Four Life Skills Imparted by Acting

Four Life Skills Imparted by Acting By Katherine Schreibern

nWhy Act? If you’re already pursuing a stage, film, or television career, you’ve probably got your own answer. But there are a few reasons to partake in productions, study the craft, and put yourself out there in an audition that you may not be aware of. As it turns out, studying acting imparts four crucial life skills that enhance just about any professional or personal endeavor.nn1. Perspective TakingnPsychologists, business professionals, and academics agree: The ability to look at a situation from multiple perspectives best equips you to successfully navigate it. From spats with significant others or people at work to running a business or managing consumer complaints, seeing a problem through more than just your own eyes gives you more hints about how to solve the damn thing. (Or, at the very least, be less of a meanie and acknowledge where all parties are coming from.)nnGet cast in a production or assigned a role in a scene for your next acting class and you’ll be required to explore, understand, and ultimately communicate the motivations, hopes, fears, and behavior patterns of someone other than yourself.nnHoning the skill of peering through other people’s POV’s not only improves your potential success on stage and screen. It packs an equal — if not greater payoff — to your personal and non-acting-related professional life. Think of how good it feels when someone listens to you and acknowledges your position. Do that to enough people and you just might notice your friend circle expanding or your boss reconsidering you for a raise.nn2. ListeningnThis may be a no-brainer. But you’d be surprised by how few people master the art of actually paying attention to what someone else is saying. Listening to another person doesn’t mean just registering the words coming out of their mouths. Effective listeners attend to vocal tone and body posture in addition to nouns, verbs, and adjectives. If someone’s trying to convince you they’re trustworthy while facing away from you, avoiding eye contact, or speaking a bit too quickly, that may be a hint they’re not being sincere. Furthermore, sarcasm can be subtle — “sure, I’d love to do that.”nnA well-trained actor (read: one who continues to take acting classes throughout his or her career) is better attuned to the nuances of other peoples’ communication styles. This cultivated sensitivity not only gains them a leg up in auditions — is that casting director really interested in hearing how crazy your commute to this audition was? It can also help out in business environments, observes writer, director, and founder of Creativity Leashed, Wil Masisak. “Effectively selling products, ideas, or concepts involves the kind of listening skills required to be a successful actor,” says Masisak. “Your main focus is on what other actors in a scene are trying to say to you — literally or via subtext. Same goes for attending to what a potential buyer or customer is saying to you, and which of their needs are being communicated.”nn3. ConfidencenPerforming in front of a class, a live audience, or even just one other person may make some people feel a sudden urge to flee, melt, or otherwise disappear. Getting up in front of a crowd doesn’t come naturally to everyone. But forcing yourself to do this as often as possible can, over time, take the edge off. Professional actress and acting coach Marcy Lovitch notes that even the most introverted of her students emerge from their shells after a bit of training. (Lovitch just so happens to teach a class for non-actors on, wait for it, acting, to impart these confidence building skills.)nnWhether you need to master a public presentation, deliver an acceptance speech, or simply stand a bit taller amongst coworkers or pals, the practice of emoting and communicating in front of audiences big or small can help fortify you against that debilitating self-consciousness even the smartest of psyches succumb to.nn4. AdaptabilitynResponding and adjusting to a director or teacher’s feedback, or to the emotions beneath your scene partner’s repetition exercise statement, trains you to accommodate changes. Assuming a character’s identity, feeding off audiences and other actors, and participating in the teamwork of a theatre, film, or television production cultivates a psychological flexibility that’s good for pretty much all areas of your life.nnCEO of OpenInvo Emily Lutzker reminds us that adaptability just so happens to be a highly coveted skill in today’s work environment. Processing and adjusting to customer responses as quickly as possible keeps businesses small and large afloat. Plus, the more adaptable you are at work, home — or anywhere else, for that matter — the better your mental health prospects are.nnWhat are some benefits you’ve derived from acting, either personal or professional? Share with us in the comments section below or tweet us @TSStudio

