I’ve emphasized in plenty of entries here how important I think it is that actors follow up on all professional interactions. Auditions, callbacks, meetings, on-set work… Fact is, once an actor knows how to act, the business they’re really in is the name-collecting and followup business. In A Universal Career Jumpstart, I put down three lists I think every actor should draw up and add to on an ongoing basis. Setting to the side any and all internal work the actor might do to keep themselves moderately sane, and all the forward-gazing goals, mantras, and conceptualizing, if an actor can do these two things – act well and follow up – those two skills alone, pursued with discipline over time, will beget more acting work.

So. What to say to these people? Not for me to dictate, as clearly it’s too context-dependent. BUT, I can say this: Communicate on a peer-to-peer basis. By this I mean that too much of the correspondence I have occasionally been able to review comes from a lowly, I’m-just-aspring, you-are-a-god-and-I’m-out-of-work, look-how-clever-I’m-being-to-get-your-attention place. That stuff reeks of insecurity and low esteem. Don’t do it.

Don’t be clever. Don’t be cute. Don’t trick them or play stupid games. Don’t speak from an I’m-less-than-you viewpoint. Speak to them as fellow story-telling professionals. You’re a story-telling professional, looking to work with other story-telling professionals. That’s it. That doesn’t mean you write Scorsese and say, “Marty! You’re a pro! I’m a pro! Let’s make movies, baby!” You can have high regard for someone, you can express admiration for their work, you can be respectful, and do so without coming off a self-invalidating and/or presumptuous schmuck in the process.

This is partly why I advise actors to get some nice cards made up, with simply their name and contact information. No photos. No schmaltz. No bells or whistles. Just a card embossed with their name, and matching envelopes. I can already hear you: Oh my god but what if they don’t know me or what I look like?!?!?!?! Isn’t it important that my PICTURE be there?!?! Maybe more than one photo? Like, maybe six photos with different looks? Different castings that I could fulfill?  Now, it’s just a point of view, don’t kill me, but you might notice where these questions come from: A place of I’m-unknown-and-unknowable, etc. My view is that there’s this crazy thing called the internet, and if you have your admin in any shape at all, if they type your name in, a photo or two or six might come up. So relax. And while you’re at it, perhaps you use Google and its showbiz-specific brethren to find a thing or two out about the person you’re writing to, beyond what you think you know. The panicked desperation about whether your photo is attached and what photo to use smells to me as if you’re looking for a job off this one note. Don’t look for job off of one note. Look to create a relationship. Enough of those, and jobs will come. Really.

Peer-to-peer. Professional. Sincere. Respectful. Act well, collect names, and communicate, at a rate of 200+ a month. You don’t have 200 industry contacts? I bet you have more than you think. And if you really don’t, get some. As Jerry Goldsmith said to his film composing class I once observed, “Go fucking know someone.” Repeat for five years. Talk to me then about how the career has moved.

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An actor is a prism. The writing is the light.

Each writer, being utterly unique, will create a different variation of light.

Each actor, being utterly unique, will refract light in his or her own distinct way, before even thinking of making a choice about the matter.

A director’s job is to look at the light, figure out which prism does the best job refracting that particular light, and manipulate a bunch of prisms during rehearsal or shooting so in combination they create a light show… like that. No… Like THAT.

So one thing you can do is ensure you, the prism, are clear, not cracked, not sharp to hold, that you’re easy to move this way and that, and that the light shines through you in a nice vivid way. Meaning: say the damned lines correctly and in order, and of course imbue them with reality and emotions appropriate to the situation of the story and the tone of the script, and style of the writer. Once you do that, the nature of your instrument – including age, voice, look, body, ethnicity, etc – will either contribute to your being right for the part or not. So the part of that equation you really control is the “imbue them with the reality and emotions appropriate to the story point and tone of the script and style of the writer.”

Now: Picture the prism with a brain. And the brain generates all these damned thoughts about light, about what the prism should do with light, it argues about the color of the light, it offers up a bunch of doubt about whether the prism should be a prism, it wonders if it should refract light at all, and it’s decided it will give it another six months of refracting light before going to grad school to become coal. Perhaps the prism comes to the grand light show of The Biz with occlusions and cracks, and just as soon as the prism repairman has got it shiny and new, the prism, of its own accord, jumps into acid during a party at a friend’s house, falls down on the asphalt, drags its ass home, only to wake up a few hours later looking at a hammer they picked up at the party next to them in bed. Then they complain about how their agent sucks. Yeah, that’s why you’re not getting some light to refract.

