2nd Improv Class – Think on your Feet!

Another class and another step forward toward freedom of expression!

On my train ride into New York for class I was reading the Upright Citizens Brigade workbook on Improv (yes, there is a book!).  Really interesting.

They have a phrase, “play at the top of your intelligence.”  By that they mean “emotional” and “social” intelligence.  Another way of saying it is to “understand how a real human being would react in a given situation”.  It is about “allowing yourself to have a true, honest emotional response… in the moment”

In Meisner Technique, this was given to us in another way as part of the initial definition of acting that Bill Esper taught us; to “behave truthfully under imaginary circumstances.”

A truthful reaction to some given situation is where the humor or pathos lives.  In improve, “trying” to be funny” is like putting your finger on the tuning fork after it’s struck.  It kills the natural vibration, which in a human context is the empathetic, vibrational response the audience feels in identifying with what’s happening.  This is true in Improv, but also in acting and voice overs (even golf!  This is a fundamental truth!  Allowing the “moment” to happen [or the “swing” to happen in the case of golf], confident that it is “enough”– without feeling the need to “add” something, or manipulate something, is one of the foundational, transcendent truths of Art, and Life.

Man, that was deep!  :>)

But seriously, having the courage to “let go” in all things: acting, voices overs, singing, golf– pretty much everything, is at the core of living life as an expression of personal creativity.

That was deep too!

Maybe I should just try and remember my lines and not bump into the furniture!  :>)

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IMPROV 101, “Let the Games Begin!”

Yesterday, I took my first class in Improv 101 at the Upright Citizens Brigade in NYC.  The teacher for the class is Alexandra Dickson.  I like her.  She’s funny.

The class runs over 8 Tuesday’s from 3:30-6:30pm.  Yesterday we were just getting our “sea legs,” learning the basics of “long form” improv and trying to remember each other’s names.

At the end of the day, I don’t know if Improv is “my thing,” but that’s really not the point.  I’m there to “get out of my head” and be more spontaneous.  That’s the beauty of Improv… “thinking” doesn’t help.  You just have to react, in the moment, and trust that whatever comes out is OK.  The more “truthful” you are, the better (and generally, the funnier!).

I know this will help me in acting, but also behind the mic doing voice overs.  It’s all the same, responding in the moment, truthfully and fully, with no self-judgement.

One funny thing that happened there is that one of the other students in the class is someone I went to school with at Mason Gross in 1985.  She looked at me when we walked in and said, “I know you!”  She was Debbie Durkes back then.  A lot of water has flowed over the dam in the last 32 years for both of us, but we’ve both come back around to our first love… acting.

More to come.

My first Audio Book has been Published!

This has been a banner week in the life of Golden Tonsils! I’ve passed a milestone. My first book has been published on Amazon.com! The book is, “Ethics beyond the Law” by Pete Geissler.

It was quite the learning experience! One thing I learned is that I have to get a lot faster and better at narrating, basic audio processing, and editing. I have two other audiobooks that I’m starting to work on now. I won the contracts through audition. This first one was only an hour and 15 minutes long. The next two are over six hours each. Fortunately I found someone to work with to help. Her name is Amy Golan, and she runs a business in LA called Narrator Helper. She was recommended by George Whittam, Audio Engineer from Edge Studio. Amy does proofing, editing and mastering—and help me put together the first book. Even so, I estimate it took me more than six or seven hours at least to produce that one and a half hour audiobook. I don’t know this to be the case, but that strikes me as a lot! I did find, as I went along in the process, I did get faster and better. And, when Amy gave me edits, I recorded whole sections or sentences instead of just a short phrase like she requested. So, even there, I added time to my work. That said I still learned a lot! As I start the second book, I’m keeping meticulous track of my time at each step. I need to understand where the bottlenecks are.

One thing I’ve clearly identified is that I still have a sibilant “S.” Egad! Part of that is caused by the crowding of my teeth. My mouth is very narrow and I find that the back of my tongue has a hard time flattening out when articulating certain vowel and consonant combinations because it can quickly “fit between my teeth.”

There’s also a lot to learn, obviously, on the audio processing side. Both Amy and George have told me my audio gain is too low. When I boosted it seems like I get a low hum in the background I’ll have to ask George about that. I’m planning on having him set all of the settings for Adobe audition, for EQ and mastering.

