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!

Sunday, January 31, 2010

Zombie Limbo!

     I was raised Catholic. In the days of my youth I went to a Catholic grammar school, and in our religion classes we were taught a person goes to Heaven, Hell or Limbo. Limbo is a sort of waiting room, your soul hadn't made it into the wonders of Heaven, but also was not bad enough for the fires of Hell. But if people prayed for you, your soul could leave this waiting spot and move onward, eventually reaching Heaven. (Limbo the place or state of being should not be confused with sliding, leaning  backwards, under a stick).

I was listening to the radio the other day as my son and I drove to a recording session. On a talk show, someone mentioned they felt they were in Limbo, this place of waiting between two places. And I was suddenly struck with the idea that an actor should never be in Limbo. Acting is not a passive art, on the contrary it should be extremely active. There should never be a time onstage when an actor is just marking time, waiting to say the next line.Even an actor with few or no lines can fill a stage with the action of being present, in that scene, in that moment.

I direct a lot of young people, children and teens. One of the constant mantras I give my actors is never to be a "dead fish". By that I mean don't stand on stage, passive, observing, slack-jawed. I pride myself on having great backgrounds to all scenes. To get that, actors have to stay active, stay in the scene.

Right now I am directing a fun production of Pirates of Penzance Junior. At one point, I have dancers downstage, and the girls playing thier sisters upstage, a bit above them on a platform. The ladies on the platform could just stand there, passively watching the dance. Naturally, I don't let them. I encourage them to be a part of the whole scene. As they watch the dance, perhaps they laugh and love it, or long to join in, or think the dancers are acting silly. They can show any of those things facially and with body language. Or better still, turn and relate to the sister next to them, and share a thought about the dance. Now, I don't let them react so large that they steal focus, but I do make them a real part of the scene. Yesterday I told them they were not allowed to be zombies onstage! (Ok that may be unfair to zombies, they often have a clear purpose, usually the pursuit of tasty brains. I am thinking of the mindless, shambling, dead-faced zombies, not the Equity ones. :))

            But being a zombie or being in Limbo isn't just a challenge for background or supporting actors. I have seen many plays with just a few actors onstage, where an actors speaks a line, then turns into a zombie, living in limbo, focused on nothing but the next cue when they can speak again, ACTORS ARE NEVER IN LIMBO, EVEN WHEN WAITING. They are angry at the situation, chomping the bit to be able to share news, happy to be with people they love, lonely and anxious, terrified and so on. They are always active, always in the scene.

This also applies to singers and dancers. Hear the lyrics, show me with face and body what you are feeling as you sing or dance. I have seen great dancers who just dance, and may as well be wearing a mask. Be like my dear friend Jenny Carlson, who not only dances brilliantly, but has a marvelous face that reflects what is going on in the dance.

Put yourself in Heaven. Put yourself in Hell. Don't just sit in Limbo. Act.

J.T. Turner
The Actor's Sensei

Coaching and Lessons Available, jtactor@aol.com

Thursday, January 28, 2010

Oh you tease!

 Ok I left my last blog as a cliffhanger, like a 1930's weekly serial. When last we visited the Actor's Sensei, he was teaching his minions a great method of memorizing lines. But for many actors and speakers, there is an odd occurance. Every time you try to say your lines, you get stuck at exactly the same spot. Time and time again. This is usually the scene...

"To be or.....oh, man what is next? C'mon, I know this, I just looked at it......To be or...argggh! (Looks at script). NOT TO BE, NOT TO BE! I know this oh man seriously, am I a loser or what? To be or not to be...sheesh!  To be or not to be.........OK, here we go. To be or ........no way! Again? Seriously? I am a total failure!".

OK deep breath, we will get through this. First a quick word about why this happens, without getting too technical. When you create a memory, memorize something, you basically create a path in your brain. When you go to recall something, you go down the same path to find it. If you memorize it poorly, don't pay attention, it is hard to find the memory again. And if it is mislearned the first time, or poorly learned, then that is what gets in the way of recalling the line or memory.

