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, 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

Monday, February 22, 2010

Speak the speech...

Speak the speech, I prithee, as I pronounced it to you, trippingly on the tongue......Shakespeare, HAMLET

Here is a simple, quick tip for actors today. When practicing an audition pieces or preparing for a play, PRACTICE OUTLOUD. Say the words, get the sound of them out into the air. It is fine to sit and study what your lines are, but the activity of creating the sound of the words in the air makes a tremendous difference.

Shakespeare is a great example of the need to speak. It is great to read Shakespeare, but it was meant to be heard. Many schools, when teaching the Bard, have students read section aloud in class. That is exactly how we were meant to experience Shakespeare, to hear the words out in the air, to have them expressed, spoken. And really, isn't that what a play is for? In Shakespeare's day people would say they went to hear a play, not see a play. They came to have the actors make the air vibrate with sound. They still do, even in this visual society that we live in.

By speaking the words, we physically become familar with mouthing them, and we hear them audibly in our own resonating head and body. You may have heard or read about a person saying they were "surprised by the sound of thier own voice". That should never be an actor. A critical part of preparation has to be the speaking of the lines into the air. It also gives us an opportunity to play with the words, what can we emphasize, what can we deliver louder, or softer? When creating a part, words are the very brick and mortor that your character must be built around.

When I coach an audition piece with an actor, I always start by just asking them to say the audition piece, to get the words into the air. Only after that can I start with interpretation and character.So practice aloud, in your room, in your car, while walking around. Yes, people will think you are crazy, but as a performer, they already think that of you.

Also if you read this blog regularly, (and you better), you will recall that a great way to make memorization faster is to speak the lines as you read, and listen to them.

Give voice to the text, see what you can find that you didn't expect.

J.T. Turner
The Actor's Sensei
Private Coaching and Lessons available for all ages

Thursday, February 18, 2010

As if!

I have mentioned in past blogs that the great thing about acting, dancing, singing is a chance to pretend. While I always encourage people to play roles they fit, that doesn't mean that you don't get a chance to play on stage, on the contrary i am a believer in never getting so bogged down in the creation of a role that you lose track of the fact that this is play! Have fun!

So, as a playful actor, there are many times you will play a part that you are suited for, but has experiences that are not in your life. So this is where your wonderful imagination gets to come into play. Faced with an expereince you have never had, you simply play a little game of "as if". Suppose a key point in the play has you realizing your wallet was stolen. but you never have had your wallet stoeln. We think back to something in your own experience that could bring up similar feelings. Alsmost all of us have misplaced or lost a cell phione. Panic, desperation, you are focused on the anxiety of that moment. Messages lost, numbers lost. So what if you play the moment that you realize your wallet is stolen as if you cell phone was missing? Instead of just pantomimimg patting your pockets, looking for the wallet, pretend you lost the cell phone, relive those actions.

I credit Sanford Miesner for the term "as if", Stanislavsy refers to it as "particularization", and JT calls it pretending. Call it what you will, it is a handy tool for an actor to use.


Suppose in a play your character has a scene where they are angry about not getting hired for a job, losing the job to someone the character feels isn't as qualified for the job as they are. Maybe you are a young actor, and don't have that experience yet. But you have likely auditioned for a play, and perhaps not been cast. Perhaps you even felt at the time that the person who got the role didn't do as well as you. Similar enough experiences for you to have your character have a realistic reaction to not getting the job. Or you have tried out for a sports team, but not made it in. You have enough experiences in your life to build some excellent "as if" moments for your character.

J.T. Turner
The Actor's Sensei

Private classes and coaching available.

Monday, February 15, 2010

Gossip is good for you!

That's right, I am going to show you a way to use gossip, what people say about you, to your advantage!

I have learned many lessons as an actor and director over the years. Indeed, this blog is a way for me to pass on some of the tips and insights that are rattling around in this dusty attic that is my brain. Today I have a simple, fun tip for actors in regards to character, a way to flesh out some of the thoughts they may have about playing a particular part in a particular play.

