Patrick’s Acting Class Notes: 25th Sept 2012

First the prep class.

Tyler, Andy, Caitlin, Dotty….. Basically we played for an hour. Structured play, games, accents, improv exercises, changed roles…. all of these and more are in the handout I gave you These are adjustments I use in directing, coaching, and in my own acting. Rather than trying to pound a script into my head I prefer playing it in there.
Interesting that both Andy and Tyler had a physical freedom and playfulness emerge from this approach. Their common reaction was that it didn’t matter if they forgot any specific word because they knew what they were thinking and doing so the scene/the life could go on. When all you know is the words and you go up on lines…. The scene/the life stops. It’s my belief that in the on camera industry….. the craft of acting is moving in the direction of expecting and indeed demanding that actors bring a larger improv vocabulary to the life of scenes. That means both words and action. It’s our job to make writing come alive. When you prep as we did…. for whatever multitude of reasons…. more life appears in out work.
Then…Lee auditing and reading off camera.  Rob dealing with his Philippine wife and her recalcitrant son. Casey the somewhat stiff/about to be dumped guy on a date.  Andy, Tyler, Caitlin and  Dotty all in the midst of a clumsy proposal.  Ari doing a cold read of a guy with a broken heart.  Katherine the sexy office Babe.  Dana the smartest paralegal.  Will the sexy resident and his love struck friend.  And Zahn the charming scary sleaze ball.

Remember the definition of talent is the actor’s ability to put himself in the character’s situation.
That’s what we worked on in your prep.  We engaged you talent.  We worked to be able to allow you to drop into the character’s shoes.  We worked on your talent.

For both Caitlin and Dotty this was a first class.  Welcome…. and first classes are terrifying.  
This was a typical workout for us except for the number of people.  

I ultimately believe that there must be dozens of ways to prepare material.  Some actors write out their whole parts and that puts it into their body.  That didn’t work for me as an actor…..  This kind or preparation process does.  You are an artist.  You must develop a process that expands your creativity into a scene.  Painters prep their canvases.  Actors must prep the writing.  That’s a huge part of our craft.

Zahn…

You sleaze ball.  You are incorporating more choices/colors/tones into your initial work on a script.  Your instrument is the “bad guy” character. It is a darker music they write for these guys.  It’s played in lower scales…. but still scales.  An alto sax has upper scales.  A baritone sax has lower scales.  But even as you play this music with a deeper instrument in a scene….. it must have ups and down, and charm and anger and fear and thought and feeling….. it has a whole range of darker tones and colors.  Charm is important because it allows us into the character.  It attracts the listener with a lighter touch in spite of all the negative energy.  I dig this flexibility you’re bringing to your work.  You see!….. You can teach us old dogs new tricks.  And I must repeat.  You have a gift for watching tape and seeing what needs to be done.  You know how to watch your work and not yourself.  It’s a great gift in your preparation process and on the set.

Casey…

I think the challenge is to play rigid/stiff without being so.   Like Zahn’s challenge of making evil charming…. How do you make stiff likable? Well, first of all you are always likable.  AND somewhere between Casey’s looseness and your first take’s rigidity is perhaps the Goldilocks” zone.  This is a challenge and perhaps will end up producing a new character…  something like a nerd with balls which he showed in the second scene.  I’m glad you’re exploring this character.  Last week’s scene was just too easy… right in your wheelhouse. This guy will expand your vocabulary.  We all sling around the idea of a nerd or geek or goofy guy. We all think we know what that means and who that is.  BUT really it’s a cliche and within that cliche are thousands of specific guys whom we can all look at and describe as a  geek/nerd.  But each one is a specific different character.  That’s what this feels like to me.  We are beginning to see him more clearly.  You have to pull him out of the cliched fog into a distinct character.  It might help if you can find other scenes.  I think this may be a pilot but if there’s more writing for him or if you can find the breakdown it might help bring him into focus.

