Every actor, over time, and with experience, develops his or her own way of getting to that performance-ready moment. There are certain steps that one should go through in preparing and in building a strong character and compelling story. Some actors may skip, overlook, or leave undeveloped aspects of foundational preparation that would be of great benefit. While you may have others, these four are essential:
The script tells you who you are, where you are, and gives all the clues for the story you are telling… what really can be a giant treasure hunt. Of course, you need to know this material forward and backward so that you can “forget it” when the curtain rises or “action” is called, and just BE.
Research is the “digging” for more information that is not given in the script, but may be referred to, such as a time period, or historical event or anything mentioned in the script that might help you get a better understanding of some element of the story. Also, research the playwright and his/her story about the play, what inspired him, and any insights he may give on the back story (his or the play’s). The more information you have, the more opportunity for a thunderbolt of inspiration.
Character is your person, your part. Who is this person and how can you best bring them to life? All the things that you have uncovered in the script and the research will add to the many bits of this person’s uniqueness. I know actors who are such great “people watchers” that they “collect” voices, walks, traits and habits of people they have met or observed. Then when they have a role or character to develop, they go through their “collection” for something that fits and gives their character captivating traits.
Costume can be very important to the work of many actors, less so for others. In some productions an actor may have a lot of control over their costume(s) and this becomes an extension of the character development. Whether you make the choices or you must adapt to someone else’s selections, it is still a very important part of the role to be played and the story being told.
The basic elements above are part of the structure that should be in place first in order for the real magic and creativity to happen. If the foundation is firmly in place before the rehearsal process begins (or before the first day of shooting), you are then freed up to explore your relationships and the deeper layers of the story.
For example, once an actor knows the lines instinctively, he or she can then let go of the script and be free to explore the relationships with eye to eye contact and physical interaction with the other characters. Bringing all the above foundational elements into your performance, with the other characters doing the same, where connection and relationship are happening organically, is fertile ground for unexpected brilliance.
A strong cast, all working in concert to tell a great story, where all have done “their homework” as described, can set an energy into motion that will bring their audience to the edge of their seats… for two hours… on opening night.
May 2nd, two weeks ago today, was the National Day of Prayer. Here in Ennis we gathered downtown for a community-wide prayer. One of our local pastors, who leads this prayer gathering every year, had asked various members of the community to pray over different segments of our city life such as city government, first responders, churches, businesses, schools, etc. I was asked to pray over “arts and entertainment”. I’m sharing that prayer with you today so that we can continue to pray it together.
Father, I pray today as Jesus taught the disciples to pray: “Thy kingdom come, Thy will be done, as in heaven, so in earth.” (Lord’s prayer) What does that look like Lord, to have heaven come to earth in the realm of arts and entertainment? We say “yes” to the possibilities.
We know that we are created in Your image (Genesis 1:26), that we too are creative beings. Father, you have wired us to create, to dream and design, to innovate and invent, to discover, to lead with new ideas, to set the trends and even blaze a new path. May we, through our artistic expressions, creatively communicate Your heart of love, mercy, and grace to a world that needs You.
Thank you, Lord, for the opportunity to participate in Your divine plan. Whether it be story-telling on stage, screen or page, if it be dance, painting, sculpting, music, accounting or agriculture, I pray that You breathe on our works of love. May they bless and bring vibrance to our community.
We call out to You for vision and revelation of Your plan for the arts and that which entertains. Father, let us not be satisfied with earth-bound ideas of arts and entertainment, limited by the voices of our culture, but instead, Father, that we would reach for what eye hath not seen, ear hath not heard, neither hath it entered into the heart of man what You have prepared for those that love You. (I Corinthians 2:9)
We pray that our artistic expression would be filled with joy and welcome Your presence.
To every thing there is a season, and a time to every purpose under heaven: A time to be born, and a time to die; a time to plant, a time to reap that which was planted; A time to kill, and a time to heal; a time to break down and a time to build up; A time to weep, and a time to laugh; a time to mourn, and a time to dance; A time to cast away stones, and a time to gather stones together; A time to embrace, and a time to refrain from embracing; A time to get, and a time to lose; a time to keep, and a time to cast away; A time to rend, and a time to sew; a time keep silence, and a time to speak; A time to love, and a time to hate; a time of war, and a time of peace.
Did you find yourself singing those words? Many think of the melody created by Pete Seeger in the late 1950’s, later adapted and recorded by The Byrds. But it was King Solomon, noted for his remarkable wisdom, who is the author of the words. (Book of Ecclesiastes, Chapter 3:1-8 King James Bible).
The passage, and the song that made it memorable, are deep with meaning that can benefit every creative. There is a time and a season that will be best for your purpose. By the way, the Hebrew word that was translated purpose means “pleasant desire, valuable thing”. Understand that the right timing or “season” of your life can be key to your “valuable thing.”
I can remember a casting director that explained the importance of hard work and patience, but also the supreme value of correct timing of an opportunity. Getting your “break” too early, or not at the right time, she explained, could mean you never reach your goal. Or worse, never get a big opportunity again.
Here’s why. Maybe you have a great audition and you land a principle role. Your first big chance to get something meaty on your resume. They may be willing to take the risk on someone a little green, but is that what is best for you? At this time?
When your “valuable thing” comes your way, will you be ready? Or is it your optimal timing? If you get ahead of yourself and do something you are not artistically ready for, you may not do as well as you might with more training. Such a choice could have long term effects. Conversely, the material or project may be substandard, and therefore will not show you in a good light. Here are some other timing issues to consider:
Are you developed enough to go the whole distance? For example, plays take A LOT of rehearsal, films sometimes shoot in remote locations. How’s your confidence level? Could a bit more experience, training, or counseling get you into a better place? Or what about your life circumstance? Some personal situations would warrant a delay or more patience.
How is your stamina? Is your body/mind in shape?
