Tuesday, December 22, 2009

Customer Service - Marketplace Oxymoron.

My wife sent something via FedEx for her employer. FedEx. Overnight. Next day delivery. Expensive. Didn't get there when it was supposed to. Didn't get there when it was promised. Didn't get there even though her company paid for the service. Now, I totally understand that it's Christmas and there are lots of people sending things to a lot of people waiting for them. I don't even mind that things are late -- so long as a few things happen.
First, the company should apologize for the bad service. When Liz called FedEx, the "customer service representative" didn't apologize. At all. No remorse, no guilt, no nothing. All the person (somewhere in Bangalore, we suspect) could say, over and over, is that "the package was still on the ground" an had not left Los Angeles yet. No explanation. When press for details about re-delivery -- nothing. "The package is still on the ground" and has not been delivered. No promise of re-delivery. Nothing. Now, this person was very nice. They just couldn't get off script long enough to satisfy a disgruntled customer.

Second, the company should make the bad service or product right or refund the money. I mean, without the customer having to beg for it. If a company screws up, I expect them to voluntarily make good on their side of the bargain. They already have my money. Not asking too much. If I paid 20 bucks for overnight delivery and it doesn't get there overnight, give me some money back voluntarily and quickly and don't make me feel like I'm the one being mean or wrong or demanding. In effect we had a contract. You broke that contract. Make it right or give me my money back. Period.

Third, follow up to make sure I have been satisfied an the problem has been taken care of. In this day and age where every telemarketing company knows my phone number and every porn site can get access to my email, certainly a company with whom I do business and that has my credit card information and address can contact me.

Fourth, say thank you once in a while.

FedEx are the only ones at fault here. The lack of basic customer service is widespread. Time Warner Cable has very nice Customer Service Reps on the phone. They are very apologetic (see #2 above). However, it took EIGHT weeks to get a problem resolved with my cable service. Eight weeks and three technicians visiting my house later, I finally got ESPN back. No one followed up to see if everything was still alright. No one offered to adjust my bill. No one apologized for the inconvenience of having to rearrange my schedule so I could be home during the blocks of time necessary for the technician to come to my house. I'll bet a million dollars that if I stopped paying my bill for eight weeks my service would have been turned off faster than Brett Favre can sling a touchdown.

On the micro level, when was the last time you were actually thanked for shopping somewhere. Where you gave a clerk some money or swiped your credit card and they handed you change or your receipt with a pleasant "thanking you for shopping here, today." The printed * THANK YOU * on the receipt doesn't cut it. I want a real person to acknowledge my decision to spend money at that particular store.

Sometimes, just to get myself worked up into a lather, I will say "thank you" to the person who is taking my money. Just to see their reaction.  Inevitably, I get a reply like, "No problem," or "Sure," or "No worries." Maybe a "You're welcome." Like they did me a favor taking my money. Never a "Oh no, thank YOU."

Here's my New Year's resolution (well, one of them anyway): If I don't get a "thank you," I don't go back to the store. I will then follow up with a template email to the company HQ noting my action. This may seem petty, I agree, but we have to start somewhere. With all the hardship doled out this past year to regular people through the course of the recession, it is not too much to ask for businesses to compete for our hard earned money. Banks, grocery stores, espresso bars, gas stations, your on notice. Treat your customers like they matter or we'll find someone else who does.

Don't make me write Stephen Colbert.

Thank you for reading. Please come back.

Monday, December 14, 2009

You old softy.

There was a time, when I was critical of everything. I call it my, "Wayne-You-Are-Such-An-Asshole" period. Nothing was ever good enough -- at least as far as the performing arts was concerned. This includes films. Unless I was in it, everything pretty much sucked.

There were certain things that were ALWAYS good no matter how bad they were. Laurence Olivier could do no wrong. Al Pacino was a frigging genius. Helen Hayes was the ne plus ultra. Even in films undeserving of their massive talents, they seemed to make things better. Or at least, acceptable.

