Posted on January 21st, 2021

This came up while coaching an actor (actress) on a particular monologue. It’s not been tested all that much! Give it a try and let me know how it goes!

It is important when acting for the theatre to develop a relationship to the concept of Urgency. You must get what you've set for, and you must get it now! Urgency is crucial to driving the scene, the play, and the inner life of you character. It should also be coupled with making positive choices. Always play the scene (urgently!) as if--if all goes well--you will get what you want And if the play says otherwise, play it like you're gonna rewrite the ending.

This is meant to be either an improvised exercise or a written exercise.
Here's the backstory to work from:
You have passed away. Your story is another story. Today, in this moment you have been escorted down to earth by an angel. (This angel looks like an accountant, whatever that might look like for you. In other words, take all the grandiosity out of event.) The clouds have parted and you’ve slipped back down to earth. But, the clouds will close up again, and getting stuck on earth will not be good! You only have one minute to get your work done.
Your sister had gone out of town to check out some prospects for marrying some rich, crazy guy. She just wants to make sure he’s not too crazy! She leaves her 14-year-old son alone in New York City. When she returns, she can’t find her son, and finally learns that he had been brutally murdered. There’s not enough evidence to build any kind of case, and the case goes cold. Your sister is left with her guilt and her grief and a million unanswered questions.
You have been granted one minute to return to her as a memory or a dream and by concocting a poem, a story, a fable, a fantastic fairy tale, help her to forgive herself.
Set a timer and… Go!
(Set a timer for 3 minutes if you want to write this, 1.5 minutes if you want to improv it. Set your timer, review the backstory, and most importantly, don’t give yourself any preparation time. Just… Go!)

Posted on November 25th, 2020

I recently coached a smart, young actor on a monologue from a play. (Yes, Zoom Acting Classes are happening!) He’s just starting out, but seems to have quite an aptitude for the work we are doing. We approached the work with a list of questions: Who are you? Where are you? Where are you coming from experientially? (You can see these questions in context, in section one, “Objectives”, of my acting text on this site. Open the scroll, Coaching: Acting and Writing; and click on, Acting Text.) These questions have become part of my routine when working with new students, and are questions I return to myself when I’m acting, but as you will discover, the questions can become innate. It is important to keep these ideas simple, so that they can (how do I put this?) easily fit in your head. Especially important is this idea, when exploring different objectives (intentions, or wants). Acting is a moving meditation. If you have any kind of meditation practice, this will be clear to you. If you haven’t tried meditation, I highly suggest it as a tool in general life, but also as a tool for acting. There are at least two kinds of meditation. One, is the guided meditation, where you have someone talking through a series of ideas, slogans, mantras. The other is the non-guided, where you allow thoughts to come and go, freely. You acknowledge the thought as it crosses your mind, notice it, see it or hear it, but then let it leave your mind as quickly as it arrived. All kinds of thoughts will come and go through your mind as you are acting, some about what’s next, what was just said, a new thought, or discovery; some thoughts will have nothing to do with the play. Your ego may start whispering awful things to you, or maybe some personal dilemma will cross your mind. All of these things, pertaining to the play or not, should come and go with each breath, like a moving meditation. New thoughts will find their way in, when you learn to be always letting go. This is a good way to insure that a performance becomes layered and stays spontaneous. Staying present and in the moment with a meditation practice, will keep you from simply repeating what you did the night before.

