Meet Our New Voiceover Instructor: Kathleen Puls Andrade

Kathleen Puls Andrade

As actors in Chicago, there are lots of ways that we can make money by doing our art: plays, commercials, TV and movies, and of course, voiceover.

That’s why we’re excited to announce new voiceover classes at Green Shirt Studio, taught by Kathleen Puls Andrade, a professional actor, improviser, writer and voiceover artist who also teaches voiceover classes at Second City and has recorded spots for everything from Nascar to Fisher Nuts, Quaker Oats, Morton Salt, Oberweiss and more.

We caught up with Andrade to talk to her more about how she first got into voiceover, how acting for voiceover is different from acting for the stage, how long it takes to start making money at it and more.

Q: How were you first exposed to doing voiceover work?

A: My father has a fabulous voice and he decided to get some coaching to do voiceover work back in the day. I went along with him to one of his sessions and I started directing him! We both agree that I was pretty obnoxious, but I’m pretty sure that’s where I got the bug.

Q: What is something you learned when you first starting doing voiceover?

A: I always tell people who are interested in doing voiceover to take a class. My first demo was awful because I thought I knew what I was doing. But I didn’t. After I took a class, I made another demo with the woman who ended up being one of my agents.

Q: What is a skill people need to learn to do voiceover well?

A: When I first started, I learned that you really have to use your hands and body to help propel the words out of your mouth in a certain way. Also, another biggie is to listen more and talk less. Listen to direction, the engineer, the director, writer, etc. Pay attention to what’s happening around you so you can give them your best performance.

Q: What was one of your favorite voiceover sessions you’ve ever done?

A: I did a Quaker spot where they videotaped us in the session. I found out later that they were going to animate according to what we were doing in the recording booth. Anything with characters is always fun. I always have a good time when I’m in a session, especially when I get to do comedy dialogue with other funny actors!

Q: What is the difference between acting for the stage and acting for voiceover?

A: There’s not a ton of difference, but there is a difference. You have to be mindful of technique and what words to tap on and how to get the product name across. You have to ask yourself, “Who am I talking to?” when you’re reading a script. You can do whatever you want behind the mic physically, as long as your face is in front of the mic.

Q: Tell me a little about your class. What kinds of things will people learn in the class?

A: It’s a really fun class. They’ll learn about mic technique, how to analyze copy, auditioning, the business, announcers, video games, dialogues, character creation, and they’ll spend a whole lot of time on the mic! I also encourage students to physicalize as much as possible behind the mic, and I teach them techniques to help them with instant character creation as well.

Q: How would you describe your teaching style?

A: I describe my teaching style as encouragingly and entertainingly constructive. I love to encourage students to step outside of their boxes. I’m direct but in a constructive way. I’ll never tell you that you can’t do something because you never know what’ll happen. I’ll be honest and tell you what I think you need, and if you have certain challenges to surmount but I won’t tell you that you can’t do it. And we laugh a lot!

Q: Many people assume getting voiceover work is easy. How long does it take most people to start making money at it?

A: That’s the million dollar question. It’s different for everyone. I remember going to Los Angeles to have a meeting with a voiceover agent who used to be in Chicago. I asked him that same question. He kind of looked at me like, “How would I know?” Basically, it depends on your skill, opportunities, persistence, a good demo, auditioning times ten, and a lot of luck. It’s pretty competitive now. But that doesn’t mean you shouldn’t learn!

Q: What’s fun for you about teaching voiceover?

A: I love watching students blossom and start to understand what it’s all about. I love watching them make discoveries and love to watch them have fun behind the mic. Even if someone doesn’t pursue voiceover, at least they have another tool in their tool belt. It does help make someone a better communicator as well.

Interested in learning more about voiceover work? Sign up for Voiceover Primer for Actors, running Mondays from 11 a.m. to 2 p.m. from July 10 through Aug. 28!

