COACHING!

Coaching has become a specialized aspect of our industry as more and more performance work becomes segmented into specific styles, i.e., commercial, dramatic, sitcom, serio-comedy, action film, romantic comedy, and on and on. This compartmentalization is the result of professionals specializing in specific entertainment forms. Producers, directors, casting directors who have had a success in a particular style want to beat the odds in the cut throat world of Hollywood as much as actors do. So, if they get a hit, they run with it.

That creates focused, if not myopic, perspectives on acting. Actors are expected to act a particular way, style, to meet the needs, demands, perspectives, vision of the ‘behind the camera’ professionals who are offering the jobs. From that comes an entire sub-industry of workshops zeroed in on one specific type of performance. That focus is of invaluable information to each actor. Those insights into timing, character archetypes, is worth its weight in gold to each actor who has developed and honed an holistic acting technique. They take these specifics, incorporate them into their technique and create something original.

But the pace of auditions, the mad dash of actors trying desperately to ‘get the job’, has evolved not only a misconception of what ‘coaching’ is for, but a misinterpretation of what ‘coaching’ is. In my work with actors who have representation, experience in auditioning, and great desire to ‘book’, I find those actors that have only trained for the ‘biz’ are the ones who jump to cliche choices, obvious emotionalized choices, inactive attitude choices. They want the coach to give them the answer, the ‘way’ to do it.

And they wonder why they don’t book. The industry itself is working fundamentally from cliche and stereotype and the smaller the role, 5 and unders, the more the actor is expected to fit the box. And actors who only train for the ‘biz’ perceive that this is the way of their career as well. That learning to audition is the sure way of creating a career. But ask an actor who their favorite leading actor is, and more often than not, the answers are Daniel Day-Lewis, Kevin Spacey, Gary Oldman, Meryl Streep, Cate Blanchett, Jessica Chastain, Benicio Del Toro, Javier Bardem, George Clooney, Don Cheadle, Rachel McAdams and the late Philip Seymour Hoffman. All actors who go beyond the expectations, the cliches, the stereotypes of the common Hollywood audition. That’s because they are auditioning for leads. And that reality of their career creates a completely different mindset in the actor. Rather than fitting the box, following the rules, meeting expectations, they think out of the box, break and make the tules and shatter expectations.

But so many actors here in the regional markets are creating their career in response to the types, level of roles that are handed out to them: 5 and unders. That reality creates a whole different mindset in the actor, one of blindness to their real possibility as a creative artist.

When you hire a coach for an audition you get what you perceive. If you think that acting is to follow directions and make people happy, then you will seek a coach who analyzes the style of a project and finds the best ways to fit your performance into those expectations. That usually means defining tempo, mood, energy all resulting in preconceived line readings. That means the actor has the answers they need for THAT job. That’s fine for a 5 and under role. You want that IMDB credit. It has cache in the ‘biz’.

But if you think acting is revelation of your unique creative expression, then you will seek coaching which will analyze the character’s widest range of opposing actions that break out of those stylistic expectations. Coaching that goes deeper into the cause of the character’s behavior, far beyond the line reading. And that just may be more applicable to lead roles that have that much character range. And that kind of coaching works hand in hand with the advancement of the actor’s skill base, building a foundation of creative expression for a life’s career.

But so many actors we encounter in our work seldom consider THEIR choices, or doubt them if they have them, but rather seek again and again to appease and meet the choices of the ‘biz’. You can’t build YOUR career on someone else’s way of working. You can’t STAND OUT if you are trying to FIT IN.

Find a coach and ask them how they work. Do they proselytize or probe, do they state answers of how the performance ‘should be’ or do they ask questions that open and expand options, uncovering unseen possibilities. And this process of audition investigation is what not only prepares the actor for the audition at hand, but is the foundation for all their future work in their creative career.

ALIVE: A BODY IN FORCEFUL ACTION

‎’a-live’: in a state of action; in force or operation; active. From the Old Norse ‘lif’: body.

So, ‘alive’ is a body in forceful action. Then how do you define the TV acting inundating us 24/7 with its inactive, over-mannered talking heads?

Bodiless. Disconnected. Heart-less. Masked. And the body knows it. That’s why it rebels at the thought of being told by everyone in the ‘biz’ to “throw it away”, “take it down a notch”, “don’t do anything”, “be natural”, “be real”, “just be yourself”. The body knows fake when it sees/feels/hears it. So, it automatically compensates with its physical opposite: mannerisms, grunts, eye rolls, huff and puffs, clenched jaws. The human body wants to do something. It has for over 200,000 years!

The body wants to take action. The body knows it must, but the limitations of the camera, its inability to resolve imagery as well as the human eye, its inability to move with the same spontaneity of the human body, forces the director to make concessions. They limit the human to fit the machine.

