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!