All posts by David

The Elephant’s Head

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What’s the story with the Elephant’s head?
I do love the inquisitive nature of people who apply for The Applied Art of Acting. Are you going to turn me into an elephant? Kind of… But not really.
The Elephant Head is a mask that I commissioned for Company D Theatre’s production of “in 1916”. This play was about Roger Casement and followed a dual narrative of Casement’s imprisonment in the Tower of London and subsequent execution for smuggling arms into Ireland for the uprising, and the incredible story, in the same year, of Mary the Circus Elephant who was hanged to death by a railway crane in an American town for killing her handler who had constantly mistreated her while she suffered tooth-ache.
Because I have a slightly bizarre imagination, the similarities of the two cases, which occurred in parallel times in parallel countries was too good to ignore and I wrote the play for Company D and commissioned the mask back in 2007.
Then, rather than put the mask on some enormous lad, I decided to go the other way and place it on a dainty and exceptional female actor/dancer, Donna Bradley. So the body you see there is Donna’s.
To me though, it became a symbol for the dichotomies of strength and fragility, of power and subtly, of beauty and terror, of the primal and the trained, of freedom in impossible constraint.
These are some of the wonderful and terrible things actors must be and navigate and endure.
So Mary became a symbol of all my work as a teacher of acting as a high art… And so she lives on the poster of The Applied Art of Acting. And always will… whether it’s good marketing or not.


Choosing Showreel Material

It often happens, oddly, that several students and actors out there will ask the same question in the space of a couple of weeks and I write lengthy responses… and then write a passage like this. So here’s one on choosing showreel material.

As I always tell my student actors when we’re working on audition technique, try to put yourself in the headspace of the casting director. So with showreels, think about who’s going to be viewing it and what their response might be.

First of all, the casting director is usually someone who has been working in the Industry for some time. Some of them are trained actors themselves, some are not. They’re usually 30 plus in age and most are female. Most importantly, they are all looking for excellent acting. Your showreel needs to show them excellent acting. What is excellent acting as defined by casting directors? Well take a look at the stuff they have cast in the past and what they are currently casting and you will soon see the level of acting and the “kind of” acting they are looking for.  Different casting directors will be looking for different things. Some are adamant about precise accents, other’s don’t care so much about that. Some expect the words to be absolutely perfect in the screen-test, others aren’t so worried about that as long as it’s 90% there. Some are interested in transformational acting that shows the life of the character as an individual, unique life force. Others want to see you saying the lines believably.

You can research what different casting directors are after. Some of them do their own casting workshops and you can go along and discover exactly what that casting director expects. I have brought Ali Coffey and Louise Kiely and Mary McGuire in to The Applied Art of Acting over the years so that they can present their expectations and perspectives. This is all important of course.

But that all said, at the end of the day, you are bringing the actor that is YOU to the casting. You are showing the actor that is YOU in your showreel and in doing that all you can do is present what YOU believe is great acting, performed by YOU. You can try to cater that to the individual casting director you are going to see, but that can often compromise your belief in your own piece of work, and that can often be picked up by the camera.

So lets look at two things. First of all, let’s look at the basic thing that all casting directors want to see. And secondly let’s look at what you can offer them that will show the individual actor that is YOU, because that is what will set you apart from everyone else.

All casting directors want to see believability. This is assuming you are auditioning for a piece of realism in TV or Film genres. If it sounds or looks for a second like it has been learned and recited, game over. That’s the easy bit and assumed and essentially that’s about all that is common among all casting directors.

