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!

Tuesday, December 27, 2011

Advice to the Players presents...Advice! To the Players!

During a recent gig in North Shore Music Theaters' A Christmas Carol, I had the honor to work with an awesome cast and crew which included Melissa Daroff. She is a great Stage Manager, and I thought it would be a good idea to get some input on what good behavior for a performer would look like from a Stage Managers perspective. So here is the guest blog:

So when JT suggested that I write something for his blog, I said “Sure I’d love to, but you’ve got to give me a topic. I can’t blog without a topic!” JT thought you might want to hear about the traits I think make for good actor habits. So here’s my list (I am a stage manager after all):
1) Promptness- Don’t be late. Out of respect for your fellow company members, your director, stage manager, yourself and anyone you ever have, or ever will, work with: make it a point to be early.
2) Good organization- Sure stage managers are known for their organization and good note taking, but an actor needs to stay organized as well. I’m sure you find you progress faster, have more fun, and feel more comfortable if you aren’t constantly trying to decipher last week’s notes or figure out where you left your script and score.
3) A good work ethic- Acting in many ways is just like any other job. You get what you make of it and others will respect you for trying your hardest and doing the best job you can.
4) Ask good questions- Confused? That’s OK, just ask a good, well thought out question. There is such thing as a stupid question and it’s usually the one you ask when you are exasperated, frustrated or feeling impertinent and need somewhere to take out that crankiness. It is never a stupid question if you are truly confused or don’t understand direction, critique, instructions, etc. Think about what is unclear and formulate a concise way to ask your question.
5) A sense of humor and a sunny outlook- It’s not rocket science and we’re not saving babies, but all the same theater can be stressful. Check your cruddy day at the door and revel instead in this kooky world we work in. Always be ready to roll with the punches and put on a happy face when things are getting zany. It’s LIVE and that’s why we love it!!
6) Don’t be a baby/ Don’t be a hero- It’s both sides of the coin. Don’t volunteer to carry the heavy props when you are recovering from a back injury, but also don’t say you couldn’t possibly help carry the table because you got a paper cut last week.
7) Be prepared- Know your lines. Remember your blocking. Bring a sweater. (And a snack). Do your homework. Don’t leave your dance shoes at home. It’s not just those Boy Scouts who need to be ready for any situation!
8) Eat your humble pie- When you are wrong, be willing to admit it. “I’m sorry,” and all of its variants go a long way in a business of hearts on sleeves and high tensions. Whether it’s being late for rehearsal, missing an entrance or accidentally elbowing your dresser in the jaw. Saying, “I’m sorry,” (and actually meaning it) is sometimes all you need to solve a sticky situation.
9) Learn from every moment- What is theater if not your classroom? Find in every situation something you can take away and use again in the future. Whether it’s a first time (first Shakespeare, first outdoor amphitheatre, first tour, first musical, etc.), or emulating the good habits of a fellow actor, or trusting in yourself that you can do something you’ve set out to do, or sometimes even learning from a negative (I don’t want to do that again), there is always something to be learned. You can take it with you.
10) Love it- Theater is a job a lot of people love to hate. But if it is to be your life you’ve got to love working in the theater. Maybe not every second of every day in every gig, but when you wake up in the morning you’ve got to want to go to rehearsal and when you get home at night after a show, physically and emotionally exhausted, you’ve got to want to get up in the morning and do it all again.
To sum up all of these habits, it all falls to one word- Respect. Respect your talent, your fellow actors, crew, staff and artists. Respect the show and respect the stage. Respect yourself and most of all respect the Theater, and it will respect you in return.
Thanks for reading.
Melissa Daroff is an AEA Stage Manager and also a Theater Educator (amongst other things). She has worked regionally in New England and Dallas, TX and is always excited to be asked to blog. Especially when given a topic to write about.

It isn't a surprise than many of the items on Melissa's list are ones i have touted here at Advice To the Players.It must be true! :)-JT

J.T. Turner
The Actors Sensei.

Monday, December 12, 2011

Here's One For The Ladies!

All right, this is for my female readers, a very interesting article about the phenomena called "Vocal Fry". Many thanks to author Erin Gloria Ryan for permission to share.


Don't just sit there, audition!

