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.

Cheers,

John

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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SHAPING YOUR CHARACTER’S CONSCIOUSNESS – THE BONES

images-3I marvel at actors who believe memorizing their lines and saying them on cue constitutes their prep for a scene. What about investigating the depths of their characters?

The kind of actor who doesn’t bother to dig below the surface will consequently never find the things that make their characters tick, or the qualities that make them unique. They will never find the character’s emotional life, an aspect that is crucial to connecting with the audience. The result? Lackluster performances that are tedious to watch.

Granted, some scripts are better than others at giving clues to who the characters are but regardless of the words on the page, how can we, in our job as interpreter of those words, make the characters come to life in such a way that engages the audience?

We need to create a background that informs our character’s consciousness. In real life, things happen to us. Those things are then imbedded into our consciousness. They have sway over how we think, feel and act. Our characters, on the other hand, come to us a blank slate. The images-5writers provide us with a series of events: past, present and future. The director gives us hints and suggestions but how can we use those events and suggestions to form characters that are real, living, breathing human beings?

We begin by addressing three aspects of our character’s lives: the physiology, sociology, and psychology. This helps us create the character’s BONES.

Why the physiology? We need to know our character’s strength. Does he stand up tall? Is she hunched over? If you’re playing royalty you might assume your character should stand strong and tall. But what about Richard III? He was a king who was weak and stooped over. Those physical traits and how different actors portray them have historically had a tremendous impact on their performances. Use what you’re given in the script but challenge yourself to find more. Dig deeper. The script is your guide but not the final word on who you bring to the stage.

images-7Next, from a sociology standpoint, where does your character fit into the social structure of the play? Are you upper class, lower, middle? What kind of work do you do? Are you educated? What was your childhood like? What is your family like now? Did you have a brother who tormented you? A sister who ignored you? How did those things affect who you are now in your relationships? Are you religious? Maybe spiritual? What are your political beliefs? What do you do for fun?

What about your psychology, what are your moral standards? Do you have a satisfying sex life? What frustrates you? Disappoints you? What is your personal credo? What’s your temperament? Are you easy going or rigid? Extroverted or introverted? A little of both? Do your smarts come from books or the street?

By asking and then answering these questions you begin to shape your character’s consciousness. You embark on the process of creating a wealth of information that will influence how you approach your character.

What’s presented here is just the tip of the iceberg. The questions are plentiful and the possibilities endless. Challenge yourself to explore the deepest crevices of your characters. The work you put into this will pay off not only for the audience but also for you as an artist. Remember how you felt the first time you saw Meryl Streep or Dustin Hoffman. Be THAT actor!

Our next free industry workshop will be on the 30th of March and our guest instructor will be casting director Michael Cassera. Also attending my next round of classes is casting director Donna Grossman on March 7th, and lead agent at Stewart Talent, Phillip Casesse on April 14th. So far the following agents, casting directors, directors, and producers have been guests at our free workshops: Casting Directors – Kimberly Graham, Judy Bowman, David Cady, Donna Grossman, and Donna McKenna. Directors – Matthew Penn and Tony Glazer. Producers – Summer Crockett Moore. Agents – David Elliot, Ann Kelly, and Peter Kaiser. Hope you can join us at the next one. 

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Peter Kaiser – Fantastic Agent!

Peter and John at recent workshop

Peter and John at recent workshop

Last week twenty-seven actors had the opportunity to meet and showcase their work for Peter Kaiser, super agent with the Talent House Agency. Formally with the Gage Group in both Los Angeles and New York and then the lead agent with Henderson Hogan, Peter now heads the New York office for Talent House.

Peter gave each actor constructive feedback on their monologues and there was a long Q & A afterward. When the evening was over I was bombarded  with comments like: “Wow! What a super guy.” “I want him to be my agent.” “I never knew agents could be so nice or so approachable.”

Other comments I’ve heard are: “It is so wonderful that you provide actors access to these types of industry people.” “I can’t believe these workshops are free.” “When I signed up I had no idea it was going to be such a great experience.” And one of my favorites is: “Why are you doing these workshops for free? Other places charge actors a lot of money to see these people.”

Why are the workshops free? It is my way of giving something back to a business that has been very generous to me. If there is anyone reading this who doesn’t know how the workshops work – here it is: The workshops are open to any of my current or former students – even those from years ago – and to the people who follow this blog.

Peter Kaiser coaching actors

Peter Kaiser coaching actors

Right now we have a workshop every other month. We would like to do more. In order to justify doing more we need more people to follow my blog. If you want to have more of these workshops ask your friends to sign up to follow my blog and when we get more followers, we will do more. How cool would it be to have a free workshop every month? So. spread the word, okay?