Imagine walking down a memory path. At one point as you walk along, a giant monster leaps out and yells, "FORGET!". Unless you adjust, then every time you go down that path, that monster is still there.That's why we forget the same line over and over, or get to one part of our speech for a Rotary Club and go blank. The same spot, because we have taught ourselves to go blank there.

Now some actors do the totally wrong thing. Somewhere along the line, someone told them that negative  reinforcement when you forget something helps. So when they forget, they yell at themselves, jump up and down, curse, snap their fingers and try  in general to create an unpleasant moment so they won't repeat the mistake. THIS DOES NOT WORK.

In fact it just reinforces the forgetful moment, as you are making a new, bold memory around it. Its like the Forget Monster jumps out, you buy it dinner and take it to a movie. So first rule, when you get stuck, don't berate yourself. Just correct and go on if you can.If you are at a rehearsal and forget a line, just ask for it, without a 20 minute scene of apology.

So how to correct? When memorizing, go back to a bit before the spot you have gone wrong, and try running that section 5 times quickly the right way, looking at the lines. 5 times, no fewer. Still a problem? Create a mental image that will help you for that section. If I always forget "...not to be.", then I create a silly mental picture. 2 bumblebees with a big X through them. When I get stuck, I leave the old path of memory, and instead picture.....NOT 2 BEE. Goofy? yes, but goofy visuals work, they create strong memories.

Here is a personal example. I tour doing a show about William Shakespeare called Shakespeare's Ghost. It's a one man show, so it it just me talking for an hour and a half, complete with 20 or so soliloquies from Shakespeare. In rehearsal I always went blank at the same spot, a transition from talking about the death of Shakespeare's son to talking about John Barrymore playing Hamlet. Every time I got there, I forgot what came next. So I repaired it in my mind, by picturing Shakespeare standing at his son's grave, and a drunken John Barrymore staggering up to console him. Odd picture, and yet it worked, I never lost that transition again.

Try forming a new memory for those tough lines. The stronger and odder the visual picture you can conjur up, the better the replaced memory will be. It truly can work!

J.T. Turner
The Actor's Sensei

Coaching and classes available for all ages, contact me at jtactor@aol.com

(Thanks to Mary Rodgers for the photo).

Monday, January 25, 2010

I forget what this is about....

Memory - all alone in the moonlight.

I can smile at the old days,
I was beautiful then.
I remember the time I knew what happiness was.
Let the memory live again.-Cats

Ok not my favorite musical but a good launching point for a discussion of...memory!

I don't just work with actors, but with public speakers and presenters, seminar leaders and teachers. All of those people often run into a challenge, memorization. Yes, a speaker can often use notes, but should never just read a speech, parts of it should be memorized so that the audience gets to see those great eyes of yours. (Recall my past blog on eye contact. What? Don't remember it? Boy is this blog for you....).

Actors and speakers need a good memory. Sadly as we age the ability to memorize becomes more of a challenge. And I know many young actors who have trouble memorizing lines. Today I will take one of the tips I give in my Memory seminar, entitled The Palace of Memory, and share them with you. It is quite simply the fastest way to learn lines or memorize a speech.

First record the speech.Use an MP3, make a file on your computer, use a voice recorder or if you are technically challenged use a cassette player.Record your lines, as well as the cue lines that you hear before them, (you may want to use a slightly different voice for the cue lines, just speaking them more softly than your own lines works). If it's a monologue or speech, naturally just record the entire piece in one voice.

