Archive for Student Blog

Devour Power

You all have either heard it from Cay or have been the unfortunate if likely deserving recipient of the comment, “Guys, the least effective use of me is as a police woman,” meaning, you didn’t do the work, you know you didn’t do the work, and she’s calling you out. Blech.

But what about Cay at her most effective?  After observing Tuesday’s day class, I don’t wonder what that looks like, and I don’t need a pithy quote to summarize or remember it by.  And it also happens to make perfectly logical law-of-creativity sense: When even one person dares to really bring their fullest selves to the rehearsal–to dare to fail, to reveal themselves, to admit their truth and express it, they tacitly give others permission to do the same, and the chain reaction to that is a marvelous thing to behold.  When a whole classroom does it?  In Cay’s words, and I agree with her, they were on fire.

It’s so easy to take our smallness as a matter of course.  To make it precious even–our personal struggles, the things we have to overcome in our work in order to deliver.  But our big-ness?  Our power?  I am reminded of a quote by Marianne Williamson here:  “We ask ourselves, Who am I to be brilliant, gorgeous, talented, fabulous? Actually, who are you not to be?” The best actors I think either instinctively get this or have consciously worked to internalize it.  In class Cay referenced what a friend once observed about Meryl Streep on stage: “onstage, she eats the space.”  She steps into her power, she owns it, she claims it. Because this isn’t just about liberating your fellow classmates to do their best work (although obviously in the studio’s context this is vital)–it applies to what we bring to the world when we work.  You have no idea what kind of creative spark you may have just ignited in audience member number thirty-seven, film viewer number seventeen who just came more alive because you came more alive.  And the world needs more people who come alive.

When we bring our A game, Cay is at her finest.  When we do our bravest work, she does her best work, and we get the most out of her.  It’s a symbiotic growth process and everybody wins.  So as a PSA, please know that you, yes you, have what it takes to fire it up.  Your light is a great service to the world.

So by all means, bring it.










Why do you act?

Obviously this is such a personal question.  But I really want to know why you, (yes YOU, actor-reader!), why do you act?  And more to the point, why are you still doing it?  Still, as in, you had your chance to cut out, you’ve thought it over long and hard and you’re still at it.  I really want to know.

Because I can guess well enough why you got into this in the first place.  Some personal need that was met more effectively here than anywhere else.  Something that often feels unique to us but isn’t: maybe we needed attention, or we discovered a narcotic that didn’t have to involve needles, maybe our need to be liked spiked a little higher than the other normals.  Perhaps we needed to prove something, be better than, best at, belong, what have you.  Or we needed a way to examine and/or expiate the dramas we grew up with.  And better yet, maybe along the way we found a sense of belonging and community, maybe found some catharsis, a connection to something outside of ourselves, a safe place and medium to express and even surprise ourselves.

But that’s what got you into this.  And I know from my own experience, it is in no way enough to sustain you.  Once the often cruel demands of the business sink in, once the demands of what it takes to do deep, honest, truthful work sink in, the financial investment, the personal toll, the risks, the reality that to some degree or another the hustle never stops, it occurs to you that other lifestyles and art forms exist outside this maddening grind –these things that got you into it cannot and will not hold.  Every actor comes upon the precipice (some of us more than one time), in which we have to reconcile what got us started, and either drop it and find the thing that’s worth staying for, or drop it and find something else.  Either way, some sort of death and birth occur, and for those of you whose rebirth involved staying, what had you stay?

What keeps you going?  Why do you do this?

It’s such a personal fucking question.  But since I’ve asked, I have to answer it myself.  So here goes.

When I observed the Monday day class last month, something about watching Lesley work reminded me  of myself in earlier incarnations of my actor-hood.  Cay talked to Lesley about how smart she is, that she makes smart and accurate choices about her character, that she obviously understands the material, but that the access to her work was still largely cerebral and I thought, “Hoo boy but I know what that fucking journey is all about.”  And if they’re gonna deliver the goods, every heady actor has to find a way to engage the whole system–not just the computer, as Carol Reynolds* so affectionately refers to the expensive machinery above the neck.  Cay in her wisdom and experience offered Lesley some gentle ways to begin to do this for herself.

