Friday, October 3, 2014

"Dracula," a play for Hallowe'en

I had to write the following when I read an article about our Fine Arts Center's production of "Dracula" in my morning newspaper.  The interview with the director of the play illustrated for me that his decisions were being made by Method Acting theory and theatrics rather than by a real understanding of the material and what it meant.

I was amused by your article that interviewed Nathan Halvorson, director of the upcoming FAC production of "Dracula." The obvious contradictions of Halvorson's thoughts regarding the character of Dracula leaped from the page and urged me to write to you.  


First Halvorson wants to get away from the romanticized modern day portrayals of vampires such as in the Twilight series and get back to the original story of horror. Then, Halvorson makes the error of trying to find motivation for Dracula by giving him human characteristics. Dracula has a disease. He is lonely. He wants companionship,. None of these characteristics are in the source material, Bram Stoker's Victorian novel, "Dracula." What makes Dracula a character that evokes horror is that he is supernatural. He is not human. He is the embodiment of evil-- an undead soul wandering the Earth and preying on humans in a way that makes them undead souls as well. The horror of the story is that Dracula's victim, Lucy, is threatened to become one of the undead. Van Helsing and the others try to save her, but they fail. Now they must save her soul by driving a stake through her heart so her body will die and her soul will be at rest. This is the thing about the story that evokes horror. It is not created by special effects of gore, or by flying bats (as I have seen in one production). The battle between good and evil wrestling for souls is eternal. Dracula is Evil itself. Van Helsing and those trying to save Lucy are Good. The winner of the battle between them gets Lucy's soul. Dracula will give her soul torment and eternal damnation. Van Helsing and the others will provide her soul with peace. The horror of the story is that battle with those results. This is Stoker's basic source material. Mr. Halvorson seems to have missed that and by so doing is relying on special effects for horror.


It also seems from your article that Halvorson has been trained in Method Acting. I say this because of his efforts to provide Dracula with motivation. Dracula needs no other motivation than his thirst for human blood and through that the capturing of souls who also become vampires. Evil is the character's spine if we must discuss him in Method terms. The character is a symbol of sin, and the story is an allegory of the religious concepts of souls, damnation, and salvation.


The religious implications of the story of Dracula do not horrify today's audiences. The battle of Good vs. Evil is one that our society largely ignores. Creating horror from Stoker's original source would be nearly impossible in the amoral world of today. Dracula is no longer a horrifying story. Vampires have become caught in our present day's web of confusion about what is Good and what is Evil, and so Dracula is reduced from a tragedy of horror to a melodrama of tricks and special effects. I am sure that the FAC production of "Dracula" will be entertaining, but I do not think it will horrify the audience.


Tuesday, September 23, 2014

Why Didn't I Get That Part?

One of the most  frustrating experiences for an actor is to know that he or she has read best for a role and yet was not cast.  This is a common experience that every actor will have, so I thought I would address it briefly here.

The one thing an actor has to keep in mind is that the casting director or whoever will be making the casting decision is not the actor and has his or her own concept of what the character is like physically, emotionally and intellectually.  Thus, the casting    people's decision is made on a completely different set of principles that those that the actor has created for the character. Actors do not get parts for a great number of reasons.

One reason an actor did not get a part was that he was too handsome for the role!  He could also be too tall, too short, too thin, too fat, have the wrong hair style, wrong hair color, wrong posture, wrong dialect, and on and on and on.  Sometimes the role has already been cast and they are just waiting for that actor to clear his schedule. There are so many reasons that it is hopeless to try to figure it out.

The actor should not worry so much about why he didn't get the role.  If he is auditioning well, eventually he will get a role, but he must fit the casting people's concept of the part. But please make sure that your evaluations of how you are doing are made by a mentor or acting teacher that you trust.  Like casting decisions, the actor is not in position to make those calls.

PS. I know I have been erratic about posting new material. Today is my 77th birthday, and I have slowed quite a bit since I stated this blog.  I hope there will be many more posts in the future. Doc

Monday, August 11, 2014

Protocol for actors

There are some things an actor must do, and others he or she must never do.  These behaviors would fall under the topic of "Protocol" also known as the way one should behave.  Doing the wrong thing can get you on some one's black list and an actor never wants that to happen if he or she wants to keep working.

