Thursday, December 6, 2012

Choosing an Audition Monologue

I am continuously asked to help someone chose audition monologues.  Their great fear is that they will select something that is "overdone."  There are even articles on the web listing overdone monologues.  I think the concept of a monologue being overdone is baloney.  I think the problem is that the monologues are done poorly.

Young aspiring actors often have little or no knowledge of plays.  Some have not even been in a play, much less having read one.  Certainly the aspiring actor who is serious about his or her aspirations is reading plays and is acting in amateur plays as often as possible.  If they are not, one has to question the honesty of their aspirations.  Be that as it may, the fact remains that a great number of aspiring actors are seeking help finding monologues.

The worst place they can look is in books of monologues, which in many cases are not speeches from quality plays.  Where they need to look is in the library.  Monologues are long speeches from plays.  Plays are found in the library.  Simple.

My web site does have a monologue sources page.  Some people need such resources, so I provide one.  But in most cases, the reader must still read the play to understand the monologue. I was once told that some well-known actress said she didn't think it was necessary for someone to read the play from which a monologue was taken.  I think she is wrong.  Since a monologue, like all the other speeches in the play, is an emotional response to the circumstances of the moment, the actor needs to know everything in the play about that moment.  Doing a monologue without knowing the given circumstances for its existence probably accounts for many of the poor performances of that monologue.  The poor performances are what make the auditors not want to hear it again, and it gets the reputation of being "over done."

Quality trumps quantity every time.  We can see "Hamlet" or "Romeo and Juliet "or "Oklahoma" or any other number of  plays again and again and enjoy them--so long as they are done well.  But no one wants to see bad acting, even for a moment. When you select your audition monologue keep this in mind.

Two important factors in choosing an audition monologue are: is this a role you would be likely to be cast in, and is this a speech you can do really, really well.  If those two criteria are met, you won't have selected an overdone speech.

Wednesday, December 5, 2012

You Just Think You Know It Is Hard to Have an Acting Career

A recent AOL Article was titled "Actress Admits She Is Desperate for Work"  Kristen Stewart, 22, star of the "Twilight" series, said "I'm kinda desperate for work right now." She also said "I'm itching to go back to work."   Unlike "Twilight" co star Robert Pattison, who is set to start a new film in Australia soon, Stewart is unemployed.

I urge my readers to reread the opening paragraph several times. Allow its message of "acting as a career is not a continuous occupation like teaching, for example.  Each film or play is a separate job and when it is over, the actor must find a new job. This is what an agent is for, of course, but the actor also has to help find new employment. 

Many actors become producers and make films in which they can work.  That is one solution. It is a financially risky one.  If the film does not earn back the millions it takes to make it, the actor may not work again for a long time. Anyone remember Pia Zadora?  She flopped in a big film "The Lonely Lady" produced by her husband and disappeared from acting.  Certainly no one wants to do that.

Finding work is always, always what an actor does most of the time.  Those 'day' jobs are really important.  An acting career is a costly investment. Hopefully if it pays off in big dollars such as those that Pattison and Stewart earned in "Twilight", the actor is wise enough to invest his earnings carefully so as to provide income for years to come.

So many young actors who suddenly find themselves with millions of dollars, waste their money or are conned out of it my unscrupulous managers and other members of their entourage.  An actor has to be money-wise and plan for the periods of unemployment between jobs.  Good managers, accountants, publicists, and agents, honest and trustworthy people, can help make or break an acting career as it begins to take off for the beginner.

The obtaining of such a crew of workers to support your career is a part of acting that I m sure few of my readers were aware existed. These people who help you survive and grow between jobs are just part of what makes an acting career so very. very difficult.

I hope all of you aspiring actors out there are able to reach a point in your career when you have to deal with such things, and that you do them well.   God bless, Doc

Monday, November 19, 2012

What You Need to Be an Actor

We have been over this before, but I keep getting email from people who don't seem to understand what it takes to be successful as a professional actor.

Part of the problem is misunderstanding.  Among things that aspiring actors believe that are not true are:

1. Getting a good agent will get your career going.
2. Going to a good acting school with famous alumni will get  your career going.
3. Getting a break will get your career going.

The thing is that agents do not make actors.  Agents make money from people who are already actors. Secondly, just going to school will not help. You have to complete the entire program. And you have to use your time at school as a time of networking so that the people you work with and meet there will want to help you.  Tens of thousands of 'actors' graduate university and professional acting schools every year.  Only a small number of them get professional roles.  Certainly fewer than 1 in 10.   Third,  what is a break anyway?  Some beginners with overly evaluated ability think if they can just get an audition, they will be hired and their career will be on the way.  Sorry, not true.  Often it takes many auditions before an actor gets a role. My alumni newsletter had an item in it about a graduate of the theatre program who "after ten years" got a big role on Broadway.  Ten years is a relatively short while.  I know an actor who has been in NYC for 35 years and has yet to earn a living as an actor. Agents do not make actors. A break is when someone who can really help your career sees you and decides to help you.  But you still have to get the roles, they don't just hand them to you.

Underlying all the misunderstanding of these three ideas is lack of knowledge about the acting industry in general.  Even if you have been in a few plays, it doesn't mean you are marketable as an actor.  Even if you have successfully completed the two or three year course of study at a well-known acting conservatory doesn't mean you are a marketable actor .  And just getting an audition doesn't mean you are going to get a part.  The number of hurdles you have to leap over is infinite.

To be an actor you  need much more than experience, training and a break.  First of all you need Charisma.  This is a special kind of charm that allows you to command the attention of a group of people and develop a following.  It comes from many things including your look and your personality.  All casting is done first by look. If you don't look like the part you most likely won't even get a reading for it.  You don't have to be drop-dead gorgeous either.  You just need to have an interesting look that draws people's attention to you.  Many famous actors and actresses were quite homely, but they  caught people's attention.  Here look is connected to personality.  An actor has to be outgoing and friendly and courageous.  He has to be able to meet strangers and fit right in.  An actor has to be able to make others like him.  If you do not have an interesting look, you can work on that by experimenting with hair styles and colors and use the gym to reshape your body.  And there are Charm schools where people can learn to be relaxed and comfortable in all occasions.

