Once again, hello and thank you to all creative advice-seekers. This week's column offers some techniques for gender-bending actors, some info about summer training for young people, guidance for stage mothers, and advice on how to combat fear of being "too old." 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!
What is the best way to handle playing a role of the opposite gender? I don't mean non-traditional casting--the gender of my character hasn't changed. I am female and have been cast in a male role in a college play, because the director wants the character to come off as a very young man and found the male actors' voices too low in pitch. I am enjoying the role and am very satisfied, but would like to make sure, if at all possible, that my character comes off as convincingly male and doesn't invoke laughs (the play's a tragedy). I do have an unusually low-pitched voice for a woman. Is there anything else I need to think about? Thank you in advance.
I absolutely LOVE this question. It sounds like you are doing great, and your question gives me the opportunity to discuss some gender-bending techniques for others.
The first stage of playing a role of the opposite sex is observation. You want to observe people of the opposite sex (some you know well and some you don't), in how they move, walk, speak, gesticulate, protect themselves, etc.
Next, I recommend taking some time to sit quietly and get clear on who your character is. Note the time frame and place he (or she) lives and how this affects him. Then see if you can observe what type of gait and vocal pattern he would have based on your character research. Then, imagine living in a man's body. Think about it. Men are physically harder. They have no flesh covering or protecting their hearts. The man you are playing is likely to have a different center of gravity than you. How does it feel? What does he see when you look out of his eyes? Be as specific in your answers i.e. vulnerable, strong, etc. Of course, vice versa if you are a man playing a woman.
After you've sat, playing experientially with what it is like to live in an opposite-gender body, move to the physical. You can spend many hours walking around your home, in different ways, until you find a stride that feels like your character. Play with different walks, voices and methods. Of course, if your voice is naturally low and loud, you don't need to do much or anything at all.
Then continue with all the homework you would normally do with any character: what is your motivation, how do you feel about the people you are interacting with, etc.. The trick is to put in enough time so that you really flow with this character, move very naturally and forget that you are playing a different gender. Otherwise you will continually be "trying" to look or sound masculine, which will be very hard to watch.
Here's another tip from a male theatician that I really enjoyed:"Speaking as someone who's been male and observing other males for more than 40 years, I think the one quality women-playing-men never get is that everything in a male's life is a contest, a competition. Everything from food to females to status must be vied for -- or at least that's the way it's sold to us; the way the imperative for physical beauty is constantly sold to women. Actresses tend to get the bluster and the leering [when playing men] -- but they don't get that every step of every day is a BATTLE. Like ogling for women, the contest for men never lets up."
Have a great time and break a leg.
My 7-year-old daughter is an actor. I'm not at all sure I'm happy about it . . . She loves the process of practicing and auditioning, and has had a little success at it over the last year, including a spot on Letterman, several commercials, a principal role in a major feature, an appearance on an ABC sitcom, and now she is on hold for a BDWY show. I try to keep her life normal; she has not missed much school at all (fewer than 10 days), and functions well socially and academically at school. It's just that I've always heard bad things about kids in show biz, and I want to protect her from what could happen. (I just wish I knew what could happen!) I don't mind so much the running into the city for auditions and jobs; that gives us time for homework and chatting in the car. It is expensive to do that; as you probably know, this 'hobby' almost always costs more than it brings in. . . my daughter did not make a profit last year!
I'm thinking of the whole thing as kind of like having a gymnastics kid or a violin prodigy -- a lot of travel to lessons and expense, with the return being in the area of experience and character-building. Obviously I'm confused. If you have any words of wisdom, please share them with me and all the other well-intentioned stage-moms out there.
Thanks for your sweet e-mail. I don't have kids, so I want to acknowledge that I may not be the best person to talk to about this, but I do have a few things to say.
It sounds like you are really doing your daughter a service by honoring her desire to act. You are spending a lot of time, consideration and money to meet her needs and keep her involved in a process she loves. I'm sure on some level she feels very nurtured by that.
It is so natural to want to protect your kids from everything. But the truth is, that part of being an actor is opening yourself up to a lot of heartbreak. Actors can wait and wait for a part they are supposed to but never get, people who are less talented get cast for all sorts of unfair reasons, friends begin to hate actors because they are jealous or they don't know how to relate anymore; the media can be treacherous, etc..
These heartbreaks actually are, as you suggested, character building. You may feel scared that these things will happen to your daughter, but I wouldn't let that get in her way. The challenges of this business make people who really want to act stronger and more real.
