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Well it’s December, the end of the year and a time to wind down 2014. A time to celebrate, and for many actors - take a break, visit family, and replenish. I think it’s a good opportunity to “marinate”, contemplate, vision, or simply step back and take inventory. We say at The Actors Workout Studio that we are in the business of “transforming actor’s lives, one at a time”. We believe in the “whole artist”, not only the skills, craft, and business of the actor, but “who each actor is”.
I give this lecture in my class every year as the holidays approach, and we spend quite a bit of time talking about and working with this topic. I’ll share a bit of it here. As we all know, a good acting class should challenge you, open you up, and get you in touch with your emotional life. It’s the process of unraveling yourself to be raw, present, vulnerable, and exposed. That’s what the acting instrument is - a present, vulnerable, affected being, raw with truth. Our work is to get in touch with and master our emotions, so we can utilize, not be victimized, by them.
In September, I started a new beginner’s acting class, which I hold three times a year - September, January, and April. I love this class, filled with all kinds of interesting people, from all walks of life. Many (most) are pursuing acting and want to get solid, professional training. Others want to “test the waters” and see if they have talent, or perhaps have been away from acting for a while and feel rusty. Often I get an actor’s spouse or boyfriend/girlfriend, who wants to understand the process and see what actors do and go through. Or, maybe a writer or director wanting to better understand and speak the language of acting. Sometimes it’s a sales person, lawyer, or someone who simply wants to be more expressive in their own life, come out of their shell, and explore themselves. It’s a great opportunity to explore acting, get in touch with your emotions, and discover your creative side.
When actors act, they are in the business of creating chemistry, creating a relationship, and making it believable. Say you are playing a romantic relationship (which happens often), and you need to create chemistry with your partner. Sometimes you might just meet them for the first time that morning on set. What if your role is that you’ve been married for 10 years? That relationship needs chemistry and history. You need to make choices and create specifics.
Actors will often ask their acting teachers if they are “ready to audition.” Do actors also ask their coaches if they are “ready for headshots?” Is that a crazy idea? Personally, I don’t believe you should give too much power to your acting teacher. (Unless, of course, it’s me!) I do see a pattern here that’s worth a conversation. As with career advice from anyone in the industry, take it and muse on it; it may or may not apply to you. This conversation is based on years of observation, working with actors just moving to LA.
I’ve often heard industry leaders say, “Television is a writer’s medium, film is a director’s medium, and theater is an actor’s medium.” How true that is.
Do you love “being an actor” or do you love to act?
When I first became an actor, I often heard this said: “Writers write, directors direct, and actors talk about acting.” I was furious, angry, I hated that statement, and I still do. I found it insulting, and degrading to actors. How dare anyone make that claim! I was dedicated. I didn’t even understand that statement, so let’s talk about it. Is your choice to be an actor ego based? Is your soul called to act? Is it a combination of the two? Where do you stand (or better yet, how are you living your life?) in relation to that statement?
My past three blogs have been about the business of being an actor. I’m going to jump forward here and talk briefly about how we define a successful actor. Better yet, what is success? How do you define it?
If you’ve followed my last two blogs, you'll remember I talked about how you are a business, and must have your own business plan. It should be flexible, while holding you accountable, and it should make you feel good about yourself and your progress. I also discussed how there is no one formula, curriculum, certification, or credential to make a successful acting career. I personally believe there are certain required credentials, but still no specific career path.
What are the credentials that actors need to succeed? Acting is one of the few professions that does not require a degree, or even specific training to get a job. It’s the only profession I’m aware of where if you have the best training in the world, studied at the finest institutions, performed theater all your life, and practiced under the most prestigious acting coaches and gurus - you are not guaranteed to get work.
The beginning of the year is the perfect time to do a self-assessment; to review, make plans, and set goals. In my classes at the Actors Workout Studio, we spend time in January and February working on goals and actions, and discussing the actor’s business model. Painfully, a lot of actors don’t want to discuss the ugliness of business, just the beauty of making art. Some students even avoid my business classes altogether, and return when we get back to learning the craft.
I am pleased to say, I am following my own advice. If you have been reading these articles for a while you would know that I am a huge advocate of self-production, creating your own material. So, in keeping with what I am asking all you to do, I am writing a screenplay. It's not my first, it's actually my seventh. And, as I am forging my way through my third draft it occurred to me that there are lessons to be learned about acting from writing. What are they? Here are four simple thoughts that come to mind:
I had an interesting conversation the other day with a casting director friend of mine. We were discussing the various acting roles and which ones are the hardest to play. The first thing that came out of my mouth was the crying roles. But, my casting director friend reminded me that most women can cry at the drop of a hat, so for some those are easy. Just because it took me years to get comfortable with crying on camera doesn’t mean it’s that way for everyone. Then she said rage is a tough one. Back when she acted, that was very difficult for her. That may be generally true for women but most men I know can get there in a nano-second. So, we sat there going back and forth trying to come up with a reasonable answer. Finally, in one of those rare synchronistic moments, we said at the same time, “One Line CoStar Roles!”
I’d like to take a slight jaunt off the normal path and talk about one of the reasons I am proud to be an actor. I just finished watching the “Breaking Bad” finale and I was thrilled. Not only was it a great finish to a great series, I am extremely proud of my fellow actors (many of whom I’ve worked with) who knocked it out of the park and showed the world what great acting and great storytelling looks like. Admittedly, I am a little jealous that I never booked a “Breaking Bad” episode, but I am actively part of the group of people who make shows that keep people endlessly entertained and that is more than enough to make me proud.
I was having lunch the other day with a working actor friend of mine and the conversation turned to how different each set is. Some are friendly, some are not. Some move fast in some move slow. Some are fun, some not so much.