Daily Practices

So, you may recall that a few weeks back Mavis Martin wrote in about my article called Just Get Better. In her email, she talked about daily practices — these techniques she works on every single day — that help her Just Get Better, constantly. The following week Justice Darragh wrote in asking what some of those daily practices might be, since his acting coaches have discouraged actor homework like this, saying it’s best to save the practice for an in-class environment.

Well, I did one of my favorite things at that point, and that’s put the question to you fine folks! I asked what your daily practices are and hoped you’d write in to share ’em with the readers of The Actors Voice. And share ’em you did! Here are the best emails of the bunch, starting with a reply from Mavis, when she saw we’d be undertaking a collaborative discussion of Daily Practices.

Dear Bonnie,

I am really excited to read the responses to your call for individual practices. I remember being extremely confused in acting school, as I struggled to place myself into the technique being taught. I didn’t understand why I needed to lose all innate qualities (at least shove them aside) before I learned to act. Differing techniques and methods aside, I think that all acting technique is only foundational to you figuring out what your actor person needs. Talent is unique to the individual, so acting should be highly individualized. If we want our talent to work for us, we need to figure out how to tailor all we learn in an acting class/in life so that we can massage our talent in whatever way it needs.

So, more important than having a toolbox filled with techniques is figuring out which techniques can serve your talent. After that, figure out how to tailor the chosen technique to your talents and sensibilities. What you’ll find is that you can pick up something from any technique. Personalizing technique is like playing dress-up in front of thousands of closets filled with clothes. You can pick up a necklace, then decide to wear it as a bracelet.

Here are a few practices I have picked up in classes. Please add them to your pot of technique responses!

1. Each day, I practice cold reading. One purpose of cold reading is to display how the actor responds to the text. Cold reading is a great way to access your subconscious. Technically, I never speak while my eyes are on the text — this I picked up from AM Raychel, an acting teacher who studied with Hagen — so that I can trick my subconscious out of reading and into living. How I personalize: I work the same text a few times and challenge myself with finding a new read each time.

2. Each day, I practice learning lines. I sit with a text, using different techniques to see how each feels. I think we’ve all been in the situation where some text just won’t stick. For me, my approach to learning lines changes with every role. How I personalize: When I find a technique that works with contemporary work, I immediately pick up a classical text to see if it works there, vice versa. Then, I try and figure out what about the technique is easy for my subconscious to pick up (ex.: focus on rhythm).

3. Each day, I try to enhance my imagination. Whether by visioning or free-associating, I try to get my inertia going. How I personalize: Once I am familiar with a text, I say it with my eyes closed, creating the world. I do the same thing with my eyes open, tracing myself around the room as if I am watching my own performance.

4. Another great technique is making your piece physical. Say a line; move a body part. Then repeat a few times until you are speaking and moving at the same time. The goal is to connect the line to the body movement. You are meshing something qualitative with something physical. How I personalize: I love to sing, so I use my voice as a body part. I say the line, and then sing it.

5. Lastly, I think every actor should practice daily “personal work.” My acting coach always gives personal homework, along with her business homework. So, each night, I practice exercises like “having a conversation with my fears.”

The point of daily technique is to access the subconscious. Repetitious acting disciplines make the subconscious bold.

I hope this helps. I can’t wait to read what everyone else shares!

BTW, tonight I was at a seminar at The Network. I was sharing/picking up business tips with another actor, Erin Corcoran. Other actors chimed in. At one point, each person said, “You know there’s this column that’s awesome.” The east coast loves your column!

Sincerely,

Mavis Martin

Hey Bonnie,

Well, there are lots of things one can do on a daily basis — or even semi-daily (some you can just do when you feel you want to brush up on things). Here are some things I use or have used.

1) Cold reading: One of the best pieces of advice I got about improving my cold reading skills was to go onto Showfax and print out random sides. When I have the time (and can get a willing participant), I’ll try to practice them with someone, however you can also practice them alone. If you don’t have access to sides on Showfax (I would suggest you get access) you can just read the paper or some other magazines aloud.

2) Camera audition skills: For those who have a hard time looking directly at the camera for auditions, someone suggested to me to pick a specific spot to focus on while having a phone call — as if you were talking to them while they were standing in front of you. By doing so, that spot can stand in for your friend on the other line, and when you go in to audition, you can just substitute your “spot” for the camera.

