If someone is currently trying to sell you some complicated method of dieting that is guaranteed to deliver results and cost a ton of money or special pills and powders, don't buy it. Likewise, if some school or God forbid agency is selling you an overcomplicated method to being a "great" actor, or promises you fame in fortune, don't buy it.
First of all, acting is simple. Despite actors wishing to be shooting stars, the fact of the matter is that we are all people. In fact, it is when actors forget they are people first and actors second that we, as the audience, feel a distaste for their performances.
I love pragmatic approaches to most things. What is the action I need to follow? What are the habits I need to build? How do I do the job in its fundamental way? This can be a tricky thing in any art form because artists like to believe in the cosmic forces that inspire them, and while there is a place for the divine muse, that place is not in the beginning stages.
So what are the practical lessons someone needs to be a good actor? If I was to break it down into three undeniable actions, it would be: observe, listen, and give. While this may sound like the three verbs of a self-help blog, hear me out.
Observation is the first practical secret of acting. In fact, it's the secret of all artistry. When you are a child, and what is art but attempting to live life through the eyes of a child, you learn from observing the world around you. Sure, our parents try to teach up language and games, but we learn from mimicry.
Perhaps that is where all drama and acting comes from, our innate ability to mimic; however, that is another article for another day.
In his book "The Inner Game of Tennis," Timothy Gallwey writes that the secret to teaching tennis is not to teach it at all. The secret is to let the student learn from observation. Gallwey learned through years of practice that his students performed better if they watched better players serve rather than him attempting to teach them technique. He would tweak and adjust, but ultimately all of his students performed better when he let their natural learning method take precedence; that is when he allowed them to mimic.
Think of the ease of which a child can imitate a relative or pick up on the habits of a teacher and reproduce them. If you wish to be an artist, you must look at the world through the eyes of an artist. We must learn to see the beauty of the world and take note of what we find beauty in. What attracts you? What garners your interest? What inspires you? Sparks your curiosity? Fills you with awe? That is where your heart lies, and if it is, in fact, storytelling, then move on to number two.
*Note: There is no shame if acting, drama, or comedy are not your thing. There are many more lucrative forms of art and entertainment. Think of all the podcasts created in the last decade or all the great comics and novels written. There is no "highest" form, and if anyone attempts to tell you otherwise, shoot them, metaphorically speaking, of course. Remember, if you meet the Buddha on the road, kill him.
Second, and this may seem counterintuitive, given the nature of the job, the actor must listen. Stephen Covey, the guy every manager quoted to their subordinates back in the 90s, wrote several of his famous habits centered around the subject of active listening. "Seek first to understand then to be understood," and also, "to be interesting, be interested." He was an advocate for active listening long before the new wave of mindfulness took hold. His point is sound, however, which is why it stuck around.
We are most interested in people who are interested in us. Everyone loves talking about themselves, try it the next time you are at a party. Rather than rolling on about your life, keep prodding the other person with questions about their life and watch as they light up like Jubilee.
Actors are guilty of this trap. Ask them about their method and be ready for a four hour conversation. We've all been on the receiving end of someone's diatribe, unable to get a word in and merely a sounding board for their monologue. While you would think this would serve the actor, it doesn't. Audiences are made up of people, no brainer, and people don't want to see narcissists parading around on stage.
What makes for riveting work is when the players on stage or on camera are fully engaged in the scene. In order to be fully engaged, we must be actively listening to our scene partner. If all we are doing is thinking of our next line, we cannot take in the other character's lines and their impact on us, let alone respond naturally to the comments. If you are so involved with your internal monologue that you are not listening to the insults or praise being thrown your way by the other characters, you're ahead floating around waiting to speak. The job is not to wait for your turn to talk, the task is to fill those moments in between with life, and the easiest way to do that is to listen.
Finally, the last tip is to give. This can be as simple as saying your lines as written, or it can be as glamorous as an improvised response, but the point is to give. If you are present, observing, and listening, then you are already giving your full attention to your scene partner, who is more than I can say for most actors. Ask yourself, what does the other person need? What do they want? How can I set them up to succeed?
In improv, the golden rule is to make your partner look good. If you are doing that, then the scene will work. Insult humor is so easy, it's the lowest of low hanging fruit. Plus, no one wins. Sure, when you are with your friends, it's fun to exchange barbs, but in life, insults are a pissing contest. It is our hierarchical desire to impose our will on other people and makes ourselves feel superior. This is not the road to good acting.
Indeed, in the game of drama, these sorts of tactics are used in the script; however, we, like actors, must separate ourselves from the character. At all times, an actor is a professional. He doesn't need to send dead fish to his castmates to make them think his character is crazy, that's not talent that's an asshole.