But then it happened. Or rather, then THEY happened. Larry did Inchon, Al did Scarface and the venerable Ms. Hayes appeared on an episode of Love Boat.

I was crushed. And so began my downward spiral into disillusion. Then then I started my own theatre company. The world changed. For the better, I might ad. For someone whose entire adult life had been in the theatre I was a jaded, myopic, knucklehead. A good ego is useful at times, especially as a defense mechanism for criticism, but when it starts to cloud your artistic judgment you need to pair it down a little. Maybe a lot. Either that or cease to grow as a person and an artist and continue to waste time inventing another million ways to keep Hubris from finally catching up with you -- and crushing you further.

Arizona TheatreWorks was an exercise in total collaboration with an assortment of talent and a cornucopia of characters. From the most untalented neophytes to seasoned professionals. From passionate college actors to callous old thespians. Of course, I wasn't aware of this exercise at the time. It only began to unfold itself to me as productions were frantically mounted, budgets continually ran over and time passed ever so quickly.

What the people of Arizona TheatreWorks taught me was that we really are in this together. "This" for me was the theatre and the shows we put up. "This" may also be anything you do socially or societally. Anything you do or experience or partake of with other humans. Work, shopping for groceries, going to a sporting event. To paraphrase David Mamet's character of Robert in A Life in the Theatre, "It's all a part of your LIFE." Thank you to everyone that worked at AzTW. Even those who are no longer my friends. (Only a few.) Even those who came in and disrupted things and made life very difficult. (They won't know who they are.) Especially those who came there and gave of themselves completely. (They WILL know who they are.)

Almost overnight (granted it took about ten years), I started seeing movies and plays and dance and...well, life, in a different light. The harsh judgmental criticism faded. Not intentionally, but purely organically. As if by some sort of theatrical magic. I became more appreciative of all the work that goes into the performing arts. All the money. All the risk. I started to truly understand that our life in the arts is not a smooth one. Even the Oliviers and Pacinos have rough patches where they call their own work into question. Even THEY may have to pay the bills once in awhile. And where B- and C-listers like me may have to take on a "real" job (like waiting tables or carpentry...or going to work for Capitol Records), people like them have to take on work that clearly is not worthy of them. Fine. Lesson learned. Thank you, Universe.

I've also come to understand that there are certain actors that do things very well. Always have been, of course. In previous posts I've railed about the Celebrity vs Actor paradigm. I now add the Movie Star element to the equation as a totally separate but equal kid of "actor." (Note the small "a")

A Movie Star is someone who commands your attention even though they may be doing nothing more than playing themselves on screen. John Wayne, Gary Cooper, Grace Kelly for example. They are distinct from the pure Celebrity because what they do, they do very well. And they are different from the Actor because they are limited in the range of emotion and depth of character they bring to the screen or stage. However, you have to watch them.

These days you'll very regularly find me sitting happily in a dark movie theatre watching things I NEVER would have dreamed of watching in my earlier days. I love Movie Stars and I enjoy Actors. I tolerate Celebrities as long as my students understand the difference. I loved Iron Man, Can't wait for Avatar, gonna be first in line for Sherlock Holmes on Xmas day. I will watch Hugh Grant (Movie Star) in anything and can't wait for Jennifer Lopez to make another romantic comedy. (That's right you heard me, Jennifer Lopez. Watch Shall We Dance or Maid in Manhattan. Charming in a classic screwball comedy way.)

Having said all that, I still find it hard to give Adam Sandler the same latitude I give Ben Stiller. Hey, evolution didn't happen over night.

Friday, December 11, 2009

TSA and Me

I travel a lot. In particular, I travel through one small airport more than than others. I mean -- SMALL airport. I am shocked that after 18 months of travel through this airport TWICE a month -- the TSA people there still do not recognize me. They certainly do not know my name.

