FOR THE HELL OF IT VOL. 7 NO 5 ON CLASSES… AND ASSORTED VERITIES AND BALDERDASH BY JOHNNY HELLER

So you want to be/are/have asserted that you are — an actor. Something you’ve always wanted to be. A life-long dream. Yet you wonder about the value of classes. Should you take them? What sort? You’re already pretty damn good – I mean, how much better can you be?
I’m going to go out on a limb here and say: “a lot”. You can be a lot better.
Acting- in all its many forms- is an ongoing representation and presentation of the human condition and there is no way one can ever be fully immersed in every human condition. It isn’t possible. So we need to continue to learn more so we can make believe better.
Stage actors are constantly in classes or otherwise onstage and learning with each performance. Film actors pick up technique and tips regularly — even if the tip is to stay away from the macaroni on the craft table.
Let’s eavesdrop on some actors:
SETTING: GREEN ROOM BEFORE A PERFORMANCE
Bob: (eating pastrami on rye and spilling mustard on his tee shirt) You know, I can’t tell you how wonderful it is to be here. All my life I only ever wanted to be an actor and now here I am! Ready to do my first show! Just goes to show you…
Alan: (applying makeup) Just goes to show you what?
Bob: You never can tell when lightning will strike.
Simon: Actually you can. It’s accompanied quite often by thunder, rain and loud booms.
Bob: No! I mean – one day I’m doing day laborer stuff, the next – I’m in a play!
Simon: Well, yes. But surely you weren’t just laboring all day. I assume you were studying the craft…learning beats and breath groups and stage direction and all of that…
Bob: What?
Simon: You never studied acting?
Bob: Nope. I saw an ad for a loud fat guy and I showed up and got the part.
Alan: I studied. I took an online “master” course in acting.
Simon: A Master’s level course?! On line??
Alan: Yep. And it worked! Here I am.
Simon: But what were the requirements to get in? A masters level course surely had requirements!
Alan: Oh yeah it did. $999 bucks! That’s a hell of a requirement. And it guaranteed that you’d get feedback on every audition you sent in too.
Simon: My God. Neither of you ever studied the craft at all. That explains a great deal actually.
Bob: Like what?
Simon: Like why you keep entering from stage left when the direction clearly calls for you to enter downstage right.
Bob: What now?
Simon: Define acting.
Alan: Ooh ooh! I know! It’s saying words someone else wrote out loud.
Bob: No! It’s dressing up and …you know…acting.
Alan: Actually we covered this in the master class…but I lost my notes on it. I know it has something to do with pretending and stuff….
Bob: I’m pretty sure it’s just standing around until it’s your turn to talk.
Simon: Thank God this is a short run. I’ll be shocked if we make it through the week. I’ll tell you in brief – Acting is portraying another person or persons as truthfully and accurately as possible –
Alan: So it is pretending!
Simon: It is, yes. But so much more. We pretend every day – we are all full of pretense and, in a sense, all acting. A professional actor is one who works to portray another person as written by an author and, with luck, as directed by a gifted director.
Alan: Hmmm.
Bob: Sounds hard.
Simon: It is. Now – places everybody — It’s showtime!
(They all look at each other, shake hands and throw up).
So. Acting is a profession and like other professions, it must be entered into with purpose and pursued with conviction. Many have a natural talent – a gift. But lessons/classes can hone that gift and make it a true instrument that will allow you to portray a character, to tell a story, to deliver a line like no other.
EXCUSES FOR NOT TAKING CLASSES OR WEBINARS OR ANY DAMN THING:
A) UNACCEPTABLE:
1. No Money. – Find some. Tend bar, wait tables, become a Republican Presidential Candidate.
2. No Time. Yes you do. We all have 24 hours in our day. Even Republican Presidential Candidates.
3. Can’t find a teacher you can connect with. So what? You can learn without connecting. Ask almost any Catholic.
B) ACCEPTABLE
1. Money. I have a great deal of money and I am spending it producing my own show.
2. Time. I have all the time in the world and I am spending it teaching the craft to students who learn from me as I learn from them.
3. I am the King of the Netherlands. I can do whatever I want so “phhhhhtttt! to you!”
4. I’m a Republican and I’m running for President.
5. I’m a Republican and I’m not running for President. Someone’s got to hold down the fort.
It really doesn’t matter where you start in your lessons. Just take some. People constantly tell me how they would like to do what I do and when I talk with them, they have no idea at all what I do. They don’t know what it is to connect to an authors’ truth, to share his soul, to create a character, to maintain an emotion, to make a choice, to commit to an art… If this was a job for everyone — a job everyone could do — what an extraordinary world we would live in. A world filled with art and creation and wonder. We don’t have that, do we? Than, we aren’t all actors at all.
I suggest all actors and would-be actors take some classes and continue to do so throughout their careers. I would start with basic scene study and/or improvisation. I would move into specific areas as they become interesting to you — dance (in all its many forms), voice-over (audiobooks, commercials, narration, e-learning, etc. all require a different skill set) on-camera (commercial, film and TV)…getting the idea?
