the whole twitter thing

This is a post I sent out to my acting classes that are starting next week, describing how I’d like to integrate Twitter into the training.

If you have read through the startup post by now (and if you haven’t please do ASAP :)), you know that one of the things I asked you to do is to create a Twitter account, and to let me know what your Twitter name is. I imagine that may have been a little surprising.

I thought I would write and tell you a little about where I was coming from with that, and where I am going, or perhaps where we may be going. Recently, I read a remarkable book called Here Comes Everybody, by Clay Shirky . Shirky is an eminent writer on the social implications of digital technology. This book was about the social media revolution: the changes that email, the Internet, Facebook, Myspace, youtube and Twitter have wrought on our world. I heartily recommend it; it is a fascinating and inspiring account of how the way we live now came to be, and the possibilities and dangers of that new way of living. Shirky offers anecdote after amazing anecdote illustrating the ways the new connectedness is making movements and undertakings possible that were never possible before.

Upon reading the book, I naturally began to think about how these social media practices might have an impact on how I teach my class. Around the same time, I wrote a blog piece called 15 minutes a day, describing the process I used for part of writing my dissertation in German literature at Stanford. The idea is that for most people, when they have a significant undertaking, the biggest difficulties are procrastination and the guilt that flows from procrastinating, which in turn spawns more procrastination, and a vicious cycle is set in motion. In the five years of teaching the acting class, it has become clear to me that avoidance of the work for the class during the week can be a significant problem for some people. I present a whole framework for work on a role in the class, and as inspiring as I believe what I am presenting to be, it can be overwhelming at first. The overwhelming-ness can make procrastination attractive, and then the deadlines start to loom, and it’s at that point that some people make the choice to withdraw from the class. This is a disappointing outcome for all concerned, and so to attempt to head that off I wrote the “15 minutes a day” blog post, to suggest an approach that, if adopted early on, might prevent this from occurring.

The idea is that you commit to do 15 minutes of work every day on the class. No more work is required if you’re not in the mood. 15 minutes is a small enough unit to take the edge of the intimidation that the magnitude of the undertaking can instill. Upon occasion, she might be drawn in by the work, and work longer than 15 minututes, but there is no obligation to do so. (The days when you get together to rehearse with your partners will clearly require some more time, but it’s the alone time that tends to be the sticking point) This has the effect of defusing procrastination, keeping the actor in touch with the work on a daily basis(which tends to keep the unconscious mind chewing on it even when you are doing other things), and affirming experientially the fact that bit by bit progress can be made. All of this conspires to change the actor’s relationship to his work: the work becomes a familiar, known quantity, rather than a menacing mountain to be climbed at unknown cost and consequence; that is, the work becomes domesticated, it is tamed.

So what does all of this had to do with Twitter? Well, in the class, as you will soon learn, each week I present a short “body work” component, something that takes only a couple of minutes to do a day, and helps to heighten your awareness of various parts of the body and the ways in which we are prone to carry tension in them. To support this work, you have a body work buddy who you contact when you have done your body work for the day. You email, text, or leave a voicemail messssage containing a “mantra” that I assign each week to say that you have done the body work for the day. This has the effect of reinforcing some principle we are working on in the class, through the content of the message, the mantra, for both you and your partner, but through the act of contacting each other, it also helps recall the class and the work associated with it to mind, making it less likely that the demands of daily life keep you from getting to your work. It’s a gentle reminder to do the body work.

It occurred to me that we might add Twitter to the mix in the following way: I will create a Twitter List that contains the accounts of all the people in the class (and only those people). It will only be viewable by people in the class. Whenever you do some work for the class, whether it is doing some assigned reading or homework on your role or rehearsing with your partner, you can then tweet about it. This means that any day of the week, you can look at the Twitter list (perhaps when you receive the mantra from your body work partner) and see what other people in the class have been doing, what they have been working on. This, I think, would help people who feel stymied about what the next step to take is in their work. This way, they can see what their colleagues have been up to, and follow their lead or be inspired to go in a different direction. And I think everyone will be supported in their own work by the knowledge that their colleagues are staying involved with their work for the class.

