As current students will have gathered, I have decided to split the class from the normal 6:30 – 9pm class to two 2 hour classes: 6pm – 8pm and 8pm – 10pm. This gives students smaller class sizes and makes better use of their time as they don’t have to sit through 3 hours of class to be able to work. I’m pretty pleased at how the smaller class sizes are working out as well.
Generally, people who are just starting out are coming to the early class and students who are doing more advanced work are coming to the later class.
If you’re interested in checking out the class, feel free to sign up for a free audit!
One of the most important things actors can do to keep their skills sharp, especially during downtime, is to be in an acting class. Because acting classes are process oriented, they allow students to explore new parts of themselves in a safe environment. You aren’t going to get fired from your acting class because you are trying something new!
But finding the RIGHT acting class is sometimes difficult. There are so many styles of acting and outlooks of teachers that it can be hard to choose. Here are some things to think about to help you choose a class that will take you to the next level.
Summer is fading fast and it’s time to start thinking about getting “back-to-school”! This is a great class for anyone who is thinking about starting out with the fundamentals of professional acting. We work on listening and responding truthfully. These skills are not only great for actors, but great for normal humans too! So come and check it out!
This post references the Acting Metaphors: The Stickshift post.
“Downshifting” is what I call the process of going from a highly personal and deeply behavioral repetition, to one that is more on the surface. If you are going to downshift, which is certainly something that can happen, then know that it generally means that you are losing the inherent meaning in the words (“you’re scratching your face” being less inherently meaningful than “you’re lonely”, for example). Downshifting can be a result of the actor needing to create space to let off steam or to give their partner a break (both of these are not necessary and don’t lead towards the partner). If it happens, then one way to keep the energy level of the repetition at a consistent level would be to increase how personally you take whatever the behavior that you’re downshifting to: if the face scratching in the previous example is in response to the partner being lonely, then it might take on extra meaning.
If you’re downshifting to give everyone a break from the intensity, then I recommend acknowledging that truth somehow in the repetition. Get that need to cool off out on the table and then start again moving towards the partner. It could be that by recognizing the need to cool off, you learn something personal about your partner that will lead you closer together.
I’m starting a new series of posts: Metaphors which I use during class. Hopefully you’ll find them useful!
One of the ways scientists get information about the composition of the other planets and moons in our solar system is by crashing spacecraft into them and then studying the debris that gets kicked up. The metaphor here is that we want to use our attention and the power of our personal observations about our partner to crash into their surface (although the impact doesn’t necessarily have to be violent). But the real information about who they are comes from how they respond to the repetition (the debris that gets kicked up). Their response to you is going to tell you a whole lot more about themselves than how they behave at the surface.
Don’t hold your opinions back from your partner. Make an impact on them and you’ll come to a deeper understanding of who they are!
The idea of the stickshift is that you might start out in first gear: some surface truth (you’re wearing a blue shirt). By adding energy (stepping on the gas), the tachometer starts to go up. At the moment of highest energy, some new behavior, a response to what is going on in the moment, will emerge. Now the repetition shifts to that new observation of behavior, which is probably deeper (a higher gear) than the surface truth. The RPM might go down, but the energy level is maintained because of the increased inherent meaning in focusing on the behavioral response (instead of on a new surface behavior). Adding more energy to the repetition brings the partners into the red again, which leads to another shift change. The process continues until the partners reach an end point (hello or goodbye) or one of them downshifts. As one of my teachers put it: Always trade up in terms of meaning. Always go for the more meaningful behavior.
Networking, or building up your network of contacts, is something that gets a bad rap. It can be viewed as a phoney or a fake way of making friends. And if you do it badly, it is. But even if you do it badly, you’re still going to be ahead of those actors who don’t do it at all.
I learned about networking from this post over at Manager Tools. They are some fantastic coaches of managers and their podcasts and advice on how to get along in the business world is fantastic. Definitely listen to their post and see what you get out of it but I’ll outline the basics here.
- Building your network is much more about maintaining contact rather than going out and being social.
