I’m so guilty of living in the past that there are times when even I can’t stand it. My love of the old movies, as I watched them as a kid, remains and will always live on in my mind’s eye and in my heart’s throbbing. I grew up believing almost everything I saw on the big silver screen. If they smoked, I smoked. If they fenced on a sailing vessel against whatever pirates had attacked, then I too established myself as a master of the saber. When Tyrone Power swung by one arm as he held Maureen O’Hara in the other, then I too longed to do the same. William Powell and Myrna Loy dressed in evening ware as they sipped incessantly on martinis, smoked cigarettes and stayed up until dawn everyday – that was the envy of my neighborhood. Whatever and whomever was on the screen was to be our portrayal of that day or week or month. We lived and became the stars. All of us knew every players name, and quite often were able to memorize all of their important speeches.
Humphrey Bogart, James Cagney, Edward G. Robinson; they were all bigger than life. They were life. What was then remains with me now. What has changed for me is simply stated: Nothing. I can vividly recall sitting there in a darkened theater with my dad alongside as we watched and listened to Gary Cooper as Lou Gehrig, in “Pride Of The Yankees,” proclaiming: “Today I consider myself the luckiest man on the face of this earth,” as we all, including my father, fought back the tears. I was Mickey Rooney in “Boys Town” being put in his place by Spencer Tracy. And the cowboys and their horses being able to gallop all the way from one town to another as Roy Rogers fired at the bad guys while facing backwards as he rode. But of all of the thousands of actors I watched and portrayed, none were able to sustain the mark left permanently and indelibly on me as did Peter Lorre. There was a short period of time when I became Peter Lorre. I studied his every move. He was my favorite sniveling bad guy. I loved when he got slapped around by Bogart, or in his hushed voice attempted to convince the world of how honest a man he was. None of my friends ever wanted to be Peter Lorre. I don’t know, he just really got to me.
And then each of my favorites took turns as leading men and women on all of my favorite radio shows. I was in heaven. I knew what they looked like, so it didn’t take much in the way of imagination for me to see them once again before me doing their thing.
From age eight to age thirteen, actors took charge of my most impressionistic period of life. I never dreamed I was ultimately going to meet them, let alone enjoy the thrill of directing them (not all but many). As a young kid, I wasn’t yet aware of the role the director played. The fact is, I wasn’t even aware there was such a thing as a director. In short order, I was about to find out. Between ages sixteen and eighteen many of these same actors began to once again enter my life. This time they were live people like me; laughing, joking, and breathing just as the normal folk do.
What follows comes as a result of many years of practical application. The academic being turned into the reality of life in a variety of venues, where having a director is essential to the success of the project.
If I were required to choose between a formal education (school) and a practical education (learning as you attempt to earn a living), my selection, unequivocally: The practical. Every venue is different. Every group of players is different. Every audience is different from night to night, even if it’s the same play being repeated. Trial and error must be gleaned during application under fire. There will never be a replacement for experience. Whether it is acting, directing, producing, writing, or choreography, the practical application of one’s skills become finely honed during the game.
“Listen.” The word for every creative being, today, tomorrow, and forever; “Listen.” Hearing this word a thousand times will not be wasted on who you are today, and with the utmost certainty who you are destined to become in the creative world. Of the thousands and thousands of actors whom I have directed during the course of my latest thirty years on this planet, the most successful professionals have a marked similarity: they are the most ardent and attentive listeners to be found anywhere.
Without the ability of being a good listener, one loses the ability of becoming a superior learner. Learning is synonymous with experience. I use the term “superior” because in order to make it within any subjective art form, a person must excel; be excellent, be outstanding, be skillful, be talented, be preeminent, reign supreme; stand out, be the best, be unparalleled, be unequaled, be second to none, be unsurpassed; call it superior, if you like. And with all your striving, and all your hard work in order to establish yourself with recognized preeminence, there will always be those out there ready willing and able to point out how lucky you are. To those out there, who have judged you as being lucky, I offer them my condolences over their obvious comatose existence. Those out there dependent on luck have an obvious inability to listen and learn. They will never lead as a director, create as an actor, nor lead their troop of dancers across a stage. They will never cause an audience to feel what they feel, or hear what they themselves listen to.
As a voice over artist you must recognize the fact, although your audience happens to be in their own home or car, they are still your audience. You must still cater to their needs and wants. In this case your forever word is “responsive.” The printed directions will help you to listen and cater to the obvious and not so declarative needs of those within the sound of your voice. But it isn’t a case of what you want to do or say. As an actor, you must be responsive to the needs of the listener.
A good director understands the foregoing. He or she has the valuable aptitude of being an exceptional listener. I, of course, mean as a director who listens to the actor, and not praying for what they are going to ask you to do next.
Following as precise a direction as my experience will allow, I switch from being the director, and tune into the actor, listening as closely as I can for their responsiveness to my needs as their audience. (The director becomes the audience.) They speak; I listen. I speak; they listen.
Here is a brief review of what I feel to be the most substantive notes coming from my foregoing eleven hundred words.
“Listen and then be responsive.”
Regardless of what you are preparing to creatively accomplish, take a moment to hesitate before diving in, and remind yourself of those important success ingredients: “Listen and then be responsive.”
On stage, or in the wings, listen and be responsive.
Preparing for an audition, listen and be responsive.
You come home to your wife and children, listen and be responsive.
… and for me and da harv; when God talks, I try to listen and be responsive!