Monday, April 15, 2013

Use All Gently

SCENE II. A hall in the castle.
Enter HAMLET and Players

Speak the speech, I pray you, as I pronounced it to you,
trippingly on the tongue: but if you mouth it,
as many of your players do, I had as lief the
town-crier spoke my lines. Nor do not saw the air
too much with your hand, thus, but use all gently;
for in the very torrent, tempest, and, as I may say,
the whirlwind of passion, you must acquire and beget
a temperance that may give it smoothness. O, it
offends me to the soul to hear a robustious
periwig-pated fellow tear a passion to tatters, to
very rags, to split the ears of the groundlings, who
for the most part are capable of nothing but
inexplicable dumbshows and noise: I would have such
a fellow whipped for o'erdoing Termagant; it
out-herods Herod: pray you, avoid it.

First Player
I warrant your honour.

Be not too tame neither, but let your own discretion
be your tutor: suit the action to the word, the
word to the action; with this special o'erstep not
the modesty of nature: for any thing so overdone is
from the purpose of playing, whose end, both at the
first and now, was and is, to hold, as 'twere, the
mirror up to nature; to show virtue her own feature,
scorn her own image, and the very age and body of
the time his form and pressure. Now this overdone,
or come tardy off, though it make the unskilful
laugh, cannot but make the judicious grieve; the
censure of the which one must in your allowance
o'erweigh a whole theatre of others. O, there be
players that I have seen play, and heard others
praise, and that highly, not to speak it profanely,
that, neither having the accent of Christians nor
the gait of Christian, pagan, nor man, have so
strutted and bellowed that I have thought some of
nature's journeymen had made men and not made them
well, they imitated humanity so abominably.

First Player
I hope we have reformed that indifferently with us, sir.

O, reform it altogether. And let those that play
your clowns speak no more than is set down for them;
for there be of them that will themselves laugh, to
set on some quantity of barren spectators to laugh
too; though, in the mean time, some necessary
question of the play be then to be considered:
that's villanous, and shows a most pitiful ambition
in the fool that uses it. Go, make you ready.

Exeunt Players

Sunday, April 14, 2013

Old Books From An Old Actor's Library

Many of my acting students ask me for reading lists. There are many very good acting books out there. I have a bookcase full of them. Some are old and some are new.

I find it difficult to choose favourites. So here are just a few of the titles that inspired me when I was starting out as an actor;

(listed in no particular order)

An Actor Prepares (Konstantin Stanislavski)
Building A Character (Konstantin Stanislavski)
Creating A Role (Konstantin Stanislavski)
Improvisation For The Theater (Viola Spolin)
Audition (Michael Shurtleff) more than just an audition book
Respect For Acting (Uta Hagen)
Impro (Keith Johnstone)
Sanford Meisner On Acting (Sanford Meisner & Denis Longwell)
Actors On Acting (Toby Cole & Helen Krich Chinoy)
A Practical Handbook For The Actor (Melissa Bruder)
The Stanislavski System (Sonia Moore)
Acting – A Handbook Of The Stanislavski Method (Toby Cole & Lee Strasberg)
Being And Doing – A Workbook For Actors (Eric Morris)

and for fun;

The Art of Coarse Acting (Michael Green)
No Turn Unstoned (Diana Rigg)

A good actor is a literate actor. ALWAYS BE READING. Even when you're not working on anything, there should always be a play or a screenplay in your bag, on your desk or on your nightstand.

Tuesday, January 10, 2012

A Poem by Bob Hicok

Report from the black box

For Flaco
A cooler head of lettuce prevailed, 
but when the actor
asked his question and paused
for us to watch him pause and think
inside the pause, I almost answered
as if we were in a bar, just the two of us
and a balcony and spotlight. The two of us
and programs and makeup and a sofa
from the director’s living room and the black/
womb/agora/séance of theater inviting us to feel
together alone. I recall I don’t recall
the question but its scope on his face
was immense, as if he were the Milky Way
asking am I pretty, am I here for sure for real
for long and my breath was the quiet yessing
of tall grass against the shoulders of a cat
stalking the night. I actually opened my mouth
before I actually thought you will be stoned
and not in the good way, not with stones
of tongues, stones of fingers against my forehead
but the play was messy and tangible and full
of the etceteras I am full of and why
wouldn’t I want to talk with that is a question
the poem is asking you to answer wherever
you are without me is the problem
theater solves, since we sit together
in the dark with the dark because the dark
deserves a face a soliloquy a lover a bow
at the end. When I always wonder if the players
regret that the lights come up and they see us
as we are seeing them as they were,
what a weird mirror that is, showing one side
sudden appreciation and the resumption
of loose ends, the other the vast
and devotional possibilities of being kidnapped
by a dream and which side is which side
are you on?

Friday, December 9, 2011


A young actor must learn to accept a compliment with grace and humility. 

An older actor knows that many compliments really belong to somebody else.

Tuesday, May 11, 2010

You Are An International Phenomenon


I teach a series of workshops for emerging professional actors to learn how to establish and maintain their acting career. The series includes workshops on marketing and promotion, and preparing for auditions. In one class, I present a series of maps to the actors and ask them to identify their target market. The first is a map of their city, the next their province, then Canada, then North America and, finally, the world. The presentation speaks for itself.  There is no "local" market for a professional Canadian actor. I haven’t yet met a full time professional actor who only works as an actor, only in one city.  Narrow your market that much and you’ve probably diversified into other fields besides acting...

