Patrick’s Acting Class Notes: 7th May 2013

Seven of us… Casey a “gung ho” civil war soldier.  Lauren the ditz and her new roommate.  Robbie hunting zombies in New Jersey.  Tracy the governor’s man in the art gallery.  Zahn the cop placating the grieving father.  Ari… saying hello…. good to see you and I hope we’ll see more.
We had two scenes that were preparation for auditions.  It’s such a great insight when you guys bring in material that you’re actually prepping for auditions or for the set.  It allows us insight and hands on experience with the writing that is currently out there.

Some nights a theme appears.  Tonight…. character.  So we tweaked character.  You must remember that acting is a process.  From the moment you pick up a script until we see it on the screen we are in the process of exploring and discovering character and the life in the scene. Sometimes character appears early in process.  Sometimes it accumulates and marinates and appears much later.  BUT the exploration and discovery of the life and the character is always PLAY.  In theater or scene class we have weeks of rehearsal and study and  feedback to develop a full blown character.  In our workouts and in the camera world we have much less time. But to me…. our work is play.  I think that ends up being the theme of today’s thoughts.

Thanks for all your work… AND great supportive commentary tonight!

Casey…

I could see…. and you could feel that you had found the “way.”  That click is such a relief when it comes… if it comes.  It’s really nothing more than a moment of insight or inspiration.  I think that here… that click was propelled by watching your first performance.  That’s why we use the camera.  So… The issue tonight was mainly based on how to convey the period nature(civil war) of the script.  How does one embody that era?  Here the key was language… the specific vocabulary of that time.  This is one of the few exceptions(besides sitcoms) to the script looseness that is such a necessity in our ever-evolving-modern craft.  So there’s no answer but to pound the lines and get it into your rhythms. Your first take was based on doing a careful underplayed film style.  It was boring as that style usually is.  So….Your question is how do you bring the core of Casey to this character?  It seems logical to me that the core of human nature hasn’t changed.  The kinds of personalities that exist today have always been around in some form.  Just as there were serious, thoughtful, soft spoken civil war soldiers…. I am equally sure there were smart aleck Yankees and Johnny Rebs.  And for that matter…. there must have been serious cavemen and Neanderthal wise asses who told jokes around the campfire.  You’ll read uncountable reviews that praise an actor’s ability to open up a period piece to an audience by making the work resonate with a modern audience.  Basically by creating a character that is somehow familiar/modern to us…. by finding a quality/persona that we can relate to.  So yes, you need to infuse this character with your “Caseyness”…. he becomes period specific with his vocabulary and dress and how he interacts with the physical environment.  Meaning…now you would take a shower…. then you would have bathed in a metal tub….. and as we watch that we see him fade into the physical presence and rhythms of that period.   We also talked about how distinctly you must define a character when he’s part of a group or a platoon or where the characters dress similarly.  Today we’d label him “gung-ho!”…. but then he’d more likely be just a good soldier who wants to do what’s right for his country.  I’m sure any platoon of any era would have had a familiar cast of character types.  So he’s Casey…. if he’d been born in 1845 and was in the army and wanted to fight for his country.  We saw him clearly in your last takes.  Pound lines.  Get the rhythms of his speech into your body and…. as always…. PLAY !

Lauren…

Listen to your talent.  It only whispers.  You had impulses in your prep that you ignored.  You’re hearing that voice…. that’s great…. but now you must learn to listen to it.  It really amounts to just playing more.  “What if I did it this way? Or that way? I don’t know why, but what if she does this?”  Those kind of thoughts are the vocabulary of your talent.  She’s a wonderful character for you.  But that doesn’t mean she’s easy to get to.  That’s a lot of dialogue and it’s written to be delivered quickly almost without thinking.  Which is a character challenge too.  We investigated it along the lines of characters who loquaciously  speak/talk in order to communicate….. vs someone who talks just to hear the sound of their own voice.  That’s a path that likely shifts as she talks… but it is a path through the material.   You are coming in well prepared so your talent seems to easily handle this line learning challenge.  When you have this much dialogue you must approach it from thoughts first…. and then to lines.  You have such a rich experience with these kinds of characters.  My advice is to bring in more of these “flibberty gibbets.”  As you work on then you’ll fill up your tank with an extensive vocabulary of behaviors with which you can surprise yourself.  Think of it as a snowball of choices and behaviors that you’ve amassed and when you start a scene just kick the snowball over the edge and let it throw of behaviors and surprise even you as it rolls down the slope of the scene……  Now that’s an extended analogy! Simple put…. Listen to your talent and PLAY.

