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self-love self-care actor
UncategorizedFebruary 14, 2020

Acts of Self-Love: Self-Care for the Actor

Self-care for the actor means an increase in stamina. If you’re in it for the long-game, you’ve got to have stamina.

Because we are our instruments, practicing self-care for the actor is crucial for optimum performance. The older I get, the more I understand that self-love isn’t necessarily about pampering yourself (although that counts too!) It’s also about doing things you don’t feel like doing because you know they are good for you. Sometimes I play a little trick on myself when I don’t want to do something – I’ll tell myself I’m doing a favor for my future self. Even if that’s getting the coffee pot ready before I go to bed and setting a timer when I’m super exhausted. When I think of it as something kind that I’m doing for my tomorrow-self, it’s easier to muster up the energy to go that little extra mile. As an acting coach, I talk to students a lot about self-care because we are our instruments and it’s important to take care of your instrument. Here are some ways you can give yourself a little love all year long.

Meditate

I can’t encourage this enough. There are so many reasons to meditate and even though it can be difficult to begin a regular practice, your future self will thank you for doing this work.

Go To Bed Early

Or let yourself sleep in! Rest is so important for our bodies to be able to self-heal from everything we put them through. Personally, I find when I’m sleep deprived my mental health suffers greatly. I sleep for my sanity.

Eat Healthy

Cutting out sugar, or whatever else might make you feel sluggish, is a wonderful gift you can give yourself. Put more fresh fruits and veggies in your body — food is medicine!

Get Rid of Stuff

Taking the time to clean out your closet or organize your desk is an act of self-love. Again, think about how grateful your future self will be when you take the time to de-clutter. It’s magic.

Sing In The Shower

Seriously, it will raise your vibration. Try it and I dare you to write me and tell me it didn’t make you happier.

Say No

Sometimes self-love looks like drawing boundaries and taking things off your plate. You can’t show up 100% for everyone and everything. If you’re not sure what you should be saying no to, think about what you want your future to look like and ask yourself if the things on your plate align with the trajectory that is going to get you there.

Ask For Help

If you’re struggling with addiction, depression, anxiety, fatigue – seek help from a friend or (better yet) a professional. Admitting that your life is falling apart and giving yourself the gift of receiving help from others is one of the greatest acts of self-love that I can think of.

Invest In Yourself

For actors, that may look like taking a class, new headshots, producing a piece of footage for your reel, an account with Actors Access or Backstage, or even getting a new haircut and some highlights. Whatever your profession or passion might be, spend the time and money to invest in you. Practicing self-care as an actor is a way to demonstrate to yourself and the Universe that you have value and you believe in yourself. When you commit to self-care as an actor, you are adding value to your instrument.

The “esteem” part of selfesteem comes from the Latin verb aestimare, meaning to value. The “self” part is self-explanatory, referring to you, yourself. So think of selfesteem as how you value yourself.
(https://www.vocabulary.com/dictionary/self-esteem)

Bubble baths and home facials are lovely, and you should give yourself those things if they bring you joy. But I challenge you to think of things that might be a little bit more difficult to do, but will pay off in the long run by helping and supporting the future you. I hope each day of your life is filled with acts of self-love. When we know how to be loved, we get better at knowing how to love others, too.

Comments

  1. Scott

    February 15, 2020

    GREAT!!!!

  2. AffiliateLabz

    February 15, 2020

    Great content! Super high-quality! Keep it up! 🙂

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UncategorizedFebruary 04, 2020

The Magic and Power of Yes, And.

I’ve been a student of acting for 25 years and very little of my training is in improv. Sure, I knew how to improvise in a dramatic scene because that’s how one of my coaches taught emotional preparation, but those silly theater games – not so much. The last few years I was living in Boise and would spend weeks at a time in LA. During those trips I got so lonely and depressed and grew very tired of sitting around a friend’s apartment waiting for the phone to ring. On those dark nights I would take myself to a UCB show. One hour and seven dollars later my mood was instantly lifted. Laughter is great medicine, but I think the best part of it was how inspired I was by the in-the-moment storytelling. I loved that the experience was just that – an experience. I was witnessing improvisers create something right before my eyes that would never happen again. Every show was different, and we were all there to witness it unfolding – the audience and the performers.

I decided to explore improv for several reasons. First of all, I want to be able to do what those improvisers did! Not just because they were amazing at it, but because they were always having so much fun. The second reason is that it scared the hell out of me. I have a habit of throwing myself into things that scare the hell out of me, and it’s always paid off. I was feeling stagnant and I knew that in order to grow I would have to be willing to be uncomfortable. Professionally, I knew it would look good to have improv training on my resume. Since I was trying to re-introduce myself into an industry that I had been away from for a while, I knew I needed opportunities to perform and network.

I started with a week-long intensive at UCB followed by a workshop at The Groundlings. I’m currently in the last week of Improv 1 at Second City in Hollywood and have already signed up for Improv 2 starting immediately after our class show. I can’t get enough. It’s giving me everything I need right now, even the things I didn’t know I needed.

When I was living in Boise, I met a lot of wonderful, magical humans. Seriously, there’s something in the water there. Of all of these wonderful people that have touched my life, one of my absolute favorites is a fierce, funny, fun, compassionate, loving, hard-working, inspiring woman named Megan Bryant. In my eyes, she’s the Queen of Improv in the Treasure Valley. Here’s the thing: Improv isn’t just for actors. Megan teaches improv for everyday life. Improv is a growing trend in corporate training and Megan has been hired to share these techniques in business settings to consistently boast noticeable results . Employees get better with communication and thinking on their feet. Her approach fosters innovation, confidence, trust, team building and creativity.