It is easy to make a mistake, so we need to pay attention to how things are done.  First of all, you must remember names, faces, and positions.  I confess that I once forgot the  name of the producer of a film I worked on.  Interestingly enough, I never worked for that company again.
As a beginning professional we have to watch out for other things that could get us in trouble. Directors chairs with names on the back that are placed on the set are for those people ONLY. Do not sit in them.  Ever.  If you want to get on the good side of the director or assistant director (equally important), make sure that you obey their suggestions without hesitation.  Being willing to do what is needed for the scene is of utmost importance.

Do not bother the stars or featured players unless they are between takes and relaxing.  If you interrupt them when they are in conversation with the director or another actor, you could be determined to be a nuisance and lose your job. 

Then there are the things you are supposed to do such as be on time for your calls. If it says five am for costume call. Be there at quarter to five.  Once your position in a scene has been set, do not change it between takes.  Always keep the same positions so the takes will match.  If you are on the star's right side in one take and on his left side in another, it will be impossible to use both takes since they don't match.  It is important that you always match your position and posture from take to take. Always keep acting until the director yells, "cut".  Your dialog may be over, but the director may want the other actors' reactions in the take as well.

Keep  your eyes and ears open and make sure you are doing the right thing at the right time. That is meeting your protocol as an actor.

Sunday, June 22, 2014

How to live abroad and work here.

This is a guest post by a leading actor's manager.

Melanie Kastner - The Career Strategist for Actors I Acting Expert
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How Actors CAN work and live abroad
On June 21, 2014
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After working and living in 3 different countries around the world, a lot of actors approach me and ask “how can I live and work abroad?”
My answer is always the same.
It depends. It depends on where do you want to go, how much of the world you want to see, and how long you want to stay?
Here’s how actors can work and live abroad:
Working Holiday: Go on Vacation and work it!
Who’s up for a “working vacation”? When I say working I don’t mean getting hired and paid. You can get into serious trouble working in another country without their permission.
When I say “working vacation” I mean going to another country and work it.
Why not meet up with agents and other industry professionals? You never know what could come out of it, especially if you are dancing with the idea of eventually moving their.
There is no harm in asking for advice and building yourself up to become great.
If you are in need of a quick fix, consider taking a master class or workshop during your next vacation.
A lot of reputable and internationally recognized professionals will run and teach workshops.
This may be just the right setting to expand your circle of friends in an intimate setting, feed your creativity, and have an unforgettable adventure.
Want to stay Longer stay:
If you’d desire to stay for a longer period of time perhaps look at enrolling or apply to an international acting program. There are so many great programs in the US, Canada, England, and Australia.
Just make sure you do your research to find a highly recognized acting program.
TIP: Make sure you give yourself plenty of time to apply to the program, audition, and go through the visa application process.
Road trip:
Audition and submit yourself for touring shows. A lot of tours travel through North America, Europe, and Asia.
Traveling shows can be anything from musicals, children shows, puppetry, movement, dance, cover bands, concerts, and so on.
I’d suggest looking for traveling shows of the past, then research the cast and investigate the casting companies or even agents. Then figure out how to submit yourself for an upcoming show.
Cruise ships:
All aboard! Cruise ships hire a lot of actors, dancers, and singers. Contracts vary and so do the routes.
What tickles your fancy? The Caribbean, the Mediterranean, Latin America, Australia, Hawaii, Scandinavia, or Alaska.
Contracts are only for a period of time and then can be home again or extend your contract. It’s up to you.
Just make sure you do your research on cruise lines, the routes, and ready employee reviews. Not all ships, directors, and cruise lines will have what you want. Do some homework.
Honey, I’m home!
If you are looking for a more permanent change then first start with an immigration lawyer. Often the first consultation is free but double check, different countries have different rules.
After a short encounter, I managed to inspire Noli Beke to live abroad. She is currently living in London.
An immigration lawyer will help you look at your visa options.
Don’t be afraid to shop around. The first lawyer you find might not be your first choice, plus not all lawyers are created equal.
Each country has different rules, regulations and requirements when it come to visas. Visas vary from country to country and paperwork as well as systems run differently. Don’t every expect it to be done fast and quickly.
Consider applying for work visas, visitor visas, artist visas, and student visas just to give you example.
Make sure you investigate what you need to do in order to fulfill the requirements.
The other thing that is important to realize is some visas must be renewed every year or every other year. If you want to be there for a long time just plan ahead for the next round of visa to save yourself the stress each year of being approved.
Apply for Citizenship
Were you, your parents, or grandparents born in another country? Look to see if you can apply for citizenship.
Sometimes there will be an age limit and/or a language requirement.
I would again advise you to contact a lawyer and see if you can apply. As a citizen there are often little or no restrictions but it can be a much longer process.
Also make sure you don’t have too many citizenship’s for the country you currently live in. Some countries only permit one unless under special permission while other countries have little restriction or limit the number of citizenship’s one person can possess.
Call to action
Tell me what country, or city is calling your name in the comments below.
I hope you are inspired now that you know how Actors Can work and live abroad.
Tempted? Then talk to an immigration lawyer.
If you are interested in the US, I personally recommend:
The Law Offices of Matthew S. Tadlock.
Office: 1 (281) 657-3319
Fax: 1 (281) 715-5014
If you dream of the UK, I hear great things about:
Rose Carey
Partner & Head of Immigration, London
Office: +44 (0)20 7427 6524
Fax:+44 (0)20 7427 6600
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Tuesday, May 27, 2014