Now, listen to the recording, as you read the words, aloud, from the script. Do not test or memorize yet, just read aloud as you listen to the recording. This simple step will make memorization up to 70 times faster than other methods. This is because no matter what style of learner you are (oh look, a future blog topic!), this method works. The information you want to memorize is now being learned visually as you read the words, kinesthetically as you speak the words, and audibly as you listen to them. The words are getting into your brain 3 ways at once, and will make the piece stick faster. After doing this several times, (incrementally, if you can, do it 2 times in the morning and 2 times in the evening for several days), try to do it without the recording playing, and only look at the script when stuck. And after a few times without the recording, you will find you can do it without the written text needed as a crutch.

Fast, easy and it works, like all good tips should. But sometimes in a speech or when playing a role, some parts are messed up or forgotten, time and again. What can you do about "trouble" spots? Every time you practice the same part is fouled up, what to do?

Easy! Just read my next blog.

J.T. Turner
The Actor's Sensei

Coaching and acting classes available! jtactor@aol.com

(Thanks to Mary Rodgers for the photo).

Wednesday, January 20, 2010

You hate me, you really hate me!

Even the best actors get rejected for roles. Auditioning is often like a trip to a casino, you roll the dice and see what happens. Actors, dancers, singers, public speakers all get turned down for work on a regular basis if they are out there auditioning for work.

Yes, you can stack the odds in your favor. You can have an audition piece that works for the role, you can have worked on it, you can come to the audition rehearsed and ready, and "full". (See my blog called "Fill 'er up!"). You can have the ideal song, and sing it like its sung on the Broadway album. You have your tap shoes out and are warmed up. And after all of that, you don't get cast.

One of the worst feelings in the world.

Even at the tender age of 51, I still get turned down for roles I would be perfect for. In my younger days, this rejection would result in many emotions; anger, (how can they be so stupid?), denial, (clearly the posted cast list is a mistake because I am not on it), dejection, (I am the worst actor in all of the world!). I would have all those feelings, be unapproachable by family and friends, and just brood. Oh and eat Snickers bars. Many of them.

Wolverine Happily this never lasted long, as my secret mutant healing power is to get over stuff and move on. But all the initial feelings were terrible, and over time I began to rethink the rejection we get at some auditions. Becoming a director helped with this, I saw WHY people get turned down, and why often it has nothing to do with your talent, and rarely has anything to do with you as a person. I have learned that there are many factors that go into casting a role, and that knowledge has helped me deal with not getting parts. Let's look at some of the factors that may result in your rejection.

1) LOOK- You can be a gorgeous, talented, 6 foot redhead who sings like an angel and dances like a dream. But if the director really wants someone who is 5 foot and blonde, you are out of luck. Also if the director decides to cast a tall girl in a role, he may decide not to cast a shorter man as her partner. Or there is a joke in the show that only works with a very slight or very heavy performer. Or you are too young or too old based on the other people being cast, or the description in the play itself.

2)  CONTACTS/HISTORY- If you are new to a group, or a director doesn't know your work, they may pass over you for someone they have used before. Casting is risky for the director, and they may decide to go with a known quantity. Also some community theaters have casting decisions done by a committee, and members of that committee may often have an agenda of their own when casting, (relatives, relationships).

3) THE UNEXPECTED- You do a great audition and then get the surprise. "Can you waltz?". "Can you do a French accent?". "Do you do a decent imitation of Barack Obama?". Yes, sometimes at an audition they toss a curve ball, something totally unexpected. Never claim a skill you don't have, just be positive that you could learn it if given a chance. And try not to let the unexpected throw you off.

4) BAD DAYS- Everyone has an off day. That includes casting directors, who may be grumpy or even rude. (I am tough to audition for, I will look and listen to you, but rarely react). So the director may just pass on you because the day was bad. Yes, thats unfair, but that's human. You also may have a bad day, and even though you think your audition was great, it was off.

So I am at a place in my life that I encourage you to be about auditions. I try not to take them personally. I realize there are many reasons I did not get cast, and that many of them could have nothing to do with me.  BUT I STILL AUDITION!!!! The chances of getting cast in a role that 500 people audition for is very small, but that chance increases greatly by auditioning! A favorite saying of mine is that life is all about showing up. Not auditioning guarantees I won't get the part. So audition, a lot. It will help you practice your craft, keep you fresh, and eventually, you will be cast.

