But perhaps we should call it “focus.” If one doesn’t focus when he or she consumes any form of life’s sustenance, then he or she, a.k.a. “the consumer”, is destined to be forever known as the consummate slob.
A contradiction of this fact would be the allowance that an enormous number of our brethren, actors, are forever slobs; albeit in truth, they are capable of great focus. This condition is known in some states of being as “a contradictive conundrum.”
And so our at-large question remains, after many centuries, the same: can a person focus and simultaneously be a slob? Is it possible to be an actor, with great focus, and also be a slob?
My favorite meal is spaghetti and meatballs. I love everything about it; the look, the smell, the taste. Thinking about spaghetti and meatballs has always been easy for me to focus in on; even in the worst of times, without the means for multiple meatballs, I still called it “spaghetti and meatballs.” It just didn’t seem right to call it “spaghetti and meatball.”
When I was a newly divorced bachelor, it was spaghetti which comforted me. It was spaghetti that helped me forget my ex-wife. There was a particular time period, when I ate spaghetti for dinner every night, seven nights each week. Beginning with Sunday evening, I would make a huge pot of pasta. Since I wasn’t what anyone might describe as a cook, (meatballs was something of an epicurean procedure not allied with my attained skills), I was forced to focus in on other delights to mix in with my pasta.
Commencing with a large jar of tomato sauce, containing clams or meat, the week progressed favorably. (I managed not to kill myself.) Each night I would mix in (to my one large pot) whatever leftovers I had stored in the refrigerator from either that or the previous days lunch. For fear of blowing what little intellectual credibility I remain with, I’ve decided not to include naming each of the variety of foods which ultimately made it into my dinner pot.
“Perspicacious,” as I am so often described, would not have been the word of choice if the person choosing the descriptive word for me was privy to a picture of me throwing a variety of food stuffs into a pot of three day old spaghetti.
“Perspicacious.” Adjective. His perspicacious advisers recommended caution discerning, shrewd, perceptive, astute, penetrating, observant, percipient, sharp-witted, sharp, smart, alert, clear-sighted, farsighted, acute, clever, canny, intelligent, insightful, wise, sage, sensitive, intuitive, understanding, aware, discriminating; informal on the ball, heads-up, with it. Keen. (Antonym: Stupid.)
In my travels, there have been times when I overheard an actor who was having trouble focusing being referred to as “stupid.” I can’t remember his name, because I’ve always had a problem remembering bad actors. What I do as a casting director is make a notation next to their name in our computer file in order to avoid bringing them back for an audition. Some people refuse to try improving their focus. Some have the temerity of expressing the lack of a true need to focus. Temerity implies exposing oneself needlessly to danger while failing to estimate one’s chances of success!!
The line that divides boldness from foolishness or stupidity is often a fine one.
An actor without the ability to focus; now that’s a concept for the gods. I am not a god, and I don’t conduct my auditions as such. I can remember being asked by a colleague how a particular actor did at an audition. As is often the case, the actor in question happened to be a current student of ours. It only took a few minutes in the booth with this guy in order for me to decide I wouldn’t want to be at the same table with him eating spaghetti. While the spaghetti might disappear, great remnants of tomato paste would definitely remain on his chest. The end result: No spaghetti, no focus, and no actor. Some would say, we could have tented him. But if the part he was playing called for him to be wearing something other than a tent, our actor might be short on focus.
I remember back to my dad and I competing for the great “Spaghetti Championship” of Brooklyn, New York.
(As an aside…just about everything the two of us did turned out to be a game. We had rules and regulations for everything. Believe it or not, it was serious stuff for the two of us.)
Our rules did not allow for women to compete. My older sister was a certified klutz anyway. My younger sister was more of a cheerleader. She rooted for me to beat my father. Let the games begin. Our focus was intense. Here’s how the game was played:
The amount of spaghetti on each of our plates had to be exactly the same. (My mother would get heavy duty pissed off about this one, when she was told she had deliberately favored one of us over the other.)
Who was able to consume his spaghetti in the least amount of time, making use of one single fork? (No fingers allowed.)
And finally, the highlight of the competition, who could slurp up the remaining strands of spaghetti in a straw like fashion, without getting any tomato paste stains splattered on them?
