West Side Story was born of a collaboration between dancer/director Jerome Robbins, librettist Arthur Laurents, lyricist Stephen Sondheim, and of course, composer Leonard Bernstein. It's a retelling of the Shakespearean story of 'Romeo and Juliet', but reset amongst the gangs and ghettos of New York.
Elizabeth Avery Scott, Perform Australia's CEO, spoke with Paula Kruger about the significance of West Side Story in the history of musical theatre.
Program: Afternoons with Paula Kruger, ABC 666
Date first broadcast: 19 March 2019
Acting techniques can help broaden your imagination and skill set as an actor. They can help you explore your character, what makes them tick and how you can authentically embody them.
Acting techniques can help you develop as a performer. They can provide a strong foundation for you to discover who your character is, break down a script and explore your motivations. Trying different techniques is a great way to get to know what works for you as an actor and how to get the most from your role.
Some great actors throughout history have established techniques that saw them through a lively and full career. At Perform Australia, we teach a variety of techniques through our acting courses, so you emerge on the other side a versatile performer with a whole range of skills in your arsenal.
Meisner acting technique
Sanford Meisner (pictured) was an actor in the Group Theatre in the 1930s. The Group Theatre was arguably the most important in modern American history, bringing forth some of the biggest and best acting teachers, playwrights and directors. Meisner was also head of the influential acting program at New York city's Neighborhood Playhouse.
Working with Lee Strasberg and Stella Adler, who were also at the Group Theatre, Meisner developed and refined his technique for some fifty years. His techniques revolve around series of exercises in which the actor stops aiming for a result, and instead learns to operate in the moment and given circumstances for the scene. This is developed through improvisation, instinctual and impulsive response, emotional truth and personal response.
Spontaneous repetition is one of his primary exercises. Two actors sit across from each other and respond to a repeated phrase about the other person's behaviour in the moment, such as "you seem frustrated with me". For one, this eliminates the need to learn and read rehearsed lines and also helps actors to get in touch with their initial and spontaneous responses.
Meisner said the technique "is based on bringing the actor back to his emotional impulses and to acting that is firmly rooted in the instinctive. It is based on the fact that all good acting comes from the heart, as it were, and that there's no mentality to it." Meisner sought to help actors "to live truthfully under imaginary circumstances".
Stanislavski's acting technique
Just the phrase 'acting technique' can't help but conjure the name Stanislavski. It was this revolutionary individual who famously said, "Remember: there are no small parts, only small actors."
Constantin Stanislavski was a Russian actor who developed his famous series of acting techniques in the early 20th century at the Moscow Art Theatre. Through trial and error, these new techniques became a new style of acting which have helped great actors create something great.
Through techniques such as relaxation, observation, sense memory and given circumstances, an actor could understand their character's motivations, obstacles and objectives. They can help performers completely embody their characters, giving a totally realistic portrayal.
With this technique, actors are encouraged to think of the play or movie as a point in time in this character's life. Emotional memory refers to when an actor knows about the character's past experiences and emotions.
Another element of this technique is the observation of people in different situations to develop a good emotional range, so on stage or in front of the camera an actor can respond freely and authentically.
'The magic if' is an activity where an actor identifies with a character as much as possible - empathy is crucial. They can link their own personal experiences with their character and ask themselves the question "What if this situation happened to me?"
In order to make a character more well-rounded, the Stanislavski method encourages actors to have an internal monologue while performing. People have thoughts running through their head constantly, and doing this as your character can help you to immerse yourself in the situation and role, putting yourself in their shoes wholeheartedly and make the scene seem more spontaneous.
As Stanislavski said, "Create your own method. Don't depend slavishly on mine. Make up something that will work for you! But keep breaking traditions, I beg you." The Group Theatre emerged in response to Stanislavski's teaching, building on and changing his original ideas - and Meisner's techniques were in fact a further departure from the practices of The Group. At Perform Australia, we use some of Stanislavski's ideas and some of Meisner's, while rejecting some of both. There are, of course, other approaches to acting which we also endorse. We aim to use those techniques which have proved useful to students over the years.
So yes, take on board techniques and throw yourself into them fully while learning, but find what works for you. Not every technique will connect with you personally.
Perform Australia's CEO on ABC Radio Canberra to speak about 'Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat'
Just about every actor wants to be in a movie! But with numerous people all doing different tasks on a busy film set, it can be hard to know what to do and where you stand as an actor, if you have no experience.
Here are a few simple tips with regard to etiquette on set.
One thing you will have to keep in mind is that most crew call times are significantly earlier than an actor's call time, possibly by hours if you're not scheduled until later that day. It's absolutely crucial that you arrive not just on time, but slightly early so that you don't stall the entire production. You shouldn't go out partying or stay up too late the night before, either, as anything that may hinder your appearance or performance could upset the entire day's schedule, not to mention months of planning.
