One Less Bitter Actor
n 1993, I saw a play called Down the Road by Lee Blessing at the Tiffany Theater on Sunset Blvd. I’ve seen a good number of plays in my day but this one sticks out in my mind. Not because of the play itself. I liked it though. I’ve given a scene from the play to some students in my class recently. I remember it because of one moment an actor named Markus Flanagan had. Not really an ‘acting’ moment per se...
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About 10 minutes after the play had started, an elderly couple arrived late. Flanagan stopped, walked to the edge of the stage and glared at the embarrassed couple as they took their seats. It was actually perfectly in character because his part in Down the Road is a less than likable character.
I agree tardiness in theater is a big no-no especially when it's yourself strutting your stuff on stage. But at the time, I thought it was kind of a questionable move to make this poor couple uncomfortable. On the other hand, it was a very exciting moment. I wouldn't be writing about it all these years later if it wasn't.
The thing is...it was an honest moment. He was pissed and expressed it. The actor's job is to express their impulses. Watching real moments can send shivers down your spine.
So, when I recently came across a book called "One Less Bitter Actor" and saw it was written by Flanagan I had to check it out.
It's a good book and I wanted to share some thoughts from it with you. He writes in the preface that it is more of a "mental primer" than a technique book. "Almost all of this process is mental."
I have found myself saying to actors on many occasions how acting is such a mental game. Why can an actor be so great doing a scene during rehearsal and then be so bad when it's the real deal? What's different? Your state of mind.
He talks about an an actor's charisma or star quality: "I'm going to tell what the magic is. It is that the person is being himself or herself better than anyone else does. It is the actor being very good at allowing her authentic self to emerge, indulging her weaknesses and strengths. Genuineness is always interpreted as magic because so few people have confidence to be really authentic in life let alone on screen."
And this bit of advice is for all those actors on the audition grind: "Adopt a new philosophy: I act for free. Make everything surrounding an audition (and the biz) that is anything but acting, 'the work'. Treat the waiting as the work. The terrible traffic, the crowded subway, the overflow parking is the work. When you arrive at the audition or job the hard part is over. The free, easy part, the part you know how to do, the fun part, is all that's left. Anything you do (in the audition an on the set when you get the job), you do for free."
That reminds me of a Michelle Pfeiffer quote, "I act for free but I demand a huge salary as compensation for all the annoyance of being a public personality."
Here's a couple of insightful videos of him talking...