Tuesday, February 26, 2013

Valuable (in a Business Sense)

Who trusts you? Who wants to hear from you? Who will collaborate and support and engage with you?
These are things that don't scale to infinity. These are precious resources

(from Scarcity and abundance in the digital age).

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Monday, February 25, 2013

Work and Get Back Up

You have to work harder than you possibly can, you can’t hold grudges and it doesn’t matter how you get knocked down in life because that’s going to happen. All that matters is that you’ve got to get up. -Ben Affleck


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Friday, February 22, 2013

Disappointment and Ancient History

I read once that actors do well to learn how to process disappointment quickly. That when something disappointing happens, it is worth knowing how to grieve and get over it in seconds instead of hours or days. This is not always realistic, possible or even focusing on the crux: it isn't how fast you work though disappointment that is key, it is protecting the future from being ruined by disappointment that counts.

Whatever happens in life, professionally or otherwise, there will be things that don't turn out how you want them to, or things stop being like you liked them to be. Change happens, expectations get broken. A role you wanted but don't book, a work relationship that doesn't "go" or ends, a great gig that falls apart or goes into turn-around. Things happen.

Sometimes it's no big deal, that's not what I'm talking about. Sometimes it feels like getting punched in the gut, that things have fallen apart. One step forward, 12 steps back. It is no fun, but things sometimes don't go as we'd have them go. This is life.

Letting yourself off the hook for any part you played, or think you played, can be the hardest part. It gives a sense of control to see ourselves as having a hand in a setback. "If only I'd..." "I should have..." Second guessing and blaming yourself is easy.

Whether or not the cause of disappointment is your fault at all, in any way, if there is no way to change it now, it is ancient history. Or may as well be. Learn the lesson if there is one to learn, so you can do better next time. Then, in every way you can: let it go. Release it. Breathe. Let. It. Go.

Do not let its hold continue. Work to let it go. Emotionally this isn't always something you can do just because you want to. Disappointment can't be turned off like a light switch. Things that hurt hurt. We care, as we should, about our work. Dashed expectations don't evaporate just because it would be nice. But their impact on the future can be contained. At least to some extent.

No matter how angry you are, at yourself or the situation or both, no matter how much you hurt, whatever the disappointment, do not let it touch the future. The next moment is a blank slate. It may not be possible to shield the next moment, minute, hour or day from a setback that just happened, but it is deeply worth doing it as much as you possibly can.

How does one protect the next from the disappointing last? With some difficulty, to be sure, but I think it is done in part by continuing to do what needs doing. Didn't book the role? Ok, go to work your day job anyway. Didn't get the meeting? Ok. Not fun. Go grocery shopping just the same. Lost out on a great opportunity of any sort even possibly through your own mistake? Ok. But still: do the right thing, right now, in the right way. Anyway.

Sometimes taking action, doing it anyway, acting because it still needs doing, may avoid some disappointments in and of itself. We are actors. We act. The unchangeable past from just an instant ago may as well be from the ancient past, a thousand years ago. If something can be fixed, or retrieved, by all means set it right. If not, work on what can be done, what is in your control.

At least that is what it seems like to me. Learning lessons, hard though they may be, and living through grief is not easy, nor fun. But it may be all there is left to do. So I'm off to look at my to do list, eat some dinner, meet a friend, look forward to the future possibilities and somewhere, in the gaps between: grieve for what could have been but won't be. Have a great weekend.

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Thursday, February 07, 2013

Balance Between Structure and Chaos

Part of the beautiful but deadly balance in Commedia is the balance between disciplined precision and chaotic improvisation. You have to live in the form a little bit before you can see it as freeing rather than constricting. Once you can rely on the structure, then you can play, and anything is possible

(from Matthew R. Wilson interviewed by Cate Brewer). So too is the balance of all acting.

Today I shall muse a little on structure and chaos. The script can give a structure, in which actors breathe life into characters. The words can be a structure. Even in improv, the suggestion from the audience can guide a scene or game, a spring board toward being one thing and not another.

In fact, your instrument itself, your height, weight, flexibility, vocal range and facility, give structure that you can work within, and work to expand. Certain options are not open to a given actor, and that can guide what is open, what is ripe for cultivation.

Without delving into here everything that can make an actor know who they are as an actor, everything that gives you a guide to what you play and your point of view can be structure. Let's stipulate we each have limits, bounds. We flourish within them. Even as they are ever expanding. For example, most of the people reading this, and the person writing it, will not be playing a photo realistic new born baby on camera tomorrow. Or at least probably not without some heavy cgi, which may make it more motion-capture and voice work than an on camera role.

Structure is a gift, something to recognize, and use. You can flail, play off-the-cuff, even plan to fail and the structure can be a camera move, a line of dialog, or even blocking that says take 2 steps left, and will be something you can push against. Something to respond to and interact with. If you didn't have the structure of gravity, were floating without anything in contact with you, all the movement in the world would only be moving in place, nothing to press against. Viewpoints might refer to this sort of structure as architecture, or topography.

On film, structure can be purely visual. When filming 'Hell's Angels' (1930 airplane action film), the legend goes that producers noticed that with just clear sky and no clouds, the speed of the planes looked like zero. There was no frame of reference in the background. Today turning your head slightly might take your eye out of view of the camera for a moment, so you can dramatically reveal a glare or something a moment later. Whatever works. On stage, the bounds in which the story and characters live can help define who they are and why they do what they do.

In life, structure can be a sort of step sibling of stability. Being relatively stable, emotionally and financially, can give you the more options of choosing what changes in your life. Eviction can mess up the best laid plans. As can un-managed depression.

Our own expectations, habits and more might be the structure we operate within, whether were are aware or it or not. It may be simply saying 'no' if asked to take off your shirt without warning in a callback. That request may be outside the structure (expectations and plans) you have for yourself and your career. For our characters it may be spending 5 acts avoiding taking vengeance on an uncle for killing their father (Hamlet), because such quick action is outside the bounds the character has for themselves. Or your character is plagued by guilt for coaxing their husband to kill the king (the Scottish play) and now realizes, too late, that such a crime is beyond the self-image the character has for themselves.

Whatever the context, the interplay between structure and chaos can infuse performances beyond Commedia. I'd even suggest understanding Commedia may help reveal the structure of numerous descendants of it. Many of Shakespeare's comedic mechanical characters, and more than a few sitcom types (like the wacky neighbor) come to mind. A suspect and detective in an interrogation scene suggests structure. But that structure need not constrain the scene. There are many crime process dramas and movies that play very differently within the standard structure of those scenes. Or against it. And even when the script doesn't press against a form, or try to innovate at all, our job as actors is partly to make it new and somehow ours. Actors are the 'squishy' and are supposed to unpredictable between action and cut, or curtain up and curtain down, a structure themselves.

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Monday, February 04, 2013

House of Cards May Signal a Wider Shift in Producing TV

An Internet firm like Netflix producing first-rate content takes us across a psychological line. If Netflix succeeds as a producer, other companies will follow and start taking market share. Maybe Amazon will go beyond its tentative investments and throw a hundred million at a different A-list series, or maybe Hulu will expand its ambitions for original content, or maybe the next great show will come from someone with a YouTube channel. When that happens, the baton passes, and empire falls—and we will see the first fundamental change in the home-entertainment paradigm in decades

(from "House of Cards" and the Decline of Cable). The traditional ways shows have gotten funded and green-lit may be shifting, yet there is still a lot of work to be had with the old school networks. More options is a good thing for actors. And new media is becoming more vital and a legitimate source of income everyday.

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