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The Magic Cafe Forum Index » » Penny for your thoughts » » Is Studying Acting Desirable? (10 Likes) Printer Friendly Version

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RichLind
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On Nov 3, 2017, Philemon Vanderbeck wrote:
Learning how to act, writing and memorizing a script (even if you also include room for 'improv' bits during audience interaction), and most importantly, hiring a DIRECTOR to observe your performance and recommend changes are all things that a serious performer should do.


Philemon Vanderbeck
Good acting classes will never emphasize "memorizing a script." At least from my classes, scrip memorizing was the last thing we did. Finding the objective of each actions and then improvising to the objectives. Someone wrote about patter (a German whose name escape my poor old mind) that memorizing and using someone elses patter is like wearing someone else suit to an important function.

-rich
RichLind
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On Nov 4, 2017, CR_Shelton wrote:
I think it's incredibly useful to study acting. It broadens our dynamic range, strengthens our connection to the audience, and broadens our creative toolset. I think traditional method acting is he best school of drama for magicians to explore, because it is all about justifying and internalizing physical actions.

Here is the paragraph I use to promote my Acting for Magicians coaching service:

Quote:
You want to make your audience feel wonder. Can you make yourself feel wonder? Actors make us believe in their reality not by proving it, but by reacting truthfully to it. Their specific choices create compelling character, clear narratives, and heartstopping moments on stage and on screen. Emotional responses can be isolated and trained through repetition, in the same way as sleight of hand. Inspired by his work with Andrew Goldberg in the Shakespeare Gym, Christopher has curated a "bag-of-tricks" for magicians drawn from classical theater, method acting, and avant-garde performance. Magicians will learn how improv training can be much more than a tool to deal with hecklers, physical and vocal techniques that will instantly enhance their presence and misdirection, and how to identify and accent the emotional beats in their routines.


The school I studied at was heavily focused on contemporary American works, and we were taught a comprehensive blend of Stanislavski's method and what is known as "experimental theater" (Movement and improvisation based school of theater, developed at NYU around the 1970s).

A lot of people misunderstand the method. The term has become diluted and conflated with a technique developed for film by Strasburg and his students, which essentially boils down to "If you get a team of people on hand to take care of the little stuff and worry about reality for me, I can lose control, forget everything about where I am, and give you one really good take." It requires craft and talent, and nobody can deny it creates incredible moments on film, but it is obviously not practical for a magician (though I might venture to say that some television magic stars have incorporated a bit of the ethos).

When you are focused on trying to lose control (or when you've lost control already), you do silly things like stay up for days or forget to grab a peek. On a film set you can afford to do those things; In a mentalism show you cannot. But a traditional method actor, like Uta Hagen, would be the least likely to miss a mark (or a peek). The entire point of the method is to create a performance that is reliable and repeatable, in addition to being believable and captivating. It is focused on physical action, not feelings. Feelings and belief will come if the method is applied properly and with discipline.

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Stanislavski directed our attention to what is most tangible, the most concrete in each human action; it's physical aspect. [...] Diverting the actor away from feelings, from psychology, he directed it toward the carrying out of purely physical actions." - Vasily Topalov


Quote:
Never lose yourself on the stage. Always act in your own person, as an artist. The moment you lose yourself on the stage marks the departure from truly living your part and the beginning of exaggerated false acting. - Constantin Stanislavski


The traditional method was developed for stage actors. Being on stage means dealing with quick changes, trap doors, spotlights, weapons, fake food, etc. Any play involves elaborate choreography on-stage and off, much of which the audience is not, and should not be aware of. The whole thing must be reliable, resettable, and repeatable 8 times a week, but we must act surprised by most of it. It must be easy to follow but deeply engaging. Sound like any other art forms you know?Framed that way, it's easy to see how an actor and magician face a lot of the same challenges. The method is a system of training and rehearsal to address them. Several different people learned the method from Stanislavsky and came back to start schools, each emphasizing a slightly different part of his teachings. So there are many different branches, but they rest on the same principles.

