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.