Tuesday, 11 December 2007

Study - A lot

The Words of Wisdom this week come from legendary Hollywood performer Jack Nicholson. Now, I think we’re inclined to think of Jack as a very laidback character to whom stardom came easily. This is not the case. It took him many years of hard graft to be noticed (in Easy Rider, at the age of 32.) He said recently “I went to classes for 12 years … there’s nobody successful who didn’t study a lot.” And that’s true not just about acting. So that makes our Words of Wisdom for this week: Study – A lot.

Tuesday, 27 November 2007


The Word of Wisdom this week is: emphasise. There are many ways of making a word or phrase stand out. The most obvious one is to speak it more loudly, but you can also make something stand out by saying it more quietly. You can go up in pitch, or down. You can speed up or, more likely, slow down. You can change the rhythm of your speech, or add repetition, or change your tone of voice or accent. Very effectively, you can put a little … brief pause of a fraction of a second … before a word or phrase you want to have a particular impact.

Become aware of these factors in other people’s speech and, in a subtle way, gradually work them into your own. They will enrich what you have to say.

Tuesday, 20 November 2007


The Word of Wisdom this week is: breathe. (Deeply.) But to do this the right way, focus on breathing out, rather than breathing in. If you take too deep a breath in, you are restricted by your solid ribcage and your muscles tighten up, limiting your voice. But you can always breathe out more, and when you do you will find that you are more relaxed and, like magic, you will have more air to work with. So the simplest voice exercise is slow, deep breathing, emphasising the outward breath and using the diaphragm – feel your waistband loosen. You can do this while walking, standing or sitting, but best of all is lying down, hips and knees bent at 90 degrees and feet supported by a chair. Gradually you will get in the habit of breathing better and speaking more strongly without forcing your voice in your throat. What is more, you will find that this is a great way of clearing your head and relieving stress. The say that 10 minutes of deep breathing is as good as 20 minutes of sleep and I’m not going to argue with that. Breathe!

Tuesday, 6 November 2007

Think like a mathematician

Words of Wisdom this week are: ‘Think like a mathematician, a scientist, a pilot, a soldier, an investment banker, a statesman.’ Reason: because there are plenty of occasions when you might play the part of one of these, but few actors have much first hand experience of any of these roles. So, mix as widely as possible, observe how such people speak and behave and try to work out how they think. Watch TV programmes you wouldn’t normally watch. Acting should broaden the mind: the whole world is your subject.

And a quote from Tom Stoppard: ‘We’re actors, we’re the opposite of people.’

Tuesday, 16 October 2007

Hang out with winners

Words of Wisdom: I caught Ronnie Wood talking to Kay Burley this week and two things he said, with reference to Amy Winehouse and young musicians, were ‘Hang out with winners’ and ‘Keep on going.’ Winning depends on developing traits which can be adopted from successful people and it becomes a habit: so does always keeping on, keeping on becomes a habit: I agree with Ronnie 100%.

Tuesday, 2 October 2007

Take ownership of your dialogue

And the Words of Wisdom this week are: Take ownership of your dialogue. The words you are given were written by a writer, but they are not the writer’s words, they belong to the character you are playing. You are not delivering lines written by a stranger. You are creating a character, derived in the first instance from the words the character has been given and any description or direction, and then delivering those words as your character’s own. Adopt the vocabulary, the words and the phrasing and above all the emotions revealed to you, and deliver them as if no-one thought of them or created them until they emanated from your mind and came out through your mouth. Take ownership of your dialogue.

Monday, 24 September 2007

Create character continuously

The Words of Wisdom this week are about creativity. I am firmly of the belief that acting should be considered a creative art, rather than just interpretative. Of course, the writer is the prime creator, usually with a director acting as intermediary. But actors also create: and what they create is character. That is a convincing portrayal of a person that the audience is willing to believe in. While the audience believe in what they are seeing on the stage the play, which takes place in their minds, seems to have flesh and blood. If an actor goes out of character, or out of mood, the play collapses because no-one now believes in it. So the actors must create character continuously. It is quite impossible for a writer to give complete and detailed instructions about how a part is to be played. The words will be there is the script, but how are they to be delivered? There will be stage directions and some description, but how is the actor to stand, sit, walk, gesture, use their eyes? All this is the province of character and all these choices have to be made by the actor, not by him- or herself, because theatre is a collective activity, but working as part of a team. Create character continuously.

Tuesday, 18 September 2007

Take one step at a time, but go on taking steps

The Words of Wisdom this week have application far beyond the bounds of acting. They are: Take one step at a time, but go on taking steps. This is the idea of incremental improvement and it applies as much to athletics or mathematics as it does to acting. It runs counter to two damaging beliefs: one, that if you are not very good at something you can never get better at it, and the other, that it is possible to be instantly successful at something and that it only requires some hidden talent to be ‘discovered’ and that hard work is not involved. Always focus on the next step and make it a measurable and achievable target. That way you can monitor your progress and you will not be put off by the difficulty of what you are ultimately aiming for. And you have to take that first step: get involved and take that first step. No-one ever got anywhere by thinking how nice it would be if they got to where they would like to be. Then take the next step. And persist. One of the main reasons people don’t succeed at things is because they give up too easily. Make a plan, but don’t stick rigidly to it. Vary it in the light of experience: there is a military maxim ‘No plan survives first contact with the enemy.’ And never consider yourself to be fully trained. You can go on educating yourself as an actor for your whole life. And remember that if you content yourself with standing still you will go backwards. Take one step at a time, but go on taking steps.