Do you have reliable transportation?
If you are young, how is your maturity level? Even the not-so-young “artistic type” has been known to let their emotions rule over them. It may be the emotion needed for the scene, but do you know how to turn it off at the right time?
Maybe starting small with a season of “planting” before you expect “to reap that which was planted.” Increments of building sometimes make the best talent shine.
None of this is to say don’t pursue your goals full on, nor is it suggesting you turn any offers down. But some actors do. There are those who have a strategy for achievement that does include declining offers.
This idea of timing may help if you don’t get that role you really wanted. It’s not over. There will be other opportunities. In the big picture of things, you want the right thing at the right time.
Consider that your artistic endeavors may have seasons of delay, seasons of building, times of planting, some of losing, others of laughing, and even those of weeping (maybe happy tears).
Over the course of a lifetime of work, a season is not a long time and they all are working together for your good. Embrace the journey… a good time to dance.
I love telling people, when asked what we do: “we tell stories… on a stage.” Although there are people who don’t have personal experience with theatre, onstage or in an audience, everyone can relate to the telling of a story.
The essence and power of a story can be profound. Since our first childhood bedtime rituals, we have been captivated by stories. They draw us in and can influence, propel, and change us.
Stories connect people, stories inspire courage, stories give us an opportunity to see things differently. They create mystery, they narrate history. Stories told can generate emotion and provoke us to action. Stories remind us of who we are, where we have been, and where we want to go.
Many stories have been passed down by the telling from father to child. Others are written in books or drawn on walls. Many today are told on a screen, in a dance, a song, or a play.
Stories are especially loved when told by those we cherish around noisy family tables and by best friends in quiet voices.
Have you ever noticed how a child will hear a story or watch a movie and begin to pretend and play the story out? They will act out new stories that include things they have seen us do. A desire, deep in our DNA, to be a part of a grand and glorious story.
We’ve all done it. We want the wonderful stories that inspire us to be our story too. If we are brave enough, maybe we can step into that story. The truth is, just like we got inspired by someone else’s story, we can inspire others with ours.
I love the stories God tells in His Book: Joseph’s story (Genesis 37-50) of enduring belief in a dream, although rejected and betrayed; Rahab’s story (Joshua 2-6) of discerning what was coming and taking great courage to save her entire family; Gideon’s story (Judges 6-8) of hiding fearfully in a winepress, yet God had another story for him as a valiant warrior, and Gideon said YES.
Jesus told stories (parables) everywhere he went to point the way to all who would seek it. St. Paul, the apostle, brought many people into the kingdom by telling his story. I love how the bad parts of it did not disqualify him.
These stories can encourage us to endure, challenge us to go higher, and to hope in Someone greater.
The potency of “story” is that in the hearing or seeing we can extract treasure. In the telling, especially our own, we can give to others and multiply the gift.
Have you ever been way out of your comfort zone? I thought so. Me too.
New things, new places, and sometimes new people, can jolt us into a very uncomfortable place. Deadlines can be rough. Risking a different direction… scary. Putting yourself “out there” creatively can be overwhelming. What would you add to that list?
When I was in elementary school we went on a field trip to the state capitol. Our whole 4th grade class climbed this narrow metal circular staircase that went way way up to the very tippy-top of the capitol rotunda. We then tentatively crept single-file OUTSIDE onto a narrow itsy-bitsy walkway that went around the circular spire thingy.
I started to feel uncomfortable (and dizzy) as we climbed up high on the metal spiral staircase. Then it was my turn to step outside, with the wind blowing, onto the narrow walkway with only a railing between us kids and a long fall down. I passed out. The next thing I knew, Mr. Benson, our teacher, was carrying me back down the spiral staircase.
The fear of that windy walkway OUTSIDE, with the skinny metal railing, just took my breath away.
All those feelings come rushing back to me at times. I feel the discomfort… and the fear of what might be just ahead. I still try to avoid high windy places, but I have determined that I will not give into fear. I choose to be brave.
Fear is not part of our identity. We were created for better things.
2 Timothy 1:7 (KJV) says: “for God hath not given us the spirit of fear; but of power and of love, and of a sound mind.”
Fear can make us lose our minds. Other versions use the word self-control or discipline. We do have better options than fear. Instead of rehearsing the day at the top of the capitol rotunda (or others like it) I choose to rehearse what God says about me and how He made me.
Music can be a powerful tool as well and for me it’s a song on Rhea Marshall’s More of You CD entitled “I Will Not Fear”which is essentially this powerful verse put to music. Nothing empowers and changes mindsets like God’s Word hidden in your heart.
All creative people, all those who are allowing His giftings and callings to bring change and opportunity, are going to face discomfort and fear. But we can press past it.
Go ahead: take the new direction, write the book, audition for the part. He’s your biggest cheerleader and He will never leave you or forsake you. He has every hair on your head numbered. He has angels looking after you, and people like my 4th grade teacher, Mr. Benson, who are full of God’s love to carry you to safety when things take your breath away.
Sometimes actors, who may be so convincing and brilliant in a role played on stage or film, may not be so comfortable in a situation where he or she might be making a speech or giving a talk – as his or her self. Do we find it easier to play a role of a character we have created than to let our own personality shine? Do we hide there? Do we even cherish and honor those characters we play more than we do ourselves?
Actors struggle with this. I see it all the time.
I often get to hear stories of patrons who are moved or touched by a performance, a character, or a play and it’s story. Recently a dear friend and a long time season ticket holder was talking about a specific actor and the work she had seen him do over the years. “But I’ll never forget that first role I saw him in,” she said, and she named the play. “It changed my life.”
Wow, I thought… that is big.
My friend went on to tell of how the role this actor had brought to life had reminded her of her father and as she saw the actor portray this character, she, for the first time, understood her father and saw him in a fresh way that deeply touched her. She saw him on that stage, she saw his pain and his challenges. And it set her free.
