From Stage to Page: An actor prepares, again

Posted in Blogs, Theater and Dance

Nov. 15, 2013

When I was studying theatre at university, I thought I was getting the best education an actor could hope for. I was fortunate to receive a full-year acting scholarship to a small private University in southern California and I loved it. I had the chance to work on main stage productions for all four years that I was in college, something unheard of in most university theater programs.

During that time, I learned a great deal about the craft of acting. But the learning came mostly by doing. There was little discussion about technique. True, an actor’s best work happens when they are working continuously, but when a student actor graduates and moves into the “real world” of acting, he/she begins to see the cracks in their craft, when strong technique is not present.

Since my graduation oh so many years ago, I have worked as an actor; some years more steadily than others. In the past year or so, I have re-committed myself to the pursuit of a full-time acting career. It’s not an easy career choice. There are many ups and downs and plenty of rejection, but when you love your craft, you put up with the challenges,and even learn to love them.

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Eric Mulholland as Betty, Danielle Daggerty as Joshua and Devin Rodger as Maud in “Cloud 9” by Caryl Churchill at the Seattle Theatre Group. / Photo courtesy of Eric Mulholland

The best thing an actor can do when they are not working, is prepare to work. Constantin Stanislavski, who we can consider to be the father of modern acting technique, began writing his masterpiece “An Actor Prepares” in the early part of the 20th century. In his book, he noted what he saw actors doing at the Moscow Art Theatre and from that created a system for actors known as the “Stanislavski System.” This system encouraged actors to build real characters on stage from the inside out, a very different approach from the acting style of the time. Late 19th and early 20th century acting styles relied on the “appearance” of truth and used melodrama to evoke emotion.

So, though I am currently working as an actor and acting teacher, I decided it was time to get back into class myself. Monday nights for the past several weeks, I have been taking a great (and challenging) acting class in Seattle. As I pick apart each role that I am preparing for, I am reminded how important it is to build a foundation of strong technique. Technique is what supports an actor to do the work of creating a believable performance, one that can be repeated eight performances a week.

This class has highlighted for me how weak my acting technique has been. I feel a bit vulnerable admitting that, especially since I have been acting for so long. But the only way to grow is to work hard and so as an actor, I am preparing… again.

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Over the years I have been exposed to great teachers, many of them have given me good tools to do good work. The difference now is that I am seeing the big picture, the “system” Stanislavski articulated. Any craft relies on a combination of understanding and doing. Acting, after all, is not strictly a cerebral exercise. You have to build your understanding of the character as he relates to others and the world of the play. And once you have a glimmer of what that understanding is, you have to get up and put it into practice. We learn by applying what we know to what is available to us: Our voice, our movement, our connection to other characters and subtext — what we are really saying underneath the speeches we speak.

I have a renewed love for my craft, and a deep respect for all the teachers who teach this amazing art form. So whatever happens from here on out, I will continue to be an actor who prepares over and over again.

Cheers to growth!

Eric Mulholland is an actor, teacher and writer living on Whidbey Island.

Upcoming theater events on and off the island:

  • “Les Miserables” by Alain Boublil and Claude-Michel Schönberg – Village Theatre; Nov. 7, to  Jan. 5 in Issaquah; Jan. 10 to Feb. 2  in Everett.

  • “You’re a Good Man Charlie Brown” based on the Comic Strip “Peanuts” by Charles M. Schulz Book, Music and Lyrics by Clark Gesner – Whidbey Island Center for the Arts in Langley; Dec. 6 to 21.

  • “The Language Archive” by Julia Cho; Feb. 28 to March 15 – Outcast Productions at the Black Box Theater, Whidbey Island Fairgrounds, Langley.


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