Off to LA? God bless you.

No matter how much I reason with young, aspiring actors they insist they need to go to LA to become a film actor.  Somehow they can't seem to grasp the unique world that film acting really is and they think that all they  need to do is to show up and film makers will be clammoring to cast them in their latest blockbuster epics.

You wouldn't imagin  yourself just showing up at the local hospital and announcing that you are here and ready to perform the next brain surgery even though you do not have any experience or training in brain surgery. No, that would be really dumb. Well, to show up at a film producer's office and announce that you are there and ready to play the lead in his next film is just as dumb. Unless you are fully prepared.

To become a film actor you need three qualities above talent, looks, charm and desire.  You have to be prepared through training, you have to be known through experience, and you have to have something special to offer. There are good acting schools everywhere. Most large cities have them.  Many universities have good BFA Acting programs. These schools will give teh aspiring actor the training he or she needs. Acting schools also can lead you to theatre and film productions in which to take part.  These will give you the experience you need and if you are a skilled networker, they can give you the recognition you need. The really best reason to do to LA is that you have a contract to work there,  Finally, you have to be special.

IT is important that you have a voice quality, a look, or a deportment that is uniquely yours.  Examine the films of half a century ago.  The stars had easily recognizable voices, they carried themselves with a special posture and moved with a special walk.  If you are just another one of the crowd and not indistinguishable by a special quality of voice, look or deportment, it is most likely that  you will be lost in the crowd like most of the others.

You also need to arrive in LA with credentials.  A strong resume, an outstanding show reel, and your SAG/AFTRA card.  There are plenty of cities in which major films are made. IF you have what it takes you can get started there in small roles that will earn you union membership.  With these things in hand, you at least are no problem to be used in a film.

Everyone else in LA who wants to be a successful film actor probably has their union card.  And they have great talent as well.  You will be surprised when you attend an acting class in LA with the high level of talent there. But even  so, that talent will not necessarily succeed.

One thing will surely happen if you go to LA to become an actor.  You will quickly find out if you are lacking any of the necessary qualities to succeed at it.  I wish you well. I wish all the headstrong youngsters well. Nothing is so rewarding as to be a professinal actor. God bless your efforts, Doc

Saturday, April 26, 2014

The Very Latest Key to Success

All the aspiring actors are searching for it--the one thing that will put them over the top and into the winners' circle.  As our digital age speeds new information faster and faster to us, new ideas of what to do to prepare for success change and change rapidly.  This is the one I found yesterday in an interview between a talk show host and an actor's manager/agent.  It is not new, but it has a new twist.

