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8 Improv Acting Tips to Create the Best Scenes Possible

improv class

Interested in learning more about improv? Get started with these improv acting tips from Brooklyn, NY teacher Liz T...

Improv acting is believed to be one of the most fun types of acting, and although it may not look hard, it is also one of the most difficult forms of acting! It requires constantly being on your toes, because you never know what will happen next in your scene. Many of the actors that have performed on popular shows like Saturday Night Live have studied the craft for many years, performing with improv troupes across the country, such as The Second City and The Groundlings. Here are my top improv acting tips for helping you improve your skills.

1. Join an Improv Acting Class

In addition to working with an acting coach, I highly suggest taking part in a class that focuses on improv acting. Here you will learn how to get comfortable with this particular form of acting. There are many great schools devoted to this style, including the Improv Asylum in Boston, Peoples Improv Theater in NYC, and Chicago City Limits. Many of these schools have levels ranging from 1-5, grouping you with other actors at your same level and experience. Improv classes will focus on theater games, scenarios, and the do’s and don’ts of performing improv live.

2. Study Characters and Relationships

Many improv actors have been successful because they create characters of their own, or impersonate others (examples: Tina Fey as Sarah Palin, and Will Ferrell as George W. Bush). While I don’t recommend finding a celebrity and just copying their personality, if you can really explore their mannerisms and voice and have it down pat, and if you happen to resemble what they look like, then you may have a good act to perform. I encourage young actors to find funny characters they could play, whether it’s an old grandmother, a naughty teenage boy, or a sweet little girl. Also, consider roles in the community that may not seem fun, but think of how you could make them comedic — nun, bank teller, school teacher, Girl Scout, babysitter, firefighter, chef, doctor, nurse, etc.

It’s also important to think about the relationships your character has, since most often you will be working in a group setting. You and your partners will have to think about how you are related or connected to each other in the scene to keep it going. For example, are you friends, lovers, long-lost relatives, or a client/patient? Think about how you can create your special character and bring him or her to life!

3. Know Your Current Events and Scenes

Now that you have your characters and relationships down, think of a setting where your scene takes place. Maybe it’s at a restaurant, doctor’s office, school, bathroom, zoo, or graveyard. While you can’t exactly plan out how the scene is going to go from start to finish in your head, nor do you want to tell the audience right off the bat, it’s good to place yourself in a setting, to get in the right frame of mind. I think it’s also funny to have your characters in settings they normally wouldn’t go — for example, a nun in a casino, or a man in the women’s restroom.

For the more advanced improv actor, you can add props, or simply imagine props (pretending you have a grocery cart, playing catch with an imaginary ball, etc.). I also suggest brushing up on current events and history. Your partner may refer to something happening in the news, or set a scene that’s taking place during the Civil War, and you don’t want to look uneducated in front of the audience!

4. Find Jobs To Use Your Improv Skills

It may be hard to make money when first starting out your improv career, so I suggest finding jobs where you can earn a steady paycheck and still use those great acting skills! Some ideas include:

  • Teaching students, whether it’s music, acting, a foreign language, art, science, or something else. Teaching young kids, especially, prepares you to think quick on your feet!
  • Working at a theme park. Interacting with the guests as a host, at a haunted house, or Christmas amusement park lets you put those good acting skills to use.
  • Sales positions. Believe it or not, even if you are working retail, or sales over the phone, learning how to interact with your customers and pitch a product is all part of acting and improvising.

5. Go With The Flow

Often in improv, your partner will be the one that starts the scene, and you will just have to go along with the flow. Even if you are not crazy about your partner’s character, scene, or acting choices, you don’t want to show this on stage. Go along with the scene, and add your own special skills, but don’t try to change the scene, as this will throw the audience off. One of the first rules of thumb in improv is “Yes and….” meaning you should always agree with what your partner says and add to it. Even if the scene is taking a weird turn, just relax, have fun, stay in the present, and go with the flow!

6. Use Your Imagination

Don’t be afraid to really let loose and let your imagination run wild! Go out of your comfort zone, and work on those characters and scenes you normally wouldn’t see. Also, spend some time writing, listening to music, or watching TV/movies for creative inspiration!

7. Keep Teamwork in Mind

Improv is all about teamwork! It’s not standup comedy; it’s all about collaborating and feeding off of each other. If you are not up for being a team player, than perhaps improv is not for you. In improv you really have to learn how to trust and depend on your fellow actors. The more you connect with each other, the better this will look on stage as well!

8. Make Mistakes

It’s okay to make mistakes in improv — just don’t make the same mistake twice. Improv is all about discovering what works and doesn’t work with your group, so don’t be afraid to give it your all and try new things! You’ll never know if a skit or character works until you try it on stage in front of a live audience. Also remember the audience may have different reactions to things. They could be a tough audience not laughing at any of your lines, or be hysterically laughing at everything! Just do your best, and you will learn from your mistakes.

