‘And worse I may be yet. The worst is not
So long as we can say, ‘This is the worst.’
–Edgar in King Lear
When I last reported in on my adventure acting with my students, playing Gloucester in a production of King Lear, I was going down for the count. I couldn’t sleep, my anxiety level matched what I felt the first week of basic training, and the lines I had memorized for months were suddenly like the land of Brigadoon—not to be found on any known map of the region. To compensate, I was meditating every day for at least a half hour, and doubling up on my line study.
Somehow I was functioning in rehearsal, though, and my director didn’t seem have anything too terrible to say to me. My students were collegial and had no problem looking me in the eye. I couldn’t detect any significant change in their attitude toward me. When I would express my fear and concern to them about my abilities, they looked at me like I was fishing for compliments. I stopped sharing my feelings of panic, and started pretending that I was okay with it all…
Keep reading this article on Bruce’s blog on EdTA’s website!
The Actor as Storyteller is intended for serious beginning actors. It opens with an overview, explaining the differences between theater and its hybrid mediums, the part an actor plays in each of those mediums. It moves on to the acting craft itself, with a special emphasis on analysis and choice-making, introducing the concept of the actor as storyteller, then presents the specific tools an actor works with. Next, it details the process an actor can use to prepare for scene work and rehearsals, complete with a working plan for using the tools discussed. The book concludes with a discussion of mental preparation, suggestions for auditioning, a process for rehearsing a play, and an overview of the realities of show business.
Onstage and Backstage podcast from Hal Leonard is available on iTunes and Libsyn. Each episode authors and their guests have a chat about the topics of their books. Today, Actor Charles Grodin joins Ed Robertson in this episode of TV Confidential. As you may have seen on Jimmy Fallon, Charles Grodin has a new DVD out called The Perils of Show Business. His real-life advice for would-be actors, screenwriters, directors, and entertainment business professionals is invaluable, and not without Grodin’s typical wry, straightforward humorous style. This episode has been reposted on Onstage and Backstage podcast with permission of TV Confidential.
Charles Grodin has created a frank, no-nonsense, no-question-about-it, one-hour video that reveals his personal experience of working his way through the world of acting schools, agent representation, auditions, and the rest of the real-life world that makes up what’s called show business. Included is what to really expect from others who offer you acting lessons, writerly advice, and professional representation; and more important, what it all means for a person who wants to get into this line of work. One thing is for sure: Show business isn’t for the faint of heart. If you want to be successful, you not only have to really want it, you have to work endless hours, work extremely hard, and love it.
How can teachers use True Acting Tips: A Path to Aliveness, Freedom, Passion, and Vitality in their classroom?
True Acting Tips is an invigorating exploration of the deeper values of all artistic creation, which is rooted in our shared humanity. Often, under the pressures and challenges of navigating their way through the complexities of social life and figuring out where they fit into the scheme of things, students lose touch with their creative spirit and the intrinsic power they possess to be fully expressive human beings. True Acting Tips offers 203 dynamic reflections on the basic values of authentic living which can re-ignite the students’ desire to be more who they actually are and to make greater connections with the world around them.
What types of inspiration does the book give to the teachers?
I have a summer program where I train drama teachers and professors in how to teach the Sanford Meisner technique, so I have worked with hundreds of teachers. One thing I know is that if a teacher can help the students re-claim their availability to the people in their lives, they start to awaken to the fact that this is the route towards greater satisfaction in life. I call this “listening with the ear of one’s heart” and this suggests that the path is about becoming very sensitive to what is actually going on with other people. This also happens to be a requirement in the craft of True Acting. Of course, this requires that the students begin to take their attention off of themselves which, especially in the high school students, is quite a struggle as their whole life is about, “How do I look, what do other people think of me, do they like me?” Yet, the struggle is certainly worth it and True Acting Tips offers a doorway to this path with many examples and exercises for the teacher to do with their students in the classroom.
Did the quotes in True Acting Tips inspire the tips or did you search for quotes to match the tips?
