TV Review: “Alan Alda And The Actor Within You”

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Review by James McDonald

Actor Alan Alda schools a group of young actors in the art of improvisation.

As an independent filmmaker, I understand the frustrations every actor encounters, during rehearsals and also during production. As an actor myself, it is an art that too many people misunderstand and brush aside as something that any one can do. They’re wrong. Acting is a fine art that takes great concentration and determination. I would suggest, to any independent filmmakers out there, if you have never had to act on stage or in front of a camera, then take lessons, know exactly what it feels like to have to get up in front of people and bare your heart and soul for all to see. A director can tell an actor to do this or do that but because they’re not the ones who are having to perform, the weight is not on them, it is on the actor.

Alan Alda is an actor that most of us know, if not by name, then by face. His most famous incarnation was that of Captain Benjamin Franklin Pierce on the hit TV show “M*A*S*H” and he has appeared in numerous movies such as “What Women Want” with Mel Gibson, “The Aviator” with Leonardo DiCaprio and “Tower Heist” with Eddie Murphy and Ben Stiller. With a career that has spanned over 50 years, he knows a thing or two about acting that he can pass down to aspiring up-and-coming actors. Every year in New York City, thousands of high school artists apply to the Young Arts Program to be mentored by the world’s leading artists. Here, Mr. Alda leads a three-day Young Arts Masterclass to six aspiring actors and teaches them the importance of improvisation within their desired field.

Improvisation is a technique that is beneficial to all actors and it’s not just for comedians, as most people think. Imagine being on stage in front of a live audience and just as you’re about to say your next line, your mind suddenly goes blank. You have two different scenarios that could follow: 1): stand there embarrassed or 2): improvise, even if it means the audience are aware you’ve messed up but move forward so that the rest of the production can go on. It happens to professional actors all the time and it’s the very reason I prefer film over theater because I can do the scene until it is perfect and then move forward but at the same time, there is nothing like performing in front of a live audience and getting an instant reaction from the crowd for something you did or said.

Mr. Alda coaches his six young actors, teaching them the importance not only of improvisation, but also the emphasis on listening to the actor(s) they are sharing the scene with. You don’t wait for them to finish talking so you can say your line, you truly listen to the words coming out of their mouths and if you know your lines, you don’t even have to think about them, instead, you let the emotions of the dialogue and the scene take over and the words will then flow naturally, like they’re supposed to. Watching the young actors interacting with each other and with Mr. Alda was pure joy and you could tell they were having fun. There is a tremendous amount of satisfaction to be gained from acting and when you are being taught by a master performer such as Alan Alda, you already have a leg up on the competition.

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James McDonald
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