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Posts Tagged ‘drama’

Treat Yourself Like an MFA Student: 10 Things to Do Every Weekend

Plenty of actors would love to get an MFA.  They may want the piece of paper, the training, the immersion.  But the cost, the time away from the industry, and the fact that your social and family life is taken hostage, can be less appealing than the accomplishment itself.

The one thing you can’t argue with, though, is the discipline that an MFA program forces on you.  You have a tight schedule that you must adhere to, or risk expulsion.

When it comes down to it, though, all you need is a schedule and willpower.  After all, MFA students choose to stay in the program (for the most part), and they are following a tight, full schedule.

Many of my students wonder if they should have gone for an MFA, when they bemoan not having enough auditions or the types they want.  My answer—create your own MFA program!  Plenty of actors on Broadway and on camera had no formalized training.  The lack of an MFA doesn’t stop people—lack of discipline, willpower and belief in self does.

What you’ll want to do is take these 10 things and make sure they happen on your weekend.  For those of you with jobs that are not M-F 9-5, try to persuade your boss to regularly let you have 2 days off in a row, since that will work best for you.  Will you be super busy?  Yes.  Will it be worth it?  Absolutely, if acting is your goal.

1.       Movement

  • 90 minutes both days
  • Try a class in Viewpoints, Suzuki, Laban, or another acting movement foundation
  • Take a class in:  dance, trapeze, martial arts, yoga, gymnastics, stage combat, etc.
  • No class?  Make sure you spend 90 minutes that day being creatively physical, from dance choreography to a complete yoga session—whatever pushes you.

2.       Voice

  • 45+ minutes both days
  • Full vocal warmup you’ve learned along the way
  • Class in Linklater, Berry, Fitzmaurice, Rodenburg, etc.

3.       Singing

  • This is important even if you are not a singer
  • Non-singers:  20+ min both days.  Find some recorded vocal warm-ups with a great guide, and warm up your singing voice, no matter how wobbly.  Then get the sheet music for a song you love to sing and that you don’t sound half-bad at, and have the accompaniment recorded, or download online with the recording already there for you.
  • Singers:  45 min both days.  Fully warm up your voice and go through the songs in your book that are active right now.  Make sure you are performing the song, not just singing it, whether that is with stillness or simple blocking/choreo.

4.       Run your pieces

  • 30 min both days.  Take all your monologues and run them!  Choose a few to work and play with, continuing to discover and deepen; and polish up the ones that are just about there.

5.       Acting Class

  • 2-4 hours either day.  Take a class that lands on one of your MFA days.  Think: scene study, monologue workshop, camera/voice-over.  Something where you are working on character.
  • Partner rehearsal – 1-2 hours either day.  Schedule rehearsal for your class scene/project with your chosen scene/project partner, if you have one.

6.       Acting Coach

  • If you are in the industry, always always always have a coach.  My students range from beginner to AEA MFA working actors, and they all get far more gigs when they are regularly studying with me or with any acting coach.  I’ve heard my actor colleagues say the same.   At minimum, I recommend 45-60 min sessions every other week to keep your momentum, for auditioning, character work, stretch work, new monologues, etc.

7.       Read a Play

  • Most MFAs are required to complete a very long reading list in order to earn their degree.  Read all the titles off of a list.  You can Google MFA Play Reading List, or here is a link to a pretty good list.
  • Once you are done with the list you’ve chosen, read the Pulitzer Prize-winning plays that were not on the list, as far back as the list goes.
  • Once you are done with that list, start reading the plays that were Tony- and Obie-nominated the past few years, and then keep up that habit going forward.

8.       See a Play

  • Never go a single weekend without seeing a play, whether it is a friend’s or on Broadway.  Make it happen.

9.       Watch a movie that won best actor

  • Check out the Academy Awards and Golden Globes websites and watch the movies that had best male actor and best female actor wins.  Go as far back as the list goes.

10.   Rehearse/perform

  • Perform in something.  If you are currently rehearsing or performing a role in a piece—perfect.  If not, volunteer for a staged reading, or do a monologue at an open mic night, or create a webcast/YouTube video that folks are going to see.  Just put yourself out there in front of an audience to continue to learn and hone that skill.

Remember, treat yourself like an MFA in training.  Be serious about your work and play, by turning down social engagements, creating your uninterrupted space at home for it (or finding space, indoor or outdoor), and putting your money toward it.  Truthfully, if you would have been willing to earn an MFA and come out the other end with easily $50K+ in loans, then putting your hard-earned cash toward these things should become a priority—especially if you do it well and do it right.

