The Actor's Menu: A Character Preparation Handbook

The Actor's Menu: A Character Preparation Handbook

by Bill Howey
     
 

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Whether new to the business or a seasoned professional, this handbook provides actors with a personal, active approach to discovering and developing their talent. Beginning with appetizers and ending with desserts, actors learn how to prepare a character in the same way that a master chef chooses the most complementary dishes for a feast. From typecasting to…  See more details below

Overview

Whether new to the business or a seasoned professional, this handbook provides actors with a personal, active approach to discovering and developing their talent. Beginning with appetizers and ending with desserts, actors learn how to prepare a character in the same way that a master chef chooses the most complementary dishes for a feast. From typecasting to reinventing a character's story, actors discover the key ingredients that will enable them to use their own unique qualities and emotions to develop strong, believable characters that people are interested in watching. How to identify and resolve problems such as hidden agendas that can disable an actor's work; distinguish between perception, feeling, and emotions; and find lasting sources of inspiration are among the issues explored. The importance of imagination, words, and story as well as the difference between intellectual and visceral choices (and the impact of each) are also discussed.

Editorial Reviews

From the Publisher

"This book is a fresh, needed voice and perspective for actors at any level. The Actor's Menu is a must read for any actor." —Bob Corff, Hollywood voice coach and actor

"I would not be on the Reba show if it wasn't for the training I got from Bill Howey. If you want to be the best actor you can be, read The Actor's Menu." —Steve Howey, Van Montegomery on Reba, guest star on ER and The Drew Carey Show

Product Details

ISBN-13:
9780975310205
Publisher:
Compass Publishing
Publication date:
09/28/2005
Sold by:
Barnes & Noble
Format:
NOOK Book
Pages:
204
File size:
450 KB

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Read an Excerpt

The Actor's Menu

A Character Preparation Handbook


By Bill Howey

Compass Publishing

Copyright © 2005 Bill Howey
All rights reserved.
ISBN: 978-0-9753102-2-9



CHAPTER 1

Appetizer


Truth in developing your acting skills begins with an honest evaluation of your current thoughts, ideas and beliefs about yourself and your acting. Only you know the real truth. Answer the questions and exercises that appear throughout the book honestly, completely and openly.

You are singular, unique and exceptional because of the individual ideas, thoughts and images you carry in hidden compartments off the unseen passageways of your inner world. These factors become the potent ingredients you will use to create your own, unique Actor's Menu. This uniqueness is what the audience wants to see. Acting has no mysterious ingredients. There is only what each individual brings to his or her acting.

Using your personal acting journal, answer the questions that follow. Your answers will help you begin the process of discovering or affirming your singularity. Your answers, therefore, are for you alone. No one else will see them unless you reveal them, so be honest. Should a more truthful answer occur to you anywhere along the line, go back to the question.

The answers to these questions may very well reveal why your career is lagging, why you can't commit to an acting career or why you can't answer the "how" questions.


Goals

Seneca said: "If you don't know to which port you are sailing, no wind is favorable." Without a specific destination you drift. Set specific, personal goals that motivate you. Actors often believe that their unique ingredients, their qualities determine what goals they can set. In fact, who you are now determines only the point from which you begin your adventure.

Don't compromise your original goal. Nothing is wrong with the goal "to be a movie star," as long as the actions necessary to attain that goal are understood and actively pursued. Actors often set goals and then don't take the necessary steps to make them happen. Results don't happen magically. But there is magic in setting big goals and working to make them happen. The following series of questions is the beginning of accomplishing that magic.

A point of clarification:

Since you should be writing down the answers to all of the questions in the Appetizer and throughout the book, I have labeled each category to make them easier for you to record. For example, the Goal section is identified with a "G" and the number of the question.

G-1: What was my original acting goal when I first became an actor?

G-2: What is my current acting goal?

G-3: What is my long-term acting goal?

G-4: What goals have I set and then abandoned?

G-4a: What was my resistance or opposition to those goals?

G-5: What goals do I dare not try to attain?

