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Diane Christiansen Kids & Teens

Actors Must Balance Training & Showcasing

By Master Teacher ~ Diane Christiansen

The career of acting is a tightrope. In order to stay on your toes you have to strike a good balance between cultivating your technique through training and unveiling the fruits of your labor through showcasing. Maintaining this balance means continually pushing beyond your comfort zone. Because acting can be such a masochistic profession, the temptation to get into a comfortable routine is strong. After all, it’s scary to try a new technique when you’ve found a method that works. It’s also scary to audition for the role of a lifetime when rejection is so common in this business. In short, it’s scary to take risks, especially with your career. But you’re an actor aren’t you? Yeah you are! And acting isn’t for the fearful. You’ve got to get on that tightrope and do back flips like there’s no tomorrow! So balance is essential in order to avoid falling flat on your face. Now that we’ve beaten that metaphor into the ground, let’s examine what the unbalanced actor might look like in real life. On the one hand, there is the “seasoned” actor. Perhaps he attended a prestigious drama school, on scholarship, no less. After years in a demanding training program grooming him for greatness and divesting him of his blood, sweat, tears, and likely his pride, he may feel that he has already learned everything he needs to know. The answers he seeks are already locked inside him and he needs only to apply the knowledge he has gained from his prior training to whatever the role at hand. He is self-contained and self-led. Therefore, if he is lost, it is only an indication that he must dig deeper within himself. On the other hand, there is the “novice” actor. Perhaps she decided to pursue acting later in life. After a bland career in the professional world, she yearned to finally follow her passion, her dream deferred. So she began taking acting studio classes at every opportunity in a frantic effort to catch up. Because of her late start, she has continually felt as though she’s behind her counterparts and consequently she’s never felt quite ready to take off the training wheels. She cannot go to an audition without being “coached.” Or worse, she cannot go to an audition at all out of a perpetual fear of not being ready. Believe it or not, both of these actor types are crucially unbalanced. They are both in a rut because neither of them is pushing themselves beyond what is comfortable. But success and complacency do not go together. Actors must balance training and showcasing because doing so keeps us active, continually growing and striving. Training is how we grow in our craft to become better actors, no matter how seasoned we are. Showcasing is how we strive to seize new career opportunities, create valuable relationships with Casting and maybe even happen upon unexpected accolades for our work. One without the other leaves the actor incomplete, lop-sided, off kilter, and off his/her game. In an industry as competitive as this one, we cannot afford to miss opportunities whether due to lack of preparation in training or lack of confidence in showcasing. And so, the actor must maintain balance. To resume our earlier metaphor, we must fearlessly navigate the tightrope that is our acting career, and allow our preparation to meet the opportunity that results in our success.

Acting: From Stage to Screen – Part 2

Working your Internal Life with “Intentional Energy”

Acting is the ability to believe in an event as if it’s happening now. In film and television, it’s particularly crucial that the acting feels like it’s occurring for the first time. This is true, no matter how many takes are needed to complete the job; acting requires “intentional energy.”

Intentional energy gives the actor a focus by playing the consequences of the scene. Intentional energy puts the actor’s attention on the character’s need, and all listening is filtered through that need. A great example is in the film Moneyball, when Brad Pitt and Jonah Hill sit across from each other, juggling phone calls as they trade baseball players for their team. The intentional energy between them keeps the stakes alive.

Too much energy can be distracting. It can trip the actor up by circumventing listening skills, making random movements or being all over the room. Energy that is too low can produce similar results and cause you to deliver a dull and unexciting performance. Both energy issues disable the actor and demonstrate problems with mental focus, physical stillness and believability in the performance.

We’ve all heard casting directors, directors and industry professionals speak about how important energy is and that all great actors have a lot of it. So what gets in the way? Here are some thoughts I’ve come to that I hope will aid you in harnessing intentional energy.

Self-awareness can steal energy. If you are watching whether or not you are doing a good job, your energy will be disconnected from your intention. Your intention must stay with what the character wants, not the performance you want. Often what happens when you watch yourself is that you edit your ideas and the instincts that you think are bad, may actually be good. You can’t know this without trusting your instincts as you attempt to live into the character’s intention.

