Archive for the ‘Acting’ Category

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I have been a scareactor for many different haunted houses over the past ten years.  It’s a form of acting that I find a great amount of joy in, and I also take a lot of pride in. That’s why when I’m told by people that it’s not “real acting” I get really defensive.

Often times the directors, actors, etc. who says things like that typically dislike haunts/horror or have never been on the production side of these types of shows. Look, I get it. I understand how someone can go into a haunt and think that the actors doing the scaring are just fooling around or how it doesn’t take any skill to pop out and say “boo.” I get that thought process because the rub is it doesn’t take a lot skill to just say boo; to just be able to do the minimal in a haunt. The skill comes from the planning, the prep, the ability to read the audience, and the overall craft that goes in to real scaring. It’s the same amount of prep I’d put in to any performance on screen or on stage, and it pisses me off when people just discount the work that I and so many other talented people put in.

I believe this is a sort of paradox that any off stage live theatre performer deals with. You’re told that there is no real place for performances like this to be on your resume, and that it doesn’t take any real talent. That’s such bull to me. You can tell a good scareactor from a bad one in an instant. The good ones put in the time and devotion to the characters that we create, and that effort shows. I also go to plenty of haunt events and the ones that scare me or entertain me the most are always the ones where you can tell that the actors believe in their characters and put in the time and passion to flesh them out in their own heads. One of the first things you lean in theatre is if you as an actor believe in the action taking place, it’s that much easier for the audience to believe it. That is true on stage/film, but it’s even more true I believe in more visceral performances like haunted houses, or these interactive experiences like ALONE, Delusion, or Fables.2

Along with the process of creating these characters from the ground up, the ability to hone in and read the audience is so important to performances in haunts. It’s something that you have to continually work on, and perfect and is unlike anything you’d ever experience in stage theatre and especially film. With stage theatre, yes, you need to be able to read your audience- sure. But that is nothing compared to the way you need to read your audience in a haunt environment. First and foremost there is safety. You need to protect yourself as well as make sure the audience is never in any real danger. People have different reactions to being scared. I’ve been punched, slapped, kicked, scratched. elbowed, and have also had to deal with people crawling away into a corner, running backwards, and crapping themselves. There are so many different ways people deal with fear, and you have to be able to read that and be able to react to that so that you can still give a performance while making sure your safe, not holding the line up, or making the guests destroy the set or themselves.

You also have to be able to read what scares your audience. Not everyone scares the same way or is afraid of the same thing. So you may get one person who is petrified after you burst through a doorway screaming, but the next person may think that it’s scarier to see you crawling on all fours towards them. You need to have your character and the given circumstances in your mind, but you also have to allow yourself to be malleable to what the audience wants to experience. Really- if you ever want a great improv experience, try working a haunted house for a season.

While there are plenty of scareactors who are ostracized in theatre, the same happens in film. An example is the actors who have played Michael Myers. There have been many different actors to don the mask, and it sounds like a really basic and simple role. But to me it’s much more. Those actors have to not only portray him physically but all they have to act with is tiny gestures and their eyes- that’s it. That, to me, takes a lot of skill but I know a lot of people who don’t think that it takes talent.

1There needs to be more acceptance for scareactors in the world of theatre as well as film.  I do understand that just because a person is able to create a character and scare others it doesn’t mean that they can memorize lines or do other basic things and interactions with others on stage, but it’s all still importance and working haunted houses teaches actors a lot about improv, staying in character through distractions, reading the audience, and so much more. It actually pains me that after the hours, and years of devotion to this art I’m actually told that I should add this work to my acting resume; that I’m told that essentially all the work I’ve put in doesn’t count. It does count, and it matters. Acting is about creating an experience for the audience, and you can ask any number of the thousands of “victims” I’ve had over the past ten years and they’d tell you that I along with my fellow cast member did indeed create an experience for them.

“That scene actually works not because of me but in spite of me. And that really is the marker and definition of working with a truly good director.”

-Troy Baker on the opening scene from The Last of Us. 

