Patrick’s Acting Class Notes: 29th Jan 2013

Eight of us… Zahn as Buck the creep and as a boat captain.  Will in the hospital with his tough girlfriend.  Stephanie the wounded CIA agent.  Katherine the sexy werewolf.  Aaron fending off the amorous car salesman.  Casey the cub reporter for the Onion.  And Campbell as the homeless chatterbox.
Modern writing has such variety.  But the most common thread is sex/relationship.  Only Zahn’s captain and Campbell’s psychotic were without sexual content and relationship possibilities.  That shouldn’t be lost on us as performers.  “All you need is love.”  When constructing characters the pathway is often their sense of humor or sexuality.  Those two elements tell us so much about a character.

Class ran late.  You were all very patient.  But as always I want to make our workout time productive.  So…..I want to shorten our commentary.  We all need to be more precise.  Perhaps if we can point to specific moments we liked or moments that didn’t work…. I’m going to put some pressure on all of us to sharpen the focus.  It’s simply a matter of shortening class,  I’ll bring this up next week at the beginning of class with the hope that we are able to improve this part of the process.

Campbell…

Homeless.  So interesting that we call him homeless……  He’s insane.  He’s talented.  He’s psychotic!  He’s touching, fragile, observant and believable.  Homeless seems the least descriptive of all those terms.  But this was the most developed and most specific of the characters. That specificity is essential in this kind of one man writing.  Our exploration has been over the last month.  We’ve seen 4 characters.  The challenge  now is to define the differences.  The fact that you saw a real man and absorbed and reanimated this guy is perhaps the key.  For me…the specificity of character comes from something physical, or verbal, or mental.  My teacher used to say… “Get the character’s mind and you’ve got the character.”  Perhaps that is the focus needed here.

You need to look for inspiration.  Open yourself to finding that one inspired moment that clicks and defines a character for you.  That moment where your talent grabs your attention and says, “That’s the Guy!  That’s the key to this character.”   Doing a multiple character play like this demands you switch and pivot on a dime.  The only why to accomplish that is through keys… doorways, tricks… whatever you want to call them.  Find them for each of these characters and then use them in your performance.  I know this is easy for me to say.  I know this is most difficult to do.  But you have created this challenge.  Inspiration almost never comes without effort.

Casey…

Very early process.  I think you’re right about the dry style…. I’ll be interested in how they handle the audition.  This is not writing where you punch the jokes….. “glory hole?” You should  be off book, not on cards.  You’re in great shape now so these scenes and auditions seem effortless… and the timing couldn’t be better because you’re getting some excellent auditions.  Every time you ‘nail it’ you’re making a deposit in the memory bank of the CD’s and directors and producers.  Most important now is that you keep your sense of play….  that you bring that play to performance…. to auditions…. to the set.  Cause if you’re having fun so will we.  But at the same time lets challenge your talent…. I think you’re right about pursuing ‘heavier’ material.  Stuff that challenges your soul.  When you work those emotions, stretch those muscles, it opens and strengthens the paths to them as a source of inspiration.  It’s simply building muscle memory of how to get to them and stay connected to them.  Remember the Yo Yo Ma story…..  Get out of your comfort zone and make your instrument play a different kind of music.  Let me know how this Onion guy worked when you put it on tape.

Will…

Good work.   This was an emotionally rich and moving character arc.  What we discovered in that last more argumentative adjustment was his working class, tough guy side(even if he has a marshmallow core).  That adjustment would accentuate the character arc even more.  As you said….. let’s explore these more working class characters.  The kindness and love and gentleness of your persona are strongly present in your instrument and your work.  It is the core of your talent.  But you’re right to want to expand your vocabulary of characters.  It’s no different than a musician learning a different instrument.  All the talent, work and skill of what you can do with an alto sax will now enrich and support you as you learn the tenor sax.  I think this is your current challenge.

