6 Tips for Actor Websites

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Do actors really need a website? According to casting director and social media consultant Amy Jo Berman, the answer is no; actors do not need their own website to achieve their career goals. However, she firmly believes actors should have one. “A website in and of itself is not going to get you a job, it’s not going to get you to the red carpet…but neither is any other single marketing tool in your arsenal,” Berman argues. While it’s essential that actors have a quality headshot, in these increasingly digital times, industry professionals are in the habit of clicking links to research the talent pool. For this reason, she encourages talent to take control of exactly what casting professionals see of them online. “You want them to click on your website link, and go where you want them to go, and see what you want them to see in the order you want them to see it. So that they can take in the branded message you’ve carefully crafted on your website,” she insists.

So, here are essentials to include on an actor website

  1. Contact information –  Make sure to include a professional email address so you’re easily accessible to interested talent seekers. If you have an agent and/or manager, include those as well. For privacy reasons, it is not advised to publicly post your cellphone number.
  2. Easy access to your demo reel – Reels can be embedded with the YouTube player. If you’re not interested in making your reel open to the public on YouTube, you can choose to keep the video unlisted. That way only the people who use your professional website can view your reel. Reels are like a teaser, giving casting directors an idea of your past work and what you’re capable of.
  3. Headshots/Photos – Most importantly, include your branded headshot which accurately reflects your current look. Consider posting behind-the-scene photos, any press photos you might have, as well as pictures depicting your special skills.
  4. Resume – Make sure your resume is up-to-date, clear and organized.
  5. Social Media Links – Whether it be Facebook, YouTube, Instagram, IMDb, or Twitter, social media sites can be powerful platforms with which to network. You can encourage viewers to sign up for your newsletters or blogs if you have them.
  6. Optional: Some actors choose to blog on their websites. Creative coach and digital marketing expert, Tony Howell, insists blogging helps improve how others locate you online via search pages. He specifically recommends that actors microblog–that is, create bite-sized, posts which can include short sentences, individual images, video or links to learn more. He says, “I don’t think you should be blogging lengthy how-to articles or journaling your feelings. I think you should microblog your latest updates.” Examples include briefly highlighting projects you just finished accompanied by a link to the project’s website; naming what you’re currently working on along with a corresponding link; or classes you’re attending along with a link to the school. By doing this, Howell asserts, “Then it becomes a professional timeline in reverse on your website.”

If you’re new to creating a website, you can either find a knowledgeable friend or colleague to assist you in the task. Otherwise, it’s a good idea to do some homework on website designer/programmers who can both design and code the site and produce quality work. Whatever avenue you use to create your website, make sure it’s able to quickly give a distinct feel for what makes you special. And make certain it’s easy enough for you to make updates as you see fit.

Also, remember your Casting Frontier premium profile includes a link to any website of your choice so your website is just one click away from casting professionals who are actively seeking talent for their commercial casting jobs.

 

 

 

Listening Is Key | Pt. 2 of what directors look for from actors in auditions

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I was speaking with a group of television and film directors and asked them what are the top 3 things  they look for when watching actors audition. In the previous article, I shared their responses regarding the first 10 seconds of the audition.

Today we’ll take a look at the second element of the audition that all agreed was essential: “listening and reactions.”

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The reason was explained this way: Scenes are put together in post-production. Until that time, it’s not entirely clear when the director is going to need a reaction shot from an actor to liven up or help explain a scene. So in the audition, they’re looking closely to make sure that the actor doesn’t go flat – even for a moment – because that may be precisely the moment that your reaction is needed when a scene is being constructed. They tell me that if an actor gives a solid reading, it’s obvious they know the requirements of the material and are skilled at bringing the words to life – even if it’s not exactly what they envisioned. On top of that, the actor has reactions that spark with honest, energetic life, they’ll hire that actor over the actor who came closer to their vision in the reading, but didn’t listen and react as well. They figure that you can always direct a good actor to say a line differently, but it’s not as possible to direct them to be more compelling in their reactions.

As one of the directors said, “It’s like telling someone to be more interesting – and we don’t have time for that.”

They also agreed that in an audition, the focus and stillness that deep listening brings draws them into the reading and allows them to become fully involved with the actor’s emotional life through the intensity of their reactions. They said this makes them feel that they are already working with the actor.

This is in stark contrast to the actor who isn’t as focused on listening and reaction. This actor not only doesn’t draw them in, they appear to be reading at them, not speaking and listening with them.

Another positive benefit of deep, revealing listening appears when/if the audition is being taped. When directors are watching taped auditions it’s a two-dimensional experience. The actors who become contenders for the role are the ones who feel as if they are actually in the room with them. These are the actors whose listening is so specific and powerful and whose reactions are so alive and original that they bridge the distance that the technology creates, so that even if the director is watching them on an iPad in New York, they feel the actors’ specific energy and spark.