Follow these improv acting tips and you will be well on your way to being a successful actor!

LizTLiz T. teaches singing, acting, and music lessons in Brooklyn, NY, as well as online. She is a graduate of the Berklee College of Music with a B.M. in Vocal Performance and currently performs and teaches all styles of music, including musical theater, classical, jazz, rock, pop, R&B, and country. Learn more about Liz here!

 

 

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3 Holiday Movies Aspiring Actors Need to Watch

The holiday season always brings a curious mix of movies to the big screen. With the Academy Awards just a few months away, studios often choose November and December to release their most anticipated movies. Designed to bait film reviewers and Oscar voters, these films wow with top-tier performances and serious, often epic plots. However, fluffy and family-friendly fare is also a hot commodity every winter, especially as Christmas approaches.

Holiday-themed movies don’t have a great track record with critics. From overly sentimental romances and dramatically dysfunctional families to unbelievable magic and miracles, tropes get recycled as nostalgia trumps original storytelling. Luckily, there are some exceptions to the rule. Films can be festive without getting corny or predictable, especially when they star talented actors. The following three films offer surprising examples of holiday movies worth watching and acting methods worth trying. From hilarious comic timing to heartbreaking grief, the actors in these seasonal ensembles deliver thoughtful and inspiring performances, and they just might turn your next family movie night into a learning opportunity.

Scrooged (1988)

Photo  by http://mrschristmasblog.com/2013/12/the-best-christmas-films/

Photo by http://mrschristmasblog.com/2013/12/the-best-christmas-films/

Charles Dickens published “A Christmas Carol” in the early Victorian era, and while the novella has been in print ever since, it’s actually actors who deserve much of the credit for keeping Ebenezer Scrooge alive. Long before the first movie theater opened, casts took to the stage every winter to recreate this famous tale of Christmas-time redemption. Now you can choose from hundreds of different movies, plays, miniseries, and cartoons that retell the same story, all in slightly different ways. But one stands out for the cast’s acting methods alone: the late-’80s adaptation starring Bill Murray.

While Murray’s comedic range and signature physicality are on full display, it’s the supporting cast that really shines, and two scene-stealing ghosts in particular. David Johansen is brilliant as the taxi-driving Ghost of Christmas Past, whose maniacal laugh and cigar-worn voice suspend reality enough to let you empathize with Murray. Later, Carol Kane offers a series of sidesplitting reality checks as the tiny but feisty Ghost of Christmas Present. Of the entire cast, Kane packs the biggest punch — both literally and figuratively. Her acting methods bring two extremes together, proving that fairy wings and a singsong voice can be just as dangerous as muscles and weapons.

Joyeux Noël (2005)

Photo by https://greatwarfilms.wordpress.com/2014/08/26/joyeux-noel-2005/

Photo by https://greatwarfilms.wordpress.com/2014/08/26/joyeux-noel-2005/

It takes place on Christmas Eve, carries a message of peace, and has a title that translates into “Merry Christmas”. Still, few could fault this French-language drama for being a holiday movie cliché. Set in the first year of World War I, Joyeux Noël is the true story of European soldiers who decided to celebrate the holiday together instead of killing each other.

Naturally, the movie’s strength rests on the shoulders of its actors, who were perfectly cast to drive home the point of the film: that soldiers and civilians alike are human beings with value, and can’t be defined by their differences or their sins. Even on the frozen front lines of a bloody global war, the movie’s characters are full-fleshed individuals. Pay special attention to Diane Kruger as a Danish opera star and Dany Boon as the unexpectedly sensitive Private Ponchel.

Love Actually (2003)

Photo by http://bladonbabe.com/

Photo by http://www.imdb.com/

This British holiday ensemble romance isn’t exactly famous for its originality, but if you’re looking for examples of great acting, sometimes it’s worthwhile to look past a cheesy premise or two (or eight). If anyone can make their characters look three-dimensional in an intertwined world of nativity plays, office parties, and unrequited love, it’s this star-studded cast.

Unsurprisingly, veterans Alan Rickman and Emma Thompson give two of the movie’s most believable performances, as a husband with a wandering eye and his savvy but fragile wife. Laura Linney is another bright spot in the film, switching gears effortlessly when her sweet but straightforward romance becomes a different kind of holiday love story altogether. Her heartbreaking final scene might be the saddest and most frustrating, but it’s also the most effective and poignant because she’s so raw and real.

Readers, what are your favorite holiday movies? Let us know in the comments!

