WHERE TO TRAIN

Carolyne Barry talks about acting in commercials
By Keith Wolfe

Keith: Carolyne, what should actors expect from one of your classes?
Carolyne:

I’m a lot different than most people teaching because of my background as an actress and a casting director. I have had my own advertising agency and I have had my own production and casting training facility. I approach commercial acting from the point of view that it’s good acting with fewer pauses, less time in rehearsal, more specifics, and less time for the actor to immediately access whom they are.

A lot of people teach from a point of view of end results, teach you what to do, such as be friendly, “be warmer”, “have more authority.” For a lot of actors, if they have plenty of time to rehearse that in a play or for a scene in a class, they can find that. But to immediately access it, that’s the tricky part. I approach acting utilizing the fundamentals of who, what, where and why. Who are you? Whom are you talking to? Because when you look into a camera, you don’t see anybody. When you are on the phone, you don’t see (or hear) anybody either, but you are talking to someone. You get emotional and passionate, you have feelings. So I teach actors to utilize who you are and whom you are talking to, where you are (because sometimes your environment will help things in the copy be more specific), what are you doing and more importantly what your objective is. In commercials, many times the objective is to help people. A lot of times when I ask people what their objective is, they will say I want to sell someone, I want to convince them. No one wants to be sold anything, but everyone is up to being helped.

Most of the time when people come to me for commercial classes, who are beginners, I try to talk them out of taking commercial classes. I talk to them about taking an improv and/or a scene study class. Because those classes are where you learn the fundamentals of good acting and then when you do good acting, you can do commercials, sitcoms, and soap operas. It’s just a different twist on it.

Keith: Does someone have to have high energy to be in commercials?
Carolyne:

Absolutely not. In fact, if you really look at commercials right now, the people with high energy (I’m talking general terms now) are the 18-to-24-year-olds. But if you look at everyone else, it’s very naturalistic and all I can say is, “Thank God.” It’s more cinematic now than it used to be, in terms of the style. Yes, you have a little more energy. It’s what I call a heightened enthusiasm, but it’s not like bouncing-up-and-down energy. There are a lot of commercials where it’s simply one person just talking to a friend. It’s just heightened. There are no pauses. It’s more specific. It’s more intent. Everything is hyped up a little. The stakes are heightened. The thing about commercial types (because I do some casting too), especially right now, the style of people that they are bringing in are nowhere near what they used to be. They’re edgier. They’re less model looking. But don’t get me wrong, there are the pretty commercials and the old fashioned styles. Everybody at some point, unless you are a hunchback with moles all over your face, is right for some kind of commercial. The people who work the most are the more WASPy commercial people; they tend to be more generic.

Keith: What does in mean to punch the product?
Carolyne:

Punching a product means to underline, to bracket, to make it stand out, But there are other ways of doing it that make it feel like you are not hitting somebody over the head with it. Maybe that you are sharing a secret, that you just discovered something and that you are excited about. So again, the thing I tell people in my class is that when someone gives you a direction like “warm it up,” or “have more fun with it,” or “punch the product” you quickly interpret that motivationally as to why you would want to do that. And I say quickly because you don’t have a lot of time.

Keith: If you get copy before the audition, should it be memorized?
Carolyne:

If you had an audition for a movie, would you memorize it first? Usually not. You would work on it. You would do your prelife, objective, motivations, your who, what, where, and why and all that stuff. And as you are working on it, you start to memorize it. But if you start memorizing it right off, you go into your head at the reading. You get all tangled up thinking about the words and get out of the moment. As an actor you know the best work you do is when you are out of your head and in the moment. I tell people to memorize the first and last lines always. Also the first and last lines are the slowest lines of copy.

Keith:

Could you give us an idea of how actors should enter and leave the casting office and should they try to ask a lot of questions to stay in the office a little longer?