9 Tips for Choosing a Monologue

Auditioning
Finding good audition material seems to be many actors’ Achilles heel. I began to fully appreciate how actors sabotage themselves after I started holding auditions for my own theater company. Many actors simply choose bad audition monologues for themselves. The reality is, if you are going to audition (especially for theater), monologues are going to be required of you fairly regularly. You can help yourself immensely if you follow some simple tips.
  1. Keep it short
    A monologue that’s between 45 seconds and one minute is great. A minute and 15 seconds is beginning to push it. Two minutes is waaaaaay too much. A monologue audition should work to spark the auditor’s imagination, not be an attempt to cram everything you can do into one piece of text. Just plant a seed.
  2. Find material that is active
    Simply put, your monologue should express something you should need to get right now. This doesn’t mean you have to be angry or panicked, just that you are pursuing something from your (imaginary) scene partner. In this way, every monologue is actually a dialogue, a give and take between you and a silent, invisible scene partner.
  3. Avoid monologues in which you just tell a story
    This is related to #2. So often actors are drawn towards pieces in which they simply tell a story or reflect on a memory. These pieces become inactive 99% of the time and highlight the writing rather than you.
  4. Find pieces that you are personally invested in
    Look, auditioning can be tough enough without having to say words that have no meaning to you. If you choose pieces you love and that matter to you in some way, you might actually start looking forward to stepping into the audition room. You’ll start seeing your audition as an opportunity to act and communicate this human thing that needs to be communicated. That kind of connection to your material draws us in.
  5. Great monologues often start out as dialogue
    When you are looking for pieces, don’t just assume that a perfectly crafted minute-long monologue right there is going to jump out at you. Some of the best monologues I have are ones that I’ve pieced together from one character’s dialogue in a scene. Sometimes you have to be a writer/editor and craft your piece into a cohesive whole. It may be more work, but taking that time can pay off in a big way.
  6. Remember that the material you choose is a reflection of your taste
    This is to say that choosing material for its shock value or for its edginess can backfire if you bring it into the wrong room. Context matters of course, but not everyone loves hearing 20 f-bombs in 60 seconds. Not everyone loves hearing pieces about being sexually abused. Not everyone loves watching an actor rage at the top of their lungs. If those auditioning you are worried about your safety or their own, they are not going to be inviting you back. Take the right risks, not the cheap ones.
  7. Your monologue should play to your inherent strengths
    Just because it’s a chunk of text said by a character that is roughly your age doesn’t mean it’s right for you. We all have an energy and personality we need to play into or subvert intelligently. Knowing what vibe you bring into the room by default will help you pick material that shows you off in a useful way.
  8. Having a couple monologues is not enough
    There is no such thing as your go-to piece. You need to tailor your material to the project. Seeing your Shakespeare soliloquy doesn’t help me much when I’m casting an Annie Baker play. But also don’t bring your most vulnerable piece when you’re auditioning for that tough-as-nails character. You will have to have dozens of pieces ready to go. Maybe more. You are not generic, the characters you are auditioning for are not generic, so your material can’t be either. Be specific.
  9. Don’t hide behind your material
    Hands down the biggest mistake I see in the audition room is actors hiding behind the tricks and gimmicks of their pieces. Being performative and showy is the easiest choice and almost always the wrong one. Clever bits and practiced gestures are only going to get you so far. The reality is, I don’t really care about the piece itself. What I do care about is that the piece is a window into your own humanity. I could care less about the “character”. I want to see you. Be authentic.

Teacher Profile: Cordie Nelson

  1. Cordie Nelson

Cordie Nelson is a director in Chicago who is also one of Green Shirt Studio’s newest Meisner acting teachers.

A native of Mississippi, Nelson started acting at the age of 12, attended a performing arts high school, and got her BA in theater at the University of Southern Mississippi. After college, she moved to Chicago, where she’s been focusing on building up her directing career.

She’s recently directed To Bury a Stranger for PRIDE Films and Plays’ LezPlay Weekend and Mia McCullough’s Mickey Cares at The Agency Theater Collective’s Basement Series, and she’s assistant directed The Library for Level II Theater, as well as The Agency Theater Collective’s production of Chagrin Falls under Sommer Austin.

Nelson cut her teeth as an assistant Meisner acting teacher in college, and later studied under both Sommer Austin and Andrew Gallant at Green Shirt Studio and began assistant teaching under them as well.

We recently caught up with Nelson to ask her more about what she likes about Meisner training, directing, the Chicago theater scene and more.

Q: You grew up in Mississippi, which doesn’t seem like a place where there would be much theater culture. How did you get into acting?
A: I grew up on the Mississippi Gulf Coast, in one of the few cities in the state that does have a theater community. My dad’s a painter and my mom’s a newspaper reporter and our house was filled with my dad’s artwork and his friends’ work. My life has always been right in the center of the artistic community. When you grow up with artists as members of your family, you kind of think that there’s only one way of expressing yourself. But when I found theater, I was like, “This is it. This is how I express myself.”