Giving actors take in all the information they have: the script, their life, the scene, the situation, the stress, the other actor, their character, everything. Then, they ask a simple question, "What does this scene need?" If you are focused on giving the scene what it needs, whether that is by finding your action or by using what you've learned from listening to the other actor, then you will always be alright.
Lastly, all of this can be taken out with the trash at any given moment. If your director needs you to go over and pick up a box of pizza, then you go over and pick up a box of pizza. No need to infuse anything more into the scene than that. Remember, acting is a collaborative effort. Always check your method at the door, even if that method is pragmatic. I want to work with people, not with robots following orders given to them by professors, teachers, or, worst of all, bloggers.
Acting is fun. It is a game. Like any game, the goal is to entertain ourselves and find the joy of life. Never forget that lesson when you are working. Don't take yourself too seriously. All it takes to poison the well while working is one jerk who believes they're doing something other than playing make-believe.
Mostly because no one cares, but that is beside the point. If you, however, falsely believe that the person sitting across from you wishes to hear your grievances, and you are not paying them $200/hr, then I regret to inform you that you are mistaken.
As kids, we learn to feign interest. As adults, we carry this lesson into our professional lives. Some people master the skill and become managers. Others, like myself, grow weary of listening to a group of actors bitch and moan about the process, the plot, or, more likely, the lines.
Still, the habit is a diabolical one. There is, perhaps, nothing more detrimental to one's health as complaining. At first, it starts as venting. Someone cuts us off on the highway, or a co-worker sends us an ill-toned email.
Then, it evolves into a series of unfortunate events that make up a tragedy. We cast ourselves in the role of Hamlet and play the victim. Suddenly, our broken shoelace becomes a slight from Richard of Gloucester and the insufferable Debra one of Macbeth’s witches.
Slowly, your dictates become diatribes, and most of your day is consumed with either fuming and feasting on frustration or spewing the noxious gas onto someone who will listen.
There is one unfortunate exception to the rule.
Complaining functions like a magnet. Do it at work, and you will be amazed at how many people, like cockroaches, descend to share the shit sandwich.
Like the aforementioned group Of actors, people will do anything to avoid work, and there is no better American pastime than complaining. Sit back and marvel at the wit of the clap back and the comedy of errors laid out for you about the boss. Notice how, in lurid detail, people can recall slight after slight, shortcoming after shortcoming, for days upon end. Yet, what goal has been accomplished?
Think again about how many countless internet rants there have been deconstructing the faults of Star Wars. How many endless tirades are the on Facebook, Reddit, and YouTube about “How It Should Have Ended” and “Everything Wrong With” about the galaxy far far away. And yet, how many of those people have written a screenplay, let alone build a world or produce a film?
See, complaining functions to serve our ego. We believe we are superior to most people; it’s not Machiavellian it’s mundane.
When we engage in swapping war stories and battle in the game of one-upmanship, we throw our hat into the ring of pity. How many hours have you worked? How big is your student debt? What driver cuts you off in the rain this morning?
By reliving the fantasy or sharing the experience, we long for validation. The closest thing that emulates this practice is masturbation. We look for the perfect idea to rail against, searching page after page, thought after thought, until we settle for some person and unload.
We cast ourselves in the tragedy of life, an Elizabethan player, fretting upon the stage, and, as the Bard notes, we are full of sound and fury signifying nothing.
Likewise, the medium of our time, social media, has created a haven for trolls and whiners alike, a sea of “I normally don’t do this,” and, “you know who you are.”
What Facebook and its myriad of Hydra-heads tapped into was man’s need for validation. “I exist,” is what every page secretly says. Yet, it also amplifies the signal of our worst impulses and feeds off of our anger and lust for vitriol.
Most men are not Tolstoy. We don’t write of texts full of meaning, driven by annals well-plotted, character-driven drama. Most of us, this author included (yes, I see the irony of this article as being a complaint about complaining), write dribble, hence why ever insta-model only quotes the same six authors next to a photo or the well-shaped ass.
And so, we turn to what we know, the thorn in our side.
It may feel as though you are working through your stand-up routine, that you are a wit churning out zinger after zinger, but you are not. People love to salivate over gossip and ridicule those they despise. But take a step back for a moment and see that the knife you hold cuts both ways.
The great sages of the past learned this counsel that to hurt another is to hurt ones-self. We may exact our revenge, but it always comes at a cost.
So the next time you wish to decompress by lambasting someone or screaming at the heavens that life is unjust, ask yourself, “Is this useful?” We have all this pent up energy, all this sound, and fury, building to a crescendo, and we waste it on cheap shots at imaginary figures. Instead, how do we funnel that rage, how do we direct that raging wind towards something, anything, more creative?
