Answers 4 Actors

Sunday, January 24, 2010

ACTING and COMMUNICATION are universal.


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The wonderful thing about traveling to Hong Kong to teach professional acting workshops, which I just did again in early December, is that it reminds me of how ACTING and COMMUNICATION are universal.

Feelings are universal.
Emotions are universal.
Want/need is universal.

Whether you grew up in Hong Kong, North Hollywood, Australia, or Singapore, everyone understands loss and pain. We, Actors, strive to portray real, believable people and the nonverbal part of acting translates into every language.

The words, you may not understand, but the emotions in the face, in the body and in the tone of voice can be understood even when the language is unfamiliar.

So, actors, remember that 90% of your performance is not the script. It is the relationship, the background, the history, everything you know about your character’s life that you never say but is important to you.

Teaching and coaching students in Hong Kong just reminded me how important what you don’t say is and how universal those nonverbal emotions and communications are. In Hong Kong I had a student who although he spoke English already, he did feel more comfortable with his first language. So I suggested that he translate the scene into Chinese and I first had him and his scene partner do the scene in Chinese and then when they did the scene again laying the English on top of what they learned by doing the scene in Chinese. It was amazing how much better the performance was. I’ve used this technique many times with actors where English is their second or third language. It works very well.

So what does this tell you about your work? You must, must make sure you know everything your character knows even though it may not be said in the scene. You need to analyze the scene and recognize what you need to know playing this character. Most of that information will not be in the script. Let me repeat that, most of that information will not be in the script. Why did I repeat this? Because I find actors forget to gather that information when it is not on the pages of the script. It is so important. It is absolutely necessary.

So how do you get better at gathering such information?

Let me give you one idea which you may have noticed during this holiday season. When you are out in public places, take a little time to be “a fly on the wall”. Just sit back and listen to other people’s conversation. A conversation where you are not involved. Notice what is not said by each person, but you know is important to the conversation. Try to write it down. (Maybe not there in front of them but as soon as you can) You will find there is so much communication going on that is never spoken. That is what you must investigate for each of your characters.

As actors and also writers you can research everywhere you go. Your families are a great source of character development. Waiting in public places are fantastic research labs for you. Don’t always immune yourself from your surroundings. Stop texting and talking on your phones once an a while and notice the people and conversations around you. The research will come in handy. Always have a small notebook with you or some index cards so you can write down your discoveries. You must do this because you will forget the details or the exact way that person said those words. Add descriptions of the people as well. There is a gold mine of ideas and inspirations around you. Be open to them. Whether you are in NoHo or Hong Kong, people are your research lab, make use of them.

I love working with actors whether in Hong Kong or here in No Ho. Actors are curious and generous of spirit. It is my honor to work with such amazing people. I wish you all the very best in your work and your life for this New Year of 2010.

Bless you all. Jeanne Hartman

What really is the Best? Best Actor? Best Movie? Best Performance?

Well we are coming into the “Awards” season here in Los Angeles. And there is a lot of talk about who is the BEST! What does that mean? I know sometimes it is the most well known actor or actress in the biggest movie. But really what does that mean?

I was thinking about this and realized that my favorite artists sometimes have a great performance and then of course there are times that I feel like they just didn’t nail it. Yes, of course, it is just my opinion but that is what BEST is based on.

I believe BEST can only be determined by each individual performance by that individual choice by that individual artist. I know that probably makes no sense so I’ll try to explain.

I don’t believe that there is only one way of performing a role. How you choose to perform it will always be different than another actor or actress.

When I see what I would possibly call BEST PERFORMANCE. It is always, yes always, a unique performance. Why do I use the word unique because if you think about it no one but that person could perform that role in that way and create such an amazing phenomenal experience.
If anyone tried to do it, it just wouldn’t work. Like a snowflake. They always say there is no snowflake like another snowflake. Now I don’t know if that is true since they melt so fast and are so small but I like the example.

This is why we are willing to see a story that really is not much different than another story when we look at the plot points. How many movies and TV shows and plays are about two people who meet fall in love, have a fight, fall out of love and then find their way back to each other.
Now of course the place is different and the reasons are different but the basic story is pretty much the same. And yet we want to watch that same story again, WHY?
Because each time we see it being performed by different people it is unique to them. They bring their individuality to the story and we want to watch.

I watch writers being asked which of their books or movies do they love the best. And almost always the answer is something like this. “Each creation is like my child. And how would you say which one of your children can you say you love the most?” I often wonder if some parents really do love one child more than another but that is a whole different discussion but the concept or example tries to show you that each one is unique and you can’t compare one to another.

That’s why I tell actors when they go on auditions sometimes no matter how good you are you may not be what the director and producers want. You may be the most fantastic apple but they want a pear. So no matter how fantastic an apple you are
they want a pear today and you are not a pear. Still when they want a fantastic apple they will remember you!

So when you think about who is the best actor or best actress just remember that you have to be the best you. No one can compete with that. That category is very unique. Only You fit that category. No one can do that except one person, YOU.

Actors are Great Researchers or They Should Be!


by Jeanne Hartman,

I love going to plays and films where I learn something I didn’t know. I went to see a play and it reminded me that actors and actresses must be great researchers.

This play dealt with women living in the 19th century. Those actresses had to learn what it was like for women at that time. They had to do their research and I was so glad they did. It is so wonderful to take a seat in a darkened theater and step into another time in history. I love learning while I am enjoying a creative, enjoyable performance.

Yes, I do love film but I marvel when a theater company on a small budget can create a world for you, the audience, with one set. Also the weight of the responsibility lies with the actors ultimately. Of course the play, the director, the set designer and the crew all contribute so much to the work but for the actors once the lights go down and the audience is quiet it is the actors who are in charge at least for that evening. In a film, the actor is never really in charge about what is in the final product. That is the director and editor’s choice. And of course the producers.

Maybe that is why my heart and the heart of many actors lie in the theater. But back to what I saw and why I bring this to you today.

Watching the three actresses in this production, each creating their role, I marveled at their ability to share with us how these women lived in this time period. And of course as it should be, it was entertaining too. They took us on a journey.

I think watching this wonderful performance, it reminded me that actors and actresses are constantly learning about the world. Every time they prepare for a role it’s like the actors are taking a college course in a new subject.

I suppose this is why that I feel actors are some of the smartest people I know. They love to learn and they must keep learning every time they create a new role.

Yes I know I have a special place for actors in my heart but I do see how much they must learn and I enjoy their curiosity and their ability to do their research. Also I don’t think most people are aware of how much an actor has to be a detective.

Now that I have praised you actors, I will admonish you as well. I was thrilled to see the women in the play this weekend really know their characters and the time period of the play. It is your job, not anyone else’s job to do this research. The script of the play or film never has enough information for you to truly play your role. Yes, I mean the word NEVER here. It is not possible for the writer to put all that information in the format of a play or film script. It is your job to find all the details your character must know that is not in the script.

So don’t be casual about this part of your preparation. And I hope you can enjoy this process, this searching for all the information your character must have at his fingertips. I know I do. If I could I would give Doctorate’s degrees to actors who do this well. They keep learning as they prepare for each role and I thank them for doing that. You smart actors and actresses allow me as the audience to truly be taken into the world of your character and the play or film. Thank you for doing your work! I can’t wait to see your next performance!

You can find Jeanne Hartman, Professional Acting Coach and Author at