Taking creative breaks

One of my favourite books and a book that I rarely leave the house without is the Tao Te Ching by Lao Tzu. I’ve lost count of how many times I’ve read it and yet every time I do, I find a new perspective, a new gem, a new ‘oh shit’ moment. The passage below feels particularly relevant to the following article:

Fill your bowl to the brim and it will spill.

Keep sharpening your knife and it will blunt.

Chase after money and security and your heart will never unclench.

Care about people’s approval and you will be their prisoner.

Do your work, then step back.

The only path to serenity.

-Lao Tzu-

Nobody has unlimited creativity, or, they certainly don’t have unlimited high quality creativity. I am someone that is able to work and work and work and continue to produce art in many different forms without a break and although some of that work is of high value, not all of it is, something starts to suffer and that something is more often than not, me.

There’s a culture that has been created within the entertainment industry, 16 hour days, 7 day weeks, 24 hour turnarounds. It’s drilled into that you must be on the go 24/7 if you want to succeed. It’s not true.

The job itself, being on set, is strenuous at times and you certainly have to build up a stamina to be filming back to back 12 hour days – there’s no getting away from that. I’m talking more about when we’re out of work, the restlessness that comes with this, the waiting by the phone, the sense of “Am I doing enough?”

Think of anything fun in life, anything enjoyable and then imagine being forced to do it, and then imagine being forced to do it AND enjoy it.

We have a huge issue with “work”. Working hard, this concept of the harder you work the more successful you’ll be and I think, actually, it’s bullshit. 

Working all the time creates stress, stress leads to anxiety and depression and neither of those are good for creativity. We need to get OUT of our heads! And a heavy workload, packed timetable and a compulsive need to work, work, work does the complete opposite! 

There’s so much pressure. I remember hearing a casting director address a room of actors, she told them they must be picking up 20 scripts a week if they want to be successful. 

What. The. Fuck. 

Look, being able to learn lines and interpret text quickly IS important and as an actor you should be able to learn a couple of pages of script in less than 10 minutes, because it’s your job! But do it in a healthy way. 

How do I do that?

Get in tune with yourself.

How?

Meditate. Walk. Exercise. Eat nice food. Use your free time wisely. Switch off, actually switch off, no phone, no bullshit. Let your mind rest, unwind, check in with your self. Allow things to come to you naturally, organically, pick up a script because you want to pick one up and if you’re passionate about your craft you will want to, trust yourself. 

Be prepared to be impulsive and spontaneous.

There is value in setting specific times to do things and routine is really good for some people but isn’t life exciting when you don’t know whats coming? Doesn’t it make you feel more alive?

Allow your creativity to flow naturally, forcing it ain’t gonna work and if you do, you might produce something alright, but alright ain’t gonna cut it is it?

A lot of people are on tight schedules, trying to make ends meet, working 40+ hours to pay rent. It’s hard and you feel guilty if you don’t spend time working on your dream, there’s a sense of hopelessness when a week goes by and you’ve done nothing to further your career, but that guilt, that self-deprecation is useless, stop that, right now. Let it be.

Allow yourself to rest. Allow yourself to enjoy life. Be clear in your mind in the direction that you want to head and allow things to happen naturally, they will happen when the times right.


  • Objectives: If you’re excited so are we
    Finding an objective is one of the most, if not the most, important aspect of preparation for an actor. Regardless of the approach/philosophy or practice, finding the character’s objective is paramount for […]
  • Auditioning Part One: Getting it ‘Right’
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Auditioning Part One: Getting it ‘Right’

“I just want to make sure I get it right!”

The audition process can be a terrifying experience for most actors, especially those new to the industry or those who haven’t booked a job for a while. Here I hope to alleviate some of that pressure and make auditioning something to enjoy.

Before I delve into this from a creative point of view I think it’s important for me to acknowledge that this issue is as much a human problem as it is an actors’ problem. Unfortunately the fear of getting it ‘right’ comes from a place of insecurity, a need to please and to seek validation from external sources. When you realise that you don’t need the approval of others, your work – and life – will flourish.

In approaching your audition from the point of view of “what do they want?”, you are no longer approaching the material with wonder and curiosity, you’re approaching it from a place of “what can I do so that they will like me” and suddenly your creative process becomes a task of pleasing a stranger, creating stress and anxiety – neither particularly great for auditioning.

One of the main reasons that this way of doing things is completely flawed is because you literally have no idea who you are trying to please – it’s all based on your own assumption “I hope they will like it and cast me.”

Who are “they” anyway? 

It isn’t just one person. The decision will be determined by Casting Assistant, Casting Director, Director, Writer, Producer, Exec Producers. So which “they” are you tailoring your performance for? Whose interpretation of the work are you trying to get “right”? 

Can you see how impossible this all is? It’s madness.

So let’s have a look at getting it right in a healthy way.

Serve the scene

As discussed in my last blog on objectives the character wants something. It is your job to try and achieve that objective, truthfully and with courage, thus pushing the narrative along and creating the illusion of character. 

If you are in line with the character’s objective and your decisions within the scene are in service of that goal then any creative choices you make can’t be wrong on a technical level. It then becomes a question of preference and how the writer/director “sees” the character. Trying to guess that is like having one of those late night conversations on how the world came to be – frustrating and pointless.

Make a bold choice

Now unfortunately there are, in life, always going to be people who make stupid choices and call them bold and, worse still, there are always going to be directors/tutors who tell you to make a bold choice and allow you to make a stupid one and congratulate you for making a tit of yourself in service of your “fearlessness”… But we’ll try and overlook that and actually give some sense to the meaning of a bold choice.

