It’s 2011 and I’m burned out. I’m auditioning for a film and the casting director is getting frustrated with me because, while I’m doing what she is asking, it’s just not “popping”. There was no spark in what I was doing. Granted, it was for a very small role as a store clerk in a small budget movie brought here by the remaining dregs of the Michigan film incentives and it was hard to find anything interesting to do with the fairly drab lines I was given, but I still felt unhappy that I couldn’t give them more.
“What am I doing this for?” I thought. Acting was supposed to be fun and it always had been fun for me. But, this…this was the opposite of fun. I felt like I kept being asked to recite lines without bringing any of my own creativity to them. I kept getting told that I was “doing too much” or “being too big” for the camera. So, to compensate, I tried to do nothing. Great. Now I was “small” enough for on-camera work, but now I was a joyless automaton and, unfortunately, that was what the casting directors were seeing.
What really sucked was that I am big. I’m a big guy. I always feel “too big”…for everything (cars, chairs, forests, you-name-it). But I knew that it had nothing to do with my physicality and much more with my desire to “act”. Not “being allowed” to do that was just not any fun for me.
A few years later, I was being taught by Lisa Dalton, a founder of the National Michael Chekhov Association and a Master Teacher of the technique, and she was telling a similar story…about Michael Chekhov himself.
After years of fleeing from Communism and War, Chekhov found himself in Hollywood auditioning for film roles. Chekhov was internationally known at that point as one of the most gifted and transformative actors in the world, but, Hollywood being Hollywood, he found himself reading for pretty much the same part in every film. It was always a Russian. Pretty much always a doctor or professor or professional of some sort. No one was looking for anything else from him. For a man who spent his life creating fully-realized, truthful transformations, it was maddening.
Chekhov being Chekhov however, he found a way to bring the joy back in his work. Chekhov referred to auditions and the short, disjointed scenes one does on camera as “Little Pieces of Art.” He felt that no matter what the length of the scene, the actor’s job is to find the artistic composition of the piece. In other words, one must always follow Chekhov’s Laws of Composition: Triplicity, Polarity, and Transformation.
TRIPLICITY: Every scene has a beginning, middle, and end.
POLARITY: Where you end MUST be different from where you began.
TRANSFORMATION: The actor must show this moment-to-moment transformation from beginning to end in order to be successful.
Additionally, he honed his concept of “Veiling/Unveiling” for the camera allowing the actor a great feeling of creativity and allowing him or her to trust that the camera will pick it up no matter what.
Most importantly, he felt that the actor needed to consciously “Radiate” for the camera. This is a concept you can see most clearly in the work of Clint Eastwood, a Chekhov actor, whose very essence seems to reach out at you from the screen.
Learning these concepts and how to do them were a game-changer for me. I couldn’t wait to act on camera again. I consciously use these techniques every time I act (especially on camera!). My feedback from my agents and their clients is universally positive. No, I don’t get every job (no one does), but I do feel a certain warmth from the people auditioning me after I finish that wasn’t there before. Maybe it’s also because I am HAVING FUN again!
Honestly, I can’t wait to teach these concepts to the acting community here. It’s really a great way to find the joy in the work no matter how big or small the role is.