Patrick’s Acting Class Notes: 9th Sept 2012

Andy and the snow leopard.  Cean the dealer doing a snow job.  Zahn’s killer weed.  Casey the “socially inept” nerd making You Tube videos.  Chad talking to a table full of adultery.  Tyler doing mean Darrell in the Friend zone.  And Will losing his EMT job.
Two interesting issues tonight:  

Anger is a result.
Your challenge is to find the pain that causes anger.  

Stage directions…. especially emotional ones (sad angry happy tired) are a suggestion.
If you follow then religiously it stops exploration.  So just eliminate them or do the opposite.  They can easily dig a rut that is hard to get out of.  Just hear my voice in the back of your mind saying, “Don’t get  stuck on stage directions!”

That was a tooooo long class.  And it was my fault.  We did lots of takes and really worked on scenes so we accomplished a good deal.  BUT…. I feel an obligation to  hear commentary from everyone and that extends the class.  I guess that is an over exercised impulse to be fair.   So every so often someone should chirp up from the back rows and say, “Move it along, Patrick !”  So I’ll keep commentary down a bit and an eye on the clock.  I appreciate your patience and indulgence.

Lee…

You’re feeling more and more a part of the class though it’s still only off camera.  I want you to have a chance to look over material before you get thrown at a completely cold reading situation…. it’s not fair to you to have to keep up with a prepared actor.  We’ll eliminate those snow leopard whisker moments…. but it was funny !  So next week lets remember to get the material early so you have a chance to get familiar with it.  Let me know when you want to work out.

Cean…

Making their relationship important was clearly the right choice.  Everyone reacted to that adjustment….. which you took effortlessly.  And that was a great sign of you talent’s flexibility.  What we found in your performance was a preparation problem.  You allowed the stage directions to determine your exploration of character…. so you rehearsed that “counting on your fingers” section according to the stage direction to the point that it was hard not to do it.  Wasn’t that interesting?  You created a rut.  Your talent and instincts were whispering in your ear, “Why are you doing that?  It doesn’t feel right.”  You have to learn to listen to that voice.  It’s a real trap to learn dialogue in connection to any stage directed action.  Your body has muscle memory built into it;s learning patterns.  So when you repeat an action with specific dialogue…. it’s hard to get out of that rut.  The opening hamburger redirected action was simply to reduce the appearance of miming….. which you are clearly good at…. but it almost always rings untrue on camera.  More important it rings untrue in your body.  It’s hard to stay in the life of a scene when you are doing something that doesn’t feel real or natural.  I have a feeling that you are rehearsing and repeating physical moves with specific lines.  That works on stage but in front of the camera it can be a problem.  Remind me that we need to repeat the prep class that you missed.  There are exercises that you can do that will change the way you learn dialogue and still allow your body the luxury of muscle memory training.

Andy…

Simplicity…. Yes it’s often the answer.  But here too is a preparation issue.  The script’s stage directions said “unnerved” and that locked you in and limited your approach to a tone… a result.  If you had instead explored why he was unnerved it would have helped you be more flexible.  He could be unnerved and show it or hide it too,  Be careful with those result stage directions.  We talked about it with anger.  When a stage direction say he/she is angry we as good actors most often just paste that onto the scene.  But as we said… anger usually comes from being hurt…. and if you can find the source of that pain it can allow you a variety of emotional impulses and not the result.  Anger is just too general when we take it from a stage direction.  I’ve reviewed the notes lately and we’ve hit this issue a couple of times.  You’re jumping to a result and it’s producing a tone.  Even in the most vehement anger there can be humor and sadness and any impulse that the scene leads you to.  Stage directions become a problem when you do them to the exclusion of all other emotions.  Tone is the enemy.  It blocks out impulses.  But you do seem much more relaxed on stage now.  I don’t know why but keep doing that. Keep pounding the accent.  You started this effort from the negative assumption that you couldn’t do it.  You have a good ear.  Only sustained effort over time will get you to be comfortable with what is really almost a second language.  In short scenes like this we can use ourselves as the foundation for character OR you can use the script to try and expand the character too…. his love of cats, tree hugger, and the undeniable impression that he was hiding something.  Something we may never know or something that might be revealed in another part of the script….. but that kind of something is an invitation for you to create a back story of character.

Casey…

Softball !  Can of corn alert ! And right in your wheelhouse !  Everything about last night spot on.  Your approach to nerds is a physical one.  It’s like a switch that you can throw and your body transforms into “nerd”.  That’s a wonderful part of your talent.  What we’re looking at here is specificity.  That you are sure that the character/nerd fits the situation and intent of the writing.  I just don’t want you to rely on a generic nerd.  You must be careful that you don’t “phone in” that kind of character.  I’d like you to do that Stiff nerd again because he seemed different.   So let’s bring him in and see what comes out of that effort.   And I want you to continue to bring in challenging scenes…. emotionally or technically challenging like Chad’s table scene.   This was something that you whipped together in an hour… and it was excellent.  But it’s like a cold read…. if it doesn’t challenge your talent there isn’t much growth.  Believe me I don’t want you to do depressing soul wrenching material all the time.  BUT….. Leading man stuff is a great challenge for your talent now.  Stillness with a lot going on inside allows us see into a character’s soul.  This leading man genre is like learning a new musical instrument….. and cross training is as applicable here as it is in sports.  Even as you challenge your leading man chops it strengthens the muscles you’ll use for nerds.  Every so often it is a good exercise to do these nerds… and it’s fun.  When you do make sure you look to creating a specific character.

