Monday, December 19, 2011

Blog 20: Recovering from Audition rejection… Acting as ‘anti-therapy.’

So to continue where I left off last week… I was speaking of Karen, in training for about a year or so, who just auditioned for a workshop production with a monologue from T.S. Eliot’s The Cocktail Party. In our first meeting we found the objective, which I’ll discuss now in more detail.
Basically, the situation concerns a young woman has been told by her lover that he’s going back to his wife. She is heartbroken, obviously, because she’s in love with him, but the deeper reason is much more devastating. Not only is she betrayed by the abandonment, but she realizes that he was never the person she thought he was in the first place. And this discovery leaves her without anyone or anything to believe in.  The works of T.S. Eliot deal, in general, with dark, existential questions, but this play, in particular, puts human love into the picture, and how its withdrawal can destroy a life. The Cocktail Party is heavy drama and it ends in a death, so the actors have to dig very deep – or turn a person into a holy martyr, depending on one’s point of view. 
I gave Karen my sensory CD in the first session and told her to work frequently with it, so she could access her fundamental ‘sensory complex’ – which is composed of interrelated ‘sensory objects.’ We had decided that the character’s objective was to make the person she was talking to ‘prove that he had not lost his humanity, that he was still the person she thought he was in the first place – even if he couldn’t be with her anymore.’ But the man she’s addressing has no line of defense – he really is more like the ‘beetle’ she compares him to than the person she had thought he was before he told her he was leaving her.
We had done a little sensory work in our first session, and Karen had discovered the person she thought she would be addressing in the scene. I warned her not to ‘expect’ who that person would be – or even that it would be a person.  Sometimes, our primary sensory object is a place, not even a person – and the most important thing is to let the unconscious give us its suggestions without any interference.  Since we hadn’t much time in our first session and Karen’s audition would be coming up in a few days, it was possible that she had rushed the process without knowing it. When she went home and did the sensory work on her own with more time to relax, she came up with a different ‘object’ for the person she is addressing; something or someone that will take her a long time to comprehend in all its psychological ramifications. (Note: An ‘object’ can be anything based in sight, sound, taste, smell, touch or personalization. A ‘personalization’ is an actual person; ‘personalizing’ means basing something/someone in a text – or improvisation - on personal experience.)
When we met for our second session, I wanted to set the beats, which we had only touched on in the first session, find the actions and get the monologue to move smoothly toward its objective. But I could see that my student’s ‘discovery’ had thrown her into something I call ‘the down-going.’ This is a very important moment, when the actor discovers that their life is actually based in something other than what they had originally assumed.  My second blog refers to this experience in my own life, which came about when I was practicing the same monologue from The Cocktail Party as the one Karen is working on.
She wasn’t ready to set up ‘actions’ until she had worked through a lot more about the person she was talking to. As well as calling it ‘the down-going’ I sometimes refer to it as the ‘anti-therapy’ moment. Have you ever seen a small dog kick up a big spray of dirt? Well, that’s what actors are doing with their psyche when they have the stamina, focus and patience to practice sense-memory correctly. After they kick up all this dirt, they feel confused and sometimes upset. Acting training stirs things up, but acting teachers are not trained to analyze and organize each clod and tiniest stone that has been displaced. We can be a rough lot, us acting teachers! I do my best to keep it bearable…
Unlike the therapeutic process, the artistic one just goes on kicking and kicking. Of course, actors do organize the material, but as they move along in their work, they kick up and re-form constantly. Good actors – and I’m not going off on that tangent right now, trying to explain what a ‘good’ actor is – anyway, as they mature, ‘good’ actors gain the strength to maintain their sanity while constantly tearing themselves apart. Contradiction in terms? Yes, resoundingly, yes!  But art has its own rules – and perhaps they are individual to each artist. If they are wise, ‘good’ actors who cannot organize or deal with their dirt, eventually give up acting or move on -depending on how they look at it - or come to a sticky end. Some of the latter are very famous.
In the case of Karen, she felt that her audition was a ‘spray of dirt’ – and it probably was. They ended up putting her on tape, and she didn’t like what she saw. ‘Judging oneself on film,’ can be very subjective.
When the building blocks of acting fall into place, it is possible to feel comfortable with the job one is doing. (James, at least, felt good about the audition, itself; quite possibly it was the fog that surrounded the ultimate rejection that bothered him so much.) Karen, now at the beginning of her career, is learning how to deal with ‘the shock of the real,’ but it doesn’t ‘feel real’ yet.  I believe that the insight she had in her sense memory exercise is a real breakthrough, but she has to integrate this new perspective on her entire life. If she continues to go down the path of personal insights, she will probably gain the strength she needs to face the rejection when she doesn’t manage to do her best. She will understand that sometimes she needs to fail, in order to learn something new. Acting is precise, which brings me to the third person I connected with on the subject of ‘audition blues.’ More on what it means to be  a ‘true actor’ in the ensuing blog.
Have a lovely holiday! ‘Outing the Actor’ will be back at the beginning of 2012. By the way, I just found out that Karen got the role in the workshop. Go figure…