Pug and Ampersand Light on Couch. Because I love pugs, and I’m learning to Yes, And.
Photo by: dosecreative

I wanted to dig a little deeper into the phenomenon of improv’s ability to change people so positively and profoundly, so I reached out to an expert in the field and asked some questions. Here’s the recap:

What was your introduction to improv?

My brother, Gavin, invited me in 2006 to come and play with a local troupe that was in Boise at the time. I had never even heard of it (improv), even though I had been in theatre in junior high and high school. So, I stumbled upon it in my early twenties and never looked back. I joined in thinking it would be this fun, creative outlet on the weekends.

I was in the corporate world – I was a bank manager. Really early on, like within weeks, I started to notice the way my attention was shifting, the way I was listening in everyday life. For me it really quickly showed an automatic life transition. The skills had a life application and a mindset of presence and positive vibes that are naturally in improv.

Having an acting background in theatre, what was the major difference you noticed in the training?

It was goofier, which isn’t the way I teach it but the way I learned it. It was about making big choices, taking risks. It allowed positive interaction and storytelling in a way that didn’t require rehearsal and I loved being off script.

What would you say your biggest struggle was when you were first learning?

Honestly, it felt so at home to me that the only real struggle was that I couldn’t get enough of it.

The way that I learned it was in a group that had a really structured way of using gimmicks and I wish it had been more of a free form because it became more of a crutch. It’s still part of my evolution, getting out of the gimmick.

We overcomplicate things a lot in a performance realm and when it’s so gimmicky people wouldn’t even have a grounded character most of the time because they were so in Yuk Yuk mode that they would lose the character and the relationship because they’re just trying to execute a gimmick. It’s important to remember that most of the time people laugh because they see something relatable, not necessarily because something is super jokey.

What are the major elements in improv training that have helped you in your life?

Here are the top five I teach in my workshop—

Yes, And – Acceptance and acknowledgement of whatever has been presented. Not that we’re agreeing, which is a huge misconception in improv. In the world of improv people teach that you’re supposed to agree, and maybe on stage you can do that, but in life it’s an acceptance and acknowledgement of whatever just happened, and then requires that you do something with it. When brainstorming on a new idea, it keeps you from being stuck in a rut. You have to make a decision, add new information, you have to take whatever happened and move with it. It’s not always necessarily about right or wrong. When you’re dealing with real life, if we say “yes, and … let’s try this thing – oh, now I know I don’t like to go running.” But if I never tried running, I wouldn’t know that I hated it. Sometimes it’s a way to fail faster. It’s a way to keep what I see as a “ready” position for life. It’s a very action-oriented space to be in – Yes, And. It allows us to stay in the most positive mindset when faced with something difficult.

NOTE: “Yes, and” is a pillar of improvisation. It’s the acceptance principle — when someone in a scene states something, accept it as truth. The “and” part of this principle means to build on that reality that has been set.

Yeah, But – is the archnemesis of Yes, And. It’s the blocking mechanism that keeps us from making progress. Teaching those hand in hand allow people to see for themselves if they are Yeah-Butters in their life or find out who are the Yeah-Butters in their world. If someone offers an idea in a work meeting and they get Yeah-Butted, they’re going to shut down and not want to keep offering up ideas. People who operate from a Yeah, But place are not able to provide a safe space for all the things to exist because they dismiss rather than accept and acknowledge like in Yes, And. Yeah, But is the killer of ideas, and in improv it’s the fastest way to derail a relationship in a scene.

Suspend Judgement – To suspend judgment. A long time ago I started using Suspension of Judgment. We are naturally very judgmental and critical of ourselves and others – but to suspend judgment and actively think about our thoughts and notice that we are judging, we can take a moment to suspend it and pause before we react. In the moment in a scene, if something comes from way out of left field, we can allow a little bit of space, a little bit of silence while the audience is also adjusting to whatever just happened. In that moment you can quietly explore how you want to interact with something you are feeling critical about. It allows us more control and power over our ability to navigate through judgment, because there’s no doubt judgment will non-stop happen in our lives, but if we are aware of it then we can decide if we have to react.  Does it actually affect us?  If we are going to react, what is the best-case scenario? Is this a relationship that matters? Is this a work task that’s important? Whatever it is that we’re judging, we get to then control what our output is that we are putting back into the world around us if we take that moment to pause before we just immediately execute.

Participating Fully – That’s derived from being present in the moment, but for me, being present in the moment is a bit passive. You can be present for something without taking ownership of it. Participating fully really means you are putting skin in the game, contributing ideas, taking risks, expressing your opinion and taking ownership of your own experience, whether it’s a performance or in real life. This ties into Yes, And – the moment you fully participate. If you really try something you’re going to know if you want to keep doing more of that or if you don’t like it. If you meet a person and you’re really engaged and you’re learning about them, you decide if they’re going to be part of your life and in what capacity. This applies to everything – work, school, learning, skydiving – you’re not only there and present in the moment, you are engaging.

A Space of Respect – When you are activating all four of those other principles, it allows you to recognize how much we as individuals want to be honored and validated in who we are, that our experience from the day we were born up until this moment now is valid. It’s what I’ve experienced, it’s through my lens, it’s the way I perceived it and I want people to respect that. If I want that for myself, I have to offer that to other people. For me that’s what brings it full circle as a real way to live an improv experience.

