Once again, hello and thank you to all creative advice-seekers. This week's column offers information about pilot season, explores some ways to handle "objectives", and gives some resume tips to a young actor. I invite actors of all ages to continue writing 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 just read your answer to Matthew Murray [in the most recent column] about rigidity, and I have a related, but polarly opposite, problem. My body moves without my permission.
I'm a tall fellow, with long legs, arms, and fingers, and I never got any training in how to rein in my gangliness. I fear that it's getting too late for this old dog to learn any new tricks. I found an audition piece in which the character is very nervous and I can make the best use of my tendency to over-gesture. However, when asked for a contrasting piece, even if I resolve to make my character completely still, I still find myself shuffling a foot occasionally, or shifting my weight a few too many times.
My face poses a problem for me as well, as it is very expressive. This can work to my advantage, I know, if I can learn to control it, but there are so many darn muscles in there that I have to concentrate on in addition to motivation, relationships, and the character itself. My biggest problem is that I cock my eyebrow. If I fail to devote attention to it, at the first interesting moment in the scene, it shoots right up to the rafters.
I know this is kind of a deluge of physical ailments, but can you offer a guy any advice?
Thanks for your question.
Restlessness and the compulsion to move and over-dramatize is very common among actors, although I imagine it must appear more exaggerated on your body type. Very challenging, indeed.
I call those extraneous physical movements (foot jiggling, weight shifting, etc.) "leaking:" Little unconscious releases of energy that drain the performance. If you can stop "leaking" and connect fully to the energy running through you, it will empower your performance (although it may also feel uncomfortable). You can also, as you seem to have done in your "nervous" monologue, exaggerate the movement(s) and make them conscious, so they imitate the way humans normally "leak" or fidget. Other examples of creative "leaking" are: playing with the rim of a glass, a strand of hair, biting nails, jiggling one's legs, etc. Do you fidget a lot in daily life? If not, this is a clear sign that you are manipulating yourself in unnecessary ways to act. Sit with the idea of just being "you" onstage. I would ask yourself the same questions I posed to Matthew, and, to help cultivate your ability to become still, I suggest that you engage in one of the physical practices I recommended to him as well. This will increase your focus and your connection to your body, and enhance control over your movements.
If you are naturally very fidgety, you can embrace this quality into who you are as an actor. Although it will keep you from getting some parts, it can become part of your style -- a la Woody Allen.
I also recommend you spend a lot of time rehearsing in front of the mirror. After you've done your "homework" and memorized your lines, watch yourself. Avoid using the mirror to become stuck in doing a line the same way each time. Instead, use the mirror to pay attention to what it feels like when you're reflection is still. It may be very uncomfortable at first. But you want to familiarize yourself with what it feels like to act while looking more relaxed, centered, slow and grounded. This way, just from how your body feels while you are acting, you will quickly realize what it feels like when you are looking frenzied. Then you can adjust and move on. The feelings in your body will be the signal of whether or not you are connected, and you will be able to trust yourself to focus on other things-- instead of worrying about that eyebrow all the time.
Best of luck to you Josh.
First of all I want to thank you so much for your weekly article. Not only is it great to read your advice, but also to learn that many other actors have the same questions about the craft and business of acting that I do.
My question is dealing with choosing an objective in a scene. I am taking a cold reading workshop where we are given about 15-20 minutes to read a scene and then present it to the class. Last week I had a scene where I confessed to my husband, whom I loved, that I had had an affair. To me, my immediate objective was that I did not want him to leave me. Our teacher said that there was more going on in the scene and that I should be pursuing more than one objective. She did not mean different ways to get what I wanted, but actually two different objectives all together. Is it wise to choose more than one objective when time to prepare is an issue? And, when a scene is only 3 minutes long, will choosing more than one objective lessen its importance?
Thank you for taking the time to read my question. I hope you will be able to address this issue in one of your future articles.
MH in LA
Dear MH in LA,
So glad you enjoy the column and thank you so much for your great question.
The first thing I want to address is that I noticed in your story, you chose a negative objective: "I did not want him to leave me."
There was an acting teacher I loved who, in reference to objectives, used to always sing that song: "You gotta accentuate the positive/ throw away the negative/ latch on to the affirmative/ don't mess with Mr. In between."