Credit where credit is due. This idea was shared with me by a director I never worked with. A good friend and excellent actor named Mark Baumhardt worked with me on several shows at Wakefield Rep.(Here is photographic proof, that is a picture of Mark and myself in The Lion in Winter).

Mark's dad, John, is a director, and attended several of those shows, and in chats with him about directing, (I had just started my theater company, moonlight productions), he gave me several tips I use to this day.

John Baumhardt gives his actors in a play a simple, but great exercise. Go through the script, and write down any descriptions your character says about themselves. For example, your character may say things like, "I am angry", "That makes me feels sad", "I am so lonely". Jot down those descriptions, angry, sad, lonely. Now go through the script a second time, jotting down anything other characters say about your character, like, "Jake is so tall", "Jake is acting strange", "Jake can be cruel". Now we have a second list, tall,strange, cruel. You now have two lists of characteristics of your role, one based on how the character perceives them self, and one of how others perceive them. All of this is not made up out of thin air, but rather based in the all important script, the critical document any actor has in developing a character.

We can add one more list, and write down any description the playwright may give. "Jake is a tall, sullen man of 45, quick to anger, and very loyal". In that simple description, there is a wealth of information about your role. Add what your character says, and what others say, and you have a great start to a full character, based on the facts of the script.

J.T. Turner
The Actor's Sensei

Teaching acting and presentation skills to all ages. private coaching available! 


Wednesday, February 10, 2010

Act your age

Todays blog is about a popular topic, auditioning. And I especially want to aim todays blog to younger actors as they pick audition pieces.

 One of the keys to selecting an audtion piece is to make it age appropriate. Many times though, I have had young performers show up at an audition with a piece that is just wrong for them. Let's say I am having an open casting call for a role in a Shakepearean play. I ask actors to come in with a classical piece prepared, preferrably from Shakespeare. A young girl, 12-14 years old, might be smart and come in  with a monologue  as Juliet. But if she shows up and does a monologue as the Nurse from Romeo and Juliet, I will just assume she doesn't know how to prepare a proper audition piece.

Let me be clear here, if you are a teen, and your school is putting on Guys and Dolls, then of course you choose a piece that reflects roles in that play. Teens often play older roles in school shows. but in a professional or community theater production, always try to have a piece that reflects your actual age. In college, as a 20 year old, I played a man in his 60's in a college production. In a legit theater, chances are they are going to look for someone actually near 60.

This is especially true when you are called in for film or commercial work. Having a piece ready that is appropriate for you is critical when you audition for those media. Casting directors want a person who looks 17 to play the role of the 17 year old. Of course, many people in their 20's might pass as a 17 year old, which is fine. But if a director needs a 50 year old, then it is silly for a 17-30 year old to show up, unless they have led a really rough life. Likewise, a parent should not bring a 10 year old to an audition where they need a toddler for a print ad. It wastes the directors time, your time, and the time of the other parents with actual toddlers.

A great step as an actor of any age is to know what range you can play. At my current age I can usually play roles from 45-70. That is a wide range, but I am a character actor. The range tends to widen a bit was we age. When I was 18, still as a character actor, I could play 18-28. Keep in mind that in many scripts and audition calls, a suggested age range is given, if you can play within that range, or feel you are close to it, go to the audition. But don't just "attend anyway" if you are dead wrong for the role. Bad and unlikely auditions are fun on American Idol, but maddening in real life.

So act your age!



Sunday, February 7, 2010

Do Your Homework!

     You may recall in my last Blog post, I mentioned a favorite book of mine called Year of the King, by Antony Sher. I love this book, re-read it annually, and think it one of the best books on an actors journey to the stage. I had the honor of seeing Mr. Sher on stage in London years ago, and found him riveting.When his production of Primo came to New York a few years ago, I was there to watch a master ply his trade. He appears in several films, including playing the doctor in Shakespeare In Love, but the screen only gives you a hint of his brilliance.

