Patrick’s Acting Class Notes: 5/21/19

10 of us. Big class. Jonathan dropping in as a banker being interrogated by the narcs. Aaron as the ghostly Mom advising her son. Jackson the new hire who’d rather work from home. Jamie working on a short… talking about a friend that got busted. Heidi doing pillow talk with Casey from This is 40. Chris as the agoraphobic with an escort. Brian doing a scene from Knocked Up. Kate as the Master Fitness Instructor.

THOUGHTS & ISSUES:

CHARACTER…
Using different… other than the obvious… character choices as an exploratory tool appeared in several personal notes. With Chris playing a more self aware guy with a sense of humor, Brian leaning into a sleaze ball and Aaron as the chipper ghostly Mom. Here these are prep tools like using accents or playing drunk. They may not be the best choice for the script’s arc. But prep should be a playful exploration. It’s a process… as you work/learn/explore a scene just make some strong character choices and adjustments and see what you learn. It’s like taking a piece of music written for piano and playing it with a sax. You will learn something from this exploration. Some writing will drive you into a corner and allow nothing but the obvious character choice. If you explore/learn/prep a scene with structured play even the most cliched character will be more interesting and you will grow into a better actor.

GROWTH…
Only by challenging ourselves to do good work do we make our talent grow. Only by a thorough preparation do you bring in work that allows you to perform at a higher more playful level. Our work is PLAY. Structured play in your prep will open the “doors of perception”. We saw excellent work tonight that was made possible by thorough preparation. I know this seems a little off the track comparing batting practice to acting but prep is prep and performance is performance. We PLAY characters and they PLAY sports. This New York Times article, A Novel Idea in the Majors: Using Batting Practice to Get Better seems on point. Read it and see what you take away…

Jonathan…

That last work was set ready. You started at a high level though you just received the material… and it got better with more takes. You were listening well and cleaning up language and getting more off book and confident as you worked.

We all leaned toward that slick smart ass. Or maybe he’s a dumb privileged cocky smart ass… like Michael Cohen or Steve Mnuchin . At any rate… He’s a rich banker who’s full of himself and thinks no dumb ass cop is gonna bust him. Very likely he’s done this before ?

The physicalizing of the cuffs is good.

You can do either a 180 or a 90 (surrender or negotiate)…. depending on how you feel at that moment. Surprise yourself.

I wonder if there’s not an earlier inkling that they’ve got the goods on him. Experiment with that… when or if it happens. Just pick a couple of places and see if he hears the end approaching. Or if it comes at that sudden place the writer thinks… which is most likely though it seems a bit improbable. We saw how you can expand that busted-moment with thought. He could even know he’s busted but trying to bluff his way through these idiot cops. He might think at the beginning that he can bluff or payola his way out… the ole hubris before the good guys nail him. Something along this line seems to be their intention. It just comes down to when he realizes he’s cooked and how big an ass he is.

Just go in the room being a confident prick and play the scene.

Kate…

You took the adjustment of dropping her IQ a few points effortlessly and created this wide-eyed being that is a familiar and very usable character and she rocked ! Sort of the polar opposite of the paralegal. She’s just not as smart, funny, or sexually present. My teacher used to say that disappearing one’s intelligence was the most difficult of acting tasks. You made it look easy. Watching tape made me think you could have increased the pace a bit. Make her a more chatty presence with that self assured belief that everything her cross training friend says was true… so here again was that pace issue. But here pace helps construct character. Moving carelessly fast gives her even an more overly assured self confidence that everything she says is fact… maybe like a USC student who’s parents paid for their admission. She’s a pocket character for you. I hope you can crate a physical memory of how to get back to her.

Now… Dialing one’s IQ up or down is a reasonable tool. Clearly writer’s create dimmer characters that are mostly a comic tool. But let me pose this as a craft choice… You can create these characters by not thinking… letting your mind go blank. Or you can create them by thinking too hard, about the wrong things or in a very Trumpian way you can just assume that everything you think and say is correct. Here she believes what she’s heard is fact. So what she says and believes is factual. So maybe it’s as simple as believing what your character says… no matter how ridiculous. Your choice seemed to be something active like this. That’s a better choice than trying to not-think because it keeps you involved and actively focused on the facts and asserting their veracity.