3) Reading plays: It’s great to pick up a monologue book, but it’s even better to find a play you love that has a monologue you can use. By using a play, you not only know the tone of the material better, but also have a great sense of the character. You know how he or she got there, why they’re saying what they’re saying and to whom they’re saying it. Knowing all of that will help strengthen your performance — whereas a monologue book, while okay in a pinch, just can’t provide that.

4) Watch other great actors: Obviously, the best way to learn is by doing, but you can also learn a lot from seeing. I was lucky enough to have grown up in NY, so I got to see dozens of Broadway plays over the years. From watching live theatre, TV, or movies, I’ve managed to get a sense of how each differs and study the performances of some of the greatest actors ever.

5) Reading trades: It may be difficult to read all the trades all the time, but it’s even helpful if you can get them every once in a while. You can find out all sorts of useful information — whether about a project you may be interested in, an agent who is starting a new agency, or just a review of a movie starring one of your favorite artists.

6) Making lists: I frequently find that I have a ton of things I need to do, but when it comes down to it, I will sometimes overlook something. So I’ve started to make lists every morning so I can check things off as I go along. Not only does it help me remember to do what needs to get done, but you get a small sense of accomplishment when you can cross something off your list (even something as minimal as “do laundry” can feel like an accomplishment)!

Hope this helps!
Eli Schiff

Hi Bonnie!

I try to prepare myself every day as an actor. I think that having the mindset that I will be called in at any moment for an audition helps me focus on the fact that I moved here to build a career in acting and I expect to succeed. I have a toolbox binder of collected exercises, and will use different combinations each day, depending on how I feel mentally and physically.

Usually, I will start with some light stretching (very light), and then a vocal warm-up. After that, some kind of exercise that helps me open up and get out of my head, such as ranting about an issue, kind of like a monologue-dump.

Then, I’ll put myself on camera reading TV/film sides I’ve saved from previous auditions, and watch afterwards to see if I’ve held on to any facial tics, what I look like in different-colored attire, etc.

One of my favorite quotes is, “Do the best you can with what you have right now.” So that’s what I am doing!

Thank you as always for your inspiring articles.

Sincerely,

Jiffy Reed

Hey Bon,

Just wanted to share a li’l something that I do, I’m sure so many others do it also. I browse through audition sides on Showfax to see if there’s anything that fits my type and I go through my audition prep rituals, especially for shows that I’m trying to target. For me I feel like I’m manifesting that target show audition as well as keeping my instrument tuned. I also attempt to watch one new movie a week (good, bad, ugly. Studio film, indie, web series, etc.). After I watch it, I have this weird twitch to watch it as least ten more times, but looking at it with a different eye.

(1) Always gotta listen to the commentary.
(2) I always watch the behind the scenes.
(3) I’ll watch the movie from the aspect of acting, directing, lighting, editing, etc.

I even try to tune out the musical score and watch just based on the acting. ‘Cause when you’re on set, there’s no orchestra in the next room playing the background music. I know it’s über-retarded. LOL. Oh and I do this for TV shows also. I just finished watching the last season of Everybody Loves Raymond with the commentary on DVD. Great info and insight and totally funny stuff.

Smooches,
Tamika Simpkins 🙂

I am a movie addict. When I’m not acting or taking class I’m usually watching a movie, or a Netflix rental, or at the movies. So many young actors, directors, cinematographers, and others see many new movies but neglect to watch the “old movies.” (I classify old movies as anything from silent era to the late ’80s. This keeps me thinking I’m young.) There is so much to learn as an actor by watching old movies.

1. You learn about the past. I’m a strong believer in if you don’t know Hollywood history you lose a lot of a possible strong foundation for the future. Many experienced directors talk in terms of original Hollywood genres and techniques. “I want a Busby Berkeley look here,” or, “a John Huston feel here.” Alfred Hitchcock, Billy Wilder, FW Murnau, Citizen Cane, Spellbound, A Place in the Sun, Seventh Heaven, Sunrise, All About Eve, TCM, local art houses, restoration houses, universities, and classic film festivals… whew! What a great town we live in!

