Patrick’s Acting Class Notes: 2nd Oct 2012

Lee playing all the OFF CAMERA ladies. Casey talking to his stroke silenced Dad. Will pulling the plug on his child. Zahn in a wheel chair and then cancer. Tyler the crooked sheriff. Jennifer the bartender flirting with a broken hearted werwolf. And Andy getting beaten by the woman he loves.
Modern writing covers a lot of ground.
Heavy?…. no!  What a fun night!  

In our Acting Class, we went from dying babies, to dying fathers, to killers, to cancer, to a wheel chair, to a proposal(the first step in divorce), and finally a broken hearted werewolf!   Only actors would think this is fun.

Lots of issues.  Some good challenging work.  Let me confess that strong emotional writing is fun for me too.  It sends shock waves through out talent.  Afterwords we all feel relieved and worn out because it has an emotional impact on our personas.  It requires brave actors who are willing to go the dark side to reveal the things we seldom talk about.  It’s a noble part of our craft.  But after this kind of work you have to shake it off… or like me…. take a long hot shower.

Jennifer…

Welcome.  First nights are terrifying.  Your talent and training are obvious.  And you have a clear vision of what you need to work on.  It seems like these workouts are what you need now.  Auditioning is a specific arena… stripped down, no props, no furniture just you and a script.  But the process of how you prepare and pressure of performance are much like the challenges you will face on a set.  Last night was a cold read and… it’s an almost useless skill.  You’ll face it in play auditions and in student films and low budget non union films.  It’s also just a shallow dive into an actor’s talent.  There is almost no subtlety or complexity.  How can there be in such a short time?  This workout format will teach you how to prepare and perform for on camera work.  You’ll develop a vocabulary of movement and story telling.  You’ll find a way to transition your stage training and talent into a process that works for this arena.  It’s quite simple…… “If you want to work on camera….. you have to train on camera.”  I hope you’ll join us.  Call me if you have any questions.

Lee…

You did marvelously.  I could feel you loosening up and playing and getting emotionally drawn into the work.  It’s a good way to warm up your instrument.

Casey…

This was a small scene.  But emotionally charged.  Resentment, anger, shock at how disheveled he looks and his degenerating helplessness…. that’s why i liked that line, “Are you OK? I don’t know what to say.”  It seemed to come out of a real reaction to what a mess his father was.  “Grounded” came up a lot last night.  When we are reacting to the life in the scene we seem more grounded.  I think that element would have added a whole other level here.  If you had more to react to… the other actor, the whole arch of your relationship and the thoughts and feelings and your interaction with other characters.  This is really a scene that challenges the concept of being able to do “as well in the audition as you can on the set.”  If you can activate your imagination enough to feel the cold of the day, smell the stench of his urine soaked clothes, see the drool sliding down his chin…..  all of those will produce emotions and allow you to react to the scene rather than having to generate the impulse to speak.  That’s the classic challenge of monologues…. “Why do you keep talking?”  None of this means you have to pull a Jack Nickolsonian crying jag. But without real things to react to…. this is a most difficult scene.  I don’t remember the arch of the Five Easy Pieces… but perhaps crying revealed something essential about the character and therefore they chose this take.  When you reinterpret a classic scene…. certainly one that I remember… it exists under a cloud of expectations.  Can you imagine any one trying to do a Heath Ledger “Joker” scene?  And since you haven’t seen the whole movie or the script of ‘Five’ you are working without context or much info about the character.  Maybe this was a choice of material problem.  In context of a whole movie this piece makes sense.  But when you pluck a single scene out…. it somehow looses resonance.  Your work was good.  I like you exploring this kind of emotional situation…. but the choice of material presented some problems.  Keep challenging your emotional talent.  The comedic stuff comes easily. Darker writing stretches you talent.  Interesting that both you and Zahn chose to bring such material the same night….  Maybe it was in the air.

Zahn….

