Friday, December 16, 2011

Picking an Acting School

I have been advising people about what acting school to attend. Remember the lists of the best schools on this blog are not my lists. I disagree strongly with some of the schools included and cannot understand some of the schools that have been omitted. But people like lists. I will add some notes to that post in the near future.
The problem with acting schools, conservatory or academic, is the enormous cost. The usual tuition is $30,000 a year. Minimum time is two years. Academic BFA Acting programs are at least four years. And housing, meals and living costs are additional. Roughly, one is looking at between $100,000 and a quarter of a million dollars for such acting training. And there is no guarantee of employment after all that time and expense.
Is it worth it? I say, "NO!" Acting is much to iffy as far as getting employment is concerned. There are schools that have shorter programs for less money that will suffice to train you as an actor. Wm. Esper Studio in NYC is one. If money is really tight, you can just take the summer program.
My approach to becoming an actor favors not going to a full program at an acting school, but instead to take selected classes and workshops as you pursue your goal.
In most cases, it is going to take years to break into the business, why waste two to four years in acting school when you can get a jump on it right away. Of course, I am assuming you are very talented, highly experienced with a strong resume and have the ability to support yourself while becoming an actor.
As far as choosing an acting school. That is something for the wealthy to do. Most people have to become an actor first and then go to school. It is not a bad way to proceed.

Sunday, November 20, 2011

What Are the Best Acting Schools?

Since it is the actor who makes the school and not the other way around, such things as Best Acting Schools are a simple matter of opinion. I did run across some lists that people had made and I will share them with you. These are not my work and I only endorse a few of these schools.

1. SUNY - Purchase
The Conservatory of Theatre Arts and Film at Purchase College is a highly competitive and intensive program. The campus also contains a great liberal arts and design program and is only 40 minutes from New York City.

But you won't have much time to explore Manhattan: Classes generally start at 8am and you'll be busy with rehearsals until 11 at night. Your first two years are considered a "trial" period. If you don't have the required skills and professionalism, you won't be asked back. This is a tough school - but it also has one of the finest acting programs in the country.

2. Juilliard
Juilliard is one of the world-class acting schools in New York City (the other is at NYU). Its Drama Division was founded in 1968 by the American director and producer John Houseman and the French director, teacher, and actor Michel Saint-Denis.

Over 1,000 candidates apply each year for just 20 freshman spots. Like SUNY-Purchase, Rutgers and NYU, Julliard employs a "conservatory training" approach. This means that you will work closely over four years with the same students and professors, deeply immersed within a rigorously prepared program.

3. Rutgers
Many of my coaches recommended the BFA at Rutger's Mason Gross School of the Arts in New Jersey. This program, according to its brochure, "offers a BFA designed for those students who are seeking to integrate both a rigorous professional training program in a liberal arts setting. The curricula of the school gives such students a thorough and rigorous education as artists and, through the required liberal arts courses, humanistic perspectives on both their art and themselves. Junior students in Acting spend a year abroad at the Rutgers Conservatory at Shakespeare's Globe in London. This is the only BFA program which offers sequential conservatory training in London."

A chance to study at the Globe alone makes this a program to celebrate.

4. Carnegie Mellon University
Carnegie Mellon University in Pittsburgh offers a four-year undergraduate acting program as well as the possibility of double-majoring in musical theater. Both programs train actors by immersing them in "sophisticated, verbally complex material with a focus on the works of Chekhov and Shakespeare." Sounds fascinating.

In the junior year, the focus switches to Greek and Restoration drama. In the senior year, students participate in public performances on the school's main stage. Finally, for those students "in good standing," showcase performances in New York City and Los Angeles are arranged.

5. New York University - The Tisch School of Drama
NYU's Tisch School has given birth to scores of great theater professionals. The undergraduate program in acting includes standard conservatory training and theater study, and is complemented with other liberal arts classes from New York University.

According to Arthur Bartow, the Artistic Director of the Department of Drama, "The extraordinary synergism created by placing committed students with our professional conservatory faculty propels students forward, formulating their own unique way of working.... We are preparing people for a lifetime of creative output."

6. North Carolina School of the Arts
The School of Drama at the North Carolina School of the Arts boasts such alumni as Mary-Louise Parker (Proof), Jada Pinkett Smith (The Matrix), and Terrence Mann (Beauty and the Beast). The school emphasizes "classical values in its training process to meet a well-recognized demand for actors to be technically skilled and, at the same time, creatively inspired."

7. Northwestern
Northwestern offers a versatile drama program that is good for students who want flexibility in constructing their own curriculum. It is an interdepartmental program, and students take courses in the Weinberg College of Arts and Sciences and the School of Speech. "The goal of the curriculum is to provide both historical breadth and particular insight into the relationship between dramatic texts and the performative dimensions and skills that have brought them to life."

8. California Institute of the Arts (Cal Arts)
The Los Angeles based CalArts School of Theater's mission is to "expose students to theater traditions from a global cultural perspective nurture non-mainstream voices and promote a cultural and aesthetic diversity of viewpoint, experience and expression."

A few things set the school apart (besides its great location for people wanting to work in film or television). That includes a requirement to take up to 40% of your classes in the School of Critical Studies. These courses (some of which may be theater related) are intended to provide "broad knowledge and cultural sophistication needed for successful arts careers in today's world."

CalArts also has a great center for the study of puppetry and a new theater (the REDCAT) in downtown Los Angeles. Alumni include Bill Irwin, David Hasselhoff, and Ed Harris.

9. Yale
Yale is one of the world's great institutions of learning. It offers an undergraduate Theater Studies major within the department of humanities. This program differs from others in that it focuses less on performance than on theory and the history of theater and in immersing the student in liberal arts curricula.

Or, as their website puts it: "Students who major in Theater Studies are encouraged to use the theater with a more fully developed sense of context and purpose than is usual in a purely technical course of study. Courses are distributed to help ensure that students understand the theater as part of the intellectual life of the culture it interprets and reflects." A degree from Yale definitely opens doors in the theater world.

10. UC San Diego
The UCSD Department of Theatre and Dance offers both a major and minor. You do not need to apply specifically to the Department of Theatre and Dance or audition for the program - any student accepted to UCSD can claim a theater major.

