Category Archives Actors

6 Netflix Shows An Aspiring Actor Should Study

2017-07-05

 
Most people don’t think of “Netflix and chill” as a way to do their homework. However, most people aren’t actors who are devoted to their craft. You can binge-watch hundreds of series on Netflix. Some of the highlights are the original Netflix series, many of which feature actors showing off their chops in a unique way. Here’s what (and who) to watch if you’re an aspiring actor.
 

GLOW

As Ruth Wilder, Alison Brie goes beyond her usual girl-next-door role in this campy comedy-drama. Although she does play a naïve, doe-eyed actress, she delivers moments of darkness, loneliness and desperation. Brie really shines during a fantasy scene in which she is all-out fighting with her arch-nemesis Debbie, who is played by Betty Gilpin. The tiny actress becomes larger-than life in the wrestling ring.

In GLOW, Brie also shatters the image of the polished, uptight women that she typically portrays. In GLOW, Brie allows her rough edges to seep through her perfect smile. Her performance is so authentic that you can glimpse her inner fearlessness.
 

Gypsy

In this psychosexual drama, Naomi Watts plays Jean Holloway, a therapist who develops her own fascinations with the objects of her patients’ obsessions. A Meisner-trained actress, Watts authentically draws viewers into every moment on screen.

The camera often focuses on close-ups of Watts’ face, which reveals the expressions of a suburban housewife as easily as those of a fanatical lover and skillful liar. She seamlessly contrasts the brightest and darkest sides of her character in much the same way as she did in her breakout film, Mulholland Drive.
 

Orange Is The New Black

We couldn’t write an article about Netflix shows to study without mentioning OITNB. Like GLOW, the show’s characters are well-defined and rife with unexpected as well as predictable qualities. Playing these types of characters requires an ability to tap into a well of emotions.

The character who is confident on the outside often reveals her most vulnerable insecurities at the most inopportune moments. The strangest characters have the most relatable backstories. The most conventional characters have surprisingly eccentric qualities.

It takes skilled actors to effectively portray these personas. Their motivations must come off as realistic for the audience to bond with them. No matter how outlandish the storylines are, they resonate with the viewers because the actors access genuine emotions to express them.
 

The Office

Although Michael Scott, played by Steve Carell, is an extraordinary lead for this mockumentary-style comedy, the other actors support the comedy in genius fashion. Watch this series for a look into how to create a solid character.

This television show is about more than great writing. Each actor has developed specific mannerisms and quirks that represent his or her identity. While some of these traits are over the top, others are starkly subdued. Observe the way each actor develops his or her character alone, in contrast to and in conjunction with the other characters.
 

Stranger Things

If you want to be amazed by the proficiency of an ensemble of child actors, watch Stranger Things. Although the Netflix-original series deals with the more bizarre side of the supernatural, the superb acting makes the oddities seem relevant.

Even if Winona Ryder has irritated you in the past with her exaggerated portrayal of drama and despair, you’ll buy her interpretation of a worried mother agonizing over the disappearance of her son. Her agitation contrasts well with the more even-keeled nature of the children.

It’s interesting to watch these young actors portray children who are passionate about finding their friend but don’t let the mystery derail their motivations. Their performances are entrancing.
 

Bloodline

Is good acting enough to keep a show going? That’s the question posed by many Bloodline reviewers. The Netflix-original series features an ensemble of actors who brought depth to roles that might otherwise have been shallow.

Kyle Chandler is perhaps most well-known for playing the role of Coach in Friday Night Lights. He had to work hard to disassociate himself with that character to play the role of the “good” brother with a villainous undertone in Bloodline. He performs his role fluidly, as do his costars.

Sam Shepard plays the patriarch of the family. Shepard studied under Wynn Handman, a protégé of Sanford Meisner. Ben Mendelsohn’s performance also stands out. He has been nominated for several awards for his portrayal of Danny, and in 2016 he won the Primetime Emmy for Outstanding Supporting Actor in a Drama Series.

Sometimes, an actor’s performance can go above and beyond the writing, storyline or plot of a television show. These series, which are available to stream on Netflix, are ideal examples of this. When you watch them, you’ll get pulled into the emotion, drama, comedy and action because of the actors’ brilliant execution of the script.