Obviously each actor should be able freely to pass light through the prism – anger, humor, irony, love, exasperation, overall dynamic range…. etc. Occlusions present themselves as an inability to present vividly some of that light. The light gets stuck in the prism. Will the proper thought get it out? Perhaps, but I am known for being highly dubious that there is a blessed correct thought the actor may think that will really change much about their acting. Sometimes the answer is simply to stop thinking about it. And since thoughts are unknowable outside your head anyway, the entire black hole comprised  of discussions about thinking the right thought have very little value to me. Picture a prism in your hand, and you’re moving it it this way and that, you’re checking out the light on the wall. If that hunk of glass is thinking something while you do that…  it’s pretty damned unimportant.

But certainly you are a form of prism – your body, voice, appearance and emotional register are the unique glass through which the lines shall pass. This hunk of glass is going to do something to the writing, and we hope it’s something swell, but we all know the combination of light and prism has a lot of permutations, subjectively analyzed by the director and whoever else is casting. So you can take it easy on the analysis of both your innards and how you can change refraction a little bit this way or that. The hunk of glass is a hunk of glass and if it’s clear and communicative and channels light cleanly it will definitely be of use to someone in the casting arena. The longterm effort is often to remain clear and communicative even when it seems not one person in this business thinks you’re the prism for the job at hand. Be easy for a director to pick up and move here and there.

For most commercially-tilted film and network television, I’d say the prism should shut the hell up and be a prism. The writers have created light – it has a quality, a color, a certain style to it. When it runs through a certain kind of prism, the effect is exactly what they want and what advertisers will pay to make commercials for. There simply isn’t much the prism is going to contribute to that equation by manipulating its innards in some effort to do a double-special super-personal omni-sexual refract that will just blow these producers away. It’s pretty much the light, the prism, and that’s that. I’m not seeing very much ‘character’ work on network television – the people you see in those roles are pretty much exactly as they appear when they are a guest on Letterman. The most productive work your brain can do here is to ensure you’re one of the prisms that gets called in on a regular basis, so you get a chance to refract a lot of different light for a lot of different people.

The frustrating part of being a prism with a brain is that by having a brain you’re constantly pulled in the direction of using said brain to monitor refraction, modify refraction, doubt refraction, and it’s possible you have now forgotten you already have all sorts of qualities that are going to refract light if you’d simply let yourself do it. Actors tend constantly to monitor refraction and change it, occluding it entirely sometimes, rather than ensuring the prism is in good state and being seen by a lot of people. Milton would sometimes say, “Acting is actually easy, the difficulty is in seeing how easy it can be.”

Are there circumstances where prisms need to think about light? Of course. The point I’m making with this metaphor is that I believe your average prism is thinking too much about how to refract, and often to no useful effect whatsoever. If you have on your hands a delicious bit of theatre writing, or its television cousin known as the badass cable series, or a terrific independent movie, where the stories, characters, and scripts are far more audacious – here the work can certainly benefit from a sharp intellect and bolder character work, so you can decide to cancel out all “red” from the light and man, do you suddenly pop in the role.

There are some special prisms out there for sure – Streep, Day-Lewis, Depp, Oldman, and umpteen others who can seemingly refract light in an entirely different way for each role. And as a teacher you every so often come across some of those special hunks of glass, and one does your level best to develop that talent as fully as possible. But looking at the entire spectrum of light being created for all content across the acting universe, there’s a lot of work to be had by a simple, clear, healthy, vibrant prism. You don’t need Vladimir Horowitz to play chopsticks.

Then there’s this one:  you might have on your hands a prism with a particular occlusion that’s perfect for a certain light, and if that light is really popular, you can have an occluded prism that is in some friggin’ demand. That can be pretty infuriating if you’re the really special kind, to see that occluded prism booking jobs right and left while you sit alone and splash gorgeous light across your one-bedroom in the Valley.

Tricky thing, this calibration of light and prism. The point here is to try to get actors to separate the light, the prism, the people who are picking prisms for various reasons, and try to focus their attention on what will be useful for them over the long haul.

