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Posted by admin, August 28, 2015 9:04 am

The number one key to scene work (and, frankly, to life) is:

Say “Yes, and…”!!! Say you’re having a conversation with friends.  You’re suggesting places to go and things to do, but they keep saying “no”.  What do you want to do (besides wring their necks)?  Usually you just walk away and think, “Well, they’re no fun.”  EXACTLY. That is what happens in your scene or in an improv situation:  “No, but…” shuts it down every time.

But a series of “Yes, and..” will take you somewhere.  “Yes, and…” means each person brings a brick until you’ve all built something that none of you could have built on your own.  Also, “Yes, but…” is a contradiction; “Yes…and” is a connection.

In your comedy scene work, try putting “Yes, and…” before every line and see what happens.  Watch “Big Bang Theory”: you can feel the “Yes, and…” before every line!  It keeps the tennis ball going back and forth so that the scene stays interesting for you…and your audience!

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Posted by admin, August 27, 2015 3:39 pm

It’s said that comedy is harder to do than drama…and I agree.  Not only do you need the skills that come from acting techniques (such as The 9 Questions of Intentional Acting), but you also need comedy skills. THEN you have to deliver the scene as if you’re using no technique and not acting.  Acting is simple – but it’s not easy!

One way to make your comedy skills more seamless is to start with some improv.  This is how I start all my kids’ classes and also what I use when a scene just isn’t working.  But here’s what you need to know:  I was one of those actors who had fear rush into my heart once I heard the word “improv.”  I soon learned (both as an actor and a teacher) that it’s a skill *all* actors need.  In my case, I love be in charge: knowing what to do and how to do it.  And this is true for all my students; everyone wants to get it right.  Unfortunately, getting it right puts us in our head… and out of our natural instincts.

Here are three guidelines to help you begin using improv in your scene work:

-Play! Engaging in something because you enjoy it is completely different than doing it because you *have* to. When we feel like we have to get the scene right, we can’t play.   Explore, try a different intention, do a goof-through (that means doing the entire scene completely goofy.)  Or, try a dance-through – dance your way through your lines!  Really!  Try it!  When you play, you can be present and in the moment; out of your head and into your body.   Once you’re there, you’ll notice you begin to start…

-Listening. It’s one of the most important things an actor can do.   It’s also the HARDEST.  Listening is the willingness to change.   If you’re focused on getting it right, it means that you *already* have the answers and you’re not willing to change.  But being spontaneous requires listening. So listen with every part of your being and be willing to respond to what you’re hearing because that’s where improv happens.

-Let Yourself Fail. Yup, sometimes you’re gonna suck.  But failing does not make you a failure, it just means you have the opportunity to start again.  That last idea didn’t work?  So what?  Try a new one.  Don’t beat yourself up – just say: “Ok, begin again.”

And then do it.

Next up:  Say “Yes, and…”!!

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Posted by admin, August 20, 2015 6:43 pm

How do you use an audition to benefit you?

I’m not just talking about a potential paycheck. Let’s say you live in the valley and have to drive to Santa Monica for an audition. How many hours out of your day is that?  How many hours of your day job did you lose? It is easy to get resentful… unless you make those auditions work for you.

Very often a scene’s content will match something that’s going on in your life. (It’s weird and magical; I’ve seen it time and again in both my actors’ lives and my own.)  But it can be hard to see it because we don’t always have perspective on our own lives.  That’s why coaching’s so vital!  When I coach, I always ask Question #2:   How can you relate to this? I ask it over and over again because we almost always find that the actor has the same issue or need as what’s in the script!

I once had an actor who was auditioning a scene about a character who was telling someone off because he had been judged as not being enough of one thing and too much of another.  In casual conversation before the audition, he told me he hadn’t gotten one part because he had too much experience (they wanted someone more raw.) Then, although he felt perfect for it, his agent wouldn’t submit him for another part because he didn’t match the size requirements.   Although he couldn’t see it, I spotted the connection and pointed it out.  Once he saw it, he got mad all over again!  I told him to use the scene to express his anger about his own situation.  He did.  The casting director loved his work and he walked out feeling like he’d left the anger behind…and that he had rocked his audition!  This is the essence of Question #9.

This business is tough enough as it is. If you’re going to go through all the hassle to get to that audition, make it worthwhile for you, regardless of the outcome.  The best way to benefit personally is by showing up and bringing your personal essence and experience to that scene. (BTW – this also works for commercials!)

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Posted by admin, 6:23 pm

Congrats to Juliette Bailey!!  She’s playing the young Peg Entwistle in the short film “Hollywood Girl”!  Way to go, Juliette!

 

 

 

 

 

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Posted by admin, August 19, 2015 4:55 pm

If you want to make your performance personal, ask yourself this:  how do I use this script to benefit me? I got this idea from my own acting teacher, Elizabeth Gamza.  She would often comment on how actors are taught to serve the script – but are never taught the opposite.  “How the script can help you?” she would say.  At first, I found this kind of hard to follow.  And then I remembered one of my most fulfilling experiences as an actor…as well as one of my best performances.   I was in acting conservatory and had landed the role of “Nora” in Henrik Ibsen’s A Doll’s House.  At that time, I was engaged to man and I knew deep inside that I had made a mistake. I wanted to break off the engagement, but I was scared. I simply didn’t have the courage to do the thing I knew I needed to do… until I walked into acting class and my teacher gave me my scene.  It was the one where Nora takes off her wedding ring and leaves her husband.