Q: You said you loved acting when you were a kid, but later you began to doubt yourself. What helped you get over that?
A:
When I was introduced to formal training, acting got really hard. I got really hard on myself and had a hard time being vulnerable on stage and I started questioning whether this was something I really wanted to do. That’s when I started getting interested in directing. But it was when I took Meisner in college, actually, that I got back in touch with my love of acting. I think I had been oversaturated with the “right way” to act in high school, and Meisner is about stripping all of that away.

Q: You first started taking Meisner classes when you were in undergrad. What did you love about Meisner classes?
A: I had heard about it and was really excited to take it, and after two classes, I asked my teacher Sean [Boyd] if I could assistant teach it. He said, “Why don’t you finish the class first.” I did and ended up assistant teaching for him for three years. I just couldn’t get enough of it! I love how it’s about you being enough and what’s happening between the two of you is enough.

Q: Why is teaching so fulfilling for you?
A: I love helping people find what’s already there. I love how it’s not about knowing what you’re going to get. I love the surprise. You don’t know where things are going to go, but you know when they’re being honest and when they’re being truthful because it’s beautiful.

Q: What do you like about directing?
A: I love how collaborative it is. I love how I don’t have all of the answers, and you don’t have all of the answers, but together we can find the answers.

Q: What made you want to move to Chicago rather than New York or Los Angeles?
A:
People who I know in New York who are trying to make it as actors have to live six people in an apartment because the rents are so high. And in Los Angeles, it’s more about film, which just isn’t my thing. But in Chicago, theater is really accessible and you can actually live off of it. [Plus], the thing I love so much about the Chicago theater scene is how much people encourage you to do everything — acting, stage managing, directing. It’s really collaborative and supportive.
Interested in studying with Cordie? She’ll be teaching Level 2 and Level 3 Meisner classes this summer.

The Beauty of Being Bored

bored

The last ten years of my life have been incredibly busy. My week days are pretty much packed from 8 a.m. to 10 p.m. every day, with very little down time and, with running two businesses, my weekends get even busier. I am rarely alone except for the regular 45 minute car rides to one of my teaching jobs and then I am either listening to a podcast or talking to someone on the phone about some work-related issue. With everything I have going on in my life, combined with the constant stream of media that technology supplies, I am almost never bored. And my life is the poorer for it.

I am not alone in being busy nor in having permanent access to entertainment. When was the last time you found yourself simultaneously without a task to accomplish and without access to music, movies, TV, or social media? If you are like me, those moments are rare and almost always accidental, perceived as moments of great inconvenience: the day you forgot your phone at home or the night the internet went down on your block. My last moment like that was over the holiday break, the only time of year I have days off.

I dropped my phone on Christmas Eve, further shattering an already cracked screen, and to continue using it would have meant driving glass shards into my thumbs. It was the perfect storm. With the holiday, I knew all the stores would be either closed or completely overrun with people returning gifts, certainly not a situation I wanted to brave without the ability to check my feed or stream some podcast. I mean, how would I cope? So instead, I was forced to put my phone on the nightstand and go on with my holiday plans, without my entertainment/productivity lifeline tucked conveniently in my pocket. And it sucked. At first.

For the first 24 hours, I swear, I felt phantom text alerts in my pocket. I was walking around and would feel what I thought was my phone vibrating away only to reach into my pocket and be reminded my phone was not with me. When I wasn’t receiving ghost texts, I was thinking about what emails I might be missing or what breaking news might be happening right now. It was a major, uncomfortable adjustment. I felt disconnected and worried and bored, a constant hunger for a way to augment my present moment, as if the present moment and my own experience of it was not enough.

This is our world now. It is not enough go to a concert, we have to livestream it to our friends. It’s not enough to ride the bus and look out the window, we have to also be listening to an audiobook. We don’t just have one job, we have our money gig and our real work. We live in the world of side hustles and smart phones. And there is a cost to this split attention, this constant overbooking of our lives. We lose our willingness to sit with ourselves in boredom. We feel as if every moment should be filled and our attention held by something outside ourselves. But boredom can be a wonderful thing. It can spawn creativity and deep thought. Boredom provides a space in which you can experience the emotions you’ve had to tamp down and power through in order to get your many jobs done. Boredom is not a bad word. It is a beautiful thing. Those moments of quiet are the ones in which you can actually listen and hear what has been going on underneath the tidal wave of your waking life.

I am not wagging a finger here. This is for me too, maybe most of all. I need to build some moments of quiet into my life. I need to sit in those quiet moments and listen to myself, remind myself that the moments I am in are full of possibility and that I am enough. We could all use some reminding. A couple days after breaking my phone, I found myself relaxed and recharged. The inane, job-related chatter in my head died down and I had sparks of creativity. The well replenished and the quiet brought me a few days of peace.

