More on Training

30 03 2015

One of the other things I do, is represent actors that are 25 and under. I am amazed sometimes by the training I have to undo, from “film classes” taught by professors who have never actually stepped in front of a camera themselves. I have also had to inform a flabbergasted actor who just spent $250 on head shots that they need to take different head shots – that are more in the current style of what casting directors are looking for. The list goes on and on. Current knowledge is crucial in this business, and the only people who have current knowledge are professional actors who are currently working.

So, choose your training carefully. Find a school that offers what you need based on the type of actor you want to be. Or, know that you can, and SHOULD, supplement your training by working with a professional actor you admire.

Never think you are done either! You aren’t done. There is always more to learn. There is always room to grow. I have dealt with this temporary flare of the “bad ego” myself! I have a BA, I have an MFA, I have done this play, I have done that film – I DON’T NEED any more training! If a ballet dancer stopped doing the barre exercises, if an athlete did a finite amount of weight training, what would happen? Their art, their sport would suffer because they would not be UP TO the challenge of the work set before them. The same thing happens with us, as actors, when we become complacent and think we’re done.

You’re never done. There is always more life to observe, to experience, to see the nuance in, to revel in. There is always another level to reach.

More later….

BigMomma!





Training

22 03 2015

I do believe very much in getting training as an actor. From the right place. What is the right place? The right place is one that challenges you – possibly to the breaking point – but does not degrade you as a human being. Are there wildly successful actors who haven’t had a stitch of training? Absolutely. However, I think IF you have the interest in it, or IF you are not getting the results you want, training is something you should invest in.

I caution against any teacher or school that gives you the “you need to EAT SLEEP BREATHE acting” line. OR, as has happened to me, any school or teacher who gives you the idea that IF you get married, or have kids, or seek other parts of normal life, you CANNOT be an artist. THIS IS A LIE. And in fact, I believe those real life events I have experienced have informed my art in a way NO CLASS, TEACHER, OR SCHOOL could ever do. They work hand in hand: training, and experiencing real life in all its facets. After all, how do you expect to “live truthfully within the circumstances” of the character if you are too busy acting every second of your real life?

I am the product of a BA in Theatre Arts and an MFA in Acting and, full disclosure here, I very much believe that studying the art form you want to pursue is something you SHOULD do if you have the opportunity. Why not? Why not have that degree? I know very few actors who will knock themselves out of their casting bracket, age-wise, by spending a mere four years in college. And by the end of your studies, you have gained a world of knowledge that WILL be useful to you as a human being, not just as an artist. You also have a degree, that will allow you to pursue a higher degree, should you choose to, and to possibly teach with some degree of credibility.

One of the downsides of a college education in the arts is that, unless you go to a very few select group of colleges, it is rare to encounter a teacher in academia who is ALSO a professional actor. A CURRENTLY WORKING professional actor. This is the one aspect of my training which I feel was severely lacking, and one of the reasons I decided to write a book. Although my training made me adaptive, resilient, instinctual, and although I learned much about text, and playwrights, and styles of acting, I was at a serious loss for how to actually proceed in the BUSINESS of acting once I finished school.

Would I change anything about the way I have had to hack my way through the business end of things? No. But I do think that our colleges and universities are making a mistake by only hiring academics to teach students who want to be actors. I have a deep respect for professors who spend their lives seeking out educational experiences to pass onto their students, and I believe that purely academic teachers have an important role to play in the collegiate system. I DO think, however, that this purely academic part of actor training needs to be balanced by teachers who are professional actors, in order for the training to truly be effective, and to give students the edge they need in this business.

More later….

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Grad School – And Some Thoughts

16 03 2015

I passed the screening audition, and then did the callback in front of the grad schools. Why was I nervous? I didn’t want this anyway. I was told if I got 4 callbacks, that would be significant. I got 13. I say this not to brag. But to say that when it is time for you to do something, God is rarely subtle in the delivery. I knew I had to go to grad school. The WHERE was what I needed to figure out. And when I met Eric Hill, who was the head of the UCONN MFA program, and who is a master of THE SUZUKI METHOD OF ACTOR TRAINING, I found where I belonged.

The path from grad school to now, is seemingly so much less clear. There were events and changes and additions and challenges and losses in my life that I never imagined. As REAL LIFE and not ACTING STUDENT LIFE happened to me, I began to form some ideas about approaching acting, and really many of those ideas were also instrumental in how I approach LIFE too.

Let me be clear, this is not going to be a namby-pamby GOD IS GREAT and ALL THINGS WORK TOWARD THE GOOD and JUST LET IT GO TO GOD testimony, because my path thus far has not been anything like that. If faith in God combined with utter lack of faith in God, combined with a fair amount of cursing and brutal QUESTIONING of your faith in God is NOT your cup of tea, then this book is probably not for you.

If, however, you believe that God cannot be “put in a box,” as my beloved undergrad religion teacher Barnes Tatum said, and if you believe that your relationship with God can be TRULY personal, and if you believe that faith has a lot of gray areas, and if you have ever sat up in the middle of the night and cursed out the Almighty because the path was so fucking unclear you were about to give up…. this is your book.

More later…..

