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Sunday, August 14, 2011

Should Actors Have Knowledge of Story Theory? Guest blog from @StoryMeBad

If you think about it, in the context of performing arts, a story can’t exist without an actor. The actor is the means of communication between the audience and the story, and the written character is the ‘media’ - the sensory languages - that connect the story emotion to the audience senses.

So it is your duty as an actor to be true to the character; and the character is defined primarily in terms of what he or she does in delivering the real story. If you are not true to the character, you will not communicate the story as intended by the writer. How can actors understand what a part really asks of them?

I recently worked with the actor Mark Williams (Arthur Weasley in The Harry Potter films; also star of 101 Dalmatians; Shakespeare in Love and many, many more) and with Willy Russell (Theatrical legend and writer of Educating Rita; Shirley Valentine; Blood Brothers). The results of our conversations threw up four key factors in, firstly, what an actor needs to do in delivering a story and secondly, what a story and its characters should have to reflect well on you as the actor. Here we go then!

1.       Deliver the ‘Real’ Story
 An actor must understand his character`s role more deeply than simply delivering the actions and speaking the words. An actor must understand his role in delivering the truth of the story - the learning and message the author wants the audience to leave with. Once you have read the script, uncovered all its mysteries and you understand the real purpose and message of a story, then your job is clear: you must deliver your character`s contribution to delivering that purpose and message. That is the actor’s job.

2.       Deliver the Character
Secondly, the character himself: what is it about him that facilitates the delivery of this story? For example, if the story relies on your character`s cowardice, you can work on how to shape your delivery of this facet of the character. It is often way more important to approach this key component from its polar opposite in order to deliver it to maximum effect. In other words, a character who presents as strong and brave in dominating his wife and children may show this critical cowardice when genuinely under pressure to be brave out in the real world. By understanding the element of his character that delivers the story message and moral, the actor can be smart in the way he wraps up this precious deliverable and feeds it into the story at the perfect time and in the perfect manner. Watch Back to the Future. Marty McFly’s dad, George, is portrayed throughout as weak and unassertive. And yet this whole story pivots around his moment of bravery when he finally makes a fist. Everything. Watch it again, and think about that in the parts you play.

3.       You, the Actor
You must ask yourself, as an actor, what can I bring to this character that is different and special and which stamps my authority on this part? When a part gets an actor it is inevitable – totally unavoidable, in fact – that the actor will bring something to the part that was unexpected by the writers. If an actor is any good, and has done 1) and 2) properly, this is generally a good thing, whereby the actor is able to give life to the character in the correct spirit – the one intended by the author and required by the story.

To give you an example, Mark Williams told me this about his role as Arthur Weasley, Ron Weasley`s dad in Harry Potter:

”When we first worked on Harry Potter, I was coming to grips with Arthur, and Julie Walters was playing my wife, Molly Weasley. Julie and I spent time discussing how our characters might have met; where we met; how come we have seven children; how long we’d been together and what shared loves and values our relationship might be based on. We decided that we met at college and had been together since then, so we gave them a kind of studentish attitude and a ‘Jolly Hockey Sticks’ characteristic that they share because they met at college and have been together since then. Obviously, JK Rowling didn’t write that into the books, but having that provenance and understanding helps me to ‘be’ the character and helped Julie and I to deliver something that makes the Weasley family, as an entity in itself, feel real.” 

How can an actor know if the part is a good part to play?
The absolute top thing for an actor to look for in a story and in a part is our old friend, subtext. The majority of acting roles are `on the nose`. That is to say, everything the character does and says represents what he is genuinely doing and saying. It is very hard for an actor to make themselves look good with a part like this. A part that you can get your teeth into and which will reflect well on you as an actor must have subtext. The words you speak and the actions you take will not be the truth. Your character will know more or less than the audience about the truth of the situation.

When a character says `I love you`, but her actions tell a whole different story, this is a character with dimension, a character delivering the ‘real’ story in subtext.

If you would like to know more, I have a specific blog post on subtext at and address the subject in full in The Story Book, where you can also find the complete conversations with Mark Williams and Willy Russell. 

Never forget, you aren`t acting. You are delivering a story. If you have a good story and you deliver it well, you will be a fine actor.

David`s Book - The Story Book - is available now in hard copy in the UK, or in eBook format from his website ( or from Amazon Kindle eBook stores.

Sunday, June 5, 2011

Taking a Break

So, I'm moving.


Some of you that have been following along know that I left L.A. last year around this time to move closer to my wife's family.  We had never been in close physical proximity to them before and our kids had only ever had brief holiday visits to get to know them.  We decided to change that.

And while we won't miss Idaho Falls all that much (hey, it's a great town--they now have an OLIVE GARDEN!!), leaving them will be painful.  And yes, it is my in-laws I'm talking about.  I'm one of the luckiest guys on the planet.  Not only am I madly in love with my wife, but I love her family, too.


I'm going to be starting a new job.  I've been hired to build and then run a multimedia production studio.  It's very exciting and more than a little bit overwhelming.  It's also right next to where my parents live.  #score

Clearly, this is a pretty big change for us in a lot of ways.  And in order to really be there for my family, I'm needing to figure out how to better manage my time.

So here's the deal:  my internet radio show is going on hiatus.  The length of that hiatus is going to be determined by you guys.  You've seen or read or heard me ask for help on my Twitter stream, here at my blog, my iTunes page, my imdb page and on my internet radio show.  I've asked you guys to subscribe, to follow, to comment, to review, etc., etc.  And some of you have.  Most of you have not.

I really do understand, and this is not in any sense of the word intended to be a rant.  We're all busy.  We think, "I'll do that.  Just not right this second."  And then somehow weeks go past and we haven't taken action.

But in the meantime, those on the other end of things are left... well... alone.

Something you should know about me.  I love to teach and I love to help.  If, by my words or actions, I can keep someone from making the same mistakes and missteps that I did, it makes me exceptionally happy.  If I get to watch an actor fall in love with the craft, I'm ecstatic.

However, with a few notable exceptions, I have no feedback from you guys about whether or not what I'm putting out there is helping anyone.  I am able to track how many people read my blog, listen to my show and download my archived episodes on iTunes.  That number is far greater than what my subscriptions, comments and reviews numbers would indicate.