If you want to be an actor, then there is much  you need to do besides getting an agent, going to acting school and getting a break.  You have to be what the industry is looking for and be able to get the roles.

Tuesday, November 13, 2012

That Point of No Return

It must be the election results or the coming of winter, but a few of these recent topics are less cheerful than most.  Lately I have received news from aspiring actors that they have given up on becoming a professional actor or that they have become so frustrated that they were thinking of giving up on it.

The first said, "Just to let you know that after two years I have given up on the acting phase.  I suppose I was not dedicated after all."  Well, yeah.  Two years?  You hardly gave it a chance.  Twenty years?  Well, OK.  If you tried your best for two decades and decided to quit. You at least gave it a chance. 

Acting is not a goal. It is a way of life.  The talented actor may never earn a living at it, but once in a while he will have the opportunity to ply his craft. And that is what dedicated actors live for--the opportunity to ply their craft.

Another aspirant of three years wrote that he was suffering actor's depression and was very fed up.   Well, now, which of us has a daily life so perfect that we do not sometimes become a bit depressed with the lack of progress and have begun to think that all this work we are doing is of no use at all? 

If acting makes you happy. Then act.  It doesn't have to be professional work.  Some amateur theatre or a semipro dinner theatre production can keep your hand in and keep you from being depressed.  If you are going to be an actor, then be an actor. Act all you can. Amateur and semi-pro theatre do not keep you from advancing in the TV and film world. 

Being an actor may not mean that you will be a star earning millions of dollars.  What it does mean is that you have committed yourself to live a life style that allows you to act as much as possible.. Maybe it is two or three plays or films a year, but because you are an actor, you have chosen to live this way.

Tens of thousands of students graduate acting schools and college theatre schools every year.  After five years maybe a few hundred are still actors.  Most will have given up.  Most have the wrong dream.  They dream they are movie stars with adoring fans.  But most are not qualified to become movie stars in the first place.  Fame and fortune are the wrong dreams for an actor. Happiness in applying his craft as he is able is SUCCESS.

Saturday, October 27, 2012

Acting After the Unthinkable Happens

Our lives as private persons and as actors are often, sadly, interrupted by the unthinkable, the loss of a loved one.  On of my young proteges just came face to face with that situation and he wrote me to ask what he should do.  Should he continue in the show he is rehearsing or drop out?  How can he possibly continue, he asks, when he has lost his greatest love? 

The mysteries of life and death are impossible for us to understand. Why were we born?  Why do people have to die? Why do the good die young? How can we go on without our loved ones?  Some pastors are very good at answering such questions and I always recommend that an actor suffering a loss talk to his or her pastor.

As an actor, we have taken on an awesome responsibility when we accept a role in a play or film.  We are promising we will be there when and as needed and that literally nothing is more important to us.  I am quite sure, at the same time, that there are no producers or directors so unfeeling that they would not excuse an actor from a rehearsal or two so long as it does not weaken the show. Missing final dress rehearsal, for example, would be taking a great risk with the shows success.

Thankfully, there is often some time between the death of a loved one and the production date for one's show.  Arrangements can be made to allow the actor to attend services.  But the actor must be able to work through his grief.

One way of compensating for an actor's grief is for the actor to devote his performance to the lost loved one.  This s a way of showing honor and respect.  The general public does not need to know this. It is a bond between the actor and his lost loved one.  The actor's determination to do this can actually strengthen his performance.

Without seeming callous, I hope that in all such instances, the producer, the director, the actor and the actor's family will remember that "The show must go on."  

God bless, Doc

Monday, September 24, 2012

What It Really Takes to Become an Actor

I'd say that a large majority of email that I read from aspiring actors states that if they only could (a) get an agent, (b) get an audition, or (c) get a break, they would become a success as an actor.

Of course such beliefs are on the level of urban legend.  They are just rumors that are repeated by the hopeful.  I will explain why these three beliefs are not only untrue, but antithetical to becoming a success as an actor.

Belief #1.  An agent will make you a success as an actor.  Actually, sometimes an agent who is really enthusiastic about one of his talent may help that actor get auditions and roles that lead to the actor's success when the actor has what it takes to be successful.  But it is not an agent's job to make people into actors.  Agents make money from people who already are actors, people who can get roles when they are sent to auditions.  Until you are an actor whose experience and training and personal qualities are such that you can get roles when you audition, an agent cannot help you. Then, another thing often happens to aspiring actors once they get an agent: they sit around waiting for the agent to call.  An actor who is going to be successful can never do that. He always has to be acting and networking. There is much to do besides waiting for the agent to call.  This also leads to the idea that many in the industry have and that is that an agent is the last thing and actor needs, not the first thing.

Belief #2.  If I got an audition, I would become a success as an actor.  Professional actors know that one audition is unlikely to get you a role.  In most cases it takes a great many auditions to get a role.  A great many actors are vying for every role.  To get a role, you have to be what the casting director is looking for from the actor- you look the part, you act the part well, you have the background that indicates you can be trusted to do the part well.  Besides, there are darned few open auditions for speaking roles.  Most people who audition for a role get the audition through their agent.  Those people are actors with considerable experience and training and who have the qualities needed for being an success.

Belief #3.  If I got a break, I would become a success as an actor.  Much is made of actors getting 'breaks' that make them successful.  Such 'breaks' are being cast in roles that get them noticed by their fine work.  Except there is more to it than that.  Besides the actor's fine work, is his look, and charisma.  These things have been important in getting the actor his agent and the agent sending him on the audition for this role. Then they are important in getting the role.
Most actors who are "suddenly discovered" from a "breakout" performance have been actors for many years. 