Guest Post: What I have learned from Buffy The Vampire Slayer

Guest Post by Laura Blackburn

 

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People sometimes laugh at me when I tell them that I have learned more about acting from a cult television show than an Academy Award winning motion picture. However, I have found that studying the techniques of actors who must convey a sense of realism in spite of fantastic subject matter has made me a better actor in every sense. This is why I use the television series “Buffy the Vampire Slayer” as my inspiration when taking on a new role.

Anyone who has watched or even heard of “Buffy the Vampire Slayer” knows that the meat of the series is the writing and directing from Joss Whedon and his team. Likewise, any screenwriter knows that excellent acting is required from all involved to make a script come alive. A good actor can make a superbly written script enjoyable. A great actor can create a series that continues to awe and inspire decades after its inception.
 

Supporting Actors

Supporting characters are often mean to give the lead a sense of purpose. They also often offer a chance for exposition, serving as the audience’s stand-in. These characters ask the important questions, helping to further the plot of a story. Excellent actors take these roles and turn them into something more than a plot device. This was the case for much of the supporting cast on “Buffy.”

One of the most difficult supporting roles on the series was that of Xander Harris, portrayed by the underrated Nicholas Brendon. In a series that was filled with witches, werewolves, demons and, of course, vampires, Brendon was the everyman who had to hold his own in an other-worldly atmosphere. The actor was given lines that were largely meant to serve as comic relief. However, his ability to add depth and meaning to simple one-liners made his character an integral part of the show. Watching Brendon, I have learned not to take any lines for granted.

Some actors were so adept at their roles on “Buffy” that their bit parts were expanded into multiple episodes, some even becoming mainstays on the series. Seth Green, who portrayed the werewolf Oz, was meant to depart in the same season that he appeared. Treating his character with unexpected sensitivity, he made the viewing audience fall in love with both the man and the monster. As an actor, Green could convey more in an eyebrow raise than some other, lesser actors might be able to do with an entire page of dialog. Green has taught me to try new angles with my characters; to explore the unknown.

Julie Benz’s character, Darla, was originally meant to be killed during the second the episode in the series. Instead, her presence was thought to add a needed layer to the romance between Buffy and her vampire boyfriend, Angel. Benz’s approach to her portrayal as a vampire was a combination of old-school horror and girl next door. She was at times soft spoken and sensual, and at other times terrifying. Benz would go on to appear in many more episodes of “Buffy” while also playing a crucial role in the spin-off series “Angel.” What she has taught me is to remember that every role can and should be multidimensional.
 

Big Bads

For the uninitiated, “Buffy” ran for seven seasons. Each season had an over-arching story that appeared throughout the series, culminating with an ultimate face-off with the Big Bad. Buffy and her gang fought many other monsters along the way. Some of the most memorable of these lesser monsters include The Gentleman, a gang of mute, heart-stealing demons who communicated through gestures rather than language; Gnarl, a parasitic flesh-eater with a sing-songy style of speech; and the Turok-Han, the ultimate vampire. Interestingly, all of these monsters were played by the same actor: Camden Toy.

Toy’s movements can be considered their own form of art. He is able to convey any type of emotion he wishes with or without a script. His episodes can be studied by anyone who wishes to be more physical with a performance. Acting is much more than the spoken word. Toy encompasses this in each of his roles.

It can be extremely difficult to visibly portray emotion when covered in prosthetics, which are required for many of the monsters on the show. The Master, played by Mark Metcalf, was a creepy vampire who was adored and feared by other under worldly creatures. With a face completely disguised throughout his run on “Buffy,” Metcalf used his gestures and voice alone to give viewers an almost sensual fright. Considering the versatility needed for these roles, the Big Bads of “Buffy” have taught me to never rely on one facet of my craft. Rather, I should hone all aspects of my acting ability to create a truly meaningful character.
 