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How to Have Stage Presence | 4 Areas to Improve Your Voice

Use All of Your Voices

Actors, your voice is one of the most powerful tools you have to make a character come to life. Next time you’re getting into a character, use these tips from Baltimore, MD acting teacher Larry P. for improving your stage presence…

 

Remember when your mother used to remind you to “use your indoor voice”? You have all sorts of indoor voices, and in order to best portray any character and improve your stage presence, be it in an audition, a rehearsal, or a production, you have to decide when and how to use those voices. Below are four areas to pay attention to your vocal choices to make your character come alive onstage.

Volume

(“I can’t HEEEEARRRR you”… or… “Why are you shouting at me?”)

Sometimes the choice to be loud is pretty obvious from the text (the word “shouts” or “yells” may be in the stage directions). But other times (far more frequently, in fact), it becomes a character trait. Is the character being emphatic about something? Is he or she repeating something? Is there an argument going on that is getting heated? The list can go on and on. You need to identify if and when a place in your character’s lines it would be appropriate, based on your own interpretation of the character (or your director’s, of course). And above all else, work on projecting your voice at all times – not yelling, but being clearly heard to the back of the house.

Cadence

(“Stop talking so fast”… or… “Will… you… get… to… the… point?”)

A more subtle tool in your performance repertoire is how fast your character speaks. Whether it’s done all the time (think about many of actor Joe Pesci’s characters, like Leo in “Lethal Weapon” 2, 3, and 4, or Vinny in “My Cousin Vinny”) or selectively, speaking in a rapid-fire manner speaks volumes about a character. It puts the audience in a more alert state, heightens tension (when done appropriately), and quickens the pulse. On the other hand, a quieter, more methodical delivery (think Marlon Brando as the Godfather, or Charles Bronson in almost any role), makes the audience sit a little bit forward in their chairs and listen more intently, thus also increasing tension, but for a very different reason. These are also choices that need to be made based on the actor’s interpretation of the character.

Emphasis and Punctuation

(“Let’s eat, grandma”… or… “Let’s eat grandma”)

Commas and punctuation, while often the area of the playwright, can often be manipulated, at least a bit, by the actor and/or director. Take the sentence: “We are very secretive.” If you emphasize the word we in that sentence, it is implied that it means we are secretive as compared to you. If you emphasize the word very, then it can mean we are more secretive than you. This can be a subtle, but often important distinction. As an actor, you have many choices available to you in interpretation (subject of course to the director’s vision of the whole piece), and adding emphasis and even a beat (or taking one away) is a choice. Make it wisely.

Enunciation

(“Wait… what did he say?”)

While this might be a given, even enunciation might be an actor choice. Projection is always needed — you cannot expect an audience to get any sort of meaning out of something they can’t hear at all, but you can make them wonder about a specific line if you meant to muffle it. For example, a “stage whisper,” that is, a whisper loud enough to be heard by the audience (at least heard enough that they know it was meant to be a whisper) can be a character trait that an actor wants the audience to know. But please, please, please be aware: this does not relieve the burden of making the rest of your lines intelligible to the person in the last seat in the house. That person has presumably paid just as much as people right in the middle, so they deserve every bit of your acting as everyone else.

Using all of these voices will allow you to move toward learning how to have stage presence, as well as expressing a wider range of emotion. This not only shows off your skills as an actor, but your skills in developing a character. Use the expertise found here at Takelessons and sign up for classes with me or another acting teacher, whether in person or online, and expand your horizons onstage. The possibilities are endless!

LarryPLarry P. teaches and tutors in a variety of subjects in Baltimore, MD, as well as through online lessons. His tutoring business is geared toward middle, high school, and college students, with specialties in the Humanities, writing research papers, and drama. Learn more about Larry here!

 

 

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Embodying the Ensemble Energy | Tips for Ensemble Acting

ensemble acting

Performing a monologue is much different from acting as part of an ensemble! Make sure you’re ahead of the pack with these tips from New York City actor and teaching artist Jasmine B

 

We all want to be that actor that everyone wants to work with. I’ve been in quite a few ensembles (one I’ve had the pleasure of being in for four years!) and have found some keys to working well with others and producing quality work. Here are a few simple ways to improve your ensemble acting and become that kind of quintessential artist in your rehearsal process!

1. Give Specific and Positive Feedback

A voice teacher of mine and coach to the stars constantly reminds us to “Celebrate before you flagellate!” which basically translates to “Give yourself a pat on the back before you punish yourself for whatever you think you did wrong.” This not only applies to the way you talk to yourself about your work, it definitely includes the way you talk to your castmates and collaborators about their work and the work in the room, period. As artists, we can be pretty sensitive about the product we put into the room, especially if we’re in process. A little acknowledgement can go a long way.

For example:

  • “Sheila, I really appreciated you being so open and available in that scene we did yesterday – thank you so much. I learned a lot about where (character’s name) is coming from, it really helped me connect with the story we’re trying to tell.”
  • “Watching you in that role is truly wonderful – you’re doing a great job.”