As a teacher, what do you see is a common self-sabotaging behavior or belief in people that limits their experience?

People who are by nature Yeah-Butters are people who are naturally living in a victim space and everything is happening to them, no matter what it is. If people lack the self-awareness that they are blocking themselves, they can’t do anything else with it. They will constantly make excuses of why it (improv) doesn’t work, not that they aren’t doing it, but that it doesn’t work. I can see in someone’s body language that they are guarded, probably because they’ve been Yeah-Butted so hard in their lives.

Improv, for me, is personal development. Some people don’t really want to do the hard work, they just want to float along and put their blinders on and not allow it. Any of those struggles are probably more deeply and psychologically rooted than stuff I can legally address without some certifications. (LOL)

Some people don’t realize that they are the key to unblocking themselves and there’s only so much anyone else can do to help them. It really does take repeat efforts. There are only a few companies that are smart enough to bring me in quarterly, so I get to work with the same people more than once. They want the growth and the change and discovery to be their own ideas. I try to do the exercises in a way that people get to see the way that they show up, almost in an exaggerated way, but it is still true to them – so people can go “Oh, I’m the one that does that” and know that they’re not going to be judged harshly for it. The key is being able to have enough time with them that they can see it for themselves and go “Now that I know better, I can do something different.” But they need it to be their idea.

Have you ever seen anyone go from being a Yeah-Butter to a Yes-Ander in their life?

Oh yeah, all the time. Sometimes people recognize it in the middle of class and sometimes months or years later people realize it. Someone just recently shared with me that switching their mindset as a result of a workshop saved their marriage.

What qualities do you see in people who take to it really well?

Natural Yes-Anders. People who generally like to learn and grow and want to be better in life. Some people that just already naturally get the human side of life – I don’t know how it’s gotten to the point where it’s so severely lacking.

I have used it to get through the hardest parts of my life. It’s easy to say yes when something seems fun and it is way harder and yet more rewarding when you have to Yes, And when the going gets tough.

Sometimes it’s a way to fail faster.

Megan Bryant, Queen of Improv

Megan’s love of improv is demonstrative of how comfortable she is stepping into the unknown and having faith that everything is going to be okay. This is probably one of the most valuable qualities a person can have, because everything is in the unknown. Willingness to go into unknown territory is how our lives get bigger.

I didn’t know how much I needed it and how much it would change my life until I jumped in with both feet. Improv is teaching me how to be fully engaged in the moment, completely invested in and trusting of other players, and let go of trying to control the outcome. It requires faith that if you absolutely show up in the moment you are in, everything you need in the moment that is coming will be there for you when you get there. It’s shown me that anything and everything that shows up is a gift, if you choose to see it that way. Most importantly, it teaches you the art of radical acceptance.

Learn more about Megan Bryant.

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UncategorizedJanuary 24, 2020

Monologues Require Listening

One of the most important elements about acting is the one that actors often forget about again and again: Listening! To remind an actor in a scene with a partner to really listen can open up so much truth, possibility and nuance that it can quite literally transform a performance. However, this seems to be something that is often overlooked in monologue work.

My very first day at The American Academy of Dramatic Arts, my teacher (the great Andrew Benne) asked us to perform our audition monologues that got us accepted into the school. I later learned that my section (or class), Section 12, was the section with the highest audition scores in the entire academy. That first day of watching everyone perform their monologues was surely proof of that little fact. Everyone was so talented it was overwhelming. Then, Andrew asked us to cast the character to whom we were speaking in our monologue from our group of classmates. With a living, breathing human being in front of us, whom we could interact with, touch and take in, every single monologue was a completely different performance – with more emotional life, risks, vulnerability and subtlety. I’ll never forget that lesson. Working with another person on the other end of that monologue informed the performance in such a powerful way, we all instantly went from shmactors to actors.

Try this with a monologue! If you don’t already have a monologue in your pocket, this is a great opportunity to find one and to also practice memorizing. 

If you don’t have another actor you can play with, just cast someone in your mind that would be a strong choice for another character on the other end of that monologue. Try not to be too technical about it, just keep changing your casting choice and notice the difference in your delivery every time. This is a great acting exercise you can do on your own that can really improve your work.

Comments

  1. SEO Services

    January 29, 2020

    Awesome post! Keep up the great work! 🙂

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UncategorizedJanuary 16, 2020

No Small Parts

Sometimes those roles with fewer lines can be more difficult to prepare because we have less information about the character. Your job is to fill in the blanks. In order to find the strongest choice, figure out what the whole story is about and how your character fits into it. If it’s a one or two line co-star, chances are your purpose is to reveal more about one of the main characters or to help move the story forward. You might just be exposition, so resist the temptation to make the scene about your character. If you cut your character out of the script, what is missing? That’s a good place to start when you are trying to figure out the reason for your character in the story.

Within context of the story, start to make choices about the surrounding circumstances and your character’s relationship with the other character(s) and their point of view of what is happening. Then, rather than focusing on how to say the line(s), understand what their behavior is and go from there.