There is beauty in being bored. Before the universe began, there was emptiness. Sometimes the void brings the light. Now go break your phone.

5 Cringe-Worthy Stories About Bombing on Stage

Jimmy-Carrane-Dan-Harmon

There is nothing worse for an actor than completely bombing on stage or in an audition. If you’ve ever spent weeks memorizing your lines, only to go completely blank on opening night, or realize you did an entire audition with your shirt on inside out, you know what I’m talking about.

Bombing on stage or in an audition is a rite of passage for all actors — a great way of proving to ourselves that even if our worst fears happen, we’ll still somehow come out the other side. And better yet, have a great story to share!

This week, we asked several of our instructors at Green Shirt Studio to tell us about one of the worst times they ever bombed on stage or in an audition. Because if they survived it, you can too!

Sommer Austin, co-founder of Green Shirt Studio, Meisner instructor
When I first started auditioning in college as an undergrad, my first audition was so bad and humiliating that I ended up running out of the theater in tears. I’m actually not even sure if I finished the audition or not. I chose a monologue in which a character was auditioning but forgot her lines in the middle of the monologue (classic, amiright?!), but I actually did forget my lines for real, and lost my place and tried to start over but because of the way the piece was structured, I couldn’t find my way through it, so at one point I just quit, and the entire thing was horrible and meta and very, very bad, and I was so embarrassed that I started crying and it all ended with me running out the door in shame. Good times! I can’t say I don’t still have humiliating audition experiences every now and again, but nothing’s ever really topped that one!

Tosha Fowler, Scene Study instructor
I was in a commercial audition for the drug Lyrica, which supposedly helps with fibromyalgia. The casting director asked me to do the copy a second time and rub my shoulder as if I was in pain from the disease. I did as she asked. She stopped me in the middle of it and told me that I was being way too sexual in rubbing my shoulder and that I looked like I was enjoying it too much. I was very embarrassed by this!

Ashlea Woodley, Meisner instructor
In one of my last shows in undergrad, I was costumed in a very large hoop skirt and corset in which I could barely breathe. Well, mid-line, I coughed, breaking a button on my skirt that caused my hoop to fall almost to my knees. I couldn’t remember my line for the life of me. I swear I heard crickets. I kept stammering and I stood there like a deer in headlights holding my skirt and hoop until my scene partner (now my husband) covered my line and I shuffled off stage to intermission. I cried through the whole intermission, haphazardly sewing my button back on since our costumer was out for the evening.

Jimmy Carrane, improv instructor
I think as an improviser I am always bombing on some level, which both sucks and does makes you better. The last time I bombed was a couple of weeks ago. I was doing Dan Harmon’s podcast, Harmontown, as part of the Chicago Improv Festival. The show was in front of 700 people at the Athenaeum Theater, and I was one of his guests along with Scott Adsit of 30 Rock. The first half of the show went really well, but toward the end of the show, Dan just stood up and started improvising a scene. It was a brilliant concept, where he was playing America and he made Scott and me his parents: England and France. Only I had no idea that I we were supposed to be countries. I thought he was playing a teenager and I was his French mother, so I kept reacting like a worried mom and screwing up the years, and he kept correcting me. I kept trying to “help out” and add stuff to the scene that just made it worse, when I should have just shut up and listened. About 15 minutes into the scene, it FINALLY dawned on me that I was supposed to be a COUNTRY, not his mother. How long have I been improvising? Oh, the shame. The best part is that it was in front of 700 people and was recorded for his podcast. If you are going to bomb, go big.  

Jose “Tony” Garcia, Suzuki Method instructor
The bombiest moment that comes to mind was when I was cast as Big Daddy in Sweet Charity the summer after I graduated undergrad. Big Daddy has one song and one song only: “The Rhythm of Life.” Rehearsed my ass off. Practiced to no end. Teched. Now here’s opening night. The show kicks off without a hitch. Everything is going great. Intermission. Time for me to go and put on my Big Daddy make up, facial hair and wig.

