Wednesday, July 14, 2010

DAY 25

Another Friday! It's hard to describe how the breathing exercises in Greg's Voice class help to fill our entire bodies with resonance and sound. It's the difference between someone who is pushing to try and speak loudly from their throat or chest, and the person who seems to just naturally and effortlessly boom out sound from somewhere in their torso. After our hour and a half of de-structuring our breathing (forcing it away from a normal breath pattern through all of the tremor-ing), we all find ourselves in the latter, booming category.

In Joanne's Audition class, we spent the day doing cold readings in pairs. She (and several of our teachers this summer) have emphasized the importance of reading out loud every single day. We took turns reading scenes about five minutes long, and every time the sides ended we were all desperate to know what happened to the characters in the end. Since we can't all have a personal Joanne with a vast knowledge of great plays to make recommendations at our disposal, I thought I'd mention a few of the ones that we read selections from, although I'm not sure if they are all published yet: What They Have by Kate Robbins, Completeness by Itamar Moses, King of Shadows by Roberto Aguirre-Sacasa, Happy Face by David West Read, and Incendiary by Adam Szymkowicz.

In Hal's combined afternoon Advanced Technique class, we could pick any combination of the techniques we've learned so far (movement qualities, imaginary centers, tempos, atmospheres, etc) two create characters. He set up a table and chairs, and we went up two at a time, with our characters and techniques in mind. One person sat down first, then the next came out and had to start the scene by asking, "You come here often?" It was really entertaining and interesting to see how many ways the scenario could play out, for better or for worse. It's fun for us to be able to use these ideas, which at first glance can seem technical or abstract, in an improvisation to illustrate how useful they can be when working on a "real" character in a production.

DAY 24

What advice did wildly successful television director Lee Shallat have for a room of aspiring actors?

"The best thing you can do is become a Buddhist."

She was only kind of joking- most of the advice she gave us was the encouragement to keep pursuing our careers, whether going to fruitless audition after fruitless audition or continuing to direct after a flopped show. She described her own initial failures and struggles when she made the switch from directing theatre to film without having any camera training as "being like a zombie... I kept coming back from the dead." That kind of perseverance has led her to direct such shows as Family Ties, The Nanny, Mad About You, Spin City, Arrested Development, The Bernie Mac Show, and Gilmore Girls.

She did give us some great audition tips for the world of film and television, and I'll list them here, as frantically scribbled down by a completely inexperienced film actress:

- The best ways to be seen by a casting director: Go to casting workshops, or be in an independent film that gets seen by influential people.
- In an audition, never feel like you NEED to get the job, or you will not be in the best mental place you can be, which is a centered, loose place.
- Read sides OUT LOUD on your feet a million times before the audition. It can never be stale or over-prepared... if you get the part you're going to have to do it in front of the camera a million times anyway.
- Read stage directions for character clues.
- Know where the character stands dramatically and psychologically in the scene.
- Be aware of where the "point" of the scene is.
- Don't "decorate" unnecessarily- if you're supposed to be the straight man, don't try to be funny.
- Don't ask yourself to get it perfectly right the first second: It's impossible. Just go in the moment.
-When you leave, let it go!
- Breathe life into the scene.
- If you are comfortable with it, they will be comfortable with you.
- They'll never tell you the truth. [Yikes!]
- DO NOT do a "stretch" piece in a general audition. Show off everything that's great about you, not your liabilities.
- Know who you are and how you come across.

Finally, one of my favorite bits of advice that she gave us was to put the "story you make up about yourself" (all the doubts and fears and self-criticism) out of your head. Keep the pure feelings (adrenaline, excitement), and be comfortable with yourself in them, because they will be there regardless, and use them to your advantage.

Sunday, July 11, 2010

DAY 23

Today we were so lucky to spend the first half of our day listening to actress Marin Hinkle (most recently well known for her role as Jon Cryer's shrew ex-wife on Two and a Half Men) talk about her experience as an actress balancing theatre, television, and family.

She told us the story of how her early life led her to acting: Born in Africa to parents (a lawyer and a professor) who met in the Peace Corps, she spent her childhood as a dancer before an injury left her to focus on academics and college. Knowing she was unable to dance but still in love with the stage, she decided to enroll as a theatre major at Brown. I related so much to her description of finding the theatre as a place where you can be something beyond what your family situation (or expectations of being proper and academic) dictate, allowing you to be something beyond the "good girl." My favorite anecdote was her description of her attempt at playing Emily in Our Town, which was failing as she acted it from a dancer's aesthetic, each line fully expressed with body motions and big faces. Laura Linney, who was a friend a few years her senior at Brown, kindly told her over burgers, "... you could simplify."