Acting

In addition to the audio work, I’m taking a lot of workshops in acting again. I’ve done a few at the Red Bull Theater in NY. The focus mostly on Classical Theater. Great classes. I’m signed up for a few more in the future. One is a four day workshop on Checkov with Olympia Dukakis.

And I just completed an “on camera” workshop with Tim Phillips. That went well too. Got a lot out of it. George was recommended by Michelle Colt, but Kevin Kilner worked with him as well. Jordan talked about him too. The class had two parts: Sherlock Holmsing the Text (breaking down the scene) and “on camera” performance. Everyone brought in a scene they selected and Tim worked with everyone in the class. His assistant, Zillah Glory was the “reader.” The scene was a father apologizing to his son after the son’s announcement that he was marrying his gay lover. The scene was very heartfelt and apologetic. Zillah and I were both crying by the end. That’s not what I was expecting, but it just happened… mostly because of her “openness” as a Reader in the scene. Tim had us do it twice. He gave me an adjustment and filmed it again… which was even more powerful. I watched the scene afterwards, and for the first time on video/film, thought that the character I was looking at was believable. That’s a pretty big step forward after seeing some of the video classes I’ve done at Actor’s Connection! Technically, I could see myself moving around in the frame too much, and I had some “tension” in my mouth that I saw as a habitual behavior that I need to be aware of… but generally, I “left myself alone,” and what came out was very simple, truthful, honest and believable. Tim is coming back in November. I can’t make that one, but plan on going back for another session the next time he’s in NYC.

Peeking behind the curtain at the AAPC Conference

I recently attended a Regional Conference of the AAPC (American Association of Political ConAAPC Logosultants). I had signed up for a webinar the week before on doing Political Voice-Overs, and one of the participants in the webinar had talked about the AAPC as being a source of information and contacts. I checked out their website, and saw that there was a conference just about to happen in Philadelphia. So, I signed up.

It was interesting. It was a little smaller than I expected, maybe 80 or so political operatives in attendance. I mingled. I schmoozed. I networked, and met some really interesting people, some of which might lead to potential business doing political voice overs. But the most interesting thing was the experience of being there and hearing what the issues of interest were for people in that industry. It was sort of like peeking behind the scenes and seeing “how the sausage was made.”

The topics covered a range as wide as the” latest technologies in voter tracking and customized message delivery,” to how the Citizens United ruling was beginning to drive money down to even Municipal elections.

The speakers were all excellent, and a convivial group. Some of them were also Corporate Consultants to the largest companies in the world, and work on elections internationally as well. One thing I noticed, that emerged as a pattern as they each introduced themselves, was that they were by-and-large Partisan. They were either Democrats or Republicans. Left or right. There were a “few” that were somewhat agnostic, and didn’t seemed too concerned about which side of the fence they played. They reminded me of that parody song from many years ago from the political satirist, Tom Lehrer about Werner Von Braun (https:/www.youtube.com/watch?v=5V7me25aNtI), “Vonce ze rockets go up who cares vere zay come down. Zat’s not my department, says Werner Von Braun.” They saw themselves are hired guns.

The rest played for one team on the other. A number of them talked about getting into politics accidentally, and not being even sure of what “brand” they favored… but after a few weeks they realized, “I’m a Democrat, or Republican, or Liberal, or Conservative! One of the “hired guns” said, “at the end of the day, it’s all about winning… and I love to win!” I could see a few of the partisans on the panel shaking their heads. In response, one them said, “yes, it’s about winning… but I believe that there’s a social impact to what I do. That’s what I’m passionate about. Yes, it’s about winning, and on Election Day there’s an unambiguous outcome to your plans and strategies. But what winning means to me is that what I believe in has a chance to impact society.”

I found that message compelling. It resonated. I’m  a “Left of Center” Progressive Liberal. I couldn’t do a Voice Over for a Conservative that was promoting their voting record with the NRA (even though I own a couple of handguns), or railed against the “immigrant horde” or “gay agenda.” “Those” people are my friends. My family.

I believe in Single Payer Healthcare and cheap access to higher education. I think the banking meltdown a few years back was a criminal act, legalized by a cowardly congress that didn’t have the nerve to pursue indictments. I support legislation that funds programs that support the poor, and provides more opportunity for people to move up the economic ladder… even if that money comes from higher taxes on the wealthy.

Hmmm…. maybe part of this comes out of my experience of being a child of a single parent household… and the struggles I witnessed my mother go through after being widowed at 37 with me and my two sisters to care for.

