The Real History Of Improvisation: Part II

“It is highly possible that what is called talented behavior is simply a greater capacity for experiencing.” – Viola Spolin

It all began with Viola… So, as you know, Viola Spolin’s revolutionary approach to acting grew out of a combination of theatrical work and social work, using games to help release the actor into their full selves. So how did comedy improv emerge from those beginnings?
Continue reading “The Real History Of Improvisation: Part II”

The Real History of Improvisation: Part I

“Through spontaneity we are re-formed into ourselves.” –Viola Spolin

The word “improv” has become a shorthand to refer to comedy improv, but few people know that the inventor of improvisation was a woman named Viola Spolin. Funnily enough, her focus was not on comedy. Her technique was designed to release the full artist through the power of play, connecting them to their intuition and the people around them. Continue reading “The Real History of Improvisation: Part I”

Please Don’t Feed The Beast

A very fine actress recently told me that she looked up other actor’s self-tapes online after submitting her own. After noting that one particular gal’s performance was “trash,” she was shocked and devastated that this same gal was at the callback… and it almost threw her in the room.

What we pay attention to – what we feed ourselves – has a great impact on our creative and inner life. So are you doing what you can to take care of your artist? Or are you succumbing to the beast within? Which are you feeding? Let’s look: Continue reading “Please Don’t Feed The Beast”

Fill The Well. Put Down Your Phone.

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“In order to create, we draw from our inner well. This inner well, an artistic reservoir, is ideally like a well-stocked trout pond. We’ve got big fish, little fish, fat fish, skinny fish– an abundance of artistic fish to fry. As artists, we must…maintain this artistic ecosystem.

If we don’t give some attention to upkeep, our well is apt to become depleted, stagnant, or blocked. As artists we must learn to be self-nourishing. We must become alert enough to consciously replenish our creative resources as we draw on them– to restock the trout pond, so to speak. I call this process filling the well.”  – Julia Cameron, “The Artist’s Way”  Continue reading “Fill The Well. Put Down Your Phone.”

How Substitution Hurts The Actor


If you had a wound on your arm that was scabbing over, would you pick at it and open it up? If you have ever done that, then you know you risk infection and a much longer healing process.

So if you wouldn’t do that to your body, why would you ever rip open an emotional wound?

Some actors pick at those emotional scabs for their craft. They use personal experiences (aka: substitution) so they can achieve an emotion. But the internal results are the same as picking at a physical scab; more pain and less healing. Continue reading “How Substitution Hurts The Actor”

Taking Care: Letting Go Of A Character


Sonya, a Holocaust partisan fighter, is assigned to keep a rabbi’s wife alive in the forest until it’s safe to move on to the next village. She is fierce and tough enough for the challenge, but secretly deeply terrified. Survivor’s guilt tears at her soul as well; after the Nazis rip her family from their home and put them on a train to Auschwitz, she escapes through a small window, begging them to come with her, but they refuse and travel on to their deaths. In the woods, she is constantly on guard for the enemy. She longs for home and good food and fights about religion with her cohort so vehemently, she knocks the woman out cold. Eventually, she is almost a choked to death by a Nazi and finally mourns her family through copious tears. Continue reading “Taking Care: Letting Go Of A Character”

Hey, you. Yes, you. Thank you.


I’ve had numerous jobs in my time:

I’ve been a shelf stocker at a discount store, glorified babysitter at the YMCA, cashier at a lunch spot/sweet shop, group leader of a socialization group for teen girls with learning disabilities and a burger flipper at a country club that, ironically, didn’t allow Jews to be members back in the ’60’s (I was only at that one for two weeks).

For several years, I was an executive assistant at an insurance company (snooze) and then at a hair care company (free shampoo!). I left the fluorescent lighting and daily desire to stick a pencil in my eye to become a freelance marketing writer for a few years. I wrote copy (at home in my pajamas most of the time) for international companies, mom & pop stores, non-profits, scatterbrained “entrepreneurs,” and independent “inventors” who created some of the most asinine products they thought would make them money. Continue reading “Hey, you. Yes, you. Thank you.”

Your Craft, Your Career, and How To Make It All Fun Again


I’m assuming you didn’t get into acting to be famous (because let’s face it; if you want to be famous, there are plenty of easier ways to do that, from eating bugs and shooting your nuts off to making a sex tape or denying marriage licenses to gay folks). You got into acting because you love the craft and you hope to make a living doing it.

What you didn’t know was that craft and career are two different things. In one hand you hold your craft, the creative spark that fulfills you. In the other hand is your career, the thing you aspire to achieve. You hope that your career and your craft will intersect…that they will thread fingers together like a romantic couple. And maybe they will. But most of the time they shift in and out, coming together and releasing like an on-again, off-again Hollywood relationship. Continue reading “Your Craft, Your Career, and How To Make It All Fun Again”

From Stage to Screen: Toning It Down While Keeping It Real


Ah, the stage! The glorious live performance. When you’ve had years of experience on the stage, every cell in your body knows what performing feels like. Your body knows to be bigger, louder. It feels full, grand, real and you can hear the audience react. How rewarding. How deliciously rewarding!