- Start a list of people that you want to stay in contact with. This can and should be anyone: casting directors, ADs, production assistants, agents assistants (today’s assistants are tomorrow’s real deal!), directors, actors, costumers, drivers, whatever. Anyone that you come into contact with through your work can go on the list.
- Put the list into a system where you will get a reminder to contact that person every 3-4 months or so. I made a special calendar in google calendar where each person was an event that recurred every 3 months. But you can use any system you want!
- When that person’s day comes up, send them an email or letter, or call them or tweet at them. It’s best if you contact them to mention something that they are involved in, rather than just saying what you’re up to. But you can also mention what you are up to.
- Don’t expect an answer back and don’t require one in your contact with them. All you need to do is keep the contact alive.
- Over time, add details to who they are: what projects are they associated with, what are their kids names, when are their birthdays (and their kids birthdays!). You may or may not use that information in your contact, but its good to have it handy if you need it.
- Also over time, add/remove people as necessary. You can easily keep in active contact with 200 – 500 people this way. If someone is not responding or asks you not to contact them anymore, then take them off your list! If you meet someone cool on a set or a class, put them on!
As Manager Tools states: having a strong network means one where the contacts are alive and where you aren’t only contacting these people when you need something. If the only time a casting director hears from you is when you want them to cast you in something, they are far less likely to think well of you than if you write to them on their birthday or when you congratulate them on a show they cast that you really enjoyed.
And remember, this is a marathon. There are contacts that I have kept up (because I like the people, not because I think I can get something from them) that have been able to help me directly as an actor only after 5 or 6 years! So keep it up! It will be incredebly rewarding when you do!
Also see the Backstage article on where to go to meet new people in the industry!
It’s come up recently that it’s possible for us as actors (as people, really), to never be quite satisfied with where we are. At what point are we fulfilled as actors? I’ve certainly felt that “if I only had this part in a series, then I’d be happy” or “All I want is to get the chance to audition. Is that too much to ask” feeling many times myself. But I also know that there are many actors, who have “made it” who are still not happy with where they are. The series regular part that leads to type casting, where you don’t have enough scenes or too much work or not working with the right people or you’re away from home too much or you’re not making the kind of money that you should be making. As we look for what fulfills us, if you’re looking to something outside of yourself, you’re probably looking in the wrong place.
In our discussion in class the other night, many students brought up that just being in the moment, at the moment of creation, is fulfilling for them. That’s a wonderful feeling. Sometimes you hear it referred to as being in the “zone”. If that is where you get your fulfillment as an actor and an artist, then you’re putting yourself in a position to be fulfilled quite a bit. Because being in the zone, or being in the moment is something that is within your direct control. There is no casting director, director, producer or other acting partner who can prevent you from being in the moment. Maybe a certain project that you’re on is shitty. It happens. But the experience of the moment can and does transcend any over-arching shittiness. And by taking your fulfillment from the moment, you side-step the potential disappointment that results from external forces: money, production difficulties, personal issues, etc.
You also set yourself up to get fulfillment from every experience of acting: rehearsing, auditioning, sharpening your craft, performing, and even working on the “business” of acting (networking, marketing, etc). You can be in the moment for all of that. And it is in your complete control.
A lot of times, especially here in Prague, it’s easy to get lazy about working on your art. You may attend an acting class, you may sit down and watch a movie, but often the question of “What are you doing to support your art?” goes unanswered.
Here are some things that you can do to augment your active attendance of class or rehearsals in a play to support your acting habit:
- Reading. Especially today, reading often gets overlooked. Reading for pleasure is one thing, but actively choosing books (autobiographies, histories, technique books, etc) which point the way other people have solved the problem of acting can do wonders to help you overcome your current position. Remember to read actively: put yourself in the situation, think about what you would do if you were faced with the same problem or opportunity. How did the writers choice different from yours and how did it turn out for them. Try writing a short book report about what you read. Writing (see later) often helps to codify your thoughts and impressions.
- Watching People. Actors are creatures of behavior. We eat it up, live it and breathe it. Actively watch your surroundings: how are the people around you treating each other? Put yourself in their shoes. What would you do in their shoes, what would make you feel the way that they are behaving? What is their story that could bring them to this point? Make it up, have fun with it. But turn yourself on to the world around you and welcome the differences between people. You never know when you will need to call upon a behavior or situation that you witnessed! Again, write it down! Codify it!
