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Sunday, November 28, 2010

Conflicted about Conflict

Conflict is necessary in art.  Doesn't mean we have to love it.

Most of us avoid conflict like the plague.  Even when we do engage in conflict, it's only by ramping ourselves up to a fervid passion in order to do it.

But here's the thing:  conflict is what makes the audience watch.  It's why football is typically more engaging than

It's our job as actors to find, clarify and intensify the conflict in a scene.  If we shy away from it (our usual instinct), it makes the scene...well...boring, quite frankly.

Here's the other thing:  conflict sparks our creativity.  Imagine a scene where my objective (what I want from the other character) is that I want you to help me run lines and you want me to lend you $20.  Does it create an immediate and vivid picture in your mind?  Now imagine a scene where my objective is to convince you it's okay for me to date your ex and yours is to convince me that it is NOT okay for me to date your ex.  That image is FAR more crystallized, isn't it?

This is one of those points that many acting instructors gloss right over.  I've been lucky to have teachers that didn't.  It's such a vital part of the process that I'm making it the subject of my radio show this Thursday at 8 pm Pacific Standard Time (11 pm for those of you in NYC...sorry!), so join in with me here.  Also, I want you to call in with your questions and comments (even if they aren't about conflict) so here's the number: (424) 243-9619.  See you then!

If you're liking what you find here in my blogs, in my podcasts and in my radio show, try my online acting classes.  There's a sign-up form at the top of my blog--I'd love to see you in class!

Sunday, November 21, 2010

A Radio Show!!

That's right!  Acting without the Drama now has a radio show.  I had my first trial run this last Thursday with Writing without the Drama's Carolyn McCray, and it was a blast!  You can listen to it here.

The idea is to move from the podcasts to this new format.  What I love about this show is how interactive it is.  You can call in live and ask specific questions about whatever the topic is for the week (or any other questions that pop into your pretty heads...and I mean "pretty" in the sense that you're all gorgeous, not the patting-you-on-the-top-of-your-head-condescendingly way).

So, join me on this fun new venture!  Go here to follow me, set a reminder for yourself for the next episode, "fav" me, listen to last week's episode, comment, stare puzzlingly at my bizarre know, whatever floats your boat.  Just as long as you join me for my next show about conflict at 8 pm Pacific Standard Time on December 2nd (there's no show this Thursday due to Thanksgiving...apologies to anyone not from the states!).

Oh, and please remember to call in!  I know how many of you were listening last week and was stunned that no one called.  Come on!  We're ACTORS, fercryinoutloud!  We should love to hear the sound of our own voices.  :) 

So, I look forward to hearing from all of you...not November 25th, but December 2nd.  If you have subjects you'd like for me to focus on in future shows, leave me a comment or hit me up on Twitter.  This is gonna be awesome!

Sunday, November 14, 2010

Trying Stuff on for Size

When you're talking about something like an acting career, there really isn't a straightforward way forward.  It's not like becoming a doctor or an IT guy, where you go to school, do some interning and if you have the talent and education, you'll progress.  You can be stunningly talented, have the best education on the planet, and still not get cast.

Luckily, we're talking about a creative career, so we're all creative people.  Creative people look at the world in a different way.  When presented with a winding or abnormal path, we can come up with all sorts of awesome ways to progress, right?  Right??

Therein lies the problem.  Most of us are busy trying to convince ourselves that we're not crazy or stupid for even attempting an acting career in the first place.  The last thing in the world we want to do is experiment.  What if we screw up our one chance, just because we were trying something different that didn't go over so well?  That would be a TRAGEDY!

I'm not even going to say that this scenario is completely impossible.  We absolutely could mess up a golden opportunity by trying something new.  Sure.  But the whole "one chance" thing?  That's only true if we give up.

It's kinda difficult to get blackballed for life from the entertainment industry.  I can only think of a few good examples, and most aren't dead yet, so there's still time for them to come back.  And even then, in order to be ostracized like that, you have to be well-known first.  Most of us just don't fall into that category.  Basically what I'm saying is, we can break a few eggs in the process of cooking an omelet.

So when we feel "stuck" in our careers, not knowing how to move forward, maybe we should try something new.  If we keep in mind that we always want to be kind, doing things differently than they've been done before probably won't kill anyone.  Before Stanislavski came around, actors creating "real life" on stage or in front of the camera wasn't on the agenda.  Now, it's hard to find any narrative performance that isn't influenced, at least indirectly, by that giant.

Go ahead.  Take risks.  Think creatively.  Break a few eggs.  And just remember that if things go wrong, we can pick ourselves up and brush ourselves off.  We running a marathon, not a sprint, so there's time to make up for the glitches.

Sometimes it's hard to go through this creative process on our own.  So, once more, I'm putting myself and my classes out there for you.  Want to learn acting?  Want to be mentored through the self-promotional stuff?  Looking for someone to push you to excel?  Take my online acting classes!  You won't be sorry... :)

Sunday, November 7, 2010

Speak the Speech, I Pray You

One of the greatest tools that we have as actors is our mouth.  The way we shape our vowels and consonants says a lot more about us than we may be aware of.  And yet, most of us have little to no idea what actually happens inside our mouth while we're speaking.