People occasionally express to me disappointment that there is not more of an opportunity to interact with their classmates in the class. If all goes well, you will have a close positive working relationship with your scene partner. The opportunities to connect with others in class, though, while certainly there, are a bit limited. By tweeting with each other during the week, we will increase the sense of connectedness in the group, as well as support each other in staying close to the work. And your own social network will be that much richer upon leaving the class, which, whatever your life goals are, can only be an asset. Also, if you are not a tweeter already, you will have mastered a new form of social networking that I believe is going to be increasingly important in our society in the future.
Of course, it will require some effort from everyone to get this started, and if you don’t know Twitter, it may require some courage as well. There isn’t a lot to it, but anything new and foreign can require that some inertia be overcome. But I say: cmon in, the water’s warm! I think it has the potential to be a great addition to the class.

My Twitter name is @actbetter. Follow me, and I’ll follow you back!

How do I create a Twitter account?

Go to Shouldn’t take more than two minutes

What is a tweet?

A tweet is a message that you publish on Twitter. The tweet appears on the Twitter pages of those who have subscribed to your tweets (“followed” you). A tweet is limited to 140 characters.

How will I find the Twitter list for the class?

I will send you the URL in short order.

Does this mean I am going to get a bunch of annoying messages to my phone?

No. You can set up your Twitter to send updates to your phone, but that is not the default, so it won’t happen unless you go to the extra effort to make it happen.

How can I find out more about Twitter?

As simple as Twitter is, there are lots of ways to amplify it and add bells and whistles. A good primer, you’re interested in learning more, can be found here. No obligation though, feel free to keep your Twitter use totally bare bones, if that’s what you prefer. But I hope you’ll give it a try.

the whole twitter thing2018-02-26T21:51:31-08:00

the actors in the hallway

I arrive early at the space where I teach in LA on Wednesday nights. My classroom is off a hallway that has doors to studios where other classes are taught simultaneously with mine. Invariably, there are actors out in the hallway at a quarter to seven, clutching scripts (or sometimes not) and speaking earnestly to each other, apparently “rehearsing”. Thet are all in street clothes, so it doesn’t appear that they have given any thought to what they will wear in their scenes. Because they are rehearsing in the hallway, they have no physical environment. In a word, they got nothin. And they know it. And they are about to present that fact to their teacher and their peers, in their class. The resulting anxiety is so palpable you can cut it with a knife. I unlock my classroom and make my way in as quickly as possible, tape my poster up on the door, and then close the door, and wait for my students to arrive. I do my best to shed any of the free-floating nervousness that may have found its way into me as a result of passing through this activity.

My class starts, and 90 minutes in, we take a break. I head out into the hall to run down to the corner store and/or make a pitstop, and there are still actors out in the hall, reading off of photocopies and getting ready for the big moment. I am told that these actors are preparing to read in their “cold reading” class (I’ll take that canard up another day).

The misguidedness…it burns. The practices I promote in my class for rehearsing couldn’t be further from what is on display in the hallway. First off, I strongly encourage students to rent space to rehearse, rather than rehearsing in someone’s apartment, let alone in the hallway before class. The act of formally setting aside time and space to give to rehearsing is very significant, apart from the practical advantages of such an arrangement, which are many. By setting aside time in this way, the actor affirms for herself the importance of what she is doing when she rehearses. She says to herself: “What I am doing when rehearsing is important enough to take steps to assure it gets done well.”

When you do that, the creative part inside of you has a way of waking up and taking notice. And then, you never know what might happen. With the actors in the hallway, you always know what will happen: not much.

the actors in the hallway2018-02-26T21:52:04-08:00

the conservatory question

A question that I hear from time to time from serious students is: should I go to an MFA program? As I do when any such life decisions are laid at my feet, I evade. It’s just not my call. However, having gone to a conservatory myself, I can make some observations.