What’s in a martini? That which we call a cocktail by any other name would taste as sweet? Okay, so for you Shakespeare nerds, it doesn’t scan, and for you mixologists, I added a dash of Maraschino--bite me. The question is, what is a martini and why, like Shakespeare (you might as well get used to it because I’m carrying this metaphor all the way through this essay), has it stood the test of time?
Somethings are iconic and will live longer than you or I, and certainly longer than this article will trend. Fads come and go, and mixologists continue to play with Absinthes rinses and flaming walnuts to create the perfect amount of smoke to add something to a cocktail; however, when it is all said and done there are tried and true mixes that never go out of fashion.
There has been as much written about the proper Martini as there has been about who actually wrote Macbeth. The likes of Dorothy Parker and George Burns famously quipped about the drink far better than I and Pappa Hemingway himself once quipped, “I had never tasted anything so cool and clean… They made me feel civilized.”
While there is a myriad of recipes out there to concoct this libation, let us set a few things straight. First, for this article, let it be known we are talking about a Martini, a real Martini, and not a Kangaroo Cocktail (see vodka). Furthermore, just because your local bartender at Chili’s pours it into a chilled martini glass does not make that fruity concoction a proper cocktail. Second, while a dry martini can undoubtedly have as little or as much vermouth as you wish, let it be known that a “Dry Martini” is not, as Winston Churchill so eloquently put it, a glass of cold gin and a nod to the French. A cocktail is just that, a cocktail. A blend of ingredients to heighten the drinking experience. If you wish to sip on a shot of gin be my guest, but don’t order a martini, and if you dislike the taste of vermouth, odds are it is because you are drinking rancid vermouth that his been sitting on a bar shelf or in a fridge for more than a year. A martini is a drink that is one-hundred percent about the interplay between gin and vermouth. The two ingredients play off one another, the botanicals in the two spirits work to create something unique.
Lastly, throw out everything just written, because at the end of the day, order the drink you want, and never quote another man about what you should drink.
And yet, odds are if you are reading this article, and likely imbibing while you do, you are here because of one man, well, two actually--technically you could add eight more bringing the total to ten, but now we’re just getting in the weeds. James Bond did to the Martini what Miles Davis did to jazz. No man has even had a more monumental impact on a drink than 007, or rather, Ian Flemming. Yet, let it be noted here that the infamous, “Shaken, not stirred,” line was a creation of the films, hence the technically eight men aforementioned, as the Bond of the novel was a bourbon man. Still, ever since Sean Connery uttered those words in his Scottish-brogue, he launched an industry of drinkers who, like Hemingway, feel dapper and civilized.
There is no shame in taking a social cue for your drink order. God knows most Americans do. We fall in line for the Old Fashioned or the Caucasian each time a hit rolls out. Like Broadway churning out Hollywood musicals and remaking cult classics, drinks take a bit of marketing to find their niche. But long before Bond, the Martini was a staple of the cocktail hour.
Legend has it that the drink was created in Martinez, California, when a miner stopped in and ordered champagne, but the bartender did not have it. So, he concocted something with what he had and created a classic. While this could be a misnomer in the same way that Bob Kane invented Batman, the credit is given to “Professor” Jerry Thomas, the man who literally wrote the book on Bar-Tending, for first coining the recipe. With Old Tom’s gin, sweet vermouth, cherry liqueur, and orange bitters (a method that still holds up today and is dangerously close to Bond’s Vesper), the Marinez was born.
Multiple recipes exist before Thomas’s book and the story that goes with it, and the fact of the matter is that various recipes using gin, Old Tom, and Genever all existed around 1870. But when the legend becomes fact, print the legend.
Despite the quarrel over what marked the first Martini, the drink evolved overtime. It began as a dry martini, meaning using the London Dry style of gin over Genever or Old Tom, and was, probably, a 50/50 ratio of vermouth to gin. Then, over time, as the tastes changed, it moved more to a 2:1 ratio, which remains the standard today, although in most bars, if you want a “standard” Martini, you have to ask for a wet martini.
Personally, I love a 2:1 ratio with a dash or two of orange bitters and an absinthe rinse and lemon twist. I will throw in a bar spoon of Maraschino if I want something a tad sweeter, or go with a Vesper (I’ll use Cocci if I have it or add bitters to Lillet).
The process of crafting a cocktail is similar to the distillation process of wine. The poetry of the bottle comes out in the glass. The only difference is that to make a spirit shine, it takes another bard to speak the verse.
A martini is not about getting drunk, although it will certainly get you there. It is not about throwing back three-martini lunches or celebrating the final shot of the day--but it can be. Martinis, like all great things, are about slow enjoyment; they’re about time; they’re about mindfulness. Benjamin Franklin may have said that beer proved God loved us, but H.L Menken said, “Martinis are the only American invention as perfect as a sonnet.”
Brock D. Vickers
This is the beginning of a new part of life: a habit: an idea: a routine to dig at what makes a man great.