This blog serves to give acting ideas and advice to actors of all ages, especially young ones. This blogs author is J.T. Turner, actor, director, teacher and member of AEA, SAG and AFTRA. I hope you find the posts useful, and please pass along the blog address to anyone you think might benefit from it!

Saturday, November 20, 2010

Chess and the Actor

Friends of the Library - ChessI like to play chess. I am OK at it, not amazing, not even ranked, but I enjoy the game. I first learned to play when the famous match between Booby Fisher and Boris Spasky was coming up in 1972. It got my attention, and I taught myself to play. My parents had a great marble chess set in the living room, and I often played against my brothers or friends. When my son was young I taught him to play, and we would often drag out a chess set at McDonalds and enjoy a game over our meal. These days I play mostly against computers, which is sad as I really enjoy an actual in-person game.

So why am I writing about chess in an acting blog? Because I believe chess can make you a better actor. (Hey don't look at me like that, you read my blog, you know I am a bit mad). As mentioned in earlier blogs, I feel as though any hobby, passion or pursuit is good for you, but I especially like chess. Here is why:

Chess improves your memory. Many players memorize opening moves and closing attacks. Actors need to have a good memory.

Chess improves concentration. An actor benefits from the ability to concentrate on one thing, a role, a scene, a moment. Chess gives you a focused point to concentrate on.

Chess promotes imagination and creativity. Acting is all about imagination, the constant 'what if". As a chess player you are creating new attacks, imagining moves and counter-moves constantly.

Chess make you think of possibilities. If cast in a role, you have to kick in that imagination, and wonder how to play the part, how to deliver a line, what would happen if you character had a limp or a lisp. Constantly thinking, testing, looking for the best path to your goal. That is what happens over a game of chess as well.

Finally on a more personal note, I play chess to keep my brain alive. As we age, it gets harder to remember, to concentrate to think. We know that one way to battle memory loss and Alzheimer's disease is through brain work, especially board games, especially chess.

It's your move. :)


Saturday, October 9, 2010

Staying Alive

Saturday Night Fever
Performers always need to be on the lookout for moments they may need to recreate. Now I want to be clear here, I don't want you to distance yourself from actually living your life, too many people go through their lives as just casual observers of themselves. No, I am a firm believer in living a passionate, active life, staying mindful and engaged every moment you can.

But as an actor, you will also be called upon to create an image of life in front of people. And to do that, we often need to borrow things that have occurred to us or that we have observed.Any kind of life experience can benefit your acting talent as long as you learn from it. Don't get me wrong, an actor needs as much stage time as they can get, there is nothing like it, not even training. But in the meantime, don't place your life on hold waiting for the perfect part. Use time to engage and live as full a life as you possibly can.

Debate Over Value of Chess as

I love to play chess. I am not very good at it, I am not even ranked but I do have fun. And the game teaches me a lot about life, relationships, and people.(There will be an upcoming blog about chess here at Advice to the Players).

 I was directing a show, and it struck me that the actors lines to each other was very much like a chess game. So I actually added the action of a chess game to the scene, which brought the scene to a new level.

So even playing a simple game, I am observing, noting, and gathering information. Maybe none of the things I see and experience will ever wind up on stage, but surprisingly, they very often do. I was a Resident Assistant at a dorm in college, and one evening a homeless woman came in, and asked to sleep in the lobby. This was a big no-no, but I agreed to let her stay till the next shift, it was the most I could do. When I woke her up to leave, I watched as she stood, adjusted her clothes, straightened her shoulders, and walked out to face the world. I have never forgotten that moment, and used that physical adjustment years later in a play, where my character was being released from jail.

Living your life fully and with open eyes will make any role you play richer and more real

J.T. Turner
The Actors Sensei

Thursday, September 30, 2010


No, no not a post about your last finger. Even I am not that crazy.......well not today anyway. No, rather this is a personal post about an odd actory thing I often do when learning lines, and that is using my secret weapon.......the Pinky.
Pinky Ball

Yes, that pink colored rubber ball that many of us had as children. Ok maybe for some of you it is a toy your folks used, but still just refer to the photo. So I actual use this simple device when trying to learn lines, especially Shakespeare. But it helps with all lines from any genre. it can also be used for lyrics.

Now work with me here. When learning lines, I simply bounce the ball along with saying the lines aloud. This works great for Shakespearean verse since it is written in specific beats. a typical line of verse has 5 soft and 5 hard beats, alternating...da-DUM-da-DUM-da-DUM-da-DUM-da-DUM. That is a typical line, so I may bounce the ball down on the hard beats.

But this works for any lines. It has to do with distracting your mind, and slipping your lines into your brain in a structured way. It really helps if you have a word that is hard or that you have trouble remembering. Then I FIERCELY bounce the ball while calling out the word several times. By over emphasizing, exaggerating, and making a strong memory path, the word gets into your brain more dynamically, and that helps you with recall.

If I am working on a scene with a partner, we bounce the ball to each other after each one is done with a line. If I am getting help from someone reading, I may just bounce it on the floor after my line, listening to the next cue.

I find it also helps if I am walking or pacing as I bounce the pinky, again, saying the lines aloud. You may recall an earlier blog about memorization, using an MP3 or the like, and that method is still great. But I alternate it with Pinky work, as it is a bit more physical, and fun. :)

(Oh and in a total nerd rush, I use a different ball for each show, and write the show on character on it. Then after, give it away. )

J.T. Turner
The Actors Sensei

Wednesday, September 22, 2010

Tips for College auditions, and some shameless promotions

Oh it is that magic time of year again.....auditions! Local theaters are having auditions, schools have had theirs, but for many of my Actors Sensei followers, it is time for some of the toughest auditions of all.....college auditions! So here are a few fast tips when auditioning for a Drama/Theater program at a college.

