This is the first time I’ve had a fellow The Walking Dead cast mate on the show. Michael Traynor is best known as Nicholas Monroe on the show but, in this podcast, he is sharing his brilliant business-of-art skills, including how to see a bird’s eye view of your creative process and how to benefit from failure. (And we’ll talk TWD a bit)
Michael is an actor/writer/director/acting coach, both privately and as a dialogue coach on ABC’s “The Fosters.” As a coach, his job is to encourage consistency of performance with the performers. In the episodic TV world, the writers have the power and actors are guests in the house that the writers have built. So Michael works with actors to keep consistent performances and mining the deeper depths of themselves in order to evoke something more compelling than average television fare.
Michael says actors should be directors – asking What is the scene about? What needs to happen to propel the story and plot for the show, and character, within this scene? What is the event of this scene? Michael takes a bird’s eye view of the scene and the overall project to determine the emotional architecture of the scene. It’s freeing to focus on the larger story. He’ll read the script twice before taking notes. “Being aware of the overarching story that you’re telling releases you from the ego of doing unsavory things.”
Michael had the perfect life growing up to prepare him for the lifestyle of being an actor. He had very little resources, very little money, and his family was nomadic.
When he got to LA, he very quickly learned that he had to “Diversify or Die.” Meaning, if you have multiple skillets, do it all. Put it all out there. Do it all fully and go in as many opposite directions at the same time as you can.
A bad relationship in high school led to him working on a production of West Side Story in Hawaii, which is fortunate to have an amazing arts community. After being noticed by a noteworthy family in the arts scene, Michael got scholarships for dancing at the Maui Academy of Performing Arts.
Dance is an example of hours and weeks of hard work to make it look effortless. What Michael learned: You’re either frightened of work or you’re not. You either make excuses or you don’t. Dance doesn’t allow you to hide. If you haven’t stretched, you can’t do certain things. “Dance conditioned me to not be frightened of hard work or failure. The shame doesn’t come in falling, it comes in not trying hard enough to fall. These little failures are primers to learn the business in general.”
What goes into fostering the best environment or mindset for a particular person’s talents to be their strongest? First, diagnose yourself (step out of yourself with bird’s eye view): Are you willing to jump in? Why or why not? Then ask questions: Do you learn by words? Emotion? Story? What motivates you?
Being honest with yourself of where you’re starting from has to come from a loving place. If you haven’t started, that’s cool. Hesitation and negativity come from fear. Diagnose that moment of where you’re starting from. If you start to get frustrated with yourself and if you can’t be kind to yourself in those beginning stages, then that’s what you have to analyze right away. For Jordan, if he can’t visualize the completion, he can’t start. Michael says that’s a common thought of “If I don’t begin it, then I can’t get it wrong.” You get to live in a place where you can’t get it wrong and then have no obligation. So put that away and, from a loving place, diagnose the situation.
Talent is really dynamic. Some people are great auditioners but can’t tell a story on set. And others are incredible actors but clam up when they are asked to audition on the spot.
You have to be very aware of ego or judgement. It’s hard to consumerize the artistic process. You need to know who you are. If you’re thinking business-minded, the end goal of an artist often doesn’t carry financial guarantee. How can you support yourself doing what you want to do?
You have to master how you receive feedback. Know which questions to ask and then how to use the feedback to your advantage. Rigidity in the feedback phase has killed some of the best creative projects. Ask the right questions. Ask peers who you trust for specific moments in your song, story, etc. Then show it to general audience friends and ask for larger questions such as “Did you get the story?” or “Do you like this character?”
Many actors get together in LA as a support and mastermind group for each other. Many stories end in “I’m not crazy, right? Its okay for this to make me insane?!” Sometimes it’s really to nice to know you’re not alone. It is maddening. And a community is there to let you know that these trends and experiences do happen.
And then, of course, some thoughts on Nicholas’ story of contrition and wanting to amend his ways in Seasons 5 and 6 of The Walking Dead.
Join a community of songwriters helping each other reach their goals.
The Fosters on ABC
Lean Startup by Eric Ries
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