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Jeffrey,

 

            I would like to start off by saying that I know a letter of gratitude is in some ways very cliché lol, but I still feel that for you,  it is necessary because the things I am going to tell you are things you should be hearing every day, and since I can not tell you every day I want it to be in writing so that you can read it whenever you need to be reminded of the person that you are.

 

            I know that in my life alone there have not been many people that have believed and pushed me in the ways that you have and do every week. You, Jeffrey, are one of the things I keep in my mind and heart when I feel weak. During those moments of struggle and doubt there is a voice in my head that tells me I cannot give up, because if someone as talented and brilliant as Jeffrey believes in me, then I cannot fail. It’s true that I strive for your approval. I hope you know that this is because you are amongst the few in my life that I will always look up to and cherish, and if I can have someone like you approve of me, then in my own heart, I have succeeded.

            It is a funny thing that we as students step into your home and your studio only to leave, with you, stepping into our hearts. I cannot even fathom the amount of love you give freely every week to not only a few, but ALL of your students. There are thousands of acting coaches and teachers in the city of LA, but there is only ONE Jeffrey Marcus, and anyone who has met you understands how beautiful and unique you are.

            I find it quite astonishing that you have friends, you’ve known for ages,  request to take your classes. This speaks volumes.  People who have known and learned from you for years and years still find the desire to pay money and spend hours of their weeks to just work with you and hear your feedback and knowledge. Famous musicians, successful lawyers, and talented icons sit in YOUR studio with their hearts and ears open just so that they might get a little closer to being as wise, loving, and talented as you are. I cannot imagine how it must feel to be in your position, and to bare your gifts, but I hope that you really do understand what a gift you are sir.

 

I hope your holidays are bright, and this upcoming year of 2012 is even brighter!

 

Your student,

Matthew Smith

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Love vs. Obsession

Obsession? Love.

We know in our hearts how differently love and obsession feels. The teenage crush versus the mature relationship. I would say that obsession hurts, while love satisfies; obsession drains, while love feeds. Obsession is toxic, love is healing… etc. Most importantly to my point, however, is that obsession is selfish – needing only one party to participate. Unfortunately, the focus of the obsession sometimes becomes the enemy.

If my basic premise is true (as I’m sure those of you who aren’t currently appearing in a Reality Show would attest), then how do you approach your acting career? Ouch. I know.

Are you putting your acting career up on a pedestal as something just out of reach? Does it frequently cause you pain? Do you spend more time obsessing over being an actor than you do on loving the work that you do as an actor? Do you go into auditions coming from the-aching-hole-of-need-in-your-being, asking the casting director to validate your very existence, while making all your bills and feelings of low self-esteem vanish? Are you the only one participating…?

Or do you go into the room loving the opportunity to work, loving the character, loving your objective, even loving the casting director for being of service by giving you some of their precious time?

Sure, some people might make an argument that acting takes obsessive energy and zeal. I would disagree and say that acting takes loving energy and zeal. Would you rather be an obsessive parent to your goals, or a loving parent? Watch “Toddlers and Tiaras” to see what an obsessive parent looks like. Watch the children to see the ensuing results.

One of the reasons actors have so captured the imagination of our time (if you disagree, go to your newsstand and see whose picture is on most magazine covers) is that we are aware of one of the great secrets in life – that emotions are fluid and we can move in and out of them with ease. We know that we can experience feelings fully without owning them and allowing them to take over our lives. We do not define ourselves by our feelings or our roles. I think this is why people are so fascinated with us, and look up to the profession.
Technically, we create the intellectual beliefs, expectations, personal history, etc. for the given circumstances to effect us (with the resultant feelings). When ‘it’s a wrap ’ is yelled, or the curtain comes down, we can move back into our own lives without needing to swallow anti-depressants or plot the death of our enemies. We can even see the illusion of what an enemy is (someone who doesn’t do what we want them to, or behave the way we want them to behave)!
Most ‘civilians’ actually believe that they are their feelings and their opinions. We, as actors, see that our feelings and opinions can change from role to role – sometimes even changing us as individuals by expanding our awareness into possibilities that we may not have considered before. We don’t allow ourselves to be boxed in.
If you would like some pointers on how to let go of emotions that you no longer want to carry around, please check out my prior blog on ‘self protection’ at http://bit.ly/a3n0vh.

Why Research?

We are not at the point yet where we can get information out of a computer that we haven’t first inputted. If I want Becky’s phone number, I have to first add it to my address book. That’s why it always saddens me that actors feel that they can bring up a multi-leveled performance without first adding information about the character through research into that bio computer known as our brain. There is information that the playwright gives you (the given circumstances), information that you come up with through asking yourself questions (imagination), and then the information that you have to go online, pick up a book, or go on-the-job (research) for.

Research is one of the things that make most good actors so interesting to talk to. We tend to know a little bit about a lot of things due to the research we’ve done on all the roles that we’ve worked on.