She took that advice to get her MFA at NYU, and began working in regional theatres and Off Broadway. Her theatre career picked up, she got married, and got a recurring role on Once and Again as Sela Ward's sister, moving out to Los Angeles from New York. After that ended she returned to regional theatre work, and after finding out she and her husband were pregnant, landed her current role on Two and a Half Men. It was so interesting to hear about the differences she has experienced between theatre and television work. She described the television set as an often joyless, sometimes "soulless" environment facing deadlines with a business mindedness, not with the theatrical creative, ensemble process. However, this job has afforded her the opportunity to pay off student loans, buy a home, and raise her child. There is no room for discussion about her character, as she commented, "Clearly the writers are angry at their ex-wives."

Wednesday, July 7, 2010

Day 22

This morning we had Karen's Rehearsal class on the Argyros stage. It's so tempting, in such a big and intimidating theatre, to fall back to all of our bad actor habits to try and fill the space. It was also our last day working on The Three Sisters and there was a general sadness at being done with these characters that we've spent so much time with over the past month. I did one last Irina speech, and at one point at which I was sort of whispering/confiding in another character, Karen told me that such a whisper could not be heard at the back of such a large house. The cheat solution she offered me was to make the sentences on either side of the secret louder than normal so that the secret can be a normal volume, but still sound quieter and more hushed than the rest.

After lunch we had our final day of shooting Girl, Interrupted in Scott's Camera class. The last scene that we had to shoot was my close up. We did two takes, and after watching the playback we all generally agreed that the second one was better. One of my off camera scene partners remarked that it's always easier to have your best performance when the camera is not pointing right at your face. Scott seemed to take this idea to heart because he told me to do it one more time, just as a rehearsal run-through without the camera. We did it, and afterward he said, "Cut! Callie, did you know we were actually shooting?" I had to admit that I did- no one holds the boom mic for a rehearsal. It was a good directorial trick, though.

Lastly we had Hisa's Shakespeare class. I didn't present today, but I did enjoy watching my classmates perform and I think that I am going to use one of their monologues as my comedic selection: The Julia monologue from Two Gentlemen of Verona in which she berates herself for ripping up a love letter is funny even outside of the context of the show.

Tuesday, July 6, 2010


No class today in honor of the Fourth of July!

I spent some of my time off reading Rabbit Hole by David Lindsay-Abaire. Wow. I know I'm a couple years late on discovering this play, but, man, talk about writing some punch-you-in-the-gut-emotion into characters: A couple struggles in the year after the accidental death of their four-year-old son to redefine their own lives and relationships. I'm not a mother (and obviously Mr. Lindsay-Abaire isn't either) but the grief of a woman who has lost her child is heart-wrenchingly palpable in the dialogue.

Also, a note on the blog format: The date and time stamp at the top of each entry is the time at which I post it, not necessarily the day being described in the entry. If anyone knows a way to change it at the time of posting, let me know!

DAY 20

Friday! This morning we were lucky enough to have Voice class with Greg on the Argyros Stage, one of the two main stages at SCR. It was so cool to be in such a renowned space, and our group was especially lucky to have this class first thing in the morning to relax and get our voices warmed up before the rest of the day. Greg had some of us go out into the house to listen to others say lines from their monologues to see how the acoustics in the house sound and vice versa. Then we did our full Fitzmaurice warm-up of stretching, tremor-ing, and breathing while saying text. At the end of class we tried our pieces again, and it was amazing how much fuller and more supported everyone sounded.

Secondly we had Audition class with Joanne on the Nicholas stage. Today was a mock-audition, and we went through the class each pretending as if it was the annual SCR generals: Walk in the room, slate, say your piece, say thank you, and walk out. We also timed each person; an ideal audition (and the usual requirement) is somewhere between one to three minutes. I felt pretty good about my piece, which is a Pooty monologue (great character name, huh?) from Reckless by Craig Lucas. My next task is to find a good contrasting piece. Joanne suggested I look at plays by Theresa Rebeck, who I'd never heard of (sometimes I feel like an ignorant fool when confronted with all the plays and writers I've never heard of) but apparently writes great edgy and funny female roles.

