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Putting into Practice What I’ve Learned About Acting

Posted by on January 12, 2016

A couple of months ago, I blogged about following my dreams, and having the courage to admit what I want to do. There have been a few lessons I have learned that have been particularly useful to me, which I thought might be useful to share here with anyone else looking to take that leap into acting on camera.

Memorising Lines

The one thing about acting that terrified me more than anything else was the idea of having to learn huge chunks of dialogue. That’s why I went into improv. No lines to learn. When I took Michael Navarra’s Acting in Films class at SF Acting Academy in Nov/Dec last year, he shared various methods that helped actors learn lines. The one that worked for me was to go over the lines just before bed, going over each line several times each before moving onto the next. The idea behind doing it just before bed is it gives your brain plenty of time to process it while you sleep, and functions better than learning them in the morning and going over them again in the afternoon.

I would generally do this over the course of a few days to get a real handle on the lines, and running the lines with a scene partner feeding you the cues after that helps a lot, too. I certainly feel more confident in my ability to get the lines right, now that I have this technique.

Audition Process

Though I had already been through three auditions with Leela, auditioning for an improv troupe with a company you’ve already been training with is a very different experience than auditioning on camera for someone you’ve never met.

I started out getting a feel for the audition setting in my private coaching sessions with Cassandra Chamberlain of The Actor’s Studio International in Sausalito. I was pretty nervous about this when I started because of my issue with lines at the time, but she put me in front of the camera and gave me a couple of scripts to cold read from. We played back the videos and she pointed out my nervous ticks so I could be more careful to avoid them in the future (the tongue clicking between some sentences was so noticeable afterwards that I now notice it when other people do it).

In Michael Navarra’s class, we also had a mock audition so we could get a feel for the process. I don’t know if it was just the fact that everyone else in the class was watching, but even though I’d felt confident that I knew the script before I walked in there, actually getting up in front of the camera was more nerve-wracking than my previous experiences with Cassandra.

However, from both Navarra and my present acting teacher, Jeffrey Weissman, who I just started a class with last week, there have been prominent messages to take away about auditions. The main ones being:
1. Concentrate on yourself — don’t compare yourself with anyone else you might see in the audition room.
2. The audition starts the moment you walk in the door, so be friendly to anyone you encounter. They’re looking for someone they can get along with as much as they’re looking for someone who can fit the role they’re casting.
3. Audition for your career, not the part. Don’t put all your focus on the necessity to get this one role, because if you do that, you’ll end up with nervous energy rather than giving your best performance. Just do your personal best. Breathe, and be as relaxed and confident in yourself and your ability as possible. Even if you’re not right for the part you’re auditioning for, you will leave them with a good impression of you, which may encourage them to want to cast you in something else in the future.

These are all things I kept in mind when I went to my very first on camera audition yesterday. The last time I auditioned for a short film was nearly a decade ago, and even then it was more like a friendly chat than anything else. There was no camera involved that I recall. I ended up being pretty relaxed for yesterday’s audition (though coming straight from my fourth Leela audition probably helped). I arrived half an hour early, and was reading from a book while I waited, when no one else was there. Because no one else had been waiting, I also got to audition early. The director made a comment on the book I was reading because he was familiar with it, which got us off to a good friendly start. I hadn’t been sent the script beforehand, so they let me go over it in the audition room, which I actually liked because it meant they got to hear me laugh at all the funny moments, and see me enjoy the script. I was also told about how many people who signed up to audition didn’t show up at all (hence why I got to audition early), and we talked about how unprofessional that is, when actors don’t even send a message to say they can’t make it. I got the impression that that sort of behaviour could hurt a career.

I appreciated the feedback I got from those who auditioned me. I left feeling confident that they liked my performances and my ability to take direction. It also seemed like they would love to work with me on other projects, even if I’m not cast in this one. I felt confident that all of my classes were the prep that I needed so that when they saw me, they were surprised that this was my first film audition I’ve had in a very long time. I also talked a little about the other classes I’m doing right now, and it was clear that they appreciated that I am dedicated to getting better at my craft. This supports what I’ve been told about casting directors going straight to the training section on your actor’s resume if they’re not already familiar with your work.

Improvised Acting

At the end of the day, I’m very grateful that I chose Leela as my improv school to learn from, along with my ongoing duo classes with Marcus Sams, who is also a teacher and director at Leela. The majority of my acting training has come from there, despite the fact I didn’t go into improv to learn to be an actor. Now that I’ve begun doing more acting in other settings, I’ve been seeing how valuable that training has been for me. I can’t speak for other improv schools because I haven’t been to them. What I can say is that ongoing training with Leela and Improv with Marcus has been the best choice I could have made. I learn by doing, and I need dedicated time and space to do that. They provide that for me, and they push me to get better, and encourage me to keep going. I don’t think I’d still be here pushing myself to keep going if it wasn’t for them.

The top lessons I’ve had from improv that has helped with my acting have been a) staying present and b) connecting with my scene partner. These were both necessary for the cold reading technique I was taught in Jeffrey Weissman’s class last week, and my ability to do those things (after first taking deep breaths to connect with myself) is what I believe led him to tell me I was fascinating to watch. The best thing about it is it’s my favourite thing to do when I perform. I want to react to my scene partners from a place of truth, and the only way I can do that is if I connect with them and respond to what they’re giving me.

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Dominica has a strong interest in exploring diversity in media, seeing people subverting corporate control of creativity through crowdfunding and indie publishing, and spending as much time as she can travelling the world and discovering culture. This is what she most regularly blogs about. In her spare time, Dominica is primarily focused on long-form improv theatre, and writing and publishing speculative fiction. You can find links to some of her free and published stories and screenplays on her writing page, or check out her pirate time-travel novel Adrift. Though born and raised in Australia to American parents, Dominica lived in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia, between 2008-2014, until she moved to the San Francisco Bay Area. She also has a background in web programming, filmmaking, and stand-up comedy. For more information, check out her about page, or any of the specific pages about her various creative pursuits in the links at the top of the page.

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