Will…

I ADMIT IT ! You and  Casey’s team were right.  He’ll probably end up as that really nice dreamboat guy who’s just a little bit of a flirt.  Not a dog… maybe just a playful puppy….. one that makes us go, “Ahhhhh….”  And that’s a wheelhouse for your talent…. and that you can and are drawn to douche bags never ceases to amaze me.    I still see moments in you work where you seem to be waiting…. for the next line, the next beat.  Perhaps if you enriched the where and the what more(where are you and what do you want and what are you doing to get it) you would find more presence and more involvement in the life.  So if you were really watching the operation.  It you were a little more actively flirting…  If you gave yourself a more active subtext of thought or intention.  All of these are geared to make you presence more grounded in the scenic circumstances and more active.  Rarely do characters do nothing.  Rarely do they just stand around and wait.  They are always somewhere and doing something.  Writing always tell a story.  The characters are always moving thru the life and the story.  This seems like a vague directions but I think that if you put some effort into this area it will enrich your work.  It’s building your talent.  It’s making it easier to slip into the character’s situation.  It will give you more to interact with when you are in the character’s shoes rather than just waiting for the next line.  The classic way to understand it is to think of how easy it is to act when you have an activity to keep you busy.  When your body know where you are and what you’re doing it’s easy to act.

Katherine…

You sexy beast.  The office sex pot.  You’re right that the guy was just an innocent flirtation….. with you doing most of the teasing and never having any intention of consummation.  But clearly you are a player…. if you are waiting for the doctor’s pregnancy report.  Not to mention the lineup of dates for Fri night dinner.  So the sweet spot for this character is somewhere in between…. she’s a slut and just teasing OR she’s just innocently teasing.  I think it’s going to end up that she’s the office sex pot.  it was interesting how much that one line(“the doctor said your not”) changed the whole scene.  It gave you insight into character and intention and a strong emotional arch.  You had such distinct reactions to each of the potential dates names….. but this one beat just eluded your attention.  Ofttimes in screen plays with in long lists the last item is the impactful one.  But let’s state the obvious…. you know how to manifest your sexuality.  You can always have confidence in that part of your talent.  What we did here was develop character by giving her intention(she wants to find out the pregnancy news).  What you played was her sexuality.  We gave that part of her persona more context.  Remember it’s always who/what/where… and who(character) is always first.

Andy…

I think this prep was an eye opener.  You learned this very quickly and were therefore able to play…. both physically and verbally.  Your challenge is to now develop your own process of exercises that works for you.  I have no doubt you will invent and discover your own or somebody else’s prep process now….. rather than just memorizing the lines.  The more creative you are in your prep the more creative you can be in performance.  Just like music…. you can rehearse the hell out of a jazz piece…. but it will/should/can’t help but be different every time you play it.  Most of our prep exercises were just “Throw the shit against the wall and see what sticks/”  I have my favorite exercises and you will find your own.  Also it’s not a bad idea now to work in your English accent as you did last night, and then go to gringo.  Eventually as you work on your American accent and get more adept you’ll be able to begin and engage your prep with it.  But it will always be a good exercise to do an British adjustment and then go to American.  Just keep working on this accent issue.  As you are doing this your talent is still growing.  But being proficient in this accent will expand your potential more than anything else at this time.

Tyler…

Same as Andy.  You learned quickly and played.  You learned the path of the scene,  And then you played along the path.  When you don’t plan exactly what you’re going to do you can play more.  Our prep class revealed the path thru the scene… the life in the scene.  We did not just repeat lines and build a rut thru the scene.  The words are nothing more than the writer’s attempt to show us the life in the scene.  Our job is to play with those words and find and develop a path thru the scene that we can follow.  Instead of trying to memorize words and line readings we played.  Remember you play sports.  You play music.  And you are working from a screenplay.  Our prep was structured play which allowed you to discover the life in the scene.  Then and only then…. could you play the scene.  There will almost always be a part of a scene that will require you to memorize or to pound lines…. so you have to do that.  Here the rant about her toes and ingredients just had to be pounded more to get it into your brain.  But even these sections should be approached not from the ideas of words on the page but rather what ideas are you expressing.  It’s always better to pack ideas  your head rather than words.  Words are a narrow path that solicit repetition.  Ideas are a broader path that allow feelings and thoughts and impulse.  We spoke our subtext and thoughts and feelings in the prep.  That’s how you pack rich ideas into your brain rather than just words.