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Here’s a question I think actors should ask themselves more often:

What is required of me by this story?

Asking this question can lead to a much faster understanding of “what to play” than will hours of mental gymnastics regarding “what is my internal truth regarding the character/situation”? I’m not trying to knock that traditional question, but I find there to be a major pitfall with singular “what is my personal truth?” analysis:

Sometimes your own truth about a given situation is simply not appropriate to the story before you. Take your standard relationship fight: You might have a personal truth about this that leads you to play contempt and anger and vitriol – after all, it’s what happened to you in a similar situation in your life. Last month you had a breakup and it was nasty. Or it’s what you observed in your parents’ marriage. Problem: The scene is from Barefoot in the Park, if you play it with contempt and bile, the scene dies a horrible death –  there’s no fun in it, there’s no comedy. But on the other hand, if the scene before you is Revolutionary Road, then all that contempt is exactly what it needed. If you’re funny with Revolutionary Road  then we’re in as much trouble as we are when you are contemptuous with Barefoot in the Park. And yet both stories deal with a marriage in trouble.

This goes to the item on Milton’s famed checklist: Who’s the Author? When he and I rewrote his book Acting Class in 2008, we spent a week contemplating whether to put Who’s the Author? first on the checklist, because the writer’s sensibility is so important to understanding the Event (“What’s going on?”), which had always been #1. In the end, we decide to leave Event as #1, but the fact remains: the Event is informed hugely by who is writing about it. 

So in addition to asking yourself, “Here’s this marital fight. What do I know about marital fights? What fights have I had with lovers? What is my truth about this?”… ask this: “What does Barefoot in the Park require of me?” Because I think immediately you would go to answers like, “Well, it’s a comedy. Okay – I know that comedies generally require highly evaluated points of view in conflict with each other. Simon has a line in here – ‘What are you so angry about, Paul?’ I guess Paul should clearly be angry before that. And then his line, ‘We’re just yelling a bit’ – I guess we’d better be yelling to earn that line. And here Simon writes, ‘you belong in a nursery school’  - so Corie needs to reveal the emotional life of a four-year-old… At the end of the scene Corie says she’s going to have the biggest cry of her whole life – so I’d better be building through the scene to that over-the-top fit of emotion.” And those are the answers you need. Your personal truth is frankly much less important than servicing the script in front of you, and its very specific needs.

None of this means you’re suddenly going to act in a phony, artificial manner. It’s still required that you investigate honestly and believably the premise of the play, but you must do so in the correct style. What I’m saying is that if we accept that there is your truth about a situation and how it goes, there is also an equal (or greater) truth:  how to pull off this particular script. I offer humbly that the latter is of equal (or more) importance. And it may save you a lot of needless roaming around your own psychology and its myriad traumas. Not that actors would ever do that. Hah!

For those who have sat on the other side of the casting table from the actor, I’m sure we all have those moments of quiet joy when an actor comes in and “gets it.” For myself, I rarely am concerned about whether the acting is good or not good – bad acting will never win you a job. But amongst the good actors, the ones who get called back are the ones whose choices were not only honestly portrayed, but right for this story.

 

 

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Lights up on…. An agent showcase. Over the next hour or so, fifteen scenes will be performed, about 3 minutes each. Almost all will be glib comedies with glib acting, no one giving a shit about anything other than whether this so-called ‘work’ will please… them. THEY. The all-powerful THEY, who will assess your talent, your look, and then hopefully represent you and get you auditions. 

Recently a scene was performed in class. It was a two-and-a-half-minute rather glib comedically-tilted fight between a young couple at a party – an awkward compliment he had previously paid her anatomy was received poorly, she was still stewing on it, and that was the premise. Banter was exchanged, actress walks off in a huff, actor follows, exasperated, and…… scene.

Turns out one of the actors had written the scene, because they were performing in an agent showcase a couple nights later, and they couldn’t find something that would suffice for the three-minute limit. In addition, the omniscient, all-mighty THEY  say it’s good to do comedy in these workshops. It’s what THEY want to see.

