Forum: Arts / Acting

Acting 102: Another perspective on becoming a stage actor (karma: 1)
By happeningfish
On Fri Jul 20, 2007 03:10 PM
Made sticky by Theresa (28613) on 2007-07-21 10:10:01
Edited by pharmadancer (87219) on 2007-07-23 06:48:42

All right!

So I was reading the posts about how to become a famous actor/actress, which have excellent material in them, and I kind of thought I could add another perspective. I grew up in Canada, moved to Helsinki when I was 25, and am now a semi-professional (meaning I still have to keep another job on top of it) performer, perpetual student, and sometimes even teacher in theatre, or what most people would call "physical theatre."

What's missing from the other perspective:

Not every place in the world needs headshots and agents. I don't have either and I won't need them if I stay in Europe, basically. In fact, nobody in Helsinki knows how to audition, because there never are auditions. Here the tough part is getting into school, and once you're through that you're pretty much set for a job. Oh yeah, and university tuition is free. :) A beautiful system with its own flaws, believe me.

What kind of actor?
Is your heart set on Hollywood? Or are you a lover of Shakespeare? Or do you really like Tanztheater (dance theatre - boy do the Germans do it well), experimental theatre, or broadway musicals? Acrobatics and circus? Mask theatre? It makes a huge difference in the job market and in your training! Actors are not one size fits all!

Hollywood machine
Hollywood, particularly if you're female, usually requires a certain look and huge, astronomically weird amount of luck. Film acting is also mostly from the neck up. You need to learn how to be subtle, to keep your body relatively still for the camera, and how to take direction and work with a camera.

The Stage
The stage is a different world, really. Here your face is just the icing on the cake: your body in the space will tell the story, and you need to learn how to understand, use, and control that. Every kind of body, every kind of face is welcome on the stage. Your training and your personal style will show through. I studied for the stage, so that's where my heart lies, and I'm not really going to talk about film acting because I know diddly about it, but to those who are pursuing careers there, more power to you! We also need good people in film!

You have to love it. No, I mean you have to LOVE it.
To get into theatre, you have to freaking love it. Yeah, everybody will say that, but if you have another career to fall back on, you probably will. There is no money in theatre in general, but those of us who make our lives there know that we really can't have it any other way. For me it's painful not to be in theatre. I have other job offers all the time (corporate writing) that would have me making a very very comfy living; I tried it for a couple of years and I started to feel like my soul was starving. I went back to the stage (kept working part-time though) and back to permanent financial crisis... and I'm deliriously happy about it. On the other hand, you don't really know until you get a certain way in whether you're really going to stick it out, so just work hard and enjoy it until you have to make that life choice.

Starting out
If you're starting out, I'd say explore a lot. Try to get involved in lots of productions and don't be too bummed if you don't get a major part. Watch, learn, and cultivate GOOD HABITS like being on time, being ready when you're needed, and knowing your lines. Sometimes a hard-working attitude will get you twice as far as a good head shot!

Also, see as much as you can. Find out what you like. Some stuff might seem kind of weird and experimental at first, and you might learn to like it as well! Push your own limits, learn everything you can about what people in your area are doing in the theatre. Read as many plays as you can, and then read more plays. But don't limit your thinking to just dramatic literature: plenty of works these days are made without a script at all, and they can be amazing. Reading plays can be tricky at first when we're used to books where we "hear" what's going on in the character's heads, but when reading a play just try to picture the people doing what they do and saying what they say. It's like real life in a way: you don't know anything about others except through what they say and do.

Training or school
I'm not saying you have to go to school, but you do need training. I think it's best to have a combination of strong technique training with as much performance experience as possible. Just learning from others can get you there, but great actors do not always make great teachers!

Some of my favourite physical-based theatre pegagogies are the Suzuki method (contemporary, very physical and strong) and Viewpoints (from SITI company in NYC), Meyerhold's Biomechanics (also very physical and rhythmical, a relatively rare Russian technique not taught by too many people yet), the Jacques Lecoq pedagogy (from France; uses a lot of masks). There are plenty more but those are the ones I'm most familiar with and they're all amazing training.

