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Sunday, September 26, 2010

Deer in the Headlights (a.k.a. the Auditioning Process)


As much as we'd like to ignore it sometimes, auditioning is what a successful acting career hinges around, at least at first.  Learning how to go in and present ourselves to oftentimes complete strangers, bare our souls and have them judge how well we did it.

And right there, in a nutshell, is the problem.  At least on some subconscious level, that's how most of us view the auditioning process.  And while there may be a tiny shred of truth in there, it's so hidden with raging levels of fear and self-loathing that it's almost unrecognizable as what it really is.

Because that's not really the auditioning process at all.  Auditioning, from the casting director's, producer's or director's standpoint is much closer to the following:  you have a project, you need good actors that fit your vision, you'd like to be able to enjoy the process as much as possible.

There's only one small part of the process that involves someone judging us as actors.  The rest is about vision, the right fit, and good attitude.

Want to know how much of the audition is usually about your acting?  About the first 30 seconds or so.  That's it.  Everything else is used to evaluate the rest of the puzzle.  Does the actor take direction well?  Will he or she fit in with the rest of the cast (looks-wise and style-wise)?  Is this an actor that's going to pull massive diva/divo fits?  Can I stand this person for the next 3 months (feature) to 3 years or more (tv series)?

And guess what?  The more we go in with fear, the less likely the answers to any of those questions will be positive.  When we're afraid, we radiate that fear in some really unappealing ways.  Not only does the fear affect our ability to open up and connect in terms of our acting, it makes us stiff.  When we're stiff, we don't take direction well, we feel isolated (not good as far as figuring out the fit with the rest of the cast), we're much more likely to be needy (diva/divo) and our energy will be uncomfortable to be around (unpleasant 3 months to 3 years).  Ick.

So, really, the auditioning process is almost less about our talent and acting skill and more about our ability to let go of fear.

I've had some great experiences lately during auditions that I think could be really helpful, so I've decided to hold an online workshop on auditioning technique.  I'll make sure that it's inexpensive, seeing how the economy's still in the crapper (despite the geniuses that say the recession ended in '09).  If you're interested, comment here (leave your twitter handle or an email) or just watch the stream closely.  In fact, if you do leave a comment, I'll give you an additional 50% off for the workshop!

In the meantime, keep breathing, and remember that no one can take away from us our sense of self-worth, even if they try.

Sunday, September 19, 2010

Plan B

Both of my sons are playing tackle football for the first time this season.  It's been fun to watch them suit up in their pads and start to figure out the whole "hit hard" thing.  One of their main goals now is to get a "pancake" block, where you lay your opponent out flat.

Football.  Good times.

My oldest son spends most of his time on the offensive line, trying to make sure that the defensive line doesn't make it's way back to the quarterback.  One of the strategies his coach has taught him is called a "Plan B".  When he's facing an opponent that's consistently beating him on the line, he basically table-tops him by going down on all fours and having the other guy trip over him.

At first I was thinking, Hey, that's kind of a cheap shot.  But then I spent some time analyzing it, and really his main job is to keep that QB safe.  The Plan B isn't against the rules, and from what I've seen it can be pretty effective (at least at this level of play).

I think we do something similar sometimes with our acting careers.  It's this kind of do-or-die mentality that says we're going to make it as actors or starve trying.  Off we go to LA or NY with little or no thought of how we're going to make ends meet while finding our way through the industry.

In other words, we go in without a Plan B.

I'm not talking about finding a way to give up on acting if it gets too hard.  Not at all.  I'm talking about having a way to keep ourselves alive and kicking while we're spending time developing our acting talent and careers.  I'm talking about accepting the fact that Hollywood may not fall down at your feet and worship you... at first. :)

Having a steady income stream allows us to go into auditions without the added desperation of "I need this JOB!!!"  Trust me, that vibe does nothing positive for us on either a professional or social level.  Nobody likes a needy actor.

Our Plan B should be something fairly flexible--IT work, website design, bartending, deejaying, massage therapy, real estate, house appraisals, notary public, etc.  This isn't meant to be a comprehensive list, just to give you an idea of things that could work.  Develop a marketable skill that will allow you to work but still audition and take classes.

It's time to break the stereotype of the starving actor.  Having a solid Plan B can do that for us.

And one other thing that having a Plan B can do--allow us to pay for the training that's so important for our development as actors.  If you're looking for an economical and convenient solution to your training needs, contact me about my online acting classes.  You can leave a comment, contact me via Twitter (@actingnodrama), or email me: actingwithoutthedrama (at) gmail (dot) com.

Sunday, September 12, 2010

Richard E.'s Notes on Acting

This week's blog entry is mostly just for fun.  It's one of my most treasured memories from my graduate acting program.

I was fortunate to learn from Richard Easton while I was attending the Old Globe Theatre.  Mr. Easton is an amazing actor and an amazing man.  For those of you who don't know who he is, he won a Tony for Best Actor in 2001 for his role in Tom Stoppard's The Invention of Love.  This was right after he finished mentoring my classmates and I through our program.

He has a way of looking at acting that is completely different than anything I had ever experienced before (it took me about six weeks before I understood what the heck he was talking about).  He has worked with Dame Judy Dench and Kenneth Branagh and Emma Thompson.  His personality is bigger than any space I ever saw him in.

In short, he is awesome!

One day he came into class with a sheaf of papers (highly unusual in and of itself) and announced in his sonorous voice (replete with British polish), "I was on my second bottle of wine last night, when I decided to write down some notes on acting."  He then proceeded to share some real gems with us.  I'll share two of the most memorable.

1.  "You must never whistle in the theatre.  Not because it's bad luck.  Because it's ANNOYING!"

2.  "Always go backstage after a performance.  It establishes you as a member of the club."

Here's the thing:  besides the fact that the whole episode had me in stitches, there's actually some real stuff in there.

1.  When we're working with others, we need to stop and think.  Is what we're saying or doing potentially hurtful, disrespectful, or just downright irritating?  Then maybe we'd better make a different choice.

2.  Then the other--make opportunities to interact with other industry professionals ON THEIR LEVEL.  Find ways to be working so that we can interact with working actors, with the level of respect that comes with being a working actor.  I'm not even talking about income right now, folks.  I'm talking about constantly acting.  In something.  Anything.  It makes a difference.  Seriously.

So, that's it for this week, except for the little nudge I'm going to give you right now.  If you want to be taken seriously by professionals, you need to be trained like a professional.  Guess what?  I can help you there.  I teach online classes--acting, on-camera, auditioning, dialects, diction, voice...yeah, that's right.  I'm tooting my own horn.  You know why?  'Cause I'm good.

But don't take my word for it.  Test me out.  Shoot me an email (actingwithoutthedrama {at} gmail {dot} com) and I'll alert you anytime I'm doing one of my free intro classes.  Or, you can go off of the statements you've already seen from other actors on my stream and sign up.  I've got some great back-to-school specials happening right now, so ask me about them. :)