The BGB Blog

Industry News and Insights from Risa Bramon Garcia & Steve Braun


Storytelling Your Way To The Callback

Posted by Steve Braun on July 18, 2014  /   Posted in All Categories

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The practice of actors communicating with a live audience is the core of our art and the essence of our human connection. It is the campfire, the tribal sharing, the ancient ritual of storytelling, live, immediate, for that moment and then forever gone. There is nothing quite like it, and for those of us whose roots are in the theater, it’s the origin of our creative expression. It’s our touchstone. Likely somewhere along the way we were also smitten by film, seduced with another kind of voodoo. We disappeared into the enchantment of the screen and felt its magic. But the initial spark of the human connection happened on stage with a live audience, telling both an intimate and universal story. It was, and is, our lifeline. It’s sometimes ritualistic, sometimes church, (as Denzel would profess), always communal.

“It has been said that next to hunger and thirst, our most basic human need is for storytelling.” —Khalil Gibran

Joseph Campbell talked about original rituals—in conjunction with myths—satisfying pleasure, power, and duty. These myths become collective storytelling, taking on a life beyond their original rites. Then they became entertainment for their own sake, needing storytellers and performers. These stories live in us today just as they always did. So if we can find the power of the personal myth in each of us, in each of our stories, we can affect each other profoundly.

Once a myth “catches you, you develop such a longing for one or another of these traditions of information of a deep, rich, life-vivifying sort, that you won’t want to give it up.” —Joseph Campbell to Bill Moyers

What we have been experiencing at BGB is this kind of immediate, intimate storytelling, acting that takes your breath away. Each individual sharing a story through personal and connected narratives. Some of the best “theater” we’ve witnessed has happened in these rooms. Just recently, we were blown away by a succession of provocative live encounters in class. Actor after actor threw themselves into deep, personal stories. It was what we have always loved about theater. It was both private and communal. It was our myth-sharing, our collective storytelling. It was our campfire.

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The audition room can be your campfire. You’re not there to show anything or to perform in a heightened theatrical way. (We don’t know the difference, frankly, between a stage and screen performance other than volume and the understanding that you might have to reach a little further.) You’re there to have a shared, live, even divine experience with us. No matter what kind of spectators you think we are, we are your audience; we are a part of what you do.

Even in a casting room, you are ordained to be the storyteller. You’re there to take us on a mythological journey. To engage with us in that ephemeral moment in time when, like on any stage, in any ritual, or campfire ceremony, the lights go down (they may not actually go down in most casting rooms), everyone looks with wonder and anticipation, and you transport us into your story. A story we may have written, are directing, producing, or casting.

zZCFaPRhzhDPAZq0Wy60vbsNeWzrJqKYScqs9eSu1xkAnd still, for those few minutes, we are sitting around your campfire and you are telling us your story—your interpretation of the myth. You are chosen to help us “suspend our disbelief.” We await with excitement. For no matter what we know, you have the power to move us, to carry us to any place you choose. Then together we experience that enigmatic moment; it’s alive and then gone. We’ve shared something intimate together, storyteller and audience. We’ve done it just as it’s been done for thousands of years. In a gathering in the woods, in an amphitheater, in a pub, in a black box, in a classroom, in an audition room.

So for your few minutes living in the world of that play, why not make it about immersing yourself and us, your audience, in the most sublime storytelling possible? Why not light the campfire and draw us in? Why not give it everything you’ve got? How else can you affect your audience? How else can you stay in our minds and in our hearts? How else can you secure your way to the callback?

 

Nominate The BGB Studio For The 2014 Backstage Readers’ Choice Awards!

Posted by BGB on June 25, 2014  /   Posted in All Categories

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Risa, Steve, and BGB!!!!!

All you have to do is click here: http://offers.backstage.com/readers-choice-2014

Voting is the next step! We would be honored if you could NOMINATE us in these categories so everyone can vote and we can WIN!

Thank you in advance for all your help!

FAVORITE AUDITION TECHNIQUE TEACHER: Risa Bramon Garcia, Steve Braun, The BGB Studio
FAVORITE ON-CAMERA TEACHER: Risa Bramon Garcia, & Steve Braun, The BGB Studio
FAVORITE ACTING SCHOOL/COACH: Risa Bramon Garcia & Steve Braun, The BGB Studio

9 Tips For Being Seen In Any Casting Room

Posted by Steve Braun on June 13, 2014  /   Posted in All Categories

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We want to see you. We crave it. Whether in the studio classroom or in the audition room, seeing you fully, intimately, is the true definition of showing up. For us as your audience, your teachers, your collaborators. We have to see where a scene or a role lives in you. We have to know you personally through the story you’re telling.

When you come into the casting room, when you walk on set or on stage, or when you get up to work in class, the moments of utter surrender, exposure, vulnerability, are the moments that define your talent. You can be the most gifted actor on the planet. But if you hide your heart, if you allow fear or anxiety to determine how you approach the work, you’ll be denying yourself the joy of connection, and certainly deny us the gift of your talent.

That is why we love Meryl Streep, Johnny Depp, Cate Blanchett, Joaquin Phoenix, and Benedict Cumberbatch. Even when they mask their vulnerability, we see deeply into their hearts.