 And that is the best feeling an actor gets.

J.T. Turner
The Actor's Sensei

Looking for some coaching for an audition or role? Drop me a line at jtactor@aol.com

Monday, January 18, 2010

Sound off!

I make my living  mostly with my voice. Actor, singer, director, lecturer, teacher, voice over artist, almost all of my many titles involve me using my voice. yet I sometimes forget a simple rule all voice users should follow: WARM UP!

Just like an athlete who stretches, moves, engages the muscles they are about to use, so too should performers. It makes the voice stronger, clearer and more ready to work on whatever chore lies before it!

Not too long ago, I had a big speaking day. A company had asked me to combine 3 of my lectures into a one day event. I basically spoke from 9am till 4pm, with a 40 minute break for lunch. I was happy for the work, and it all went well, but by the end of the day my voice was exhausted. Adding to that tiredness was the fact that I had forgotten to warm up. Had I warmed up it would still be tired, but not the froggy craggy mess it was the next day.( As a side note, I did drink water during the day, which is what saved my voice from total failure).

So warming up is key for any performer. A singer will naturally warm up longer and more intensely, but we all should have a least a quick warmup ready to go.

Here are a few simple warmups to get your voice ready. Do them all gently and gradually.

1- Yawn- A big giant yawn, At the peak of it as you mouth is open wide give a nice 'ahh" sound to it. relax the mouth and throat muscles.

2-Hum- Hum lightly, near the front of your mouth near the lips. try and make your lips and the area in front of your teeth vibrate.

3- Keen- Start with as high a note as you can get in your register. Then, on a relaxed "ahh", let your voice drop through your range to as low a sound as you can make. Do this a few times. ( Especially good for men to keep your voice from cracking in an audition).

4- Chew- Make the "Nnnnnnnnnn" sound, and chew it around your mouth, right side, left side, front and back.

5- Tongue twisters/ Tough phrases- Try some of the tongues twisters that work out your mouth.

"Red leather, yellow leather". Try that a few times, as fast as you can.

Or "Moses supposes his toe-es are roses but Moses supposes erroniously. For Moses he knowes his toe=es aren't roses, as Moses supposes his toe-es to be".

"The tip of the tongue, the lips, the teeth."

"Sister Sue sold sea shells, she sold sea shells there by the shore. Sure, she sold shells by the seashore, she sold seashells there by the score.".

And a very popular and tricky vocal warm up is the Announcer's Test. It really gets your mouth and memory going, and wakes up your lips! Try saying this in order, many actors memorize all ten portions:

One hen.

 One hen; two ducks.

 One hen; two ducks; three squawking geese.

 One hen; two ducks; three squawking geese; four Limerick oysters. One hen; two ducks; three squawking geese; four Limerick oysters; five corpulent porpoises.

One hen; two ducks; three squawking geese; four Limerick oysters; five corpulent porpoises; six pairs of Don Alversos tweezers.

One hen; two ducks; three squawking geese; four Limerick oysters; five corpulent porpoises; six pairs of Don Alversos tweezers; 7,000 Macedonians in full battle array.

One hen; two ducks; three squawking geese; four Limerick oysters; five corpulent porpoises; six pairs of Don Alversos tweezers; 7,000 Macedonians in full battle array; eight brass monkeys from the ancient sacred crypts of Egypt.

One hen; two ducks; three squawking geese; four Limerick oysters; five corpulent porpoises; six pairs of Don Alversos tweezers; 7,000 Macedonians in full battle array; eight brass monkeys from the ancient sacred crypts of Egypt; nine apathetic, sympathetic, diabetic old men on roller skates with a marked propensity toward procrastination and sloth.