You need physical training because (and it's so nice to explain this to dancers) everything on stage is like a dance. Great actors can control their bodies beautifully, even if the movement is just picking up a coffee cup. Everything you do onstage is a choice. It's muscular, it's art--it's not real life! You're not pretending to be someone else; you're presenting a character, a story, a situation, and it's really you doing the presentation. That's what keeps theatre alive and kicking: it's immediate, it's here and now, and there is true power in every human being to work with that.

Physical training means theatre-specific but also mask, acrobatics, dance, alexander technique, yoga, pilates and sports are great assets. I'm 30 and I train almost every day. It's just part of the life.

Vocal training
Your body and your voice are connected. You control the voice physically and consciously, and that takes practice to learn how to develop the right kind of strength, relaxation, and how to learn to get a "feel" for how you use your voice. So your training should also involve the voice. Learning to speak clearly, how to project your voice without shouting or straining, and--essential for any Shakespeare hopefuls--learning how to speak poetically. It takes years and years to develop. (What's beautiful about theatre is you can just watch your skills blossom and blossom almost endlessly it seems! There's always so much to learn and so many older artists have such mastery, they're absolutely inspiring. You'll be learning all your life. Look at Dame Judi Dench or Kevin Spacey--they're amazing, but they'll probably say they learn new things with every part they get.)

And yes, singing. Music is a great skill that will help you in theatre.

Well, who knows what kind of training will be available to you, but remember there's many, MANY ways of learning how to act, and if a system isn't working for you even though you've given it your all, maybe try something different. The Stanislavsky-based "what if" and so-called Method acting just didn't work for me. I thought I was a crap actor; in fact I just wasn't wired for that kind of training. I found it highly unreliable and I never felt like I knew what I was doing. But that's just me, your experience could be different.

Unk! But what can I do NOW? I'm like auditioning NOW!
Oh, you've got an audition tomorrow? Well, here are some general tips...

- Whatever you're doing, practice it. Do NOT wait until three days before and audition to start memorizing. Work it, work it, work it more! This will do amazing things for you.

- As said before, always read the play.

- Nobody really cares what monologue you pick as long as it's not Romeo and Juliet! Ha ha, people hear 200 Juliets in a day... go with something a little less obvious. But seriously, just pick something and START working on it. A job well done on a mediocre text is better than you forgetting and holding your breath out of nervousness 'cause you're unfamiliar with it.

- Especially if you're new, present your monologue to friends and family before your audition. Don't let the first time you do it for an audience be in front of the director! If you get helpful feedback, even better.

- Relax. And you will never be relaxed if you haven't drilled the piece enough. It's like dancing a step you learned yesterday versus one you've done for ten years. No pressure when you know it!

- If you forget a line, do not, do not break character. Don't drop everything and start apologizing. Just hold where you are, and if the line comes, continue. If it doesn't, say "line" (er, that only works if you have someone checking your text). Try repeating the last line to help jog your memory. Only as a last resort, if you've completely dried up, calmly ask if you can look at your text, or start again. Flubbing a line can get you the part or not, but not how you might think: the line itself is not important, but how you deal with that situation is!!! If you're calm and professional about it, that will really impress. They know they can work with you.

- If you get instructions from the director, it's always been my policy (and this took me a long time to develop because I was shy) to take it as far as I can imagine. I always look for this when I'm directing, because actors have to have a big imagination and use it--I can't give them instructions for everything. And if you only have "one way" of doing a line, you're going to be really hard to direct. If they say big, I stretch to my very limit. It's not important if your whole way of doing the monologue goes completely nuts and doesn't make sense any more. Just go for it like you're a kid playing in a cartoon! And this is also way easier when you know it like the back of your hand.

