The Method; The Vertically Challenged; Stingy Producers

The Method; The Vertically Challenged; Stingy Producers Once again, hello and thank you to all creative advice-seekers. This week's column discusses The Method, actors challenged by height and stingy producers, and offers advice to a middle-aged actor who is looking for a bigger break.
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Once again, hello and thank you to all creative advice-seekers. This week's column discusses The Method, actors challenged by height and stingy producers, and offers advice to a middle-aged actor who is looking for a bigger break.

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
I am a 42-year-old woman who has spent the last 25 years performing in community and regional theater. I have worked very hard, studied and have enjoyed every moment of being a community actress. However, my children are grown and I am thinking of pursuing a professional acting career. My performance level is well beyond the expected in community theater and I would like a greater challenge. Is there a place for an older but talented woman, in professional theater who has no professional experience? What are the chances of being given a chance?
Thank you,
Teresa

Teresa,
I would say you have a great chance of being cast with your resume--even if it's not professional. There are plenty of opportunities for women your age. You just need to either find or create them.

It all depends on where you live. If you do not live very near New York City or Los Angeles, I would get to know better the regional theatres in your area (see Playbill On-Line's regional listings for some professional theatres in your area). Send in your headshots, give follow up calls, let people know you are out there and are interested in working. If this becomes very difficult because there are not many theatres around where you live. . .why not begin your own theatre group? If you know other people in your situation--people who love or might be interested in theatre and whose kids are growing up and have extra time on their hands -you could be in charge or a part of something really special. You may start out simply forming a playreading group and then develop it further.

Take some classes if there are some good one's in the area. There's nothing like a good acting class in which to grow, build your confidence, and make you feel inspired.

Buy the actor trade paper or visit Back Stage Online every week and see what's there for you. Send in your headshots to some films as well, so that you will have material to send to agents. And of course when you do get cast in shows, make sure to invite agents to come see you.

Question
Dear Blair,
I am a high school senior who plans to pursue musical theater professionally. I am currently in the process of auditioning at several schools. These schools differ not only in size, competitiveness, and prestige, but also in the method of actor-training they employ.
My knowledge of Method Acting consists entirely of what I've read in books. I know there are several disagreements in method between some of the more prominent teachers. . . I know who Stella Adler is, but I know very little about her theories on acting. I agree with some of Meisner, but disagree with a some of his ideas. So far Strasberg seems closest to my own beliefs about acting. How does an aspiring actor who's never taken any method acting lessons know whether Meisner, Strasberg, or someone else works best for him or her? If you have the time, please explain to me the differences between the different methods.
Mark Fisher

Hi Mark,
Thank you for your great question, although I do think a thorough answer could be a topic for someone's Doctoral thesis. Nevertheless, I will try and provide some basic distinctions between the teachers you mentioned and offer you some advice.

Let me begin by saying that the only way I believe you can learn which teacher(s) or technique(s) works for you is to try them out and see. If you were to choose based only on what you read, it would be much like buying a car without a test drive.

Furthermore, as you apply to these schools, pay attention to whether there is one that you instinctively feel you should go to--one whose brochure, former or current students or teachers really "speak" to you. Since you said you feel (from your reading) most compatible with Strasberg's theories, why not try attending a Strasberg class first?

I believe it's good to follow what naturally pulls you and not get stuck in "labels." Ultimately people form their own "methods" by using what works best for them. And I have found sometimes one theory or technique really works for me, and a few years later, I have outgrown it and another one makes more sense, is more alive for me.

"The Method" originated with Konstantin Stanislavsky, who developed his ideas in Russia with the Moscow Art Company. Stanislavsky was intent upon finding a technique that would allow the actor to find truthful and natural emotion and inspiration in the face of repetition. I have read only his classic An Actor Prepares, but I believe he has written at least three other books, including the autobiographical, My Life in Art.

When several of Stanislavsky's actors came to New York in the earlier part of the century, they imparted his wisdom to American actors and directors, many of who founded the famous Group Theatre of the 1930's. The Group Theatre revolutionized performance so that it was much more real and natural--closer to what we know of as professional "acting" today. The Group included actors and directors who went on to become renowned teachers, such as Sanford Meisner, Lee Strasberg, Harold Clurman and Stella Adler.

