Beginning anything is complicated. Deciding the best way to start a new endeavor before the actual first step makes my heart beat a little faster, whether in fear or excitement, I couldn’t say. This is my first blog post and I want to get it right. It is an entrance onto a new stage, a new scene, and unless I put my foot forward in just the right way, I may fail.
When I was very young, I was privileged to begin my study as an actress with Miss Mary Virginia Rodigan, a teacher of an advanced age who had actually known George Bernard Shaw. She had studied at the Royal Academy of Dramatic Arts in London, even though, she like me, was from Milwaukee, Wisconsin, of all places! (I am proud to say that Mark Rylance is also a Milwaukeean). Miss Rodigan taught what she had learned and while it may seem hopelessly out of date now, what she gave helped to form my ways of approaching the stage.
Her instructions on the best way to enter were:
1. Never enter a scene without first pausing slightly, if only for a moment, to establish yourself visibly in the scene.
2. If possible, touch something, a doorjamb, a chair, anything to connect yourself to the world physically.
3. As you move into the set, always break your cross, even slightly, never go directly to anything unless the motivation impels you to do so.
4. And, for young women, keep your arms at two or three o’clock (one arm pointing towards the 12 and the other towards the 3) because young women reach out to touch the world.
Over the years, I have taught acting using the ideas of Stanislavski, Grotowski, Meisner, Anne Bogart, Michael Shurtleff, Declan Donnellan, Mike Alfreds, and many, many others but Ms Rodigan’s suggestions have always lingered in my heart.
Today as I enter into the Blog scene, they seem very relevant. As a writer of acting theory and career planning for actors, my first job must be to pause and to tell you why I have been asked to write for this website and to let you see me clearly. The second step must be to connect to you and your actual needs if only virtually, the third, to write in such a way that you are interested, and the fourth, which is good for everyone, to reach forward with my heart and mind to your experience.
So, to follow Ms Rodigan’s advice (but not linger overly long in the doorway) during my long life, I have been an actress, director, agent, casting director, teacher, acting coach, career coach, and good friend to many actors. I have won awards for acting, teaching, directing, and casting. I am a member of SAG/AFTRA and AEA, CSA (Casting Society of America) and the author of two books for actors. The first of these is The Actor's Business Plan: A Career Guide for the Acting Life to be published by Bloomsbury Methuen Drama sometime in the late summer or early fall of 2015. The second is a book investigating the relationship between neuroscience, acting, and mythology to be published in 2016. I currently teach acting at The Theatre School (formerly the Goodman School of Drama) at DePaul University in Chicago, Illinois. It is one of the top conservatories in the United States. I am married, have a dog, and my hobby is genealogy. End of showing you who I am!
Now, second, moving into the scene. This blog will be dedicated primarily to thoughts about career planning for actors and ways that actors can help themselves to live happier lives. One of the biggest complaints from actors graduating from theatre programs is that they were not given any instruction about what to do with all that training. I hope to correct that with my book and this blog.
My third instruction from Ms Rodigan is to be interesting enough to hold your attention, and I hope that your need for plain and direct answers will be able to do that.
And last, I have to reach out to you, to attempt to really understand how you feel, how you think, and what your individual problems are. For that to happen, I cannot cross down to you, but you can write to me at this blogspot.
Ms Rodigan’s instructions have many uses, and as you read this, it might be helpful for you to really take them to heart and use them as a way of viewing your career and your entry into any part of it.
Ask yourself the following questions:
1. Have I established myself clearly enough for anyone in the business to know how to use me as an actor. Am I framing myself in such a way that I can be seen? Are my pictures really indicative of who I am? Does my audition material allow casting people and directors to see my strengths?
2. Have I gone out into the "business" scene and contacted people who can be a solid support for me, a mentor, another actor, a teacher, who can help me keep myself grounded?
3. Am I so concerned with simply getting any place at all in my career, that I don’t stop to change direction when it might be wiser to do so. Have I been so stuck in an idea of who I am and what acting is that I fear change or study?
4. When I meet people who might be able to help me as an actor, am I more concerned with how I am being perceived than in who they are? Do I reach out with curiosity and a full heart, or do I believe that such people are only functionaries in my Life Play, and that I am the star?
I will be writing again soon, not sure when, but if you post questions or suggestions, I will answer them ASAP.