Now, sometimes it can work the other way too. I have also been notified, which I also appreciate, by the way, of a play, a character, or circumstance that someone found unsettling. It touched a nerve, it brought up unpleasant memories, it even offended. That can and does happen, too. When you tell stories, the stories of real people, it entertains, it stirs, it challenges, it cheers, it brings up memories and emotions, happy and sad. We love the happy, but must risk the range of emotion to understand ourselves and others.
This reminded me of a favorite quote about the arts by Richard Eyre, “Change begins with understanding and understanding begins by identifying oneself with another person: in a word, empathy. The arts enable us to put ourselves in the mind, eyes, ears, and hearts of other human beings.”
The honorable work of an actor, on stage and screen, large and small, affects change. Like the quote above suggests, it’s the actor who makes the empathy possible with his/her creation of character, making it easy for us to identify with them.
So to the actor, go ahead and shine, in character and out of character. Your work is valuable. You are valuable. Think about this: the first artist and person mentioned in The Bible (Bezalel) to be “filled… with God’s spirit with wisdom, understanding and ability in every kind of craft to design artistic works” was an artist, specifically chosen by God and called to a divine purpose. (Exodus 35:30). You are too.
This was the advice given to me by my favorite and long time acting teacher Cliff Osmond.
So on Valentine’s day I will pass this wonderful insight along to all my actor friends: look for the love in the material that you are working on. Whether you are doing scene work in class, or in an audition situation, or you have been cast in a play and are developing your character, look for the love.
Sometimes the love is obvious although it manifests in many forms. There are other times, because of what may be going on in a given scene (or monologue) filled with conflict, love may seem to be nowhere in sight. It’s there, keep looking.
If you didn’t care, if you didn’t love, why would you even be fighting? Wouldn’t you just walk away? And we don’t always say what we mean anyway. Find the love. Play the love.
Love makes every story richer, every character more intriguing.
My add on to my acting teacher’s wisdom: The Passion Translation says it beautifully… “There are three things that remain: faith, hope and love – yet love surpasses them all. So above all else, let love be the beautiful prize for which you run.” (I Corinthians 13:13)
We all experience those times in our lives when the busyness and responsibilities just want to overwhelm us. We each have our own story but we need the full engagement of our mind, will, and emotions for the important creative work. Yet there are often one hundred other things that so urgently need our attention. The idea of getting quiet to do the character creation or script research or finish that chapter of your book, (or Act II of your play) or paint the painting. It just seems like too much… you can feel the circuits “shorting out”. It hurts because that creative work is the thing you love and the important thing you are wired for, your destiny is there.
At times it feels like chaos is all around you. You finally get focused, and start to make some progress on something then your agent calls and you need to send a taped audition before the end of the workday….. eeek! You feel the frustration rising, but you have to stop, because that call is actually part of the creative work you have been hoping for and working toward.
This is when I run to my Creator and Savior and cry “help!” I am reminded of His words in Proverbs 3 (The Message version) “Trust God from the bottom of your heart; don’t try to figure everything out on your own. Listen for God’s voice in everything you do, everywhere you go; he’s the one who will keep you on track.”
As most of you have, I’m sure, I have cried many tears over the years. I remember a specific crisis time in my family where we were all crying tears over a brother and his circumstances. I was comforted by a scripture I came across by “accident:”
“You keep track of all my sorrows. You have collected all my tears in your bottle. You have recorded each one in your book.” (Psalms 56:8)
Later, when doing an important audition like the one I described above where I was very distracted, I needed to get focused by pulling away from my overwhelming busyness. I got quiet and tried to “listen for God’s voice.” I was instantly reminded of His promise in Psalm 56:8… I needed tears for that audition… and guess what… He poured them out for me, right out of His bottle full of my tears. It was sweet.
I always get excited about the new year and like a kid that stretches to find one last gift under the Christmas tree, I feel the tingle of hope and joy for what the “wrapping” of the new year will uncover.
I like to pray about what to focus on in the coming months. What new goals may need to be set. Is it a time to refocus and reset? (I wrote a blog last year called “Do you need a Relaunch, Reset or Redesign?”Or maybe just continue on the current path. We so want to be a part of something important, accomplish big things, and be a blessing in our endeavors.
Usually there is a time of reflection as well. A look back, even if just a glance, at where I came from, progress made last year… How about you?
Often, we feel negative emotions over goals that (maybe once again) we didn’t meet, boxes on our datebook still left unticked. There’s that project we designated to be the main focus of our attention for last year, and it is still not fully complete, because we got stuck on one aspect of it.
The thing is, before we spend too much time in the realm of disappointment or frustration consider this… Maybe you have not counted some super important, even much weightier things you DID do that weren’t even written on your list of “Things to Accomplish in 2018.”
There was that young person you did not realize was experiencing hard things at home that you gave confidence and hope as they were mentored through a project….or their first on-stage role.
That co-worker you took the time to help by lending them your car to go out of town for the weekend to visit family.
And don’t forget the reason you did not accomplish the one goal was because you started that class and it took so much more time than you thought.
Of course, by now I hope you are remembering “accomplishments” that are personal to you. In the big picture those “distractions” may just be the answers to your prayers. Those are the blessings, the important endeavors that last for eternity, not the busyness that we so often mistake for goals to be reached.
Go ahead and feel the hope for the new year. There is so much opportunity out there and you don’t even have to make a list.
All over the world this week there are stagings of the Christmas nativity scene. Be it children merely standing in position, or actors bringing the story to life, from small stagings to extravaganzas with live animals, with music and without, the event that changed the planet is told over and over again. The characters are all there: the angel Gabriel, Mary, Joseph, the shepherds, and the wise men. This “play” is probably done more than any other, the story treasured and familiar.