Buffy the Vampire Slayer

Playing a superhero is never a simple task, but it was one that was made for Sarah Michelle Gellar. She chose to play Buffy Summers as a typical girl who just happened to also have super powers. Anyone could relate to Buffy’s daily struggles. She had boy problems. She worried about her hair and clothes. She had difficulty relating to her mother and studying for her SATs. Because Gellar was so able to encompass these everyday traits of her character, she was able to show the viewer a superhero that could almost be real. She was as adept at displaying physical power when fighting a monster twice her size as she was at showing extreme grief when handling the death of her mother. Gellar could play funny, frightened, determined and even bored, all in the same scene. She has taught me to never give up.

VoyageLA’s In-Depth Interview with Elizabeth Mestnik

Voyage LA interview with Elizabeth Mestnik of EMAS LA

VoyageLA recently published another great interview with Elizabeth Mestnik, Founder and Director of our Acting Studio.

It’s a great, in-depth read that spans everything from  Elizabeth’s background & influences as an actor to her founding of EMAS and the values and beliefs that shape the way the studio is run.

Check it out the full read on VoyageLA’s site here.

LA Times: “Elizabeth Mestnik Acting Studio, life is no act”

LA_Times

Today let’s get a sneak peek at our founder Elizabeth Mestnik and her Meisner Technique class. Our founder and her teaching class was featured in LA Times earlier this week.

“To do truthfully under imaginary circumstances, that is our defining quality” – says Elizabeth.  According to her the truth and imagination come in close contact and what comes out is true feeling. Actors don’t pretend to feel sad, devastated,  joyous. The live those emotions.

“We work in a way that allows to truly get angry, truly get devastated, truly be joyous” – shares Elizabeth.

To see the full video by LA Times click here.

Tony Award Winner, Chris Bensinger, discusses Academy Award Nominations with Elizabeth Mestnik

With the Oscar nominations announced this past week, everyone (not just those of us in the business) takes a moment to reflect, analyze and appreciate the great films and performances that were released over the last year. In this spirit, we thought it would be interesting for Elizabeth and Chris Bensinger, EMAS’ newest faculty member and a distinguished theater producer, to sit down together discuss the work that they’ve admired in 2016.

 

EM:  Thanks so much for taking the time to give us your impressions of this year’s films.  As a 2 time Tony Award winner – It will be fun to hear what you have to say about another Award show.

CB:  Thanks – it’s been a good year for stories.

EM:  Absolutely – I love how many intimate tales, tales that are quite unique to each individual character are getting such universal recognition.  Stories that are a bit quieter and more soulful than we’ve seen in the past.  I am thinking specifically of Moonlight,Loving and my favorite of the year Captain Fantastic.  The characters in these films are what actors dream of.

CB:  I really felt that intimacy with Joel Edgerton’s performance in Loving and I’m disappointed he didn’t get nominated. He captured the quiet, unsophisticated, deeply expressed emotions of the time period and circumstance. His eyes led the way where his quiet subtle voice and cadence followed after. We see him thinking, processing, feeling through his eyes and not his words. Rich performance.  Viggo Mortenson- Captain Fantastic.  A mature, and again, patient and settled performance delivering a full commitment to this nuanced outsider in love with his children and in total fear and distain for our modern world.  His interaction with his children was so natural and mesmerizing. The kids were fantastic as well.

EM:  There is one scene in Captain Fantastic – where the camera settles on Viggo’s character Ben driving the bus – this is a non-speaking close up where he shows us every stage of grief. Again – it was all in the eyes- A stellar performance.  He’s a long shot – but I’d love to see this film get some more viewers and some recognition for it’s beautiful originality.

CB:  In a very different style of performance – I think Emma Stone has best Actress for La La Land… She swings from one side of the acting spectrum of human expression to the other with such compelling depth and ease. She astounds me. Here she manages to enter this world of fantasy with the absolute perfect blend of old Hollywood elegance to the “modern day woman”  filled with conflict and fast moving parts. Emma is exceedingly smart in her choices and her ability to convey that “it” quality where charisma meets craft, where outside beauty meets inside beauty.  I say this all the time to my students, keep forward, get it out, feel through your eyes.. “She had me at hello” and never lets go.