And those numbers are important.  They allow me to get the visibility, the sponsors and the support I need to justify taking time away from my family to do this work.  Because it does take time, effort and creativity to do.  And now that I'm starting a new and very full-time job, I'm not sure if it's worth the energy it takes.

That's where you come in.  If you like what I'm doing and want to see it continue and even expand, you need to let me know.  Start by following and commenting on my blog, since you're already here. :)

The other things you can do to help (and not all at once, for the sake of your own sanity) are listed here.  My blogtalkradio page could use followers, facebook "likes", comments and reviews.  Same with my iTunes page that archives all of those episodes.  My imdb page could also use those facebook "likes" (and even just searches for my name, to be honest... which is why the link is just to the main imdb page... type "Ben Hopkin" into the search bar).

Lastly, if you're an actor and looking for training, take a chance on my online classes.  Currently I'm only offering one-on-one training, which is incredibly inexpensive when compared with others in the industry.  I also allow you to try me out for free with a half-hour trial class.  Just email me at actingwithoutthedrama (at) gmail (dot) com to set one up.

But really, the most important things here are the ones that cost you nothing but a wee bit of time.  And yes, I just said, "wee".  *snort*

My blog will return in July, regardless of the response.  My radio show may also return then if the response is strong.  If the response is moderate but enthusiastic, the show will return in August.  If the response is weak, it probably won't come back at all.

I do want you all to know that this isn't intended as an ultimatum.  It's rather a reality check for me.  I have no interest in vanity projects.  If all I'm doing this for is an inflated sense of self, it's simply not worth it to me.  If, on the other hand, I'm really helping out and can receive some (free) help in return, then I'm all in.

So let me know.  It's in your hands.  :)

I'll announce the outcome when my blog returns in July.  Until then, my Twitter stream will still be active (although reduced in the number of tweets) and I will do my best as always to answer any direct messages or emails I receive.  Hope to hear from you all soon!

Sunday, May 15, 2011

Mouthing Off

I got a request the other day to do some additional dialect work on my podcast.  Well, it's been a while since I switched over from prerecorded podcasts to live radio shows and I'm not positive that this new format is conducive to dialect training.

But so what?

One of the things I talk about all the time is that we should step outside our comfort zones.  So, I'm going to put my money where my mouth is.  I'm going to try something that I'm not sure will actually work.  In fact, it may fail spectacularly.  But if it does, who exactly gets hurt?  No one but my ego, and he and I aren't really on speaking terms much these days anyway.  I kinda blame him for the vast majority of the stupid mistakes I've made over the course of my life.

So, this Thursday at 8 pm PST, I'll be talking about dialect training on my internet radio show.  I'll start with some general tips on dialect training overall, and then if there's time, I'll talk about the specific changes for what's called RP.  RP stands for "received pronunciation", by the way, which is itself a shortening of "received in the best society pronunciation".  We'll talk about that, too.  :)

Therefore, I request the honor of your virtual presence, this Thursday at 8 pm Pacific Standard, for my grand experiment.  Who knows?  If it goes well, we may do multiple sessions.

Sunday, May 8, 2011

That Was Fun... Let's Do It Again!

I had so much fun talking with you guys this last Thursday that I thought we'd do it again.  We only just scratched the surface of the topic of marketing, because (let's be honest) there's lots to talk about when it comes to self-promotion.

I loved so much of what came up during the last show.  Yehuda and Stephy had wonderful questions and comments and it was great to get to the core of what ends up stopping most of us--self-sabotage.  Remember always that there are two sides of the coin of fear:  the fear we won't live up and the fear that we will.  We generally discount the latter, but I've found that it can be the more powerful of the two.

It doesn't seem to make sense.  I mean, who doesn't want to be fabulously successful, right?  Turns out in practice that most of us want success and fear success in roughly equal measures (usually weighted a little towards the fear).  Change... even good change... is scary.

So, let's embrace the discomfort.  And let's start this Thursday at 8 pm PST.  I know that there are many of you out there that want to call in but are afraid.  This is an excellent time to get over those fears.  I don't bite.  I promise.  :)  You can find my show here.  Go there now and set a reminder for yourself.

And for those that are afraid to start training--now's a good time to get over that one too.  Sign up for my classes at the top of the blog!  You won't regret it.

Sunday, May 1, 2011

Brainstorming Session

We've all done it in other areas of our lives.  Gotten together with friends, family or co-workers and come up with ideas.  So, I thought it might be a good idea for us to try it this Thursday at 8 pm, Pacific Standard Time on my internet radio show.

This is a session that's open to actors, filmmakers, writers, casting directors, artists in general.  The point is to come up with ideas to help one another self-promote.  Whatever our artistic bent in life, we need to put our services out there for public consumption.  Unless we've already "made it" and our phone is ringing off the hook, all of us could use a leg up, or at least some great ideas on how to pick ourselves up by our bootstraps.

I've certainly given out a bunch of my ideas on what we can do to be marketing ourselves, but I want to hear from YOU!  The collective mind is always better than just one person in the dark, blindly trying to come up with good stuff.  Let's come together and help each other out.

Don't like to call in live to a radio show?  'Sallright.  As much as I would love to hear from you, it isn't necessary.  Leave a comment here, @ or DM me on my Twitter stream or send me an email--actingwithoutthedrama (at) gmail (dot) com.  Let's figure out innovative ideas to connect with others in the industry.

An example of what  I'm talking about?  Kristy Hatsell (@Kristi_Gail) put together something called Actors Supporting Actors on facebook and it looks to be a really excellent way to network with other actors in the Los Angeles area.  If you're in that area, you should check it out.

So, get those brains a-hummin', folks!  I want to hear from you.  This will only work if we step outside our comfort zone and participate.  #callme #Iamlonely  :)

Sunday, April 24, 2011

Commitment, Revisited

Yeah, yeah.  I get it.  I talk too much.

But at least I commit, right?

This week we're taking another go-round with the final "C", commitment.  There's a reason for that.  I'm going to blame it on the half-hour format.  Some might blame it on the fact that I spend way too much time yapping.  I prefer to refer to myself as someone who is very detail-oriented.

If you don't know what I'm talking about, you clearly missed my radio show last Thursday where I managed to spend the entire time answering a question from the stream as well as one from a caller.  Hopefully it was useful information for everyone, but I'm not going to try to claim that it had anything to do with the topic.

