ED'S NEWSLETTER for ACTORS
SHIA LABEOUF (REDUX)
I may have to start a special Shia LaBeouf section of this newsletter, with the subtitle, "What NOT to do with your career". This guy is his own dumb reality show.
"HOW DO I FIND A GOOD ACTING TEACHER?"
There is not a simple answer to this question, which is the one I am asked more than any other. I suggest that you audit a teacher's class before signing up with her. If she will not permit auditors on the grounds that she wants to keep the studio "safe" for her current students, consider that a red flag. Acting is something you do in front of people, and if the presence of an auditor in class is enough to de-rail an actor's concentration, he is already in trouble. Indeed, the presence of auditors should, in my opinion, actually be helpful when actors are presenting scenes.
The best thing is to ask actor friends if they are thrilled with their acting class. You can't go by space advertisements in trade publications. Avoid any teachers that are boasting too much and touting the names of past celebrity students. Actors invariably study with many different teachers over time, and no single teacher should be taking sole credit for their success. Or failure.
Read Stanislavsky In Focus, by Sharon M. Carnicke. It is by far the best explanation of Stanislavsky's work and the evolution of it into the United States. I am a fan of Ms. Carnicke's work When you are looking for acting teachers, you really should go in already knowing what Meisner Technique and Stanislavsky System and Method mean.
So, let's presume you have scheduled an audit. Here are some things to look for:
1. What kind of relationship exists between the teacher and the students? Master/Knave? Dictator/Subject? Does the teacher lack a sense of humor? Does she seem to be on any kind of an ego trip? These are indications of a class problem, in my opinion.
2. Does the teacher cite well-known acting teachers, mostly deceased, for classroom authority? "Sandy (Meisner) told me once that …..", "Stella (Adler) always said …" There are too many people teaching Meisner Technique, for example, whose knowledge of it extends only to the book "On Acting" and maybe having taken a Meisner class somewhere. Meisner's book is excellent but it says nothing at all about the actor's relationship with the audience. That is because Sanford Meisner's personal students, back when the book was written, were mostly New York actors that already had a sense of audience. Unless the teacher has pre-existing knowledge of how the audience and actor interact, he is likely to focus on the repetition exercise, relaxation and sensory exercises and like that. Meisner classes can get woefully self-indulgent if you are not careful.
3. Is there a lot of crying going on in the class? Acting class is not a substitute for psychotherapy.
4. Acting is fun. If a class feels more like "work" than fun, consider that a red flag.
5. Is there a fixed term of study? Does the teacher require that you to go through "beginning", "intermediate" and other prequels before rising to the "master" level? Be careful about that. Unless a teacher is so wonderful and popular that he is overbooked and must apportion his time with select students, requiring levels of classes can simply be a way to keep you writing checks. Schools that tell aspiring students that they need training in order to be "ready" are not are doing them a great disservice, IMO.
AN ACTOR/SHAMAN’S HARDEST JOB
(Note: I rarely send actors and animators the same craft notes, but I am doing it this month because we are living in such troubled times. I hope you will find these notes helpful. Wishing you a safe and happy new year... Hugs! —Ed)
Suppose for a moment you, an actor, are offered the role of Adam Lanza, the Newtown, Connecticut, murderer. First, would you accept it and, second, what would you do with it? How would you approach rehearsal? Where would you look for your analysis of this character?
Stay with me on this. I don’t mean to belittle the enormity of the act – it is horrendous – and I mean no disrespect to the victims or their families. But I am a teacher, and I believe there is a lesson here, not only for the actor/shaman but perhaps for society, too, as we try to deal with this act.
(There may never be a movie or play about what this person did on December 14th, but I would not bet against it. Hollywood has a way of looking for money wherever it can find it.)
So, theoretically, let’s say that you have accepted the role as probably the most daunting challenge of your career. What are you going to do? How will you proceed? Shakespeare advised that the actor’s job is “…to hold, as 'twere, the mirror up to nature; to show virtue her own feature, scorn her own image, and the very age and body of the time his form and pressure.” (Hamlet, Act 3, Scene 2) By “nature”, he meant all of human nature, 100 percent of it, the good, the bad and and the incomprehensible, which is the category under which you will find this role.
