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.

Thursday, April 7, 2011

Acting as Reacting--How to do a Monologue

  • I was answering a question about how to break a speech up into parts in order to make it more effective. Mechanically breaking the speech up into parts is not how one does effective acting. That is how a monologue becomes artificial and poorly acted. You do not need to do a lot of analysis and pre-planning to deliver a good monologue. You do need to understand what acting is and what dialog is. And a monologue is a piece of the dialog of the play.

  • First, the lines of a play are the vocal manifestation of the character's emotional and physical responses of what is happening in the scene. By physical responses I mean the overt movements the character is doing. An example follows. The line is “Now, don't interrupt me!." Following Shakespeare's "Suit the action to the word, the word to the action," it is obvious that the character is making some sort of 'Stop" gesture at that moment. But do not plan exactly what the physical gesture it because the speeches of a play are also the characters' emotional responses. Therefore, effective actors do not go through the speech and mechanically plan how to do it. Rather, from reading the play, the actors understand what is happening in the scene at the moment of the speech-what stimuli are occurring that effect their emotions and then actors allow themselves to react emotionally to each stimulus as it occurs in rehearsal and performance.

  • In long speeches, there are a series of stimuli that work on the actor's emotions. The actor expresses these emotional reactions as he or she says the lines and does the actions. So there is no need to mechanically decide when the mood changes, rather the actor needs to respond emotionally to what is happening in the scene moment by moment and react accordingly. In order to keep the acting believable and spontaneous and honest, these reactions are not planned by the actor. The actor just allows the reactions to happen as he or she is affected by the stimuli.