First of all, I will say that my three years at Yale were invaluable, and I am very glad I went, and very glad I stayed (although don’t think there weren’t times when I wanted to leave!).

The second thing I’ll say is that although Yale was a great experience, there were parts of the Drama School that were stagnant or deeply problematic. And that is bound to be the case at most institutions.

This brings me to my third observation: when you go to such a program, you are buying the whole enchilada, stagnant parts and all. As long as there is only a stagnant bit here or there, that’s probably ok. But if something is rotten in a more substantial portion of the institution (as was the case in my undergrad Drama department experience), you may find that it is more than you can stomach.

A large part of the appeal of these programs is that they relieve you of the obligation to support yourself while attending. A lot of this relief, however, may come in the form of loans. (This is not true of the program at the National Theater Conservatory at the Denver Theater Center: every student gets a free rids PLUS a stipend. My former student nt Dawn Scott is there. Go Dawn!) Investing in yourself through education is something I think is mostly a good idea, but incurring massive piles of debt, in this day and age especially, is not something to enter into lightly.

Another appeal of such programs is that they provide a curriculum, which relieves you of the burden of figuring out WHAT you should actually learn. If the curriculum is well-designed, great, but even at the Drama School, I saw the actors spending a lot of time doing stuff that in the end didn’t help them much, and there were much more valuable things that they could have been studying. Remember, when you go to one of these programs, you buy the whole enchilada, the good and the bad. I can’t stress that enough.

I think an acting student with a little initiative can forego a conservatory and take charge of his or her own training, and really benefit from doing that. He or she can shop for classes and instructors that serve him, and get advice about what disciplines to study besides acting itself that will support them in their efforts. It takes a bit more initiative and resourcefulness, but offers a great deal more autonomy as well. In a conservatory situation, there are authority figures that you will be beholden to for the entire time you are there. Missteps in that kind of a setting can have long term ramifications.

If you can get into a truly first-rate program, you should probably go. Otherwise, I would try to educate yourself as much as possible about the programs you are considering, including visiting and watching classes, if possible. Go into it with your eyes open, and try to be sure that you are entering into something you truly want, rather than fleeing the responsibility to take your destiny into your own hands.

Either path, conservatory or a la carte, can work, and it’s going to be a personal decision for everyone. It’s just good to bring as much care and clarity to making that decision as you can.

the conservatory question2018-02-26T21:52:05-08:00

“Everyone works every class”: and what’s wrong with that

This is a promise which many acting teachers make. But let’s consider the implications of it for a moment.

This from a prominent LA acting teacher’s site:

Because class size is restricted to 12-14 actors, each actor works in every class.

Let’s say that the classes being described meet for three hours a week. Assuming two person scenes, that is 6-7 scenes that have to be presented in class every week. Let’s suppose 6. Let’s also assume that there is no time in class spent on any other issues, and that each pair uses no time to get their scene set up or change into their rehearsal clothes, and that there is no break for the whole three hours. That these assumptions would all hold seems a bit improbable, but let’s assume them to be the case for now. Then each pair gets 30 minutes. Assuming it takes at least five minutes to set up and present (again, probably optimistic), then that leaves twenty-give minutes of work from the teacher for each scene. Given that we are talking about a two person scene, that means each actor gets about twelve and a half minutes worth of attention from the teacher when they get up.

This, to my mind, is woefully inadequate. And anyone who thinks that it is adequate is seriously kidding themselves about what it takes to change habits. Because that is what we are talking about when we are getting people to develop as actors. And not just habits, but habits which are often unconsciously held: we don’t even know that we have the habit in question. The habit can be a way of looking at the scene, or a character, or acting itself, or a way of moving, speaking, or breathing, or of dealing with the physical life of a scene. Habits are notoriously difficult to change. Just ask anyone you know who has tried to quit smoking. Then think of changing a habit that you haven’t even noticed that you have. It probably takes some work to even get the actor to recognize something she is doing reflexively is, in fact, a habit.

