Patrick’s Acting Class Notes: 13th Nov 2012

And tonight it was….. Tyler breaking down a door.  Casey on a killing spree.  Gaby getting engaged.  Tristan getting interrogated.  And Andy getting weird. 
As usual there is a wide variety of writing and situations.  It’s modern writing.  It’s not Shakespeare….. and Sir Will would not likely write for CSI…  as Gaby rightly pointed out.  But this is the writing that we as artists are asked to bring to life.  From preparation to performance…. that’s the process we pursue in our craft.

Lots of takes.  A long night… they all are lately. I forgot commentary to Tyler’s performance tonight.  My bad.  To my surprise…  Tyler spoke up for his dose of comments last night… he was looking forward to that part of the process.  And that should make all of you proud.  There is a collective intelligence……  even when you can’t find the right words (Casey).  But the respect and insight that we hear in our workouts is often inspired. 

In my generation…. throughout out  all the years of my acting training….. it was verboten to comment on another actor’s performance in a class. It was something I never experienced.  The Lee Strasberg/Neighborhood playhouse/Stanislavsky wing of the acting world simply did not tolerate or allow commentary.  It’s something I never did in any acting class I every took.  Then as a coach it was a process that I had substantial doubts about and explored it’s possibilities with much hesitation.  However the point of view which emerges in your commentary is laced with your generation’s perception…. which is something that is not available to me.  I am consistently amazed and pleased by the insight and support that we hear emerging each night from the collective intelligence.  It helps us think about and talk about acting in an intelligent way…. and perhaps most importantly it trains us to listen and be open to adjustments. I marvel at your generations ability to be supportive and insightful in a non critical way.

Generic character was an issue.  My teacher used to say. “The more specific you are the more universal will be your characters.”  I happen to think that by the time you are performing on a set or a stage…. you should know more about the character than the writer or the director.  They need you to bring her/him to life.  They can’t do that.  Only an actor can bring words to life in a character.  The more specific you are the more believable and memorable your work will be.  Where the writing is vague you must fill in the blanks with improv, and intelligence and your talent.  Even as we watched from take to take…. each of you grew in defining your characters.  It’s a process.  It’s our craft.  We are portrait painters.  We are asked to create a 3 dimensional character that can be alive in the circumstances the writer has created.  The writer can define the circumstances…. the what and the where… but only an actor can create the Who.  Hooray for our side!

Casey…

Short movie scenes… always difficult.  You made them more playable by adding life.  The beat before the first scene made it work because it gave you somewhere to come from and something to react to.  The characters self description of being “scared” led you to play a tone the first time thru.  We also saw how it effected you body and made it collapse a bit.  You took the adjustment of adding some anger and changed your body and it came alive.  The second scene you found the thoughts and established the arch.  This was a subtle challenging scene that wasn’t dressed up with dialogue or business.  It was a classic leading man challenge of just listening and thinking and letting us watch you.  It may feel naked and vulnerable and as if you’re doing nothing.  But it is the leading man challenge and you are finding more and more depth in these moments. It really is a question of practice and as you do more or this material you are making it look easy. The added words in the last scene just made the musical sound of the fight come alive.  When we’re in verbal conflict it’s almost never my turn/your turn, my turn/your turn.  Here tonight the challenge was finding a way of adding life to what seemed to be skeletal almost cliched writing.  So though these scenes were short… you made them come alive and you create a full character arch that is a cornerstone of the whole plot.  You making the writing better.  And that’s our job!

Gaby…

You sexy beast.  All kidding aside this is a huge growth for you.  You’ve softened and opened your persona and that allows the camera in and allows us to care about your characters.  We didn’t get a chance to talk about this growth and why you think it’s happened…. but it has…. and we will.  You found a way without props to create an activity and that allowed you to have thought and life without having to depend entirely on dialogue to create the path of the scene.  In prep you can/should find out what it feels like to work the scene with physical activities and props and bring that physical ease to an audition.  So yes….. include that kind of work in your prep.  Your listening was spectacular…. it was illuminating watching her react to the man she loved.  Your first impulse was to turn away and collect yourself and then launch back into the scene.  It was a good choice.  It worked.  We got it.  But I think staying there and basking in the realization is braver and better film technique.  Most important was that you were just too damn cute and that last moment was so charming.  At the risk of being chauvinistic…. she was the perfect modern young woman…. whacky, playful, smart, funny and yes… sexy.  All that comes together when you are open, warm, available…  “Intelligence is the ultimate aphrodisiac and the sense of humor is the largest erogenous zone.”  I don’t know how you learned to do this but it is a great new development in your talent.

