Patrick’s Acting Class Notes: 3/5/19

Six of us. Perfect size class. And this was a FUN workout.
Chris on a stakeout in an ice cream truck. Casey and Heidi doing a word-perfect Aaron Sorkin rapid dialogue scene of lovers fighting on a set. Kate dealing with a car salesman suitor on the sidewalk after just meeting him. Rob as the bartender interrogated by the police about a girls death.


I don’t buy the old belief that you have to suffer for your craft. Some do. But you’re not condemned to a hovel and meager rations to develop your talent. More importantly… anything that we do is enhanced by having fun. Now of course… art, music, acting, sports all require work and dedication. However preparation and performance are enhanced by a sense of fun. The irony of acting is that only an actor would say, “I had a great night,” after dying as Romeo or Juliet. But the joy is there in the remembrance of execution. If your preparation process is infused with fun and PLAY you’re more likely to get to the core or the life in the scene. And finally when you do perform… if you’re having fun then the audience will also have more access to your soul and the empathetic interaction that is the foundation of our craft. Having fun open us up.

Yes there are casting offices and productions that require word perfect performance. So that is a skill that you must have. But he inevitable evolution of our craft is the increased infusion of the actor’s creative input. Improv means adding life… That’s my definition. But more important is the fact that if your focus is on getting all the words right then you are inhibiting your creativity.

For me… the most important Stanislavsky idea is… “The unexpected and the improvised are always the best impetus to creativeness.” For me that means improv and play in preparation and performance. Our acting community is evolving in this direction. THIS AIN’T SHAKESPEARE !

General rule is you can use anything you normally cary with you. Chris used a water bottle brilliantly. Casey uses submarine sandwiches. Phones, a scarf used as a dish rag, keys, bags… all work for me but bringing in stuff that’s not normally on your person is a stretch. That doesn’t mean you shouldn’t do it… cause rules were made to be broken. But it’s a general rule that less is more.

You should dress towards the character. Use clothing that makes you feel like the character. As an example… renting a cop uniform looks desperate. But clunky shoes and blue pants and a dress shirt makes me feel like a cop and leans in the direction of that image. Most important is that it makes you feel more like the character. It’s a pretty solid rule that you should leave your clothes on. Thanks to Casey for that insight.


We talked about doing a night where we all work on one scene. Also an all Sorkin night to challenge your word-perfect preparation and performance. And we should do a prep process night which will start at 6:30 and then meld into regular class. Its good to have plans. Hopefully life won’t get in the way!


Careful is the opposite of creative. You are not by nature an actor that has to be pulled back… one that is pushing the limits. Needing to bring more tonal variation is likely a product of being too careful. You nailed that adjustment with such more vocal variation in later takes and used your voice much more fully. You have this great well trained instrument and you should use it ! There are so many negative memes about acting for the camera that come from the world of the stage. That you have to do nothing, don’t act, just be yourself. But that’s a misunderstanding. Camera work is just another style done in a different physical arena. What we see in class is acting and involves the creation of character(likely based on YOU), and interpretation of material, and performance skills. That’s acting. Its just a different style.

In the camera world Preparation is a solo process of exploration and discovery and you must be impulsive and fearless and willing to play to discover the life in a scene. And you must work dialogue with another actor/coach/somebody before auditions and performance. Performance too should be fearless and PLAYful. I know you’ve had those moment when your singing and the music just carried you away and performance was effortless. I’ve seen you have those moments in our workouts too. The difference is that what the stage does in rehearsals we have to do in our prep. Focusing on pace early in our process was important because it’s a comedy and most likely connected to being too careful. When exploring a piece going slowly at first is a good approach but here we had to do it because it established the music of the writing and it eliminated being too careful.


Yeah this was a good exercise and you’re right… when you drop into the rhythm of a great writer it’s all there. He’s written every word, note, beat that creates the life. However the vast majority of writers are not as gifted as Sorkin and their writing is enhanced by a touch of improv… that is creating life with thoughts, words, sounds, action, looks etc. Perhaps the best comparison is classical music. All the notes are there and every note must be played for the piece to work. Modern TV and Film writing is more like jazz or rock in that the writers expect actors to bring those little notes and beats that fill out the life in the words. But Sorkin is the exception. You and Heidi incorporated the makeup lady and created a life and a relationship with her. Sorkin didn’t write that. So even the big cheese can be improved with a little improv… as long as it’s not words. The character emerged as we worked and the blowhard TV personality was delightful… and a part of YOU that is easily available to most of us actors.


First of all!!! CONGRATS on the casting as the Secretary of State. The final takes on last week’s prep for her were very solid work. Clearly you found a way to inhabit that female power persona. And remember you’re the artist here and on set. You found a way to live in this power world of presidents and secretaries of state… so trust your instincts and get inside that powerful part of your YOU. I confess your path to her emerged in a rather mysterious process of repetition but you can’t argue with success. We’ve noted how character and life emerge as you do multiple run thrus… so that’s a part of your talent and process that you should be aware of and indulge. You are now a part of this evolution of how we see women in power. Don’t be careful in performance. Women of your age are developing and defining these female power characters so indulge your impulses and play and let vocabulary of behavior grow and surprise you.

As to tonight… This Sorkin material… You handled he language effortlessly and the addition of the makeup person didn’t phase you at all… credit your great focus. I wish I hadn’t lost the sound on those last takes. I think we’d have seen the performance grow in size which is perfect for some styles but it raises a red flag to be careful of leaning into humor and playing for laughs. That’s why on the last take we leaned into keeping the conversation a bit more on the down low. I would have loved to do an extremely fast paced and whispered take as though they were coming on air in less than a minute. That would have been next on the list of adjustments.


There was a lot of activity written but we pared a lot of the stage directions down. That’s just like any kind of editing. How much action/stage direction depends on you and your take on the material. What’s important is that you incorporate action early in workouts and then pare it down to what tells the story best. Quincy Jones describes it musically as, “Don’t play all the Butter notes.” As we worked you told the story with a variety of behaviors that you discovered. But you eliminated everything that didn’t help tell the story… ‘the butter notes’. What defined the excellence of this work were the stretches where you were totally non self conscious. You were just there in his world and behaving within the comfortable space he has created for himself.

This raises the issue of focus. You were in and out of ‘his world’ as you worked. What we did was define a path of moments through the material. In rehearsal/working/performing if you slide outside the path of the moments just stay in there and see what happens(see the Stanislavski quote above). Musicians don’t stop because there’s a mistake. They incorporate it into the energy of the piece… especially in Jazz. So a mistake becomes an invitation to explore. That doesn’t mean you can’t stop a take or a run through but don’t be so judgmental that you stop rather than working through a rough section. We see this focus issue diminishes as you work and spend more time exploring the material. So much improves with a good prep process as is noted Rob’s note below. You got laughs from the behavior. You can’t argue with that !


Doing a cold read very well ! But this is what we see in your workouts. You grow quickly through repetition and rehearsal and character emerges as you settle into the life. That’s just good process and here it’s a compliment on how quickly you learn material. There’s no explanation or excuse for the 15 callbacks for NCIS (cause that’s what they are). Let me just say that I admire your determination and patience and encourage you to see it as a compliment cause they wouldn’t keep bring you back if they didn’t like your work. They’re just inconsiderate spineless wimps who are afraid of making a decision. But that’s the reputation of that particular office and they have been successful for years so there’s little chance of them changing their process. As you worked his/your bartender behaviors stared emerging, cleaning glasses, whispering, pointing, leaning into the bar/chair… all those could be done in an office or a set. Giving him a little attitude was necessary because he’s obviously a bit of a bad boy… or at least promiscuous.