Hey guys, I'm working on installing a paver patio behind my house this week and next, have the New Work's Gala this weekend, and will be participating in the Pittsburgh 48 Hour Horror Film Project next weekend with lots of auditioning and other work in between. So I forgot to tell you that there wouldn't be a post this past weekend. This week's post may be late and there will be no post the following week. There will be an update about the Gala and the dress that you all picked though. In the meantime, keep working on your acting and auditioning skills and enjoy any bookings you have!
Ladies & Gents: We have a winner!
All will be revealed after the Gala next Sunday.
Hey everybody! I have the Pittsburgh New Works Festival Gala on October 5th and I need a dress. I'm having trouble choosing, so I thought it might be fun to ask all of you for your opinion. The dress that gets the most votes by this Sunday at midnight will be the one I wear to the Gala. I'll be sure to take pics that night and then I'll post them here to reveal your choice and how I wore it. Check out pictures of the possible dresses, then vote below - and that's it! Thanks for your help!
Hey folks, so last week’s blog was about how important improv can be to your auditions, but this week I’d like to talk about how important it is in your actual work – when you book a job. You may want to read last week’s post first if you haven’t already, since this post will essentially be a continuation of that. As I said, actors often need to “Think fast on their feet” and studying improv will help you cultivate the skills you need to do it. There are many situations where having improvisation skills can elevate your work or save you in a pinch. I’m going to talk about these and the how and why improv can only benefit you.
When you’re working a job (whether it’s for film, theatre, industrials, commercials, voiceover, etc.), you will most likely be given a script to memorize and/or familiarize yourself with. Sometimes you won’t be given a script at all, but rather an outline of the scenes. I have at least one client who provides me with an outline and gives the gist of the scene, but does not provide the dialogue. Yep, that means that everything I do and say on-set is essentially improv. I love working for this client and my improvisation skills are an invaluable resource when they book me.
First let’s talk about when there is a script and you are asked to memorize it. And let’s assume you are working in front of the camera. Now let’s say you’re playing the scene and you forget your next line or the exact wording. Just like in the audition room, you have three options.
1. Stop the scene and ask to start over. (This is really a big no-no when you’re working on-set. They booked you for the job, which means they expect you to show up prepared, have your lines down, and be ready to shoot the moment you arrive or shortly after. Also, you should NEVER be the one to say cut during a scene when you’re on-set, that’s the director’s job.)
2. Stay in the moment of the scene, hoping the words come to you. (Pray they do, because the alternative is that they have to cut, reset, and shoot the scene over. On-set “time is money” and since there are already numerous reasons for needing to reshoot a scene, no one wants to reshoot simply because someone doesn’t know their lines. This is an offense that may be forgiven once (we all make mistakes), but much more than that and you will be looked upon as unprofessional, difficult to work with, and an expensive addition to the cast.)
3. Make it up or paraphrase and keep rolling. (This is almost always the best option because it keeps things moving and doesn’t necessarily ruin the take. Just as in number one above, they expect you to be prepared and professional and oftentimes, that means they expect you to be capable of improvising when needed. In fact, you’d be surprised at how often a take that has been partially improvised or ad-libbed ends up being the one they print. Just do a web search for “improvised lines in movies” and you’ll see what I mean. Click HERE for one list. Often the need to improvise snaps you out of your head faster than a speeding bullet and in so doing, it adds a deeper sense of realism to the take. Be aware however, that sometimes (usually when you’re doing a commercial), the script is viewed as sacred, like the Bible – and even omitting the word “the” may be unacceptable to the director, producer, and/or client. It is your job to find out how important the script is going in, because in this case, continuing on with an already botched take may be viewed as unprofessional.)
Just like when you’re auditioning, option three requires you to have improvisation skills.
Ok, now just like in an audition, let’s say you have your script memorized and you’re working with another actor. This time your fellow actor messes up or improvises your next cue line or forgets their line. In this case you need to “roll with it,” make it up, paraphrase your next line, throw them a line that gets them on track, or take over and make something up that allows the conversation to flow seamlessly. Having improv skills will up your acting game here as well.
When you’re in front of the camera, a lot of directors often want you to do at least one or two takes “off the cuff.” What this means is that once they have filmed as many takes as they need, with you hopefully following the script to the letter, they may actually flat-out ask you to improvise. Directors will sometimes ask for this because they don’t really know what they want in the scene, they are curious to see if you can bring in a new perspective, or they want another alternative that looks more “real.” They may say something like, ok, now let’s do one in your own words, or ok, now let’s see you just throw out a bunch of similar lines, or now let’s do a few however you want. You really need to have improv skills for when this happens, otherwise you may feel stuck, intimidated, or you may just freeze.
