New England Actors Network
The Steve Blackwood Sessions
Book review by Karl Steudel
Nov 4, 2013
Steve Blackwood, long-time and successful actor has moved to New England,
and has began offering acting classes in many of our local venues.
I have taken the time to review his new book, “The Steve Blackwood Sessions.”
First I noticed, this is a small book,
but it was so good, that I read it twice.
Steve's book is short,
so at first I was thinking, maybe there is not a lot inside.
But I was pleasantly proven wrong.
This book has concise, info-filled writing
that is rich and thought-provoking. You too, may find yourself reading it twice.
Steve has not wasted one second of your valuable reading time.
His balance of practical information with emotional depth is very satisfying.
Steve comes to many of the came conclusions that I have worked very hard to learn
after many years of acting, and working with some top coaches out in LA.
But with Steve, the acting concepts are revealed in the context of his incredible experiences. Namely his studies with Uta Hagen, and working on a Soap for 10 years!
Somehow, as you read, it feels like Steve is in the room with you,
sharing some useful information with his entertaining style.
His chapter with transcripts from his actual classes are quite good also.
In other books, I usually don't find 'class examples' to be helpful at all.
But somehow, with Steve's class examples, I found myself following the student he is coaching, as if I were sitting right there in class, watching the performance,
and benefiting from the feedback.
Thumbs up, worth getting.
My Review of John Sudol's
“Nail That Reaction Shot” Free Seminar and “Master The Reaction Shot” Class.
- Karl Steudel
I attended John Sudol's Free seminar, “Nail That Reaction Shot”,
and later enrolled in John's Class, “Master That reaction Shot”, parts 1 and 2,
and highly recommend it to any actor.
Being a skeptic, I thought at first that this class might be yet another angle,
to separate us actors from our money. So, being clever, I decided first, to take a free one-on-one meeting with John, and therefore had nothing to lose. John, as I soon found out, was not the heavy marketeer, as I often see from some other coaches in town, nor was his office filled with posters of glamorous testimonials such as I have seen in other offices.
Nope, John and I sat down at his modest desk, and John, with his coffee in hand,
simply explained to me what his class was all about.
We even talked a bit about where I was in my training and career.
Here is the promo desription for john's free seminar:
Are you challenged with:
•Coming up with a specific reaction or emotional reveal on demand?
•Translating directions into specific reactions or emotional reveals?
•Making reactions larger or smaller?
•Having your face unwittingly show every thought that comes into your mind?
•Thinking that you're showing thoughts or emotions when you're really not... or vice versa?
Then you'll want to attend this free seminar!
FREE INTRODUCTORY SUMMINAR
Just from John's free seminar I returned with 7 pages of notes. John started off by telling us that there are three myths in acting which we actors are told regularly, which are in fact completely false.
Myth Number One, “It's all in the eyes.“
Myth Number Two, “Film acting is a matter of making stage acting smaller.”
Myth Number Three, “If I feel it inside, it will be revealed on my face appropriately.“
John debunks myth number 1 “Its all in the eyes”.
“Well,” John explained, “your eyes just move around and dilate or undilate. They are not a conduit to the heart. For a more scientific view, Scientific study has revealed that There are seven universal facial emotions that are recognizable around the world. The face muscles have 140,000 different motions. “
John debunks myth number 2 “Film acting is a matter of making stage acting smaller.”
No. You really can just act as is appropriate to the room or space you are in. Acting forcibly smaller or bigger comes off as such. Sometimes, for example, in a studio space, we might just yell in a small space and whisper in a large one.
John debunks myth number 3,“If I feel it inside it will be revealed on my face appropriately.“
The breakdowns often look for actors who “must be good with facial reactions.”
Some people, indeed, are born more able to show expression than others, but with study, the playing field can be leveled. As as Casting Director for 8 plus years, John began to see the same people booking over and over again, and found they had four things in common with their reactions.
1) The reactions were recognizable.
2) The reactions were appropriate.
3) The actor gave only one reaction at a time.
4) The reactions performances were repeatable.
In summary the casting directors and producers are looking for your single, recognizable, appropriate, repeatable reaction. John's class trains us to be able to do just that.
John's advice on Headshots
Most people have a smiley shot, but there are four things that draw us to a headshot.