Another energy issue that happens is when you attempt to play a character that requires you to go beyond your own comfort zone of emotional expression.

If you have been conditioned to censor your own thoughts and emotions—to hide yourself from feeling what is real within you, there will be energy issues.

Often in life, there are times when we can kind of “check out.” Sometimes, just to survive our youth or current situations, we may bury our emotions thinking, that it’s the only way to survive. And our cultural upbringing has great influence on us as well. We might suppress our feelings so deeply that our own passion gets hidden. And when passion is buried, energy is buried.

Eye contact radiates energy and connects you to your scene partner. It gives you your eye line. It also helps the editor give you your close-up because if you look at the wall as you listen, while your scene partner is delivering their lines to you, it is difficult for the audience to perceive the relative space. You’re close-up might be lost to a two-shot so the audience understands the juxtaposition.

However, you never want to “stare” at your partner. You want to really listen and react. You want to be engaged in the life of the scene.

Let’s explore this. Right now as you read this, stop for a second and stare and then observe what happens…. When you stare, basically there is nothing going on. Staring is “checking out,” it is the opposite of listening. Connecting with your partner requires energy to listen and react. You do this naturally when you live into the character’s intention.

In a scene, there are three places our eyes can go: 1. With our scene partner. 2. Away from the scene partner and into our own thoughts, and 3. The environment—where you take it in and then use it to stimulate the energy to fulfill the moment. Each requires the actor to live into the character’s intention with focused thoughts so that living into the reality of the circumstance allows you to be fully engaged and in the moment.

Intentional energy is harnessed through Stanislavsky’s beloved principle called the “magic if.” Living into the circumstance as if it is really happening to you. In every scene and exercise you do, attempt to live into the “magic if.”

Along with this approach you will find it necessary to discover your character’s objective. If you do that successfully, you will have the opportunity to build on a focused energy. What and how you listen will determine whether or not you are winning your objective. These simple tools can be the source of a focused energy that allows risk taking and the building of an intentional energy.

Stage to Screen Acting

For years I’ve been coaching talented theatre actors as they make the transition from stage to film and television acting. It seems the distinction between stage and film acting has become an obsession for actors who want to make the leap!

The ability to adapt between the two has undeniably become an extremely important skill for any actor who wants to be a working professional. I have worked with students who have thrived in theatre, be it starring roles on Broadway or repertory companies; but found themselves a bit befuddled when it came to translating their acting ability to film.

The following is the beginning of a series of videos and articles that will continue to shed insight into this important skill and the differentiation between stage and screen acting. Read more

Suzanne Lyons Careers

NETWORKING… NETWORKING… NETWORKING…

by: Suzanne Lyons

Early on in my producing career here in Los Angeles I would be at a party or event and all too often people would approach me and say, “Suzanne, I hear you’re a film producer. I’m an actor, here’s my headshot.” Or, “Hi, my friend told me you’re a producer. I’m a director, here’s my reel.” Or, “Here’s my screenplay,” “Here’s my composer CD,” etc…

It drove me crazy! In every other business in the world we create relationships (or should!) first. Don’t just jump right into action, “Please read my script.” Create a relationship, talk about the possibility of working together, the opportunity and the benefits that could be provided and then, and only then, make a request (take the action.)

Like location is to a real estate agent, the same holds true in the entertainment industry. Instead of “location, location, location”….. it’s “networking, networking, networking.” You want to create authentic relationships with people. In a six week long workshop I led years ago the homework was to have a party each week and at the party (and during the entire six weeks) you were not allowed to talk about your career. So often when we’re meeting people for the first time or we’re in a group of people, we get nervous or scared and we feel comfortable only talking about our jobs and careers.

