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Why did you choose acting?

For me, this is the hardest question in the world, a little too personal, and with a constant changing answer.

I think the “attraction” to acting starts from a very young age, in childhood, unconsciously at first. You have your inborn curiosity – that you train yourself later on to keep fresh – and you gather all sorts of skills like observation and introspection. Lots of day-dreaming. Playfulness. Role-playing. Position taking. Imaginary worlds becoming real in such a natural way!

And then, at some point, you need a context to “stumble” upon: an acting class/school/club… some sort of “accident” in your life leads you to this fairy land where you find your VOICE. Where you are not afraid of speaking in public anymore, where you inter(act) bravely, and you also have lots of fun! And you never wanna leave that place anymore, no matter the price!

And then, at some point, inevitably, people ask you: why did you choose acting? or How did it start? When did you realise this is what you want to do with your life? Each time this happens, I feel a little harassed, I must admit, and I don’t know how to answer. I feel like any answer I would give would be a little shallow, hypocrite, or incomplete, nonetheless. I think (for me) this is pretty much the same as asking Why do you love your significant other? What made you fall for him/her? When and why did this happen? Could you really, truthfully, tell? Is it something precise that one could point to so specifically? I don’t think so. It’s both too personal and vague, at the same time. Just as in love, things are way more complex, so different for each of us. Not to mention the fact that “the job requirements” are changing all the time, and so are our needs. One day you can be happy about a specific project, the next month you can be dancing your way between different theatres, working like crazy, or other times, the most fulfilling thing to do is to close yourself up in a library where you passionately research a subject that you secretly plan to write a play yourself on! Sometimes you’re poor, but happy, working on a total independent production. Other times you are rich, but too busy, having three rehearsals in a row, one workshop and a performance in the same day – so you don’t really get to feel any sort of accomplishment, because you don’t actually feel your body at all, anymore. No day looks like another. You (may) get to hate that once in a while, but you usually love it.

This is why I think it’s impossible to reach a complete answer to such complex question. Your motivation and needs are constantly changing – but it is indeed a very healthy question to ask yourself. Ask, wonder, suspect, observe, and ask some more. It keeps your acting alive. It keeps you driven and grateful.

Even though I can’t point out a specific moment (and I’m sure there are more), I did manage to identify a few details from my childhood memories that have become milestones in the way I see acting today. (Children are always inspirational. Go see one soon. But you, as a child, are even more relevant to yourself. You will know where to go to when you feel lost. 😉 )

 

  • Playing with dolls – ALONE – and switching roles so quickly! Growing up as a single/lonely child offered me the opportunity to play all the roles! Yey! I do remember being “the bad witch” torturing my doll, and than becoming (in an instant) the “good fairy” that would save and comfort the poor victim. Call it borderline, or schizophrenia if you want, but I remember it being: fun, conflictual, exciting, and fully involving! I still aim for all these each time I go on stage!

 

  • Imagining things that didn’t actually happen. Ups! Yes, you read that well. It took me years to differentiate when “my first kiss” (for example) had actually happened, and when was the one I had “invented”. My friends had all already experienced it, and I guess I felt the pressure to come up with my own story, but at the same time I didn’t want to waste the experience on anyone just to catch up with the girls. So what (I think) I did, was a mix of real characters and imaginary circumstances that led to a very exciting, romantic, still realistic story, that I told so many times, and in so much vivid detail, that I totally believed it myself! I really wish I could do that now, sometimes…

 

  • Finding freedom. As many others do, I come from a “not for me” zone. For some this was math, economics, or polytechnic, for me, it was the piano. It might sound “sort of similar”, being another form of art… trust me, it’s not! It has nothing to do with it. I hated being watched playing the piano. Each other pair of eyes would make my concerts less and less powerful, opposite to now, when I feel the urge to bring more people to my performances – the more, the better. Having someone “to tell my story to” liberated me. It gave me purpose, courage and freedom from the pressure of being watched. In acting you have so many things to do, to act upon, to influence, to reach out! It’s so little about you, and it’s so much about the other one, that for a very shy-lacking-trust-introvert like me, this felt like a total different world was opening ahead. It changed my life.