How to Keep a Character from Bleeding Into Your Life

How to Keep a Character from Bleeding Into Your Life By Katherine Schreiber

nHaving a flexible (read: not rigid) sense of self is key to emotional well-being. Yet even the most psychologically sturdy actors can find themselves overtaken by a role if their character’s situation hits too close to home.nnThe key to effective acting, argues Artistic Director and Founder of T. Schreiber Studio Terry Schreiber, is finding an optimal psychological distance between yourself and the character you’re playing. Too much distance results in an emotionally disconnected and noticeably inauthentic performance. To little distance risks exacerbating psychological wounds actors may have lurking beneath their façade.nn“You can’t work from things in yourself that you’re not emotionally resolved about,” Schreiber emphasizes. “That becomes acting out of neurosis. If you’re working from neurosis, you have no objectivity.”nnHow can you tell if you’re losing yourself in a role? If the character’s behaviors and thoughts creep into your off-stage life — say, while you’re out to dinner with friends, snuggling up to a significant other, or just spending some much needed alone time.nn“If any part of the character consistently haunts you after a performance, a rehearsal, or a shoot,” Schreiber says, “that’s a sign this character’s behavior or situation may be tricking off something in you that you’re not psychologically resolved about.”nnBeing haunted by a character could simply mean you can’t get his emotions, thoughts, and behaviors of your mind. Or it could mean you literally begin acting like the character when you’re supposed to have left him or her in the dressing room — say, obsessively dimming the lights, lying about your past, inveighing against your sister’s ape-like boyfriend, and depending on the kindness of strangers. (Or having a legitimate nervous breakdown.)nnIf a character is bleeding into your life (or your unhealed psychological wounds are eroding the psychological distance required to sustain a role), Schreiber recommends immediately alerting the director or teacher you’re working with so that s/he can help guide you towards achieving a more sustainable relation to the character’s truth.nnAnd if a character’s scenario really stirs up your own personal trauma — drama therapist Robert Landy recalls situations where a bit too much acting has elicited war veteran’s or rape victims’ PTSD symptoms (sweating, shaking, sudden emotional shut downs, excessive anxiety) — your best bet is to seek support in the form of a qualified therapist. (See our blog on drama therapy or check out the National Association for Drama Therapy’s network to find someone specifically trained to address these blurred self/character lines.)nnTo ensure optimal psychological distance from a role, Schreiber and Landy agree, all actors must find some form of differentiating the “me” from the “not-me.”nnFind a moment before, during, or after each performance where you can experience a catharsis, Schreiber advocates — a letting go of the character in the interest of returning to your off-stage self. (Curtain calls often make for the most popular moments to demarcate where your character ends and where you begin gain. Runners up include removing the character’s makeup and hanging up the character’s costume.)nnListening to the same song after a performance, engaging in a particular physical activity, or plugging back into your social world can also do the trick. But if you do find yourself unable to transition back to who you were before you embodied a role don’t hesitate to ask for assistance in relocating your off-set self. And be mindful of what psychological baggage you may need to address with a therapist in order to sustain the supple yet strong emotional boundaries an acting career requires.

