29 June, 2012

27 June, 2012

Ask Al: Contemporary Speeches

Every once in a while I get emails from people asking for help or for advice. With their permission, I always think it is helpful to share these Q&As with everyone just in case any of you have the same questions out there.

This on was from a young woman about to audition for drama school in the UK.

* * *

Hey Al,

...Loved your blog on Auditions but is there any chance that you could recommend a couple of contemporary speeches? I have an audition for Mountview coming up and am struggling to find something.


* * *

Dear A,

The best I can offer you is to think about a "type" you fit. Think about a film actor whose personality/type represents the truest sense of you--your essence, a kind of kernel of your inner self. It is important that you distinguish the difference between
     who/what you want to be
but dig deep and think about
and also importantly,  
This takes a fair bit of self-awareness and sometimes quite strict self assessment.
And Dude: it can be brutal.

So. Sometimes I play a game with students when I am teaching that attacks this issue with a bit of whimsy (that's right, I just said whimsy)-- I ask them what Muppet they think they are. [*She pauses a moment for you to take that in....*] This covers all the Jim Henson canon from your straight up Muppet movies to Labyrinth, Dark Crystal, Fraggle Rock and beyond. Go for gold, people! Then we sit in a circle and WE TALK IT OUT AS A GROUP. Yes. Like, as in, yep-I-am-aware-this-is-higher-education-acting-class-and-we're-supposed-to-be-discussing-Meyerhold-but-let's-talk-Muppets-instead kind of talk. Real, serious, gritty talk.
For over two hours.

Things progress thus:

Blonde Guy: I think I am Animal.
Al: Okay, great. Why?
Blonde Guy: Because I don't like to say a lot, but I like to act out. 
Al: Alright. Is that it? 
Blonde Guy: What do you mean? 

Then we talk about how he is so much more than just that one sentence, and how actually, he just wants to be Animal because, let's face it-- Animal is awesome.

Then things continue:

Al: So what do you guys think of Blonde Guy as Animal?
Dark-Lipstick Girl: I dunno.
Al: Why?
Dark-Lipstick Girl: I see him more as Bert from Seasame Street.
Blonde Guy: WHAT?!
Al: Why do you say that Dark-Lipstick Girl?
Dark-Lipstick Girl: Because even though I agree he is quiet and can act out at times, I think it comes from a sort of adorable "fussiness" that reminds me a lot of Felix from The Odd Couple-- you know, the way you like to have all your pencils in a special order, and the way you dress so impeccably even for movement class and the way you never like to get sticky?! THAT IS TOTALLY BERT!

[flabbergasted and thoughtful, Blonde Guy thinks this over...]

Blonde Guy: Is all of that true?
Al: No. The pencil thing is true. I don't really want to know if the sticky thing is true. But ultimately, the character behaviors are only ever a reflection of what is happening inside. The person's essence moves them to make certain choices. So. No, it is what they perceive to be true.
Blonde Guy: I am Bert?!
Al: Look. I need you to breathe. I'm not trying to crush your Animal dreams here. You could be a little bit of Bert as well as Animal. We could throw in a healthy side dish of Prairie Dawn if you're feeling frisky. That's possible. These people might not know you as well as you or they think they do.
Blonde Guy: ...I guess I am a little bit like Bert. I didn't know people saw me that way.
Al: Well...that is what this whole incredibly ridiculous exercise is about.

Yeeeeeep. That's why they pay me the big bucks people: to get real about Muppets (and to sing loud, cry on cue and throw tarot cards at Danny Pino's head...of course.).

Now. Just so we're clear, this is genuinely a helpful exercise for any kind of material because it is important for us to understand our strengths and natural abilities, as well as the things we need to work on. I make it about Muppets because it is non-threatening and creates a levity in the classrooms of the English speaking world's most serious acting environments...and also because I love the Muppets...duh

But the exercise can be as "Oprah Aha-moment" as you deem it necessary to be. Get a journal. Talk it out with your close pals. But be prepared for a few surprises. Proceed with caution.

This knowledge, incidentally, is not always as important for classical material because naturally there will be an acting adjustment made for the time period, heightened language, etc. Contemporary stuff is deceptively challenging because you have to be your in touch with your natural, present-day self in a different set of contemporary circumstances. (This naturally applies to all acting, but these discrepancies can be ever more evident in contemporary work.)

For instance, the second I came to grips with the fact that I am a "Meg Ryan" a whole world of contemporary stuff opened up for me....

Now what the hell does that mean, exactly? I'm a well-read, highly educated neurotic American young woman with a penchant for word-sparring, situational and physical comedy that turns on a dime to become deeply affecting and emotionally serious, usually about matters of the heart. Bazinga. Obviously there are other actors out there that fit this category, and I draw from them too-- but mostly, I'm a Meg Ryan. (I'm also a Valerie Harper).
Whatever. It's a place to start.

Once you have this figured out, then, start by adapting a speech from one of their films. It is just a place to start. You can branch out from there. I find contemporary speeches very difficult (let's just take one little look at my professional work thus far and you will see that I pretty much always cry and wear corsets-- that is a strength of mine). So, when the contemporary going gets tough, I steal from Meg Ryan films. My RSAMD showcase scene was from French Kiss. It was a hit.

Oh, and for contemporary, my advice (particularly in the UK where this issue can get hairy) is to stick to your own accent. It is just better in a million ways. As you begin to feel more at ease with the genre, you can branch out and try other stuff. But always begin "close to home."

End of the day, do something you know you are going to rock at no matter what it is... even if it is from, like, Evil Dead 2, Felicity, or something you patched together from The Corrections.

That's my advice. I hope it's helpful.


* * *

Honestly, that is possibly the best advice I've been given! Thank you, will let you know what I end up doing! Just got to work out my type- feel plenty of discussion will ensue.


