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No. 21 Shurtleff's Thirteen

Part One: The “I’m Okay, You’re Screwed Up” Approach.

"Happy to see this on display. Best acting book ever! --- Patron

In an interview with Charlie “Dickweed” Rose, Dennis Hopper does an impressive job of summarizing the three acting methods that came out of Stella Adler, Sandy Meisner, and Lee Strasberg’s prophetic trip to Russian when they went to study with the director of the Moscow Art Theatre - Stanislavsky. As the folklore goes, Stella, Sandy, and Lee left Russia too early and headed back to the states before Stanislavsky had completed the creation of his groundbreaking “Magic If” method. The three each decided to create their own process.

“Sandy was about using improvisation and imagination with child - like playing to bring you into having real emotions. With Stella it was all about working with objects - props and costumes and how those actions will free you to have real emotions. Lee was about using your senses to create sense memory of emotions from your past.” --- Dennis Hopper

In his unpretentious and dishy book, Audition: Everything You Need to Know to Get the Part, Michael Shurtleff picks up where Sandy, Stella, and Lee (and Uta Hagen) left off. Shurtleff cuts through the bullshit, and offers actor, directors, and writers the seminal book on creating relationships on stage.

We don't live for realities, but for the fantasies, the dreams of what might be. If we lived for reality, we'd be dead, every last one of us. Only dreams keep us going...When you are acting, don't settle for anything less than the biggest dream for your character's future.

-- Michael Shurtleff, Audition: Everything You Need to Know to Get the Part

Michael Shurtleff was a prominent casting director in New York in the ’60s and ’70s. During the casting of A Lion in Winter for Broadway the director, a British man, said that American actors don’t seem to know how to find the humor in a dramatic text. Shurtleff took this as a challenge and started to offer workshops about how to find humor in your audition pieces. Those workshops became an exploration of twelve guideposts for actors.

Here they are:

Guidepost 1: Relationship

Guidepost 2: Conflict

Guidepost 3: The Moment Before

Guidepost 4: Humor

Guidepost 5: Opposites

Guidepost 6: Discoveries

Guidepost 7: Communication & Competition

Guidepost 8: Importance

Guidepost 9: Find the Events

Guidepost 10: Place

Guidepost 11: Game Playing & Role Playing

Guidepost 12: Mystery & Secret

(In the eighties, Shurtleff added a thirteenth guidepost.)

Guidepost 13: Mischief

I think it is a shame that this book retained the title “Audition” because it is so much more than a book about how to get cast; it is a book about how to create an exterior and interior world for characters and their relationships that leave audiences astonished.

Here’s a summary of the first guidepost:

Guidepost 1: Relationship

Find the love in the scene; for example, the presence of love, the absence of love, betrayal of love, etc. Who is the other person in the scene in relation to me? Mother, daughter, son, lover, husband, etc. What’s your history with this person? Ask the question: “If you loved me you would...” What do I love about this person? What do I hate about this person? The problem in the relationship is always with another person. The “I’m Okay, You’re Screwed Up” Approach. Important to Remember: “This is a play about me in love relationship. What is the problem with my partner and what can I do/ give to my partner to solve my problem to get my dream today?”

What I appreciate most about this guidepost is the love in a relationship can be a dark love, taboo love, secret love, fucked - up love, innocent love, a love between strangers or love between spouses. It can be about the lack of love and the need for love. Love is the action and love needs to be talked about defined and it has to be present on stage.

A rehearsal conversation might go like this:

But my character doesn’t like that character?

We are not talking about like. We are talking about love. Where is the love in this scene?

He strokes my ego.

There you go. Don’t you love that?

I do but I don’t want to admit it.

Play that.

This guidepost is just the first of a 13 layer relationship cake. I’m going write a separate blog on each guidepost so I can spend time with each one and look at how it applies to the plays I’m writing and the acting and directing I’ll be doing in 2019.

This short video gives you a flavor of how Shurtleff worked and you will see how focused and thorough he expects theatre artists to be for the audience. It is such a pleasure to watch him in action.

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