Casey and Heidi…

Excellent work both as an audition and a scene. It does show us what magic can happen when two actors create a duet… as opposed to the audition format. Face to face intimacy introduces an element that is nigh impossible to achieve in an audition. Creating a duet is just more musically involving for us to watch. Different conversations have a different tones or musicality. We recognize the sound immediately of an overheard argument, or a secret, or sadness. Duet pillow talk has a sound that can only be produced by intimacy. The auditions got close but the scene work nailed it. I loved the subtextual introduction of both your thoughts about murdering the other. No doubt ! You both had those thoughts ! It added a delightfully naughty layer to the work and got the knowing chuckles. I really have nothing critical to say. However, the more you guys do elevated work like this… the easier it is. As in baseball… as you get better, grow, you must challenge yourselves .. it doesn’t get easier to hit a home run but it does require less effort. And nothing is better than watching effortless work… which is after all… you guys just playing. So working regularly at this level just makes it easier to play in these pressure situations. Heidi the lock is filling. You’re just trusting yourself more and being less judgmental as you work. I see it in little sounds, moments of active listening and how easily you let the camera in. You’re just playing more. Casey this is just real leading man stuff. Your presence is more grounded and mature without losing your sense of humor. Your work is evolving into a man who is charming rather than a young man who is adorkable. These two assessments can coexist in a character… but with age… charm becomes the more engaging tone.

Christoper…

You saved the cat! It’s amazing how much our animals mean to us. Here tonight… Pace ! When a scene is over directed in the script with pauses and stage directions it tends to dampen creativity. I’m reminded of Pinter’s writing… but he was a brilliant stylist!… and this script was good, but not Nobel Prize playwriting. Pinter’s work demands a pace and style and rumbling of dark depths in his characters and situations. With pinter’s writing we’re forced/allowed/invited to create character through the execution of his precise dialogue and heavy handed use of pace to create tension. Here the writing invites a what feels like a more generalized approach (copying Pinter) that gets bogged down in predictable pauses and looks and stage directions. When you feel a writer leading you down this path, you have to break the mold and experiment with pace and adjustments and play. That improvisational work will break the mold that the stage directions are forcing on you.

Aaron’s scene required breaking the ghostly tone. This scene requires breaking the stage directed gloom. If he’s just neurotic and almost pathetic then we’ll have a hard time empathizing/connecting with him. If he’s got a sense of humor and self awareness then we can like him as well and then the life/character will arouse our sympathy. I realize this is my personal preference (working outside stage directions) but exploring material requires coloring outside the lines. You can then bring yourself back to the writer’s tone enriched by what you found in exploration. Maybe it’s as simple as playing the opposite of the obvious writer’s intent. When the stage directions determine the tone of a scene it will tend to come off as a generalized effort. We actors are chameleons and when the stage directions say she/he’s sad… we instinctively jump to a generalized sadness. But if you play and explore and focus on what is causing the sadness (usually hurt or loss) you can develop a deeper connection and find ways to allow the writing to make you sad, or angry or whatever is appropriate. I suppose it’s a concept… let’s call it activating (ironic) the writing… rather than just following the stage directions. The scene/dialogue should cause you to be sad rather than just playing the result that we find in stage directions.

Brian…

You were well prepared and that was set ready work and most importantly you were not trapped into copying the Seth Rogan character. This often happens when we work on familiar/popular films we’ve all seen. Your first take was well done and created a likable believable not especially socially adept… looser ! The second take where you dropped the IQ a precise 10 points was spot on. And I loved your making him sleazier the second round.

Experimenting and adjusting character is a solid approach to building a believable presence and an excellent way to use this class. These takes produced distinctly different characters. One, your classic bumbling ne’er-do-well and the other the self absorbed sneeze ball. One of the benefits of our workouts is that when you stumble on a character like this you can do other scenes in class with similar characterization and build your strength and connection to this kind of guy. So the next time you have an audition that employs a character like this you can just whip him out and drop him in the scene.