In order to have these job getting moments of reaction, you need a way of working that allows you to have the confidence to take the moments and to live in them. Most actors speed through the piece believing that it’s only their words that matter, and yet any director will tell you that it’s the reactions that are the actions of the scene. Watching someone talk is not half as interesting as watching how those words are affecting another human being. It takes awareness, skill and guts to work this way – but it’s the only way to work if you want to book the job.

In closing, it’s good to remember that strong listening and reacting are not things that you can just pull out of thin air. The body goes to what it’s used to – and if the body isn’t used to the stillness and focus of listening in your daily life, it won’t go there in your work. Paying attention to someone to the degree that you take in their words and feel them on multiple levels is actually pretty rare. Most people have mastered the art of “half listening:” listening just hard enough to plan their response. That’s not the type of listening that prompts the reactions that get jobs.

Practice in your daily life. Make a commitment to take people in as deeply as possible. See if you can turn your brain off and listen from the neck down. Feel your reactions in your body and let them pierce your heart.

As you continue to do this, you’ll find that your body will start to relax into a still, focused and open-hearted place that you can now access not only in your life, but in your work.

And when this happens in your work, the people in the room will not just hear you but see you.

Remember, it’s the eyes that are the windows to the soul – not the mouth.

As we were wrapping up the discussion, we decided to see if we could create one sentence to sum up the importance of listening and reacting in the audition. Here is what we came up with:

What you do with the words will get the directors attention – but it’s what happens in your reactions that will get you the job.


CraigWallace

Craig Wallace’s background in script development combined with his 16 years of coaching actors enables him to find the job getting moments that others miss. His expertise in breaking down text and years of coaching experience has made him “L.A.’s go to private coach.” Sign up for his group or private classes at wallaceauditiontechnique.com

Choosing an Acting Class, Part 3

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Once you have decided to try out a class stay alert to signs that this class is worth your time and money. You can try out a class either through observing it as an auditor, or if auditing is not allowed, by signing up and participating. Here are suggestions as to what signs are important to notice.

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Environment

The environment of the class includes the physical plant, ambience, and integrity. The physical plant is the most obvious and unambiguous item to observe.

If you are looking for a class that provides the most opportunities for your experiential learning versus sitting and watching others work most of the time than the size of the classroom should not be a tiny theater with a tiny stage and audience seats attached to the floor or a room with a small platform-type of stage at one end. If the space is large and flexible enough for the entire group to be up and working during group exercises or larger cast improvs it is the perfect size.

Of course the physical space should be clean and private. Any class where non-members freely move in and out of the class for any reason is cause for concern that the teacher is not respecting the class’s primary process.

Ambience

The number of actors in the class is another unambiguous signal as to the nature of the class. In a large class structured only around scene study the larger the group the more you will have to wait for your turn. As I have pointed out in a previous article, classes in which you don’t work in every class are to be avoided.

It’s also easy to notice if there is an attitude of professionalism from the class members or is it flake city? Do class members have consistent attendance or do they drop in and out casually? Do class members focus on the work at hand or do they keeps their eyes glued to their smart phones?

Is there a great chasm between the experience and abilities of the class members? Better classes have a basic consistency between the students’ abilities.

How are new members handled? When someone new is added to the class does the rest of the group tune out as remedial work is addressed to catch the new ones up? Are new members added frequently? Do members quit frequently?

Pay special attention to the mood and tone of a class. There should be a fun atmosphere and not one of stress and fear.

When a teacher is harsh and critical you will find fear, stress and cliques. Cliques create feelings of exclusion for everyone else and inauthentic co-dependency for the clique members.

See if there are unequal relationships between the teacher and different students. Be wary of a class that has teacher’s “pets” and “patsies.”

Does the teacher allow auditing? Professional actors live with judgment and rejection every day that they pursue their careers. When they choose to develop their abilities in a class or workshop, they should feel free to work, play, explore, and take risks in an environment that is uniquely free of judgment or disapproval. An observer in a class corrupts this environment.

 

Regardless of the good intentions or kindheartedness of the observer, judgment is inherent in the act of observing. Is this work good? Is this a class I want to join? Is the teacher any good? How do I stack up against the students?

 

These are the observer’s issues, and they may be overt, subtle, or invisible, but they totally affect the regular group members, creating pressure and inauthenticity in response to judgment.

“Uh-oh, we’d better be good tonight because Teacher has a guest watching.” Or, “I’ll make the safe choice in this exercise because I don’t want to look like a fool to that handsome/pretty/important observer.

No one gains from observers being present except the observers themselves. The actors, who have made the commitment of time, intention, struggle, emotions, and money, gain nothing but contamination of their space. Whenever I advise actors on choosing a new teacher, I tell them, “Try to audit all the classes you are considering, and be wary of any teacher who allows you to do so.”

Teachers who do not allow auditing will usually offer their own version of a substitute process, such as, free seminars, showcase classes, or at the very least a personal interview with the prospective student. In addition, the prospective student should seek out current and former students of the teacher and get their opinions and description of the class.

