Stanislavski and Snakes .
The story goes the great acting teacher Stanislavsky had an exercise that he would do with his students that was a great way to decipher a student’’s aptitude for acting. He would place a jumper on a chair and the student would walk up to the chair pick up the jumper. Under the jumper is a snake! The exercise only takes a couple of seconds but in Stanislavski's opinion you could tell in those few moments whether a pupil possessed the ability to be spontaneous and therefore could act.
I do this exercise at Ek. Not to test kids aptitude for acting but because it's absolutely hilarious. Every kid who walks up to the chair takes off the jumper and then sees ( or doesn't see ) the snake cracks me up. Not just me the whole room packs up. It reminds me of a game I used to love to play at dinner parties or where ever. A fake laugh competition. It sounds ridiculous i know but you sit with a small group and you take it in turns seeing who can do the most convincing fake laugh. When all eyes are on you it can be really hard to remember what a genuine unselfconscious laugh is. The more sincere attempt the funnier it is.
The snake exercise is really hard because you also have to have no prior knowledge of the snake. Walking up to a jumper knowing you are supposed to pretend to find a snake under it, that’s hard enough. To make that natural, to walk as if you have no prior knowledge of the snake. Then to genuinely sell that horrendous paralysing jolt of electricity that is the shock of seeing the snake is a tall order and utterly fascinating to watch.
I never get tired of it.
There's an old film, Pretty Woman. It was the film that made Julia Roberts a big star. I remember when it came out I was studying acting and one of my mentors used to talk about a moment in the film when she opens a box and there's a surprise inside. In his opinion you could see her ability in that 2 seconds of the film.
I did a commercial for Nintendo and they wouldn't show us the new product until we were in front of the rolling camera. They wanted to catch that genuine surprise and delight. I remember auditioning for well known Australian comedian for a comic act he had written and he said right walk along acting cool trip over a bit and then recover all the while trying to keep your dignity. That was the whole audition.
It’s amazing to me sometimes when you remember an actor in a film in a tiny role like Michael J Fox in an American President. That tiny role was the catalyst for the whole series “Spin City”. Sometimes you'll say “that girl is so good in that commercial” and you are talking about a 10 second performance. That’s why ( and I know I always bang on about this) Kids concerts needn’t be long.