Questions?  Contact Reneé at renee@organicactingcoach.com.

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One of the first things I work on with students, both new and experienced, is the slate.

Usually after hearing a slate I’ll ask the student what class or teacher taught them their slate.  The majority of my students tell me they didn’t, that they just picked it up along the way.

Obviously, it’s a crime that this simple yet important step isn’t commonly part of an acting institution’s training.  There seems to be an assumption that actors already know somehow; as if by way of deciding to become an actor, they suddenly know how to do a slate.  Then again, how hard can it be to simply introduce yourself and your audition piece title?  Well, actually, it can be a bit tricky.   But with practice, it can become not just simple, but a launching pad for a successful audition.

Like any part of a job interview it’s important to be top-notch at:

  • Walking into the room
  • Introducing yourself
  • Introducing your piece
  • Interacting with the auditors

Walking into the Room

The slate actually starts as soon as you enter the audition room.  You start to make your impression on them right away.

DO:

  • Enter with confidence, but not arrogance
  • Enter with a smile, but not a big ol’ grin
  • Say a cheery “hello everyone” or “hello there” in a casual, welcoming way
  • Deposit your belongings neatly and quickly in a corner, preferably near the door

This allows you to walk in with poise, and connect with the other human beings in the room.  If done confidently, openly and well, it puts everyone at ease and reminds both you and them that we are all actually peers in this industry, creating art and entertainment together.

Introducing Yourself

The usual format for this is simple:  YOUR NAME + THE CHARACTER NAME + THE PLAY + THE PLAYWRIGHT.

Easy.  Start with a “Hi” or “Hello”, then “My name is” or “I’m”, then the formula above.

This seems to pose the most difficulty for most folks, for a couple reasons.  One is the tone to use.  In an effort to be friendly and accessible, most actors will slate ending in a question and never realize it.

DO THIS TEST:  Say “Do you want some?” in a chirpy way.  Now, if your introduction of your name has the same pitch/musicality, you are asking a question.  “Hi, my name is Reneé Rodriguez?”  And my response when I hear this slate is always, “Are you sure?” in the same pitch, to demonstrate how unsure the actor sounds.

Introducing Your Piece

The second reason a slate goes awry is in the wording.  Simply put, folks aren’t sure whether to say “I will be playing the role of” vs. “I will be doing”; or “from the play” vs. “from”; or “written by” vs. “by”.

My vote is to eliminate as much wordiness as possible, while still allowing yourself to flow through the slate:  “Hi, my name is Reneé Rodriguez, and I will be playing Billie from Women of Manhattan by Shanley.”  You‘ll note I just used the playwright’s last name, since he’s well-known.  With Shakespeare, I recommend leaving off his name entirely if you are comfortable with that.  The auditor knows who wrote As You Like It or Hamlet.  At least, I hope so for the sake of the cast!

If there is a second monologue, simply tack that onto your original slate.   You don’t want to introduce it separately after you finish your first piece.

DO NOT:

  • Give the circumstances of the scene
  • Describe the character
  • Tell them the quality of the piece
  • Apologize for being late or not feeling well that day

BONUS TIP:  Practice introducing your slate as if you have planned a wonderful, sophisticated dinner party, and are now opening the door to your home and greeting a favorite guest.

Interacting with the Auditors

Sometimes the auditor(s) may chat with you afterward.  If they:

  1. Give you a different direction to try with your piece –
  • Embrace it and go for it!  This is usually a lot of fun.
  1. Ask you to tell them about yourself –
  • Briefly tell them 2-3 quick facts about yourself.  For example, “I’m a Puerto Rican from California who loves to tap dance, speed-hike mountains and sing in the shower!”
  • Use facts that might start a brief conversation or spark interest without being too weird.

DO NOT:

  • Apologize for any aspect of your audition; if something significant happens, laugh it off with them
  • Inform them that you are sick or your throat is scratchy or otherwise impaired
  • Use any factoids about yourself that have to do with illness, death or anything depressing (i.e., I had open heart surgery, my roots are gray, my dog of 18 years just died)

Now, go practice your slate until it feels great and organic—really coming from who you are.  Video record your slate, review, and polish it up.  Then you’ll always have a fantastic start to your audition pieces!

Questions about your slate?  Email Reneé at renee@organicactingcoach.com.

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