Stop building yourself up in your bio and let the facts speak for themselves

If you read bios on IMDb you can tell when the actor is trying very hard to sell himself.  I just read the bio of an actor I know.  Instead of letting his impressive list of credits do the work for him, he spent a lot of time describing his acting skills in a manner that would embarrass most people's mothers.  I'm surprised his agent didn't protest and say, "Ah, let's edit that to be a little more professional."  While it's fine to add a little bit of color in a bio, if you spend too much time telling us how you can be angry, jealous, sensitive, frustrated, sweet, despairing, etc. -- well, we know you're trying very, very hard. 

Let your work do the bragging for you.  I don't like it when actors hide their light under a bushel but this obvious and I would add rather pathetic need to build oneself up is worse.  It reads as amateurish because only amateurs try very, very hard to convince people of how good they really are.  Professionals do professional work and let that work show what they can do.

The Problem with Being Star Struck

I have some talented students and graduates who have recently become excited about auditions they have with people that are fairly established in the industry.  I can hear the star-struck quality in their voice.

It concerns me.  Being star struck can turn into nerves.

When you leave a program that has provided you with strong skills, when you know you know what you're doing and have learned to do your best work under pressure with easy and well-placed focus, you need to remember that you can do that anywhere!  

Okay, so you've moved up a notch, and you're going to work with actors you recognize from big name shows.  Who says they're better than you?  Who says you can't hold your own with them.  Of course you need to respect them.  However, if you are prepared and do your best work, you might find out how much they respect you!

So, don't set yourself up to be more intimidated in this audition or performance than when you were in class.  Remember, we practice focusing on the other, on the work, and you know how to do that.  That public solitude you learned and control of your focus is what is going to serve you in the field.  

If you earned a place at the table then everyone involved in the project will be impressed with you if you stay positive, professional and show up prepared.

Selecting a Monologue

There's always the exception to the rule but most of the time you want an "active" monologue. One where you are not telling a past tense story but one where you are engaged in a really active moment with the other character.

I've sat in on auditions where 80% of the monologues begin with lines like "When I lived in the orphanage..." After about six hours of those monologues it's a relief when someone gets up and is actively involved in "the moment unlike any other day" where they are confront another person or defend themselves, or stand their ground, etc.

If you're asked for two contrasting monologues, having one of your monologues be a story of something that happened in your past is okay as long as it's still a compelling story or you have a compelling reason in the imaginary circumstance for bringing it up but then you definitely want the second monologue to be active.

College Actors - a note of support

There are usually limited acting training opportunities in college drama programs if you're not one of the students consistently cast in your school's shows. Don't worry! My experience with actors who received their BAs in theater is that most of their real growth happens after college when they get out in the world and pursue new opportunities for expanding their skills or simply find the industry more impenetrable than they imagined.

Sometimes there are good reasons why you may not be getting cast. Sometimes it comes down to your physical type. And a good deal of the time those of you who aren't being cast may simply not be smiled down upon by a certain teacher or you may not be in the right clique.

Not to worry. When you're not cast, keep doing whatever you can to learn about the industry, to find ways to fill in the gaps of what you can't get in your college program and consider working with a coach before your school's next round of auditions.

The most talented woman at my college was never cast in a show. She just wasn't identified as being "in the club" so to speak. I think about her work frequently as she was more real, more intuitive and more connected to honest acting than any of us.

How much you're cast in your college program is actually not very indicative of your future success. Do not be disheartened.

Stop the lying

That sounds more like a life lesson than a career lesson but this industry is way too small and its people way too saavy for you to get away with lying.

The reason people do a lot of lying is that they feel they have to say something. Or they feel they need to make something sound better. Or they don't want to get caught not knowing something, etc.

The impulse is understandable but the result makes you look foolish.

If you're in an audition, don't lie to people about your resume. If you don't know the answer to something that you realize you should know the answer to, laugh at yourself! When you try filling in the blank with SOMETHING, it becomes obvious in your behavior.

And I'm always surprised how often actors will claim something or answer something in a way that a simple visit to their Facebook page proves false.

If you don't know the answer, if you haven't accomplished certain things, if you can't be available -- be honest. If you can't be trusted, people won't want to work with you.