The idea of not being allowed to talk about your career for six weeks really helped people break that habit. It forced people to talk about something other than their career! So, if you loved hiking, you invited your friends to go hiking and you asked them to bring along the casting director friend of theirs, because you’d done your homework and you knew that she loved hiking as well. Or you knew that director you wanted to meet loved gourmet cooking as much as you did, so you asked a friend of yours who knew him to invite him to your gourmet cooking party. Your friends felt comfortable inviting their friends because they knew you weren’t going to talk about anything other than hiking or gourmet cooking.

During that workshop if someone asked you what you did, you told them. But the whole idea was to get people sharing about the things in life that they loved, the things they were excited and passionate about. Not just their career. It was a lot of fun and what surprised me more than anything was that during that six week seminar the participants got more jobs than in any of the Flash Forward Institute seminars combined! People got back in touch with who they were and all the other wonderful aspects of life that they loved.

Do Your Best Commercial Auditions

Insider Casting Tips to do Your Best Auditions – The Waiting Room

No matter how good of an actor you are or how well you have prepared, once you enter the waiting area and then the audition room, if you don’t know how to “be” in that war zone then your audition work could suffer. Sitting in the holding area with a dozen or more actors, waiting up to an hour or being rushed in with little or no preparation and sometimes getting confusing direction can be very disconcerting and are not usually conducive to actors’ doing their best. Here are several actions that can be taken to help you feel confident, prepared and empowered.

Arrive early: Never be late or even on time because you won’t have options if the session is running on schedule. Be early so you can get settled and focused and have time to adjust your hair, makeup and/or wardrobe, and prepare the audition material. When you are early, you have options.

Ask questions: When you need clarification on the material or what is expected, ask the assistant who is supervising the sign-ins in the waiting area so that you can get the most from your preparation. If you are not sure how to pronounce a word or the product name, ask. If something doesn’t make sense, ask. It’s better to ask questions before rehearsing than to get corrections from the session director in the audition room and have to adjust your work right before auditioning.

Find Out the “Tone”: Every commercial has a style or “tone” that should be factored into the preparation. You might get answers like natural, comedic, quirky, over-the-top, fun/playful,serious, warm, upscale, authoritative, vulnerable, earthy, edgy, over-the-top, understated, etc.

Do your audition preparation: If you haven’t obtained your copy in advance, do your preparation: investigate, motivate, and find your connection and interpretation. If you did receive the copy and worked on it in advance, review your choices and work on your connection. Find a place where you can rehearse in a full voice.

Rehearse with your partner: When you are doing scene auditions, either the casting assistant will assign you a partner(s) or you should check the sign-in list and determine the actor(s) with whom you will probably be paired. This is especially valuable when auditioning with children. Rehearse with your partner(s) or, if there is no dialogue, spend time getting comfortable with them.

Work on several interpretations: Locking in only one way of doing an audition can be problematic. First, it usually creates a fairly shallow interpretation. Second, if the session operator wants a different approach, it can be hard to shake the work you have locked in. Finally, if asked to do the copy or scenario a second or third way, you won’t have it. Work on several approaches.

Deal with your nerves: Every audition is a precious opportunity to work, make money, create contacts and fans and move a career forward. When actors fixate on these expectations before auditioning, it normally creates anxiety and pressure. Don’t focus on disempowering thoughts and questions This “noise” is normal. How you deal with your questions, concerns and expectations will determine how much power those thoughts have. What you think influences how you feel, and how you feel impacts your audition.

Stay relaxed and focused: After you have done a thorough preparation and while you wait, don’t continually run your lines and review your choices, either out loud or in your head. It’s been my experience that when actors do this, they create anxiety and make themselves insecure. Don’t let the frustration of having to wait negatively affect your mood, energy or mind-set. Do whatever works to keep you focused, confident and positive, e.g., meditate, sit quietly, read, laugh, walk around by yourself, etc. Don’t chat with other actors unless
rehearsing or getting comfortable with them. When you know that you will be next, review your choices, lines, objectives, motivations, etc. – but only once or twice more.

Energize and prepare to commit to your choices and instincts and to enjoy the audition. It’s your time to be an actor.

