Cie’s Today

Public Speaking Starts with “Pub” Because It Should Be As Fun As Drinking. (Responsibly!)

In the article “I CAN’T WRITE!”  – Yes You Can! (Tip #1: Stop Saying That!) I started with the premise that if you are among the lucky majority of people who can speak, then the truth is that you can also write, and if you want to – or need to! – then there are some very simple steps you can take that will greatly enhance your ability to do so. I was tempted to begin this article with virtually the same argument: If you can speak to one person then you can speak to a roomful of people. But then I remembered a fundamental difference between people who avoid writing and those who avoid public speaking; the former usually do not like the task, whereas the latter are often terrified of it. So what follows are a few tips that I hope can help you stave off the terror and become such a comfortable public speaker that you may even come to enjoy the process. Tip #1 – Determine a specific, meaningful outcome, and then commit to it fully. You don’t need a dictionary to know that self-conscious means being conscious of oneself. But I assure you that this placement of your thoughts and energy is the number one thing working against you as a speaker, so you must turn your attention, instead, outside yourself. An actor must choose to pursue an objective that is grounded in his scene partner in order to be fully alive and in the moment on stage; as a speaker you must do the same. Ask yourself, “What is it that I want...

Making Friends with Monologues

If you wanted to frighten a group of actors with something they’d find ghastly and dreadful, you could turn to vampires, zombies, or ghosts. Or you could just tell them to prepare a monologue audition. For actors, it seems, monologues and zombies have much in common: You hear a lot about them, but they are remarkably hard to find; it’s not exactly clear what to do with them if you do happen to stumble upon one; and they’re awful and scary, so it’s best to avoid them altogether if at all possible. That all sounds about right to me when it comes to the undead, but not so much when it comes to monologues. In fact, if you have any thoughts at all about pursuing an acting career, you might as well decide right now to make friends with them – monologues, not the undead – because I assure you they exist, I promise you they can be managed, and you can bet your bottom dollar that they can’t be avoided. So, to your question, “How and where do I find monologues and what do I do with them once I have them?” I offer the following answers… There are no shortage of books and websites designed to deliver the perfect monologue right into your hands. DO NOT USE THEM! (Actually you can use them, but not as you might expect. We’ll get to that point last.) You know those pills they advertise late at night that promise to help you lose 20 pounds in a day or two without making any changes to your diet? Monologue books are...

Race, Oscar, Race!

There has been quite a stir in entertainment news lately as one influential actor after another tweets, or posts, their outrage at the lily-white list of Best Actor contenders that was revealed during last week’s Oscar nomination announcements. In short order the morning news show hosts and afternoon talk show divas weighed in, adding to the fray and bolstering the online grumbling with a loud and growing number of sound bites, all of which set about fanning ever so swiftly the fires of righteous indignation. That got me to thinking. It got me to thinking about the capricious way that Oscar has been behaving for a number of years now and how his wanton behavior is tarnishing his once good name. And that got me to thinking about this true, perhaps unpopular point: Oscar slights are not a race issue so much as they are an only-the-mighty-can-win issue, and while it might be a good thing to shed some light on the inequity, I don’t think it’s a good thing to do it in the name of racial inequity. Look, anyone who still thinks the Oscars are an accurate measure of the past year’s best work in film is entirely ingenuous. Everyone knows why the big tent-pole pictures – you know, the ones the studios count on to garner Oscar buzz and bring home the gold – are not released until December. And anyone who’s ever picked up a BackStage or Variety after New Year’s Eve knows that a full-on publicity attack in the form of full-page ads lies waiting inside. “For Your Consideration…” Small budget? Small chance. No...