Remember, acting is behaving. And behavior is a manifestation of our inner emotional life. Your character, even with one to three lines, is a full human being with inner life to explore.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=8Rg9qyQ7yF4
No Small Parts – LosAngelesActingCoach.com

Homework Assignment:

Find sides for a character with just a few lines and practice understanding where they fit into the story. Make some choices about their point of view, relationships and surrounding circumstances just to see how many different things you can do with the scene. Remember that you don’t want to take away from the whole story. Storytelling is a collaboration, and your co-star role is one piece of a much bigger puzzle. Your job is not to show off your talent. Your job is to serve the story. Have fun and break legs!

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UncategorizedJanuary 14, 2020

How To Have An Acting Class By Yourself

First of all, if you are living in an area where there are acting classes you can take – you should be doing that. Because I work with actors that live all over the country, I get this question quite often: If I can’t go to class, what can I do to work on my acting? I recently coached a student online who was preparing for a role in a short film. One of the things I suggested to her for preparation was doing an activity as the character to see what she might discover about the character’s life and thinking process.

For those of you who aren’t familiar with Meisner‘s activity exercise, I’ll first explain that, then I’ll tell you how you can do a version of this on your own without a teacher or class.

The assignment is to come up with an activity, something you have to physically do with objects (steer clear of anything on a computer or phone) with a set of guidelines and obstacles. Come up with something simple, but that requires your full attention to complete. Great examples of activities are:

  • packing a suitcase for a specific trip
  • getting ready for a specific event
  • repairing a broken item
  • making something: food, puzzle, craft

Then your job is to come up with surrounding circumstances. Why are you packing the suitcase? What is the event? Why does the broken item need to be repaired? To whom does it belong? For whom is the food or craft you are making? This is a good opportunity to make strong choices. The strongest choice here is always whatever has the highest stakes and therefore would naturally create the most emotional life.

You should be very clear about what the consequences are if the activity is not completed just so. Meisner demanded that actors aim for a standard of perfection – if your activity is to glue back together a broken plate, the goal should be that you want to make it look like it was never damaged in the first place. If you choose to knit a sweater, you’d better have a photo/pattern of that sweater and be making it exactly like that.

Make sure whatever you choose for your surrounding circumstances is somewhat grounded in reality, but not something you actually have to do in your real life. Don’t let the activity be wrapping your mother’s birthday present if that’s something you actually need to get done. The point is to practice using your imagination. However, don’t choose something too far outside of reality. You want to give yourself a setup that you can really believe is happening.

The next piece of circumstance you give yourself is urgency. If it would normally take you an hour to get ready for a black tie event, you should give yourself (in your imaginary world) 35 minutes until the imaginary car is coming to pick you up. (And there better be some serious consequences if you don’t arrive on time!)

When I’ve given this assignment to students in the past, once they’ve started their activity and I can see that they are living in the world they’ve created, I’ll have another actor knock at the door and need something from them. Sometimes they can only communicate by repeating one word back and forth instead of improvising dialogue. This is so they get used to using behavior to live in relationship, rather than feel like they need to be storytellers. It’s not about the story here. It’s about living in the imaginary circumstances and dealing with the obstacles. Remember, acting is behavior. If the actor is really committed to the circumstances (they believe it’s really happening) and they are really taking in their partner’s behavior, emotional life naturally occurs.

I love the activity exercise because it reinforces to actors that their job is not to conjure up emotion, it’s to really believe in the imaginary world, fight for what the character wants, deal with life, and not know what’s going to happen next. They learn that making strong choices and really living truthfully will create organic emotional life. It’s a beautiful thing to watch an actor realize that they don’t have to manufacture emotion. They just have to commit, trust and go on the ride.

Going back to the purpose of this blogpost – to give you an assignment you can do on your own – here is how you can apply the principles of this exercise on your own.

If you have a specific role you are working on, think of an activity that the character would do that they don’t necessarily do in the scene. A good choice would be something that they might be doing in the scene previous to the one you’re working on. So, if in the scene they are arriving somewhere, maybe the activity is packing a suitcase or getting ready. If in the scene someone is coming over (and they are expecting that person), the activity could be cleaning your apartment or preparing a meal for them. Allow yourself to really live in the character’s world and set a timer so you can keep yourself engaged with real urgency. See what kinds of emotions come up for you. If nothing very exciting or dangerous occurs for you internally, you either haven’t made strong enough choices, or you’re not really believing the imaginary circumstances.

Download the activity checklist below!

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UncategorizedJanuary 08, 2020

Audition Hack: Cast All Of Your Off-Screen Characters

Make sure when you prepare for an audition, you make a really specific casting choice for whomever you’re supposed to be in the scene with. If the other character isn’t cast yet, choose someone that works for you in order to give your character strong point of view and the right emotional life.

I always either use someone from my real life or another actor that I’ve worked with who is a strong casting choice. You should avoid using famous actors that you don’t know personally, or just using an idea of a person. The whole point of this is to make your performance more specific and to ensure that you are emotionally affected by the other character in the scene.

The same goes for any other character that is mentioned in your scene. Make sure if another person is referenced, you have a made a choice about who is cast in that role that works for you. That way, when that character is mentioned in the scene, your point of view about them will come across, however subtle.

I recommend doing your casting first because it can really inform the rest of your preparation and help lead you to strong, specific choices right out of the gate.

Break legs!

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UncategorizedJanuary 03, 2020

Actor Challenge: 4 Things You Can Do To Level Up This Year

If you don’t have auditions rolling in, and you don’t have access to an acting class, there are still things you can do to improve your skills and nurture your career. I’ve only listed a few.