- Watching Films. When you do watch a film or other video, watch critically. Watch the editing and the angles. Watch the camera movements. Why did the director choose to be in a closeup there? Why did the scene end with that moment and move to that next scene instead of another one? What are the actors doing? Are they listening to each other and responding or are they just going through the motions. Can you see them acting or does it feel real to you?
- Building Your Network. This is a topic that deserves it’s own post. The business of acting is nothing if not having a strong network, not only of casting directors and people who can give you work, but actors, crew members, back office people, drivers, etc. There is a fantastic podcast called Manager Tools and their advice on building your network is absolutely golden!
- Listen. Listening to interviews with artists and people in the business of acting provides an amazing array of information. My favorite places to get interviews is through podcasting (an audio show that updates on a regular basis that a podcasting app downloads to your phone or computer). Some of the best interview podcasts are: Industry Standard with Barry Katz, WTF with Marc Maron, Nerdist Writers Panel, and Kevin Pollak’s Chat Show. Good podcasts for show business news are The Business and The Spin-off.
Again, with all of these things: do them critically and actively. If you’re just going through the motions, then you won’t get a lot out of them…
I’ve been recently struggling with memorizing lines. I have seen actors who can sit down in the makeup chair with the sides, go over their text, and get it perfect when they get on set. I want to be able to do that. Right now, my memorizing techniques are quite labored: I write out the text longhand and learn it line by line in a monotone, moving backwards and forwards through the handwritten lines. Its a very thorough system, but it’s not great if the lines change when you go for your line-up rehearsal (the rehearsal with actors on a film set before the camera and lighting gets set up… unfortunately, sometimes the only rehearsal you get on a film).
Memorization happens fastest when there is more information than just the words that can be stored. The more things you connect to the words, the more pathways your mind has of getting to them faster. This is often why actors have an easier time memorizing lines once they are in blocking rehearsals. The words have been associated with a particular piece of stage business or a location in the physical space.
But in an audition situation, or when you’re walking on a film set for your day in front of the camera, I tend to miss words or replace words with my own variations. Not a great habit. So I’m on a quest for how to memorize lines quickly and word perfect that doesn’t require me to go through a stage rehearsal process. This is what I’ve found:
- Chunking. This is a process whereby you break down a line into distinct sets of words, or chunks. Memorizing chunks of words, instead of individual words, lets you memorize much more in the same amount of time.
- Physicalization. This is creating a physical movement, or the intention of a movement to go with every word in your text. If your text is “murder” and you pair that with stabbing someone with a knife, it will be much harder for you to say “terrorism” (this happened to me recently in an audition in the line “The man is wanted in the US for _________”). Physicalization also has the added benefit of bringing your acting into your body, instead of just being in your head.
- Singing. Create a tune to go with your lines. This allows you to associate musical notes with certain words and could help you remember which particular word is coming next. Be careful with this one, though as you don’t want to lock yourself in to a particular way of saying the word.
- Handwriting. This is the technique that I usually use: write out your lines by hand. Pay attention to the writing of it, say the words to yourself as you’re writing. Again, this creates a parallel pathway to the particular words and doesn’t require you to lock yourself into a particular way of saying them. I generally write out the words without punctuation so when I read it I don’t get learn where the lines are supposed to start and stop.
- Mental Mapping. This is a technique whereby you create a room in your mind. The more vivid and detailed the room is (include as many senses as possible: colors, smells, textures, tastes, etc), the more attachments it will have to the things you put in it. Create a dresser or something where you’re going to store your lines. Then you place your lines in order within your room. Going through the places where you store your lines, you will be able to visualize what the lines are. I haven’t tried this technique and am not sure how applicable it is to line learning, but it feels like a good technique and I’m excited to try it.
- Strange Connections.Â Similar to the Mental Map, strange connections makes use of your imagination to create strong connections between the words. Take the words of the text and come up with strange and improbable animals or things in weird clothes doing the things or creating a visual picture of the words. The stranger the better: we remember out of the ordinary things more easily than mundane things.