That is why you do this thing, to affect each other and to affect your audience on an emotional level. That’s what brought you to this amazingly daring exploration. You were moved by a performance that changed your life. Or you were so deeply engaged in an acting experience that you felt something you’d never felt before. And now you must have it. All the time.

An actor from our studio (the BGB Studio) recently had a breakthrough moment. He joined us at a “network test” as a reader. He read on tape with a fairly well-known female actor, and as they went from scene to scene, finding the relationship and every nuance that came from playing together, he realized that they (we) were all just doing the work. The same work we do in class. To be fully engaged with another person, to make bold choices unique to you, to be spontaneous and free to discover the scene, moment to moment…Well that’s it, isn’t it? The actor got the part, and the reader’s work changed forever.

The actor who shows herself, the actor who allows himself to be seen, the actor who is willing to engage fully, is the actor who has the most rewarding experience. He is also the actor who is likely to book the job. Or at least affect a director, writer, or casting director so completely that he’ll be cast in the not-so-distant future.

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There are actors who just surrender to it. Who treat this as play, inhabiting their worlds with fervor. There are actors who throw themselves fully into a scene, be it with a scene partner or a reader. There are actors who make the work personal—not the “job,” but the work itself, finding the essence of the writing, the character in themselves. There are actors who live in a scene with all their heart and allow that experience—even if it’s only two and a half minutes in a casting room—to be the enough to get them through the week.

Be that kind of actor. Stop worrying about pleasing anyone, impressing anyone, being chosen. Allow those butterflies in your stomach to drive you forward. To be, as Dame Judo Dench says, your battery. Be happy with the good work you do. Keep doing it. Keep digging deeper, bolder, more vulnerably, with abandon.

We have seen the most glorious work at the BGB Studio and in the audition room when actors allow this to happen. For us, as teachers, directors, casting folks, it’s our fuel, our oxygen. Throw us this creative lifeline. Let us find you, see you, know you. Let us fall in love with you. (And withhold a very small, secret piece for yourself.)

Be willing to be vulnerable. Put your heart out there over and over and over again. It’s likely going to hurt like hell. But the feeling you’ll start feeling when you fully embrace the work itself, when you share yourselves with us in the most intimate way, is euphoric…for you, and for us. And that high, that satisfaction, will become far more important than getting called back or “pinned” or even hired.

This intimate revelation is the work of consummate professionals. This is the work of artists.

So how can you make that happen? Here are some ways…See where this resonates for you.

1. Practice!  Malcolm Gladwell’s 10,000 hours. Acting requires a lifetime of practice. You really get good when you’ve been at it for a very long time. Don’t even think about a successful career. Apply yourself to the work as a lifelong student. Work out. In a play. In class. Wherever you can. Create a daily and weekly practice that will keep your actor muscles tuned and your artistry alive.

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2. Create! Be an artist every day. As in the Artist’s Way, find where your artistry lives outside of acting. The more you’re creatively thriving, the less any one audition or lack of auditions will define you.

3. Live! Make sure your life is rich and full outside of your career. A fulfilled, happy human being is more at ease, more present, more interesting in any casting room. When your focus is not entirely on your career, the narcissism that comes from such a strong self-focus is replaced by generosity and joy.

4. Breathe, meditate, move! Make sure you have a physical and spiritual practice daily. Your body and your soul are your instruments as an actor. You have to be tuned, grounded, connected to something bigger than yourself.  Something that gets you through the anxiety, desperation, and panic. Not to mention attends to your general health and wellbeing. Yoga, Pilates, meditation, Alexander Technique, Qi Gong, hiking, biking, spinning… Whatever you can commit do on a regular basis.  Not only does the waiting room become more manageable; you can also tap into a deep inner life when your practice is but a breath away.

5. Prepare! Don’t procrastinate, leaving your preparation for 10:30 p.m. the night before an audition. Find a way to open that email, read those sides, and dig in with enthusiasm. This isn’t 11th grade chemistry. Working on material should be exciting. We just read a group of seriously talented working actors for a couple of roles on “Masters of Sex” and were awestruck by the deep, specific, personal work they’d done before walking into the room. Like it or not, right now auditioning is part of your job. You have to find a way to make peace with it. You have to embrace it.

At BGB we address preparation in a way that makes it less perplexing and overwhelming. If you can find ways to personalize the material—even a four-line role on a procedural show—you’ll start to dig in with a huge appetite. This takes shifting your focus from the need for the job to the need in the scene. What you want from another person in any scene has to be more important than getting the casting director to like you.

6. Trust! Trust that once you walk into the room (or onto a stage or set), the work is done. It’s alive in you. Now your focus goes off of you and onto the reader. Now you must surrender to the moment and allow the scene to happen to you right there. This is where the good stuff happens, but you’ve got to trust that you’re ready, and let go of control.

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7. Play! Bring a childlike willingness to create, to explore, to make believe. Throw yourself with abandon into the world of the play. How exciting it is to take that leap. Like a dancer, athlete, child at the beach, your ability to spin in the air comes from letting your imagination and your open heart guide you.

8. Get Over Yourself! You sit in your bubble and second-guess your audition. Well stop that. You need to understand what goes into the casting process (which we explain in our article “15 Reasons Why We Cast You!”). Realize that you are one component in an exceedingly complicated scenario. Work in a casting or producer’s office. Find out how decisions are made. Even if you do a killer audition, you might not get the role. And that has nothing to do with you.

