Saturday, October 29, 2011

"Self-Defense" Acting

an actor, during his or her career will more often-than-not deal with a bad director. Whether it be total incompetence, lack of vision, or... whatever; many times an actor can be literally left out to dry by bad, or inept direction. Of course, bad directors usually don't know they're bad...there lies the paradox.

Ironically, it is the better directors who are the ones that seem more inclined to not only be open to allow their actors' process and ideas to express themselves, but they also possess the quiet confidence to be available to consider the possibility that they may not have all the answers (or, that there may be answers that are more clearly defined, or perhaps...just better ones). All this openness they possess allows for building a solid ensemble and wonderful collaboration, while staying true to their clear, thought-out concept or vision. They never lose their ability to set aside ego, always keeping the vision in mind - allowing the journey and discovery process to bear its often unexpected fruit. We should be lucky enough to have the opportunity to work with such directors at least once, during our careers.

There are also other directors who know what they want, see it clearly, and the vision/concept is brilliant... almost savant-like. However, their skill in communicating that vision may be their short-coming. A smart actor should be able to pick out these types as well. These types of directors are also rare....but they are out there.

With the benefit of experience, an actor should begin to develop the skill of identifying what type of director with whom they happen to be working.

In addition, a smart, experienced actor should develop the skills for not only protecting oneself from the bad director, but you should also be able to remain open for when the good direction is presented to you (a broken clock is, after all, right twice a day!); even if it means taking their "bad" direction and translating into something  "good" or "actable" for yourself.
Quite often this disconnect can be a mere conflict in communication, as stated before.
Said another way, some people express themselves differently; their vision and/or concept may be fantastic; they are just unable to express it clearly.

Lastly, there are those directors that can be so incompetent, so "bad," that it challenges the actor to seriously question, "Why am I doing this show?"

That can be a very valid question.

If you are at this point, you must consider it very carefully....very carefully.
A good director learns how to communicate with their actors - each one, individually.
A bad one - well, doesn't.

"So what do I do when I am working with a bad director?"
Good question! glad you asked.

The 1st thing you DON'T want to do is presume you have a bad director just because you disagree with him or her! We as actors must ALWAYS be open to the possibility that the issue may lay within us. Perhaps we're uncomfortable with the material? or the circumstance of a particular scene? Maybe it all hits too close to home? 
Who knows?

It is a mistake to leap to the presumption that there is a problem with the director.

How do we know?
Well, here are some questions you can ask yourself:
1) Are rehearsals run in a professional, organized manner?
   i.e. on time, breaks observed and respected, time not wasted
2) Overall attitude seems to be positive
3) Director is open and receptive to questions and/or ideas
  *This does not mean an actor bombards a director with every question or concern that comes to them. Remember, they have a great deal to think about and account for. Babysitting insecure actors is not one of them. But when faced with a legitimate question, are they responsive? or does a glossed look of confusion cross their face? Or is there an impatient exhale of "why is this person bothering me?" let out? Big Difference
4) Are notes clear? helpful? If no, again, is the director responsive to clarification?
5) Does the director watch rehearsal?
  *Sounds like a "duh" point, but I have encountered this
6) Is the director, directing?
 See point 5

The list can go on....but these are some basic starter questions to help you diagnose potential concerns.

I'd say if your answers are in the negative for more than half of the above questions, you then have some serious things to consider.

Leaving a show should always be the LAST OPTION.
Unless one's personal safety is at risk, the professional actor must always seek to find a way to endure. Because if an actor leaves a show, the possibility of ever working with that company (or group of people) will become non-existent. prepare yourself for those consequences if leaving a show becomes your decision.
Personally, I've never done it. I couldn't bring myself to do it...yet. 
I've considered it, twice. Both times I found myself considering the people involved in the production and how my decision would effect their lives. Again, I found myself not wanting to risk severing relationships I had grown to appreciate.

All I'm saying, it's a big decision.
Perhaps there is something to be said for sticking it out and ending up with good battle stories.

As a wise cast-mate once told me, "Good shows open, so do the bad ones. Good shows close, and so do the bad ones."

Tuesday, May 17, 2011

Technology, part 2

Mind you, technology is not all bad:

Technology brings to the actor added responsibility.

Well, whether it be acquainting oneself with the style of a TV show, or the period in which a play is set - we now have access to so much information.

Hulu, or YouTube provide the actor with a wonderful resource to gain insight into any show's style, plot-points and setting.

Moreover, for that last minute audition, Wikipedia can even give an actor the broad-strokes regarding period, history, or biographical points needed to prepare a solid, thought-out audition.
(yes, I believe Wikipedia can be helpful - notice the use of the term "broad-strokes." Any more detail requires more in-depth research).

It's all out there, at your finger-tips.

I confess, moments before a manager meeting, I used my IMDb app on my iPhone to look up their client list, so I could reference one or two if I needed.

It's endless the resources that are out there...

