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Feb 04 2013

Theatrical Acting Resume 101

Many actors have heard the saying, “take care of the things that are within your control and don’t worry about the things you can’t”, yet they don’t actually practice this simple, yet important principle.   Whether you are a beginning actor with little or no credits, or you are a seasoned professional, there isn’t a good reason for actors of all levels not to have a polished resume.  The resume is one of those items which are well within your control and given the fact it is the calling card for your product, it is essential to learn the basic requirements and ensure they are met.

8×10 Format

The resume should be on good quality white paper, neatly trimmed down to the exact size of 8”x10”, the same size as the headshot.  Two staples (flat side on the picture side) at the top should attach the resume to the back of the headshot.

Agent/Manager

If the actor is represented by an Agent or Manager, that name and contract information should be at the top of the resume.

Name

In large bold font, the actor name should appear centered on the page.   If the actor is represented, the name appears below the agent/manager information.    If the actor is not represented, his/her name will appear on the top of the resume with contact information.   This contact information should consist of a telephone number, and an email address if desired.

Union affiliation with SAG-AFTRA, AEA  or SAG –E or SAG eligible may be included with the name and contact information.

The basic categories for inclusion on a theatrical resume are:  Film, Television, Theater, Training, & Skills.  Sometimes it makes sense to include Education as a category if it was a degree earned with relatable training (i.e. Master of Fine Arts at NYU, BA in Theater, etc.   Commercials should not appear on a theatrical resume.

Film

Film credits are listed as Lead, Supporting, Featured, and should not be listed chronologically, but rather by most impressive.    Playing a supporting role in a major film would be listed over a lead in an obscure Indie pic.  Never list work as an “extra”.  The name of the studio and/or the director is listed in the far right column.

Television

Television credits are listed as Series Regular, Recurring Guest Star, Guest-Star,  Recurring Co-Star and Co-Star. Typically the name of the Director and network are listed on the far right column.  Again credits should be listed by most impressive first.

One note about order:  the general rule of thumb overall is to get your most impressive credit listed as high as possible on the resume.  Therefore, if your most impressive credit is in film…then film is the first category.  The same is true with television, however not with theater (unless of course you are a stage actor focused on work in theater).

Theater

Here you would list the name of the play in the first column, the name of the character you played in the second. Theatre is the only category where you would use the name of the character, as opposed to the billing. The specific theater is listed in the far right column.

Commercials

Do not list commercials on a theatrical resume.

Training

When actors are newer and don’t have many credits, Casting Directors and Agents will look more closely at training.  Obviously a solid background with a well-known acting school or coach is imperative in presenting yourself as an aspiring professional.  With little else to go off of, a history of training indicates commitment to the craft.  List either the place where you’ve spent the most time training or the most prestigious/renowned acting teacher first.

Skills

List skills you are proficient in, you don’t have to be a professional at it but you should be able to pull off looking like one for a day or two!

Dialects fall under the skills category and should only be listed if they can be ready to go in a few hours or less.  You must be able to sound native to the area of the dialect and you must be able to speak conversationally in this dialect.  When in doubt leave it out until you’ve mastered it.

Finally, do not lie on your resume.  You will get asked questions about the things you’ve listed and eventually the lies will catch up to you.   It’s no different than in any other business…lying is unacceptable and a sign of a serious character flaw.  It’s better to have a sparsely populated resume that is professional and polished than one that is puffed up with a bunch of useless, irrelevant, and even fabricated credits in order to impress a Casting Director.  They are smart and will catch on to the smoke and mirrors very quickly, so resist the temptation and be comfortable with whatever stage you are at in the journey.

As an actor, control is something that is often elusive and can be a source of frustration as opportunities are often unpredictable and sporadic.  This is an unavoidable aspect of being an actor, making it all the more imperative to work hard at taking control by whatever means possible.  The resume is one thing you absolutely control, and a less than perfect presentation is inexcusable.  So take action now and use these guidelines to ensure your resume is up to snuff.   The knowledge that your calling card is the best it can be will give you confidence the next time you walk into that big audition!

Remember…you are enough!

Dec 06 2012

You Want to Become a Great Actor? Imagine It!

Imagination is more important than knowledge. – Albert Einstein

Being an actor comes with a built in dilemma:  the ratio of time spent actually performing verses time spent preparing for that work is very lopsided.  Years and years of training, auditioning, and enduring the inevitable emotional ups and downs associated with the career are rewarded with fractional and disproportionate compensation.  That is to say, you prepare a lot to perform a little.  Moreover, the time spent in preparation and training can be fraught with its own set of difficulties; limited funds for acting class, a work schedule that conflicts with the next stage production or indie film project, or personal circumstances which make it difficult to audition on a consistent basis are all issues that most actors must come to terms with at one point or another in their career.   Given this near universal truth, how can the craftsman combat this inevitable set of challenges in the quest for greatness?   Step one: imagine it!

Bar none, imagination is the most basic and central component of the art and craft of acting.  Much discussion is dedicated to, and many opinions are offered on a variety of other skill subsets which are not inconsequential, but are nonetheless secondary to imagination.  Training for audition technique, voice, improvisation, on camera awareness, languages/dialects, and many other skills while important, pale in comparison to the fundamental skill of imagination.

Acting is an exercise in the use of imagination by the actor to achieve a certain and specific reality based on artificial circumstances given by a writer.  The actor must create this reality by visualizing experiences, circumstances, and images which comprise past, present, and future.   There are no short cuts either – we’re not talking about pretending to play characters in an external and superficial way.  The point is to make the imagination work so vivid the actor tricks his mind into believing he is actually living in this alternate reality.  This is the art and craft of acting and it can be practiced almost anytime and anywhere, under any circumstances.

Often times an actor will only consider himself practicing his craft while in class or during performances.  This precept could not be further from the truth and is a fundamental misunderstanding of what the requirements are for the position.  Like the silence between the notes of a great piano concerto, the imagination work of an actor must be tirelessly exercised between performances (which include auditions) in order to attain and maintain the requisite elasticity and skill which all roles require to some degree or another.   Furthermore, there are endless possibilities when considering the opportunities to practice and hone the skill of imagination.

Of course the most obvious time to practice is while working in acting class itself.  In a typical scene study class, the main point to understand is that the actual class should not be viewed as the only place where all the practice and “work” takes place.  Notwithstanding real time adjustments, the acting class itself is mostly a measurement tool, a point of reference for how thorough and effective the imagination work was between classes.  Since there is no limit to imagination and how far one can go with making imaginary circumstances more real and vivid, there is no limit to the work that can be done in preparation for acting class.  The work of an actor in preparation for any role, whether in acting class or on a Hollywood set, is actually limitless and there is no true arrival at a specific destination known as ‘fully prepared’.

But what if the actor is not enrolled in class, auditioning regularly, or working on a production?  How much work can be done on his craft?  The answer is as much as he likes.   Daily life offers a myriad of opportunities for an actor to work on his craft.   Here’s just one example out of an infinite supply of ways to practice: you’re grocery shopping and a young mother is having difficulty controlling her young children.    Imagine yourself in her position…maybe feeling embarrassed that your children are not well behaved, or you are frustrated that they are not listening to you.   Spend time making it so real in your mind that you actually start thinking about how you are going to discipline your children or consult your partner for assistance.  Or you could choose to be the checkout person, on the receiving end of a frazzled mom and her unruly children picking candy bars off the racks making a mess by the conveyor belt.  Maybe you are the customer next in line and you are in a hurry to get somewhere – maybe an extremely important appointment, but these kids might make you late!   Really put yourself in the position of one or all of these people until you understand and can feel what it’s like to be there.

Once the basic circumstances become real, you can add layers: as the mom you just found out your husband got fired and you are worried about where the money will come from to pay for groceries next week.  Raise the stakes even higher by imagining you just got a call from your doctor saying you have a life threatening illness.  While doing this exercise it’s very important to make sure and not imagine children you don’t know and someone else’s doctor.  Use children you know and your doctor, etc.  This isn’t about projecting fictitious characters into your life; it’s about putting yourself in different circumstances, making it your life and asking “what if this was actually me in this situation?

This is just one very basic way to utilize an everyday experience to exercise your skills as an actor.  The possibilities are absolutely endless.  So, the next time you feel sidelined, despondent, rejected, or frustrated by the limited amount of time performing your craft, remember that you can be working towards mastery all the time, no matter what the circumstances.  Then, when the next audition comes around you might not only impress the Casting Director, you might even amaze yourself with performance!

Jul 02 2012

Bare Your Soul, Thicken Your Skin, Then…Keep Going!

“A pessimist sees the difficulty in every opportunity; an optimist sees the opportunity in every difficulty.”
~Winston Churchill

Let’s face it; becoming a professional actor is not an easy proposition. For those who aspire to it there can be no denying the rewards are enticing and potentially lucrative. Each individual has his or her own purpose in mind when attempting to fulfill this dream of being catapulted out of relative obscurity to becoming a household name, but it cannot be had for the mere wanting of it. It takes resolution, strength, vulnerability, skill, growth, humility, emotional & financial investment, stamina, and incredible perseverance. Moreover the actor must be willing to reveal himself to the world and risk hampering his enthusiasm, passion, and growth via defense mechanisms that are meant to protect him from harsh criticisms and judgments. In short, he must bare his soul while keeping his skin thick…and then continue on the journey whatever roadblocks may appear. This is the path of growth.

Too many actors get discouraged just at the time they are building a foundation for long term success in a profession that requires staying power. Their skills are improving in acting class, and even though they are in fact moving in a positive direction towards their goals, they may have difficulty reconciling unrealistic expectations with the actual progress (or lack thereof) in meeting career objectives. It’s normal to have low points on the journey, but the decisions that are made after the setbacks are what matter the most.

It is said that a great NFL quarterback has an equally great short term memory. For in the throes of a championship game that has gone all wrong, it is only the confidence, poise, and skill in single moment that counts if the game is won on the final play. The same quarterback could have thrown 5 interceptions and fumbled in his own end zone earlier in the game, but he must put that out of his mind completely to focus on the task at hand…a successful next play. The only play that matters…the one that could in fact win the Super Bowl.

In this regard, actors must think very much like an All-Star quarterback. Bad auditions, no auditions, criticisms, stunted growth, rejections, fear of rejection, insecurities, bad performances, disillusionment, and depression can all be part of the actor’s life. The difference between those who become successful and those who languish in relative obscurity is not what happens to them along the way…it’s what happens after the disappointments, setbacks, and frustrations. In short, it’s the psychology of the individual in question that will determine the destinations, not the specific circumstances. Actors come from all different backgrounds, circumstances, and places. Some were raised in poverty and some come from upper class families. Some learned their craft at prestigious institutions while others practiced on the street corner for anybody who would watch. The commonality of successful actors is generally not a function of where they came from, but who they were willing to become by facing the uncertainty of the unknown with uncompromising resolve and determination. An unwavering belief in oneself is the prerequisite above all others that is necessary to succeed.

Embrace the journey with its twists and turns, ups and downs, and sometimes what appear to be insurmountable obstacles, and remember that you are not alone. Be mindful that others are confronted by the same obstacles and must decide every step of the journey if they too will continue. Have a great short term memory when it comes to negative experiences and remember, becoming a working actor in Hollywood is a decision, not a one in a million shot in the dark. Ask empowering questions along the way instead of feeding your mind with negative thoughts and useless mantras. Take care of everything in your control; stay disciplined and focused on your craft, work hard in acting class and keep promoting your brand in every way possible. Prepare for opportunities so that when they come, you are as good as you can be…and you’re better than you were the time before. Don’t forget that the only way to be certain of failure is by not taking the most important step of all…the next one!

Remember…you are enough!

Apr 12 2012

How to Get Your Child into Film Acting

So, you think your child has what it takes to become a star: she lights up the room with her energy, commands attention from her audience, and soaks up the applause like water to a dry sponge. She’s the lead in every school play and around the house she mimics every Disney character ever created. It’s time to head off to Hollywood…right? Maybe, maybe not…or maybe just not yet!

There are definite advantages to starting your child in show business at an early age; however it’s important to keep in mind the same rules that apply for adults aspiring for a career in this very competitive industry still apply no matter what the age of the aspiring star. Honing the acting skills, learning proper audition technique, understanding the technical aspects of working on camera, learning how the business works, being able to work well with others, and having an ample dose of patience to go along with the excitement are all necessary ingredients for all actors.

The problem that most often occurs with child actors is that the parents who are guiding them don’t have the requisite knowledge of the industry to provide the proper perspective, guiding expectations according to the realities of the business. Often times a parent thinks ‘my kid just has what it takes’ and that they just need to get an agent and get to work. Surely, once their child’s talent is seen by a top tier agent they will want to represent her and pitch to all the top Casting Directors in Hollywood…right? This is both incredibly unrealistic and even cruel to do to a child; considering how extremely competitive the business is. Yes mom, there are thousands of talented kids out there just itching for a shot on the next big blockbuster!

Truth is, even in the best case where a child shows a tremendous amount of talent and ability, it still takes at least 1-2 years before that child even ready to think about auditioning. That means before consideration is given to looking for an agent or casting opportunities, parents should have their child in acting class to learn the skills necessary to book the job (and keep it). Specifically, the skills should be learned that are directly transferrable to auditioning and working the L.A. film and television industry. The child should learn acting that is specifically geared to camera work (which is a world apart from stage acting), and cold reading and auditioning skills which will give her a legitimate shot at booking the work. This takes time and lots of practice, but there are some real advantages to starting at a young age.

There is a smaller pool of child actors in Hollywood who are both talented and skilled. The reasons for this are numerous, but in general it’s a supply and demand issue. Mature, dedicated, and polished child performers are a small percentage of the children who are out there auditioning. Have you ever wondered why Casting Directors sometimes go through thousands of child actors on a nationwide search that can take months to cast just one role? That said, if a child is the right type and is a good fit for a role, more latitude is given for a less than perfect audition. That is not to say they can be horrible, but if the talent and skill is evident a few sins can be forgiven and the Director may be willing to work with the child who is perfect in every other aspect. This is great news for children who have that spark but are not yet masters of the craft. The other great thing about children is that they are like sponges, eagerly absorbing what they see and learn in class and through experience. It’s not unusual for a child to grow as an actor more quickly than an adult because they are used to learning, and don’t carry around years and years of established patterns, bad habits/attitudes, and acting techniques that do more harm than good. They also have that magical thing called enthusiasm, which combined with focused energy can, and often does make good things happen!

Remember, acting is a profession like any other. One that requires practice, dedication, and patience along with talent. If your child shows aptitude for this profession, she absolutely can make a career of it. The parent’s job is to first learn how the business works while getting the child working on the developing her skills so that she is ready when the opportunities arrive. Then maybe, just maybe, the spark in your child’s eye will ignite into another rising Hollywood star!

Remember…you are enough!

Jan 16 2012

How to Select an Acting Class

acting classes San Francisco

When trying to break into Hollywood, the budding actor is faced with the reality there will be thousands of others who share their passion for the craft and are willing to work hard to get into the business. This can create anxiety over the decisions that need to be made in order to be competitive in this industry. One of the biggest decisions is about where to get the necessary training to attain a level of proficiency that will provide the opportunities to actually audition and book work. Although it can seem daunting, in the beginning it can be useful to break down the decision making process to a relatively simple checklist of questions– the Four S’s.

The Four S’s checklist of questions consists of four fundamental criteria each actor should consider when choosing an acting teacher, class, course, program, school, studio, system, etc.

System

Is there a system in place that is replicable, consistent, and provides for limitless growth potential? When constructing a new building the most important step in the construction process is building a solid foundation which can withstand and support the weight of the structure. This foundation will be the base upon which the entire superstructure is built and it must be built to last. This is the perfect metaphor for the actor. The foundational base, the system and/or method the actor decides to build his craft upon must provide the means to support the lofty goals and ambitions which inevitably stoke the fires of Hollywood dreams. To this end, the acting system must provide the actor a way to create a solid foundational technique, while allowing him to build as high as he chooses to go.

Specific

Is the method of practice and preparation clear, straightforward, and easy to understand? This is not to suggest the actual ‘doing’ part will be easy and necessarily on a straight trajectory, but it is understood exactly what the student should be doing in his homework. In most cases, the intellectual understanding of what is required to prepare and practice is the easy part. It is generally speaking the more abstract parts of the art that are a bit more challenging to ascertain, especially in the beginning. Those components require discipline, tenacity, motivation, and a high degree of patience in order to begin to come to a fuller understanding of what good acting is, both in theory and practice. It is normal, even typical for a newer actor to say things like “I understand what I’m supposed to do but I don’t understand why I can’t do it!” This is not so much an indication of a method that is not working for an actor as it is a milestone on the path to successful growth in the work.

Success

Are there other students in the class who have been practicing in the specific system for awhile who are getting results? Obviously, the term ‘results’ is broad and can be defined in many ways. It is not necessary to measure success by how many actors are working in film and television (or equity theater), although this certainly is one good indicator. Great acting classes and acting schools will generally have a mix of students of varying abilities and skill sets. If there are working actors who have been trained in the specific acting method, it is a good sign that it works. However, it is no less reasonable to say that if there are very few working actors in the school but the level of acting is of a high caliber, then that can also be deemed a positive result. Bottom line, if there are good actors in the class or school, it is another good data point and positive indicator for the school when considering where to study.

Safe

Is it a safe place to fail? Acting is challenging, with many ups and downs during the learning process. The point is for the actor to continue to grow through risk taking and pushing through barriers which prevent further development in the craft. The class environment most conducive to this process is one whereby a mutually beneficial relationship exists between the students, and also between the students and the instructor. That is not to say everybody will get along swimmingly at all times, there are always interpersonal relationship issues in any social environment. The point is that in general terms, it should be okay for the actor to fall flat on his face and not suffer the shame of embarrassment and ridicule. Rather the environment should support and encourage risk taking, pushing existing boundaries, and exploring all aspects of himself and the work in the practice, preparation, performance, and post-evaluative process. Otherwise growth is stunted by self consciousness and debilitating insecurities which are invariably the affliction of many actors.

Let’s face it; actors don’t pick to be actors because it’s an easy path. The reality is there are no guarantees in any professional field that is desirable and potentially lucrative. Becoming an actor is a journey with many ups and downs, twists and turns, highs and lows, and this can create a great sense of insecurity and stress. At least initially, the goals should relate primarily to advancing the skills in the craft over all else, and this involves full engagement in an acting class or school. Towards this end, the utilization of the Four S’s can bring a sense of relief and control by getting the actor started building a solid foundation for a career that is limited only by his own desire, will, and aspirations!

Remember…you are enough!

Dec 30 2011

Happy Renew Year

“We will open the book. Its pages are blank.
We are going to put words on them ourselves.
The book is called Opportunity and its first chapter is New Year’s Day.”

Edith Lovejoy Pierce

There is good reason a large portion of the world population tends to put tremendous weight on January 1st every year. A new year is much more than a holiday for eating, drinking and watching football, or any other pastime one might choose to engage in for the day. It represents something much more profound and important: the possibilities of tomorrow, a chance to make changes and bring forth something better in the new year. It is in short, about renewal and hope. For an actor the idea of a productive year ahead, one full of amazing opportunities, growth, and successes is necessary in order to provide drive, purpose and consequence to the often difficult and challenging path taken as an artist. Without the expectation of a payoff for the years of hard work, sacrifices, and determination, most actors would simply quit and move on to a more conventional career choice. Therefore hope is an essential ingredient when embarking on this particular career path. There can however, be a pitfall in placing too much credence in the power of hope. Many actors tend to cling on to hope as their primary strategy in order to cope in a world where they feel out of control and powerless over their destiny. This is a mistake, and no way to approach a professional career in any field, much less professional acting.

No matter how dedicated an actor is to her art form, there are moments where she is frustrated by the helplessness and powerlessness she feels in the face of all the matters that are inextricably linked to her career, but are completely out of her control. This is one of the most difficult aspects of being an actor; in spite of the apparent lack of control over your career, you must press on into the unknown without guarantee of rewards and a just payout for your efforts. Although it’s easy for an actor to resign to the idea that she has little control over her career, it’s wholly inaccurate. There are many areas within their control most actors neglect at their own peril.

For instance, there is no doubt every actor could and should be asking themselves questions about the following areas, critically assessing where they stand in relation to their necessary forward progress:

Headshots

Are they current? Do they still look like you? Is the style in step with what Casting Directors & agents are used to looking at in LA? Do your headshots represent the specific type you are most likely to be cast as?

Resume

Is it updated and properly formatted? Are you 100% certain it is formatted properly?

Cold Reading

Are your cold reading skills up to snuff? How often do you practice? Do you know how to practice?

Audition Technique

Are you strong at auditioning? Do you know how to position yourself for taped auditions? Do you know what colors look best on you? Do you get nervous reading with a Casting Director?

Acting Class & Workshops

Are you in acting class enough to develop and hone your craft? Do you challenge yourself to work hard and grow? Have you made a legitimate commitment to becoming a great actor? It’s surprising how many aspiring stars don’t!

Theater, Film, Television

Do you read and see high quality plays, and watch excellent films on a consistent basis? Do you watch television enough to know the tone of the shows in case you are called in to read for one? If this is your chosen profession, you’d better know and understand the level others are working at.

Health & Fitness

Do you have the health and fitness you desire? This isn’t just about looks, but also about energy, endurance, and well being.

Dialects & Languages

Are you working on a dialect or even a foreign language? Most actors need to be fluent or know the dialect going in to the audition, so it’s too late to learn once you’ve been called to read!

Studying your type

Who are you and how do others see you? Which working actors can you watch who are your type? What roles do they typically play?

Reel

If you have a reel, is it updated? Do you have material that could make for a good fifteen or thirty second reel but you haven’t gotten around to getting it done?

Relationships

Are you keeping in touch with Casting Directors you’ve met in workshops? Are you meeting Casting Directors in workshops?

Each and every one of the aforementioned topics is important to focus on, and they demand serious attention from actors who aspire to work in film and television at the highest level. Moreover, these are all things that most actors could be working right now as part of an overall strategy for promoting their career. Yet, inexplicably many choose to ignore them or give them cursory attention in favor of hope and wishful thinking.

Take the opportunity at the start of this new year to focus on putting together a plan of action that will find you better at the end of it. It doesn’t have to be fancy; handwriting on a napkin or sticky note will suffice. It’s about what’s behind the plan that matters. Make sure it’s achievable and realistic to you. Don’t create something that will make you give up after a few weeks. Maybe write down three to five things that you absolutely know are the most pressing areas of improvement for you and then commit to doing them. If you’re not sure where to focus your attention, take three things from the aforementioned list and vow to improve those areas as best as you can in the coming year. Remember to be specific – put dates and deadlines on what you plan to do, and how you will go about doing them. Again, it has to be realistic to you and absolutely achievable otherwise you won’t do it. Often times, just the simple act of making the plan can create a tremendous sense of empowerment and momentum.

