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Sunday, July 25, 2010

Local Hire

You hear it every day.  A fresh young actor decides that this small town just can't hold him or her anymore.  They need to bust out of this place and make a name for themselves in the big city.  New York.  Los Angeles.  Chicago.  Miami.

And for every one of those young hopefuls that gets on a bus with a one-way ticket, there is another bus going back to the small town with their downtrodden doppelganger...a little older, a more world-weary and possibly a little bit wiser.

Where did they go wrong?  Well, it might have been that first trip.

Now, if you've already bought your ticket and packed your bags, don't despair.  I've got plenty of advice for you.  That's a lot of what this blog addresses.  How to build an acting career in LA or NY.  Don't worry.  I'll get back to it.

But for the rest of you, stop and assess before you jump on the nearest west (or east) -bound train.  Or for you international types, before you step aboard that 747 or hijack a transatlantic steamer or something.  I understand the allure of LA or NY.  I get it.  But it may not be the best route for you, at least to begin with.

There is a lot of work out there for actors.  Local commercials, location film work, student or low-budget films, VoiceOver work, presenters for conventions, etc., etc.  And most of that work can be found...guess what?...right where you are.  No long trip, no moving trucks, no awkward camp-outs in a friend of a friend's living room.

The great thing about a local market is that there's less competition.  Less work?  Sure, sometimes, but the percentages may be working more to your advantage in a smaller market like Dallas versus a huge market like Los Angeles.  And you get to build up your resume for the time that it feels right to take the plunge.

I'm not discouraging anyone from taking a risk.  Let's face it, choosing acting as a career is already a fairly large gamble.  But then again, so is life, right?  What I'm suggesting is that we don't do things blindly, without considering all of our options.

Take time and assess.  You'll ultimately choose what's right for you, if you're staying grounded and connected.  And if you're not (or already haven't)?  That's okay, too.  Life is one lesson after another, and all of them are ultimately good.

Sunday, July 18, 2010

Funny Accents

There is a very precise part of me that just cringed when I wrote that title. "Ahem. They are not 'funny accents', they are 'regional speech patterns'."

I laugh at that part of myself (I'm not sure, but he may be wearing a smoking jacket, holding a pipe...even though he doesn't smoke...and watching Masterpiece Theatre) because he takes himself WAY too seriously.  He's right in the sense that speaking in accents, if we're going to do it well, takes a lot of practice and attention to detail.  The reason he's so prickly is because so often that's not what actors do when they attempt them.

I love dialect work.  I find it challenging, rewarding, and...oddly enough...thrilling.  I say "oddly" because this kind of training can be really tedious.  It involves a lot of precision work in an area that we normally don't pay any attention to, unless we're brushing our teeth.  Our mouths.

Unless we have some sort of dental obsession, we don't normally spend that much time thinking about what goes on inside our mouths except for when things go wrong: a canker sore, a cavity, a bitten tongue...something like that.  We definitely don't think about what's going on in there while we're talking.  Of course not--there's too much else going on. 

When we start dialect training, normally the first step is to learn the "standard" accent for the country we live in.  Standard American for the US, Received Pronunciation for the UK, and so on.  It establishes a "base" sound for us, so that our own regional sounds don't get in the way.

But there is an essential arrogance to that stance.  There is no "standard" sound in any country.  It doesn't exist.  Everyone has a slightly different sound, with certain regions demonstrating certain patterns.  Those patterns are something we can learn.

I still think it's a good idea to learn those "standard" dialects, but let's always remember that they are dialects, not the "proper" way to speak.  There is nothing wrong with the way you speak right now.  It is part of who you are, as distinctive as a fingerprint.  One small caveat--you can't change your fingerprint.  You can change the way you speak.

Learning those "standard" accents allows us greater flexibility.  I grew up in Texas and had a strong dialect.  That dialect, if I had allowed it to remain my speech pattern, would have limited me as an actor. 

Think of Matthew McConaughey or Kevin Costner.  Both good actors.  Both limited by their accents.  Would you buy either one if they were playing Hamlet or MacBeth?  One sounds like a Southern good-ol'-boy and the other like a Midwestern farmer.  I love both those sounds.  Doesn't really work with Shakespeare, though.

Dialect training opens up our possibilities as actors.  That's one of my litmus tests for any kind of training.  Does it give us more choices as actors, or fewer?  If any kind of training makes us rigid and seeks to cut off our options, it's probably not good training.

If you are wanting to work on your dialects, your diction, or your voice I enthusiastically encourage you to do it.  Start now!  The sooner, the better.  Our speech patterns do nothing but solidify as we get older.  If you are older and want to do this, don't despair.  It's never too late.

One thing to look for in dialect training is someone that teaches using IPA (International Phonetic Alphabet).  It's a very specific way of approaching dialect work, and after seeing different methods, in my opinion, it's the best.

This is training that I offer.  As always, I'm more interested that you get the training than I am that you train with me.  If you would like to study this with me, you're in luck.  No matter where you are in the world, we can work together.  I offer online classes and private sessions using webcams, so even if you live in Kathmandu, there's no excuse!  If you would like to check it out, leave me a comment below or email me at actingwithoutthedrama (at) gmail (dot) com.

Sunday, July 11, 2010

The Plan

So, you want to be an actor?  Congratulations!  You've stepped onto that proverbial "path less traveled."

Now what?

I'm not going to lie to you and promise gold at the end of this road.  It can come, absolutely, as can fame.  Whether or not that will happen for you is not my call to make.

There are things we can do to improve our chances.  I've talked about some of them already in this blog.  I'll talk about others in the future.  That's not what I'm doing today.

Today, I'm talking about the path.

If you've made the choice to act as a career, you've done something brave.  It's possible that some around you would use different words to describe it.  Even if you're blessed enough to have positive, supportive people in your life, those negative words may bounce around the inside of your head from time to time.  Ridiculous, irresponsible, head-in-the-clouds, know the ones I mean, right?

This choice is one that will test and try you.  It will ask you to get comfortable being uncomfortable.  Then, once you've gotten comfortable there, it will ask you to go a step farther.

Here's the other thing about this path:  it can take some unusual twists and turns.

There is very little that is linear about an artistic life.  It veers off in fascinating and unexpected ways.  We think things are headed in a certain direction, and then BAM, we find ourselves in a completely different place than we originally envisioned.

That is a beautiful thing.

I believe that there is a plan for our lives.  We can fight against that plan, but my experience is that when we do, we break.  Running away from the plan just leads us back to it.  Pushing forward, trying to muscle through our own idea of what the plan should look like just makes us exhausted.  Railing against the heavens might be fun at times, but doesn't really do all that much.

Embracing this path, with all of its magnificent variety of switchbacks and detours, is the only way that I've found to have what's really most important.  Peace.

Fame and fortune are great, but they won't give us peace.  Letting go and trusting the plan will.

If we can do that, success will be ours, whether or not fame and fortune are a part of it.