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How to Protect Your Actor Psyche

Illustration by Nick Bertozzi

By Marci Liroff

When I’m coaching actors for an emotional scene we often have to dig deep into memories that are extremely painful. Many times, my clients are terrified to open that part of their psyche for fear that they won’t be able to close that can of worms.

When an actor is doing a highly emotional scene and has to dig deep, how do they keep themselves in a safe place psychologically so that they’re not walking around like an open wound?

I’ve asked some of my colleagues to weigh in.

HOWARD FINE (acting teacher and coach)

Actors need an exit strategy. They tend to spend all of their energy on preparation to get in, but getting out is equally important and essential for mental health.

This could include anything that brings happiness and peace to the individual artist. In the same way that an actor learns to focus on triggers to produce unpleasant emotions, they need to have a process that I call returning to the light. I teach my students that emotional recall also includes experiences of love and joy. The actor need a complete tool box of positive and negative experiences to tap into.

CRAIG WALLACE (acting teacher and coach)

My advice to actors is to explore the emotion in the body. Emotions live in the body – this is where you feel. Sit very quietly with the body and feel very specifically where the emotion is affecting you – not any holding, tightening, expanding, notice the breath. The breath is the loudest bodily indicator of how we are feeling. Feel the emotion very specifically in the body and you’ll find the truth in a safe and enlightening way. And once it’s stored in the body it’s there for you when you need it.

Dredging up painful memories in the mind feels very unsafe and the mind is there to keep you safe. This becomes a very long and frustrating process. It is also highly unreliable and the actor will often find that when performance/audition time comes, the emotion isn’t there because the frontal lobe, which has to do with logic and safety, has taken over and shut down the risky emotions. The body has no such agenda.

ANDIE MACDOWELL (actor)

It is an odd gift that actors’ wounds have purpose, they are the colors we have and we get to use them. Our suffering and understanding of human frailty is how we create characters and we all have life experiences to draw on.

That is the great part about being an older actor, I have lived longer and I understand more about life. For me it is a relief that I can use what I understand on a deep soul level and in a way, it gives me a place to release pain.

Being vulnerable is a part of the process and I want to tap into what I know and give it up. It’s ok to feel lost and uncomfortable, what matters is that the person you create touches people.

I would rather feel lonely while I am shooting than to try to protect myself. It is hard to find a role that calls for deep experiences and we all know that given the chance to create a complex character is rare and beautiful.

I never need to stay in character, but if I have to be quiet and alone to stay focused I do. I guess I welcome the opportunity to feel wounded because it means I have a canvas to paint on and that is a dream come true.

JEFFREY MARCUS (acting teacher, coach and media coach)

I find wardrobe to be very helpful in ‘taking on, and taking off’ a character and their emotional baggage.  Even if you don’t change from top to bottom, just changing a shirt or shoes can make a huge difference.

Whenever emotions that can overwhelm you arise after an audition or performance, make sure you wash your hands and have a drink of water before getting in your car. Both of these are grounding and put you back in your body.

By building in ‘emotional memories’ of the character, rather than just culling from your own trauma – it becomes much easier to move effortless between perceived reality and imagined reality. My favorite go-to, if you’ve done the work well – treat yourself to a treat (my go-to is dark chocolate).

If using music to assist you in getting into the emotional space, use it to also get you out of it.

LILY MAE HARRINGTON (actor)

You have to balance out the extremes. If you’re screaming and crying for your job that day you have to balance it out when you get home or in your trailer; Watch a funny movie, have your favorite snack, sing your most happy song, do some yoga. Find that other extreme.

Click here for a recent article about Lily

Make sure to check out my new online course “How To Audition For Film and Television: Audition Bootcamp”. You can view it on your laptop or your mobile device and your subscription gives you lifetime viewing privileges for this course. I’ll be adding lectures throughout the year.

(Warning: I grant permission to share my blog as written with no additions or deletions. Posting my blog is in no way an endorsement of another site unless you obtain my written consent.)

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Houston Relief Effort

All hands on deck! We need your help for the victims of Hurricane Harvey.

Here’s a note from The Teamsters and Joint Council 42.

The Locals of our Joint Council 42 are spearheading a Houston Relief Effort!

Our Teamster multi-truck convoy is slated to depart Southern California under CHP escort Thursday, September 7th from Rialto. Below is a list of all items that we are seeking to collect to give to the victims of the devastating Hurricane Harvey.