Monday, 10 September 2007


And that brief Word of Wisdom? It’s ‘Project.’ Meaning speak loudly and emphatically enough to reach your audience and also use gesture and facial expressions strongly enough to do the same thing. It’s mainly a requirement of stage acting, where you do not have a microphone and the back row of the audience may be a long way away. A loud enough voice is produced by breathing deeply, using the diaphragm, and not by forcing it in the throat. That’s why you should do all those breathing and voice exercises. Projection becomes difficult when you are playing an intimate scene, close to another actor. We automatically drop our voices when we are speaking to someone close to us and to overcome this tendency, you have to remember that although your character is speaking to the other character, as an actor you also need to be heard by the audience, so you have to keep that in mind too. Unnatural but necessary. Project.

Monday, 3 September 2007

Visualise - Part 2

The Word of Wisdom this week is a continuation of last week’s: visualise. Mental rehearsal of tasks and processes is a powerful way of improving performance, particularly in sport, the arts and situations like interviews or public speaking. It has even been proven to increase muscular strength without exercise! The key is to relax and adopt a positive frame of mind, then to run through the processes you are going to have to perform and imagine them being carried out by you as excellently as you can. Do this over and over again and your mind and body will adapt in line with your thoughts. The important thing is to visualise the processes you are going to perform, not just the successful outcome (that’s just daydreaming and it doesn’t work.) A valuable exercise for an actor, which can be carried out anywhere, anytime, is to visualise and put yourself into states with a different mood. Practice changing the place or time your mind is in, or your emotional state. Try feeling warm on a cold day or wide awake when you’re sleepy: it’s remarkable what you can do. Visualise.

Saturday, 25 August 2007

Visualise - Part 1

Now for the Words of Wisdom:

Visualise. This is slightly mysterious and comes in two parts: this week the first part and next week the second. When you are acting or speaking in public and say anything which has an image, visualise that image in your own mind. In a subtle way this will enrich what you are saying and transmit itself to the listener. If you are filming and talking to space, or a stand-in, visualise the character you are talking to as strongly as you can. If you are on location or in a studio visualise your whole surroundings as you want the audience to imagine them, so, for example, without the crew or their equipment. Do the same if you are on stage: visualise your entire surroundings.

This is particularly valuable if you are presenting an audition piece. If there are supposed to be other characters present position them around you as they would be if they were really there and make sure you are visualising them as vividly as possible. Visualise people and places. Visualise.

Wednesday, 15 August 2007

Solve the list problem

The Words of Wisdom this week are about how to solve the list problem. The list problem arises when there are three or more words or phrases in the dialogue in a play which make a series of related items. For example: ‘Friends, Romans, countrymen.’ The secret is to not make it sound like a list. Take each item separately and visualise it. Allocate it a space in your mind. Consider its emotional feeling or flavour. Then recreate these when you come to each item in the list in your dialogue. For example, as an exercise, take ‘Clubs, Diamonds, Hearts and Spades.’ For Clubs you might visualise a rough, wooden club, take it in your left hand and recreate a feeling of brutality; the Diamond might be glittering on your finger excitingly; the Heart might be on a Valentine held close to your heart, with a feeling of warmth, and the Spade you might be digging with – and it’s hard work. Try saying ‘Clubs, Diamonds, Hearts and Spades’ now and feel the difference. Try a few more lists: ‘England, Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland’; ‘Ice, Water, Steam’ and so on. That’s how to solve the list problem.

Monday, 6 August 2007

Find words of wisdom

The Words this week are ‘Find words of wisdom’: always be on the lookout for thoughts and ideas that will help you in your profession and on your way through life. And to illustrate this here are five extracts from my own notebook – you do of course keep a notebook, don’t you? The five quotations are about, respectively: stage fright; self-centredness; the difference between show business and sport; age and how to cope with it; and a great virtue.

Frank Sinatra said (as quoted by Tony Bennett) “If the crowd see you’re nervous, they also see that you care”

Shakespeare wrote, in The Taming of the Shrew, “He that is giddy thinks the world turns round.”

Marilyn Monroe broke off her honeymoon with legendary baseball player Joe DiMaggio to entertain adoring American troops in Korea. On her return she said to him “It was so wonderful, Joe. You never heard such cheering” “Yes I have” DiMaggio replied, quietly.

Bruce Tulloh, the champion athlete and running guru, wrote “It’s good to be an athlete when you’re 30, but when you’re 50 it’s essential”

And Jermaine Jackson, on leaving the Big Brother house, said “Kindness is a strength.”