One hen; two ducks; three squawking geese; four Limerick oysters; five corpulent porpoises; six pairs of Don Alversos tweezers; 7,000 Macedonians in full battle array; eight brass monkeys from the ancient sacred crypts of Egypt; nine apathetic, sympathetic, diabetic old men on roller skates with a marked propensity toward procrastination and sloth; 10 lyrical, spherical, diabolical denizens of the deep who hall stall around the corner of the quo of the quay of the quivery, all at the same time

In a pinch, I  often warm up on the way to a gig or audition by simply reading signs and license plates aloud. Simple, low tech and it works.

Stay warm!

J.T. Turner
The Actor's Sensei

Need coaching or lessons? Audition prep? Drop me a line at jtactor@aol.com

Friday, January 15, 2010

I have mad skills!

One of the delights of being an actor is that you get to play. Pretending like you did as a young child is an actors lot in life. But along with that sense of play needs to come another child-like quality, learning.

A good actor is an actor who never stops learning. Not just acting classes, although those are great, not just new shows, parts and directors, those are awesome as well. But the pursuit of new skills, interests and hobbies all make for a better person and a better actor.

I like to play with weapons.

Swords, knives, axes, quarterstaffs, and guns. Just on stage mind you, I don't carry real weapons around. But my training with various weapons has served me well over the years, it gets me cast in shows that need some swordplay, and also gets me hired to choreograph stage combat. More recently, I have been studying Spanish. I am far from expert, but I do have enough to get me cast recently for some voice over work in Spanish. (It also helps when I travel to Guatemala to volunteer, which I do a few times a year).

We have all read about actors who, when cast in a role, learn a new skill. Michelle Pfeiffer, when cast as Batwoman, was taught to use a whip by Anthony DeLongis (one of my own teachers, who also taught Harrison Ford in the most recent Indiana Jones movie). She does a great job in the scene where she whips the heads off dummies in a department store. Boxing, accents, playing chess, juggling, and dancing are a few skills that come to mind for various films and stars. Now a film star has the luxury of hiring a trainer and working intensively on a new skill. But even a casual, community theater actor can and should learn new skills. Not only may it come in handy in being cast in a show or film, but just the act of learning new things will keep you fresh.

Learning needs to be a lifelong endeavor. Studying and applying new thoughts and skills will make you a better actor, by being a better person. Learn to play poker, play chess, dance, take singing lessons, try fishing, a new language, study a topic, become an expert in tea, take up an instument, pursuit a passion. Acting is the ideal excuse to embrace new things.

What would you like to learn?

J.T. Turner
The Actor's Sensei

Tuesday, January 12, 2010

An article, comma, about, comma, the comma, comma, and it's use.


Hopefully you have figured out, via the title, that this is a post about the comma. Oh comma, how I love thee! And yet how misused the comma can be.

I love and respect writers. I stand in awe of all they do, the talent many of them have, and their ability to move us to emotions. And I doubly respect writers of plays, as they give me work! Having said all those nice things, I am now going to state something heretical. Occasionally, it is OK to ignore what a writer wants. (Yes, writers all over America and now furrowing their brows, sitting up, mumbling, "Oh no he didn't!". Yes, I did).

Alright, let me 'splain. When taught to read, we were all taught that when we come to a comma, it means to pause a bit, let there be a break in the flow of a sentence or idea. Since most of us practice reading aloud, (actors should still read aloud when you can), we make that pause a part of our speech pattern. But there is a large difference between reading and speaking, especially speaking in the context of a play. I make choices, hopefully under good direction, about a character, including the way they speak. Many actors see a comma in a line they are speaking and do what they were taught, they pause. But in many cases that breaks the energy, the timing, the passion of the line.

In fact there are some actors that see the comma, and decide to use it for dramatic effect. That is fine, as long as it is a decision that is well thought out, and not a decision made for some fake drama. ("Has the jury reached a verdict?  "Yes we find the defendant,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,Mark Smith,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,GUILTY!"). Try this, grab any book, and start reading aloud. Take a giant pause at every comma you come to. Sounds like you are doing a really bad melodrama, doesn't it? So we need some other ways to deal with commas.

