Tuesday, 15 December 2009

Don't believe your own publicity

The latest piece of online advice, the Words of Wisdom are Don't believe your own publicity.

In this difficult business, after many years of effort and training, you may find yourself becoming successful. This can happen quite suddenly and it can bring problems with it. For a while you will be the centre of attention, people aroud you won't be able to do enough for you. Your picture will be in the press, you may be on TV, people will recognise you in the street, they may ask you for your autograph. All this can be quite destabilising: you are living the dream and you may easily fall into the trap of believing you're superior to ordinary people. You are in danger of becoming conceited and treating people badly. A little power can go a long way - to your head.

It's very important to keep your feet on the ground. You are still the same person you were before. Stick with your family and friends outside the business. Don't splash your money around. Don't trust people who may be more interested in your fame than in you yourself.

Two thousand years ago, when a Roman general returned to Rome having conquered a foreign land he would be granted a triumph, a parade of all his troops and the booty of war that they had won. But a slave would be employed to ride in his chariot with him, to continually whisper in his ear and remind him that he had not become a god but that he was still mortal.

The other end of the publicity stick is if you get criticism or rejection, which may seem exaggerated and unfair. You may have made the mistake of believing that the love of an audience applied to you personally. Now you feel unloved. Let it wash over you. It will soon be forgotten. Take bad publicity with a pinch of salt just as you do good.

We all have a need for excitement and glamour, that's one of the things we join up for. But we also all have a need for the safety and stability of ordinariness. Don't believe your own publicity.

Tuesday, 8 December 2009

A costume fitting is a character fitting

The Words of Wisdom this week are: a costume fitting is a character fitting. Think of how different it feels to wear a bathing costume from wearing a business suit; now imagine the difference between being dressed in rags, compared with full dress military uniform. In social terms it's very much a case of 'you are what you wear.' Clothing gives off important signals, not least to the wearer.

Now an important event in preparing for a play or a film is the costume fitting. Incidentally, the department that deals with costumes is usually called 'wardrobe.' The word 'costume' is used for the individual items of clothing. You will have already given your measurements to the production office and may probably have been measured - actors' versions of their measurements not always being 100% scientifically accurate. Then you will be called for a fitting. This is to check that the costume does indeed actually fit you, but it's also an opportunity for a lot more than that.

You may be dressed for a wedding, or a sports fixture, or in a uniform, or in period dress from hundreds of years ago. This is your chance to find out how the clothing feels and how it affects your movement, so it's important at this stage to take that on board. If you're going to sing in restrictive garments or in high heeled shoes this is a time to experiment and find out about any problems you may have to deal with.

Once you've done this once, your sense memory will remember it and you'll be able to move in rehearsal as if you're in costume, even if you're back in your street clothes. So remember: a costume fitting is a character fitting.

Tuesday, 1 December 2009

Never make excuses

The Words of Wisdom this week are Never Make Excuses.

A few years ago I sat in on auditions for a film on which I was script consultant. After a few hours of auditioning I came to the conclusion that a ggod half of the auditionees would open their interview by announcing that they were sufferong from a cold. This seemed very odd as few of them showed overt cold symptoms, though many were ill-prepared on the script excerpt they'd been sent a couple of days before, and there was certainly no epidemic in progress in the city at large. I eventually decided that what they were suffering from was not a normal cold but rather an Actor's Cold, that is simply an excuse for a poor performance and possibly a (vain) hope that they would get bravery points for struggling against illness.

Further study showed that an excuse was frequently that they had been too busy to prepare in the time available (not a recommendation to a director who wants you to drop everything for a chance to appear in his pet project). Another one, combined with a late arrival, was the Actor's Horrific Journey. This was produced as if it were justification for being too upset to audition properly. Careful analysis showed that factors involved in the journey were an inability to read a map (the map's fault) and the Actor's Bus Wait, in which a wait of four minutes is inflated to fifteen and a wait of nine minutes becomes half an hour.

None of these excuses makes a recommendation: at best they make an actor look weak, at worst dishonest. More than that, makinig up excuses is preparing to fail - hunting around for a reason so that a failure will not be your own fault. And frequently it's not your own fault, it's the name of the game so deal with it: there's no need for excuses. And the way to deal with it is to be well prepared so you can be confident that you won't need any excuses to prop you up.

Of course I'm not aiming a broadside at all actors. Many do not fall into the excuse trap and they stand out as beacons of professionalism. You can be like that, too. Let the director be the one who notices your (real) cold so you can tell them, bravely, "It's OK, I'm fine."