Before the Audition
  • Make sure you know what the criteria is, how long an audition piece, how many pieces etc..
  • Who will be in the room, who is the audition for?
  • Select audition pieces not just for time and type, but for passion. What will make you happy in the audition room, even if you never get into the school.
  • Practice, practice, practice, no cramming please.
  • Use a teacher or coach, not your friends, they give lousy advice.
  • Videotape and critique yourself.
  • Be sure you are rested, relaxed and ready
The Day of the Audition
  • If possible, plan to arrive a day ahead so that you are well rested.
  • Arrange your day so that you don’t have to rush.
  • Drink lots of water, and locate rest rooms near the audition space.
  • Eat lightly for energy (if you can); bland is probably best. Remember that certain foods bother your voice, avoid them!
  • Warm-up thoroughly, but don’t wear out.
  • Locate the audition room well ahead of your appointed time.
  • Dress appropriately. Dress like a person auditioning for a part, not like someone who HAS the part.
The Big Moment
  • Be personable and respectful when it’s your turn —first impressions count.
  • You may not get through your whole piece.Expect this and don’t let it bother you when they cut you off.
  • Anticipate less-than-ideal circumstances just in case. The room may be acoustically dry; the judges may be unfriendly. The room may be too hot, too cold; too small, too big.
  • Remember, they are looking for teach-able students, not perfection.Be passionate.
  • Be prepared for questions. 
  • Send a brief thank you note to someone—your prospective teacher, head of the department or someone in the admissions office.
Pitfalls--what NOT to do at an audition
  • Don’t ignore their requirements for repertoire or other expectations.
  • Don’t be under prepared.
  • Don’t listen to other people’s auditions.
  • Don’t be late.
  • Don’t make excuses.
As you know, I offer coaching and lessons on a regular basis. Look at me as I brag- I AM TOTALLY WORTH IT! If nothing else, you will get great practice and structure from a coaching session or two. I work out of Ipswich, MA, email me at jtactor@aol.com to set up an appointment.

I have often commented here about the need for a great head shot. Taking my own advice, I recently had new ones done by an amazing photographer, David Costa. The results were excellent, and I proudly join many "A" list Boston actors who David has as clients. The price is low compared with most photographers, and the work is superior, so it it is a win-win. David Costa can be contacted at mtlc819@aol.com or (508) 954-2460. Invest in yourself!

J.T. Turner
The Actors Sensei
Acting and Speaking Lessons for all ages.

Sunday, August 15, 2010

Sing for your supper.

I wanted to use this entry in Advice to the Playersi to give some advice to those of you that sing. Singing in concerts, recitals or on-stage, there is an important concept that I want you to bear in mind.

You are acting.

The difference between a singer with great technical skill,, and one that really "sells the song", is often simply a question of mindset. Of course I want you to hit the right notes, of course I want you to hold a note for a specific amount of time, but I also want you to answer some critical questions before you sing.

1) Who is singing? Yes, yes it is you, but who really sings this song? Young, old, married, single, a witch or a Princess? The more specific the image of this person, the easier it is to convey the song to the audience.

2) Why are they singing? A classic definition of a musical, is that the emotions the characters have become to intense that they must burst into song. What is that underlying intensity? Madly in love with someone? Angry? Desperate, alone? I always tell my actors to be sure and know why you are going on-stage, beyond it being a part in a show. What is it that your character has to say here and now.

3) Who are you singing to? Not just the audience, be sure you have a very specific group and setting in mind. If you sing Happy Birthday to your best friend, it has a certain tone and color. If you sing it to a aging, frail parent, it will change the delivery, even though the notes are the same. And singing it to someone you really don't like, again a total change in the song.

Let us consider a song that most of you know. In Les Miserables, the musical, Jean Val Jean sings a great song entitled "Who Am I" If you listen to the Colm Wilkinson recording, you can hear the thought process and change he goes through. It starts off reflective, self questioning. The character, a convict who is hiding his true identity wonders who he has become in denying his actual self. Then at the end of the song, he admits to a court full of people who he actually is. Different sound, a sound of release, no more hiding the truth. And more open, as he is now not asking himself who he is, but telling others who he is. It is a great example of character, purpose and audience.

So whether you are a singer who acts or an actors who sings, remember to make acting a part of the equation.

J.T. Turner
The Actors Sensei

Thursday, July 29, 2010

Baby ears

I have had the great fortune and honor to work with some excellent directors over the years. They have inspired me to be a better director, and to be a better actor as well. Paul Daigneault runs Speakeasy Stage Company here in Boston, specializing in premiering plays to the Boston area. With Speakeasy I have been in such works as Johnny Guitar, Chess, Floyd Collins, and A New Brain. Paul is an amazing director, very low key and organic, and one of the lessons I have taken from him is about delivery.

Since Speakeasy specializes in new works, often an audience is hearing a show for the very first time. Paul always reminds his actors to think of the audience as having "baby ears", hearing sounds for the first time. As a result, an actor needs to be loud and clear. Even though you have worked on a piece for weeks or months, and know it inside out, that does not transfer to the audience. They are listening for the first time to you and your delivery. I am not saying make things slow and ponderous, just loud and clear.

I am currently working on the Scottish Play, and for many people Shakespeare is a realm that begs for this posts advice. The language, though gorgeous, is unfamiliar, so to let people take it in properly it must be heard! Enunciate, stay crisp, don't mumble, nor make your delivery so intimate that people lose what you are saying.

