“Do not the most moving moments of our lives find us all without words?”
– Marcel Marceau
Philippe at The Pheasantry. 1970’s. Photo credit by
This is the age of over-consumption. Humanity has become immersed in consumerism; a throwaway planet where objects are frequently valued more than people and the phrase “out with the old and in with the new” manifests an odor which, vigorously infiltrates our lives. Nothing is made to last. From cars to relationships, if something is no longer purposeful we “swipe left” and thus, it is rendered useless.
The modern world can be a tremendously expensive place to live. However, as we all fall victims to a disposable society affecting both our purse strings and emotions it is imperative we remember the importance of a culture that has always stood the test of time.
Storytelling is a crucial narrative to our society and the cultural wealth it generates is a priceless commodity we must nurture, as the modern world evolves so too do some of the finest art forms of storytelling.
Philippe Mora is a world-class LA based filmmaker and artist; hailing from the iconic Melbourne based bohemian family, the Mora’s have been a fixture in the Australian art scene since the 1950’s. Born in Paris in 1949, the son of George Mora, a French Resistance fighter, Entrepreneur and Restaurateur and Mirka Mora a renowned Australian artist, Philippe’s brilliant knack for combining his personal and artistic endeavors with commercial recognition is a talent in itself.
I saw Clint Eastwood interviewed on television when he took up celebrity portrait photography as a hobby many years ago, and he said that there were three ways in which a person could be captured:
- The way the world sees them (common perception)
- The way they see themselves (private perception)
- In a way nobody has ever seen them before (surprising, sometimes shocking perception)
Celebrity photographers sometimes show George Clooney in a suit or smart-casual wardrobe on a beach (how we see him), sometimes as the political activist (how he sees himself), and sometimes . . . well, like this.
In both portrait photography and in film, John Wayne was often seen in wardrobe and manner befitting Western and War genres (how we saw him), he was sometimes seen in casual ranch gear (how he saw himself), but he was never seen in a leotard and ballet shoes (surprising/shocking perception). Hillary Clinton is at home in a pant suit, and would be surprising to many these days in a skirt, but not as surprising as she would be with big gloves and a mouth guard, in a boxing ring.
“Don’t ‘think’ your lines. Think as if you’re the character.”
The magical circus that was the Edinburgh Fringe 2016 has packed up and left town and as we nurse our sore heads and broken stage hearts, I’d like to offer you a cup of filmic kindness, in the form of casting wisdom from casting agent Ruby Duigan.
For as much as we here at Casting Networks Australia do love to tread the boards and plunge to the depths of the independent theatre nadir (*sighs dramatically*), at some point, it is also nice to… get a paid gig. Especially when it comes in the form of some of the colossally-glossy, star-laden projects that Ruby has worked with during her 5 years with South Australia’s leading casting agency, Angela Heesom Casting.
Jared Leto as the Joker in ‘Suicide Squad’
There was a lot of reporting of on Jared Leto’s horrible behavior on the set of Suicide Squad. Social media went zany about the exploitative dangers of “method acting” and its acolytes. It has been alleged that he claimed to be using these techniques to “get into role” for the Joker – sending used condoms, and a rat and a dead pig to fellow cast members and crew.
There may have been a practical context of which we are not privy, which may justify his stated pranks, but if we are to believe media hype, then we need to analyse this so-called acting methodology.
I must state categorically that Jared Leto’s reported jerky behavior is NOT “method acting,” it is punking!
Some are quick to dis this process of acting; sometimes a lack of understanding can lead to hysterics in the media. More often than not, this is as a result of misinformation, which leads many to wrongly judge what method acting truly is. Some who should know better also jump onto headline-grabbing bandwagons.
“Method acting is madness!” they cry. “Method actors are uncontrollable. God forbid!”
It is with sad regret that one such unverified article (which gained traction in Australia recently) entitled Hollywood Has Ruined Method Acting” was posted on the usually reliable SBS Movies website. It was overtly sensational and inaccurate in its depiction of the Stanislavsky Method.
Many of my acting students were confused by the article and one or two lost confidence in their personal process as a result.
Let’s get a few things straight and redress the hype, shall we?
Daniella Haddad in ‘Dancing at Lughnasa’ by Brian Friel.
Director: John O’Hare
METHOD ACTING IS JUST THAT: A METHOD
Method acting is a safe and repeatable process of text analysis, relaxation and concentration, imaginative exploration, improvisation, and vocal and physical discipline. It’s important to have a reliable process of creative exploration.
