Saturday, April 11, 2009

The Character

When actors talk about their various roles in shows and films they invariably refer to their “characters.” “My character has this personality," or "My character comes from this back ground;” the list goes on and on. But is that really what the acting process entails? Creating a character in an attempt to portray reality?

I used to think of acting as an escape from reality. It was a time for me to put on a mask and become someone else, to leave my everyday life behind and be someone exciting and new! Acting allowed me to be someone different from who I was in everyday life, and for that I was eternally grateful.

I have recently come to realize, however, that acting is not about becoming someone else; it is not about putting on a mask and entering an alternate reality. In the words of my acting professor Christina, acting is about opening up your chest, ripping out your heart and putting it on display for the world to see. In other words, acting is making yourself vulnerable and sharing your innermost thoughts, feelings, dreams, and desires with a room full of people.

Michael Shurtleff puts it well in his book Audition: Everything an Actor Needs to Know to Get the Part. According to Shurtleff, “Most people go into acting to get out of themselves, to get away from their everyday humdrum selves and become someone else who is glamorous, romantic unusual, different,.And what does acting turn out to be? Using your own self. Working from what’s inside you. Not being someone else, but being you in different situations and contexts. Not escaping you, but using yourself naked and exposed up there on the stage or the silver screen.”

This makes sense to me. At the beginning of my acting career I relished the idea that I had this escape from reality, that I pretend that I was someone else. But how on earth can one expect to create a realistic and believable character without drawing on ones own feelings and experiences. It is like trying to tell the life story of someone you’ve never met. Sure you can look up some details on the Internet and fake your way though it, but there will be no realistic integrity in your story; it will be a characture of what that person’s life is really like.

Now, you may be saying, “wait a minute! Isn’t acing all about telling someone else’s story?” You would be correct. Acting is about telling someone else’s story, but in the most believable way possible. That is where this idea of creating a “character” can lead some actors down the wrong path. The actor or actress needs to work from what’s inside of him or her to begin with to have any hope of creating a believable stage personality. As Ed Hookes so eloquently put it, “Acting is not about hiding behind a character; it is about exposing yourself through one.”

In that vein, I would like to encourage all of my fellow actors and actresses to think carefully on this concept. It is not an earth shattering new technique, but it is a mindset that I believe will help many people create more realistic and believable “characters.”

Saturday, January 10, 2009

This is Sparta!

On February 7, 2009, thousands of brave and hopeful college students will wake up early, gulp down a cup of coffee, send up a prayer to whatever deity they worship, and prepare to place their entire future in the hands of a 4 hour test. Some will survive, others will fall, and in the end only the strongest will prevail.

On February 7 I will be joining these gluttons for punishment, these masochists of the mind at MSU’s Bessy Hall to taking the most feared of all college admissions tests…the LSAT.

Ok, maybe I am being a tiny bit melodramatic, but to a college student contemplating a future career in law, this is one of the biggest obstacles I will have to tackle on my journey to attaining a Juris Doctor degree. And, thanks to my New Years resolutions (see Resolved), I am setting my sights high (come on Harvard!). That being said, it is understandable that I have LSAT on the brain.

Up until a few weeks ago, I didn’t even know what was on the LSAT! I had heard something about logic games and I knew that there was a lot of critical reading involved, but I really had no idea what I had gotten myself into. I have learned a lot more since then...

The LSAT itself is broken up into 6 sections. There are two sections of logical reasoning - small statements about which the reader must make logical assumptions and inference, one section of logic games - little games that test your ability to apply rules and regulations in a given situation, one section of critical reading - longer reading passages that test your ability to…well…read critically, one section of “experimental” questions - the part of the test that is not scored where the LSAT board gets to test out new questions on the poor unsuspecting test taker, and a writing section that tests your writing ability. The writing and the experimental sections are not graded, but colleges are sent a copy of your writing sample, and you are not told which section of the test is experimental. That is 4 hours of analysis, reading, writing, and shear agony…I can’t wait to have this behind me!

In the interim, while I wait for this fateful day, I am studying for the exam. I wonder though... How exactly can someone study for a test that requires no memorization? For a test that does not test what you know, but how you think? The answer…very painstakingly. According to every test prep book I’ve read and every law student that I have talked to the best way to study for the exam is to just familiarize yourself with the format of the LSAT and to take as many practice exams as possible. Yes, Kaplan and Princeton Review classes can walk you step by step though special analytical models of how to approach the questions, but the best way to prepare for this exam is to dedicate time, and lots of it, to familiarizing yourself with the questions and improving your time.

With that in mind, my goal is to take 3 practice tests a week for the next 4 weeks before the test. Will my brain be fried? Probably. Am I going to be grumpy and irritable this January? You betcha. But am I going to own this test? OH YEAH! (It’s all about positive affirmation, baby!) So get ready LSAT because THIS IS SPARTA!

Sunday, January 4, 2009


Well, here goes my first foray into the wonderful world of blogging! And, seeing as it is the beginning of a New Year, what is more appropriate than to discuss New Year resolutions?

On New Years Eve, while I was standing in downtown Grand Rapids watching the Plain White T's perform in Rosa Parks Circle, I was struck by a sudden realization: I had not made any new New Years resolutions. Oh sure, just like everyone else around me in the freezing 20 degree weather I had made some New Years resolutions - it seems to be a human compulsion to set unattainable goals for ourselves - but, for the past few years, my New Years resolutions have all been...well...the same: I'm going to buckle down next semester and have a 4.0 semester, I'm going to eat healthy and exercise regularly, I'm going to be the poster child of contentment and happiness. Are these goals attainable? Some would say, "yes." It is true that I've gotten better at exercising regularly and have found some modicum of happiness in this hectic world. But, are these resolutions challenging me, are they pushing me to stretch my potential, to abandon my safety blanket, to broaden my horizons? No.

So, after my long preamble, without further ado I present my New Years resolutions.


1) Make the world a better place (I know it's subjective, but I am intrigued to see how many different ways I can do this :)
2) Follow my dreams (This means I will do more theatre, stop putting myself into predetermined vocational tracks and stop being my own worst road block!)
3) Be the exception, not the rule. (Take that as you will...)
4) Talk less, listen more; avoid conversing in monologues!
5) Begin studying and understanding other religions. (This is inspired by all of my friends in the international community.)
6) Learn how to play the ukulele. ("Why," you might ask? "Why not!?" I say.)
7) Talk to someone new every day. I don't care if it is just chatting with someone on the bus or making a new friend in my classes. (This is along the "get out of my comfort-zone" lines.)
8) Regardless of my personal insecurities and fear of failure, I WILL apply to Harvard, Yale and Columbia University Law Schools.
9) Along the same lines as above, I will audition for a theatre production or show that I think I have no chance of getting cast in. (I need to get over my fear of failure somehow...Keep the dream alive man!)
10) Love. Everyone, every day, everything. (Easier said than done...)

What an eclectic list of resolutions :) So, dear reader, I ask you: are you resolved?