J.T. Turner
The Actors Sensei
Acting and Speech lessons for all ages.

Wednesday, November 30, 2011

More on audition pieces please!

Actress Preparing for an Audition [42-16754193]

I am always so delighted when people tell me they not only read this blog, but that they employ the advice we give here. (And by "we" I mean me, "we" just sounds like there is more to this blog). And better yet I love when people ask questions! So after a recent post about auditioning and monologue selection, a young actress wrote to ask for even more info on monologue preparation. I am so happy to oblige. So here are a few more ideas for you to test, adapt, and make your own.Now this is for prepared audition pieces that you have time to put work into, cold readings fall into another category.

Having selected an audition piece, (and please see prior blogs about selection), what sort of work might you do to build a character about the piece? As mentioned before, always, always, always...how often? Always! Always, start by speaking the words aloud. Put the words into the air, let them travel from you to the Universe. Things will often change when you take the simple step of invoking the words. Then, try this with the piece:

Make 3 lists for the piece, Facts, Assumptions and Guesses. Facts are the things you clearly know about the character, usually things the author indicates or other characters do. (John is a tall, middle aged man with a quirky smile). Assumptions are things that seem to be indicated, like the way John speaks indicates he is white, or he has a funny sense of humor based on his lines. Guesses are where your imagination fills in the blanks, perhaps a backstory about why the character is the way they are, or perhaps the character reminds you of a person you know or a celebrity you could borrow some pieces from to flesh the character out. Guesses should NEVER conflict with things the author has told you, or that the script states.

Now try to apply the 4 W's to the monologue piece. they are:

Where- physically where does this speech take place?
When- Time period, time of day, season?
Who- is the character talking too?
What-do you want from this speech? What does your character say these words for? There must always be a reason for the character to talk, what is the reason for in this monologue?

Sometimes, we can get to the next question, HOW? Meaning how will your character go about getting what they want, but that often is work that we save for full blown roles rather than auditions. But occasionally, the HOW is accessible in the audition piece, and fun to play with.

Try the above, you may just enjoy the process!

J.T. Turner, The Actors Sensei
Acting and speech lessons for all ages

Sunday, October 16, 2011

Someone is watching


A few years ago, I was in a production of a musical in Boston. I was in the green room during a moment when I wasn't on stage and the actor next to me said, 'Oh X, (not her real name), must have people in the audience tonight". "How do you know?" I asked. "Oh she always cranks it up when she has friends out front".

I was a bit stunned at that, and it got me thinking about performance. Of course, when we know that family or friends are out front, we all tend to be a bit more excited and want to do our best. But as an actor, or singer or speaker, isn't the proper way to behave  giving your best ALWAYS? I think we have all seen actors that react to having someone special in the audience, a bit more fire, passion, a twinkle to the eye. But isn't the real challenge for us to keep that level of performance at each and every show? Of course there will be variation, of course some shows will turn out better than others, but that should be in hindsight, not a decision made before you go on!

Because the truth is that someone is always watching you. Someone always wants you to take them on a journey, to move them, to entertain them. When I teach young actors, I always remind them that they must treat each moment onstage as though someone is watching them, hanging on their every word, rooting for them. And that is good advice for all ages, to treat each show as though someone special is out there watching.

When I was on tour with a show years ago, I had a rough show. I was tired, my timing was off, and i just felt less than 100%. When the show was over and I was leaving, a parent wheeled a child up to me in a wheelchair, a child who obviously had a lot of physical challenges.From his wheelchair, the child told me, "You are my favorite actor". I was floored. I wanted to go back and redo the show, because I felt I had been under par. Yet my work had still touched this child.

 I never have forgotten that moment. I often replay it in my mind, to keep me going when I am feeling tired or off in some way. Going into the lights of a stage is a tremendous responsibility, and we don't know how many lives we can touch and change by our work.

So treat each performance as though someone special is watching. Because, someone is.

                                    THE ACTOR'S SENSEI

Friday, September 30, 2011


J.T. Turner, Jordan Ahnquist, and Peter A. Carey in Lyric Stage Company's Big River

I was backstage recently in the Green Room of a theater in Boston. In this particular show, I have a late entrance (an hour after the show starts to be exact). As I was getting geared up to go on, I was excited, happy and anxious to get out there.I turned to my fellow actor that makes the late entrance with me and I said, "Who knows what's waiting out there!" He looked at me like I was crazy, and indeed I am.