In acting class at the Drama School at Yale, we saw maybe two scenes in a three hour class. That’s because these teachers were not only concerned with our work in the scene, but also with our process in arriving at that work, and our way of thinking about the work. All of this takes time to tease out. There is just no way that you are going to bring anyone to a fundamentally new understanding of anything in twelve and a half minutes.

And it didn’t bother me that we didn’t get up more, because it was eye=opening to watch the teachers work the the other students. Now, I can understand that in a class in which the teacher is offering nothing particularly revelatory, it would be a drag to have to watch that teacher coach a lot of other people, and only occasionally get up to work. But that was not the case in my classes at the Drama School: Earl Gister and Evan Yionoulis are profoundly gifted teachers who regularly provided insights which were nothing short of electrifying. Their passion for the plays we worked on and for the art of acting itself was a constant source of inspiration. And in watching them work with other students, we gained perspective about the technique we were learning which we could not have gotten when we were up doing a scene, as invaluable as that was.

The time to delve deeply into a scene and into an actor’s way of approaching the scene is, to my mind, indispensable. This is the only way that the clenched fingers of habit can be peeled back, and real growth can occur. Twelve and a half minutes is barely enough time for a teacher to initiate a dialogue with the student about the scene and the character. Getting to the root of anything takes a lot more than that.

So why do teachers make this everyone-works-every-class promise? Because they perceive that that is what the students want, that is what gets the proverbial asses in the seats. And maybe many students want that, or think they do. And why do they want it? Well, if I had to guess, I would say that it has to do with impatience and the culture of instant gratification. Rather than wait for a longer, more satisfying session with the instructor, the student wants to get up and get a little feedback each week, not too much, just a little bit, nothing that would be too challenging to address. The truth is that the students, in my classes, as in many others, are expected to meet outside class to rehearse their scene. So it’s not that they are not getting to WORK if they don’t get up in class each week. It’s that they are not getting the opportunity to be in front of the rest of the class and the instructor, in the spotlight, as it were. It may be harsh to say this, but I think it’s the truth. It is the students who recognize the value of sustained investment in their own rehearsal process over time, with periodic and thorough review from the instructor, that really grow. Anyone looking for a twelve-and-a-half-minute-a-week fix is basically looking for a fairy godmother to wave her magic wand. And fairy godmothers are not as frequently sighted in this day and age as they once were.

Andrew Wood Acting Studio
“Everyone works every class”: and what’s wrong with that2018-02-26T21:52:06-08:00

we don’t know what we know

I had resolved to make it to the gym on Tuesday, as part of my current campaign to not have to buy larger jeans. Then, a coaching session materialized. For the coaching session, I was going to the actor’s residence, which was in the part of the Mission closer to Potrero Hill. Now, I usually go to the gym at the 24 Hour Fitness near Church and Market. It occured to me that I could instead go to the 24 Hour Fitness at Potrero Center, which would be on the way home from the coaching session, whereas getting to Church and Market from the studen’t place would be a bit of a production. But i found myself unsatisfied with that solution: I didn’t want to go to the Potrero Center 24 Hour Fitness, although it wasn’t immediately obvious to me why. At first, it seemed like perhaps I just want to go to my usual place, for the familiarity of it. Also there is a pool at the 24 at Potrero, which means the locker room smells like chlorine, and in general the facility is not as nice. But were these reasons for an out of the way effort to get to Church and Market?
Then it dawned on me: Church and Market is close to the Castro, and there was some part of me that was looking forward to ogling, and being ogled by, the other gays at the Church and Market 24. But the funny thing is, my thoughts prior to the coaching session materializing about going to the gym had had nothing to do with this: I had been dreading the hour on the bike and the accompanying discomfort of the bicycle seat, the ennui, the CNN rightwing spokesmodels on the monitors with close spationing that didn’t work as often as it did, and hoping the podcast I had in my iPod would make the time go by. I wasn’t aware of contemplating potential eye candy ogling. And yet, somehow, I was banking on that prospect, because when it was potentially yanked away by the prospect of going to Potrero instead, I found myself mentally bemoaning that loss.

