You Want To Make Your Living Being Someone Else

The actual quote was, “Let me see if I’ve got this right, you want to make your living by being someone else?”

This was my father’s reaction when I told him I was going to quit my job to become an actor. At the time I was the County Manager for Washington County, North Carolina. It was my job to oversee the various projects the County Commissioners wanted implemented. I supervised the construction of a new hospital, wrote grants (including the one for my job), made sure the farmers had enough fuel to get their crops in, etc. It was a job that carried a lot of responsibility and one with great potential–one of my colleagues ran for governor of North Carolina — and it was killing me.

I didn’t know that, not at the time. Not until I went to Raleigh to do a workshop and had to get a photograph taken for an ID card. I had on my best sports coat and was feeling pretty good when the photographer snapped my picture. The ID card arrived in the mail a few days later. I opened the envelope and instead of seeing this hip, feeling good guy I saw a poor, sad son-of-a-bitch staring back at me. And I knew it was me, my name was under the photograph. I was so shaken I had to sit down. I kept looking at the photograph asking, “Why is this guy so sad?”

I spent the rest of the day trying to remember the last time I had been happy, truly happy. I finally pinpointed it – it was four years earlier. I was in college and I was playing Oscar Madison in Neil Simon’s The Odd Couple. While I was reminiscing about that production I felt an odd sensation in my face. I looked in the mirror. I was smiling. Really smiling. Not one of those, “Someone’s taking your picture” smiles but a real smile.

A couple of days later I gave my notice. The first thing the Chairman of the Board did was to offer me a raise but I told him I wasn’t staying. I didn’t tell him what my plans were because I didn’t know. I spent the next two weeks making a list of the things I had always wanted to do but for whatever reason hadn’t done yet. At the top of the list was “Be An Actor.” I had no idea how I was going to do that but that was the first thing on my list. Another thing on the list was “Ride a Motorcycle Across Country.” I could do something about that so I bought a motorcycle – a Suzuki 500.

Me and my Dad

I spent the weekend with my parents and told them what I was going to; or at least as much as I knew. My parents were depression era children and the thought of anyone, especially their son, not having a job was unconscionable. Neither one of them said anything the first day, then on Sunday my father said, “Let me see if I’ve got this right. You want to make your living by being someone else?” Which I thought was a pretty astute observation. I wasn’t happy being me so maybe if I could be someone else and make a living at it, that sounded pretty good.

They weren’t unsupportive, more like bewildered. I’m sure they had the discussion, “Where did we go wrong” many times over the next ten years until I was able to turn my dreams into a reality. But, and unfortunately my dad couldn’t tell me this—he wasn’t wired that way, it was my sister who told me how proud my dad was whenever one of their neighbors would say, “Saw John on Dallas last night.” Or, “John did a great job on Hill Street Blues,” or whatever TV show I was in.

Somewhere along the way I’ve come to understand that the happiness I’ve experienced over the past forty years wasn’t because I was “being someone else” – it was because I was following my dreams. I’m so glad I had my picture taken that day, it helped me become the person I am now.

Here’s to you following your dreams.

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A Word On Directing

If you’ve read any of my books you know I place a lot of emphasis on technique. However, in class I approach the craft differently. In class I talk to the actors in result oriented terms. Why? Because on the set, if you get any direction at all it will most likely be “Move here. Say this line like this. Show this emotion.” This doesn’t mean the directors aren’t good, it’s just that time is money and the directors tend to speak to actors in result oriented terms because it’s the quickest way to convey what they want.

Case in point: Continue reading

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SO, WHAT ARE YOU THINKING?

The other night, leaving class, walking to the subway, one of my assistants asked me what was the hardest thing for actors to “get.” She had barely finished her question when I blurted out, “Getting actors to think in character in the moment.”

Continue reading

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“WE NEED YOU MORE THAN YOU NEED US!”

These words changed the entire perspective of my acting career. Here’s the set up: It’s 1978 (yeah, I know a century ago) and I’m a young actor in New York City. Like every other actor in the city I’m hustling, trying to get an agent. I’d been cast in a couple off-Broadway shows but hadn’t broken through the “actor without representation to actor with representation” conundrum.

I was so poor I didn’t even have a typewriter (it’s 1978 – the only computers around were those floor to ceiling jobs that took up entire rooms) and my handwriting sucked. So I asked my girlfriend to hand write letters to a few agents I wanted to meet. One of them was J. Michael Bloom, who in the 1970’s thru the 1990’s was the head of the hottest commercial agency in town. Continue reading

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Of Thee I Sing…Baby

Last week I saw a concert version of the old Kaufman/Ryskind musical Of Thee I Sing at Carnegie Hall. (Music and Lyrics by George and Ira Gershwin.) The concert version was directed by Tommy Krasker and starred (among many, many talented actors) Bryce Pinkham and Denee Denton. The evening was narrated by a very funny Mo Rocca.

Considered bold and daring in its time – it won the Pulitzer Prize in 1932 – it was interesting to see how topical certain aspects of the musical were – a less than qualified candidate gets elected to the office of the President of the United States. Actually it was interesting how some of the jokes written 86 years ago still resonate today.

And although there were several good laughs there were also many moments where Continue reading

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Director proof. Do over.

Heard from various sources that, for some reason, only a few people got the following post. So, if you didn’t get it, here it is. And if you did get it…well, here it is again.

In a recent interview I was asked if the technique I use in my classes made actors director proof.

