Tuesday, February 3, 2009

While Michelangelo's worldwide historical renown as a painter is inarguable, it was his skill as a sculptor that most impresses me. Legend has it that the great rennaissance artist, when asked where the inspiration came from for a sculpture, to have said something to the effect that the stone itself spoke to him and seemed to have some living form waiting to be revealed. It was his job to free that form from the solid marble with delicate strokes of mallet and chisel.
We as actors have somewhat the same task, only with ourselves instead of marble(thus the blockhead in the title), and hopefully you're not using a hammer and chisel to bring out the best in yourself, but we must find that character within ourselves. Much like the artist selects the right stone to be cut for each work, or in the case of Michelangelo, allows the stone to reveal its own form, we must find those characters inside ourselves.
Much can be done to dress up the outward appearance. There is much to be said for the role of imagination in character development. But, it comes down to finding some point of connection, some way in which we can identify the desire of the character and find in ourselves something equal that resonates.
How does this look like sculpting you may ask. Well, it has long been my belief that a character is built more by suppressing or removing those things that do not communicate the desired effect than by adding to what is already there. By learning how to eliminate false communication (static, or self conscious gestures, things that belong to us as people but do not make sense for the character) we free that angelic form from the marble slab.
Yeah, esoteric and a little fruity, but let me give you an example. Most actors equate “energy” (a good thing) with volume and speed (also good in their place but frequently misused) some characters express themselves with equal intensity, but on a quieter, or more sedate level. By learning to slow down and play these characters as who they are, not who we are, we begin to get to the heart of them. This must be done in a way that makes sense for the actor, we must find that part of ourselves that most closely resembles that part of the character.

Tuesday, March 18, 2008

The Three Basic Challenges

Pretending on Purpose part2. The craft of acting is so varied, with each style and period demanding its own set of rules, customs and techniques. When I teach about acting I try, at least with my beginners and intermediates, to keep to techniques that cross the boundaries and apply to most, if not all, styles of acting.

About three years ago I was invited to be a part of an arts camp for a local church that I attended. In preparing for this camp,which only gave us about three one hour sessions with these kids, I struggled for a simple way to break acting down into manageable steps and here is what I came up with.

Actors in almost all disciplines are presented with three basic challenges: BE SEEN, BE HEARD, BE UNDERSTOOD. Now on the surface these seem to be very basic indeed, but if you think about them they entail most of the things that any actor needs to know to communicate well with an audience.

First BE SEEN. This of course is essential in most acting on stage or film. Not only does the actor need to be comfortable with being looked at, he must also learn how to present an image that will allow his audience to more fully "see" who his character is, what the setting may be, and what the relationships between him and others are. In addition to what is seen, an actor must always be aware of those things that should not be seen. In fact, much like a master illusionist, the skilled actor learns to direct his audience's attention very precisely, aiding in the storytelling by becoming much like the eye of the camera for a film director.

Second BE HEARD. Immediately we think of a drama teacher standing at the back of the theatre yelling, "I can't hear you!" Well, louder is not always better. An actor must not only learn to be heard physically, but must learn to shape what is heard by the audience to more clearly communicate the intentions and emotions of his character. Just as in BE SEEN, it also includes learning how to control what should not be heard.

Third BE UNDERSTOOD. Many actors spend years ridding themselves of regional accents, speech defects and the like, and it is no small thing to learn to speak clearly and intelligibly. This is where it stops for most amateurs. On a deeper level being understood means making an emotional connection with your audience, allowing them to peak inside the objectives of your character. The best actors can make us sympathetic to even the least lovable characters, this is being understood.

If you keep these three in mind and implement whatever level of skill you have to make them a reality you cannot help but make yourself a better actor. I'll be back next time to begin discussing how we go about making the three B's a reality in our performances.

Thursday, February 28, 2008

What is Acting?

Over the past 28 years I have performed in more than 400 live plays, musicals, pageants and concerts. I have directed over fifty full length productions and written half a dozen plays and countless sketches. Here is what I have boiled it down to: ACTING IS...Pretending on Purpose. That's right pretending. Now I know you just finished a book by the latest Hollywood Guru that said that acting is TRUTH. Ironic for a guy who teaches people to lie for a living to spend more time on the subject of truth than the average televangelist, don't you think.

Well, I'm not telling you he's wrong, but if I were I would be in famous company. In his book "On the technique of acting" Michael Chekhov, nephew of the famous Russian playwright Anton, argues that the imagination is the only tool strong enough to provide an actor with original and interesting character ideas. Now this was a guy who stood toe to toe with Stanislavsky, good ole Stan even called him his most famous student.