In the aftermath of the massacre, many of what I call “the explainers” are appearing on television. Some of them are telling us that “evil exists in the world,” and that Adam Lanza is merely its human face of the moment. Some suggest that “if we put God back in the classrooms” there will be no mass murders. Many explainers are placing gun control laws – or the lack of them – center stage. We are seeing on TV many diagrams of the human brain, with the anterior insular cortex (the front part) being crossed out in Mr. Lanza’s case because he evidently lacked the capacity to empathize.
These explanations and exhibitions are helpful for people who are in despair and hoping for solace, looking for a psychic compartment where one might possibly place the purposeful massacre of young children. And rational people know that gun control should be part of any serious and strategic civic debate. Yet none of this will help you as the actor who must portray the killer. Your job is shamanistic. You have to come to your own understanding of how Adam Lanza justified his actions, and then tell the tribe what you have learned. You hold up the mirror and, if the members of the tribe can detect even the slightest reflection of themselves, you will have made a powerful contribution to our survival as a tribe.
Let’s talk about acting. We all feel slightly nauseous even thinking about what he did, and that feeling is 100 percent appropriate. We are hard-wired by nature to respond to the purposeful death of a child that way. The rest of the tribe may turn away, but the shaman does not have that option.
1. Adam Lanza was a member of our tribe, a human being. He was not normal, obviously, but he was nonetheless one of us. The actor must accept this premise because it is a prerequisite for understanding anything about the man.
2. All humans act to survive. Therefore, in Adam Lanza’s twisted value system, he felt he had to assert himself somehow. If he had simply wanted to die, he could have committed suicide in private. It is significant that he killed himself only when it was clear that if he did not do it, the police in the school hallway would do it for him.
3. Every person is the protagonist – the hero – in his or her own life. Villains do not think of themselves as villains, and a delusional person who talks to trees does not think of himself as delusional.
4. Children throw tantrums because they lack the words to express what they feel and want. A possible acting choice for this role is that the entire episode was a terrible and prolonged tantrum. If that might be the case, then he was an emotional child living in an adult body. For the actor to justify the murders, it will be helpful to connect internally with his own long-ago child self. One child might understand another in a way that an adult cannot.
5. Adam had a back-story, one that the actor can never completely know for obvious reasons. Therefore, he will conjecture a psychology based on the few hard facts that he knows. This is where the actor puts his own personal stamp on the role because no two actors will see Adam’s psychology the same way. This step is key to how the actor-audience aesthetic will play out.
6. His mother taught him how to have fun with an AR-15 assault rifle. The actor will have to make sense of this. Why would a mother do that in the first place? Could it be that she was seeking approval and admiration from her son because she no longer received it from her ex-husband?
7. By all accounts, he was withdrawn, quiet, reclusive. In that widely circulated class photo, he is the only one wearing a hat. Why? Could it be that he wanted to participate in life, to express himself freely, but lacked the necessary social skills to do that? Could this make him, in other words, the human equivalent of a volcano?
An actor must never say to himself, “I would not behave like this character behaves.” Instead, he must embrace the character, finding in himself the potential for that behavior. It goes without saying that no normal, well-adjusted person would do what Adam Lanza did, but the actor looking for common ground with Lanza will most likely find it in his own potential for madness.
The tribe needs its shamans now. The world around us is becoming increasingly crazy-quilt, and we do not know how to make sense of it. We know for sure that we cannot survive if we are unable to detect and deter the future Adam Lanzas. We do ourselves no favor by marginalizing him, which is really just a way of avoiding the problem. What on earth motivated him on December 14th? How did he get to be like that? The tribe, to survive, must face these questions.
It is time to draw a circle in the dirt. It is time for the shaman to go to work.
Until next year ...
"Actors are Shamans!"
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