Thursday, July 25, 2013

An Actor's "Stuff"

There are all kinds of theatrical products and services that an actor can purchase for the ostensible use of improving his craft. In most cases, I think one should hold on to one’s money. I am a firm believer that practice, conversation, and dedication work faster at improving one’s abilities than anything that can be bought and paid for.
However, there are a few things that generally require a monetary investment that I would recommend for the serious actor at any level.
To begin with, books. Books are never a waste of money. Any book worth reading is worth buying, as they say. Though the local library is a free alternative to buying many books, I always feel an actor should have at least a small library of theatre books of his own, to refer back to and enjoy over and over again. I am not a fan of textbooks, or books who espouse one methodology as superior. However, biographies of stage actors, books by famous stage directors, and those on stage history make great additions to one’s collection. As do books that talk about the craft more informally.
And of course copies of plays.
I also advocate spending money on dialect related products and services. Outside of the major acting metropoli, professional dialect coaches are hard to locate. With the internet, however, tapes and CDs that offer dialect instruction are not. Don’t spend a fortune, but do research and find some products that can make you familiar with some of the more common American accents that appear on stage. (Southern, Midwestern, New England, and the variety of New York City dialects.)
Outside of the home of the brave, I’d suggest various different British dialects in particular. (Yes, there is more than one type of British accent as well.) German characters seem to make their way into a lot of plays on the community stage, so that may be worth the investment as well. One can of course specialize, if one has a particular affinity for plays with certain characters.
The point is that knowing how to truly reproduce an accent adds levels of believability to your performances right off the bat. Few things are more distracting that an actor who is trying with all his might to sound like he is from somewhere that he is clearly not. (I find that bad Brooklyn accents tend to be the most atrocious of all, for some reason.)
Another investment worth making also involves something that tends to look very fake in many productions. That is stage combat. I am not saying that you need to develop a third degree black belt, or know how to fly into a breakaway window to be a good actor. But learning to pull punches, mask kicks, and fall convincingly not only make it easier for audiences to suspend disbelief, it helps the actor become more familiar with his own body. Being in shape never hurt any actor, and one of the best ways to get fit as an actor to engage in something that you can use on stage.
This is by no means an exhaustive list, and it will vary depending on the play, and the actor’s aspirations. Yet the point I am making here is that there are a lot of people asking for a would-be actor’s money, all with promises of making one better on stage. It just so happens that these are the items and services I have found can be most useful to the most actors on a regular basis, and are hence worth the cash.
(Originally appeared on on October 21, 2009. )

Wednesday, July 10, 2013

Next Up..Everyman

It has been a while since I've been able to post about actual acting news in my life here on the blog. And though details are still being worked out and rehearsals have not yet begun, I can say that I will be appearing in a "private production" if you will of the medieval morality play, "Everyman". I will be the title role.

For those not familiar, morality plays were often used in the Middle Ages by the church to teach values and spread the Christian Gospel. At the time, theater itself was often viewed as a sinful, bawdy undertaking. But morality plays were permitted, given the subject matter, and the ostensible goal of saving souls and what not.

This playwright is unknown, as is the case with most such plays of this period.

I shall play a man for whom death personified has come. The man, representing all men, in case you have not determined that, seeks among those who knows for company to go with him on his large, arduous journey. Friends, material, love, and other such concepts are represented on stage by single characters, all of whom abandon Everyman. In the end only God is faithful, as one might expect from a play of this nature.

It is unlike anything I have yet done, though my work in Shakespeare is probably the most similar, from a linguistic standpoint. It's not written as Shakespeare is, but even the more "modern" texts of the script have a certain poetic cadence that will be a challenge to master.

As an actor, and a blogger I have often advocated for challenging one's self and stepping outside of certain comfortable boundaries, and this will be one of those times for me. I will mention more when the actual production process begins, but I wanted to take the chance to announce it here.

Thursday, July 04, 2013

Extra Rehearsal

Rehearsals for a production are a serious business. In the very least they should be to you. A lot of energy, and eventually, money, is invested in a community production. Wasting time dedicated to making a show a success indicates a serious disrespect for the theatre, and your fellow cast members and crew, not to mention your future audiences. This doesn't mean you should never have fun while rehearsing. It’s not the army, after all, but there should be discipline, and a willingness to get down to business right away.
Unless you gather with a few people you share scenes with, and rehearse informally.
Schedules can be a tricky business to navigate, but if you can manage it, take time outside of rehearsal to meet with your cast mates and go over the scenes you share. Even if you only have one such opportunity, take it. If nobody has suggested it, take the initiative yourself and suggest a time and place to go over your scenes. It is preferable to work on all of them, but for certain at least go over your longest or most problematic moments together.
Gathering outside of rehearsal accomplishes several things. To begin with, it gives you a chance to become comfortable with cast members you have not worked with or met before. Meeting for a read through at a coffee shop, or at a local park if the weather is warm can begin to tear down the awkwardness that often exists when people first begin working together on stage. And while this is not an absolute necessity in order to perform well together, it certainly does no harm, and when done early in the official rehearsal process, it more often than not will increase the productivity of regular rehearsals. Being “warm” to one another right off the bat eliminates the need to get used to one another during early official rehearsals, and hence leaves more time for developing the characters and the scene.
The benefits of these informal get-togethers are not limited to those who have never worked together before, however. Regardless of how familiar you are with your cast mates, an informal reading of the scene outside of rehearsal allows for more casual and open communication. This is fertile ground for new ideas and approaches, both to character and to the scene as a whole. Digressions, experiments, and questions for which there are little time during rehearsal can be given as much time as the group decides they are worth when the setting is social.
Finally, though it should be obvious, I will mention that a huge benefit to these meetings is that they are, or at least should be, fun.
You will meet those in community theatre who insist that it is in bad form to meet and run lines or discuss the play without the director being present. Such people consider it a cardinal sin to try to be creative without permission.
Ignore such people. While it is true that a director must provide vision to a production, only a poor, or power hungry individual will have a problem with some informal practice and brainstorming. Which, of course, is exactly what it is; brainstorming. It is not making a final decision, or overturning a direct instruction. It is exploration. It is getting comfortable and creative. It is enhancing the enjoyment of being in live theatre. Any actor or director that would deprive you of such things is probably not worth working with anyway.

(Originally appeared on on October 7, 2009.)