The Theatrical Aims of Imagining Liam

So Imagining Liam, Company D’s newest project is now coming to the end of its two week run in The Teachers Club. Towards the end of a run I like to put out there what exactly I was aiming to achieve with a play that I write. I wouldn’t do that early in the run, only at this stage as it’s unlikely that any more reviewers will come along now, but audiences still will roll in to see the last three shows and perhaps they might like to come with some of these thoughts in mind. We did have three great online reviews of the show from respected sources, but I would have very much liked some of the mainstream newspaper’s theatre critics with their vast experience to have seen and commented on the work, but alas, despite many emails, we didn’t register as important to them this time around. Company D plays certainly have aroused the interest of the establishment in the past and I certainly hope they will again.

So in brief my aim with Imagining Liam was to explore the nature of self-knowledge, or perhaps better-said, self-truth. In this frenzied world, I find that people are too quick to define themselves. They do this on social media especially, setting up “profiles” for themselves that then project them to the outside online world. Further than that, people entrench themselves in beliefs far too quickly also, and usually those beliefs have not come from a source of truth, or even from oneself, but rather from the media or from another radicalised voice. For example, a voice tells us that all Catholic Clergy are violent child rapists and the Church is evil, and another tells us it’s just a small minority and the Catholic Church is really very wonderful. Depending on who we listen to and believe, we entrench ourselves in our positions and stick to them, no matter what, even though we have never gone looking for the real truth, beyond the media, who let’s remember have a job which is to “sell” their news and is often deeply agenda driven.

Moreso, we do not look within ourselves for truth either. We don’t take the time to stop and meditate and think about the real us, the real self within, the child that still lives deep within us. If we take the time to listen to it, it will whisper and speak again.

So Robert in the play has been imprisoned for killing a child while driving drunk. Sure, that’s an interesting frame for a play, but Liam is an Imagining. We never see him and we never hear his voice, other than through Robert. Robert comes to us as a victimised, homophobic, sexist bully who has been thrown in the can for having a few pints. He is entrenched in his hatred of religion, fags and women, all of whom are bitches because his own girlfriend has left him during his trial. “Frailty, thy name is woman”.

However, within the space of a couple of scenes, and indeed often within single scenes, I have illuminated the contradictory nature of Robert. He emerges not as homophobic, but in fact quite the opposite. Not sexist, but a defender of women’s piss-weak gender roles as handed to them by religion and society, and his anti-religious fervour is based on quite thoughtful problems with indoctrination and the ill effects that can have on society.

His cellmate, Steve, is as one reviewer said, “remarkably zen”, yet here’s a man whose past haunts him and who fears the outside world. He too is “a walking contradiction, partly truth, partly fiction” Kris Kristofferson.

As the play progresses and children’s toys proliferate around the space, we see the children within Steve and Robert. We see the little boy who needs his mother, who needs to be forgiven, who needs love and acceptance. We see him them both play

Imagining Liam. Company D. Photography by Roger Kenny.

cry, child like, at different moments and in different ways. As Robert slowly realises that his entrenched positions might be flawed, that his memory of that fateful day that he killed Liam might be invented as a self-protection mechanism, we see him look within. What better place to do that? A prison cell. Four years to think. Four years to take the time to see within. Four years to listen to the voice of the child within whisper and then speak. Time to take the time to go down those rabbit holes.

We choose what rabbit holes we go down. That’s all it is. That’s all I think it is anyway.

Imagining Liam. The Teachers Club Theatre, 36 Parnell Square West, Dublin 1. 7:30pm shows nightly till Saturday June 10.

Imagining Liam by David Scott

“Imagining Liam” is the newest production by Company D Theatre.

Imagining Liam follows Robert as he is imprisoned for killing a child while driving under the influence, his journey to the truth and freedom within himself.

May 29-June 10, Monday to Saturday nights at 7:30pm in The Teachers Club, 36 Parnell Square West Dublin 1.

Preview May 29 – 10 Euro.

May 30 – June 10 – 15 Euro and 12 Euro Conc.

Bookings on E: davidarts@eircom,net. Ph. 087 759 6715.

Imaging Liam

Making the world your playground.

Hi all. I’m having a day of doing nothing to try to recover a bit from this awful bug that has kicked the hell out of me and my wife over the past few days. I’d like to thank all those at Nurofen for their kind support and also Jameson’s.
So while I sit before a warm fire in a lovely B&B in Rush, soaking heat into my back and speaking as little as possible, again, I’d like to write something that may be of interest or help to some… a response to several conversations of late with actors.

It’s timely I think after last night’s Academy Awards for us to realize that the distance between us and “them” is not as great as we may think it is… or as great as Hollywood may want us to believe. There are no gods. Often it feels like and seems that we will never be on that red carpet. But those people are just like you and me. There, in the glamour of it all was a girl I saw on stage years back here in Dublin. I met her briefly so long ago and I don’t know her, but I wonder how many times she was told there’s no point trying to be an actor in white Ireland when you’re black. Acting opposite her is an Aussie I made a short film with years and years ago, the pair of us skulking around a set with barely a few bucks to our names.

