Category Archives: Acting

The Extra

 

Sitting across from 157B, waiting for my shot.

Sounds fabulous. Sounds glamorous.

Haven’t been in a film since N.Y.,

Close to thirty years ago.

Last Exit to Brooklyn, or was it the one

That I dragged my brother to?

 

He thought it would be cool.

So I took him along.

We spent twelve hours in a smoky bar,

Atmosphere created by six fog machines,

Filling the space and making it hard to breathe.

Drinking colored water,

And waiting until,

The shot was ready,

And the lights were turned on,

And the cameras rolled,

And the stars walked by,

And that was it.

 

Then the crew and the extras spent another three hours

Getting background shots

As the stars were in their trailers

Doing whatever stars did in their trailers

And my brother and I

Sat and waited and talked.

 

We hadn’t been close for a few years.

We grew apart as brothers often do.

I don’t know why he wanted to do this.

It was my tenth extra gig.

I was used to the boredom,

The waiting for those few moments of excitement.

 

Maybe he wanted just to hang out with his younger brother.

Maybe he had something to tell me.

If he did, I don’t remember.

I remember he was sick by the end of the shot.

Sick of the fake smoke.

Sick of the fake drinks.

Sick of the deadly repetition

And the deadly silence in between.

We ran out of things to say after the third hour.

The shoot lasted twelve.

 

The director approached me,

Bringing me back to the present.

She asked me if I smoked.

I told her, if she needed me to smoke, I’ll smoke.

I hadn’t touched a cigarette in over twenty years.

Gave it up before my daughter was born.

She said if I didn’t mind.

I said I didn’t.

 

So I stood with my back turned to the camera,

With a cigarette in my hand,

Waiting for “Action”,

Taking a puff

And walking away from the camera

And out of the frame.

 

We filmed it again and again, and again.

Waiting for “Action”

The cigarette in my hand.

I took a puff between shots to keep it lit.

And then it was gone.

I asked for another.

 

After the third cigarette

They gave me a lighter

So I could put the cig out between takes.

 

After the sixth cigarette,

They gave me a pack

So I didn’t have to ask again.

 

I thought of my brother.

I thought of my daughter.

I thought of my own life

A bit actor in my own story.

 

And then the director called “Action”

And I took a drag,

And walked away from the camera.

And out of the shot.

 

Ten seconds later,

I was once again standing where

I was standing a moment before,

Having done nothing

Accomplished nothing

Again standing where I began.

 

I lit another cigarette

And took another long drag.

And stood on my mark

Because that is where I needed to be.

Again with a cigarette in my hand,

Waiting for action.

 

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Monday Night Music and Poetry

monday night poetry 072015

Monday Night Music and Poetry

at East Bay Meeting House in Charleston, S.C.

Open mic night for authors to read their work,

And musicians to play their stuff.

Read some poetry from I AM Vincent,

 

First Poem in the book

 

Hope

He said, “A shred of hope.”

“No, no,” she said. “A thread.

As long as there’s a thread of hope,

Then love is never dead.”

 

Available at https://www.createspace.com/5400863

Visit me at my website at  http://www.afwinter.com


“The instant you speak about a thing you miss the mark.” Anonymous

Shut-up.  It is not necessary to talk as much as we do.  It is not necessary to explain your actions.  Why explain yourself?  It is almost as if the only way most of us can substantiate our lives is if we talk ourselves into existence.  Our actions truly speak louder than our words.  If someone doesn’t understand you through your behavior, he won’t understand you by your words.

 

This says something very important to us about our acting.  If we have to explain our character to someone before that person understands him, then we are not doing a good job.  Your character’s actions should speak for themselves.  If you are off track you should know it by your explanations.

 

I have also found that whenever I talk about a project in the midst of the project, it dissipates.  It is never as strong as if I had just presented the finished product.

 

Let me give you an example.  You tell someone a wonderful idea.  She will tell you all the reasons why it won’t, can’t, shouldn’t happen.  You start to doubt yourself and soon you believe that it probably wasn’t that great an idea to begin with.

 

I say all ideas are equally good but they can become brilliant when accomplished.

 

No one sees life like you do.  To give them an idea which has not been fully thought through is courting disaster.  It is much easier to criticize than to applaud and most people will take the easiest path.  Give the person a complete performance and then go on your way without explanations.  Let them decide by and for themselves if it was meaningful.


Finding the Truth

“If you cannot find the truth right where you are,

where else do you expect to find it?”  Dogen

 

A similar Zen expression goes “The only Zen you will find at the mountaintop is the Zen you bring there.” Zen and acting are both an exploration of self.  You do not have to look beyond the skin you inhabit to find everything you are looking for.  Understanding comes from within you and so you must be the subject of every character investigation.