 

  • Switching my “dream profession” all the time. Another fun thing I remember from childhood is being asked: what do you wanna be when you grow up? I’m not sure what my parents remember, but I think I said something else each time. Lawyer, doctor, astronaut, archeologist, any kind of researcher, actually… I didn’t want just one, but all of them. Which eventually led me to acting. A pretty nice compromise, I would say.  It feeds both my need of inquiry, and my need of experience.

 

What is your story? Do you know how you got here? How did this “germ” get to you? Do you remember anything about your first performances, of any kind? Or about your first film watched? How did they influence you?

Have a great contemplating week with nice memories and good questions!

Time vs. money

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Time is a much more valuable resource than money. This is my very first thought to start the New Year with. Following a crazy busy end of 2016, I’ve naturally reached a strong need to re-prioritise and reorganise things in my life. Trying to put the finger on something precise that I can work on towards that purpose, I’ve come to realise that there are two important subjects that have been “haunting” me for a while: 

  1. Learning to say “NO”.

I am naturally a “yes-person”. I tend to get involved everything that occurs. I see different opportunities of self development in every job, or challenge that crosses my way, and I tend to take up too much, even if I was already overloaded. I blame it on a sort of curiosity and hunger for experiences, on all levels, that might lay at the bottom of my will to be an actress, but this often leads to exhaustion, and shallownes. Being in a constant hurry, switching between three multitasking jobs might be exciting for a while, but in the long run, I think it takes you far from being a true dedicated performer, or a fulfilled human being. So for me, the challenge is to learn when to say “no, thank you”, “stop” or “enough”. It’s a continuos choice that we make every single moment, and I want to learn to decide quickly (and stick to my decision) whether I really need something, or whether I should refuse it, especially if it doesn’t take me forward on my own path.

 

      2. Time management.

Oh, this magical promise of extra time! I have no idea what that really means (yet), but I would be so grateful if it worked! I have so many plans and practices (both personal, and professional) that wait for me to have “time”… so I’m very eager to put everything in place, to make some kind of order so I don’t neglect my training, nor my little family.

Of course, being busy keeps you “fit”, artistically speaking, but I think that in time, you need to get used to getting back to basics once in a while. You need to get back to the gym, the dancing class, the singing class, whatever you feel you need to work on. One must not forget that an actors’ instrument needs to be tuned every single day, just like a musical one, or it will eventually fail.

Moreover, I think an actor’s mental state should also be “in training” all the time. It will help the performance be more accurate, alive and active. One should be aware of that every day: reading, writing, watching movies, going to the theatre, listening to classical music, learning a new musical instrument or meditating, one should be able to appreciate and take in any kind of activity that brings the mind to a focus and quietness. Clarity precedes Mastery – says Robin Sharma, and I couldn’t agree more. Mindful breathing is a great exercise, especially when you are “too busy” and you don’t have time for a full workout.

 

So what came along my way, right at the beginning of the new Year, are these two classes that I signed in without a doubt, and I’m willing to share with you:

  1. On how to set our priorites – and how to act upon them. A personal development workshop held by the renown psychotherapist and life coach Elisabeta Stanciulescu.  You have a link here taking you to her article and class, also.
  2. Corporealism – a contemporary dance class held by Florin Fieroiu, a great choreographer and dance teacher, that I am happy to work with each time possible. You can see here the event with all the details, feel free to join the class!

Suddenly, I realised that having the priorities rightly set, one would naturally know what to say “no” to, and that way time might actually become your ally, not your enemy. Obviously, this class (the first one), already covers the two needs that I talked about previously. The second class definitely offers me a new motivation to get moving, to keep fit, flexible and sensible, as an actors’ body should be. I’m very excited, and can’t wait to attend both of them. (Despite the January schedule that already looks challenging. ) 

 

What are your priorities? Do you take the New Year as an opportunity to rediscover and restart yourself? Do you ask yourself “what can I do today to be a better actress/mom/wife/person”? How do you manage your time, schedule, professional and personal balance?

 

To a New Year of inspiration, hard training, positive energy, and a fuller, deeper, inner life!