Also, if someone is feeling down about their process, don’t hesitate to be there for them. Try to eliminate director-bashing or production-slamming in this process, as it’s only a cheap way of making someone feel better. Be specific and kind in your support, and let them know you care and are proud of the work they are doing.

2. Ask Questions Instead of Attacking

If you have a criticism or a problem with another actor or collaborator in the room, it’s best to approach the problem directly, with an indirect phrase. For example, say an actor keeps forgetting his or her lines in a crucial part of the play. It may be pretty frustrating (useful, nonetheless – remember everything can be used!), but there is a way of helping both your partner and yourself.

  • “Bernie – I feel like I’m not giving you anything in 2.1; I’m not setting you up or being there for you like I should – is there anything I can do differently?”

When it comes to ensemble acting, putting the problem on yourself is a great way of coming to your partner’s rescue and motivating them to put more effort into the work. If you accuse them of not knowing their lines or being there for YOU, it will more than likely cause them to do the exact opposite of what you want to happen. If you’re feeling stuck in a scene, suggest some outside improv or an activity to loosen BOTH of you up. Never blame anything on your partner – you’re in it together, so you should solve it together.

3. Try Anything Once (Within Reason)

It happens more often than you think: a director or collaborator asks you to try something that you don’t think your character would do, given the circumstances, time period, personal prejudices, etc. Try it anyway. If it doesn’t work, it will be obvious to everyone.

This, of course, does include anything that you puts you or your collaborators in physical, emotional, mental, or any other kind of harm. Be safe and look out for each other!

4. Be a Team Player

Recently, I saw a Broadway production starring a major movie star. It was actually pretty fantastic – the production was full of wonderful actors, great direction, a fantastic script, and it seemed like the ensemble really fit together and enjoyed being with each other. At the end of the play, they all took a bow together – even the movie star in the leading role. He wanted to be with his company instead of apart from them. What a concept! So simple, yet it said so much. Here was a man who had millions of dollars at his disposal, and could have done whatever he wanted on that stage, and instead he chose to be a member of an ensemble. He chose to let the audience acknowledge the work instead of work the audience. In short, put the work and the ensemble effort first. The art isn’t about you; you are serving the story.

5. Being Early is Arriving on Time

We all love those actors who come to rehearsal warmed up and ready to work. They don’t have to warm up into the role or get used to the day while they’re in process with you – they are ready and willing to do the work as soon as it’s time to. They get to the space early, they warm up, and they’re ready. And even if they can’t get to the space itself before rehearsal, they’ve found a way to warm up at home, while in transit, or somewhere in between. You can be one of those actors too. Come early to be right on time. This is also helpful in daily life –there is nothing more kind than being where you said you were going to meet someone exactly when you said you were going to meet them.

Happy rehearsing, and good luck with your ensemble acting!

JasmineBJasmine B. teaches speaking voice, stage performance, and acting in New York City. She studied acting from a young age, graduating from the Cobb County Center for Excellence in the Performing Arts, and Wright State University’s Professional Actor Training Program. She currently serves as an educational outreach fellow for the Juilliard School.  Learn more about Jasmine here!

 

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How to Prepare for a Cold Reading Audition in 4 Easy Steps

cold reading a script

Vying for your dream role on stage or on screen? Any audition can be scary, but especially so if it calls for reading a script without ever seeing it before. Here are some helpful audition tips from Huntington Beach, CA teacher Natalie E. to help you prepare with confidence…

 

Preparing for a cold reading audition can seem like a daunting task. How can I make strong choices if I’m still on book? How can I truly capture the life of the character if I’m only reading a couple of lines? What if I make a mistake while I’m reading?

Here are four simple audition tips to help you prepare for that big audition or callback:

1. Practice, practice, practice.
Start by reading plays and screenplays. Read them voraciously. Read them out loud with your friends, family, or acting coaches, read them out loud by yourself in your room, read constantly, and do your best to act the parts as you go along. After all, the best way to get better at something is by doing it, right?

2. Familiarize yourself with the material
Often, we audition for plays that have already been published, or for new works that are based on movies, novels and stories, or other plays. Read, watch, or listen to the script or source material, paying special attention to the character or characters for which you are auditioning. Think about where that character comes from, and what role they play in the context of the show; it is also good to think about the kind of clothing that character wears, as it might help you connect. In short, do your homework and come prepared to make educated choices!

3. Warm up
Would you try to learn a complicated ballroom dance step without stretching first? Probably not. So don’t go into your cold read cold; make sure that you’ve warmed up your body and your voice. Do a few stretches, and make sure to include some tongue twisters — preparing your articulators and breathing muscles will go a long way in preventing you from tripping over your words. If your body and voice are warmed up, you’ll be ready for whatever the audition throws your way!