9. Believe! You are more important than any audition. Your unique voice is more important than what happens in any casting room. Your specific point of view, set of experiences, is unique in the universe, and universal simultaneously. Your artistry and your career will live on long after any one three-minute audition. And the more you believe this, the more you’ll be able to bring your unique voice onto any stage, set, or into the most indifferent room in this business.

 

BGB #actorsgivingback

Posted by Tessa BGB on June 12, 2014  /   Posted in All Categories

Another tremendous success on Tuesday at The St. Francis Center! We had 16 BGB actors join The St. Francis Center downtown in helping out organize and distribute food for low income families and individuals in the area.

It couldn’t have been done without the enormous hearts of Amelia Alvarez, Jerry Broome, Camille Chen, Jules Lambert (and her friends Lo and Stephanie), Michael Maize, Grasie Mercedes, Jaime Puckett, Deborah Puette (and her son Wyatt), Emily Reviczky, Laura Spencer, Lianna Taylor and W. Cameron Tucker!
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Join us in our next event with Heal the Bay’s Nothin’ But Sand on Saturday, June 21st from 10am to noon at Will Roger’s State Beach: 15800 Pacific Coast Hwy, at the end of Temescal Canyon Road, Pacific Palisades, CA 90272
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Email me at bgbcommunity@gmail.com to get involved!

BGB and Big Sunday!

Posted by Tessa BGB on June 05, 2014  /   Posted in All Categories

What a BLAST we had getting together with Big Sunday and Immaculate Conception Elementary School on Friday, May 16th! Seven BGBers went downtown to help beautify this 100-year-old school by de-weeding their garden, cleaning up around the campus, and painting plastic tubs to plant flowers in. The hardworking 3rd grade class joined us in the process and a few others on their recess. These students were so happy to have our support and we agreed it brought out the kid in all of us!

Again, it wouldn’t have been possible without the support of Mike Craig, Lauren Harrington, Danielle Kennedy, Steve Price, Charlie Roth and W. Cameron Tucker. Picture 3

4 Ways To Silence Audition Nerves

Posted by Steve Braun on May 21, 2014  /   Posted in All Categories

By: Steve Braun

Your heart pounds. You sit on a hard chair in a cramped closet of a packed waiting room. Twelve pages of thick dialogue swirl around inside your head. Each inhale sucks in the stew of nerves and fear simmering all around you. You’re up next. Your heart pounds faster. Sweat beads. As your moment approaches, your preparation, the dialogue, your own name, all begin to leak from your brain. The casting associate emerges—the executioner summoning you to the gallows. Your heart pounds faster. Sweat pours. She speaks your name. Like electrified taser teeth penetrating your skin, every molecule in your body tenses rock hard all at once. You push out a smile, say something you don’t mean, and walk into the room, leaving your heart and your head in the waiting room. You won’t book this job. You’ll forget your lines, and you won’t even notice the reader, let alone have a human experience with her. You won’t be called back in for the next one. Your talent was defeated by audition nerves.

While your nerves can seem like the enemy the Moriarty to your Holmes, using cunning and guile to sabotage any forward motion, the first step towards managing the nerves is to Sherlock and moriartyunderstand that they are the source of your power. Being nervous means both that you’re a human being with real feelings who is emotionally triggered by what’s going on around you, and that you are emotionally invested in what you’re doing. It means you’re sensitive and you care. And both are essential for an actor. So, it’s not about killing the nerves but, rather, managing them and using them to your advantage. Here are four ways to manage audition nerves:

1. Know and accept who you are. It requires patience and time, but if you have a full sense of who you are and accept yourself, the fear of someone telling you you’re not good enough doesn’t exist. So, if you’ve done the work of knowing yourself—all your strengths, all the things you’re working to change—no one has the power to dramatically affect your self-worth. The fear of that unknown criticism is minimized.

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What are you worried about when you sit in the waiting room? Typically, you fear the disconnection that comes with being told you’re not talented, not funny, not attractive enough, etc. If, on a fundamental level, you know and accept that you’re talented, someone telling you otherwise is like someone saying you’re wearing a red shirt when in fact you’re wearing a blue one. So, how can you know and accept yourself? Some people practice meditation, Qi Gong, yoga, therapy, etc., and taking a fierce inventory of what it is that makes them tick, celebrating the strengths, and working on the things they’d like to change. They write them all down, then actively celebrate the strengths, and work on the challenges. For some people, it’s about getting to know one’s self by going through a wide range of life experiences—discovering things about themselves by traveling, jumping out of a plane, or writing and shooting their own feature. Others derive self-esteem by performing esteem-able acts—consistent volunteer work, or doing something selfless everyday, thereby creating a positive self-identity. Whatever it is for you, look inside, explore the depths of your soul, work at changing what you’d like to change, and accept yourself. Your life and your acting career will benefit greatly.

