The Uta Hagen Cry

As you may know I work with some famous people, and recently I’ve been enjoying the new young and passionate Zac Efron and Usher, who are eager to share the work. Also recently, a new phenomenon has occurred– it is that my hard working actors are being paid pittance. I’m not talking about Zac or Usher– in fact, I’m not going to name names because this isn’t an exposé but an observation. You are not interested in famous working actors being paid a pittance? Let me suggest you be interested!

Jack Nicholson was one to fight for the recognition of the actor’s work. Jack Nicholson understood that the actor had to dig deep down into self and supply deep emotional material in order to produce great work. This emotional material had to be accessible for the period of the shooting of the film and ready to go on the word “action.” For him, the actor who did this in-depth work should be paid 20 million dollars. The point is not the exact amount; the point being stressed is the recognition of the work. A pittance does not acknowledge the work!

Often as a young actor you are asked to do plays and student films for nothing. You do so to grow in your craft, and to develop experience and your reel. When do you stop working for nothing? And when do you stop working for a pittance? An actor will go on a film set and see huge lighting instruments on it and will wonder why those instruments are more important than the actor. It seems that the acting instrument is not the essential instrument to tell a story– but it is! This is not an observation of the nickels and dime-millions of the movie business– it is the Uta Hagen cry “Respect for Acting.”

The director can seduce an actor into doing the film by talking about the great talent and how he/she would love to work with that great talent. But it has often been proving that the director will put money into technology and not into that great actor. So to the young actor who goes into the business with the consideration that you will make good money—yes that is possible– but I repeat respect what you do– especially those of you who will give a little piece of your heart to every character that you play and every film that you do—respect that you are an essential, important instrument in the process of story telling.

Always in the art! – Susan Batson

Advertisements

When your work is captured, it is captured forever!

I’m in Paris working with Juliette Binoche on a film. It is Sunday. In art there is no day of rest. On Broadway, the day off for others is the working day for the artist. For Juliette Binoche, when she loves someone or something, she loves it every second, minute, hour of the day, every day. For her, there is no day off with her acting. (Juliette Binoche won an Oscar for English Patient, and is most famous for her role in Chocolat with Johnny Depp. This year, she will have several films coming out: 1,000 Times Good Night, Clouds of Sils Maria, Words and Pictures.) In other words, she loves her work and the work loves her!

After 7 hours of non-stop work, I returned to my Parisian hotel to eat and to restore. I turn on the TV to find out from BBC what country is at war and how many innocent souls have died, when I am compelled for a moment to stop at the channel before BBC. Why? I don’t know. I only feel that there is a connection. The sound of the man was simple, deep, and in French. The image appeared and the man was all in black, with black hair, a beard, and a moustache. Just as I caught the image, the camera cut to Vanessa Williams for a second. Then, back to the very connected, intense actor. I scream… Wass!!!! Yes, it was our Wass Stevens that stopped me. I was so pleased because Wass is family. He began with us and now generously gives back to us by teaching Industry Prep every Tuesday at 5pm. When the camera returned to Wass, it held a moment and then the scene was over. Much to my surprise, I had stumbled upon the end of an episode of Ugly Betty. I never saw Ugly Betty until this Sunday evening in Paris. Like Wass always says, “When your work is captured, it is captured forever!”

Long live Wass Stevens! Look for him in the upcoming series Public Morals!

Always in the art! – Susan Batson.

Trust- Inspired by Casting Director Brette Goldstein

Industry Nights at the Susan Batson Studio present much food for thought. Brette Goldstein recently came up with two gourmet dishes. First, an actor asked her, “What do you think my type is?” She cringed and responded, “I don’t like to think like that.” I applauded her disdain for type-casting. Then, after a moment, she said, “I like to think about it like this- if you could choose two people, who would you be the love child of?” This question turned out to be such fun for us all. So, I pass it on to you.

The second dish came when I asked Brette how she felt about a certain actor. She responded, “I don’t trust her.” To tell the truth I wasn’t shocked by her answer- but I am seizing upon it to explore and find the way an actor builds a paradigm from which to operate trust.