You see, I’m not dropping names or claiming connections. I’m really not. Joel probably wouldn’t even remember me if he saw me and Ruth certainly wouldn’t. I’m trying to offer this to my students who come out of The Applied Art of Acting’s immersive and immensely creative environ to then have to face down the real world that all actors have to face. And that can be depressing and difficult. And it’s deeper than just being concerned about whether or not you will succeed. It can be crippling. It can shove you into a dark room. It can make you not want to leave it. It make it impossible to even come to the Studio to practice the thing you love the most in the world. But you have to come. You have to get up and go in. Otherwise, you’re lost.

What you have to do, at the core of it, is remember that wonderful full-time, creative playground you found in The Applied Art of Acting and make the WORLD your playground. This industry is now your creative playground. The course is over. You may be a new kid in the playground, but the playground belongs to you as much as it does to anyone else. There will be bullies in it who will tell you that you don’t belong, but go around them. They’re only doing that to defend their own corner of the sandpit. They’re just afraid. Go play with someone else.

I’m not saying you WILL make it big. For obvious reasons not all of us can. But what is a true and absolute and unalienable fact is that you CAN make it big. Not that you WILL but you CAN. The potential is there. The possibility is there. It was there for Joel and Ruth and they worked hard, probably against enormous odds and got there. Did they have terrible times of doubt and despair? I don’t know them well enough to know. But I bet they did. Did they let those times defeat them? Possibly yes… momentarily… but certainly not permanently.

Are there great shed loads of actors out there equally as good as Ruth and Joel who haven’t made it to those echelons? Yep. You betcha. And that’s the way it goes. But you see, even if you don’t get to that red carpet, guys, it’s just a red carpet covered by people who worried and struggled just like you. Most of them have had or probably still do have therapists on the payroll. Under those gowns and tuxedos are artists with skin and bone just like yours. All of them would have had to go the toilet during the ceremony at some stage and take a piss. Crude I know, but that’s the facts of it.

The last thing I ever want any of my students to think is that I’m filling them full of crap when I say they can make it. Because it’s not crap. Will they make it? That I don’t know and can’t control in any way other than to promote them at every opportunity I get to those connections I’m lucky enough to have made in this business. But I can’t promise success. Nobody can. And if they do, go play with someone else. Quickly!

I think about sitting on the steps outside the old Gaiety School with Mo Dunford, smoking a rollie and him asking me what I thought his chances would be. Should I give it a year and give it away? Should I give it 5 years? I suggested 10. 10 years later he looks like he’s home. But is there ever such as thing as that either?

We all have our stories. I was the ugly kid, the dumb kid and the untalented kid. I was the kid who was told he was an idiot and a fool to think he could have a career in the Arts. I was told this by many, many awful people and also by several people who actually cared about me and thought they were helping. I STILL have people throw blockages in the way of the things I think I can offer, and I probably always will have those in my life. Along the road, however, there was one teacher… just one… at the end of my high-school days, who pulled me aside and said, David, let’s talk about what you can bring to the world. Not what you WILL bring to the world, because no one knows if this will work at all, but what you potentially CAN.

All it takes is one voice to slice through all the other noise. And then it takes you. You, and your voice. The voice inside you that despite your depression and anxiety, quietly reminds you that you have something to offer. It’s that voice that draws you out of that dark room, to look around the corner to see if there’s anybody out there you can work a scene with, write a short film with, film a brilliant monologue with. It’s that voice that says, go on, knock on that casting director’s door again. They might tell you to fuck off, but hey at least you knocked. And then knock again in a few months time and let them tell you to fuck off again (and by the way I’ve never been told to fuck off by a casting director in my life. But I know that’s the fear.) It’s that voice that says, you might mess this screen-test up, but hey lets throw the kitchen sink at it anyways.

You see, you never know what’s around the corner, but you have to keep going round them. It might be a dead end, it might be a little job. It might be something that seems ordinary and turns out to be extraordinary. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve accidentally run into huge opportunities by exploring what seemed to be a kind of banal avenue. Just go there. What’s to lose?

Around that corner could be your dream job, or another thing you never imagined yourself doing, but found you loved. Hey, the love of your life could be around that corner! But you have to get out of bed and look.

Nobody gets anywhere alone. Very rarely anyway.

I try to be that teacher’s voice for you guys, because it is a true voice, not a voice of false encouragement and platitudes. I can try to help you cultivate your own voice, and during the Applied Art, of course that voice calls strongly! But once you’re out, you have to keep it lit. You have to keep it lit yourself, and you have to let it call out brightly inside you.

See you in the Studio.
Rock on.

The Casting Trap

027 2A note on casting today, again following some interesting discussions.

Every actor wants to know why they can’t get a gig and there’s always a very specific reason why you can’t and don’t and it all depends on the gig you’re trying to get.

Most of the time the reasons why you don’t get the gig are out of your hands. Some of the time, though, they’re not. Obviously if you give a wooden and contrived performance in the audition, you’ve shot yourself in the foot. Easy fix there is to get some actor training. But what if you give a perfectly believable performance and still don’t get the gig? If it happens often enough over a period of time, you’ll start to think you’re a bad actor, which, if you have trained and learned a solid technique, isn’t the case. Let’s look at the reasons why then.