I'm talking here about an actor's demo reel, that little compact disc of scenes that you submit for consideration for roles in upcoming films and series.  My attitude toward demo reels has changed greatly over the past year. I think we all know that one is needed by all serious actors--at least until they are household names.

Well, here's the new twist. Until lately, no one said much about a show reel except you need one and it needs to show you at your best as an actor. But now that everyone has a show reel, yours has to be special.  It has to be better than the others.  The same thing happened to head shots a couple of years ago.  It went from "you need a head shot that looks like you will look when you show up to audition," to "you need a dynamite head shot that will lift you over the crowd and demonstrate that you have that something special that all the others do not have. Now we are hearing the exact same thing about demo reels.  Yours has to be that dynamite show reel that catches and rivets the CD's attention and holds it over and above all the other submissions for the role.

So how to  you get such a show reel?   First of all, you find just he perfect material for you-- a couple of short monologues and perhaps a scene or two. Then you take this well prepared material performed from several points of view to a really good professional studio that specializes in making first-rate show reels and get their help in producing it on their sound stage with professional filming, lighting, sound recording and so on. This is so the final product will be outstanding.  There is no longer and room for the home made show reel shot in the actor's bed room with poor lighting, sound and camera quality. just as there is no room for a third rate head shot. 

A head shot and a show reel (or demo reel) as it may be called, are competing with those that other actors have spent hundreds and perhaps thousands of dollars for.  As the business gets more sophisticated technically, the cost of entering the business rises.  Today's aspiring actor had better earn and stash away several thousand dollars just to get his "fishing gear" (those things he or she must have to use to try to get auditions) together.  Sorry, it is a business and the salesmen with the best advertisements will get the call backs.

It used to be otherwise.  The world used to be a simpler place. But today's world is complex and expensive.  The first thing an aspiring actor needs in order to try to become an actor is a good sized nest egg to invest in his business. He still needs the talent, the charm the special personality to demonstrate in his show reel, but that show reel had better be dynamite, so don't get chintzy, get the best you can afford.

Tuesday, April 22, 2014

More About Success

Recently, one of my advisees career as an actor just took off.  He has currently been in three productions simultaneously and is continuing to get invitations to audition for other shows. He is a very fortunate fellow whose mother has worked as hard for his acting success as he has.  It often takes a family member to support and motivate one's career.  This is the email I received from her today:

11:33am Apr 21

"I love the networking. His co-star in 39 steps is a director, she is also starring in Roebling with him. Her boyfriend was the lead in Scarlet Pimpernel we all saw last Friday. He knows some of the cast of Julius Caesar and told his girlfriend of another director who is looking for someone like Andrew for another play he's casting (Don't know what yet) One of his co-stars in Moon over Buffalo knows and went to college with his friend from his teenage Shakespeare days. The dialect coach for S.P was one of his McCarter theatre teachers/directors. Oh and he found himself auditioning at J.C with his drama teacher from Mercer County college. Small world. I think you should talk about this topic with would be actors on your blog. Talent and education only work so far but networking- hey once someone likes you they want to share you with the whole acting world. He's very happy and I'm proud of him. He's getting a little bit less shy of talking to people."

The engine behind this actor's success is not just his mother, but what she is doing. She is working for his future success by making contacts with the people with whom he is working.  She is making sure that they will remember her son and be willing to contact him for future roles. And it is paying off. He is very busy and he is learning how to network himself which is what all aspiring actors need to be able to do.
Often the difference between getting cast and not getting cast is not your talent.  You can have all the talent in the world, but the director will be more comfortable working with someone with whom he is familiar.  Your ability to network properly is the biggest asset  you can have as an actor.  Work on it.
It is the Key to Success.

Friday, March 28, 2014

Hints for success

Aspiring actors are always eager to know what the secret is for becoming a successful actor. There is not just one thing  that an actor can be or do that will make him a success. There are lots of factors that individually or incombination with other factors that can make an actor a success in the profession.  These factors are not always what the aspiring actor assumes them to be.