Now it’s down to what you want to show them. If you think that good acting is showing emotion, go ahead and pick a scene in which you are crying, screaming with anger, strung out on drugs and so on. That will show that one string to your bow. However, most casting directors who are casting quality film and TV will also assume you can access emotion due to your talent and training. Again, it’s easy and assumed among the echelon of excellent actors and the higher levels of the business. If you think good acting is showing that you can play the same scene that Matt Damon or Robin Williams or some other star played, then you can find the script, learn it and shoot it. However if you do, the first thing the casting director thinks of is Matt Damon or Robin Williams or some other star doing it and there’s a period of moments that pass before they start truly watching you do it. And unless you do it better than that star, or uniquely differently using some very clever choices, that’s pretty much where the viewers mind is going to stay. If you think good acting is traversing difficult and confronting territory such as graphic sexual or violent material or even nudity, you can do that too. That said, most casting directors have watched more sexually and violently graphic material in the course of their work than you’ve had hot dinners. You’re not going to shock them and again, in the upper realms of high art acting, it will once again be assumed that you are capable and willing to confront tough territory and commit your body to it too if it is required for the telling of the story. Some casting directors are more sensitive than others, that’s true. But most won’t be offended by graphic material unless it’s just gratuitous muck. Sex, violence and nudity that isn’t necessary to the actual telling of the story is cringy and just looks like bad b grade porn. It doesn’t offend. It just leaves the viewer feeling awkward and uncomfortable. This is also true of tons of swearing that isn’t necessary. Yawn. So you can swear. Doesn’t prove anything about your acting.

So what grabs them? Ok here’s my advice. And again, I can only be general because all casting directors are different and have different  approaches. But…

Choose play scripts. I know, that’s sacrilegious and so many people will tell you not to, that plays don’t translate to film. But it’s not true of Streetcar or Cat on a Hot Tin Roof, or Closer, or Killer Joe or the many Shakespeares that have been made into films, so again in my humble opinion, that argument is a little flawed. And besides that, you’re going to be showing a tiny snippet of script only. The transition from stage to screen that has to be done when shooting a whole play script is not going to be an issue for you. For showreel purposes, a good, well written, nuanced play script that many casting directors haven’t seen and that hasn’t been made into a movie, focuses them on you, not on some other star. You choose the scene from the play in which a massive change happens to the character. Why? Because the most interesting thing to watch in a short clip for showreel purposes is a character being genuinely CHANGED. They start in one place, learn something massive and finish somewhere else. Now of course showreel clips are 20-30 seconds long, so you are only going to be choosing about half a page of script at most. But that moment when the character learns that someone has died, that her boyfriend has cheated on her, that he has just won the lottery, that she got the job, we see wonderful, genuine reactions to given circumstances and core problems. These moments might feature an emotional outburst, and if that’s warranted, fine, but usually they don’t. Usually genuine responses to life changing moments are quiet, nuanced, surprising and subtle and it is the audience that feels the outrage. These are the moments that good editors comb the material to find when editing a film. Now of course, if you haven’t trained and don’t have the confidence or knowledge to allow your character to be genuinely and organically moved and CHANGED in the moment, you might manufacture a preempted response of what you think the character should do in that moment. And that’s usually death too, unless you are a very good pretender. Not all actors can do this stuff. It’s the ones that do and do consistently that make casting people and directors sit up and listen.

Great screen acting in the genre of realism is all about transformation; allowing the audience to go along the journey of watching your character respond to their circumstances and change and evolve from the beginning of the film to the end. To show you can do that, live in that character’s world so fully that genuine, organic responses can take place within the character because the actor has got out of it’s way, is a sure sign that you can play important characters in crisis and triumph. You can show that in excellent individual moments in small selections of great scripts. You just have to choose the right script and the right moment.





The Right to Act


I’m writing this as a blog… Yes a Blog! I’ve never really blogged before so I thought I’d try it.

You probably know my notes and posts and things from Facebook about all kinds of different forms of stuff to do with acting and the dramatic arts. If you don’t, mostly what I write are responses to conversations with my students, fellow actors and to general moods that seem to be pervading.  I do tend to get nice responses that they are often helpful.

What I wanted to respond to here is what seems to be a pervading sense recently from some actors that they feel inferior to the whole business of becoming an actor.  It seems an impossibility. It seems that certain people get molly-coddled into positions of influence and get all the breaks while you get none. As such you go seeking influence. You go seeking friendship or preference. We call this networking. One actor recently told me that he was at a talk where someone from “the industry” said that if you are an out-of-work actor the best job you can get is being a waiter or bar-staff at places frequented by stars or directors or other people of influence. Then you have a chance of getting “seen”. Others have told me that the only criteria for them choosing an acting course or acting school is the propensity for the name of the school propelling them to success or influential people noticing them in the course.

