Category Archives Actors

What to do with a Spark? An Actor’s take on the Importance of Training

Post by Jordana Oberman


I’ve been teaching for about 15 years and I recently got into a conversation with someone who asked, “Why bother training? Isn’t that what instincts are for?”

To me that‘s like asking a spark why it needs kindling to create a fire. Training is your fuel as an actor. The genius of being an artist is that different fuels create very different fires – you the artist must know what the moment demands and then serve it.

The only way to know how different fuels affect you is to try them on for size. This is where I believe the foundation of acting technique is a must for any actor to explore. As new actors begin their journey into their craft how can they tell if they want to study Meisner, Stanislavsky, Stella Adler, Strasberg, etc? Well, they can read about each and every technique out there. Okay, but that’s book smarts. How will you know which affects your fire and sends you soaring? The only way is to try the techniques on for size.

This is why Elizabeth, Michael Yurchak and I created a curriculum developed for this exact exploration. We want to give students a chance to test drive different techniques to see how they work. In our Foundations classes we explore Strasberg, Stanislavsky, Improvisation, Fitzmaurice Voice Technique and Rasa Aesthetics – just to name a few. We ask students to try them on, work within them and then move onto the next. This is a class specifically about trial rather than mastery. We teach individual exercises created to employ aspects of each technique, which allows our actors to actively apply them to scene work. We wouldn’t ever expect a new painter to jump into the Sistine Chapel – but rather to explore their mediums: oils, watercolor, acrylic…are you into realism, pointillism, abstraction?

In this exploration we hope that every actor feels like this is a place where it is safe to fail and to fail brilliantly. They need that safety net where one misstep won’t lose them a job or affect the next moment in their career. They need a place to spread their wings and make mistakes. I truly believe that every mistake or failure is a beautiful opportunity for growth. Mistakes are our greatest teachers. We fix those mistakes through repeat practice. Most of the time when everything clicks into place for an actor and you ask them, “What happened?” Their response will undoubtedly be “I don’t know.” So we have to create a muscle memory in the studio of what works vs. what doesn’t. Our class is where student actors can rehearse techniques over and over again. That way when the lights are on and the camera is rolling our artist instincts can click in and we can surrender to the ride.

Once a student has experienced all the different exercises and techniques we teach, then they can decide if there is one they would like to explore in more depth. In the end all the techniques work on each actor differently. We are all artists with our own points of view and this uniqueness is what makes each of us extremely castable. We just need to develop our tool-box to call upon whatever the moment demands. And the only way to build those tools is to train. Training is the kindling that lights the flame.


jordana oberman acting instructorAn alumnus of EMAS LA, Jordana Oberman currently teaches the Meisner Technique at the studio. Jordana’s career as a working actor has taken her back and forth between New York and Los Angeles working in Theatre, Television, and Film. See her staff bio here, or see more on IMDB

EMAS Acting Teachers give their Oscar Picks

academy award candidates

The Oscars are almost here – a time of year when everyone looks back takes some time to contemplate on their favorite movies and performances of the past year. From academy members to cinephiles to casual moviegoers, everyone has their own opinion about which work merits recognition.

Getting in the spirit of things, we asked our staff of acting instructors to share their thoughts on which films and actors impressed them the most in 2015. Below are their votes for the 87th  Academy Awards:

Jordana Oberman, Technique instructor

Best Leading Actor: Eddie Redmayne
Best Leading Actress: Brie Larson
Best Supporting Actor: Mark Rylance
Best Supporting Actress: Kate winslet
Best FilmSpotlight
Best Direction: The Revenant Alejandro G. Iñárritu

Sandy Egan, Meisner Instructor

Best Leading Actor: Leonardo Di Caprio – just for shooting conditions alone (I also really liked Matt Damon)
Best Leading Actress: Saoirse Ronan – a beautiful heartfelt performance
Best Supporting Actor: Mark Ruffalo – I like him in everything
Best Supporting Actress: Rooney Mara is the very soul Carol
Best Film: Spotlight – it worked on every level
Best Direction: George Miller – a great achievement so late in a long career [Mad Max: Fury Road]

Thom Rivera, On-camera Instructor

Best Leading Actor: Leonardo Di Caprio or Michael Fassbender
Best Leading Actress: Brie Larson
Best Supporting Actor: Mark Rylance
Best Supporting Actress: Alicia Vykander  or Kate Winslet
Best FilmThe Revenant
Best Direction: Alejandro Iñárritu

Ken Weiler, Meisner Instructor

Best Leading Actress: I’m going with Brie Larson. She won the Golden Globe for Room. Her performance was raw, and powerful. She’s new, even though she’s been working for over 20 years. Ha! Room is just the sort of movie the Academy gives Oscars to.
Best Leading Actor: I’m going with Leonardo Di Caprio. He’s overdue. His body of work is remarkable and he hasn’t won an Oscar yet. And he was incredibly good in The Revenant.
Best Film: The Revenant, Alejandro Iñárritu won last year for Birman and, as crazy as it sounds, I think he could win again.
Best Direction: Alejandro Iñárritu, The Revenant is just so cinematically magnificent and, like Birdman,left me asking “How did he do that?”