What evokes trust in the industry? Honesty? “My mother died three weeks ago- I know my work is in trouble.” This statement will perhaps evoke compassion, but not trust. See if this helps: A resume with perfect margins, good font, no misspellings, clarity of information, which gives a picture of the actor’s career and where to get in contact with the actor, a list of skills, and, finally, citizenship status and union affiliations. This begins the trust. A good picture that looks like you- and more trust is established. Regarding the picture: if you have an obvious scar above your left eyebrow- and you’re drop dead gorgeous- do not have it airbrushed on your picture… you will not be trusted. You have an audition and you dress like you just had a run in Central Park or a dance class at Steps… You won’t be trusted. Wear tight fitted expensive leather pants on your incredible sexy body when you audition for a social worker- you will not be trusted. Wear a suit, shirt, tie, and a pocket-handkerchief when you audition for a lawyer- you will be trusted and appreciated. As you see, the paradigm is first being built from the outside. It is the external things that first come into the auditor’s view. Oh yes, you can be trusted if you walk in the door with warmth and energy. A great smile covers all evils, and you will be trusted.

Unless given to you at the casting office half an hour before your audition, have the text in- in other words, have knowledge of all the meanings of the words, names, places, and things. If done, you will be trusted. If tears are required for the material you are auditioning with, they must be invisible upon arrival into the office- and they must magically appear when the text dictates their appearance. Trust is instantaneous. A well-trained, emotionally accessible actor can make this happen. Taking an adjustment– even the most outrageous ones- brings respect and trust for your actor. Weep to the raw bottom of your soul, but restore immediately at the end of the audition—this evokes trust and sometimes curiosity. Mucous is dangling from your nose- no trust, just disgust. Guns at an audition- even if it is your nephew’s toy gun- do not create trust, just fear. If, in audition, a new impulse hits you and you decide to follow it through, make sure that you do so in character and in the character’s circumstances. If you do not artfully follow the impulses, you will be considered crazy and not be trusted. It was a psychotic impulse when van Gogh cut off his ear, but wonderful art when he crafted Starry Night.

As you build your paradigm to gain trust, remember that you can have personality disorders, perhaps like van Gogh, and still be a great artist. Also, as you know, in this day and age, mental disorders not only have names and pills attached to then, but they can be diagnosed and co-exist with talent, if responsibly treated.

It is not only the job of the actor to prepare the audition material- it is also mandatory for the actor to gain the auditor’s trust. You are brave, hard-working souls who take on the arduous task of acting… Stay in your dreams.

With deep respect and well wishes- Always in the art! – Susan Batson

PS- Thanks to Brette Goldstein for inspiring this post!

Putting the Artist First

Can we have an industry in which the artists come first? This is a question pressing against the left side of my rib cage. The conditions of our industry often seem anti-artist. Yet, I must encourage artists to create in spite of this because to create is to exceed oneself and one’s environment. So I cannot just have this pressure against the left side of my rib cage- I am obliged to move passed it and demand an answer. Can we have an industry in which the artists come first?

There is the fear that no one is listening and, therefore, there is no one to answer the question. Do not take my aphorism as one of a victim, but as one of a fighter determining his/her strategy. The role our industry is playing is one of commercialism- the mighty dollar first. So some of us have compromised our passion for art to fit into this sluggish reality of the big bucks busters. Make 520 million dollars in the first week of a movie, and they say that’s art! Yet, I must encourage you to fight for art and to put your artist first in an industry that has placed mad profit as their primary concern. So, do not make your only solution dissolution or compromise. Be aware and passionately assert your art amidst the shoot-‘em-ups, technological violence and innocuously loud humor. Those that have the guts break through enough to be seen and find the luck to establish their own perfect time and space.

All of this is being stated in generalities, but I am certain that will takes courage, and the courage to believe in one’s desired principle is worth the trouble of willing its realization. I know that I am talking to many artists who exemplify great passion for the art and have the desire to bring it into the world population. All of you are poetic, conscious, innovative, powerful, and with all the qualities to begin an artistic revolution. Yes, even with the state of the industry and the world today, I do believe in the creative artist. You are out there, eager, hungry, and deeply passionate. You are still dreaming, believing, hoping, and struggling to bring truth to your art. No matter where I go around the world, I see your eyes light up full of love, gratitude, and inspiration for the art form you love. It is for you that this pressure against the left side of my rib cage is released with the hope that I am able to instill in all of us the motivation and guidance to bring us an artist-first industry with a healthy environment to create.