2. Make choices that are more important than your nerves. If what you want from the reader is more important than your nerves, your fear, your desire to protect your heart, etc, the nerves will not get in your way. To the contrary, they’ll be a wonderful color in your audition. So, you’re auditioning for the role of a cop who’s interrogating a woman accused of killing her kid. In the scene, she’s denying it and you’re trying to get her to confess. You’re in the waiting room and you’re so nervous that you’re going to pee your pants. It’s not in the script, but you make the choice that the reader (the woman who killed her kid) has said that she wants to kill again. In fact, you decide that there’s a particular kid that she’s targeting. You make that kid specific. That kid is meaningful to you. So, fine, you’re really nervous, but you have a job to do. You desperately need a confession from the reader so that you can put her away and get her off the streets. Now your nerves are part of a deeper need. So whatever those choices are for you, make choices that are bigger than your nerves. It works!

3. Have a full, creative life. If the audition is the only meaningful event on your weekly calendar, you’ll probably start to obsess about it, think through every potential outcome, and allow the nerves to get out of hand. Hyper-focus allows your head to take over and causes you wallow in the fear of the possible negative outcome. If, however, you’ve got a play rehearsal Monday morning, a performance that night, you’re volunteering at a women’s shelter Tuesday morning, going to a writing session with a friend Tuesday afternoon, work Tuesday night, attend acting class Wednesday night, have the audition Thursday morning, and a student film shoot Thursday night, the audition will be part of your life, not the center of it. A full like keeps you in the practice of the work and distributes the pressure more equally.

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4. Apply Navy SEAL training. Sometimes the nerves are so big that you can’t even function. Some anxiety is clinical and needs to be treated. When the nerves are so huge that you can’t speak, the Navy SEALs offer some help that doesn’t involve a prescription. From SEAL training to the stresses of their work in the field, Seals employ Goal Setting (focus on what you’d like to do in the room), Mental Rehearsal (visualize what you’ll do so your mind feels like it’s already been there and done it, and might be more comfortable when it actually happens), Self-Talk (“I’m trained, I’ve done my work, I’m talented. I can do this.”), and Arousal Control (slow, deliberate breathing—inhale for four seconds, exhale for four seconds). So, before your audition set a goal (“I will be present,” not “I will book this job”), visualize yourself in the room achieving the goal, tell yourself you deserve to reach that goal, and slow your breathing as you wait.

Dame Judi said, “I’m always fearful. Fear in you generates a huge energy. You can use it. When I feel that mounting fear, I think, ‘Oh yes, there it is.’ It’s like petrol.” Like all your feelings, nerves are the source of your power as an actor. They’re a unique part of who you are, your truthful expression of them within the scene is essential. You must bring them to the audition with you. And with practice, the nerves that arise as a result of an audition can become one of the tools you use to emotionally affect a casting director. With practice, you can use the nerves even when you’re supposed to be calm and confident in the scene. You’ll be full, alive, and deeply engaging.

4 Ways To Deal With A Friend’s Success

Posted by Steve Braun on May 21, 2014  /   Posted in All Categories

Model Cindy Crawford poses on the red carpet as she arrives for the screening of the film 'The Great Gatsby' and for the opening ceremony of the 66th Cannes Film Festival in Cannes

By: Steve Braun

Surrounding yourself with a supportive acting community is imperative. You need to be amongst like-minded actors who understand your struggle, can share in the rejection, and help you appreciate the victories. You need actor friends. But when one of your acting comrades strikes gold and books a big job while you’re still deep in the struggle, friendships can change. Even the most centered actor can feel jealous or self-loathing when someone from their circle of friends hits the big time. “What do they have that’s so special?” “Why not me?” Beyond your own feelings, you can realize that being in the struggle may have defined part of the relationship. And without that bond, the relationship may not work.

Here are four ways to deal with your friend’s success (if generosity isn’t coming easily):

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1. Know that your successful friend is still struggling. If you look at the big picture, the struggle of the actor never ends. In fact, often the struggle only gets tougher. The intense anxiety that you feel before meeting that lower-level agent who agreed to see you is nothing compared to pressures that come with more opportunity. Your first network test for a series regular role with $30,000 on the line brings that anxiety times 10. Being on set with Academy Award-winning actors and directors where the expectation is that you’ll be nothing but absolutely flawless can offer immeasurable anxiety. The struggle to keep pushing the boundaries of your work only increases when the work happens under more intense scrutiny. The specifics of the struggle may have changed, but not in as many ways as you might think. So while your friend no longer has to worry about how to pay the rent or getting someone to cover her Friday night shift at the bar, she is still deep in the epic struggle that we’re all in. It might require a new perspective but you still have the struggle in common.

2. It’s not personal. It’s business. You’re both trained and talented, but he got the big job, the money, and the adoration of the industry. What gives? Because many of us equate success as an actor with how much money we make doing the big jobs, it’s enough to make us think that your successful friend is worthy and you are not. That he’s better than you. Inherent in that thinking is that the industry has a lock on what is worthy and not worthy, who is good and who is bad. And that’s the farthest thing from the truth. There are a billions of factors that go into one person booking a job over another. While talent is often a common denominator, often it is not. Sometimes it’s the right look for the right part, a feeling a producer got about a person based on her or his own past experience, a quality, an actor being brilliant on a particular day, whether the director got a speeding ticket the day of the audition, etc. And every actor is unique. You’re comparable to no one. Actors who work consistently are typically talented, trained, hard working and know how to manage resistance. But once you’ve worked on all of that, it’s all very subjective. This is not a validation of your “successful” actor friend as a human being and a condemnation of you as a human being. This is the business doing the best it can to try to produce art that resonates with a population. And given that no one really knows what resonates with a population, everyone’s just guessing. This is not always a merit-based system. So your friend’s success is a product of that moment in time, the alignment of stars. It’s not a definition of anyone’s worth.