So, unless you're appearing in The X Factor, in which case the recent death of an elderly relative or saving a puppy from drowning will enhance your chances no end ... never, never, never; never, ever, never; Never make excuses!

Tuesday, 10 November 2009

Be different

My mother, who was a teacher, had a saying 'I can be right or I can be wrong or I can be different.' Now, as she grew up with only one parent in an impoverished childhood and was widowed while still in her thirties, yet went on to lecture at Oxford University and travel round the world, her words are well worth taking heed of. What she taught me was to work hard, have a good head for figures and never give in. And, above all, not to be afraid of being different. You see, the subtext of 'I can be right or I can be wrong or I can be different' is that the best thing is to be different, to step outside orthodoxy and be distinguished by your qualities as an individual.

It's therefore not surprising, perhaps, that so many of my pupils both now and in the past have been people who some would consider to have the wrong accent, be the wrong colour, be the wrong age, be too eccentric, have the wrong orientation. I believe in inclusiveness and integration but not the politicians' idea of setting minorities up as competing 'victim groups.' Very destructive, that is, and ultimately guilty of the very prejudices it purports to seek to eradicate.

So how does this apply to the life of an actor? Firat, consider what there is in yourself and your experience that makes you stand out from other people. Enhance those things. Always be looking to add to your experience and knowledge, particularly in unusual ways. Don't limit your friendships to people in similar lines of work. In a highly competitive field littered with disappointments beware of adopting negative attitudes: such attitudse are infectious and dangerous. Don't wear the uniform: avoid being instantly recognisable as an actor or actress. After all, there aren't that many parts as actors, are there?

And remember the Words of Wisdom: 'I can be right or I can be wrong or I can be different' so be different.

Tuesday, 3 November 2009

Respect the Writer

This week's Words of Wisdom are Respect the Writer. Every play, film, book or musical has its writer and the writer or writers are its prime creators. Every word of dialogue, every twist of the plot and every note of the music has been created by them and they should be respected. So, for example, take care to deliver every line exactly as written: an approximate paraphrase is simply not good enough.

Despite their pre-eminence in the creative process, writers are curiously unappreciated. In the New Year honours list far more actors are decorated than authors. Hit songs are routinely ascribed to the singers that first performed them rather than the songwriters that wrote them. In books of quotations classic comedy lines are listed under the actors that delivered them rather than the writers that thought them up. (So, just for the record, Morecambe and Wise's material was written by Eddie Braben; Tony Hancock's by Galton and Simpson.)

In the land of the world's greatest playwright, Shakespeare, and the world's greatest novelist, Dickens, we should appreciate writers more. Actors should learn about the writer's craft: the use of words, the structure of stories, the insight into human nature. Try writing yourself and find out how difficult it is to create something original and interesting.

Respect the Writer.

Tuesday, 27 October 2009

Never ignore the assistant

The Words of Wisdom for today are never ignore the assistant. Casting and production for stage and screen depend on the services of a whole army of often lowly paid helpers. They should never be ignored or treated in an arrogant way. I have seen performers with nothing more behind them than three years in an accredited drama school treat the people who are there to help them with total disregard, as if they were a lower form of life.

First of all it is simply bad manners. It's easy for actors to get an inflated idea of their own importance and to forget how much they depend on a whole team of people. Treat people on their quality as people, not by the importance of the position they appear to hold. A little bit of success can easily go to your head and it's important to keep your feet on the ground. The studio cleaner deserves a 'Good morning.'

Secondly, assistants may have little power but they can wield a great deal of influence. In the discussion at the end of a casting session, the assistant's opinion that you are too far up yourself to remain visible might be fatal to your chance of getting the part. A pity you weren't more friendly towards them on the way in.

Thirdly, assistants' careers progress. Every powerful agent, director or casting director had to start somewhere, as a student, or a fourth assistant or a casting assistant. Sometimes this can happen remarkably quickly: you will open a Sunday paper and see that someone you met when they were a film school student is touted as the new directing talent of the year. I myself have taught and cast people, as teenagers, in plays, who within a few years were award winning actors or directors. You may have got a part in a fringe production or showcase and invited agents and casting directors and been disappointed that you got no response. They are busy people with many calls on their time, but did you think of inviting an assistant? They would be much more likely to be able to come and they will certainly appreciate the invitation.

