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Sunday, May 23, 2010

Secret Agent Man: the Search for the Perfect (or Any) Representation

Any actor embarking on a professional career faces the loveliest of Catch 22's.

I can't get work without an agent.

I can't get an agent without showing them my work.

It's not the only Catch 22 that exists in the biz. There are others. Like the whole Screen Actors' Guild thing. You know...can't get a SAG card if you haven't worked on a SAG film, but you can't work on a SAG film without a SAG card.

At times we might begin to wonder if it isn't some big conspiracy where all the currently successful actors are trying to keep all the new ones out. Us.

Here's the thing, though. I've said it before. These are not walls that are erected to keep us out. They are only there to make us figure out how bad we really want it.

Is it tough? Sure. Want something easy? Try something else.

So, once you've decided to go ahead and work the unworkable system, there are all kinds of options to try. I'm going to give you a run-down of a bunch of different things to work on. This is not a comprehensive list, by any means, but it is a good place to start.

0. There's a reason this is zero and not one. This is a total must-do. TAKE CLASSES! Is this self-serving advice? Sure. I teach classes. They are awesome. You should take them.

With that said, I want you to take classes wherever you decide to take classes. Just take them. We want to constantly be stretching as actors.

Think you're "beyond" classes? I'll say this in the most loving and gentle way I know how.

Grow up. :)

No one is. We are ALL still learning. If not, we might as well just hang up our acting hat, 'cause it's all downhill from there. If we're not moving forward, we're sliding backward. There is no standing still when it comes to art.

1. Make your own work. I can't stress this enough. If you want to act bad enough, you will act. Period. It can be memorizing monologues and performing them to your cat, but keep acting. Preferably with someone else, but at the end of the day, just act. Eventually, you'll start realizing that you can do some pretty amazing things if you just decide to keep showing up and keep practicing your craft.

2. Make friends who are like-minded. Form a support group. Sit around in a circle and share your triumphs and failures together and hold one another while you weep. Commune with one another. Heck, refer back to number 1 and act together. This will help us overcome the discouragement that can beat us down when we're on our own.

3. Audition for anything and everything you can. Theatre, student films, no-budget web projects, staged readings, WHATEVER! This will help you to continually meet new people that are also trying to make something happen. Learn their names. Connect with the ones that you resonate with. Refer back to number 2. There are online sources for auditions as well as Back Stage for these kinds of auditions.

4. Send out your materials. Headshot & resume. Make sure they look as professional as possible. Don't know what's pro? Check out #HeadshotTuesday to start to get an idea of what looks good. The comments are pretty solid for the most part, & you can start to see what you need. Get a reel together (professionally edited) from the projects you've been working on (see number 3). Get them into as many hands as possible.

5. Do your research. Watch TV & films and wait through the credits. When you're watching something that you think you should've been in, see who did the casting. Send them your stuff. There are physical and online sources galore for finding casting director contact information. IMDBpro is a good start.

You may think, "Wait. This is good stuff, but he hasn't mentioned agents yet." I know. This is the preparation, guys. Getting to know good CD's is a really good step in the right direction.

6. Offer your services. When you contact these CD's, instead of just telling 'em you want them to cast you, offer to be their reader for free at a moment's notice. Most of them usually have people to do that, but sometimes things happen. If you have the opportunity to be a reader for a casting director, JUMP at the chance! Making good friends w/a CD is a wonderful thing.

All of the things I've mentioned will do the following: they will get you familiar with the market and some of the players in it. The longer you work at it, the more you know what you're doing. At some point, it will become clear to you what your talent level is, where you fit in, what you can do.

You'll notice that I still haven't talked about how to get in touch with agents. There's a reason for that. All the previous steps were to put you in a place where agents will contact YOU, or you will have another industry person help you set up an appointment.

Remember that this is a marathon, not a sprint. We're setting up a life-long career, not a meteoric rise to fame and fortune.

You can occasionally land appointments with agencies by doing mailings of HS's & resumes or cold-calling. That does work (and I'm not telling you not to do it). It is a completely different ballgame when you're invited to meet with them. It puts the relationship in the right perspective, which is that they work for us.

This list isn't perfect. It's not all-inclusive. It's probably not the last time I'll address the topic. But hopefully it's given you some food for thought and some very specific things that you can go out and do right now. Because really, there's no time like the present.

Sunday, May 16, 2010

Acting Classes, The Final Frontier

This will be the last blog post talking about the acting classes that I'm offering. The website should be finished soon, and I'll post that link for everyone to follow.

In the meantime, here are the descriptions, schedules and tuition costs for my classes! Please feel free to email me regarding interest in the classes or questions about how they will work.


