Change Your ThinkingBy lesly kahn | February 8, 2016
I thought it might be helpful for some of you actors out there to read this recent correspondence between me and an actor at LK&Co.:
I’m writing because I am uncomfortable with the scenes assigned for class this week. The guys in class are the age of my children, and even without the kissing, this is not a role for which I would ever get an audition. The other actors in class are working week after week on material that is believably within their age range, with copy that is relevant right now. So far, in intensive, clinic and ongoing, I have not worked on one role that makes sense for my age. The kids say, “Don’t worry! You could date a 25 year old guy!” Which is A, ridiculous, and B, changes the entire context of the scene. I am constantly struggling to bring my own truth to each scene, and I keep feeling like an imposter. I know you will say “stop bitching and man up!” But I am really having a hard time with this.
I am so glad you wrote.
First, this is an ongoing issue with you – the, “This is not a role for which I would ever get an audition,” thing. And you’re totally right. You wouldn’t get an audition for this role. But the fact that you bring that up illustrates that you are still stuck in the idea that acting is actually ACTING AT SOMETHING (aka, indicating). Which is the thing we MUST FIX IN YOUR ACTING if you are ever gonna be able to go out there and compete. We MUST change the way you are thinking.
Acting is LISTENING. And the fact is you CAN listen as the character that was assigned this week — a PERSON who is unhappy in her marriage in a comedy. You don’t have to be 30 or African American or bitchy or sweet. You just need to LISTEN as a PERSON who is unhappy in her marriage because her husband is a lunatic and having an affair in a comedy (CRASHING) (with high stakes). That’s the assignment. That’s the job. Not to be 30. Or African American. But to be a person unhappy in her marriage because her husband is cray. In a comedy. They could suddenly decide they want you to be African American, or 65 or a teenager. That shit happens ALL. The TIME. You cannot allow yourself to be LIMITED by the character description when you ARE NOT THE CHARACTER description.
Yes, it may be true that most of the people in your class are 25 years your junior, but that has nothing to do with your ACTING; it only pertains to your psychology. And your PSYCHOLOGY is what’s in the way right now; not our assignment. Your psychology – your left brain – is saying, “You would never play this role, therefore you shouldn’t even try.” But that comes from an idea of acting you had years ago. When acting was actually AKTING. It comes from high school or college when you were 16 or 20 and, in order to play the grandmother role you were assigned, you acted all crotchety and made up a funny voice and bent over and limped. And sure, everybody raved about you, but you weren’t GOOD. You were CUTE and OUT THERE and WILLING and ADORABLE and you sure as hell DARED TO SUCK but, and please forgive the assumption here, you probably DID suck. Because you weren’t listening and having that grandmother’s THOUGHTS. You were ACTING LIKE YOUR IDEA of an old lady.
We don’t want you to do that – not EVER AGAIN. We always want you to be real.
And you’re in acting CLASS! You are not AUDITIONING. You’re practicing listening and reading. You’re not practicing “can I play this character or that character.” You can play ALL characters. Will you be cast as a 21 year old sorority girl? Nope. But your luck? They’ll use those sides to read you for the new role they’re writing for the dean of students. Who knows? You MUST be able to adjust and do what you’re asked to do without letting your brain get in the way. You’re practicing your ability to utilize your best acting practices and do so under duress. You are NOT creating a stockpile of characters you could play if called upon to do so. I know that’s what we think class is for, but that’s simply not the case. And you are not allowed to give yourself a hard time about this. Most acting classes ARE about creating that stockpile. I thought that through graduate school! It is a really hard concept to master. It is probably a complete change in the way you have thought about acting for your whole life.
We’re not playing characters. We’re BEING PEOPLE in different situations in different relationships in different genres. We are NOT stopping by the Character Store to pick up an accent, a hunchback or a limp. This is tv and film 2015; this is what Stanislavski started fixing back in the 1890’s in Russia with Chekhov plays. The Group Theatre recognized his efforts but altered their approach from his as they worked on plays by Arthur Miller, Clifford Odets and Tennessee Williams. And today, you’ll hopefully forgive me for aligning myself with all these astounding dead acting teachers, but today I have built further upon that foundation and made drastic changes to their work in order to address our ability to successfully audition for tv and film material in 2015.
Nevertheless, your problem is real. And so we will indeed assign you material that is perfect for you. And then let’s see what happens when the issue of age is gone. If you’re still indicating, then we have our answer.
Remember, it is not your job to rewrite the scene. Your young classmates are suggesting that you simply see the circumstances as they are. This happens ALL THE TIME in casting. And it’s a nightmare, but one we must solve almost daily. It happened to me when I was in NY doing theatre way back in the 1980’s: why on EARTH did they bring me in to read to understudy Laura San Giacomo in this weird new play (ITALIAN AMERICAN RECONCILIATION) by this weird new playwright, John Patrick Shanley?! I was an educated, Irish Catholic Jew from northern Illinois. What were they thinking?! Ohhhhhh. I look Italian. I look like I’m from Queens. I look like I’m this character, so I better learn to think her thoughts because THAT’s HOW I’M GONNA BE GETTING CAST. And as soon as I embraced that? I was. My job was simply to recognize that I WAS this character, and think her thoughts. Not to argue against my casting. It’s as if they were sayingto me, “Hey, Les? You are this character. Let’s see what you do.” I wasn’t ALLOWED to argue. It’s not my JOB. It’s just my job to show them what thoughts I would think if I were to be cast that way.
Same with you. What thoughts do YOU think if YOU married a guy who was a man-child and it’s finally gotten to you? And it’s a comedy? And you’re having an affair behind his back? What thoughts do YOU think when he calls your asshole a starfish? What thoughts do YOU think in THESE circumstances in THIS relationship when he asks for your lemon? That’s what you’re being tested on. Not whether you can act like you’re 30. But whether you can think the thoughts of this woman in these circumstances.
Thank you for your quick and incredibly thoughtful response! Everything you said makes sense. I am going to try to re-boot my thinking and jump into the work without undermining myself. I will push all thoughts of “age” and “appropriateness” away, I will practice listening and reading and I will DO THE WORK. And try not to be embarrassed with Judd Apatow’s graphic language because I will not be thinking my thoughts, but the thoughts of the character.
So thank you, but don’t worry about finding special material for me. I need to work on what everyone else is working on so the rehearsals will be effective for everyone.