Saturday, December 28, 2013

Dialog with an acting student.

What follows is a discussion I recently had with an acting student I am mentoring. We are discussing the training he is getting in a univeristy acting program. His comments are in normal face and mine are in bold face. We start by discussing that acting in doing and not talking, that plays are stories told in action and plays are not conversation.  (See also The Tao of Acting, my ebook that is on line).
They have stressed the importance that plays are not conversation quite heavily--I failed to mention that in the email. 'Glad to hear it.

We have been taught the importance of doing and what is happening in the scene. Exactly, the pantomimic dramatization of the scene is done by converting the dialogue into the action it represents.

According to my professor, the actor's job is to do something, and you want something and you want it badly right now, and what makes the action dynamic is the actor's energetic pursuit of the character's said goal in the scene's circumstances. OK. I won't argue the point. I would substitute that your job is to react physically because you have a strong emotional response to what has just occurred.

An example that my professor used was from Chekhov's Three Sisters show--how one of Masha's lines is, "I'm bored, bored, bored," and Masha saying that is to get un-bored by stimulating something desirable, in other words, to act upon her environment in order to change it. Great example. To act bored, the actor must react energetically to the stimuli that makes her so express herself. I don't agree about acting upon her environment, I would rather say react to her environment as a response to the stimuli. I think wanting to change the environment puts too many 'have to's' in the actor's head which should be clear and open to receiving stimuli so the actor can react.

We were also taught to always play the positive, no matter how bleak its outcome or situation is.Good. The negative goes nowhere and inhibits action. To play the positive is to have a strong emotional response that moves the scene onward, but the business of moving the scene onward is the natural result of the strong response of the actor and the actor does not have to be thinking about moving the scene or making a choice that is positive. If the actor has an uninhibited, strong emotional response the positive will happen.

But yes, in short, we have been taught the importance of action. IT is called ACTing after all.

Saturday, December 21, 2013

Busy, Busy, Busy

Whew! These past two months have been a whirlwind of activity. I apologize fro the long break in posts. I hope that these two months have been busy for your career as well,  There is no reason why a good actor is not in a Christmas play of some kind.  Keep building that resume.  And remember that community theatre, even amateur community theatre, is a good source of experience and information.   Networking among cast and crew members of community theatres will send you straight to more auditions and other helpful events like workshops, etc.
Don't neglect them.

Two hints.  1 you have auditioned for a call back and are waiting to hear.   The proper way to handle this is to assume you have not got the part and to audition for something else as soon as possible.  2. "But they really liked me and told be how well I had auditioned and how talented I am."  They tell everyone that;  It is just how the pros operate. They make everyone feel good so there will be nothing but good reports about them.  The old adage is "Never believe your press releases."  Which means that you must take everything in this business with a grain of salt.  People do not lie necessarily, they just try to be encouraging and positive.  But it never means that you have the role

It is important that you keep working as an actor. You must keep acting.  Even though November and December are traditionally slow months for professionals, they are pretty good months for amateurs.  As long as you are not UNION--AEA, you can do amateur plays. And that is so even if your are SAG/AFTRA. At least it was so when I was acting.

Keep acting, keep acting, keep acting.  If you are an actor, that is what you do.  NO EXCUSES, just get out there and find a play or indie to be in.

I wish you the very best for you and your career and I hope Santa brings you your union card, God bless and MERRY CHRISTMAS!

Friday, November 1, 2013

Where did they all go?

I have been cleaning out my email caches, deleting most everything prior to this  year in my Old Mail and Replies Sent caches.  One thing leaped off the pages as I deleted them. Among the hundreds of names of people who have contacted me regarding information about becoming an actor only a small handful are still in contact with me.  This is not because they have hit it big and no longer need me.  You would be hard pressed to find any of their names on the Internet Movie Data Base.

No, they have just disappeared into the passing of time.  I suspect that this is because they have found it so very difficult to get anywhere in the profession of Acting that they have given up.  In fact, a few have written me to say that they were giving up.  Acting is a demanding and difficult mistress or master. It is not a career for the mediocre or dabbler.  To succeed, the aspiring actor must be extraordinarily talented, devoted, etc, etc, etc, (listing the many things needed to succeed).

From  preteens to high schoolers, to college students, to young adults to older adults, the hundreds and hundreds of people who write me and say they would like to be an actor, only those few that I mentioned continue to seek a career. Some were very talented, some very striking in appearance, some charming, some hand many good qualities for actors. But the grueling task of becoming an actor is only for a few.

Jerome Lawrence and Robert E Lee's play CAREER is an excellent telling of   what the  task is like. The old film of the play starring Anthony Franciosa, Carolyn Jones, Dean Martin, et al. was very well done. It is a shame it is very difficult to find as I think it should be shown to prospective actors as part of their training and instruction on the industry.

My friends.  Acting is the most fun, teh most rewarding, the most glorious of experiences. It is also the most frustrating, the most difficult, and the most depressing of experiences.  Should you enter the field, I wish you well and am here to help you.  If you drop out, I forgive you, and don't blame you.  My prayer is that you will be that extra special person that succeeds all the way to the top.  God bless, Doc

Saturday, October 12, 2013

How do they do that?

Thousands of  people every year decide they would like to become an actor.  They see the newest stars of all ages on the screen and dream and ask themselves, "How do they  do that?" Soon after a question appears on Yahoo (for the hundred-thousandth time) "How do I become an actor?"

I have  answered this question over a hundred times, I am sure.  There is one answer for children, pre-teens and teens:  The way you become an actor (given the facts that you have the look, talent, charm and intelligence) is that your parents have to make it happen for you.  Most starry-eyed youngsters cannot believe that is the way.  Why, they have not even told their parents they want to be actors.  They have heard about someone who posted You Tube videos and an agent or producer saw them and signed them up.  There are also the urban legends about a producer seeing a young person in the mall, etc. etc.  These stories are stories. They become legends perhaps because one person was "discovered" in such a manner.    One out of the literally hundreds of thousands world-wide is not even in the realm of possibility as odds go.