Now, are there times when leaving something out of the conversation is okay? Sure. I think there are things in your personal life that you don't need to volunteer. It's important to note, however, that when those things interfere with your ability to do your job as an actor you're going to have to be proactive about communicating them.

The real message is that people tend to respond to straightforwardness and honesty and see it as a strength. When I watch actors lying to cover up their supposed weaknesses, it's the lie that makes them appear insecure -- not the thing they're trying to hide.

Creation as an act of healing

People have long pointed out that in crises there is an incredibly strong need or rather impulse that people have to make love – the act of procreating seems to be the greatest act of defiance when life feels threatened. 

That act of defiance and the corresponding feeling of healing, feeling safe again can also come from other acts of creation.

I spent the day in shock and in deep mourning for my country and its people.  Then, I had a class to teach this evening.  I didn’t want to but knew it was my responsibility and that perhaps it would offer a short respite from my grief.

As I gave notes to the actors who did show up and work (no bad feelings towards those who did not), I found myself becoming passionate again – about the work, about growth, about art and its place in our world.  I found illustrations to inspire and motivate my students to bring more personal and important circumstances to the class. My role in helping them become creative artists was my own act of creation for today.  I felt like I was in the water swimming and using my limbs after having lain in bed for months – and that feeling of joyous movement from the act of creating carried me out of my despair.

I’m not done grieving or worrying, but I was blessed to be reminded that the act of creation has great healing powers and can help us regain a sense of balance and belief that all will be well.

Correcting a mispronunciation of your name

A name is an important thing.  We all have this deep relationship with its role in our identity.  But when you’re in an audition and the person calling out your name mispronounces it, let it go.  When you go out of your way more than once to get that person to say it right you come across as petty. Don’t ask me why but I have seen it in auditions 100 times.  The actor makes a point of correcting their name, and there’s an almost audible response of “oh, brother” from the auditioners.  There will be a really appropriate time to let a director or casting agent know the correct way to say your name.  You certainly don’t want someone to be embarrassed down the line if they’ve been saying it wrong for weeks.  In an open call, when someone says it wrong, just smile and say “Yes, I’m here” or whatever is appropriate for the situation.  You don’t want people focusing on your correction when you’re only in front of them for a total of 2 minutes.

Professional courtesy/acumen

When you attend an audition, you might consider sending out a brief email thanking the producer/director/casting director for the opportunity.  Keep it short and sweet.  They may not read it, but some will, and they will remember your name.  Some people are really made aware of you when you behave with more courtesy than the next guy.

Recently I attended an open call.  To my knowledge not one of the nearly 100 actors who auditioned thought to send out a brief thank you to the directors who were there. It amazed me!  I realize it’s no wonder that students who work with my faculty get ahead – they learn such good career acumen and build such sound habits in their craft that they differentiate themselves from the 1,000s of other actors out there.

Many years ago an actress I was coaching for a big general call had seen every show the company had done for the past 2 years.  She loved their work and dropped them short thank you notes with intelligent comments about the work. When she auditioned for them, they remembered her name but couldn’t place where they knew her from. When she said “Oh, I’ve watched your work for a couple of years,” they immediately remembered her.  They put down their pens, watched her audition with enthusiasm and gave her a call back.

Honest courtesy will work to your benefit.  Having intelligent things to say about what you see and learn will be to your benefit.

Why stage work is important for film

Okay, there are a lot of reasons why.  I love that my graduate Gianmarco Soresi has booked such a lucrative commercial campaign (GE) because he earned it.  He exhausted the work when he trained with me.  He didn’t just train he kept upping his personal bar and went as far in any given night’s work as it was possible to go.  He taught himself how to work, how to fix things that weren’t working.  He learned patience and perseverance.  Those things paid off.  While he was in many ways more talented than some of his peers, he did the work, never blamed anyone or anything when something wasn’t working in his career or in his art.

Stage work and acting training (not in front of a camera) if it’s done within a program that has high standards and strong techniques simply builds actors who can stomach the industry, stay creative and find positive solutions to their challenges.  It helps actors find creative solutions.

So when my graduates move from stage into film and TV with success – as so many have – those of us who knew them can see that the habits that led to the person’s success were built many years before the success was attained.