How does this situation make me vomit? Let me count the ways:

By trying to reduce your talent to a workshop-digestible three-minute piece of junk food, I believe you are sacrificing integrity vital to your survival. If someone asked me to play piano for three minutes, or teach for three minutes,  or write something in three minutes….  It’s just awful. Fuck off. That’s my answer. You want me to prove my talent to you in three minutes? “Fuck you. There. How long did that take?” I think it might be handy for the actor to know that this would be a very nice start point for all issues related to “prove to me you are talented in three minutes.” (I’m not being literal. Don’t tell potential agents to fuck off. I’m just trying to instill a viewpoint.) The only form of art where I think this three-minute thing works is singing – because three minutes is just about the average length of a song, and so you truly are showing off your talent in the manner and form that will occur if you make it big. But great acting doesn’t happen in 3 minute chunks – you may get costars and 5-and-unders to start your career, but this is rarely an actual demonstration of your talent.

Now, I get it: People want to work. Actors want to impress Mr./Ms. Casting Person and Mr./Ms. Agent, they have paid $___ to attend this workshop/showcase, and in so doing they have agreed to submit to certain processes, which may include a three-minute time limit on your work. I get it. But I’m sorry, you have never agreed to prostitute yourself during the three minutes. (Paid showcases and workshops have detractors in those who say it’s automatic prostitution for the actor. But they are an admin tool, and we can’t pretend that many don’t take advantage of the opportunity, and some do well with them.)

So when they say the three minutes is up to you, you get to choose what you perform… Well. Fucking kill it. Don’t bring in a piece of cheese you think the omniscient, all-mighty THEY will like. Bring in three minutes of the best work you can possibly bring. Maybe it’s funny. Maybe it isn’t. One of the actors in the scene I saw has 10 scenes to his credit over the last 18 months that blew people out of the water. I told him he should do one of those pieces, a stunning piece of character work about a guy with a mental disability, and dare them to cut him off. If they cut him off dismissively at 3 minutes, then he knows they are NOT the person to represent him. The person he wants to represent him ideally will be moved by his work, as we all were, and would never cut him off.

Bottom line: this is about your integrity. The business has all sorts of necessary constructs that force the actor – in showcases, workshops, auditions – to cram their talent into a small room, little time, standing on a spot, looking at a camera, looking at a bored evaluator, working with strangers, working on material that isn’t so great, etc. This is all part of the journey, and a professional actor learns to bring their talent to whatever party has been set up for them. Often you don’t have much choice in the matter.

But sometimes you do have the choice. And when you have the choice, usually via a monologue or scene that you select to present in any of these settings, or in your demo reel, go for the best you’ve got in you. Even if it doesn’t work out, you go home knowing you put your best out there. Don’t bring a piece of cheese just because THEY say that particular cheese is what another THEY want to see. No matter what THEY say about what THEY want, I think what is wanted is talent.

We all go into dark theaters dozens of times a year, each time hoping we will not be betrayed, and that will be moved, dazzled, entertained by what occurs. We keep going, again and again, even though we’ve been burned far more often than not. Such is the power of the desire to be transported. I don’t care how cynical we can become about the business, about agents and casting directors – I believe they all want talent. (See the documentary Casting By…) They want someone to blow them away. So blow them away with the best you’ve got. Do not lower your level of ability to serve up material you think they want to see, which for some reason ends up being a lot of glib sketch comedy. Serve up some passion, some humor, some depth – whatever it is, but serve up your best.

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A student of mine sent this to me – comedian Patton Oswalt’s keynote at last year’s Just For Laughs Comedy Festival. It is awesome. Watch it. Live it.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=5MSmoWKFz5A

 

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My wife recently had coffee with a very successful entrepreneur, and he told her he wakes up every morning “wanting to hear ‘no’ at least ten times by the time I go to sleep.” This took her by surprise, so she followed up, and he expanded: “For me to hear a ‘no’ from someone, it means I had to have an idea or proposal or something, get it in front of someone else for them to evaluate it, and then they thought about it, even if for a second. That represents a lot of good work done. And it’s just ‘no’ for now. Maybe it’s ‘yes’ later on. Eventually, from someone, I’m gonna hear ‘yes,’ but it’s the same work done either way. The main thing is to do the work, that’s what lets me sleep.”

