Friday, November 30, 2012

Try Failing

Innovators understand that their job is to fail, repeatedly, until they don't.

- Seth Godin

Actors who aren't innovating are probably (dare I say it) boring. Steve McQueen once said an actor is only as good as the extent to which they risk being bad. Being "bad" (whatever that would mean) is probably our version of "failure" as much as anything else could be (failure and success can only really be words with meaning if they are linked to specific goals; ex: speaking unclearly is a success for a character that is drunk or something like that, but a failure for one who is intended to be well spoken or understood).

It might be worth finding times/places to fail, and get better at taking the risks that can fail. I'm talking about the times between action and cut, between curtain up and curtain down. Still be on time and prepared. Class is a great place to take a risk that might not pan out. No job to lose or audience to disappoint. I started classes at the Second City Conservatory in Chicago with that plan: each week I planned to do something in class that would probably not work, try something that would fall flat. Not sure if I succeeded in sticking to this plan the whole way through, but I imagine my classmates witnessed more than a few not-ready-for-primetime moments from me ;-). It may have helped stretch me to plan to do something "bad" at least once a class.

Stretching as a performer isn't just a good way to broaden your skill-set and confidence, stretching can be its own reward just by feeling good, and getting you more in touch with your instrument, and what your comfort is in your body, mind and heart while doing different things. Mastery, and the feelings it can bring with it, can feel very good indeed.

One of the key parts of job satisfaction, often more prized than even the pay, is a feeling of overcoming challenges, surmounting an obstacle and attaining a not-easy-to-attain goal: a feeling of mastery and ability. As actors we work for ourselves, so it's up to us to provide some of that sort of challenge/satisfaction for ourselves. Sometimes that means mentioning to the stage manager, even long after a show's opening, that you're going to try something with a specific line tonight to keep it fresh and find something new-ish. Or with the director's consent, do the last take trying to mess it up, a "can we do one just so I can 'f' with it" take. Don't broadside everyone else in the project while fighting robotic consistency, but remember: actors are the squishy and intended to be risky while cameras are rolling, or the curtain is up. It has been said that good on camera work is accidental behavior captured on film. Without blowing up the character and script with metaphorical high explosives, let the character breathe.

Taking risks means you may fail. Not taking risks means you will fail. If you haven't done anything lately in your acting that didn't really work, then find a way to explore, to experiment, and fail. Then make your worst "failures" (while the cameras are rolling or the curtain is up) still pretty darn good and you'll be the actor producers and the audience know will consistently deliver without stagnation or rote boringness no matter what.

Now, the next challenge becomes getting better at knowing if what you are doing, both while acting and in life, is good or feels good, which I will write a post on soon. Until then: try failing, and break a (pretend) leg.

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Wednesday, November 28, 2012

Pay Union Dues to Run for Union Offices

Next year, SAG-AFTRA will hold elections for all leadership positions. Based on the expected calendar for the 2013 SAG-AFTRA elections, in order to meet the good standing eligibility requirement to be nominated for election as a National Officer, National Board Member, Local Board Member, or Convention Delegate, members should ensure their November dues bill payment is received by SAG-AFTRA no later than Friday, November 30, 2012

(from sagaftra.org).

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Saturday, November 24, 2012

Acting is Worthwhile

Most worthwile things are not easy. Acting is worthwhile. Do the math.

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Tuesday, November 20, 2012

Wishes and Beliefs

You Don't Get What You Wish For In Life, You Get What You Believe.

- Anthony Meindl

If you truly believe you can and do deserve to have the things you want in your life, then, and only then, do they become possible.

And between curtain up and curtain down, or between action and cut, this holds for our characters as well. Hamlet does not believe he can and should remove his uncle from the thrown, violently if needed, and take his rightful place. In the last scene he only takes action after he is poisoned and knows he will not survive. And his delay in changing his beliefs is part of why he dies, both thematically and logistically. He pays for his unhelpful beliefs and his speeches suggest he knows this. He knows his beliefs are not helping anyone (except maybe his uncle Claudius) but he does not find a away to change his beliefs despite being aware of them. His failure to change his beliefs means he does not save himself, his family or his country which is being invaded.

Belief is powerful, always has been always will be. This is drifting a little from the thrust of this post, but in many parts of life, people who believe what you believe may be part of your Coalition of the Eager. Whereas people who only know what you know may not be.

Please allow me a another late night digression. Nowhere does this idea of belief become in bolder relief than in the most recent presidential election cycle. People on both sides seemed to think that if the people on the other side knew what they knew, then everyone would agree on everything. Many devolved into political bigotry by continuing to believe that knowledge was at issue, when in fact it was belief.

So too the character that tries convincing another character of anything by making a logical argument. Our characters often make the same mistake of thinking knowledge and not belief is at issue. They often hold specific political points of view. Some of our work relies on the depiction of this to function, like Brecht. But as a tool for getting into what a character believes about themselves and everyone else, it can be useful to figure out what their politics are. Not sure a political back-story or inner life is essential for every role, but it might come in handy at some points.

For example: my character tries to help the other character because my character doesn't believe people can take care of themselves and do the right thing all by themselves. Or: my character doesn't help the other character because my character thinks that people are basically good, and self-sufficient and figures the other character will be better off on their own. Beliefs about the world like those often feed different political views, but they also may help account for what is motivating a character.

More than as a character tool, what we believe as people colors our world so deeply we may not even notice how. The first step may be realizing there is a problem. This is a longer topic than I am going to delve into much here right now. I will say this: it is very worth understanding what you (or I) may believe that is keeping us from doing what we need to do to live the lives we want to live.

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Sunday, November 18, 2012

In the Audition Room

Don't let the space make your choices for you.

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Wednesday, November 14, 2012

People Are Emotional

When dealing with people, remember you are not dealing with creatures of logic, but with creatures bristling with prejudice and motivated by pride and vanity.

- Dale Carnegie, How to Win Friends and Influence People

This means not just us and our characters, but the other professionals we work with too.

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What Everyone Else Is Already Doing

Doing the same thing other people are doing may not set you apart. If everyone else is about to zig, perhaps you should zag.

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Tuesday, November 13, 2012

Gaming the System

It is worth remembering that the pay checks, the starmeter, and all the other rankings and tracking of "progress" are not the same as doing good work. Understand your goal, and keep it in the front of your mind as you move forward.

Gaming the system is never the goal. The goal is the goal.

- Avoiding the false proxy trap

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Wednesday, November 07, 2012

Repetition is Reputation

...the phrase means "what you do is what people will know you for."

-Chris Brogan

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Monday, November 05, 2012

Getting Unstuck

This is precisely why you're stuck. Starting without seeing the end is difficult, so we often wait until we see the end, scanning relentlessly for the right way, the best way and the perfect way.
The way to get unstuck is to start down the wrong path, right now.

-Seth Godin

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Saturday, November 03, 2012

Describing Yourself

Make the way you talk about yourself define the value others would get from working with you.

- Chris Brogan

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