I will say, though, that that's kinda how I roll.  I give more weight to a real person asking a real question than I do to the topic that I chose.  It does mean, however, that if you tuned in specifically to hear about commitment, you didn't get much of it.

So, we will talk more about it this week.  Probably.  I'm not making any hard-and-fast promises, because if someone calls in and wants to talk about agencies, marketing, some specific acting discipline or whatever... I'm most likely gonna answer their question before I do anything else.

There is a solution to this.  If you want to hear about commitment, call and ask me about it.  I LOVE to hear from you guys.  It totally makes my night/week/month, so don't hesitate!  I don't bite unless asked, and I'm pretty sure the rest of my listeners don't either.  Remember:  shyness is just reverse judgment, and none of us want to be judgmental, right?  :)  So, tune in this Thursday at 8 pm Pacific right here and call in at (424) 243-9619.  At which point, we'll talk about whatever you want to talk about. :)

If you've been under a rock or just started following me on Twitter or reading this blog, just wanted to let you know of the amazing reduced prices for my online acting classes--$50 per month for once-a-week classes and $90 per month for twice-a-week classes.  You can't find better than that anywhere, and the online classes are super convenient and perfectly suited to learn on-camera technique.  You can sign up at the top of my blog.

Sunday, April 17, 2011

The Final "C"--Commitment

This is the one that sets apart the pros from the amateurs.  If you can master this one, the audience will definitely sit up and take notice.  They may love you, they may hate you, but they will NEVER ignore you.

I'm not talking about committing to being a working actor, or committing to training, or committing to follow through with what you say you're going to do.  That is all good, and all really important, but it's not what really what we're discussing right now.

What we're talking about is making an acting choice and then going ALL IN!!!  Acting is not a time for us to be wishy-washy about our choices, nor is it a time to hesitate.  Let's learn to make strong (meaning not necessarily expected), active and specific choices.  We talked about that last week with the actions, right?  Powerful active verbs'll do it for us.

Once we've done that, we need to step into those choices 100%.  Don't "punch" a little.  "Punch" all the way.  That doesn't mean the choice has to be physically huge.  It just means we need to really embrace the playing of that verb.  We don't like to do this.  It makes us feel vulnerable and exposed.  Guess what?  That's a good thing.  No, actually it's an excellent thing!

So, come join me this Thursday at 8 pm Pacific Standard Time for my blogtalkradio show.  We'll be talking about this subject more in detail then.  While you're there, follow my blogtalkradio page and leave a comment for me so I don't feel lonely!

Also, for those of you that haven't heard, I am offering my online acting classes starting at a measly $50 a month!  So, what I'm saying is that location and money are now no longer an excuse for not getting top-notch training.  You can join by going to the top of the page here, or you can email me with more questions at actingwithoutthedrama (at) gmail (dot) com.

Sunday, April 10, 2011

Second "C" part 2

So, for the first installment talking about communication as the second "C" of acting, I talked (apparently a LOT) about conflict and objective.  Good stuff.  Conflict engages your audience.  Objective places you firmly in the scene.

Now we're going to address internal obstacles and actions.

Every time we want something, we typically have some fear that works in direct opposition to our objective.  If my objective is to convince the woman that I love not to leave me, my internal obstacle may be that I'm afraid that I may not be good enough for her.

The internal obstacle does several things for us.  It humanizes us, first and foremost.  As far as I've been able to observe, doubt is what separates us from our beastly brethern.  My dog may not want to get caught stealing food from the table, but he doesn't doubt that he should have it if he can manage to obtain it. 

An internal obstacle also gives us dimension.  If I'm 100% sure of what I'm doing, that's kind of boring.  There needs to be that interplay between what we want and what we're afraid of. 

Finally, it gives us something to play when the other person is talking.  While they're talking we really can't pursue our objective.  But we can play our internal obstacle.  While the woman that I love is detailing all of the reasons that she should leave, I'm listening with my fears firmly in place.  I'm hearing everything she says through the filter of "I'm not good enough for her."

So, conflict draws the audience in, objective grounds us in the reality of the scene and internal obstacle humanizes us.  Should be enough, right?


Now we have to be interesting.  And that's where actions come in.  Actions are active verbs that we can do to the other person in support of our objective.  In other words, I may "punch" or "caress" or "tickle" the woman that I love with my words in order to convince her not to leave me.  These actions allow our acting to be specific, active and intensely personal.  The way I "pierce" or "seduce" will be dramatically different from the way someone else does it.

For more detail on these subjects, please join in with me this Thursday at 8 pm Pacific Standard Time, where I'll be discussing this more in depth while live on my show.  Questions about any of this?  Leave a question here in the comments (or in the comments on my blogtalkradio page), @ or DM me on the stream, or email me at actingwithoutthedrama (at) gmail (dot) com.  Oooo... one final option:  call in to the show to have your question answered LIVE!  I love to have callers, so don't be shy.  The number is (424) 243-9619.

Sunday, April 3, 2011

The Second "C"

Well, there is one thing that I think we can probably all agree on.  I talk too much.  *sigh*

My radio show was back this last week, and my plan was to talk about the three C's of acting, as well as possibly starting the conversation about conflict and objectives.

The best laid plans of mice and men, right?

I got as far as the first "C"--connection.  Now, in my defense, this is probably the most important and also least taught concept in acting, at least as far as my experience goes.  I've talked a lot about why I think this is, and if you're curious and missed last week's radio show, go listen to it here.

The second "C"--communication--is where we typically spend most of our time when training as actors.  Even in my classes, where the 1st "C" is given so much emphasis, most of the training surrounds this idea of communication.  The reason why is that with connection, we're either doing it or we're not.  We generally can tell whether or not we're connected to our partner with just a little bit of coaching.

With communication, we're delving deep into the craft or technique behind skillful acting.  True, connection typically takes care of most of our communication problems, but we're never 100% connected.  We need technique to smooth over the gaps.  We may get to the point where we're 99% connected, but that 1% of technique is still hugely important to make our performances grounded and stable.

During this week's (and possibly next week's... let's be honest) show, we will go more into depth about what's required of us in order to communicate with our partners and the audience.  As a brief spoiler, we need to be clear, active and specific.  I'll explain what that means this Thursday at 8 pm PST.  You can follow my radio show and set a reminder for the show by going here.  Please do, as it costs you nothing, but does quite a bit for me.  I would be sooooo grateful.  :)  Also, while you're at it, follow this blog if you don't already.