Posted on March 14th, 2020

Just coached a talented young actor (or actress, depending on how you feel about labels!) This time it was sides from a play, instead of a monologue. In the play, the character just had a strange experience and sits down to tell her friend about it. Once we figured out what had just happened previous to the scene beginning, we became a little fixated on that backstory. But, really what’s going on in a scene is, just that—What’s going on in the scene. Meaning, what is presently happening. Is the scene about this thing that just happened? Is it about how she is left feeling about it? Maybe, a little. But, what it’s really about, is who she’s talking to, and what their relationship is. Where are they? What are they doing in the moment? So, much of the backstory—the experience that got her to this point—is written in the lines. No work needed there! But, what’s going on in the moment, is where some choices need to be made. I like putting this question to my students: Are you running away from the bear, or running to the cabin door? Running from the bear, is about the past and can sometimes have a negative weight to it. Running to the cabin door, is forward thinking, and a positive choice. Think about it. Once you get to that cabin, you’ve got a fireplace and lots of pillows and whatever else comforts you. So in this scene, this student actress was able to talk about this strange thing that just happened, in a relaxed, comfortable way. She was present and connecting with her friend. And as we took a couple more goes, and did some pattern breaking exercises, she became younger and more playful, which were both appropriate for the character, and even more appropriate it really felt like she was sitting on her bed in her dorm-room talking to her roomie!

Posted on January 12th, 2019

I did a coaching recently where the actor had an audition to play a real person. He had not received the sides yet, so we worked on a bit of an interview that this real person did. Conflict is essential to any play or screenplay, so of course it follows that an audition piece should have conflict in it. Not every interview has conflict in it. Many times, the interviewer has respect for their subject and wants to get the best out of them. Occasionally, there is friction. (Get your hands on some interviews with Edward Albee. It’s like he’s two different people depending on who is interviewing him. If he likes the interviewer his answers are professional and clear and easily relatable and even applicable as advice. If he doesn’t like the interviewer his answers are absolutely mystical. He suggests that his characters speak through him and he’s just the messenger, which means he can avoid answering the questions altogether, and I believe Albee got a kick out making the interviewer squirm.) An interview without a conflict, however will not make for a good audition piece. Don’t get too caught up in mimicking the real person. I’m sure at the end of the day the casting directors do want to see what you’ve got there, but an imitation will only get you so far if you can’t show them that you have acting chops too. So, if you’ve got an hour of interview footage, look for where the interviewer is playing devil’s advocate, or bringing up someone’s criticism of the person. There should be something in there that can be used. Then work backward from that point a minute or two. That should give you something to use. In other words, fashion a monologue out of the interview that leads to a conflict, so that we see the character going through something, needing to defend himself, or using any number of tactics to deflect or combat what’s coming his way.

Posted on January 11th, 2019

When working on a scene or monologue for an audition (with or without a coach) look out for those transitions. If each beat is a new way of talking about a subject, or if a beat is a completely new subject, between the beats are transitions.
Let’s say there are two kinds of transitions: Fast and slow.
In most cases transitions should be as quick as possible. I recently worked with an actor on a monologue. We recognized that the character was smart, and eventually agreed that he was very, very smart. We noticed the faster the transitions, the smarter he seemed. And since the character’s objective was to attract the person he was talking to, the smarter he looked the more enticing he became.
If there is a situation where you feel a transition needs to be longer, where the character is contemplative, perhaps deciding what to do or say next, that transition needs to be filled – alive, even if it’s only with thought. As a matter of fact, all it takes is the thinking. Indicating the thought is unnecessary and will cheapen the work. Think the thought; don’t act it.  
All that said, you should always default to the quick transition, just as you should default to taking out all of the pauses. Coincidently (or maybe not) those pauses that your director is always harping on are often in the transitions. Always be working to get the air out of your transitions. Assume your character is at least as smart as you are. Think (don’t indicate the thinking) and think fast.
When looking for a monologue to work on, find one that changes throughout and will show different energies, with a couple of beats and therefore a couple of transitions. I’ve seen a lot of auditions where the energy is all the same. I only see one color – one thing that the actor can do. And then I’m not so sure they can do anything else. Often, a monologue is in a play to make a specific point and that means there may only be one energy. It can be a challenge finding the right one. Dig. Break everything down into beats and see if you can apply different tactics to each beat. Different tactics, equals different energies, equals a good monologue to work with.

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