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Top 3 Words of Wisdom for Young Actors

As our 2018 productions begin take shape and the latest class of Conservatory Company members find their sea legs in the rehearsal room, seasoned actors from the 2018 Company share their top three words of wisdom for young actors:

Robyn Kerr

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  1. Be a generous actor to everyone, not just your fellow actors, but to every member of the cast, crew, office… every person involved.
  2. We are building work together. Listen to each other. So much about the character we are playing is revealed in how we react to or feel about what other characters in the play are saying or doing. This of course is easier if you’re off-book. Learn your lines as soon as you can so you can spend more time being truly present in the scene and playing–instead of checking what you’re supposed to say next.
  3. Don’t expect to get it perfect on day one. (I am very bad at this one. I always feel bad/embarrassed when I haven’t figured the scenes out the first time round. I end up doubting myself instead of being brave and trying stuff out. Suddenly I forget how to be a human being: Where do my hands go? How do I walk again? What the hell is that accent coming out of my mouth?) That’s why we rehearse. To play and figure it out. We should be in a constant state of discovery. It’s important to try things and to make mistakes, too. Sometimes through the mistakes we find the best choices. Be patient with yourself, your fellow scene partners, and the creative team. We all work in unique ways.

Chris Thorn

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  1. Wynn Handman (Artistic Director of The American Place Theatre) told me, “there’s a difference between making it look like you’re doing it, and really doing it.” With the exceptions of violence and intimacy (the real-ness of which has to be mitigated out of respect and safety), I’m a firm believer in really doing things.
  2. I love artist Laurie Anderson’s prescription for a good life: “1. Be afraid of no one. 2. Have a good bullshit detector. 3. Be tender.” (Seems self explanatory…)
  3. Robert Browning (English poet and playwright) said, “every time I write, the question gets clearer.” I think it’s useful to think of rehearsal as a time not to find answers, but to refine questions. (Related: a teacher once said to me “if you can define what you’re doing you can repeat it.”) Rehearsal, for me, is about finding the definition and parameters of our play.

P.S. My freshman year acting teacher said, “somewhere between where you hope you’re doing and how you fear you’re doing, is how you’re actually doing.” I find that comforting.

Liam Craig

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  1. How you rehearse is how you perform.
  2. Don’t plan too much. Be present in the room. Listen.
  3. Take your time with the violence. Don’t feel the need to get it “right” right away.

Julia Coffey

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  1. For big ‘listening’ scenes on stage, your attention is incredibly important. It lifts the stakes and helps focus the audience on the story. So, point of view is helpful: have one about the people on stage, what they’re saying, etc.  I found it helpful when I was in my first big Equity show, standing around in those big ‘listening’ scenes, to have little internal reactions to everything said – almost an internal monologue of reaction. An internal eye roll, or a secret crush, or a thirst for justice… it activates your participation. And it can change. Sometimes you’re a fan of the Duke, sometimes you secretly hate him because he didn’t give you that raise. And if your attention falters, ask yourself those key questions: Wait, WHAT? WHO?! No way! HOW? Putting on the mask of total ignorance and leaning in to get the answers can help you find new things. The more you engage YOUR imagination, no matter how small your part, the better practiced your imagination will be to help transmit ideas to the audience.
  2. Rehearsal rooms are for play. It’s what we do, but it’s a focused play that requires concentration. So, it’s important to read the room before goofing around. Are there people still trying to figure a scene out? If you sense concentration on creativity, give it space and be respectful of the focus needed. We all get the giggles and love socializing with our fellow actors, but be mindful of whether you’re potentially distracting others in the room from their work. In a way, your energy and focus – even in the rehearsal room – is how you show respect for your own participation and process.
  3. Find your fun. When building characters, ask yourself what you like about them personally. What excites you about living with them? It may change from scene to scene, but be on the look out in rehearsal for when you actually start having fun! Why? What was it about that bit there that was so much fun? And then explore it, follow where it leads. Sometimes it’s psychological, sometimes it’s a physical thing: I played an inconsequential fairy in a huge A Midsummer Night’s Dream production once, but I had so much fun playing with my character’s bird-like body. Focusing on what YOU find fun can lead you to your unique point of view in the character, making it much more specific, and as it just so happens, more fun to play!