While it is mainly known for its graduate program (with ties to La Jolla Playhouse), the UCSD undergraduate program provides a broad base of knowledge in the fine arts, supplemented with practical experience on the stage. Another advantage of studying at UCSD is that it also has a noteworthy film studies center.

Honorable Mentions:
The following schools have strong acting programs: University of Miami (FL), University of Indiana at Evansville, University of Minnesota (with ties to the Guthrie Theater), UT - Austin, Hofstra University, UC Irvine, Boston University, DePaul University, and Emerson College. I also know several excellent actors who attended the theater arts program at UC-Santa Cruz.

And here's another list. Note that it is a couple years old. Schools' reputations ebb and flow as time goes by.

10 Best Acting Schools In America

By: Zach Feral

Break Studios Contributing Writer

If you have been bit by the acting bug, you can foster your career at one of these, the 10 best acting schools in America.

  1. Yale School of Drama. The best acting school in America, with a roster of graduates that includes Mark Linn-Baker, Kate Burton and Frances McDormand. Students act in productions of the Yale Repertory Theatre, and often go on to appear on Broadway and in Hollywood films. Yale School of Drama, 149 York Street, New Haven, CT 06511.

  2. The Juilliard School. This ultra-competitive New York City conservatory is one of the best acting schools in America. Val Kilmer, Kevin Kline, and William Hurt are all graduates. The Juilliard School, 60 Lincoln Center Plaza, New York, NY 10023-6588.

  3. New York University. The university’s Tisch School of the Arts has launched the careers of many prominent actors, including Christopher Guest and Barry Bostwick. NYU Tisch School of the Arts, 721 Broadway, New York, NY 10003.

  4. American Conservatory Theatre. This Bay Area institution is one of the best acting schools in America, offering an M.F.A. program. Denzel Washington and Winona Ryder are just two of its notable graduates. American Conservatory Theatre, 415 Geary Street San Francisco, CA 94102.

  5. American Repertory Theatre. A.R.T. is affiliated with Harvard University, and is one of the best acting schools in America you’ll find. Here, you will get a chance to personally work with such famous theatre directors and playwrights as David Mamet and Richard Foreman. Students also get to spend three months studying in Moscow at the famous Moscow Art Theatre School. American Repertory Theater, Loeb Drama Center, 64 Brattle Street, Cambridge, MA 02138.

  6. Rutgers. Rutgers allows its acting students to spend their junior year studying at Shakespeare’s Globe on London. Matt Mulhern, James Gandolfini (of Sopranos fame), and Roger Bart all studied here. Mason Gross School of the Arts at Rutgers, 33 Livingston Avenue, New Brunswick, NJ 08901-1959.

  7. Denver Center for the Performing Arts. This is one of the best acting schools in America for theater. It is a three-year program for graduate students in the craft. Denver Center for the Performing Arts, 1101 13th Street, Denver, CO 80204.

  8. Trinity Repertory Company. Brown University is affiliated with this Tony Award-winning institution, which is one of the best acting schools in America for ambitious young performers. Famous theatre directors such as Anne Bogart have worked at the Trinity. Trinity Repertory Company, 201 Washington St, Providence, RI 02903.

  9. Columbia University. The theatre program at Columbia is in a class all its own. Its ultra-competitive MFA-granting division only accepts about 6% of all applicants each year. School of the Arts, Columbia University, 305 Dodge Hall, Mail Code 1808, 2960 Broadway, New York, NY 10027.

  10. University of San Diego. Students at this acting school get to work at the prestigious Old Globe Theater. It is a two-year, intensive program resulting in an MFA in Acting. The Old Globe/USD Graduate Theatre, Post Office Box 122171, San Diego, CA 92112-217.

Posted on: Apr. 09, 2010

Thursday, November 10, 2011

Breaking Character/Forgetting Lines

I have had a lot of questions lately about how to stay in character or how to keep from forgetting my lines. These topics are closely related as they are caused by the same thing: a lapse in concentration by the actor.

I find that the biggest cause of breaks in concentration is self-awareness (being self-conscious). When the actor switches from being the character (concentrating on the stimuli of the scene and reacting moment by moment--what the famous acting teachers Meisner and Adler called "staying in the moment") to thinking about what he or she looks like and/or is doing, the actor has lost it; and it is visible to all observing him-- just as though the character is a pasted-on image that has been ripped off of the actor. Thus our challenge as actors is to forget ourselves for in doing so we are then open to be the character.

Playing the moment means that the actor does not think about what has already happened in his or her performance. Nor does he or she thing about what is to come later in the play. It means that the actor is fully concentrating on the moment of the scene that is present. Without the concentration to do that, the actor cannot respond successfully and will give a poor performance.

The actors concentration begins with the actor being fully confident of having the lines learned perfectly.

Then the actor focuses his or her eyes on the other actors. Watch Marlon Brando, James Dean, Paul Newman, Clint Eastwood, John Wayne or other famous actors. Watch how they focus on the other actors. Their eyes steady and burning into their scene partners demonstrates stong concentration and leads to effecive performances.

Being self-conscious is always detrimental to the actor. It is essential to having good emotional responses to the stimuli in the scene that the actor is free from inhibitions that cause him or her to be worried about what people will think about what they are doing in their performance. Such an impediment to acting effectively must be avoided. And it will be avoided by those actors who work to rid themselves of being self-conscious. Being in many plays and studying in the proper acting classes will bring the actor a sense of security and effectiveness in their acting.

Saturday, October 22, 2011

Where Did They All Go?

I decided to clean out my address book which is full of email addresses of people to whom I sent an email some time or other, and for the most part have never returned the favor. I have only just finished the D's and am about to start the E's.

I suppose everyone's address book is like that, but since most of my correspondence is about acting and becoming an actor I find it a little baffling that those hundreds of people who swore that acting was their life or their passion, or their only possibe career have not returned an email to ask another question, or report a success in the quest.

I think that most of them have given up on becoming a professional actor. That would be hundreds and hundreds of people who contacted me who have fallen by the wayside. It is amazing how complicated and difficult it is to become a professional for most aspiring actors. A lucky few are "discovered" and waltz right into it. But that is a very very lucky very very few.

So much energy wasted by people who, if they had done a little research or asked another question, might have been spared the waste. Or might have found some success.