The point is that we have instinctual, preconscious ways of weighing prospects, possibilities, people, relationships, and courses of action. This is a big reason why the work of finding appropriate objectives to pursue is as challenging as it is: our real investment in our world and our practices and activities is often grasped only at this preconscious level, and yet grasping these things is often precisely what is necessary to unlock a scene. When it is our own world, we understand these things instinctively and, of course, require no explanation, except, perhaps, in situations where we find ourselves inclined to conduct ourselves in way we neither understand nor desire. But when embodying a character in a fictional world, we don’t have the same automatic understandings, and often need to work things out in order to fully enter into them.

And that, my friends, is what they pay me the big bucks for.

we don’t know what we know2009-04-16T19:53:00-07:00

you never know

According to this article, 10 women across America were asked about how they met their current boyfriends.

Here’s what one of them said:

“He sat next to me in my acting class. Our instructor paired us up for a scene, so we exchanged numbers to rehearse. He kept sending me flirty texts and asked me out that weekend. Our first date was a picnic dinner in Griffith Park and a visit to the Griffith Observatory. We had an amazing view of downtown LA and the Hollywood sign. We kissed under the stars and were surrounded by city lights. It was so romantic and felt like it was straight out of a movie.” –Adrienne Tilden

And as a dating pool, you can’t do better than my students. If I do say so myself.

you never know2009-04-13T06:48:00-07:00

the viewpoints mystique

I am the veteran of a thousand viewpoints wars. I first encountered Anne Bogart’s six or seven or eight or nine viewpoints (they kept changing the number) of “postmodernism”, as they were originally called, in the summer of 1990. I was employed as a Faculty Associate (or “FacAss”, as we were known, basically teaching assistants plus) at Northwestern University’s National High School Institute, aka the “Cherub” program. Two of the people I was assisting, one for a voice and movement class, and one on a production of Euripides’ The Bacchae, were MFA students at the Trinity Rep conservatory, where Anne Bogart, the premier evangelist of the viewpoints was at the helm. My initial encounter with viewpoints was thrilling: using viewpoints, the instructors seemed to be able to effortlessly concoct a quirky, surprising theatrical landscape with moving parts that seemed connected to each other in some mysterious way. It was a little like watching a Rube Goldberg machine being simultaneously designed and tested, with human bodies and voices triggering each other in an endless series of jerks, plops, ritardandoes, bounces, beelines and stop-drop-and-rolls. To use a slightly more contemporary analogy, it was like a large-scale, human-body version of the culmination of the boardgame from the 1970’s, Mousetrap.

As the summer wore on, though, something became clear: one “viewpoints” exploration looked a lot like the next one , and the previous one as well. The person moderating the exercise could introduce various stipulations, but sooner or later, a monotony crept in. The reason for this, I would maintain, was the underlying arbitrariness of the unfoldings. A relentless series of surprises of more or less the same kind, is still a relentless series. And a relentless series of anything grows wearing at some point. A college friend of mine who entered the Columbia Graduate acting program under Bogart, but later dropped out in disgust, dubbed the viewpoints “aerobics for dramaturgs.” And I think that about hits the nail on the head.