Strasberg's "method" relies heavily on Stanislavsky's theory of "affective memory", which Strasberg divided into "sense memory" and "emotional memory." In conjunction with being able to relax in order to be available to creative impulses, and to concentrate so as to avoid getting stuck in self consciousness, Strasberg actors rely on "sense memory" -- the memory of how things feel physically to the five senses; and "emotional memory"-- how things feel emotionally in the actor's personal life, to create truthfully. One aspect of Strasberg's emotional memory was later referred to as "substitution," in which an actors "substitutes" a memory from her personal life to create the emotional life of the character. Many in the field have disagreed with Strasberg here, arguing that if, in order to demonstrate sadness, an actor must remember how he felt when he was three and his father took his favorite toy away, he is not living in the play, but rather in his memory, in his own private world.

Strasberg wrote A Dream of Passion: The Development of the Method. I do not know of any other of his writings. I found this book very informative and easy to read.

Stella Adler disagreed with Strasberg's intense focus on achieving "true emotion" early on, and went to Europe to spend time with Stanislavsky himself. She came back to America focusing more heavily on absorbing what Stanislavsky called the "given circumstances" of the play--the who, what, where, why and when of the character--for creative honesty. Adler wrote Technique of Acting, which I have never read. It went out of print in the early '90s.

Meisner's teachings were closer to Adler's, and he has created his own set of exercises, the most famous being "repetition," which deals with connecting to other actors, listening, being relieved of self consciousness and becoming in touch with one's creative instincts and impulses. I am partial to Meisner because I was very inspired by his book On Acting, and my experience with his exercises in repetition, action and preparation have been very fruitful. I agree with his promotion of the use of imagination for the actor, as opposed to other theories and method's which over-focus on the actor's personal experience.

I hope this helps. Good luck applying to schools!

Question
Hello Again...
I unfortunately /fortunately look much younger than I actually I am. . .which pushes me into the category of a teenager even though I am 25. It's just that I am petite, I suppose. In any case, I have been told this is to my benefit, but I have yet to see that (at least not lately). I have had many great callbacks for musicals, but unfortunately in my experience I have either been told that I look too young (or short), or that they (producers) have made the decision to use a legitimate teenager (half of whom are bigger than me!). So what is one to do in this situation?? How can one convince the "big guys" to take a chance with casting me? (Why wouldn't training/experience/talent push more for an adult actress?) If the typical twenty-something on TV is forty practically, then where does a person in their twenties fit in...?? Any thoughts?
Thanks again!!!!
Jen

Hey Jen,
I am sorry that it seems you are getting the "short" end of the stick in these circumstances. It's not easy dealing with physicality issues in life, and especially not in this business.

Just to set the record straight, the last time I looked, the typical twenty- something on TV was not practically 40. To my knowledge, characters in their 20's are mostly portrayed by actors in their 20's. In fact, more often than not, people are being cast very close in age to the characters they are playing. So keeping this in mind, I think you're time for playing teens may be over. Although, I believe your time for playing someone in their 20's is just beginning!

It sounds from your letter that you are getting to a lot of big auditions, and getting very close. I think it's really just a matter of time. If you keep developing your skills and getting more experience, pretty soon you will be cast. In the end, height never got in the way of London's diva Elaine Paige, or Broadway and TV's Bebe Neuwirth.

Question
Hi Blair,
I got promoted from an understudy to an alternate position in a musical outside America. Problem is, they're offering me almost nothing in my new contract and I will be doing more tasks than what I am doing now. I feel like this is a demotion instead of a promotion. How do I tell them that I deserve a reasonable raise and that I should be given the benefits that an alternate should have?
Christine Saison

Dear Christine,
Congrats on getting cast, but what a bummer!

To answer your question, "How do I tell them that I deserve a reasonable raise and that I should be given the benefits that an alternate should have?"

Tell "them," (whoever the appropriate parties are) very firmly yet tactfully, "I deserve a reasonable raise and I should be given the benefits that an alternate should have."

Going into it, be open to the possiblity that you will acheive positive results. If they say no, you will have to make the choice as to whether or not the experience is worth sticking the injustice out. You may be able to continue to work effectively within the circumstances, or you may need to seek other employment.

Best of luck...go for it.