I decided a while back to tell the truth about acting. Almost everyone else who answers questions on Yahoo Answers or who has a web site about acting encourages aspiring actors to go for it. Well, very few of them have any idea what they are going for. That's what Iam trying to do, give them an honest reply.

Acting is so overcrowded now with aspiring actors (ten thousand graduate academic or professinal acting schools every year) that I think it is a better service to discourage the unprepared (or at least tell them what it is really like) and get them the hell out of the crowd. This may sound cruel, but I think it is really kind to those who have an honest chance and to the profession as well.

Well, that's about it. A few thoughts that were inspired by my address book. If you have ever contacted me, and you are still acting, I 'd like to hear from you again.
God bless, Doc

Friday, October 21, 2011

This May Be of Help

It seems that I have found an honest web site for casting and for acting information of all kinds. It is JB Casting Network. I encourage all aspiring actors to take a look. If you have questions, let me know. God bless, Doc

Wednesday, October 19, 2011

Must an Actor Be Good Looking?

I get a lot of email from people who would like to be be actors, but they are concerned that they may not be handsome or beautiful enough.

What an actor looks like has a great deal to do with his or her success. Professional casting is always done first by look--does the actor look like the character. There are often characters in plays and films that are not necessarily handsome or beautiful in appearance. Many film stars of both sexes were not. In fact, some stars' careers were built on their "ugliness."

Before everyone gets all excited that they are going to become film stars in spite of their mediocre looks, we need to consider that the actors and actresses who succeeded without being handsome or beautiful were still attractive in the sense that the audience was drawn to them. This happens because of the charisma, or charm, that the actors and actresses have. Charisma is that unidentifiable quality that makes someone interesting. It could be a vocal quality, a sparkle or twinkle in their eyes, or any number of other things that draw people's attention.
This quality must be strong enough to make the audience want to see that actor again.

Good looking or not, the thing that the actor must project is being someone that the audience can idenify with -- someone that the audience finds exciting, interesting, and appealing. When we say the audience identifies with an actor or character, we don't mean that they recognize qualities in them that remind them of Uncle Joe or their brother. What we mean is that they recognize in them the people that they, they audience, wish they were -- romantic and exciting people -- instead of the boring, everyday drudges that they are. That is what makes film and TV popular -- that it provides a means for everyday people to live exciting lives via identifying with the characters and actors in the shows.

Because of this identifying process, actors must make themselves extraordinary people. They work hard to develop those characteristics that will make them attractive to the audience. They have personal trainers. Some have cosmetic surgery. Others develop powerful voices or physiques. But most actors and actresses don't just rely on the looks they have been born with. Instead, they spend hours and sometimes lots of money to become the idols of the audience.

There is so much more to being an actor than acting. There is becoming an interesting physical person. There is developing a charming personality. There is having the business savvy needed to succeed. There is the hard, physical work of staying fit and healthy. And there is much more to this complex, fascinating business called being an actor.

Thursday, October 6, 2011

Education and the Actor

Would you believe that this blog, my e-book, and my web site came into being because I was contacted by a high school student from Houston, Texas several years ago? He had seen a posting on a forum that I wrote which said that I did not think it was necessary for actors to go to college, and he wanted to know if it were true. Well, it was true. I did write such a post. Moreover, I still believe that it is not necessary for a person to go to college to become an actor.

In my e-book, I explain why colleges and acting schools are not necessarily the best way to prepare for a career in acting. However, most people would benefit from the added knowledge, experience, and maturity that the four years of college provides. It really is the exception that someone becomes an actor with no formal education or training.

I have talked to many teens who wanted to become actors, but could not see the benefits of formal education. Most want to know how to become actors without going to college or acting school. One wanted to drop out of high school. One wanted to know which college acting programs did not require good grades. I forgot to tell him my daughter was dropped from a prestigious university acting school because her academic grades at the university were not sufficiently high. Teens sometimes get the strangest notions about becoming actors: that a BFA Acting degree does not require the same academic classes as other degrees; that somehow they just go to an agent and say 'I am an actor, find me a job;' or that because one of their high school teachers told them they should become an actor that they can do so.

First, no one wants an uneducated actor. An actor needs good grammar. He needs to know how to find information about things such as the time and place of the play historically. He needs to be well read. And he needs to be able to carry on an intelligent conversation on many subjects. Only a formal education or an extraordinary informal education would provice these things. Intelligence in actors is much prized by directors.

So I am afraid that if someone really wants to become an actor, that person needs to be well educated. High school and college grades are important--not to get a job as an actor, not to be brilliantly talented, but to be the most effective human being you can be. Acting is such a difficult profession that many of the most talented people never make it because they are not properly educated and guided toward success as an actor. That is why I created my web site--to offer the kinds of information and guidance needed by people who want to become actors. It does not substitute for formal education. It adds to it. There are other things aspiring actors need as well, but they are subjects for another time. Pehaps they are elsewhere in this blog or elsewhere on my website.

Monday, October 3, 2011

An experience in film acting.

Film acting requires the actor(s) t0 do some pretty odd stuff when they perform their roles. Take for example Roy M. Davis working on the French film "Nous York." For the director to get just what he wanted, Roy had to repeat his singing over and over again without the takes being cut and restarted in the traitional way. He writes:

"I completed the film engagement on the French film, Nous York. As it turned out, I only had to sing the first two lines of the song but the drawback was that I had to do it over again several times during each single take. I mean that I had to sing the two lines,wait ten seconds and start again. Without cutting. And then we did at least half a dozen takes.One more lesson on how drastically film acting can differ from acting on the stage. And I did not have to make any effort at projection. I was wired up with one of those sound devices that almost makes it possible to record the dropping of a pin and yet have the sound register in the movie theater very audibly. So I sang very quietly. A new experience. I am so glad that I was ready. I may not have been two years ago. Let us keep in contact."



Sunday, September 11, 2011


Probabaly the most asked question that I get is "How do I become a [professional} actor? This is mostly asked by very young people and teens who have done a school play or two and was in a community theatre production and now want to take it on to the next level.

What these kids do not realize is that being a professional actor is not something you just start doing when you feel like it. You don't just suddenly become qualified to be a professional. Being in a few amateur plays doesn't really come close to what you have to do to be an actor.

