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ACTING FROM SOURCE
By Shea Hampton
Balboa PressCopyright © 2013 Shea Hampton
All rights reserved.
"Our doubts are traitors that make us lose the good we oft might win, by fearing to attempt."
I love this quote.
The need to write down the process I use has become more and more pressing as I become older. When students ask me what will happen to my work when I am gone, I know I must be showing signs of wear. What will happen is that it will go on. Knowledge is universal and belongs to those who seek it out. Several of my students have become teachers and I hope many more will do so. By writing down, as best I can, how this process works and affects us on every level, hopefully distortion will be avoided. Some people do not truly grasp this process and seek to make better something that is already in its pure form. So this is literally a source book, a place to return to when unsure.
I've begun this book many times, and thrown it out many times. I wasn't listening to my own philosophy of "coming from the heart" and consequently everything I wrote sounded pretentious. Fear was getting in the way; fear of not being good enough or smart enough to do justice to this wonderful process. Probably fear of looking ridiculous played a big part too, but as actors we get used to making fools of ourselves. It comes with the territory. Writing was a new and untried area and I wanted to get it right. As we know, fear is the greatest inhibitor. We teach what we need to learn and I teach all about letting go of control and facing our fears. Maybe I'm finally learning my lesson because now, several years later, the need to express has become greater than the fear and the need to get it right. One's fear of being wrong so often gets in the way of being right. Control is the child of fear, forcing us to keep everything close, tight, small, safe. Some very profound person, whose name I never knew, said, "In order to worry, it is necessary to be in your head." Fear will put you firmly in your head.
Finally, I'm writing from my heart and listening to those that guide me. I do not work alone and I try to be a voice for the wisdom and knowledge that has come to me and through me over the years. Teaching has been an incredible journey, both humbling and uplifting. Through teaching I've learnt more about myself, and acting, than I ever did through therapy or study. I've always been fascinated by what motivates highly sensitive, vulnerable people to follow this path that is so rife with rejection. I'm sure that on a conscious level it's the need to express themselves in an art form that is close to their soul and one which fulfills them creatively. Over the years I have come to recognize how much we are driven by our sub-conscious needs. The most constant and recurring theme is: an overwhelming need for approval on a grand scale - in order to overcome virtually nonexistent self-worth. I know this need intimately and it's given me a greater understanding and compassion for those I work with.
Many feel there is a certain mystique to what I do and how I work because it is intuitive and involves more of the senses than they care to own. The only mystery to me is how they can call themselves creative and fail to own all of their power. The creative energy and intuitive gifts are allies, inhabiting the same side of the brain. If you develop one, you will undoubtedly positively affect the other, whether you accept it or not. As Albert Einstein so brilliantly put it:
"The intuitive mind is a sacred gift. The rational mind is a faithful servant. We have created a society that honours the servant and has forgotten the gift."
I bring a great deal of my own spiritual philosophy to the work, because that is who I am. It is an integral part of my work and everything I do, so I won't leave it outside the door. Ultimately we are all spiritual beings and, if they allow me, I work with people on that level, soul to soul, heart to heart. That is where great change is created. I wish I could do that more in my own everyday life but the distractions are often overwhelming, and I am all too human. I hope you will be inspired to own all of your gifts and commit one hundred percent to your development on every level. Actors can have such great power in the world and my wish is that they become healthy role models. Deal with your issues now, as you go along, and with any luck you won't be reading about them in the tabloids. Stay open and believe in magic.
"We must find ourselves through our passion - not lose ourselves in it."
I feel very blessed to have worked with Charles Conrad, whose process resonated so profoundly with me. Charles encouraged me to teach, even though I found the prospect daunting, to say the least. One of the things he told me was "In order to be a great teacher, you have to love your students." At the time I thought that was very sweet and quite endearing but I really didn't understand what he meant until I started teaching. When actors begin working I move my energy forward, connect with them, go inside. I am able to see the true beauty and truth of who they really are, the source, if you will. Then I cannot not love them.
I cannot be all things to all people, even though my ego would like me to be. There are many approaches to acting and many diverse philosophies. We are all unique and what works for one may not work for another. What stimulates one mind leaves another bored beyond belief. It would be pure arrogance to claim to have a program, formula, or methodology that works for everyone. The process I use is the only one I have encountered that works for an extremely high percentage of actors. It stimulates the creative energy, challenges the emotional body and is altogether very exciting. There are many people who try the "acting by numbers" approach. Follow steps 1 - 10 and your auditions will be great and, big bonus, you'll be safe and in total control. Control is death to creative energy. It doesn't do too much for the human either.