One final thing-- I have revamped the format of my online acting classes to make them more affordable.  You asked.  I listened.  You can now benefit from my expertise starting at $50 a month for my once a week classes.  That's one of the best deals out there (I've checked!) so take advantage while it's here!  If you want more info, email me at actingwithoutthedrama (at) gmail (dot) com.  Otherwise, sign up at the top of my blog here.

Have questions you want to ask me?  You can always @ or DM me on my Twitter stream, but I would LOVE to get comments on my blog here, so please leave your questions here!

Sunday, March 27, 2011

Back to Basics

After a week off from the radio show, I thought that this week it might be good to go back to the beginning.

Now, one thing that I've noticed is that actors with some training under their belts are really worried about anything resembling the words "beginning" or "basic".  The response normally goes something like this, "Ummm.  I'm kind of... beyond... this stuff."

Knock it off, guys.  Seriously.  Nothing marks you as an amateur more than complaining that you're "past" needing the basics.  Or that you can't learn if you're surrounded by less experienced actors.  Some of the biggest lessons I've learned have been from newbies.

Now, I understand the desire to work with those that will push you to excel and exceed your own expectations for yourself.  I get it.  But remember that acting is a little bit like martial arts.  A black belt can be beaten by a white belt if the white belt is concentrating and focused.  Same deal with actors.  Surround yourself with both experienced and inexperienced actors if you want to train yourself for what's truly out there in the industry.  And choose to study with dedicated actors, regardless of their experience level.  After all, we were all beginners at one point, right?

This week, we'll be talking first and foremost about conflict--what it does for us, why we want it, how we get it.  My guess is that we'll use up all our time on that one topic.  It's a good one.  So, if you have questions about conflict, leave them here, @ or DM me on my Twitter stream or email me at actingwithoutthedrama (at) gmail (dot) com.

So, I'll admit that the response to my last blog entry was a titch... underwhelming.  So, if you're reading this, I'm going to ask again for your individual response.  If you, just you, could follow my blog if you aren't already, follow my blogtalkradio page, and/or subscribe to my iTunes podcast, I would be so grateful.  It should take all of about 3 minutes.

If you're feeling ambitious, write a review or a comment on each.  Time commitment factor?  Tops...10 minutes.  Keep in mind how much time and energy I put into the tweets, the blogs, the radio shows, the email responses.  I'm not complaining.  Just asking for some help with some stuff that requires nothing from you but a little time.  A very little time. :)

Sunday, March 20, 2011

A Call to Action

Today I'm talking about something completely different.  I'm not going to have a radio show this week, as I will be filming on Thursday.  So, during the break, I'm asking for some help from you all.

As many of you know, I've been tweeting, blogging and doing a radio show for quite a while now, putting out acting advice, practical tips on how to navigate the industry and principles on how to self-market.  All of this I have been doing for free, because I love acting and I would love for up-and-coming actors to be able to avoid some of the pitfalls I fell into when I began my journey.

When I went to grad school, I was married with one child.  When I left we had two.  So I completely understand that many of you are in financial straits.  For this reason, it doesn't offend me when I ask for donations and receive none or when I get many requests for information on my online acting classes but few actual enrollments.  Money is tight.  I totally get it.

Now as a side note, I will say that if you're serious about acting, you will need to learn how to sacrifice what you want in the short term for what you want in the long run at some point.  Acting classes, whether you take them from me or someone else, are really a necessity if you want to have a chance at a life-long career.  Word to the wise.

There are some things that I ask for that require nothing from you but a little time or effort.  And when I say "little" I mean "teeny-tiny".  These are things that would help me to secure sponsors that would allow me to subsidize some of the time and energy (and money) that I put into this effort.

What I need is follows, subscriptions, reviews and comments.  These cost absolutely NOTHING.  Where I need them is here on my blog, on my blogtalkradio page and on my iTunes page.  You may be thinking, "I'm just one person.  One follow, one comment, one review... how much good is that going to do?"  LOTS.  Lots and lots and lots.  First off, it helps me to know that I'm not just putting this stuff out into the void.  It lets me know I'm doing some good.  More important that my fragile ego, however, is the ability to attract sponsors that will allow me to continue doing this indefinitely.

So, if you like what I'm doing here, let me know.  Show support for my blog, my Twitter stream, my radio show and my iTunes page.  No cost to you, lots of benefits for me.  I've done my best to scratch your back.  Now I'm looking for a little quid pro quo.

I want to take a quick second and thank those that have done this already.  I truly appreciate it, and I don't want you to feel like your efforts have been in vain.  It's been those of you who have commented, emailed, followed and subscribed that have kept me going up to this point.  THANK YOU!!!

One final plug for my classes.  If you're thinking about taking them, stop thinking and start DOING!  Not sure that you can do the times listed?  Talk to me about times that work for you.  You may find that I open up another section right when you need it.  Have questions?  Email me {actingwithoutthdrama (at) gmail (dot) com}.  Otherwise, sign up at the top of the page.

Lastly, if you do have a little spare change, head over to my donations page.  As much as all the above may help long-term, an infusion of cash is a HUGE help.  There's nothing that I would love more than to go back up to the hour-long format on my radio show.  Even if it's just a dollar or two, every cent counts.

So, guys... do me a solid, in whatever way you can.  And remember, we're only actors if we continue to act.  So get out there!

Sunday, March 13, 2011

Tweet, Tweet... This Twitter Thingy's Sweet

Twitter branding--which bird are you??

So, last week we talked about some of the basics of Twitter.  We discussed how Twitter works, what makes it fundamentally different from other social media sites and what to look at in a potential follower.

Now it's time to get serious.

When I say "serious" here, please take it with a grain or two or three of salt.  While there are some things that we can do to increase our presence online, reach out to other industry folk and improve the trajectory of our acting careers, it doesn't have to be filled with angst and frowns.  Let's apply my catchphrase here and remove the unnecessary drama from the process.

What we're going to talk about this week is branding.  How to brand ourselves, how to brand our streams, and how to use that information when dispersing our branded tweets, commercial tweets and social tweets out to our followers.  If reading that last sentence has you hyperventilating, sit down, breath deep and trust that there's nothing here you can't handle.  Promise.