I recently did a little research about the background of young people who became well known actors before they were  18.  Their stories are remarkably the same.  Their parents provided every opportunity for them to become prepared and enter the business.  This is what I mean by parental support: one or both parents work like mad promoting the kid and his or her career. And let's not forget that the kid is talented, charming, photogenic and intelligent.  Finally, they get a part that draws attention to them and their talent.  And that's it.  That's how a youngster becomes an actor. Oh, I must also mention that in many cases these youngsters have been acting since they were very small children.

For adults, how to become an actor is a different matter.  Of course the aspiring actor has to have all the required qualities.and then the actor must build their resume and promote themselves in the business. It is a long and difficult road that only a very few have what it takes to travel.  Indeed, most of the aspiring actors that I advise do not become actors.  Some try for a while and give up.  Others devote their lives to the task and meed with some modicum of success.

What about acting school?  Won't I have a better chance of becoming an actor if I go to acting school?  Well, that used to be the case, but now that so many of us have studied the process of becoming an actor, we have learned that only a tiny fraction of acting school graduates ever become actors.  And, at the same time, a great many people become actors without going to acting school.   I'd say that acting school is more important for stage actors than for film actors.  Film actors are helped by the mechanics of film making-carmera lenses and filters and angles, and by editing and special effects, and by music and sound, and on and on and on. Not that film actors don't have to have great talent.  Of course they do. But it is enhanced by film technology more that a stage actor's talent is enhanced by stage technology.  It is much more likely that a film actor has had no formal training than his stage counterpoint.

Well, I don't want to get too far afield from my thesis.  To become a preofessional actor, a minor must have the full support of one or more or her parents if she is going to succeed.  You can't do it by yourself, and anything less than the parent(s) being fulling involoved in their kid's career will not work. 

I wish all of you aspiring actors out there great success. Nothing would make me happier than for you to become rich, famous, and honored.  God bless you, Doc

Monday, September 16, 2013

Remembereing Roy

One of my first acting students and a very fine and devoted actor, Roy Milton Davis,  died last Spring.  It took several months for me to get the news and I was shocked. I did not know that he had been ill.  All I knew was the high--spirited, boundless optimism about his work that he always communicated to me.

Roy was one of just a tiny few of my students who really was an actor.  He lived the actor's Spartan life from the time he left college in 1974 until he died this year. Outside of some off- Broadway plays, he never had a large role. But he was never daunted.  He was an actor and he worked his entire life to be the best actor he could be.  I was pleased to have been able to see a couple of his roles in TV series these past couple of years.

Roy and I wrote often. We discussed the nature of acting and how it should be practiced. We did not always agree, but we always came to an understanding.  He sent me several  short essays he wrote about acting.  The following is one about playing extra roles and how important it was to create a character and give a complete performance:

    "To re-coin an old expression,"There are no small parts,only small actors."When you give your all to a given acting task it is noticed by the production company,no matter how small and insignificant the role may seem to be.People who play extras are often not thought of as legitimate actors.We do sometimes have to tolerate questions by a passerby like,"Are you one of the actors,or are you just an extra?Just an extra.I sometimes want to retort,"What is your position in the relative hierarchy of your own profession?You are a nobody,as well.And if you are working at all,you probably hate your job anyway.""At least I am being paid to do something that I love and I will not be "just an extra"forever."While you will probably be a bitter nobody,forever."When assigned to walk by in the background,I will assign myself a purpose in walking by.Maybe looking for an address.Maybe going back home because I forgot something.Maybe looking for cigarette butts.Maybe rushing to the subway because I am running late for work.Maybe I am vacating the premises because I want to avoid being questioned by the police.Anything.I can easily get away with simply walking by,but I like to go a little more in depth with my characterizations.Just I aim to do with principal work.We are creative artists in our own right and no matter what the size of the role,our efforts at creativity are appreciated,even in instances when we are cast in writing masterpieces."

Roy loved being the creative artist he mentions above. It was his reason for being. He is greatly missed.  Above all, Roy was an ACTOR.

Monday, September 9, 2013

How much should it cost to become an actor?

Sorry for the long lapse in posts.  It is good to be back.  It takes some motivation to add a post to the blog and for some time, as you can see, I have not been properly motivated to do so.  But now I am.

I recently read an article about Senator Marco Rubio (R, FL) in which he was quoted as wanting the government to pay for degree programs for all students.  While I adamantly disagree with him, this would solve the problem of the high cost of education. Well, it would for the student for the moment.  But the high cost would create a new entitlement and add to the national debt and deficit. 

I don't think going to college is a Right anymore than I think becoming an actor if one chooses to is a Right.  What I do think is that colleges under the thumb of the teacher's unions, and  under their own bureaucracies have become preposterously expensive. University professors are far over paid and the cost of operating a college or university has been artificially inflated to astronomical levels.  That being the case, few but the very wealthy can attend college without government help mostly in the form of student loans. 

But the prospective actor who graduates college with a huge debt of student loans is almost certain not to succeed as an actor. The burden of debt most liable will force the student out of acting and into something that has a regular pay check.

Acting schools are as bad as universities when it comes to inflated costs. Why should it cost thirty or forty thousand dollars a year to study to become an actor when it is almost certain that you will not become one?   What is to be done about the cost of acting training when both the colleges and the academies are so expensive?

Indeed, why isn't acting training free?  And I mean without the government paying for it as Senator Rubio desires.

The only answer is GREED.  We find that when a well known, successful actor teaches as a college or academy, he commands a large fee.  I submit that he only needs bare expenses and that he should teach essentially for free.  He doesn't need the money, and his instruction is not guaranteed to have a positive result. So why does he charge at all?  Whatever happened to the traditional and noble idea of serving the art of acting?

At my website,, I offer all the instruction in how to become an actor that I can. And I offer it for nothing.  Acting and the theatre have been my life. They provided me with a modest income, and a modest retirement. But, in fact, I do not need any more money. So everything I have to offer is free.  As it should be. 

I remember as a young man meeting Sir Tyrone Guthrie, founder of the Stratford Ontario Shakespeare Festival and the theatre that bears his name in St. Paul/Minneapolis.  And I remember his writing that his work was to SERVE the theatre and that he believed that as a service to GOD.  On my website I write a little about this in my essay "Theater, Religion, and Football."  Back on the issue, however, when one works as a service, he does not do it for money.  So my info is free and my acting lessons are free.

I believe that Free is the right price given how next to impossible it is to succeed as an actor.  I invite all to visit my web site and to contact me regarding questions about acting and having a career as an actor.

