Tag: tips

7 Things Fitness has Taught Me About Acting

Madalyn St. John is an actor appearing for the second time at Hedgerow. She has performed in The Servant of Two Masters and A Midsummer Night’s Dream. She is also a fitness instructor in the Greater Philadelphia area. Below, check out her Top 7 things fitness has taught her about acting and life.

1. How to handle long hours

I am not a morning person. Yet, I’ve been waking up at 3:45am, Monday through Friday, for the last three and a half years to teach early morning bootcamp classes. While this has certainly increased my appreciation for a good nap, it has also trained my body to get up and get moving even when it doesn’t want to.

Days on a film set can be long and exhausting. Teaching early morning classes I have learned to handle the occasional 19-hour day. Gone are the days when I would wake up long after the sun; now I try not to laugh when my actor friends complain about an “early” 7 a.m. call time.

2. Mix it up

If I do the same class or program too long, I get bored and end up falling off the fitness wagon. I mix up my routine throughout the week with running, HIIT or circuit training, weight training and kickboxing to challenge my body and keep boredom at bay.

I apply the same principal to my acting life. I’m working on Shakespeare now, but I also take a Meisner class twice a week and most of my past work has been musical theatre. Exploring different areas and styles of acting is not only really fun, but it is also a great way to challenge yourself and grow as an actor.

3. Goal setting

I am really big on goal-setting. There’s no point working out everyday if you don’t know what you’re working towards. I try to set specific goals with meal plans and workout schedules that are manageable but will help me get the results I want. Setting specific goals is vital to acting. You could float around taking whatever job comes your way for years without making any real progress.  Goals might be business-oriented (like creating a website, putting together a reel or sending submissions) or more creative (like learning a new special skill or writing a screenplay). Just like with fitness, you have to think about what you want and then map out the steps to take to get there.

4. Don’t limit yourself

“I can’t do push-ups.” I hear this time and time again from new clients; but “can’t” is the dirty four-letter word of my classes. My advice is the always the same: try, practice, try again. In acting, you absolutely CANNOT be afraid to GO FOR IT. If you hold back, you’ll be dead in the water before you even begin. I’ve surprised myself many times by trying something I didn’t think I could do, only to find that I could do it—and what a great feeling that is, in the gym or on the stage!

5. No pain no gain

How cliché, right? The thing is, clichés exist for a reason: they are usually true. If I’m not sore a day or two after my workout, I take that as a sign that I didn’t push myself enough. Soreness after a workout is literally thousands of tiny microtears in your muscles. The muscle the grows back in its place is thicker and stronger, thus you literally need to go through the pain to gain muscle.

Unfortunately, there’s a lot of “pain” to be had as an actor. There’s a lot of crumby jobs and tiny roles you have to go through to get to the good ones. There’s long hours, and low pay, and unprofessional “professionals” and there’s a lot of rejection, putting yourself out there time and time again only to hear, “no thank you,” 19 times out of 20; but it’s worth it for that 1 time.

6. Make a choice, then commit to it

My biggest problem when trying to get in shape or eat healthy is—like many people—sticking to it. As a result, I usually go for plans that are pretty strict, with no grey area. If I know the rules of a meal plan or workout, I’m much more likely to adhere to them. Once I’ve decided to do it, I follow through to the end.

As an actor you have to make choices. Sometimes HUGE choices. Most of the time, there’s not one RIGHT way to do a scene or play a character, but whichever way you choose you have to choose HARD. Nothing is more uninteresting to watch than an actor who can’t commit to their choices.

7. Try, try again

I can’t tell you how many times I’ve set a fitness goal for myself and failed. Yes, FAILED! Does that mean I rolled up my yoga mat and stormed out, never to return again? Of course not! If I fail to get the results I want, I reassess, taking stock of what worked and what to do differently next time. And then I get to work again.

If you want to be an actor, and I mean REALLY want it, there is no quitting. There is no time off. There is no failure. You say to yourself, “Ok, that sucked. What can I learn from it? What can I do right now to put me on a better path this time around?” My favorite thing to do after a crappy audition is look at the next audition I have coming up and start preparing for it HARD. Whether it’s sit-ups or Shakespeare, you have to keep pushing.

Find Your Funny: 3 Classical Comedy Tips

“Dying is easy; comedy is hard.” We’re surrounded by comedy today. Turn to Facebook or pop-over to YouTube and you will see millions of attempts to be funny; some are, most are not. Human beings have an innate desire to want to make others smile. We build trust by sharing a laugh, a sense of community is created when a group of people can sit and laugh together. In the theatre, we’ve harnessed that desire and attempted to make you laugh long before cat videos and viral puppies. So, how do we do it? How did Jerry Lewis and Dick Van Dyke harness their funny bone? Here are some useful tips if you want to play like Pagliacci.

1. Identify Your Type

Long ago, Commedia dell’arte was building on the characters we naturally find funny, servants like Harlequinno and Trufaldino, misers like Pantalone, and braggarts like El Capitano. Today, we still use these troupes to build upon: Bugs Bunny, Mr. Burns, and Zapp Brannigan. We’re not saying to be a stereotype, but what we are suggesting is to build upon what you naturally have.

Is your sense of humor dry and sarcastic? Silly? Absurd? Shameless? Vulgar? Arrogant?  The Logical Smart One? The Lovable Loser? The Wild Card? Finding a niche is essential, and then exploring the character is vital.

When you walk into a room, what do people see? Do you come off a little stuck up? That can be funny. Comedy is about expectation and reality, and playing with perceptions. Key & Peele are masters at toying with reality. Check out their sketch below and watch how they play your anticipation against you:

2. Explore your Character

To be a successful comedy actor, you have to study the art form, and the best way to do that is with work, be it in a class or on stage. Find a place to perform and hammer out your reps. Stand-up comedians build their material one show at a time. Seinfeld is famous for his “one joke a day” calendar. If you want to be funny you have to practice.

Ask any comedian and they will tell you comedy is all about rhythm, timing, and pace, and it’s your job as a comedic actor to identify those things in each script. Don’t add. Don’t subtract. Discover the pace. Discover the rhythm. Play within the notes. A musician does not add to the composition, he performs and brings his talents to the music. A comedian is a storyteller, a comedic actor is a storyteller. Learn the tools of good writing and use them to your advantage.

Below, watch how Jim Gaffigan explores something we all know: McDonalds. He uses pace to build the comedy and builds off our fears and ideas. This bit seems unscripted, but it has been hammered out hundreds of times:

3. Breaking is Not Funny

What makes comedy so difficult? Commitment. As a comedy actor, you need to be 100 percent committed to the dialogue, physical actions, jokes, technique, and especially the characters. Often, we are laughing at the folly of the character.

In farce, the characters have no idea they are in a farce. Deadpool may be popular right now, but he is poplar because comedy existed before him. Deadpool would not work if he was the first character. He needs Spirderman, Wolverine, and the Captain America to exist to be who he is. Therefore, commit to the work.

Watch below as John Cleese from Fawlty Towers uses the character to his advantage. Basil is brash, conservative, and hilarious. He is fully dedicated to the reality of the character, and thus the comedy is amped up:

Bonus: Have fun.

Confidence is about understanding. By being disciplined and doing your work, you can play within the form. Great improvisers are not manic movers and people who simply fly off the rails: they are performers who have learned the craft and know how to play the game. Comedy is the exact same idea. We learn the script. We know the language. We listen to the moment. We know the lines so well we don’t have to recall them. We play.