3. Practice compassion and gratitude. Beyond the fact that it’s just bad form to think bad thoughts and/or talk smack about your friend who just booked that big job, it’s bad for your career, too. Wallowing in negativity and victimhood holds you back. Focusing on your negative feelings leads to anger about the business. Anger leads to bitterness, which leads to hopelessness, and then paralysis. All of a sudden your negative feelings have you believing that there’s no point, so then you stop working to explore the depths of your own emotional life through art and start spending your days lamenting your lot in life and getting nowhere. You have to train your brain to think positively. That doesn’t mean that you deny your feelings, but it probably means that you’ll have to write down 10 reasons why you’re happy for your friend who just booked her own TV show. And then 10 more reasons why you’re awesome. And then add 10 things you love about acting. Write it all down. And then be happy for your friend. Career victories are elusive in our business. Celebrate them when they happen!

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4. Work harder. Your friend booked her dream job. One day she was coming over to sit on your couch to watch reality TV and eat ice cream, and suddenly she’s moving to North Carolina to shoot the next big thing. And that means that it’s possible. In fact, it could happen to you. And If it does elicit big feelings in you, let them drive you back to the work. Back to exploring the depths of your emotional life. Back to what you love about acting. Get back to work! Write something. Shoot something. Put up a play. Get back into class. Explore deeper, push your acting farther, for it’s own sake, and to be ready when you’re called to the big leagues.

So go on and celebrate your successful friend! Tell her she deserves it, ’cause she does. You all do. But this part was hers. Raise a glass to her, to the possibility that it can happen to anyone who’s really putting themselves out there, and to the two of you needing and supporting each other through all of it. Because her TV show will end. They all do. And when it does, she’ll be back in this same struggle. She’ll need you then too. She’ll need as much as you’ll need her when you hit it big.

Vulnerability, Sexuality, & The Work

Posted by BGB on May 08, 2014  /   Posted in All Categories

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With casting of Showtime’s ‘Masters of Sex’: Season 2 now in full swing, The BGB Studio’s Risa Bramon Garcia and Steve Braun discuss vulnerability, sexuality, and the indispensable part each plays in achieving your best work.

BGB: Vulnerability seems to manifest itself differently depending upon whom you ask. What does it mean to you?

Steve: “To me, vulnerability means allowing yourself to be fully affected by the people and circumstances within a scene.  It’s leaving yourself alone, allowing yourself to discover how you feel, and then expressing that within the context of what you want.”

Risa: “What’s interesting about the work, both in the classroom, the audition room, and once you’ve gotten a job, is that when you really are emotionally connected to what is happening in you – triggered by the circumstances, the scene, the other characters, your point of view – it’s so powerful. You create an openness, and an allowingness in other people. The audience doesn’t usually understand what’s really happening – they can’t analyze it and say, I see vulnerability, but they feel it, they’re moved, and it makes all the difference.”

Why is it so hard for actors to embrace this side of themselves?

Risa: “It’s scary because actors are such sensitive creatures, and to allow that crucible to open is frightening. And then to walk into an audition room and to expose oneself in that way and risk being rejected is even more dangerous. But to be able to do that, to be able to take that risk, is hugely powerful, incredibly brave, and necessary!

How does one make the strong choices that are necessary to build a performance yet still remain beholden to the power of the moment?

Steve: “It’s a three step process. You make really bold, personal choices, trust that those choices will resonate in you, and then allow yourself to be affected by what’s happening in the moment. Then it’s this beautiful, organic dance shared by the preparation and the moments. Back and forth.”

HmNNyZuTqUIW5jkdDBcX2-QuRwzT6vb8mc_ozHyK7dIWhat if you’ve done your work ahead of time, but are then given little to no direction at an audition? In essence, you’re left out in the rain!

Risa: “Then you have your umbrella! Look, if you are available to be directed, great; collaboration is ideal! But if you come into an audition, or even onto a set, waiting or needing to be directed, then you’re giving up the only control you have, which is to make a strong choice that is specific and personal to you. Once you do that, you’re far more likely to be directed because you’re bringing so much to the table. There are so many actors who come in saying, I don’t know what to do! Tell me! Help me! Unfortunately, there’s no time for that. The casting director, even the director, cannot do your work for you. Nor can they be your teachers.”

Nudity is certainly something that can trigger vulnerability within us all, but how does an actor prevent it from doing the real work for them?

Steve: “I think that anything you do in front of the camera or on stage has to be done for a very specific reason. It’s not enough to just be emotionally vulnerable in the same way that it’s not enough just to take off your clothes. You have to want something in the scene, desperately, and taking off your clothes is a tool you’re using to get it.”

Risa: “If nudity has to do with the story you’re telling, if it has to do with your experience in the scene, then there is intention and storytelling behind it. That makes sense. But if it feels gratuitous or extemporaneous, then it becomes only about the nudity. That’s just sensationalism.”

What is it about the topic of sex that proves so squirm-inducing for most people, actors included?