Items Needed: 

  • Clothing, socks, underwear, diapers, adult diapers
  • Food: canned goods, nonperishable foods
  • Bottle Water
  • Baby Formula
  • Ensure
  • Dog & Pet Food
  • Work Gloves and boots
  • Shovels, Racks, Tarps, plastic sheeting, disinfectant wipes
  • Batteries (All Sizes)
If you’re in Los Angeles you can drop off your donations to these locations below.
Donations (of goods) must be received by 5pm PST on Wednesday Sept 6

Steve Dayan, Local 399 Secretary-Treasurer, will accept JC 42 Relief Effort donations at the Local Union office.

The Local’s address is:

4747 Vineland Avenue

No. Hollywood CA 91602

Office Hours:  Tuesday & Wednesday 9 a.m. – 5 p.m.

Donations can also be dropped off at Joint Council:

981 Corporate Center Drive

Suite 200

Pomona CA 91768

Office Hours:  Tuesday & Wednesday 8 a.m. – 4 p.m.

Please direct any questions on logistics to Robert Turner cell: 323-394-1910 or email Chris Mihalow: chris@jc42.net.

If you are unable to donate goods to the Joint Council 42 Relief Effort — considering making a monetary contribution to the IBT Disaster Relief Fund for Hurricane Harvey. 

Click here to Donate to the IBT Disaster Relief Fund.

Checks can be mailed here:
Teamsters Joint Council 42
981 Corporate Center Drive
Suite 200
Pomona CA 91768
Make check out to: JC 42 Charity, Memo: ‘Harvey Relief’

Thank you!!

How To Make Auditioning Easier

Illustration by Nick Bertozzi

If you haven’t already signed up, my Audition Bootcamp in Los Angeles has a few spots left so grab yours and be ready for your upcoming auditions! Click here to apply.

By Marci Liroff

Have you ever received sides so marked up you can’t make heads or tails of where your lines are? You end up so confused, your audition becomes fraught with massive page-turns and unintended bad timing.

When I’m casting a project, my office picks the scenes in order to capture a range of emotional moments for the character. We run those choices by our director, and sometimes the producer and studio casting department as well. Because there may be several characters within the chosen sides, we edit out some of the extraneous lines (or characters) so that the scene has a better flow and highlights your role.

You may have noticed that some casting offices make this a seamless process by editing in the screenplay program Final Draft. You receive sides that are easy to read, where you don’t have to wade through a maze of words to find your lines.

Then there are the casting offices who just take a black Sharpie, cross out sections, and play “connect the arrows” with your lines. You end up hunting and pausing, trying to figure out where you come in.

I have a great fix for this: Go to your computer (or do it longhand) and rewrite the scene so all the blacked-out lines are gone from your page. Just write your parts and your scene partner’s; this way you will have no distractions and no built-in pauses that shouldn’t be there in the first place.

If something doesn’t make sense because we’ve edited out a pertinent bit of information, make sure you ask questions to clarify what you need to know.

Another thing I see actors do too often is pause for the scene description. Remember: The scene description sets the stage, and is for the reader and actor to take note of, but not to play. If the screenwriter writes, “Tom walks into a humid room, his dog following close by,” there’s no reason for you to pause before reading your next line. The same goes when you have a page break—there are no page breaks in a real conversation, so why bring that into the middle of your scene? String your lines together, whether there’s a page-turn or not.

You may wonder why we pick some of the most difficult audition scenes, such as scenes with action or blocking. We need to see how you’ll handle the emotional shifts when the story’s stakes are high. I suggest you ask, “How have you been blocking this scene?” rather than ask, “How do you want me to do this?” In my article “How to Handle a Physical Audition Scene,” I explain in detail how to navigate this often difficult situation.

There are so many things you can do to help yourself in an audition and on set. Be aware of pitfalls along the way and take care of yourself!

Make sure to check out my new online course “How To Audition For Film and Television: Audition Bootcamp”. You can view it on your laptop or your mobile device and your subscription gives you lifetime viewing privileges for this course. I’ll be adding lectures throughout the year.

(Warning: I grant permission to share my blog as written with no additions or deletions. Posting my blog is in no way an endorsement of another site unless you obtain my written consent.)

Like this blog?
Click to tweet and share the love!

 

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