These last two questions (G-4 and G-5) are your abandoned goals or goals you dared not try. After review you may find these become your real acting goal.

G-6: What changes have I made to my acting goals?

Compare your current goal with your original goal (see G-l). Note any difference.

G-7: What gives me the most excitement from acting?

Reflect on what really moves you, what motivates you.

G-8: Are my goals devised to fix what I have been told is wrong with my acting?

G-8a: If so, what?

G-8b: Are those goal fixes helping me?

G-9: Do I think I'm too old to have a goal to be an actor?

If your answer is "yes" consider the following.

The novelist George Eliot (Mary Ann Evans) wrote that age need not be a deterrent to attaining a goal: "You are never too old to be what you might have been."

I stress in my workshops that persistence and self-discovery are the keys to success.

G-10: Have my acting goals changed?

G-10a: If so, why?

G-11: What intermediate steps have I established to attain my goals?


By this point you should either have set a solid goal or revised the goal you previously set. Your goal must excite you and motivate you. Your goal should be personal and specific. It doesn't have to conform to other people's goals, it's yours alone. A personal, exciting goal, one that you love, one that challenges you, will not easily be quashed.

Once you determine your goal, you begin the process of creating the actions you will use to accomplish that goal. Never give up on a goal without testing it and developing it. Test it, re-test it and test it again. As is said: The third time's the charm. Never give up on your goal.


What Is Acting?

As an actor you have probably formed an opinion about what acting is.

The next questions relate to your concept of acting. Is it imitation? Mimicry? Transformation? Role-playing? Representation? Reinvention?

Please answer, in your journal, the following question before continuing. Be complete and express your thoughts fully. Even if you find that your answers are confused or not clearly stated, write them down as they occur to you. That confusion may indicate some area you need to explore. It's vital to know your own point of view.

"A" stands for Acting.

A-1: What is acting to me?

Acting should not imitate or mimic. Acting is not role-playing. The myth about transformation or "becoming" the character seems to come from the audience. When people see a character who is different from what they know about that actor, or a character who strikes them as very real, they naturally consider it a transformation. Actors can hear this feedback and start believing it. But actors can no more transform themselves into another person than they can become a tree. Actors who work or train under this concept are kidding themselves.

Acting is reinvention or representation. An actor reinvents a character by combining the image received from the script with his or her own personal ingredients.

When actors appear to become another person it's a result of an actor's reinvention. An actor wants the audience to believe that what they see is actually occurring.

When you prepare a dish from a recipe, you're not imitating or being, you're recreating the recipe and putting in your own ingredients. You're reinventing that recipe. The same is true when an actor builds a character. Being an actor means bringing yourself to the script.

Good actors are like chameleons who alter their appearance to fit the surroundings while remaining who they are. Chameleons create the illusion that they are the bush, the tree, the limb. It is this ability that is often perceived as transformation.

Acting, then, is really an illusion that creates a subjective response in each member of the audience. An actor isn't really the character; the audience (in the best cases) just believes it.

Acting needs to be approached with the intention to be as real and true to the situation and the character as possible while understanding it is only an illusion.

Actors can only exist as who they are, in spite of any outward show. It is an actor's ideas, thoughts and attitudes that bring a character to life. Now answer these next questions.

A-2: If I think of acting as representation, mimicry, imitation, becoming or transforming, do I think that because of what I have been told or what I have experienced?

A-3: Did I change what I originally believed in order to fit in with others?


Hidden Acting Agendas

A Hidden Acting Agenda for an actor is a secret belief that exerts control over his or her thoughts and actions. These concealed preconditions cause a lot of trouble for actors when they perform and study acting.

With this section of the handbook, you will begin to learn why Hidden Acting Agendas are so insidious and how to gain control over them. Understanding what and why you have Hidden Acting Agendas will help re-ignite your acting goals.

"HA" stands for Hidden Acting Agenda.

HA-1: What physical mannerisms do I think are bad in acting?

HA-2: What attitudes do I think are bad in acting?

HA-3: What emotions do I think are bad in acting?