Soon thereafter I met with yet again another of the fifteen bazillion actors I know who display immense talent and who do pretty much nothing about running the business of getting that talent out there. So I drew a far messier version of this diagram:

TonofNo

Over on the left-hand side is “Not Much Going On.” I think many actors may enjoy sitting there in “Not Much Going On,” because, while they know they’re completely slacking, there is this very hopeful future out there that will no doubt make itself apparent. At some point. When they choose to start working. But not now. No. Too soon. After all, they have to “get their shit together” first. And then, dude: look out!

Moving rightward, tailored for the subject of my meeting, but no doubt universally applicable, are these targets:

1. Video games removed from all devices.
2. Stop smoking pot.
3. Reduce number of loser friends.
4. Admin is actually a functioning part of your day.

And after those targets are met, and you hustle up for a while, you hit a wall. The Wall of No. That’s a great place to be, hearing ‘no’ all day long. Because that means you’re out there, you’re being evaluated, you’re getting auditions, there’s some action, etc. And yet  hearing ‘no’ sucks to an actor, who, like all performing artists, are sensitive creatures seeking validation. I’ve known many to hit the The Wall of No and they take off. They quit. Too much “No”! Too depressing. And yet to my thinking, that’s exactly where you want to be, because at some point it will be a “Yes,” and you build on that. Each of those “No’s” represents someone you met, other people who are associated with that project, a whole list of names to contact a few times a year (See previous post A Universal Career Sortout). You just have to learn to ignore the ouch of hearing “no” and stop taking it personally. Not easy – but that’s what you have to do. And if you can survive the Wall Of No, you’ll find more regular work coming your way.

Frankly, I wish the problem was that of too many actors quitting at the Wall of No. The biggest problem I see is that too many are sitting idly at “Not Much Going On,” smoking pot, playing Angry Birds, and hanging out with other people who think this is productive behavior that will eventually get them a career. Because, you know – they’re gonna get that agent who will make it happen. Uh huh. As Milton used to say, with some amusing accent, “Fantasyland!”

So get moving. Work your ass off in a class, remove the video games, the smoking pot, the loser friends (or insert here your own particular form of slacking). Make admin a functioning part of your day, and drive headlong into the Wall of No.

 

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My rapidly advancing age has perhaps made me downright persnickety, but for some reason my ear has become more sensitive to the increasing lack of discipline with, you know, uh, saying the words of the script, uh, and, like, only the words of the script. Right? Huh? Character name? 

This is a bad habit, and particularly so with theatre scripts, which tend towards greater density of words and potential power of expression, all of which get fucked up by what my purist classical music-listening ears pick up as an increasing cacophony of contemporary verbal pollution. One hopes the writer has done a good job arranging just the right words in just the right order to bring a circumstance to life in an interesting, enlightening way. (Read Stoppard on the art of writing in Act II, Scene 1 of The Real Thing – brilliance I shall not try to emulate here.)  If he or she has failed, let them fail without your additions to the equation. Then the teacher can make a clean call on it, by advising you work on better writing or somehow helping it along in some way that will benefit your training via the scene in question.

(There are related topics here – the translation used for foreign language scripts, different adaptations, different edits, combining film scenes to create a better stage scene for class purposes, the free-fire zone of rehearsals that allow exploration through improvisation, paraphrasing, etc. I’m not talking about all that. This post is really targeting the moment of performance, and the concept of largely reflexive, often unconscious verbal pollution.)

So, cutting to the chase, stop with the following:

1. Adding “…. right?” to the ends of sentences.

2. Adding “…..huh?” as an intensifier to the ends of questions.

3. Adding “like… / uh… / um… ” in the middle of sentences.

4. Saying a character name more often than is indicated in the script.

5. Adding “fuck / shit,” etc, where they are not so indicated.

6. Relying too much on the “I”m so fucking real right now I don’t know what I’m going to say and so the line will kind of emerge from me in this brutally honest, way – like I don’t know the line.” This kind of reflexively “authentic” line reading, which is based on a good idea… I mean, one of the basic questions of acting is how do I make the line appear out of nowhere, as if from spontaneous response to the situation, even though everyone involved knows exactly what everyone is going to say and do? How does an actor “not-know” the script that has been so well rehearsed? Acting 101 stuff there, but I would offer that while this is an excellent question, eternally so, the answer is NOT:

“… To be…. uh…. Or…. Uh…. Not to be, right? Huh? [Actor pauses as if to find the next words.....] Whether ’tis nobler… in the fucking mind…” 

Shakespeare gets so much reverence and fear from actors, that one wouldn’t dare mess with his writing this way. But I do often wish that contemporary writers were treated similarly.