And that’s fine… kind of. But what if you work in that bar and can’t do your evening studio classes that will make you a better actor… and nobody notices you because to them you are a waiter… not an actor. What if you go to that school and spend all your money and then find out that you didn’t get noticed by anyone and have to do the same hard slog as every other actors that’s trying to make themselves the best actor they can be, garner an audition and then prove it to the world? And all the while you weren’t concentrating on the training, but trying to get noticed, so you still haven’t become a good actor?

Ok, I’m going to respond to this in the right way I hope. First of all, I’m not suggesting that you don’t train. Quite the opposite in fact. (Of course I’d say that, I’m an Acting Teacher.) But when you do, you need to learn something very solid that will make you an exceptional actor. If you don’t, you can hang around in bars all you like, nothing’s going to help you. Secondly, networking is, for the most part, a gyp. I’ve only tried it once or twice myself and found it nauseating. I was being relentlessly hit on by attractive people until they worked out that I couldn’t make them a star and then they disappeared only to be followed by another sycophant. And all the time, I was the one who was trying out this networking thing in the hope that I could meet someone who might be able to give me a boost. The idea that I could make these people good actors meant nothing to them at all. They didn’t care about acting as an art form, they just wanted the fame and fortune attached to it for a tiny handful of extremely fortunate people on this planet.

Now here’s me name-dropping. I went to the same acting school around the same time as Sam Worthington. I did a short film 20 years ago with Joel Edgerton. There’s others I could name. So why am I not where they are? And why are they where they are? First of all, my life went in other directions. I married an Irish girl who wanted to move home and so my trajectory of acting in Sydney in those days was broken. However, in Ireland I have an agent and have been on lots of cool stuff on the TV including Game of Thrones and The Tudors to name just a couple and I did it without networking at all. Frankly my education as an actor developed much more during my University degree than it did at acting school, and then it flourished by the influence of a couple of really amazing individual teachers. However, that said, I also had an insatiable appetite for directing, writing, and most of all teaching within this art form of acting. All of the things I’ve done in those other fields could not have been achieved if I was where Joel and Sam are now. Joel and Sam got where they are by auditioning, getting the gigs, being seen IN those films (not in a bar or something) and then got more stuff. Yeah, but they’re pretty, I hear you say. The camera makes you pretty. The screen turns you into a giant. Those guys are just guys like you and me. They’re good looking sure, but they’re not some kind of Zoolander models. Nor is Cathy Bates and Brendan Gleeson or anyone else by the way. If you get screen training… and I mean screen training that has an actual technique built in, in which you learn to build your relationship with the camera, you too can be a giant on it, especially once you get the experience of being in front of it over and over again. But no one can tell that from you in a bar. You need to work at it to become extraordinary at it. That’s why I film incessantly in my studio and we apply a specific technique to what we are doing over and over and over again.

Ok, so I’ll stop talking about myself. I only do it to help but it can appear self-serving. Ask yourself what you want? I wanted to act, to direct, to teach and to write. I have done all of them and still do. Conor McGregor wanted to fight in the UFC and become a champion. Very focussed, very specific. He worked like hell for it too and got it… and then got knocked down and got up again. Joel and Sam wanted to be where they are and worked for it. They may fall off that A list. Shit happens. Yes it’s true that a lot of actors also work very hard to get it, and don’t get it, but that’s life. Remember this is the hardest game of them all.

So what do you do? You need to work hard. You need to get yourself in front of the camera and do excellent work on it. If it’s the stage, you have to get on the damn thing and get people to see you being incredibly good. You need to engage constantly with the art of acting. Weekly, daily, hourly if you can. How do you do that? You need to train. And I mean work like a dog but work right. I’m not here to advertise myself as a teacher. Come to me if you think I’m the person who can help you get what you want. There’s loads of options out there these days.

Recently I was working with a young model who was seen by a producer who thought she looked exactly like a particular character in a biopic he was producing. (Not because she was good looking because she is of course, but in very unusual ways.) We worked together on her tapes and now she is short-listed for it and this is a really major Hollywood film. But the producers have said her look is great for the part, her acting is solid in her tapes, but the only thing that may let her down is her lack of training and experience. I tell you guys, your look means nothing if you don’t have the training to back up your talent. Unless the acting is good, Sam and Joel would be doing something else today. The producers want a sure thing.