And it made me think a bit about that unique moment, the moment before you throw yourself bravely before a crowd of hundreds of strangers, and show them your work. Will they be a great warm audience, or a cold distant one? Will all my lines go perfect, or will I stumble and forget? Will my fellow actors hit their marks, or miss things? Will stuff fall over, sound cues go awry, props be missing? Do I have my pants on?

So now you have 2 choices. To fret, worry and almost be paralyzed with fear, or to channel that excitement into POSITIVE excitement. You control how you think and approach any situation, and here is a prime example as you await a chance to go on the stage, or preform before people. You can let the shadows take over, and panic to the point of hyperventilating, or you can corral your emotions into excitement.As I often say to students, we all have butterflies, the trick is to get them to fly in formation.

You are about to leap into the unknown. Don't be scared, timid and preoccupied by it, let your inner self be positive, confident and strong. Treat it as you would the feelings of a special birthday, or Christmas morning, or any other big event that had you tingling.You have a chance that not everyone gets, to share your talent publicly, in a special, living moment in time. What a fantastic opportunity for you.

Make magic.

Acting and Speech Lessons for All Ages


Monday, August 8, 2011


 True Blood

OK, maybe you won't all need to know about working with stage blood. But many of my followers do Renn Faires, Murder Mystery's and the like, so here is a good article on the topic of fake blood. Also some good advice on acting with it!


                                            J.T. Turner
                                     The Actors Sensei

Wednesday, July 20, 2011

I need a new monologue.......

This is a phrase many actors utter frequently, perhaps second only to, "I need a new head-shot". Finding good monologues is a key component in the business of getting work as an actor. Many auditions will have something for you to read, but will still often start with a request for a monologue.

This simple small acting scene is very important, and a good one will often help you get a role. A bad one will pretty well assure you have more free time, :). So here are some suggestions regarding monologues;

* Match the monologue to the time period that the play you are auditioning for is set in.

* Pick something with a beginning, middle and end, don't start mid-emotion and expect the listeners to get it. Also try and pick a piece that has some growth in it. Having a monologue that is all one level is boring and flat.

*Whenever possible, memorize! The casting agent/director will like you more with good eye contact, and reading from a page limits you.

* Be still, and only move or gesture with a purpose. Practice gestures and movement right into the monologue. Random movement is annoying and distracting.

*Only have a Shakespearean or classical piece for a Shakespearean or classical show.

* Never pick a piece where crying is needed. If it comes naturally in the moment great. But trying to fake cry is hard, and comes off as fake.

*Never use props. they are distracting and take the focus away from you.

* Make sure you understand what you are saying. You may want to read the entire play if it helps, but at least be sure you know why a character is saying what they are saying. Also what is the setting and most of all, WHAT DO THEY WANT?

*An actor should typically be ready at almost all times with one contemporary serious piece, one contemporary comic, and one classic or Shakespearean piece. A monologue should run about a minute and a half, as often you are given three minutes for an audition, and are asked for one serious and one comic piece.

* Change your monologues from time to time to keep them fresh.

Break a leg!

                                           J.T. Turner
                                     The Actors Sensei

Wednesday, June 22, 2011

I lost my voice!

(From Speakeasy Stage Company's The Drowsy Chaperone, with Sarah Drake)

Recently I had a fantastic run in a musical called The Drowsy Chaperone. But as fate would have it, I suddenly found myself with hardly any voice after the first weekend of shows. I had about a day to recover, and it reminded me just how important vocal care is.

Ok first, I am not a Doctor, nor have I played one on TV. Any vocal issues should get you to a Ears-Nose and Throat doctor right away just to be safe. Sometimes a lost voice can be caused by infection, or vocal cord injury. Don't be foolish and try and bull your way through any pain.

But sometimes its just overuse and phlegm build up, or the side effect of a cold. But what to do if you lose the voice and need to be onstage pronto? Still see that doctor, but try the following formula:

1) Go on vocal rest as much as possible. no talking, especially no whispering.