Carolyne:

Absolutely not. I think that people who try to hard to endear themselves to casting people are shooting themselves in the foot, because everybody is in a hurry. Now that doesn’t mean you have to rush in and rush out, but you should respect the people who are running the session. Think in terms of that they have a problem and you have a solution. You are the creative solution to their problem. Walk in with that confidence. Know what to do and be excited about the opportunity to do it. Don’t sit in judgement of the material or be pissed off because they kept you waiting.

Keith:

Should an actor try to develop a certain commercial type of character for himself? Should he try to bring an image to all auditions?

Carolyne:

I have just recently put together a class which I am extremely excited about called a “packaging class”. Most people don’t know who they are. They know who they want to be, what they dream of being. But most people can’t realistically look at themselves and see what they are right for. And the people who do understand the roles they can honestly play tend to have better careers in commercials.

In this packaging class, the first night I bring in two casting directors, a commercial and a theatrical, and we go through all the actors. They see a video tape scene of each one, then their pictures. They look at them and say, “Okay, you are right for this part, this part and this part, this age range, etc.” The actors get very clear on it and it’s both from a commercial and a theatrical point of view. Then in the next two weeks I bring in a wardrobe and a color person. Then for two weeks I bring in a hair and wig specialist and then for two weeks I bring in a make-up specialist. At the end I get them to assimilate it all – the hair, make-up, wardrobe and colors. Then I give them a little acting adjustment for each of the characters. But their characters aren’t a major stretch. They are who they would be cast for physically, emotionally and in terms of personality.

I think it is very important for actors to research their physicality. Part of the reason that some people work a lot is that those people are physically who they are, their personality is that and their acting is that. So they are totally in sync. In commercials there is no time. You have to come in being what they see. There is no time, as in a movie or a play, for anything to be developed. It has to be there instantaneously.

Keith: Can you explain a little to us about the process of training?
Carolyne:

It varies for different people at different levels. For most actors who come to this town, the most problematic area is that their experience and training was in small markets or at universities. They’ve done community theater which, is presentational acting most of the time. The stuff that most universities teach is theatrical acting – acting way over the top. For those people or people who have never done anything, the course of training I believe should go like this: At least two classes a week for at least two years, scene study and improv. You are like an actor going to college to study to be an actor. The second year, stay in a scene study class, maybe change your teacher. Then in the second year of training you might want to add a commercial class, a cold reading class or a Shakespeare class. Also I tell people, after the first year, to pick up a trade paper and go out for a lot of auditions for roles you don’t want in student film or theater. It’ll start freeing you up because a lot of times people are great students, but when it comes to auditioning, they freeze. So make that part of your training. Get out there and audition for things that are not right for you so you have to stretch as an actor. That’s after two years. Then after that I would say that the actor should stay in an acting class for at least one class a week for the rest of their acting career, unless they become a star and they are working all the time. Now that’s for the beginning actor. For the actor who has been studying about a year, they should be in one acting class and then add a commercial or improv class. I am a major advocate of improv, especially for commercials. That is why I offer a whole improv division.

Keith:

I want to thank you for taking time out of your busy schedule to share your expertise with our readers. In closing, are there any final thoughts that you would like to say to actors?

Carolyne:

Commercial training to me is only part of being an actor. I prefer working with people who want to be actors. Sometimes people will come to me and say they really don’t want to be an actor, they only want to do commercials. I have to bite my lip because I know that commercials are much more difficult. And what makes them difficult is that you have less time to prepare. In theatrical auditions you pretty much know what to expect. You have the material, you go in and read it. When you show up for a commercial audition, you don’t know if you are going to do one line, long copy, short copy, a scene, a group scene, ride a bicycle – you never know what is going to happen. That’s one reason I really believe in improv, because I think there is nothing like improv to really get people to trust their instincts. It’s very frightening for people. People who have been successful in TV and film can have a panic attack over commercials. Commercials are the hardest area to maintain your love for the business, but that is when you have to work on yourself and keep going back to your acting roots and seeing how it all relates. I tell people who come to study with me that even though this is a commercial class, I teach it from an acting point of view. My job is to get them all to be authentic. Because there is only one of you and that’s who they want to see.