You see.  There is no shortcut to success as an actor.  It takes years to develop into the sort of person who can be a successful actor. It takes outstanding qualities. Outstanding talent, experience, look, charisma, personality, training, etc, are all needed to be a successful actor.

Monday, September 3, 2012

Acting & Playwriting

If frequently occurs to me that many people, beginners and old hands alike often have no idea what a play actually is and how what it is relates to acting. Let's start with some basic concepts of what a play is and what it is not. In the main, when I write "play" in this article, I mean both a stage play and a cinema script.

Aristotle in The Poetics says "a tragedy [the most prevalent kind of play of his time] is an imitation of an action." This simply means that it is a story about something that happens, and that the story is told my acting (imitation).  Drama, then, differs from narration in that it is acted out (imitated).  Aristotle also mentions that a drama "is a thing done."  A narration is something that is told. The narration can tell about things that happened and that are done, but these things are only told by the narrator. A play is acted out by actors. Indeed, some theorists say that a play is not a complete work of art until it is fully produced in a theatre before an audience.

A play is not discourse {the examination of an idea through discussion}.  George Bernard Shaw may disagree with this, but the fact remains that in plays, the story and how it is enacted by the characters is far more important than the philosophies or ideas presented in them.  When I say how the characters enact the story, I am referring to what the characters do as emotional responses to their situations.  It is these responses that cause things to happen and the things that happen ARE the story.  It is also true in the vast majority of our theatre and cinema that the emotional impact of the story is more important than the intellectual understanding of the message the story may embody.

Thus, what the playwright writes is not conversation as we ordinarily understand that word.
A conversation is discourse--a discussion of an idea or ideas.  But what a playwright writes --what we call the dialog of the play is not discourse; rather he makes a story told though the emotional and physical reactions of the characters to their situations.  Everything a character "says" in a play, his lines, are his emotional and physical reactions to that moment in the story.

Now we add the actor.  If all of the above is true, what the actor does is to represent the characters' emotional and physical responses.  Oh.  Had I indicated that these are one in the same? Any response by the character is both emotional and physical simultaneously. The actor, then, must both say the line so it represents the emotional reaction of the character; AND, at the same time, the actor must do what the line represents the character is doing.

If you have been reading carefully, I hope that you have understood how I have kept the character and the actor separated in this discussion.  This is very hard to do in any discussion of acting, but there are things about the character and the actor that all who work on plays or enjoy them as audience members must understand.

First, the actor and the character are not the same thing.  The actor is a person who represents or 'plays' the character in a play.  The actor is a real person who has a life outside of the play. The character is an imaginary creation of the playwright who exists only in the play or film.  Even in the representation of historical or actual personages in a play requires some fictional creation to make them more interesting than just their factual existences may be or may have been.

Second, in most cares the character is entirely fictional and has no existence (unless indicated by the playwright in the stage directions or dialog) before or after his or her experiences in the play. Because of this fact, I am entirely against the foolish practices of actors creating an imaginary biography of the character prior to the story that the play tells (of course in the case of actual personages there is a real biography of the character prior to the story that the play tells and this information is of great value to the actor.) It also is not of much use to the actor to make up something that the character was doing prior to each of his entrances in the play.  A good playwright will make it clear what such things are when it is necessary to do so. 

Finally, I implore all theater artists and playgoers everywhere to learn to differentiate between the character and what he does in the play and the actor and what he does when representing the character in the play.  It takes a bit of practice, but it will be worth it in the clarity with which you express your experiences with the play. I remember once reading a review of a play in which the reviewer wrote  as he explained the story of the play to his readers (I, of course, paraphrase after all these years): "John Smith [the name of the actor] is having an affair with Mary Jones [the name of the actress]."  I am sure Mr. Smith's wife and Mrs. Jones' husband were dismayed to read this in the newspaper.  Of course this critic should have written "Peter, played by John Smith, is having an affair with Polly, played by Mary Jones."  At least it separates the innocent from the guilty and shows the critic knows something about play writing and acting.

Wednesday, August 22, 2012

Ego Is Not Confidence

I see it has been a month since my last post.  Nothing much has prompted me to share my reactions with you until just the last couple of days during which I have been made aware of the overblown egos of some aspiring actors. 

The thing is that ego is not talent, nor charm, nor confidence.  Actors need talent and charm and confidence.  But they do not need ego.  When an aspiring actor contacts me and starts by telling me how he or she is so talented, good looking, and charming, a red  flag goes up.  I immediately become suspicious. Most always these Egos also say that they want to be a star or want to be famous.  And those are the wrong reasons to want to be an actor.

The problem with ego is that it usually masks inadequacies.  Psychologically, those overly filled with self-praise are usually covering up their fears.  Talented, charming and confident actors do not need to tell you they are those things because their actions and accomplishments demonstrate that they indeed have them.  Only the inadequate needs to tell you he or she has one of those things because otherwise you would never know it.  The story about Bernard arguing a case before the Supreme Court in "Death of a Salesman" makes the point. Willy says that it is strange that he never mentioned it, and Charlie says that he doesn't have to mention it, because he is going to do it.  

Very young aspiring actors are always telling me how their families and friends are putting down their aspirations.  They need to read "Death of a Salesman."  Don't talk about it, do it. And related to this is how can they convince their parents to support their aspirations to be actors?  Simple.  Be such an outstanding actor now that they will be proud to have you be an actor.

Then young people say to me, "Well, I need self confidence to be able to audition and to put myself forward  if I am going to be a success.  Therefore, I need to know I am good."   You need to know you can do it, and therefore you do it.   But you needn't act as though you are superior in any way.  There are many who can do it.  When you have the courage and confidence to meet strangers, you need to focus on them rather than on yourself.  The last thing a person who has just met you wants to hear coming out of your mouth is how good you are.  