First of all, let’s look at TV commercials and demystify “type”. Type is not a dirty word. It’s a method of relating very quickly to an audience. What the casting people and the client are looking for is type. Let’s take an example. I recently went for an ad with my 6 year old son. I was to play a Dad and he was… you guessed it, my son. So what the casting director and the client want to see is a “typical” father and son pairing. Why? No, it’s not because they lack imagination. They are thinking of their audience. They have a 90 second ad (if that), and in that 90 seconds they need a very large audience to relate to what’s happening in the ad. They need recognizable characters. As such they are looking for the average or typical mean of the father/son pairing. Now I’m not a typical Dad. I don’t tell stories by sitting on the bed with a book all that often. I kind of leap around all over the place and play it out. My boys aren’t typical boys. They cook meals and light fires at the age of 6. So me and my lad had to, as best we could, try to be as typical a father and son pairing as we could be. We didn’t get the ad (partly as well because the boy had to be 7) but we did our best.

So what’s typical? Typical is the middle ground where there is nothing extreme on either end. Not too big, not too small. Hair not too long, and not too short. It’s an image of a grouping of people, say, accountants or teenaged girls. It’s “middle” in your society. Ironically, and this is a bigger argument for another day, it is the media that partly dictates what typical is by presenting the typical notion of father and son, husband and wife, or whatever it may be, to the audience repeatedly. The more you see a type on the TV over and over again, the more you’ll envisage that type when someone asks you to “imagine a typical father and son”.

So if you went for an ad and didn’t get it, it might have been because you weren’t quite typical enough of that character, or someone else who went was more typical than you in the eyes of the casting director and the client. There’s not much you can do about that except to try to be as typical as you can. You can practice it if you like and some people become very good at being that “typical guy” or “typical girl” and get quite a lot of ads. If you look closely enough you will see the same heads pop up repeatedly over a period of say 5 years. Then those heads will be gone because they will have gotten too old for that type. Then they pop back up a few year later because they have become typical of a new age-range or type. While you’re in a transition phase of type, it’s very hard to get ads. It’s also hard to get ads that are casting to type when you just aren’t a typical looking person. That said, there will also be ads that will require anti-types, but its not typical… pardon the pun.

Have a think about what age you are, your size, your shape, your facial hair and ask yourself if someone was to look at you and name your type, what would they say? If they say you don’t seem to have a type, you probably won’t get too many TV ads, and that’s ok too because there’s other stuff out there and you’re just a different kind of actor. I’ll get to that in a minute. If they say, you look like a bank clerk or, you look like a young fella who you’d see in the pub watching the match, or you look like the girl next door, or you look like the secretary to the president, keep an eye out for those ads and apply to audition. Pick three types that others tell you suit you. Your agent, if you have one, should be sending you to all of those that suit your type. Remember that your types will change throughout your life. If you’re 25, you won’t be playing grandads of young children just yet. But one day you will. The actor’s career is as long as his or her life.

So then we move onto TV series. If you’re auditioning for a soap, once again more than likely its going to be about type. You’ll be asked to play the typical lawyer or typical cop or typical taxi driver or typical drug addict in your culture. Again, casting people will mostly be looking for the actor who looks most like the type they’re after. I found it very hard to get work in Australia because the typical Aussie is bronzed, blond and blue eyed. I have red hair. I’m never going to be cast as the “typical Aussie larakin” which was the description of about 80 percent of the roles out there for young men. However, I then moved to Ireland and walked into 4 TV commercials in a row because of my typical Irish looks, much to the consternation of the poor Irish guys around me at the time. For mass produced soap opera TV series, pretty much the same rules apply. Again, these shows are aimed at a mass audience of working-middle-class home viewers who prefer TV to theatre and even cinema. They’re looking for instant recognition and connection between the viewer and the character. They don’t want the audience to have to do any “work”. In a TV soap, the description will be very much to type, even down to the general bracketing of antagonist/protagonist, that is, goodie/baddie. But once you have the role and are working on it, you will find more complexity through your own characterization once you apply your technique to it. The character will also have objectives and feelings, which leads to a more satisfying characterization too. On the surface, however, the character will seem like a cliche. The skill in soap acting is to take a type of say, “ditzy blonde” or “local taxi driver” or “the town policeman” and do something interesting with it.

However, for something a little more clever and sophisticated, the characters will be more like real people rather than types. Types are not real. They are a general representation of what the median accepted image might be. Brian Cranston’s character in Breaking Bad was not a typical drug pusher cooking meth. He was a family man and school teacher with lung cancer who found a solution to his financial problems. He is not typical; that is, he is not general. He is specific. Look closely and so is every other character in the series. Characters in more sophisticated TV shows and film are usually “multi-layered”, meaning they have more than one facet to their personality. They’re the best cop, but with strange methods… and an alcohol problem… and a Desert Storm Vet… and gay (True Detective). They’re never one thing. It’s this kind of acting that requires highly skilled approaches to complex characterization. Why? Because type is absolutely useless in these scenarios. How can you play a “gay type” with all that other stuff going on? This of course is where highly advanced training is required too. It’s these kinds of roles that are usually filled by actors like Brian Cranston or Daniel Day-Lewis or Phillip Seymour-Hoffman or Eddie Redmayne, because their own type, that is the type that is them in life, is irrelevant to the character and the performance. They become a vehicle for the telling of someone else’s story and lend their body, voice and psychology to them.