 

ps: Andy Szekely says that one should be aware that most resources, like money, have several fluctuations, they come and they go, while time definitely flows in only one direction (as we humans, are able to control, right now :)). So that’s a thought that can make you reconsider the way you choose to spend your time. This very moment will never ever take place again in history. Carpe diem!

 

uta-hagen

Uta Hagen – Respect for Acting

Uta Hagen – genius acting teacher and actress. One that made Stanislavki more understandable and practical for all western actors. One that took interest in a real acting technique, in ways that you can rely on your “instrument” each and every single time. She also made up exercises that one can do by himself/herself. She was frustrated by the fact that any other artist can practice his technique by himself, except for the actor who depends on his/her peers, on a rehearsal space or theatre.

Uta Hagen claimed “Respect for Acting” – which is also her first book’s title. She wanted acting to become a real craft, a respected profession, not just some “happening” based on talent or “a good day”, an inspired moment. She had been a successful actress while being a very gifted teacher, so her notes, her books on acting are full of practical advice. She has a very blunt way of seeing the acting process, and in her honest approach she uses recognizable situations for all students and actors.

Her books are a must read for all levels of preparation. They are very intelligible for the beginners, and also clarifying for the experimented ones. Some terms that are commonly used in our craft are often misunderstood, or largely tought, so they miss their use, and they become vague or only informational. Well, here is the source. The books are very inspiring also for those who have theatre experience and they could surely use some (re)organizing of their craft and knowledge. A true recap with explanations, examples, and most of all, exercises.

Uta Hagen is a German born actress, who grew up in America, and became one of the most acclaimed Broadway actresses by playing parts like Nina (The Seagull), Desdemona (Othello) or Martha (Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf?). She had a very influential meeting with the director Harold Clurman, who she worked with on A Streetcar Named Desire (playing the part of Blanche DuBois), where she opposed at least four Stanleys among which were Anthony Quinn and Marlon Brando. She became famous as a teacher working in HB Studio, New York, an important acting school co-founded by her husband Herbert Berghof (previous Actors’ Studio member). Among Hagen’s previous students are: Al Pacino, Jack Lemmon, Whoopi Goldberg, Liza Minelli, Sigourney Weaver, Amanda Peet and Mathew Broderick.

Few quotes that I would like to tempt you with, so that you get her books and watch her acting sessions:

  • Substitution. “I use the word substitution in a much broader sense. In fact, I could even prove that substitution can be used every moment of the actor’s homework and throughout rehearsal period for every stage of the work. Consequently, it can have its effect on every moment of the actor’s life on stage. I use substitution in order to “make believe” in its literal sense – to make me believe the time, the place, what surrounds me, the conditioning forces, my new character and my relationship to the other characters, in order to send me into the moment-to-moment spontaneous action of my newly selected self on stage.”
  • The Object Exercises: Endowment. “Almost nothing in our character’s life is what it is – but we must make it so! We endow the given circumstances, our own character, our relationship to others in the play, the place, each object we deal with, including the clothes we wear. All must be endowed with the physical, psychological or emotional properties which we want in order to send us richly into actions from moment to moment. And so, the example of turning an apple into an onion can be a beginning of comprehending that by turning one thing into another, or by supplying missing realities, actions may become sharper than usual, and that reality can be heightened instead of ordinary. It becomes a distilled reality, and that is what I love about it.”
  • Character. “Every actor should explore similar questions about his role. He should find the questions in the play and solve them for himself with identification.Whether he uses real or imaginary experiences, or both, is unimportant as long as he can believe in them and tap them when he needs them. This question-and-answer game continues until all possibilities for it are exhausted. To bring about a new me, with new but solid roots, need not to be discussed with the playwright, the director, or with fellow actors. It is secret laboratory work, and must stay secret. It is essential homework.”