HA-4: What physical mannerisms do I believe are not right for me in my acting?

HA-5: What attitudes do I believe are not right for me in my acting?

HA-6: What emotions do I believe are not right for me in my acting?

HA-7: Is there anything I think I shouldn't do as an actor?

HA-8: What do I think I can't do?

HA-9: What do I know about myself and my acting that I believe I need to keep secret?

HA-10: Have I ever really tried to be personal in my acting work?

HA-10a: If yes, what was the result?

HA-11: What embarrassing critiques have I received in the past that I'm still trying to fix when I act?

HA-12: What have I already fixed in my acting because of something I was told was ugly, unattractive or wrong?

HA-12a: What was the fix?

HA-12b: What were the results of that fix?

HA-13: What has someone else told me was "wrong" with my attitude?

HA-13a: How did that affect me?

HA-13b: What was my fix?

HA-14: Is there anyone who told me I couldn't make it, or I didn't have it, that I would really like to prove wrong?

HA-14a: If so, what would it be like to pay them back for their negativity?

Hidden Acting Agendas begin with faultfinding:

"You are too emotional."

"You are too open."

"People who act sexy are degrading themselves."

"Anger shows weakness."

"Your face is off on the right side."

"Your laugh is very inappropriate."

"You never laugh and that means you're too serious."

"Hide your face, if you must cry."

"Everything bothers you."

"Honestly, your hips are big enough for two people."

"You're getting balder."

Beliefs about oneself are formed and then hidden because they point out bad things. Here are some examples of concealed beliefs:

"I must not be emotional."

"I must not be vulnerable."

"Being sexy is wrong."

"Anger shows weakness."

"Only my right side looks good."

"I mustn't laugh too much."

"I must laugh in every scene."

"Crying makes me look ugly and my nose runs."

"I must not be emotionally moved by anything."

"Because my hips are so big, I must sit down as much as possible."

"I must not show the top of my head."

Negative presumptions can be acquired from many sources: friends, family, teachers, directors and even complete strangers. None of them have an impact unless the actor chooses to make them a Hidden Acting Agenda. To make that negative opinion become a Hidden Acting Agenda, the actor has to take it as the gospel truth.

The term for this is ideé fixe, an idea that dominates the mind. Hidden Acting Agendas dominate an actor's mind and actions. Let's say someone tells an actor, "You look ugly when you frown." The actor "corrects" the problem of looking ugly by smiling, even when smiling is not appropriate.

These "corrections" become Hidden Acting Agendas motivating an actor to hide the existence of a perceived defect. Actors often take any and all carping to heart and appease the carper by "fixing" the "problem." Too often, these fixed ideas become more important to an actor than the needs of the character and the story.

Don't think there isn't power behind a Hidden Acting Agenda. There is. Students too often tell me, "I'm an open book, ready to absorb your lessons and grow." What they really mean is "I'm ready ... as long as you don't make me stand sideways, show my hips, or show the top of my head."

Agendas impede acting progress, almost always preventing an actor from portraying a strong character. Consider that what is "wrong" about you, as dictated by a hidden agenda, may be very "right" for the story and the character.

You may have an obstructing Hidden Acting Agenda if you resist a direction, are unwilling to perform an emotion, attitude or behavior, or if you find yourself compelled to do or not do specific things.

Actors form Hidden Acting Agendas to protect themselves from criticism or ridicule. It's ironic that the very thing an actor is avoiding might generate the quality, attitude or behavior that enlivens the character and story.

Further, the actual source of "You look ugly when you frown" may very well be another person asserting their own hidden agenda, believing they look ugly when they frown. We see in others what we see in ourselves.

There are strong feelings behind a statement such as "anger shows weakness." That statement may come from someone who avoids showing any anger. The intensity of that statement can make the decree so convincing that an actor accepts the judgment. Once a statement like that becomes a Hidden Acting Agenda, it is fixed upon by an actor and prevents his or her character from being dynamic and multi-layered.

Remember, what is "wrong" for you in real life may be "right" for the character on the stage.

Here is an example:

Character

I hate you.

