Years ago, I took Meisner level 4 at Act One Studios in Chicago with Ted Hoerl. Ted assigned me the role of Biff in Arthur Miller’s classic, Death of a Salesman. It’s the second scene just after Biff returns home and he and Happy reminisce about days long past and discuss their current state of affairs. It’s a rough one. After several weeks of reworking the scene and digging into the specifics, Ted said it was one of the best performances of that scene he’d ever seen. Ted also said I had the opportunity to be a working actor. Sometimes it takes one person to tell you the thing you want to hear to slingshot you into a deeper sense of action and purpose. I’ve been sprinting toward that goal ever since.
I started AdlerImprov’s On Camera Scene Study class this past Tuesday night. I asked Rob for a scene recommendation. Death of a Salesman. Same scene. And I can already tell I’m going to give a richer, deeper performance because of my life experience. Happy to be playing Biff again. And excited to watch the AdlerImprov community deliver the goods and share in the experience.
I started UCB 301 with Julie Brister last eve. It’s always interesting hearing other people’s backstories. We have a lot of East Coasters, some Midwesterners and one LA unicorn and most have moved to LA within the past five years or so.
We did an exercise where we walked around and would stop when someone shared a brief factoid or anecdote. Topics included car problems, car crashes, Vegas, pets, celebrity encounters, Halloween, bosses.
- I had a date, but no car. So I walked into a Honda dealership and walked out with a new car. I’m now paying $350 per month for the next six years.
- I was listening to the WTF podcast. I left my front room and kept hearing Marc Maron’s voice. I looked out my window and he was hosting a barbecue next door.
- My gerbil had 17 babies. And then ate them all.
- I broke my arm because I fell asleep while riding my bike.
- I got into two accidents. The second one happened as I was after leaving physical therapy from the first accident.
- My favorite part of Halloween in college was waking up early the next day to see who was walking home in their costume from the night before.
- Me and my friends went to Vegas. I was the only one that was 21, so my friends would give me money and I would walk down to the floor to bet on roulette. I lost their money.
Then we separated into two groups and did a short show – three monologues and four two person scenes with three beats per.
It’s going to be a fun class. Some really smart, fun performances just in the first class. And Julie is extremely concise in her notes and very supportive.
Through spontaneity we are re-formed into ourselves. It creates an explosion that for the moment frees us from handed-down frames of reference, memory choked with old facts and information and undigested theories and techniques of other people’s findings. Spontaneity is the moment of personal freedom when we are faced with reality and see it, explore it and act accordingly. In this reality the bits and pieces of ourselves function as an organic whole. It is the time of discovery, of experiencing, of creative expression.
My father taught drama at Gordon Tech High School in Chicago during the early 70’s. According to a family friend, he was a really good actor. After he passed away, my mother gave me his copy of Viola Spolin’s “Improvisation for the Theater.” He highlighted the quote above.
For anyone that’s ever walked through the halls of Chicago’s Second City or taken an improv class, you know that Viola is considered the mother of improv. Her son, Paul Sills, was the founding director of the Compass Players, which led to the formation of Second City.
Rob Adler is one of the handful of people in the world that focuses exclusively on teaching (and expanding upon) Viola’s work. He uses the very same theater games to teach how to improvise when you can’t change the words – presence, emotion, spontaneous subtext and living moment to moment in the imaginary world of the script, particularly TV and film scripts.
Rob is an actor, director, teacher and the founder of AdlerImprov in Hollywood, an on-camera coach for Lionsgate, Disney, FOX, NBC and ABC’s production companies, and a faculty member of the USC School of Dramatic Arts.
I started Intro to AdlerImprov back in January and transitioned into Advanced AdlerImprov in February. It’s absolutely changed my acting approach. I’ve become more focused and specific in auditions, from what’s happening in the space to my interactions with imaginary objects and people. It’s basically galvanized all my training to date into one class – everything is coming together. It’s also provided a stable community of really talented people to explore, expand and share experiences each week. And most importantly, it’s reminded me why I started acting in the first place – because it’s fun. And playing each week has reinforced that feeling.
One of my big takeaways to date was, “What if I approached every scene as a game?” Rob may not necessarily agree with that statement 100 percent, but it reminds me of something Adrian Danzig, the founder of 500 Clown once said in class, “Instead of approaching acting as taking a risk, what if we approached it as if we were going on an adventure?” Indeed, what if we just played?
After completing Chris Game’s six week commercial class, I took his 12 week scene study class. It builds on the commercial class and let’s you dig in a bit deeper. Chris lays out an entire toolbox of things actors can use to accelerate getting into character and making an impact on camera, even in the freeze frame thumbnail casting directors scroll through while selecting potential callbacks.
We started with commercial script that provided the opportunity to play and improvise. We concluded with a scene from HBO’s show, “The Newsroom.” It’s written by Aaron Sorkin, so the writing is tight, the pace is quick and the characters are strong. We did a straight to camera like an audition, a more theatrical take and we ended with a walk and talk complete with additional stimuli designed to test one’s focus.
Fun class. Highly recommend.
For more on Chris and his approach, check out this video: