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Friday, June 11, 2010

Training The Culture

This past Tuesday, I attended the StageSource general auditions for the first time since 2008. The last time I had walked into the front theater of BPT in front of dozens of producers, I was terrified. I was nervous, repeating my monologues over and over, sweating, dry mouth...

And I suppose I did okay. I got a few offers for auditions and even a role in a reading offered in the month following. But two years later, I found myself so much more in the zone. I walked into the room at ease and confident. I wasn't perfect, I'm sure. But for one of the first times in my life I felt as if I truly owned my space and did the best I could've done. You can't ask much more than that!

What are the two major differences between now and then? Well, experience plays a part of course. But so does training. Before 2008 generals, I had just finished a good amount of training at Brandeis but hadn't had much experience. Since then, I've had time to put my training into practice.

Now, I'm not advocating you go out and start spending thousands of dollars on expensive acting classes promising to make you big Hollywood star. I feel pretty confident saying that alot of acting schools and teachers are really not that impressive and in the business of scamming off of people's dreams. But there do exists some truly wonderful teachers and training opportunities.

Training doesn't end after you get an MFA or a Master Class. It doesn't make the actor, but it certainly makes the actor better over time.

Before StageSource, I had a variety of coaching sessions. First, I met with Ben Evett of Actors' Shakespeare Project for a private coaching session he had offered via StageSource. I could go on writing about the usefulness of that session, but I'll focus on one specific gift he gave me. As I worked on Angelo from Measure for Measure, he offered me the image of small, tiny bug.

"Angelo doesn't have to show his power. He knows he's in control and he has total power over Isabella. She's like a little bug inside his fingers and he's getting pleasure out ripping her apart, limb by limb."

God. And suddenly it made so much more sense.

Next, I went to Scott Fielding of Michael Chekhov Actors Studio Boston. Same situation, I'll just focus on the gem the session.

For "Martin" from Cloud Nine by Caryl Churchill, Scott had me sit on the floor on my knees and asked me what I needed from my wife. I said "I want her to tell me how to make her happy. I need her to tell me what she wants me to do."

So in response, Scott asked me to ask her this one simple request.

"What do you want from me?"

He asked me again, with more force.

"What do you want from me?"

Not enough. He kept pressing me to keep at it.

"Please, just say what you want me to do! Tell me! What do you want?"

He wouldn't let me stop. He pushed me until I got into a frenzy, then told me to go into the monologue, and then would have me periodically go back into the question, back and forth. It was disorienting, but it completely knocked me out of my bullshit until he finallyhad me start and finish the speech. I was exhausted and really energized.

He asked me what I was doing physically. I was reaching forward. I had my hands reaching towards her, somewhat cuped and gestured in her direction.

"That's your pyschological gesture. When you do this monologue, that is the image. You should follow the gesture even when you're not making it, but everything should follow that need."

Boom. Images. You don't have to think about images. Thinking about your objectives and analyzing your scene is important, but that all goes out the door when you're onstage. It's your body and your subconcious that takes over. And that was what I have been and what I will continue to train myself for.

I don't train enough. That's part of the reason I started the CoLab, with the hope that we can all train together someday.

So I'm wondering... What kind of training have you not yet done? Or have you not done recently? Boston doesn't have enough of a culture of training. But hopefully, we can start to change that...



  1. I'm sooooooo glad you posted this. My god, where to start?!

    First of all, congrats on your audition! I know you did well. I was in the hallway and when I heard your rumbling laugh...I was like--hot damn.

    Just before I forget. I volunteered at the StageSource auditions, and a very practical lesson that I gleaned from this experience is how important it is to have a QUALITY HEADSHOT and resume stapled together, i.e. the thicker the better. Because if your headshot+resume is flimsy (like mine), it is just screaming: lose me in the shuffle! And there are SO MANY headshots, we were literally shuffling them throughout the day. Chances are, if your headshot is good and thick, it won't get lost in the shuffle. If yours is low in quality, it is very likely to be stuck on someone else's thicker headshot. Mine is on printed paper(color yes, but still just paper), and it does not "hold up" in the most literal way to photos and cardstock. I'm sure many of you know this, but this note is for those of you (like me) who didn't know the importance of it until I saw how many headshots producers go through in a day.

    Having said this, again, just because your headshot is good doesn't mean you will be remembered. Your acting chops is still the key to landing an audition or even a role. I remember seeing many actors' headshots (all cardstock, glossy finish, beautifully photographed) being returned by the producers after a round of auditions.

    My next comment will follow...

  2. On training:

    On my god, where to begin...

    ...if I had a steady income, the first thing I would do is get a membership at a yoga studio and the next would be to sign up for acting classes. Since I've been in Boston (8 months), I've had two private acting classes, first one was before my MFA auditions, the second was before StageSource auditions. Both are with the lovely Dossy Peabody, whom I found via StageSource. I really clicked with her, hence, I went back for the second private session. I also workshopped with Scott Fielding. He was very helpful too, and the private audition session he offered was free! Thank you to Scott and StageSource again!

    Private sessions are quite expensive, but completely worth it. Most acting coaches offers a student discount.

    Of course, in an ideal world, I would be working in a repertory theatre, where I go into the studio every morning and warm up my voice, body, and gab with fellow actors about the going-ons about town. We'd have workshops everyday, developing our creativity and pushing our limits as actors. In the early afternoon to evening we'd probably rehearse a four or five hours for a new play, and in the evening we'd get ready for our performance that night. That's the dream life.

    After leaving college or grad school, one loses that creative and supportive community. One makes promises to oneself: I will keep up my Alexander everyday (actually that's the easiest, because it's simply a thought that you switch on); I will warm up my body and voice for at least 15 minutes before diving into my work; I will practise my monologue today; I will read new plays--all these standards go out the window one by one. Okay, not for everyone, I concede, but for me at least. When you are no longer accountable to an acting teacher or your scene partner or a director, and you no longer have access to a reheasrsal space, and just your apartment whom you share with other people hence you constantly fear that you're too loud, and even if you have sound-proof walls, you are still just talking to the walls. And then, so much is focused on getting the next role, or simply "getting by" in life.

    Well. These are all valid, but excuses, I know.

    I wish there was a collaborative (hint hint) theater community/space out there, FUBU, and free!

  3. And I realize I haven't answered your question, Kenny. So, my answer is: Meisner, Viewpoints, Suzuki, Mask (Jacques LeCoq)--these are the things I've never done before! The whole thing that they do at Yale Drama is fantastic. One of my acting teachers was a graduate there and he keeps on asking us the five questions (that's another post)...and some of the answers I don't realize until years later.

    I love movement classes in general. I also love the Linklater voice method--the image of a pool of sound at your bottom of your belly! Yes, it's all about the images, Kenny!

  4. I don't think I know what the five questions are. What's that?