EM:  I wasn’t as big a fan of LaLa Land – I enjoyed it – but missed the dancing and singing that leaves me in awe (though I was quite moved by Emma’s song “Here’s to the Fools who Dream”).  Emma Stone is absolutely charismatic but when I think about what she had to portray verses what Natalie Portman, or Amy Adams or Taraji P. Henson (who should have been nominated!) did and it just didn’t have the same acting demands.  Though what struck me was the real diversity of film genres the actresses worked in, Romantic Musical, mystery (Elle), and 3 bio-pics with very different styles and povs.  Best Supporting Actress is also strong, but I think Viola Davis in Fences is the one to beat this year.  When you can identify the hurt, the rage and the love in one glance you are truly looking at a master of her craft.

CB:  Absolutely…but my favorite performance in this category was Michelle Williams in Manchester by the Sea.  She broke my heart in her quintessential poignant scene when the two meet up late in the film; she barely has enough breath to deliver her lines. Incredible. For that scene alone she should get awards.

EM:  Michelle chooses her parts so sincerely.  I have never seen her in a false moment.  Such a beautiful actress – vulnerable and strong.  Boy oh Boy…what about supporting actor – how do you compare Mahershala Ali in Moonlight to Michael Shannon inNocturnal Animals.  And Jeff Bridges is one of my favorite actors of all time (can we just talk about Crazy Heart?)

CB:  Jeff Bridges is one of the craftiest actors today. I put him up there in an elite category.  Just take a look at the moment his partner gets shot in his film Hell or High Water (which by the way was my second favorite movie of the year). Watch him shutter and absorb the trauma like he had been the one struck by the bullet while at the same time transferring his attention to the shooter.  Really good stuff there.  However, I would love to see it go to Lucas Hedges – he stole the show. I loved how he exuded such a protective coating to the immense childhood trauma. Here again, he allowed himself to sit in the moment allow us to catch up with his towering emotions delivered behind his veil of hormones and a drive to hold on to his community.  Loved his performance and very much look forward to his developing career.

EM:  So what do you think about best director and best film?

CB:  La La Land!  Hey, I teach musical theater.  What do you expect? When Damian Chezelle can transport the audience with complete emersion and entertainment into your cinematic world you deserve high plaudits. Damian deserves the crown this year. His use of pace (yet controlled) and musical numbers to transition scenes yet simultaneously drive the plot forward is a joy.  This film with a twinkle in its eye, set in contemporary LA with a nod to the 1940’s is a folly romp that will have you “singing in the rain” in Sunny LA.

Even with my bias…, La La Land is still is the best film of the year regardless.   What terrific filmmaking. An homage to old Hollywood and movie musicals yet is utterly fresh in approach. I was hooked in from the long opening musical sequence on the highway which took a lot of creative  courage  to the brilliant “what if” montage at the end. I was so enamored by the charm and elegance of this film. The musical numbers bind the plot and moved the narrative forward, which is exactly how it should be done. Not to mention, the chemistry between Emma and Ryan worked. The tone never waivers; lighting, sound, cinematography, editing, acting all working perfectly together… a masterful and utterly entertaining film. But… like I said, I am biased.


Chris_Bensinger_croppedA Tony Award winning theater producer, Chris Bensinger joined the EMAS faculty to help actors hone the skills that allow them to shine in Hollywood’s growing number of Musical and “Musical TV” productions.

Elizabeth Mestnik, acting coach The founder of EMAS, Elizabeth Mestnik has deep roots in the Meisner technique and extensive experience both as a working actress/director and as a teacher with a love for the craft of acting

 

Have your own thoughts on what performances deserve recognition? Let us know!

My 2 cents to the Academy

Post By Elizabeth Mestnik

Photo by Prayitno
Photo by Prayitno

 
We are now in the middle of Awards season and it has me reflecting on my annual viewing of the Academy Awards broadcast. And I have one thing to say.
 
STOP MAKING IT A JOKE!
 
I mean that. Every year I watch, already inspired and awed by the creativity, imagination and craftsmanship involved in this year’s nominations. See, I am in the business, so I know just how much it takes to get a movie made, how many years of training…from the cinematographer to the actor in the smallest part, how many hours of toil at the computer by the writer and editors, how many hours of research and physical labor by the designers. I also know how, in many instances there are great financial risks for those who take a leap of faith to back a film that doesn’t scream “action packed block buster”. I know how artists live – scraping together a financial life to gift us with these incredible things called films. But we don’t hear about that.
 