So, never ignore the assistant.

Tuesday, 20 October 2009

When auditioning, be ready for anything

The Words of Wisdom this week are 'When auditioning, be ready for anything.' An audition should not be seen as a contest between the auditioner and the auditionee. Rather, it should be seen as a chance to meet someone who may be interested or interesting. The caster has the problem of finding someone most suitable for a part, the actor has the problem of finding a part that is most suitable: the audition is an opportunity for the two to meet and solve these problems together.

As an actor you will find that directors and casting directors are usually professional and considerate, but nevertheless there are a thousand ways that things can go wrong for you in an audition, so: expect the unexpected. Here are examples of some of the things that might throw you, if you allow them to do so.

You might be seen by just one person or a whole team of people. You may have a lengthy interview or just be asked to perform a piece and receive no comment. You may just have a chat with the director over a cup of coffee. You may be in a tiny office or in a large theatre or rehearsal room. It might be boiling hot or it might be freezing cold. It might be a camera test (in which case you'll probably have to sit on a chair in a fixed position.) You may be required to sing (your agent forgot to tell you you were supposed to prepare a song.) You are very likely to be kept waiting, so be prepared for this, relax and read your newspaper quietly. You may find yourself face to face with a Very Famous Director or being seen by an assistant who appears to have been given the task of screening out the no-hopers. In either case they are humans just like you are so behave normally.

Usually, if you are going to do some pages from a script, it will have been faxed or e-mailed to you, but it might be thrust into your hand when you arrive, ten minutes before your audition is due to begin. In the audition you may be stopped early on and sent away: admittedly this is not a great sign but if you show good humour about it they just might remember you favourably - you can console yourself that maybe you were too tall for the part. If you are stopped and redirected you might think this is a bad sign and that you have done something wrong but, on the contrary, it is a clear sign that they are interested in you. Sometimes, they will be friendly, at other times they may seem cold - neither has very much bearing on whether you are going to get the part.

You may make a mistake. Don't let it faze you, nobody is perfect. Everyone makes mistakes. One particular mistake is very easy to make. You are asked the innocent question 'What have you been doing lately' and your mind goes blank: well what have I been doing lately? Always have your answer to this one prepared, complete with names and titles.

There are two possible successful outcomes to an audition. The first, obviously, is that you get the part. The second, less obviously, is that you are remembered, and remembered favourably. Surprisingly often, you or your agent may receive a call months later, enquiring as to your availability. They remembered you.

One final word of advice, Never, repeat never, make excuses. So many auditioning actors claim that their performance in the audition will be hampered by a cold or a cough that I think there should be a syndrome called 'Actor's Throat.' Others will want to describe how dramatically terrible their journey from home to audition venue has been. Consider: few directors will want to employ people with serious health issues who cannot get from A to B on the transport system without fuss. So, no excuses, ever, and, when auditioning, be ready for anything.

Monday, 12 October 2009

Engage your emotions

Now here's an exercise that is not only useful for actors but also useful for anybody in living their life. The Words of Wisdom are Engage your emotions. You can do this exercise by yourself or with a partner or, ideally, with a group of people.

Take an imaginary tablet from your pocket. You do have an imaginary tablet in your pocket, don't you? It will be red. Visualise it very strongly. When you swallow it, it will produce instant anger. Think 'eyes.' Look at the tablet. Place it on your tongue. Feel it. Taste it. Take an imaginary glass of water. Sip it and swallow the tablet. Feel it go down your throat. Feel the instant anger. Talk to yourself or the nearest person to you. You will find you are angry. After half a minute or so snap your fingers and the anger will switch itself off.

You can repeat this ritual with other emotions. Try the orange pill that produces instant energy; the pale blue capsule that makes you sad; the little green one that instantly boosts your brainpower; the maroon and black striped one that makes you cheerful, so that everything's a laugh. Then there's the yellow tablet that produces anxiety, the glittering gold capsule that makes you incredibly attractive and the little white tablet that produces instant calm. The colours are, of course, your own choice, but once you have established them, stick to them.

The emotions will seem real if they come from the inside and are not over-expressed. It's an exercise that shows the power of visualisation and it works best if the ritual is followed very carefully and always in the same way. These imaginary drugs are very powerful, but they have no side-effects and they are free and legal.

I have often asked a class which of these drugs they would most like in reality. You might suppose that they would ask to be charismatically attractive, or supremely intelligent and quick witted, but nearly always a large majority vote for instant calm. We all need calm.