Although hope has its necessary place, it is important to recognize and remember that hope without specific actions that are part of an overall plan to achieving a desired outcome will likely carry you only so far. Sure, half the battle is showing up, but that’s not nearly enough. Embrace change, growth, and the unknown by pushing beyond your comfort zones in order to discover more about yourself as both an artist, professional, and human being. This process will likely lead you to new places of discovery and self awareness, the very essence of what makes an actor grow in her craft. In that maturation process the actor has simultaneously seized control, both consciously and unconsciously. As she becomes increasingly capable in her craft and professional in her approach, a strong signal has been sent to the brain that she is always the one in control and by definition can never have it taken away. Not a producer, director, casting director, acting coach, fellow actor, nor anyone or anything else has the ability to control the destiny you choose for yourself by virtue of the decisions you make and actions you take. So Happy New Year wherever you are, and choose to take control of your career whilst letting hope play its supporting role, moving you forward with optimism and enthusiasm!

And remember…you are enough!

Nov 14 2011

You Want to Become a Better Actor? Listen Up!

There are numerous and varying definitions of what comprises good acting, and some are even in stark contrast to one another. Given the abstract nature of creating moments of truth and reality set in imaginary circumstances, it is not difficult to imagine that various opinions and interpretations of when these artistic moments are fully achieved lead to disagreement and debate. Most can agree however, to suspend disbelief for an audience – drawing them into a private world that is believable requires tremendous humanity and connection. No matter how big the Hollywood budget, how many special effects explosions, intricate costumes, or elaborate sets there are, in the end the truth of the connection and the humanity between the actors in the film are what draw the audience into this private world and make them feel as if they are a part of it. So, how does the actor achieve this connection?

If we accept the premise that the connection between actors is a key priority to making the moments on screen work, it is necessary to understand how meaningful connections are achieved. If you think about it, how is any interaction between two human beings meaningful? Only when two people are listening to each other and responding to the stimuli given moment to moment, can the potential for deep human interaction ensue. We’ve all been in the opposite situation -the conversation is one sided and the person with whom we are conversing is so completely and utterly self involved they lose our attention and we drift off to other places. Conversely, when someone really listens attentively to what we have to say, our attention is wholly and fully focused on that person as well. So what does this have to do with good acting? Everything!

A good actor is always a good listener…period. When an actor feels off his game or says something like “I just don’t feel like I’m in it”, it usually has to do with a preoccupation with something going on inside his head that is keeping him from listening. One of the biggest challenges many actors face have to do with the very things that preclude them from experiencing their very best work. Self consciousness, struggling to remember lines, week cold reading skills, playing for outcomes, pushing emotions, and many other self destructive pitfalls appear over and over to the growing actor. Once the focus can be taken off one’s self and put on the actor/s with which you are working, there is a real chance for something exciting/deep/meaningful to happen. Focusing on the need for what you are trying to get from the other person rather than living inside your mind with its distracting and oblique thoughts is the first step towards greater growth and maturity as an actor.

As a good exercise to improve listening skills, try selecting scenes to practice that are not dialogue heavy…where the majority of your role will require active listening skills coupled with logical and necessary responses based on the stimuli provided by the other person. Observe and listen, then respond truthfully without thought to how you will respond. By taking the attention off of yourself and putting it on to the other person, you will automatically be more interesting to watch. You might feel as though you are not “acting” or “doing” something, but you’ll be infinitely more interesting to watch than an actor who is up in their head trying to remember the next line or deciding how to play an emotion. It’s not about how many lines are delivered; it’s about what is behind them that matters most.

Another good way to practice becoming a better listener is to simply start listening more to other people in your everyday conversations. Really listen and ask questions, then wait for the entire responses. Not only will it make you a better actor, but it will make you a decidedly better person to be with as well!

Although arguments about what constitutes quality acting and how it is achieved will continue in perpetuity, the actor should make mastering listening skills the highest priority. For in the honest connection between people lies the magic we all pay good money to watch…again and again!

Remember…you are enough!

Oct 18 2011

Auditioning…Don’t be about it…Be in it!

Auditioning in Hollywood is like no other aspect of acting…often bringing about tremendous anxiety and nerves due to the high stakes associated with taking a shot at the big-time. Not to mention the fact that the Casting Director sitting in the room holds the entrée card to working with some of the most talented people in the business, maybe even contributing to the launch of a career as a professional working actor in Los Angeles. It means something…and that’s great! Let’s face it, if it didn’t mean something, it would be easy and the actor would throw away the performance as if at home performing in front of the dog or cat. So, what’s the trick? How does an important audition become like any other performance? One answer: don’t be about the audition…be in it.

