Once again, hello and thank you to all creative advice-seekers. This week's column offers advice about how to laugh on cue, how to control spitting, and provides a new source for actors struggling with finding a monologue that is right for them.
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!
I thought your comments on keeping a straight face ( Ask Blair: Keeping a Straight Face) were quite insightful; it's sometimes very hard indeed to keep that straight face when something truly funny is going on.
The flip side of that is, I think, even harder -- laughing convincingly when there's nothing funny going on. I'm a firm believer that if someone's character is supposed to be funny, then they'd darn well better be! I have found nothing more difficult than manufacturing a laugh when there's nothing there to respond to.
My case in point was a production of Pagliacci, Thank the theatre (and opera) gods that the director understood this basic concept. The commedia was truly funny, both for the paying audience and for those of us on stage. It made the whole process of rehearsal easier and, I'm sure, was much more convincing to the audience. If you are stuck in a situation where you just have to laugh and there's nothing to feed off of, my best trick is to just use what you're given. You can laugh at the fact that it's not funny.
Another Blair, 3000 miles away
Dear Another Blair. . .,
Thank you for your intelligent response to last week's column.
I have to agree, that even worse than not being able to control your laughter on-stage is not being able to manufacture it. I think your trick is useful -- to respond to what you're given.
However, what happens if what you're given is so not funny, it makes you furious? Even though it is very trendy to be "honest" in every moment and not fake something that isn't there, if the other character's next line is, "Why are you laughing?" -- you'd better find a way to laugh.
This can be one of those "as if" moments. You can respond to what you are given as if your best friend just did that absolutely hysterical imitation of your acting teacher he does that makes you fall to the floor in pain with laughter (or whatever your version of a specific hysterical incident is).
And/or you can rely on the kinesthetic, bodily sensations of laughter and working to reproduce them. Spend some time in a chair . Focus on a tickle going on in your lower belly that becomes so great, it actually forces your mouth to grin, your eyes to squint, and your being to burst out into repetitive expulsions of air which we call laughter. As you do this, you may find very quickly that you actually crack yourself up. Remember this sensation of laughter in your body. With practice you should be able to recreate it without much outer stimuli. It may feel forced at first, but if your body is repeating it truthfully, it will not appear that way.
Thanks again for giving me the opportunity to talk about the flip side of laughing.
I'm a 16-year-old high school actor who has based his entire high school career around the stage. I look forward to rehearsals as the most relaxing and spiritual part of my day, but there are a few bugs that I need to work out. . . The problem that I find most embarrassing is spitting. It's happened to all of us: we come to a vital climax in the play, but the comedy or drama is delivered with a volley of flying saliva. It's gotten to the point with me that I'm tempted to blanket the entire front row of the audience with tarp or provide them with ponchos so they can keep dry after I'm done with a monologue. And I don't think that's hyperbolous at all. In fact, I went to a play last night and found that I enjoyed actors who could control the amount of spit they pushed around the most.
What can I do? I really feel that it takes away from my performance. Is it a matter of heredity, or can we "actors who DROOL over" do something about it?
--Prince Smith the Salivator
Dear Prince S. Salivator,
Well, Sali -- I have to say I have never formally been taught spit control. I think, in the face of the myriad of things actors need to be concentrating on, spitting was one of those that (pardon the expression) directors let fly.
I do know that if you practice softening your hard consonants, you can make a big change. Next rehearsal or performance, watch where in your speech the spit flies the most. It's probably around the F's, D's, P's , S's and T's.
Then, off-stage, repeat your major "spit" lines over and over with the consonants softened, which you can do by avoiding using your teeth so much, and rather using your tongue on the roof of your mouth more. You can replace F's with V's and P's with B's. Practice not forcing the air out of your mouth with your lips as much as your diaphragm. Swallow before potentially spit-laden lines. And finally, rehearse all this thoroughly so that you don't have to be so spit conscious when you are on-stage.
And don't be too hard on yourself . . .A little spit is par for the course.
Best ophluhck. I'm sorry, let me wipe my mouth there . . .Of luck.
I'm afraid I'm in a serious dilemma...I really enjoy theatre and really want to be a part of it, but I don't know if I'm taking the right steps. Although I want to major in theatre, (I'm a second year student at Rutgers Univ. majoring in communication and journalism), I'm too much of a realist (or a coward) to have nothing to fall back on. So, the best I can do is to take acting class at school and take voice lessons. I don't feel I'm ready to audition or do any shows because it's been a year since I was in a show (last one was Pippin at Rutgers). I feel like I'm just staying in the same spot and not moving forward at all. Sometimes I think about quitting theatre for good (because I feel like I'm getting nowhere and wasting money on expensive lessons) , but I just love it too much to throw it away. On top of all this, I'm an Asian-American, so it's even harder to get parts, and there are very limited numbers of roles.
Do you have any advice or suggestions for me? Am I being too impatient?
Thank you for your letter. I think it's really okay that you are just studying right now. Keep going. Just because you are not TOTALLY consumed with theatre doesn't mean you don't have a right to do it, or that you won't devote your life to it at another time if it feels right.
And who makes up these rules about not being ready to do a show because you last worked a year ago? Whenever you want to work, you are ready. If you're afraid--well that's another story. If you are too scared to take action, you're too scared. No big deal. When your desire to work is stronger than your fear, you will take the action you need.
If you don't want to wait for it to get to that point, then push through fear and start moving forward. I always encourage people to follow their dreams. If this is a dream of yours Liz, then sooner or later you owe it to yourself to go for it. But for now, whatever you choose to do, make sure you're doing it for YOU.
As far as being Asian-American, it is true about a shortage of roles. But things are looking up. There are more and more opportunities for people of all sizes, shapes, and colors to be on-stage. Color-blind casting is becoming very popular. I believe it's going to keep getting easier and easier.
Recently I was told that I was to lose 8 pounds for a role coming up. If you love theatre as much as I do, is it worth it?
Your question is tricky because it involves a personal and moral issue. On the one hand, if you want the role and don't mind losing the weight, go for it. You may feel more like the character and better about yourself, albeit a bit deprived of food in the process.
Do you feel the eight pounds will truly bring you closer to the character? Many women feel that when producers or directors or agents ask them to lose weight, they are being asked something unfair. They feel that they are not being accepted for their already attractive selves, but instead, are being asked to compromise themselves in order to promote this image of the attractive woman as "skinny."
This is something you may want to consider when you accept to lose weight for a role. In effect, your actions are saying "it's okay to promote the cultural stereotype of women and I will participate in that." But you don't have to take it this seriously. Just be aware. Go for it if YOU want to.
I received an e-mail from a woman named Madeleine, at KSDMDM@msn.com, who is in the process of creating a website to helps actor's look for monologues. She invites actors to contact her and says of her service:
"My goal is to solicit enough advertising revenue that I do not have to charge actors . . .[So] for the time being, at least, there is no fee. As I am only one person, however, I will be limited in the number of requests I can process and the rate at which I can process them. To assist in this, please ask your readers to provide their sex, age range, type of material they are seeking, what they are auditioning for, and any "defining" personality traits (i.e. do they see themselves as vivacious and warm, shy and withdrawn, etc.)"
Thanks, Madeleine, for providing a much needed service!