Wednesday, November 24, 2010

Cover Letters

I have been working with some aspiring actors on cover letters this week, and I have a couple of observations to make. First, if you do not know how to write a formal business letter full block style, you are not ready to be an actor. Acting is a business and you must me ready to conduct yourself like a business person. Get a copy of Brian O'Neil's book, "Acting as a Business" and read and study it. Second, unless the agent has specifically asked for something creative in your letter, keep it strictly business and very very short and to the point. Third, do not put any crap in the letter about how much you love acting or how you are trying to take it to the next level, or how hard you are willing to work. All that is understood by the person to whom you are writing and has no business in a business letter. Many letters from aspiring actors that I have read actually sound like the writer is begging for a part. Very bad form. Fourth, do not ask me for my advice and then not follow it. One young lady needed a creative letter for entering her submission to an agent. I wrote a very clever limerick for her letter. I found out some time later that she never submitted to the agency. If you are not going to follow through don't get started. Read my article on my website on Cover Letters, Head Shots and Resumes, and do what it says.

Saturday, November 13, 2010

Do I Need to Go to Drama School to Be an Actor

Well, according to this information I found, you do if you are in the UK:

Professional training at a drama school is by far the best preparation for a sustainable career as an actor - the self discipline, industry exposure and techniques you acquire at a drama school are invaluable. A recent survey by the National Council for Drama Training and the Arts Council of England revealed that 87% of working professional actors (in the UK) have trained professionally at an accredited drama school. It is an incredibly competitive business – more so for actresses than actors I'm afraid - so training may help to give you the best chance possible to succeed.

Note that the above says 87% of working professional went to drama school. It does not say that a high percentage of drama school graduates are working professional actors because that would be false. Only a small percentage of drama school actors become working professionals because there are so few jobs in relation to the enormous number of actors who want those jobs. Thus, only the few, very best, and very lucky ever get an acting job.

I remain skeptical about many drama schools and almost all university acting programs in the US. That does not mean, however, that going to school for acting is a bad idea. It is a good idea for those aspiring actors who need maturity and acting experience.

One of the biggest problems with going to school for acting is how expensive it is. If you graduate with a huge debt to repay, it will be even more difficult for you to become an actor because you will be worried about paying the debt all the time.

I am also skeptical about the seriousness of people who claim they love acting and want to become actors. That is fodder for another post. God bless, Doc

Wednesday, November 10, 2010

There are no small parts.....

I am constantly annoyed by people who ask, "How big the the role I just got in the school play?"
Such people come off as conceited and egotistic, more concerned about being important than in making the play important. It was the great Russian director and acting teacher, Constantin Stanislavsky who wrote, "There are no small parts, only small actors." He meant that only an insignificant actor was concerned about how large his role was. As a director, I knew how right he was. Actors who were too important to be in the chorus, were too important to be in the play in my opinion. The chorus was the most important part of the show. It was sometimes difficult to get people to be in the chorus, but it was always easy to find actors who wanted to play the leads.
When I became a professional actor, I saw the Stanislavsky statement at work among the other actors in my area. We worked in an area which was used as location for many films, but the roles offered to actors there were always quite small. This was due to the way films are cast. The main roles are always cast before filming even begins. By the time the casting director contacts an agent for roles to be cast in the location area, the only roles are the small ones. Some of my fellow actors were upset that our agent never gave them a chance to read for larger roles. They did not know how movies are cast. I tried to go to every audition my agent got me, and I took every part offered. Some of those jobs were extra work. Some had several pages of dialogue. I got a couple of parts without auditioning for them because my agent knew I could be relied upon to do the work enthusiastically regardless of the size of the role.
I had to take off from my teaching job to do some of the roles. But by doing the professional acting, I was able to teach my students how to become professional actors, and many of them did. My colleagues and administrators did not always understand how that was possible. A couple of my administrators once disagreed with me that my participation in films shot in our area was good PR for the school. They actually said to me, in a meeting disapproving of my work, "those are only little parts." I replied that there were no small parts. They said, "Oh, you don't really believe that." And I replied that I certainly did. Oh, well. The ignorance about the subjects that administrators supervise is well known.
The point of all this is that if you want to succeed as an actor, you have to be willing to be less important than the work.. Who cares how big the role is? Be darned glad you are in the show and do your best to make it outstanding. That way you will be a significant actor. Directors often see that and reward it.

Friday, November 5, 2010

Acting Choices

Acting choices are the ways you have chosen to act your part. For example, the way you walk and talk as the character are acting choices. Great choices are those that are most viable for the role and are most creative and unique. To get better at making acting choices, spend more time studying the script and using your imagination to create the physical character so it is apt for the playwright's concept and unique to your portrayal.

Creating the physical character is the truly creative art of acting. The playwright has already created the emotional character. Sometimes the playwright also specifies certain physical characteristics of the characters. You use those and add your own twist on them to make your performance unique. But you always remain true to the playwright's concept of the role. That you do not meddle with. For example, I once saw a play in which one of the principle roles was changed from male to female, which, according to the director of this production, allowed her(the director) to make the play a statement about feminism. Problem was that both the character and the message of the play as presented by this production was not anything like the playwright's intent. Bad creative choices.

The emotional character has been determined by the playwright. You don't get to make a lot of choices in this area of your performance. Most of your responses will be those that the playwright planned on. If you are a highly sensitive and well trained Ta0 actor (see Tao and the Art of Acting at my web site), some of the emotional responses you have in your performance will not have been anticipated by the playwright. That is OK as long as they do not change the intent of the play. It is you, yourself, your emotional responses that make your performance unique, vulnerable and dynamic. Excellent choices for the actor!