Acting: How To Break Through An Emotional Block

You have an audition for the role of a drug addict or someone who is suicidal. Or maybe the character is struggling over the loss of a parent or child. Or they are trying to escape an abusive household or dealing with PTSD. Maybe they’re battling a war in Afghanistan or inside their own community. Or they’re going through a divorce or dying of cancer.

Emotionally deep roles can be intimidating and scary – so much so that some actors shut down. They hit a block; something in them refuses to “go there” in an effort to avoid uncomfortable feelings like fear, pain, sadness and grief. And yet, that’s our job. If you’re going to represent humanity, you must be willing to experience the whole spectrum.

So when you hit an emotional block, how do you get beyond it?

We must remember why we do what we do. As actors pursue their careers, chasing after resume-building credits and insurance-keeping checks, we often forget why we starting acting in the first place.

I started acting because it was fun. I discovered how freeing it can be to transform into someone else, speak their words and live their life. I discovered liberation in the craft of acting and making people laugh or cry or think was icing on the cake.

But where is the fun in suffering through a divorce, illness or bullying? The joy of true connection. This is what we must remember as artists:

It is our job to honor these people’s lives. Someone out there is in mourning, being abused, divorcing, battling addiction, being bullied or struggling with their own self-worth. Our work reaches out to those that think they’re different, weird, lost, or misunderstood and says, “I get you.”

You’ve had this experience yourself as an audience member. Remember being deeply moved by a story and characters that you closely related to? You probably felt less alone because of that play, show or movie. Maybe you even discovered other people who felt the same way.

This is why Jill Soloway created the award-winning Amazon Prime show, Transparent:

“My parent came out at the tender age of 74 as trans… when people are coming out, they’re coming out literally to save their lives. They’re coming out to make a break for authenticity… that’s one of the reasons I wanted to make the show… It kind of triggers people to understand… After my parent came out, I really wanted to do something that would make the world a safer place for my parent to walk out of her apartment building, hail a taxi or stand in an elevator with strangers. People who are trans have told me the show has made the world a little bit different for them.”

That is why we do it. To connect. To empathize. To tell someone else’s story truthfully and change the world. It is extremely gratifying to have a stranger say, “That is exactly how I feel. You captured my experience perfectly. Thank you.

Don’t get me wrong; it’s hard. It takes vulnerability and courage and risk. When we do our job well – honestly, without defense, freely – we connect with the character, the other actors and our audience. It may feel uncomfortable while you’re in it, but true connection is the gold at the end of that difficult journey.

Michael J. Fox says, “An actor’s palette is the entirety of the human experience.” Our job is to represent humanity; the wildly fucked-up, glorious mess that we are. So the next time you hit that block, remember to breathe, gather your courage, and know someone out there will feel less alone because of you.

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From Stage To Screen: Toning It Down While Keeping It Real

Ah, the stage! The glorious live performance. When you’ve had years of experience on the stage, every cell in your body knows what performing feels like. Your body knows to be bigger, louder. It feels full, grand, real and you can hear the audience react. How rewarding. How deliciously rewarding!

Then you do film or TV for the first time and your eyebrows act like caterpillars on crack. You look like a bobblehead or cartoon character. You’re surprised your eyes don’t pop out of your head to the sound of an old fashioned horn. There’s no way around it; you’re simply horrible.

You’re told, “Be small! Be still! Tone it down! Don’t do anything!” So you stop: you stop moving or doing anything. You try to keep those caterpillars – and the rest of your body – contained.

And you certainly see a difference. It’s not nearly as big as it was before. But now instead of Roger Rabbit, you look like Robbie the Robot. You’re empty. Uncaring. Boring. Weird. Like you’re stuck in a cage, frozen.

You’re afraid to move, feel, express or be yourself.

So where is the happy medium between cartoon character and robot? And how do you get there?

For any actor that has ever been told to be small, still, contained, and not do anything, let’s free you from that cage. Here are your keys:

Key #1: You’ve been given horrible direction.