Elizabeth Mestnik, Founder & Director of EMAS

Best Leading Actor: Leonardo Di Caprio
Best Leading Actress: Brie Larson
Best Supporting Actor: Mark Ruffalo
Best Supporting Actress: Alicia Vikander
Best Film: Spotlight
Best Direction: Alejandro Iñárritu

 

Have your own thoughts on who did the best movie work of 2015? Let us know what you think!

Should Working Actors Continue Their Training??

Guest Post by Matthew Jaeger

Matthew Jaeger HeadshotMatt Jaeger is a 2014 graduate of The Elizabeth Mestnik Acting Studio’s Professional Meisner Training Program. He is currently starring in Chinglish by David Henry Hwang at East West Players. Other credits include Recurring and Guest Star appearances on Criminal Minds, Switched at Birth, CSI and Grey’s Anatomy. See Matthew Jaeger on IMDB.


When I came to Elizabeth Mestnik Acting Studio, I’d already been a working actor for four years. I worked primarily in commercials and television, doing the occasional film and the even more occasional theatre project. I came to EMAS because of one these more occasional theatre projects, a play called Short Eyes, where I played the title role. It was an incredibly demanding role, and I found I hit a wall when trying to access certain emotional parts of myself. I would get to a point and then just… nothing. It was scary and incredibly frustrating. So I faked it when I needed to, and got through the run. But afterwards I was left with the feeling that I should have gone farther, made the role not only deeper but given it more levels and color. My girlfriend (now wife) suggested I look at Elizabeth Mestnik’s Meisner Summer Intensive when it came around that summer. So I did.

To make long story slightly less long, in that short intensive, I dug deeper than I ever had before. I liked what I found, and what it did to me as an actor. So I joined the full Professional Program. What followed were nine months of some of the hardest work I’ve ever done as an actor. Remember, I make my money acting, so I was very nervous to mess with my process or give anyone else input as to how I approached my craft. But the more I relaxed and opened up, the better things got. It was SO much work, but every minute was worth it. I continued on into the 2nd year’s advanced work and my confidence grew as I solidified what I learned and absorbed it into my daily work.

In going through the 2 Year Meisner Program, I not only grew as an actor, but as a person. I made lasting friendships and came to know myself in ways I never thought I would. It was great. But if you’re like me, you want to know, bottom line, “Did the acting get better?” Aka “Did you start booking more?” Well, I’m about as anal retentive as they come and I actually track my booking percentages, so I can answer that question.

Yes.

I started class in 2012. My stats for that year were:
Callback: 20.7%, Booking: 8.8%
(I told you I was anal retentive)

During 2013 I was changing my process and rebuilding my craft, and the numbers dropped.
Callback: 10.4%, Booking 5.2%
Needless to say, it took some real trust to keep with it when my stats dropped by half. But I believed in Elizabeth, Jordana, and Ken. And like I said, I could see my growth as an artist. And most importantly, I was ENJOYING acting more.

By the time I graduated, in June 2014, everything was back to normal. My stats for 2014 were almost identical to 2012:
Callback: 20%, Booking 8.6%

Today I’ve had a year to settle into my new process and really put what I learned to work. It’s the first complete year of acting work I’ve had since graduating, and my stats have definitely improved As of November, my 2015 stats are:
Callback 25.4%, Booking 19%

That’s right, my booking ratio more than DOUBLED in my first full year after graduating from the EMAS 2 Year Meisner Program. And my callbacks have increased as well.

Also, before and during the class (2012-2014) I averaged working 18 days a year. For 2015, I’m on track to work 91 days. True, this probably would have been a good year anyway, part of the ebb and flow of any career. But it could never have gotten this good without EMAS studios. My training there has upped my game to a new level.

So, to sum it all up, only someone as anal retentive as me can tell you, with objective proof, the Elizabeth Mestnik Acting Studio works.