Google any significant film or TV production that’s been shot in the last decade and you’ll get thousands of hits from around the world.  I just tried it and I found a French website about “Less Than Kind”, A Greek website about “Degrassi” and a Portuguese website about Gary Yate’s “High Life”.

It may feel great to be a comfortable, safe, relaxed, part-time Canadian actor, but when we audition for any significant Film or TV project, we are competing with actors from other Canadian and American cities and often actors in other countries and continents.

If you audition for a lead, supporting or principal role on an ACTRA production, you should assume you are competing against actors in Toronto, Vancouver, New York and L. A.  If they’re looking at six people for the role in Winnipeg, there are probably another eight actors auditioning in Vancouver, eight in Toronto, eight in New York and twelve in LA - and the L.A. actors probably have whiter teeth. An international co-production may have you auditioning against actors in Britain, Belgium, New Zealand or France.

Even if the role you are auditioning for is a small “Actor” role that is likely to be cast locally, the director and producers are still comparing your work to all those other actors in all those other cities.  Make sure they’re seeing you at your best.

In a busy centre like Toronto or Vancouver, actors have many opportunities to audition.  I’ve heard different statistics, but it’s reasonable to say that actors in a busy centre may audition for twelve or fifteen roles for every job they book. When I worked in Vancouver, I auditioned anywhere from two to ten times a week in the busy season.  An actor in a larger centre auditions more often in three months than a Manitoba actor auditions in three years.  That’s a lot of practice.  That’s what you’re competing against.

There are advantages to being a “local” actor. If the project is being shot in your town, the producers want to take advantage of provincial tax credits by hiring as many locals as possible.  They also save on airfare, hotels and per-diems by using local talent.  It makes sense, financially to hire a local actor for a locally shot production.  That’s your advantage over the out-of-town actors. It cost less to hire you.  But, it’s only an advantage if your audition is as good or better than the actors in other cities.

Remember the directors, the producers and the casting directors all want you to succeed. They want the next actor that comes into the room to be the one they cast.  They want to say yes to you. You just have to ensure them that they are saying yes to the right actor.

All you have to do to succeed is to do the work and be prepared for EVERY audition.

Read the script, do your homework, learn your lines, be professional, be focused and, most of all, be excellent.  See you at the next audition.

John B. Lowe

Wednesday, June 24, 2009

Collaborate + Compromise = Collabromise

A long time ago, I had the good fortune to work with a group of actor’s to create an original piece of theatre for a fringe theatre festival. Our primary motivations were to have fun working together to create an original, entertaining play.

All of us had some experience with producing independent theatre and knew how the stresses of collective creation could negatively impact personal and professional relationships. As a kind of preemptive strike against the potential damage to our own relationships, we had a long, frank discussion about all of our bad collaborative experiences so we could make plans to avoid the same problems. It was a healthy sharing of experience and stories of collaborations gone wrong.

During this very long conversation, the word “compromise” came up and the discussion turned into an argument about the meaning of that word. The argument got heated as we each had our own understanding about the meaning of the words compromise and collaboration. None of us thought to get out a dictionary. I think we were too busy enjoying the debate. I know I was.

I argued that the phrase “compromise my integrity”, which we agreed was a bad thing, has been abbreviated over time to the single word “compromise”, This has skewed the meaning of that word towards the idea of losing something or giving up something valuable. I also argued that the best meaning of the word compromise is an exchange that results in a gain. I believe to compromise is to exchange one thing for something better and greater. Compromise is the foundation for the “win-win” scenario. Compromise is the key element of any healthy relationship; marriage, family friendship, business...

Someone else argued that I had just described collaboration and that good collaboration shouldn’t require anyone to compromise because compromise is always a bad thing. So, I repeated my argument that compromise is a good thing and is the foundation of collaboration.

And so it went, round and round. It is not. It is so. Is not. Is so. Not. So. No. Yes. No! Yes! Shut up! You shut up! Who’s gonna make me? And not a dictionary in sight.

Finally, for the sake of peace, the level headed member of the group, Stephanie Wolfe, a smart lady and talented actor, made an excellent suggestion.

Stephanie suggested we find a new word that described the ideal working environment and relationship we were trying to create so we could get back to work. Ever the diplomat, Stephanie ingeniously combined the words collaborate and compromise and coined the brand new word, “collabromise".

I thought that was an excellent compromise!

Col lab ro mise: [kuh-lab- ruh-mahyz]

–verb (used without object), -rated, -rating.

1. to work, one with another in an ideal collaboration; cooperate, through mutual concessions; and agreement reached by adjustment of conflicting or opposing claims principles, etc., by reciprocal modification of demands.

Thursday, April 16, 2009

Everything Is Possible

Inspiration and Creativity are the progeny of possibility.
Don't worry about what's impossible - you can't know that - nobody does. 
You won't succeed if you assume you'll fail. 
Live, Act, Create as if anything's possible - because it probably is.

Go ahead and "dream the impossible dream"... 
but when you awake, pursue your possible quest.