Monday, May 17, 2010

One of the advantages in turning to acting later in life is that I’ve learned to research those areas where my experience is limited, to assess thoroughly the career advice I’m getting (since I’m paying for it out of my own pocket) but in the end to always trust my own judgment (since it's held me in good stead in the past). Certainly there are many wonderful acting instructors and coaches – wonderful actors themselves often. But outside of Los Angeles, New York and London many times what we encounter are instructors who are themselves struggling to get a career off the ground, or instructors whose experience and reputation is in local theatre. However much we admire them, they may not have every answer and their wisdom may not always be sound.

Another factor is that there is no single approach to acting, and that we pretty much have to find out for ourselves what works. But while sorting that out we may have to dodge bad advice – if we recognize it. For example, I do a lot of reading on the acting profession and one of the things I’ve read again and again is that auditors most appreciate monologues (when they ask for them) that show something of your personality, something that moves them or charms them in some way. They want to like you, in part because they're thinking ahead to what it will be like to work with you. What they do not want to see is a piece heavy on the “ick” factor – no monologues that have you stepping on gerbils, disrobing, shouting or raising mental images that make them feel embarrassed or uncomfortable during your audition. In fact, there is one obscure play - I think it's The Woolgatherers - that some auditors hate so much they will stop an actor from doing his monologue rather than endure any scenes from that play again.

Some months ago, I took a class from an instructor who has some reputation locally. The first day the class met I told her I was looking for a new monologue – something moving or charming. She said she had one she thought would work for me and that I might want to include in my repertoire for auditions. Well, given her reputation I was thrilled. After class I snatched up the monologue and rushed home anxious to read this gem and start learning the lines.

Well, hmmm. You know, I can accept the need to challenge yourself as an actor and to stretch beyond your comfort zone, but the monologue she recommended was not one that I would have ever performed in an audition, in class, or even in front of my most trusted friend. It was unbelievably icky! So much so that I am convinced that performing it publicly would have given me quite a reputation of my own locally and been a serious set back to my career. That the instructor thought that particular monologue was appropriate for auditions made me question her judgment and her advice. Consequently, I immediately transferred out of her class.

But how many budding actors get tripped-up by something like that? Probably at least some of those doing monologues from that much hated play mentioned above.

Wednesday, May 12, 2010

Crunch time. Looped the audio last weekend for a film in post. Audition tomorrow for another short film. Just returned from seeing the youngest graduate from college in Colorado. Will soon start rehearsals for “Orange Juice in Bishop’s Garden.” Another audition in mid-May, this time for an industrial set to start shooting in early June. Somewhere in there I’m working a day job scripting corporate videos, writing magazine articles and finishing a drama class. It’s good to be busy. It’s also easier to get work when you have work.

I’m hoping to benefit from what actor David Millstone calls a shortage of non-union over 40. My goal is to have 8-10 short film roles in the can by the end of the year and then to add union membership to my résumé. This is my year for putting to practice what I’ve learned, and it’s a struggle - a struggle getting it natural. I would like to take another class or two, but something that really challenges me. I’ve heard that the instructors at Studio Theatre in DC are a rather exacting lot, so I may take a look at what they have to offer. By this point I’ve developed a thick enough skin to judge whether criticism of my acting is valid or not. (Most of the time it’s valid.

Just finished Paul Russell’s book Acting: Make It Your Business. He talks a lot about creating a personal brand and establishing a look and feel to all of your query materials that says you’re serious about your work. Having worked as a publicist before getting into TV and video I have to agree with that. A lot of people get into acting for the social aspects. They’re the ones most likely to remark that an acting gig was “fun.” Well, anything you do professionally should be enjoyable, but for me – and for a lot of actors – the point is to get as many opportunities to act as you can and to do it well. Creating a brand can help get those acting jobs, and acting well is an ongoing personal improvement project.

It will soon be summer. Bah!