As a child, my sisters and I made a nativity scene one year with our Barbie and Ken dolls. I made the costumes out of scraps of fabric and my sisters made the stable out of a cardboard box. We presented it on Christmas Eve to our family and I remember my parents telling our grandparents the next day how great it was.
But there was more drama in the story than is usually “played” in these makeshift stables. Mary and Joseph, according to the “script” (Matthew 1-2 and Luke 2), had hard things to understand and accept. There were angelic visitations and dreams that, although very real to them, may have been difficult to explain to families and friends. Their laws mandated a drastic sentence, yet they quietly avoided that outcome. There was shame to be overcome, a journey to make, Herod’s infanticide to escape, and many years of separation from their families. The shepherds in the fields and the wise men from the east had supernatural encounters as well.
The story of this well known “cast” has been told now for centuries, and the events are considered unusual and out of the norm of what we expect normal life to look like. We tend to think these people were different, special somehow, yet when we look closer we can see that these were normal people, like you and I. God came into their lives, and in each case, their hearts were positioned to say “yes” to the plan set before them. It was hard, there was much to overcome, but the “trusting of God” was there. The “listening” and “obeying” was there. Mary and Joseph, the shepherds, the wise men bearing gifts, all willing, however hard, to say “yes”.
So as we see the nativity stories told this week, whether it’s children dressed in sheets, adults in song with live camels bearing wise men, or dolls in a cardboard box stable, let’s ask ourselves… would we be willing? Will we say “yes” to what He is calling us to do?
Over the last few years we have gained many eager and talented young actors into our talent pool. Part of that has been the incorporation of Phoenix Repertory Players into our schedule, which included some of our adult actors working with their company in the spring production and some of their young talent gaining roles in the shows we are doing in our Theatre Rocks! season. While we have always felt a family vibe, the infusion of this young talent has given our
theatre family a new dynamic. That’s what connection does.
We have also seen how beneficial it is to all the actors of all these age ranges to work together and learn from each other. The (sometimes) older, more seasoned actors set a fine example of talent that is excelling and polished to the (sometimes) younger, “eager to learn” actors, but less experienced. In the same way, the young creatives are full of life, enthusiasm and high expectation. They are not so concerned about “how they did”, but just excited and ready to do it again. They are pliable and willing to try new things as actors taking risks to just be out there,
onstage, emotionally exposed. It is a great reminder to a seasoned actor, don’t lose your “inner child” or the willingness to take risks.
I love the way multi-generational casts not only sharpen one another but they are a true
reflection of real life, daily life. And although many of us have an adult dominated work
environment, we have to admit we experience great levels of all ranges of emotion in a multi-generational setting.
Then there are the “ahh haa” moments. The big moment when the lightbulb goes on. We’ve all had them, I suspect. I do believe that when you have experienced one yourself, especially in a given field, you more easily notice when others are having such a moment. It’s really fun to see
a young actor have that experience. I remember my own when I first performed a Joan of Arc monologue in a contest. I was nineteen. Bill had his own such moment in a speech competition doing a comedy routine at age fourteen. It’s an awakening of something inside of you that you
know you were wired for, and you know you must do more of it…
As an actor, or any creative (in any business), there are always those around you that need a word of instruction or encouragement. You might be just the one that helps someone feel accepted, that they belong, and have found their “tribe.” Or you might be the catalyst for someone’s “ahhh haa” moment like my girl friend’s mother who helped me choose a monologue
and then directed me as Joan of Arc into a winning, life changing moment. Or Bill’s teacher who encouraged him to enter the speech competition (or the fellow student who challenged him to try.)
That’s what connection is all about, and we were created for it.
There are two types of silent moments that I want to consider – those on stage and those off stage. BOTH will make you a better actor (this can be translated to non artsy business as well).
Let’s start with onstage. Less mature actors often do not take advantage of “silence” and “pauses.” You may have a monologue of two paragraphs or two pages, but either way, look for places that you can pause and break it up. Pauses and silence bring mystery (Bill vlogged about this a few months ago) and weight to a scene. Even though an answer is given to a question or a response to a comment by your scene partner, explore the “pause”, the moment to reflect or hold.
Be aware of how you talk… and how people around you talk. Watch for their pauses. When people stop to think, they sometimes pause to grasp for the right words or they stop because they are through… Then remember another thought and start talking again. Sometimes people pause because what they want to say is hard to get out; maybe they think the person they are speaking to will not receive it well and there is that hesitation by the speaker. Less mature actors will just put one line in front of another often too fast. Don’t do it. Pauses and silence are weighty and they increase attention and the tension of the moment.
Now moving to offstage. We live in a very “noisy” world. I would encourage creative people to develop a habit of getting quiet on a regular basis and developing and using their imagination. Sometimes it may be focused on a particular project or idea, other times it might be just “listening for our Creator to speak”.
Also, before an audition (or perhaps an important sales or client meeting). Get quiet and rehearse some wins you have had in the past. That great audition you had that won the leading role. That super talk you gave at the sales meeting. Spend a few minutes reliving those great moments in your mind when everything went right.
This is when I would pull out my journal of these specific moments so that I can “rehearse” them. These will encourage your spirit and counteract the “accusing voices” that often come to bring negative and defeating thoughts. I love Jeremiah 33:3 which says, “Call to me and I will answer you and show you great and mighty things, fenced in and hidden, which you do not know (do not distinguish and recognize, have knowledge of and understand.)” God wants to tell you stuff… cool and amazing stuff that will enhance your gifting (that He put in you) and cause you to shine! This most often happens when we get quiet… on purpose.
Words are often part of the “noise” of the day. Add some contrast, mix it up, get everyone’s attention, and create a little drama: BE QUIET. Whether for a few seconds (to highlight an important moment in your work), or a few minutes (to settle and redirect your spirit), or for a few hours (if done daily it can reset your life), pauses of silence can be gold.