4. Have fun!
That’s the reason we’re doing this in the first place, right? Go big or go home! Don’t be afraid to play, and don’t shy away from the strongest choice! Experimentation and exploration is the best part of being an actor, so go for it!

Ultimately, the people sitting behind the table are looking for two things: do you capture their attention, and do you seem like you’re fun to work with? They want you to be good, they’re on your side, so don’t get nervous — with these audition tips, you can confidently show them what you can do, and how excited you are to work!

NatalieENatalie E. teaches singing, songwriting, audition prep, and more in Huntington Beach, CA. She received her BA in Drama from UC Irvine, and has been studying classical voice technique for 10 years. Learn more about Natalie here!

 

 

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Acting Industry Tips: What They Don’t Tell You On the Set

film set

A lot goes on behind the scenes before commercials, TV shows, and movies make it to the air. Here, New York, NY acting teacher Stephanie B. shares a few of the acting industry secrets that you should know as an aspiring actor…

 

Being on a film, TV, or commercial set for the first time is exciting and wonderful and VERY confusing. And, worse, everyone will assume you know what to do and when to do it. Here are five acting industry tips to help you look and feel like a pro!

1. The AD
There will usually be anywhere from three to six ADs (Assistant Directors) on set, but at least one will be your friend. You will know which AD it is because they will be the one to check in and make sure you are on set. In the flurry of that, GET THEIR NAME and don’t forget it. Why? They are also the only one who can release you from shooting at the end of the day. Trust me, you do not want to be the actor who left when they were still needed. When you think you are done, check with them to be certain.

2. The Microphone
Many times you will wear a body microphone duct-taped to some part of your back or hip. Remember that it is ON or LIVE even when you are not shooting. Do not bad-mouth anyone or talk about how tired you are. And if you need to use the bathroom, find someone to turn it off or better yet remove it momentarily — you do not want those activities recorded, nor do you want to drop the microphone in the toilet!

3. On film, be framed right.
In every shot you are in, you are ‘framed’ by the camera. It is OK to ask where you are framed — maybe it is from the chest up — as it is good to know. Also, if you are in a scene, focus on the other actors’ eyes so you don’t get nervous. An old trick is to focus on their one eye that is closest to the camera to keep your face shot well.

4. Eyeline
If you are being shot as you look or talk to someone off-camera, the camera will be framing you (and only you!), but it will not look good if you are speaking to a 6’2″ person and looking up only to find out they are sitting in this scene. You should ask ‘Where is my eyeline?” which will tell you where your eyes should be looking. It is a professional way to ask, and believe me, they will love you for it.

5. Always be nice
You’d think this would be a given, but most actors are so overwhelmed on their first day on set that this and much else is completely forgotten. Thank the costumer, make-up artist, the AD, the director if you get the chance, as well as any other actors. Trust me, this simple step, in a world of texts, tweets, emails, and so forth is surprisingly welcome to film crews.

So, there you go! With these acting industry tips, I guarantee your first day on the set will be clearer, more professional, and less stressful. Plus, you will be on your way to creating your best actor tool of all: reputation! Now you can really be ready for your close-up!

StephanieBStephanie B. teaches acting, audition prep, and accent reduction in New York, NY. As the Founder of Nicu’s Spoon Theater Company, she has taught audition classes, techniques, dialect and accent coaching, and acting classes for 14 years in NYC. Learn more about Stephanie here!

 

 

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The Powerful Secret to Great Emotional Acting

3672794277_f42d28a647_oThe best actors know that part of the process involves truly understanding your character’s motivation and inner thoughts. Find out how to get started in this guest post by teacher Timothy S...

 

One of the most effective ways to learn acting is knowing never to accept just the facts when it comes to relationships. The ability to tap into the emotions of your character is the foundation of great acting. That foundation is, in turn, constructed upon the bedrock of understanding your character’s relationship to everybody else. And threatening the collapse of the entire structure is a tiny little hairline crack known as “Just the Facts, Ma’am.”

A Simple Question
What is the relationship between you and your father? Simple question, right? Learn to answer that question regardless of who the other character is and you learn acting, right? Think again. Let’s look at that simple question again and ask a few more questions: What is the relationship between you and your father? Is it the same now as it was when you were ten? What about when you were 16? Is the relationship between a father and a child the same when the child is 25 and when the child is 50? Probably not.

You Don’t Learn Acting By Learning Facts
Again, remember that you should never accept a simple factual statement as the answer to the following question: What is your character’s relationship to _______? No actor ever successfully tapped into a character’s emotions by providing answers to that question along the lines of “She’s my boss that I can’t stand” or “I’m the daughter he never knew he had who tracked him down 20 years after I was born” or even “I’m a hired assassin and he’s the person I’m supposed to kill.”