With all due respect to whomever told you to “be small, be still, don’t do anything,” those words are inaccurate and make you self-conscious about what you’re doing. What you should have been told is:

Allow your behavior to be the same as it is in your everyday life. You don’t need to perform anymore. You just need to be real.

Key #2: You don’t think about your behavior in your everyday life.

You just live. You wish your best friend didn’t move or hope your boss doesn’t make you stay late or wonder if the cute guy at the party will notice you. As you experience life, your thoughts and feelings result in organic and unconscious behavior. You just live and react without ever thinking about it.

Key #3: So that means stage acting is unnatural.

Stage performance, while a rush, is nowhere near our true reality. It requires so much more than our everyday behavior. You consciously put in effort to manufacture unnatural behavior – bigger and louder behavior – to reach the 500th row. (And I’m sure you do it brilliantly.)

Key #4: Guess what? TV and film acting reflects everyday life behavior. (aka: natural behavior)

When we’re truthfully experiencing our daily life, our minds, faces, bodies and voices are exquisitely alive with that life. We don’t try to advertise our thoughts and feelings, they are already seen.

And so it is with acting for the screen. If you’ve used your imagination to create your relationship to your best friend, boss and the cutie pie as full experiences, we will see it on your face, in your eyes and in your behavior.

You won’t have to think about being still or small or real; you just will be. No effort required.

Key #5: Why? Because the camera is inside your head.

The audience isn’t 500 rows away, they’re just a few feet away – right where another human being would be, if not much closer. In fact, the camera is so close, it’s practically reading your thoughts. That’s how much it – and the audience – can see.

And here’s the best part:

Key #6: When it comes to natural behavior, TV and film acting is easier than stage acting.

For the delicious theater experience, we must consciously adjust our behavior to show our love or anger. But for TV and film, if we simply truly feel love or anger, the audience will see it. Just like real life.

So you can drop the rabbit and the robot. Stop trying so hard to keep still inside that cage of non-behavior. That is not real, nor authentic. You are. When you invest in your relationships and circumstances, your voice and body follow. Your behavior follows. Unconsciously. Organically.

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The Secret To Surviving The Quiet Season

dsc_1289-1024x680-810x538A successful producer once told me that the key to surviving this industry is how you handle the time in between gigs. “It’s easy when you’re working; it’s what you do when you’re not working that really counts.”

He wasn’t suggesting hiding under the bed with a pint of Cherry Garcia and a vision board and waiting for the phone to ring. He also didn’t mean you should focus solely on career-centric activities, networking your face off until you’re tongue falls out of your mouth. He meant, above all, you have to stay creative and enjoy a well-rounded life.

After all, wasn’t it your artistry that inspired a pursuit of this career in the first place? And what inspires all art? Life. Our creativity and ideas spring directly from the well of our life experiences. The more life we live, the deeper the well from which our creative souls drink like a bacchanal.

So how do we continue to fill the well? We live. Fully. Every single day. Here’s how you remain creative even when the industry/your career seems to be inhabited by crickets:

Stay curious. We human beings are so wildly complex and unique and interesting! Instead of just putting people in a box, stay curious. When you meet new people, chat with current friends, or even just hear a story about someone, don’t just scratch the surface of where they’re from and what they do. Ask questions that delve deeper into who they are and how they came to be the person they are today. Who, what, where, why, how?

Being curious leads to understanding. Understanding leads to connection – the single most important tool for a student of humanity (aka: artists). And all of that requires…

Shifting from Judgey McJudgester to Madame Empathy. It’s oh-so-easy to label a group of people you know nothing about as a bunch of douchebags. But maybe you’re the douchebag for being so judgey. Have some curiosity and empathy. Why do you think those individuals gravitate towards each other? What do those clothes allow them to express? What are they searching for and have they found it? What might you even have in common with them? (Hint: the search for a sense of belonging is universal.)

Explore! Trying new things expands your understanding of the world and yourself. Exploring can be as dramatic as jumping out of a plane or as intimate as eating sushi for the first time. Expand the types of stories you follow; read about people or communities you’ve never thought about before. Go to a new environment or city, even if it’s just next door. Watch TED Talks about subjects that interest you but which you know nothing about. And then watch ones about subjects you wouldn’t normally consider.