All classes are taught with the Acting without the Drama philosophy, which is that we don’t have to allow the conflict and drama we seek in performance into our personal lives. 

It is a practical approach that helps actors grow from where they are right now without “breaking them down”.  Learning to let go of our defenses and self-destructive patterns helps us become stable, grounded performers that can connect with an audience in a powerful, magical way.

Online acting classes:
Don’t come in expecting the tired old model of teaching acting here! Acting without the Drama approaches the craft from a practical, holistic view of each student developing as a working actor.

This innovative course embraces elements of technique training, scene study, on-camera work and cold-reading practice to create a well-rounded actor that is capable of stepping into the industry with confidence and knowledge.  The approach is a holistic one, seeking to develop all aspects of an actor’s knowledge and skill. 

In addition to the acting work done, we will use breathing, relaxation and vocal exercises to increase each student’s vocal range and resonance.

We will use the on-camera aspect of the online classes to learn film set terminology, as well as learning to connect in less-than-ideal circumstances (exactly like being on a film set).

Finally, we will discuss some of the best ways to navigate the business of acting by learning how to “brand” ourselves, best utilize our native talents, and develop contacts in the industry.

Tuition: $199/month for once-a-week classes, $349/month for once-a-week classes plus an additional once-a-week ½ hr. private session. Classes run 2 hours each, and enrollment is limited to 10 students per class. A $100 deposit secures your place in the class.

L.A. Acting classes:
This is anything but your typical scene study class. Acting without the Drama approaches the craft from a practical, holistic view of each student developing as a working actor.

This course will focus on technique training, scene study, on-camera technique, cold reading practice, as well as movement exercises designed to get our performances into our bodies.

We will use breathing, relaxation and vocal exercises to increase each student’s vocal range and resonance.

We will use Alexander technique and improv exercises to ground our performances in truth and impulses.

We will study film terminology and practice real-world applications of how to connect in less-than-perfect (non-classroom) circumstances.
Finally, we will develop plans for each student to effectively “brand” and market themselves in the industry, helping everyone to navigate the business of acting.  We will discuss each actor’s strengths and how to magnify those strengths in their marketing approach.

The goal of this class is to develop an actor who can go out into the industry and immediately make an impact.  We train actors to think for themselves, create their own work and learn to collaborate effectively with other artists.

Tuition: $225/month for once-a-week classes. $399/month for twice-a-week classes.  Classes run 2 hrs. and enrollment is limited to 10 students per class. A $100 deposit secures your place in the class.

Class Schedule
Online classes: Mon. 10 am-12 pm
 Wed. 4 pm-6 pm

Tuition: $199/month for once-a-week classes, $349/month for once-a-week classes plus an additional once-a-week ½ hr. private session. Classes run 2 hours each, and enrollment is limited to 10 students per class. A $100 deposit secures your place in the class.

LA classes: Tues. & Thurs. 7 pm-9 pm (2 classes per week)
Wed. 12 pm-2 pm (one class per week)

Tuition: $225/month for once-a-week classes. $399/month for twice-a-week classes.  Classes run 2 hrs. and enrollment is limited to 10 students per class. A $100 deposit secures your place in the class.

Classes start at the beginning of each month.
Private or semi-private classes by appointment. Private class tuition: $125/hr.  Semi-private class tuition (up to 4 students): $60/hr. per student.

*Please note: if you don’t find a class here that fits your schedule, please contact us at actingwithoutthedrama (at) gmail (dot) com.  We are constantly forming new classes, and will notify you as one begins that meets your needs

Finally, please leave your comments for me! From out of those that comment on this post as well as the previous two, I will be selecting someone to receive a free 1/2 hour private online class.

Sunday, May 9, 2010

Acting Classes, Part Deux--The Los Angeles Chapter

Last week I announced that I would be starting online acting classes, which I am thrilled about offering. I'm going to be talking a little more in depth about those classes later on in this post.

But for the moment, I want to talk about the in-person classes I'm teaching in L.A.

These are not your run-of-the-mill scene study classes. Will there be scene study? Of course! Technique and craft are hugely important. They're also not the only part of creating a successful acting career.

My approach, the Acting without the Drama approach, takes a much more holistic view of acting. A working actor has many things to pay attention to beyond just rehearsing and performing one scene over and over again.

We will be studying the nuts and bolts of acting so that our performances are connected, active, specific and compelling.

We will be working on-camera, to understand the ins and outs of how to translate our performances to television and film.

We will be working with sides, mimicking the audition experience, in order to understand the pressure involved in making decisions "on the fly".

Additionally, we will be discussing the business. What are the strategies we can employ to "get ourselves out there" and create the career we seek? What is our "brand"? How do we promote ourselves without becoming used car salespeople or neglecting our art?

