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!

Saturday, December 1, 2012

Some advice from Emma Thompson

Emma Thompson

I have always loved the work of Emma Thompson, especially her work in the Shakespeare films she has been in. I read an interview with her and saw that her philosophy about acting is very similar to my own. So here for your use is some advice from an amazing actress.

  1. Don’t strive for the award. Just do your best and enjoy what you do.
  2. The theater is the best place to learn your craft.
  3. Sing. Take voice lessons. Work on your voice. Acting is all about the voice.
  4. Observe people. You never know when you might have to play a character who could be inspired by someone you’ve met.
  5. Don’t give up. Any actor has to experience rejection. Just keep going to auditions.

                            J.T. TURNER
                         The Actors Sensei
   Acting Coach, Public Speaking Consultant

Sunday, November 11, 2012

I Have Good Intentions.

As I move forward in my arc of time, which is a nice way of saying I am getting old, I will occasionally wander into a room in my home, pause, and then try to remember why I went into that room. "What did I come in here for?"

And that moment is a good jumping off point for our discussion in today's blog entry. That question, or a variation of it, is really an important one for an actor. I will often chide an actor or group of actors I am directing, saying that an actor needs to know why they are coming onstage. And the answer needs to be much more than, "Well, the director told me to enter here". At any given moment on the stage, a director should be able to stop you and ask why you are on the stage. Why is your character there, right there, now? What is the purpose of your being there? Are you there to get something out of another character? ( Hint: The answer is almost always, yes you are). Or perhaps you are there for your own purpose, only to have that purpose interrupted and changed by the introduction of another character, with reasons of their won.

  • Thought Balloons

We call this idea of having a reason for being in a given space at a certain time intention.It should be an easy skill to have as a performer, as our entire lives are filled with intentions. Small ones; I need a glass of water, I want to update my Facebook. And large ones; I hope to find love, I want to earn a law degree. Knowing what your characters intention is at any given point in the play can make the character stronger and clearer, and make your work better.

Which, after all, should be your intention.

The Actors Sensei
Acting and Speech Coach for All Ages

Wednesday, September 5, 2012

Go towards the Light

  • Stage Lights Royalty Free

I realize that those of you who know me as a preacher may mistake the title of the post. But this is about finding actual light, not the spiritual kind.

In film, hours and hours are spent adjusting lights for specific moments, and then striking them for new lighting. A film actor is given a very specific spot to stand, their `mark` so that they get in the proper light. But on the stage, we preset lights and then leave them. Oh yes, we now have some high tech lights that move and adjust, but those are limited, as is follow spot use. For the most part, stage lights are there to light the scene, you as a thinking actor are responsible for finding your own light.

  • Ultimate Stage Lighting

Finding your light is simply a matter of practice. Most stage lights shine downward at an angle. You can actually feel the light falling on your face. Take some time and have a stage light turned on, and practice walking in and out of it to feel the difference. Hold you hand up and look at your palm. Work it in and out of the light and see how it falls, what the intensity is.  Try not to stand directly under the light, or in too hot a spot, so you are not washed out by the glare of the light.

While there are times you may want to be partially or fully in shadow for an effect, those times should be planned. Outside of an effect, be a good, light seeking, actor. You must be seen for the audience to watch your facial work.

J.T. Turner, The Actors Sensei

Sunday, July 8, 2012

Walking into the room

  • entered the audition room,

Last post we chatted about how to create a protective bubble around yourself, how to focus, and use some specific work to help you be ready for that audition.Let's extend that talk to the next step, walking into the audition room.

Grandma was right, first impressions make all the difference. I can tell you from my work in the business world and teaching communication skills that it takes about 10 seconds to decide wether or not you like someone. So when your name is called and you walk into the room, be ready to present yourself in the best possible light. No, it will not guarantee you the role, but it may give you an edge, and given your druthers, wouldn't you rather people like you more often than not?

So, we don't want to enter looking down, distracted, and not prepared.  Walk in with confidence, make eye contact and say 'hello" right away. In a good clear voice, don't just nod. And recall an earlier teaching post, when you make eye contact, look in just one eye. Left eye, right eye, doesn't matter, it will help you keep focused and make you look stronger. Along with the eye contact SMILE! The Quakers say the face you give is the one you get back. No matter if you are auditioning for the role of a serial killer, you can be yourself for a minute before you slip into the dark character. Smiling releases endorphin's into your bloodstream, and puts you in a better place to do the audition. Plus if the audition person or panel smiles back, it puts them in a more receptive frame of mind. But don't worry if they don't, do your half on the dance. Eye contact and smile.