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There is something truly great about working with a director who understands and appreciates the craft of acting. Now, really, every director should have some knowledge and respect for acting otherwise… what’s the point? Why are you wanting to direct a show or film? You’re using actors (albeit most of the time, not always) to tell your story.  You’re using actors to convey emotions and connect with the audience, you should care about how they are doing that. I’m not saying this because actors are the end all to the entertainment industry, God no. There are so many different parts in TV, film, theatre, radio, etc. that are just as important. Acting is only one part of those machines. But the director/actor relationship is, in my opinion, of the most key parts of  performance of any medium.

I’m currently working on the production side of a film and this past week I’ve had the chance to watch our director, Estlin Fiegley, work with his actors on set. Every time I see him working with his actors it brings a smile to my face and gives me goosebumps. He walks through the scenes with the actors and legitimately cares about their motivation and relationships. Countless times he’s talked about how the only thing he really cares about is getting the performance he wants on screen. And to see him working with his actors, several of them quite young, to get the performances he wants is inspiring.

I’ve been blessed in the fact that many of the directors I’ve worked with really know how to work with actors. They have worked with me, pushed me, and tested my abilities . Not every actor is that fortunate. These kinds of directors are invaluable to actors, because they’re going to be the directors that help you grow as an artist. They’re going to be the ones that, when you do something right, you’ll take that with you for all time, and when you do something wrong… well, you’ll remember that too. Not that there can’t be discovery with other types of directors as well, but the good directors will be the ones that teach you things and give you experiences that will stick with you forever.

As an actor, it’s important that from every experience, no matter if it’s good or bad, you make the most of it, You have a job to do and an obligation to the production. The phrase “make lemon aid out of lemons”  is something I’m sure many of us hear on a weekly basis (… or is that just me?) For all the wonderful director’s I’ve had I have also worked with several who seem to want nothing to do with actors, or avoid me like the plague. Even if you have a director that isn’t that great at working with actors know that it is still a learning experience for you. That is a chance for you to step up to the plate and really take charge of your performance and the role. Not that you can’t do that anyway with a facilitating director, but it is more of a challenge when you strictly have to rely on yourself. Also realize that your fellow cast members probably feel the same way you do. Work with them- you cast is your biggest asset as a performer next to your director.

Working with directors who genuinely care about what they are capturing on stage/film/etc. is a feeling that is indescribable. You know that you’re a part of something that means something to them, and that they are putting everything they have in to that project and in to you as well. You feel empowered and supported. It really is a unique type of collaboration through dialogue that can make for some of the most memorable and powerful moments ever captured or created.

Taken from A Green River, preformed at KCACTF Region 3 at the Pabst Theatre, in WI. Photo by Cam Best

Thomas Alan Taylor and Joshua Malone from A Green River, preformed in the Pabst Theatre at the KCACTF Region 3 festival . Photo by Cam Best

As a preface to this post, I’ll admit that I still don’t know a lot about the professional theatre and film world; I’m still very much learning. Also, it should be noted that I am currently Chicago based.

I graduated a little less than a year ago from Augustana College with a BA in Theatre Arts, and have since had to basically feel my way along. While college trained me on how to prepare a monologue, memorize, create characters, and ultimately put on a show, there are many things that I had to research, and essentially teach myself. Now a lot of things are kind of given. You need a head shot. You need a proper resume. You need to keep up to date with trends in the theatre/film/entertainment world, etc. All of these are kind of no brainers, and all of which you can find tips and resources for on the internet. What I’m hoping to offer is a few key tips that I’ve learned in my first year, post college, as a person with a BA in Theatre who aspires to act. Many people will not have the same experiences I have had, and that’s fine. Part of being a good actor is being able to think on your feet and adapt to situations, which you will very much have to do.  I hope that these tips will be able to guide you into a good jump start for your endeavors. Many of these tips may be redundant or “cliche,” but you know what? They actually are important.

1.)  Be able to accept rejection.