Actors have resumes and head shots to demonstrate their talent, attractiveness, and charm.  Agents and casting directors can see those things in your documents and in your demo reels.   It is quite charming to meet someone who has true confidence, and a lack of ego is always refreshing.

Sunday, July 22, 2012

How to be a Success

I have been criticised for being negative about becoming a success as a professional actor, so today I am going to be positive and let everyone in on the secret of success.  I am deeply indebted to the Reverend Les Brown for the motivation for this post.
Okay, let's assume you have the talent, the look, and the personality to be an actor, or is that even possible to assume?  Because this is all about personality.   We will assume you have scads of experience and maybe even some professional training.  Those are basic.  What I am going to tell you now is how to parlay those into becoming a professional actor.
1. You have to have a fire in your belly.  You have to be so hungry to be an actor that nothing else has priority over it.  You have to want it BAD.  And you have to be willing to give up almost everything else to get it.  Please read Career, a play by Lawrence and Lee.
2. You have to do the most difficult things connected with being an actor.  If you have to move to another city or state, you do that.  If you have to work horrible jobs to support yourself, you do that.  If you have to study long hours, you do that.
3, I have said this in other posts, I believe, but you have to hang out with only quality people.  If your pals are losers, negative, do-nothing people, lose them.  If you are the most successful person in your group, you are in the wrong group.  Only hang with people who are doing professional acting.
4. You MUST develop communication skills.  You have to be able to walk  up to strangers and introduce yourself. You have to meet agents, producers, casting directors and directors, as well as other actors, and be able to present yourself in an educated, clear, and forceful manner. The power of excellence in speaking to others so they know how able you are is everything.  When you open your mouth, you tell people who you are. You MUST develop proper English skills, lose your dialect or speech impediment, and have a great vocabulary and literary knowledge. You have to be an educated person.  In almost all cases this means going to college, but it is possible to read at least several of the Great Books (see Wikipedia for clarification).  And it is possible for you to read plays and writings on theatre and acting.
5. Make  yourself a special individual.  We are all unique, but to make it in acting, you need something very special.  Watch the films of  the greatest actors, Bogart, Gable, Guiness, Olivier, Wayne, Eastwood, Widmark, Palance, etc. (sorry I am male and i thought of men first. There are as many women of note.)  Find your big difference and learn to show it and use it.  You can't be a success if you just go around saying, "I'm just me."  NO, you are not just you. You are SPECIAL and you have to be special to be a professional actor.
6. Finally, as I have said many times before, you have to network. Network, network, network. That is how doors are opened.  (See "Networking for Success" on my web site, The Tao of Acting.
So some of these  have been neglected in my other writings, and some even said they weren't needed. But they are needed, all of them, and you have to do them. 

Thursday, July 19, 2012

How long after an audition will they let you know if you are cast?

There is no set time for notifying those who have auditioned if they have been cast or not.  It varies a great deal from production to production. Some companies have a policy of notifying everyone within a couple of days.  Some companies never notify actors if they have not been cast.

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 from there.

An actor should never put all his or her eggs in one basket. That is to say that it is foolish to count on getting a part even if your audition went very well and the casting people were enthusiastic about it.
The next actor that walks into the casting session may be exactly what they are looking for and have that one little quality that you lack.  I think it is important for an actor to always be acting in something--even amateur theater.  It is always a positive thing if you can say you have just finished such and such a role, or are currently appearing in such and such a play. That makes you an actor.

The  great struggle every actor has is to keep trying, even in the face of rejection after rejection when in spite of a really good audition, he or she is not cast.  For the beginning actor getting one in every fifteen or twenty parts auditioned for is a high level of success.

By combining your efforts at networking with your agents' efforts to find auditions for you, there is a good chance you will be getting some roles.  But remember, never make too much of an opportunity that you have.  It may well amount to nothing.  That happens a lot in this business of acting--things just fizzle out. 

Always remember that in this business the only thing that counts is what you have finished doing.  What you plan to do or what you have an opportunity to do means nothing.  It is the mark of a seasoned actor to only talk about his accomplishments, not his possibilities.

Wednesday, June 20, 2012

The Academy Awards

Award shows for actors and films and everything else have gotten out of hand. It is difficult for someone in a good role in a film not to be nominated for some award or other. The Academy Awards are probably the oldest film achievement awards, but in recent years they have become a platform for political statements or simple popularity contests. They just don't have the meaning for being a real mark of achievement for quality in cinema any longer. They have become what all the award shows for film, TV, stage, music,etc have become, a simple publicity event often of questionable taste, at least so far in what the participants say and do. 

I stopped being excited about them years and years ago. And then when I became a screen actor and when I studied film acting, I realized that it is impossible to tell what makes an actor's performance good in a film. It could be the directing, the editing (mostly that I think), the script, the special effects, and a myriad of other contributing factors.

Mostly the actors don't have to do much. In film most of the work is done for them. Anyway, for one, I am sick of the hoopla over award shows and not at all excited about the Academy Awards, The Golden Globe Awards, The SAG/AFTRA Awards, The People's Choice Awards, etc. etc. etc.

They are all just something that tries to convince, and in most cases does convince, the public that actors and actresses are very special people who live in glamour and spotlights. It is all fake. People who are actors are not much different than other people, except they act. Their everyday lives are not as glamours as the awards shows make them seem.

Worst of all is that these programs make the actors believe they are special and as such are ezperts on poltics.  They may have strong political conviction-even I have that.  But if they happen to also have fame and money, they can parlay that into a public platform for their ideas.  Sad, but true.  And especially sad when they use the award shows for political statements.  Acting used to be an art.  Artists used to be apolitical, because if they became political they became propagandists.  Some artists politics favor propaganda.  Mine favors truth.