Of course there’s more than one answer to how to master auditioning technique. Volumes upon volumes have been written about it, but there is one essential quality needed by every actor to have the best shot at throwing down their own unforgettable (in a good way) audition. Assuming the actor is prepared, it then becomes about allowing the freefall…being in it…listening and responding spontaneously, moment to moment.

It’s easy to get caught up in the idea of the audition itself, with all its importance and consequence, and lose the very essence of why you are there in the first place. Simply put, you’re there to fulfill the need a Casting Director has to give someone a part to play in a specific project, episode, etc. If you are at the audition you already know there was a reason the CD brought you in. Your specific look, reel, or previous auditions may all have contributed to the decision to get you in the casting office for that specific role. To close the deal you have to show you have the acting chops to pull off the role and fit in with the mosaic of actors in the project being cast for. Whether or not you are exactly right for the part is inconsequential and should never be your primary focus. What should be first and foremost in the actor’s mind is being in the moment – present, without undue self-consciousness and mental baggage. After all, you are there to do what you love to do…act, perform, and bring a role to life. It’s fun, so remember to play and enjoy this wonderful opportunity. When an actor loses his own ego – allowing inspiration and spontaneity to take over, he is able to become an instrument through which the essence of the character can be portrayed. It’s nearly impossible to be self conscious and ego driven while at the same time being fully present and absorbed in the role being played.

The next time a big audition rolls around, focus on the preparation of the scene and its specific objectives. Don’t allow your mind to get caught up in the mental gyrations that waste energy and focus. What’s important is to be so in to the work that the Casting Director can’t help but note your strong abilities. Whether or not you are right for this part isn’t a big deal. Making a Casting Director a fan is!

Finally, when all else fails, and the fear, nerves, and anxiety kick in while waiting outside the Casting office, remember to breathe deeply from the gut. As you exhale remind yourself that you love being an actor and you are grateful to have this opportunity to play and perform. Think about the specific circumstances of the scene that you are in and keep open and available to listening…a crucial part of good acting. You will be sending strong signals to your brain that just might kick out the fear and set you up for that magic audition you were wishing for.

Don’t be about it…be in it!

Remember… you are enough!

Aug 22 2011

The Importance of Being “Natural” (But never neutral)

When it comes to acting for the camera much is made of the need to be ‘natural’. It certainly is an ineluctable truth that playing a role ‘theatrically’ for a medium that catches every nuance of the actor’s performance will most certainly come off, at best, as over the top nonsense. Hardly a believable portrayal in imaginary circumstances let alone great acting. But does a natural performance equate to good acting?

Natural by Definition

What makes a great performance on the small or large screen? To be natural is a necessary ingredient, but it’s more of a basic understanding by the actor rather than a goal to be achieved. Like any skill, it requires training and practice to become fully comfortable with allowing yourself to be…yourself…without trying to add something unnecessary (i.e. theatrical) in order to present, and thus indicate that you are ‘acting’. As on camera actors we search for the opposite in our performances and achieve this only through a deep understanding of the idea that we are in fact good enough as ourselves. By being honest and truthful in our performances we can be interesting without adding anything extraneous and distracting. In other words we trust that being truthful as ourselves without pushing for a result will be compelling to the audience. If this definition is what some mean as being ‘natural’ than it is an adequate one. However, if what is meant by natural is simply trying to talk and ‘act’ without pushing the emotion and performance for a result then ‘natural’ is not wrong, but it is in and of itself not enough to be considered good acting.

Natural + Neutral = Nada

How can an on camera actor be wrong for being ‘natural’? If ‘natural’ is neutral, it is bland, uninteresting and certainly not something anybody is willing to pay money to see. There is nothing compelling about two people discussing something banal and inconsequential no matter how ‘natural’ it is played. The important qualities of great acting must always be present; script, heart, spontaneity, objective, and high stakes. Through selfless, thorough, systematic, and detailed script analysis an actor finds the essence of the work, consistent with what the writer had in mind. By connecting what is given in the script to personal circumstances through extensive imagination work, the actor makes the work personal with a deep connection to the heart. After internalizing the head and heart work, the actor is prepared to freefall, living spontaneously in the moment, listening and reacting truthfully to what the other actor/s are doing and saying. Having a specific need, or objective, driven by strong desires within the actor based on what the script has given makes the work interesting to watch and relevant. Finally, when obstacles are placed in front of an actor and made difficult to achieve the stakes are raised and the final ingredient is in place for the magic to happen! When all these elements are brought to the performance by the actor and are combined with great writing, direction, cinematography, editing, and so on…a product is created which will move people and compel them to pay for it. Just being natural…not so much!