Steve: “I think people are taught from a very young age that their anger, their sadness, and their sexuality are aspects of themselves that will probably bring about disconnection. Which is why people often fear those three elements of the human experience so much”

Risa: “We’re told: You should be pretty not sexual. Sexy not sensual. Very confusing for girls and boys who aim to be confident sexual beings as they grow up.”

Steve: “We live in a world where women in particular are told what their sexuality should be. There’s this template that is thrust upon them and that doesn’t allow for unique sexual expression. So just like with anger and sadness, you can play “at” them or you can ask yourself, where does sexuality live in me in this scene or moment?

Risa: “And ‘Masters of Sex’ is about that, finding where your sexuality lives and how it’s evolved. And of course, identifying the difference between love and sex. All of this ties into vulnerability. How are you vulnerable in your sexuality, etc? How are you brave enough to explore that truthfully? We have women audition in masturbating scenes. That’s pretty darn exposed. But in the end, a truthful, vulnerable, personal journey wins, no matter what the scene dictates.”

Do you think that setting limits – for instance saying, I will not do this, or I draw the line at that –can be considered making a strong choice?

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Risa: “When I hear that, I think, What are you protecting? You show up on the set of ‘Masters of Sex’, and you’re supposed to take your shirt off because you’re in bed and the scene is about a character who is giving herself permission to be sexual for the first time. But suddenly there’s a lawyer negotiating your nudity rider for this small role in what is clearly a sexually intimate scene. You’re missing the point.”

“At the same time you have to know that there are people there to protect you. In the case of ‘Masters of Sex’ that’s really important to the women who run the show – and to me personally – but it isn’t always the case.”

Steve: “Women are often taken advantage of in certain situations in the business and if they have insecurities or shame about their sexuality, that can get defensive about sexual expression on film.”

How do you prevent that? 

Steve: “If you’re not willing to do it, don’t do it. But all the same, every actor should explore their sexuality for themselves and for their work. It’s important to have done the work so that every actor is clear on her or his boundaries beforehand.”

Risa: “Set boundaries for yourself. Know what your limits are and be respectful of your own decisions. But if you walk on set and suddenly get cold feet, it’s not fair to anybody, including yourself. Most importantly, know where all this lives in you, allow yourself to be vulnerable, and get used to being in the practice of bringing that forth, if it means opening up your heart, and where appropriate and comfortable, your bra.”

Any advice for actors about how to maintain the hyper awareness needed to excel at their job without becoming hyper self-conscious?

Steve: “It starts internally. You have to get yourself right on the inside. I’m an advocate of adding breathing, stretching, and meditation to a workout practice because I think that they each train the inside. If it’s all about the outside, you’re gonna end up obsessing at some point. Oh, his abs are better than mine! or, She’s got better arms than me! And that doesn’t serve the work. All that said, it is a visual medium and if you’re in a certain category, there are expectations in this town. It’s not right but that’s the way it is.”

Risa: “We just saw a number of women come in for a role where clearly, a lot of time, money, and energy was spent to look a certain way because the character was a specific kind of woman. But then they had to walk into the room, sometimes hobble in very high heels, and the work was either there or not. If it’s about the fur coat, or the pearls, or the shoes with the eight-inch heels, than something’s wrong.  If that helps you feel a certain way, great! You want to feel good as an actor in your body and your heart. And some shows, ‘Masters of Sex’ included, require a feel for the time period. But the real work is not in the outfit or the hairdo.”

Steve: “And it’s important to note that if everyone was all about the visuals, runway models – or whatever the paradigm of beauty is – would be the only actors in town. And obviously, they’re not.”

Exposed On ‘Masters of Sex’

Posted by BGB on May 08, 2014  /   Posted in All Categories

mKIsvLHOm962s5Yp-EKvyAK3EKGH3vnm--guJgaSO7E Anyone can take their clothes off onscreen, but allowing yourself to be naked – emotionally vulnerable – in a way that truly serves the work, is another thing entirely. Actresses Rachel Kimsey, Ruby Lewis, Ana Walczak, and Rya Kihlstedt know quite a bit about this crucial distinction. Each talented actress exposes a piece of herself, literally and or figuratively – on the highly acclaimed first season and much-anticipated season 2 of ‘Masters of Sex’. Lucky for us, they also found a moment to chat with BGB about their preparation, training at the studio, the wackiness of the audition process, and the importance of stepping outside your comfort zone.

BGB: What was the first and or most helpful bit of preparation that each of you did when you found out you booked a part on ‘Masters of Sex’?

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Rya Kihlstedt

Rya (new role in Season 2): I auditioned only with sides, so now that I’m cast I’ve been reading the script and re-watching last season to really get a feel for the world they’ve created. I don’t know where my character is going yet, but I have to be able to weave her world and needs into my own imagination and be open enough to grab onto what is thrown my way.

Rachel (Nancy Lawson in Season 1): Wardrobe and hair was an important part of my preparation. Meeting with the styling teams helped me so much to know about the social status, the lifestyle, and the daily habits of this woman so that I could react to her world. It’s amazing how much those vintage undergarments affect the way you move and interact with the world.  I found myself unconsciously perching on the edges of chairs with my ankles tucked and crossed demurely underneath me.

Ana (new role in Season 2): I’ve focused my preparation on establishing very clear relationships with my own parents – and the guilt and shame that could come along with those relationships under difficult circumstances.

