The Woman Behind The Impressionist

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In less enlightened, (or just more sexist) times, it was said that “behind every great man there is a great woman.”

I’m FAR from being anything like a great man, but behind ME every step of the way is a GREAT woman, my wife, Tamra Meskimen.

(That’s TAMRA, no center “A”.  Pronounced to rhyme with “Camera.”)

In high school, Tamra was a totally charming and award-winning actress.  We didn’t go out together then, but we acted in a play together, Cyrano de Bergerac (she was excellent and really cute.)

When we reconnected years after high school, I fell in love with her on the day– Christmas Day, 1983.  It was truly like an alarm going off, or a bell sounding.  If it had been a cartoon, the balloon would have said “BOING!”

She set in starting to help me immediately.  She’s that kind of person, the kind that makes the world go around.  Not one in a million have that impulse and willingness to just help.

An artistic life is too big for any single person.  He/she needs a team as soon as it can be managed.  Tamra has been on my team since my first beginnings in show business, and I have been on hers.

People often say to Tamra, “How do you live with him?  You must be just laughing all day long!”  Tamra is very polite when she answers that.

She’s seen me in more shows than anybody should ever have to sit through, in the most ridiculous venues and situations.  In the old days, I was forever dragging her off to some weird space to see me perform, (come to think of it, that hasn’t changed much) and I can tell you, she isn’t laughing all day long.  Who could?  But she’s a trouper.

When we were young, broke and in New York, we had a job together at a trade show where we dressed up as Popeye and Olive Oyl.  We had full head masks, gigantic shoes… we really were well cast.  If Twitter had existed then, she would have had a million followers.

She naturally looks out for me in a way that I don’t even do for myself.

There’s the little thing like keeping me fed, taking care of me when I’m sick, helping me bring order to my desk, my accounts, my clothing, taking photographs at shows so I’ll have some good shots to use, giving me my wonderful daughter Taylor and helping raise her to her sane, safe adulthood…   And a million others that she thinks of that I never seem to remember to do.  Tamra is a GREAT friend.  An amazing human being.

A few years ago she founded an improv company, The Really Spontaneous Theatre Company, which specialized in one-act plays, just so we could have something fun to do with our friends, and be actors together.  We did hundreds of shows, each one a new and exciting experience.  She acted in and ran that group, which was like trying to herd cats.

Then, she became a founder of The Acting Center school, a place where actors can get training to become professionals, without the intrusive, critical atmosphere that most “guru-based” acting schools foster.  It’s helping hundreds and hundreds of beginning and veteran actors regain their interest and ability in creating compelling and convincing performances without becoming dependent on an outside “critic”.  I am a student there, and I’ve been getting a lot out of it.

Of course, she’s still a terrific actress who has done tons of plays, web shorts, TV shows, audiobooks, commercials and just about everything there is for an actress to do in legitimate entertainment.

To say I’m her biggest fan is of course, a very true statement; I have seen everything SHE has done, just as she is an authority on all my work.

It is a marvelous thing about being together so long with a person (26 years of marriage along with the years prior to that) that one becomes an expert, an authority on, and an advocate of one’s mate.  We’ve been that for one another, and I wouldn’t trade it for anything.

So as I head into this next evolution of massive attention, it is not as a single artist going it on his own, but as the second of two parts, one visible and seemingly independent, the other working steadfastly behind the scenes to make sure the visible one doesn’t faint from lack of food, have stains on his suit, or a thousand other possible infractions of good taste, good manners or common sense.

Tamra’s always there for me, and I can’t thank her enough.

ACCEPT IMITATIONS, A Beginner’s Guide to Performing Celebrity Impressions Chapter Five

SPEED OF DELIVERY

When you are developing a celebrity impression, or any character, one little thing to look at is speed of communication.

Not everyone speaks at the same rate, or processes information at the same speed.

Some personalities are as fast as a greyhound, others, as slow as a slug. Some, like Harold Camping, who famously predicted the end of the world in July and then again in October of 2011, are almost too slow to effectively imitate; no one will sit through the impression.

Sometimes that has to do with age or education, sometimes it’s just some factor resident in the personality of the individual themselves.

If you study early American movie stars, they generally have a much quicker rate of exchange in their communication than their modern counterparts. My theory is that Americans were in better shape physically and mentally back in the 1930’s and 40’s. They were more decisive and more used to dealing with others face to face than in modern times. They were more literate and relied less on automation to get things done. They were, arguably, more social.

Audiences, too were therefore more able to understand and absorb rapidly spoken language, as they too were more literate and educated than the audience of today.

