Ethnic Casting

You don't want to be cast just because you're Asian.  You want to be cast because you're Asian and BECAUSE YOU'RE GREAT!  You don't want to be cast because you're 56.  You want to be cast because you're 56 and YOU'RE GREAT!

I've worked with a number of actors who get work largely because they are in an area where there just aren't that many actors of their age or their ethnicity.  And some of those actors have invested in getting better and some of them don't seem to care at all if they know what they're doing.  They believe that the initial work they are booked for will lead them to a full-on acting career. They appear oblivious to the fact that they are consummate amateurs.

And that's the seduction -- that short-term excitement which will ultimately kill their long-term dreams.  Or, maybe they don't actually care if they're really good or have what it takes to become an A-list actor.  Maybe it's enough to post some stuff on Facebook and pretend.

I only know this.  People will be very embarrassed for them.  Casting directors will nod their heads and smile and say, "good" and when those actors leave the room, eyes will roll.

Don't let things get to your head!  If you really want to be an actor, don't insult the craft with your hubris.  Care and be curious about the art of acting.  Train.  Study.  If you're only interested in yourself, it will bite you in the rear one day.

And being insecure later on is going to feel really and truly awful.

Stop Calling it Meisner Method!

I found another listing today of a school referring to their work as the Meisner Method.  Their description of their work makes it clear that they have no idea what Meisner is.

What we can expect now is that being Meisner trained will completely lose its value since it will no longer mean that people ARE Meisner trained.  If you haven't studied with me, Ernest Losso, James Price, William Esper, Phil Gushee (sigh!), Joe Anania, Jim Brill, Maggie Flanagan, and a handful of others, you have probably received 3rd-rate training.  You may even have been studying Method.  (Nothing wrong with that but if the teacher was passing whatever they were doing off as Meisner but it was Method, I doubt even their Method training was very good.)

Just a short time ago someone explained their Meisner background to me.  I kept waiting to hear about something that was actually Meisner.

Unfortunately for consumers, "Meisner" doesn't mean much. Stay away from schools that are Meisner-based.  Get additional Meisner training from one of us who sat with our first-rate teachers to learn to teach -- hell, go all the way through the training again with someone who is older than 55.  And by the way, some of the teachers saying they studied with Sandy were actually kicked out of his class so, again, that's not necessarily a sign that they know what they're doing either.

 I have never had a student come to me who claimed to be Meisner trained who wasn't in real need for better training. 

So, if it says "Meisner Method" that may be another hint that you're not going to get Meisner at all.

Theater is simply harder than film

Have been musing today that the real reason that most young actors today want to do on-camera work is not because they want to make more money or be celebrities (although that is surely true for a majority of them) but because the simple fact is theater is just harder.  It’s harder to be extraordinary on stage, in real time, with one take.  It’s hard, really hard to go through an excellent Meisner program.  It’s meant to create extraordinary artists.  It can do that. It also does a wonderful job of weeding out the folks that really don’t have the talent or work ethic or passion to become great.  And that’s a good thing.

There’s a reason why my friend Ernie Losso used to say about his many years of work in LA as a producer and director, “The only thing an actor needs to be good on camera is a great Meisner class.”

And there’s a reason that LA casting directors, directors and writers STILL want New York trained actors.  They know that these people will have chops.

Of course there’s a lot of old-fashioned academic stage training that doesn’t get people where they ultimately want to be.  But that’s a discussion for another day.

The devaluation of teachers

The single most irritating thing about being a teacher is that our wider culture has an idea that teachers are “givers,” and we’re expected to give of ourselves for free.

I am constantly asked to read a script, find someone a monologue, give them some advice, watch their reel and give them feedback and put in hours coaching them for performances FOR FREE.  People actually are surprised when I say there is a fee for what I do.

I think about our public school teachers who are also expected to teach for low wages from the generosity of their hearts without regard to the fact that good teachers are professionals.  That their jobs are important.  And when you devalue them or want cheaply paid teachers, you get what you pay for.