I Need A Monologue

When one starts out in this endeavor of trying to help aspiring actors,  he seldom realizes that he cannot nor should not try to help them all.  Hundreds of thousands, perhaps millions, of people want to be actors.  Only a few have what it takes to succeed.  Why should we waste our time and effort encouraging those who are never going to make it?  Then again, what makes someone like me think he is so great that he knows who is and who is not going to make it?

Well, expereience working with aspiring actors is one thing that helps me recognize who may have the qualities for success.  How much the aspirant has done on his or her own is another indicator.  And here is where the topic of this post comes in. 

I am forever being asked for help in finding or chosing a monologue for someone.  They need them for a play audition or for an acting school audition, or for an agent audition, or for heaven knows what.  So when I first got into the actor advising game (for me it is not a business and I do not make any money at it.) I became a co-dependant for the unqualified applicant.  I developed a web page that gives sources for monologues and regularly gave it out to anyone with a monologue problem.  Even now I will still  suggest specific monologues for people.  But I don't think this helps them very much.  The reason for that is that most of these people are never going to make it because they have not done enough playgoing and play reading  and acting to have built up their own sources of monologues.

When a person has to ask for help in finding a monologue, it generally shows that this person has not put in enough effort to be a professional actor.  It is just another of those little signs that experience teaches an old dog like me. 

If you want to become an actor then you must be an actor.  You must do a lot of plays and see a lot of plays and read a lot of plays, because that is what an actor does.  Yeah, there are exceptions. Someone who has never done any of the above is chosen to star in a film.  I have worked professionally with such people.  They were just born with what it takes and happened to be in the right place at the right time.  I must also report that they often are accomplished in other artisitic fields. 

Saturday, May 26, 2012

How Do I Convince My Parents?

This is another question that I am often asked.  While most of those asking it are young teens, the seniors in high school preparing to go to college often tell me, "My parents insist that I get a degree so I will have something to fall back on if acting doesn't work out."  These college bound seniors also have not convinced their parents that they should be actors.  If they had done so they might be going to an acting conservatory or be headed for  a BFA Acting program at a good university.  

The problem is long standing.   It is almost traditional for parents not to want their children to become actors.  So many actors get bad publicity, are involved in affairs, substance abuse and divorces that the profession gets a bad name.  Historically, actors have been looked down on and considered no better than thieves and prostitutes by the government, the church and the public.  This is so even when an actor like Ronald Reagan became President.  Puritanism still has a strong influence on the public when it comes to shielding offspring from harm.

The answer that I am going to provide for the problem will not be popular with all of my readers.  The way to convince your parents that you should take acting lessons or go to acting school or to become an actor is for you to have demonstrated to them that you truly have the outstanding talent and personality to succeed at acting.  If your participation in school theatre, competitive acting events in the school speech program, and other drama events at school and in the community do not rise to the level of persuading your parents that you have sufficient talent to succeed,  I am afraid that there is not much hope for you to ever convince them.  If your parents do not believe in you, then who will?

I have in the past recommended that young people seeking to convince their parents about their participating in acting should read all they can about the profession so they can answer their parents' questions when discussing it.  But this is just discourse.  To be convincing, you must show your parents that you have what it takes.

I really hate to be less than encouraging, but acting is a tough life.  It is tougher than can be imagined.  Until one tries it, he or she can only say they know that, but they will not know the reality of it.  However, I must be even more discouraging to the aspiring actor.   It is truly rare that someone comes along who has the look, the courage, the charm, and the talent to succeed.   It is easy to become enthralled with the idea of being an actor, but it is a long way from the chorus in the grade school musical to a professional career.  The fact is that most who aspire to become actors do not have what it takes.

The reason why most parents need convincing is that their children are just not talented enough to succeed. The parents can see that and they insist their children to to college where they can learn to do something  at which they can succeed.   It is a pity, but real talent which includes personality and look does not exist is most people.  I will not be so popular as I answer this question in the forums in which I participate.  My answer will be, "If your parents need convincing, you probably do not have enough talent to succeed."

Monday, April 30, 2012

How Does an Actor Develop Charisma?

More important than talent for an actor to become a success is his or her personal charm or charisma, as it is called.  What is this thing that is more important than talent?

Charisma has three components according to an article I read recently, and I will add a fourth..  First there is 'presence'. That is the quality that draws all eyes to a person when they enter a room.  Presence is created by one's look, posture, voice, and focus. People with charm are composed and not distracted. They include everyone in the room in their eye contact, and make them all friends.  The second component of charisma is confidence.  Not braggadocio, nor strutting and posing, but honest command of the situation. If an actor is auditioning, his charisma should let the auditors know that he not only can handle the role, but that he is the best selection for the role. The third component is warmth. The person with charisma is genuinely interested in others and emphathizes with their situations. Finally, the actor with charisma has great energy in what he does.  He is not a bulldozer set loose with no driver, but he is vital in all he does and says.

While many people are born with charisma, some do develop it later in life, after they have become successful and more confident.  I tend to believe that charisma is a component of an actor's talent. It is unlikely that an actor is ever going to be successful without presence, confidence, warmth, and energy. If you want to be an actor and you don't have charisma, you need to start working on it. The most important thing about this charm is that it is not "put on" for the occasion, but it is truly a part of who you are in all occasions.

Charisma can be improved by people learning to control their body language and not fidget or have distracting mannerisms.  Additionally, actors do not want to give away any weaknesses through their body language. They can learn a lot from professional poker players who work very hard not to have "tells" or bodily signals that give away the strength or weakness of their hands.  People with charisma are not impatient, nervous or insecure.  They think before they speak and are never in a rush to answer a question or finish the job at hand.  I think of President G. W. Bush, who was reading to school children when he was told of the 9-11 attacks.  His composure did not falter and he finished the story before leaving the school in a likewise composed and not hurried fashion. Like him or not, that was great charisma.

