Sunday, August 12, 2012

A Special Offer from Stephen Foster and Awakening the Actor Within


Actors, we’re a little more than halfway through 2012…how’s your career going? Are you accomplishing everything you set out to do in your New Year’s resolutions? If you’re finding it difficult to make progress, Stephen Foster has just the thing to help you make it happen. The author of the highly successful book Awakening the Actor Within is offering a special “creative” workshop based on his book. Best of all, you don’t need to live in Hollywood to study with him. You can participate online, by phone, and yes, you can even do it in person if you’re in the Los Angeles area.

Foster is available to teach the tools and principles of Awakening the Actor Within to groups or individuals. Check out the details of the special here: http://youtu.be/dlIBb2NVHok. The $25 a week mentoring special includes one on one private workshops working the tools of the book and a weekly phone conversation check-in. You can sign up for one week or twelve depending on what you feel you need. Group rates can be negotiated.

I had an opportunity to talk to Foster about his book and how he works with actors to help them accomplish their goals. Here’s what he had to say about the book and why he decided to write it. 

Stephen, in the beginning of the book you talk about your path to becoming an actor. Do you think it’s true that you have to live something before you can write about it? 

SF: Well, I know that I have lived my book and the things that I teach in it are the lessons I’ve learned - the good, the bad and the ugly. The reason I wrote it is because I know what it’s like to be blocked. I know what it’s like to not act, and also to act and be blocked again. I know that in a career there are peaks and valleys. My question is how do you stay unblocked? How do you keep momentum going when it’s not always going the way you want it to? I wanted to give people the tools that worked for me; that keep me fresh and ready to go.

I think one of the most crippling, debilitating things in a career is to not have people around you who understand what you’re doing. I want them to have a support system in place so when something goes awry they have someplace to go to help them get through it. There’s not a lot of mirroring of what actually happens and there’s a lot of flim flam people in this business – I’ll teach you how to look commercial, I’ll teach you how to break in this industry in 5 hot steps – there’s so much more to it than that and I think when we go to a class or a workshop, we can get wounded if we don’t have a structure underneath us.

Do you think actors don’t want to look like they don’t know what to do in front of their friends or their peers?

SF: Yes, we don’t want to look weak and we don’t want to look stupid. I remember when we first started filming Off Hollywood and the first 2 weeks of it were pretty great. It was pretty intense, and then the producer and director called me into the office and said, the film has gone over budget. We don’t know how long or when this movie is going to get back on the horse. It was such a shock to me. I had to readjust myself and it really took me off course for awhile. I did feel pretty stupid but I had foundations under me. What kept me going was all the things I teach in the book. That’s what really helped me.

Is it important to have a buddy?

SF: I think it’s absolutely vital to have a buddy, a mentor of some kind, because trying to keep momentum going on your own can be very difficult. It’s easy to get discouraged and if you look at people who have had great careers, they all had people who believed in them and helped them.

How did you decide to divide the book into the three different sections?

SF: I set it up like a screenplay. There are three acts to a screenplay – beginning, middle, and end, and the beginning part of the book talks about blocks; the things that discourage us. It offers tools to help us start building a tool kit and a foundation. Foundation is very important because without it you can’t gain momentum. Week one is about dismantling the blocks – the anger, the trauma, anything that has gotten in your way, and then building up your confidence. Those are weeks 1 - 4 so that gives you the foundation of the work.

I love what you say in the book – that acting is healing and that you originally wanted to call the book Dr. Theatre.

SF: Yes I did. I found that when I’m acting I feel really healthy, really vital, and really alive. Let’s say I had a cold. I would get onstage or I would have to perform and all of a sudden I wouldn’t feel sick anymore. So I thought, what if we could always maintain that kind of performance energy? We’d be like very strong athletes; we’d have very strong muscles. Acting is very healing. The putting together of shows and characters is very healing. What is unhealthy is feeling blocked and not doing it, and day by day getting further and further away from what we really intend to do.

Is the book for actors who gave up their acting or are frustrated and having struggles? Or is it for actors who are young and just starting out?

