Tilling the Soil

actor-emotingA problem I often encounter with actors that are just starting to work with me is they rush to learn their lines and then say those lines with little regard to the thought process and emotional content necessary to bring those lines to life.

As human beings, when we experience something: the birth of a child, a wedding, or a car accident, or being mugged, the details of those events are ingrained in our consciousness and we’re able, for the most part, to recall those moments and the accompanying emotions vividly and precisely.

But as actors our characters come to us as one-dimensional entities that initially only exist on a piece of paper. It is our job to consciously develop a subconscious for our characters so we can present them in a truthful, impactful manner. We need to know not only what they’re thinking but how they feel about those thoughts so our presentation seems believable and genuine.

images-1Ask ten different accomplished actors how they do this and you’ll get ten different  answers. Here’s the way Mark Rylance (two-time Tony Award winner and 2015 Academy Award winner) so aptly put it in a recent interview in the New York Times. “I like to do all this work before, which to my mind is like turning the soil in a garden,” so that when he begins rehearsals, “the soil is all turned, it’s all bouncing around in my psyche.” (Art Section NY Times, August 16th, 2016).

I feel every actor, rookie or veteran, should do this and do it as early in the process as possible. The sooner you start “tilling the soil”, the more time you’ll have for those thoughts (and emotions) to ruminate. That way, by the time you get ready to preform, you will have had the time to weigh both the good and the bad ideas and toss out the ones that don’t work and re-enforce and solidify the ones that do. I feel we owe this not only to the writer, the director, but to the characters themselves. And, oh yeah, the audience will appreciate it as well.

Maybe it’s because my grandfather was a farmer that this tilling the soil metaphor resonates so strongly with me. I feel by tilling the soil, by getting our hands dirty, our work will be stronger, the roots will run deeper, and the opportunity to produce well-developed, believable characters will be greater. It will certainly be a richer experience than just learning and repeating a bunch of lines.

By doing this kind of “cultivating” you give your character a background filled with events and emotions that will bring him into the present moment as a fully realized, complete person. That makes for exciting acting. Please dare to be an exciting actor.

My October classes are already filling up. There are only 6 spots left in my Scene Study class and 4 left in the commercial class. For more information or to sign up go to https://johnhowardswain.com/classes-2/

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Last Free Industry Workshop…

…before we go on hiatus. This will be our last free workshop until early December.

Our guest will be Debbi Epstein with Stewart Talent. The workshop will be on the 27th of July from 6:30 to 9:30 PM. Invitations to the workshop will go out on the 25th at 11:55 AM. The invitations go out via Constant Contact. If you aren’t getting my Constant Contact posts (one just went out at 1:20 today – Monday) and you want to get an invitation to these workshops let me know.

Debbi Epstein came to Stewart Talent from APA where she worked as a junior agent for Partner Barry McPherson. Before that she was at Gersh working for Randi Goldstein. She grew up in Staten Island, went to La Guardia High School and Purchase College after that. She loves Billy Joel.

Stewart Talent is one the of hottest new agencies in New York. They also have offices in Los Angeles, Chicago and Atlanta. This is your opportunity to showcase your work for one of the top new agencies in the country!

Starting the 2nd of August I’ll be teaching a special three-week class.  This is a chance for actors who haven’t been able (because of  time or money) to take my regular 8-week class to experience the technique I’ve developed. This unique approach is designed to give actors the tools they need to present their work at performance level without the benefit of rehearsal.

Without rehearsing? Is he kidding? Nope. If you’ve ever sat in on one of my classes you will know exactly what I’m talking about. Why no rehearsal? Because the reality of TV and film is that there isn’t any  money for rehearsal. Actors who aren’t prepared don’t get a second chance.

“John’s approach to acting is the foundation of my work. He has given me a set of tools that I continually rely on. As I learn more from my experiences I’ve gained even more respect to the depth and flexibility of his technique. I couldn’t imagine going on an audition without using the things I learned from him.” Sumalee Montano Rizzoli and Isles, Shameless, VEEP, Sorry Ari, NCIS: New Orleans, Nashville, The Mentalist, Beware the Batman, Touch, Nip & Tuck, Big Love, Close to Home, Bones, ER. West Wing, etc., etc., etc.

I’m not sure what your aspirations are but if you want to work in film or TV you need to make sure your craft is in tip-top shape. For more information on this class click here.

Okay, that’s it for the summer. I hope to do some posting over the next few months…we’ll see As always though, if you have any questions, shoot me an email and I will get back to you as soon as I can.