There also might have been a financial consideration from the studios; they might have been guilty of trying to pack in the most dialogue in the smallest amount of time, to bring movies in at a little over an hour, so that more showings could be scheduled.

Who the Hell knows?

All I know is, listen to someone like Jimmy Cagney, Rosalind Russell or the blisteringly fast talking Noel Coward in films from that period, and then you try talking that fast.

It’s a challenge.

The only reason I bring it up is to get you to take a look at the speed at which your target celebrity delivers his or her dialogue. It will have everything to do with making your impression accurate.

Are they slow and methodical, like John Malkovich, or relatively rapid, like Martin Scorcese or Dennis Hopper? What is the general speed of that actor or character?

It’s sometimes easy to get excited onstage and whip through your voices quickly in your enthusiasm, but you might be missing a critical element in the rendition of that persona.

Break it down for yourself, compared to your own rate of speech, (and here you might do well to actually record yourself and see how quickly you talk compared to others– damn, I really hope you did that step back in Chapter Two) and see if that reveals anything to you.

JIMPRESSIONS ENDS SUCCESSFUL 2011 RUN!

Last weekend, November 4 & 5, was the last of my scheduled shows at The Acting Center, and it was really terrific; great audiences, great response and a lot of laughs!

I began the run of this show in March of this year, and performed about one weekend a month; we knew December was going to be crazy with other demands, so we decided not to have shows after the November dates.

JIMPRESSIONS was an experiment.  When I wrote it and put it on its feet with director Tait Ruppert, we really weren’t sure if audiences would find it worth their while.  It’s a work in progress, and one which we will continue to develop, but so far the results are more positive than we ever expected.

There were ancillary wins, too.  On a whim, I decided to post a video of me doing my Shakespeare Impressions, and it went viral, thanks to the Tweets of Craig Ferguson, Stephen Fry, the Facebook sharings of many of my friends and mysterious others; the tally now is over 700,000 views and a lot of very nice comments.

My other follow up videos have been warmly received too.

As a result, I’ve been in high demand, which is really gratifying, and which I am hustling to honor every day.

My intention was to create a funny, inspiring, very entertaining family-friendly show, based around celebrity impressions and storytelling.  Here’s what a few of you had to say:

“I was able to see your show Saturday, you are amazing! Besides being captivated by your craft, I can’t remember when I laughed so much and so freely. I had a delightful and truly heartfelt experience, thank you for a terrific evening. I can’t wait until next year!”  –Susan Kohler

“I was AMAZED!  The way he artfully wove comedy and a heartfelt, personal story around each of his characters was not only hilarious, but also nothing short of masterful!  I never expected to be so moved by a comedy show, but I really was, and I thank Jim for these gifts he gave us!”  – Jierra Clark

“Jim captures the essence of the celebrities he impersonates — from the tightening of the face for former President Bush, to Garrison Keillor’s odd octave changes and looong inhales, to Woody Allen’s patented phrasing and asides — and he slides from one to the other maddeningly effortlessly.  –John Rabe, KPCC

“Not only did I feel like I was in the hands of a major pro, but my face hurt from all the laughing and smiling! The world needs to see this! It is clever and touching and inspirational and just downright GENIUS!” – Keli Landry

“Jim Meskimen is a giant among impressionists. But beyond that he is an amazing actor. These two skills come together in a truly wonderful performance. I’d recommend seeing it now before he only does sold out amphitheaters.”  – Eric Matheny

So, what’s next for JIMPRESSIONS?

Well, a trip to Australia to perform at a business conference, an appearance on the Australian TODAY SHOW, and a few live shows in Sydney and Hamilton Island on the Great Barrier Reef.

That’s the immediate future.  Next year?  I look forward to returning to The Acting Center, which treated me so well and is such a great home for this show.  And I hope YOU will be in the audience sometime in 2012!

And you can keep your eye out for more YouTube videos, too.  (In fact, I hope you will subscribe!  It’s free.  Like this Blog.)

And when the Letterman show schedules their “Impressionist’s Week”, I hope to be there.

Big thanks and kisses to everybody who came and saw the show and shared the dream with me, my director Tait Ruppert, producer (and incredible soul-mate) Tamra Meskimen this year, and I promise to keep improving the show so that it is even more entertaining for you.

ACCEPT IMITATIONS: A Beginner’s Guide to Performing Impressions, Chapter Three: How to Practice

Unlike Ocarina players, most impressionists discover their own individual way to perfect their art and do not cleave to a certain, specific method.

Ocarina players are dogmatic and inflexible people who, like lemmings, are content only when they are treading on the exact same path as their robotic predecessors.

Jim Carrey, whose path to film superstardom began with his impressions of celebrities, famously practiced in front of a mirror for hours.