Facts don’t tell you anything about the emotional tenor of a relationship. If you discover nothing else on your lifelong journey to learn acting, you need to uncover the buried treasure that is realizing the power of finding the emotional tenor of relationships.

The Grasp Slippery
Of course, you need to know whether the other character is your wife or your sister, but you can’t stop there. It’s your job to figure out exactly what the nature of your relationships to the other characters are during the particular time in which the scene takes place. And that relationship may be completely different in the next scene, even if the next scene only takes place a few minutes later. Because of the fluid, surprising nature of emotions and their slippery grasp on relationships, it is quite simply never, ever enough to be satisfied with a factual description.

As an example of this, let’s use a really extreme situation. The factual description of our two characters is this: one character is the President of the United States and the other is a 10-year-old boy. From this description we would probably expect that the President will be more knowledgeable, in control of his emotions, and the dominant member of the relationship.

But what if the scene took place after the crash of Air Force One into a dense forest area? The President is the sole survivor and as if that weren’t bad enough, he has a broken leg. The boy is the first person to the scene and the only hope the President has of making it out of the woods. Now what is the relationship between these two? How has the expected emotional tenor of that relationship changed? Who is more likely to be in control of their emotions? Has the 10-year-old become the dominant member of the relationship? Keep in mind that the factual description of relationship between these character has not changed one single bit. Would you be prepared to tap into your emotions to play the scenes if all you drew upon was that factual description?

The Never-Ending War Story 
Your dream to learn acting is doomed if you don’t become fully aware of just how little the facts of a relationship tell you about the emotions involved in that relationship. Relationships and the emotions that drive them are characterized by a constant give-and-take and daily — perhaps even hourly — struggles for control and power. Sometimes one person has the upper hand and the next day that power has shifted to the other person.

Because of the time constraints inherent in storytelling, emotions and relationships are even more unstable. That shift of power that might have taken course over a year in real life may play out over the course of a week on the screen or over the course of a night on the stage. Simply knowing the facts of the connection between your character and others will be of little help when it comes to tapping into the emotions driving the erratic nature of those relationships.

Where to Go From Here
Rather than thinking of relationships as this solid structure built around a fact, why not start thinking of them in terms of ever-shifting emotions revealed through role playing? Creating a character is a process of role-playing within role-playing, in a way that taps into the real emotional core of a scene. That process is best facilitated by an experienced acting teacher, who can help you tap into a full range of emotions.

Ready to get started? Find an acting teacher near you here!

TimothyTimothy S. teaches writing online. He has his B.A. in English from the University of West Florida, and was twice named to Who’s Who Among America’s Teachers. Learn more about Timothy here!

 

 

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How to Write Your First Screenplay | Storytelling Tips

screenplay

Ready to try your hand at writing a screenplay? Check out these helpful tips from New York, NY tutor Lauren P

 

Whether you have too many ideas or you don’t know where to begin, these storytelling tips will help you outline the framework for an unforgettable screenplay.

Don’t Remake the Wheel

While all stories include some level of conflict, the arguably best stories all seem to include components of what Joseph Campbell calls the Hero’s Journey. If you are not familiar with this storytelling formula, begin to brainstorm as you review its basic components:

1. The protagonist is living an ordinary life with some level of tension, dissatisfaction, or indecision.
2. A person or event pressures the protagonist to step outside his comfort zone.
3. The protagonist ignores or refuses the temptation due to fear of the unknown.
4. Someone arrives to help the protagonist find courage.
5. The protagonist steps outside his comfort zone.
6. The protagonist meets enemies and allies.
7. The protagonist and his allies prepare to conquer the challenge ahead.
8. The protagonist meets death or his greatest fear but is reborn a new man.
9. The protagonist celebrates and receives a reward after conquering his fear or death, but there is still fear the reward may be lost.
10. With urgency, the protagonist flees danger to bring his reward safely home.
11. The climax: The protagonist faces a final sacrifice in another moment of death and rebirth but this time on a more profound level that completely resolves the initial tension of the story.
12. The protagonist finally returns home or continues his journey with some form of his reward that has the power to transform the world as the protagonist has been transformed.

If you recall the most famous and inspiring movies, they all conform to Campbell’s formula — Star Wars, Braveheart, Gladiator, The Lord of the Rings, even Harry Potter all follow these 12 steps. Play with different protagonists and plots to create your own masterpiece.

Do Rewrite the Story

While many famous films have followed the above storytelling tips, there are many stories left untold. These hero protagonists have been almost exclusively white males. It is your turn to change the story. Create a protagonist that is female or one of many underused cultural or ethnic backgrounds. Similarly, brainstorm unexplored settings, or geographic barriers that have yet to be explored. Pair unlikely characters together in unlikely places. Let your imagination run wild.