There may be chit chat. "How are you? Did you find parking? Isn't it hot out today? I see you did King Lear last week, how was it?". Be ready for chit chat. How? Pretend! Before the audition I anticipate and answer, out loud, what they might ask me. Sure you may get a curve ball question, ( Is that your natural hair color?), but mostly you know what they may ask. So practice responses. (This also helps you focus pre-audition, say in the car ride or walk over to it).

Eventually they will ask you to read. Take 5 seconds, take a step back, close your eyes and recall the answers to the audition questions, Where, Who, What and, Whence.Now open your eyes, take a step forward and start. They may ask you to read again, with a different twist to the reading. Do not question or second guess it, just do it. Many times it is a test to see how you take direction.When done, always thank them for the audition, for listening to you.

J.T. Turner
The Actors Sensei
Owner, The Actors Company

Thursday, June 28, 2012

The Audition Bubble

Focus is a quality that can be a godsend to an actor.Consider an athlete a sporting event. Somehow, even with hundreds of people yelling and screaming, even with TV cameras on, fellow players moving and chatting, personal thoughts and doubts in their minds, they somehow can make all those things move into the background and focus on doing what they need to do.

Sound familiar? It should, as the same thing, the same focus occurs with actors as well. Despite all the distractions of audience, lights, sets, fellow actors and personal thoughts, a good actor pushes that back in their mind, focuses and lives in the moment. This skill, this wonderful skill, is never as important as it is at an audition.

If you audition a lot, and I hope you do, you know how it goes. You enter the room, and there are 10 other actors who look perfect for the part you are auditioning for. That inner recording starts to play in your mind, "Why are you here? They will get the part over you. There is so and so, he ALWAYS gets cast. You don't know anyone in this theater company, you don't stand a chance." Ah, yes the ever helpful inner monologue.

What I would like you to remember is that those thoughts occur to everyone. But the brain, while an amazing thing, can only do so much at once, and so can be trained to focus better. You can give the brain something to focus on, and that will help push those negative thoughts back. They will try and rise again, but just keep pushing them back.  How?

First try a visualization. Picture a magic bubble, like Glinda's bubble in Wizard of Oz, that surrounds you.

Let that be your bubble of protection, focus, concentration. Picture it holding and protecting you from the negative. (If a bubble isn't manly enough for you, go with Iron Mans suit of armor encasing you. Hey it's your brain, whatever works). Oh and by all means, let this protection also let you move away from friends who want to "chat" at the audition. Find a quiet space of your own, and focus.

Now, since your mind can only handle so many thoughts at once, I want you to introduce specific thoughts to push all the negative thoughts away. Keeping your mind busy will keep you focused, so, do this:

1) Read the audition piece out loud. Softly, to yourself, but vocalize.

Now answer the following-

WHERE Does the scene take place?
WHO Are you talking to?
WHAT Do you want from the person listening in the scene?
WHENCE Where was your character before the scene started? (This is sometimes called the 'pre-beat", what was going on just before you speak. I just use Whence because I needed another W!).

Focusing on reading the piece and answering thes 4 critical questions will keep you focused.

Next post, we will talk about the next thing, walking into the audition room.

                                J.T. TURNER
                                     The Actors Sensei
                       Private and group lessons available.

Monday, June 25, 2012

Stage directions

I know I know, for many actors and performers this particular entry will be a bit basic. But for many of my readers who are just starting out into the world of acting it is an important one.

The stage is a place where we create worlds. Those worlds are usually created in the eye of a director. To create those worlds, a director needs to communicate his visual concept to you. And in order to do that, they use blocking. 