2. You learn about technique. Just like Gene Kelly approached dancing using an entirely different technique than Fred Astaire, watching actor greats of yesteryear teaches us about certain techniques that certain actors were famous for. It was once said that Bette Davis was a great actress but Joan Crawford was a great star. Crawford’s performance in Mildred Pierce exemplifies the genre that suited her. Yet few people are familiar with her performance in Sudden Fear or The Damned Don’t Cry. Amazing. Rent Johnny Belinda (1948) starring Jane Wyman and revel in amazement of the Oscar-winning performance she delivers; and she doesn’t utter one word of dialogue in the film! Or check out the New Bev Theater on one of their many double feature nights. In the past few months I’ve been lucky enough to attend double features highlighting the likes of James Cagney, Katherine Hepburn, and George Cuckor. They host marathon nights of fun films like the Friday the 13th series, Back to the Future, and Mad Max. They even have director series: Peter Bagdonovich, Roger Corman, and Joe Dante — all who showed up for audience interviews between screenings! (Would you believe for the Roger Corman festival Quentin Tarantino introduced the films?!) And are you ready for this? On a movie pass for the theater, each film costs you a whopping $2.25 to see! Cheaper than a rental.

3. You get to share your opinions and reviews with your friends and talk about the art with your young actor pals. I have 16mm screenings at my house sometimes. It’s a great way to meet new friends. I once had a new actor friend tell me after a screening of Some Like It Hot, “Wow. I’ve never seen a black-and-white movie before! That was great!” I was astonished. We talked for an hour and a half after that about the background of the film and what lead to the creation of it from the studio. We also talked about other related films that came out following that one and how they were similar in artistic craft and style.

Anyway, nothing beats watching others act or direct. You can learn so much from the experts.

See you at the movies!

Tony Pinizzotto

Hey Bon,

Accent Thursdays.

A while back my roommates and I came up with a way to practice the accents we were currently working on or trying to master. We created Accent Thursdays. On Thursdays you pick an accent — say for example British North Country — and you must speak only in that accent all day, with the exception of important business meetings/phone calls and auditions. We find it an effective way of mastering a different accent.

Many actors can develop an accent for a particular set of sides but what happens when you’re in the audition room and the director changes a line? Practicing the accent for a longer period of time helps better prepare you to handle anything the director may throw your way. This practice can be done daily for a period of time every morning, just make sure you pick a time where can interact with someone. Post it on your Facebook and see how many of your friends call to see what accent you have picked.

PS — I love it when someone tells me, ” I love your accent,” or asks me, “Where are you from?” That’s when I break my accent and say, “I was born and raised right here in Los Angeles, California.” Gotta love what you do!

Candice Marie Flournoy

Daily workout is as necessary as taking classes to support and develop your craft as an actor. A lot of actors and professionals of the industry would have various responses as to which of the techniques are the best. However, there is no one answer to anything — you have to find your own, the one that works best. I, for one, am in constant search of possibilities and opportunities to enhance myself as a person and as an actor. Hagen, Moss, Stanislavski, Michael Chekhov, the list goes on.

Some of the simpler things go overlooked though. Every day you see people — street, café, work, etc. You can learn a great deal if you just take people in, see how they behave, how they are. You can always tell if a person is happy, sad, or excited. However, there is much more internally that is happening. I always try to study people: What about a person makes me see the person is sad? What is the relationship between the couple in a restaurant? Are they married? Have they been together for a long time? Is the guy in love with the girl? Seeing things for what they are is crucial to an actor. It helps you create a truthful scene and/or character.

Besides all the exercises you can learn you can also examine yourself. The good old mirror helps. Create a character and talk to the mirror, studying your face. How does it change when you become a killer? A flamboyant gay? A teacher? Take yourself on a journey in the safest environment of all, your own home! It will teach you and give you confidence.

Cold reads are available on Showfax, so download scenes from your favorite shows, and break them down. If you have a camera or a webcam, put yourself on tape, and watch yourself.

Voice exercises are important too, to me, a foreigner. Add accent work. But anyone could gain a lot by working voice and accents 30 minutes a day!

If you do all this everyday — and you can, even though you have two jobs and classes, and doing the research an actor must do daily, and writing your journal (or scripts), and working out, and visiting with friends — can you? But watching people is something you do all the time, just think of it more. You see yourself in the mirror several times a day; brush your teeth as the character you imagined yourself playing! Driving to see your friends, work a voice exercise! There is a lot more we can do with our day, always, and impossible is nothing! Good luck on this most interesting journey!

Have a beautiful day,

Konstantin Lavysh

Dear Bonnie,

Thanks for asking for feedback as to our daily techniques. I have a few things I play with. I will try to be concise.

