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Google Is Your Friend

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By Marci Liroff

When my casting director colleagues are asked, “What is the one thing you tell actors to do before their audition?” they unanimously reply, “Preparation!” I often write about preparation, as it is key to a good audition or an upcoming job, whether it be in acting or another field. In my article “How To Prepare BEFORE The Job” I talked about what you should bring up with your representation (and yourself) before committing to a gig.

Preparation comes in many forms. You’ve learned your lines and are off-book. You’ve made distinct and unique character choices. In addition, you’ve researched the filmmakers, so you know their credits and expectations based on their previous work.

I continue to be shocked by how many actors come in either for a coaching session or an audition and spout lines about a subject they don’t know anything about. Worse, they are reciting words and they don’t know the meanings.

As an actor, you are asked to interpret the material. If your character is meant to talk about a topic that you know nothing about, I expect you to look it up and do the proper research. I want you to know it inside and out. On the rare occasion that the director might ask you to riff or do some improvisation, wouldn’t it be great if you’ve already done extensive research on this topic and you’ll easily be able to talk about it as your character? Those who don’t are caught with the “deer in headlights” look plastered across their faces.

Likewise, I’ve had several instances when I’m auditioning an actor and they don’t know the meaning of the words they are saying, nor how to pronounce them. When you mispronounce a word or don’t know the meaning or intention of what you’re saying, it lacks conviction. It takes me out of the scene and I stop believing you. As much as casting directors say that we want you to get the job, you lose us when you don’t do the simplest bit of homework. Correct pronunciation is the most basic part of your preparation, and it never ceases to amaze me when an actor doesn’t take this essential step.

Imagine you are a doctor who is performing surgery tomorrow. I will bet that you’d do research and reread the latest literature on the procedure. This is your job, folks; this is what you have chosen to do for a living. If you try to take shortcuts then that is the career you’re going to have. I can guarantee it.

What about you? What steps do you take to prepare? I’d love to hear your thoughts.

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.

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Click to tweet: #Google Is Your Friend – look it up BEFORE your audition! http://bit.ly/1s4nh1b via @MarciLiroff pls share
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ARE YOU FRYING YOUR JOB PROSPECTS?

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By Marci Liroff

There’s an epidemic going on and I had no idea it actually had a name. The culprit is “vocal fry.” Not only is it annoying but it’s ruining your chances of getting hired—not just as an actor, but for any job.

Vocal fry is the result of pushing the end of words and sentences into the lowest register, where the vocal folds in the throat vibrate irregularly and allow air to slip through. The result is a low, sizzling rattle underneath. (Kim Kardashian is the queen of vocal fry, but now that I’ve pointed it out you’ll probably hear it everywhere.) For a great example, look up actor and national public radio host Faith Salie’s vocal fry video on YouTube.

Sociologists say women and girls pick up this bizarre vocal pattern because it makes them feel like part of a macroculture.

Recent studies have documented its growing popularity among educated and successful young women in the United States, but this learned behavior might be frying their job prospects. According to researcher Ikuko Yuasa, vocal fry may be the result of young women striving to reach the male register by imbuing their speech with gravitas.

Not only is it irritating to listen to, but you may be permanently ruining your vocal chords. As an actor, your voice is gold and it must be protected at all costs. YouTube star Abby Normal reports in her video: “This sort of vocalization can cause more harm to your throat because your vocal chords aren’t smoothly rubbing together; they’re more clapping…it’s like whispering. Instead of a nice, even flow, you’re creating more friction on your vocal chords.”

And there’s another vocalization that, while not harmful to your voice, is harmful to how people perceive you: “Uptalking,” also picked up from friends, is a way of ending your sentences with a vocal inflection that turns up at the end like a question. I tell my coaching clients and those who are auditioning for me that uptalk results in the listener not taking them or their content seriously. I vocally show them through mimicry the importance of ending their sentences definitively, rather than sounding as if they want to communicate a point without being too decisive or potentially ruffling feathers. Uptalk is very passive-aggressive and it isn’t helping anyone in an audition, a business setting, or a personal setting, for that matter.

This passive-aggressive tone is said to have origins in California “Valley Girl” culture, but D.C.-based vocal coach and speech pathologist Susan Miller says the uncertain, youthful tone has moved across states and genders—despite the assumption that women are the prime culprits. “I would say that the majority of employers come to me because people sound young,” says the coach, who trains employees to sound more professional. “And it’s the uptalk, the uncertainty, more than fry.