A year later, I was interning in New York at Mabou Mines, a downtown theater collective that dates back to the 1960’s. The original members included Lee Breuer, Phillip Glass, JoAnne Akalaitis, Ruth Maleczech and David Warrilow, all of them titans in the history of downtown New York theater. It was the early nineties at this point, and many of the original members were gone, and the collective was scrambling for a new vision or a way forward. In collaboration with the Public Theater, which at that time JoAnnne Akalaitis was running, Mabou Mines produced Bertolt Brecht’s enigmatic, early play In the Jungle of Cities, and hired Anne Bogart to direct it. Anne was a very hot item right about then, her recent departure from Trinity Rep notwithstanding, and there was a good deal of excitement about the potential synergy of Anne Bogart, Mabou Mines and Brecht. The excitement, sadly, did not bear fruit.

The production was widely panned, although it did have its defenders, and it had some fine performances as well. It had Ruth Maleczech, a titanic force of nature and a phenomenal actor, but she was in a relatively small role. It had Fred Neumann, a man whom none other than Samuel Beckett had entrusted some of his prose pieces for adaptation to the stage, also a tremendous actor. And it had a wonderful, recent graduate of the NYU conservatory named Fanny Green, who acquitted herself splendidly. But on the whole, the productions failed, and there was a simple reason for that sad fact.

Frank Rich nailed the reason for this in his New York Times review of the production;

Since most of the large supporting cast is as smart-alecky in voice and gesture as Mr. Arrambide

[the lead actor], the jungle of Ms. Bogart’s Chicago is less a savage industrial wasteland out of Upton Sinclair than a benign absurdist cartoon, a rather sexless retread of R. Crumb.

Ms. Bogart does not dream big. She is so cautious that she minimizes the seedy Chinatown fantasized by Brecht, perhaps out of fear that a contemporary audience might be offended by the author’s tongue-in-cheek use of old Charlie Chan ethnic stereotypes. (Even Shlink’s Malayan identity is all but obliterated.) As bold esthetic sensuousness is missing from this “Jungle,” so is most of Brecht’s raw pain at discovering man’s “infinite isolation.” Far more care is devoted to the busy deployment of two moving men whose endless shifting of a few sticks of furniture typifies the evening’s pedantic illustration of Brechtian stagecraft.

I was in a lot of those rehearsals, I was friends with the backstage interns who handed off and received that furniture from the actors on stage, and I can say that Frank Rich is absolutely right. Bogart did spend hours in those rehearsals painstakingly choreographing the movement of the furniture movers. But it gets worse. She had an assistant director for the production who was the development director (grantwriter) for Mabou Mines, an aspiring director himself, with whom, to my knowledge, she had not worked previously. When one of the actors would have a question about the scene involving, you know, their relationship to other characters in the scene, their needs or desires, or the outcomes they were seeking, she would motion the assistant director to run down and chat with them.

Now, getting to the essence of any scene is a challenge. Brecht’s play is especially enigmatic, and it really takes someone with an overarching vision to help actors connect the dots. Someone like a director. Regardless of how helpful this assistant director’s insights were, it’s a terrible signal to send to the actors that their concerns, their legitimate concerns about how to act their roles well, are to be relegated to an assistant. They must NOT, under any circumstances, be allowed to interfere with the machinations of the director as the string-puller of the uber-marionettes.

Bogart reaped what she sowed. The production flopped. But worse than that, she left the lead members of Mabou Mines with a profound sense of betrayal. “We got taken” Ruth Maleczech said in the office on Ninth St, months later. She then proceeded to perform a spontaneous, derisive parody of “kinesthetic response”, one of Bogart’s most hallowed viewpoints.

This anecdote perfectly illustrates both the appeal and the danger of viewpoints. People who are studying acting want desperately to be initiated, to be shown the true secrets of doing compelling, memorable work. However, finding someone who can really help them with that is never easy. They may encounter a gifted teacher at school, college, or grad school, but eventually, they leave that institution, and are faced with finding someone who can help them continue to develop. The teaching of acting can be maddeningly insubstantial, ethereal even, and so often aspiring actors despair of finding someone who can help them make sense of it all: what to do with their minds, their bodies, their feelings, the text. It can seem to be impossible to find an approach that works with all of these elements together.