I happen to work in an organic way. As I was writing the book, I would channel things that had an impact on my life into new tips. The book developed from daily tips that I was uploading to my website and to my Facebook page.
Keep reading this interview at StageNotes.
True Acting Tips leads stage and screen actors on a journey of passion, intimacy, and personal investment. This isn’t to say that there will not be heavy demands and a high cost, but ultimately, this book is designed to offer the clarity and encouragement to become an actor who makes a difference in the lives of the audience members.
Onstage and Backstage podcast from Hal Leonard is available on iTunes and Libsyn. Each episode authors and their guests have a chat about the topics of their books. Today, we have a special treat for you because we recorded the live event of many successful actors and former students of the legendary drama teacher David Craig together at Drama Books Shop in 2012, remembering their teacher and the things he taught them. These guests include Lucie Arnaz, Tony Roberts, Larry Moss, Sara Louise Lazarus, Linda Glick, Penny Fuller, Sidney J. Burgoyne, David Finkle, and Pamela Shaw.
David Craig’s nine-hour video series on musical performance covers all of the techniques and exercises, as well as Craig’s legendary performance philosophy, which has instructed and inspired singers, actors, and dancers for more than 50 years. Craig breaks down the act of singing onstage into specific, approachable components and takes the viewer step by step through the process, from how to analyze lyrics and stand on the stage for an audition, to signaling the accompanist and making lyrics come to life. Available as a complete set or individually, each 90-minute DVD includes a study guide.
For Kevin Kline’s birthday, we are posting an excerpt from Mary Z. Maher’s Actors Talk About Shakespeare (Limelight Editions). Maher interviewed the actor about his craft and about Shakespeare. For the full discussion with Kline, the book is available wherever books are sold, as well as in e-book format.
His function as an actor is not to fulfill expectations but to serve the play. The study of acting is a lifelong process. He loves to explore the craft, to talk about acting and all its allied skills: “I like variety,” is how he explains it. “You always try not to repeat yourself, but at the same time you can’t not do something just because you’ve done it before. Otherwise, you’ll end up not walking or talking.”
The key to Kline’s acting philosophy is the idea of the actor taking authorship: the actor creates his own role and the gestures and voices that flesh it out. In stage practice, the director is often a Svengali-like creature who has an “idea” of the character in his head; actors can be treated as meat on a meat hook that must do as the director says. Kline resists this notion and insists that the actor has a brain and uses his own resources in creating a character:
The author of the play is Shakespeare, but the actor has to own the character he is playing. Olivier aptly said you marry yourself to the character.
I can always tell when comic business has been imposed on actors as opposed to having been found in rehearsal. There’s an aura, this kind of visible odor if they’re not in tune with themselves when they are performing somebody else’s idea. Now, if the idea resonates, then it’s yours, you are now the author. If it doesn’t, it will always look or feel alien.
You can steal from other actors? Of course. We’ve been stealing from the generations that have preceded us, especially when you play a classic part. You’ve confiscated it, appropriated it. If a line reading or piece of business is merely borrowed, that’s no good. You must make it yours. Occasionally you watch an actor and you think, there’s something wrong here. He’s imitating. He’s not playing from his own engine—something has been grafted onto this “machine” as Hamlet calls it.
I always get shivers when an actor comes in to audition and says, “Oh, I really want to play Macbeth. I have an idea about how to play him.”
Why bother? What’s the adventure? Where’s the discovery?
Kline emphasizes that ownership is a concept that has boundaries and can be mastered over time, as an acting career matures:
I think the best directors give an actor a note [a suggestion] with the implied proviso, “If this resonates for you.” If it doesn’t, then you must discard it. Otherwise, it will look like glop suddenly, which will take the actor and then the audience out of the flow.
Every actor has a different threshold. You say to yourself, am I really happy doing this work or am I just making a director happy? That takes a lifetime to find out.
I’ll give an idea a try. If it doesn’t work after a while, then I’m going to campaign for “Please, can we find another way—I’m giving up too much here and I’m losing something vital.” It’s a very interesting juncture in any area of work. To know when you’ve compromised yourself is a useful kind of self-knowledge.
