Once again, hello and thank you to all creative advice-seekers. Just to let you know, I'm going on vacation, so I won't be answering questions until the week of August 25.
This week's column includes a young woman's frustrated response to my answer to her question, a short story about one of this century's great stage actors, and addresses the enormous issue of crying on cue.
I invite actors of all ages to continue write me with any problems encountered at auditions, in class, or anything you feel could be standing between you and your talent. Make sure to check the previous columns to see if your question, or one like it, has been answered already!
When I got your e-mail . . .telling me that your response to my question [was selected for the column and] would be posted soon, I was excited that you had granted me such a rapid response. When I got to the site and read your column, (Aug. 1-6) my excitement quickly turned to astonished dislike.
What I am wondering is why you suddenly felt the need to treat another person this way. I have read almost all of your columns posted and you have never responded in this way before. Although I have never wished this on anyone before, it is my sincere wish that your readers feel the same as I do and let you know it.
Why do I feel this way? To simplify complicated feelings, it is simply this, I came to you (and no other I might add) with something that was weighing heavily on me. I entrusted you with my own insecurities regarding whether or not I had allowed too much time to pass and was now unable to achieve the one and only dream I have ever had.
You, instead of responding with the kindness and gentleness I needed, felt the sudden need to make me feel inadequate, stupid, and a joke. I will continue to read your column as I feel that you can offer good advice to others, but I will limit my questions and insecurities to those who have compassion.
I want to thank you again for letting me post your response, even though you had originally asked that I not. If my answer to your question or other questions have bothered other actors, they have not yet had the courage to let me know, so this is for them. For those of you who didn't read last week's column, it's worth checking out. I teased Cheyenne (24) for asking me if I thought she was too old and if she had enough passion to follow her dreams.
In my answers to actors I have started more and more to use humor to reflect people's unwillingness to "own" their own potential. Some people respond very well to the "bounce" the humor gives them, but it's a risky reply.
Cheyenne, I was teasing you and I sincerely apologize for hurting your feelings. It was not my intention AT ALL. However, I was hoping my answer might rile up your inner strength, which came out beautifully in your response to me. Your response is written with such honesty; it's so clear and simple. I recommend you write a very similar letter to your insecurities, saying to them almost exactly what you said to me!!! They are not being very compassionate, those insecurities, nagging at you that you are too old, not good enough, etc. , especially when you have just made such a brave choice.
You are raising a family and also making a big commitment to honor your dream. That I can totally support. Don't you see how much passion that reflects! How could I possibly give you any advice on how to increase your passion? Maybe you could give some advice to me!
The way I see it, the biggest gift I can give anyone is to show them how to give the support and assurance they ask me for to themselves, and stop the actor habit right here and now, to look to others consistently for these things, to give their power away. My efforts to look to others for confirmation of my talents have frequently swept me into a whirlwind of self-deprecating doubt. This business can be so harsh, it is essential that people as driven and talented as you become strong and reject the societal pull to feel powerless.
You seem like an incredibly intelligent and honest person. Thanks for taking the time to respond and I wish you the best of luck.
Your 7/24-31 response to Jason (mrfixit5) about a teen-ager playing an "old" person in his 40's reminded me of an incident in Paul Muni's earlier career. As you may know, he was from a family of players who toured the eastern European boonies and would set up and play Yiddish stuff in little hamlets and small towns. Everybody in the family played, and Muni [his real name was Muni Paul] was evidently really good at playing old men. At some point they were in a city looking for work (Dad had gone ahead to the US), and Muni--14 or 15--tried to audition for the part of a 90-year-old man: of course, they tossed him out without giving him a chance. So he did what any creative, persistent, hungry actor would do: he made-up, dressed-up, and went shuffling back into the audition, not letting them know that he was a kid, not an old man. He got the part.
Thank you so much for your story. I loved it and wanted to share it with everyone.
I also wanted to take the opportunity to introduce some younger readers to Mr. Muni (whose original name I have as Frederich Weisenfruend). Muni was one of the great stage actors of the middle part of the century. He is famous for leading roles in original Broadway productions such as Counsellor-at-Law, Key Largo, and Inherit the Wind, to name a few.
Muni said of acting," I never think, in reading a script, that I will use such and such a gesture here, or that this is the point at which effect number 22 should be pulled out of the hat. If I were consciously to do certain things to attain certain effects, I'd become self-conscious and lose the ability to create a spontaneous impression... Acting is a job like any other. But you can't analyze it too much. The last thing I want to think about is how I achieve an effect."
I like that quote.
I am a 15 year old actress. . . I have a difficult time crying on cue, and I've been asked to do that several times. Usually I connect well with the characters and feel what they're feeling, but to physically have tears is almost impossible for me. (Maybe because *I* am a really tough person and it takes a lot to make me cry?) Are there any "tricks of the trade", physical or emotional things some actors have been known to do, to really make themselves cry, or to at least get tears? (Wow, that sounds horrible when I say it like that... but I think you know what I mean.)