Friday, August 2, 2013

What Are They Thinking ?

 Lots of email coming my way asking if the writer has a feasible plan to become an actor.  This is followed by a list of their second choice career and asking which should they major in and which should they minor in,  The answer is simple.

If they are worried about the uncertainty of an acting career and want to have a 'back up," then they should major in the back up and forget about acting,. The people who succeed at acting are those who have to do so because they can't do anything else.

These emails are written,no doubt by young people whose parents insist they go to college and have a backup. The parents know full well that the backup will always succeed over acting because it takes too much sacrifice to be an actor. The parents are counting on the kid wanting a plush life that they are not going to have while struggling to become an actor.

The only feasible plan to become an actor is to act in everything possible that is legal.  Actors act, and  to be successful at acting, the aspiring actor must act as much as he or she can. This builds a terrific resume, shows devotion, and determination and talent.  When someone says to me that they want to be an actor but don't know what to do, I am dumbfounded.  Wouldn't it occur to them that what they must do is act. Here and now.  It is what actors do.

And the aspiring actors do not need an agent to act.  They can just go do it in amateur and semi=professional companies at once.  It may take a while and they may have to work their way into the good graces of the companies by doing tech work or front of the house work. But if they are talented, they will get their chance and do some acting.

What young people are thinking, of course, is that there is some magical trick to becoming an actor and all they have to do is discover it.  They think agents and colleges will give them that trick and they will become actors.  Sadly, this is not true.  The  trick is to be an actor by acting.  If it means moving to a city that has more opportunity that where one is currently living, then move.

Aspiring actors should not have to ask about back up careers or how to get started as an actor. They should just go out and act. If it means going to college to have the opportunity, then pick a college that does a lot of plays.

Saturday, July 6, 2013

Deja vu all over again

I mentioned last month that young people wanting to become actors keep making mistakes that will doom them to failure.  Here is another one:  the student who goes to college to study acting but also is a student athlete and has signed with an agency because they want to get started as an professional as soon as possible.  Now this person has so much going on that they cannot possibly do any of  them well.

My advice is to slow down.  It is a huge error for someone to be in too big a hurry to become a professional actor.  These are the ones that get scammed and lose thousands of dollars to the scam artists just waiting for them. But you have to slow down for other reasons as well.  You can't just leap into being an actor.  I know someone you heard of did it, but you have to realize that you are not that someone.  So you need to learn to be an actor and get a lot of experience acting before you try to be a pro.  It is a sad thing for you to watch TV and see all those actors your age.  Why didn't you do that? Simple. Your parents didn't make it happen for you.  If you had had the ability to be a teen TV actor, someone probably would have noticed and supported your dream. But you may have been (and you may still be) dreaming with no foundation for the dream to come true. 

The foundation is:  experience in lots of plays, training in lots of professional classes, training to be charming and personable, and developing an attractive look.  Remember attractive is only partly being good looking.  It is also being charismatic. Some where in this blog is my port on that subject. 

If you don't have  all the parts of the foundation, work on the ones that are missing and get the foundation as solid as you can.  This will take a number of years.  It may take more than your high school and college years.  It took me twenty years after college!  Now I have to insert here that I did not spend all my time trying to become an actor.  I had insured my failure to become a pro by not constantly working on it, by taking a job that gave me a fairly comfortable life style, and by getting married and having a family.  But since acting was connected to every aspect of my life, the opportunity finally care around, and I got an audition. Because I had a great foundation, I passed the audition and got cast as a wedding dancer in Duchess and The Dirt Water Fox. That led to another audition, and because my foundation was even better than before the wedding dancer audition, I passed this audition as well and got cast in the role of Krater in "How the West Was Won" TV series with James Arness.  I went on to be in several other films and TV series. I became a SAG actor (in those days SAG and AFTRA had not merged).  Now some twenty plus years from when I had to stop acting, I still get residual checks for my previous work.

OK. Got it?  Slow down and get a solid foundation. Then when opportunity knocks, you will be prepared.  Remember 'luck' is when preparation meets opportunity. God bless, Doc

Saturday, June 15, 2013

Doomed to Failure

Sometimes I cannot believe it is happening.  Aspiring actors from all over the world, of all ages and of both genders write and do things that doom them to failure as actors.  Just recently, for example, I had spent a month or so corresponding with a young lady who wanted to audition for my free acting lessons. She understood that I only teach students who I believe have a chance of becoming professional actors.  A high school student, she postponed her audition until school was out.  She assured me how serious she was about acting and so I made an appointment for her to audition.   When I talked to her and her father on the phone, they both said they would be at the audition. Come the day of her appointment and she does not show up! No phone call, just a no show.  I cannot stress how important it is for anyone under 18 to get their parents on board about their acting career.  If they do not, they cannot possibly become actors. No matter what scared her away from her audition, she should have called to say she could not make it. By not showing she is doomed to fail. The professsional word has no time to waste on such behavior.

Another behavior that I hear about all the time is the aspiring actor who has an interview at a talent agency but does not know what to say when they get there. These people are all inexperienced, have read nothing about acting as a career, and have never been in a play. They always ask me how to dress, what to say, do they need a monologue, what monologue should they do, etc, etc, etc.  They never tell me the name of the agency and in many cases I can tell it is one of the scam agencies  and they are walking into a trap.  They know nothing about acting and so they are doomed to fail or worse to be scammed out of hundreds of dollars. Just telling me the name of the agency could make the difference for them.

Related to these people are the scores of those who write me and ask me to tell them the name of an agent who would represent them.  These uninformed writers are those who believe the myth that agents make people into stars.  I  never answer these with the information they desire.  These usually are those who have never acted but know that they are greatly talented, or those whose  friends and family say that they should be actors.  Somehow it never occurs to these people that they should be in a school or community theater play. So I tell them to do that and hope they are not too much trouble for the directors of such plays as they may audition for.

Well, it is a sad thing. The more I deal with aspiring actors, the more I am aware that almost none of them, and there are thousands of them, will ever make it.  They are doomed to fail if not by such behaviors as those above, by just not having what it takes.  It is not easy. There is no step by step formula to becoming an actor. There is no magic secret nor boost that will advance them to the next level (whatever that is).  It does not rely on luck. Those who believe such things join those that fail.