Hope to see you in the workshop…or in class. Or both. Have a great summer.



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Danger or Opportunity

First, a shout out to Carlos Wayne Anderson. The talk he gave at Symphony Space in New York City on June 5th is the inspiration for this piece.

In his talk, Carlos mentioned that the Chinese have a coin that has the same symbol on thboth sides. On one side the symbol means Danger, and on the other, it means Opportunity.

Listening to him I was reminded of how often I’ve shied away from choices because I was afraid. I used to, for any number of reasons, focus on the Danger instead of the Opportunity. This limited perception prevented me from seeing life for the adventure it is.

I’m often asked: why did you become an actor? The biggest reason was the challenge. I consider myself a clever person; I pride myself in my ability to figure things out. But oddly enough I realized early on I would never know all there was to know about acting. I would never be able to figure it all out…not entirely. And not knowing all the answers, knowing nothing would ever turn out the exact same way twice—that spoke to the spirit of adventure in me.

Over the years, and it’s been a slow process, I have trained myself to look at danger in a different way. Yes, there are things out there that are truly dangerous. I’m not suggesting th-1you fly to Spain this week and run with the bulls in Pamplona but I do invite you to look at danger differently.

Several years ago my wife and I were living a very comfortable life in San Francisco. I had started and together we had built a well-respected and successful acting school, Full Circle Productions. Marsha had established herself as one of the top actors in the city. We had a beautiful house – all paid for, plenty of disposable income, new cars, etc. But something was missing. We felt stale, life was no longer challenging. The adventure of building the school, which had been both wonderful and rewarding, was over. We needed a new challenge. Then one day at breakfast, we looked at each other and said, “Let’s move to New York.”

Really, that’s how it happened. Because we had already jumped off life’s cliff several times before we didn’t spend too much time dwelling in the danger. What we saw was an th-2opportunity to grow. We didn’t necessarily know exactly what that meant, what challenges New York would offer (and believe me it offered plenty), but we knew in order for us to continue growing as artists and as human beings we needed to see past the danger and look to the opportunity.


How did the move turn out? Here’s something I’ve heard Marsha say many times. “By moving to New York I found everything I was seeking and nothing I expected.” I concur wholeheartedly.

New York was/is a very different animal than we expected but by seeing past the danger and seizing the opportunity we were able to grow in ways we never could have if we had stayed in the safe, comfortable world we had created in San Francisco.

I invite you, not to be reckless, not to endanger yourself, but to look past whatever it is that scares you and see if there isn’t an opportunity there that could spark the adventurer in you.

Push past the Danger so you have the Opportunity to become the person and the artist you were meant to be.

COMING UP:                                                                                                                           WYGT_July2016_JPEG


July 14th and 17th  – A special workshop production of When You Get There by Marsha Mercant will be presented by the InterAct Theatre Company at the Pico Playhouse in Los Angeles. If you haven’t seen this play check it out. And if you have see it, and you know how good it is, come see the changes that have made it even better.               


July 27th – Our next Free Industry Workshop featuring Debbi Epstein from Stewart Talent. Debbi came to Stewart Talent from APA where she worked as a junior agent under Partner Barry McPherson. Before that she was at Gersh working for Randi Goldstein. She grew up in Staten Island, went to La Guardia High School and Purchase College after that. She loves Billy Joel. Stay tuned for more information.

July 11th – Commercial Level 1 class starts. The class provides each student, whether new to the business or a seasoned actor, with a set of skills that takes the guesswork out of the commercial audition process. One spot left. Click here for more info.

July 14th – On-Camera 1 class starts. Presented by the Terry Schreiber Studios this class is for people of various skill levels who are new to working on camera. Focus is on training the actor to understand and fulfill on-camera blocking and direction while incorporating truthful moment-to-moment involvement and spontaneity. Five spots left.  To learn more click here.

August 2ndSpecial Three Week, Two-Camera Scene Study class starts. This is a special three week class I am conducting before taking a two-month hiatus. Geared toward more advanced actors, this class is designed to teach actors how to break-down and present a scene at performance level without the benefit of rehearsal. Three spots left. Click here if you want to learn more.

Okay, that’s a lot but that’s it. Hope to see you soon.

Cheers,                                                                                                                                                John

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Is It Too Late?

Over the years a number of senior actors have taken my classes — which I think is great because they add balance and prospective to those classes. Those actors either finally fulfilling lifelong dreams or they’re getting back into the business after raising a family or answering a different career call.

