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