 I have a few suggestions about the comma. The first one will have the Writers Guild burning me: ignore it. See if the line works if you just speak it as though there is no comma. It may make the power, and energy, of the line greater.

Also try this, instead of pausing on the comma, try to make the last vowel sound that comes before it a bit longer. It will change the effect and impact of what you say, and may open some new ideas in the lines you are saying. (By the way, listen or watch Richard Burton, he is a master at this attack of a comma).So now we have a few ways to attack a line:


I have to note that none of the above applies to Shakespeare. A Shakespearean comma is VERY different from a contemporary one, and Shakespeare is giving us clues on how to say a verse. That is not to say that we always pause at a Shakespearean comma, we just respect it more. It is a lso a clue to what Shakespeare wants done with the line, a topic for a future blog.

I should mention that I don't want you to always ignore the comma and just start reading line after line with no pauses or breaks. That would be odd, and frankly annoying. I am saying that the speech patterns we have differ from how we write, so make smart choices.

So with the next text that you have to speak aloud, at an audition or in a show, try some variation with the comma. It may lead you to new, bold choices in your speech.

J.T. Turner
The Actors Sensei

Have an upcoming audition for a show, or a school? We offer one on one audition preparation at The Actors Company, drop us a line at jtactor@aol.com.

Thursday, January 7, 2010

Fill 'er up!

Fuel Gauge 6 VOLT.

As you may know I  follow no specific school or style of acting, other than my own. (Truth be told, all actors have their own way). I have no issues with say the Stanislavsky "Method", or the British approach, or Meisner, I just don't personally follow any one path. Having said that, every style or school has some value within it, and I want to chat about an idea borrowed from Sanford Meisner and his teachings. Meisner says simply that an actor should never come on stage empty.

I love this idea. It is a simple one, yet very powerful. The idea behind not coming in empty is that an actor should walk on stage with a very specific history. What does the character feel like at that moment, just as they enter the scene? It should never be, "I am an actor entering a scene". Rather the actor should have the feelings, knowledge and emotions that the character they are playing has at that moment. Let's think about an example, say Juliet at the dance where she meets Romeo. Now the actress playing her knows she is about to meet the love of her life, but Juliet as a character does not. Instead she is just a young girl going to a dance. The actress playing Juliet might think about what emotional state Juliet is in as she enters. Excited about the dance, nervous about meeting men there, delighted to get a break from the mundane and celebrate with her friends. So as Juliet enters, the actress should have all those emotions within her, and show them as she enter as Juliet. Mind you, she says little during the dance until she meets Romeo, but that does not mean she just walks and dances about waiting to speak. No  the actress has to come in "full", with a character at a particular point in time. Stanislavsky might say the actor should draw on thier own experiences for the emotions they need when they enter, and that's fine. But I would side with Mesiner who also says that you can imagine that experience, even if you have never personally had it. You are already playing a 14 year old Italian girl in ancient Verona, so your imagination is already engaged. Give it fuller reign to imagine how this young girl feels arriving at her dance.

 Singers this is a lesson for you as well. Don't just sing a song, pretty though your voice may be. To just sing a song technically correct is sing it on "Empty". Rather, who is singing the song, what character, with what emotions, at what time and place.

You can always tell when an actor comes on empty. Sadly they confuse acting ideas like "living in the moment" and being reactive to the situation with coming on as a hollow empty zombie. They often just shamble one with little purpose, drive or focus. Even a member of the chorus can have an amazing characterization, and  fill a stage with their presence. ( It is a matter of pride with me that I make choruses engaged and active, not just background).