Then I remembered.  I act because this is the place I get to choose to deliberately let go of control.  That sounds super lame, but I think it’s a little more than just, “ah, letting go.”  It’s passive at a certain arrival point but the space of passivity, and how it is arrived at is an entirely deliberate act; a choice, and that feels worth mentioning.  I actually think I’m pretty chill about most things in life (apart from the toddler regimen–Mama runs a tight ship. Also my eyebrow upkeep–very type A).  But I guess the logistics of plain living, to-dos, surviving, budgeting, the day to day grind–it’s a lot of upkeep just to do the regular things in life.  And when you get good at the juggle, there’s a kind of addictive high to productivity.  But that’s a lot of left-brain-in-charge activity.  When it’s time for me to act, I have to–no–I get to–stop, get very quiet with my chatty mind and body, and actively, deliberately choose to allow access to the murky waters, the dark Jungian jungle of the underbelly of what is or isn’t there, be available to the unpredictable ever alive present moment, to throw the spear into the proverbial darkness and send my own internal troops to retrieve it, to engage the atavistic, the inner child, the inner crone, the feelers, to let the right cortex take over for a while.

Acting calibrates me.

For a time asking this showed up as bad news in one way or another, but I’m confident now that this is a good and necessary question to that will be asked throughout ones life and career.  I’m confident this answer will grow and change as I do.

So I showed you mine.  What about you?  Why do you do this?  You can comment below!


* Carol is the Body Dynamics teacher at the studio and general all time exquisite human being–if you haven’t taken her class, what the hell are you waiting for, seriously.


Every class is a rehearsal

There’s a famous story of the Royal Shakespeare company putting up a production with no set, no lighting, and entirely in rehearsal dress. It’s a popular story in actor circles, and I remember hearing different versions from various teachers throughout my time in school. The moral being that actors with a rehearsal mindset rather than a performance are more likely to act spontaneously and work on impulse, thus opening themselves up to real discoveries in performance.

Every class is a rehearsal, not a performance, and on Tuesday I was reminded of this during Max and Christina’s rehearsal of a scene from “A Hatful of Rain” by Michael Gazzo. In this complex scene about a husband and wife in their fourth year of marriage during the 1950’s, Christina’s character works to discover the source of her husbands mounting distance from their relationship. Her assumption is he has been having an affair, but the reality that he hides is much more sinister: a mounting debt and loss of his job resulting from his heroin addiction.

This was their first rehearsal of the scene on its feet after an initial table read last week, and after a bumpy first half Christina paused and looked at Cay.

Christina: Can we stop?

Cay: Yes. What are you working for?

max and christina2

Christina: I was working for the argument and for who he is to me.

Cay: Okay, do you have the argument? Do you know what it was about?

Christina: Yes.

Cay: And do you have him?

Christina: Yes, I feel like that’s really strong for me.

Cay: Okay, I think you’re trying to do too much right now. You should be sitting.

At this point Christina stood and began shaking herself out. Max, sitting on the couch, looked thoughtful. He had spent the scene curled up on the couch under a blanket.

Those words, You’re doing too much…you should be sitting. I had heard those words before from Cay on more than one occasion. It can be difficult to know when the right time to get on your feet in a scene is. What Cay often talks about is the event of the scene, finding that moment when both you and your scene partner feel what the scene is about and feel that occur organically between you. But in my experience, sometimes you can have the event of the scene and jump forward too quickly. From where I sat on Tuesday that’s what it felt like had happened between Max and Christina; they knew what the scene was, they were just working ahead of themselves. In these situations I feel out of my depth on stage, but I will find myself hesitant to stop the scene and take it back or to just sit and work off of my partner.

Cay: What about you Max, what are you working for?

Max: I think I was working too hard on the dope sick and leaving her out of it.

Cay: And do you know who she is to you?

Max: It’s getting there.

Cay: Okay, give yourself one symptom of the dope sick. Take it again.

Christina moved herself to the table. Max took off the blanket and began rubbing his legs uncomfortably, then pulling at his shirt. After a moment he took his shoes off and rolled up his pants, agitated. He was clearly working with feeling hot and uncomfortable, as if suffering from a fever.