You can always evaluate a class after joining it. Except for the few teachers who require you to sign up for a year or two, this would mean joining for a month or two and evaluating as you participate.

Integrity

Determine if the class you are considering has integrity or is it a breeding ground for lies, hype, denial, manipulation or any kind of inauthentic behavior. Authenticity is crucial to the actor’s growth and to group integrity.

Notice group discussions and those between individual actors and the teacher. Some actors, like some civilians, often create personal dramas, which are usually inauthentic. It is a wise teacher who recognizes manipulation, avoidance, exaggeration, and false humility, all frequently seen acting-class behaviors, and avoids being drawn into the drama while assisting the actor to see things as they are and not as the actor thinks they are.

Dealing with this is a delicate issue for the teacher and the class. It is a good sign when you see the teacher, while remaining supportive, create a boundary that keeps him or her from being coddling or manipulated.

It is a bad sign when you see the teacher being co-dependent to a student’s drama. There is a difference between being supportive and participating in a lie.

It is part of the acting teacher’s job to create an honest environment and continually remind the students of the importance of honesty while being a primary exemplar of it.

There are frequently warning signs alerting you to the integrity of a class even before you walk in the door. Look at the class’ website or advertising. Is it full of exaggerated hype? What is the tone of the class administration? Is the contact person only concerned with making a sale?

Master Class

Consider the use of the word ‘master’ in master class or master teacher.

Master teachers are renowned masters of their craft who are guest teaching a class or a short series of classes, e.g., Meryl Streep, Maria Callas, Daniel Day-Lewis, Paul Simon, Yo-Yo Ma, Edward Albee.

It’s presumptuous to call oneself a master teacher or to label a class a master class when the class consists of one hardly working actor teaching other hardly working actors.

Actors and teachers involved in these so-called master classes, labeled as such by the teacher, know that it is a lie. And they never speak about the lie or think about it. It’s like having an elephant in the room that no one ever speaks about, i.e., all are in denial.

It says a great deal about an acting class when its’ formation is built on a lie. The teacher has initiated a lie to attract students. The students want to participate in that lie so they can refer to their class, especially on their resumes, as a master class. Do you want to be in that acting class?

Elia Kazan, the great director and one of the founders of The Actors Studio, said in his autobiography, “When I hear the phrase, “master class,” I want to vomit.”

Conclusion

Whatever class you are considering, regardless of the technique being taught, should be evaluated in two areas: 1. Experiential learning, i.e., you are on the floor working in every class. The class spends a minimal amount of time in critiques, discussions, or lectures. 2. Authenticity. There should be no bull shit on any level.

Find a class with these two components in place and you have probably found an effective acting class, one that you will be excited about attending.


 

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For the first time in two years, Stephen Book is offering free seminars in Hollywood: Sept. 13, 2016 at 7:30 pm. Or, Oct. 2, at 3:30 pm. To register & info.

Stephen Book heads an acting workshop in Hollywood. He is the author of: Book on Acting: Improvisation Technique for the Professional Actor in Film, Theater, and Television; also, The Actor Takes a Meeting: How to Interview Successfully with Agents, Managers, Producers, and Casting Directors. His former students include:  Maura Tierney, David Boreanaz, Carla Gugino, William Hurt, Marg Helgenberger, Tate Donovan, Sanaa Lathan, Mark Valley, Kathleen Rose Perkins, Val Kilmer, Kyra Sedgwick, Malcolm-Jamal Warner, Rita Moreno, Adam Ferrara, George Carlin.

Stephen Book Acting Workshop

 

Actors: Always Be True to Your Impulses

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When we were kids, we acted on our impulses all the time. We wanted what we wanted and we wanted it NOW! Anyone or anything that got in the way had better be ready for a temper tantrum. But the grown-ups didn’t like that at all. They told us we had to behave ourselves, to sit down, don’t touch, be quiet, just wait, and a litany of other clipped commands. And so we were socialized (or brainwashed) to control our impulses. We were made to think that maturity under the guise of ‘being a big girl or boy’ was the prize. But what the adults didn’t tell us was that impulse control also came at a cost. Controlling our impulses meant becoming further removed from our emotions, our intuition, our gut, and the core part of our humanity that connects us to every other human in the world. So far removed, that as adults we must re-learn to listen to our intuition, to go with our gut and to follow our instincts. This re-education is necessary because our basic inclination to act on impulse has been suppressed by early childhood socialization. Suppressed, but not extinguished.

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That’s the good news. Fortunately, the diligent actor can re-connect with her or his impulses, thereby tapping into the human condition. The actor’s courage to act on impulse is our gain because through that action we are reminded of what it means to feel, rather than stifle heart-wrenching sadness, crippling fear, boundless joy, and the full gamut of human emotion. It’s ironic that being authentic to our own wants, urges, desires–our impulses are considered a courageous undertaking, at least for us adults. We grown-ups are supposed to be objective, rational, and responsible. We have to manage impressions and gauge the needs of others after all. Showing emotion? Acting on impulse? Why, that’s taboo! Unless of course, you’re an actor.