Engage your emotions.

Wednesday, 30 September 2009

Write Micro Plays

The Words of Wisdom this week are unusual because they are about an exercise I recommend to you which is as much about writiing as it is about acting. It's an exercise some of you will know because I've used it in class and the Words of Wisdom are Write Micro Plays.

A Micro Play is a five point play scenario devised very quickly by any number of people from one to five. It is very important that it should be done very quickly, against the clock, so there is no time for doubts or second thoughts. You don't have to write it down and, of course, it could be a screenplay, rather than a stage play.

The five points are:
1 Where and when is the play happening? Example 'Sweatshop in New York garment district 1957.'
2 Who are the main characters? Example 'Bette, beautiful daughter of boss: Ricardo, cool leather jacketed ne'erdowell type.'
3 First happening: what is the first thing that turns everyday events into a story? Example 'Ricardo delivers parcel to clothing factory and Bette and he are iinstantly attracted, but she plays hard to get.'
4 Second happening: after possibly giving an idea of how the story has continued, what is the point of decision at which the story is going to fall one way or the other? Example Bette's father has forbidden them to see each other; Bette is being sent away to her aunt in Vermont. The factory catches fire, the old man is trapped in the flames, Ricardo has to decide whether to run through the flames to rescue him.
5 Ending (most important because, for good or ill, it will contain the moral of the story): the very last thing the audience sees. Example The old man is led away by the cops (it was an attempted insurance fraud); he has handed the keys to the half burned out basement to the lovers. They walk through the smoking wreckage in the dawn light and but up a sign reading 'Business as usual.'

And why is this exercise so valuable? Because it teaches you so much about story structure, which is very important because an actor always needs to know where their characters arc stands in relation to the shape of the whole story. It also teaches you not to censor yourself unnecessarily when acting, rehearsing or improvising.

Write Micro Plays

Tuesday, 22 September 2009

Always be ready to work with children or animals

This week's Words of Wisdom refer to morose American comedian W C Fields who said 'Never work with children or animals. But the Words turn this on its head and say 'Always be ready to work with children or animals.' Why? Well, if we examine W C Fields's maxim there are two possible reasons for not wanting to work with children or animals. Maybe it's because children and animals are notorious scene stealers or maybe it's because their behaviour is unpredictable. Now, don't worry about having scenes stolen from you: theatre is a team activity and an actor's job is to contribute to the success of the team as a whole. If an actor just wants to be in the spotlight all the time they're going to be a liability to work with and a pain in the neck, so don't worry about the audience's eyes not being on you all the time. And if you're used to improvising you'll welcome the unexpected and cope with whatever happens. So always be ready to work with children or animals - even if the children or animals are adult human ones. Which brings us to Rod Hull and Emu and Michael Parkinson - but that's another story.

Tuesday, 15 September 2009

Your voice is a musical instrument

The Words of Wisdom this week are Your Voice is a Musical Instrument. Think of all the attributes of music: pitch, tone, tempo, rhythm, is it staccato or legato, do the words run counter to the tune? You produce all of this when you speak and, by using them skilfully, you enhance the emotional effect of what you say. If you try and add to these elements artificially, you will sound unnatural and false, but if you work at them, you will gradually recruit them to the army of effects you have at your disposal. Your Voice is a Musical Instrument.

Wednesday, 15 July 2009

Repetition is the Mother of Skill

Time we had another Words of Wisdom. 'Repetition is the Mother of Skill.' No-one seems to know where this saying comes from, but it was made famous by American success guru Anthony Robbins. So what's behind it? If you train and practice, you gradually adapt to improve at whatever you are training and practising at. If you lift weights your muscles get stronger, if you run regularly you find that you can run further and faster. If you practice mental arithmetic you get much better at it. If you practice technique in sports or music you improve. This is one of the most important lessons in life. We are told 'practice makes perfect' when we are young, but somehow this message doesn't quite hit home, perhaps because a lot of hard work and effort are involved before you register real improvement and there is no such thing as instant success.

But there is plenty of good science to prove it is true. One of the most remarkable findings is about the hippocampus, the area of the brain responsible for spatial memory. Tests on taxi drivers prove that their hippocampuses grow larger than on people who don't have all their knowledge of places and how to get to them - and the longer they've been driving, the greater the effect.