The devaluation of teachers has been going on for a long, long time and it has doomed America.  Teachers have come to be known as mediocre at their craft – we’re seen as nice people who are willing to take a low wage because we love our students so much.

Nonsense.  The best among us have worked hard for decades to become experts in what we do.  Our salaries should match that.

So if you’re an actor know this.  You really offend your teachers, your directors - anyone who has something that you expect them to do for free.  You don’t expect doctors to look at your xrays for free.  You don’t expect lawyers to give you advice for free. 

And while I’m on my virtual soapbox, if you require a reference letter please behave professionally.  The person writing the letter should not be expected to figure out where to send it.  They should not be expected to pay for the stamp much less international expedited mailing services to get it to the institution on time.  You should be offering to reimburse them for that upfront.  And you MUST ALWAYS acknowledge the favor with something more than a one-line email that says “Thx.”  I have even had an actress who I did all of that for who didn’t even send that 3-letter email to me at the end.

Teachers are not surrogate mothers who do all of this for you simply for the joy it brings them.  Learn this now!

Why you complete training, why you repeat training

I recently watched a monologue a former student put up on Facebook.  I was crestfallen.  It was completely projected.  The use of time was completely fake.  There was nothing that wasn’t pre-rehearsed, hadn’t had the good stuff completely consciously  rehearsed out of it.  It was not connected to something deeper – although I believe the actor believed that it was.  It makes me sad.  And it’s a cautionary tale that actors lose the ability to know sometimes whether their work is good or not.  And their friends, unfortunately, will encourage the bad work because they are laymen that don’t know better.  

This is why you go back to your training.  Why you go back to your coach, instructor, mentor.  To make sure that the forces that be do not seduce you back into superficial and mediocre versions of yourself.  And this is why you finish your training and you keep working with a coach until both of you are satisfied that your skills truly are skills that you cannot be seduced away from and that they will last a lifetime.

While Robin Williams went to Julliard, it was things that he learned in the field that he cited to Charlie Rose during his many interviews on Rose’s show as being really important to him.  Those tips are basic Meisner skills.

Use of the word "exciting"

Young artists a warning for you.

If you believe that using the word “exciting” is going to make audiences want to see your production, you probably need to re-think your marketing strategy.

What I see all the time are generic phrases describing locations as being exciting, productions as being exciting, directors as being exciting, scripts as being exciting but I almost NEVER see those entities described in a way that is SPECIFIC to them and therefore interesting to me.

Pay attention to what you write.  And try to give us details that help us understand what it REALLY is that might make us feel excited to come see you or your work.

It’s not your job to change the negative atmosphere around you. It is your responsibility to manage your own feelings and know that where you are is not forever.  There are people who are dream killers. Don’t try to convince them of anything. Don’t waste your time trying to change them.  My advice – stay away from them as much as you can and keep your eye on your long-term goals.

Lesson from Pilates

I was working with my Pilates instructor on a very bad flare-up of my sciatica. 

I did not want to do any back bend work – I was afraid of it.

My instructor guided me through back bend work because she felt it was what I needed.

Boy was she right! 

Sometimes it’s what we’re afraid to do that we need to do most.

   Google “NC Pilates."  Amy Michaels and Marie Sherr – wonderful teachers.

What Acting Isn't

A few nights ago I went to a theatrical performance where nearly everyone was very ineffective.

This is because everyone was so busy pretending (and many not pretending very well) to be a character.  The result was that it was uncomfortable to watch and that no matter what the script was about, completely unmoving to watch.

The next morning I attended a church service.  A young woman got up to read the scripture lessons.  Now I’ve also seen many people in church feel the need to “read expressively” or something like that where their phoney voices made it very difficult to actual hear what they were saying.

This young woman just read clearly.  She understood what she was saying and delivered it simply; she was connected to herself and her text.  And it was very easy to listen and very moving to hear.

I thought ‘if the actors from the previous evening were in this room and I had the opportunity to speak to them, it would be easy to help them understand that if they gave up all the pretending their theatrical performances would be impressive instead of embarrassing.’