Occasionally directors do take on the role of a marriage counselor. I usually prefer to work out our differences on our own, keeping it private and personal.
From ownership evolves responsibility. If an actor has been responsible for the generation of his character, then he will enter the rehearsal process with a positive, collaborative energy. There will be an “instinctive commitment where the acting will come alive in a much richer way.” Kline is not interested in the actor who comes into rehearsal and thinks, “I’ll simply do what the director tells me, collect my paycheck, and be on my way once the show is over.” A quality production depends on group effort, the process of discovery freely entered into: “I want to work with actors who have a personal connection to the production and to the role and to the theater—someone with a deeper purpose.”
Actors Talk About Shakespeare features personal interviews with a stellar collection of prominent American, Canadian, and British performers of Shakespeare onstage, including Kevin Kline, Kenneth Branagh, Derek Jacobi, Stacy Keach, Zoe Caldwell, Martha Henry, William Hutt, Tony Church, Nicholas Pennell, and Geoff Hutchings. In conversations equivalent to a magician telling his secrets, Mary Z. Maher uncovers the actors’ process. The book speaks to theater patrons, to actors both novice and experienced, and to educators who teach Shakespeare. Each chapter profiles a career in context, using the actor’s words along with supporting research material. The result is a treasury of talents, tactics, and tales from veteran performers who return often to Shakespeare from careers in film and television.
In Hollywood if you are new, or a teen, child, or parent, it can sometimes seem overwhelming. Remember the whole “feeling” around Hollywood for all actors, even adults, seems to be “You are never enough!” All this is untrue, but it keeps the actor off balance and can be a slight manipulative way to control the talent.
First of all remember, “You are more than enough!” Do not listen to anyone who remarks you must get new pictures, you must get SAG/AFTRA, etc. All this will happen the minute you get a SAG/AFTRA job. Your first job you can do free without joining a union. After your first job, be prepared to have the monies necessary to join the Union if you get a second job. Most production companies will give you a little time to make an appointment with SAG/AFTRA to do what is called a “Must Join.” However, do not put it off. The minute you have the second job, call into the Union and make an appointment to pay dues and join immediately. Some actors who put it off can sometimes lose the job, because the production company does not wish to get a stiff fine, so if you do not join before going to the set, they may just find someone else.
Keep reading this article on Toni’s blog, The Acting Biz.
The book discusses issues faced by all beginning filmmakers, with a historical perspective that explains problems and solutions that reach back to the invention of movies at the turn of the last century, and stretch forward to include new digital technology and the popularization of videography as global self-expression. A valuable addition to the shelves of all film school instructors who’ve not had years of practical experience working in the trade, it’s also a syllabus in itself and can be the foundation for a course schedule. More important, it’s something every film student will want to own as a reference and guide.
If you catch somebody ‘acting’ in a movie, that actor is doing it wrong. … In the early talkies, actors came to the movies from a theatre tradition and, not surprisingly, they performed in a way that was designed for the theatre. … If an actor had to cry in a scene, he’d launch into a big emotional number to show the audience his grief. He would probably base his performance on what he’d seen other actors doing in acclaimed performances. Whether that method was effective or not, it was the tradition of the times.
The modern film actor knows that real people in real life struggle not to show their feelings. It is more truthful, and more potent, to fight against the tears, only yielding after all those defense mechanisms are exhausted. If today’s actor emulates film, he’d be better off watching a documentary. The same is true of drunkenness. In real life, a drunk makes a huge effort to appear sober.
Marlon Brando’s work in On the Waterfront was so relaxed and underplayed, it became a milestone in the development of film acting. Over the years, the modern cinema audience has been educated to watch for and catch the minute signals that an actor conveys. By wielding the subtlest bit of body language, the actor can produce an enormously powerful gesture on the screen.
To keep reading this excerpt, please visit Delancey Place.
A master actor who’s appeared in an enormous number of films, starring with everyone from Nicholson to Kermit the Frog, Michael Caine is uniquely qualified to provide his view of making movies. This new revised and expanded edition features great photos throughout, with chapters on: Preparation, In Front of the Camera – Before You Shoot, The Take, Characters, Directors, On Being a Star, and much more.