Diane Christiansen Kids & Teens

How to Clarify Your Acting Niche

By Diane Christiansen

Finding your “niche” or your “brand” or your “type” seems to be daunting for most actors, including kids and teens. Yet it really can be a fun process. Possibly the reason for any difficulty is because actors have this idea that they can play anything. However, Agents and Managers have to market you, to them you are a commodity. Our intention is to make it easy for them to do.

Here is a great exercise that we do in our classes to help you know how to market yourself before you showcase your work and/or interview with Agents and Managers.

You can do this with any group of 5 or 6 people. Try this; have 5 or 6 people watch you walk into the room, the more objective they are, the better. Ask each one of them to tell you what kind of role you look like you can play. Each of us carries ourselves a certain way, and each of us give off a certain “vibe”. They are going to say things like “The Jock, the Nerd, the Cheerleader, the boy next door, the Prom Queen, the smarty girl, the Best friend, the leading lady, the Social Worker, the Cop, the Detective, the Urban Professional, a Gang member, the Politician, the Doctor, the Lawyer, the blue collar worker, and on and on. Once you’ve collected those five or six ideas, you should be on track with your obvious “Type.”

At that point, you can package yourself that way to Reps and if they are seeking that type, bingo! You’ve hit the mark. I know you don’t want to be type cast, but that’s how careers get jump-started. You have to get your foot in the door. Once you’ve been the Nerd fifteen times, you can expand your range and convince your Reps to try a new look or photo. But in the meantime, go for what you are, it’s the perfect way to start your career!

Comedy: Fortune Feimster

“Chelsea Lately” Star’s Success-Secrets

4 years ago, Fortune Feimster had never been on TV.  She was working a day job and doing standup and improv casually for fun.  Then, 6 months after auditioning for “Last Comic Standing”, she was delighting audiences as a writer, performer, and round-table guest on E!’s hit show “Chelsea Lately”.

From “2 Broke Girls” to Tina Fey’s new Pilot “Cabot College”, Fortune Feimster’s effervescent personality and off-the-wall comic sensibilities never fail to bring audiences along for the ride and let everyone feel included in the joke.  But how do you go from working a 9-5 to living the career of your dreams?  Watch the video and read the article below to learn some of the real components of  “overnight success”. 

  1. GO FULL OUT
    As she mentions in the video, Fortune was doing improv and stand up for fun when her roommate sat her down and said “Do you really want to do comedy for your career?  Because if so, you’re not doing enough to be successful.”  Something in his words challenged her, and from that day forward Fortune threw herself into the work.  She did 6 shows a week, living and breathing the entertainment business.  When she wasn’t performing, she was writing, shooting videos, studying comedy, promoting herself, or honing some other aspect of her career. 
  2. BELIEVE IN YOURSELF
    Fortune tried to get an agent, but none were interested.  They told her that she looked too “different” and that they just couldn’t see where she would fit into the industry.

    Being rejected by the gatekeepers of a profession would probably be enough to make most people give up- but not Fortune. 

    Without any agent or representation, she filmed herself, in her backyard, doing her characters and submitted the tape, unrequested, to Saturday Night Live. A few days later, they called and asked her to fly to New York to test for the show.

  3. DO IT YOURSELF
    With an attitude like her’s  it’s easy to see that whether an agent said “yes”, or whether Saturday Night Live said “yes”, or Chelsea Lately or Last Comic Standing said “yes”, it almost didn’t matter. 

    Fortune’s love of making people laugh, her talent, perseverance and unflagging belief in herself can be an inspiration for writers, performers, and anyone with a dream. 

    “From very early on, I decided that I’m going to do what I do until someone gets it. When you grow up looking different, you learn to believe in yourself.  You learn that if you want something, they’re probably not going to say “yes” right away- you have to convince them.”

  4.  

For more Fortune, stay tuned for part 2 of this interview (like us and subscribe to be alerted of the next video) and follow https://twitter.com/fortunefunny  Join Gerry’s newsletter at www.standupcomedyclass.com/aweber.html.  

Many thanks to Fortune Feimster – if you enjoyed this video, or have a success tip or a question please comment below!