The great Rich Little, who was the most famous mimic in the 70’s and became the benchmark icon of the art form, used a portable tape recorder to help him learn the subtleties of the celebs he presented in his act.

I can speak with confidence, having done the least possible amount of research in this subject, that no two impressionists practice in entirely the same way, because, among other things, no two impressionists will be found to be exactly the same height.

In my own case, I am not possessed of a specific technique of practice, other than I do like to try and A) “hear” the voice in my head, and B) feel where in my head and face that voice might best reside, which is to say, be manufactured.

Then I try and produce that sound and listen to myself.  I usually can tell if it is going to be something that I can perform easily and consistently, which makes it reliable and of interest to me.  If it is something very hard to perform, and perhaps not a sound that I can feel confident I can pull off at any time, then I either avoid it completely or, accepting the challenge, I endeavor to master it.

Mastering a voice that is challenging can be done in many ways, but like a person mastering scales on the lute or the oboe, (but NOT the ocarina) one has to be willing to put some time and concentrated effort into it.  In other words, get ready to drill, drill, and drill so that when it comes to performing the voice on stage or on the Letterman show, you will not have to “take a moment to warm up and find it again”, which is the mark of an amateur.  When one has to 
“take a moment”, one must recognize that one is in fact taking that moment FROM someone, in this case, the audience, and that is bad manners, just as is the voice that tells us, “Please stay on the line, your call is important to us…”

Important to who?  A disembodied recording?  Gimme a break.

Like other forms of exercise, the main enemy to accomplishment is boredom, or embarrassment should anyone see us.  It’s far more embarrassing to be caught talking to oneself in another voice than it is to be caught running laps or lifting barbells.  So, one should pick the time and place very well, especially because of modern psychiatric commitment laws.

I tend to do a lot of my rehearsing in my car, on the way to somewhere else, where I can be assured of complete privacy.  (If you drive a cab or a limousine, you may want to find a different solution.)

Another good idea is to take a voice that you are working on, and pick up a copy of a book and read aloud in that voice for some minutes.  You will learn many things from this, among them what it feels like when the voice sounds, from your point of view, very like your subject.  Perhaps when you read aloud, you will sound like the celebrity only thirty percent of the time, maybe less.  If you keep at it, saying different sentences from the book, then you will isolate the aspects of the sound that, to you, sound most like the person, and be able to increase that percentage.

You can really learn a lot from this exercise.

In the car, I will often listen to the radio and, chiefly to practice certain accents or vocal qualities, repeat exactly what I am hearing come out of the speakers, but just a second or two later.  It’s interesting that one can do this, and then have the sensation that one is slowly closing the gap between the spoken words on the radio and one’s own speech, to a point where it is occurring virtually simultaneously.  At that point you should pull the car over and look at your driver’s license to remind yourself you of your actual identity.

Repeating what you hear, duplicating it as exactly as you can, is something that you want to develop as a skill; it is in fact the main skill of an impressionist.

An impressionist is performing the record of a perception, after all, of something he or she knows his public will be familiar with too, having their own recorded perception of that character.

If EVERYONE could perform an accurate duplication of anything they had ever heard or perceived, then there would be no market for impressionists at all.  So, we acknowledge that this skill, being rare or singular, is of some value in it’s scarcity and novelty.

Right this second, someone somewhere is developing a App that will allow anybody to sound like any famous person, and that will be the end of the world.

But so far, we are still safe…

Practice then, should somehow work its way into your daily routine.  However way that you gravitate toward practicing, that you feel comfortable with and which affords you familiarity and control of your “instrument”, in this case your face, tongue, lungs etc, is the right way for you.

Don’t make the mistake of thinking that you shouldn’t find a way to practice because someone might think you are out of your mind; rest assured that the very people who would jump to such an unlikely conclusion already feel that way about you, and nothing you do will talk them out of it, anyway.

You might at some point feel brave enough to start using a recording device to see what your impression sounds like from the audience point of view.  This will only really be of use to you if you have followed my earlier advice and desensitized your revulsion at the sound of your own voice.

By all means, record and compare.  You can even become very ambitious and rig up a way to play your voice, and then your subject’s voice back to back, so you can shift your attention from one to the other and make a very direct comparison.

But remember too that this is a technical point and at the end of the day is only as useful as any other bit of technique; the sound and it’s exactitude is NOT the main thing that helps to sell the impression.

What IS the main thing?  Well, in my opinion, the important thing is a little something called POINT OF VIEW.  Point of view is key to character.  And I think we had better take that up immediately in the next chapter.

ACCEPT IMITATIONS, a Beginner’s Guide to Performing Impressions, by Jim Meskimen, Chapter Two

KNOWING YOUR OWN VOICE

If you were a Las Vegas building contractor, and someone hired you to put up a huge hotel/casino in a specific location, and you accepted a lot of money upfront and got workers on the site with all the materials without ever bothering to find out if the building site was on a mountain, a desert or in a swamp. you would shortly find yourself immersed in slowly drying concrete as part of a highway overpass.

That is NOT the way to attract the opposite sex.

Which, we recall from all the anthropological data that we so wisely skipped in the introduction to this book, has everything to do with why grown men imitate things.

To review–HUNTERS.

So, we would be guilty of the same error if we began to imitate things, willy-nilly, or Milli Vanilli, without first getting very familiar with the lay of the land, I.E. our OWN voice.

How DO we sound?

You may recall that when you FIRST heard a recording of your own voice, the experience was an unpleasant one.  This, as far as I can tell, is universal.  Anyone who says they loved the sound of their own recorded voice the first time they heard it is lying and should not be allowed to drive you anywhere in an automobile.

The reason, I believe, that hearing one’s own voice, particularly for the first time, thru the apparatus of a recording machine is so shockingly disagreeable is because we never hear our voices that way; we hear a much fuller, much more expressive and tonally rich sound, through both the vibration of the air outside our bodies, and from the vibration of our bodies themselves.

The recording just peels off the thinnest sound waves off out of the air and totally ignores all the more robust, deeper waves that make you sound sexy and irresistible.

When I first heard my voice on my father’s old reel to reel mini-recorder (and I can pinpoint that upsetting memory to the day, hour and place) it was as if some awful sorcerer had set up a ghastly puppet to taunt me, a little boy, with vengeful malice, by imitating in a thin, weedy and insubstantial mockery my own, euphonious voice.

Years later, I took a tape player and pulled the same exact stunt on my own daughter.

Are all men devils?  Shut UP.

So, as performers, one thing we really need to work through is the awful reality of our own voice as it sounds to others.  And luckily, it’s not that hard to do.

You simply have to record yourself a lot and listen until you no longer break out in hives, or want to jump out a window.

How long will that take?  I don’t know.  Hours?  Days?  I just told you I DON”T KNOW.

But I do recommend you get on it right away.  It’s actually important.  That’s why it’s part of Chapter Two, not Chapter 66.

(By the way, there IS no Chapter 66.  This isn’t an eBook on How to Understand Women, this is Accept Imitations, the Guide to Doing Celebrity Impressions for Beginners.)

Now, If you have an iPhone or any kind of recorder that you can hold in your hand, make it your business as soon as possible to record yourself talking to others.  You don’t need to tell them you are doing it, just make sure you destroy the recordings before they fall into the wrong hands.

At first, you will be self conscious and, like a sixth grader who knows he is being watched by his babysitter as he pretends to do his homework, until she leaves the room and he can get back to World of Warcraft, you will not speak naturally.  Your voice will be “on its best behavior” and you will be “a phony sounding person” and a “weirdo” and your companions will say, “What the hell is the matter with you, you sound like a bad actor!  Are you recording us?  You better destroy those recordings before they fall into the wrong hands!”

And then you will have fewer friends, again VIOLATING all the social/psychological reasons for doing impressions that we wisely avoided addressing earlier.

Simply record yourself and then listen to the whole thing from start to finish.  You may NOT fast forward or Scrub forward or stop until it’s done.

At the end of that horrible experience, you will either feel older, younger, or about the same.  If you feel older or younger, start from the beginning and do it again.  If you feel about the same, then sober up and try it again.

Again, once you have heard the whole recording for a second time, judge your reaction.  Are you considering a vow of silence?  A career as an underground explosives expert?  A camp counsellor for the deaf?

If you answered any of the above, YES, then go back and listen to the whole thing again, and again and again until you no longer have a reaction of any kind and can be comfortably familiar with how you sound.

Like I say, this can take hours.  Or days.  Or possibly longer.

There is an ancient story that Native Americans tell about the owl, much revered in their culture.  His continual lament of “WHO?” they claim, comes from a time in the incredibly distant past when the very first owl heard his voice on a Sony answering machine, and demanded to know the true owner of that voice.  All these many centuries later, the owl, much revered by Native Americans, still demands to know “WHO?”

He clearly needs to record and listen to his own voice more, if he is ever going to become revered for his celebrity impressions by the Native Americans, as well as his keen eyes and appetite for rodents.

ACCEPT IMITATIONS, a Beginner’s Guide to Performing Impressions, by Jim Meskimen

The following is the Introduction and Chapter One of my new eBook about creating impressions.

I hope you enjoy it and share it with others who love to do impressions.

INTRODUCTION

How tempting it is to start this eBook out with the phrase, “Since the dawn of spoken communication between members of the our species, celebrity impressions have had an undeniable impact on human relations.”

I’m very proud of the fact I was nearly able to suppress the urge to write that.

But, having evoked that idea, it perhaps does have a little bit of relevance to the subject, if only that imitations of the sounds of other living creatures by mankind has long been a significant part of human existence, for example:

1)  Hunters mastering the calls of birds and other wild beasts.

Okay, that’s actually the only one that comes to mind.

But YOU are interested in it, and I am interested in it, so why don’t we just cut to the chase, forget the probably very noble but entirely irrelevant historical, sociological and psychological background section, and really dig in and ACCEPT IMITATIONS.

Chapter One

Who Do You Love?

Before we discuss the technical aspects of creating and performing impressions, it’s a good idea to have a look at why to do them in the first place.

Of course, YOU already know why: because you WANT to.

That is actually reason enough, and is the way ANYBODY begins.

There is something inherently amusing about creating an impression of another person.  It’s like a magic trick: how can somebody sound like a completely different person?  Isn’t that against the law?

It IS against the law.  But luckily, the law is hardly ever enforced, except in Yemen.

Intent is usually the deciding factor; are you imitating somebody so that another will believe you truly ARE them, and will then turn over valuable documents, sexual favors or some other difficult to obtain item or service?  Or are you just trying to make somebody laugh until milk comes out of their nose, provided they were drinking milk in the first place?

If I know YOU, (and I most likely don’t) you are hardly the sort of person that would use the art of mimicry, and the intensely valuable information in this eBook, for such an ignoble, illegal and dangerous purpose.  So let’s just put that possibility as far from our minds as possible, shall we?

An imitation can be many things, a comment on the target personality, an homage, a criticism, or an attempt at an accurate and convincing portrayal for some artistic purpose.

Actually, the only thing demanded of an impressionist is that the target be IDENTIFIABLE.  Technical precision is a means to an ends, and actually is not the most important, key factor in “selling” an impression.

What then is THE most important, key factor?  WHAT?

Well, how about you be a little patient, huh?  Would it kill you to let me go on a bit about this and build my argument?  Huh?

In comedy clubs, variety shows and on construction sites, one sometimes observes what might be considered poor entertainers evoking celebrities by no more clever or sophisticated trick than pulling their hair back and smiling broadly, or squinting their eyes and gritting their teeth.  This style of mimicry might best be labelled, “Caricature.”

We have all seen and been very patient with fellows who, in presenting their imitation of, for example, Arnold Schwartzenegger, hoarsely blurt out some line from one of his classic roles in a passionate, but inaccurate rendition, which in the end evokes not much about the actor’s actual sound, but DOES convey perfectly the concept, “I am now doing my imitation of an imitation of an imitation of Arnold.  I am proud to report that I have invested the least possible effort, care and investigation in creating this performance for you.  Please laugh uproariously and offer to buy me a beer.”

This is the same sort of fellow who, as a little boy, made the grass in his classroom paintings green, the sky blue and the sun yellow, right out of the tube.  He went on to marry a woman with enormous breasts, blonde hair, the waistline of a whippet and the mind of a bottle opener.

Compare the common paltry Schwarzenegger rendition, so prevalent today, with that of the great Arnold impersonator Josh Robert Thompson, who researched his subject exhaustively, practiced diligently, and, with his already similar pitch and vocal register, developed an impression that is world renowned.

I happen to know that Josh, (or JRT as he is referred to by his girlfriend and by people in the Internal Revenue Service) studied the personality, sound and viewpoint of Mr. Schwarzenegger by listening to the DVD commentary on Conan The Barbarian and other action films in his filmography, until he literally could inhabit the spirit and sound of the man.  That’s why he’s the best.

But why did he choose Arnold?  He was INTERESTED.

Why?

Who cares?  Why are you asking so many questions?  Don’t you think I know my job, that you have to badger me to tell you things?  Give me a break, will you?  This is an eBook, not a game of “Tell Me Before I Explode.”

Josh was interested, I believe in engaging in a little contest, a contest with other voice artists, the physical barriers of his own natural voice and with the perceptions and acceptance levels of other people.  You could say “contest: or you could say “game”; same thing.

He wanted to play the game of “Who can sound MOST like Arnold”, and he thought he could WIN.  I maintain that he did.

Well, obviously, once people start paying you money, tell you you are incredible, laugh at the things you want them to laugh at, gasp with amazement when you really pull out the stops and, best of all, if you FOOL them into thinking they are actually talking to the REAL Arnold, then you have WON.

At least for the time being.  At least, in that voice.

But it all starts with being interested, and choosing some character voice that you feel you COULD pull off, given your age, sex and the general pitch and quality of your naturally given equipment.

So, at this point you can ask yourself, “Which of my favorite celebrity voices do I think I have a chance at duplicating, given my own voice as it is?”

Go on, ask yourself.

And for God’s sake, pay ATTENTION to the ANSWER!  It’s rude not to listen to the other person, and it’s rude not to listen to YOURSELF when you are trying to answer your own question.  Don’t start off your career as an impressionist by being rude to your main partner in this endeavor!  Do you think Edgar Bergen was snippy and critical with Charlie McCarthy?  Heavens, no.  They were thick as thieves.

Who IS Edgar Bergen?  Jesus, who the hell are you, anyway?

It probably is the case, if I know you, (and again, I do NOT) that you already have the barest shadow of an impression in your nascent –which is to say undeveloped–repetoire, somebody that you attempt to perform on extremely rare occasions, such as when you are among close friends or while under hypnosis.

There is, perhaps, some memory of a voice from childhood entertainment that is banging around inside your head and which you wouldn’t mind being able to do for other person, say, a close friend or co-worker.

Is there?

As an example from my own life, (not that I’m putting this forth as something right or wrong, mind you, just as an example of something perfect) one of my first impressions was of the actor Bert Lahr, in his role as the Cowardly Lion from The Wizard of Oz.

After viewing that classic movie at age four, I knew two things, that if flying monkeys existed, I would have to obtain a shotgun, and that I LOVED the Cowardly Lion.

NOTO BENE: (Latin, I think, for, “pay attention, Benny!”) It is easier to imitate something that one wouldn’t mind BEING.  it is easier to BE that which one LIKES.

So, in my case, it became very easy for me to absorb and BE the Cowardly Lion, because he was so doggone cute and funny, and imitating him became a logical extension of my being able to BE him.

You’ve seen little kids do this.  It’s wonderful.  The only time it isn’t wonderful is when they are imitating something that YOU don’t like or want them to be, such as a ninja, or a zombie/ninja, or a vampire/ninja/zombie/alien.  Or a telemarketer.

Going back to the question asked earlier, “Which of my favorite celebrity voices do I think I have a chance at duplicating?” do include, therefore, any voice from childhood entertainment that might pop up.

But don’t do Bert Lahr; that’s MINE.

No, I’m just kidding, go ahead and do Bert Lahr.  If you want.

It’s rude, but go ahead.  Factually, I don’t care.

I really don’t.

I’m so OVER the whole thing, to be honest.  You… you just Do what you have to Do.

By the way, CAN you actually hear The Cowardly Lion in your mind?

You probably have a vast number of recordings in your mental iPod… can you kind of “hear” them?

If you can’t hear the Cowardly Lion, and can’t recall how it felt to kind of “Be” him when you were a little kid watching that amazing movie, then pick one you CAN hear in your mind’s “ear.”

And if you can’t do that, then you have another route, and that is to become a barber.

NO!  Not a barber!  No, NO!  What did you think I said?  Omigod– I would NEVER disparage barbers or practitioners of the barbering arts!
NO, what I was SAYING was that if you can’t hear the desired character in your head, you can still get ahold of a physical universe recording, by going on YouTube or a DVD.  THAT’S all I meant.  See, you were all upset over nothing!

By listening to the sound recording, you can study the sound and begin to become familiar with its characteristics, enabling you to make your own version of it with your own voice.

But the first step is, WHO do you WANT to imitate?

That will be a lot easier than attempting someone that you dislike, or can’t understand, or are only trying to do because someone told you if you didn’t do it they would key your car, or make you sit and watch the remake of The Poseidon Adventure.

Chapter Two of this eBook will be posted soon.  Thanks for reading and sharing.

Hit the road, Jim!

Well, my philosophy now certainly contains the concept that, if something is working, do more of THAT.

So, I am working on doing MORE performing, and mainly my impressions, since that is what is currently creating so much of a buzz.

We just finished a sold out series of shows in Hollywood, which was mainly new people coming off the YouTube video, unfamiliar faces that were soon smiling broadly, laughing and some with tears streaming down.

I love performing for people I’ve never seen before… seems like the right thing.

So now off we go to the U.K. to do a group of shows and workshops at an arts festival in East Grinstead, then shows in London and Birmingham… then a few days rest in Cornwall.

You can bet we will shoot a lot of Professor Knestor videos!  I wonder if we can find Oxmouth College…

After that, we head right into another big weekend at The Acting Center and more full houses of brand new audiences.  I’ll do a weekend a month there thru November.

In September I go to Clearwater, Florida to do a night of JIMPRESSIONS at the Capitol Theater for 475 people.  Very excited about bringing the show to Florida audiences!

And I have a new video in the works with more celebrity impressions… coming very soon, if I can finish before we get on the plane to England.

It may seem like a lot, but I feel like I’m just getting up to speed.

Thanks for all the kind words, the support, and helping me attain my dream by watching the Shakespeare video and clicking “Like” and “Subscribe”.  It all helps!

Speak to you soon!

SHAKESPEARE IMPRESSIONS GOES VIRAL!

Well, this has been quite a memorable week!

The response generated to my little short, Shakespeare in Celebrity Voices has been overwhelming.  After 140 little films generating about 6,000 views total, to have something that goes truly “Viral” was a thrill and a half, and may have launched me into a new career strata.

The way it happened; I was trying to make this video about two months earlier, but found that I couldn’t pull it off– not enough time, running out of light, a bit too exhausted to really hold it all together.  Incorrect estimation of the effort needed to actually do it well.

In the past, I’d always had a volunteer in the audience throw out celebrity names at random, while I was doing the recitation, then I would quickly make the change of viewpoint based on their choice.  I never had to choose; they did it for me.  Suddenly having to work it out myself turned out to be kinda tricky. So, I bailed.  Pulled the ‘chute.  Moved on.

Then, Monday the 18th of July, I came home from a full day of auditions, all dressed up, handsome and feeling chipper, well rested and, thanks to Tamra, well fed, and went in and successfully recorded the performance.

It took a little extra time to edit it, so that the celebrity names came up at the right time.  Then, as YouTubers around the world do by the millions every day, I clicked on “Upload”.  Then linked to my Facebook and a few other sites.

The next day, Tuesday was the day of my stepfather Paul Michael’s funeral.  It was really a nice ceremony, very well attended and warm. He was so beloved, and I felt his presence there throughout.  Sigh.

The next day on my video I noticed the usual smattering of views, a bit more than usual.  A few hundred.  That night, Wednesday July 20, my wife and I went out with friends to see Eddie Izzard in concert at the Hollywood Bowl.

We love Eddie and he did not disappoint. I guess I am like a lot of people, misfits and others, who get a lot of inspiration and encouragement from watching Eddie do his marvelous material.

One thing that impressed me a lot and made me kind of love the guy forever is when he comes out, he acknowledges the crowd, says hi to the front row, does the walk around the little elevated platform around the best seats, slapping hands and giving the rich folks some love…

Then, he acknowledges the rest of us in that huge crowd of 17,000 plus people… including the VERY back row, which is probably about a quarter mile away from the stage, up a million stairs…

And then he says, “Of course, one COULD run up to the back…”

And then he RUNS to the BACK.  Over the posh seats barricade, up the million stairs, all the way to the top/back/far reaches of the Hollywood Bowl.  And then back down again.  Took him ten minutes–I timed it.

And THEN, he does his two hour set.

As Craig Ferguson (who was also there in the audience, I discovered later) would say, “I  KNOW!!!”

Okay, so, that was the beginning of the concert and I don’t really need to go over what he does in his show.  Go see for yourself.  Rent “Dressed to Kill.”

BUT, the thing I want to share: I was looking at that huge crowd, marveling at how a stand-up comic had FILLED the Hollywood Bowl, how he had an audience of 17,000 people, and I thought to myself, “Hell.  I WANT to play to an audience of 17,000 people!”

What fun THAT would be!  Kind of made a little, quiet decision about it…

Great show, lots of laughs, getting chilly in the night air, we drive home.  Come in to the house, go to the computer.

Check out the views on my impressions video, see what we are up to… before the concert I think I had about 801…

WHOA.

17, 582 views.

17,000 plus viewers.
Helluva coincidence, don’t you think?

From there, of course, the video really took off, when the NYTimesMag.com, Buzzfeed,  Huffington Post, AOL.com and loads of other sites began to feature it.  And YOU all started passing it around.  Craig Ferguson and Stephen Fry Tweeted it, Juliette Lewis… it was a love fest.

It’s currently at over half a million views now and a LOT of very complimentary comments.  My upcoming shows at The Acting Center are selling out.  I’m talking to people about touring the world.  And, surreally, I’m featured on E! Entertainment and set to do an interview on NPR… I tell you, it’s a whole new deal around here.
Eddie Izzard says it.  You have to believe in your dream.  Then, others will believe too.  And it will happen.

So, thanks very much for being part of MY dream.  I am delighted to count you among my friends and fellow strugglers in this batty world.

I plan to continue to provide you with the most uplifting entertainment I can possibly pull off.  So, I guess I better stay handsome, chipper, rested and well fed!

See me live in JIMPRESSIONS at The Acting Center, August 26 & 27,  28, and September 9, 10 & 11.  In the Tampa Bay Florida area,  you can find me at the Capitol Theatre on Saturday, September 17th at 8 p.m.

A REVOLUTIONARY NEW KIND OF ACTING TRAINING

For some time, my wife Tamra Meskimen and I have been on a path of supporting and establishing safe places where actors and students can pursue their craft without abuse from invalidative gurus who dominate the performing arts.

In New York for many years, after having enjoyed improv classes that had the goal of eliminating criticism from acting instruction, we were staff at the National Improvisational Theatre (N.I.T.) and shepherded hundreds of would be improvisers onto the stage, and into new levels of self confidence and professionalism.

Many of these students have gone on to be major figures in theater, film and television.

We made many lifelong friends and did innumerable improvised shows, which left behind a trail of laughter which still occasionally resounds from an appreciative former patron with a good memory.

Later on, in the 1990’s, Tamra founded a new company of players in Los Angeles from the ranks of actors who had trained together in New York. and relocated west.

Called “The Really Spontaneous Theatre Company”, we were chiefly dedicated to performing totally improvised one-act plays, what’s known as “Long form” improv. The group shared the original goal of spontaneous creation without criticism, as in their training, and audiences were generally delighted with the result.

In 2004, Tamra began work on another, even more ambitious undertaking. With friend and successful artist/businessman Bill Kilpatrick, she began to explore what it would take to establish an acting school in Hollywood that would avoid all trappings of the typical acting schools around which, in one way or another, all depend upon the evaluation of the student’s artistic choices by an instructor.

It was the same purpose as the earlier training in New York at N.I.T. but with even more dedication and, of course, experience. And it had the strength of being a philosophy which (though completely at odds with the current agreed upon way of instruction) was a much more empowering and ultimately more effective method than other disciplines, even the oft spoke of and little understood “Method”.

The idea of teaching art of any kind without someone acting as a judge of the relative goodness and badness of the student’s work is hard for modern students to grasp. Indeed, many feel a misconceived desire to BE judged, and sometimes harshly, for their missteps along the path of knowledge.

But the grim joke is, the more this kind of instruction flourishes and operates as the status quo, the less really self determined art gets produced, and the entire culture sags and grows more ossified.

The school that has emerged from the pursuit of the philosophy of non-criticism/evaluation is called The Acting Center, and it’s founders, Tamra, Bill Kilpatrick, Christopher Smith and Eric Matheny have worked diligently for years to develop a full acting curriculum that does more than any other to completely cancel out the influence of the invalidative, judgmental “Guru”, and bring about understanding and skill in the student.

Now they offer an excellent curriculum in Improv, as well, with the same emphasis as in the regular Acting classes.

It took no small bit of work, either. Drills were researched and created that allowed a student to gradually test out the relationship between emotions, actions, moods and character, etc. and the courses were piloted, evaluated and revised. (Indeed, the polishing continues, and drills are continually reviewed, taking into account reports from the students themselves, to remove all barriers to making the student responsible for their own artistic judgment, which they then can own and express at will.)

Acting can be a sort of mystical subject; it is so wrapped up in fundamental questions of identity, expression and one’s personal taste. It has suffered, as have all the arts, by an invasion of a kind of materialistic thinking that stressed result over integrity, and often devolved into an effort to please a mentor, or “be the same as” someone else’s idea of what was right and proper.

So this new school is actually quite revolutionary, and so are the results. The actors I have seen come out of the classes at The Acting Center are confident individual creators, uncomplicated, honest, skilled and consistent. They do not toady, nit-pick, lord over others or destroy themselves in the service of their art. They seem… confident.

And why not? Nobody is going to force them to admit they are wrong for what they have figured out is right for THEM.

Perhaps, you might say, someone WILL tell them soon enough that what they are doing doesn’t please.

True. That will happen enough out in the professional world, but THAT is another environment entirely; the workplace. The environment in which one undertakes to LEARN an art MUST be one of good positive control, uncritical support of the student who, after all, just wants to learn how to be a more able entertainer.

This is the gift that The Acting Center offers. I’ve been privileged to watch it grow, and I’m a student myself.

You know what? This stuff works!

For more information, visit http://www.theactingcenterla.com.

(And of course, don’t miss my new one man show, JIMPRESSIONS, presented by The Acting Center. http://theactingcenterla.com/on-the-stage-2/ Check under “Events” at the web site above for more information.)