And this is the trap or paradox of being an actor. Of course the actor who is an artist wants to play the complex roles because they are challenging and they put their skills to the test, but it is very difficult to convince anyone that you can transform into character unless you can somehow prove it to them, which is a Catch 22. In this era of showreels, 98 percent of the showreels that are sent to me to look at are basically that actor playing towards their type, trying to sound convincing and “showing emotion”, which is often general too. This might get you the odd casting for ads and TV soap, but it’s not going to help you get near those big, complex projects and series. You have to work and work and work and eventually someone in a position of power will get the sniff that you are the kind of actor that you are, but it’s very difficult to get there.

As such, when an actor of this calibre doesn’t get a gig that is cast to type, it’s because their very essence as an actor is constantly looking deeper than type. It’s their natural instinct to look for the other facets of character that make them real people rather than cliches. But sometimes we have to look at the project and the genre we are auditioning for and be realistic. If it’s an ad and they’re looking for the typical Dad of a young kid, you have to try to find that. It’s the job.

So when you’re going for an audition, make sure you look at the project and be honest about what it is. Get to know the casting director too. Going for an audition for an ad or a soap  is a totally different ball game to going for an audition for a complex role in a new major TV drama or movie. Read it carefully. And read between the lines. If it’s the former, be aware of what the type is an how you can serve that type and be recognizable as that to a mass audience. If it’s the latter you need to apply your technique. Tick the boxes. Explore all the layers and facets that are apparent in the character. Have the accent perfect. Be prepared to audition rather than “screen-test”. That is, be prepared to be the artist in the room who is contributing on an equal level with all the other artists in the room, including the casting director, who yes is an artist in their own right too.

If you don’t get the gig, consider that you might have just as easily fit the type they were looking for as well as 10 others, and it was a bit of bad luck you weren’t picked. As long as you do your homework and serve the story of the project, whether its an ad, a soap, a drama or a movie, you’ve done your audition well.

Remember also that there’s no such thing as a crap project. Just because you might prefer complex drama to soap doesn’t mean a thing. Millions of people are entertained by soap opera on TV sets all over the world every day and those shows employ thousands of actors (including me on two different occasions in two different countries). You’re an actor, so be prepared for the fact that there are many genres of entertainment out there. If you’d prefer not to work, fine. But if you want to work and hate action films for example, you’d better be pretty well off to turn down a couple of million bucks if you get cast in the next Teenaged Mutant Ninja Turtle movie whatever madness is coming along next. It might not be rocket science acting wise, but it’s a business and if that business wants to employ you, be prepared to swallow your pride and do the job and do it well. Once you’ve banked your millions you can start being picky and choosy. I’m encouraging you here to drop your ego. The guy who sits at home and watches Home and Away is just as “right” as you going to the theatre and watching Othello, which to him might be equally as painful as Home and Away might be to you.

Read your audition carefully; the brief, the script and look at the angles of what it is and what it’s going to look like once it hits the screen.

Cheers. D.



The “Feeling” of Acting

A little something about the “feeling” of Acting. And no, it’s not about you “feeling it”. Mamet says in one of his books, “no one cares what you’re feeling”. Well, not quite true, but he does have a point in that an actor absorbed in what they are trying to feel is usually devoid of many other important things such as communication with other actors/characters and the audience.

What I’m talking about here is what it “feels like” when you’re acting. Should you “feel like” you’re getting it right? Should you “feel like” you’re floating? Should you “feel like” you’re another human being? Is any of this possible or necessary.

Technical training should get you to one place in particular though, and that is that it should feel easy. That’s often a very difficult thing for an untrained actor to understand. It used to feel like hard work. It should feel either physically or emotionally exhausting, but now it doesn’t. I’m not trying to remember lines, I’m not acting in fear of my audience or of a mistake. I’m fluid. The work has been done and I’m able to trust it, and the technique so fully that I no longer need to concern myself with anything other than the moment of performance, whether it be a piece of realism or something more abstract or physical in terms of genre. It’s sometimes difficult for an actor to let go of that need to feel like they’re working hard, because working hard WAS the definition of PERFORMING. Training should change your definition of performing and how performing feels to you.

“It doesn’t feel like I’m doing anything” is usually the best response I can get back once all the training has been done. The only one that’s better is, “it doesn’t matter how I’m feeling.” What’s important is that the training has changed the way you feel when acting and moved that feeling away from crisis and panic and hard work and into something much more fluid and open. We are seeking a state of being where creativity can potentially happen constantly, not just in oases or isolated “good” moments in the performance. And in that feeling, yes we often feel oddly like we are someone else, dealing with someone else’s problems and trying to get what someone else wants and that makes us think thoughts and feel sensations that don’t belong to us. That’s a normal result of character work. There’s nothing in it to be afraid of and it’s not magical. It’s an imaginative leap within you as an artist. 027 2

If you’re working hard, you’re probably not working right. If you’re exhausted at the end of it, you probably don’t need to be and it certainly doesn’t mean you did a good job just because you’re pooped.

You’ve done a good job when the audience leaves that theatre wondering.


My two cents for #ArtsDeptNow

027 2#ArtsDeptNow

I thought it time to write something on this current debate about the devaluing of the Arts in Irish society by politicians and their political agendas. I’ve been most impressed by John O’Brien’s leading of this battle recently and perhaps should have contributed earlier and in more effective ways than social media sharing of his campaign #ArtsDeptNow. But I did feel the need to sit back on this and wait my turn.