Several moments from this new rehearsal popped out this time around. After a few lines they hit the moment where Max admits to having lost his job. “They told me where to go,”and with the pretense of performance off of them, Christina dropped into a quick repetition exercise. “They told you where to go?” “They told me where to go.”

“Maybe I didn’t give you what you needed…fuck!”, Christina exclaimed, breaking into an emotional turn in the scene but not quite convinced herself that it was right. Cay stepped in to help guide her.

Cay: Find the moment. Don’t rush.

She took it again, “Maybe…I didn’t give you what you needed.” This time it was slower, more thoughtful.

Max would have his own moment of guidance later while telling a story about his character’s father. He began pacing frantically gesturing toward Christina, now perched on the edge of the couch.

Cay: Slow down, slow down. Really see him.

maxandchristina1Max takes a deep breath and kneels, leaning across a chair between him and Christina and sagging with memory. The moment the monologue feels more personal. The scene ends with Max and Christina back on the couch, her leaning his head against him in what appears to be recconcialiation before he reveals in a final crushing line that he has to go out that night. Christina moves away from him on the couch and the gulf between them becomes that much more visible to the rest of us.

Cay: Good, how did you feel? You find things?


Max: It’s splitting the scene between the sensory stuff and the scene. If I’m overly in pain, she can’t know right?

Cay: Right, you have to hide it. But you have to have it before you can hide it. You need to give yourself stages of rehearsal. You need to have a rehearsal where you can fully express it, but then one where you hide it entirely. How do you feel Christina?

Christina: Not great. I don’t want to say much.

Cay: She has an interesting way of loving even though he’s cheating. But she tolerates a great deal of it.

Christina: I understand that too, but to what extent?

Cay: I think the pregnancy has a lot to do with it, and her love of him. If when working together you need to go back and stop and start then I think that’s well within the rehearsal here.

Max and Christina’s work on Tuesday was a good reminder of that concept that I mentioned at the beginning, every class is a rehearsal. That time on stage is for you and you alone. When you are able to look at class that way then it frees you up to try new things, to work organically, and to not be afraid to stop the work when you need to and just sit down and talk to your partner.

I remember for a short period of time one of my classmates would start every rehearsal in class by turning to us and saying “Screw you.” Did she literally mean screw us? No. What she was saying was “This is my time. This is my rehearsal. I’m not up here performing for you, I’m up here rehearsing for me.

The Actor’s Vow

kazan-elia-03-gElia Kazan’s Actor vow is something I stumbled across a few weeks ago for the first time. For me it has served two purposes. The first is as a validation of the frustration we sometimes experience in the acting process. The second is a reminder of the power that comes from committing fully to pursuing truthful work in every class, audition, and performance. You can find it hanging on the bulletin board inside the studio.

I will take my rightful place on the stage

And I will be myself

I am not a cosmic orphan

I have no reason to be timid.

I will respond as I feel; awkwardly, vulgarly,

But respond.

I will have my throat open.

I will have my heart open.

I will be vulnerable.

I may have anything or everything the world

Has to offer, but the thing

I need most, and want most, is to be myself.

I will admit rejection, admit pain, admit

Frustration, admit even pettiness, admit

Shame, admit outrage, admit anything and

Everything that happens to me.

The best and most human parts of me are

Those I have inhabited and hidden from

The world.

I will work on it.

I will raise my voice.

I will be heard.

-Elia Kazan

Working on Place in Monday Night

Geoff and Kelly working on Tennessee William's "Period of Adjustment"

Geoff and Kelly working on Tennessee William’s “Period of Adjustment”

Last week, while enjoying the freedom of a rare Monday night away from work, I decided to drop in on the Advanced Scene Study class. Quite a few people were out leaving us with a small contingent, just one scene and one monologue on the line up. The scene was from “Period of Adjustment” by Tennessee Williams, the play just preceding “Night of the Iguana.”

Kelly and Geoff worked well together; they made strong choices, were using themselves deeply, maintained connection to one another. I tried snapping some photos but often found myself too engrossed in their performance to manage a decent shot. By the time they wrapped up and received their feedback from Cay, mostly about deepening their dialect work and connection to the environment,  I had resigned myself to the idea that I wouldn’t be getting much blog material on this particular Monday. Then Kelly asked a question.