To become an actor, one must act.  Make sure you have been in enough plays that there is some indication that you have ability.  Then, if you have the other qualifications, you may not be doomed.

Tuesday, May 21, 2013

A bit of this, that and the other.

This --  Aspiring actors of all ages still don't get it when it comes to choosing a monologue for auditions or classes. An aspiring actor has to have a vast background in plays that he or she has read, attended or performed. It is from these sources they are most likely to find a good monologue for their needs. That is numero uno.   Dos, they need to pick a monologue that is from a role that they could logically be cast in.  Ultimo, it is the performance of the monologue that makes it a good one.  There is no such thing as being overdone if done superbly. 
And well done monologues are filled with the dramatic qualities that the innocent keep requesting that their monologues have. They need to read other posts about monologue on this blog from a year or more ago.

That -- Inexperienced and uninformed aspirants keep wanting to know how to get an audition, how to get discovered, or how to get a big break.  Sad. Truly.  Those who get auditions are experienced, informed and in the case of youngsters, guided by their parents.  An agent is almost always needed.  These people are always looking for LUCK that will make them an instant star like someone of whom they have heard.  But,of course, they are not that someone. They need to read the previous post, "You have to have it!"

The other -- Heard on TV a couple of days ago about the futility of majoring in the arts or going to professional school unless you were truly in the top five percent. It is not cost efficient to go to college or professional school unless you are way ahead of most everyone else to start with. Forty grand a year is outrageous for an education, especially for a field in which it is so hard to get a job.  I remember a young fellow from a couple of years ago.  His parents borrowed to the hilt to send him to two years of Acting School.  He completed the course. He has done no acting since. Seems to have lost interest in it. Now there is putting your parents into poverty for a good purpose!  Fist of all acting school is no needed by the truly talented and second of all college is not needed by the high school honors grad who wants to be an actor. What these kids need is lots of experience and some career management by their parents. Worked well for the talented and handsome Brad Pitt whose mother yanked him out of college to take a professional job.  Aspirants have to be realistic.  As I said at the end of the first paragraph, you have to have it or you ain't gonna do nothin' in this business.  I love all of you, but it is the truth.

Tuesday, May 7, 2013

What are they thinking?

It happened several times in the past few days.  People of all ages, teens, twenty-somethings, thirty somethings, forty somethings and fifty somethings. have written to me saying that they a just dying to become an actor but they have never done anything.  They saw one particular film that made them thing that they have to do that,too.  They are trapped in boring circumstances, a good job that pays well,but is not exciting, or they are bullied and know if they were an actor they would be admired instead.

Only problem is that it ain't gonna happen.  How do I know?  After all the young girl in the Chocolate Factory film with Johnny Depp had never done anything before!   And now she's a star.  I know an actor who was a sculptor until he read for his first film.  He had no previous acting training nor experience.  He got the second lead in his first film and the lead role in his second film.  Such stories and the magic that is film, the illusion it creates of greatness and consequential events and great loves and romances seem to erase any sense of reality and logic from peoples' minds.

These starry-eyed dreamers have no concept of what acting and being an actor is all about.  They just know that the images on the screen are wonderful and that they want to be wonderful as well.

Now, I have to separate two things.  The dream and the  purpose of plays and films. Okay?
First the dream is an un realistic fantasy set off by the purpose of the drama.  The purpose of the drama is to remind ordinary people that they are extraordinary. Theatre and film's purpose is to show mankind how wonderful he can be, how wonderful he is, and as Shakespeare put it, "how like a god."   When the audience member does not understand that the purpose of the drama is to make him or her feel wonderful and important and extraordinary for a few moments and that after the film or play, they are returned to being wonderful only in their dreams. They still have to go to work in the morning and live their seemingly hum drum lives.

But if they would take it to heart, what the theatre and film are telling them, that all of us are extraordinary in some way, and do something about it. Get involved in a charity or even a political movement, being careful, of course, of not choosing some leftist wacko group. But to get involved and start being something more than just a hum drum person.  If they want to be actors, then they have to get involved with the drama somewhere. Community theatre,  acting classes, acting schools, etc.  Being an actor is how to get started being an actor.

You know, I get many questions telling me that the writer has done all this acting and studying, but what should they do next?  I have to tell you that I really believe that the people who become actors do not have to be told how to get started or what to do next.  They just know what to do and do it.  If they are actors, they keep acting in every and all opportunities. They know now to move forward in their career and get agents.   Perhaps they learned this form others they worked with, and perhaps they read how to do it in a book just as "Acting As A Business" by O'Neil.  

I am afraid, you see, that those who have not on their own found out how to get started and how to become an actor are never going to make it.  The ones that make it are born with enough drive to go and get it on their own.  

Tuesday, April 16, 2013

You have to have it.

Got an email this morning in which a young actor I know said that he had more and more recognized that acting is all about money.  And of course it is in the business side of acting.

I am constantly amazed that youngsters think that without and experience and training they are going to get a major role in a major film.  No way can that happen except for the super extraordinary person who leaps from being in a high school play to stardom as Ann Margaret did when she was cast in "Bye Bye Birdie."  She was recognized as having all the unique qualities needed to be a bankable star.

Theatre and making movies is not about being a good actor.  It is about making lots of money. Productions cost millions and millions of dollars and no one is going to gamble on an unproven person who does not have all the unique qualities needed. The reason so many actors never become professional in spite of having a great deal of talent is that they lack the charm, personality, and look that people want to pay money to see.

The look is not always beauty or handsome. Jack Nicholson is not a handsome man. But he has so much charm that we will pay to see him again and again.  And his look is so unique that he always is distinctive in his portrayal.

The reality of becoming a professional actor is not that you need an agent or training or experience so much as it is that you need to be able to give a unique rendering of the character from your look to your charm to your talent.

Money talks.  You have to be an actor that producers know will help bring money in at the box office.   This is also true in the amateur theatre where the producers want to at least break even on their productions.  So the actors cast in the leads and major roles are those that the audience will want to come an see because of the actors' reputations of being effective in previous plays.  Yes, money is often the reason why someone else got the role you wanted.  You have to be unique and pleasing to the audience--an asset at the box office to succeed.

The few actors who are unique and pleasing as those that make it.