Basically, your brand is you... distilled.  We want your essence here.  What makes you different, unique, special.  What makes you cast-able, interesting, worth listening to.  Now, your initial reaction may be to scream, "I got nothing!" and then bury your head in the sand.  But trust me, you have something worthwhile.

So, let that information percolate in your brain over the next few days.  Start thinking about what your brand might be.  Watch my stream and ask yourself, "What's @Actingnodrama's brand?  Why is he tweeting what he's tweeting?"  It's possible I don't have a reason (not likely, but possible), but asking yourself the question will set you on the right road.

Then join me for my online radio show, this Thursday at 8 pm PST.  I'll be going over all of the above in much greater detail.  Call in with your questions, or, if you're just too overwhelmed, @ or DM me on my Twitter stream or leave a question here in the comments.  I want to hear from you.

Then, take a second and consider taking my online acting classes.  All of the information you get on my stream, here in my blog and on my radio show, but directly applied to YOU in real-time.  How awesome is that?  There really is nothing better you can do for your acting and your acting career.  Sign up at the top of my blog, or email me with your questions (actingwithoutthedrama (at) gmail (dot) com).

*Quick update!  My business partner, Carolyn McCray (@craftycmc and @writingnodrama) has an article up on Digital Book World's site right now about how to best sell your ebooks on  If you're a writer or have any interest in where the industry's going right now, you have to check this out by going here!

Sunday, March 6, 2011

This Career's for the Birds

We talk about marketing ourselves all the time on this blog.  I think it's high time we talked about marketing ourselves on Twitter.

Twitter is one of the best social media tools around for the purposes of self-promotion.  The way it's set up, the method of communication, everything seems perfectly suited for getting the word out about something.  In our case, that something is ourselves.

There are several things we want to consider as we launch into the dangerous and fail-whale-infested waters that are Twitter.  The one that we're going to talk about in this blog is, do we know who we are?  By that, I mean that we need to understand our "brand" as actors.  I, for example, am a teacher.  I went to a top grad school.  I worked in both theatre and film.  I ran an acting for film program for one of the largest film schools out there.  For me, the "brand" is someone that has experience and knows what he's doing.

That's not all of my brand, though.  You'll also notice that I talk about my family.  I do that because that's part of who I am.  I'm also kind (or at least I strive to be).  I believe in the power of dreams and imagination.  I think we are ultimately responsible for our own success or lack thereof.

All of those things factor into who I am, and are (I believe) represented in my Twitter stream.

When I talk about "brand", don't just immediately assume that it's something that you need to make up to try to be marketable.  When I talk about your brand, I'm talking about the best part of you.  The things that make you unique.  That makes you attractive to potential casting directors, directors and producers.  Because in spite of the fact that Hollywood is perceived to be a bunch of fake poseurs, what attracts people more than anything else (good looks, a perfect body, sex appeal, etc.) is authenticity.

So, join me this Thursday at 8 pm Pacific Standard Time for my radio show, where we can talk more in depth about branding, plus some specifics about how Twitter can be used.

A quick note about the radio show and this blog (as well as my Twitter stream).  I love providing what I can for up-and-coming actors and those that love the craft.  There are some things that would make it SO much easier for me, without costing you anything more than a little bit of time. 

Follow and comment on my blog--the more follows and interaction, the greater chance of sponsors.  Follow (and "favorite" and comment on) my radio show here--again, the more follows and "favorites" and comments, the greater chance of sponsors.  Also, subscribe to, review and comment on my iTunes page here.  Same reasons as above. :)

Would I love you to donate to my radio show?  Would it be great if you were to take my online acting classes (see the top of this blog)?  Absolutely!  But I also understand that many of you are flat broke.  So I'm giving you things to do that cost you absolutely NOTHING!  Please help me out by taking just a little of your time.

With that said, let's get out there and market ourselves!

Sunday, February 27, 2011

Working Actors

I hope you guys know by now that I'm not here to destroy or mock or change any of your dreams.  I believe in dreams.  I have them myself.  I'm not jaded and bitter.  I am full of hope and of the sweetness that hope brings.  I am also full of hope that will never go away if I continue to choose hope over despair.

And one of the things that I like to do when despair beckons with its sweet, dismal keening is to talk about success stories.  Also, remember that my definition of success is different than many others'.  I believe that success is about doing what you love and living to do it another day.

But sometimes, that definition of success and the world's happen to coincide.  Such is the case with a friend of mine from my undergraduate acting program.  He was and is a talented performer.  His financial success, like many struggling actors, wasn't all that great.  But he persevered, continued making and keeping friends in the business, and above all, found ways to keep acting.

He is now in NYC, getting ready for the Broadway premiere of the show that he's performing in.  The actor's name is Danny Stiles, the musical is Wonderland, and Danny's going to be a guest on my show this Thursday at 8 pm Pacific Standard Time, schedule permitting.

Danny's a great guy, a wonderful actor and singer wrapped around a beautiful soul.  He's also been through his fair share of disappointments and frustrations as he's tried to navigate the business.  That's true of everyone that attempts to have a career in entertainment.

I'm not going to share any more of his story, but please join us this Thursday to hear it from the horse's mouth.  Have questions for Danny?  Call in and ask them.  Want to congratulate him for making it to the Great White Way?  Do that, too.  I'm sure he will appreciate it.

But whether or not you join in, make sure and listen.  We can all use success stories from time to time.  Keeps hope alive, you know?

You can listen to the show by going here or by calling in (424-243-9619) at 8 pm L.A. time.  I look forward to hearing from you!

And remember, if you're enjoying the advice and information you're getting from my Twitter stream and radio show, put it to the test in my online acting classes.  Doesn't matter where in the world you are, if you have internet and a webcam, you can take acting classes.  Sign up at the top of this page.

AND, no matter what else you do, make sure that you keep acting!

Oh, for all you actors out there that love a good book, you HAVE to see what Bestseller for a Day is doing.  Today only, 30 Pieces of Silver, the amazing and controversial thriller by Carolyn McCray (@craftycmc and @writingnodrama) is only $.99!  You get an awesome novel, you can enter to win prizes, plus you're helping indie authors everywhere.  Go here to find out all about Bestseller for a Day.  Go here to purchase 30 Pieces of Silver!

Sunday, February 20, 2011

Riddle Me This... the Q & A Session

Nobody wants to look stupid.