- People who blow their own horn rarely have more than one tune to play. :)

And finally...
It's Not Magic
- it's not something you're born with
- it's not something totally mystical
- it's not so much about "talent" (whatever that is!) as it is about blood, sweat, and tears. And love. Lots of love for the art form and for the audience. Because what you do night after night is give generously from your own heart and experience to them.

Did I leave anything out?? :) Boy that was fun. I could write about it for days so please do shut me up!

And for your enjoyment, here's me mopping the theatre floor. Welcome to reality!!! :P
Image hotlink - ''

7 Replies to Acting 102: Another perspective on becoming a stage actor

re: Acting 102: Another perspective on becoming a stage actor
By oz_helenmember has saluted, click to view salute photosPremium member
On Fri Jul 20, 2007 10:51 PM
Thank you so much for posting. There's a lot of really helpful information here.

Great distinction made between stage and film acting and excellent to see the perspective of a working thespian.

re: Acting 102: Another perspective on becoming a stage actor
By Indigo7
On Sun Aug 19, 2007 02:43 PM
Thanks Thats a nice post I guess Acting (from my experiance) is simpler than anyone should think it is learning to be another person, learning to Live a diferent life (for only alittle bit of time)

Tip: try for a day or two to BE your charecter...
-would your carecter watch a sports program on tv or a Cartoon?
-would your carecter say please or thankyou?
- " go to _____ or _____?
- " Smile or Frown?
- " be a drama queen or be lad back
- " eat ice cream or steak
~Don't Go over bourd~LOL~ (ex: don't dump your girlfriend because your carecter would, and Don't get expeld from school because you carecter would have placed that stinck bom there too)

Try it
-Emily *Star*
re: Acting 102: Another perspective on becoming a stage actor
By leapin_lizardPremium member
On Wed Nov 07, 2007 08:38 PM
This was such an awesome post! There was tons of great information in here that I found really helpful! Thank You! I just recently got up the courage to get involved in the world of theater after years of wanting to do so. I'm a very shy person by nature, but I'm actually finding acting to be fun-a lot of hard work mind you-but tons of fun! Thanks again!
re: Acting 102: Another perspective on becoming a stage actor
By natalie23
On Sun Dec 02, 2007 03:59 PM
Wow !!!!! This was extremely helpful and I will be sure to use these tips in my acting career!!!! Thanks so much for posting this!
re: Acting 102: Another perspective on becoming a stage actor
By irishdaydreamermember has saluted, click to view salute photosPremium member
On Mon May 05, 2008 10:09 PM
I just wanted to add something.

If you have been asked to prepare a song for an audition, please, please, please do NOT do anything from Phantom of the Opera.

The directors will have already heard it a million times.

Try to pick a song that they have not heard. Something that is good, but makes them wonder "What show is that from?"

It will help you stand out from the crowd.
re: Acting 102: Another perspective on becoming a stage actor
By Jessica25
On Sat Jul 05, 2008 08:06 PM
happeningfish wrote:

You need physical training because (and it's so nice to explain this to dancers) everything on stage is like a dance.
Are you familiar with the actor training system they use in the South Indian classical musical theater, Bharatanatyam? I am thinking of taking some classes :)
happeningfish wrote:

Great actors can control their bodies beautifully, even if the movement is just picking up a coffee cup.

When I looked at this Bharatanatyam video, it was amazing to see this 11-year-old girl moving so beautifully!
re: Acting 102: Another perspective on becoming a stage actor
By happeningfish
On Wed Jan 21, 2009 12:24 PM
Jessica25 wrote:

When I looked at this Bharatanatyam video, it was amazing to see this 11-year-old girl moving so beautifully!

Holy cow, she's amazing. Are you taking classes? This was the first time I'd ever seen this; I have briefly met and got some ideas from someone who has done Kathakali training, but this girl was awesome. Of course the gestures mean basically nothing to me 'cause I have no idea what they're codified to mean, but I can appreciate the aesthetic. :)


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