2) Start your return with breathing, deep, deep breathing, right from your belly. Then gently, gently add some sound. Moaning, sighing on the exhale is a good start.

3) Steam! Use a small steam machine, take a ridiculously long hot shower, but get some moisture into your passages.

4) Water, and lots of it. Lubrication is critical to a lost voice. Room temperature is preferred, and sip as often as possible.

5) Hum. Nice gentle humming, placed in the front of your mouth around the teeth. No forcing, no trying scales, no singing Sondheim, just gentle humming to feel your resonators and get stuff gently back to work.

There are many remedys that you can buy over the counter  that people recommend to help get your voice back. Throat Coat tea is great, Thayers Slippery Elm is good, Fishermans Friend for nasal passages, as well as some sprays. But those should be used after the above process, or in conjunction with it, not just by themselves. And make sure you try them out and see how they work for you, different throats react differently. 

Oh, did I mention seeing a doctor? :)

                                            J.T. Turner
                                     The Actor's Sensei

Friday, June 3, 2011

Give me a status!

On stage, as in life, everyone has a status. Status is our position relative to other people.A place in the pecking order or hierarchy if you will. If an actor knows his status on stage at any given moment, it can go a long way to help with character development.

Now some status' are easily seen. The King is of high status talking to a peasant. Ahh, but what if the King is in hiding and desperately needs food? Now there is a shift of power, and the peasant suddenly has more status than the King. The Football star has high status, but if he is failing Geometry suddenly his geeky tutor may take on great status.

Status is fluid, and in many plays, the status of a character shifts during the show. Someone of low status at the start of the show may take power or get power and suddenly the status rises, causing the status of those around them to fall. Having that knowledge of where you rank to the other characters around you, makes a huge impact on delivery and attitude when delivering lines.

When working in a script, jot down where you are in relation to others on stage with you in a scene, and mark where you see and change in status.

J.T. Turner
The Actors Sensei
Private and group lessons for all ages in Acting and Speech


Saturday, May 14, 2011

The Leap

We recently discussed the structure of various acting Unions.Now the bigger and more philosophical question, when do I join? That is a very personal question. Here in the Boston area I often advise younger performers against making the leap too soon. Union sounds great and can be, but keep in mind you are making your chances of working much smaller. If for you acting is an occasional fun hobby, that gives you joy and a sense of accomplishment, you may wish to stay non-Union.If it is however the driving force of your life, if you can handle the rejection that will come from tougher competition, if you are ready to deal not just with the "show" but with the "business" concept of show business, then you may wish to take the plunge. But each of you will have a different spin on what preforming is in your life, and how much of your life do you wish to dedicate to it.

I can tell you that within the past few years 2 non-Union performers asked me for advice on joining. One I told flat out not to do it. I just felt it was too much of a leap for them. They ignored me, went Union, and in three years has worked 2 Union shows. He is frustrated, since when you are in the Union you can ONLY work Union jobs. My other friend asked and I said to do it, as long as you think you can handle the business. She is flourishing as a professional actress.

So it comes down to some harsh questions. Will there be enough work to keep me satisfied as an actor? Keeping in mind that there will certainly be less work, especially away from places with lots of Equity theaters or the chance to film. You will now be more expensive to use, which will make you less appealing to a budget conscious producer. Using film work as an example, I recently had a day of work as a background performer on a major film. There were perhaps 25 of us that were Union, and 300 that were not. So chances of working was great fro Non-Union. Having said that, I got paid three times as much money, and had better food. But keep in mind I paid a fee to go Union, and pay dues regularly. But for me, since I do work often, the decision made sense.

As Aesop would say, "Look before you Leap".

                                                       J.T. Turner, The Actors Sensei

Thursday, April 28, 2011


One of the big issues I have with many actors is that they can be indulgent. (Shocking, no?) By this I mean that an actor can sometimes take their lines as being more precious than they are. All deference to writers, but not every line has the same weight within the body of a play. It is important to keep a brisk pace, except where a director or actor makes a conscious choice to slow the tempo down.

Too often I have seen actors treat all of their lines as having equal weight and importance, and often they drag them out. And if we have 2 actors, or a stage full of actors doing it, it makes for a looooooooong scene or show.