Most importantly though, you need to drum something into your head. You have the right to act. There is no scary body of decision makers out there keeping you out of the loop. You have as much right to work as anybody else. The problem is, the business, especially in film, is all about making money. It all comes down to audiences. If someone sees you in a bar and thinks audiences will come to see you in a cinema, good for you. But if and when they do, if you suck, you’re gone. In fact you’ll still have to audition and if you suck in that you’re gone anyway. Your pretty face won’t make the screen in the first place.

You need to become a great actor, an interesting actor, a believable and convincing actor, a dynamic and versatile actor, an actor with a technique; someone about whom producers and directors just say, “yep, she’s good. She’s going to nail it an everyone will want to see her do it.” Can you do that? Can you do that without being a known entity?

You have the right to act. You have the right to wait tables where Steven Spielberg sips cocktails too. But you don’t have the right to be noticed and you don’t have the right to a free ride.

As Russell Crowe once said, no-one’s going to hand it to you. You have to go and get it.

Roger Kenny Photography Actor Head Shots


Acting With Archetypes

Acting with Archetypes

There’s always new forms of approaching character and the art of acting popping up all the time and often they’re new ways of utilizing very old and even ancient forms. As you know my primary interest lies in the most cutting edge advances in acting and its fascinating, constant evolution, and recently I’ve been doing a lot of work in this field of archetypes, especially with the students of The Applied Art of Acting and The Actors Friday Studio.
It takes a little bit of hands on training to make this stuff happen in your performances, but in brief, an archetype is a layer of reality on the surface of your character. It doesn’t matter what kind of archetypes you use, Jungian archetypes, the archetypes of the Commedia or invented archetypes of your own. Now importantly for those who have no idea what an archetype is, it is a very different thing to a stereotype. The difference is that an archetype is something that is specific and TRUE and a stereotype is something that is obviously false and general.
A really good example to use that everyone would know right now is Rory O’Neill’s creation of Panti Bliss. If you like, the “surface” of Panti Bliss is a confident, outgoing, very witty woman, very specifically created by Rory. The true personality of Rory is hidden beneath the hair and make-up and kind of takes a back seat while Panti is there. Yet at the same time, Rory isn’t necessarily trying to disguise himself. Drag isn’t an attempt to fool people that you’re a woman. The channeling of Panti is channelled through the self of Rory but seems to leave Rory elsewhere for the “performance”. So Rory doesn’t somehow magically disappear. He just lets Panti do her thing. Then he goes and takes of the make-up and Rory is there again. Panti Bliss is “real” although a construction. We believe her and yet know she’s really a dude making an important point.
So if Panti is a very intricately created archetype, the stereotype of a gay man is the antiquated, limp-wristed foppish fool. It’s a stereotype created out of fear and to most of us its offensive.
Ok so let’s extend this to all of us and get very intricate about it. We present an archetype of ourselves in our public life. It’s completely true. We don’t “put on a performance” when we go to work. So the me that people see in the classroom or studio is, I hope, a confident teacher who knows his shit and can apply it to make his students very good actors. That’s not an “invention”. It’s an archetype that people believe because I believe it. It’s a reality that I can rely on. I don’t need to somehow “put that hat on”. I behave like that because its truly who I am. You do the same thing.
However, under that there’s a “you” that is not that. You don’t show it to anyone, except maybe your most trusted, intimate partner or friend. And unless you have someone in your life you truly trust, not even they will get to see that person. It’s the pure-form child in you. And here’s the thing, it’s almost always the antithesis of the archetype. It’s its opposite. In a film it’s revealed when the character is alone. It’s revealed to the character’s only trusted, intimate friend, the audience. My students reading this will now be equating this thinking to the exciting work of Lonely Protagonist theory, which is really fun to play with because it’s only when your character is totally alone and naked (in both physical and metaphorical senses) that we truly see the real, pure-form child underneath. And here’s the really interesting thing. It is REAL and TRUE too. As is the archetype. The archetype isn’t something false that’s hiding it’s opposite. If you approach it like that you end up playing the archetype as a stereotype or as a kind of generalization of “confidence” for example as opposed to “shyness”. That’s too general.
Working with these two very specific layers of character can move you towards a multi-layered performance that isn’t hit and miss but very specific. You can decide (without preempting) when you want to reveal this inner truth of the character in cool moments. You can even reveal them when the character is in public. The camera of course loves this stuff and if you are well versed in Triangulation and have built that relationship with the camera, you can work with it to reveal a very intricate and layered performance.
It takes some training, like I say, and you do need to be pretty versed already at psychological and physical characterization to make it work. But it doesn’t take long and it’s really fun. Then as always its a matter of practice, practice, practice. You’ll never act the same way after it either. You’ll wonder what you were ever doing before.
Love these eye-popper tools.
So there you go. The Wednesday Workshop, The Friday Studio and The Applied Art of Acting are always open to applicants. Ph. 087 759 6715.
See ya soon and have a nice day.