Keep it in the Realm of What You Know

In order to make the story engaging and memorable, you need to write about experiences, people, landscapes, and lifestyles that you know. This does not mean you need to write about modern-day suburbia. Tap into the sensory and emotional details of your memories. While you have most likely forgotten a significant portion of your life, there is a reason you remember certain moments. Every memory is a record of a time when you are completely aware and present in that moment. What keeps you fully present during an experience is a strong sensory or emotional impression. In this writing exercise you will write down your strongest memories and the sensory or emotional details that made them so unforgettable. Write down the following:

1. Three earliest memories
2. Saddest moment
3. Most challenging moment
4. Most hopeless or fearful moment
5. Angriest moment
6. Moment of greatest betrayal
7. Happiest memory
8. Most adventurous or unexpected experience
9. Proudest moment
10. Moment of greatest peace or relief

Depending on your level of comfort and enthusiasm, feel free to write down more than one memory for each category. Once you have the basic memory written down, label it as sensory or emotional. Fill in details about the memory that stuck out to you. Was it the physical or emotional component that left such a lasting impression? The reasons these memories stick with you are the same reasons your scenes will stick with an audience.

Tie it All Together

To draft your story, apply the Hero’s Journey formula to an unlikely protagonist and unexplored circumstances. Then draft specific characters’ internal and external realities using details from your own sensory and emotional memory. Good luck!

LaurenPLauren tutors in various subjects in New York, NY. She has her Master’s Degree in Education (with a concentration in students with learning disabilities), and is a certified NYC Special Education teacher. Learn more about Lauren here!

 

 

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8 Movies Every Actor Should Study

Do you love acting and want to improve your skills? Acting lessons are a great place to start — but you can also learn a lot simply from curling up on the couch for movie night! Take a look at these eight movies you can study to learn about important acting techniques from your favorite on-screen actors and actresses.

Instinct

Instinct is a natural tendency to, in character, behave in a certain way. All actors have a bit of instinct – some more than others. For example, Peter Sellers’ success in the lead role of the 1963 film The Pink Panther is often attributed to his improvisation and strong instincts for the role of Inspector Clouseau – including the well-known (and hilarious) globe-spinning scene.

Peter Sellers in The Pink Panther

Peter Sellers in The Pink Panther

Too young for years of training to hone their skills, many child actors also have excellent instincts. An example is the youngest-ever Best Actress Oscar nominee (2013) Quvenzhané Wallis. In Beasts of the Southern Wild, six-year-old Wallis held audiences spellbound with her poise, charisma, and natural talent. Her instincts are inspiring for anyone hoping to improve their acting techniques.

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Quvenzhané Wallis in Beasts of the Southern Wild

Character Development

Beyond instinct, most actors spend a lot of time developing the character they’re playing. Some actors even go as far as dropping everything in their day-to-day life to “become” the character, using method acting techniques. In the making of the 2005 film Walk the Line, actor Joaquin Phoenix immersed himself in his character to successfully portray famed country singer Johnny Cash. For the role of June Carter Cash, Reese Witherspoon learned to sing and play the autoharp in order to perform live in the film. Witherspoon won numerous awards for the role, including an Oscar for Best Performance by an Actress in a Leading Role.

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Johnny Cash in Walk the Line

Stage Direction, Blocking, and Physicality

Acting involves paying attention to stage directions and blocking – your positioning, movement, and body language – some of which are outlined in the script, while others are not. These stage directions often convey a character’s emotional and physical state. For example, poor posture could mean insecurity, or a stumbling gait could mean the character is intoxicated, old, or injured.

In the 2003 film Pirates of the Caribbean: The Curse of the Black Pearl, actor Johnny Depp showed off this acting technique in various scenes, from his mischievous swagger to his quick-thinking rescue of the fainting Elizabeth.

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Johnny Depp in Pirates of the Caribbean: The Curse of the Black Pearl,

The 2006 comedy-drama The Devil Wears Prada is another great film to observe this technique. Meryl Streep’s role as an ego-centric and cold magazine editor is defined and then reinforced by her demeanor, walk, and gestures. Anne Hathaway’s initially insecure character evolves throughout the film to become a confident but stressed young professional; Hathaway’s role relies heavily on physicality to show this transformation.

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Meryl Streep in The Devil Wears Prada

Projection, Diction, and Breathing

It isn’t just singers that need vocal training! Actors need to learn how to project and enunciate, and some roles require additional training in learning specific accents or vocal tics. For example, in the 1980 biographical film Coal Miner’s Daughter, Sissy Spacek plays a convincing Loretta Lynn based on her ability to incorporate the singer’s speaking style.

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Sissy Spacek in Coal Miner’s Daughter

The 2005 film Brokeback Mountain demonstrates the skills of actors Heath Ledger, Jake Gyllenhaal, and Randy Quaid in assuming their characters’ physicality and speaking styles. Ledger’s character has a quiet nature and a distinct rural Wyoming accent, and his spot-on performance earned him several award nominations.