I remind you that this play was first written and performed in Norway in 1879. Divorce was unheard of then and any woman that left her husband was basically ostracized from the community. When this play was performed, there were riots on the street in front of the theater and frankly, breaking off my engagement felt just as big and scary.

Interestingly, I memorized eight pages of dialogue – including a large monologue- in a single day.  The material was exactly what I needed at that moment.  My soul was crying out for a place to say, experience and do the very thing that terrified me.  I didn’t even have to think about serving the script because of how it was helping and healing me.  And what I didn’t know then – but do now – is that when I let the script serve me, I could in turn serve it by making it relevant to the present day.  In other words, when the script serves you, it serves itself.

I performed the scene in class and I got rave reviews, but it wouldn’t have mattered what anyone said…I felt great!  It was a release; empowering and creatively satisfying like no other acting experience had ever been.  It was my best work ever.   And…I finally found my courage and broke off the engagement.

Years later I was talking with a fellow alumni who had graduated after me. She told me that our teacher would refer to one particular performance of A Doll’s House as an example of very specific and committed work.  Turns out it was my performance;  in the very role which had given me so much in return.

NEXT UP:  Rock your character’s experience by connecting it with your own!

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Posted by admin, August 14, 2015 11:06 am

Once you’ve set your intention and you’re clear on what you need, you can start focusing on the most important person in the scene to get it.

In the movie Interstellar, Astronaut Cooper tries to say goodbye to his daughter Murphy, who’s so angry at him for going on this mission that she won’t even speak to him.  The most important person in the scene for Cooper is Murphy because it may be years before he returns (and he may not return at all), so he *must* get her to speak to him since it’s the last time she may ever get to do so.  The most important person in the scene for Murphy is, of course, Cooper; not just because she doesn’t want her dad to leave, but because she’s decoded the message that she *must* get him to understand:  stay.  The scene plays with great emotion because both actors have made each other the most important person in the scene!

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Posted by admin, August 11, 2015 3:00 pm

Or: who am I focusing on to get what I need?

Let’s go back to you as a kid in the grocery store with your mom. You want candy…she says no. Who’s the most important person in this moment? Answer: Your mom. Why?  Because she’s the only one who can give you what you want!

In acting, the OTHER PERSON is always the most important one in the scene. That’s because they are the only one who can help you fulfill your intention.  So, your job as an actor *must* be to focus all your attention on the other person. That means your attention is *not* on your lines, how you say them, how you’re standing, or what you look like.  Every moment of your attention should be focused on getting the other person to give you what you need. This skill will give you a connection to the other actor, help you listen for what you need, and put you in the moment.  Then you can create an authentic performance instead of trying to act one.

Bonus Note: Feeling nervous?  Focus on the other person and your nervousness will evaporate!  (In situations where you’re working with just a camera, a reader or a casting director, *they* become the most important person in the scene.)

Next up:  What it looks like to make your partner the most important person in the scene!

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Posted by admin, July 31, 2015 4:05 pm

Another way to think about stakes is to identify what you’re willing to risk in order to avoid losing them.

Stakes give a scene urgency, tension, and drama. To measure how high the stakes are, first evaluate how much you care about getting your intention.  Then decide WHAT IT WOULD COST YOU IF YOU LOST IT.  (HINT: *Every* character must care about getting their intention or they wouldn’t be in the scene!)

So, let’s go back to Argo.  What is Ben Affleck’s character – Tony Mendez – at risk of losing if he doesn’t get those six Americans out of Iran?   Answer:  There’s an unstable international peace situation:  losing that could lead to war!  More importantly, their lives are on the line!  He has to risk sneaking them out of the country so they won’t DIE.

Those are stakes at their highest!

Think in terms of life and death – even in straight drama. Doesn’t it feel like you’re going to die if she doesn’t accept your proposal of marriage?  It has to!!  This will give you something to fight for and get your audience hooked into your scene!

Set your intention, evaluate the risk of losing it, and raise those stakes…it can make or break booking a job!

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Posted by admin, July 28, 2015 1:22 pm

When you put something at stake, it means that you put something in danger of being lost.

To find out what’s at stake for your character, try asking yourself this: “what will my character lose if s/he doesn’t get what s/he needs?”

A great example of stakes can be found in Argo, the Oscar-winning film of 2012.

The film is based on a true story about a real Mission Impossible-type assignment given to CIA agent Tony Mendez (played by Ben Affleck.) He is an expert at getting people out of dangerous countries. His mission is to save six American Embassy workers who are hiding in Iran after the fall of the Shah.  Just the description of the story can make you feel the stakes!  But if Ben Affleck hadn’t created a performance with a ton of risk – and stakes- he wouldn’t have won the Oscar for Best Picture. Go back and watch his performance…it’s all there!

Remember: If you want the casting director to keep watching your reel, you have to make them feel that there is something at risk or in danger of being lost. This allows you (the actor) and your audience (the CD) to invest in the scene and experience it moment to moment.

Sometimes the “stakes” you put into the scene come directly from you the actor. Make your performance personal. Lay your heart out on the table in your audition: risk it all…and get that part!

Next up:  Keeping your stakes:  what are you willing to risk?

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Posted by admin, July 27, 2015 7:48 pm

Shannon Murray has booked a lead role in the new feature “Starian”! Congrats, Shannon!

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