I will have more to say about volume in future blogs, but for this week Sensei says.... "Baby ears".

J.T. Turner
The Actors Sensei

Monday, July 26, 2010

The Secret of Life

At the risk of being repetitive, I want to touch on a theme I feel is so critical for an actor, singer, dancer, speaker or anyone. It is in my estimation one of the great Secrets Of Life.

Showing up.

I have a dear friend who is an actress in L.A.. She and I share a great philosophy about auditions. If you audition, you have a small chance of being cast, sometimes one chance out of several thousand. But you still have a chance. If you don't audition, you have no chance, no chance at all. So just by the act of showing up you greatly increase your odds of getting work.

I just sent out a congratulations email to a student of mine who went to an audition. No, she didn't get cast yet, and may never get a role in the show she auditioned for. That is not her decision to control. But she could control going to the audition, which is a brave and courageous act all by itself. It takes a strong person to show up in a room, deliver a piece to people that are often strangers, and then leave a judgement up to them. Brave and bold.

And that really is a philosophy not just for performers but for life in general. The great secret is showing up. Auditioning is a prime example, but also going to rehearsals, taking classes, doing your work. And how often have you promised to see a show or a movie or a concert and instead blew it off for no good reason. Later there is regret especially if you have a friend involved in the show you decided to miss.

Recently I was called into an audition. I was excited that they had called me, rather than putting out a general announcement. As I arrived, I ran into another actor they had called. I was a bit sad that they had called someone besides me for the role, and worse, this other actor would be PERFECT in the part they were looking to fill. To add more bad news, he told me that 6 other actors had also been called in. He named names, and I knew them all, all great actors. Frankly I thought about leaving, but I went ahead and auditioned, because I always try to do that.

And I got the part! My point here is, had I not shown up, I never would have gotten the role, which turned out to be one of the great experiences of my life. Hence my often stated philosophy, "Life is about showing up".

So conquer your heart when it whispers to you that you may as well not go, that your not the right type, that your not good enough. Go.

Show up.

J.T. Turner
The Actors Sensei

Friday, July 16, 2010

Manners count!

Table manners and etiquette - how to behave around a formal tableOK this is a blog about acting and performing, so why am I turning into Miss Manners? Because, dear reader, manners DO matter. This is especially true in the world of performing, because as big a field as it is, it is also in many ways an intimate field, and you will run into people over and over again. Sure maybe years go by before you meet that person again, but trust me, meet them you will. And at that point, what will the meeting be like? A joyous celebration, or an awkward moment as you recall that you treated this person badly?

I confess I hold grudges. I try not to hold them very long, but I have a tendency to forgive and REMEMBER. So if you have left a show in mid-stream for no good reason, if you were rude to me at an audition, (on either side of the table), if you decide to start Facebooking or gossiping about me, then chances are pretty good I will just not work with you in the future. The Christian within me will still wish you a great life, but the practical Sensei will just not put myself in a position for you to abuse me again.

And I tell you this not to scare you off from working with me, but rather to instruct, as I am not alone in this habit. Treat a stage manager badly during the run of a show, and that stage manager will warn every director they work with about you. Treat them well, and when a part comes up you fit, they may just put in a good word for you. This extends not just to management; stage managers, directors, choreographers, but to your fellow actors as well. Cut down your fellow actors and your reputation will drift right down the tubes.

Oh but you have talent! Tons of talent! So that people will be FORCED to cast you since you are so great! Look, maybe a Hollywood celebrity can misbehave and be in demand,( although the odds are against Mel Gibson just now), but the vast majority of us cannot. So play nice.

But I will make it big one day, I don't need to be nice to "these" people. Maybe you will outgrow them, but as a general rule only treating people you need something from nicely is a recipe for disaster.

But the best reason of all to be kind, considerate, respectful and nice is....it is better for you. Makes you a better person, and is the right thing to do.

With that in mind:
1) Use please and thank you excessively.
2) Be on time, showing respect for other peoples time.
3) When you see someone, always say hello, right away. Always.
4) Delight in any chance to help someone.
5) Be a generous performer. Help your fellow actors get off book, rehearse with them outside rehearsal, lend opinions when asked, (while respecting the directors role).
6) Never bad mouth cast nor crew. Nor the audience.Your work is your responsibility, and at the end of the day, the only thing you control..
7) Did I mention be nice to the crew? Well I am mentioning it again. Trust me, they are your best friends.
8) When frustrated, talk directly to the person frustrating you. Gossip is for reality shows.
9) Thank the Universe that you get to perform, it is a privilege not a right. Be a grateful performer.
10) Accept praise, and be thankful for it. Share it when you can. Don't let it go to your head, but don't miss the chance to take in the good vibes that comes with praise either.
11) Love this thing you do. When you stop loving it, stop doing it.

As with all my advice, use it or don't. But maybe you could try it, and see what happens. :)

J.T. Turner
The Actors Sensei

Sunday, July 11, 2010

We don't need no stinking punctuation!

William Shakespeare's 154

I have many friends in cyber land that are fanatics about spelling, grammar and punctuation. They are going to hate this post!

When dealing with Shakespearean work, and interesting idea I came across and use is to GET RID OF ALL PUNCTUATION! I know that sounds radical, especially coming from someone who considers Shakespeare almost sacred. But let us think it through. We have no actual copies of Shakespeare's works in his own hand. We have copies of copies printed by his friends or scribes. And given the number of copies printed over the years, it is easy to imagine that the punctuation we are looking at is suggested rather than concrete. The line breaks are easier to feel comfortable with, as in many cases the Bard was writing in iambic pentameter, a rather precise structure for each line.But commas, periods, semi-colons and the rest are more iffy.

