Friday, February 8, 2008

The Identification of Talent.

If you notice, I am refusing to ever give you a chart. I’m refusing to ever go in a certain order. I’m refusing to say, “First you do this, then you do that.” Because that’s just not the way it works. The way it works, I believe, is that you take all this stuff in and then you forget about it and it will start to come out, and it will start to come out in different ways for different people with different projects…who the heck knows. There are many in this business who love to make it about one way of doing, and the last time I looked, every single one of you is different. How could there possibly be only one way of working for this bizarre wild variety of unique events in the universe, which is what each one of you are.

The other day I was told a story about two six year old girls that sheds tremendous light on two issues for actors. One is the identification of talent and the other is the Russian prescription for actors: Take it personally.

There is a young man, Reno, who worked with me for a long time and then he went to LA, and he’s done an awful lot of work since then. So I was asking him about his daughter Denny. I said, “Is she an actress?” and he said, “Well, you know, Denny is really a dancer. She lights up when she dances. She’s a dancer.” Then he said to me, “but her cousin, she’s an actress.” And I said, “Well, wait a second, Denny’s six. How old is the cousin?” “Six.”
And I said, (because this fascinates me: I audition and I’m always trying to identify talent. It is very difficult to define. Much easier to define is the absence of talent. But the presence of talent is much harder to define.) I said to Reno, “How did you happen to define Denny’s cousin as being an actress?” Reno said, “They were doing their homework together, they are in the same school, and it was homework about punctuation. They had a series of sentences, and they would have to decide, at the age of six years old, what should be the punctuation at the end? A period, an exclamation point, a question mark? And the sentence was: My house is burning down." Reno asked his daughter Denny, “Denny, what do you think should be the punctuation?” Denny said “I don’t know, a period?” Reno responded “Maybe.” Reno turned to the cousin, also six years old and asked “What do you think the punctuation mark should be?” This little tiny six year old said “An exclamation point.” Just like that. Reno said “Why?”

She screamed: “MY HOUSE IS BURNING DOWN!!!!!!!!”

I think it's clear. Six years old. That is both an identification of talent and an identification with the situation. She took it personally at that moment. It was totally imaginary, but she got agitated by it, connected to it. And I will go to my grave saying: “Yeah, that’s a pretty good indicator.”

Tuesday, February 5, 2008

Action Speaks Louder

At the Tuesday acting class I asked Sam to tell us about an audition last week. His experience sheds light on an important phenomenon in the current state of acting.

Anthony A:Sam is going to give us a condensed version of a very interesting audition.
Sam: So I had an audition on Friday.
Anthony A: Thank you Sam. That was the short version.
Sam: You’re funny. So I had an audition on Friday for a play and I went in, prepared the sides and read with three other people. After the other people left, the director gave me a monologue that he said he had given to everyone during the initial audition…he had called me in during the callbacks. So I read it, and I did it, and he says “OK, that was great. Now what I want you to do is create a situation, I don’t care what the situation is, just create a situation. The only thing is that while you are doing that, your opinion of the current situation in Iraq has to somehow come through. You can do whatever you want.”

I said, “OK.” I was wearing a suit. I took off my jacket, and to myself, I made my choice: “I’m talking to a Philippino prostitute, we’ve just had sex. I started from ‘poag’-post orgasmic after glow - We’ve just had sex and I want to share with her something I wrote but she doesn’t speak English.” I did the monologue and afterwards the director said to me “Wow, I don’t know if I should tell you this but I’m gonna tell you anyway.” He said that he saw close to one hundred people and he gave everyone at the initial audition that same monologue to do, with the same adjustment and he says I was the only person who actually made a choice and did what he asked me to do. That every single person, when they did it a second time with the adjustment to change the situation, did the monologue in basically the same way with a different accent or different inflection…The thing is I dove into it and I actually got excited. I got to create, I got to play. I just jumped into it. I didn’t think about.

Anthony A: The implications of this are enormous. It is an example of A) how crippled we are by our slavery to the words and how the industry is really really fed up with that to the point where when you bring something to the table that is not just words spoken differently, they really sit up and take notice. And it is shocking to me how we are still treating our work which is human and experiential as a literary form. Maybe as audio books, at the most. Look at all his competition did. They wanted a different situation, so they changed their voice, they changed their accent. Isn’t it astonishing what that says about their perception of their craft, their art form. “Oh it’s like a voice thing.” So now we’ve got a perception of the craft like it’s a “Show my six pack abs” thing or my “Boobs” thing, and/or it’s like a voice thing. So look at where we’re at. This is not a golden age.

Mad props to the director, by the way, who didn’t just say “Gimme something different.” He said “Come up with a situation that will cause you to be different.” That’s really an enlightened direction. But consider the Superbowl. Consider the Giants, all the professional sports teams who hold thousands and thousands of spectators breathless with excitement without uttering a word. How did we get to the point where we have reduced it all just to the word? It’s really astonishing, and what we have to understand is that this director is smart enough to give Sam a good direction which is that the words come out after the life has been generated. You don’t start talking for no reason. First you create the situation, the reaction the interaction, the partner and then, maybe out of the life comes the lines. Stanislavsky once said, “Even a dog doesn’t just come right in and start barking at his master.” A dog goes in, it sniffs around and then it sees it’s master and “Arf, arf.” Look at cats. Have you ever let a cat out of the house? I used to and then we learned the hard way: Don’t do that.

But a cat, the first thing a cat does when it goes outside is it sits up and it looks at the sky. Oh God, why don’t we do that more often? It looks up at the sky, taking in the big picture and then it starts to meow, because it sees a mouse, or because it’s in heat, or because it wants to get back in, or, or, or, or, or. But first the life, then the lines.

Do you realize that what we are trying to infect you with is the tendency to create the very life that I’m very pleased Sam was able to create first? And we’re also trying to prove to you with stories like this that it really does result if not in employment then at least in feedback because the difference is so incredibly obvious. Talk is cheap. Actions - life - speak louder than words.