True, I have a sizable ego and I love it when people recognize me. (The barista at my neighborhood Starbucks knows my name and I see her waaaaaay less than my TSA friends.) But this really isn't about me. I'm not angry that they don't know me. I'm just curious as to WHY they don't. In the wake of that TSA manual being leaked on the web this week, I just got to thinking, that's all. With all the talk about airline safety over the last nine years, shouldn't we be focused more on bad people instead of looking for makeshift weapons and frisking old ladies? I mean, REALLY?

Why wouldn't TSA officials be trained to observe people and notice behavior rather than just look at bags and stare into X-ray machines? Why wouldn't a TSA officer notice a person who comes through their station over and over and over? Now, for those TSA or government officials who happen upon this post, don't get me wrong, I'm not asking for trouble here. I'm just wondering why your employees wouldn't know my name by now. What is it they are trained to do exactly?

Behavior is something that can be observed and scrutinized. My acting students are trained to observe everything. Actors are taught to observe behavior and make characters out of their observations. Police are taught to read a scene, examine suspects, look for clues, sense a situation. What could make that man walking with a limp? Why is that woman carrying her purse that way? Psychologists have created a whole discipline out of studying behavior.

Personally, I do not feel safer when they pull a 70 year old man out of line to wand his titanium hip for 15 minutes. I do not feel safer because I have to take off my shoes and put them in a plastic bin...no, on the belt...no, in the bin. I do not feel safer because a woman was asked to remove her shirt thereby exposing her camisole because her blouse "looked like a jacket." I do not feel safer when airport security fast-tracks a family of five with more baggage than a dozen Sherpas on expedition up Mount Everest. In fact, I feel LESS safe because the time they are spending with Octo-mom and her brood should be spent surveying the whole environment of the airport for real bad guys NOT helping those who by virtue of their ability to pro-create to get the best seats in the waiting area at the gate.

I don't mind being inconvenienced in the name of safety. I just don't want the TSA pretending that they are doing something they are not. You wanna look in my briefcase? Fine. You wanna frisk the old man in the walker? Okay. Just once in a while look us in the eye and make us believe you are really there to find bad people. I mean, is 5 ounces of hair gel really that much more dangerous than 3.4?

Monday, November 23, 2009

Don't Confuse Celebrity with Craft.

As an acting coach, I work with quite a few young, aspiring actors, a couple older character actors and even a friend or two who, over the years, I have convinced I am a genius and they cannot do without my mystical words of wisdom every week. They are friends, so they know I'm full of shit half the time, but they still like coming in to the studio to workout and listen to me correct their diction or help with a line reading.

What I find with about 50% of my young students is a serious confusion about what it means to be "an actor." Actually, confusion isn't the right word. Ignorance, is the right word.

I posted the title of this blog "Don't Confuse Celebrity with Craft" on my FaceBook account several weeks ago. I've been stewing over it ever since. Actually, the whole post read,

Note to young, aspiring actors: "Being in a movie" is different than "being an actor." Kinda like pouring Drano down your sink doesn't make you a plumber. Don't confuse celebrity for craft.

 A very talented writer friend who happens to be a very capable actor wrote the best comment. Jed said, "...a great majority of people, particularly in that bastion of modesty known as Los Angeles, say that they want to be actors, they mean film... and what they really mean to say is, 'I want to be famous.' So, I'd have to say that MANY people who want to be film actors want to be famous, whereas most who want to be theatre actors want to work on the craft."

That is true. Too true. Probably always has been in Hollywood.

What set me off in this direction, today of all days, was my morning ritual of catching up on the news and sports and gossip and politics first thing in the morning. Do it every day. computer humming, coffee stemming, fingers dancing across the keyboard as I surf over to my Google Reader and start filling my head with...well, crap mostly -- but at least I feel like I'm staying on top of things. Today was typical. Healthcare, polls, Tiger Woods (ooo, that's good for a rant!) Sarah Palin insanity (don't get me started), local crime, check the weather, what does Tom Friedman have to say, how's the weekend box office look...and, oh, look, FHM has their new list of the 100 Sexiest Women for 2009! Sweet!

