Tuesday, 11 December 2007
Tuesday, 27 November 2007
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
Tuesday, 6 November 2007
And a quote from Tom Stoppard: ‘We’re actors, we’re the opposite of people.’
Tuesday, 16 October 2007
Tuesday, 2 October 2007
Monday, 24 September 2007
Tuesday, 18 September 2007
Monday, 10 September 2007
Monday, 3 September 2007
Saturday, 25 August 2007
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
Monday, 6 August 2007
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
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
Tuesday, 10 July 2007
Tuesday, 3 July 2007
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
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
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 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
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
Tuesday, 22 May 2007
Tuesday, 15 May 2007
Tuesday, 8 May 2007
Wednesday, 2 May 2007
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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.
Tuesday, 13 March 2007
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
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
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.