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Talent Is Common; Workmanship Is Rare: An Article For Beginners and Professionals
by Jason Bennett (2010 Runner-Up for Best Acting Coach in NYC)
This article contains a "sample menu" of the main ingredients of "artistic workmanship." Workmanship is "the product or result of labor and skill; work executed." The artistic workmanship required to be a professional actor and singer is where most aspiring performers (and professionals) fall short.
Go to any open call audition and it's clear most performers in the waiting area have little artistic training or mastery of the workmanship of being a professional. And what’s worse, most of them have no idea they have no idea.
The below sample menu is meant to inspire! It is idealistic and during some phases of our lives, unrealistic. It shows how much dedication and commitment it takes to cultivate raw talent, establish and maintain an artistic career. This work has a side effect of being life-changing in the most wonderful ways. We'll keep the below list simple, because a book could be written about each item.
At The Jason Bennett Actor's Workshop, you study whatever you need from this list. All this applies equally to film, television, theater or musical theater:
1. You exercise for at least 45 minutes, five times per week.
2. You know all about the latest views on nutrition -- My two favorite health sites, based on years of research, are drmercola.com and lef.org.
3. You get enough sleep. The vast majority of people in industrialized nations are sleep-deprived and ignorant of how essential adequate sleep is.
Adequate sleep, proper nutrition and a comprehensive exercise routine are required for optimal talent expression -- the highest levels of creativity, emotional expressiveness, memory retention, immune health, fat-burning, muscle building, energetic endurance, intelligence, etc. Books are written about these subjects and their relationship to creativity.
4. At least three days per week, you free-write for 20 minutes -- everything. Have the intention to really express yourself on the deepest levels, but it doesn't have to be smart, seem talented or be profound. It clears you and helps connect you to your highest intelligence and creativity. See Julia Cameron's, The Artist's Way.
5. You keep a journal by your bed and write down any dreams you can remember; and you note any daydreams you have. This connects you to your talent because your dreams *are* your talent. Dreams solve your acting problems and life problems when you learn their language. We study advanced dream psychology in our school because it leads even the most established performers to higher levels of fulfillment and creativity.
6. It should be a habit to know and express how you feel on the deepest levels. Most people go through their day with no idea what is really going on inside. How do you feel? No, really, how do you really feel? Are you expressing it? Find a safe way to express how you feel physically and vocally. Actors and singers must be free! This should be deeply ingrained in you. Spend at least five minutes a day improvising with sound and movement, expressing how you feel.
7. Cultivate deep listening and communication. Most people don't listen to each other. Really listening means feeling another’s energy; listening to the nuance and many layers of their voice; very specifically observing their body as they communicate; hearing the words, but also sensing the intentions and feelings underneath the words. This takes specific training to increase energetic, sensory awareness and communication for most, because our culture is communicatively retarded. For the great actor and singer, deep listening and communication is automatic and the result of years of work. And, we work on staying open our entire lives.
8. You take six hours of dance or movement classes per week, specific to your needs.
9. You take at least eight hours of acting classes per week, specific to your current needs.
10. You vocalize, whether you're a singer or not, at least four hours per week. You take group voice classes for actors for four hours per week, and ideally at least one private hour with a voice teacher -- singer or not.
11. You study yoga. Kripalu yoga is the best yoga for performers. This is a conclusion reached after 17 years of my studying diverse yoga methods.
12. You are always reading a book about acting -- the newest, most comprehensive books. Consider books about acting and the business by Eric Morris, Larry Moss, Seth Barrish, Brian O'Neil, Paul Russell and others. The newest books about performing are far more sophisticated than the old. My own book will be published in a couple years.
13. You see one play per week, whether you're into film, television or theater. You see one movie per week. You read two plays or screenplays per week, written by award-winning, respected writers.
14. You've been in great acting, voice and movement classes for years. And so you warm yourself up at least three times per week, using tools and methods from all these classes, for at least an hour.
15. You're always working on a new monologue or song.
16. You're always learning about psychology relevant to great acting -- Spiral Dynamics, integral philosophy, The Psychology of Selves, archetypal psychology and humanistic psychology.
17. You're an expert on the business of acting. You wake up every day and read the latest audition notices and theater news at NYCastings.com, Playbill.com, Variety.com, Backstage.com and more. You know who the castings directors are in New York and Los Angeles. You get to know their personalities and their likes and dislikes. You know who the agents are and who their major clients are. You know all the significant theaters, producers, directors, screenwriters and playwrights. You stay up-to-date on how the industry is constantly changing -- reels, video resumés, headshots, electronic submissions, mailings, showcases, internships, and on and on.
18. You're always practicing altering your state-of-mind and being. The great actor and singer is fascinated by what it feels like to be all kinds of people. Who is that person? Why are they moving that way? Why do they sound that way? What are they thinking about? How do they feel? Observe it; embody it. This should be a habit. You're always in some kind of consciousness training -- therapy, spiritual workshops, acting classes, etc.
19. The actor and singer is deeply informed about what is going on in the world. You can't feel a full range of energies deeply unless you are connected to the world deeply. You can't have any artistic vision or know what kinds of stories need to be told if you are not connected to what is going on in people's lives on profound levels. Go to Commondreams.org, Democracynow.org, Huffingpost.com, beyond the regular corporate "news" outlets. Every successful performing artist knows that if the news is coming from a large corporation, it's mostly junk. You have to search to really find out what's going on in this world.
20. Great actors and singers are curious, skeptical and open-minded. You watch documentaries that may, at first, seem absurd to you. You go places outside your "bubble," to all kinds of churches, to all kinds of communities. You talk to and spend time with all kinds of people. You can put your judgments aside and your upbringing aside, so you are free to really explore all kinds of worlds, people, values and cultures. You treat yourself and others with respect and love.
As stated before, this list is incomplete and idealistic. No one can do all the things on this list each week. And there is a lot left off this list! But, the truth is respected performers have phases of their lives, often lasting years, where this is essentially how they live each week.
So, strive for it. But, don’t beat yourself up. The question is: Are you living in accordance with your priorities and values? Do you feel creatively fulfilled? Are you really keeping your commitments, to yourself and others, artistically? Will you be satisfied, later in life, by the level of artistic workmanship you achieved during your lifetime?
Many in the public have no understanding of how deep the commitment and discipline of the most successful professional actors and singers. To yield the immensely rewarding spiritual and material success of a professional performer takes far more work than most career paths – far, far more. And yet our job is to make it all look like magic, as if we did no work at all.
The irony is that if you work with great teachers that go into the work contained in this article…and work, work, work… In the end, your performing is most likely to feel and appear mysterious, magical and easy! It feels that way and it is that way. And this is when audiences receive the most entertaining medicine our little planet has to offer – your performance – the work of the actor and singer who lives a PhD in Artistic Workmanship!
We are now interviewing for our fall classes, workshops and private coaching. If you have previous training, please submit a headshot and resumé to firstname.lastname@example.org, along with what you're interested in. If you're a beginner, please call 212-777-7603. Look through our web site for all we have to offer!
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