First of all I think there are a lot of really good directors working in the film and TV industry now. A lot! But having said that I know directors, just like the rest of us, can have bad days — for a myriad of reasons. And regardless of why they’re having a bad day – they’re sick, the new baby kept him/her up all night, the shoot the day before ran way over, or the project they were hired for wasn’t a good fit for their sensibilities – regardless of what is throwing them off their game, in the final analysis it is going to be you up on the screen not them.

Because of that you have to make sure you’ve done everything you can so that no matter where the director’s head is you’ll  still come out looking good.

I’ve been teaching now for twenty plus years and as a teacher I am constantly evolving, growing my craft – just as actors should be evolving and growing their craft. In the five years since my first two books (film and commercial acting) were published I learned a tremendous amount from my students about what worked in those books and about what could be better. I incorporated that info in to the new book The Science and Art of Acting for the Camera. click here  As acting is a living, changing craft so is teaching acting. Remaining static is one of the worst sins an actor or a teacher can commit.

So, how does this relate to actors being director proof? If you don’t have a technique you can rely on you won’t be able to fully develop your character, you won’t recognize the arc of the scene. And if you can’t do those two simple things then you will miss all the other information available to you in a script. Having a technique is like having a treasure map that highlights all the good stuff so you’ll have a fountain of information to draw from if/when you discover your director is off his game, for whatever reason.

Please understand this isn’t about alienating directors; it’s about supporting them, giving them options. The more you know about what is doing on in the scene the more “choices” you can offer the director. The great thing about all of this is if your director’s having an “off” day you’ll still look good. And is he/she is having a good day you’ll look great.

Either way, it’s a win-win…for everybody. And, oh, did I mention the producers? Yeah, you being at the top of your game is good for them too.

Upcoming classes:

Two-Camera Scene Study class starts December 5th 2017 and goes ‘til February 6th 2018 (off Dec. 26th and Jan. 2nd).

Commercial Level 1 class starts 13 Nov. and goes to December 8th 2017.

For information regarding these classes go to: http://www.johnhowardswain.com

Tommy Day – booked a co-starring role on the new network TV show INSTINCT.

Caitlin Kerchner – is one of the leads in the web series OTHER VOICES.

Diana Craig – booked co-staring roles in GOTHAM and BULL.

Bill Cannon – shot two commercial projects: SWITLIK MATTRESSES and RIVER SPRING RETIREMENT COMMUNITY…drum roll, please…on the same day. Way to go, Bill.

Steven Jones – shot a national network commercial for BDO.

Jody Watkins – booked a commercial for Jendu Pharmaceutical.

When you’ve booked something let us know so we can share the good news.

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Director Proof

In a recent interview I was asked if the technique I use in my classes made actors director proof.

First of all I think there are a lot of really good directors working in the film and TV industry now. A lot! But having said that I know directors, just like the rest of us, can have bad days — for a myriad of reasons. And regardless of why they’re having a bad day – they’re sick, the new baby kept him/her up all night, the shoot the day before ran way over, or the project they were hired for wasn’t a good fit for their sensibilities – regardless of what is throwing them off their game, in the final analysis it is going to be you up on the screen not them.

Because of that you have to make sure you’ve done everything you can so that no matter where the director’s head is you’ll  still come out looking good.

I’ve been teaching now for twenty plus years and as a teacher I am constantly evolving, growing my craft – just as actors should be evolving and growing their craft. In the five years since my first two books (film and commercial acting) were published I learned a tremendous amount from my students about what worked in those books and about what could be better. I incorporated that info in to the new book The Science and Art of Acting for the Camera. click here  As acting is a living, changing craft so is teaching acting. Remaining static is one of the worst sins an actor or a teacher can commit.

So, how does this relate to actors being director proof? If you don’t have a technique you can rely on you won’t be able to fully develop your character, you won’t recognize the arc of the scene. And if you can’t do those two simple things then you will miss all the other information available to you in a script. Having a technique is like having a treasure map that highlights all the good stuff so you’ll have a fountain of information to draw from if/when you discover your director is off his game, for whatever reason.

Please understand this isn’t about alienating directors; it’s about supporting them, giving them options. The more you know about what is doing on in the scene the more “choices” you can offer the director. The great thing about all of this is if your director’s having an “off” day you’ll still look good. And is he/she is having a good day you’ll look great.

Either way, it’s a win-win…for everybody. And, oh, did I mention the producers? Yeah, you being at the top of your game is good for them too.

Upcoming classes:

Two-Camera Scene Study class starts December 5th 2017 and goes ‘til February 6th 2018 (off Dec. 26th and Jan. 2nd).

Commercial Level 1 class starts 13 Nov. and goes to December 8th 2017.

For information regarding these classes go to: http://www.johnhowardswain.com

Tommy Day – booked a co-starring role on the new network TV show INSTINCT.

Caitlin Kerchner – is one of the leads in the web series OTHER VOICES.

Diana Craig – booked co-staring roles in GOTHAM and BULL.

Bill Cannon – shot two commercial projects: SWITLIK MATTRESSES and RIVER SPRING RETIREMENT COMMUNITY…drum roll, please…on the same day. Way to go, Bill.

Steven Jones – shot a national network commercial for BDO.

Jody Watkins – booked a commercial for Jendu Pharmaceutical.

When you’ve booked something let us know so we can share the good news.

Posted in Uncategorized | 1 Comment