The first fundamental axiom that runs through all branches is this: Every action we take is also a reaction to something else. That is to say, we never act without something prompting us. There is no room for free will in the method. Whether or not you believe in determinism in the universe, method acting is about creating it temporarily on stage, for yourself, like a reverse La Place's Demon. It's accomplished by establishing anchors in the real world that prompt a desired memory, frame of mind, physical or emotional reflex, etc. Like toppling dominoes, our reaction to one anchor leads our attention directly to the next, in a very predictable way, because we chose the anchors for that purpose and we have practiced them through repetition. Put enough together to get you though the whole show, and suddenly there's no need to ever *believe* in anything that wasn't right in front of you to begin with, and no time to think about getting a peek or finding your light.

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The simple act of banging my hand on the table can bring about a feeling of rage. -Uta Hagen


The second axiom of the method is: Repetition creates an internal experience and outward illusion of spontaneity. You will only stop distracting yourself with unwanted thoughts after you have rehearsed a routine enough do it without thinking. I think most magicians understand this already, or have had the experience themselves of becoming so comfortable with a prop that it is practically operated without conscious thought. I think if magicians can be taught how to translate practicing coin or card sleights to practicing emotional ones, they will find they already have an understanding of the discipline involved, and it gives them an advantage as an actor.

All the actions we take on stage that aren't part of our direct line of thought must be carefully justified and connected to our inner life through parallel anchor lines, and then suppressed into the subconscious by repetition. In real life we can be thinking about our plans for dinner and easily get out the door with our coat, wallet, and keys, and drive all the way to the store without halting our internal monolouge. On stage we must develop that line of physical action, study it, and then practice it in the background of our stronger intentions, stopping to fine tune any time we get distracted.

This is critically important for magicians though: The method does not allow for *any* action on stage that is not justified. This presents a challenge for a case like Osterlind's. If he wants to apply the method to his routine, the goal is not to believe in what he doesn't do, but to believe in what he *does* and must do. Why would a person who had actual psychic powers secretly peek at the information? He must decide why, and then through rehearsal train his body to *believe* it's the natural thing to do. If he focuses his attention on that piece of paper for even a moment, it has become an anchor that must be incorporated into the flow of his attention, which means it *must* affect him and his character in some meaningful way and drive him to the next action, to prevent his inner life from coming to a standstill. If he chooses that it is something his character does by muscle memory while focused on something else, and applies the method well, he should find that he does not *remember* getting the peek, but he knows the word when the time comes. That's how we bridge the gap and find a way to honestly believe in our story, by actively engaging with reality instead of ignoring it.

After graduating conservatory I spent many more years studying Shakespeare and classical acting techniques. In this school of acting I think there are many useful techniques for magicians as well, including basic physical techniques of posture and gesture, diction and vocal dynamics, and understanding how the pulse of blank verse is internalized and used to heighten prose. In addition, the classical plays themselves have much more real magic in their stories than contemporary plays, which gives magician-actors opportunities to explore. Rehearsing as Prospero, for example, would allow us to explore the choices we would make if we had real magical power and didn't worry about secret moves.

Later, as magicians, we can use the method to apply that knowledge. We will be more sensitive to movements in our routine that are inconsistent with real magic and may be distracting or giving clues to our audience. We drill down on those moments and practice them a new way -over and over until muscle memory takes hold - just like learning a coin sleight. We replace them with the most effective gestures and vocal patterns, ones that work on many levels to support our character, provide dynamics, and engender emotional response.

Finally, training as actors gives us the freedom and tools to completely disappear into the larger project. I think all magicians struggle to let their ego to take a backseat, in service of the audience's experience. Directing our own thoughts and emotions is a worthwhile endeavor only because people are naturally empathetic, but empathy rarely becomes hallucination. If you leave your show truly believing you saw a coin float in the air, but the audience just remembers it sitting there while you wiggled your fingers, it is a failed experience.

