Thursday, April 21, 2011

"How To Be An Actor"

Yesterday I read an online journal written by Mick Napier {comedy legend} while he directed The Second City show "Paradigm Lost". Which just so happens to star Tina Fey! (And Rachel Dratch! And Scott Adsit!) And, it just so happens that, thanks to my wonderful roommate who works for The Second City, I have a DVD of it. It was a really great show.

The whole journal is beneficial for any improviser to read. For one, it gives you a sense of what the F is going through a director's mind. There have been so many times where you are thrown in this process and you have no idea what is going on and you feel lost and wonder if by opening night you'll even have a show. But that's when you realize you need to trust your director. And so far, my director has never lead us wrong. We've always opened on opening night with a full show (sometimes too full).

For two (that's not a thing), it's nice to read as an actor. He has some really great advice on how to be a good actor/improviser and get the job done to make the process smoother. Here's an excerpt of something that really hit home with me. I'm guilty of some of the following things or have been in the past. Nice little reminder.
The Perfect Actor

Since this is list day, I thought I might go on a little tangent and describe what I believe to be the perfect kind of person in a process like this. I'll do this in the way of some humble advice. Although it's just my opinion, I hope every improviser in every city reads this. It will make them a better performer.
From a director's point of view....

How to be the perfect actor in a show:

1. Shut the fuck up

In rehearsals or notes, if you don't really really really have to say anything..........then don't. Some people talk for the sake of talking. This comes from a space of rightness or need for affirmation or need to be percieved as vital and intelligent. If you don't have to talk......don't. Look at what you are about to say and ask yourself: "Is this REALLY supportive to what is going on right now?"...... and if it's not, say nothing. It's so easy to whittle away a rehearsal talking bullshit. Everyone knows that 95% of what is being said will not come to fruition, yet they do it and feel a false sense of productivity when they leave the rehearsal. I've been sucked into that waste of time abyss more times than I'm willing to admit.

2. Know what you're talking about

If you have to talk, know what is being discussed right now, and have what you have to say be relevant to that and that only. I've wasted so much time as a director wrangling tangents and bringing them back to the point at hand. I'm pretty good at bringing it back to what's up, but I don't enjoy it and it usually pisses me off.

3. Make Strong Choices

Fuck your fear. We want to see your power, not your fear. Nobody has time for your fear. When I direct, I assume competance.....not inability. That's all a director wants from an improviser in this process. To take the powerful choices he/she creates, and utilize them in the show. If I, as director, must constantly spoon feed and suggest and coddle the actor in regard to their ideas, lines, and characters, then there's a 90% chance that the person is coming from a huge space of insecurity in the first place. That's the problem right there, not the idea or character or anything. The more you approach a director or other actors in this needy manner, the more you will alienate yourself from the director's power and your own. When I teach, I expect insecurity....when I direct, I expect the opposite. If you find yourself in a show and you are afraid......then fake it. Do the first three things on this list and discover that the more you are percieved as powerful, the more powerful you actually become. When I teach I have room for insecure choices, when I direct I do not. Once you are proficient in this behavior, then will you have the welcome right to discuss your scene with me or another actor. The best thing you could say to me in notes is, "I'll make another choice and we'll see if it works".

4. Show up and be on time.

If something comes up, call. Really.

5. Don't be tired

It's actually o.k. to be tired, most of us are when we work so hard on a show. It's even o.k. to say you're tired. Just don't act tired. Be someone who isn't tired. I've seen too many people say they're tired at the beginning of a rehearsal and then spend the next three hours proving it to everyone around them. Oftentimes, tired is an excuse for lazy/scared. If you find yourself saying "I'm really tired today"......know that everyone is tired and that's a given and who cares and then get up on stage and be vital and engaging. Don't let tired be an excuse, nobody cares.

6. Don't read in rehearsal

Don't read in rehearsal

7. Don't talk about the show in bars

If I don't believe that talking in rehearsal is very productive........then think about it.

8. Try anything

Be someone who will try anything. If you have a consideration about something a director asks you to do, speak that consideration and do it anyway. Be someone who says, "Sure, I'll try it." Sooooo many good ideas have gone to hell because an actor (or director, for that matter) judges an idea, talks it to death, and has it never be tried even once. It's so easy to be think you're being smart and insightful at the time, only to learn later that you're merely an asshole.

9. Eliminate these words from your vocabulary


Oh yeah, I'll bet we can. A process is about what we can's so easy and limiting to state that we can't. A powerful person finds possibility with an idea, not it's limitations. (See number 8 above).

Should and ought to

Use the word could instead. 'Should' forces your suggestion on me, 'could' offers me the gift of choice and opportunity.

10. Don't interrupt anyone at any time......if you do, apologize

If you interrupt another, you are instantly telling them a couple of things.

A. What that person is saying has so little value that you didn't bother to listen.

B. You sought that as an opportunity to think about what you were going to say,

which you think is right and more important.

Now what that person is thinking about after being interuppted is just that....(he/she interrupted me), so they don't hear the thing you interrupted them with. Pretty effective communication, ay? As a director, I will promise to keep my eye on interrupting you if you keep your eye on interrupting me and others.
All of this comes from years of me screwing up the above,both as an actor and as a director.

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