In a press conference, Most Valuable Player Nick Foles of the Philadephia Eagles had the following to say about failure, when asked what inspiration he wanted people to take from his journey :
Don’t be afraid to fail. I’m not Superman. We all have daily struggles in our life. Embrace the struggles and grow.
Instagram, Twitter- it’s all a highlight reel. Failure is part of life. It’s part of building character and growing.I wouldn’t be up here if I hadn’t fallen thousands of times, made mistakes. We all are human, we all have weaknesses. Without failure, I wouldn’t be up here.
Such a profound message. Actors get told that they need to have the courage to fail, and they might think “Yeah, I get that”, but actually doing it, actually failing, sucks. But it’s through that painful, disappointing process of failing that we are invited to confront our limitations and transcend them.
Being in a class in which everyone is patted on the head and told that they did good work will not afford you the opportunity to experience this kind of productive failure. This is not to say that acting teachers need to administer feedback in a harsh or cruel way. Not at all. But teachers do need to hold students to a high standard, a standard that is high enough that they will not always be able to meet it. It’s only in this kind of environment that people really grow.
As another wise man once said:
We learn wisdom from failure much more than from success. We often discover what will do, by finding out what will not do; and probably he who never made a mistake never made a discovery,
If you’re in a class where you’re not being told when you’re doing strong, fulfilled work and when you’re not, and further, what you can do to make work that is lacking better, then it’s time to find a new class.
Everybody goes through times when there isn’t a lot of broccoli in the crisper, for whatever reason. But that’s no reason to stop doing work to develop yourself as an actor. Here are some terrific things you can do to feed your creative soul or hone your craft while you’re waiting for the financial picture to change.
- Read. Acting is about bringing the word to pulsing, transfixing life. So getting to know said written word better is never a bad idea. Read books about acting, read biographies of actors. read great novels, read pulp novels, read poetry, read the newspaper. There are plenty of options. But in our media-saturated world, spending some time reading is never a bad idea, and if helps you develop your sensitivity to the extraordinary expressive power of language, that’s even better.
- Study the Alexander Technique. Wait, what? I thought you said this was a list of free stuff? The Alexander Technique is pricey high-end body-mind integration training. How do I get it for free? Well, it happens that there is an Alexander Technique Training Institute in Los Angeles, where people train to become teachers of the Alexander Technique. And such institutes often need people to serve as subjects for the teachers-in-training to practice on. So give them a call, and offer them the use of your body for their pedagogical purposes. There’s a good chance you’ll learn invaluable things about said body, for a song.
- Meditate. Practice the fine art of paying attention. There are all kinds of places to learn to meditate in Los Angeles. Here is one of my favorites, but there are many others.
- Study Pilates. What does Pilates have to do with my acting? Well, acting as I teach it involves what Pilates people call core awareness. The actor’s awareness should rest in the abdominal core, in order to achieve true visceral activation and the radiance that comes with it. Pilates is a great way to work on that, because Pilates is about learning to use your abdominal core muscles in everything you do. Literally: everything. There are lots of how-to videos on Youtube, such as this one.
- Journal. “It’s so funny, you go to acting school thinking you’re going to learn how to be other people, but really it taught me how to be myself. Because it’s in understanding yourself deeply that you can lend yourself to another person’s circumstances and another person’s experience.”–Lupita Nyong’o
So get going! Writing a journal is a great way to develop intimacy with yourself, an invaluable asset for an actor.
- Read aloud. Pick up some Shakespeare. Pick up some poetry that speaks to you. Read it aloud. Read it to yourself. Read it to your dog. Read it to your roommate. Read it to anyone who will listen. Savor the sounds of the words and the rhythm of the sentences.
- Improv. Look on Meetup for an Improv group near you, and join in the fun.
- Make a game out of being rejected. Like this guy. There will never be any shortage of people to reject you. If you have the nerve to do this one, your future as an actor looks bright.
- Go to the zoo. Ok, this one isn’t quite free. But if you can scrape together $20, there are worse ways to spend it. Studying and learning to imitate animals is a hallowed form of actor training, and is wonderful for shedding inhibitions and exploring physical possibilities.
I’m sure there are others, and I’ll add them as I think of them. But there should be some things here to get you started.
Came across this gem in a Slate interview with Michael McKean of Better Call Saul:
I don’t think that a comedy performance—You know, it’s essentially the same job, no matter what. You find out what your character wants and then you go for it. That’s really how to do anything. They’re just going to write more jokes for you if it’s a comedy.
And he should know:
Like Odenkirk, McKean is best known for comedy, with a career that stretches from Laverne & Shirley through his roles in This Is Spinal Tap, Waiting for Guffman, and Clue. But his dramatic talents are on full view at the moment, both on TV and on stage, where he’s appearing in the Tony-winning production of The Little Foxes at the Manhattan Theatre Club.
The defense rests.
In 2015, I received a commission from the Goethe Institut Los Angeles, which is the cultural wing of the German consulate, to translate a play by the writer Peter Handke that had never before been translated into English. The English title of the play is Subterranean Blues, with a nod to Bob Dylan. I’ll be reading the play aloud with two other actors on June 13th at 7 PM. Full information here.