The good news of all this is that the amount of practice you do far outweighs the aptitude you may have to start with. The bad news is the '10,000 hour' rule, that to achieve real expertise at anything you need to put in 10,000 hours of focused practice. That means that if you spend, say, 25 hours a week on your training, eight years of hard work. So, if you really want to succeed at, well, anything, that's what you've got to put in. How many hours do you put in? Repetition is the Mother of Skill.

Wednesday, 27 May 2009

You are what you wear

The Words of Wisdom this week are You are what you wear. Often when you are going to appear in a production you will be called for a costume fitting, so that you may be kitted out with whatever you are going to wear in the performance. This call serves a dual purpose. Firstly, obviously, to make sure that the clothes fit you properly. But secondly, so that you have the experience of what it feels like to wear the costume. Our clothes give out strong signals about ourselves and what we are like and conversely, when we are acting, they tell us a lot about the character that is wearing them. The fitting gives us an opportunity to feel how the clothes hang and how we move in them. Once you consign that knowledge to your sense memory, you can draw in it again in rehearsal, even though you may not then be wearing the costume. Imagine the effect of wearing a variety of different clothing: a military uniform, a crinoline, surgeons' scrubs, white tie and tails, a peasant's smock, a wetsuit, a tight corset, high heeled shoes. I once had to wear the vestments of a Roman Catholic priest. I felt quite sanctified! You are what you wear.

Tuesday, 12 May 2009

Make it easy on yourself

The Words of Wisdom this week are 'Make it easy on yourself.' This comes from when I was in my twenties. As some of you will know I am a mathematically minded person and in that time in my life I used to coach people for their Maths exams. I found that, with a piece of Mathematics, once people understand it, it seems easy to them, but, when they don't understand it, it seems impossible. There is no middle ground. My task as a teacher was to find a way they could make the jump from not understanding to understanding. And I found that the way to do this was to break the jump down to a series of steps, each of which was simple. It is possible to apply a similar method to anything that can be learned, even artistic subjects which are not as factual and logical as Mathematics. If you have a task or technique to learn, break it down into the smallest possible steps, so that each step is easy. This is how good teachers make difficult things seem simple. Make it easy on yourself.

Tuesday, 5 May 2009

The delight is in the detail

Here are the Words of Wisdom for this week. When we are in the audience we want to engage with the characters being portrayed and to feel the emotional tides as they wash to and fro. That is the big picture. But we also need all the little pictures, the accuracy and definition that make us believe that what we are seeing is authentic. That is important too. The delight is in the detail.

So we, in the audience, need to see characters that are individual and not stereotypical, that have a way of speaking and a way of walking and a way of doing everything that they do that is distinct and differentiated. So actors need to make every word and every action particular to the character, so that every line of the script reveais more about the character or advances the plot - or both. Let your performances hold up a mirror to nature and show the physical and mental landscape of every profession and type of person.

How to achieve this? Through observation and imagination. Never cease from observing people in their lives and, not to be forgotten, draw on elements you observe in other actors' work. And remember: the delight is in the detail.

Tuesday, 21 April 2009

Better to be typecast than not cast

These are the Words of Wisdom for this week: Better to be typecast than not cast. Typecasting is the phenomenon by which an actor becomes so identified with a role that it's difficult to be cast in different parts afterwards or, in weaker form, where they get stuck with playing similar characters over and over again. It operates more strongly on the screen than on the stage and goes right back to silent film days. Bela Lugosi played Count Dracula, once, and to this day that is all he is known for. He was never able to escape from that type of part in his subsequent career. Almost all actors are frustrated to some degree by typecasting. If they have any ambition at all they want to test themselves with a variety of parts, but the opportunities to do so are rare. Occasionally actors get cast against type, for artistic effect, (or maybe because someone has made a mistake.) Any chance like that needs to be seized upon but, it has to be said, the result can be embarrassing failure. Most actors most of the time will play parts determined by their appearance, persona and style of performance. Some people play comedy better than others, some grow up with the physical equipment to be a convincing thug, others are breathtakingly beautiful. As you seem to be, so you will have to play. Accept the inevitable. You will, at least to some extent, be typecast. Better to be typecast than not cast.

Tuesday, 14 April 2009

Push yourself but don't punish yourself

As most of you will know, I'm never far from a sporting analogy and the Words of Wisdom this week are one of my sayings about running: Push yourself but don't punish yourself. This comes from the principles of athletics training. If you put your body under stress, by repeatedly asking it to run further or faster than it's comfortably capable of, then your body will gradually adapt to cope with that stress and your performance will improve. To make this work you have to push (stress) yourself but if you punish (overstress) yourself you will likely get injured or at least have an unpleasant enough experience to put you off the spert for good.