Ruby (Connie in Season 1): Honestly, after wrapping my head around the role I went to the Korean Spa.  I felt like I needed to spend some time becoming really comfortable with my body so that the nudity wouldn’t be a distraction for me. Plus it really eased my nerves.

True onscreen intimacy is about so much more than nudity or sex – it’s about exposing a piece of yourself…  What do you each do to get yourself in that mindset/state?

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Rachel Kimsey

Rya: It changes with every job a bit, but breathing…a lot.. letting go and trusting that I have done the work and am prepared for the ride. And stopping the chatter in my head so I can listen to everyone else and just be in the scene.

Ruby: I ground myself as much as I can mentally. I try to remain as down-to-earth as possible, and as intuitive and open as possible, to prepare myself to really connect with the other person in a real way…to truly care about them and find commonality with them right away.

Rachel: I remember being on a set once….the scene is set, the director is ready, and buckets of money are about to be spent on the take. Each reset will take at least a half an hour. I was terrified! I started trying to get it under control and get cool, I wanted to be a pro. Then I remembered I was about to be attacked by a giant terrifying monster – being terrified was exactly right!!  I think of that every time I walk into a scene that scares me. Life is scary. There’s nothing wrong with being scared.  All there is to do is say, “yup, I’m scared,” and stand up and walk into it anyway. It never stops being exhilarating.

Ana: It’s not too difficult or far fetched to identify with my character’s struggle with intimacy and how it has affected her whole life. Even today women are made to feel shameful about their sexual desires while men are encouraged and applauded. I can easily identify with feeling “wrong” when we still live in a culture that treats women’s sexuality with ignominy.

Vulnerability is most certainly power for an actor. Does the intimate subject matter of this show allow you get to that vulnerable place more easily, or is it a hindrance?

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Ana Walczak

Ana: The intimate subject matter undoubtedly allows me to access any sense of vulnerability much more easily. Vulnerability is intensely colorful and diverse. It can show itself as fear, shame, feeling unworthy, or any emotional susceptibility. Having the courage to be imperfect and be authentic becomes my journey on ‘Masters of Sex’.

Rya: I don’t think vulnerability and sex are the same thing – nor do they have to be connected (although I’d say great sex is impossible without vulnerability). Sex is a loaded subject for a lot of people, especially in that time period – it brings up higher walls and greater discomfort in characters. But as an actor, being vulnerable and open is the key to what we do no matter the topic or dialogue.

Ruby: I found the intimacy of the sexually intimate scene to be quite a gift.  It was certainly a challenge, but it was a beautiful scene that unfolded naturally. In a way, being nude freed me up to do some of my best work, because I had nothing left to lose (no pun intended).

Rachel: The subject mater dealt with on ‘Masters of Sex’ is life and culture-changing stuff – both at a time when this research was being done, and now. In that way, I think the subject matter both asks and expects us to rise above and give more, share more and be more bare.  I know I felt that way. I love it for that.

How would you say taking class at BGB prepared you for your ‘Masters of Sex’ audition/ on set work? 

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Ruby Lewis

Ana: Enormously! With amazing teachers like Steve and Risa, I’ve learned to make the reader the star of the audition, have a strong point of view, not to over complicate, and find an intimacy in the audition. These skills have been invaluable in grounding all of my work.

Ruby: Working with Risa and Steve set me up to trust the scene, and trust the relationship so that I knew whatever happened organically with my fellow actors would be genuinely vulnerable and honest. Getting out of my head about “the character” and focusing on the relationship and the raw vulnerability, that’s what made the work fulfilling and I think successful.

Rachel: Class at BGB prepared me for this audition in every way.  I thought very literally about the process we go through with cold reading scenes and applied it to my audition.  I read it and got my first impression.  Then I thought about how I could personalize it for myself. Then I made a decision about how to raise the stakes as high as I could. It was the same process we use in class.  I remember thinking: Well, if I’m going to play with it anywhere, it might as well be here!  It worked out pretty well!

BGB: Rya, how did your previous training or experience prepare you for your ‘Masters of Sex’ audition? 

Rya: I’ve been doing this since I was 21 – that’s about 24 years, minus the 10 or so I took off to have kids and be at home with them.  Now, at this point in my life, everything comes with me.  Life experience, acting experience, a freedom in my skin and self I didn’t have in my 20’s.  I look at the time in the room as an opportunity to act – and I do everything I can to make the most of it.  The best auditions for me are the ones in which I can let loose and trust the choices I’ve made, let go of the lines and my ideas of where it should go – and see where it takes me.

<BGB: Ladies, thank you so much for your insight and your talent. We appreciate the bold work you do at our studio and in ‘Masters of Sex’!

BGB Interview: Betsy Brandt

Posted by BGB on May 08, 2014  /   Posted in Actors, agents, Agents and Managers, All Categories, Artistry, Auditioning, BGB Mag, Classes, Community, Pilot Season, Rejection, Television

Betsy Brandt

We all know there’s truth to the old adage that all good things must come to an end, but few people actually experience this reality as often and with such determinate finality as actors. After all, no matter how successful a play, or film series, or TV show is, eventually, the sets will have to come down, the crew will have to move on to other projects, and these actors who have so fully inhabited their characters will need to search for another vessel in which to best express their talents.