 

Every character, no matter how different from yourself, is easy to find. Just hold a mirror up to yourself.

 

Imaging – Write down a character description for three very different characters.  Commit these descriptions to memory.  Stand in front of a mirror and stare into your own eyes.  Start to describe the first character.  Try to see in your own eyes the essence of that character.  Look only at your eyes.  Describe the character out loud in the first person, using phrases like, “I am an alcoholic.”  Try to see him in your eyes.  Keep repeating the description until you feel that person.  Say another description.  Widen your vision to include your whole face.  See that character in your face and then your body.  When you feel one with the first character, close your eyes and let that character go.  When you open your eyes again, see yourself.  If you feel up for it, move on to the second character and then the third.

 

After completing this exercise, you will see that any character can be created by looking within.  That is where you should begin every characterization.


The Plain Truth

“If you want to get the plain truth,

Be not concerned with right and wrong.

The conflict between right and wrong

Is the sickness of the mind.”  The Hsin-hsin Ming

 

Don’t make value judgments in relation to the characters you portray.  Every character is just a person.  Do not attach good and evil.  That way of thinking can only lead you astray in your characterizations.  Your character is just a person with a strong agenda and tries to pursue what he feels is right in the best way possible.  We have to try to understand the character.  We have to fall in love with the character.  But the love must be a clear headed love.  We must understand him for his strengths and weaknesses.  Once we understand him, we can attempt to step into his shoes.

 

I always use the example of having to portray George Washington.  Would you just try to imitate the famous painting “Crossing the Potomac?”  How could you? He was a real person like you or me and had many flaws.  George Washington was not always the father of our country.  He had a childhood that influenced him greatly.  He probably had disagreements about petty things with friends and relatives.  Unbelievably, he ate, drank, slept, went to the bathroom, and fornicated pretty much the same way we do those things.  To realistically portray him, we have to study the good and the bad and root him in ourselves.  Anything less would result in a caricature.

 

The point of this is, do not make value judgments.  Make an honest in-depth exploration of your character.  Good and evil change with each passing day.


The more you know, the less you understand.

“The more you know, the less you understand.” Tao Te Ching

 We live our lives as experts.  We know why this person does this or that.  We surround ourselves with things that make us comfortable and look at life from our fortresses.  The walls we have constructed are impervious.  They let neither good or bad in. It is living with a safety net and it is boring.  Acting with a safety net is deadly.

 Let me be totally frank for a moment.  We do not know anything.  We cannot be sure of what will happen one hour from now.  How can we be totally sure about what will happen one second from now?  Why act like we do?

 You may ask, “Hey, Dumbo, doesn’t writing a book make you an expert?”  All I can say is “Mu.”  The book shows a point in my development, in your development.  Is this the be all and end all, of course not!  Can it help you down the correct path? Of course maybe.  That is up to you.

 Getting back to the saying at the top of the page,  do not live life as an expert.  Do not think you know the answers.  Explore the possibilities.  Nothing is ever exactly the same as before.  Every experience is a new experience that may reveal truly miraculous events to you.

There is a poem by Ekai:

 “In spring, hundreds of flowers; in autumn, a harvest moon;

In summer, a refreshing breeze; in winter, snow will accompany you.

If useless things do not hang in your mind,

Any season is a good season for you.”

 Any season is a good season.  Any experience is a good experience, if we view it as such.  See the joy.  See the good.  Anticipate each moment of your life.  Live life as a child, open to the possibilities, and you will find peace wherever you go.

 In acting, keep your mind open to the possibilities.  Experts shut off all possibilities but one because in their way of thinking there can only be one right answer.  There are no “perfect” answers in the theatre or else we would have been done with Hamlet a long time ago.  Somebody must have gotten it “right” by now.  The fact is that many people did get it right, for them, for their moment in time.  But you are not them and that moment is gone.  Life has gone on.  And their truth is not our truth. 

 You might never find your truth but you need to keep searching.  Experts don’t search because they know the answers.

 


Riding the Ox Home 30

To my readers,

Thank you to all my readers.  I have just started posting Chapter 4 of 10 chapters from my book, Riding the Ox Home, A Zen Approach to Acting.

I believe that art reflects life and life reflects art. And philosophy can enhance both.  Eastern Philosophy has always been of interest to me as well as the arts.  This book combines the two.

The book is available in the Kindle format.

It is available at http://www.amazon.com/dp/B00DHX5F3Y

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

If you want the book in book form,

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

http://www.amazon.com/dp/1463714912

Once again, I want to thank all of you for following this blog.

I’d love to hear your ideas and comments.

Thanks.

A.F. Winter