MV5BMTI1Njk2MjkzMV5BMl5BanBnXkFtZTcwMDY3MTgyMQ@@._V1_UY317_CR12,0,214,317_AL_Invariably the question arises, “Is it too late for me?” Personally, I don’t think it is ever too late for anyone to follow their heart.  Case in point – Sylvia Kauders who died last week 94. Her obit answers the “Is it too late” question better than I ever could.

Check out it out. It will make you feel better about your career no matter if you’re young, old or somewhere in-between. http://www.nytimes.com/2016/05/10/arts/television/sylvia-kauders-a-late-blooming-actress-dies.html?_r=0

Coming Attractions:

Marsha Mercant (my lovely bride of twenty-five years) is having a reading of her play When You Get There at the Pico Playhouse, 10508 W. Pico Blvd., Los Angeles, CA at 7:30 PM on Tuesday May 24th. The reading is sponsored by the InterAct Theatre Company. All the west coast followers of this blog — hope to see you there.

Our next Free Industry Workshop featuring super agent David Cash from Nicolosi Talent Agency will be on Thursday, June 2nd at 6:30 PM in New York City. Invitations will go out at 12 noon on the 31st of May. The spaces fill up quickly so make sure you’re near your computer so you don’t miss out.

I have two new classes starting soon — The On-Camera Scene Study Class (only two spots available) starts 7 June and the Level 1 Commercial Class (starts July 11th). Click here for more information: https://johnhowardswain.com/classes-2/

That’s it for now. Enjoy your day!



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Show Me The Money!

Okay, there’s no real money but I am happy to announce that super agent David Cash, from Nicolosi Talent Agency, will be our guest at the next FREE Industry Workshop on the 2nd of June. Born and raised in New York City David has been in love with theatre, film and the arts since…forever. David got his BFA in Acting/Directing from Ithaca College. After working in the not-for-profit arts 19466smfor many years he entered the world of talent representation in 1991 as a commercial agent at Harter Manning Woo. In 1994 he moved to CED (now CESD) where, among many other things, he negotiated the deal for Paul Marcarelli – the Verizon test guy (“Can you hear me now?”), one of the most lucrative contracts a commercial actor has ever received. In 2007, yearning for more fulfilling work David left the commercial field and joined Henderson Hogan as a theatrical agent. While at Henderson Hogan, David was instrumental in discovering and developing Jeremy Jordan (Smash, Joyful Noise, The Last Five Years, Supergirl). David moved to Nicolosi in 2012 and is thrilled to be working with such a dynamic company.

David was my agent for a brief time (at CESD) when I first returned to New York before I left for Don Buchwald and he left for Henderson Hogan. He is a great guy and I am very pleased to have him be our next guest.

Correction – the invitations for this workshop will be going out on the 31th of May at 12 noon (instead of May 25th as previously announced). Because these workshops fill up fast I suggest, if you want to get a spot, to be at your computer ready to pounce at 11:55 AM. With Constant Contact there is always a variable of five to ten minutes as to when their emails will go out.

That’s it. Hope to see you on June the 2nd!






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WOW!! What a Week!!!

Okay, I get that I’m a really fortunate guy. I’m able to make a living doing the things I love. I have had a lot of great weeks but this last week, actually these past two weeks, WOW!!

And the fact that it all happened while I was so unbelievably sick — yeah, sick like I could barely get out of bed sick —  just reminded me that life is indeed GOOD ALL OF THE TIME.

Michael Cassera and JohnOkay, here’s how it went down: Two weeks ago the casting director Michael Cassara was the guest at our  free industry workshop and 27 actors got to showcase their work for him. (If there is anyone out there who doesn’t know how these workshops work, here it is in a nutshell — every two months I host a free workshop for actors and give them a chance to present their work to some of the heavy-hitters in our industry. If you’ve ever studied with me or if you read this blog then you’re eligible and will get an invitation. And yes, the workshops are free!)

Okay, so Michael saw 27 actors and has told me repeatedly via text, in person and via email what a good job everyone did. He is so excited about what we’re doing he offered to hook me up with other casting directors and agents so they too can see the caliber of work in these workshops.

1239634_10151906030548115_384264762_nThe high from that experience propels me into this week. This incredibly, fantastic week! On Monday casting director Donna Grossman sat in on the Level 1 commercial class I teach at Terry Schreiber’s Studios. She was knocked out by the actors and said their work was outstanding. On Thursday Phil Cassese, the lead commercial thagent from Stewart Talent, came to my Level 2 Commercial class and said,  “Very fun time! Nice to see actors working on such a high level.” (There is nothing more rewarding as a teacher to have your students receive so much high praise.)