We hear things like “Between all the nominees tonight you have made over 1400 films… and you’ve gone to a total of 6 years of college.” – Ellen Degeneres 2014. Because…well of course actors are uneducated idiots. Seth McFarlane had an entire song dedicated to actresses “boobs” in 2013, because well…that’s important. Jokes where actors are laughed at not with are the norm. And last year, as sympathetic as I am to the “Oscars so White” cause…Chris Rock spent a good portion of his opening monologue ridiculing Will Smith for boycotting the Award show, belittling Jada Pinkett Smith’s acting abilities and focusing on how much money Will Smith makes. Doing what everyone loves to do…reduce actors to a bunch of money hungry celebrity seekers. Maybe you could have really talked about why the racism within the industry is such an issue. Because what we do means something…filmmaking means something, about our culture and our society and when entire demographics are shut out of the story making – it is no longer our culture or our society being reflected. But you can’t have it both ways Chris and the Academy…it’s either a relevant problem – or it’s a joke. I just don’t believe it can be both. Hosts tend to always build up the meaning of the awards “Hollywood’s most prestigious honor” only to tear it down with the next joke. I LOVE Chris Rock – no one is smarter when it comes to placing issues of race in a humorous context…but you can’t just announce how racist Hollywood is and then minimize it by making it a joke in the next breath… It makes even the very real issue of diversity in film just another way to de-legitimize the entire system.
 
Almost every year I see the Oscars get detoured from honoring the artistry and craft to highlighting the worst issues about Hollywood, emphasizing every negative stereo type. We already have tabloids to do that for us day in and day out…lets have one night where this is seen as a noble endeavor, not just a bunch of dysfunctional narcissists throwing a party for themselves. How can you expect the audiences to respect us if we take a night meant for honoring our greatest and throw the focus onto all the hype we get fed daily.
 
There has been one exception I feel, and that was when Hugh Jackman hosted. He opened the awards show revealing to us how incredible and inspiring great performers can be, bringing other actors into the jokes, not making them the butt of them. I think that because he is such an artist and craftsman (a true triple threat)…his admiration for his fellow actors came through. Because he understands it from the inside out, his respect for filmmaking was most evident. He respects our business – and we did too.

Photo by Gage Skidmore
Photo by Gage Skidmore

 
Unlike the Tony’s or the Grammy’s– where you see the performances live and can see the sweat and talent that goes into each show, the television audience needs to be shown and told how “the sausage is made” in film. I’d love for there to be more time investigating the training required for different categories. Show us a sample of Lupita Nyong’os training at Julliard. Interview filmmakers about the risks they had to take to start their careers. Show us the noble toil.
 
This is an award show that supposedly honors excellence in the cinematic arts…but it has become an award show that jokes at the artist’s expense. It reinforces negative stereotypes, undercuts the power of the medium and needs to change direction to stay relevant.
 
I work with aspiring actors and directors every day – and I remind them every day of the importance of our artistry – to hold a mirror up to the world, to inspire and tell the hard truths. The best of them work tirelessly for years, not for celebrity or big paychecks but to have a voice in this world. It pains me that what is considered the highest honor that can be achieved in acting spends most of it’s broadcast time belittling what they aspire to. Because what the best in this industry does is not easy…it is not superficial and it is not a joke.

 


Elizabeth MestnikThe founder of EMAS, Elizabeth Mestnik is an acclaimed actress, director, and acting coach . Having spent her formative years in New York City studying under William Esper, her commitment is to bringing the best of the Meisner technique and New York Acting to hollywood and the craft of acting more generally.

5 Great Contemporary Character Actors

A character actor is a versatile, flexible artist who provides support to the story and star of a film. These actors must have the ability to play any role, from villain to hero to passer-by. Some, like Gary Oldman or the late Philip Seymour Hoffman, are stars in their own right. Others are not as well known by name, but are industry favorites.

The following actors are some of the best, most gifted actors in Hollywood. Movie-goers are virtually guaranteed a standout performance by each one of these outstanding supporting actors.