I applied my make up. So much make up. You know, the way we were all taught to in school, but then quickly realized how little we actually needed once we got out into the real world? That much make up. Put on the wig, put on the facial hair. That’s right, I put on the facial hair AFTER I put on my makeup. First time I’d done that. All through tech I did the hair first and then the make up around it. Maybe it was opening night jitters, but for whatever reason I chose to put on my make up first and then the facial hair. Go to places. Lights up. Enter stage right and get ready to sing. My facial hair is peeling off. Holy shit. Slap it back on mid lyric. Get two more lines out. It peels again, more this time. Slap it back on again, hold it in place for a second as I continue to sing. At least I think I’m singing. Not sure which line I just sang. Not sure which line comes next. Mother of God. Am I about to go up on singing lines on opening night? Sure seems that way. Just sing something. Except that. You just sang that. You just repeated yourself in song. Kill me now. The song ends. Finally. Oh, I forgot there’s still a scene after the song for which I have to stay on stage for and also SPEAK WHILE MY BEARD KEEPS WANTING TO LEAP FROM MY FACE. Just get through it. It’s a short speech, pick up those cues and get out of there. Except that cue. You just said that cue. The ensemble is now looking at me with those deer-caught-in-headlights eyes. You know the ones. Because surely I can’t expect them to repeat their callback to me, the one they just did, right? Just keep talking and finish. End this. Please end this. I finally get to the end of the speech. My facial hair is now dangling from my chin like one of those little plastic monkeys from that game.

The sound cue for us to run off stage comes on. I have never run faster in my life. Pretty sure I could taste my heart up in the throat. Luckily I was surrounded by some wonderful people who assured me that it “wasn’t that bad.” To this day, I don’t believe them.

Don’t Fall for These Acting Scams

Acting scams

As a teacher of young artists who are just starting to learn their craft, I feel very protective of them. I know that there is a lot to learn, and it takes a long time, and I want to envelop them in a cocoon of encouragement, to challenge them in the safest way possible to go to some uncomfortable places — the inevitable growing pains of the beginning actor.

But there is one unfortunate rite-of-passage that I wish I could shield them all from, and that is the experience of being scammed by people promising to make you famous fast. It makes me so angry that there are certain companies that will prey upon the naivety and hopefulness of someone wanting to be an actor. Is it so wrong to want to be solvent and perhaps even make money as an actor? Of course not! Is it possible to be solvent and even to be able to support yourself as an actor? Sure. But I find that the enthusiasm of the young actor can sometimes make one put the cart before the horse, as it were.

Here are some things to look out for as you make your way in the world as an actor.

  1. You Shouldn’t Have to Pay for Auditions
    If you are being asked to pay for a casting opportunity or to get seen by “powerful industry professionals,” RUN AWAY AS FAST AS YOU CAN. Any organization that is asking you to pay to audition is bogus. Legitimate agencies make money by taking a percentage when their actors get cast and paid. You should not have to pay to play with any talent agency or casting director. There are a few legitimate websites (ActorsAccess, Backstage, Casting Networks) that will charge a small fee to self-submit or register, but those are the only ones that are legitimately utilized by the industry.
  2. Don’t Pay for Something That Isn’t Explicit
    A good rule of thumb is to not pay anyone for anything they are not explicitly advertising. Pay a photographer for headshots. Pay a teacher for classes. Pay a coach for private coaching. But if a talent agency says they will only list you once you pay their photographer for headshots, they’re scamming you. If someone is promising you a big casting opportunity if you only just pay them first, they are exploiting you and your hopes. Do your homework before you open your wallet.
  1. Be Wary of People Promising Fame and Fortune
    Use common sense—if someone is promising you lots of roles or a lucrative career, or even an agent, before you have even finished your first acting class or even have one credit on your resume that should raise a red flag. Anyone who tells you that you can be a star quickly or make tons of money right away is selling you a bill of goods. Fame and fortune, while wonderful, ought not be the point.

I think the best advice when looking out for oneself is to not confuse the art or craft with the commerce, or business of acting. Yes, in order to ultimately have a career as an actor, you will have to deal with both, but don’t get too overzealous with the business side of things before you feel you have a handle on the craft. It takes time to develop the skills, connections and experience you need to make a go of it in this industry.

We are lured in by stories of people getting discovered at the bank, which reportedly is how Charlize Theron met talent scout John Crosby. And while stories like these do happen to folks occasionally, you must be wary and do your homework. In fact, it appears that Ms. Theron did do her homework after the guy gave her his card—she asked around town and found out that he was legit before she called him back. This is exactly what you must do!

So be smart like Charlize. Don’t just give away your hard-earned cash to someone offering you fame and fortune, because it really doesn’t work that way. Be smart, be your own advocate. Do not let your art be cheapened or sullied by the first snake-oil salesman who comes your way. Protect yourself the way I, as your teacher, would protect you, if I could, always.