Today is the birthday actor/theatre director Constantin Stanislavsky (sometimes spelled Stanislavski), who created the Stanislavsky System. The following is an excerpt of Stagecraft: Stanislavsky and External Acting Techniques by Robert Blumenfeld (Limelight Editions).
As Michel Saint-Denis says in Theatre: The Rediscovery of Style, “Each period has its own style even though we are not conscious of it as we live.” I remember the 1950s quite well, for instance, as Saint-Denis did the 1920s, and I echo his words: “I never thought it would become a ‘period’.” Such a thought would never even have occurred to me, in fact, nor did it for any of the succeeding decades through which I have lived, which may be history to many of you, but are simple, living reality to me.
History is all our yesterdays—the larger sociopolitical context of our personal pasts—but life is not, as Macbeth would have it, a tale told by an idiot, full of sound and fury, signifying nothing. On the contrary, history is part of the significant mental world of the people who lived it, whether they were idiots or not. To them, of course, it was not history, but the living, breathing reality of their daily existences, as it is of the characters in plays and films set in those times.
Stanislavsky was well aware of the relation between outer behavior and inner, sociocultural attitudes, born of a worldview anchored in historical circumstances. And his attention to the external details of deportment and manners was astonishing. As Jean Benedetti informs us in Stanislavsky: A Biography (Routledge, 1990), at a White House reception given for the Moscow Art Theatre by President Calvin Coolidge during their 1924 American tour, Stanislavsky could not resist demonstrating eighteenth-century deportment to his future translator, Mrs. Elizabeth Reynolds Hapgood. He showed her formal greetings, no doubt, and bows of various kinds. He must have kissed her hand in the proper eighteenth-century manner: make a show of doing so, but do not actually touch the lips to the hand. Invited onto the expensive set to see some of the filming of Monsieur Beaucaire, Stanislavsky had already observed Rudolph Valentino and the rest of the cast making a hash of eighteenth-century deportment. He had looked on, dumbfounded: the actors were not even adept at wearing the costumes and using the accessories correctly, let alone at behaving with the manners and decorum of the France of Louis XV. They simply hadn’t bothered to do their research or to practice moving about in costume. To the great Russian, this was immediately unreal: both the period and acting styles presented to the audience were false, and he, at least, found this totally unacceptable and impossible to overlook.
Nikolai Gorchakov tells us in Stanislavsky Directs that part of Stanislavsky’s directorial method when doing period pieces was to demonstrate how costumes should be handled. For Stanislavsky, such plays were meant to be historical recreations, reflections of what history itself must have been, and of how life was lived in the period of the play, so clothing was of primary importance.
In 1924, he directed a revival of Alexei Tolstoy’s Tsar Fyodor Ioannovich, a historical drama set in the seventeenth century. It had been the Moscow Art Theatre’s first production in 1898, and one of its great hits. As Gorchakov, who was acting in the revival along with other recent graduates of the MAT school, tells us, “He demonstrated how the boyar’s fur coat should be worn, how one should gird himself in the long wide boyar belt, how to ‘play’ the rich embroidered shawl or the caftan stitched with gold.”
Stanislavsky’s preparations for the 1898 production had been exhaustive, as he makes clear in My Life in Art. He and members of the company ran around the country visiting museums and antiques fairs, immersing themselves in the period, buying cloth and props such as ancient wooden plates and “carved wood for furniture, Oriental couch covers,” and so forth. They “sailed down the Volga to Yaroslavl with the current, stopping at cities on the way to buy Tatar materials, coats and footgear.” They were even able to buy all the boots for the production. Of course, Stanislavsky was from an extremely wealthy family, and he could afford to do all this. Back in Moscow, he used many of his purchases as models, as he consulted with the costume and props departments:
On the stage, not all that glitters is gold, and not all that glitters looks like gold. We learned to make the most of stage possibilities and to pass as gold and jewels simple buttons, shells, stones especially cut and prepared . . . My purchases gave us new ideas.