Tuesday, December 13, 2011

Blog #19: How can I get through all this audition rejection? It makes me feel as if I’m not really an actor…

Isn’t this how actors feel when they’re faced with the ugly phenomenon of auditioning and not being cast? Yes, ‘ugly’ is the only word for the rejection that most actors experience when they compete for a role and someone else is chosen. It makes many actors feel as if they were inferior to the person who gets the part. Sometimes, it is true that an actor is judged and found to be lacking, but many times that is not the case.  I would like to look at the various causes of ‘not getting the part;’ either you are responsible for the negative outcome or you aren’t - or it is a combination of factors, which, within reason, you can figure out. Once the process is demystified, it becomes easier to make a decision about what happened and move on.
This week I answered an e-mail and had two conversations, all of which required in-depth analyses on the subject of ‘audition rejection’ or ’failed auditions’ or however one wants to put it. Out of my three discourses on this subject, one with someone who has trained a lot but performed rarely, one was with a seasoned actor,and one who is basically a beginner.  I’m going to take them one by one and analyze each case.
1. Let us begin with James, whom I’ve discussed in my last couple of Blogs.  He is disappointed and discouraged because he gave an excellent audition for a part he was designed to play – a comic version of the Devil, if you remember.  The comments from both writer and director were highly complimentary – although the writer said that he wasn’t sure that James was ‘right’ for the part. 
I prepared James for the audition, and this is my take on what happened. I believe that he did an unusually good audition and that he was perfect for the part.  However, the writer said that James came across as a ‘gangster’ and he hadn’t intended the character to be played that way. When I was coaching James, the writing suggested that this particular Devil was basically a salesman type, who played it pretty smoothly until the end. It could be that the writer saw this Devil as more ‘urbane,’ more ‘up-scale,’ than the way James was playing him. If this is the case and they liked his audition so much, then why didn’t they ask him to do it again and make a character adjustment. It’s quite possible that the part was already cast and they were just looking for back-ups. They asked James to audition for another role, but he wasn’t right for the part– wrong age for one thing – so in the end he didn’t get it.
What exactly makes James so upset about this audition? Disappointment stings, but he’s experiencing actual depression. It seems that he is wounded, not recovering easily, and that there is even a possibility of going into a downward spiral. It is very important to avoid this negative situation.
What can James do to improve his situation?
a) Firstly, he has to ask himself whether there was anything he could have done better in his acting? From what I can tell his acting was fine, as far as it went. However, with more experience and knowledge of the whole acting process, there’s something James could done when the writer said he didn’t see the Devil as a ‘gangster.’
b) James could have asked how the writer saw the part, and then requested to read again with the adjustments the writer indicated. Knowing James, I see two reasons, legitimate ones, why he didn’t ask. It probably didn’t occur to him because he’s an inexperienced auditioner, and he doesn’t have enough skill yet to confidently change his interpretation at a moment’s notice. He needs more instruction on the interaction between subtext and actions, and in this case it would have required him to play a different ‘character adjustment.’  This is a complexity for which James is not yet ready – at least, not at a moment’s notice. There is another possible reason for his ‘disappointment’ to turn into ‘depression.’ 
c) In doing the sensory work for this role (the Method approach), he may have probed a deep area in his psyche, which left him vulnerable to criticism – and not getting the part is perceived as the ultimate criticism!  This often happens during the long period in which actors have to incubate their sensory awareness - a very sensitive aspect of the work. In James’ case, if he works at his technique I think he’ll get beyond it in time, but it can slow him down for a while.
2. The first of my two conversations on the ‘Failed Audition Phenomenon’ this week was with a young woman, Karen, who has been acting for only a year, or so. She recently attended a prestigious college, graduating with honors in a scientific subject.   She accesses her emotions easily and therefore decided to work with the Meisner Technique over the last year - since it is especially helpful in strengthening one’s ability to fight for one’s objective, while listening and staying connected to the partner.
This time, Karen came to me to coach her in a monologue for a workshop that includes performance.  We agreed, after working on the piece that she had chosen for the audition, that it wasn’t a good choice for her at this time and decided on another passage - by the same author, T.S. Eliot – from A Cocktail Party, a piece with which I am familiar having struggled with it long ago for my own auditions. Karen’s first reading was good, emotionally rich with a strong sense of intention. The audition was coming up very soon, so we immediately decided on the character’s objective, which proved difficult to pin down – more on that later. Then we had a quick discussion about finding her way into the sensory work, very important for this particular material. I gave her my CD, which contains a section on the physical relaxation that is essential for sensory exploration.
To be continued next week…