First you must be an actor. You must be reading everything you can find about acting (at least from the more modern of the books), and reading all the plays you can find, and you have to be doing all the acting you can in amateur theatre, {university} student films and indie films. And these experiences must show that you are one of the few extraordinarily talented and charming people in the world who cab become an actor.

Then someone, your parent if you are under 18, mus devote their life to your becoming an actor, This is harder than it seems. The actor's life is solitary and spartan and it requires someone who is a good self starter. The aspiring actor has to overcome the frustration of rejection and extended periods of not getting any result for their efforts. This sounds like something many people can endure, but few survive it as actors.

Finally, those that you will be competing with professionally for agents, jobs, and success will have had years and years of acting experience and professional training. They are the best actors in the world. You have to be one of them if you are going on to the next level because the next level is heavily populated with them.

Wednesday, August 17, 2011

Is This Agency a Scam?

Another frequent topic in the questions I get is about agencies being legit or scams. So here are some differences.

Legit agencies do not sell photo shoots or acting classes.

Legit agencies do not recruit actors. They have plenty of actors and are choosy about picking new ones to represent.

Legit agencies may want you to join casting web sites of their choosing.

Legit agencies will want you to get new professional photos and pay for comp cards or other items they have printed and distribute on your behalf.

Legit agencies will be franchised by SAG, AFTRA or EQUITY and /or be members of ATA.*

Scams recruit in malls.

Scams almost always are selling acting lessons and are not real talent agencies.

Scams will promise you success. In truth no one can honesty make such a promise.

Scams run radio ads for "Disney" auditions that do not exist.

It is a mistake of a beginning actor to think they need an agent. Beginners need lots of acting experience and some sound training. It is only why there is evidence that they may be able to get professinal work that they should seek an agent.

Agents do not make people into actors. They make money from people who are already actors.

Always contact me and ask if you are unsure about the legitimacy of an agency.

Thursday, August 11, 2011

Who are you when you act on stage?

Stage acting requires many things of the actor that screen acting does not. While both media want the actor to 'be the character,' what remains important is what you do not want to be. Some people worry that film acting is just being oneself and film actors rely only on personality. Nothing could be farther from the truth.

No acting is just being oneself. If you take the time to analyze who the characters are in the story-- heroes, villians, lovers, etc. --and what they do in the story, it takes no great brain to figure out that these characters and their actions are a far cry from who the actor is and what the actor does. This being said, we must remember that effective acting is allowing yourself to have full, honest, emotional responses that are not self concious. It is the actor's ability to have such emotional responses that makes her acting truthful. So while we are not just being ourselves, it is our responses that make our acting effective.

We also have to be the character on stage or screen, not the actor nor the audience. We cannot be the audience and respond as they do to the stimuli of the scene because that response may be different from the repsonse of the character. To be the character, the actor first assumes the physical manifestation of the character, posture, walk, mannerisms, dress, hair style, voice, etc., Then the actor concentrates on being the character in the scene by listening very carefully with all of her senses to what is happening and allowing herself to react emotionally, fully and with our inhibition to what is happening--That is acting.

Pretty much that is all the screen actor has to do. Stage acting is harder than film acting in that while you are doing all of this, you also have to be aware of audience response. For example, if the audience laughs the actor needs to hold for the laugh so the audience don't miss the next laugh. When the actor hears the audience laugh, she freezes for a moment and when the laugh peaks and starts to weaken, she continues doing the scene. IF she has started a sentence when she freezes, when she continues she repeats the beginning of the sentence. Furthermore, the actor is always aware of what she is doing in the scene when she expresses her emotions, so that she doesn't actually injure herself or anyone else in the scene.

So you can be described as several people when you act. First you are the actor. She is the one who has created the physical character and who responds emotionally to the stimuli of the scene. Then you can be described as the character. She is the one who says and does the things in the play. It is critically important not to confuse the actor and her role. You should not say of the actress playing Medea that Sally Jones (if that is the actress' name) killed her two children to avenge the unfaithfulnes of her husband. No, Medea does that, not Sally. Let's always keep the actor and the role separate.

Wednesday, July 27, 2011

Extra work: good or bad?

What is an aspiring actor to do about extra work? The 'old school' take on someone working as an extra was that they were hurting their chances to become an actor, because extras did not act, they were just scenery. But the Screen Actors Guild took extras to a new level, including them in their union and disbanding the Screen Extras Union. Now a SAG extra is treated as well as a SAG principal actor. The extra does not make nearly the same money as the 'speaking' actor, but he has the same protections and priveleges.

Some people still think that if an actor does extra work, he will be categorized as an extra and never get a speaking role. That is simply nonsense. What every aspiring actor must do, of course, is to seek employment in SAG films. While indy work is nice and in a few cases pays a little, there is nothing to compare with union sanctioned films. Indy films just don't have the ability to pay and offer you the best working condiditons. Always seek SAG or AFTRA work for film and TV.

Once we get over the nonsense that extras are not actors, there are other benefits in working on a SAG film as an extra. If you collect three vouchers that say you have worked as an extra on three SAG films, you become SAG eligible and can join the union if you want to.

Then, when the aspiring actor is SAG eligible or joins SAG, the temptation to take SAG extra work is high. It offers good pay, which aspiring actors always need. But for those whose goal is to become an established speaking actor for film and TV, extra work can become troublesome. An aspiring actor does not want a resume that is all extra work. If he or she is SAG or AFTRA, then they should be racking up some speaking roles.

In summary, extra work is honorable and has advantages, but it still holds the pitfall of the actor becoming known only for extra work if he or she does not get out and get some speaking roles.

Friday, July 15, 2011

Sandford Meisner, The Basis for All Modern Acting

I have just been re-introduced to Stanford Meisner and his acting teaching, and I must say that I have fallen in love with his approach. Watching him work with actors is so inspiring that it is hard to say exactly what it does to me. But it reaffirms me, the way the theatre reaffirms mankind. God, it is glorious!

Of all the "old" ways of acting, Meisner leaps decades forward into the 21st Century, into the most modern of approaches to acting. Wm. Esper’s teaching is the best Meisner based approach. The Esper Studio is the only “Stanislavsky” based studio in NYC that I recommend.