Find words of wisdom.

Monday, 30 July 2007

Favour the audience with your face

And this week’s Words of Wisdom are Favour the audience with your face. Whether you are performing in theatre, film or television, your body language and, most importantly, your facial language express at least as much as the words you are saying. In fact this is true in non-visual media as well – radio, voice-overs, recording a song – you should use body language in all of these, because after all, you can hear a smile on the telephone, can’t you – but that is by the way.

So if your facial expressions are very important and the audience want to read your face, because that’s the part of you they look at the most, then you must make sure they can see it as well as possible.

Cheat the angles so that your eyeline is closer to the camera or the audience than it would be purely geometrically. In close up you will normally be directed to hold a certain position but don’t always assume this is going to be done for you.

Know whether you are left- or right-faced. You can check this by looking in a mirror or at a photograph and drawing imaginary lines across your lips and through your eyes. If this opens out on the left side of your face then you are left-faced and you will tend to shoot better from the left.

NEVER put your hands to your face or to your hair unless there is a compelling reason in the script to do so.

Study your facial expressions in a mirror as you say a line to yourself with different inflections. Notice how subtle facial language can be and now false it looks if it is overplayed and doesn’t come from the inside.

Be prepared, both for the stage and the screen, to be directed into unnatural positions relative to other actors. Invariably, one of the reasons for this is so that your facial expressions will be more evident to the audience. For example, you might be at the other character’s shoulder and looking in a parallel direction to them. That may feel very strange but it will look good. Favour the audience with your face.

Monday, 23 July 2007

Be professional (know your lines and be on time)

And so to this week’s Words of Wisdom. And they are a lot of words, but they all come under the same umbrella and that is Be professional. Meaning: know your lines, be on time, don’t knock over the furniture, don’t bitch (you only hurt yourself by adopting a negative frame of mind), remember people’s names (keep a notebook of people you meet or work with), don’t drink alcohol until you’ve finished for the day, don’t change any stage business without the director’s OK, don’t complain unnecessarily, say thank you, keep an appointments diary, always carry a pen and something to read, don’t believe your own publicity, listen to advice, always be learning. And the most important of these is ‘be on time’ – and that includes for your acting class. Be professional.

Tuesday, 10 July 2007


And so the Words of Wisdom this week are simply: Share. Work with your fellow actors, not against them. If you make them look good then your performance will be all the more convincing. Competing with other actors for the audience’s attention is self-defeating. Treat everyone in the cast with respect, whether their part be large or small. You’re part of a team and everyone should pull together. If you’re working on a big movie the team can be enormous, and there should be no division between cast and crew. And finally, the most important entity to share with is the audience. Always have a corner of your mind working on how best to share what is happening with them. Without the audience there is no show.

Tuesday, 3 July 2007

Keep fit

And the WOW factor – the Words of Wisdom? Very simple: Keep Fit. Acting can be very tiring. It can involve early starts, long days, late evenings, emotionally and physically exhausting performances. The fitter you are the more equipped you will be to cope with these demands. So, live an active life: run, swim, dance, play sport, go to the gym, do aerobics. Walk or cycle to get around; run up the stairs instead of waiting for the lift; don’t be one of the zeroes who stands still on the escalator (of life.) You will feel happier, depression will lift. Why? Because vigorous activity, like laughter, sex and exposure to the sun, releases beta-endorphin, a neurotransmitter which is a powerful painkiller and which also promotes feelings of relaxation and well-being. It’s also released by acupuncture, incidentally.

And while you’re about it, eat a good diet including the famous five portions a day of fruit and vegetables, but keeping down the proportions of fatty foods and refined sugar. And if you’re one of the few remaining smokers, now is the time to kick the habit. Your voice is so important to you: why ruin it by smoking, as well as wrecking your lungs, arteries and quite a lot more? By taking one step at a time you can gradually adapt your body to a better lifestyle. It does take time: running guru Bruce Tulloh reckons it takes two years to turn a non-runner’s body into a runner’s body. But think how many people maintain their car more carefully than they maintain their body – the difference being you can trade in your car for a new one, but you can’t trade in your body, it has to last all your life.

If you do all this, you will likely live longer and better, and you’ll be a better actor. Keep fit.

Tuesday, 26 June 2007

Keep it fresh

So what are the Words (of Wisdom) this week? They are Keep it Fresh. One of the things that actors often have to do is to repeat what they have just done, sometimes over and over again. If you are playing a part in a long running play in the theatre you are having to deliver the same lines over and over again, maybe six or eight times a week. If you are shooting a film you may have to play a scene for take after take, and then maybe deliver the same line again for a different shot of the same scene.

You have two opposing problems here. The first is to keep your performance consistent, so that your intentions and those of the writer and director are carried out, and so that your fellow actors can rely on what you are going to do, so no-one can say “But that’s not how we rehearsed it!”