Finally, we will discuss who we are and what's important to us. I will never dictate to anyone what their standards should be. I will encourage everyone to discover what their own personal core values are and to STICK TO THEM!

Obviously, there are challenges to teaching classes online that won't be present for the in-person classes. I incorporate a lot of physicality into my teaching that's difficult online. Alexander technique exercises, experimenting with movement and just the energy of being present in the same room are all elements of my teaching that are harder online.

With that said, I want to talk a bit more about the online classes and workshops. The very challenges that make online acting classes less than ideal are the exact things that will provide us with amazing opportunities as actors!

First (and most obviously), anyone that's in an area where they are unable to find good acting classes (or any acting classes) will now be able to take them from their home. That's huge!

Interestingly enough, the things that appear to be the biggest problems of online acting classes are some of what makes it incredibly exciting!

Let's address those "less than perfect" parts of online acting classes.

1) We're acting through a camera, so it's not as personal.

Stop for a moment. That's pretty much film and television in a nutshell, isn't it? That is EXACTLY what we're facing if we want to act in front of the camera. And the fact that we HAVE to act through a camera is one of the greatest strengths of this class.

We're learning on-camera technique while we're studying the craft. There's no need to bring in a camera. It's already there!

2) The technical aspects of online classes can be distracting, so it's harder to connect.

Okay, yes. But think about being on a film set. Your environment is clearly less than perfect for connection to happen. You're surrounded by crew. Many times your fellow actor is not anywhere around when you're filming your close-ups. You're shooting your scenes out of sequence.

In other words, we need to learn how to "bring it" in circumstances that work against connection.

3) We don't have the same freedom of movement that we would in-person.

Clearly. Guess what? That pretty much mimics what occurs when we're filming medium or close-up shots on film. We need to learn to involve our entire bodies, even when we don't have the freedom to prance around!

4) Rehearsal with a scene partner will be harder.

Sure. Although I'm guessing that finding time for you and your scene partner to get on Skype together in the comfort of your home will be much easier than finding time and space to do so in L.A.

Additionally, rehearsal time for film and television is minimal at best. Learning how to bring our performances fully without lots of rehearsal time is part of the process. We will work with both--working on scenes with mandated rehearsal time and also doing cold-reading exercises.

Finally, I'm excited enough by the amazing potential of these online classes that I will be recommending even to my L.A. actors that they take online workshops at times.

Please leave me your thoughts, questions and opinions here for me. Out of those that comment on this week's and last week's blog, I will select one person for a free 1/2 hr. private online session, so get them up!! I will also be offering a free 1/2 hr. intro group class. If you are interested, please DM me your name and email address if you're on Twitter (@actingnodrama) or email me at actingwithoutthedrama (at) gmail (dot) com.

Don't delay! There's acting to be done!!

Thursday, May 6, 2010

Acting Classes, Acting without the Drama Style!

I’ve been getting a LOT of requests lately from actors wanting me to start my acting classes back up again (thank you for that, by the way… *grin*). I was planning on starting back up in the fall, but hey, why delay? There’s acting to be done!

For those of you that don’t know me or my illustrious history, I’ve been teaching acting for a quite a while. I started teaching in 1998, at the University of San Diego. Since then, I have taught students from all over the globe, in various settings.

I was the Director of the Acting for Film Program at the New York Film Academy at Universal Studios, where I helped develop the first and only Master’s of Fine Arts degree in Acting for Film currently in existence. I have coached acting, dialects and accent reduction on film sets and for production companies. I have taught countless workshops and done private coaching for ages from 5 all the way up to 85.

When I decided to co-found a production company a couple of years ago, I took a break from teaching. I felt like the company needed my full attention as we started out. But things are now moving along nicely, largely due to the unceasing efforts of my brilliant business partner, but most of all, I JUST MISS TEACHING!!

I miss character building. I miss animal imagery. I miss monologues, for cryin’ out loud!

My approach to the craft is basically what you’ve already seen at the top of this blog: Acting without the Drama. We keep the drama onstage and in front of the camera, and out of our personal lives.

I don’t “break down” actors to later build them up.

I don’t subscribe to a dogmatic view of the craft of acting.

I take you from where you are and give you the tools that will not only help you move forward but teach you to move YOURSELF forward.

I give you a practical approach to acting that will allow you to create magic in your performances. Even when you’re not “feelin’ it”.

The internet has given us the gift that I can teach you, no matter where you are in the world. I’m going to be teaching online classes and workshops. We have the technology, people! There’s no reason that I can’t work with you, even if you live in Abu Dhabi.