Today I’m gonna talk about Agnes of God by John Peilmeier. I know it sounds like a “pro-mo”, but I might as well blog about it because I can’t quit thinking about it. For those of you who have seen it, I know you are probably still thinking about it too. See if any of these thoughts resonate with you. I would love to hear your feedback.
Agnes of God is one of those shows, that as it comes together in rehearsals, the cast and the crew realize that this piece of material is “very special,” and as a result, a certain reverence fills the air.
I’m not gonna be a “spoiler” ‘cause it’s a mystery, so I’m only sharing the thoughts that don’t give it away:
It’s a meaty drama, which I love. (There are some laughs, you know Bill, he will find them.)
The music, which includes melodic latin chants, sets such a perfect mood.
Part of our mission, as a non-profit theater, and which is dear to my heart (and Bill’s), is to offer roles for actors that stretch and give them opportunity for achievement. (We aspire to continue to attract actors of the highest caliber, and this show is a gem to have on one’s resume.)
The script is brilliantly written, thought-provoking and deeply touching.
I am very fond of stories based on true events.
There’s mystery and suspense.
The director is brilliant. (Even if I AM related to him.)
The acting is brilliant. Again, so many comments agreeing with this. Watching these women work is stunning.
The set is unique and very beautiful!
I love that the story of Agnes, as it unfolds in all of it’s gritty truth, has a profound effect on those (Dr. Livingstone and Sister Miriam Ruth) who have come to love her. God’s love, no matter how broken or flawed the vessel that contains it, is always life-giving.
The patrons are loving it. That makes me happy!
I am reminded of this quote by Richard Eyre:
“Change begins with understanding and understanding begins by identifying oneself with another person: in a word, empathy. The arts enable us to put ourselves in the minds, eyes, ears, and hearts of other human beings.”
Please feel free to share your thoughts.
And if you have not seen the show, I hope you will.
Auditions. Some actors don’t mind auditioning, some actors even enjoy auditions… yes, it’s true. But most actors don’t really like to audition and some, even some very good actors, hate auditions and suck at auditioning. So let’s face the facts… actors need to audition. It is part of the craft and you CAN get good at it. Of course you can! You’re not gonna be right for every part, but every audition can be a learning experience and can give you insight for next time. So look in the mirror and repeat OUT LOUD after me “I enjoy auditioning and I’m good at it.”
Years ago I took a commercial audition workshop in Dallas. Flying in from Los Angeles, a well known national commercial actor, Squire Fridell and casting director Dennis Gallegos came to impart “commercial audition success” to a group of Dallas actors. One part of that workshop was watching a video of some recent auditions that the casting director had brought with him from L.A. The unique thing about this audition tape was that the actors auditioning on it were actors and actresses we had all seen on TV doing commercial roles, as well as other major roles, many many times. That conference room, where the workshop was being held, was full of Dallas actors with their chins dropping to the floor, mouths wide open, as we all watched the L.A. actors, whom we all recognized as successful working actors, doing mediocre and unimpressive, to very bad, auditions. Some were flustered, quite a few unprepared, they were having bad hair days, and gosh, some were just pitiful. It was stunning and liberating all at the same time. Lesson seared into my brain: “YOU’RE BETTER THAN THAT!”
That tape alone was worth the pricey admission to that workshop!
Now it’s true that those actors most definitely have some great auditions, and Mr. Gallegos may have picked the one “Auditions from Hell” tape that he had on his shelf. But it helped all of the students in his workshop to see that we are way too hard on ourselves, and that the lie, “I suck and everyone else is brilliant” is just that – a lie.
So here are my top audition tips. Whether you are doing a “live” audition or doing a digital taping to send, these are things that you can do to increase your “marketability” and chances of getting the part:
Get your head right. Find things to like about auditioning. If you are sending it digitally, you are not having to drive all over the place and you have control and can control which “take” to send. Of course if it is “live”, there are advantages to that as well. They get to see your personality and you have more of a chance to “sell yourself.” Anything more relational is better. Either way, whatever your attitude is, it will show to those watching.
Make a list of, and review your best wins. This is another point in “getting your head right.” Review your best feedback and your vision for “if you get the part.” Recently an actress we work with had an audition where everyone at the audition was clapping for her! I would encourage her to journal that and go over it, remembering that moment before she goes into her next audition. The video mentioned above was on my list. You can also write down your own little pep talk… “I’m an actor/actress, I was born to do this. I am gifted and wonderful and…”. Review your “wins” before you go in to “read” (or make your tape).
Arrive a little early and be prepared. Follow any directions that have been given by your agent, or if you are self-represented, any that were posted. Don’t stand out for the wrong reasons.
Get your copy and go off and practice it out loud… don’t hang out in the waiting room. It’s ok to tell the assistant to the casting director that you will be outside or out in the hall, etc. It also shows a good work ethic. The casting people want you to be good… they are FOR you. The only people who may not want you to get the part (haha, cause they want it) are in that waiting room. Don’t hang in there and chit chat about your last role. Focus on getting this one.
Give it your all and have fun. Hey, remember why you are doing this. Trust what’s in you (and your Creator that put it there). If you are doing your daily preparations – you are ready.
When you walk out of the audition, or hit “send” on the email, let it go. Have something else planned to do and put it behind you.
Did you get some good feedback? Or did something great happen? Add it to your list to review (see #2 above). Make some notes on things you want to do differently next time. Like, what did you learn? Then walk out and let it go. Done. Move on. If they call you, it will be wonderful. If they don’t, it could be for a lot of reasons, many of which have NOTHING to do with your skill as an actor/actress.
Say it again, OUT LOUD – “I enjoy auditioning and I am good at it.”
In thinking about the five year anniversary of Theatre Rocks!, one of the most outstanding elements of this long Ennis season has been the generosity of so many of you.