At the same time you need to make it seem to the audience as if the events being depicted are happening for the first time. The people in the audience want to be able to believe, with at least part of their minds, that nothing has been pre-planned and that the outcome of the story is uncertain.

So Keep it Fresh. Be ready but don’t over-prepare. Vary your performance fractionally so that it doesn’t dig too deep a groove. Adopt a frame of mind at the beginning of the scene that this is the ‘now’ moment and don’t rehearse the rest of the scene in your head before it has happened.

Every time you play a scene it will, unavoidably, be slightly different. You will say the words and perform the actions slightly differently; so will the other actors; if there is an audience their reaction will be different each time. There are so many variables that you can never play a scene the same way twice. Welcome this randomness and use it. It’s all part of the way you can Keep it Fresh.

Tuesday, 19 June 2007

Don't 'act' when you're acting

And so to the Words of Wisdom. They are ‘Don’t ‘act’ when you’re acting.’ It’s about the difference between artificiality and directness. The people in the audience haven’t come to see actors acting; they’ve come to see a play. They don’t want to hear people saying lines; the want to listen to the words. They don’t want to hear you reciting Shakespeare; they want to bridge the gap of 400 years and hear the play as if it was being performed for the first time. As an actor, don’t intrude between the writer and the audience. Paradoxically, the more you make yourself disappear inside the character and the situation, the more you will be admired after the event.

Treat the audience as equals; shun the mindset of cultural superiority so evident in, for example, TV costume dramas; we, the audience, don’t want to see two actors playing the parts of two tramps; we want to see two tramps. Don’t ‘act’ when you’re acting.

Tuesday, 12 June 2007


There’s an old story that leads to our Word of Wisdom for this week. An out-of-town lady is visiting New York City. Lost, she goes up to a cop on Sixth Avenue and asks him “Can you tell me how to get to Carnegie Hall?” The representative of New York’s finest gives her a long look. “Practice, lady: practice” he replies.

There are different versions of this story: sometimes the cop is replaced by the pianist Arthur Rubinstein, but, whoever said it, they were speaking nothing but the truth, and that’s why our Word of Wisdom this week is … Practice.

Now the principle of how practice leads to improvement is a very simple one. If you put your body under stress, of any kind, it adapts to better cope with that stress. Provided you don’t over-stress yourself, which will lead to injury, you will get better at whatever you are trying to do.

In physical activities, like sport, if you run further and faster, you will improve. After a few weeks, the stopwatch, which never lies, will tell you that you are running faster than you could before. In a technical sport, like Golf, if you practice your swing, after a while you will be able to drive the ball further.

The same applies in mental activities. We have all had the experience of doing simple sums and gradually getting better and being able to do harder sums. Or we’ve learned to play Chess, or do Sudoku. We weren’t born knowing how to do these things: it was all down to practice.

And the same is true in the arts. We practice scales and arpeggios and go over and over a piece till we can get our fingers round the notes. There is a theory that the main reason Mozart became such a great composer was that he had practiced for hours every day from the age of two.

So why do so many actors, at least in the UK, fail to keep themselves in training like athletes, or puzzlers, or musicians? Maybe it’s because acting technique is more diffuse and less easy to define than in the other examples and the results are less easy to measure. But it’s true that a lot of actors in this country do not practice their craft as they should. They’re the competition and you can do better than them.

And that’s one of the reasons why we have our class. So that you can keep in practice, find it easy to slip into a character, learn a scene, take direction and build your confidence. Practice to overcome weaknesses and master the things you find most difficult.

So if you want to get to your own Carnegie Hall – in fact if you want to get anywhere in life – Practice!

Tuesday, 5 June 2007

Remember the Power of Silence

Remember the Power of Silence (pause) Remember the Power of Silence. Those are the Words of Wisdom for this week. When we listen to speech, our brain does a wonderful thing: it interprets the strange sounds that arrive in our ears, decodes them and posts the results to the parts of our mind that deal with understanding and memory and the meaning of words. This it does, initially, very quickly, but it then takes time for the effect of the words to spread more widely through our minds. If more words come along too soon they interrupt this process and it doesn’t come to full fruition.

Also there is a more fundamental channel of communication than spoken language and that is the language of the body, the face and, above all, the eyes. When we are busy interpreting speech our thought tends to be taken over by that processing and we can’t get full value from what the body, the face and the eyes are saying to us.

Wait a beat to gain attention. Use a pause to add suspense. Exert silence to show dominance. Don’t do any of these too artificially, but allow the audience to look … and look. Remember the Power of Silence.

Tuesday, 29 May 2007

Keep it believable

This week’s Words of Wisdom are very simple. At least, they sound very simple, though they may not always be so simple to carry out. Keep it Believable. Acting is an odd mixture of natural and unnatural. You want the audience to feel as if they are looking at reality and the audience want to feel that too. It’s called the ‘suspension of disbelief.’ Sometimes, to achieve the illusion, you have to cheat the angles, or speed up or slow down the action, or do a variety of things which originate in the craft of acting technique. Despite that, you need, with part of your mind, to believe that what you are doing is a form of reality. And if you believe in it there is a good chance that the audience will believe in it too. But if you don’t believe in what you are doing then the audience will see through you and they will no longer find you believable. You may win some easy battles and get some cheap laughs, but you will have lost the war and, ultimately, the audience will feel cheated. So Keep it Believable.