So let’s move on to when there’s no set script. This doesn’t happen often, but it does happen. As I said, I have a client that sends me the specs in advance, but who expects that I can take that outline and add any improvised dialogue wherever needed. I love working for this client because it feels easy breezy, is fun, and they really let me play and change it up on each take. There is a freedom in working with this client that allows me to express myself. And honestly actors, don’t we all want to be able to express ourselves? If you want any chance at booking a job like this, you’ve got to be able to improv! Also, there are lots of commercials nowadays that don’t contain dialogue, but rather are scenes of actors doing whatever that are overdubbed by a voiceover talent. Guess what, it’s the same thing. You’ll be handed a storyboard or script that basically just gives an outline of the actions to be completed, but you need to be able to add those actions and convey whatever emotions needed on the spot, which may include having a whole conversation that will never be heard – this too is improv.
When you are working in front of the camera, there is almost always another chance to “get it right,” but that’s not the case when you’re working on stage. Performing live theatre more than any other acting gig, definitely requires that you have the ability to improvise at the drop of a hat. Whether you or someone else goes up on a line onstage or skips a whole page of dialogue that’s integral to the story, someone needs to be able to do something about it. When you’re onstage, there are a myriad of things that can go wrong, but you can’t yell cut or stop and ask the audience if they would mind if you start over. It’s not even an option here. The only option on stage is to be able to improvise, whether that means paraphrasing your line, helping another actor out with their line, or throwing the important information from that missed page into your next line so that the play goes on and still makes sense to the audience. You have absolutely got to have improv skills if you want to work in theatre, otherwise you are doing your fellow actors, the director, and the playwright a great disservice. If your fellow actors have to save you every time you’re onstage together, but you just stare at them when they go up on a line, you may not work in theatre for long. And don’t forget you are often working with props that can get misplaced, fall, malfunction, etc. and you’ve got a live audience that may be laughing from time to time. You’ve got to be aware of all these things and you need to know how to improvise around them.
Here are a few real life examples from my own experience:
Recently I was onstage in the middle of a performance and a sign that was hanging on a stage bathroom door came crashing to the floor as I was speaking to someone on the phone. If I had chosen to act as if I hadn’t seen it, it would have ruined the play for the audience, because not acknowledging something that happens in the world of the play breaks the illusion that what is happening on the stage is real. Luckily, I have studied improv, so after I finished my call I was able to comment on the sign, take the time to replace it, and then continue right on as if it was just another day.
And this one is from just the other night. One of my fellow actors said his line (a funny one that often gets laughs), but the audience didn’t start laughing right away, so I jumped in with my next line. Then they began to laugh as I was saying my line. The next line I had to say required that they hear the one before it. I couldn’t just repeat that line word for word though in case some of the audience members did hear it. It would have looked like a mistake and broken the illusion of the play. So to keep things rolling, I allowed the laugh to start dying down and then proceeded to repeat my line in a paraphrased way as if it was meant to be said twice all along.
Man am I glad I took those improv classes! And if you are really serious about your acting career, you should take them too.
For a list of available improv classes, check out my previous post HERE.
Next Post: Top 10 Email Submission Tips
Improvisation is a very specialized skill and yet it’s one that should be in every actor’s toolbox. If you want to be the best actor you can be, then I highly recommend that you take an improv class – in fact you should take more than one. While improv stands alone as an art form, it’s almost a required skill for actors. Actors often need to “Think fast on their feet” and studying improv will help you cultivate the skills to do just that. There are many audition situations in which having improvisation skills gives you an edge. Not only that, but there are times when not having improv skills will actually make you look bad. I’m going to talk a little bit about each of them and the reasons as to why and how improv can help you to be a better actor in each case.
When you’re at an audition (whether it’s for film, theatre, commercials, voiceover, etc.), you may be given a script to memorize or familiarize yourself with ahead of time, you may be handed one on the spot, or you may be required to deliver a monologue. No matter what the case is, there will almost certainly be a time when you will need to improvise.
Let’s say you get the script ahead of time and you’ve done your best to memorize. Great! You get into the audition room, you slate, and you begin “reading” dialogue with a reader. All of a sudden you get to the third line and you can’t remember the next sentence or the exact phrasing of it. Now what? Well, there are a few options:
1. You can stop the read and ask the casting director if you can start over. (This isn’t the best option because it makes you look unprepared and they may say no. I have done this once or twice in a bind and luckily they were gracious enough to let me begin again, but I don’t think I booked those jobs.)
2. You can stand there (for what feels like an eternity) and hope the lines magically pop back into your head as quickly as they popped out. (In this case, you may end up having to go back and choose option one, if it doesn’t come to you. I have also waited a moment and had the lines come back to me, but sometimes the read just feels a little off the rest of the way through, because then I start second-guessing myself.)
3. You can make it up or phrase it in your own words if you remember the gist. (This is almost always the best option because it keeps the read moving along and oftentimes, if done well, most of the people in the room will never even realize that what you said didn’t match the script. I have definitely done this and it always feels better than the other two options because I haven’t lost any momentum.)
In order to choose option three, you need to have improvisation skills.