I never was a fan of Stanislavsky or ways to approach acting based on his work. It was all too complex and seemed to me to be antithetic to acting which I always thought was supposed to be playing and fun. Then, I was taught that acting was "reacting" about thirty-five years ago when I was taking professional classes and acting in films. Pretty much I based my acting on “just do it”. You create the physical character and then you do the role. No fuss, no muss, no Stanislavsky, no method, no agony. Just fun. I didn’t need acting classes either. Had a couple in undergraduate school in the 1950’s. Then, when I started film acting in the mid 1970’s I took a one evening media acting workshop and a once a week, twelve week media acting class. These classes emphasized keeping things simple. More importantly they taught ‘don’t act, react” obviously an axiom from Meisner who was against acting and pretending and was for honest, unrestrained, uninhibited emotional response. He said to act from the gut, not from the head. In other words use your gut responses, don’t try to think it out or plan it out.

The real difference between the "old" Stanislavsky based approaches and today's techniques is that the old ways teach acting which often is pre-planned behavior rather than spontaneous reaction, and today's most modern approaches are non-acting. Read books such as Harold Guskin's '"How to Stop Acting" and Eric Morris's "No Acting Please" (which seems to have started the new era of acting way back in 1979) and Don Richardson’s “Acting Without Agony” (which exposes The Method as a fraud) and Tony Barr’s “Acting for the Camera” to learn more how modern acting has changed from most of the old ways, but read Meisner as well and discover that he was the well-spring from which these approaches were born.

For a bit more information go to my website under Acting Theory and read Modern Times Need Modern Methods and Tao and the Art of Acting. I also discuss the non-acting approach to playing a role in my book The Tao of Acting. Read in my blog the posts on reacting. You will find that my ideas are the mainstream of today's acting which started with Meisner’s ‘being in the moment’ and ‘react, don’t act.’

We have to give credit to Stanislavsky and to The Group Theatre for Meisner, but it is interesting how he leapt so far ahead of Adler, Strasburg, Hagan and others who came from the Group. These teachers’ techniques still maintain themselves in places such as NYC, London, and LA-- places with traditional thinking which accept reputations these approaches gained over half a century ago. Chubbick,

which is the 21st Century reincarnation of Stanislavsky, somehow has gained a strong following in LA. But it is the same old agony that most actors are exposed to in many ways of approaching their craft as they prepare for professional work. Most actors take a bit of technique from here and a bit from there and work out their own way of being effective when performing. Nowadays that includes dropping most of the old fashioned techniques and just playing without acting and dropping all the bother of the Stanislavsky based approaches except for Meisner.

I urge you to watch the seven-part youtube series on Meisner’s teaching at It should blow you away.

Saturday, July 9, 2011

Improvisation. Reconsidered and Recommended

One of the things I enjoy about my avocation of mentoring aspiring actors is how much about acting I am learning in the day by day process. For example, I have long been against improvisation for actor training. Recently, however, I heard a well known acting teacher explain why improvisation is good for actors to learn.

As early as about one month ago, I wrote a post on this blog about Overcoming Inhibitions. One of the points I made was that in order to be an effective actor one has to get out one's head. In other words you can't think about what you are doing, you have to keep your mind clear to receive the stimuli in the scene so you can react to it fully and without inhibition. Well, it turns out that improvisation is terrific exercise for an actor in getting out of his head. Improvisation requires that the actor respond instantly without thinking about it And this instinctive response is exactly what Meisner and Adler and other famous acting teachers meant by being in the moment.

Giving an immediate, unplanned and instinctive response is exactly what today's advocates of
'non-acting' want actors to do. Haveing heard the instructor explain how improvisation trains the actor to do exactly that, I have changed my point of view. I now fully endorse improvisation classes for aspiring actors

Thursday, June 30, 2011

Is it worth it to try to become an actor?

I am frequently asked if being an actor is worth the time and strauggle that it takes. In way I am glad to be asked this question because it shows the asker has some idea of what an aspiring actor is facing. I am also glad the person asked the question, because it tells me that they do not have what it takes to be successful at acting, and that is an unflagging devotion and drive to get there. Thus, I can dissuade them from trying. We have 'way too many aspiring actors as it is. There simply is no room for them in the profession unless they are extraordinarily talented and charming.

When faced with the question of worth regarding an acting career, I can say the following:

First here is what I know. I know that everyone except the idle rich needs to have a 'day' job, or what I have started calling, a survival job, if they attempt to become a professional actor. So if worth it means is it financially worth it, the answer is not in the vast majority of cases. I also know that the vast majority of people who attempt an acting career will not succeed. I also know that acting is unlike any other profession in it's high qualifications and it's lack of steady employment. This is true even for the most talented of actors. The main thing an actor thinks about and works at is finding his or her next job. I also know people who have been very poor all their lives but because they have been actors. They feel it was worth it. They are still in the acting profession and work as actors as often as they can. But they have never earned a living as an actor. To them being an actor is the only thing that makes life worth it.

Now, here is what I think. I think that anyone who has any doubts about attempting a career in acting should not do it. If you have doubts at the beginning, you are going to quit somewhere along the way because it is too hard and you'd rather have a "normal" life with a spouse or life partner. If ou'd like the basic necessities and the usual luxuries that "normal" people have and the steady relationships that most people have, you are not actor material. To an actor, acting comes first. To most people there are lots of other things that come before acting. This is true even of most who say they want to become actors. I think that most people who say they want to be actors, would give it up if they knew what life would be like if they were struggling actors. I think most of them want to be the characters they see on the screen and don't really want to do what is necessary to be an actor. Sure they want to be stars, rich and famous, admired and unwanting. But that is all fantasy. Being famous is a bummer.

Hey! If you are compelled to be an actor and will not be dissuaded, contact me. You are the sort of person I want to help succeed as an actor. Go to my web site and hit the contact button. God bless all aspiring actors, those who will give it up and those who won't. Doc

Tuesday, June 28, 2011

What about SAG?

Aspiring actors always have questions about the Screen Actors Guild (SAG) and how to become a member, so after being asked the following questions by a young lady reading my book, The Tao of Acting, I decided the information was worth sharing here. Her questions are in black and my answers are in red. These replies refer only to the acting unions in the USA. Membership requirements for actors unions in Canada or the UK are quite different.