If you are serious about acting, don’t just wait for roles to come to you. You have to be proactive and there are so many things you can do to take control. It’s really easy to get frustrated, feel helpless, and make a lot of excuses about why your career isn’t going anywhere.

1. PRACTICE AUDITIONING

Make a list of shows that you think you should be on. Find sides online or transcribe the scenes from your TV. You can also find scenes on mocksides.com but I recommend you find actual sides for televisions shows that you think you’re right for. Give yourself a few hours in the evening to work on the material as if you had an audition the next day. The next morning, put yourself on tape. Give yourself ONE TAKE to nail it. Do this at least once a week, more if you can!

If you’re not going out on auditions all the time, you want to make sure that when an audition does come along, you’re in as good of shape as the actors who do audition all the time. Find an acting buddy that you like to work with and commit to reading with each other and helping one another out with self-tapes. Practice practice practice!

2. READ SCRIPTS

You can find so many scripts online – for movies and television series. Read as many scripts as you can. Learn how to understand the material. Get good at reading the tone and getting a feel for the story. Pick a character you would want to play in the script and think about that character’s arc and how they help tell the whole story. Ask yourself what you qualities you have that would help bring that character to life. Approach it like someone handed you the script and offered you the role. How would you begin your work? This exercise will not only help you develop your own process, it will also help you see the areas you need to improve.

3. REVAMP YOUR PACKAGING

Is your headshot and resume a good reflection of your talent and experience? How about your profiles on Actor’s Access and Casting Networks? What about Backstage? If you don’t have one, set up a profile for one or all of these websites and make sure your profile stands out but is also an accurate reflection of your casting. Give your packaging an overhaul and be honest with yourself about what is missing. A casting director once told me that the thing she’s most interested in seeing on a resume is an actor’s training. What does that section look like for you? Get to work!

4. CREATE REEL FOOTAGE

First of all, get clear about your casting. Not just what you like to do or what sounds fun – try to focus on what you think your casting is and be realistic. Actors are afraid to get pigeon-holed, but sometimes we have to embrace our “type” to get our foot in the door. If your look and essence scream “clumsy office manager” or “soccer mom” – you should have footage of you playing those types of roles. Write a one or two page scene and get someone who knows what they’re doing to help you film it. Not a writer? Ask a friend or find a scene on mocksides.com – they give you full permission to film scenes for personal use. No excuses!

Being successful requires being proactive and not waiting for life to come to you. It means you’re on offense, not defense. You’re active, not passive.

Benjamin P. Hardy

If you really want to go far this year, it’s up to you to take action. There are a lot of talented actors out there. The successful ones are those who are willing to do the hard work. Take charge of your destiny. Life is short – start running toward your dreams like you’re on fire!

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UncategorizedDecember 02, 2019

10 Books Actors Should Read Right Now

Suggested Reading from an Actor / Acting Coach. Calm down everybody, just start with one.

As an avid reader, I’ve been deeply impacted by many books throughout my career. Some are books about acting, but many are books that have nurtured the artist in me and have opened my eyes to some wonderful tools for living my best creative life.

Of course I have to first suggest the book that I co-wrote with casting director, Catrine McGregor CSA. I find that the most common questions actors ask me are answered in this fun little nugget that is equal parts information and inspiration. I learned so much from Catrine in the process of the writing this book and I know you’ll learn a lot from our conversations about the biz.

  • The Actor’s Art and Craft by William Esper and Damon DiMarco
William Esper, one of the leading acting teachers of our time, explains and extends Sanford Meisner’s legendary technique, offering a clear, concrete, step-by-step approach to becoming a truly creative actor. Esper worked closely with Meisner for seventeen years and has spent decades developing his famous program for actor’s training. The result is a rigorous system of exercises that builds a solid foundation of acting skills from the ground up, and that is flexible enough to be applied to any challenge an actor faces, from soap operas to Shakespeare. Co-writer Damon DiMarco, a former student of Esper’s, spent over a year observing his mentor teaching first-year acting students. In this book he recreates that experience for us, allowing us to see how the progression of exercises works in practice. The Actor’s Art and Craft vividly demonstrates that good training does not constrain actors’ instincts—it frees them to create characters with truthful and compelling inner lives.

This is the most valuable tool in my toolbox. I believe this is a book every actor should read. This clear and inspirational breakdown of the work continues to teach me. I go back to it over and over again. Get it!

  • Audition by Michael Shurtleff
The book is filled with practical advice for actors who want to know exactly what to do at an audition. Shurtleff, a casting director who worked on both movies and plays, gives a detailed exploration of some precise accounts of every day behavior which can be useful to non-actors as well. There are four sections of the book: 1) Basic, practical advice on the technicalities of the audition, 2) The twelve guideposts for actors to guide their emotions (including case studies), 3) Things actors need to know, and 4) General observations from working in theater.
 

At this point, it’s a classic for the aspiring actor. The twelve guideposts should be printed and posted in the home or office of every working actor.

  • ACTING: The First Six Lessons by Richard Boleslavsky
In his beloved classic, Acting: The First Six Lessons, master acting teacher Richard Boleslavsky presents his acting theory and technique in a lively and accessible narrative form. Widely considered a must-have for beginning as well as established actors, Boleslavsky’s work has long helped actors better understand the craft of acting and what it takes to grow as an artist.

If the reading list is overwhelming, start with this fun read that should be in every actor’s book collection. It’s a lighthearted way to fall deeper in love with the craft and will make you want to commit to your own growth as an artist.