Andy…

A unique prep for you.  I guess there’s a cold read… and then there’s a car read.  Learning a scene as you drive your car to class….. Casey working with you as you drove.  Maybe we should all car pool to class.  Without a doubt working lines with someone is a great way to absorb material but perhaps that’s why the character seemed to have a generic quality.  You definitely had the scenic path in your body.  You seemed to always know where you were and what you were thinking… but you had precious little time to think about or develop character.  This dialogue definitely has an almost hypnotic ability to lead one into the weird zone and you discovered a wonderfully disturbing character quality that you can tap into.  Perhaps it’s another way to do a bad guy.  With the assassin character…. we worked on a sense of humor and play and enjoyment that a bad guy might have.  Here tonight ti was a sense of absorption into the thought process as if he was consumed or driven by the ideas.  It’s a different kind of momentum/energy for a character than we’ve worked with before.  But I think we’d have to say that both of these “bad guys” were driven and that is perhaps an interesting way to understand this darker side.  Here tonight… This was a different kind of music.  Maybe a new instrument.  I don’t think of Jaxon as a bad guy but certainly from the dark side and that’s something that you’re adding to your repertoire.  I wonder if he’s just weird, or weird and dangerous, or evil….. or just misunderstood?  All those questions could produce a different character….. a different version of this weird character.  Specific characters that can be based on this new “driven” energy..

Tristan…

First scenes are terrifying.  Working with camera in a new training format with strangers is a challenge.  My sense is that it just compressed you and made you careful.  You were a bit unprepared and in a performance arena preparation is half the battle.  But  character emerged as you worked.  You were just beginning to play with him and the material.  I think too that you probably didn’t work the dialogue with anyone so you had the extra challenge of hearing the scene for the first time in front of the camera…. never a good idea.  Actors are always told about the importance of listening.,,, and it is a must.  But even more important is how you hear.  You must learn to hear as the character hears.  The ideas and responses that the scene provokes must be specific to this guy.  The “I should have known…” line was a perfect example of specific character thought….. if you’re worried about what your dad will say.  I hope you’ll join us.  You seemed comfortable and your comments and observations  were both insightful and supportive.   Our workouts are based on a simple proposition…. “If you want to work on camera you have to train on camera.”

Tyler…

Three short movie scenes….  As you worked on each scene it came alive….. and that’s the process we’ve been seeing in workouts.  BUT…. I want you to find a way to prep with someone else.  Your first takes are always just a stumble thru… almost a cold read.  Most often they are a singular tone and then you take an adjustment and bring the scene to life.  I wonder where you’d be if your first takes started at a higher level.  The more you perform at these higher levels the easier it will be and the more it will stretch and grow your talent.  Creating an opening beat made sense to your body and you should incorporate that into all your work.  You are much more comfortable in your body… in the character’s body…. in your current work.  You’re listening better in each take and that helps create impulses that can motivate dialogue.  When you can listen as the character listens…. it allows you to have the thoughts and emotions that illuminate the character.  And as a bonus we get to watch him think and feel “off the line.”  Those little micro-expressions we all talked about are reactions… they come from being in the scene and thinking and feeling as the character.  Your body knows how to behave when it knows where it is and what it’s doing.  You can’t plan this subtle side of acting.  You can only plan to listen and create impulses and react.  That’s why you need to do a prep that includes working with someone. You need to work those listening and hearing muscles.  You are learning and improving at an incredible rate and nothing succeeds like repetition.  Keep at it.  We’ll find a couple of scenes that you can submit to this manager and work on them in class.