Betsy Brandt knows this all too well. Last year she said goodbye to ‘Breaking Bad’, the universally acclaimed series in which she portrayed the high-strung, fiercely loyal, and proudly purple Marie Schrader for six seasons. She then followed up her amazing work on ‘Breaking Bad’ with a high profile role opposite Michael J. Fox on ‘The Michael J. Fox Show’, but this great comedy fell victim to cancellation before its time.

Fortunately, Brandt has always been an actress who is undeniably of the work, and thus it’s no surprise that without missing a beat, she’s booked a part on Season Two of ‘Masters of Sex’ as well as a series regular role on ABC’s upcoming series, ‘The Club’.

The BGB Studio’s Risa Bramon Garcia, casting director for both shows, chats with Betsy about the work and her process:

How do you feel right now?

Right now I feel…good. Sunny, a little tired, and just good.

Playing the part of Marie on ‘Breaking Bad’ was certainly a watershed moment for you professionally… How did it change you as an actor?

“Breaking Bad changed things for me in so many ways. I mean, working with (and watching) Bryan in itself was invaluable – his work, his attitude, his outlook, his instincts… all of it. And that goes for the whole cast. To be part of a group like that is such an amazing experience, and I still can’t believe the material that we got to work on. I miss that show pretty much every day.”

Was she anything like you?

“Marie and I (were) very different …and that’s one of the things I loved about (playing) her. I feel like you need to love your character…at least that’s how I feel I get inside of that person. “

You mention getting ‘inside of them’ but leaving a character on set can be just as important for an actor’s sanity… How do you go about doing that?

“At the end of the day, I like to be religious about toweling off my make up…that helps me leave that character behind. Sometimes after ‘Breaking Bad’ – certain scenes, anyway – I would cry, because Marie just couldn’t let it go, and I needed the release.”

“I started to really love spinning while I was shooting ‘The MJF Show’. You can sweat it all out…the jokes that weren’t what you wanted them to be, the moments you loved that wouldn’t make it into the show, and just leave it in that room and start over the next day or episode.”

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You’re out there auditioning, now that those shows have ended. Can you describe what that process is like for you?

“I think if you can sink your teeth into the work when you’re auditioning, (then) you’re golden… and that’s where the fun of it is. Even if I’m reading for something that I’m probably not going to get, I think: a) thanks for seeing me and b) I have these 5-10 minutes to play this person and let my version of her live during that time. (Plus), usually you meet or see some nice people.”

Can you share some of your best audition stories?

“The best were “Breaking Bad”, “The Michael J. Fox Show”, and “ER”…”

“My test for ‘Breaking Bad’ was pretty uneventful, but meeting Vince was a gift, and I knew it the very first time that I read for him. He also had me read for two other female regular roles in addition to Marie, so I knew he was serious about me and it gave me a chance to show him some range”.

“I loved my role on ‘The Michael J. Fox Show’, and I LOVED reading with Mike. I honestly have never felt such chemistry with someone that I didn’t know before. I think he’s such a genius, and I loved working just to keep up with him during the audition. And we got to improvise a bit.”

‘’ER’ was a job that I felt was out of my league – and I was a little young for the role – but I took my time and played it with everything (that) I had. I thought that a recognizable actor would end up getting it, but I was happy to get into the room and appreciated that they were so gracious. Later, when I was shooting the role, one of the producers told me that when I went in they knew it was mine. I felt that too… and most of the time you don’t walk out of the room with that feeling.”

What about one of your most recent ones… for the role of Leslie in ‘The Club’?

“When I read for ‘The Club’ I wanted to make sure that I knew it well enough so that I didn’t have to think about the lines and I could focus on living the material. When you have material and a character like that to work with, you’d be crazy not to dive into it. It was a lot of fun…I could have kept going for hours. Thank God I got it…it would have broken my heart to let her go.”

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Now, how about some of your worst?

“My worst audition stories involve Sir Peter Hall telling me that I was “so close to being good” and some angry man from an office next door yelling at me through a window during the middle of my audition – I thought I was being “Punked”! In a way the latter audition is also one of my best stories though. What doesn’t kill you only makes you tougher!”

How do you prepare for a role?

“I prepare differently for different roles, but my husband always reads with me. I really don’t work on audition material with anyone else.”

Tell me about your training?

“I have a BFA in Acting from University of Illinois. I also studied at the Royal Scottish Academy of Music and Drama, and with The Moscow Art School at Harvard – both for under a year. I also started work on an MFA at UCLA, but left after a week to do a movie with Blythe Danner… I’ve dropped out of some very prestigious programs.”

Any advice for staying connected to the work when not acting?

“Watch good material and see plays when you can. Someone once told me that you can learn a lot from ‘bad’ – I feel awful saying that – work too, but I always worry that it’ll be contagious.”

What has helped you to remain focused and fulfilled in this business?

“There’s been more than a few times over the years that I thought: Well, that was my last job…I’m disappointed, but proud of what I’ve done. You have to remember to enjoy the good…that’ll get you through the rough times. And there will ALWAYS be rough times. Every career has ups and downs. And then more ups and down…it’s a ride.”

What are you most proud of in terms of your career?

“I’m most proud of the work that I’ve done and the characters that have lived through me. I’m also proud of being able to separate myself from them…but you still have to love them. Serial killer, Hitler, I don’t care… you have to love them.”

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