Theater Conservatory Confidential: Ch-Ch-Ch-Ch-Changes

Eli Diamond continues his semi-monthly report on life in a theater conservatory.

So this has been a rather eventful two weeks for me. I’ve learned a little bit more about myself than I thought I would, and then I had a wonderful scene, and then I came home for a long weekend.

So I guess I’ll start from the top: The past week has been an exercise in learning who I am. In high school, I was incredibly talkative, to the point of being obnoxious. I made it my goal to hang out with whoever I could, whenever I could, and for high school, it worked. I was, in my own way, happy.

Then when college came, I tried the same things for a while. Trying to hang out with people, who, in the end, I had no connection with. Talking about nonsense with people who, in reality, I could not have cared less about. As the first six weeks of the year came to a close, I realized that, for some reason, I was unhappy, and yet, I could not figure out why. I was surrounded by friends. I’d made a few incredibly close ones. I felt incredibly happy with my girlfriend. I was learning in the healthiest environment I’d ever worked in.

Eventually, I realized what my issue was: I wanted me-time. Not like, a little bit of time to myself, but to spend hours on my own. It’s then that I got to think, got to figure out things about my life. So slowly, but surely, I started cutting people a little bit out of my life. I stopped hanging out with some of the people who I just wasn’t feeling connected to, and as a result, I got happier. After studio, instead of going to dinner with friends, I’d go to my dorm and play video games. Instead of searching for people to go to dinner with, I’d just spend time eating by myself.

It may sound a little bit depressing, but the thing is, it’s not. I’m happier. Much much happier. We spend so much time trying to impress people who really aren’t worth impressing. In the end, I’m sorry to say, but if you’re not happy, you’re not doing it right. I was so upset, feeling like I was letting people down when I wasn’t making them laugh or entertaining them. Nowadays, I don’t really give a fuck. It’s not my job to make them happy. If they’re happy around me, they’re happy around me. If not, they’re not. It’s that simple.

The only thing I dislike about this new attitude is that it becomes clear who really liked you, and who was merely around for a laugh/their own comfort. Some people who I thought I was close with did just vanish after awhile. But whatever, their loss. I’m much more comfortable with myself now, and that’s the most important thing.

So this is the end of my article. No, I didn’t get to talking about my wonderful scene-work, or my return to San Francisco, but the thing is, that’s not what this blog is about. Yes, it’s about a kid going to college. But for me, it’s more about my growth as a person rather than “What I did this week”. In the end, college is really about growing up, and learning who you are, and I’m hoping you get some happiness from sharing that experience with me.

Check back in two weeks from now, when Eli may or may not be happier…

Theater Conservatory Confidential: Practical Aesthetics

NYU freshman Elijah Diamond continues to chronicle his first year away from the Bay Area, learning the tricks of the industry actor trade.

To put it bluntly, studio has ruined my social life. With nonstop classes from 8:30 to 6:30 on Tuesdays, Thursdays, and Fridays, I have literally no time to do anything except wake up, eat, and sleep. The rest of my day, as you may expect, is devoted to the Studio. Most of “my friends”, the people I met during the first week, have all but dropped off the face of the earth save for two notable exceptions. They’ve been replaced, slowly but surely, by people from my studio, a ragtag group of people, most notable of which being my scene partner, Reina.

That’s right, I said “Scene partner”. Not even four weeks in and already I’m supposed to be performing two scenes. I hoped to have some interesting details on what it was like working on this scene in class, but unfortunately, our scenes been postponed til next Thursday. So if you want to hear interesting details on how Atlantic runs scene-work, or my scene, from Oleanna, you’re out of luck. For now however, I think it’s time for me to describe Practical Aesthetics, the technique Mamet runs.

Practical Aesthetics runs off of one key principle “Think before you act, so you can act before you think”. There are other anecdotes that influence the technique, such as “You are what you are, and that’s all you need to be”. Most of the technique revolves around you being the most “you” that you can be. The technique does not want you to give anything more than yourself; no faked emotions here. In order to fulfill both of these statements, the technique has four major steps.

Literal: What is the character literally doing in the scene? Figure out what he’s doing without any form of interpretation whatsoever. An example: in Harold Pinter’s Betrayal, there’s a conversation about selling the flat which really represents the relationship. You would not talk about the relationship, just that they were talking about selling the flat.

Want: What does the the character want? What does the character desire? And what is his goal? This delves more into the subtext of the scene, and less on the literal.

Action: What is the essential nature of the scene to you? Note that we’ are not talking about the character anymore. The focus of the scene instead has turned to you as a person. Actions include “To put someone in their place”, “to wake someone up to reality”, etc. The only rules for the action is that it has to be something you want the other person to do, it has to be specific, and it has to have a “cap”, an endpoint.

As-if: Here’s where Practical Aesthetics really shines for me. You apply the action to your own life, find something that you want/need to do in your regular life, and use it to stir up your viscera to reach the emotional level you need to be at for the scene. The as-if helps make the scene spontaneous, helping to fight off any possible tedium that may eventually occur in the scene.

So yeah, that’s Practical Aesthetics, a technique created by David Mamet and William H. Macy. Hopefully next time, I’ll be able to tell you what it’s like to work on a scene in this environment.

Check back in two weeks for the latest on Elijah Diamond’s navigation of the Atlantic. Get it? 