Tyler…

Lots of nice behavior.  You are so much looser and allowing yourself to behave more.  You cleaned up those “breaths” before the lines so quickly.   That breathe is a sound that you can use once or at most twice to show distain, but last night is was a brain fart moment…. just a moment of time out…. so you could recall lines.  But when you saw it on tape,  you eliminated the tic in one pass.  That’s impressive and shows the flexibility you’re building with your new prep.  These new exercises have helped you to explore and understand the life in the scene…. and here tonight even though you were underprepared you had a stronger foundation.  “Bad Darrell” was funnier when he was a little angry. You allowed him to be hurt by her rejection and that made him angry.  Not out of control but he was frustrated and it raised the stakes in the scene.  This was a good example of not going after the result/anger but using that emotion to support and enrich his emotional reactions.  Just keep at this process.  Like all good athletes and dancers your body learns kinetically.  You see yourself do something and your body understands what it’s done and what it need to do.  I still want you to try some improv.  It might be a good idea to try a scene study class as well.  But let this be the center of your training because you’re growing at a remarkable rate now.

Zahn…

….. filming the filming…. Zahn brought a documentary film maker to class for a project on Native American artists… Please thank Steve for me.  He was most polite and efficient and low key.  As a documentary film maker he was able to disappear into the flow of the class and be that invisible observer.   Yeah…   Last night seemed like a simple question of energy.  We engaged a part of his character …. the guy who makes deals.. and that allowed you to up the energy for this specific moment/section of the scene.  And it revealed character.  Again too…. we worked the element of charm.  Andy loved your threatening take.  I find a touch of charm makes him even more threatening.  Analogy…. if you want to paint a blue blue sky you have to paint white clouds as a contrast.  Here the charm provides the contrast.  Andy and I may disagree about where the clouds go…. but you as the artist get to make that decision.  This scene was obviously over written.  When you improvised the thoughts and some of your words it came out much more believably.   This kind of low budget film writing invites/demands that actors improv and bring their own words.  It’s a creative challenge and a responsibility that we have as artist to make the scene come alive.  We should strive to use their words…. but in cases like this the actor must find a way to bring life to the scene.  AND THE PRODUCER AGREES !  You’re in great shape for the filming but don’t let the over written aspects frustrate you.  They’ve given you permission…. in effect asked you to make it better/your own.  Weave in some charm.  Have fun playing him.  Don’t feel constrained by bad dialogue.  Just listen and respond.  This is your standard dirt ball.  You know more about this character than the writer does and in our work outs  we’re just trying to find a way to add colors.

Chad…

So difficult a scene “anatomically”….  Four people arguing around a table!  And they have secrets !  It’s like Abbott and Costello’s “Who’s on First?”  When you are in a scene with multiple characters you have to find comfortable eye lines for the characters.  You must know who’s speaking and where they are cause it affects your reactions…. the impulses you get from the dialogue.  And we had trouble following because we didn’t know who was talking.  You were right that the last take was too angry(partly from your own frustration).  But I liked it because you eliminated a lot of pauses and the conversation was easier to follow.  When a character is torqued up like he is… you have to move thru the material.  It just doesn’t seem possible for him to go slowly and take pauses.  Don’t get trapped or locked in by their emotional stage directions.  When a character is at a peak emotional moment like this….. bouncing around is appropriate.  So even though they describe him as angry or threatening there should be moments of humor or amazement or just a moment of pure sanity and calm…. like asking her if she needed a ride home….. which was a brilliant.  It redeemed him.  this is a good project for you.  You’ve found his anger…. he’s the “wronged man.”  Your effort should be to round out his character.  Find out who he is when he’s not angry.  The more specific you can be about him the more universal he’ll be.  Their stage directions sent you down a narrow path of anger.  Try and find out who he is in his normal life and bring that specific character to this scene.

Will…

“No more Mr Nice guy.”…. You never have to worry about a character’s likability.  It courses through your veins.  But here the challenge is being an asshole(Zahn’s description not mine).  The dialogue/vocabulary was definitely that of confrontation and conflict and when you made that adjustment the scene came alive.  Your first takes…. You were giving in when you should have been in opposition.   I don’t think this is a place where you should smack your forehead and say, “Why didn’t I see that?”  As we said last night… “Acting is a collaborative craft.”  You must work with other people.  Musicians practice their individual parts…. but the music doesn’t appear until you are playing with others.  Only in playing does the magic appear.  Our workouts have the benefit of exposing you to a lot of new material and building your ability to recognize the life in a scene.  So don’t beat yourself up that you missed what now seems obvious…. it was only apparent when we added the other characters and explored the life in the scene…. the magic/the music appeared when you played.  Lets keep an eye out for that dropping of energy at the end of a line.  It’s an indication of where the character’s balance is in his body.  He can be leaning forward and driving the scene or sitting back and letting the scene happen to him.  I really think you need to bring him in again next week.  Find his inner turmoil.  He nearly killed someone. He’s angry and scared and doubting his own competence.  All this emotional turmoil…. and then dropped into the limelight of a legal dispute that is probably going to unfairly sacrifice him.  It’s ironic…. after this kind of incident… he’s the least likely EMT to make a mistake like this again….. but the machine is going to chew him up and spit him out.  So yes he’s angry…. and a whole lot of other emotions too.