Kelly: I’d like to talk more about the place, how do you find that?

Boom. Notebook back out.

Cay: First I would ask you to find a place for yourself, do you have that?

Kelly: Physically or emotionally?

Cay: Physically. There are some emotional things you can extract from the physical, but you have to find it sensorally. If I were to ask you what’s the essence of this place…?

At this point Kelly leaned forward.

Kelly: We haven’t worked on that before in here.

Cay: Well, since it’s a small class let’s work on it!

A side note: Building a strong place was one of the things that I really hadn’t thought much about before working with Cay. It always seemed to be the least important part of the work to me. Over the last few month though, through my work with Cay and with Fred in Drill class, I have come to appreciate the power of a strong place and it’s ability to ground me in a scene.

Cay: Is there a place that might lend itself to you for this scene?

Kelly: How so?

Cay: Well you said earlier that parts of this character remind you of being a fifteen year old girl. Is there a place that you can use for that? For example, in college there was a girl named Janet. She was Southern, very pretty, and and her room reflected her personality. She had things, and everything for her was “little”…her little mirror, her little bag, her little hat. She would say “Be a dear and hand me my little gloves.” Back then you used to get roses for everything, and Janet was forever drying roses, strings of roses across the walls of her room. If I were trying to connect to a place that made me feel young then I would take one or two things from Janet’s room and place them here. The roses give it to me, I might imagine that string of roses.

Kelly: At what stage do you do this?

Cay: Before I put it on its feet I look for places or aspects of a place that help ground and support me so whenever I lose the scene I can come back to it.

Fred said something similar a few weeks ago, that even at the early table read he likes to start creating the environment around him.

Cay: You know you have something going for you when it engenders behavior. You don’t have to fake behavior, the place does that for you. While I’m talking to you do you have a place coming to mind? And are there specific things from that space you can transfer to this place? What gives you that sense of being fifteen?

At this point Geoff jumped in with his own experience of the place. (The essence of his place didn’t have to do with being young, but with something that spurred his character.)

Geoff: The fire. That was my scent. It reminds me of my sisters house. Everything is in it’s place, and I always associate going back to the back there to the fire, the fireplace.

Cay: Tell me about the fireplace.

Geoff: It’s a potbelly stove with a window. It stands out from the wall a bit, it’s an antique.

Geoff working with his imagined fire

Geoff working with his imagined fire

Cay: What color?

Geoff: Black iron. Vintage, but functional.

Cay: Go stand where it is. can you see it?

Geoff: Yes.

Cay: Really and truly?

Geoff: (After a second) Yes.

Cay: Warm your hands.

Geoff began to do so. Over the next twenty minutes Cay had him build the room in a much more detailed way, sometimes using props to support the imaginative environment. A bundle of wood from the prop shelf went next the “fireplace”, a small ladder and blanket became a Christmas tree in the upstage right corner. Imaginary pictures on the wall of the family were almost visible from my seat in the audience. The whole stage, and the actors on it, transformed in front of us. Geoff paced purposefully around the new environment, taking in the changes.

Geoff: I can smell the fire, and the tree. And the draft from the door, the smell of cold air.

Cay: Have you thought of anything Kelly?

Kelly: Yes, but it doesn’t look like this place.

Cay: That’s fine, we can’t see what’s in your head. You just have to smell what you need to, see what you need to. Use the props and the set as best you can to support that.

Note from Cay:  Tim’s excellent account of this rehearsal gives one of many ways to work on place.  More to come in future blogs.



On Drill Class & Saying Goodbye to Winter

“Actors go to class, actors go to class, actors go to class…”

These are the words of a teacher of mine whom I very much respected in Los Angeles. It has become a sort of mantra to me in the last few months.

I feel like this winter was hard on everyone. The snow seemed to be piled impossibly high on my little street in Astoria. The black puddles of city slush filled our shoes with freezing water making even the simplest trips miserable. I considered hiring a personal assistant to keep track of my scarf, my gloves, my hat, and my three stupid jackets. In retrospect I probably should have; I spent a king’s ransom on new ones for every piece I lost.