Blocking is a term we use in theater to tell us where and how an actor should move on stage during a play. It also can incorporate any "business" they need to do, (ironing a shirt, raking leaves, pouring coffee, training an elephant). It can include starting points in a scene, and movements or actions as the scene goes on. In a straight play, drama or comedy, blocking is important, but it takes on even greater importance in a musical, where choreography, dancing and movement, is placed in a scene.For example, in a musical, the orchestra may wait for an actor to move to a certain place to start up the music that will accompany them.( By the way, the word blocking comes from a time when stages literally had squares drawn on them like a chessboard. each was numbered, so a director could tell you to move from one block to another)

In terms of directions, we use simple codes or abbreviations in our scripts to note what action we are to follow.

Stage Directions

SL-Stage Left- The actors left when facing the audience.

SR-Stage Right- The actors right when facing the audience.

DSL- Down Stage Left- moving left toward the audience.

DSR- Down Stage Right- moving right toward the audience.

USL- Up Stage Left- moving left away from the audience.

USR- Up Stage Right- moving right away from the audience.

C- Center- the middle of the stage

RC- Right of Center

LC- Left of Center

(Downstage and Upstage come from ancient theater, which was often performed on the side of a hill, so that the audience on a flat piece of ground could easily see all the actors. So Upstage is literally up the hill, away from the audience, and Downstage is down the hill toward the audience).

So we can form simple notations by using these codes. If I am standing in the upper right corner of the stage (the actor looking at the audience), and the director tells me to move to the edge of the stage on the left hand side, I simple write XDSL. This tells me to cross down stage left. if I am then told to move to a position just to the right of the middle of the stage, I could write X R of C, which tells me to cross right of center.

Keep in mind these are simple directions I can jot in the script to get the framework of movement, this allows for the actor and director to now play with the underlying themes.....you know, that acting thing!

                                        J.T. TURNER
                               THE ACTORS SENSEI
                         Coaching and Classes for all ages

Monday, June 18, 2012

Brave Heart

I wanted to post a bit about the concept of bravery. I was struck by this recently due to a number of incidents of bravery that presented themselves in my life.

I am rather renown, at least in my own mind, for saying that life is all about showing up. And I encourage performers of all types to get out there and do just that, show up. At auditions, classes, gigs, show up. Be present, use the amazing talent you have been gifted with. I have never said it was easy, no, quite the contrary it is an enormous leap of faith to go expose your inner self to the often cold heartless outer world. But as artists we are called to do just that.

(1) Han Solo
Back to bravery. Especially for auditions, can any other word truly describe what we do when we audition? When we throw down our talent as best we can against ridiculous odds? (To quote Han Solo, "Never tell me the odds"). If we focus on those odds, we would never go try out for anything. But we don't. We bravely go and focus on our work, and placing in before the Universe.

This came into my thoughts a lot recently. After 15 great auditions without any results, I found myself again auditioning. This time was the right one, the magic one. But I never would have made it to this one without the 15 rejections before. (And I know many of your reading this have higher numbers, more rejections, hundreds of them). But those don't matter, what matters was me showing up. Eventually, the world took notice of my work.

Also this week I watched a group of amateur singers take the stage to sing at an outdoor concert. Some were amazing, some were just OK, but that doesn't matter. What mattered was that they showed up. They bravely threw their gift into the great wide space. Really, that is such a mind boggling thing.

Best of all is an 8 year old girl who has never been involved in any kind of theater, insisting that her Mom sign her up for a summer theater workshop. Her Mom was nervous and afraid. but the girl, the brave girl, said, 'It is what I have to do". I know that feeling. I hope you do to, that it is what you HAVE to do.

So this post is a simple one in terms of theme. It is me cheering you on, telling you that I acknowledge how hard it is to go to the altar of the world and place your offering upon it. That that act, is an amazing act of bravery. It is a brave thing to do, you are brave to do it.

Be brave. Stay brave

                 J.T. TURNER, The Actors Sensei
Available for private Coaching in acting, audition prep, public speaking and sermon work.

Thursday, March 29, 2012

Six Sensational Suggestions!

Base of a cherry tree with an blossoming epicormic shoot in a crevice of the trunkOh spring seems to be pushing it's way into our lives here in the Northeast. So perhaps a blog about some growth?

I often write in Advice To The Players about nurturing your creative side. Actor, singer, dancer, speaker, performer, whatever your creative call, we all need to stay in our creative zone as much as we can. With that in mind, how about some reminders on how to nurture the creative muse in you? Did you say, "Yes, please"? Good answer!

(Oh JT, you are so alliterative!).