Dear n+1 Magazine Hartford Critic

Like the proverbial accident that one can’t turn away from, I read every word of n+1′s Hartford, Connecticut article despite my disgust. I was simultaneously struck by the deftness with which it was written and the relentlessness with which it railed. So many words poured out for the seemingly single purpose of painting an utterly despairing picture! Why, I wondered. Still, after so many futile months spent trying to find a home into which my family and I can settle, I thought, “Disaster averted. Pack the bags. Get out quick!” Thank you, author, for saving me from making an egregious mistake. But time, of course, ushers in clearheaded thinking, if you allow it. And I did. I am not from Hartford, as the author claims to be. In fact I have only lived in this city for just over a year, but even as a recent transplant, when the dust of this essay settled I was offended to the core by the unyielding, unending, and untrue invective that it proffers. I have no interest in reviewing, much less debating, each vilification, point by point. But I will say this: I am surprised that this city has not crumbled under the weight of an oppressive negative energy that infects it from within and without. This article is just one more block on the ever-growing Jenga pile. Never have I seen so many people revel in the perceived – and predicted! – failure of the hometown, seemingly oblivious to the fact that as they revel in those failures they are rooting against themselves. Even now, as the turmoil of the stadium project...

Thoughts for the Aspiring Performer That Are Practical, Kind, and True

First published on LinkedIn Pulse A fanciful dreamer can imagine a life as a performer, but it takes a bold inclination to make it happen. I myself was that way bent at a very early age, and as an acting teacher and coach I have traveled alongside countless students as they have embarked on the same path. But while performing hopefuls often trumpet their red-hot passion, as if that is somehow qualification enough for the job, the truth is that all the desire, yearning, and passion in the world are nowhere near sufficient to help anyone successfully negotiate the incessant and varied demands that a life in the arts places on you. If simply reading that disheartens or discourages you, then you must seriously reevaluate your career goals. If, on the other hand, you are already well prepared to stare down the obstacles you will face as you pursue that goal, then what follows will shed some light on what to expect and what you can do to enhance your chances of success. First: Don’t be a sparkler! Dreaming of a life as an actor, dancer, singer, comedian can be intoxicating, and fill your head with unreal expectations and glorified notions of what your life might be. When I opened my first acting studio, I was continually thrilled and invigorated by the ardently passionate students that came through my door. Some of them were fiercely determined and set to work like industrious ants. But many were less substance than show. Like 4th of July sparklers, they burned hot and bright for awhile, crackling loudly about being “all in” for...

Objectives: The Key to Grounding Yourself on Stage – Part 1

This article originally appeared on LinkedIn Pulse Great! You read my previous article Verisimilitude: The Key to Good Acting, you understood that the only way for you, as an actor, to bring truthfulness to the stage is for you, as a character, to pursue wants on stage, and you felt ready to get going. Enthusiastically you grabbed a scene you had in mind, sat down to start figuring out your wants, and then came to a screeching halt as you realized you had no idea what to do. Don’t worry. I’ve got you covered. That’s why today’s article is about how to find and create wants for the characters you play on stage, and the ways in which those wants, or objectives, must differ from the wants in your real life. Let’s start with the differences first. You begin every day by pursuing a want. You may not realize it, but that is because most daily wants take no effort to conceive, coming instead from intuition and routine. Perhaps you start by wanting to get a drink to satisfy your thirst and then move on to the more complicated want of getting your kids to school on time. As long as everyone and everything around you cooperates, you accomplish what you want with minimal hassle and life is good. But imagine watching a scene in which someone gets their delightfully obliging children ready for school…..Zzzzzzzzz! (How many obliging children do you see on reality TV?!?) This sets up the two fundamental differences that exist between wants in real life and objectives on stage: First, objectives will not come to...

Objectives: The Key to Grounding Yourself on Stage – Part 2

This article originally appeared on LinkedIn Pulse So, did you rush right over to the library after reading Part 1 of this article, grab a copy of Death of a Salesman, find a juicy scene, and try to formulate an objective for it? No?!? Oh, that’s okay. (I was optimistic enough to believe you would, but experienced enough to know that you probably wouldn’t. Although if you did give it a whirl, I would love to see what you came up with.) Either way, today’s post is going to give you more of the specific information you need to be able to start coming up with strong, playable objectives on your own, so let’s roll up our sleeves and begin. First, let’s recap: Objectives are actions (verbs) that you, the actor, choose to play in any given scene. I told you they should be measurable, achievable (not too easily), and directed at your partner(s) in the scene. Let’s add 3 more qualities: They must be specific! So… “To convince Crystal that we don’t belong together” rather than… “To communicate openly with Crystal.” The first one is measurable; the second one is not. They must be expressed in positive terms because saying what you do not want to do does not make clear what you do want to do. In other words, you can say your objective is “To avoid making Bob angry,” but you cannot say “To not piss Bob off.” They must always be formulated using words that you like or that get you going. “To avoid making Bob angry,” “To keep Bob from exploding,” and “To prevent Bob...