So an acting exercise that many directors, teachers and coaches use is the idea of the waiting taxi. No matter your scene, see what would happen to the tempo if you pretended a cab just pulled up for you, honked, and now is waiting. Suddenly all your lines have a time constraint to them, suddenly there is new energy and purpose to the lines. This may not be the way you deliver the lines in the actual show, but the testing of new pacing and speed may be just what you need to find a better tempo in a scene.

Oh and to make a really interesting adjustment, try having that taxi waiting, but try to still keep your lines careful and deliberate, like you want to get to the taxi, but only have this one chance to get the conversation right and clear before you dash off. Again, new dimensions to the work.

So, what are you waiting for? The meter is running!

                                   THE ACTORS SENSEI
                          Acting and speech lessons for all ages

Tuesday, April 12, 2011


AEA LogoAFTRA logo

Hello readers! Today I am blogging a bit about Unions and preforming. I often get the question from fellow actors and performers, "Should I join the Union?" or "How do I join?".Lets start with what the Unions are and go from there.

Let's start with the Screen Actors Guild, called SAG. To be eligible to join, there are three ways. First, having a a speaking role in a SAG film, commercial or TV show. Or by working as a SAG-covered background player at SAG rates for at least three days, or by being a member of a sister Union,  (ACTRA, AEA, AFTRA, AGMA, or AGVA), for a year, and being a principal performer in that Union at least once.

For TV and Radio, there is the American Federation of Television and Radio Artists (AFTRA). You can join simply by paying a fee.

For the stage, we have the AEA or Equity Union. Performers can qualify to join Equity by securing employment under an Equity contract; by being a member of a sister union (SAG, AFTRA, AGMA, AGVA, or GIAA) for at least one year and working as a principal, as an under-five, or for at least three days as a background player under that union's jurisdiction; or by working 50 weeks as part of the Equity Membership Candidate Program.

This is a simple breakdown, be sure and visit the sites of the Union you are interested in for more info, and of course, the list of fees. They all have fees, some pricing is rather daunting!

Next Blog, " To Join or Not To Join".

                              J.T. Turner, The Actors Sensei

Friday, April 1, 2011

Some Inspiration

Several years ago I befriended a Writer/Illustrator on Livejournal. We shared a lot of passions; comic books, Tolkien, Captain Sir Richard Francis Burton, C. S. Lewis, dietCoke. James A.Owen has had a remarkable life and career, and is perhaps best known for his series of books called The Chronicles of the Imaginarium Geographica, which started with the best seller Here There Be Dragons. Ok so why am I mentioning that in an acting blog?

I have written several times about inspiration. Inspiration is a muse that needs to be fed constantly. Especially as performers, we must try constantly to stay in the positive creative zone that makes our work great, and puts us at our best. I preach staying in that zone by surrounding yourself with good people, watching great plays and movies, and reading inspiring books.

James has released a downloadable book, simple format, way underpriced, where he relates a bit of his life and philosophy. It is a fast read, and a compelling one you will feel driven to complete. The work is; Drawing The Dragons; A Meditation on Art, Destiny and the Power of Choice. It is a great piece, and I recommend it to all of you. I also recommend you share it with any High Schooler, or Middle Schooler you know. It is great for adults, don't get me wrong, but so inspiring I want kids  to read it as well. The link is below:



J.T. Turner
The Actors Sensei

Wednesday, March 9, 2011

Memorizing by hand

We spend many blog posts here at Advice to the Players talking about memory. A good memory can help an actor immensely. Whether it be a monologue for an audition or memorizing lines for a performance, memory plays a major role in a successful acting career.

Today I want to mention a technique used by some actors to help them memorize. They simply hand write out the lines they are trying to memorize. Not a sophisticated method, in fact it is very low tech and simple, but many actors swear by this method.There seems to be a great connection between the physical act of writing out a part and memorizing it. Perhaps it is because we need extra concentration as we write, or because it requires multiple paths of your brain being used (sight, tactile).

No special equipment is needed, and your penmanship doesn't seem to make any difference. So try writing out the piece you are working on by hand. No typing please, handwriting seems to work best in the process. It also slows you down to concentrate on the work, and perhaps you will discover something in the line as you write it that you have not considered before.

