Monday, January 23, 2012

Too Hard on Myself? Nah.


Have you ever been among people and noticed that you are doing a lot of talking?

Put me in a studio situation and turn the subject to acting, and I'm in danger of becoming a waterfall. I've been at this since age nine, I teach acting and find the process fascinating. I could bore you to death.

On Saturday, I took my seat in a conference room in a hotel on the south end of Santa Fe. Twelve of us actors got together for an all-day audition workshop with a local casting director. It was excellent: individual feedback on our headshots and resumes, tons of information about the evolving fashions and expectations of the industry, and simulated auditions with feedback about body language, presentation, and performing for camera. A great deal about this business has changed since I tried quitting the profession.

In the afternoon, we watched our audition tapes and gave each other feedback. Here we got into the process of acting, what we experience and how it plays on screen. First, the director would ask the actor, "What did you see?" Then she would open up the floor to the rest of us. And she would contribute her observations. Her feedback was especially useful because she herself was an actor and model at one time.

Another actor in the room, like me, had a long background in theatre and is now re-training for acting on camera -- which is a whole new ballgame. With respect to the process of acting, there was so much fascinating material to discuss, and the room was full of knowledgeable and supportive actors who gave great notes. It reminded me of scene showings in the whitebox at Trinity Rep, the discussions of process that would go on all day, an environment I often miss.

It was during this afternoon that a whiff of self-observation blew over me: I'm talking a lot. This was okay, I hadn't worn out my welcome or offended anyone. But I took a breath and remembered that I didn't have to say everything that came to mind. Who the heck was I?

Eventually we came to my own audition tape: three takes, with sides from an actual episode of a television drama that aired last year. After the first take, the director asked me what I saw. The take was not good or bad: good on technique, not the greatest choice for the scene, tried something that did not work very well, something weird with my mouth here, something weird with my eyes there. A few very good notes from actors in the room.

On to the second take. What did I see? "Much better in general," I said, and then pointed out a few details I need to pay attention to. One of them was a tendency to open my eyes wide "as if I'm going to eat you with my eyes." It looks very strange on screen. I also noted that I have developed a mouth twitch, and seem to be punctuating thoughts by doing this thing with my mouth. These are the details I find fascinating.

The casting director looked at me and said, "I think you are way too hard on yourself."

Was this true? I reflected on that as we went over the last two takes. Was I being unkind to myself, not noticing the positive? At Trinity, Brian always opened the floor by asking us, "What was good about that?" It is important to begin with what was working, and then move on to the areas for improvement. I could have sworn I had followed that while evaluating myself. It's what I teach to my own students.

What was true is that I did not dwell on what was working. I was eager to get to the parts where I can improve. After all, I did not pay for the workshop and drive three hundred miles to Santa Fe (actually climbing a mountain at night) in order to play footsie with myself.

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