Lessons from My TV – Part 2

Ah, television… the “idiot box” of my youth that has become the Elysian Fields of my adulthood, where wunderkinds and veterans alike flaunt their talents in a collective output that is impressive indeed, even if, as I confessed in Part 1 of this series, Lessons from My TV: What I’ve Learned from The People’s Court, my television watching habits are perhaps not as fine tuned as they should be. Still, my TV has delivered a wealth of entertainment and education right into my living room, and I appreciate that, which is why, focusing on the latter, I now present Part 2 of the series: Lessons from My TV: What I’ve Learned from Shark Tank. Being passionate is not enough! First, may I just say that that word gets tossed about so much lately that, like the word “amazing,” it is heading toward meaninglessness. Nonetheless, taken at face value it is a vitally important and deeply desirable attribute to bring to one’s work. The thing is, however, its importance and desirability are mainly personal; having a passion to do something is ideally the reason why you do it to begin with, not the reason why someone else should facilitate your doing it, so it’s an insufficient selling point. Given the wonderful opportunity to speak directly to someone who might be willing to hire or invest in you, you will be far better served showing them how savvy, market aware, and deeply committed you are to your pursuit than you will be convincing them that you are passionate. Leave the passion to Nicholas Sparks. Neither an under-valuer nor an over-valuer be....

Lessons from My TV

Despite what I do for a living, oddly, I watch very little TV. There was a time, a long time ago, when saying that would make me appear snobbish, but nowadays, with the television landscape regularly flaunting tremendous talent and achievement, saying that makes me feel almost the opposite; what is wrong with me that I am utterly out of touch with Empire, don’t know a thing about Girls, and still have never seen one minute of Scandal? Compounding my sin, my daughter and I have formed a secret TV-watching cabal built around choices that could arguably be described as….well, let’s just say somewhat seamier than Empire and Girls and Scandal. Still, I celebrate my choices. Okay, perhaps “celebrate” is a bit strong (the overcompensation of a guilty conscience?), but I have happily come to realize that the time I’ve spent in our TV-watching cabal has not been for nought because, as it turns out, all I really need to know I did not learn in kindergarten, some of it I learned it on TV. Yes, I have actually learned valuable lessons from the handful of unheralded shows I have been watching, and now I feel compelled to share them, so what follows is the first installment of a series entitled Lessons from My TV: What I’ve Learned from… We start with What I’ve Learned from The People’s Court, the syndicated small claims court reality show helmed by the stunning and stringent Judge Marilyn Milian and her stunning and steadfast bailiff Douglas McIntosh. Only loan that which you can afford to be without…forever. Polonius famously said, “Neither a borrower nor...

Just Say, “No.”

This post originally appeared on LinkedIn Pulse Show business is a tough nut to crack. At every turn the odds are against you, and while I find the phrase, “It’s not what you know, but who you know” to be overly caustic, it is certainly true that at times great contacts trump great work. So, like many talented people I know, I work on both, sometimes spending as much time networking, linking, tweeting, and posting as I do directing, writing, editing, and recording. As a freelancer, I accept that all this effort is part of the job, and I do it vigorously, partly because the relentless pursuit and achievement of excellence is in my nature, but partly because I believe that helpfulness is a fundamental part of our human nature, and so I am sure that all that excellent work combined with all that networking and linking and tweeting and posting will bring attention my way from people who can help open the doors I need opened to do the work I am meant to do. It’s nice to have someone hold open a door. See, people need people for all sorts of reasons, and the truth is that doing a kindness for someone else is at times the most wonderful thing you can do for yourself. It is also just right. It is right and good and human, which is why when a writer asks me to read/edit his script, or an actress asks me to find her a good monologue, or a filmmaker asks for my help with casting or other local resources, I help if I...

To BFA or Not To BFA… That Is the Question!