William Macy

1. William H. Macy

Emmy Award-winning and Academy Award nominated William H. Macy does not have a face that is easily forgotten. Now the star of the Showtime series Shameless, the bulk of Macy’s work has come in the form of character actor in some of Hollywood’s most successful and critically acclaimed films.

Macy began working in the industry in the 1970s when he founded the St. Nicholas Theater Company along with his friend, the playwright David Mamet. Thanks to his versatility, Macy was able to succeed both on stage and in film. His credits include such notable films as Radio Days, Mr. Holland’s Opus, Air Force One, Boogie Nights and Room. He is arguable most known for his role as Jerry Lundegard in Fargo.

Macy earned a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame in 2008.

Anthony Mackie

2. Anthony Mackie

Like many character actors, Anthony Mackie started his career on the stage. A graduate from the prestigious Juilliard school, Mackie earned an OBIE in 2002. The following year he began his film career and has been steadily working since then. Though Mackie has had a number of starring roles, his ability to transform himself into any part that comes his way has made him an invaluable character actor.

Mackie’s film credits include 8 Mile, which was his first feature film. He also appeared in Million Dollar Baby, She Hate Me, The Fifth Estate and The Hurt Locker, a role for which he was widely praised by audiences and critics alike. Actor found mainstream success when he joined the Avengers franchise as Falcon.

Paul Giamatti

3. Paul Giamatti

Paul Giamatti’s long career as a character actor began in the late 1980’s when he performed on stage while completing a Master of Fine Arts at Yale. His first film roles were with some of the most high-profile directors in the business, including Cameron Crowe’s Singles, Woody Allen’s Mighty Aphrodite and Sydney Pollack’s remake of the classic Billy Wilder film Sabrina.

Giamatti has gone on to have one of the most prolific careers of character actors in the history of Hollywood cinema. He has shown himself able to portray comedic characters, like those in Big Momma’s House and The Hangover Part II. He is also powerful in dramatic roles, such as was evidenced by his SAG nominated Straight Outta Compton performance. Giamatti truly shines when he straddles the line between both, giving depth to each role he takes on.

Giamatti has also been a successful leading actor. His role as John Adams in the HBO miniseries of the same name earned him an Emmy, Golden Globe, and Screen Actors Guild award.

Michael Peña

4. Michael Peña

Michael Peña has one of the most versatile careers of any character actor working in the business. Peña moved audiences to tears in his role as real-life hero Will Jimeno, a firefighter buried under rubble for 13 hours in World Trade Center. He also made movie-goers giggle every time he appeared onscreen as bumbling, yet lovable criminal Luis in Ant-Man.

An expert in onscreen elasticity, Peña arguably displayed his acting chops best in the underrated television series Gracepoint. In this role, Peña played Mark Solano, a father whose son was recently found murdered. At times audiences wept for the man’s loss, but also wondered if he was the real killer.

Peña’s skillful acting has led to nominations for an Independent Spirit Award, an Imagen Award, an MTV movie award and three ALMA Awards.

Don Cheadle

5. Don Cheadle

Movie-goers have long been delighted, intrigued and engrossed by Don Cheadle’s performances. Cheadle’s ability to play any role he reads puts him in a class with the best character actors of all time. This career began in the mid-1980s with small roles on film and television. Within a decade, he had proven his acting flexibility. With roles in Boogie Nights, Devil in a Blue Dress, Rosewood and The Rat Pack, he showed that he could play dramatic, neo-noir, historical fiction and biographies with ease.

Other outstanding films include Traffic, Hotel Rwanda and Crash. Cheadle has also taken on television where he played the starring role in Showtime’s House of Lies. He saw massive box office success by taking over the role of “War Machine” in Iron Man 2, a role that he has repeatedly reprised.

 

Have a different opinion? Let us know below.

