Thursday, September 25, 2014

A Revelation from "Cop #2"

Here I am, standing in a tiny dressing room at ABC Prospect Studios. I just clipped on my tie. Looking in the mirror, there is a proud member of the Port Charles Police Department staring back at me. This marks my fourth time on the General Hospital sound stages in a year.
That's when it hits me in the running lights. I don't know exactly when it happened. I barely noticed till now. But it happened all the same.
I have a career.
A fun one.
I think to myself "what a lucky idiot I am. Who else gets to do this stuff?".
I stood in that dressing room, staring at this person I had become with a goofy grin on my face. It was at this moment that I realized I was blessed.
I am a "thirty-something" six-foot tall Irish man. I just described a very well represented cross-section of the acting community. Chances are good if you know one, then you know five more. That I have enjoyed any success at all is a small miracle to me, as there are so many others who didn't get the chance.
When I started this little dream of mine back in 2006, I had no expectations of where it would take me. In a previous life, I had been a 3D Artist in computer games. I HAD a career.
I had talent for the job. What I lacked was the necessary passion.
The world of acting engaged me in ways I had never suspected possible. When I learned what acting could be, what it meant to me...
Well, there was no turning back. I was doomed.
Sure, it's easy to downplay one's accomplishments, especially as actors. We count the number of words in our script. We count the seconds of screen time we share with the "somebodies" that made it into the final edit. We do these things as though they represent some measure of our talent. Our ability.
It took me a little while to realize these things have nothing to do with a career.
In my opinion, simply being invited to play, to join in the creative process, shows that you have arrived. Someone thinks enough of your artistic contribution that they are willing to include you in their vision.
Whether you play "King Lear" or "Cop #2", you have made a valuable contribution.
Take a bow.
You earned this.
For me, I have no idea what will come next...and that is damn exciting.

My first time in make-up chair. Six-ft "Ken Doll" comes to mind. Call me "Glambo".

Monday, April 28, 2014

Off the books

I have spent many hours of my life struggling over the pages of dialog sent my way by directors, casting directors and the like. My first (and last) theater role required I learn about forty pages of dialog in about a week. It was the first time in my career I had ever been expected to memorize that amount of material.
I spent every lunch time and evening till bed trying to get it all straight in my mind.
It was like going to Gold's Gym for the first time, then being expected to dead lift twice your body weight the first time at the bar.
I pulled it off just in time for the show.
But was I truly "off book"?
What does it mean to be "off book"?
Since then, I have had a lot of time on my hands to consider this. I've read a good many scripts since making this art my life. I've had the opportunity to walk into casting rooms believing myself to be "off book" then tripping over my own tongue, struggling to get across even the simplest concepts. In those moments, my performances were, dare I say, mediocre at best. Sometimes downright embarrassing.
My intentions were pure. I wanted to show the greatest amount of deference possible to the words of the writer. It is natural for one artist to show complete respect to the art of another.
But what does it really mean to respect them?
I have only recently come to realize what those who have gone ahead of me already know:
A scriptwriter does not write a script.
They write a story.
Their art is not words.
The words are simply the most expedient tool at hand to describe an idea to an audience.
An actor's job is to tell this story through action.
You are not showing respect to a writer by how well you memorize their words.
You do so by taking those words and finding the meaning behind them.
Why is the character saying these words?
What is the writer really saying?
Among the biggest mistakes an actor makes is simply playing the words. They spent so much time committing the words to memory, but never took a moment to consider what the words meant to them. As a result, you get an actor who has made no choices before entering the room. Their performance now resides in the realm of generality.
Generality is death for an actor.
Nobody laughs in general.
Nobody cries in general.
Take, for example, an argument.
I've been married for thirteen years now. Arguments are RARELY about what is being said. They are the product of emotions, imagined slights, genuine slights, etc. They are born of frustration, anger and love.
If you don't understand this interplay or what the writer is going after in the scene, then you are just yelling.
Show your writer respect by taking the time in your preparation to understand the scene and your character's role in it.
Make strong choices and the words will take care of themselves.
That is being truly "off book".
Drop the pages, pal...nice and easy...