Often the first thought, and certainly fundamental to beginning any creative endeavor such as theater, is the funding necessary to make it happen. Theater as an art needs a very specific type of space requiring square footage, technical tools, patron comfort, and talent accommodations. There is also storage and construction space requirements.
Each production has its own demands, and often shows are selected based on what the script mandates and the resources require.
Another vital element of generosity is the giving of other valuables such as time. We are very blessed with the amount and quality of the talent that gives their time. The cast of each show, which ranges from two members to twenty-five, log in countless hours of rehearsal, memorization, travel and assembling costumes (very often costumes and travel is at their own expense). These hours and efforts are gifts to all of us.
There are also the hours and gifts of creativity of our other designers… set, sound, lights, props, costuming, direction, and administration. All are gifts given by generous people who have a passion to create.
Included in generosity is the attention (tickets purchased, shows attended) and value placed by patrons on the artistic offerings. The great comments and encouragement given are generous gifts to all the creatives.
As an organization, we set a plan in motion from the beginning that includes generosity on our part. We believe it is more blessed to give… and we want to model the giving we need to thrive. So we give of our talents collectively to make our community a better place, and we also give a percentage of our financial increase back to our community and beyond.
“Give, and it will be given to you. Good measure, pressed down, shaken together, running over, will be put into your lap. For with the measure you use it will be measured back to you.” (Luke 6:38)
As we practice generosity, we are thankful for those who have given and those yet to give. You inspire us.
There is value in continuing and staying with that thing you love, that gift or skill you have. Resist the temptation of distraction. Over the course of time, value multiplies as you move forward, even small steps count.
Recently I created an “About Us” page for our website. In the tedious process of recreating thirty plus years of bios and resumes (not kept up digitally over the years) I realized, “Whoa, we have done a lot of stuff.” There is value in staying the course, value in continuing.
Whatever you were meant to do, do it. Then keep doing it.
It then becomes your “territory”.
That is the term Steven Pressfield uses in his book The War of Art. He explains that humans, like animals, have territories, only ours are psychological. He describes a swimmer’s pool is their territory, a writer’s is on his when he sits down to write, a bodybuilder is on his when he enters the gym. We even hear people say “I’m on my turf.”
Pressfield explains: “A territory returns exactly what you put in. Territories are fair. Every erg of energy you put in goes infallibly into your account. A territory never devalues. A territory never crashes. What you deposited, you get back, dollar for dollar.”
Putting yourself out there creatively can be challenging. As an actor, you face lots of rejection. You can’t possibly be right for every part, and if you are auditioning, you are undoubtedly getting rejected. Of course this makes the times when you “get the part” glorious, but those times can be few and far between in the early stages of your work.
Michael Shurtleff, in the prologue of his book “Audition” says: “An actor is forever trying to get a part; an actor is forever getting rejected, never knowing why, simply not wanted.”
Here’s a little personal story: One time I auditioned for a broadcast part. It involved a funeral scene and the character I was “reading” for was a grieving family member. I knew ahead of time about the part, so I dressed for the” funeral”, even wearing a fancy black hat with a veil, that I happened to have. The audition went very well. They seemed to like me, and the fact that I shed a tear for the occasion, didn’t hurt at all. I felt really optimistic, so when I got the phone call from my agent, I wasn’t surprised. Well, I was now about to be surprised, because I did NOT get the part, but MY HAT did.
Of course my hat was not auditioning, but they loved it and wanted to borrow it for the shoot. As my agent told me, I did not have to loan it and that it was entirely up to me. It took me a few hours to get over the shock of it. I wanted to respond: “HEY, I COME WITH THE HAT!” The audacity of this request was stunning, but I let them use the hat.
Now, this is not a typical “didn’t get the part” story, it had a little more sting to it, BUT it is a “walk in the park” compared to some rejection stories out there.
There are two things about this story that I hope will help you with your own disappointment or rejection:
One, I was not getting the opportunity to do the role in the shoot, but there was an opportunity there. I just had to stop and look for it. It was this: a chance to possibly build relationship, (with the producer, director, casting person and/or my agent) and demonstrate that I was willing to help them achieve success on their project. Even though it did not turn out to include me.
Secondly, and this is very important for actors to get, but certainly benefits anyone. Actors experience rejection… it’s part of the territory. You may be a wonderful actor, but if you do not learn to process disappointment and rejection properly, it piles up. Your heart and emotions, where rejection can settle, are the origin and source of your work as an actor. Just like any professional needs to keep and care for the important tools of their work (think of a doctor’s stethoscope or a carpenter’s hammer), the “tools” of a performing artist is his/her voice, face, and body parts, which are all controlled by the heart, the emotions, and the brain.
We get a warning about this in Proverbs 4:23, which states “Guard your heart with all diligence for out of it flows the issues of life.” An actor’s heart and emotions are very important to the work they are called upon to do. The “issues of life” are your “stock ‘n trade” and you must tend to the condition of your heart so that “life” can flow out of it. After all, when you are portraying a character, on stage or screen, you need a free flow of life, vitality and emotion. I would submit to you that dealing with issues in our hearts will keep it from getting “gunked up” and bogged down in past disappointments, hurts, and rejection.
I recently read an article in a ”Time Magazine Special Edition, The Science of Creativity,” * by Courtney Misfund, taken from the research of Dr. Barry Kaufman that stated:
“Highly creative people have a tendency for post-traumatic growth, an ability to learn from distressing experiences.”
So, if you know your “distressing experiences” can be an opportunity to grow, and if you keep the “tools” of your trade, your emotions, your heart and your mind clear and unhindered, even your own “hat” story, no matter how traumatic, can turn out to be a win.
