How Far To Go With Research

How Far To Go With Research Once again, hello and thank you to all creative advice-seekers. This week's column addresses the issues of research, and provides information on the actors' union, and a current proposal in the works. 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!

Once again, hello and thank you to all creative advice-seekers. This week's column addresses the issues of research, and provides information on the actors' union, and a current proposal in the works. 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!

Question
Dear Blair,
I am currently in a show in which I play a stripper. One of the girls who is also in the show, whose a really good actress, suggested we go to a topless dance club and see how it feels, maybe talk to some of the women involved. I think it's a great idea, but the truth is, I really don't feel comfortable with it. I don't want to let her down and I don't want to be fake in the role--so do I just get over it to do the research, or is there something else I can do?
Thanx,
Lori
Chicago

Dear Lori,
Congrats on getting cast. Sounds like you're working with at least one actor really willing to put in the work, and that's very exciting.

Practically speaking, if you don't generally spend much time in strip clubs, the idea of going to one opens you up to some pretty uncomfortable things. On the surface, you may have to go into a risky neighborhood to get there, and then subject yourself to a lot of horny men potentially slobbering over you.

Once you get past that, you have to stare some of the darker elements of humanity in the face: lust, exposure, greed, women willingly contorting and exposing themselves , etc. As far as I'm concerned, the important thing is not so much whether you go or not, although I'll get to that later. The important thing is that you address what makes you so uncomfortable about going. You can do all the research in the world, and if you don't address how you honestly feel in reaction to the character and her world, if you don't examine your conditioned opinions about her, you cannot bring the outside research into yourself. Furthermore,if you don't examine your own "dark side," you'll wind up imitating what you researched, not living it.

If it's just the neighborhood or the environment of a strip joint that irks you, that's one thing. However, you are probably afraid of that world because you naturally have been taught to reject it as dirty, immoral and bad. Sexuality is a very loaded issue for many people. Now, I am not implying that you need to embrace the values of pornography, but in order to be your character, you need to open yourself up to what it would be like to willingly enter and be comfortable moving in that world. If your character has been doing that job for a while, she probably walks into a strip joint like you walk into rehearsal, or a long running performance.

If you can find a more upscale joint to spend some time in, I would suggest going (unless, of course, you're a minor). See if you can allow the excitement about making an adventure out of your research to be bigger than the fear. Your character obviously has a lot of courage to do what she does, so--it will help you cultivate that. You may want or need to go more than once, (always with at least one other person), until you get a sense of what it is like to feel comfortable there, even though a part of you may always uncomfortable with it.

If you feel very strongly about not going, please don't force yourself. You are an actress so you should have a very keen imagination. Do a lot of imagination work and read--there are many books on the subject. Watch movies. Learn how to move your body. And just keep addressing where you are not comfortable.

You can use your discomfort as part of the character's discomfort, but you must first find a genuine connection with character's to make it truthful. Of course you'll need to really consider your character's background. Once you've found the obvious differences between you, look for the hidden similarities.

One thing that is very important to remember: While you may have more self worth than many women who strip dance for a living, be aware of the tricky tendency to consider yourself more "worthy." This is a very subtle and potent judgement that will interfere with your realistic portrayal. In order to get past it, you really need to feel, as uncomfortable as it may be, into the character's inner world.

Have a great time on your adventure--whether it be at the joint or in the library-- and break a leg!

Question
Dear Blair,
I'm sure you are aware of the major debate brought up by the Equity office concerning the elimination of AEA Eligibility. I have been acting professionally (& full time) for just the past year, but was lucky enough to earn my AEA eligibility card after my first tour. My question is -- what should a person who has their eligible card, but no points plan to do if the proposed dismantling of eligibility occurs? Hurriedly gain a place in the cast of one or two Equity shows to gain points, or stick with the inevitable fate of non-Equity status if I fail to meet the one-year deadline? What are your thoughts on this proposal?
Janine

Dear Janine,
Thanks for you question.

First, I just want to reiterate to actors who may not know: If you are not a member of the actors' union, Actors' Equity Association (AEA), you cannot audition for union shows, which include most Broadway and professional regional productions. "Equity Eligibility" is a status that allows non-Equity members, who have fulfilled certain requirements, to audition for Equity shows. I called AEA to see how the negotiations were progressing, and I discovered some great news that would kind of eliminate your question.

The National Labor Relations Board is negotiating with AEA to eliminate Eligibility, but it plans to open AEA auditions to both union and non-union performers. In this proposed new system, to be decided sometime after April 14, Equity and non-Equity auditions will be held separately for Equity shows.

If the proposal is affirmed, you will be able to audition, Equity or not. However, if you feel that being an AEA member would be more helpful to your career at this point than not, then I say go for it. If more than half of your auditions are for Equity productions, it may be worth it to focus on getting get your card, because I imagine that Equity performers will get first dibs at auditions.

But on the other hand, why rush? You will always be able to get points and get your card through other methods, even if the proposal does not get affirmed. For some actors, there may be certain advantages to not being an AEA member. Being a member means paying dues, and it generally bars you from auditioning for non-AEA shows -- though of course salary, benefits and other protections are usually a fraction of those in Equity productions, if you get any at all.

It depends on whether you are more focused on becoming an Equity member to get better status, pay and eventually more exposure, or if you are content to keep following the path of the parts you get and are drawn to. If you have an agent, manager, or close teacher, ask their opinions as well.

For actors who have opinions about the proposal, you can write to: Lori Kaplan / Region 2 / National Labor Relations Board/ Field Attorney / 26 Federal Plaza/ New York, NY 10278.