Quote:
The audience is the most revered member of the theater. Without an audience, there is no theater. Everything done is ultimately for the enjoyment of the audience. They are our guests, fellow players, and the last spoke in the wheel which can then begin to roll. They make the performance meaningful. -Viola Spolin


Acting can’t be learned from a book or DVD, or at home in front of a mirror. You must have a teacher or director to guide you, and real life partners to react to. I don’t think all magicians *must* study acting to be effective, but I have seen it make a difference in some magicians’ work. If you learn it properly I think there is very little danger that learning it makes your magic less effective. If anyone would like more information or guidance finding a good teacher in their area, I would be happy to help.

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Why be narrow-minded, why cut ourselves off from any of these rich heritages when… we have the freedom to make the most of the best in all techniques? There are no prohibitions against it. All it takes is a little wisdom, imagination and courageous experimentation. - Michael Chekhov


Shelton, A great post! I especially love your view on Lee Strasberg. Where does one Find Classical acting teaching?
-rich
RichLind
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On Nov 5, 2017, qichi wrote:
I believe it's far more valuable to strive and succeed in sales than it is to practice acting. There's an inherent lack of immersion or sense of urgency in performance for the sake of art that simply cannot be missing when your survival on the back of each sale is at stake. The concept of believablility is non-entity when you're actually making deals and thriving because of the skill set you've built while negotiating live. Once you've operated on such a raw person to person manipulative level, the opportunity presents itself to apply that toolbox to any social interaction.

My personal journey has taken me from street hustler, to craftsman/tinkerer, to acting. And I honestly can't imagine having taken a different path or followed an alternative curriculum to have guided me through this world. Though I've just been meandering along the whole time... looking, for something. For what, I still don't know. But I do know if I keep looking, I'll forever find new ways to ask the questions that I need to ask in the moment. That's where I find magik, no matter where I am, or what I'm doing.



qichi,
But to succeed in sales you need to be a good actor. Ans also analyse people.
-rich
RichLind
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On Nov 6, 2017, Senor Fabuloso wrote:
I study acting by watching Zorro. Did you know he did magic?


Which Zorro? I will buy in for the Doug Fairbanks version but not the recent one.
-rich
CR_Shelton
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On Nov 8, 2017, RichLind wrote:
Where does one Find Classical acting teaching?


It all depends on where you live. I can tell you who I've worked with myself in NYC, but that might not be anywhere near you. Feel free to drop me a PM and I'll share what I know about the companies and teachers working in your area.
An actor is a magician performing the illusion of reality.
www.ActingMagician.com
RichLind
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On Nov 8, 2017, CR_Shelton wrote:
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On Nov 8, 2017, RichLind wrote:
Where does one Find Classical acting teaching?


It all depends on where you live. I can tell you who I've worked with myself in NYC, but that might not be anywhere near you. Feel free to drop me a PM and I'll share what I know about the companies and teachers working in your area.


CR_Shelton, it was a rhetorical question as I have had enough.
-rich
CR_Shelton
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Ok Rich. If there is one thing that all the best artists I have ever known have in common, it's that none of them ever consider their training "enough". We always strive to keep improving. Good luck to you though. One quick question:

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On Nov 2, 2017, RichLind wrote:
I have studied Stanislavski & Stella Adler and spent two years in an award winning regional theater's actor studio (no not New York) and stared in Tennessee William's Snow Angel...


Did you perform in "Snowangel", by Lewis John Carlino, or in "Snow Angel" by David Lindsay Abaire? Tennessee Williams never wrote a play called Snow Angel.

~Christopher
An actor is a magician performing the illusion of reality.
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George Hunter
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Outside of Magic and Mentalism literature per se, the field of knowledge now called Performance Studies could contribute to us enormously. It started out, decades ago, as "Oral Interpretation" (of Literature) and, even in the 1960's, was offered at some universities for degree programs through the PhD. The field has evolved and developed with a broader focus, and is now typically called Performance Studies.

I have not read enough of it to tell anyone what the very best sources are, nor those most useful to mentalists. I can recommend Learning To Perform by Carol Stern and Bruce Henderson (Northwestern University Press, 2010)), and I can report that the literature gives invaluable perspective on persona, narrative, language, voice, gesture, and other topics of direct concern to any mentalism performer who seeks excellence.