Theater Conservatory Confidential: In The Beginning

Elijah Diamond reports on his first two weeks of classes at NYU.

College: the final frontier.

On September 4th, I began the non-party/crazy element of this adventure the only way I could: by being half asleep during a lecture from my studio. The lecture covered most of what I had already read that previous summer in The Practical Handbook for the Actor: the basis for Atlantic Acting School’s technique, referred to as “Practical Aesthetics”, was something I was all too familiar with. The two and a half hour lecture delivered to us served to only bore me and cause me to want to jump forward with my studies, hopefully by going straight away into scene work.

Unfortunately though, this did not seem to be the case, as instead of going into studio right away, I was forced to do my other courses. My first class, “Introduction to Theatre Studies”, promised to be challenging, incredibly interesting, and fun… so I decided to transfer out. It’s my first semester freshman year. I am way too busy trying to figure out what direction is which in New York to focus on the subtleties represented in Ibsen’s A Doll’s House. Later that day, I had “Writing the Essay: Art and the World”, a class in which I learned how to write essays, for the eighty-sixth time. So far, college classes were not what I expected, what with the emphasis being more on academia, and less on my art.

This changed quickly though on Thursday, my first legitimate day of studio. My classes in studio focus on all different aspects of Practical Aesthetics. The majority of my classes are physical work. Movement and Alignment are meant to make me more comfortable with my body, and also to help my posture, which, if any of you know me, is like a crazy straw. Alignment quickly became “Hey class, this is what’s wrong with your classmate Elijah’s body”, but I did not mind. The fact that the teacher decided to focus his attention on me meant that I’ll be getting more personal work done. So yay for that. Movement was more basic work outs, which made my body more sore than I expected. My arms still hurt from Tuesday, and that’s quite a feat, given my bulging biceps. (On the topic of my fitness, I’ve already gained my freshman 15, but that’s a tragic story for another day).

Voice and Speech have been very hand in hand so far this semester, with Voice being more concerned with breathing and tension, and Speech focusing more on phonetics. Both classes are incredibly fun and relaxing. The final two classes I have (besides Games, but Games does not count, because it’s Games) are Script Analysis and Performance Technique, which are focused intensely on teaching us the basics of Practical Aesthetics, and how to apply them to basic scenes. In Performance Technique, I was called upon to work one of the basic scenes, and discovered I have a slight emotional block that we are going to try to work through this year. In Script Analysis, we’ve been working more on the specifics of the scenes, one of the more… interesting ones we wrote as a class:

Aaron: This was our table.
Taylor: Do we really want this?
Aaron: It always seems to come back to this.
Taylor: Heads or Tails?
Aaron: You haven’t changed.
Taylor: Things aren’t always as they seem.

I feel myself becoming a better artist already.

Theater Conservatory Confidential #1

Today we launch a new on-going guest blog spot with Eli Diamond’s “Theater Conservatory Confidential”, a semi-monthly chronicle of this young and accomplished Bay Area actor’s first year as an NYU theater student. What will happen when West goes East for fame and fortune? Check in every other Friday to find out!

“Oh brave new world…”

As a young man growing up in San Francisco, I spent a lot of my time figuring out how to get into an acting career. I mean, everyone knows how to get into an acting career: You audition for shows, you (hopefully) get a part, you make connections, you leave. But sometimes things are not as simple as they seem. For example, how do you become a good actor? Is it just something you’re born with? Or is it something that can be taught? Is it something that it’s worth spending thousands upon thousands of dollars on? Is it something that you should consider getting a degree in? These are things that I hope to discover over the course of my college experience. But before that, I should look back on how I entered this strange, colorful, world of theatre.

Early on in my high school days, I started doing plays and musicals, as an arts credit. But where some people just stuck to the school-produced shlock, I went outside looking for some theatre. Over the course of my high school career, I performed in over 35 different plays and musicals; professional, youth, school-related, and otherwise. To put it bluntly, theatre had become my addiction. I surrounded myself with my cast-mates, former and current, and I spent every waking moment at a rehearsal for something or other. To give you an idea, I was in rehearsal/performing nonstop from May 2011-June 2012.

But then, my senior year of high school came, and the big question emerged: Where should I go to college? I already knew that I wanted to act, so I did my research, and I decided to apply early decision to NYU Tisch School of The Arts. One 5:30 AM audition, tons of paperwork, and $67,000 in student loans (kill me kill me kill me) later, and: Ta-dah! Elijah Diamond became enrolled in the BFA Acting program at the Atlantic School for Acting, a subdivision of Tisch.

From what I had heard, Atlantic seems to be a pretty big deal. It has a militant reputation, namely because they lock the doors to their classes 15 minutes before they begin. It also has a fantastic history, having been founded by David Mamet and William H. Macy. Numerous actors have been through there; actors who’s names you would recognize, but I admit to being too lazy to look up. All that I remember is that Jessica Alba went there, for better or worse.

Right now, I am preparing on leaving: Packing up my life, abandoning the world I know, and heading into the unknown. I leave for New York on August 23rd and will be filling this blog with my (legal) exploits. Hopefully, this will be full of interesting and exciting adventures. Worst case scenario: you all feel like you’re stuck in school again. But if this works well: You’ll receive an insider’s look on what it’s like to be an Acting major in the heart of New York.

Keep checking in every other Friday for Eli’s updates as he navigates his first semester at NYU.