So, what do I mean when I say, acting is pretending is purpose? Well, you remember cops and robbers, or house, or cowboys and Indians? We all used some variation of role playing in our childhood. These game usually were selected by the bossiest kid on the playground and they would continue until no one could take anymore random rule changes and then we'd all go hang upside down on the monkey bars to relieve the stress. That was pure pretend! What we do in the theatre is a little more complicated.

We agree with a group of people that we will practice pretending to be someone we're not at scheduled times for a number of weeks. We build elaborate dress up clothes and buy special lamps to get just the right light. We find or create sounds and music, playhouses and special toys called props, to make sure it is all just right. Then we invite another, hopefully larger, group of people to watch us present our rehearsed pretending. Sounds kind of silly when I say it like that, doesn't it? Makes you wonder why all these Hollywood types take themselves so seriously, when in reality that is there job and they get millions for it. Why do they care if we "respect" them as artists as long as we pay our ten bucks a pop and keep sucking down movies?

Why do I do it, you may ask, I ask myself all the time. Here is the answer. I believe that the human imagination has a way of exploring the world around us that helps us better understand ourselves and others. I believe that people who are skilled in weaving these imaginations into stories and presenting them in a way that I find disarming and entertaining have a unique opportunity to make me see and admit things about myself and others that I might not if faced with "reality".

We as actors are basically story tellers. Hopefully we are selecting the kinds of stories that have the power to uplift and improve the human condition, show us who we are and remind us of who we want to be. That is why I do it. Over the coming weeks I am coming back to this dramorama project to plant some seeds and I will discuss in more detail the ideas behind my particular brand of pretend, I hope you will join me. Feel free to explore the sight and borrow anything you find here, it's all free. Drop a comment now and then to let us know how we're doing, and if you have an article idea send it to markrmorris2@sbcglobal.net.

Thursday, March 29, 2007

Ryan's Acting Tips

Here are a few tips on acting from a student of mine at Family Theatre Warehouse. Ryan is seventeen and is currently in rehearsal on his third musical with us. He has also spent quite a bit of time in the tech booth this last year with three technical director credits! I encourage you to share your experience with us too. Send your article to Markrmorris2@sbcglobal.net for consideration.

Three things I have learned about acting by: Ryan Pennington

I believe that acting reflects life and the way people feel about their emotions in every day life. Standing on stage and expressing feelings that can deeply impact and audience, that is what acting is to me. If you want to become an actor, or are just curious, here are some things I have learned that may help you.

1. Let everything come naturally. When on stage , or delivering dialogue, see in your mind how the character would react to the situation. If the character is frustrated, take your hand and run it down your face and throw in a stressful sigh. What I do sometimes is watch movies and picture myself as that character, then reenact that scene later in the middle of my living room. This may help improve your acting skills.

2. ALWAYS listen to your director (no I swear I {Mark} did not pay him to write this), If he or she gives specific instructions on what they want to see, do not ignore what they have said.

3. For some people stage fright is an issue, but what I have learned is that it is something to get over. I want to give an exercise you can do at home. Pick the biggest room in your house. Stand and imagine that the whole room is filled. This way it might make you feel more comfortable when it is time for you to perform.

That’s all I have for now, I hope whoever is reading this will feel more confidant than before.

All the world is a stage and all the men and women are merely players-William Shakespeare

God Bless
Ryan Pennington
Performing as Albert Peterson in Bye Bye Birdie

Sunday, March 25, 2007

Things to avoid in professional auditions!

Things Not To Do At An Audition
by ActorPoint.com
Until you've been auditioning for a while, it's usually difficult to find your own way and style of conducting yourself at the audition. We all have made mistakes and kick ourselves later when we realize how unprofessional or inappropriate it might have been. Hey, that's the only way we learn what not to do again! I've outlined 3 basic things not to do at an audition. These may seem obvious but I've held and sat in on many auditions and you'd be surprised how many actors continue to do them.
Never walk up to the casting director and initiate a hand-shake. If they already have your headshot and resume simply walk in the room, say hello, and find your mark (the place where you'll be delivering your monologue or side from). If you need to hand the CD your headshot and resume when you enter the room, do so but only extend your hand if he initiates it. Some CDs see a few hundred actors in a day and don't feel the need to shake each actor's hand. It's nothing personal, it's just the way it is.
Never deliver your monologue directly into the casting director's eye (or any other person's eye behind the table, for that matter). Pick a spot slightly above or to either side of the CD and focus your attention to that point, as if it's the character you are talking to. Nothing is more awkward than an actor "making" the CD the character in their monologue. It's just like going to see a play. The CD should feel like an outside audience member who is watching an actor who isn't breaking the fourth wall. He also needs to be able to write notes, review your resume, or discuss things with his associates while you're auditioning. If you make him the other character, how difficult will it be to stay focused when he suddenly sips on a cup of coffee?! You get the point.
Never end your monologue by saying "scene." It's a typical actor stereo-type, but a stereo-type nonetheless. When you reach the end of your monologue, hold the last moment for a few short beats then break character and look at the casting director to indicate you're finished. Sometimes actors will take "dramatic pauses" in the middle of their monologue and continue on. Once you're finished, wait for the CD to speak first. He may ask you to make an adjustment and do a portion again, ask what play the monologue is from, ask a question about your availability or simply say "thanks." In any case, you've done your job, reply with a cordial "thanks for your time," "good luck with the project," or "take care" and leave with a big smile on your face because you did the best you can.
When you leave the audition room, focus on what went well and what didn't go so well. Learn from the parts that didn't go so well but don't beat yourself up over these. And finally, leave the audition behind. Don't wait by the phone for the next month. Go back to the drawing board, get your headshots and resumes out there and prepare for your next audition.
Find more great articles here: http://www.actorpoint.com/features/