George
qichi
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On Nov 8, 2017, RichLind wrote:

qichi,
But to succeed in sales you need to be a good actor. Ans also analyse people.
-rich


I sold sunflower seeds, peanuts, and bottled water outside before Pirate games at PNC Park in Pittsburgh for two Summers as independent business kid running my own concession stand, before "graduating" to scalping tickets. Spent the next seven years of my life travelling the contiguous 48 hustling.

No safety net. No backup plan.

Necessity is the mother of my intuition. No one takes better care of you than you do. Exist in a world where failure is simply not an option. You'll get good quick, or not. But you'll know either way whether or not you've got it. I'm not an actor, analyst, or artist. Just some dude, dauntless. I.must.thrive. Regardless of the task. It is no act.
"There is no art: things are made for use." Antonin Artaud
RichLind
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On Nov 8, 2017, CR_Shelton wrote:

Did you perform in "Snowangel", by Lewis John Carlino, or in "Snow Angel" by David Lindsay Abaire? Tennessee Williams never wrote a play called Snow Angel.

~Christopher


Christopher, I'm old and it was a long time ago. I know it was a Williams one act play and must have misremembered the title. It is nice to see we have knowledgeable posters to keep me straight. Thanks.
-rich
ringmaster
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Magic is acting.
Less than 2% of reported UFO's turn out to be actual interplanetary vehicles.
bevbevvybev
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It can never hurt reading some books on improv...
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"Audiences believe what you believe. It’s a matter of believing yourself. If I believe me, then you’ve got no choice. None at all." - Morgan Freeman
The secret of deception is in making the truth seem ridiculous.
RichLind
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On Nov 19, 2017, bevbevvybev wrote:
It can never hurt reading some books on improv...


bevbevvybev,

Actually DOING it is even better than reading about improvisation but a good read will be helpful in doing it. What concerns me is that one can spend months reading while they could be out there and learning by doing inprov. I feel the same about mentalism. Get out there and DO IT.
-rich
Paul Forster
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I am a professionally trained actor by trade and have been acting since I was a child. Personally I feel as a mentalist performer my acting skills play a large part in my routines. For me it's all about selling the fact that you are not doing tricks, but what you are doing is in fact real.

Acting also helps with audience management ie; standing int he right place, choosing the right spectators etc. I think acting can really help any performer.
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thomasP
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On Nov 28, 2017, Paul Forster wrote:
I am a professionally trained actor by trade and have been acting since I was a child. Personally I feel as a mentalist performer my acting skills play a large part in my routines. For me it's all about selling the fact that you are not doing tricks, but what you are doing is in fact real.

Acting also helps with audience management ie; standing int he right place, choosing the right spectators etc. I think acting can really help any performer.



You are so right.

By the way improv stages are really good for every one.
Martin Pulman
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Most mentalists I see these days could seriously benefit from training in all of the theatrical arts: acting, voice, stagecraft, movement etc.
Nathan Alexander
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Acting training can help no doubt. It's amazing to learn you don't know what you don't know, and that even little nuances make a huge difference (exponential in cases) in performance.

Having said that, I've never classically trained and am just a "commercial" actor, so take it with a grain of salt. Smile
Jerskin
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I have a Master's degree in theatre and would say it has helped enormously.
GrEg oTtO

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George Hunter
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In response to the original question, is the study of Acting "desirable" for a performing Mentalist, this thread's consensus seems to be "of course."

Let me suggest, however, that the degree to which it is desirable depends upon the performer's "persona." IF the Mentalist performs as someone essentially different from who he or she is in real life, such as a psychic, a psychologist, a guru, or whatever, the study of acting is not merely desirable, it is imperative.

If, however, one is performing as an amplified theatrically-appropriate version of oneself, it is still desirable, along with performance, public speaking, etc.

If the performer tell stories, it would be useful to study the good literature on storytelling, and to study the greatest tellers of stories,

Some of what it is "desirable" to study, depends upon deficiencies in the performer. I have observed occasional mentalists who could profit from a study of grammar, or spelling. Therapy might occasionally be desirable.

George
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