Pocket characters (that you’ve worked on and can easily slide into) are a necessity in the fast paced world of casting. Having familiar/pocket characters allows you to create depth and range of character because you’ve worked on this kind of guy before and you know who he is and how he acts. You’re just beginning your exploration of this craft and bringing in different characters is a good challenge that will encourage flexibility and range. Just remember that each of these characters that you used is distinctly different… but here we used them as an exploration tool. The best choice for this or other scenes might be a combination of these two. For this specific scene the ne’er do well was the better choice because we have to come to love him through the arc of this movie… but the sneeze ball was a great exploratory choice.

Jackson…

Better and better. And your prep is allowing you to play more. So much of your growth now is dependent on you just working out… practicing as you would do with any sport or craft. You’re getting more comfortable and experimenting and trying things. You’re exploring character and bringing in different aspects of yourself to build on… great !

Playing different characters will expand your talent and importantly you are developing them based around YOU. Just emphasizing different aspects of your personality gives you a full range of characters that you can play. However… I still feel you are under rehearsed and what we see in class is the improvement by repetition with another actor. We all get better with repeated takes. Simply put… You get better in class as we work on it. However, this class is designed to challenge your preparation… as well as your performance. Your challenge is to find a way to prep more thoroughly… and that usually means working with someone/another actor. Even if it is here just before class. Over time… if you’re better prepared you’ll work at a higher level. That challenges and expands your talent. Like tennis… if you lob balls back and forth with an 8 year old then you are not challenging your talent. If you play with someone better than you… you challenge your muscles and you improve. Just memorizing lines then putting them up in class is not enough. Actors must have a prep process that gets them to set-ready work. Your prep should be playful and enjoyable and must include working with someone else. Structured play will reveal the writing and your talent.

Aaron…

This was about tone. If it’s a sentimental drudge (which is most likely) then your first take was spot on. You have a talent which handles that sentimental material quite well… if that’s what they want. What we did was humanize her and insert some personality… sense of humor and play. I prefer this more normal personality rather than a character tone determined by a cliched motherly ghost. I just don’t believe all ghosts are kind and devoid of personality… other than the cliche of helpful kindness. Like Brian’s serial killer last week… we all understand that cliched persona and expect that performance. Here too we expect a ghost to behave like a cliched ghost. But I see that as a failure of our imaginations. There was a 1930’s ghosty detective movie series called Topper that was populated by ghosts who still had their early personalities and quirks and humor and mischievousness. I guest I see her and most ghosts in the Topper mood. Certainly the classic loving, all-knowing spirit from the after-life is all too frequently seen and most likely what they wanted here. You did it well in your first take and then we played and explored. Maybe the best take is some combination of those two approaches. I’m always wary of jumping into the cliched characters that appear in writing. It’s our challenge to make these cliches come alive. Even if the eventual directors choice is to execute a traditional cliched tone in a scene… your work will be richer by exploring a less obvious choice. See the issue above.

Jamie…

Your work was full of good listening and confident presence and your talent was obvious. HOWEVER… When you have sides of an isolated movie-short conversation like this it leaves us actors in the lurch with little or no connection to the relationships or meaning of incidents. This is a friend’s script and a compliment to how they and we see your talent. But… We simply don’t know enough about the characters or the life. What happens in this scene? Why was it written? What does it accomplish?… other than exposition. And that may be the sole reason for it’s being. Your character has the responsibility of tell us what has and is happening.

The leaning in that we saw was most likely your inner actor’s effort to explain and show us what was going on in this unknowable interaction. I think our actor core wants people to understand us.. so we will either wave our hands around or lean into the conversation as a physicalization of our desire to communicate. BUT unexplained sides are an invitation to explore. Who are they? Why here? What’s their relationship to the problem they’re discussing. What if they’re drinking, smoking dope, gay, neglected or the Ex girlfriend of one of the guys in jail ? Too many unanswerable questions and that leaves us in the basement of what the hell is going on? But you did find a believable path… a conversational path through the material that made the exposition available to us. This is however a situation where you must ask the CD or director some questions before the audition. When presented with nothing more than sides and a lack of information like this… the only way to prep for this kind of audition is to explore and make multiple adjustments. This discovery effort will build in flexibility and allow you to take direction in an audition when you finally know what is happening in the scene. Additionally… this is a friend’s short film… which is a notorious arena where information about the story is frequently sparse and everything happens in the condensed time of a short script. What we saw here was your ease of conversation and your presence. They’d be fools not to cast you. Break a leg !