So a wonderful exercise for an actor is to make a copy of a Shakespeare speech, and get rid of all punctuation. Now you can speak the words, (they are meant to be said aloud), and see what pattern makes sense to you in the character you are building.

Here is Hamlet's famous speech with punctuation:

To be, or not to be: that is the question:
Whether 'tis nobler in the mind to suffer
 The slings and arrows of outrageous fortune,
Or to take arms against a sea of troubles,
And by opposing end them? To die: to sleep;
No more; and by a sleep to say we end
The heart-ache and the thousand natural shocks
That flesh is heir to, 'tis a consummation
Devoutly to be wish'd.

And without, even getting rid of the line breaks::

To be or not to be that is the question Whether 'tis nobler in the mind to suffer The slings and arrows of outrageous fortune Or to take arms against a sea of troubles And by opposing end them To die to sleep 
No more and by a sleep to say we end The heart-ache and the thousand natural shocks That flesh is heir to 'tis a consummation Devoutly to be wish'd.

Pacing, emphasis, structure are now at the actors command, and you may uncover some great treasure here! Now I am not saying to read the whole piece with no punctuation, rather, try adding your own, for you own delivery.

By the way, in terms of getting as "pure" a copy as possible, I look for First Folio copies when possible, and love the Arden editions.

J.T. Turner
The Actors Sensei

Thursday, July 1, 2010

Oh fancy Latin phrases are so cool!

Travolta is sometimes referred

Since I am, in general, as cool as say, John Travolta, who is indeed very high on the Cool-O-Meter, I must share  a cool Latin Phrase as well as a great concept for actors in this post. (I know, you are thinking, "he is so generous and kind, and he does all this for free, he is a saint!" You are correct.).

Via negativa (Negative Way) is actually a phrase use by theologians and religious people to present a way of describing God. Since God is in many religions considered undefinable, one way to think about what God is would be to list what he is not. If you list what God is not, then you have a good idea of what God is. Get it?

But we can use this same concept when dealing with acting and performing. We are presented with lines to read aloud, to present to an audience, how we say them tremendously impacts how they are received and how our character is formed. So the idea of via negativa, applied to an actor's lines, is to decide how NOT to deliver the line. In broad terms, take the line an deliver it in as many ways as possible, and eliminate the ones that don't work.

Let's look at a piece of Shakespeare for this idea. "Tomorrow and tomorrow and tomorrow creeps  in this petty pace from day to day, to the last syllable of recorded time.". OK, now to work, what if we rushed all the words together?  "Tomorrowandtomorrowandtomorrowcreepsinthispettypacefromdayto daytothelastsyllableofrecordedtime." Bad choice in most cases, so we eliminate that.  What if we made each and every word important, same length, emphasis, loudness, "TOMORROW AND TOMORROW AND TOMORROW CREEPS IN THIS PETTY PACE FROM DAY TO DAY TO THE LAST SYLLABLE OF RECORDED TIME". Nah, that sounds to old fashioned and actorish. So we have eliminated 2 ways we might deliver the line, and perhaps we start to find the ways we can deliver it. Words are repeated, what if we emphasize them? "TOMORROW and TOMORROW, and TOMORROW creeps in this petty pace from DAY to DAY, to the last syllable of recorded time". That might be the reading you go with.
Ian McKellen
(And now, a quick suggestion from Ian McKellan, who says, try it this way, 'Tomorrow AND tomorrow, AND tomorrow, creeps in this petty pace from day to day"...Sir Ian suggests hitting the word AND could take the speech to a new meaning.)

Have some fun. Try lines in outrageous ways, like a little girl, like a lumberjack, like a gangster. By eliminating what does not work, you will soon narrow it down to what DOES work, and that will give you a starting point to the line readings that lay ahead.

J.T. Turner
The Actors Sensei

Acting classes for stage and screen.

Monday, June 14, 2010


"Lady Macbeth" detail

This summer I am directing The Scottish Play. Although it is bad luck to say the name out of context, it is OK to say it in relation to the actual play, so I will be directing William Shakespeare's Macbeth. With that in mind, expect a few posts this summer about the Bard. But this post has information that is good for not just tackling Shakespeare, but any script at all.

When dealing with a script for the first time, especially Shakespeare, it makes sense to have an approach to your work. In that regard, I use the simple silly acronym, WAR?. Yeah it is goofy but you will hopefully remember it, and most importantly, what each part of WAR? is.

W-Start with the words. When dealing with Shakespeare, never ever speak words you do not understand. There are many books that give you a contemporary explaination of what a word or line means, (Side by Side editions, No Fear Shakespeare), and many annotated versions as well. And of course the internet is a great reference library for the actor. If it is not in your library, C.T. Onions great book A Shakespeare Glossary should be added at once.
So make sure you know what it is you are saying,

A- refers to the arc of the play. What happens in the play, where do we start, where do we end, what is the journey about? What is the structure of the piece?

R- reason! Why does your character say the line? Background, foreshadowing, plot device, comic relief? Why do you say what you say? Especially with Shakespeare, no line is given to you randomly. (In Shakespeare, R may do double duty as rhythm).

?- Finally the question mark. In a simple sentence or two, decide what the play is about. The answer may be different for each production of the same play, as a director and actors have a vision they are working toward, and that vision may change from one production to another.

So when you face a new script, think of going to WAR?

Next up, a show-off Latin phrase!

J.T. Turner
The Actors Sensei

Thursday, June 3, 2010

Fix your head!