 

It’s never too late to learn something new, or to refresh your knowledge. With each book, workshop or encounter, we have a chance to open ourself up and start again with a new perspective. If you thought there are so many things about a role, a rehearsal, or a casting scene that you can’t do anything about… well, Uta Hagen shows you how many things there are, in fact, that you can work on, in your spare time, at home, or in rehearsals. She gives so much more power to the actor. He/She is not just someone who waits to be cast, or to be directed, anymore. The actor works on his craft, consciously, programmatically, he reaches high, but keeps his feet really grounded. Uta Hagen’s books are the result of a huge passion for our profession. You can find them here:

Respect for Acting

A Challenge for the Actor

And the lessons – Uta Hagen’s Acting Class:

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An Actor Looking for Balance

On how to keep yourself motivated and creative even when projects don’t come “flooding” you.

  • Create them yourself. Don’t stay there waiting for the phone to ring. Look for new plays, read them, translate, or write them if you have to. Come together with your artist friends, people that you trust, and create your own project. There is nothing that could bring you more energy and faith than the anticipation of the rehearsals and the process of “raising” up your own show. 

 

  • Keep practicing. There are so many things that you have to keep well trained: your body, your mind, your soul. Your training should never stop. You can finally find the time to take good care of your instrument. You have a chance to become more sensitive, more flexible, both physically and psychologically speaking. Each casting/audition should find you well prepared.

 

  • See as many performances and films as you can. Look for different sources of inspiration: opera, ballet, puppet shows, it doesn’t matter. It is very important to know what is happening around you. You must remain open and aware of a cultural context that you actually belong to. This is so obvious, that I don’t want to insist any longer. It is essential.

 

  • Say “yes” to new experiences. If you keep yourself open, you can find so many things that you can learn from: a project that needs volunteers, a new job that comes on your way, a part-time maybe that will challenge your communication skills. You can also find yourself in the position of learning totally new skills that will be of great use for your next part.

 

  • Learn something new. This is the perfect time to take canto or tango lessons, or to learn a new language. Moreover, everything you learn will complete your abilities in your cv/resume and that will broaden the range of characters that you are eligible for.

 

  • Get out. Yes, actors also need a ballanced social life. This means that you should sometimes go out with your relatives, or other people that are not from your “theatre world”. This experience will remind you that the world is a way bigger place, and that there are more important problems than your ‘failing’ a scene. Furthermore, there are a lot of interesting characters and situations out there. Life is our biggest source of inspiration. It’s a very good idea to let yourself live the most common experiences. You might actually enjoy them. Extra bonus, the feeling of being part of a trusted group, the attachment, and the stability your friends bring into your life, these are what makes one healthy and balanced.

 

  • Upgrade what you are already doing. The shows that you have been performing still need your attention. Remember what made you enthusiastic about them in the first place, and try to find out how they have changed in the meantime. Keep asking yourself how can you improve something about your character in the show you have today. Reconsider the situation. Maybe there are some particular aspects that you have become aware of only after two years of playing the part, for example. Or maybe you’ve discovered new nuances by playing and being in the character all this time. Try to discover something new each time you go on stage. Experiment. Again and again. Here and now. (It is really said to see a very young actor playing like a “5o year sour” one.) Refresh yourself. Ask yourself one new question, each show, and it’s already something. You will not only be better today, but you will become aware of your work, you will increase your selfesteem and you will trust your work on stage. Bottom line, it is your job to be enthusiastic when you go to the theatre. This way you can find fresh energy to go on, and a new purpose. And nevertheless, it will take you to your next job. An actor that is enjoying his character is always captivating, and attracts projects naturally.

 

  • Live. Love. Create. “Don’t learn how to act, learn how to live” says Grotowski. Protect your energy and invest it in things that really matter to you. Do anything that makes you happy. It is the only way to become the best, without asking for anything in return. Manifest your creativity, no matter what that means to you: enjoy your hobby, develop a part-time job out of your passion for dance, for example, raise a child, enrol as a  Greenpeace volunteer, build up dog shelters. It really doesn’t matter. Whatever makes you feel more fulfilled, more “tired-but-happy” when you to to bed at night, this is exactly what will make you a better actor.

 

I suggest you take a look at these two very interesting resources on this subject:

 

  • A Kate Winslet interview on her approach on acting and also about how ‘keeping yourself busy’ is the only way to enrich yourself, as a human being, and also as an actor, of course. 

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=aWJaRlnsNAo

 

Have a great creative week everyone!