AsHamlet1 AsHamlet2 AsThomasina





High School to Grad School

13 03 2015

From there, I was blessed with a junior high and high school drama teacher, Mr Block, who basically gave me free rein to do ANY pieces I wanted for Speech & Debate competitions. Like, stuff I had NO BUSINESS doing – DEATH AND THE MAIDEN as a dramatic piece (I played ALL the characters). That piece in particular was very disturbing for the local Moms who often judged the tournaments. Also, THE SEARCH FOR SIGNS OF INTELLIGENT LIFE IN THE UNIVERSE, the Lily Tomlin play – which I though was hysterical…. but I had an odd sense of humor.

I decided to study acting in college, earning my BA from Greensboro College – the tiny United Methodist College, not UNCG. The program was very demanding: actors were required to do just as much tech work as acting work. The hours were long, the grades sometimes seemed unfair, but I learned what hard work was for sure. I studied primarily Western acting techniques – Stanislavski, Meisner, the like. How does a girl from New Orleans just happen end up at a tiny United Methodist college in Greensboro? My father accidentally called Greensboro College iNSTEAD of UNCG.

This type of occurrence is a pretty regular thing in my life.

When I got to my senior year at Greensboro College, the department head, David Schram, insisted that I do the University Resident Theatre Auditions (URTAs). I was adamantly against doing them. I just wanted to GO TO NEW YORK AND START MY CAREER!!! But, I said I would (reluctantly) do the auditions anyway, just to DO THEM. In case, one day, I might want to go to graduate school.

URTAs are held in a few major cities every year, and the department heads from several graduate schools throughout the US attend. There is a screening audition first, and if you pass the screening audition, you are given a chance to audition in front of all 30+ grad schools. It is the typical short audition: one classical monologue, one contemporary, and a bit of a song. I HATE this kind of audition. I also think it is a little pointless, even all these years later. All these auditions tell ME as a director, is that you can audition well. But I digress…

More later…

80sHair





Ballet – How it Shaped Me

10 03 2015

I started acting when it became clear to me that ballet would NOT be the career choice for me. I liked eating far too much, and I despise throwing up. This is not to say that ballerinas are bulimic, but IS to say that even at 7 years old, my ballet teachers would not have had a problem with a child taking laxatives, vomiting, restricting eating – anything to weigh less. Which, if you think about it, is a bizarre thing to demand of a child. Had I ever told my mother about the verbal abuse I endured at the hands of my instructors, I know she would have intervened, and possibly pulled me out of the ballet school. Which is why I never told her about it.

What I loved about dance, was capturing the nuances in the music, and the absolute precision of TIMING required, and how it varied from piece to piece, and from measure to measure. I was fortunate enough to grow up in a family with two musicians as parents – one a classical oboist and pianist, one a jazz trombonist and pianist. My childhood was filled with Stravinsky’s Petrushka and The Firebird, Ralph Vaughn Williams’ The Lark Ascending, Miles Davis’ Kind of Blue, Sarah Vaughn’s soul-stopping voice (my favorite), Bill Evans’ wizardly piano works, and all manner of music in between. At the time, I didn’t realize how extraordinary it was to be listening to Thelonius Monk as a child. I didn’t comprehend the influence listening to my father compose late into the night would have on my future profession. I did, however, know that music moved me in very particular ways, in ways my body could not help responding to.

Although my ballet teachers were singularly cruel in their judgement of tiny bodies, they were some of the best teachers in New Orleans, and eventually I grew to love the discipline of ballet. The predictability of barre, center, adagio, and allegro. I loved the jumps, but I also adored the adagio. Taking the entire phrase to move to the next position, and landing fluidly, just at… the… last… moment… Tension and grace combining, in response to the music (the SCRIPT)… it’s is what makes art most compelling.

Once it became clear that I was a good dancer, but not a great one, and that I was far from the right body type for ballet, I began to try to find another means to express the emotion inside. Theatre found me, in the form of FIDDLER ON THE ROOF around age 10. Although I didn’t like, and STILL do not like, the fluttering heart I experience (YES I STILL experience!) when the curtain rises, or I walk on camera, I loved being able to tell a story. This time not just with my body. But with my VOICE.

More later….





Beginnings of Acting Book

8 03 2015

I haven’t really thought about writing a book on acting until now. I never felt like I really knew what I would say that hasn’t already been said. Recently, it occurred to me that perhaps it didn’t matter IF what I have to say has already been said, and that perhaps, my thoughts might be of USE to someone else who is pursuing acting as a career. There have been many great teachers in my past, and many great books that have been a source of inspiration to me in my continuing studies. Perhaps the most influential book for me has been Uta Hagen’s RESPECT FOR ACTING. Several others have been instrumental in my work throughout the years, but RESPECT FOR ACTING was the first book that gave me a sense of true purpose as an artist. The book placed a VALUE on acting, and on developing the craft of acting, that made sense to me. I lost myself in that book like I could lose myself in a great novel.

So, with that said, here are my own thoughts on the craft of acting, with a little history about myself to start. I simply wish to covey my experiences, in the hopes that they are useful to other actors, young and old, aspiring and contemplating, out there wondering about the how and whys of the craft. This is one woman’s experience.

More another day….

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