SF: It’s for all of them. In retrospect, I purposely on accident wrote it to give a person support and sustenance no matter what. Let’s say you’re a swimmer – they say no matter what level you are swimming at, if someone gives you a life preserver it’s going to help you so it’s the same with this book. No matter what you’re working on, whether it’s theatre, whether you’re a beginner, whether you’ve been a mother for twenty years and you still have the ambition, or whether you’re a post office worker and you want to act in your spare time, I purposely set it up so it could help anyone at any of those places and I also set it up loosely enough so that no matter what category you’re acting in – whether its theatre, musical theatre, TV, voiceover, commercials - you can utilize the tools and experience a breakthrough or comeback or makeover. That’s the energy behind my book.

You say things like, “Don’t show off - show up, meaning you have to keep doing a little bit every day. 

SF: Yes, a lot of performing artists don’t practice with consistency. If you’re in school you do, because it’s a requirement. When I was in college I worked my butt off, and I was always writing something, acting in something, and then I found as I got more into the profession it became less of that. I wasn’t practicing enough. I wasn’t sharp enough and it would be very random when I would practice…when I had an audition…so what I’m trying to teach people is to show up and do these tools and it will give them the consistent vibe and will keep them in the swing of things. Otherwise you’re going to an audition cold. Even if you prepare for it for a week you’re still kind of cold because your muscles aren’t conditioned. It’s like going to the gym. 

Then you move to the middle section of the book which is about focusing on scripts and scenes. That’s like actors and exercises, yes?

SF: Yes, it’s what I call acting practice. An acting practice is basically doing your work without any criticism attached; without putting it up in front of the teacher and having them give their opinions. There are also exercises like looking at a scene and pulling it apart. Even with commercial copy you have to get into it and create a character. A lot of times we don’t, once again because we’re out of condition, we don’t do the practice. We will look at copy and it will be foreign to us so one of the tools I have in the book is script reading. I have actors read a script every week so they’re used to seeing copy and seeing the lines. They can read a play, a screenplay, commercial copy, or they can read an episodic script – any kind of script. The task is to keep people conditioned and looking for things constantly as they go through their lives and how it applies to their work when they approach a character or a scene. 

I love the story in the book about when you stopped doing drag, and went into a commercial audition. You booked the job because you just looked up at the 6’3” guy and he started laughing. It was perfect because you just were who you were in that moment, and it was funny.

SF: Yes. I think a lot of people and a lot of classes teach people to be something that they are not. I teach people how to work from within, and have confidence from within, because if you don’t have confidence, every audition you go on becomes a sort of emotional terrorism. I try to give people things that they can do to ground them.

In the third part of your book you focus on working as an actor.

SF: A lot of actors don’t know who they are so what I get people to work on is what they feel passionate about, what makes them unique. I do an exercise I adapted from Julia Cameron (The Artist’s Way) which show actors, through exploration, what they’re really great at. It also shows them what they are really passionate about.

For example, I like funny writing sitcom, even sketch material, but I don’t like improv so much. That’s not really for me. Knowing that shows me how to market myself and I think a lot of actors get really weird when it comes to business, to knowing how they’re marketing themselves, and about money. I encourage people to work more than I encourage them to sit in class. Classes are ok but a lot of people get stuck in classes. I know people who have been in writing classes for five years and they’re never written a novel or they’ve never written a screenplay because they just kind of stay in this group. A lot of actors are the same way. They’ll stay in a class but they won’t be out there in the field auditioning. That’s why I saved working as an actor for last because you’ve got to build up the momentum to it.

A lot of artists will share their dream with people who are not artists – with their aunt or cousin, or an office worker – who has no experience, never been in the business, and they’ll tell you everything that’s wrong with it. That is so detrimental. I teach people how to take their power back. It’s about getting people to honor themselves and honor their acting. They don’t realize it takes a lot of preparation, a lot of skill, a lot of knowledge, and a lot of work.

Have you had feedback from actors who have worked with your principles about how they’ve affected their acting?

SF: I’m finding slowly but surely, people are responding to my book. I have a student in Florida who was completely blocked for a year. She started using the tools going through the series of exercises in the book…she went to 2 auditions and booked one, her first lead. And it’s all because she had the support of the book and my support. I also encourage people to go on my Facebook page and share their journeys with other actors because even if you don’t know someone they can help encourage you to not give up. It’s only one audition. I have a little pocket that is happening in Spain. I’m International. A woman emailed me and said, Stephen, I think this book is saving my life. And the only reason my book helped anybody is because I’ve experienced a lot of loss and a lot of pain in my own career.

For more information about Awakening the Actor Within go to www.awakeningtheactorwithin.com.

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