Heaven help me, I understand the impulse, as foolish as it is.  We all want to be "in the know", even when we really aren't.  By the way, even the folk who are "in the know" don't know everything.  I certainly don't.  The only difference is that I typically will tell you when I'm giving you an educated guess.

Experience is an amazing teacher.  However, none of us has unlimited experience.  Therefore, it follows logically that there will be gaps in our knowledge.  Those gaps are greater for those that are just starting out.  There is absolutely no shame in it whatsoever.  It's just a good thing to remember as we're trying to navigate our way through as system that's confusing to even old pros without taking the time and energy to be well informed first.

What do we do when we don't know something?  We go about trying to get it.  We go to college, to a parent, to a trusted mentor.  We seek out experts in the field we're interested in to find out what we want to know.

So, for this week, I'm giving you an opportunity to ask anonymously any of those questions that you would be too embarrassed to ask otherwise.  Or, if you want to be brave, go ahead and ask your questions in a more public way--commenting on my blog here, @'ing me on the stream on Twitter, or by actually calling in to my internet radio show this Thursday at 8 pm Pacific Standard Time.  But if not, you can email me at actingwithoutthedrama (at) gmail (dot) com.  I promise I won't mention your name if you do. :)

Whether you email, comment, @ or call, I will try to answer every question I get during the show this Thursday, time allowing.

And if you like what you hear, maybe it's time to step up your game a little bit.  It doesn't matter where in the world you are, as long as you have internet connection and a webcam, I can train you as an actor.  You can sign up here on my blog, or request more information by email me.

So, here I am, ready and waiting for you questions.  Let's get to it!

Sunday, February 13, 2011

Shouting Ourselves out from the Rooftops

Time to talk about it once more, people.  Marketing.  Self-promotion.  Glad-handing.  Schmoozing.  The old razzle-dazzle.

Yes, we've discussed this before.  No, I don't have any plans to stop any time soon.

Because it's important.  I don't want anyone to misunderstand me.  I'm not saying it's more important than other things like, say, acting craft.  I'm just saying it's the one area that most actors neglect when they're pursuing an acting career.

Times have changed, people, and they're continuing to change almost as fast as we can keep up.  More and more I'm hearing about actors (especially VO artists) getting work from their interactions on Twitter and FaceBook.  Submissions are almost all online these days.  A working website is nearly as important as having a headshot, resume and reel.

We can blithely continue forward, hoping against hope that we'll be "discovered", but those days are largely past.  I'm not saying it can't happen.  I'm just saying that it's not incredibly likely.  And with as many actors as are out there, you will get lost in the shuffle if you're not putting your rowboat firmly in the shipping lanes.

In other words, shouting yourself from the rooftops.

So, we're going to be discussing it this Thursday at 8 pm PST on my radio show.  As per usual, Kristi Hatsell (@Kristi_Gail) will be there with me, putting in her more-than-two-cent's-worth.  So join in here, or better yet, call us!  The number's (424) 243-9619 or you can Skype from my blogtalkradio homepage while the show's live.  We would love to hear from you.

If, however, your voice is hoarse (because you didn't listen to last week's show, shame on you) or you're shy, or you have anti-social issues, @ me on the stream or leave a question as a comment here.  I'll answer your questions during the program.

Enjoying what we're doing here and on the show?  Then please help us to continue it by DONATING!  All this stuff is coming to you for free, but it takes time, energy and moolah to make happen, so donate here.  Even just a buck or two helps!

And, if you're looking to take your talent and your career up to the next echelon, join my online acting classes.  They're flexible, affordable and you can learn without leaving your house (or changing out of your pj's).  I would love to see you in class!  Sign up at the top of the page.  Let's get to it... there's acting to be done!

Wednesday, February 9, 2011

All the Way from Glasgow...Guest Blogger @actingcoachmark!

For those of you who don't know Mark Westbrook (@actingcoachmark on Twitter), I wanted to give you a chance to check him out.  He and I come from slightly different disciplines (although I have nothing but respect for his approach) and remarkably similar ways of viewing the craft of acting.  Please take a second after reading this entry to go and see his blog, where my guest entry is currently posted.
First off, let me say, it’s an honour to feature on Ben’s blog, we acting coaches are not known for flocking together, in fact, the collective term for our profession is probably a ‘discordance’, if anything. So I really was delighted to have found another acting coach online, with a very similar philosophy of acting, if the actual practical application differs. 
With each new student, I always start from the same point.  Where are you at now? And where do you want to be? A simple coaching question.  It could be asked in anyway field, but it cuts through what I call the ‘wantingitNESS’ and starts to make the actor figure out practicably (so it’s capable of being done) what steps should be taken to become an actor.  I hear lots of people say they ‘want’ to be actors, want to be writers, want to be directors, but unless they actually take the steps to achieving this, you are only left with a burning want, and zero achievement.  The want is not enough.  You’ve got to take action.  
But what action should you take?  There are of course, two sides to this.  The business side of the actor, and the technique side.  If you’ve read Ben’s blog before, or caught his Twitter feed, or listened to his Radio Show, you’ll know that he handles both sides and his advice is always very valuable.  
At my own studio in Glasgow, Scotland, we don’t really focus on the business side, we do help students that have those questions, but our primary aim is to help people to learn to become truthful actors. 
Well, what the heck does that mean?
I mean that when someone watches you act, that you do nothing to disturb their appreciation of it.  The audience will put up with a lot, but they sense bullshit and pretending from miles away, but give them truth, show them the truth, and you’ll notice an amazing phenomena, people start to lean forwards in their seats, the room goes quiet, and everyone is drawn to this actor, who may be doing very little, but they are doing so with truth and have become entirely captivating.
The starting point for our actors at ACS is the truth, we do this by combining the acting philosophies of many great people into a very simple little package. I said simple, but I didn’t say easy.  It takes about two years of classes to ground the basics.  After that, it’s a matter of growing experience in relations to different acting challenges.  When I tell students this, (long before I mention Sanford Meisner’s quote about it taking 20 years!) some people look quite disappointed.  They want the quick fix.  Well it isn’t going to happen.
The starting point for you as an actor, is the understand that you are joining a craft of acting that takes time, requires an apprenticeship, needs a commitment that is long, steady and ongoing, and is often the cold truthful answer behind the hot burning ‘wantitNESS’ that’s driving you.
Mark Westbrook
Acting Coach Scotland
Mark's blog can be found here.  Go and check it out!