When the writing is good, it will benefit from clear, expressive, unornamented delivery by the actor, who by their natural or hard-won talent will bring to life the reality and emotions of the situation, and in the proper style.  If the writing is not good, why the fuck, uh, are you… uh… like… fucking working on it, right? Huh? Actor? Pick better stuff!

I will now desist, and go out to yell at the kids on the street that that crazy rock ‘n roll music will ruin their morals.

 

 

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From the Department of Context, a sketch of the lifecycle of a project. In boldface, the items over which actors have control:

1. Writer fills a page. And then another…

2. Project reaches casting phase.

3. Writer / Producer / Director / Casting solicits talent.

a. Names
b. Agency submissions
c. Those with good personal/professional relationships.

4. Auditions – factors in casting:

a. says lines correctly / fluidly
b. imbues the lines with the reality required by the character and story.
c. nails the tone of the script, and style of the writer.
d. apparent age
e. ethnicity
f. weight
g. quality of voice
h. body type
i. overall ‘look’
j. height
k. overall ‘quality’ appropriate for the role
l. general vibe of your personality – easy to work with
m.  factors d-l in complement to other actors who may be cast

5. Production / Shooting (professionalism on display, we hope)

6. Post-Production

7. Release

8. Followup.

So using the BHP’s approach to Acting, Attitude and Administration…. Acting comes in at 4a – 4c. Scene work in class exists primarily to get you ready to kill in that moment, but overall class environment and emphasis can certainly help understanding and encourage activity up and down this list, and usually contributes to the all important…. Administration – hugely important at 3c and 8. Attitude: 4l and 5. Weight and quality of voice, which may well be crucial factors in casting, are certainly within your control, but only in a long-term sense – it’s a bit of a challenge to change either on short notice.

And one can always be the writer/producer/director yourself, in which case you have much more control over the entire lifecycle, and can hopefully reward yourself accordingly in terms of parts to act.

The point? Just trying to look at the life of an actor from 10,000 feet, whereas many actors may go underwater here and there with frustration and how to make this damned thing happen.

Posted in Administration | 2 Comments

Had an interesting chat with an actor in class the other week, who was questioning whether my taste and his taste were compatible for further training. At issue was the topic of “naturalism,” for which my from-the-hip definition would be, “that style of acting where the unadorned presence of the actor, delivering the lines of the script in a ‘real’ way, is all that is required to tell the story.”

I perhaps too often decry naturalism, not because it isn’t useful or in demand, but because it’s boring. I find the acting in most network television to be boring, and the style these days is marked by excessive naturalism. That being said, I’ve written plenty about how actors need to know what project they’re reading for, and if the show is marked by a naturalistic style, they’d better serve it up and give themselves a real shot for a paycheck.

Prior to our conversation, I’d seen this actor do a scene from Guirgis’ “Motherfucker with the Hat” and Mamet’s recent play, “Race.” I don’t believe either of those writers deals in naturalism as a style, and in both, I felt this actor’s naturalistic tendency was inhibiting the full expression of the writing.  So I redirected both scenes as part of the critique, complete with line-readings, because I’m that guy – the jerk who’ll give line-readings from here to Timbuktu if that’s what it takes. The actor was not pleased – hence our conversation.

He felt “naturalism” was more closely related to “honesty.” To be natural was to be honest, to be real, and that was the start point of all good acting. So he hears “natural” and thinks “honest,” and I say “natural” and mean “boring.” So…. You can see why he’s wondering whether to continue!

I enjoy conversations like this, actually, because I figure there are others who think just as this guy does, but he happened to be forthright enough to come and speak to me about it. So to be clear:  We both want the work to be honest, to represent real people in real situations, so the audience believes what is happening in the story. To me that’s a good expression of the ultimate simplicity of acting’s purpose: “To make the audience believe the story.” That is a very agreeable startpoint for me in judging acting – do I believe what’s going on here? And yeah, simple naturalistic acting, if that’s what the writing and the story require, is often good enough to make me believe. Job done.