APPROACHING THE CHARACTER – AN ACTORS PERSPECTIVE

Post by Michael Yurchak

Developing characters is a much-debated topic and something that comes up again and again with students, coaches, professionals and newbies. My own approach is one I have found useful, and I am happy to share with you all here! To be sure, there are many ways to skin a cat (sorry cat), so if there are any comments or suggestions, I am more than happy to hear them! For now, though, here’s the way I see it:
 

1. POV

Assuming you have already handled script analysis and know what kind of project you’re reading for, one of the first things I like to consider when working on a project (either for a gig or an audition) is the character’s point of view (POV). A character’s POV is the way they see the world they live in. It involves status, and shapes the way the character will interact with the other people he or she comes into contact with. It also forms an opinion about the way the character sees things (“Life’s a bowl of cherries!” or “Everything is so unfair!” etc.). This part matters a lot because it will affect the disposition (or mood) of the character. Moods can change, of course, but if the character is a known sour-puss, that may show through even when they’re happy (think Eeyore from Winnie the Pooh).
 

2. Size and Shape of Character

With POV and status in mind, I start to consider the size and shape of the character. There are different vocal placements one might choose for large characters with high status and a sunny disposition, for example, than one might for a small, high-status character with a chip on his shoulder. A great example of this is the difference between Sully and Randal in the Pixar classic “Monsters Inc.” Both characters are arguably high-status, but their POVs are so vastly different, that even without the superlative vocal stylings of John Goodman and Steve Buscemi, we would hear a clear vocal difference in our heads before giving it a shot ourselves.

Deciding where the voice comes from inside our own bodies and the placement of the voice inside the mouth to derive dialect and tone is sometimes known as “vocal posture” (this is an idea coined by Dudley Knight and Phil Thompson). Kermit the Frog has a guttural placement with a mid- to high-range pitch, for example.
 

3. Cadence or Rhythm of Speech

This is another important thing to consider. Just as the walk of a physical character will affect the way they are seen by the world, the cadence of a character voice makes a huge difference in how the world takes in the information shared by that character (see Christopher Walken as an example here).
 

4. Physicality

All of the above will have an impact on how the character moves through space. He or she will have developed a way of moving that works for them (just as we all have). The posture, gate, fluidity, speed, and purpose of motion will be affected by their status and POV. They may also bring a specific animal to mind (remember Jordana’s Rasa workshop?). Getting up and moving with the script, feeling the words come out and how they change with a new posture and movement pattern is an important part of finding the character and adds the last piece of bringing that character to life.
 

So, now we’re really starting to build something. We’ve considered the character’s POV (including status and disposition). We’ve taken size and shape into consideration, which will affect sound. We’ve played with vocal posture and cadence. Finally, we’ve explored physicality to really put the finishing touches on this guy! During all this pre-work, I always make adjustments to be sure the voice feels comfortable coming out and the body moves as I need it to. I need to be able to breathe, and I have to be able to enunciate clearly (even if the character has a speech impediment, the audience needs to understand the words, unless you are specifically told otherwise). Likewise, I need to be able to move and repeat the movement without causing stress or strain when the gig is finished—no good to twist your body up in a knot if you can’t untie it after the show! In other words, it doesn’t do me any good to create a voice I can only use for a sentence or two or a physical structure that is unsustainable. If I can’t recreate those elements, no matter how cool they look or sound for short bursts, they’re no good to me in the long run (or the folks that want to pay me)!
 

The Three Cs

The last piece of quality control I always run for myself in terms of delivery is what I call the three Cs: Clarity, Commitment, and Consistency.

Have I made CLEAR choices that are coming from an informed place as far as the character and script are concerned (the “givens” that are learned by reading the script or audition sides carefully)? Am I jumping in with both feet and really COMMITTING to those choices (a sheepish read is not gonna get the job–even if you’re reading for a sheep!)? And, is the character CONSISTENT from beginning to end of the piece, and can I maintain that consistency for the duration of the gig when I get it?

If I can honestly answer yes to these questions, and I like what I hear and see… I go for it and hope for the best, letting it all go as I do and trusting that the work I did in the rehearsal room will be enough to allow me to be present on the actual day without having to effort my vocal and physical moves. Do your best, be proud of the work you create–care about it. If you like what you’re doing, keep working at it. This is an art form. There is no mathematical equation or specific blueprint to solve the question of what a character sounds and looks like. In the end, tell the truth and lead with your heart. Who could ask for anything more?
 

Thoughts? Comments? Let me hear ’em!


