THE OTHER CHECKOV'S JUNCTION
By: Jess Canty
In last week's newsletter we posted a link to the article in the NY Times about Self-Taping. If you haven't read it yet, I highly recommend that you do so.
Rachel Chavkin (the Tony Award-winning director of “Hadestown”)... [says that] too often actors mistakenly think that there is some special skill or electric moment that will get them the part. Mostly, the part gets them.
“I haven’t seen a really bad actor in years,” she explained. “All I have seen are people who feel more naturally like the role. It’s whether their essence fits the essence of the character.”
Which from what I have seen of all of your tapes - and what I hear back from you in your audition summary email is true. You all overwhelmingly report back that casting was complimentary of your performances.
And when I see your tapes, on the whole, my reaction is - "well that looks good and right to me." And of course if I don't feel that way I will give you feedback or ask you to re-tape.
So... how do we improve?
I think the answer lies in this quote I came across this week from Michael Checkov - nephew of the playwright Anton Chekhov, and the student Konstantin Stanislavski. referred to as his most brilliant.
An actor has to burn inside with an outer ease.
Yep, pretty brilliant. That IS THE BEST description of the "thing" that I believe gets you booked. The "thing" that allows Meryl Streep and Gary Oldman to disappear into their roles.
There is an ENERGY in each of their performances, but it is somewhere inside, beneath the surface. And outwardly there is just... ease. Now of course this ease is more easily accomplished with the confidence that a few academy award nominations may bring - but I would argue they had it long before.
I think what can happen with a lot of tapes, or performances in the room, is that actors believe they have to SHOW the casting director just how much they can do. Just how much they have prepared. They're PUSHING for the role...outwardly. Or as the kids these days say they're "doing the most."
This pushing doesn't create ease - and in fact the camera will absolutely pick up on this pushing. And so will the CD. They watch hundreds of performances a month. HUNDREDS. Think about that.
What do you do hundreds of times a month? Even if you brush your teeth three times a day you aren't reaching 100. So they are watching more performances in a month than anyone is brushing their teeth.
They can see immediately if the "fire" that should be inside, is burning in the wrong place - on the outside of the performance. In order to be successful here - you have to redirect this fire - the burning about things out of your control... to the inside. The nerves, the desire, the hope that this will be your break...
NONE of that has anything to do with what the character is going through. Outwardly should be all ease. No burning desires, no pushing, no "doing the most."
Just what the character wants, and how, in this scene(s), they are attempting to get it.
We the audience, or the camera, are driving down a country road. We arrive at a junction - where six roads meet. And right in the middle is the actor - performing in the space where there could be a traffic circle. Where these roads meet. This is where the best actors live. They may come to the edge of any of these roads - but they never leave the circle.
Ultimately your goal is to get great at living in these three dualities (the six road junction).
You and the character.
Reality and performance.
Fire and ease.