How to Nail an On-Camera Audition

On-Camera Audition

If you’ve been taking acting classes for a while, you’re probably itching to start to audition for TV, films and commercials. After all, with so many TV shows being filmed in Chicago these days, local actors have a great shot of landing a part, as long as they know how to approach an on-camera audition.

If you’ve only auditioned for theater parts before, know that on-camera auditions are significantly different from theater auditions, and you need to adjust your delivery accordingly.

To help you out, we spoke with Ryan Kitley, who offers private, one-on-one on-camera audition coaching sessions as well as group on-camera classes in Chicago, to give you his top tips for nailing an on-camera audition.

  1. Make Your Performance Smaller
    Unlike in the theater, where you have to learn how to project your voice and be larger than life, in on-camera auditions you need to talk much more softly and reign your performance in.“I always tell my clients to just know that the camera and the mic will come to you,” Kitley says. “Picture the camera being a really cool guy at a party who is in the corner of the room and watching you. Actors should work to mirror this cool guy. Keep your thoughts big and your movements small and specific. There is power in stillness, especially on camera.
  2. Know Your Subtext
    Kitley says in an on-camera audition, whatever is going on in your head will show up on your face, so he says understanding why your character is doing what he is doing is so important to having a great audition. “That leads to really subtle work,” Kitley says. “You’ve got to have strong thoughts, strong subtext, and strong intention.”
  3. Start the Scene Before They Press Record
    Even actors who have tons of stage experience tend to get nervous when a camera is in front of them. That’s why Kitley says the best thing you can do is to pretend as if your scene has already started even before they start recording. Kitley suggests trying to inhabit your character by making a physical movement that the character would do. For example, recently one of his clients was auditioning to be a mechanic, so he rubbed his hands as if to get the grease off of them before he started his lines. “Give yourself some kind of behavior so you area already involved in the scene,” he says.
  4. Keep Your Environment Near the Camera
    When you’re reading your lines, try to imagine that everything happening in your world is close to the camera. “You don’t want to place any of your environment outside of the 45 degree angle between you and the camera,” Kitley explains. When there are multiple characters in a scene, Kitley recommends picking points in the room, such as a piece of artwork or a doorknob, to look at as placeholders for the other actors, but remember to keep those points close to where the camera is.
  5. Be Off Book
    Having your lines memorized will always give you an edge in an audition, but it’s fine to keep your sides in your hand during the reading. If you need to refer to your sides, make sure to stay connected to your reader and the environment as much as possible. “In other words,” Kitley says, “work to pull the words off the page as part of your scene and not as an actor reading lines.”
  6. Less Is More
    Remember, if you’re a beginning actor, most of the parts you’re going to be auditioning for, especially here in Chicago, will be for short, co-starring spots, such as Cop #2, EMT, and Man on Bus. These type of characters are functionary roles that help support the story and the series regulars, so you don’t have to overact your part. “You must look the part and be talented enough to know to keep your one to two lines very subtle, simple, and honest,” Kitley says. “Don’t try to make the scene more than it needs to be.”And, he says, as you start to book more and more co-starring roles, you may be considered for the larger guest starring roles and even series regulars.

    Find out more about Ryan Kitley and his coaching at www.ryankitley.com.

How to be Good

Steve Martin

I teach a lot of beginning actors, and I really love it. I love it because I truly enjoy seeing their faces light up when they make discoveries, when they begin to understand what acting is, and how simple the job of the actor really is. Note that I did not say how easy the job of the actor is. But when I can get them to let go of preconceived notions, of tension that are working against them, and—most especially—to let go of their self-consciousness, even a little bit—this brings me great joy.

But there is also a downside to teaching beginning actors, and it doesn’t occur with everyone but it does with a good number of them, and especially with the young ones (though there are plenty of exceptions), and it is this—wanting to shortcut the process. I can hear the question coming a mile away—I know it even before they’ve finished asking it, and though there are a thousand variations on it, the essence of the question is always the same. I call it the “Golden Ticket” question, because it reminds me of Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory (the 1971 film version), and the lyrics of the song by the same name. The Golden Ticket question is usually some variation of this question, “Yes, yes, that’s all very well and good, what you’re saying to me, but how do I become great now??” Oh, man, this frustrates me to no end! I want to pull my hair out every single time.

Basically, they are asking me to tell them the one secret that will make them great (or famous, usually famous), as if there was just one thing, and as if there was any guarantee that they will ever be great (or famous, which there isn’t). The short answer to the question is the answer that I know they really don’t want to hear, because it’s some variation on, “Years and years of hard work.” They don’t want to hear it because they know the answer. Deep down, they know. Even if they don’t know that they know, a part of them does know, ya know?

