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Emily Grace


What Alice Found
Starring Judith Ivey, Bill Raymond, and Emily Grace
Awards: Special Jury Prize for Emotional Truth, 2003 Sundance Film Festival; Grand Prize, Deauville Film Festival
Opening Dec. 5, 2003 at Quad Cinemas an West 13th Street in Manhattan

Winning an award for "Emotional Truth" was a great testament to the style of acting that Sande teaches. It challenges you to be present every moment, and to find the truth of your character. There is no room for "showing" or "phoning it in." Transformational Acting is a very visceral, very immediate way of working in which the character lives and breathes through the actor. The things that resonate the most about what I have learned while studying with Sande are:

"If you don't have an experience, the audience certainly won't." This again touches on the idea of finding the truth in each moment. If something doesn't ring true for you while you are acting, the audience isn't going to buy it.

"Find your hook into the character — what is relevant to you personally?" Each character is complex, contradictory, and multi-layered, just as we are in real life. Sometimes I am working on a character that I am convinced I have nothing in common with. It is very difficult to convincingly portray a character that you don't understand. And yet, limiting yourself as an actor is conteractive to growth. I want to clarify what I mean about an actor not limiting him/herself. I mean this in the context of roles that the actor can realistically portray. I personally enjoy working in class on roles that I wouldn't get sent out for in the professional world, such as an Irish grandmother or a 40-year-old mother of two. I enjoy this because I feel it challenges me to confront parts of myself I might not normally experience, which helps me grow as an actor. I also mean not limiting possibilities of choices by operating out of "shoulds" or the idea that "my character would never do that." Why not? People do things out of character all the time. What if they did? Would it be more interesting? Saying "yes" in an acting situation is far more exciting than saying "no." Finding what is complex and paradoxical is far more interesting than finding what is perdictable or simply on the surface. Every human being has access to every single emotion. We often tend to rely on the reactions we are most comfortable with. It doesn't mean we don't have others. Taking a risk can be scary, as stepping into the unknown always is. But if you can identify an aspect of the character you can relate to, that is important and relevant to you in your own life today, it can help the character come alive, and opens up so many creative possibilities. Instead of asking yourself "why would the character do that?" rethink the circumstances to be able to answer the question "how could they not do that?"

"Let yourself feel what you're really feeling." I find this idea extremely helpful. Trying to force an emotion or state of mind, pretending or faking a feeling always rings false, no matter how good the actor. I find it very freeing to have the security to really feel what I'm feeling, especially in the rehearsal process, rather than trying to cover it up. The more you are able to acknowledge something, to address it head on, the more quickly it will change into something new. Using up energy to fake something or pretend is more likely to stifle creativity or to get you stuck in a cycle. The quicker you can acknowledge what is really going on for you, the quicker it will dissipate and not be an issue. The more honest you are with yourself, the more honest your acting will be. The moer honest you're acting, the more exciting and engaging the performance.

Another idea that ties in with what you're really feeeling is the idea of fear. Fear is inherent in an actor's life, and it is important to know how to handle it. No matter how successful one becomes there will always be a degree of fear in acting. There is no way around this, as being an actor requires one to turn oneself inside out for others to look in. It is deeply personal, and pretending that this is not a scary thing to do is simply a waste of exciting creative energy. I was terrified to work on my film, What Alice Found. Don't get me wrong, I was thrilled to have the part, exciting, and looking forward to the job. But working with someone of the caliber of Judith Ivey is a tall order, and I was going through myriad insecurities, doubts, and fears they would change their mind and decide in fact I wasn't good enough, etc. TOne of the best pieces of advice that Sande gave me was, "Of course you're terrified. Ther is no way you would not be terrified! Don't try to squelch the fear, just use it!" Fear is just energy. It can be a great fuel for the actor. Instead of ignoring it or avoiding it, let year be your friend. Have it, acknowledge it, then use it! See how quickly it will change into something else.

"Don't work the material, let the material work you." This idea, for me, ties together all of teh things I have already mentioned. Once you find your hook into the character, have figured out what is relevant in the scene and meanningful to you, have allowed yourself to also acknowledge your own emotions, can work with th efera nad are ready to throw yourself into the material, is the time to let the material "work you." The difference between working the material and letting it work you has a lot to do with planning vs. spontaneity. Of course, in a professional situation there are many aspects that must be planned — finding your mark, lighting cues, camera blocking, etc. Once a scene is mapped out and ready to be filmed or performed, it can be tempting to fall into the trap of working the material. By this I mean pre-planning your emotions, your reactions, or even the exact intonation of a line. The more you pre-plan and simply repeat a scene, take after take, show after show, the more flat, predictable and manufactured the scene will feel. If you are required to shoot a take 5, 10 or 20 times in a row and continue to repeat what you've planned, it will be boring. Acting is not about pre-planning. It is a living, breathing creative art. You can still discover something new after 20 takes. It is easy to remain creative and spontaneous if you let the material "work you," keep your listening open and really allow yourself to live in the moment. Hit your mark, find your light, and discover the aliveness of each new moment.

Transformational Acting has helped me continue to grow as an actor. I have been lucky enough to realize many dreams at this early stage of my career. What I love about the technique is that it challenges me to keep pushing myself to the next level, keep working on myself and keep growing. There is no end to the possibilities I can create through my characters. There is no right or wrong, just what I bring to the table. Each moment is another chance to create something truthful, meaningful, exciting and alive!