I just happen also to think we go to the movies and to the theatre for something a touch beyond that which we see every day at Starbucks. And it’s not just the stories that will take us there, but some vivid acting – this is particularly true in theatre, which as a form is auditory, versus tv/film, which is a visual medium. So in theatre I believe we really have to hear the play, and each has its own music, its own rhythm. Playwrights are often much freer to express themselves at length, and in order to bring the music to life, something beyond simple reality is necessary. And, further, I believe that actors who can use good writing to expand their expression will be better suited and more valuable even to those naturalistic styles and shows, because every so often you need a little ka-pow, and a little rhythm, and some more expressive style….

So in class when I decry ‘naturalism,’ it’s only that for most advanced level actors, to sit there and be ‘real’ is not so much a chore, and I don’t want to be the guy who collects tuition to validate what they can already do. I think a class should also serve to expand those boundaries, and encourage actors to look at writing that allows, even demands, that expansion. For actors starting out, getting them to be natural on stage, and able to bring to life a simple conversation without artifice – this is very important. So this essay is somewhat directed toward the more advanced actor in class. For many of these actors, the job of getting work on a naturalistic network show is more a matter of administrative discipline and getting out there than it is one of acting ability. Terrific careers can happen on the usage of 30% of your talent, but I think actors need to be in the gym, working out 100% of the talent in order for even that 30% to shine the way they want.

 

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….that you’re a jerk.

….that you did something horrible.

….that your audition sucked.

….that your relationship is on the rocks.

….that you’re a substance abuser.

….that you’re no good as an actor.

….that you hopped into bed with so-and-so.

et cetera ad infinitum ad nauseum.

Save yourself a bunch of physical and psychic head trauma by ignoring all ‘somebody said that somebody said’ information. It’s not information. It’s likely not true, or at best only partially true. And on the rare occasions that somebody said that somebody said something positive, that’s probably not entirely true either. But let’s face it, the somebodies who theoretically said whatever they said to somebody who said it to you are rarely saying something positive. Right? It definitely seems that just about all somebody-said-that-somebody-said information is negative. When you try to verify this information, it’s like trying to pull on wet tissue paper and it’s a fucking mess and you end up with probably zero real information, a lot of contradictory information,  and a shit-ton of wet tissue paper all over you. And chances are good you don’t even feel any better for all this mess, and in fact you probably feel a good deal worse.

We learned this back on the schoolyard with that dumb game where you start by whispering “I have a sandwich,” and by the end of the line of grade-schoolers it’s become “The moon is made of dog crap.” And yet in what can be a very gossipy business, full of intrigue and rumor, we sentient mature adults, aspiring to the highest levels of professionalism and artistic achievement, compulsively indulge the habit for somebody said that somebody said. 

Ignore it. Sigh deeply and express boredom. Move on with your life. It may well be that somebody said that somebody said something that you need eventually to handle, but the fact is you don’t really have “actionable intelligence” until you observe and hear directly with your own eyes and ears. If you think the somebody-said-that-somebody-said information is important to rebut or handle in some way, go to the supposed source directly. But you’d better not be bloody accusatory and uppity about it, because I can pretty much guarantee that this supposed source didn’t say what somebody said they said, or at least not in the way it was reported, or probably with some entirely different context, and you’re gonna have egg on your face by being uppity and righteous before you get the scoop. So if you insist on investigating somebody-said-that-somebody-said, do so cautiously.

But my advice, 90% of the time: IGNORE IT AND MOVE ON.

******

PS: In a discussion with someone about the above, they brought up an important and particularly lethal variant: Somebody Heard That Somebody Said. How many times has something like this hit you: “Yeah, I heard so-and-so thinks you’re this-and-that.” Clearly this falls within the broader topic of somebody-said-that-somebody said, but has that awesome dissociative ‘heard’ word. I heard that someone said something. And immediately, this places you in this position: “Somebody said they heard that somebody said.” Impossible to trace. Try chasing that one down! It’ll go like this:

You: From whom did you hear that?
The Other: I don’t know. At the party this weekend. Someone said they heard you were yada-yada.

Did you see that? With a single question, you’re now here: “Someone said that someone said they heard that someone said.”

You can see how completely screwed you are. So again: IGNORE IT AND MOVE ON.

 

 

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