  • Audition for Your Career, Not the Job by Tim Phillips
AUDITION FOR YOUR CAREER, NOT THE JOB covers steps you can take and specific skills you can put to use immediately to feel more confident about your performance in your next audition and make a great and lasting impression on casting directors and producers. If your work is consistently first-rate and memorable, then every on-camera audition is an opportunity to advance your acting career. This book will teach you techniques that improve your ability to read and interpret the sides quickly, helping you to trust your instincts and craft strong, bold, specific acting choices, and setting you up for an active and profitable career.

My favorite thing about this book is the way that Tim Phillips talks about Sherlock Holmesing the text. Not only will this book help you craft a nuanced and emotionally alive performance, it’s filled with practical advice for getting the job done in the audition room.

  • Screenplay by Syd Field
As the first person to articulate common structural elements unique to successful movies, celebrated producer, lecturer, teacher and bestselling author Syd Field has gifted us a classic text. Syd Field is revered as the original master of screenplay story structure, and this guide continues to be the industry’s gold standard for learning the foundations of screenwriting.

I believe all actors should understand the basic elements of story, even if they don’t intend to become writers. Having this background will enlighten your process of creating a character, understanding arc, and knowing your role in the storytelling process. There are many books on the fundamentals for storytelling but this is a great place to start.

  • The ARTIST’S WAY by Julia Cameron
Julia Cameron’s novel approach guides readers in uncovering problems areas and pressure points that may be restricting their creative flow and offers techniques to free up any areas where they might be stuck, opening up opportunities for self-growth and self-discovery.
 The program begins with Cameron’s most vital tools for creative recovery – The Morning Pages, a daily writing ritual of three pages of stream-of-conscious, and The Artist Date, a dedicated block of time to nurture your inner artist. From there, she shares hundreds of exercises, activities, and prompts to help readers thoroughly explore each chapter.

The work of the actor is the work of the self, and I can think of no greater tool to self-discovery for an artists than this book. Buy this book and make a commitment to yourself to to discover and recover your creative self. I’m a daily practicer of Morning Pages and encourage my students to do them as well. I find that, at the very least, they help get the noise out of my head – and I have an extremely noise head.

  • The WAR of ART by Steven Pressfield
In this powerful, straight-from-the-hip examination of the internal obstacles to success, bestselling author Steven Pressfield shows readers how to identify, defeat, and unlock inner barriers to creativity. THE WAR OF ART is an inspirational, funny, well-aimed kick in the pants guaranteed to galvanize every would-be artist, visionary or entrepreneur.

One of the most profound milestones of my own personal growth was my acceptance that resistance is part of the creative process. Knowing that it was universal took away a lot of excuses I was making to not give myself permission to create. This book is incredibly painful and nurturing at the same time. Read it and enjoy the ride.

  • The Untethered Soul by Michael A. Singer
The Untethered Soul begins by walking you through your relationship with your thoughts and emotions, helping you uncover the source and fluctuations of your inner energy. It then delves into what you can do to free yourself from the habitual thoughts, emotions, and energy patterns that limit your consciousness. Finally, with the perfect clarity, this book opens the door to a life lived in the freedom of your innermost being.

Actors should meditate! If you are struggling with a commitment to a regular meditation practice, read this book. It’s not necessarily about meditation, but reading it made me think about meditation in a different way and allowed me to commit to a practice that has been a game-changer for me. This book is soul food.

  • Big Magic by Elizabeth Gilbert
With profound empathy and radiant generosity, Elizabeth Gilbert offers potent insights into the mysterious nature of inspiration. She asks us to embrace our curiosity and let go of needless suffering. She shows us how to tackle what we most love, and how to face down what we most fear. She discusses the attitudes, approaches, and habits we need in order to live our most creative lives. Balancing between soulful spirituality and cheerful pragmatism, Gilbert encourages us to uncover the “strange jewels” that are hidden within each of us. Whether we are looking to write a book, make art, find new ways to address challenges in our work,  embark on a dream long deferred, or simply infuse our everyday lives with more mindfulness and passion, Big Magic cracks open a world of wonder and joy.

I read this book when I was in a very dark place and it helped bring me back to life by giving me a profound shift in perspective. I was able to let go of what I wanted creativity to give me and learn how to live a creative life just for the sheer pleasure of living a creative life. This book is delicious. Get it!

The book you don’t read

won’t help.

–Jim Rohn

After reading one of the books from this list, please give me a full report on how it helped you by starting a discussion on the LosAngelesActingCoach forum. Is there a book that has impacted your acting journey that isn’t on here? Please share it with me. I’m addicted to books!

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UncategorizedNovember 14, 2019

Care and Maintenance for the Actor

You don’t have to be a mess to be an artist. Let’s talk about why self-care is so important for the actor and how you can practice it in your life everyday.

Acting is a strange and somewhat impalpable art form. Deciding to take up acting as a hobby or career isn’t like deciding to learn how to play the guitar in that you can’t just pick it up and practice whenever you want. As an actor, you don’t really get to practice and play unless you’re in a film, or a class, or a play. However, there are plenty of things you can do when you don’t have access to those things that can help you become a more truthful, connected, emotionally-alive actor.

First of all, when it comes to acting, you are your instrument. When I started to play the guitar, the first thing I learned was everything there was to know about the instrument. I was taught how the instrument worked and what all the different parts were. As actors, if we are our instrument, doesn’t it make sense that we should get to know the instrument well so we know how to use it? This is why my first rule for actors is “Know Thyself”. 

