Patrick’s Acting Class Notes: 5/28/19

Seven of us. All grumpy. (I think it was in the air. Better to stay at home on these take-a-nap days. (However we persisted… ) Grace doing a working audit, who’s pregnant and being asked to confront her past. Jackson as one of the Ambassadors to Outer Space whose cousin was the main attraction. Kate as a bartender questioned by cops and trying to hide her affair. Heidi as the werewolf bartender and also as the same bartender as Kate. Rob as the zookeeper with a snow leopard problem. Casey sitting on the dock (of the bay) in a new draft of the Coldman script.

THOUGHTS & ISSUES:

STYLE OF WRITING AS A CLICHE…
Interesting that we’ve addressed cliches multiple times recently. They’re a great writing tool. And here tonight this werewolf-style writing is a cliche too… in the same vein that we asses Soap Opera writing as a cliche. The characters and the situations and the dialogue are stylized and that means everything is a cliche. Heidi delivered that cliched writing/acting style perfectly in the second round.

TRUTH Vs LYING…
This is especially relevant to guest stars role in procedurals or any scene where someone is asking you questions. Typically these scenes will be you providing exposition. Tonight Rob’s first take was him telling the truth and the second one he was lying.

Lying should look just like telling the truth but it will feel entirely different to you as you the character. When we polled the class…Three out of four of you guessed incorrectly that Rob’s lying was him telling the truth. I suppose that means Rob is a good liar/good actor… but what was important was that he said lying was more interesting and involving for him as the character. I’ve always found this to be true. So maybe next time you’re tasked with laying out exposition… try lying as the character. We’ll never know but you’re performance will be enriched with the process.

COLD READS Vs PREPARED AUDITIONS…
You should not conflate the two:

  • Cold reading is a minor skill… a must… but you will seldom be forced to cold read for a professional production. You’ll see it in student and short films, barely budgeted productions, and plays. Cold reads are almost always a shallow dive into the material. They don’t have the depth and thought of a well prepared audition. When you’re unprepared for class just dive in and practice this skill. There will be times in a career when you’ll be overwhelmed by life and have to audition without much prep. We practice that when you all cold read off camera in our workouts.
  • Auditions require prep. Cold reads require strong choices, skill/comfort using a script, and a focus on listening and responding with the appropriate lines. Auditions require the creation of life and character… a much richer performance.

SEXUAL IDENTITY…
Both Heidi and Kate’s worked on a scene written for a man about an affair. Did they have to play it as a gay woman? Did that add to the life? Was that reaching for cliches?
Unfortunately in this pig-dog male world (especially for women…) you’re sexuality will always be an element of your actor’s presence. But it doesn’t have to be identified as straight or gay. Sexual identity is a current running deep and wide in our culture and deserves more attention than can be given here. But I encourage you to consider this issue and we’ll talk about it in class. I’m anxious to get your feedback.

PROPS…
Our bartenders tonight both used a bar towel. That’s perhaps a rare exception to the no-props rule because it gives you such a good image and activity. However both actors struggled with handling the towel and the script together. But there may be a better way to handle the script as a towel? The lesson… if you’re gonna bring a prop then rehearse with it and be specific. If you’re still on-book… don’t burden yourself with a prop (towel).

INTIMACY…
Heidi asked to move closer to the reader for a more intimate feel. I think that works. Don’t be afraid to ask for that because it’s likely easy to do and something a CD might not have thought about. If they say no… deal with it, but be aware going in that intimacy is essential and just ask. Especially with a good reader or in chemistry reads!

Grace…

Welcome…! Your work and our presence and your commentary were most welcome and appreciated… and we could all see your talent… Defined as the actor’s ability to be in the scene… in the life, in the circumstances … and in the mind of the character.

This was a pretty cold read so we focused on the physical life of the scene. The idea being that if your body is comfortable in the life then we will be able to empathetically connect to your performance.
There is a vocabulary of movement and behavior that the camera reads as being in the scene/life. Actors have to understand and be fluent and creative in this on-camera vocabulary. The way you move, where you look, how you express yourself tell the story and are read as believable or not.

Our workouts will expose you to a full range of behavior by challenging your to perform different types of writing as well as by watching your fellow actors. Ultimately, you will develop your own style of performance but much of the physical life in a scene can be created in an audition and that is a process and a skill that will serve you well on a set. The challenge for you is to develop your actor’s imagination to include a physical life as well as the dialogue. That’s what our workouts do. They develop your talent… the actor’s ability to be in the scene. I do hope you’ll join us.

Kate…

Loved the sly looks to your off camera amore. You had a very sexual presence in the opening beats that echoed your work last week and seemed to be more easily rendered than last week. Which was the point in picking this material. But it got bogged down in handling the script which indicated you were not as well prepped as you could have been… and slowed the pace! You have to keep that issue forward in your mind. You handled the cops with an underplayed cool… an interesting way to assert her power. What became obvious is that you avoided the cliched lesbian characterization and were just a someone who’d had a affair. This CSI scene was a woman (gay/straight no matter) who’d been there and done that, seen cops before, answered questions and just wanted to be left in peace. Her secret affair didn’t seem to be such a big deal.