Viewpoints makes a false promise: put your money on the “physical”. Anything that deals with the inner life or intention or yearning or longing smacks of dated, naive aberrations from Lee Strasberg’s 1950’s New York. Use viewpoints and focus on the physical, the acolytes are told, and let the rest take care of itself. And so the actor is introduced to this series of relatively simple “viewpoints” that are concerned with an actor’s physical relationships with others in a space: how far away or close they are to each other, the shapes of their bodies, the mimicing of what others in the space are doing, the contours of the space itself, and potential responses to the gestural exhibitions of others. Follow these simple steps, and you, too, can be a “physical” actor.

The appeal is in the concreteness of what viewpoints is pushing, and in its relative simplicity. Through my years of training at the Yale School of Drama and at Duke before that, I watched it happen again and again: actors would be presented with a concrete skill to master, whether it was the “ask” list of words, in which the pronounciation of the short “a” sound varies across British and American dialects, or fencing, or scansion, or stage combat, or, yes, viewpoints, and they leaped at the promise that mastering this very concrete set of more or less mechanical rules, a set of rules that was divorced from things like judgment, intuition, and imagination, would somehow accredit them as actors. I can empathize with the impulse: learning to act well is not easy, even with the help of a caring and insightful teacher. But the promise, my friends, is a false one.

Any good acting teacher, like any good yoga teacher, or any good Alexander teacher, or any good Zen teacher, wil tell you, in one way or another, that it is all about body-mind integration. Viewpoints promises to make accessible something that DEPENDS on this integration of body and mind, i.e. acting, by focusing on the merely physical, and in a totally superficial way. I had a great piano teacher growing up, Linda Calligaro, and she insisted that you do NOT develop independence of the right hand and the left hand by practicing one hand at a time. Learning the part of a piece of music one hand at a time could be useful as a preliminary, but no gains would be made in achieving the INDEPENDENCE of the two hands by practicing one hand at a time. For that, you had to try to do the much more difficult challenge of playing with both hands at once. It’s all about coordination. As so is acting. It’s about learning to simultaneously direct your attention to people or things, sometimes ones that are present, sometimes not, use your voice, use your body, remember your lines, and an whole lot more. It’s what Barack Obama has referred to as walking and chewing gum at the same time. It’s rubbing your tummy and patting your head, jumping on one foot, naked, while speaking a bit of text that means everything to you in a way that honors both the punctuation and the need to preserve the integrity of the whole thought. Viewpoints, sadly, makes things just way too easy, and tries to make a virtue of that.

Viewpointa can have a value as part of an actor’s training. It is definitely valuable for an actor to have a dynamic understanding of space and his or her relationships to others in that space, and the way she can use his body in relationship with the space and the others with whom she shares it. Too much of this awaremess, though, is NOT a good thing. These concerns are essentially the purvey of the director (viewpoints evolved out of dance composition principles), as they involve the “big picture”. And being too aware of the “big picture” can be a major stumbling block for the actor: when he is thinking about that, he is thinking about what he, and everyone else, looks like, and is therefore the very definition of self-conscious. Viewpoints also tacitly encourages cleverness (or “smart-aleckeyness” as Frank Rich put it), and seeming clever has nothing to do with being vulnerable. So a LITTLE bit of viewpoints goes a long way. Some viewpoints proponents will no doubt say that their technique is not intended to replace “inner” work, but my experience with Anne Bogart, and Frank Rich’s etimation of her work, shows that that is not the case.

The only way I can imagine viewpoints being valuable is as a kind of basic awareness of space and its possibilites. Though I have heard tell of scene study classes that attempt to incorporate viewpoints as part of the working process, I am very, very skeptical. Getting the attention of the actor on to the right things is difficult enough, and viewpoints is an invitation to focus on many of the wrong ones.