Winter aside, it was a personally hard few months. The details are not for this blog, but by the end of it I found myself seriously doubting if this path was for me. The highs are highs, and the lows should be renamed because ‘low’ seems innocuous, like saying big fish instead of shark.  Two things got me through this slump, I’m going to call them the F’s.

The first “F” should probably be a “D” for Drill, but Drill class is taught by Fred Wagner so it seemed appropriate. Describing Fred’s class is difficult. The official description is a class…”To practice relaxation, getting in touch, sensory and repetition exercises. An excellent way for those returning to the profession to warm up and reconnect; crucial to the new actor to build a foundation.” But that doesn’t quite capture just how mind-blowingly work changing Fred’s class can be.

When I started with Cay she mentioned Fred’s class. At first I didn’t have time, and then when I did have time my ego said I didn’t need it. When I finally stepped into the studio on a Friday afternoon I did so because I thought it would be important to know the class as the Blogger, not as the Actor. Ironic since the Actor was the part of me that needed it.

Trying to describe drill has been my block with this post because it is so hard to capture just how much fun it is to be in that room on Friday. The class always starts with a relaxation exercise followed by an energetic body and vocal warm up. From there our work move’s through exploration of imagination using sensory techniques. We play theatre games, do basic work on scripted dialogue, repetition, and improvisation. We have fun.

The fun is really what has saved the artist in me. It becomes so easy to let acting be a wall, this serious obstacle to be overcome. But didn’t we start down this path because it was enjoyable? I know I did. I remember this time last year I was in call backs for a top tier Theatre graduate program. I expected it to be a day of intense vocal work, or of having to defend my decision to be an actor to an audition panel. What actually happened was an incredible day of games with the other artists who had also been called back. When I didn’t make the final cut I remember being disappointed, but I also remember being sad because I hadn’t had that much fun in years and I wasn’t sure if I would find that kind of environment again. I didn’t know that kind of experience was already available to me through a class being taught at my own studio.

The second F is friends. I am a fortunate person. I have a group of wonderful and supportive friends surrounding me. Some are in the arts and some are not. I haven’t found the perfect mix yet but it seems the right friend group cocktail for a healthy creative mind benefits from two ingredients: one part fellow artists and one part people who aren’t sure what “Pinter” is but have a vague notion that it could be a British term for something naughty. The classmates I’ve come to know over the last year and a half at the studio play an important part of that cocktail. Sometimes it’s an encouraging message after a bad scene, sometimes it’s a talk during a walk to the train. Sometimes it’s just a pat on the shoulder. Although our time together is limited to only Tuesday afternoon they’ve seen me at my best and my worst as an artist, and I at theirs. And through it all they have kept our few hours together a week a safe place in which for us to practice our craft together. For that I am grateful.


Monday afternoon class observation in March

“I’ve talked to you about what the table read is for, right?”

I am observing the Monday afternoon class. Karl and Chris sit at the table having just finished a read of two different scenes. The question is directed at Chris.

Chris: “I don’t think so. I know what I think the table read is for, but maybe I don’t know what your thoughts about it are.”

Cay: “I know I’ve talked about it in here, but maybe you haven’t heard me say it.” The class chuckles and shifts in their seats. “No, I’m not saying he wasn’t listening. Not at all.  You have to hear things many, many times before something lands.”

This takes me back briefly to a moment I had in my own class the week before. The realization that having heard a lesson or a note twenty times doesn’t mean I’ve taken the lesson to heart. That comes in its own time.

“Early rehearsal is about connection. What you are doing is forming a circuit. To form this circuit you need to have connection to five things: the body, the ground, the material, your partner and the moment. This allows something to grow organically rather than forcing the work, which leads to working alone, away from your partner but into your head. Do you notice that when you sit you are raising your shoulders and shortening the back of your neck? That is cutting of your connection to your breath, which is your body.”

At Cay’s insistence, Chris drops his shoulders and sits up a bit.  He repeats a line from the play. His voice is noticeably more connected to his breath.

“Good. I don’t need military posture, but I do need you to be able to use the instrument. Did you feel the difference?”

“I did.”

“So did we.”

Before this Ben and Jeff rehearsed a scene from Nebraska. In the piece they play two career military officers working together in a missile silo. Ben is asking Jeff is he would be able to shoot him if it was necessary for the completion of their mission. It is difficult to tell if it is a personal question between friends or a test planned by their superiors. Jeff’s character is suspicious, confused, and angry.