· How exactly does an actor join SAG? Do I have to have a speaking role in a big studio film, or can I just call SAG up and ask to join? You either have to have a speaking role in a SAG supervised film or you have to be an extra in three SAG supervised films and get the SAG vouchers before leaving the set. AFTRA is different, but you need to treat them similarly, and that is you do not want to join a union too soon. Once you are eligible and want to join, you go to the nearest SAG or AFTRA office, pay the initiation fee of $2777 and the first six months dues, and you are a member.

· What benefits do I get from SAG? Decent working conditions, fair pay for your work including overtime, and a health and retirement package if you are active enough.

· What does SAG Eligible mean? It means you have met the qualifications for membership, but have not yet joined.

· What is a background actor? An extra. Sometimes referred to as a non-speaking role or atmosphere.

· What does paying dues mean? Literally it means that every six months you pay the membership dues, seventy five dollars, I think. Figuratively paying your dues means that you have done the necessary preparation and put in the time to qualify as something.

· If I join SAG, am I only allowed to accept or be a part of certain SAG talent agencies or SAG films? Can I not do independent films or amateur theatre? You can have any agent you like, but you would be foolish not to have a SAG franchised agent. You cannot do non union films, but you can do amateur theatre.

· If I am not an SAG member, will certain talent agencies not represent me? For instance like William Morris Endeavor, or United Talent Agency? Agents want to represent marketable actors who will get union work,so they want SAG eligible or SAG actors, or actors that are likely to earn SAG membership quickly. The big name agencies will not even look at you unless you are known in the industry and working steadily.

· Does a professional actor HAVE to be an SAG member? By definition in my book, to be a professional actor you must belong to an actor's union==SAG, AFTRA or AEA.

Sunday, June 19, 2011

How to give a better audition

One of the common problems of young actors is that they get nervous before an audition and they want to know what to do to overcome their nerves and give a better audition. I was amused to discover that the largest Internet website devoted to providing information to young actors has just got around to addressing this issue and provides the same advice that I have been giving for years.

The solution in a nutshell is to make the audition experience on at which you, the auditioner, has fun. We wouldn't be acting if it weren't fun. Acting is one of the few careers that pays people to play. I encourage actors to learn and use the following mantra: Acting is playing and playing is fun. When ever I act I am going to have fun. Repeat over and over while you are relaxing until you find that you are approaching all acting experiences--rehearsals, performance and auditions with a more positive and relaxed manner. There is nothing to fear in an audition. They do not shoot the people who do not get the role. And there is always another audition so if this one doesn't work out, who cares? The next one will be for a better gig.

The actor must always enter the audition with a positive attitude, sure of what he or she is going to do and is doing. The very first few seconds of the audition can be the most important of all. The casting people make up their minds about the candidates for roles very quickly, so even if it appears that the auditors are not paying attention to you, you must combat this with an enthusic, energetic and friendly attitude.

You go in, take you place and slate with all this positive energy. Often it is a good idea to make some positive observation about the environment of the audition, even if it is a bare class room or a drafty old stage. Walk out and say, "This is fantastic!" or "Wow! I feel great up here!" and then slate and do your audition. Instructions for slating and auditioning are found in Chapter Seven of my free ebook, The Tao of Acting. available on my web site:

Rehearse and rehearse your audition from your enthusiastic comment, to your slate, to your monologues, to you exit. Make them positive, energetic and fun. Fun is the operative word. Acting is playing and playing is fun. An audtion is just another chance to act and have fun.

Now go out an nail that job.

Thursday, June 9, 2011

Luck and Connections

I have run across a lot of people lately ascribing success in acting due to luck and who you know. I am sorry to disagree with the idea that in order to succeed as an actor you have to have connections and luck. I used to believe that luck was needed to succeed as an actor (a belief strengthened by the fact that there are so few successful actors), but I now think that is a naive idea just like thinking that only those with connections can succeed as actors.

Luck and connections are excuses for failing. "I was unlucky." "I didn't have connections like Miley Cyrus did." What really makes people fail is that they are unwilling to do the work needed to succeed, or that somehow they never learn what they have to do to succeed. They never learn the kind of work they need to do and how to go about it. That is why those of us in the mentoring business believe so strongly that aspiring actors need mentors.

It is really popular to blame ones failures on some outside or mystical force. "I failed because of racial bigotry." Or lack of connections. Or lack of luck. Or lack of money. You see none of these things really has a bearing on your talent or your personality, or your work ethic. All of them can be overcome by talent and the proper kind of hard work.

Luck is what happens when preparation meets opportunity. One of my NYC students had a chance meeting with a famous agent in an elevator. Luck? Well, that far perhaps, but when she mentioned to him that she had just finnised a course at a well respected acting studio, he was impressed. Then she had the motivation to go to his office the next day and meet with him. He took her on. If she had not been well prepared at the acting studio and if she had not taken it upon herself to follow up on the meeting, she would not have got a chance to be represetned by him. When the oppotunity presented itself she was prepared. I had been a semi-professional and amateur actor for over twenty years when I heard about a film audition in a near by city. I prepared for the audition and attended. Because of my long experience, I was cast. The agent doing the casting call became my agent, and I got the first speaking role in a major TV series that I auditioned for. Luck? No. Preparation meeting opportunity.

I think everyone has it backwards about connections. They are always saying your success depends on who you know. Wrong. It depends on who knows you. Such people who have it backwards do not really understand what networking is and how to go about it properly. The purpose is to get yourself known in the industry, to build a positive reputation as an actor for yourself. Connections are built through your networking over all the years you are in the business. Like taking acting classes or having an acting coach, networking is something you always need.

Talent, love of acting, and dedication are plentiful. Solid preparation, charm, industry knowledge and mentors are much more rare.

Monday, June 6, 2011

Overcoming Inhibitons

Many aspiring actors have written to be saying that they have trouble expressing emotion on stage. They feel the emotion, but they just cannot get it to come out.

Acting involves giving free and open expression of ones emotions. But many would-be actors are inhibiting themselves by worrying about what others may think of what they are doing (crying or screaming or whatever) and they are worrying about how they may look doing those things. The actor's mindset must be that she doesn't care what people think; and furthermore she enjoys the opportunity to have free expression of her emotions. That is one of the joys of acting--society makes us suppress our emotions but acting allows us to express them fully which is a refreshing and enjoyable experience.

