….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.
Who cares? You book it, or not, and you move on (with impeccable followup, of course).
When good actors go too long without booking, a very dangerous process can start to occur: The actor begins to think. And in these thoughts, the actor begins to diagnose. And with this diagnosis, the actor begins to remedy what they believe to be shitty acting, which is clearly shitty, demonstrably shitty, it’s shittiest shit you’ve ever seen, and impersonal to boot, not to mention glib, and unfunny, and unconnected, and fucking old, and and and and and and and…. Because if it were not so, they’d book the job – after all, they were perfect for it.
So let’s step out, rise up, and look at this situation from 5,000 feet instead of five inches.
You have your impression of the work you brought into an audition. Okay. But this may differ from the actual quality as might be determined by a person you trust – a teacher or whomever you rely on in that regard. It’s all pretty bloody subjective. All performers, however, are prone to think they sucked when in fact they did not, or that they killed it when perhaps they’ve had better days.
Oh, the perils of turning 30 in the pursuit of acting!
It’s been on my mind for a while, as I have taught long enough to have watched many young students to whom I had a strong connection close in on and cross the dreaded 30-year-old threshold. And that’s when it often starts to happen… The slow, inevitable, creeping bitterness… The career hasn’t moved as hoped. Some other classmate’s career has moved, and well, he/she isn’t nearly as talented as… No, no. Don’t have that thought! That is an unsupportive, mean-spirited thought to think, but damn it I factually am better than so-and-so and where is the justice?… Why did my teacher just suggest a scene where I play a young parent for chrissakes?…. The trips home are becoming more painful, the parental apprehension more palpable… My college friend just bought a five-bedroom house, and I still can’t afford to fix the brakes on my car…. The audition last week for that under-five corrupted my soul. That thing where I was up for the part that would have changed my life but then it ended up going to Fading Film Star was straw last. I can’t take it. My agent quit the business to become a goat shepherd in Wales one week after telling me this pilot season was gonna be mine mine mine…. Am I going to get to 40 and then quit the business, having screwed up my chance for 20 years’ career advancement in the business world?
Now, it’s not rocket science to observe the classic phenomenon of 20-something actors who hit Los Angeles (or wherever) full of vim and vigor and ready to take on the world, and then hit the wall. The wall of jadedness. The wall of cynicism. The wall of bitterness. Nor is it necessarily negative that the older someone gets while chasing a dream, the more there may be a certain urgency to it all. That urgency may be a very well-needed kick in the ass to get off the general pattern one might find that you can spend your 20s fucking off, but after that it starts to cost you. Urgency, good. Bitterness? Not so much.
…. consists mainly of the the ability to behave professionally and take action despite your bad attitude.
A long-time student let it rip a couple weeks ago with a personal monologue about how lazy he is. He sure is lazy. Milton used to say he didn’t believe in “laziness,” and that being lazy was just another means of saying “lack of confront.” My take is whether you call it “laziness” or “lack of confront,” the guy is spending a lot of time on his couch at home reading the Game of Thrones novels, and that shit needs to change.
It was a terrific performance for the most part, and at one point he said the following, which was one of the clearest statements I’ve heard regarding a monstrous attitude problem common to actors and their career administration:
“I’m both a victim and I have an ego. Which means I feel I can’t do what I need to do, nor should I have to.”
WOW. Now that’s pretty damned brilliant. It’s also totally sick, but when you’re looking at a monster and how to defeat it, it’s handy to be able to describe it precisely. I share this because the Victim/Ego Monster exists to some degree in all of us, yet I had never heard it described so starkly. Beware.
Milton would often quote (or more likely paraphrase) Gurdjieff in saying “The first job of the teacher is to wake up the student, and the first job of the student is to realize they are asleep.” I’ve been thinking about this during this summer. I’m sure most teachers experience to some degree the summer doldrums that occur between July 4 and Labor Day: attendance down, production down, energy down – that palpable sense of dispersion amongst the students. It takes a certain child-like imagination to persist as an artist, and I think that young part of us just wants the summer off to play.
And listen, I don’t begrudge some travel, and summer is a good time to do it – getting out of Los Angeles every so often is definitely a good thing to do. But there is travel as reward for hard work done, and then there is just being asleep for 10 weeks or more, like some weird summer hibernation.
This week I cancelled a class for the first time in my 10 years’ teaching at the BHP, because the level of scene production has been kind of sucking, and even when I threatened them last week with cancelling a class session, it didn’t change, so I was forced to be true to my word. I hated my Wednesday night off, hated it. (I hated it even more when I saw on Facebook someone trying to get students to watch “So You Think You Can Dance” in the gap where class was supposed to be.)
Got a text the other night from a friend of mine the other night. He had seen a one-act festival that the BHP had produced: “Saw one-acts this weekend. Yep. I want my money back… Hope life is great.”
Oh, my. What possesses someone to send a communication like this? I mean – it was 9:30pm on a Tuesday, and he picked up his damned phone and wrote that thing. Pressed “send” and all. Now, this is not about defense of the BHP or of a one-act festival. I actually had nothing to do with the festival night he saw, so this isn’t a personal beef. And even if it was, people are free to have their opinion, they’re free to broadcast it however they choose. No law in the arena, and all that. But it made me think of this idea of using “honesty” as a cover for being a dick.
I think somewhere in this guy’s mind is the idea that his “honesty” about his opinion becomes some sort of hard-boiled tough love, and he’s holding up some sacred standard of work in his mind and anything that doesn’t meet it deserves to be criticized. The reverse vector kicks in: If I don’t tell them what I really think I’m being dishonest.
One of the most frequent complaints about the study of acting, across all schools and all approaches, concerns the issue of scene partners. Fill in the following sentences:
“My damned scene partner just _________________!”
There is an infinity of options to fill in that blank, right? Right. So having heard just about all I would ever not want to hear concerning scene partners, I thought I might offer some ideas on what I would love to hear about in a scene partner:
The Professional Scene Partner….
- Has decisively agreed to participate in the scene. Don’t do scenes without a sense of passion or real interest. Doesn’t mean you have to like your partner – that’s a bonus. Much of your career may be spent working with people you may not like personally. What it does mean is you have a sense of purpose about the scene and ability to work together toward the common goal of killing the sucker.
Spoke last night with a student who had finished an audition exercise. He sat down and said, with a vaguely pissed off tone, “Yeah, went in for this last week. From The Forgotten. Pretty much did what I did here. Didn’t book it. So.” Now, the fact of the matter was his reading was very good – I can’t tell you why he didn’t book it – I don’t think such ruminations are useful at all. I suspect he read better for me last night than he did in the audition, but it’s not as if I can prove it.
What I did think would be useful was for this actor to realize he’s one of the top guys at our school. In the city. Funny as shit, angry as hell, can play blue collar, white collar, father, priest, crook, anything… He has created one of the funniest characters I’ve seen for a one-person show – so let’s add in “writer” to the actor part. He also happens to be a fantastic carpenter. Earlier in the year, when I directed The Real Thing, the BHP’s now ex-set designer showed up with my set a whopping 45 minutes before our first curtain, sticky from new paint, and looking like total crap. I called this actor, and over three days the following week, he worked nonstop to rebuild my set from scratch to make it look the way I wanted. Have I mentioned he’s a drummer as well? Yeah. So he’s a certified hyphenate.