Alas, I do not that have that opportunity.

Acting is not pretending.  If you can find a class that will teach you how to do what the characters do, actually feel what the character might feel because you are the one in the situation not the character, if you can find your way to a director who won’t let you step outside of yourself and act sort of ridiculous, you can change from being an amateur to being a real actor whose work is not just worth seeing but hiring.

Breaking the 4th Wall

When a reviewer suggests that a young theater company is doing something “new” by breaking the fourth wall, I LMAO and also feel a bit of anger rise.

Darlings (she said in a patronizing tone) people have done this for decades if not centuries.  Please know your history.  You believe you are making “contemporary” theater or that your work is “edgy” because you have some nudity in it or that your ideas are “brilliant” because you are under 30.

The truth is that none of that is true and when reviewers buy your press (where you’re sure to use words like “exciting” and “amazing” when that is also not true) they show their own lack of knowledge, experience and just – well, good sense.

Breaking the 4th wall is not a new concept.  It’s not exciting.  It’s not amazing.  Whether the show has any merit at all will be determined not by these externals (which quite frankly to some of us are boring as hell we’ve seen them so many times) but by how affective your story/reality really is, whether you really have something to say and how connected your actors/performers are to that message.

Sure, go ahead.  Try a “new” form.  But best to be really thoughtful about how you describe it and not become too arrogant until you can be really sure you’ve created something breathtaking. 

Cheap talk and hyperbole

If you wish to be taken seriously, you must be a person of your word.  I’m not referring to being trustworthy or doing what you say you will do.  Obviously those are important character traits to have.

I’m speaking about not stating things without giving them some thought first.

I really wonder about my students and what they actually know when they make statements like “the film is amazing” or “I’ve got a brilliant idea” or “so and so is a tremendous artist” when the truth is that none of that is true.

The proof is in the pudding and if you tell us the pudding is awesome and then it’s not you’re the one that looks bad.

It’s great to be supportive but when you make statements about the quality of something you should be thoughtful because that statement tells us about your ability to see clearly.  It tells us about your own standards and whether or not you have seen enough to even make a judgment about these things.  And it reflects poorly on you accept the 5 stars someone gave you without really wondering if you deserved it. 

I’m embarrassed when I see young actors engage in hyperbole like this.  They look dumb.  They have no idea – simply no idea how they really come across.  They don’t take the time to reflect on “do I really believe what I say?”  "Did I really deserve the praise being offered?“

Best not to put too much stock in the reviews you get either way; better to just keep doing the work.  And best not to throw around grandiose reviews of others’ work – sometimes when you haven’t even seen it – just to make and keep friends.

Actors:  Be a person of your word.  Be thoughtful.  Mean what you say.  Otherwise, your words just stop counting.

"Vote for my project! I know you haven't seen it but who cares!"

Many years ago a young actress wanted coaching on an audition for a very “in vogue” theater company.  I said to her, “Well, they’re going to interview you too so what is it about their work you like?"   Response:  "Oh, I’ve never seen their work but everyone says they are THE company to get into.”

I hate this. She hadn’t even seen their productions. How could she expect to appeal to them?

No wonder a less talented actress got the callback – one who actually knew all about them and who had seen their last three productions.

Now what I see a lot of – especially on Fbook – is “vote for my project” in this contest or that one or for this festival or that one without our being able to actually view what we’re voting for.  Because we’re virtual friends we’re just supposed to vote for them.

I’m sorry.  I try very hard to be a woman of my word.

What happened to EARNING it for Christ’s sake?!  More and more the internet becomes a numbers game rather than helping the real cream get to the surface.  (Well, we all already know this, I suppose.)

I’m not talking about Kickstarter campaigns or things of that nature.  I admire and am happy for folks that secure financial support this way.  But this other thing – nope.  At least on the The Voice, as much as the masses are frequently poor at differentiating mediocrity from true talent, you get to hear the people sing and compare them before you vote.