Michael Yurchak: Press Photo Michael Yurchak is an award winning actor, voice over artist and educator. In addition to his work with EMAS, Michael works as a Lead Teaching Artist in many theaters throughout the country. Teaching students–of any level–is his genuine passion. To read more about Michael click here, or check out his IMDB page.

Actress Juliana Mendez on the Meisner Program

Guest Post by EMAS alumnus Juliana Mendez


Before the Meisner program, I felt like I was stuck in my head and wasn’t able to fully let go. I was intrigued by the Meisner technique’s emphasis on moment-to-moment work. I heard about the Elizabeth Mestnik Acting Studio (EMAS) through a couple of friends and they both had great things to say about the studio and the Meisner program. My curiosity grew each time they talked about it and wondered what they meant when they said it was ‘hard’. Up to that point I had been lucky enough to have had excellent acting teachers who demanded a lot from their students, but I never considered acting ‘hard’. The more I heard about the program, the more I wanted to see what it was all about. I told myself that I would wait until I was done with school to continue my acting training. Then, I saw my friend in a short film and was blown away by how much her work had grown within just a few months of training at EMAS. I had to check this place out ASAP!

My plan was to do the Meisner summer intensive since I was off from school and then enroll in the 2-year program the following year once I graduated. Ha! Plans changed because I was completely hooked. I learned a lot about acting and life in just those five weeks and was dying to learn more. I finally understood what other students meant when they said it would be hard. This program requires discipline, determination, and the courage to let yourself be seen at your most raw and vulnerable moments. In my experience, the people that leave the program or have negative things to say about it are the ones least willing to be vulnerable and put in the work, which makes them feel attacked when asked to do so. There is no ‘hiding’ behind other characters since you’re basically taking in and experiencing everything as yourself under the imaginary circumstances crafted.

First year is brilliantly designed to help you learn about yourself and your unique point of view. Through the exercises, you develop the highly important skill of listening, the ability to behave truthfully and spontaneously, and the strength to both stand up for yourself and allow yourself to be vulnerable. You become more emotionally available and more confident in your craft. What more could you ask for? If you put in the work, you’ll gain the necessary tools that’ll allow you to do consistently good work. I am now a few months away from completing second year which consists of character work where you learn to adopt different points of view and do impediment work. You get to let your imagination run wild and really have fun! The program also includes on-camera work, the business side of acting, and a showcase at the end to which industry people are invited. The Meisner program has been life-changing and it’s crazy to think that it’s almost over!

But I can’t wrap this all up without talking about the Fitzmaurice voice class which I just finished taking with the incredible Michael Yurchak who is certified in the technique and studied with Catherine Fitzmaurice herself. I am so glad that they added this 12 week course option to my Meisner training. I never really received notes about my voice per se, but I wanted to incorporate this class into my training in order to keep my instrument sharp and have a more conservatory style of training. After all, the Fitzmaurice technique is also taught at NYU, Julliard, and Yale so it clearly has it’s merits. I went into this class not expecting much since it was ‘just’ a voice class, but man, I was wrong! In class you are guided through the sequence, which is a series of positions that usually produce tremors. You ‘destructure’ and ‘restructure’, which allows you to access your full voice without excess effort and tension so that it is more expressive and resonant. The Fitzmaurice class feels like a yoga class except for the fact that everyone is making sound and some people end up having strong emotional reactions (crying, laughing, etc). The sequence helps shake up ‘emotional goo’, as Michael says and is highly effective. It works so quickly, that I always left class feeling grounded, extremely relaxed, and with a more resonant voice. There is a lot to be gained from this class both technically and personally, and it complements the Meisner program nicely.

Overall, the classes offered at EMAS are phenomenal and all of the teachers are amazing. They truly care about their students and everyone is really supportive. You also get to meet a lot of other great people, especially at EMAS events, such as the monthly staged readings, which gives students and alumni a chance to act, direct, and get familiar with more plays. Taking classes here has been one of the greatest investments I have ever made for my career and has been worth every penny!


actress Juliana MendezAn alumnus of Elizabeth Mestnik Acting Studio’s Meisner program, Juliana Mendez is an LA based Actress currently making a name for herself in film and on stage.