To be an effective actor, the actor has to get out of her head. She gas to stop thinking about what she is doing and what others may think of it. Acting is not thinking, it is emotionally responding. Acting requires that the actor's entire being (all of her senses) focuses on the scene, and does not allow her mind to wander into thinking about other things. Concentration is one of the basic requirements for the actor.

Aspiring actors can practice emotional expression without inhibition in acting classes or with a good acting coach. And they can read about how such expression works and how it is the basis of acting in such books as How to Stop Acting by Harold Guskin and The Tao of Acting by Kenneth Plonkey.

On my website there are several articles that may help actors with emotional expression as well: "Modern Times Need Modern Methods", "Tao and The Art of Acting", and "Truthful Acting". When you go to my web page at you will find these articles under the Acting Theory button on the drop down list.

Finally to address one other problem: acting is not leaving yourself. In order to be effective the actor allows her emotions to be expressed. Actors do have get out of their heads: they need to stop thinking about what they are doing and just do it and not think about anything but the scene. Actors have to learn to like who they are and how they look and to heck with the rest of the world (as long as they are getting parts). It is not necessary to be a beauty queen to be an actor. It is necessary to be able to act without inhibitions. Experience on stage should help a great deal. Go to my website, read my book and the articles and ask me lots of questions. God bless, Doc

Saturday, May 28, 2011

How Do Unknowns Do So Well in Big Movies?

The great myth of Hollywood is that a young lady is sitting at a soda fountain in a drug store and a talent scout sees her and she becomes a big star in her first big movie. The truth is that there are no talent scouts any more (except for scam operations they have disappeared along with the soda fountains). But the myth lives stronger than reality and thousands of young people (and some adults) day dream about being 'discovered' and becoming a star. Somehow people just want to believe that they could be a movie star if they could just somehow audition for a big film. Unfortunately these same people have never acted, not even in a high school play. But their friends and family think they should be actors because they are so funny or so talented. I have news for them: their friends and family wouln't know talent if it hit them between the eyes. A more biased group of judges you could not find.

I keep reading young peoples comments about this or that actor who without any experience or training is now a star. And these young people firmly believe that if this star did it, they can do it if they could only get a Disney audition. Then I look up these overnight stars and find out that they have a long history of experience and trainging. Futhermore, their parents spend lots of time and money advancing their careers. And I have further news for these young day dreamers: they are not the same people as these stars. The stars have demonstrated talent and the day dreamers have day dreams.

The fast lane to becoming a film star is closed. Only years and years of hard work building ones resume and training combined with natural talent and charming personality,and networking to get known--the bumpy, unpaved, rough road is open to success as an actor.

Tuesday, May 24, 2011

Keep Doing Amateur Theatre

One of the things that I encourage aspiring actors to do is to keep doing amateur theatre. Many would be film actors are somehow loathe to even consider it. But that just shows their unwillingness to do what it takes to be a professional actor. Amateur plays hone one's acting skills. Until you are a member of AEA you need to use amateur theatre to stay sharp and to build your resume.

Amateur theatre also provides many opportunities to network and to promote yourself as an actor. Networking as I discuss it in "Networking for Success" on my website and in my ebook is the key to success as a professional. It is how you get your self known in the industry and how you learn about opportunities to further your career.

Consider the email I got this morning from one of my advisees. He already does quite a bit of professional acting in films and commercials, but he realizes the advantages of stage acting to advance his career.

Here are some excepts from his email:

"Well the was a complete success.... and I felt completely free for most of the performances.My acting has come a long way and the past 2 years of hard work seems to now be paying off.
One of [the director's] friends who runs the only professional theatre company [in the area[ was impressed with my acting and said I was extremely strong throughout the whole show and would love to have me do a show with them.
In addition the agency I mentioned to you before ,,, liked what they saw as well and now I have a read with a leading agent on Friday."

Doing this amateur play is paying off for this actor. Doing amateur theatre can pay off for you as well. Maybe not in the first play, and maybe not until your networking takes effect. But for the aspiring actor it is an activity worth pursuing.

Sunday, May 15, 2011

How Soon Do You Hear About Your Audition?

Beginning actors often want to know how long it will be before they hear the results of an audition they have done . There is no set time that they can depend on. Often casting directors and directors take their time in making up their minds about casting, so it could be a number of weeks before you hear if you hear at all.

Most often when you are not selected, you never hear from the casting director. They are very busy and have not the time to contact every actor who auditioned. Thus, they only cast those who are selected or have call backs.

Unless you have specifically been told to do so, never call the casting director for information. If they want to talk to you, they will call you. What do you do, then, while you are waiting for the results? Since most often there won't be any results, the best thing to do after an audition is to forget about it and get on with your acting experience and training. If you don't get it, they will probably not contact you. and if you get a call back, it will be a great surprise and you can go on from there.

Thursday, May 12, 2011

Sweet Success

How sweet it is! I had the pleasure of watching a student of mine, Roy M. Davis, do a principle role in last night's episode of Law and Order SVU. It was great to see him doing such fine work in the field to which he has devoted his life! He has reported that he has done a great deal of acting in films and TV this year. I am very happy for him.

Roy is one of those rare individuals for whom acting is everything. For Roy, it is more important that he acts than if he makes a lot of money doing it. He has sacrificed living what most of us would call "a normal life" in order to pursue his first love, acting. This morning I answered a question similar to many asked by begining actors. It was, "Should I have a back up plan as I go into acting?" My answer was, "You should not go into acting if you have any doubts about being a success at it." But being a success for an actor like Roy is having been devoted to acting and having done as much acting as he possibly could. It is not the usual dream of stardom and fame that most beginners has. And that is why most beginners fail. They are not devoted to acting. They really want fame and fortune. For the vast majority of actors, fame and fortune never happens.

Roy is neither famous, nor well known, nor wealthy. But he is a success. He has lived his entire life devoted to acting. Congratulations, Roy. Well done.

Wednesday, May 11, 2011

Getting into Character

I think the concept of "getting into character "as used by most actors and directors is a myth perpetuated by followers of Stanislavsky who do not understand what he meant by being in character. Being in character simply means that the actor at all times while on stage is energetically focused on what is happening in the play and energetically responding to it. . He is concentrating on the play and not thinking about other things. It is actually possible to tell if the actor is doing this by observing him. When the actor lets his concentration wander or stops energetically focusing on what is happening in the play, you can see his posture relax and his gaze shift. It is as though the character the actor is playing suddenly is pulled though the floor revealing the actor standing there. This is called “dropping out of character.”