THE FIRST STUDIO
Stanislavsky’s Method acting is a comprehensive system of training, originally evolved at the first Actor’s Studio at the Moscow Arts Theatre.
The exercises developed by Leopold Sulerzitsky, Michael Chekhov, Stanislavsky, and others at the first studio were experimental improvisations designed to inspire creativity. Other exercises evolved, which addressed blocks in an actor’s impressive and expressive abilities.
Stanislavsky observed that actors he respected shared certain qualities. There was a kind of aura around them onstage. Audiences were drawn to these actors and their performances. They were relaxed, yet at the same time filled with concentrated energy, completely involved in the moment. Stanislavsky called this inspired artistic condition the “creative state.”
Basically, he wanted to know how to achieve this creative state consistently in his own acting and was it possible for actors in his company to learn how to do it too? How do the great actors consistently know how to achieve “being?”
As artistic director of the MAT, he set up an acting lab, the first studio. His goal was to develop a “method” to achieve this creative state of being consistently. Yoga, prana breathing, relaxation, meditation, and visualization were essential disciplines in the Stanislavsky method.
Stanislavsky’s triad: Relaxation, Concentration, and Imagination are the initial steps in acquiring the creative state of being.
Did Jared Leto incorporate these “method acting” techniques into his “getting into role” process?
If he didn’t, he’s not not a method actor.
“Love the art in yourself, not yourself in the art.”
There in lies the lesson.
Best wishes and chookas to you being able to achieve your own creative state of being whenever you perform.
RUOK tanks available at http://www.theupsidesport.com/ruok-tank 100% of proceeds go towards this great initiative
This month in honour of RUOK DAY on September 8, I want to talk about mind fitness. Exercise keeps our bodies fit and healthy. However, our minds are just as important as our muscles, so this month, let’s incorporate mental health in our workouts!
As actors, our imaginations, and ability to believe and see beyond our noses is what makes us unique from one another. We work for years developing the ability to bring a role to life, but what we are never taught is how to “cool down” and shake off the residual matter left by a performance.
I remember playing a mother who had just discovered her husband was abusing their children; after one rehearsal, I found myself in a ball sobbing long after the scene had ended and stuck in a dark cloud of despair. My director’s advice was that I needed to find a way out. DUH! Of course I did, but how?
For a long, misguided time, I wore my perfectionism as a badge of honor. Rather than understanding it as something that stopped me from living a happy life, that kept me from “shipping,” and, most saliently for our purposes, formed the chief stumbling block to being the great actor I longed to be, I saw it as the key to people’s hearts—or at least, their grudging admiration. (That alone should have been a clue, but perfectionism has a way of blinding all who worship at its altar.)
These days, while I’m far from my stated goal of 7 1/2 years ago (“release the imperfect in favor of the good“), I find it much easier to put things out there before they are picture-perfect. As a surprise side benefit, I’m also more comfortable in my own skin and happier on a moment-to-moment basis. I create more new work, I take more emotional risks, and I find new (and often surprising) ways to make myself useful in this big, bad world of ours.
If it seems too simple that letting go of an outlook could create such a radical change, it’s not. However, like all meaningful change, it’s also isn’t what I’d call “easy.” How does one go about letting go, anyway? If I had been able to do that reliably onstage or in front of the camera, I probably wouldn’t have wanted to change at all! Experience has taught me that it’s easier to change by replacing an old, unhealthy action with a new, healthier one. Here are some “replacement actions” that have helped me the most along the way.
Southside with You
Summer, 1989. Do the Right Thing tackles race issues in America and puts director Spike Lee on the map. Janet Jackson’s hit song “Miss You Much” plays on radios across the country. And a 28-year-old Harvard Law student named Barack Obama goes on a date in the Southside of Chicago with his summer advisor, Michelle Robinson. Southside with You is illuminating, entertaining, and the film’s leads, Tika Sumpter and Parker Sawyers, are both terrific. Opening in a limited number of theaters, this is definitely one to check out on the big screen if you can.
At the beginning of the film, we are introduced to Barack Obama (Sawyers) and Michelle Robinson (Sumpter), each in their element as they prepare for what they both classify as “not a date.” As each gets ready, we get a great sense of their environments and how they interact with their loved ones. Barack is calm and cool as he smokes a cigarette and talks on the phone with his grandmother, who warns him that he better not be late for his date or he’s not going to get a second one. Michelle gets ready and keeps telling her parents Marian and Fraser (Vanessa Bell Calloway and Phillip Edward Van Lear) that she is Barack’s advisor and that this is definitely not a date, just two colleagues going to a meeting, even though she is clearly dressed for a date.