As I glance over the bios of some of these lovelies I start to notice that many of them are "reality show stars," swimsuit models, or just famous. Famous for being famous and nothing more. Some have even been in movies. One was called a "Bond Girl" because she was in Casino Royale as "Tennis Girl #1." That did it for me. Totally set me off. You are NOT a Bond Girl simply because you are in a James Bond movie. You have to at least have some lines and a really cool, sexy name given to you by the writer. You know, Pussy Galore or Holly Goodhead or Plenty O'Toole. Tennis Girl #1 is definitely not a Bond Girl name.

I was off. And I was thinking about all the young actors I have known who didn't really want to put in the work to be an actor. They wanted to be famous. Didn't care how. "How do I get on a reality show?" "How do I get an agent?" "How do I get on a soap opera?" They come to guys like me to get the secret to being famous. Yeah, like I know, right? Like anyone knows. Like I wouldn't have used it myself somewhere along the way. (You've probably noticed that Tom Cruise and Mel Gibson don't teach "Cold Reading Workshops" or "How to Make it in Hollywood.")

The business of acting is big. I'm not just talking about movies and television and theatre. I'm talking about books on acting, newspapers on acting, classes on acting, websites on acting. Acting coaches, cold reading workshops, camera technique, How to Audition, How to Get an Agent, How to Make It, How to Make It While You're Trying to Make It. Big business.

Now before you jump my ass, I know, I am as much a part of the problem as I am the solution. I'm one of those people who profess to be able to help you become a better actor. The difference between people like me (and there are quite a few, even in LA) and those out to just siphon money off of naive young people who happen to dream of being Paris Hilton's BFF is sizable.

I'm one of those assholes who wants you to leave your ego at the door and work hard, try new things, read, vote, become involved and live a passionate engaged life. I'm the deviant that will explain the difference between your job and your career, your career and your life. I also will charge you a fair price for my knowledge and if you reach a point where I think I can no longer help you, I'll tell you so and stop cashing your checks.

What we must never do as actors or as teachers of actors is to believe the hype of popular culture. We must understand the difference between Kim Kardashian and Meryl Streep. Don't get me wrong, I love Kim. She's hot! But I do not want my students to aspire to be her. What I WOULD like to see? I would LOVE to see Kim and Paris and all the other pop divas study acting as a craft. Or not

We have to turn off TMZ or, at the very least, realize it's bullshit meant to feed a hunger and not the real world of an actor. Celebrity is not acting. Acting can sometimes (rarely, I might add) lead to celebrity. Stay true, learn your craft, expect to have many jobs that aren't acting. Continue to dream? Most definitely. Continue to study your craft? But, of course. Just know that Paris Hilton will probably never play Ophelia in summer stock and Ryan Seacrest would make a terrible Sergius Saranoff.

Thursday, October 1, 2009

Silence is Golden

So now I can't watch the news any more. That's right. No news. Only news I get is from the New York Times that Liz brings home from work everyday and the Sunday Edition of the LA Times. And the Huffington Post. And some other left wing blogs. Well, and a lot of other places on the Web but NOT the news on television.

The networks have blown it. Gone are the days of Cronkite and Rather, Huntley and Brinkley. Murrow. Instead we are left with "news" that seems to be defined by popular culture instead of popular concern. Right now you are saying to yourself, "Wayne, tell us something we don't know." You'd be right to call me on my lack of timeliness on this subject. But I gotta wonder, if we are all knowledgeable about the piss poor job the nets are doing on the news, why do we continue to put up with it? Why do we not demand more of network news. If they were sitcoms or scripted dramas the evening news hours would have been blown out ages ago. They would have been replaced by a old skool late night night comic trying to fill time or yet another reality/game show or a reality/competition show with a neat twist like irresponsible people with a million children they can't afford to raise.

Somehow the networks put great pride in their heritage of nighttime news programming but fail to demand the standards that created the genre. As if simply having a prime time news show with an attractive articulate person behind a desk was enough.

