Patrick’s Acting Class Notes: 4/2/19

Eight of us… Emily doing a working audit. Alex back after a long absence… both welcome.

Jackson as the disappointed Christmas shopper. Kate getting hit on at a bar. Heidi and Casey as the bickering couple in counseling. Chris being driven to revenge by unwanted robocalls. Alex showing up on an old friend’s doorstep at the wrong time. Emily as the compulsive talking redneck Southern belle.
What a nice night of theater. Great supportive commentary made it more so.

THOUGHTS & ISSUES:

STAGE DIRECTIONS…
I always think of them as suggestions. They’re the writer’s imagination of the life but actors must interpret them loosely. Your artistic goal is to interpret the writing and put your stamp on the character and the life. If you consider the writing but have a different instinct about how to do a stage directed moment then your artistic obligation to your talent and the process is to do it the way you see it. Your career will be defined by your choices and you must not let stage directions defer your impulses.

STYLES OF WRITING/ACTING…
We have to know and adjust to style. Like musicians who can play multiple styles… Classic vs rock-n-roll or jazz or ballads… all inform the playing and how to approach the notes on the page. Tonight we saw multiple genres… comedy, short film, movie, quasi sitcom, stage writing. All require a different approach. Maybe music again for an example… you play the violin when you’re in an orchestra… but a fiddle in a country band. Same instrument (YOU) but an entirely different approach to how you play.

Jackson…

Better and better. Our process has been to watch your word-centric first take and then explore it for the life in the scene. Your first focus has been on words. Dialogue just stuffed into your brain. BUT… If you develop the life and the path through the scene the dialogue will have a structure/life and be easier to learn and help you show us the story. That’s the actor’s challenge… use the words to develop and express the story/the life. Writers write words… actor’s must turn them into thoughts and life. The writer says he comes with a friend… you have to turn that into an interaction and a relationship even though you never speak to him. When you can’t get what you want… you have to turn that into a reaction to the salesman and an attitude. And that’s more of last week’s WHO WHAT WHERE notes. The writer doesn’t tell us who this character is… we hear and see what he says(the words) and we known how he behaves… the WHO. We know what he’s doing and what he wants… toys on xmas eve (THE WHAT). We immediately get the WHERE by who he’s talking to and what he wants. And this approach has to be your focus… the words are a tool. You have to use them to create the life. As we’ve worked you’ve loosened up on words and improvised some verbiage and thinking and reactions. That’s good process but eventually you have to bring it back to their words. Keep your focus on the life. The WHOWHATWHERE and use the words as a tool to reveal the life. Words are not the end. They’re one of the first tools that you use as an artist to express your talent. Example… carving in wood. First you use a chain saw to cut down the tree. Then axes and hatchets and drills and chisels and finer and finer sandpaper to bring out the subtleties in the wood. Words are the chainsaw. Learn to focus on what they tell you about the life.

Heidi and Casey…

Together… Because of the material… This was an interactive scene. A duet actually… and a well played one. Your first takes as an audition are on the tape and come off quite well. But putting you both on camera together made music. Most obvious was the off-the-line listening. You are both good listeners and we watched you react as your partner spoke almost more than we watched the speaker. The casting process would have had callbacks involving chemistry reads and this is where you guys would have shone. I’m sure the final edit would have been two-shots so we could see them both. There was an interesting style issue here too… almost a sitcom size. Normally all we have to do is know that it is sitcom writing and we actors adjust with character choices and pace and… to be blunt… size. But tonight we leaned into the friction between the two… and that accomplished style. As the couples tension/resentment increased so did the humor. Of course it could have been played with all that friction buried… but that would not have been as much fun. And if that more interior style had been appropriate… you’d have profited by this completely openly hostile adjustment and then just buried it in performance. The other driver of the style was the relationship. Commercials almost always play the man/husband as a bumbler with a smarter, sensitive, loving, hip wife. The writing demanded this relationship and you guys played it to a T. Casey’s ingratiating manner and Heidi’s withering looks made comedy. Clearly this scene could be played anywhere long the spectrum of size and friction but the humor rocked when you nailed that frequently seen commercial relationship. Casey this was a point on the adorkable scale but a more avuncular almost Joe Biden kind of scale… maybe that’s one of your wheelhouse characters but more mature. Oh… and, Heidi, be careful how you use that look in real life. Don’t point that at just anybody. It could be considered a dangerous weapon.