Survey Results: Favorite Actors of 2014

2014 favorite actors survey, Bradley Cooper, Denzel Washington, Jennifer Lawrence

So the verdict is in and, overall, it’s not very decisive:

After conducting a poll of internet users asking them to answer the question, “Of all the actors who appeared in a feature film in 2014, who do you most respect or admire?” the most voted for actor was Bradley Cooper with 6.8%. Although not released in 2014, this is probably due in large part to his recent portrayal of Chris Kyle in American Sniper.

With a few exceptions, such as Chris Pratt, Bradley Cooper, and perhaps Matthew McConaughey, it seems that most people’s opinions of their favorite actors are not decided by one year’s work. Outside of these two, the other actors making up the top eight were Denzel Washington, Morgan Freeman, Jennifer Lawrence, Angelina Jolie, and Leonardo DiCaprio. Although these actors did feature in 2014 films, one could argue that their prior work had a greater influence on opinions than their performances over the last year.

When comparing male and female responses, the top two actors remain the same. However, across age groups, one begins to see a difference in the people’s preferences.

The clearest trend here is Bradley Cooper getting the most votes among the three age groups between 25 and 64. People clearly feel strongly about American Sniper’s political implications which likely influenced peoples votes (not to discount Cooper’s performance). The preference for Chris Pratt among 25 to 34 year-olds illustrates that he has an ability to strike a chord with this generation’s sense of humor. George Clooney among 65 and up?  He’s an excellent actor, but as to why this age group? … your guess is as good as ours.

The nod to Robin Williams, ranked 12th overall, is worth noting. Despite not having any leading roles in blockbuster films in 2014, one can see his prominence in the survey as a well deserved tribute to an actor that managed to work his way into many hearts, both through his endearing comedic roles as well as his moving dramatic performances. (See our Improv Actors blog post.)

Lastly, a special thanks for the response “I don’t go to the movies.” … duly noted.

Improv In Action

Improv Actors

IMPROV IN ACTION: THREE GREAT ACTORS WITH STRONG IMPROV ROOTS

Improvisation is all about spontaneity, and existing within the moment. You have to work from the impulse rather than planning what will happen.  Put simply, improv is about listening, acceptance, and authenticity. In improv comedy, it’s easy to find great examples these days of master improvisers. Steve Carrell, Will Ferrell, Sascha Baron Cohen, Amy Poehler, and Jim Carrey have each made their careers as comedic improvisers. Entire TV series have begun from improvised scripts like “The Office” , “Workaholics” , and “Parks and Recreation.” But improv isn’t just for comedy. Some the best improv masters are highly respected for their dramatic roles, including some of the greats: Robin Williams, Bill Murray, and Robert De Niro.

Robin Williams, who attended Juilliard for acting, was performing comedy in nightclubs when he was discovered and asked to audition for what would become his breakout role as the alien called Mork, from “Mork and Mindy.” Williams is said to have improvised almost entirely on the dialogue for this character from the very beginning, leading writers to stop writing dialogue for him entirely. Williams also improvised most of his dialogue as the genie in “Aladdin” as well as an entire scene in his Academy Award winning performance in “Good Will Hunting.”

Bill Murray actually began his career in improv as a young man in Chicago’s Second City improv comedy troupe. Later on he took his comedic talents to the National Lampoon Radio in New York City, which led him to be discovered and brought on to Saturday Night Live. Most famously, he created almost all of his own dialogue in the cult classic, “Caddyshack,” including the “Cinderella Story” bit in the film. He also improvised his entire Peter Venkman character for “Ghostbusters” and an entire scene of dialogue for the movie “Tootsie.” Now Murray has been acclaimed for his dramatic work as well, showing that the honesty he found in improv has given him great range.

Robert De Niro was only 17 when he dropped out of high school and auditioned for Stella Adler’s Academy in New York. Most well known for his dramatic roles, De Niro is a fantastic example of incredible improv coupled with Meisner-style acting. The Meisner Technique is an improvisationaly based training which demands that the actor respond from their instincts rather than their intellect.  He is most well known for his entirely improvised scene talking to himself in front of a mirror during “Taxi Driver.” He is also said to have improvised most of the script and dialogue ideas for “Goodfellas” with his fellow actors in rehearsal.

Improvisational skills can improve any actor as it requires the actor to respond spontaneously in character. This spontaneity is a fundamental philosophy in acting- to be so deeply in character that your thoughts and actions are fluid and authentic. Even when adhering to a script, the best actors will use the impulses they have developed in improv to keep the scene spontaneous. While improv lends itself well to comedy, a true master can utilize improvisation in all types of roles and genres.

At Elizabeth Mestnik’s Acting Studio, we strive to foster this spontaneity and engagement in  our students.