Remember this: the text is doing ONE job. YOU are doing another. If you remember this very simple truth you will more often than not make an interesting choice. 

Any person/actor with an average level of intelligence can interpret a scene and identify what tactics the character is using, eg: provoking, pushing, being direct.

Therefore you can hand that script to anybody (within reason) and have them read it out loud and we will see the character being, on some level, provocative, pushy, direct.

Ask yourself this, if anybody can do it, why would you?

Offer something new to the scene. You can always play the text, playing the text is easy, the work’s already been done for you and if the director wants to see the simple read then trust yourself to give it to them.

(I will elaborate on how to make a bold choice in Part 2 of this series.)

“Luck is what happens when preparation meets opportunity.”

Seneca

Everything in life is preparation, prepare your script in a way that is in line with the writer’s intention whilst offering something new and I guarantee 9/10 you will have a great audition.

Objectives: If you’re excited so are we

Finding an objective is one of the most, if not the most, important aspect of preparation for an actor. Regardless of the approach/philosophy or practice, finding the character’s objective is paramount for understanding the text and enabling yourself to “step into” the shoes of the character. So why does it still trip so many actors up?

Firstly, for anyone completely new to acting an objective is 1 of 2 things and sometimes both. What does the character want from the scene? What does the character want from the other character(s) in the scene?

Why is it 2 things?

More often than not the objective requires one character getting something from the other character in the scene. This is typically what an objective would be. However it is important to take into consideration the master objective too, the through thread of the story, the hero’s journey. By the character getting what they need from the other character it may well enable them to get closer to their master objective.

I’m going to use an example from Training Day with Denzel Washington and Ethan Hawke. Please watch the clip below (up until around 1:30 as this is where the objective changes) and come up with your own objectives for both characters:

Okay, so a seemingly self explanatory scene, some of the more common suggestions from my students were:

Alonzo wants to explain why he murdered the guy.

Alonzo wants to defend himself.

Jake wants Alonzo to understand he doesn’t agree with him.

Jake wants Alonzo to follow the rules of the police.

Okay cool, so there were some other options/variants but mostly in the same ball park and whilst these are valid objectives they’re not hugely exciting and won’t help in enabling you to find the stakes in the scene.

Once you’ve made a decision on an objective that you’re happy with I want you to get into the habit of asking yourself why?

This small added step will revolutionise your ability to choose a strong objective.

Acting’s about humanity right? It’s why we watch films and theatre, we want to relate, want to see human beings experiencing life to perhaps exorcise our own demons, to not feel so fucking lonely, to see that “oh shit, people feel like that too.” I chose depressing reasons on purpose, of course sometimes it’s nice to just relax and have a glass of wine too, but we still want to be moved.

As actors it’s our job to put that humanity into the script, our own humanity – because that’s all we have. So lets make our objectives something to get excited about. Choose an objective that turns you on. Yes. You should be excited by your work or else what’s the point? 

Here’s my suggestions for this scene:

Alonzo wants to show Jake that it’s a fucking dog eat dog world, get real or get killed.

Jake wants Alonzo to wake up and see that he’s completely morally bankrupt and no better than the criminals

Okay? Bit better. That’s something that makes me want to get up and perform. I understand that, it sparks a feeling in me, something deep and primal! And just like that I’m loaded and ready to go, no emotional prep, no sitting in silence for 5 minutes whilst I “get into character” – give me the script and let me at the other actor. 

That’s what an objective should be and that’s why you should always ask yourself Why?

Alonzo wants to explain why he murdered the guy.

Why?

He thinks Jake’s soft. He thinks Jake lives in a cotton bud world. He thinks Jake’s green. Alonzo wants Jake to stop being so naive and get with the program etc. You see my point here, let’s tap into the imagination, let your mind run wild for a moment and then come back to the text. 

Failure to prepare is preparing to fail. Get your prep right. And it starts with the objective.

Thanks for reading.

Meisner Intensive 18/12

A 3-hour deep-dive into Meisner by Lee Lomas. An invaluable tool for approaching emotional scenes and challenging scripts.


When

Tuesday, December 17th
6:30 to 9:30pm

Where

Old Diorama Arts Centre
201 Drummond St, London NW1 3FE


Price

Full Price £45
Discounted price (for 1956 Students) £35


What we cover

We will be working on:

  • Breaking down blocks and defence mechanism
  • Connecting with your partner
  • Staying in the moment
  • Responding truthfully
  • Developing material through repetition and Improv

How to book

Nailing the Basics of Screen Acting 17/12

A 3-hour intensive workshop, covering the basics of Screen Acting for actors who want to tailor their performances for Film and TV

When

Tuesday, December 17th
6:30 to 9:30pm

Where

Colomba
31 Oval Rd, Camden Town, London NW1 7EA


Price

Full Price £45
Discounted price (for 1956 Students) £35


What we cover

  • Stillness
  • Listening and responding
  • Staying in the moment
  • Blocking, adjusting for frame and other technical aspects of screen

How to book

1956 Studio Summer Showcase

On August 1st there will be three separate 45 minute performances by 30 students from 2-5pm, the shows will include snippets from contemporary plays/films and TV shows.

With many of the current students and alumni working regularly in the acting industry this a great opportunity to see some of London’s most exciting talent.

Book all 3 performances for £12 using code SHOWCASE12 at checkout

When

Thursday 1st August 2019. Shows at 2pm, 3pm, and 4pm.

Where

Tristan Bates Theatre
1a Tower Street
London
WC2H 9NP