As artists we must cull from every source. We must take from every teacher those things that work for us. We must develop the ability and the discernment to take the best and leave the rest. Ultimately one has to create one's own philosophy and approach to the work. It may be heavily influenced by certain people, but the bottom line is that it has to work for you and your unique instrument. The acting teacher is there to show you the way, push you, and lend you their passion and energy. However, there comes a time when you have to pick up the reins yourself. Someone else will not do it for you or make you great. You have to do it for yourself.
There are many bad acting teachers in the world but you can learn something wherever you go - even if it's only to be more careful with your money! Do remember, though, that no-one wakes up one morning and thinks "I know what I'll do for the rest of my life, I'll be a really bad acting teacher." They usually do the best they can but sometimes they fall short, sometimes they cause harm, and sometimes they're just not people you want to spend your time and energy with. I get many "refugees" from other teachers and I'm saddened to see just how damaging, on every level, a bad teacher can be.
Actors are sensitive beings and hopefully, through training and gaining confidence, they will develop a thick enough skin for this industry without compromising their creativity. Sometimes just a chance remark can doom an overly-sensitive actor to intensive soul-searching. I'm as careful as I can be but some days I feel as if I'm navigating through a minefield of egos and hyper-sensitivity. Every now and then I hit one. I have actually heard it said that, "It's a tough industry and if they can't handle criticism, they don't belong here." I like to think I'm in the business of supporting dreams, not destroying people. I've seen the most timid people blossom with careful nurturing. I've seen them develop their confidence and talent and eventually make a career in the "tough industry". Sure, it's not easy but aren't our dreams and desires those things that drive us forward and move us to greatness? I've never told anyone to give up their dream. Sometimes I've wished I could, but over the years I've seen too many people who appear to have little talent, but great tenacity, grow into solid working actors. I've wondered why some people want to be actors, but never actively deterred people from pursuing their dream. If I've refused to work with someone it's usually based on their personality or behaviour, certainly not based on their level of exposed or available talent. Often, I've found, there's a higher purpose. They may not be the next great star, but maybe they'll have stimulated their creativity and discovered that they're really wonderful writers or directors or filmmakers. Everyone has a voice and finding its forum is usually the work of a lifetime.
Unfortunately, there are too many people who think that because they're good actors and have a huge resume that they can teach. Wrong! Acting and teaching are two entirely different gifts. A great actor may be totally incompetent at teaching. Some fortunate beings are blessed with both gifts. Check it out. You absolutely must audit classes.
When looking for a teacher it's important to see where they're coming from. Are they motivated by greed, ego? I have no tolerance for people who get into the teaching business because they think they can make easy money. I also have no tolerance for those who use teaching as a platform for their ego and spend too much time talking about themselves. Fairness is a big issue with me and I would be very upset if I thought actors in my classes didn't get good value for their money. For many years I undercharged, thinking I was helping poor or financially strapped actors. It was not respected. People still hang on to the erroneous belief that if they're paying a lot of money they must be getting the best.
A personal pet peeve is an auditing fee. This is the practice of charging actors to watch a class so they may decide if they wish to join it. I understand that the fee is used to discourage "professional auditors" - people doing the rounds to get free classes - but to me it's like going to a supermarket and being charged to look at the vegetables before I buy them!
I cannot emphasize enough how important it is to audit a class before you join. I won't allow anyone to begin my classes unless they do. We both need to check each other out. I had one fellow determined to join without auditing because he lived a long way away and didn't want to make an extra trip. I refused to let him in and he reluctantly made the journey to audit. I explained that the classes could be quite emotional and he was very excited about this because he said that was exactly what he needed. He showed up and became increasingly nervous as the class progressed. By the end of the evening he was absolutely terrified, far too frightened to get up and do a cold read. What he actually needed was therapy, not an acting class. Timing is everything and just because you think you need something doesn't mean you are ready to receive it. Be very sure you know what you're getting yourself into.
When you're auditing, behave yourself. It's not a time to file and paint your nails, offer a critique, chatter incessantly or make out with your boy/girlfriend in the darkness of the back row. I have refused to accept people into my classes for all of these reasons.
There are many paths to the goal of honest work. Do your homework and look around. What is the quality of the work in the class? Is it truthful? Remember, they all have off nights. How supportive and safe is the group? That's very important. Does the teacher tell lots of anecdotes about him/herself? Check out the energy around the teacher - is it positive, negative, light or dark? Is it a class where you actually do the work or are you expected to learn from watching? Watching is very important and is an excellent additional learning tool, but it doesn't take the place of hands-on work.