Monday, December 5, 2011

Blog 18: Beginning to talk about character adjustments – and some thoughts about getting back on the horse that has just thrown you…

In my last blog entry, I described coaching James for an audition in which he would be called upon the play the Devil – a wonderful scene for him to show the many facets of his considerable talent. During our work, we concentrated on finding the objective, which involved a lot of sensory recall, focusing on whose soul James’ personal ‘devil’ was addressing in the scene. It turned out to be the person who had cast James out of the place he remembered as a sort of ‘paradise’ when he was very young.  Interestingly, this material brought to our minds the fact that God, when Satan challenges his power, throws him out Heaven – and that the Devil never gets over this.  James had been brought up Catholic, so this awareness gave him a strong, realistic basis for how the Devil ‘feels.’

As we progressed with the sensory work, we also returned again and again to pinpoint the objective and the various actions of the scene. Because James was grounded in a child-based memory, we were able to understand the ‘illogical’ leaps from one action to another.  The character didn’t seem to progress from one action to another in an adult fashion, but instead seized upon a series of ploys, like a kid desperately trying anything he can think of to get what he wants. At one moment, this Devil was attempting to get his way by offering his prey dazzling gifts, and the next switched without any transition to brutal, threatening tactics. He displayed an energetic cheerfulness throughout, never showing any consciousness of weakness or fear that he might lose.  

Because time was short, I found myself suggesting to James that he smile a lot – this is an example of a character adjustment, something I hadn’t yet had time to explain to James. I could see that he didn’t feel like smiling at all, but he looked very funny when he did it, and it definitely increased his chances of getting the part.  I laughed spontaneously when he did it - and James could feel that it was a good choice.  Also, I insisted that he not show any rage until the very end, when his character knows his mission has failed. He was able to incorporate these ideas, but they were impositions, rather than organically elicited responses.

As it turned out, James did a brilliant audition! He was the last actor to go in, and the writer, who was also the other actor in the scene, said, “The best was saved for last!”  The director also laughed in all the right places at James’ conception of the role. But then the writer said something that dampened James’ enthusiasm; he wasn’t sure that James fitted his concept of the part – and they had him audition for one of the other parts – for which he was definitely not suited.  They shook James’ hand enthusiastically when he left, and it was clear that they were definitely considering him.

James sent them a ‘thank you’ e-mail a couple of days later, and they actually wrote him back, again saying very complimentary things about his audition.

When I didn’t hear from him for a few days, I knew James hadn’t gotten the part, but I e-mailed him to enquire. My instincts were right, and of course he was disappointed. But I could sense that he felt something more negative than disappointment, although he did his best to hide it, even from himself.  He was depressed by what he perceived as a failure.  And he has a right to feel whatever he feels, but there is more to this than immediately meets the eye.

It would be productive if James could have his unavoidable disappointment but skip the depression part. Some people will always be prey to this negative reaction, no matter what because of their psychological pre-disposition or trauma from previous situations. But there are ways of lessening this unproductive syndrome – which is a huge time and energy waster in the long run.  Confusion is the culprit. Until an actor has a good grasp of all the elements that go into acting and how they work together, not getting what they want most in the world is going to have this effect.

They ask themselves: Did I do something wrong? Why did they like someone else better than me? Could I have done something more in the audition to increase my chances? And on and on in this vein.  Next week I will continue to demystify the ‘failure’ phenomenon – as well as discuss ‘character adjustments’ and how they can frequently add to the problems of the uncertain actor…