To have real charm, you have to make others feel good about themselves. The components of charisma make people who meet you feel important and part of what is going on.  Therefore, I suggest that those who want better charisma should read the  lists of positive actor personality traits listen in my book The Tao of Acting.  One list is from True and False by David Mamet and the other is a list of professional behaviors from Rehearsal by Miriam Franklin. Nothing could be more important for the aspiring actor to set as a goal than to make these traits part of his personality. Memorize those lists and make them a part of who you are.

Sunday, April 29, 2012

I Have Always Wanted to Act, But.........

I am constantly troubled by the great number of people who contact me and say that they have always wanted to be an actor or actress but they couldn't (for various reasons) and now that they are older or out of school or whatever they want to be an actor.  Or they say, "I have decided half way through my medical degree (or whatever) that only acting will make me happy." Or they say, "I have never done any acting but people tell me I ought to be on TV." Or nowadays, they are quite liable to say "I can't find any employment, so I decided I want to be an actor."  Well, you are getting the drift of things.

This is troubling because these people obviously think that all one has to do to be an actor is find out who to go see and then show up and say, "Here I am. I am an actor. Put me in the lead of your new film."  Naturally, the business does not operated like McDonald's hiring a new order taker for the drive up window.  To be an actor, one has to have extraordinary looks, charm, personality and talent. In that order, one talent manager says. I would add that they also have to have loads of experience, some professional training (preferably with a noted teacher or school), and knowledge of the acting business and how it works. 

It is a formidable list of requirements for success in the profession.  No one would like to risk his or her life by having their appendix removed by someone who has never done that surgery.  Likewise, no producer is going to jeopardize a multi-million dollar production by hiring an unknown, untrained, untested beginner to start in the film or play.

What, then, is the inexperienced aspiring actor to do?  Obviously he or she must get some acting experience ASAP.  This is what community theatres, theatre clubs, and youth ensembles are for.
I encourage every aspiring actor to work in amateur theatre to find out if they have the qualities on which it is necessary to risk investing time and money. 

Then there is another thing that bothers me about most of these people. They almost always say how much they love acting and how much they have always wanted to act.  So why the heck haven't they been acting in school and community theatre?  Whatever prevented them from doing it then may well prevent them from doing it now. People who become actors are likely to be people who are constantly performing in plays, musicals and, perhaps, student or indie films.  You can't stop them from acting, and they cannot stop themselves from acting as well.  I think of  Heath Ledger, who, immediately upon graduating high school, hopped in his car and drove the length of Australia to seek a career in acting.  Nothing could stop him from being an actor. But we need to remember that he had all the other qualities for success as well as tremendous drive.

Acting is not something to consider lightly.  Everyone has heard how difficult it is to become an actor.  They need to make sure they have the qualifications before attempting acting as a profession.

Monday, April 23, 2012

Acting without Acting

Lao-Tse, the founder of Taoism, said,"To act without acting is the goal of Taoism." Though he was not speaking of theatre and cinema, what he said has great import to how today's actors approach their craft.

Many actors are self conscious when they begin acting. This is due to their not concentrating on the proper things. They need to concentrate on the stimuli of the scene, rather than concentrate on the fact they are on stage or in front of a camera. Acting needs to be as natural as possible and that is only achieved when the actor is not self conscious. Thus, they need not act the part, but represent it as though they were actually in the imaginary circumstances of the play.

"Isn't acting pretending to be someone else?" some ask. No pretending to be someone else is deception. Today's actors do not pretend,nor do they deceive. They respond naturally and without inhibition to the emotional circumstances at each moment of the scene. It is the response of the individual actor that makes an honest representation of the character. To pretend or deceive takes a conscious effort by the person doing the pretense or deception. The actor must not think about what he is doing or how he is doing it Rather, he just does it. He acts without acting.

Another place that actors find themselves defeated by self consciousness is in the interview or cold reading. Because, they are not prepared for what happens in these circumstances, actors often put on a personality for interviews and try to make detailed characters out of their roles in cold readings. Such things cause perceptible pretense. And in neither situation does the actor want to come off as not being genuine. To avoid this, the actor just needs to respond naturally to the questions of the interview and then just read the lines of the cold copy naturally without a layer of character added. When casting nowadays, directors want to use the actor who, without changes, best represents the role..They are not casting the character. The character has already been created by the playwright or screenwriter. They are casting the natural human being who best represents the character.

Actors need to learn to do naturally what was at the time the most difficult thing a director ever asked me to do on stage. He wanted me to be myself and be charming. At that time, I had not learned how to act without acting. It took a while to catch on. Work on it. No pretense. Just be yourself and be charming.

Tuesday, April 10, 2012

Should an actor practice being in character in public places not on stage?

It is absolutely wonderful when someone asks a really good
question. This evening I was asked if
an actor, in order to better play a character not like himself, should practice
being that character at home, or in other places out side of the theatre. The following is an edited version of my

Not at all; that is
nonsense. You should keep your acting and your character on the stage. To act
or try to be your character off stage is not only rude to people around you, it
could be interpreted as mental illness. Theatre and cinema exist, so we can feel as important, attractive,
charming, and brave as we do in our imagination. But we must not try to be in public what we imagine ourselves to
be in private. (Read Theatre, Religion,
and Football, an article on my web site under Acting Theory.) Neither us, nor
the actor, nor us as actor are the character. The character is a fiction
created by a playwright. (Even historical characters must be somewhat
fictionalized in plays and films.) The character only exists in the
imaginations of those who read the script. That is until an actor takes the
place of the character on stage or in front of the camera. When the actor does
that he establishes the physical part of the character, the walk, the gestures,
the posture and the voice (if they need to be different from his own--which
they often do not). And he represents the character for the audience to see and
hear. The vast majority of casting of actors in roles actually want the actor
to simply look and sound like himself when playing the role. (Once, I was
playing the next-door police detective in "The Gazebo." The director
said to me, "Ken, stop doing all those character bits and just be yourself
and be charming." It was the most
difficult acting assignment I had ever been given. I did not consider myself as
being charming, so I had no idea what to do. I had not yet learned that it was
important not to "act" the role. It is the actor's job to simply
stand in for the character, and the actor does not have to make up a lot of
gestures or plan facial reactions. Rather than pretending, the actor allows
himself to have full and honest emotional responses (his own, unplanned
emotional responses, pleasant and unpleasant) to the stimuli of each moment of
the play as it occurs. He does not pretend to feel or pretend to respond. He
feels and he responds. So you don't need to practice being the character off
stage. The character does not exist off stage. He only exists in the imaginary
circumstances of the play and no where
else (except in the case of historical or real people as characters). So you
stop representing your character when the director says "cut," or if
the play or scene ends. Keep your performances fresh, spontaneous, and
vulnerable. And keep them only on stage.