The Actors Sensei
Coaching in acting and speech for all ages, all media.

Monday, February 21, 2011


Hello loyal readers! Today at Advice to the Players, some fast tips for actors of all ages. Hope you will enjoy them. Several of these have been used as blog posts all their own, just check the site.
  • Act! All you can! Professional lessons are great, but, and I say this as an acting teacher, actual onstage time is better. Get all you can, especially in your early days.
  • Be a professional, even as an amateur. Show up on time, and ready to work. Script in hand if needed, pencil at the ready.
  • The script is your foundation. Learn your lines, then play with the underlying text.The sooner you can get them into memory, the sooner you can free up your brain to explore what you are saying.
  • BREATH! At least 15-20 minutes a day of proper breathing, especially on show days especially just before a show, will do wonders for you.
  • Save the drama for on stage. Avoid getting into backstage and offstage drama.
  • Try not to bad mouth fellow actors. It is a small business in many ways, and your words will come back to haunt you.
  • Remember to listen on stage. Focus, be an active listener, not just an actor waiting for a cue.
  • Try not to take rejection from a role as a personal comment/.You just don't fit into one persons vision. Move ahead to the next audition.
  • Show up. Life is filled with success, if you show up.
  • Be nice. To fellow actors, stagehands, techies, staff, audience everyone. It makes you a better actor and a better person.
Remember to become a follower here, or on our Facbook link, http://www.facebook.com/JTTurner#!/group.php?gid=220821066628

J.T. Turner
The Actors Sensei
Acting and Speech Lessons for all Ages

Wednesday, January 26, 2011

Why are you still here?


Why are you still here? No, no I don't mean why are you reading my blog, any sane person knows that you should always do that. Rather I would like you to think about that question from the perspective of an actor.Why is your character still on stage?

I often remind actors you always need a reason to come on stage. You are drawn in by the sound of a song, you want to have a conversation with someone, you need to borrow money, or you have a message to deliver. You should always have a reason for actively coming on the stage. But I also want you to consider, as a performer, why you stay. Why don't you leave? Your character should have a reason for being on the stage, and that reason should be more than, "The director put me here".

I always admonish my students to never come on stage just because they were told to. And I want to remind you all that you also need a reason to stay. Perhaps your character is interested in what another character is saying. Or you have more to say and are just waiting for a chance to say it. Or you have no where else to go, so decide to stay around. Whatever the reason, use that reason in your character, make it an active choice. But do not let the reason be, "I am here, waiting to say my next line". That makes you a prop, not an actor!

                                                    THE ACTORS SENSEI
                               Coaching in acting and public speaking, monologue/audition work.

Wednesday, January 19, 2011

Take this Viral!

As you know this is an acting and performing blog. Advice from sagely, ancient me to actors, dancers, singers, speakers, musicians  and performers of all ages. But many of my readers are parents of performers, performers with kids, or kids themselves.

The publication of a new book by Amy Chua called The Battle Hymn of the Tiger Mother has caused quite a stir among parents. Ms. Chua gives the jist of her book in a recent Wall Street Journal article entitled "Why Chinese Mothers Are Superior". In it she mentions how she raised her own children, a regime that included the following formula for success; her girls were never allowed to:

• attend a sleepover
• have a playdate
• be in a school play
• complain about not being in a school play
• watch TV or play computer games
• choose their own extracurricular activities
• get any grade less than an A
• not be the No. 1 student in every subject except gym and drama
• play any instrument other than the piano or violin
• not play the piano or violin.

If you know me and my work with kids, you know i might have a thing or two to say about that. I want, instead of replying myself, to reproduce a reply by Ilyon Woo. I had the honor to work with Ilyon on a dramatic reading of her recent book. Her official credentials are: Ilyon Woo is the author of The Great Divorce: A Nineteenth-Century Mother’s Extraordinary Fight Against Her Husband, the Shakers, and Her Times (Atlantic Monthly Press).  She holds a Ph.D. in English from Columbia University and a B.A. in the Humanities from Yale College. Visit her website, www.ilyonwoo.com. Here is her article:


In high school I was a high-scoring, piano-performing, Asian- American “A” student, bound for the Ivy League—by way of failure, not success.
I did not always fit the type.  In early high school, I was a “B” student, with one steady A-minus in English, not math.  In fact, math was my worst subject. In ninth-grade algebra, I regularly came home with Cs and even Ds.  It was not for the lack of trying.  I labored over the assignments and logged many hours preparing for tests.  I yearned to see the equations unravel neatly before me, the Xs and Ys bouncing about frantically on either side of the equal sign, until at last the jumble of numbers and letters settled smoothly into clear numerical values for X and Y. I cared intensely about math, as I did about almost everything—too much, my mother sometimes observed, not without sympathy.  But somehow, those elegantly cascading equations never manifested before me, and more often than not, I was left in tears.
My math teacher, a popular man, seemed to find my questions amusing. “Have two glasses of wine and call me in the morning,” he would say with a dismissive wave, to the pleasure of the other students in the class. I learned to keep my questions to myself, or to save them for after class.
Fortunately, I had much better support at home. This was the 1980s, when “Asian-American Whiz Kids” made the cover of Time Magazine. Asian-American parents were gaining notoriety as disciplinary task masters. My own parents, however, defied these stereotypes.
In postwar Korea, my father was pushed by his own parents to become a doctor.  But he could not bring himself to dissect a cow, and though his family’s fortunes were riding on him, he quit medical school to become an architect.  My mother was a piano prodigy who first soloed with an orchestra at age 11 and performed at Carnegie Hall at 17.  Far from pushing me to play the piano, she actively discouraged it, and when she finally relented, found a teacher other than herself to supervise me.  My parents’ reaction as I struggled with algebra was not to tell me they knew I could do better, but to encourage me to look more broadly at things, and to listen hard to what I had to say.
I survived algebra with a C-plus, but I was scarred enough by the experience that I insisted on taking a summer math class to prepare myself for pre-calculus the following year.  That I had a better teacher did not seem to matter: Letters and numbers stuck together stubbornly and refused to be solved.  Very quickly I despaired, until my father jolted me with a question.
“What would happen,” he asked me quietly, “if you failed?”
I had no words to answer: “I’d… get a bad grade,” I stammered.  And then what?  My transcript would be ruined, I would not get into college?
My father shrugged. “So what? Is that the end of the world?”
My father has seen a lot in life.  He fled North Korea as a child and survived the Korean War.  At age 12 he left home to study, boarding with other families and, later, supporting himself as a tutor.  He immigrated to the U.S. with nothing. His gaze reflects the breadth of his experience: bright, direct and compassionate. By nature, he is a prankster and loves a joke, but I knew in this moment that he was absolutely serious. Then mischief set in.
“Why don’t you try it?” He dared.
I didn’t understand.
“Why don’t you try and fail?”
In that moment, though I would not realize it until later, my father set me free. It had simply never occurred to me that it would be OK not to do well.  My caring about a subject had become entwined with the desire to master it—as tangled as the equations that I could not solve—and finally, as the variables fell to either side of the equal sign, the problem resolved itself.
I failed that class—or got a D, I honestly can’t remember.  My father was right, it was not the the end of the world.  And it’s with that failure, when I stopped trying so hard and caring too much, that my grades began to soar—all of them, including math.
Twenty years later, I am certain that had my parents reacted differently, had they extorted or threatened me or told me that they were ashamed of my poor performance, I would have been crushed.  In the years to come, as I attended one Ivy League university and taught at another, I came to know too many students who had been scarred by this kind of parenting.  Fortunately, I had the opportunity to pass on my father’s wisdom, anecdotally, at least.
When I was a graduate student, teaching undergraduate writing and literature, I had many students come to my office hours.  A number of them were Asian-American. They came to me because they had never had an Asian teacher before and were curious, and because they felt that I understood where they were coming from and the kinds of pressures they faced, especially parental ones.
I spoke to some of these students about my father’s words about failure.  One of them marveled, “Wow, my dad would never in a million years say that to me,” shaking his head and dismissing the possibility.  But I could see that the message got through, and that he, too, felt a bit more free. (REPRINTED WITH PERMISSION FROM ILYON WOO).