The Natural Conclusion

We can say unequivocally, that although it is necessary, the answer to the question of whether being ‘natural’ is enough for film and television is a resounding…no! To say otherwise would be tantamount to suggesting film and television actors are less skilled and require less craft than those who take the stage, and can somehow manage to get by simply by acting…well…’natural’. This is no truer than suggesting a stage actor can get by simply by yelling to the back row of the theater! In all forms of performance, whether stage or screen, the requirements of skill and craft attained through diligent training and study remain integral, regardless of the means of distribution and venue of that performance. In other words, good acting is good acting is good acting…naturally!

Always remember, you are enough!

Jul 18 2011

The Improv Monologue (The Acid Test)

Acid test (gold): Definition
An acid test is any qualitative chemical or metallurgical assay which uses acid; most commonly, and historically, the use of a strong acid to distinguish gold from base metals.
Figuratively, acid test is any definitive test for some attribute, e.g. of a person’s character, or of the performance of some product.

If Shakespeare was correct in observing “All the world’s a stage and all the men and women merely players”, then we must also accept that all men and women in the play of life are engaged in a series of scripted scenes given by a writer…correct? Ridiculous of course; in real life people are engaged in improvised monologues, dialogues, and actions. Most people do not consider the sequential moments of their lives to be scenes, played out in some rigidly scripted way to achieve a desired outcome. To live life in this way would not only be impossible, but would be incredibly exhausting and superficial. Life is fluid, dynamic, complex, and the slightest sensory inputs can and will modify human behavior in numerous and often unpredictable ways. It is precisely for this reason that good acting is recognized (often unconsciously) and perceived by the audience when it is in accord with the subtleties of human behavior and the concomitant interactions it engenders.

Ultimately the goal of the actor is to ‘do’ nothing. To simply exist truthfully in imaginary circumstances based on the circumstances given to him by the writer (and director). From the pages of a script an actor makes choices which ultimately must personally connect him to the material. This connection leaves no room for superficiality or arrogance. To humbly and genuinely engage the material as a servant of the process is the duty and responsibility of every serious actor. The actors’ heart may not be guarded or hidden in any way; his personality, essence, imagination, and internal life must be brought forth in order to affect the appropriate outcome through performance. But how can the actor be sure that he has fully achieved this state of pure being in a contrived set of circumstances and situation? The Improv Monologue is the ultimate (acid) test to identify if the actor has fully connected with the work in a meaningful, honest, and heartfelt way.

Once an actor has rigorously analyzed a script to understand the writer’s intent and how his character fits into the larger picture, he turns inward to ignite his imagination in a process which will ultimately connect the work to his heart. Words on a page are meaningless without the emotions, intentions, and objectives that motivate their utterance. Somewhat ironically, the majority of an actor’s work is internal; revealed, rather than displayed, through his performance. In an Improv Monologue the actor has no place to hide; no scene, no script, no quirky character attributes, or piece of business can mask a lack of preparation (imagination).

In an Improv Monologue (IM) an actor literally tests his preparation by speaking aloud about his circumstances, as if he is talking to his best friend in an unfiltered, honest, and realistic way. It often comes across as venting, as if the emotional pressure had been capped off and could finally be released. When the IM is believable, convincing, and obviously connected to the actors heart it will have the desired outcome of making the audience feel as if the actor is revealing a part of his actual life. Not a prepared scene, or the trials and tribulations of some imaginary character out there (i.e. disconnected). Usually the stakes are very high because the material upon which the work is based necessitated it. The desired IM will also be spontaneous, fluid, and unpredictable. Just as a person never lives the same moment more than once, the IM (and thus the scene) will be different every time it is given. Conversely, when the actor’s preparation is ineffectual and inadequate, the IM feels like more of a story than a slice of actual life. It falls short of holding audience attention because it is mono-dimensional, shallow, and disconnected from the heart. Human beings have very strong instincts when it comes to deception perception, so naturally if an actor does not fully believe, neither will the audience.

There is reason to both fear and love the Imrov Monologue. Stripped naked, exposed for the work you did or didn’t do as an actor can be intimidating and frightening at times. Yet therein lays the power and reason to embrace this incredible exercise and tool on the journey to mastery of the craft. For without a way to test an actor’s preparation, each performance would be subject to chance and only the hope that a bad performance would not ensue. Just as acid is used to identify gold from other base metals, the Improv Monologue identifies when the actor has or has not prepared for a golden performance…what could be more valuable?

Remember…you are enough!