Athletics is a measurable, physically demanding activity, but the same principles apply to acting, whcih is an immeasurable art or craft. To get better at it you have to practice and train yourself continually and persistently; if you don't your skills will go backwards. You have to set yourself tasks you find difficult; that's the only way you can improve. But at the same time you mustn't be overly self critical. Encourage yourself and congratulate yourself when something goes well. Otherwise you're teaching yourself that your art is painful and difficult, which it shouldn't be.

Push yourself but don't punish yourself.

Tuesday, 7 April 2009

Recognise that there are two kinds of luck

Now for some Words of Wisdom. Recognise that there are two kinds of luck. The acting profession is one where the statistical odds are stacked against you. Therefore, when auditioning or reading for a part, you are always likely to be disappointed. Sometimes the reasons will be quite arbitrary - too tall, too short, wrong age, wrong accent, the other one has ridden horses more, worked with a big name director, was in the play we did last year. The point is that none of these reasons are the actor's fault. Maybe they saw six people who might have been possible for the part, but the director just had a gut feeling, so the other five have to be disappointed. You will probably never find out the reason why you didn't get the part but it's no use getting angry with yourself or anyone else. You just have to put it down to bad luck. The fates just didn't smile on you that day. Go on doing your best.

But there is also another kind of luck - good luck. This is when an opportunity falls into your lap and you get exactly what you've been working towards. The important thing is to recognise good luck when it arrives. Sometimes it wears a disguise or comes from an unexpected direction. Now that you have a lucky break for goodness sake don't mess things up. Don't turn up late. Don't be too desperate or too nonchalant. Don't fail to learn the lines. Check out the route to wherever you're going. Just be professional in every way, recognise you've had a stroke of good luck and capitalise on it. Recognise that there are two kinds of luck.

And that doesn't just apply to acting. It applies to everything.

Tuesday, 10 March 2009

Let the camera and the music do their work

Next time you’re watching a film, notice how many of the shots are reaction shots where all we see is a character’s face, showing very little overt emotion, and maybe we hear some music as well. What is required of an actor for a shot like this is to trust the direction, the camera, the editing and the music to do most of the work. The danger is to do more than is necessary and therefore to appear unnatural. Remember, less is more. Just produce the inner emotion but don’t over-express it: if it’s there the camera will find it. And trust the editing: in cinema context rules. For example: the character smiles, but is he looking at a beautiful girl or a plate loaded with pasta? The smile may be the same, but the first shows lust, the second gluttony.
All of this requires a lot of confidence, the confidence to do very little or nothing. All the movie greats have that confidence. So the Words of Wisdom are Let the camera and the music do their work.

Tuesday, 3 March 2009

Split the line

Sometimes you will find that a line in a script is difficult to say and doesn’t seem to work naturally. Often that’s because it contains two or more thoughts in one sentence and you need to Split the Line. For example: ‘She had a funny look on her face and then I noticed that she wasn’t wearing any shoes.’ The character delivering this line has two thoughts here, which in this case are the memory of two different images, of first the other person’s face and then their feet. When speaking the line visualise each image in turn. This will produce a slight break between the two parts of the sentence. It will come out as ‘She had a funny look on her face .. and then I noticed that she wasn’t wearing any shoes.’ You will have split the line, it will be easier to say and will communicate better to the audience. Recently I came across a line that contained no fewer than four thoughts. It was ‘I know, you told me last time but he explained everything and I really thought he’d changed.’ In this sentence the point of view keeps changing – note the personal pronouns: ‘I’, ‘you’, ‘he’ and ‘I’ showing the focus moving from person to person. So to deliver the line effectively you need to split it into four, like this: ‘I know .. you told me last time .. but he explained everything .. and I really thought he’d changed.’ Split a Line!

Tuesday, 24 February 2009

Self criticism is the engine of improvement

The Words of Wisdom this week are self criticism is the engine of improvement. To get better at your craft, indeed at anything, you need to work hard at every aspect of its performance. If you do so, by gradual increments you will improve. Great effort is required for small gains and if you are too easily satisfied with yourself you will not make it. No-one ever became a great artist without having a level of discontent with what they were. So you must examine yourself and use the results of this self criticism to drive yourself. Self criticism is the engine of improvement. But there is a rider to this. You do need to recognise when you’ve done something well, pat yourself on the back and congratulate yourself. Even a donkey needs carrots as well as the stick. So, recognise when you’ve done well and say to yourself "Well done."