The theater is often a place where people find acceptance, and often, a family. It is sad that for the sake of a guaranteed paycheck, you would forfeit a childs opportunity to grow, explore, and thrive perhaps at something that speaks to them in thier soul. Who knows what opportunities and dreams would be missed under Amy Chua's method of parenting. Of course discipline is important, structure is important, but as in all things moderation.

Feel free to pass this around!

                                                    THE ACTORS SENSEI

Monday, January 17, 2011

Advice to the Players Goes to the Movies!

Yes I go to the movies and you should too. All performers should make it a habit to attend works within the arts, movies, plays, concerts  art shows and more. Often, as a professional actor, I am challenged with getting to shows, as often I am in one myself and don't get a chance to see friends at work. But this year, as a part of my goals, I am going to see more art. Plays and musicals, but movies as well.

As a member of the Screen Actors Guild, I am fortunate to get to see films that are nominated for the SAG awards held in late January. One of the perks of being a Union member is I see films that are up for awards. These are sent to me in a few ways, "screeners" which is an actual DVD of the movie, often long before it is out on DVD, downloads on iTunes, which is new this year but seems to be a trend, and something called "Movie Cash" which is a voucher to go see a movie in a theater for free. All this great access to amazing acting on film reminds me of my work, and inspires me in my work.

Black Swan Synopsis: Nina is aWatching other actors act, seeing the choices they make, looking at how they approach a role is a great lesson for actors. And it makes good fodder for future use. Watching Natalie Portman's amazing performance in Black Swan is riveting, and could be an object lesson for what madness looks like. Could you use that sometime, perhaps as Ophelia or as Queen Margaret? Can Colin Firth's take on King George VI's stammering, his insecurity, his internal struggle feed your portrayal of Willie Loman or Claudius?

When cast in a role, I often watch films that are set in the same time frame, or by the same author, or in the same country or with the same accents. I don't copy other performances, I let my own talents use them as a springboard to where my character may go. I draw this personal way of attacking a role from the great actor Antony Sher, who will watch films, TV shows, make sketches, read books and do research to flesh out his characters. (His book, Year of the King, is one I re-read each year).

So fire up that DVD player, get some popcorn, and feast! Oh and sometimes go to the movies, in a movie theater. It is different experiencing work in a communal setting, a ritual in itself.

See you at the flickers. :)

                     THE ACTORS SENSEI

Monday, January 3, 2011

A pen, a pen, my Kingdom for a pen!

Happy New Year to all you readers of Advice to the Players! As we start off 2011, I know many of you are making resolutions and gearing up goals for the new year. If you are like me, you set Dreams/Goals, (my dreams are my goals and vice versa), and I try to make sure they all come true. Amazingly a high percentage do.

But as we are prepping to start new ways of living, I want to make a suggestion to all actors, speakers, dancers and performers.Simply, write more.

Interesting studies tell us that a great way to get the creative juices flowing and keep them going is to write. Ideally a bit of writing each and every day. In THE ARTISTS WAY we read that a daily dose of writing, 3 pages of even nonsensical stream of consciousness writing, does wonders for the creative mind. It gets your brain perked up an flowing. This should be by hand, as this seems to do the most good, physically journaling. But hey typing works too for you high tech readers.

Oh but wait, here is another suggestion. Many of us carry around grudges for years, someone slights us and we get and stay, angry. Now we know the most effective way to get over it is to write the incident out, and then write out how you feel. This actually lets us move on more quickly than talking it out or even therapy sessions.

But let me add another layer to these two great ideas, and tell you that one of the things you should write about each day, (despite it being OK to just go stream of thought), is to write three things that you are grateful for. This simple act, jotting down 3 things you are happy to have in your life, will actually improve your day, and keep you in a better overall mood. Because when you are grumpy, no on, no one, no one likes you. Not even you.

I should mention that as an actor, I do keep a journal of my roles, what I am playing how I feel about the show, ideas for characters etc. I am far from perfect in this, many times I skip a month or more, but I still try. And I am glad to have something to go back to that reminds me of how I attacked a role or what crazy things happened at rehearsal.

So start trying to journal in some way each day. Remember it takes 6 weeks to make a habit, so get going now while you are motivated.

J.T. Turner, The Actors Sensei