Objectives

I think actors have to be inquisitive into human behavior by nature, therefore wondering about people’s ultimate motivation daily — not that you are a pop psychologist but if you break things down into acting beats and objectives…

“Why or what was that fight between X and Y really about?”
“Why was [blank] so important for
X?”
“What really is [blank] all about”?

…I think this gets you more in tune to people’s behavior and ultimately a better understanding person and actor. Again not to manipulate or judge people but to see “where they are really coming from,” as in bio relating to objective of a person/character.

TV Watching

TV time is not only leisure time but take that time to observe and break down. Also if you try to think like the writer as far as story goes it can put things in perspective.

Asking these questions:

  • What part of the story is this (i.e., exposition, conflict, climax, denouement/resolution) and how does that character aid in telling that part of the story? Therefore my job as an actor would be to contribute to the story how?
  • What was on the page and what did this actor do?
  • In what shows are the pauses forever and the camera does the work? (Ever count the seconds between lines on CSI: Miami for instance? Trains! Any actor trained in the theatre has to resist talking during those pauses.)
  • On sitcoms what was each person’s “job” as far as setting up the joke? As in, “Who or what is the butt of the joke?”
  • Where is the laugh track inserted?
  • Who was the straight man and who delivered the punch line? (Hint: Most of the time the stars deliver the funny lines because well, they are the stars!) Knowing this next time you audition you can break down the joke to know your “job” in the joke-telling/story/audition.
  • Many shows (especially cop shows) are fairly formulaic, therefore asking: Okay this scene was to show what when it was written? What was their one moment that encapsulated the scene for you? Why? What did they do or — more importantly — what didn’t they do? Were they just “there”?
  • Who’s your doppelganger? How many “yous” do you see daily? What are they selling personality-wise? (Part of your marketing plan.)

Answering these questions, pretty soon you can get in tune with shows pretty easily and therefore when you get an audition this information aids the actor in his/her preparation.

Status

For those who are familiar with “status exercises” as described by Keith Johnstone, (Impro is one of the best books about acting ever written, IMHO), status is an excellent thing to observe and play with, especially with your friends.

Have a day/hour/evening where you give yourself a “job” to lower your status or raise it just a slight bit above the person you’re dealing with. Okay, you’re using your friends as guinea pigs but trust me, as your friends, they’ll console you or slap you upside of your head ‘cuz, like, they’re your friends right?

Then taking that information and seeing what status you constantly play and in what situations. This can either challenge you to play more with your status in scenes or find scenes etc., which you play that status which you are comfortable with.

Just a few ideas. Hope this is helpful.
xo
Best,
David Nathan Schwartz

Hey, Bonnie!

I meditate 10 to 20 minutes a day, twice a day. I find that really helps me stay centered and human. It helps me see situations more clearly as well, e.g., if I have to make a hard decision and I get all wrapped up in my head and can’t see the way, I usually realize what I need to do during or after meditation. So… that’s what I do as a human and as an actor.

As an actor, specifically, I read out loud for 15 min a day. I mimic commercials on the radio while I’m in the car. I do a 15-minute series of voice exercises twice a day. I got these from Tom Todoroff, my acting teacher. I’m not sure where he got them. Basically, it’s exercises in the floor morning and night, vocally with “a voiceless hissing sound” and then “a voiced humming sound” and then “a voiced sighing sound.”

Jewel Greenberg

Hey Bonnie.

Here’s my two cents.

One of my morning rituals (I have many) is to practice my cold reading skills while incorporating emotional content work. For example, while reading the newspaper online, I will decide on five emotions (or draw five cards from my deck of emotion cards — available from my acting coach, kimberlyjentzen.com). I will then practice cold reading with paragraphs of the news while living into and evoking those emotions, trying to transition smoothly between them. I’ve found it to be really therapeutic actually, and I can quite often set my tone for the day depending on what emotions I chose to access. Plus it’s a great way to get caught up on daily entertainment news. I do this while reading Variety online or THR online.

Melanie Merkosky

Hi Bonnie,

Let me offer two suggestions for The Actors Voice. Literally for the actor’s voice.

1. Vocal warm-ups of the tongue-twister variety. An accomplished VO guy named Rodney Saulsberry has posted a couple of YouTube videos about this. In addition to Rodney’s texts, you can add some classic Gilbert and Sullivan lyrics (“What a to-do to die today…”) or this favorite of mine: “A box of biscuits, a box of mixed biscuits, and a biscuit mixer.”