Heidi…

Doing two basically cold reads… both bartenders and both strong womanly presences.

First… you handle a script with enviable ease. You need not ever worry about that in auditions (though I found the towel distracting). As for the CSI barkeep… I’ve been served drinks by that girl in multiple bars. She’s probably a cousin of the server persona you have to manifest at work. Her sexual preferences made little or no difference.

On the other hand… The werewolf style was a revelation. You leaned into the cheesy and it came alive. Now that scene could have had different tones (no cheese) within this werewolf arena that would have demanded a different approach. What if it was a very upper class bar? What if it was a straight bar and you two were keeping it on the down low? I’m not familiar with the tone of the Twilight films… but the work felt on point for the stuff on TV. To audition like this would be a strong choice if you knew the show or had a description of the tone. It was big brave stylized work. However… If I compare it to Kate’s work on this scene last week considering style… it would seem over the top. Her work was a strong but more subtle sexuality. Your’s tonight was totally appropriate but exaggerated. You were a no-account, trashy slut of a werewolf… Perfect. That second take was hilarious. I also think that getting the style of a piece is a big help in a cold read.

Jackson…

Well done. You found your slightly over the top cocky core. And you really connected to the off camera reader in the second round. It felt to me as though you were really in a conversation.

When actors really lock in with a reader/fellow actor, we listen and respond much more believably. Here where your focus was solely on the conversation it allowed you to listen and relax. Several actors commented tonight that when you have an activity your nerves disappear. As a fellow actor I’ve always thought that just listening and responding (communication and connection) can be an activity because it requires so much artistic effort and focus from us as performers. We most often think of activities as defined by movement. But lying can be an activity, as can remembering, listening, convincing, attraction, intention and any kind of character centered thought or physicality. Keep at it. You’re on a steep learning curve and every workout teaches new lessons. Persistent effort over time produces growth.

Rob…

Comedy. It’s in your bones. And so many of us would give an appendage for that quality which comes naturally to you. However that was apparently a problem in a recent audition. Now I didn’t see the NCIS audition (your 13th time to audition for them) that the CD thought was “so funny” though humor was not what you had intended. I sometimes think producers and CD’s take their work too seriously and that the value of a touch of comic relief is beneath them. Personally I think it goes right over their self-serious heads. But this casual comment from the CD may be a red flag for you when you audition for procedurals and what we consider to be dramas. Most likely you just have to scrub all you natural comic instincts (which I believe are the core of your talent) when you prep. Maybe best to think of it as a style that you have to adopt. If you can lean into or create a serious style… perhaps based on the 1950’s black and white TV/Movies, or Soaps (totally humorless). Or maybe just an attitudinal adjustment before an audition… just immerse yourself in sadness or seriousness that you can carry into the room… or think about the feel of any music you’ve written that had a heavy tone… or read Trump tweets ! That’ll put you in a bad mood and eliminate the comedy. Robin Williams did it. Jim Cary did it. You can do it.

As to tonight… the lying or truth-telling adjustment was a revelation… that a lie seemed more truthful to the class ! And you found lying more interesting to your instrument. Maybe you can lie in auditions. At any rate… the work tonight was excellent and next time you come in bring those sides that the CD commented on and lets see how you can make an adjustment that will scrub the comedy out of the character.

Casey…

This is leading man stuff. And I think this is where you now reside as an artist. Like last week’s note, you’ve evolved form adorkable to a manly charm… and from what I’ve seen you are quite comfortable here and it works for us.

Here tonight… Your first take was just too intimate because you and Heidi have done so much work together (including working last week on the woman’s sides)… so all the insecurity, the care, the desire to connect to her were replaced by the relationship and ease that you guys have as fellow artists. So there was nothing for the scene to accomplish. When we changed partners that produced a gulf between you guys so the scene worked on you… and us. It was another version of Don’t do the scene. Let the scene do you. You had to make an effort to establish that intimacy.

You’ve described this as a simple scene. I too see it as a gentle way to get out some exposition/personal history in a get-to-know-you scene, as they build their relationship which will become the love story. We just created some distance between them and then watched their conversation bridge that gap. That allows us to root for that gap to be crossed and the romance to continue. We always root for love… and that’s why you guys eliminated Shane’s NYC fiancé. There was no love there so we didn’t like her and root for that original relationship. Here we empathized and enjoyed the feelings that the writing invited us to share. Dropping her was a great story adjustment and you crystallized all that personal history in the moment when you considered and confessed the lack of love in your life. It made us root for them even more. That was a real emotional touchstone for Shane and you played it well. And it was a lesson in storytelling… one moment told us more about him than all the scenes with his fiancé. Enlightening !