AWAS alumni have been doing some incredible things lately. Here are some of them:
- Evan Bittencourt shot a major role in a film called Ideal Home, with Paul Rudd and Steve Coogan, debuting this spring. He also did a guest star appearance on the late Bill Paxton’s series Training Day on CBS.
- Cris D’Annunzio has done two guest star appearances on the TNT series Animal Kingdom with Ellen Barkin, and a guest star appearance on Survivor’s Remorse on STARZ.
- Antinomar Murphy did a spot on Larry David’s Curb Your Enthusiasm and on Training Day on CBS. She also did a guest star appearance on 13 Reasons Why on STARZ.
- Steve Olson, who has been a commercial booking machine for eons, recently had his theatrical breakthrough with the lead in a dramedy feature film called Fishbowl California. They got a write up here (he’s playing ‘Rodney’). It’s got Kate Flannery from The Office, and Quinton Aaron, who played opposite Sandra Bullock in The Blind Side, and several others.
- Katelyn Rydzewki appeared in a leading role in an Amazon Streaming series called Finding Miles, and did guest star appearances on Tru TV’s You Can Do Better.
- Eddie Shin has done recurring roles on Amazon’s The Man in the High Castle and HBO’s Westworld, and guest star appearances on Criminal Minds: Beyond Borders and Training Day on CBS.
- Alain Washnevsky did a guest star appearance on Showtime’s Homeland.
I read a nonsensical post on an industry website telling actors they should be afraid of classes that make them work with scene partners (the HORROR!), because their scene partner will flake on them, and also because partnering people to work on scenes is a scam acting teachers use to double their class sizes and profits. I’m not going to link to this disquisition, for reasons which I hope are obvious. But I was provoked by it into articulating what is valuable about working with a scene partner. Valuable, and often deeply satisfying. So, let’s get to it!
- Learning to act is learning to get your attention off of yourself, and onto another person (a scene partner!). This was Stanislavsky’s fundamental insight, and it is crucially important to this day. People enter acting classes thinking that what they will be doing in their work is showing emotion, and, not surprisingly, that’s how they go about the work. A good teacher, regardless of the technique taught, will challenge this misconception at every turn, and help students understand that they must learn to put their attention on their partner, and keep it there. This is not easy, because it means giving up the ability to manage your own self-presentation. You can’t pay attention to your partner and watch yourself at the same time. It’s an act of surrender, and requires courage and faith. And guess what? Having a partner to focus on helps with this process. That’s why every acting class I was in at the Yale School of Drama taught acting using two-person scenes, not monologues! And this is why I think it’s pedagogically suspect to teach acting using monologues. It’s not that it can’t be done, but it’s a very tricky business, since with monologues you’re trying to get someone to put their attention on someone who isn’t even there! A scene, any scene, is about a relationship. Having a partner is helpful in exploring having a relationship. Capiche?
- Film, television and theater are collaborative art forms. In rehearsing with a scene partner, you are practicing your skill at collaborating. We all need to learn to balance our own needs and impulses with those of others. This is a lifelong learning process that we all have to continually practice and refine. Having a scene partner allows us to work on that.
- With a partner, you have accountability. As creative people, we all face resistance at various points. “The price an artist pays for doing what he wants is that he has to do it”, the writer William Burroughs said. We don’t always feel like doing it. We don’t always want to do it. We procrastinate. We forget. We avoid. And all of this keeps us from moving forward, in our craft and in our career. Having a partner, for whom we have to show up each week, and to whom we have to respond, helps us to keep ourselves honest. A class where everyone works on monologues? I am guessing there will be a whole lot of procrastination going on. Why work by yourself, when you can wait for the teacher to spoon-feed you instructions about how to do the monologue?
- A scene partner can be a sounding board. You don’t want a partner who is bossy or overbearing, but someone who you can bounce ideas off of or ask for feedback when you feel like you want it is a good thing.
- When you work together with someone on a scene in a committed way, chances are good you come out of it having made a friend. We can all use another friend. Maybe you don’t feel you need to go to acting class to find that, but it doesn’t hurt. And you never know when that friend is going to say to their new agent or manager: hey, I have a friend you should meet! I imagine that such friendships in a class centered on monologues are a bit more…rare.
Like any partnership, scene partnership has its challenges, and can go south if both parties allow it to. As a teacher, I make it very clear that I want the partnerships in the class to work, and I want to know as soon as problems arise. I won’t necessarily get involved immediately; I think it’s best when partners can solve problems between them, but I can coach the partner experiencing the difficulty on how it might be productively addressed. If that doesn’t work, then I am more than willing to intervene to help partners get things on track. But mostly, people are able to work things out between them. It’s when one person is falling short, and the other stays silent about it, that the partnership ends up not working. But in most cases, people work together successfully, learn from each other and support each other, and perhaps complete the experience with a solid new friend. So what’s so awful about that?