The actor, adhering to the hidden agenda that enforces "anger shows weakness," shows no emotion or comes up with a mild, muted version of anger. When questioned the actor either protests or mutters something like, "I don't know why I can't get angry," anything to escape the degradation of being weak.

Adhering to a Hidden Acting Agenda denies the character to the audience. Such a Hidden Acting Agenda is one that says, "This is the right way," "Without this you won't make it," or, "Doing that is dangerous." Thoughts like those are not beneficial for any actor.

Now that you have read about these insidious Hidden Acting Agendas, consider the same set of questions again. This time, look for your Hidden Acting Agendas.

HA-1: What physical mannerisms do I think are bad in acting?

HA-2: What attitudes do I think are bad in acting?

HA-3: What emotions do I think are bad in acting?

HA-4: What physical mannerisms do I believe are not right for me in my acting?

HA-5: What attitudes do I believe are not right for me in my acting?

HA-6: What emotions do I believe are not right for me in my acting?

HA-7: Is there anything I think I shouldn't do as an actor?

HA-8: What do I think I can't do?

HA-9: What do I know about myself and my acting that I believe I need to keep secret?

HA-10: Have I ever really tried to be personal in my acting work?

HA-10a: If yes, what was the result?

HA-11: What embarrassing critiques have I received in the past that I'm still trying to fix when I act?

HA-12: What have I already fixed in my acting because of something I was told was ugly, unattractive or wrong?

HA-12a: What was the fix?

HA-12b: What were the results of that fix?

HA-13: What has someone else told me was "wrong" with my attitude?

HA-13a: How did that affect me?

HA-13b: What was my fix?

HA-14: Is there anyone who told me I couldn't make it, or I didn't have it, that I would really like to prove wrong?

HA-14a: If so, what would it be like to pay them back for their negativity?

If the answers to the above questions reveal that, after you "corrected" the problem, you grew stronger on stage, this would not be a Hidden Acting Agenda. Instead, this "correction" would be a valuable ingredient to be added to your menu.


Payback

Vindication or payback is one class of Hidden Acting Agenda that doesn't hinder, but intensifies an actor's intention to succeed. Proving someone wrong for their negativity can cause unbelievable pleasure. Payback may not be "the right motivation," but it works. And because it is not "right," it's hidden. Payback is viable as long as it only causes harm to the "rightness" of the faultfinder.

Protest, however, can also become the motivation to vindicate oneself. This objection can excite you to become so effective that the faultfinder has his or her negative feedback thrown back in their face.

The desire for payback may be the only thing that moves you to action. It can cause you to overcome any obstacle that stands in your way of reaching that moment when you confront whoever told you "you can't" or "you don't have it" and present the evidence, proving him or her wrong.

The positive action of seeking vindication, rather than keeping the churning resentment inside, is to direct that potentially self-destructive energy into actions that "show them how wrong they were."


Excellence Is A Habit

Aristotle said: "We are what we repeatedly do. Excellence, therefore, is not an act but a habit." If you repeat your actions that stem from Hidden Acting Agendas, they will become a habit, a bad habit. Excellence in acting is being who you are, free of Hidden Acting Agendas.

When receiving a critique from an acting teacher or director that is hard to hear, actors either reject or accept the criticism. The rejection is often the result of a Hidden Acting Agenda. On the other hand, acceptance without any thought or consideration is passive. It is best to accept with the intention to review and represent the choice in order to create the most powerful effect on the audience. This is aggressive. Good actors are aggressive.


(Continues...)

Excerpted from The Actor's Menu by Bill Howey. Copyright © 2005 Bill Howey. Excerpted by permission of Compass Publishing.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.

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Meet the Author


Bill Howey has taught and coached acting for more than 25 years. He has appeared as an actor on the soap opera, The Young and the Restless and has worked as a dialogue/acting coach for the television series A Family for Joe, with Robert Mitchum, and Charlie Hoover, with Sam Kinison. He is a trainer and consultant to executives, managers, and public speakers. He lives in Denver, Colorado.

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