Next workshop is scheduled for the 23rd of March and the guest will either be casting director Michael Cassera or agent Mark Redanty with Bauman, Redanty/Shaul/Gage Agency. Stay tuned.

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Quick Reminder – Free Industry Workshop

thDon’t forget! Our next industry workshop will be on Thursday the 21st of Jan. from 6:30 – 9:30 PM. Location details to follow.

Our guest is Peter Kaiser.

Former lead agent of Henderson Hogan NY and a veteran of the NY and LA offices of the Gage Group Peter now runs the New York office for Talent House Agency. Talent House handles film, television and theatre. They have clients in several Broadway shows (The Lion King, Wicked, Jersey Boys, to mention a few), plus his clients are working in many of the major regional theatres (The Paper Mill Playhouse, The Old Globe in San Diego and Chicago Shakespeare Theatre, again just to mention a few) and many more clients out on national tours. His clients have also booked either contract or guest starring roles in almost every major television show shot in New York.

25 actors will get to showcase their work for Peter. And it’s FREE.

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If you’re getting this but you aren’t on my Constant Contact mailing list let me know ASAP so I can put you on it. The invitations go out via Constant Contact.

 

 

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Embracing Conflict

th-2Something that has come to my attention…and this is not the first time this has come up…is how reluctant most actors are to embrace the conflict in a scene. Part of this comes from the fact that we’re human beings first and actors second. The nature of being human (for most of us anyway) is we will do anything possible to avoid conflict. We will walk around the block, or around the world, to avoid running into an ex-wife/husband/boyfriend/girlfriend – pick the appropriate category.

And while this may be the accepted way we function as human beings, as actors we have to do the opposite. We have to run into the fire, not away from it. Why? Simple. We’re storytellers and in order to tell a story successfully we have to create tension and in order to have tension there has to be conflict –  yeah, that very thing we as human beings want to avoid.

So, instead of looking at the impending situation and trying to figure out, “How can I avoid getting burned?” we need to look for the opportunities to jump into the flames while things are burning around us. We need make sure we get what we want.

th-4I had an acting teacher who made this analogy between a good actor and a bad actor. The scene is a large cocktail party; the character, a waiter serving drinks. The bad actor, my teacher said, will paint the glasses to look as if they are full, glue the drinks to the tray and walk around the outside of the crowd. The good actor will fill his tray with overflowing drinks and walk through the middle of the crowd. One is creating tension; the other is avoiding it.

Often, one of the reasons actors don’t create enough tension in their scenes stems from the choices they make about their characters.

Case in point. Recently, I was directing a reading of a play. It was about a woman whose husband is accused of molesting a child. The woman had a girlfriend and these two women had several scenes together. However, those scenes weren’t clicking the way I felt they should so I asked the actress playing the girlfriend what her character’s objectives were in those scenes. She told me she felt sorry for the other woman, she wanted to help her, be a sympathetic ear.

“What’s in that for you?” I asked the actress playing the girlfriend.

She looked puzzled. “I don’t understand.”

I said, “All the things you say you want are about helping the other person, making her feel better. These are all altruistic choices. A good thing to do in your real life, not so good to do9 in your reel life. Altruistic choices don’t spark conflict. If you do something for another character and there’s nothing in it for you every bit of tension will be sucked out of the scene. Look, her husband’s involved in this big scandal, right?”

“Yes.”

“It’s the biggest thing to hit the town in years, right?”

“Right.”

“Wouldn’t you like to know the inside dirt? Did he do it, didn’t he do it?”

“So what, so I could tell my other friends?”

“That’s certainly a choice you could make. And if you make that choice, without changing anything in the script, you go from being a goody-two-shoes to being a conniver, a person with an agenda. That gives you something stronger to play and it will change the motivation you have for saying your lines. Plus it will add tension and thus conflict to the piece.”

“But being a conniver, is that a good thing?”

“Don’t forget, we’re here to serve the story. This play is about a woman who is faced with a difficult choice. Does she stick by her husband and lose her child or does she abandon her husband in order to keep her child? If she suspects that you are just being nice to her to get information, that heightens the tension in the piece. This may not be a choice you would make in your real life but it is a vital choice for this story.”

The actress made the changes and the results were spectacular.

When you’re doing your homework make choices that will stir the fire up, not let it die down. Choose things that will enhance the storytelling. Pick tension over comfort, conflict over conformity. That way your characters will be more interesting, your scenes more exciting, and you’ll have a lot more fun.