Saturday, April 6, 2013

An Actor Prepares

This morning I heard from a student I had in class forty years ago.  He wote to comment on a post I had made on Facebook regarding the sorry state of acting in today's theatre.  Most of that post was an article by Arthur Penn, the famous director.  My former student wanted to let me know how he has achieved success as a professinal tenor, performing opera.  His message is one that actors need to take to heart-- that it takes courage and conviction, dedication and perseverance to succeed as a professional performer.  What he has experienced is not unlike what a good actor experiences in preparing for his career.

I am greatful to this former student of mine for reminding me that training is important in the search for success.  I have perhaps downplayed that importance in much of my writing. But it is necessary for the actor to keep his voice and body in tune through constant coaching and instruction in classes.

Here are the portions of his letter to me that are most applicable to actors:

"I AM a great guy, and this fact has NEVER helped me find work! Perseverence and drive, living like a Bohemian, showing up to every audition and spending everything on lessons and coaching is what works. No one cares, at all, that I have had a more than colorful life. They only care about how I sound and how I look and whether or not they can somehow use me in their house. I am only what I can offer at that very moment and all the rest does not make any difference whatsoever.

"I have been monumentally lucky in that I am FINALLY making my big-assedTiroler Festspiel Erl this summer singing the Duke from Verdi's Rigoletto. This offer was made following my FORTY-FIFTH audition. What a boon! What a coup!"

It is difficult for us to imagine attending 45 auditions for a role.  I have read of actors attending half a dozen or more, but never so many as this.  It is a tribute to the directors who want to have the best possible production, and it is a tribute to the singer/actor who endures and succeeds!

Tuesday, April 2, 2013

Acting and Playwrighting

Some concepts about plays that a playwright and actor need to know:

a. Plays are not conversation, nor are they discourse(Discussions of an idea).

b. Plays are stories told in action. Everything Aristotle wrote about play writing (which he called Tragedy making) indicates that.

c. Plays are stories about someone's emotional reaction to a situation and what that reaction causes him or her to do.

d. A playwright fashions a play, he does not write it. He expresses the fashioning of the play by writing down what he has created in terms of stage directions and dialogue..

e. Thus the fashioning of the story is what the playwright does first. He tells the story in theatrical terms, which means he creates an situation and places a person into it. That person has an emotional reaction to the situation and does something that expresses the reaction. (either the situation or the character's response to it is a disorder that must be repaired) A chain reaction of his action causing an emotional response that causes an action that causes an emotional response......and so on until the story is complete by order being restored. The playwright creates no dialogue until he can tell the story in terms of action/reaction with no dialogue at all.
As an actor, you need to be an emotional responder to the stimuli of the play moment by moment.  Those responses will also contain the action of the play (what you need to do as an actor).

Saturday, March 23, 2013

All I Need Is An Agent

It certainly seems to be the prevailing urban legend about becoming an actor that all one needs to do is to get an agent and they will be launched into stardom.  I am besieged with email from young people, usually teens and pre-teens but sometimes young adults as well, asking me for help on getting an agent. The seemingly urgent requests reveal that most young acting aspirants have no idea about the nature of the acting business and what it takes to become an actor.

An agent is not the first thing an aspiring actor needs.  It is very much the last thing he needs. You see, the business usually works this way:  An extraordinary person comes to the attention of an agent or casting director and gets an acting job.  From this job, their extraordinary qualities get them other jobs, and they are in the business.  Well, that sounds easy, doesn't it?  The problem is that they have to be "extraordinary."  And not just in one way--they have to be extraordinary in many ways.  They need, among other things, to have extraordinary talent, courage, personality, charm, and look.

Most of the young people who suddenly or not-so-suddenly decided they want to be actors lack one or more of the extraordinary requirements for becoming an actor.  And some of these people will have one of the extraordinary requirements to a degree that the rest of them are of little consequence.  Thus, the aspirant may be so handsome or beautiful that the agent or casting director is not very concerned about the other qualities.  Or the aspirant may lack one of the qualities so that those they have are of little or no consequence.  The actor may be very talented, but his lack of courage prevents him from taking the risks needed to become a professional actor.  And if you don' t have the personality and charm to hold a stranger's attention in a conversation, you are going to have a hard time with professional acting.  Additionally,  as an aspirant to an acting career, humility and lack of egotism are very important.  There are tons of other qualities that are pluses for an aspirant to have. These are listed in my e-book, The Tao of Acting.

So far, I have only written about the extraordinary qualities the aspirant needs. These he has before he has done any acting.  They are either inborn like his talent or acquired like his charm.  Before the aspirant needs an agent, he or she needs other things in addition to the extraordinary personal qualities above.  They need an extraordinary resume, head shot, demo reel, business card, and post cards (not ordinary post cards, but personalized ones for networking.).   These seem like simple things, but they may take years to acquire.  Most young aspirants can make a resume with one or two shows that they have done on it and stating that they have been in drama club or taken drama classes in high school.. That is not extraordinary.  An extraordinary resume not only lists the leading roles in amateur, semi-professional and professional productions the actor has done, but also it lists the highly regarded acting schools and studios with which he has studied.  That is one point.

There are many other points to be made about the aspirant's need to be extraordinary in a great number of ways if he is to succeed.  Acquiring these things to go along with your other extraordinary qualities is what is needed before you need an agent.

Thursday, February 28, 2013

Spencer Tracy, Method Acting and Intensity

The late Spencer Tracy was one of the greatest film actors of all time. He was nominated as best actor nine times and won twice.  He was renown for his natural style and versatility. And he did not subscribe to any nonsense about acting.  Once at a party he attended, several actors were discussing the merits of Method Acting.  After a long and often heated discussion that Tracy only observed and did not take part in, one of the actors asked, "What do you think, Spence?"  Tracy replied simply, " I think it is very important for an actor to learn his lines."  Simple and direct.  An honest reply without any nonsense about acting.  A reply I admire and applaud.

Recently an actor wrote to me and asked me to evaluate a video audition he had made.  In it, he often looked down at his script before saying his line.  I replied that he was too tied to the script to be effective in the scene. As an actor you have to respond to your scene partner, not to the book. So you have to free yourself from the book in order to concentrate on your scene partner. The book and not having the lines down also presented a barrier between the actor and his scene partner. I noted that his emotional responses were not reaching the audience and that he needed more intensity.

