My two cents for #ArtsDeptNow

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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.


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.

Actor, Writer, Tutor