1) symmetry of the face, attractiveness.But there are many pretty people in acting.
and not all of them get booked.
2) disproportionate parts, big ears for example, can draw our attention.
3) familiarity, looks like somebody we know.
Here's an exercise John gave us in the free seminar, that you can try at home right now.
1) Jut your jaw out until you feel a negative emotion .
2) Then clamp down gritting your teeth.
3) Bring your eyebrows down.
What is your resulting feeling? It should be anger. If so, we have just proven that emotions can indeed result from their phsysical expression and not just the reverse.
If there is a distortion between what we feel and what we reveal, then it is hard to land the job.
Another Fun Exercise from the free seminar
During the free seminar, all the actors were handed out cards with an expression written on them.
(for example, the card might say “sad but coming to terms”, or “guilty that we hurt someone”,etc.)
We each performed our expressions from the card both on camera and in front of the class, without others knowing what was written on the card. Then the others in the class then reported what emotions they saw in our performance Interestingly, only about half of our expressions were interpreted correctly by the other members of the class.
I learned that indeed, my expression did not come off as strong as I desired.
Introverts and extroverts
John asked us, “Are you an introvert or an extrovert?” For introverts, John tells us, their face maybe very still, but they may actually be feeling things more intensely. Extroverts, on the other hand, often will have big expressions, but are frequently not fully feeling. For most actors, what is on their face, to them, feels appropriate, but it does not always convey accurately to the viewer.
I liken this training that John offers, to my recent experience with speech therapy. My agent suggested that I needed to improve my syllabic “s”. So I did as the speech therapist, asked, I moved my tongue and teeth in different positions than usual, and was soon producing a “new and correct” “s”. But this new “S” sounded more to me like an “sch”. But my speech therapist and those around me insisted that my new “s” sounded to them more sharp, more clear, and natural! Sure enough, over time I became accustomed to pronouncing the “s” correctly and began to also hear it as the “correct” “s”.
In John's class, I felt the same way working with facial expressions. But there was one difference. As i began to use my face more, it felt like I had expanded emotional expression tool box. Just as in the past I had improved my vocabulary in language, my range of pitch in singing, and agility on playing the piano. I could now convey with accuracy and confidence, and natural physicality to others what i was feeling and thinking inside. Over the span of the class, it came more easily, and naturally. I can now use my expressions more readily than words, and it does not feel contrived.
Three teasers of what we learned in John's Level 1 Class
Raise your eyebrows up... this should feel and indicate that you're questioning.
Now lower your eyebrows down. This may indicate that you don't know the answer or you're thinking about it. Just raising your brows alone can indicate disbelief or perplexed or thinking or that you're making a decision. With other actions in your face that combine or follow, you can make these distinctions more clear.
Here is another free tip. When drinking from an empty cup try raising your eyebrows as if questioning. Then, whatever your reaction to the liquid that follows after you drink, becomes a distinct, sequential reaction.
When experiencing fear, you hold your eyes open. When experiencing surprise, your eyes are open in the same manner but for a shorter period of time. Try them both out.
John also talks a great deal about managing these emotions which adds another complex layer to our expression and experience of these feelings. We recieved a very detailed handout explaining the nature of 7 basic emotions and their combination, Based on the research of Dr. Paul Ekman.
I still refer to these pages, and practice what I read.
For example, you are angry, but it is your boss in front of you. You might just bite your lip.
As I worked through the class incorporating some of these muscles it often felt like over acting but later when I watched them on the video my expressions became more clear, believable, repeatable and easier to interpret. John tells us that every expression is a combination of seven emotions.
When I compared the first video where my face seemed inexpressive and unclear with the later videos
from class, I knew I had learned a great deal.
In conclusion, John jumped around topics in class but everything he said was pertinent. If I could ask for one thing from him it would be a systematic way to practice these exercises more routinely. Alas, John's class, new book and accompanying DVD are coming out soon and he tells me they are filled with structured exercises.
All seminars, workshops and classes are held at:
The John Sudol Acting Studio
11650 Riverside Drive
North Hollywood, California 91602
sign up for the free Seminar
October 24th, 2013, Wellesley, MA
at this link...
Actors Connection, New York
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