Tuesday, 22 May 2007

Remember they probably like you

The Words of Wisdom this week are Remember they probably like you. It’s about my theory of stage fright, or, if you prefer, performance anxiety. Our ancestors spent some millions of years as hunter gatherers, living in small groups, before we invented settled agriculture, cities and industry and information technology. Therefore we remain better adapted to a hunter gatherer type of life than to coping with the modern world. To a hunter gatherer, being stared at by a stranger means aggression. Being stared at by a group of strangers provokes a strong flight or fight reaction. The red warning light goes on automatically. This is the cause of stage fright and it’s indicative that it is often worse for a performer in front of a live audience of fifty than in front of an unseen TV audience of millions. It’s the fear of being stared at by a group of strangers. Our inner hunter gatherer doesn’t know that the reason they’re staring at us is because they’re interested and they probably like us. And, sitting in the theatre, the audience is licensed to stare at the performers. We’re taught as children that it’s rude to stare, but this is not the case when we’re being entertained. So the first step to take to turn off the red warning light is to remember they probably like you. That will help turn your fear to stimulation.

Tuesday, 15 May 2007

Familiarise yourself with any props

And the Words of Wisdom this week? Familiarise yourself with any props. Stage properties, known as ‘props’, are actor traps. Anything that possibly can go wrong when you’re handling a prop probably will. They sometimes seem to have a life of their own. The only way to protect yourself against this is to get to know everything there is to know about your props. Most props are things that your character uses regularly in their life, so you need to practice with them until you feel your use of them is habitual. Often the props you are going to use are introduced late in the rehearsal period or, if you are filming, on the day of the shoot. In the little time you have you need to get to know exactly how the props function and establish a precise routine of how you are going to handle them. If you are using machinery or firearms you may need to do some prior research. If you are using an umbrella or a walking stick it will pay you to observe now much variation there is in the way people use them. There are fewer parts than there used to be in which people smoke, but cigarette lighters seem to take a particular delight in malfunctioning when they are most needed. Make sure you can work them infallibly. Eating and drinking are full of hazards. One’s mouth tends to get dry when performing, so it’s best to take very small mouthfuls. Pouring drinks is another problem. One thing to remember is that hot and cold liquids sound differently, so if you’re pouring from a teapot the liquid has to really be hot. Another thing that often goes wrong is the handling of heavy objects. Your body shifts to balance under the load and if the object is not really heavy it’s more or less impossible to fake it. So if you’re carrying a heavy suitcase make sure it really is heavy, otherwise the laws of Physics will prevent you from leaning over far enough, the suitcase will swing too easily and when you put it down it will sound different – empty, instead of full. So; familiarise yourself with any props.

Tuesday, 8 May 2007

Be nice!

This week the Words of Wisdom will be short and, as last week, they will be a piece of professional advice which is applicable everywhere else as well. They are simply Be nice! They do say ‘Be nice to people on the way up because you’ll need them on the way down’ but it’s more than just that piece of cynical calculation. To be polite to your fellow professionals is simply the right way to behave, whether it’s with the big name star or the studio cleaner. They all have their jobs to do and are entitled to be treated with respect. People who let success go to their heads tend to get their comeuppance in the end and that serves them right. Another thing for actors to remember is that there should be no dividing line between cast and crew. The crew members are there to help you and they often have a wealth of knowledge and experience which they will be willing to share with you. A little knowledge of technical aspects of the business will do you nothing but good. And keep a notebook or database of the names and other details of people you work with. We work in a small village and it’s surprising how often you will meet the same people. Be nice!

Wednesday, 2 May 2007

Actors are paid to wait around

Let’s start with the Words of Wisdom. This is the tenth week of them and this is the story up till now:

1 Be complicated: do simple.
2 Comedy is not funny (for the people it’s happening to)
3 Understand the differences between the media
4 Slow down
5 If in doubt, leave it out!
6 Live dangerously
7 Listen!
8 Use your eyes
9 Acting is more about being than doing

These were all about acting performance, though most of them have applications outside acting as well, so for the tenth Words of Wisdom, how about something about professionalism? The Words are: Actors are paid to wait around. Plays are performed and films are made through the combined efforts of large numbers of people. Whether your part is large or small it has to slot in with a lot of other people’s efforts and there are dozens of things which can go wrong – some of them are mistakes and some of them, like the weather, are no-one’s fault at all. Therefore, expect to be kept waiting and prepare for it. It’s the same in sport – the Olympic 100m finalists wait for hours and then run for 9.86 seconds – or music – a great singer spends all day in the studio and only afterwards do they find the 2 minutes 50 seconds that’ll still be played on the radio in forty years time. Bring a good book, eat and drink sparingly, keep in neutral gear and when you are called, be ready. If you are playing a run in the theatre, establish a routine at dress rehearsal stage so that wardrobe, make-up, preparation and warm-up follow every night in a set rhythm. Always arrive in good time so you’re not rushed. If you are a supporting artist all of the above is true in trumps. Supporting artists do little else but wait and while waiting it is very easy to get drawn into a negative mindset in which everything from the catering arrangements to the alleged favouritism of the 2nd Assistant Director is criticised. Keep away from the moaners, they will only depress you! Remember Actors (even big stars in their trailers) are paid to wait around.