Sorry to be missing in action, I was down in Guatemala doing some work. Happy to be home!

Is A Headshot Black TShirtAll actors, performers and speakers need a good photo. And, just as important, a current photo. I want to make a few suggestions that will help you have a good headshot.

While many casting directors and theaters still ask you to come in with a  headshot, our photos are also being used in cyber land. Casting directors and companies often ask that the headshot be sent electronically, or will visit your website to check out your picture. As a result, a 8 X 10 photo,  (the industry standard), will often be viewed in a presentation that is about 2 inches square. So I suggest that either you have at least 2 headshots ready, or that you have one great one that can be used in a variety of settings. So here are some keys to s good headshot, given the ideal of it being used in multiple venues.

IT IS A HEADSHOT!- 3/4 shots, full body shots, shoulders and head all may work in a printed 8 X 10, but when reduced, your face may disappear. So try and have your face the featured item in the frame.

BORDERS- Artistically delightful, but in cybeland space counts, skip the white edges and borders.

MY EYES HURT- Keep any background clean, simple, and not too busy.

WASHED OUT- Forget muted tones, keep things crisp and vibrant. Even with a black and white shot, make the black and white have stark contrast.

I WANT YOU!- Your face, your eyes, expression should be the focal point of any picture. No one will cast you for what you are wearing in the picture. Of course clothes choices are important, especially in color photos, but you are the main part of the photo.

And please keep the shot current! Nothing is more frustrating than looking at a headshot of a person, calling them in for a role, and finding out the photo was 20 years old! Also, looking your best in the photo is great, but make sure you look like you!

J.T. Turner
The Actors Sensei

Friday, May 7, 2010

Fake Shakespeare

In today's blog I am reviewing a book that I would highly recommend to anyone who likes Shakespeare, mysteries, true crime, history, or just loves a good book! As a Shakespearean actor and scholar, I was especially excited about this one!

       The Boy Who Would Be Shakespeare: A Tale of Forgery and Folly, recounts an amazing story. And perhaps most astounding, a true story. It is one of those tales that reads like great fiction, but is indeed fact. It tells the tale of William Henry Ireland, a simple law clerk with a rather unimpressive life, who wants to impress his father. To do so, he forges a document that he knows his father would love for his collection, a document signed by William Shakespeare. Like many lies, this one starts off simply and builds and builds until the lie takes on a life of it's own. Before long, William Ireland is producing many documents by Shakespeare, and eventually even pens a play by Shakespeare that he passes off as a new found treasure.

The astounding part of the story is that well respected scholars, leaders and experts all believed that these documents were indeed penned by Shakespeare. Even the fake play that Ireland wrote was accepted by Richard Sheridan, a leading writer and producer at the time, and presented at the Drury Lane Theater to sell-out crowds.Time after time, things that should have shown Ireland up as a fraud take an almost incredible and often comic twist, and wind up convincing people further of the authenticity of the documents.

The Boy Who Would Be Shakespeare was written by Doug Stewart, who I had the pleasure of meeting recently when he gave a talk about the book. It is very well written, and I was especially impressed at how the author fleshed out the work with revealing the emotional motivations behind the players in this story. A boy wanting his fathers love and respect, a collectors passionate pursuit of Shakespeare's signature, and people so desperate to find out more about the Bard that they would act blindly to believe a hoax.

I can't recommend this work enough. It is a fabulous and engaging read, and Mr. Stewart has done a masterful job at making what might have been just a brief historical side-note full bodied and vastly entertaining.

J.T. Turner
The Actors Sensei

In addition to acting classes, we also work with people that have to deliver speeches and presentations. Learn to speak with confidence and clarity.

Thursday, April 29, 2010

The hits keep coming!

 Last Blog, we discussed the key components of the speakers voice. Using the 4 key components of the voice, we can make an interesting and engaging vocal delivery. Often however, a Director will ask you to "hit" a word. This simply means to emphasize a particular word or phrase in the piece you are doing. We do this in a couple of different ways.

First, to emphasize a given word, we often raise the pitch on the word, usually on the first sylable. Here is a short list of things to hit:


2) USUALLY ONE OF THE FIRST WORDS IN A SENTENCE.  "Come on down to Ira Oldsmobile!". "Please help us to make our goals."

3) DESCRIPTIVE AND ACTION WORDS SHOULD BE HIT. " See our beautiful condo units." "Learn to read, faster, louder, and clearer."

4) CLIENT NAMES, PRODUCT NAMES AND SUBJECTS. "Diet Coke, just for the taste of it".

But we can also use de-emphasis, dropping the pitch, to highlight a word of phrase. We often use this concept when asking questions.

"Have you tried Smuckers?" The pitch should go down when we have a word that is the last in a question. This idea can also be applied to lists, since the dropping of pitch will let the listener know there is more to come."They packed fruit, nuts, bread and an apple". We would drop pitch on the first 3 items, but not on the last, as that is the end of the list.

SIDENOTE: Although we often raise a pitch at the end of a question, make sure you do that only when really called for. Otherwise, you will sound like a Valley Girl!  Try reading the T-rex lines, going up at the end of every sentence.

Fun, yes. Annoying in real life though!

Sometimes, for emphasis, we will also make a word stand alone. A short pause before, after, or both before and after gives a word a focus for the listener.

"The best soup in the world.....Campbells.....is now on sale at Market Basket!"

Next blog we will be chatting about a great new book on Shakespeare!

J.T. Turner
The Actors Sensei

Coaching and lessons for actors and speakers.