I was once directing a production of a musical that had a lovely ballad in it. The actor who sang it had a great voice, but was just singing it.I gave him simple instructions, "The girl you are singing to is about to leave. For good. You have one chance, and one chance only of telling her how you feel. One chance to convince her to stay." Each night before he went onstage, (while the rest of the cast was chatting and goofing off backstage), he would stand right in the doorway he was about to go on through, and just think, "I love her, I need her, I have to make her stay." That was all, no long drawn out exercise. But to this day, the way he sang that ballad, night after night, was gorgeous and haunting.

Before you take the stage, take a moment to fill yourself up as a character. Don't come in empty.

J.T. Turner - The Actors Sensei

Sunday, January 3, 2010

Start Staring at Me!

 I am just starting up a new musical I am directing, Jason Robert Brown's "13". A great, fun musical all about the trials and tribulations of being 13.. We had a nice turnout for auditions, about 40 or so. But I have to say while some people did a great job, several people at auditions had a really odd habit.

They never looked at me while they auditioned.

Oh they may have glanced at me as they handed me their forms, but when they went to sing their audition song, many did not make eye contact. At all.

Here is the scene: a large church sanctuary, fits 300 people. My music director at a piano, the auditioner stands near the piano, and is told to sing to me. I sit in the pews with my choreographer, the only two people in a 300 seat place, and most of the singers never looked at me! In a few cases, they literally sang looking at empty seats to my left, right or in the empty balcony!

I get it, you are nervous or scared, but while not looking like Hugh Jackman I am not repellent to gaze upon. Not looking at me, looking elsewhere, makes me feel I don't matter. Is that the impression you should be going for?

So let us make a little time for me to discuss a favorite topic of mine, eye contact. Actor, singer, speaker, human being, this blog is for you, because eye contact is so important.

When you make good, solid eye contact, did you know a person likes you more? Yes, likes you more. So a key to getting people to like you, accept you, cast you, is to make good eye contact! It shows you are listening, respectful, and care. Not making eye contact gives the impression you are nervous, self centered, or rude. Think about it, when a person is avoiding looking at you, it sends off negative signals. When giving a speech, for example, making eye contact with the audience is critical. Just reading the speech, even a great speech, with no eye contact will leave a negative impact on your listeners. Adding eye contact makes them like you, and your speech, up to 90% more!

So if good eye contact gives a better impression, and I am casting people in a show, it makes sense to make good eye contact with me!

When I give a seminar in communication, I play many games. One particulalry fun one is that I pair people up. I have one person ask a simple question, like "Tell me about your life." That person then has to try to actively not listen to the answer! They doodle, look at papers, pretend to answer a phone, constantly interrupt the person answering. We have a lot of fun with the exercise, but it teaches an important lesson. When asked show they were not listening, the main thing they did was not to make eye contact!

OK, you may be the speaker, singer  or auditioner, and you want ME to listen, not show YOU are listening. But the same principle applies. By making good eye contact, and showing me respect, I realize you are addressing me, and I want to listen to you more.

A few tips, yes number one is really weird, trust me on it:

1) Look in just one eye of your listener. A person cannot tell which eye you are looking into. Really, trust me. Trying to look in both eyes at once makes you look glazed or shifty. One eye. Try it, don't overdo it, just try it.

2) Occasionally switch which eye you are looking into. This keeps your eyes and focus fresh. Don't do it rapidly nor often or you look shifty. (Grandma was right, we hate shifty eyed people).Just the occasional change.

3) Do not look above a persons head, because they can tell you are looking over their head. Eye contact, not over your head contact!

4) If you are speaking to several people, or have several in an audition situation, make eye contact with them all. Do it casually, comfortably, use the one eye rule. Don't look panicky and shift from eye to eye, just sing or speak a line or two to each person.

5) Do not stare. There is a big difference between good eye contact and staring. You can feel it when you receive it, and when you do it, so don't!

All good tips, but what about when on stage or speaking to hundreds of people? Still  make eye contact. I often make contact with just 3-4 people seated at various places around the room. Yet I have had dozens tell me they felt I was looking and speaking just to them!

