Back in the Classroom

10 01 2019

I have the great privilege of getting to teach young actors at Loyola University in New Orleans. I say this because, just like raising my kids, my students teach me so much, and remind me continually of why I decided to pursue this career in the first place. For me, getting the opportunity to engage with these artists who are SEEKING is crucial to maintaining my own sense of wonder and questioning when it comes to the work of an actor. I also really treasure getting to share my real-life audition, work, triumphs and failures with them. It was something I wasn’t often afforded in my own education as an actor…. and I always promised myself that I would be sure to share what I learned – and AM learning – about the pursuit of this work.

I teach one, sometimes two classes each school year – SUZUKI TRAINING in the Fall, and ACTING FOR CAMERA every other Spring, and this is one of the odd years I get to teach ACTING FOR CAMERA.

As I began, this past Fall, to revisit my syllabus from 2017’s ACTING FOR CAMERA class I forced myself, once again, to really unpack what I was teaching, to decide what was working, and what was not – and to do the most important thing in a business that changes constantly: make sure what I was teaching was the MOST CURRENT. It is never my goal as a professor to “overwork” my students, to load them down with assignments until they feel overwhelmed. But it IS my goal to make sure they leave the class prepared, and BETTER at what they do.

This is a daunting proposition in an undergraduate program. There is only ONE camera acting class they will take in four years, and my class is ACTING THREE. By the time they take my class they have taken ACTING ONE and ACTING TWO, and have a good theatrical base for their training, but I have one chance… just a few months, to relay all the information I can to make them walk out of my classroom… and into a casting director’s office.

As I looked over my 2017 syllabus something came over me… I realized that in 2017, I auditioned about 50% of the time LIVE in an audition room, and about 50% of the time I sent in a self-taped audition. Fast forward to now. I NOW audition about 15% of the time LIVE in the room, and 85% from a self-tape. I further realized that ALL of the major roles I have done since 2014 have been cast DIRECTLY from my self-tape. No callback. Just my tape. This includes: THE WALKING DEAD, SUN RECORDS, RECTIFY, LOGAN LUCKY, and a bunch of other stuff.

The syllabus had to change. So it did. In 2017 I focused mostly on the nerves, preparation, and the last-minute nature of the LIVE AUDITION. But I knew that THIS YEAR, I had to focus equally on the self-tape, or I would be doing a disservice to this one, little, short ACTING FOR CAMERA class my students will get in their 4 year actor-training journey.

I am trying to remember this same mentality as it applies to my LIFE as well as my own acting work. What worked? What didn’t? What helped me to truly be prepared (as much as i can be) for what is coming next? What needs to change? Is there anything I deem “too precious” or anything I really feel like “I’ve figured out”? Those are the things that probably need the deepest examination.

CHANGE is a big, scary word sometimes. Especially as we get older and set in our ways. I am not taking about the changes LIFE throws at us, in a way I think those are sometimes easier because the older we get, the more we come to expect disappointment, job changes, death… I am talking about internal CHANGE.

The first day of class I always just get every student on camera, in a “loose from the shoulders up” shot, and I just interview them. I don’t ask anything difficult or particularly deep, just some “who are you? What did you do for Christmas?” type of questions. And then we watch the tapes back. There is a more complex part of this exercise that is too difficult to explain in this already too-long blog post. But ONE of the things I do is point out to each student their particular distracting quirks.

You raise your eyebrows a lot.

You clench your jaw between answers.

You are holding your breath ALL THE TIME.

You twist your mouth sideways when thinking.

You look up, or down, or sideways a lot and it distracts me from just listening to you and enjoying who you are.

I preface these things I notice by saying, “I don’t want you to get overly fixated on this or obsess about it. I just want you to KNOW. So you can choose to do these things IF they serve the scene you are doing, but you can also choose to NOT TO USE THEM when they DON’T serve the scene.”

This is what I mean by the big C.H.A.N.G.E. Noticing those things which are habit. Not obsessing about them or fixating on them. But noticing them. And realizing that just by noticing them, you gain power over them. And THEN, you can use them to serve you when it fits, and let them go when they stifle you.