 This is probably something that you have either already heard, or assumed.  While this tip seems like a no brainier, it’s probably one of the most valuable that I can give you. It’s going to be something you’ll come in contact with, a lot.  I have been casted in every show I’ve auditioned for since I was eight years old…until I graduated college and started auditioning professionally.

It’s not always that the CD/Directors/Producer didn’t like your audition; a lot of the times you just aren’t exactly what they are looking for. Your “look” or your “style” isn’t what they want. It doesn’t mean that you need to change something about yourself to land the next job.  It just means that for that particular production you are not a fit. And then sometimes you’ll just have a bad audition. I have gone to auditions as prepared as I possibly could be, feeling good about myself and confident yet have left the casting room feeling beaten–like I had screwed everything up. It will happen. The important thing is to move past it, and do better next time.

Going along with rejection, more often than not, expect to not hear back. Like, ever. Even if they say they will in a few days. Even if you end up sending a follow up email/letter. Out of the auditions I’ve had since graduating only a few have ever contacted me to say that I’ve landed the role, or that I have not. A lot of times they just don’t contact you. You go in, you audition, and that’s it. That’s not to say you shouldn’t send thank you messages to them. The CD’s took the time to see you, and you should always thank them for the opportunity. You never know when you’re going to see them, or audition for them again.

2.) Having an agent isn’t everything.

Having an agent would be nice, don’t get me wrong. I’d love one. Yes, they’ll take a cut of your earnings when you land a gig, but you know that going in. Agents help you get those jobs in the first place.  Without an agent, booking a job can be a bit of a challenge. It’s not impossible though. In fact, far from it. There are numerous sites on the internet where you can look for open casting calls.  Yes, some of them like Backstage and IMDBPro will cost you, but there are also many sites that don’t. I’m currently Chicago based, so I constantly look at sites like League of Chicago Theatres, and Theatre in Chicago. But there just as many, if not even more, for New York, LA, Boston, etc. And if there is ever a specific theater company that you are wanting to audition for, visit their website. A lot of times theatre companies will have postings about upcoming auditions on their site, and how to go about submitting your headshot and resume.

I feel that film is in the same boat as theatre, except that it’s harder to find legitimate casting call sites that don’t charge. There are a lot of postings out there that are either really sketchy, or give you wrong information. And, lets face it, after spending the time and money to get your headshot and resume printed off and looking all nice, you want to make sure that it ends up in the hands of a CD. Mandy.com is essentially the Monster or Indeed of the film world (even though they do have some theatre on there as well.) It’s a great resource for actors-without-agents wanting to score some auditions. Also, look around Facebook for groups that list castings in your area. In Chicago, many of the local shows (like Chicago Fire, Chicago PD, Sirens) have pages where they post open casting calls for extras and sometimes featured roles.

3.) You’re going to have to spend some money… that you may never get back. 

Remember that rejection thing I mentioned earlier? How most of the time that’s exactly what will happen? Well unfortunately, along with that (before you ever get to said audition,) you will need to print off a full color photo headshot  and resume, drive to said audition, and often (if it’s a city) pay for parking. Now that may not seem like a lot, but after about five auditions in which you don’t land a role… it adds up.  On the other hand, roles in student films are amazing ways to build up your reel and resume, but the flip side is that many of them don’t pay (you get paid in experience, not in money!)

Coming out of college I know the farthest thought from your mind is spending more money. But you can’t focus on that. If you’re in this, in acting, for the money… you’re missing a major part of it. I act because I need to. It’s a passion and it’s what drives me, what drives my life. Money is nice, and necessary, yes, but it is never a factor when I question whether or not I should drive thirty plus miles to audition for a role I may not get. If there is even a wink of a chance at obtaining that role, I’m there.

That’s also why, when I can, I work. At the end of 2014, I had three part-time jobs. While have a job does affect when you can audition, it doesn’t make it impossible. Once you land that role, then you can figure out how to work around your job. And if it can’t then you’ll need to decide what is more important to you, the job or the role. Now when I say things like money shouldn’t be a factor I’m NOT saying to leave your job for a one day shoot somewhere as an extra. Hell, I wouldn’t do that. But there may be times where you have to decide between your job and a role. I had three jobs, but dropped everything to reprise a role I did last year in the play A Green River, because the play got accepted to KCACTF Region 3. And I don’t regret it at all. I spent a month diving back into the show, which was a month without any kind of income.  While I’m dealing with some monetary consequences of that choice now, I have no regrets. It was an AMAZING experience that I wouldn’t give up for anything.