I was watching a Facebook ad for Steve Martin’s new Masterclass on comedy the other day and he said that some of his beginning students were asking, “How do I get an agent?,” “Where do I get my headshots?,” and Steve thought, “Shouldn’t the first thing you should be thinking about is ‘how do I be good’?” Thank you, Steve Martin!

And you might be saying to yourself, “But, Sommer, isn’t this the same question that drives you bonkers when your students ask it? And I would say, it’s close, but guess which word Steve Martin left out? Now. The question we should be asking ourselves is “How do I be good—not how do I be good now.” This is a process, and there are no real shortcuts. It’s also important to understand is that the work you may be doing in the beginning may not be any good. Sure, some of it might be, but most of it may not be. In fact, a lot of the exercises that we do in class may not feel anything like Acting-with-a-capital-A, but you are building something here. Look, when construction workers build a house, what’s the first thing they start with? There is no beeline to being great.

If you want to be a good actor, try this: have patience. Trust in your work. And if you are really incredibly impatient, try these things: maybe a guided meditation on patience, and practice being “in the moment.” What does that mean? Stop and pay attention to what’s going on around you. I guarantee you will see something happening that is more important than yourself, and by putting that attention outside of yourself, over time, you become more selfless. When you can become more patient, more selfless, combined with your classes and your dedication to your craft, you are well on your way to, over time, becoming great.

Tips for Being an Understudy

Understudy

If you’re just starting out as an actor, landing a role as an understudy can be just as valuable as being cast as a leading actor in a play. Not only does it give you a credit to put on your resume, but you also have the chance to learn from the other actors and watch their creative process.

However, being an understudy isn’t easy. After all, you have to do all of the work of the regular actors – learning your lines, showing up for hours and hours of rehearsals – without any of the rewards. In fact, understudies often put more time into productions than the regular actors do, because they have to attend all of the regular rehearsals, as well as special rehearsals just for the understudies.

But many actors agree that accepting an understudy role is usually worth the sacrifice. Andrew McClelland, who recently accepted his first understudy role in The Agency Theater Collective’s production of Skin for Skin, says being an understudy has been an invaluable learning experience. “Since this is my first time understudying any role, I feel like I have been exposed to a whole other side of the acting vocation,” he says.

Before you take on an understudy role, here are 10 tips on how to make the most of the opportunity.

  1. Memorize Your Lines
    Although you’re not required to have your lines memorized as quickly as the regular cast, it’s a good idea to get them down as early as you can to relieve the stress of worrying about what “might” happen. To improve your memorization, try running lines with the other understudies or writing them out long-hand. Going to lots of rehearsals also helps.
  1. Go to As Many Rehearsals as Possible
    Speaking of rehearsals, go to as many as you can, even though it may seem tedious to just sit there and watch. “It makes you feel not only that you are an integral part of the cast, but also it really helps you breathe in the show and the life of your character,” McClelland says.
  1. Pay Attention to the Blocking
    Remember, learning your lines isn’t the only thing you have to know when you step into a role. You also need to know all of the physical choices and stage directions that the regular actor is doing. Make sure to pay close attention to this during rehearsals. You can even bring a journal to take notes.
  1. Be Professional
    The benefit of being an understudy is the opportunity to network with other directors and actors who may hire you in the future, so make sure to be as professional as possible. “Show up ready for anything,” says actor Ryan Heywood, who has understudied at Steep Theatre. “Be on time. Present the best you. Watch and learn.”
  1. Develop a Relationship with the Person You Are Shadowing
    Olexiy Kryvych, who is currently an understudy for Uncle Vanya at the Goodman Theatre, says it’s important to try to develop a relationship with the actor you are shadowing. “Some people will be open with you and let you shadow them, and some will want their privacy. Feel it out. aHowever, that may not always be the case. You don’t want to step on their toes,” he says.
  1. Ask Questions
    If you have any questions about the character you’re playing, make sure to ask the director, stage manager or actor you’re shadowing for clarification. “It is better to ask and be sure that you are on the same page, rather than making an unfitting choice when you go up,” Kryvych says. “However, don’t harass them every minute of the day. Find a good balance.”
  1. Don’t Give Your Opinions on Creative Decisions
    “You are an understudy, which means that your job is to be quiet, keep your opinions to yourself and do the work on your own. Speak when you are spoken to, as far as creative decisions go between the director and the actors,” Kryvych says. “Don’t tell people how to do their jobs.”
  2. Don’t Take on Another Role at the Same Time
    If you’re already in the show, don’t offer to understudy another role in the same show, Heywood warns. “It’s too difficult to memorize. I’ve done it,” he says.
  3. Don’t Worry If You Don’t Feel Part of the Cast
    Being an understudy can be a lonelier experience than being a regular cast member, but just remember that just because you feel left out doesn’t mean the other actors don’t like you. “Feeling ‘not part of’ the cast is normal,” Heywood says. “The cast or ensemble has formed a bond. Though you play a critical part in the process, you often won’t be appreciated unless you go on for someone.”
  4. Maintain Your Health
    As an understudy, your job is to be able to go on if someone else gets sick, so it’s imperative that you don’t get sick yourself. That’s why it’s important to take extra good care of yourself during the run of the show. Kryvych suggests drinking hot tea with lemon, taking vitamins, stretching, doing vocal warm ups, eating healthy and exercising. “I personally bring my jump rope to every rehearsal and do 10 minute intervals on breaks along with stretching and callisthenic exercises,” he says.