Jeff during Nebraska

Jeff in “Nebraska”

They are obviously several weeks into the rehearsal, both off book and working with some impressively strong choices and personalizations. Cay asks how they felt when they finish.

Ben: “We actually talked about this in our rehearsal before class. I feel like we need a third set of eyes.”

Cay: “I do too. To shape it you would need a director. But I’m going to have you work on this again because often times you aren’t going to get that help.  You may have a director who doesn’t have time, or that isn’t their style. For you Ben, at this stage of rehearsal I want you to work with the progression of something. Cover your inner life a little at the top. When you don’t have a cover, and every beat has the same value, there’s no place to go;  it’s almost as if you’re trying to do the whole play in one scene. But if you do use a cover, then we can see when it slips and where the story is going.”

Cay: “For you, Jeff, I need you to be working on the friendship, and the place. Could they (the brass) be listening to you?”

Jeff: “They absolutely could.”

Cay: “Exactly. And how does that affect the way you’re talking? This is an intimate setting. I’m imagining there isn’t much room.”

Jeff: “I looked at pictures online, they are incredibly small.”

Cay: “Good, use that. Pull those desks closer together. Even that will do something to you. And try to find the balance between what part of this is the military and what part is your friendship.”

Later Cay gives Alec a note about his monologue, using too much voice for the room. She asks him to start again, this time using a specific person and keeping the size of the space in mind for volume. And now it’s Chris’s turn to make the room laugh:

“I hear shortening your neck is a good trick.”



The Toolbox of Technique

Confession: In Theatre school I  was required to complete two years worth of “Technique” classes.  Now, several years removed from my conservatory classes, my strongest memory seems to be one in which the teacher ordered two students to run straight at each other across a room. The students were told not to stop, not to move out of the way of their opposite, just go!

Predictably, they collided head first in the center of the room, resulting in a trip to the nurse for them, a funny memory for me, and very little understanding of what Technique even meant.

Not that we didn’t learn techniques for acting in those classes.  I’m sure we did.  But we had very little concept of how to apply them to the work we were doing. Technique always seemed like one thing, scene study like another, voice production like a third, all important but difficult to apply to each other.

Now as an aspiring artist I find myself wishing I did remember more of those technique classes.  Fortunately I now often get to see some of those exercises applied during Cay’s scene study class, and what I have now that helps me put them into practice (and what I think was missing in conservatory) is context. The technique discussion comes out of actors in the middle of a scene having trouble grounding, connecting, or physicalizing, and are immediately put into practice in the rehearsal to get through those blocks. Is it as fun as watching two people play human bumper cars for conservatory class prices? Actually, sometimes it is, and even better it seems to help me in those moments where I too feel a little lost under the lights.

So without further ado, here is a small collection of some of the moments Cay has taken time in class to guide actors deeper into their roles using technique:

On connecting to someone offstage: Laura has been working on one of the great pieces of American Theatre, the Heiress. After a bumpy first run on her feet Cay stopped her half way through.

Cay: “Laura, you keep talking about your father but I don’t see him.”

Laura: “Well he’s in the other room.”

Cay: “Yes, and he’s in the other room. How does that make you feel?”

Laura: “I don’t know. Scared? Intimidated.”

Cay: “Is there anyone who has ever made you feel scared or intimidated? (Laura indicates yes.) Well then, put them in this room with you right now. In the audience maybe. Or put something of their’s, something they always have with them, put that on the set with you.”

On the next run Laura’s energy had changed in such a way that we could literally feel the tension. We could see the Father’s effect on her, and that created a whole history in a moment that hadn’t been there just minutes before.

On “scoring” lines: Sometimes Frequently actors find ourselves having scored our lines. What this means to the layman is we have gotten so used to saying them in one way, or with a certain inflection, and we find it difficult to allow the line to change in the moment. Every actor (at least that I know) has had the experience, and Dax was having trouble in a scene with Annie a few weeks ago.

Cay: “Don’t get yourself into vocal repetition.”

Dax: “How do you do that? Am I not supposed to be working alone, or should we be repeating?”