Discuss your exploration. I used to think that if I ended up in a relationship where we sat in front of the TV on most nights, then we were screwed. That would mean we hated each other and used the TV to ignore our crumbling union. But it’s quite the opposite. My man (also an actor) and I watch our favorite shows, movies and documentaries and then have passionate discussions about theme, characters, storytelling, acting, shots, what worked what didn’t – we learn from each other and from our attempts to communicate what we saw in that particular piece of art. So not only do we connect more deeply to each other, we connect more deeply to the types of human beings portrayed on the small screen.

But don’t stop with art (or your significant other). If you’ve stayed curious and explored humanity with empathy, you’ve probably made fascinating discoveries and will be eager to discuss them.

Remember: Curiosity, empathy, exploration and discussion in your daily life exercises your ability to connect to a character more readily, no matter how far from you they may seem.

Find other creative outlets. The Artist’s Way helped me find my voice as a writer, which was very helpful when I was between gigs as an actor. Writing didn’t require another person, so I could enjoy that creative expression, even when I didn’t have a gig or the cash for a class. Writing feeds me still, all these years later. I also sing (get coaching and jam with friends). And now, since acting, coaching, writing and singing all involve words, I’ve found new excitement and release in the adult coloring book craze! Talk about rediscovering your inner child!

So what’s that hobby you always wanted to try or had as a kid and dropped later? You don’t even have to be good at it. From sports to gardening to hip hop class, anything that lets you play feeds your creative soul.

Create your own acting opportunities. Challenge yourself to 30-days of auditions, whether you get called for one or create one with your friends. Pull sides from online and work on them as if you have a real audition. Or have a script reading at your home of an old classic or a new one. Let your friends know you’re available as a reader for script development. (Writers and directors always need to hear a script out loud at least a couple of times as they massage it.) Join a theater company. If you’re a writer also, then heck, now’s the time to write that project for yourself. Even the shortest of videos – vines, even – keep you creative!

Lead a well rounded life.” I’m stealing this from a Casting Director; those were her very words. Life can’t just be about your art and career. You must allow yourself to have relationships, take vacations, spend time with family, relax, make cookies, try new food, socialize, work out, travel, read, take a walk, dance, celebrate, laugh. All that down time is important for your emotional and spiritual renewal – and your creative inner life as well.

When you live your life fully, you fill the well of creativity and add more connection and complexity to your craft. So let your well runneth over and drink up!

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Enjoying Movies Through The Best Service

The Internet has had a huge impact on the way audiences are able to watch their favorite films. Services that allow users to stream content to their computer or mobile device make it easier to find just the right film or show. Services that are available to use free of charge can provide you with the entertainment option you have been seeking without requiring you to pay to watch the latest movies and your favorite television shows.

Internet based services can differ considerably in terms of what they can provide for their audiences. Options that require users to open an account and provide personal details and information may not be the best resource. Choosing a service that allows you to begin watching content more quickly and easily could prove far more convenient.

Paying for movies and maintaining accounts that require monthly subscription costs is often more expensive than many users might realize. While such fees and costs are typically low, they can quickly add up. Services that can be utilized without having to pay offer a budget friendly alternative for those who love films and television shows.

Not every service or content provider is able to offer audiences the selection they may be looking for. Whether you are attempting to find specific movies or prefer to make use of services that have more variety, content and options to offer, choosing the right site can make a difference. Service options that may only have a limited number of titles to stream may find you unable to enjoy the types of movies you most want to watch.

Mobile devices provide the perfect way to enjoy movies in a wide variety of environments and situations. From curing up on the couch to staying entertained on long trips, being able to stream movies right to your tablet or phone may be easier than you might have imagined. Dealing with the right content provider or service makes it far easier to watch your favorite movies on a variety of devices.

Dealing with content providers that fail to provide a wider selection of titles can become very aggravating. Accounts that involve costs and fees may end up placing strain on your budget and financial resources. Only the best online movie streaming services can provide you with a quick and easy way to enjoy a wide range of titles from your computer or mobile device without having to pay any costs at all.

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