Thursday, April 22, 2010

More for the Voice Actor

LaFontaine reached the We are chatting about the voice of the actor, and the arena of voice over work. We have talked about vocal care, now let us look at some of the tools an actor uses

Let me emphasize that the call for most voice work these days is for a natural sound. The call for a bold, deep, announcer type sound is limited, we like to have a more conversational sound from voice actors. And sounding like the guy who announces Monster Truck Rally's is a very, very limited market.

 As a general rule of thumb, a voice has four different components that make each voice distinct. They are also factors that we can adjust to a certain degree in order to vary the sound of our voice. Let's look at the four components.

VOLUME- Of all the components, volume is the easiest to understand, and the easiest to adjust, or at least it should be. Speaking louder or softer is an easy command to respond to. Keep in mind though, that technology can do a lot of adjusting, so don't start shouting into the mic unless the client tells you to.

TEMPO- This is the speed of your speech. Sometimes, especially with commercials, you need to deliver words at a faster tempo, getting more words in per minute. But it can also be used by an actor to adjust the delivery of a piece. Delivering all the words at a plodding pace will get boring fast, so we use tempo to add variety and color to the piece we are recording.

PITCH- Pitch is where in your voice register  you speak. Think of it as the musical level of your voice. A vocal scale runs do-re-me-fa-so-la-te-do. Your voice, without prompting, should find your natural pitch on the first "do". This is your base pitch. You can also find it by humming the first note of "Happy Birthday". From that base, you can delivery words higher or lower depeanding on your intention. The range of your speaking voice is sometimes called your 'dynamic' range. Usually your delivery will hover around your base voice, and will go higher or lower when you want to emphasize a word or section.

TONE- "Watch your tone young man!" The tone of your voice expresses what emotion you are feeling or trying to deliver. When we insult or sneer at someone, they may say they don't like our "tone". A voice actor can then use a tone to give an emotion to the words that are being said. Most of the work for voice actors these days is narration, and we adjust the tone based on what the underlying emotion of a passage is. Angry, enthusiastic, happy, sad all these and more feelings are conveyed via tone.

Next blog looks at ways to emphasize words. Thanks for reading!

J.T. Turner
The Actors Sensei

Sunday, April 11, 2010



Oh Elm, I love you, I love you a lot.
When it comes to my voice, you really are hot.

OK that was a very short ode. And not specific enough for our purposes, so let me explain and expand a bit. And I warn you, this may come off as a commercial endoresement. And I am totally alright with that.

We have touched on vocal care for the actor, singer, speaker, performer. As mentioned in my last post, we should try to avoid tea and coffee with caffiene.It causes a strain on the vocal cords in many people. Similarly, cough drops and lozenges should be used with care, some will just dull the throat, others make you way to juicy for a good sound. Especially avoid menthols ones, which dry out the throat.
Rather, I want you to start using Slippery Elm.

The use of Slippery Elm bark has been shown to be a boon to a tired, dry or sick throat. It is a centuries old remedy for many minor ailments.It is a demulcent, which, according to our friends at Wiki, "A demulcent (derived from the Latin demulcere, "caress") is an agent that forms a soothing film over a mucous membrane, relieving minor pain and inflammation of the membrane.". It is also said to be benefical to digestion. It is one of my favorite products for the voice. I personally use Thayer's Slippery Elm lozenges, which are carried in many drugstores, and online.(or swing by our Studio space, we usually have some for sale.). I also highly recommend a great tea called Throat Coat. Available in many supermarkets in the health food section, and via Amazon, Throat Coat does wonders in keeping your voice protected and at it's best. It, naturally, has Slippery Elm in it, and works wonders.

Other natural substances that actors, singers and speakers use include marshmallow root, licorice root, and something called comfrey, which I won't try as it doesn't sound manly enough. :)

Like all things, don't overdue the use, especially as it can be a mild laxative. ("Places for Act 2... you have to go to the bathroom now???") Keep it for performance days, or days when you throat and voice need a little TLC. And as ever, ask your Doctor about it, especially if you are on any medications.

Next up, more on the voice and voice over work.

J.T. Turner
The Actors Sensei

Monday, April 5, 2010

Vocal care

In the Voice Memos contains a

I want to spend a few blog posts talking about the voice. Many of these posts are from a book coming out later this year, "The Actor's Company Guide to Voice Over Work". Since so many people are interested in this area of performing, I wanted to share some pieces of the book with you.

We will start off with advice everyone can use, that is tips to keep your voice in tip-top shape. Below are some bullet points that will help you keep your pipes in their prime.

WATER- The key to keeping a good, pliant voice is hydration. 8 glasses of water a day is the old standard, new reports seem to indicate that 10 glasses or more a day is better. Naturally this is spread out over the course of the day. Try and always carry water with you, in the car or on the commute, at your desk or in class during the day, and try hydrating at each meal. and in a recording session always have a bottle of ROOM TEMPERATURE water with you.

Bottled water has contaminants

DRY AIR- Hand in hand with hydration, be aware that dry air is a throats enemy. In the summer, air conditioning drys a throat out fast, and in winter, heat can do the same thing. Take in more water if you find yourself in these situations.

AVOID STRAIN- Try to avoide yelling and whispering, they both put equal strain on the voice. Also try not to clear your throat, that actually creates havoc on the vocal cords.And under no circumstances should anyone who is not Aretha Franklin try and sing like Aretha Franklin. That goes double for Freddy Mercury.

WHEN TRAVELING- Airplanes, trains and buses often have dry unhealthy air. Again try and be lubricated when using public transportation. Also check out Ponaris, an oil that will help protect the vocal cords and can act as a decongestant. Ask your doctor, what do I know?