1) Keep a journal. Even spending just a few minutes a day jotting down thoughts and feelings can cause you to give birth to new ideas.

2) Read more. Studies tell us that high creative achievers read a lot. And try to have variety in what you read, lots of different genres.

3) Walk. Walking, even just a short fast walk, breaks your thinking patterns up, oxygenates your blood and keeps your thinking fresh.

4)Learn new things. Take classes, start a language course, learn a new game or instrument. The brain is a machine that thrives on being challenged.

5) Interact with people. Creative people are often portrayed as lonely brooding artists, but the opposite is true. Being a social creature introduces new thoughts, ideas and feelings into you life, and helps you stay creative and inspired.

6) Make something. Write a play or a new song, carve, sculpt, paint, sketch, plant, take pictures. Make a new thing to help your creativity sizzle.

And now, because I am so generous, a bonus item:

BREATHE! As stated in past blogs, make sure you take some good, deep cleansing breaths throughout the day. It does wonders for your brain.

Great ideas, but only great if employed! Use them!


                                                The Actors Sensei
                                   Group lessons, and private coaching for all ages.

Wednesday, February 1, 2012

Improv tips

Today on Advice To The Players, some handy tips for those times when you are doing Improv. Improv, or improvisation is a great activity for an actor, often it is a show in itself, but also lets us play, explore and keep the brain fertile for those times onstage when things go wrong and we HAVE to Improv .

So let us say you are working on a show, or have decided to take an Improv class, or at a regular theater class you are doing some Improv games. Here are some things to keep in mind:

  1. Stay Open To The Work- Take the suggestion or offers given by another player and run with it. Don't cut the energy off, instead use it and pass it on. If a person pretends to splash water on you, act like you got splashed and try to add more to the scene to see where it will go.  
  2. Don't Take All the Stage- It is working on Improv scenes, let others have their moments to shine, don't always hog the spotlight. Support and help!
  3. Be Outrageously Bad- Take risks, this is playtime, be bold and crazy as you can be. You are putting yourself out there, embrace the jump!
  4. Get Physical- This is about using your whole body. you are not confined to a character, so play with being bigger and broader than you usually are.
  5. Practice- Improv is a ton of unplanned fun, and spontaneous. That said, the more you do it, the easier it will become for you to do.
Oh and be sure and not take it all too seriously. The idea is to gow and have fun, and even if the Improv scene turns very dramatic and leads to tears, relax and shrug it off when done. learn and grow, don't scar yourself for life!

J.T. Turner
The Actors Sensei

Wednesday, January 4, 2012

12 for 12

  • Illustration of New Years Sign

I thought I would round off the end of the year, and the beginning of the New Year, by presenting you with 12 tips for 2012. After all, the turning of the year, is the time when all of us reflect and seek advice, so that we can grow in the coming year. So here is some miracle grow from me:

Especially when working on a long scene or speech, don't make flowery, quirky, or show off detours. Follow the through line of what you are saying.

At the end of the day, it doesn't matter if your emotions are real or not. What matters is whether or not the audience believes that what they are seeing is real.

Have passion. When performing starts to be a chore, or is difficult to the point where you don't enjoy it anymore, do something else.

Before entering a scene, take an extra step away from the entrance before you come on. This will give you an extra jolt of energy for your entrance.

Steal from the best. Watch other performances, especially the great actors. Take what will work for you.

Always try to be grateful and excited about being able to rehearse or perform.

Always do your homework.

Always check your fly.

When working on the scene, if you find yourself lost, confused, or feeling uncomfortable, that's the best time to focus on the other actors in the scene. What are they doing, what are they saying and how would that impact your character?

 Not all scenes are about you, not all plays are about you. Share the stage.

Pauses are important, but must be earned.

Become a child and find your sense of wonder. Be child like, not childish.

OK, one more bonus thought, lets call it Lucky 13 , or an extra brain wave to grow on. What you do is sacred. Ancient, life altering, mystical and sacred. Treat it as such.

2012 will see blogs about using a warriors spirit onstage, about dressing room protocol, and of course tons of tips on acting, singing,  speaking and performance of all types.My very humble thanks to each and every one of you that has read and used this blog this year.I hope your 2012 is magnificent!

See you in the light.

J. T. Turner
The Actors Sensei