, because the Academy Awards have lost almost all of their meaning as an achievement of excellece in cinema over the past several years. Ever since Marlon Brando sent a spokesperson to complain about some socio-political cause he was espousing years ago, the Awards have become a platform for political speeches rather than a dignified bestowing of honor upon various deserving artists. Now people get the awards for simply having a particular political point of view ( Michael Moore or Al Gore to name the more obvious ones), that is not artistic achievement. Another thing that has watered down the value of the Awards is all of the other award shows. There are so many that you can hardly turn on your TV without having one award show or another being presented. And if it is not for cinema, and there are about half a dozen of those, it is for TV or Stage or music, there area about one of these every week it seems. It just is evidence that these shows are publicity productions more than anything else. Someone getting an award may get people to go see or go buy the artistic product they are involved with. The phoney/baloney glamour of the awards, all of them, also bothers me. People actually think actors and actesses and singers live lives full of glitter and spotlights. Wrong. They are just putting on a show for their fans. The artifice of the gowns and tuxedos really has become tiring. And the lack of dignity on the part of the participants is appalling. When award shows just become platforms for dropping f-bombs, you can count me out. I prefer artists who have better decorum, vocabulary and common sense to the spoiled, often intoxicated brats who collect trophies nowadays. Some one get me a Bogart film and let's watch some real entertainment!

Wednesday, March 3, 2010

Physical situations and emotional responses

What follows is an edited email I received from one of my protgees. His word are in regular face and my replies are in bold face. I have a couple of questions about what to do when the script tells you to do something that you at that moment are not feeling. When the script calls for you to be drunk, It would of course be helpful to the actor to have experienced that or have observed that so he could imagine what the physical situations reactions are. obviously you will not drink before the performance and if you pretend to be drunk it is not really reacting truthfully as yourself but as the playwright's character Here is the point. Being drunk is a medical condition like having a cold. We know what the symptoms are in our imaginations and we react physically with these symptoms in our imaginations. If I imagine I have a cold, I have honest physical reactions to that. I don't have a cold but I cough and speak as though my nose is stuffy.Or if you have to trip on something or fall, you must fake it to avoid injury.No, you learn how to fall and you really fall, but you automatically employ those techniques you have learned. Both of these previous examples are not the same thing as emotional reactions, they are physical situations. You may have emotional reactions to these physical things. Neither being drunk nor falling is an emotional response. Also in a script if it calls for you to laugh or cry but the situation in real life but a play is not real life would not actually make you laugh or cry and you have to fake it,sorry, I don't buy this as a valid situation. No faking the emotional reactions. The situation is that of the play, not of real life. The mistake many acting teachers make is that they insist that 'real life' is where the actor must find his 'truth'. But the real deal is that films and plays and not real life and actually have little to do with real life. Thus, the actor's 'truth' is based in the script rather than in reality. (see Tony Barr's defininition of action in The Tao and the Art of Acting) isn't this also not reacting truthfully, or must you learn to open yourself up to all types of humor and sadness(for lack of a better word), so that you will be able to relate with every kind of character? As an actor you have to be open to all stimuli and react within the imaginary circumstances (the play) You are not reacting to similar situations in real life. There is one caveat, and that is one of the paradoxes of acting which requires that you react fully and honestly yet that you as the actor must always be in control so that you do not injure yourself or others. So you must me both the character and the actor at the same time. And sometimes you just have to do the physical thing irregardless of the possibility of injuring yourself. In my first speaking role in a TV series, they expected me to actually dive for my rifle, leap for it off my feet, and land on the ground near the rifle without regard to injuring myself (which was minimal--I skinned my knuckles). Do so see the difference between being drunk or falling and laughing? The later is an emotional reaction, the first two are not. Our emotional reactions remain truthful, our physical situations (which are actually shaping the vessel that holds the character) remain truthful as reactions to our imaginations in the first place and is a truthful physical representation in the second place.

Tuesday, March 2, 2010

Uncertainty, wondering, waiting and boredom

What's an actor to do? You are between gigs, your agent has said she's putting you up for a part. It had been two weeks or more since you have had a booking and you are bored, worried and wondering what is going to happen to your career. What to do? Get busy and find a class or an audition and make things happen on your own. Send reminder postcards to the directors you have worked with as I have taught you to do. Your agent cannot be expected to get you all your gigs, you have to get many on your own usind networking and searching the proper websites for work. When things are really slow, I always recommend getting together with other actors and producing your own show. (See Ch 9 of The Tao of Acting), What you must not do, is sit around wondering what, if anything is ever going to happen. You have to go out and make something happen. You have to keep working on the career. Every day you don't make an effort to network or find a class or find work is a day toward failing. Git 'er done!

Monday, March 1, 2010

video auditions

Having to create a video audition is something every aspiring actor will have to face sometime or other. Since I have seen a number of these things, let me point out the common errors and hope that you can avoice them. 1. Do the taping in a suitable space. Usually your living room or bedroom are far from suitable. Outdoors is usually a bad choice. You need to get thee to a rehearsal hall or theatre or video studio and do it right. 2. Make sure the lighting is good. An audition by a zombie from "Night of the Living Dead" with those dark circles for eyes just won't do. 3. It would be nice to have you as attractive as possible without being dressed and made up for a glamour model shot. In other words, have nice hair and an attractive outfit, women do a nice everyday makeup, etc. 4. SMILE. A light, energetic audition is much better than something morbidly heavy. And enjoy doing the performance. 5. Sparkle, shine and love the whole opportunity to perform for the camera. I also discuss how to do these auditions in my book, The Tao of Acting as well. Add those techinques to these for a better audition.