Now, here I have to tip my hat to the Method actors. The thing that made Method acting popular was how intense the actors who used it were.  Marlon Brando, James Dean, Montgonery Clift, Robert DeNiro, and Al Pacino give us highly intense acting.  Jack Nicholson does them all one better as he not only has great intensity, but he also is having great fun playing the role.  This gives him the highest charisma that an actor can achieve. An actor needs to catch the casting director's attention with the intensity and fun he communicates while playing the role.

That intensity and fun is communicated to the casting director when the actor feels those qualities while reading for the part. I have always said that acting must be fun and it is very important for the actor to communicate that he is having a ball doing the audition or playing the role.  Then the actor must also feel the intensity of the emotions his character is expressing.  The actor does this by allowing himself to fully release his emotions without inhibitions.  When he does that, the intensity takes care of itself.  Remember that acting is not an intellectual activity, it is an emotional one.  Make sure you are always emotionally in the moment before each scene begins.  Then you need to respond not with words from the script, but with the emotions those words represent.

Thursday, February 14, 2013

Is a College Education Worth the Money ?

One of the aspiring actors I advise sent me the link to an article on "The Costs and Benefits of a College Education" by Amanda Charney a student at USC. The article was dated Sept. 18, 2012.   Both aspiring actors and their parents often write to me with concerns about the matter of going to college or opting to go straight into the business of trying to become a professional actor.  As far as I am concerned the entire matter is one of maturity and experience.

If an actor has the maturity and background to jump right from high school into the aspiring actor's life, then that is probably the best idea for him or her.  If this aspiring actor also understands that the goal is to be an actor, not a famous, wealthy star, this choice is an apt one.
Those who go to college want the "security" of a college degree and the statistical promise that it will add to their total lifetime earnings as well as give them something to fall back on.  These are fallacies to the actor,however, who is not concerned with making a lot of money.  Today's job outlook for college grads does not help this thinking, either.   And the actor who knows that he or she will only be happy if acting, could care less about a fall back job.  They only need enough money to keep body and soul together between acting gigs.  They also know that if they have a fall back, they most likely will do just that and give up and fall back instead of pursuing their heat's desire.  These actors also know that they can get a college education anytime, but that they will only be young once.

Some young people and their parents see college as a transition between high school and life.  Teens look forward to the college years of fraternities and sororities, football games and parties and all the fun of campus life while getting and education.  An education in much more that acting.  There are required courses of all sorts from writing to history to math and science --even languages and literature must be studied in classes which must be passed if one is to graduate.  And while a theatre major may offer excellent classes and lots of productions to be in, The professional world is only interested in the professional classes an actor has had and the big names he or she has studied with.  So other young people would rather be acting and taking professional acting classes right out of high school, getting a four year head start on those who go to college and making their youth an asset for their budding career.  Standing between these two approaches are mom and dad.

The aspiring actor's parents are either their greatest asset or their greatest liability.  If they approve of their offspring going right into the business out of high school, even offering the help of room and board while they do it, they are a great asset--so long as they live in or near a city where an actor can get a good start.  They also are helpful if they approve of an acting or theatre major at college. Some parents, like Brad Pitt's mother, work continuously to find their progeny a strong entree into the business. I am afraid that most parents however, play the politician.

The politic parents say they support their child's choice of becoming and actor "after college."  Then they insist on a non-theatre or non-acting major and secretly hope the kid will come to his or her senses and go into business or get married and give up the foolish idea of acting.  Of course not all professional actors who went to college have majored in acting or theatre. Many have not.  It is not a requirement for success as an actor. But it is so easy for an aspiring actor to get side tracked that unless he or she has extraordinarily strong determination to act, it is a sure bet they will take a load of their parents' minds and give up on acting. Many people look back and remember their college days as the best days of their lives.   I have the added perspective of having gone to college and also having been an actor.  I can honestly say that the best days of my life were those I spent on the set as a professional actor. 

Ms. Charney covers two more topics:  Networking and Costs.  She gives the impression that the networking opportunity from college is an advantage over choosing not to attend.  All actors have to learn how to network properly and do it diligently if they are to succeed. The aspiring actor who does not go to college can do a great deal of successful networking in four years. So that topic is sort of even between the two situations.  Costs are another matter.

One of the most recent emails I got was from a dad who was honestly concerned about the cost of colleges.  Tuition of thirty thousand dollars a year for four years is daunting to anyone.  And student loans are of no help to the aspiring actor. Starting to try to crack into the business while worrying about paying off tens of thousands of dollars in loans is not a good situation.  An aspiring actor lives a Spartan life as it is.  Debt only makes it worse. I'd say the cost of college,especially in these uncertain days of employment , make it unappealing.  No one wants an uneducated or stupid actor.  But an actor has time for reading. He or she can easily better their minds by reading the great books on their own.

One more topic before I close.  Professional acting schools with a two year training program often seem like a great choice for the aspiring actor.  Again, the exorbitant cost of such schools make them a poor investment.  No school can guarantee its grads a job.  Certainly no acting school can guarantee their alums a career.  They make it look like a great many who study with them are successful, but the number that are compared with the number that are not is very small.  Aspiring actors need to keep in mind that it is the actor that makes the school, not the school that makes the actor. Talent and drive cannot be taught.  The successful actor is born with them and many other necessary qualities.

Are colleges and acting schools worth the money for aspiring actors?  I'd say for the more mature and highly experienced high school grad, they usually are not.  There are more reasonably priced and more effective training available.  A good mentor can guide his protegees to the best opportunities. The same is true for the student who needs more maturity and experience.  A good mentor can suggest the best way to achieve those goals.

Wednesday, February 6, 2013

Why Do You Want to Act?