Tuesday, February 8, 2011

Baby Talk

Time to make idiots of ourselves, guys!

Whenever I start teaching someone how to use his or her voice properly, the first thing I discuss with them is what babies do.  Sounds crazy, but go with me for a second, guys.  You've been around infants before, right?  And you've noticed, I'm sure, their crying.  Ever notice how it can go on for hours and hours?  And that they never go hoarse?

Sound useful at all?

You know as well as I how fragile our voices can be.  And I don't know many films that are going to halt production for us to get our voices back after we've blown them out.

So, yep.  That's our job as actors.  Getting our voices back to the natural state they were in when we were born.  And the way we do that?

By making some of the stupidest sounds known to man.

The main thing to know is that the less tension we have in our bodies, the better our breathing (and therefore speaking) will be.  Getting rid of that tension is a bit of a challenge, but there's ways to do it.  Relaxation exercises, Alexander technique training, yoga, meditation, among many other things, can all help.  Once we've started getting the tension out of our voices, the next step is to make an absolute fool out of ourselves.

There are several techniques that I use to access the "baby" voice, but the one I've found a lot of success with is to imitate a baby's cry.  Finding that place for us as adults is a challenge, not because it's hard to do, but because there's a real sense of embarrassment or shame in making those sounds.  Try it right now and you'll see what I mean.

But once we let go of our pride and find that place, we can see that it's an incredibly intense sound that can be made with little to no effort on our parts.

So, come join me this Thursday at 8 pm PST for my radio show, where alongside Kristi Hatsell (@Kristi_Gail on Twitter) I will talk about how to get the most out of that little box in the middle of our throats.  Join in here, or be brave and give us a call at (424) 243-9619 or by Skyping in from my blogtalkradio homepage during the live show.  Like what you've been getting in these blogs, the podcasts and the show (all for free)?  Help us continue what we're doing by donating here.

And, as always, if you're picking up what I'm laying down, let's do it on a regular basis!  Join my online acting classes by signing up at the top of the page here.  Let's get crackin'!

Sunday, January 30, 2011

Move that Tushy

There's so much to talk about when we start discussing movement, that I almost don't know where to begin.  I guess the first place is to say that I, in times past, have been a movement hater.  Yep.  Movement was my all time least favorite class.

I know, I know.  I've shattered all sorts of illusions about myself with that statement.  That I'm this all-knowing acting guru.  That I was the perfect student myself.  That I'm an Adonis.

Please take a moment.  Your hysterical laughter should soon subside.

But here's the point:  moving through space as an actor is kinda important.  Getting comfortable in our own skin is kinda important.  Being healthy is kinda important.

And movement training (of any kind) does all that and more.

Whether it's yoga or fencing or Alexander technique or dance or Feldenkrais or Aikido, learning to use our bodies in an integrated way will do nothing but improve our strength, our stamina, our shape and even our presence.  There is an ease of movement that happens when we become accomplished at any of these disciplines.  That ease of movement is magnetic. 

Just think for a moment about Darth Maul in The Phantom Menace.  We're not going to talk about what the movie did to the Star Wars franchise.  We're just going to talk about the fluidity of motion that was Darth Maul.

Oh.  My.  Heavens.

I really have no idea if Ray Park, the martial artist who was the body of Darth Maul, can actually string two words together.  What I can tell you is that he was absolutely compelling to watch move.

A completely different example, but just as compelling in my mind, is John Malkovich in Dangerous Liasons.  He's not a particularly handsome fellow, but the grace with which he slinks through that film makes him thoroughly drool-worthy.  And I'm straight, fercryinoutloud!

Oh, and Ellen Barkin in The Big Easy.  Again, not so drop-dead gorgeous.  But WOW is she smokin' in that film.  She brought more heat than Cajun spices.

As I said, there's too much here.  Soooo, we're going to talk some more about it this Thursday at 8 pm Pacific Standard Time on my internet radio show, right here.  As always, I'd love for you to call or Skype in, but if you're feeling too shy, just @ me with any questions you might have on my Twitter stream, @Actingnodrama.  I'll be joined by Kristi Hatsell (@Kristi_Gail on Twitter), up-and-coming actress extraordinare.

And if all this information has got you champing at the bit to take classes, guess what?  I got 'em!  You can sign up at the top of this blog page, or for more info, email me at actingwithoutthedrama (at) gmail (dot) com!

Sunday, January 23, 2011

Kumbaya Acting

"Namaste," the teacher intones in a soft, gentle voice.  And my skin starts to crawl.

I am an admitted intellectual.  Anything "touchy-feely" made me want to climb for the hills.  Anytime a teacher asked me to send an energy dart at a classmate or touch someone's heart chakra, in my mind I was thinking, For crying out loud, just let me act, already!

What I didn't recognize is that was exactly what they were trying to do.  So much of learning the craft of acting is an intellectual process.  The problem with that is that acting as an art form is not.  The craft is necessary for consistency of performance, but if craft is all there is, it will leave an audience feeling hollow.

There is a part of acting that is rarely talked about, rarely taught, but valued above pearls.  That is the "it" factor.  The connection that electrifies us in a performance.   That elevates something above good, above great... and takes it to the level where comparison is unimportant.  We are moved.  We are inspired.  We are changed.

That's what we'll be discussing this week on my internet radio show--Thursday at 8 pm Pacific Standard Time.  Go set yourself a reminder right now!  I want you to listen, I want you to call in, I want you to be a part of the conversation.  We're actors; we're a part of a community.  Time to start acting like it, right?  :)

And for those of you that want to take it a step further, sign up for my online classes!  The registration's up at the top of the page here.  And if you have any questions, you can email me at actingwithoutthedrama (at) gmail (dot) com.

Sunday, January 16, 2011

Training, Training and More Training

We all know the story.   Young new actor, fresh off the bus, filled to overflowing with good looks, big dreams and possibly even some talent.  And every day, at almost a one-to-one ratio, another not-so-young, no-longer-so-good-looking actor filled with cynicism and maybe a smattering of wisdom gets onto a bus going the opposite direction.  The bus looks identical to the first, but its denizens aren't buzzing with anticipation to get where they want to go.

There's a lot of reasons why actors give up the dream.  I've talked about a lot of them.  Today, I'm specifically focusing on those that come out to Hollywood or the Big Apple to shape the face of the entertainment industry but foolishly forget their scalpel.