But whatever merits viewpoints may have, it is NOT a substitute for a real approach to the difficult terrain that belongs to the actor: the domain of dreams, fears, needs, outcomes, interventions, confrontations, and intuition, as well as the body and the voice. And like Mrs. Calliagaro said, the real work begins when you are practicing using all of these things at one time. Is it difficult to work with these thing all together? Yes. Is there only one way of doing it? No. Is finding an approach to dealing with these things necessary for any actor who wants to sustain a creative life in acting in film or theater? Absolutely. The only way out, a wise man once said, is through. That’s a viewpoint you can believe in.

the viewpoints mystique2018-02-26T21:52:09-08:00

why you should really take my class

In launching my Los Angeles acting classes, I met with a talent manager in Los Angeles, to try to interest him in sending me some of his clients. I was struck, nay, dumbstruck, by one of the things he said to me.

“I don’t need my people to be that good. They just need to be able to, you know, have a conversation.”

He meant have a conversation in a scene, as in, talk and listen naturally. This is what it took for them to be able to book. The rest of getting acting jobs wasn’t really about acting.

That Tinseltown works in this way is hardly news, but I was surprised that he would speak in this way to a stranger about the people he represents.

At any rate, I understand that for purposes of getting work, this may be enough. If what you want is to be able to land jobs in Hollywood, then finding someone who can teach you to do this, and only this, may be enough for you. And there are lots of people around who can teach you that (lots of people who can’t, too, but I won’t go there.)

I had a conversation with a professional soap opera director years ago, on a date, if you want to know, and he told me the secret of his success: everyone working in soaps KNOWS that what they are doing is unadulterated schlock, but they ALL want to believe that THEY bring that spark or creativity or originality to what they are doing that elevates their little corner of serial daytime drama above the churning morass of mediocrity it usually is. He found that if he let them believe that he saw this in them, he would earn their undying gratitude.

The point of this is that getting in the door is great. But the novelty eventually wears off, and then you are in the position of having to deliver. If the only people you want to make an impression on are the people who think believable talking and listening is enough, then, well, you deserve what you get: a perhaps long, but probably undistinguished career as a serviceable working actor. However, if you want to be someone who leaves people wanting more, in particular the people who want to make movies and cable series that leave viewers wanting more, if you want to be able do something memorable, something that inspires people, that adds something to their day or night, in short, something that means something to someone for longer than the time that they watch it, well, you need someone who proposes that acting is more than believable talking and listening. Believable talking and listening are essential, but it’s totally possible to be believable and natural without being compelling.

Not to mention the fact that if you have embarked on acting as a career, as a profession, you need to take seriously the fact that it is your responsibility to find ways to keep it fresh and challenging. You cannot expect the projects you get to do this for you, much of the time. Occasionally yes, but anything you do for a living is in danger of becoming a chore with time. Finding ways to keep yourself interested in what you do will prevent burnout. It would be terrible to work hard for years to penetrate the Hollywood membrane, only to discover that you just don’t like doing it that much anymore.

This is another reason to look for someone as a teacher, like me, who proposes that acting is an endeavor that asks for much more than believable, passable talking and listening. Someone who claims that acting involves the simultaneous exercise of empathy, imagination, agility, spontaneity, and discernment. It is ultimately up to you whether you have the resources to find the interest in ANY job you encounter along your path, whether those around you see that interest or not.

The talent manager who I talked about at the beginning of this piece suggested, none too subtly, that what I was offering could be dismissed as “academic.” Given the professionals that I have studied with and worked under, I was at a loss for words as to how to respond. What I WISH I had had the presence of mind to say was “Oh, well, I guess that academic training worked out pretty well for the likes of Meryl Streep, Paul Newman, Sigourney Weaver, Frances McDormand and the other Yale School of Drama alums who have had distinguished Hollywood careers.”

Oh well. Next time.

Andrew Wood Acting Studio
why you should really take my class2018-02-26T21:52:14-08:00
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