Depending on what you guys need, I can form classes in accent reduction/Standard American speech, dialects, auditioning technique, on-camera acting and even… Shakespeare (Although, I’m realistic. How many people are really going to be clamoring for that one? #butaguycandream). Beyond these larger workshops, I’m also offering private or semi-private classes for any of those subjects, either in person (for anyone that lives locally in LA) or online.

So, if you’re on Twitter, DM me for the deets (@actingnodrama). You can also email me: actingwithoutthedrama (at) gmail (dot) com.

Finally, leave me your comments, letting me know what you guys need, what you thought of this blog, and how much you’re DYING for a Lady MacBeth workshop. #orawholeseriesofthem!

And just to make this interesting, I’ll be selecting one lucky commenter for a FREE ½ hour private coaching session.

So, what are you waiting for? There’s acting to be done!!

Sunday, May 2, 2010

The Auditioning Blues

We've all been there. And there are multiple refrains; one for each stage of our career.

The first one goes a little like this: auditioning for anything good is next to impossible without an agent, but I can't get an agent to look at me before I've gotten work. Welcome to the business' wonderful catch 22. Pretty much anyone that's ever attempted an acting career knows about this one.

There's some good news and there's some bad news. Actually, there's just information, whether it's good or bad is just in the way we choose to look at it. The "bad" news is that there is definitely some truth to the old catch 22. Another little corollary to that... are you prepared? Getting an agent doesn't necessarily mean that you'll get more auditions. Yikes. It totally depends on the agent in question and the market you're stepping into. You may find that having an agent only means that you'll have fancy letterhead to print your resumes on and 10% less of any money that comes in.

You may now be reeling from the "bad" news. Here's the "good" news.

It's possible.

Doesn't seem like that quite offsets the negatives, now does it?

But take a second and realize that the obstacles that are in our way are not there to keep us from the career of our dreams. They are to teach us how badly we actually want it. Do we want to act enough that we're willing to overcome what seems to be extremely unlikely, if not impossible, odds?

In other words, what's it worth to us?

In a later blog, I can go into some strategies for seeking representation in Los Angeles (they are location specific, but a lot of the same principles would apply to any market). That's not really the focus of this post. Just know that IT IS POSSIBLE. Knowing that it's possible puts us in a place where we can move forward with hope, and keeping hope alive is pretty much our primary concern as actors.

Now, once we have auditions coming out our ears (pardon me while I stifle a slightly hysterical urge to giggle), we enter into a completely different stanza of our bluesy journey. It's the "now I have to book" stanza. We have an agent, or a manager, or good relationships with a few casting directors, and we're getting out there. Now it feels like the pressure becomes enormous to get the gig. If we don't get callbacks or book the jobs, we fear that we'll lose our representation, or the CD's will give up on us, yada, yada, yada.

And sure, there's a kernel of truth there. But what's more true is that if we go into auditions with that kind of fear and pressure on us, the likelihood of us connecting and turning in a good audition plummets.

So, what do we do? If we go in reeking of desperation, anyone with any sensitivity (and trust me, CD's pretty much all have it) will be turned off. But how do we turn off the fear? How do we ratchet down the NEED?

Well, if we really care about acting as a career, it's not easy. But once again, it is possible.

There are some stratagies that can help. First, keep remembering that no one audition will make us or break us. Take "booking the job" off the table. That's not really what we're there for. We're there to connect with new CD's, directors and producers. We're there to, hopefully, make a positive impression on them. We're there with the hope that we'll be called in for the next audition, the next producer read, the next screen test. It's a marathon, not a sprint, remember? Keeping in mind that there will be other auditions after the present one will take some of the pressure off of each one individually.

Second, remember to breathe. I know it sounds silly, but when we get stressed out, our breathing becomes really stiff and shallow. It's really difficult to open up and connect when our breath isn't moving through our body. Taking voice classes, learning relaxation exercises or practicing yoga can all help with that.

Finally, find your tribe. Having a support group not only means that there are people to commiserate with after a bad read, it means we have people to call to help us settle before we go in. People that know us and love us and will support us no matter how the audition goes. Also, that love goes into the room with us. Knowing that there are people that respect our work and care about us helps us go into the room with added confidence.

Okay, this is quickly turning into the next not-so-great American novel, but we're entering the home stretch. The final stanza of the auditioning blues is when we get to the point that we're getting offered jobs, many times without auditioning at all.

Awesome, right?

Yeah, sure it is. Here's the thing. If you get to that point, I can almost promise you that you'll miss it. Because one of the main things we forget about, due to all of the stress and nerves, is that auditioning is FUN! We're getting to go in and perform new material, make choices on the fly and PLAY! What is cooler than that?

Other than booking the part, of course. :)