6 Reasons Actors Should Take Improv Classes

Improv classActors are often skeptical of taking an improv class. I can’t tell you how many actors tell me “I am a serious actor. Why do I need to take an improv class?” Or they say, “I’m not funny,” “It scares me,” or “I wouldn’t be any good at it.”

Actors avoid taking improv classes for lots of different reasons, but the truth is, improv classes make people better actors. I don’t care if you don’t do comedy or you don’t think you are funny. Improv is not necessarily about being funny at all, but instead it is a methodology that can make you a better actor by making you more real, and more able to react honestly in the moment.

So before you come up with any more excuses I haven’t even thought of, here are six things that improv classes can help you with as an actor.

  1. Be More Playful
    In my experience, the best actors bring a sense of playfulness to any role they undertake. If they’re playing a dark or disturbing role, you might call this mischief or danger, but underneath they are enjoying it. Unfortunately, too many actors think they need to be serious because they think that’s what good acting is. But remember, when we act in a PLAY, we’re supposed to it PLAY in the imaginary circumstance. Play means to have fun. When I was little kid we played SWAT. We took it seriously and didn’t break out of our police characters, but underneath we were having fun capturing the bad guys. Though I have comedy background, I have been cast in TV and film parts that would be considered “serious acting” roles. And I landed those roles even though I was playing a jerk or a scared prison guard because deep down I was enjoying playing that part. I learned that all in improv.
  1. Take Direction
    When I go into an audition I have prepared at home in front of the mirror a certain way. But what happens if the casting people want to see it another way? Some actors freeze and end up blowing the audition. If only they had a little improv under their belt so they could be more adaptable. I once landed a role on ER as Manny the used car salesman because I asked a question in the casting session which led me do it the opposite way that everyone else had just done it, and guess what? I got the part. Thanks to improv, I could adjust do things differently.
  1. Be in the Moment
    I love watching great acting because even though the actors are saying someone else’s words, they are reacting as if they have never heard those words before. It’s as if they are improvising with a script. Improv teaches you how to be in the moment so your emotional reactions can feel truly authentic and genuine.
  1. Take Risks
    Great actors take risks. They surprise you with their choices. They are constantly taking risks at the audition, in rehearsal and during the run of the show. To get there you have to give yourself permission to constantly experiment. In improv, you’re forced to take risks and put yourself out there without a safety net, and one of the most important improv philosophies is that there are no mistakes, which encourages people to take risks in supportive environment. By practicing taking risks in improv, you’ll be able to take bigger risks in your acting as well.
  1. Be More Confident
    Whenever an actor takes one of my improv classes or workshops, I’m always amazed at how much their confidence level improves. After two weeks, I’ll have actors come into class and say, “I am auditioning better, I’m having more fun, and I have a new-found confidence.”
  1. Be More Believable
    What actor does not want to be more believable? But sometimes when we get a script in our hands, we become more concerned with the words on the page than with relating to our scene partners. The dialogue that comes out of our mouth seems lifeless and flat, like we’re robots who don’t know how to relate to people. Taking improv classes helps actors become more fluid with their own words, which eventually helps you become more at ease with others’ words, too. Once you’ve overcome the fear of creating your own dialogue in improv, reciting from a script will seem easy.Sign up for Jimmy Carrane’s Art of Slow Comedy Level 1 improv class, starting Feb. 22 at Green Shirt Studio. Early Bird Special ends Feb. 8!