Collected Stories by Donald Margulies

Company D’s 20th production, Collected Stories by Donald Margulies will play in the Teachers Club, 36 Parnell Square West, Dublin 1 from Tuesday February 4 till Saturday February 8 at 8pm. With Niamh Kavanagh and Noreen Fynes. Directed by David Scott.

Once in a While the Odd Thing Happens by Paul Godfrey

After a sellout and critically acclaimed season in the Teachers Club earlier in the year, Company D’s production of Paul Godfrey’s Once in a While the Odd Thing Happens will be seen again at the Dublin Gay Theatre Festival on May 10th and 11th at 9:30pm in the James Joyce Centre, North Great Georges Street, Dublin. Then May 13-25 in the Viking Theatre, Connolly’s Pub (The Sheds) Clontarf at 8pm. Don’t miss this beautiful production celebrating the centenary of composer Benjamin Britten.

OLEANNA by David Mamet

As its 16th production, Company D will produce David Mamet’s “Oleanna” from March 13th – March 24th , Tuesday to Saturday at 8pm in the Teachers Club Theatre, 36 Parnell Square West, Dublin 1. A matinee will also play at 2pm on Saturday March 24th.

Mamet’s controversial 90’s two-hander penetrates the potential corruption inherent in sexual harassment accusations. John, a university professor in his early forties is about to be granted tenure and has structured his family life around the award, putting down a deposit on a new house for his family. Carol, one of his students has failed a paper and when she finds she cannot understand the concepts of the course, files a complaint with the tenure committee, accusing John of sexual impropriety, sexism and an abuse of his position, both as an older male and as an educator.

Mamet wrote in his 2010 book “Theatre” that one of his favourite plays is John Patrick-Shanley’s “Doubt”, citing the play’s genius as its ability to leave the ball squarely in the court of the audience. “Oleanna” serves a similar function, presenting both sides of an epic power struggle and allowing the audience to decide who is right and who is wrong, presenting no definitive opinion on the part of the dramatist. Who is right? Is Carol simply a bitter student, not intelligent enough to be at university, using her age and gender to destroy the professor who has failed her? Or is Carol right? Has John let his position go to his head, exercising his freedom to deviate and invent, patronising his female students and indulging his power to pass or fail, to grant and deny.

Aside from being brilliantly written and structured, “Oleanna” is a perfect piece of writing for Company D at this stage. Its ethic of giving opportunities to new actors sees the introduction of Sinead O’Riordan, a recent graduate of “The Applied Art of Acting”, the most intensive and advanced fulltime, single-technique actor-training program available in Ireland. It also gives “Applied Art of Acting” and Company D director, David Scott a rare opportunity to test his most cutting edge techniques on the stage. A former teacher and student go head-to-head in the roles of teacher and student, with absolutely no punches pulled!

David Scott and Sinead O'Riordan. Photo by Roger Kenny

The Applied Art of Acting

The Applied Art of Acting 3 Month fulltime intensive program is up and running. 15 excellent students. Innovative single technique intensive for professional actors available right here in Dublin.