The true danger is when an actor wins the numbers game and then believes it has to do with the quality of their work rather than their capacity to drum up oblivious “Sure, I’ll click on anything” voters.  It just can’t last.  At some point your mediocrity catches up to you. 

At least this is what I have seen.

"Can you feel that?"

Recently a Pilates teacher said this to me and I really didn’t know what she was referring to. I was reminded of sitting in on a body awareness class for actors some years ago where the teacher asked the students “Can you feel that?” And I remember a different class when a movement teacher once asked “Feel that?” and then nodded her head as if she had made everything perfectly clear.

The problem is that in none of these cases did the teacher make it clear what “that” was. I watched students look around rather apprehensively but they dutifully nodded their heads because I’m guessing they certainly felt something and, more importantly, wanted to please. But who knows if what they were feeling was the right feeling or in the right place.

I’m trying to make it a point to understand what my teacher is looking for in specific terms rather than feeling that pressure to make her feel affirmed. I believe I said, “Well, this is what I feel and here is where I feel it. Is that what I should be feeling?”

And sometimes we aren’t going to be aware of what we feel when we’re doing something new. We’re just trying to figure it all out. It takes some time before we’ve done something enough to then actually be in touch with it all.

I’m never impressed when this question is asked again and again without any specific backup, so for me it’s a signal that maybe this teacher isn’t so great. What I do know is we should ask the follow up question or say, “I have no idea what I’m feeling right now I’m just trying to do the exercise.” Honesty helps both the practitioner and the student be present and have a constructive experience.

A note about bios

I’ve been reviewing various sites to find a particular instructor and in doing so have found that people really don’t know how to write an appropriate professional bio.  (Gee, I better take a look at mine now that I’ve said that.)

If I want to hire you for something that you are supposedly a master at, please don’t tell me that you were “thrilled” to continue your training with so and so or that you were “excited” to be able to take blah-blah-blah workshop to become certified in whatever.  These words are about your feelings and not your expertise. 

If you’re a professional, you need to leave these phrases out of your bio.  I know in programs people want to write “Sarah is thrilled to be working with this company again” but even there I usually ask my cast to leave those sentiments out.  Those feelings are better expressed privately.  I certainly am not impressed when I am doing my research to select a professional to provide services to me.

So those of you who might be writing up your own bio or website for something that you do well please keep it professional and don’t tell us about your feelings.  It makes you seem very amateurish.

Breast Cancer Political Correctedness

Thank goodness for Madhulika Sikka’s new book on breast cancer.  She talks brilliantly about our new cult of breast cancer victims and survivors as being pressured to become our new contemporary Super-Woman stereotype.

There is so much insistence that women fall into this “all-powerful, self-realized, I can bring home the bacon, fry it up in a pan, get my children into the right school and give great head to my husband without ever appearing vulnerable"  vision of true womanhood.  It’s rot.  And it has so many negative ramifications.

Hell, it’s taken me years to admit that I don’t like Vagina Monologues outside my closest group of friends. I have always felt that I dare not say it.  But I don’t like it.  (longer story)

I’m glad that Sikka has the guts to say that we have to stop suggesting that women put aside their extraordinary fears and become these fearless combatants. 

Yes, great.  I want my friends to fight their cancer, and I’ve watched dear friends die from it.  I do not want any of them to feel that competitive, one-up"man"ship that only women know really well how to do over their disease.  I want them to cry and carry on and do whatever they feel like they need to do to be honest about the emotions going through them.

For some women, cancer is going to kill them.  And it won’t have been their fault.  We need to examine where we all set women up for that.  It’s shameful.

The answer is: The trash

Question:  Where do emails end up from people looking for a job that are addressed:  “To whom it may concern?”

If you haven’t bothered to notice who the director of my studio is, it’s highly unlikely that I would ever consider interviewing you for a job.

So, let this be a lesson for my students as well.  If you’re looking for a job ANYwhere – do your research, know who runs the company, what the company has done, etc.  And know who to address in your correspondence.  Also, no first names until someone gives you permission to use their first name.