In the afternoon we had a combined Advanced Technique class with Hal. We worked with the idea of Tempos for the first time. This technique works with the concept that each character has an inner and outer tempo, and the atmosphere they interact in has its own tempo. A character's inner tempo is the rate at which a character thinks, feels, visualizes, etc, and can be categorized as very fast, fast, normal, slow, or very slow. A character's outer tempo is the rate at which a character moves, speaks, handles objects, etc, and can be fast, normal, or slow. The tempo of the atmosphere, or its pulse or heartbeat, can be very fast, fast, normal, or slow. We all got to take turns making up characters with any combination of tempos. I chose a sharp old lady (inner tempo: quick, outer tempo: slow) and a bouncy little girl (inner tempo: slow, outer tempo: very fast). For those of us who didn't get to do a scene playing with Atmosphere on Wednesday, we got to go this afternoon. I played a scene in which my husband was leaving me, and I was trying to get him to stay. The first atmosphere was despair and the second, anger. Playing despair, I made myself cry again.

It's the small victories in life.

Friday, July 2, 2010

DAY 19

This morning we had a double Audition class with Joanne talking about the difference between film and television auditions versus theatre auditions. Personally, I still think that the film and TV audition process sounds much more nerve-wracking, probably because I've never done it before. When you think about it, it can either be awful or wonderful that your talent doesn't (really) matter and it's all about your look- on the one hand, not getting the job doesn't mean you didn't do well and so it's not personal, on the other hand, you can't really control your look, you just have to hope that you match the image in the casting associate's head. We also talked about how important cold reading skills are, especially in the film medium where you often have to cold read without knowing anything about the story or character. We practiced a bit with Luna Park, a book of unrelated monologues and scenes by Donald Margulies. (Note: Although it's usually not ideal to do monologues that aren't from plays for auditions, Joanne suggested that anything from this book would be alright because it is by such a well-respected playwright, not just an Acting 101 monologue book.)

After lunch we had Acting for the Camera with Scott, and we got to shoot most of the close-ups for Girl, Interrupted. It's an interesting experience being the out-of-shot actor, because (for me and some of my classmates, at least) there's less of that self-conscious feeling when you know you're not being recorded. It's also an interesting transition when, in all of your theatre training, you've been told to be "bigger" and then on film you need to "tone it down" or else you look like the world's biggest over-actor.

Lastly we had a Three Sisters Rehearsal class with Karen. She had given us the option of preparing a scene as a character other than the role we had been cast in for today's class. It was really fun to see people find characters entirely against their type and still play them wonderfully. My favorite was a transformation from Vershinin (leading man) to the Doctor (drunken old man). Karen even surprised one classmate who had not prepared an opposite character by asking her to go from Natasha (evil shrew) to Masha (heart-broken mess).

Thursday, July 1, 2010

DAY 18

This morning's Improv class with Greg found all of us suddenly having a terrible time with the simpler games. A mid-week funk, if you will. We moved on to a new game, which was similar to one that we played in Hal's class a few weeks ago, playing with mock job interviews. One person would be doing the interviewing, and the other would have to come up with three distinct characters to interview for the job. It was interesting afterward to pick apart how some turns in their conversations had either helped or hindered the scene: Any time someone gave their scene partner good detailed information, it was greatly beneficial, but if the person didn't receive it or accept what they said as true (breaking one of the holiest improv rules) the scene tanked.

In Hal's Advanced Technique class we continued to focus on Atmospheres and Psychological Gestures. I feel that Atmospheres and the Qualities that we worked on in the earlier weeks have largely the same effect for me, just with different ways of using the imagination: Either that it comes from your surroundings or inside your body, whatever "it" is (the feeling you get from an atmosphere of power versus the carving quality feel similar to me). We worked on finding a Psychological Gesture for our Three Sisters characters, which can be hard to do for intellectual characters, and especially hard for intellectual actors. The gesture is supposed to be a sort of gut reaction to the character, in one simple physical movement, that symbolizes their objective and situation. A character looking for love while feeling trapped could perhaps lunge forward, arms outstretched, without quite reaching what they need. It can feel silly to do such huge movements that are not at all realistic if you think too much about it; it is more of an intuitive response.

In Hisa's Shakespeare class I got up to do my Helena monologue from All's Well. I was so focused on not being "promiscuous with my pauses" that I sped through it pretty quickly the first time around. Then she had me go back and do it again focusing on clarifying each image (and not moving my non-paper-carrying hand like a crazy person). I connect so deeply to Helena in what she's saying in this monologue, and I became a bit overwhelmed by it and unable to connect that emotion to the words off the page. By next class I will be memorized so that I don't have to be hiding behind the paper while I speak.