As actors, we have license to throw caution to the wind, to wear our hearts on our sleeves, to act on impulse and basically, “to go there.” “There” is where the other adults cannot or will not go, at least not on purpose. And who can blame them? It’s scary to be true to our impulses because doing so requires us to be vulnerable to others’ judgment. But we actors know the secret. We know that when we are truly vulnerable to our impulses is when we connect most strongly to those that might otherwise seek to judge us. Instead, we disarm them with our vulnerability and with our courage to expose ourselves to their judgment, because we know that in seeing our true wants, urges, desires–our impulses on display, they will relate to a similar truth in themselves. Though we are 7 billion unique personalities in a vast multicultural world, our impulses connect us all so that we are never isolated from one another. The actor is the lens through which our infinite connections may be brought clearly into focus. So actors, be impulsive!


 

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Diane Christiansen’s career spans four decades as an actress, coach, director, dancer and author. Diane began coaching actors in 1992 and in 2011 and 2012, Diane’s classes were voted the best acting class for kids and teens separately by Backstage The last three years, Diane was voted One of the Top 10 most effective Coaches in Hollywood by Actors Access. A graduate of the Strasberg Institute, she was mentored by Academy Award Nominee, Sally Kirkland and the late Joseph Bernard. Actively coaching “working ” actors of all ages has led to 90% of her student roster booking jobs consistently.

Visit Diane at DianeChristiansen.com or call 818.523.8283 to sign up for one her classes.

The Award-Winning Carolyne Barry Acting Academy

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The Carolyne Barry Acting Academy has long been celebrated for its award-winning on-camera commercial audition workshops. The Los Angeles school offers classes in acting, commercial auditioning, improvisation, social media, Shakespeare, TV hosting as well as workshops for career strategies.

The academy was founded by the multi-talented Carolyne Barry who cultivated over 40 years of extensive professional experience as an actress, dancer, casting director, director, producer, and acting coach. Indeed, she taught commercial audition technique for over 30 years before passing last year. But Barry knew talent, and proudly assembled a team of award-winning teachers to continue the work of motivating and empowering actors both inside and outside the classroom.

Instruction emphasizes the Meisner technique for TV, film, commercial and theater acting. It’s designed to expand the actor’s ability to listen, respond, and live truthfully in each moment. The environment is a safe place for actors to take risks and grow with comprehensive class formats, proven techniques, and small class sizes. And thanks to the small class sizes, students in the commercial auditioning classes get to work on camera two to three times a night.

Among her extensive work in the industry, Carolyne performed in over 400 national television commercials, and cast over 500 commercials and infomercials for some of New York’s top commercial agents. As a result, she knew commercial casting from both sides. And she once stated,  “Good commercial acting is good acting, with less time to prepare, no pauses, more script specifics and the need to have the actor’s personality immediately accessed.”

With these kinds of high expectations on the commercial actor, it’s important to be well trained for the job at hand. According to Barry in her book entitled Hit the Ground Running, “The better the training, the better you will be. Many don’t truly understand that being an actor is a profession. Don’t be one of them. Those with abilities and talent with little or no instruction might get some acting jobs but those with training have a much better chance of having a career.”

The programs feature three different levels of acting courses. Actors can contact the school to find out which level would best suit their individual needs. Also, interested students should know that class locations are held at five different locations.

And for those of you who are interested in job positions like entertainment reporters, competition show hosts, sports-casting, or live shopping hosts, the academy offers comprehensive training for these kinds of jobs. So whether you’re an actor who’s seeking to supplement your income with hosting or if you’re long-time goal is to work as a full-time host, these classes might be right for you.

You can watch some of Carolyn Barry’s informative and encouraging instructional Youtube videos like the one featured above to learn more about classes at the academy as well as learn many helpful tips. In this particular clip, she discusses Common Rookie Audition Mistakes.

 

Halle Berry Intentionally Tried Not Playing the Gorgeous Girl

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It’s hard to believe the seemingly ageless star Halle Berry celebrated her 50th birthday last month. Her prolific body of work includes a wide array of characters ranging from her film debut as a crack addict in Jungle Fever to her recent role as super-heroine Storm in X-Men: Days of Future Past. Most notably she made history as the only woman of color to date to win a Best Actress Oscar for her portrayal of Leticia Musgrove, the troubled wife of an executed murderer in Monsters Ball.

But Berry insists while launching her acting career she had to beg to be taken seriously in the industry due to her good looks. And so she attempted to build credibility by taking on less-than-glamorous roles. In a recent interview with W magazine, Berry revealed, “It was intentional not to play the gorgeous girl. I came from the world of beauty pageants and modeling and right away when people heard that, I got discounted as an actor.”

Indeed during the 1980s, Berry entered several beauty contests, always resulting with impressive outcomes. She won Miss Teen All American, Miss Ohio USA, finished runner-up in the Miss USA pageant, and finished sixth in the Miss World competition.