Voice work for actors is a key component of training, and part of the long term acting career for many. There are so many differences, however, from person to person with how they take on accents. The differences can exist because of where someone is born, how lyrical they are, and even just how and where they grow up later on.
‘My friend went to Australia for a year and came back sounding completely Australian.’
‘My dad has lived in the States for 10 years and still sounds completely English.’
‘My brother in law is Russian and sounds totally British after just 5 years.’
‘A British friend of mine landed a role in an American film after no coaching whatsoever, he could just do it naturally. How come I find accents it so difficult and need so much training?’
So firstly let’s understand a little bit about the why and how of learning an accent:
- MIRROR MIRROR – How strongly do you see the reflection? There is a rule of thumb with accents: If you can’t hear it you can’t do it. Accents come naturally to some, but once adulthood is reached, present a huge challenge to many. Children up to the age of 7 can usually pick up new accents because they listen, receive, mirror and mimic what they see and hear with an open mind and without fear. As we get older the mind starts to close and we become set in our ways. A few people keep that open window to the mind, but most shut it, and the tighter you shut the window, the more difficult it is to open later. Hence the more difficult it is to pick up an accent, and why more coaching and practice is needed to get it perfect.
- DEPENDS ON THE PERSON – Why do some people shut the window in the mind and not others? I believe it has do with the acoustic perception of a musical ear combined with our ‘Mirror Neurons’*, the discovery of which gives further support to the “Motor Theory of Speech Perception”** which varies between people and is a very individual thing. On top of this, interest and confidence play a role too, as well as the willingness to step outside one’s comfort zone.
- TWO STEPS AHEAD – An accent involves a complex jigsaw of voice placement, sounds, rhythm and intonation, and how they are embedded in our subconscious speech reflex, which is in turn knitted in with our physiological and emotional selves, as is our own native accent.
Learning a new accent can be a long process of training the subconscious to naturally reproduce non-native speech patterns just as a native does. The speech organs in English are actually preparing for oncoming sounds one or two phonemes (speech sounds) beforehand. ‘Co-articulation’ is the phonetic term describing the knock on effect between neighbouring sounds. So the learner has to perceive the sounds coming up two steps ahead in the new accent in order to prepare the speech organs and overlap the sounds correctly, which may be different from that of their native accent.
An example of this might be a British actor in the early learning stages of the General American accent where they will need to learn that the /r/ in ‘tarnish’ /’tɑrnɪʃ/ actually starts to form during the release stage of the plosive consonant /t/ and by the time /ɑ/ is reached, the body of the tongue should have ‘bunched up’ with the characteristic ‘mid-tongue muscularity’ of the General American accent, and the tongue tip is already pulling back in close proximity to but not touching the hard palate. However the natural thing to many British speakers would be not to pronounce the /r/ in ‘tarnish’ at all. Literally sticking an /r/ after the /ɑ/ if the mouth has subconsciously been told to prepare for the British word with no /r/ then the speaker remembers only at the last minute just doesn’t sound right. The tongue would not have sufficient mid-tension as it had prepared for the British version.
In essence, the mind needs to be two steps ahead or it could send the wrong signal to the speech organs to prepare for the oncoming sound sequences. Of course these processes are subconscious, but they need to be practiced consciously in order to get used to them.
So how much coaching should you have and how much practice do you need to do?
Once you’ve found the coach that’s right for you, covered the coaching sessions (the amount needed depends on the person), achieved your goals, produced a great voice or show reel with several excellent deliveries of accents, a year passes by, then what? Can you deliver?
What happens when someone takes a break from their fitness regime such as running or attending the gym regularly? They get unfit. And sadly, exactly the same goes for accents. A year later after taking “time off” you suddenly you get an audition for the American role you always wanted based on the great performance the show reel made over a year ago, or a voiceover job based on a voice reel you made several years back. If you haven’t regularly practiced since the coaching sessions, maybe you can deliver to the same level. But maybe not. It’s all going to depend on your unique personal make up of acoustic perception and the ability to mirror other, as well as your memory of the accents’ unique pattern. You can have a great coach, practice hard and get great results but unless you keep up regular practice, your skills can go rusty and the accent may slide out of place when you try to produce it on demand after some time has passed.