Next week there should be some exciting news about the opening of our eagerly awaited website. Once it has been launched we shall be adding a blog which will incorporate the accumulated Words of Wisdom, which are intended eventually be the nucleus of the book about acting which I am planning to write.

In the mean time it would be good to see you all. If you haven’t come along for a while you will be greeted like the returning prodigal son. The Thursday group is mainly female and the Saturday group is mainly male, so maybe you can cross over and even up the numbers. Every session is different so put a date in your diary for the next class you can make. And bring some friends!

Wednesday, 25 April 2007

Acting is more about being than doing

Some of you haven’t been yet; some of you have just begun; some of you are occasionals; some of you are regulars; some of you will be returners; I hope none of you are never come again-ers. Whichever you are it would be good to see you soon.

And do remember that I am always glad to promote any productions in which people are involved, so that you can have the chance of supporting them. This week Szilvia Kopeczi, our resident soprano, will be appearing in an opera showcase at the Cochrane Theatre on Thursday and Friday evenings and Saturday afternoon, so I hope some of you will be inspired to go along, The box office no is 020 7269 1606.

And the Words of Wisdom this week apply particularly to screen acting, The Words are: Acting is more about being than doing. If you produce a thought or a feeling inside you, the camera will see it and the audience will see it through the medium of the camera. If you consciously do something externally to illustrate the thought or the feeling, you will almost certainly do too much and the effect will be unrealistic. As James Dean is reputed to have said ‘If the script tells me to smoke a cigarette, I smoke a cigarette, I don’t act smoking a cigarette.’ Or as Jean-Luc Godard put it: ‘Cinema is the truth twenty-four times a second.’

It takes confidence to do little enough, to just ‘be’ and not hide behind a smokescreen of ‘do.’ You have to bet the house on the camera liking what it sees, but no-one ever said life isn’t a gamble, did they? Acting is more about being than doing.

Wednesday, 18 April 2007

Use your eyes

Let’s hope the unseasonably sunny weather continues, though perhaps it might relent a little on Sunday, when the London Marathon looks like being run in conditions warm enough to be difficult to cope with. However, our classes continue as normal and I hope the fine weather will encourage a few more people to turn out, both on Thursday and on Saturday. If you haven’t been for a while, they are drop-in classes and one of their delights is that we never know who is going to surprise us and reappear, so don’t be shy about coming along.

And the Words of Wisdom this week: Use your eyes! When we look at people we look at their eyes. When they look at us they look at our eyes. We read people’s eyes and we signal with our eyes and we are wonderfully skilful at interpreting people’s character and mood from a momentary scanning of those few square centimetres in the upper part of their face. Gaze is a more fundamental channel of communication than spoken language: we can communicate with people who do not speak a word of our language by using the expression of our eyes. We can even communicate with some species of our animal cousins in the same way: the language of gaze is pre-human. So, especially on screen or in small scale theatre, actors should use their eyes and lead with their eyes. When you watch a film, note how often the most powerful shots are the reaction shots, where a character is not speaking at all. One look can be worth a thousand words so … use your eyes!

Tuesday, 10 April 2007


Looking through the sessions we’ve had so far this year, the titles include:

Ice & Fire: Giving and Receiving Extreme Emotions
Cutting Your Fears Down to Size
Eccentrics, Freaks & Weirdos
Heart & Head
Some Basics of Acting

So, sometimes it’s centred on acting technique, sometimes we use a theme for the content and sometimes it’s based on life skills. What I do want to emphasise for new people is that if you are shy or nervous you need have nothing to fear. You won’t be asked to do anything difficult until you show you’re ready.

And for those who are already members: remember every session is new so, if you missed any of the ones I’ve mentioned, they won’t come round again: we’ll be on to something else.

There is just one word of wisdom this week: Listen! When you are acting, the listening is all important. When you are improvising, the reacting is at least as important as the acting. If you listen you will react authentically to what is said. If you are focusing solely on the clever thing you are going to say next the dialogue will fracture and fall apart. If you are working from a script it’s easy to fall into the trap of mentally rehearsing what you are due to say next, rather than listening to what the other characters are saying. No-one can ever deliver a line exactly identically twice over, so if you don’t listen your line may not marry properly to the line before and the flow of the dialogue will tend to become disjointed. So, listen!

Hope to see you all soon.

Tuesday, 3 April 2007

Live dangerously

Happy Easter everyone!