Film sets, especially low budget independent films that rely on performance more than spectacle, require 110 per cent from every actor. By studying at a professional acting course, you will be preparing yourself for a variety of potentially gruelling situations and a wide range of acting capabilities. For instance, do you know what an eyeline is? Do you know how to hit your mark? Do you know how to create a character from your script? Do you know how to cheat a shot (or even what that means)? All these things we teach our actors at Perform Australia. You can even get started with our intro to screen class, Screen 101. With training, you will learn where your talents lie, develop plenty of camera confidence and meet a whole bunch of other actors and industry contacts that all come into play when you're out there on your own.
Know your place on the film set and what is and isn't appropriate. For example, while you may be on standby out back while something is set up inside the studio, other people may not be. Of course, being polite and friendly is important, but don't go making conversation with crew members who are obviously busy or pressed for time. Also, some directors don't like it when you ask to re-shoot a take because you'd like to try something different, so don't demand it. If you think you can bring something new and special to the table then offer a retake and the director will make the call. Lastly, especially on low budget features, take charge of your own continuity. Remember your marks, costumes, props and any variations in lines because other people may forget and poor continuity can make an editor's life a nightmare.
The successful actor is the actor who gets hired again and again, so when you finish your acting qualification and head out into the world, make sure you're one of those fabled few.
Today we’re going to address one of those unspoken challenges that lurks in the minds of many an aspiring actor:
I’m worried about what people will say if I pursue my dream to study acting.
There’s a wonderful show streaming on Stan right now called Rise, which is about a high school theatre director who’s staging a student production of the musical, Spring Awakenings.
In his team of actors is a leading football player who comes under no end of criticism for being a part of the show.
There’s also a young man whose parents don’t want him to be in a production with questionable values.
There’s a young woman whose single mum is just scraping by and in order to help the family, she is asked to miss rehearsals in order to work to help pay the rent.
There are numerous other characters whose participation in the show is also challenged by others.
Although it’s just a fictional story, if you want to become an actor, you’ll find there are people out there who don’t think as highly of the profession as you do.
People who think you should have other priorities and who think you are making a very big mistake.
Some people will think you’re silly for wanting to become an actor.
Some will even say it to your face.
Some people will tell you to “go get a proper job” or do something that’s more worthwhile with your life.
Some people will tell you you’ll never make it, and it’s all a fantasy.
So you’ll need a comeback.
But what do you say to the people who criticise you?
Here are a few tips:
So as you embark on your journey to become an actor make sure you also have friends who do “get it”, who do understand what it’s all about, and can offer you support and encouragement when others can’t or won’t.
In time, you may find that some of the naysayers are won over - once they see you perform on stage, or see a film you’re in, and they find themselves inclined to admit... you’ve been on the right track all along!
Our Managing Director, Elizabeth Avery Scott, gives some advice to prospective students who are thinking about professional actor training.
Graduate of our Advanced Diploma of Performance, Brendan Kelly, talks about our school and what he's been up to since graduation.
Honest Puck, Perform Australia's sister theatre company, and Limbo Theatre, are pleased to announce an upcoming co-production for an August season of the satirical classic, Accidental Death of An Anarchist, by Dario Fo.
The play is based on the 1969 incident in Milan, where a suspected anarchist - who is accused of terrorist attacks - falls to his death from a fourth-story window during a police interrogation.
Sounds serious, but in actual fact, the play promises to leave audiences in stitches, while questioning the integrity of authorities around the globe.
According to new theatre ensemble, Limbo Theatre Company, Accidental Death of An Anarchist is the perfect fit for their debut show.
“We pride ourselves on being seriously silly,” said Limbo ensemble member, Nick Steain.
“You’ll definitely get that in this show.”
Limbo Theatre Company was born from a group of Perform Australia graduates who were ready to take centre stage and create their own artistic opportunities.
“We’ve established Limbo Theatre Company to bridge the gap between our training and getting work in the industry,” Mr Steain said.
“Starting our own company has propelled us to upgrade our skill-set and think outside the ‘acting’ box.”
Honest Puck producer, and managing director of Perform Australia, Elizabeth Avery Scott, says it’s great to be supporting up-and-coming artists.
“We’ve been able to provide Limbo with rehearsal and performance space, as well as advice around starting a theatre co-op, so we’re thrilled to see them hit the boards,” she said.
The play is directed by Canberra-based actor/director Clare Moss.
Tickets: $30 Adult, $15 Concession
Tickets on sale at https://stagecenta.com/showid/4912/ShowdetailsC.aspx
Theatre: Perform Australia Theatre, 11 Whyalla St, Fyshwick ACT
Season: 7.30pm, August 1-4, 2018
Performed by arrangement with Origin Theatrical, on behalf of Samuel French Ltd.