There are two things I want to pass on to you that I have learned from Mr. Sher.One is his research. When he was cast as the hunchback, Richard III, he went to various doctors, hospitals and clinics, learning all he could about "hunchbacks". What causes the deformity, how do people move with it. He also studied famous murderers, since in the Shakespeare play Richard is a murderer. (He was not a murderer in real life, and as a card carrying member of the Richard the III Society, I am quick to say Shakespeare was writing brilliant fiction in his work). Sher read about murderers, watched movies about them and got a sense of them, seeing what he could use on stage. He also watched movies and videos about predators, sharks, lions, tigers, since Richard is portrayed as a predator, and read about spiders, as Richard is called one. And, as an artist, he kept a sketch book about the things he saw.

My point here is that he looked at the character, and did homework about how to portray him. If you are in a light, fluffy community theater musical maybe you won't need research to the extent Sher does it. But when you are in a drama, period piece, classic play, his style may be of great benefit to you in creating a role. I was cast as Dr. Carrasco in Man of LaMancha years ago. He is a secondary character who starts off not liking Cervantes nor the imaginary play he wants to put on. He eventually destroys Don Quixote with the truth.   I borrowed an idea from Sher and thought about what animal he was like. I decided on a panther, sleek, dangerous, watching, powerful, a predator ready to pounce. With those ideas as background, my onstage characterization of the Doctor took new and interesting turns, and best of all made the experience more fun for me.

Say you are cast as Julius Caesar. While we should always study the text/script itself, you might also Google "Julius Caesar" to learn more about him, read some historical books about him, watch episodes of "Rome" to get a flavor for the times and political situations during his life.Or perhaps you are cast as Peter Pan. Reading the original book would be good homework, learning more about the author, and perhaps watch a action movie or two with swordplay and pirates to get you in the mood for the role.

The second idea I take from Sher is keeping a diary. The Year of the King is simply his acting diary from the time he was cast till he portrayed Richard on stage.I starting keeping an acting diary as well. It is not nearly as good as his, but it allows me to write thoughts about shows, experiences on the stage, ideas about creating a character.It gives me a venue to return to and see how I approached things, and remind myself of the many journeys to the stage I have had. Looking at how I did things for a certain show in the past may give me new ideas, or remind me of an approach that worked.

So this Blogs advice is to do your homework, and keep a performing diary. It will make your journey fuller and more rewarding. Because if it isn't fun, why bother?

J.T. Turner
The Actor's Sensei

Coaching, classes and audition preparation for all ages.

Wednesday, February 3, 2010


An actors key work goes on before he hits the stage. Research, and reading about the craft of acting makes for a better actor.

We all have, or should have, favorite books. I have many, but in the performing field I have a few in particular I would like to mention to you. First up is a book I re-read each year. It is one of my favorite acting books. Antony Sher is an award winning British actor. His work at the Royal Shakespeare Company is legendary. THE YEAR OF THE KING follows his journey from learning he is playing the role of Richard the Third right through his performance at the Royal Shakespeare Company. It is very conversational, gives great acting advice in a non-formal setting, and is just a great read. I highly recommend it. ( I will be talking about some on Mr. Scher's acting approaches in my next blog. His homework is amazing).

Jon Jory's TIPS : IDEAS FOR ACTORS, is simply a must-have for actors of all ages.Page after page of new ideas, approaches, suggestions and skills. I recommend it to any type of performer, and it makes a great gift. Jory has a follow up book with more tips, and a book of tips for directors as well

For those of you interested in film acting, Micahel Caine's book on the topic is considered a standard. Written from an actors perspective, it also a must-read for directors and anyone who likes film. An easy, informative read, and if you can find it, there is a DVD version as well. Getting lessons on characterization from a master film actor is a rare opportunity.ACTING IN FILM: AN ACTOR'S TAKE ON MOVIE MAKING is a treasure.

That's the short list, I hope to be recommending many more in future blogs.

J.T. Turner
The Actor's Sensei

Have an audition coming up for a college or show? Book some coaching NOW!

Photo from Shakespeare's Ghost