At 23 years of age, Berry transitioned into acting by landing her first acting job after her first audition! As a result she became a cast member–shoulder pads and all–for the 1989 television sitcom Living Dolls. Unfortunately, the show was poorly received and only lasted 13 weeks.

It wouldn’t be long before Spike Lee called Berry in for an audition to play his character’s wife in the movie Jungle Fever. After trying out for the part, Berry says she tried to convince Lee to consider her for a different part; i.e., the part of a crack addict. This went contrary to his convictions, but a determined Berry persisted, saying she’d audition without any makeup so he could see for himself that she “deep down” was the crack addict. Finally, he agreed to let her audition for the part, and indeed gave her the role. “It was major for me,” Berry says.

Halle continued to seek the less-than-glamorous roles. For instance, she describes how she tried to convince producer Lee Daniels to consider her for Monsters Ball even though he was repelled by the thought:

“He thought there’s no way and my argument to him was, just because someone looks a certain way doesn’t mean that they are spared adversity. Adversity does not discriminate. I thought, ‘My looks haven’t spared me one hardship or one hurt moment or one painful situation. So please, you know, give me a shot at this.’ I said, ‘I often think it’s more interesting when you see someone that looks a certain way struggle in ways that you wouldn’t think they would be struggling with.’ He ultimately gave me a chance and that sort of changed the course of my career in so many ways.”

Clearly, Berry’s beauty has been a tremendous advantage throughout her career. Countless magazines have praised Berry’s stunning appearance by placing her on their Most Beautiful lists. And plenty of her film roles like Bond Girl Jinx and Catwoman certainly play up her gorgeous looks to the max. But she did make an effort to break away from her model image and weave in some unexpected roles to break through barriers.

There are many obstacles to encounter during your journey as an actor. And the challenges might be based on what you are lacking in terms of appearance, skills, or connections. But they also might be the result of your endowments.

Choosing an Acting Class – Part 2

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In the last article I wrote about the difference between traditional scene study classes and classes that emphasize more experiential training.

Whatever kind of class you are considering you should evaluate how critiques are handled.

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When a scene, exercise, or improv ends, the participants’ experience is not complete until there is a follow-up acknowledgment and/or discussion of their work. In a traditional acting class this process is called the critique, in which the class and/or the teacher give opinions of the participants’ work and judge how well they solved the problem that the teacher may have wanted them to address, or the problem they have set out for themselves to address.

In better classes the critique does not rely solely on authoritarian judgment, but opens doors for further growth in solving the designated problems or challenges. The critique should not only complete the experience, but also provide the participants with insights into areas of their acting that may be improved, and point the way toward making that improvement.

In the best kind of class, if the teacher sees the place for improvement, he or she does not tell it to the participants. He or she presents particular exercises that address the problem area and/or in the critique, asks questions that if answered truthfully, will allow the participant to arrive at any necessary insight him or herself.

Here is an example of the questions and answers that would be appropriate where insight is necessary. Let’s say the participants are doing an improv where the problem they are working on is staying in constant conflict with each other. When the improv is over:

Teacher: Joe, did you stay focused on solving the problem throughout the     improv?

Joe: Yes.

Teacher: Class, do you agree?

Class: No.

Teacher: Joe, what was the acting focus?

Joe: To keep the conflict issue taut and always pull it.

Teacher: Did you do that?

Joe: Yes, I did. Definitely. I was always pulling on the conflict issue, except when Lisa dropped the glass of milk and she started to cry and I went to help her. I was always pulling the conflict issue!

Teacher: Joe, isn’t there a contradiction in what you just said?

Joe: No. Every moment I was focused on pulling the conflict issue except when she was cry— I was…except…she was crying… No! I didn’t keep the conflict issue taut and I definitely didn’t pull on it during the beat when she cried. I dropped the conflict issue when I was helping her. I wasn’t always on the acting focus.

Teacher: Class, do you agree?

Class? Yes.

Teacher: Thanks, Joe. Next.

The teacher knew that Joe had dropped the conflict issue, but instead of telling him, the teacher led Joe to the insight so that the insight would be Joe’s and not the teacher’s. However simple or profound the insight may be, it is better taken and more meaningful if it comes from the actor himself.

This approach also assists the actor to trust his or her own resources and be less dependent on the teacher. Eventually the actor learns how to conduct his own non-judgmental follow-up.

How many times after an unsuccessful audition has an actor wasted an opportunity for learning? Which is more productive, to leave an audition saying to yourself, “Boy, did I louse that up,” or to lead yourself through questions and answers to an insight which shows you where you went off?

In a successful acting class the teacher continuously reminds the actors that the only time they “fail” at something is when they don’t learn from it.

Paying attention to how the teacher handles the critique is always a great indicator of the teacher’s efficacy at being an educator or coach and not a judge.

When the teacher is judgmental, actors frequently feel their egos attacked and respond with their own individual defensive styles instead of being open to further learning. Perhaps this is why you have not liked your previous class.