Then on Wednesday — let me back track a little — on Monday I get a call from David Elliott, my agent at Buchwald, and he says, “Checking to see if you’re available to work on Wednesday.” And I say, “For what?” He says, “A WebMD spot.” I say, “I didn’t audition for a WebMD spot.” He says, “I know. But the casting director knows your work and wants to book you.” And even though I’m still sick and barely functioning I say,  “Yeah, you bet.” I mean work is work, right? And if someone wants to book me without me having to audition all the better. Am I right?

So Wednesday I shoot the WebMD spot. I have a lot of words but it’s all on a teleprompter and we wrap forty-five minutes early and I go home and crawl back into bed.

th-2When I fire up my computer on Thursday, there waiting for me, drum roll please, is a contract from Routledge Press an imprint of  the Taylor & Francis Group, the largest publisher of academic books on the planet.

They are going to combine my two books The Science and Art of Film Acting and The Science and Art of Commercial Acting into one book and publish and market it worldwide. Needless to say I am beyond excited!!

And suddenly on Friday I was well. This flu/bronchitis or whatever it was that had been lingering for weeks just went away. Okay, maybe the two rounds of antibiotics had something to do with it but the sun is shining once again and I am back to being me. Wow!! What a Week!!!

Here’s wishing you an incredibly fantastic week.



Coming up:  

The next FREE INDUSTRY WORKSHOP will be on the 2nd of June. Our guest will be David Cash from the Nicolosi Talent Agency. Invitations go out on the 25th of May. If you’re reading this post and your email address is on file with my Constant Contact account you will get an invitation. If not, and you want to get an invitation, make sure you register your email address with my Constant Contact account.

Level 1 Commercial Class starts on May 9th.

On-Camera Scene Study class starts June 7th.

If you are interested in these classes click on THE CLASSES page for more information.

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Michael is coming! Michael is coming!

Yes, it’s true. On March 30th casting director Michael Cassara will be our guest for the next FREE Industry Workshop. Invitations for the workshop will go out on Monday the 28th of March at 12 noon. There are twenty-five spots so be ready to pounce as soon as you get your invitation. If you’re on gmail check the promotions folder – that seems to be where they put our invitations.

The workshop starts at 6:30 and goes until 9:30 on Wednesday the 30th, so make sure you’re free before you sign up.

th-1Michael, a member of  CSA, works in New York City where he and his team have cast over 400 theatre and film projects since the formation of Michael Cassara Casting in 2003.  Recent credits include Gigantic (Vineyard Theatre), Forbidden Broadway (most recent two off-Broadway editions and cast albums), I Love Lucy® Live On Stage (2014-15 national tour), Heat Wave: The Jack Cole Project (dir. Chet Walker), Kingdom (The Old Globe, dir. Ron Daniels), Oliver! (National Asian Artists Project/NAAP – Artios Award nomination for excellence in casting) A Little Night Music (starring Penny Fuller and Mark Jacoby), The Twelve (Denver Center/world premiere), The Molly Maguires (dir. Sheryl Kaller).  Regional credits include frequent productions for top regional theatres including Gulfshore Playhouse, Denver Center, Great Lakes Theater, Idaho Shakespeare Festival, and more.  Michael has served as the resident casting director of the New York Musical Festival since 2007, where he has cast over 70 musicals since the festival’s inception in 2004.  Additionally, in 2013 he began serving as the Resident Casting Director for the National Alliance for Musical Theatre (NAMT) and casts their annual Festival of New Musicals each October.  Film credits include Grantham & Rose, The Hyperglot (Artios Award nomination, dir. Michael Urie), Paper Dreams, Clear Blue Tuesday and more.  As an educator, he regularly teaches at many of the nation’s top universities and training programs, including Baldwin Wallace University, Elon University, Indiana University, NYU, Texas State, and many others.  Michael is a native Clevelander and a BFA graduate of the musical theatre program at Otterbein College.  An obsessive family historian, he is the only person to ever hold membership in both the Casting Society of America and the Association of Professional Genealogists.

To receive an invitation to the workshops you either have to follow this blog or you have to be a current/former student of mine.

Update on classes:

Level 1 Commercial — 14 March – 2 May 2016 (2 spots left)  To enroll call 212-741-0209

Level 2 Commercial — 17 March – 21 April 2016 (sold out)

Scene Study — 5 April – 24 May 2016 (registration for this class opens 22 March)            

For information on all classes go to: https://johnhowardswain.com/classes-2/

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