If you are uncertain about where to go, the best guide is the one inside you. Go where you feel drawn and always look for truth, honesty and emotional integrity as these are the foundations that create great work.
"Intellect has nothing to do with acting."
"Control is an illusion."
This appears to be such a simple process and for some it is. However, the simplest things may often be the most frustrating and difficult to master, especially if one is entrenched in a more traditional approach that is analytical and dictates how something should be. When one allows the work, instead of making it go a certain way, it will play you honestly and in the same way over and over - which is crucial in film work.
Simplicity and artlessness are qualities most actors need to embrace. We always think we should do more, or be more, and consequently try harder until the creative spark is extinguished and the work is beaten to a pulp. YOU ARE ENOUGH - stop acting.
Most of us want to control the work because it makes us feel safe and many turn to an analytical technique to satisfy that need to control - writing copious notes to capture fleeting insights - but mostly, just trying to figure it all out. I've worked that way and I know it satisfies the ego's need for gratification in terms of creating a character, owning it, and accepting the praise. We have to go beyond the ego and allow the character to play our wonderful, unique instrument. We must create a sensitized instrument that will not only uncover the essence and emotional life of the character, but also allow it to play us. That is truly where the ultimate personal satisfaction lies.
Once we accept that control is extremely limiting and does not allow the freedom we crave, we may begin to move forward. The need to control is fear based and an analytical approach to the work provides a degree of comfort and the illusion of safety. However, the talent then becomes confined by the mind and may only expand and grow within the boundaries of our limited imaginations. I have seen many very good analytical actors, but those who become truly great following that path are usually in the business so long that they've given up their technique and just do the work. All technique, no matter the art form, is supposed to be transcended, but few actually do this. Not many actors have the courage, opportunity or the longevity.
Many "thinking" actors develop a slickness to their work that I find quite nauseating. I always want to ruffle them a bit, shake them up. However, some of these actors are constantly working. Maybe it's their look, or maybe others aren't so insistent that the work be totally truthful. Often, getting the job is as simple as having a great look or the right look.
If you absolutely cannot let go of your need for control, then my way of working is not for you.
We must be the best we can be and aspire to greatness - nothing less. If it is not our path to be a working actor or a superstar, we will, at least, have had the supreme satisfaction of being present, fully alive, and doing wonderful work. Your dreams and aspirations move you forward and hopefully on this journey you'll discover who you really are and come to understand that the true goal is one of self-awareness and enlightenment; you've just chosen a very difficult path upon which to find it.
So let's see how we reach this euphoric state of being in the work.
I took the process that Charles Conrad used and tried to apply it to actors in Vancouver, with very mixed results. The problem was not with the process but more to do with the extremely different energies in both places and people. L.A. has tremendous, light, crackly energy that totally supports creativity. Charles could give his students flat boring scenes and they would become magical. I would give people flat boring scenes and they mostly remained flat, boring scenes. So my approach had to change and eventually it evolved into the process I use today: "Acting from Source". I found I had to become more hands on and assertive. Sometimes shaking people up and sometimes calming them down and relying heavily upon my intuitive guidance to know where and when to safely apply pressure. I had to kick-start many of my students with heavily emotional scenes to get some energy moving. It turned out to be a good thing that Vancouver's energy is different because it made me develop a process that allows my students to work anywhere. They learn to become self-reliant and generate the energy they need to do good work. When people are working well I bring out the flat boring scenes as a challenge - they rarely let me down. I had an actor who trained with me intensively for 3 years with the intention of moving to L.A. She became a fine actress and I told her that in L.A. the work would be effortless because the energy was more supportive. Later she told me: "I feel as though I've trained for a marathon but now I only have to run a hundred yards!"
Excerpted from TRUST by Shea Hampton. Copyright © 2013 by Shea Hampton. Excerpted by permission of Balboa Press.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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Table of Contents
1. INTRODUCTION.................... 1
2. TRAINING.................... 5
3. THE WORK.................... 11
a. The Process.................... 11
b. Cold Reading.................... 16
c. Memorized Scenes.................... 21
d. On-Camera Class.................... 46
4. THE AUDITION and related things.................... 57
5. ACTING FROM SOURCE.................... 75
6. ABOUT THE AUTHOR.................... 93
7. SHEA QUOTES.................... 95