Somehow, actors who can cry real tears get super-actor status. I have seen actors who don't cry easily, be brought to tears of envy by watching those who can. Those who can't produce real tears seem to be in endless pursuit of the mysterious button the crier presses to be able to express raw emotion with such graceful surrender. They try dozens of "tricks" of the trade: smuggling eye drops on to the set for a quick lube when no one's looking, deep emotional release work therapy to discover and then tap into unhappy childhoods, trying to bring ourselves to tears just by thinking that we're not gifted performers because we can't cry, etc.
All of these tricks can be useful in their own right. But my personal opinion, having been around the block with the whole block, is that there is way too much importance placed on crying and the ability to cry, and it only gets in the actor's way.
Take the focus off of "tears." Giving in to the pressure to cry on cue takes one out of the moment of the play or scene. The drama becomes about whether or not you will hit your mark (cry) and hit it truthfully, and that can prevent you from truly listening, and creating a wonderfully spontaneous, original, and poignant response.
When you're in an emotionally challenging scene, focus instead on things that awaken an emotional sensibility in YOU, for example, who in your life your acting partner's smile is reminding you of. Or the way the light falls on your partner's face in a particular moment, or something like the smell of your mother's best dessert filling up the house, or your favorite ex-boyfriend's sweaty t-shirt.
You may want to talk to your director(s). Let him or her know that you're finding it hard to cry on cue and that if it's not really there, you'd rather just be than be false. Some of the most powerful, vulnerable moments I have witnessed in theatre have had no tears. The actor just said the line, simply. (The writer of this question is a RENT fan. Remember, Val, when Collins sang "I'll Cover You" reprise after Angel's death?)
If the director demands crying, then.... FAKE IT. (Huh? Did I actually recommend that????) It's true, as an audience member, it's pretty uncomfortable to watch someone on stage fake cry. Except when they fake it with all their heart.
This type of "faking it" isn't really fake. I call it that because it may not always produce actual tears. But it's doing the job. I would prefer it if there weren't emotional cues in this business but there are. This "faking" includes feeling real feelings, like you report having felt. It's about making a firm commitment, not forcing, but saying, "I will allow myself to touch this experience within myself at this time" and sticking to that commitment.
In some of my most powerful moments onstage, I secretly still feared that because I produced no visible facial streams, the audience was looking in their bags for rotten tomatoes. Well, if the audience did notice there were no real tears, they were certainly faking their response very well, so we were even.
Anyway, the trick with "faking it", is to go all the way, without stopping to think if you're really there, or holding back because your scared, etc.
I do believe access to a wide range of emotions is essential for a good actor and is a goal worth striving for. The deeper you can go, the more materials you have to create with, the more characters you can play -- like a painter adding colors to their palette. This a large chunk of the actor's work and it is a process. Observing oneself in life, as you did with your "tough" observation, is a good start. You can tender up. Accepting your current limitation of not falling into tears easily, check out where you harbor beliefs about crying like, "crying is a sign of weakness, immaturity, etc." These beliefs will block you from your goal. Through this process of awareness you can relearn what your body used to know automatically and carve a path to your genuine sadness. This takes time, but it certainly can be done.
When I started re-learning how to cry, the first thing I paid attention to was how tense my belly is and how hard it is for me to take deep breaths. If you can begin to make a conscious move towards relaxation before working, and letting your belly loosen up, it quite possible the tears will start to come...so make way for them.
Next time you cry, let yourself sink into the sobs. Feel the energy move through your body and how it effects you physically. You can recreate this physical sensation on stage. Sometimes just moving towards the physical can bring you into the emotional realm.
The last thing I'll address is a practice I like to call, "loading." Loading is a Sanford Meisner term referring to the actor's pre-scene emotional preparation. Here is a specific "guided" load. You can load anyway you like.
Before a scene or performance, meditate on the times you hurt in the way the character is hurting. You may have to dig deep to find it. Remember the details of the physical surroundings of your memories: what you could see, smell, taste, touch, and feel the *physical* sensation. Stay with it. Allow the sentiment to fill you. Then, wrap all the images and feelings up into a ball and store it in a place your body and forget about it till later.
Then, in an offstage moment or a moment before the scene, envision the ball. Touch the place in your body where it lives. When you go into the scene keep speaking from exactly what is happening in the moment, while you touch the pain. Stay connected to your partner and yourself. Open yourself up to listening deeply. Allow the scene to bring you to the place where the ball of hurt explodes and can come out.
So, if you haven't wet your partners shirt with your real tears at the exact moment you're supposed to, know you can still communicate deep feeling to the audience. You can still win that Tony you dream of. Someday you will cry on cue and it will be deep and natural and true. I hope this is useful.