Auditions: introducing your material

Best not to tell us what we already know as in “I’ll be doing a short monologue for you today.”  We know that because we probably asked for a short monologue.  Figure out how you can use that short amount of time to its best advantage.  You can come across as really disconnected or really nervous when you use standard phrases that don’t make so much sense in the moment.  Being present and being comfortable rather than sticking to your script is the best practice. 

At the same time, bookend your audition well.  Live through the last moment rather than saying “Thank you” the second you’ve finished the last syllable of your last word.  And don’t say “scene” at the end.  That went out of style about 30 years ago. (I know some people are still teaching that but they’re out of touch.)   If you’ve done a great job with your monologue that last moment will make it obvious that you’re done. 

Don’t put the imaginary person on stage with you

Here’s a quick audition tip – don’t put the imaginary person you’re talking to on a parallel with you when you’re auditioning.  Always put them out in the audience.  Don’t put an empty chair there so you have any empty chair to talk to.  We see the empty chair and you – mostly the empty chair.  We want to see all your great work – and not in profile.  So, look towards us and REALLY keep a strong focal point. Then, we’ll believe you’re actually talking to someone.

Acting on  your voice

There are actors who actually really feel what they are acting – and those are the actors everyone wants – as long as they are not self-indulgent as some can be.  What no one wants is an actor who is “projecting” the feeling on their voice.  It’s obvious when you try to sound like you’re having a real feeling without it being there.  It’s like a big sign over your head saying “I wish I felt more.”  Start listening yourself.  When you go to theater or you go to a film, ask yourself “Is that actor really going through the imaginary circumstance or are they just trying to sound like they are?”  Audiences (and casting directors) are smarter than you think.  They just won’t be moved by your work.  Oh, they’ll understand intellectually “This is sad,” but it won’t be the same as their having felt and witnessed the actor actually feeling that.

The True Acting Institute Meisner Certification Program

What a terrible disservice Larry Silverberg does to the Meisner Approach, university acting programs and young actors studying in those programs by offering a short two-week term of certification in teaching the approach.  Anyone who has studied with a Master teacher, completed the formal training and then sat to learn to teach the approach is aware that there is NO POSSIBLE WAY that anyone learns to teach this approach in two weeks.  It’s beyond ludicrous.  It is a sad, corrupt crime.

I have actors coming to me all the time who have been taught by the type of teachers that the True Acting institute is certifying and their work is weak, unintelligent, passionless and in most regards bears no resemblance to the kind of work that teachers like Ernest Losso, Bill Esper, James Price, Jim Brill, David Newer, Maggie Flanagan and I know how to bring out in our students.  The scores of repetition videos on YouTube and classes like this that suggest to teachers (who most frequently have not themselves completed and aced a traditional Meisner training program themselves) that there’s a nifty manual or quick way to teach this stuff are wrong, wrong, wrong.  The result has been a watering down of the work so that it’s virtually unrecognizable as the extraordinarily rich, effective, practical, smart, intuitive, bold and passionate technique it once was.

Colleges should know better than to accept this certificate as proof that their instructors know what they’re doing.  Teachers should know better than to think this kind of program would ever adequately prepare them to impart the Meisner Approach to their students.  And Larry should be ashamed of himself for lining his pockets with the proceeds from such a fraudulent program.

If you want to teach Meisner, complete formal Meisner Training with one of the teachers listed above (sadly the world’s finest teacher of Meisner, Ernie Losso is now retired) and then ask them if they think you have what it takes to be superior. 

Actors if you think you want to be Meisner-trained then figure out how to get to and study with one of the GREAT Meisner teachers.  Not one of these pale,  imitations.

Being the leading lady has its drawbacks

I know so many actresses that long to be the leading lady.  They want to play the roles that they perceive men will be seduced by.  They want to play the romantic stories.

I was just watching a Netflix Original and saw a very beautiful actress who hasn’t been able to get anywhere in the 12 years other than the pretty woman in the episode over and over again.

Maybe she’s content with that – but – somehow I doubt it.  I think any actress or actor wants to have a really robust career getting access to the “meaty” roles.

So if you’re NOT the leading lady type start embracing that.  You might have the best career of all.  But this WILL NOT HAPPEN if you keep trying to be the skinny one on the red carpet.

Start embracing who you really are and your career will be far more interesting than you can imagine.