Presenting Yourself As A Performer
Posted on 23 January 2014
I’m already working on a new show for Melbourne Fringe while conducting rehearsals for a repeat of Pop Mashup: Happy Birthday Doctor! at Melbourne Comedy Festival. Part of the process is finding performers who can help read through early drafts of the script and ultimately perform in the final product.
This takes some trust on the parts of the actors. They have to feel secure that I can deliver a good script. However, the rewards are great when they have a role tailor-made specifically for their skills and strengths. Given the nature of this sort of ensemble development, the actors have to offer not only their skills as a performer but their skills as a human being. They need to be flexible, patient, creative, and able to work and play well with others. When the blend is just right, we all have a lot of fun.
So how do I or other directors select actors?
Building A World
For stage, television, and film the writer and the director are building a world where stories happen. This world needs to be filled with people who interact with one another. Certainly some stories are set within a particular circumstance where everyone is likely to be similar, such as a ladies college, but that ladies college will have not only young women, but teachers, principles, custodians, etc filling up the halls. The college itself will be in a particular town or suburb with an even greater diversity of people.
Directors need diversity. When I go through sites such as StarNow and see one attractive young face with the same dramatic look after another, it makes my job easy and hard: easy in that I can discount a lot of people; hard in that I have to dig to find a diverse selection.
When I make myself available to an agent, they get all excited when I tell them I’m fifty years old. Why? Most females start dropping out of the performance business in their thirties. They are assuming that because they no longer epitomise our culture’s idea of beauty that they are no longer of any use. I would say that it can indeed be harder as a female to procure decent roles when you get older, but hardly impossible. The stories need you, and you need to be there to help improve the stories.
Stop trying to make yourself the same. Stop worshipping at the foot of the current trend in actors. It is often said that Owen Wilson or various other actors, “only play themselves”. But they keep on playing themselves and they keep on getting successful roles. It is all right to play at being various characters, but you need to be yourself first. The more distinct and interesting you are, the more attractive you will be to an agent or director. Leading women and men often set the standard of beauty, rather than following it, by being colourful, original, and noteworthy in some way. You don’t even have to be up to modeling standards and much more frequently I’m looking for someone to play an ordinary human not an ideal.
Take A Look At Yourself
Here’s how you get the performance industry to take a look at you. Take a long hard look at yourself. Look at all the parts of yourself that you’ve been judging as not good enough. Look at your ears, your nose, your belly, your bottom, your knees, all of it. Now I want you to understand that no one else has a body just like yours. You don’t have to change a thing. I want you to start celebrating how distinctive you are. If you think there’s something wrong with your behind, I want you to go out, buy a pair of harem pants, and start twerking your butt cheeks like a boss.
Next examine all those things you do in your life that you are embarrassed to tell your friends or family. Look at the Dungeons and Dragons you play, the tea cosies you collect, your obsession with keeping your car shiny clean, whatever. I want you to stop minding what other people might think of these activities, and celebrate the fact that you are an engaged human being who knows what turns them on. Wear that activity like a badge of honour. Claim it and let others know what brings you joy in life. I have auditioned more than one person because they included photos of themselves engaged in a hobby. Suddenly they become more interesting, someone who I can imagine playing this or that part.
Finally, don’t mind getting all squishy and new age feely. Connect with your emotions in as broad a way as possible. I don’t want to see endless photos with seductive and/or moody faces. I want to see that you can project your humanity. Emotional range is crucial in both an actor and a comedian, even when it is done comically. Put up photos of yourself smiling, looking scared, looking angry or disgusted, distraught with grief, being cheeky. These will distort your face, and you won’t look like a National Gallery portrait: you will look like an actor/comedian. This will give me so much more information about whether I can use you or not.
Comedians are generally better at this than straight actors. Nevertheless, something in the back of people’s heads often tells them they need to be “perfect” to get a role, and then they start homogenising themselves. Stop. Imperfection always makes for better comedy…always!
Peace and kindness,