Always in the Art, Susan Batson

If Loving You is Wrong- I Don’t Want to be Right!

I like that these days I’m wrong- Every once in a while I’ve been slapped into humility My arrogance splattered floor before me, stinking like vomit. Righteousness and arrogance amongst artists are violations of the unwritten artist’s code. A real artist is quite aware of how humane an artist must be to achieve their craft. Like all beings they are flawed, but even with a multitude of imperfections their struggle for truth integrity authenticity and humanity in their art gains them grace. It is understood that there is no such thing as perfection. Failure is always a lesson in art. And you can’t please all of the people all of the time. What speaks to you may not speak to me- And it is not a reason for condemnation.

So, I don’t want to be right if I don’t like all of Tyler Perry’s movies. If the truth be told, I honor and respect Tyler Perry for all that he has achieved, and when I walk on the grounds or through the halls of the Tyler Perry Studio, his passion and acknowledgement of all who have gone before him is not only informative but touching. Although our drummers may differ, Tyler Perry opens his ear and shares with me our differences and our commitment to what we love doing. For this feature, I am most grateful. Tyler Perry has many detractors, perhaps they are jealous or sincerely critical of Tyler’s work, but let us put our harshness and arrogance aside and share with Tyler Perry his commendable achievements. So if deep appreciation, gratitude and respect for Tyler Perry is wrong…  I don’t want to be right.  Good luck Tyler on your new project, If Loving You is Wrong.

An Open Letter from Laverne Cox of ‘Orange is the New Black’ to Susan Batson- And Susan’s Response!

Dear Susan,

I just got a Critics Choice Nomination for Outstanding Supporting Actress in a Comedy for Orange is the New Black. Thank you so much for all your guidance, support and for a process that truly serves the art. Love you!

Stay in the love,

                          Laverne Cox

………………………………………………..

Dearest Laverne,

For me this Critics Choice Nomination for Outstanding Supporting Actress is the equivalent to a victorious civil war like the French Revolution, or like Toussaint L’Ouverture in Haiti, or Nat Turner’s insurrection in the United States. This nomination is an equivalent of this type of victory!  You demanded, commanded, battled every obstacle, every taboo, every no, and you won. No one will ever know the sacrifices you made, the fear that you experienced, the hurt and pain that you endured but how fortunate you have made us all by sharing this victory with us! From the days of Black Nexxus to the Susan Batson Studio we’ve always been proud of you as an artist and as a teacher, and now you fill us all with joy!
Always in the Art… Love,
                                          Susan
 ………………………………………………..

Susan Batson and everyone at The Susan Batson Studio would like to congratulate Laverne on her much deserved nomination! Here’s to many more… We are rooting for you!

The Only Rule in Acting

Have you ever stopped to contemplate the full implication of the life you have chosen? Stumbling dangerously many times along the road to success- Do you ask yourself, “Should I continue?” The hardships of the profession have broken many a brave contender, but those who persevere, no one or nothing can kill their spirit. They have learned that the survivor is one who keeps on creating, inventing, believing, changing and renewing.

A continuum of practicing and training our craft is one of our most powerful weapons. Reading biographies and autobiographies, not for the chronological events of the actor’s life, but to use as models to help build your own career- Recognizing you are so very fortunate to be a contributor to culture through your creativity can be a strong motivator- Seeking exchanges of criticism in order to grow as an artist- Risking to avoid the conventional to discover new and exciting experimental art forms.

Your art exists in the realms of truth, creativity, imagination, belief, passion and generosity. Perhaps the only “rule” in acting is to honor the human being you are playing. Care enough to create a person with the purpose that other will also honor that human being. You trivialize humanity if you think acting is about learning lines. Acting is about Life and Death- Needs and Wants- Masks and Personas- Tragic Flaws- Actions and Objectives- Conflicts- Crisis- Resolutions- Circumstances- and much more. The human being’s words, who you are playing, enters the actor through the actor’s heart, soul and veins first, and then the brain, along with all of the senses.

Nothing in art has anything to do with rote memory. Actors, beware of anyone who reduces your art form to just learning the lines! Forgive them, for they know not what acting is! The profession of acting is difficult, complicated, complex, but an intriguing way to build character- yours- and other human beings.

Always in the Art,

                          Susan Batson