Artists are made to feel devalued from a very early age. In school, both in Australia and here, your value is, for the most part, pitted on your sporting or academic ability. If you have a flare for something artistic, well that’s a great hobby you can pursue while you work behind the desk in the office as your “real” job. If you have a talent for sport, you can work towards a professional career! If you’re academic, hey you can do the same!

What people fail to realize and remember is that art and artistry is at the core of literally every other profession. The biggest money-spinners out there are IT and Gaming. At the core of both is art in the forms of graphic design, story-telling and design of cyber space. Every successful person in both of those fields started their development as small children, doing what? Drawing a picture, looking through art books, going to stage school, learning story telling and narrative structuring, and so on and so forth. As such, people tend to forget that at some point in the development of Steve Jobs or Mark Zuckerberg was a moment when they looked in a book of art, sat in a theatre and saw a play as a kid or saw the way a piece of clay could be moulded into a shape. Their intuitive, innovative and imaginative thinking all stemmed from their engagement with art very early on in their development.

And now I’m in a space I don’t like to be in, because I’m defending the value of the Arts in relation to it’s potential to earn super millions and billions and employ thousands of people. Which is true. Look at how much revenue is being generated by TV and Film production in Ireland. Ireland is world leader in these fields now. However, there’s another value to the Arts that to me is much more important.

I’ve walked down many streets in many cities in many countries on this planet and I have never felt afraid on any street that was milling with people pouring in and out of theatres, Jazz clubs, Art Galleries, Art cafes and Cinemas. There’s no room on streets filled with people buzzing with the buzz of art, for baddies. Any street I’ve felt not so safe on in Paris, Berlin, New York, Sydney, Dublin, they’re the streets with no art, scourged by drug dealers and pimps. Those streets are quiet, afraid.

Secondly, every country I have run from have been those that devalued and even banned and outlawed art. These are the tyrannies whose democracies collapse and fall into the hands of dictators and despots. These are places of misery and doom.

Point is, Art has a direct influence on the vibrancy of a nation and her people.

Art is a rebel force. Art is hope. Art is healthy and alive. Art breathes with life and real living. Art is in the studios and the theatres, and art is on the street. Art is not just for artists. Art is for the audience. It’s for those who do find themselves behind the desk 9am to 5pm. Because when you’re done, art is waiting for you. Whole other avenues of thinking and feeling await you. We develop them. We provide them. We commit our imaginations and our abilities to them, not for ourselves, for you.

Now some of us were born to create that art and in various ways feed it. It’s us who are made to feel alien to society. We don’t work 9am to 5pm. A lot of us only come out at night. But we are real people and we make things. We imagine things that didn’t exist before and we don’t balk at the possibility of making those things real and tangible. We are Joyce and Beckett. Yes we are weird. We are Yeats and Caravaggio and Bacon and Kafka. In our time we are bizarre. After we die we are legends and referenced and quoted by politicians. Our works and even our scribblings are auctioned off to the rich and famous., yet in our time we are paupers. We are in your capital cities, in theatres and galleries, in dance and concert halls. And no matter how much you get caught up in the snags and stress of your existence, we are here for you to sit back and drink in. We are there when you’re ready to look into the substance of the life you have been thrown into without your consent. We feed your creativity. We inspire you to break the moulds of your current processes both at work and at home.

And we defy government. We’ve been doing that since Ancient Greece. We tell stories of societies and provide the pond of reflection of our communal direction. We are the heaving waves beneath everything that’s happening in your life.

Only we tend to be invisible; because we are the people who were told to “get a real job” by our career advisors and parents and friends. We are told by Government that we are hobbyists and idiots. We are made to feel like leaches when we ask for funding for our next step forward in the evolution of the consciousness of our work… which is your work… which is your inspiration and your children’s trampoline to creativity. We are the industry with one of the highest rates of suicide and depression and anxiety. It’s our profession that has the highest level of unemployment of any profession out there.

And yet we don’t have a choice. This thing finds us. We don’t find it. Who would choose a profession like that willingly?

What we ask for is acknowledgement and recognition for the intrinsic value we have, and have always had, to society. Yes, if the Arts are funded with an immense enthusiasm and good people in it are put in good positions, there’s going to be a significant financial reward to the State, reward that can be fed into homelessness, healthcare, you name it. But the social and community-based reward will be unquantifiable, as it has always been.

Give us a dedicated Arts Department. Let us do our work.



The Actor and The Person

So I’m supposed to be sitting here finishing of writing a screenplay and I get into a chat with a student. And she says this to me. “The best thing you did for me was to stop me wondering if I was good enough. I haven’t thought about that since. It was like I was in one place, and after the course I was up in the sky.”

Now that’s a lovely compliment to me and I’m not sharing it here to stroke my own ego. It just got me thinking, as these things always do, about the nature of the work and prompted a bit of a spiel.

As you know, I’ve studied the theory behind pretty much all actor training on this planet over the years and learned what the true objectives of each approach is. And there’s a little trap that I have to be very careful not to fall into, and that’s the trap of trying change the personality of a student. Great actor training is transformational, yes, but I often wonder if that’s the snare that Method sort of fell into. If the technique changes the person, fine. But the technique cannot be designed to change a person. The technique can only be designed to make the actor supremely proficient as an actor. Any other bi-product of personal change surely is incidental. Happily incidental, but incidental nevertheless.

Is attempting to change a person an exercise in playing God?