Getting to know and understanding your instrument is an infinite process. It’s ongoing and undefinable. It is ongoing because we are constantly evolving and changing as we age and it is indefinable because there isn’t a language adequate enough to explain the things we understand sometimes. That’s why acting is such a beautiful medium for storytelling – we use more than words to communicate. Beyond the text, behavior and emotional life are our tools for conveying what the character is going through.

Here are some things you can do and practice daily to help you become a better actor.


1: LEARN TO MEDITATE

There are so many reasons that actors should meditate and I get into them more in another blogpost called Why Actors Should Meditate.

Meditation has helped me tremendously as an actor and as a human. Not only has it improved my mental and emotional health, but it’s also helped me get to know myself. Learning to observe your thoughts without judging them allows you to be in a position to zoom out and look at human behavior and life. As actors, that is our field! The further I study meditation, the more I am fascinated by the ego. I’m more likely to notice when I’m ego-driven in a situation but it doesn’t mean that I’m so evolved my ego isn’t a problem anymore. Having an ego is part of human consciousness, we can’t make it go away. Not for nothing, stories come from our ego. We need the ego! We don’t need to be a slave to the ego, but we should understand it. It’s a vital part of our instrument.

2: JOURNAL

Journaling always seems to be one of those topics that people either light up when mentioned, or roll their eyes at. For those of you who groan at the thought of journaling, hear me out. Like meditation, there are a lot of different ways you can practice this and it’s important to find a way that works for you. Personally, I’m a big fan of Morning Pages, a tool I learned from Julia Cameron, author of The Artists Way. I notice such a difference in my ability to focus, my productivity, my perspective and my overall mood when I’m keeping up with my morning pages. Three pages of handwritten, stream of consciousness writing first thing in the morning every day will help you get to know your instrument faster than is comfortable for most people, and that is a good thing. If you want to be an actor, get comfortable outside of your comfort-zone. 

3: GET PHYSICAL

Exercise isn’t just about obtaining the perfect physique. People come in all shapes and sizes and therefore so should actors! This is about being comfortable in your body. First of all, exercise will improve physical, emotional and mental health – all good things for any actor (and any human!) The key is to find something that you really enjoy doing so you’ll keep doing it. I have to change it up a lot, because I tend to get bored doing the same thing for a long time. I love a routine, as long as I can change my routine often. It doesn’t matter what you do, but do something. It’s important for actors to be connected to their bodies. Also, exercise is another way to practice mindfulness. Sometimes my husband and I will spend an hour playing tennis. Neither of us are very good at it, but it gets our heart rates up for a while and for the duration of our “game” I’m completely in the moment. 

4: THERAPY

Acting is therapeutic, but it’s not therapy. We all have traumas and broken hearts and a lot of people are drawn to acting (whether they know it or not) because they are looking for a place to express their pain and heal their wounds. I think acting can be a wonderful, safe way to work out our pain but I think it’s important that it’s not our only tool for coping and mending. Whether it’s in a group or one-on-one, I think every actor should seek out healthy ways to process emotional pain from trauma, grief or heartbreak. Not only will it help you get to know yourself (your instrument!), it will give you more insight into processing feelings, something every actor needs to know. If we can’t process our own emotions, how can we be expected to do it as a character in imaginary circumstances?

“Art is an image-using system. In order to create, we draw from our inner well. This inner well, an artistic reservoir, is ideally like a well-stocked trout pond. We’ve got big fish, little fish, fat fish, skinny fish — an abundance of artistic fish to fry. As artists, we must realize that we have to maintain this artistic ecosystem. If we don’t give some attention to upkeep, our well is apt to become depleted, stagnant, or blocked…Filling the well involves active pursuit of images to refresh our artistic reservoirs.”
~Julia Cameron, The Artist’s Way

5: FILL YOUR WELL

Actors must have something to draw from so we must make sure our wells are never empty. Here’s a short list of things you can do to fill your well —

  • GO SEE A PLAY, even if it’s a “bad” play! There is always something to enjoy and there are always opportunities to learn, if you’re paying attention. As an artist, make it a habit to support other artists!
  • READ A BOOK! Check out my reading list for suggestions!
  • GO TO A MUSEUM. If there isn’t a museum or art gallery where you live, you’ll find a lot of eye candy and many treasures at antique stores!
  • TAKE A CLASS about anything but acting. Develop a talent that you can put on the “special skills” section of your resume: dance, voice, foreign language, archery, firearms handling – think about the kinds of roles you want to get to point you in the direction of other fields you can study.
  • PEOPLE WATCH! You can do this anywhere, just don’t be creepy about it! Go to a park, mall, even a bus stop and think about where people are going and coming from and what their lives are like. It’s a great exercise for the imagination. A vivid imagination is a great super power for an actor to cultivate.
  • TRAVEL, even if it’s just getting out of your hometown for a day. Get yourself into some unfamiliar territory and observe how people in different cities and cultures live and interact with each other. It’s a great way to learn about humanity!


6: LIVE YOUR LIFE

The most valuable tools in an actor’s toolbox are life experiences. Take a trip, meet new people, fall in love, make mistakes, forgive someone, go to a party, spend time with people you love, explore nature – just live. Actors have a tendency to take themselves and their acting so seriously that they miss out on their lives. Don’t forget to live your life and nurture your relationships. Other people are mirrors for us and we can learn a lot about ourselves through deep and meaningful relationships. Heck, we can learn a lot about ourselves from shallow, meaningless relationships. Everything you experience in life will be there for you to draw upon in your acting journey. Be an active participant in your life!

