Category Archives Acting Advice

Juggling Acting and a Day Job

There’s already so much that goes on with an acting career, but what if you’re juggling a day job as well? There’s no question that you need the day job to pay for expenses, but a burgeoning acting career is something that asks all kinds of sacrifices from you and it just isn’t realistic to work at both a regular full-time gig and pursue an acting career at the same time.

The question has come up if you had to choose, would you choose your day job over acting? Well, it comes down exactly to that – how committed are you, and to which career? In the long run, if you choose acting, you’ll have to sacrifice comfort for crappy living conditions and for long periods of time – which is why a lot of people quit their acting pursuits because to actually give yourself this kind of shot is really up to what you are willing to sacrifice.

Usually an average of eight to ten years is required from acting professionals who make it to the big screen or television. Similar to any profession out there, acting requires hard work, determination, and perseverance. If you’re not willing to do your part and carry the bulk of what’s required of you, then it really isn’t likely that you’ll be able to hit the big time either.

And finding something flexible, which usually falls into the waiting tables-category, is ideal. It’s pretty rare to find something part-time that is flexible and accommodating at the same time. But if you’re not willing to work hard to reach where you want to be in 5-10 years, then it’s pretty much telling an engineer that forgoing his studies will help him get his certificate – which really isn’t the way the world works. Work hard, and that means roughing it, and even suffering a few blows financially, but if you want to be one of the elite few, then it’s all requisite stuff from here on.

Acting: How To Get Started

Acting is a tough profession. It’s a distinct balance of experience and skill perfected over a period of time. A lot of patience and time ends up being thrown into the equation, and those who are disciplined enough to work hard and persevere for what they love and aspire to will reap the rewards in the end.

Rigorous training and practice – a minimum of three to four hours a day, six days a week for at least two or three years before you reach the bare minimum of becoming a professional. Which means you might have the potential, but you’ll have to work hard in order to be able to push that potential to the max.

It also comes down to how you present yourself. Imagine this: you are given a basic monologue and a rundown of what the casting director is looking for. What if you look down at the script in hand, your self-doubt gets in the way, and you freeze? The first few seconds are crucial. Your monologue either flies and you deliver, or you fail to sell them your speech, and you’re axed before you can unearth your character. Two seconds or so to prove youself – probably the most essential two seconds of your life.

The Elizabeth Mestnik Acting Studio, a dynamic Los Angeles acting school, is willing to help you unmask your potential in truthfully, emotionally, and courageously expressing yourself. Ms. Mestnik founded EMAS in 2001 to provide Hollywood actors the same comprehensive training she received in New York City. Using the Meisner Technique to help challenge and invigorate actors to fully encompass their roles, EMAS will help guide you in understanding and improving your craft.

What’s most likely standing between you and your goals, is yourself. With the help of some great acting instruction, you’ll be able to acquire the skills that you will need to deliver those lines with fiery appeal, or with enough pizzazz, or dynamic panache to impress the right people.

Enrollment for Spring Classes Beginning Acting Classes starts now!

Beyond Repetition – by Elizabeth Mestnik

To Behave Truthfully under Imaginary Circumstances” – Sanford Meisner’s Sanford Meisnerdefinition of acting.

The Independent Activity is the next step after the basic repetition exercise. It is the phase of the work that really brings home what it means to “behave truthfully”.   In this phase of the work a student is asked to do a physically difficult task, something that takes 110% of their concentration to achieve.   This is a surprise to actors who in the past have only “pretended” on stage before – “pretended” to read a letter, or “pretended” make lunch.  Here any activity they do they have to REALLY do it.  To help their concentration we give the activity certain guidelines, which we introduce one at a time:

  1. A standard of perfection that lets us know if we are succeeding with the activity.  For example, it’s not enough to build a house of cards, the student must get more specific, ie: build a 3-story house using all 52 cards.
  2. A simple and specific reason for needing to do the activity.
  3. Urgency:  which means they know how much time they need to get this activity done; no more and no less.

An activity that does not integrate all of these criteria is not acceptable, and the student starts to learn how to hold themselves to high standards.  Any holes in the crafting will keep the improvisation that is to come from fully developing.  It will hurt their acting.