Ok, now let’s say you get the script ahead of time, you’ve done your best to memorize, you get into the audition room, and are asked to “read” with another actor. This time you get to the third line, but your fellow actor throws you the wrong cue or they improvise the cue line because they’ve either had trouble remembering it or they aren’t prepared. Now you may not know what to say or if you say your next line the way it was written, it may not make sense. You can still choose option one from above, but instead of the unprepared actor looking bad for messing up the line, it’s more likely that you will appear to be difficult to work with since you can’t just “roll with it.” In this case, it is best to make it up or rephrase the line you memorized so that it appears that you’re both part of the same conversation. This is another time, when having improv skills can up your acting game.
Now let’s take the same scenario above, where you are “reading” with a partner. One of your goals when reading with a partner is to make the other person look good – this reflects better on both of you and increases your chances of getting cast. This time you get to the third line, but your fellow actor has forgotten the cue and is just standing there not saying anything. In this situation, you may need to help your partner out by throwing out a made-up line that jogs their memory or by taking over and incorporating their line into your next line in such a way that it appears seamless, as if they haven’t forgotten a line at all. Again, you guessed it – the ability to improv here is invaluable. It can even teach you how to be more in-tune with your partner.
Switching gears now, let’s talk about when you’ve been handed a script on the spot. You are being asked to do a cold-read. Cold-reading takes another set of skills, one of which is the ability to “read” the copy while keeping your eyes out of your script. Sometimes when you’re doing this, you may miss the exact phrasing on the page. Without improv skills, you may be forced to look back down at your paper to rediscover the words that are written there. However, if you have improv skills and you understood what you read, then you can most likely paraphrase it a bit without looking down and keep yourself on track. Improv skills can also help you out if you’re doing a cold-read with a partner, in the same ways mentioned above.
And last but not least, what about when you are being asked to perform a monologue? While you often have much more time to prepare a monologue (you should always have a few in your back pocket), we are all human and forgetting bits or words or making mistakes is bound to happen. Rather than letting these mistakes derail you, you can use them as opportunities to add new life to your monologue. If you have learned how to improvise, you can roll with the mistake and figure out a way to quickly lead yourself back on track.
So I hope that you can now see just how important it is that you learn to improvise as an actor. Whether you’re just starting out or you’ve been acting for years, learning to improv or refreshing your improv skills is a must if you want to be able to compete in the marketplace. There are so many times during an audition where the ability to “think fast on your feet” can elevate your acting and increase your chances of getting cast. If you’ve never done improv or you’re a little rusty – get into a class as soon as you can, it can only help you.
Here are a few places to study improv in Pittsburgh and around the U.S.
Steel City Improv
Arcade Comedy Theater
I have personally taken classes at Steel City Improv and highly recommend them.
The Second City
Upright Citizens Brigade Theatre
Peoples Improv Theater
I encourage anyone to comment to this post with any other improv classes and/or resources (in and out of Pittsburgh) that you can personally recommend.
Next Week: Improv is Crucial in Your Work
One of the most important things you can do as an actor is to be yourself. I know this seems counterintuitive because you are playing characters, i.e. being someone else. But, regardless of what role you are playing, you need to have authentic experiences to draw from. And the only authentic experiences, emotions, and thoughts that you have are the ones you have encountered yourself in your real everyday life. It’s these real life experiences that you as an actor have and should draw from when creating your characters.
Just exactly how does one go about being oneself when portraying another person?
Well first, you need to know who you are. Knowing who you are means knowing and accepting all the parts of yourself – the good, the bad, and the ugly. Coincidentally, getting to know yourself is something you can do every day simply by experiencing life and paying attention to your own thoughts, moods, and reactions. The trick here is to observe your own actions while attempting not to influence them in any way. Those gut feelings, knee jerk reactions, and uncontrolled thoughts are what tell us exactly who we are inside.
We all have likes and dislikes, these too are things that tell us about ourselves.
Think about all the ways you may categorize or describe your friends and others around you. For better or worse, we as humans have a natural tendency (whether good or bad) to place people in boxes, or stereotypes if you will. Stereotypes can have very negative connotations and lead to things like bigotry and racism, but that doesn’t mean that there isn’t some truth to them. Stereotypes are stereotypes for a reason. I don’t want to get into a big spiel about this though because it’s not relevant here. What is relevant is that by paying attention to yourself, you can begin to stereotype yourself and therefore better learn about who you are.
One more thing – pay attention to all those little quizzes you see everywhere, on Facebook, in magazines, in books. While most of them are just for fun and not really based on any scientific principles, they can still tell you things about yourself. Arguably one of the best personality tests available for getting to know yourself better is the Myers-Briggs. And there are many others. Take them, pay attention to them.
Ask your friends who they think you are.
Sit down and write a letter to someone, pretend you are describing one of your friends to them, but make the description about yourself instead – see what you can glean from this experience.
Now when you go to create your next character ask yourself what the two of you have in common. Ask yourself how you would react under their circumstances. Find as many similarities between you and the character as you can and begin your work there. The more you can relate to them, the more you will begin to meld with them, and the more authentic your performance will be.
Next Week: The Importance of Improv in Auditioning
A blog about life and lessons learned through the eyes of an Actress.
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