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!

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.