If you can’t afford to take time off from work for a role, that’s one thing. Everyone’s situation is different, and maybe it’s just not a possibility. But you should never look for auditions, especially not really early in your career, hoping to earn the big bucks. Not only is that probably not going to happen, you’re losing site of what acting really means to you.

4.) School isn’t over

So you’ve graduated or will graduate soon! Done with school! Eh, well… kind of. The world of theatre and film is changing constantly. Which means you need to keep up with it, constantly. You wouldn’t go to a doctor today who still uses medical practices from the 1920’s would you? So why shouldn’t actors keep everything up to date too? Keeping up to date with classes, and books, as well as shows can help you out in the long run.

Taking classes is probably one of the best things you can do. I say this as if I’ve had a lot of experience when really I’ve had very little. Outside of a local improv class and a few sessions at festivals like KCACTF my experience with acting classes has been minimal.  However, the ones that I have attended have been insanely helpful and fun. And, improv classes and experience looks really good on an  resume. Big name theatres and companies like Second City have tons of classes you can take. Some of them can get pricey though.  If your budget can handle it, definitely look into local community theatres, colleges, and improv clubs. Many of these have classes at various times during the year that can be just as beneficial while remaining in a reasonable price, or sometimes even free!

There are also tons of books out there on acting. Read up. Pick them up from your library, or visit a Barns and Noble or Half Price Books. And obviously you need to be reading plays and watching TV shows and films. This seems obvious but you should always know what the trends are as well as know what you’re auditioning for. The more knowledgeable you are the better.

5.) Stay positive.

This may seem redundant, but it’s more than just keeping your head up after not booking a role. You need to stay positive before your audition, you need to stay positive when your auditioning, and you should stay positive after.

In a lecture at a breakout session at KCACTF,  Alexis Links (a CD in Chicago) told everyone in the room that if you’ve booked the audition,” you’ve won.” The CD wants to see you, that’s why they booked you. The battle is essentially won. They think you have what it takes for the role, now all that’s left is for you to prove them right. Feel good about that! I feel like that is something that can be applied to any kind of interview/audition you’ll ever have in life.

Once you’re in that casting room, remain positive. Even if you just messed up your monologue. You need to stay positive. Never say sorry. That’s a rule you’ll find all over casting tip articles. If you mess up or forget something polity ask if you can start again. And if they ask you to redo/do something just do it. Don’t make it awkward by stating you’re sorry over and over again. It’s not the end of the world. Your name isn’t going down in a little black book of death just because you messed up, or because you wore the wrong shirt, or forgot something. On the opposite end don’t act overly cocky. You need to be confident when you enter the casting room but you also need to find that humble place within yourself. Be someone you’d want to work with on stage/screen, because I assure you that’s the same kind of person that the CD/director is going to want to work with.

And afterwards, stay positive. If you messed up, oh well. Make some mental notes about what to do better next time. But the people you’re auditioning for can notice how you enter, act in, and leave a room. All that can say a lot about you. Stay vigilant, and keep your head up the entire time.

I sincerely hope that these tips can benefit someone out there. Trust me, there is a LOT more to learn, but fortunately, the resources available to new actors are abundant. Google articles and tips from CD’s and others in the industry to learn more. Ask your professors, because chances are (while the material may not be covered in class) they can help out and provide more information. Converse with other actors, although not necessarily before an audition. Reach out, and don’t be afraid to ask for help. And lastly, lean on the contacts that you do make. Stay in touch with them, and ask them for tips. Many of the contacts I’ve gained are people I’ve met  by networking through people I already know. In a seemingly cut-throat profession,people can be your friends as well as true assets–never lose sight of that.