“Voice is important to show authority, to show that you’re confident and you know your subject matter,” Miller adds. “It can be the deciding factor between getting a call for a second interview or being passed over for someone else.”

Linguist Robin Lakoff drew attention to the pattern in her book Language and Women’s Place, which argued that women were socialized to talk in ways that lacked power, authority, and confidence. Rising intonation on declarative sentences was one of the features Lakoff included in her description of ‘women’s language,’ a gendered speech style which in her view both reflected and reproduced its users’ subordinate social status.

Take a moment and listen to your vocal patterns by recording yourself having a casual conversation with a friend. Are you guilty? If so, stop it! Ask your friends, coach, or acting teacher to call you on it so you can be stronger in your auditions.

Do you know people who do this? If so, send them this article and help them become more conscious of these vocalization patterns.

Make sure to check out my new online course “How To Audition For Film and Television: Audition Bootcamp”.

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Tweet this: Are you guilty of these 2 annoying voice patterns? “Are You Frying Your Job Prospects?” http://bit.ly/1oqxxfR via @marciliroff
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Is Your Acting Teacher Making You Sick?

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By Marci Liroff

Scam alert! Are you feeling abused and beat up when you leave your acting class? Could you ever imagine it’s coming from the very person who should be your mentor and your guide – your acting teacher or coach?

There are plenty of amazing teachers across the globe, yet I’m hearing horror stories of instructors who sound more like cult leaders.

Would it strike you as odd if a teacher asked you to rub his feet while you were delivering your monologue? A well-known teacher uses this method to get his students “out of their head” while they’re doing a scene. What works for one person won’t necessarily work for the next—which is why I think finding the right acting teacher and coach is often like finding the right shrink. You’ll only let some inside that very secret, dark place inside you. But once inside, I’d hope that along with calling you on your bad habits, your teacher-coach would lift you up, not demean and debase you. There are plenty of ways to do this same exercise without being unprofessional. This same teacher refers to her students as “Nazi,” “Basketball Player,” and even one 16-year-old as “Porn Star” rather than learn their names. To me, this crosses the line of impropriety.

Actor and licensed marriage and family therapist Julie Carmen remembers one New York acting teacher’s gross direction for a scene mate to spit in her face. “The point was to teach me to respond spontaneously and to not censor my anger, but even at age 18 it just destroyed my trust in that teacher,” she says.

“I felt manipulated and nauseous. Why was the teacher unable to teach spontaneity in a more respectful way? Why would my acting partner take the advice of that teacher? Why do we hand over our power to these people?”

I spoke to acting teacher and coach Jeffrey Marcus about this methodology. “In the past people learned by being bullied, from the military to Bikram Yoga, but it died out with disco,” Marcus says. “Who would want to be shamed and trampled upon, when all studies show that people bloom when given the room, time, and support to flower?  Even though Stella Adler was a tough teacher, I doubt that she shamed her most famous pupil—Marlon Brando.”

Adds Carmen, “I studied with Sanford Meisner, Uta Hagen, Bobby Lewis, José Quintero, and, recently, Patsy Rodenburg. They were extraordinarily perceptive, but their humility and love of teaching guided their approach. The intention was to push us toward deeper work at our own pace. One important phrase they taught was that ‘Actors wear our hearts on our sleeves but need the skin of an alligator.’ Therefore we manage the contradiction of being private in public, highly sensitized with the survival skill to detach.”

Actor and acting teacher Jack Plotnick weighed in on the outrageous foot-rub story. “Actors have a fear-based and result-oriented voice in their head while they act, called their ego,” he says. “Exercises like these can get actors to stop focusing on these result-oriented thoughts, but the issue with exercises like these is that the actor leaves with no tool with which to recreate the experience; no ability to quiet that fear-based ego voice. Either way, any class that does not empower actors to trust their own instincts and abilities is destructive and should be avoided.”

Check out Part 2 of this exposé June 12, when I answer the question, ”Why would actors continue to pay great sums of money to these kinds of teachers?”

What about you? What are some of your horror stories?

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.

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Click to tweet: “Is Your Acting Teacher Making You Sick”? via casting director @marciliroff http://bit.ly/1mvFtfZ
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