Kate…

This was solidly right in the middle of your YOU. Your public persona is open and easy and has a nice touch of humor. That likability makes this interaction work. He was immediately attracted to you and one of those intense eye-to-eye looks/moments must have happened when you woo-hooed him on stage. That instant connection and the likability quotient of these two characters makes their connection both natural and something we’d root for. We explored a drier approach and perhaps it even touched on the commercial relationship style that we saw in the Heidi/Casey scene. She tolerated and teased and tempted him with ease and was obviously in control because she wasn’t overly wowed by his celebrity status. We talked about exploring… for lack of a barter word… the bitch in YOU. Tonight’s exploration of a drier approach was a toe in that water. Your talent just made this scene look easy and that’s a strong part of YOU. This darker side is a good next place in your talent we should explore and develop. This was set ready work from the first take… great prep and performance.

Chris…

Short films are a challenge. History, relationship and character have to be established quickly and here it had to be
done in a scene which was under a minute. A longer form script would have established him as a normal non-violent likable guy who’s driven to revenge by the invasion of their lives by the unwanted calls. So(in this short film form)instead of a gradual arc that allows us to emphasize with this transition to the violence and the dark side… what is demanded of the actor is that they have a revelation, epiphanistic moment that we see and understand instantly… and empathize with. The Death Wish films are the classic example of this kind of arc and this short film is a miniature of that form. So we tried to establish his normal quality with a moment of a couple-in-the-kitchen and then the darkness descends in a phone call that sends him over the edge. And that all happens in a very short time. So that moment has to have a huge wave of emotion that sweeps through him… and us. My teacher used to call it the Bulgaria has fallen moment… where the princess is dancing at the ball with her amore and an aide hands her the Bulgaria has fallen note and her world crashes. Here the note is a phone call and the emotional crash is that he instantly becomes an revenge machine. Is that believable? Can an actor take us on that journey ? Yes. And your talent as we noted last night… has that quality of allowing us into your thoughts and emotions. We extended that moment with a physical movement. The stage directions wanted you to take her hand. That works on a set with another actor but in an audition you can do it with an extend moment, perhaps some physical movement and that will allow us to see the emotional and thought rich quality of your talent. Stage directions are suggestions. Like sign posts… we can choose to go a different way.

Emily…

Welcome. Strong work on a most difficult character. Your first take was based on anger, and that certainly an element of her monologue but it can’t be everything. So… We explored her intentions with a little beginning improv… who she was talking to and why. But mostly we focused on her character… a compulsive talker. And we’ve all seen/known those people. We see them in homeless folks on the street talking up a storm to someone or themselves. They have no filters or impulse control. But most importantly they speak their thoughts… all of them. They think and speak at the same time. Most of us have thoughts and then express them with words. Not compulsive talkers. They speak and as they hear their words… they think about them and react with more words… all at the same time. They babble. She’s telling us this story and as she talks she sees it and relives it in her mind. She literally speaks her thoughts/memory… all of them… and as she hears them she reacts to them and then tells us what she’s thinking about her thoughts. If I were you I’d walk around in public and babble this monologue like a homeless person. If you can find that grove where her/your thoughts come out as words you’ll find her core and then all you have to do is stand there and remember… and talk/think… and tell us the story. It’s simply (in way too many words and thoughts) the story of what happened to you on the way to work one day. You had a wonderful good citizen moment and took it to the authorities and they turned it into a mess. Damn, we all hate those guys. And this is a play about how and why we hate them.

Alex…

A well done cold read. This is a snowball scene. It’s an avalanche that starts the moment the door opens and the snowball starts barreling down the hill. It took us a bit of discovery work, but when we found this path the scene came alive. It’s a classic moment before that we never see but we experience it empathetically by his emotional state… devastated from having the rug yanked out from beneath his life. Of course he’s a talker and a bruiser with no filters and no sense of decorum or sensitivity to other’s situation… but that doesn’t make him unlikable. No, he’s friends with our hero who cares and tolerates his social clumsiness and we immediately feel sorry for him. We connect to him despite his foibles because our hero accepts him… and ultimately because you make him likable. That’s part of your talent and your persona. Further work would have grounded you more into that emotional moment before, but your talent and vulnerability made the emotional trauma believable even though we threw it at you as an instant adjustment. This flexibility and emotional availability is part of your talent and your persona… your YOU. You’ve worked hard and long on your craft and that allowed you to make this scene look easy. You should know that about yourself and see this kind of moment as something you instinctively know how to do. Actors need to be flexible and quick and we saw that from you tonight in this cold read.