Monthly Archives: June 2013

I Take Blindness as Vision

“I take blindness as vision, deafness as hearing;

I take danger as safety and prosperity as misfortune.”  Anonymous


Life is something unsure.  It is a constantly changing kaleidoscope.  We try to shield ourselves from life’s heartaches and therefore set up walls and barriers to many of life’s opportunities.  We insulate ourselves from life and stop ourselves from living.  From behind our castle walls we neither hate nor love, we only fear. This is not how life was meant to be lived.


So I take what is given me and I appreciate it.  The bad makes the good so much better.  The good makes the bad so much worse.  My handicaps show the way to enlightenment.  My successes point to my fear of failure.


If I accept everything as a part of the magnificence adventure of life, nothing can hurt me.  I accept all.  If I let go of my fear of death, than nothing can hurt me.


How does all this relate to acting?  See all your handicaps as something positive.  They are there to show you what needs to be accomplished.  Never be disheartened by your shortcomings.  They must be recognized and explored.  If you have a strong regional accent,  then you should work on your voice so that you can speak, when necessary, in a standard American accent.  If you are lazy and overweight, you need to start exercising. If you have no technique, then go and take classes.  See how easy that was.  Now instead of being a fat lazy bum with a strong regional accent and no technique, you are an amazingly motivated person who can speak several dialects, has a great body, and remarkable technique.  And all this becomes possible because you once were very far from it.


It also should make you think about the times when you do have everything.  Life is constantly changing so when you are on top, you are not very far from the falling.  This should give you the motivation to keep on working on all those aspects.  When you become flippant, lazy, or sidetracked, you will land in the gutter.  Of course that will give you the opportunity to start all over again.

Your Practice

“It is when your practice is rather greedy that you become discouraged with it.  So you should be grateful that you have a sign or warning signal to show you the weak point in your practice.”  Shunryu Suzuki


In a rehearsal you come across many stumbling blocks.  They point to deficiencies in your interpretation and abilities.  Most likely they will discourage you.  They make you incapable of seeing anything except your own faults.  They defeat you.


Why is this so?  None of us are perfect.  We are working with an imperfect medium, our bodies, voices, and minds.  There will always be something less than perfect about our interpretation.  This is a fact of life.  It is a given.  Why should it dishearten you?


I wrote the preceding paragraph in jest.  I do not believe that we are imperfect or full of deficiencies.  We are all wonderful exactly where we are.  I do not believe, however, that we should not try to change.  We change by using the knowledge of our “deficiencies” to improve.


Say, for example, we cannot handle the verse in a play by Shakespeare.  We should study how to scan the text.  We should work on our vocal dexterity so that we can say the words “trippingly on the tongue.”  It is important we learn everything we possibly can about how to handle the verse.  We have an obligation, not only to ourselves but to our audience.


In our own lives, look at today as the beginning.  The commercial says, “Where do you want to go today?” Where do you want to go today?  Take that first step.  Know that you have a long way to go, but you must start and not get discouraged when change happens slowly or not at all.  We all hit plateaus in the quest for success or enlightenment.  That is a natural part of the process.  Believe in yourself, follow your heart, and view life’s detours as opportunities.


In the theatre, every role has it’s difficulties.  But we should look at every difficulty as a unique challenge.  And isn’t a challenge what acting is all about?

Riding the Ox Home 29

To my readers,

Exciting News!

I just adapted this book for the Kindle.

It is available at

It is the first time I did this so if you buy it, please let me know how it is.

I believe it is also available to borrow.  Go to the web-page for details.

Once again, I want to thank all of you who have been following this blog.

If you want the book in book form,

Riding the Ox Home, a Zen approach to Acting. is available at:

I’d love to hear your ideas and comments.


A.F. Winter

Riding the Ox Home 28

To my readers,

There has been a lot of interest in this book.  Just wanted to let you all know I appreciate every book sale.  It makes me feel very blessed that people are interested in both the theatre and Eastern philosophy.  It is incredible how much we can learn when our minds are open.

If you have bought my book I would be interested in starting a dialogue with you and find out your ideas about how to improve things for my next book.

And of course, I want to thank all of you who have been following this blog.

My book, Riding the Ox Home, a Zen approach to Acting. 

It is available at:

I’d love to hear your ideas and comments.


A.F. Winter

When the question is common…..

“When the question is common, the answer is also common.”  Mumon


Ask someone “How are you?”  He will probably answer, “O.K., and yourself?”  Ask the same person, “If you could make love to anyone in the world right now, who would it be and why?”  You would probably get a more animated answer.


