Patrick’s Acting Class Notes: 19th March 2013

From sitcoms to serial killers. Six of us… this was a fun night. Ari as the clueless dinner date.  Will discovering the world of zombies. Casey the serial killer. Coco, pregnant, and unwilling to dig up her mother. Aaron a neurotic nurse.
Working in an audition format in front of camera in a room full of strangers is a challenge.  And because it’s so important to our careers….  And because actors are kept at the whim of the “man behind the curtain”…. we actors develop misconceptions and myths and FEAR of auditions.  Most pernicious is the idea of being a “nice actor” and not wanting to do anything wrong in the CD’s office.  That makes actors careful….. AND that is so uncreative!  The audition arena is a gateway.  It’s a performance challenge and the industry believes  “if you can do it in an office you can do it on a set.” So you must learn to do it in an office.

I sometimes think of our workouts as power lifting….. where you lift the heaviest weights possible and you push to the point of muscle failure.  Pushing like that tears down…. and then builds muscles.  Use our workouts to build your muscles.  Use these workouts to push back the boundaries.  Try everything and see if it works.  Follow your impulses.  Be big, be small, explore, follow your impulses.   Ultimately, you will watch your scenes and decide what works and how you want to express yourself in the office and on the set.  BUT please don’t do it from the place of trying to do it right, doing  it the way they want, or from trying to be careful.  You guys are artists.  It’s your job to push back the boundaries and show people what your vision is.  If you can do it in our workouts, you can do it in a CD’s office…. or on the set.

As usual the commentary was supportive and insightful and I love it that you guys work together outside before the second time thru.
Thanks for all your work.

Coco….

Very nice… Your instrument is in great shape.  The welling up of emotion was proof….  What we focused on in the second takes was your physical presence…. being pregnant, working in the bakery, feeling trapped, your back, your belly… all physical stuff…. And all of it aimed at accomplishing that oft heard phrase/cliche… “If your body knows where it is and what it’s doing…. It knows how to act.”  This physical presence is just another ‘thing” you have to add to your repertoire.  It helps focus you and centers you.  If you can include this sensitivity in your auditions it will spill onto the set…. and if you are working green screen….  you’re much better off with a well developed sense of place/surroundings.  So we’re exercising your imagination so it can engage both in auditions and on the set.  You spoke about those errant judgmental thoughts that explode into our minds in the middle of a scene.  Trust your talent and training and technique…. and part of that technique is engaging you imagination so that your body is in the scenic circumstances.  When our body believes what it’s doing…. we can get lost in the life of the scene and loose those self conscious thoughts that get in the way of having fun.  Which is just another way of approaching the issue of play.  When we’re truly in the scene….  when we’re having fun…. we’re playing.  Like the cat… completely absorbed and unaware that anyone is watching.  So…. we were working on bringing more play into your performance.  Our work is almost always about play.

Casey…

Dark.  Disturbing…. and strange how close to you that final “shadow” was.  We adjusted you into a stillness.  We found this as a character trait last week too.  Once before we explored some “leading man” scripts…. and you found stillness a useful tool…..  as long as it comes from character and not from a camera inspired necessity.  There may be shots that require holding still for camera(extreme closeups) but we’re approaching stillness here as an expression of character.  Perhaps the most telling insight was that as you moved toward your own/more normal persona the creepier it was perceived.  We spoke of the cliched understanding that we have of this kind of character.  Most of our knowledge/experience of serial killers comes from TV and film.  So it is appropriate to consider these as a primary source.  Though if you were going to seriously pursue this kind of character you’d have to watch tape of Ted Bundy and Jeffrey Dahmer and any of those well known examples.  There’s just no substitute for research that goes after the real thing.  Here too…. as last week…. we plowed into his mind pursuing specific images and patterns of thought.  When you use stillness as a character trait you have to concentrate on what he’s thinking and feeling cause we can see/sense/feel real thought.  “Get his mind and you’ve got the character.”

Will…

Welcome back…. I love this guy for you.  His cockiness and sense of humor were emerging as you worked on him.  You must bring him back and explore this character.  He’s a classic leading man for today.  For my generation it was John Wayne and Robert Mitchum and Gregory Peck… all strong silent types.  Current writing requires a sense of humor(frequently self depreciating) and a cockiness/smart aleck attitude…and play.  You have an innate seriousness and determination that comes naturally to all your characters.  Their sense of humor and play are areas you need to enhance.  Your early scene choices were douche bags… far from who you are.  And….This kind of guy requires a whopping helping of cocky be added to that grounded part of you that makes him a believable cop and ex Marine.  So much of your core persona is perfect for leading men… but you must find their sense of humor…. and that frequently comes from that cockiness.  Remember…. don’t block a scene and then follow the blocking.  Rather block the scene and then find the impulses you need to move at the appropriate time.  Following blocking is passive.  Creating impulses that make/allow you to move is much more active.

Aaron…

Little Miss Sunshine.  She’s your Iowa girl on steroids.  Yes you can be big on camera.  It’s a question of style.  Sitcom writing is often big and demands lots of energy.  Fake crying….  instant 180 degree emotional switches… intentional misunderstanding.  There’s a whole flock of comic devices that we normally associate with the stage, that work for camera too.  The crying/wailing over powered the mic but that was a technical problem not performance.  If we’d had additional takes we’d have found an adjustment that would have worked for sound. It was most likely a volume(stage) vs intensity(camera) issue.  Loved the use of the script as a prop… looking at and writing on his papers.  Loved both the entrance and exit from the scene.   Use that entrance to center her thoughts too.  Do you know already that he hasn’t filled out the presenting problem, are you worried about this fourth failure, did one of the doctors just chew you out, did you just have a ‘hide in the closet” and compose yourself moment?  Or did you just have a quickie with a male nurse?  All to say….. that a physical entrance should not only ground your body but it should engage the character’s thoughts and feelings and tell us something about her/him.  You must make an active entrance in sitcoms….. that means energy.   Does that mean big?….. yes, likely….  if it’s that traditional sitcom style.  Don’t fall for the myth that you have to do less, or do nothing on camera.  The size of performance depends on the style of writing…. just like it does on stage. You handle dialogue quite well but be careful not to go too fast.    You’re finding interesting material on line so continue that search.  I’ll send you more scenes if you need them.

Ari…

Your comic instincts and skills are most obvious.  We had an immediate sense of this kind of schlumphy character… a bit of a looser, likable, unassertive… which set up that second scene and the demonstration of his newly found confidence.  So you found a nice character arc. You easily created the two other characters and the restaurant with well played looks.  As you did more takes the presence/volume/energy increased…. likely just a matter of repetition and getting comfortable.  But it could also be a question of size or writing style.  Perhaps a way to think about it is that if you were going to paint a portrait of this guy would you do it on a 1×1 foot canvas or 3×3 or larger?  Whatever size you choose…. his essential persona wouldn’t change cause the core of this guy is so solidly in your body.  You were relying a lot on the script… handling it well… but that usually means you were not as well prepared as you could have been.  However you should feel confident that when you are under-prepared … your obvious skill with script in hand can still deliver a good performance.  It just didn’t seem to restrict you… and that’s apart of your talent that you can depend on.  I’m sure that first adjustment I gave you was just wrong…. and perhaps you didn’t commit completely.  So remember…. this early in process our adjustments are just structured play and committing to them as exploration will help you discover things…. happy accidents.  This kind of guy is a frequently seen…. perhaps a cliche…. but he fits you well and you should remember him as a character you can go back too and use in other projects.