What Is Drama Therapy? By Katherine Schreiber

What Is Drama Therapy?nBy Katherine Schreiber

nDrama isn’t just a source of entertainment. It can also be a means of catharsis and healing (though you probably gathered this after witnessing or participating in one of Terry’s fallout exercises). As a matter of fact, there’s a form of psychotherapy that caters to the mental payoffs of character-portrayal. What is it called? Drama therapy! And yes, you can find a licensed drama therapist near you if you’re sold by the end of this article.nn“The basis of drama therapy,” explains drama therapist and Director of New York University’s Drama Therapy Masters Program, Robert Landy, “is that human beings are performers of their own lives.” Just like actors, Landy says, each one of us “inhabit[s] roles as a way of contracting and expanding [our] humanity.”nnNone of us are beholden to, or defined by, a single, unipolar self or behavior, the drama therapy perspective holds. Rather, each of us contains a multiplicity of characters, and the person who emerges in a given moment depends on context, goals, and past experiences. Drama therapy seeks to assist clients with the reconciliation of these many selves, along with the acceptance and understanding of inner turmoil, by encouraging the projection of feelings, beliefs, hopes, fears, and vulnerabilities onto characters, objects, scenarios, and other non-self materials (i.e. puppets, fabrics, videos, dolls, etc.). Former Psych majors might consider this as a more scripted version of transference.nnWhat’s more, drama therapy enables participants to explore the full emotional range of every self they have come to contain — especially the less desirable selves they may have sought to hide. Landy gives the example of exploring the emotions and feelings of the pariah character (a.k.a. outcast) in order to examine the parts of this self (i.e. his or her ability to love, to care, to save, and to help others) that a person may be inclined to sideline or ignore in the interest of keeping this part of him/herself hidden.nnIn Drama As Therapy, British drama therapist Phil Jones defines drama therapy as “involvement in drama with a healing intention. Drama therapy facilitates change through drama processes. It uses the potential of drama to reflect and transform life experiences to enable clients to express and work through problems they are encountering or to maintain a client’s well-being and health.”nnThrough this process, Jones emphasizes, clients “achieve a new relationship towards the problems or life experiences they bring to therapy.” Often times, he adds, “participating in drama and theatre allows connections to unconscious and emotional processes to be made.”nnAristotle first identified the cathartic and healing role of drama around the fourth century (we’re talking BC, so way, way back now). But it wasn’t until the 1970’s (AD, just so we’re clear) that drama therapy as a technique to facilitate emotional growth and recovery really began to emerge as its own trade.nnCoinage of the term “drama therapy” is often credited to a former U.S. Marine Corps major Lewis Barbato, who wrote an article depicting the psychological benefits that acting out scripted plays conferred to WWII veterans in 1945.  On the heels of this publication, a Viennese actress by the name Gertrude Schattner sought to head off a drama therapy movement after witnessing the vivacity patients in a mental hospital recovered via participating in theatrical enactments. (Fun fact: To escape Nazi Germany, Gertrude had herself feigned mental illness in order to be admitted to a Swiss mental hospital during WWII.)nnThe drama therapy movement gained steam over the next twenty years as other pioneers in the field (like David Read Johnson, Marilyn Richman, Naida Weisberg, and Barbara Sandberg) signed on with Schattner to establish the National Association for Drama Therapy at the dawn of the ‘80s.nnDrama therapy continues to be practiced today by licensed providers employed in a variety of settings — from mental health clinics and correctional facilities to homeless shelters, substance abuse programs, college counseling centers, and even some business training programs.nnImportant to keep in mind: drama therapy is often confused with psychodrama, a different form of therapy entailing the literal placement of characters from one’s own life history into imagined scenarios (say: putting your late mother on a chair and confronting her about all your childhood insecurities — no small task!). More on this in a later blog…nnThe main difference here is the degree of removal from your real situation, Landy remarks. In psychodrama, you’re working with your literal history. In drama therapy, you’re using other characters and new scenarios that relate to your own emotions, feelings, and past experiences, but that are one or more steps removed from what actually happened to you. Drama therapy involves more metaphor, more distance, more moving-beyond than the more immediate experience of psychodrama. That distance, says Landy, is precisely what allows healing to occur.nnInterested in learning more? Check out the following resources!nnThe Couch and the Stage, by Robert Landy.nn“To Be and Not To Be.” Robert Landy, Psychologytoday.comnn“Ancient and Modern Roots of Drama Therapy.Sally Bailey, MFA, MSW, RDT/BCT, Dramatherapycentral.com.nnThe Drama Therapy Institute of Los Angeles.nnNew York University’s Masters in Drama Therapy Program.nnHistory of Drama Therapy.

Acting Horror Stories (episode 3)

Acting Horror Stories: Don’t Forget Your Dignity By Katherine Schreiber

nnnFrom the outset of her acting career, Julie Garfield (daughter of John Garfield) found herself in a series of tricky situations, primarily involving the inevitably oversized egos people in the acting world occasionally possess. Her first unfavorable encounter occurred under the not so empathetic auspices of famed Director John Dexter.nnGarfield was overjoyed when she landed the role of Jessica Kolner in the 1977 Broadway production of The Merchant. But Dexter’s treatment of the budding actress quickly curtailed her personal growth both on and off the stage.nn“The most abusive person who ever directed me — and I’ve had very abusive people direct me — was John Dexter,” Garfield recalled. “I felt like his preferred person to torture; he picked on me throughout the whole production.”nnDuring a winter rehearsal where the theater the cast was performing in lacked adequate heating, Garfield opted to wear boots to keep from freezing. Apparently Dexter would have none of this, demanding that the young actress change her shoes on the sole basis that “he didn’t like boots.” Garfield refused the request, which prompted an emotionally volatile Dexter to run towards her placement on stage with a hand poised to strike her across the face.nn“I was sick of running from these rehearsals in tears,” Garfield said. “I didn’t believe I was good enough. I was so insecure. I validated his cruelty to me by taking it personally. But finally something just snapped and I said to him, go ahead. Hit me.”nnBy inviting him to culminate his cruelty with a physically verifiable act of violence, Garfield imagined she’d finally have a valid reason to quit.nn“I challenged him, essentially saying, I’m not going to take your sh*t anymore. He sort of dropped his hand, then he walked away. He never messed with me again after that.”nnnThe lesson Garfield learned? “If you’re working for somebody who’s cruel, who’s mean, do not take it inside of yourself. Confront that person and do not let them treat you that way.”nnGarfield swears by her own experience that it’s better to get fired than to allow someone to treat you inhumanely. She believes that accepting cruel treatment from anyone you work with in the theatre world can hinder your success as an actor by indelibly scarring the engine(s) of your artistic success — your humanity, your dignity, and your soul.nn“My biggest problem was that I didn’t have self confidence. One of the reasons I’m done with acting,” Garfield admits, “is the build up of bad experiences of not sticking up for myself.”nn“To be an artist, you must not be intimidated,” she adds. “It took me a while to understand that.”n