And yet again my mind brings me the other way. Should the work also keep a close eye on the personal development, or at least the development of the “personality” of the actor? After all, learning to be very good at what you do so that you don’t have to ask yourself if you are very good at what you do anymore, is liberating. It’s a gain in true confidence and a gain in artistic temperament. It liberates the actor from self-doubt and fears. And so SHOULD the technique be a guided personality change for the actor also, a bit like “life-coaching?”

Those of you who have shared a full time studio with me know that I teach through the same Asian based philosophies of Zen that are used in traditional martial arts teaching. These things are not all that prevalent in the work. They are briefly discussed when required, but in the process of the time there, the ability of the actor to let go of their self doubt can help the work move forward much more quickly. And so the technique removes self doubt, but if the actor too can remove self-doubt through a calm control of those emotional and mental cravings for validation, praise, promotion etc, the work can move forward even more quickly. So there are several exercises within the training that are designed purely to effect a control of the mind and emotions of the actor as a person. And I’m ok with that. I think.

At the end of the day, an acting teacher can’t change the personality of each actor in his/her group to somehow turn them all into the same person. That’s not what I’m suggesting. I mean there are still actors I’ve trained who are amazing who still contact me with self-doubts and worries that really are beneath their ability in my opinion. But that’s their personality. That meekness is a part of them and I don’t think it’s my business to beat that out of them in some way. But I do encourage them to try to rise above, and I give them tools to do that.

What is definitely true of all the successful actors I know is this: 1. They have ceased at a certain point questioning their ability as actors. This happens in the training phase. 2. They have stopped seeking praise, validation and promotion. 3. They have stopped competing with the world of the industry around them and begun to become truly creative. And sometimes that creativity takes the form of writing or directing rather than acting for a period of time too. In this way, they have shuffled off the labels that the industry places on them. They haven’t stopped promoting themselves. They have just changed the way they were doing it.

You see when the actor stops wondering if they’re good enough, stops seeking validation and stops competing with forces beyond his/her control, it leaves an awful lot more room. There’s just so much more thinking space and feeling space. There’s so much more creative space. And the irony of course is that once the actors I know created that space for themselves, along came boat-loads of validation, praise and promotion, which they really didn’t need or want anymore.

True success to me, that is, the success I want my students to enjoy, is the success of being contented. And that doesn’t mean apathetic either. Quite the opposite. I want them to have fun with their incredible ability. That’s the sky.

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Learning Lines and Auditioning

Some advice for auditioning and screen-testing.
In my long listenings with actors over the years, many of them have said to me that there are two things that terrify them most about auditions and screen-tests. I’ve dug very hard into these two topics to developed ways forward that can help. So here’s a couple of things that might be of interest to ye actors.

Number 1 problem above all else is a feeling of inadequacy. Different actors cause themselves to feel inadequate in different ways before an audition. Some of those self-destructive, self-taught methods are conscious and some are subconscious. One method of screwing yourself up royally is to believe that you are in competition with the other actors going for the part.

* I’m competeing – leads too – how can I be better than the other actors going for the role – leads too – what if their choices are better than mine – or – what if they are better actors than me – leads too – how can I find out their choices and make sure mine are better (you can’t) – or – how can I find out how good they are so I can be better than them in this audition (you can’t) – leads to – I CAN’T KNOW THESE THINGS SO I”M SCREWED! This of course all leads too, I’m behind the 8-ball from the start. Everyone’s better than me and will have better choices so I might as well give up. I go in with a defeatist attitude and no matter how hard I try to hide it with my stupid smile and up-beat manner, these casting people can see right through me. They know I’m shit. And they know I know I’m shit. This downward spiral then leads to all sorts of nasty, self annihilating thoughts like, I’m not good-looking enough, I’m not special and so on and so forth. All of these awful thoughts leave no room for proper homework and technique application to happen. And as such it’s a self fulfilling prophecy because you have spent so much time on these thoughts and so little on actually applying your technique to the script that your audition probably will be shit.

* Solution. Understand you are not competing. The Casting Director hasn’t invited you and these other actors to audition so that they can race chickens and see who wins. They’re not sure yet what they’re looking for so they are hoping someone will make their ears prick up. They’re looking for someone who can bring the part to life, to make it come off the page and be something they can see and envisage as a palpable reality. So as long as you have done that in your homework, you have as much of a chance as anyone else. To think of yourself as competing with the next guy is akin to buying a lotto ticket and thinking you’re competing with everyone else who bought a lotto ticket. They’ve all done the same thing you have. Got the invitation, interpreted the script the way they think is best, learned the lines so they don’t have to think about them whatsoever, turned up on time and presented their work to the panel. After that, the decisions are out of your hands. If you get it, good work. If you don’t it wasn’t because you were worse than anyone else. Sometimes you see the end result of that project and you think, yeah, he or she did a good job. I can see why they got it. Other times you look at the final product and can’t understand what drew the panel to that actor, those ideas and that performance. But that’s life too.

(I should mention as a side, this is all assuming you have trained in a technique that opens up your imagination to interpreting the piece in an artistic and creative way.)

Another method of wrecking your audition is to imagine yourself as inferior to everyone in the room.

* Inferiority Complex. These casting people do this all day everyday – leads to – I’m not experienced enough – leads too – what if they hate me – leads to a shocking case of nerves – leads to a brain that can’t concentrate on the job at hand properly – leads to a mistake.