I’m going to break  for just a second to say that I have heard this question before. I studied for a long time with a teacher in Los Angeles who would often talk about scoring your script, and so I knew his answer. I wondered how different Cay’s would be…

Cay: “Well, you start by making sure you are really talking to someone. Then it almost becomes a vocal exercise. What you do is you {whispering} say your lines quietly, almost with no breath, until you can hardly hear yourself. But you have to make sure you are really talking to someone.”

…literally, almost word for word, the same advice my teacher in LA would give. And if two teachers two thousand miles apart are giving the same technique for not scoring lines, then someone must have known what they were talking about.

(Insert from Cay:  Wanted to expand on this just a bit; this is use of the Transparent or Crystal Whisper, a vocal production technique that I learned — as I think did Tim’s LA teacher- from Chuck Jones.  My use in class was a very condensed version of this exercise, and can’t substitute for real and concentrated study of vocal production.)

And last but not least (for this small list), the Fuck Off: Perhaps one of my favorite moments in Class to date and it came from several months ago. Though I’m not sure it even counts as a technique, I loved it so much I wanted to include it. Annie was having trouble feeling comfortable on stage during one of her first scenes with Cay. Afterwards Cay asked her what was wrong.

Annie: “I don’t know, I just feel strange up here. I feel nervous doing it in front of the class.”

Cay: “Well Annie, here’s what I want you to do. Stand center stage and breathe for me. Just feel the space.”

Annie: “Okay.”

Cay: “Now, I want you to remind you that this rehearsal is for YOU; look everyone in the eye, one at a time, and tell them to fuck off. Tell them to fuck right off!”

To this day, much to the confusion of new class members and pleasure of old, Annie will sometimes still walk center stage before a scene, plant her feet, look one of us in the audience in the eyes and tell us to “fuck off!”

Shayna and Max bring down the house.

If you had been in the Tuesday afternoon scene study class last week, this is a small snapshot of what you might have seen…

I’m laughing so hard my stomach hurts. In front of me Annie is doubled over gasping for air. Cay is lifting her glasses to wipe away a tear.

On stage Max is staring at a smashed cake. He holds himself like a man defeated, frosting clinging to his normally perfectly-mussed hair. Shayna sits next to him, oblivious, wiping crumbs from her fist. The fist that just crushed the aforementioned dessert. Though she is picking with a napkin between her fingers there isn’t much to find; the majority was wiped off on Max’s head.

Shayna and Max week 3 rehearsal

Shayna and Max week 5 rehearsal


It should mentioned at this point that Shayna and Max are not ACTUALLY     fighting. No one has been harmed, except perhaps for one cheesecake. They are on their 5th week of rehearsal for a scene from Self Torture and Strenuous Exercise, a play by Harry Kondoleon.

And why are we all laughing so hard?


Acting indeed, Patrick. Prior to his unfortunate death by AIDS at age 39 Kondoleon was compared stylistically to playwrights like Christopher Durang and John Guare. This scene  involved Alvin (played by Max), a husband unable (or unwilling) to acknowledge his wife’s affair with his best friend, and the wife of said best friend, Adele (Shayna).

Extraordinary characters in ordinary circumstances. Allow me a brief but relevant segue here.

A few weeks ago I went to see the dark comedy How to Make Friends and then Kill Them at the Cherry Lane theatre. Friends featured two sisters of an alcoholic mother and their manipulation of themselves, one another, and a desperate girl from their school. I don’t want to ruin the ending for anyone who might get the opportunity to see this play staged, but I will say at the play’s most intense moments the actors had to deal with incest, manipulation, and murder.

Once again, extraordinary characters in ordinary circumstances.

I walked out of Cherry Lane that night, and indeed spent the next few days, wondering “How does an actor prepare for a role like that? How do you make it truthful?”


Max's frustration, week 4 rehearsal

Max’s frustration, week 4 rehearsal

Well, over the last few weeks I got to see how Cay guided these two actors into a large, hilarious, outrageous, and perhaps most importantly, truthful rehearsal. I won’t try to describe their rehearsal because, as anyone who has seen terrific work knows, it would be impossible. But it was electric. And it all came back to listening (for real for real) and responding (for real…well, you know).