* I bought this magazine when I saw it at the checkout at Walgreens on 8/9/2018. It screamed out to me because it had a cover with a graphic very similar to a blog post of mine a few months ago. And then to my further amazement when I started reading the first article, on the first page, in the first paragraph it quoted the exact scripture I also quoted in another post from three weeks ago “In the beginning God created…” It’s crazy… I had never seen this magazine before in my life! There was no date as to when the publication came out. The article I reference in this post is entitled “Seven Secrets to Unleashing your Inner Genius”.
There is this wild, passionate, and crazy immense story of creativity. The scope of this work is so vast and so incredible that even though an account of it has been recorded, people have struggled to wrap their minds around the process, the beauty, and the size of it. It opens like this: “In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth. …”.
Then the account goes beyond this created place and into the creation of beings of all kinds that defy imagination. It’s just wow! And these created beings can multiply, duplicating themselves! Whole families of uniquely created, diverse species of living beings.
And then, this Awesome Artist, creates another being, two actually, unlike all the others, because these beings, He made: “in His own image.” Look in the mirror.
I think it is interesting, that the very first words written, in the very first chapter of the most important and best selling book of all ages, is about creativity on an unimaginable scale. Then in chapter two it tells us that we were made “in His image”. It’s an astonishing account of a week in the life of the Creator of all creation who made us in His own image.
I’m thinking WE might possibly be “underachieving”.
Some of the things I feel very led to share on this blogging “assignment” are very personal and, just to be honest, it is way, way out of my comfort zone! I have actually written some posts and am kinda holding onto them ‘till I get braver. The great thing about acting is you can hide inside of someone else (a role you might be playing), the better you hide, the better the work. Writing, especially this kind, is demanding in a different way. It’s more about exposure. I don’t like that.A dear actress friend emailed me the other day and was feeling very discouraged. I immediately realized this was for her. In sharing it with her I realized it might be for you too, and for someone you know. So hear what the heart of our Creator is saying:
I See You.
I sense discouragement in the ranks of my artists and creatives. A prevailing wind of, “will I ever get there?”, or “my dream seems lost.” As you face into the wind of resistance, you feel it’s force pushing you. It feels like if you were to take one step back, to get your balance, it might be the right thing to do. But the Master Artist, originator of all creation and of your creativity, the One who put that gift and dream in you, says, “I see you. You are chosen as an example and even a creative voice in My new generation of artists and creators. Do not worry about ‘fitting in’. I have not designed you to fit in, but to stand up and be set apart. Push into the wind. Take a step forward and not back. I’m there waiting. Take My hand. I am your ever-present help.”
Artists. Those “right-brained,” emotionally in-touch (sometimes emotionally driven), innovative and creative people. They are so passionate for their art, and yet sometimes hindered in the ability to discipline that energy and organize “the work.” Yes, discipline and organization, those are skills that tend to be more “left-brained.” I read one time (I think it was Zig Ziglar) that…
…you don’t just wake up one morning and you are on the mountaintop. You have to climb up there on purpose! One step at a time, everyday.
Several years ago, I was following an artist online that did “a painting a day.” That concept caught my attention. Carol Marine’s “painting a day” blog is inspiring! Her paintings are small in dimension and yet beautiful. Now, the painting is a creative endeavor and most certainly engages the right side of the brain. But the discipline of “daily” and the organizational skills it takes to keep all the needed supplies handy, prep all those small canvases (artists usually do a number of those at one time, and I expect it’s not their favorite task), getting the needed photographs handy that she uses to create is a “left-brain” chore. Not to mention the website now filled with images of her paintings. That took some doing, as does the maintenance, the filling of orders, and continual photography and uploading of new product. Whew!
Inspired by that idea, I’ve been trying to do the same thing for the last year with writing. The idea of a short article or blog post is not nearly as intimidating as something like a novel, and I like non-fiction anyway. Writing everyday, and posting once a week or so is not too scary. It is for sure a great exercise in discipline and organization. And truthfully, if we have any kind of gift or talent, we really must use it and exercise it, to grow, improve and perfect it. Why not daily?
Now here is where you come in. How can you translate this into acting (or your passion and gifting), for example. What does that look like for an actor? A daily painting or a daily journal entry or chapter? Here are some ideas I have (start with the first one, then consider others):
Pray daily – God tells us in His word to “ask.” He likes that. Plus, He is the one that put the passion/gifting into you, so He knows best how to get your creativity into full bloom. Talk to Him about it, then spend some time “listening.” (This is called meditation.) He can impress upon you which of these below to focus on, or better yet give you something “custom designed” just for you to do daily.
Memorize every day – this is a vital foundational skill and the best time to learn which process works best for you is in your down time. There are many articles and videos online to help you find a favorite technique. Find yours and work daily. Memorize monologues, every actor should have at least three ready at all times (one dramatic, one comedic and one classic). Once you have those polished, then find other things: favorite passages from books, poems (I love Robert Service ballads), psalms (can’t beat Psalm 91) or other scripture. If that right-brain needs a workout, write your own monologue or ballad! Whenever possible, practice in front of someone.
Check the local resources for auditions daily. Every large city has them: online “call boards” and websites that post auditions and opportunities, as well as what is casting or shooting nearby. Get a plan going as to what you will submit your headshot and resume for and or an audition tape. You may have an agent, but don’t sit around and wait on them. Be resourceful. Your agent will like that and you’ll get his/her attention. (If you do not have an agent, you will still need a headshot to do these things, but keep in mind, once you do get an agent he/she will probably have you reshoot your headshot.)
Make contacts daily. This could include phone calls, e-mails etc., but be careful that it is not too invasive in the case of casting directors and production companies. You don’t want to be a pest but a post card, (wow you spent some money) sends a different message than an e-mail. Send your headshot and a note about a play you are in, or another project you have been cast in, or a class you are taking. Take a production secretary a cup of coffee or pop-in and say hi. Be kind to everyone and build relationships. That secretary or sound technician could be a casting agent or producer tomorrow. I’m speaking from experience.