AVOID VOCAL ABUSE- No smoking nor being around smoke, avoid alcohol which impacts vocal cords, and try to get a good nights sleep, especially before a recording or performance. Also many people react badly to caffine, at least vocally, and most others should try and avoid dairy products before you have a gig. Now if you love coffee and tea you don't need to totally give it up, just be aware that use of it before a session may have a negative impact on your vocal quality.Consider a non-caffeine version of coffee or tea.

Next up, and ode to a tree. :)

 J.T. Turner
The Actors Sensei

Sunday, March 28, 2010

Bring us........a shrubbery!

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I want to talk in this blog about landscaping. And since it's my blog, what I say goes! :) OK, hang in here, it is still a blog about acting and performing, read on......

Imagine in your mind a wide flat area spread out before you. Just an expanse of land laying there, flat,  and uninteresting. Perhaps a stretch of dessert, or a plain of dead grass. Now, let us change the view, picture a different landscape before you. Perhaps flat in the foreground, but leading to some gentle sloping hills, with trees of different shapes and sizes. There is a river that winds in and out of your view, and far away, wonderful mountains rise, blue and majestic. And off to the left, a powerful waterfall cascades down to a lake, glittering and shimmering.

Now, you get to choose which of those to stare at. Oh sure, beauty could be found in the starkness of the flat landscape, but if you look at it for more than five minutes, you are likely to become bored. Rather, most of us would prefer to look at the landscape with different aspects to it, filled with interesting features, nooks and crannies, (mmm English muffins...sorry got distracted there!).
     See full size image
Now it is no great leap to think of how an actor or other performer, also could have a flat, bare landscape. I know the trend these days are for spareness in acting, being a minimalist. But if that were taken to the extreme, how very dull would the performance be! Rather, we would like to see an actor fill a role with variety, highs and lows, moments of intensity and moments of calm. They create for us a landscape with many levels, interesting things to look at. We like performances with wonderful moments of passion, but also moments of stillness, or sweetness or even evil. A performance that is all played at one level, with no variety is just dead boring.

Think of this. We can listen to an audio version of many books and plays. The good ones have a reader with a great voice, who uses that voice to create a vocal landscape. At times they speed up, slow down, add emphasis. The best readers give a great landscape. I have a Kindle that stores books for me to read, and it has a feature where a computerized voice will read words aloud to me. It is an Ok voice, not like a robot, but still rather flat and uninteresting. If I want to fall asleep fast, I go with that sound. To be entertained, I download a book with a great actor reading it.

Audiences want the same. Rather than a flat dullness, they want heart, soul and life. YOUR heart, soul and life. So when you perform, landscape well.

J.T. Turner
The Actors Sensei

Monday, March 22, 2010

Here, read this!

   Let's talk about auditions. These are hardly ever fun, no actor really likes them, but rarely can we avoid them and find work as an actor. And it is all about the work, YOUR work.

You go to an audition, be it for film or stage, and the stage manager or director hands you a "side". A side is a small scene or monologue from the show, just to see how you might sound. Sometimes the side is not even for a character you would ever play, the director just wants a sense of what you can do.

So you are handed the side, and now have a few minutes to read it over before you audition. And now many, many actors make a critical mistake. THEY TRY AND MEMORIZE THE PIECE!

Forget it. In under 5 minutes you may be able to memorize a short piece, but if that's what you focus on, that's what it will look like. You will stand there looking like an actor trying to remember a piece they just learned. Yes you may get through it, it may be impressive that you have a great memory, but will you really get the part based on that? Or will the next actor that walks in, who has NOT memorized the piece, but has thought out how they will say it, get the job? Right, the job will go to the better actor, not the better memorizer.

Now, we are talking about a cold reading, which we often find in a stage audition but more so for film. A prepared piece is different, you would have time to memorize and think out a character.But for a cold reading, spend your precious time wisely.

Read the piece through, aloud if you can. Get a sense of the overall emotion, happy, sad, lonely, angry. Now see if there are places where the emotions change, or shift slightly. Make note of those moments, shifting emotions gives you a fuller landscape (our topic in the next blog). And then read, re-read as much as you can. No memorizing, you are not expected to do it. Get familiar enough from your rereads that you can glance up during the audition, (eye contact, remember that blog?).

Break a leg!

J.T. Turner
The Actors Sensei

Coaching and group lessons offered at The Actors Company Studio in Ipswich.

Wednesday, March 17, 2010

The Power of Three

One of the challenges an actor, dancer, singer or speaker faces, especially in a long running show, is keeping thing interesting and fresh. With a short run, one or two weeks, usually the "newness' of the work stays in place. but what about when you are running for 4-6 weeks, or for months or even years? Or what about the performer on tour, who repeats and repeats a role, with just a new venue to deal with? Or a speaker, who has to deliver a popular speech 50 times in the course of a year?

Familiarity breeds contempt, the saying goes. It also breeds boredom, and makes us lose our edge. So what to do? My good friend and exceptional actor Peter Carey has a way to try and keep the work interesting, even over a long haul. Peter played John Adams in 1776 at the Lyric Stage Company, for a run of 6 weeks, ( I played Ben Franklin in that production). He then went on soon after and played the same role at Goodspeed Opera House for another 2 months.

J.T. Turner, Timothy John Smith and Peter Carey in 1776 at the Lyric Stage Company

To keep things fresh, Peter tries to find 3 new things each show. Now let me jump in and say these are not major changes to blocking, lines or songs, rather small adjustments to his performance that perhaps only he or a few other actors would even notice. For the audience, it is the same great show. From the actors perspective, little, interesting adjustments that keep a small jolt of newness in the work. It also may give a new meaning to a scene or a line that you hadn't discovered yet.