Acting Horror Stories (episode 2)

Acting Horror Stories By Katherine Schreiber

n nnWhat’s the worst that could happen in a creative career that cultivates self-expansion, empathy, and in-the-moment awareness? Unfortunately, that list is a bit too long for one blog post. So we’ve culled a few of our favorite stories from local actors. Hopefully readers can learn the lessons gleaned from these less than ideal circumstances without re-experiencing the unscripted drama.nn nn#2. WOOPS!nActor and comedian Josiah Correll was just getting his start on the stage when, in his junior year of college, he was invited to portray an historical figure for a small gig in Kentucky. Since the venue — Fort Harrod — was a few hours away from his home town of Lexington (and, well, because it paid about $300 an hour), Correll signed up immediately.nnUnbeknownst to him, there was no script for this ordeal. A few weeks before the event was scheduled, he caught wind that he’d been required to write a monologue for Jim Harrod, the famed man he was slated to portray in front of a group of elementary school students. Rather than offloading the task to another willing actor, Correll assured the event staff he’d be all over it, no problem.nnThe day of the performance, Correll ended up getting lost en route to the venue. He showed up about 15 minutes late and stepped out of his car to the warm welcome of a very unhappy event manager — who had also been expecting an entire production team, not one lone college guy.nnCorrell rushed backstage to change into costume, then stumbled out to deliver a 20-minute speech to an audience of seven-, eight-, and nine-year olds. He noticed some giggles as he spoke but chalked it up to kids just being kids. But once the question and answer part of the gig arose, more audience members began raising their hands and pointing at him.nn“I didn’t know what they were pointing at,” Correll recalls. “I would say sorry, you have to speak up. They wouldn’t say anything, so I’d move on to the next hand. But then this little girl finally stands up and goes ‘yer barn dawr is open.’ And I look down and I see I’ve literally ripped my pants — my entire crotch was out of my pants.”nnnUnfortunately for everyone, Correll was also “going through a phase in life where I thought underwear was unnecessary.”nnnAn eruption from laughter trailed Correll as he sauntered off the stage. And he kept his head low when he re-emerged in his regular clothes, outside the performance area. The event manager wasn’t exactly inclined to give him his paycheck, but a brief agreement that he’d promise not to come back settled the matter and he ended up walking away with a fair enough cut.nnn“I now have a pretty ridiculous fear of accidentally exposing myself on stage,” Correll laments. Though he remarks that, by now, he’s learned to laugh at his unintentional anatomy lesson.nnnThe takeaway? Plan in advance, ask what’s required of you, and please, if you don’t think you’ll be able to keep your pants from ripping, remember to wear your undergarments.n

Acting Horror Stories

Acting Horror Stories By Katherine Schreiber

nWhat’s the worst that could happen in a creative career that cultivates self-expansion, empathy, and in-the-moment awareness? Unfortunately, that list is a bit too long for one blog post. So we’ve culled a few of our favorite stories from local actors. Hopefully readers can learn the lessons gleaned from these less than ideal circumstances without re-experiencing the unscripted drama.nnDon’t Fall For ItnActress Helen Abell knew something was up when she saw a casting agency advertising on Craig’s List. But a bit of curiosity led her down a long dark hallway in midtown Manhattan to a room full of cheap plastic chairs, popular movie posters, and “a lame ass camera on a tripod.”nnFrom what looked like a waiting room, Abell and other duped actors were ushered one by one into a messy office to discuss their personal and professional goals with “a seriously sketchy dude.” Abell says she knew this had to be a scam as soon as she saw the guy turn on a credit card machine.nn“I wanted to go back into the lobby and tell everyone not to give this guy any money,” recalls Abell. “But I think he picked up on the fact that I saw through him.” After trying to convince Abell she needed new headshots — “I didn’t,” she says, “I literally had just gotten new ones.” — and telling her he’d list her on some secret audition website for a nominal fee, he ushered her “out a back door so I wouldn’t encounter the other people waiting to talk to him.”nnAbell’s advice for actors who find themselves in a similarly strange situation? Trust your instincts. If you get a funny feeling from an audition environment, don’t feel like you need to stick around. And remember: If any “casting agent” or other self-proclaimed professional asks you for money upfront, they’re probably not legit.