We as actors no longer have an excuse for being ill-prepared or unaware of the world in which we are working.

Sunday, April 17, 2011

Technology and the Actor...

I've had this posting in my edit bay for sometime, but today's New York Times article (Fashion & Style section) provided me the kick in the ass I needed to post...

Keep Your Thumbs Still When I Talk to You - discusses how we, as a society, are becoming quite rude due to technology. It is a sad truth, we tolerate more and more; losing the ability to connect on that most primitive, intimate level. In fact, as I observe in my classes, that kind of connection is not only uncomfortable, but now completely foreign.

There is a cost in the acting world as well...the artistic one, too. Imagine an actor in a general or audition, and in middle of his or her conversation with the CD or director, the actor checks his or her hand-held. Brave choice, I guess...think they got the part? It has happened. And we know it happens the other way - It was not long ago that a tweeting scandal broke out when a prominent New York casting director was found to be tweeting not only during actor auditions, but also was commenting on their performance. Remember the debates? How did you feel?

Don't get me wrong, technology is pretty amazing! We have unprecedented access to information and entertainment. I know my train rides have become less arduous thanks to the numerous podcasts that I listen to, Angry Birds, and YouTube vids on my iPhone. It's all pretty astounding!

But there is a flip-side to that coin, especially for the Actor/Artist. I am falling victim to it myself...
We are slowly becoming less and less engaged with the world around us. We, as actors are at risk of numbing those senses and instincts we have trained and worked so hard to hone. We need to be open vessels - making available all our senses to take in and interpret (later) the world around us.

What scares me as a teacher (at several universities), I see the attention spans of our youth becoming shorter and shorter to almost nothing. Yes, I realize that I must adapt as an educator - I won't dispute that. But when the youth of today can't sit still for more than 20 minutes, or retain a bit of information given to them 15 minutes prior....there's a problem. Technology, in addition to the "Mtv" nation are contributing to these issues. What do I mean by that?
Watch a network television show: count the seconds between cuts.
Now watch any of the great films to come out of the 70's (yes, the 70's were good for something!). Notice the long, static shots - agreed, they might not be as exciting as the latest Michael Bay film. But each of of them is rife with something those films can't sustain for a scene - humanity. I think of The Deer Hunter, Deliverance, All the President's Men, Klute -the humanity depicted in these films is immeasurable. It is impossible to be without it on the stage.

All that aside however, for the actor, the cost for such technology goes much, much deeper. As is the goal of Uta Hagen's, Object Exercises; we, the actor have to maintain and sustain our sense of awareness and observation, both inward AND outward. Art and Acting require us to maintain and sustain consistent levels of concentration and focus that is slowly becoming more and more extinct.
A set of earbuds constantly attached to us provides a great risk to those disciplines.

We as artists, and actors must be in-tune to the world around us - for better or worse. BUT also we cannot  allow ourselves to be enslaved by it either.

Tuesday, April 12, 2011

Knowing when to say "when"

I recently had to make a tough decision:
I have resigned from a theater company with whom I worked for the past 18 months.

While this was a tremendously difficult choice, it was also a huge learning experience for me.

Why am I writing about this? No, not to gossip, dish, nor gripe. (I still wish the best for them, hope for their success and would welcome an invitation to work again)

No, I am writing because I learned quite a bit about not only what I can tolerate from people with whom I work, but also what I deserve as someone who works as hard as I do (yes, I'm giving myself that one - thank you!)

Without getting too juicy in the graphic details of what went on, and how I was led to my decision, the bottom line was - I didn't fit the mold they were trying to create. I am trying not to think of things in "right and wrong" because little growth comes from such narrow and close-minded thinking.

No, but as a company member, I realized quite quickly that there were fundamental differences, crevasses in philosophy and attitudes that could not be bridged. As a result, regular conflicts were occurring, mounting disappointments and frustrations built up, and friendships were being strained (perhaps beyond repair - that will be known as time passes).

Despite it all, work was getting done. However, being honest, the work was getting done on the backs of 4 core members. One can easily deduce, I was one of them - and it was getting tiring. I had reached my breaking point about a month before I took action.

Why had I stuck around?
2 reasons:

1) I had made a commitment to my friend and playwright, Wes. That wasn't so difficult as his play was a joy to live in.

2) Revelation! I remained involved with this group out of fear.

THIS is the reason for this post. My fear was based on, "Well, at least I'm working. I don't know when something else will come around."
Don't get me wrong, I did believe in the company. But at my core, in the face of my constant struggle within the company, the underlying drive that kept me there was the desire to work.

And there's the rub. In a subtle way, I was undervaluing my talent and abilities. That statement above carries with it the implication that I believed (this does not feel good to realize) that I was not going to have other opportunities to work.
No more.
Which is why I came to the conclusion that I did.

To all those out there who might be considering working with me - know this: in a working environment -
I am ABOUT the work.
I AM about the WORK.
I am ABOUT the work.

get it?