Just recently, Warners Music Group fired about 40 people from Rhino Records. A company that has a great history of making good important music available to customers that care. The people they fired were the people that actually MAKE the product: A&R people who find, conceive and compile the collections; designers who create the packaging; marketers who get it into the hands of the public and fans. Apparently, anyone can do that stuff. After all people really good at their jobs make it look so easy. Same with the network news. They no longer have the people that KNOW the product and if they do, they are so shackled by the executives upstairs that they are unable to do their jobs in an investigative, important newsworthy way.

In this day of climate crisis, political upheaval, security threats, economies on the edge of collapse, health care in the balance, we shouldn't have to wade through whose on the red carpet in what designer. We shouldn't be subjected to Kate Plus 8 and endless reports on Michael Jackson well after his tragic passing. We shouldn't have to Google the important stuff.

Maybe if would be better if all the Nightly/World/Evening News just went away. Silence would be better than sludge. That or have the networks grow a set and do real news that we can trust. Not because they say it's fair and balanced -- but because it is.

This Time Poll kinda says it all.

Sunday, September 13, 2009

The Art of Poor Sportsmanship: Serena

So let me get this straight about sports: In really important games, at really important times, we are supposed to forget the rules of the a game? And if we don't, we are supposed to forgive those who decide to act inappropriately?

Oh, okay. Now I get it. Spoiled, emotional brats get to cheat. Okay. Now I know. I guess it's called being passionate.

I am not calling out Serena Williams because she is Serena Williams. John McEnroe was out of line in his day to. Idiot football players who celebrate and taunt in the end zone even when they are LOSING by 21 points are ridiculous, too. I'm guess I'm just disappointed in Serena.

Tennis is supposed to be, oh, I don't know...different somehow. It's supposed to be civilized, polite, bound by tradition. Like cycling. In the Grand Tours of professional bicycling the leader of the GC will not be attacked on the last day. Sportsmanship.

Passion is fine if one can still be polite. Sports, in general, has been losing it's grip on sportsmanship. Oh, sure, we always like it when the ref gets and earful. That is usually saved for the parents in the stands. The player and the referees should have a different relationship. Shouldn't they?

There's an old saying attributed to Kipling, when asked his opinion of Soccer as opposed to Rugby, "Soccer is a game for Gentlemen played by Hooligans, and Rugger is a game for Hooligans played by Gentlemen." Sometimes behavior like that shown by Serena in U.S. Open makes me think that the hooligans are taking over. Exciting? Yes. But sad, too.

Friday, June 12, 2009

The Falacy of Corporate Buy-In

Buy-in. Whoever thought up that term should be drawn and quartered. Those that continually toss it around their meeting rooms willy-nilly should be lashed by a pirate on steroids.

For years now the corporate world has been beset by the notions of "accountability" and "responsibility." Bosses demand that their underlings be accountable for their decisions and responsible for whatever fallout may occur. Any results that are positive the boss will take credit for but that's another rant entirely. So along comes some genius with the term "buy-in." All of a sudden, the two previous terms are rendered as impotent as a bull in a knife shop. But nobody realizes it. Those same bosses who demand accountability will defer to others in the name of getting their buy-in.

Why? Because they are afraid of making a mistake. They are looking for a chance to say, "Everyone signed-off on this so it's not my fault it sucks." And that sucks. And that is not fair. And that is not professional. AND that is not taking responsibilty.

I have a brother who is a track coach. He's a good track coach. He's been doing it a long time and knows all the tricks of the trade. He was a cross country runner himself, a duathlete, and has coached college level athletes for about 20 years. He has a Masters degree in something like Exercise Physiology or something equally cool sounding. So he knows how the body works and knows how to help people go fast by moving their legs. But now along comes "buy in."

So one day the Athletic Director says: "Hey, I noticed you were having your runners do some stretches. Why don't you ask the English Professors what they think about that?"