HEADSHOTS: DO’S & DON’TS by Helen Abell

HEADSHOTS: DO’S & DON’TS  by Helen Abell

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HEADSHOTSn Your headshot is your best marketing tool. The most important thing to remember is it must look like you. What walks into the room matches what is on your photo! Your headshot should showcase you on your best day and should convey your type, your essence, and your personality.

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There are a lot of variables when talking about headshots. So for the sake of argument, and to keep me from rattling on for pages and pages, I will be talking about your basic headshot, from the shoulders and up, though some of the information below can be applied to all photo shoots.

nBefore you go:n Be prepared and do your research.nnPhotographersn *Find a photographer you are comfortable with! This is so important! You need to be able to relax in front of the camera and if your energy doesn’t mesh well with the person taking the pictures, it will read all over your face and will create an unusable photo.n *Research them well. Look at their website or their book. Have they shot actors similar to you? If you are a short, Hispanic, character musical theatre actor, it’s probably not the best idea to choose a photographer who is used to shooting models full time and actors part-time, even if their photos are amazing. Are they really good at honing in on an actor’s essence? When looking at their other work, do you get a feeling of who that actor is? Does the photo express something?n *Call up several different photographers and don’t be afraid to ask questions. Do they shoot in a studio? Or do they shoot outdoors in natural light? Are touch-ups included? Do you get a disk of all your photos?nnClothingn *You want to portray your most dominant or playable type, but you don’t want to dress in “costume”. It is a better idea to reflect your character traits and personal essence.n *Plan your clothing choices ahead of time. Make sure they are clean and ironed. Try on your clothing choices and play around with different colors.n *Stay away from crazy patterns. You don’t want to pull focus away from your beautiful face.n *You want to pick clothes you like and are comfortable in.n *Bring options. A good photographer will know what works and what doesn’t.nnDrink lots of water a couple days before and get a good night’s sleep.nnDuring the Shoot:n Hair and Make-Upn If you are having someone do your hair and make-up, it is very important that it is not overdone. You still have to look like you (on a nice day) and not the glamor shot version of yourself. You have to be able to recreate the look at your auditions.nnThe Shootn Before the shoot make sure you have communicated with your photographer about what kind of photos you are looking for … i.e. Commercial, Film/Television, or Theatrical. Depending on the type of photography package you get and how the photographer works, you may be able to shoot multiple types.nnYou want your headshot to focus anywhere from mid-chest to shoulders and up and it’s usually a good idea if your head is not cut off.nnThe main focus is your beautiful smiling face. If you are going for a Commercial look, the industry likes to see your teeth! Show off those pearly whites!nnThere is nothing wrong with a full body photo or with a ¾ shot, in fact it is good to have in your book, but these types of photos usually work best on casting sites like Casting Networks, 800 Casting, or actorsaccess. For your typical audition it’s best to stick with the close up.nnYour eyes should be going through the lens, not to the lens. There should be something going on behind your eyes. Allow yourself to play! Have Fun! Some photographers let you bring music (if you are shooting in a studio), so bring your favorite tunes and let yourself go.nnIf you have certain statements or phrases about yourself you like, don’t be afraid to say them out loud. I used my Sam Christensen essence statements and ended up with some very dynamic photographs. You want to fill the photo not just with your face, but with your energy.nnAfter the Shootn Touch-ups: Don’t overdo it! If it’s noticeable it just won’t work. They don’t want to see an airbrushed version of yourself, just the awesomeness that is you!n Printing: Matte finish is preferred to Glossy.n It goes without saying that they should be in color.n Get feedback! Narrow it down and eliminate the obvious ones that just don’t work. Whether it’s something weird in the background or your eyes are half closed or what have you. Then show them to a variety of people…i.e. Your agent, manager, teachers, industry professionals, friends (though be careful if they are not in the industry. A good question you can ask your friends is “Does this look and feel like me?”)nnWritten by Helen AbellnWith interview by Vince Pisani, A-List Atlanta Actor

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