Every year as summer greenery gives way to autumn polychrome, high school seniors across the country begin the panicked and puzzling process of applying to college. For those students considering – or intent on – pursuing a performance degree, the process becomes even more daunting; in addition to writing stellar essays and applications, they must select, memorize, and prepare stellar audition material as well. No wonder their stress levels are so high! The process is not a walk in the park for college admissions officers or BFA program auditors either. The quality and quantity of applicants increases every year, and selecting from among the many those few who seem to hold the promise of best fitting in to their program is also a daunting process…and a flawed one too. But since that is how it is done, applicants should be actively mindful and keenly aware that being offered a slot in a program is, indeed, about fit as least as much as it is about talent, which means that even stellar grades and brilliant auditions are not enough to guarantee you a spot. (For more insight on this subject in general, read my article entitled The 5 Audition Tips You Absolutely Want to Know!) Bemoaning this fact neither changes nor helps it, so don’t. Instead, let this insight guide you in plotting a course of action that is well suited to achieving your unique goals. Here are some specific points to keep in mind: There is no such thing as a “safety” BFA program. You could deliver the best audition anyone has ever seen and still not be offered a...

Verisimilitude: The Key to Good Acting

This post originally appeared on LinkedIn Pulse. Here is a simple truism: for something to have the ring of truth it must appear as something we recognize as truthful. And here is a correlating truism: nothing speaks from the stage but truth. Nothing! Whether you are a tree on the stage of your school auditorium or a professional actor on a sound stage in Hollywood, it is only when your performance has the appearance of truth that it will really touch your audience. This is not to say that acting that lacks verisimilitude can not still entertain, and even delight, an audience, particularly if that audience is rounded out by appreciative relatives watching your debut performance as a tree. But you can be sure that without that element no audience, no matter how appreciative, will be truly touched, moved, or affected by that which they see and hear on the stage in any meaningful, profound, or lasting way. The unfortunate footnote to these truisms is that many actors do not know them to be true or do not know how to make them happen. The much happier footnote is that bringing truth to your work on stage is simpler than you think and something you already know how to do, so let’s break it down. To start with, all characters are people (ostensibly), and all actors are people too. This means that for characters on stage to appear to us as “real people” they must do what real people do, and what real people do all day, all the time is pursuewants. You always want something. Always! If you...

The 5 Audition Tips You Absolutely Want to Know! (+ a Few Bonus Tips)

This post originally appeared on LinkedIn Pulse. Whether you audition with a reader, a monologue, or with sides at your local community theater, the truth is that auditioning is a skill that is more like a cousin to acting than a brother. To be sure they are similar, but the artifice of the audition room makes them very different as well. So different in fact that just because you can go toe-to-toe with Meryl in a scene study does not necessarily mean that you can nail it at the audition. Conversely, and more importantly, it means that nailing it at the audition doesn’t necessarily mean they think you’ll be Meryl on the stage. “Cie, you’re saying that getting the part doesn’t mean I was the best actor in the room?” (That was your line.) Yes, that is exactly what I’m saying, but I am saying it because if you believe that to be true, then you probably also believe the opposite, that not getting the part means you are not a good actor, and therein lies the danger. So let’s go through what you should believe, and what you should do, with regards to every audition. Stick with me, and I promise that reading this will help you develop such a healthy and sustainable attitude towards the auditioning process that you might even start enjoying them. #1. (We are starting at the top here, folks – no time for a countdown – so if you only learn one thing, this is what it should be…) Every audition is a matching process at least as much, if not more, than...

5 More Audition Tips You Absolutely Want to Know!

This post originally appeared on LinkedIn Pulse. Auditions… like all 12 films in the Friday the 13th series they can send chills down your spine. At worst they are a necessary evil; at best they are a chance to perform (albeit briefly). In reality, they are a means to an end that, like Jason, show no sign of going away. So love ‘em or hate ‘em you need to embrace and master them. In The 5 Audition Tips You Absolutely Want to Know! (And a Few Bonus Tips As Well), I focused primarily on how to think about auditions in general, so that you can face them over and over again with a healthy attitude and positive self-esteem. What follows are more tips with more specificity. #1. Make a choice. Play an action, not a mood. Few things grab an auditor’s attention more intently than watching an actor who knows how to make strong choices and then commits to them utterly, particularly if the choices are compelling, interesting, and high stakes. Conversely, few things are more off-putting than watching an actor struggle to convey a general mood or impersonate how real people behave, which is exactly what happens when you approach an audition not with a clear idea of what your character is trying to achieve but rather with a vague sense of what your character is feeling. Look, in life people don’t simply choose to walk around with a particular emotion on their sleeve. No sane person thinks to himself, “I will be angry when I come in for dinner,” and then translates that to a general display...

