Keeping Performances Fresh, Parents

Keeping Performances Fresh, Parents Once again, hello and thank you to all creative advice seekers. This week's column addresses the issue of how to keep performances fresh and alive, gives helpful tips about entering and re-entering the business, and advises aspiring actors on how to cope with dissenting family members. 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 issue of how to keep performances fresh and alive, gives helpful tips about entering and re-entering the business, and advises aspiring actors on how to cope with dissenting family members. 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
Hi Blair!
You give such wonderful, encouraging advice! Thank you so much! Recently, I have noticed when I perform on stage, I have no nerves and I have a tough time putting more (not just smiling, and simple stuff like that) into my performance. I practice at home all the time using bigger and better movements, but for some reason it doesn't show on stage...Any advice on what I can do to improve?
Thanks!
Nora: )

Dear Nora,
Thanks so much for contacting me and offering your kind words. I tried contacting you to get more information about what kind of show you are in, but my e-mails were all returned!

So -- I'm going to do a little guessing here, from what you wrote. I'm going to guess you are in a musical. I also hope that since you said you are trying to put more into your performance and "it doesn't show on stage", that someone told you that--like the director or a friend. Otherwise you may just be suffering from a lack of confidence in your work.

It's true, if you use them, nerves add a certain "juice" to performances that can really fill them with energy. However, it is a trap to begin forcing your performance when the "juice" runs out. This reflects a lack of sincere connection with your character(s) and what they are doing. If you do not know who your character is and why they are dancing, fighting or singing or shouting -- what is there to really "put more into"? The way to put "more" into your performance is to connect more deeply with the character, even if your character is you, or several characters changing with every number. This may actually mean "doing" less.

Instead of focusing on "bigger and better movements," focus on organic movement that springs naturally from your being present in the reality of the character's circumstances. Do some character homework. Who is your character? What does she like and dislike? What's her main reason for being in the play? What does she want? This doesn't have to be excessively serious or deep, just thorough.

Then feel into the places inside you where you can really relate to her. What are experiences you've had that are similar to hers? Even if it's a fluffy comedy, you can bring some truth to it. Don't just THINK about what she's feeling, but feel what she is feeling--and then communicate it in performance. This can be difficult at first.

If you are in a musical, the characters break into song because what they have to say is too overpowering to fit into mere words--what does your character need to say through the songs? Have you ever HAD to say something similar to someone else? Remember, there is no character without you, so include yourself in whatever you do.

I hope this helps. If you have any further questions, or clarifications, please feel free to contact me--and make sure to include a return e-mail address!

Question
Dear Blair,
I studied acting in college and briefly at the National Shakespeare Conservatory in New York with the intent of some day acting professionally. I temporarily abandoned my dream to raise a family. I'm 32 years old and am ready to tread the boards once again. There is a cattle-call audition I want to go to but I've no idea what pieces to work on. I'm not current on good audition pieces. Do you have any suggestions? I need a comic and dramatic piece plus a song. I know for a song I need a piece that showcases my voice I'm a lyric soprano. What are some pieces to stay away from? Any advice you have for an "old dog" would be helpful!
Many Memories and Much Magic,
Doran Parker-Napp

Hi Doran,
Thanks for asking me. Congrats on getting back on boards--that must feel great.

It might be a disservice to you if I suggested pieces for you. There are so many speeches and songs for women in your age range out there, and I don't know you or what you are like as an actress.

What I suggest is two things: One, study with a private coach who can help you make selections. It is also nice to be able to rehearse your audition in front of someone that can give you constructive criticism. As actors, we cannot see ourselves, so the outside eye is crucial. If you can't get a coach, get a friend who involved in the business.

Two, go to your local library, performing arts library, or drama book shop and explore. Spend a few hours glancing over scripts, and contemporary playwrights. Names of some great playwrights whose comic and dramatic monologues I have seen or used are John Patrick Shanley, Nicky Silver, Lanford Wilson, Cindy Lou Johnson, Sam Shepard, Neil Simon, Marsha Norman, Elizabeth Egloff, and there are many, many more. This way, the pieces you pick will have sparked something in you, giving you a special connection to them.

Playbill On-Line now offers sheet music in the Boutique and theatre books at the online Drama Book Shop. One of the monologue collection books may be useful. If you do go with a monologue from a collection, be sure to read the play!

Good luck on your audition, Doran! Keep going.

Question
I am getting started in the business. I got my headshots and my resume. I've been looking for an agent or a manager. Can you help me out. I am a 15-year-old, Russian born actor.
Waiting for your reply.
Mranger

Dear Mranger,
You asked a question that many people have written books to answer, so you may want to buy one. However, I suggest to all people just starting out that they join a good acting class. Read the March 14 "Ask Blair," all about getting an agent! If you have more specific questions, feel free to contact me.
Have fun, range.

Question
Dear Blair,
My parents think that by not letting me go far with my acting, that they are doing good. They say "when you are in college, you can do what you want. But for now, be a kid!"
I have screamed, yelled, rationally talked and explained to them that this is what I want to do with my childhood. What do I do? Every time I do a local play, people say to my parents something like "Wow! Will be seeing her name in lights someday!" My parents just smile and don't really take it to heart. Theater is my whole life! I need it like I need air.
Whenever I go see a Broadway show or tour with kids in it. I am sooooo jealous. How can I get my parents to see my views on this?

Dear Miss Miriam,
I am afraid you may not like the advice I give you, but, here it is --stop trying to get your parents to see your point of view.

There are many, many reasons why certain parents discourage their children from getting too involved in show business. And your parents happen to be people who have some of those reasons. My parents said the same thing, and oh boy, did I really resent my mother for not taking me to the original Annie auditions 20 years ago.

But Miriam, now that I'm older, and I know it may be hard for you to believe, I'm glad. As I grew older, I saw a lot of kids who got involved in theatre at an early age experience a lot of confusion and pain around it when they were becoming adults and the business of acting wasn't so carefree and easy anymore. Also, as much as I wanted to be in show business, my mother did NOT, and since I was a kid, she would have had to bring me to all the auditions and deal with the waiting and the marketing and the paperwork, etc. Now I can do it myself.

I understand how very frustrating it is for you. Take all that frustration and channel it into discipline, because to be a good actor you need to be very disciplined. This does not mean becoming rigid and solemn and overdriven -- it just means to cultivate an awareness that as much fun as acting is, it is also a lot of hard work. Your parents cannot take your desire to act away from you. If you can continue to perform in local plays and maybe even convince them to put you in a good class or a dance class, you can keep building your skills. Have fun and play and forget about needing theatre like air, and at the same time -- breathe it in -- by reading classic plays, books by great teachers like Stanislavsky, Sanford Meisner and Michael Chekov, books about great actors lives, and books about the business like "Acting Professionally." See movies and plays, and in addition to being jealous of the Broadway babies, develop an eye for what you feel is good acting and what is not.

Then, when you are in college, if you still want to, go for it. Major in theatre, do all the plays you can, just like they said. And of course, after college, you are free to do as you please.

Good luck Miriam, I hope this helps!