In Stanislavsky’s productions, every detail of period style was filled with intentions, whether a courtier was bowing to a king or a lady using her fan to conceal her emotions. Because of his wealth of knowledge, his productions were infused with a reality often lacking in late twentieth- and early twenty-first-century period presentations, where the actors seem to have merely a nodding acquaintance, if any at all, with the era and the culture with which they are supposed to be intimately familiar.
When he was working on a period play, Stanislavsky read everything he could find about the era. Indeed, among the best research tools for exploring and personalizing a period is its literature, and most especially fiction, autobiographies, and firsthand accounts of events. In them, the era comes alive, so read! Read more! And then read more! You will grow accustomed to the language of the period, to its archaic grammar and vocabulary, so that they will become second nature to you. And attitudes, customs, and everyday behavior and personal relationships are portrayed with a sense of reality that may be absent in purely historical accounts that sometimes lack personality, as many medieval chronicles do, for instance. On the other hand, Greek and Roman historians, such as Tacitus in his Annals, provide great insights into personality as well as everyday living. And the long-drawn-out medieval period has also left us wonderful examples of autobiography, many of them now all but forgotten, and such personal accounts as the Byzantine Procopius’s (late fifth century– after 558) rewarding and scandalous Anecdota or Secret History.
As American actors, we have been educated in the history of the United States, but we also need to know the traditions from which our theater comes, and they are largely European. So I have concentrated in this book on French and English theater and history, as well as on the plays of Chekhov, with forays into Russian theater practice (Meyerhold; Vakhtangov, in part 3); the theater of ancient Greece and Rome; Italy (the commedia); Germany (the Meiningen Company; Brecht); and Norway (Ibsen), since these are some of our roots as theater people. The historical information about France and England is meant to show you the kind of background you need when doing pieces from any country.
In the introduction to his English Social History: A Survey of Six Centuries / Chaucer to Queen Victoria (David McKay Company, Inc., 1942)—a book very much worth consulting—the distinguished Cam- bridge University historian G. M. Trevelyan (1876–1962) writes, “It is the detailed study of history that makes us feel that the past was as real as the present.” Any actor doing a period piece might take that sentence as a motto and a suggestion.
In chapters 11, 12, 13, and 14 you will find sections on the years 1693, 1793, 1893, and 1936, as examples of the detailed research you should do as background for your character. They are certainly all very interesting years, but any year could have been chosen. Everyone who lived then would have known the major events and personalities as well as we know those of our own day. The wealth of material available for each year, and indeed each week or day, cannot but enrich the inner mental world of any character you play. You will not remember every detail, but salient important events and personalities will form part of your mental road map and give you access to the mindset, attitudes, and awareness of the characters regarding religion, developments on the world scene, science, important people of the time, and, of course, human relations.
To read more, pick up a copy of Stagecraft: Stanislavsky and External Acting Techniques by Robert Blumenfeld (Limelight Editions).
How do you go about creating a character fully and in compelling detail? How do you rehearse? Exactly what goes on during a performance? Everything you need to know as an actor about the process of bringing a play to life in today’s theatre can be found in Stagecraft: Stanislavsky and External Acting Techniques. Included is complete information on the foundations of the actor’s art: vocal technique, right down to grammar, punctuation, and stress patterns; movement technique, so you can create the character physically; and rehearsal and performance techniques. There is even a detailed section on applying makeup. As Stanislavsky stressed, without this kind of external work, the internal, psychological work detailed in the companion volume, Using the Stanislavsky System, cannot be “read” or understood by the audience. In Stagecraft, Blumenfeld also details the specific techniques of performing in comedy and meeting the unique demands of musical theater. The ideas of Stanislavsky’s influential successors – Michael Chekhov, Yevgenyi Vakhtangov, Uta Hagen, Sanford Meisner, Stella Adler, Lee Strasberg, and many others – are included as well. This volume is a must for professional and novice actors, students and teachers alike!
Find other titles by Robert Blumenfeld, including Accents and Using the Stanislavsky System on LimelightEditions.com.