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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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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.)

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7 Things Actors Can Do Every Day to Succeed

Photo by: Carl Heyerdahl

By Marci Liroff

One of my Twitter followers is doing a 30-day acting challenge and asked me if I had any advice. Of course, it got me thinking about what actors can do on a daily basis to help themselves. Acting is like learning a musical instrument: You’ve got to practice every day.

Here’s a short list of what you can do Monday through Sunday to stay plugged in.

1. Check online sites for casting notices. Even if you have representation, you’ve got to remember that you are a team, and if you happen to notice that a project is casting and you know the showrunner or producer well, you should alert your agent or manager so they can follow up.

2. Go to the gym. Yes, you must keep your body in shape. Although it may seem like there’s a lot of waiting around on the set, you’ve got to have stamina and flexibility so you don’t hurt yourself. Exercise helps your mental health as well.

3. Learn a new scene or monologue every day.

Think of your brain as a muscle; you need to work it out and teach it new tricks every day so that it can grow.

Learning how to memorize lines on the fly is a must that everyone should have in their toolkit. I have a nice list of free screenplays on my site.

4. Check in with what’s going on in the business around you. Also on the resources page of my website is a list of sites and blogs you should read daily. If you’re going to work in this business, you have to know what’s going on outside of you, what shows have been picked up, and what the trends are.

5. Watch a few episodes of all the shows on TV. You might have noticed that you generally get an audition the night before you’re meant to be auditioning. You’re then tasked with learning all the dialogue and making specific and colorful character choices. Think of what a timesaver it would be if you’ve already seen the show and don’t have to do that research when you have only a few hours to prepare your scenes.

6. Watch old movies. Check out my list of iconic and important films. Many directors today don’t know how to help you on your scene. They know exactly where to put the camera but don’t speak “actor.” But they’re all film addicts, and they may give you a scene from a movie as a reference for what they’re looking for. You’ll benefit from being a walking, talking film library.

7. Get in an acting class. This may seem like a no-brainer, but I see many actors who aren’t in a weekly class. Think about it: How often do you actually get to get up there and act? If it’s just a few auditions a month, then you’re not keeping your instrument in tune.

What other things do you do daily that help you as an actor?

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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