Stanislavsky was one of the most influential advocatea of the principle that all actors on stage must stay in character all the time. His writings on how he retrained the Russian actors of the early part of the Twentieth Century to change from their former acting style of artificial posing and only being in character when they spoke to presenting more realistic performances created world-wide enthusiasm for realism in acting. One of his books is entitled “Creating the Role” and those who read the book often confuse the difference between applying Stanislavsky’s systematic approach for the actor to represent the character with the idea of the actor actually creating the character. It is the playwright who creates the character when he creates the play. The playwright reveals the character though the stage directions and dialog. What the actor does is represent the playwright’s creation, the character, by using those stage directions and the dialog. How the actor goes about preparing himself physically, mentally and emotionally to do that representation is the stuff of the Stanislavsky System or Strasberg’s Method, or any other technique or approach to playing a role. But it is not creation; it is representation.. It is merely the actor standing in for what the playwright has created. That is why acting is commonly referred to as a craft rather than as an art. Of course what the actor does may be quite inventive and original, but if it is to be valid, it must represent the author’s creation in an accurate way.

The speeches of the script are the outward expression of the emotional and physical responses of the character that has been created by the playwright or screenwriter. They contain both the action the character is doing and the emotion he is feeling. The actor does not create these things that make up the character. He represents the character.

The first thing the actor does is to provide the outward appearance of the character. He is usually cast as a character whose outward appearance is much like his own. To this he adds posture, gesture, mannerisms, and voice. He is aided by costume and make up. All of which aid the representation of the character. The actor does not 'get into character;’ he concentrates on what is happening in the scene and reacts to it. That is what people really mean by ‘being in character.”

Thursday, April 28, 2011

Odds and Ends

I haven't had an inspiration for a blog post in a while so I thought maybe a list of some random tips about acting and having a career in acting might be in order. Forgive me for any repetitions.

1. Take yourself and your acting seriously. Not so much as to become snobbish or stuck up about it. Nobody likes people who are "better than thou."

2. Whatever you do, do it as well as you can. Never just blow something off. You never know who is going to see your work and even the most minor of things could be a stepping stone to success.

3. Love acting. When you act do so with that love. Make your acting full of energy and passion without being a ham.

4. Love what it takes to be an actor. Love the struggle and the effort you must use to succeed.

5. Above all, work on your voice. You must have clear and distinct speech. Take voice and diction classes.

6. I ran across several youngsters today who had never heard that you have to sacrifice things to be an actor. They wanted to know what they would have to give up. Luxuries, dating, partying, being lazy, sleeping in, not worrying about money, doing things that would take away from your acting savings. There are lots of things that an actor must forego to succeed.

7. Don't stop building your resume when you are fortunate enough to get an agent. Keep looking for gigs on your own. Keep networking, that is the key.

8. So many aspiring actors try to start without haveing done the basics. Without lots of acting experience, without training, without your networking tools, you are not going to do very well.

9. Too many aspiring acotrs HAVE got to get a college degree. College will always be there, your youth will not. You can become an actor first and then get a degree. Why not? Many actors have.

10. Find a trusted mentor and stick with him. Do what he suggests. Don't try to improve on what he advises. He will only give you things that have worked before.

Friday, April 15, 2011

First You Have To Be An Actor

This is an article for beginning actors. Particularly it is addressed to those youngsters who ask me questions like "How do I become a famous actor?" or "How do I get an agent" or "How do I find auditions?" Such questions can all be answered the same. "First you have to be an actor." Someone certainly cannot become a professional actor without any acting experience. No agent worth his commission will take on an untested, untrained actor. And no professional producer or director is interested in risking the millions of dollars invested their production on an untrained, inexperienced person. If you are going to get anywhere in the business of acting, you are going to need to be able to show people like agents and casting directors your resume. A resume is a summary of your acting experience, your professional training, and your special acting-related skills. So before you can be an actor or get an agent or get an audition, you need to do some acting. This acting can be in the amateur plays at your school or in your community. After you have done enough acting to evaluate the quality of your talent and that evaluation is positive enough, you can take some professional classes at a professional acting studio. Or perhaps you can audition and go to a professional acting school or university professional acting training program (BFA Acting). The point is that you don't start in the middle or at the end of the process of becoming an actor. Unless you have some very unusually lucky thing happen to you, you are going to have to start at the beginning of the process, which is being in amateur plays. Yes, that is where you start even if you just want to do film and TV or commercials. They all require that you can act. You have to first be an actor. Amateur theatre is where you do that.

Thursday, April 14, 2011

Acting and Playwriting

What do actors need to know about writing a play? I think it is helpful if they know enough about playwriting to understand what their job as actors are. First and foremost, a play is NOT conversation. A play is "an imitation of an action" as Aristotle noted. That means that it is something that happens because the characters in the story have emotional and physical reactions to what is going on. These reactions are recorded as the dialog. Yes, what the characters are saying are their emotional and physical responses to the things that are happening around them. Thus the actor needs to be able to present the dialog as his emotional and physical responses to what is happening in the scene. To put a play on paper, a playwright (or screenwriter) does these things.First he creates a scenario by telling the story moment by moment by what happens in the story (NOT what the characters say, ONLY what they do). This is the tricky part, learning to tell a story without any talking going on. It is like an actor learning to do great pantomime. They also want to make sure that what is happening is all ACTIVE and not passive. In other words, they want to make sure that the characters are doing things, not having things done to them. It is better to write "The witch turns the Prince into a frog," than to write "The prince is turned into a frog." The reason for this is that it keeps the play centered in what the characters are doing and that is the essence of a play, what the characters DO and ARE DOING. Once they have the scenario, they go back to the beginning and start translating the actions into the dialog. They use stage directions sparingly. They see the play occur in their mind's eye and hear in their mind's ear what the characters sound like while they write down the characters' reactions as dialog.. The actor works in reverse from the playwight. The actor takes the dialog and translates it back to the emotions and actions it represents. He does that by responding emotionally, using the dialog to verbalize his response, to the stimuli in each moment of the scene.