I am indebted to "Ace Your Audition" website for this piece by Frank Langella

The Demon Seesaw Actors Ride

His hands were trembling so much I thought he was going to break into a hundred pieces like a Tom and Jerry cartoon character. He had been sitting at a nearby table in an L.A. actors' hangout and as he got up to leave, he threw me a "We've never met, but I know you" wave. I waved back and asked him to join my table. He hesitated a beat, then came over.
I was having a late supper with an actress friend, keeping a date we'd made in New York earlier that week. We three exchanged perfunctory L.A. versus New York cliches: the requisite "Love your work" phrase and avoidance of the "What are you doing?" question. The trembling hands continued throughout our 10-minute conversation. I resisted the urge to ask him if he was all right because something inside me understood the tremble and knew the answer.
This man had once been at the top of our profession. A series of successful films and an Oscar nomination had capped a hot streak lasting some four or five years in the mid-70's. Things turned bad. He was now 50 and forgotten. Facing me was an actor climbing the ladder again. Lightly tanned, clean-shaven, eggshell thin, in a blazer and tie; the hands trembling to hold onto the bottom rungs once more. He excused himself and said he was off to see a midnight movie. "I want to get lost in the dark of the theater," he said.
My friend and I fell silent, wondered if we could have been more solicitous, and decided it was best not to invade a shell that seemed barely held together. But his tremble stayed with me through dinner and after I drove her home. It awoke a fear in me. It became a symbol of the questions I had been asking myself more persistently each year. Why do actors live the lives we do?
Some basic truths about us, some fundamentals: married, single, divorced, rich, broke, breaking in or holding on, the morning after Oscar, Tony or Emmy, or struggling along without recognition; whether we are newcomers, superstars, an enduring light, a flash in the pan, a has-been or a comeback king, from low self-esteem to insufferable arrogance - we are the seesaw kids. Kids who hold on tight and wait, wait for the call, the audition, the part, the review - and then we do it again. Those are the ground rules. You accept them if you are an actor. And you accept the demons.
One veteran character actor told me he is so excited when the job comes to a close. He takes himself and his wife to Martha's Vineyard and for four or five days he is in bliss. "And then," he said, "every time the phone rings, I am running up the dock like an old fool, thinking 'Oh, God, please don't hang up. I hope it is work.' "I've got money now," he said, "but that's no comfort." Another actor, 34 years old, told me when he's waiting he drives back and forth across the United States calling his agent every few days from phone booths. He has no money and no comfort. And another, convinced each time his illnesses are not hypochondriacal, drives himself to doctors' offices and waits for test results. One actress does health spas, another buys and sells houses, a third designs gardens. "Dangerous things, gardens," she said. "You never want to come out of them." A not unsuccessful man with an Oscar told me that when he is out of work an inertia so great overwhelms him that he is practically catatonic. He could not leave his home during one period for over three months. "Why?" I asked. "Fear," he said.
And fear encourages the demons insecurity and uncertainty. An elderly actress was over for dinner. When we sat down she threw back a straight Scotch and said, "You know what I did today? I did a general get-to-know-you, they call it, at a new agency I've just signed with. Look, I don't expect them to kiss my backside, but I have been at this for 38 years and I sat there as kids younger than my children said things like, 'She'd be great as so-and-so's wife in his new series' or 'How good are your contacts in town? Who do you know personally?' " She was torn between her insecurity and need to be accepted and her anger at expecting and not receiving the treatment she felt her lifetime of achievement had entitled her to.
An agent once said to me when I mentioned I was in my third month of unemployment, "How I envy you! You can sleep late; take the kids to the park; go on holiday." "Why don't I take the keys to your office," I said, "lock the doors, send home your staff and let you know when you can come back to work. Wait until I have something for you." He laughed, but didn't get it. How could he? How could anyone who has not experienced unemployment several times a year every year of his working life. No matter how often an actor may tell himself that a refusal is not necessarily a rejection, the word "No" only deepens his self-doubt.
And, even when employed, the actor is still stalked by uncertainty. A great Broadway star once told me that during the entire rehearsal period of one of her many triumphs, she got out of her taxi 20 blocks before the rehearsal studio and walked the entire way in order to stop shaking. "I was certain I was going to be fired," she said. I recalled that when I was a young actor my famous leading lady asked if I would drive her to the first day of rehearsals out of town. "Sure," I said, too cocky to be nervous myself. She got into my car; we drove three blocks and she promptly vomited. "Wait until there is more at stake," she said. "You'll know what it's like." And, as the seesaw rocked back and forth for me, I remembered her words.
I remembered again when years later a close friend of mine called and said, "You're back in town. Let's have dinner." It had been close to 10 months since we had seen each other. We met at a local restaurant. When last I'd seen him, he and his wife had bought a beautiful Bel Air house, one Mercedes and one Jaguar and put their children in private schools. During our dinner he freely admitted that it had all gone bad for them. As we waited in the garage, he told me the house was sold, so, too, the cars, and they were now living in a two-bedroom apartment in West Hollywood. A wreck of a car was brought up by the attendant. "Ah, well," he said, "back to coach. Keeps you humble." He drove away smiling, with a wave.
In between actors' waves to each other there are months and even years of travel to foreign countries, divorces, awards, clinics, love affairs, feuds, and yet whenever we meet we pick up the thread again.
Though sometimes it's more the needle than the thread. Actors can be immensely cruel to one another. There are times when you meet an actor you don't know and he greets you with hostility or condescension or even dismissal. It can be blown away sometimes - and sometimes it develops into downright hatred. A difference in acting styles, position on a set, or being surrounded by too many assistants, can cause actors to polarize. If your career moves ahead or drops behind a friend, the friendship is jeopardized. Your demons against his.
And those demons themselves are competing with an irrevocable one: aging. One strong, up-from-the-floor fighter of an actress said to me, "I won't be seeing you for a while, darling. I'm off to play the mother in a TV pilot. Can you imagine? The mother!" she said again. And then totally without rancor, she said, "You know, I never dreamed it would turn out like this. I thought it would always be Phaedra or Shaw or working with the great directors. I never dreamed."
One lunch by a pool a young friend of mine said of a 50-ish actor walking by our table, "Look at him. A fine figure of a has-been." I laughed, but it stung. A sag in your career or a sag in your chin, and you're a party joke. And, if someone else isn't noticing your graying hair or expanding waistline, you are. The actors' anxiety over aging is more acute than most. Part of the product starts to wear out and the consumer wants a new one.
Several years ago, on the set of a film, eight of us between the ages of 35 and 50 sat around the table. I studied my face-lifted, hair-dyed, overtanned, lipo-bellied, toupeed, capped-teeth and skin-peeled colleagues. One friend said, "I'm making it at last - at 48 - I'm making it. I'm going to dye my hair, pump my muscles and smile my way to stardom."
That smile can be difficult to maintain. In Paris one early morning, waiting to be fitted for a beard, I noticed in the booth next to me one of the world's great beauties. As she was being fitted for a wig, the man attending her said, when an old film of hers was mentioned, meaning no harm, "God, you were beautiful then." She smiled, looked him in the eye, and said, without a trace of bitterness, "Ah, well, we all have our moment, don't we." When the moment passes, it requires of the older actor a profound dignity. Those who age gracefully before the public do so while struggling privately to let go of that for which they were initially loved.
And deeper inside us, past vanity, past fear, past the waiting, past uncertainty and insecurity, there is a demon I can find no name for.
One early morning I looked out the window of the rented house in the country where I was working. Sitting poolside, wrapped in a fur coat, smoking a cigarette, surrounded by empty champagne bottles, was my leading lady. It was 6 A.M. I went down and sat next to her. A long silence and then she said, "I can't. I can't any more. I can't go where I have to go inside to be really good and survive. I hate revealing myself and I despise myself for wanting to be liked."
I fear the demons like every other actor. But more than their existence, I fear their departure from me. I need them. They keep away the nameless one. Actors have a legitimate claim on the word "survivor." But just surviving is a victory with no spoils. I want the spoils, and I'll take the pain that goes with getting them.
With each new role comes a test of heart, mind and spirit. Through the work an actor find his place in society. Up against a task larger than himself, he can transform and overcome. More than suffering, more than success, more than defeat, the work strengthens and illuminates. It calms the tremble. It steadies the seesaw.