OK you Leftist Democrats… if you need a strong, authoritative, trusted voice to sell your Agenda… call me! :>)

Red Bull Theater – Summer Shakespeare Workout

I attended a workshop last weekend put on by the Red Bull theater in New York (http://www.redbulltheater.com/). It was fun, challenging, exciting, inspiring, Red Bull Theaterand enlightening.

The instructors were all exceptional, every one. Here were the Bios we were given with the Course outline.

Jesse Berger is the Founding Artistic Director of Red Bull Theater. He has adapted and directed productions of Pericles, The Revenger’s Tragedy, Edward II, Women Beware Women, The Duchess of Malfi, The Witch of Edmonton, Volpone, The Maids, Loot, and ‘Tis Pity She’s a Whore. Jesse’s adaptations of The Revenger’s Tragedy and Women Beware Women are published by Dramatists Play Service. Jesse has also directed at many fine regional theaters and Shakespeare festivals across the country.

Tracy Bersley teaches acting, movement and directing/devising work at conservatories and studios in and out of New York City and is currently on faculty at Princeton University and CAP 21 Musical Theatre Conservatory.

Dakin Matthews is a Shakespearean actor, director, dramaturge, and Emeritus Professor of English, whose most recent work includes dramaturging Much Ado in last year’s Shakespeare in the Park production, the 2005 Broadway production of Julius Caesar with Denzel Washington, and the 2003 LCT production of Henry IV for which his adaptation won a Special Drama Desk award. Dakin is currently appearing on Broadway as Winston Churchill, opposite Helen Mirren in The Audience.

Laila Robins is a much lauded stage, film and television actress. Her Broadway appearances include Heartbreak House, Frozen, The Herbal Bed, and The Real Thing. Off Broadway includes Antony & Cleopatra, The Merchant of Venice, The Lady from Dubuque, Tiny Alice and many more. Laila is also a frequent performer at The Shakespeare Theatre of New Jersey. Laila starred in Red Bull Theater’s The Dance of Death.

Kate Wilson is voice and speech faculty member at Juilliard and one of the industries most sought-after vocal coaches. Her recent New York voice/dialect coaching credits include: A Raisin in the Sun, Machinal, The Trip to Bountiful, The Heiress, War Horse, The Mountaintop, The Merchant of Venice, Red, Driving Miss Daisy, and many others. Film/television credits include: The Black Box, The Leftovers, Olive Kittredge, The Harvest, Inside Llewyn Davis, and more. Regional coaching includes: Chautauqua, Williamstown, Shakespeare Theater DC, McCarter Theater, and more.

Mirriam Silverman. We weren’t give a Bio on her. She came in on Sunday, but her work was exceptional. She’s an experienced actress and movement coach.

Each one of them came in and worked with us on scenes we were assigned 6 days before the class started.

We were each asked to be completely “off book,” for the first session. I almost made it! I could do it when sitting with my partner, but crashed and burned when we got up on the last day to work with Jesse Berger. Ahhh, well. He sat us down and went through it again, looking at the intentions behind the lines and the arc of the scene. I got a lot out of that.

What was really fascinating was each of them had areas of expertise that were deep and rich and extremely specific (or at least, they focused on one area of their expertise to bring to the class). There were some that overlapped. There were also a few that knew each other, and had worked had together, like Kate Wilson and Dakin Matthews. So, even as they delivered their material they were aware of with the other would say, or had said.

Some of the others were really much different, and approached the work from a different angle. There were times that one gave the exact opposite guidance as the teacher had given in the prior session— but in a way they didn’t seem contradictory. Each one was peeling back the layers of truth from a different point of view. It was like finding a different facet of a gem catching the light in a different way.

Dakin, as an actor, director, and dramaturge, worked with the language—and the scene structure. It was unbelievable how clearly he was able to break down the progression of the scene, and take each line of text and expose how one “thought” led to the next—and to the next—and to the next… all clearly revealing the inner life of the character and their psychological progression through the scene. He was sweet, kind, and generous. He had an impish twinkle in his eye as he-led people along to a deeper understanding of how the text uncovered “who” those characters were– and how Shakespeare gave you all the clues to find them. Even the “lifting” of the tone of a single word in a sentence clarified its intent.