Routine practice is the key! Try to create a realistic practice routine that ties in with your daily schedule. How much time could you realistically devote to practising your new accent(s)? Even if it’s just 20 minutes every couple of days, there’s so much you can do and it’s worth its weight in gold. Run though your accents in a methodical way and keep those valuable listening and mirroring skills alive and active. Remember to work on all the components that make up the jigsaw of an accent.
Firstly, it is key to have reliable audio examples of native speakers. Then focus on:
- VOICE PLACEMENT – put on headphones, listen to the audio and speak simultaneously with the native speaker. Where do you feel the jaw, neck, lips and tongue tension, plus the degree of nasality? This is the accent’s placement. Then keeping this placement say “Uh huh”. It might be a filler phrase or a casual agreement but it reveals a lot more about the accent than this. It is the schwa sound, the weak, reduced vowel that is so reflective of voice placement.
- BREATHING AND RHYTHM – focus on how the accent saves and spends energy with breath distribution over the sounds and rhythm as you talk simultaneously with the native speaker.
- PHONOLOGY AND PHONETICS – know the system of VOWELS, DIPHTHONGS AND CONSONANTS and the processes of ‘co-articulation’ (how the sounds overlap with each other) and create some practice lists and sentences to encompass them.
- INTONATION – practice the unique musical pattern of the accent, the rising and falling tones, natural pauses etc.
- WORD LINKING – it is important to link words as a native speaker of the accent does, but it also teaches you to produce the actual sounds more accurately as it is where they rest between each other that helps us to start and finish sounds correctly, as well as making the accent natural and flowing.
- KNOW A BIT ABOUT THE CULTURAL HISTORY BEHIND THE DIALECT – the climate, landscape, history etc.
- AVOID TYPECASTING – don’t overuse the typical features without first establishing correct voice placement (the key point of tension or resonance in the mouth and vocal tract that shape the accent as described above). A classic example is when Cockney becomes ‘Mockney’ (its typecast name) when actors overuse ‘h’ dropping and glottilization to such an extent that the accent becomes a caricature.
- GET A KEY PHRASE THAT GETS YOU GOING IN THE ACCENT – Write down five different emotions and try the phrase in all of them in them to see what it brings out of the accent.
- LAST CALL – Auditions are so last minute you could need to call your skills up almost immediately. Make the most of those coaching sessions you invested in, so you can make sure you deliver.
GOOD LUCK! KEEP PRACTICING AND KEEP THOSE ACCENT SKILLS IN SHAPE. YOU MIGHT JUST NEED THEM TOMORROW!
*1. Reference Article: ‘The Role of Mirror Neurons in Speech and Language Processing, http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC2813993/)
**2. Reference Article: http://www.ling.fju.edu.tw/phonetic/motor.htm
“I’ve been a Casting Director for a 20+ years and I am still amazed that drama schools and some agents send actors out completely unprepared and uneducated about the business of audition.
Auditions are a separate beast and they’re getting harder to come by, so every effort has to be made to ensure that the actor makes the best of any given opportunity.”
– Michael Jackson
Casting Networks: Can you tell us a little about this Northern based TV/Film acting school and how it came to be?
Michael Jackson: Some time ago, whilst trying to find new talent, as part of a busy casting house, it became apparent that there were some actors, being sent along by their agents, who had no idea how to prepare for or give a performance in an audition. As a consequence, I set up act4tv, whose USP was to teach audition technique as general acting methods, with playback via TV monitors. The school has now developed to opening four nights, over a period, which was geared mostly to finding suitable tutors, who were working TV actors, rather than academics who hadn’t been in front of TV cameras for some time.
In July we were lucky enough to have the lovely Nicki Casey for our regular series of Q&A events. Nicki is probably one of the best-known commercial producers in the North. She has run TV departments in creative agencies, exec-produced for established production companies, and ran her own very successful production company in Manchester. In her time she has produced ads for the likes of PlayStation, Greggs, Subaru, and Aldi.
We break down the top points from the event here for you.
When you’re doing your showreel, keep it as short and as varied as possible, anything over two minutes and you’ve lost your audience, but that’s with anything – showreels, brand films, etc. Keep it upbeat and it’s nice to have a good soundtrack. Nicki isn’t a fan of monologues, she wants to see more – some interaction!