Critiques may be infused with judgment and authoritarianism in attitude as well as content. The critic’s words often carry a sense of frustration (anger) or patronization (disrespect) or admiration (love).

If the criticism communicates anger or disrespect, the actor’s body tenses up in an armoring posture. The actor becomes a closed system and is unable to benefit from the teacher’s expertise (!). If the criticism communicates love, the actor feels relaxed and happy, and there is nothing wrong with that.

However, with a critical teacher, the class sees that sometimes they will be loved and sometimes punched. The actors quickly ask themselves, “What do I have to do to get the love and not the punch?”

That is the end of productive learning in the class. The actors enter an approval/disapproval relationship with the teacher and the only thing really learned is the dynamic of bribery.

Anything that unnecessarily heightens the teacher’s power is to be avoided. Some teachers thrive on that power and exploit it to elicit unhealthy dependency. It is said that this was the case with Strasberg and his extremely talented student, Marilyn Monroe.

In the question-and-answer follow-up described earlier, Joe returns to his seat thinking, “Of course. I totally dropped the conflict issue when I saw her cry and I helped her. I got it!” His response is positive, appropriate, and productive. His ego hasn’t been attacked, he’s still open to learning, and while he may be a little disappointed that he dropped the conflict issue, he is excited by the clarity of the insight and enthusiastic about trying it again.

When Joe next needs to sustain a conflict beat, either in class or career, he is not likely to drop the conflict issue.

After work on a scene or exercise has been completed an effective teacher moves on to the next exercise or scene. Some teachers lose sight of this and initiate group discussions that become information or personal experience sharing sessions.   These dampen energy, put everyone into the head, and take away from participation time where true experiential learning occurs. If you notice this happening you have another opportunity for evaluating whether this teacher and class is best for you.

In the next article I will be discussing other features of acting classes available for evaluation.


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For the first time in two years, Stephen Book is offering free seminars in Hollywood: Sept. 13, 2016 at 7:30 pm. Or, Oct. 2, at 3:30 pm. To register & info.

 

Stephen Book heads an acting workshop in Hollywood. He is the author of: Book on Acting: Improvisation Technique for the Professional Actor in Film, Theater, and Television; also, The Actor Takes a Meeting: How to Interview Successfully with Agents, Managers, Producers, and Casting Directors. His former students include:  Maura Tierney, David Boreanaz, Carla Gugino, William Hurt, Marg Helgenberger, Tate Donovan, Sanaa Lathan, Mark Valley, Kathleen Rose Perkins, Val Kilmer, Kyra Sedgwick, Malcolm-Jamal Warner, Rita Moreno, Adam Ferrara, George Carlin.

Stephen Book Acting Workshop

 

 

Mike Birbiglia’s 6 Tips for “Making It Small”

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Mike Birbiglia, the writer, director, and actor of the comedy-drama Don’t Think Twice, recently penned an essay for the New York Times offering advice to aspiring talent entitled “Mike Birbiglia’s 6 Tips for Making It Small in Hollywood. Or Anywhere.” Even though the comedian humbly considers himself the maker of “small films, small one-man shows,” he’s been repeatedly asked, “How do I get started?” by numerous creative hopefuls.

Birbiglia’s path to success is certainly unique. He suffers from rapid eye movement sleep behavior disorder which at times causes him to unconsciously act out his dreams. In fact, once the sleepwalking disorder caused him to run out of a motel’s second-story window! As a result, Birbiglia transformed his nightly experiences into fruitful content for stand-up comedy.

His one-man off-Broadway show entitled Sleepwalk with Me was based on his life as an aspiring comedian who’s dealing with increasing stress regarding his relationship and career, all the while contending with his emergent sleepwalking disorder. The show was well received, and this lead to Birbiglia authoring a book based on the show. The book indeed made it onto the New York Times Bestseller List. From there, the determined comedian ventured into filmmaking, turning Sleepwalk with Me into an independent comedy film. It proved to be an award winner at the Sundance Film Festival.

Birbiglia’s other work includes roles in the films Trainwreck and The Fault in Our Stars as well as playing Danny Pearson in Orange Is the New Black. Additionally, he recently went on a 30-city tour with his new movie Don’t Think Twice, a film about a thriving New York improv group whose members’ relationships become strained after only one of them is cast in an enormously popular weekend comedy show.