Ledger and Gyllenhaal in Brokeback Mountain

Ledger and Gyllenhaal in Brokeback Mountain

Listening and Reacting

Acting is rarely a monologue. During your acting lessons or performance practice, you’ll learn to hone the skills of listening and reacting to acting partners. Think of the spark between acting duos like Stan Laurel and Oliver Hardy, Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers, and Richard Burton and Elizabeth Taylor. One particular performance that epitomizes good listening and reacting is Robert Redford and Paul Newman co-starring in the 1969 film Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid. They skillfully play off each other like old friends, especially during the ambush scene when they’re working as guards at a mining company.

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Robert Redford and Paul Newman in Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid

As an aspiring actor, there’s something you can learn in just about any movie you watch. What movies are your favorites? Leave a comment and let us know!

 

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3 Drama Games for Learning Method Acting

Drama Games For Method ActorsMethod acting requires you to fully embrace your transformation into your character. To create an authentic experience for your audience, you need to lose the speech inflections, facial expressions, and physical mannerisms that wouldn’t make sense. For example, when an actor plays a depressed man, his cynical speech won’t be convincing if he delivers it with perfect, confident posture.

When Hollywood stars stay in character between takes, or improv comedians wear disguises to interact with unwitting strangers, these actors are employing method acting techniques. You can follow in their footsteps by honing your method muscles with these easy, effective drama games.

Exercise Your Animal Instincts

Before you can transform your body to reflect a specific background or personality you must be fully aware of every inch of it. This exercise helps you do just that.

  • Pick an animal (this can be random).
  • Watch one closely: observe a pet up close or a zoo animal from afar, or simply watch wildlife documentaries.
  • Observe its behavior patterns, and if possible, how it reacts to you and other humans. Does it have a lot of energy? Is it shy and careful, or curious and hungry for attention? See if you can guess what it’s thinking.
  • Pay attention to the body parts you both share: hands, feet, eyes, etc. How does the animal use or hold them differently than you do? Do you make similar gestures in private, but not in public?
  • Perform as that animal. Show your audience how it would eat, fall asleep, play, etc. Lose social inhibitions; sit in unflattering positions if it’s more accurate. See if they can guess who you are.
  • After practicing on your own, portray that animal again. This time, there’s a twist: you have to stand upright and perform an actual monologue (or share a dialogue with someone else) as that animal.

By the final step, you’ll find yourself brainstorming specific ways to mimic the animal you chose. Instead of resorting to the obvious — distinct roars or squawks, crawling on all fours — drama games like this one force you to focus on the details. Stepping into a human character’s skin will feel easy after this!

The Coffee Cup Game

This tried-and-true game, an old favorite among acting coaches, will teach you how to ignore the limitations of your surroundings, and adjust your behaviors to accurately represent your character’s reality.

  • Sit down in front of a warm mug of coffee or hot chocolate.
  • Observe as much as you can without touching it; use your sense of sight and smell to figure out how big it is, how it must taste, and how heavy it will be.
  • Pick it up; were you right about the weight? Does it feel as smooth as you expected?
  • Switch it between your hands and hold it in different ways, noticing how your fingers, wrists, and arms adjust.
  • Sip it and hold it in your mouth, savoring its taste.
  • Swallow it, and notice how your body feels and moves as it goes down.
  • Put it down.
  • Repeat steps 4, 5, and 6 without the cup.

After enjoying the full sensory experience of a coffee mug, you should be able to immediately recreate your own behavior without it. The same thing happens with method acting; there’s just more time between you and the emotions you’re recreating.

Alone Time

To accurately recreate a character’s reality, you have to pretend you’re not performing at all. This isn’t easy, especially when you’re under a bright spotlight and have to exaggerate your voice or behaviors for a big audience. Plenty of drama games coax you into character, but this one actually requires you to be yourself; it’s the first step in adjusting your public behavior to create a private moment.

  • Imagine walls between you and your observers (classmates, instructor, friends who volunteer, etc.)
  • Think of something you usually do in private. This can be anything at all, as long as you normally stop doing it when someone walks into a room.
  • Do it! Dance with abandon, sing off-key, pick your wedgie, etc.

By stepping out of your comfort zone, you’ll be one step closer to stepping outside yourself the next time you perform.

Method actors like Leonardo DiCaprio and Daniel Day-Lewis have decades of experience filling different characters’ shoes, and simulating senses and emotions they may not normally feel. They’re talented because they can successfully pull you into their movies, convincing you that fake knives actually cause them excruciating pain, or that a green-screen background is actually a monster they didn’t see coming. Drama games are still part of their arsenal today, in the form of rituals and off-set requests that keep them in character. Over time, you’ll develop your own arsenal of techniques to get into character; start now with these exercises!

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