No actor of any merit ever stops learning. It isn’t possible to continue in the profession and not to continue the learning process. And don’t pretend acting is terribly hard work! It’s hard as hell to get work, but it isn’t as hard as digging a ditch or building a house or operating on someone’s brain. I once spent my summers at a Christian youth camp and I worked doing roofing because I liked climbing and could handle the height. Slamming hot shingles on church roofs in 90 degree heat through a Wisconsin summer was hard work — doing Hamlet by comparison isn’t. But both jobs require training. You can fall off a roof if you don’t put on your safety harness right. And you can fall on your face if you don’t prepare to do Hamlet right. One will kill you – the other will just make you wish you stuck with roofing.
AND NOW….
A WORD ON THE 4TH OF JULY
I was dismayed this year when I learned that many Americans didn’t really know why we celebrate the 4th of July. So let me enlighten you.
Many years ago, these United States were actually the colonial possessions of Great Britain. As colonials, the populace owed its allegiance to the Crown and considered themselves British. However the British rulers dealt the colonials – who were known as Americans (a derivation of Amerigo Vespucci — an explanation of whom would require more time than I have available at present) – many cruel blows — chiefly regarding taxation without representation. The colonials, who I shall now refer to as “Americans” didn’t like the idea of being taxed and revolted against the ever growing tyranny of the British.
Of course our government today is far more oppressive and vexing and omnipresent and evil than were the British of the 1700s but that, too, is a lesson for another day.
So the Americans went to war to fight against British oppression and declared themselves a new and independent nation on July 4, 1776 — which came as a shock to the British who wouldn’t concede the point until 1783.
So we celebrate the 4th of July to commemorate the birth of this great nation. We declared our independence from Britain and then went on to continue to use its language, its customs, its fashions and its governmental systems with the exception of the Monarchy — which many were willing to work with as long as the Royal Family was George Washington’s.
Today we still have strong ties with Great Britain as evidenced by the fact that all the leading actors in American television and film are actually British actors doing American accents. In return, Great Britain allows some of our actual American actors to pop across the pond and appear on the Graham Norton show.
So now you know what it’s all about — well, at least you know more than you did when you didn’t know anything and that’s certainly an improvement.
NEWS FROM AROUND THE WORLD
San Antonio, TX….COCAINE AND GRANOLA…A Texas woman unwrapped her Nature Valley Granola bar and found a surprise inside. A little green baggie with dollar signs on it fell out of the bar’s wrapper and Cynthia Rodriguez thought she had won a prize from the company. In a way, she did. The bag was filled with cocaine. Nature Valley Company insists that the bag couldn’t have been placed in the packaging at the factory.
In unrelated news, convenience stores in Texas are reporting a huge surge in the sales of Nature Valley Granola bars.
Lake Elsinore,CA…GRANDE DONUT…Police are investigating an incident caught on film where Ariana Grande and her beau are seen licking and spitting on donuts in, of all places, a donut store. The wee singer with the large diva complex didn’t buy any of the donuts she licked and followed the act by saying: “I hate America”…I guess she meant American donuts.
Later Grande said she only meant she hated the American lifestyle where childhood obesity reigns and people can actually buy unlicked donuts. Grande has a healthy lifestyle which apparently doesn’t include donuts – only, apparently, donut licking. She must also have a lifestyle where she is actually surprised to confront actual donuts in a store called “Wolfee Donuts”.
Columbia, SC…FLAG DOWN!….The South Carolina state legislature has voted to take the Confederate Flag down from the statehouse, signaling an overt attempt to placate the overwhelmingly held opinion by almost anyone that has half a brain that leaving the flag there is plain stupid.
While the causes of the civil war are the stuff of college term papers, it can usually be condensed down to two: promulgation of States’ Rights vs. those of the Federal Government OR promulgation of slavery vs. the notion that holding any man, woman or child of any race in a position of forced servitude and treating them like property is simply repulsive, contemptible and inarguably wrong. I know that much can and must be said about the “culture of the times” but still…I have to call bullshit on that. Slavery is wrong. Was wrong. And will forever stain this nation – allegedly built on the premise that all men are born and must be free.
The Confederate Flag is not a symbol of southern heritage and gentle society — a billowing reminder of a different time. It’s the battle flag of a bygone army and a bygone war, and belongs in museums and private collections like the flags used by the Hapsburg Empire or the Crusaders of Richard the Lion Heart.
How the hell was it allowed to fly on a statehouse for so long? I don’t say it needed to be removed by vote — it needed to be never put there in the first place by common sense and decency.
People will still wear the flag on their tee shirts and put it on their trucks and that’s fine. A right to free speech must not be abridged. However, all rights come with responsibilities and consequences. Everyone has the absolute right to be a complete ass – -look at Donald Trump. And there will be consequences. Again, look at Donald Trump.
So there.

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