JT- The Actors Sensei

Saturday, January 2, 2010

Learning from Sonic the Hedgehog.

Some would even say Sonic is

 I hope you all had a great New Year's Eve and Day. I spent part of New Year's Eve at the Boston Garden across from the Common, where at 7pm they had fireworks, great wonderful fireworks. Not as many or grand as they have at the midnight display, but great nonetheless. It was not as cold as some years, but still 30 degrees or so, which is pretty chilly, and we had  a snowfall earlier in the day, so the ground was snow covered.. As we waited for the fireworks to start, I noticed people doing what we all tend to do when cold. Shuffle our feet, change positions, make small movements in our personal space to keep the blood flowing. My son, (a talented actor and singer by the way), was of course without a hat, (why do young people enjoy being cold?), so he was shifting about a fair amount. And as I looked over a group of hundreds of people making small movements, I was inspired to write about a major affliction actors suffer from... RANDOM MOVEMENT. (Insert musical sting here, duh-duh-duuuuuh).

Assassin's Creed on myHave you ever played or observed video games? Well of course you have. One thing you will notice if you look for it is that programmers often make  sure characters that are never still. They are always pulsing, moving slightly, almost bouncing in some cases. I was working on some stage combat with a great teacher named Tony Wolf who had worked on some video games, (and also worked on fight scenes for Lord of the Rings), and he called this slight activity made by characters Random Movement. I especially think of older warrior games, where supporting characters literally look like they are panting as they pulse up and down.

Now in stage combat, this Random Movement has some appeal. A fighter often shows they are ready to fight, anxious to fight by using some random movement. Actually in the case of stage combat, it is not so random, it is a choice made by the actor/combatant.

But where Random Movement does not belong is on stage or at an audition! Oh and singers or speakers in our readership, this goes for you as well. So often when auditioning, I see an actor that has a good piece chosen to act, a good voice, and yet all of that is ruined by what I often call dancing. They shift weight from one foot to another constantly, swaying, or step forward and back during the piece. Sometimes it looks like they are doing a box step! And of course most dreaded of all, and a malady only women seem to have, is ankle cracking! That's is where your weight is on one foot, and you bend sideways at the ankle with the other foot, making your ankle look like it will crack to the side.

A recent example; a young student of mine was preparing for an audition. She was working on a monologue from Shakespeare, spoken by Helena (How happy some o'er other some can be....). She is a good actress, and with some coaching was doing a awesome job. But one issue was movement. She had some of the dreaded Random Movement, at one point she took a step forward and looked like she was about to take another, and just held there for a minute, looking like she would jump forward at any time. She also leaned back and for some reason dug her toe into the ground. When I stopped her and asked why she was doing this, she didn't even realize she was doing it! That is what happens with this type of movement, it is often an unconscious habit, a BAD habit. It is not what the character would do, it's what your nervous inner self wants to do. And if I am auditioning you for a role, I am distracted by your Random Movement.

So what to do? First, be aware of this sort of movement. As you work on your audition piece, or a song, scenes or speech, be aware of your body and what it is doing. If you notice bad habits you can often stop them. But better yet, plan some specific movement into your audition piece or work. Don't just start a step and stop, take a full step. Make it an active choice when you move. Typically the best times to move is when what you are saying changes, goes from one train of thought to another, or when a pause for effect makes sense. That is the time to take a step or two, or re-angle your body. Keep it simple and specific, move on a particular word, sentence or pause. Only use nervous motion if the piece calls for it, and even then, plan it into the piece.

Now I know that many actors will take exception to what I have said here. Many acting teachers and styles tell you to be true and organic, let the movements come as they may. And it could be that for you that works. But for most actors, especially ones that are nerved up and adrenaline filled, following your impulses will result in the worlds worst interpretive dance. So start with structure, then,  as you get comfortable, by all means relax and make the movements you PLAN be as natural as possible.

JT- The Actors Sensei