There were many games my dad and I played together. As I got older, I became cognizant of the fact that we no longer would play a game once it became clear my father could no longer beat me at it. He would manage to discontinue liking the game at precisely the moment he was no longer the dominant winner.
I’ve never met a kid who didn’t love spaghetti. But, I’d venture to say, it is doubtful if there are many kids out there whose father was using a slurp the spaghetti game as a way to teach a young child a thing or two about focus through the introduction of spaghetti as a training device.
And so as a reiteration, I remind you to practice your focus. Before each audition, remember the spaghetti game, and the picture of a child slurping up the last morsel, all without a hint of spaghetti sauce ruining what he or she is wearing.
Of course, there are many ways one may train to focus. The obvious point is the importance of the act itself. Without focus, the game is over. But I must take this opportunity to clarify an important fact. Being a good reader by itself doesn’t guarantee an actor will improve their ability to focus. Certainly a professional voice over talent must be extremely adept at reading; it goes without saying.
The surprising part is the number of actors who are not adept at focusing and staying focused. These are also the ones with the excuses for not being able to read through a comparatively simple piece of copy.
An actor excusing himself because it’s too early in the morning for him to be awake and able to read, denoting a specific timetable necessary for his success. To that actor I will usually offer my guarantee, he or she will never have to worry about coming in to audition for us in the morning (or maybe even the evening).
(Can you imagine an actor meeting a casting director for the first time and saying how they are just not a morning person? Even if that happens to be the case, I would whole-heartedly advise not telling that to any casting director. Especially to this one.)
What I offer you is the same fatherly advice given to me. And often the advice given to me wasn’t solicited. It was inflicted.
Charles Kalmenson as told to Harvey Kalmenson, age unknown.
“All you have to do Harv, is two things; look and listen. Do the one that happens first. It will always be the same, either sight or sound. The more you look and listen to anything and everything, the easier it will be for you to excel.”
What those words translate to is the simple forerunner of anyone’s ability to focus. Most early-in-life lessons are the simplest to learn, and can be the most difficult to adhere to if not practiced. Telling a child what a great listener they are, and then finding a way to reward them for their attentiveness, or conversely explaining the penalties of not paying attention is the manifesto for the professional actor, age not withstanding.
Back to the audition:
The following is an actual case (not supposition) to prove a point. The scenario transpired and continues to be repeated regularly by a small number of those being auditioned at Kalmenson & Kalmenson.
All scripts to be auditioned are retyped at our offices in order to secure the most desirable format, best suited to an actor’s performance during the in house auditions.
We take great pains to ensure against any and all possible and or misleading information being presented as the actor’s interpretive directions.
Each and every script is clearly and painstakingly marked in an effort to eliminate confusion.
Well, guess what; the best laid plans often go down the toilet; so much so, there are, on occasion, incidents when I lose it to uncontrollable laughter.
An actor enters the booth and immediately begins reading. When she (yes it was a she, and that’s all you’re going to get) finishes reading through the script she asks me if I got it. I advise her I haven’t even turned the equipment on. From that point on it gets worse.
An actor enters the booth and before even so much as saying hello, he asks if there are any directions for him before he begins reading.
Keep in mind: The directions he was seeking are always up at the top of all of our scripts and clearly marked and highlighted.
Another actor comes in and, after slating his name, proceeds to read words that I don’t recognize. When I ask him what in the name of hell he’s reading, (keep in mind his script has been highlighted in advance of him entering the recording booth) he replies by telling me about the words next to the role he’s playing. When I explain to him he was in actuality reading the directions for the portrayal, he allows how he will need more time to study the script, as he hadn’t studied that part as yet. He wasn’t the least bit embarrassed.
And the beat goes on with one story after another. I’m not going to belabor the point. These actors all have a similarity to contend with. They refuse to focus. They don’t look, and they don’t listen.
So forget about it. They haven’t a chance in hell of making it in our professional world.
And if ever you happen to notice some tomato sauce on an otherwise well put together shirt or blouse, you might want to walk the other way.
NOTE: Many of these folks are the same people who can’t sit down at a table without bumping into or kicking one of the legs.