Wednesday, March 21, 2012

It Is Difficult Beyond Description, Yet Possible

The more I work with aspiring actors and the more I get into what
makes an actor successful, the more I am aware of just how terribly nearly
impossible it is to succeed at professional acting. There are lots of reasons
for that including the colossal number of aspiring actors and the nature of the

It is difficult to imagine how many
aspiring actors there are. Every year
in the US alone, more than ten thousand graduates of academic and professional
acting schools are added to the total. Then there are the thousands and thousands of those who do not go to school , but who just try
to become actors without that expense. And no wonder when the cost of college acting majors and acting schools
cost thirty to forty thousand dollars a year! But numbers and cost are not the
only obstacles to be overcome if one is to be an actor.

The acting business is a very closed
society that only allows newcomers when such newcomers have such a look,
personality, experience and talent as to make the business want to include
them. Each actor who gets into the
business does it in a little different way. The way professional plays and films are cast contributes to the closed
society. Except for small roles, films
and plays mostly are cast from the actors that the producers and directors know
and trust. Only rarely are they willing to give a newcomer a chance. Sure there
are sometimes ‘open’ auditions. But these are mostly sham. They are required by the actors’ union and
are really just ‘going though the motions’ rather than honestly looking for new
talent. But new talent is found.

In spite of all these things new talent
turns up on TV and on the stage and in the movies. There are some who call this luck, but honestly, it is when
preparation meets opportunity that new faces appear. This means that to become a professional actor, one needs a heap
of experience and training. I think the
experience is the more important. Even
when some people in the industry say that the actor’s look is most important,
they also say that charm, confidence and talent are also important for
success. Experience and training hone
one’s charm, confidence and talent. When the actor with these qualities meet the casting director looking
for the same type, new talent often is seen on TV and in the cinema or on

Wednesday, March 7, 2012

Acting: A New Definition

I think we need an entirely new definition of acting because of the motion picture. It has taken a
Century for it to happen, but what was acting a hundred years ago, even fifty
years ago, is not what acting is today. Looking at a list about screen acting
that I was sent, one item is "be yourself, that's who they
hired." This completely eliminates
the business of characterization, doesn't it?

I have been writing that I
don't think there is any such thing as the Academy Awards "Best
Actor". Screen acting is mostly
the technology of filmmaking and has very little to do with what the actor
does. Film acting is doing nothing
except feeling emotion that is expressed naturally in the eyes. The actor does not try to show anything with
his uyes, he just does it naturally.

Returning to what Don
Richardson says acting is in “Acting Without Agony: “Acting is being other
people,” I think we have a basis for defining acting and what an actor does
when he ‘acts.’ Acting is assuming
that you are someone else (the character in the film or play) and behaving as
though you were that person. You enter the imaginary world of the screenplay
and you respond emotionally to the stimuli in the world of the film. Do you have to go through a rigorous
preparation of creating a character? No. The screen writer has done that. Only if you are portraying a historical
personage whose mannerisms and speech are well documented do you need to
research and practice those things. Other wise, in fictional roles, the actor’s job is much easier. He assumes being the character the
playwright or screenwriter has created in the script: and, using the dialog and
blocking given him, he behaves as though he were the role. He needs no information that is not in the
script, no backstory, imaginary biography, or character analysis. The actor and the character are one and the same when the actor is acting.

David Mamet also gives
insight into what acting is in “True and False.” He says that the actor stands in lieu of the character. Since the character is not a real person and
cannot be on the set, the actor must represent the character by taking his
place. Thus, Acting is taking the character’s place on stage or in front of the
camera, When he does that he is being
someone other than himself. And yet the
actor is still himself. It is his
emotions that must be expressed in the dramatic situations he finds himself.

What Stanislavsky originally
wanted as well was for the actor to be himself on stage. Mamet, Richardson, and
I agree, as do many, many other acting teachers and directors.

Sunday, February 12, 2012

Why We Want to Be Actors--Honestly

Hundreds of young people have contacted me wanting to be actors. They almost always include in their email that they are not interested in fame or money or that they want to influence the world for good.


With almost no exceptions, every actor I have known gives up on having a professional career because they have not achieved the success in fame and money that they had hoped they would. Acting is a very selfish undertaking. . You do it because YOU want to do it. You want to be known as an actor.. Yes, you want to entertain the public, but that is because you want them to adore

Acting, most people believe, will bring them fame, money and admiration. Unfortunately, it is very difficult to reach that high a point of success as a professional and for those things to happen. It does on rare occasion actually happen, and that is what continues to spark the wide-spread interest in becoming an actor.

Everyone wants to be admired. Humans have a need to be thought worthy. And many people choose acting as a means to attempt to meet those needs. Now, let's leave it at that. These are not
bad things. They are normal things. People do not have to apologize nor make up some altruistic motive for wanting to be an actor. Those of us who have been in the business for many years know that such motives are false. Though it is true than many actors do philanthropic work, we know that people want to be actors to meet their basic needs for acceptance and admiration -- for love in many cases.