Or the President of the College says, "Hey, I noticed you were helping Johnny Jumphigh with his pole technique for his pole vault. Wouldn't it be great if you got the Archeology Department to weigh in on what kind of shoes he should wear? We wouldn't want them to feel left out."

Okay, just so my brother doesn't get fired let me say this is not a real example, but it makes the point. Buy should ALWAYS be general NOT specific. Conceptual NOT tangible.

People are hired in the corporate world to do a job. Conceivably, they have a knack or knowledge or experience that makes them an expert at something. Why then do coporate leaders not let them do their job? Why then do coporate leaders defer to others NOT qualified (or certainly less qualified) in that person's area of expertise to contribute to something they know nothing about?

I know many will think me blasphemous. Too bad. This is one concept that must stop. It stifles not only creativity but also productivity. Decision making by committee has its place -- occassionally. Not everything requires it, though.

-- If your Creative Department is making brochures, you don't need to confer with Accounting on the design.
-- If you are filming a commercial, you don't have ask HR if they like the choice of the music.
-- If your Marketing Department is writing copy for a print ad, you don't have to pass it around to your Corporate Meeting planner to get his thoughts on the grammer.

Corporate leaders take heed: Stop making every department run every decision by other departments because you are afraid or because you don't know what you are doing. Have some balls, do your job, let your staff do theirs. Make sure everyone knows this. Once people start getting the opportunity to offer their "buy-in" it is a VERY difficult process to stop.

Final thought: Leave your Marketing Departments alone. They are professionals and know more about marketing than your Finance Department ever will. Bust them if they over budget otherwise -- give them the credit they deserve. You hired them to do a job, let 'em do it.

Watkins, out!

Monday, May 4, 2009

Now even FOOD has me ranting!

This takes the cake! (Pun intended for later.) For years now I have been mildly PO'd at the fact that you can't buy a POUND of coffee any more. You can buy 13 ounces, you can buy 12 ounces, can't buy a pound. Really hard to find a POUND of bacon, too. But bacon is bad for you, so, okay no big deal. Next thing you know cereal boxes start to shrink. 15 ounces, 13 ounces, 11 ounces. Of course, the prices still remain the same, but apparently the manufacturers think that we are morons and won't notice that the boxes are getting smaller and the prices are getting bigger.

Now you 're probably wondering, "Wayne, where the hell have you been? This has been going on for a while now." I know this. I just haven't been bothered by it enough to actually engage in rant. But then two things happened to thrust the issue into the forefront of my very being. April 02nd happened. Followed by April 28th.

April 02, 2009: I'm buying tuna. Chicken of the Sea - Chunk Light. The kind you use with mayo to make a tuna sandwich. I haven't really paid much attention to tuna cans for years. They have always been the same shape, the same color the same 6 ounce size, I mean, since I was a kid! But something caught my eye. There on the front of the label under the logo as bold as you please: "5 ounces." Wait a minute! The can! The can is the same size! Now they are just putting less tuna in it! WTF? When did that happen? I check all the major brands. Same thing. 5 ounces. Okay, I'm feeling a little perturbed now. Thankfully I grab a can of the store brand, "Safeway Select," 6 ounces. Thank you, Safeway or Von's or whatever you are. 6 ounces of tuna. Okay, no biggie, from now on I'm buying the store brand. But then....

April 28, 2009. Just ran out of ice cream. Better go get some more. When I was younger (no, it wasn't THAT long ago either wise guy), you could buy a 2 quart container of ice cream. Then the manufacturers slid it down to 1.75 quarts. I missed that one so I didn't bother to complain. But now the ice cream containers look kinda funny. They look...small. 1.45 quarts! Here we go again! A couple weeks ago the tuna -- now the ice cream. Okay, fine, no problem, I shouldn't be eating ice cream anyway. Never gonna get to the Big Show on Kona (Ironman World Championships) by eating that stuff anyway. I know! I'll go get some yogurt! That's healthy. Low fat, tasty, sprinkled with a little granola it's probably even better for me. The hammer falls again.