There are a number of things that can kill your acting career before it even gets off the ground. Not nice to think about… but it’s important you understand what is expected of you as an actor working in a professional setting. Have these in hand - and your career is on a better footing from the start.
MISTAKE NUMBER 1: Turn up late. It’s a strong industry expectation that you turn up on time for your shoot or rehearsal or performance. "Time is money" in the entertainment industry - and a film crew can’t wait around for an actor, especially if they’re all being paid by the hour. If you’re due on stage and you fail to arrive for your call time (which is usually at least 1-2 hours before the performance, depending on what is required of you), you will have a worried stage manager or first assistant director trying to contact you urgently. But if you’re punctual and reliable, you’ll be seen as trustworthy - and that will increase your chances of being employed by the same people again.
MISTAKE NUMBER 2: Fail to do your prep work. Most of an actor’s work gets done before they turn up to rehearsal or their shoot. You have to have the self-discipline to sit down and learn your lines, research your character, and come up with ideas about how you’ll play it - before you even step into the work room. Then, once you’re there, it’s about getting on with the job. Fail to do it, and you’re unprepared - consequently, you might not be employed again...
MISTAKE NUMBER 3: Fail to report injury or illness. If you have become ill, or injured yourself (at work or otherwise), and you don’t let your team know, they could be putting you in more danger. Actors have to run, jump, stand for long periods of time, swim, yell, tumble, hit, carry things, dance, faint, die and many other physical actions, depending on their role. If others don't know these are a problem for you, they may just proceed as planned. You need to take responsibility for your own safety and not exacerbate any problems you have by keeping them to yourself. Likewise, if a doctor has given you specific advice, you need to pass that on to the person in your project who needs to know (e.g. director, assistant director, stage manager, work health and safety officer, etc. - whoever is your main point of contact.) There is nothing to be gained by not following doctor’s orders; in fact, by withholding crucial information, or downplaying your condition, you could do more damage to yourself which may potentially end your career as an actor. Just as one horrid foot injury can kill a dancer’s career, actors need to be equally careful of their voice and body; together these are your ‘instrument’ and they need to be in tune to play well. Make sure your colleagues and collaborators are perfectly clear on what you need, so they can find solutions to working around the problem. There is always the ethos that “the show must go on” - but it can still go on safely… or with an understudy! In some cases, an illness or injury may mean you have to withdraw from a project - but better that, than permanent repercussions.
MISTAKE NUMBER 4: Fail to get your ‘kit’ together. Every actor needs some key sales tools: some great headshots, a performance CV, a showreel, a website, and social media pages, to start with. Once you get an IMDB record - even better. Some actors go through drama school and never get these together, so are not ready to work on graduation. In addition to this you’ll likely need an ABN - an Australian Business Number - so you can be employed as a freelancer. With your kit you can approach an agent or apply directly to auditions.
MISTAKE NUMBER 5: Fail to source your own auditions. If you sit at home waiting for someone to ring and say, “I’ve got a gig for you”, it’s not going to happen. You need to get out there and find your own opportunities. Watch the industry. Keep an ear out for new projects. Look for audition opportunities and get out there and do them.
MISTAKE NUMBER 6: Fail to fill your creative tank. Succeeding as an actor is not just about putting yourself out there - you also need to nurture your soul. The reality is that not every acting job you get will be creatively rewarding (think TV commercial for hamburgers: smile, open mouth, bite hamburger, chew). Every actor craves a creative project that will stretch them, that will allow them to use (and show off) all their talents. But if you can’t launch that special project yourself, or it’s a long time coming, what are you going to do in the meantime? Without exercising our creativity, we can dry up emotionally and spiritually. We can lose our passion for the craft, get depressed and let it fall away. The good news is there are all kinds of things you can do to fill your creative tank. Go see a show. Take another acting class. Watch a film you wouldn’t normally watch. Gather a group of actor friends in the lounge room and do a playreading. You need input like this to continue your journey as an actor successfully. Without input, you can lose your zeal for the craft of acting and may give up. So when you’re not working as an actor, or when you’re not getting your ideal acting jobs, make an effort to keep your creative spirit alive.
MISTAKE NUMBER 7: Fail to overcome a crisis of confidence. From time to time an actor will have a crisis of confidence. There’s a bad review. Or one day you just have crippling stage fright which means you can’t go on. Or lines get dropped in a performance and it doesn’t go well. Or it’s been a long time since you’ve succeeded at an audition. Or you’ve got through to the third or fourth callback and you still didn’t get the gig. There are many things that might throw an actor’s confidence - and that could mean the end of your career… depending on how you handle it. To succeed in this business you need good strategies to manage your mental health - to manage things like anxiety and disappointment. Resilience is a bit of a buzz word these days, but resilience for the actor is essential. If you ever have a crisis of confidence, you need ways and means to bounce back afterwards. Counselling can be useful, as can mindfulness, talking with friends, and practising healthy eating and exercise.