That’s ok. Dancers do that when they stop at the edge of the orchestra pit to not fall in. That’s a limitation of space on movement. But, Dance admits it’s human behavior advanced, pushed to extreme, adapted, molded, heightened.

What Hollywood does, and where the great disconnect exists (or where the lie lies) is everything an actor does for the camera is also pushed to extreme (extreme inactivity), adapted (to fit the frame), molded (to fit the director’s stylistic vision), heightened (to spew imposed emotion) but….and here’s my point and challenge as I teach truthful human behavior, Hollywood calls all their distortion ‘being real’, ‘being natural’ when it is light years away from and diametrically opposed to what is real and natural.

Comedia del Arte, French farce, Brecht’s ‘alienation effect’, Noh, Kabuki and Bunraku, ect., knew they were not ‘real’, did not desire to be ‘real’, stretched the boundaries of physical expression to their extreme so as to comment on what the audience knew to be real: themselves.

But, Hollywood manufactures what they call, they believe, even create a language to express, “real”, which any audience knows can’t begin to approach what they know to be real: their lives.

But audiences are too tired from really living their daily lives to judge, to rebel, to even turn off the TV. They acquiesce to TV’s seductive power to wrap the viewer in illusory fantasies that everything is OK, our flat screens tell us so. Hollywood demeans the populace, that spends but an hour a week thinking on the existence of God, as slaves imprisoned to a singular form of thought. Hollywood never speaks on the fact that the Neilsen Poll found “…American children spend an average of four hours a day watching television that is 28 hours a week, 2,400 hours a year and nearly 18,000 hours by the time they graduate from high school. In comparison, they spend only 13,000 hours in school, from kindergarten through twelfth grade…The average American child will witness 12,000 violent acts on television each year, amounting to about 200,000 violent acts by the time he turns 18 years old.”

That same populace spends 28 hours every week kneeling at Hollywood’s altar.

We believe what we no longer challenge…

ALIVE: A BODY IN FORCEFUL ACTION. Consider that the next time you watch an overnight success lowering their head and looking through their foreboding brows. That is, if you can either stop laughing or pitying before you lose the force of energy to change the channel.

CLASS IS WHERE YOU CLARIFY; HOME IS WHERE YOU HONE!

CLASS IS WHERE YOU CLARIFY; HOME IS WHERE YOU HONE! Too many Miami actors treat class as a place to display, to preen and gather the accolades and acceptance of their classmates rather than a woodshed, a crucible where new ideas, insights, tools, techniques are mixed together, hammered out, tested in review. You want to show off? You want to be praised? Get a show and capture my attention for two hours. You want to learn, grow? Go home and investigate an exercise for three hours, like your NY and LA competitors do. I know, my NY and LA ActTrue Actors tell me of the ‘homework’ they do so they can graduate from The Sanford Meisner Center/LA where I have also taught. Their two year program demands total commitment to the mastering of craft. And ActTrue, within this special market mindset of Miami, we work technique, every class, every week, always building on the foundation of truthful human behavior: Thought in Action. Every week, we look at one thing, so we can make it completely and totally our own: WHY DO WE DO WHAT WE DO?! When we truly know that, we can then begin to know the reason the imaginary character lives. We look at Why we live the way we live not the Way we say our lines. Tonight students, who are working on Telemundo, in classical theatrical productions, writing/producing their own short films, working every day on-set on major films in Miami, presented their investigations into Why/How we change in relationship to different people/circumstances as in WHO DO WE BECOME?, investigations into creating sensations such as stifling heat, drunkenness, searing pain, nauseating odors, sensations that must be used in so many plays, so many movies, to make the audience believe the character’s world. That’s what we do in class/home: CLARIFY/HONE! – ACTTRUE

Why we wait so long before we do scene work…

ACTORS INVESTIGATING, UNCOVERING, TRUSTING, CREATING!

That’s what happened in class tonight through the Hagen Exercises #7 and #10 as actors trusted that their thoughts,  images, would create full, active life within still silent physicality; actors stepped into the circumstances of the text, accent, socio-economic class, physicality, relationship, want, obstacle and most importantly, action, in creating HATTIE from the play LAUNDRY & BOURBON.

And after a year of intensive study, a year of weekly presentations of Exercise after Exercise, after forging through the challenge, the frustration, of repeating their work again, and again, and again, till there is, finally, deep understanding of the true cause of true behavior: THOUGHT, now, they get to play. Now they work on scenes and monologues. Now, after a year, they finally address text. Why? Why wait so long, when so many other processes, classes, thrust a script into actors’ hands on day one?