I've talked before about how silly it is to imagine that a sculptor could carve a block of marble without someone to first show them the way.  Acting is just as much an act, and yet somehow we look at it as just walking and talking.  Sure there are examples out there of actors who made it without formal acting classes, but let's look at that.

First, the examples are far and few in between.  It's hard enough to make it in the industry.  Do we want to start off by shooting ourselves in the proverbial foot?  We're raising the already considerable odds against us by jumping in with no clue.

Second, many of those examples trained "on the job".  Like Johnny Depp.  Watch him in Nightmare on Elm Street or 21 Jump Street and tell me he didn't learn something before he did Finding Neverland.  Or Kim Basinger.  Seen her as a James Bond girl?  Oooo.  Enough said.  And yet, she found her way into a brilliant performance in LA Confidential.  Learn while you go.  Only one problem.  Once again, please look at the ODDS, people. I'm not denying that there are honest-to-goodness prodigies out there.  But even those prodigies typically train.  Mozart wouldn't have been Mozart if he hadn't been thrust into music at an early age by dear-old-Dad.  Or Tiger Woods, either.

Finally, most actors who are successful without training have brief careers.  Their innate talent can only take them so far.  Remember the Coreys?  Or Casper Van Diem?  Or, or, or....?

So, let's lessen the odds and look towards establishing a life-long career as actors.  To that end, listen to my radio show this week on Thursday at 8 pm PST.  You can set a reminder for yourself here.

And for those that need no convincing, it's time to sign up for my online classes!  Just go to the top of my blog here, fill out the form and click the PayPal tab to pay.  You won't be sorry!  If you have questions about it, or just want more info, email me at actingwithoutthedrama (at) gmail (dot) com.

Sunday, January 9, 2011

It's Time to Get Serious...about Comedy

Why do we laugh?

What makes us cringe and move to help when we see someone fall down hard, but then causes us to split our ribs as we see almost the identical thing on America's Funniest Home Videos?

Context is certainly part of it.  Timing's another.  But I think the most important thing is the little bit extra.

Talking about the example I gave above, the little bit extra is the humorous (or sometimes not so humorous) voice-over, the over-the-top music, or the cartoonish audio stings inserted.  In each instance, we're not just seeing the raw footage, which would be as likely to induce a gasp of sympathy as it would to elicit a hearty guffaw.

So, what does this mean to us?  What it means is that we've got to get serious about our study of comedy.  Find actors whose comedic work you admire and pick it apart.  Study it for timing, for set-up and pay-off, but ultimately, study it for that little bit extra.

With comedians like Robin Williams, the little bit extra is typically WAY extra.  It's out front and present.  With someone like Andy Kaufman, the little bit extra was occasionally so tiny that most of the audience didn't see it.  The reaction was many times out and out anger instead of laughter.

Study improv.  A lot.  Not only does improv help us find those beautiful, unexpected moments in our acting, it also allows us to do the thing that gives most actors the night sweats.  Act without a script.  And guess what, guys?  So many commercial auditions are lacking in one actual script with lines.  You learn to improv well, and those jobs can be yours.  Oh, one other thing improv does well:  helps us find the funny.

Because for all that's been said here, your inner comedian is different from everyone else's.  Finding your own comedic voice is as much a part of the process as learning the rule of three.

For those of you that don't know what the rule of three is, or who just want to take that next step on the road to comedy, join me this Thursday at 8 pm Pacific Standard Time for my radio show.  Take a second now to go and set yourself a reminder, give my show a "favorite" or leave a comment.  And give me a call while we're live.  I promise, it's SO much fun!  And if you're liking what you hear, go outside your financial comfort zone and DONATE! Just a buck or two makes a world of difference and would allow us to go back up to the hour-long format.  C' know you want to... :)

I do have to say, what I offer here pales in comparison to what you get in my online classes.  They're so don't have to leave your house!  And they totally work.  So if you're interested, sign up above, or email me at actingwithoutthedrama (at) gmail (dot) com for more info.

Sunday, January 2, 2011

Goals? You Mean Like in Soccer?

It's that time, people.  You know what I mean.

You wake up on the morning of January 1st, look blearily into the mirror and think, "What am I doing with my life?" (or possibly, "What was that I was drinking?", but it amounts to the same thing)  I could take a moment to talk about the idiocy of staying up late and drinking the night before the new year is to begin, but I don't want to kick any of you who may still be hungover.

And let's be perfectly honest.  For a lot of us, 2010 pretty much... well... stank.

There are a lot of factors that made this past year a bit of a doozy--the economy being the major one, probably.  But we can find all sorts of things to blame for our lack of professional progress:  the industry, SAG, casting director workshops, the President, Congress, the Chairman of the Federal Reserve, the banks, Dr. Phil.  Actually, that last one may be kinda true.  Dr. Phil has always seemed a little shifty to me.  Let's blame him!

The point is, the list is practically endless.

It's also typically missing the one thing that makes the most difference in our acting careers.  Us.

We have a lot more power and control than we like to believe when it comes to our success or lack thereof.  It's a lot easier to believe that something, or someone, is to blame for our present woes.  That means we don't have to take responsibility for our own lives.

So, what are we going to do about it?

We are going to set goals.  Tangible, attainable, measurable goals.

And then we are going to set about attaining them.

So, this Thursday, tune in to my radio show at 8 pm Pacific Standard Time so that we can talk about it!  In fact, go there right now to follow me, set a reminder for the next show, listen to past episodes, give me a favorite vote, mock my logo, you know... whatever floats your boat.  I'm going back to a 1/2 hour format, which won't give us quite as much time (bummer!).  So, if you want me to go back to the hour (or even longer...), there's a simple solution:  DONATE!  If every listener donated just one dollar a month, it would more than cover the cost of a longer show.

But even if you can't part with that greenback, join in for our conversation.  Better yet--call in!  I'd love to hear from you.  And a little shout out to @Calashi for co-hosting this last week (she was awesome!) and to @MichelleFH for calling in with a great marketing tip.

As always, if you're liking what I'm putting out in this blog, my Twitter stream and the radio show, it may just be time for you to experience the kind of training that I can do as your acting coach.  Sign up for my online classes or one-on-one sessions.  They are totally worth it!  There's a form you can fill out at the top of the blog here, or for more info you can email me at actingwithoutthedrama (at) gmail (dot) com.