If you’ve ever watched an interview with one of the greats, they always stress two things: listening and research. Some go to exhaustive lengths to research – and it is never wasted. How can that be? The more you know, the more you know. Sure, the lazy ones will say “But all that information just keeps me in my head”, if so – they would have probably been in their heads anyway. You can’t ‘act’ research. It is simply the rocket fuel that propels you forward. You don’t get to the moon by throwing fuel around. Nor do you get there by sitting in the rocket. You want to fill the rocket with fuel, fasten your seat belt, and enjoy the ride. When we’re acting, the last thing we want to be doing is thinking of our research. Yet the research colors our every choice.

When playing a person who actually lived (as opposed to the figment of an author’s imagination), it is imperative to understand everything you can about this individual. Not so that you can do an impersonation of the character, but rather you can honor the dignity of their soul’s journey. Give our imaginations an inch and it’ll go a mile.

When traveling abroad, why would you only bring a duffel bag; when you can bring a suitcase filled with things you might need? I would urge you to try it for yourself. We all know what it feels like NOT to have the time to do research for a role. Why not treat yourself to the nourishing and delectable possibility of researching for your next role. If you don’t feel freer, fly higher and have more fun – then you’ll know it’s not for you.

But you just might find yourself walking on the moon, and wouldn’t that be just grand?

Miracles

I like to believe that life is composed of miracles. Because if it isn’t … then life is totally random. I’m not talking of the miracles that happen once in a blue moon (winning the lottery, fully recovering from cancer, etc.), but the miracles that happen every day (we wake up in the morning refreshed, our brains don’t explode from a cerebral hemorrhage, our body moves air through the trachea into the lungs at which point the hemoglobin in the red blood cells carry oxygen to the heart then returns the carbon dioxide to the lungs so it can be exhaled). Miracles are happening to us every moment of every day. So, if you accept this premise that we are existing in a constant flow of miracles – then where you are in any given moment is exactly where you are supposed to be.
I am always amazed at the miracle of who finds my acting classes and how. I also am always heartened by the exclamations of “how did you know to give me this scene, it is exactly what is going on in my life at this moment”??!!! I think that scenes, auditions and acting jobs come to us at the perfect moment to reflect to us where we are in our lives, IF we can acknowledge them as such. I also think our scene partners and fellow actors come to us at the perfect moment to be our teachers. If we are aware that pleasurable (or not so pleasurable) partners are there to teach us a lesson (or we are there to teach them a lesson), then we begin to acknowledge the sacred that is always happening in our lives.

If we can acknowledge the sacred in our work, then we bring that same sense of sacredness to our audiences. If we are aware of the miraculous in our lives, then we bring that awareness of the miracles to our audiences

Life in Reverse

In real life, we often feel an impulse or a desire, and then act upon it with words or actions. For example… I’m feeling unloved and I want a kiss – so I ask you for one, or I bat my eyes seductively (why do people think eye-batting works… people just laugh at me). I feel tired and I want a cup of coffee – so I order one at Starbucks or brew a pot. You get the idea. Feeling results in impulse – creating words or actions.

In acting life, we are given the action or words and have to fill in the feelings and impulses.

Paul: Sally, would you grab me a cup of coffee?

… is what the writer gives us. We then have to choose the feeling: tired, thirsty, hungover or a million other possibilities. We also have to make the action: to “order”, “to plead”, “to demand”, “to charm” or a million other etc.. We are creating lives in reverse! We are given the tip of the iceberg, and must create the iceberg. The lovely side effect is that we are creating ourselves in the likeness of the character. As Ms. Stella Adler said “Character is defined through action”.

Please, please, please do not listen to the hacks that say the above line of dialogue is a “throwaway”. Most writers have labored countless hours over their work. They have ruthlessly hacked off any limbs that weren’t absolutely necessary. They have reduced a full life into two hours (or one hour for a TV series) and if it’s in the script – it’s there for a reason. Otherwise it would have been “thrown away” by the writer.

The reason that we want to create our lives in reverse when we act, is so that the structure is firm enough that we no longer have to think about it. When it comes time to perform – we can let go and fly. Any magician knows that it takes time to create the illusion of magic. We want it to look easy to the audience. Unfortunately, many actors think it is just easy. And that, my friends, is why people watch reality TV.

The Craft of Romance

The Craft of Romance
(originally written for www.brainsofminerva.com)

Caveat: This article is not for people who can easily fall in love with their acting partners and create hot, juicy chemistry.

For the rest of us: Even though there are classes in town that would have you believe all you have to do is show up and say the lines – there is no mistaking the chemistry that occurs when you’re in the presence of two people who are in love. Everyone in the room can feel it, and the couple is a pleasure to be around. Unless you are a jealous person, then they are just annoying to be around. There is an unmistakable thread of energy between the two people in love that cannot be denied.

Sure it’s fun when we know the two actors are really in love (Pitt/Jolie, Tracy/Hepburn, Bogart/Bacall). Yet, it’s equally mesmerizing when we don’t connect the people in real life (Gable/Leigh, Gyllenhaal/Ledger, Winslet/DiCaprio). We all want to experience that heightened sensation of falling in love, and for some of us – that happens vicariously in a darkened theater (or watching TV in our underwear on our couch). Our job, and our work as actors, is not only to make people believe this state of loving – but to allow the audience to feel it with us.