One thing that aspring actos often believe is a factor to becoming a successful movie actor is to be in LA.  In fact, being in LA might be more of a hinderance to one's career than helpful for it.
Aspiring actors have no idea what the competition is like in LA. There are not just a few very talented actors there. There are thousands and thousands of them.  Acting classes in LA a filled with extrenely talented actors.  Some one who is new to LA has to be prepared to compete with them. Such preparation includes being equally talented and experience  as actors as the LA actors are. It means that the new to LA actor also has to be at least SAG/AFTRA eligible or better yet be a memeber.  Anothe thing the aspiring actor has to compete with is the  physical attributes of the LA actors.  LA actors are extraordinarily handsome, well built as well as extraordinarily talented.  If the aspirant looks like anybody you might meet on the street, they will get lost in the sea of attractive LA actors.  But there is one thing the aspirant can do to get noticed.

I have more and more become convinced that one key to success is to be unique in your physical appearance or in your voice, or in your abilities.  When we remember the great stars of all time, we remember that they had  unique qualities.  Bogart and Cagney, Widmark and Palance had special looks and special voices that we have heard imitated many times.  So did John Wayne and Bette Davis, Joan Caufield and Jimmy Stewart. The list goes on and on. A unique physical attribute or vocal timbre set these actors apart and helped to make them stars.  An actor aspiring to great success needs to develop such a unique quality in order to get noticed in LA.

Then, there is the matter of experience.  An aspiring actor cannot assume that being in a couple of college plays will qualify them for professional work.  It is important to created an impressive resume of the acting they have done to begin to match the experience of LA actors. I firmly believe that much of such experience should be on the stage.  Too many aspirants want to become film actors and ignore stage acting. They are making a big error. A professional actor is comfortable and equally effective on stage as before the camera.

Finally, there is training.  Too many actors ignore voice training.  A strong, flexible voice is a great asset.  Actors need to know the basics of acting in all media as well.  Film acting classes are sometime good sources of that information. Actors need to know how to audition, how to do cold readings, and how to navigate the profession. There are many schools that offer such training.

LA can be advantageous IF the actor is prepared. Some of the secrets of success are above. There are many more.  Be well prepared.  Make sure your preparation will help you in any circumstance.  Best wishes and God bless, Doc  

Sunday, February 23, 2014

Acting without Technique (almost)

Young people and others new to acting are often overly impressed with the magic that applying certain acting techniques are supposed to do for their performance.  It was strongly believed in the mid 20th Century that Method Acting was the approach that actors must use to be true artists.  Even today, there are new acting techniques being created by acting teachers.  I, myself, am guilty of doing that.
The problem with most techniques is that they force the aspiring actor to do a long period of exercises (perhaps for years---perhaps for the duration of one's career in acting) in order to prepare an actor to use the technique. Conversely, Tao acting simple asks the actor to just do it, without preparation,  without exercises, and without stressing over how to do it;
 Method Acting relies heavily on Stanislavsky's emotional recall (Affective Memory). The problem with using  emotional recall is that the actor has  to do the exercise of remembering before he or she can act the emotion. Tao acting says that if the actor is being the character in the scene and there are things that stimulate a reaction of sadness in the character, for example,  the actor will react with sadness.  Remember one cannot be sad.  The actor has to express sadness as a reaction, a physical response,  to what is going on in the scene. A famous acting teacher said, "Acting is being other people." Thus, instead of being a Method Actor searching his memory for the proper emotion, Tao acting says be the other person, concentrate on the scene, receive the stimuli and react. Just do that which you would do when motivated by that stimuli,  and you will be an effective actor.
The actor doesn't  worry about whether he or she  would do these things in your everyday life because that clutters your mind and interferes with receiving the stimuli and reacting without inhibitions. And that is what an actor needs to concentrate on: receiving the stimuli from the scene and responding to it emotionally and physically fully and without inhibitions. That creates an effective scene in which the actor is most vulnerable. It is difficult to do these things if you are worried about using some technique or other to do them.  But it is surprisingly easy to do them when you are relaxed and just go ahead and do them.
It is fun to openly express our emotions withing the confines of the scene. It is healthy and it is the best an actor can do.  Have fun and start "acting without acting," as Lao-Tse said the Tao requires..
 God bless, Doc