Thursday, January 17, 2013

Imagination, Concentration and Stayiing Focused

I am often contacted by students who have trouble staying in character or being nervous when on stage.  It sounds to me as though this is just a matter of imagination and concentration. Whenever an actor is acting with someone in a class scene or audition or in a play or film, the first thing they have to do is accept the circumstances of the play--where it takes place, when it takes place, who they are and who the other people are. This is an exercise in imagination.

  You must make-believe that the circumstances are true and you are this person in them. I advise taking a moment before doing any acting to switch on your imagination just as you do at home when you are imagining you are on stage or that your life is a movie. Wm Esper calls this daydreaming. It is a good way of looking at it. Harrison Ford says that when ever he acts, he says to himself, "OK, Let's pretend." He means that he is going to accept the circumstances of the scene as real-at least in his imagination. This is what you must do to be effective as an actor.

  Second, staying out of your head will keep you from being nervous and allow you to focus on the scene.  It is simply a matter of concentration and listening. You have to be completely focused on the scene and what is happening in it. You 'listen' with all of your senses to fully be immersed and so you will react fully and emotionally to the scene.  If  you have an audience and you are thinking of being in front of them,  you are focusing on the wrong thing. You are focusing on you being an actor in front of an audience when you should be focusing on being in the scene.

It is concentration that allows you to focus on the proper things and eliminate those you should not be thinking about.  Concentration is hard work. You have to make yourself do it and keep doing it without taking a break.  That is what makes a performance without any breaks in it.  When concentration is broken, actors often forget their lines or call other characters in the scene by the wrong name. This is one reason why stage acting is such good training for film actors

It takes a great deal of imagination and concentration to be an effective actor.  . I hope this brief explanation is helpful to you and that you will start having more success being effective in your performances. God bless, Doc

Friday, January 11, 2013

Great New Source of Information for Actors

Hi Everyone,  I just wanted to share with you a great new source of information for actors. It is a web site very much like my own and covering many similar subject.  It provides much information for free. Give it a try. is the name of the web site.  I recommend it.  Doc

Wednesday, January 9, 2013

I have a couple of complaints.

You know what makes me angry?  Teachers who assign students to write scripts without giving them training in how to do so!  And Teachers who assign acting students to either write a monologue or go find a published monologue are just as bad!

Script writing, even a short skit if it is to be effective, requires training.  Play scripts are not like any other kind of writing. There are certain special qualities that the lines of a script must have.  The students also need to know about the basics of story telling.  Things like a story has a beginning, a middle, and an end.  And things like a script tells a story in terms of what is happening, not in terms of what it being said.  A script is not conversation.  It is the emotional and physical responses the characters have to the situation.  Things like these are often neglected in the instruction of a student prior to his being assigned to write a script. And that is an educational sin of omission. 

Then acting teachers who assign students to write a monologue to perform in class also gripes me.  It is an acting class, not a play writing class. Monologues are parts of play.  If a teacher wants his acting students to perform monologues, the teacher should have a supply of appropriate monologues on hand to distribute to the students who best meet the qualities of the characters speaking the monologues.

Same for teachers who just assign their students to find a monologue and perform it for class. They need to have monologues on hand and distribute them as above.  Beginning acting students have not read a lot of plays and if they are in high school they haven't seen a lot of plays, either..  So where are they going to find monologues suitable to do?  They will waste hours looking for them.  The same is true for scenes for a class.  The teacher must have the scenes on hand and cast them.  I always had the entire class do the same scene and rehearse the scenes in class which helped everyone learn the scene and what they were supposed to do in it. Then there came a day when the scene was performed and graded.  After that we went on to the next scene.

Another of my pet peeves is doing monologues for high school play auditions or for musical auditions.  What a waste of time!  Play tryouts should be conducted in front of the entire group, the candidates have filled out tryout sheets and submitted a photo. The director casts brief scenes from the play and has those candidates read the scene. Then the director recasts  the scenes with different candidates until all have had a chance to read for a couple of roles. This may take a couple of sessions, after which the director should be able to cast the show.  Where did the nonsense of doing monologues come from?  Might be a good idea to use when doing Shakespeare, but otherwise, I have my doubts. 

Another casting peeve is callbacks.  Why bother? Make up your mind. In school theatre it is unlikely that those auditioning will greatly improve for a call back.  They only build up hope and then cause heartbreak.. I loved it when I moved from educational theatre into semi-professional directing.  I didn't need auditions.  I just called actors I knew who would be good for the roles and asked them if they would like to do it for a few bucks.  The only heartbreak was mine when I couldn't get an actor I wanted. But that never lasted very long, there was always another actor who could co the role.

These things may not make an impression on the educational theatre, but at least my steam has been vented.