Wednesday, 18 February 2009

Be A Magpie

Let’s start with the Words of Wisdom: Be a Magpie. Those dapper little birds, supposed to bring good luck or bad, depending on their numbers, are reputed to make their nests by stealing any bright object that catches their eye from anywhere. Notoriously they are supposed to steal the tops from bottles of milk. Actors have to be a bit like that. They never know what the next part might be, so the more general knowledge they have about all walks of life, the better. Try and learn about psychology, history, politics, war, buildings, medicine, the law, the wealthy, people living on benefits, finance, manufacturing, education, clothes and fashion, sport, aviation, fishing, cars … I could go on, but you get the idea: let the whole world be your subject. You can learn a lot from reading and television, but also take any opportunity of mixing with people with a different background from your own: observe their behaviour, their speech, their body language, their unspoken assumptions. Watch people in the streets and on the underground and at the airport: how much can you guess about their lives? Be a Magpie.

Tuesday, 20 January 2009

Don't dissect the skylark to see the source of its song

The Words of Wisdom this week are a little strange, but bear with me. They are ‘Don’t dissect the skylark to see the source of its song.’ Where I am coming from, with this, is that we can never fully understand ourselves or each other. We can never predict anyone else’s actions with complete certainty, nor even our own. Many things in the world are amenable to analysis but nothing can be totally analysed. There is always a degree of uncertainty. That is, in fact, a scientific fact.

Remember that I am a scientist by training, and believe that knowledge comes from experience, but even so there are limits to how much we can cut things up and reduce them before we change their nature. A skylark is a living creature and it only sings while it is alive. Cut it up and it will die. It is, you see, more than the sum of the atoms of which it is composed.

This same principle applies to acting, particularly comedy. If you make people laugh, or cry, you may find it impossible to understand exactly why you are having such a strong effect on them. If you try too hard to work out why you are getting such results you may be in danger of destroying the thing that makes it work. Comedians and comics who get all serious and try to theorise about what they do suddenly cease to be funny. You may be able to think of a few names of them.

Sometimes it’s best to simply accept that you do things that give an audience pleasure and not to worry about how it is happening. Don’t dissect the skylark to see the source of its song.

Tuesday, 6 January 2009

Enhance your Watchability

The secrets of making people like looking at you are encapsulated in our Words of Wisdom this week: Enhance your Watchability. What are the factors that give some people that elusive star quality? Dazzling good looks are certainly a help, if you are lucky enough to have them, but plenty of big stars are far from being beautiful or handsome, and some are what is most kindly described as ‘interesting.’ So why are they good to look at? Inner confidence is a big factor and this you can work on by congratulating yourself and remembering every little thing you achieve, however small, and marking up every little thing you learn today that you didn’t know yesterday. That will help and you will find that self confidence is cumulative. But, technically, what can you do to make people want to watch you? How can you acquire a little of that star quality stardust pzazz?
Here are five things that help. 1. Be still. Avoid fidgety movements, particularly moving your hands to your face. These little displacement activities are signs that you are submitting to stress and displaying them reduces your dominance, so be still. 2. Use strong gaze. Our eyes give out our most powerful non verbal signals. Hold gaze a little longer than you normally do and you will feel a mix of emotions. You will feel daring and powerful but exposed. The person you’re looking at and the third parties in the audience will read these emotions. You will become a little bit dangerous. Drop your gaze and you will turn them off. You will feel safe, but dull. 3. Raise your voice and add presence to it. Project your voice to indicate the importance of what you are saying. Don’t swallow your words as if they were insignificant. Remember that your voice is a musical instrument, not only when you are singing but also when you are speaking. Get accustomed to using a range of tone, rhythm, pitch and emphasis. It will become automatic to add expression to what you are saying. It won’t seem stagy or artificial. 4. Display physical energy. If your body is physically energised this transmits to an audience, even when you are stationary. Physical energy adds excitement, so make all your movements decisive and purposeful. Make your head movements definite and strong. 5. This is a rather mysterious one, but it works. Think of a wonderful secret you might have. Imagine you have it. Hold this wonderful inner secret and you will look amazing. Strange but true. Practice these five things and you may be sure you will … Enhance your Watchability.