With this kind of career momentum under his belt, Birbiglia advises talent to do the following:

  1. Don’t Wait. He insists, “There’s no substitute for actually doing something. Don’t talk about it anymore. Maybe don’t even finish reading this essay.”
  2. Fail. Birbiglia argues failing is “not just encouraged but required.” As far as refining his own work, he reveals that it took twelve drafts to write Don’t Think Twice, and he worked six years on his one-man show Sleepwalk with Me.
  3. Learn from the Failure. This tip requires collaboration from people with whom you surround yourself. Find people whose opinions you value, and then receive their feedback with gratitude. “I’ve learned that harsh feedback, constructive feedback, even weird, random feedback, is all helpful, if you know the essence of what you’re trying to convey,” he writes.
  4. Maybe Quit. Birbiglia doesn’t try to paint a rosy path for artist types. “There is going to be an insane amount of work ahead, and your time might be spent better elsewhere,” he says.
  5. Be Bold Enough to Make Stuff that’s Small but Great. He describes how dissatisfied he once felt after working with a network and studio. He felt his work was getting watered down by the “Hollywood gatekeepers.” After building a body of work in which he had creative control, he now suggests, “As far as I’m concerned, what you create in a 30-seat, hole-in-the-wall improv theater in Phoenix can be far more meaningful than a mediocre sitcom being half-watched by seven million people. America doesn’t need more stuff. We need more great stuff. You could make that”
  6. Cleverness Is Overrated, and Heart Is Underrated. Last of all, he believes offering yourself honestly is the only thing that matters in the end.

 

 

‘The Americans’ Keri Russell’s Emmy Nomination

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While Game of Thrones leads the Primetime Emmy Awards this year with 23 nominations, a number of shows have shined through this year including F.X.’s critically beloved drama series The Americans. Costars Keri Russell and Welsh actor Matthew Rhys portray two Soviet KGB officers living as a married American couple during the Cold War. Both actors have been nominated for their leading roles in the drama series which is currently in its fourth season. And in fact, Russell and Rhys have been involved an off-screen relationship since 2013, and just months ago welcomed the birth of their son, Sam.

With so much for this dynamic duo to celebrate, Keri’s often cited inspirational quote came to mind:

“Sometimes it’s the smallest decisions that can pretty much change your life forever.”

Wondering what small decisions she was referring to when she made this statement lead to the discovery that Keri herself actually did not the author the quote. Rather her famous title character Felicity Porter from the popular television series Felicity spoke those words of wisdom on the show’s pilot in 1998. The coming-of-age story follows a University of New York freshman student pursuing her heart rather than the long-established educational plans that her parents set for her. The role accelerated Russell’s career, and earned her a Golden Globe award to boot.

It would seem that Russell’s career path was changed forever with the seemingly small decision to take up dancing as a child. After all, it was her ability to dance that largely lead to her big break at the age of 15 when she was cast on the Disney Channel’s All-New Mickey Mouse Club. Unlike most of her fellow cast members, she did not have strong vocal abilities. After all, her castmates included young and promising talents such as Tony Lucca, Christina Aguilera, Britney Spears, and Justin Timberlake.

After leaving the show, Keri made her first film appearance as a babysitter named Mandy in Honey, I Blew Up the Kid. And shortly after that, Russell made a number of mostly forgettable guest appearances on TV shows like Married…With Children. But she took whatever opportunities that presented themselves. Whether it was rooming with her then-boyfriend Tony Lucca in Los Angeles and together playing lead roles in the low-rated television teen drama Malibu Shores, or appearing in a Bon Jovi music video, then that’s what she did. And keeping herself in the game eventually lead to her being cast as Felicity.

Subsequently, Russell has starred in The Magic of Ordinary Days, Mission: Impossible III, and of course, for the past three years, The Americans.

After hearing about their recent Emmy nomination, Keri and Rhys celebrated at their summer home in Woodstock, New York. Rhys joked, “We went to the fridge and there were two Pacificos, and then we made a cheese quesadilla because we’re classy.” The couple likes to keep their private lives well intact, and so felt some concern about the attention the nomination would bring them. But that’s a good problem to have, isn’t it?

But what if Russell had never learned to dance? What if she had given up after a disappointing response to some of her projects like Malibu Shores? When it comes to acting, there are a whole lot of small decisions one makes along the way–and hopefully those small decisions will change your life for the better as well.

 

 

Choosing an Acting Class – Part 1

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Are you considering a new acting class? Are you happy with the one you are in? Is it serving your needs? You know that in the past you have not liked certain classes and liked others and you usually know why, but have you ever considered what might be best or the most effective for you?

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Be Wary

Whatever the teacher’s preferred specialty, e.g., Stanislavsky, Michael Chekhov, Strasberg, Meisner, Adler, Hagen, Spolin, Johnstone, Improvisation Technique, or their own, the actor should consider avoiding any class that practices either or both of the two most destructive aspects of American actor training: (1) Learning through watching and listening instead of doing. Acting is the only performing art in America where students spend most of their class time sitting and watching others work. (2) The “guru” teacher who pontificates or rants while the students spend still more time sitting and listening.

The actor is an artist and all artists have their instruments through which they make and communicate their art. Musicians have their violins, trumpets, and guitars. Painters have their canvas, brushes, and paints. The actor’s instrument is his or her body. What other artist has his or her body as their instrument? A dancer.

Both actors and dancers pursue training and, even after they are working professionals, continue classes to expand their instruments and to stay sharp. The difference is dancers spend most of their class time actually dancing while actors spend most of their class time sitting and watching others act.

Importance of Experiential Learning

The technique of anything the body does, like acting, dancing, playing music, painting, sculpting, singing, or mime, is best learned by doing it.