The next time you are feeling that your work needs some freshness, try and change 3 things. See what new possibilities may appear.

J.T. Turner
The Actors Sensei

Sunday, March 7, 2010

Oh for a Muse of Fire......

O for a muse of fire, that would ascend the brightest heaven of invention- Henry V, William Shakespeare.

       Henry V     Many of you do not have the blessing I have of leading a life that is filled doing the work I love. For many readers of Advice to the Players, acting is a passion, but a part-time one. You have school, or a regular job, or a family to raise. And yet this siren calls to you. Be it photography, acting, dancing, singing, speaking teaching, you have a need to pursue that which gives you bliss. Good for you!

But because we have full lives that pull us in many directions, it is often hard to stay upbeat and passionate about what we love. Surely, (stop calling me that!), a parent, spouse, or loved one has said, "Why do you do that? It is a waste of time, you should concentrate on a REAL job." We need to all stay inspired, and I have some ideas today that will help you keep inspiration/passion in your life.

Try to keep the 'muse', the spirit of inspiration, in your life by doing some of the following things:

* Read- I always encourage actors to read, not just as homework, but to become a fuller person. Read often, and have a varied diet of reading material, books, magazines, THIS BLOG, comic books, etc.

* Find a mentor- have someone you admire in your circle of friends, or emulate someone who has the life you want. Read up on them, study them, reflect their traits in your life. Hang a picture of them near your workspace, and let it remind you of what they have that you strive toward. ( My office has a picture of the explorer Richard Francis Burton, the actor Viggo Mortenson, and a Spencer Tracy poster, along with tons of Shakespeare shows).

* Go for a walk- man this is easy, and I forget to  do it myself. A good 10-20 minute walk gets you away from the world, lets you process thoughts, and reminds you that Nature exists.

* Change up- make things different. Go a new route home, try a new restaurant, take up a new hobby, excite your brain.

* Talk to people- not just friends and family, but people you meet, stand next to on a train or bus, buy coffee from at Zumi's (best coffee in the world),. Be safe, but yes become that person who is always upbeat and asking people about their lives.

* Find silence- prayer, meditation, breathing exercises, just a few minutes in stillness a day will make you better in all aspects of your life.

* Take in art- theater, dance, music, paintings, museums, lectures, appreciate that there is more to life than the 9-5 grind, and that you are so much more than a number. Let other arts and artists inspire you with their work.

Inspiration is an on-going need. Feed it.

J.T. Turner

The Actors Sensei
Private Coaching and group lessons available.

    Sunday, February 28, 2010

    I am feeling listless.......

     A popular topic here in Advice to the Player is Memory. It is such a critical skill for an actor, dancer, singer, speaker. Today we will chat about dealing with a list, this info could naturally be used in other ways as well.

    Many times as a performer you will encounter a list. A character will have a list of 2-3 ways they feel about someone, or a role requires you to rattle of the 10 places your character has lived, or a song has 4 verses about different men the singer has been involved with.

    Here is a bit of advice about the dreaded list. I have some experience with this, as I preform A Christmas Carol every year. No one is like Dickens for lists, "cold, bleak, biting weather, foggy withall...." " froze his old features,  turned his eyes red, his thin lips blue, stiffened his gait..", "
    Heaped up on the floor, to form a kind of throne, were turkeys, geese, game, poultry, brawn, great joints of meat, sucking-pigs, long wreaths of sausages, mince-pies, plum-puddings, barrels of oysters, red-hot chestnuts, cherry-cheeked apples, juicy oranges, luscious pears, immense twelfth-cakes, and seething bowls of punch, that made the chamber dim with their delicious steam. "
     get the idea.

    As with any memorization, a good key is that most of us memorize best if we can visualize something. And the madder, crazier the imagery, the easier it is to remember.Recently I worked with a private student on a monolog that included a list of guests at a wedding party, a long silly list. It included people like: the minister, ministers wife, the photographer, the photographer's daughter, an oceanographer, 2 blue whales, the hostess and an old lady. Now your brain can hold about 7 items in short term memory, so this is not an impossible list, it is just a bit daunting if its part of a 3 minute speech. So to help put and keep it in the memory, I told the student to clearly visualize the list. I had her picture a reception line at a wedding, and clearly see herself walking up to each person. First a minister in full robes and collar. Picture the minister shaking your hand, and introducing you to a woman standing next to him, also dressed as a minister. Next is a photographer with dozens of camera's hanging around their neck, taking photos of you, and next is a little girl, 5-6 years old, also  with tons of cameras and taking your picture.This sets in your mind the photographer and daughter.

    Standing next to the little girl is a scuba diver complete with wetsuit, tanks and mask, and then 2 blue whales standing on their fins looking tall and regal. Next is a hostess, so I see a Hostess Twinkee in a expensive dress you might see at a wedding, and finally an old lady, stooped over, holding onto a walker. See each clearly, imagine yourself going down the line. Suddenly an impossible list becomes so much easier.HOSTESS TWINKIE

    Another easy trick we can use is letters. Sometime we get stuck on a certain phrase. For example, in a seminar I teach, I wanted students to remember the words, "things hardly ever go as planned". To make sure it stayed in their minds, I used the phrase THE GAP. Silly, but  it used the letters from the words I wanted them to remember.

    So when next confronted with a list, try to make the items large, silly and memorable. Practice on items you need from a certain store, or a list of things you need to do in a day. You will find it words better than just repetition, though of course repetition helps!

    J.T. Turner
    The Actor's Sensei

    Private and group lessons available