Professional Courtesy

When you attend an audition, you might consider sending out a brief email thanking the producer/director/casting director for the opportunity.  Keep it short and sweet.  They may not read it, but some will, and they will remember your name.  Some people are really made aware of you when you behave with more courtesy than the next guy.

Recently I attended an open call.  To my knowledge not one of the nearly 100 actors who auditioned thought to send out a brief thank you to the directors who were there. It amazed me!  I realize it’s no wonder that students who work with my faculty get ahead – they learn such good career acumen and build such sound habits in their craft that they differentiate themselves from the 1,000s of other actors out there.

Many years ago an actress I was coaching for a big general call had seen every show the company had done for the past 2 years.  She loved their work and dropped them short thank you notes with intelligent comments about the work. When she auditioned for them, they remembered her name but couldn’t place where they knew her from. When she said “Oh, I’ve watched your work for a couple of years,” they immediately remembered her.  They put down their pens, watched her audition with enthusiasm and gave her a call back.

Honest courtesy will work to your benefit.  Having intelligent things to say about what you see and learn will be to your benefit.

Stop lying to people

That sounds more like a life lesson than a career lesson but this industry is way too small and its people way too savvy for you to get away with lying.

The reason people do a lot of lying is that they feel they have to say something. Or they feel they need to make something sound better. Or they don't want to get caught not knowing something, etc.

The impulse is understandable but the result makes you look foolish.

If you're in an audition, don't lie to people about your resume. If you don't know the answer to something that you realize you should know the answer to, laugh at yourself! When you try filling in the blank with SOMETHING, it becomes obvious in your behavior.

And I'm always surprised how often actors will claim something or answer something in a way that a simple visit to their Facebook page proves false.

If you don't know the answer, if you haven't accomplished certain things, if you can't be available -- be honest. If you can't be trusted, people won't want to work with you.

Now, are there times when leaving something out of the conversation is okay? Sure. I think there are things in your personal life that you don't need to volunteer. It's important to note, however, that when those things interfere with your ability to do your job as an actor you're going to have to be proactive about communicating them.

The real message is that people tend to respond to straightforwardness and honesty and see it as a strength. When I watch actors lying to cover up their supposed weaknesses, it's the lie that makes them appear insecure -- not the thing they're trying to hide.

Why Stage Work is Important for Film

Okay, there are a lot of reasons why.  I love that my graduate Gianmarco Soresi has booked such a lucrative commercial campaign (GE) because he earned it.  He exhausted the work when he trained with me.  He didn’t just train he kept upping his personal bar and went as far in any given night’s work as it was possible to go.  He taught himself how to work, how to fix things that weren’t working.  He learned patience and perseverance.  Those things paid off.  While he was in many ways more talented than some of his peers, he did the work, never blamed anyone or anything when something wasn’t working in his career or in his art.

Stage work and acting training (not in front of a camera) if it’s done within a program that has high standards and strong techniques simply builds actors who can stomach the industry, stay creative and find positive solutions to their challenges.  It helps actors find creative solutions.

So when my graduates move from stage into film and TV with success – as so many have – those of us who knew them can see that the habits that led to the person’s success were built many years before the success was attained.

Correcting a mispronunciation of your name

A name is an important thing.  We all have this deep relationship with its role in our identity.  But when you’re in an audition and the person calling out your name mispronounces it, let it go.  When you go out of your way more than once to get that person to say it right you come across as petty. Don’t ask me why but I have seen it in auditions 100 times.  The actor makes a point of correcting their name, and there’s an almost audible response of “oh, brother” from the auditioners.  There will be a really appropriate time to let a director or casting agent know the correct way to say your name.  You certainly don’t want someone to be embarrassed down the line if they’ve been saying it wrong for weeks.  In an open call, when someone says it wrong, just smile and say “Yes, I’m here” or whatever is appropriate for the situation.  You don’t want people focusing on your correction when you’re only in front of them for a total of 2 minutes.

College Actors - a note of support

There are usually limited acting training opportunities in college drama programs if you're not one of the students consistently cast in your school's shows. Don't worry! My experience with actors who received their BAs in theater is that most of their real growth happens after college when they get out in the world and pursue new opportunities for expanding their skills or simply find the industry more impenetrable than they imagined.

Sometimes there are good reasons why you may not be getting cast. Sometimes it comes down to your physical type. And a good deal of the time those of you who aren't being cast may simply not be smiled down upon by a certain teacher or you may not be in the right clique.

Not to worry. When you're not cast, keep doing whatever you can to learn about the industry, to find ways to fill in the gaps of what you can't get in your college program and consider working with a coach before your school's next round of auditions.

The most talented woman at my college was never cast in a show. She just wasn't identified as being "in the club" so to speak. I think about her work frequently as she was more real, more intuitive and more connected to honest acting than any of us.

How much you're cast in your college program is actually not very indicative of your future success. Do not be disheartened.

Selecting a monologue

There's always the exception to the rule but most of the time you want an "active" monologue. One where you are not telling a past tense story but one where you are engaged in a really active moment with the other character.

I've sat in on auditions where 80% of the monologues begin with lines like "When I lived in the orphanage..." After about six hours of those monologues it's a relief when someone gets up and is actively involved in "the moment unlike any other day" where they are confront another person or defend themselves, or stand their ground, etc.

If you're asked for two contrasting monologues, having one of your monologues be a story of something that happened in your past is okay as long as it's still a compelling story or you have a compelling reason in the imaginary circumstance for bringing it up but then you definitely want the second monologue to be active.

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.

Avoiding Dream Killers

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.

Not meeting your goals

When you’re not excited about or not meeting your goals

Jul 29th, 2014 

Don’t understand why you’re not enthused about shooting your new webseries?  Wondering why you don’t feel like going out and auditioning?  Everyone goes through those down times when we can’t figure out why we aren’t more excited about the stuff we could be doing for our careers.  Wendy discusses this and has a new resource that may help.

iTunes podcast

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 (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 “revolutionary” 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 effective 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.