* Solution. Imagine yourself as going to visit your brother or sister in their house. This is a brother or sister who lives abroad and you only get to see them a few times a year perhaps. You walk in and although it’s not a familiar place, before you know it, you’re comfortable in THEIR place, even though you haven’t made it YOUR place. Casting Directors respect that. The casting director or director may have done this more than you have at this stage in your career, but every audition is different and new to them too because it is a NEW PROJECT. They’re trying to solve a puzzle of sorts and hoping that you might be a piece that fits. If you are, great, if you’re not, you’re not. But you were still welcome in their house and they are your peers, like a sibling. They want to work with peers, not scared little mice who feel they are looking up at giants. Nor do they want to spend their time with someone who’s arrogant and disrespectful, someone who puts their feet up on the table. But to be able to communicate like adult siblings who don’t see each other all that often and value the time when they do, is probably about where you want the relationship to be.

Side note: I have heard so many times that “nerves are a good thing”. I have caught myself agreeing with this, because it does make people feel better when they know that those shakes and shit are “good”. What I think is true is that being nervous means you care. But that’s about all. And you can care in other ways than being nervous. There really is absolutely no reason to be nervous in an audition or screen test. And the more of them you do, the more you realize that. Nerves are a wall of distraction. They stop you from truly listening and communicating with your “sibling”. Tell your nerves to piss off, in whatever way works for you. I tell myself to cop onto myself. That doesn’t work for everyone, but if it helps I actually do get a bit cross with myself and say to myself, “hey dickhead, you’re in Moiselle’s. You might not be back here again for half a year. Go in there and have a polite chat with your friends Frank and Nuala and show them what you’ve come up with. Then listen and change it if they want you to. It’s as simple as that. Then go outside and ask yourself, if you had the chance to do it again right now, would you want to? The answer should be no. You did exactly what you came here to do.”

Finally for today, and I’ve already mentioned it. Lines.

* Lines. I’ll get straight to the solution. You need to know the lines so well that you don’t have to ask yourself if you know your lines or not. If you’re trying to remember the lines and that is the mark of your achievement in that audition, you will not get that role. And if you do, it will be a bizarre accident or piece of good fortune. Trying to remember the lines from the beginning to the end means that there will be nothing natural about your performance because we do not try to remember our lines in life. Obviously. The thing remains stuck firmly to the page and stays there. It doesn’t come to life. So you need to find a method of learning lines that works for you. What I have certainly discovered at this stage is that the more you sit and just look at them, the less chance they have of going in effectively. So I’ve been developing new and exciting techniques to make those lines go in and be coated with a confidence that you don’t have to go looking for them. They serve you as opposed to you serving them. They’re ready for you without you wondering if they will be there when you need them.

If you’d like a day of trying out these new ideas, details are below for a Line Learning and Audition Technique Weekend on May 21 and 22. The thoughts here on auditioning and screen-testing will also be discussed and put into practice. And hopefully more.