Indulgent? You were….. working out a different part of your talent…. keeping it sharp…. and only an actor could think this kind of stuff is fun.  But let’s look at the terms we used last night in our commentary.  “digging Deeper, trying for… pushing a bit…”  All are very active verbs and concepts. I’m rather attracted more to “allowing, leaving space for, listening and reacting”… but this difference in vocabulary is academic. We all have out tricks… on how to find and provoke emotion.  You touch the other actor and tears come.  For me I look for the things I can’t say….. the questions I can’t ask…. and that triggers me.   I focus on reacting to the thoughts and silences of those unsaid ideas and that sometimes allows me to cry.  Each actor must find his own tricks.  Our obligation is to think and feel as this character and react to the life in the scene.  But lets limit it to one scene for the future.  I’d rather see you do multiple takes on challenging emotional material.  I think that allows us to go deeper into that emotional space and explore more and hope that happy accidents pop up.  For me as a director that’s how I would explore on a set.  A la Eastwood…. I’d let the camera roll and let the actors improv their way into and out of scenes so I’d get those moments like you pounding your legs.  Doing multiple takes with different adjustments lets the actor play and react to the cumulative emotions of different takes.  With this kind of material our instruments usually go deeper and deeper with multiple takes.  It’s a reflection of how our talents work.  Our job as an actor or director is to keep changing and adjusting and exploring…. going deeper.  Or in my vocabulary…. allowing more to happen.

Tyler…

Wow.  I think Andy said it best, “Where’s Tyler?”  This was the first time we got a sense of you disappearing into a character.  You are beginning to approach acting from the inside out rather than how you think it should sound or look.  That’s the path for you.  Remember… “Talent is the actor’s ability to put himself in the character’s situation.”  When you can do that all you have to do is listen and react.  You brought in a couple of different approaches.  Great ! that means you were exploring in your prep.  I was particularly happy to see you ignore the “yelling” stage direction.  And it worked when you just whispered.  So be sure to play the scene in prep as a kid, drunk…. all those adjustments.  By playing with it like this you’ll make discoveries.  You’re exploring the matrix… the material…. with which you’re building his character from the inside out.  My teacher used to say,  “When you’ve got his mind/thoughts.  You’ve got him.” It’s what the character is thinking and feeling that determines how he says something.  That’s inside out work.  You’re learning so quickly now….. but no single rehearsal, class, or insight will be definitive.  Learning to act is a process…. a life long one.  At any place along that path you are always learning…. always growing your talent…. the actor’s ability to be in a character’s situation.  That’s our craft…. finding our way into a character’s shoes.  Inside out !

Will…

Excellent.  You seemed very comfortable in this guy’s skin.  Most important was that you were right about pushing.  You hit a tone and pushed it. And you felt it as you were doing it.  This is an emotional pothole.  When you are prepping and you feel a push like this in a section you know you have to find another approach.  The answer for emotional potholes are often great discoveries in character.  Whenever I don’t understand a moment…. I immediately think , “What is it about this character that I don’t understand?”  Maybe instead of reacting emotionally he goes “all cool headed doctor?”  For me the most powerful moment was hearing her say that there were breathing difficulties… After you agreed to the surgery !   If you hear that and it impacts you….. it could put you into a shock of guilt…. and the rest of the scene will be defined by that emotion.  And then you won’t have to….. or want to push.  There are lots of possible answers.  Maybe…. The thought that you approved the procedure is what makes you dig in your heels and stop all medical intervention.  So maybe you’re just trying to out think/out doctor her, rather than out emotion her.  The take away here is that when you feel yourself pushing…. that’s an emotional pot hole.  Recognize them as an inspiration to explore.  You should be grateful for these moments and try radical adjustments, play, explore, hope for happy accidents.  Pot holes aren’t mistakes.  They are the road signs along the path.

Andy…

American accent…. check.  You can act speaking ‘Gringo.”  But I can’t emphasize how important it is for you to be able to think and improvise with that accent.  It’s imperative that you practice in normal speaking situations.  If you don’t you’ll always be working/acting in fear of going off script.  And that has been our focus these last weeks…. getting you looser on script adds to the life in the scene.  That kind of looseness works and enhances your performance and we don’t want to sacrifice that growth in your talent because you’re being careful of how you pronounce words.  This scene was definitely better when you were a worthy opponent.  Seeing them fight and still love is funny.  Watching her abuse her too nice hubby would be uncomfortable.  That kind or adjustment should be part of your prep.  Playing opposites is a great explorative tool.  Yell/whisper, sad/happy, angry/happy…. any strong emotional state is an invitation to explore the opposite. Here tonight…. you took the adjustment that moved him from sweet to worthy opponent effortlessly .  You had an ease and a  presence in the scene that perhaps came from the new way you prepped.   But It felt as though you pushed a bit with his anger.  This is a different kind of couple and how they relate… comes from their culture and is expressed thru both individual characters.  They both know this kind of music and patter because they saw it growing up.   I loved the story about the quibbling couple who described themselves as “never arguing.”