You didn’t learn to ride a bike by watching others ride or by listening to a lecture on the theory of bike riding. You were out there on a bike with someone running alongside and coaching you. You also know that if you don’t ride a bike again until you’re sixty, after just a couple of wobbly moments you’ll be riding perfectly well.

Whenever you do learn something by doing it, you have learned it for life. The doing is in the body and will always be there. You think anybody ever forgets how to swim? It’s called kinesthetic memory. What the body learns experientially it never forgets.

You might study with a teacher, who uses a lot of class time to talk and is fascinating to listen to, and he may be a great director in improving individual scenes, but if you are not in those scenes you are not learning how to do the work. You are only being informed about the work and you will forget what you were informed about.

Scene Study

The most common form of an American acting class employs traditional ‘scene study.’ These kinds of classes rely to a great extent on reactive teaching. Work is prepared outside of class and then presented in class. The teacher and the class react to, or critique, the work and then the teacher redirects or coaches the work in order to improve the acting in the scene.

For instance, let’s say the teacher sees that a particular scene is lacking in subtext work. The teacher reacts to what he sees and makes subtext the subject of his criticism. He takes the happenstance opportunity of this particular scene to address the subject of subtext.

The students who are not in the scene are informed about subtext as a tool of the craft, but because they are only watching, they are not learning how to do subtext as a performing skill. If this were a dance class, would you be learning how to do kicks by watching someone else learning and practicing them? Of course not.

Also consider, that while the actors in the scene are being redirected to include subtext, and therefore are learning about subtext experientially, what they are learning is mostly limited to the scene they are working on. They may not be learning the skill of doing subtext with a methodology to facilitate its use in other scenes requiring subtext. In addition, they may not be learning how to recognize when other scenes require subtext.

The next day, on a TV drama series, one of them may have a scene to perform that also requires subtext work. If that scene doesn’t greatly resemble the scene she was working on in class, there is a strong possibility that she will miss it in the TV scene. How effective was the class for her in learning subtext?

The traditional scene study class is valuable when you are doing the scene. You are getting practice at preparing, rehearsing, performing, being directed or coached, and learning the particulars of one specific scene.

On the other hand, this class is not providing an opportunity for all the students to learn all the skills and tools in a practical fashion, one that increases self-sufficiency, as well as the knowledge of when to use that tool or skill.

Scene study classes are aptly named. You are studying one scene at a time. And only the cast of the scene is getting any experiential learning. The rest of the class is observing the scene and receiving information for the brain but no practice for the body. You might notice this when considering a new class.

Experiential Curriculum

There are classes that provide all the students an opportunity to experientially learn acting skills through their participation in multiple exercises or improvs in addition to scenes. In this kind of class, everyone works in every class and whenever the actor is watching others work, he is seeing how the others address the same challenge he has just addressed or will be addressing when he goes up next. In a class like this the rest of the group is always involved with the actors working on the floor. The exercises or improvs, not the happenstance needs of a particular scene, or the reactions of the teacher or coach, facilitate the learning.

Everyone experientially learns the particular skill instead of just being informed about it. Everyone learns how to do kicks. An additional goody is that this approach increases the actor’s dependence on her self and diminishes her dependence on the teacher. Increasing self-sufficiency should be a goal of any acting class

Self-sufficiency is the meaning of technique. There are teachers who understand that there role is to facilitate the actor’s journey toward self sufficiency by coaching and providing the curriculum of the technique, e.g., subtext, conflict, emotional access, emotional range, emotional controls for intensity changes, character physicality, character behavior, problems, actions, attitudes, vocal production and range, in-the-moment, purpose of scene, and much more depending on the teacher’s preferred technique.

When evaluating a class pay attention to whether or not you are learning the skills of the craft by doing them.

Academy Award-winning actor Richard Dreyfuss’s response to a question from a student about the difficulty of a career in show business was, “Act your brains out. The more you act, the better you get. It’s not a secret. It’s true. Whether you’re a violinist or an actor.” To take an acting class where you don’t “act your brains out” in every class is self-limiting.

In the next article we will consider how different classes handle critiques.


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For the first time in two years, Stephen Book is offering free seminars in Hollywood:

Sept. 13, 2016 at 7:30 pm. Or, Oct. 2, at 3:30 pm. To register & info.

Stephen Book heads an acting workshop in Hollywood. He is the author of: Book on Acting: Improvisation Technique for the Professional Actor in Film, Theater, and Television; also, The Actor Takes a Meeting: How to Interview Successfully with Agents, Managers, Producers, and Casting Directors. His former students include:  Maura Tierney, David Boreanaz, Carla Gugino, William Hurt, Marg Helgenberger, Tate Donovan, Sanaa Lathan, Mark Valley, Kathleen Rose Perkins, Val Kilmer, Kyra Sedgwick, Malcolm-Jamal Warner, Rita Moreno, Adam Ferrara, George Carlin.

Stephen Book Acting Workshop