How to Maintain a Healthy Attitude Toward Job Interviewing

This post originally appeared on LinkedIn Pulse. Most actors know that auditions are like job interviews, but I’m not sure how many non-actors realize that the reverse is also true. Since a wannabe performer might go on more auditions in a year than most people will go on job interviews in a lifetime, the tips, tricks, and techniques that follow, which are the same ones I teach my acting students, should be invaluable for helping non-actors successfully negotiate the challenges of any job interview they might face. #1 Not getting the job is NOT a statement of your value, worth, or even your marketability. (If you get only one thing from this article, please let it be this!) In the same way that actors can mistakenly question the level of their talent when faced with some failure to land roles, job applicants can mistakenly question their sense of self-worth when faced with a dearth of job offers. But you MUST keep in mind that any selection process, especially one that ends in the choosing of just one final candidate from among many, is at least as much a matching game as it is a talent contest. That means that just because a handful of people determine that you are not the best fit for their company does not mean that you lack value as a candidate in the job market at large, or even for their company. In fact, if you were invited in for more than one interview then they saw value in your qualifications and considered you a viable candidate, so be buoyed by that success. Regardless, however,...

An Open Call for Opinions

Hamlet said, “…there is nothing either good or bad, but thinking makes it so,” and to the depths of my soul I have always believed this to be true. In fact, I recently created a pair of customized Converse sneakers with that phrase emblazoned on the side. (Okay, it’s a lesser commitment than tattooing it on my body, but I do plan to have those trainers for a long time!) Accepting this precept, however, begs this question: Is a tenacious spirit the excellent quality I have always thought it to be, or, rather, a stubborn refusal to know when it is time to give up? With that in mind, along with the recent horrifying discovery that the word perseverance can be rearranged to form the crude anagram “never see crap,” I have decided to throw caution – and perhaps common sense – to the wind. “Vulnerability be damned,” say I. Social media has unparalleled potency, and I must harness it!! What I am really saying is this: Please watch the motion comic video of IF I HAD A DIME, the grown-up cartoon I have been developing for the past 3 years, and share your thoughts with me, bearing in mind that this video is a simple attempt to realize a vision that requires full animation, with its attendant full budget, to be thoroughly executed. The video can be found here. More on the show can be found here. I appreciate your attention, willingness to share, and useful feedback more than you can know....

Semicolon Use Simplified

This post originally appeared on LinkedIn Pulse. I have always liked the semicolon, the cute ocular half of a winky smiley face. Despite the great confusion it seems to cause many of its would-be users, it is actually a very straightforward punctuation mark. That means that we can do the same thing with semicolons that we did with apostrophes in Apostrophe Use Simplified, which is to identify two easy-to-understand rules that will properly handle nearly every use of a semicolon you will encounter in your writing both professionally and personally. So let’s begin… Semicolon Usage #1: Separating items in a list that already contains commas. Recently I was asked to write an article on the proper uses of a comma, a minefield of a topic given both its breadth and the many exceptions to its rules. That being said, nearly everyone understands what is perhaps the comma’s most common use, separating items in a list. (Okay, let’s just address that pesky final comma before the “and” right now. Both “apples, pears and bananas” and “apples, pears, and bananas” are perfectly correct. The latter example uses what is called an Oxford comma, and while I prefer to use it myself, all you need to do is be consistent about either using it or not, and you will be just fine.) So if a comma separates items in a list, why would you need to use a semicolon for the same function? The following example will provide a clear answer: This year we will travel to Paris, Texas, Athens, Georgia, and Naples, Florida. Confusing, right? Will this itinerary find us traveling...