Freudian Slips: Inside the Actor's Studio

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Location: Irony, New Jersey, United States

Life takes us many places. It's a box of chocolates and a Hansel and Gretal trail of candy wrappers. I have filmed as an actor in The Happening, Invincible, The Lovely Bones, The Bounty Hunter, The Greek American, Bazookas, Limitless, TV's Its Always Sunny in Philly, Outlaw, New York, The Warrior, The Nail, Game Change, Cold Case, & commercial work includes The Philadelphia Eagles, Septa, Coors, Turbo Tax & Carnival Cruises. Freudian Slips spotlights irony in short story format.

March 18, 2007

Inside the Actor's Studio

-Kenneth McGregor on the set of The Greek American with the prop drink I poured.
I decided that the worst thing that could happen to me would be discovering I could not pretend to be somebody other than who I am. In reality, the actor’s workshop I just completed helped me discover who I am. Accomplished veteran Hollywood actor Kenneth McGregor taught the invitation-only actor’s workshop. With both of us coming off the movie set of The Greek American, a cold call to my cell phone later McGregor invited me with open arms into his lair. The 44-hour workshop encompassed three weeks and it infringed on nearly every waking moment off-stage studying lines, gathering props, and identifying wardrobe. Kenneth McGregor’s sharpened ice pick chipped away at my unprepared soul, a clean slate awaiting trampling by genius in the company of more gifted actors.
I fear that my words here might not accurately describe my incredible journey of body and soul. From the moment Kenneth John McGregor opened his mouth to teach acting, a huge learning curve arced before me. He might still be dramatically talking on that small Bohemian decorated stage in center city Philadelphia, if his audience did not leave his charismatic company. He possesses such an actor’s suitcase of information to share that he never once stopped for lunch. Inside the Actor’s Studio, maestro McGregor lectured technically about script analysis, character development, scene arc, the moment before, film techniques, improvisation, and the teacup theory. While Kenneth McGregor loves his craft, he is no cup of tea. His intensity brews and pours straight from his mouth all over you. He is a constant gardener willing to share his tools of the trade rain or shine. He is a genius of both human nature and storytelling, a master of his five senses if he has only that many.
For the first morning of the first workshop, actors were told to come prepared to deliver our best monologue. I performed a four-minute comedic chop monologue in front of thirteen professional actors, a director, a talent agent, and McGregor. I started my material in a Southern redneck accent. Before being granted permission to leave the stage, McGregor made me finish it in Standard English language. As the only actor who performed original material and comedy, serious-faced McGregor made me pay dearly for his unfamiliarity with my shtick involving my friend’s questionable relationship with a wild rooster. The joke was on me.
Kenneth McGregor teaches that acting starts from the inside out. He describes acting as the ability to transform private life in public forum. He maintains a philosophy that skilled actors get in touch with their emotions and access them at will. This caliber of an actor never mimics actorly ways or finds refuge in pretending. He commanded actors to inhabit our characters. His energy and brutal honesty never wavered nor sugarcoated anything. He made actors bounce in and out of characters nearly as quickly as he patently fired us from mock auditions. After the first day, I wanted my private life back. I would have emptied my bank account to go back to being just a background extra in movies.
A grueling aspect of the workshop Kenneth McGregor velvety disguised as group relaxation. Prior to taking the stage, he deeply relaxed our bodies then taught us how to achieve that same state of grace. He taught us to speak to our souls. He led us through a visual imagery minefield that unlocked extreme emotions such as fear, anger, sadness, and exaltation. He made us sob profusely at our most private moments then channel that emotion onto public stage. He made us scream acting affirmations then brought us out of this suggestive state to practice what we preached on the live stage. Like an out of body experience, I found myself mouthing repressed emotions to strangers that I have never felt comfortable sharing privately with either of my wives. Kenneth McGregor took me where actors dare, hidden tucked away places my psyche has never been before.
With a director’s swagger, Kenneth McGregor canvassed the floor like a pied piper rattling the jailor’s keys to our shaken souls. In the same breath, he loved and cursed us. He praised us with firm handshakes and affable hugs. He scolded us with finger pointing and parental toned anger. He taunted us to be better actors but uncannily knew when to back off. He expected and demanded growth. Those who respected his authority and trusted his expertise were rewarded with jewels.
As my newfound tears careened down my cheeks, I cleaned myself out of blithering slobber. “Don’t wipe those tears, Joe.” scolded Kenneth McGregor. “You big oaf, those tears are jewels for the rolling camera.”
His workshops proved so emotionally draining that I retired straight to bed after every class. I had nothing left by the end of the day and hoped to only wake-up stronger, if not a better actor. When his voice kept etching in my mind, I knew Kenneth McGregor had strangely inhabited me! I cried myself to sleep one night because I could not shake a buried emotion he captured in class. Conquering repressed emotions can take their toll on class size, however. He reminded his dwindling audience of the dedication it takes to be a believable actor. I found his class journal open where next to some rostered names, he wrote the summation “quitter.” I summoned all of my strength and did all in my power to prevent invisible ink from rising to the top next to my name.
After handing out script sides, Kenneth McGregor’s theatre voice resonated on the stage. “Joe. Every fiber of your next scene partner reeks that of an actress from as far away as a city block. I just hope she doesn’t make you look too bad.”
Scene after scene, I memorized lines like nobody’s business. I learned that previously unused parts of my brain could take snapshots of the script. Blurry at first, my picture taking eventually produced the entire lucid page in my mind as if it were present in front of me. I performed. I learned. I failed. I hurt. I healed. I grew. McGregor tore the actors down for the sole purpose of building improved authentic models. When the going got toughest, I focused on Kenneth McGregor’s acting experience. He has been on 1,000 auditions, taught under two-time Oscar winner Shelley Winters, worked for director Martin Scorcese, and had riveting scenes with Tom Cruise and Denzel Washington.
A workshop not for the thin skinned or faint of heart, Kenneth McGregor asked me if I was having fun. “Fun?” I scoffed. “To walk on stage and be someone else…ah, there is such personal freedom in that. But by the time I get to the other side, it feels like a bridge too frigging far.” As irony would have it, Kenneth McGregor called me on my cell phone after this same class. As my car inched across the steel girders of the Walt Whitman bridge in rush hour traffic, his hearty voice lobbied thought provoking aftercare instructions. On a bridge too frigging far, Kenneth McGregor literally helped me cross it.
By the second week, I accepted my lot in an epiphany. I craved the spotlight and could not wait to unleash my next performance. Never to be confused with a lead actor, my body mechanics nevertheless synchronized with the emotion of my words. I shifted into overdrive and trusted my preparedness. I acted outside my skin and it started to feel strangely comfortable. Many actors started leaving our inhibitions on the red carpet. Actors pared down to various stages of undress on the stage without a hitch. We kissed, clutched, and comforted one another in scenes. Actors argued, cursed, and exchanged physical altercation. For many of us, McGregor reduced that bridge too far to a short crosswalk. Yet, there remained so much to learn through his objectivity.
“Joe, your body weighs entirely too much for your words to get caught in your throat. Own your voice. I don’t care if you are standing there looking like a slob in your underwear; speak from the depths of your diaphragm.”
He kept a mental and written file on each actor. He critiqued the written coursework we turned in. From his director’s perch just off stage, he dissected scenes to atoms. He judged talent and the lack thereof like nobody’s business. As soon as he discovered a particular strength in an actor, he shuffled scenes to exploit weaknesses. He quickly removed me from comedy and over to drama, pushing my acting envelope until I could embrace a sultry William Hurt and Kathleen Turner scene from the movie Body Heat. I Hurt some more.
One four-minute scene from the movie Grand Canyon took me over two hours to act out. My partner and I danced that scene so many times from so many emotional states of being, I nearly fainted. Kenneth McGregor can keep you on the stage flipping character instructions until you get the part right, reach the point of physical exhaustion, or surrender to emotional breakdown. Then and only then will he relent. There is nobody quite like Kenneth McGregor’s doggedness for character perfection and scene realism. Where my eyes saw only flat copy before, I inhabited for the first time my character in three dimensions. My body became a crowded temple with McGregor, my character, and me inside each of us competing for a credited role.
In the end, I survived the entire workshop. I was present and accounted for during the final curtain call. I could not swallow the workshop whole but I never stopped chewing on it in piece meal either. Thirteen actors started the course, only six people finished. Numbers, however, only partly tell this story of survival.
I have roamed this planet for forty-four years before meeting anyone who could match my tenacity. This all changed when I met Kenneth McGregor and I am that much better for it. My teacher deserves his props. First thing is first. I need to get my car repaired from the automobile accident I got into while reciting lines. I must pay my city parking violations because he kept me on stage in character too long for a meter maid to understand my theatrics. I must recover from the bronchitis I caught due to a weakened immune system from emotionally charged scenes. I must wait for my wife to resume talking to me from doing dicey scenes with women. There is a price to pay for everything in this life. Literally, Kenneth McGregor nearly killed me turning me into a better actor. After reading this review, if anyone thinks professional acting looks easy, go see Kenneth John McGregor. Tell him Joseph Tornatore sent you. He knows me well. For it is he who knows me like no other person ever took the time.

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22 Comments:

Anonymous Marcus said...

Way to go Joe. Quite the accomplishment. You should be very proud of yourself. Hope you get to continue on your acting journey.

12:08 AM  
Anonymous Crimp said...

bravo.

8:44 AM  
Blogger Jessica said...

Does he have a website? I really wanna take his next workshop. I googled him but just got his filmography. I feel for your poor wife

1:08 PM  
Blogger rfvgardens said...

You paid your dues brother,you paid your dues.

1:10 PM  
Blogger Zelda Parker said...

Good work. Follow the paths that challenge and inspire you toward greatness.

7:32 PM  
Blogger Joe Tornatore said...

marcus,
the workshop started with the rooster monologue and went uphill from there. Kenneth McGregor referred to you as the farmer the whole class.

crimp,
thanks.

jessica,
i'll see what I can do.

rfvgardens,
now play ball.

zelda,
thanks.

9:06 PM  
Blogger Pax Romano said...

"You're going out there a social worker, but you're comeing back A STAR!"

What a great piece Joe, I was out of breath at the end of it!

That said, have you ever seen the film, "Body Double"? Your story of the acting class put me in mind of the movie's plot. Then again, this might not be the time to watch that film.

9:55 PM  
Blogger Joe Tornatore said...

Pax,
Never saw the movie Body Double. I'll have to rent it.

8:26 PM  
Blogger mommanator said...

Hey Buddy, thoroughly enjoyed your monologue of a weekend well spent! We should all take a page from your book in fortatude. Great luck on this part of your life! Dont ever forget your humor though! Thats the Joe we know!

7:55 PM  
Blogger Karl said...

A very interesting adventure, I'm sure. It's great when someone not only "acts" out his dream, but actually does something to help himself accomplish it!

8:06 PM  
Blogger Joe Tornatore said...

momanantor,
the humor all started with client impersonations.

karl,
even Mcgregor's autograph speaks of hard work. now that is intense. I miss everyone already.

8:24 PM  
Anonymous the vault said...

great job and story! thanks for sharing it! good luck with future endeavors!

9:00 PM  
Blogger Joe Tornatore said...

Vault,
Thanks to your advice Vault, I'll keep Mcgregor's autograph in a SAFE place. lol

9:11 PM  
Anonymous RHart said...

I also took a workshop with Kenneth. An exhausting but thoroughly enlightening experience. Be proud of yourself and those "jewels for the camera"!

5:07 PM  
Blogger Damien Colletti said...

Lol, Joe, Joe, Joe, anybody every tell you that you write rather well? Lol....Interesting piece and experience, nice accomplishment at the same time. Sounded like some journey, lol.

5:55 PM  
Blogger Joe Tornatore said...

rhart,
would love to hear more about your experiences through email. joetornatore@comcast.net

damien,
Known in actor circles for my writing, I should think about a career change. I love when actors stop by my blog. See you on the set.

9:33 PM  
Blogger Jessica said...

I actually don't recall leaving a prior comment on this post, but I see that someone with the name Jessica did. It doesn't link back to my blog, but I may have....
;-)

Despite that fact, I was captivated by your unusually-good-for-a-blog writing ability.

I was intimidated just reading about Kenneth McGregor, but also even more drawn to the idea of taking his class. His voice is very much how you described it, and I kind of guessed at his personality just from a couple of brief conversations.

I hope to dig down and find the same kind of courage that you have. Hopefully, I will have a fraction of your talent.

The idea of playing a scene from Body Heat and getting to be Kathleen Turner is extremely exciting!

7:40 PM  
Anonymous Victoria Gates said...

Here in Phiadelphia February 28, 2001 I am blessed and fortune to have the Genius Kenneth McGregor as my teacher, mentor and especially as my manager. My words would fall short at the superhuman amazing heart, sould, understanding, driven actor and acting coach. He is more than a gift....there are no words to describe well enough. What a sheer genius and master of the art of story telling.

12:53 PM  
Anonymous Victoria Gates said...

Jessica he still has his classes!! Ongoing every Monday at 7pm at The Walking Fish Theatre" 2509 Frankfor Ave, Philadelphia,PA. You can go to www.thewalkingfishtheatre.com.
Come prepared with a Monolougue. On facebook search Affordable Acting Class. $15.00 per class or 4 classes for 50.00. SPREAD THE WORD!

Best,

Victoria Gates

1:05 PM  
Anonymous Victoria Gates said...

Hello,
He still has his classes!! Ongoing every Monday at 7pm at The Walking Fish Theatre" 2509 Frankfor Ave, Philadelphia,PA. You can go to www.thewalkingfishtheatre.com.
Come prepared with a Monolougue. On facebook search Affordable Acting Class. $15.00 per class or 4 classes for 50.00. SPREAD THE WORD!

Best,
Victoria Gates

1:07 PM  
Anonymous Victoria Gates said...

Hello,
He still has his classes!! Ongoing every Monday at 7pm at The Walking Fish Theatre" 2509 Frankfor Ave, Philadelphia,PA. You can go to www.thewalkingfishtheatre.com.
Come prepared with a Monolougue. On facebook search Affordable Acting Class. $15.00 per class or 4 classes for 50.00. SPREAD THE WORD!

Best,
Victoria Gates

1:08 PM  
Anonymous Victoria Gates said...

Hello Joe,
I hope you are well. He still has his classes!! Ongoing every Monday at 7pm at The Walking Fish Theatre" 2509 Frankfor Ave, Philadelphia,PA. You can go to www.thewalkingfishtheatre.com.
Come prepared with a Monolougue. On facebook search Affordable Acting Class. $15.00 per class or 4 classes for 50.00. SPREAD THE WORD!

I would very much like to work with you in tne near future. The writing of his classes and your experiences, I am all to familiar with. Beautifull and gave me chills. :)

Best,
Victoria Gates

1:11 PM  

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