07 June, 2012

05 June, 2012

San Francisco

Back from a great weekend with family in one of the most beautiful places on earth. In the glow of my big brother's identical laugh, Maggie's kind and gentle beauty, nieces laughing, handstands in the pool and local wine at the tops of mountains, I realized: family is made up of far more than blood, it is made of an infinite collection of the tiniest of moments just like these.

It seemed like a matter of minutes when we began rolling in the foothills before Oakland and suddenly reached a height and saw stretched out ahead of us the fabulous white city of San Francisco on her eleven mystic hills with the blue Pacific and its advancing wall of potato-patch fog beyond, and smoke and goldenness in the late afternoon of time.”
― Jack Kerouac, On the Road

02 June, 2012

Subject: MacRae vs. Raitt - A Hello Again Thread

"If I've told you ONCE Bob Lenzi I've told you a THOUSAND TIMES! MacRAE!"
So there is this thing we do. 

The cast (and creatives) of Hello Again fell in love. 
That we knew. 
That happens when you take your clothes off and take naked photos for the poster five minutes after you meet one another.
We reunite all the time-- for the 12th of May (a significant date in the play for those of you who do not know), the holidays (see our Easter "Hello Again Jesus!" party), to see The Muppet Movie. You know-- like normals. 

But there is this thing we do...

We, and I really do mean ALL of us, continue to write emails to one another-- and I do not just mean the odd "Happy Birthday Whoever" emails but LONG (sometimes over 60 messages long) email chains
About any ol' thing. 
I love a healthy Hello Again email chain. 
Just your run-of-the-mill, Homeric-long-form-poem-esque, epic Hello Again email chain.

So: once upon a time, a very very healthy (read: strooooong) debate began among us regarding the Billy Bigelows of original John Raitt and film version Gordon MacRae (and obviously this Julie Jordan had quiiiiite a bit to say about it thankyouverymuch). It was legendary--as all good Hello Again  conversations seem to be.

Below, is the MacRae vs. Raitt Hello Again  email chain.

En. JOY.

Subject: MacRae vs. Raitt

The controversial court case continues--check this out:

Notice this is #3 while #4 is...I rest my case.

Jack Cummings III
Artistic Director
Transport Group Theatre Co.

From: Bob Lenzi
Subject: MacRae vs. Raitt
 Well take a peak at #8 when you have the chance.  At the 7:25 mark, I believe the subtext is "Alright all you ignorant MacRae loving shits.  Listen to what I'm about to do live, no sissy film sets with vocal dubbing.  MacRae could never dream of the vocal brilliance I am about to display.  Enjoy my extra B-flat bitches..."


From: Bob Stillman
Subject: MacRae vs. Raitt

So, MacRae gets to sing all of "If I Loved You," plus the reprise,"in #3, and Raitt gets his verse cut out of #4, and you're making comparisons?


From: Chris F
Subject: MacRae vs. Raitt
Don't be silly, Jack.  John Raitt.  End of story.


From: Alan Campbell
Subject: MacRae vs. Raitt
Make it stop!


From: Jonathan Hammond
Subject: MacRae vs. Raitt

You have broken our sacred Playbill rule.

Hi all!


From: Chris H
Subject: MacRae vs. Raitt
Well, if we're talking numbers...

Google Search:
Gordon MacRae - 686,000
John Raitt - 8,620,000 

From: Chris F
Subject: MacRae vs. Raitt
Thank you, Chris.  I always could rely on you.


From: Alan Campbell
Subject: MacRae vs. Raitt

Wow. Haberl gets in the weeds with that one!


From: Donald Butchko, Stage Manager
Subject: MacRae vs. Raitt

...is it too late to vote for Michael Hayden?


From: Jack Cummings III
Subject: MacRae vs. Raitt

Sure--that was such a robustly sung performance--and by robust I mean...not.
Sent from my Verizon Wireless BlackBerry
The cuts were decided upon based on quality.

No further questions your honor.

End of story!? Oh hell to the no Fenwick!
Not in a million years so sit back down in that wheelchair Blanche!
Nice made up figures Haberl--why don't you run along and play with your Fischer Price airport while we settle this.
Look @ Lenzi trying to exert authority--how droll...how VERY droll. Don't you have some cheeks you need to rouge LENZI!!??
Je regrette rien.


From: Alexandra Silber
Subject: Re: MacRae vs. Raitt

I leave you children alone
For 2 MINUTES!!! 

Look. Raitt had a B-flat. It did rock. He was a beast and the original and could sing Verdi of you asked him to. 
MacRae was so fucking sexy-- like  Christian Bale french kissing you with a mouthful of Scotch sexy--and crooned like a psychopath. 
I want you to know that I have KNOWN some Billy Bigelows in my time... Believe. You. Me. 
These two were both amazeballs. 
My overall verdict?
  Rait for My Boy Bill and the money note 
  MacRae for My Little Girl

And Donald...? If you mention Michael Hayden again we are finished

I say one blew it high, the other blew it low...for many and many a long long day. 

Over and out.


From: Jack Cummings III
Subject: MacRae vs. Raitt

Silber in da' house y'all! Heeeeeeaaaay!


From: Alexandra Silber
Subject: MacRae vs. Raitt
Oh my god did I silence the crowd...?


Subject: MacRae vs. Raitt

You did just basically drop the microphone and walk away...


From: Bob Stillman
Subject: MacRae vs. Raitt

Put it this way, Al: if this thread were an air mattress, it'd be punctured. 



From: Donald Butchko
Subject: MacRae vs. Raitt

I want to frame this.  or perhaps stitch it into a sampler?


From: Jack Cummings III
Subject: MacRae vs. Raitt

End Scene. 


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