2. Read out loud five minutes from something you’ve never seen before: nytimes.com, commercial copy in a magazine, anything.

Hope this helps. Happy to share, and eager to learn what others do on their own!

Best,

Kevin Ashworth

Bonnie,

Here is one of the things I do.

In my recent class I worked on a few scenes that really nail my type down. Some good homework was done on them. Now I run through them at least once a day to keep them fresh in my head. This way if I’m asked, “Got anything we can see?” I can ask for a reader, pull out my sides, and knock some socks off.

When do I do this? Either during my morning shower or whenever I’m in the car driving. Easy-cheesy!

Enjoy the journey,
Robert Keniston

Hey Bonnie,

Act every day. Period. No techniques or tricky mantras. Just act… all the time.

My two cents,

John David Whalen

IMG_6774

Back to Bon:

Wow! I’m so freakin’ inspired, reading all of these great, clever, intriguing ideas for daily practices that I may try some of ’em this week! Really cool to see what “homework” everyone does, to better themselves as actors. Thank you, wonderful readers, for being so generous with your process! This is all very compelling and exciting to me. I hope everyone can find a bit of gold in this list. Thanks for sharing your toys!

Have any Daily Practices you’d like to share? Pop ’em in the comments section below. 🙂 Let’s jam, beautiful people!


Bonnie Gillespie is living her dreams by helping others figure out how to live theirs. Wanna work with Bon? Start here. Thanks!


Originally published by Actors Access at http://more.showfax.com/columns/avoice/archives/001059.html. Please support the many wonderful resources provided by the Breakdown Services family. This posting is the author’s personal archive.

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4 Comments

  1. Shelby October 16, 2012 at 8:52 pm

    Something good my acting teacher has us do for our weekly ”homework” is she gives us a script that we will perform the next week (you could get a script through any acting book or online). What we have to do is use Uta Hagen’s technique to breakdown the script, writing down the backstory of the character (i.e: her past, present, future), writing the obstacles, how to over-come them. Just learning how to break down a script is really crucial for auditions. If you have someone that you could perform the scene with later too, it would be good acting practice. Doing that script breaking down helps you perform the scene so much more in character and it’s always great to learn how to break down a script so you can get better and faster at it through time.

    Reply
    1. Bonnie Gillespie Bonnie Gillespie October 16, 2012 at 8:59 pm

      Shelby, this is wonderful. Thank you! I love how disciplined you are, already, in your acting career. Fantastic! And YES! Breaking down that script and getting so very focused on the history (and future) of the character is so vitally important to the foundation of your craft. Awesome! Thank you for this. I’m inspired! 🙂

      Reply
  2. Scott J. Smith November 2, 2012 at 11:23 am

    This is getting printed and put in one of my workbooks…excellent advice, everyone!

    My practices are a hybrid of a few suggestions mentioned above. If I do not have an audition I am preparing for, I find a script (possibly one that I already have in my library), and I do my due diligence, making all the preparations I would as if it were for an actual audition. I’ll record an initial audition (my first impression of the scene), then sit with the script a little while and prepare an alternate read.

    Granted, at an actual audition, it’s always good to be versatile and prepared to make necessary adjustments when in the room, but at “home,” I have the luxury of focusing on just one character at a time. It allows me more time to “fine tune” a read without being bothered with the other options I may have considered.

    After my “audition,” I always review the recording with a critical eye. I look for highlights of the scene, as well as areas that could be expressed differently. I ask myself two questions: 1) Is what I am seeing on the screen the same as I thought I was providing when performing? and 2) Would I hire me for the role? Sometimes, I’ll make notes, and start the whole process again.

    Also, read (nearly anything), aloud. With novels, it’s great fun to see how my “performance” of each character develops as I learn more about them during the story. It’s a great lesson on character development and story composition, as well as an excellent vocal workout. I also have a two-year-old, who loves hearing the same storybooks over and over again. Here, I get to experiment with the copy, making changes to the characters, and trying more or less animation. It keeps the story new and exciting for both of us!

    Reply
  3. Bonnie Gillespie Bonnie Gillespie November 2, 2012 at 3:22 pm

    I was so glad when one of my Ninja Angels here at Team Cricket Feet suggested I push this archived column through my mailing list for another look. She uses these tactics to keep in practice, and I think there are so many gems in here.

    Love your add-on, Scott. THANK YOU! Really great! 😀 Let’s keep adding to this list and keep it flowing for everyone!

    Reply

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