Kate came in and worked with our voices initially. The first part of her session was devoted to warming up the voice. After that she had us play with the text in the scenes in ways that really opened up the whole group.

Laila’s class was a completely different take on approaching the work. She had the “technical” background on the text and the meter, but was more interested in the interaction of the actors and their relationships. There was one scene from Julius Caesar, where she had the two actors playing Brutus and Cassius play the scene as if it was an episode of the “Sopranos.” The “relationship” between the two actors “popped!” For her, the relationships of the characters, discovered through improvisation, helped inform new ways of interpreting the text.

Tracy and Miriam came in and had us playing “games” with the scenes. One game that Mirriam had one pair of actors doing in a scene from “All’s Well that Ends Well” was to say “Oh, you don’t understand,” before every “thought” the character had… and when they finished the thought, say, “you see?”

That’s a little hard to understand, so here’s an example from the script, where the Countess is trying to get her “adopted” daughter, Helena, to admit that she loves her (the Countess’) “birth” son. Helena is trying to deny and evade the question. They “bracketed” each new thought with those two phrases.

Countess:

[Oh…you don’t understand] I am your Mother. [you see?]

Helena:

[Oh…you don’t understand] Pardon Madam. The Count Rousillon cannot be my brother: [you see?]

[Oh…you don’t understand]I am from humble, he from honour’d name; [you see?]

[Oh…you don’t understand] No note upon my parents, his all noble: [you see?]

 Maybe it doesn’t translate (you had to be there?)… but what it did was create “each thought anew.”  The “character” didn’t know they were in a scene that had three more pages! They thought everything they “said” would be the final answer to the questions of the scene… but it wasn’t. They said a line, and (much to their chagrin) that idea didn’t satisfy the other character in the scene… so, they said the “next line.” And that one didn’t satisfy them either… so they said the “next” line. It created the sense that the scene was unfolding, and that every new line was an attempt to make the “thing they were trying to get at” clearer. Every new thought was “discovered” in the moment, as a response of the character’s need to try and get what they wanted. Just like you and me, in real life, when trying to explain something… we keep talking… and come up with another way to make our point if we didn’t think what we’d just said had landed. That was an “acting game” that could be used in any play, not just Shakespeare, but it certainly enlivened the work this weekend!

Every one of the Coaches they brought in came with something like that. They each provided a clear, specific way to approach how to understand, clarify, and act the text of Shakespeare (and beyond).

It was really fun, and interesting. And, as to be expected, the people in the class ranged from a college student intern, to a recent college grad, a few college professors (and actors), a few actors and actresses, and an opera singer trying to learn more about Shakespeare. They too, were varied and interesting, smart and talented. Most of us were more or less local, but a few had traveled from as far as Pittsburgh and Colorado.

It was a great experience, and I’m looking forward to taking more workshops and classes. Funny, I graduated from Mason Gross 30 years ago, so it’s been a long time since I was engaged in this kind of work at this level, which such talented and experienced people.   For the last year or so I’ve been taking a different class, and participating in a Shakespeare “play reading” group with Rhona Silverbush. Rhona is the text/acting coach for the New York Shakespeare Society. She’s also another extraordinary talent. Those classes and group too are another “space” to learn and play in (and Rhona gave me a great audition monologue of Polonius, that I never would have thought of!). The point of all this is, whatever my “talent” is, there’s plenty of room to grow and stretch before I find the edge. Sounds like fun to me!

Maybe the next thing for me is an improve class!

My Official Website is almost done…

I’ve been working with a website developer, Eric Doss, from DFXden  (www.dfxden.com).  Coming along nicely!  Eric is doing a great job.  I still have some work to do, providing him with content for a few pages, but there’s light at the end of the tunnel.  I’m going to be working on identifying the first round of “prospects” to call for my first marketing push.  I’ll be working a simple script to reach the key contact at a group of audio production companies I’ve targeting.  I’m not ready to send a demo link yet, but I’ve got plenty of postcards to send out!  I’ll begin by creating some buzz around my logo and brand… so when I have some audio content, and a demo CD, I’ll have planted the seeds that will begin to grow.  The launch of Golden Tonsils isn’t too far away!

Live and Learn…

I’ve been emailing a friend of mine, Steven Reisberg.  He’s another of the Mason Gross Mafia.  He’s the booth Director at TGMD Talent in LA.  I’ve been keeping Steve abreast of my progress on Golden Tonsils.

