StageSource member Mike Handelman attended Monday night’s “If I Knew Then…..Actors” series and wrote up a great blog post about the event that he has allowed us to share with you:
Last night I attended the latest of Stagesource’s “If I Knew Then…” series, the previous entry featuring playwrights and this one featuring actors. Since I didn’t have anything to do last night, and it was right in Harvard Square at the Cambridge Center for Adult Education I thought “why the hell not” and gave Stagesource the $5 for admission.
What do I now know after having attended the event? A lot of things which I had some idea of already, but refreshed and reinforced in new ways I hadn’t necessarily considered in the context of these actor’s careers. One theme which actor Tim Smith repeatedly reinforced “be aggressive”. For example, during the audience Q&A someone asked “who are good acting teachers” and Tim said (paraphrasing) “your fellow actors and directors who you work with whom you respect and can learn from. Most of the time, if you offer a fellow actor your money, they will help you. Ask them, be aggressive.” He accompanied this with an anecdote of his younger self calling around to random agents, managers, coaches, etc and being like “hey can you help me out” and one of them said to him “ask some people you know and respect”. The person was in fact, Nicholas Cage’s former acting coach, so he went and did that and now he’s a successful equity actor. So there you go!
On the subject of auditioning, Marianna Basham said “try and enjoy it, pick material that you really enjoy performing, not necessarily just because someone says it’s right for you but because you enjoy performing it.” Also on the subject, Marianna said “be a human being. Say thank you to the reader.” And the group agreed “know your limits and control the things that you can control.”
One profound thing Will Lyman talked about sort of in that vein is instead of getting caught up in your head of what your whole performance has to be, go on stage and ask yourself “what am I doing?” If your looking for your keys, find your keys. Then what? Essentially, be in the moment. Isolate the first thing you or your character needs to do when you get on stage, and do that thing.
That last point I learned from Scott Zigler’s Practical Aesthetics class and from reading David Mamet, but they are deep and essential truisms of our craft, worthy of being reminded of, over and over! Another great suggestion from Will, which I hadn’t heard before, “prior to walking into an audition take a sip of water or suck on a lemon drop. Feel the water or the juice from the lemon drop going down your throat. Focus on that.” Whoa, pretty Zen type shit, Will Lyman. And so true! And not something I’d heard before! But also so obvious. Just be in the moment. As Will put it at the end, “your job is not to act, it’s to be.” And I mean, there it is, that’s the fundamental thing. But it’s so difficult to do that, and cut past all our prepared, canned, smelly bullshit.
Another subject that was discussed at length was the subject of having a “survival job”, basically the job you have that you can manage alongside your acting pursuits that helps you buy food and pay rent. Will Lyman highly recommends a career in voiceover, but then again he’s also Will Lyman voice of Frontline and those beer commercials with “the most interesting man in the world”. Consensus was that it’s important to find something you enjoy and which you find worthwhile. Will talked at length about how during a period of doing what I imagine to be mediocre plays, television work, commercials, etc, Frontline gave him the feeling of working on something worthwhile which contributed to society, and sort of “fed his soul” when acting wasn’t doing that.
Maybe the biggest and most universal point of the evening, find meaning in what your doing and lead a rich life, which may not come from acting alone but all the things you do, you have to be happy doing it. “You go from show to show and you build this career, and in the end, what’s the point?” To be happy. So find the thing that makes you happy, and go after it. Follow your gut, “what is the thing I want to be doing?” A lesson I’ve heard repeated before, but an important one to be reminded of. Let’s hope we all never forget it.
P.S. If anyone associated with the event finds this, realize all the quotes are paraphrased from my memory. Also, if you are associated with the event and reading this, thanks for a great and informative evening!
Mike Handelman is a Boston based actor and blogger. You’ve probably seen him at theater and film auditions around the greater Boston area, or on stages as diverse as the BCA, Riverside Theatre Works and Apollinaire Theatre Company where he performed in their Uncle Vanya. For more information, check out his blog; ithinkthereforeiambic.blogspot.com