We'll have a week off from the classes, so there will be nothing thisThursday or Saturday.Then we'll start again on 12th April and continue through to 28th July. Our numbers have been picking up again and since January 56 people have come along at one time or another. I'd like a few more sometimes so why not bring a friend next time!

Recommendations: Lynne Malkin, who has recently returned to the class after several years, sings as 50ft Woman. She is about to release a new singleand you can see her and hear some of her music at www.myspace.com/50ftwoman She may also be found at http://www.getmetonumberone.com/ and will be performing inthe London area soon. Lynne is also designing our soon to be unveiled website so ... get her to number one!

Going back further in time, Celia Quartermain used to work for me at AnnaScher Theatre. She is now a producer and has an interesting radio programme coming up. It's called 'Falklands 25: Building the Fortress' and will airat 8:00pm on Monday 9th April on Radio 4 FM. Celia's late uncle was an officer commanding the Falklands immediately after the war and the programme is made from his audio diaries recorded at the time. This promises to be a very unusual piece of living history.

And the Words of Wisdom this week: Live dangerously! I don't mean you should live dangerously in real life, in real life it's usually best to be cautious and careful. But when you're acting different rules apply.

Audiences like to be excited and stimulated and you don't do that by playing it safe. So keep the emotional temperature high, use unexpectedness, vary the dynamics of your performance (pace, volume, movement.) Don't be dull!

When improvising, don't fall into thinking that everything you do has to have a rational explanation: trust your unconscious mind. Go for it! Make your characters and performances bold, though believable. Live dangerously!

And finally, a mission statement: my mission in life is to make people(including myself) happy and interested. So, be happy and interested!

Monday, 26 March 2007

If in doubt, leave it out

Here’s news of a couple of films that we have people involved in. Donna Air is someone we go back a fair way with and she took a principal part in the picture ‘Bad Day’, shot last year.

There’s now a teaser trailer for it which may be found by clicking the link
Watch out for this one when it gets released.

Another film in which I was involved together with a number of past members is ‘Halal Harry.’ This has been nominated for the East London Film Festival and will be shown on Friday 20th April at the Genesis Cinema, Mile End Road. Tickets may be obtained by phoning 08700 60 60 61 a couple of weeks before. For clips and photos (including one of yours truly on the red carpet) go to

Do please let me know of any upcoming performances you may have and I will gladly publicise them: it’s good to have some friendly faces in the audience or putting their money down and I like to feel we are a network of ready made friends.

And the Words of Wisdom this week? If in doubt, leave it out!
Meaning, when improvising, once you have a good line of advance established, don’t throw in anything unrelated, unless it’s a sure fire winning card. If you make an improvisation too rich a mixture of unrelated themes it becomes chaotic and unbelievable. When you are improvising, you are creating a new, virtual universe. It may have any rules or features you choose and if you make it credible the audience will believe in it, because they will want to believe in it. But if it becomes contradictory or incomprehensible you will lose them.

The same is true when you are working with a script. Detail is very important because it tells us a lot about character and accurate detail adds authenticity. But detail is not an end in itself and if you overload your characterisation with detail it becomes distracting and there is a danger of seeming self-indulgent.

Remember, every line in a script (or action or reaction) should either advance the plot or reveal character or both. If you’re working with a script, what is each line’s function? Focus on that. If you’re improvising, try and blue pencil anything unnecessary before you utter it. Imagine you’re holding a hand of cards. Don’t play the two of clubs if you might be able to find the Ace of Spades. If in doubt, leave it out!

Wednesday, 21 March 2007

Slow Down

Our future is now booked up for after the Easter break. We’ll take a week off round the Easter weekend, so there will be no classes on Thursday 5th and Saturday 7th April. Then we’ll start again on Thursday 12th April and continue till Saturday 28th July.

However, there is one problem date and that is Saturday 19th May. The Diorama is already fully booked on that day so we shall either take a week off or do a class at an alternative venue. If anyone can suggest a possible location I’d be very grateful as it’s difficult to find places which are available on Saturday mornings. Somewhere nice, near the tube and not too expensive, is what is required.

This week’s Words of Wisdom are deceptively simple: easy to say but not so easy to carry out. They are, simply, Slow down!

Slow down the dialogue and give the audience time to interpret what is happening. Remember that any play or film is a sort of puzzle. What you are presenting to the audience is not reality but a suggestion of a reality. If you go too fast for the audience they will lose touch and lose interest.

Slow down and give the audience not only time to work out what is happening but also time to react emotionally: emotions do not develop instantly, they need time to grow and flower
Slow down and observe the punctuation in the script. A comma is a short pause; a full stop marks the end of a statement and therefore is a longer pause. A new paragraph is a new idea and therefore needs a longer pause again so that the audience is ready to pay attention to the next thing. An instruction ‘beat’ or ‘pause’ in a script means that the action stops momentarily for dramatic effect.