Funny, I told him I’m learning Pro Tools.  All the people I’ve spoken to, and from what I’ve read on different sites on the internet, it’s considered the “standard” in the industry.  I also went to a few classes at Edge Studio, where I’m working on putting together my demo… and a few professionals in the group came in with the M-Boxes (that’s the hardward interface to the Pro Tools software).  Even the engineer in the class I was taking at Edge uses Pro Tools… so I figured “ahhh… what the heck… no one ever got fired for buying IBM!” (… metaphorically speaking!  Man, I’m really dating myself!)    So… I went out and bought Pro Tools.

When I mentioned that to Steve in an email, he replied “I found Pro Tools too needlessly complex and slow for my day-to-day VO recording tasks at work.” On the MAC, he uses Sound Studio 3, and on the PC he uses Sound Forge.  He said they’re both “faster, easier to use, and cheaper” than Pro Tools!

He ought to know! Here, I’m starting to look around for a course in audio engineering… and I probably could have purchased something that’s easier to use at half the price.  Hey, waddaya gonna do!?  Like I said, Live and Learn.

We move on…

Recommendation

On another front, my friend Kevin recommended me to his agent at Innovative Artists Agency.  It was a very gracious email.  Jordan and Kevin have both been great (it’s probably because of Jordan that I’m ensconced in Piermont!).  Not only are they good friends, but good role models.  They’ve made a life for themselves as working artists… it’s a beautiful thing!

I sent a brief, follow-up email.  I look forward to speaking with him (Kevin’s agent).  I have no expectation that there’s going to be any deep discussion of “representation.”  Jeez… I don’t even have a demo yet!  Not only that, a “representation” relationship is a really personal thing.  Both parties, the Agent and the Artist have to deeply believe in each other… as well as “gel” personally.  It’s a marriage of sorts, that has financial and professional ramifications for both parties.  It’s not something to be entered into lightly… on either side.  I’m not in a position today to offer, or be offered that kind of relationship… but that day isn’t too far off.  That said, I’m really looking forward to meeting with him.  Who knows….

The main thing is to continue “engaging” in the world I’m moving back into.  I plan on having my website up by the end of April, or May.  That should happen in conjunction with completing my Demo… and after that I’m going to be marketing my butt off!

I’m also building out my contact database in Salesforce.com (anyone at work who’s following my blog will laugh at this!)  I’ve copied the coding scheme on the AFTRA Website, indicating what the “signatory” agencies of the union focus on.  I’m applying this to all the companies “in the business” that I add to Salesforce.  Of course, some of them have “nothing” to do with Voice Overs, or Acting… but there a number of classifications I could fit into!  It’s not too long before I might qualify for “Older Actor!”  :>).  I’ve already created queries of Production Companies that focus on Animation, CD’s, Commercials, Film, Industrials, etc.  I’ve got marketing tee’d up to different segments.  I’ve got a “cold call” campaign set up to find the key contacts in advertising agencies, production houses, even large corporations—that produce in-house training videos and telephony.

On the “delivery side,” I’m confident that “I’ve got the goods.”  I know I can produce high quality (sometimes inspired!) work… but I also know that that’s not enough.  I plan to out-market the competition.

As an example, these are some “dashboards” of Accounts in New York.  The “Leads” are companies I downloaded from MelissaData.  I set up a search of Advertising Agencies (by their SIC Code) in New York City, looking for “operations” and “production” job titles in companies reporting ove $5MM in revenue each year.  I downloaded 145 companies for $25 bucks!  Cheap!

Plus, I’m starting to put together some great swag to give away as I build my brand!  :>)

When I moved here from Boston in July, I gave myself a two-year time-frame to make the transition to working full-time in the Arts.  That gives me 18 months to go… but if I can compress that, all the better!

I really like what I’m doing in my “day job.”  I’m working my ass off, but I’m learning a lot, and the new SVP of Sales and Marketing that’s just been hired is really sharp!  I’m going to glean as much as I can from his experience.  But, after all is said and done, I’m trying to apply all I know, and what I’m learning, to the “next iteration”… to the “future I’m living into.”

Headed West

I’m going to be visiting the west coast next month.  I’m attending the first of 5 conferences I’m scheduled into as part of the Landmark “Team Leadership and Management Program.”  It’s in San Diego.  While I’m out there, I’m going to take a little Vacation, and visit the West Coast crew (including Steve).

Looking forward to it.