Skills learned through The Independent Activity:

  • It grounds the student in the reality of doing.  Nothing we do in these first steps is pretend. What that means is that they learn how to really do something under imaginary circumstances.  If they choose to paint a picture, they really paint, and really give themselves a standard of perfection to help them know if they are succeeding or failing.
  • It reveals that emotion is a by-product of DOING.  The more they REALLY do the activity, and the more they struggle with it, the more likely REAL emotional life will start to emerge (usually frustration).
  • It teaches that the more specific the actor is in his or her crafting, the easier it is to believe in the imaginary circumstances.
  • It begins the exploration of what makes the actor tick, what pushes each individual actor’s emotional buttons.  As we start to make the reasons for doing the activity have greater importance (what we call raising the stakes) the actor is forced to craft from personal feelings – what makes them angry, or scared, or exhilarated.

emas268While this actor is working on their independent activity, their partner will start the repetition exercise – and we learn that acting means you must DO and you must also work off of your partner – and neither can be sacrificed.  It’s very difficult to do.  The actor with the independent activity will want to tune their partner out in order to work on their activity, or they will stop working on their activity in order to work off of their partner – and yet they cannot do this – they must do both. This creates an innate push and pull for the actor “I need to get this activity done, but this other person is demanding my attention and keeping me from succeeding”.  It ultimately will create a conflict between the partners.  Believe it or not – these exercises were developed to create conflict because acting is full of dramatic fights. As an actor we must embrace conflict in a scene. In the real world many of us avoid conflict at all costs, but as actors we have to be comfortable living in the drama.  The Independent Activity also teaches the actor to:

  • Stand up for themselves and find their voice
  • Work from a place of sensitivity and compassion
  • Craft from what has real meaning for them but not from real life.  Acting is always imaginary and if we use real life drama that is not acting, and not a healthy way to work

Emotional Preparation comes next – and that is the very personal technique that we use to get to a heightened emotional state, on our own, without the assistance of an activity or a partner. It is self-induced emotional life.  It’s not our favorite way to connect emotionally but it’s important to be able to do this when the actor has to start a scene already fully alive.  This happens all the time in film shoots where filming may pick up over and over again in the middle of a scene.  We do this work so that the actor develops an entire repertoire of emotions to bring to the imaginary circumstances. The week–in, week-out emotional workout also helps our emotional life to be easily called up at a moments notice.  We can create any emotional life that the character might demand.

The Domestic Exercise comes next – this is when the students start to create different relationships with their partners.  We make sure that the actor doesn’t lose their moment-to-moment connection for the sake of a full emotional life.  Emotion is seductive when it first starts to come up, it feels good to feel! But an audience doesn’t want to sit there watching someone emote.  They want to see what the character does THROUGH the emotion.  The actor has to be reminded that acting is not emotion but that the emotion will inform how the actor DOES something.  Emotion without doing is not acting.

Student at elizabeth meznik Actors studio acting classFinally, we introduce the Shared Circumstances.  With this work, actors start to think like actors, learning how to ask the right questions and flesh out the scenes.  They get more specific about their relationships, and strengthen their points of view.  They start to work on objectives from an organic approach rather than in intellectual one. This is when each actor’s uniqueness really starts to shine.  All the while the student must NEVER lose the essential idea that everything you do is in RESPONSE to your partner, moment to moment.  It’s what we developed through the repetition exercises, and just because we’ve moved on to other steps – we can never lose that foundation.  Day in and day out, in these improvisational scenes that are built from the repetition exercise, the actors get to:

  • Expand their emotional lives.
  • Exercise their imaginations.
  • Hone their crafting.
  • Find their unique voice.

It’s an intense and challenging program, but those who dedicate themselves to this work will never be the same, as actors, as artists or as people.

Stay tuned – our next discussion will be about how Scene Work is integrated into the first year of Meisner Technique.

Article written by Elizabeth Mestnik

How to Win Over a Casting Director

Breaking into the film business isn’t the easiest thing to do in the world, but people continue to do it again and again.

So what’s the secret?

It comes down to three things: talent, experience, and luck.

This pretty much applies to just about every job in Hollywood, but especially for actors and actresses.

That’s why it’s hard – that’s not to say there aren’t talented individual people out there that find they’re most happy when they’re acting.

For the latter, there are a few things you can do to enhance your chance of winning over a casting director and their assistant during your next audition.

1. Let Your Talent Shine

One of the most important elements casting directors look for in actors and actresses is talent. They want to see that you have some sort of spark of talent that has the capacity to blow up and surprise us.

If you’re truly talented, and you’ll know because you’ll have tasted positive feedback, mild success, and other great things from your acting … even if you have yet to start pursuing it. As a child, did people suggest you become a movie star? Were people impressed with your personality or ability to act? If so, you’ve tasted the social proof that you entertain people.

Though this isn’t required, it’s often one of the signs that you really are talented.

2. Build Your Experience

Try to build your experience as much as possible. Talent scouts constantly lurk the crowds of shows and acting schools looking for that special someone they’d like to present to their client.

Do something so you can say you’ve done it. Perform in a show. Star in student films. Act as an extra. The key is to gain as much experience possible … and you should want to do this, not feel obligated.

Those scouts and agents are looking for you … help them find you. With just the right amount of luck, you’ll land representation and move on to bigger and better projects. The more you have on your resume, the more likely the casting director is to give you the opportunity to impress them with your performance.

Which brings us to the next point …

3. Make Your Own Luck

The more you do, the more likely you are to get lucky – that is, the more likely you are to bump into a producer, catch the eye of a scout, or land a roll with a project that actually goes to a festival.