To me it is very simple, but to others, apparently, that attitude (or the perception of that) can be very unnerving.
Because apparently, the truth can get uncomfortable. That fact, coupled with the attitude (mine) that it is not our job to make people comfortable, can throw off the people who need constant assurance and validation. What do I mean? when I am around people with whom I work who either do not step up and do shit, or don't follow through on what they say they're gonna do...I am not going to tell them, "no problem, it's OK." Because it isn't. I will behave accordingly. Mind you, that does not mean that I am rude or discourteous - No, I always remain cordial... period. But no more. And it was that belief and behavior that caused me to be perceived as "negative."
It came down to very differing philosophies, not "right and wrong."
We tried to make it work. We couldn't.

In that environment, I no longer felt safe to fully express myself, or the freedom to be me as I constantly felt scrutinized. It was time to go.

Ironically enough, a day before I followed through on my decision, I was invited to be in another Theater Company.


Tuesday, March 1, 2011

The Rehearsal Process...

I have observed in my years different actors tackle the rehearsal process in many different ways.

The one rule that we must adhere to is this: In Rehearsal (mind you)

No one cares about your process!

We, as actors, are tools of the theater, yes we are artists as well - but we must be mindful, or at least aware of the bigger picture. Yes, rehearsal is about exploration, trial and error - but there is a balance of which the actor should be mindful.

Here's the thing, while a good director might be aware of an actor's needs and work with them - bottom line - it is not their job to do so...

Furthermore, directors work in different ways. As Robert Brustein explains in his wonderful book, Letters to a Young Actor:
"First, dear Actor, you must recognize the existence of at least three distinct species of directors, each of whom regards you as a different type of prey. There is the interpretive director, whose primary obligation, at least in theory, is to understand the intention of the playwright and realize it through the medium of the actor's performance. Then there is the conceptual director, dedicated to reinterpreting and refreshing existing works, primarily the classics, and so making them more immediate to the present day. And third, there is the auteur director, who is generally concerned with inventing his or her own texts in a production almost totally controlled by one imagination."

If you gleen nothing else from the above passage, note the lack of attention to the actor's process in the description of director styles and goals. 

Process work is for the classroom, that is why it is important for Actors to be in class constantly when they are not working. Work, is work. 
Show up, do the work, take your notes, apply them, go home. 

Tuesday, February 22, 2011

Starting a Theater Company

They're all over the place, EVERYONE seems to have one, many seem to just disappear.

Upstart Theater Companies

Well, let's face it. We are in a business that requires us to be seen, and quite often, whether or not that happens depends on someone else. So...why not give yourself that control for a change?! Having your own theater company can certainly provide you a venue in which to showcase you and your colleague's talents.
Now, don't get me wrong - there's a lot I still don't know about this, but as I'm working with several at the moment....I have learned a few things.

1st step - be sure to surround yourself with people whom you admire and respect both personally and professionally. THIS IS A MUST. You are going to be spending a great deal of time with these people...think about it - do you want to spend time with those you DON'T admire or respect? Well, then...there it is.

2nd step - DO STUFF.

Wednesday, February 10, 2010

What is my type?

This can be one of the most challenging issues an actor has to face. In almost no other profession does a person have to regard, so overtly, how others perceive them. It can be disheartening, and frightening for some. This requires a significant amount of strength and confidence most people “in the real world” I feel, do not possess (watch any reality show – if you feel my opinion is inaccurate).
To not only be completely comfortable in one’s own skin, but also accept whatever that “skin” is; realizing all at once, what it is that dictates your market, as well as possessing the ability to separate oneself and acknowledging that that “skin” does not define you as a person.
Does that make sense?
FOR EXAMPLE: I have come to learn that I have a propensity to playing “Assholes” quite well, and easily for that matter. Moreover, I may also have a vibe that some might call “creepy.” (NOt always - it all is a matter of opinion, but I do know certain CD's, directors, etc see me this way) However, if I am to work, I must not take offense that label, embrace it, and use it to my benefit. After that, I must be confident enough to have awareness of that type, and embrace that they neither describe, nor define me as a person (though there are many that would probably agree with the label of “asshole” but I digress).
Take a real, hard look at what you are usually cast as.
The friend?
The villain?
The boy/girl next door?
Be Honest.
You also may want to start asking trusted friends/mentors WHO ARE INVOLVED IN THE BUSINESS somehow. People outside this industry don’t quite understand how this works.
One great exercise I participated in was in Los Angeles, at The Actor’s Network. They hosted “Typing” seminars. All you did was sit in front of a group of strangers (usually all actors). Based on how you dressed that day (you would decide how you would present yourself), the group would circle different words that best described you:
And the list goes on.
You would then collect all of them at the end of the event, and count how many times certain words were circled…you’d be surprised how many people (who did not know each other) perceived the same thing!
If you can find something like that, I believe that is the best way to find out what your type is.
Now the hard part – embrace it, and proceed accordingly!