We’ve spoken about increasing your ability to recognize the writing demands of new material. Part of that is exercising your vision of who you think the character is.  Lets take this as your current challenge and focus on developing characters that are further from your core.  A great character arc goes from bad to good,,,,, or good to bad.  Good guys are in your wheelhouse.  They are your can of corn like Casey and geeks and Zahn and creeps.  So lets push your boundaries and develop another side of your instrument.  This is a challenge.  “Go to the dark side, Luke”

Zahn…

Can of corn.  But….Buck is cool.  You did “Full Creep.”  And got away with it.   I’d like to see an underplayed version where all that behavior was just at thought level, but as you said that is only one of the many ways this writing can be played.  I wonder how much of his inner creep would communicate if it were all internalized.  This scene presents the A to Z possibilities of ‘creepitude.’  The audition material…. A smuggler boat captain.  Almost a cold read.  You were struggling with lines.  Even though we were just working out here tonight there is a certain performance pressure and that is what you found so frustrating.  It was just too early to perform off book…. but I think we found some interesting insights into the two different scenes.  Campbell was right about the power of stillness but there could be power in his pacing if you used it to look  the crew in the eye and make sure they pay attention.  But here it was not motivated… it was just pacing.  We talked about some character back story that would define how he deals with border guards.  I love it when you guys bring in material that you are currently auditioning…. even though we could see both your and Casey’s frustration.

Katherine…

The werewolf lurks within…. and here tonight we found places where she was out.   Where she was perhaps in transition back to human after an exhilarating werewolf experience.  The winded breathing connected you to your/her body.  It gave you a more powerful presence.  But here tonight her sexuality came from Katherine’s core… rather than a more powerful werewolf center.  Expressing/embodying power or sexuality comfortably is a challenge and this kind of character demands it.  We could see that power when you entered… pumped up from the midnight world of wolves… but you need to now connect that power to her sexual presence.  If you can allow that power to infuse her/your sexuality it will be another more wolfian trait.  I’d love to see you bring her back…. both scenes.

This is a challenge to your body to maintain that increased power and sexuality over the whole scene.  Katherine’s vocabulary of sexy is sweet and kind and open and loving….  The werewolf world of love and sex has to be much heightened…. just somehow more powerful.  This is a stylistic challenge.  This an acting device/style that has been created by the flood of vampire, werewolf, super hero, imaginative writing your generation.   I’d advise you to do research…. watch wolves… that’s an old fashioned approach but I trust that even one moment of observed behavior could be the key to this ubiquitous style of writing.  .

Aaron…

You are getting much more comfortable, more present, more playful…. and more important you are reacting to the scenic moments rather than trying to do what you did in your prep.  Simply put…. you are learning to be more present in the scene.  BUT…. On the first take… You missed her laughing moment before the command line…”Don’t laugh at me.”  Really laughing is one of the hardest technical demands.  It can only be accomplished by listening.  But you also have to hear what you want to hear(something funny) in order  to create impulse.  So ultimately it’s easy…. you just have to hear him…. and laugh.  But first you have to listen.

This ‘close to your core’ work is allowing you to be comfortable and listen and have fun.  I liked that little touch of bitch that popped out.  It would be difficult to come up with a long list of the ways that she is different than you so all you have to do is listen and play. Bring your body into the scene more.  Move around in your prep and find out what her/your body is doing…..  “When your body knows where it is and what it’s doing…. it knows how to behave.”  And from the I Ching…. “Perseverance furthers.”

Stephanie…

Welcome back.   You did some good work but I think you needed more prep.  Lines were not as solid as they could be.  The pressure of performance became distracting.  Part of being in shape as an actor is focus.  It’s a muscle.  And as you get in shape it will be easier to focus in your prep and in performance.  You’ll just get better by practice…. repetition.  The pressure of performance is balanced by an actors ability to focus.  It’s important that you not think about this as effort… or an act of will.  This is about allowing yourself to play.  Only by repetition and practice…. that means PREPARATION and consistently working out to get in shape… can you come to this high pressure performance arena and allow yourself to play.

We work so we can play.  Just like athletes… they  practice and work out and build muscle strength and memory…. so they can play.  Here too is a character challenge.  This woman has a powerful presence…. she carries a gun…. and knows how to use it.  I think there must be times in your nursing that your training and intelligence and your will allowed you to make decisions and solve problems that saved lives.  That’s what she does for a living.  She asserts her confident will and makes decisions and here she is trying to save a life.  Just as you do as a nurse.  You as a person have a sweetness and gentility…. but she’s got to be one tough chick.  This is a character challenge for you.  Bring her in again and let’s see if you can find that tougher inner core that’s so different from who you are.

Campbell and Casey were right when they saw the opening beats of Stephanie’s scene as the character’s nervousness at meeting McGarret.  I saw it as patter…. which it was.  But you as actors have to internalize and motivate writing and direction.  I was speaking/thinking as a director and the guys were translating it into actor-speak.  The same could apply to Zahn’s pacing.  If he had been directed to pace or to stand still… his job would have been to motivate that action.  It’s a corollary of “When your body knows where it is….”