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How Under­standing Story Helps Actors

How The Five Elements of Story Can Enlighten Your Preparation

Arguably, there are 5 key elements of story. Not all actors are writers, but it’s important for actors to have some understanding of story to help them make the best acting choices for their characters.

I highly recommend that actors have some awareness of the fundamentals of storytelling. Take a screenwriting class, read a book about story structure, google some stuff, ask your screenwriter friends! If you’re familiar with my coaching style, you’ll notice I reference storytelling principles quite often in my lessons. This blog just barely scratches the surface.

CHARACTER

An important quality that must be given to characters (especially the main character) is a flaw, or weakness. Let’s be careful here. It’s really important that we don’t judge the characters we play. Let’s save our strong point of view for the character’s feelings about other characters in the story. Rather than ask “What’s my character’s weakness?” I like to ask “In what ways does my character let her ego get the best of her?” Then I answer, in the voice of the character, with the point of view of the character. For example, if the superficial judgment of the character is something like she’s patronizing, the way that I would talk with the character’s voice and point of view is “If I don’t assume everyone around me has no more intelligence than that of a fourth grader, everyone will slack off and let me down.” Justified behavior, right? Now you can play that character with truth rather than playing an idea.

Every role you approach should be treated as the main character. Hear me out. You’ve heard the saying there are no small parts, right? I’ll use one of my favorite examples. Let’s say your character is WAITRESS and your line is “Are you ready for the check?” — and that’s the only thing we see and hear you do for an entire episode or film. That waitress is still a full-fledged human being with a full life – wants, needs, desires, triggers, point of view, a place she’s coming from, a destination, thinking process, all of it. You still have to make strong choices about all of those things.

SETTING

Where are you and what are you literally doing in the scene? Sticking with the waitress example, you’d be at work (which happens to be in a restaurant) and you are literally asking a patron if they are finished with their dining experience and ready to pay their bill. This is where it’s important to be specific. Are you a waitress at Applebees, or Gary’s Pie Shop, or Le Petit Maison? How long have you worked there? Is it your first day or are you coming up on twenty years? The way you move about the restaurant will be different depending on the specifics. Try not to make general choices about these things. Extremes make for great strong point of view. 

To whom are you asking if they’re ready for the check? Someone you think is sexy and maybe have a crush on? Someone who irritates you? A stranger or a regular that you’ve been waiting on for years? You’ll have stronger point of view if you cast someone specific in your mind.

PLOT

Stories should have a beginning, middle and end. So should every scene. Remember this in auditions. Think of it this way: when casting directors are watching your audition, they are kind of watching a little play. They want a full performance. That means you should have a beginning, middle and end of your scene; it should tell a full story. Even if your audition is just a few lines, or even one line, or even no lines — a story can be told with just a look!

So how do we apply this to the work? The scene doesn’t start with the first line of dialogue. Whatever happens that motivates the character to first speak is the beginning of the scene. Read that again. Whatever happens that motivates the first character to speak is the beginning of the scene.

The middle of the scene is what happens in the scene.

The end of the scene is a character being motivated by what happened in the scene to do the next indicated thing. What is the character’s destination now? Having discovered new information, where are you (the character) going now and what are you going to do? You’ve got to make that choice and make it specific. Let it be part of the character’s thinking process in your closing moment.

CONFLICT

Every story has to have conflict. That doesn’t necessarily mean that there’s a brawl. In story, to put it simply, our character wants something and what happens in the story is basically about all of the obstacles they have to overcome to get what they want. Here is where we have to find out our character’s intention. As the character, what do you want? How far are you willing to go to get it? What happens if you don’t get what you want? What are the consequences if you don’t get your way? What’s at stake?

Don’t emotionally prepare on the obstacles, emotionally prepare on what you want and how bad you want it. Then deal with the obstacles or conflict. The character can’t know what’s coming next – so you can’t anticipate the problem. You (as the character) have to want what you want and then deal with the obstacles truthfully.

When we see how far someone is willing to go to get what they want, that’s how character is revealed. It’s a discovery. A story is not about someone who knows who they are – it’s about someone finding out who they are.

RESOLUTION

Every story has a resolution. It’s not always about the character getting what they want, it is often about them getting what they need (usually something they didn’t know they needed). The important thing to remember here is that the result of the character’s arc is that they have had a shift in perspective. They go from a place of not knowing something to knowing it. In other words, in the last scene of the film they know something they didn’t know in the first scene. This can also be applied to audition scenes. Every scene is in the movie or episode for a reason – it’s either moving the story forward (so new information is revealed) or it’s letting us know more about a character (so new information is revealed). So, in every scene, new information is revealed. How does your character receive the information? What does it make them want to do next? In every scene, on some level, there should be a shift. This happens from the listening. But you can prepare in a way to set yourself up for a great discovery by making a choice that the character is expecting the opposite of what happens.

There is so much more we can learn from storytelling that can help our acting work become more nuanced and grounded. Hopefully these five simple insights have opened up a new way for you to look at your work. Like writers, though in a much different way, actors are storytellers. It’s important that we have a comprehensive understanding of what makes up a story and what makes a story compelling. I encourage you to explore your work from that aspect and see what exciting places it takes you!

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