Two in one day! The yogurt -- even the store brands -- are ALL 6 ounces. Down from 8 ounces. Come on! What kind of vast food conspiracy is this? I mean, I know things are bad, but, really? One ounce here, one ounce there. And when did it all go awry? Why weren't we told? Why didn't Andy Rooney do a thing on Sunday Morning? Why didn't 60 minutes have a expose? Hell, even the Local Los Angeles news didn't report on it and they are DYING for something interesting to put on the air. Barack, what's up? Screw the bank bailout, forget about replacing Judge Souter, who cares about Arlen Specter switching parties? We are talking TUNA and ICE CREAM here.

Oh, yeah, the cake thing? Apparently, cake mixes used to be 21 ounces. Now they are like 18. So Betty Crocker and Duncan Hines had to hire some match genius to recalculate all those cake mix formulas so they could rip us off to the tune of three ounces.

I'm either going to have to go on a hunger strike, make more money or find healthy alternatives for the conveniences I've come to know and hold so dear.

Hum. Get back to you.  

Wednesday, April 22, 2009

When is an actor NOT an Actor?

When they are a media personality that just happened to be cast in something. Who qualifies as a media personality? Athletes, musicians, Paris AND Perez Hilton. See where I'm going here?

Serena Williams could be considered a media personality. She is a great tennis player, but she is not an actor. And just saying you are one, doesn't make it so. Alright, alright...I'm not bagging on Serena. And believe it or not there have been (and will be in the future) many famous people who are fortunate enough to find work in film and TV. (Theatre? Not so much.) Duane "The Rock" Johnson is on quite a roll right now and making money for himself, the studios, and entertaining a lot of people in the process. Hell, I even own "The Scorpion King" on DVD! There's goes my street cred, I know....

I have been accused, on several occasions, of being elitist with regards to the acting profession. I am. If you are an actor you should be too. You train, you sacrifice, you work for free, you study, you pay for over price headshots, you suffer incompetent directors, you memorize way too many monologues and you get rejected at far too many auditions by obnoxious casting people. You should take pride in your work and your craft and you should be upset when those in authority cast "famous people" instead of actors in films and TV.

Yes, I do understand how the industry works and no, I didn't just fall off the turnip truck. It's always been this way and always will. That doesn't mean we should just roll over and accept it.

Let me put it into perspective: If I were to show up at the U.S. Open and say, "As of today, I am a professional tennis player, let me in." Don't let me in because I can actually PLAY tennis really well. Don't let me in because I have been at the Nick Bollettieri Tennis Academy since I was eight. Don't let me in because I have a win-loss record to rival Roger Federer. Let me play in the U.S. Open because I WANT to play at the U.S. Open. Never happen. I would be laughed off the property by the minimum wage security guard gripping the scruff of my neck.

There is a public persception, I believe, that acting is easy. Just enough media personalities have become good, accomplished actors to make our moms and dads think that our given career choice is "just a phase" or, even worse, that "any one can do it." My wife was actually asked once (by a very close, intelligent, well-read friend) why she "didn't just go apply for a soap opera job."

I'm a big fan of Will Smith. Queen Latifah is making me a believer. Eminem? Rick Fox? Not yet. I am the last person on earth to suggest that we stifle our creativity and settle for the lot that we have been cast in. Some very hard working actors aren't very good at what they do and work all the time. Some of the best, most talented actors I have ever seen have been in places like Ashland, Oregon and Off-Off-Broadway; in independent films and in silly commercials selling car insurance or Viagra. I know it's not a perfect world and the best are not always the most successful. No matter what we tell our children in grammer school, most of them won't grow up to be President. That would totally screw up the two-party system.

Here's an analogy I use with the actors I coach -- probably too often: I have a pipe wrench, some channel locks and a roll of teflon tape in my tool box. That doesn't make me a plumber. It just makes me a guy that has some tools that can probably figure out how to tighten something under the sink to stop it from leaking. If I want the job done right...I'm gonna hire a professional.

