free things you can do for your acting

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.

  1. 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.
  2. 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.
  3. 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.
  4. 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.
  5. 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.
  6. 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.
  7.  Improv.  Look on Meetup for an Improv group near you, and join in the fun.
  8. 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.
  9. 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.

free things you can do for your acting2021-02-19T21:02:48-08:00

feet flat on the floor

For various reasons, actors find themselves seated a lot, often at a table.

We may be playing a scene in which we are supposed to be seated in a restaurant, or behind a desk. Also, when we read at auditions, we often find ourselves seated.

So it’s a good situation to be prepared for. But do we really need to be prepared for it? Sitting is something we do all the time without even thinking about it. So what’s the big deal?

It’s true we sit all the time, but we don’t sit in front of an audience or a camera all the time. That’s where things can get a little tricky.

What I often observe is that actors seated in a scene, particularly at a table, often seem to want pull their feet back, either to cross their legs at the ankles, or as if they were preparing to stand up. Often, the first position is a result of a desire to withdraw from the encounter with the partner, to kind of curl up a little bit, as if into a fetal position. The second position is often a symptom of the actor’s discomfort with the situation: stagefright, and fear of the intimacy and/or vulnerability with the partner called for in a scene. So unconsciously, the actor is actually physically preparing to bolt.

These are both defensive crouches, and bring with them some significant problems, or, at the very least, challenges. When the feet are resting flat on the floor, with the knees more or less at a right angle, the actor is grounded. It’s like we can feel the floor below us, supporting us. This supports our sense of personal power and strength. We are at rest, but the power of the ground to push off of and stand if need be is available.

When we pull our feet in towards us, we almost certainly introduce muscular tension into our legs. This means we are holding up part of our skeleton, rather than being pushed up by being supported by the earth. The result is that we are less grounded. It’s hard to overstate the consequences of this. This tension blocks the flow, the dynamic equilibrium in our neuromuscular system, so that the pelvis, what Joseph Pilates referred to as our “powerhouse”, loses the effortless support of the ground beneath our feet. Also, the feet pulled in below us can invite the spine to pitch forward, further obstructing the connection between the ground and the core. This pitching forward of the spine in turn can invite the chin to thrust forward and collapse the neck, which is actually the top of the spine. All of these effects are further constrictions. The actor is shrinking away from an open confrontation with the partner, and often preparing to flee.

Don’t people in real life shrink away from adversity and even flee from danger? Yes, they do. But you want to be sure that if you are having impulses like that, they are arising from the unfolding circumstances of the character and not from actor’s performance anxiety. Also (this is a little more complicated) there is a sense in which acting is not only an imitation of reality; it is simultaneously an imitation of reality and an illumination of it. Groundedness and length in the spine are important elements of that illumination part of the operation. But mightn’t we be asked to play a character with a hunch or curved spine? Yes, but delivering the illumination in that context is extra challenging.

In truth, all of this goes for standing as well. In scene work, actors often shift their weight to one side or the other. In the language of the body, this is a non-confrontational stance: I’ve half moved out of your way already. And I have watched these same actors in real life, and they generally don’t stand around with one hip popped. This posture also has the effect of undermining groundedness. Another common difficulty is habitual tension in the legs or the pelvis while standing or walking. This can similarly undermine our sense of strength and stability. The Alexander technique is a great way to develop awareness of these tendencies, and ultimately reverse them.

“The nature of any tree begins at the root. The body must adjust to the foot.” Carlo Mazzoni-Clementi, Commedia and the Actor

feet flat on the floor2018-02-26T21:49:42-08:00
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