So as long as acting is what your daughter wants to do, then she will benefit from your support. Let her make her own mistakes and experience the joys and sorrows of the profession. She will leave it of her own accord if it no longer appeals to her. Help her keep a positive attitude about herself, and when the crises happen, just be there and let her know it's okay to go through all the feelings that these situations evoke.
It will make her a better actress. Truly.
I'm a 15-year-old girl and I was wondering, what would you suggest to pursue my dream of getting into theater, basically musicals? I saw on the website once something about Camp Broadway which sounded so interesting to help me pursue a career, but I haven't seen it recently. Do you have any information on that? I would greatly appreciate any advice you could give.
Applications to Camp Broadway are now available. The musical theatre intensive will be held Aug. 10-15 in NYC. They are accepting 64 students from ages 10-17. For more information and for an application call (212) 575-2929.
The best thing I can recommend is that you look into summer programs, camps and extra- curricular studies. Extra training and experience at an early age is the best prescription for aspiring Broadway performers.
A list of performing arts camps and summer training programs are available in the back of The Summer Theatre Directory, published by American Theatre Works in Vermont. These can be ordered by visiting the website http://www.genghis.com/theatre.htm or by calling (802) 867-2223.
I know of a few camps on the east coast: Buck's Rock, French Woods, Stage Door Manor. Also, good theatre universities have pre-college programs, like Vassar Powerhouse Theatre, Carnegie- Mellon Pre-College Program, and Northwestern's Cherub Program.
During the school year you can take teen classes at a nearby theatre or acting school, depending on where you live. Do some research --try talking to some actors that live around you. Actor's love to talk.
First I want to tell you I love your column! I've been searching the internet for acting-related sites for a long time now, and thought I'd found all the good ones, but I was wrong. (I was referred by Robert Cohen's book "Acting Professionally.")
My situation is this: ALL my life, I've wanted to be an actress. However, I've always been a really shy type, and I never dared to try out for high school or college plays. I'm now 27-years-old, and I decided it's time to be courageous and start living my life like I mean it. I'm taking an acting class at American Conservatory Theatre and really enjoy it. I would soon like to move to New York or Los Angeles and pursue this with all my heart.
The problem is, I would like to go for the ingenue/leading lady/vixen roles (I think I fit more into these than character roles - or at least I'd like to) but I worry that it's just too late for me. I mean, all the film and TV actresses I read about start when they're 18, and they've "made it" by the time they're my age! And I know Hollywood prefers the younger woman, though I also have to say I look a few years younger than I am. Are my fears valid? I feel like I'm running out of time to get the experience and training I need to make it before I'm over the hill in H wood terms!! Can I just lie about my age? Do I have to settle for character parts?
Thank you for your help
Thanks for writing and for your kind words about the column. I love Robert's book and I always recommend it to people as an invaluable tool of the trade.
And I'm happy to report that your fears are totally invalid.
So many women write me with these sort of concerns and I continue to put the questions in the columns because it seems necessary to repeat the answers.
So, Empowerment For Female Actors 101: Don't buy into the hype. It's true, there is all this cultural pressure to look young, be young, and start young. Young, young, young. But that is no excuse for not following your dreams. Susan Sarandon is a great example of a successful film actress over 50, who started "late." Broadway's Betty Buckley is at the height of her career at 50!
You not only look young, but you ARE young. Putting yourself out there infront of an audience is scary at any age. Learn how to smell fear and avoid getting caught in it's web. If you lie about your age, your fear will be setting a big trap for you, one that will take a lot of your valuable energy to dance around.
Use the energy of fear to fuel your acting, but don't let it rule your life. The cycle has to stop. As more women defer to the system that values youth and commercial beauty above all other feminine qualities, the more power it will seem to have. The more women that stand in their creative power unashamed as they are, the more respect women everywhere will gain.
If you can begin now to cultivate your inner strength to know that you are a valuable actress regardless of your age or what anyone else says or thinks, you will be much happier in this business. You need to know that the true task of the actor is not to represent physical perfection, but to reveal and portray real human beings--which are all ages, sizes, colors, etc. There are places in Hollywood and certainly in theatre that are beginning to acknowledge this.
Don't "settle" for character roles, or any roles for that matter. Take which roles you can get and feel are important for you to play. Although it is helpful to get a clear vision of the type of roles you want to play and are best suited for, defining yourself as a leading lady vs. a character actress can be limiting to your creative self. Make sure you are not limiting yourself.