Class.  This is a charged word.  In certain parts of the world, class is a fairly rigid divide.  In others, it's much more fluid, although maybe not so much as we would like to believe.

I've taught a lot of international actors.  I remember one in particular who came from the UK.  One of the comments he made at one point was how shocked he was when he watched "Supernanny" for the first time.  "I can't believe you let that woman on television." (He may have said "the telly", or that could just be me projecting British-isms backwards)  He was commenting on Jo, who speaks with a very low-class London accent.

My students from the US were appalled.  That was so classist!  Why should Jo be kept off of television because of the way she talks??

I agreed.  Then I asked them how they'd feel watching the same show with a woman from the backwoods, telling them all about "Hows theys gonna raise their key-uhdz."  The silence was deafening.

The way we speak gives a lot of information to the careful listener.  It tells them where we were raised, our educational background and even our social status and standing.  Even to the casual listener, much of this information is gathered on a subconscious level.

This is important to us as actors.  When we portray a character, the way they speak is as much a part of their character as the way they move and dress.  There's a reason we accept Kevin Costner in Field of Dreams, but have a harder time with him in Waterworld or Robin Hood.

There's also a reason why George W. Bush was mocked for being stupid (he isn't, whatever else you want to say about him politically) and Clinton was not.  Clinton's dialect sounds much more refined and polished than Bush's.  Bush's was almost deliberately hick-ish (that's kind of a Texan thing...we take pride in sounding "just like folks").

Despite his enormous wealth, classy is typically not a word used to describe Donald Trump.  His speech isn't elevated.  We can "hear" the difference between a polished Manhattanite and a cab-driver.  Between a polished Southern gentleman and a redneck (and I use that term with affection, seeing as how it describes a good number of my close relatives).

Learning and truly understanding diction, intonation and inflection, as well as dialects, is a very important part of becoming a truly versatile actor (Meryl Streep or Kevin Cline, anyone?).  It's also something that is completely within our control.  That's right folks!  In addition to amazing acting coaching, I teach diction, accent reduction and!  My next online workshop coming up this week will be on speaking Standard American speech more clearly (accent reduction) and will be limited to only 5 students.  If you would like to be one of those students (again at a discounted price), follow my blog, comment below and make SURE to leave your email or Twitter handle.  Also, if you are interested in ongoing instruction in accent reduction or dialects, email me at actingwithoutthedrama (at) gmail (dot) com.

Monday, November 1, 2010

Twitterizing Our Acting Careers


Most of you visiting this blog are more than likely coming from Twitter.  Twitter is a great social medial site.  I didn't think so when someone first told me about it?  "140 characters?  Really?  That sounds kinda dumb."
Hmmm...maybe I should learn to wait before I open my mouth.

Now, you may be on Twitter for a variety of reasons.  You may be here to interact socially.  You might be looking to network professionally.  You may be a 'bot, seeking to inundate my DM box with endless spam.  

If you are in the last category, let me just tell you right now that when you misspell "opportunities" or "growth" or "money", your credibility is somewhere right around the level of Pirelli's Miracle Elixir.  You musical theatre types understand that reference (or if you don't, SHAME on you!); the rest of you need to spend more time with Sondheim.  Yes, that's right.  I just outed myself as a thespian.  And yes, my wife does know.

So, putting the spam 'bots to the side (or into that special junk box with all the "little blue pill" emails), Twitter is great to make friends and network with professionals.  Who knows, you may even find a real free iPad deal out there.  Miracles happen.

One other way to use Twitter is to self-promote.  Yes, I know we talked about this last week.  It bears repeating.  Self-promotion is part of a successful long-term acting career.  Twitter is an amazing marketing tool.  Ergo, Twitter is an amazing tool as part of a successful long-term acting career.  How'd you like THAT syllogism, Mrs. Wilson?  Boo-yah! 

In order to use Twitter to its fullest, we need to understand Twitter to its fullest.  And truthfully, most of us actors hover right around the social media "expert" level.  If you haven't been on Twitter long, you have no idea how bad that actually is.  We could be a lot more sophisticated in our Twitter use than we are.

Twitter is a bit of a numbers game.  However, it's not just the number of followers you have.  There is a way of looking at other Twitter users that can tell you an enormous amount of information in a very short period of time.  And while it may not hold exactly true every single time, it's pretty stinkin' accurate.

Do you know what your following/follower rate tells about you?  What about your listed/follower rate?  Your follower/tweet rate?  These statistics, or "metrics", give a sophisticated Twitter user lots of info about the kind of user you are, and the kind of (or lack of) interaction you will offer.

And that information is invaluable if you are trying to market yourself.  The scope of what I can tell you about Twitter is somewhat limited in this blog, but it's important enough that the next online workshop that I'm offering will be on this topic.  Again, if you would like a discount, follow my blog and leave a comment (which needs to have either your email or your Twitter handle, so I can get in touch with you).  Until then, happy Tweeting!