Slow down and appear less nervous. When you are nervous you feel the urge to rush to fill any silence. When the words stop you feel exposed. Resist the urge to hurry.

Slow down and raise your status. Even if you’re playing a nervous, hurried character of low status, play the nervous rush between slower parentheses.

Slow down and make telling pictures. Next time you’re watching a film notice how many of the best shots are reaction shots where the characters are doing nothing, apparently, except thinking and feeling. Rely on the audience to do most of the work.

Slow down and add suspense. Not just the simple suspense like when the heroine is entering the haunted house and we are wondering what dreadful thing is going to happen to her, but the general suspense when the audience wonder, consciously or unconsciously, what is going to happen next. Instead of pushing the next thing at them you are making them want to draw it out of what you are giving them.

Slow down!

Tuesday, 13 March 2007

Understand the differences between the media

I’ve had some very positive feedback about the Words of Wisdom so I’m glad that people are finding these useful. This week’s words are: Understand the differences between the media. The principal dramatic media are theatre, films and television and they all work in different ways.

In Theatre, the actors are quite remote from the audience, so they have to project more. What the audience sees on the stage is often only symbolically related to a real time and place so they have to fill in the gaps to interpret what they see as reality. The largest part of what is conveyed comes from the words and there are more of them than there are in the other media. Theatre takes place in the minds of the audience.

A Film is a story in pictures. The experience of watching a film is dreamlike (that’s why Hollywood is called the Dream Factory.) The audience sees huge faces in close-up, sudden transitions of time and space, they are moved by a musical score. There are few words of dialogue, but, because they are so distilled, those few words are powerful in their effect. The camera sees what is happening behind the actors’ eyes and projected, theatrical acting would appear false. The audience sits in the darkness and dreams.

Sometimes people say that television is a story in pictures as well, but that is not the most important thing about television as a dramatic medium. Television is an intimate medium. People watch it at home in ones or twos or threes. There is no communal emotional experience. The faces on the screen are about life size. Most television drama is domestic in scale. It’s like a window on the house next door. Television is a very literal medium: members of the same family have to look as if they might be genetically related. The acting has to be highly naturalistic. Numbers of people believe that characters in soaps are real: they don’t believe this about characters in films or theatre. Television drama is a simulation of real life.

Extending the analysis, it’s easy to see that small scale theatre is more televisual than the West End, because the audience is closer. Stage musicals are more visual and filmic than straight plays. Radio is like theatre but more so – all you have is words, acoustics and sound effects and characters can only be differentiated by their voices. Music video is usually film like and corporate work is often like TV.

The moral of all this for actors is to always bear in mind how the audience are going to perceive what you do at the other end and moderate your performance towards that.

Tuesday, 6 March 2007

Comedy is not Funny (for the people it’s happening to)

I have taught so many people over the years and so many of them have got to know one another that we have a loose network of friends and friends of friends that reaches far and wide. So if any of you have a performance coming up, be sure to let me know and I’ll pass the word on so you will get some kindly faces in the audience supporting you.

Another bonus I am able to offer is that, because we have to book the Diorama up to 1:00pm, although the class is scheduled to finish at 12:30, if there is anyone who wants to try out an audition piece or anything else of a similar kind, they can do so in that extra time. So do let me know if you’d like to do this.

This week’s words of wisdom: Comedy is not Funny (for the people it’s happening to). For them, you see, it’s misery. The characters suffer and we, the audience, laugh. For that reason the most important principle of playing comedy Is to play it straight. You don’t need to present it to the audience as being funny. If you do they won’t believe in it. Dramatic comedy is completely different in this respect from its cousin, stand-up, in which you are, usually, telling jokes. Play it straight - feel the characters’ pain, anguish, suffering, anger and despair – play it straight but carry the emotions and obsessions to the extreme, and allow the audience to find the humour, which they will if you allow them to, because people love to laugh. And of course, when they laugh, you don’t, because to you it isn’t funny.

Tuesday, 27 February 2007

Be complicated: do simple

Spring is in the air and the daffodils are blooming and we are continuing with our program of classes: every session different and every session new.The numbers of people attending fell off when we were in the relatively hard to get to Precinct Theatre but now we are closer to the middle of things (and, most importantly, the tube) I am glad to say they are gradually increasing again. So come and join us ... or rejoin us!

Starting this week, I intend to put some words of wisdom in these weekly mailings for you to think about and put in your notebook. You do keep a notebook, don't you?

The first item is one of my sayings: 'Be complicated: do simple'.

'Be complicated: Characters are complicated because people are complicated.We all have mixed and changeable emotions. One dimensional characters are not interesting and neither are they true to life. So when you are researching a character, or when you are improvising, keep it real by increasing appropriate complexity and contradiction. That draws the audience in.

Do simple: Keep your performance uncluttered by fussy, fidgety detail. Focus on the important things and don't dilute their impact by dressing them up with minor distractions. Avoid funny voice acting, let alone funny nose acting. Keep it plain and simple; keep still unless you have a reason for moving; don't draw the audience's attention away from the main event.