Wednesday, April 8, 2009

Back from the abyss -- An Actor Prepared.

It's been quite some time since my last rant. Part of it comes from finding the time to make this blog a part of my schedule and part comes from just plain laziness. So for the five of you that give a rat's rosy...my most humble apologies for being absent. (And remember: A rant isn't always a negative thing. Sometimes it's a joyous romp through a field in your skivvies.)

Actually, since the election, I've had very little to rant about. I'm happy. Sure, the nature of politics still gets under my skin, Prop 8 just pisses me off to no end, the economy is scary, Iraq and Pakistan and Afghanistan are still a plague. But, hey, at least we now have a leader who can and will actually talk to the rest of the world in complete sentences. It's those baby steps that matter.

Oh, yeah, and I think I'm in love (love may be the wrong word) with a lesbian. Yes, my wife knows and kinda approves. Rachel Maddow. She's not a lipstick lesbian like you see on TV, but she's hot in an I'm-smarter-than-you-and-I-eat-Republicans-for-breakfast kinda way. Her show on MSNBC is a breath of fresh air. Watch it. But I digress....

My wife, Elizabeth, sent me a quote the other day from Charles Laughton.

"Method actors give you a photograph. Real actors give you an oil painting."

Charles Laughton was (for those of you don't know) a remarkable British actor. Died way too young as many of the best and brightest do. He also directed a movie -- The Night of The Hunter. One of my favorite movies of all time and, unfortunately, the only film Laughton ever directed. It was a huge flop at the time. Critics panned it, failed miserably at the box office. Today it is considered by many as one of the best movies of the 1950s. It features a completely terrifying performance by Robert Mitchum and a powerfully sensitive performance by the incomparable Lillian Gish. See it. But I digress....

Since about 1951 people who call themselves actors have been having a very passionate, even if not public, debate about what acting is all about. Is there an "American-style?" Is it more effective than the "British-style?" What is "the Method?" Which is better? What the difference? Does anyone care?

1951 is the year that Lee Strasberg took over as director of the Actors Studio. Under his leadership grew what is today known as "the method." So many actors actors have been influenced by the method, it really is impossible to discount utterly -- then Laughton, so simply, throws water on the fire. A photograph versus an oil painting.

For some reason, as an actor and a director, that resonated with me. What is an actors job and how does one do it? Are we out to take a picture and pass it around the audience? Or, are we attempting to use paint and canvas, color and light thereby allowing the audience to stare and wonder -- "Hum, what about THAT?"

And, too, all the arguments in the world pro and con still miss the mark I think. Even my arguments boarder on the simplistic (thank you, Mr Laughton. No, really, thank you). All the talk of "The Method" and the variety of different permutations of it (Strasberg, Meisner, Adler) still fall short of the mystery of acting.

Here's our experiment: Let's put Picasso, Rembrandt and Seurat all in a room with the same paint, canvas and brush. Gather up John Lennon, Mozart and, oh, what the hell, Kanye West in the same studio with the same instuments. Their background, world view, inherent talents, sexual proclivities, physical limitations, manner of holding the brush or fingering the keyboard, personal taste, immediate frame of mind -- will all come to play on what they ultimately produce. Everything will be unique even though the tools were identical.

So it is with acting and actors. We simply cannot boil down such a complicated personal process into a "method." With all due respect to those those who teach such things, perhaps, rather than trying to teach young actors how to become the next Brando, we should be teaching them how to become the first (their name here). Maybe we should be teaching them about the tools they have as human beings: How to breath, how to use their voice, what they can do with their body and their mind. Maybe we should teach them to read and write, to observe and participate in the world. Maybe we should teach them history and literature. Maybe we should teach them to live and love and care for things. Then, once we do that, let them discover how they wish to use this mighty, highly tuned instrument in Shakespeare or Mamet or Chekov or Simon. But, I digress....