Dana…

She’s right in your wheelhouse.  A perfect character for you.  Lots of words.  Lots of words and movement and much to see and react to.  It’s great to challenge yourself with difficult scenes like this.  Every time you do it it should get easier as you develop muscle memory for carrying this heavy load,  You just seemed a bit careful in your first pass.  Nerves probably.  And that you felt short of breathe…. just breathe… let the character take a long deep breath as a part of the scene rather than trying to hide it.  You found an ease in the idea that you had done this hundreds of times…. that too should help abate nerves.  Maybe you should allow him to strike you as cute somewhere in the tour and not necessarily just when he does that last ranting monologue…. which you did very well.  Maybe there is just one other moment when you see his potential.  Why don’t you bring in both scenes for next week.  It’ll be a challenge but often we’ll see multiple scenes as we get into callbacks.

Edythe…

All these comments come after our private Wed afternoon…

She was just too bad a liar.  It came from your over dedication to your captain’s description of you as a “bad liar.”  We rather made her a pathological liar…. actually a good liar in most circumstances.  But a habitual liar known to all around…. which is why he tells you to focus.  Remember where you are.  Just play it like it’s in a bathroom and there might be someone else listening.  And it felt better when she was a quietly confident pathological liar.  Remember she believes every thing that comes out of her mouth is true.  I also loved how she was foisting responsibility on everyone else to CYA.  “They said he was armed.  The door was already open.  The kid ran.”  You don’t have to make an effort to defend yourself because every body else was making you take all these actions.  You did every thing right.  Remember the punctuation is not definitive direction,  You have to decide how to bunch words into thought.  “We parked the car and got out cause they said he was armed.”  All one thought.  Ellipses be damned!  This feels odd to you cause it’s cop stuff.  Don’t let that shake you.  They are looking for your talent….. and if you play it like you did yesterday…. they will see your talent.

Rob…

All these comments come after our private session…

This is very emotional material.  When we work in an emotionally charged area our first actor’s instinct is to dredge up emotions and just play them.  It feels good…. we’re actors !  But it tends to produce a dominant tone and blocks out all other choices and will lack subtlety. Mostly because we over commit to the emotions and then can’t listen and hear and react to the scene.  Rather all the energy is concentrated on self manifested emotions and all the energy it takes to pump out those emotions.  So nothing gets in that would allow you to play and respond.  So as we worked on it you were in process.  You were learning to react to the scenic beats.  The emotions were still there but you were learning how to weave them into the material and the life of the scene.  For instance…. the unmoved lawn should have an impact… the missing bicycle…. the inability to say “I dreamt I killed you.”  All those and lots of other circumstance will modulate your emotional state…. In other words those beats will affect you in the scene.  This early in the process they can’t because you’re leaning to heavily on the emotion.  Like building a house…. you were building the foundation(emotions) and now you’re working on the frame.  It’s process…. You slept on it and watched it….. and now you’re able and ready to add other colors.   Perhaps it’s like music.  When you first find a melody or a lyric it’s much simpler.  As you work on it…. complexity emerges and the music enriches.

Ari…

A good scene for you.  Much verbiage.   But also a broken heart which is driving the scene really.  In a cold read like this…. It’s next to impossible to achieve an emotional foundation that supports the whole scene….. Here it would be that he’s broken hearted that his girl dumped him.  That last beat the burst of tears came “on the line.”  When the stage directions said he cried…. you did.  I think the more grounded approach is to weave that broken heart through out the scene on trigger points.  So that certain words, or ideas or even random moments of seeing the girlfriend montage on the computer screen trigger the sense of loss.  When you have time to work on a scene you can establish and weave these moments…. and even leave room for an unplanned wave of sadness.  In other words…. you’re allowing sadness to underlie the whole scene by designing moments where it can emerge…. and occur randomly.  That’s hard or impossible in a cold read.  And even if you’re playing this scene for comedy…. depth and believability of emotions are established by allowing emotion to be a response to things in the scene rather than dredging them up when stage directions say so.  If he’s really sad…. we’ll know it and like him more because he won’t seem phony.  An actor’s emotions are often the pathway that allows us/invites us into the character.  Prepared work can have this “realistic” complexity and depth.  Cold reads can be impressive… your comedic talent can carry you through a scene like this.  But to reach a fuller resonance of character and likability…. you need to prepare and structure a scene and then, “Leap and the net will appear.”  I can describe a process like this…. but it’s your talent that has to prepare and execute.  And then we all hope for MAGIC…. that place where our talent and our work come together and life appears on a stage.  And that’s just a lot of words trying to say…. bring in prepared work !  Cold reads don’t challenge your talent.