Get out there and dig – success doesn’t come to people, people go to success.

This point doesn’t necessarily lead to impressing the casting director directly, but it might just lead to your casting director.

Overall, the idea is to walk into the casting office confident and ready to have fun. Build your experience, show your talent, and get a little lucky in the process and you might just impress the casting director enough to be called back for a second audition.

Article written by the Elizabeth Mestnik Acting Studio

FINDING THE RIGHT FIT: ACTING CLASSES IN LOS ANGELES

With all of the different options for actor training, it’s sometimes difficult to navigate all the different schools and classes, techniques and approaches.  Even for the experienced actor, finding the right place to study can be challenging, and sometimes downright discouraging.  There are a million types of classes, Scene Study, Meisner Technique, Movement, Improv, etc.  So let me break down some simple distinctions that could help you find the right acting class in Los Angeles.

  1. Technique class:

A technique class is the best place for beginners to start.   It’s also a great place for experienced actors to return to when they need rejuvenation. It is a class that emphasizes acquiring skills rather than putting together a performance.  All the exercises should help the students develop a character and perform a scene, but the emphasis is on developing the skill itself.  Skills such as how to:

  • Break down a script
  • Create the environment
  • Work off of your acting partner
  • Tap into your creativity and imagination
  • Strengthen your voice and physicality
  • Develop a character
  • Learn who you are and how to bring yourself to your work

These are just a few of the skills an actor needs to master before they can deliver a fantastic performance.  There are a variety of techniques that can get you these skills, Meisner, Adler, Hagen, Strassburg.  The best technique classes do give you the chance to test these skills out in a scene or monologue, but the focus is on skill acquisition.

The most important thing is that a beginner NOT put the cart before the horse and hop into a Scene Study class too soon.  That would be like someone who wanted to dance ballet being told to dance Swan Lake in the first class and then being told what they did wrong.  A technique class is like learning the various steps.  Learn the steps before you dance.  Learn the skills before you act.  And like ballet, you need to be patient; it takes time for us to acquire these skills. No one does a triple pirouette the first week.  No one performs a moving scene that easily either. Avoid the 4-week workshop if you are looking for a good technique class.  That is not enough time for this work to germinate.  Nothing worth learning comes easily; make the investment to become a master of your craft.

Good training can access parts of the student’s creativity and talent they never even knew they had.  Technique is the bowl that holds the actors talent for us to see.  Without it the actor’s talent can escape like water through their fingers. The best actors, the Robert Duvalls, Meryl Streeps and Phillip Seymore Hoffmans, have dedicated years to studying technique to shape and release their amazing gifts.

2. Scene Study:

This is a class where students who already have some mastery of the above skill sets can put them to practice.  You will be working on a scene, trying to get it to, what I call, “performance ready”. For this, it is very important that you have a good rapport with the teacher.  I think it is important that the instructor have the ability to improve your technique in case you need it (to give you exercises or work on your instrument), but also work as a director so that you get used to working towards a result.  If Technique Class is about process, then scene study needs to be about process and product.  The format is pretty simple.  Two actors prepare a scene.  They perform it, at whatever stage of readiness it is in.  The instructor gives coaching and directing, and may even work on specific issues.  The actors rehearse the scene on their own, to bring back to the next class.  It varies a bit, but for the most part – that is how a scene study class goes.  Here are a few things to look for in a Scene Study class:

  • You should work in every class.
  • There should be more work than discussion.
  • You should want to work with this instructor over a series of months, with different material, as it does take us some time to get to know how you work, what your weaknesses are and how to move you forward in your craft.
  • Your classmates should be as committed to rehearsing outside of class as you are.
  • The class should be no more than 4 hours long (ok, so this is pretty subjective, but I think that 4 hours is about the limit any creative person can stay alert, and work productively.  I’ve heard of the classes that go until the wee hours of the morning – either the class is too large, the scenes too long, or the teacher likes to talk too much)
  1. Cold Reading/Audition workshops:  Cold Reading is an audition technique that is particularly important in Hollywood, where you could potentially get the script you are working with literally moments before you go in to audition. These workshops are often taught by industry professionals (casting directors, agents etc.)  One thing I need you to understand is that casting directors are not necessarily acting coaches, and so although they can often tell you what they want to see, they may lack the proper tools to get you there.  That is why it is very important that you be very confident in your training before you put yourself in front of any casting director or agent (you don’t want to make a bad impression).  If you don’t have your skill set completely under your belt, make sure your Cold Reading class is with a coach not a casting director.

There are a huge number of acting teachers and acting schools in Los Angeles, some are amazing and gifted, some are hoaxes and some are even abusive.  Nonetheless, there ARE enough really insightful teachers out there who are passionate about training actors that you need not settle.  There are a lot of things you do not have control over in this crazy business, but your craft is not one of them.  Take control of it, master your craft, train, rehearse, and I hope to work with you soon!