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, 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!).
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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.