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The Not-So-Secret Secret Of Olympians

This morning I heard Olympian gold medal winner Ginny Thrasher say that she isn't an Olympian because she had talent. Rather, she said, "I'm an Olympian because I trained harder than everyone else."

And there you have it.

The simple truth is that training hard is the key to success is every field. 

Make no mistake: Acting is no exception.

It seems so obvious, I know. But if you grasp it, really grasp that fact, then you'll act on that knowledge. And that'll mean you're far, far ahead of so many others who merely dream of achieving their dreams.


It's Not Magic

In my teens, I was obsessed with magic.

At that time, there was no school to go to to become a magician. There were no online videos. (There was no internet.) Thank God for television. In those days there was often a magician on TV. The Tonight Show (Johnny Carson was well-known for his love of magic) was a godsend. Harry Blackstone, David Copperfield and Doug Henning had their own TV specials.

And there were many opportunities to see live magic. Hennning brought his Broadway show to LA. So did the amazing Ricky Jay. One of the great card men of all time, I saw Jay throw cards across a stage with such force they pierced a watermelon. (It was in the same period I saw the comedian Gallagher getting laughs for smashing watermelons with a wooden mallet.) My grandfather took me once a year to the Pantages Theater, where I witnessed the greatest stage magicians in the world perform their acts in one gala evening: The incredible Shimada! Slydini! Lance Burton! the always hilarious Great Thompsoni! 

I joined the Society of American Magicians and the International Brotherhood of Magicians. My grandfather also took me to their annual conventions where I saw more great magic. I watched, I listened and I learned.

Every chance I could, I'd take the bus over Mulholland Drive to Hollywood Boulevard, where I'd spend the day at Hollywood Magic shop, soaking up the atmosphere, learning a new trick, and watching, watching, always watching. Of course I also bought tricks: the Linking Rings, Hippy Hop Rabbits, a deluxe copper Dove Pan. 

Most memorable of all, I sometimes got an invitation to the world famous Magic Castle, a private club for professional magicians. In other words, Mecca. At the Castle, I saw many of the most legendary, old school magicians in the world performning close-up magic with cards and coins, cups and balls. Those guy were the real deal, genuine masters of the craft. Think Clark Gable, James Stewart, Humphrey Bogart, Jimmy Cagney. 

Mostly though, I learned magic from books and magazines. Every autumn (I think it was), I waited for the postman to knock at the door with the brand new Tannen's Magic catalog. It was too thick for the mail box! Tannen's catalog provided me countless days and nights of fantasy. It offered hundreds of tricks – every one of them carefully described and illustratted – from double-headed pennies to the secrets for sawing a woman in half; from a simple fake thumb tip for vanishing a silk handkerchief to the mind-blowing, Zig Zag Lady. I acquirred a pretty good collection of books, including my prized eight-volume Tabell Course in Magic, Bobo's Modern Coin Magic and "The Professor" Dai Vernon's, Stars of Magic. I subscribed to Genii, The International Conjurer's magazine. Every month a new issue, full of tricks and tips and wonderful ads that further fueled my burning imagination.

Back at home, I raised white doves and rabbits. And I began performing, well-before I could drive. My mother chauffeuring, I criss-crossed the valley most weekends, performing as the "Magician Extraordinaire" for children of all ages. (Mostly just actual children, but also their parents) at birthday parties and various events. Between shows, I went over my routines again and again, perfecting my tricks, tinkering with my patter, toying with the sequence of effects. 

During those formative adolescent years, I learned many things and acquired skills and habits that would serve me in the future.

But it wasn't my destiny to become a professional magician. No, it wasn't my calling to bring the art of magic into the 21st century.

The incredible David Blaine would do that.

You probably know Blaine. He's become as much performance artist as magician in recent years. And become something of a household name in the process. 

Blaine brushed aside the the formal elegance (some would say stuffiness) that had long characterized stage magic in the past. Blaine had important predecessors who paved the way, of course. But he  changed the game altogether. Blaine was hip hop. He made the street his stage, spoke the language and rhythm of the new culture, and blew people's minds.

Here's what Blaine said about the art of magic. "Whether you're shuffling a deck of cards or holding your breath, magic is pretty simple: It comes down to training, practice, and experimentation, followed up by ridiculous pursuit and relentless perseverance."

The same is true of great acting.

More than talent, much more than talent, acting "comes down to training, practice, and experimentation, followed up by ridiculous pursuit and relentless perseverance."

Training, practice and perseverence are an invitation for your talent to reveal itself. 

For the actor, as for the magician, it's an illusion to believe that you can get by on natural, "untrained" talent.

In fact, it takes a hell of a lot of work to get good, really good, at anything.

Great acting doesn't come by magic.

It only seems so because we don't see what came before.

Kevin Spacey says that before every take Jack Lemmon would say, "It's magic time."

What Lemmon didn't say was that before the magic came work. Decades of work.

It takes a lot of work – training, practice and perseverence – to make it look like magic.

 


I Was Never More Myself

One of the best, most authentic descriptions I’ve ever heard regarding the creative dynamic at work in the unconscious interplay of actor and character comes from Bryan Cranston. In his just-published autobiography, Cranston writes: “I was Walter White. But I was never more myself."

Now that’s the voice of an actor who knows something about acting. 

Acting is the performance of revelation. In his finest moments of performance, the actor reveals himself through his creative work, wholly and unconditionally. This act of self-revelation – regardless of characterization, be it extreme or subtle – is truly perceived both from within (as Cranston describes his experience while acting the scene) and from without (as we, his audience, plainly see for ourselves while watching him on tv acting the role of Walter White).