Robbie…

Use the space.  It makes your body feel comfortable because… “When your body knows where it is and what it’s doing…. it know how to act.”  Using your imagination to create the space takes you out of the casting office and puts you in the character’s circumstances.  When you get locked into a comfort position…. not moving and not in the scenic circumstances….. it’s just less creative and less believable.  Your body helps tell us the story.  If you’re not comfortable…. our empathetic senses will feel uncomfortable too.  Your body is part of your instrument…. use it.  You’re seeing great examples in class of how other actors use their bodies… STEAL!.  We all learn from our fellow artists.  And most importantly…the only way to play is for your body to be in the scene.  You are taking the adjustments and playing in our workouts.   You’re knocking off the rust of the last few years and those skills and your experience are obviously coming back to you.  This is an important character for you.  It’s one we see a lot of…. the classic two buddies with a distinctive banter…. in this case the older/younger buddy pair.  It’s a writing device that can deliver a lot of exposition and humor and relationship. I think you should bring him back and do the two additional scenes.  Their all short and involve a lot of physical life that you can explore.  It’s obvious to me that you can see what you’re doing and where you need to go.  Keep at it.  You obviously know the value of consistently working out ! “Nothing succeeds like persistence.  Talent will not, nothing is more common than unsuccessful people with talent.  Persistence and determination alone are omnipotent.”  I love this quote.  It’s good to have you in class.  I’m glad you’ve decided to workout with us.

Tracy…

So we’ve found themes for you.  Simplicity and pace and now….. character DEVELOPMENT. You have to be careful that your first instinct about character doesn’t lock you in.  What was interesting to me was that you said the material seemed to be leading you to the pace and the direction we finally pursued.  So follow those process insights….. and the best way to do that is play.  Make strong adjustments, do exercises that change your attack, and invite happy accidents.  I think you’re getting locked in too early in your process.  Both these last characters were locked into a pace and a tone….. what I call a “film style” of acting which derives from that much misunderstood idea that when acting for camera you should so less and less and less….. and even do nothing.  Now I know you have to make choices and these were strong choices.  But I think they precluded exploration and play and discovery.  Both weeks we simply shifted from lower class to more upper class.  Maybe that’s just the way I see you but more likely it’s how you see yourself.  There’s no doubt you can do theses thuggy guys but it feels like you’re ignoring some script info and making decisions that are influenced by how you see your talent.  Last week you missed the stage directions that he was lying and this week you missed the fact that he was gay.  Maybe you just need to focus more on every useful thing in the script.  I always suggest that actors read every word on sides out loud so you don’t miss or overlook important notations.  What is most positive is that you move to adjustments with ease…. your talent is flexible.  What I’m suggesting is that you find a way to bring that flexibility into your preparation at an earlier stage through adjustments and exercises and PLAY.  When you learn a script with a singular tone, a singular strong character choice….. you eliminate exploration and discovery.  These suggestions are about your prep…. not performance.  Your talent and intelligence and performance skills are obvious.  What we’re focusing on is prep…. and to be honest you seemed to be struggling for lines Tues.  At that early stage(when you’re still learning lines) if you layer on strong character choices or a “film style”….. you’re limiting exploration and inhibiting your talent.   All of that can be alleviated by PLAY.

Zahn…

This guy was right in your wheelhouse.  A “can of corn”… to be sure… as Casey so helpfully pointed out.  But the positive, confident, and playful way that you occupy space is what I want to concentrate on.  You have expanded your physical, verbal, and emotional presence enormously in the last few months.  What we’re seeing is a working/in-shape/focused talent that occupies the full performance space and our attention.  We perceive you as a thinking, breathing living character when you perform.  And it’s most important that we as fellow performers recognize that this presence you have in our workouts, is the same presence you’ll use in auditions and ON THE SET.  We see that the work you bring to class…. could be “picked up by a crane” and dropped right onto a set.  You prep to a performance level for every class.  That kind of focus is what we all should bring to our workouts, our auditions, and the set.  What you are doing as an actor is demanding that high level of your talent.  When you challenge your talent and your prep….. your talent can’t help but grow.