Wednesday, March 14, 2007

Sunday, March 11, 2007

Great warm ups = great acting!

Picture this: an Olympic gymnast walks out to the bench to warm up. She bends halfway at the waste and grunts, There, finished! How happy would the coach of a world class athlete be with a warm up like that? Not very! Yet as actors we give our warm up that kind of halfhearted, this is a waist of my time, kind of attitude.

A good warmup can make a mediocre performance good and a good performance great! How? Check this out for a complete response to that. For this article suffice it to say, it just can! Here are some warmups I use with my students all the time.

Begin with a little stretching, anything you like you learned this in PE back in grade school, just limber up a little.

Now, find a spot on the floor and lay flat on your back. Starting at the tips of your toes relax your body focusing on each individual joint as you move up to the ankles, the calf muscles,the knees, the thighs. Think of being able to sweep away all of the tension, all of the stress and allow each muscle group to completely relax, no flexing no motion.

Work up the body all the way to the shoulders then sweep your way down each arm, up the neck, up and over the scalp ending with the facial muscles, especially the jaw and the throat where the voice is produced.

Once you have accomplished the relaxation of the body move internal to the mind. While staying physically relaxed, I want you to imagine yourself standing in the center of a large room. Surrounding you are all of the things you could be thinking instead of focusing on your performance, arguments with parents, dog needs to be fed, new shoes, math test, Christmas, whatever! Let each of these things call out to you! Now imagine you have a box with a timed lock on it. Open that box and let it pull all of your distractions in, close the box and set the timer for after your rehearsal or performance.

Now its time to focus. Imagine a power cord coming from your belly button, plug it in to an imaginary plug in and....Just try it! This is nothing like the face exercise, trust me! (this is the point at which all bu the most serious of my students usually protest but I promise there is a payoff if you give it an honest shot) Plug it in and allow your brain to reboot. Imagine you have cleared the decks and you are now focusing all of your mental energies on this one project, playing your part.

Okay now create for yourself an imaginary neon sign with the title of your show, class, or performance piece in bright letters. Plug yourself into it and imagine it lighting up as you focus all of your creative talent into this one project just for little while. (I am not suggesting anything religious here, I make it clear to my students that the one thing that should never be considered a distraction is your conscience, never give up your ability to make moral choices for any reason)

Some of you may think that some of those "distractions" are a darn sight more important than acting, maybe they are, bu the subconscious is a very powerful thing and it will continue working on any problems you might have. In fact you may find that after coming back to these things after taking a break from them they will present their own solutions.

Once you have finished the routine above sit up and stand slowly to your feet, time to energize! Lets start with the voice. Starting deep make a siren sound rising in pitch all the way to the top of your range and back down, repeat! Now move on to the facial exercise found here. Now try these diction and projection exercises.

say this aloud

Articulatory agility

is a marvelous ability,

Manipulating with dexterity

The tongue

The teeth

and The lips

Repeat this several times standing with your feet shoulder width apart, hands at your sides, breathe deep. You should focus on pronouncing each syllable as clearly as possible, exaggerate a little.

Now try this one and as you get it down try saying it while marching in a circle with arms swinging

What a to do to die today

At a minute or two 'til two

A thing distinctly hard to say

Yet harder still to do

For they'll beat a tattoo

At twenty 'til two



And the dragon will come

When he hears the drum

At a minute or two 'til two today

At a minute or two 'til two

Here's one more

Around the rugged rock

The ragged rascal ran

Use these in good health, I have no claim to them I pass them on to you as they were taught to me and and my teachers learned them from theirs etc.

The important thing is to establish a warmup routine and get into it. A good warmup will include: 1 relaxation 2 focusing 3 energizing. Try it on for size I think you'll be amazed at how good it looks on you!