Revealing herself through her creative work, the actor consequently encourages the opening of an interior space in the soul of the onlooker, the audience, that reveals yet something else, something greater, a universal truth, and with it feelings of wonder, empathy, even moral responsibility. That revelation, in turn, gives rise, perhaps, to an impulse for personal reflection, imaginative thinking and, even, determined moral action. 

Such is the potential power of the actor’ art.

And so I teach the actor to begin “clean” at the table, unprejudiced by already fixed images, open in the first place to the truth of real circumstances - the partner, oneself - and, second, to the influence of the well-observed imaginary circumstances given by the playwright or screenwriter. This is the place, in my view, that we must start from, not just at the beginning of our creative work, but indeed again and again. 

The character may be rightly understood as objective, but (almost certainly) not yet alive at the actor’s first and early meetings. The actors task is to create the conditions whereby, in encounter with the more or less vague image,  the objective character-image  is gradually fully formed and brought to life. Next (and, as well, concurrently), the actor step by step or, occasionally, if rarely, all at once, assumes (M. Chekhov says “incorporates”; Stanislavsky: “incarnates”) the character. Lastly, and only first then, the actor gives his performance, gives to and for the audience or camera.

Transformation, the pyscho-physical embodiment of the character, is the end to which the actor’s creative efforts are aimed. 

The coming together of actor and character is an event consisting of aspects, like all events, both outer and inner. The actor’s creative event is no mere presentation or representation, but rather an active and incessant process of merging, of becoming “at one with” the character-image. 

Like all processes, the merging of actor and character is also time-bound; the event occurs over a greater or lesser expanse of time. Paradoxically, it is at the same time an instantaneous, spontaneous happening. Critically, the conditions for this twin-sided event are prepared for by the actor through the more or less focused and intensive, creative periods of “homework" and rehearsal. 

Work first, then play. Most of us learned this lesson early in life, at home and at school. As actors striving to create at the very edge of our highest artistic potentials, we do well to remember it. Cranston nails it when he says, “transcendent moments come when you’ve laid the groundwork and you’re open to the moment. They happen when you do the work. In the end, it’s all about the work."


Summer Training

Show up and train hard this summer. Act better come fall. Our eighth annual Summer Intensives start June 4th. 6-weeks of Meisner or 6-weeks of Chekhov. Or 6-weeks of both! Early registration incentive until May 1. 


The Best?

People sometimes say to me, "I'm interested in training. But I'm not sure what's the best way to go. What's so great about Meisner?"

Here's what I tell them.

Meisner technique is a proven approach to convincing acting

In other words, Meisner-trained actors are believable. 

And if there's one non-negotiable quality the successful actor brings to the set, the stage, the audition room it's just that: Believability in the role.

Because Meisner teaches the actor to work truthfully, it's easy to believe Meisner-trained actors.

Their work is simply convincing.

Now here's what I don't say: Meisner's the only way to go.

There are other ways. (Michael Chekhov, for one).

But for nuts and bolts, for the fundamental fundamentals, Meisner's hard to beat. 

If your goal is to master a solid foundation for convincing acting, put Meisner training at the top of your shortlist. 


Don't Kid Yourself

Get real. There's no free ticket to get what you want.

Our new training season starts in September.

Show up. Train hard. Act Better.

For real.


Do It Now

It's always a pity to hear from actors – and it's all too often that we do – that they'd like to train BUT they don't have the time, the money, the energy, ... 

They always have a reason why they can't.

Here's an alternative to can't: Find the reason why you MUST.

This shouldn't be a headscratcher.

Find your answer and then DO it: TRAIN.

Take action toward the fulfillment of your creative and professional goals this coming season and become a better actor starting NOW. 


Use It Or Lose It

During the last sessions of The Chekhov Training, we worked with some beautiful short prose pieces from The Madman by the great Lebanese poet Kahlill Gibran.

Researching Gibran, I happened upon a story about his nephew (and namesake), Kahlil Gibran, a Boston-based sculptor. Gibran, the nephew, died in 2008. In his obituary, he's quoted as having said this: 

"I believe talent is a grace. You don't deny it, you don't affirm it. But if you don't work at it, you can lose it. The only sin is in squandering talent."

Gulp.

Yes.

Well.

I don't know if squandering your talent can rightly be called the original sin. But it'd make a pretty fine eleventh commandmen, wouldn't it? Thou shalt not squander thy talent. 

Copy Gibran's remarkable sentences down somewhere and have a look at it every now and again. 

And mark it: #11.


The "Perfect" Monologue

We're halfway through our yearly monologue workshop, so naturally I've been thinking a lot about monologue auditions.

Most actors hate 'em. I'm tempted to say, for good reason.

Instead, let me say this: Get over it! 

Now, here's what to keep in mind.

Life, that's the first and essential thing.

The creative production of a focused inner life turned out. That's the actor's absolute obligation.

Truthful, emotional, believable, compelling life. Anything more is gravy. (Not that we don't like gravy - we do - but the meal is the meat, not the gravy!)

Want a great example? Have another look at DD Lewis' brilliant speech ("The finest beating I ever took") from Gangs of New York. It's well worth your careful study.

Is DD Alive? Hell yes he is.

Observe the moment to moment specificity. You can practically see his objects.

Listening and answering? Come on - of course he is!

So, what about learning to love the monologue audition? (Or at least not hating the thought?) 

Here's a suggestion that'll help you to change your thinking, not to mention help you to improve your skill.

Commit to fully preparing a new monologue a month for the next six months. 

Give up the need for finding the perfect monologue (it doesn't exist.) Instead, give your attention to the creative work of preparation. 

Work daily.

Remember, your essential aim is to create a focused inner life based on given circumstances and turn it out.

Remember that. And we'll remember you.

 


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