It's true. Always phrase objectives in the positive. They are much simpler and clearer to act. i.e., I want him to STAY. Can you feel the strength of that?
This may have been part of what was throwing your performance off. Now, if your teacher is suggesting there are two things you as a character want at the same time, I disagree, cold reading or not. Especially in a cold reading. I always say, KEEP IT SIMPLE. It gets too complicated and confusing when actors try to act more than one thing at a time. I am not saying that humans don't want more than one thing from one another at one time, but as an actor, trying to play many things at the same time is distracting. It's fine if there is one section of a scene in which you want one thing and another section in which you want another, but I recommend making those changes very specifically to avoid a muddled performance.
Objectives are important, but actors often become over-focused on them and end up trying to act their "idea" of the objective perfectly . You want to know what you want in the scene, but you don't want to stuff it down everybody's throat so that people can see you working very hard. If you hold your objective loosely inside, and just work with and off your partner, your performance can be enriched by freedom and spontaneity -- key elements of not only cold readings, but any performance, really.
I hope this helps.
My question (actually I have a couple) is that since I don't have too many college productions under my belt (three productions in one year) should I put my high school productions on my resume? I think that might seem unprofessional, but I wanted to show that I can perform in a number of roles and different styles.
The second question is that what do you think about "The Method"? I've heard so much about it and I've read a ton of books on it, but I've been told from professors that there are other styles of acting that are better. Even though I am willing to learn about any style of acting, I am really confused! Thank you so much for your time.
It's perfectly fine to put high school credits on your resume until you don't have to anymore. As soon as you have around 4 or 5 non-high school credits (it seems you already have three), take them off.
For more information about the Method, please refer to the column about The Method. Ultimately, I believe each actor creates his or her own method, by taking what techniques work best for them from each place they learn. My personal "method" is always changing. Certain techniques I can count on consistently, and others work really well for a certain amount of time, and then I find myself focusing on another part of technique.
I'm in the process of reading back issues of your advice column and have seen you refer a couple of times to "pilot season." I know what it is, but when is it? And what's the process for involvement? Also, I get Back Stage West and see a lot of cool stuff happening in LA in the way of workshops and forums. I eventually want to move to LA -- would it be a waste of my time to fly down and participate in those events?
Thanks as always!
Pilot season occurs right around now: spring. All the networks are casting for pilots: "test episodes" of new ideas for TV series. Every series now on TV once had a pilot-- a "sample episode" to show to producers, TV audiences, etc.. Sometimes a pilot is so good, is becomes the first episode of the series; sometimes they are the only episodes of the run; and other times, pilots don't make it past network executives and never get aired.
If you have an agent, pilot season can be an exciting and hectic time of jumping from audition to audition. If you have some connections with casting agents, you may also get into some auditions. LA is the place to be at this time. New York actors, if they're lucky, will only get put on tape that gets sent to LA. This puts them at a disadvantage because they don't get to change what they have done at the director's request, or meet the producers if they are at the auditions. If you don't know too many industry people but you want to go, and if you don't take "the season" too seriously, it could be a fun way to get to know LA better and spend some time. If you have some connections with friends or casting agents down there, it might be well worth it.
As far as the workshops and forums go -- It's a risk. There's always a chance you will open a new door and get to a new level in your technique - or you will realize you are being scammed and let down and, you'll have to fight to get your money back.
Have a great time, if you choose to go!
Hi. I enjoy your column immensely and I read it faithfully. I am a high school theatre student and an honor thespian. I have heard about a workshop at Circle in the Square titled "Singers on Stage: On Broadway 1998." My parents won't let me go unless they know that it is legitimate, and I was wondering if you know anything about it or the people in charge. The director is a Dr. Bill Reed. I was wondering if you know him or have heard of him, or if you have any info about his workshops in general. I know that Circle in the Square is a fine school, but my parents won't send me to NYC by myself without knowing anything in advance. Thanks in advance for any information that you can supply me with.
If anyone knows about Dr. Bill Reed or his forum, please e-mail Katie with your knowledge or experiences at: firstname.lastname@example.org