Then you do film or TV for the first time and your eyebrows act like caterpillars on crack. You look like a bobblehead or cartoon character. You’re surprised your eyes don’t pop out of your head to the sound of an old fashioned horn. There’s no way around it; you’re simply horrible. Continue reading “From Stage to Screen: Toning It Down While Keeping It Real”

The Secret to Surviving The Quiet Season


A successful producer once told me that the key to surviving this industry is how you handle the time in between gigs. “It’s easy when you’re working; it’s what you do when you’re not working that really counts.”

He wasn’t suggesting hiding under the bed with a pint of Cherry Garcia and a vision board and waiting for the phone to ring. He also didn’t mean you should focus solely on career-centric activities, networking your face off until you’re tongue falls out of your mouth. He meant, above all, you have to stay creative and enjoy a well-rounded life. Continue reading “The Secret to Surviving The Quiet Season”

Breaking Through An Emotional Block


You have an audition for the role of a drug addict or someone who is suicidal. Or maybe the character is struggling over the loss of a parent or child. Or they are trying to escape an abusive household or dealing with PTSD. Maybe they’re battling a war in Afghanistan or inside their own community. Or they’re going through a divorce or dying of cancer.

Emotionally deep roles can be intimidating and scary – so much so that some actors shut down. They hit a block; something in them refuses to “go there” in an effort to avoid uncomfortable feelings like fear, pain, sadness and grief. And yet, that’s our job. If you’re going to represent humanity, you must be willing to experience the whole spectrum.

So when you hit an emotional block, how do you get beyond it?

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The Art of Listening and Being Present


“You have to listen better,” your acting teacher says. So you really look at the other person, laser focus on them and say to yourself, “Listen….listen…listen….”

Then you see the playback and you look like a psychotic deer caught in alien headlights. You’re straining and bug-eyed and robotic. Why does the work look so inauthentic? The only thing you were focused on was listening better!

But not really. The only thing you were listening to was your own voice repeating that word over and over in your head until it lost all meaning. When you’re doing that you can’t possibly be listening to the other person.

This word “listening” is thrown around a lot. It’s often accompanied by “being present” and “living in the moment.” But do you really know how to listen and be present?
Continue reading “The Art of Listening and Being Present”

From Torture To Playpen: What To Do In The Casting Director’s Lobby


A million years ago, I went to my first callback. I was so excited, I did a little victory dance in my tiny apartment. “Clearly,” my naive mind told me, “this is just a formality; I’ve really booked the role!” I rode the subway running my five lines, beaming with pride, already imagining shooting the scene and accepting the director/writer/producer’s ecstatic offer to be made a series regular.

Imagine my surprise when I found there were other women in the lobby being seen for the same role. They were prettier than me. Better dressed. Looked more like the part. Were more seasoned. They were running their lines and chit chatting about agents and bookings…

Continue reading “From Torture To Playpen: What To Do In The Casting Director’s Lobby”

Why Actors Should Stop Planning


Allison leaves an audition and pumps her fist. “I nailed it! I did everything I wanted to; laughed at the exact right moment, gave them that sarcastic look, put my hand on my hip…that was awesome!”

Sheena leaves an audition for the same role a little dazed. “I have no idea what just happened.”

Who books it? Probably Sheena. Why? She was fully present. So present and connected to the other person that she has no idea what she herself did. There was no room for self-reflection in the moment because she was so focused on the other person.
Continue reading “Why Actors Should Stop Planning”

Acting As A Spa Day


You’re having a crappy day. Or a crappy week. Maybe even a crappy month. You’re going through a breakup or someone you love is in the hospital or your gross roommate keeps leaving his socks on the kitchen table. Whatever it is, it’s eating into your entire life, including your craft. So when you’re in class or on an audition, that terrible day or week or month is taking over your imagination and your ability to be present. So all anyone sees….is your heavy personal load.

Life throws curve balls. In fact, it throws curve balls most of the time. It can get in the way. So how can you do your best when life is crapping on your head?
Continue reading “Acting As A Spa Day”

Learn Like A Baby


I was half-way through my first improv class at the Groundlings and considering dropping it altogether. Consumed with dread about how lost I was, and not wanting to look like a weak improviser, I was seriously considering skipping out on class. I was utterly frustrated, disappointed and surprised that my work was not stellar. How could I suck so bad when I had years of previous improv experience? I co-founded three improv/sketch groups, directed one of them, studied at the New Actor’s Workshop in NYC and iO West in L.A., taught numerous improv classes to kids….I knew I wasn’t as experienced as many of my colleagues, but absolutely expected to be one of the standouts in class.
Continue reading “Learn Like A Baby”