Read something daily. Read plays or books about acting, or other aspects of the industry. Always, always be learning. I’ll give you a MUST READ to start with: “The War of Art” by Steven Pressfield. (That is for any creative or innovative person… so that includes you.)
Vocal exercises daily. Your voice is your instrument. You can find these exercises online. (Also take care of and exercise your body, the whole instrument.) Then do your monologue (see below).
Make videos daily. Yes, even a short one minute one. You can do a couple of lines of your monologue, for example. Get comfortable with this. Many, perhaps most, auditions are done this way now. It is helpful, whenever possible, to do it with someone in the room, as it adds that little bit of pressure which is good experience. Then maybe take one day a week to do longer pieces.
Go see plays and watch movies. You are watching people work. (Someday we will post a list of our favorite performances. Make your own list.)
Help someone else. Always be mentoring someone else coming up behind you. What you make happen for someone else will happen for you!
When you purposefully engage both sides of your brain in the thing you are passionate about, you will find yourself propelled forward. Try it for sixty days and see what happens. I would love to hear about it. Do you have any ideas to add to this daily list? I would love to hear from you about your “daily.”
I’ve thought a lot lately about the “culture” of organizations. I’ve only recently even used that terminology as I have read articles on this subject and heard it spoken of that way. Companies and business people are talking about the importance of their “culture” and the relationship it has to productivity. In our organization, which is a non-profit arts organization, specifically a theatre, I can testify that I have seen a direct relationship between “culture” and productivity… we like to call it creativity.
Before this realization, I just thought of “our culture” as a collection of comments by actors and other creatives we work with. Comments like, “I love working here, it’s different”, or “it’s like a family here”. Just a few days ago a young actor who was in a recent show with a large cast told me, “I found my people.” That one got me choked up.
So how does this “close-knit, family type culture of creativity” develop? From where does it generate? Here are twelve ideas about what makes a (theatre) culture into an atmosphere that fosters creativity, backed by 30 years of experience doing it.
[This first statement is at the top of the list for a reason, because it has the most impact, but the rest could be in any order.]
1. Seek and give honor to God, who made us creative… in His image. He is worthy.
2. The overriding belief that everyone has purpose and destiny. Look for it, and call it out.
3. Be honest, even when it’s costly. It really saves you in the big picture.
4. To quote author Jon Gordon (The Power of Positive Leadership): “Sometimes you are the star…sometimes you help the star.”
5. Creatives do their best work from a place of vulnerability where they feel free to take risks. An atmosphere of emotional trust and safety is important. This starts at the top, be trustworthy, and encourage that in others.
6. What we make together has value.
7. Doing it only for the standing ovation is not enough. Find a deeper reason.
8. Don’t build a company/organization/theatre… build people. The rest will come.
9. Always be looking for growth and treasure in each other. Celebrate it.
10. Sow excellence, reap excellence.
11. Creativity thrives in an atmosphere of joy and hope. Make that happen.
12. Once your culture is established… be a vigilant guard over it.
Every one of those statements or ideas reminds me of faces and of the people who exemplify those qualities. Just as I arrived at the theatre tonight, two of our actors were trimming trees and edging the sidewalks. Amazing! They wanted to surprise us. Yes, these are my people!
Fancy words for change. Some people take change better than others. We all know we need change at times. For many of us the resistance is real. A relaunch, redesign or reset of any kind can seem overwhelming and flat out….too much work. Too traumatic maybe. Those thoughts of “where do I start” and the “rabbit trails” of “before that I have to do this…or do I?” It can be frustrating. Then you get brave and try and find yourself “stuck.”
How do I get past this wall? Oh, and then there is the FEAR factor. We hate to admit it but all kinds of fears can surface. We hate to leave our comfort zone. Or maybe it’s bigger than that, great risk can mean failure and that can look anywhere from daunting to dangerous. While resets, relaunches and redesigns can propel us forward in our dreams and goals, fear can be a major roadblock.
What does this mean for a creative who may want to move forward in a new way, take a risk, say “YES” and launch that inspired idea? I have two actress friends who recently decided to “go for it” and venture from the stage acting they were familiar and comfortable with (and very skilled I might add) into broadcast work. One got an agent right away and landed a couple of roles in her first few auditions. The other one is taking a class and still trying to get an agent, but she is persevering. She will also do well, it may just take longer. But what they both did was say “yes” to the change. Of course there were questions and things to face… even fears of the unknown and all the “what if’s.”
But sometimes you just have put one foot in front of the other and “do it scared.”
Whether you make a choice for a change or it is foisted upon you, good can come of it. Press through the resistance, embrace the hard things. You were created to overcome obstacles, no matter how difficult. Go ahead. Do the relaunch, reset or redesign; it may just shoot you forward way beyond what you expected. What are your thoughts?
We recently lost a good friend who was also one of our dear actors here at Theatre Rocks! He discovered his love and talent for acting relatively late in life, his late “40’s”— I would guess.. He was a perfect example of “it’s never too late” to try something new”. I’m pretty sure that if “Hollywood” (his nickname) could talk to us today, he would say that his times on stage were the best and most enjoyable of his life. And that was really what made his performances special….you could see that. He was having a wonderful time and it made watching him a joy.
I think that is a common denominator in fine performances—the actor is fully engaged and having a blast. They are immersed in the role and just “being.” There is a quality to those performances, an energy that defies description, and it leaves you with this “wow” feeling.
A Dallas reviewer once wrote about a show Bill directed, and he said he wanted to just run out into the street and yell “do you people know what you just missed?!” A funny but wonderful thing to say, and it so describes how you really want to feel when you leave a theater—or a museum, or a church service…..yes, please.
At the end of life, even one that ends too quickly and suddenly, it is important to be able to say “well done.” And I can smile and say that about our friend, whose stage presence will be greatly missed, but who left us with memories of his created characters who still live with us. “Well done, Hollywood.”