When planning your career as an actor, it helps to equip yourself not only for the task of the actor - the acting - but for the lifestyle and its ups and downs. A great way to learn is by doing actor training in an artistic community - one that will support you during that training and encourage you long after you've finished. That's what we aim to do at Perform Australia. So check out what we have on offer - look around at www.perform.edu.au
Sometimes acting is a tough gig. Auditions. Rejections. Wondering if you’ll ever make it.
So it's time to encourage yourself!
Here are some inspirational lessons from actors with successful careers to remind you that you are not alone, and that what you do is worth it.
LESSON 1: BE AWARE OF THE POWER OF THE ACTOR. Actors are not just “pretending”. You actually have a significant role to play in society. When you choose to tell stories that matter, you can actually affect the course of people’s lives - and even the course of history. Stories can challenge perceptions, raise social issues, and even sway votes.
As Alan Rickman (Snape in the Harry Potter franchise) said,
"Actors are agents of change. A film, a piece of theatre, a piece of music, or a book can make a difference. It can change the world."
Alan RickmanActors are agents of change. A film, a piece of theatre, a piece of music, or a book can make a difference. It can change the world."
LESSON 2: REMEMBER THE PRIVILEGE OF THE ACTOR. Feeling emotional today? Good. You need to be able to access your emotions as an actor if you're going to create authentic characters. Acting is about finding that emotion in your voice, body, and face, and bringing it to life on stage and screen. Hugh Jackman (The Greatest Showman) said,
"Acting is the greatest privilege. You get to inhabit lives and you get to touch real emotions. That’s the job and at the end of the day, you’re calm like you played a great game of rugby. And then at the same time you’re going, 'OK we’re going to climb that mountain again tomorrow'."
You take the audience on a journey up that mountain, too. They'll experience what you have to give. And then - your job is to let it go. It’s the character living those feelings, not you.
LESSON 3: KEEP PERSPECTIVE. Are people telling you to give up this acting thing? Well, you’re not the first to experience this. Even some of the world’s most successful actors have been forced to face this issue - Tom Hiddleston (Infinity Wars) is one of them:
"My father and I used to tussle about me becoming an actor. He's from strong, Presbyterian Scottish working-class stock, and he used to sit me down and say, 'You know, 99 per cent of actors are out of work. You've been educated, so why do you want to spend your life pretending to be someone else when you could be your own man?' "
If this sounds familiar, don’t give up. Tom Hiddleston’s net worth is now $22 million. He’s doing ok from this acting thing.
Likewise, Cate Blanchett (Blue Jasmine) wasn’t sure how it was going to go, either. She reflects on her early years as an actor:
"Acting had become like this terrible addiction. I felt I needed to give it five years and see where it took me.”
So give yourself a reasonable time frame to get started and established, and don’t expect too much too soon.
In five years, Cate was on her way and winning some wonderful roles.
LESSON 4: LEARN TO LIVE THE ACTOR’S LIFE. Emma Stone (Easy A) originally began acting to deal with her anxiety, but quickly grew to love it and wanted to make it a career. When you’re starting out professionally, the actor’s life is full of uncertainty - admittedly not a great situation for anxiety sufferers:
"All I wanted to do was sit in my bedroom and worry, but instead, acting threw me into situations where you just have to go with it. And it was good for me. Like the shy kid on the debate team."
Learning to ‘go with it’, to be in the moment, to work with whatever happens, is a big part of training to become an actor. And it has huge application in general life for all of us.
LESSON 5: FIND YOUR OWN SENSE OF SELF. You need this to sustain you as an actor - as you do in any creative field. Sometimes people are drawn to acting because they can pretend to be other people, but never face up to their own internal issues. Judy Garland (The Wizard of Oz) said:
"Always be a first-rate version of yourself, instead of a second-rate version of somebody else."
Acting is about living truthfully in given circumstances. Rather than becoming somebody else, acting is about finding more of yourself to bring to a role.
LESSON 6: OBSERVE THE HUMAN CONDITION. As Benedict Cumberbatch (Dr Strange) says:
"See lots, read lots, hear lots. Experience life as well and just keep observing, really observing, not just looking.”
A good actor is constantly absorbing material to enrich their capacity as an actor. You’re always learning; your next role might call for something quite outside your normal experience. So expand your horizons. Go to the theatre. See a film you might not ordinarily see. Go to an art gallery and stare into the eyes of a portrait. Read widely. When you go to a café for a sit-down, watch the people go by. The whole world can be your inspiration when you’re an actor. And if you’re not working as an actor right now, you can still keep your observation skills going till the next job comes along.
So there you have it - six great lessons for the actor. You don’t know the future. We can only ever live in the present. So stick at it. Train hard. Master your craft. Put your best self forward. See what happens.
Photos courtesy of depositphotos.com.