Kim and John critiquing an actor's work.

Kim and John critiquing an actor’s work.

 

 

Four weeks ago Kimberly Graham, from Judy Henderson Casting, an Emmy award winning casting director of Homeland, was the guest at our FREE industry workshop. Twenty-six actors showcased their work for her. Our next workshop will be on the 21st of January 2016. Peter Kaiser with the Talent House Agency will be our guest. Keep an eye out for the announcement.

 

 

So here it is – 20 “sweet” 16.

That New Year’s resolution you made, the one about this being the year you’re really going to do something about your acting career? How’s that going?

Check out the Classes Page for a couple things you can do to make sure this year’s resolutions come true.

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Your Mojo? Where Did It Go?

Once again I am happy to share a post from my friend Sarah Dacey-Charles’ blog. Sarah studied with me in San Francisco and here in New York. She has seen both high-times – playing Madam T in “Les Miserables” on Broadway – and a few not so high-times. Here’s how she deals with this crazy/wonderful business we have chosen for ourselves.

b0b0df23-2e8d-405d-a03c-bac4329f5703As actors, losing our artistic vision and joy is a frequent consequence of having to play the dual role of artist and entrepreneur.  We spend so much energy trying to make something happen in our careers. We push and fight to get auditions and to nourish relationships with directors. Sometimes just scraping together the monthly nut can be exhausting.

We work our asses off preparing 30 pages of sides, give a brilliant callback for our dream role, only to feel devastated and empty when the phone doesn’t ring with the offer we knew was coming.  You don’t have to be an actor to know what I’m talking about.  Maybe you just finished writing a play or made the deadline of your company’s project. It was exhausting but it gave you purpose and a sense of pride and and now that it’s done, your appointment book looks like a dust bowl and your phone rings as loudly as a pet rock.

(Here’s) how I’ve been getting my creative groove back in a radically positive way.th-1

Travel back with me to the middle of August. I’m on the mountain top.  I’m on set shooting a corporate video for treatment of schizophrenia. My spot on Elementary will air in a few months and I feel unstoppable. I’m on a roll, baby!

I have a callback and “first refusal” for a car commercial, another callback for a musical, and I’m on hold for the TV show, Person of Interest. I calculated that if I book all the projects I’m up for, I’ll make close to $10,000!

And then… wait for it… I was released from each and every project, booking none of them.  You could just see the road sign of my mind saying:  You are now entering the Valley of Doubt and Discontent. My gremlin starts taking over, “You had a nice little run, but that was a fluke. Face reality, they don’t want you anymore.  You couldn’t even book one of those gigs.  Summer fun is over, it is going to be a long, sad winter ahead for you in loser-ville.”

Fortunately, I got some perspective from my dear friend, John Howard Swain, a gem of a director and awesome acting teacher. When I confessed to John that I felt like I had fallen out of sync with my creative juju he reminded me of a folk story that he had heard recently about a farmer who tried to dig a well.

The ground was still dry about 15 feet down and the farmer grew frustrated. He moved to another location and repeated the process twice more. He’s about to quit when his wife suggested he simply dig deeper right where he stood. He followed her advice and soon found an abundant water source.

John went on to tell me, “So many of my students who are progressing really well, and are right on the verge of a breakthrough, want to throw in the towel because they don’t yet see the results. Sarah, now is not the time to stop all the good things you’re doing. Just dig a little deeper.” John is a wise, wise man.th-2

Digging deeper for me means finding ways to get my creative juices flowing. It means practicing my craft more, not less.
Here’s all the ways I have been getting busy digging deeper.
— Lining up a videographer to videotape some songs.
— Getting together with fellow actors to sharpen monologues
— Practicing physical theatre with actors in a studio space
— Taking a seminar with “Frantic Assembly” on devising theatre
— And most importantly, singing in my kitchen at full performance level!

If an actress throws down a devastating performance of “Rose’s Turn” in her kitchen and no ears hear it but her own, is she still a badass artist?

Why, yes!  Yes, she is.  But what has she to show for it?  A hopeful heart, a well-tuned instrument and most importantly– MOJO, baby!

Thank you Sarah. I hope when the rest of you get frustrated – and it will happen – that instead of moving to dig another well in another location that you simply dig a little deeper right where you are.

Don’t forget the FREE Industry Workshop we are hosting on Wednesday Nov. 4th with Kim Graham – co-casting director on Homeland. Invitations will be going out soon.

Check out Kim’s work in the upcoming episodes of Homeland.

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