An acting teacher of mine always frequently said the same thing after a boring scene.  He said, “You have not asked interesting questions of your character.”  As an actor you must ask yourself questions about your character.  Yes, you should probably start with Uta Hagen’s 10 character questions (from Respect for Acting) but then you must go further.  You must go much, much further.  I am sure Ms. Hagen would have agreed with me.  The ten questions are a start to get us used to asking ourselves these questions.


Say my character is a gas station attendant. I might only have one line to say in the play, but my character’s life is the most important life to him.  A list of questions off the top of my head right now could consist of the following.  How did I get this job?  Is this what I really want to do?  How many other jobs did I have before this one?  What was the high point of my life?  What was the low point?  What is my favorite color?  When is the last time I had sex?  Was it any good?  What was the last meal I had?  Was it any good?


I would answer these questions and see how they influence my line reading.  Then I would ask more questions.  Everyday I would ask myself other questions and explore the possibilities.  If you ask tougher questions, you will find out more about your character.


One day after rehearsal, get some cast members to play a game of Truth.  Sit around in a circle and ask probing tough questions of each other’s character.  Answer quickly with a story from your character’s life.  All these answers are fantasy because the questions are not from the given circumstances of the play.  Whatever you create, you must believe in. Have you ever killed anything?  What will you miss most about life when you are dying?  What will you never forgive your father for?  Remember you must answer quickly and with a story from your character’s past. Questions like this will show you so much about your character.  It will also tie you to the character because your answers will have something to do with your own life.  Creating these pseudo fictionalized facts will join you to your character.

Riding the Ox Home 26

To my readers,

I want to thank all of you who have been following this blog.

I believe several of you have bought my book,

Riding the Ox Home, a Zen approach to Acting. 

It is available at:

I’d love to hear your ideas and comments.


A.F. Winter

Words Fail

“Words Fail.” Anonymous.


Words are never enough.  That is why theatre is not creative writing.  Theatre is not drama.  Drama is the written word, the literature.  Theatre is the art form that requires actors, an audience, and sometimes sets, lighting, sound, properties, and costumes.  Once we start taking the plays out of the theatre we start to run into problems.  An English professor will approach Shakespeare differently than an actor.  Don’t let yourself be dragged down that path because the professor will make you intellectualize it.  That is the quickest way to make Shakespeare boring.  Theatre has to attack you viscerally.  It should take you on a roller-coaster ride of emotions.  Don’t believe me?  Have that same professor describe a roller-coaster.  Tell me if that sounds exciting.


Theatre needs a strong visual element.  It needs action.  The audience needs to see a real person trying to achieve a real something.  Theatre can never be a narrative.  It can never be a retelling of a story.  Every moment on stage must be created then and there.  The actor must show the audience a heightened real life.  And he must do this through action.  We have so many expressions that say the same thing.  “Pictures speak louder than words.”  “A picture says a thousand words.”  “Don’t tell me! Show me!” We all would agree with this but on stage we tend to rely too heavily on the words.


So let us rely on action for a moment.  Try to tell a story using just action.  Use no words or sounds.  Do not mime the story.  Think of this exercise as a silent movie.  You must tell the story physically.  Once you get good at story telling, try nuance telling.  In other words, try to express more than a basic plot line but how you feel about the story.  How does the story affect you?  Run through this exercise  several times and try to fill each moment with a physical action that communicates something. As a final test, have someone take several photographs of you, at no predetermined time.  See if the snap shot communicates what you were trying to express during that moment.  It is better if the photos taken were of the low or “boring” moments of the scene and not the climax.  Of course we will show something during the high moments in the scene, but what about when you are just sitting around?


Try taking this exercise into your scene work.  I have found that this is a good way of being in the moment.  You cannot show something about your character at every moment if you don’t understand every moment.

Lighting Flashes

Lighting flashes,

Sparks shower.

In one blink of your eyes

You have missed seeing.



You must always be observant and store what we have learned during the day for future use.


Hemingway, in his Nick Adams Stories, tells of a young man who was at the front during World War I.  The only way he found to keep sane and get to sleep was to recall his entire day.  He would start from what happened directly before he lied down and work his way back moment by moment until the time he woke up.  He would remember events as fully as he possibly could.  Then he would remember specific days in his past also as fully as possible.  He did not want to forget even a second of his past in the midst of war.


I have tried this exercise often in my life.  It is very difficult to achieve a full recollection at first.  After a few weeks, you will train your subconscious to remember everything that happens to you.  Events burn in your memory as they happen.  This also trains you to pay attention to the events in your life.  I still can recall very explicitly ordinary events in my life from many years ago because of this.


Remember, the events that you experience today will help you in the development of a character later in your career.