When you get that chemistry for free, then Hallelujah! and more power to you. I urge my actors to not fool around with their scene partners, because oftentimes the consummation of the love dissipates that precious longing. Sex can oftentimes ruin the chemistry (and makes it uncomfortable for all involved if it doesn’t work out). That said, I’ve had two marriages come out of my acting class -thankfully, the dating didn’t begin until after the scene was complete! At least, that’s what they told me. While acting, there is something wonderfully freeing about knowing that you can ‘love’ the person across from you, and not have to deal with the responsibilities and clean-up when the work is over. To be that vulnerable and intimate with someone and then not have to worry about who is going to call who next is really delightful! Basically, you can move into the fantasy of the other being perfect, without having to do any of the tough work that a real relationship can necessitate.

In the late Michael Shurtleff’s wonderful book, “Audition”, he asks his actors to ask themselves “Where is the love?” in every scene. In that way, even if it’s the absence of love -we are accessing the most powerful forces in the universe. Even in “Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf?” there must be chemistry. We must believe that deep down George and Martha love one another or it’s too brutal to watch.

So how do we create this magic when we don’t really love, and sometimes actively dislike, the other person? I use tools from tantric exercises to Gestalt processes – it really depends on the actors, and the depths to which they want to go.

One of my favorite exercises – because it is so practical and juicy – is a tantric posture called “yab-yum”. Fully clothed, I have the two actors face each other while sitting on the floor. Actor #1 wraps his legs around Actor #2, facing each other. Actor #2 does the same. They each place their arms around the mid-section so that they can feel the other breathing. The two actors begin by aligning their breaths, inhaling and exhaling at the same time. They also begin soul gazing (looking gently into each others eyes, not staring). Initially some laughter and embarrassment comes forward, but that is usually quickly moved through and replaced by a deeper opening and vulnerability to the other. I have seen two actors, who openly disliked one another, moved to tears and deeply connected on a soul level after doing this process for five minutes.

Another exercise is having the actors soul gaze (either in yab yum or holding hands) and I ask them questions such as: “Where in the other person can you see the loneliness of their childhood?” “Where do you see their dreams they’ve not realized?” “Where do you see the heartbreak”, “Where do you see yourself?”, etc. This allows whatever walls the other person may have to come tumbling down as they feel really seen by their partner. It also allows the actors to really see the vulnerable and loving Spirit of the person in front of them. We are forever linked by these moments. When they look at each other, they are fully present and available, vulnerable and open, the sexual energy is flowing.

When we date someone we are looking for similarities. While the old phrase “opposites attract” has some validity, it’s usually the external differences it’s talking about. We often look for someone that can understand our wounds because they’ve experienced similar ones. For example, if our issue is abandonment we tend to attract someone that can either salve that wound or pour salt into it (depending on our level of emotional health). If it is a healthy love partner, they will understand and assuage our issues. If it’s the “wrong one” they will push our buttons. The great love stories tend to be good fits, not ill-suited (usually star-crossed however, but that is the writers issue, not ours). If you imagine your acting partner as knowing all your hurts and insecurities and having similar ones themselves, you will have both trust and compassion. We aspire to heal, and be healed, by the other – a trust.

Relationships are also tested in the crucible of conflict. If romantic scenes have no conflict – you’re probably watching porn. When you think about it, the people that you love most in life tend to be the ones that you’ve worked through the most “issues” with. Working through issues is what deepens a relationship. Do an improv from the characters past where there was an insurmountable conflict that they worked through. You’ll see how this experience brings them closer and makes them even more vulnerable and available. In some love scenes the characters initially have defenses up, but these exercises allow for their attraction to be unmistakable.
I would urge the actor to stay away from objectives like “to seduce” unless they’re just going for a quick lay in the imaginary circumstances. It tends to lead to crass and unlikeable performances. I would urge the actors to look for action verbs like “to connect”, “to join”, “to merge”, etc. Every romantic scene is a chance to connect to a ‘“soulmate”.

Creating chemistry in an audition situation is more challenging – you can’t really ask the casting director to sit on the floor with you in “yab-yum”! Wouldn’t it be fun if we could??!! Often, in features and television, they will bring you in for a “chemistry read”(to see who has the best chemistry with the attached “star”). In both of these instances, I urge you to always look for the things you love about the person you’re reading with (their smile, their power, their choice of hair color, etc.). In life, the first thing we tend to notice about others is their flaws. By looking for the things about the other that you love – you can create a safe heart-opening space in both of you. Be playful! Be flirtatious! Don’t be vulgar! If time allows, let yourself imagine the similar challenges from your past to be projected onto your reader. Finally, If the first thing you notice about yourself is your flaws…then by all means look for the loving presence in your own eyes! Always, ALWAYS, feel beautiful – because you are!