There you go chaps. D.127

What do you want in Actor Training

DSCF2493I don’t know what I’m looking for when looking for actor training! What should I be doing?
Six different people have asked me this in the past 3 days. So here’s another longish blurb from the master of longish blurbs.
The first and most important answer is this: It depends on what you want.
You see there are many different kinds of acting and you need to ask yourself what you want to do. Then you need to ask the teacher or the school what they teach.
Are you one of those people who watch TV and think, that looks easy. I want to do that so I can make lots of money like that Brian Cranston guy or that Colin Farrell guy or that Kevin Spacey guy or that Rachel McAdams girl. If so, there are a load of places that teach what’s loosely called screen acting that can help you to achieve believability in the style of TV or Film Realism.
However, there’s an awful lot more to what Brian and Colin and Kevin and Rachel are doing other than being believable, and that’s what separates them from the masses of other actors in the world who can “be believable”. I’ll get to that in a minute.
There are other kinds of actors out there too. There are actors like Tom Hardy, Daniel Day-Lewis, the late Philip Seymour Hoffman, Toni Collette, Cate Blanchet. These are actors who often work much more through a physicalisation of character and performance.
There’s many other kinds of acting. Many.
Either way, most, if not all of the actors you are watching on the screen or on the stage are doing much more than “being believable”. In fact a lot of the time the question of believability doesn’t even come into the equation or the preparation. It just seems like that’s all they’re doing, because they know that the complex homework and technical work that has been done to achieve that performance has to be invisible to the audience. Otherwise it can break the effectiveness of the story-telling if we can see the actor’s process. And even that is not always the case, depending on the genre or style of the performance.
So the big paradox of all this is that a lot of actors come to be thinking that the ultimate achievement of actor training is believability, when in fact it’s the most basic element of all of it and doesn’t make you an exceptional actor at all, but just lumps you into that huge ocean of other believable actors. Yes, it has to be done. In The Applied Art of Acting we knock it over in the first week. You have to learn how to be believable, but that’s not what’s happening in the acting you’re watching when you watch great actors. That’s just a kind of bi-product of a whole lot of other work that’s being put in.
Ok, so winding back a bit. If you think of all the actors I’ve just listed here and you think of anything you have seen them do, they have CHANGED themselves in order to do what they are doing. There’s a committed set of very specific changes going on. These changes happen in several different ways depending on the project and the character. Again for the sake of ease lets lump these into three categories: psychological, physical, vocal.
The fact is you are never your character. Your character has had a whole other life building up to their current life. They have a different history, probably come from a different culture and have different attitudes and opinions and appetites and all manner of things that make them psychologically different to you. They have another personality altogether as a result of all these psychological peculiarities and details. All of these kinds of details about your own life make you you. All these details about the character’s life makes them them. So even if you don’t change your physical of vocal pattern at all, you will always have some shift to make to actually approach the world from the character’s point of view other than your own. Otherwise it’s just you, saying the lines believably, without any sense of character. Your friends can give you the little golf clap of believability, but that’s all. Most actors find that as soon as they let a set of given circumstances and a basic objective work on them, they begin to feel sensations of doing things and saying things from someone else’s perspective. It’s almost unavoidable. So even if Colin looks like he’s just being Colin or Kevin looks like he’s just being Kevin, there’s a whole lot of other stuff that’s going on within them during that performance that is not to do with them, but to do with another life called the character. Even if they are projecting some part of their own personality onto the work, they are still taking that part and enhancing it to create this new life.
Now some situations require a physical change also, or at least a physical commitment to the character. Again, they are not you. They have a body of their own. It may move differently to yours. Take any physical transformation performance. Tom Hardy in Stuart: A Life Backwards. Daniel Day-Lewis in… just about anything he’s ever done. Eddie Redmayne in most of his most recent stuff. Cate Blanchet in… pretty much everything too.
Vocally, your character has a quality to its voice. It makes a unique sound that probably has its own accent. Obvious examples, Heath’s Joker, Cate in Veronica Guerin, Slingblade. I could go on and on, but you see what I mean. In Ireland, so much stuff is international you’d better be ready to depart from that Irish accent because the next thing you are auditioning for could require Scandinavian or any variety of English or American dialect. And no, often you won’t have a dialect coach on set. You certainly won’t have one before the audition unless you pay someone to help you out.
So let’s not ramble too much. Again you need to ask what you want and then you need to go to the school or teacher you’re thinking of committing your time and money too and ask them what they teach and what you will come away with at the end. If you are aiming to just be believable, that’s fine and yes, necessary. If you are looking to be able to do what those actors you are watching on Netflix or whatever are doing, then you need to think about a place that teaches you a technique that includes physical, vocal and psychological nuanced approaches to acting.
When you are watching those great actors up there on the screen or the stage, you may walk away thinking how incredibly believable they were and that’s what excited you about the performance. But in fact it wasn’t. What excited you was the fact that you were told a story about a living character so effectively that you weren’t thinking about the acting at all.
Obviously I teach my own courses, but I’ve also taught for many other places and I’m not mentioning any by name because obviously I don’t want to be seen to be playing favourites. But even good Screen Acting places bring me in to teach all manner of technical approaches, even some that seem to be, from a layman’s perspective, unrelated to screen training, like classical text for example. Of course this makes perfect sense. With so much epic stuff like Vikings and Game of Thrones out there now, that sense of power and presence that classical text lends you is really important to have. Good screen training isn’t just about filming yourself, looking at the result and wondering if it’s good or not. Screen training is about working out the best way of conveying an immense story of a character and its immense life through the eye of a needle.
Enjoy the sun kids.
PS. If you haven’t seen Stuart… It’s really very good.

Acting Paradoxes

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Another bit of philosophical discussion with a great actor, penned here for your thoughts.

Acting seems to be the most nebulous of the arts. The best acting we see looks effortless. The technique behind it is invisible to the viewer. No other art form has its entire technical faculty rendered completely invisible. The pianist can’t hide the keys. The ballerina can’t hide the carefully choreographed series of movement. You can make them look easy with training and practice, but you can’t make them invisible.

Actors therefore have to be the most selfless of all artists. Actors have to be egoless enough to “not show” their technique off. An enormously complex process of creating an individual life of a character has been initiated from the first reading of the script. By the end of rehearsals and preparation, there simply IS another life on the stage or in front of the camera.

(From the outside there seems little effort or preparation and so some actors, who are not actors but audience members hoping to cross to the other side, believe there is no process, no technique, and  try to make their incision in artistic space with an ax.)

The goal is the creation not of a dance, or a piece of music, but a life. And when we see that life, we as an audience are told the story of that life according to whatever style of theatre or film we are watching it within. We as audience members react with an individual response that the actor, the director and the producer can try to control and manipulate, but never truly can. That attempt at manipulation is largely pointless.

The actor therefore needs a technique of creating character, of building that life. And it’s the individual technique of the actor that marks the creation of that work of art with the artist’s stamp. And yet we don’t watch the artist, but the character. The actor has to remove that temptation, that so-human, ego fueled desire to “show” the audience their oh-so-skillful process. The process of creating a life that isn’t yours is also a process of being brave enough and selfless enough to let go of those elements of self that you know have nothing to do with the character; and then building the elements of character from scratch and letting them inhabit your entire facility, body, voice, thought, and feeling.

And so the paradox stands that the great actor has a technique, built by their training, their relationship with great teaching, their raw talent and their personal courage, that rides on the wings of the liberation that comes from never needing validation for their efforts; efforts that are invisible to their audience.

And the greatest irony of all? Once the actor loses his need to be validated? Validation arrives aplenty.


Actor, Writer, Tutor