Because words are just a form of behavior no different than scratching your head, and no more important, and not more true if not created, humanly, from Thought in Action. We wait this long to work on text because the ‘biz’, the ‘industry’ surrounds actors with falsehood, artificiality, mask, attitude, every superficial gimmick that panders to an unthinking, naive, gulled, and duped audience that knows not David Caruso from Enrico Caruso.

We wait this long because we respect our Art this much because we love life so dearly for it is on life that we build our Art.

“…there’s nothing interesting about ‘nothing’…”

Because of the intense intimacy of the camera, acting, that is, the behavior an actor creates in reaction to the circumstances of the text, is focused on in a way almost no human would experience with another, i.e., the ECU of questioning eyes, the quiver of lips, the cascade of tears on a cheek. You’d have to be a family member, lover, or fellow soldier in a fox hole to be that close to someone to experience such revelations. But, those are the common currency of acting for the camera. And in my opinion, they have become the overused fall back tools that in the wrong creative hands border on being cliche, trite, hackneyed and predictable. That overuse has resulted in the belief and even the education of, or as I see it, indoctrination of, new generations of ‘feelers’, rather than actors. I see it in my classes: students who ‘show’ me what they are feeling when so far nothing has really even happened in the scene yet, students who under analyze the cause of what they say and over analyze the way they say it, students who in the moment of conflict draw all attention to themselves which unknowingly draws the scene to a dead halt.

The Hagen Six Steps start with WHO AM I? (they psychology of the character), WHERE/WHEN AM I? (the physical world of the character), WHAT ARE MY RELATIONSHIPS? (the spiritual world of the character), WHAT ARE MY WANTS? (what drives the character), WHAT ARE MY OBSTACLES? (what fights the character), which all lead to WHAT ARE MY ACTIONS? (what the character does to win what they want). And in the main, it is action that is forgotten, ignored, unknown by so many camera trained actors. And it is in all cases, action that creates the very moments we observe on stage or in the camera. We are called actors not feelers. To even feel anything, something has to have happened, either internally or externally to affect you. And what happens is caused by an action: your or someone/something in your world. Without action we are in stasis. And there’s nothing interesting about ‘nothing’.

“Harrumphing”, “Sighing”, “Rolling eyes”, “Gulping”, “Jaw Clenching”, “Looking away dramatically”…?

In the process of performance one must create the character’s psychological/physical realities. “Harrumphing”, “Sighing”, “Rolling eyes”, “Gulping”, “Jaw Clenching”, “Looking away dramatically” are NOT REALITIES! They aren’t even acting! They are fake, artificial, mannered posing. That’s modeling with words! Those are result compromises made by the director trying to get the shot as quickly as possible as they work with untrained actors. It’s a lose/lose proposition. And it’s an ever descending spiral into vulgar pandering.

And that’s what we have today splashed across every one of the 600 channels on TV every night. Obvious, gauche, coarse, crude, graceless, boorish, cheap, tacky presentations masquerading as entertainment.

Acting is the revelation of a human experience. It is truth in behavior. It is a recognition of our richness as unique creatures in time and place. It is a celebration of all that we are and a call to what we could be.

I have been training actors in the Hagen Process for almost two decades. Each and every class we start with the investigation into truthful human behavior, and we end with the investigation into truthful human behavior. That is the alpha and omega of our work. There is no ‘acting’ without behavior.

I don’t live in a soap opera, I live in life. So should my Art.

Acting is the human experience. And as such, anything that contradicts what we know to be true in life makes our art a mere reflection rather than a revelation of life. I’ve lived long enough to have emotional moments with my parents, friends, loves, deep powerful life changing moments, and none of them, NONE OF THEM, stayed the same one second to the next, emotionally/behaviorally from the beginning to the end, so WHY would our imaginary life on camera/stage be the same long drawn out emotional expulsion? Because actors make the false assumption that acting is about feelings rather than actions. And because our industry feeds into that assumption to pander to a non critical audience that want to escape reality rather than engage reality we have countless acting workshops that talk about ‘energy, feelings, attitude, eye rolling, showing your inner angst, line readings, clenching your jaw, being natural, etc.”, none of which is active, all of which is artificial.

There’s an old saying in the Theatre: “The moment the actor starts to cry is when the audience stops crying” and by that it is meant that in the Theatre, great plays, are about the story, the ever evolving event. Bad TV/Film is about emotion, i.e. soap operas/telenovelas and chick flicks. But great Theatre as in great Film, it’s about the event. Something has to happen or we’ve wasted two hours of the audience’s life that they’ll never get back again. Why would I spend that priceless time and my hard earned money to see characters give in to their emotions when what has been the timeless truth of our Art form since we painted on cave walls is that we want to see heroes, and heroes always take action. They might even fail, but THEY TAKE ACTION! Anything less is a contradiction of life, and leaves us only with melodrama. I don’t live in a soap opera, I live in life. So should my Art.