In the discussion afterwards they were asked by Cay why this week was different from prior weeks:

Shayna answered, “I was worried before that I might be pushing.”

“You’re not pushing. It’s in the going too far that you find the stimulus.”

Cay went on to talk about how the connection to your partner feeds the scene.

“It’s like an electric current. The circuit starts with yourself, then the moment, then the text, and your partner. You work inside to outside, not the opposite way around.”

Shayna and Max spent two weeks table reading this scene. They didn’t get up until they has found that connection with themselves and then the moment, or as Cay likes to say, the event of the scene. They were building the start of the circuit.

“It becomes different once you have the hook in you. You get the hook, and then the hook drags you through the circuit.”

Their third and fourth weeks were spent on their feet, trying different blocking, trying to get different things from each other, working with physicality, and making sure they were always connected even when the scene felt a little off. They had their “hook” in themselves and the moment, and they were playing with the text and partner connection.

And then in week five they brought the scene to life for us.

“The actor’s job is to live. Connect to one another and live it out onstage.”





Happy New Year from the Student blogger!

I’m going to break from the usual format today, though it has a purpose, so bear with me.

Today I want to know about YOU.

More specifically, I want to know about you so that you can know about you.

And even more specifically, I want to ask a really stupid question that actually isn’t really that stupid once you think about it. I know, because when someone asked me the same question three years ago, I thought it was stupid. The question is, and once again PLEASE bear with me because I know you are going to shutter even reading this, but the question is this:

What is your New Year’s resolution?

I know. Trust me, I know what those words look like, and I know what they sound like, and three years ago I would have gladly thrown in my lot with an angry mob and been on the back end of that pitchfork chasing myself. But the thing is, I owe a lot to that question. This year I competed my first marathon. I finished my acting reel. I put together a website. I went on the most audition of my career. And I might have never gotten around to those things, certainly not this soon, if not for that question.

I owe my conversion to a sociology teacher I had in college (along with a basic understanding of broken window theory and the ability to slip the term latent function into casual conversation). The year after graduation we had a facebook conversation that went something like this:

Sociology Teacher: Alright everyone, what’s your new years resolution?
Tim: Haha, lol, new years resolutions are stupid, nobody ever keeps them, hahahahaja. Also I know everything about EVERYTHING
Sociology Teacher: I try to set goal oriented resolutions. You should give it a shot.

Her argument was that people tend to set resolutions and goals for themselves that are unrealistic, general, or that they have no direct power over. For example, my goal that year was to *que originality* get into better shape! How? Well, um, the gym maybe, and then some running? No morning pastries?

Here’s where her take on resolutions came into play. She suggested I set an actual, tangible, achievable goal that would further whatever the resolution was. I knew I could run a little, so decided I would run a 10k race in January 2012 which satisfied tangible and achievable . The training was only a few miles every couple of days, the time was far enough off that I could prepare without much trouble. And on January 29th I crossed the finish line of the Relay for Her Life charity run in Century City, California. I would go on to complete 9 more races that year because I changed my goal to doing one race a month and because there are no rules to how resolutions work.

Likewise, in 2012 I set a resolution  goal for my acting career. I wanted to go on more auditions, to get my foot in the door more often. But because I have no DIRECT power over how many people call me in for an audition I set my goal based around what I knew got other people auditions. I decided I would complete my acting reel and website before the end of summer. Granted, I already had some usable material for my reel, but knowing I wanted it finished encouraged me to submit for projects that would add more depth to it. I started taking more pictures on set. I started asking for clips and stills I could use. By August I had both a website and a reel.

We actors are by nature grand dreamers. But the gulf from amateur to professional in this industry is a wide one, and very few can cross it in a single bound. For the rest of us there is the grind, building a bridge out of our toolbox and our talent. The other side of the gap is our resolution. The bridge is made of the goals we set.

Want to find an agent this year? Great. Tangible and achievable is maybe committing to three agent workshops in the spring. Feeling rusty and you want to book a job? An acting class once a week will help get the gears turning. I can recommend a great teacher if you are in New York.

It’s time to get off my soapbox, but before I do I’ll ask one more time. What is your resolution this year and what goals can you set to achieve it?