It is more than tiresome to read how aspiring actors try to justify their acting on some sort of philanthropic base. That is just baloney. You love acting. Enough said. Who cares why
you want to act? What matters is how good you can act. I know that when talent agents get cover letters from young people that include altruistic reasons for wanting to become actors, they just laugh and through the letter in the trash.

So it is time to be honest about why we want to become actors. We want to do it to feed our egos and to make us feel important. That's fine. Leave it there. You really do not have to tell anyone why you want to become an actor. They actually know already. So stop covering up your selfishness. It is OK. But don't flaunt it either.

It is just as bad to say openly that you want to be an actor so you can be rich and famous. Since this is true of all actors, it becomes boring to hear it repeated and repeated. What you should always say is, "I want to become the best actor I can be." And let it go at that. No problem. Best wishes and God bless, Doc

PS. Don't talk too much about wanting to be an actor. Just be one.

Wednesday, February 1, 2012

How not to be embarassed when acting intense scenes on camera

First, I would say relax and not worry about it because you are most likely a beginner and are not working in the same way that professionals would do. That is, the production is not as effectively done, and the acting, therefore is not as effectively done. Second, If you mess up because you get embarrassed and laugh, then shoot it again, that's what the pros do. And they do exactly that--they giggle and break character. Third, you are an untrained actress, inexperienced outside of home made and school videos. It takes a long time (years) for actors to learn to be perfectly comfortable doing intense scenes. The best thing you could co is to be in some school plays and get more acting experience. Finally, putting yourself into the imaginary circumstances of the film and doing the role is something you need to concentrate on. Use your imagination to create the situation and characters of the film, then stay focused on that so you don't think about yourself being anything other than the character. This,of course, sounds easier that it is to do. But with practice you can become quite good at it.
One of the things an actor has to do is reveal her emotions. You have heard of good acting being vulnerable? That means that the actor shows his or her true inner emotional feelings. Sandford Meisner, perhaps the most famous of movie acting teachers said it takes twenty years for actors to finally be able to do his technique which accomplishes what we are discussing here. You have to be able to be so involved in the moment of the scene that there is nothing in your head but the moment. You never think about the fact that you are acting and there is a crew there. You just do the scene--you just react honestly and without inhibition to the stimuli of the scene.

Friday, January 27, 2012

Should you go to an expensive acting school?

I don't think it is necessary to go to expensive acting schools to be a successful actor. It is necessary to take a few classes,but not a full two or three year program. And it certainly is not necessary to have an academic degree.

Here are a few different ideas about acting schools. \

1. Most
of them don't care if you ever become an actor, they just want you to enroll
and pay tuition. See item 5 below.

2. There are very few jobs even if you do graduate and are
taught how to find them. I say in the Introduction to my book, The Tao of Acting, that acting schools exist on the lie that there are jobs waiting for their graduates.

3. It is not the school that makes the actor, rather
it is the actor who makes the school. Doesn't matte where you go it you are

4. Thirty to forty thousand dollars a year is outrageous. Why should
it cost so much? Why aren't successful actors teaching aspiring actors for nothing? I do that and I don't make a lot of money. But whatever happened to serving the art?

5. Most of the older schools are just existing on their past
reputations and have become bureaucracies. AADA, Stella Adler, Tisch, etc . fall
into this description. Probably NYCDA as well. SUNY Purchase, I don't know
about. But I do know that actor training and academics is a poor fit.. The point is you can go to WM Esper Studio for half what it costs at
other drama schools, But again if you are talented, you don't need two years of
acting school.

6. Julliard
remains high on the best schools list. But it has transcended the academic model to be effective with actor training.

7. No school can guarantee you work when
you graduate. That depends on you.

8. When picking an acting school. First decide if you are going to get a degree and do not mix academic schools with
conservatories. They are not the same. An actor does not need an academic
degree. Nor does he need to be a graduate of a conservatory. He needs to be

Wednesday, January 11, 2012

Musicals and Method Acting

I was recently contacted by a young actor who was researching Curly in Oklahoma!
He wanted to know if I had any suggestions about where he could find out more background about the role because he wanted it to reflect a strong sense of truth and the utmost depth of characterization. I referred him to the script.

Those of you who know my writing, know that I think deeply researching roles in plays beyond what is in the script is only valid for playing historical and real people such as Streep doing Maggie Thatcher or LaPone doing Evita. But researching fictional characters beyond the confines of the script is nonsensical and a waste of time. This is especially true in Oklahoma! and similar musicals.

Oklahoma! is not about the reality of Oklahoma becoming a state. That is just the background for the melodrama involving Curly, the hero; Jud, the villain; and Laurie, the heroine. The play is no deeper than that. Curly is not an authentic cowboy, he does not dress like one, nor act like one. He dresses and acts like a hero in a melodrama. If he were a real cowboy of the time,he would have bad teeth, leathery skin, body odor, and venereal disease.

Curly has no deep psyche or background for what he does. He is a hero. The actor wanted to know how to personalize the role if he didn't do all that research. The answer is that the uniqueness of his physical appearance and voice would do that. Acting is a blending of the role and the actor. The role as presented in the script and the physical and emotional presentation of the role by the actor. What makes an outstanding Curly is magnificent singing and the effective presentation of the hero of the piece.

Yes, many actors do a great deal of analysis and research when playing a role. I happen to believe that most of it is wasted effort and at times detrimental to the show. Method acting just doesn't work for musicals. In fact, nowadays, it doesn't work very well for any sort of acting. Today's actors do not act, they react. They need talent, not technique because technique is artificial. Stanislavsky, Adler, Strasberg, Hagan, etal, contradicted their search for realistic acting by creating techniques including analysis and affective memory which provided artificial backgrounds and responses rather than the reality they sought.